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HOW GOOD IS GOOD?
Posted by Rob Peterson on Dec. 14 2004 3:30 p.m. ET

MEASURING THE SUBJECTIVE PARAMETERS

Last week, we got medieval. This week, we'll get metaphysical.

So, here's the question: What makes a team good?
-- Seattle Times

More specifically: When can we stop using qualifiers and unequivocally say, "Yes, that team is for real."?

What determines this? Is it overall record? While that may seem obvious, it lies at the root of the problem, and our argument, which can swing both ways: "They're not as good as their record," or "they're better than their record."

An example: The 2001-02 Milwaukee Bucks had just been to the Eastern Conference finals the year before. They added All-Star Anthony Mason (Mistake! I'm just sayin'...) and they started the season at 9-1. A good team, right? For 10 games yes. For the other 72, they were 32-39 and famously flamed out of the playoffs. (It didn't help that I immediately received IMs after the Bucks lost to the Pistons in the season's final game, taunting me about Dirk Nowitzki. That's OK, I've recovered. The Bucks? That's another story.)

Here's an another example. The 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers looked to be stuck in a post-NBA title malaise. While their 48-25 record heading into the season's final month was nothing to sneeze at, the Lakers looked lethargic for most of that season. They were good, but not awe inspiring.

But after losing to the Knicks at home on April 1 of that year, you want to know their record from that point on? It was most definitely awe inspiring. They went 23-1, steamrolled the Spurs in the Western Conference finals and stomped to their second consecutive NBA title, the only loss coming to the Sixers in The Finals, thanks to Allen Iverson's superhuman performance in Game 1 of that series.

So, what indicates that a team is truly as good as its record? Sure, things can change quickly (injuries, specifically), but lets just assume that none of the following teams will feature someone suffering a major injury. All right, let's throw something against the wall and see what sticks.

Phoenix Suns: 18-3 (best start in franchise history)
Why are they good: Point differential, quality losses and bending other teams to their will

It's time to say it. The Suns are legit. There. At an plus-11.85 point differential, the Suns haven't been eking out wins, they've won going away. Even their losses have been quality: On the road in OT to Cleveland by five; at home to the Kings by two and at home to Minnesota by four. Combined number of points in their defeats: 11. Combined record of those three teams: 40-21 (.672 winning percentage).

That, and they're winning by forcing opponents to play their type of ball (up tempo), the sign of any good team. And they get scary when Amare Stoudemire starts adding assists to his game.
-- Arizona Republic

The Suns, however, don't want my platitudes. They prefer to stay hungry. -- Arizona Republic

OK, we'll let this guy rain on your parade.
-- Palm Beach Post

Seattle Sonics: 17-4
Why are they good: General consensus, better-than-advertised D, the look

How many teams wax the Spurs? Not many. How many teams wax the Spurs twice in a season? Even fewer. Enter the Sonics.

They've done it twice this season, once in Seattle and once in San Antonio. They've made believers out of even the most cynical.
-- Dallas Morning News (Registration required)

This squad can also crank it up on D (ninth best in the NBA in points per game allowed -- 93.9).

Add to that, everyone else (SI.com and ESPN.com) loves 'em, and who am I to argue?
-- SI.com and ESPN.com

As for the look, the Sonics play as if they're out to prove everyone wrong. Or maybe it's because they have a lot of guys, MVP candidate Ray Allen included, who are in the last year of the contracts. I can't tell. Then again, does it matter?
-- Seattle Times

San Antonio Spurs: 17-5
Why are they good: Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich, history

Forget for a minute T-Mac's explosion (if you can) against the Spurs last Thursday. No. 1: When you have Tim Duncan, you always have a shot.
-- San Antonio Express-News (Registration required)

As for Pop, he's one of the most underrated coaches in the league. Can you name another active coach with two NBA championship rings? Rudy T, yes. Anyone else?

[Crickets!]

I thought not. Pop, in case you didn't know, is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, with a major in Soviet Studies. Even if he couldn't coach, me thinks he knows a little something about the power of persuasion. But it's clear, he can coach.

While Duncan anchors the Spurs, Popovich has been able to mold young players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili into his system, showing that he has a style that is more than just dump it into Tim all the time. Then again, who could blame him if he did dump it to TD every time? And sure, he can be stubborn, but then which good coach isn't?
-- San Antonio Express-News (Registration required)

As for history, some franchises just reek of success. San Antonio's one of them, especially with two titles in six years. And even when their record does head south, how do they respond? With No. 1 overall picks David Robinson and Tim Duncan. See? Blessed.

Minnesota Timberwolves: 13-7
Why are they good: KG, a front office that is willing to roll the dice

Kevin Garnett may be the single biggest force in the game today. He leads the Timberwolves in every important statistical category (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks). KG's greatness may be so great, people can't recognize him for how great he is. Know what I mean?

As for the front office, Kevin McHale, the Wolves' VP of basketball operations, has taken some risks with personnel moves. He knew how Sam Cassell often (OK, all the time) showed displeasure with his contract. He knew that Latrell Sprewell wasn't the athlete he once was. And he knew about Eddie Griffin. Still, McHale has them all under one roof. And after a typically slow start (6-5), the Timberwolves have rebounded (the loss to the Bulls on Saturday notwithstanding) with seven wins in nine games.

Does anyone not think the Wolves won't be there at the end?

So, what makes a team legit in your estimation? Write us.

As for any teams in the East. I'm not convinced yet.

PLAYING THE FEUD

I won't get into to it too much, but the Kobe Bryant-Karl Malone rift is deep and irreparable. While those two may not be laughing, this feud has produced more than its share of whispers and water-cooler one liners. (Not here, of course. Ahem.)
-- NY Post

Anyway, it looks as if Malone may riverwalk his way to San Antonio.
-- San Antonio Express-News (Registration required)

Question is: Can the Spurs give Malone's career a happy ending?
-- San Antonio Express-News (Registration required)

As for Kobe, another nemesis comes to town on Tuesday: Ray Allen.
-- L.A. Daily News

How did this one start? One writer posits that Allen may have started this "feud" to help his contract negotiations in the future.
-- Tacoma News-Tribune

Regardless, it should be a good basketball game tonight in Seattle.

TIP-INS

Jason Kidd has returned to help the Nets ... and not a moment too soon, either.
-- New York Daily News

Sam Smith says Mark Cuban has built three great teams, none of them being the Mavericks. The Benefactor, indeed!
-- Chicago Tribune (Registration required)

We love Elton Brand. Even crusty ol' columnist T.J. Simers does. That means if you can't love EB, you're crustier than Simers and he's crustier than the Earth. (We say this with respect. Sportswriters are supposed to be crusty. You, not so much.)
-- L.A. Times (Registration required)

Pau Gasol gazes into the mirror and gets angry.
-- Memphis Commercial Appeal (Registration required)

Meanwhile, the Czar (or Tsar) has already made his mark in Memphis.
-- Memphis Commercial Appeal (Registration required)

Marcus Camby is in a New York state of mind.
-- New York Post

I'm well accustomed to punny sports headlines, but this one has me puzzled.
-- New York Post

Um, on second thought.
-- South Florida Sun-Sentinel

A familiar sight this season: Amare above the rim.
(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

AN ASIDE
Coaches: What's with all the timeouts? Some of these games down the stretch take forever. I know you want to set up the more desirable play. I know that during the season practice time is hard to come by. But once I'd like to see a team push the ball and have the defense on its heels in the waning moments of games.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
San Antonio's Gregg Popovich after TNT's Craig Sager asked Pop if he knew how T-Mac got so hot against his Spurs last Thursday:

"How the hell should I know?"

Pop followed it up with a classic, what-the-hell look.

2004-05 ARCHIVE
Dec. 14 -- How Good is Good?
Dec. 7 -- Getting Medieval
Nov. 30 -- LeBron vs. Dwyane
Nov. 23 -- Playing Good Ball
Nov. 16 -- SuperbSonics
Nov. 9 -- Hitting the Blue Note
Nov. 3 -- Bling, Bang, Boom
2003-04 -- Archive

GI-NORMOUS PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
T-Mac's 13 in 35 seconds. That's one for the ages.
Video: Relive T-Mac's 13 in 35