Thursday, April 30, 2009

Discussing Steroids In 2009

In light of the latest book alleging steroid use by an MLB player, let's sum up my views of the baseball steroid discussion in 2009:

For the love of God, enough already!

The End.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Llllllllllet's Get Ready To Rumble!

Well, here we are, we've made it to the most wonderful time of the year. Winter is finally over, the weather is warming, and the trees are starting to bloom. Baseball is back in full swing, meaning there'll be sports to watch each and every day of the week. The scarves and down jackets have been officially put into hibernation, and the ladies of America are starting to transition to summer wears. It's a great time to be a man.

But of course, all that pales in comparison to the annual dawning of the NBA Playoff season (well, all that except for the ladies). I could wax poetically about the wealth of games, the great matchups, the fun of the 8-series-deep first round. But I think I'll try something different -- for me -- this year. I'm usually loathe to making predictions, because prognosticators are almost always invariably proven wrong, but I will actually put my proverbial neck on a block and offer up some predictions for the opening salvo.


(1) Cavaliers vs (8) Pistons
Cavalier depth and LeBron's growing greatness vs. Detroit experience and intestinal fortitude. In this case, quality team bests quantity of experience. The Pistons could easily find their swagger and make it a decent 6-game series, but I'll go with the teams' respective current trends: Cleveland in 5.

(2) Celtics vs (7) Bulls
How do you handicap this one? Which Celtics team will show up, the one that was 15-7 without Garnett, or the can't-shoot-straight squad that lost one of those 7 by 31 points? And which Chicago team will we see, the one that reeled off 12 wins in their last 15 to bring the season near a close, or the one that got tossed around by lottery-bound Toronto on the final day with a chance at 6th place on the line?

The Celtics psyche vs the Bulls hype. Rose vs Rondo. Salmons vs The Truth. This is just an interesting series because of all the variables. But, for the sake of a pick, I'll say Celtics in 6.

(3) Magic vs (6) 76ers
Will the Magic rediscover their long-range shooting touch? Or their defense? Is Hedo over his bum ankle? Has the extra rest brought Rashard back to two spritely knees? Will Superman stay out of foul trouble? Will Rafer be able to contain Andre Miller, or will Courtney, Pietrus, et al need to take turns? Can the Sixers defend at all? How can they even dream of slowing down the new man of steel? Did I really just suggest that Andre Miller might consistently abuse a defender?

Given the inconsistent nature of these teams, a 4-game blowout is as likely as a 7-game nail-biter. But I'll go with conventional wisdom -- too much Dwight Howard and too little Philly defense -- and just take the split and say: Magic in 6.

(4) Hawks vs (5) Heat
Easily the most intriguing East matchup on paper (the playoffs usual shake out to be way more interesting than paper). At present, Dwayne Wade doesn't quite have enough help, or healthy-enough help: Hawks in 6.


(1) Lakers vs (8) Jazz
The only way this shakes out to be a competitive series is if Utah figured out their road woes in the past three days. You get the feeling that L.A. was partly toying with the Traveling Mormons a few days ago, scoring a mere 69 points in the second half. Devin Williams vs Derek Fisher is the only advantage Utah has to exploit, but the emergence of Shannon Brown off the bench may end up negating a chunk of that advantage anyways. Other than that, Boozer looks neither healthy or dominant enough to be the man this time around. Lakers in 5.

(2) Nuggets vs (7) Hornets
The Jazznets have gone from conference contender to irrelevant playoff participant in less than 12 months. The front office should garner a few votes for Non-Executive of the Year on the strength of standing pat and watching the rest of the conference zoom on by. (Naturally, Steve Kerr's name is being etched into this trophy as we speak). The Hornets don't have nearly enough quality bigs to keep this interesting. Another fall-back year like this and people will start wondering where Chris Paul will bolt in free agency. But that's another subject. Nuggets in 5.

(3) Spurs vs (6) Mavericks
A fun series just on the strength of the teams and rivalry involved, this has a good possibility to turn into an upset, if you put stock into how well the Mavs are playing lately. How healthy are Tim Duncan's knees? Hmm. This will be a tight one, but I think depth, experience, Duncan and Parker push the Spurs over the top -- barely. Spurs in 7.

(4) Rockets vs (5) Trailblazers
Can Artest and Battier make life difficult enough for Brandon Roy? Will the Blazers be launching wide-open threes or highly-contested ones? I'm gonna take the slightly-less popular pick here, and go with the Rockets' defense and Artest's will: Rockets in 6.

Well, now that that's done, I can sit back, watch the games unfold and see just how incredibly wrong I was. With any luck this'll put me right on par with the "experts".

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Backing In

Having just returned from the Izod Center in New Jersey after watching the Orlando Magic put in a second-straight disappointing performance to a New York-area team, it seems more than appropriate to talk about a handful of teams who are using the last week of the season to play their worst basketball of the year. Rounding out this less-than-estimable list: Orlando, Utah, New Orleans, Detroit.


All of a sudden, the Magic Kingdom youngsters can't shoot straight, and can't defend. Tonight I was in the house to watch the Nets -- minus lead playmaker Devin Harris -- pick apart the Magic time and time again. Keyon Dooling had a double-double with 10 assists for the love of Mars. Keyon Dooling! The Magic shooting has been awful lately -- somewhere in the neighbourhood of 28% shooting from 3-pt range, so tonight (7-18, 39%). Of course, they did manage to miss 13 free throws in a game they lost by 10, so now they're just inventing new and original ways to lose games.

But the bigger story would be the lack of defense and energy from the team. Seems they've hit either a rut or a wall, but 54% FGs/55% 3pts from the field is enough to make Stan Van Gundy go crazy and ballistic. And go crazy he certainly did. About midway thru the 3rd quarter, I found myself looking immediately for Coach Stan after every blown assignment and wide-open 3-pointer, and I was never disappointed. Van Gundy has the most dazzling array of slums-into-chair, head-rolls, throw-hands-up-high, throws-self-against-seat-back, walks-down-bench-to-talk-to-Dwights than any coach in the league. If Stan were an offense, he'd be unpredicatedly good and impossible to defend. In any case, for this night, his histrionics were certainly warranted.

As for that 55% (11-20) from downtown, when was the last time the Magic allowed an opponent to take, and make, more 3 pointers in a game?

In the trenches, somehow the Magic got the rebounding job done by committee -- the teams ran basically even in that stat -- but I'm sure Dwight Howard isn't proud of being outrebounded by Brook Lopez, or being outscored Josh Boone.

But back to the shooting: this is always the danger of a team built on so many good shooters. If they go cold, it's going to be a long long night. And lately -- 4 losses in 7 games, coming on the heels of a 6-game winning streak -- they've been frigid. Then to add insult, the injury bug has begun to surface, claiming Rashard Lewis with knee tendinitis (started a 2-game rest) and Hedo Turkoglu with a sprained ankle.

Coach Stan can only hope, as a friend of mine would say, that they're getting all the losing out of their system before the playoffs start.


Now, if you've been following the league, you'll know what a horrid road team the Jazz have been, both lately and for the most of the year. You'll also know how virtually indestructible they've been at home -- until now at least. Losing to a short-handed Golden State team fielding only seven warm bodies? At home? By a lot?? Yes, 10 points is a healthy margin of defeat, especially considering they needed a 32-25 4th-quarter advantage just to make the game look like something less than a blowout. Especially considering you are finally sporting a shiny new healthy roster?

We happily blamed their Dallas blowout and Spurs loss on the as-yet-unexplainable road woes, but tonight defies even that weak explanation. Winning only 3 of their past 10 games makes that 12-game win streak seem like a figment of imagination. Or some other season of yesteryear.

New Orleans

4 losses in your last 5 games automatically qualifies you for this post. Losing to the Warriors, then getting pasted by the Mavs and Jazz makes you a unanimous selection.


