Tag Archives: Boston Celtics

NBA playoffs: Tied 2-all with the Celtics, Bucks eye first playoff series win in 17 years . . . Whatever happened to Indianapolis?

Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson drives on Charlotte Hornets forward P.J. Brown in the 2001 playoffs. License: Standard-non-commercial use.

The Bucks dumped the first two games of the series in Boston; Jabari Parker talked about his lack of playing time and role on the team; and Bucks fans lost their minds on twitter and everywhere else in the city. The knives were out in Milwaukee between Games 2 and 3.

The Bucks won the next two games in Milwaukee (with Parker’s playing time doubled), but Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn’t get timely service at trendy East Side restaurant after tipping in the game-winning shot in Sunday’s Game 4. The fans lost their minds again in shock, awe, disbelief.

Welcome to Milwaukee, where we’re far out of practice and shape for this NBA playoffs thing, and so starved for a winner that all faults and slights, real and imagined, are met with outraged howls of indignation. The last time the Bucks won a playoff series was in 2001, when the Bucks prevailed in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the original Charlotte Hornets, who would end up in New Orleans a couple of years later.

Seventeen years is a long time. The Big Dog Glenn Robinson was barking in those days, out-dueling Hornets All-Star forward Jamal Mashburn to lift the Bucks to the Eastern Conference Finals. In the first round series, Robinson lost the “Wee-Mac” (Tracy McGrady) vs. “Puppy Dog” challenge — but the Big Dog had the last laugh as the Bucks took the series 3-1 and would run all the way to Game 7 of the East Finals, a controversial defeat to Allen Iverson and the Sixers.

McGrady’s in the basketball Hall of Fame now, as unlikely as it seems given his notable lack of success in the playoffs. And the Bucks haven’t won a playoff series since the days of Wee Mac and Dog and Mashburn. But they’ve got the momentum against the Celtics heading into Game 5, and the best player, Giannis, averaging 28 pts – 8.5 rebs – 6.5 asts per game in the series.

Khris Middleton has been shooting the lights out all series long (15 of 24 from three, 40 for 65 overall — 73% true shooting!!). Parker has found his playoff game. Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker — everybody with a job but injured John Henson — are playing well and on the same page.

What could possibly go wrong?

Whatever happened to Indianapolis?

Still from the 1975 film, Rollerball. James Caan as Rollerball hero Jonathan E.

The question was raised in the original Rollerball film. Our hero, Rollerball sensation Jonathan E., and his assigned companion, Mackie, relax in between Rollerball matches with Jonathon’s trainer, Cletus. As they recline on floor pillows sedating in the glow of synthetic drugs, they talk of the harsh and uncompromising corporate realities of their world. Indianapolis has apparently disappeared from their sphere of knowledge or understanding. The city is gone. As Cletus drifts off into his high, he wonders again, “Whatever happened to Indianapolis?”

As the Pacers prepare to face the Cavs in Cleveland tonight (Wednesday) in pivotal Game 5 of their first round series, they may be asking the same question Cletus did. Or more specifically — what happened in Game 4? The Pacers had it all — a 2-1 series lead and playing on their home court in Indy, a golden opportunity to put Lebron James and his inexperienced new teammates in difficult 3-1 hole, where there would be little room for error to avoid defeat. The Pacers even had the lead in Game 4, 92-89, halfway through the 4th quarter. But not all of Lebron’s teammates are so inexperienced. James made plays, Kyle Korver hit threes, and . . .

“Just like that, it was 101-95. From there, it was a few more bricks from the Pacers and too much Stephenson sideshow, wrestling Cleveland’s Jeff Green to the floor in yet more antics gone too far.” —  NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner on Pacers-Cavs Game 4.

That says it all, it seems. Now the advantage is back in the King’s court, and while the Pacers may battle and Lance Stephenson and Domantas Sabonis may scrap and claw and bully and earn their Ts, Lebron and his Cavaliers will prevail. Sorry Pacers fans — many of whom truly believed, even when it was tied 1-1, they would win the series and end James’ 7-year reign in the East,

But then Pacers fans truly believed not such a long time ago in Paul George‘s stardom.

Now they don’t.

NBA Playoffs: Coaching, Discipline, Rebounding and 50/50 plays . . . Bucks vs. Celtics Game 2 . . . Sterling Brown does not have slow feet . . . Bledsoe becomes twitter fodder

2nd Chance Points after two games of the Bucks-Celtics series: Boston 42, Milwaukee 13.

The Celtics have hauled down 20 offensive rebounds in all, plus four additional chances on team rebounds, converting 17 of 24 total opportunities. How do you score 42 points on 17 made shots? Three-point plays — which means the soul-crushing reality of Games 1 and 2 is that on 8 possessions the Celtics made the Bucks poor rebounding pay out big with and-ones and 3-pointers.

(Click HERE for the Game 1 official scorers’ report, and HERE for the Game 2 report).

The Bucks in Boston relied heavily on their starting front court — John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Giannis has been on the court for all but 13 of the 101 game minutes in the series, while Middleton and Henson have played 78% of the available playing time at small forward and center, respectively.

  • Giannis has grabbed 22 rebounds on his own.
  • Middleton and Henson have come up with 12 boards apiece, with Henson’s 10% rebounding rate a lower than low number for a starting NBA center.

What else is there to say? The Bucks’ need for help in the middle for the playoffs shouted at Bucks GM Jon Horst all season long and every time down the stretch the Bucks ran into a team with a good center. It’s too late now, and the Bucks are in dire need of professional help, perhaps divine intervention from the basketball gods. The editorial board at Bob Boozer Jinx recommends the following instructional video by the legendary Red Auerbach.

There you have it. Only shooting the ball is more important, yet the Bucks have outshot the Celtics 58% (eff. FG%)  to 54%, only to fall into an 0-2 hole. The rebounding problem has been that bad, and the Celtics too opportunistic for the Bucks to beat.

The reliance on Henson has been curious. Henson has played 74 of the 101 total minutes of the series, unheard of playing time for the J-Hook, who’s career per game playing time average is  20.4. This season he played 25.9 mpg, and the Bucks should go back to this — the “10 more minutes of someone not John Henson” strategy.

Interim coach Joe Prunty has all but benched Tyler Zeller, the undersized big man Horst managed to acquire before the 2018 deadline. Zeller wasn’t the best option by any means, and he’s more of a power forward who doesn’t shoot threes; but the trade — for little used 2015 draft bust Rashad Vaughn — was a good one. 

Thon Maker, the Bucks tree-like, still-developing project, has been benched. I had hoped Thon would see some minutes in the series, at least for the experience and the extreme hustle Thon busts into the game.

Are these lame-duck coaching decisions by Prunty or the dictates of the front office and GM Horst? Bucks fans may never know. What we do know is that it isn’t working.

Sterling Brown is not slow-footed

In the 8:47 Sterling Brown played in the 4th quarter Tuesday, Brown impressed (as usual) with his defense, quickness and foot speed on the wings. The latter — the foot speed — viewed in juxtaposition to Tony Snell and Malcolm Brogdon in the first three quarters, was a good lesson on what ails the Bucks defense. If this series has emphasized how soft the Bucks are in the middle, it has also exposed the slow feet of the Bucks rotation players on the wings — and this includes Middleton.

The long arms and good shooting are great. But if they’re not blocking shots (they’re not) and slow off the bounce, getting beat to the spots on the wings, what then? The result is the poor defense that has plagued the Bucks for three seasons now — and open shots and drives for the Celtics quicker, more athletic wings, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Hopefully, we’ll see more Sterling in Milwaukee.

Then there’s THIS.  The natives are restless in Milwaukee. Eric Bledsoe‘s being outplayed by Kyrie Irving‘s backup, Terry Rozier, and the world is letting him know all about it. Charles Barkley, too.

Ouch.

J.D. Mo’s gotta run, not much time to dwell on the Bucks this midweek. The truth about this Bucks-Celtics series holds — the Bucks only needed to win one game in Boston to win the series. The one win could have happened in Game 1 as the Bucks headed to overtime; it can come in Game 5 or Game 7.

But the Bucks cannot lose at home. Game 3 in Milwaukee Friday is MUST-win or the season’s all over and done but for the angry tweets. Here’s more from Red: “Did you see that rebound?”

Sourcerole

  • Official Scorer’s report, Bucks-Celtics Game 1, 4/15/18 –http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180415/0041700111_Book.pdf
  • Official Scorer’s report, Bucks-Celtics Game 2, 4/17/18 –http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180417/0041700112_Book.pdf
  • Series Box Score and Advanced Boxscore at Basketball-reference – https://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/2018-nba-eastern-conference-first-round-bucks-vs-celtics.html

NBA Playoffs: Bucks vs. Celtics notes

Eric Bledsoe was a step behind Celtics pg Terry Rozier Sunday in Game 1, as Rozier hit three big 3-point shots with the game on the line. Boston Herald photo by Christopher Evans. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Notes from the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs, Eastern Conference.

Bucks-Celtics – The Bucks need win only one game in Boston to take this series, so Sunday’s overtime loss can be filed for what it was — a good effort, a tough loss, in which Celtics point guard Terry Rozier (23 pts, 4 for 9 from three) hit three big threes in crunch time, one with barely a second left in regulation to put the Celtics up three, 99-96. Rozier struck again in the overtime, hitting a contested three to get the Celtics on the board and a 104-103 lead.

The Game 1 heroics of Kyrie Irving‘s backup should ensure that Rozier’s Bucks counterparts, Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon, won’t fall a step behind the rest of the series, not that the Bucks switching defense makes match-ups predictable. Brogdon was often found trying to check Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (19 pts, 10 rebs) on Sunday, just one of many unfortunate outcomes of the Bucks defensive schemes throughout the game. Jaylen Brown, the other Celtics wing forward added 20 points and Marcus Morris dropped 21 on the Bucks off the Celtics bench.

Can the Celtics count on 83 points per game from Rozier, Tatum, Brown and Morris the rest of the series? The quartet averaged a combined 53.3 per game during the regular season, and tend to go through stretches where they struggle to score. You’ve gotta like the chances of the Bucks, finally playing with their full roster for the first time this season, prevailing in this series.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton – The Bucks forwards combined for 66 points on 50 shooting possessions (shot attempts + trips to the FT line), terrific offensive efficiency. They only turned the ball over 7 times between them while dishing out 13 assists (6 for Khris and 7 for Giannis),

generating a whopping 86% of the Bucks offense, in addition to hauling in 21 rebounds — monster numbers that begged for a hot hand teammate to help them out.

Bledsoe and Tony Snell were 0 for 5 from three, and Jabari Parker — 2 points in just 14 mins of action — missed the only downtown look he had. Middleton said he should have been an All-Star this season, and he certainly played like one on Sunday.

Discipline, 50-50 plays and rebounds – Tatum scored 19 pts on 18 shots Saturday and Brown missed 10 shots, so the Bucks weren’t too bad there — they outshot the Celtics 48% to 41%. The Celtics won by winning the 50-50 plays and taking advantage of an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers by the Bucks. The Bucks can cut down on turnovers and sloppy play and expect better games from Bledsoe the rest of the series, but the 50-50 plays and rebounding may be a different story. The young Celtics were just quicker to the ball than the Bucks, beating the guys in dark green to the one more offensive rebound, one more loose ball, they needed to win. The Celtics and Jazz led the NBA in Defense this season (103.9 pts/100), so the 50-50 hustle is habit for the C’s.

The Celtics scored 22 second chance points off of their 11 OREBs (plus a team rebound), a destructive scoring rate — and those plays killed the Bucks. Bucks center John Henson was credited with six blocked shots but grabbed only 6 rebs in 37 mins — unheard of playing time for Henson and terrible rebounding for a big man. To paraphrase Red Auerbach and countless coaches through the ages — “If you didn’t get the rebound, you didn’t play defense.”

Giannis vs. Al Horford vs. the referees – Giannis shot 16 free throws (made) in Game 1, but there were calls he didn’t get, including a charging call drawn by a clearly moving Marcus Morris in the 4th quarter, the 4th foul on Giannis in a game he would foul out of in the overtime. Jason Phillips, the referee who kicked Steph Curry out of Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals, made that call and a few others that were questionable.

Phillips, in his 19th NBA season, missed last year’s playoffs due to injury. Nothing really stands out about Phillips’ stats at basketball-reference.com. Game 1 crew chief Mike Callahan, in his 28th season, is one the 5 most experienced refs in the NBA, but has appeared slow and out of shape this season, at times laboring to keep up in a league where the pace has picked up in recent years. Both Callahan and Phillips were Finals refs in 2016, and Callahan refereed the 2017 Finals —

so the Bucks and Celtics, ostensibly, got the cream of the crop of NBA officials in Game 1. Yet somehow, both teams could hope for better officiating in Game 2.

Horford shot 14 free throws and missed only one. Horford is a tough defender, a 10-year veteran who knows how to work the refs. Horford, the Celtics and the referees offer a good test of Giannis’ mettle, if not quite a test of his greatness, and challenges Giannis will have to figure out to get his team through the series. . Whether or not the 23-year-old star can lift the Bucks into the next round is THE question in this series; the answer will either cement or cast doubt on his status as superstar in the NBA.

(Note that Bucks nemesis Mark Davis isn’t scheduled to work tonight’s games, so there’s a chance he could be in Boston for Game 2 on Tuesday. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, as Davis’ m.o. is to balance games for the visiting teams while inciting the rage of home crowds).

Tyler Zeller and Thon Maker — While Henson logged 37 minutes, Zeller played all of 4:28 seconds and Maker got a DNP from interim coach Joe Prunty. Henson was visibly exhausted in the 4th quarter and played just 13 seconds of the overtime, as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Al Horford went head-to-head at center. No, Bucks GM Jon Horst didn’t help his team out by acquiring a real big man down the stretch, but there was no need for Prunty — who in all likelihood won’t be coaching the Bucks next season — to emphasize this problem in Boston. If only for the playoff experience, Thon should play in this series.

Heat-Sixers correction – From last weekend’s preview post:  “I doubt they make it back to Miami Philadelpha for a Game 6 Game 5.”  The way the Sixers are rolling, winners of 17 games in a row, I don’t see the Heat winning a game in this series. Sixers center Joel Embiid is expected to play in Game 2 tonight (Monday), which should at least give Heat coach Erik Spoelstra a reason to play Hassan Whiteside, who saw only 12 minutes of action in Game 1. The Heat weren’t sure Whiteside was going to be ready to play at all in the game.

Gamebooks and other links

  • Bucks vs. Celtics official scorers’ report, Game 1, 04/15/18 - http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180415/0041700111_Book.pdf
  • NBA Official – official.nba.com
  • Referees index at http://basketball-reference – https://www.basketball-reference.com/referees/

Things to do in Washington D.C. when you need the Celtics to beat the Wizards . . . Updated Bucks playoff scenarios

The Bucks dispensed with the Orlando Magic 102-86 last night and the Heat fell to the Thunder in Miami, setting up the next stage in the Bucks playoff seed watch: the Celtics-Wizards game in Washington D.C. tonight.

Lose at home to the Kryie-less Celtics and the Wizards will be relegated to 8th and a first round playoff match-up against Toronto. The Bucks would then have the luxury of deciding whether to go all out against the Sixers on Wednesday in a bid for the 6th seed, or bow out in Philly and take the 7th seed and a Round 1 series against Boston.

The 6th seed opponent would almost surely be the Cavs, who close their season against the injury-depleted Knicks in Cleveland after beating the Knicks 123-109 in N.Y. Monday to stay a half game behind Philly. The Sixers have won 14 straight games, and will look to extend their streak to 15 tonight in Atlanta. A loss to the Hawks — or to the Bucks in the season finale — would flip the Cavs and Sixers in the final standings. (OK, anything is possible in the Knicks-Cavs game Wednesday, but really? Lebron and Kevin Love racked up 54 pts, 11 rebs and 12 asts against the Knicks Monday, and the Cavs are all but fully healthy and resting no one in this final week).

Luxuries are nice; the odds against beating Lebron and the Cavs in a first round playoff series are not so nice. All eyes in Bucks-land turn east to Washington, where the Celtics-Wizards are set to tip off at 7pm CST on TNT. A Wizards win means all remains in flux for the bottom three East seeds going in to Wednesday’s regular season-closing games.

The Wizards – have lost eight of their last 10 and four straight since John Wall came back March 31 from knee surgery. They’re murmuring about a sudden lack of chemistry in D.C., but had lost four of the six prior to Wall coming back and haven’t won since Boston announced that Kyrie Irving was done for the season. Truth is, the Wizards schedule was like a Rob Zombie Films gauntlet of terror — the Wiz didn’t catch a game against a lottery bound team for a month (Feb. 24 – March 24).

I’d say the Wizards are more burnt out than anything else, and occasionally suffering post traumatic stress from their schedule. Now that Wall’s back, nobody’s ailing except backup center Ian Mahinmi, who suffered a concussion in Cleveland and missed the Wizards’ loss to Atlanta Friday. They haven’t played a game since then, a well-timed and badly needed break before the battle against Boston.

Greg “Moose” Monroe has been getting a lot of work off Boston’s bench down the stretch, and posted a triple-double against the Bulls on Friday. Photo by Brad Mills, USA Today Sports. License: Standard non-commercial use.

The Celtics – Word out of the Celtics camp (and the Boston Globe) is that they’re not going to cooperate by resting Al Horford or anybody else not injured — and they don’t need the rest. Their young Jays, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier, Jabari Bird and Semi Ojeleye will sup on the playoff-like atmosphere of the game, though all the pressure’s on the Wizards. And Greg Monroe just likes getting the work with his new team. The C’s have been running plenty of sets for Monroe in recent games, and he’s averaged 17.7 pts, 7 rebs and 5.7 asts in 24.4 mins per game in his last three. 

The Moose’s BIER rating was good in Phoenix (13.51) but in Boston it’s up to 15.06 — an all-star level per36 for a center. Of course Monroe has played just 19 mins per game since joining the Celtics in February, but that’s still a ton of production to throw at opponents off the bench (Aron Baynes starts at center for the Celtics while Al Horford’s has shifted to his natural role as stretch power forward).

Moose put up a triple double vs. Chicago last Friday, as he and Bird (of course the Celtics took the only guy named Bird in the draft last summer) dropped 34 pts on the Bulls off the bench in the Celtics win.  “When he gets the minutes, he’s often going to get a double double (points and rebounds),” C’s coach Brad Stevens said of Monroe. “He’s an underrated passer.”

Yep. Bucks fans knew all that, though it didn’t stop former Bucks coach Jason Kidd from undervaluing Monroe. Kidd was never going to make the most of Moose and his skills, which is why trading Moose for Eric Bledsoe has worked: 32 mins of Bledsoe usually beats 20 mins of Monroe (in the world of BIER, anyway), though not at the production level Monroe’s been contributing in Boston.  If it seems the Bucks are no better than they were last season — and probably worse considering they won 20 of their last 30 on their run to the playoffs — remember that Kidd was playing Monroe 25 mins or more during that stretch, and that this season they’ve been without Malcolm Brogdon since early February.

Way to end on a bum note, dude.

Sorry man, I couldn’t help it — thinking about the Bucks and their politics this season just has that sort of effect.

Celtics-Wizards tips off at 7:05 CST tonight on TNT. 

Spoiler Hawks – In the course of writing this, I noticed that the most recent games for both the Celtics and the Wizards were against the Hawks, and that the Hawks played spoiler and beat them both. Just an odd factoid, perhaps. The Hawks opponent tonight in Atlanta happens to be Philly. Can the Hawks make it a hat trick? And would it change anything for the Bucks? . . .  nope.

Things to do in Milwaukee when you might not have to play Toronto in Round 1 . . . Meanwhile in Miami: Heat vs. Thunder tonight kicks off 3 days of NBA madness

The Bucks hopes of finishing anywhere but 8th, it turned out, didn’t die last week in Denver, and neither did Denver’s hopes after the Bucks gave them new life (the Nuggets beat the T-Wolves and the Clippers last week to all but eliminate the Clippers and give themselves a shot at 8th in the West). The Bucks and Heat are tied with 43-37 records, the Heat holding the tie-breaker and 6th seed in the East. Both teams are in action tonight: The Bucks face Orlando in Milwaukee while the Heat host the Thunder in Miami. The Wizards are 8th at 42-38 after losing to the spoiler Atlanta Hawks Sunday. In the East, 8th means a Toronto series and is to be avoided.

The turning point in the Bucks outlook had nothing to do with the Bucks or their temporary coaching staff, and everything to do with Kyrie Irving‘s infected left knee and the news that his inaugural season in Boston was over.

Chances are, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a better all-around player than the small forward on your favorite NBA team. RHJ played 37 mins in the Nets 119-111 win over the Bucks in Milwaukee 04/05, grabbing 11 rebs to go with 14 pts and 5 assists. NY Post photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

With the injury news April 5, the Heat and the Wizards joined the 7th seed sweepstakes to play Kyrie-less Boston, locked in at No. 2 in the East. Both teams dumped games to lottery teams while the Bucks were doing the same in Milwaukee Thursday under a barrage of Brooklyn 3-pointers (19 makes, 19 misses by the Nets). Then the Wizards lost to the Hawks, and not on purpose. John Wall‘s back from knee surgery but his teammates had grown accustomed to playing without him. A Kobe-style drama may be playing out in D.C., with the immediate beneficiaries the Bucks and their playoff seeding.

In this race in the bottom rungs of the Eastern Conference playoff ladder, if you run too fast you could end up playing Lebron and the Cavs in the Round 1 — and nobody wants that with the possible exception of Giannis Antetokounmpo who would consider it an honor, a challenge, a learning experience and a chance to pull off an incredible upset. The rest of the Bucks? Let’s just say Giannis would be resting his knees and ankles and watching Toronto Raptors games had his teammates not had some fun winning in New York Saturday. He is expected to play tonight against Orlando. (Not anymore – Giannis was a game time scratch).

So now the trick is to somehow wedge into 7th between Washington and Miami while avoiding the mistake of winning too much and becoming Round 1 fodder for Lebron and NBA refs. It’s better off said — the last thing the NBA wants is Lebron out of the playoffs after only a few games. If the Bucks were good enough to upset the Cavs (which they’re not), the refs would be sure to make said task so supremely difficult that only someone like Giannis could possibly succeed without help from one of the Avengers (preferably not “arrow guy” Clint, who’s No. 1 on the “will probably die in the next movie” list).

First up, the Bucks host the Orlando Magic tonight in the last regular season Bucks game that will ever be played at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, a building that saw a lot of losing by the Bucks over the years and only two playoff series wins, yet houses two generations of nostalgia for those who came to know, love and routinely regret their uncharted fates as fans of the Milwaukee Bucks. We waited years for the criminal investigation into the crooked refereeing in Game 4 vs. the Sixers 2001, to no avail. All we got is Jim Rome yelling about it on TV, a Ray Allen trade only George Karl loved, and a bunch of fledgling bloggers invested in Michael Redd for no reason they could explain. It was weird, weirder even than the drama of this season — and that’s only the stuff that happened after the internet. The 1990s were often weirder but usually a lot more fun despite the Bucks needing the entire decade to build a winner in the BC, where once upon a time everyone knew how to stay on beat for the DEFENSE chant. Who let the dogs out, indeed!

What’s killing Bucks fandom now is the idea that the Bucks are supposed to win. It’s a pretty dumb idea, looking up and down the roster and the payroll. But there it is, this idea that the Bucks time has arrived with Giannis. Now that time is here, the fans tip-tap their smart phones and wonder when. 

Bucks need a win tonight – Can the Bucks beat the 24-win Magic in this final Bradley Center game? The last time the Bucks played Orlando, Jonathon Simmons and D.J. Augustin rained 13-21 threes on the Bucks and the Magic held off the Bucks in the 4th to win 126-117 (funny, same thing the Nets did to the Bucks on Thursday). Simmons isn’t likely to play tonight due to a “right wrist contusion”, the Bucks are at home and the Magic closer to wrapping it up with a primo lottery pick. The Magic won’t be as tough as Brooklyn, and Malcolm Brogdon is expected to play (not sure if this sarcasm or not).

But who am I kidding? The Bucks will beat Orlando tonight because most folks around the NBA have little more than a vague awareness the game is being played at all, and — more importantly — because a win by the Bucks could quite possibly create a dilemma for the Bucks in Philly on Wednesday in the season finale. Dilemma, conundrum, Hobson’s choice — to win or not to win — a fitting way for the Bucks to end this rather Shakespearean season of theirs.

Dispense with the Magic, beat the Sixers and the Bucks could quite possibly find themselves in 6th. Unfortunately for the Bucks, handing the Sixers a loss will almost surely vault the Cavs into 3rd, which means the Bucks would head to Cleveland over the weekend to begin the playoffs. The Cavs finish their schedule with back-to-back games against the Knicks, who, as the Bucks found on Saturday, don’t have a lot to work with right now other than Michael Beasley (half the roster’s on the injury report). The Sixers are on a 14-game winning streak which should run to 15 games in Atlanta Tuesday, barring another spoiler win by the Hawks.

Meanwhile in Miami – The Heat tonight host a desperate OKC team that still hasn’t clinched a playoff birth in the West. Russell Westbrook cast as desperado in Miami, rocketing all over the court, raging at every injustice seen and unseen, demanding sublime efforts from Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to nail down the playoff berth. This will be great TV tonight, and there’s more ahead Tuesday and Wednesday in the West match-ups. Pity the Heat, who could be looking to avoid the 8th seed on Wednesday against 1st place Toronto. I don’t see how the Heat win the OKC game, with Hassan Whiteside and Erik Spoelstra warring again last week over Whiteside’s playing time and the wags talking off-season trade (attention: Jon Horst). OKC plays center Steven Adams full-time minutes, so Whiteside should get his PT tonight.

While the Thunder have yet to clinch a playoff spot, the Pacers, who traded Paul George for Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo in the offseason, locked up the #5 seed over the weekend. Addition by subtraction and teamwork, a breakout year for Oladipo, and a few smart moves by the GM; “trust the process” in Philly — the Pacers and Sixers are where the Bucks thought they’d be this season.

Meanwhile in Washington The Wizards host those shorthanded Celtics on Tuesday. There’s a lot of silver in the clouds for the Celtics, no matter what happens in the playoffs. The Celtics have nothing to play for in D.C., except to run offense for recent acquisition Greg Monroe — 17.7 pts, 7 rebs, 5.7 asts avg. for Monroe in his last three games, and a triple-double against the Bulls on Friday) — and build experience for their young forwards, 19-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown. A Bucks win over the Magic coupled with a loss to the Celtics Tuesday would lock the Wizards in 8th.

A Wizards win against the Celtics would mean the Wizards would have to lose in Orlando or the Heat would have to lose both of their remaining games for the Bucks to end up 7th. (Assuming the Bucks beat the Magic tonight.) Don’t ask me if Toronto will be resting players and taking the night off in Miami Wednesday.

And don’t ask whether the Bucks can beat the Sixers in Philly. Let’s see if the Bucks can take Orlando first.

Bucks April Fools Fiasco: Things to do in Denver before your playoff hopes die . . . Another NBA referee-made mess

Referee Tony Brothers’ crew called 10 fouls on the Bucks in the 4th quarter Sunday night in Denver, to 2 on the Nuggets as the Nuggets overcame a 18-point deficit to force overtime and beat the Bucks, 128-125. Khris Middleton (middle) and Eric Bledsoe might be wondering here why the Nuggets shot 46 free throws in all, including the game-tying trio by Jamal Murray. AP photo: License: Standard non-commercial use.

There was a lot wrong with the Bucks mind-boggling, overtime loss to the Nuggets in Denver Sunday night, which featured the Bucks blowing a 17 point lead with 6 minutes to play in regulation. They had the ball too at that point, ahead by 17, the clock marching down under 6:00. Instead of slowing the pace to run some offense, Bucks center John Henson cut to the basket and tried to dunk on Nikola Jokic. Henson missed the dunk, and a few seconds later Jamal Murray buried a three to cut the lead to 14. Suddenly, it wasn’t the Nuggets reeling from the 3-pointer Bledsoe had hit prior to Henson miffing the dunk, it was the Bucks calling time out to regroup with 5:44 to go.

The mindlessness of that play seems to speak for every mindless play made by the Bucks on their way to their 36th loss, 128-125 in OT, and a return to 8th place in the East. Henson wasn’t close on dunk (which isn’t the sort of video that gets cut and distributed in the NBA), but he didn’t appear to get above the rim as he rose to the basket and slammed the ball into the side of the iron.

The “J-Hook” also failed to grab a single rebound in the 4th quarter as the Bucks frittered away the lead, but neither did his backup, Tyler Zeller, who played the first 4 mins of the quarter. Denver pulled down 17 offensive boards on the night and scored 24 second chance points. The Bucks were out-rebounded 57-45 in the game, nothing new there — the Bucks would be the worst rebounding team in the league by percentage if the Orlando Magic weren’t worse.

The Bucks persisting need for a real center was just one of the problems in Denver. The referees, led by crew chief Tony Brothers, made numerous controversial calls in the Nuggets favor down the stretch to engineer this outcome, including Bennie Adams‘ 6th and disqualifying foul call on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Adams call with 2.8 secs left that led to the game-tying free throws. Meanwhile, Bucks Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe each made mindless plays in the final two minutes, suggesting rather strongly that the Bucks don’t have much of brain (or a coach) without Giannis on the court.

And here I was, looking forward to writing a nice, uplifting blog about the Bucks winning Western road trip and their chances of nabbing the 7th seed from Miami as they took a 111-103 lead with 2:08 to play and the Nuggets’ Murray was called for travelling 20 seconds later. It was not meant to be, not in Denver and not in this season in general for the Bucks. Lately, they’ve played too much like a First Round to be anything but.

THE REFEREES – The crew chief in Denver, Tony Brothers, just so happened to be the crew chief of the Bucks Game 6 loss to the Raptors in last year’s playoffs. Brothers swallowed his whistle then as Marc Davis burned the Bucks in Milwaukee, and was helpless again to stop referee Bennie Adams from engineering the Nuggets comeback. First, with the Bucks up 10 with 3:53 to go, coach Joe Prunty called time out, and subbed Antetokounmpo (who had 5 fouls) back into the game for Jabari Parker. The Bucks immediately went to Giannis in isolation in the middle of the court against Nik Jokic, who, as Giannis drove to his left, appeared to bump Giannis as he tried to stay in front of him, then stumbled to the floor when Giannis stepped on his foot planting to shoot — as you’ll see below in the video:

No basket, foul on Giannis — his 6th — and he was T’d up for screaming about it (looked like he deserved the technical). After the technical free throw, Adams whistled Bledsoe for a foul on Murray — two more FTs and the lead was down to 7 (107-100) with 3:26 to play. 

Adams is in his 23rd season as an NBA ref, but all that experience doesn’t necessarily mean he’s one of the better refs. I didn’t have Adams in any of the games I reviewed in last year’s playoffs during the “More than a Slap on the Wrist” series, and Adams didn’t make the cut down to 20 officials working the Conference Finals. He was, however, one of 30 refs in the conference semifinals pool so that puts him 21st-30th of 64 refs in the pecking order NBA Official says it establishes based on who advances to work the later rounds of the playoffs.

In any case, Adams would strike again with 2.8 seconds left and the Bucks ahead 111-108, after Khris Middleton’s lazy, off-target inbound lob to Jason Terry was intercepted by Murray and Murray raced to the 3-point line with Terry in pursuit. Murray fired away, the shot was off, but Adams called Terry for a foul that no camera could find even in slow-motion. Murray hit 3 free throws and the game was tied and headed to OT.

The NBA couldn’t find the foul in their Last 2-Minute Report (L2M) issued the day after the game, but for some reason the lack of evidence of a foul didn’t result in an “incorrect call” ruling. Here’s the ruling:

“There is no clear and conclusive angle that shows whether contact does or does not occur. Therefore the call stands as correct.”

NBA Official, curiously enough, also didn’t post a link to the video of the play, something they do for every call and non-call looked at in an L2M. (I guess the bosses didn’t feel like airing Bennie Adams’ dirty laundry). But I did find the video on Nuggets fan Justin Jett’s twitter account, thanks to The Score; and here it is:


In the “More than a Slap on the Wrist” series during last year’s playoffs, the realization about the L2Ms was that just because a corporate office decides to write reports does not mean your going to get a well written report. This was arrived at after reviewing a dozen or so L2M reports, and here we have another one that yearns to defeat the “transparency” purpose NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s states as the reason the reports exist. Bennie Adams did what he thought was the right thing to do in Denver — hand the game to the Nuggets. If the NBA office had ruled his call on Terry an “Incorrect Call”, would Adams have been held accountable? Not any discernible way. The only remedy the league seems to have is to limit the number of games a referee works in the playoffs.

Adams had help from Bucks Bledsoe and Middleton in the final 1:48 of the game, when the Bucks had the ball and were up 111-103. Murray had just been called for travelling by crew chief Brothers, and here’s the look on Denver coach Mike Malone’s face.

Game over? Malone looks as though his team’s playoff hopes are about to end. Image: Screen capture of NBA video of the Bucks-Nuggets broadcast 04/01/18.

Malone’s “there goes our playoff hopes” expression says everything that needs to be said about how impossible the Bucks blowing the 8-point lead was. With the win, Denver remained in 9th place in the West, one game behind New Orleans.

MEANWHILE IN MIAMI – The Heat on Saturday lost to Brooklyn, which meant the Bucks were tied for 7th place in the East for a few hours on Sunday, and on the verge of taking sole possession of both 7th and a likely first round matchup against the Celtics, still playing without Kyrie Irving.

The loss to Denver kept the Nuggets playoff hopes alive and dropped the Bucks into 8th (which would mean a second straight first round match-up with the East-leading Raptors, not the most desirable conclusion to the season) with the Heat set to play a back-to-back against last place Atlanta Tuesday and Wednesday while the Bucks battle the Celtics in Milwaukee. 

