Ray Ratto

Hell's Own Bracket: An idea simply too enticing for the NBA not to try

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AP

Hell's Own Bracket: An idea simply too enticing for the NBA not to try

It is now fairly well established that there are eight NBA teams that are aggressively tanking, working with vigor toward a superior draft choice that either will or won’t matter.

That’s the beauty of losing games deliberately in bulk – all you get is a potential escape rout that typically isn’t. In short, The Process is largely a self-perpetrated fraud – a way to distract the audience that you’re bad by proving how bad you can be if you try.

I guess that’s also called reverse analytics, but why be snarky here?

But there is a cosmic reason why there are eight tankers at sea here, and that is that the deity in charge of sporting justice wants NBA commissioner Adam Silver to take the hint about playoff reform.

Specifically, to take the eight teams – Phoenix (18-44), Atlanta (18-43), Orlando (18-42), Sacramento (18-42), Memphis (18-41), Dallas (19-42), Brooklyn (20-41) and Chicago (20-40) and build Hell’s Own Bracket. A three-day Tournament Of Shame right after the regular season ends, in which the team that wins three times wins the first pick – or, if you want to carry the theme to its Rothsteinian extreme, the team that loses all three.

You end up getting rid of the lottery system, which people pretend to like but secretly fear is too easy to manipulate. You get a three-day talking point that you can charge prime dollars for. In fact, you can put it in Las Vegas and give legalized wagering a go without the unnecessary integrity fee – particularly because this tournament is a shining tribute to the teams’ essential lack of integrity.

Oh, you might have to extend contracts for players another three games’ worth, or tweak the roster size to make sure that players aren’t torn about their job security while they’re playing for their potential replacement – but let’s face it, no matter how you do this, you’re heading down a rabbit hole in which the league is profiting from active refusal to compete. Once you’ve decided that’s in play, you can do anything to the competition with a clear lack of conscience, since this is monument to that very shortcoming.

But the idea is simply too enticing not to try. This is how the league gets to have its killer bread and slather it with coldcuts – celebrating excellence and excrescence at the same time, and getting people to enjoy the game both ways.

How can this be wrong? How can anyone object?

Okay, I don’t want to watch Orlando and Brooklyn play for the right to meet the winner of the Sacramento-Memphis First-To-75 Classic, but I would watch Phoenix play Chicago to see if the Suns and their historically rancid defense can coax 150 points out of the difficult to watch Bulls offense.

Face it, this is so wrong that it’s right, and therefore wronger still. Adam Silver may not get consensus on the 10-deep playoff bracket, but this is too easy not to do. So let’s have this FailureFest booked and done, with a universal chant of “LET’S NOT GO TEAM!”

It will be the perfect sporting event for these wretched times.

Why the Sharks are about to be the NHL's biggest villains

Why the Sharks are about to be the NHL's biggest villains

Anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, nothing is done until it’s done, the fourth win is the hardest, and blah-blah-blah-de-blah-blah. I’m still going to say this – the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Embryos are second-round opponents, and that’s the deal.
 
This means that for perhaps the first time since the Philadelphia Flyers’ terror cell known as the Broad Street Bullies of the mid-70s, there will be a clear, unambiguous and almost universal interest on one side of this equation.
 
And it isn’t going to be San Jose.
 
Vegas is Turbo-Cinderella, the expansion team that can’t be killed, a heartwarming tale of the meek kicking Earth’s ass. By winning more games by themselves than most full expansion classes in either hockey or basketball, the Knights have enveloped themselves in the admiration of the industry and even casual fans who know that expansion teams are required by federal and dominion law to stink. They are the perfect antidote to the inherent cynicism in any system. They are love in a world that runs on hate.
 
There, I think we’ve made the point.
 
On the other side is San Jose, a team who has succeeded on the periphery of the NHL diaspora. They have never been darlings outside the 408, and have been criticized more for losing consistently to the hump they should have gotten over by now. But essentially, they are good but inoffensive, and their fan base is loud but neither deep nor truly rabid. They have taken good and made it their base camp without venturing too far from it.
 
None of which matters in these circumstances, though. Everybody with an opinion wants Vegas because The Narrative, which means that nobody with an interest wants the Sharks. And when we say “nobody,” we mean “nobody except Sharks fans and the Vegas books,” which will be taking more bets on Vegas than they have taken on the last 15 Cup Finals combined.
 
But you get the point. Everyone wants Vegas. Vegas wants Vegas, the other 29 teams wants Vegas, the league office wants Vegas, television wants Vegas, radio wants Vegas, web sites and newspapers want Vegas. People who hate hockey want Vegas. The only entity with this kind of popular unanimity is Beyonce.
 
That means San Jose is the villain, and worse, a bland villain. They don’t play dirty, they don’t cheat, they don’t talk smack, they don’t have a great player anyone truly hates they haven’t inflated pucks or illegally filmed opponents’ practices, their coach isn’t a contemptuous jerk, their owner isn’t a notoriously financial predator, none of it. They will be hated simply for existing in the path of the Vegas Goodwill Train over the next two weeks. And fair has nothing to do with it.
 
So if you say “Go Sharks!” do it with a smile, and prepare to duck. You are swimming against a massive tide, and the only way to survive it is to ride the wave.
 
And if you cannot hold your temper and simply must get yours back, then just snarl, “I hope you get a Columbus-Winnipeg Cup Final,” and then walk away. It may not be much of a retort, but let’s face it, you’re not playing a strong hand. North America hates you. Deal with it.

The Warriors turned it on at will. Again.

The Warriors turned it on at will. Again.

Let’s put it this way. It took a lot longer for the San Antonio Spurs to feel the gravitational pull of the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 than Game 1. But it happened anyway, and now the last true adjustment in Gregg Popovich’s arsenal is the fact that Games 3 and 4 will be in Texas – the one place where the present Spurs are still the historical Spurs.

True, geography is a poor substitute for superior talent, roster depth or tactical wizardry, but tactical wizardry only works when the wizard has instruments within arm’s length to make those ideas come alive. Thus, San Antonio is left to rely Thursday and Sunday on the comforts of home – and friendlier rims, and more commodious backgrounds, and supportive fans.

If that’s your idea of an adjustment. And it probably isn’t.

Monday’s 116-101 choke-slam looked a lot like Saturday’s 113-92 throttling, only more condensed. The Spurs started Rudy Gay instead of Kyle Anderson, they double-teamed Kevin Durant and then Klay Thompson and then back again, and crowded whichever of the two wasn’t being doubled. They forced the Warriors into 11 first-half turnovers, and they got an inspired game from LaMarcus Aldridge.

And then the second half happened, just as the whole of Game 1 happened. The Warriors won the second half by precisely the same margin – 21 points – that they won all of Game 1, taking the Spurs’ best competitive instincts and reducing them to a single statistic.

14.3 percent, on 28 three-pointers, to Golden State’s 48.4 (15 of 31).

That 45-12 discrepancy wiped out San Antonio’s 53-47 halftime lead, neutralized the turnover imbalance and reduced San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich to a conciliatory tone that hinted at inevitability. He praised his team’s increased fight and attention to detail, spoke highly of Aldridge (34/12) and Gay, and then headed to the reason why Golden State looks so, well, Golden State-y.

“You gotta make shots,” he said. “It’s been like that all season on the road for whatever reason, and that makes it difficult.”

No, damned near impossible. The Warriors’ starters, which included JaVale McGee and Andre Iguodala again, shot 55 percent (34 of 62, 13 of 26 from afar), and the only real failings were 15 turnovers and David West’s tweaked ankle in the fourth quarter. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson were – well, 63 points’ worth on 39 shots, and metrics only embellish that central truth. The Warriors, if you’ll forgive the narrative whoring, turned it on at will. Again.

“We just met their level of physicality and force,” head coach Steve Kerr said, without referring to tactical changes at all. “They just took it to us the whole first half. They were tremendous defensively . . . so in the second half, we matched their effort level and we were able to get the upper hand.”

And, he omitted to add, close that hand at throat level, taking a worrisome first half for the customers and turning it into a Warriors-standard game.

All that said, the Spurs’ considerable limitations in this series do not preclude them from stealing a game in San Antonio, if such a thing can be said about a team that has won its last 11 home games. Golden State’s oppressive dominance may seem like a return to the good old days, but it still feels more like increased focus combined with a very favorable matchup.

But if we see this game again at AT&T Thursday and/or Sunday, the Warriors may get that smell in their nostrils again and use it as fuel in subsequent rounds. They may just be beating a depleted and inaccurate team whose best player has apparently returned to his home planet for repurposing and perhaps relocation, but the way they are doing it is as nostalgia-inducing as it is breathtaking.

And that has proven over most of the last three years to beat tactics every time.