Ray Ratto

The difference of NBA Playoffs vs March Madness

The difference of NBA Playoffs vs March Madness

Seed fixation is one of most irksome parts of the NCAA Tournament because it colors so much of the games below. Indeed, the initial and overriding buy-in to Loyola of Chicago’s delightful run began and nearly ended with the big red number “11.”
 
In other words, thank The Great Shift Foreman In The Sky for Sister Jean.
 
As this relates to the NBA Playoffs, which begin today, we can all sigh with relief that seed fixation is not part of the pre-series analysis when it certainly could be. Take (and given where you are, you don’t really have a choice here) Warriors-Spurs.
 
Or as we will refer to them here (2) Warriors-(7) Spurs.
 
We know that eight-seeds have always been the longest of shots. This is the 35th year of the 16-team playoff format, and only five of the previous 68 – the ’94 Nuggets, ’99 Knicks, ’07 Warriors, ’11 Grizzlies and ’12 76ers – have beaten their respective one-seeds. That Knicks team is the only to win another series, getting to the Finals before getting crushed by San Antonio.
 
But undiscussed in that underdiscussed topic is the fact that seven-seeds are just as inert – 5 of 68. In fact, only one seven-seed since 1998, the ’10 Spurs (over Dallas), has not been knocked out, and only two, the ’06 Lakers and ’09 Bulls, even reached a seventh game.
 
In other words, being a (7) isn’t any more helpful than being an (8). Its only real value is that it isn’t a (9).
 
It is why the (2) Warriors with all their DayGlo flaws are considered prohibitive favorites over the (7) Spurs with their one Yosemite-sized crack – an MIA Kawhi Leonard. It is also why so few people see many things derailing a sub-apocalyptic Western Conference Final between (2) Golden State and (1) Houston. The great battle to reduce seven teams to six was fabulous entertainment that occurred without any intervention from the brutes in Programming (let that be a lesson to you kids), but now is when the chalk truly rises.
 
Well, rises at a rate of 6-to-1, anyway.
 
The key is, with 16 teams, one can enjoy and absorb the deeds of a relative few players, and understand mostly why things happen as they do. It replaces seed fixation as a motivator for fans – that, and the fact that nobody refers to following the NBA as “Bracketology.”
 
But it’s still hard for those rogue (7) teams to do any better than those rogue (8) teams. Or, really the (6), which has won only one title, or the (3), which has won four. That’s a whole lot of favorites and near-favorites – the kind of thing that seed fixation advocates should love. And yet, it doesn’t happen that way, because . . . well, because we’d rather watch the games than the brackets.
 
So it’s (2) Warriors and (7) Spurs – for all its warts, still worth the money.

Step One to your Stanley Cup Playoffs guide

Step One to your Stanley Cup Playoffs guide

Figuring the Stanley Cup Playoffs is really quite easy, if you follow the steps.
 
Step One: The Cup is not going to either Anaheim or San Jose.
 
This is not a bold prediction, to be sure. The best teams are elsewhere – Nashville, Tampa, Boston, Winnipeg, maybe Pittsburgh on muscle memory – and the Ducks and Sharks are pretty likely to give in to temptation and wallop the dog out of the each over a long and debilitating series.
 
That kind of physical play over an extended series typically comes at a cost later – either through injuries, re-injuries or just plain fatigue. Deep runs usually feature early series breeze-bys, and neither of these two look very breezy.
 
Not only that, Anaheim probably needs to ride goalie John Gibson the entire way, which is always a difficult proposition for any team, and San Jose has played three seasons – one in which they couldn’t score, one in which they scored with ease, and a mini-season at the end in which they stopped scoring again.
 
In other words, you can’t make hide nor hair of either of them, which is a bad reason to bet them to run deep.
 
The Ducks have had their injury issues, most notably Ryan Kesler early and Cam Fowler (shoulder, will probably miss the series) late, but the Sharks are still waiting to see if Joe Thornton’s knee will be strong enough to support him if/when he returns. Thornton sensibly said he wouldn’t return unless the knee was sound, but his return would also cause the Sharks to play at an even slower pace than they have in the second half of the season. The team’s most obvious strengths – penalty killing and avoiding penalties themselves – will reveal themselves against such a penalty-prone team as Anaheim, but the Ducks are also an excellent penalty killing team and San Jose’s power play is uninspiring.
 
In sum, these are two teams that rely heavily on familiar veterans and familiar styles, familiar mostly to each other, and the other roster differences are slight enough that one gravitates immediately to the one serious imbalance between the two.
 
Gibson. If he is healthy (he was injured in a collision with Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog 10 days ago), he gives the Ducks as close to a sure thing in an unsure series. If not, it’s probably best to sit back and wait for someone to get puck luck – knowing all the time that the best teams in the other half of the bracket will be hammering each other too – only at a much higher level.

Did Warriors prove regular season is one big warmup or is this their true selves?

Did Warriors prove regular season is one big warmup or is this their true selves?

Jim Barnett said an unusual thing at the end of Tuesday’s Warriors-Jazz defenestro-rama, and it was that he was glad the regular season was over. Better still, his voice oozed pain and disgust, as though the Warriors had monumentally failed the pre-test by not studying and might not be ready for the real thing.
 
And he might be right. He might also be wrong, because as the NBA is showing us over and over again, the regular season serves only to greatly diminish the concept of the warmup act.
 
In other words, Barnett grew up in an era in which the regular season was damned important, and these Warriors just completed the process of proving how small the regular season actually is.
 
That is, of course, if they win the title. If not, their disappointing 58-win regular season will be part of the proof of why they died. After all, when you’ve amassed the winningest season ever and the 10th and 11th winningest seasons ever in three successive seasons, people are going to notice when you drop the 97th winningest season ever and draw the requisite dire conclusions.
 
And the Utah game, in which the Warriors overachieved to lose by 40, was the final knee for folks who think the regular season is a direct link to the postseason, which is the very thing the Warriors worked so hard this year to disprove. In a season in which the final few days of the regular season have dripped drama, the Warriors left one last glob of spit on theirs because:
 
A. They didn’t have Stephen Curry.
 
B. They spent the entire year winning enough games while not meeting their internal standard, thus making 58 wins seem more like 38.
 
And C. The coaches and players prioritized rest and regeneration under the mantra “We’ll Be Fine When It Matters.”
 
Only nobody could truly agree on “when it matters” begins. Outsiders thought the deadline was the last 10 to 15 regular season games, the coaches figured five to 10, while the players pretty much decided on zero.
 
So now we’ll find out who was right – Jim Barnett, or the players he watches for money. And maybe that’s why he sounded so done with this regular season Tuesday night – because it either explained so little about the Warriors’ true selves, so revealed more than he, or anyone else, wanted to know.