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NBA Playoffs 2019: Lite Ball + Feeble Foes Should Keep GSW Off ‘The Greatest’ Perch

14 Apr

With the NBA playoffs set to tipoff today @ 2:30pE, the question on the minds of every serious basketball fan is pretty straightforward: Does ANY team stand a good chance of toppling the Golden State Warriors from the lofty, championship perch they‘ve been occupying for most of the past five years?

The most likely, logical answer is a quick and decisive, ‘No.’

Such fans know, that unless the competition has been hiding their light under a bushel or unexpected injury rears its ugly head in the Oakland camp, there’s no team in this NBA19, not the Bucks, Raptors, Rockets, Nuggets nor Trailblazers that is possessing of the cohesive player talent (Curry, Durant, etc.) and coaching prowess (Kerr) to out-pace the Wars in their E-ZPass® highway drive to the Finals where a 4th title in five seasons, beckons.

Some may say, ‘These Dubs (A moniker entirely unbefitting of a champion) are vulnerable this season, well off their 73-win record pace set in 2015-16.’ And I will say, fixating on records and numbers can prove mistaken.

The Warriors won-loss this 2018-19 season is important only in that it puts them in a good post-season position, which they’ve got with 57 regular season wins, good enough to give them home-court throughout the Western playoffs.

You can believe coach Kerr had a good, long talk with his men following their failure to close the deal against Cleveland in the 2016 Finals, putting an asterisk (*) on their record-setting regular-season result (73). Plain and simple, GSW ran outta‘ gas. Steve hasn’t let that happen again and most likely emphasized the art of pacing. That doesn’t mean you tank, it means you hold a modicum of energy in reserve while keeping your eyes on the prize, the O’Brien trophy.

Yet, that quickie Q&A (who can challenge these champs), leads to a 2nd, more provocative question that even fans in-the-know may have trouble answering: If these Warriors win this 2019 championship, will their record, four titles in five seasons, the last three consecutively, make them the greatest NBA team ever, a long, colorful history that began in post-War 1946 (BAA)?

Winning a record 73 games enroute to their first of three 21st century titles (2015, 17-18), adds merit to their case, one of course bolstered accordingly with every additional O’Brien trophy garnered.

But as dense as is the championship aura that surrounds today’s GSW, the best team since the Duncan-led Spurs, hanging heavy overhead is the cloud of truth, a mass of molecules recognizing that the Wars’ glory has been achieved against some of the weakest competition in the annals of the NBA playoffs.

In their consecutive Finals run (2015-18), all four of the Warriors Series have been played versus the LeBron-led Cavaliers, taking the first (4-2), one the losers let slip-away, then conceding the next Finals to James Gang in another close one (3-4). GSW would re-focus, winning the next two Finals (2017-18) by trouncing the punchless Cavs in both, needing only nine games in total. But even when the Series were close, neither Finalist was exactly battle-tested in their respective Conference, riding the E-Zpass® roadway to make each Finale.

The grueling playoff gauntlet in both the NBA and NHL had been defining traits of toughness and championship worth, separating the pro sports from those less challenging versions of the NFL and MLB. It still is defining in hockey where the Stanley Cup winner more often than not has had most series go six or seven games. That has not been true for these titletown Warriors.

Typically, GSW concedes just 1-2 contests en route to the Finals. That’s not greatness, that’s poor product, Adam. You’re not fooling anyone, not over 18.

While the gold standard in sport is measured in championship metallica, it is weighted by its karat-count in quality of competition. It’s a long-standing, cross-cultural principle that has been applied by generations of people when measuring greatness in sport or any competitive endeavour.

Curiously, you’ll hear the standard referenced in the Classic Sydney Pollack film, Jeremiah Johnson (72) as trapper-pal “Del Gue (Gierasch)” schools Jay-Jay on his Indian combatant’s mind-set: “Some Indians .. a tribe’s greatness is figured on how mighty its enemies be.” Made sense then, still does today.

While today’s NBA is ebbing at its lowest level in quality of competition in its long organization history, this is a fairly new state of affairs.

In the early days (1940s-60s), as the Assc’n was getting financial footing, both dominant clubs in the Minneapolis Lakers (v. Knicks & Warriors) and then Boston Celtics faced some stiff competition (St. Louis & Los Angeles Lakers).

The 1970s were loaded to the gills with great teams in the Lakers, Knicks, Bucks, Bullets (Wizards), Supersonics, Celtics and the then Rick Barry-led Warriors battling and then holding, if even for a brief time, Association supremacy.

The 1980s represent what is arguably the NBA’s high-water mark in popularity, seeing Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics dominate, with the 76ers and Pistons taking titles earlier and late in the decade.

The Phil Jackson-led Bulls (Chicago didn’t gel until PJ arrived) owned the 90s without much fierce Finals competition until they’d face the Jazz near decade‘s close, and even then, the outcomes were never seriously in doubt.

The new century has seen three memorable teams in the Jackson – Bryant Lakers (six rings), the Popovich, Duncan, Parker and Ginóbili Spurs (five titles in fifteen) and today’s Kerr, Curry and Durant Warriors.

The Spurs – Lakers rivalry (1999 >) was pretty tremendous, so good it’s hard to pick the better team. They’d a similar number of titles, one had longevity (SA), the other multiple, triple-season dynasties (LA).

On the Warriors‘ ledger, there’s only Cleveland, a worthy opponent for the first two Series (2015-16), but by the third Finals, the Cavaliers just looked plain bored, in total, only winning one game in two sets. That’s pretty pathetic.

Also weighting down the Warriors from rising to the top of any reasonable ‘Greatest All-Time’ ranking is their manner of play.

It’s lite-ball, relying heavily on the 3-point shot, a gimmick that originated in the colorful, long defunct American Basketball Association (1967-76).

It’s a shot whose nonchalance and often unchallenged release has changed the manner and mindset of the sport, one which had been an aggressive game of controlled contact but now has lost its center, figuratively and literally.

For 90 years a balance existed between inside and outside play.

That symmetry has now gone the way of the 3-second and traveling calls, with the center position nearly obsolete, drives to the basket, shots in general, going uncontested (no defense) and most the game played passively out on the arc.

Excepting the occasional ego-flair-up, flying elbow or alley-oop, b-ball seems to have become just one, long game of HORSE. It’s so tiresome that even Playoffs can‘t hold the players interest as the 76ers’ Joel Embiid and Amir Johnson are reported to have been texting in-game versus the Nets. Guess who won?

History shows the NBA runs best when it’s an ample stable of thoroughbreds, bangers inside, men like Wilt-the-Stilt, Kareem, Bill Russell, Lucas, George Mikan, Elgin Baylor, Willis Reed, Dave Cowens, Wes Unseld, Bill Laimbeer, Moses Malone, the Big-E and power forwards like Jerry West, Big-O, Havlicek, Worthy, Bird, Dirk, Magic and Dr.J, the type of men who could do it all.

Steve Curry is the NBA’s 3-point king (value-rated in rings), having learned from one of the best in a championship player, his coach, Steve Kerr (.454 – 16sn). But that‘s a pretty small principality to rule in comparison to those rough & tumble territories won-over by the guys mentioned above.

As for Mr. James, he’s always had the powerful frame but surprisingly spent most of his time on the outside. You’ve gotta’ bleed on the court to be in the running for the greatest team in NBA history, figuratively AND literally, and out on the circle it’s almost as dry as a fresh Band-Aid®. There are too many topper teams in consideration for the top spot to expect anything less.

LeBron has three big problems today: 1) Father Time; 2) an Association-wide dearth of talent, where finding another Kev Love or multi-skilled Dwyane Wade has never been so difficult; and 3) boredom.

That last problem may be his toughest to fix, yet won’t be alleviated by wearing multiple hats (player – coach – GM) or making puppet-coaches suffer as scapegoats (Walton – Lue). It’s like that idiom, ‘a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.‘ Duties must be delegated, or at least divided accordingly.

Is the Association on brink of bankruptcy? Heck, no.

Mr. Silver, and what an appropriate last name for an NBA Commissioner only concerned with coin, has but one target market: Kids aged 7-17, the same age range @Disney (fka ESPN) settled on when the Skipper era set sail (2000?). As long as the junior sport media and other marketers can create celebrity images for kids to follow through mock-drafts and merchandising, no matter the quality of court play, mountains of money will be made for all investors concerned.

It’s celebrity that drives the game today, not sport.

Owners probably began coming around to that idea about the time Julius ‘Dr.J’ Erving made his much ballyhooed arrival in the NBA (76) after having starred in rival ABA with Virginia and New Jersey (drafted in 72 by Milwaukee 1R-#12).

The great success of Magic and Bird would bring the celebrity-sell into greater focus for the Cufflinks, and by the time Jordan’s best days were over (98), his Bulls team having maintained the balance but benefiting from their own ‘Rules’ as well, the issue was settled: “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle (C.Kramer).”

