King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Flipping the playoff switch: The Avalanche are the latest team trying to prove that the regular season doesn't mean much. Plus: When is a triple double something to be ashamed of?

Salon Staff
April 14, 2004 11:00PM (UTC)

I'm continuing to work on my theory that you really can coast through the regular season and then just turn on the juice at playoff time.

Any coach in any sport will tell you that you just can't do that. It's a corollary to the coaching theorem that "you play like you practice," with which Dr. Iverson of the Philadelphia 76er Institute famously dissents. You can't just flip a switch at playoff time and play better, any coach who isn't Phil Jackson will tell you. You have to play well during the regular year.


Coaches reach into the same phrase book for "You have to lift your game at playoff time," with the contradiction going unnoticed.

Trust me that I'm not making this up so I don't have to list a thousand quotes by coaches, which I could do. Or you could Google "switch," "playoffs" and "coach" and find your own.

But here's one: Former Los Angeles Kings coach and current ESPN analyst Barry Melrose told Sam Adams of the Rocky Mountain News last month, "I think there are about five teams in the West that could flip a switch and be better in the playoffs." Then he went through those teams one by one -- "Colorado can play better and will play better," he said -- and in the same breath contradicted himself: "But I don't believe in flipping switches. You can't just say all of a sudden that it's April 7 and we're going to play better."


So the Avalanche can play better and will play better, but you can't just all of a sudden play better. Got it, coach.

The Avalanche are in my lab, hooked up to the same switch the UConn men's and women's basketball teams just used to win the NCAA Tournament after disappointing regular seasons, by their standards.

The Avs mucked their way through the last two months -- eight wins in their last 25 games -- and then came out flying in Game 1 against the Dallas Stars last week. The Avs had the jump from the opening face-off and led 2-0 after 10 minutes. Watching them race through the neutral zone time after time, why, it was just like ... let's see, how can I describe it? Oh, I know: It was like someone had flipped a switch!


The Avs dominated the first two games at home, winning 3-1 and 5-2 with the Stars never really threatening. They also outplayed the Stars for most of Game 3 Monday in Dallas before giving up a tying goal late and then losing in overtime. Maybe the Avalanche will tank and lose this series in six -- to a team that lost its last four regular-season games to blow home-ice advantage in this very series, then lost two playoff games. Is there a switch in Dallas?

The Mavericks hope so. For all their offensive talent, they just clinched fifth place in the NBA Western Conference and will open the playoffs on the road. I suspect the Mavs think they're better than that, though I don't think they are. The St. Louis Blues think they're better than their 7 seed in the NHL West, though I disagree there too. But the Blues finished the season strong. Does it count if you flip the switch late in the regular season?


The Lakers hope so. They were supposed to waltz to the championship after they signed Karl Malone and Gary Payton -- remember? -- but they'll start the playoffs as only the fourth seed. They began playing well two months ago, going 22-4 before stumbling in their last few games. Was that the sound of a switch flipping before they went out and beat the Blazers on a Tuesday night in February?

We may need grant money here.

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Triple double trouble [PERMALINK]

Good for the NBA to deny Bob Sura of the Hawks, whom you may recall as the NBA team from Atlanta, his third straight triple-double, which he'd tried to achieve by intentionally missing a layup in the waning seconds of a lopsided win over the coasting Nets Monday night. He grabbed what was initially called his 10th rebound to complete the feat -- double figures in scoring, rebounds and assists -- and looked embarrassed afterward, as he should have.


On Tuesday the league disallowed that rebound because the rules define a field goal attempt as an unsuccessful try to make a shot. Since Sura clearly hadn't tried to make a shot, no field goal attempt and thus no rebound.

There were no hard feelings Monday night from the Nets, who are set for the playoffs and just playing out the string, but such shenanigans usually do lead to ugly on-court incidents. Then-Cavalier Ricky Davis, to cite one example, shot at his own basket to get a rebound last year against the Jazz as he tried for a triple-double. The Jazz looked like they wanted to kill him over it.

Sura, getting a lot of minutes in Atlanta, has turned in the best third of a season of his well-traveled, mostly off-the-bench career since a trade brought him over from the Pistons. A career eight points, three rebounds man, he's averaging better than 14 and eight with the Hawks, plus 5.5 assists. His last three games have been stellar efforts. All he's done is shoot 50 percent to average 16 points, 10 rebounds (even without that phony one) and 11 assists in three wins. And all anybody's going to remember is that highlight of him bonking a layup on purpose and then grinning like he'd just mooned someone.

Forgive the dudgeon because it's kind of a minor, silly, once-in-a-while issue, but the NBA is years overdue in dealing with incidents like this one. And it shouldn't have to rely on technicalities. There should be a human element to the process of keeping score. In baseball, the official scorer might deny a victory to a pitcher who would ordinarily qualify for the win if he pitched really badly. The next pitcher gets the credit. If you steal second and the defense doesn't try to get you out it's not a steal, it's a fielder's choice.


It's cheap and ugly to see players padding their stats at the expense of the game, even in garbage time. How do they even know they have nine rebounds, or whatever they have? Shouldn't they be paying attention to the game, not their own box-score line?

The NBA did the right thing in looking at Sura's nonsense and saying, "You don't get credit for that one." Now maybe players will stop embarrassing themselves.

In this one way, I mean.

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