If you can’t appreciate watching LeBron, why bother watching?

Last night the Heat evened their Finals series with the Spurs at 1-1 with a 98-96 win in San Antonio. Dwyane Wade struggled for much of the night, and the Heat bench provided just 12 points. The difference, much like always, was the greatest player in the world. LeBron James was brilliant, with 35 points and 10 rebounds, knocking down jumpshots and getting to the basket at will. James also assisted on Chris Bosh’s go ahead three pointer with 1:18 to play. The play was identical to the one the Heat ran at the end of game 5 vs Indiana, when James was foolishly criticized for passing up the last shot for the obvious smart basketball play.

James has been subject to more criticism than any two time champion and 4 time MVP than anyone in the history of sports. Shows like “First Take” on ESPN fuel the idiocy that is broadcast to the world via social media. These days everyone has an opinion on everything, and more than ever those opinions are influenced by mainstream media, and tweeted by fans too childish or ignorant to make any sense. The question I have is if you can’t appreciate watching LeBron play, who can you appreciate? If it’s not apparent to you that he’s the most brilliant performer of a generation, perhaps in any sport, at the peak of his powers, than maybe basketball just isn’t for you.

So go on, pile on the world’s greatest player on Twitter because he got cramps or because he passed the ball to his all-star teammate, I’ll be busy watching basketball at the highest level it is played on this planet.

 

Featured image: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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Western Conference Finals Preview

The Western Conference Finals starts tonight, as the Spurs take on the Thunder in San Antonio. It’s not really surprising that either team is still playing, as they’ve pretty much been the top two teams out West all season. What should we expect from this match up?

To me the thing to watch is the injury factor, for both teams. Spurs point guard Tony Parker strained his hamstring in the second round against Portland, but he is expected to play tonight. Obviously the Spurs need him to be effective, as he’s unquestionably their most important player offensively. Fortunately the Spurs are deep and balanced, but Russell Westbrook is a nightmare to cover on a good day, now imagine doing so on a bad hamstring. For Oklahoma City, Serge Ibaka is expected to miss the rest of the post season, although the Spurs are skeptical. Without Ibaka, someone will have to step up for the Thunder as a third scoring option behind Westbrook and Durant, as well as help protect the rim. Ibaka helps draw opposing big men from the paint with his strong mid range game, and Kendrick Perkins ain’t scaring anybody from outside, so it could be troublesome for OKC to move Duncan and Tiago Splitter from where they’re comfortable.

Two years ago these teams matched up in the Conference Finals, and San Antonio won the first two games, extending their win streak to 20. Oklahoma City proceeded to win the next four games to advance to the Finals, losing to the eventual champion Heat. I don’t think either team will win 4 straight in this series, but I do expect Oklahoma City to win. I think it’s incredible what the Spurs have been able to do (I wrote about it here), but I think they’re running into a team that is younger, fresher, and perhaps feeling more pressure with their newly crowned MVP. I know it seems more logical that the Spurs would face more pressure, being that they are older and another year closer to the end of their run, but at this point they’re almost playing with house money. They shouldn’t be doing what they’ve been doing for so long, but OKC has two superstars entering their prime, with nothing to show for it yet. Can they get back to the finals, or continue to regret trading James Harden? We’ll see.

To be clear, I’m not picking OKC because of pressure, or anything like that, it’s only one factor. The Thunder offense, when clicking, is just too explosive for San Antonio. The Spurs do have excellent three point shooting on their side, however, and I do not like the way OKC executes late in games. I’m not one to jump on Westbrook like many members do, because I think OKC needs him to be his explosive, attacking self to be able to advance, but Durant needs to ball late in games. I expect one or two of Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb, or Perry Jones to step up and make significant contributions in this series. Kawhi Leonard will certainly bother Durant defensively, but he hasn’t blossomed into the offense force expected of him yet, and there’s still this to worry about:

Westbrook

I’m picking Thunder in 6, but of course it wouldn’t at all be surprising if the Spurs advanced. They are the Spurs, after all, and they just do not die.

Featured image credit: Mark D. Smith- USA Today Sports

Some perspective on the brilliance of the Spurs

The Spurs have once again made it to the Western Conference Finals. In other news, water is wet. Really, it’s astonishing what the Spurs have been able to accomplish all these years, so I wanted to try to put it in some perspective. All stats/facts will be in regards to the “Duncan Era,” from the time Tim Duncan was drafted (1997) until the present.

In the Tim Duncan Era, the Spurs have yet to miss the postseason. That is seventeen straight years, so you could have been born during Duncan’s first season and be legally driving an automobile in any state in the U.S.

The last time the Spurs missed the postseason, 1997

  • Bill Clinton was starting his second term as U.S. President
  • OJ Simpson was found liable in a wrongful death suit
  • The average cost of gas in the U.S. for the year was $1.245/gallon
  • The Florida Marlins won the World Series, and 22 year old Livan Hernandez was series MVP
  • The Titanic debuted in theaters
  • Harry Potter was published in the UK
  • Hong Kong was returned to China
  • Princess Diana was killed in a car accident
  • Spurs Guard Tony Parker was 15 years old, and Forward Kawhi Leonard was 6

In the Duncan Era, leading into this Western Conference Finals, the Spurs have a postseason record of 141-87, good for a .618 winning percentage, tops in the NBA over that span. The Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics, who have each won a championship and have been to the Finals twice over the same period, have won 140 postseason games, COMBINED. Additionally, the Spurs 141 wins are more than the postseason wins of Charlotte, Washington, Toronto, Golden State, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Memphis, and Denver COMBINED.

The Spurs postseason winning percentage in comparison to other notable eras since 1983 (as far back as realgm data goes):

  • 1986-1992 Detroit Pistons-Bad Boy era- .663% 2 championships
  • 1984-1998 Chicago Bulls- Jordan era : .661% 6 championships
  • 1996-2004 LA Lakers-Shaq/Kobe era: .639% 3 championships
  • 1997-Pres San Antonio Spurs-Duncan era- .618% 4 championships (obviously will change until conclusion of 2014 post season)
  • 2007-2010 Boston Celtics- Big 3 era- .576% 1 championship
  • 1992-1999 Houston Rockets- Hakeem/Rudy T era- .567% 2 championships

Bear in mind the difficulty of maintaining such a high level of production over 17 seasons, factoring age, injury, free agency, etc.

Postseason numbers courtesy of http://basketball.realgm.com/nba/playoffs/history/1998

The Spurs have employed one head coach during the Duncan Era, Greg Popovich. A look at how many coaches each team has employed or will soon employ during the Duncan Era, either on a full time or interim basis:

20140515034059

 

*Team employed the same coach on more than one separate occasion

The Spurs await the winner of the Thunder vs. Clippers series, and they just may go on to win another NBA Championship. Win or lose this conference or league finals, sooner or later the reality will sink in that this just can’t go on forever. The run that the Spurs are continuing is nothing short of remarkable, in the age of big free agent contracts and the formation of super teams, it’s the small market Spurs who have been the model franchise for nearly a span of two decades. We may not see anything like it again, or maybe we will. Either way it’s something to cherish and marvel at, because it simply defies logic.

(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

Who will survive the West? SA vs. DAL

In my first post I’m gonna take a look at the Western Conference Playoff picture, dissecting the Spurs Mavericks series first.

Five years ago we may have expected a Spurs vs. Mavericks opening round series to be an instant classic, but I don’t think that will be the case this year. This time of year the last few years the Spurs are usually playing like a well-oiled machine, and that’s really no different this year. They entered the playoffs after a 4-4 April, and an undefeated (!) March. I wouldn’t worry too much about that last stretch, as everyone knows Coach Popovich is the best in the game at maintaining his players’ minutes and health.

The Mavericks, coming into the playoffs having won 7 of their last 10, aren’t the Mavericks of old. They were perennial contenders, led by an all time great in Dirk Nowitzki, but gutted their team after their 2011 championship with dreams of landing Dwight Howard and/or Deron Williams. They haven’t recovered since failing to land those guys and signing Chris Kaman and Elton Brand as consolation prizes. This past offseason the team signed Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon, and while not flashy moves, they both had solid seasons for the Mavs. I don’t think this current group will succeed much long term, but they’ve done enough to make the playoffs in the Western Conference, an achievement nonetheless.

I think this is just a bad match up for the Mavs. I have utmost respect for Dirk, who is still a 20 point scorer into his mid thirties, and I think it’s amazing how Vince Carter has reinvented himself to be a solid role player at 37 when it looked like he was totally done with the Magic. To me this is just more about the Spurs. They have six players who averaged double figures in scoring this season, with no one averaging 30 minutes per game. They led the NBA as a team in assists per game, despite not having a player averaging even 6. This is the type of balance that the Spurs have trademarked the last few years, allowing the great Tim Duncan to age gracefully and still average nearly a double double at age 37. Players like Danny Green and Patty Mills are given up on by other teams, only to thrive with the Spurs. I think they’ve gotten the hang of this winning thing, and that should continue against the Mavs.