But with this limited, 21st century vision of tumultuous merriment, the NBA will keep trending niche, never again challenging the NFL or MLB (boring as all get-out but beneficiary of a long history (1876)) for America’s top sporting spot.

StevenKeys
NothingButNet
Photo credit: basketball-board, wc.cca, 1995, mid-static; S.Curry, wc, C.Saatsaz, Denver, 11-2017; S.Kerr, wc, 11-2017, Denver, C.Saatsaz; K.Durant, Curry, Denver, C.Saatsaz, 11-2017
Posted: 4.13 @ 10:18pE, gram-edit 5.19; Copyright © 2019

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NBA.F17: Resting Has Warriors Besting LeBron’s Backs-to-the-Wall Gang

6 Jun

It was as plain as even the rather small nose on the forlorn face of Stephen Curry as he watched his Golden State Warriors in the closing seconds of last June’s NBA Finals, about to drop their third game, second in a row, to their fierce foes the Cleveland Cavaliers who were going to take game six (115-101) and even-up the Series at 3-3, the defending champs having squandered a 3-1 lead: The 2016 single-season record setters in victories (73) were, not surprisingly, dog tired.

It had been a whirlwind campaign of championship and achievements for the Bay boys, having bested LeBron’s bunch in Finals 2015 (4-2), his 2d Cleveland tenure, then almost running the table the following regular season to reach those 2016 Finals only to fall short (3-4) to what in the aftermath must’ve seemed a certain James’ destiny to bring a first NBA title to his native Ohio.

That Wars’ leader and star Curry had bagged two (2) consecutive MVP awards added just that much more glitter, and pressure, to their mostly joyous run.

So when coach Steve Kerr & Company failed to complete the technical dynasty (at least two (2) sequential championships), all asked, ‘What happened?’

LeBron James happened, of course, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

The following is an excerpt of an article I wrote last July in wake of Wars unexpected collapse and Cavs historical comeback win, postulating what was a major factor in the result and what the future (F17) held in store:

“The weary factor: It’s why Warriors failed to close the deal on what might’ve been the greatest season in NBA history. Ironically, those 73 RS wins that put them on precipice of immortality were also the reason why they fell short. Winning that many takes its toll, as previewed in the WC final vs OKC (4-3) where the champs had to pull their fat outta’ the fire just to move on. Of course, those 1995-96 Bulls piled a weary-worthy total themselves in their super season (72-10) and still managed to take the title vs Seattle (4-2). Just sayin.’

Rubbermaid® NBA Finals 2017

NBA’s powers-that-be salivate over thought of a Cavs – Wars 3-peat. Who’s gonna’ stop ‘em, besides the injury bug? That the Association’s quality of competition rating is at lowest ebb since the scaling was first calibrated by this writer some years back, matters not in the least to the Cufflinks, the same frat-boys who think tanking’s a joke, as long as the Big Celebrities make it to the Big Party, i.e., LeBron, Stevo, Durantula, Love & Irving.

Even if Durant does work a small drain of the splash-pool and Lue takes no action to teach Kyrie who’s #1 (James) and fundamentals of point play, i.e., ‘See the ball, set a play, pass the ball,’ these two teams should have little trouble making it into next season’s Finals, again barring any notable injury issues.

If they do meet, it’s Warriors who likely take the rubber-match.

Kyrie Irving’s not about to learn that kindergarten starter-skill called sharing and former All-Star Kevin Love is now so marginalized by team & press that LeBron’s gonna’ lose whatever hair he has left by season’s end.

For the Oaklanders, they’ve already got the 73, the substantive one (See; B.Bonds (‘01)), and Kerr will make damn sure his men are better rested this time in event they make the WC finals. Sixty-plus should get home-court…no tanking, mind you, but Stevo will give his starters…respites as needed to avoid weariness that turned splash into a prolonged belly-flop in G5-7 (https://stevenkeys.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/nba17-too-many-cooks-spoil-the-splash-but-cavs-wars-are-rubbermade-for-re-match/).”

So, did Kerr work to curb enthusiasm in a strategy to help ensure his men had enough Finals end-game this time around? The six (6) fewer regular season victories (67-15) suggests he might have. Of course, having 2014 MVP Kevin Durant rostered this season has certainly played a part to ease some burden, maintain energy levels, while at the same time easing his own workload for the first time since his rookie NBA campaign in 2007 (Seattle (OKC)).

Which brings this Series, this terrific NBA trilogy of titledom that may someday rival the fantastic Lakers v. Boston feud of the 80s (Jordan never had a great rivalry) to its critical point: Game 3. It’s winner will likely win these Finals, for a third W for the Wars will break Cleveland’s spirit while a Cavs victory will enspirt a team that seems to play best when their backs are to the wall.

We might even get one of those forever frozen in time moments, as when Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, at center for Jabbar, scored on that baby hook-shot late to steal G5 (?) in the Garden, going a long way in helping LA win the ‘87 Series and then the rightful claim to supremecy as the decade‘s best. We might.

Steven Keys
Nothing But Net
Photo credit: basketball-net, wc.cca, 1995, static; S.Kerr-NBA.referee, wc, 2.24.25, K.Allison; S.Curry, wc, N.Salzman, 4.6.14; Love-Irving-James, 10.1.14, wc, E.Drost;
Posted: 6.6.17 @ 6:45p EST; Copyright © 2017

NBA17: Colin Curries Conflict, Lego® LeBron Builds Legends and Lives

3 Oct

Caring to Coalesce

It is our task to provide the nation of Turkey with the match to inflame the people against Russia.”

Words of Nazi “Colonel Robinson (Sydney Greenstreet)” in the George Raft – Brenda Marshall wartime drama, Background to Danger (‘43), summarizing for his provocateur charge their sinister plan to draw the neutral nation into war.

— — —

You knew it was gonna’ happen. Colin Kaepernick would become a GTG, aka, go-to-guy. For the junior media, anyway.

Now they’re going to the Krude one for political insights. The dude with the prison-yard tattoos and, before he got benched and started sitting out the national anthem, seemed to always be tuned out to the world and tuned into his headphones (Beats-by-Dre).

kaep-10-27-13-wc-cca-d-hartwig-thumbSo what does Kaep Krusader think of Dollar Don and Capital Hill? No likey (“lesser of two evils”). The “evil” is a bit harsh but I can’t argue with the “lesser (We get what we ask for, or don‘t, as the case may be).” ‘But even a blind pig will find an acorn.’

On the gridiron is where Kaepernick should’ve been a GTG all along, i.e., tight-end. But Jimbo’s offensively-challenged so he decided to bench Alex Smith, who’d gotten ‘em to the cusp of Superduperville (NFCC11 (NYG)), missing out for a teammate with fumblitis, and went with improvisation-on-the-run, i.e., flash-QB.

As for mining for socio-political nuggets from the mind of Colin, you could add his intellect to his personality and it wouldn’t fill up a shot glass. So there’s that.

Once the 49ers reserve QB (might get a start soon), decided to spark controversy with his national anthem sit n’ stew, then tapped into hate with his racist mock-socks (white cops (“pigs”) only), an incendiary that leaders Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith and President Obama did not see fit to condemn, you knew the Boys & Girls who run our media would take the strike-match Krudesader tossed their way and “inflame” the masses, about 16%, anyway, then paint with broad stroke as racially hostile, anyone in the populace who dared criticize the headphone promoter turned “provocateur.”

belafonte-dc-wc-8-25-63-655k-nara-usiappAs if Mahatma, Martin or Bobby would’ve used racist mockery to foment change, and then never get called on it. But those guys were old skool, their problems couldn’t compare to ours today, right (ugh)? Wrong. Goof-think 2016.

Iconic status was never in the cards for Kaep, not like a Rosa Parks or tireless civil rights advocate of 89-years, Harry Belafonte.

For one, it was a whole different ball-game back then, before desegregation took hold with help of federal courts and National Guard units, before southern Democrat President Lyndon Johnson (TX) convinced majority of white America to back his strong-arm of Congress into passing civil rights & voting legislation, and before Affirmative Action made the other two changes worthwhile. We’ve made real progress in the past fifty years that’s as permanent and part of the American fabric as the Stars n’ Stripes that grace the flag that Francis Scott Key immortalized in poetry & song.

And two, while Colin’s boycott does not come without some risk to his career and probably his person as well as there have been reports of threats, and will most certainly test his mettle as not many things before ever did, it’s also probably safe to write that the burden he bears, lightened somewhat by ensconcing effects of a very supportive, almost coddling media, pales in comparison to those which many civil rights volunteers in 1950s – 60s bore in their efforts to bring about change, especially in the South (See; Chaney – Goodman – Schwerner (d.1964)).

gandhi-wc-pre1942-155kKaepernick, like all of us, is subject to the era in which he lives. He is shaped by its events and mores, enabled and limited both by time-space continuum, choosing to alter or satisfy his surroundings . Short of super-human state (Gandhi, King, RFK, etc.) or an H.G. Wellsian “Time Machine,” Kaep has little control over his circumstances. What he can control is his message: Content, delivery and desired end.

