Five Notes on a String: March 30th, 2012

More thoughts with less thought than ever.

  • Thursday night’s TNT schedule boasted one of this year’s premier doubleheaders, with a Finals rematch that fell flat in Miami and a game that was routinely touted as a “Western Conference Finals” preview, Thunder vs. Lakers. In the interest of full (if unwanted) disclosure, these are the teams I would most likely envision pairing up in this year’s penultimate round, but both teams have gotten a free ride as far as the public discourse goes in one most important regard: their defenses. If a team has had offensive trouble throughout a year, such as Boston with its 25th league-ranked offense, that outfit will justifiably be written off as one without much chance of playoff longevity, as teams at or below the league average on either side of the ball simply do not get rings, empirically speaking. So how is it that two teams, OKC and LA, with defenses of relatively low calibers (12th and 9th leaguewide, respectively. Sounds decent, but the 4 points per 100 possessions more that the Thunder give up than the league’s best add up quickly) have come to be the de facto frontrunners out West? Unlike offense, fans and pundits seem to assume that teams can turn on defensive afterburners that had stayed latent throughout the regular season, an idea proven patently untrue by the Finals competitors in the past ten years. From that group, only four of the last twenty squads to enter the championship round were not in the top seven best defensive teams from their respective regular seasons, with only one of them (05-06′s aberration in Miami) going on to win it all. In a bit of good news for all Thunder faithful, the teams that did deviate from that trend, ’04 and ’08 Lakers, ’06 Mavs and Heat, did have obscenely talented offenses, and OKC’s stands pat as this league’s current gold standard on that end of the ball. Still, this somewhat blase reaction to defensive consistency should maybe allow the reigning champs in Dallas (6th in the league in defensive efficiency) and the emerging shipwreck in New York (5th currently) some more talk as possibilities to make this endlessly messy and interesting season a little more of both.
  • Dwight Howard had a chance to make this all go away, to make this miserable sisyphean season become something weirder, better. Instead, he decided to drag us through this swamp again next year and commit a far graver sin: extending this damn Magic season as is. Not once this year has it seemed the Magic could play a watchable game, either exerting less effort than seems humanly (or magically) possible in losses or gluttonously hitting every three that comes its way in victories; never a happy midpoint, never anything that’s worth cranking up the ol’ League Pass. I seriously cannot remember a team with such a good record playing a season as unremarkable as this one; casual fans used to piss and moan about the Spurs and Pistons because… um, I’m not entirely sure why that happened. But I’d watch a thousand Ben Wallace free throws before having to watch another damn Magic blowout, no matter the victor. Great minds have mentioned that this Orlando team poses a significant matchup problem for the Miami Heat, and God, I hope so; this team owes us all at least six good games, even if they had to wait until late April to give them to us.
  • Drunk with cap space, some Rockets fans have already spent Houston’s considerable chunk of offseason change (the team will be about $15 million under the cap if Samuel Dalembert’s non-guaranteed deal is hacked off and before extending any deals to Courtney Lee or Goran Dragic), preparing sign-and-trades for a veritable inventory of the league’s best, from Howard to Deron Williams to Eric Gordon; the likelihood remains, though, that Houston’s offseason will be spent in much less sexy negotiations: trying to retain the team’s backup point and shooting guards. Rahat and Michael have both recently taken the time to delve into exactly how great Dragic and Lee have been this season, specifically since taking on starters’ minutes, making it clear that these players have contributed to the Rockets’ overall depth that has kept them in games that their best players flailed through (or in which they didn’t play). Any followers still holding out for a tank job next year may be salivating at the idea of losing depth and cap holds at once, but Les Alexander reacting similarly seems less than likely. Still, despite their clear use to Houston, how much can the Rockets realistically offer next season to these two? If teams decide they want these men to be their starters, particularly Dragic, the contracts could reach the 4-year, $35 million range (similar players have generally gotten shorter contracts, but Lee and Dragic are both about to their enter their likely primes), one at which it seems highly unlikely for the Rockets to hold on to them. More than maybe ever, this offseason may reveal a lot about Alexander and Daryl Morey’s priorities.
  • So I’ve held off on a mea culpa for this for some time (mostly because I’m sure I’m the only person waiting for it), but yikers, was I off about that Portland team. Some may remember my laughably premature prediction that the Blazers were Finals-bound, and I’d like to tear into myself for this one. Somehow, I’d forgotten that this team was without a general manager, a center under the age of 38 or a point guard not named Raymond Felton. Eventually, the team came back down to Earth and then went screaming past that into the gaping maw of Purgatory where it now resides. Once again, sorry about that one, folks.
  • I’m pretty sure the reason San Antonio’s constantly been considered boring, outside of the general lack of ostensible flash (but with no lack of genius) in its superstar Tim Duncan’s game, is the team’s jersey, the blatantly dull silver-and-black. Before making the obvious comparison, note that the Spurs, despite all of its years of brilliant defense and Bruce Bowen-related violence, have none of the menace that made a similar color scheme work so well for the NFL’s Oakland Raiders. Weirdly, I often see San Antonio on writers’ best-dressed list, but I feel like this is out of pure deference to Spurs management for cutting out the pink and orange that made San Antonio players of the 90′s look like they had been wardrobed by Zubaz (gave Dennis Rodman something with which he could coordinate the hair, though). Perhaps distinctive uniform choices should be rewarded, yet I’m positive that this choice has only been remunerated through yawns.

Catch me on Twitter @JacobMustafa and in this weekly notebook every Friday. Thanks for spending your time here.

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