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Make-or-Break NBA Playoffs Weekend

33 Burning Questions From Round 1

From the Wizards to the Warriors, there are all kinds of issues that need to be addressed in these NBA playoffs

Now THIS is a Round 1, my friends. Do you realize road teams have won 10 of 19 playoff games so far? Do you realize we’ve had 297 officiating controversies already? Do you realize three 50-win coaches are in real danger of getting canned within the next 10 days? Do you realize we have an 8-seed beating a 1-seed and a 7-seed beating a 2-seed? Do you realize Indiana is slapping together the Mother of All NBA Swoons? Do you realize LaMarcus Aldridge is morphing into some insane cross of young Kevin McHale, older Karl Malone, in-his-prime Buddha Edwards, and peak Kevin Garnett? Do you realize a Wizards-Clippers Finals is in play? Repeat: Do you realize a Wizards-Clippers Finals is in play????? And that the odds are only 65-to-1 right now??? And that it’s actually a good bet at those odds??????????? WHAT IS HAPPENING?????????

Without further ado, let’s tackle 33 burning questions from Round 1.

Q: Could the Wizards really make the Eastern Conference finals despite whiffing on 2013’s no. 3 overall pick (Otto Porter) and 2011’s no. 6 overall pick (Jan Vesely)?

Let’s flip that around. The Wizards could make the Eastern Conference finals because they didn’t whiff on 2010’s no. 1 overall pick (John Wall) and 2012’s no. 3 overall pick (Bradley Beal). They also flipped 2008’s first-rounder (JaVale McGee) into Nene, who is practically breaking the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year trophy over Joakim Noah’s head right now. They turned Vesely and next year’s first-rounder into Professor Andre Miller and Marcin Gortat, two veterans who made an impact. And Trevor Ariza wouldn’t be thriving without young Porter breathing down his neck. Fine, that’s not true. There’s been no neck-breathing whatsoever. Everything else is true. I can’t imagine having next year’s Atrocious GM Summit without Ernie Grunfeld, but we might be headed that way. This is bittersweet. I can’t lie.

(Wait, someone just reminded me that Ernie traded the no. 5 pick in 2009 for Mike Miller and Randy Foye, which means he whiffed on three top-six lottery picks in five years. According to the Atrocious GM Summit rulebook, the “David Kahn Corollary” says that at least three top-six whiffs in five years earns you an automatic invite. So, Ernie is coming back no matter what happens! I’m glad we settled this.)

Q: Can the Wizards really make the Eastern finals when their fans are sending emails during playoff games like, “I’d like to report an attempted murder — Randy Wittman is trying to kill me”?

My buddy House (lifelong Washington fan) sent that one during Game 2, somewhere around the same time Wittman decided, “I know Andre Miller destroyed the Bulls in Game 1, but I’m playing him only nine minutes tonight and that’s that.” And it’s not like things got better. During overtime, right before the Wiz nearly blew a six-point lead in the final 40 seconds, House and I had this exchange:

Me: “How many offensive rebounds do you have to give up before Wittman puts Gortat in for Booker?”

House: “Infinity. Infinity offensive rebounds.”

The good news for Wizards fans: Just in the past decade, Alvin Gentry and Mike Brown coached in Round 3; Flip Saunders took two different teams to Round 3; and Scott Brooks made two conference finals and the actual Finals. Don’t those four guys make you feel a little better about Randy Wittman?

The NBA isn’t complicated — to blow a series when you have a more talented team, you’d need an offensive game plan that’s two steps below rudimentary, no defensive mind-set whatsoever, a slew of head-scratching rotation decisions, an overall emphasis on aggressively sloppy play, a stubborn refusal to change anything that’s not working, a lack of recognition for basic stuff like “That guy is headed for 40 points again, maybe we try something different defensively,” and the confidence to keep making terrible game-management choices in the final minute without learning from the previous game’s terrible game-management choices. Basically, you’d have to do everything that Kevin McHale is doing in the Houston-Portland series. When you have a talented team going against the limited Bulls in Round 1 and the disintegrating Pacers in Round 2? You can survive Randy Wittman. Who’s having a decent series, by the way.

(In Round 3 against Miami? You probably can’t survive Randy Wittman. But at that point, we would have already had the greatest Washington basketball moment in 35 years, right? That reminds me … )

Q: Can the Wizards really make the Eastern Conference finals when they’re the Washington Wizards?

Now THIS is an obstacle. Since they lost Game 5 of the 1979 Finals to Seattle (R.I.P.), here’s your Washington basketball history in fewer than 90 words without mentioning that (a) they missed the playoffs 22 times in 35 years, and (b) they won only two playoff series total: Kwame over Pau; C-Webb for Mitch; Sheed for Strickland; Rip for Stackhouse; Gilbert vs. Jarvaris; $100 million for Juwan; the Rubio/Curry pick for Miller and Foye; Kenny Green one pick over Karl Malone; Wes Unseld, then Ernie Grunfeld; MJ ruining LaBradford Smith; past-their-primes Bernard, Moses and MJ; Andray Blatche’s extension/amnesty; top-12 picks on Hot Plate Williams, Muggsy Bogues, Tom Hammonds and Jared Jeffries; top-six picks on Vesely, Porter, Cal Cheaney and Mel Turpin; Gheorghe Muresan AND Manute Bol; and again, Kenny Green ONE PICK BEFORE KARL MALONE.

My favorite Wizards fact: Since Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes left the franchise in 1981, they haven’t employed a single player whose jersey could be retired. Not one! That’s impossible!

My second favorite Wizards fact: I sent House the last two graphs and he wrote back, “You forgot about Ike Austin for Ben Wallace. And Mark Price’s foot. And Gheorge’s pituitary gland … I’ll have more later.” I didn’t hear from him for another 24 hours.

My third favorite Wizards fact: Out of the blue, House emailed me the next day, “I forgot about Rex Chapman’s thumb and Jahidi White’s belly. Seriously, you should put that in.” The Washington Bullets-Slash-Wizards, everybody!

Q: Wait, you never answered … can the Wizards really make the 2014 Eastern Conference finals?

On ABC last Sunday, I picked a Miami-Washington Eastern finals two days after predicting Washington could become “this year’s Memphis” on the B.S. Report. So yes, I’m a believer. What looks more ridiculous on paper: the Wizards making Round 3, Nene becoming the league’s most unstoppable scoring center, or me finally hitting one of my predictions? It’s destiny!!! We’re intertwined! Speaking of Nene …

Q: Nene is lighting up Joakim Noah!!! LIGHTING HIM UP!!! Also, am I on drugs right now?

You’re not on drugs; you’re fine. Nobody ever doubted Nene’s talent, as evidenced by his earning more than $86 million since 2006 (with another $39 million guaranteed through 2016) despite never averaging 15 points or eight rebounds in any season. He’s been the first-team center on the NBA’s All-Perplexing Career team for years and years, a frustrating talent who sleepwalks through some Orlando game on a Tuesday night, then eviscerates Miami for 30 points just 24 hours later. When I attended the 2012 Summer Olympics, I wasn’t remotely surprised to see Nene mailing in the Brazil games, just like I wasn’t surprised to see him taking it to Noah in Games 1 and 2. That’s why he’s Nene. When he gives a crap? That’s when you want him on your team.

Over everything else, you gotta love how HARD Washington is playing: You have Beal and Wall trying to make names for themselves, Ariza and Gortat playing for new contracts, and Nene taking the Noah matchup personally for whatever reason. Yes, yes, yes. They can make the Eastern finals. And by the way? They were 60-to-1 to win the East just one week ago. If the Wizards make the 2014 Finals and Cousin Sal and I buy a 10-acre compound in Hawaii just two weeks later, I swear, there’s no correlation whatsoever.

Q: What’s more unrealistic, the Wizards making the 2014 Eastern finals or Kevin Love signing with the Wizards in the summer of 2015?

Every Wizards fan right now … Hold on, we need some music!

Q: If Phil Jackson learned the triangle offense from Tex Winter, then who was Scott Brooks’s mentor for Oklahoma City’s “Clogged Toilet” offense? Was it just Mike Brown, or were Vinny Del Negro and Mike Woodson involved as well?

Here’s my working theory: Early in Brooks’s playing career, he played in Minnesota for Jimmy Rodgers, the longtime Celtics assistant and honorary head coach of the Ghastly 1980s NBA Permafro Team (a.k.a. The Jack Sikma All-Stars). Rodgers had already failed as K.C. Jones’s replacement in Boston, where he got fired after two years partly for running the same Clogged Toilet offense that K.C. had perfected. During K.C.’s last Celtics season, the Celtics ran the same dump-it-to-Larry-on-the-right-post crunch-time play 575 straight times in the 1988 playoffs. It didn’t matter if the Legend was double-teamed, triple-teamed, quadruple-teamed … we were still running that play because we had no other plays.

So Jimmy learned from the Clogged Toilet master. And eventually, Brooks learned from Jimmy, so it’s something of a Clogged Toilet coaching tree. But every time I see OKC barely getting KD the ball 35 feet from the basket — or even better, taking 15 seconds to post him up on the low block, followed by KD dribbling back behind the 3-point line as soon as he gets it — I always picture K.C. Jones and Jimmy Rodgers nodding proudly. You need a great plunger when you run the Clogged Toilet: K.C. and Jimmy had Bird; Mike Brown had LeBron; and Brooks has Durant.

Q: Thanks to Nick in Anchorage, Alaska, for this one: “Is there anyway Grantland can produce a ‘Steve Kerr is starting to favor this coaching position’ wheel of probability graphic or gauge that updates in real time, perhaps located on the top of the home page? This first round of playoff games would have the needle bouncing all over: NY, IND, GS, IND, HOU, OKC, HOU, HOU, HOU… (Sound effects and Steve Kerr quotes optional).”

Sounds too complicated for us — we can’t even figure out how to run head shots of our writers that don’t look like mugshots. But couldn’t the Kerr Wheel operate like’s lottery machine, with the odds being updated in real time and every “result” playing off those percentages? OKC blows Game 3 in Memphis … uh-oh, there’s a new leader on the Kerr Wheel! My take hasn’t wavered for three weeks: If Brooks, McHale and Mark Jackson can’t get out of Round 1, they’re goners. So that’s potentially four open jobs, and we haven’t even mentioned the Lakers or Pacers yet.

(My percentages for the Kerr Wheel before Friday’s games, factoring in things like “best chance to win a title,” “most enticing franchise player,” “most assets,” “most livable city,” “deepest pockets,” “team that makes the most sense for a California kid who went to college in Arizona and lives in San Diego,” “team that employs Phil Jackson” and “team that isn’t in Utah or Cleveland”: New York: 40% … G-State: 20% … Houston: 20% … Lakers: 10% … OKC: 5% … Indiana: 4.4% … Cleveland: 0.5% … Utah: 0.1%.)

Q: Are Boston fans allowed to make fun of McHale mangling this Portland series after he helped the Celtics win three titles, clotheslined Rambis, costarred on the greatest NBA team of all time (the ’86 Celts), played on a broken foot in the 1987 Finals, made a cameo on Cheers, got his no. 32 retired, and traded KG to Boston in 2007 over accepting a slightly better deal from the Lakers?

Nope. Not allowed.

Q: More riveting battle — Tony Allen doing everything possible to shut down Kevin Durant, or Patrick Beverley doing everything possible to shut down Damian Lillard?

That’s a tie. Everyone wins. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention one incredible replay during Game 1’s overtime — Lillard beating Beverley, then Beverley refusing to give up and leaping over Lillard to block his floater from behind — that made me feel like we were watching one of those action-packed lightweight fights when they’re throwing so many punches that the CompuBox guy basically says, “I give up.” What a great moment. I love watching those guys going at it. Beverley and Allen (when he’s 100 percent healthy, like he is right now) share the same lovable quality: They have an ongoing fearlessness that just isn’t common for NBA players. It’s almost like watching a special teams gunner in football — they keep giving up their bodies, flying around like maniacs and doing whatever it takes to make the tackle (or in this case, defend the scorer). They don’t know any other way to play. It’s all or nothing.

Q: Dirk and Duncan battled in a playoff series in 2001 and now they’re doing it again in 2014 — is that a record gap for playoff battles for two players?

Nope — according to NBA Countdown ace Alvin Anol, Duncan and Steve Nash hold the unofficial record thanks to their 1998 battle that nobody remembers (Phoenix vs. San Antonio) and their 2013 battle that everyone blocked out of their mind (San Antonio sweeping the Lakers). That’s a 15-year playoff gap! Dirk and Duncan hold the record if you narrow it to “Had to be the best guy on that playoff team.” Since we’re here, I can’t believe I assumed (like so many others) that San Antonio would roll over Dallas and forgot the following things: too much history, too much Carlisle (here’s a good summary of his Jedi mind trick in Game 2), too much pride, too much Dirk, too much Cubes, too much Texas, too much Devin Harris, too much Joey Crawford. It’s going six or seven. You’ve been here before, and you’ll be here again.

Q: The Heat are still the league’s best team, they still have the league’s best player, and they’re still going for a historic three-peat … and yet they’re something like the 27th most relevant story line right now. What happened?

It’s a combination of Heat fatigue (four solid years of people endlessly dissecting them), their glaringly obvious on/off switch (which they tried to keep to “off” for both Charlotte games), their undeniably bored crowds (is there a worse playoff game to watch on TV, from an atmosphere standpoint, than Miami when they’re heavily favored at home?), all the other terrific story lines (covered and overcovered in this column), and the inevitability of the Heat making a fourth straight Finals (thanks to the East collapsing around them). If Shonda Rhimes were writing the Heat’s three-peat season, she’d be sprucing things up by having Bob McAdoo plan Erik Spoelstra’s assassination, Siohvaughn Funches-Wade frame Gabrielle Union for a hit-and-run, and Chris Andersen finding out about LeBron’s affair with Michelle Obama and demanding $10 million cash by Wednesday. But real life is boring.

Q: If GM Doc and Coach Doc were two separate people, would they be feuding right now?

The odds would be dropping with every Jared Dudley DNP. Remember, GM Doc cashed in his best trade assets (Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler’s expiring) for two perimeter guys (Dudley and J.J. Redick) on a defensively challenged team loaded with perimeter guys. By February, Redick was injured, Dudley had fallen out of favor, Bledsoe had become an emerging star, and the Clips didn’t have a juicy expiring to trade for a backup big like Brandon Bass, Spencer Hawes, Anderson Varejao or whomever. Coach Doc hates GM Doc almost as much as Actor George Clooney hates Director George Clooney.

Q: If Doc Rivers fought Jermaine O’Neal in Game 2, would that have been the greatest moment of 2014?

No — Pero Antic fighting David West would have been the greatest moment of 2014.

But I’m glad this came up. Once upon a time, the Celtics paid O’Neal $12 million over two years to be their backup big man. O’Neal played 24 games in 2011, then disappeared because of knee and wrist injuries. During the ensuing six-month lockout, he never bothered to get surgery for his left wrist — for reasons that remain unclear — then reinjured it two months into the lockout season. What happened next? He opted for season-ending surgery over, you know, playing in a little pain because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you make $6 million a year. The Celtics felt betrayed — and that’s being kind — but chose not to make it an issue publicly. After Ryan Hollins (yikes) and Greg Stiemsma (double yikes) had to play real minutes in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals (with Boston barely losing to Miami), and O’Neal complained that summer that he didn’t like being frozen out of Boston’s offense, that bitterness festered even more. I’d bet anything that Doc sees O’Neal miraculously flying around like he’s seven years younger in this Warriors-Clips series and thinks to himself, That’s the guy who quit on me two years ago. Could you blame him?

(In other words, don’t rule out Al Attles–Mike Riordan, The Sequel. Just know that Doc would need to charge the court and hit O’Neal over the head with a chair to beat out this 1993 Suns-Knicks donnybrook as “The Craziest Fight Involving Doc Rivers.” Also, you’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t click on those two links. I’ll wait.)

Q: Where does Pero Antic rank in the “NBA Players Who Should Absolutely Be Cast As the Bad Guy in a Hollywood Movie” power rankings?

I have it ranked like this …

3. Nik Pekovic: There’s an 81 percent chance he already fought Liam Neeson in one of the Taken movies, so he might be disqualified.

2. Chris Kaman: Nobody ever listened to me about casting Kaman as the killer in a Saw movie or a Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, but isn’t there still time to make a low-budget horror movie about an aging NBA center who slowly loses his mind on a lottery team, snaps after a DNP and becomes L.A.’s most feared serial killer since Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez?

1. Antic: Whether he’s the head henchman in the Road House remake, Teddy KGB’s main bodyguard in Rounders 2, the head bad guy in Taken 3 … I really don’t care. If Pero Antic doesn’t have an IMDb page within three months, we’ve all failed.

Q: Is Chris Paul better than you think, worse than you think or exactly what you think?

Because it’s the Internet and people have to come up with stuff to talk about every day, you knew this list would start glowing in neon the moment Chris looked shaky in a playoff game …

Andrew Bynum: 10
Deron Williams: 4
Marvin Williams: 3
Channing Frye: 2
Chris Paul: 2
Andrew Bogut: 1
Ray Felton: 1

What happened? He helped blow Game 1 on Saturday, and naturally “What has Chris Paul ever won?” became a thing. So here’s a quick story: The following morning, Steve Nash dropped into our NBA Countdown vortex to shoot a few segments with us. During our preshow meeting, I mentioned that Paul was getting criticized for his Game 1 performance, and asked if it might affect someone even as good as Paul if something like “What has he ever won?” morphed into a national story line. What happened? Nash made a face and said, “Chris is the best point guard in the league, it’s not even close. When you have the ball in your hands all the time, you’re going to make mistakes sometimes.”

(The answer: Actually, Chris Paul is better than you think — as you saw last night, when he masterfully fouled Steph Curry on the game’s deciding play in a way that was never, ever, EVER getting called.)

Q: Will we ever figure out what happened to the 2014 Pacers? (Marc Stein)

It’s almost more fun NOT knowing. But I think we know. Here’s the pie-chart breakdown …

30 PERCENT: Pat Riley named it “The Disease of Me,” a chemistry-killing toxin that afflicts certain teams after they’ve hit it big. Once you start winning, everyone wants more money, more shots, more attention, more everything. What’s weird about the Pacers: This happened BEFORE they hit it big. It’s like they created a new strain called The Preemptive Disease of Me. But you know the nuts and bolts by now: Lance Stephenson thought he was an All-Star, Paul George thought he was a superstar, Danny Granger disappeared, the big guys stopped getting the ball … before you knew it, a selfless team started thinking selfishly.

20 PERCENT: Wore down because the starting five played too many minutes. In particular, George Hill looks dead tired and Hibbert actually might be dead.

10 PERCENT: No superstar scorer to stop the slide and say, “It’s OK, everybody, I got this.”

20 PERCENT: Actually, they had Lance Stephenson saying, “It’s OK, everybody, I got this.” And that’s even worse.

20 PERCENT: Are we sure they were ever that good? Last season, they won 49 games and had a plus-4 point differential in a lousy conference. They beat the Hawks in six and the Knicks in six, then took a tired Miami team to seven … and got blown out in Game 7. This year, they started out 16-1 with a cream puff schedule, won 33 of their first 40 against an East-heavy schedule, then stumbled to a 23-19 finish over their last 42. And as soon as they felt even a little adversity, they acted like Chris Christie right after the bridge scandal broke.

I’d say we overrated these guys except for one thing: From October 2011 through January 2013, Indiana’s starting five was consistently better than anyone else’s five. That was the single best thing about their team. It’s gone. And so is their chemistry. You know what was striking about last night’s Atlanta loss, other than that it’s absolutely unf’ingbelievable that THESE Pacers could blow a series to THESE Hawks? The Indiana guys look like they hate playing with each other — they’re interacting like divorced parents who just ran into each other at their son’s youth soccer game. It’s crazy. Yet another reason why I think I’m going to be drinking Bloody Marys in Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day weekend. With extra horseradish.

Q: But seriously … has there ever been anything like this Pacers collapse? In NBA history?

Not even close. We’ve seen short-window collapses, but never a three-month-long WTF extravaganza like this one. The Pacers were 33-7. That’s a 67-win pace! If they blow this Atlanta series, they’ll be the first team mentioned anytime a really good NBA team goes into an inexplicable swoon. Basically, they’ll be to inexplicable swoons what the ’72 Lakers are to winning streaks, the ’80 Hawks are to cocaine and the ’02 Blazers are to jail.

Q: Is Roy Hibbert tradable, sort of untradable, or totally untradable?

Working against Hibbert …

• He’s guaranteed $30.4 million combined over the next two seasons.

• He turned into Hasheem Thabeet about 10 weeks ago. Couldn’t Thabeet match Hibbert’s production since February 4 if he played 29 minutes a game? You’re telling me 8.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks and 39 percent shooting isn’t doable for Thabeet?

• He’s failing the Stat Test AND the Eye Test. He’s running like someone put razor blades in his Nikes. He’s a split-second slow on every rebound, every contested shot and every second-chance leap. During Game 1, Kyle Korver jumped over his right shoulder and pulled a rebound away from him. Kyle Korver! Roy Hibbert is 7-foot-2! What happened????

• I may or may not have gotten into a “Would you rather start a team with Drunk Vin Baker circa 2001 or Sober Roy Hibbert circa 2014?” argument this week. (The answer, clearly, is Drunk Vin Baker. Come on.)

• The Law of Mutombo tells us this: You never know when a tall center is about to lose it, but when they lose it, you know right away. Artis Gilmore gained the nickname “Rigor Artis” in the mid-’80s. Shaq turned into Mummified Shaq somewhere between Phoenix and Cleveland. Dikembe was kicking ass and wagging fingers right until the 2001 Finals, when Shaq turned him into a lumbering, uncoordinated, elbow-laden mass of uselessness. Even if Hibbert is only 27, what if this wasn’t a slump? What if the Law of Mutombo struck him early?

Working for Hibbert …

• He’s only 27. Artis and Shaq lost it in their mid-thirties. Mutombo lost it somewhere between 35 and 49. Kareem lost it at 42. Yao and Ralph Sampson lost it before 30, but only because of injuries. To our knowledge, Hibbert isn’t injured. Could he be worn down? Maybe a little depressed? Maybe a little bummed out by the Bynum signing? Maybe he’s not working hard enough off the court (as has been rumored)?

• Too many teams value (and overvalue) advanced metrics, which means at least two or three teams would value Hibbert’s rim protection numbers. If he’s standing in front of the rim and you’re driving to the basket, it’s hard to score. You just need to put him in that specific situation, and not situations like “chasing Antic out to the 3-point line” or “trying to catch Anthony Davis sprinting down the court.”

• You take a flyer on him in Year 1, and if it doesn’t work out, you have a big expiring in Year 2. Wouldn’t Charlotte and Dallas do this tomorrow? Wouldn’t the Celtics sniff around? Wouldn’t OKC have to consider something with Hibbert and Kendrick Perkins’s expiring as the principals? I refuse to believe he’s untradable. We were just celebrating him two months ago!

My conclusion: Yes, people will trade for Hibbert. (And yes, it says something about our fascination with 7-footers that I spent this much time writing about Hibbert and no time whatsoever writing about the equally horrendous George Hill.) But I liked how a reader named Trent in Indy summed up the Hibbert issue …

“You know when you drive your car and hear a weird sound, but ignore it? Then you hear it again louder, but you ignore it because you’re really busy? Then you hear it constantly, but you are now worried about the potentially big expense that might be represented by that sound, so you ignore it still? Then your car won’t start, so you take it to the shop and find out it’s even worse than you’d imagined, and so many expensive things are wrong with your car that you decide to fix the bare minimum of the problems in order to sell the piece of crap and make it someone else’s problem? That’s Roy Hibbert.”

Q: If the Pacers get bounced in Round 1, can you predict Lance Stephenson’s next team and next contract?

The Lakers. Two years, $17 million. No, I’m not trolling Lakers fans. I actually believe this one.

Q: Can you win the NBA title if you’re jacking up more than 25 3s a game?

History says no. In the 21st century, these were the best “high volume” 3-point-shooting teams that made a conference finals.

2012 Spurs (lost WC finals): 132-for-317, 41.6% (14 games)
2003 Mavs (lost WC finals): 184-for-463, 39.7% (20 games)
2011 Mavs (won Finals): 184-for-467, 39.4% (21 games)
2006 Suns (lost WC finals): 184-for-470, 39.1% (20 games)
2013 Heat (won Finals): 177-for-465, 38.1% (23 games)
2013 Spurs (lost Finals): 165-for-437, 37.8% (21 games)
2010 Magic (lost EC finals): 138-for-377, 36.6% (14 games)
2009 Magic (lost Finals): 201-for-559, 36.0% (24 games)

Of those eight: Only the ’06 Suns and ’12 Spurs averaged nine-plus made 3s, and only the ’10 Magic averaged more than 25 3s (26.9 to be exact). None of those teams made the Finals. And the two high-volume teams that won titles also had Hall of Fame creators who scored consistently on isolation plays (LeBron and Dirk). Can you win the title when you’re relying too heavily on 3s? Is that strategy this generation’s version of the run-and-gun Nuggets/Spurs/Blazers of the 1980s — effective for the regular season, increasingly ineffective in the postseason as the defenses get better and better? Houston’s carefree, bombs-away approach seemed so refreshing during the season and so dangerously reckless in the playoffs (at least so far). Same for the Knicks last spring.

Then again, the Blazers jacked up 50 3s in those first two Houston games.

Then again, that’s the point — they won because LaMarcus Aldridge was playing out of his mind, not because of the 50 3s. That reminds me …

Q: Did you know that, since 1985, only MJ, Magic, Shaq, Kobe, Iverson, T-Mac and Aldridge have scored 42-plus points in back-to-back playoff games?

I just furrowed my brow. You know what I loved about Aldridge’s explosion in those first two games, other than that Houston is paying a combined $30 million to Dwight Howard and Omer Asik next season and neither of them can guard Aldridge right now? He brought the midrange game back. Oh, wait, 200,000 other people on the Internet made that point already? Lemme tweak it: He reminded everyone that, even if long 2s are the Dorkapalooza community’s least favorite shot, everything slows down in the playoffs, defenses ratchet it up, and suddenly there aren’t as many open 3s and layups anymore. But you know what’s available? LONG TWOS! So when you have a big guy who can make them, it’s kind of an advantage.


Um … right?

(Crap, I just inspired a 2015 Sloan Conference paper called “Why Simmons Was Totally Wrong About the Added Value of Long 2s in Playoff Games.”)

Q: What’s crazier — that only three rookies cracked a 10-man rotation for a 2014 playoff team, or that those three rookies are Mason Plumlee, Steven Adams and Cody Zeller?

At some point, we’re going to need a computer to simulate a seven-game series between the 2000 Draft All-Stars and the 2013 Draft All-Stars to officially figure out the worst draft of all time.

Q: Can you remember any coach playing the “It’s Us Against Them!” strategy better than Mark Jackson?

Can’t you hear him in the locker room with this Clippers series slipping away? They’re trying to break us apart! They don’t respect what we have! The only people who matter are the people in this locker room! You don’t play for the owners, you don’t play for the media, you play for each other! And it’s working! I feel sorry for Jackson’s replacement; you know he’s going to be treated like the evil stepmother who ruined mom’s marriage. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoy the Mark Jackson era — he’s the first NBA coach to model his entire coaching style after 40 years of sports movie speeches on YouTube. Yes, that might be part of the problem, too. But anytime someone can lose two assistants AFTER the All-Star break and flip it to their advantage, you know they’re good.


Q: When Jeff Van Gundy takes five solid minutes during a Warriors-Clippers playoff game to defend Jackson’s coaching, point out his successes and call out the Warriors ownership and Jerry West for not sticking up for Jackson, he knows that we know he’s buddies with Jackson and worked with him on ABC and ESPN for years and years … right?

Yup. He knows. He was just being a good friend. I was just disappointed that it cut into the chances of Steve Javie breaking down the clear path foul for the 19th time.

Q: What point did the TNT guys make in Round 1 that you wish you’d thought of yourself?

Trust me, it wasn’t any of Shaq’s points about Dwight Howard. I loved when Charles and Kenny started joking about how KG hung around so long that he actually lost his nickname. Charles said something like, “You know it’s over because we’re just calling him ‘Kevin Garnett’ now.” I loved that one. It’s always a little sad when the nicknames get retired before the actual player retires.

Q: Is anyone on Miami better at basketball than they were a year ago?

Um … James Jones?

Q: Why do the Basketball Gods hate Al Jefferson so much?

Unclear. Kept getting injured in Boston. Blew out his knee in Minnesota right when his career was taking off. Got Kahnnnnnnnnned in the 2009 draft. Traded to Utah in 2010, right before the Deron Williams–Jerry Sloan situation blew up. Finally finds happiness in Charlotte, lucks out with a terrific coach, submits an All-NBA season (I voted for him for second team) … and right as he’s about to kick Miami’s ass for a few playoff games, he hurts his foot. If Big Al belonged to a Game of Thrones family, it would definitely be the Starks.

Q: You’re a sportswriter on the Internet — why haven’t you attacked James Harden yet? Didn’t you get the memo? It’s Attack James Harden Week.

Put it this way — I watched him take terrible 3s, shoot himself out of ice-cold stretches and treat defense like a nuisance for six solid months. You know what my reaction was? I voted for him for first-team All-NBA. He’s the league’s streakiest superstar. During the 2013-14 season, Harden did the following things …

• Missed 14 of 17 shots against Phoenix (including 0-for-10 from 3), then dropped 34 on Golden State two nights later.

• Missed seven of nine shots against Memphis, only he finished with 27 points because he made 22 of 25 FT’s.

• Went 2-for-9 against OKC, finished with eight points … and exploded for 38, 37 and 38 the next three games, respectively.

• Threw up 41, 10 and six with six steals against Portland just six weeks ago.

• From Game 70 through Game 81, he averaged 28.1 ppg, 8.3 apg, 5.1 rpg, 1.9 spg, 44-37-89% splits and made 10.5 of 11.8 FTA. Repeat: Harden MADE 126 free throws in 12 games.

• Starred in the viral sensation “James Harden, Defensive Juggernaut” — an 11-minute clip devoted to every terrible defensive play he made this season.

And now, it took only two playoff stink bombs for Harden to replace Russell Westbrook as the NBA’s most polarizing star. Really, he’s just another 90/10 star, as described in this 2012 Finals column — we appreciate Harden’s 90 percent (the good stuff) and tolerate the 10 percent (the annoying stuff), but occasionally, the 10 percent completely overpowers the 90 percent. That’s what happened in Game 1 and Game 2. Doesn’t make him a playoff choker. At least not yet. Harden’s history says he’ll go off in Game 3. That’s what streaky scorers do.

Q: Hey, Paul Pierce … I can’t remember, why did they bring you there? And what do you do again?

Q: How much pot should Boston fans smoke during Brooklyn’s playoff games to trick themselves into thinking that Pierce and KG still play for the Celtics?

You don’t need a ton — you just need to time it right for the beginning of the fourth quarter, right after the TV timeout at the 10-minute mark, to guarantee the THC kicks in during crunch time. Also, don’t forget to turn down the “COLOR” on your TV until it removes the color of everyone’s uniforms. THIS IS WHY THEY BROUGHT ME TO GRANTLAND! THIS IS WHAT I DO!!!!!

Q: What’s the best wager for a 2014 Finals matchup right now just from the standpoint of getting great odds?

You can still grab Spurs-Heat at +260 (which means you’d bet $100 to win $260) — that was my preseason pick and my pre-playoffs pick, and it’s still my pick because we’ve learned too many times that you can never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER lose faith in the Spurs just because they stumbled for a second in Round 1. But from an odds standpoint? You gotta love Heat-Grizzlies at +2100. If Memphis gets by OKC, it’ll have the Clippers next, then probably the winner of Spurs-Blazers. Both winnable, right? The Grizzlies have had “The Look” (trademark: Mike Lombardi for a few weeks now) — they’re tough, they’re playoff-proven, they can get stops, and most important, they know who they are. And their four best players are playing REALLY well right now; they’re like the Bizarro Pacers in that respect. I would not be even remotely surprised if Jalen and I were eating Gus’s Fried Chicken in mid-June.

(FYI: If you put $100 down on a Wizards-Grizzlies Finals at 300-to-1 odds, you’d win $30,000 if it happened. Just throwing it out there.)

Q: It’s a bad sign for Brooks that Russell Westbrook’s brother tweeted during Game 3 that OKC needs a new coach, right?

It’s certainly not a GOOD sign. Another not-so-great sign: Our ESPN comrade Brian Windhorst tweeting during Game 3, “Grizzlies know all of OKC’s plays. When the 1st option is taken away the Thunder just shut down their offense.” Well, that sounds like a problem. You know what else was a problem? My reaction to that tweet was, “The Thunder have plays?” Either way, we’ve clearly hit a fork-in-the-road moment for OKC’s franchise — similar to Miami falling behind 2-1 in the East semis to Indy, soaking in all the “They might be done” buzz, then laying the smack down (and then some) with LeBron and Wade’s otherworldly 70-27-15 combo game. Even though Wade was brilliant in that game, that was also the day when LeBron gently grabbed the steering wheel from Wade (and never relinquished it). I love watching Durant and Westbrook, but Westbrook’s overcompetitiveness — the trait you want 99 percent of the time — actually hurts Oklahoma City because he’s saying “I GOT THIS!” way too much.

Put it this way: At some point, Michael Jordan never had to worry about Scottie Pippen saying, “Hey, everybody, I got this!” When you have the greatest and most efficient scorer of an entire generation — and that’s Durant right now, by every calculation — do you really want one of his teammates saying “I got this!” just as frequently? It’s starting to feel more and more like Durant and Westbrook might need their own teams. But that’s the best thing about Game 4: They could flip that narrative with one monster game in Memphis. Do they have their own everyone-needs-to-shut-the-eff-up 70-27-15 lurking in them? Welcome to this weekend’s most fascinating subplot … well, other than Indiana having basketball’s first-ever collective nervous breakdown. 

Filed Under: NBA, Washington Wizards, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers, Nene, Chris Paul, Roy Hibbert, LaMarcus Aldridge, James Harden

Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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