Sourcerole:

  • Official Scorers’ report, Bucks-Nuggets 04/01/18 – http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180401/0021701152_Book.pdf
  • NBA Official: http://official.nba.com
  • Last 2-Minute reports: http://official.nba.com/2017-18-nba-officiating-last-two-minute-reports/

The Bucks sign Plumlee #3 and it may have no bearing on anything else whatsoever (such as Andrew Bogut)

Well, he’s not a client of agent Jeff Schwartz, at least not according to this updated list of Schwartz clients, which includes recent addition DeAndre Jordan and still includes Jason Kidd. The Bucks coach has made roster moves to acquire Schwartz clients before (Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis, Rashad Vaughn, Mirza Teletovic), so one couldn’t help but wonder whether Schwartz was behind the Bucks signing of Marshall Plumlee to a two-way contract earlier this week. But there appears to be no Schwartz connection this time.

And the Plumlee signing doesn’t seem to have much to do with Andrew Bogut and the will-they or won’t-they talk about adding the onetime Buck All-Pro center to the roster for the stretch run and the playoffs (assuming no catastrophic collapse). The rumor mill is churning but neither the Bucks nor Bogut have said anything to indicate his return to Milwaukee is a real possibility. This is, after all, Marshall Plumlee the Bucks just signed, not Tyson Chandler, which the Knicks highlights below from last season prove inconclusively.

The look on Phil Jackson‘s face after Plumlee hits that old school Dave DeBusschere style 18-foot set shot says it all. There’s no denying Marshall Plumlee looks just like a Plumlee. At first glance, the Bucks signing of Plumlee #3, did seem to suggest that Kidd wasn’t too interested in Bogut; or that Bogues didn’t think a move to Milwaukee in the dead of winter to play for Kidd and his big men coach Greg Foster (with help from notorious Bogut antagonist Kevin Garnett as consultant), was such a bright idea. But timing isn’t everything.

Jan. 15, the day the Bucks signed Plumlee, was the last day teams could sign players to two-way contracts, a new arrangement this season where a player can play up to 45 days in the NBA (one-fourth of the season) at a pro-rated NBA minimum salary ($1.3 million in Plumlee’s case) and the rest of his time in the G-league. (Source: Article II, Section 11 (f) of NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, “Two-way Contracts”, pp: 49-56).

With half the season gone, the most Plumlee can earn in NBA salary is $328,000, but whatever he makes it will not count toward Team Salary (pg. 192 of the CBA). Two-way players are not included in the roster while they are with a G-league team and are not eligible for the playoffs unless their deal is converted to a regular NBA contract. The Bucks have not converted any of this season’s two-way players (Gary Payton III, Joel Bolomboy, Xavier Munford).

No team salary hit, no roster spot, no playoff eligibility — hardly the stuff of great meaning in the context of Andrew Bogut and the Bucks, who need all the help they can get in the middle.  This much was painfully obvious Jan. 5 when Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas humbled the Bucks big men with 20 points and 9 rebounds in the 3rd quarter as the Raptors blew the Bucks out of their own building. The destruction was ruthless and complete. Bucks centers John Henson and Thon Maker responded with 0 points, one rebound and 5 fouls in the quarter.

In a fit of perfect timing, the Lakers waived Bogut the very next dayIt’s not inconceivable that the Lakers brass caught the overnight Bucks-Raptors highlights and thought they might as well do the Bucks and Bogut a favor by releasing AB to play out his swan song with the team that drafted him.

Yet no one has confirmed since then that the Bucks are actually interested, only that the Bucks had “thoroughly discussed the pros and cons of signing Bogut.” This came from a routinely unreliable Bucks beat writer down in Racine who quoted no sources for the record and could not get official comment from the office of Bucks GM Jon Horst, who’s not exactly unavailable to media.

The Bucks should want Bogues back, if only to entertain the fans before he leaves the NBA for good, which will happen in the near future. Bogut was the Bucks No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005, the heart and soul of the “Fear the Deer” team in 2010, the Bucks only All-Pro in 12 seasons 2005 to 2016, and the founder of the fan section that still rocks the Bradley Center. There’s almost too much symmetry given the Bucks screaming need for HELP in the paint.

The Bucks defense has been among the worst in the league this season, 25th entering last night’s (Jan. 17) Miami game.

Western Conference fans and media may not know it, but in the East, dinosaur centers yet walk the earth.

The Heat’s Hassan Whiteside has become a more recent opposing-center-dominates-our-guys problem. Whiteside had a strong game (15 pts, 10 rebs, 4 blocks) against the Bucks Jan. 14 in a blowout win by the Heat, and was downright dominant in the rematch in Milwaukee a few says later (Jan. 17), won by the Heat 106-101. Defensively, he blocked six shots, grabbed 12 rebounds and kept Giannis Antetokounmpo and guards Malcolm Brogdon and Eric Bledsoe out of the lane (the Bucks starting guards shot a combined 4 for 20 from the field, while Giannis was 6 for 15).

Offensively, Whiteside scored 27 pts while his backup, Kelly Olynyk, added 15 — 42 combined points, all too much for the Bucks on a night when Bledsoe was even more chaotic than usual.  Miami has won 8 out 9 games and moved up to 4th in the East, which means they’re another possible playoff match-up for the Bucks, and the Bucks have two more Heat games on the regular season schedule.

42 points from the center spot is almost unheard of in today’s NBA. The last time it happened was Nov. 15 when the Sixers Joel Embiid dropped a career high 46 on the Lakers. Bogut played 20 minutes in that game and actually slowed Embiid down, blocking his shot once and grabbing 10 rebounds to help the Lakers take the lead after 3 quarters. Embiid poured in 19 pts in the 4th, most of them (14) after Bogut checked out of the game with 7 mins to play. When he was on the court, the battle between the young star and the aging defender was real enough, and both players delivered in a wildly entertaining game. Lakers coach Luke Walton benched starter Brook Lopez in the second half. Embiid ruled the day, but Bogut had proven he wasn’t finished yet in the NBA.

The Bucks have yet to see Embiid and the Sixers this season (4 games coming up); and while there’s only one game left on the schedule against Boston, the Bucks might see the Celtics and centers Al Horford and Aron Baynes, who gave Henson and Maker trouble early this season, in the playoffs.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar was in attendance for the Heat game as part of the Bucks ongoing 50th Anniversary celebration, and, right on cue, he talked about the Bucks lack of “inside defense”. The centers may be “dinosaurs” in the new NBA, yet you need them to beat the teams that feature good big men. This makes no sense, but the basketball universe is howling now for Jason Kidd and Jon Horst to make a move, which signing Plumlee is not.

As for Bogut, there’s no news but speculation, even so far as a suggestion in the Daily Telegraph of Australia that one option is for him to return home and work for the Sidney Kings, the Aussie pro team he supported as a kid. Bogut negotiated to play for Sidney during the NBA lockout 2011-12 but those plans fell apart over insurance issues, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Bogut would probably prefer to return to the Warriors to relive a championship run but, barring injuries to the Warriors versatile crew of big men, he may no longer be a good fit.  The Warriors don’t have the problems the Bucks, Cavs or other potential Bogut suitors have. Realistically, it’s probably too soon to expect a move for Bogut, whose destination may not be decided until after the trading deadline Feb. 8 or All-Star break Feb. 16-18. The last day to sign playoff eligible players off the waiver wire is March 1.

The Bucks have just finished their toughest stretch of the season — 13 games in 23 days, of which the Bucks lost 8, won 5 and fell to 7th in the East with a 23-21 record. If the playoffs began today, the Bucks would get a rematch of last year’s 6-game series against the Raptors. But there’s no reason to panic yet — a much softer schedule lies ahead in the 13 games between now and the All-Star break Feb. 16.

In case of fire, call Bogut.

Sourcerole

  • The NBA collective Bargaining agreement is a supremely over-written document but it can be a fairly interesting read, really: http://3c90sm37lsaecdwtr32v9qof.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2017-NBA-NBPA-Collective-Bargaining-Agreement.pdf
  • Gamebooks and misc. stats: NBA.com and basketball-reference.com
  • Key NBA dates, 2017-18 season: http://www.nba.com/key-dates#/
  • the Australian news service: news.com.au

More than a Slap on the Wrist, Part 2: Wizards-Celtics in Boston, throwing the rule book out the window

Note: The initial post on referee Marc Davis began with the Raptors-Bucks game April 27 and, after Davis was promoted into the semifinals officials pool, was extended to include analysis of the officiating in Davis’ next few games along with his trends in recent seasons.  The next game Davis worked after the Bucks elimination was Game 2 of the Wizards-Celtics series, May 2 in Boston. For reference purposes, and because the original writing/notes were buried down at the bottom of “More than a Slap on the Wrist (Part 1)”, I’ve created a separate post here to put this game in better focus.

Davis was crew chief for Game 2 in Boston, with Rodney Mott and Tom Washington the other two officials. He wasted little time provoking the Boston crowd when, just 1:07 seconds after the opening tip, Wizards power forward Markieff Morris flung Al Horford into the photographers row along the baseline. Morris was retaliating for a play in Game 1 where he sprained an ankle shooting a jump shot over Horford, who slid underneath Morris as he shot. Though Morris had, well, thrown Horford into the stands, a technical (flagrant) foul was not issued on the play.

The Celtics play a rough brand of basketball, and have a couple of players in their rotation who might make good NFL tight ends or pass-rushing outside linebackers (Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart). They use their power to create advantage, intimidate and bully, and tend to get away with it. When they’re not getting away with it, they’re still wearing down the opposition.

The Wizards are also a rugged team — the Atlanta Hawks complained in their Round 1 series that the Wiz were “playing MMA.” The Celtics and Wizards didn’t like each other before the playoffs, both sides admitted, and they’re going to like each other even less when this series is done.  The tricky task of the officials is to keep the rivalry under control while ensuring that the fouls and penalties don’t unfairly disadvantage one side or the other. Leniency was thus a reasonable approach once Horford picked himself up and tempers cooled down.

That said, a technical foul (flagrant 1) was the best Morris might’ve hoped for when he threw Horford into the baseline area. Davis, however, decided to disregard the rule book altogether and charge Morris with only a loose ball foul. The standard for a flagrant foul {1) is contact “interpreted to be unnecessary”, and what Morris did was certainly that (ref: Official Rules pg. 46). A flagrant foul (2) is contact “interpreted to be unnecessary and excessive”, and Morris probably did that too. A flagrant foul (2) results in the offender’s ejection from the game.

Davis had apparently decided he wasn’t going to throw anybody out of the game just yet, and didn’t feel obliged to award Boston the two free throws they had coming under the flagrant (1) rule, either. Instead of getting those, Boston on the very next possession was called for an offensive foul on Amir Johnson. Davis made that call too, denying the Celtics two free throws and a possession after their center had been tossed around like a … like a very large person being thrown into a bunch of unsuspecting photographers.

Bad officiating? Of course it was, and perhaps part of a visitors vs. home team trend with Davis. This season the visitors won 54% of the games Davis worked. Visitors have won more than the league average in Davis’ games 10 of the last 14 seasons. The Wizards were the visitors in Boston, Game 2.

