Instead of my usual Worst of the Weekend post, I decided to write about all the end-of-season storylines that are currently annoying me.1. The coronation of LeBron James:
Seven years of neverending LeBron-a-thonning
has led us to this: King Crab's complete domination of the NBA.
Just ask the press.
LeBron basically won the MVP award by the All-Star break, and there's even been talk that he may become the league's first-ever unanimous
MVP. Furthermore, John Hollinger's statistical wizardly
has "proven" that LeBron truly is the latest next Michael Jordan...or possibly even better than Jordan himself. And with the Lakers' recent slump -- see below -- it's pretty much assumed that this will be the year James wins his first title. Meanwhile, crap teams like the Knicks, Clippers, and Nyets are scrounging around for 'Bron's table scraps.
And yet...I'm just not convinced.
Take Cleveland's loss to the Celtics yesterday. LeBron had the ball in his hands and the time necessary to stampede his way to the hoop for a tying score. Instead, and despite being 0-for-7 from downtown on the day and 33 percent for the season, he went sliding into a forced three-pointer that didn't come anywhere close to going into the basket. And while I realize his 42 points -- including 20 in the fourth quarter -- were the main reasons why the Crabs were able to come back from a 22-point deficit, I can't help but question (once again) LeBron's ego and corresponding decision making.
Simply put, that was not a good shot. It just wasn't. Not on paper, not under the circumstances, no way. And yet he didn't hesitate to take it. LeBron never thinks he's going to miss. Not in the same way a well-practiced gunslinger like Larry Bird or even Reggie Miller. Or hell, even Kobe Bryant (especially this season). When those guys attempted game winners, they took their
shots. Shots they had made thousands of times, both in practice and in games. For my money, James takes too many shots that aren't
his shots, simply because he's become so used to success and adoration that it never enters his mind they probably won't go in.
Cleveland's coach, Mike Brown, doesn't do his franchise player any favors with comments like this: "LeBron is a great player and we're lucky to have him. Guys, in order to be great, have to have a lot of confidence. You have to have confidence to take big shots, and at times take some risks. ... If he felt like he had a clean look at it, fire away."
See and that's the thing. Unlike a lot of other great players, LeBron has never had a strong coach hold him accountable for anything. Bill Russell had Red Auerbach. Larry Bird had Bill Fitch in the early 80s. Magic Johnson had Pat Riley. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant both had Phil Jackson. Tim Duncan had Gregg Popovich.
Who has LeBron had? Who has been there to tell him, "Uhm, probably not the best shot, big guy."? If there's a hole in LeBron's game -- and, personally, I think there is -- it's that the only coach LeBron has ever had has been LeBron. He makes the decisions. He makes the final call. And when he makes a mistake, like he did yesterday against the Celtics, the only hope is that he'll learn from it on his own, because nobody is going to teach him.2. The Summer of 2010:
The words "Summer of 2010" and "free agent" make me want to throw myself into a pit of poisonous Jean-Claude Van Dammes. Moving on.3. What's wrong with the Celtics:
Back before the season even began, the newly signed Rasheed Wallace predicted the Celtics were going to challenge the NBA record for 72 wins set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. This season has been a reminder that his "Guaransheeds" have been way off the mark, well, pretty much since the Pistons won the title back in 2004.
What 'Sheed should have predicted was that he would have the worst season of his career (which hit a new low point yesterday when he started yelling at his own coach
during the game), Kevin Garnett would age in dog years, Ray Allen would misplace his jump shot for the first half of the season, injuries would plague the team most of the year, and the Celtics would struggle to reach 50 wins before getting bounced in the second round of the playoffs. Assuming they don't get bounced in the first round, of course.
Now, I just checked Boston's remaining schedule: at New York, at Toronto, versus Washington, at Milwaukee, at Chicago, versus Milwaukee. Considering the recently red-hot Bucks have lost Andrew Bogut for the season, I can see the Celtics sweeping their remaining games and that fact -- combined with yesterday's trick-or-treat win over the Crabs -- will probably fool a lot of people into believing they're on a roll heading into the postseason. Don't be fooled. It's not boredom. They haven't been waiting to "turn it on." There's no "playoff mode" switch for them to flip. These Celtics aren't good enough to win a championship. That's the only thing that's wrong with them.4. What's wrong with the Lakers:
The Lakers have dropped four of their last six games, a stretch that has included ugly blowout losses to the Thunder, Hawks and Spurs. Prior to that, L.A. had won seven games in a row (against mostly creampuff competition like the Timberwolves, Kings, Warriors and Wizards) following a three-game losing streak to the Heat, Bobcats and Magic.
That said, let's face facts: Although the Lakers haven't mathematically earned the top seed in their conference, it's highly unlikely anybody is going to catch them. I haven't looked at the tiebreakers, but L.A. would have to lose their last five games and the rest of the pack would have to win out to even have a chance. That's not going ot happen. The Lakers know this...hence their recent sloppy, careless, let's-just-start-the-postseason-already play.
When they're awake, the Lakers are the best team in the West. They have the best coach, an inside game, an outside game, and the game's top closer, who also doubles as one of best players in the league. Oh, and when motivated, they're one of the highest-rated defensive teams as well. Nobody on the left side of the country is going to beat them, but that hasn't stopped...5. The search for the team that's going to beat the Lakers:
When the "restocked" San Antonio Spurs came stumbling and bumbling out of the gates, the Denver Nuggets became the popular pick for the team that's going to beat the Lakers. And yet their early schedule was dotted with head-scratching losses to the Clippers, Timberwolves, Pistons, Kings (twice) and Sixers. Then they started losing semi-statement games to teams like the Suns (twice), Jazz, Spurs, and Lakers. Most recently, the Nuggets have dropped five of eight, which includes losses to bad teams (Knicks), middle-tier teams (Bucks), champion also-rans (Celtics), Eastern Conference contenders (Magic) and fellow Western Conference hopefuls (Mavericks).
And did I mention that Kenyon Martin threatened to boycott the playoffs because somebody filled his car with popcorn
Then the Mavericks acquired Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler at the trade deadline and went on a 13-game winning streak. Suddenly they
were the team that could beat the Lakers. However, Dallas has been a sub-.500 team ever since that 13-gamer, with losses to strong teams (the Magic and Thunder, most recently) and crap squads (the Knicks and Hornets, for instance). And some of their wins -- versus the Bulls, Clippers, Warriors and slumping Nuggets (see above) -- were what you'd call "unconvincing."
Record-wise, the Suns and Jazz are right there with the Nuggets and Mavs, only the Suns rely heavily on guys like Channing Frye and Jared Dudley, and the Jazz were exposed by their recent 106-92 loss to the slumping Lakers. And even if Utah hadn't been exposed, check out their schedule
. Yes, they've been winning a lot of games, but their schedule over the past 15 games has been softer than Pau Gasol. Bulls, Pistons, Wizards, Timberwolves, the slumping Celtics, the Raptors, Pacers (a loss), Wizards (again), Knicks and Warriors...with losses to the Bucks, Thunder and Suns squeezed in.
That leaves only one team...6. The resurgence of the Spurs:
Despite restocking their shelves in the offseason -- Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair -- the Spurs have been a second-tier team all season, mostly due to age, assorted injuries and the stunningly rapid decline of Tim Duncan. They've more or less cleaned up against bad teams while struggling against the better ones. Until recently, that is.
San Antonio has won six of their last eight games, including impressive wins against the Thunder (on the road), Cavaliers (at home), Celtics (road), Magic (home) and Lakers (road). This streak has coincided with the extended absence of Tony Parker (broken bones) and the eruption of Manu Ginobili.
Now, I've been dismissive of the Spurs all season, and during this hot stretch, I've received some comments and e-mails from Spurs fans basically demanding that I eat a little crow for sticking a fork in them prematurely. But before I do that, let's ask ourselves whether it's mere coincidence that the Spurs upswing has happened at the same time other teams are suffering pre-playoff letdowns. Let's also ask ourselves how much Manu's recent explosion might be due to Contract Year Phenomenon
and whether he can continue it in the bump-and-grind playoffs.
And finally, let's ask ourselves -- and be honest -- how far San Antonio can really go without an at-or-near-the-top-of-his-game Tim Duncan. I don't care about Tony Parker's Finals MVP or how well Ginobili has been playing lately. TD has been the foundation of every Spurs championship team. Duncan's a gamer, but I just haven't seen it
from him this season. If you're a Spurs fan, you're hoping he's just saving his best for the postseason. But realistically, I doubt it.7. The New Jersey Nyets:
Several months ago, I predicted in the comments section of some post that the Nyets would go on a late-season run to avoid becoming the worst team in NBA history. Some of this site's faithful readers -- and even our very own AnacondaHL
-- scoffed at me for this prediction, citing New Jersey's remaining schedule
Sadly, I've lived through way too much NBA in my lifetime, including nine of the top 10 worst teams of all time
. In other words, I've been through this drill before. And every time I've seen teams escape worst-ever status by eking out some late-season wins when the rest of the league is dealing with injuries, shutting down for the playoffs or simply losing interest in anything but the upcoming draft lottery.
And just like that, the Nyets have won four of their last seven games. They now have 11 wins on the season and plan on catching the 15-win Timberwolves before it's all said and done
But I don't care. Once they passed the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets became dead to me. Damn them. And damn all the teams who lost to them.8. The battle for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot:
I care because I'm a Bulls fan. But, really, does anyone outside of Chicago and Toronto care which team gets to be the Crabs' first round hors d'oeuvres?9. Mike Krzyzewski's potential jump to the NBA:
Does anybody really care if Krzyzwshwhateverthehell accepts bags and bags of money
to become the latest college coach to stagger through a few 30-win seasons before running right back to the college ranks with his tail between his legs?
Labels: annoying end-of-season storylines