It's funny how the common perception of the NBA is that the regular season drags on too long, with too many interchangeable and meaningless games, while the playoffs are the place where, y'know, amazing happens.
Look at it more closely, though, and you might feel completely opposite: In the postseason, the outcomes of games and series are highly predictable. And it's some fiercely contested regular-season contests, such as the one Wednesday night between the Celtics and the Magic in Orlando, that make them that way.
The prelude to the Celts-Magic game was all about locale and scheduling of a possible series between the East's No. 2 and No. 3 teams, should they meet in the conference semifinals. Also Wednesday, the Nets-Cavaliers game packed lofty implications beyond a preview of one possible No. 1 vs. No. 8 clash -- it was the first of eight remaining home games for Cleveland, which began the night 32-1 at Quicken Loans Arena with hopes of matching the league's all-time best home record of 40-1 set by Boston in the 1985-86 season.
If the Nets didn't stop the Cavaliers, and the Timberwolves, Mavericks, Pistons, Spurs or Wizards don't spoil things first, the Celtics will get a chance to preserve their franchise's mark on April 12 in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the 57-13 Cavaliers have an eye on the 56-14 Lakers for the best record overall. And, natch, more home-court advantage for a possible NBA Finals meeting.
Empirically, this stuff matters. A lot. Teams with the home-court edge win NBA playoff series at a 77.2 percent clip, based on the results of the 373 matchups since 1984. That's better than house odds in Vegas, better than the league's free-throw percentage. It's notably better than the current regular-season stats, too, in which home teams have won 60.2 percent of the time (637 victories in 1,058 games so far).
And while it's one thing for first-round teams starting at home to win 78.2 percent of their series -- the gaps between the first and eighth, or second and seventh, seeds should be considerable -- it's quite another for the pattern to hold in subsequent, presumably more balanced rounds. Seventy-nine of the 100 conference semifinals -- in other words, 79 percent -- have gone toward the team with more home games at its disposal, along with 70 percent (35 of 50) of conference finals. In the Finals, it's 19 of 25, or 76 percent.
Last spring, the home team won 57 of 75 postseason games (76 percent), and the teams with the home court won 13 of the 15 series. The veteran-laden Celtics became somewhat notorious, going 13-1 at home against Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit and the Lakers but a wimpy 3-9 on the road en route to the franchise's 17th title.
That all strikes me as, well, a bit much. We like to think that championships are earned, on the court, by the participants (and an occasional erratic referee); that through talent, preparation, strategies, sacrifices and even good luck, somewhere along the line, winning flows toward those who work hardest for it. Personally, I don't like the idea that championships can be dictated by bad flight itineraries, tainted room service, some joker pulling a hotel fire alarm at 2 a.m.,
But the numbers scream otherwise. And for fans, maybe it's a good thing if the elite teams play their best and their hardest now, knowing how much it will matter later.
"It feels like we've been playing the playoffs for an entire month, because every game means everything,'' Cavs center
It was just a few weeks ago that President
Contrary to his opinion of college football's method of determining champions, Obama likes the 65-team system of March Madness just fine. "This is it. This is it," he said during an ESPN taping. "You know, you don't want to start ... letting it be like the NBA. People who are sub-.500 get into the playoffs. There's something wrong with that."
It must have been executive privilege that no one noted that his favorite team from Chicago is the biggest culprit of that, currently eighth in the East with a 34-38 record heading into Wednesday's action.
Well, Izzy, the way the Twin Cities economy is headed -- unemployment in Minnesota jumped to 8.1 percent in February, highest rate in 25 years -- maybe your boss will cover a Wolves bet for you. Remember, team owner
I only included Sampson as a comparison for
Maybe swapping four years at the back ends of their careers for an earlier start is smart. Maybe their bodies are quicker to heal at ages 18-22 than at ages 32-36. I know my sample size was puny, by scientific standards, and my hypothesis, or hypotenuse, or whatever might have been flawed. My main point was that we're about to see some big NBA stars looking and playing older -- and missing games entirely -- than we've come to expect from more traditional arrivals.
That's a pretty good parallel, Jarvis. In 2005-06, Bryant led the NBA in scoring at 35.4 points per game. He also averaged 5.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists and was ninth in steals at 1.84. But the Lakers went 45-37, finishing third in the Pacific and sixth in the West.
Actually, in the column on
-- Latrell Sprewell: "I've got my family to feed."
I was there that day, in the gym after practice, when Sprewell hissed the line that would hang his career. It was a simple, out-of-touch comment by a pro athlete reacting to what he saw as a sizeable pay reduction -- from $14.6 million for the 2004-05 season to a three-year offer from Minnesota worth $21 million. It was the beginning of the end for both that Wolves team, which failed to repeat as Western Conference finalists and hasn't made the playoffs since, and for Sprewell. An incredible slasher, a coachable player on the court and a team leader when he didn't feel threatened as, I dunno, a businessman or something, Sprewell never played again after April 2005.
OK, so it's more of a label than a quote, but the NBA's all-time man-child (and king of the hyphen) deserves some mention here. He was an entertainer first, player second, and his masterwork came after he smashed the first of two backboards during the 1979-80 season. This one came at Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium, sending a shower of glass shards down on the Kings'
The Houston Rockets had a bumpier ride in 1994-95, their status as NBA defending champs not helping as they plummeted from 58 to 47 victories and faced the postseason as a constant underdog, starting each series on the road. San Antonio and Utah both had won 60 or more, and Orlando -- with Shaq and
This comment, made by Bird upon entering the locker room prior to the 1987 Three-Point Contest at All-Star weekend and surveying the other participants, is so good that, even if Bird hadn't said it, he should have. It perfectly summed up his extreme confidence, burning competitive drive and brutal gamesmanship.
Somehow, it doesn't seem right that the most amusing quote in NBA history gets credited to the wrong guy. Motta, then coaching the Washington franchise, was actually the person who