The fans in Boston, where even the obvious calls against their Celtics are booed, were outraged. Davis had managed, just over a minute into the game, to incite the wrath of the home crowd. He had managed this in his previous game, in Milwaukee, but it took him the better part of a quarter to set anybody off, and until the 4th quarter to bring the building down. The early occasion set an aggressive, angry tone for the evening. There would be 50 personal fouls called in this game, 29 on the Wizards. The Celtics would go on to win in overtime in dramatic fashion and take a 2-0 lead in the series, with Isaiah Thomas scorching the nets to score 53 points on his late sister’s birthday.

Here’s how those 50 fouls, plus two technical fouls, broke down by official who called them:

Sources: NBA Official and NBA.com, official game play-by-play.

If official Tom Washington’s 12 to 5 foul disparity in favor of the Celtics doesn’t jump out at you, the fact that he called only two on the Celtics after the 1st quarter should. Home teams won 65% of the games Washington refereed this season (13% above the league avg., and he tends to call more fouls than avg.) The quarter ended with Wizards ahead 42-29, a lead that didn’t last as the refs unleashed their whistles on the Wizards bench in the 2nd quarter.

  • Davis called fewer personal fouls than Mott or Washington, and only 16 for the game. This is part of the trend that emerges with Davis over the last six seasons. Davis calls fewer fouls than the average official. Over the last three seasons about 2.6 fewer fouls per game were called in games Davis worked.
  • The per game average this season was about 40 fouls per game, meaning that even the official who made the least calls in this game (Davis) called more fouls than he typically does, adjusting for the extra five minutes of the overtime.
  • Mott was fairly balanced with his calls, just as he was in Milwaukee.
  • Nine fouls were called on the Wizards in the 2nd quarter, as all three officials unleashed their whistles on the Washington bench.
  • Six personal fouls vs. the Wizards in the 3rd quarter, only 2 on Boston, making the 2nd-3rd quarter foul disparity 15-6 in favor of Boston. (The Wizards were ahead by 14 mid-quarter and were threatening to blow the game open.)
  • Davis called a double technical on Thomas and Morris after the two former Suns teammates confronted each other. Had Davis issued Morris a flagrant (1) technical foul in the 1st quarter, Morris would have been ejected from the game with this second T.
  • Mott made the shooting foul call on Wizards center Marcin Gortat that sent Thomas to the line to tie the game with 14 seconds left in regulation. This was a highly questionable call.

There were factors not related to the officials that prevented the Wizards from putting Game 2 out of Boston’s reach. They went cold from the outside in the 3rd quarter after building a 14-point lead. Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal had a horrific game (4-15 shooting, 6 turnovers). Washington also had opportunities on the last possession of regulation to win it, but Beal and John Wall misfired on open looks, setting up Thomas’ heroics in the overtime. The Celtics’ little big man (53 points!) earned this win.

But it’s fairly obvious to say that the refs helped keep Boston in the game, given 3rd official Washington’s 12-5 disparity in foul calls, and the overall 15-6 foul count against the Wizards over the 2nd and 3rd quarters. This wasn’t lost on Wizards coach Scott Brooks, who tried after the game to remain benignly vague when approaching the taboo subject of the refs, but didn’t quite succeed. Brooks ended his post-game interview session abruptly after the following comments.

“We had a couple of leads, 14 and I think a 10 or 12 point lead, and things changed,” Brooks said. “My job is not to referee the game, my job is to coach, and sometimes I struggle doing that. It’s a tough job. And our players gotta play. We have to be able to control the game, and (he paused) it’s not our job to do that.”

Davis served as a counter-veiling influence to referee Washington, mainly through his handling of Morris. The Wizards’ power forward, coming off a sprained ankle in Game 1, played just 26 minutes due to foul trouble but had a stabilizing impact for the Wizards on the court, scoring an efficient 16 points. Not calling the first technical on Morris was a boon for the Wizards, compliments of Davis in the face of a hostile Boston crowd, part of his modus operandi in this year’s playoffs.

But with Mott making the big call to send Thomas to the line in the final seconds to send it into overtime, this game became a reminder that it’s difficult for any one ref to engineer an outcome when there are two other officials on the court.

Note: Davis has worked one game since this May 2 game, the Rockets loss at home to the Spurs May 5 in Game 3 of that series. The Washington-Boston series is currently tied 2-2, with Game 5 about to tip off Wednesday, May 10. Davis has not been assigned to work a game, even as an alternate, since May 5 in Houston.

 Source list:

  • Official Rules, NBA 2016-17: https://ak-static.cms.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/11/2016-2017-Rule-Book-Final.pdf
  • Official game play-by-play: http://www.nba.com/games/20170502/WASBOS#/pbp
  • Wizards-Celtics Box score, 05/02/17:  http://www.nba.com/games/20170502/WASBOS#/boxscore
  • Scott Brooks post game interviews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mj-69Br2zE
  • ESPN story, 04/17/17: “Paul Millsap after Hawks loss: We played basketball, they played MMA”, http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/19173546/paul-millsap-atlanta-hawks-washington-wizards-were-playing-mma-game-1-victory
  • Last Two Minute report, Wizards-Celtics: http://official.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/05/L2M-WAS-BOS-05-02-17.pdf
  • NBA Officials Data: http://www.basketball-reference.com/referees/
  • 2014-15 Phoenix Suns: http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/PHO/2015.html
  • AP report, NBA statement on 2016 non-calls in Spurs-Thunder Game 2: http://www.nba.com/2016/news/05/03/nba-on-spurs-thunder-game-2-non-calls.ap/
  • Last Two Minute Reports FAQ: http://official.nba.com/nba-last-two-minute-reports-frequently-asked-questions/

Now we can talk “Best Team Ever” – Durant signing unites MVPs for the 2nd time in NBA history (no, the 1st time did not involve Lebron)

The only available precedent says that Kevin Durant and Steph Curry’s Warriors will win the 2017 title – going away.

When I saw the text that said Kevin Durant had made the big decision and was leaving his OKC Thunder to sign with Golden State — the team he couldn’t beat in the Western Conference Finals — my immediate response was two words: “Not Fair”.  As the week progressed and I read and heard the mountain of spin piling up about Durant’s move, it doesn’t strike me any differently. It’s simply not fair competition for two NBA Most Valuable Players — in the prime of their careers — to join forces on an NBA Finals team.

The last and only time this happened, the impact on the psyche of the league was devastating. Most teams rolled over in submission, with the notable exceptions of one team that became the Super Team’s nemesis and another that put up a good fight in the playoffs but still lost their series 4 games to one. It was the only loss the Super Team suffered in the playoffs.

The team in question is the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers, who after losing in the 1982 NBA Finals were able to bring together free agent center Moses Malone, the Chairman of the Boards, at age 27 the baddest player in the league and the reigning MVP, and Julius “Dr. J” Erving, who had won the MVP one season prior (1981). Until this week’s uniting of Durant, the 2014 MVP, with Stephen Curry, the reigning MVP for two seasons, the Moses and Dr. J pairing was the only time in NBA history that a team had been able to suit up two concurrent MVPs to lay waste to the rest of the league.

The late Malone (who passed away last fall at age 60) in 1982 was the first reigning MVP to leave his team in free agency; Lebron James in 2010 was the second. Though NBA fandom and the media are wired to talk about Lebron (the Lebron context being where the league lived until Durant signed with the Warriors), the similarities between the Lebron signing and the Durant signing don’t go very far. When Lebron joined the Heat, Dwyane Wade was in his prime, had made 1st team All-Pro for the 2nd year in a row, and had been in the running for 2009 MVP (Lebron won that one, too) — but Wade’s Heat were nothing resembling title contenders until Lebron came along. And there’s the rub. The Warriors were within a Kyrie Irving 3-pointer of winning a 2nd title last month. One shot. And now they have Durant.

Indeed, let’s set aside the analytics and graphs and charts and apples to oranges comparisons and take a look at what happened the first time two concurrent MVPs suited up on the same team.

Moses leads the Sixers to the Promised Land

Moses Malone and Dr. J at the outset of the 1982-83 season.

The Sixers in the early 1980s had in many ways adopted the cool intellectualism and quiet intensity of their star, Dr. J. The ball moved freely on offense, the shot selection was smart, the Philly fast break was a work of art featuring the graceful glide of the Doctor in mid-air, and the Sixers took pride in their plus 50% shooting, which in 1982 was 2nd best in the league behind the run-and-gun Denver Nuggets. If Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins had seemed out of place as the Sixers starting center, it’s because he was. Dawkins was traded to New Jersey in the days before the Sixers signed Malone. Moses was the ultimate fit for the team’s biggest needs: Better inside scoring and rebounding, the boards having been the Sixers trouble spot for years. Moses, one of the most prolific rebounders in NBA history, quickly put an end to that problem. He also had the feet of a ballet dancer, as Bucks radio voice Eddie Doucette described them, and a dump truck-full of quick moves around the basket. Erving wisely and tacitly agreed to allow the natural flow of the offense through Malone, and the Sixers quickly found their new chemistry.

Philly won 9 of their first 10 games, then put together win streaks of 14 and 10 games, powering their way to a 50-7 record and a big lead over Larry Bird‘s Celtics in the Atlantic Division, and an even bigger lead over the Central Division champs, the Bucks. When the Sixers record reached 49-7, coach Billy Cunningham began resting his stars, beginning with All-Star, All-Defensive forward Bobby Jones and 33-year-old Dr. J, who sat out ten games during the season. While taking it easy down the stretch, the Sixers went 16-10 to finish 65-17.

At season’s end, with his team healthy and well-rested, Moses laid down his famous “Fo’ Fo’ Fo'” declaration — meaning the Sixers would sweep all three of their playoff series’ and become the only team in NBA history to romp undefeated through the playoffs. Malone wasn’t bragging when he said it, and his team came oh-so-close to accomplishing Fo’ Fo’ Fo. They went 12-1 in the playoffs, the lone loss coming in the East finals to a Milwaukee Bucks team flying high and pushing the pace after sweeping Bird’s Celtics in the semis (and making it look easy).

The Marques Johnson-led Bucks had put up a terrific fight, losing game 1 in overtime and dropping Game 2 in the final minute.  Every game in the series but Game 5 was close, every minute a bitter contest. The Finals against the “Showtime” Lakers were a different story: Moses dominated Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson in the paint (the Lakers defensive plan relied on Magic dropping down to help on Malone), averaging 26 pts and 18 rebs a game in the series. The Sixers blew the Lakers out in Game 3, the first game played in LA,  and the sweep was on. Fo’ Fi’ Fo’.

Moses won the 1983 MVP, his 3rd in five years, and his 4th rebounding title in 5 years. Moses and Dr. J were named 1st Team All-Pro. Malone, Jones and point guard Maurice Cheeks, one of the great thieves of NBA history (No. 5 all-time steals) were voted 1st Team All-Defense.  Jones won the 6th Man of the Year award. Four Sixers — Moses, the Doctor, Cheeks and shooting guard Andrew Toney — made the 1983 All-Star team. There was no room for Jones, apparently, who had made the All-Star teams of 1981 and ’82.

Did I mention that the Sixers swept the “Showtime” Lakers in the NBA Finals? The Lakers featured four Hall of Famers (Kareem, Magic, Wilkes and McAdoo), all-star guard Norm Nixon and the great defender, Michael Cooper.

Malone shoots over Alton Lister in the 1983 Eastern Conference finals as the Bucks move in to triple-team him.

