NBA Playoffs: Just Asking

Both the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs have won two games in their respective Conference Finals of the NBA playoffs. WARNING (to my mother-in-law and other unwary wanderers into this Sweaty Sporting Space: this post really is about the National Basketball Association, though it inevitably tries to wring Significance and a few drops of Societal Relevance from the perspiration-soaked towels waving as the NBA season begins to climax. (Eww!)

Names are dropped, but this isn’t TMZ. I’m just asking. So, here’s what I was wondering during the pair of off-days leading up to this weekend’s Games Three. They’re on Chinese sports television at 8:30 a.m. The Heat outpaced Indiana this morning (our Sunday), and the Spurs try to rope the Thunder into three-zip submission first thing Monday morning. I’ll be on the edge of my couch, thanks.

Dad, Blake, Mom.

Dad, Blake, Mom.

My Everything’s Coming Up Sterling Question: Race being such a, well, such a black and white thing in North America, I ask you – since we all have opinions on people we’ve never met – would Blake Griffin of the Clippers be on Donald Sterling’s no-fly list? Would Jason Kidd? Stephen Curry? All are quite confidently and curiously labelled “black”. (Or even  Steven Adams, that New Zealander with

So much younger looking as Nets coach than as Knicks player. But that wasn't the question.

So much younger looking as Nets coach than as Knicks player. But that wasn’t the question.

the massive brow ridges from the Thunder who looks like he might have some Maori blood?) Do you remember the old idea of people of colour who could “pass”, not for easy points in the paint but for being white?
(Does this still happen?)


My Hail to the First-Round Vanquished Questions:

Is it too soon to say that the Houston Rockets’ Grand Gamble won’t work?

How does Damien Lillard get that open for a three when Houston’s up 2 in the final moments of Game 6? (Old coach insists on answering his own rhetorical question: It’s about unselfish talking on the court, and defending during the regular season as if it matters to develop good habits. I was a big Kevin McHale fan when he played, but as a coach? Yeah, but could I get those guys to defend? Pretty darned doubtful.)

Hands. Eyes. Endless practice. Skill! Man, I love watching this kid play.

Hands. Eyes. Endless practice. Skill! Man, I love watching this kid play.

Is Stephen Curry of the Warriors falling in love with himself? (Don’t most stars?)

Will the brilliance of Curry (and also of Lillard), undersized dudes from small colleges, convince NBA brains that skills and mindsets matter more than measurables?

Did you see that team that took San Antonio to seven first-round games? (Rick Carlisle wasn’t much as a player – as if a once-was-mediocre amateur like me can diss and dismiss a man that made the NBA! – but what a coach. Guys listen. Guys play together. The Mavericks adapt. They take away what you like, and take what you give them. So impressive. Okay, coach, enough with the rhetorical answers.)

What can coaching do? How does Monta Ellis one-eighty his reputation in one Carlisle-directed season? How does Kyle Lowry suddenly become a star in Toronto after seven years of NBA wandering?

Dwayne Casey (and wunderkind GM Masai Ujiri) and a coachable Kyle Lowry. Hope in Raptorville.

Dwayne Casey (and wunderkind GM Masai Ujiri) guides a coachable Kyle Lowry. Hope in Raptorville.

How is it that, after nearly twenty years, apparently with-it NBA fans in China didn’t believe ‘til recently that there was a team that wasn’t American? (Raptors: maybe they know you now. Except maybe not: my young Lithuanian friend here in Dalian tried to score Jonas Valanciunas gear, and once he’d convinced his friends that there really was a Toronto team, they found Lowry, DeRozan, Ross, even Hansbrough jerseys. (!) No JV.)

Should Tom Thibodeau be praised for squeezing every last millilitre of performance out of his Bulls, or criticized for not leaving a little more ceiling for the playoffs? Washington raised their level by a notch or three, but there were no more levels for Chicago to climb to.

What sort of economic collapse would be necessary for the Grizzlies to go back home to Vancouver? And what kind of brainless Canuck chauvinism prompts a question like that? (What did Memphis ever do to us?)


Remembering Vancouver. Remember “Big Country”?

Why can’t I think of an interesting question about the Atlanta Hawks or the Charlotte MJs? (Um,  Bobnets? Horcats? The Charlotte Jordanaires?)


My Second-Round Playoff Lookback Questions:

How does a 50-year (but apparently estranged) Sterling wife show up at the Warriors/Clippers Game 5 in the midst of all that? (Okay, ownership. Money. Two-can-play-this-show-me-up-game-you-bastard. But, I mean, besides that?)

Okay, not pink, agreed. Dowdy navy or deep grey. Maybe one of those visor things.

Okay, not pink, agreed. Dowdy navy or deep grey. Maybe one of those book-keeper visor things.

Why hasn’t anyone cast the Clippers’ Matt Barnes as a mild-mannered accountant, top-buttoned, horn-rim glasses, that cool little ‘50s ‘stache — who can whip off his cheaters and rip off his shirt and suddenly turn into a “likes-to-fight”, mega-tattooed sneering hero with unlimited powers to irritate and distract the emissaries of swaggering evil? (You wondered that too, eh?)

