Hosing in Salt Lake City (and other NBA musings)

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*Okay, so who out there was rooting for Oklahoma City last night? Didn’t think so.  Outside of the great state of Oklahoma, I can’t imagine there were too many not on the bandwagon of the upstart Jazz. Personally, I was thrilled to see the Thunder go down, had rooted for that outcome heading into the game, and other than my small desire simply to see how the Jazz might respond to a Game 7 on the road (not well was my best guess), there was just so little to like about OKC (hello, Carmelo!). So all the Jazz do is lose their point guard seven minutes in (Rubio already had 3 assists at that point), yet still manage to pull away in the third and hold off the Thunder down the stretch, as the veteran OKC squad desperately tried to stay alive and bring things back home for a 7th game. So I should be happy, but…

But man did the Thunder get jobbed on that non-call at the end.  After what seemed like umpteen OKC attempts at a game-tying three had rimmed out in multiple, agonizing caroms, the unspeakable actually happened.  Gobert fouls George in the act of shooting a three, and a desperate Jazz team was now visibly teetering on the brink.  Except no foul was called, and it was awful.

Would George have converted all three from the stripe and tied the game with almost no time left?  No way to know, although my own opinion is that he would have hit all three despite the fact that he’d suffered through a dreadful shooting night up to that point. Even if he just hits two of three, I saw little chance that the Jazz would go down and execute on the offensive end, and the game seemed to be unequivocally slipping from their grasp.

And how about the official’s post-game explanation that Gobert had jumped to the left and George had leaned into him, thus earning the “no-call?” Nope.  C’mon guys, this was on television! We all saw it. Yeah Gobert jumped left, and yeah, George leaned.  And yeah, a foul should have been called. Yup, it was a hosing of the first degree.

So instead of an agonizing choke for the second game in a row, the Jazz move on into what should be a five-game (maybe 6) series loss to the top-seeded Rockets. And let the finger pointing by the Thunder’s “Big Two and a Half” begin in earnest (tonight’s NY Post Sports online headline:  “Carmelo Anthony is done making sacrifices for Thunder”). Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…I’ll give you $28 million reasons Carmelo doesn’t opt out of that ridiculous contract of his (thank you, Phil Jackson).  It will actually make for a fascinating case study to see what Melo actually does (he says the money’s been made and this is about “figuring out what I want out of the rest of my career, what I want in my future, what am I willing to accept, if I’m willing to accept that at all.” Uh huh).

If he surprises us all and decides to put his legacy where his mouth is and opts out it will be telling to see where he signs.  Who wants him?  Does he really think LeBron will let him tag along wherever he goes in hopes of scabbing a cheap, end-of-career ring? LeBron is a lot of things, but dumb isn’t one of them, and he can’t possibly see how Melo can help him win somewhere, can he?  Can he?

Instead, look for Melo to parlay the one-year and $28 mil remaining into a multi-year deal with a second-tier team looking to sell a few tickets while the rebuild takes hold (Atlanta? Memphis?). Maybe three years, $45 million? Plus a free reign to shoot every time down the court with defensive effort optional?  Sign him up.  Legacy my ass.

Some other thoughts:

*Did anyone else find the Bucks-Celtics series incredibly uninteresting?  I know it’s been an uphill climb of a year for the Celtics, whose two most entertaining players are both out for the season (one since the campaign’s first game), and the fact that they are advancing at all is a huge credit to the guys they are putting on the floor, plus the great coach and strong front office.  But man, wake me when they get eliminated (by Philly in 6 in the next round methinks) will ya? I mean we had a Game 7 tonight and there was never even a question as to the outcome.

I blame the Bucks for that, as you could argue they are every bit as talented as the Jazz, were facing a lesser opponent (Celtics are not as good as the Thunder), but throughout this series looked happy to simply show up at home, while barely competing on the road.  And then quietly and dutifully go home for good, satisfied they’d taken the depleted Celts to 7 games.  So don’t blame the Celtics for winning a blah series, but don’t blame me for not caring.  Even a little. Ugh…

*If Steph Curry never gets back to 100% is he a Hall of Famer? Right now he’s got roughly 14,000 points, a career average of 23.2 points per game and 4000+ assists (just under 7 a game) over 9 seasons.  Oh yeah, and two titles (three if the NBA hadn’t shamelessly given the 2016 title to LeBron and the city of Cleveland).  That’s not a Hall of Fame career, at least at this juncture on statistics alone.  And if foot, ankle and knee woes begin to rob him of his quickness, hamper his ability to play defense, and get off that shot with his usual lightning-quick release, what happens to him?  Give him three more years as an above-average starter playing 65 games a year and averaging low-20’s and he starts to get close to 20,000 points, That, along with the titles (another this year? I’m thinking no…), and now he’s on the doorstep of The Hall. But not yet.

Steph’s lower leg injuries scare me, so let’s take my statistical projections one dramatic step forward and give him five more productive, but injury-riddled years, where he becomes a one-dimensional, spot-up shooter playing 20-25 minutes a game in 55 or so games a year? Now he’s finishing up in more of a Ray Allen-at-the-end type of stat line with 12-14 points a game, thus dropping his overall PPG average closer to 20 for his career and leaving him in a vulnerable spot with respect to The Hall.  He just concluded a regular season where he played in 51 games in his age 29 season, averaging 26.4 points and 6.1 assists. He’s going to be 30 soon and he seems to be taking longer and longer to heal when injured. Hmmmm…

For comparison sake, take a look at another awesome scorer who lit it up for awhile before injuries derailed his statistical juggernaut:

Tracy McGrady:  Hall of Famer. His last big statistical year was when he averaged 24.6 in his age 27 year with Houston in 2006-2007.  The following year he averaged 21.6 and appeared in 66 games.  He then played in 35, 30 and 30 games in the following three years, before rebounding with a role-player type of season for Detroit in 2010-11, averaging 8 points in 23 minutes per over 72 games.  He played one more year and retired with a career 19.6 average and just under 19,000 total points.  And never won a title.  But he got into The Hall. The prevailing sentiment being that when he was at his spectacular best, T-Mac was elite, and the fact that it continued uninterrupted (for the most part) over seven consecutive seasons sealed the deal.

How much are Steph’s titles worth to his legacy?  Says here they are pretty darn important (although adding one more this year would sure be a difference maker).  No title this year and a couple more injury-decimated seasons followed by an early-30’s retirement, and he is no lock.

*Will the Pelicans get swept? What if Boogie Cousins never got hurt? Both tough questions, but I’ll go with “no” and “no playoffs.”

I like how the Pelicans match up with Golden State in this series despite the destruction that’s taking place about 20 miles west of me at Oracle Arena tonight. Yes, in front of 20,000 hysterically gleeful Dubs fans, all clad in gold (yellow, really) t-shirts cheering hard for every three right to the final buzzer.

Rondo and Holiday are a tough backcourt for the Dubs to dominate though, and could steal at least one game on their own.  I’ll also give Anthony Davis one game of dominance and that makes it at least a 6-game series.  Don’t see it going further than that, but those Dubs fans better hope they make it out of this one healthy, as they’ll need all hands on deck for the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, the series we all want to see.

And as for Boogie?  I love the guy.  He’s just so fun to watch, but this is a classic case of the team concept actually being stronger after the elite player goes out with an injury.  The New Orleans system is better with AD having room to roam and let his entire array of freakish skills be on display.  Hard to do that with Boogie needing the ball so much.  I’m afraid the problem is Cousins may actually be one of those guys who’s so much fun to watch but will never take a team all the way (see Wilkins, Dominique; Iverson, Allen; Haywood, Spencer). As much as it would be fun to see him in a Knicks uniform at MSG next year, we can’t.  Simply can’t.  Just can’t.  Please don’t! That is, if we are serious about building a real team that can contend one day.  Sorry Boogie.

*Anyone give the Pacers a chance going into Cleveland for Game 7 tomorrow? Me either. He’s still LeBron. I will bet that Indy gives us a better show than the Bucks did in Boston today, but we haven’t heard the last of The King during this postseason, and my bet is they will also take out the Raptors in Round 2 (and that one won’t go 7). Cleveland beating up on the Raptors will in turn set up my best case scenario in the Eastern Conference Finals, with Philly hosting the Brons (I mean Cavs).  Simmons, Embiid, and company will have to grow up fast in that one, but I feel like we may be witnessing the Ben Simmons Coming Out Party here in May and June of 2018, so look for the year of the Liberty Bell to continue if that one comes off as I expect it to.

In the meantime, look for 44/12/12 from King James tomorrow night, while one of his supporting cast members figures out how to do just enough to push them over the top in a close one (Larry Nance Jr. anyone?).  And oh by the way — short the Pacers next year.  Regression back to the mean for Oladipo and not enough upside going forward for the rest of that roster (except maybe Sabonis).  Fun while it lasted, but good night Indiana.

 

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