Hey there, my peeps. It's been a while. I know we haven't seen each other in months and months and that you've all learned to live without me. Hell, most of you have even deluded yourselves into thinking life can go on without me, like the way you nutjobs thought you'd still beat the Mavs in the playoffs last year without Manu. We all know how that turned out.
Or maybe it's like being with a crazy psycho girl, where you put up with all the fights and drama just for the sex, and then you finally break up with her and you get used to spending your nights alone, being way too familiar with porn, and playing a lot of one-on-five, if you get my drift. You think to yourself, "Eh, this is pretty fun. Not perfect, of course, but not that much worse than the actual thing, and with way less bullshit to deal with."
And then stuff happens and you finally have sex again (either your ex or another person, it really doesn't matter for the sake of this analogy) and you realize, "Man, was I a moron. The stuff I'd been doing is NOTHING like this. I should've gone to the bar sooner. My bad, little guy."
So there you go. A post from me is just like doing it after being celibate for six months. Or having playoff Manu back in your lives. Or something.
A playoff preview, after the jump…
Just to psyche myself into writing this, I reviewed a couple of my preview posts. That's right, I was so excited for this season that I wrote not one but two previews. Let's review a couple of my finer moments.
I wrote this on July 24th...
Obviously, I don't want to set expectations too high and come off like some lame clueless homer fanboy, so I'm not going to predict a 98-0 record or anything, but I think like 84-19 is entirely possible, if the gang stays healthy.
84-19! What a moron. I think they lost their 19th game by mid-January or something.
In that same post I wrote...
In fact, I dare say more than any other opponent, health will be our biggest obstacle to winning that fifth ring in '09-10. Here, in order, are our real obstacles:
4) Eva Longoria
I still maintain that I got this mostly right. If I had to do it over again, I'd write
4) Roger Mason
5) The team being too shaken to go on after I murder Pop on live television for playing Richard Jefferson and Roger Mason.
Three months later, in a more rational, and far more better written if I do say so myself post, I lowered my expectations a couple of notches and gave the team my final blessing going into the season, going so far as to compare them to the '02-03 Spurs.
I offered these five quickie predictions...
5) Forget all the "back to defense" mumbo jumbo from Pop. This will be an offensive team. Outside of Bogans their entire roster plays better on offense than defense. They won't be the '04-05 Suns, but they should routinely crack the 100-point barrier.
This mostly happened, right? They averaged 101.4 points per game, 15th-best in the NBA, which is pretty good considering how slow they play, routinely milking the shot clock to the nub and being as streaky from downtown as they've been. They were crap on defense though.
4) Unlike past shooters, Richard Jefferson will not struggle or be gun-shy in his first season on the Spurs. He's never been more open in his life than he will be this season, and unlike Finley and Barry, he's coming aboard close to his prime.
Oops. In retrospect, the thing where he pulled a runaway groom on his wedding should've been a giant neon billboard telling us this wasn't going to work out well. The guy has the basketball I.Q. of a toaster oven and I'm not all that convinced that his actual I.Q. is that much higher. What a colossal disappointment. My friend Roh, the Knicks fan, warned me about Dick. I ignored him, because quite frankly, Roh is the stupidest person I know. Like, to the degree where if I shared some Roh stories people would swear I was making them up. But yeah, Roh got this one right.
The only thing that I'm curious about is I wonder if Pop and Buford ever had a serious basketball conversation with the guy before making the move. I mean, if you're going to commit like $15 million bucks to a guy and blow your cap and the luxury tax and that whole deal, shouldn't you at least have an idea what you're getting besides some highlights you saw on SportsCenter?
I know, I know, Pop said he knew Jefferson from coaching him at the Olympics in 2004. Which of course begs the question, "And that influenced your decision in a positive way... how?" Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't team USA suck that year? Didn't their intrepid coaching staff play Jefferson, Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson ahead of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony?
Now obviously I don't remember every detail of those Olympic games, but I don't remember any columns in the gist of, "Yeah, Team USA disappointed, but man was Richard Jefferson a revelation out there."
I just wish that Pop and Jefferson spent some time together talking hoops before making the move. I can't believe it took until late November for our coach to realize our second highest paid player doesn't really know what he's doing out there.
More on RJ below. Ugh.
3) Michael Finley, Roger Mason and Matt Bonner will all play more minutes than we want them to, while DeJuan Blair, Malik Hairston and Ian Mahinmi will play less. This, more than anything, is the main reason I'm glad I won't be writing about the Spurs regularly. There is no way I wouldn't be banned if I did.
