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.
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