King Kaufman's Sports Daily

There must be a way to stop NBA teams who have clinched their playoff spot from tanking or "resting their starters" in games that still have meaning.


Salon Staff
April 18, 2007 8:00PM (UTC)

The Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers both won Tuesday, extending their thrilling race for the eighth playoff spot in the NBA Western Conference to one last day. The Warriors even guaranteed themselves a winning record by winning their 41st game.

The Warriors beat the best team in the West, the Dallas Mavericks, while the Clippers beat the next best, the Phoenix Suns.

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Here's the starting lineup the Mavericks sent out in Oakland: Greg Buckner, Devean George, DeSagana Diop, Don Rickles and Jose Juan Berea. Here are some of the DNP-coach's decisions: Jerry Stackhouse, Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard.

Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs got tossed out of a game the other night for laughing on the bench -- the ref who booted him, Joe Crawford, has been suspended indefinitely by the league -- but there was no sanction for the Mavericks starters doing sudoku puzzles, eating bonbons and phoning their brokers from the bench Tuesday.

Just kidding about Don Rickles. That fourth name up there should be Melissa Rivers. Oh, OK: Maurice Ager.

The Suns were playing at home, so either to please the customers or to stay sharp for the playoffs or because he just forgot and turned in a photocopied lineup sheet, coach Mike D'Antoni ran the starters out there, and then he mostly kept them in the game, which the Clips won by four points.

"I went into the game thinking it felt like a preseason game," a clearly drunken D'Antoni said. "I'm sure some of the other guys felt it was like a preseason game. You can't help it."

OK, I made that up about him being drunk. Just trying to liven up the NBA "regular" season.

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But let me help you out here, Mike. You couldn't help feeling like it was a preseason game because it was a preseason game. The season starts Saturday.

Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy speculated that the Mavs resting their stars indicates Dallas wanted to help the Warriors win the eighth seed over his team. "It tells you they probably prefer to play Golden State than us," he said.

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It's possible the Mavericks would rather play Golden State than the Clippers because the Warriors are coached by the Mavs' old coach, Don Nelson, with whom there are some reported organizational hard feelings in Dallas. But Dunleavy's coachspeaky implication that the Mavs are running scared of the Clippers is somewhere in the neighborhood of ridiculous, right around the corner from patently absurd. It carpools to work with delusional.

The Mavericks know the Clippers have the exact same chance in the playoffs against them that the Warriors do, which is exactly the same as the chances that the last week of the NBA season will be exciting: None.

And here comes an e-mail from a Warriors fan reminding me that the Dubs went 3-0 against Dallas this year. Dear Warriors fan: Are you the betting type? Hello? Hmm. No reply.

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I wish I could think of a way for the NBA to end its ostensible regular season in a less ridiculous way. I wish the NBA would at least address it.

It's not the biggest deal in the world, teams in games with playoff implications not even pretending to care if they win. After all, in the last few weeks of the season, the only playoff implications involve the last few playoff teams, mediocre clubs that are just going to get blown out in the first round anyway. Second round at best. Hard to get too excited about whether the Warriors or the Clippers get to implicate themselves into being the Washington Generals for the Mavericks.

And this kind of thing happens in other sports too. Baseball teams that have clinched or are out of it might run a team of kids and scrubs out there against a club that's trying to make the postseason. The last two weeks of the NFL regular season usually feature several games that get taken off the board at the sports books because teams that have clinched playoff spots keep their regulars far away from the field, even when they're playing other teams still in contention.

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But there's a tradition in baseball of taking pride in being a spoiler, of knocking some team out of the playoffs, particularly a rival. And at least divisional rivals are usually on the schedule down the stretch. NFL teams have far more serious injury concerns than NBA teams do.

It seems only fair to let the Mavericks or any other team rest their starters if they want. Avoiding injury and an additional 40 minutes or so of wear and tear is a legitimate concern, if a fairly minor one.

Where things get a little ethically sticky is if the team that's "resting its starters" is actually tanking a game. Imagine if the Mavericks actually did care whether they played the Warriors or the Clippers.

It's not like that doesn't happen. Just about every year, some team is jockeying to drop down a seed so it can open the playoffs against a club that's seeded higher than stronger teams because it has won a weak division.

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If I'd taken an economics class or two instead of those 37 lit electives in my eight-year college career I might be able to come up with a system that, as people who have taken econ courses say, incentivizes teams to keep trying to win even when their playoff spot is assured. There must be one, better than the league saying, "Hey, try to win." Because teams say, "We are. We're just resting a few guys."

Specifically, all the guys who are good at playing basketball.

I bet Mavs owner Mark Cuban could come up with one, though I don't know whether he agrees there's a problem.

Two decades ago the NBA introduced the draft lottery to stop losing teams from tanking the back end of their schedule to improve their draft position. It has more or less worked. The worse a team's record, the better its odds of getting one of the first three picks, but the odds don't increase enough to warrant an intentional losing streak.

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It's time to do something similar for playoff teams. The sheer number of teams that make the playoffs turns March and April into a pointless joke already. Anything the league can do to add a little meaning before Tax Day would be a vast improvement.

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Obama: Odd term-limit endorsement? [PERMALINK]

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Sen. Barack Obama said he was excited about Chicago winning the chance to bid for the 2016 Olympics on behalf of the United States, noting that the proposed Olympics stadium would be right in his neighborhood.

"I'm going to be able to just walk a couple blocks to see it," said Obama, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. "I know it's not till 2016. But I should be back from Washington by then."

So is Obama planning to lose the presidential election and not run for reelection to the Senate in 2010? Win the presidential election in 2008 and lose or not run again in 2012? Or just lose in '08, which would certainly save a lot of time?

Or is he just bad at math?

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Or presidential protocol maybe. Someone should tell him that if he were president in 2016, he could probably get out of Washington for a few days to go to the Olympics.

Previous column: Another one of those bad days

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