Fear the Zone

13 08 2008
Zone?  No habla espagnol.

Zone? No habla espagnol.

American basketball players have been branded as arrogant, hot-dogging individuals masquerading as a team. 

You’ve heard of LeBron James’ “absolutely” answer to whether they will win gold.  There have been similar proclamations from Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. 

It’s interesting that they’re so confident seeing as though they were part of the 2004 National Team that rode USA Basketball’s name through the mud.

Arrogance?  I smell it.  But I guess bad habits are hard to break. 

But what of Team USA’s coaches?  Are they as arrogant as their players seem to be?

On the eve of the much-anticipated USA-Greece Olympic basketball game, I’ve found this excerpt from a Chris Sheridan article to be very telling:

“Interestingly, Krzyzewski said the Americans’ game plan going in will not include much use of a traditional 2-3 zone unless the man-to-man defense proves ineffective. That’s particularly intriguing given Greece’s difficulty scoring against a traditional zone, something the American coaching staff noticed as it was on hand to scout Tuesday’s Greece-Germany game.

” ‘If I tell my guys we’re going to play a certain amount of zone, it’s almost like saying our man-to-man is not good defense. Just psychologically,’ Krzyzewski said Wednesday in discussing his tactical scheme with ESPN.com. 

But if they’re no good against the zone, shouldn’t you play zone? 

‘Well, no,’ Coach K said. ‘They may not be good against our man, and over the years, the championship teams I’ve had have made teams adjust to them. And if you’re constantly adjusting to who you play, then you’ve got to be careful you never know who you are. But again, zone is part of our repertoire, and I’m not saying we’re not going to use it, I’m just saying I don’t know how many minutes we’ll use it.’ “

“It’s almost like… our man-to-man defense is not [good enough]?”  Are you kidding me?  Clearly, it isn’t.  Clearly. 

For an example, please see the first two Olympic games featuring the American team.  Full-court to 3/4-court pressure masqueraded as their supposed tough man-to-man defense.  When they got into the half-court, their defense was putrid.  A couple nice, highlight reel weak-side blocks can’t erase actual sloppy defense.

Coach K is learning that coaching a group of high-powered NBA professionals has a lot of “ego and chemistry management” in the job description.  But is it worth it to be stubborn about applying a principle that is clearly effective against the Grecian National Team?

Does Coach K think that he’s Dorian Gray?  Where’s your portrait at, man?

Playing a 2-3 is not the equivalent of selling out the American dream.  Uncle Sam’s not going to swing out of the rafters and choke you with Old Glory, Coach K.

And regarding the “if you’re constantly adjusting to who you play, you never know who you are” gem, I think it’s easy for the coach of a top flight NCAA program to say that.  Year after year, his teams are injected with blue chip, 5-star talent.

As much as people like to talk about American dominance in basketball, this quote is very telling.  If USA plays a zone, they won’t be “playing down” to Greece. 

If Duke plays Appalachian State or Campbell and re-vamps their offensive sets, I can see how that is a needless concession to a supposedly inferior athletic talent.

But this isn’t some ACC vs. Southern/A-Sun exhibition.  This is an Olympic game against a team that spanked them in 2004. 

If Coach K is truly worried that playing zone will deteriorate the American team psychologically while conceding that the Greeks are better, he is sorely wrong.

The coaching staff’s talk about respecting their opponent is all clearly lip service.  They’re setting themselves up for failure.

Play zone.

NBA Playoffs West – First Round Thoughts

18 04 2008

1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 8. Denver Nuggets

Match-up to Watch: Ronny Turiaf and Ed Najera

Enough talk about Pau Gasol and Marcus Camby. Wanna see what happens when two balls of hustle and energy slam into each other? When they’re on the court together, Turiaf and Najera are going to meet at every loose ball and rebound. I give the edge to Najera because he’s been around the block and back. Turiaf’s probably just happy to be here. He’ll be wigging out like he did when Kobe “jumped” that Astin Martin.

The Lakers need to slow it down

LA can try to run with the Nuggets. The Lakers are averaging 108.6 points on the season compared to the Nuggets’ 110.7, so they can get their share of buckets. But they went out and got Pau Gasol so use him. After all this hype about Gasol bolstering their half court sets, it’d be plain stupid not to use him now.

Anyway, the Lakers’ second unit loves to run. Phil Jax likes to put Jordan Farmar, Sashsa Vujacic and Vlade Radmanovic out there and run them. So loosen the reins on the second unit for a change-up. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll piss George Karl off even more.

