The self-defeating prophecy in Sacramento

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In a pair of articles this week, Tom Ziller of SBNation.com elucidated the conditions of fandom in Sacramento as the Kings’ season approaches. What could be the last Kings season in Sacramento. To catch you up….(big breath):

The Maloofs were great owners and then the economy tanked and they became bad owners and then they started making noise about wanting a new arena and then threatened to leave and then they actually started having talks with Anaheim and thought they were home free but the NBA was like “Woah” and then Mayor Kevin Johnson presented to the NBA and knocked their socks off while the Maloofs basically presented a slide of “But we want to!” and the NBA was like “No way” and then they figured out a solution and it was awesome and a new arena would be built and then the Maloofs bailed on the agreement because of stuff people think is really piddly that should in no way hold up a deal and the league is in an impossible position and the Maloofs held an aggressive, spikey press conference and the city’s holding firm and it looks like the Kings are going to file for relocation in the spring.

(Gasp.)

So Ziller presents the case for why this season is an absolute no-win for Sacramento and its fans.

And now, we’re supposed to buy tickets, get our gear and root for the Kings. It’s a bizarre situation.

No one knows if fans will show up this season. The team claims that 80 percent of season ticket holders have renewed, but that doesn’t mean much: the season ticket levels seem to be fairly low, and as all keen NBA observers know, a substantial portion of season tickets go unused, especially for bad teams. Some fans have instituted one-man boycotts. Others are vowing to go as cheaply as possible. (SB Nation’s Kings blog is holding FTM Night, a sarcastic rendition of Maloof Appreciation Night. Our decision to ask fans to attend as cheaply as possible has gotten our credentials revoked, probably fairly.) We all saw what happened to Seattle, and how the shell-shocked fans largely avoided KeyArena when it was clear that the Sonics were gone. We don’t want to follow that same path … but who wants to line the pockets of traitors? Who wants to toss cash at the moving van driver?

via Sacramento Kings preview: Where the games are only subplots – SBNation.com.

A developer who lost all but 2 percent of the family’s ownership in The Palms. A developer whose mistakes forced the family to sell their patriarch’s cornerstone business, the New Mexico beer and spirits distributorship. “Trust me, I’m a developer.” When I look at George Maloof’s face, trust is the last thing I want to offer. (By a country mile.) He preceded to tell Sacramento that the Maloofs are committed to staying here. To renovating ARCO. (They have not moved an inch on that idea, according to reports.) Committed to Sacramento. So committed that it’s ridiculous to ask them to actually commit on paper. So committed that you might as well stop asking if they’re committed, because dammit they have said they are committed. Trust them.

I don’t trust that because I remember what the Maloofs didn’t do on April 13, 2011, and I don’t trust that because I remember what the Maloofs did do on April 13, 2012. I don’t believe a word George said about the Sacramento market — we know what he said about Sacramento is wrong. Not a word he said about the arena plan, because if he felt how he did about the arena’s viability all along, he never would have shook hands on the blueprint. The trust I had in the Maloof family and its intentions cracked for good when they forgot about their customers on April 13, 2011, and it shattered forever when they tore down their customers on April 13, 2012.

via When I trusted the Maloofs* – Sactown Royalty.

If you were a Sacramento fan, being treated this way, why would you want to put a single dollar in the Maloofs’ pockets? Why would you want a single opportunity to give them financial relief? Fans are always more attached to teams than owners, owners come and go, something they never talk about when they talk about their rights as owners. And generally, that relationship should remain as such. It’s nasty business to try linking your favorite team to the guy who pays the bills. Or even the athletes who wear the jerseys, a lot of the time. But this has become personal.

Sacramento has a personal relationship with the Maloofs. More than Heisley and Memphis, Bennett and OKC, even Holt and San Antonio. There’s a personal relationship between the Maloofs and the city of Sacramento, and it not a good one. It is bitter and personal and filled with resentment and anger. The Maloofs have openly pushed stories about how they’re being treated by Sacramento, as if they randomly were being bombarded. This is not to justify the abuse they’ve suffered, which is going to be extreme in some cases, because, let’s be honest, some people are terrible. And there’s no excuse for that. None. It doesn’t change the fact that this relationship was poisoned from both sides.

And the worst part is that the more they do to poison the relationship, the more it helps them. The league will not consider what the Maloofs have done to poison the well for ticket sales or revenue this season. They expect the fans to support them, no matter what. That’s their strength as a sports league. They can demand unreasonable things in exchange for the game they provide. And while David Stern in particular needs serious commendation for his protection of Sacramento in this instance, there’s only so far he can go.

So the more the Maloofs do to prove they should not own an NBA franchise, the more they will gain support of the league and its owners. Because very little in sports business makes sense.

That’s really the incredible part of this story. There’s nothing the fans, the citizens can do at this point. If the Maloofs decide to keep the team there, it will be of their own initiative. If they decide to file, nothing will change their mind. The fans can show up in droves and carry the team to the playoffs, and it likely won’t generate enough revenue to change the Maloofs mind, because the arena dictates so much of that. They can pressure the mayor’s office to cave and the city may simply not be able to afford it. They can not go and validate the Maloofs talk of the support.

The Maloofs have a right to protect their interests as businessmen. They’re not legally obligated to take care of Sacramento. Morally is another question, but as always that matters little in business.

If you were a Kings fan, would you want to go games? To buy jerseys, coozies, stickers? Would you want to support the team that’s yours?

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.