Wednesday, December 9, 2009

NBA League Pass 2009: Full of Fart

OK, after a fairly pleasant experience in my first year using NBA League Pass Broadband last year, this year has been anything but. Generally speaking, I've been able to see the games I've wanted to see, but if the first month is any indication of how the rest of the year is going to go, then NBA's engineers better get their ass in gear before I file a complaint with my bank to get my money back.

First off, a few weeks ago, the feed to an Orlando Magic game completely went blank. It showed the first couple minutes of the game, then just hung. I contacted support, and they said they were "aware of the problem with the feed" and were working on fixing it. I was then told to "keep checking", as if anyone would want to keep clicking play and watching the same swirling graphics for a minute before deciding that nothing is going to happen. That was the first time I had a problem with a feed, so I wrote it off as a product of human misgivings.

However, after a few days passed, I noticed that I wasn't seeing the live-game DVR feature that LPBB was touting so heavily. Again, I contacted support, and was told by a male responder to install the latest version of Flash (which I already had) and Octoshape (which I've never heard of). I did both, and noticed absolutely no change; still the same non-DVR controls from last year. I recontacted support, which began an extended, hilarious and frustrating exchange with a delightfully clueless creature by the name of Debbie. This unhelpful blonde (I can only assume) said things like "if" the live game DVR is available (putting my subscription in immediate threat of cancellation) and "make sure you put the mouse over the window". I don't know where this Debbie came from, and why she took over the contact position in my support ticket, but she seems better served working at the local 7-11. This obvious line of "assume consumer stupidity first" customer service has no place in any company.

Anyways, I eventually investigated the issue myself; I had been accessing LPBB on my laptop -- a 64-bit Vista system, and, by chance, one day decided to launch it on my 32-bit Windows XP desktop computer. Almost immediately, I noticed something I'd only seen in commercials: the much ballyhooed live-game DVR controls. Well well well. So apparently, it is a system issue, some combination of 32- versus 64-bit system, or XP versus Vista. Thank you Debbie and the rest of the crack support staff at NBA LPBB for completely overlooking any potential system incompatibility issues and going straight for the "you must not have done something" line. I forwarded this new discovery to the LPBB complaint ticket; I'm still awaiting a response, hopefully from someone, anyone a bit more knowledgeable.

All of the DVR issues pale in comparison to my struggles tonight however. All the feeds are crossed and screwed up. Upon noticing that the Cavaliers were taking a beating at the hands of the world-beater Houston Rockets (lest my tongue plant any further into my cheek), I immediately jumped to watch the game, only to be confused by the sight of the Minnesota Timberwolves logo splashed all over the game court. Instead of the Cavs/Rockets game, I was presented with the final stages of the Hornets/Wolves game, which actually turned out to be rather exciting, won by a CP3 layup with 1 second left. Afterwards, I attempted to access the Lakers/Jazz game, one that I had circled on my calendar since the week began. Again, to my chagrin, I was presented with a totally different game, the last minutes of a Spurs smack-down of the Kings. We just crossed over from human err to human carelessness.

At last count, I have yet to be able to access the Lakers/Jazz video (only the radio feeds, naturally) though I can now catch the replay of the Cavs game in archive.

How great; you add more features to your product, and let the basic functionality turn to crap. And it's only the second week into December. Hopefully, if anything, it gives them a chance to work out these kinks before we get into the later stages of the season where the games and matchups really begin to take on higher meaning. There's plenty of time for them to work these things out.

That is, assuming Debbie isn't the one doing the troubleshooting.

From A Busy Night of Game-Surfing

* Shaq, burned on a pick-and-roll for the game winner in Memphis. In other news, a bright yellow orb rose from the horizon and lit up the sky around 6am this morning.

* That whistling sound you hear is Phoenix falling back to the pack, having gotten the JV-league part of their schedule out of the way. Clippers, Warriors, Wolves (2), Heat, Wizards, Sixers, Hornets, Raptors (2), Rockets, Pistons, Grizz, and...Celtics. Those were the teams the Suns beat in the season's first month. Not exactly the class of the league (with one obvious exception). The three loses? 20 point bashings by the Magic and Lakers, and a close one to the Hornets. I hope the desert population weren't getting their hopes too high. The Magic, Nuggets, Spurs, Blazers, Cavs, Lakers, and Celtics comprise 7 of the next 11 games. Tim-ber.

* Gerald Wallace is rediscovering his double-double machine ways. Which got me to thinking: we've seen triple-doubles, and there's been a handful of quadruple doubles in NBA history. But are there any players in the league that could post a quintuple-double? Double-figures in point, boards, assists, blocks, and steals? Has there ever been one of these nights? I don't have Elias on the payroll right now so I'll have to investigate at a later time. Anyways, my short list of possible players are as follows: Gerald Wallace (one of only 3 players to average 2+ blocks and 2+ steals in a season, along with Wilt and Hakeem), Josh Smith (ATL) and LeShowboat James. I think that's it. As a matter of fact, I think the dancing, celebrating bunny would have a realistic chance of doing it if he played the 4 full-time (giving him more opportunities nearer to the bucket to rack up blocks). I know it's a little you-been-smoking-something weird, but it was just something that occured to me.

* Nice little win for the Nets, though I know it comes at the expense of the city of Chicago sinking deeper into the our-team-is-headed-nowhere discussion. I kinda expect the Nets to go on a (little) run now that they're getting healthy; it's not a coincidence that their first win coincided with Courtney Lee's first start, and Keyon Dooling and ....'s first game. I been saying all along that they aren't this bad. But that stinker 2nd half they threw up in game #20 verses the Knicks really had me reconsidering that notion. Anyways, 2-1 in the Kiki era.

* The Magic now stand at 9-1 in the Jameer Nelson recovery era. If Jeff Van Gundy wrote a column, I'd be emailing updates to him after every game. If I was really bored I'd write a script to send the updates for me.

* Speaking of bad predictions, there was the writer the other day that owned up to be "shocked" at Vince Carter's playing well, and the Magic's hot start. He quoted himself as predicting that Carter didn't "have much left in the tank" and that the Magic would nosedive and rue the day they let Hedo walk. I swear, anyone this clueless should put a bullet into his NBA-writing career and begin covering curling. Seriously. You just admitted to not having watched a single Net game in the past 2 years. There is simly no other explanation for thinking Carter was done. Last night, during the Magic/Clippers game, one of the Clipper broadcasters made it his point to reiterate how he knew right off that Carter over Turkoglu is an upgrade, given all the things Vince does on the court. The Clippers broadcasters are incidentally -- ironically, given the bad basketball they're forced to watched -- among the top three or four teams in the league. Unquestionably. These are guys that actually watch the games (at a minimum they would've seen Hedo and Carter twice per year each).

* Speaking of writers that don't watch, I remember getting a reply from Vince Thomas of SLAM Magazine, alerting me that Vince Carter had missed 6 games this year. Now, it may be nitpicking a bit to point out that it was only 4, but it does make you wonder how much else these eyes and ears around the NBA pull out of thin air, when they muck up such basic math as: 1+1+1+1 = 6.

In other sports:

* Forget No Fun League, we're witnessing the birth of the National Facist League. This whole no-props edict by the NFL is 10 times more embarrassing than any damage they think Ocho-Cinco might do to the league's rep.

* Forgive me if I'm disinterested in the possible Curtis Granderson chatter that's been dominating the Yankee hot stove for 2 days. We just spent the better part of the 9 years trying to win with hitting, with varying degrees of failure. Then, we go out, get three starters, shore up the bullpen, and immediately return to the Canyon of Heroes. Unless Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Albert Puljols are being traded for a single-A prospect and 2 players to be named later, I'm not interested. Wake me when the news is about an Edwin Jackson-type coming to the Bronx.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Is That The New Commitment to Defense?

It's funny how irony works. posted an extended interview with Amare Stoudemire yesterday during the day, which included this exchange: Given a fresh start on your career this season, did you come into training camp determined to improve any specific part of your game?

AS: Defense is what I'm focusing on this year. Really, really focusing on that aspect. Weak side. Just trying to put ball pressure on. Create some havoc out there. I can honestly say I've improved this year so far. Does the same go for the Suns? You guys aren't thought of as lockdown defenders, you know.

AS: As a unit, I think we're playing solid defense out there. We might not be the best defensive team in the league, but I think we're good enough to create the havoc that we need.

Then, right on cue, the Suns put forth perhaps -- by far? -- their worst defensive effort of the season -- to the Knicks no less. Next on the schedule? Why, the Cleveland Cavaliers, that's who. Followed by trips to LA, Dallas and Denver, with hosting duties for Orlando and San Antonio sprinkled in. I admittedly have been waiting for the Suns to fall back to the pack, unconvinced of their top-o'-the-conference-records standing. I think the wait may soon be over.

But back to the Knicks game; I caught a fair number of plays as I watched in a club last night, and, boy, it sure looked like the same old (new) Suns defense to me. The post-Matrix, post-Raja defense that is (their defense in the Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson days was largely and wholly underrated, people concentrating more on points per game than defensive efficiency).

But back to the Knicks game (I seem to have a penchant for tangents today); I saw far too many New Yorkers waltzing into the lane for layups and dunks; every time, it seemed, that I watched for a few moments, I got to see another ole'! effort from a Sun defender. Including some no-effort weak-side opportunities from Mr. Stat. Hey, I don't doubt his off-season re-commitment to defense -- though I won't touch upon the fact that it's his strong-side defense that needs just as much work -- but we didn't really see much of it last night. You'd expect even one hard foul.

Maybe they were looking ahead to the Cavs game. I know my boy that's a big Phoenix-fan is going to be equally surly about the game and glad he skipped buying tickets, sparing himself the travesty in person.

* Damn you Eddy Curry. I mean, I'm sure you're pretty cool as a person and all; ok, so maybe I should say "damn you Eddy Curry's injuries". But with you sitting out the matchup versus Dwight Howard, and essentially doing the same versus Andrew Bynum, how am I supposed to twist the knife further into the poster who years ago told me Curry is better than both? I mean, having them both on this year's All-Star team (slowly becoming a foregone conclusion) is a consolation prize not nearly as enjoyable as a head-to-head thrashing. Damn you, or your injuries, or something. Now that I got that out the way, I'm obligated by my humanity to say "get well soon". So, do.

* The without-Jameer Magic record currently stands at 6-1. The Knicks, Warriors, and Clippers are on the near horizon. I'm just saying.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jeff Van Gundy: Prognosticator Extraordinaire

Early in Friday night's Boston Celtics-Orlando Magic contest, Jeff Van Gundy dropped this nugget on us:
"The Magic are gonna struggle to play above .500 while Jameer Nelson is out."
Come again? The only reason I didn't immediately make a twitter/blogspot/facebook post about it was because I was watching the game on rerun and didn't want to risk seeing the final score (I've got Boston fans as facebook friends and blog followers, and a Magic feed on my twitter). I can't imagine why none of his co-commentators didn't question this particular prediction, especially Mark Jackson, who usually loves to pounce on any of Jeff's comments he deems questionable.

.500 Jeff? Seriously? Are you confusing this team with the roster from last year? There is a major difference between the Magic's point guard rotation this year and the one they fielded last year: Jason Williams >> Tyronn Lue. Last year, when Jameer went down, the Magic made a move to pry Lue (tongue-in-cheek) from the Bucks to shore up the position. At the time, it seemed like a good move, and I actually thought he would help out; Lue was shooting a hefty 47% from 3-pt range, just the type of outside shooting Jameer brought to the team.

However, for Lue, it simply In his first 3 games playing meaningful minutes, he shot at paltry 5-16 -- 2 of 8 from downtown -- and the Magic continued trading wins and losses. It became apparent that both he and Anthony Johnson were best suited as backups, and the Magic went out, nabbed Rafer Alston, and the rest is NBA-Finals-appearance history.

Fast forward back to the present. By Friday night, we'd already gotten some small glimpses into what Jason Williams would look like given a heavier workload. He's played well -- almost surprisingly so -- and had actually played more minutes than Nelson in 2 or 3 games this year. He's been posting an NBA-best assist-to-turnover ratio, and his play had essentially relegated Anthony Johnson to 12th-man status.

This doesn't even touch upon the other upgrades the Magic have made in their roster this past offseason, with guys like Vince Carter who can share some of the playmaking duties. But it's fairly safe to say that a Jason Williams/Anthony Johnson rotation is significantly better than AJ/Tyronn Lue. It's starting to look even better than Rafer Alston/AJ combo that the Magic settled on for the rest of the 2008-09 campaign.

Perhaps I'm being a bit hard on ole Jeff, but it just seems rather silly to think this Magic team will struggle to hold their head above water in Jameer's absence, as important a player as he is. In any case, I can't help but keep a while-Nelson-is-out counter for the old ex-Knick coach turned announcer, so for those of us counting at home: that's 3 wins against 0 loses in the J-Will/AJ era.

With games against the Bucks, Warriors, Clippers, and a home-and-home versus the Knicks in the near horizon, that prediction is starting to look a bit shaky. Call me cynical.


* Another Vince Carter visit, another quality game, another win:
Hey Toronto Raptor fans, they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting to receive different results. D'ya think maybe the booing and the taunting is, I dunno, not working?

* Celtics needed overtime and a buzzer beater to take down the Knicks today. Would it be safe to say they're going through a bit of a rough patch (4-4 after a 6-0 start)? From the sounds of it though (I can't watch, blackout rules apply), the Knicks are playing a little bit better ball lately. (When they're shooting at their own bucket that is).

* Those poor Nets. Four games from tying an ignominious record, and an upcoming 4-game road trip where none of the matchups look particularly favourable. The Kings have been playing better, so at best you can hope that they stub their toe (quite possible with a young team: see: Thunder, Oklahoma), or that Denver continues their recent swoon (any loss to the Clips at this point for them is a swoon). Or you can just hope that the return of Devin Harris will continue to pay dividends (remember, he didn't start against the Knicks). Either way, injuries and all aside, they're not looking very attractive to LeBron, Bosh or anyone in Brooklyn at the moment.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Dumbest Coaching Decision...Ever?

Bill Belichick may have just had the biggest brain fart in the history of coaching. I mean, ever. On any level, professional or otherwise. In fact, I'm removing the doubt: we just witnessed history.

Seriously, let's think about this for a second. I mean, really and truly, sit, and think about this clearly. You're up by 6 points. There's 2 minutes and 8 seconds left in the game. You're looking at a 4th and 2 on your own 28 yard line, not to mention you just got stuffed attempting to convert the same 2 yards on 3rd down. Lemme say it again: it's 4th and 2 on your own 28-yard line.

Is there really anything worth deliberating over? Do we really need to consider the fact that your offense, which was happily marching up and down the field all day long, is finally being manhandled by a now fired-up defense? That the opposing offense, after struggling to find its way for 58 minutes, has of late been moving the ball with a sense of purpose? Did I point out the two -- count 'em: 1, 2 -- two timeouts they took to make this decision?

Wasn't there anyone -- a player, an assistant, a cheerleader, the shoeshine boy, the gatorade-dispenser -- that had the mind and wherewithal to say "umm, yo coach, ummm...that's a really stupid idea."?

Everyone north of the Long Island Sound must be in gut-wrenching pain as we speak. Which, as a New Yorker, is quite a rosy image to mull over. (Did I mention the Yankees won the World Series? Oh, sorry, bad digression).

But seriously, has there ever been a more inexplicable decision made by a coach -- any coach, in, say, the history of sports? Ever? Perhaps I need a night's sleep -- or maybe a few days -- to think of a few examples. Or even one. At present, I'm coming up empty.

Someone help me here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

New York, or New York?

As the Yankees sent Boston home winless for the weekend, put on their AL East champion gear and nerdy-looking eye-goggles, and sprayed champagne all over each other, their fans turned to the internet to offer hearty congrats to the team and one another. I found Yankee fans cropping up from previously-unknown corners of my Facebook friends list, and at one point it got me to thinking about just how I and many of us ever became Yankee fans in the first place. As opposed to, say, the nearly-unrelenting suffering that is the existence of the fans from the 'other' team over in Queens. It makes you wonder: when two teams reside in a city this big and fight for the hearts of millions of followers, how do people ever come to back one team over the other? You might think it's as simple as which team is winning, or which is closer to where you live, but for many of us in this city, it's not quite that simple.

(We are, of course, ignoring the double-agents who claim to support both teams, those folk that say they "just want to see NY win" and other similar cardinal sins of sport. Just last week, I and many of my Facebook friends were horrified to see a high school friend claim, and defend, her allegiance to both the NY Football Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. There should be laws against this level of waffling.)

Long ago, I developed a little theory as to how many NY baseball fans came to choose between the Bronx and Queens. It came to me in a frightening self-realization: had I been born a few years earlier, I would in fact be a Met fan. I am an early-70s baby, so naturally, by the time I was old enough to understand the use of the potty, the Yankees were smack dab in the middle of the Steinbrenner Renaissance, and the Miracle Mets magic had turned into dust, their team of Cinderellas into a field of rotten pumpkins. The Yankees stayed relevant as I moved into middle school, at which point I'd settled on all the teams -- Yankees, Islanders, Knicks, and 49ers -- that I'd call "mine" for the remainder of my days. Meanwhile, the Mets organization was in a mess, and the basement was where they received their mail for years. But was it all about wins and losses for me? As I said before, not quite.

My dad is, in fact, a Met fan. To this day I am tickled pink by a picture I have of myself at 2 years old proudly wearing a Mets cap. Which father wouldn't want is only son to root for his team right along with him? Sadly -- for him I mean -- I grew up a pretty independent-minded kid, and I remember being downright confused as to why my dad would root for such a pathetic band of losers. But he was still dad, still able to wield some influence over me. The Knicks weren't all that much better at the time -- I was definitely too young to experience the championship years -- yet I grew to offer my allegiance to them long before Bernard King came to town.

But dad was a product of the 60s in a sense; when he immigrated to New York, the Mets were new and fresh, the lovable losers, the polar opposite to the corporate, rigid, and, yea, I'll say it, mostly Caucasian-American Yanks. The 60s was the time of resistance, rebellion, revolution; I can completely see how anyone of colour in New York would take to the new Mets over "The Man" that played in the Bronx, even if said man was winning -- and winning, and winning. Back then, the wins didn't much matter; neither did the team's location (dad lived in the Bronx at the time). You take that foundation, and compound that with the Yankees' well running dry mere months after the Civil Rights Act passed, then add the sprinkling of pixie dust that fell on the Mets a few years later, and it becomes more or less a given than a child (or immigrant) of the 60s would call the Metropolitans "their" team. But even without the Miracle, I think the Mets picked up legions of fans simply by being not-the-Yankees. Push my birth certificate a few more years into the past, and I can't see how I wouldn't have been equally swept up in the fresh new lovable team, regardless if they were winning or not.

By time Steinbrenner snapped up the Yanks, and did everything within his power to make them relevant again, us now-30-somethings were just starting to become aware of the world. But, something else happened around that time, something just as important as wins and losses, if not more so. The Yankees become less corporate, less "The Man"; became more New York, became -- colour. A guy by the name of Reggie rolled into town, and, perhaps single-handedly, made the Yankees palatable to every brother and sister living in the Blaxploitation era. I don't know if Mr. October was the first, but it's a foregone conclusion that he was the biggest and brightest. So, all at once, you had a team that was winning, led by a star that looked like you with an afro just as big as yours.

As it turns out, the 1980s became a decade of disappointment for me as a baseball fan, but little did I know that suffering through all those 15-14 debacles, those heavy-hitting and light-pitching teams of the Dave Winfield years, would be paid back in full once I became an adult. That, instead of one fleeting flash of fun before the coke era started to take effect, I would get a whole decade and a half -- and counting -- of memories. And all because I was born at just the right point in time.

I've got younger friends now, late 70s and early 80s babies, who grew up just in time for the Mets mid-80s resurgence, who reveled in the 'cool' of Strawberry, the Doc, and others, who celebrated the miracle of Buckner, and who now find themselves wondering just who it was that put an evil hex on their beloved team. (And if they're not wondering, 19 disabled-list players tells me they should.)

If only they were a bit older.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Canó Comes Clutch

* Well, it only took a scant 3 days since my last posting on Robbie Canó's struggles with runners in scoring position for him to deliver one of the biggest clutch hits in recent weeks, a 2-out, 2-run single to break a scoreless tie verses the rival Los Angeles Anaheim Angels of Disneyland Park Incorporated, Ltd. (I mean, if you're gonna stretch your name to ridiculous lengths, why not go all the way). Soon after, his good buddy Melky Cabrera followed with an RBI single that would provide all the runs the Yanks would get this day, and, barely, all the Yanks would need to post a necessary win. Hopefully this big hit gets Robbie off the "shnide", and we're off to see bigger and better things. Don't ya know!

* For once, Yankees radio voice John Sterling beat a point repeatedly, ridiculously into the ground, and I couldn't blame him one bit. Naturally, all of Yankeeland held our breath while watching Ian Kennedy labour thru the 8th inning, his first work in the majors in over a year. To call the move risky or brave by Girardi is definitely an understatement. But, ya know what? It's hard to fault it, even if it hadn't had worked out. And yes, I'm aware that the win probably makes us look at the move with rose-coloured glasses on. But hey, part of managing is going with your gut, and making unpopular decisions. I certainly was rolling my eyes at the thought of Brian Bruney coming into the 8th inning; for all the trust Girardi seems to have in him, Bruney certainly hasn't reciprocated it. Whether it's mental or mechanical, he seems to be having mounds of trouble placing the ball where it's supposed to go, either pitching far out of the strike zone, or too good within it, with somewhat alarming regularity. If Bruney goes out there and gives an identical performance to Kennedy (2 walks and a hit batter, but no runs allowed), you almost certainly don't feel nearly as good about it. Quite a difference when the guy getting thru by the skin of his teeth has failed numerous times in the past, as opposed to a youngster coming back from surgery. In any case, I feel compelled to give credit where it's due, so kudos to Giradi for showing some serious, serious cajones with that decision.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast to switch sports for a moment:

* Is it safe for 49er fans to come out of hiding? 2-0, two pretty convincing wins -- particularly defensively -- against division foes? Is Mike Singletary on the road to returning this once world-beating franchise to an air of respectability and beyond? Am I getting ahead of myself after only 2 victories?

We can be pretty certain of the answer to at least one of those questions. But it's nice to have something positive in 49er land to talk about. That Frank Gore guy is preeeetty good.

* Just copped 2 tickets to the October 30th Futurely-Brooklyn Nets game verses Vince Carter and his slightly-new-look Orlando Magic. Hey, I did say I would make it a point to be in the house for his return visit, and -- unlike roughly 95% of people I come across -- I am a man of my word. Looking forward to it, especially seeing as how: (1) I can't think of a single Jersey Net that has much chance of stopping Carter, save for my boy Courtney Lee, who nevertheless has a bit of a height disadvantage, and (2) it will be the first game of Rashard Lewis' suspension, so ostensibly, there will be more responsibility for Carter in the Magic offense for this game and thru the first 2 weeks of the season. In short, he may be scorching the nets that night. It should be quite a "home"-coming.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Curious About Canó

Haven't blogged much at all about the Yanks this year, but there's a curious fact that has spurned me to change that. It's been a good year up till this point, especially their long run of approximately .750 ball this summer. Among a slew of players putting up good years both behind the plate and in the field has been Robinson Canó, hitting a robust .323 as of yesterday with the best power numbers and slugging percentages of his career. However, when you glance over to the situational statistics, you find something very, very alarming: he is hitting very, very poorly with runners on base, to the tune of .259 with runners on base, and .211 with runners in scoring position.

The more you look at those situational stats, the worse they get: .231 with the bases loaded, a situation that usually favours hitters, in which they almost invariably put up good numbers. The worst of all those stats for Robbie this year is undoubtedly that of a man of third base with less than two outs: .160 average with a .172 on-base percentage. By contrast, when the bases are empty, Robbie has been scorching: .378 batting average. Leading off an inning? .424, with a .771 slugging percentage.

The strange thing about all these numbers is that they are a complete anomaly when compared to the rest of his career; last year, for starters, he was .423 with a runner on third base. He has certainly performed in run-scoring situations throughout his career; naturally, I have no answers as to why he's put up such poor numbers in 2009. Of course, it's not to say he's not performed at all in pressure situations; I can readily recall two walk-off hits from Robbie: a laser-shot 3-run homer into the right-field seats, and I was in the house to see his game-winning double into right-center a few weeks ago. So, between that and his career numbers, I'm not suggesting that Robbie's incapable of, or has a career of not, producing with men on base.

But I definitely have to be a bit concerned about the 2009 version of Canó, considering how well he's hitting to start rallies than he is when he needs to keep them going.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Was It An Excuse To Let Off Some Man-Hatred?

Been a while since I've blogged; life's gotten a bit busy, though naturally I haven't shut sports out. However, another couple of bad articles have spurned me back into blog-action. They come from the likes of a certain Yahoo! Sports blogger whose so maligned that the comments section of his posts are frequently littered with calls for his head and amazement at his employ. When I say frequent, I do mean frequent.

This first one was the one that truly made me shake my head, both for the rampant omissions and the focus on Isiah's Knicks. For the latter, look, we all know how shoddy the Isiah Thomas reign in New York was. But was it me or did the blogger, both in text and image, imply that Thomas signed Eddy Curry as a free agent? Does my memory deceive me, or did he not come to New York via a sign-and-trade? I mean, really, it was bad enough that he included contract extensions in the list; a sign and trade is really stretching the definition of the list past the breaking point.

But that's a small, probably pedantic, quibble. Any way you shake it, Curry hasn't exactly worked out for the best.

The bigger problem is some of the omissions; I will concentrate on one in particular, as it relates to the Isiah Thomas-pile-on the article ended with. Naturally these days, most people malign Thomas as the destroyer of all things Knickerbocker, as if the franchise had been rolling along like a well-oiled machine before he arrived. Those of us that know how to spell ginkoba know nothing is further from the truth; their mismanagement started long before he rolled up his sleeves in MSG.

As you scroll back to #10 on that list, you'll see Rashard Lewis' Magic contract being included, simply because the Magic overpaid for his services. Granted, that part in hardly debatable, but if Lewis makes the list by said qualification, how does the Allan Houston mega-max-contract not make the list? Are you serious? Let's turn our minds back to 2001 and look forward from there to remind ourselves how awful this contract was.

First of all, the Knicks -- much like the Magic with Lewis -- severely outbid themselves. I've seen people debate the actual numbers -- some say $30 million, some say mitigating factors place the number much smaller -- but I've yet to see anyone say the Knicks gave Houston his fair market value. As a result, the Knicks ended up severely handcuffing themselves, eliminating the ability to sign any more top talent, and setting themselves up for years of salary cap and luxury tax hell. I mean, do we need to recall that the 2005 collective bargaining agreement has a provision that is very commonly called the Allan-Houston-exception? How bad does a contract have to be that it gets a rule, designed to undo some of its damage, named after it? How does such a contract not end up as one of the top-10 in the decade? That 2005 CBA elevated the status of that contract from poor to legendary.

Two years after the Rashard Lewis signing, the Magic have still retained the financial flexibility to sign players like Mikael Pietrus, Matt Barnes, and Brandon Bass, and ummm oh yea they made the NBA finals. I know the latter happened so long ago it's hard to remember, but do try. It goes without saying: Rashard had more than a bit of a hand in getting the Magic to the big show this year.

In the years after the Houston signing, the Knicks posted records of 30-52, 37-45, 39-43, and 33-49. By that time, Houston was succumbing to a host of knee injuries, and would never be the same player again.

However, what much of a player was he even at the signing? Everyone and everyone knew right then and there that this was a humongous price for a dictionary-definition-1-way-player. Houston was a shooter, and nothing more. Never known for his defense, an ability to break down players off the dribble, nothing. Shooting he did, and did with the best. But that alone shouldn't get you an over-bloated max contract. You love watching one-way players shoot the ball, but they exactly pan out to have a long, illustrious NBA career.

I'll never, ever, forget the day when I heard the news of the Houston signing. I was at my desk at work, and my jaw dropped. "$100 million?" Then, when I heard Allan declare, at the press conference, that he was "the best player at my position" in qualifying the big check, I pushed back from my desk, doubled over with laughter, and nearly fell out of the chair. The best shooting guard in the league? I started scanning the league in my mind. Isn't Kobe Bryant a shooting guard? Isn't Allen Iverson a SG? Ray Allen? Best SG? He's not even the best 2-guard named Allen!!! (nitpick at the slightly-different spellings if you will; but you get the point).

I say all this to say, we knew it was a bad contract at the time, and then time certainly bared that out to be rock-solid truth. Foresight and hindsight rarely agree with such accuracy. There is no conceivable way that the $100 million contract doesn't make a list of worst signings of the 2000s. There is certainly no way Lewis' contract ranks higher. The Magic have already made the finals, are still wheeling and dealing, and Lewis, a borderline All-Star annually (he should've made the 2009 team, certainly over Mo Whinings), though limited, has many more facets to his game than Houston ever did.

Sorry Dwyer; as the folks say nowadays, your list was an epic fail.

* A small note about another top-10 column: while the placement of #3 and #1 (Kwame Brown and Darko Milicic) is more than debatable -- I certainly would've swapped the two, based on the simple fact that I think Darko would abuse Brown in a game of 1-on-1, the entry in between them is, at best, quite curious:
2. Entire 2000 NBA draft
You can't pick a single bust-worthy standout. Sure, Stromile Swift(notes) (taken second overall) has disappointed greatly, but what were the Grizzlies' options? Darius Miles(notes)? Marcus Fizer? Chris Mihm(notes)? DerMarr Johnson(notes)? Do you want me to go on? Or do you want me to just mention Jerome Moiso's name and move on with it? It nearly bears mentioning that any time I see a comment wondering how it was, exactly, that a dope like me got this job, I think back to this draft. And I think, "I live-blogged the 2000 NBA draft. I've paid my dues, dammit."
Now, I actually took him at his word -- I certainly can't recall draft results 10 years past without doing a little search -- until a poster pointed out some of the other names in that years' draft: Kenyon Martin, Mike Miller, Jamal Crawford, Hedo Turkoglu, Desmond Mason, Jamaal Magloire, Quentin Richardson, Morris Peterson, Eddie House, Michael Redd. Four finals appearances, a couple Team USA selections, several All-Star selections, Sixth-Man Awards, Most Improved Accolades, and oodles of playoff team experience.

Did he mean to say the first round was a bust? Picks 2 thru 7? 9 thru 15? How can he call the entire draft a bust? Did he moreso mean to imply that teams picked stupidly that year? Perhaps he did suffer while blogging the draft, but maybe we all should take the blame for overlooking Michael Redd for 42 selections as much as all the teams did.

I won't go overboard on the criticism to call this post a fail; but I'll simply say that calling the entire 2000 draft a "bust" is rather, umm, overreaching.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Remembering A Great Night, One Year Ago

As the MLB gets set to hold another homerun derby competition later on tonight, I couldn't help but think back to a terrific night exactly one year ago at Yankee Stadium. That was the night Josh Hamilton put on a show for the ages. For those who don't know, Major League Baseball's All-Star Festivities were held in New York last year, and Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers stole the show in the home run derby with a record 28 homeruns in the first round.

The moment that the MLB announced that the 2008 All-Star Weekend would be held at Yankee Stadium, in a bid to honour its final season in existence, my mind became immediately transfixed on the home run derby. I've become increasing excited by the event in the past few years -- from Sosa in 2000 and Giambi in 2002, to the exploits of Bobby Abreu in 2005, Ryan Howard in 2006 and the dreaded Vlad in 2007 -- much more so than the actual all-star game, which admittedly I find a bit underwhelming. I scoured sites like for tickets, and copped a pair for roughly $500. Though I'm usually fairly frugal with my purchases, it didn't take much to realize the once-in-a-lifetime-ness of this particular event. So I plonked down the money, and afterward set out to find a friend that could be enticed into witnessing a small piece of sports history. Naturally, none of my punk friends bit, and I was reduced to trying to scalp the extra ticket outside the stadium; once that failed, I was furthered reduced to offering the ticket por gratis to the one friend nearest to the stadium I could call upon on a moment's notice. After all that running about, I finally was able to settle into my 'seat' in the left-field bleachers.

The stadium had all the usual buzz of a big game, but after a few underwhelming performances, the 50,000+ crowd became a bit antsy, somewhat bored and slightly annoyed. What were once encouraging cheers as a player's out-total mounted became Bronx jeers at announcer Michael Kay's imploring for continued support. By time the 7th competitor completed his round, you could feel the stadium shift its focus to, well, anywhere but the field. I personally tried to convince myself that, regardless of the outcome, I was still here, at my first home run derby, at the last all-star weekend that would ever take place in the current Yankee stadium. I just tried to enjoy it for the uniqueness of the event, even though the actual competition was turning out to be a bore. But just when all hope for excitement seemed lost, up to the plate strode Josh Hamilton.

I was only paying token attention when the ball left the pitcher's hand: *crack*...*whoosh*. What? Well, hello. Hamilton's first offering flew far and deep towards the back of the right-field bleachers. "Uh oh, what have we here?" was my immediate thought. I sat up in my seat, and directed full attention back towards home plate, along with most of the crowd. At this point, we were all dying for something to get excited about, and that one swing gave us hope. A couple of swings later, *crack!* another ball went screeching towards right-field, and ended up hitting the back wall of the bleachers. "Are you kidding me?" In all my years watching games at Yankee stadium, I recall very few balls that even reached the bleachers, let alone approach the back wall. "It hit the wall?!?" "Ohhhh!" went the crowd, and from that point on, he had us in the palms of his batting gloves. After a couple of in-game-length shots, interspersed with a couple of outs, Hamilton let loose with another tape measure shot. "Ohhhh!" And then another deep into the right-field bleachers. And then one a couple dozen rows up in the upper deck.

At this point, Josh was clearly the highlight of the previously-saccharin first round. Little did we know, he wasn't even warmed up. Another shot deep into right-center, another couple outs, and a shot into the short right-field porch followed. He seemed to be slowing a bit, until *whap!* wayyyy up into the upper deck. At that point, his 12th homer versus 6 outs eclipsed anything that had happened with the first seven batters. I no longer needed to convince myself that my money was well spent. I started thinking, if I were at home or in a bar watching this on TV, I'd be kicking myself for not coming. Literally, kicking.

As great as Josh had been to this point, he only got better. He launched blast after blast, and the entire crowd simply couldn't believe what we were seeing. We were all looking around, laughing, and making comments. I saw one blast heading towards the alley between the bleachers and the main seats, and started hoping it would leave the stadium altogether; an expertly-placed shot definitely would. He'd already hit the back wall; the extra-stadium jack had to be coming. Whap! Crack! Ohhhhh! Next thing you new, he was up into the 20s, and it started to seem like he could stay there all night long. We started to chant: "Ha-mil-ton! Ha-mil-ton!" right before breaking chorus to admire another deep upper-deck shot in awe.

When he finally cooled off, you couldn't believe the numbers even after seeing every blast fly out: 28 home runs. Huh? What was it, 3, 4 guys that didn't crack 4? Two that threw up a doughnut? Amazing. When the final round arrived, everyone was hoping, pulling for Hamilton to win, just so we'd get to celebrate him for making our night. The trophy wasn't meant to be, but no one seemed to care. Justin Morneau couldn't help alluding to Josh's first-round onslaught in his acceptance speech. Simply amazing.

Hamilton's first round was so much more than the numbers. He didn't just blast a couple-dozen bleacher and upper-deck shots. He didn't just break Abreu's first-round record, or perform as so many others have done in countless batting practices. He literally saved a night by his lonesome self. He turned an event that was beginning to lose its excitement, its energy, into a breathless display. 50,000 people were beginning to tune out the competition, and with one swing, he flipped a switch and drew us back in. 27 more swings later, we didn't know what to do with ourselves. They say timing is everything, and that is what made Hamilton's display so special, so energizing. Everyone came to the stadium hoping to see something fun and enjoyable, and for a while it looked like all we were going to get was boring. At the very moment all hope seemed lost, we saw something amazing and incredible. I won't forget that moment when the shot hit the right-field back wall. Amazing!

Thanks Josh. You made it money well spent.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

From the team I love to cheer to the team I love to watch.

So, for the second time in his career, Vinsanity is on the move. My first reaction was "damn, no more reason for me to make that 1.5 hour trek to New Jersey!" My second reaction was "wow, I'll never hear DID YOU SEE...VEEEE CEEEEEEEE" ever again.

Naturally, I understand the whys of this trade; that's not what I was reacting to. Sports, like music or any other entertainment, should have some level of emotion attached (most people take said emotion to ridiculous heights, but that's another post...). For those of us who're actually in control of our emotions, VC is simply one of the best players to watch, especially when he's having one of "those" nights. Even on off nights, when he's merely human, he manages to do two or three things that make the game worth the price of admission. I just happened to take a woman who'd never been to an NBA game to the contest verses Atlanta this past January where Vince sank a 35-foot OT-game winning shot. You could spend all day on YouTube watching his highlights (trust me, I've tried).

But this is not a career eulogy. The guy's still only 32, and can still ball with the best. This is rather merely the end of an era for a team I like to root for simply because of their ancient Long Island connections and their continued NY-area ties. The end of having my pick of 41 games over 6+ months to see the most amazing finisher the game has ever seen. (Yea, that's right, I said it). I mean, I'll still be the begrudging Knick fan not-so-silently rooting for the Nets; I'll still count Devin Harris as one of my favourite players; and the Nets now have another good young talent to pair with him in Courtney Lee for whom I'll be rooting.

Yet, the 2008-2009 Magic were a team I couldn't get enough of on NBA League Pass. Now they get the estimable Vince Carter. Every day, twice on Sundays. (ok, I don't know what that means either; it just fell off my fingers). In a way, with that annoying local-market restriction robbing me of an opportunity to watch Knick AND Net games on League Pass, perhaps I'm gaining something here. Wow, actually I am! (Sorry, it literally just occurred to me as I was typing this).

So, from the team I like rooting for, to the team I can't get enough of watching, goes one of the best and most exciting players of this generation. Vince Carter goes to a team bulging with talent, a team right at the top of the conference, for the first time since -- ever. This should be interesting, and most certainly will be fun to watch.

In any case, thanks Vince, for all the work you put in for your four-plus years in Jersey. I initially told myself I had much less reason to make the long trek to the whatever-they-call-it-now Arena for the Nets, but I realize now that's a lie. I'm gonna check the schedule, and make it a point to be in the house, if it's at all possible, to be part of that standing ovation you're guaranteed to get when you make that first trip to Jersey wearing Orlando blue. Good luck VC. Do your hometown Orlando proud. And don't forget to drop a game winner or two more on the Raptors for old-time's sake.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Most Overquoted Quote in the NBA Finals

Once again, sports writers have successfully gotten on my nerves. The next sports analyst to attach "master of panic" to a Stan Van Gundy coaching decision they disagree with deserves to get fired, slapped, and thrown to the wolves. Can you people come up with something, you know, original? Or, God forbid, accurate? Is every poor coaching the decision the result of panic now? Did you panic when you mistakenly picked Orlando to win the title? Yes, Jason Witless, I'm talking to you.

Let's get to the bottom of what actually can be considered a fault of Stan Van Gundy's coaching style. It comes down to one word: trust. He trusts numbers more than he does anything else; and certain players, with poor numbers, mmm not so much.

I can think back some years to when the Miami Heat were vying for a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, with Van Gundy at the helm and a rookie Dwyane Wade as the team's budding superstar. Yes, for all you A.D.D. sports fans and writers, it may surprise you to know that the Heat actually made the playoffs before Shaq arrived in South Beach. This was way back in 2004, and the Heat were in a do-or-die game verses the Indiana Pacers. For those of you who don't remember, here's a brief recap: 0-6 shooting, 0-4 from 3pt range, including a missed potential game-tying 3 at the buzzer. The culprit? One Rafer Alston. Shocked are you? Pick your bottom lip off the floor, thanks.

Now, is it panic that SVG pulls Rafer after a 1-5 shooting 3rd quarter last night? Or is it once bitten twice shy? Since when does mistrust get miscategorized as panic? Since when is it a panic move to trust a guy who, when healthy, has never let you down, over a guy who has as many poor games this postseason as good ones, whose thrown up air for you repeatedly in the past?

Moreover, on said issue of trust, I recall that 2004 game fairly well, because at the time I couldn't understand why SVG didn't have Dwyane Wade, his best player, on the court for the final play. We knew that Stan was playing the percentages, and that Wade at that time was a very poor and low volume 3-pt shooter, but I figured -- and still believe -- that you have to give the young kid a chance to become a star. Much like the Lakers put the ball Kobe's hands in the early years only to have him throw up airballs, everyone needs a chance to fail so that they learn how to succeed. Basic life stuff. But hey, can you blame a guy for doing whatever he can to give his team what he thinks is the best shot to win, in this era where coaches are on the shortest of leashes?

It's not panic; SVG simply goes with who he trusts, for better or for worse. Anybody who watched the Magic between November and February knows how much trust Jameer has built up with his coach. And anybody who truly follows the NBA knows from where the coach's shaky trust in Skip to my Lou stems. But what should I expect. These are the same people that can't figure out simple concepts like "home" and "away" to mitigate their confusion over Rafer's supposedly-inconsistent shooting from game to game in the past two Magic series. (Here's a hint folks: look out for a pretty little '@' symbol.)

Mind you, I too was sitting there wondering why SVG had Rafer on the bench in the final quarter (granted, I had missed the 3rd quarter and didn't watch it until later on replay), so I don't actually agree with said decision. But disagreeing with a decision over ideology and history is completely different than stooping to say someone is panicking.

Mr. Witless wants SVG to stop coaching with his heart and his hunches. If he actually had any sense of SVG's coaching history, he might begin to grasp that this may be exactly what SVG is doing. Riding a player who hasn't seen regular action since February is quite a risky decision, no doubt. But riding a Rafer who is well within rhythm hasn't exactly paid dividends for SVG in the past either.

But then, you wouldn't expect someone who doesn't cover the NBA specifically to remember such historical nuances. You know what they say: jack of all trades, master of none.

Speaking of the Big Quote-machine...

There was a rather scathing -- and, sadly, spot on true -- article about the Big Former Superman over on Yahoo! Sports a few days ago. Among other things, it accused Shaq of being immature, and insecure with his legacy as he enters the twilight of his career. Anyone whose watched Shaq over the past 2 season with an objective eye can atest to basically every word in the article. Did Michael Jordan ever take shots at Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, and all the other suspected heirs to his throne? We all know Jordan is a lot of things, but insecure certainly ain't one of them. Is Scottie Pippen twittering about how Lamar Odom is stealing his game and doing everything that he "invented"?

In any case, apparently word of said article got back to Mr. Shaqtus, who naturally couldn't resist pulling out his crackberry and firing off a scathing retort:
"O my yahoo sports wrote a bad article abt me , I'm gonna cry , yea rt, wanna kno the real its comn frm my shaqberry I'm da reporter now"
Like, umm, ok. Shaq, are you serious? Seriously, are you serious here? This is your reply to someone calling you immature? Matter of fact, why are you replying at all? Haven't we all heard about the biggest sports stars -- the Alex Rodriguez's of the world -- making it a point to not read the newspapers? Much less reply to them? I mean, Shaq, Yahoo! Sports? Did you not see the quote from the most-revered of statesmen, the one Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, telling the world that he sometimes "wonders about [your] maturity"?

Shaq, you're too big and too respected a figure to be shattering it all like this in your waning years. Don't go out like this big man. You did your thing, and have left (and are still leaving) your legacy for all to see. No one's trying to steal your shine or your past; it stands on its own. You did your thing, now others are doing theirs. End of story.

Cause if you really aren't immature, you certainly have a funny way of showing it -- again, and again, and again again.

What in the France is going on here?

I know Americans aren't the best when it comes to geography, but I'm getting a bit annoyed at seeing repeated references to Mickael Pietrus' being "born in France." Umm, excuse me, is Guadeloupe too difficult a word to type? Does anyone tell us that Tim Duncan was born in the United States? Do hurricanes hit England? Did Natalie Holloway disappear in the Netherlands? Can one of our little islands get some love?

Hail up Guadeloupe, birthplace of the Orlando Magic's Mickael Pietrus. I mean, it's only the place where he grew up, was educated, and learned to play basketball well enough to go straight to a European Junior League at 15 years of age. Silly little specifics that those might be.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Long Lost, The Unstoppable, The Sky Hook

So I just got thru watching an ESPN Segment on Kareem's Unstoppable Sky Hook; and had a few thoughts. First off, naturally, no discussion of the NBA's yesterday would be complete without a few jabs at "today's players"; and at least a good minute or more of this segment was dedicated to multiple people wondering why no one today utilizes the "most unstoppable shot" in NBA history.

But let's step back for a second: since we're dumping on today's players, what happened to yesterday's players? Who else in Kareem's day was utilizing the hook shot? Did the celebrated Moses Malone or the somewhat over-celebrated Bill Walton use said shot? How about Wilt the Stilt or Bill Russell? I mean, the first player to unveil the hook was undoubtedly George Mikan; why did it take 20 years of NBA history before another player picked up the shot? Did Wilt and Bill not think the shot was "sexy" or "cool" enough for them to use like "today's" players? Did Hakeem and Darryl Dawkins not care about working on their game like "today's" players? There had to be 5 or more clips of Kareem killing Robert Parish with the hook; why didn't they have any clips of Parish going back at Kareem with it?

It's been 40 years since Kareem took Mikan's hook to unforeseen heights; and in that video, they couldn't point out even one other player whose utilized it since 1970. But we have to hear about how players in 2009 are neglecting the shot only now. Give me a break.

What was actually comical about that part of the discussion was that, in conjunction with players and coaches lamenting the death of the hook, they showed maybe 4 or 5 straight clips of Yao Ming in the lower box employing the very shot they're telling us nobody uses. Priceless.

My second thought was on the unstoppable-ness of the hook. Now, granted, a one-on-one defender who has been backed down has pretty much no means of blocking a properly-executed hook. That's as much a given as being unable to strip the ball from a guy who has turned his back and put his body between his dribble and the defender. But how about not allowing yourself to get backed down so low? I saw one clip of Wilt Chamberlain simply letting Kareem back him down into the paint, offering absolutely no push back as he dribbled down. As Kareem turned to shoot the hook, Wilt took a step back, gathered himself, and attempted in vain to leap as high as he could to block the shot. Now, as wiry as he is, let's not underestimate how strong Kareem was; I saw Robert Parish in the 80s banging with Kareem hard trying to present some actual defensive resistance. But you can't tell me Kareem is strong enough to out-muscle Wilt Chamberlain; or rather, that Wilt wasn't big enough to offer more resistance to Kareem in the lower box.

So that's one way to limit the hook's effectiveness; body up with the guy and push him away from the paint, further away from the basket. It didn't seem like there was much of that going on until the mid-1970s or closer into the '80s of the NBA.

Another way is help defense. Again, let's give Kareem his due, he was a good if not excellent post passer, and at his height could easily pass out of a hard double team when it came. However, again, in some of the clips they showed, you wondered exactly what was a hard double-team back in the day. By my count, there were at least 4 or 5 clips where Kareem turned to shoot the hook right in front of a guard, lowering the ball to the guard's height, and where the guard did -- absolutely nothing. Another 2 clips showed a guard offering very token resistance; if a guard in today's NBA took such a weak swipe at the ball to 'help' out his teammate, he'd be getting an earful from his coach, and the commentators would be telling us how guys are not willing to give maximum effort on defense. But, apparently, this was a common occurrence in the days of lore. If you're going to stand and watch Kareem bring the ball to your height, turn right in your direction, and do nothing, at least bring a camera to the court. We could all be benefiting from the great-angled shots those guards were privy too. How selfish of them.

So, there are my few thoughts on the subject. We can celebrate Kareem's greatness, but stop dumping on today's players not using the hook if you're going to show a grand total of one player in 40 years utilize it. And try watching a Houston Rockets game or two (you know, early in the season, before Yao's inevitable season-ending injury) before making such a declaration. And let's talk about how little some defenses of early yesteryear did in properly defending such a shot. If we're gonna bust on players today, then let's also talk about players of yesterday who let guys 30 lbs lighter than them move wherever they please, guards who offer nothing in the form of good help defense, and the fact that no one in the heyday worked on their offense any more than players of today.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

They Grow Up So Fast

Let me start out by saying that, in all honesty, I never expected the Magic to get this far, this fast. If you look back thru this blog, it's obvious how much I followed this team thru the year, and how much I liked following their games and their progress. I copped tickets to games when the Magic came to town verses both the Knicks and the Nets, and watched them on NBA League Pass whenever I could. Simply stated, I truly love this collection of talent that GM Otis Smith has put together.

They started with a bit of luck, getting the ping-pong balls to bounce right in their favour 5 years ago. After grabbing the prize of that 2004 draft, they slowly but surely put together a complimentary, talented bunch of likable players. Every year they put more and more pieces to the puzzle, first with guys like Hedo, then to the no-longer-criticized Rashard Lewis signing (though they probably still did overpay him), to this year getting Pietrus, Courtney Lee, and others. Some time ago in this blog, I predicted that the Eastern Conference better take note, because with such a monster being surrounded by such quality talent, it was only a matter of time before the other teams would be rendered to also-ran status.

But, again honestly, never did I think it would happen this quickly. More than likely aided by the Kevin Garnett injury, the young Magic made it thru to the Eastern Conference finals; again, I actually picked against them in the series with the Celtics. I admittedly thought they'd find a way to let the series slip away, much like they did in Game 5, allowing the Celtics to hang around long enough for Big Baby Davis to hit that memorable game-winner. At that point, the Magic were down 3-2, had a playoff run littered with a number of blown leads and missed opportunities, and were set up to fade into the summer with a good amount of post-season experience to lead them to grow into the future as a team.

But a funny thing happened: their growth took an exponential jump between games 5 and 6. They didn't follow the script of the young up-and-coming upstart team running into a more veteran, tested team along the way of their growth into a conference powerhouse. In hindsight, perhaps that playoff-experience-gaining run actually happened last year? Who knows, but however it happened, these young guns grew up, and grew up quickly. They ran thru the last 2 games against the Celtics with a newfound confidence, and then dispatched of another team they were fully qualified to beat. Naturally, they found ways to make it more difficult than it should have been, like getting off to sluggish starts in all 3 road games, and again allowing their opponent to stick around long enough to become the sidebar in the most over-celebrated shot in NBA history. But they finished the job, and did so in fairly-impressive fashion.

Now they'll gear up to take another step in their growth: playing on the highest of stages, against the best of the Western Conference. Congrats to my favourite young team. From Superman to the Jordan of Turkey, from Shard (owner of the 2nd-prettiest jumper in history) to a Caribbean-brother MP, from young gun Courtney to chissled-veteran Battie, I enjoyed watching you guys play and grow this year. I predicted that you had this success in your future; I just never knew you'd find it within you this quickly! Congratulations and good work.

And condolences to the rest of the Eastern Conference. Barring injury, I'm sure a year from now we'll be looking at a Celtics/Magic Conference finals; after that? Age kicks in, and nothing but a shrinking salary-cap or the 2010 free-agent sweepstakes is going to save the Conference from a long run of looking up at the Magic. Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron better switch home addresses if they hope to pose any kind of challenge to this young core.

Assuming GM Smith can continue to work his "magic" in keeping this team together thru the future free agencies of Turkoglu, Gortat, and others, we may be looking at the start of something special.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Best Team? Or Best *Record*?

In the past couple of days, I've heard the phrase "best team" being bandied about, naturally in reference to this year's Cleveland Cavaliers. I however have a question, and some NBA history, to impart upon that: since when did regular season records determine who the best team of the year was? Is the team that finishes with the best record ever really the best team?

They say that those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it. A corollary to that saying could well be: those who don't know history are doomed to be confused by current events and make bad predictions and shaky statements.

Of the past 10 teams that finished the regular season with the best overall record, precisely two of them went on to grab the NBA championship: the 2008 Celtics, and the 2003 Spurs. If recent history is much of an indicator, it should be at least another 2-5 years before we witness the perfect storm of a tremendous regular season followed by an impeccable post-season run. In the past 20 years, only nine of the best-record teams captured the NBA title -- and four of those nine were based in the windy city and captained by a certain NBA legend.

So what's with all this best-team talk? Aren't we supposed to wait until the champion is crowned before anointing one team with such a title? In fact, it quite appears that the team with the best overall record is quite a safe answer if the question is "who won't win the title this year?"

Surely, to some, this is all just statistics and nerd-speak; surely, dominating the regular season must translate into post-season success. Yet no one outside of Dallas batted an eye 2 years ago when the Mavs were bounced out in the first round by the one team who had their number. That team won all of 66 games, as compared to this year's Cavs' 67 games. Is there anyone willing to raise their hand to say the 2007 Dallas Mavericks were the best team in the league? Anyone? Anyone? No one considers the '06 Detroit Pistons the 'best' team; that's reserved for the Wade/Shaq ring-bearing squad. There is no shortage of people who will criticize the supposed mirage that was the regular-season domination of the Phoenix Suns of 4 years ago. And the list goes on and on. So why are we being subjected to this ridiculous diatribe with the Cavaliers?

Just why have the best regular-season records not translated into postseason success? It likely boils down to one phrase I used earlier: the perfect storm. So many things have to go right over the 6-month marathon for a team to keep winning so consistently: no major injuries, or minor ones for that matter, a high sustained level of consistency, a good number of weak teams, a middling division, a fair amount of luck, etc.

The good teams that deal with one or more of these and other setbacks, unfortunately, both don't get the best record, and usually gear up to have a perfect storm for the next 6-7 weeks. It's a lot easier to be good and fortunate over the span of 6 weeks than it is over the span of 8 months. The last 2 San Antonio championship teams are a testament to that. They deal with their share of injuries to Duncan, Ginobili, and others, go thru stretches of poor play, and at some point pull back on the reigns of trying to push out the best record. They refocus on getting healthy, getting rested, and gearing up to play their best ball near the end of the season.

And how about the 2009 Boston Celtics? Anybody remember them? Remember that 17-game win streak they reeled off in December? They were rolling thru the season early, and everyone thought they had a chance to break the record for regular-season wins. Then, the Lakers came to town, the losses started to pile up, and there went any thought of a record run. Aftwerwards, they righted the ship, and started powering up towards another postseason run, until -- disaster struck, in the form of a Kevin Garnett knee injury.

But what if they started the season slowly? What if KG hurts that knee before Christmas, has surgery right away, and comes back healthy -- and rested -- in mid-March? What if, from that point on, they started playing that December-quality ball? Simply put, the 2008 Celtics run went against normal NBA-season rules; it was, to an extent, to be expected that the perfect storm of health, quality play, and luck wouldn't fall into place for another 8 straight months. In fact, one could make the case that the '08 Celtics run wasn't all that perfect, considering their struggles in beating the Hawks and Cavaliers in grueling 7-game series.

