Friday, January 30, 2009

Frozen Out In Minnesota

So the Timberwolves players and brass are complaining about two all-star weekend snubs from their recently-reincarnated-from-the-dead team. While we're usually loathe to give extra credence to partisan howling, there may be a little validity to their claims.

No Love
First up is the lack of Love in the Rookie-Sophomore challenge -- the snub of T-Wolves forward Kevin Love. Yes, the numbers do point to a productive player; high (or is it the highest?) per-minute averages in rebounding and...uhh, wait, it's just rebounding. Well, OK. His per-minute scoring isn't too bad either, but naturally, the Wolves are conveniently neglecting just how slowly Love's NBA career started. His play in 2009 has merely subdued what was, for a long time, resounding criticism of GM McHale's draft-day trade of OJ Mayo for Love.

Quibbling over numbers aside, there is definitely one curious element of the Rookie squad selections that works as an argument for Love. Of the 9 players on the team, exactly one is a forward. There are 5 guards, 3 centers, and one forward. Huh? Rudy Fernandez is listed as a combo guard, but if you've seen him play, you can see he's more guard than forward. And if the 12-member all-star teams don't have 3 legitimate centers, how do the rooks end up with 3 for only 9 slots? Their centers aren't even of the F/C combo, Chris Bosh, Tim Duncan-breed. Greg Oden, Brook Lopez, and Marc Gasol are traditional centers in every sense. And I have the overwhelming feeling that no one in Jersey, Tennessee, Spain, or anywhere else in the world would've batted an eye if Lopez or Gasol weren't selected.

But for all of McHale-and-company's pontificating about per-minute numbers, perhaps if they played him more minutes, more folks would notice him? Not really a point, just a thought.

In any case, for all the great guards (Rose, Mayo, Westbrook, Gordon) that the rooks are fielding, the sophomore forwards are gonna have a field day scoring over those smallish guards and around those not-exactly-fleet-footed centers. I get the feeling Kevin Durant is about to make all-star Friday his personal showcase.

Maybe this (poor team construction) is why the Rookies rarely win the challenge?

Another Year Without Al
Al Jefferson should've been an all-star reserve over David West. Really, I'm not sure what much more this guy has to do to get recognized as one of the 12 best in the conference. Fitting him on the team within the format is pretty easy. Your guards are Billups and Parker, Dirk and Pau are your forwards, and Shaq is the center, leaving Brandon Roy and Big Al as the wildcards. I don't think anybody saw the selection of David West coming. Did we mention that he's currently out with back spasms, yet the Hornets have won 4 of their 5 games without him? Including 2 blowout wins over Denver and Philly? Or that it was Big Al's T-Wolves that gave N'awlins that one loss?

The good Lord knows I don't wish injury on anyone, but let's say West's back doesn't loosen up in the next couple of weeks. Granted, I know that is quite a long time to be out with mere spasms, but in that unlikely scenario, I'm hoping the NBA's commissioner-emperor-chancellor-supreme will make the right pick.

Don't get me wrong, West is a good player, though I say all-star level with a bit of reservation. But c'mon. This is Big Al we're talking about. The winters are beyond cold in Minnesota. Have a heart. Give the guy at least one weekend in Arizona.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The 2009 All-Star Reserves

Yes, I'm a bit late, but as long as I ink my picks before 8pm tonight, I'm safe. Now, I could pick the bench based off my earlier picks for the starters, but that would be taking the easy way out. Every year, the fan voters make it hard(er) to pick the reserves because of an inevitable two or more questionable choices. I'll stick to the rules of: 2 guards, 2 forwards, one center, and 2 wildcards. The rules do have the extra stipulation to allow for a bit of fudging on the position choices if necessary -- otherwise known as the "don't bother trying to pick another center in the East" corollary.

East Reserves:
Guards: Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson
Forwards: Danny Granger, Paul Pierce
Center-sorta-kinda-sometimes-whenhehastobe: Chris Bosh
Wildcards: Joe Johnson, Vince Carter

Just missed out: Ray Allen/Rajon Rondo, Caron Butler/Antawn Jamison, Rashard Lewis/Hedo Turkoglu, Mo Williams, Gerald Wallace

Keep in mind, you can't take everyone. Yes, people may scoff at my two wildcard picks, but they have certainly carried their respective teams at times during this half-season. Blame the fans. I shouldn't have to be curbing my choices around the Allen Iverson selection.

West Reserves:
Guards: Brandon Roy, Kevin Durant
Forwards: Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol
Center: Al Jefferson
Wildcards: Chauncey Billups, Tony Parker

Just missed out: Paul Millsap, Shaquille O'Neal, Carmelo Anthony

Again, you can't blame me. I didn't put Matadorilla Gorilla in the starting 5. Millsap especially, his 20+ player efficiency rating alone, plus what he's been doing in Carlos Boozer's absense, definitely deserves a spot. We all want to reward Shaq's fountain-of-youth resurgence, but, Al Jefferson's been a beast for far too long to not be recognized.

For reference's sake, here are the starters chosen by those wonderfully-impartial fans:

East: Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard

West: Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudamire, Yao Ming

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Renaissance Men

Some slowly developing stories in the NBA concern a pair of teams that have made significant changes, and are now seeing their fortunes turn around and benefits being reaped. Do you know the team with the best record in the NBA so far in 2009? Nope, not them. Nope, try again.

It's the 9-2 Minnesota Timberwolves. Yes, you read that right. Come on, show of hands, who didn't think that McHale coming down from the front office wasn't Isiah circa 2007 deja vu? Who? Come on, keep 'em up. Granted, they have been playing a lot of middling competition (Clippers, Grizz, Warriors, Thunder, Phoenix Suns), and I'm betting the next month won't look like the current one (Lakers twice, Celtics, Blazers, Jazz, Hornets, etc). But it wasn't too long ago when the Wolves looked like the Dallas Academy might give them problems, so, improvement is indeed improvement.

The other renaissance team, the Charlotte Hornets -- uhh, Bobcats. (How can anyone be expected to get used to that name?) As I write this blog, they are giving the West-leading Lakers all they can handle and a bit more -- 5 point lead with 2 minutes to go.

Kevin McHale and Larry Brown. A couple of guys at the beginning of the season you just figured had no idea what they were doing, in the midst of reviving their images and perhaps their careers.

Wow! Update on the Lakers-Horn--uh, Bobcats, game. Into OT, and in the first two minutes, it's been the Kobe and Andrew show. The sequence reads like this: Bynum wins tap, Kobe makes jumper, Bynum blocks shot, Kobe rebounds, throws ahead to Bynum for dunk. After another Bynum board and a Kobe miss, Bynum blocks another shot, Kobe rebounds again, Kobe converts a layup. That's what you call a 2-man game. And then...Kobe Bryant commits his sixth foul?!? When was the last time you ever heard of Kobe fouling out of a close game? Or anyone of his caliber for that matter? The 2nd overtime without Kobe, this oughta be interesting. Very interesting.

Well, not quite interesting. More like predictable. Valiantly, the Lakers tried to depend on Bynum for the better part of the session, but eventually the loss of their ace-in-the-hole, along with Gasol and Jordan Farmar coming up dry tonight, did the Western Conference leaders in. Methinks Kobe Bryant just earned a few more MVP votes tonight (I mean, was that Cleveland's Mo Williams with 42 points?).

But yes, for the record, LeBron still leads the MVP race by far. Seeing the Lakers implode though made the view of the race a little fuzzier.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dallas vs. Covenant: Ineptitude, or Just Plain Rude?

So the sports world is awash in dissecting the 100-0 girls high school game that took place last week in Texas between Covenant Christian School and Dallas Academy. I'll dispense with all the backstory, as I'm sure you've either heard it or have the internet to be able to read about it. You didn't come here the get the run-of-the-mill reporting did you?

The question is, was this a case of bad sportsmanship, or just an unavoidable beatdown by an overmatched opponent? Well, the view from Mars seems to be pointing to a growing mountain of evidence to the former. The first damning piece of evidence I read was from a parent, who stated that the Covenant girls were using a full-court press and jacking up threes for most of the game, until they reached the century mark. Hmm. A full-court press in a blowout is, obviously, about as sportsmanlike as kicking an unconscious opponent in the head for a half-hour. 1 + 1 = 2, and full-court-press + blowout = bad sportsmanship. This is not up for debate.

However, the now-fired Covenant coach has apparently disputed the claim that he was using a full-court press throughout the game; in fact, he says that once the game reached 25-0 in the first 3 minutes, he got his players to lay off, play a 2-3 zone, and emptied his bench for the remainder of the game. All ostensibly actions that are well within honourable measures at respecting the game.

But, alas, the plot thickens. At least one Dallas coach responded to that claim to say that, while Covenant did abandon the full-court press, they merely returned to an "alternate press later in the game". While I'm not sure what exactly an "alternate" press is or why he'd needlessly use such an ambiguous word, we'll have to nevertheless allow this as evidence for the prosecution.

But the final bit of evidence, sadly, comes from the defense. The Covenant coach, in defending his actions, released a quarter-by-quarter box score: 35-24-29-12.

Does anyone see a problem here? Let's go back to the coach's argument that he backed off after the score reached 25-0. Hmm. So let's see, you played the same way for the remainder of the game, thru the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters, and while you racked up 24 and 29 points in the middle 2 quarters, you somehow managed a mere 12 fourth-quarter points? The 12 points which just, by a randomly amazing coincidence, took you right up to the century mark?

Riiiiight. My finely-tuned bullshitometer just blew a fuse.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mars All-Star Team starters

Now that Earth's voters have spoken, here's how the Martian contingent voted. Quick side-note: a certain Yahoo sports blogger presented his All-Star team selections structured as C-PF-SF-SG-G, instead of the All-Star vote's format of 2 guards, 2 forwards, and 1 center. Way to stick to the script. You just picked your half-season All-NBA team, not an All-Star Team. Hello, Mars to Dwyer?


Yao Ming
Tim Duncan
Dirk Nowitzki
Kobe Bryant
Chris Paul

Dwight Howard
Devin Harris
Dwayne Wade
Lebron James
Chris Bosh

* Dirk over Amare: Dirk is way more valuable and disappears much less often than Magilla Gorilla.

* Harris over A.I.: Do I even need to bother explaining this one?

* Harris over Jameer Nelson over A.I.: Jameer has been solid lately, but Harris was simply dominating over the first 2 months of the season. 2 months is better than 1.

* Bosh over Garnett: it's close, very, very close. Either player is a fine selection.

All things considered, the fans did a pretty decent job with the selections, the Yi Jianlian scare notwithstanding.

Now onto the benches in a later post; there's where it really gets to be fun.

Disney Deep-Freeze; Crisis Averted; McWho?

  • I hear the temperature dropped into the 40s and 30s for most of Florida today. Could that explain the Magic's brickish shooting? Season lows in pts/fg%/assists/buckets in the 1st half? (well, I suppose the last 3 naturally go hand in hand). Season low 54 thru 3 quarters, before “erupting” for 26 4th-quarter points. The Celts were doing a decent job on defense, yea, but the Disneys missed a helluvalotta chippies and open jumpers.

    The way they've been torching the league lately, and the fact that they haven't played since Sunday, they were due for a bad one. Don’t think I’m not giving Boston their due by the way, especially the way they fought off the Magician’s run in the fourth quarter.

  • I sure hope, for their sakes, that the teams of the East see the writing on the wall and start looking for centers who can at least dream of competing with Superman 2.0. In the West you have Bynum, Oden, Gasol (uh, the younger one) etc, young guys who can body up with Howard, and keep him somewhat honest on offense too, for the foreseeable future. The East? Ummm. Mars to GMs: work some magic soon, or you are in for a long decade. A very long decade.

  • So the fan-vote polls closed with Yi Jianlian still within 200,000 votes of making the all-star game. I'll say it again; this is dangerously close to being a complete mockery of the system. It was bad enough in years past to have injured stars (T-Mac, Shaq) voted in, but at least those stars have a history of all-star caliber play. Is it so far-fetched to imagine that, with another year or two of exposure with the Nets, a few more minutes per game and a little improvement to his skills, Yi could pick up those middling 200k? Weighted voting humans, weighted voting. Please, before it's too late.

  • And now a quote from the estimable Mr. Shaquille O’Neal on Supe Version 2: "He's a good player, but everything he's done I've invented, so I'm not impressed," O'Neal said. "For me to get my eyes wide open about another big man, he'll have to do something that I haven't seen before or something that I haven't invented. Everything that he's done, I've invented it." Really? My memory must be a bit fuzzy; would you mind pointing me to the dunk contest you won? Or remind me when it was that you started to develop an actual face-up jump shot? Come now Shaq, you were just playing right? You didn’t mean to sound like such a past-your-prime curmudgeon hater here, right? Right?

  • Jay McGwire has come out to tell the world that he started his older brother Mark on steroids back in 1994. Umm, who? When? Did HGH even exist then? We've had 8 world champs, 3 inaugurations, 2 wars, and a partridge in a pear tree in the time since McGwire had any relevance. Do people purposely wait until they've been relegated to the scrap heap to dredge up old crap no one cares about anymore? Does anybody really still care? Hey Jay, does the phrase "Senate hearing" mean anything to you? Says the younger bro: “I want Mark to live in truth to see the light, to come to repentance so he can live in freedom — which is the only way to live.” I suppose the fact that the entire publishing world has to date collectively yawned on the book you’re hawking is just a random coincidence, eh. Ohh yea, there’s living in truth for ya.

    With family like that……I’m gonna call my mom tomorrow and thank her for never giving me the sibling I always wanted.

    I suppose this is the chickens coming home for the MLB's sweeping the issue under the rug for so long. I fully expect Sammy Sosa's as-yet-unborn son to level an accusation at his popa at his college graduation.

  • Memphis fired Coach Iavaroni today. I was inclined to say "why now?" until I remember they've been taking beat downs from everybody lately. E-vry-bo-dy.

  • Lakers vs. Wizards on national TV? There's a decision the off-season schedule-makers wish they could have for a do-over.
  • Thursday, January 22, 2009

    The Setting Suns; Bynum Breaks Out; A New Jordan

    * Good win by the Knicks? Hitting rock-bottom by the Suns? A little of both? My coworker, a Suns fan, went to the game; can't wait to hear his take. I'm predicting it'll need it's own post. By the way, have I mentioned lately how bad the Suns defense is? Are there two any more historically-inept defenders than Nash and Amaré? Did you ever notice that Amaré rhymes with "olé!"?

    * Congrats to my boy Andrew Bynum for a career night, if even at the expense of the creaky-clippers (no Camby, no Kaman, no problem?). 25 pts, 10 boards -- at half-time, and 42 and 15 for the game. It was good to see him finally hit the boards after a loooong absence. He and DeAndre Jordan (25/12) were really going at it. Speaking of which, can Mike Dumbleavy find some minutes for this kid, regardless of how much Camby or Kaman plays, so he can develop? 17 minutes total in November? 5 garbage-time games in December? Hello, your damn team ain't going a damn place anyway. You got an absolute steal in the draft, now how about you let him grow with some quality minutes instead of leaving him to rot on the bench.

    The Lakers were trying so desperately hard in the 4th quarter to get Bynum to the 40-point plateau, they put the outcome of the game as a complete afterthought. Even after the Clips went on an 11-0 run to get the game within reach, with the Lakers going nearly 7 minutes without a bucket, Kobe and crew stubbornly, predictably, kept trying to force the ball into the post to get Drew that last score. It was kinda hilarious actually; I've never seen a team so wholly dismissive of the mere possibility of their opponent winning the game. Once they built the big lead, it was like an exhibition game or summer-league scrimmage. Normally you'd say something like "my how the Clips have fallen" if not for the fact that they've been down here since, since, well, the beginning of time.

    And what about Kobe Bean lately, 10, 11, 12 and 12 assists in their last four games. Some serious distributing going on there for an SG. And this week's inaugural Manned-Up Award for popping a dislocated finger back into place and playing on. That is damn-near sick. Lucky in a sense for him that he keeps injuring the fingers on the other end of the hand. Ain't no shooting with a jacked-up middle-finger, don't care who you are. But respect for the toughness nonetheless.

    (And no, I don't actually plan on giving out a manned-up award with any regularity, or at any time in the future for that matter.)

    * GSW vs OKC, two not-so-good teams naturally ended up playing a decent game. Looked like good ole Jamal Crawford had the game won with a shot with 1.6s left...until Jeff Green hits a turn-around buzzer-beater. Now, about Jamal's shot, would Coach Nelson mind explaining to me the strategy behind forcing your team to run the ball the length of the court with 5 seconds on the clock when you have 3 timeouts burning a hole in your pocket?? The fact that it turned out both OK (go-ahead shot) and not-so-OK (a bit too much time left on the clock) makes it somewhat debatable to second-guess. But it just seems a bit, umm, risky? Not that I'm surprised by his, umm, alternative approach to coaching, but you can't help but say "huh?" every time you see something outrageous. I guess I'm just too logical and rigid with my call-timeout, move-ball-to-halfcourt, set-up-a-play folly.

    * Just an awful, awful game by the Mavericks tonight. Only the Lord knows why I decided to waste my latest ESPN Streak on them. Oh wait, that's right; silly me thought that, with Andrew Bogut out, the Mavs might, oh, I dunno, try taking the ball to the rim? Anyways, they gave up 42 second-quarter points, and then backed it up by enduring the wrong end of a 30-9 run in the 3rd quarter. One minute, it was 67-all and the game was looking like fun; next thing you know, it's 97-76, and I'm focusing on making note of just how bad the Bucks announcers are. They just looked lost, utterly, hopelessly lost, for however long that run was. Exactly how many open looks does a guy like Michael Redd get before you realize not to leave him for a driver? But hey, it's just one game, I suppose.

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    The Solution to Fan Voting: Electoral College!

    Eureka, a brainstorm! A fantastic idea if I may be so inclined to say. In the real world, thousands of voters don't like it, thousands more don't trust it, and some struggle to understand it, but let's bring the electoral college to fan voting! To sum, let's review some of the recent tragedies of fan voting:

    * Yi Jianlian (3rd-leading vote-getter among East forwards in the 2009 NBA All-Star game fan vote). Early returns made this a mildly disturbing development, with LeBron James and Kevin Garnett enjoying a decent margin over the 3rd-place Yi, but now this is getting dangerously ridiculous. The latest returns have Yi trailing Garnett by less than 200,000 votes...and, apparently, gaining. To make matters worse, superstud Chris Bosh is being lapped. This is already a travesty, and though I can't think of an adequate-enough word to describe the scenario should Yi overtake KG, I'll be sure to consult my thesaurus by time the NBA announces the final results. We've begrudgingly accepted the 2-billion-strong China voting bloc when it came to a skilled, performing, popular player like Yao Ming. But Yi? C'mon people, we have to draw the line somewhere.

    * Rudy Fernandez (final participant in 2009 dunk contest). Naturally this is all conjecture and prognosis, but Rudy couldn't have been a worse pick out of the three possible finalists (over Joe Alexander and Russell Westbrook). 'Brook for his size has been dunking on people with amazing regularity ever since college, and somehow you trust that he is just a silly enough character to come up with an imaginative dunk or two. Alexander's resume includes a college dunk contest where he imitated the Vince Carter arm-in-the-cookie-jar with ease. Let me reiterate: he was in college at the time. Neither was any match for the all-of-Spain voting bloc. Rudy? Well, he's known for converting alley-oops with regularity...and boring stylistic monotony. If he does a single dunk that isn't worthy of a bathroom break I'll be duly surprised.

    * Montreal Quebecians (4 starters from a 4th-place team). Even after adjusting for the automated-vote fraud issue, the Canadians still managed to place 4 starters in the game, whereas conference-leading Boston and San Jose have a combined none? Admittedly, I follow hockey from afar, and mostly only to see how low the Islanders have sunk and how the playoffs are going, but I don't think I need an NHL PH'D to see something is incredibly amiss.

    So how do we fix these homeristic injustices? Enter the electoral college and weighted voting. No matter if all 2 billion Chinese voted for Sun Yue (only a minor tragic downgrade from the selection of Yi Jianlian), the 500 electoral votes he'd secure would be no match for Timmy Fundamental's 10,000 electoral votes from the rest of Earth's territories.

    Seriously, I haven't worked out the math on the populations and percentages, but this needs to be instituted like yesterday. 10 pts and 6 boards for a losing team does not challenge 16/9 for a best-29-game-start-in-league-history contender -- and certainly doesn't belong in the same sentence as "all-star".

    Disclaimer: no Chinese, Spanish, or Quebeckians were insulted at any time during this post.

  • Incidentally, the dunk contest goes thru natural peaks and valleys. I don't know why people keep expecting it to live up to the greats year-in year-out. Just watch some clips of the best dunks, and you'll invariably hear Magic Johnson, Kenny Smith, or another announcer proclaiming "the dunk contest is back!" I don't know why people are surprised that it goes away time and again. There's but so much magic and originality the same people can create in a half-second of air-time. Vince Carter (2000), Jason Richardson (2003), Dwight Howard (2008); don't expect so much year after year. It's unlikely if not impossible to keep up such a high standard. You need fresh talent, progress in athleticism, and, well, just time. I'll be very surprised if it lives up to the hype this year, or any time before, say, LeBron's exodus from Cleveland (sorry Cavs fans, I'm just messing with ya, please put down the bat). Which means that, in the unlikely event that it does meet the hype, I'll enjoy it a lot more than you Earthlings will. But if it doesn't...woe be unto you.
  • Big Matchup Weekend

    Seems like we had a flurry of big matchups this past weekend; might as well just lump them all together into one superflurrious blog. (What? Yes it is, look it up, it's in the Martian Abridged Wordionary).

    Friday, January 16th

    * Magic @ Lakers

    * Hornets @ Cavs - I mean, this is a big matchup, isn't it? The Hornets are Conference-title worthy contenders, aren't they? Pfff. Their 3rd-best player is a disappearing violet (Peja), their center is an offensive liability, their bench is as thin as the paper it looks bad on. Am I wrong or is David West their only semblance of what might be mistaken for an inside presence? Chris Paul is truly a wizard, his play casting spells over some to make them believe his team is a top contender, his steals dizzying others into believing he is a strong all-around defender. Methinks James Posey could've chosen better. OK ok, I shouldn't be so hard on the Hornets; Paul and West are truly among the best in the league...I think this is a knee-jerk reaction to enduring their announcers. Please forgive me buzzers.

    But with the slew of injuries that've hit them lately, their hold on a playoff position is about to become real, real shaky over the foreseeable future.

    Saturday, January 17th

    * Magic @ Nuggets - I fully expected a bit of a letdown from the Magic men this game. Coming off a hard-fought win vs. the Lake-show less than 24 hours ago, traveling to the Mile High City and its famously-thin air, a bit of sluggishness might've been understandable. No such luck for Chauncey and crew. After playing a close first half, the Magic laid some smack down in the 2nd half, showing both resolve and excellent conditioning.

    * Hornets @ Pistons - You know, if you combined these two rosters, you might have a pretty good team. Rasheed, West, and Prince up front, CP3 and Butler/Stuckey at guard (with all due respect to the AI lovers, we've already seen what a nightmare two diminutive guards creates for a team's defense). Then you have scorers like AI, Hamilton, and Peja coming in off the bench, bruisers like Chandler, McDyess and Maxiell, and specialists like Posey and...and...well, Posey. OK, well, maybe not quite a title-contender, but it'd definitely be stronger than what either team is working with right now. Just flip a coin to see which city loses out and gets to start over with a bunch of draft picks. Or maybe they could share. New Orleans is used to sharing.

    These two teams generate way more hope and print than their rosters would seem to dictate.


    * Heat @ Thunder - What, a matchup of 2 of the 4 non-plural teams in the league isn't noteworthy? OK OK, I kid I kid. Sunday belongs to the NFL. Speaking of which, parity or no parity, there is something intrinsically wrong with a 9-7 team in the Super Bowl. Midnight is supposed to strike sometime before the big game. This is sports dammit, and there are rules to be followed. Kinda like the rule that says self-praise will usually lead you to embarrassment and humility...


    * Suns @ Celtics - Following Sunday’s win over the Toronto Raptors, Amare’ Stoudemire, who had 31 points announced, “I’m about to get my gorilla game on”. Next game: 3 points, 0-7 shooting, 1 rebound, 4 turnovers, 1 block -- in 30 minutes.

    Talk about your unintentional comedy. Does the Mike & Mike Show on ESPN Radio still give out the Just Shut Up award? Every time I look at STAT's stat line I burst out laughing. You can't make this stuff up.

    * Cavs @ Lakers - Like two heavyweights slugging it out in the late rounds, the 4th quarter was definitely the most intriguing aspect of this game. Big run by the Lakers to put the game out of reach -- followed by a big run by the Cavs to render the first run obsolete -- followed by another run by the Lakers to clamp the door shut. Nice end to an intriguing weekend.

    As a side-thought, what's up with my boy Andrew Bynum trading boards for scores? I suppose as long as he's playing good D, boxing out (Gasol and Odom seem to be picking up the loosies that Andrew's stopped getting to), and those defensive efficiency numbers stay looking good, it's not a problem. That is unless Andrew's on your fantasy team or something. Then you're free to curse and carry on smartly.

    Friday, January 16, 2009

    Chauncey for MVP? Shaq for All-Star?

  • Some days ago, someone I know brought up the case of Chauncey Billups to be part of the MVP discussion. Now that we know Denver will be without Carmella for a long stretch, myself and others decided this was a great time to use as a measuring stick for his candidacy. After seeing Denver outlast Phoenix last night, I was all prepared to sign off on putting him into the debate -- that is until I remembered that Phoenix was without Shaq last night.

    So, since Anthonia went down, the Nuggets have beaten:
  • the aforementioned Shaq-less Suns
  • Dallas, who's in the midst of a losing streak which includes a loss to the Kings and a beatdown by Memphis
  • Miami

    It's not a bad stretch, but it doesn't really excite me either, so I'm gonna reserve judgment. If Denver holds their own over the next 2 weeks, with games against Orlando, Houston, Utah, and New Orleans, and beat the other teams they're supposed to beat, I promise to come back and declare Chauncey fit for MVP consideration.

  • You must always, as many Caribbeans like to say, "give jack he jacket" (give credit where it is due). So without further ado, I must give it up to Mr. Shaquille O'Neal for his play lately, for turning back the hands of time. Admittedly, I haven't watched much of the Suns this year, but one of my coworkers is a huge Suns fan, and he's proven to be a pretty knowledgable and non-shemotional fan at that. (For starters, he's one of the few people that remember that Steph Marbury actually played pretty well for Phoenix, regardless of how people wish to twist his time there).

    Anyways, between looking at the raw numbers -- 7 double-doubles in last 10 games is putting in work, no matter how you frame it -- and listening to my coworker and others, I'm duly impressed. I'll sign up for saying Shaq is earning a spot on the All-Star team. I never thought I'd be saying that again without stepping into a DeLorean.

    However, I'd be remisce if I didn't point out a couple things:
  • I said before the season that there are certain players who just need to be given occasional time off, based on the amount of time they've missed in the past few seasons. Shaq was the first, along with Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. Just go ahead and work out a schedule for them to take games off occasionally, because they are going to miss games regardless. At least this way you can be pro-active and try to prevent the kinds of repetitive-stress injuries their bodies seem to keep succumbing to. Nice to see at least Phoenix "listened" to me.
  • Phoenix is still not a top contender for a title. I bet you didn't know that they are playing worse defense -- putting up poorer defensive efficiency numbers -- than at any point during the Mike D'Antoni era? I bet you didn't.

  • In case you're wondering why I have been butchering Carmella Anthonia's name, allow me to clarify: when you punch-and-run, you get a girl's name. Man Law.

  • Five hours until the Magic play the Lakers. Tick-tock-tick-tock. I am such a junkie.
  • Thursday, January 15, 2009

    Refs Screw Up Another Lakers/Spurs Classic

  • The Lakers and Spurs took part in a great, great game last night, only to have it marred by a string of poor officiating calls down the stretch. The first was the timeout awarded to Tim Duncan during a scrum while the ball was still lose and -- as I remember it -- under Timmy's back. Slightly worse was the 2nd call, a questionable foul call against Derek Fisher on Roger Mason. Perhaps the karma gods were at play there (nearly 5 years after Fisher received a non-call for the famous bump on Brent Barry in the playoffs). In any case, kudos to Mason for his spot-on imitation of the Dwyane Wade collapse-to-floor-when-defender-enters-personal-space signature move. Earning trips to the free throw line at an arena near you.

    But the final (whistle-)blow was the horrific call on Trevor Ariza's drive. Inexcusable. Calling a foul on Ginobili, though the right call, would've been surprising. Pocketing their whistle on a late-game drive with contact would've at least had precedent. But a travel call on what was clearly a two-step drive? And barely even 2 steps? Bad, bad, bad official. And I don't want to hear the explanation that Ariza's two steps were awkward; if driving awkwardly fooled officials into making traveling calls, Manu Ginobili wouldn't have taken an unwhistled layup in 6 years.

    In any case, this game featured a pair of normally-unsung players: the Spur's Roger Mason and Josh Powell of the Lakers. Mason looks deadly from beyond the arc, and -- phantom foul notwithstanding -- made a nice play to put in the game-tying shot. That's two late-game clutch plays this season by my woefully-poor count (game-winner vs. Phoenix). Nice start to his new team. And Josh Powell is pretty impressive with his mid-range game. Watching him I kept saying to myself: Ronny Turia-who? Powell isn't quite the rebounder that Ronny is, and doesn't quite have that boundless energy, but he seems to be in the same neighbourhood defensively and has a much better looking shot. Nice off-season pickups for both teams.

    The Spurs looked stronger than I'd imagined they would have at this point in the year. Between Mason, George Hill, and Matt Bonner, they've got a few guys to help bring down that gray-beard age average the Spurs have been sporting in the past couple years. Ginobili looks healthy as well. But at the same time, we have to remember that the Lakers are still missing 3 regulars, and don't have a single backup point guard. So naturally we have to hold off on annointing one team fit to compete with another when one is missing 33% of its regular rotation.

  • OK, so -- almost too predictably -- the Sixers are playing better ball with Elton Brand out. 8-6 record without him, if you stretch to include the game in which he was injured. But more importantly, 5 straight wins, and not just lucky or close wins over weak foes. They handly took care of Portland, Houston, and Atlanta during this latest stretch. Running more, putting up higher numbers on offense, doing everything that every two-bit pundit on the net foresaw they would do.

    But now Brand is back practicing, and could return to game action by this weekend. How is this team going to incorporate Elton's skillset and not lose their identity? I can't say I have an answer. And more importantly, something tells me the Sixers coaching staff doesn't have a clearcut answer either. Poor Phill...wait a second -- Phillies, Eagles, Soul...ok, scratch that "poor Philly talk".

  • It's still 2 days away, but I can't wait to see the matchup between the Lakers and the Magic. I admit, I love watching both these teams play, and catch them whenever I can. But I'll be watching my two favourite picks for center-beasts of the future (Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum) go head-to-head. I'd just like to point that I predicted, way back in their rookie years, both each of these players would become dominant centers -- I have the posts to prove it. It hasn't quite happened yet, but they are obviously on their way. Both started off this year a bit slowly but have been turning it on lately. And the Magic in particular, for a young team, is scary-good. Congrats on breaking the NBA record for 3-pointers the other night by the way. Look at those young kids go.

  • I just snicker when I see people proclaim "Boston is back" after two nail-biting victories over Toronto. Oh yea, there's a powerhouse team for you. And now that they cruised over the Nets in the first segment of another home-and-home, I'm sure we'll be hearing more of the same. No matter; when they get back to playing stronger teams, we'll see what becomes of them. I fully expect them to make a change or two by the trading deadline to bolster their team, because right now their bench is weaker than weak. Lest we forget, Sam Cassell is more coach than player these days, James Posey is down in the Bayou, and P.J. Brown is in the old-folks home (ok ok, that was cruel; he's retired; what do you want from me, he's still that same guy that flipped Charlie Ward over his back). On the off chance they can't do anything to improve their bench, I'll just state it from now: they're not making a return trip to the Finals.

    I just checked the schedule; the Celts travel to Orlando next week Thursday. There's another game I'll be circling on my calendar and setting my cellphone on silent for.
  • Tuesday, January 13, 2009

    Hornets fall back to Earth; Celts Down, Magic Up; Drunk Chuck

  • Re: The Hornets: so it is written, so it is done -- or however that saying goes. Flatten, run over, beat down by the Jazz, a night after we were hearing all about their new-found candidacy for the Western Conference crown. Then they followed that up days later by losing to...the Knicks. New Orleans, as they come and go with the esteemable Chris Paul, are certainly a top-10 team; but just as surely, they are not a top contender. Question: has there been a Peja Stojakovic sighting lately? He kinda reminds me of a poor man's Hedo Turkoglu, minus all the game-breaking ability, clutch shooting, ball-handling, decision-making or rebounding skills.

  • The Celtics: ok, I watched -- at least the 2nd half -- of the hame game against Toronto, and I think I'm ready to render an opinion on their swoon. Ok, more like a guess, but anyways: where's their offense coming from? You've got the big 3, Rondo on an occasional night, and...who? I've been hearing the Marbury rumours, and naturally all of the Starbury detractors are falling all over themselves to say how he will destroy the team, but they need some help off the bench, and fast. These cats are going to burn out with the way the bench is being outscored night in night out. When your bench is outscored by the likes of Roko Ukic, you've got issues. Even in blowouts the subs barely score like the opposition.

  • I'd be remisce if I didn't at least mention Charles Barkley. I guess he's still struggling with whether he's a role model for the younger players....see DWI re: Antoine Walker and then Jason Richardson. Seriously though, DWI is no laughing matter, and that's not just a sappy public service announcement. Couple years ago, I did a month of grand jury duty and lost count of the dizzying numbers of repeat, felony, DWIs we passed indictments for. I've seen people die and friends go to jail over drinking and driving. The culture of drinking in this world needs to completely change; all these harsher penalties and what not isn't going to change a damn thing. Partying and drinking is like tea and water to too many people.

    Anyways, nice going Chuck. That sure is gubernatorial-level behaviour you got going on there.

  • The home-and-home series against the Orlando Magic was supposed to be the Hawks' opportunity to formally announce their contention for the Southeast Division's crown. Instead, it became one 96-minute-long definitive statement by the Magic that the division belongs to them and them alone.

    For the second straight game, Orlando jumped all over the Hawks early, but this time there would be no comeback, no answers for the Hawks. The wide final margin of 34 points doesn't even relay how one-sided that game was. 43-18 early, 71-33 at the half, and up to 101-51 at one point. If the NBA had a mercy rule, they'd have never played the 2nd half. And what's become of Joe Johnson? Followed up that 13 point clunker vs. the Nets with games of 14, 13, 11, and 11? Shooting a solid 34% for 2009, after shooting over 45% for the first 2 months of the season. I don't think I can blame New Year's Eve hangover anymore.
  • Wednesday, January 7, 2009

    Celtics Swoon; Hornet High; Stuck On Stuckey

  • The Celtics are certainly an enigma. While you can understand the Cavs taking a step back with Big Z on the shelf.....or the Lakers losing momentum last night having to replace Odom's minutes with long games from Kobe/Gasol/Fisher (an abnormal 42 minutes each) and a Josh Powell sighting (!!), what exactly is the Celtics' story? Their "team injury" page is completely blank. Strange, strange indeed. I hear they're coming apart late in games, with a bit of in-fighting, etc. I'm sure they'll get it together eventually, but I'm gonna have to catch (endure) a game or two of them to see what the deal is.

  • I see that the aftermath of the Hornets victory has the pundits all proclaiming that the Hornets proved (to others and themselves) that they can compete with the Lakers.....meanwhile I hear none of them bothering to mention that the Hornets grabbed control early in the 4th quarter vs. a Lakers 2nd unit that was missing 3 regulars (Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and Jordan Farmer)same way no one seemed to notice that Peja was missing from their previous meeting. Great 4th quarter by the Hornets, especially David West, but ummm let's not get too carried away on that one 6-minute stretch.

  • I read a story couple days back about how the Pistons have been playing better ball ever since inserting Rodney Stuckey into the starting lineup. My question is: it took Coach Curry a whole month after Billups left to realize Stuckey should be next in line? Sad, sad, sad.
  • Saturday, January 3, 2009

    Hawks vs. Nets - January 2, 2009

    So I was in the house for the first time in a while, and I lucked out and got a good game out of it. Some random thoughts:
    • Awful first-half. This early-season home funk the Nets are in makes no sense, and I was wondering (hoping) they'd be breaking out of it. Thru 24 minutes it didn't look too good.

    • I saw the final play of the half coming a mile away, before it even happened. You could just tell something bad was bound to happen. Inbound to Brook Lopez (yea, he's at the top of the list of Nets playmakers), turn, dribble, fumble ball away, Hawks grab the ball and heave a desperation shot at the buzzer -- bottom net. Lead balloons to 20 points.

    • 11-year old boy sings "Who's Loving You" and blows the arena away. The other two girls in the Star Search contest (this was supposedly the semi-final) didn't stand a ghost of a chance. Damn I wish I caught his name:

    • Couple days ago, the Hawks coach and Joe Johnson (one of my favourite players) himself remarked that Joe had elevated to the stratosphere of NBA stars, up in the penthouse with LeBron, Kobe, Wade, etc. Then he proceeds to put up an invisible 13 points on 5-16 shooting, getting a potential game-winner at the end of the 4th stuffed by Devin Harris in the process. Self-praise is not a recommendation my yute:

    • -- insert clip of dev harris rejecting joe johnson --

    • Carter could not make a layup. Never seen anything like it before. 5-7 from 3pt range, 1-11 everywhere else. I'm guessing he and Joe Johnson partied at the same spot on New Year's Eve. Just a thought.

    • There were about 50 potential game-ending plays, and I got video of every bumbling one of the 800. It's amazing I didn't give up trying to record after the first 7999 mangled shots. But then...

    • That was one helluva play to end the game. I'm officially putting Vince Carter on the short list of players who you want with the ball for a last shot. Seriously. Do a youtube search for "Vince Carter game winner", pack a lunch, and check 'em out. For everything people fault the guy for, he has a knack for putting it in the net when the game's on the line. Give jack he jacket: