Tag Archives: NBA playoffs

Potential playoff upsets with SRS

Six of the eight first round matchups are extending to at least six games for the first time since the best-of-seven format started in 2003. To me, none of those series have felt like a slogfest either. We might even see a few upsets, starting tonight with both the eighth-seeded Hawks and seventh-seeded Grizzlies hosting Game 6’s with 3-2 leads.

Looking at where each of those teams were seeded, those would be huge wins for Atlanta and Memphis if they can pull them off, but if we look at how they match up in regular season SRS with Indiana and Oklahoma City, respectively, sealing their first round series tonight (or in a Game 7) would be arguably even more impressive.

SRS, or shortened for Simple Rating System, combines margin of victory and strength of schedule. As you’ll see below, it has its drawbacks since it doesn’t exactly value records that help determine seeding, but it’s easily understandable and often does enough to show how good teams were for 82 games. For more of an explanation, check this out, but it might also help to say that the best SRS in league history, according to Basketball-Reference, comes from the 1971 Milwaukee Bucks at 11.91, narrowly beating out the 11.80 from the ’96 Chicago Bulls. The worst goes to the 1993 Dallas Mavericks at -14.68 while the average SRS is 0, though no team has ever actually achieved that exact rating.

To go back to the playoffs, from 2003 to 2013, the team with the higher SRS in their first round series has advanced 79.6 percent of the time, or about the same rate as teams with the higher seed at 78.4 percent. Teams with both the higher SRS and the higher seed (75 occurrences) won 84 percent of their matchups. (Edit: Washington, with an SRS .72 points less than Chicago, advanced Tuesday night and Portland, .62 points less than Houston, can advance tomorrow.)

The higher the difference in SRS with home court, the higher the likelihood a team will win a series, which makes it all the more interesting that Atlanta (SRS: -0.88) and Memphis (2.18) can each clinch tonight. Each of theirs are at least four points lower than Indiana (3.63) and Oklahoma City (6.66) and are in two of five matchups this postseason with that large of a difference or more.

Below are the others with Hawks-Pacers and Grizzlies-Thunder included:

I’ve been fiddling with the SRS of every matchup since 1984, when the league went to their current playoff format 30 years ago. The scenario this season’s Hawks, Grizzlies, and the other three teams are in – an SRS at least four points worse than their opponent and without home court advantage – has often made for a heck of an uphill battle.

Below is a round-by-round look at how teams, ones in those same situations as this year’s previously listed five teams, have performed over the last 30 seasons:

The Charlotte Bobcats will join the list of those that couldn’t overcome their disadvantages, but Atlanta and Memphis have two outs while Brooklyn and Dallas can still extend their season with victories at home tomorrow night.

As for the table above (for the series wins, click here) the only win in the second round came last postseason when Memphis (3.69) beat the Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder (9.15). Another weird one came in 2001 when the Los Angeles Lakers (3.13) had an SRS 4.18 points lower than San Antonio in the Conference Finals. Going by SRS, those Lakers were an underdog in every round except for the NBA Finals, when they were 0.11 points higher than the 76ers. They ended up having the most dominant postseason run of all time, according to Neil Paine but most likely tons of others, too.

2013 featured two upsets meeting this post’s requirements, though 1995 has the most ever with three. This postseason definitely has a chance of matching either 2013 or 1995, but they could also surpass them both with four or more. With all that’s happened the last two weeks, would it really be that surprising if that happened?

Also (!!), I haven’t posted lately because of a high fever at first, but I then made my debut at the Washington Post‘s Fancy Stats. If the Hawks’ three-point shooting has stood out to you, check out my post on how they’ve taken more threes than free throws and how unique their starting five is.

Any other thoughts are welcome.

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Solid final quarter of season a common trait among champions

Every team has a peak and valley during their season, even the 76ers who started the season 3-0 but are now dealing with a winless five-week stretch. For a team looking to grab a top-3 pick in this year’s draft, that’s probably the right time to find their high and really, really low points of the season. As for the title contenders it should be the opposite, though a few teams are going through some recent woes whether it’s from a difficult stretch of games (Miami dealing with Joakim Noah and Boris Diaw), adjusting after a trade (Indiana with Evan Turner and other problems) or whatever else factoring into a slump (it’s all Russell Westbrook’s fault!).