His non-conformity in refusing allegiance to what Colin claims is hypocrisy in our national anthem was bold enough, but had he kept his protest constructive, conceding the progress we have made as a nation that for 350 years sanctioned slavery and its deformities (Jim Crow, etc.), showing courage and vision in dialoguing, inviting response and actually listening-for-content at the words of his rationally-minded detractors, rather than lobbing grenades (mock-socks), the Milwaukee-native might’ve been impactful in a culturally substantive way.

Enter LeBron James. He’s another GTG, for cub reporters and their betters.

When LeBron speaks, people listen, not because he’s the eloquence of a Mahatma (“I want to change their minds, not kill them for weaknesses we all possess“), but because he’s the biggest sport celebrity on the planet who sometimes appears to have a mind of his own.

So what does King James of Akron think of the two major candidates for the White House? See no “evil,” not in Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton, anyway. He endorsed the former First Lady on Sunday.

james-sing-home-e-drost-8-8-14-wc-506kWith a net worth of over $250 million, the NBA champion Cavaliers main-man carries considerable clout. It’s not in league with Oprah Winfrey ($2.9B), but it’s sizable, maybe exceeding that of President Obama whose pathway to power appears not so fraught with serious hardships, never having met an issue he couldn’t or wouldn’t appease.

Unlike Michael Jordan’s slightly less-than-challenged rein of success on the Finals hardwood, most with the Bulls (1985 – 03), James has had to persevere through painful periods of unfulfilled great expectations in his pro journey that began in Cleveland (Phase I) 2003, expectations heaped mostly upon his shoulders alone (See; Wilt-the-Stilt).

Money alone won’t buy happiness but battle-scars build character and James persevered, meeting his two prof’l objectives: First, fashioning a title with his 2nd team, the Miami Heat, then in return of the prodigal son to the Forest City in 2014, leading the way for their own long awaited championship, defeating a Warriors team (73 wins) many in the junior media had pre-maturely crowned the greatest of all-time (GAT, not GOAT).

Descending from his well-earned place in 7th- heaven last week to field questions, James broke ranks with some of his people and peers, those who are hell-bent on hate and finger-point in maligning America‘s police forces. He responded to a query on the Kaep case, uttering at some point the phrase, “All lives matter.”

It was a big moment, catching the media off guard. So they did what normally they’ll do when free speech gets too free and pushed his response to the margins.

legobausteinevon-gnufdl-5-28-14-roletschekSuch generosity and hope conveyed in speaking to “all lives” is never well received by those who’re steeped in blinding, egotistical anger. And those who sign-post the way to a better, more progressive place, a destination we never reach without some self-sacrifice and compromise along the way, put themselves in precarious position, risking popularity and drop in sales receipts, among the lesser vitals of life.

James also declared that he won’t be boycotting any national anthems.

Lending credence to James’ words is the fact that he has not been one to sit on the sidelines when it comes to social issues. Earlier this year Lego® made statement on the very issue of police tactic and, by some, its postulated misuse.

In wearing a t-shirt that read “I can’t breathe,” referencing to a typical choke-hold law enforcement can employ to immobilize a dangerous suspect but which can also inflict what some deem unnecessary harm, may have been a facilitator to Kaepernick’s sit-statement, but at very least puts the basketball player’s motives well beyond the reach of reproach.

Different strokes for different folks. When it comes to social engineering, maybe a little social change ($), too, that’s Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James.

All lives matter, and all prejudice stinks. And all that LeBron James has done in three little words is more than our sitting President has done for race relations in nearly eight years.

Who says sports don’t “matter?”

net-wc-1995-88k-staticSteven Keys
Nothing But Net
Photo credit: L.James, wc.cca, K.Allison, 4.27.8; C.Kaepernick, wc, D.Hartwig, 10.27.13; H.Belafonte, wc, 8.25.63, NARA-USIAP&P; M.Gandhi, wc, pre-1942; L.James-sing, wc, E.Drost, 8.8.14; Lego-BausteineVon, wc, gnufdl, 5.28.14, Roletschek; L.James, wc, K.Allison, 4.28.7; b-ball.net, wc, 1995, static.
Posted: 10.3.16 @ 2:22am, edits @ 4:18pm and 10.4.16 @ 12:30pm Eastern Standard Time; Copyright © 2016