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The Week In Sports: NBA's Losers Steal The Headlines


Time now for sports. There are two kinds of people in sports. There are winners, and there are losers. The winners get the fame, the fortune, not to mention all of the attention. And the losers, well, they get Mike Pesca. Hi, Mike.


MARTIN: What? I thought you would like that. OK. It doesn't mean that you are a loser. Let me clarify by saying you just think losers are interesting, right?

PESCA: That's right.

MARTIN: Like, anyone can about the winners, but to really delve into what it takes to lose, that's really the genius of you.

PESCA: Thank you. And to go back to re-clarify. What you mean is you're not necessarily saying I'm a loser. But yeah, at this point in the NBA season, the teams that win, they're doing it through similar ways like outscoring their opponents. But since losing comes in so many varieties, I find it fascinating. Like, you've got your Philadelphia 76; one of the worst teams I've seen in recent years. They're trying to be bad, and they're succeeding. They are winless wonders.

MARTIN: Let's get into this a little bit. There are two teams that are supposed to be really great this year. And they are not great at this moment. The LA Lakers and the New York Knicks, right?

PESCA: They have great brands, and they have interesting people associated with them. You know, Kobe Bryant on the Lakers is a great player, an all-time great player. But he just set the record this year for most missed shots in NBA history. Now that doesn't mean that he's a bad shooter, but he is shooting at such a volume this year, it is hurting his team. And it's a vicious cycle because he doesn't think there's anyone else there to help. Plus the team is so bad at defense, he seems like he has to hoist up a shot every time down the court.

The Knicks, on the other hand, were sold to us as this team - Phil Jackson came to the Knicks. He's going to rebuild the team. He has this triangle offense. The Knicks fans were told, it's going to take a while to get used to. But they're so bad right now that who knows if they could even get back on track? I mean, Spike Lee made a documentary explaining the triangle offense to fans. This is like, you know, some French filmmaker making a documentary about the glories of the Maginot line or something. Although, for a time, we thought the Maginot line worked to protect France from Germany.

MARTIN: Maybe the Knicks just need to meditate. Isn't that Phil Jackson's whole thing?

PESCA: (Laughter) I think they are. That's the thing. They're playing the ohm defense.

MARTIN: (Laughter). OK. You know, the Knicks lost recently to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder were supposed to be good this year. And now, they have one of the worst records in the NBA.

PESCA: Well, they're a good team, and they're the sort of team that you say, yeah, could reasonably compete for a championship. But when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook went down to injury, we knew those were the two best players on the sport. And against the Knicks, Russell Westbrook came back. Well, Westbrook torched the Knick in the first quarter. He had 32 points. He was amazing when he was planning.

But will that be enough? Because if they start winning at the same clip that they had won with Durant and Westbrook, which is about 72 percent of their games last year, and then you apply that to where they are this year, they're going to go - maybe, if they win at that prodigious clip - 52 wins. That might be enough to sneak into the playoffs, but who knows if they're going to win at that clip? Durant is still ailing.

Plus, when Durant come backs, if we assume they're both healthy, you're going to have this specter of one of the lowest-rated teams in the west being an eighth or seventh seed, and they play one of the best teams. So the teams in the west might be jockeying not to get a top seed if that means a first-round match up with the Thunder in the playoffs.

MARTIN: All right. Do you have a curve ball for us this week?

PESCA: Sure. Let's say you went to University of Miami men's and women's game this weekend. You saw the men beat Southern Alabama, and they went out to a 23 to nothing lead. But that was nothing because the Miami women's team shellacked Southern Illinois. And they went out to a 30 to nothing lead. So you saw a combined 53 Hurricane points before they were answered by either opponent.

MARTIN: Tadow (ph). Mike Pesca of slate.com. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.