History has shown that it’s fine to experience those downswings as long as they don’t carry too deep into March or April. Over the past 30 years, 26 of the eventual champions played .600 ball or better in the final quarter of the season. Also worth noting is that, with the help of Basketball-Reference, 26 of the last 28 champions finished the same stretch of games with a positive net rating.

Below are the last 30 champions with their records, offensive and defensive efficiency, and net rating over the final fourth of the season. Highlighted are the outliers. All stats are according to Basketball-Reference:

The outliers:

1995 Houston Rockets

Hakeem Olajuwon missed eight of the final 20 games with the Rockets going 3-5 over that stretch. Clyde Drexler played out of his mind during Dream’s absence, averaging a stat line of 30.0/9.3/5.5/2.4/0.9. He also made over 30 percent of his threes, something not totally guaranteed throughout his career.

In the 12 games Olajuwon played, Houston squeaked out a positive net rating of 0.1. Also, Zan Tabak played in only eight of the last 20 games. Absolutely has to be noted.

Orlando finished 9-11 as well, though they had efficiency splits of 114.2/112.3/+1.9. Long live the mid-90s Magic jerseys and Penny Hardaway.

2006 Miami Heat

Dwyane Wade missed three games while Shaquille O’Neal missed five. Each sat out the last two games, paving the way for a Michael Doleac-Wayne Simien-Antoine Walker-Dorell Wright-Jason Williams starting lineup. Miami lost both. Fun times.

Dallas also finished 11-9 that season and Dirk Nowitzki played 81 games, so what might be their best excuse? Their schedule wasn’t the greatest as they played the Cavaliers, Clippers, and Kings each twice and the Jazz, Nets, Nuggets, Pistons, Spurs, Suns, and Wizards each once. That’s not exactly the most murderous row of opponents but a mix of title contenders and playoff-worthy teams jousting for seeding nonetheless. Also mixed in the final 20 games were the Hornets with a rookie Chris Paul, the Magic with a young Dwight Howard, and the Warriors who…they stunk down the stretch, sure, but we all know what happened next year. Regardless, that’s 19 of the final 20 games. Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks were the other squad Dallas faced (and defeated).

2010 Los Angeles Lakers

Andrew Bynum missed the last 13 games of the season while Kobe Bryant missed four. Pau Gasol was awesome down the stretch, though, averaging a line of 24.2/12.9/3.8 with 2.2 blocks.

2012 Miami Heat

A lockout-shortened season where resting core players was rarely a bad move. LeBron James, Wade, and Chris Bosh made only 31 appearances out of a possible 48, making way for front courts of some combination of Eddy Curry, Dexter Pittman, Udonis Haslem, James Jones, and Shane Battier. Arguably more fun times than 2006.

It might seem standard for solid teams to play any fourth of the season with a positive net rating, but that’s not exactly true. Using the net ratings from NBA.com, below are 10 notable teams of the last 15 seasons that dipped into the negatives over the final quarter:

Sure, a lot of those teams were pseudo-contenders. The 2001 Sixers, for example, were never going to win four games against a Lakers squad that mowed over their first three opponents with an offense-defense efficiency line of 113.0/96.3/+16.7, but maybe sputtering down the stretch contributed to those teams not being among the league’s elite during their respective seasons. As for the 2010 Lakers and 2013 Spurs, they clearly stand above the eight other teams in terms of talent and confidence they’d make a deep run in the postseason.

Some team over the next five weeks is bound to hit a rough patch. Maybe they’ll right themselves in time for what should be a hell of a postseason, but they could also end up as a team to write off whether it’s in April, May, or possibly even June. Below is a breakdown of the remaining schedules for a mix of title contenders and ones I don’t think will go that far in the playoffs, but included them anyway just because. Each team also has their own sheet with their last 20 games, including the (color-filtered) difficulty of their opponents. It’s a fricken rainbow.

Every team seems to have a few games in a row against teams competing (or about to compete) for lottery balls, though teams out West appear to have more daunting schedules overall.

There’s always the chance for an outlier like four of the last 30 seasons, though, but the Clips at least look well on their way to fit the minimum requirements to be labeled as a contender. That’s at least in regards to finishing steady.

But to include one last table, ending the last quarter of the season over .600 and with a sexy net rating doesn’t always guarantee making the deepest of runs in the playoffs. Below is a table of the best nets in the final fourth of seasons since 1997, according to NBA.com:

If that final table makes a team finishing hot suddenly worrisome, it probably shouldn’t. When looking at net ratings provided by Basketball-Reference in the very first table, champions often had very respectable ones. Chicago’s from 1996 is unreal.

Anyway, a lot still needs to be addressed regarding quite a few playoff teams. Let’s see how the last five weeks play out. The next two days should especially be entertaining thanks to a ton of good matchups.

For related posts, check out drastic movements in the lottery over the last two months of the season and what 20 wins before Christmas means in the West.

Thoughts on OKC-Memphis, Indiana-New York, NBA names, and more

There’s no smooth way to introduce this, so I’ll resort to issuing a warning: it’ll become evident by the very end how bored I was while writing some of this up. Just trust me on that. Here’s what I came up with anyway:

Last thoughts on the first round

For Chicago, Jimmy Butler played every second of Game 6 and 7 versus Brooklyn. He wasn’t subbed out, ever. Kobe’s jealous.

Here’s a video of the 19-0 run Boston pulled versus New York:

In my post reflecting on the first round, I wrote this year might be the one where Kevin Harlan’s hair lights on fire. Had he called that Knicks-Celtics game, it surely would’ve happened.

Moving on

As unfortunate as the Russell Westbrook knee injury has been, it’s been fun to see what Kevin Durant is capable of when he’s the first and second option on offense. Since Westbrook’s injury, he’s averaged 35.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. 2006 Kobe is jealous.

Durant’s shooting percentages vary, with making 29 percent from the arc but 50.9 percent overall. He’s 85.7 from the line, which is below his 90.5 percentage from the regular season, but he’s getting to the line 10.2 times per game. That’s about an extra attempt than his regular season average. It’s a decent tradeoff.

Derek Fisher has to make just about every three he takes to justify playing his flop-heavy defense. Well, he’s made 58 percent so far. Good enough.

One of Memphis’ weaknesses on offense is making threes. They’re 24th in that area when it comes to shooting percentage, but the results have been pretty good when they make as many or more than their opponent, at least in the regular season. They were 9-1 when they made as many threes as their opponent, with the loss coming to the Clips. When they made more threes than their opponent, they were 19-6. Three losses came to Denver, one to the Clips, one to Oklahoma City, and one to, um, Washington? Huh?

It’s been a little different in the playoffs. Memphis is 1-1 (won Game 4 vs LAC, lost Game 2 vs LAC) when they’ve tied their opponent in threes made. Durant’s go-ahead bucket in Game 1 also put Memphis at 1-1 when they’ve made more threes than their opponent. Their win came in Game 6 versus the Clippers. We’ll see if that statistic changes throughout the series.

One last Memphis stat: in the Western Conference semifinals, Marc Gasol is knocking down one referee per game:

+1 for Bill Kennedy doing a reverse somersault.

Moving on to Indiana and New York. There was some talk, at least on Twitterslovakia, that the Knicks have nowhere to go but up as far as their shooting is concerned. In Game 1, Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton, and J.R. Smith combined to shoot 39.3 percent (26-66) from the field, 33 percent from 3 (5-15), and 16-19 from the line.

Smith’s shooting numbers since coming back from his suspension: 12-42 from the field, 6-17 from 3 and 14-18 from the line. He did have a huge layup + foul in Game 6 at Boston, but other than that he’s been forgettable. Also, Jason Kidd has been ghastly, going 3-12 from the arc and 3-18 total.

So the talk of Melo and the Knicks backcourt struggling is true, but Indiana didn’t exactly light it up either. In Game 1, the trio of David West, Paul George, and George Hill combined for 39.1 percent (18-46), 4-16 from 3, and 13-15 from the line. The contributions from the rest of the Pacers set them apart in the first game. D.J. Augustin, for heaven’s sake, came into Game 1 shooting below 30 percent in the first round against the Hawks and 35 percent for the whole season. He was 5-6 with four threes yesterday. During the season, Augustin took more than five shots 19 times. He only shot 50 percent or better in four of them.

Lance Stephenson has been a beast on the boards, logging more rebounds (61) than points (58). His defensive rebounding percentage versus the Hawks was 24.7, higher than the regular season percentages of Tyson Chandler, Andrew Bogut, and David Lee. Surely, that percentage went up after yesterday’s 11-point, 13-rebound (11 defensive) performance. Still waiting for it to update on basketball-reference.com. Hurry up.

Update: that number jumped to 26.1 percent. When comparing defensive rebounding percentages in the playoffs, his rate surpasses the likes of Omer Asik, Andrew Bogut, and Larry Sanders.

And then there’s Roy Hibbert. Yesterday was proof that +/- differentials have their flaws. Hibbert was -1 in that area, but his defense was brilliant while chipping in on offense at just the right times. He logged 39 minutes. It was the second-highest total all year and second-highest of his postseason career, behind 39 minutes and 53 seconds against Miami in game 6 last postseason.

As Indiana has their hands full trying to defend Melo, so too will New York when trying to defend David West and Roy Hibbert. I predicted them to either lose to New York in five or beat them in six. It’s basically the difference between the unselfish, quick-ball-movement Knicks and the iso-heavy, this-is-why- I-don’t-like-you Knicks. It’s not like Indiana lit it up against Atlanta either, needing six games to finish them off.

If I had to pick between Melo and Paul George, I’d take George. Besides being six years younger, he’s more of a complete player. I know it’s crazy when thinking about defense, but it’s half the game and George has been terrific on that end. As a team, Indiana leads the league in defensive rating by nearly three points, 95.4 to Memphis’ second-place 98.1. When George is on the court, it drops to 94.9 but rises to 97.9 when he’s on the bench. A three-point swing on a team like Indiana’s has a little bit more weight.

But Melo attracts more attention. When he creates for others, the team is fun to watch and a little more likeable. Will we see that Knicks team this series or will they flame out versus Indiana?

This makes me feel a little better about my playoff predictions:

And last and definitely least, in one of the more degenerate statistics I’ve discovered, eight out of the top 30 players, according to ESPN’s #NBARank from April, have two first names. The list: Zach Randolph, Paul George, Tyson Chandler, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and LeBron James. What it all means: I need to get out more.

It’s pretty embarrassing to take a whole five minutes to research that, so I’ll deflect the attention back to Charles Barkley, who nearly broke a couch while trying to tackle Shaq Saturday night.

NBA Playoffs: Lasting memories from the first round, predicting the second

Sometimes it feels like the first round of the NBA playoffs is longer than the actual season.

It didn’t help that most teams were marred by injuries. Oklahoma City lost Russell Westrook in the middle of their series versus Houston, star point guards were already missing from Boston and Chicago, Kobe might not be in the postseason until 2015, Stephen Curry’s ankle scared the daylights out of every NBA fan; the list feels endless and is the most injury-riddled season in years.

But the first round didn’t end without speculation. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, two all-stars for their respective teams in Los Angeles, both enter free agency after hitting the showers early in their elimination games; Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce head into the summer with a Celtic team about to enter a new and youthful era; and Brooklyn, despite having worse spending habits than Latrell Sprewell, came up empty in the first round.

Where do the teams previously mentioned go from here? What about the players? What about Latrell Sprewell? Will we find out anything soon? Probably not.

Until then, we get to watch the elite like LeBron James try to make it the year Kevin Harlan’s hair literally lights on fire. We also get to watch up-and-coming players bloom into stars, like Stephen Curry did against Denver.

Both James and Curry have put on clinics all season, but Curry’s now driving a national audience bonkers with his shooting (and passing) performances. It was my favorite memory from the first round. Here are the rest of my takes from each series, including more of Curry and a look into the second round matchups:

Miami (1) – Milwaukee (8)

The series kind of really looked a lot like this:

In case you were confused, the Heat were the cheetahs and the Bucks were the gazelle.

If only it was narrated by Kevin Harlan, who we know at least likes watching birds, you know, the ones that look like Chris Anderson.

Brooklyn (4) – Chicago (5)

It’s too bad Kahn got fired from the Timberwolves, otherwise the notion that Brooklyn is “one player away” would be curable.

Anyway, it’s really tough to make a highlight reel of the Nets and Bulls series. One team is about as emotional as a refrigerator, the other on their last leg heading into Miami.

There was nothing new from this series, though. Joe Johnson turned in a typical Joe Johnson performance, nobody on Brooklyn wanted to take the final shots, and the Bulls proved their doubters wrong by turning in one of the best performances ever under Tom Thibodeau. Somehow, none of that was surprising.

Here were my favorite highlights of the series. The series was so pedestrian I had to start looking for these before the series even started.

And then what summarized game 7:

Round 2: Miami-Chicago

Captain Obvious says it’s going to be a physical series. The Bulls will have a couple games where they stay within striking distance but won’t get over the hump without Rose.

How far Chicago pushes Miami really depends on Luol Deng’s status throughout the series. They can push it to as much as six games with him and most of the Bulls squad ready to go.

But Miami doesn’t have a second gear. They have NOS, and I expect them to use it in four out of five games.

Miami in five, but it will be closer than some may think.

Indiana (3) – Atlanta (6)

The NBA TV special!

This series was a lot like the Miami-Milwaukee series, with one slight difference:

New York (2) – Boston (7)

I know objectivity is awesome and all, but the New York Knicks are approaching 2011 Miami Heat territory on teams I don’t want to see win it all. Five reasons:

  1. The Knicks signed Quentin Richardson for what reason? He hasn’t been relevant for nine seasons.
  2. The team as a whole wore black before game 5, which backfired. Didn’t Jason Kidd have something to say about that? Wasn’t he brought in for leadership? What about Marcus Camby? Kurt Thomas? Hello? No, go away Rasheed Wallace.
  3. It’s also too bad Kenyon Martin refused to address the black outfits after the game:
  4. Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton’s body language never fall short of hilarious. By hilarious I mean an annoyance similar to that of washed up, overweight basketball players that consistently ruin the fun of noonball on my college campus.
  5. Then there’s Spike Lee, who turned what should’ve been one of the great sports films of all time in He Got Game into just good, thanks to a plot involving Denzel Washington and a hooker. It’s been 15 years and that still drives me through the wall.

I have to give it up to the Knicks though. They’ve needed Martin to take on a huge role with Chandler banged up this postseason and he’s put in 8.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, and 6.3 (!!!) fouls per 36 minutes. Chandler’s per-36-minute numbers: 6.5 points, 10.9 rebounds, 0.8 blocks.

Felton and Shumpert have had their ups and downs, but they hassled Paul Pierce into his worst playoff performance since 2004. Shumpert’s made J.R. Smith expendable with both his offense and defense, but especially his defense that threw Pierce out of whack.

As for Boston, the KG era really does feel final. There’s a lengthy blog post about that for another time. Until then, I’ll be distracting myself from what looks like the end to the careers of two of my childhood heroes.

The way they went out was valiant though. I knew when I flipped the channel from their game to Pacers-Hawks that it was too awful to be true, and it was. Their 19-0 run in the fourth quarter might not have been enough to keep Garnett and Pierce around for one more season, but it was enough to make me look forward to the future of the Celtics.

I constantly find myself scared of their rebuilding phase, but then I remind myself that Rick Pitino isn’t around like he was in the late ’90s. Everything’s going to be all right this time around. Hopefully.

Round 2: Indiana-New York

Whatever happens, I’ll be enjoying the ‘90s flashbacks of Pacers-Knicks series and not-so-secretly hoping Kenyon Martin fouls David West one time just a little too hard.

It will be interesting though to see how the Pacers defend Melo and Shumpert. Will David West, of all Pacers, see limited minutes if the Knicks continue to go small? Where do they hide West now with Shumpert’s ability to score off the bounce and from 3?

