San Antonio Spurs would be the most-balanced NBA champion of all time

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When the Detroit Pistons won the 2004 NBA title, they were hailed as the first superstar-less champions since the 1979 Seattle SuperSonics. It was a decent attempt honor the Pistons, an ode to their teamwork and balance.

But now that we’re on the verge of the most-balance NBA champion of all time, there’s hardly a peep.

Yes, the 2014 San Antonio Spurs have no superstars. (I’d argue the 2004 Pistons had one.) San Antonio has overcome its lack of elite singular production through depth and Gregg Popovich’s masterful coaching. The Spurs’ ball movement and spacing are second to none, and their defense is among the NBA’s most-versatile. On both sides of the ball, their success is a tribute to their balance.

San Antonio being only team in NBA history without a player who averaged 30 minutes per game was a telling stat entering the playoffs. Now that the Spurs, up 3-1 on the Miami Heat entering Game 5 of the NBA Finals tonight, are on the verge of an NBA title, their place in history due their balance deserves closer inspection.

Most NBA champions – by nearly a 3-to-1 margin – have an All-NBA first teamer. The Spurs did not, though Tony Parker made the All-NBA second team.

Parker is the closest player the Spurs have to a superstar.

Tim Duncan, with his continued late-career brilliance, has solidified his place as the best power forward of all-time. But he’s no longer one of the NBA’s top players based on current ability. He didn’t even make the All-Star game this year, and he’s missed all the All-NBA teams three of the last four years, including this one.

Manu Ginobili had the lowest peak level of the famed trio, and that occurred years ago. Like Duncan, he’s still a very valuable piece. But superstar, even by the most liberal of definitions? No way.

Kawhi Leonard could get there some day – again by the term’s widest scope – and his recent scoring binge suggests he’s closer than most think. But he’s not there yet. Though he led San Antonio in win shares, his total (7.7) would be the lowest to ever lead an NBA champion – and that includes lockout-shortened seasons and other years with few than 82 games, when there were fewer wins to divvy up.

No, the only contender is Parker, who, in addition to representing the Spurs on the All-NBA teams, was their only All-Star this season. But that’s just the bare minimum. Every NBA champion in a season with an All-Star Game had a player in it.

To better judge balance, I created a stat called Balance Rating.

Balance Rating is the standard deviation of the win shares of the top 10 players plus standard deviation of the win shares of the top nine players plus standard deviation of the win shares of the top eight players… all the way to top two. As opposed to just using standard deviation, this method emphasizes the place of teams’ top players.

The LOWER the Balance Rating, the more balanced a team is.

Here are the Balance Ratings for every NBA champion plus the 2014 Spurs:

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Year Team Balance Rating
2014 SAS 8.8
1989 DET 12.8
1978 WSB 16
1990 DET 16.6
1979 SEA 17
1974 BOS 17.2
1968 BOS 18.1
1977 POR 19.5
1948 BLB 19.9
1999 SAS 21
1951 ROC 21.4
2005 SAS 21.6
2010 LAL 21.6
1988 LAL 22.1
1969 BOS 22.3
1957 BOS 22.4
2004 DET 22.8
1976 BOS 23.1
1981 BOS 24
1966 BOS 24.3
2011 DAL 24.5
1995 HOU 24.5
2008 BOS 25
1973 NYK 26.8
2007 SAS 27.4
1961 BOS 28
1985 LAL 28.2
1958 STL 29.1
1963 BOS 29.2
1959 BOS 29.4
1955 SYR 29.8
1982 LAL 30.4
1975 GSW 30.4
1954 MNL 30.7
1984 BOS 31
1960 BOS 31.4
2002 LAL 31.9
2009 LAL 32.7
1983 PHI 35
1962 BOS 35
1994 HOU 35.5
1972 LAL 35.6
1986 BOS 35.7
1980 LAL 36.2
2006 MIA 36.5
1987 LAL 37.1
1953 MNL 37.7
1970 NYK 38
2012 MIA 38.1
1998 CHI 38.9
1956 PHW 38.9
1952 MNL 40.5
2001 LAL 40.6
1964 BOS 42.6
1965 BOS 43.1
2003 SAS 43.5
1997 CHI 45.2
1993 CHI 45.3
1992 CHI 46.5
2000 LAL 48.3
1947 PHW 49.4
1996 CHI 50
2013 MIA 51.5
1991 CHI 55.1
1971 MIL 59.8
1967 PHI 62.6
1950 MNL 62.7
1949 MNL 66.3

The Bad Boys deserve more credit for their teamwork. Between their 1989 and 1990 championships, the Pistons had only one All-NBA team player – Joe Dumars, who made the 1990 third team. That means the 1989 Pistons were the only champion since the NBA added an all-league third team with no All-NBA players. (The 1978 Washington Bullets and 1979 Sonics did it, but there were just two All-NBA teams then.)

By the time he won those titles, Isiah Thomas had suppressed some of his individual skills to empower his teammates. That made the Pistons better, even if he was not quite as efficient in the regular season.

But Thomas elevated his game in the playoffs, which differentiates those Pistons from these Spurs.

The Spurs are who they are. They share the ball, defend on a string and take turns doing it. Stylistically and strategically, this is the same team that finished with the NBA’s best regular-season record. San Antonio no longer turns to Duncan, Parker or Ginobili to carry the team in pressure situations as the Pistons did with Thomas. The Spurs just keep playing their beautiful balanced game and watch where it takes them.

If it wins the championship, San Antonio will not be remember as a superstar-less champion, because Duncan, Parker and Ginobili were so excellent in their primes. Those peak years, which have already come and gone, would get conflated with this title.

But, in 2014, the Spurs are a team without a superstar.

They should get credit for it.

Nene’s 28 lead Rockets past Thunder for 3-1 series lead

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Nene scored 28 points on perfect shooting from the field, and the Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 113-109 on Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Nene made all 12 of his shots and had 10 rebounds. He helped the Rockets overcome an off night by James Harden, who finished with 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting.

Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each scored 18 points for the Rockets. Trevor Ariza had 14.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Houston.

Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook had a triple-double by halftime and finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. The Thunder said Westbrook joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to claim three consecutive playoff triple-doubles.

Steven Adams scored 18 points and Victor Oladipo added 15 for the Thunder.

Westbrook had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists at the break. He grabbed the 10th rebound in the final second of the second quarter, and the Thunder led 58-54 at intermission. Meanwhile, Harden made just 2 of 9 shots and scored just six points in the first half.

The Thunder opened the second half with a 10-2 run, but Houston closed to 77-73 at the end of the third quarter.

Adams made the first of two free throws with 21.7 seconds remaining to cut Oklahoma City’s deficit to four. He rebounded his missed second free throw and found Westbrook for a 3-pointer that cut Houston’s lead to one point. But the Thunder lost track of Nene on the other end, and he converted a three-point play. Gordon’s two free throws with 6.2 seconds made it a four-point game.

TIP-INS

Rockets: G Patrick Beverley was fined $25,000 by the NBA for confronting a fan after Game 3. The league announced the fine about two hours before Game 4 tipped off.

Thunder: Westbrook had just one turnover in the first half. … Adams went 6 for 6 from the field in the first half. … Westbrook missed all six of his shots in the third quarter.

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.

Thunder convert missed FT to 3-pointer, refs miss James Harden push as Rockets win Game 4

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As if the end of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers Game 4 wasn’t wild enough, the finish to the matchup between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder was just as odd.

The final quarter of Sunday’s game was laden with poor play and heavy fouling, including a ploy by Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni to put Thunder forward Andre Roberson at the line as part of a hacking strategy.

But the final minute was what really caught everyone’s eye, as the Thunder converted a purposely-missed free-throw attempt by Steven Adams into a Russell Westbrook 3-pointer with just 21 seconds left.

Via Twitter:

The Thunder then broke down on the inbounds play a few seconds later, allowing Nene — who had a great game, scoring 28 points off the bench on 12-of-12 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds — to score an and-1 at the other end of the floor.

Oklahoma City then scored again on a tip.

That’s when it got REAL weird.

Houston inbounded the ball to James Harden, who got away with a gigantic, and frankly hilarious push off on Alex Abrines. OKC nearly stole the ball, but instead were called for a foul.

Via Twitter:

This game was wild, weird, terrible, and both sides have something to gripe about when it came to fouls.

Houston beat OKC, 113-109, and take a 3-1 lead back to Texas.

Russell Westbrook clinches triple-double in first half vs. Rockets

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Thunder guard Russell Westbrook achieved a triple-double in the first half of Sunday’s playoff game against the Houston Rockets.

Westbrook had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists at halftime. He grabbed the 10th rebound in the final second of the second quarter. The Thunder led 58-54 at the break.

According to the Thunder, Westbrook became the second player to claim three consecutive triple-doubles in the playoffs. Wilt Chamberlain had three straight in 1967.

Westbrook entered the game averaging a triple-double in the series. He just set the record for triple-doubles in a regular season with 42.

Houston leads the series 2-1.

LeBron James helps Cavaliers hold off Pacers, earn sweep into 2nd round

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) LeBron James made a 3-pointer with 68 seconds left Sunday and the Cleveland Cavaliers hung on for a 106-102 series-clinching victory at Indiana.

James finished with 33 points and 10 rebounds as he became the first player under the current playoff format to win 21 straight first-round games. He also set a league record with his 10th career playoff sweep.

It sure wasn’t easy. After taking a 96-83 lead with 9:29 to go, the Cavs found themselves in a 102-100 deficit with 1:31 left.

But James answered with the go-ahead 3-pointer and Cleveland sealed the win on James’ free throw with 1 second left.

Lance Stephenson scored 22 points and Paul George added 15 but missed a 3-pointer that could have forced overtime in the closing seconds. It’s the first time the Pacers have lost a series 4-0 in their NBA history.

Kyrie Irving added 28 points for the Cavs, who await the winner of the Bucks-Raptors series.

Indiana got back into the game with a 7-0 spurt early in the in the fourth, then methodically continued chipping away at the lead until Thaddeus Young tied the score at 100 with a short jumper and broke the tie on a tip-in with 1:31 left.

But James, whose teams were 51-0 when starting the fourth quarter with double-digit leads in the postseason, made sure the perfect record remained intact.

Cleveland has won seven straight playoff games overall and 11 straight in the first round since James returned to his hometown team.

It was another milestone day for James, who moved past Michael Cooper, Magic Johnson and James Worthy on the league’s list of consecutive first-round wins, and past Tim Duncan for most career sweeps, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

James also went 13 off 25 from the field, tying Kobe Bryant for fourth on the career playoff list for field goals. Each have 2,014 baskets.

Indiana has lost five straight postseason games and six of its last eight.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Will make their 11th appearance in the conference semifinals. … Cleveland has swept all eight series in which it has taken a 3-0 lead. … Tristan Thompson grabbed 11 rebounds Sunday, giving him double digits in all four games. … Deron Williams scored 14 points and Kevin Love had 16 rebounds.

Pacers: George finished with a series-low point total Sunday and was 3 of 9 on 3s after entering the game with a league-high 15 3s in the playoffs. … Teague scored 15 points and was the catalyst in the final spurt, including blocking one of James’ shots. He can become a free agent this summer. …Myles Turner had 20 points and nine rebounds, while Young had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Cleveland gets some extra rest before finding out who it will play in the second round. Indiana embarks on a crucial offseason that could dictate the franchise’s future.

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball