I have no problem saying Burger King makes the best fries. But McDonald’s won’t send me back home shuffling through my refrigerator at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night either. One version is crispier. The other feels like it needs another two minutes in the oven. Both do the job. Both taste really good. Try comparing NBA teams. It’s nearly impossible when those squads are coming from differing situations. From the players, ownership, the fans and even the style of play or storylines surrounding a team, no two situations will be entirely alike. You can’t compare style. Playoff teams? We’ve seen 65-win juggernauts, lousy 40-win teams getting in only because their timing was so good, and then everything in-between.
Looking back through some email exchanges I had with other writers over the course of last season’s playoffs, at one point I asked Alan Hahn, who is the Knicks beat writer for Newsday, to compare the No. 8-seeded Knicks of the 1999 season and last year’s surprising Memphis Grizzlies. I thought there were a few mirroring points: both teams weren’t really No. 8 seeds. For various reasons – the Knicks with the lockout-shortened season and the Grizzlies with injuries to perhaps their best player (Rudy Gay… who by the way has a huge feature in our newest issue, Dime #66) – they just ended up there. Both squads connected on a personal level with their cities, two gritty, underdog teams playing together and aggressive, led by players who were deemed league castoffs just months earlier – the Knicks and Latrell Sprewell and Memphis with Zach Randolph. Here are some of his responses (direct from the emails, so forgive any small typos):
-do you see any similarities between the two
A: Not really. The ’99 Knicks had a brutal season mainly because of the lockout, which led to a compacted 50-game schedule and included a short training camp. Jeff Van Gundy had little time to incorporate two key new players, Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby, and Patrick Ewing was a terrible shape after spending a lot of time in those CBA meetings as president of the players’ union. That team had four all-stars on it (Ewing, Sprewell, Larry Johnson and Allan Houston) and tons of playoff experience. This was no typical 8th seed. The Grizzlies are much younger and a much truer upstart team at No. 8.
-Sprewell kind of had the same type of transformation that year that
Randolph is having right now. What do you remember about his play?
What do I remember about Sprewell or Randolph? Spree that season had to transition for a main guy and a starter to a reserve. Plus, that season he was hurt so it also held him back from really finding a niche with the team. It wasn’t until later in the playoffs that he did figure it out. He had a huge game against the Spurs in Game 4 to extend the series one more game. Z-Bo is nothing like Spree, tho. His bad history was years ago, back in Portland. He had already cleaned up his act for the most part. Spree had just come off a season where he choked his coach. Very different situations.
-NYC really gravitated towards that team. Why? Was it just because they were
I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that they played two old rivals in the Heat and Pacers and paid both of them back for past playoff disappointments. It was easy to rally around them because fans had been used to seeing this team win in the postseason. Plus there were two magical moments: Houston’s shot in Game 5 and Larry Johnson’s three-pointer. But, again, this was no typical 8th seed. This was an experienced, playoff-tested, talented team. They did not overachieve. They underachieved in the regular season.
-how did Ewing’s injury affect the team? see anything similar w/ Rudy Gay?
I think the only connection you can make there is that without Ewing, it forced other players to step up, players who maybe weren’t getting as many looks because of Ewing’s presence, and the Knicks were able to run more. This is similar to Zach getting more looks and the ball moving more in the Grizzlies offense, rather than stopping at Gay, who tends to do a lot of one-on-one.
Last season, between the Grizzlies nearly making the Western Conference Finals, and the Pacers playing the Bulls as close as you can, it was a great year for No. 8 seeds. But what about all-time?