Do I have your attention, sir?

SuperBarnes: Do I have your attention, sir?


Is it the whining, the clutch-and-grab gamesmanship, or the State Farm commercials that make me like Chris Paul less than I think I ought to?

Why do we constantly fuss about whether players are over-rated or under-rated? Isn’t the problem, really, that we’re addicted to RATING people? Isn’t that just another way of objectifying public figures who are, I’m told, actually human? (And isn’t this way too serious a question to be asking in a blog about PlayLand?)

And so yeah, why do we under-rate a guy like the Warriors’ Draymond Green? (Measurables. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo shrugs. “Told ya. You didn’t listen.”)

What does Russell Westbrook’s mom think when his every good play seems to make him ever more belligerent and angry? Ditto, to a lesser degree, Dame Lil?

I'm just happy for my team, actually.

I’m just happy for my team, actually.

How did LaMarcus Aldridge go off so crazily against Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, allegedly elite post defenders (especially that first guy; have you heard how awesome he is?)? Yet in Round 2, he was held in check (not stopped) by the Spurs Tiago Splitter, maybe the starting player on a good team who gets the fewest calls of anybody in the league?

While I’m here, and pardon my French, LaMarcus, but isn’t “la” the feminine article (LaKeisha, etc.) and therefore LeBron’s mother was not only more creative but more grammatically rigorous than other famous sports Moms?

The Anti-Russ. Yup. We scored again. Nice job by us.

Marco, the Anti-Russ.
Yup. We scored again. Nice job by us.

Does Marco Bellinelli have a pulse? Does Kawhi Leonard? May I sit in on an in-depth conversation between these two San Antonio poker-faces? Please?

Does Washington’s playoff success make them more likely to be loved for their Wizardry, or bring back more calls to return to the glories of (faster-than-a-speeding) Bullethood? (Or does that make them look more like Charlotte, and hey presto, look, there’s my OnceWereBobcats question?)

How motivated is Chief Wiz John Wall to cut back on the summer pick-up oooohh-worthy games and launch thousands of solitary jumpshots?

Did the Nets ever think of becoming the Brooklyn Bridges? (That would be as inert, but at least bigger, than a Net.) Or the Dodgers? Or the Rens, after the legendary black team? (Okay, that was Harlem, as in the Harlem Renaissance, and I suppose that even having that idea shows my ignorance of New York inter-borough rivalries.) Is there a more interesting financial and managerial experiment in the league? (Note: the Knicks are in a league of their own.)

Will Kevin Garnett really try to Net it one more time?

My It’s the Conference Finals, Stupid Questions:

Is Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams already working on an oral history of whatever-the-heck-happened to the Pacers this year? Which is more puzzling, their months of struggle or their bold Heat Check in Game 1?

Does Indiana’s Frank Vogel have the same that’s just Lance (Stephenson) shrug that Thunder coach Scott Brooks uses to tolerate Bad Russell (Westbrook) in the periods between the jaw-dropping athleticism and stones?

One coaches, relentlessly. The other didn't always like it, but accepted it.

One coaches, relentlessly. The other didn’t always like it, but accepted it. (But those shoes, Pop!)

Is it more tribute to the greatness of San Antonio’s Popovich, or to the intelligence and coachability of Tony Parker, that they have endured and prospered after years of Pop’s loud and relentless instruction on how TP could best lead the Spurs?

Am I the only one wondering if LeBron, as pre-eminent and creative and still improving a player as he is, may have lost – well, not a step, nowhere near, but maybe a few centimetres? Will he get more confident in finishing drives off two feet, adding still more “Professor Andre Miller, Ph.D.” (© Zach Lowe of Grantland) balance and variety to his game? And my goodness, will people ever stop carping and nit-picking at the man?

Is Michael Beasley learning anything from articling with the Miami firm of James, Wade, Bosh & Allen? (And Riley and Spo?)

How can people STILL call the Spurs boring?

Why don’t other teams, with apparently more offensive talent, try to replicate what the Spurs do offensively? Is unselfishness so hard? (Naivete alert! Naivete alert!)

Isn’t it shocking, in a cynical sports world, that so many people accepted the Oklahoma City pronouncement that Ibaka was “done” with a (no doubt painful, but still, it was a calf strain) calf strain?

Are we heading for another Spurs/Heat Finals?

Enough questions for now. (Answer to the last one: YES. Heat in 6. Spurs in 6. Spurs in 7.)

Comment (1)

  1. Doug

    As per the norm: overtly entertaining, on point, witty. Howdini-esque! Keep ’em comin’, Sir James.

    The Heat were ridiculous in the 4th last night, and the Spurs are so hard not to like. Danny Ainge better do sumpin’ sumpin’ with all these picks he’s stock-piled! [Doug is a known Boston Celtics serial offender.] UCLA’s Zach Levine = Russell Westbrook II!

    Still in mourning about the Bruins. Think I’m on Stage Four of the Kubler-Ross Grief Model: still no acceptance, deep into the “D” word…

    Later from the South End [of Ottawa, Canada].

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