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One foe tanks, the other one might as well

First, the important stuff: In a provocatively-titled ("Manu Works Up a Sweat") MYSA blog post, beat writer Jeff McDonald gives us some good news. Sure, our precious China Doll isn't getting the kind of workout that Bellasa or one of our other enterprising female posters fantasize about, but at least he's progressed to having a "brisk jog" on the treadmill. It's just as well. If the other thing happened I'd never stop pestering the gals for details. I'd be worse than Carl Monday, I kid you not. (Google the name if you don't know, Powell would kill me if I linked to it.)

Anyway, speaking of public spankings, our beloved Spurs administered a couple in the past week, first to the woebegone Washington Generals er Bullets oh dammit Wizards and then to our favorite chew-toys, the Phoenix Suns.

Spurs 100, Wizards 78

Okay, let's start with this one, but I've got nothing on the game itself. Frankly, I think games like these are why the NBA has such a horrible reputation among casual sports fans. I'm glad my fellow Texas-based PtR mates had a great time at their get-together, and I sincerely hope everyone got good and drunk and maybe even a lucky few of you celebrated with each other horizontally after the party, but the game itself was a dreadful bore. Even if Manu played it would've been a bit more interesting, but not a whole lot more.

Alright, that was a lie. But still.

To me it was painfully obvious that the Wiz did not want to be there. If you told them before the game that they could just forfeit and no one would think less of them, I'm sure they would've gladly accepted. And so would Pop. He could probably have gotten more out of the wasted two hours by having a solid practice and film session than he did in that glorified scrimmage. I've seen NFL pre-season games that had more intensity and drama. Washington, missing their two best players, Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas (in that order, by the way), are in full-on tank mode, trying to acquire as many ping-pong balls as possible to win the draft lottery so they can acquire - well who exactly? Blake Griffin? Whomever floats their boat, I suppose - and start fresh next year. A handful of NBA teams do this each season (including us in 1996) and we think nothing of it.

Of course, there is a logical reason for it. In no other sport can one player singlehandedly turn around his team's fortunes so dramatically. No matter how good a quarterback or a hockey goalie is, they still only impact half the game (offense for the former, defense for the latter). A guy like Timmeh however affects both ends of the court, and is the central strategical hub of the offensive and defensive game plan.

Knowing what we know about Duncan now, not only would it be patently impossible to argue against the philosophy of tanking but the price we paid to land Tim was comically cheap. All we wasted was one bad year. If we had to do it all over again, knowing what kind of player Duncan would become, how many terrible years would we sacrifice to the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Three? Five? Going 0-and-410 from '92 to '96 would've been worth it, no?

The ironic aspect of the tanking though is that the NBA is the only league, out of the big four, where draft order isn't directly determined by who has the worst record. The executives realize how much of a difference one player could make and how radically one guy can alter the landscape. That's why there's a lottery, to discourage open tanking.

Still, the bad teams don't care. It's worth it to them to look ridiculous on the highlights, to embarrass themselves in arenas all over the country, just to gain ten or twenty extra ping-pong balls out of a thousand. The potential reward over the next decade is worth a few months of humiliation. Who even remembers the Spurs tanking games in 1996 outside of hard core Spurs fans?

Of course, even if a team like Washington finds itself fortunate enough to win the Griffin sweepstakes, that's only the first piece of the puzzle. Then they have to hope that the guy will be worth the effort (or perhaps, more accurately, the lack-of-effort). They have to discover if he is just merely good - a building block type of player like an Andrea Bargnani or Andrew Bogut, or an instant franchise player such as Duncan or Shaq or LeBron. Heaven help them if he is a total bust like Michael Olowokandi. Remember the Wiz were already in this situation fairly recently - 2001 - and they blew it spectacularly with Kwame Brown, Michael Jordan's hand-picked franchise savior.

(Incidentally, I think Jordan has been too harshly criticized for this. Who was he supposed to pick? 2001 was one of the worst NBA drafts of all time. Only five guys in the whole draft ever made an All-Star game. Would Tyson Chandler have fared any better with the pressure of being first overall? Reportedly Jordan had the two of them play one-on-one at a workout, and Brown destroyed Chandler in this game. Should Jordan have picked Eddy Curry? Did anyone really expect him to draft some skinny 21-year old Spaniard named Pau Gasol? It could be argued that the best player in the whole draft was our own Tony Parker, picked 28th, and I don't remember any of the draft gurus at the time blasting MJ for not entrusting his franchise to some unknown teenager from France.)

Then, even if somehow Griffin winds up being an absolute beast, the Wizards still have to surround him with the right supporting cast. Tonys and Manus don't just grow on trees. While Parker is competing with Gasol, Joe Johnson and Agent Zero for "Best Player in the '01 Draft" status, Manu, picked 57th in the '99 draft (the lowest of nine All-Stars), is in the running for similar honors with Baron Davis and Elton Brand.

When you think of it that way, it's simply mind-boggling how lucky the Spurs have been. In one glorious year, 2003, they had, again arguably, the four best players of their respective drafts (along with The Admiral, of course) on one roster.

Can Butler and Arenas be the Manu and Tony to Griffin's Duncan? Will they get the chance? We'll find out in due time. For now, all we can do is thank the Wiz for a sweat-less win and move on, trying not to rubberneck too much at their wreckage. It'd be hypocritical of us, of all teams, to call Washington shameless. We've been there.

Oh, and even if you get all the right players, you still need a great coach like Pop to mend all the egos together. And make no mistake about it, the guy is a great coach. Except for all the times he's a stupid, stubborn, useless Finley-loving bastard.

As for the game, I thought Ime Udoka was just fantastic. Bully for him.

Spurs 103, Suns 98 SA: 42-20 1st in Southwest, 2nd in Western Conference

As sad as the Wizards' plight is, at least they have a glimmer of hope for the future. The next five to ten years look considerably more grim for Phoenix. If anyone can think of anything positive this organization has going for it, I'd love to know about it.

Once upon a time, at their peak, the Suns were almost as good as us. Not quite, but you know, they were in the conversation. These days though, they've almost willfully engineered themselves to be the worst match-up for the Spurs as humanly possible. They traded away Shawn Marion, the one guy they had who ever gave Tony problems. Now Parker salivates when he sees these guys on the schedule, each game with them a sure reminder of his honeymoon with the Mrs. Parker doesn't exactly lack for confidence to begin with, but to go all Simmons on you, he turns into Teen Wolf against the Suns. He simply destroys them each and every time. And to give you an idea of how woeful Steve Nash is defensively, the Suns preferred to guard Parker with Grant Hill, a 36-year old swingman who's had roughly 138 ankle surgeries. Why not just put Steve Kerr back in uniform and have him try his luck?

Frankly I'm surprised at this stage that the Suns haven't just taken the radical step of just denying Parker the ball, regardless of the cost. Why haven't they taken a "we don't care if Duncan breaks Wilt's record of 100 points, Parker is not going to score" stance after he's taken them apart so many times, I'll never figure out. You'd think they'd try it for a quarter or a half, just as an experiment. I think it's been proven, abundantly, that going under the screens against the guy isn't working.

Even better for Tony - and thus, us - is that the Suns traded the self-monikered "Matrix" (I've always preferred calling Marion The Praying Mantis) for perhaps the worst pick-and-roll defending bigman the NBA has ever seen. Shaq literally just stands there and does nothing, opting to guard neither Parker, who rather fancies the pick-and-roll, or the opposing big. He chooses instead to guard the third man, whom only he can see, standing at the free throw line, waiting to wreck havoc on the big fella's dreams of a fifth ring. That invisible smartass just had to be standing at the stripe, didn't he? The very spot that's been the offensive bane of The Big Liability's existence. O' cruel poetic justice.

That Amar'e (beware future NBA hopefuls, having an apostrophe in your name is a dead giveaway to GMs that you suck on defense) Stoudemire, who always gives us fits defensively, was also out with an eye injury was kinda like the cherry on the sundae - not at all that important, but it doesn't hurt. His absence meant the Suns were strictly going to be a perimeter team (call me a wizard, but I didn't see O'Neal scoring 40 on Tim and the in-form KT). In fact Thomas was much the superior defender in the second half and Pop hardly played Duncan in the fourth quarter. Tim was his usual awesome self in the first half, not so good in the second.

Just about every Phoenix swingman (Hill, Richardson, Barbosa, Barnes) had a moment or two of individual brilliance, and Nash had his typical effectiveness with the ball (23 and 11), but nobody played out of their skull enough to really make a difference. George Hill may have lost his backup point job to Mace (more on this topic some other time) but he was still brought in for the final stanza to snuff Nash's fire. That, in conjunction with Parker's second half dominance and some solid contributions from Mason, Findog and Kurt, were enough to get the job done.

A decent enough game, but it's already forgotten. The Suns have set for good and belaboring the point anymore would be like dancing on their graves. Not only would beating the Bobcats tonight count just as much in the standings, but it'd be about as meaningful at this stage.