Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Karl Marx: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."


But the fourth time history repeats itself in six years its just a good ole' plain ass-whoopin'. The only thing that makes me not completely smug in ever way possible is the sympathy I have for Nash (his poor play only made me feel worse about his inevitable entry into the fraternity of the ring-less). His time is done, but I will say right now He was the worthiest of opponents. A gentleman-warrior. Let's get down to business.

Manu: I hope his poor play was merely that, and not suggestive of something deeper, like an injury. Nobody on this team is a warrior like Manu, which means that at any moment he could rise to the occasion. But it also means he could be more hurt than he let's on, and too stubborn to admit it.

Tony: I wish he had been more confident with his jumper. They gave him a lot of open 10 footers and he didn't take them. But in general a great series from a great point guard. How he is not more commonly included in the debate of the best point guards in the league is beyond me? He certainly made a couple of former MVPs look silly out there.

Duncan: Continues to be the rock. I think what is most telling are some of the late game boards he nabbed over younger, more athletic guys, and that pick and roll he and Tony ran when the game was real close with about 2:30 left and he got an open dunk. When things are tight, he buckles down and executes. That's what champions do. That's why his 3-pointer in game 1, although certainly not common, was not a fluke. Champions make that shot.

Thomas: Didn't have a great game offensively, but he hit his free throws and pulled down a baker's dozen off the glass. Not to mention, for a guy his age, he was diving on the ground and out of bounds for loose balls all over the place. Even if he didn't always get the ball, seeing a veteran like Thomas make those kinds of plays serves as a fine example of exactly what we are about in San Antonio.

Popovich: Continues to eat the brains of his enemies so as to gain their strength. He is the best coach in the NBA.

Diaw: Continued to play well, which I give him credit for. But I do not give him credit for scoring points in the post when being guarded by MICHAEL FINLEY. That was a mismatch from the get go and thankfully Finley's uncommon foul trouble caused Udoka, who knows how to play D on the block, to get more minutes. I don't have any stats in front of me but I assure you Diaw's +/- was less during the minutes Udoka was in (he certainly didn't have as many points in the paint).

Bell: Also continued to play well, which I give him credit for. If they ever gut that team, I would have no problem picking up that Lokian little bastard. His mixture of perimeter D and outside shooting is perfect for our system. But man does he have a devilish look about him.

Shaq: Said unequivocally this was about him and Duncan. He said it was about who got some thumb jewelry first. 'Nuff said.

Shaq: Wait, no way is that enough said. His career is done. D-O-N-E, done. Not only did his arrogance and oral diarrhea make him play the court jester in Duncan's Kingdom, but the guy couldn't even make a layup (let's not even talk about the free throws). He got scorched on the pick and roll, and consistently did not have the lateral movement to keep up with Duncan in the post. When he got to the desert, this team was in 1st in the west. 2 months later they were a sixth seed. 5 games later they were eliminated in the first round.

Nash: Late game turnovers. No assists before the 4th quarter. He looked like he was a mess out there. Maybe he just wasn't comfortable running the offense through Diaw instead of he and Amare, but it was more than that. He would dribble under the basket in his characteristic manner and have open layups/close jumpers. He either didn't take them or just plain missed them. Who knows where the Suns are headed, but I can say right now, their long-term future does not involve the Canadian.

D'Antoni: I hope he doesn't get fired, because I have total faith in Popovich to consistently out coach him. But seriously (not that my last comment wasn't serious), D'Antoni and Kerr are not a good match for one another (although I am not sure that ownership/front office is a particularly good match for anyone). I've talked a lot about D'Antoni this series, you know my thoughts.

The Suns: Like I said a minute ago, who knows where this franchise is headed? Between an aging Nash and Shaq, a bloated payroll, and a crisis of leadership, it could go a lot of different directions. Obviously people are looking to Amare to be the franchise player for the next several years, but I don't see that being a succesful formula. I don't think he can create for himself well enough (a few years of perfectly timed passes from Steve Nash will do wonders for your career stats). He is also way too much of a defensive liability.

I'll be back in the next couple of days with a Hornets-Spurs preview, as well as some other thoughts on the state of the playoffs. As far as tonight is concerned, LET'S GO HAWKS.

But before I go, one enduring image:



WAIT, WAIT, WAIT. No chance in hell am I gonna walk away from this series with dignified satisfaction. LET'S GLOAT:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Opportunities


So I missed my chance to really discuss game 4 (some combination of the Hawks, a surprisingly exciting Nuggets-Lakers game, and a very busy day at work put my reflections on hold). A couple of quick notes, as well as some other broader NBA thoughts.

Diaw: Don't fear Diaw. He had a great game in game 4, but he didn't in the first 3. It is more important to shut down their perimeter shooting than to double him in the post.

Bell:
Only fear bell if we leave him open. Let me repeat myself: "It is more important to shut down their perimeter shooting than to double [Diaw] in the post."

Nash:
Despite the Suns' high scoring, he still had a quiet game (I believe 15 and 4). We need to make sure he stays the "outsider" he's been all series.

Pick and Roll:
It worked to perfection for 3 straight games. Return to it.

Personnel:
Keep an offensive minded squad out there (more Finley/Barry/Thomas, Less Bowen, No Horry).

Attitude:
The Jugular.

As far as the rest of the Association goes-

The Eastern Conference: More competitive (weaker at the top?) than originally conceived?

Western Conference: More top-heavy than originally conceived?

I will be back with more on the Hawks, because I want to take some time to really probe what exactly is going on in that series. Let's Go Spurs.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Piss and Vinegar


The Hawks and the Celtics are in the 4th right now, and even if the Hawks win this game I don't see them taking the series. Nonetheless, watching the Hawks I can't help but think how much guts, guile, and talent this young team has. Josh Smith. Joe Johnson. Marvin Williams. Al Horford. Josh Childress. Zaza Pachulia. These guys are showing the same unbridaled bravado that we all saw in last years Warriors. The difference? They are young hustle junkies who play aggressive D instead of wacky journeyman looking for a rallying cry. On both ends of the ball they suggest the possibility of becoming more sophisticated and more confident. I don't see them realistically winning this series (although leaving a mental scar on this Boston team would be just fine by me). But I am very excited to see what this team can do over the next few years. Obviously any discussion of the Hawks must end with the human highlight film (whom I must say Josh Smith is doing a mighty good job of carrying on the tradition of). So, just for good measure, I give you the one, the only, 'NIQUE:



UPDATE: Hawks 97, Celtics 92. Tomorrow Is The Question!

Thoroughly Mistaken


(I know Pop. How could I possibly have picked the Mavs to beat the Hornets?)

Instead of just focusing on the Spurs, I figured I'd give some general reflections on the playoff games I watched this weekend (although obviously I will have plenty to say about SA). I just want to point out that I had the Wizards beating the Cavs in 6, Mavs beating the Hornets in 6, the Celtics beating the Hawks in 4, and once they went up 3-0, I said the Spurs were gonna close it out on Sunday. So I don't actually know anything about basketball.

Celtics-Hawks: OK, obviously the Celtics are gonna win this series. And Al Horford mocking Pierce while he was laying on the ground only locked an already closed window. But I did love watching this game. Some combination of Josh Smith's thunderous dunks and Al Horford's juvenile vigor is pretty exciting to watch. But if Pierce puts up 40 tonight, you know exactly who to blame.

NO-Dallas: So I was wrong about this series. Like really wrong. And they should suspend Kidd for a game. Absolutely. If Horry got suspended two games for hip-checking Nash, Kidd should absolutely get suspended for attempted murder. And if that happens, no one, I mean NO ONE, is allowed to claims Kidd's suspension is the reason the Mavs are gonna lose this series.

UPDATE:
The ruling on Kidd is ridiculous. You are telling me this is more flagrant than this. Kidd puts Pargo in way more physical danger than Nash ever was. This just goes to show how the NBA has no backbone and makes decisions based on public opinion, not on what is just in terms of the reality of the game.

Wizards-Cavs: Ok, so lucky for me the Wizards probably aren't gonna win this series and I can continue to use the Stevenson-Icarus metaphor, despite the fact that it is banal and gives no insight into the guys game whatsoever. But I do wanna talk about one thing real fast. I only watched the last couple of minutes of Game 4, but I will say unequivocally that neither of the last two Wizards possessions were well drawn plays, and in fact neither were well executed. An isolation situation were Arenas has to hit a circus shot to tie it up is not actually a well executed play, despite the points scored. And just giving it to him one-one-one beyond the arch and saying "let it fly" is not a good call either. He can't create space because his man isn't gonna sell out on the fake drive because they need a three. And you have so many guys on that team who can nail a 3, I can't believe they didn't run a high screen or something. Even if you go back to Arenas for the shot, you need to get the ball out of his hands so he can possibly lose his man for a second. Just a poorly written, and very poorly executed final shot attempt.

Spurs-Suns game 4: There are two wrong reactions to this game: 1) The Spurs let'em have it. And 2) The Suns are back in this one. Yes, the Spurs sat the big 3 near the end of the 4th and they never saw the floor again, but that was merely Popovich accepting defeat and insuring that his guys are fresh tomorrow night. But from the get go the Suns came out on a mission (and rightfully so). No one wants to get swept. And certainly not by your arch-nemesis. That being said- The Spurs are still gonna take this series. They are just too cold-blooded and too disciplined to a) let this loss affect them mentally, and b) give up 4 in a row, including 2 at home. Not gonna happen. If anything a big loss could be cathartic for them, get them back on track.

I'll be back later with some more specific Spurs-Suns notes, which I think I'll just combine with a Game 5 preview. Although obviously for a lot of reasons the game is not going to be indicative of the rest of the series, I think it sheds some light on some interesting adjustments D'Antoni has made, and what adjustments Popovich may make in response.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Jugular veins are veins that bring deoxygenated blood from the head back to the heart via the superior vena cava"



So, I may I think I know a lot about basketball, but I don't. And I may think I am a gutsy and impassioned fan but I clearly am not. Because every game of this series I have mentally prepared myself for the possibility of the Spurs losing (the last two I actually predicted losses). And well...we've won. And in increasingly convincing fashion. I thought we would coast through this one, cede a game, and look to go 1-1 in Phoenix on Sunday. Well, my boys in the silver and black are a good bit more cold-blooded than I gave them credit for. I wonder if D'Antoni really believes he has the better team now.

Before I get into the recap, I want to discuss something. Something I have avoided discussing for fear of raising expectations above where they should be placed and for fear of not focusing on the game/series at hand and instead looking towards a not-yet-earned future. But I will say it right now: If we play like this for the rest of the postseason, we will repeat as NBA champions.

Let's get down to business:

Tony Parker: Parker's competitiveness is one of the most underrated "intangibles" on this team. Obviously he doesn't bring it night in, night out during the regular season, but come the playoffs the man shows no mercy. In my opinion nobody in the Association finishes in the lane better than Tony. So not foolishly D'Antoni crowded the lane to keep him away from the hoop. But if he can consistently drain his mid-range jumper the way he did last night he could be an unstoppable offensive force. He also played some great perimeter defense. The suns were looking to get open beyond the arc late in the game as a flurry of threes was their only realistic shot at getting back in this one. His hustle and smarts insured that they did not get that opportunity.

Hack-A-Shaq: I've dedicated a lot of time to the ethics of Hack-a-Shaq, so I'll avoid that. I will say that not only was it more succesful this game, it was better implemented. It was thrown in more sporadically (although mostly at the very end of a quarter), and I think that this genuinely interrupted the Suns flow instead of merely bogging down the game as a whole (which I felt our use of the tactic in game 2 did).

Kurt Thomas: I know its ridiculous to complain about fouls after a victory like last night, but why do the refs have it out for Thomas in this series? On the replay of that technical foul all it did was look like he clapped his hands together. He didn't even mouth off. And that offensive foul/moving screen a minute or two later (I was in a bar, I couldn't tell what exactly they called him for) was just a joke. Tony drove the other direction and Thomas made minimal contact if any at all. I just was furious about it at the time and needed to get that off my chest. Aside from that I have been very pleased with his defense on the block. I was so happy when we picked him up and he has yet to disappoint.

Duncan: I feel like he is playing at a level I haven't seen from him in a while. From a physical standpoint he looks quicker and more agile than he has in a long time. He reminds me of '05. But he is also playing with a focus and intensity that I believe is genuinely infectious, and is a big reason why we are playing at such a high level.

Popovich: The Suns are getting outcoached, pure and simple.

D'Antoni: There's a lot of criticisms I could make of D'Antoni, but I'll just stick with a couple. He obviously doesn't read this blog, or else he would have known that Grant Hill is not at 100% and is a huge defensive liability when on the floor as well as decidedly unproductive on the offensive end. He also would know that one pass to Diaw in the post is equivalent to one Spurs defensive rebound. He also would know that a lot of NBA players can make a mid-range jumper, so leaving guys open near the top of the key to just do their thing is not an effective defensive strategy.

Nash: Listen, I have all the respect in the world for Steve Nash. He is a good guy and a great player. And it has been a pleasure to watch him over the past few years. But he has not been himself this series. He looks lost out there. I believe his exact words were "I feel like an outsider." Many people said the Shaq trade was made because Nash's physical condition meant the last chance for the Suns to win a title would be "this year, maybe next." I might replace "maybe" with "not" if Nash can't locate himself out there.

Amare: He is too much of a defensive liability for him to actually carry the Suns franchise in the quickly approaching post-Nash years.

Leandro Barbosa: Decided to show up in the playoffs for once. Didn't matter.

So ok, I have rationalized the possibility of failure over and over. I'm tired of making safe and timd predictions (let's be honest, predicting your team is gonna lose is really just assuring that you as a writer win either way). Well, enough is enough. I'm getting my broom out of the closet. We put our foot on their's throats yesterday, let's press down with that foot tomorrow.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Icarus: Chapter 2


I don't wanna work to death the whole McGrady first round matter (the rest of sports media is more than willing to do that for me). I will say right now that McGrady, although not as responsible for the losses as everyone makes him out to be, is also absolutely not responsible for the victory last night. Rafer Alston, Carl Landry, Shane Battier, and Luis Scola are. I know he just shot poorly in the 4th as opposed to shooting atrociously in the 4th, but what was even more evident was the combination of laziness and arrogance that I discussed in my last post on this subject. Even in the 4th his highest level of focus was mild at best. I definitely thought that the completely correctly called offensive foul on Kirilenko was gonna cost them the game.

One quick note on Kirilenko: This guy has to be more consistent. If he could figure out how to actually play to his potential even just 80% of the time, this Jazz team would genuinely be in the upper eschelon, rather than on the cusp.

But enough of this. On to the new, true, high flying Icarus (who is in fact an equally if not worse candidate for the metaphor).


I've always thought the Wizards are gonna win this series. I still believe it. I just believe they are more talented. I "witnessed" last seasons Eastern Conference Finals game 5, but at a certain point one man cannot do it. Not when Wally Szczerbiak is somehow worse than Larry Hughes (Its not the fist time I've typed that but every time I do my hands shake). Either way, I'm not gonna lie, its over the top, its unsportsmanlike, and I'll tell you right now until the Wizards actually win this series they haven't earned the right to do it. But I have a soft spot in my heart for the showboating. (By the way, if the Wizards do win the whole Icarus thing absolutely falls apart, so start thinking of a suitably arrogant NBA failure. Isiah Thomas? Stephon Marbury? The entire New York Knicks franchise? Folks, I think we have a winner).

"Would you like to play a game of chess? I play very well."


So tonight's game three, and, although not a betting man, I am more than willing to lay down a few bucks on the notion that this will be the outcome:

Spurs get down by 10-15 late in the 3rd, and Popovich pulls the starters in the early to mid 4th. D'Antoni foolishly leaves his starters in to run up the score and achieve some dubious emotional/momentum building victory (that actually the Spurs are completely unaffected by because they have ice in their veins). Instead of actually working, that strategy leaves D'Antoni's already shallow rotation not as rested as the Spurs starters and San Antonio takes game 4, heading back to SA with a 3-1 lead in the series. Although I can imagine how much the mainstream sports media (not to mention the blogs) are going to flip their shit with joy when the Suns win a game and they can finally and foolishly entertain the notion of a dramatic comeback attempt.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

From the lips of idiots...


...sometimes comes the truth.

So I imagine most of you have heard about Mike Bibby's needlessly antagonistic comments regarding Celtics fans. If you haven't here they are:

“They were kind of loud at the beginning. But a lot of these fans are bandwagon jumpers trying to get on this now. I played here last year, too [with Sacramento] and I didn’t see three-fourths of them. They’re for the team now and they might get a little rowdy, but that’s about it.”

and you've probably heard how they subsequently mocked him to no end last night.

But I feel like surprisingly few people are pointing out how in fact, Bibby, although a jackass, is correct. Last year nobody in that town gave a shit about the Celtics. And before the Patriots won the Super Bowl against the Rams I don't even think they realized they had a football team. Listen, I don't like Boston, and I don't like Boston sports teams. And I really don't like Boston sports fans. But I will cede one point: They truly do love the Red Sox. But they need to stop acting like they care at all about the other 3 major sports. Its not like they shouldn't go to the games now that they are good, I am just saying don't b.s. yourselves about how you always secretly cared or something like that.

The Public Sphere


So my comments about Pop's use of the Hack-a-Shaq garnered (or as Reggie Miller would say "garnished") a large response over at Pounding The Rock. And although I tentatively stand by my original opinion, I thought people made some great points and their comments deserved to be heard:

First of all here's what I wrote:

Hack-A-Shaq: Ok, so I'm gonna be unashamed about this one. Not only did the strategy not work (he went 5-6 from the line during the hack-a-Shaq stretch), and was it unnecessary (they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn during the 3rd and all we did was slow down the clock while allowing them to put up a few points), it was chicken shit. Its legal, but its chicken shit. I don't mind when we play physical ball (or "dirty" for people who think that basketball shouldn't be a man's game). But let's at least play. It disrespects the game, disrespects the Suns, and disrespects ourselves.


CMoney responded:

I couldn't disagree more...

about this statement on Hack-a-Shaq.

“Its legal, but its chicken shit. I don’t mind when we play physical ball (or “dirty” for people who think that basketball shouldn’t be a man’s game). But let’s at least play. It disrespects the game, disrespects the Suns, and disrespects ourselves.”

Hear me out. It’s strategy. And like all strategy, sometimes it works (game 1) and sometimes it doesn’t (game 2). The Hack-a-Shaq has been around for years…..10 years. The NBA competition committee has taken a long and hard look at the Hack-a-Shaq and still haven’t outlawed it. The reason they have not made a rule change is because the team employing the HaS (Hack-a-Shaq) is deliberately taking their defense out of the equation and offering up 2 uncontested shots. It is Shaq’s and everyone else’s responsibility to be able to make free throws. If you can’t…then that’s your problem. But you are being given 2 uncontested shots from the stripe with the clock stopped. Also, this puts the team in foul trouble, so any non-shooting/away from the ball foul for any player will result in free throws.

To say that the HaS strategy disrespects the game and is chicken shit, is like saying the same thing for the intentional walk in baseball. Is it chicken shit that pitchers won’t pitch to Barry Bonds? No, it’s strategy. Also, is it chicken shit to foul a team in the last seconds of the game when they are down by 3, so they will be forced to shoot only 2 free throws? No, It’s strategy. In football, with 1 min left in the game and the opposing team up 1 point, is it chicken shit for the D to let the offense score a TD and be down 8pts but then give their offense a chance to comeback and tie it up with a TD and 2pt conversion? No… It’s strategy.

Me:

CMoney,
I think you make some really good points. And I would be against the idea of outlawing it. And to be honest the language “chicken shit” is probably unnecessarily incendiary. Much of my issue with what we did last night had to do with when we were doing it, not what we were doing. I would also compare it to the idea of fouling a guy when you’re up by 3 instead of letting them take the shot to tie (as far as strategic uses of the foul goes). I just think that doing it so egregiously right in the middle of the 3rd shows an unnecessary timidity. We need not fear their offense. Those other instances necessitate treating the game like a chess match, and there is the implicit agreement that at the end of the game the full oeuvre of possible tactics can be employed. Doing it in the middle of the third may be strategy, but its a strategy that subverts the nature of the game. Maybe what I’m trying to make is some very tenuous appeal to honor or something like that. I just thought that the combination of its ineffectiveness and unnecessariness made it a disappointing strategy to employ in the 3rd. A lot of people criticize us for being "dirty", which as I said in my post I think is just a bunch of bullshit. We play a physical, playoff style game. A man’s game. And I like it. And subsequently I don’t mind if our long list of victims, squirming for a reason why they got beat, call us "dirty". But I would never want to be known as timid.

CMoney:
Yeah I can respect that. I thought the timing of the HaS was off too. But apart of me thinks that Pop wanted to execute the HaS regardless if Shaq missed his free throws. It was obvious the Suns were in a funk, and I think he was trying to keep them out of sync. With the defensive intensity raised and the constant stoppage, it caught Phx off guard and prevented them from getting things back on track. The last thing he wanted was for the Suns to find their shooting stroke again. At the very least, it shows me that Pop is always thinking of ways to gain an edge and stay one step ahead of the opponent. But I can definitely see your point.

dmcnulla:
Outlaw it? Sort of


i’d be for changing the foul/free throw rules in the nba. make it so that a team can decline the penalty if they want, retain possession and continue. it cuts out the hack-a-shaq (or hack-a-bowen), and forty fouls in the last thirty seconds. maybe keep the shot clock the same for declines so sometimes the fouled team can’t decline it (or lose the ball because the shot clock expires).

upside? cuts down on intentional fouls in the game.

downside? cuts down on comebacks, greatly reduces the number of tools the team behind has.

LatinD:
...I agree with both you and CMoney regarding HaS: it’s a valid strategy, since FT shooting is as much a part of basketball as anything else. Doing it on any player with a plus 65 FT% would be ludicrous, and that should really be a minimum standard for NBA players.

That said, the timing was definitely off. I wish Pop had waited till the Suns made at least one or two baskets in a row, and gained some momentum. As it was, they only had I believe 2 points in the quarter, and the engineer in me says that 7 is a 250% improvement in their situation.

Thusly, HaS made the Suns 2 and a half times better than they were. Math Hath Spokenth.

Anyways...

I thought everybody made good points, and I'll be interested to see how the Spurs approach the tactic over the next couple games.

Also, if you happen to be a D-League fan, my hometown Austin Toros have a chance to win the D-League finals tonight if they defeat the Idaho Stampede. Its impressive the way they turned around so quickly after being bought by the Spurs. Although with our front office I can't say I'm surprised.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Was there a basketball game last night?


Funny that you should ask. Why yes, there was. The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Phoenix Suns in Game 2 of the first round of the NBA playoffs, in fact. Which, I will tell you right now, has made my day. But let's get down to business:

Tony Parker: 32 points, 7 assists, and some very clutch mid-range jumpers to put the game out of reach at the very end of the 4th. What can I say, He and Duncan could close their eyes and perfectly execute the pick and roll.

Manu: Many of us Spurs fans said Ginobili was gonna have a big game. And you wanna know what, we were right. I wan't to address the idea that Manu can't go right. That is absurd. First of all, he finishes to the right all the time. Second, he changes direction so quickly that if you play him left he beats you right and then just moves back to his left. I'm the only one who doesn't blame Raja Bell for playing him straight up in the final play of Game 1. You gotta beat him to the spot and make him double back (as he is prone to do), not give him an easy way into the lane. He is just to creative around the basket.

Hack-A-Shaq: Ok, so I'm gonna be unashamed about this one. Not only did the strategy not work (he went 5-6 from the line during the hack-a-Shaq stretch), and was it unnecessary (they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn during the 3rd and all we did was slow down the clock while allowing them to put up a few points), it was chicken shit. Its legal, but its chicken shit. I don't mind when we play physical ball (or "dirty" for people who think that basketball shouldn't be a man's game). But let's at least play. It disrespects the game, disrespects the Suns, and disrespects ourselves.

Popovich: Despite that fact, Popovich has once again shown he is a better coach than Mike D'Antoni. He makes better personnel decisions. He controls the clock better. He makes better half-time adjustments. And he draws up/calls better plays. This has been and will continue to be a major reason we consistently defeat the Suns.

Personnel Decisions: Speaking of personnel decisions, I praised it last game and I'll praise it again. We're going with an offensive oriented line-up (which mostly just means Finley over Bowen). And I like it.

Mike D'Antoni's coaching: Were they running an offense in the 3rd quarter? I know the Spurs came out playing some tenacious defense, but why were they letting Diaw post up so often? I'm sorry, but am I the only one who thinks Boris Diaw is not that good at basketball? He certainly has no surefire post moves, as their was definitely a couple of times he setup one-on-one with Parker in the post and couldn't close the deal. Let me repeat that. He was being guarded by Tony 6'2" Parker on the block and couldn't put it in the hoop. And why did they stop sending Amare to the hole. Why was he just shooting mid-range jumpers? He has a nice jump shot but not that nice.

UPDATE: The gentleman over at The X's and O's happen to agree with me about the whole Diaw fiasco.

Leandro Barbosa: Is freakishly fast but cannot handle a good defender. And he needs to learn how to competently pass the ball. The guy is super talented but tries to force the one on one when its not there. If he were a better passer it would open up his drive a lot.

Grant Hill: Listen, I like Grant Hill, but they gotta get him off that floor. He isn't even close to 100% and is subsequently getting schooled.

Finley: Listen, I've always loved Fin-Dog, no two ways about it. I was not on the "Michael Finished" bandwagon earlier this year. And although obviously the big 3 are carrying this squad, the bursts from strong, however brief, performances like Finley's 3rd quarter are what we need to put us over the hump.

Listen, I do not believe this series is over. I do not believe any series is over until that clock says 00:00 and a number 4 appears in the win column. This Suns team is still a very good team and we need to act like it. But it will be very hard to beat the Spurs 4 out 5 times. Those are odds I wouldn't want to be up against. and like I've said before that in my opinion every playoff game should be considered a must win. But this next game is absolutely, positively a must win for the Suns.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pinky and the Brain


There's a great post over at The Association talking about Tim Duncan's in game leadership abilities. Its really just a series of photos from the telecast sometime late in Game 1 on Saturday. I actually remember noting the moment myself. Anyways, he looks up at the scoreboard, and calls the entire team over and they intently listen to his thoughts. He has always been a cerebral player and Popovich has made multiple comments claiming that one day Duncan will make an excellent coach. And he's absolutely right. Few players garner the amount of respect from their teammates (as well as other team's players) that Duncan does, and are as productive with that respect. The only guy who I feel like has a comparable level of respect/smarts is Garnett, whose value to his teammates does not just manifest itself in "intangibles" but also in his very strong knowledge of the game. Just watch KG when he's on the sidelines or when he's talking with Rajon Rondo (whose high level of play this season can, in my opinion, be largely attributed to KG's mentoring). He clearly understands the game on a deep level and has a unique capacity to communicate that understanding. Oh, ya, and supposedly he's kind of intense.

Icarus


I've been making an Icarus-McGrady comparison for some time now but I've increasingly realized that its a false metaphor. In order to be Icarian one must not merely come crashing down into the sea but fly too close to the sun as well. I just don't get it. I don't like McGrady, I'll be frank about that. I find him arrogant, which should lend him to the metaphor, but in a lazy kind of way. He is like some boy-prince who demands you kiss his ring even while the mobs are guillotining the rest of the royal family out in the courtyard. Its all crashing down around him and all he does is complain about fouls and being "tired".

Any good Spurs fan can recount a harrowing tale of late game theatrics by T-Mac, so why not in the post-season? I'm not gonna sit around and dredge his psychological issues or even break down the X's and O's for that matter. Although the Schadenfreude of it all does tickle my fancy just a tad, I would still love to see this team go all Lazarus on everybody and take one or two in SLC. Not gonna happen. But at least Houston could walk away from this with a shred of dignity. By Houston I mean the guys on that team who don't wear the number 1.



Cavs-Wizards: Holy shit, the Wizards need to shut the hell up. I used to really like these guys, what the hell happened. I know it was all about "swagger" and theatrics and blah blah blah, and I bought into that. But blowing on your "hot hand" when your down by 16, only to have LBJ come back and drain it right in your face. I don't mind a tad bit of showboating here and there, but you got to earn your strut my man.

I'll tell you right now the other thing I don't mind is physical basketball. If anything the steady decrease in the amount of allowed contact in the NBA really bothers me. I personally liked the old hand-checking rule, and I don't care if now its easier to get to the basket and throw down a dunk or what not. Back in the day guys like McHale or Laimbeer made you earn every inch on your way to the basket, and certainly made you think twice next time you thought about taking it to the hole again. That's why I defended Horry last year after he was unrepentant about body-checking Nash and I am not that critical of how physical the Wizards are with LeBron around the basket this series. Just because he's Stern's golden boy doesn't mean you have to treat him with reverence (I am not referring to Haywood's flagrant. That was just straight B.S.). But damn it, the boy can ball and will make you look like a jackass if you push him. This Wizards team is damn talented. They need to shut up and act like it.

Wait a second, I've got it: DeShawn Stevenson is Icarus. I knew I was gonna get some mileage out of that metaphor one way or another (See the below image for further evidence).

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lexington and Concord


The First shots have been fired in the Second Season, and I think it gives a little bit of insight into how each series may play out, and being that I have been a little Spurs-heavy lately with my posts, I'd like to take it back to the Association as a whole:

Washington-Cleveland: I still think the Wizards are gonna win this one. I think the real x-factor is Caron Butler's health. Obviously he'll play, but there's been some suggestion the man is not 100% and that could be bad. I just cannot wait for the day this Wizards team is completely healthy. What absolutely entertaining basketball it will be(depending on if everyone sticks around). Also, Why is Wally Szczerbiak absolutely atrocious as a Cav? Is this some conspiracy by Larry Hughes? What is it with Cleveland and overrated outside shooters?

Rockets-Jazz: The Jazz have already done exactly what they needed to do and steal one in H-Town. I'm sorry, but I just don't see this Rockets team making it out of this round. And the fact that they have to go to Energy Solutions Arena and win one now? The myth of Daedalus and McGrady goes according to plan.

Lakers-Nuggets: I wonder if the Lakers will win every game or just 4 in a row? Wait a second.

Mavs-Hornets: I still like Mavs in 6. But Johnson's gotta give more minutes to Terry, as well as put someone else other than Kidd on Paul. For the love of all that is holy, do not let Jason Kidd defend Chris Paul again.

Raps-Magic: Why didn't the Magic play J.J. Reddick and Carlos Arroyo? Oh wait, I know. Why didn't the Raps start Jose Calderon over T.J. Ford? Oh Wait, I know that too. (Did I mention how I just don't care about this series. Even a Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard match-up doesn't make me care about this series. I'm actually a little surprised to hear myself say that).

Celtics-Hawks: In one of the bazillion playoff previews I read somebody suggested the only thing worse than the hawks getting swept would be if they figured out how to lose in 3 games. Well...did they?

Pistons-76ers: I know, I know, the Pistons lost focus in the playoffs and got beat by a younger, highly athletic team. Chill out, the Pistons are not gonna get upset in the 1st round. But its about time everybody realized that in the last 5 years the Pistons have won only 1 NBA Championship (and only been to two for that matter), and that they are not as clutch in the in the post-season as everyone likes to think they are (and I'm looking at you Mr. Billups).

Suns-Spurs: We've been over this.

D-League Action: Idaho Stampede vs. Austin Toros in game 1 of the D-League Finals. The Erwin Center is sure to be rockin'. Let's go Toros.

You know there's a lot of nice red wines coming out of Argentina nowadays


I'd just like to briefly congratulate Manu Ginobili on winning the 2008 Sixth Man of the Year Award. You could make a strong case that Ginobili may be the greatest 6th man of all time. For me, Kevin McHale is the only one who also stands out as a GOAT in this category. And in case your skeptical, how many times have you seen a bench player do this:



There's some people who think that someone like Manu shouldn't even be able to win the sixth man of the year award (Tas Melas at The Basketball Jones) because he so clearly is an all-star caliber player who for strategic reasons comes off the bench. At points Tas seems to suggest that in actuality the "sixth man" should be a superb glue guy or something to that effect. And in all honesty, I agree with him. I think the idea of being a sixth man should mean that you are not one of the best players on your team but bring some combination of superb role-playing/intangibles that puts your team over the top. You could make a case that Manu is not just the Sixth Man of the Year but the Spurs MVP this year (I am not saying that outright, I am just saying you could make the case).

The reason I am comfortable proclaiming him the greatest sixth man of all time is because he is not up against good glue guys. Other sixth man winners include McHale, Bill Walton, Antawn Jamison, Leandro Barbosa, John Starks, Toni Kukoc and Danny Manning. Whether or not what Tas proposes should be the criteria for 6th man, it certainly hasn't been. These guys are big name guys, several off them Hall of Famers. So the fact that in comparison to that list Manu stands out as a legitimate candidate for greatest ever is no small feat.

N.B. I'd just like to briefly point out that both this year's sixth man recipient and last year's took a shot to win the game on Saturday but only one of them actually went in.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Yes, Yes, Yes, A Thousand Times Yes


I know I'm a little behind the curve on a Suns-Spurs recap but I can't not comment on this game, as it was easily one of the best basketball games I have ever witnessed. Talk about a war. Everybody who fouled out. All the amazing shots. Duncan, sweet Jesus, Lord in Heaven, TIM DUNCAN! I am pumped for this series, I am pumped for the Spurs. But let's get down to business:

Timmy D: Over at Pounding The Rock Matthew Powell wrote a great piece about how if the Spurs are going to succeed, Tim Duncan needs to make it personal. He needs to make it about Shaq's 4 rings and his 4 rings and the question of who is the most dominant big man of this generation. And I don't know if that is what drove his 40-14 performance, but it sure as hell looked like it. He really owned Shaq who was decidedly underwhelming (and after their last meeting, their match-up was a concern for me). On a related but slightly different topic, Amare Stoudemire cannot guard Tim Duncan. He just can't. I almost felt bad for the guy out there. Keep it up Timmy, Keep it up.

Finley/Barry/Bowen: Over at Ball Don't Lie Kelly Dwyer said he didn't expect the finley/barry combo to go 4/8 again from beyond the arch. I know fin-dog is streaky, but why the hell not. The guys is long term streaky i.e. the man could shoot 60% for a month, and 15 the next, not 60% a quarter, 15 the next. In general I think our role players did a fine job and I see no reason to think they won't continue too.

Nash: Obviously so much has been made of Finley and Duncan's 3-pointers and Manu's layup, but I just wanted to take a moment to point out how clutch Nash's 2nd OT 3 pointer was. it really wasn't a good looking, fading back and sideways from the corner but he nailed it nonetheless. Maybe I am only so gracious because I look back on this victoriously, but it was also a nasty shot.

Manu: An assasin. A killer. Cold-Blooded.

Duncan's 3: The hidden narrative of this play is it actually was one of the better defensive attempts PHX had during OT. I mean when you're down by 3 Duncan is the man you want taking that shot if your PHX. I know Popovich after the game said he was the 3rd option on that play but I don't believe that, I think he's just saying that so that the world doesn't know that whatever the hell he drew up absolutely did not work. I know they left him so open he could have taken a nap in between catching shooting and still not had a hand in his face, but still, I was a little impressed they forced the ball into Timmy's hands. I will tell you right now I had Post-Trauma flashbacks to the 04 Lakers-Spurs game 5 when Timmy hit that great fadeway and then Derek Fisher thrust a dagger into my heart. I know we finished on the right side of this, but the mere thought of Timmy hitting a big late game shot makes me anxious that victory will be snatched from our fingers.

PHX 1OT last possession: Was it at the end of regulation or the first OT that barbosa missed the shot to win it? Either way, interesting play. Very clever move by D'Antoni to run the pick and roll with Diaw and Nash as opposed to Amare and Nash in order to confuse the defense. Didn't work, but a clever idea.

Game 2: Obviously in the playoffs there's no need to say a game is "important", but I think game 2 is gonna be really decisive. Obviously this game was much more than a single notch in the win column. It was a much needed moral victory and a testament to the entire association that the road to a ring still runs through the riverwalk. But a strong showing by a vengeful PHX could take a lot of wind out of our sails.

Pop: I have been a little dissapointed with Popovich's second half adjustments recently, but I thought on Saturday he did an excellent job make the correct moves. I will pat myself on the back for one thing: After our most recent Loss to the Lakers I said when we are down we need to show the opposition more varied offensive looks rather than just focusing on getting the inside-outside game clicking. I think we absolutely did that on Saturday. We included Finley over Bowen more (can I just say I love it when Finley goes to the hole. I swear he scores 95% he does. I know he shouldn't be dribble-driving all the time or anything, but I just think he does it better than he gets credit for. long arms), and we also put Manu on the floor with the other starters more often. I thought Pop was aggressive from a personnel stand point and I liked it.

Obviously this is extremely effected by my rooting for the winning team, but that was one of the best basketball games I have watched in a long time (I am hesisant to say ever, but I'll tell you right now I can't think of a better one). Clutch, classic play from both teams. I am still randomly pumping my fist and bursting into an ear to ear smile. Man, I love this shit.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Other People

"The play and perimeter ability of guys like Mike Finley, Brent Barry, Ime Udoka, and Bruce Bowen will make or break San Antonio’s chances."
-Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don't Lie

umm, just so you know, he is absolutely right (I believe Kelly is a he, actually).

The Bugs and the Wrecks


So I figured I'd comment on the Hornets-Mavs series, which is sure to be one of the better first round match-ups. Obviously lots of people see this as a tight race and rightfully so. Either way, I figured I'd way in:.

Why the Mavs will defeat the Hornets in 6 games:

Psychological issues: Shockingly enough, I think Dallas has the advantage in this department (I can't even believe I am typing this right now). The last two years Dallas has shown a miraculous ability to crack under pressure, as we all know. And I will say right now I have loved every minute of it (well, to be honest I despise the Heat so I didn't exactly love seeing Shaq and Riley bring a ring to South Beach, but whatevs). Anyways, you know what the Mavs don't have in this series? Pressure, that's what. They're the 7th seed. Nobody would criticize them for a minute if they lost to the Hornets. I mean, hell, two weeks ago half of the country thought they might not even make it to the playoffs. Nobody would say they flaked out, people would just focus on how the Hornets may have more playoff potential than people have been giving them credit for. Either way, you can see it in their recent style of play. In a sense you could say they are playing "loose" or "care free" or whatever. But I think that they are not the top seed is a big mental advantage for them.

And... A disadvantage for the Hornets. People have written off NO because of their absolute lack of playoff experience. And I think their is a strong chance that the weight of that criticism becoming a reality may break some of these guys.

Dirk: I think Dirk matches up well with David West. He is one of the few forwards who is really comfortable following West out into the mid-range jumper territory.

Paul/Kidd: So no way in hell am I going to say this is an advantage for Dallas. Paul is the best PG in the league today, no question. And obviously with his footspeed he will just terrorize Kidd's defensive (in)ability. But Paul in general hasn't struggled against quick PGs, he's struggled against physical point guards (Deron Williams for instance). And Kidd is a physical point guard.

Coaching: I think both Avery Johnson and Byron Scott are good coaches, I would call this one pretty even. Maybe a slight advantage to Johnson (I think he may be a better in game coach, despite some very notable mistakes during the season).

But let's be frank here. I know Harris is gone, but this Mavs team is fundamentally the same team that went to the Finals two years ago and won 67 games last year.The core of Nowitzki, Howard, Terry, and Stackhouse remains. Obviously Kidd has changed the look of the team some, but its still a strong squad, no two ways about it.

Mavs in 6.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I'll tell my kids about this one day


Well, The Spurs and the Suns are going to play in the first round of the playoffs. Talk about fate. Part of me relishes the opportunity to put a nail in the Suns coffin. Part of me fears their thirst for revenge. All of me believes this is what its all about. Suns or Spurs fans, isn't this what you want? A chance to vanquish your most hated foe? A chance to stand toe to toe with your rival? We all knew it would come to this. This is a golden age, my friends, and it is an honor to witness it. Some Sunday afternoon in Spring, many years from now, I'll sit my children on my lap and tell them "you see those two teams. When I was a young man we were the greatest of rivals." And whether we win or lose, I'll look back on this time fondly. Because the men who don the orange and purple and the silver and black on that future day will pale in comparison to the greatness that is the men who wear those colors today. But enough pomposity, let's get down to business:

Shaq: If the Spurs are gonna contain him, they are gonna need to double team him. He really went to town on Duncan in their last meeting, and its clear one-on-one scenario favors O'Neal. I hate to admit it, but the man has excellent post moves and like his nemesis in the silver and black, may just not be possible to stop if you don't put two bodies on him.

Nash: This may sound a little crazy, but let Nash score. It may seem as if they are playing better because Nash is putting it through the hoop, but that is an illusion. He really only does that if he can't find his man.

Amare: the flip-side of the coin is Stoudemire. In my opinion the man can't create for himself as well as he would seem. he may have the best hands of any PF in the league, but allow him to catch the ball on the wing rather than while cutting. It gives the help side guy time to shift over.

Physicality: Don't be afraid to bang. Don't be afraid to foul hard. They play a very shallow rotation and now is the time of year that starts to catch up with them. The more physical the series, the better it is for the Spurs.

Pacing: Don't be afraid to push the ball, particularly when Shaq is in the game. Ginobli and parker can run a fast break as well as anyone, but Oberto, Duncan and Thomas all do a surprisingly good job of positioning themselves for the easy bucket when in the open court. Make Shaq move up and down the floor and get to the lane before his body gets there.

Well, I guess its appropriate to make some sort of prediction, although obviously this is going to be such a war its hard to really know who will make it out alive. But I'll bite the bullet: Spurs in 7.

For My Next Trick



Its an interesting choice to pair these two together. Obviously they have similar strengths and similar demons, but each deserves his own consideration.

Nash: The Suns may be the team I despise most in the NBA, and the looming Suns-Spurs series only fuels the vitriol and venom. But I have a strange respect for Nash, like Caesar thinking fondly of Hannibal. It has little to do with the pace and style of his game. They were the darlings of the NBA until they sold their soul in search of a ring, but I think that Nash retains his playful dignity. And that's exactly what it is, PLAYFUL dignity. The honor with which he plays the game derives from the fact that he is playing a game. I don't think he is a warrior, a champion. I know this is a bold thesis, but I don't believe he thinks like that. He didn't write the language for the commercial, obviously, but take him at his word nonetheless. He does not mention ringsn or dreams, merely the fear of going home. Like some winner-stays school boy pick-up game. Obviously there is a part of him that wishes to win it all, but a championship is not his telos. I think that is why he is a man of peace.

Kidd: Kidd saddens me a little. He has an air of the journeymen in him, despite his all-star status. His wanderings and eventual homecoming confuse me. He, despite his age, may still be the best pure passer in the game today (the previously mentioned individual being his only true rival for that title). But his triple doubles and no-look passes have a jack-of-all-trades feel to me, rather than a feel of dominance. As if he'll do whatever it takes to just get by, and by sheer happenstance happens to get by better than the vast majority of men who play his position. On a personal note, as a boy two Jersey's hung on my wall. One was David Robinson's. The other, Kidd's.

The Clipboard: Every Cylinder



And the waves of relief come crashing down around me. Last night the San Antonio Spurs absolutely trashed the Utah Jazz in what was really just an all around pleasure to watch. I mean, who didn't have a good game. Tony, Timmy, Finley, Manu, MATT BONNER!?!?! Does anybody realize that in 23 minutes of play Bonner was 3-7 from the field and 2-4 from beyond the arch? DOES ANYBODY REALIZE THAT?!?!?! I think the only guy who didn't have a good game is mighty mouse, who did you know since joining the Spurs supposedly has the worst shooting percentage of anyone in the NBA? That's according to ESPN but I believe it. Talk about a clutch mid-season pickup. Anyways, let's get down to business:

Duncan: Obviously this was a huge game for Timmy. His shot hasn't been falling and he needed a little confidence booster. And going 5-9 for 14 points,nabbing 11 boards, and making two steals and 3 blocks is a solid game (Remember he did this all in only 26 minutes on the court). And need I remind you that he did this all against Carlos Boozer, who isn't exactly a lightweight on the defensive end of the ball. Anyways, hopefully this victory brings the Stone Buddha back into inter-planetary alignment because we are gonna need everything the big guy's got come Saturday at 2.

Defensive Matchups: Originally I was a little concerned we had Bowen on Kirilenko, thinking that actually Deron is their most potent scoring threat but as the game went on I realized Pop was right. Because who are you really gonna switch Parker onto. If Brewer's in the game they can match up, but for the most part Tony does an excellent job pestering Deron and pushing him to the wing so they can't run any of their standard offensive attacks (and by that I mean just run the pick and roll over and over and over. This is Jerry Sloan we're talking about here, guys). Plus Bowen's quiet assurance that AK-47 is not an offensive threat is deceptively important (that crazy Russian not only gets to have sex with someone other than his wife once a year, but also can light you up if you give him a chance). Okur was the only Jazz player who stood out to me on the offensive end of the ball, but can you really say a guy who went 2-8 from the field "stood out". I guess my impression didn't match up with the facts (oh ya, like that's a first). (I used parenthesis too often during that paragraph).

Utah role players: Not that it made much difference last night but I was impressed with the energy Ronnie Brewer and Paul Millsap brought to the floor. I remember how well Millsap played in last years playoffs and any good Spurs fan will tell you role players who play with intensity (and hopefully some skill) can be the difference in the amount of jewelry on your hand.

GGGGGINNNNNNNOOOOBIIILLLIIII! Wait, Wait, Wait, Wait. Let me reiterate. GGGGGIINNNNNOOOOOBBBIILLLLIIIIIIIII! 4-4 from the field. Six boards. 4 assists. I didn't even know he was gonna play. Did you guys? I know he didn't blow up points wise but undoubtedly a solid game from the guy who may secretly, or not so secretly, be the lynch pin in this whole squad.

I apologize if the recap was a little flat today. Its hard to really talk thoughtfully about a game we win by 29 points. I mean, what more is there to say other than we won by 29 points. I'll be back throughout the next couple of days with some thoughts on the different playoff match-ups, as well as more esoteric B.S. on those playoff commercials. I hope everyone had a great regular season. As much as I love the playoffs, I am sad to see it go.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"If it ain't, it'll do til the mess get's here."


If tonight the Jazz beat the Spurs, the Rockets beat the Clippers, and the Suns beat the Trailblazers, Utah, SA, H-town and PHX will all have records of 55-27 and there will be a four way tie in the West. That just hurts my brain to think about, so I've elected Mike Monroe of the San-Antonio Express News to think about it for me instead:

" •Utah would be eliminated from the logjam before the tiebreaker rules are applied and given the No. 3 seed because it won the Northwest Division.

•The tie among the remaining three teams would be broken based on winning percentages in regular-season games among the three.

Phoenix, with a 5-3 record against the Spurs and Rockets, would get the No. 4 seed. The Rockets, 4-4, would get the No. 5 seed. The Spurs, 3-5, would be No. 6.

•Phoenix and Houston would match up in the first round of the playoffs. However, the No. 5 seed Rockets would have home-court advantage over the No. 4 seed Suns. That is because the two tied in their regular season series, 2-2, which is the first tiebreaker in a head-to-head matchup. The Rockets had a better record within the Western Conference, which is the second tiebreaker in a head-to-head matchup when the tied teams aren't in the same division.

•The Spurs and Jazz would match up in the first round, with Utah having home-court advantage based on its 3-1 regular-season record against the Spurs."

If SA, PHX and Houston win, I believe #3 San Antonio will play #6 ranked PHX, and Houston will play Utah, but I'm not positive. Presently, at 54-27, Houston is ranked 5th and PHX is ranked 6th, and being that both are playing western conference opponents I don't believe victories tonight could effect any tiebreaker scenario.

As far as the likelihood of this scenario occurring: The Jazz, although playing well, have not one a regular season game in San Antonio in their last 17 attempts I believe, and although the Spurs haven't been playing excellent ball, I could see a situation in which they buckle down and win one for the hometown crowd. The Rockets clearly have the easiest game, but with Brand back in the lineup and hoping to make a case for himself before his free-agency this off-season, you might see a sleepy/streaky Rockets team get surprised. The Trailblazers, although not a playoff team, are no pushovers and have been playing with a lot of intensity recently as they hope to end this season/start off the next on a good note. So obviously the four way tie is well inside the realm of possibility, although for me I wouldn't call it a likelihood (if you want my frank opinion though, PHX and Houston are gonna win, but so is SA and this is all gonna be mute).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The President's Better Is Better Than Your Better


I just read that Obama's gonna be on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel tonight on HBO talking about basketball. First of all, expect a post tomorrow about his comments. Second, I felt like that makes this a good time to take a look back at the thoughts of Craig Robinson, Head Coach at Brown and brother-in-law to the presidential candidate. In an interview with AOL Sports, Robinson breaks down Obama's playing style. Minimum politics, maximum hoops in this interview. No matter what your political inclinations may be, its good stuff. Check it out here.
So those of you who read this blog and aren't just my friends (shockingly enough there are a couple) don't know that I work in politics. And subsequently I had a chance to meet a guy who works on the Obama campaign. Obviously one of the first things I asked was "What's he like when he's hooping it up?" According to this guy, Obama actually talks a lot of trash, which I think is both hilarious/awesome.

Long Form Love: A Tale of Two Cities


One of the most beautiful things to me about sports is the powerful ability it has to produce unique and compelling narratives. Some famous sportswriter (I don't remember who) said that there are only four types of writable sports stories: The underdog wins, the underdog fails, the champion wins, the champion fails. I find this type of thinking to have two opposite-side-of-the-coin type effects: Bad sportswriting (see every article on espn.com for evidence) and a denial of the truly vast potential athletics have to unveil a living, breathing and wholly distinct tale. And every so often journalists who are committed to that potential come along and help reveal it. Two fairly recent(one from last week, one from last month) basketball articles do that and I wanted to take this opportunity to praise them, as I felt they really shed light on what sports journalism could potentially be:

What a Difference a Freakishly Long, Ungodly Talented, Defensive Wizard of a Man Makes
by Chuck Klosterman

and
Absolutely, Positively the Worst Team in the History of Professional Sports
by Jeff Coplon


Klosterman is one of those uber-hip cultural critics/novelist that are running around nowadays, and he has written some really solid basketball pieces, including an excellent New York Times piece on Gilbert Arenas. He also wrote an obnoxiously hip piece about how Nash's pass first attitude and liberalism make him some sort of hoops socialist that I felt showed little insight into either socialism or D'Antoni's system, but I can get into that another day. For now, enjoy what is really a great piece on the role players who were with both the abysmal 2006-2007 Celtics and the dominant 07-08 Celtics.

I actually don't know much about Coplon, except for the prose in his essay is exquisite and the poignancy with which he captures the Knicks collapse is unrivaled. I think he's a beat writer for an NYC paper (an anecdote about Marbury during the piece suggests it).

Both of these pieces are not merely examples of good sports writing, but just flat out good writing, something which should be much more highly valued in the world of sports journalism (I'm looking at you, Bill Simmons).

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Future is Now

Next up in my series on the recent NBA Commercials: Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Most of my friends know the strong affinity I have for both these players, and that affinity will shamelessly be on display in a couple of moments.



Dwight Howard: Never in my life have I witnessed a man who I so strongly believed had the potential to revolutionize the way the game of basketball is played. The great bigs of the game (Duncan, Shaq, Ewing, Olajuwon, Chamberlain, Kareem) are all born of a certain mold. They may have moved with cunning and quickness in the post, but they fundamentally were mountains which the rest of the team encircled. Howard is a different type of big man. His physicality is unbridled. He has the agility of a guard in the body of center. His historic dunk contest performance only highlights what is more than evident day in, day out on the court. I can't even tell you where this is gonna end. His potential is limitless. I'm not just talking the culture or the psychology of basketball, like some of these posts have. I am talking X's and O's. With a progressive minded coach, who is willing to free Howard's body instead of chain it to the traditional modes of the post, that list I mentioned early could surely start with his name.

Chris Paul: Speaking of guys who could end up on "greatest" lists, Mr. Paul is certainly on the path to his inclusion amongst the Point Guards. I remember when at the end of last year CP3 started garnering much deserved attention, but I never thought he could take the Hornets this far. So much has been said about Chris Paul this year that I don't know what to add, so I will very briefly weight in on a obnoxious and over-discussed debate, but one which is not wholly without merit: If I had a vote for MVP, Chris Paul would receive it.

Making Of: There Can Only Be One

I just found a "Making of" video on YouTube about the "There Can Only Be One" playoff commercial. The commentary is primarily the type of bland director speak you get in these types of clips, but its always interesting to see NBA players in their more casual moments. And what the hell is Manu Ginobili doing in there? He's the Spur you chose for this (I know Parker is there as well but I really hope they end up choosing the Poo-God).

The Clipboard: Lakers-Spurs 4/13/08



This most recent defeat of my beloved Spurs by L.A. brings up a lot of questions, so let's get down to business:

Spurs in the second half: At halftime this game was 53-53. At the end of the game it was 106-85. Recent losses to the Jazz and Suns followed the same pattern. A hard fought first half, in which we go into halftime tied (I think against Utah we may have been down by 1). A week third quarter in which we slip into a low double digit deficit (In this game I think it was 12, maybe 15). A fourth quarter in which we don't make a meaningful run and Pop pulls the starters with 4 to go, causing the lead to slip to 20 or so. The most obvious reason for this is our poor shooting, but I think there is another element. I think we are being timid. The only guy I saw out there who was fearless in his determination to win was Michael Finley, who actually plays great when he gets pissed off and subsequently hit a few nice shots to keep the lead from really getting out of hand in the 3rd. That being said, the Lakers actually played really well. If the team collectively started to stall, one of their excellent role players (in this instance Derek Fisher) stepped up and kept the momentum going. But we have to figure out a way to keep Parker producing in the second half, as this is not the first time he has been very aggressive for the first 24 minutes and non-existent for the last 24. And I can't even explain why Timmy's bank shot wasn't falling. That just needs to be like clockwork. Its the point from which everything else on the offense emanates.

Lamar Odom creates match-up problems for us. He is a very big body when he's out there on the wing. At points pop put Kurt Thomas on him, and I think that is a mistake. Thomas is a very good defender, but primarily of the post. He is an old guy now and doesn't have the foot speed to keep up with a really athletic guy like Odom. I think that's why you saw him get into foul trouble quickly, because he was scrambling for ways to stop Odom. Luckily, Thomas' foul trouble necessitated Ime Udoka getting a lot more minutes, which had two results: Udoka is an underrated part of our offense and by putting up 14 points showed it. But he also is a tremendous defender who has the versatility to stop Odom's very nebulous game. Udoka is comfortable on the wing and more than comfortable getting physical on the inside. Subsequently, 14 of Odom's 17 came in the first half. It was during the second half that he primarily saw Udoka.

The low-post double team: You cannot double Kobe when he goes to the hole from the wing. It is a trick, a clever rouse. He is not gonna dunk on Bowen, he wasn't beating Bowen to the hole, Bowen was consistently still square in front of him. At worst he was gonna pull up for a fade-away. If he goes through the middle of the paint, yes, clog the lane, put another body in front of him. But oftentimes (and Thomas had multiple offenses on this front) the weak side guy was collapsing on the drive from the corner and Kobe, with his excellent court vision, would find Gasol or Odom or Turiaf for the dunk or easy layup. It just leaves so much open space if you trap him once he gets to the low post. Kobe may be the best player in the league, but Gasol's percentage of open dunks made is still better than Bryant's percentage of circus shots made. I am not opposed to the trap, in fact I like it when we show a little bit of guts on the defensive end of the ball, but Kobe is gonna find the open man, so we have to be more judicious about when we double up on him.

Obviously going into the playoffs there are a lot of questions for the Spurs, and most of them are on the offensive end. Obviously the fact that neither Ginobili or Barry were on the floor for this game is notable, but its not the crux of the issue. I think it has to do with intensity. I don't think we have been playing focused basketball for 48 minutes. I also don't think we are making the proper adjustments. In these last two losses (Suns, Lakers) both teams have made substantial half time adjustments to slow down our offense and limit our open looks. We on the other hand have showed little interest in being versatile on the offensive end of the floor. One of our greatest strengths is our ability to mix and match offensively.We can shoot the long ball, we can bang it in the post, we have slashers, we can run the fast break.When things get tough, we need to get more varied with our looks instead of more conservative.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Rag Trade

Its saturday, so instead of expending any meaningful energy on the topic of basketball, I'm just gonna throw up a post about my favorite b-ball related t-shirts. There is some classic/hilarious clothes being made out there, so I figured I'd give a little overview of what I thought was the best.

If you're talking sports T's, you gotta be talking No Mas. No Mas is an excellent sports blog that focuses on a lot of different sports: Boxing, Tennis, Soccer, baseball... But its not just good sports analysis (although I will say right now, nobody does better boxing commentary than my main man Large). Their main schtirck is sports history. I mean these guys go deep. Its the type of collective memory dredging that really only a Philadelphian and a New Yorker could pull off. They also make great T-shirts. I actually own a couple. And some of the best are basketball shirts:

This one is obviously a throwback to the old University of Houston team. Clyde "the Glide, Hakeem "the Dream", Benny "the Bomber from Bernice", these guys were sick.



Next up is an Homage to Patrick Ewing. If you want to know why KG has nightmares, just talk to Ew.



And Obviously if you're talking about the history of basketball, you gotta have a shout out to the original Big Cactus.



And last but not least, the coolest many to ever step on the hardwood. The man with the mothership connection. Darryl Dawkins:



Next up is the men at FreeDarko. Aside form writing the most obtuse yet entertaining commentary on basketball ever, they also make acouple of pretty slamming shirts.

Obviously the original FreeDarko Tee is a classic:



And, like many of us did, they went through a pretty sizeable Gilbert Arenas phase (to admit I am still in my Gilbert Arenas phase, as will become increasingly evident as this post continues). For those of you who may not know, the first is a reference to "swagger" as in when Gil started rating the swagger of other players, i.e. "his swag is phenomenal." The latter is the tattoo Arenas sports on his chest and the text is Cuban slang for "trickster".




They also have some great shirts featuring old logos from the ABA and the old school midwest divsion when the Kings were still in it. If you want to see, go check out the site.

And lastly, Mothering Hut. These guys are D.C. guys, so there is a pretty big Wizards slant to what they do, but when you got Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, and Gilbert Arenas on your team, ain't nothing wrong with that. (Let's not forget DeShawn Stevenson Either):





But they also have a keen eye for those little pieces of NBA cultural history that slip through the cracks. Take this shout out to the best spectacles ever to be donned on the hardwood.



And last but not least, A shirt that if I explained what it meant, it would ruin it. If you don't know, you gotta ask somebody, because this is the most on point piece of clothing I have ever seen. But seriously:



Links to all 3 sites are listed on the right, so if you wanna support the sports blogging community and cop yourself one, go for it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Clipboard




my intention was to talk a little X's and O's today, being that I have been doing so much bullshitting lately. But honestly, the X's and O's of a Nuggets-Warriors matchup is about as understandable as an M.C. Escher painting. But here's my best attempt nonetheless:

The Warriors, despite finishing several games better than they did last year, are probably not gonna make the playoffs. For basketball fans, that is a little sad, but let's be honest, both these teams are just broom magnets for the Hornets anyways. So what went wrong (last night at least? First of all (and I have railed against Mike D'Antoni for years about this) 7 man rotations do not work. They may for the first 40, but they don't for the last 40, and definitely not for the home stretch/post-season. Baron Davis looked tired last night, and his shooting reflected it. Speaking of shooting, we all know the W's live and die by the long ball, but they don't need to. They actually have great ball movement when the look to execute. When guys follow the cutter and look for the pass to the paint. When they actually run a damn offense instead of just setting up isolation situations or giving half-hearted picks at the top of the key. They actually got so many points in the paint last night that weren't off of open layups but instead came from clever front court ball movement. I won't even get into their defensive issues, because you have to have a defense to have issues.

The Nuggets actually played decent defense last night, particularly from a help-out perspective. Cutters had two men on them and the W's had a hard time getting uncontested shots from beyond the arch. Also, they really did execute the transition offense well yesterday, as well as defend well against it. This was mostly a matter of hustle. When the Warriors went on a fast break, it was typically a lone man in front who sometimes had to wiggle his way through two Nugs who had made it back, but the Nuggets were consistently going on the break with 3 guys, making an easy bucket an inevitability. I am convinced that nobody, not even the suns, runs a better transition offense than A.I./Melo/Smith. Also Congrats to George Karl for possibly saving his job (or at least quieting the mobs until they get swept in the playoffs). Also, a brief side note: J.R. Smith is a BEAST.

I'll be back this evening with more esoteric B.S. about the new Dwight Howard/Chris Paul commercial, as well as some actual pre-game and post-game analysis of the Lakers-Spurs matchup Sunday (two teams I can talk considerably more intelligently about). Also, right now I am calling it. One of these playoff commercials is gonna be Duncan/Billups talking about how hard it is to win one bout how even victory doesn't quench the thirst for more. Just saying I called it.

Long Lost Brothers

The subtext that lurks beneath this video is wide and varied. Obviously it invokes the Lakers of 5 years ago but the language of the commercial brings Kobe's unfinished business to the forefront.



Kobe: No current NBA player's game invokes Jordan as much as Kobe's does. The fadeaway, the focus, the cold-bloodedness. Kobe's collision with the triangle offense seems to suggest that it was meant to be this way. He is also sophisticated and cosmopolitan. I wonder how many American polyglots there are in the NBA. I used to despise Kobe. He was a crucial part of a squad that routinely showed my Spurs the door come playoff time. But I've grown to like him. I like how cerebral he is. How calculated. It may seem organic, but that is a facade. He may be spontaneous, but everything he does is so clean. It lets you know that he knew what he was gonna do the whole time.

Shaq: I have always had animosity toward Shaq. Despite how charming his quotability may be (he may be second only to Darryl Dawkins for most quotable NBA player ever), I find him arrogant and indignant. I find it no surprise that he has spent the last decade on the three NBA teams I dislike the most (Lakers, Heat, Suns). But also despite his comedic inclinations, few in the NBA have more gravitas. I relished watching him in Miami these last two years. Injured, indifferent. The Golden Age of the Big Aristotle seemed to have passed the NBA by, and I was more than fine with that. But now that he is in the desert, it's easy to see why I find him so threatening. I laughed at the Marion/Shaq trade. Like many I thought the Suns sold their soul. And they may have. But he may end up being the Trojan horse of the Western conference. While we all look the other way it may be in his shadow that the Suns become the sacker of cities.

Updike Knows Hoops

John Updike has always had a soft spot for the hardwood.The protagonist of his novel Rabbit, Run is an ex-high school basketball star, and the book begins with an extended passage on a street game. A couple of his short stories have similar characters/passages. One of these days I'll post the opening passage to Rabbit, Run, but for now his poem "Ex-Basketball Player" will have to do:

Ex-Basketball Player
by John Updike

Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off
Before it has a chance to go two blocks,
At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth’s Garage
Is on the corner facing west, and there,
Most days, you'll find Flick Webb, who helps Berth out.

Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps—
Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,
Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.
One’s nostrils are two S’s, and his eyes
An E and O. And one is squat, without
A head at all—more of a football type.

Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He was good: in fact, the best. In ’46
He bucketed three hundred ninety points,
A county record still. The ball loved Flick.
I saw him rack up thirty-eight or forty
In one home game. His hands were like wild birds.

He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,
Checks oil, and changes flats. Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.
His hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench.
It makes no difference to the lug wrench, though.

Off work, he hangs around Mae’s Luncheonette.
Grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball,
Smokes those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphates.
Flick seldom says a word to Mae, just nods
Beyond her face toward bright applauding tiers
Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.

(How obvious is it that I am avoiding talking about last night's Spurs-Suns game at all costs?)