The other night in San Antonio, the Spurs “regained control” of their series with the upstart Golden State Warriors. Their winning formula was familiar: Tim Duncan and Tony Parker led the team in field goal attempts, while Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green each provided valuable supplements. The Spurs have a clear hierarchy of talent and leadership that generally manifests into a predictably similar order on the stat sheet.
The current Warriors hierarchy is in a bit of disarray. Although these playoffs have undeniably improved the reputations of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Game 5 it was Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack leading the Warriors in field goal attempts, while Curry and Thompson were off somewhere in the basement of the Alamo.
In Part 1 of 2, Bill Simmons talks to Joe House about the NHL and NBA playoffs, then asks which playoff city is House's food favorite. In Part 2, Simmons calls Zach Lowe to talk about the NBA playoffs and whether Golden State can pull off the upset over the Spurs.
To listen to these podcasts, download them on iTunes here, or to listen at the ESPN.com Podcenter, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous weekend, along with ones you will remember forever.
The Black Falcon Has Landed
Jay Caspian Kang: Last spring, when the Golden State Warriors were redefining the acceptable parameters of tanking and Harrison Barnes was redefining the boundaries of how badly I could troll a player on my beloved Carolina Tar Heels, I wrote a series of columns stating the Warriors were doing the NBA a disservice and that Barnes was a bust. Around that time, I recall a friend joking that the best possible outcome would be if the Warriors tanked their way into the middle of the lottery and picked up Barnes. That way, my two beloved hatreds could be intertwined forever. If Barnes ended up being an NBA bust, the specious logic of sports predictions and the Internet record would vindicate me forever.
After All-Star forward David Lee went down with a torn hip flexor, it appeared this Golden State Warriors team was toast. The Nuggets were dealing with their own injured star, Danilo Gallinari, but the team’s depth and impressive second half of the regular season still put them as the odds-on favorite to win the series. Yet by replacing Lee’s production with a combination of Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Carl Landry (and by riding Stephen Curry’s hot hand), Golden State roared back from a 1-0 series deficit to beat the Nuggets in six games and become the best story of the first round.
As was the case with the Nuggets, most are assuming that without Lee, Golden State’s matchup against the Spurs — a superior regular-season team inching closer to full strength thanks to the extra rest they received by making short work of the Lakers — will be the end of the road for the Warriors. But a funny thing might have happened for Golden State when Lee went down — they might have gotten better.
David Lee is a punch line, mostly because of his poor defense, but his ability to do just about everything on offense has made him a core part of a Warriors team that has won by scoring like hell, surviving on defense, and cleaning the glass. Now he’s gone for the season, the bad-luck victim of a hip flexor just 29 minutes into his very first NBA playoff game. The Warriors might be fine without him, and even improve on defense, but they’ll have to do so venturing into borderline unknown territory with lineup combinations that haven’t worked in tiny sample sizes. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Golden State will have to carve out an entirely new identity on the fly, a task even more difficult because of another injury everyone's forgotten about.
The quiet shudder that made its way around the NBA a couple weeks ago had something to do with a uniform tweak. The league unveiled sleeved jerseys and announced its lab rats would be the Golden State Warriors. Debuting this occasional experiment on these particular guys was both a punishment and ontological bad luck: They may be sixth in the Western Conference, but when it comes to exploitation they're the last straw.
1. David Lee’s unnecessary but appreciated post-fancy-pass spin away from the play.
2. The realization that Kevin Love’s return opens the door for both a T’Wolves whiteout and an all-bearded, zero-defense Minnesota frontcourt.
3. The suspicion that Andrew Bogut was a bit too inspired by Adrien Brody’s look in that Gillete ad.
4. Andris Biedrins. Everything about Andris Biedrins: that he’s the first one off the bench, that his celebration involves lifting one leg off the ground and a pelvic thrust, that there’s more joy in his towel-draped face than I’ve ever experienced.
5. The Barnes stare-down.
6. The chance to tell my Nikola Pekovic story. It goes like this. Apparently, last season, a group of reporters had gathered in the Minnesota locker room, and one inquired about the tattoo on Pekovic’s left arm — what looks to be a knight thrusting a large sword into a pile of skulls. Asked whom the tattoo was supposed to represent, Pekovic responded, “Oh, that’s just my friend.” It sure is.
Last season JaVale McGee delighted us with his investigative journalism, sense of direction, singing of Adele, and follow-up dunking. We will no doubt continue to cover JaVale's ups and downs, along with the exploits of his onetime partner in crime, Andray Blatche. But just for fun, we thought it would be cool if we tried to find this season's JaVale — the player with the perfect mix of on-the-court follies and social media highlights (or vice versa). Here's who the Grantland staff came up with.
In their eight years of existence, the Charlotte Bobcats have drafted three players from UNC, one from Duke, and one from Boston College, a school that plays up to seven games a year in the state of North Carolina. They have drafted one player from Texas, a Naismith runner-up from Gonzaga, and two UConn greats. Outside of trading for Alexis Ajinca’s draft rights in 2008, the Bobcats have found nearly every undersized or questionably athletic college star in the country. Some, like Jared Dudley, turn out to be valuable players on other teams. Others, like Sean May, quickly confirm that college post moves sometimes don’t translate to the NBA. The Bobcats haven’t fully developed a player since their inception in 2004. They handcuffed Raymond Felton, they didn’t tell the managers of all Charlotte-area Waffle Houses to stop serving May, they turned Gerald Henderson into the worst version of Kobe Bryant in the history of versions of Kobe Bryant.
Evaluating wing players is difficult because there are many types: shooting specialists, athletic freaks, defensive specialists, slashers, and more. Very often, teams choose a player based on need as opposed to sheer talent. That said, here are my top prospects.
It's Lottery Day! Since this is a particularly special day on the NBA calendar, we thought we'd do a special Lottery Shootaround, looking at all the story lines going into tonight's Anthony Davis Sweepstakes. Also, for even more Lottery talk, be sure to check out Bill Simmons's podcast with Chad Ford.
The Conspiracy Scale
On today’s B.S. Report, Chad Ford and I tried to figure out which 2012 NBA lottery winner would cause the biggest conspiracy ruckus. I spent the next few hours tinkering with our initial list, moving teams around and asking myself questions like “What team would definitely cause ‘THAT WAS FIXED’ to trend on Twitter?,” “Which team is either opening a new stadium or trying to open a new stadium?,” “Which team just got mysteriously sold to a local NFL owner who had repeatedly turned down chances to buy that NBA team for a solid year?” and “If David Stern was still alive, which team would get Anthony Davis?”
Here are the top five suspects, ranked on the Conspiracy Scale from “Definitely a little conspiracy buzz” to “This would cause an Internet riot.”
Cleveland (35 out of 100 on the Conspiracy Scale)
It’s almost too blatant — atoning for “The Decision” (and Dan Gilbert’s whining after “The Decision”) by giving Cleveland the no. 1 overall pick two years in a row? Even Vince McMahon wouldn't do this.
1. Clinton Portis, The Fund-raiser
I miss Clinton Portis. You miss Clinton Portis. We all miss Clinton Portis, I think, which is why it's exciting that the indispensable D.C. Sports Bog noted on Tuesday that Portis is set to appear at an upcoming fund-raiser for President Obama, hosted by Vice President Biden. Are we one step away from a Biden Pockets Straight shirt hitting the market? I really, really hope so.
2. Fidel Castro, Past-His-Prime Lefty
We expect a tearful apology from Chuck Klosterman any day now. In Spanish. "His relationship to baseball remains eternal. All that is required is his lack of death!"
You can catch Harrison Barnes at 4:10 p.m. Eastern on Friday, when the no. 1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels face Vermont, a 16-seed. No. 8 Creighton and Doug McDermott are scheduled to meet 9th-seeded Alabama at 1:40 p.m. Eastern today. Shane Ryan profiled McDermott earlier this season.