x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

NBA old guard will not go gracefully

The thirty somethings dominated the NBA play-off picture, but too many are beginning to show their age.

Derek Fisher, second left, Kobe Bryant, in background, and Pau Gasol, right, are just three of the eight players the Los Angeles Lakers have on their roster who are the wrong side of 30. Harry How / Getty Images
Derek Fisher, second left, Kobe Bryant, in background, and Pau Gasol, right, are just three of the eight players the Los Angeles Lakers have on their roster who are the wrong side of 30. Harry How / Getty Images

What have they done to the NBA play-offs? Do Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, or Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, not big-foot their way into every finals?

Are the Dallas Mavericks not required to take an exit ramp off the post-season road well before expectations? And is 30 suddenly the new 50 for ageing veterans?

Indeed, these are not your grandfather's play-offs, even if many stars are playing like old-timers.

Bizarre basketball began last month with San Antonio's first-round dismissal by the Memphis Grizzlies, which prompted the question: when did Memphis acquire a team?

The Spurs rolled out a line-up with only one player under 30 - and Tony Parker will be there in just over a year, joining elder statesmen Duncan (35), Manu Ginobili (34), Richard Jefferson (30) and Antonio McDyess (36).

As decrepit as the Spurs looked, they could be the Lakers, who were eliminated in the second round by Dallas and might belong on the cover of Soap Opera Digest more than Sports Illustrated.

The Lakers are loaded down with eight players under contract next season who have celebrated the big 3-0. Unless Ron Artest (31), Derek Fisher (36), Lamar Odom (31), Pau Gasol (30) and three minor contributors in their age bracket sip from the fountain of youth, Los Angeles might be a Los Cause in the short term.

In fact, the only marketable player on this US$91 million (Dh334m) roster, the most expensive in the league, is Andrew Bynum (23).

At least he was until Sunday, when a despicable cheap shot that led to a well-deserved ejection damaged the centre's reputation. It also means he will begin next season under suspension.

And Bryant (32) might want to leave predictions to others. With his team trailing three games to nil, Bryant insisted the Lakers would sweep the remaining four. Next game, Mavs win by 36.

You would think that a squad full of middle-agers is immune to personal distractions that are more likely to prey on 20-somethings.

But, no. One popular theory floating around Hollywood is that Odom's game suffered because he was preoccupied with the reality show Khloe & Lamar, in which he co-stars with his wife, one of the many Kardashian sisters.

Another is that Gasol is on barely speaking terms with Bryant. The word is, Gasol blames a break-up with his longtime girlfriend partly on interference from Bryant's wife.

There can be only one reason why Phil Jackson declined to confirm his retirement as coach on Sunday. He felt obligated to first inform Lakers executive vice-president Jeanie Buss - his longtime girlfriend.

Not all over-30 players are limping around like Zen Master Jackson. Jason Kidd (38) is wheeling and dealing in Dallas. He set up Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic, both 33, for a combined 15-of-16 three pointers in the knockout game of the Lakers series. Dirk Nowitzki (32) keeps improving with age.

A model for how older players should perform, the Mavs move the ball as if they get paid per pass. Their arms may grow weary. Their legs, not so much.

Mark Cuban, the team owner, has peeled off part of his fortune to acquire lavishly-paid players who have become notorious for delivering 50-plus wins in the regular season and disappointment in the play-offs.

The Mavs might be setting up their T-shirted billionaire boss for another May meltdown, but they will be favoured in the Western Conference finals against the winner of the series between the Oklahoma City and the Grizzlies.

The Celtics, facing Father Time as well Miami, are trying to wring every last drop out of Ray Allen (35), Kevin Garnett (35 as of next week) and Paul Pierce (33).

Boston is so enamoured with oldies that they traded Kendrick Perkins and entrusted the back-up centre role to Shaquille O'Neal (39).

On Monday, the Heat, their three stars all south of age 30, shoved the Celts within one game of "Hey, hey, hey, goodbye."

When the play-offs dawned, we were unaware that Gasol had a sibling. Since, we have not only been introduced to Marc Gasol, but wonder if he might be the better basketball brother. Marc plays for Memphis.

What have they done to the NBA play-offs? They are changing the guard - the old guard, as well as the old forward and old centre.

 

sports@thenational.ae

Oklahoma and Memphis tied going into Game 5 tonight, while Miami look to clinch Eastern Conference final spot with victory at home to Boston, s13