In my Lakers/Thunder preview, I focused on how the long giants of the Lakers’ front line would beast the Jazz’s midget interior. (Respectively speaking here, obviously … 6’8/6’9″ guys like Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap are fairly tall.) Well, that’s what we saw in Game 1, both on offense (Pau had 25 points on 15 shots) and, particularly, on defense.
The Jazz had trouble simply even passing the ball around the outstretched arms of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom (or even when one of those three was “short guy” Ron Artest). This, more than anything else, made the usually-surgical Jazz offense look mostly pedestrian
Jerry Sloan’s system is predicated on continuity. For many NBA teams, scoring is a matter of finding the best one-and-one mismatch on the floor, the exploiting it, but that’s not the case for the Jazz. They flow into their offense by moving the ball in a pattern. The system relies on crisp passes to players who dart off screens away from the ball, and often on entry passes into Carlos Boozer or Paul Millsap from the wings. Against an undisciplined, average-sized team like Denver, swinging the ball around the court is child’s play. But the Lakers make that task extremely difficult.
“Those passes you usually see Wes [Matthews], Kyle [Korver] and I make from the wings? It’s hard to zip those passes because you have three 7-footers with their arms out,” Jazz forward C.J. Miles said.
The success of Utah’s scheme depends on fluid motion, which means the Jazz can’t afford any hesitation or else the offense stalls. Since the Jazz don’t have many shot-creators who can burn the defense in isolation, the ball must keep moving, something that doesn’t come without risk against the Lakers’ battalion of big men.
“Battalion.” Great word. Well done, Kevin.
And, reader, go read the rest of Kevin’s well-done piece. Otherwise, you would miss some more great stuff on the most important element of this second round match-up. Don’t listen to the TV commentators. Kobe vs. Deron, while awesome and more fun to watch/talk about, isn’t the primary factor that will decide this series.
It’s length, length and more length.
Even DWill knows this.
“Unless I grow another three inches before tomorrow, there’s nothing we can do about it,” Williams said.
Try Enzyte, my man. I hear it works
Good luck with that, Boozer. Should be a really fun series for you and Mr. Millsap. (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew Bynum’s health really, really matters here.
As of a few hours before Game 1, he is scheduled to play — and start — but if he is for some reason unable to play at least close to his normal minutes in this series (because of a recent, small meniscus tear) then Utah might have a shot at knocking off Los Angeles. Otherwise, the Pau Gasol/Bynum/Lamar Odom/Ron Artest front line will just be too big, too long and too punishing for Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap and the Kyrylo Fesenko/Kosta Koufos two-headed “monster” to handle. There is also talk of Andrei Kirilenko practicing tomorrow, so if he can come back this series and play effectively, that would help.
With all these variables, it’s hard to be certain about anything, but I would expect the Lakers to grind this one out regardless. They play great defense when they want to and this length/size advantage will be even pronounced against the short Jazz front court. Booz and Millsap thrive in space and with all the long arms and legs clogging up the inside, their skills probably won’t be enough to overcome their genetic short-comings.
Deron Williams played out of his mind in the first round — and for most of the past three years. This will continue. The abuse he will give Derek Fisher will be comical and even when Kobe, Artest, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown try to stick him, his quickness off the bounce and historically good crossover (easily the best in the NBA currently) will allow him to get into the paint and clear space for unperturbed pullback jumpers. Much like everything Deron does, it will be great to watch.
But Kobe, being Kobe, will be just as impressive on the other end. So, in short, brilliance counterbalances brilliance.
Given their solid play in the first round, CJ Miles and Wesley Matthews should give the Jazz an overall back court advantage, as LA has little more to offer outside of Fish doing Fish stuff (a few big shots late, spacing, savvy knowledge of the triangle, non-box score reliability). Shannon and Farmar could theoretically score some points, but that seems unlikely given how much of a six-man team Phil’s bunch has become. Throw in at least one hot-shooting night from Kyle Korver, and it seems pretty obvious that, if Utah wins this series, a lot of it will have to do with its guard play. It does seems odd to give a team of Deron and a few other relative nobodies a clear advantage here when going against a team with Mamba, but so it is. And so it shall be. If the Lakers have to play the Spurs, Manu and Tony will, metaphorically, rip LA’s face off.
But as much as I love Booz and Millsap, they’re just not 7-feet tall. And Bynum and Pau are. Gutty, active, skilled rebounders, Booz and ‘Sap will not get destroyed on the glass. But they will get destroyed in the post. If Bynum is healthy enough to hit jump hooks, catch lobs and mop up putbacks, and if the Lakers stay committed to pounding it inside (which they often, for God’s know what reason, do not) then there really isn’t much Jerry Sloan can do to stop the onslaught. Throw in some block work by Kobe and Lamar, and the Lakers should just be able to abuse the Jazz all series long.
Aside from the open invitation to the Playboy Mansion and instant qualification for an AMEX black card, one of the best parts of being a member of the NBA blogosphere is chatting about the Association with other, knowledgable hoops heads. That’s always been the case, but it’s been even easier his season since the entire community has jumped on the Twitterwagon.
Among the pre-Shaq implementers were me (@BothTeamsPlayed) and Zach Harper (@talkhoops) of the highly entertaining and thorough site Talk Hoops. After months of exchanging 140-character arguments about Durant vs. Oden (me vs. him, repectively) and discussions about Blue Chips, we figured it was time to completely reverse the trend of shorter, less-thoughtful NBA discussion going on over at Twitter and instead start our own trend of longer, less-thoughtful NBA discussion through e-mail.
Thus, we spent the last 36 hours or so exchanging some e-mails on the current state of the NBA, Tom Cruise’s acting career, the merit of NBA awards, the Stucci Brothers, those black-and-white “where will amazing happen next?” commercials, the greatness of the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento public transportation, the Celtics’ decision to pick up Mikki Moore and, of course, Stephon Marbury’s head tattoo.
Here what transpired.
Yesterday, I tweeted that I was now on the Dwyane Wade for Defensive Player of the Year bandwagon. I stated that I was completely gullible enough to be swayed by his two crucial blocked shots at the end of the Heat’s win over the Pistons.
Now, this could have just been a good sequence against a struggling Detroit franchise that seems to be more apt to shoot themselves in the foot than Billy Hoyle with the pressure of the Stucci brothers breathing down his neck. Or this could be a legitimate claim to something that should be his award with the type of season that he’s had with steals and blocks.
Should a 6’4″ shooting guard who is 13th in the league in total blocks and third in the NBA in total steals be getting more consideration? Should Dwight Howard who only has 101 more blocks than him be a virtual lock for this award? Should LeBron James who tracks guys down on the fastbreak and swarms the passing lanes be a front-runner even though he seems to be unable to get guys like Antawn Jamison to score under 30 points? Who deserves this thing?
Dazed and Confused,
I sort of think the entire whole award discussion thing is dumb, frankly. But I’ll play your little game, Harper.
It’s not so much that I don’t care about trying to determine which players are playing the best defense or which rookies are having the most affect on their teams’ successes, it’s just that I thought the whole point of having 1,500 websites discussing the NBA everyday was to add nuance and unique insight to the world of NBA analysis and fandom instead of having everyone try to arbitrarily and unsuccessfully quantify the same five or six players who we all know are bona fide Hall of Famers and among the Top 100 to ever lace em up. For me, trying to determine who’s playing better right now between Wade vs. LeBron comes down to the same exact thing that that Larry vs. Magic always does: Which one did I see most recently? Possibly not so coincidentally, my Top Gun vs. Days of Thunder and Rakim vs. Jay-Z rankings work on the same principle. (This whole analogy is sort of a lie cause I definitely think Bird is better, however, I reckon you get my point.)
But I digress.
I have a feeling Flash is going to come in second in both MVP and DPOY voting. Wade’s gaudy defensive stats aside, it’s tough for a guard to win the award. How many have ever done it? MJ and GP are the only two I’m positive about and it took each of them half a dozen years or so of perennial All-Defense First-Team status to even really enter the convo. Currently, Flash only has one 2nd-Team All-Defense on his resume. Plus, I’ve watched a lot of Heat games this year and while DWade is certainly one of the best defensive guards in the League when he saddles up and buckles down, his exhaustion from carrying 14 other guys on his back offensively all game does lead to him taking plays off and watching his man hit an easy shot after he failed to fight through a screen.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure Dwight takes a play off here and there too. But when you’re 6’11”, have a 96″ vertical and are the most ridiculous athlete in the history of the human civilization, you’re still playing pretty good D even if you’re just standing in the middle of the paint with your eyes closed. Didn’t David Robinson, the guy I’ve been most closely comparing Dwight to physically for years, win a DPOY award under pretty much that same theory?
Now hold on just a minute. If arbitrary arguments that attempt to quantify things that probably have no business being decided didn’t exist then you probably would be having this email discussion by yourself instead of with yours truly. With that said, I think having a season-long stream of consciousness about who’s playing well, who’s playing poorly, and who’s playing exceptionally does have some merit. Players “stealing” or being given awards for a good stretch of basketball in March and April really takes away value to that award.
Maybe that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but if we’re going to laud Michael Jordan for back-to-back MVPs and Larry Bird for winning three straight then shouldn’t that have more meaning? To me, when history is brought into the conversation of why someone should win an award, the award immediately becomes a popularity contest rather than its original purpose of determining who’s the best in THAT year in that specific category. Now, I know that all of this makes me sound more like a hopeless romantic than Mikey in Swingers, but I think that it does matter in the grand scheme of basketball history.
I don’t want Dirk Nowitzki to be a one-time MVP because the media didn’t want Steve Nash in that rarified air of three straight MVPs. I don’t want the Mark Eatons of the world to have more Defensive Player of the Year awards than the Michael Coopers. I want players to earn the award by actual play on the court instead of numbers in one category.
Dwyane Wade for the most part is a lockdown defender, especially against the top talent in the NBA. Even though one singular play doesn’t win a basketball game, he’s twice won games this past month by making incredible defensive plays in crunch time. When LeBron isn’t playing the passing lanes or stalking a fast break lay-up like women in the greater L.A. area stock Luke Walton, LBJ seems to play defense like he’s Sidney Deane throwing a basketball game to hustle Billy Hoyle. To me that matters (by the way, Doyle McPoyle is probably my favorite, most consistent Deadspin commenter of the current A.J. Daulerio-led era).
Now onto the real topic of discussion that intrigues me from your email. I honestly don’t see how you can put Top Gun and Days of Thunder into the same category. I mean, I know that they’re both Tom Cruise movies from the Golden Age of the DramAction genre. But Top Gun has to be Far and Away (see what I did there with the Tom Cruise movie double entendre?) the better movie. There are lines like one of the ultimate things that every guy wants to say in passing to a girl, “If you don’t mind, I’ll just take a quick shower while you’re finishing up here.” It has the phenomenal singing in the bar scene as Kelly McGillis whilst sitting on a barstool is equally as tall as the Muggsy Bogues-sized Tom Cruise. It has the Anthony Edwards mustache. It has Tom Skerritt! And I’m sure I don’t have to talk about the homoerotic volleyball scene that has been beaten to death time and again. I just don’t see how Days of Thunder can really compete with this.
Mostly, I agree with your award meritocracy talk. I’m just bored of it. And rather than hear more about Dwyane/Dwight/LeBron, I’d rather read stuff about Roger Mason, Jr. or Thaddeus Young that I can’t get on future Peabody-winning shows like Cold Pizza or Around the Horn. But in sum, I just think Dwight is a more important defender than Flash. Dwyane’s prowess disrupts one offensive guy and leads to a few turnovers/easy buckets a game. Supes’ mere presence in the paint disrupts the entire offense. Big guys and shot blockers/adjusters are just always going to be more important due to the nature of the sport.
Moving on…Last time we corresponded you were about to board your dog cause you were leaving town. What’s up with that? Who boards dogs? Don’t you have any friends? Was it at least Badd Newz Kennelz? Too bad Ron Artest doesn’t still reside in Sacto. I’m sure he would have been more than happy to feed and water your dog, who I’m going to assume you named “Spike Bibby.”
There’s also a rumor that you went to Boston. Did you see a Celtics game? I saw the Cs/Sixers around Thanksgiving in the Garden Redux (you know, newer, bigger and much worse) and me and my dad sat next to a group of Martha’s Vineyard firefighters who were celebrating someone in the group’s 30th birthday. Aside from the fact that the concept of a firefighter from Martha’s Vineyard is pretty comical in and of itself, one of these cats was hammered and managed to build quite the friendship with my pops in the seven minutes that I spent buying beer and/or pissing during half-time. He was taking photos of himself with my dad as I got back to our row and, soon after, he was slurringly asking me stuff like “You know you’re dad is a great guy?” and “When are you going to give him some grandkids?” Then with about four minutes left in the 4th quarter, this firefighter sprung up from his seat and ran off to the bathroom where, we were later informed, he threw up in a urinal. Bravest indeed.
Now, I know this just sounds like a mildly interesting anecdote about a drunken Masshole, but astute readers will realize that the subtext of a story about puking in a urinal contains an apt metaphor for Boston’s Starbury acquisition.
This, then, leads me to my actual question. When you look at the optical illusion in the tattoo on the side of Steph’s dome (for reference, it’s the same image as the logo on the upper left of Starbury.com), what do you see first: The star or the number three? I have not yet tested my theory, but I’m guessing there is psychological correlation between a person’s answer to this question and his or her answer to whether he or she first sees the gypsy lady or the beautiful senorita in that similar optical-illusion picture. I think Freud could have become an even householdier name had he taken up this research. One thing’s for sure: someone needs to take up this cause.
The Guy Still Tryna Convince Dwyane He’s My Cousin
Mr. King of Queens,
You can’t just throw the hooker cop out there without considering that Val Kilmer in Top Gun would have done ANYTHING to be Top Gun in his class. He would have done unspeakable acts in film that now get you Academy Award nominations just to win that commendation. Some call that a friend with benefits, some call that a take-no-prisoners sort of go-getter, but I call that prostitution. So I’ll see your hooker cop and raise you the only moment in movie history where Meg Ryan seemed worth a damn.
Maybe boarding dogs is a West Coast thing that you easterners just don’t seem to do. Perhaps, it’s the reverse of liking Bruce Springsteen or giving a damn about hockey. It’s just something we do. I have plenty of friends that I could probably coerce into watching my dog at my house or at their respective house. But much like a child, it doesn’t mean that I trust the dog will come out of this unscathed. As I build this budding internet super-stardom, I can’t risk any unfavorable incidents/headlines like “owner of mediocre basketball website allows friends to watch his dog: death toll rising.”
If Ron Artest was still in town, I definitely would have left the dog with him. He still is attached to this city because he still calls into a local nighttime radio show about once every two weeks. I’m almost positive that he would have made his 10-year-old son, who’s well known for throwing elbows and playing with that inherent Artest Family Crazy Look in His Eye at a fourth grade level, learn some responsibility by ignoring my dog for a week. I would have gladly allowed my dog to come out of the Artest ranch, looking like an emaciated version of a 14-year-old Darius Miles. Sadly, my dog’s name is Brown Bear and not Spike Bibby. I would have named him after Mike Bibby but my dog can actually stop a mildly dangerous crossover and I don’t think he deserves to be beaten on a daily basis.
And you’re right; the rumors are true. I DID go to Boston a couple of weeks ago. It was my second time in the Northeast area of this country after visiting New York last summer. I was able to watch the Celtics (sans Rondo, Scal, Tony Allen, and KG) go up against the Orlando Magic on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve been procrastinating on a piece about my experience at a Celtics game with their fans and environment for quite some time and now it appears to be gaining as much questioning about its existence (on a relative scale) as Bill Simmons’ rumored NBA book has garnered. And I got to see the Stephon Marbury starting debut in person and even caught a glimpse of that vaunted tattoo.
Personally, I never even noticed the fact that it also looked like a “3” until roughly a month ago. So I’ll definitely fall into the logo category of whatever psychological breakdown that brings about. And I think we should figure out this breakdown right here instead of waiting for smarter and more qualified people to tackle this issue. I would assume that people who see the logo are the same people who see the gypsy. Gypsies try to trick common folk into giving too much for an item and/or service. They’re great at sales and preying on the gullible. I’ve also heard that their tears can cure things. So it’s safe to say that they’re just like logos and brand name companies that try to get people to accept their items by paying more for them than what they cost to make. So maybe that means people like me are more gullible than the people who see the 3/senorita. Now, I’ll leave it up to you to figure out the other side of this correlation.
But I will throw in this twist: I was on the train a couple of days ago, heading home from work. This woman who I later overheard was from Reno (about three hours and another state away) had made her way down to Sacramento. She didn’t look like she was homeless but she didn’t look far from it, especially with her tendencies towards someone who loves her some crystal meth. She sat down next to this woman in front of me who was an Asian woman that could have been anywhere from 25- to 35-years-old. I was listening to podcasts much better than mine at the time so I didn’t pay much attention to it until I figured out that this potentially homeless woman was crying to this Asian woman and giving the sob story of her life.
The Asian lady had a very creepy smile that could have just looked that way because she was trying to fake interest in the crazy stylistic musings of the crying woman. As the story continued from the transplanted resident of Reno, it eventually led to the younger woman shedding her creepy smile in favor of hugging a complete and dirty stranger that she flat-out didn’t know and wouldn’t know after she got off at her train stop.
I was completely horrified by this on many levels. One, I’m anti-social and hate small talk with people that I will never see again (i.e., in elevators, public transportation, etc.). And two, I have a certain level of cleanliness that I require from someone I don’t know before I’ll even think about touching them. But the third level is something that I’ll pose to you in a similarly related way to the Marbury question you posed to me. Why are “normal” people unlike myself willing and able to completely accept people that they don’t know into their lives if even for a brief moment despite the considerable evidence against them?
Why would a Boston fan base welcome with open arms and defend the validity of a Mikki Moore signing when he’s clearly shown that unless Jason Kidd is playing alongside him that he’s not worthy of being in a regular NBA rotation, let alone for a team that is contending for their second title in as many years? Why would any fan base welcome/hug this seemingly and deservedly homeless NBA player without questioning it?
All the best,
The King of Buying Ladies a Zircon
Jeopardy Security Guard,
I’m not saying Days of Thunder is better, just that they’re both fantastic. Same movie; different vehicles.
I know nothing about dogs, so I can’t help ya out there. It was mainly just a means to the end of talking about Ron Artest and Spike Bibby. It’s very unfortunate, however, that you missed Scalabrine. The sheen of the jumbotron lights off his soft, pasty arms illuminates the building in a way that could never translate to HD. I have no further insight on the Starbury logo/sultry senorita debate other than mentioning the fact that it must be very humbling for Coney Island’s Finest to wake up every morning and stare at the number three inked into his skull only to go to work and put on jersey with the number eight on it. Do you think he asked Ainge whether or not the franchise would make an exception and allow him to wear the late, great Dennis Johnson’s #3? I like to think Steph asked Danny in a text that said: “think i ca n rock that nmbr 3!?!?? ;)”
RE: Mikki Moore, I suppose you can lump me in with those that thought it was a good move. Then again, I’m one of those people who always respond to statements about how good Kevin Martin is with a “Look, man, you don’t hafta tell me” even though I never watch the Kings play. So I can’t say I really know much about Mikki’s abilities post-2006. He seems like a poor man’s Leon Powe in many ways, although I guess he is bigger. I dunno. Still seems like it was a good pickup even if it wasn’t a coup d’etat or anything. Since Christmas, I’ve thought the main reason the Cs can’t beat LeBron is because they literally didn’t have a single backup center or backup point guard on the bench. By picking up Mikki and Steph, you’re certainly not matching the absurd depth of the Lakers or Utah, but you at least addressed your key needs – even if it’s like tryna fix the hole in the Titanic with spackle.
Speaking of Utah and LA, the Western Conference is pretty awesome. Throw in SA, Houston (now first in the Southwest) and Denver, and that’s five fairly legit teams plus the flawed promise of NO, POR, Dallas and PHX. I’m excited about the fight for right to lose to LA in the First Round. Seems like a game of musical chairs that’s going to leave some unfortunate folks on the sidelines on the last day of the season.
But I guess what it really comes down to is: Can anyone beat LA?
With Manu hobbled again this year and Utah only now getting all its players on the same floor at the same time, I say no.
I don’t know about you, and maybe I’m just a stickler for the little things like this, but does the grammatical abortion that is today’s texting and tweeting style make you want to grab a small child and punch them in the throat? I would bet just about anything that if Steph actually sent a text to Danny Ainge about wearing #3 for the green then he definitely sent the exact text that you just typed, “think i ca n rock that nmbr 3!?!?? ;)” I’m not expecting a dissertation or someone’s thesis whenever I get a text message or throw on the ol’ Tweet Deck but the least they could do is use the proper form of their, there, they’re or your and you’re. Am I perfect with the grammar? Not at all. But a missed comma here or there is nothing like what is slung up on the internet at a rapid rate.
As for the Celtics and their moves, I disagree with them. I understand the reason for them and you’re right that they had to add something to their void at backup center and point guard. But I feel like they panicked with the Mikki Moore signing and it screwed them out of a chance at Joe Smith. The Marbury one I understand a little bit more. Personally, I say develop Gabe Pruitt over the last season and a half and you don’t have that problem. And unless they could convince Jannero Pargo to come back to the States to play ball, Marbury was the only chance. It just felt like they made a move because they felt they had to and not because it was the right move to make. Last year, P.J. and Cassell were the correct moves to make. Marbury may have been the only choice at point but Mikki was the worst choice for a big man. Joe Smith or Drew Gooden seem to make much more sense.
Now, let me attempt to answer your question, “can anyone beat LA?”
In short, the answer is yes. In the long version, the answer is a little more complicated than that. I believe that a healthy Utah Jazz team with a full head of steam could be just as dangerous in the playoffs as the Lakers. The Jazz were in the Western Conference Finals just a couple of seasons ago and they actually have a better and deeper team now than they did. The problem with them is that they’re as reliable to be healthy as Bill Walton was (or so I’m told). And we don’t know that they will be on a roll when they make the playoffs. So they’re a maybe.
I don’t take the Rockets seriously because they’re the Rockets. A team featuring Ron Artest with Von Wafer in the rotation is not legit to me. I love the addition of Kyle Lowry because the internets tell me he’s a really good, young point guard. And of course, I love Shane Battier and Luis Scola as the role players on that team. But the Rockets have more holes than Carl Landry’s leg (too soon?) on offense and I just wonder who’s going to be their crunch-time scorer in the playoff games. Yao? He doesn’t really seem to be able to assert himself in the final minutes of a game. Ron Artest? He thinks he’s a better shooter than Larry Bird and actually said recently that he thought that the Kings were title-worthy when he played here in Sacramento. So Houston is definitely out.
Denver is coached by George Karl so I think that it’s safe to say they’re out of the Western Conference title chase. Even if Chris Anderson is fixing his hair after every blocked shot.
Portland’s too young. Phoenix is too skittish. Dallas isn’t a real basketball team. And New Orleans can’t give Chris Paul any help.
But that does leave San Antonio and they have a legit shot. They still execute better than just about any other team and when Manu Ginobili is the guy at the end of games, it’s hard to beat them in a seven-game series. They have enough depth to challenge the mighty depth of the Lakers and they have plenty of closers on that team to make big shots. They’re more than good enough defensively. And they have the experience to get past the Lakers. I think they can and I think they’re basically a coin flip at this point. But that has more to do with my assertion that the Lakers are mentally weak in pressure situations.
So clearly, you think the Lakers are hands down the likely winners of the West. What is keeping the rest of the West from challenging them and why are the Spurs not the team that can beat them?
Mateen Cleaves’ Worst Nightmare
Yes on the grammar issue. I edit people’s tweets before I re-tweet, have been known to drop semi-colons in text messages and can’t recall ever replacing a word with its numeric equivalent.
I agree on the Jazz. If Kobe and Co. are going to stumble, it’s most likely going to be in Salt Lake. The front-court depth is insane: Booz, Millsap, AK, Memo, CJ Miles and Matt Harpring. How does that even happen in the watered-down, thirty-team era? Even that pseudo-foreigner Kosta Koufos dude can play a little bit. I’ve been rather impressed with Ronnie Brewer all season too and I think he’s going to impress a lot of people in the Playoffs. Korver is cash and Deron is Deron. I mean, that’s a solid, solid team.
But have they played together enough? That’s my concern. Plus, as good and deep as that frontcourt is, who is stopping Pau? Aside from the undersized Millsap, none of those guys play any D to speak of. It’s just hard to see Boozer being ready to grind as hard in the paint as he’s going to need to do for Utah to really threaten LA after only playing like thirty regular season games.
I thought the Spurs had a shot as of a month ago. I was riding shotgun in the Roger Mason bandwagon before he was even hitting game winners every other day and I think Matt Bonner is legitimately legit.
But it all comes down to Manu’s ankle.
I really think he never recovered from the Olympics injury and now can’t get healthy enough to go 35 mpg for 20 games in the West Playoffs. Don’t get me wrong: Tony Parker has been truly transcendent this season and that is maybe the most underreported story of the year, but if Manu can’t take over consistently for long stretches, I just don’t see it.
As for other Western Conference “contenders,” I’m sure Denver has no legit shot but I really like watching them. A lot of it is how they play and the relative inconsistency of the team’s players each night. But more so, it’s just their personnel.
I wouldn’t say I actually like all the guys they have as actual human beings or anything, but everyone from Melo, Chauncey and JR Smith to Birdman, Nene and K-Mart has a career story arc that I find intriguing. They’re all sort of real-life underdogs — even Melo, who has somehow gone through an unparalleled, seven-year transition from phenom (‘Cuse) to overrated (first couple years) to underrated (DWade’s 2006 Playoffs obliterating all “Big 3 from 2003” talk) to overrated (like three months later after strong Team USA showing) to underrated (now). Plus they have my boy Linus Kleiza, who I think has a Hedo Turkogluesque chance to blow up in like three years and make everyone say, “Is that the former 8th man from Denver?” Throw in Renaldo Balkman’s ability to generate Zeke nostalgia and it’s a jambalaya of enjoyment.
Speaking of Playoffs, how do you feel about the black-and-white commercials? I’m pretty into em. Manu’s bald spot is somehow even better sans Technicolor. Although I’m not sure how they picked a Kobe moment from that Suns series where he decided not to come out of the locker room for the second half of a Game 7 like four days later. The NBA ad wizards made up for that though by doing one with Joe Johnson though.
Mr. Both Teamer,
With the commercials, I couldn’t be happier. They’re cheesy as hell, some of the footage seems dated (see Kobe wearing #8) and I’m pretty sure that by tweaking the old piano music from last year on Garageband that I could have come up with the new song, but other than that I’m completely on board with them.
Although here are a few moments for the players involved I think they should have chosen instead:
LeBron James: LBJ taking about 15 minutes to consider throwing the playoff games after being offered $50 million by a Vegas casino. I know the guy is “all about winning” but I think that when he says that, he thinks that the word winning actually means money.
Kobe Bryant: I’d like the over the shoulder view of him firing up his MacBook Pro, clicking on a link that has Shaq in the title, seeing that Shaq is curious how Kobe liked the taste of an orifice, and then chucking the laptop across the room. Then the final five seconds could be him wearing a Jordan jersey and staring at the mirror.
Chris Paul: Telling his teammates that they have no marbles like Tanaka in Major League II and then frustratingly walking away from the huddle before the TV timeout was over.
Kevin Garnett: I can’t get enough of him leveling Zaza Pachulia with that screen in last year’s playoffs. But I’d really like to see him barking at Jerryd Bayless or wagging his finger in Calderon’s face. That minus the Technicolor would be watched by me over 100 times per day.
Joe Johnson: I’d like to see him in black and white, trying to send messages back and forth between Mike Woodson and Josh Smith. With moments like Josh Smith saying, “Will you please tell a CERTAIN SOMEONE that his play calling isn’t featuring me enough?” Then we get a close-up on Joe Johnson rolling his eyes.
Paul Pierce: I’d like KG to be cooking everyone dinner at Paul’s house, then Ray Allen pulls out a knife to help make the salad and Paul Pierce goes running upstairs in sheer terror.
Dwyane Wade: I’d like him sitting in on a meeting with Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley as Riles introduces the new coach and gives a breakdown of the roster in a Power Point presentation. Then Dwyane Wade asking if Ashton Kutcher was there, waiting to punk him before he pushes the table over and storms out of the room. Last five seconds would be him wearing a Knicks jersey while staring in the mirror with a sheepish grin on his face.
As for the Nuggets, I can’t think of a more unlikely group of guys to hang out with. It seems like it would be like a season of The Real World that never stops. Carmelo would be the one with a checkered legal past. He can’t quite stop himself from looking for fights at the bar but keeps telling people that he’s a changed man from what he used to be. Chris Anderson is obviously the comedic value of the show and the former drug user who does things like eating a whole tub of licorice in a night to keep himself from using drugs again. Nene is the token foreigner who doesn’t quite fit in but always has a pretend smile on his face like he knows what’s going on. Kenyon Martin would be the person that ends up breaking his leg during some bar fight or tearing his knee on the group vacation halfway through the season. J.R. Smith would be the young person that nobody can stand but he does some pretty remarkable things at clubs so everyone keeps him around. And Sonny Weems is just fun because everyone loves saying his name.
I completely enjoy this Nuggets team and can’t stop myself from watching every game they play just for the Chris Anderson factor. How has nobody made a reality TV show about this guy’s daily events? I’d love to see confessional-type interviews where he talks about his blocked shots or why he doesn’t have a drinking problem. I’d love to see his familial interaction. I’d love to see if he has any brothers and if so, how he acts around them. And I think the reason that he works on this team and why everyone seems in place is because of the acquisition of Chauncey Billups. Nobody liked playing with Iverson. No one would ever say so because I assume A.I. is a guy that people are still kind of afraid of. Nobody quite knows who is involved with his inner circle and how big their probation reports are. So replacing him with someone like Billups who can be a coach on the court means that everyone is relaxed and they know that they don’t have to rely on George Karl to make crunch-time decisions.
Is he the biggest coaching mistake waiting to sink his playoff team? Are there other coaches that will screw their team more than him?
Most people seem to hate Karl. I don’t think he’s a particularly good coach, but I’m not sure he’s going to kill em all by himself. They have plenty of poor decision-makers, injury-prone frontcourt players, inconsistent role players and streaky jumpshooters that should be able to handle that all on their own.
As for Chris Anderson, his success this year really is a great story. It’s like a less hyped, less dramatic, less unbelievable version of the Josh Hamilton triumph last year. The only thing that’s really unfortunate is that Birdman didn’t get a re-do on the dunk contest this year. I think he could have attempted more dunks in the first round of the dunk contest than Josh Hamilton hit home runs in the first round of the derby. But despite that poor attempt at a joke, I’m serious about his comeback. It’s been great to watch this season.
One other thing about Chris Anderson happened last night during the Suns/Nuggs game (which was tremendous…I love me some Jared Dudley). The Suns announcers were flummoxed by the fact that Chris had so many tattoos, yet none on his legs. And after carrying on for a few minutes of tattoo conversation that was roughly as interesting as listening to a couple of gym teachers comparing/contrasting vinyl siding installation strategies, one of the guys said (paraphrasing) “But even though he has all those tattoos, everyone you talk to says he’s just the nicest guy.”
If that doesn’t sum up the generational disconnect between the old NBA guard and the young bucks currently playing, I don’t know what does. Essentially, the announcers trying to explain to me what’s going on in an NBA game are fearfully looking at guys with tattoos like they’re James Dean rocking a red leather jacket. And I’m not one to really go to the race well, but it sounds like there was a clear assumption that JR Smith and Kenyon Martin were not “the nicest guys.” Since K-Mart and JR are probably pretty big dunces of civilization, I guess it’s not the greatest example, but the whole episode pretty much made me want to mute the broadcast and put on some Bun B.
Or a Talk Hoops podcast.
I mean, that thing’s good. I just caught up on the last month or so last week and not only did I get to hear a great story about you seeing a vagrant jerk off on the Sacramento subway, but I also learned that Sacramento has a subway. That right there is what we in the Boogie Down Bronx call edutainment. Keep up the good work on that.
What I’m saying is: You can be my wingman any time.
Being a total narcissist, I always maintain an affinity for any player that I thought was going to be really good before that opinion became mainstream.
When this happened with dudes like Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson and Josh Howard, for instance, it was indeed self-affirming and gave me that nice Campbell’s soup, warm-and-fuzzy feeling. But the real crack-level, unwarranted ego boost comes from the pleasure I get from watching the less-heralded players that I thought were gonna be sick like Rajon Rondo, Bruce Bowen, Devin Harris, Trevor Ariza or Roger Mason, Jr. In those cases, it’s like a GM pulling Manu or Gilbert in the second round, so you latch on even more and they sort of forever become “your boys.”
(As a side note, one very convenient aspect of this whole phenomenon is that confirmation bias allows you to feel even more clairvoyant since it’s always easy to forget about didn’t-pan-out guys like John Wallace, Rashad McCants and Tony Allen — although Luol Deng annoying remains an ever-lasting Macbeth red spot who just sits there being mediocre, staring at me with his disapproving eyes of failure. And just for the record, my current low-profile crew is Thaddeus Young, Julian Wright, Brandon Bass, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar and Linas Kleiza in case you wanna scold me with mockery/send me a congratulatory email in two years.)
But for me, no one has exemplified this concept as much as Paul Millsap is doing right now.
See, I’m a Pacers fan. But for each of the past four seasons, I’ve been forced to sort of “adopt” a second team simply cause following Indy is so infinitely depressing that a dude needs something uplifting to counteract the sadness. It’s not that I’m really rooting for this second team or anything. It’s just that I wind up watching close to half their games and really familiarizing myself with their style.
Last year was CP3 and the Hornets. The year before was Utah. (Been going with the Spurs this year, although the emergence of Danny Granger has lessened the need for a major side project somewhat.)
Even two years ago, it was evident that Millsap was much more than simply a bench specialist. I found myself always wishing Sloan would adapt his philosophy and flip up his lineups a little more so he could run out an AK-47, Millsap, Boozer front line (no dig on Sloan, just saying he’s rigid). Still, even in 18 minutes per game as a rookie, Millsap proved an elite rebounder, an above-solid defender and a capable scorer. Mostly, he was relying on putbacks and dump-offs from Deron Williams’ penetration, but even in those instances he showed that he had some savvy elusiveness and crafty agility that helped him get buckets. The occasional half-hook or or drop-step/seal-off only furthered my interest and sold me on his future.
Anyway, the real point here is that Kevin Pelton has a post today on Basketball Prospectus talking about how Millsap is the quintessential example of a player whose career statistics showed that he was gonna be a beast if simply given the minutes. He’s calling it the Millsap Doctrine, basing it on some discussions/analysis among himself, Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty and John Hollinger of ESPN, and stating essentially that:
Last year, the Jazz played nearly as well with Millsap at power forward as with Boozer on the floor, the latter holding an advantage of about two points per 100 possessions. Utah scored better with Boozer, but defended better with Millsap.
The Jazz’s differential this season with Millsap in the lineup–+6.2 points per 100 possessions–is very impressive considering the other injuries that have plagued the team. Based on that, it’s hard to argue Utah has suffered any drop-off by moving Millsap into Boozer’s spot.
Obviously, Utah’s injury-plagued 2008-09 season is tough to handicap statistically.
But Pelton also sums up just about everything you need to know about how Millsap is playing this season in one paragraph.
On Saturday night, Paul Millsap did not record a double-double, and its absence was the story. The Utah Jazz forward had a relatively short 22-minute night in his team’s easy 17-point win over the Detroit Pistons. The lack of run snapped a 19-game double-double streak, the longest in the NBA since 2006. In 21 starts in place of All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer–who will miss at least another month after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last week–Millsap has averaged 18.0 points and 11.5 rebounds, earning some All-Star talk of his own.
Utah’s season is clearly not going as planned with the early season ankle injury that Deron is only now recovering from and, now, the prolonged absence of Boozer. But the team is still 23-15 (and 6-2 in its last eight games) while playing in the League’s second toughest division. How the Jazz fair in the second half of the season will likely hinge on two things: (1) Boozer’s ability to return healthy, and (2) Millsap’s ability to prove he can keep this up now that teams are ready for him.
Whether or not that happens, the Jazz probably will fall short of their preseason Finals hopes. Then, Boozer will opt out of his deal this summer and become a free agent. Rhetorically, he’s prepared to re-sign in Utah for the right price, but with Millsap also being a restricted free agent, many people are starting to think they should just let Boozer and his higher pricetag walk regardless and see what a team of Millsap and Deron can do for the next four to five seasons.
While that seems a fiscally logical position (presuming you can get Millsap at $10 million a year whereas Booz will run more like $15 million per), I’ll just direct you to Andrew Thell at Empty the Bench, who detailed Utah’s Power Forward Conundrum better than I’m prepared to do.
Ordinarily having two power forwards as efficient and productive as Millsap and Boozer is more of a luxury than a problem. And once Boozer returns from arthroscopic knee surgery, it will be a luxury for Jerry Sloan for the remainder of this season. However, with both players slated to become free agents this offseason and with each passing game serving to inflate Millsap’s pending contract, the Jazz may be forced to pick between the two of them.
Boozer will make roughly $11.5 million this season, and although he has a player option for next year at $12.6 million he has made it clear that he intends to opt out. Meanwhile, Millsap is Utah’s cheapest player this year at just under $800,000, but it’s the final year of his extremely affordable rookie contract and he will be a restricted free agent this summer, one who is sure to garner plenty of interest.
Assuming GM Kevin O’Conner and Co. can’t retain both, who should they keep?
Spoiler alert: He picks Paul.
Funny part is that, my Millsap love notwithstanding, I’d probably still pay Carlos if I was Utah. Then again, (1) I’m not a state full of dry Mormons, and (2) this might just be my subconscious holding out hope for a future forward rotation of Granger, Ariza and Millsap in Indianapolis.