No, yes, and yes. You can't convince me that Mahinmi wouldn't have been more productive than McDyess if he got 20 mins a game for 82 games. There's not a shred of doubt in my mind. We'd at least have been better on defense. Meanwhile, it completely baffles me that Mason gets minutes and Hairston doesn't, when Hairston does everything one can do on a basketball floor better than Mason. Again, more on that below.
2) Manu Ginobili will finish only fourth on the team in scoring, but he'll set a career high in assists. I'm thinking about 12.3 points per game, with 4.9 dimes. He's never had this many guys on the second unit to pass to before. He'll pick-and-roll second units to death.
I think Ginobili is going to thrive in his role as what chef Anthony Bourdain would call a "System D" or a Debrouillard. If he was a TV star he'd be MacGyver. If he was British, he'd be Bond. James Bond. If he was an Autobot, he'd be Jazz. He'll be the jack-of-all-trades that will do whatever needs to be done on any given night and only look for his own offense if the team needs it late. Should be a fun year for him.
Well, I nailed the assists pretty good, huh? The other part was kinda happening, but then Tony got hurt and Manu had to start scoring. It's kind of weird, for a player so talented, how much Ginobili's game relies on self-confidence.
I think if he doesn't get a lot of shots or touches, if he doesn't feel "important" as he likes to put it, he gradually starts to accepting it and thinking, "Well, this must be who I am. Pop knows better than me. If I was better, I'd have the ball more."
For quarters 1-3 Manu's game completely relies on his confidence and how he thinks the team wants him to play. In the 4th quarter, no matter how down he is, his instincts revert to their default setting because he wants to win.
When Tony went down, the team turned to Manu in desperation and he became the guy we all knew he could be, virtually instantaneously. The timing of it is too perfect to be mere coincidence. It kind of makes you feel cheated, in a way. It's like Pop has buried this guy for a significant chunk of his career for the greater glory of (and I'm just being honest here) a lesser player in Tony Parker. Parker got the All-Star nods and the media attention, Manu got the sixth man role.
Not that Manu cared - much. The stats and attention don't matter to him. He wants to win above all. But I remember how excited he was to be an All-Star in '05, so I think he'd be lying to say that doesn't matter. And I'm not at all convinced, given how the Spurs played down the stretch sans Tony and the similar run they went on when Tony was out in '08, that Pop made the right move with those two. Really, we'll never know.
1. And that last prediction goes hand-in-hand with this one. The Spurs will hang with the good teams with their starting unit, either leading or trailing by four points in every "shift." But when the teams turn to their respective benches for those last two minutes of 1st/3rd quarters and the first four minutes of 2nd/4th quarters however, the Spurs will blow games wide open with their second unit, by far the deepest in the league. We're just going to come after teams in waves.
This was wildly optimistic on my part. Thanks mostly to shitty seasons from Parker, Jefferson and McDyess, the starters were awful this year and the bench had to swim upstream just to get the team back in games. Once the starting lineup was revamped, with Hill and Ginobili in the starting backcourt, the starters were a lot better.
At least I was consistent in that I picked the Spurs to win in both of my predictions. You know who else agreed with me? One Bill Simmons, the self-proclaimed basketball genius.
Here's what he wrote in his season preview...
This particular Spurs team has the right level of appropriate fear: fear of aging and complacency coupled with an appreciation for how fast things can fall apart (thanks to Manu's ankle the past two seasons), and beyond that, the reality that their best player might only have one great season left in him. I am a Spurs junkie. I love reading about them. I love the way they put their rosters together and value chemistry so deeply. I love the way they interact during games (as I've written many times). I just get a kick out of them. And the truth is, this might be their last chance for a dominant season with Tim Duncan leading the way.
I think it happens. If only because great basketball players have a habit of somehow finding that one great team. They are my pick to win in 2010. Convincingly.
The so-called "Spurs junkie" didn't mention them again in a column for the next eight months, except to openly root against them whenever they played Oklahoma City. Or Phoenix. Or anyone but the Lakers. I don't remember how he described Ginobili's block on Durant. Was it savvy or crafty? Maybe it was one of our veteran tricks. Lord knows it couldn't have been athletic.
I’m afraid ol’ Bill has had a change of heart about our ball club. Here’s all he had to say about them, in a column that ran roughly four billion words.
I know Manu Ginobili's recent scoring explosion and a few big-time victories roped people into thinking the Spurs might not be done ...
But I'm not buying it. Too old, too creaky, too many dumb injuries. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker haven't looked good in three months. I don't see it.
That’s it. Just the standard ESPN “Too old” stamp on the Spurs and we’re done. I’m surprised he didn’t add “too boring.”
Meanwhile, I guess the Cavs haven’t had injuries to Shaq, Delonte West or Mo Williams. The Lakers haven’t had to deal with Kobe’s finger, Bynum’s knee or whatever the hell caused Pau Gasol to miss two weeks. The Nuggets haven’t missed Kenyon Martin or George Karl at all. The Jazz seem to be the epitome of good health these days.
And let’s not even start with the Blazers. That young bunch was healthy all year.
Lame. Injuries happen to everybody. As long as your big guys can play in the playoffs, there are no excuses. The regular season is for the league to make money and to get pole position for home court advantage. The rest is just window dressing.
The old age argument is the one that fascinates me.
Here’s a set of numbers: 30.22, 26.44, 30.33, 27.22, 28.44, 28.66, 28.44, 30.22, 28.66.
You know what those are? The average age of the nine-man rotations of the nine clubs that, as I see it, have a prayer of winning the title. If you watch ESPN, you naturally expect the Spurs to be the 30.33, and are probably surprised they’re that low.
Here’s the thing though. The Spurs aren’t the 30.33. Let’s take a closer look into something I like to call “Fact Land.”
John Hollinger’s beloved Utah Jazz are the youngest contender at 26.44 years. As you can see, their oldest rotation player is Okur at 30. As you know, we went 0-4 against them this year and Utah would be a serious threat to upset the Lakers in the second round. Unfortunately, Kirilenko is hurt and Boozer is dinged, so they’re probably not getting past Denver.
Speaking of the Nuggets, they’re the next youngest at 27.22. Unfortunately for them, their youth also brings emotional immaturity. If you witnessed their two most recent losses to the Spurs, you know this team has no chance of surviving four playoff rounds. Not only is Carmelo a bit of a hothead, but Martin and Smith will always blow up at the absolute worst times. You know this.
The Suns check in next, with their relatively youthful bench. You’ll forgive me if I don’t tremble in fear at the sight of them.
And of course, if we’re talking about bad benches, the Lakers have to be right around the corner, with the same average as the Suns. Bynum, Brown and Farmar (“I’ll take ‘Three Guys Phil Jackson Doesn’t Trust Whatsoever’ for $500, Alex,”) bring down their average considerably.
Nothing too surprising here, right? Though you have to wonder about a team relying on a 33-year old Carter in the clutch.
Well would you look at that? We’re right there tied with Orlando and a couple months older than those hip exciting Lakers everyone loves. Remarkable what happens when you remove Michael Finley, Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto, and Kurt Thomas from your rotation. Too bad no one noticed.
Now we’re getting to the fun part.
Again, this makes sense. Everyone knows the Celtics are old. People act like the Spurs are older, but this shouldn’t come as a shock. Surely, they’re the oldest East contender, right?
Oh wait, we forgot about the Mavs. That’s right, the team Simmons is picking to beat the Spurs in the first round because we’re too old is actually older than the Spurs. Somehow he’s not bothered by the thought of Hill or Parker going up against a decrepit Jason Kidd. Or by the fact that they don’t really have anyone to guard Ginobili. Or to deal with Blair. Great, they can stop Bonner from getting open threes. Congratulations. We only have like 20 other ways to score.
Anyway, we still have one other team to go. A real bunch of useless graybeards ready for the retirement home. A squad that must inspire yawns from everyone at Bristol, right?
Well here you go…
Cleveland: Zydrunas Ilgauskas – 34, LeBron James – 25, Antawn Jamison – 33, Jamario Moon – 29, Shaquille O’Neal – 432 (oops, that’s his weight, he’s only 38 years old), Anthony Parker – 34, Anderson Varejao – 27, Delonte West – 26, Mo Williams – 27.
That’s right kiddies. The Cavs, the prohibitive favorites to win it all, are the oldest team in the NBA. Suck on that one for a while.
The lesson, as always, never trust anything ESPN tells you, especially about the Spurs.*
This thing’s already run forever.
Here are ten thoughts about the Spurs-Mavs series.
1. I don’t care how many points Dirk scores from the field. I really don’t. I don’t care how many two point shots any of those guys hit, actually. But if we’re going to beat these guys, we can’t help them out.
What I mean by that is, I’m not expecting lockdown defense from us. God knows this roster is incapable of such a thing. All I want is for them to do the little things: Get back in transition as fast as possible. Limit the open threes. Rebound so they don’t get second chances. No cheap fouls. Don’t commit stupid turnovers giving them fast-breaks. If they out execute us in the half court that’s one thing, but we have to play smart.
2. Tony needs to forget about his regular season and show up here. No stupid turnovers. No dribbling for 20 seconds before taking a ghastly 19-footer. No letting Kidd back you down into the paint with zero resistance. Fight through those screens so Kidd and Terry don’t get open threes.
Parker probably will not get the minutes he’s accustomed to in the playoffs. He also won’t get as many shots. As a sixth man he won’t be expected to be a great defender. All he has to do is score efficiently and carry the second unit. When he’s playing with Manu he can’t be a ghost. The two of them have to work together and figure it out.
3. No weak shit from Duncan. He’s gotta go strong. None of that fadeaway crap. Either make a real move or pass it out. We can’t afford any 2-for-13 games here. On the other end he has to protect the paint and rebound like a demon. No second shots for Dallas.
4. RJ Playing with Tony is not an excuse to suck. Help on the defensive board, run back on defense, play physical on both ends and don’t take any dumb jump shots. Please, for the love of The Flying Spaghetti Monster, figure out who your man is in transition. Here’s a hint, it’s Shawn Marion. If he’s on the bench, then it’s Caron Butler.
5. Pop can’t be afraid to play Blair. We know his limitations. He’s short. He’s foul prone. There’s not anyone for him to guard on Dallas. But he causes them mismatches on the other end too. They don’t have any answers for him except to get him in foul trouble. Just because McDyess is sleepwalking or Bonner is bricking, it’s no excuse to play Keith Bogans at center, you hear me wino? Make Blair prove he’s not ready instead of assuming he’s not.
6. Let’s not reinvent the wheel trying to guard Dirk. It’ll do more harm than good. We know we don’t have anyone to match up with him and they know we don’t have anyone to matchup with him. Please, just play him straight up, let him get his, and let’s try to hold down everyone else as best as we can. If we turn them into frustrated jump shooters, we’ll be alright.
7. Bonner needs to put it on the floor. He actually had one of the highest shooting percentages on the team from two. If Dallas is gonna scramble to take the three away from him like they did last year, then Bonner has to make them pay. Otherwise he’s no good to us out there. Dude’s got to play with some sack. And grab a fuckin’ rebound, will ya?
8. Don’t fall in love with the three. That’s what Dallas wants. We gotta take it to the hole and punish these guys. They’re soft. They don’t rebound like they used to. They have okay shot blockers, not great. Terry isn’t going to guard anyone. Neither is Dirk. Butler didn’t play any D in Washington. Kidd is a sieve. Like the Spurs, their defensive foundation is built around a bunch of average (at best) individual defenders.
9. Don’t you fucking dare think about playing Mason Pop. I mean it. Don’t. Do Not. Resist the temptation. Dress him in a suit. Put him in a straight jacket. Leave him in San Antone. Do whatever you have to do to ensure you won’t be tempted to put him on the floor unless we’re up or down 40 points. He is the worst player on our team, by far. Worse than Mahinmi, worse than Hairston, much, much worse than Temple. Please Pop, I beg you. Tell me you’ve been paying attention these last 82 games. Mason has about as much business on the floor of a playoff game as you do in People magazine’s next “50 Most Beautiful People” issue.
(Then again, they put Tony on it, and he looks like a mulatto Mr. Bean. Sorry, it had to be said).
10. Finally, it’s all about Manu. He’s in a very odd position this year. For the first time in his NBA career, he has officially been designated as the first option during a playoff run. He’s never had that distinction before, not even in ’05 when he was tearing shit up. Sure, he was the closer then, but it was still Tim’s show for the meat and potatoes part of the game. Now, at 32, they’re gonna ride with him and see where it goes.
I’m nervous, but very excited. I want to see how he comes out. I want to see the dynamic between him and Tim, between him and Tony. I know the quotes that have been given to the media, but is Pop really gonna do it?
I really hate Dallas and I desperately want the Spurs to beat these assholes and to make Simmons look like an idiot. I also want Manu to avenge himself for that last play in ‘06, which to me is kind of like a sour note on his otherwise brilliant symphony of a career.
I’m not going to worry about them pulling off a miracle and winning the whole thing. First, they have to beat these guys. I’m also not going to panic if they lose Game 1. In fact, it’s probably a great omen if they do drop it, if you’re familiar with Spurs playoff history. I’ll check after a few games, though the next week will be dicey, since the NFL draft is coming up. Busy beaver time for Stampler.
Good luck to all of us.
* Unless it’s Hollinger. He’s cool.