A moment of reflection and empathy, please, for the NBA’s Winless Nine.
If this were a normal season and 30 percent of the league’s franchises were headed toward the New Year still in search of their first victories, there would be blood in the streets. Somebody would have NBA schedule-maker Matt Winick’s head on a pike, too, for somehow failing to match up the Winless Nine in the season’s first two months to make sure that a few of them at least beat the others to get off the list.
This is not a normal season, obviously, so we’re faced with the prospect of multiple teams and countless NBA fans listing among their usual resolutions to cut back on the Cheez Doodles this desperate vow: “Our team will win a game in 2012!”
Here at the Hang Time Hideout, we won’t belabor you with a list of the Winless Nine. They’re easy enough to spot near the bottom of the various divisions, like coffee dregs. Combined, they woke up to an 0-18 record this morning. And unless the Rockets knock off San Antonio tonight in Houston or Dallas beats the Thunder at Oklahoma City, that ugly ledger will go to 0-20 with just two days of 2011 to spare.
The ugliest of the marks so far – while awaiting the defending champion Mavericks move off 0-2 – belongs to the Boston Celtics, who are 0-3 for the first time since 2006-07. Getting served up as the entrée in three straight opponents’ home-openers – at New York, at Miami and at New Orleans – isn’t supposed to happen to a team as proud and as talented as the Celtics. They’re supposed to spoil parties, not hang around as the piñatas.
The 97-78 loss to the Hornets was the worst yet. Inexcusable, as portrayed by the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn:
The Celtics would be doing their loyal fan base a disservice if they blamed this one on fatigue or the demanding post-lockout schedule. Last night’s performance against the Hornets was lethargic at best, as a team that has prided itself on mental guile during the Doc Rivers era melted in the fourth quarter.
At winning time, the Celtics got outscored 25-15. They missed eight of their 13 shots in the final quarter, got burned at the other end by New Orleans’ 9-of-17 shooting and were outrebounded 12-4. Hornets forward Carl Landry grabbed four all by himself, while Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, Brandon Bass and Greg Stiemsma managed just two in a combined 20 minutes, 38 seconds.
The Celtics looked dull, tired and old, and New Orleans shooting guard Eric Gordon (bruised knee) wasn’t even involved to make things worse. More Washburn:
“I wasn’t fatigued,’’ said [Ray] Allen, who led the Celtics with 15 points. “I wouldn’t use that as an excuse or reason. I felt good out there tonight. We’ve all been in this situation plenty of times before. So, that’s not an excuse for nobody.
“Our defense was terrible. Offensively, we didn’t execute. We looked scattered out there on the floor, so that’s just us and how we didn’t execute on both ends of the floor, and we know better…”
Granted, Paul Pierce (bruised heel, day-to-day) has yet to play a minute so far. But one of Boston’s strengths during the new Big Three era has been its resiliency when one of them hasn’t been available. That’s looking like a corner-turned now too.
In their first four seasons with Garnett, Allen and Pierce together, the Celtics were 40-20 in games Garnett missed, with 6-7 in 2009-10 their only sub-.500 result in KG’s absence. In the 16 games missed by Allen, Boston still went 12-4. Without Pierce, the Celts’ record in those four seasons was 9-7.
As 2012 approaches, the Celtics won’t be getting any younger. Kendrick Perkins (never mind the green ghosts of championships past) won’t be walking through their locker room door to cure their ills in the paint. They get their home opener Friday, playing before fans that will muster up noise and loyalty at the Garden while either worrying more than they’d care to admit or drowning the denial in suds for an evening.
The good news for the Winless Nine is that one of them – either the Celtics or the Detroit Pistons, that night’s foe – will scramble off the list. There will be one another guaranteed winner Friday when Houston (if it’s still one of the Nine) plays at Memphis. But the other 11 games featuring the Oh-Fers between now and that big ball dropping in Times Square offer no such assurances. It’s still possible that a Winless Seven still might be facing a Cranky New Year.