The Extra Pass: A Google goggle revolution dream, plus Wednesday’s recaps

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I have this odd vision for the future of the NBA, and in it everyone looks like Kirk Hinrich.

Well, everyone doesn’t actually look like Kirk Hinrich, but all the players are wearing goggles nonetheless. That’s not just because they look cool and I think Hinrich is the undisputed king of accessorizing, and it’s not just because I’m a proponent for eye protection. These goggles are being used for information.

Let me backtrack.

A few years ago, I was in a locker room postgame, hopping from scrum to scrum, mining for quotes. I was hoping to pick up on a conversation more interesting than the standard fare of canned media responses and questions like, “talk about your game tonight” that tend to fill up most of the airspace in that setting.

I was in luck. I hopped in on a reporter asking Eric Bledsoe if he knew what his plus/minus number for the season was.

Bledsoe, who was then just a rookie, didn’t know the answer because he didn’t know what plus/minus was.

As the reporter halfway incredulously explained what that number entailed, it dawned on me that a stat like that, at least for Bledsoe’s purposes, was completely useless.

Sure, his agent could use it in negotiations. His coach could make more informed lineup decisions based on it. His general manager could keep it in mind when mapping out the future of the team. But Bledsoe? What did he need it for?

Great advancements have been made in the NBA when it comes to analytics. Player tracking and injury tracking services are potential game-changers, but a lack of data isn’t necessarily the issue at hand. The focus of any analytics movement should be on how to make that data digestible and useful for those who need it most, and perhaps no one could better apply the information gleaned from the data than the players themselves.

But let’s get back to my goggled utopia.

Let’s say that Eric Bledsoe, now in Phoenix and fully aware of the fact that all reporters are scum (except for Brett Pollakoff, who is lovely), is going heads up against James Harden.

Bledsoe’s coaching staff lets him know that Harden likes to drive all the way to the rim when he goes left, but if he goes right he prefers the pull-up. The eyes and the numbers support that.

Bledsoe is aware of this, but things get crazy during the game. Staring down one of the best players in the league leaves very little time for planning ahead or remembering something your coach said hours ago.

So here’s Harden in the triple-threat, where he’s one of the most dangerous players in the league. Bledsoe readies himself, his hips sunk, his feet ready to slide.

And in the bottom corner of his vision in clear print, the tendencies for which way Harden will go are right there for him: L 75% R 25%.

Bledsoe sees this and remembers, and he jumps on Harden’s left hand and gets a steal. There are 39 seconds left. In his vision, “2-for-1, find shot in 11 seconds” pops up and a timer starts to tick down. Bledsoe races the ball up the floor. He knows exactly how many timeouts he has, and he knows Houston has a foul to give. To avoid a Chris Webber situation, all he needs to do is have his eyes open.

So now I ask you: could an invention like Google Glass one day change the NBA as we know it?

Better yet, as fans would we want our players to have those capabilities? Seeing athletes play smarter and come closer to actualizing their full athletic potential is almost always welcomed, but would it make the game less human?

Would a league that prohibited Dwyane Wade from wearing tinted goggles because opponents couldn’t see his eyes even consider this for a second? I mean, baseball just adopted instant replay, for goodness sake.

And there’s this: would the players even want all that information?

It’s hard to say. In that same year with the Clippers and Bledsoe, it was Ryan Gomes who quickly established himself as the guy to talk to when you needed to know what was going on the floor.

Gomes knew it all. He could recount every situation. He could tell you how the defense countered and what the right play to make was. But even though Gomes knew all those things, he wasn’t able to apply it, and he suffered through the worst season of his professional career. It was painful to watch him think on the court instead of play.

It was a classic case of what’s called “paralysis by analysis”, and there’s a real concern that overloading players with too much information could cause this. Ignorance can be bliss for an athlete. Confidence can be irrational and yet completely required.

Bledsoe didn’t need to know about plus/minus, so he didn’t. And that’s the question that should be asked for new player data: is this useful for the player? If it’s not, what would be?

Should Trevor Ariza be aware of the fact that he’s shooting 57.4 percent from the corner 3 but 21.8 percent from above the break? Yes. Should he know how many times he touches the ball a game compared to the rest of his teammates? Perhaps not.

Maybe it won’t be the super goggles I’ve imagined, but technology and innovative data collection will continue to heavily impact the NBA. If the focus shifts more on what the players can actually use, the impact will only be that much greater.

-D.J. Foster

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Kyle Korver has now hit a three in 89 consecutive games, tying the NBA record.

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Cavaliers 98, Nuggets 88: If you’re a Denver fan, this game is the argument for shortening the regular season schedule. The Nuggets looked like world beaters Tuesday night in Brooklyn after disposing of the depleted Nets by 24 points in a game that wasn’t even that close. But playing on the road again on the second night of a back-to-back against a rested Cavaliers team, it was a very different story. Timofey Mozgov had maybe his best game as a pro in a 20 rebound effort on Tuesday, but managed just three boards in this one. Denver as a team had tired legs, and shot 39.1 percent from the field while finishing on the wrong end of a 15-rebound differential. The Nuggets are better than the Cavaliers at this point in the season; scheduling circumstances made that reality impossible to showcase. — Brett Pollakoff

Hawks 107, Clippers 97: When the Clippers lose, it isn’t because of their offense. The defense was rough in this one, as evidenced by the fact that they let Kyle Korver connect on 6-of-9 three-point attempts to finish with 23 points. That’s like, what he does, and L.A. allowed him to get loose for those looks nonetheless. Paul Millsap had a huge all-around game in finishing with 25 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots. Atlanta finished the game shooting 51.2 percent from the field. — BP

Suns 97, Rockets 88: The Suns bounced back from one of their most disappointing efforts of the season on Tuesday to rip the shorthanded Rockets. Houston was without Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and Greg Smith due to injury, and Phoenix took control early to ensure victory. The Rockets shot just 35.2 percent as a team, and James Harden had one of his worst statistical performances in Houston, finishing with just 14 points on 3-of-17 shooting while missing all 10 of his attempts from three-point distance. — BP

Pistons 105, Bucks 98: As a frame of reference, the Pistons now have the same record as the Minnesota Timberwolves (9-10) after winning their third straight over the Bucks, In the East that means a guaranteed playoff spot, so we’ll go with the assertion that Detroit is playing well as of late. Brandon Jennings had a sub-par shooting night, but still managed to light up his former team for 17 points and 11 assists in almost 42 minutes of action, despite shooting just 4-of-16 from the field and committing six turnovers. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe continued to batter their opponents on the boards with 36 rebounds combined, and Ersan Ilyasova had a nice 22-point, 10-rebound performance off the bench for the Bucks in the losing effort. — BP

Mavericks 100, Pelicans 97: This game was won inside out — Dallas limited New Orleans to 48 percent shooting in the paint on the night, meanwhile Dallas was 11-of-24 (45.8 percent from three). It also doesn’t hurt to have Dirk Nowitzki on your side. Nowitzki had 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and he had four blocks in the game. Jrue Holiday had 26 points and 9 dimes for the Pelicans.

Pacers 95, Jazz 86: Credit the Jazz who took the lead with a 12-0 first quarter run and led through the first half. Trey Burks had 8 of his 13 points in the first quarter to help spark that. Still, you just knew it wasn’t going to last. In the second half the Pacers brought out the grinding defense, which held the Jazz to 38.2 percent shooting over the final 24 (while the Pacers shot 52 percent) and the game ended pretty much as you expected. Derrick Favors did have 22 for Utah to lead all scorers.

Spurs, Timberwolves, game postponed: It looked like someone flipped on the arena lights during a Snoop Dogg concert — the arena in Mexico City where the game was supposed to take place had a generator fire near an elevator and it filled the arena with smoke. The arena had to be evacuated. No way the game could be played, the game was called off and will be replayed in Minnesota later this season. Feel bad for the fans in Mexico City, but no way the game could go on.

Trail Blazers 111, Thunder 104: How about those Trail Blazers? First Indiana and now Oklahoma City fall this week — and in both cases it’s a come-from-behind win for the Blazers. LaMarcus Aldridge was the best player on the court and finished with 38 points on 17-of-28 shooting, plus he pulled down 13 rebounds. His play forced Scott Brooks to put Kendrick Perkins back in the game (it was the right move, Aldridge was abusing Serge Ibaka and Perkins at least got some stops, but he’s an offensive black hole) and once again the isolation ball of the Thunder down the stretch could not get it done. Kevin Durant had 33 and 8 points in the fourth. Portland is a jump shooting team but when those shots are falling they can hang with anyone.

Kawhi Leonard injury an all-time "what if?"

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Eight days ago, we didn’t know whether Kawhi Leonard – who injured his ankle when Zaza Pachulia slid under his jumper – would play again this postseason.

But as a frustrated Gregg Popovich ranted about Pachulia’s dirtiness, I suspect the Spurs coach knew. I think Popovich knew, after years of anticipating a playoff matchup with the high-octane Warriors, Leonard’s injury had robbed San Antonio of a competitive conference finals – and maybe a championship.

The Spurs led Game 1 by 23 when Leonard got hurt. He never returned, and San Antonio blew its opening-game lead then lost Games 2-4 by 36, 12 and 14. None of the final three games were competitive down the stretch.

In all, the Spurs outscored Golden State by 21 in Leonard’s 23 minutes and got outscored by 85 otherwise.

The Warriors advance to their third straight NBA Finals. San Antonio is left wondering, what if?

Popovich’s Spurs have beaten nearly every highly touted team to come along during his reign as coach – the Chris Webber/Vlade Divac/Mike Bibby/Peja Stojakovic Kings, Shaquille O’Neal/Kobe Bryant Lakers, Goin’ To Work Pistons, Steve Nash/Mike D’Antoni Suns, LeBron James Cavaliers, Dirk Nowitzki Mavericks, Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook Thunder, LeBron/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh Heat.

But these Warriors escaped San Antonio. The Spurs beat Golden State in the 2013 second round, but that wasn’t the same team. Those Warriors hadn’t started Draymond Green, signed Andre Iguodala or hired Steve Kerr – three people integral to Golden State’s identity. And of course, the Warriors hadn’t signed Kevin Durant, who turned this year’s squad into possible the greatest super team of all time.

At the same time, San Antonio was loading up. The Spurs were the second-best regular-season team over the last three years behind Golden State, but the teams didn’t meet in the playoffs.

Despite having the NBA’s third-best net rating, San Antonio had to face the Clippers (NBA’s second-best net rating) in the 2015 first round thanks to conference imbalance and a since-changed seeding system for division winners. The Clippers won a hard-fought seven-game series.

In 2016, the Spurs had an even higher net rating than Golden State, which went 73-9. But they ran into the Thunder, whose athleticism buzz-sawed them and nearly toppled the Warriors.

This year was San Antonio’s chance.

The Spurs showed an ability to adjust to spread attacks while topping the Rockets in the second round. In its next-level challenge, San Antonio – behind Leonard’s 26 points on 13 shots, eight rebounds and three assists – dominated early.

But as soon as Leonard went down, the entire series turned.

The Spurs outscored Golden State by 42 points per 48 minutes with Leonard and got outscored by 24 points per 48 minutes without him – one of the greatest disparities in a playoff series this era.

Here are all the series where a team performed at least 60 points better per 48 minutes with a certain player on the court rather than off since 2001, which is as far back as Basketball-Reference records go (requiring more than 10 minutes played, as to eliminate extreme garbage-time examples):

  • Left: Point difference per 48 minutes with player off
  • Right: Left: Point difference per 48 minutes with player on
  • Center: Difference

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Raw totals:

Player On Off
Chauncey Billups (2002 MIN 0, DAL 3) 0 in 134 min. -32 in 10 min.
Draymond Green (2015 GSW 4, NOP 0) +77 in 166 min. -45 in 31 min.
Gilbert Arenas (2005 WAS 4, CHI 2) +31 in 276 min. -20 in 12 min.
Pascal Siakam (2017 TOR 0, CLE 4) +14 in 10 min. -75 in 182 min.
Kobe Bryant (2001 LAL 3, POR 0) +66 in 119 min. -22 in 26 min.
Kevin Garnett (2004 MIN 4, DEN 1) +58 in 206 min. -38 in 34 min.
Luke Jackson (2007 TOR 2, BRK 4) +14 in 11 min. -46 in 277 min.
LeBron James (2007 CLE 4, WAS 0) +47 in 182 min. -12 in 11 min.
Allen Iverson (2001 PHI 1, LAL 4) -25 in 239 min. -9 in 6 min.
Kawhi Leonard (2017 SAS 0, GSW 4) +21 in 24 min. -85 in 168 min.
Shawn Marion (2003 PHO 2, SAS 4) -17 in 283 min. -15 in 10 min.
Tariq Abdul-Wahad (2003 DAL 2, SAS 4) +19 in 16 min. -49 in 272 min.
Russell Westbrook (2017 OKC 1, HOU 4) +15 in 195 min. -58 in 46 min.
Shaquille O’Neal (2001 LAL 3, POR 0) +55 in 131 min. -11 in 13 min.
Chris Webber (2001 SAC 3, PHO 1) +59 in 169 min. -21 in 23 min.
Tim Duncan (2001 SAS 4, DAL 1) +89 in 202 min. -31 in 38 min.
Kirk Hinrich (2016 ATL 0, CLE 4) +11 in 12 min. -61 in 180 min.
Thomas Gardner (2009 ATL 0, CLE 4) +12 in 16 min. -84 in 177 min.

This list is essentially divided into three groups:

  • Bench-warmers who played a few good minutes while their team got torched throughout the series. Pascal Siakam, Luke Jackson, Tariq Abdul-Wahad, Kirk Hinrich and Thomas Gardner fit this category.
  • Stars who dominated while on the court and saw their teams torched when they sat. For example, in the massive leader in this stat, the Timberwolves played the Mavericks even in the 2002 first round with Chauncey Billups on the court. But Minnesota got outscored by 32 in the 10 minutes Billups sat the entire series and got swept. (Billups was starting for an injured Terrell Brandon, so Robert Pack got pressed into duty behind Billups.)
  • Kawhi Leonard. Every other star played a high majority of his teams’ minutes, essentially as much as he could handle. Then, his team just hoped to hang on in the star’s brief breathers. Leonard was stuck on the bench nearly the entire series, watching the the Spurs look helpless after he led them to a commanding advantage.

To be fair, San Antonio wouldn’t have necessarily won with Leonard.

Golden State was better than the Spurs throughout the season, and the lopsided start was a small sample. Simple regression to the mean could have tilted the series.

Also, the Warriors are at their best with Draymond Green at center, and they used that lineup just 11 seconds before Leonard’s injury. In 59 minutes with Green at center in the series, Golden State posted offensive/defensive/net ratings of 123.9/90.3/+33.5. If they needed to lean on those lineups more to beat a Leonard-led Spurs, they could have.

Yet, I can’t stop wondering what would have happened if Leonard stayed healthy.

The question towers over the last great playoff-injury fascination – whether the Cavaliers would have won the 2015 Finals if Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were healthy.

I contend no. The Warriors were better than Cleveland overall each of the last two years, and they were a stylistic problem for the Cavs – especially Love and especially in 2015. The Cavaliers winning in 2016 adds doubt, but Stephen Curry was hobbled and Draymond Green got suspended for a game. A hungrier and more available 2015 Golden State team was more primed to win than the 2016 edition that lost to Cleveland.

Perhaps, a 2017 Finals rubber match will inform my opinion how Love’s and Irving’s injuries affected the 2015 NBA championship. For now, I’m sticking with the Warriors winning anyway.

But with Leonard’s injury in this year’s conference finals, I just don’t have a feel for whether the Spurs would have prevailed.

And that’s the most frustrating part.

Kevin Durant apologizes for telling fans ‘If you don’t like it, don’t watch it,’ reiterates stance

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Kevin Durant told fans, dismayed by the lack of competitive games and series this postseason, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”

Daring customers to choose another form of entertainment might not be good business for the NBA, but it’s not as if many fans needed an invitation. I doubt anyone was on the fence about watching then made up their minds after hearing Durant’s comments.

Yet, the Warriors star offered an apology.

Durant, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“I mean, life can be simple, man, Durant told ESPN. “If you don’t like the way the game is going, just turn it off. If you’re enjoying it, just keep it on. Life is simple. I didn’t mean it to disrespect anybody, but if you felt disrespected, I’m sorry. But if you don’t enjoy the game, turn it off [and] turn something else on. If you do, enjoy the rest of it, man.”

This is just a softer touch on the same sentiment – and just as reasonable.

People who love the NBA will watch. People who hate the NBA won’t. And people in the middle will fluctuate depending on the quality of the product.

Anyone mad at Durant the first time was just looking for a reason to get upset. That group will probably find a source of irritation in the follow-up quote, too.

The rest of us didn’t need this (half-hearted) apology, anyway.

Marreese Speights opts out of Clippers contract

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The Clippers are unraveling.

Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.

Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:

The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.

The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.

The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.

Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.

Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.

Warriors struggle to get Zaza Pachulia’s 2017 NBA Finals hat on his big head (video)

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Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.

But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.