The 1983 Sixers were declared the best team in history by nearly everyone who saw them play with the exception of Celtics and Lakers fans whose DNA is engineered to deny the glory of others; and, ironically, their coach, who thought his 1967 Sixers team was better and even wrote a book about it (Season of the 76ers,  2002). The Moses – Dr. J – Bobby Jones – Cheeks – Toney five was, for one dominant season, the best five to play together since the days of the battles between Bill Russell‘s Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain‘s Sixers (1966-68).  That homage to the 1960s Glory Days said, the brilliance of the players and the rising fortunes of the league during “the renaissance” of the 1980s — yes, even before Jordan and Barkley — should not be underappreciated. The game had evolved for the better and entered its Golden Age.

The Warriors of today have a lot in common with that Sixer team. No, they don’t have Moses Malone in the prime of his career — but there’s more than enough to suggest that the extreme success of the 1983 Sixers gives NBA fans a pretty good indication of what’s in store for the league in 2016-17. The Warriors, not the champs in Cleveland, are now the team to beat.

The obvious and irresistible parallels

They seem very happy. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Durant and GM Bob Myers. 7/07/2016

Both the 1982 Sixers and the 2016 Warriors made the NBA Finals and lost. In both instances, the losing team was coming off of an intense 7-game struggle in the conference finals, while the winner of the championship series had strolled through their conference playoffs unmolested.

A tired, beat-up Sixers team faced a Lakers team that hadn’t lost a game in the West playoffs and waited an unprecedented 12 days for their opponent (still the record for longest Finals layoff). Like the 2016 Warriors, the 1982 Sixers had barely made it out of their conference playoffs. In the semi-finals they were pushed to six games by a short-handed but star-studded Bucks team. In the conference finals, the Sixers became the first team to win a Game 7 on the parquet floor of Boston Garden.

After beating the Celtics, the 1982 Finals were “anti-climactic”, Dr. J would write in his autobiography years later. In Game 1 the well-rested Lakers played just seven players and stole home court advantage from the Sixers, then ran away with the title in six games. The weary, beaten Sixers were satisfied to have had their revenge in Boston (they lost the 1981 East finals in a Game 7 in the Garden) but knew they had to make a change if Dr. J (and Bobby Jones) were ever going to win the NBA Championship that had eluded him since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. Doc was running out of time, and there was an even chance the Bucks or Celtics might prevent the Sixers from reaching the Finals again. Enter Moses Malone.

It can’t be said that the 2016 NBA Finals were anti-climactic for the Warriors, but they were battered and bruised after coming back from a 3 to 1 deficit to beat Durant’s OKC Thunder in a 7-game West finals series. Riding on the energy from that series, the Warriors ran out to a 3-1 series lead against Lebron’s Cavs, which meant they had won six of seven games against the Thunder and Cavs.  A great achievement, but they were running on fumes, and it showed in games 5, 6 and 7, especially in the play of Steph Curry. Lebron James played a Finals for the ages, the Cavs swept the last three games and the title was theirs. Enter Kevin Durant.

The 4 All-Pro starting lineup

Kevin Durant isn’t Moses Malone — he’s not a player on quite that transformative Moses level.  But as some of the spin has spun this week — with an eye toward making a case that competition has not been compromised by Durant’s move — KD’s already historic achievements have been somewhat downplayed.

Durant is just the 4th small forward in the 61-year history of the MVP award to win the award. The other three are Dr. J, Larry Bird and Lebron James.

Durant in 2014 swiped the MVP crown Lebron James had worn for four out of five seasons. Steph Curry won the next two MVPs, so today’s Warriors players have held the crown three straight seasons.

Durant’s career impact and efficiency (BIER) numbers, while not as phenomenal as Bird or Lebron’s, are comparable to Dr. J’s NBA stats, and to the numbers put up by Marques Johnson, the sadly under-recognized forward who led the Bucks against the Sixers in the early 1980s. In this top shelf “box score impact” statistical context, the sixth small forward in league history worth mentioning is 1980s scoring machine Adrian Dantley. There are many others with legendary reputations and Hall of Fame recognition, but they didn’t have the statistical impact, or, (in Kawhi Leonard’s case) haven’t yet played long enough.

Kevin Durant after nine seasons in the NBA is simply one of the best small forwards ever to play the game. KD’s already accomplished Hall of Fame-worthy honors and stats. He’s got an MVP award; and he’s going to Golden State at age 27, in the prime of his career. The irresistible parallel here is that Moses Malone was 27 when he signed with the Sixers.

Durant joins Curry, the MVP, and two All-Pro teammates, big forward Draymond Green (2nd Team All-Pro) and shooting guard Klay Thompson (3rd Team). Since the ABA-NBA merger, no team has had three All-Pros in one season, so what Curry, Green and Thompson accomplished last season was unprecedented — and let’s not forget the 73 regular season wins.

Durant was 2nd Team All-Pro last season, behind Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard at forward. Green was the other forward honored on the 2nd Team. Let’s pause there.

3rd Team All-Pro honors didn’t exist until 1989, so for 40 seasons the NBA honored ten guys, which made sense when there were only 8 to 10 teams in the 1950s up through 1967. The NBA merged with the ABA in 1976, so for 31 years (1976-2016), no team has boasted 3 of the first 10 honored All-Pros. The 2016-17 Warriors will be the first.

No, it’s not fair

Lebron, Wade and Chris Bosh were All-Pros in the same year only once – in 2007, when Lebron was in Cleveland, Wade in Miami and Bosh in Toronto. Bosh was never an All-Pro during the Heat’s four-year run.

Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman were never All-Pros in the same season, though they would have been in 1995 had Jordan played the full season. Rodman was still a San Antonio Spur at that point. The 1996 Bulls, the 72-win team, best team ever?  The dilution of the talent due to expansion and the lack of great competition in the mid-1990s makes it impossible to say. Jordan’s Bulls were undoubtedly the NBC Network’s greatest champion.

Both the Celtics and Sixers started four All-Star players during the Bill RussellWilt Chamberlain battles 1966-1968, but because both teams played in the Eastern Conference, neither team ever got four All-Star spots in a season. Combined, there were five players from “The Great Rivalry” voted to the 1967 All-Pro team.

Bird and Magic.

3rd Team All-Pro honors did not yet exist when the 1980s Super Teams battled for supremacy, so the All-Pro teams are a poor measuring stick for the greatness of the Sixers, Lakers and Celtics teams of the Golden Age. It gets messy. No team had three in one year. Only the Sixers and Lakers had two. From 1983-1986, Larry Bird was the only Celtic to be named All-Pro (he won three MVPs in that time, and the Celtics won two titles).  But the Celtics had four All-Stars who were All-Pro at one time or another, and a former MVP – future Hall of Famer (Bill Walton) coming off the bench in 1986. The “Showtime” Lakers had similar talent — four players who made All-Star teams from 1980 through 1985, and a former MVP – future Hall of Famer (Bob McAdoo) coming off the bench.

And now we’re back to the 1983 Sixers and their four All-Stars, plus 1982 All-Star Bobby Jones, the 1983 6th Man of the Year — the team that swept the Showtime Lakers in the Finals. That’s good enough to settle the Best Team Ever debate, especially in light of Moses’ domination of Kareem and Magic in the Finals, and of the entire NBA that season.

Those Super Teams were loaded with talent almost beyond comprehension in today’s NBA — until this week. The Warriors bringing three current All-Pros together is unprecedented. Now add to the mix 3rd Team All-Pro All-Star and Olympian Klay Thompson, and veteran Sixth Man Andre Iguodala — an All-Star in 2012, All-Defensive in 2014 and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP …

As currently constructed, the Warriors are as close as the Super Teams of the 1980s were to the Sixers five-star team. It’s just not fair to the rest of the league; and It’s very small solace for the opposition that, at age 32, Iguodala’s All-Star days seem to be behind him, or that the Warriors had to let go of all four of their big men to sign Durant. They’ve already replaced two of them, and this seems like a good time to point out that Durant is listed at 6’9″ but is taller than that, and rebounds on the defensive end like the average NBA center.

And here’s the kicker: As we look to the Super Teams of the 1980s for proper perspective and precedent for the 2017 Warriors, we find that there is no record of failure in that precedence — all three of the 1980s Super Teams won the championships they set out to win, with the 1983 Sixers being the team most dominant and decorated, but sometimes forgotten in the shadow of the Magic and Bird story.

No record of failure. It wasn’t fair in 1983 when the Sixers signed Moses to win a title with 33-year-old Dr. J. It’s not fair now. Kevin Durant is just 27 years old, and signed on with the Warriors for two years. Steph Curry is 27. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are 25, and under contract for four and three years respectively. The 1983 Sixers slowed down due to age after winning the title. The 2017 Warriors won’t be slowing down any time soon.

Think about that.  It’s not fair, but enjoy this team while it lasts.

38 or Less: The worst regular season won-lost records by NBA playoff teams of the last 38 years

To mark the Milwaukee Bucks 38-win playoff season, here are the “38-wins-or-less” playoff teams from the 1975 to 2013 seasons, with an important caveat:  I’ve excluded 11 teams that won between 35 and 38 games and made the 1984-1988 playoffs, listing only the two playoff qualifiers from those five seasons who lost so much they deserve mention.  Those five “exempt” seasons were the first years of the 16-team playoff format when, suddenly, only 7 of 23 NBA teams missed the post-season.   Somebody had to lose during the regular season, and some of those losers found themselves in the playoffs.

Some of them were pretty good too, given the strength of the East and scheduling heavily weighted toward conference play — an eighth Eastern Conference seed in 1986 with 35 wins was comparable to a 44-win team a few years later after expansion, not so much to the teams listed below.  (Such dilution realities certainly put a damper on the Bulls 72-win season in 1996.)

The 1975-1983 seasons were more “apples to apples” in terms of today’s playoff format. In 1975 and 1976, ten of 18 teams made the playoffs.  After the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, 12 of 22 made it.  In 1980 the Mavs were added to the league and the conferences properly aligned; the 12 team format remained until the 1983-84 season.

League expansion began in 1988 with the addition of Miami and Charlotte, tolling the beginning of the end of the NBA’s “Golden Age.”  By 1990 there were 27 teams, 16 making the playoffs, and four expansion teams around to beat up on and puff most of the worst playoff records above our 38-44 cut-off.

Note that of the 13 teams on this list, no team other than the 1976 Pistons (led by Bob Lanier) won its first round series.

1. 1986 Chicago Bulls (30-52). Michael Jordan broke his foot in the third game of his second NBA season and missed the next 64. He would come back to have a 63-point game against Larry Bird and the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, not enough to prevent a Celtics sweep. The 1986 Celtics won 67 games, the third championship for the Bird-McHale-Parrish front court and are widely considered one of the top three or four teams in NBA history.

This Bulls team had talent other than Jordan, though great it was not. Half the players ended up in rehab of one form or another, facts reported by writers Sam Smith (The Jordan Rules) and David Halberstam (Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made) among others. Much of this centered around guard Quentin Dailey. Forwards Orlando Woolridge and Sidney Green were also in this group of early Jordan teammates, along with big Dave Corzine at center and Hall of Fame scorer George Gervin in his final season (16.2 ppg).  Charles Oakley and John Paxson are the most notable here due to Oakley’s later success with the Knicks and Paxson’s ability to cling to Jordan’s star for three titles.  In 1986 Oakley was a rookie and Paxson had yet to solidify his future as Jordan’s pal. Stan Albeck was head coach.

The Bulls had the misfortune of playing in an Eastern Conference ruled by three of the top four teams in basketball since 1980 — the Celtics, the Sixers and the Bucks — with the Pistons and Hawks rising up bit by bit each year in hopes of challenging the top.  The “Bad Boys” Pistons in 1986 were still a couple of years away from their baddest phase.

The NBA schedule in those years was more heavily weighted toward conference play than it is now, which made the 1986 Bulls schedule a prolonged nightmare.  They played the Beasts of the East six times each, winning just six of the 30 games.  The Bulls weren’t the only team in the East hammered by the schedule.  A tough, talented, Buck Williams-led New Jersey Nets team could muster only 39 wins and were swept by the Bucks in the first round. Rookie Patrick Ewing’s Knicks lost 59 games.

Throw out the five Beasts of the East and two losses against the “Showtime” Lakers, and the 1986 Bulls won 24 and lost 26 against the rest of the league, not too shabby for a hodgepodge group of guys playing most of the season without Michael Jordan.

2. 1988 San Antonio Spurs (31-51).  The last season of the 23-team league as the expansion to Miami and Charlotte would occur in the summer of ’88.  Magic’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics remained at the top, with the “Bad Boys” Pistons shoving Boston off the pinnacle to reach their first NBA final.  Some of the power balance had shifted East to West with the decline of Philly and the Bucks, along with the rise of the Dallas Mavs, creating the parity between conferences than hadn’t existed since 1980.

In the East, the Bucks played their first year under new coach Del Harris and fell to 42-40. The Pistons and Hawks and Sidney Moncrief’s ailing knees had finally caught up with our Bucks.  Ewing’s Knicks were getting better, and won 38 games.  Jordan’s Bulls had their first 50-win season.

In the West the Stockton-Malone Jazz fell short of the fifty milestone with 47 wins.  Magic and the Lakers won 62 and their fifth championship.

While most of the lower rung playoff teams of this period can’t be labelled “bad” by today’s standards, the 1988 Spurs were bad in any day.  They were swept (3-0) in the first round by the Lakers.

The Spurs best player was defensive demon Alvin Robertson, who would be traded to Milwaukee in 1989 for All-Pro (3rd Team) forward Terry Cummings.  Robertson’s teammate on the Spurs, Frank Brickowski, would join him in Milwaukee in 1990, traded for Paul Pressey.  Why all the trades with the Spurs?  By 1990 the Spurs had center David Robinson and were trying to get to the top with help from Bucks playoff veterans, while the Bucks and owner Herb Kohl, encouraged by the pending retirement of Sidney Moncrief, opted to go a cheaper route and would slide into their long rebuild in the 1990s.

3. 1995 Boston Celtics (35-47).  The Celtics were sort of rebuilding (or beginning to) after the Larry Bird era. Kevin McHale had retired in 1993. All-Star shooting guard Reggie Lewis collapsed and died of heart failure that summer (1993), and the Celtics in 1995 were still staggering under allegations that he might have been saved, had the team (and those close to Lewis) not been so eager to dismiss evidence that Lewis was at risk, to the point of avoiding tests for cocaine use (Money Players, “Puff Policy,” 1997, by Armen Keteyian and other journalists).  In an effort to fill the void left by Lewis’ death, the Celtics signed 35-year-old Dominique Wilkins, not flying as high as he did with the Hawks in the 1980s but scoring 17.8 ppg to lead the team.  Coached by Chris Ford. Dumped out of the playoffs (3-1) by Shaq’s Orlando Magic, who would go on to be swept in the Finals by Hakeem Olajawon’s Rockets.

4. 2004 Boston Celtics (36-46).    All that losing in the mid-1990s brought draft picks and an effort to build a contender around the would-be duo of Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce, who instead became symbols of post-Jordan NBA mediocrity.  The 2003-04 season found the Celtics tearing down again and trading Walker, one of the least scrupulous shot hogs in the game.  That left Pierce, listed as a shooting guard then, and boy did he ever.  Pierce shot nearly 19 times a game – and missed 11  – shooting less than 30% from three-point-land and averaging 23 ppg. The Celtics fired coach Jim O’Brien after 46 games and assistant John Carroll mopped up.

These were rather dark days for the NBA. The pace was at an all-time low.  Average and below average shooters bricked away at will and somehow made all-star teams. Ball movement was often non-existent, a trend that continued for years.  Assists would reach an all-time low in 2006.  Kobe and Shaq bickered in LA and guys like Walker, Pierce, Allen Houston and the Bucks’ Michael Redd gunned poorly selected shots out of isolation offenses, winning big contracts if not playoff success.  Orlando Magic star Tracy McGrady was the best of this lot, yet all of it was ugly basketball.

The 2004 Celtics were a bad team in an Eastern Conference that had deteriorated rapidly in the early-aughts.  The 4th seeded Miami Heat won just 42 regular season games.  But hey – former Buck Vin Baker was on this Celtics team for a few weeks in 2003. Kendrick Perkins was a rookie.  The Celtics were swept in Round 1 by 38-year-old Reggie Miller’s second-to-last Pacers team, about seven months before the “Malice at the Palace” in Detroit.  Dark days indeed.

5. 1997 Los Angeles Clippers (36-46).  Loy Vaught (who? – I can’t even find a picture of him) led this team in scoring at 14.9 ppg.  Forwards Bo Outlaw and Eric Piatkowski led a halfway decent bench crew.  Coached by Bill Fitch, somehow still in the league.  The Western Conference was none too balanced in those days, as the Clippers were one of three teams from the west to make the playoffs with a losing record.  The T-Wolves (40-42) in Kevin Garnett’s second year and the post-Charles Barkley Suns (also 40-42) were the others.  The Clippers were swept out of the first round by the Stockton-Malone Jazz, fated to go on to lose their first of two NBA Finals to Jordan and the Bulls.

6. 1976 Detroit Pistons (36-46).  This might be getting a bit far back — the league that existed prior to the merger with the ABA — but 1975 and 1976 get our deepest historical look because the 1971-74 playoff format allowed less than half the league to qualify (8 of 17 teams, so no real losers).  This changed in 1975, with the addition of the New Orleans Jazz and the short-lived 10 of 18 format. In the 1975 and 1976 seasons, a total of four teams with losing records made the playoffs.  Another quirk was the regular season schedule, heavily weighted toward division play instead of conference play.  Midwest Division teams the Bucks, Pistons, Bulls and Kansas City Kings played each other seven times in the season, 36 games against the nine teams in the Eastern conference and 25 games against the Pacific Division. This is as equalized as the NBA schedule has ever been.  To further emphasize the importance of division play, the top two teams in each division received a playoff bid, with a 5th seed going to the team in the conference with the next best record. So a team in the Pacific division with a better record than either of the Midwest Division leaders could miss the playoffs entirely.  This happened to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers in 1976. The playoff teams with the two worst records, regardless of division standings, would then face off in a wild card mini-series, best two out of three. A pretty good system if you think divisions should matter, a belief the current NBA schedule makers clearly do not hold.

Bob Lanier’s Pistons won 40 games in the 1975 season and 36 in 1976, making them the model of mid-70s NBA mediocrity. But “mediocrity” in the mid-1970s when you had a Hall of Fame center meant that you were pretty competitive when the center was healthy.  Lanier missed 18 games in 1976 and the Pistons lost 12 of those.

Detroit in 1975 had also traded star veteran guard Dave Bing (another Hall of Famer) to the Bullets for young point guard Kevin Porter (who would lead the NBA in assists for the Pistons a few years later) but Porter was lost to injury 19 games into the season and the Pistons struggled.  Coach Ray Scott was fired and replaced by Herb Brown, and Brown found 20-year-old point guard Eric Money on his bench to fill in for Porter.  Led by Lanier, power forward Curtis Rowe and Money, the Pistons won 10 of their last 13 games and nearly caught the Bucks (38-44) atop the Midwest Division. As the playoff teams with the worst records in the West, the Bucks and Pistons squared off in a first round mini-series.

The Bucks were in their first season after “The Trade” of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and were young, hungry and very nearly a match for Lanier and the Pistons.  Lanier and Rowe dominated the Bucks inside (a familiar story for the ever-power-forward-challenged Bucks) while the Bucks guards, led by All-Star Brian Winters, bombed away from the outside (remember, no three point line yet in the NBA) and came within a shot of winning the series. Detroit won it in Milwaukee in game three, to what would become typical Bucks heart-stopping and heart-breaking effect.

The 1976 Pistons really have no business being on this list, but the 1976 Bucks do (see No. 11 below) so I included both. The Pistons went on to lose (4-2) in the second round to Rick Barry’s Golden State Warriors, the defending champs.  Lanier averaged 26.1 ppg and 12.7 rebounds in nine playoff games, Hall of Fame numbers from a highly skilled center who was perhaps the strongest big man in the league for many years. Power forward Rowe added an average of 15 pts and 8 boards on the Pistons run.

7. 2011 Indiana Pacers (37-45).  Another Jim O’Brien team, this one led by Danny Granger in the role of Paul Pierce, and playing the same ugly style of 2004.  This time coach O’Brien lasted to game 44 amid a lot of grumbling from GM Larry Bird that he was refusing to play his younger players, Tyler Hansbrough and rookie Paul George among them. Replacement coach Frank Vogel did more than mop up O’Brien’s mess, as the Pacers went 20-18 the rest of the way, edging out the injury-riddled Bucks (35-47) for the final spot in the East.

The Pacers were simply not a very good team until the arrival of David West and George Hill for the 2012 season, with Vogel as the coach. Dismissed in five games by Derrick Rose and the Bulls in Round 1 of the 2011 playoffs. Only made the playoffs because of the injury epidemic in Milwaukee.

8. 1979 New Jersey Nets (37-45).  From the land of the final season before the 3-point line was drawn on NBA courts comes the 1979 Nets, coached by Kevin Loughery and featuring the unstoppable mid-range post-up game of Bernard King.  King was young, in his second season, and top scoring honors went to guard John Williamson (22.2 ppg), a Net from the ABA days of Dr. J and one of the better long-range shooters of the time.

King and Williamson didn’t have much help beyond assorted journeymen like big man George Johnson (not to be confused with the George Johnson who played for the Bucks in 1978-79), the above mentioned Eric Money, acquired from Detroit, and aging zen power forward future Jordan-Shaq coach Phil Jackson in his 15th and almost-final playing season.  Jackson just didn’t want to quit (he finally would in 1980).  One has the impression that the guys on this 1979 Nets team partied down quite a bit (though not King, who was known for heavy drinking alone), and their record seems to reflects this.

Personalities noted, the Nets were a fast, fun team that locked down on defense (3rd in the league) and pushed the pace to 110 possessions a game, about 12 more than the Golden State Warriors of today. Unfortunately the Nets were the worst shooting team in the league and turned it over more than every team but Chicago. They would trade Money and guard Al Skinner to Philly in February for future shot-blocking Buck Harvey Catchings and former ABA star Ralph Simpson.

The Julius Erving-led Sixers swept the Nets out of the 1979 playoffs, 2-0, and the Nets began a full-scale rebuild. King’s knee problems began the following season, after he was traded in preseason to Utah along with rookie point guard Jim Boylan (yes, the same Jim Boylan who was Al McGuire’s favorite point guard, Scott Skiles’ favorite assistant, coach of the Bulls and Bucks and now an assistant with the Cavs) and John Gianelli for big man Rich Kelley. Gianelli had come over from the Bucks in a post-season trade for Catchings, along with a first round draft pick that would become Calvin Natt in 1979.

Confused?  Me too, especially about why Don Nelson traded that draft pick.  The Bucks had received the Pacers 1979 pick as compensation for the free agent signing of future Hall of Famer Alex English in 1978. The Pacers had a lousy season, so it turned out to be the No. 8 pick in the draft that gave the NBA Magic Johnson, Bill Cartwright, Sidney Moncrief, Vinnie Johnson, Bill Laimbeer, Mark Eaton, Natt and a few other notables).

Boylan would never play an NBA game.  Kelley would never develop into more than a journeyman center.  The Nets would slide to the bottom of the East, but with draft picks obtained by trading young Natt to Portland for Maurice Lucas (Lucas was the power forward Nellie and the Bucks should have targeted), they would draft Mike Gminksi (1980) and Bernard King’s brother Albert (1981).  Natt would become an All-Star in Denver of all places after being traded by Portland, along with Fat Lever and others, for Kiki Vandeweghe.  English would make the Hall of Fame in recognition of a long career scoring a mountain of points for run-and-gun coach Doug Moe in Denver. Bernard King would recover from knee trouble and alcoholism to star for the Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks and eventually join English in the Hall (2013).

Catchings would be the goat in the Bucks 7-game, one point, playoff loss to Philly in 1981 (3-16 shooting, 24 fouls and 7 turnovers in 109 mins, leading to jokes that he had never left his old team, the 76ers). Yet Harvey would continue play on 13 years in the NBA and block 1226 shots, which is quite a few of those.

9.  2008 Atlanta Hawks (37-45).  The first playoff appearance for the young Al Horford-Josh Smith Hawks (featuring Joe Johnson), and it was a good one, with the Hawks pushing the “Big Three” Celtics (the 2008 champs) to seven games in the first round. Horford was 21-years-old and Smith 22, and the Hawks were on the rise, something that can’t be said about nearly all of the teams on this list, 1986 Bulls excepted. The Hawks became one of ESPN’s “it” teams.

“It” was not to be.  Although some remarkable good health eventually resulted in a 53 win season in 2010, playoff success eluded the Hawks.  After beating the Celtics three times in the 2008, they couldn’t win a playoff game against anybody but the Andrew-Bogut-less 2010 Bucks, who were in the process of bum-rushing the Hawks out of the playoffs until game six when they forgot how to shoot.  The Hawks made it to the second round in 2011, were out in the first again in 2012, let Johnson go to Brooklyn rather than overpay him like the Nets did, and now 2013 is the end of the line for Smith (and Zaza Pachulia too) as the team looks to build a better roster around Horford.  Back in 2008, the future didn’t look anywhere near as dim as it would be for Atlanta.

10. 1980 Portland Trailblazers (38-44).   This was the season after the Blazers parted bitter ways with the center Bill Walton and his fractured feet and let him sign with the Clippers of San Diego, Walton’s hometown. The Clippers compensated the Blazers with players (Kermit Washington the most compelling) and two first round picks.  Walton sued the Trailblazers for medical malpractice. By the 1980 mid-season the Blazers had broken off other key pieces of their 1977 championship roster. Power forward Maurice Lucas, the star of the 1977 finals, was traded to New Jersey, along with two first round draft picks, for rookie forward  Calvin Natt, who became the Blazers leading scorer.  Natt was drafted with the first round pick the Bucks had sent to New Jersey along with John Gianelli in the Harvey Catchings trade.

Point guard Lionel Hollins (now coach of the Grizzlies Nets himself) was traded to Philadelphia, where he joined Maurice Cheeks in the Sixers backcourt and helped spark the Sixers run to the 1980 Finals (where they lost to the Lakers, featuring Magic Johnson’s sensational game six at center and everywhere else on the court for injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

The Blazers were left with an interesting mix of rookies and journeyman veterans, including a redemptive Washington (notorious for throwing the punch that almost killed the Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich in 1977) who played 80 games. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam would follow the team for the entire season and prologue, and publish The Breaks of the Game (1981), still considered the masterwork of pro basketball journalism, biography and history.

One of the more interesting characters was rookie forward Abdul Jeelani, a recent convert to Islam who grew up in Racine (as Gary Cole) and played college ball at UW-Parkside.  That’s right, Parkside in Kenosha, Wis., an NAIA school at the time. A long-armed 6’8″, Jeelani was precisely the type of productive, scoring bigger forward who would be a natural for an NBA roster today, earning a salary of $8 million a year or more.  But things were different in the mid-1970s. The available NBA jobs were fewer (rosters were cut to 11 players in 1977) and the money sweeter in Europe.  Jeelani had failed to make NBA rosters twice, gone on to play in Europe, and was back for a third try at age 25.  Despite the trimmed down roster, he made the team, and after a solid season in Portland with some high scoring flashes, Jeelani — much to the surprise of the Blazers, who wanted to keep him — was picked up by the Dallas Mavericks in the expansion draft.

After Dallas, expansion was halted for eight years as the NBA went to work with what it had in the new decade: 23 teams in a meaner, leaner league filled with often brilliant players, all searching for an audience in a slow economy. Attendance had fallen and TV ratings were very low; there were problems attracting advertisers, problems with national network (CBS) priorities and presentation; and a number of franchises found themselves struggling under the financial strain of the new order — free agency. But Bird and Magic had arrived, and the game itself was undergoing a creative renaissance sourced in teamwork and great passing, with a series of strong drafts growing the talent each season.  The 200-some players holding down NBA jobs coming out of the late 1970s would cut the diamond that Michael Jordan and the Dream Team marketed to the world.

Jeelani would be one of the 200 for only one season in Dallas, where he was one of only four players to remain on the team from training camp to the end of the season.  He scored the first bucket in Mavericks history, and got used to hearing chants of “Abdul” from the home fans. Gary Cole from Racine, Wis., had changed his religion and his name; encountered rejection; traveled the world; and returned to try again in the league that rejected him, making the cut during its lean recessionary times. And as a young follower of Islam, he became a fan favorite in Tom Landry and Roger Staubach’s good ol’ boy christian conservative Dallas.  That’s one heckuva story.  The only problem was Jeelani’s salary of $57,000, which was far easier to double in Europe than in the NBA. In Europe Jeelani was a star; in the NBA, he was a mid-level player who usually came off the bench, and economic times were still tough in 1981.   He would move on to play in Italy and Spain for the better part of the next decade.

The 1979 Blazers bowed out in the first round (2-1) to the Dennis Johnson-Gus Williams-Paul Silas-Jack Sikma Seattle Supersonics, the eventual champs.

11. 1976 Milwaukee Bucks (38-44).  First season after the Kareem trade, the young Bucks were led by All-Star forward Bobby Dandridge, great-shooting Brian Winters and center Elmore Smith, the latter two acquired in “The Trade” along with Junior Bridgeman and power forward David Meyers.  The Bucks, coached by Larry Costello, won the 1976 Midwest Division without Kareem, largely owing this to the Pistons early season injury troubles (see above). Kareem’s Lakers actually failed to make the playoffs despite having a better record (40-42) than both the Pistons and the Bucks.  In the divisional playoff format of 1976, the Lakers had to catch Phoenix to win the fifth and final seed in the West but lost four of six to the Suns in the regular season and fell two games short.

Not a good year for Kareem or the Midwest Division, obviously, but the playoffs redeemed Lanier’s Pistons.  Against Detroit in the first round, the Bucks opted to bomb away from the outside and, thanks to some phenomenal shooting, managed to steal game one and then leave fans hyperventilating in Games 2 and 3 with three point losses in each. Winters, a 1976 and 1978 All-Star, shot 63%, averaging 27.3 points per game in the series — without the aid of the 3-pointer.  Dandridge netted 22 per game on 49% shooting and guard Gary Brokaw shot 62.2% for 21 ppg. Improbably, given those shooting percentages, it wasn’t quite enough.

This was Costello’s last full season as Bucks coach. Don Nelson, who was busy helping the Celtics win the 1976 title in his final season as a player, joined Costello’s staff for the 1976-77 season, and the head coaching job fell in Nellie’s lap early on.  The Bucks kept the core of Winters, Bridgeman and Meyers, let Dandridge go to the Bullets in free agency (received cash compensation), and launched full-on into the “Green and Growing” rebuilding plan. Nellie and GM Wayne Embry traded Brokaw and Elmore Smith to Cleveland for Rowland Garrett and two first round picks, one in 1977 (Ernie Grunfeld) and one in 1978 (George Johnson).  They drafted Quinn Buckner and Alex English in 1976, then Nellie traded monster rebounding center Swen Nater (their 1973 draft pick, who had been playing in the ABA until the merger) to the Buffalo Braves for the No. 3 first round pick that would be used to draft forward Marques Johnson in 1977.  When Marques arrived the Bucks started winning and the rest, as they say, is history. those were the days to be a young Bucks fan. The Bucks became a perennial contender after drafting Sidney Moncrief in 1979 and acquiring Lanier from Detroit in 1980.

12. 1992 Miami Heat (38-44).   First playoff trip for the expansion heat. Glen Rice wasn’t a 50-40-90 shooter this season (the Bird-Dirk-Durant standard) but he wasn’t too far off at 47-39-84. Rice led the fledgling Heat with 22.3 ppg, getting help from center Rony Seikaly and rookie gunner Steve Smith. The Heat would try use those three as a base to build a winner; they would not succeed.  The Heat started winning when Pat Riley took over in 1995 and completely overhauled the roster, including the core three.  The 1992 Heat were coached by Kevin Loughery, same Loughery who coached the Nets in the 1970s and Jordan’s Bulls in 1986 (see Nos. 1 and 8 on this list). Swept in the first round by Jordan and the Bulls on their way to title No. 2.

13. 2013 Milwaukee Bucks (38-44).  What will history say about this Bucks team?  Their coach, Scott Skiles, quit/was let go 32 games into the season after putting his house up for sale and declining to sign a contract extension.  The interim coach, Jim Boylan (the same Jim Boylan who was included in that 1979 Bernard King trade) played his team fast and loose and continued to develop good, young big men (Larry Sanders, John Henson).  But the Bucks’ trio of guards shot too poorly overall and played too little defense down the stretch to avoid a first round series against the defending champs, the Heat.  The Bucks lost 15 of their last 21 games, and few expect Boylan back as coach (Boylan was fired after the Heat dismissed the Bucks from the playoffs in a 4-0 sweep).

There are worse teams on this “38 or less” playoffs list, to be sure (Jim O’Brien’s teams come to mind), and better teams too.  Three of them were coached by Kevin Loughery, so coaching quality is a factor.  Weirdly enough, Jim Boylan is a recurring character in this post, as is long forgotten point guard Eric Money. The common thread for these teams is that they were all in transition, most of them on the way down, not up or sideways.  Those sideways teams that stayed the course, such as the 1976 Pistons and the 1992 Heat would break up their teams within three years. It will happen this summer in Atlanta.  It may happen soon in Indiana, too, though not this season. History shows that mediocrity in the NBA plays itself out to sub-mediocrity, unless your Hall of Famer can stay healthy, and the Bucks don’t have one of those.  They don’t even have an Al Horford or a Glen Rice, not to say that Sanders can’t get better (this statement looks funny two years later).

The current situation says the Bucks won’t win in the long or short run with Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick’s disparate jump-shooting tendencies.  Whatever happens with the rest of the Bucks roster, the series against the Heat should be the last time we see the guard trio play for the Bucks.