Oklahoma City Thunder: Back in first place
Sunday night, both virtual co-leaders of the NBA’s Western Conference played a home game, won, then headed for the airport and a flight to the home city of a virtual .500 team fighting for a playoff berth.
The Spurs, headed to Salt Lake City, left some valuable cargo behind — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
The Thunder, headed to Milwaukee, absoutely made sure Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden were on the flight.
Monday night, the Spurs lost to the Jazz 91-84, ending San Antonio’s 11-game winning streak, and the Thunder routed Milwaukee 109-89. Courtesy of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, the Thunder is back atop the Western Conference. Pop’s long-standing policy of resting his veterans paid off for OKC.
I know why Popovich did it. He believes resting his veterans is more important than homecourt advantage in the playoffs. You can’t blame him for doing what he thinks is best for his team. But it still stinks for the NBA.
I wrote about this several weeks ago. You can read it here. And Popovich’s latest decision is the perfect example of how a coach can disrupt competitive balance. Utah is fighting Phoenix, Denver, Houston and Dallas for the final three playoff spots in the West. The Spurs dang near won without their big three; it’s very likely that the Jazz would have gone down Monday night had the Spurs brought all their horses. Which can’t make the Nuggets, Suns, Rockets and Mavericks too happy.
Again, Pop made the Thunder quite ecstatic. Any games Popovich wants to toss aside, go right ahead, says OKC. But that’s a little too much power for a coach, deciding who benefits and who doesn’t with weakened lineups.
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