QUESTION 1: That’s 12 wins in a row for the New York Knicks. They just went to OKC and snatched a road-game against one of the league’s elite squads in one of the most hostile road environments in professional sports. What’s your takeaway?
SANDY DOVER: The Knicks have great veterans. All of them are battle-tested and have seen greater days in the past and much tougher crowds in more high-pressure arenas with higher stakes. The Knicks, as currently constructed, are built to win anywhere on the planet. They may not be Finals-ready this year, but they have the guile to win anywhere.
NUBYJAS WILBORN: The Knicks are a very good team when healthy. Carmelo is an elite scorer who draws double teams and is now passing to open shooters who knock down shots. Like I said earlier this week, I don’t think they can beat Miami in a series, but 'Melo can get you a game or two.
VINNIE GOODWILL: I wouldn’t say OKC is hostile; I’d say they’re energetic, but this isn’t the Madhouse on Madison (88-94) or the Boston Garden (whenever to forever). I’d honestly say this says more about the Thunder not being able to have a genuine set offense in 4th quarters than the Knicks’ so-called greatness. The Knicks aren’t beating Miami. OKC would at least like to think so, which is why we’ll be seeing a June rematch.
MAURICE BOBB: Let’s face it, The Garden is the Mecca of basketball, so when the Knicks are winning, everything is aaaaaaaa-yo a’ight in the world. Like I said earlier in the season, 'Melo is built for this and the Knicks have one helluva coach. But what’s really changed is JR Smith. Smitty is ballin’ and stuntin’ on ‘em, and even though I love how Jamal Crawford’s doin’ work for the Clips, he’s won my Sixth Man of the Year vote. NY still can’t beat the Heat, but they’re getting out of the first round this year.
JAMES CARR: It’s April in the NBA. If you’re taking a 12-game streak seriously -- when half the NBA is trying to pick up percentage points in the lottery -- then you’re somebody I’d like to have in my elimination pool. All the above points are valid. The Knicks are a strong team, but until they beat Miami nobody’s going to believe they can do it.
QUESTION 2: Does anyone else find it incredibly backwards and unsettling that DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin have the audacity to question/challenge Chris Paul’s leadership? Earlier in the season, I wrote a piece ( “Chris Paul Makes The Clown-Clippers Contenders”) which posited that CP has the herculean task of making up for Jordan's and Blake’s collectively low hoops IQ. Shouldn’t they just shut up and get in line?
SANDY: They’re nuts, yes, but I think it’s a matter of wanting to assume some merited credit, in the case of Griffin. He works diligently and is the face of the Clippers, so I see what he’s saying, even though he’s misguided. As for Jordan, he can’t say anything until he can prove that he can make free throws (as of right now, 39 percent); he only plays 24 minutes a game, which is hurting his team because he can’t stay on the floor long enough to change games even more. Shutting up and letting CP3 ball-out is the wise thing to do.
WILBORN: Jordan needs to work on his pathetic free-throw shooting before he dares to say anything to anyone about anything. I’m starting to believe this team is only about fun and games. Besides, a team owned by a clown like Donald Sterling shouldn’t win a championship anyway.
VINNIE: The problem is two-fold for the Clippers. CP3 has to talk more because Vinny Del Negro is Vinny Del Negro, meaning, he has to be more vocal to make up for his coach’s shortcomings. Plus, leaders like CP3, Isiah, Pre-'93 MJ, etc., aren’t necessarily adored in their own locker rooms. Ruling with an iron fist, along with players who’ve NEVER been challenged to be excellent and play at a title level day-in and day-out, can lead to a leader being looked at as grating.
MAURICE: What’s that old saying? Before you can lead, you must learn how to follow. Jordan and Blake, outside of dunkathon missions, ain’t shown me sh*t. Chris Paul, on the other hand, is a baby-faced killa. They need to put a sweaty-ass sock in it, shut the front door and learn something. If this petty bickering continues, Lob City ain’t gonna be nothing but Flop City.
CARR: Call it the curse of the Millenials. We’re coming for all the bread and we want it now. Trouble is, a lot of young heads don’t realize how many people see the bottom before they see the top. That’s what provides the ammo to go extra-hard. Blake and DeAndre have been yuckin’ it up since they got in the NBA. They might not realize the joke is on them right now.
QUESTION 3: I’m sure you all saw the latest edition of the Pop-Sager saga.
Is this performance art from Pop or does he truly dislike/not respect Sager? And is there any chance that Sager might meet him in the tunnel one night?
SANDY: It’s definitely performance art by Popovich. The man is all about business, but his sense of humor is famously dry and ‘taut,’ if you will. Sager is so goofy, that Pop playing the straight man to Sager’s fool is great entertainment. Besides that, much of the ‘tween-quarters questioning is so arbitrary, it’s an irritant just for head coaches to come out of the huddle. Pop’s a funny guy.
WILBORN: Pop is way too good of a coach for these silly antics. Sandy is right about coaches hating the in-game interviews, but you have to be a professional. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have issue with Sager because he’s been rude to several other reporters. Bottom line: He needs to grow up.
VINNIE: No, I think he actually respects Sager and those exchanges are flat-out entertaining. He knows Sags has a job to do and I think he shines a light on how open-ended those questions can be. Anyone who’s ever dealt with Pop, from the beat writers to the cub writers, gets it from him. It’s a rite of passage. Consider yourself baptized.
MAURICE: For me, Coach Pop’s anti-interviews are pure entertainment. All these questions are kinda asinine anyway, so I don’t mind how he handles Sager and his ridiculous Easter suits. And let’s be real, nobody’s meeting anybody in the tunnel. They ain’t 'bout that life. Both of them are just doing their jobs, and as far as I know, both are pretty damn good at them.
CARR: I have nothing but respect for Pop. You show up in a clown suit, expect to get treated like a clown.
QUESTION 4: It’s obvious that Jeremy Lin can play ball. He will undoubtedly go on to have a solid career as a starting point guard. Given what seems to be his career-trajectory, he probably should have been a blue-chip recruit and a first-round draft pick. On 60 Minutes, he told Charlie Rose that race was a barrier in his college recruitment process. You buying what he’s selling?
SANDY: Certainly, ethnic bias is as American as apple pie and Ford trucks. One problem in the African-American community is that we don’t really internalize the fact that others also suffer from discrimination because we’re often focusing on ourselves; but others like Lin have gotten the short end of the stick, too. It’s really not a question of buying what he’s selling. It’s really more of a question of whether we care enough about others’ plights to have compassion for their privations, like Lin’s own path and barriers.
WILBORN: It’s really tough because scouting and recruiting aren’t an exact science. I watched Lin a little in college and wasn’t blown away by his talent. He has worked hard and become a really good pro, but I can see how he got passed over.
VINNIE: It definitely can happen, but it wasn’t just at the college level where he got cut. A couple teams sent him home in the league, and the Knicks were on the verge of doing it before he got his shot and ran with it. It’s no different than idiotic folks saying Cam Newton should’ve been a cornerback coming out of high school. Until barriers are broken, folks will be skeptical --and if we’re ever so lucky to get chances down the line, let’s make sure we learn something at each stop. That’s where Lin is the best teacher.
MAURICE: I’m buying, but I’m not paying full price. I think Lin’s as good as he is now because of his struggle. It’s probably what pushed him to get better, what drove him to prove his detractors wrong. Asians don’t get it as bad as blacks all around, but I can definitely believe he didn’t get serious looks because of his race. I didn’t grow up seeing a lot of Asians even playing ball, so I was as shocked as everyone else when Linsanity took hold. I’m glad to see him getting the props he deserves now, though. That’s what I love about sports. It’s the great equalizer.
CARR: Even when Lin did get his shot, it was only because the Knicks had so many injuries -- but I’m not about to call GMs and scouts overtly racist. Though I think Lin has probably leveled the field for Asians in basketball, or at least helped, he also had with other NBA teams. I highly doubt they saw double-double potential and went, "Ehh, he’s still Asian." In part, Lin took advantage of zero expectations -- from fans or defenses -- and got into a rhythm in the NBA to develop into his full potential.
QUESTION 5: Shouldn’t all basketball fans want the Lakers in the playoffs? What kind of rube would rather watch the Utah Jazz for four to seven postseason games?
SANDY: Unless you’re a Jazz fan, anyone rooting for the Jazz to win out over the Forum Blue and Gold is most likely a complete cretin for not wanting to see the Lakers in the Playoffs. The fact is that the Lakers are playing better basketball and the accompanying drama involved with the team will make for a better series. The Playoffs are all about higher levels of play and the drama of elimination -- no team has a greater measure of these factors than the Lakers.
WILBORN: Who wouldn’t want to see more Kobe? I can’t think of one reason why anybody would want to watch Utah, especially over the Lakers. Picking the Jazz over Lakers is like dating with lowered expectations.
VINNIE: I want to see the best eight teams to be playing 40 games in 40 nights. But I also want to see the most compelling stories, both as a writer and longtime fan of the game. Both teams will be sent home early, make no mistake about it, but the story of Kobe (aging superstar), Dwight (superstar in name) and D’Antoni (overmatched coach) brings the drama we crave for April, May and June.
MAURICE: As a Lakers fan, you already know my answer: Lake Show all the way, baby. The Jazz haven’t been any fun to watch since the Mailman stopped making deliveries. People say the Spurs are boring, but the Jazz are boring for real. They’re about as tasty as a mayonnaise sandwich. And hey, what would the playoffs be without a little Hollywood drama? Bring on the Lakers! Let’s go!
CARR: True story: I haven’t watched four to seven Jazz games all season. The Lakers have the talent to win it all. They aren’t close on the chemistry and will still be huge underdogs in the first round, but the fact that they have the talent makes an upset possible, and, therefore, the games more exciting. If they aren’t, Kobe will yell at Dwight Howard on national TV, so you’ll get your entertainment one way or another.