Shaq Signs With Boston; Brown Likely Heading Back To Lakers

According to ESPN, Shaquille O’Neal has signed with the Boston Celtics. Zach Lowe has some Scattered Thoughts on the deal:

Still: This could work if a lot of things go right.

Shaq can be an asset for a team that ranked just 15th in points per possession and struggled to produce looks at the rim when Rajon Rondo couldn’t penetrate. Rondo and Paul Pierce are the C’s only real threats to create offense at the basket. When they are on the bench or pushed slightly off their game, Boston’s offense is reduced to a series of off-the-ball screens and side screen/rolls—last-gasp sequences run on the defensive, after the best options have been closed off. Against good defenses, those kinds of possessions ended too often with long, contested jumpers. Watch Game 7 again, if you can stomach it.

Shaq could provide some relief from that. I’m not saying he’s going to be out there beside the starters with 5:00 to go in the 4th quarter of a playoff game. But put him out there with, say, three bench players and Ray Allen? He adds a dimension that wasn’t there last season.

Shaq attempted 5.2 shots per game at the rim in 2010, more than any Celtic save Rondo, and he converted about 67 percent of those looks—well above average for a center. He’d add an offensive rebounding threat to a team that currently has only one (Glen Davis). He might be the only Celtic that could command a double team, and think about how rarely over the last two seasons Boston has been able to do something as easy as tossing the ball into the post and waiting for a double team.

Scoring is hard for the Celtics. Scoring is sometimes easy for Shaq.

Meanwhile the Post’s Marc Berman reports:

The Knicks’ chances of landing free-agent shooting guard Shannon Brown are just about over. Mark Bartelstein, Brown’s agent, told The Post the Lakers guard is “leaning” toward returning to the Lakers to go for a “three-peat.”

Brown is expected to make his final decision today.

The Knicks, according to a source, offered Brown just a one-year contract as they moved to protect their 2011 salary cap for a run at Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks offered him the full $2.7 million that they are under the cap. The Lakers have offered the fourth-year guard less per season, but multiple years.

It’s good to hear that New York was just offering a one year deal, as opposed to the previous multi-year reports. But you have to wonder why the team is looking at Brown anyway? They have a ton of SG/SF (Azubuike, Chandler, Fields, Rautins, Walker) and they certainly don’t need one that has a career TS% of 50.5%.

2010 Report Card: Eddy Curry

Given Curry’s lack of court time last year there’s no point in doing any kind of statistical analysis of him. In fact he’s only played 10 games total in his 2 seasons under D’Antoni. And I don’t foresee any more in a New York uniform. At this point he’s merely a big contract, a tumor on the Knicks cap space. If Curry has the desire to play elsewhere, the Knicks can buy him out and save some money for free agency this summer. If he doesn’t New York can use his contract in a trade. The latter might cause more of a problem because the Knicks would have to include some tangible assets, and last I checked most of them went in the Tracy McGrady swap.

As for Curry the player, he was 90% as athletic as Shaq, but only had 10% of the Big Diesel’s skill set. Curry featured the same 3 or 4 moves that were defendable with a double team or defender drawing a charge. And while Shaq rounded out his game with great rebounding, defense and passing, Curry lacked any semblance of these skills. Curry came into the league as a guy that if you gave him the ball often enough he would give you 20 points trailed by a string of deficiencies. He never evolved beyond that.

Eddy’s biggest shortcoming was not being able to improve himself. When Eddy Curry arrived in New York, he was supposed to turn into the franchise center. What he failed to grasp was that he was supposed to grow into that role, not fall into it. I won’t be surprised if another team gives Curry a chance. But no one is going to throw a big contract at him, or even hand him a starting job. His upside now is a decent backup center, one that can provide a some scoring off the bench. And that’s the best case scenario. I won’t be surprised if he fails to accumulate 1000 minutes in a season again.

Ultimately Eddy Curry’s legacy in New York will be a cautionary tale. Becoming a great athlete is more than just size and physical ability. At the highest levels, sports are about preparation, technique, and desire. Many players have excelled in the league beyond their bodily limitations due to an excess of these attributes. On the other hand plenty of beastly youths have failed to reach their potential. For teams scouting young players, having great physical ability without great yield should be a warning sign that the player is lacking in the mental traits to make them into a franchise player. Eddy Curry’s career is the response to “you can’t teach height”, or more succinctly put “production trumps athleticism”.

GOTME (Part VI): Centers

The Greatest Center Of the Modern Era: Shaquille O’Neal

Player Best PER Avg 5 Best PER Career PER #1 PER # of top 10 PER
Shaq 30.6 30.1 26.6 5 11
Olajuwon 27.3 25.9 23.6 0 13
Robinson 30.7 29.4 26.2 3 11
Malone 26.8 25.1 22.3 2 7 (9)

I’ve noticed a cycle in the way that we, as a fan culture, appreciate our superstars. We have an uncomplicated love for the emergent star (think Kevin Durant) and a reverence (often dotted with disdain) for the star in his prime (think Kobe). As a star begins his decline, we grow weary of him and rewrite history in a manner that undersells his peak abilities (think Iverson or T-Mac). This stage often lasts beyond a player’s retirement until finally, around the time he becomes Hall-of-Fame eligible, we come to some general consensus about the way we’re going to remember him for the rest of eternity (barring some life altering event).

I mention this because Shaquille O’Neal is the greatest center of the modern era, and because he is firmly entrenched in that unforgiving third stage, and likely will be for the rest of his career. It’s not that anyone thinks Shaq wasn’t great or that anyone wouldn’t kill to have a 26-year-old version of him land on their favorite team. But I do feel like recent discussions of O’Neal’s prime focus more on his sporadic commitment to physical fitness and his in-fighting with Kobe than they do on his utter dominance.

And 15 years from now, when we’re having this same conversation, that dominance is the ONLY thing that will matter to anyone. At his peak, Shaquille O’Neal was most unstoppable force of the last 30 years. He was everything that Dwight Howard is now plus a mean streak, an extra 50 pounds of muscle, and a much more refined offensive game than many people remember. As the statistical revolution has taken shape over the past decade, it has christened Shaq as the only potential challenger (pre-LeBron) to Jordan’s peak numerical supremacy, which is fitting because his ’00-’02 Lakers teams were the only non-Jordan teams of the last two decades that felt unbeatable when you watched them. And, a developing Kobe Bryant aside, it’s not like the supporting casts on those teams were particularly overwhelming.

There’s a good argument to be had in ranking the best centers of the modern era, but that argument has nothing to do with which guy was #1. It’s Shaq, and everyone else can fight for second.

Reserves: Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Moses Malone
Hakeem Olajuwon gets my vote for 2nd place here, but its wayyyyyyyyyy closer than people think. Advanced stats actually like David Robinson a bit better, but Hakeem peaked longer and that gives him the edge for me. Everyone thinks of the ’95 conference finals as a referendum on the comparison between he and Robinson, which I suppose isn’t a crazy position to take, but the real difference was in their basic skill sets: Hakeem’s passing and quickness were unparalleled for a big man.

Chuck Klosterman’s latest book included a great essay on Ralph Samson, which argued that Samson was doomed by the perception that he was a guard in a center’s body; the observation, which was meant as a compliment to his awesome versatility, ultimately distracted Samson from the more obvious conclusion that he was 7-freaking-4 and could have had a much easier time relying primarily on his size, while using his other skills to push him from “great” to “transcendent.” What’s amazing is that the Rockets actually had two players who fit the “guard-built-like-a-center” prototype at the same time. Unlike his teammate, The Dream learned to dominate traditionally — developing the best post moves and footwork of his generation — while tapping into his point guard skill set in a way that made him one of the most unique players in NBA history. Hakeem wasn’t the second best player of his generation, but was the best player in the right system in the two best years to be the best player in the right system, and as a result claimed the only two championships left for the masses during the Age of Jordan.

David Robinson gets criticized for not winning a ring until Duncan came along, but those Spurs teams he kept carrying to 55 win seasons were otherwise pretty shallow and still kept putting up big win totals in a conference full of memorable, if flawed, teams (Malone/Stockton Jazz, Hakeem’s Rockets, Barkley/KJ Suns, GP/Kemp Sonics). At his peak, Robinson was the best pre-Shaq center of the era, but Hakeem got it done when it mattered most with an equally mediocre supporting cast. All talk of Duncan-induced tanking aside, the progression from the 59-win ’95-96 spurs (with Robinson healthy) to the 20-win ’96-’97 spurs (with Robinson hurt) was one of the most remarkable injury-inflicted meltdowns in NBA history. In the end, the best thing Robinson ever did for the spurs was get injured (thus allowing them to draft Duncan), which is ironic considering that he topped 80 games in 6 of his first 7 years in the league. Regardless of your opinion on the importance of the stat, his win shares per game may be the single most surprising number (for any player) in the above chart. He’s remembered as a great person, an endlessly interesting figure, and, in my opinion, the third best center of the modern era.

I’ll admit that Moses Malone is hurt in this analysis by the fact that I was a fetus during the last season in which he finished higher than 10th in the MVP voting (blame my dad for not sitting a radio on my mom’s stomach). He lands fourth among post-1980 centers in PER and I don’t have a ton of conclusive visual evidence to overrule the call on the field, but he did win 2 MVP’s and a ring post-1980 and remained a viable starting center until he was roughly 68 years old. I’m open to arguments that he should be nudged ahead of the Admiral, although the disparity between the quality of his teammates and the quality of Robinson’s (pre-Duncan) is enormous.

Honorable Mentions
The fact that Kareem even warrants mention is astonishing considering that his post-1980 career was vastly inferior to what he had done previously. He still probably comes in 5th for the 10 years he put in between 1980 and 1989. Again, astounding.

Robert Parish was the ideal center for his team but even the most die-hard Celtics fan wouldn’t argue that he could have carried a franchise the way Hakeem and Robinson did. Alonzo Mourning was really good but I still blame him for escalating that brawl in the playoffs, he should be grateful I’m even willing to mention his name after that. And, while there’s a place on this site to write about the under appreciated greatness of Patrick Ewing, that place is not here, where I would surely spill so much ink on him that it would distract from the guys who I’ve deservedly placed ahead of him.

Young possibility: Dwight Howard
I’m still deciding whether Dwight Howard is the most overrated or underrated guy in the league. Watching him dominate in spurts without calling more for the ball is endlessly frustrating and advanced stats call even his visually impressive Defense into question. That said, how the hell did that team make the finals last year (and put themselves in position to win as many as 3 of those games)? They had no Jameer, every analytical tool I’ve seen labels Hedo overrated, Skip Alston had never done anything before, and, though I love Rashard Lewis, he was absurdly one-dimensional for the majority of that run. If you eliminate the impossible and only the improbable remains, the improbable must be true: Dwight Howard must be an elite NBA player despite having absolutely zero offensive skill set. It’s good to be 7-1 and run and jump like you’re 6-1, no?

The Darkhorse MVP Candidate

With less than a 1/3 of the season left, it’s time to start thinking about who might end up with the MVP award. I think I’ve discovered a darkhorse candidate that might walk away with the award. He’s been toiling in obscurity in the mid-west, and many of you may not have even heard of him. His name is LeBron James.

Unlike the front runner for the award, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James doesn’t have that last second killer instinct, which is likely to cost him a few votes. This non-coastal newcomer has a different strategy that seems to be ruffling the feathers of the NBA establishment. Kobe has been following the tradition of allowing the opponent to stay close in games, only to make a shot in the final seconds to secure the victory. Instead James is attempting to win by scoring in the first 47.5 minutes of the game. The difference can be viewed by using the advanced stat called “points per game”. LeBron James leads the league with 29.8, while Kobe is a comfortable 4th with 27.9. James’ early game strategy shows up in even more obscure stats like rebounds per game (7.1 to 5.4), assist per game (8.5 to 4.6), blocked shots (1.0 to 0.3), and FG% (50.2 to 46.3).

I’m sure the mainstream media is barely aware of these new fangled stats (since they tend to vote solely by watching ESPN highlights), and James’ lack of dramatic shots will certainly hurt him in the polls. Another strike against him is his lack of having a superior surrounding cast. Bryant’s ability to whine about his teammates, threaten to leave to a rival team, ask for a trade, and force the team to break-up its dynasty has made the franchise build a team around him with the best talent available.

The best LeBron James can muster is to wear a Yankee hat. No wonder Kobe has an All Star center in Pau Gasol, former DPOY Ron Artest, and the most winningest coach of our generation Phil Jackson. Meanwhile James has a 37 year old Shaquille O’Neal and that guy on the Simpsons who is always trying to kill Bart. The Cavs would be a middling .500 team with Kobe in lieu of LeBron, a clear sign of James’ lack of team building skills.

I might be wide-eyed thinking the media might actually vote for the statistically superior player, but despite all the other evidence the numbers are clear on this one. It might be unpopular to say, but LeBron James should win the MVP award this year.

Kevin Pelton, Killing It

There’s no doubt that I’ve been a fan of Kevin Pelton’s work over the years. But recently he’s written a bunch of articles that would be of interest to this site. The first is Knick related, as Pelton looked at New York’s recent success.

The most surprising change is in terms of the Knicks’ pace. The coach once known for his “:07 Seconds or Less” philosophy is now practicing something more akin to “:15 Seconds or Less.” Through the end of November, New York was playing at the league’s third-fastest pace. Since then, the Knicks have been more deliberate than the average team, playing old-fashioned track meets only against running teams like Indiana and Phoenix. D’Antoni slowed things down when the Suns traded for Shaquille O’Neal, but even that adjustment was nowhere near this extreme.

Almost as much as the fast pace, poor rebounding–especially on the offensive glass–had been a D’Antoni trademark, and New York was no exception early this season. Only the Golden State Warriors have rebounded fewer of their own misses than the Knicks in November (21.4 percent). Since the end of that month, New York is up to a 25.3 percent offensive rebound rate, which is within shouting distance of league average. The Knicks are rebounding better on the defensive end too, making use of a big starting lineup (6’8″ Wilson Chandler, once groomed for the Shawn Marion role in D’Antoni’s lineup, is now nominally the two-guard) that assists anchor David Lee on the glass by committee.

The changes reflect a level of flexibility from D’Antoni that is probably surprising even to his admirers (count me in that category). In his inside account of the 2005-06 Suns that gave D’Antoni’s style its name, :07 Seconds or Less, author Jack McCallum shows the coach regularly reacting to trouble by going ever smaller and searching for more offense. While that mentality was appropriate for D’Antoni’s Phoenix team, it wasn’t working for the Knicks, so he has instead gone the other way by moving non-shooter Jared Jeffries into the starting lineup in the name of improved defense and more length.

In back to back articles Pelton inspects the D-League, first producing statistical translations, then applying his methods to find gems in the rough. He describes the 6-7 undersized power forward and aptly named Diamon Simpson as DeJuan Blair without the efficient scoring, while tabbing 6-11 Greg Stiemsma a late bloomer. Pelton also goes down the laundry list of team needs and lists players that would suite the bill. He also gives a shot out to the D-League blog on Draft Express, where I unearthed this article on Morris Almond. Draft Express calls Almond the D-League’s best prospect, but adds a side note to the talented scorer:

The biggest concern about Almond from an NBA perspective is what he will be able to contribute when he’s not scoring, as he ranks amongst the worst passers in the league, and watching him play, is clearly always looking for his own shot. Data from Synergy Sports Technology also suggests Almond isn’t nearly as good of a scorer coming off screens as he is spotting up, and this could limit his effectiveness in a role as a 3-point shooter in the NBA.

The Fix Is (Still) In

So I was watching Outside the Lines on ESPN and they were showing clips of the Tim Donaghy interview. At the conclusion, they made mention of a poll running on ESPN.com, where the question was posed, “How will Tim Donaghy’s claims influence how you watch NBA games.”

And the possible responses were: A) Will never view games the same way or B) No, influence, he isn’t credible.

