The Spurs Leading the Pack Debate… Mix of Experience and Youth

February 9, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Football season is over, and slowly The Sports Debates will begin to switch gears on to other sports. Enter today’s debate on the validity of the San Antonio Spurs. Are they the best team in the NBA as we approach the unofficial mid-point of the season with the All-Star game coming up next weekend? Well, obviously, the answer is yes.

The easy defense of this is to take a quick peek at the NBA standings. Through Tuesday’s action, the Spurs had a five game lead over the Celtics for best overall record in the NBA and a 5.5 game lead over Babe Ruthless’ beloved Miami Heat. Projected out over a full season at the current pace, the Spurs would have nearly an eight game lead over the Celtics. That’s no small advantage.

One key advantage the Spurs have over the other contenders for the “best team in the NBA” throne –such as the Celtics, Heat, and the Lakers – is the fact that the Spurs have been consistently great the majority of the year. Sure, they’ve made missteps along the way. No team can be losing to the Hornets by 24. But if you look at the schedule to this point, the longest losing streak of the season for the Spurs is two games, and that was last month. They followed that “losing streak” with an eight game winning streak. On the season the Spurs have had three winning streaks of at least eight games, including two double digit streaks. That’s consistency.

Compare that to the other Big Three. The Celtics have three two game losing streaks, and they are currently in a streak where they have lost four of ten, including a loss to the Wizards. The early season struggles of the Heat are well-documented, leading to speculation (and a debate on this site) that head coach Eric Spoelstra was on the hot seat. The Heat had a three game losing streak early in the season and topped that with a four game losing streak last month, including a loss to the Clippers. The Lakers, out of all the top teams, have been the model of inconsistency, with two three game losing and a four game losing streak. Their struggles have prompted talk of acquiring Carmelo Anthony. Do they belong the title of best team with those rumors flying around?

Last month I tooted the horn of the Spurs when discussing the hottest team in the NBA, and they certainly haven’t cooled off. Obviously, the big three of Manu Ginobili, the former Mr. Eva Longoria (a.k.a. Tony Parker), and Tim Duncan – who is somewhat taking a back seat this season – are still there. But management has wisely installed some youth to surround the old guys. Leading the youth charge are Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair – who will both be laying in the Rookie/Sophomore game next weekend. Look who leads the Spurs in offensive rebounds? It’s not Duncan. It’s Blair, and that is in just over 21 minutes per game. Head coach Gregg Popovich has done an outstanding job of keeping his team fresh to this point, with no one averaging over 32 minutes a game. Folks, that’s going to play big dividends come playoff time.

The Spurs may not be the sexiest team in the NBA. But they are glad to give that title to their rivals if they can hold up that trophy in June. To this point in the season, they are in the best position.

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The Spurs Leading the Pack Debate… Mis-Leading The NBA

February 9, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Obviously the Spurs are good. The simple fact they are the first team to 40 wins in the NBA this season proves as much. But are they really the best team in the NBA? I am not sold.

Admittedly, a quick glance at the first half stats would lead one to believe the Spurs are indeed the best team in the NBA. After all, the San Antonio Spurs own an NBA leading 42-8 record and hold a 6.5 game lead over the team with the next best record in the Western Conference – The Dallas Mavericks. What’s not to like about that?

But upon closer inspection of the record books the Spurs don’t look quite as well… sharp. The Spurs have absolutely been dominant at home (25-2), and absolutely dominated all but the best teams in the league (winning 26 of 29 games against teams with less than 30 wins). But it is their strength that also exposes their weaknesses.

The Spurs have been upset more than once by teams they should have beaten easily, and those losses usually came on the road. The Portland Trail Blazers, New York Knicks, and L.A. Clippers are by no means among the worst teams in the league, but they are opponents that the Spurs should have been able to beat. Each upset pulled off exposed the soft underbelly of the Spurs’ road game to the league.

Obviously most teams haven’t been able to capitalize on this weakness, but most teams aren’t really in the Spurs’ league. The Spurs really haven’t been challenged much this season. More than half of the team’s wins have come against sub .500 teams. Similarly the Spurs have played almost twice as many teams with less than 30 wins than teams in the 30-plus column.

It is the teams in this latter category that have been especially good at making the Spurs look beatable this season. The Boston Celtics (38-13), Orlando Magic (32-20), Dallas Mavericks (36-15), and New Orleans Hornets (32-21) are all what I would consider worthy opponents for the San Antonio Spurs, and they have each found ways to beat the NBA’s “best.” This general point includes a 22-point beat down by the Magic and a 24-point shellacking at the hands of the New Orleans Hornets. Keep in mind this is the same Hornets team that earlier in the season dealt the Spurs one of only two defeats on their home court. It appears that when matched against the league’s best, the Spurs lose a bit of their shine.

You might be asking yourself, “Hey Babe Ruthless, if the Spurs aren’t the best team in the NBA then who do you think is better?”

I don’t propose than any one team is, but rather a few teams. For starters, the Miami Heat. Now I am well aware that all my unabashed LeBron love doesn’t sit well with everyone (even the judge for this debate), but I ask the haters to give me the benefit of the doubt on this one. Heck, even Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban admits the Heat are the best and he is an ego maniac.

LeBron James and the Miami Heat own the second best record in the Eastern Conference (37-14) and the most road wins in all of the NBA with 18. The team is heating up as the season progresses. They are among the hottest teams in the NBA right now, as they are currently in the middle of a six game win streak, and don’t show any signs of letting up. Imagine if the Heat had opened up out of the gate as strong as they are playing now, there would be no doubt they would be the undisputed best in basketball. That calls the Spurs claim into question.

Similarly, the success of the Boston Celtics (an important link to read) serve as another crack in the foundation of San Antonio’s claim to the top spot in the NBA. With a 38-13 record the Celtics are just a handful of games off the Spurs’ pace. The Celtics, who beat the Spurs 105-103 earlier this season, have posted nearly as good a record in arguably a tougher conference than the Spurs. Add to that the fact that the Celtics have been slowed of late by injury and a grueling road schedule, and we are talking about a team that might just be better than their record reveals.

The point of today’s debate was merely to cast a shadow of doubt on the Spurs claim to being the best and the best. Personally, I’m not even sold that the Spurs are better than a team in their own division – the New Orleans Hornets, who bested them twice already this season – but I feel confident that the stats prove the Spurs cannot be anointed, unequivocally, as the best team in basketball.

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The Miami Heat Playing As A Team Debate… No I in Team

January 27, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

The topic of today’s debate the part of sports that I really don’t believe in. Unless I am playing golf, tennis, or any other individual sport, I don’t believe in individuality in athletics. I never have. I had that instilled in me by my little league coaches when I was a scrawny little dork playing in sweltering South Georgia heat. In baseball, you hit the ball to right side of the infield to advance the runner over. In basketball, you pass the ball to your teammate if you feel he has a better shot. You rely on those teammates to achieve the ultimate goal, which is to win the game.

Evidently, Dwayne Wade doesn’t prescribe to my school of thought. He said, “We’re not the Boston Celtics. We’re not these kinds of teams that need to play together. We have guys that have the individual talent, and sometimes the individual talent, one-on-one ability is going to take over. Boston has more of guys that have great individual talent, but they feed off each other.” Guess the Celtics do it the wrong way, huh D-Wade? That’s why, entering action on Tuesday night, they had a 2.5 game lead on the Heat for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

The popular theory is that the NBA is a superstar driven league where individualism is magnified and necessary. How often does the end of a game come down to a one-on-one “iso” play, after all? But it’s been evident in recent years that even the great ones need not only good teammates, but need to learn how to play together as a team. Kobe Bryant, when commenting recently about Carmelo Anthony’s current plight with the Denver Nuggets, essentially implied he had the misfortune of playing with the likes of Smush Parker. He knows the importance of teammates, despite his reputation of being a selfish player, and that’s why he has five rings.

I give all this background data knowing full well it has nothing to do with the 2010-2011 Miami Heat. This Heat team features three players who at one time or another have been the focal point of their team during their careers, and now they are going through a process of give and take. All three of their respective scoring numbers are down slightly, but they knew that would happen. After all, LeBron did say they realized their days of winning MVP titles were probably over.

In a seven game series everything is magnified. The half-court offense becomes more a part of the game, and even superstars need teammates in those situations. There are no games against the Cavaliers where anyone can loaf. Everyone must bring it every night. The Heat really need to learn how to play together, and Wade needs to take this seriously if he has visions of earning a second championship.

Do you remember at the beginning of the season when the Heat were struggling, and much of the blame that wasn’t being put on Eric Spoelstra was put on the fact that the big trio didn’t play much during the pre-season? They hadn’t had time to develop much chemistry. We’ve had the team chemistry debate on this website, and while Sports Geek didn’t feel it was that important in the verdict, I certainly felt, and still feel, team chemistry plays a big part in a team’s overall success.

The bottom line is the “one-on-one” mentality that Wade speaks of is not the type of mindset to have in the playoffs. Perhaps we’ll see the “team” talent in Boston against the “individual” talent in Miami in the post-season, and see whose talent prevails. I think Mr. Wade will realize that he needs the help of the role players on the TEAM to help bring a title to South Beach.

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The Overshadowing the NBA Finals Debate

June 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

Well, it is the middle of June already, yet July 1 feels like it will NEVER get here. Like so many things in life, it is the not knowing that impacts us all. In the case of the NBA, it is not knowing what LeBron is going to do (think Tom Izzo wants to know, or is he just waiting for advice from Brett Favre?).

LeBron has been doing nothing to quell the fever pitch NBA free agency is creating throughout the sports world. He appeared on Larry King on the Friday after game one of the NBA Finals, and his daily statements are making, nay dominating, the news cycles. Even Buzz Bissinger, a LeBron biographer, called the timing of the Larry King move classless. Of course LeBron is not the only culprit in stealing attention away from the actual NBA games. Just yesterday news that Dwayne Wade had dinner with Chris Bosh stirred fans all over the continental U.S. into a frenzy of speculation.

The NBA is in a dangerous situation. Some folks believe that the news of potential free agency player destinations has trumped the news of and stories that rise up out of the NBA Finals. It is a slippery slope… at what point does the anticipation of the following season trump the end of the current one?

Fortunately TSD is here to answer that question: Has the various potential landing spots of high profile free agents overshadowed an exciting NBA Finals?

Bleacher Fan will argue that free agency has not overshadowed the NBA Finals at all while Loyal Homer will argue that the NBA Finals have taken a backseat to an exciting free agent period in basketball – that has not even “technically” begun.

Get your arguments in quickly, fellas – while the Finals are still happening!

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The Overshadowing the NBA Finals Debate – Letting Tomorrow Worry About Itself

June 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer.

This is a very exciting time for the NBA!

Everyone has been talking about this upcoming season of free agency for a long time, now, and rightfully so. It will likely set the course of the NBA for the next three to five years.

The whole world is waiting to find out where LeBron James will sign on to play basketball. Once that question has officially been answered, the rest of the dominos will fall quickly, and many team rosters will be completely overhauled. Some teams have literally spent years preparing for the possibility of wooing LeBron, or one of the many other elite free agents who will be available, and when the dust settles, the face of the NBA could look entirely different than it does today.

But has the talk of free agency overshadowed the NBA Finals? Absolutely not, and the reason for this is simple – the drama of speculating about what may happen pales in comparison to the drama of what is taking place TODAY on the NBA court, a fact supported both by the media and the fans.

No one is talking TODAY about Lebron James.

From a media perspective, every sports outlet in the nation is focusing on one thing – which team will win game six of the NBA Finals? Don’t believe me? Check it out… here are the links to the NBA pages for ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and NBA.com. Every single cover story is about the same thing – game six.

As far as the fans are concerned, TV ratings for the NBA Finals have all INCREASED this year. Game one of the series actually featured a 20 percent INCREASE in viewership over the numbers from last season’s game one, sparking a trend that has continued throughout the entire series. In fact, game five of this series actually has posted the highest TV ratings of any single NBA Finals game in more than half a decade (and that INCLUDES the 2007 NBA Finals between these same two teams).

Interest in the NBA Finals has not been higher than it is right now for a very long time.

If anything, all of the free agency talk has actually enhanced, rather than overshadowed, the Finals by generating ongoing interest in the NBA overall.

To begin with, this NBA Finals feature the latest installment of the undeniable best rivalry in the NBA, as the league’s two most storied franchises are once again battling it out on a championship stage in yet another very competitive Finals series.

This season features the 12th time these two teams have faced each other in the NBA Finals, and marks the tenth time the series has gone to at least six games. And although the Celtics hold a staggering lead in the head-to-head department, there is no denying this rivalry continues to be the most intense and exciting as there has ever been in all of basketball, and that the 2010 matchup is worthy of addition to this already storied legacy.

On one hand, you have the Los Angeles Lakers, led by the top player in the game today, Kobe Bryant. The Lakers, who are defending champions, have played as one of the top teams in the league all season long. They are coached by Phil Jackson, who is arguably the best coach in NBA history (with the only possible exception being the Celtics’ own former head coach, Red Auerbach), who could claim his 11th NBA championship (I wonder if they make championship toe-rings), should the Lakers prove successful.

On the other are the Boston Celtics reached the Finals, seemingly against the odds, by playing as the best team of the 2010 postseason. No team had a more difficult road to the Finals since the team first had to get past the Cleveland Cavaliers and then Orlando Magic (the two teams BELIEVED to be the best in the Eastern Conference), all just for the CHANCE to face the Lakers.

There is just no way that rumors about where guys like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh might play could compare with drama like that. And while stories about these players may surface and capture a headline or two, those headlines are very quickly trumped by the stories about something much more relevant to the game of basketball TODAY – The NBA Finals.

While people may be excited about the intrigue and suspense surrounding the upcoming period of free agency, the drama and intrigue of awarding a championship will ALWAYS supersede it. The question that is most burning on the minds of NBA fans today is, “Who will be the champions?” Only AFTER that question is answered will people FULLY focus on the question, “Where will LeBron play?”

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The Most Valuable Under the Radar NBA Player Debate… The Biggest Little Man in Boston

May 19, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

I’m officially a believer.

I refused to drink the Kool-Aid for a long time, and I criticized those in the media who had already started to recognize that which I failed to see until recently. But I am convinced now.

The Boston Celtics truly are playing championship caliber basketball.

I am surely not the only one coming to this realization, considering the fact that the Celtics dispatched LeBron James, and some other guys from Cleveland, in the last round of the playoffs. And they have already won the first two games of the Eastern Conference championship IN Orlando against the Magic.

Most impressive, though, has been the performance of Rajon Rondo.

Before the postseason began, if I asked you to name the most valuable point guard in the NBA, you would have given me names like Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose, or Chris Paul. Likewise, if I asked you to give me the name of the most valuable player on the Celtics, you would have most likely named one of the “Big Three” – Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, or Ray Allen.

Rajon Rondo, who has been a very impressive player throughout his career, never seemed to draw the attention of those other players. They seem to find the headlines much more easily. Whether he is compared to other point guards in the league, or to his own teammates, Rondo NEVER seems to get top billing.

All of that has changed. If I were to ask you those same questions today, Rondo would be the definitive answer to BOTH.

No player has been bigger this postseason than the little guy. At six foot one, Rondo is clearly the shortest guy on the court for Boston. But that has not stopped him from almost single-handedly beating the Cavaliers, leading them through a postseason that now appears destined for the NBA Finals.

In the series against the Cavaliers, for example, Rondo averaged a double-double with 20.6 points and 11.8 assists per game. Added to that impressive performance comes 38 rebounds, including 18 in game four alone against a Cavs team that featured not one, but TWO, seven-footers (three, depending on which heels Anderson Varejao is wearing). Not bad for a little guy!

His performance in game four of the Cavaliers series has actually been dubbed as one of the greatest in all-time Celtics’ history (which includes players like Larry Bird, Bill Russell, and Bob Cousy). Against the best team in the NBA (Editor’s Note: Says who?), Rondo notched a triple-double with 29 points, 13 assists, and the aforementioned 18 rebounds.

He has been the leading point-scorer for the Celtics this postseason, and his ability to create shots for everyone else on the court around him has caused many sleepless nights for Erik Spoelstra, Mike Brown, and now Stan Van Gundy.

This is not KG’s team, and it does not belong to the Big Three. This is Rondo’s team! He has taken charge of the Celtics, and his teammates have responded in kind by playing some of the best basketball we have seen in a very long time.


Rajon Rondo won’t be “under the radar” anymore, though. His performance this postseason has served as a declaration of the type of player that he is – MOST VALUABLE!

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The Hate in the NBA Debate… Fueling the Fire

May 7, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

I would love to wax poetic on the virtues of non-violence. There truly is far too much aggression, anger, and hatred in this world, and the Earth would be a MUCH better place if everyone got along.

It is extremely ironic, then, that an event which is centered on competition, and celebrates winners over losers, can actually unify in the act of dividing. Don’t believe me? Then I would strongly recommend you tune into the events that will take place beginning in June in South Africa.

The World Cup is a perfect example of how people with the utmost hatred and disgust for each other can still come together and celebrate even the smallest commonalities between them – a game of soccer. Likewise, the Olympics present another rare opportunity for people to come together in a competition of NATIONAL pride that will not wind up with excessive blood spilling or death.

Sport, at its very core, is peaceful.

That does not mean, however, that sport is (or should be) entirely without aggression and even MILD violence. Many of the best rivalries in sports today have evolved from deeper lying disputes that have absolutely nothing to do with sports in general.

The Origin of a Great Rivalry

The greatest rivalry in American sports – The Ohio State vs Michigan football game – actually stems from a land dispute in 1835 called the Toledo War. That’s right, every year when the Buckeyes take the field against the Wolverines, it is quite literally a battle fought as an extension of a nearly 200 year old WAR. And although the reasons for that war have been lost over the centuries, the mutual dislike between Ohioans and Michiganders has continued to fester. Folks in Ohio HATE folks in Michigan, and vice versa.

Consequently, when Ohio State supporters watch their Scarlet and Gray clad warriors set foot on the gridiron, they do so with the utmost dislike for the Maize and Blue soldiers of Michigan and their flag-waving counterparts in the stands (with that hate being reciprocated by the Michigan faithful). Consequently, they EXPECT their on-field representatives to share in that hatred, as well as the hope for the athletic destruction of the vile opposition.

The Curse of Free Agency

In recent years, however, that sense of passionate rivalry has been lost in the NBA (and professional sports in general). While fans of the game still feel deep-rooted love for their teams (and vicarious hatred for all others), a disconnect has developed between the fans and the athletes who represent them.

Free agency has KILLED rivalry.

Fans today feel no relationship at all with the players who don their beloved uniforms because they know that the players have no real attachment to the city in which they represent. A kinship that once existed between players and fans has been lost, because we as fans know that the player filling the uniform is fleeting. By this time next week, my beloved power forward may very well be plotting where he will be playing next season, perhaps for the team that I despise.

Likewise, players have become so ingrained in a culture of contract performance that they no longer care which colors they are wearing as long as they are being made rich in the process. Taking that a step further, athletes have become business-savvy enough to recognize that too much animosity towards a certain market may actually HURT their chances at making a bigger paycheck in the future. Rather than alienate fans of a prospective future fan base (burning bridges BEFORE crossing them), they have completely disconnected from the fans.

Hometown Heroes

Athletes like LeBron James and Derrick Rose are so exciting in the NBA because they’re hometown heroes. Not only are they some of the game’s brightest stars, but they are authentic representatives of the teams and cities they represent (at least for now). LeBron James, for example, isn’t just a kid who was DRAFTED by Cleveland Cavaliers, he IS Cleveland. He becomes a focal point of support and love that fans can rally around, and equally becomes a focal point of animosity and hatred for those who resent what he represents.

Speaking on behalf of all the Cleveland fans out there (of which I PROUDLY claim membership), we NEED LeBron to act and feel as we do. It is as simple as that. (Why do you think we took such offense when he showed up to an Indians playoff game in a Yankees hat?)

We as a city and as a people have been abused, belittled, and berated by the rest of the sports world for long enough. From insulting nicknames (“The Mistake by the Lake”) and berating implications (“You don’t live in Cleveland!”), to heartbreak and failure on the field, the city of Cleveland has long suffered.

Finally, though, we have a player who truly UNDERSTANDS. He grew up with us, lived in our struggling economic environment, shops in our stores, and can truly REPRESENT us. There is a bond between LeBron and the fans of the Cavs that MOST in sports will never understand. I’ve played basketball on the same St. Vincent St. Mary’s court as LeBron. I’ve sat in the same stands as LeBron while enjoying a University of Akron basketball game. Having attended a rival high school of LeBron’s, the best man in my brother’s wedding has a poster of himself getting dunked on by LeBron.

He is not just a hired gun who was called upon to bring a little justice to our neck of the woods, he is the local boy making a stand. He is one of us.

So when he steps onto the court, I don’t WANT to see him shaking hands and playing nice with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. I don’t want to see him hugging and laughing it up with Rajon Rondo. I want him to lead the rest of the Cavs in an all-out rampage to dismantle and EMBARRASS the Boston Celtics, whose players and fans have NO IDEA about what it is like to lose the way that we have in Cleveland (an 85 year championship drought in baseball means absolutely NOTHING when your basketball team has won 16 NBA Championships in the meantime).

When the Cavs lost to the Magic last year, I didn’t want to see LeBron shaking hands. Instead, his act of storming off of the court was the perfect representation of how we ALL felt in Cleveland.

We don’t WANT LeBron to hate the Celtics as much as we do. We NEED him to. Since I won’t have the opportunity to get in Garnett’s face and tell him what I REALLY think about him, I have to trust that my faithful and duly appointed representative, Mr. LeBron James, will satisfactorily handle that responsibility in my stead.

Loyal Homer is absolutely correct that we don’t need anymore gun-toting, riot-inducing incidents in sports. However, Babe Ruthless is also correct in asserting that the NBA cannot afford to shed all of its edginess without risking the overall appeal of the product to the fans. This is not a friendly game of Chutes and Ladders we are talking about, here. Instead, this is a physical test of superiority. It is a battle that takes place on hardwood flooring, where our best physical specimens will matchup against your best physical specimens, and only one side will walk away victorious in the end.

If the NBA tries to hide, diminish, or eliminate physical and aggressive rivalries, they will ultimately lose appeal. Babe Ruthless is awarded the victory for this debate by recognizing the importance of these intense rivalries to the most important people in sports – THE FANS!

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