The NBA Playoffs turned all wonky on Sunday, as the following two things happened:1.
The Dallas Mavericks (who have the best record in the league) succumbed to the Golden State Warriors (a team that qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the regular season), and2.
The San Antionio Spurs (who have the best record in the NBA since the All-Star Break) were defeated by the Denver Nuggets (a team that struggled all year due to injuries, suspensions, and chemistry problems).
Now, mind you, I don't think -- even for a single millisecond -- that the Warriors and/or Nuggets are going to win their respective series. I have full confidence that the Mavs and Spurs are going to wake up and assert their dominance, probably starting in Game 2. But...this isn't supposed to happen, is it? Aren't the best teams supposed to come out and immediately show
why they're the best teams? I mean, the Mavericks won 67 games (which has happened only nine times in NBA history). The Spurs won "only" 58 games, but they coasted through the first half of the season, and
they have a handful of championship, and
bucketloads of playoff experience. So what gives?
Well, I read an interesting observation over at TrueHoop
"Dallas vs. Golden State, San Antonio vs. Denver, and Chicago vs. Miami all feature one team that come into the postseason on a big tear, and one team that basically limped home. While Golden State finished 9-1 in their last 10, Denver 10-1 over their last 11, and Chicago 10-3 over their last 13 (all fighting for playoff spots/seeding) Dallas rested starters and finished 2-2 in their last 4, San Antonio 0-3 in their last three, and Miami 2-4 over their last six."
This theory makes a whole lot of sense when you think about it. The Warriors and Nuggets have been in "playoff intensity" mode for weeks, whereas the Mavs and Spurs just kind of coasted in (I think the term "limp" is a little strong). In this case, the lower seeds were simply more ready for playoff basketball than the higher seeds.
This doesn't happen only in basketball, by the way. Remember a few years ago when the Indianapolis Colts won their first 13 games and then sat their starters for the rest of the regular season? Their first playoff opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, had to win their last five games just to make it into the playoffs. By the time the two teams met, the Colts hadn't played a meaningful game in almost two months. The Colts were rusty, the Steelers were sharp, and the Colts lost. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl.
The rustiness isn't as much of a problem in the NBA, since there are best-of-seven series rather than a single elimination tournament. You can lose a game and come back. The Spurs lost Game 1 to the Nuggets in 2005 and went on to win the next four straight. Still, losing Game 1 at home is never good. You surrender home court advantage, and you provide your opponent with momentum and (more importantly) hope. Even if you win the series, it means playing one or more games than you wanted to, which increases fatigue and the potential for injury.
Anyway, this all brings me back to Mike D'Antoni. When the Phoenix Suns clinched the second seed in the Western Conference, he continued to play his starters 30+ minutes over the last few meaningless games. The media wondered what he was doing, the bloggers wondered what he was doing, I
wondered what he was doing. It seemed like madness. What was the point? There seemed nothing to gain and everything to lose.
But hey, maybe he knew what he was doing after all. The Suns certainly didn't play their best ball in Game 1, but they were sharp enough to execute down the stretch and hold off the Lakers. So I guess what I'm saying is: I'm sorry, coach D'Antoni. You're the coach and I'm the fan. You followed your game plan, and it's worked so far. I will now trust you without question until you screw up. Thank you.
Labels: Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Mike D'Antoni, NBA playoffs, Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs