Chatting About Phil & The Lakers

[15:47] Me: be interesting to see how he does with a “bad” team
[15:48] Friend1: just like bulls of old
[15:48] Friend1: one star and roll players
[15:48] Me: Well one & a half
[15:48] Friend1: odom is 1/2 ?
[15:49] Me: lol
[15:49] Me: no Jordan = 1.5 stars

AND

[15:48] Friend2: my guess is that Phil thinks he sees something there
[15:50] Me: Yeah Phil sees something there that none of us do – Jeanie Buss naked
[15:50] Friend2: Anyone can see Jeanie Buss naked — she posed for Playboy


So Knick fans can start talking about P.J., Saunders, Larry Brown, Laimbeer, and of course Herb Williams. One thing to ponder – why don’t the Knicks have a coach yet? I can think of three reasons. The first is that Isiah was waiting for Phil Jackson. I have a hard time believing this one, because the Knicks GM doesn’t seem to be patient enough to wait for one person, even someone of Phil’s stature.

The second theory is that Isiah is waiting for P.J. Carlesimo’s season to end. Maybe P.J.’s cooled off since the incident, but it’s possible that being a strict disciplinarian is what Zeke wants. It’s could be that the Knicks recent “soft” coaching has been part of their problem, especially on defense. Remember not only did Thomas win a championship under the tyrannical Bob Knight, but he was going to hire him as a mentor. That so crazy it’s like Jesse Friedman hiring Michael Jackson for some counseling.

The third is that Isiah just hasn’t figured out who to hire. That would scare me, because it seems that this offseason there are a handful of good candidates to choose from. If the Knicks are waiting for P.J. (or even Larry Brown), then it makes sense to wait. However, if that isn’t part of Thomas’ plan, then why not grab Coach Saunders? Flip has a good relationship with Isiah’s main acquisition Marbury, and had a good record in Minnesota nearly leading them to the Finals last year. Of course it’s possible that Saunders isn’t the right coach for this team, but it’s a safe choice. In any case, I’d prefer a “proven” coach than a guy like Laimbeer or even Herb Williams. I didn’t particularly like what I saw from Williams in his “try-out” this year, and having success in the WNBA doesn’t necessarily translate into the NBA (right Michael?)

I Don’t Mind Losing

The West is over. The Phoenix Suns, or their fans, are out of excuses. Apparently, the Suns didn’t have enough rest between their Friday night OT win to end round 2 against the Mavericks and game 1 the following Sunday against the Spurs. In the second game, Phoenix was still smarting from the loss of Joe Johnson when they lost by 3 against Emperor Popovich and Darth Defense. Yesterday the Spurs won by 10, and I’m sure Joe Johnson was still rusty. Or it was playing on the road. Or just a couple of shots here or there.

One of the quotes from game 3 from Steve Nash is “we haven’t found a way to stop them yet.” My question would be have they really been looking? I know the Suns aren’t the best defensive team in the league, but they’ve really stuck with “Plan A.” Their bench outside of their 6 man rotation (McCarty, Outlaw, Voskuhl, Shirley, and Barbosa) has seen 16 minutes the entire series. That includes 13 minutes from Barbosa in game 1. It’s hard to find new ways to stop the same team that’s beat you three straight without changing the personnel. In other words Phoenix hasn’t really tried anything else.

But I digress on that topic, and would rather talk about the battle in the East. The title of this entry refers to my Blog Bracket’s Eastern pick. I chose the Heat to win in 5, but I wouldn’t mind being wrong. In fact I wouldn’t mind if the Pistons won the series, and I have 3 reasons.

1. Defensive Shift
If the Pistons could find a way to win this series, it might usher in a new era of NBA defense. And before I’m deafened from the rolling eyeballs of my readers I’d like to say this defensive era will be different from the last. The Chuck Daly Pistons created a style of play that would be distilled into it’s pure form with the Knicks and the Heat. However this new defensive era would not be of might, but rather of skill and athleticism.

There is no one from those 90s teams that is represented on today’s Pistons or Spurs. There’s no Laimbeer or Aguirre. No Ewing or Oakley. No Alonzo or P.J. The new century has brought about a new way of preventing scoring. The Pistons trio of Ben, ‘Sheed, and Tayshaun is more likely to hit your shot than your torso. Bruce Bowen couldn’t even make it with the Heat in 1997. If a Pistons-Spurs finals were to emerge, the league would have to stand up & take notice. You might see more Tayshaun Princes and less Tim Thomases.

2. Alonzo Mourning.
Ok so you’re thinking that since I’m a Knick fan, I don’t like Alonzo Mourning due to the rivalry. And you’d be damn right. But in case you root for another team and that dislike means nothing to you, I’ll give you something else to think about.

First is the New Jersey Nets. Imagine how exciting the East would have been with Kidd, Jefferson, Carter and Mourning roaming East Rutherford. Alonzo’s defense would have made the Nets a contender. New Jersey went into the playoffs winning 10 of their last 10, and that’s with Jason Collins’ sorry ass in the starting lineup (sorry the Knicks fan is coming out again). I’m well aware that Mourning was involved in the deal, but that brings me to my next point.

The second reason is the Toronto Raptors. I know every player out there wants to win a championship, but I hate players that do it only by riding on the coattails of others. That Gary Payton didn’t find it palatable to go to L.A. until Karl Malone convinced him that he’d get a ring with Shaq & Kobe makes me think it was less of a charitable act and more an ego-centric one (Kevin Pelton’s reply in the comment section in 5,4,3…)

Which brings me back to Mourning. If he wanted to do an unselfish act, he could have suited up & been a mentor to budding big men Bosh & Araujo. Alonzo could have helped be a difference in Toronto’s season, and maybe help them make the playoffs. Instead he never played a game in purple, and pouted until Toronto released him so he could fly south back to Miami where ‘Zo could earn his first ring by playing 20 minutes a night.

3. An Intriguing East in 2006.
Let me ask you a question, which storyline would be better for next year? The Heat make themselves the kings of the East by beating the defending champions Detroit Pistons. So Detroit becomes a fluke champion, having won the title against a flawed and injured Lakers team. Every other team in the East becomes an afterthought.

OR

The Pistons move on to the Finals for the second straight year, and Shaq goes home for the second straight summer wondering how the biggest man in sports lost to a team effort. So the Big Guy comes back next year with three chips on his shoulder to settle. The first with Kobe & the Laker management for rejecting him. The second against the Pistons for stopping him twice in a row. The last against the rest of the league for choosing the diminutive Nash as MVP instead.

If the Heat win this year, it’d make them as instant favorites next year. However if Detroit pulls off the improbable, who would you pick as the 2006 East favorites? Detroit? Miami? Indiana? New Jersey? New York? (Sorry had to throw that last one in there.)

I have nothing against Shaq. Or Dwayne Wade, who seems to be on the verge of becoming one of the league’s elite. It’d just be a more interesting league if Detroit went on to the Finals.

Three Days

Only three days left in the NBA’s regular season!

* The best race left is in the East, with the 76ers, Nets, and Cleveland fighting for the final two spots. If the three teams were high school seniors, New Jersey would be the guy who decided to straighten himself out so that he could graduate. The Nets have done everything they can to make the big dance, by taking 8 of their last 10, including beating Philly on Sunday.

Meanwhile the Cavs are like the B+ student that suddenly started to run with the wrong crowd. LeBron James went from valedictorian candidate (MVP) to summer school applicant. They have dropped 8 of their last 11, and have decided to work on their ping pong game instead of studying for the finals.

Philly is the average kid that decided to work harder, but got sick and missed a bunch of classes anyway. Getting a tutor (Chris Webber) didn’t help the Sixers as much as they would have hoped. However they’ll make the cut because New Jersey started off bad, and Cleveland is ending bad.

* The only serious battle left in the West is the 5th spot. The Rockets and Kings are tied, but according to Yahoo!’s standings, Houston has the tie breaking edge. I believe that they have the edge in schedule as well. Houston’s last two games are at home against the Clippers and Sonics. Although Sacramento plays the easy to beat Utah, they have to head to Salt Lake to do so, and then the Kings go home to face the top seeded Suns.

Honestly I don’t think there is a huge disparity between the two spots. Thanks to David Stern’s three division alignment, the “winner” gets to face the tougher Mavericks and the “loser” plays the Sonics, despite Dallas’ 50 point lead in win percentage.

* I can’t think of the words “Three Days” without thinking of the Jane’s Addiction song. The song is about weekend filled with drugs & group sex. If you’ve never heard of Jane’s Addiction, just wait for a Coors commercial to come around, and you’ll hear the “Mountain Song.” I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked with Perry Ferrell selling off his songs, especially the one with the lyric “cash in” repeated about 20 times. Additionally Pete Coors next Senate run should be interesting, considering the conservative’s “family values” and anti-gay marriage stance not exactly falling in line with his company’s purchasing Ferrell’s music to sell beer.

* Seven teams have clinched in the West, leaving just Minnesota and Memphis to fight for the final spot. The Timberwolves could have pulled within one game, but lost at home to the Sonics by 15 points yesterday. Just one Grizzlies win or Timberwolves loss in their combined four remaining games clinches the 8th spot for Memphis.

* In the Final playoff battle, Washington kept the hope alive that they could beat out Chicago for the coveted home court advantage in their series. The description from the AP wire read:

With Larry Hughes racing the length of the court and the clocking running down, Charlotte’s Brevin Knight knocked the ball away from behind — and right to Jamison, who put it off the glass and into the basket with 1.3 seconds remaining to give the Washington Wizards a 106-104 comeback victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday.

The Wizards luck is going to end there, as they have to win two on the road, while the Bulls get to work from home for their final pair of games. Ironically both teams face the Knicks, so my team gets a chance to play spoiler. From my perspective it’s Chicago and Washington that get to play spoilers. The Knicks are tied with Golden State and Toronto for the 7th draft spot. If both teams happen to win against New York, it could mean two spots in the draft, depending on how the Raptors & Warriors do.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Do you remember those kid books where they show a picture and ask you to find all the mistakes? Watching basketball this Sunday, I could do the same; find all the things that were wrong with the Knicks

* Watching the Spurs play defense
No wonder this is the best defensive team of all time. Duncan and Rasho man the middle, while the rest of the team swarms like an angry beehive. Few teams play defense with the intensity and energy of San Antonio. Although it was joyful to see a display of pride in stopping the opposition, my thoughts drifted to question why the Knicks don’t defend as well?

Certainly part of it is not having two 7 footers to intimidate their opponents. However even the smaller Knicks fail to hustle like the Spurs’ Ginobili or Bowen or Parker. Watch a Knick game, and look at the disparity of the energy level between the offensive and defensive end. Marbury is tireless with the ball in his hand, whether dashing to the hoop or operating the pick & roll. Crawford skillfully manipulates the ball until his opponent is off balanced. Tim Thomas can alternate between his jumper, posting it up, or driving to the hoop.

When he’s on the defensive end of the pick, Marbury doesn’t have the same desire to fight through to stay with his man. Crawford would rather watch his opponent’s crossover than actually defend it. While on offense Thomas can play from the outside or inside, on defense he’s unskilled in both areas. Seeing the Spurs play a few hours before the Knicks underscores that a large part of the problem is a lack of intensity by all of the Knicks. While getting a center who can guard the paint is a big Knick need, the team will not be successful in stopping their opponents until the smaller guys shed their apathetic ways.

* Watching Miami win
It was no secret that Miami is among the top teams in the NBA Least. Like post Cold War Europe, the balance of power in the NBA rests in the west. The Heat’s Sunday victory over the West’s best team, San Antonio, cements their status as serious players in the Larry O’Brien trophy race. Knick nemesis Alonzo Mourning was at the game, harking back to a time when the Heat was a fierce enemy of the Knicks. New Yorkers old enough to buy a beer can’t see ‘Zo without recalling the time he used Jeff Van Gundy as a swiffer. If the halftime show was P.J. Brown in a midget tossing contest, we could have had a complete time warp to the late 90s rivalry.

It’s frustrating seeing a former rival prosper when your own team is heading towards a fourth straight losing season. In Miami, Knick fans can see everything that is wrong with their team’s front office. While players accustom to warm weather or fear a megapolis lifestyle might actually prefer Florida over the North East, it’s hard to understand why New York hasn’t been successful in attracting the NBA’s elite. Forget about the cultural advantage the Big Apple has, for a basketball icon Madison Avenue is a lot greener than Gator Alley. In twenty years the Knicks haven’t used this advantage of a second salary to lure one of the NBA’s greats. Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, and Larry Johnson were fine players, but I’m speaking about guys that can dominate. The motto of the New York Lottery is “you gotta be in it to win it.” With the Knicks mismanagement of their salary cap and talent, it’s obvious they’re not even in it.

* Knicks 102 Bobcats 99
Sadly, even watching the Knicks win can cause me pain as well. A month ago, a close victory would have been met with open arms. With New York 11 games under .500 and talking about rebuilding, it’s hard to get too excited over a victory. As a Jet fan I’m well aware that you play to win the game, but when winning is meaningless the method in which a team wins can be frustrating.

While I’m opposed to ludicrous thoughts like sitting Marbury in an effort to get a few more ping pong balls, I don’t think the Knicks best player should have more minutes (39) than their two best prospects combined (36). It’s understandable that Tim Thomas could take away minutes from Air Riza and his erratic jumper. What’s perplexing is Sweetney only playing 19 minutes, despite outscoring the starter in 14 less minutes. The “Round Mound of Sit Down” hit all 8 of his free throws, and led the Knicks in offensive rebounds (3). In the last month he’s averaged 9.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in only 20 minutes per game. Any more of this and I’ll have to show up to the Garden with a “FREE SWEETNEY” poster in tow.

If the Knicks decided to put in the effort to win games, and they finish just shy of the playoffs I’d take pride in the team not laying down for the second half of the season. But the Knicks are still the worst team in the NBA’s worst division, and not giving ample time for your young players seems counter productive at this point.

Introducing The New Stats Page

I’ve been working on this for a bit, and I think it’s time to release it out into the general public: the new stat page. A little Merry Christmas from me to my readers. It actually started as an automated tool for myself, so I could have a few key stats handy when I’m writing, but it just snowballed into what you see today. Since I don’t have much of an index, let me give you a quick rundown, interspersed with comments from today’s Knick win over the hapless Bobcats.

The best place to start is the Team Totals. On that page, you can see each team’s scoring per possession, the best measure of a team’s offense or defense. At the very top of the defensive page are teams like the Spurs, Pistons, and Rockets. At the bottom are teams like the Jazz, Hawks, Bucks, and unfortunately, my New York Knicks. New York was 23rd when I checked a month and a half ago, so that means they’ve gotten worse since then. Wilkens has to deal with this disturbing trend either by trying out different defenses, getting the team to play better fundamentals, or by giving more minutes to better defensive players. I’ve begged & pleaded in this space for the Knicks to press & trap, something which the Knicks almost never do. In fact as far as I can recall, they play man nearly exclusively. Certainly it’s not working.

My least favorite defensive breakdown is what I call ‘defensive indifference’. Today Tim Thomas had two great examples of this. In the first quarter, Thomas got caught on a switch, and Primoz Brezec had the ball with Thomas at least 10 feet away. Brezec went up for the jumper as Thomas raced toward him. He closed the distance quickly, but realized he wouldn’t get there in time to block the attempt, and just gave up right in front of Brezec, without putting up a hand. Those kinds of plays kill me as a viewer, because every kid on a team in America has a coach that has taught him if he can’t block a shot to get a hand in the shooter face to stop him from getting a good look at the basket.

In the next quarter, Charlotte had a possession where they got a few offensive rebounds. At one point Okafor pulled one down facing the basket and Tim Thomas came behind him. Now, I have Thomas listed as 6’10, Okafor at 6’10, and Okafor’s FT% at 62%. If Thomas tries hard enough, the worst he can do is give Okafor a 38% chance of scoring two points. At best, it would have been a blind side block, the kind that little guys like Boykins, and Brevin Knight salivate for. But Thomas just watched as Emeka scored an easy two. Defensive indifference.

Anyway back to the stat page, not only can you rank the teams by efficiency, but by pace, or any of the four factors. You may notice that each team name is underlined, and clicking on the name will bring you to the team page. Here I have a few stats I use, including John Hollinger’s PER. It came in handy today when one of the announcers (Al Trautwig?) claimed that Moochie Norris was doing a good job bringing energy off the bench & setting up the offense. He’s got to be kidding me. Norris (2.9 PER) runs the offense like the Ukrainians run an election.

John Hollinger did a great job coming up with ways of rating a player’s ability, but what does Norris’ 19.5 turnover ratio mean? Click on the leaders link at the top, and then on the X above TO-r. This brings you to the League Leaders page, sorted by Hollinger’s turnover ratio. Norris doesn’t have enough minutes to qualify for league leaders, but if he could, his 19.5 would be 6th worst. Right between Antonio Davis and Erick Dampier. That’s just what you want in a backup PG, someone that turns the ball over like two old centers.

A special thanks goes to Kevin Pelton of supersonics.com fame for eyeing over my work & helping me get over that final hump in PER. Kevin, a cold beer awaits you in New York if you can make the trip with the team in March.

Definition Of A Good Sunday

Will all apologies to Homer Simpson, the best way to spend a Sunday is:

Despicable

If you own a TV, by Monday you’ll probably have seen the clips a few hundred times. The one of Artest fouling Ben Wallace. Big Ben pushing/punching Artest in retaliation. The rumble in mid court. Artest and Jackson in the standings. The fan that came out onto the court. Debris pelting the Pacers as they leave the court. Regular speed. Slow motion. Reverse angle. Replayed again. And again. Different channel. Same clips.

The person that is going to get the worst of the fallout is Ron Artest. Had he not gone into the stands, it would have been another sports story. But once he crossed that invisible line between fans and athletes, he turned an ugly incident into a riot on the national news.

Stephen Jackson is just as to blame for his actions, and Ben Wallace was no saint. The difference is neither of these two have Artest’s combination of fame and “history.” Just last year he was an All Star and the defensive player of the year. Just a few weeks ago he was chastised by his team and the media for wanting to leave his team to play music promoter. His history is littered with outbursts, fines, shoves, confrontations, and fights

The players aren’t the only ones to blame here. The asshole fan that hit Artest in the face with a full beer, and the idiot that ran onto the court after bedlam erupted should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Except I won’t remember their names. I know the name of the baseball player that threw a chair in the stands (Frank Francisco), but I don’t know the name of the two animals that ran onto the field to attack a coach in Chicago. I remember Milton Bradley ran amok in Dodger Stadium last year, but I don’t know the name of the man arrested for throwing a ice ball onto the field at Giants Stadium.

I can’t pay money to see those repugnant fans in person, but I can plunk down my credit card to get within earshot of the Pacers. That’s why players have to be the better person in these cases. If not they’ll be reliving their mistakes. In slow motion. Reverse angle. Again and again.