So what do we make of this best-record, best-team talk? Very little. Does beating a depleted Washington squad in mid-January have any bearing on winning a title? How could it? There are some regular-season records that do matter, records aside from the overall wins tally. How you perform against +.500 teams. How you perform against the other playoff teams. And most importantly, how you perform against the other top-tier teams in the league. If you dominate the best of the best -- something the Cavaliers did not come close to doing this year -- then you are certainly in line for a championship. If you amass a reasonable .500 record against the rest of the league's best, then you've got a pretty good shot at a title, given a little luck and quality play. Remember, once the playoffs start, you've only got to win 57% of the time to win a title. That 57% translates into a 46-win season, a far cry from the 60+ win seasons that the top teams amass. However, if you are a middling sub-.500 against the best teams in the league, a distinction held by the 2009 Cavaliers, it is evidence that trouble is amiss.

Basketball, as with other sports, is a game of matchups. Beating 28 other teams repeatedly really has no bearing on how you'll perform against that 29th team. History has shown this time and time again. Just ask the 2007 Dallas Mavericks and their arch-nemisis, the Oaktown Warriors. Best team? Or best record? The facts say that we wait for the playoffs to end before crowning anyone with the former.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Magic vs. The Mirage

Just got thru watching a segment on ESPN's Mike-&-Mike Show with Tim Legler, after watching the ESPN Roundtable with Magic Johnson, Stewart Scott, et. al. The slight majority, when asked who they thought would prevail in tonight's pivotal Eastern Conference Finals game 4, thought that the Cavaliers would finally show their championship mettle, and revert to the great team that we saw during the regular season. Now, I could be disrespectful and ask "have they been watching the first three games?", but I won't do that; rather, I'll ask the better question: "are the Cavs actually a great team?"

Yes, as Legler pointed out, the Cavs marched out to a top-notch 66-16 regular season record. But as was pointed out to me some time ago, the Cavs were a paltry 4-7 against the best of the league -- the Lakers (0-2), Celtics (2-2), Rockets (1-1), and Magic (1-2). They were blown out in Houston by 19 points, destroyed in their last game in Orlando by 29 points. They simply didn't play a championship-calibre game against the best teams all year. So now that we are down to the time of the year where only best of the league remain, why should we expect any different?

I think the problem with this team is the level of talent surrounding the Chosen One. First, let's point out that LeBron this year has elevated his all-around game, rightfully coming close to winning a defensive player of the year award, to go along with his otherworldly offensive talents. But what of the guys around him? Where are the other complete players? I think this question is key to the deficiencies of the Cavaliers.

Has anyone ever mistaken Mo Williams, Delonte West, Sasha Pavlovic, or "Boobie" Gibson as great individual defenders? Where's the other great wing defender on this 'team'? Any team with a big or strong backcourt can post these guys up all day long. On any given night that they're not making shots, how are they useful as basketball players? In the same light, Uncle Wally is hardly known as much of a defender either.

Offensively, how are "Floppy" Varejao or Ben Wallace of any use other than on putbacks and broken plays? Did anyone see the play on Sunday where Wallace had the ball 12 feet from the bucket in the paint and was completely disregarded by the defense; and he obliged them by turning away from the rim and passed the ball? How is Big Z going to body up with a center like, ohh, Dwight Howard, to be able to keep Superman from posting up, getting to the rim, and keeping him off the boards?

The only other player on this team that isn't nearly one-dimensional is Joe Smith, with both his defense and length contributing on one end, and his mid-range jumper making him a quantity on offense. One writer recently pointed out that the Boston Celtics clearly got the short end of the Joe Smith-Mikki Moore sweepstakes.

With the athleticism and abilities of the athletes in the league these days, can a collection of one-dimensional players really get it done on the biggest stage? Every time you plug a player into the game, you're making a sacrifice. Either you're hoping this guy will shoot well enough to offset the points he gives up on defense, or you're hoping this other guy will make enough stops and grab enough boards to make up for the other team completely ignoring him as an offensive threat. And yet, we're left to wonder why such a team would run up into matchup problems?

Now let's flip the scorecard over and look at the Magic's role-players. Mikael Pietrus was brought to Orlando moreso for his defensive prowess, and people are heaping praise on him for doing a decent job against LeBron James (what more can you do against the guy?). Yet how many big plays has he made on the offensive end? How many big shots and drives to the bucket have we seen? Courtney Lee has simply had an impressive rookie season, and had games where he's shined on the offensive end. Yet, in the Boston series, this youngster stuck to Eddie House like glue, and completely, completely took him out of at least 3 games, if not the series in general. Tony Battie is certainly a defensive player, yet he has a very capable mid-range jumper, much like Joe Smith. The same goes for Marcin Gortat. Rafer Alston and Anthony Johnson aren't known for their defense, but you can always insert a wing defender in Lee or Pietrus next to them to solidify the backcourt.

Hedo Turk had a game the other night where he shot 1-11, yet he had 10 assists, got to the free-throw line, and repeatedly put the Cavs' defense out-of-wack by running an effecient pick-and-roll. He also isn't known as the best defender, but he does have size and length to bother certain players on the court. The same goes for Rashard Lewis; he definitely uses his length on the defensive end, and we needn't even waste time discussing his talent on offense. If Turk or Lewis can be exploited on defense, who besides LeChosen One can do the exploiting?

In any case, the Magic certainly have more than their share of two-way, multi-talented players. When Coach Van Panicky inserts these players, he doesn't have to worry about them contributing in one and only facet; he merely has to require that they play good basketball on both ends of the court. Coach Brown? He's got to mix and match, and honestly, just hope for the best.

And going forward past 2009, where's the future for this team? Zydrunas is certainly on the downside of his career, and his lack of athleticism is starting to be exposed. As bigger and stronger centers start coming in, how much further back will he slip? How many years (or months?) before New Jersey's Brook Lopez passes him by? Ben Wallace -- how many more useful years does he have? How far down the depth chart has he already slipped? Wally Z? Sasha Pavlovic? Boobie Gibson? Does this Cleveland team really have much of a long-term future? We will certainly find out in a year or two.

But of more immediate importance: does this collection of one-dimensional role players really have what it takes to be truly considered a great team? Where is Batman's Robin? Where is Superman's Amazing Friends, the Scottie Pippens, the (young) Bruce Bowen's, the Robert Horry types, guys that can contribute all over the court? I simply don't see it.

There's an old sports adage that says: you're never as good as you look when you win, and never as bad as you look when you lose. Just some food for thought.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Nice Try Mike; Nice Try Refs

When a Coach-of-the-Year isn't quite so much the best coach

Colour me suprised. Many people have brought up, with increasing regularity, the Cavs' 1-2 record verses the Magic in the regular season (along with the longer-term losing record against Orlando, something to the tune of 9 loses in their last 11 games). Naturally, we can't make too much of the games prior to the start of this season, as both the Magic and the Cavs underwent significant roster improvements last summer. The more the wheels begin to fall off the Cav bandwagon, the more analysts and reporters seem to refer to this stat. Well, better late than never people.

In reply, Mike Brown and other Cleveland defenders have pointed out that Cleveland had equally-poor records verses the Pistons and Wizards in previous years, only to dispatch of said teams once the playoffs started. On the face of things, this one seemed like quite the plausible defense, throwing a monkey wrench into our stat-loving rantings.

But let's look a bit closer at said defense, shall we? Last year, Cleveland split their 4 regular-season meetings with Washington, before beating them in the playoffs in 6 games. Two of the regular-season games were decided by 1 and 2 points; Cleveland won a 3rd game by 36 points, and in the 4th, a Wizard win, LeBron James didn't play. What exactly does Coach Brown think was so different about the playoffs? What's he trying to sell us?

Two years ago, Detroit took 3 of 4 from the Cavs, then lost in 6 games in the playoffs. There's nothing on the face that seems to deviate here from what Coach Brown claimed, so score one for him there. Definitely strange turn of events between the regular season and the playoffs. I'm sure there may be some clues in the individual games -- you'd figure there have to be -- but to look would be overkill.

On the other side, that same year, Cleveland took 3 of 4 from the Wizards in the regular season, before sweeping the series in the playoffs. Score one for the regular season.

So, in general, we can say the coach has somewhat of a point -- that it is possible that regular season difficulties will not translate into the playoffs -- but it's probably much more accurate to say that this is a rare occurence. Nothing wrong with playing the percentages, especially when they're overwhelming.

Nice Try Refs

As far as the officiating in tonight's Game 3, what can you say? Horrible? Slanted? Inconsistent? Blatently-biased? A flagrant foul when a guy is going up for a shot? How many out-of-bounds play calls did they get wrong? How many charges did they mis-call? It felt like Kings/Lakers Game 7 all over again.

Kudos to the Magic for overcoming a very curiously called basketball game to take the 2-1 lead.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Halftime of the Lakers/Nuggets...

Commentators Missing the Ball

We're at half-time of the Laker/Nugget game, where Denver ended on a flurry to trim a 13-pt deficit down to a single point. All the commentators talked about "energy", "effort", and a bunch of generalities and platitudes when discussing their opinion of what went wrong for the Lakers during the run.

They all completely missed the obvious. Andrew Bynum went to the bench, after playing well and having all the announcers praise his play. Lamar Odom came in. in the first half, Bynum was +8, Lamar was -5. Linus Kleiza from of the Nuggets also hit 3 shots from beyond the arc and had a +10 during his time on the court. All the other big-minute players were essentially even.

It's not rocket science people. Can we point out the obvious? And try to give Bynum a little bit of credit? Lord knows we've heaped criticism and/or repeatedly pointed out when he hasn't played near his best.

The Fight Over Superman

OK, this has gone on long enough. Spurned out by the increasingly-curmudgeonly Shaq O'Neil, people (read: ESPN's knuckleheads like Stewart Scott) is going out of their way to bring up the Shaq/Howard Superman co-claim. Having been knocked out of the playoffs over 5 weeks ago, Shaq's relevance to the current NBA final four is completely nil. Yet Stewie felt the need to remind us for the umpteenth time that there was a Superman prior to Dwight's current incarnation.

People, give me a break. Did George Reeves sit around dissing Christopher Reeve to the media in 1978? Did the Daily Bugle print stories about Christopher being an also-ran? Did Dean Cain have to defend himself against barbs from Reeve and Reeves? Do interviewers ask Brandon Routh if he thinks he's the real Superman?

Naturally, no. Shaq, no disrespect boss, but you are yesterday, Dwight is today. That is the beauty of the Superman moniker, because it's following the same history of the Superman character we've already seen. One Superman has his day and then makes his way for an update. Every bit like how George Reeves had to make way for Christopher.

And being that I am the same age as Shaq, I feel fully qualified to point out that he needs to make way for the young fella. And since we're on the subject -- since you like to point out that Dwight isn't doing anything you haven't already done -- would you mind telling the world exactly when you donned a cape and flew thru the air in a dunk contest? Or could you point out the year you won the Defensive POY award? I must've missed that while watching cartoons or something.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Blind Critizing The Blind

So, I see that after the Magic fourth-quarter meltdown, Dwight Howard, as respectfully as possible, criticized his coach for his substitution patterns and the lack of offensive touches for Dwight in the game. Unfortunately, while Dwight was right to criticize Van Gundy's offensive game-calling, begging for Van Gundy to call his number on offense is just as clueless.

Dwight says his coach needed to go with what's working -- naturally -- but when did feeding him in the post ever work? The Celtics were playing him straight up with Perkins or Davis, so he wasn't commanding a double-team to free up any shooters or get the defense moving. And he wasn't scoring. On top of that, he's taking hooks running away from the basket, so they can't even get boards. What about feeding Dwight was a good idea?

Dwight was right about the need to feed someone, but he got the wrong person. They should've been feeding Rashard or Hedo. If you go back and watch the game, you'd see it, feeding them never failed. The Celtics (w/o Garnett) have no one that can dream of holding Rashard on the box or out on the wing. Dwight is just as wrong as his coach to not realize this.

Getting the ball to a post player is definitely the answer, instead of those repeated screen-rolls they ran. I see analysts like Tim Legler and Adrian Whatshisface agreeing to that. Problem is, I don't know why no one can see that Dwight is not the player they need to be posting. Perhaps someone like Hollinger with his barrage of statistics might see the light, cause right now I feel like I'm shouting in an empty forest.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Another Offensively-Clueless Van Gundy

Is "Van Gundy" Dutch for "I will repeatedly run the same play on offense whether it works or not"? Watching the Magic-Celtics tonight was a nightmarish deja-vu of the late-2nd-millenia New York Knicks. From early in the game I was mystified: why does this team keep running post-ups for Dwight Howard? Give Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis credit: they continually push Superman further away from the basket than he wants to go, making him settle for somewhat-rushed running hookshots in the lane. Dwight is eventually going to be a post-up offensive juggernaut (let's try to remember, the kid is still only 23, and you can see the slow but sure development of a set of post moves). He needs to slow down, put repeated moves, switch directions more than once, and get closer to the rim. However, the 4th quarter of game 5 of the playoff semifinals is not a time to see if he can figure things out.

In any case, the 4 or 5 times that Rashard Lewis or Hedo Turkoglu posted up on the blocks, back to basket, with a clearout, resulted in the Magic getting positive production. A layup, a foul, a shot in close range. About the only time that happened multiple times, to the best of my memory, was in the 2nd quarter. Watching Dwight fail to convert any of his postups time and time again was painful enough; watching the Magic call his number after every successive failure was mind-boggling.

Memo to Stan Van Gundy: THE CELTICS HAVE NO ONE HEALTHY THAT CAN GUARD RASHARD LEWIS! How the &#$* does he not know this? Why is he not being featured? Rashard drives around Perkins, shoots over Davis, and just generally abuses Scalabrine, with incredible regularity and ease. If Kevin Garnett were healthy, this would be a considerably different situation. But guess what: GARNETT'S NOT PLAYING!

If you couldn't tell, I find Van Gundy's offensive play-calling maddening. There is an old sports adage that says you keep running the same play until a team proves they can stop it. In football, you run the ball down the throat of a team who's being manhandled by your offensive line and/or run over by your running back. In baseball, you pitch to a hitter's weak spot (e.g. up and in) until he proves he can hit it. In basketball, you maximize any and all mismatches on the court.

In the 1st-half, Lewis was 6-8, and on shots 13 feet and closer, was 6-7, an assortment of layups and short jumpers. In the 2nd-half, he was 1-2 at close range, and 1-7 on long jumpers and 3 pointers. Let's see; a certain type of play is 85% successful from the field in the first half, and you run it all of TWICE in the second? What the hell do they pay the coaches for? To yell at officials and call random timeouts?

I'm beating this horse dead, and I haven't even gotten to the worst part of the game: the 4th quarter. With 5 minutes to go in the game, the Magic had a ten-point lead and a collar on the game. The Celtics started defending the screen-and-roll much better, got stops on consecutive trips, and started hitting shots. The Magic continued to run the screen-roll. Couple more Celtic buckets, and Van Gundy calls a timeout. Out of the timeout, the Magic run -- yet another screen-roll. At what point does it sink into someone's thick skull that you need to do something different? Isn't this a lesson most of us learn as a toddler? Hand on stove, OUCH, I won't do that again.

But then again, that Howard post-up didn't work in the 1st half, not even once, yet Van Gundy kept calling for it. The meager 3 or 4 times Hedo or Rashard posted up, they got good looks. But hey, why go to something successful. Let's just keep posting Dwight, never mind that it hasn't worked with any success for 5 games.

In the end, the Magic didn't post up either of their forwards for the entire 4th quarter by my count. They never got the 1 or 2 buckets they needed to keep distance, and in the end, the lead slipped away. And with it, perhaps the series.

Good going Stan. This was your loss, make no mistake about that. Next time, try calling some plays that actually work!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Suggestion for Instant Reply: Goaltending Calls

During yesterday's Boston-Orlando Game 4, I counted at least 4 plays at the basket that were very difficult for the officials to make. Instant reply showed that at least 3 of them may have gone the wrong way. There was the obvious, like Rajon Rondo's goaltend of Mikael Pietrus' layup after the ball had clearly hit the glass; this play resulted in at least a 1 point change (two if you assume Pietrus to hit the resulting and-1 free-throw). There was the difficult, like Dwight Howard's grab of a Rajon Rondo teardrop that appeared to be well short of the rim. Then there was Pietrus' clean shotblock of Ray Allen near the end of the first quarter, a ball that was quite obviously still on the way up. Plays like these are just as bang-bang, and just as reviewable, as other plays that are now up for review on instant replay.

Think about it: much like the current instant-replay rules for 3-point shots, goaltending calls are merely about adjusting the score during the game. Much like the 3-point calls, the officials can mark plays to be reviewed at the next dead-ball timeout. Calls that are deemed incorrect can be adjusted accordingly.

In this game, we're talking about the questionable difference of 5-7 points in a game that was decided by 1 point. Certainly this is something for the rules committee to at least consider in the off-season. At least, that's the view from here on Mars.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mars versus Earth

So, now that I went out on a limb in the first round to make predictions, how did I fare, particularly against the best of the best analysts? I checked out the predictions made by the analysts on Yahoo! Sports and ESPN, and am happy to report that I did quite, quite well. The Hawks' fourth and final dismantling of the Heat earned me a tie with ESPN's super-stat man Hollinger, Chris Sheridan, and Thorpe with 25-first-round points.

How did I score and rank these predictions, surely you'd have to ask. For each perfect prediction (series winner and number of games), you get 4 points. For each game a prediction is off by, you lose a point (e.g. if a series goes 5 games and you guessed 6, you'd earn 3 points; a 7-game series that you predicted would be sweep would earn you a single point). And naturally, predicting the wrong team to move on will garner no points.

So what did I learn from this little exercise? Well, for at least one round of the playoffs, I was every bit as good as the most-known analysts at ESPN (a nice achievement) and Yahoo! Sports (nothing to hang your hat on really). Jalen Rose (13 points) should probably stop predicting altogether (Cavs in 6? Celtics and Magic in 4?) Perennial shameless man-hater Adrian Wojnarowski (15 points) should join him (Nuggets in 7? Blazers? Celtics and Magic in 5?)

In any case, the latter rounds are certainly harder to predict; I almost don't expect to do nearly as well the next time around. So I'll certainly savour this "I'm as good as the best" for as long as I can.