By Rob Mahoney
• Before you get caught up in the narrative that the Thunder will struggle to best the Spurs in a potential playoff series without James Harden, check in with this revisionist history-debunking post by ESPN.com Insider's Tom Haberstroh ($) that does a good job of dispelling the myths of last year's playoff run and setting up OKC's prospects going forward. Important to both threads are the changes to the Thunder rotation, the still-underrated presence of bucket-getter Kevin Martin and the overall success of Oklahoma City's subs:
Check the numbers. With the Thunder's starting lineup off the floor, the team has scored 109.0 points per 100 possessions, an offensive efficiency that would rank fourth in the entire league, according to NBA.com/stats. The defense? It has held opponents to 99.3 points per 100 possessions, which would rank No. 2 overall in the NBA. The truth is that, even with Harden out of the picture, the Thunder's reserve core of Martin, plus/minus extraordinaire Nick Collison and sophomore sub Reggie Jackson has anchored one of the best benches in the league (The Player Formerly Known As Derek Fisher notwithstanding).
And about that Martin fella. You just can't find many guys who can shoot that efficiently on that many shots. Check this: There are four active players in the NBA who have a true shooting percentage north of 60 percent this season with a usage rate (percentage of possessions a player uses via shot attempt, trip to the free throw line or turnover) higher than 20 percent. The names of those four? LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden and, oh yeah, Kevin Martin.
• Good news for the Warriors, who have gone the entire season without their best perimeter defender. Brandon Rush won't be coming back for Golden State's playoff run, but he should be a big help if he elects -- as is expected -- to pick up his player option and stay in the Bay area next season.
• Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili penned the eulogy for the weird, decent and ultimately underwhelming Dallas Mavericks, beginning with the stage-setting done in Dallas' heartbreaking loss to the Lakers:
There will be no miracles. There will be no comebacks. These merry, plucky, bearded Mavericks trudge to the bench as [Robert] Sacre, [Justin] Dentmon, and [Anthony] Morrow take the court to play out the string. And as a proud Dirk Nowitzki and the remnants of one of the league's most impressive champions watch their season slip away in a single game, everyone's left wondering what might have been. Without Dirk's injury, do these Mavericks -- they of a 22-14 record with a healthy Dirk, I might remind -- challenge for the 5 seed? These Mavericks were beset by bad luck from the get-go, and over the course of the season, they've lost a startling 12 games by five points or less. For comparison, Golden State lost only 4 such games. Houston? Only 7. Sometimes, the chips don't fall. You don't hit your straight. You're one roll short.
On a warm spring night in the City of Angels, two dreams met on the field of battle. One left bolstered -- the other, defeated. The Los Angeles Lakers still have their unlikely title shot -- their flagging, fading, sputtering title shot. It's a shadow of expectations, certainly, but the expectations were too high to begin with. They've come accustomed to their new reality, and they're persevering in the face of adversity. But they're also one more thing, perhaps more important than anything else. They're lucky, once again.
The Mavericks are not. And as we bid adieu to the 2013 Dallas Mavericks, we happen upon their eulogy.
"You were alright, but you just weren't lucky."
• Class up your day-to-day wardrobe with a Jesus (Shuttlesworth) Piece.
• A smart look from Matt Moore of CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog on how the Spurs got the edge on the Thunder since last season's playoffs by, interestingly enough, relying more on mid-range jumpers.
• John Schuhmann laid out the Eastern Conference field over at NBA.com to focus on all the teams fighting for a spot at Miami's table.
• What a pesky creature is hope.
• Mark Cuban's comments regarding potentially drafting or signing Baylor star Brittany Griner have invoked a massive response -- much of which is distressing in its treatment and assessment of women's basketball in general. Kate Fagan of ESPNW offered a valuable perspective on the subject, asserting the value of having world-class athletes of both genders rather than view the WNBA/women's basketball as an innately lesser product:
I wish we could stop having this conversation and just appreciate the women's game on its own merits, because as this year's NCAA tournament has shown, there is much to admire. But Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban stirred the pot, saying he would consider taking Griner with a late second-round pick in June's NBA draft -- and now everyone is once again measuring female ballers in relation to their male counterparts.
These constant comparisons do little more than reinforce the notion that the women are somehow second-class players, instead of world-class in their own right. I don't see soccer fans wondering if U.S. star Alex Morgan could suit up for Manchester United, and yet the idea of a woman playing in the NBA is apparently a debate worth having in some circles.
• What amazes me about Brandon Knight's brutal miss on a wide-open layup in crunch time on Wednesday night isn't just that he missed, but how badly he whiffed it. To go up for a standard layup and miss the rim completely is no small feat. • Very interested to see whether Paul Pierce's newborn son grows up loving or hating his parents for their creative naming choice.