The story of the week was the Spurs' decision to send several top players home instead of suiting them up against the Miami Heat on the road, in order to rest them ahead of a tough division game against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Spurs had swept the first five games of the trip, and decided that going all out to beat the defending champs on the road wasn't worth the fatigue for their aging stars. It worked out for them; though they wound up losing a surprisingly tough game in Miami, their guys were able to come through in a big overtime win on Saturday at home against the Grizzlies, with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker (two of the restees) each playing over 40 minutes and combining for 57 points.
David Stern issued a strongly worded statement decrying the Spurs decision ahead of the Heat game, but wound up slapping them on the wrist with a $250,000 fine. I can see both sides of this issue. I can't fault Popovich for making this decision in the best interests of his club; that's his job, the schedule was and is brutal, and 82 games is a slog. He's had success resting his guys at times before, this was particularly noticeable because is was several guys at once in a high profile game.
On the other hand, one of the jobs of a commissioner is to balance action by individual clubs that will always act in their own best interests with the good of the whole. It was unfortunate that it made sense for Pop to do this in a nationally televised game (for which TNT pays the NBA handsomely) between two of the premier teams in the league. As it turns out, Stern's bark was understandably worse then his bite, and the Spurs were fined the equivalent of one game check for a $20,000,000 player.
Another story this week is out of Boston, where Rajon Rondo lost his cool for no apparent reason after an entirely routine Kris Humphries foul on Kevin Garnett. Rondo started a dust-up and wound up getting suspended for two games, which the Celtics split, beating the Blazers at home before losing to Milwaukee on the road. Rondo is a bit of a hothead, and seems to lose perspective a little too often, but has taken over as the Celtics best player.
The Celtics are the Wolves' next opponent, and have been up and down to start the year. They looked pretty done at points last year, before getting it together late and making an impressive playoff run, including pushing the Heat to a 7th game in the Eastern Conference Finals. Still, this might be it for them. They have been average in most phases this year, and it's hard to see them as a real contender at this point (though similar things could be said of every team in the East outside of South Florida). They are a decent shooting team, but can't get an offensive rebound to save their lives; they do a good job on the defensive glass and force a good number of turnovers, but permit opponents to shoot well and get to the line a lot. All in all it's added up to average so far. While they have gotten pretty good play out of their cadre of oldsters: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry, two of their off-season investments have not paid off yet: Courtney Lee and Jeff Green have really struggled.
The Hot Team of the Week is the Golden State Warriors. Many people liked them before the season to make a real step forward and compete for a playoff spot. I was not among them; I couldn't see it. But they are off to a 10-6 start and won three straight at home this week. They've maybe been a little lucky, as they have given up as many points as they have scored and should probably be 8-8, but wins are wins. Despite missing the perpetually injured Andrew Bogut, the Warriors are the best defensive rebounding team in the league behind David Lee and the surprisingly useful Harrison Barnes among others who are protecting the glass. Carl Landry has been playing better then he ever has (which probably won't sustain), and they are getting good play from Steph Curry, who has managed to play in every game so far, and rookies Barnes and the elegantly named Festus Ezeli.
The Disappointing Team of the Week is the Sacramento Kings. Three straight losses and a 4-12 record overall...maybe that's what we expected, but the Kings replaced the Wolves last season as the most depressing team in the league (or at least the Western Conference), and don't look to be giving up the title anytime soon. There is very little to like about this collection of players; it's a messy roster that plays unattractive basketball. It lacks professionalism. It's bad on both ends. DeMarcus Cousins rebounds the hell out of the ball...and has a 30% usage rate while posting a .419 efg%. Yikes. Their lottery pick, Thomas Robinson, who many thought was the most ready of rookies, is not off to a strong start. Four years in, and Tyreke Evans' role still isn't clear. I'm not sure I know where I would even begin to try to fix this.
Time for Bullet Points?
- The Nets won the first New York Derby at home in overtime. They are a strong 11-5 to start, buoyed by strong contributions from a deep roster of players. I'm not entirely sold on them, but they won five straight until falling in Miami on Saturday. I really have high hopes for the Manhattan-Brooklyn rivalry going forward.
- Hey, the Wizards got their first win! An appropriately ungainly 84-82 affair against the struggling Blazers, but in the win column. Yay.
- The Lakers still haven't been able to get any real momentum going. 8-8 as of this writing, 3-3 under Mike D'Antoni. Rumors have been floating that they are looking to trade Pau Gasol, but then there are usually rumors that they are looking to trade Pau Gasol. It is pretty clear that he isn't being used to best effect; both player and coach have said as much. He's gonna be tough to move at his number.
- Anderson Verejao is continuing his Lovian attack on the boards, leading the league in RPG and 2nd in total rebound %. He's also cut his turnovers down and has the highest assist rate of his career by far. It all adds up to a monster, all-star start; unfortunately he's about the only good thing happening in Cleveland right now.