I looked at the West standings this past Sunday, noting that at that point in time, things stood as the most favorable layout for a Houston Rockets trip to the Finals. The problem is that with Portland in all-out free-fall mode, I don’t see things holding course.
- Anyone could have predicted a Blazers collapse on Day 1, and I had been, so I’ll pat myself on the back. Now, in fairness, the catalyst has been an injury to LaMarcus Aldridge rather than outright poor play. But I’ll turn that around. Every other West team has weathered major injuries (OKC with Westbrook, the Spurs with Parker/Leonard/Ginobili, the Clippers with Paul etc.) and remained afloat. And while the Rockets have enjoyed good health to both Harden and Howard thus far (knock on wood), I think anyone who has watched this team would agree that if one of them went down, this team would sink to .500 ball rather than the sub .500 levels in which Portland has hovered. The Blazers’ problem was that when they were winning, everything was going right and that kind of success just isn’t sustainable. They were walking on glass and the glass has broken.
- Portland could very easily fall out of the playoffs altogether. Would that make Aldridge available in the summer? This may sound blasphemous, but I’d actually prefer Carmelo Anthony if presented the choice between the two players. While not a ‘traditional 4′, Anthony is the far more dangerous scorer between the two, boasting better range and a better postup game. Why not create more mismatches on the court?
- The Spurs and Thunder appear locked in at 1 and 2 with San Antonio having ripped off 15 straight. A reader asked me on Twitter last Sunday why I’d choose Houston over the Spurs in a second round matchup and to reply, I’m not sure I would. My stance isn’t that I think Houston would beat the Spurs in a series; my point is that the Spurs are preferable to the Thunder/Clippers in a 4/5 vs. 1/8 matchup.
- On that point, though: the Spurs certainly improve their level of play in the postseason, as is to be expected. But by no means are they the unbeatable giant their record would make them appear to be. They’ve shown in recent years that their old legs can be conquered, most especially in their loss to the Grizzlies. So I think that while I’d caution against the overconfidence the head-t0-head sweep would evoke, I also would feel pretty confident about the matchup. Having said that, a McHale-Pop matchup scares the living hell out of me.
- The Rockets and Clippers will be 3 or 4 with 5 teams in position for the next 4 slots. There are so many variables that all Houston can do is just continue winning games and let the chips fall where they may. If we get down to the last week and a clear chance to avail ourselves of a good matchup presents itself, we can tank and rest starters then, but right now, all that can be done is to avoid looking at the standings altogether. And yes, I’m one of the people who advocates resting players to avoid/seize favorable playoff matchups. I never understood this faux bravado whereby people cite “the integrity of the game”, “wanting to beat the best” and other platitudes…..because when your team is sitting at home after having lost in the first round to a bad matchup, no one looks back and gives a sh** about your fearlessness in closing out the season.
- Golden State scares me. So does Dallas. And the Grizzlies scare the living hell out of me.
- We would lose to Dallas in the first round. While Dwight has been dominant against them in the regular season, I keep imagining him averaging 10 and 5 in that series against some weird Carlisle scheme. And you know that that doesn’t sound as implausible as you’d wish. Beard would get his 40 a night, but unfortunately so would Dirk. And then there’s Monta too. I don’t know, but except for Phoenix and the Blazers, these bottom West teams are really scary.
- A final point which has nothing to do with any of this: I just need to get this off my chest because it’s been bothering me all day. I was listening to local sports radio yesterday during my commute, to one of my favorite shows, and a discussion about Bob Cousy came up. Longtime readers know where I’m going with this. I won’t give names, but one of the hosts was skeptical about Cousy’s chances in today’s league saying he’d give up 60 a game (you could tell he was holding back) while the other host remarked that he’d be a top player and an All-Star. Now let’s step back for a moment. I think you know my thoughts. First of all, there’s two different ways in which these discussions about players from older eras can be framed. One train of thought goes like this: “if you adjust for the advances in training/development etc. and put player X in today’s game, then”….while the other train of thought doesn’t even adjust for advances and flat out places player X, as is, into today’s game. As to the first train of thought, I can work with that. It’s sound. If you put some old-time player, adjust for evolution and put him in today’s game, I can work with the notion of them being competent or hell, even dominant. But when someone presents the argument that someone from any era before the 80′s could be placed in today’s game as is and that player could dominate, I have to seriously question their understanding of basketball. In fact, there’s few things I find more preposterous than this kind of over-romanticization of the past. I apologize for how disrespectful this will sound, but I’m sorry, Bob Cousy wouldn’t even make an NBA roster today. You’ll usually find when someone is espousing these arguments in favor of Player X, they’re usually adding on some mythical qualities to the player that either have no relevance or hold greater rhetorical weight than anything of substance. This particular host said Cousy “could see better passing angles than anyone ever” or something else similarly trite and unquantifiable. And one other thing. To me, it’s not about physical/athletic advances. Those advances are obvious. But those are the ones always cited during these discussions. To me, it’s about the skill level. Basketball of the 60′s was an outright completely different sport than what is being played out there today. You’d see guys dribbling around in straight lines with their right hands at a level lower than most junior high teams. When you have point guards today regularly coming down full speed and splitting pick and rolls by whipping the ball behind their back, and you’re going to say that a guy who couldn’t even dribble with his left hand would dominate….that’s telling me you’re not processing the game and its players properly in all of its present-day beauty.
- I absolutely abhor retrospective romanticization. We are in a golden-age of basketball right now.