Ray Ratto

Rockets-Warriors is the season's one, true marquee matchup

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USATSI

Rockets-Warriors is the season's one, true marquee matchup

Well, we got what we wanted back in November. Now we’ll see if we get what we asked for.

What we wanted was a cataclysmic drawdown between the Empire (Golden State) and the Rebel Alliance (Houston) – the established order and the cheeky upstart. The two best teams – 1 and 2 by record, 2 and 1 by reputation.

Now they have to deliver seven – yes, seven – extraordinary games. These NBA Playoffs need a place to make their claim as entertainment, and to have anticipated this match since Thanksgiving and to get another blah-o-rama simply will not do.

I mean, not that we can do anything about it, but everyone has a dream.

Houston did its part despite Donovan Mitchell’s attempt to LeBron the Utah Jazz (22 third-quarter points ) to a sixth game in Salt Lake City, beating the Jazz 112-102 behind the clock-defying omnipresence of Chris Paul (20 fourth-quarter points, and fourth-quarter points are always worth more). Mitchell will be a particularly incandescent star in this league; Paul has been one for years despite spending so much of his career on good-but-not-good-enough teams in New Orleans and Los Angeles.

But in the end, the line will read only “Houston beat Utah, 4-1,” because that’s the cruel reality of the NBA as explained this morning. You do, or you do not.

Golden State then finished its task against the New Orleans Pelicans by giving them the time-based version of the Hamptons 5 – the third quarter. They turned a tight but disjointed game into a blowout into a late and futile rally, 113-103. The difference, as it typically is, was a third quarter in which – and this is the only stat you really need – New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry called FOUR TIME OUTS in 4:26 (that's one every 66 seconds) in a desperate attempt to break Golden State’s rhythm without ever coming close to doing so.

New Orleans, in short, looked as overmatched as Toronto, except that the Pelicans were trying. They just weren’t ready for the FAW – Fully Attentive Warriors.

So we get the series we’ve almost petulantly demanded all season long, and now the players have to deliver, and that means all of them. Stephen Curry at his most brazen, James Harden at his most mesmeric, Chris Paul at his most driven, Draymond Green at his most theatrically irritated (even when all his teammates are trying to sleep), Clint Capela at his most elongated, Kevin Durant at his most reptilian... all of it, as often as we can get it.

A sweep or five-gamer will feel like a full-on cheat, a six-gamer will be mildly disappointing, and a seven-gamer better have a minimum of five table-biters (anyone can bite their nails, but a coffee table takes true dental stamina). This is the one true marquee matchup in a season that has been full of promise and backhanded disappointments, and the Rockets and Warriors know their duty.

And while most of you in both locations will almost surely dispute this, it doesn’t matter who wins. It just needs to achieve enduring greatness, nothing more.

The Kings are the Kings, Myers can't swindle in second round and thesaurus reigns supreme

The Kings are the Kings, Myers can't swindle in second round and thesaurus reigns supreme

When the biggest news to emanate from the NBA Draft is Adrian Wojnarowski’s thesaurus, you have a bad draft.
 
When the second biggest news is Sacramento bowing to the wishes of Luka Doncic (and the Kings did just that, we are sure) as another reminder of its place in the basketball universe, you have a bad draft.
 
When the third biggest news is that nobody wanted to talk to Bob Myers about selling their second-round pick to the Golden State Warriors because . . . well, just because, you have a bad draft.
 
When the fourth biggest news is which draftee’s mom is the hottest, you have a bad (and oddly creepy) draft.
 
And when the most compelling stories coming out of the draft are still LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Dwight Howard, you have a bad draft.
 
In ten years you may find, of course, that this was actually a 2009-level (as in great) draft for future stars, and all the other stuff will no longer matter. But that is the case of most things these days – they seem like big deals for about 24 hours and end up being nothing of import.
 
In short, as entertainment, this NBA Draft was that rare flatliner. The league is apparently much better at roasting money, the time for which begins shortly, or maybe our tastes as voyeurs are changing.
 
The Warriors got in Jacob Evans, the 6-6 wing from Cincinnati, a sort of poor man’s Draymond Green (which is a compliment, and an almost rave review for a 28th pick), but the greater development Warriors-wise was Bob Myers’ inability to sweet-talk a second-rounder out of money-hungry competitors. This may be a sign that nobody wants to touch the Warriors as a trading partner, at least until they are no longer considered enemies of the people, or maybe people are coveting draft choices more than they used to do.
 
As for the Kings, they went for Marvin Bagley III largely because he was the highest rated player who went for them. Doncic was largely considered the superior choice, and Michael Porter’s troublesome back worried too many teams (he ended up falling to 14 and Denver), but Bagley wanted to be the second pick if he couldn’t be first, which made his appeal to the Kings clear.
 
But it did nothing to dispel the largely held notion by many players and/or agents that Sacramento is to be avoided by any means necessary, and not because the city is demonstrably worse than any of about 20 other NBA outposts. It is because the perception remains that ultimately, the Kings are gonna King.
 
Thus ends another NBA show, with minimal effervescence or lasting effect. It was a great draft for the purist, if that matters to you, but the truth remains that LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard are going to blot out the sun this summer. It is a victory for the status quo.
 
That is, unless you have a rooting interest in the Adrian Wojnarowski-fought-the-law story line, and frankly, you shouldn’t.
 

Yelp reviews for Ayesha Curry's restaurant in Houston just plain mean-spirited sabotage disguised as hyperfandom

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AP

Yelp reviews for Ayesha Curry's restaurant in Houston just plain mean-spirited sabotage disguised as hyperfandom

There is always a good reason to despair for humanity these days. Humanity is, on the whole, performing at a Baltimore Orioles/Arizona Coyotes/New York Jets level, and needs a serious makeover if it is to last through the current millennium.

The latest example of this is in Houston, where local Rockets fans have decided to flood Yelp, the only populist reviewing site, with reviews slagging the new barbecue restaurant opening in town that is owned by megachef Michael Mina and Ayesha Curry, wife of Him.

The key here being that the restaurant hasn’t actually opened yet, so these reviews are meant only to ruin a business run by someone whose husband has a nice jump shot and who otherwise has never meant anyone any harm (although I can’t vouch for the coleslaw).

This is a gentler modification of the campaign by Kentucky fans who tried to ruin referee John Higgins’ roofing company in Nebraska in 2017, and then doubled down with death threats, because Kentucky basketball is that kind of a thing.

Now Warriors fans, who have the same problems with excessive free time that Rockets fans evidently do, have flooded Yelp with five-star reviews of the restaurant, which is no more open for their expertise than that of the Houston fans. In other words, this is one more example of how technology and democracy are wasted on people like us.

The argument has been advanced that Curry somehow invited this by opening up a restaurant in a town that has been bedeviled by her husband’s accuracy for four years now, but this is grandiloquent nonsense. The Kentucky fans showed us that state boundaries are no deterrent to such hate-fueled Internet hijinks, and I have unwavering faith that Rockets fans would have done this if she and Mina had opened their restaurant on the surface of Io. And that Warrior fans would have responded similarly.

Now maybe this is an old guy’s argument (and in the spirit of transparency, I have never met Ayesha Curry or eaten a morsel of her food-based products, so I am aggressively indifferent to her future, good or ill, as a pan jockey), but back in the day the traditional way of objecting to a restaurant was not to patronize it, and when sufficiently aggrieved to give it bad word of mouth. But that was always in response to a poor meal, inadequate service or hygiene shortcomings. That was presumably the idea behind Yelp – to widen the sensible review base.

But in all such cases, the establishment had actually plated a meal and delivered it to the customer before people took to their keyboards or not-so-smartphones to register their views. This strategy is just plain mean-spirited sabotage disguised as hyperfandom, and is one of the reasons why people who take the extreme view that fans suck are not entirely off-base.

The clear solution here would be for Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and general manager Daryl Morey to attend the grand opening of the joint and chow down in earnest. They don’t have to rave about it, or even comment about it. They just need to be seen doing so, and when asked by a member of TMZ’s guerilla restaurant desk after the meal what they thought, they should say this:

“We are pro-Houston, and we are pro-business. We want everyone’s businesses to succeed, including this one. If you like us, and you do, you’ll leave these folks be, to make their eatery survive or fail on the merits. Oh, and be sure to try the brisket.”

Reason: We wouldn’t want Warrior fans to get the idea that Fertitta’s restaurants should be similarly attacked, or that they should start smearing his casinos simply because he owns the Rockets. Because once this starts, it never stops, because our culture has taken the greatest information delivery system and turned it into a gigantic hate farm.

There. Wasted lecture over. And yes, by all means, do try the brisket, even if your outraged sensibilities about the Western Conference Final allow only to do take-out.