The Nuggets need to feed Carmelo early

Carmelo Anthony needs a good game out of the blocks. Melo needs to get his mind off his legal trouble and focus on the game. This man needs to establish himself as the go-to guy on the Nuggets early. There are lots of questions swirling about who their go-to guy is. Melo needs to come out and ball because otherwise Allen Iverson will need/try to do too much.

Pick: Lakers in 6

2. New Orleans Hornets vs. 7. Dallas Mavericks

Match-up to Watch: Peja Stojakovic and Josh Howard

Even though Dirk Nowitzki isn’t quite 100%, his return takes a lot of offensive pressure away from Josh Howard. It will be interesting to see how Howard D’s up Peja. Given that Peja’s reputation of pulling a Chris Webber and choking in the playoffs may be a little harsh, he isn’t exactly Michael Jordan either.

Chris Paul’s orchestration will give him enough looks, especially in transition. Does Howard step down to help Jason Kidd on penetration? Or does he glue himself to the sharpshooting Serbian?

The Hornets need to work inside-out

Erick Dampier, Bulls cast-off Malik Allen and Dirk Nowitzki need to be taken down low and challenged. This is when Bryon Scott tells David West to make a name for himself. West needs to get his confidence up before a potential second-round match-up against Timmy Duncan or Amare Stoudamire. We’ll find out if West’s 20 points per game is due to Chris Paul’s inflation.

The Mavericks need to get back on D

Stopping penetration and fast-breaks are key here. As soon as the ball hits the rim, Mavericks defenders need to sprint back to get on D. You look up and down the Hornets roster and each person shoots a respectable percentage. Absolutely no one on that team is an established jump shooter. So how are they getting their points? Chris Paul? Of course. Easy run-outs and outlet passes behind the defense? Hell yes.

Pick: Hornets in 5

3. San Antonio Spurs vs. 6. Phoenix Suns

Match-up to Watch: Fabricio Oberto/Kurt Thomas and Amare Stoudemire

I am guessing that they’ll put Tim Duncan on Shaquille O’Neal. This will leave Oberto and the Big Dirty on Amare. Dirt’s always been a good defender and Oberto has that Argentinian awareness so you can never count them out. Has Amare matured enough to realize he shouldn’t rely on his athleticism against the Spurs?

The Spurs need to be quick with rotations

San Antonio’s going to challenge the outside shot. They have to; the Suns are shooting 39.3% from outside. Where they’ll get into trouble is if their bigs slide too late in the paint. Because you know Joey Crawford’s going to call blocking any time there’s contact.

The Suns need to keep Amare out of foul trouble

I can hear Mike D’antoni now: “Damn boy, quit reaching!” Amare Stoudemire owns a 3.7 foul average for the year. This is rivaled only by Shaq’s 3.4 with the Suns. What’s it with big men and reaching? Compare that number with Timmy D’s 2.4 fouls, Dirty’s 2 and Oberto’s 2.5. Just stop reaching, man. Don’t do it.

Pick: Spurs in 7

4. Utah Jazz vs. 5. Houston Rockets

Match-up to Watch: Carlos Boozer and Dikembe Mutombo

Boozer is a beast. Deke eats beasts. It’ll just be funny to see Boozer’s rainbow shot over Dikembe’s out-stretched arms. I think the Rockets will start Luis Scola on Mehmet Okur. They may have Chuck Hayes stick Okur but that’s probably an adjustment for the second or third game. Tracy McGrady needs quality minutes out of Dikembe in order to advance.

The Jazz need to run, run and then run again

Houston shoots 44.8% from the field as a team. The Jazz shoot 49.7%. If the Jazz push the ball and turn this into a track meet, they’ll have a chance. This is important especially because Ronnie Brewer and Andrei Kirilenko aren’t exactly marksmen from outside.

The Rockets need to get a good floor game out of Rafer Alston

Deron Williams is bigger, better and tougher than Rafer Alston. Skip to my Lou has no chance against Williams on the defensive end. So he needs to play extremely well offensively to off-set this. Otherwise, T-Mac’s going home crying again.

Pick: Rockets in 7

LeBron James Is Like An iPod

16 04 2008

I’ll make a confession right now. I’ve gone to the Dark Side.

I bought an iPod.

After six years of rockin’ the Dell DJ, I caved into the persistent and ubiquitous iPod marketing and bought an inferior MP3 player that blatantly tries to turn you into a captive consumer.

It’s pretty, that cannot be argued. But the iPod is far from flexible.

I mean, iTunes is the only way to put music onto it? Really? And the files aren’t “.mp3” Come on.

I really have to buy a $30 adapter if I want to plug it into the wall?

Wow. I just got scammed. And I’m actually enjoying it a little bit. I like walking around feeling like everyone else now. Let’s go get McDonald’s after our Starbucks coffee and bash on Barack Obama! Well alright! I love being fiscally conservative! Go unbridled consumerism!

I can now wear those white earphones proudly, displaying my social status. I don’t have to cringe when people ask about my “iPod” and I have to respond using the noun “MP3 player.”

I thought years ago: Man, I know I’m a consumer but I’ll find an intelligent alternative to the iPod. Surely, I won’t get sucked into the marketing and hype. I was wrong.

And now I am confused and wallowing in a feeling that isn’t quite buyer’s remorse.

Having gone through this conversion, I’m now staring straight at another paradigm shift that I’m not looking forward to.

Becoming a LeBron James fan is something I dread. But it’s pretty much inevitable, isn’t it?

Who else can the NBA marketers bank on? Dwyane Wade really came on strong a year or so ago. He won a ring playing “selfless” ball next to Shaquille O’Neal. He’s a smooth dresser, a nice guy and has a great smile.

But sadly, D-Wade is about to go the way of Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill. I can’t even remember the last time I saw him play 10 consecutive games. I’m sure that you can’t either and that’s very alarming.

So where does the NBA find another incredible athlete that is a winner and knows how to work the cameras?

Carmelo Anthony, the Larry Bird to LeBron’s Magic Johnson, needs some time to clean up his image problems.

Kobe Bryant’s image is probably too tainted at this point. He’s also a bit old and his name is a bit tired at this point.

Chris Paul never gets on TV. He’s a pretty boy though so look for cameramen to key onto him in the playoffs.

Tim Duncan is great. But he’s old and watching his game is like staring at Mount Rushmore at noon. It’s cool but kinda boring and I don’t like how his thumbs are upturned when he runs.

So what’s an NBA to do?

Witness LeBron.

Over the years, I’ve turned into a big Allen Iverson fan and I now enjoy watching Kobe Bryant play. But for some reason, the thought of enjoying LeBron repulses me.

I dislike him for a few reasons.

His Hype

I’ve heard the name “LeBron James” for almost a decade now. Much like Greg Oden, the media has surrounded this kid since his early high school days.

Do you know anyone that is a late adopter in the iPod consumer bell curve? Those people will never be impressed. In the same sense, I’m not really all that impressed with LeBron James. Nor am I impressed with Oden but that’s another story…

A microcosm of the LeBron hype machine is his nickname, “The King.” It says it all. He was crowned at a young age and he won’t be dethroned until a clear heir emerges.

His Game

Broadcasters love to marvel at LeBron’s game. I know he’s talented, athletic and incredibly strong. But is his game really that marvelous at this point?

The man’s go-to move is essentially a fullback dive. He puts his head down, covers up the ball and runs for daylight. LeBron can get called for charging twice each time down the court.

Up until the last month or so, his outside shot was atrocious. He seems to be knocking down longballs with more ease now but he’s still streaky at best.

LeBron’s got very good court vision but he’s really not that great of a passer yet. LeBron gets assists but he forces shots like a half-Irish guy on St. Patrick’s Day.

One of my college roommates was in the Ohio Catholic conference that LeBron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary’s belonged to. He told me that LeBron was incredible live but he would cherry pick for 3/4 of the game. I imagine it was like watching Leandro Barbosa play.

If LeBron had the letter “D” in his name, I would make another fairly obvious observation. But I digress.

His Facial Expressions

Damon Jones is definitely rubbing off on LeBron. Both are continually snarling throughout the game. The difference is that Jones does it while sitting next to the Gatorade. LeBron, why are you so mad? Big Z did all the work for you by giving you an incredible outlet pass. You’re up by 20 and no one contested your dunk. Why are you snarling?

He looks like Wolf “The Dentist” Stansson out there.


There are few certainties in life. One is that I was eventually supposed to buy an iPod. The second is that I will eventually become a LeBron James fan.

I’ll do it but I won’t enjoy it.