My immediate reaction was, where’s C) It confirms something I knew innately to be true and won’t change a gosh-darned thing about how I watch NBA games. Why isn’t that a possible poll choice, ESPN.com?

Does anyone on this forum really think games are officiated fairly? Does anyone doubt that since the dawn of time, superstars (whether it’s Kobe, or Magic or Michael, or Larry or Dr. J or Hakeem or Shaq or LeBron or any of the pantheon of individuals who can be readily identified by their first name only) have gotten and will continue to get the calls. Now, the majority of my NBA-gazing is occupied by Nix games, but over the last 25 (gulp) years, I can say that our boys have always gotten hosed by the refs (the Hue Hollins call in game 5 in the ’94 semis v. the Bulls being the exception that proves the rule. But then again, his royal Nike-peddlingness was swatting the horsehide that summer, so maybe it isn’t an exception after all.)

In my early years of fandom, I keenly recall staring dumbly at Channel 9 (we didn’t have cable) and being utterly unable to fathom why Kevin McHale was allowed to use those ultra-sharp elbows of his to whack away at Pat Cummings, Ken “The Animal” Bannister, Louie Orr and others of their ilk with impunity whilst any mere mortal (see above) who dared fart in Bird’s general direction was immediately showered with whistles and a series of arcane/disco-like gestures from the refs. Even at that early age, I could tell that some players/teams were favored for reasons at that time, seemed beyond me. After all, I loved Mike Newlin. Why did the refs seem to hate him so much?

So this afternoon on the teevee, when Donaghy said that he was able to predict/bet on games with 75-80% accuracy simply because he knew who favored/loathed which players, my first thought was, “Duh! Of course you can. If you’re in the locker room, chewing the fat with the other refs, of course you’re going to hear who hates Rasheed Wallace or who loves Mike Fratello’s teams. (What that’s about I’ll never know. Possibly there’s a rogue ref who just loves the movie, “Hoosiers,” or something and pines for a return to those days of yore.) When you combine that with the unstated (or secretly stated) mandate to build up/market individual talents that Stern instituted to promote the league during the financially problematic years pre-Bird/Magic/Jordan, it’s clear how one could make a crapload of cash betting on the NBA.”

It’s one of the things that actually, in my own perverse kink, leads me to prefer watching b-ball to the Jets or the Mets (Yes, I know. I’ve really picked some winners there). I know that it’s not a level playing field and that seems to me to be a far more apt parallel to the world at large than the pristine, pastoral, Jeffersonian/democratic ideal (pre-‘Roids) presented by MLB or the power/precision, crypto-fascist, ground acquisition/military conquest paradigm put forth by the NFL. In both cases, while there are certainly times that I’ll fling inanimate objects and howl in horror at a botched call, for the most part, the refs/umps do a good job and I never get the impression that the game is in the bag for a particular team and/or player.

But, if I was the kind of individual who believed that the world was for the most part a fair and just place, I’m sure I’d be out there painting my face and clutching a Bud more often. But I don’t.

I’m a New Yorker. This is New York. We know that the fix is in. Solving that wholly unsolvable problem is far less important than making sure we’ve got the inside dope/skinny and can profit accordingly.

It’s why it’s so essential that Walsh is able to snag a LeBron or Dwyane. Not only because they are supreme talents, but because having a superstar who gets the benefit of the doubt is the best way to win a title over the last 30 years in the NBA. [Ed’s note: Also LeBron or Wade provide a little more production than say Jared Jeffries or Wilson Chandler.]

Our one chance at a super-duper star, Patrick Ewing was never qualified to join the first-name only club. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because some unseen force wanted him to be Bill Russell 2.0 and he wasn’t. Maybe because all the grunts and the profuse sweating made him lack the grace and/or effortlessness that true stars seem to possess. It never seemed easy for our Patrick. I mean, he worked like a mofo for every basket/rebound/block he ever got but he never made the unbelievable play that simultaneously seemed routine. And while he was allowed to take an extra step or two when he rolled to the middle to unleash that trusty jump hook of his, because his archetype was that of the working-class hero, he was never anointed by the refs to the degree that would have/could have pushed those Riley/Van Gundy era teams over the top. To whit: If Jordan had strayed a few steps off the bench in ’97 do you think there’s any way he’d have been suspended for game 6? No way. Ain’t gonna happen.

So while Stern frets about the perception/bottom line of his beloved league as Timmy D the canary keeps singing his song, were he to seek my council, I’d say, relax Dave! We real fans get it. Nudge nudge, wink wink. Say no more.

Knicks 110 – Pacers 103

Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America, from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea!  Recap Robert here. For those who chose to say, take in the theater or perhaps venture out to the local motion picture house or perhaps to play the role of social gadfly and sally forth for a stroll about the boulevards of our fair city, taking in the local color and engaging in witty badinage with the citizenry — shopkeepers, wand’ring minstrels,  and whatnot, I have some surprising, nay shocking news. Our beloved sporting collective, the cagers known far and wide as the Knickerbocker Basketball Club of New York, managed to score MORE points than their esteemed opponents, thereby proving victorious in this evening’s contest.

Honestly, they kinda screwed up the lead/theme I had going for this recap. I was gonna vent about lousy officiating, how the Nix never get the calls, and as a result, we get 4 and 5 point swings at crucial moments/turning points in the game. I was going to follow that by ripping MD’A a new one for sitting Hill, Douglas, and Gallo when the boys were clearly on cruise mode and end it w/a whole, “The Pacers have a plan on offense and defense and the Knicks look like 5 guys who showed up for a pickup game” screed. And they go and eff it up by, well…winning. But I’ll take wins and being forced to re-write my purple prose any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

The thing that’s so frustrating about this team is that when the 3 pointers are falling, every other aspect of their game somehow magically rounds into form. To wit: They were down 19 in the middle of the 3rd while enjoying what must have been a pleasant view of watching Tyler Hansbrough do a great David Lee circa ’05-’07 impression. (Side note — I loathe the “Caucasians can only be compared to Caucasians, Euros to other Euros, Overrated bigs from Arizona, etc. etc.,” thing, but here, the comparison is pretty apt.) Suddenly, Hughes cans a couple of threes and magically, the defense gets stingy,  they’re driving to the basket, getting to the line, and/or finding Curry down low. Over the last 4:07, they outscored the LarryBirds 13-4, forced 4 turnovers, shot 66% from the field and basically made it a game again. Same thing happened in the 4th. The lead vacillated between 9 and 13 and they hadn’t made a trey all quarter until w/5:37 to go, Al Buckets cans a bunch of shots from downtown and once again, the NYers are scrambling for lose balls, rotating like mofos on D, beating lazy defenders down the floor – basically doing all the little things good teams do — and they outscore ‘em 24-6 to win in a flourish.

Not to get too Phil Jackson here, but after the 3’s, the whole energy/dynamic of the team changed. Watching the game, you could sense it. Even if the score was still pretty bleak, I (and they) thought they could make a game of this. (One thing they gotta fix — Jordan Hill is the worst towel-waver I’ve seen in a long time. He needs to either start or get in touch w/Jack Haley, stat.) When this team is hitting from downtown (and everyone on the roster is shooting worse from downtown than last year, save Gallo), they can be pretty decent. It’s something I think we all knew heading into the year, but it’s really remarkable (in this game at least) how much their confidence/collective psyche is dependent on their long-range shooting. Anyway, we can all smile now. The world is a glorious and just place again. Let’s all bask in the glory of said win and hopefully our lovable collection of pituitary cases can try to remember what led to the win at least until Saturday afternoon v. the even more hapless NJ Nyets. Some individual performance assessments:

EDDY CURRY – Eddy! Eddy! Eddy! First things first. That Plaxico Burress-esque goat he’s rockin’ is badass. And, it actually makes his face look thinner by accentuating the downward slope of his mandible. Facial aesthetics aside, I was impressed and genuinely happy for Mr. Curry. It was like a mini bit o’ time-travel back to the ’06-’07 season. He was very good in the low post, drew a ton of fouls on offense and got called for an equal amount on defense, shot horridly from the FT line, and turned the ball/couldn’t kick the ball out whenever he was double and triple teamed. Good times. W/this team, his inability to defend the post is less noticeable b/c, well, no one else can either. If he keeps this up, he’s an asset for short stints (like when the 3’s aren’t dropping) and might…gasp…actually be tradable.

LARRY HUGHES – A comeback season for Larry at this stage of his career would be pretty much unprecedented. Can anyone else think of a volume shooting 12-year vet who shot .410 from the field, .489 TS% and .437 eFG% for his career that suddenly morphed into a smart, solid efficient 2? I can’t. It leads one to think that his #’s will regress to mean over the course of the season, but Larry’s seems to have genuinely altered his game/figured out how to play as he’s gotten less “athletic.”

AL HARRINGTON – Oh Al. I can’t stay mad at you. Even if that two-tone mouthpiece really makes you look as bucktoothed as Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. One thing that confuses me. Why isn’t Harrington a better defender? He’s certainly got the length/athleticism (Sorry about that. I promise not to write “athleticism” any more. I feel like Jay Bilas and that’s not a good thing.) to be effective, and that steal in the 4th was money. Is it just effort? W/Al, I’m tempted to say no. Al certainly tries very, very hard, at times to his detriment. So what gives?

CHRIS DUHON – Admit it. We were all secretly hoping that that stinger he suffered in the 3rd was serious. I certainly did. But then again, I’m a bad person. Duhon at least got in synch W/Lee on the pick and roll tonight. (Why Hibbert/Jones/Hansbrough switched to cover Du the whole game is really beyond me). I can actually live w/the atrocious shooting for now. He’s going to start those hitting eventually, right?. It’s the silly passes and 35 foot 3’s that are so galling and seemingly avoidable.

WILSON CHANDLER – He was having his best game of the season before getting in foul trouble (& that charge that fouled him out was a [channeling C. Barkley] turr-a-bull call, just trrbll!). Even so, he still seems inclined to pull up rather than go hard to the hole, possibly (and I’m speculating here) b/c he’s worried he doesn’t have the lift to pull it off.

DAVID LEE – (Use your Seinfeld voice when reading this) Hey, what is the deal with David Lee’s rebounding? I mean come on! You built your entire game on getting after lose balls, tip-ins, and hustle plays but for a solid week or two, you’ve looked more sluggish/lethargic than I did when I was 6 and some friends and I drank a bottle of Robitussin b/c the older kids said you could catch a buzz off of it. I mean, really! (Resume regular thinking voice)

JORDAN HILL, TONEY DOUGLAS, DANILO GALLINARI – As I mentioned about, when the game looked like it was gonna be a rout, I was pounding nails into the floor w/my forehead b/c this trio was riding the pine. Despite the fact that they won, why was Douglas benched for the 2nd half? Why was Gallo yanked so early in the 2nd & 3rd? Yeah, they’d both had uneventful games to that point, but they were certainly no less at fault for the burgeoning deficit than the other fellows. Is this a case of “trusting the vets” or just getting lucky w/the right combo at the right time. As w/all games in which Gallo doesn’t play a lot, I assume Knick fans start collectively praying to some obscure Italian saint that it’s not his back flaring up.

Couple of general thoughts on the Pacers – For all the folks (myself included) who are aghast at passing on Lawson/Blair/Jennings, how good would Danny Granger look at PF in SSOL? I remember bellowing something bellicose about the folly of passing on him for Frye in the ’05 draft. For the first year at least, I was thoroughly mocked on nykfp.com b/c Frye looked like a stud. I think everyone’d take Granger in a heartbeat now. Alls I’m saying is, give the rooks time, yo.

Larry Bird really hasn’t aged well, has he? At this point, he looks like a cross between W.C. Fields and Joe Lieberman.

Hibbert seems so out of place in today’s NBA. If it were 1987, he’d be a nice, slow-footed big w/some decent low-post moves who could contribute on a winning team. Think Kevin Duckworth and his ilk. Now, how many times a year does Hibbert play against someone his size/style? W/Yao out and w/Shaq’s decline I think we’re down to Perkins, Kaman, and Bogut

Anyways, that was fun to watch. Winning. Hmm. A fella could get used to this…