I'm a fan of statistics, an admirer - some might say a groupie. Statistics (and its anal-retentive brother, probability) tells me that it's pretty safe to walk on the streets at night, despite what I see on the news, that flying to my destination is not as risky as driving to it, no matter how many black boxes are recovered, that I have nothing to be ashamed of regarding the size of my feet - they are perfectly average, thankewverymuch.
Statistics uses unfeeling, uncaring methods, doesn't have mood swings, and it helps me not to panic when the Spurs lose by 30 to a good-but-fundamentally-flawed Heat team. (My girlfriend calling me a moron for overreacting helps, too.) For all the grief we give to the likes of PER guru Hollinger, his instinct to create verifiable formulas to try to predict the future of this crazy, uneven league rings true to me. He disassociates his opinions from his articles, and instead simply tweaks those formulas over and over again, trying in a way to find The Formula, The Model, that explains what he can measure in reality. He has got a scientist's soul, and I applaud that.
Now, sports fans have others tools available that see them through the long season, it's true: the heart, the ability to recognize the beauty of the game, a team clicking at the right time, the extra pass that allows a regular play to metamorphose into a beautiful work of art, the soul behind the boxscore, the keen eye of the veteran fan; they have the endless hope for that one game in which the tide will rise and then rise again, when mediocrity will gel into a championship threat; the stubbornness, too, to cheer when facing a superior opponent in an elimination game. Those are nice, and I use them. But my peace of mind and stillness of heart always stems from statistics, because then I know I'm not fooling myself.
Statistics tell me that the Spurs are a brilliant team, and reach April with the best chances of winning the whole thing since 2007. Their bench is at last good enough to hold the ship steady when the Big Three sit down, good enough to match the Lakers and the Celtics and the Bulls. Home court advantage is close, and no team has been better at home than us. SRS says so, Hollinger gives us the nod, pundits suddenly look at us and try to find reason why we won't, why the numbers lie, and yet if we stand atop our record we can see the entire league around and below us, right now, as I write the words I just wrote.
Stats say we're good, great, excellent. My heart happens to agree.
Our Center Is Who Why When
I yawned midway through the second quarter, and then I wondered out loud (and by that I mean I typed it in the game thread, because that's what us blogger-age men-kids do when they wonder out loud) why I always got to recap the boring, predictable games. The replies were awfully unsympathetic.
(My attention was split, my disclaimer goes, but so was everyone's. The banter and the ban threats danced back and forth between us, and some kept shouting about stupid NCAA games. Aaah, March Madness, that inferior passion born on the allures of gambling and not-completely-rational love for teams wearing your alma mater's colors. The effort! The unpredictability of back-against-the-wall single elimination games! The upsets that would never happen in a 3-game series! The stories, the birth of stars! The turnovers, the effective press defenses, the lousy defense and ill-advised shots, 20-0 runs that make no sense, 30-0 runs that make even less sense, inferior basketball, lack of ball movement, stupid near-halfcourt shots. Aah, March Madness.)
If there was a story in this game, that was Tim Duncan's day of rest. I didn't know, and I don't think it had been widely publicized. Yet as the game started, the lineup showed a smilin', sparkin', dashin' Brazilian along a smilin', gnarly Dyess. A serious Tim Duncan surveyed the opening ceremony from behind the bench, awkward inside his light-colored suit like an archbishop in a gay pride parade. Charlotte was an inferior team, Pop had decided, and I couldn't help but imagine Jordan feeling the Duncan-knife twisting in his back. (You and Isiah, MJ, together forever in a club of your own, that of franchise-destroying owners, of Kwames and ridiculou contracts other failed experiments. The shrug, then flu game, and then this, and your Hall of Infamy speech. You break my heart. You're not Manu.)
Win 56 was ours, Pop was telling us - but that was no news. Charlotte is one of the worst teams, and we're the best. Resting our key players has been the name of the game for the entire season, and every opportunity has been used. That's the genius of Gregg Extraneous G Popovich, as davis explained yesterday - part of it at any rate. Teams are said to find a hidden extra gear in the playoffs, good teams at least, and it's always a combination of two factors: the do or die mentality of knowing that opportunities are scarce in a best-of-7 format, and the rotation tightening like my abductors after I bought that ThighMaster. 10 deep if you can get away with it, 9 if Pop is at the wheel. Tim sits, because every minute he sits is one he can play in the playoffs. The bench is there, and might win games, but the championship goes through our starters. So we sacrifice minutes of Tony dashing around the Fishers of the league, all of them, and we give up a few Manu passes, a clutch play from our clutch wizards.
56 wins? 13 losses? The truth is, we could've done better. Just play the superior McDyess early in the season, and put Blair in when the matchup is favorable. Run Tim into the ground and let Manu pick up a few extra bumps, and we could be at 60 wins right now. Maybe. And just because I've talked so much about stats, we should look into some right now.
What you see is the percentage of time played by 4 players that I picked from each contender, the 4 I consider to be "Big", even when there was no real choice (see: Miami Heat) - and the sum of those percentages. It's important to understand that injured players automatically have lesser percentages, so our incredibly good health throughout the season is actually working against us in this case. The only team that has a more rested Big 4 is Chicago, thanks to the cornucopia of injuries that both Boozer and Noah have gathered through the season. (They certainly haven't played less than 20 minutes in the games they have been part of.) That's our handicap.
Of course, young players can play more minutes per game than our old, decrepit farts. Rose elevates in the final second of an overtime game higher than in the first quarter, with the ease of the gifted, forever fresh, the anti-Tiago. But it's also true that he can't play more than 48 minutes. Where's his extra gear, or LeBron's, or Gasol's? To me, Timmy's 60% shines with a light of its own, and seemingly dares me to ignore it.
I can't wait for the playoffs to start.
Oh Well, I Guess I Have To
Even though there wasn't a game, there were 48 predictable minutes I must go through, because this is a game recap, and you're supposed to recap the game in them, if I remember correctly.
We know the pattern. A SEGABABA against a lousy team that is also on a SEGABABA, the famous Stern Wink. We win the tip and quickly get a 10-point lead before the first quarter finishes thanks to our superior starters and good defense against an offensive-challenged Bobcats team. The bench wakes up in the second quarter, and the threes start raining. Bonner! Hill! The first half finishes with a sizeable lead while we converse about movies or theological accounts of the genesis of the human race. Manu starts the third quarter with oomph, we withstand minor onslaughts from the impotent, lottery-bound penitents, and the starters retreat to the bench to sip some sports drinks and goof around. Fourth quarter starts, and some random opponent bench warmer catches fire. Hill forgets what "driving into the paint and kicking out to the shooters" meant, they make a run, we start paying attention to the game again and cursing. Pop calls for a timeout, yells at everyone, and puts Parker in. Pass, swoosh, game over. In a way, a classic Spurs lopsided game. In others, recapping poison.
I am left with the perennial impression that Tiago is a wonderful defender, a naive offensive player that shows potential, and nothing but bench fodder come playoffs time. His game is tentative, uneven. Sweet layups are followed by hook shots Coach B would sneer at and missed bunnies. He's a someday that people want to pummel into a now. Meanwhile, Blair functions like a truck engine that was fed a bad mix of diesel and diet coke - he explodes for a dunk one second, commits a stupid, rookie-type foul the next, then gets a steal, and finishes his one-man show by running over an opponent with the unique grace of a TALLMABOUT tweet. Yet, at the end of the day, when you weigh in the balance the positives and the negatives that his disruptive presence forces upon any game, you are left with a smile on your face.
Hill would worry me, I think, because once again he appeared tentative in a key moment of the game, but his 9 assists are not just the work of chance. For two straight games I've witnessed him complete successful pick and rolls, pretty ones, and it has brought tears of joy to my face. Imagine if there really was a passing bone in him after all, guys. However, the real reason I don't worry is Gary Neal. No shot is difficult when your stroke is so picture perfect that it seems you're not shooting the ball, you're simply letting it go, releasing it from an unnatural position to another that looks right. We should bottle It, whatever It is, and give it to Blair for Christmas. I sincerely believe that Neal is going to be a difference-maker in the playoffs. We finally found the guy we needed. Somehow.
Bonner's shooting slump continues, and he was 2-7 from three tonight. Shooters be shooters, you Brunos of the world. He'll find his groove back. Maybe Novak stole it, in fact, because for a moment jolly's 100-triples story was at the forefront of my mind as he finished with a team-high 19 points and 5-8 from deep. The 17 made triples matched our franchise high, and the 50% accuracy broke the Bobcats. The stars aligned: multiple talented shooters, a defense specialized in slow rotations and general lethargy, and wonderful ball movement. 31 assists in 39 field goals might make even Pop crack a smile once someone shows him the boxscore. Live and die by the three, someone will say, but after almost 70 games of splendid shooting, I simply don't care.
The Charlotte Bobcats are a mess, but it's difficult when an already injury-ridden team is asked to play without its main chucker, Stephen Jackson, who missed the game. At this point, the 'Cats simply don't have enough weapons, and their defense is uninspired. As amiable as Coach Silas seems to be, with his Sidney Poitier-like looks, it might be time to hire a good defensive coach. Like, say, Larry Brown.
Your Four Stars
4th. Korean comic. Just as Pop is the mastermind behind the Spurs basketball ballet, we don't have to look further than those strips of condensed hilarity to explain the sudden mojo surges that get us through difficult BABA games. If there's a an unsung hero in our battle for luck, mojo and the promise of future joy... look no further than these brilliant comics.
3rd. Many Parkobili. Two of the Three were enough to jumpstart the team, infect them with the passing virus, make them play as a team and just stand back, only taking over when their less-talented teammates needed a score or a pass or a screen to surge. They went back to the bench like proud cobs that see their little young swans fly around for the first time - only for Tony to come back in when Hill took a dive and plummeted into the pond.
2nd. Gary Neal. His swag is off the charts at this point. He now shoots just as many two-pointers, floaters and layups as he does back-breaking threes, and my trust in his unconscious skill is at an all-time high. He has also improved his drive-then-pass-to-the-big-man skills, good for at least one assist in every game. His dribbling duties have multiplied, too, and that tells me a lot about the coaching staff's trust on this daredevil rookie-plus.
1st. Steve Novak. Who? Steve "Backyard Ninja" Novak, that's who. He shoots 1, 2, 3, a hundred triples, and they all look perfect. I believe the stories now - I'm a believer. We must find a role for he who as-of-now is our best 3-point shooter! 5-8 tonight, 15-27 in 105 minutes with the Spurs, second only to Manu in points per 36 minutes. Can he be our Bonner back-up? Our we-desperately-need-a-three ace up our sleeve? Is he already that?
Monday, against a Golden State Warriors team that still appears to enjoy its role as the NBA's foil for good teams to show off against. Then Denver's band of merry thugs, still rejoicing in the absence of Gargamel, and the Blazers looming ahead, surging and dangerous in their zombie-like perseverance.
(By the way, Hipuks. I apologize for ignoring the 69 in the title. I know how much it must've hurt you to see that wasted opportunity.)