Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Epic Fail

How is it possible to blow such an easy win? Last night, a Phoenix team at nearly full strength (minus Barbosa), featuring 4 former first-team all-NBA players, lost to a Jazz team featuring CJ Miles, Jarron Collins, Ronnie Price, and Ronnie Brewer in the starting lineup. After a good first quarter, Phoenix got outscored the rest of the way by 21. PHX clearly underestimated the fight in their opponents. All the other West contenders including Utah must be pleased upon seeing Phoenix's lackadaisacal attitude. To be fair, it's not always easy to put forth your best effort every night when you have 82 games plus several more in the playoffs to look forward to. One might hope that huge salaries would provide sufficient reason to stiffen a player's work ethic and give the fans their money's worth, but the impulse to slack is fairly universal. Why was the CEO of Bear Stearns golfing, playing bridge, and smoking pot back in the summer of ’07 while his company was going to hell?

Perhaps it helps that Utah has a guy of Greek descent on their team. One of the greatest upsets in basketball history was surely the 2006 semifinal match at the FIBA World Championship, in which a US team full of superstars could barely stop some big dude with the dimensions of Oliver Miller. Famously, the US coach was so poorly prepared that he didn't know the Greek players’ names. (He can hardly use the excuse that their names were too hard to pronounce, when his own name is a phonetic Rubik's Cube!) So another reason to underperform against an inferior opponent is not just laziness, but perhaps hubris, or even contempt for your adversary. Contempt might make you want to destroy your opponent on one side of the court, but you are less likely to get back on D if you don't take their ability and resolve seriously.

Fans of the NFL love the phrase "Any Given Sunday", suggesting that random shizz can lead to unexpected results. The Patriots were not supposed to win in the 2002 Super Bowl, and they were not supposed to lose in the 2008 Super Bowl. That's just as true in the NBA, but we tend to notice anomalous outcomes less when there's 81 other games in the season, compared to 16 total games in the NFL. It's much more likely in hoops that the best teams will end up with the best records. In future posts I will further explore these issues of sample size. Yet sometimes the conventional wisdom is wrong. If Tyson fought Douglas 9 more times, would Tyson take all 9 bouts? Well, if Douglas figured out how to avoid Tyson's knockout blows, probably not. Maybe Tyson was simply overhyped. During his first reign, he never fought Holyfield, after all.


UPDATE: John Hollinger suggests that Phoenix lost not due to the above, but because Shaq was tired.

No comments: