San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
NBA likes sound of Curry playing in
The Warriors may not be overly excited about entering the NBA’s playin tournament, but at least somebody savors the prospect: Commissioner Adam Silver, who knows what Stephen Curry’s presence would mean for television ratings.
But the Warriors have to get there first, and as we learned in recent days, they’ve descended into numbing mediocrity through injuries, coronavirus issues and a weakened grasp on the fundamentals. What if they lose all three upcoming games against New Orleans? There goes that threegame lead on the Pelicans, who stand 11th in the Western Conference standings and would love to grab that 10th and final spot.
It doesn’t seem likely that Curry and the relentless Draymond Green will let that happen, and that’s good news for the league, reportedly setting plans to make the playin event a permanent part of the schedule. (Even better: Zion Williamson and the Pelicans sneak in ahead of the San Antonio Spurs, who wouldn’t be missed at all.)
We’ve known for years that you can’t afford to skip a Warriors telecast, knowing Curry might throw in a few incomprehensible shots. He’d draw plenty of national viewers if he got into a postseason scenario, even if it’s just one game. (The loser of the 9 vs. 10 matchup is eliminated.)
It’s been clear for weeks that Curry, Luka Doncic (Mavericks), Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) and the dazzling Ja Morant (Grizzlies) would bring plenty of star power to the playin tournament. Just lately, we have the shocking development that the could be involved.
After Friday night’s loss to Sacramento, in the game marking LeBron James’ return from injury, the Lakers stand fifth but are just one game ahead of No. 7 Portland. Could you imagine Curry and LeBron squaring off before the conventional playoffs even begin? The league office certainly could, although realistically, a more fascinating scenario would find the Lakers holding on to No. 6 and drawing the No. 3 Clippers in a crosstown firstround series.
What it all means, idle musing aside, is that the playin concept has turned the season’s last two weeks — often the height of tedium — into a crazy little festival of its own.
Around the NBA
From this perspective, nothing Lakersrelated would be a surprise. For all the majesty of the JamesAnthony Davis combination, the rest of that cast scares no one. We all enjoy trying to analyze upcoming schedules, but take a tip: Once you’ve done that, just throw it out. Shocking results have become routine this season, in tandem with pandemicrelated hits on the rosters. Claiming a team has the toughest or easiest path means absolutely nothing. The Warriors will see a lot of Lonzo Ball in those three games against the Pelicans, beginning Monday night in New Orleans, and he’s well worth watching. A potential free agent this summer, Ball has improved his outside shooting to the point where coach Stan Van Gundy calls him “one of the best stories in the league. Now he’s just a great shooter. He’s going to the line and making free throws. All the credit in the world to him.” From the standpoint of his exceptional passing alone, Ball would fit pretty well with the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks and Heat, all of whom could use a point guard upgrade. Just a thought: Why not wait until the playoffs end before naming an MVP? That takes the entire season into consideration and places impeccable value on the concept. Add an additional award — call it Player of the Year — to honor the regular season and remove such strict emphasis on playing for a winning team. If that were the case this year, Curry would be squarely in the conversation. Putting the Sacramento Kings in perspective, from the Associated Press’ Josh Dubow: “Winning seasons with Rick Adelman as coach: eight in eight years. Winning seasons with anyone else as coach: 0 in 28 years.” Couldn’t help but notice during a recent vacation: Green claiming “I’m the best defender to ever play this game.”
He’s quite serious, and if you’re talking about today’s game, or even recent years, he stakes a legitimate claim. Elite defense now requires frontline players to guard every position on the floor, and Green is the master — with three championship rings to his credit.
If he’d witnessed a healthy dose of Bill Russell, Green wouldn’t make this claim. Russell wasn’t just the greatest shotblocker in NBA history, using that weapon to gain control of the ball and trigger the Celtics’ fabled fast break, he got in people’s heads with his defense. Just shattered their confidence. Physically and mentally, nobody ever exerted as much influence over the opposition. Scoreboard: 11 titles in 13 years. Retired superstar
Kevin Garnett is so impressed by the longrange shooting, ballhandling wizardry and the overall speed of today’s game — coupled by the fact that players are no longer allowed to use their hands on defense — “I don’t know if the guards from 20 or 30 years ago could play in this time, right here,” he told the New York Times. That’s not likely to sit well, nor should it, with Isiah Thomas, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Allen Iverson, Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Reggie Miller — not to mention
Michael Jordan and
Kobe Bryant. You’d like to think they could play a little. Quick word to Miller, horrendously decked out in candycane pajamas for that fastfood TV commercial: What are you doing?