NBA 2014-15 – WEEK 2

OPENING TIPOFF
As I’m not the prosperity-themed preacher of a mega-church, I normally don’t take prayer requests. However, because one reader from Memphis, TN wrote me this past week to express her extreme disappointment that I didn’t say more about her beloved Grizzlies in Week One’s edition, I promised to correct that oversight this week.

So, here goes: the Memphis Grizzlies. You’re welcome…But seriously, 6-1 through Saturday night is impressive and once again proves the depth of the West this season. It’s going to be HARD to be a playoff team out West.

48 MINUTES
I may be wrong – I’m probably not – but I can’t remember this level of excitement about the first two weeks of a season in…well, since LeBron James took his “talents to South Beach.”

This was the week when the word patience was taken out of the dictionary as it pertains to the Cleveland LeBrons and the Los Angeles Kobes after 5 games. 5 GAMES into an 82-game season. (For those of you not doing the math at home, that’s approximately 6% of the schedule.) “Are the Cavaliers ever going to learn how to play together?” “Should Kobe and/or the Lakers consider asking the other for permission to explore a trade?”

In the words of the great football and life philosopher Aaron “Double-Check” Rodgers: R.E.L.A.X. Believe it or not, the Heat had not one, but two 4-game losing streaks the first year of “The Big 3” and somehow, they managed to make it to the NBA Finals that season. Granted they lost to the Mavericks, but trust me on this: I’ve been to Cleveland several times and if this team even gets to the Eastern Conference Finals this season, it will be hailed and celebrated. Barring any significant injuries, the Cavs will learn how to play together. Or LeBron will fire everyone.

Kobe Bryant’s only value at this point in his career is to the Lakers and I just don’t see him risking tainting his legacy by demanding a trade to a contender so he can chase that elusive 6th ring. By the way, not only would a 6th ring tie Bryant with Michael Jordan, but with Kareem and Scottie Pippen as well. But get this: he’d still be one behind Robert Horry. As my friend Belma Johnson recently said, “Number of rings is a faulty metric unto itself. Are Robert Horry and Derek Fisher really greater than Wilt Chamberlain and Charles Barkley [no ring]?…I’m from LA, so I love rings, but it’s only one measure.”

As for the ongoing soap opera aka the Lakers, their increasingly delusional fan base is going to have to learn to accept this basic fact about this year’s team: it’s just not very good. Expecting this collection of players to suddenly improve and become a legitimate playoff contender reminds me of a former San Diego Padres pitching coach who after being fired because of the pitching staff’s poor performance said, “let me tell you something: you can train a donkey to run in the Kentucky Derby, but I guarantee you it won’t win the race.” In the other words – this is a bad team and its record is reflective of that.

Really scary question for Lakers fans to ponder: what if, as Melvin Udall once famously said, this is as good as it gets?

3-POINT SHOT ATTEMPT

Now that Adam Silver has removed the racist owner formerly known as Donald T. Sterling, his next test is what to do about San Antonio continuing to leave star players at home for nationally televised games. Thursday night, with the Spurs in Houston to play the Rockets in the early TNT game, head coach Gregg Popovich once again poked his finger in the eyes of the league office, the Rockets and NBA fans everywhere when he left Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli at home with “mild sprained ankles.” To his credit (and the relief of his wallet), Popovich no longer says that he’s just resting players which has drawn fines from the league in the past. Now, he just makes up – in my opinion – excuses to do whatever he wants. Yeah, yeah, I know he’s won 5 rings, is the league’s “best coach”, runs the “best organization,” yadda, yadda bullshit! The real story is Poppovich doesn’t like playing a road game the night after a home game – the Spurs played the Hawks in San Antonio Wednesday – and this is his (and the Spurs’) childish, passive-aggressive way of protesting (along with his sarcastic league mandated in-game interviews). But here’s the thing that most of his fawning supporters in the media ignore: 1) there’s a responsibility to field your best possible team EVERY game and not just the ones you want to and 2) part of the problems in making the Spurs schedule every year is the fact that due to the annual San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo which this season runs from February 12-Mar 1, 2015, the team has to be on the road for an extended period every year and thus, subject to more back-to-back games than most teams. By the way, the same thing happens to the Bulls and Knicks (Ice Capades and the circus respectively) and the Clippers and Lakers (the infamous “Grammy Trip”) and they don’t even try, let alone get away with what the Spurs do on a consistent basis.

FLAGRANT FOUL
Speaking of the Lakers who are currently in the midst of “The Lost Season,” Steve Nash, who declared himself out for the season BEFORE it even started, posted a photo on Instagram of him playing golf last week. The team, who are paying Nash $9.7 million to NOT play for them or apparently even bother attending their home games, had no public comment. But something tells me there were plenty of curse words attached to Nash’s name around the Lakers offices this week.

FREE THROWS
During Thursday’s TNT studio show, Sir Charles Barkley vowed to stop eating until the Lakers win a game. When his fellow co-host Kenny “The Jet” Smith pointed out that the Lakers don’t play again until Sunday, he quickly amended his pledge to “starting Sunday.” Okay Kobe and the players posing as Lakers this season, Barkley’s waistline is now your responsibility.

The Warriors are very, very good and now we fully understand why Steve Kerr used Phil Jackson and the Knicks to leverage himself into becoming their coach.

The Clippers are finding out that they have to actually play the games AND win them before they can get to the Western Conference Finals as so many have penciled them in for.

Speaking of CLIPPER NATION which had a huge sigh of relief after Saturday’s matinee win at home over the Blazers, new owner Steve “Moneybags” Ballmer continues to distance the organization from the days of former owner Donald T. Sterling with the hiring of Gillian Zucker as the team’s new president of business operations. Zucker, the former president of the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA, becomes only the second female chief executive or president in major U.S. professional sports – the Lakers’ Jeanie Buss is the other – fills the front office position that has been vacant since former longtime team president Andy Roeser who was forced out by the NBA during last spring’s uproar over Sterling’s racially divisive tirades. The new structure has Ballmer casting league votes at the team’s governor, Zucker in charge of all non-basketball operations and head coach Doc Rivers will run the team’s basketball operations.

BTW, if Sacramento mayor (and native) Kevin Johnson had failed to keep the Kings there a few years ago when a Seattle group backed financially by Steve Ballmer tried to buy the team and move it there, the Western Conference may look a lot different today.

Bulls fans and the NBA media, get used to Derrick Rose missing games here and there. It’s the smart and only way to keep him healthy and ready for the playoffs.

So far, so good with Lance Stephenson and the Charlotte Hornets. Air Jordan’s team may be offensively challenged, but their defense is off-the charts intense. Here’s the rub for Lakers fans: Hornets head coach Steve Clifford was on Mike D’Antoni’s LA staff and that team didn’t play a lick of defense, individual or team. But Clifford takes his defensive philosophy and schemes to Charlotte and voila, they play defense! So, in conclusion, maybe it was D’Antoni’s fault after all?

Did I miss Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden’s retirement announcements?

WHAT THEY SAID
“In the words of the great @AaronRodgers12 ‘RELAX’” – @KingJames responding on Twitter after the Cavs slow start created a minor firestorm on social media and talk radio.

“There’s no bad energy flowing through our team, the organization right now.” – Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony on the different culture with the team compared to last season.

“We were like zombies—just motionless.” – Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw after his team lost to the injury-depleted Thunder who had only eight available players.

“I like what we have now…I think we shouldn’t get mad. I think we should get even. And we will see it on the court. – Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov making it crystal clear that there was no love lost when former Nets coach Jason Kidd left after only one season to take the same position with Milwaukee.

WHAT I LEARNED THIS WEEK
Steve Nash would make a lousy politician. With his defiantly unapologetic response – Google his Facebook page to read it – to the criticism he received from many pissed-off Lakers fans for posting an Instagram photo of him swinging a golf club after declaring himself unable to play this season, Nash cemented his standing as the linchpin of the worst trade in recent team history, if not all-time.

GAME OF THE WEEK – WEEK 3
San Antonio @ Golden State
Tuesday, 7:30pm PT on NBA TV

Get your popcorn ready! Or maybe not. Because this is the second night of a back-to-back for the Spurs – they play the Clippers in LA the night before – this could be another one of those “Pop Specials” where he rests one or more of his aging stars as he did last Thursday against the Rockets in Houston. If that happens and the Warriors win, will it be a fair assessment of where these two teams are, especially the undefeated Warriors who are clicking on all cylinders under new head coach Steve Kerr? Probably not and again, as I said earlier in this post, league commissioner Adam Silver and his management team need to address this sooner than later.

OT

The LA Times’ basketball rankings by Broderick Turner
November 8, 2014 @ 8:18pm PT
Last week’s ranking in parentheses; statistics are through Friday’s games:
1. HOUSTON: Rockets are scoring points (104.3, eighth-best in NBA) and playing defense (89.7, second-best). (9)
2. GOLDEN STATE: Warriors (4-0) are off to their best start since opening 5-0 during the 1994-95 season. (2)
3. MEMPHIS: Grizzlies off to best start in franchise history (6-0) because of league-best scoring defense (86.7). (6)
4. CHICAGO: Though Bulls are winning, fans worry that Derrick Rose is missing games with ankle injuries. (8)
5. TORONTO: Kyle Lowry had a triple-double with 13 points, 10 assists, 11 rebounds Friday against Wizards. (11)
6. SACRAMENTO: Kings (5-1) have won five in a row, their best start since the 1999-2000 season. (20)
7. DALLAS: A nice bounce-back win at Utah after getting blown out at Portland by 21 points. (11)
8. PORTLAND: Trail Blazers had impressive victories at home over Cleveland and Dallas before losing to Clippers. (15)
9. CLEVELAND: Cavaliers fans can relax after their team won its last game — until the next crisis. (7)
10. MIAMI: Chris Bosh is averaging a double-double with 24.2 points, 11 rebounds through five games.
11. CLIPPERS: Here are two problems: Last in rebounding (33.8) and have allowed the sixth-most points (104.2). (3)
12. WASHINGTON: Wizards are 19th in NBA in scoring, averaging 97.7 points, but they’re 11th in defense (97.0). (13)
13. SAN ANTONIO: The defending champions are resting players, shooting 42.7%, averaging 16.3 turnovers a game. (1)
14. CHARLOTTE: The Hornets are strong on defense, giving up 92.4 points a game, fourth-best in NBA. (17)
15. PHOENIX: Lost last two games to a very good Memphis team and a surprisingly good Sacramento team. (5)
16. BROOKLYN: Deron Williams’ ankles must be fine. The veteran guard is averaging 19.8 points, 7.0 assists. (23)
17. NEW ORLEANS: Anthony Davis leads NBA in rebounding (13.3), is second in blocks (4.0), eighth in scoring (23.8). (18)
18. DETROIT: Averaging 91.2 points per game, second-worst in NBA. Holding opponents to 95.6 points, seventh-best. (26)
19. BOSTON: Rajon Rondo out until Wednesday after having a screw removed from his surgically repaired left hand. (14)
20. NEW YORK: Carmelo Anthony joined NBA’s 20,000-point club after scoring 28 against Charlotte. (16)
21. ORLANDO: Back-to-back wins over Philadelphia and Minnesota, one bad team beating two bad teams. (27)
22. MINNESOTA: No timetable for the return of Ricky Rubio (10.8 points, 11 assists) after he sprained left ankle. (24)
23. UTAH: Signs of a young team: Big, last-second win over Cleveland; a 23-point loss to Dallas two nights later. (29)
24. MILWAUKEE: Bucks have lost two straight and scored more than 100 points only once in first six games. (25)
25. ATLANTA: Hawks lead league in assists per game (26.5), but that’s negated by giving up 104.3 points a game. (22)
26. OKLAHOMA CITY: The Thunder loses another player to an injury. Perry Jones sits out with a bruised right knee. (21)
27. INDIANA: The Pacers lost five in a row, then Roy Hibbert (knee) had to leave Saturday’s game. (19)
28. DENVER: The Nuggets have lost four consecutive games and Darrell Arthur has been suspended for one game. (10)
29. LAKERS: Things we never thought we’d see: The winless Lakers are underdogs at home against Charlotte. (28)
30. PHILADELPHIA: Mark your calendars: The winless 76ers don’t play the Lakers until March 22. (30)

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