Doing their best Jekyl & Hyde impersonation, the Pistons have been swinging between 3-game winning and losing streaks for the past 4 weeks. They're still trying to figure out who plays and who rides the bench, and Will has been the most-talked-about Bynum in Michigan. Not exactly what thany coach would dream up

Honorable mentions

The Sixers (4-game losing streak) and Heat (4 wins in last 10) are certainly making their coaches' playoff preparation a blood-pressure rising hell, but really, we're not expecting too much of these teams in the playoffs anyways -- are we?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Return Of The Mack; Denver - Meet: Competition

Return Of The Mack

The much-awaited return of the Playboy-mansion-mack finally happened. For what it's worth, Bynum's return was somewhere between good and great. He was a step slow on some rotations, a step slow in some rebounding situations, and the timing was off on at least one potential alley-oop in the 2nd quarter. All of that, however, is completely expected after over 2 months away from game action. The good? He repeatedly got excellent position deep in the post, pulled down 7 decent boards, and scored 16 surprising points in 22 effective minutes. He looked better and better as the minutes wore on, putting up a bunch (13) of his points in the 3rd quarter. He was passing the ball fairly decently out of the post and working within the triangle offense, and moved pretty well out there. All in all, the LA contingent have to be happy with what they saw, and should be looking forward to improvements in the remaining the 3 games of the season.

As for all those people criticizing Andrew's rehab at the Hugh Hefner Workout Center: get a life you jealous morons. If any guy days away from playing an NBA game can't hoist 110-pounds-when-wet of skin and silicon, then it's better you find out before he laces up his Nike's.

By the way, there were two other guys, Pau and Kobe, that were pretty good last night too.

Allow Me To Introduce: Real Competition

Denver's 8-game win streak fell hard tonight, and they also dropped to 1-3 against the Western Conference leaders. As chronicled in this space a day ago, I can only hope that too many people weren't making too much of their recent win streak, given the sorry level of competition they schedule makers had granted to them. In the pack of teams all vying recognition as 2nd-best in the West, I'm not too convinced that Denver has done anything to separate themselves, regardless of their lock on the 2nd seed and Northwest Division crown. The 2-thru-8 fight should continue to be riveting over these remaining 6 days of the regular season.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The New Two-Face; Why So Serious?

Touring Act

Anyone care to try to figure out the Utah Jazz? The immovable force at home; the illegitimate stepchild on the road. I recall saying some weeks ago, either in this blogspace or elsewhere online, that something about this team isn't quite impressing me. Rare as it is that I am right, I think I should relish this one for a bit. 32-7 at home; 15-24 on the road. And it's hardly attributable to the early-season, injury-laden struggles; they've been thrown for just as many road loses lately as they have all year.

Last night of course was no exception. How does a team that boasts supposed tough guys like Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap get so outrageously man-handled on the boards and in the paint? How does a Jerry Sloan-coached team allow Mavericks to trapse in, out, and all around the paint literally for 48 minutes? Without a hard foul or anything? It seemed like Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea were playing tag-team on Deron Williams, taking turns carving him up endless with picks-&-rolls. It was like watching -- the Suns verses Dallas on Sunday. If you're a Jazz fan, it should scare you that anyone would fix their mind to compare your defense to Phoenix. Actually, that should worry you no matter which team you're a fan of.

Utah's season-long road struggles must be driving Sloan crazy. At least teams like the Blazers and Bulls can point to youth, learning how to deal with the travel and all that jazz. The Mormons? Maybe it's time to start praying. Or fire their travel agent, whoever picks the hotels and the meals, down to who puts chocolate on their pillows. They oughta be willing to try anything at this point.

What's happened to the Rest of the West?

Wasn't too long ago everyone was telling us how much better the Western Conference was. Now, there isn't another team who anyone can dream of putting up much of a fight versus the Lake Show. OK, Denver perhaps; we'll get a bit of insight to that matchup in less than 24 hours. I mean, they're rounding into form, peaking at the right time of the season, right? 8 in a row, 13 of their last 14, sounds like a powerhouse team, a legitimate #2 and a lock for a bitter conference finals matchup, right? Right?

Well, as we learned with Utah about a month ago, all streaks are not created equal. Thunder. Clippers. Nets. Grizzlies. Wizards. Warriors. Knicks. Mormons. Clippers again. T-Wolves. Thunder again. That's 11 of the 13 wins. Throw in a 2-pt victory over Mark Cuban's Jekyl-&-Hyde creation, and a fast-fading Hornets team, and does that win streak still excite you?

Didn't think so.

And the rest? Spurs -- no Ginobili, ailing Duncan? No way, mon. Houston -- 0-4 vs the Lakers? Big problem. Portland's kiddies? Take your first experience and run along home now youngsters. Hornets -- no Chandler and no Posey you say? Moving right along. The Jazz and Mavs? Seriously?

At least the Cavs/Magic/Celts triumvirate in the East give the impression of intrigue. If the Lakers play anywhere in the vicinity of their potential, the Western Conference race will turn out to look awfully similar to this year's NCAA tournament. A coronation and a foregone conclusion.

The pendulum is making a return swing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

An End To The Misery, Shooting the Lights Out

Just when you thought the race for 8th place in the West might get interesting, kaboom! 140 points happens. It was unthinkable that the Mavericks would lose to Memphis last Friday (although the Grizz have won 5 of their last 6, no one is holding any celebrations for beating the likes of Sacramento, Washington, GS, Milwaukee) to even make this game meaningful. But then, we are talking about the Dallas Mavericks here.

So that sets up the Sunday showdown between the Suns and Mavericks. Suns win, and they're only 2 games back, with 5 games left and a marshmellow schedule against the league's creampuffs. Surely this was the game they circled on the calendar for the past couple weeks, the game for all the marbles...right?

Oh what a debacle, what a sight to behold. We now know that the Suns are finished -- their tragic number is down to 1, meaning their next loss or Mavs win will officially lock in their offseason fishing plans. Can you think of a team that played any worse in a game of such magnitude? (Well, Game 6 of the 2008 Finals does come to mind...). It was the perfect storm, a perfectly horrid defensive performance, a perfectly hungry, unhappy, home team shooting the lights out any chance they got a sliver of daylight. Well, I shouldn't be using kind words like 'sliver', seeing as how most of Dallas' shots seemed to come without a Suns player anywhere in the picture frame.

Now, I've spoken repeatedly about the Suns horrible, horrible defense in the past -- but Sunday was such a perfect case study. You can just analyze the plays shown on highlight reels and learn everything you need to know about the 2009 Phoenix Suns.

Start with the fast break at the 1:10 mark of the video. Jared Dudley (#3) in the foreground is pointing at the Mavs' Brandon Bass as he wizzes by him into the lane, indicating that someone needs to pick him up. However, he doesn't bother to cover Jason Terry who is right in front of him spotting up at the 3-pt line. Kidd delivers the pass to Terry, who buries a wide-open three in front of the too-late-to-scramble-and-recover Dudley. "You get that guy, I'll stick -- nobody."

Next highlight, J-Kidd runs a pick-and-roll with Josh Howard. Howard's man, the otherwise esteemable Grant Hill, allows Kidd to split any semblance of trap they were thinking of forming and get into the lane. Shaq steps up to stop Kidd's drive, leaving Brandon Bass free to waltz down the baseline, Kidd free to throw a quick lob from 7 feet out, and the fans free to rejoice a thunderous Bass slam. But there was even more on that play. If you pause it at the moment Kidd hits the free-throw line, you'll see both wing defenders -- Leandro Barbosa and Jason Richardson -- sagging down below the line, following the play with their eyes and bodies even though they are nowhere close to helping out. This left two more shooters open on both sides of the arc, were Kidd to have somehow made up his mind beforehand and not noticed Bass.

Next highlight, an alley-oop to Josh Howard, who ran literally all the way in from beyond the 3-pt line after his defender turned his head to watch a pick play that was happening all the way on the other side of the court.

Are you noticing a trend? Who do you blame? Kidd had his way with Nash as you'd expect, getting into the lane and disrupting the defense any time we wanted. But it's not like the rest of the team is actually aware enough to play defense man-up anyways.

I'm beating a dead horse at this point, but it's like watching a car wreck on the highway for me (something I absolutely loathe, for which I will probably get a road-rage charge at some point in my life by the way).

They are so, so bad, and I just can't help but watch.

Dallas on the other hand -- now that they're positioned to look upwards in the standings to continue chasing the 7th spot -- I fully expect them to lose 3 of their last 5 and make the 8th-place race mathematically interesting for the next week. I mean, we are talking about the Dallas Mavericks here.