Ray Ratto

Raiders give fans a reality check

616308.jpg

Raiders give fans a reality check

The Raiders blew up Sunday, did so spectacularly, and didnt have the strength of will to joust with the assumptions that come from such an explosion.All they did, then, after saving so many teams but not themselves, was restate the obvious, or resort to deadened platitudes.We had plays we needed to make, and we didnt make them in crucial spots, defensive tackle Richard Seymour said after Oakland blew a 13-point lead with 7:47 to play and stunningly lost to the Detroit Lions, 28-27 . They went 98 yards to score a touchdown, and thats really tough.We had our chances and we just didnt convert on them, said head coach Hue Jackson. Right now, Im 7-7, and Im not a .500 coach, and I dont like it. We have to get better, and we will. People thought we wouldnt come back after Miami and Green Bay, but we did.But no they didnt. They didnt come back at all; they actually lost more revoltingly, and in doing so helped not only Detroit, but Denver, San Diego, the New York Jets, Tennessee and Cincinnati as well.

Comrade Gutierrez outlines the plays that killed them in the end Sunday, but the loss was comprehensively far worse than the sum of its shards. They all add up in the end, from the incompletion from Carson Palmer to Denarius Moore on fourth-and-one from the Detroit 24 on Oaklands first possession, to the Tampa 2 coverage that left middle linebacker Rolando McClain and safety Jerome Boyd on Calvin Johnsons 48-yard catch with 1:33 to go.Calvin Johnson, of course, being the best receiver in football as well as Detroits only truly reliable weapon, Boyd being a rookie, and McClain being a linebacker.But mostly, this was the revelation that the more lopsided losses in Miami and Green Bay didnt provide. This was the one that shows that the Raiders arent yet ready for the next step, the one that mediocre teams need to take to become good ones.I feel like were better, Seymour said, staring into space with an odd sense of detachment, but we have to prove it, and were not. No excuses about it. We have lapses in crucial situations, and we cant have it.That is the dagger, right there. A 7-4 team now 7-7 and on the verge of extinction because it cannot hold serve at home against a reeling one-dimensional team. It is telling alone that the Raiders put its last egg in Sebastian Janikowskis left foot from 65 yards away with four seconds left, an act of desperation even for the strongest kicker in the game.Janikowski told a Polish reporter afterward that the snap and placement on the kick were perfect, and that he hit the ball as well as he could have hoped. But Detroits Ndamukong Suh deflected it into a harmless low-spinning spiral that fell well short of the target.And now, all there is left is Kansas City next week, and San Diego to close the season. The Raiders are not eliminated from the postseason yet, but they have to win twice and hope that Denver loses twice. Their wild card hopes are even less inspiring, as they currently stand as the ninth of six in the AFC, exactly that 7-7 team Hue Jackson says they arent, and him exactly that 7-7 coach he says he hates.One can make the case that the Raiders would have been a different team without the injuries to Darren McFadden and Jacoby Ford and Michael Huff and on and on and on, but the parallel universe game is a loser. You are, as Bill Parcells famously said, what your record says you are, and what could have been means nothing.The plain stabbing fact is that the Raiders positioned themselves to win this game with all those injuries, and keep themselves in a discussion they were dominating three weeks ago. Instead, they failed, swallowing soot and bile all the way down the stretch. They are now the longest of shots, and as famous for blowing big leads (Buffalo, Denver and now Detroit) and fourth quarter leads (Buffalo and now Detroit).They are, to sum up, not ready for the bright lights yet. Even if they do the highly improbable and reach a 17th game, it will be because the rest of the AFC imploded around them. They are moving backwards in December, the worst time of all to be doing so, and it will take some months to convince the customers that 2012 will be different.Oh, the fans come around eventually, full of hope again and dreaming the dream, but they did that this year and are now ruing that decision. Sunday surely convinced them that their future is still in the future, because the right now feels lousy.

NBA All-Star Game more and more reveals personalities rather than skills

durant-kyrie-steph-all-star.jpg
AP

NBA All-Star Game more and more reveals personalities rather than skills

The voting for the NBA All-Star starters was properly instructive to both Adam Silver and the public at large about exactly what the game is meant to be – which is why I totally get their decision not to televise the All-Star draft.

It’s really a personality test for everyone involved, for good and ill.

I think having a draft nobody can see is idiotic, stealing an idea the NHL used and then discarded years ago and then not employing the reason why they did it to begin with, but if the All-Star Game is really an expression of ego, then the next best thing to having no draft is having one nobody can see.

The All-Star Game really only functions as a coronation of the elite by the elite, a festival of mutual backslapping friend-rewarding that has nothing to do with the playing of the game, or the moving of the T-shirts or jerseys or expensive hotel rooms. This is about stratifying the player pool so that everyone knows who’s who and what’s what.

Everything else is irrelevant, and the draft reinforces that. Kevin Durant not wanting to be a captain is strategic thinking by a future industrialist. Stephen Curry not minding being a captain is the perfect who-cares statement for someone who doesn’t mind playing the game because objecting to it takes too much work. LeBron James being a captain is the perfect political muscle-flexing that fits his personality.

Damian Lillard already assuming that he won’t be named to the team is a statement about his being considered the perpetual one-level-down guard. Russell Westbrook being named and then controlling the ball as he would in a regular season game is a statement about how he views his place as a disruptor. And on and on and on – the All-Star Game more and more reveals personalities rather than skills.

