Tin Duncan 1999

NBA Finals legacy battle: Spurs try to solidify theirs, Heat try to build one


When the NBA Finals tip off Thursday night legacies will be on the line.

The Miami Heat have made no bones about it since the day LeBron James and Chris Bosh said they were joining Dwyane Wade in South Beach — they want to be one of the best teams ever. But they need to hang banners to do that. Not one, not two….

The San Antonio Spurs already have a legacy of winning — four titles between 1999 and 2007. One of the best teams of its generation, led by all-time great power forward Tim Duncan and the fantastic Gregg Popovich. Yet while we give lip service to that idea, the Spurs are overshadowed because they are steady and fundamental — they don’t bring the highlights of Kobe Bryant, the drama of Kevin Garnett and the Celtics. They don’t sell themselves like Lob City. It’s not a show. They get overshadowed. Yet they just win, and you couldn’t ignore a fifth championship in 14 years.

This year’s NBA Finals isn’t just about trying to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy and having a parade. It’s about how each of these teams — and their best players — will be thought of a decade from now and beyond. Winning changes it for both.

Only one franchise has been able to repeat as champions since Michael Jordan retired — Kobe’s Lakers (once with Shaq, once without). If the Heat win a back-to-back titles by knocking off the Spurs then we can start to discuss just how good they were — three straight trips to the finals, two straight rings. (And if they can win a third, then they really reach a new level.)

LeBron will undoubtedly have two finals MVPs if the Heat win, and with that he keeps climbing the tiers up to the all-time greats.

We really should think of the Spurs as already being on those upper tiers. Tim Duncan is regularly mentioned s the greatest power forward ever to play the game. They have four rings

Yet that’s not the common perception of the Spurs — we never mention them with the legends of the game. They are so solid, so reliable, so sound that we take them for granted. We overlook them because they rely on smart passes and not alley-oops made for highlights. Television ratings suggest nobody goes out of their way to watch them, when really basketball fans should savor them. They play a smart, elegant game we will miss someday.

Instead they get ignored. But you couldn’t ignore Duncan’s fifth ring. He has to get talked about with Kobe in the “greatest of his generation” conversation.

That is what this comes down to — the chance to solidify a legacy on one side, the chance to really start building one on the other.

One of these two teams is going to take another big step into the history books in these Finals. However it ends.

Frank Vogel says Paul George is best two-way player in game

Paul George, John Wall
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The moniker of the “best two-way player” sounds more like something an agent made up to gain a little leverage contract negotiations. It’s a nebulous concept. It’s an intentional dig at whomever is perceived as a better player, suggesting they don’t play enough defense.

But it’s part of the NBA lexicon now, and Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel thinks he has the best two-way player in the game in the resurgent Paul George. Tuesday night George dropped 40 points on Wizards and Vogel said this after the game, via the Washington Post.

“It’s tough to quantify in words,” Pacers Coach Frank Vogel said. “I mean, he just does so much. He’s capable of going for 40, carrying the offensive load and being the best defensive player on either team. He’s a special player, and the best two-way player in the game. We’re a different team with him out there.”

Paul George’s return to an elite level of play is one of the best stories of this young NBA season — for nine straight games now he has scored at least 25 points, he has pushed the Pacers to a 9-5 record with a top 10 NBA offense and defense. Tuesday night John Wall talked about how George’s improved jumper has made him a far more dangerous, more difficult to guard player. And he’s still a lock-down defender.

But George is not the best two-way player in the game — that’s Stephen Curry. George does not have the offensive impact that Curry brings to the Warriors, plus Curry has developed into a solid NBA defender. Curry gets steals, plays smart, and is a positive on defense, plus he’s the best offensive player in the league right now.

That doesn’t make the return of Paul George any less fun, any less good for the game. It’s great to see George back. Whatever you want to call him.



Kobe Bryant “not really worried” about his shooting after 1-of-14 night

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Sometimes a picture can tell the story better than words.

That’s why above you can see all of Kobe Bryant‘s shot attempts against the Warriors Tuesday, a night where he went 1-of-14 from the floor (and “facilitator Kobe” had two assists). If you want another picture, here is Kobe’s shot chart for the game.

Kobe shot chart vs. Warriors

On the season, Kobe is shooting 31.1 percent overall, 19.5 percent from three, and he has a career low true shooting percentage of 41.5 percent. It’s hard to watch. On a team that is supposed to be developing their young stars, Kobe took as many shots as D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle combined. Laker coach Byron Scott is good with Kobe doing whatever he wants.

But Kobe is worried about his shooting performances, right? Not so much. From Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

If Kobe can figure out the Lakers’ system this season, he will be in a club of one.

I could go on a longer rant here, but the bottom line is this is just a sad spectacle to watch. And there’s a lot of season left to watch it.

Kobe Bryant: Warriors can make run at record 33-game win streak

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Pat Riley compared the Warriors backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to one of the legendary guard tandems the game has ever seen — Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. Two Hall of Famers who led the 1972 Lakers to an NBA title.

That West/Goodrich team also won 33 straight games that season.

The Warriors are off to the fastest start in NBA history at 16-0 after destroying the hapless Lakers on Tuesday night, and the question of “when will they lose?” Kobe Bryant thinks these Warriors could get to that legendary 33 mark, as he told Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“Yeah, they could do it – because they’re good,” Bryant said afterward. “It’s a very young league, and they’ve managed to put together a team of extremely intelligent players and extremely versatile players, and great shooters. And so I see no reason why they couldn’t continue to extend (the record).”

The Warriors are not even halfway there and have shown some flashes of one-game vulnerability of late (a rough game against the Nets, for example). They have an upcoming seven-game road trip with a couple back-to-backs where they likely stumble at least once.

Then again, look at their next dozen opponents: Suns, Kings, Jazz, Hornets, Raptors, Nets, Pacers, Celtics, Bucks, Suns, Bucks, Jazz. Teams such as the Raptors and Pacers are certainly playing well, but there is no team on that list that makes you step back and say “that’s a loss.” Get through that dozen and the Warriors are at 28-0 and the Lakers’ record is within shot. The Warriors are not going to stop doing what they do — if the wearable science tells them Curry needs a night off, he’ll sit — but if they can get close, for a team trying to establish a legacy of greatness this would be a step in that direction.

The 16-0 mark already is.

Nick Young wears Gilbert Arenas’ old shoes during game (PHOTO)

Nick Young, Devin Harris
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In a disastrous Lakers season, one thing can be counted on (besides Byron Scott saying absurd things about Kobe Bryant): Nick Young will always be able to lighten the mood. He brought some levity to the Lakers’ blowout loss to the Warriors on Tuesday night with a blast from the past: a pair of gold shoes formerly worn by his ex-Wizards teammate Gilbert Arenas.

These shoes, like Swaggy, and like Gilbert before the injuries and the guns, are awesome and should be celebrated.