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Around the NBA on an interesting day

Was Andrea Bargnani's three pointer the dumbest shot in NBA history? Did Kobe come back to soon leading to another injury? Will the NBA fine Gregg Popovich for resting his stars?

Kevin C. Cox

I'm usually the sort who would prefer to dig into one subject and write a couple thousand words on it, rather than hit several topics at a high level. But a few too many things happened all at once here. I don't think I can give the full Steve treatment to all of them, but I can't resist touching on them.

Bargnani's gaffe

The game between the Knicks and the Bucks went into overtime last night, pushing it into the start of the Clippers-Pelicans game. So I was pre-occupied watching the Clippers at the end of the first overtime in Milwaukee when my twitter timeline exploded.

Has there ever been a dumber shot in the history of the NBA than the one Andrea Bargnani took? If you're unaware of what happened, the Knicks were up two with the ball in the final minute of the first overtime. They called time out with 33 seconds on the game clock and 19 seconds on the shot clock. Let that sink in. They're up two. They call time out. There's time here to reflect on the situation. There's 14 more seconds on the shot clock than the game clock -- which means, too bad for the Knicks, they can't just hold the ball, they will have to shoot.

When play resumes, Carmelo Anthony shoots and misses with 15 seconds left on the game clock, but Tyson Chandler grabs the offensive rebound, essentially winning the game for the Knicks right there. Everyone with an ounce of basketball awareness knows that the Knicks can now hold the ball because the shot clock is off, the Bucks will be forced to foul, and New York will win provided they make their free throws. Chandler (a 64% career free throw shooter) kicks the ball out to Andrea Bargnani (an 84% career free throw shooter) and Bargnani IMMEDIATELY hoists a LONG three pointer, with 12 seconds on the game clock. WHAT? He misses, the Bucks rebound the miss, and John Henson's rebound basket just before the buzzer forces a second overtime. Fortunately for the Knicks they won in the second overtime, but it doesn't excuse Bargnani's shot, which ranks among the dumbest plays in the history of the league.

(My favorite part is when Bargs says "My bad." That wasn't really up in the air, Andy. Everyone already knew it was your bad. And I mean EVERYONE. Pee-wee basketball players the world over watching from home screamed "NOOO" as you lined up that shot.)

I was trying to think of other NBA plays that could compete for sheer stupidity. Al Harrington's "hanging on the rim" technicals (not once but TWICE) in the final seconds of games against the Clippers certainly are on the list. Martell Webster got a steal in the final seconds with his team down three and drove in for a dunk rather than pulling up for a three pointer, which is similar to Bargnani's play in the total lack of awareness of the game situation. What other candidates do you have for dumbest plays?

Kobe's knee

Kobe Bryant has been superhuman in his ability to play through pain and avoid major injuries through 17 years in the NBA. But when he ruptured his Achillles tendon late last season, it felt like maybe age and the law of averages had caught up with him. Kobe pushed himself through rehab and returned to the court a little less than eight months after his Achilles surgery.

Was that too soon? There's really no way of knowing. What we do know is that after just six games, he is back on the sidelines, this time with a fracture in his left knee. Is this injury related to the Achilles? Again, one can't know for sure, but there's gob of evidence that subsequent injuries become more common when players return too quickly.

Going back to the Achillles injury, you'll recall that Bryant had hyperextended his knee in that game. He stayed on the floor, decided to "tough it out" -- and ruptured his Achilles. Kobe's superman thing has been an amazing act over the years -- but he's 35 now, and age is Kryptonite for everyone, even Kobe Bryant.

Popovich resting his stars

With Tony Parker already sidelined with an injury, Gregg Popovich will rest Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili tonight during a TNT game against the Golden State Warriors.

This is nothing new for Pop of course, and I'm on record as adamantly against the practice. I understand it, and I know that Pop is thinking of the long term, and it may be the best decision for the Spurs in the big picture.

But the NBA is a competitive league, and there is an implicit contract among the 30 teams that teams will compete every night. Back to backs are a fact of life in the NBA, and other teams deal with them. Consider this: Phoenix and Golden State are currently separated by one game in the standings, in the seventh and ninth positions. Duncan and Ginobili played last night in Phoenix and were the stars of San Antonio's victory over the Suns. What happens if the Warriors win tonight (as you would expect) and at the end of the season Golden State finishes a game ahead of Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff spot? The odds of exactly that happening are minuscule -- but it's not out of the realm of possibility by any means.

The NBA goes to great lengths to balance the schedule so that teams are all playing against the same competition to the extent possible. Plenty of uncontrollable factors conspire to unbalance it -- things like injuries, and yes, back to backs. But even if Pop refuses to play his vets in B2B, the fact that he can choose to rest them against Phoenix or against Golden State presents a conflict of interest. Who's to say that Pop doesn't hate Robert Sarver, or have a bet on Golden State making the playoffs? The Spurs have a moral obligation to give the same effort against every team -- they league wouldn't allow them to simply forfeit a game to rest all of their players, so why should they be allowed to severely diminish their chances of winning to rest two of their players?

Last season the league fined the Spurs for resting players during a National TV game, but ignored the same behavior in other cases. With tonight's game on TNT, it will be interesting to see how the NBA responds. I'd like to see some consistency from the league -- it's not about TV partners, it's about fair competition. Ostensibly the fine last season was about the team not informing folks that the players would be rested -- but what the hell difference does that make? Who cares about the timing of the decision?