King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Warriors oust Mavericks: Upset for the ages or belly-flop for the ages? Yes. Plus: Kentucky Derby.

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It’s being called the greatest upset in the history of the NBA playoffs, and maybe it is, though I don’t know who saw the Minneapolis Lakers over the St. Louis Hawks coming in ’59.

Wherever it ranks, it was magnificent, the Golden State Warriors becoming only the third 8-seed in the 24-year history of NBA 8-seeds to beat a No. 1 by running the Dallas Mavericks out of the gym, down the street and into the bay. Game 6 Thursday night was a 111-86 massacre that was about twice as lopsided as that 25-point margin would indicate. Baron Davis, on a bad leg, was fantastic. Stephen Jackson was something better than that.

But have you ever seen a championship contender spit the bit the way the Mavericks did Thursday? The only things you can compare it to are Buster Douglas against Evander Holyfield and the United States against Grand Fenwick.

It would be boring and obvious to hammer on Dirk Nowitzki any more than he has already been hammered on in this space, especially given the beating he’s going to be taking for the next few months after his latest pathetic playoff showing. Suffice it to say this column stands by its long-held belief that no team will ever win a championship with Dirk Nowitzki as its focal point.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was asked after the game if his faith in Nowitzki as a leader had been shaken: “Not even a little bit,” he said. “Anyone who says otherwise is a moron. And you can quote me on that.”

And you can quote me on this: I’m a moron. If not believing in Dirk Nowitzki as a leader is moronic, then I’m the president of the moron club. Make me a moron flag and I’ll wave it. I’ve got Thursday night as evidence. And you have?

I’m going to reproduce my notes from the beginning of Thursday night’s game. These are unedited:

mavs come out shooting jumpers. Not falling. hello. The basket. Go there. W’s hitting jumpers, incl. 3′s, also going to the basket. Nowitzki misses at 12-3. Go. To. The. Basket. Forget it. Game over. Warriors win. 8:17 first quarter.”



I’m not bragging that I knew the Mavs had no chance after 3:43 of basketball had been played. I’m a moron, remember? It was obvious. After five games, three of them losses, Nowitzki and Mavericks coach Avery Johnson had learned nothing.

Sure, the Mavericks got back in the game for a while, but it was fool’s gold. Any NBA team that hoists up enough jumpers is going to have stretches when they’re going in, but it’s a recipe for — well, it’s a recipe for losing by 25 and looking like you lost by 50. You beat an NBA zone defense by attacking it, not shooting over it.

It’s easier to say go to the basket than to actually do it, especially considering the Warriors sent waves of defenders at Nowitzki, all of whom were quicker and most of whom were stronger than he is. But you can’t get to the basket if you don’t try.

Nowitzki, as is his wont in big games, contented himself with spotting up and launching fall-away jumpers, almost none of which went in. There were long stretches when Nowitzki was literally difficult to find on the floor. He was that invisible.

The Mavericks as a team, and Nowitzki in particular, were nothing short of pathetic.

Johnson was thoroughly outcoached by his mentor, Don Nelson. He would have been outcoached by a potted plant. He had not a single answer, not one adjustment, for what the Warriors did to his team starting in Game 1. The only reason his Mavs even got to Game 6 is that Nowitzki had a rare superstar moment at the end of Game 5 and the Warriors responded by choking the end of the game away.

Now, you can believe that Nelson, who has made a career out of overachieving in the regular season and getting bounced early in the playoffs with oddball lineups and aggressive play, has suddenly become a spring genius using the same formula. Or you can believe the Mavericks pulled a flop for the ages.

Call me a moron, but I’ll take the Houston Rockets-Utah Jazz winner over the Warriors in the next round, though I’ll be rooting for the Warriors, who are way more fun than either. I’ll stand by my original pick of the Rockets in seven for the opening-round series.

I’ll also stay with my prediction of the Toronto Raptors over the New Jersey Nets in seven in the other still-active first-rounder. Of course, that’s looking pretty shaky, with the Nets up 3-2 and playing at home Friday. Game 7 would be Sunday in Toronto.

My other second-round picks: San Antonio over Phoenix, Detroit over Chicago and Cleveland over the Toronto-New Jersey winner. I’m clinging to my preseason pick of San Antonio over Cleveland in the NBA Finals.

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Yumfecta: When winning the Derby isn’t enough [PERMALINK]

Curlin and Street Sense are the favorites in a 20-horse field that’s considered lackluster in Saturday’s 133rd running of the Kentucky Derby.

My money’s on Curlin. I have to go with the horse named after the world’s greatest sport. Curlin was installed as the 7-2 morning-line favorite after drawing the difficult post position No. 2. Street Sense, who may go off as the favorite, started at 4-1.

I don’t care about that inside position, which could result in Curlin getting cut off in the rough-and-tumble early going of a huge field. Or that the colt has run only three races in his life and didn’t even compete as a 2-year-old. A horse hasn’t won the Derby following that gambit since Apollo in ’82.

That would be 1882.

Curlin is big and strong and quick, so he should be able to stay out of trouble. And he has won all three of those races. Besides, any horse that can run with two guys sweeping in front of him is pretty damn impressive, if you ask me.

Queen Elizabeth II will be on hand Saturday, though frankly the old girl isn’t nearly as fast as she used to be and doesn’t figure to attract much wagering. But Anna Nicole Smith met her baby daddy at the Run for the Roses four years ago, so comb your hair, fellas. There could be magic brewing.

Also brewing is a decidedly minor controversy over something called the Yumfecta. The Derby’s presenting sponsor, Yum Exclamation Mark! Brands, which owns KFC — and which believes the Kentucky Derby should be renamed the KD — has offered a million bucks to the winning horse if it wins by more than six and a half lengths, the margin of victory for the late, great Barbaro last year.

The dough would be split evenly between the winning owner, trainer and jockey and the charitable Barbaro Memorial Fund. Before Barbaro, the last time a horse won the Derby by six and a half lengths was in 1946, and it’s ever happened only four times.

Shockingly, the controversy isn’t over the spectacularly annoying word Yumfecta, but over the idea that a $1 million bonus for winning by a certain margin might encourage a jockey to push an already winning horse unnecessarily hard, to the possible detriment of the horse’s health, which would be to the possible detriment of the sport’s health.

“Although I’m sure this was developed with good intentions, I can’t imagine this being good for the horses or good for the industry as a whole,” Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey told the Thoroughbred Times. “What this sport needs more than anything is a Triple Crown winner. In order to do that, you have to keep these horses sound.”

The problem for controversy buffs is that nobody, Bailey included, seems to think a jockey would actually think about the Yumfecta in the heat of a race. Several riders and trainers have been quoted saying they think the Yumfecta isn’t a great idea but that it won’t change the way the race is run.

There’s still time to launch a protest march on Louisville about that word Yumfecta, though. Who’s with me?

Previous column: Racial bias among NBA refs?

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