So, of course we're all fully aware that the Clippers have themselves to blame for being in their current predicament. As disappointing and lackluster a season as it has been, they were still in the playoffs as recently as Sunday, facing Kings' players only slightly more renowned than Juan Jose Barea, and they fell on their faces. So they get what they deserve, right?
But still, this is pretty fascinating, at least to me.
Are we truly to believe that Avery Johnson devised this whole 'rest-em-play-em' strategy in a vacuum, with regard only to what was best for his players, ignoring the standings and other considerations?
The Mavericks clinched the top seed in the West a over a week ago, on April 9, in a game against... the Clippers. Oh cruel fate. Since that time, Nowitzki's playing time has looked like this:
4/11 - DNP @MIN
4/13 - 30 vs. UTH
4/15 - 37 vs. SAS
4/17 - DNP @GSW
And all indications are that Avery will use tonight's game against Seattle as a playoff tuneup, playing his normal rotation.
Now, is it just a coincidence that one of those DNP's came against the Warriors? Sitting him against the equally tanking and long eliminated Wolves is one thing. But against the Warriors, you're affecting the league.
And for all the talk of the Maverick's 'B' team, let's be clear - it wasn't even that. The starting lineup against the Wolves was Howard, Croshere, Diop, George and Terry. Against the Warriors it was Buckner, Ager, Diop, George and Barea. Ager and Barea received their first (and likely only) career NBA starts. Barea wasn't in uniform the last time the Mavs really played and he won't be during the playoffs. This was the 'Z' team.
The game was of course meaningless to the Mavericks, and as Elton Brand said, they've earned the right to do what they want at this point based on their stellar play all season. And teams do this all the time, right? Rest and injury-avoidance are legitimate concerns, and surely lots of teams sit their stars in a game that is meaningless to them, ignoring the implications for their opponent and the league?
Well, no, actually. In a quick shuffle through the final week of the last five seasons, this is the only game I could find where a team rested their best players in a game with playoff implications. So, no, it is not standard operating procedure.
The question remains, what was Johnson's thinking? I do not for a second believe that it was just a coincidence that he used that lineup against the Warriors. It's possible he's trying to avoid the Warriors by helping them into the 7th seed. If he was assuming that the Clippers would not beat the Suns, the most likely way for him to avoid the Warriors is to hope they'll win out and the Lakers will lose in Sacramento tonight. So maybe that's it. (And no, they're not afraid of the Clippers as MDsr and Tim Thomas have suggested.)
I think it's most likely that he was trying to send a message to Don Nelson and the Warriors that he's so unconcerned with them, that he is fine going 0-3 in the regular season, and he's even willing to help them get into that 8th spot. But it feels a little like whistling in the dark, doesn't it? If he were truly unconcerned, then he wouldn't have to send any messages.
And the real question becomes, is it smart? The Warriors are a very hot team right now. They have won 14 of their last 19 games. And it's no fluke. The winning started when Baron Davis got healthy, joining Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington for the first time this season. When those 4 guys play for the Warriors, the team is 14-4 (Davis sat out one of the March losses). The 4 losses have come at Utah, at San Antonio, at the Lakers and another one versus the Spurs. The wins have included at Detroit, at Houston, Phoenix, Utah, Dallas A and Dallas Z. We're not talking, 'Oh, look how cute, they made a run to get into the playoffs.' We're talking a winning percentage of 79% against good opposition for the unit the Mavs are now likely to face. There's no question that any team in the West would be wise to avoid this team. Maybe the Lakers and/or the Warriors lose tonight and the Mavs don't have to see them. But if they do square off, sitting those guys may well come back to haunt Avery.
So, in the course of expressing all of this, I've decided that I'm happy with the result. The Clippers will miss the playoffs and the Warriors will make it, and really, that's how it should be. For all of our talk about the injuries, the truth is the Clippers were among the healthier teams in the league until Feb. 26, and they were 26-29 at that point, so injuries are no excuse. The Warriors on the other hand really did have injury problems, and now they're healthy. They also made the bold trade while the Clippers sat still. The Warriors are on a roll, and I want to watch them in the playoffs. In a perfect world, both the Warriors and Clippers would be in while the Lakers sat at home, but that ship has sailed.
I can't WAIT for a Warriors-Mavs series at this point. It's about the best 1-8 matchup imaginable. Guess who I'll be rooting for?