Sunday, March 30, 2008

Is There Such A Thing As Tanking To Actually Get A More Favorable Playoff Seed?

From the Corndogg...

For the majority of the Western Conference playoff teams, I would say the answer is yes to the question posed in the title. After careful examination of the West over the past few weeks, there seems to be one team in particular that every single other team in the West would want to play in the first round --- Houston. Now, I know Dream Shake is gonna have a million-jillion reasons why the Rockets are so deadly and why they will finally make it out of the first round this year. But as much as we love the Dream Shake, it ain't happenin'. Despite the brilliance of the win streak, the Rockets are incredibly vulnerable against every other contending team in the West, whereas every other team has only a select first round opponent to try and avoid.

If you are San Antonio or LA, you don't want New Orleans. If you are Phoenix or Denver or Utah, you don't want the Spurs. If you are Golden State, you don't want Phoenix or Utah. If you are Dallas, you don't want Golden State or Phoenix or San Antonio or the Lakers or NOLA, but might not mind Denver. If you are Houston, you really don't lick your chops at any of these guys. Sorry Rockets fans, but its true.

Sure, you have terrific role players, including getting a career year out of Rafer Alston. You've got bona-fide ROY campaigns from both Landry and Scola. You have great defense with Battier and Mutombo. You even managed to ditch Bonzi Wells to a Division rival (yes, you are a genius Daryl Morey). You have T-Mac.

But, if you did a poll of fans or bloggers around the country, I would dare you to find a single, unified fear of the Rockets from any one team's camp. No one fears a superstar that has never played after National Pig-In-A-Blanket Day. No one really fears a team that plays a character whose pseudonym is "Skip to my Lou." Teams are not afraid to make Battier or Scola or, God forbid, Mutombo try and beat them if they get a big 4th quarter lead (and yes, I know that Mutombo will not bear the offensive burden if the Rockets are down 15 in the 4th). Are teams really concerned about Bobby Jones getting red hot beyond the arc for 6 consecutive games? Can a different role player step up every night and become a complimentary "star" to T-Mac every night? I am sorry Houston fans, but of all the matchups in the West, you are the team that everyone wants. Period.

So, what does this mean for the rest of the regular season? First, since most of the awful teams in this league are forgetting to tank (seriously, Charlotte, WTF?), there is no real intrigue in the Mike Beasley sweepstakes. When Seattle or Memphis loses, we expect it and do not find it weird. Which is much different from last year, when guys from Boston started to drop like flies with injuries like "sore leg" or "giant man-gina." At the top, there will be two blowout series from the top two seeds, and then some interesting matchups, especially with the possibility of that awesome Wizz/Cavs series and the chance to watch Deshawn Stevenson take his punishment from LBJ like Ed Norton did from the Puerto Rican gang in American History X. But, in the West, I could seriously see some conspiracy theorists start talking about how the West was "positioned" to find someone falling into the comfortable, unassuming and "unable to win a first round series" lap of the Rockets. Why wouldn't Phoenix accidentally play Sean Marks and Eric Piatkowski for 30+ minutes against the Grizz in a few days in order to get the 6 to Houston's 3? What about San Antonio wanting a first round rest against Houston (much like their game today) and mysteriously resting Duncan and Parker and Ginobli on the final day of the regular season against Utah so that they actually fall from the 1 to the 2 and get Houston at the 7 in the first round? What if the Spurs do that for a week so they fall to the 4 and get Houston at the 5? (I mean, we have accused SA of much greater conspiracies in the past!). Why would Utah care if they see Houston falling to the 5 in the final week and they just sit on their Mountain Division lead, but not try too hard and just stay at the 4 seed to get 4 games against the Rockets at Energy Solutions Arena in the First Round?

Perhaps I am just being sour and not giving the Rockets enough credit. I am sure I am going to get my credit identity stolen by Grunge Dave sometime before Father's Day. Or, maybe I just need some added intrigue to help fill these few last incredible weeks of the regular season. But, at least as a fan, I feel totally comfortable seeing my team matched up against Houston in the first round. No one fears the Rockets. Which is weird, considering they DID have that 22 game win streak and lots of rappers and hip-hop stars who love their team (scary!). I'm not saying they can't win a series (or two), but the more they fade down the stretch, the more I wonder if the smarter teams in the West don't want to find a way to play them when the post season starts.

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