Saturday, May 10, 2008

Le Weekend: A mixtape (starring a prophetic Vinny Del Negro)

I've been frustrated with how many recent posts I've written that solely have to do with the Spurs or the Hornets or both. So I figured I'd take this opportunity to take an off day in the series to hunt and peck my way around the Association (don't worry, this will inevitably drift back to the Hornets and the Spurs):

Energy Solutions Arena: Everybody plays better on their home floor. You woke up pleasantly in your bed, not in some hotel room. You didn't have to take a bus to the arena. You are constantly encouraged by the familiarity of the space and the roar of the crowd, not to mention a little home cooking from the referees. But really, how can a team realistically go 37-4 at home during the season and 17-24 on the road? At certain point, as a professional, aren't you expected to show a little bit more consistency? I just don't understand. Which brings me to last night's game. A lot of things went right for the Jazz, including a suprisingly high number of turnovers from the Lakers and a suddenly resurgent Carlos Boozer. I just don't understand how a river of blood flows from Energy Solutions Arena but every time they venture away from the land of the great salt lake they come back black and blue? I am actually posing these questions. Aside from the normal explanations, why would a team have such drastically different home and away success? Maybe its the fact that they play in an arena whose name sparks such myth and wonder. "Energy...Solutions...Arena." Why not just call the place Olympus? (that last little part was meant to be read with a hint of sarcasm)

D'Antoni: I'm conflicted. I know the other day I said that D'Antoni should absolutely not accept a head coaching job with the New York Knicks. And the even-handed, analytical part of me still feels that way. But the vindictive part of me, endowed with a hearty helping of schadenfreude, would love to see this Hindenberg take flight. I just do not believe that D'Antoni can cure what ails the Garden. I have never really clearly seen how D'Antoni reacts to an environment without Steve Nash, so maybe there is a bit more creativity in that mustachioed little head of his than I give him credit for. But his inability to really successfully integrate Shaq, make meaningful in-game adjustments and devise a genuinely functioning offense when Nash wasn't on the floor makes me think that the oddly rigid commitment he has to his approach (its strange how his style could be so fluid but his attitude so stubborn) will not mesh with the team New York has for him. Not only do the Knicks play defense like a matador, something D'Antoni does not have the capability to fix, they show no hustle or unity on the offensive end of the ball either. Although the Knicks needed to be decapitated, they also need an enima. Simply replacing the head of this ball club will not fix this situation. It would be better for D'Antoni if he went to the Bulls, where the peevishness of the team has yet to descend into a paroxysmic nightmare. But if he does accept the NY job, it'll be funny.

Rick Carlisle: It is a smart move by Cuban to pick up Rick Carlisle. The Mavs could use a steady hand, but Carlisle will not have the patience for Cuban's incessant involvement in the basketball operations of the organization. Cuban is going to need to show a little bit of restraint and allow Carlisle to rebuild the confidence of a program that has all the talent in the world but has been racked by doubt and impatience. Cuban has an excellent eye for individuals with a high basketball I.Q. I can think of two instances in which such individuals have left town drenched in frustration.

Defending Chris Paul: After game 3 of the Hornets-Spurs series, I feel like a lot of people are asking whether or not there is an effective strategy to guard Chris Paul. I would argue that there actually isn't, or in fact that the strategy the Spurs are increasingly employing is the best: Defend the rest of the Hornets, and let Paul be Paul. As I've said many times and as game 3 showed, putting Bowen on Stojakovic was clearly the correct call. My dad pointed out to me that Bowen, although a harassing defender, really is best at denying the ball, not once its in your hands. It is much more effective if you limit Paul's passing options than if you limit his shot attempts. I can think of two stars the Spurs have faced recently, one which corresponds poorly to this situation, one which corresponds well:

LeBron James- Chris Paul, for a lot of reasons, is not LeBron James. So I understand even bringing up the comparison is a stretch. But its not a huge stretch because Paul, like James, scores a lot of points in the lane and in doing so creates a lot of open looks for his teammates. And last year in the Finals the Spurs played off their man and crowded the lane so if James went to the basket he would have 3 or 4 sets of hands in his face. And luckily Larry Hughes was the one taking the shot if James kicked it out. Paul, on the other hand, kicks it out to David West or Peja Stojakovic, who are better than anyone on that Cavs team other than LeBron. Not to mention that Paul has much better court vision and will instantaneously find the open man. This is why doubling him, which I mistakenly recommended before the series began, will not work. He commits so few turnovers for the amount of time he has the ball in his hands, its mind-boggling. Which brings me to my second comparison.

Steve Nash- I am not so much referring to the Steve Nash and Suns of this year's playoffs as I am to the Nash and Suns the Spurs faced in round 2 last year. We decided that we would prefer it if Nash scored 30 points a game and had under 10 assists instead of having 17 or 18 points a game and 15 or more assists. And this was the right call. We guarded everyone else on the floor and dared Nash to take the mid-range shots we gave him. He oftentimes deferred and tried to make the pass nonetheless, which played right into our hands. This year he did that even more so, except we dared him to make open layups and for some reason he would try to force a pass into a busy lane. But something looked different about Nash this playoffs and I don't want to get into that now.

Either way, I think this is fundamentally what we did with Paul on Thursday and I think it was the correct move. We went under the screen, kept Duncan or Thomas or Oberto on whoever had set the pick (Chandler or West) and gave Paul no relief passes to the perimeter but an open mid-range shot. Paul responded by putting up 35 and 9 assists, which is no doubt a strong response. But nonetheless, if this series continues to get longer, Paul will have to show a tremendous level of mental and physical stamina. By making the Hornets offense an increasingly one dimensional system based around the circus shots and hot hand of Paul, the Spurs are giving themselves their best chance to win.

"I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him": Although generally not inclined to accept fate as a legitimate cause of anything, sometimes you look at the past and can't help but feel that, whether you realized it or not, a sign had been placed in front of you. As if history, despite your insistance that will is a component in its progression, had already decided whose names would be remembered and whose names would be lost. You feel that those who came before, with a prescience only granted to a prophetic elect, seem to symbolize the greatness that would grow in their wake. Which brings me to Vinny Del Negro. Is this guy not absolutely the John the Baptist to Manu's Jesus? They look so much alike. How many teams have two great players of Italian descent? I love it. So, without further ado, an homage to the Savior of the Spurs current squad, and the man whose floppy black hair and Mediterannean complexion made him a living, breathing sign of the good things to come (Watch for the crossover and layup that Del Negro hits about 10 seconds into the clip. Its pure Manu):

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