Saturday, November 27, 2010

An Awkward Conversation With My Greg Oden Bobblehead

We're moving to a new house next week. So I went down to the basement today to figure out what to pack and what to get rid of. Near a shelf of old books and CD's, I had an unexpected encounter with my Greg Oden Bobblehead doll. It was awkward, to say the least.

I'd forgotten he was even down there, honestly. I'd stashed him after the celebration in Pioneer Square following the 2007 Draft- the golden days before everything fell apart. I was convinced he'd be worth something someday.

Needless to say, a lot of stuff has happened since then, bad stuff- catastrophes this miniature figurine was completely unaware of. His eyes gleamed with hope.

GOB: Hey, man! So good to see you!

Me: Oh. Hey.

I shifted my weight back and forth and averted my eyes. He stared and fondled his basketball nervously.

GOB: How long have I been down here?

Me: Three years.

GOB: Three years? (long pause) So what's going on with my career? Am I an All-Star yet?

Me: Uh...not exactly.

GOB: Why? What happened?

He wasn't going to let me off the hook.

Me: Well...damn. Shit. Fuck it, I'm just gonna tell you everything. You get hurt as soon as the season starts. You keep getting hurt after that. At one point, you get hurt getting off your couch. You gain a lot of weight. You grow cornrows. You have a permanent sad face. People compare you to Sam Bowie and Erick Dampier. It ain't pretty, man. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot- you text some chick your dong and it ends up on the internet. You have to publicly apologize. Not for the dick. Everyone gives you major props for the dick. But you apologize for the sexting. It's called sexting.

GOB: Sexting?

Me: Sexting. And Kevin Durant, the guy taken immediately behind you, turns into a superstar who leads the league in scoring every year. Your name becomes synonymous with FAIL.

At this point, my diminutive friend broke into tears, his head bobbling dejectedly.

Me: Hey, it's okay, little guy. It's not all bad. When you did play, you played pretty well. And someone will probably pay you a lot of money soon to try again. It might not be here in Portland, though. People are skittish about you here now.

Then he was suddenly angry and defensive.

GOB: Why'd you leave me down here so long?

Me: Honestly, you kinda bum me out. You remind me of what could have been. Look at you- all lean and hungry. You can barely move these days. It's really, really, really sad.

I struggled to find the right words, comforting words. He broke the silence instead.

GOB: What are you doing down here?

Me: We're moving. I'm trying to figure out what to throw away.

GOB: Are you gonna throw me away?

Me: I have a kid now. And you're bad news bears, man. It's like there's a curse on you, like the tiki idol from the Brady Bunch Hawaii episode. I don't want you around my daughter.

GOB: That's some fucked up shit.

Me: I know. I'm sorry.

Yet another cringe-inducing silence.

GOB: Congrats on your daughter.

Me: Thanks.

GOB: Are you getting rid of me right now?

Me: No. We don't move for another week. I'm just seeing what's down here.

GOB: Cool. Thanks. Seriously. I appreciate the second chance.

Me: No, it's not really a second...

GOB: (interrupting) I won't let you down this time.

Me: (sigh) I know you won't, Greg. I know you won't.

I patted his little head like I would a puppy's. He lowered his gaze and stared at the floor.

Then I went back up the stairs. I could hear his tiny sobs and the click-click-click of his neck as I reached the top step and shut off the light.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NBA's Weakest Links

A good gameplan is invaluable in the NBA. It's the difference between a win and a loss most nights.

More often than not, the gameplan is built around attacking the other team's weakest link. It's like a nature show- the predators circle the herd until they can single out the old, clumsy one to be their dinner.

Here's a team-by-team listing of who opposing coaches consistently try to exploit:

Mike Bibby. The dude couldn't guard me, much less NBA-level point guards. When Jamal Crawford enters the fray, he becomes the target.

They don't really have an Achilles Heel to speak of. Maybe that's why they keep going the Finals.

DJ Augustin wears a bullseye every night. Boris Diaw is soft like cookie dough.

Derrick Rose has improved a bit but is still viewed as a favorable matchup by most coaches.

Anyone not named Anderson Varejao will do but Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison are usually the focal points.

Kidd and Dirk both get isolated a lot on the perimeter because of their lack of footspeed.

Whoever Al Harrington or Melo guards has a big night.

Ben Gordon and Charlie V both play D like cancer patients.

Only Dorell Wright defends. Take your pick from anyone else.

Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks have a rep for only playing one side of the ball.

Mike Dunleavy. Too easy.

Another toss up. When you can score easily on everyone, why bother singling someone out? That's just cruel.

Derek Fisher. Fish has had trouble staying in front of PGs for ages now. Russell Westbrook devoured him in the playoffs last year.

Z-Bo has blocked one shot this year. He might as well cherry pick on every possession.

Carlos Arroyo is the Puerto Rican Mike Bibby.

Cory Maggette and defense go together like vodka and milk. Drew Gooden also loses interest when he's not shooting the ball.

Again, too many options. All you need to do is move the ball around. Kevin Love makes Brad Miller look like Usain Bolt.

Devin Harris' guy can take it easy and let everyone else feast. Trout and Bropez take the most abuse.

New Orleans
Marco Belinelli has inherited geriatric Peja's role as 'one-dimensional shooter who can't defend for shit.' It's amazing to me they're winning so much, honestly.

New York
Why is Amar'e so aggressive on offense yet so passive on D? He's got the physical tools to be a great defender but lacks the grit. Can you imagine Charles Oakley in Stoudemire's body?

Last year, their D was great. This year, not so much. I refuse to believe Shawn Livingston was the difference.

Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter and Jameer get lots of attention. Problem is, all three have the best defensive big man in the game behind them to erase mistakes and blown assignments. A nice luxury.

Elton Brand even looks like a hobbled old water buffalo. Try him first.

Steve Nash, all day, every day.

Brandon Roy's knees are reportedly bone-on-bone. Go after him. Or Andre Miller.

UPDATE: Roy missed tonight's game. Ruh roh.

Beno is Slovenian for 'help.' Just kidding, it actually means 'rapist.' Still kidding. I have no idea what Beno means in Slovenian.

Tony Parker, DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner. In his career, Tim Duncan's covered up more mistakes than the Pentagon.

Last year, Andrea Bargnani proved he was too earthbound to check centers. This year, he's too lumbering to stay with power forwards.

Al Jefferson's currently playing out of position at C. Go inside early and often.

Gilbert's a notoriously crappy defender. So's Yi Jianlian. And Al Thornton. And JaVale McGee. No gameplan necessary.

So there you have it. Now you can be an NBA coach.

Before signing off I'd like to point out that advance defensive stats don't always support my selections. But with as much covering and helping as happens in most NBA games, it's rare that the initial matchup is what results in the made basket. A typical play would be more like this: Bibby's man beats him off the dribble, gets into the paint, dishes to a wide open shooter, scrambling defense rotates, open shooter dishes to even more wide open shooter, made bucket- all because Bibby couldn't keep his guy out of the paint. Statistically, Bibby doesn't get 'credited' with giving up the basket because two passes occurred after his blown assignment. But he's the reason the defense fails, whether stats show that or not.

Pictured: Bibby in familiar territory- trailing the play, ten feet off the ball with his hands down

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Daughter 1, Basketball 0

First off, let me apologize for not posting anything in months now. My newborn daughter has taken up most of my time (yes, I'm already blaming her for my shortcomings). The little munchkin has prevented me from watching my usual regimen of games. My basketball fandom exists in fifteen minute increments now- catch a quarter of basketball while she's napping, tweet a few witty comments, then get back to the rocking, bouncing and diaper changes.

And I've been missing some really terrific writing opportunities, too. The first month of this season has already produced a profound fall from grace for LeBron James, a resurgence of the left-for-dead New Orleans Hornets, Rajon Rondo's John Stockton impression, KG calling Charlie V a "cancer patient" and Kevin Love's absolutely ridiculous 30/30 game. Juicy plotlines galore.

I'm also interested in exploring what's wrong with the Thunder. Or why Baron Davis is such a slug. Or how Steve Nash could have a baby one day and get a divorce the next. Or what it was like for Joakim Noah to grow up with famous parents.

And I'm DYING to do a piece called 10 Things You Didn't Know About Reggie Evans.

These things intrigue me. But not nearly as much as making my little girl smile. I might be lost for good. I might be in transition from hardcore to casual fan. This blog might be an afterthought. Or I could teach her to love basketball as much as I do. We'll see...

All I can say at this point is follow me on Twitter. I'm good for a couple jokes a day.

Pictured: my ruin

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fuck Riley Coyote

Erik Spoelstra has to be pretty nervous these days. The most back-stabbing, self-centered, politically ambitious coach in history is breathing down his neck, waiting for the right opportunity to swoop in and take over. In truth, Spo would probably be fired already if it weren't for the support of Dwyane Wade.

Think I'm being too critical of Riles? The guy's won 5 rings. He's one of the best basketball strategists of all time. And he just pulled off the NBA's biggest free agent heist in recent memory, landing LeBron James and Chris Bosh in South Beach.

Still a total dick. Here's why:

-Paul Westhead gave Riley his first job as an assistant coach in 1979. Riley had previously been in the Lakers broadcast booth. But when Laker players mutinied to get Westhead fired in 1981, did Riles back his coach/benefactor? Nope. Instead, he waited quietly in the wings. And when Jerry West declined Buss' offer to take over for the deposed Westhead, the job fell in Riley's lap.

-He resigned as Laker coach in 1990 amid rumors of player mistreatment and anger management issues. Gee, maybe using Sun Tzu's The Art Of War as your guide to doing business might rub people the wrong way.

-In 1995, he left his job as Knicks head coach in a dust-up of tampering and burned bridges to join the Heat. New Yorkers still hate him. Nothing makes a Knicks fan happier than seeing the clip of Allan Houston hitting that runner to cap the Knicks first round upset of top-seed Miami in 1999.

-Since coming to South Beach, he's repeatedly gone back and forth between manning the front office and sabotaging his coaches to take credit for their hard work. Randy Pfund and Stan Van Gundy probably have his picture on their dartboards. Now Spoelstra is in prime position to be the next guy with a knife in the back.

-After winning the title in 2006, Riley's Heat visited the White House. Riley slobbered all over W's knob, saying "I voted for the man. If you don't vote, you don't count."

Fuck Pat Riley. He and LeBron deserve each other. It makes perfect sense to me that LeBron is about to spend fifty million on a home that Riley used to own. In an era when one out of every six people on the planet is starving to death, you've got to be a total fucking narcissist to spend fifty million on a house.

I curse you, Heat. I fart in your general direction. May thirty years of bad karma wash over you like gentle rain.

Pictured: Coyote/Gecko

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sheed- Great Talent, Total Douchebag

Rasheed Wallace was the 4th selection in the 1995 NBA Draft, taken one spot ahead of Kevin Garnett and behind Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess and Jerry Stackhouse.

Amazingly, he's the first player in that group to retire. And he went out with style, starting Game 7 of the NBA Finals and playing really well in a losing effort.

Yet nobody cried when he left. Nobody said "Please, Sheed, stay one more season."

Why? The guy made four All Star teams and won an NBA title. He started 956 out of 1088 games in his career. He was a hell of a player. He was also a colossal douchebag.

Sheed started 65 games for the Washington Bullets in his inaugural season because incumbent star Chris Webber was injured. Wallace averaged double figures and was a low post presence on both ends. He was also repeatedly late for practices and amassed 22 technical fouls.

His personal life was a shambles. His girlfriend at the time, Chiquita Bryant, filed assault charges against him and then abducted their son, Ishmael. During a TNT telecast, Sheed pleaded for the public's help in finding his lost child. The boy would stay missing for two years before being reunited with his father in 1998.

In the meantime, the Bullets traded him to Portland for Rod Strickland.

He walked into a Portland locker room filled with the likes of JR (then Isaiah) Rider, Kenny Anderson, Jermaine O'Neal and Gary Trent. In 1997, the team added Damon Stoudamire. In 1998, Bonzi Wells came into the fold.

It was a perfect storm of self-entitled childish buffoonery.

Sheed racked up 38 techs in '98, setting a league record. The next year, he made it to 40.

Another disturbing trend was developing: Sheed was drifting further and further from the basket. Despite being one of the league's best post players, Sheed began to see himself as a three point shooter. As a player, this would be ultimately be his downfall. For his career, he shot 34% from distance.

In '01, Ruben Patterson and Zach Randolph came onboard the Good Ship Jailblazer. The team was winning but even their own fanbase hated them.

Darius Miles arrived in '03, the same year Wallace threatened Tim Donaghy after a home game, resulting in a 7 game suspension.

Then Sheed unleased a ridiculous diatribe on the league's commissioner, saying that "Stern only drafts niggers who are dumb and dumber." Whoa.

He was traded to Atlanta for one game, and then subsequently redirected to the Detroit Pistons, where he reunited with Larry Brown who he knew from his college days at North Carolina.

He helped the Pistons beat the Lakers for the title in 2004. Sheed celebrated by having championship belts made for every one of his teammates. The Pistons remained a perennial Eastern Conference power for five years but Wallace's game was in slow decline. As his three point attempts increased, his shooting and rebounding numbers suffered.

The Celtics apparently didn't notice this dropoff and signed him before the 2010 season. By all accounts, the regular season was a complete disaster for Sheed. He showed up out of shape and got blasted in the press. Bill Simmons constantly referred to his bad attitude and 'man boobs.'

Then the playoffs started and the creaky old Cs put an astonishing run together, knocking off Cleveland and Orlando before succumbing to the Lakers in Game 7. With Kendrick Perkins injured, Sheed started in the last game of his career and played brilliantly, in the first half at least. He posted up. He competed. He gave his team a chance to win, helping Boston build a 13-point lead on the road.

But it wasn't meant to be. After the game, he made an ass of himself one last time, waiting outside the referee's dressing room menacingly.

Sheed went out the way he came in- pissed off and petulant.

For his career, he made over 150 million but it's still surprising that he'd leave 12 mil on the table. But then again, nobody ever really understood Sheed. Maybe he didn't even understand himself.

As he once said "Everybody is not going to like you. Fifty percent like you, 50 percent hate you. You just gotta keep walking that straight path."

Rasheed's path was anything but straight. Or predictable. Personally, I was never a fan but like most basketball enthusiasts, I can't say enough about his talent. I only wish he'd posted up more and shut the fuck up every now and then.

Pictured: Young Sheed with Wilt Chamberlain

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Relaxing Break With Basketball Bear

Whew. This NBA season was intense. And after that brutal Game 7, I needed something to help me relax, something to take my mind off of Joey Crawford's snarling mug. Or at least distract me until the Draft.

So I Google image searched 'basketball bear.' Naturally, it was an EPIC WIN.

Check out the handle on this adorable little fucker. The real Pooh, right here. Richardson and Jeter need to step off.

Um, why does this baller have his drawers down? He's like the Ben Roethlisberger of furries. He even looks drunk.

A lovely crochet to console sad Celtics fans, perhaps even Dane Cook himself. A reminder of the 17 titles and Hondo's jersey number. Wicked.

I love this nerd's bewildered expression, like "Hey, where's the game? I studied my rule book and everything." What a loser.

Clearly some surly asshole EuroLeague coach. Probably named Milo or Boris. I'm surprised he's not smoking on the bench. Wait- is that a Knicks logo? Darko?!?

I named him Rik Smits because he's a large albino that eats little children.

And for good measure, here's a lovely Jesus Shuttlesworth Sandwich on white bread...which I found by searching 'basketball bear.' Yeah. I don't understand it, either. Crazy internet...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

GMs Set To Overspend On Second Choices

We've all spent too much money on something we really wanted.

But imagine if every time you went shopping, there was only one of the specific item you were shopping for. And you were bidding against 30 other shoppers with just as much money as you.

Such is life for the NBA General Manager.

Every GM knows that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade officially go on the market on July 1st. Those two are the big ticket items. Huge contract guys, no question. GMs are ready and willing to break the bank for them, and with good cause. They're both excellent, multidimensional players who are still in their respective primes. They both know how to win in the post-season. They both sell tickets.

Most experts agree that James and Wade will test the waters, solicit some wooing, and then go running back to their current situations to sign max deals at home. They'll also set the market price in the process.

So then you've got a second-tier group of guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh, Amar�e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, David Lee and Joe Johnson. They probably shouldn't be max contract guys but because of the seller's climate mentioned above, it'll take near max money to get them. (Sorry, Dallas fans, but Dirk does not belong in the conversation with LBJ and Wade, he just doesn't.)

It's this second group that will get GMs fired. These 'next best thing' players will have pretty good regular seasons and then get ousted by the league's best players in the playoffs, just like they always do. It happens every season. The GMs know this, too; they know they shouldn't spend max money on these dudes. But they will, anyway. And then they'll get fired for it within three years. Bet.

Look around the league and you'll notice that non-playoff teams are usually paying their highest salaries to guys that aren't proven winners. For instance...

Nets- Bobby Simmons $10,560,000
Knicks- Tracy McGrady $23,239,561
Sixers- Elton Brand $14,858,471
Pacers- Troy Murphy $11,047,619
Wizards- Gilbert Arenas $16,192,080
Grizzlies- Zach Randolph $16,000,000
Hornets- Peja Stojakovic $14,202,000
Wolves- Al Jefferson $12,000,000
Warriors- Monta Ellis $11,000,000
Clippers- Baron Davis $12,150,000
Kings- Larry Hughes $13,655,268

Most of these disappointing and expensive players are no longer with the team that signed him to these bloated contracts in the first place. Now they're just valuable trade chips, expiring contracts, whatever. My point is that your highest paid player needs to be dominant. High paid guys who aren't legit MVP candidates absolutely kill a team. Yet GMs keep paying top dollar for them, anyway.

So why does this keep happening?

Well, GMs can't come home from the shopping spree empty-handed. Fans want them to spend that money to stay competitive, whether it's on the ideal player or not. The Marketing Department needs a new face to put on the billboards. Season tickets need to be sold. So most of these GMs prefer to make a dumb decision instead of no decision at all.

In a couple weeks, two lucky teams will get their money's worth and sign James and Wade. Everyone else will bid against each other for the right to overspend. Good luck, suckers!

Pictured: 23 Million Dollar Man

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ron Finds His Happy Place

It was Hagler/Hearns out there. Pittsburgh vs Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game. And even though nobody got stabbed with a table leg, Ron Artest found himself right at home amidst the chaos.

In the biggest game of his life, Artest was the best basketball player on the court. Two games after Laker fans were openly pining for the good ol' days of Trevor Ariza, Ron Ron proved he belonged here on the game's biggest stage.

And the Lakers really needed him, too. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol wilted under the intense pressure. Derek Fisher was hobbled. And Boston played an absolutely perfect first half of basketball, text book defense that had the defending champs completely stymied for the first 24 minutes.

If you missed the game and relied on the box score to provide your context, you'd notice that Pau and Kobe had 19 and 15 rebounds, respectively. You might think to yourself, "Hey, they played pretty well." No, they played like dog shit, both of them. They were tighter than a nun's vagina. The reason LA won that game was Ron Artest.

The refs basically swallowed their whistles for the first three quarters. "Let 'em play" was a major understatement. "No blood, no foul" was more like it. This state of anarchy had a soothing effect on Artest. Finally free of foul trouble, he just relaxed and played his game.

Plenty of people criticized LA for signing Artest this offseason. He was viewed as too volatile, too much of a wild card. It's strangely ironic that he'd win them a title in the wildest, most volatile game of the season.

In his post-game press conference, a wide-eyed Artest continued to amaze, expressing delight and surprise that alpha-male Bryant actually trusted him to take and make those big shots.

"Kobe passed me the ball! He never passes me the ball!"

Yes, he did, Ron. Yes, he did.

And even though Bryant took home the award for series MVP, it was Ron everyone was talking about well after the game concluded. It was Ron with a +40 for the series, best on the team. It was Ron that ripped that key rebound away from Glen Davis. It was Ron that scored that clutch and-one in the 4th. It was Ron that held Pierce to 5-15. And it's Ron that Boston will be seeing in their sleep for the next four months.

As Queensbridge's own Mobb Deep might say "Survival of the fit, only the strong survive."

Pictured: true warrior

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Game 7 Goat Rodeo

Mention John Starks and most basketball fans immediately think of the 2-18 game. Sure, he's also known for working at a supermarket and left-handed dunking on Horace Grant (not Michael Jordan, sorry). But his legacy will always be that horrific shooting night because of the sheer magnitude- it happened in Game 7 in the NBA Finals. Starks saved his worst performance for the biggest stage.

We all know by now that "Havlicek stole the ball." Know who he stole it from? It was a crappy pass by Hal Greer. Old-timers know what I'm talking about. Greer scored over twenty thousand career points but he's still on TV every year, throwing that same shitty pass to Havlicek. That's his signature moment.

Tonight in Game 7, someone will step up to the challenge and play his best game when the pressure is on. Someone will be the hero. And someone else might choke harder than Nick Anderson (I know it wasn't G7, just making a point).

The array of candidates is intriguing, to say the least.

Ron Artest combines an awful looking jumpshot with some terrible decision making to jump right to the top of this list. Laker fans wince whenever he dribbles.

Rajon Rondo is 4-17 from the line in this series. Can't you see that snowballing? What if he has a Shaq night where he's like 5-21 from the stripe and they lose by a bucket? What if he airballs a pair down 1 with no time on the clock?

Pau Gasol has a tendency to flip the ball at the rim instead of dunking it. Instead of gathering himself and going up strong, he'll put up a little hook shot. What if he misses a game-winning chippy at the buzzer, Patrick Ewing-style, when he could have easily dunked?

And then you've got Big Baby, who drools when he's happy and cries when he's upset. He's also got an amazing propensity for missing layups. He could easily be the next Charles Smith, getting a number of his attempts rejected as time runs out.

Tonight, someone will step up and steal the spotlight. There's also a very real possibility that someone else fucks up like never before and immortalizes himself for all the wrong reasons.

Pictured: Starks' fateful night

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Game 7- Desperate Times

Desperation is the raw material of drastic change.

-William S. Burroughs

The general consensus after LA's 89-67 shellacking of Boston in Game 6 seems to be that momentum has now swung solidly in favor of the home team and that the battered and beaten Celtics will simply roll over and die on Thursday night. So thorough was last night's ass-whupping that people have conveniently forgotten that this is the same band of scrappy Cs that won here in Game 2. You remember Game 2, don't you? It was the game immediately after the last beatdown LA put on the Cs.

Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski made an interesting point today: 'the desperate team has won every game in this series.' He's absolutely right.

And who's the desperate team now? Boston is. They're the underdog again and the role suits them.

Now, I'm not saying Boston's gonna win. The Perkins injury is HUGE. They were already undersized and now they're forced to rely on Big Baby Davis, the drooling manchild who's a paltry 5/19 from the floor at Staples in these Finals. He's also 1/5 from the line. Yet this is the same Big Baby Davis who's promising that they're going to shock the world and hoist the trophy again.

So, can they do it? It's going to take Herculean efforts from all of their Big 4. Pierce and Allen need to shoot well. Rondo needs to penetrate. KG needs to rebound and defend ferociously. Their bench players need to make shots and provide energy. None of these things happened in Game 6. Not one. They also lost practically every loose ball. And they missed wide open layups like their names were Kwame and Luke.

Because their offense was such a trainwreck, it's easy to gloss over the fact that Boston still held the mighty Lakers to 89 points on 41% shooting. Yeah. Makes you think a bit, doesn't it? 89 points on 41%. If that happens again on Thursday, the Celtics win the championship. And then we get to see Big Baby slobber all over the trophy. Again. Nom nom.

I fully expect the Cs to come out like caged animals and give the defending champs a fight to the buzzer. LA better get their rest tonight. They're gonna need it if they want to make Baby cry.

Pictured: I haz a sad

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Do Lakers Have "Heart Of A Champion"?

Wow, how quickly people jump off the bandwagon. Since Boston beat LA in Game 5, I've heard some pretty bold statements:

"This series is over."
"Kobe doesn't care about his team."
"Phil Jackson is a frontrunner who can't adapt or adjust."
"I'd rather have Glen Rice or Gary Payton than Ron Artest."

Yes, I know. And the Rice/Payton comment was from a Laker fan!

But I'd like to remind everyone that 16 years ago, the Houston Rockets came home trailing the rough and tumble New York Knicks 3-2. Hakeem Olajuwon/Kenny Smith/Sam Cassell and company had just been mauled in Games 4 and 5 by Pat Riley's band of roughnecks led by Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and John Starks. I don't need to point out that Houston then won two hard-fought battles to bring home the title. As coach Rudy T said, "Never underestimate the heart of a champion."

In that series, coincidentally, Houston also won G1 at home, lost G2, won G3 on the road, then lost G4 and G5- the exact pattern of this series. Check it out.

Those plucky Rockets prevailed by playing good D, riding their superstar (Dream) and making open shots when NY double-teamed.

So here's how the Lakers can turn this thing around:

Kobe as QB
To use a football analogy, the Cs are bringing blitzes and Kobe keeps running into the line of scrimmage. He needs to audible more. Given that the entire Boston scheme is built around making him take tough, long shots, Kobe needs to resist the urge to hold the ball. Remember how the 49ers always used to win Super Bowls by passing on first down? Same thing here. Kobe can still get his shots, but he needs to look for them in transition and on the catch. When he dribbles and pump fakes, he plays right into their hands by allowing their D to get set.

Keep Pau moving
Boston's got three of the best low-post defenders in the league (KG, Perk, Sheed). LA needs to stop setting Gasol up on the low block and assuming he can operate there. Too often he gets pushed out of position or hurried into a lousy pass. Give him the ball in motion near the FT line or elbow. He can make that jumper or kick out to shooters.

Make outside shots
With so much attention being paid to Kobe and Pau, Derek Fisher should get lots of open 3s. He and Sasha Vujacic are the only consistent outside threats. They both need to be aggressive in looking for their perimeter game. It's the only way to get Boston out of the paint and free up room for the bigs.

Pound the offensive glass
With so much help rotating to Kobe, there's lots of room for everyone else to look for second chance opportunities. Gasol's already doing this pretty effectively but Odom and Artest need to follow his lead.

Jam the outlet
When Celtic bigs get a defensive board, they're looking for a long outlet to Rajon Rondo. Laker bigs need to contest this pass before getting back in transition.

Stay with Rondo at all times
As stated above, the Cs are getting lots of early offense by finding Rondo in space. Phil needs to have Kobe/Fisher/Farmar/Brown do what Tyronn Lue did to Iverson in 2001- stay close to him and try to keep him from catching the ball. In the halfcourt, Kobe needs to stop leaving RR to help the post. This will eliminate his backdoor cuts and keep him off the boards. When Rondo does get into the paint, hammer him. Dude's shooting 4-15 from the stripe- make him think about it.

Put Odom in attack mode
Lamar needs to push the ball and get into the painted area. Good things happen when he's aggressive on both ends. In the 4th quarter, when Boston traps Kobe like they always do, Odom needs to be the one who creates offense, for himself and for others.

Play over the Paul Pierce P/R
Instead of just switching on the high screen-roll, use that second defender to attack and make PP pick up the dribble. They might even get some turnovers and easy buckets this way. So far, they're letting Pierce size up the defense before making his move. As a result, he's shooting in rhythm, and as we saw in Game 5, that's a scary proposition for any defender.

Play together
Too often in Game 5, I saw Laker players sulking and pointing fingers at each other. Boston loves that, they feed on it. It's like giving spinach to Popeye. In order to beat this formidable opponent, LA needs to play together and believe in themselves.

Boston played as well as they could possibly play last game. The Lakers have taken their best shot. Now it's their time to answer back.

Pictured: Dream and team

Sunday, June 13, 2010

In G5, Team Defeats Superstar

Everyone was waiting for an explosion from Kobe Bryant. In Game 5, it finally happened. Bryant scored 23 consecutive Laker points. It didn't matter.

Behind excellent efforts from Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett, Boston imposed their will yet again, putting a convincing 92-86 defeat on the defending champs and sending them back to LA with a 3-2 deficit and some serious confidence issues.

So far in the series, Bryant's been relatively contained by a Celtics defense geared specifically to stop him. It's similar to Chuck Daly's old Jordan Rules but without the hard fouls. Any time Bryant attacks, there's a help defender waiting. They're daring other Lakers to beat them and tonight, it worked to perfection. Bryant put up 38 but nobody else scored more than 12. Now the Celtics are one win away from their 18th banner.

The strange thing about Bryant's eruption is that he played a really bad game. Seriously. He took ridiculously difficult shots against multiple defenders. He made a jumper from five feet beyond the arc. He hit a floater over two guys going full speed across the lane. Time and again, Bryant defiantly attacked the Prevent Kobe defense, as if to say "Your entire team can't stop me." And he was right. Kind of. The thing is, if I'm Boston, those are the shots I want him taking. What I don't want is him moving the ball and exploiting matchup problems elsewhere.

Doc Rivers had some other tricks up his sleeve, too:

-He isolated Paul Pierce at the top against Ron Artest, giving him more floor space to work with.

-On defense, Boston backed off Artest and goaded him into taking outside shots. Good strategy. Ron earned another scornful "Way off!" from Mike Breen for one particularly gruesome brick.

-Boston continues to attack Pau Gasol on both ends. When Pau has the ball, they push him off the block and pressure him into quick decisions. On offense, they're having KG face him up whenever possible. Boston obviously views Pau as the weak link.

And what strategy have the Lakers employed to counter all of Boston's adjustments? They seem content to see if Kobe can beat the Celtics by himself. In all likelihood, that's not gonna happen. Phil?

Pictured: Bryant against the world

Friday, June 11, 2010

G4- Nate & Baby Make Fugly Beautiful For C's

Seeing little Nate Robinson piggybacking a drooling Big Baby, both men primal screaming to the rafters, burned an indelible image into my brain that will never fade, no matter how many cocktails or prescription pills I ingest. I was simultaneously repulsed and delighted. In an already hideously fugly game, this moment was so brazenly fugly that it was...well, beautiful. Easily the moment of the Finals so far.

Led by the hulking Davis and the hyperactive Robinson, Boston scored 34 points in the 4th quarter to even this thing up. Now it�s a best-of-three with two in LA.

Make no mistake, this was a must win for Boston. They couldn�t go down 3-1 with the next two out of three on the road. A case could be made that in every game this series, the team that had to win actually did. Think about it: LA had to win Game 1 or they lose home court. Boston had to win G2 to steal home court back. Ditto for LA in G3. And now Boston had to win G4 because, in all likelihood, they couldn�t win two in a row in Staples. Following that theory, G5 is also a must win for Boston.

And I�m sorry but I have to trot this tired clich� out there: Boston wanted it more. They were more physical, more active, more desperate. Most of the night, the Lakers seemed content to take long jumpers and complain to the refs. Is this the product of having a comfortable series lead? Probably.

In this back and forth battle between two evenly matched teams, G4 also provided some interesting new developments.

The game started with Paul Pierce handling the ball more up top. This gave him more room to escape the greedy clutches of Ron Artest. It also took the ball out of the hands of Rajon Rondo, the Celtic Phil Jackson fears most. Speaking of Rondo, that gangly Martian is now 4-15 from the FT line in the Finals. Shaq would be ashamed. And I'm tired of the "his hands are too big" argument. Amare Stoudemire is 80% from the line. Yao Ming is 80% from the line. Rondo is simply a bad FT shooter who needs a lot more practice. Stop blaming the hands.

For the Lakers, Andrew Bynum�s balky knee remains a dilemma. He played sparingly and when he was on the court, he could barely get off the ground. How he heals (or doesn�t heal) could determine who wins this thing. When Pau Gasol is forced into being The Big Man, the Lakers drift into �soft� territory again.

Ron Artest continued to provide unintentional comedy with his horrendous offense. At one point, Ron Ron bricked a jumper so badly that Mike Breen guffawed �Way off!� In that instant, I decided that I would only refer to him as Way Off Artest from now on.

And where was Luke Walton? After playing really well in G3, Luke didn�t get off the bench at all. During the brilliant Baby/Nate Show in the 4th, the team could�ve really used his savvy out there.

To the surprise of nobody, the referees were pretty bad. Again. Rasheed Wallace, in particular, was the victim of some heinous whistles. Derek Fisher, the Lakers best player in the series so far, got his 2nd foul early for basically getting trampled by Pierce.

But this wasn�t a game about refs. Or Kobe Bryant. Or Kevin Garnett. Or any of the marquee names we�re so used to hearing. This was a game about Davis and Robinson. For three quarters, I felt like I was watching the Spurs/Cavs. The game was that bad. Then the little, big man and the big, little man came to the rescue.

Pictured: short bus

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

G3: Momentum Swing & Fisher King

The Celtics came out with primal screams and a sweaty coach. Europe�s amazingly shitty song, The Final Countdown, blared in TD Banknorth and the crowd was brimming with hatred for all things Los Angeles. When House Of Pain�s seminal classic, Jump Around, came on, it felt like the roof was gonna blow off the joint.

Then the game started. And for the first five minutes, Boston maintained that level of intensity. Kevin Garnett, time traveling back a decade, sprinted up and down the court for dunks and lay-ins.

Ron Artest picked up two quick fouls. Phil Jax had to call a timeout to wake up his shell-shocked team, which couldn�t score or get stops, trailing 12-5.

Luke Walton came in for Artest and immediately, Laker spacing and ball movement improved markedly. Bigs got more touches in the paint. Less dribbling, more cutting. The refs started blowing the whistle, resulting in foul problems for Perkins, Rondo and Pierce. Surely, those in attendance had to wonder whether Bennett Salvatore was destined to fuck them over yet again.

Lamar Odom banked in a ridiculous three that took all the air out of the building. On the flip side, the fugly shots that Boston was throwing up had no such luck, grazing the backboard and the front of the rim.

Laker guards clearly got the memo that it was not, in fact, OK to play under screens on Hall Of Fame sharpshooter, Ray Allen. Forced to dribble out of his sweet spots, Allen never found his rhythm, finishing an abysmal 0-13 from the floor, a game after setting an NBA Finals record for 3s made in one contest.

LA maintained control and a comfortable lead throughout most of the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Kobe Bryant was determined to make his mark on the game and aggressively look for his shot, prompting Mark Jackson to break out his �Kobe or not Kobe� Hamlet reference that made me puke in my mouth a little (Someone, anyone, give this clown a coaching gig so we don�t have to tolerate his ridiculous clich�s!). When Bryant threw in a left-handed floater off a spin move, even the biggest Laker hater probably had a bit of a chubby.

Still the Cs hung around. Behind KG�s continued marksmanship and some inspired play from Glenn Davis, the home team closed to within six to end the 3rd, 67-61.

Boston carried that momentum over into the 4th, a quarter they�d won in each of the first two games so far. The crowd sensed another Laker collapse and broke into their Beat LA chant. Rondo scored inside to get Boston within 68-67, prompting another Jackson time out.

Then an unlikely thing happened: Derek Fisher took over, putting up eleven huge points in the 4th quarter. And he didn�t just make open spot-ups; the man scored in every way imaginable. While Boston's D was hounding Kobe into long contested long jumpers, Fish was putting his head down and attacking. On the game�s crucial sequence, Fisher got the ball on the break and scored over/through/around three different Celtic defenders for an and-one that gave LA an 87-80 lead and effectively clinched a 2-1 series advantage.

After the game, Fish did an interview with Doris Burke and teared up a bit. It was as if he suddenly realized how magnificent he�d been and was humbled by it. A truly touching display of vulnerability. Then again, he might have been having a Jesus Moment.

So LA stole back the home court. Now it�s on Boston to prove their mettle once again. Somehow, I don't think that'll be a problem.

Pictured: emotional rescuer

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Stop The Flop

The refs are catching lots of heat right now for nervously blowing their damn whistles whenever there�s contact- and yes, they�ve made LOTS of terrible calls in these Finals- but consider the possibility that they�re being deceived by Oscar-worthy actors, masters of deception who deliberately fuck with the integrity of the game.

Rajon Rondo is extremely skilled at the artful tumble. Set a good pick on him and down he goes. He flails around like a dying fish out there.

Derek Fisher (yes, I just used �fish� as a segue- ugh) is also proficient at throwing himself to the hardwood in dramatic fashion. Each year, he�s among the league leaders in charges taken.

Pau Gasol�s been known to take a dive if you back him down in the post. Tallest man on the court and he goes down in a heap of grimaces if you bump him. Whatever. He�s European- it�s in their basketball DNA.

On offense, Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce both do this annoying move where they ball fake to get their man in the air and then jump into his chest deliberately, begging for a call. It�s fucking weak.

Fans hate this shit. The league always says they�ll do something about it but they never do.

Here are my suggestions:

1 Review footage after games and fine the fuck out of obvious floppers. For instance, every time Ginobili throws his neck back and gets a bogus call, charge him $25K for it.

2 Discourage defenders from waiting for the offensive player to jump and then sliding in under their feet. This gets you punched in the face on the playground. It gets you rewarded in the NBA. Refs need to call that a block if the offensive player�s already airborne.

3 Officiate known floppers tighter than other players. If you have a rep for being a flopper, refs SHOULD discriminate against your pussy ass.

Having players flying around on the court needlessly is also really dangerous for unsuspecting teammates. How many times has a flopper fallen backwards into the knee of a big man standing under the hoop?

Don�t get me wrong- I think it�s perfectly OK for players to take charges. There�s nothing unmanly or disgraceful about holding your position and being knocked over. It�s the salesmanship that pisses me off.

Pictured: royal flop

Monday, June 7, 2010

Rondo, Ray Shred LA's Perimeter D

In musical terms, rondo means that the principal theme is repeated several times.

In Game 2, the Lakers guards saw the same thing over and over again: Rajon Rondo running the ball down their throats. This resulted in a series of catch/shoot opportunities for the best catcher/shooter in the game, Ray Allen. Thanks to Rondo's penetration, Ray Ray broke the NBA Finals record by sinking 8 3s en en route to a ridiculously easy 32 points. But it was Rondo that pressured LA's D from the jump and it was Rondo that sewed up the victory with a brilliant 4th quarter to cap off a 19/12/10 triple double. And of course, there was his breathtaking ball fake on Andrew Bynum that will be replayed for generations to come.

In yet another game that was called too tightly for anyone's liking (67 FTs in each game so far- yikes!), the gritty Celtics overcame the Laker size advantage by moving the ball crisply to the tune of 28 assists. Team Green was also efficient, turning it over only 13 times. As Laker announcer Stu Lantz might say, "THAT will get it done."

Laker fans can take solace in the fact that Boston still has zero inside game to speak of. LA swatted 14 of their shots and changed countless others. Andrew Bynum received a standing ovation from the Staples crowd for his 7 blocks and multiple dunks. He and Gasol took turns smacking leather back into Celtic faces all night. Big Baby Davis had four of his offerings rudely returned, lending support to my campaign to officially change his nickname to Blocks Against.

Ron Artest played another excellent game on the defensive end, blanketing Paul Pierce into a 2/11 shooting night. In the Finals, PP is now 8/24. However, Ron Ron looked clueless on offense, particularly on the now-infamous possession with a minute left when he dribbled away the entire shot clock and then chucked up an off-balance brick. Brutal.

Also less than exemplary was Lamar Odom, who's picking up fouls at a rate of one per every three and a half minutes in the series. Candy Man will have to step up his game if LA plans on coming back home. Conversely, Odom's 6th man counterpart, Rasheed Wallace, played well off the bench for the second game in a row.

So on we go Boston, where a hostile crowd awaits, and an already classic battle will surely become that much more intense. This is the Finals everyone's been waiting for- two heavyweights going toe to toe, seeing who's got the stronger chin. This is Lakers/Celtics, after all. And that's a principal theme no true basketball fan will ever get tired of hearing repeatedly.

Pictured: the maestro

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Calamity Ensues At Top-Secret Player Summit

A sprawling estate on its own tropical island. LeBron James, Amar�e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Jay Z and Drake are seated at a table made entirely of diamonds. A throng of media members and Nike reps surround them with cameras and microphones.

Dwyane Wade enters.

LBJ: What�s up, man? Glad you could make it. Get your jet parked OK?
Wade: Yeah, I put it next to the others.

Wade sits at the table. A sea of camera flashes go off.

Wade: What are all these people doing here? I thought we were keeping this on the DL.
LBJ: Oh, these are just some friends from the media. And my Nike peeps.
Wade: Cool, as long as Stern doesn�t find out.
LBJ: Oh, I handled Stern.
Wade: Handled him? Like you handled Brown and Ferry?
LBJ: Yep.
Wade: Damn.
LBJ: I ain�t playing.

LBJ and Wade share a congratulatory Masonic handshake. Wade notices Jay Z and Drake.

Wade: Hold up- that�s Jay Z! And the dude from the Sprite commercial!
LBJ: Yep, I thought y�all would be impressed so I brought them, too.

Drake opens a Sprite. Jay Z counts his money.

LBJ: OK, let�s get down to business. I�m tired of this losing shit. I want to run with dudes that win titles, not spend their time trying to get with my Mom.

Amar�e, Bosh and Boozer snicker. LBJ gives them a reproachful look. They hush.

LBJ: As I was saying, I�m all about winning. That�s why I gave up on my teammates. That�s why I had my coach and GM killed. They weren�t winners. They didn�t know how to get a ring.

Wade leans in to whisper to LBJ.

Wade: Dog, you know these other dudes don�t have rings, right?
LBJ: Wait, what?
Wade: Yeah.
LBJ: Oh. You got one though, right?
Wade: Yeah. I got one. With Shaq in 2006.
LBJ: The Shaq on my team?
Wade: Yeah. Well, he was on your team.
Boozer: Hey, we can�t hear what you guys are whispering about.
Bosh: Yeah. Whisper louder.
Amar�e (to Jay Z): Can I count your money?
Jay Z: Touch my money and we got problems.

Amar�e backs off. A tense moment. Drake sips his Sprite slowly.

LBJ: Alright, look. Nobody�s touching anyone else�s money. Chill. We�re here to figure out which of y�all is coming to Cleveland to help me win a ring.
Wade: Uh, well�actually I�m here to see which of y�all is coming to Miami.
LBJ: I�m from Cleveland, born and raised. I can�t leave.
Wade: Well I ain�t living in Cleveland, man.

A tense moment. Bosh and Boozer raise their hands enthusiastically.

Bosh: I�ll play in Cleveland. Or Miami.
Boozer: I have a home in Miami.
Amar�e: I�ll go wherever offers the most money. Seriously. I�ll play for the Nets.

Everyone cracks up. Drake does a spit take and sprays Sprite all over Jay Z. Jay Z punches Drake in the face, knocking him unconscious.

LBJ: The fuck, J?
Jay Z: Dude got Sprite on my money.

A puff of smoke and David Stern appears with an evil cackle.

Stern: Well, well, well. What have we here? A secret player summit, I presume.
LBJ: But�but�but�I killed you.
Stern: You can�t kill something that�s already dead.

Stern laughs maniacally.

Wade: Dang, we getting fined like a motherfucker.

Pictured: a toast- to money!

Friday, June 4, 2010

If Anyone's Soft, It's The C's

Boston came out pushing. LA pushed back. The Cs tried to bully the Laker bigs and for a quarter, it kinda worked. Boston had tempo in their favor and trailed by only five, 26-21. Gasol had a nice statistical first quarter but was still spending lots of time flopping around and putting up weak shit (that was going in). Andrew Bynum, on the other hand, was proving to be harder to displace. The oft-maligned manchild camped out in the paint on both ends and there wasn't a damn thing any Boston player could do about it. He dunked, changed shots and generally looked about a foot taller than anyone else on the floor.

Also looming larger than usual was Satan incarnate, Joey Crawford, who seemingly chose to blow his whistle whenever he fucking exhaled. Honestly, that crew called one of the worst games I've ever seen called by any officials anywhere, and that includes twenty years worth of clueless douchebags getting paid $20 to work in C League. In particular, the call for Ray Allen's 5th foul was ridiculously awful. Tim Donaghy might have blushed at that one. But it's not like the zebras were only favoring LA. There were also headscratching calls against Fisher and Kobe, phantom calls that put starters on the bench. 67 FTs. Weak. Hopefully, that crew doesn't see the court again in this series.

Speaking of not seeing the court, Michael Finley made a surprise entrance and was so unspeakably bad on D that Doc pulled him after two minutes. Two minutes. I'm guessing we won't see Old Mike again. Nate Robinson, hailed as a savior for his shooting in Game 6 against Orlando, now is left to wonder why that busted old man got off the bench ahead of him. Bad coaching move by Doc.

The game was relatively close until Artest and Fisher (both saddled with foul problems, of course) re-entered the game in the 2nd and pushed the lead to double digits for the first time.

But the 3rd is where the wheels fell off for Boston. Kobe had a breakaway dunk to push the lead to 13 and nobody from the Cs was back on D. Nobody. I can't remember the last time I've seen that from this team. Rivers called timeout to try and inspire his troops. A couple minutes later, Artest hit a three to push the lead to 20, 84-64.

The fourth quarter was a complete non-issue.

Rajon Rondo, Boston's playoff MVP, was effectively muzzled by Kobe Bryant. He got free for a couple layups early but it was only because Bryant left him to double. Like most other Celtics, Rondo spent the large portion of the evening allergic to the painted area.

So what happened to this clash of the titans that we've all been waiting for? It fell really, really flat. The tough guys got punched in the grill and responded by going home and crying to their mommas. And I'm sure Team Green is spending a lot of time today blaming Joey Crawford but honestly, they got punked. They got pounded on the glass. They shot more jumpers than the Mavericks. And they played D like Los Suns.

If they come out in some pussified zone to hide their deficiencies in Game 2, we'll know this series is probably over.

Pictured: shook ones

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lights Out At Staples

LA's home playoff record of 8-0 this year is well documented. Most attribute this advantage to a marked increase in effort from the Laker players, and to a lesser degree, more advantageous whistles from the refs.

But maybe there's more to it. Maybe it has something to do with the court itself, or more specifically, how it's lit.

Before the 2006/7 season, the folks at Staples Center decided to emulate the lighting plan used at MSG. Thus began the Lights Out era. If you're not familiar with Lights Out, the basic premise is that once the game begins, all lights in the building dim except for those focused directly on the court, giving the game a very dramatic vibe, almost like a concert or Broadway play.

Time after time, opponents have wilted under the spotlight.

In that inaugural season, LA went 25-16 at Staples despite starting Kwame Brown and Smush Parker. Conversely, they were a dismal 17-24 on the road. In 2008, aided by the Pau Gasol acquisition/pillaging, the Purple & Gold improved their home record to to 30-11. Last year's title team went 36-5. This year's squad? 34-7.

Recently, we've seen the Thunder, Jazz and Suns tighten up when the lights go down. Boston could be next.

Ever shoot a J with no depth of field?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

King Nothing

Just want one thing
Just to play the king
But the castle's crumbling
And you're left with just a name

-King Nothing, Metallica

No, I'm not about to compare LeBron James to Metallica. But if you've seen Some Kind Of Monster, you'll know that the egomaniacal douchebag factor is about even. Anyway, on to my point...

Yesterday I rewatched Game 6 of Celtics/Cavs to try and figure out what happened, exactly (and yes, maybe I was looking for telltale signs that Delonte West actually was banging Gloria James). What I discovered was that even though LeBron put up 27/19/10, he was so emotionally distant that his weak-minded team crumbled without his leadership. In the most important game of the year, The King threw a sullen bitch fit. And he spent such an inordinate amount of time tongue-lashing Mo Williams that for a second I wondered if Terez Owens had fingered the wrong teammate in MomGate. Granted, LBJ also ignored Delonte West entirely, choosing to sit as far away from him on the bench as possible. Appearing rattled and out of sorts, West performed terribly. But nobody played as badly as Antawn Jamison, who missed layups, turned the ball over and blew every conceivable defensive assignment. Yet James offered no words of support or encouragement for any of his struggling compatriots. No leadership at all. He just sulked. And sulked.

When I was seventeen I dreamed of being king and
Having everything I wanted
But that was long ago and
My dreams did not unfold so
I'm still the king of nothing

-King Of Nothing, Seals And Crofts

Yeah, Seals And Crofts. What?!?

Now, I don't agree with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's theory that LeBron needed more schooling to grow up emotionally. Dude's been in the league seven years now. And it's not like being the Big Man On Campus tempers an inflated ego (holla back, Christian Laettner). But that was straight up childlike behavior he exhibited out there in Game 6. The only thing The King didn't do is cry and take the ball home with him once it was all over.

I wear this crown of shit
Upon my liar's chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair

-Hurt, Nine Inch Nails

This king is not worthy of anyone's servitude. Futhermore, now would be an ideal time for his loyal subjects in Cleveland to examine their allegiance. Their leader just abandoned them when they needed him most. And now he's about to parade his ass around the league like some high-priced ho at All Star Weekend.

At least he'll have his puppet to play with. And the two-story closet for all of his shoes.

Kings lose crowns
But teachers stay intelligent

-Criminal Minded, Boogie Down Productions

Oh, and here's the real King James, btw. This guy actually accomplished some shit, like hunting witches and torturing innnocent people.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thunder- Latest Team Of The Future

Congratulations and hearty backslaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder (AKA SuperStolens, Zombie Sonics), the NBA's latest team of tomorrow. With an impressive showing against the defending champs, the Thunder staked their claim to being the squad that everyone's picking to win the title five years from now. Yes, the future looks bright for Durant and company.

The only snag is that the future never arrives. As Buckaroo Banzai once famously said, "Wherever you go, there you are." And where the Thunder are right now is home watching someone else compete for the title.

Think I'm being harsh? Ask the New Orleans Hornets about the future. Ask Greg Oden and the Blazers. Ask the Arenas/Jamison/Butler Wizards. Stuff happens. People get injured. Egos clash.

In 1997, Michael Jordan tabbed the Washington Bullets, a band of pups led by Chris Webber, Rod Strickland and Juwan Howard, the "team of the future." Yeah, that worked out well. A year later, C-Webb was shipped to Sacto, where he formed the nucleus of yet another champion-to-be (fittingly the runner-up in Ball Don't Lie's also-rans of the Aughts column).

Who can forget the promising triumvirate of Kidd/Mashburn/Jackson (The Big 3 In Big D- sounds like bad porn) supposedly being splintered by Toni Braxton? Y'know, Toni Braxton. Yeah.

After soundly thumping LeBron's Cavs in the Finals in '07, Tim Duncan consoled James by telling him, "Some day you're going to own this league." From a marketing perspective, Timmy was spot-on. Four years later, however, the King is still without his crown. Maybe that could change this year. Maybe not. The prodigious Orlando Magic, fresh off their own disappointing turn in the Finals, stand in their way.

And of course, waiting out West are the game's biggest clutch performer and its greatest coach. No, I'm not talking about Channing Frye and Alvin Gentry.

Spiritual and holistic types are constantly reminding us to stay in the moment. "All we have is right now." I prefer John Lennon's way of looking at it: "Life is what happens when you're busy making plans."

Pictured: Bullet Boys (sorry, no Kip Winger)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Grace Out, Fugly In

No more Dwyane Wade for this year's playoffs. Bummer. Dude's one of the most electrifying players ever. And he's good for at least one "how the fuck did he do that?" moment per game. His flush on Varejao was easily the most impressive play of this season to date. Nothing else even comes close.

Stephen Jackson's done for the year, too. Hobbled and humbled, Jax went out timidly as his 'Cats lost in four straight. The only time he showed any fire is when his headband was dislodged.

Also officially on vacation is the explosive Derrick Rose, whose Del Negros were no match for Cleveland.

That's three exciting players we won't be seeing again for awhile. Boo. Instead we get an extra helping of Matt Barnes and Floppy Varejao. Yay.

Now, I'm not one to favor style over substance but I'm terrified of a Magic/Spurs or Cavs/Spurs Finals. That's some fugly basketball right there. Like 70-62 final score fugly. Like 20 missed FTs fugly. Like lowest Nielsen ratings in major sports finals history fugly.

Pictured: foul on you, Dwight

Monday, April 26, 2010

Playoff Counter Punches

Some good coaching going on this week in the playoffs.

Alvin Gentry realized pretty quickly that Steve Nash was getting dominated by Andre Miller. So the oft-maligned skipper of the Suns put old-ass forward Grant Hill on Andre. He also told Hill to extend his D to 3/4 length and to deny him the ball. On paper, you look at this move and think "How the hell can that work? Hill's older than dirt and he doesn't have the footspeed to stay with a PG, right?" Wrong, actually. That one move changed the tone of the series. After getting blown out in Game 1, the Suns have won three of four since the adjustment.

Doc Rivers witnessed Dwyane Wade annihilating his Cs in the first half of Game 1. In the 2nd half, he started doubling the superstar and making lesser members of the Heat beat them. It worked. Boston won the first three games of the series using that same strategy before Wade erupted for 46 to stave off elimination.

Scott Skiles made a minor tweak, too. After losing Games 1 and 2, he switched Luc Richard M'bah A Moute from Joe Johnson onto Josh Smith. The Deer won twice at home since that assignment change, although many would argue that the Hawks just suck donkey balls on the road.

Pictured: Snotty Scotty screaming "DEL-FIIIII-NOOOOOOO!!!!"

Monday, April 19, 2010

First Punches Thrown

You've heard it mentioned numerous times before: teams that win Game 1 usually end up winning a seven-game series.

Well, in an exciting and physical round of Game 1s, some very important precedents were established over the weekend.

Cleveland welcomed Shaq back and the big fella looked motivated and surprisingly agile. If O'Neal plays that well on a nightly basis, the Cavs will crush not only Chicago but the rest of the East.

UPDATE: Saddled with foul trouble, O'Neal was less effective in Game 2 but the Cavs won anyway.

Atlanta's frontcourt did whatever they pleased against the Bucks bigs. Brandon Jennings returned the favor by galloping right past the horrifically bad defense of Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford.

Boston decided to start doubling Wade in the second half and the Heat predictably folded. The Cs would have had major momentum going into Game 2...but then KG had one of his rabid spells and got himself suspended.

Steve Nash cannot guard Andre Miller. The Blazers have now won 16 of 20. They're a different team with Camby. Still, the Suns missed so many wide open shots, shots they usually make in their sleep.

Speaking of snoozing, the Bobcats are probably seeing Dwight Howard in their dreams. The dude blocked nine shots against a team that wasn't even going inside most of the game. Ridiculous. Anyone who doesn't vote Howard for DPOY should be shot in the face.

Dirk scored at will over all of San Antonio's power forwards, none of whom were Tim Duncan. Why no Duncan on Dirk, you ask? Because Duncan plays center and doesn't guard power forwards. Because Duncan isn't a power forward, despite what it will undoubtedly say on his tombstone. Yeah, I went there. Again. Tim Duncan. Center. Suck it, Hall Of Fame.

And of course, Ron Artest put his stink all over Kevin Durant. Welcome to playoff basketball, kid. It's gotta be kind of rough having Artest be the guy to bust your playoff cherry. Hopefully KD isn't too traumatized by the mauling Ron Ron put on him.

While we're on the subject of defense, the Jazz played none of it. Carmelo Anthony scored more easily than Tiger Woods at a strip club. Or a roadside diner. Or a hotel party hosted by Michael Jordan. OK, I'll stop.

Back to basketball...gotta maintain focus...focus...focus...shoot the shot the same way...

UPDATE: Jazz play better D, win Game 2 on the road. Yes, the Jazz won a road game.

Back to my original point. History says that whoever throws the first punch usually wins. However, it's hard to forget the Dallas Mavericks blowing that commanding 2-0 lead in The Finals against Wade's Heat a few years back. Sometimes a game is really just a game.

Pictured: best record in the L and a 2-0 lead. And Keith Van Horn.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Where FML Happens

Sixteen fortunate teams begin the second season with renewed purpose tomorrow. But for all the downtrodden who didn't qualify for the playoffs, this is a time of reflection, a time to take inventory and figure out what went wrong. Many will look in the mirror today and think "Man, I really blew it this time. FML."

Gilbert Arenas
While his former Bullets mates Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood prepare for meaningful games, Inmate Zero sits in a halfway house (no word yet on whether it's climate controlled), left to ponder the incredibly stupid decision to engage Javaris Crittendon in a firearm contest.

Allen Iverson
Memphis didn't work. Philly didn't work. Then his marriage didn't work. Now The Answer doesn't work. Bad bad bad year for AI.

Eddie Jordan
One season? The Thief Of Baghdad (Chick's nickname for him) never had a chance. He couldn't play uptempo with tree sloth Elton Brand in the lineup and he couldn't play slow because that team has no shooters. So when they lost (duh!), the team blamed the coach. Again. Consider this: whoever's hired next will be Philly's eighth coach in ten seasons.

The Mike Dunleavys
Senior saw his number one overall pick, Blake Griffin, go down for the year before playing a single game. Then he got fired from not one but two jobs. Junior was injured himself for much of the year but when he did play, he was lousy enough to barely see the court on a dreadful team. When you're white and can't get PT in Indiana, you know you suck.

Andris Biedrins
Brutal team. Injuries. And when he was healthy, he had to listen to Donny Boozeface rip him in the press every day for being such an abysmal free throw shooter (16%!!!). Did anyone have a less enjoyable campaign than Goose? Silver lining: slightly better haircut (see below).

So, thankfully, mercifully, the season is finally over for you unfortunate souls. I'm reminded of the time Nick Van Exel yelled "Cancun" instead of "defense" as the Lakers' season was winding down. Love Nick The Quick. My man.

And for you lucky winners, enjoy the playoffs. Maybe even sip the bubbly and kiss the trophy. Whatever happens, savor this time in the spotlight because next year, it could be you everyone's laughing about. For real.

Pictured: Goose lays eggs on 5 out of 6 of these, usually

Thursday, April 1, 2010

20 Players I'd Rather Have Than Carlos Boozer

I'm no fan of Carlos Boozer. And it's not because I live in Cleveland. Or attended North Carolina. I just happen to think he's one of the most overrated players in the game today. He's a great scorer, yes. He's also a mediocre defender and a me-first guy who's jerked around both organizations he's played for. And he's about to get BIG money from somebody else. With that in mind, here are 20 current stars I'd take over Booz right now.

1 Kobe
2 LeBron
3 Dwight
4 DWade
5 Durant
6 Melo
7 DWilliams
8 CP3
9 Dirk
10 Billups
11 BRoy
12 Pau
13 Amare
14 Bosh
15 DRose
16 Joe Johnson
17 JSmoove
18 Al Horford
19 Tyreke
20 Granger

I admit that these last five are cutting it pretty close. A case could be made that Booz lands squarely at 15 after Bosh. But you'd have to want Boozer on your team to think that way. I don't.

My apologies to vets like Duncan, J Kidd, Nash and the entire Big Three in Boston who are still getting it done (for the most part) but past their prime enough to keep them out of this conversation.

I also considered putting Yao in there but my man's been injured three times in four years. Bad news bears.

Pictured: Booz teaches Yao the inspiring Jazz theme song

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Don't Blame KP For Oden Over Durant

Since Tom Penn got axed last week, there have been all kinds of rumors going around that seem to indicate that Kevin Pritchard's days in Portland are numbered.

Now, I don't know what goes on behind closed doors so I'm not going to speculate on whether or not these rumors might be true. What I AM going to say is that if the hatchet does fall, it won't be because KP picked Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. Let's be clear on this. Management wanted Oden. The city of Portland wanted Oden. Kevin Pritchard? Dude wasn't so sure. He described Durant's workout for the team as the best he'd ever seen. And while every major sports outlet crowned Oden the next Bill Russell, KP was wringing his hands because he saw then in Durant what we're all seeing now- a perennial All-Star with limitless potential.

So to all you revisionist historians out there, blame Pritchard for his part in the underhanded Darius Miles bullshit. Blame KP for not knowing when to keep his mouth shut about his salary. But don't you dare blame him for pulling the trigger on Oden over Durant. He had an entire city helping him make that decision.

Pictured: trust me, you didn't hear many double honks in Portland

Friday, March 19, 2010

Limping Or Pimping?

An 82 game season is no joke. Even the best conditioned, most well trained athletes in the world can't run for two hours on a hard surface every day of their lives without their bodies breaking down. And that doesn't even factor in all the times they get knocked to the floor or land wrong on an ankle. Or catch a Ron Artest elbow in the neck.

And injuries play a huge part in who wins the title every year, no doubt.

So with the playoffs just around the corner, I looked at the current contenders and asked "Are they limping or pimping?"

CLE Even though Diesel's out for a minute, the rest of their squad's in pretty good shape. Pimping.

LA Kobe's hand probably looks like a catcher's mitt these days but I'd be willing to bet he could play in the postseason even if they had to chop off a finger, Ronnie Lott-style. Still pimping.

ORL Remember when Vince Carter was a guy you could count on to miss at least 20 games? This is his fifth year straight with exemplary attendance. Wait, did I just jinx him? They're pimping.

I don't think they'd win a title even if K-Mart was currently healthy enough to play. And Coach Karl has cancer. Limping. Hard.

BOS Collective Arthritic Reconstructed Rehabilitated Surgically Repaired Limping. The worst kind of limping 'cause it never goes away. Like herpes. Or Jay Leno.

I'm gonna stop there because nobody other than the teams above have a realistic shot at winner winner chicken dinner, right? I'm tempted to include the old-ass Spurs or the never-been-there Hawks or the jump-shooting Mavs but it's 2:30 AM and I'm tired. And this post is pretty fucking lame. G'night, John Boy.

Pictured: Kobe would play with nine fingers, right? No question.