I have the Knicks in 5. I can’t see them winning game 6 in Indiana and I find it hard to believe the Pacers win three games against New York.

But then again, Amare Stoudemire is rumored to come back by Game 3. Uh-oh.

If that happens, Pacers in 6!

Onto the West:

Oklahoma City (1) – Houston (8)

This series resembled a blogger taking potshots at a nationally-known journalist.

First, there was the Patrick Beverley-Russell Westbrook feud that really wasn’t anything until Westbrook needed knee surgery after game 2. I have yet to know where Beverley even went to college, as was the case for (hopefully, just so I don’t feel bad) several NBA fans until the series shifted to Houston.

It still feels like bad blood remains, as I wrote in my previous post regarding the two.

And then Royce White chimed in after Houston won game 5 at Oklahoma City.

roycewhite1

roycewhite2

Durant fired back, with a metaphorical rifle of some sort.

From the AP, which ESPN posted on their Web site:

Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant isn’t worried about tweets from Houston rookie Royce White that say the Thunder are looking shaky.

“Who’s he?” Durant asked Friday at practice.

Good question!

“I haven’t seen him on the bench,” Durant told reporters. “He hasn’t played against us, so I’m not worried about guys that’s not even in our series. Ain’t that the guy that can’t, that’s afraid to fly? I wish him the best. If I see him next year, I’ll let him know who we are.”

Asked if comments such as White’s raise his ire, Durant brushed them off.

“I don’t get fired up off stuff,” Durant said. “I get fired up just playing this game, enjoying the game. Like I said, I wish him the best. I wish he could have played and really felt this intensity for a playoff game, but I guess watching on TV is better.”

Boom. Durant did everything but threaten to throw a paper plane at him.

Clippers (4) – Memphis (5)

Watching Marc Gasol was/still is like watching Adam Sandler act, but the opposite. Each year, Gasol’s game grows. He knows where to be on each side of the court, he knows the passing lanes to clog and the cutters to bump on defense, his jumpshot (like Randolph’s) defies the definition of a jumpshot, and he makes free throws. (!!!)

Both Gasols, really, are a reminder it doesn’t take a big man who catches insane lobs (DeAndre Jordan), swats shots into the third row (McGee, Ibaka), or runs the floor like a deer (basically every center under 30 except Gasol and maybe Nikola Pekovic) to make an effective center.

Meanwhile, to complete the reference to the opposite of watching Adam Sandler, Sandler hasn’t starred in or written anything worth watching (I haven’t watched Punch-Drunk Love) in almost 15 years. Even then, the humor in The Waterboy continues to turn more annoying as the years go by. I’m not bitter, I just can’t stand worse acting than Derek Fisher and worse writing than my own. If only I noticed that during my childhood.

For the sake of my blood pressure and overall well-being, I’ll stick to watching Marc Gasol who stays within himself each game. Without his consistent excellence, Memphis isn’t the painful out they’ve been for the last three years.

This was also the series that put the Rudy Gay talk away for good. As Toronto sets themselves up for mediocrity for the next couple of years, Memphis remains a dark horse contender even with Jerryd “The Other” Bayless as their sixth man. Amazing.

As for the Clippers, it looks like the end of their run with Chris Paul.

And if he left, I wouldn’t blame him.

Vinny Del Negro played 12 guys in his final game as the Clippers head coach. Lamar Odom played 23 minutes and his plus-minus differential was -22, Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford played a COMBINED 21 minutes, Willie Green logged 14 minutes in his first game in a week, and Grant Hill played 20 in his first playoff game this postseason.

I don’t know what to say. I’ve seen worse recipes for disaster, but only from my own cooking.

My final thought on the Clippers season: I feel bad Grant Hill won’t win a ring.

Round 2: Oklahoma City-Memphis

Separately, Kendrick Perkins and Zach Randolph might not make for good TV. Together, they make enough drama to rival any MTV reality show (except THIS drama is actually real and not fabricated).

I also not-so-secretly hope Durant gets into it with Randolph at some time or another.

The matchup between Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka will also be intriguing, as each relies on an opposite skill than the other.

Bayless should have a good series if Scott Brooks sticks Derek Fisher on him. I’m not looking forward to that or any other situation where Brooks out-thinks himself.

Actually, both head coaches in this series are weirdos, but Vinny Del Negro is eliminated. At least there’s that.

Prediction: unless Reggie Jackson or Serge Ibaka play a couple levels up, I got Memphis in six games and Russell Westbrook having the most unhappy off-season ever.

Denver (3) – Golden State (6)

Here’s one of several videos summarizing how awesome Stephen Curry was versus Denver:

I actually really like these videos, as jiggly as the camera phones may be. They give more of a sense of how nuts it really was at Oracle Arena, which sounds more like a dental center than a basketball arena, but whatever.

The reactions of the fans at Oracle have become priceless when comparing the same ones in Atlanta when Josh Smith shoots. Here’s a typical reaction from Warriors fans when Curry lines up his first 3 of the night:

“Yes! For the love of God, shoot it!” the fans scream.

(Simple enough, right?)

The ball sails through the net. The crowd goes bonkers, praying for 20 more shots from beyond the arc. Win or lose, they know how awesome it is to have Stephen Curry on their team. They have him at a bargain, for $44 million over 4 years. They can’t help but think this is going to be something special after going through one of the most embarrassing seasons ever last year just to get here.

I don’t blame them. I hope they’re right.

At the end of the night, they line up near the tunnel, praying Curry throws them his mouthguard.

Now, here’s a typical Hawks fan in Philips Arena when Josh Smith lines up a similar 3:

The ball sails through the net. Everyone from the crowd, including fans for the other team, takes an Aspirin knowing Josh Smith now has the confidence to take five more threes. The Hawks fans can’t wait for Josh Smith to hit free agency. In the meantime, they come together to launch an investigation to hunt down whoever told Smith he could make a jumpshot.

Spurs(2) – Lakers(7)

I don’t know what to think of this alley-oop:

Or Phil Jackson’s response:

phil1

As it turned out, there really was an earthquake felt over Los Angeles, but the metaphorical one was one of the final nails in the Lakers’ coffin.

But I’m left asking myself if the Spurs are really back. Are they dangerous again, or did they feed off the poor version of the 2004 Lakers? I like to think they are if Tiago Splitter is back. Memphis and them pose the toughest out for Miami.

And really, that’s all I want at this point. This reeks of 2001 where the Lakers bulldozed everything in their path. If the Spurs can stay healthy, they match up very well with the Heat (or at least better than Oklahoma City and even Memphis).

The Dwight Howard ejection was anything but a highlight, but it was certainly the most talked about part of the series. There’s nothing else to add to it that I didn’t already explain in a previous post.

As for the Lakers’ season, it was a lot like a disc golf session I had a week ago. The beginning sucked. My discs were deflecting off tree limbs, skipping off the grass unintentionally at times and in another instance I nearly landed one in a garbage can. I kept saying after every hole that the next one would be when the game REALLY starts.

It only kept getting worse. By the time I reached the end, I accepted that I indeed suck at disc golf.

I had a few good throws though, which was enough to keep me coming back. The weather was beautiful, too.

Does Dwight Howard feel the same way about his time in Los Angeles? We’ll see.

Round 2: San Antonio-Golden State

Tim Duncan finished off the JaVale McGee-Dikembe Mutombo hybrid named Dwight Howard. Now, he’s matched up with the Australian behemoth in Andrew Bogut and a top five name in Festus Ezeli.

Meanwhile, Curry just might be the one guy who forces the NBA to create a four-pointer from half court and beyond. When’s the last time someone brought the ball up the court and kept fans on their toes, waiting for him to shoot it from any spot on the floor?

The Spurs are a very different (and surprisingly healthy) beast than Denver, but I’m sure Spurs fans fear a 10-for-12 night from three by Curry that costs them their home court advantage.

But this series feels more like a lesson of growing up, much like the Thunder-Lakers series of 2010. A team that consistently stays calm under pressure in the Spurs will take on another that literally tried to give game 6 away versus Denver.

Spurs in five, though I’m not necessarily rooting for this outcome.

Push it to seven, Golden State.

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