About a week ago, the Golden State Warriors threw a “Supervillain Party” at Stephen Curry’s place, which culminated in a group portrait by the pool taken via drone while in front of giant balloons spelling out the words “Super Villains” in giant, foil-wrapped mylar text.
It was weird.
Despite tapping into what would be the worst children’s birthday party theme possible outside of maybe “Broccoli Party” or “Vaccination Party,” the idea behind the gathering is pretty clear: the Warriors know that everybody outside of Oakland and San Francisco hates them this year.
That’s why Draymond Green is poking more and more bears, why Kevin Durant is wearing on-court stink-faces more often than smiles and why Curry is hosting a party at this house where, we can only assume, party favors included black capes, black licorice and laser rays powerful enough to blow up the moon.
The Warriors simply have decided to embrace the fact that they’re disliked this year, which is fine because, for the most part, they are. At least they’re accepting the disdain and using it as fodder for coming together.
Hated though they may be, the 2016-2017 Warriors are nowhere near the most despised team in recent NBA history. There have been others exponentially more odious, and the following list takes a closer look at the five vilest of them:
The Early 2000s Portland Trail Blazers
Everybody loves the Blazers today, mostly because Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are two of the most adored, likeable stars in the league, but it was only about 15 years ago that the team earned itself the “Jail Blazers” moniker that would stick with them for years after the offending players had retired or moved on to different teams. For a while there, it was difficult to remember that the nickname wasn’t the team’s actual moniker.
Those early-aughts Trail Blazers definitely pushed some buttons in their day. There were small, annoying things like Rasheed Wallace getting suspended for a game after throwing a towel in Arvydas Sabonis’ face or Bonzi Wells flipping off a fan, but then there were the more serious things like the seemingly endless string of league substance abuse policy violations or Zack Randolph punching teammate Ruben Patterson in the eye during a practice, breaking bones in Patterson’s face.
These were dark days for Blazers fans, and the non-stop string of questionable behavior made the team detestable to the rest of the league’s fans, too.
The Mid-‘90s New York Knicks
Without question, the New York Knicks teams that doled out punishment between 1992 and 1994 were some of the toughest teams in the history of the NBA, in large part because of how well they played defense. Patrick Ewing was a monster in the middle of the paint, defending the rim better than just about anybody in his generation, while guys like Derek Harper, John Starks, Anthony Mason, Charles Oakley, Anthony Bonner and Greg Anthony were just as tough on the guys they defended, perhaps integrating a few sneaky (and occasional painful) tricks to make that defense so effective.
Oftentimes, the toughness would lead to some pretty serious on-court scuffles. Here’s a quick rundown of “highlights”:
- The time John Starks headbutted Reggie Miller.
- The time Starks and Scottie Pippen got tangled up on a screen, ended up chest-to-chest, and then both teams’ benches cleared in the ensuing frustration.
- The time Kevin Johnson set a hard screen on Doc Rivers, which sent Rivers stalking KJ to retaliate, which of course cleared both benches, including coaches, for a follow-up bona fide royal rumble. Even Pat Riley ended up in the fray, his suit getting torn in the fracas. Greg Anthony, who wasn’t even in uniform, flew in toward the end to cause a massive pile-up, forcing his ejection not just from the game, but from the arena.
- The time Derek Harper and Chicago’s JoJo English threw down and fought directly in front of Commissioner David Stern during the Eastern Conference Semifinals, again clearing the benches and leading to several suspensions.
And all of this was just the worst of it. Those Knicks teams in the early-to-mid ‘90s were so physical that violence seemed to follow them wherever they went. No team liked playing them, and opposing fans couldn’t help but get nervous watching them in action.
The 2010-2014 Miami HEAT
When Kevin Durant made the decision to leave the team that drafted him, the team he helped lead to the NBA Finals but not a championship, the parallels between his decision to bolt Oklahoma City and LeBron James’ decision to “take his talents to South Beach” looked pretty obvious. But however upset Durant’s decision might have made fans this past summer, it was nothing compared to what James did to Cleveland fans back in 2010.
Rather than just making a decision about his widely-publicized free agency and announcing it in normal fashion, James scheduled a half-hour television special called “The Decision” to break the news. There, in front of millions of people and after 28 minutes of stalling, James let his home state know that he’d be jilting them for greener (and significantly warmer, state-tax-free) pastures.
It stung, but when it became known that Chris Bosh also would be leaving Toronto so the two of them could team up with Dwyane Wade in Miami, many fans threw an absolute fit about how unfair the trio would be for the rest of the league. When James, Bosh and Wade were introduced in the most garish, audacious way possible, hinting that they’d win six or seven championships together while the flashbulbs popped, the collective dry heave of the nation was practically audible.
They didn’t win their first NBA Finals series together, but they’d win the next two titles, with fans outside of Southern Florida hating every minute of it.
The L.A. Lakers, Generally Speaking
There’s just something about the Lakers that people tend to dislike, in large part because they win so many championships. They’ve always been the New York Yankees of the basketball world, though a handful of Lakers rosters have been more detestable than others.
For example, when the Lakers acquired Wilt Chamberlain in 1968 the expectations were massive, but he ended up showing just how arrogant he was on basketball’s biggest stage, all while making the league’s largest salary. He didn’t get along with his teammates or his coach, which culminated in Chamberlain, arguably the greatest player alive, getting benched in the final six minutes of an NBA Finals Game 7 – which the Lakers lost by two points. Chamberlain was an easy guy to hate because he was just so dominant, but on that team in those circumstances, he was even worse.
The 2001-2002 team was even more universally abhorrent thanks to the Shaquille O’Neal signing and the way that all played out for Orlando Magic fans. Pairing him with an arrogant young Kobe Bryant and a cast of role players that knew every dirty trick in the book didn’t help, and the fact that they could have been helped along in the 2002 playoffs by a crooked ref only made everything worse.
A couple years later, when that same crew convinced Gary Payton and Karl Malone to come aboard, the general distaste of the nation grew even louder. It’s hard to get excited about a team that manufacturers that much talent in hopes of buying a ring. The same could be said about the summer they acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
Arguably the most hated franchise in NBA history, the Lakers have a storied history of annoying opposing fans, but even they weren’t the most disliked team ever.
One team was nastier than all the other most hated teams combined. True supervillains in their time.
The “Bad Boy” Pistons
For starters, there’s a seven-minute video on YouTube chronicling only the fights and altercations that Rick Mahorn got into during the 1989 NBA Finals. It’s just one guy in one series, and there’s seven minutes’ worth of it, so consider that just the tip of the iceberg.
Mahorn, Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer really were the three guys responsible for Detroit’s “Bad Boy” persona in the late 1980s, and it had everything to do with how physical they were, which often included way beyond just tough, hard-nosed defense. Mahorn was a cartoon character, doing things so over-the-top that they almost looked scripted, while Rodman would throw an elbow whenever he could and Laimbeer went full-goon more than a few times over the course of his career. Isiah Thomas wasn’t the most likeable of superstars either.
The fights, the arguing with refs and of course the overwhelming success over beloved Celtics, Lakers and Bulls teams of the era all combined to make them the most hated team of all time.
The Golden State Warriors may feel like villains this season, but in the historical context of the league they’re Dr. Doofenschmirtz following a long line of Jokers and Magnetos and Doctor Dooms. They have a long way to go to be truly hated, as these five teams rather conclusively prove.
And anyway, real villains don’t advertise with balloons.
NBA AM: All-Time Biggest Comeback Wins
The Warriors’ big 24-point comeback over the weekend was incredible, but where did it rank all time?
One of the biggest NBA stories of the weekend was the Philadelphia 76ers scoring 47 points against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter Saturday night, only to blow their 24-point lead in fairly embarrassing fashion.
Kevin Durant joked about not being able to lose to Philadelphia for fear for Joel Embiid peacocking on Twitter afterward, while Embiid wrote about taking the loss in stride, adding “blowing a big lead” to their arsenal of experiences to avoid repeating in games to come.
In any event, that 24-point comeback was one of the most impressive comebacks in NBA history, though the good news for the Sixers is that there have been bigger blown leads than their own. Some of them much, much bigger. Heck, the Miami HEAT blew a 25-point lead just two weeks ago, so crazier things have happened.
The following are those crazier things. These are the biggest blown leads in NBA history:
#5 Boston Celtics vs. L.A. Lakers (2008) – By the time Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals had started, the Celtics had taken a 2-1 lead in the series, and the pivotal Game 4 was going to go down in Los Angeles. From the get-go, the Lakers looked like they were going to tie the series with little problem, jumping out to a quick 26-7 lead and finishing the first quarter up by 21 points. The lead got as large as 24 at one point, with L.A. still holding a 20-point lead with six minutes left in the third quarter.
But Boston ripped off a 21-3 run to finish the third quarter, cutting the lead to two and making it a much more exciting game than the first two-and-a-half quarters suggested. Their spirits broken, L.A. lost the game and, eventually, the series.
#4 Utah Jazz vs. Portland Trail Blazers (2010) – The Jazz came into Portland for this February game back in 2010 without starting center Mehmet Okur, whose absence was felt immensely as the Jazz fell into a 25-point deficit, trailing by 23 halfway through the third quarter. After chipping away at that lead throughout the fourth quarter, Utah still faced a four-point hole with just 30 seconds to go in the game, but Deron Williams made a couple of free throws, the Jazz got a stop on the defensive end, and Carlos Boozer put-back a last-second miss to send the game into overtime, where the Jazz put the finishing touches on the remarkable comeback win.
#3 Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Dallas Mavericks (2008) – The Minnesota Timberwolves in 2008 were not good. Still rebuilding post-Garnett, they had no business jumping out to a massive lead over the much more talented Dallas Mavericks, but that’s exactly what happened. The mediocre Wolves built a seemingly insurmountable 29-point lead, but as it happens, the lead was in fact quite mountable, as the Mavericks ripped into that lead thanks in large part to 24 second-half points by Jason Terry. With a seven-point victory, the Mavericks pulled off an impressive 36-point turnaround, albeit against one of the league’s worst teams.
#2 Sacramento Kings vs. Chicago Bulls (2009) – In one of the most stunning comebacks in league history, the Sacramento Kings rallied from being down 79-44 with 8:50 remaining in the third quarter to demoralize a Bulls team that flat-out didn’t see it coming. Sacramento finished the quarter on a 19-5 run to cut the lead to 19, then got it down to 95-91 with 2:28 left in the game. Rookie Tyreke Evans outscored the entire Bulls’ team 9-3 the rest of the way, and the comeback was complete. All of this was in Chicago, and the city’s fans literally booed the Bulls off the court. Needless to say, that was Vinny Del Negro’s last season as head coach in Chicago.
#1 Denver Nuggets vs. Utah Jazz (1998) – In the midst of a seven-game winning streak, a Jazz team featuring Karl Malone and John Stockton did not enter this contest against Denver in 1998 expecting to fall into a 36-point deficit. The score was 70-36 at halftime with the lead expanding further in the third quarter, but that’s when Utah started to grind their way into the lead behind big nights from Malone (31 points) and Jeff Hornacek (29 points). Despite it being a record-breaking comeback, there was no one big remarkable moment. Rather, the Jazz just dismantled the Nuggets through attrition over the course the second half en route to a truly impressive come-from-way-behind victory.
The fact that teams have come back from deficits this huge is exactly why current NBA teams talk about never taking the foot off the gas. Almost no lead is safe, and that’s the beautiful thing about basketball. Sometimes the momentum shifts, and all that planned Twitter bragging goes right down the tubes. At least in Philadelphia’s case the team on the other end of the comeback was the defending champs.
And as this list proves, it could always be worse.
NBA Sunday: Raptors Aren’t Extinct Just Yet
The Celtics should be a concern to the Cavaliers, but the Raptors shouldn’t be overlooked, either.
The Toronto Raptors aren’t extinct—not yet, anyway.
With the whirlwind of movement that dominates the headlines this past NBA offseason and the growth of several young players, we’ve spent far more time discussing the likes of the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks than the team from up North.
We’ve asked ourselves whether LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers can win the Eastern Conference for a fourth consecutive year and whether or not the Washington Wizards are finally ready to give some credible resistance. Some of us have even gone as far as to predict that, in the ultimate irony, Kyrie Irving will lead the Celtics to the conference crown this season.
And that doesn’t even begin to talk about the storylines from out West.
All the while, quietly and meticulously, Dwane Casey and his Raptors have stalked, and you peer at the standings and realize that they enter play on November 19 at 10-5, tied with the Pistons for the second-best record in the conference.
What has made the Raptors thriving especially improbable is the fact that they’ve done it despite missing a few key contributors for a game or two. To this point, they have ranked respectably both in points allowed per game (102.6) and points allowed per 100 possessions (107.8). Those metrics rank them eighth and 11th, respectively.
So, where exactly do the Raptors fit in the grand scheme of things?
It seems like a question we’ve been asking for a few years now.
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Having qualified for the playoffs four consecutive years, Dwane Casey’s team has won three playoff series over the course of that duration, but haven’t exactly found timely and efficient play from their two star players in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
Now, as the Eastern Conference begins to feature younger players with appreciable upside—Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Ben Simmons and Jaylen Brown to name a few—it’s totally fair to wonder where the Raptors fit in. It’s also fair, believe it or not, to wonder whether they’ll be able to provide as much resistance to the Cavaliers as the Celtics.
In effect, the Raptors have become a modern day version of Joe Johnson’s Atlanta Hawks. After signing with the Hawks prior to the 2005-06 season, Johnson led the revival of the franchise. They would end up qualifying for the playoffs five consecutive years, but never advanced past the second round. A similar story can be told of Chris Paul’s Los Angeles Clippers.
The point is, however, that over the years, the Raptors have developed an identity and are a team whose hallmarks have come to be toughness and ball-sharing—two characteristics that most coaches would love to embody their team. While we’ve been paying close attention to the things that are brand new and exciting, the Raptors are the same old crew that they have been. And for a team like that, the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks will continue to be the gold standard.
The Mavericks notably rebuilt and tore down several incarnations of their team around Dirk Nowitzki until the team was finally able to surround Nowitzki with the right complement of players to score one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.
Whether anyone chooses to acknowledge it, the Cavaliers are vulnerable.
Entering play on November 19, LeBron James leads the league in both total minutes played (617) and minutes played per game (38.6). Of the players who will comprise James’ supporting rotation in the playoffs, the majority of them are players whose impact will be mostly felt on one side of the floor: offense. To this point, the Cavs have 10 different players averaging 20 minutes played per game—an incredibly high number. More than anything else, that’s a result of Tyron Lue playing with his rotations to figure out which units work best, while also taking into account that the team has been playing without both Tristan Thompson and Derrick Rose for long stretches.
Still, of those rotation players—James, Rose, Thompson, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver and Jeff Green—the simple truth is that it is only James who has performed like a true two-way player.
It’s a troubling trend upon which the Raptors—and other teams in the conference—could capitalize.
The best two words to describe the Cavaliers to this point in the season are “old” and “slow,” and that’s simply a fact. The club still ranks dead last in points allowed per 100 possessions and 28th in the league in points allowed per game.
In short, the Cavaliers, at least to this point, have certainly appeared to be vulnerable. It is those same Cavaliers that have ended the Raptors season each of the past two years.
You know what they say about third times—they’re often the charm.
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There’s obviously a long way to go, and any chance that Toronto would have to get past the Cavs rests in the ability of Lowry and DeRozan to find some consistency in the playoffs. Still, as the complementary pieces around them have slowly improved, we have spent the early goings of the season fawning over the brand news teams and storylines in the conference and have paid no attention to the old guard.
And depending on how the brackets play out, any Cavaliers foray in the conference finals might have to go through the familiar road of Toronto.
If that happens to be the case—if the Cavs do have to square off against their familiar foe—they’re ripe for the picking.
Just as they have been over the past few years, the Duane Casey’s team will be there waiting for their opportunity.
NBA Saturday: Kuzma Is The Main Attraction In Los Angeles
Kyle Kuzma, not Lonzo Ball, is the rookie in L.A. that is turning heads around the NBA.
Out in Los Angeles, there is a dynamite rookie first-round pick lighting it up for the Lakers, invoking memories of the days when the purple and gold had homegrown stars.
That’s Kyle Kuzma. He was the 27th pick in the NBA Draft. Twenty-five picks after Lonzo Ball, the rookie that first sentence would have presumably been about had it been written three months ago.
Ball’s early season struggles are well-noted. He’s missing shots at an all-time bad clip for a rookie, his psyche seems a bit rattled, and he isn’t having the impact most Lakers fans would have hoped he would from the jump.
All of that has barely mattered, though, in large part to the show Kuzma has been putting on just 16 games into the 2017-18 season. In Friday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kuzma put up 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, the most by an NBA freshman so far this year. That performance was Kuzma’s sixth 20-point game of the young season, another rookie best. And to top it all off, Kuzma was the first rookie to reach the 30-point, 10-rebound plateau since none other than Magic Johnson, back in February of 1980.
Kuzma’s path to the NBA was much different than Johnson’s, though, along with his rookie counterpart Ball. Those two prospects were highly-touted “superstar potential” guys coming out of the college ranks. Kuzma? Well, he was a 21-year-old junior out of Utah who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament his last year and was a career 30 percent three-point shooter as an amateur.
The knocks on Kuzma began to change during the NBA Draft process and came to a head for the Lakers when long-time scout Bill Bertka raved about his potential.
“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.'”
The Lakers took a chance on the 6-foot-9 forward who had a rare combination of a sweet shooting stroke to accompany his low-post moves that seemed to be reminiscent of players 20 years his senior.
Fast forward from draft night to the Las Vegas Summer League, and everyone could see with their own two eyes the type of player Los Angeles drafted. The numbers were startling: 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, and 48 percent from beyond the arc out in Sin City for Kuzma, all capped off by a Summer League championship game MVP.
Summer League stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but what Kuzma did in July was proved he belonged.
Through the first month of Kuzma’s rookie campaign, when the games are actually counting for something, all he’s continued to do is prove that his exhibition numbers in Vegas were no fluke.
After his 30-point outburst, Kuzma now leads all rookies in total points scored (yet still second in scoring average), is fourth in rebounds per game, third in minutes, and third in field goal percentage.
By all accounts, Kuzma is outperforming just about every highly-touted prospect that was taken before him last June, and sans a Ben Simmons broken foot in September of 2016, he would be in line for the Rookie of the Year award if the season ended today.
Following Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Brett Brown had more than a few nice things to say about Kuzma.
“He’s a hell of a rookie,” Brown told NBC Philly’s Jessica Camerato. “That was a great pick by them.”
Brown went on to commend Kuzma for being “excellent” Wednesday night, when prior to his game Friday against the Suns, Kuzma set a career-high by scoring 24 points.
For all of the praise and the scoring numbers Kuzma is bringing to the Staples Center, his Lakers team sits at just 6-10 on the season, and has been on the wrong end of a number of close games so far this year.
While that’s good for second in the Pacific division right now, behind only the Golden State Warriors, it isn’t likely that type of success (or lack thereof) will get the Lakers to the playoffs. So, despite all of the numbers and attention, Kuzma isn’t fulfilling his rookie year the way he had hoped.
“It is cool, but I’m a winner,” Kuzma told Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters. “I like to win, stats don’t really matter to me. I just try to play hard and I want to win.”
Few projected the type of impact Kuzma would have this early on in his career, and even fewer would have assumed he’d be outperforming the Lakers’ prized draft pick in Ball. But surprising people with his game is nothing new to Kuzma.
From Flint, Michigan, to Utah, to Los Angeles, Kuzma has been turning heads of those that overlooked him the entire time.
With one month in the books as the Los Angeles Lakers’ most promising rookie, Kuzma has all the attention he could’ve asked for now.