Does televising the draft help us understand the actual meaning of the event? Maybe, but the NBA would prefer you consider it a festival of the game itself, which it plainly isn’t. Proof, you say? 192-182 in 2017. 196-173 in 2016. 163-158 in 2015. 163-155 in 2014. There hasn’t been a normal-looking score in 15 years, which means it’s not a game at all.

That isn’t the news, though. It’s that the NBA has made this is a three-day event – the day the captains and starters are named, the day the reserves are picked, and the day that teams are chosen. And every bit of it is about the reaction to that. There is no show thereafter, and the players know it. They care about the selections, because that’s how they’re keeping score.

So go team. Whatever the hell that means.

 

Who is now the Warriors' biggest rival?

warriors-rivals-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

Who is now the Warriors' biggest rival?

Earlier we discussed how the Golden State Warriors have seemingly moved beyond hating on NBA officials (three technical fouls in 18 days is a stunning reversal of their formerly disputatious form), but we may have forgotten one new reason why they have found a more Buddhist approach to the cutthroat world of American competitive sport.

They lack someone new to hate.

Their much-chewed-upon rivalry with the Los Angeles Clippers actually lasted two years, and now the Clippers are busy trying to prevent military incursions into their locker room from the Houston Rockets. Their even more famous archrivalry with the Cleveland Cavaliers seems to be imploding – with the total connivance of the Cavs themselves – before our eyes. Even cutting off their hot water made them laugh when two years ago not letting the Warriors' wives get to the game on time torqued them mightily.

And since we know that you locals desperately need a bête noire for your heroes (even though their biggest foe is actually their own attention spans), let us consider the new candidates.

HOUSTON

The Rockets have been among the Warriors’ most persistent contender/pretenders, having faced them in both the first round of the 2017 postseason and the conference finals in 2015. Both ended in 4-1 Warrior wins as part of a greater piece – Golden State is 19-4 against the Rockets in the Warriors’ bad-ass era, 10-2 at home and 9-2 on the road, and has finished an aggregate 59.5 games ahead of the Rockets in the past three and a half years.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include James Harden and Chris Paul, while Rockets fans loathe Draymond Green and Kevin Durant and work their way down from there.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 32,353): 19. The Rockets need to win a playoff series before even matching the Clippers, who as we all know came and went in a moment.

SAN ANTONIO

The previous platinum standard in Western Conference basketball, the Spurs have never really gone away, though they have aged. Their pedigree is not in dispute, and Steve Kerr has essentially become the next generation of Gregg Popovich. It is hard to create a rivalry out of such shamelessly mutual admiration.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include . . . uhh, maybe Kawhi Leonard for winning two Defensive Player Of The Year Awards instead of Draymond Green, though that’s not much to go on, frankly. Spurs fans hate Zaza Pachulia for stepping beneath Leonard and ending last year’s series before it started.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 23): 1. If they didn’t have to play against each other, I suspect these two teams would date.

OKLAHOMA CITY

The Thunder’s 3-1 collapse in 2016 is all but ignored now because the Warriors did the same thing one series later, but lifting Kevin Durant was quite the consolation prize for Golden State, and the definitive finger in the eye for the Thunder, who turned their team over completely to Russell Westbrook, for good and ill. Even with the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are still trying to relocate their stride.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include Westbrook and Anthony for defining the I-need-the-ball-in-my-hands-to-function generation, and owner Clay Bennett for Seattle SuperSonics nostalgics. Thunder frans hate Durant, followed by Durant, Durant, Kim Jong-un, Durant, leprosy, Draymond Green’s foot, and Durant.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 440): 220. Westbrook is a human lightning rod, Anthony is the antithesis of what Warriors now regard basketball (they’d have loved him a quarter-century ago), and Stephen Adams for getting his goolies in the way of Green’s foot. Plus, some savvy Warrior fans can blame OKC for extending their heroes to seven games, thus making the final against Cleveland that much more difficult. This could work, at least in the short term.

PORTLAND

Damian Lillard is a much-beloved local. Plus, the Blazers have never interfered in the Warriors’ universe save their 1-8 postseason record. There are no truly hateable players on either side, though Stephen Curry threw his first mouthpiece in Portland, and Green is a perennial.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 1): 0.

BOSTON

The new pretender to throne, with the Eastern Conference’s version of Kerr in Brad Stevens. Even better since taking advantage of Kyrie Irving’s weariness with LeBron James, and until proven otherwise the team the Warriors should most concern themselves with.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include Irving, who made the only shot in the last five minutes of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, while Celtics fans hate Durant for not signing with them.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 67.7): 26, though this will rise if the two teams meet in the Finals. The last time they did, Bill Russell owned basketball.

THE REST OF THE EAST

Still too remote to adequately quantify, though Toronto, Miami and Milwaukee are clearly difficult matches for the Warriors. If you put them together, Kyle Lowry, Demar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Hassan Whiteside with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe coming off the bench, coached by either Eric Spoelstra or Jason Kidd, would make a fun team for the Warriors to play against. Probably not functional, but fun.

And finally:

SACRAMENTO

Some decade the two teams’ geographical proximity will matter, but for now, they remain essentially two full professional leagues away from each other. We just mentioned them so Kings fans wouldn’t feel any more slighted than they already do.