Ray Ratto

Ratto: Sharks set to face familiar foe in first-round


Ratto: Sharks set to face familiar foe in first-round

Ray RattoCSNBayArea.com

Once again, its time forKiss Of Death Theatre, with your host, me. Todays episode How The SharksGot Two Breaks, And Only One Of Them Bad.In a remarkable confluenceof constricted windpipes, the Chicago Blackhawks nearly played themselves rightout of the playoffs Sunday, providing the Sharks with what should be anadvantageous first-round matchup in Los Angeles and a slightly heightenedlikelihood of avoiding the Vancouver Canucks at some point during the postseason.As the final brick in a triangle of must-wins-that-were-losses, Dallaslost, 5-3, to a patently inferior Minnesota team to blow its chance to pip theBlackhawks for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs, which meansthat the Sharks (a) have one more team in the field that could beat them in atight series, but (b) have one more team in the field that could take outVancouver.

Ahh well. Bettman giveth, and Bettman taketh away. That,though, was the chess part of the playoff equation for San Jose. Chicagovs. Vancouvermeans one tough out goes down right away, but it also means that the survivormight still haunt the Sharks down the road if the road goes that far for theSan Joses. The checkers part the linear this-is-whats-in-front-of-us-nowpart remains Los Angeles, the seventh-place finisher with a depleted lineupbut a counter-punchers chance to make some real mischief if the Sharks arentdevoted to their game.
RELATED: Sharks will face Kings in first round of playoffs
And lets be frank, this is Sharks series towin based on the perfectly reasonable truth that L.A. is short two of its best players. Saywhat you want about upsets always being possible, but their likelihooddiminishes when the underdog doesnt have its full complement. TheKings problem in a nutshell is that Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, theteams two best scorers, are injured Kopitar, the Kings version of PatrickMarleau, with torn ligaments in his right ankle that ended his season, andWilliams, more of a Joe Pavelski type, a dislocated right shoulder that maycost him the early part of the series. Head coach Terry Murray stilltermed him questionable, but a strength test may help speed his clearance, ifnot for the opener, then maybe by Game 3 in Los Angeles. Injury, you seem, isthe one thing that separates the teams in the congealed mass that is theWestern Conference. The Sharks have managed to survive their injuries, and willbe back at full strength (save defenseman Kent Huskins) after winger RyaneClowe (wonky hip) was cleared to go.
RELATED: Sharks notebook: Nichol could play this week
But the Kings are a thin groupoffensively without Kopitar and Williams, below average both in even-strengthand power play goal-scoring. They are also not a dominant face-off team, withonly second-line center Jarret Stoll a top-quality draw-taker. Whatthey have, though, is youth, and strength on defense. Goaltender Jonathan Quickis considered an up-and-coming star, though he has been less of a puzzle forthe Sharks of late, and defensemen Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson are among thegames best. In that way, they are something akin to Nashville, whichhas Ryan Suter and Shea Weber in front of Pekka Rinne as the core of adefense-first team that can make it hard for indiscriminate snipers to enjoythe freedom of time and space they often need. They are puck-carriers, though,rather than stay-at-homes, and the Kings rank 27th in blocked shots, whichmeans that quick puck movement ought to get the Sharks enough good looks atQuick and the target behind him. San Jose has also tightened its own game through thesecond half, and while it may find the goal-scoring difficult, it has a betterchance of shutting down the Kings entirely without Kopitar to fret upon.
REWIND: Sharks clinch Pacific with 6-1 killing of Kings
Foretellingthe future of the playoffs ahead of time is a way to mock the gods and bemocked tenfold in return, of course, but it is hard to see this as a seriesthat causes either Quick or San Joses Antti Niemi to worry unduly. And whilethere is always a high upset quotient, this doesnt figure on its face to beone of those. It is, in short, a series the Sharks ought to win, andought to win without being extended. The goaltending is equivalent, the Kingshave a better defense but the Sharks have a much better attack, especially ifWilliams cannot return or is rushed back and ineffective. The Sharkshave never done well in postseason series with their California brethren (seeAnaheim 2009; see small sample size; see radically different teams), but thisis a series they should be able to deal with in five games, so that they can berested for the second round.

Celtics are the rivals Warriors fans need

Celtics are the rivals Warriors fans need

You don’t think you needed this game to go this way, but you did, and you do.

The Golden State Warriors spat out a 17-point lead and lost, 92-88, in Boston Thursday night, in a game that was taut if not particularly elegant, and in a game that elevated the Celtics to a place that makes them the new heir apparent to the heir apparent.

The Celtics have been a difficult out for the Warriors during the Brad Stevens Era, losing six of nine but only being blown out twice, and Thursday was not one of those nights. The box score will tell you the shooting and rebounding problems, but the Warriors had that lead and didn’t hold it. Or, to be accurate, the Celtics had that deficit and refused to let it destroy them.

Which is exactly the kind of team you, the fully licensed Warrior fan, want to watch play your team in the NBA Finals. You want to see them genuinely challenged, forced to win outside their comfort zone, induced to show their greatness in the highest of high leverage situations.

At least we think that’s what you want. Maybe you prefer blowouts so you can drink and go to the bathroom without care or fear. After all, the Warriors have taught the area the true meaning of front-running by being in front so often.

But the Celtics play a level of defense typically reserved for the San Antonio Spurs, and yes, the Warriors. They have a spiky exoskeleton that the acquisition of Kyrie Irving has actually enhanced, and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum give them a gifted precocity that fits well with veterans like Al Horford and Marcus Morris, and Boston’s overall youth (they are fifth youngest, while Golden State is third-oldest) ought to make them a more difficult conundrum than Cleveland or any other team in either conference.

They are not yet the superior team; that remains to be proven, and betting against the Warriors requires a level of irrational bravery left only for the truly self-destructive.

But they are, as we sit this evening, the team the Warriors will have to work hardest to finish, because on a night when they had the chance to do so, they didn’t. In other words, the fight for a third ring still goes through Oakland, but it looks more and more like a one-stop through Boston.

And as much as you may hate thinking about it, you’ll almost certainly remember, and savor, a Celtics-Warriors final more than another round of Cavs-on-the-half-shell.

Three reasons Draymond Green is the perfect college professor


Three reasons Draymond Green is the perfect college professor

Programming note: Warriors-Celtics coverage starts today at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming live right here 

Draymond Green spoke to a group of students at Harvard Thursday on the subject of leadership, and if you find that incongruous, shame on you.
I mean, who else would you want as a college professor?
Green has led, and been led. He has learned, and he has taught. He has certainly lectured, as any teammate, official and media member will testify. He’d be a hell of a teacher, and the subject almost doesn’t matter.
For one, homework would be different, as in I’d bet there would be no written work. I don’t see Prof. Day-Day poring over essays about the Industrial Revolution, M-theory or pre-Raphaelite art. Not even the history of Basketball-Reference.com.

For two, having tenured faculty audit his classes may find his choice of rhetoric a little strident, as in “What the ---- were you thinking, dude?” is not typically approved instructional methodology.
And three, nobody would get a grade. Green would mark every exam with a “35,” as in his draft position, and besides, the exams would be students arguing with each other over whether that was a foul or a no-call, and who pulled the better face when the call was made. He’d give either an approving nod or give the loser a second technical foul and kick him or her out of class.
But it would be a hell of a class. Not at Harvard, of course, because Green probably would want to teach a school that could better use his brand of wisdom, and Harvard kids already have a healthy lead off third base. He’d want his students to make Harvard students cry, you can just tell.
But wouldn’t he look perfectly Draymond in a cap and gown on graduation day, pulling a bottle out of his sleeve to make the valedictory speeches less painful. “Damn, dude,” you could hear him yell. “Peaking?”