On the Road Back Home

14 05 2008

Interestingly enough, Manu Ginobili seems to have better statistical showings on road games. 

At home numbers:
17.9 points while shooting 44.9% from the field, 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists

On the road numbers:
21.0 points while shooting 47.0% from the field, 5.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists

Tim Duncan’s only home-to-road game difference shows up in point production: 18.3 points at home and 20.3 on the road.

None of the other notable Spurs showed drastic home-to-road statistical differences.

This is really inconclusive to me.  On home-cooking, the Spurs can better execute their defense-first gameplan.  They are a tremendous home-court team so a slow-paced game with an insistence on ball-control and good shots is just what the doctor ordered. 

During these playoffs, when the Spurs lose, they lose big.  And when they win, it’s always an entertaining game.  Game 6 in San Antonio is going to be great.

Defending the Offenders: The Modern NBA Defenseman

25 04 2008

The NBA’s recent rule changes are changing the perception of its defensive stalwarts.

Everyone talks about these rule changes. Recently, Reggie Miller commented that this NBA isn’t the same league in which he played. “Now you can get a [technical foul] for anything,” Miller says. He went on to talk about how most people don’t even pretend to be playing defense anymore.

Rule changes on hand-checking and overall perimeter physicality as well as more subjective calls – taunting, trash-talking, repeated physicality – have taken the tooth out of the game.

Should it be a surprise that players with a penchant for legitimate man-to-man defense have become vilified? Ask your buddy who the dirtiest current player in the NBA is. The answer will most likely be Bruce Bowen of the San Antonio Spurs.

Bowen has taken tremendous heat in the last few years for being a dirty player. In fact, even casual basketball fans think the man should be castrated.

Bowen is so aggressive defensively that both players and their loyal fans are yelling from the streets. Isiah Thomas, Vince Carter, Ray Allen, Amare Stoudemire have all had their gripes with the Spurs’ defenseman. They cite Bowen’s elbows or his habit of getting a foot underneath an opposing shooter’s jumpshot as staples of his dirtiness.

I can see that and it’s a valid argument. But I don’t understand why Bowen is being singled out as this undeniably dirty player.

There are certain players that are undeniably dirty. James Posey injures a Chicago Bulls player each time he comes to the United Center. Bill Laimbeer would literally throw his body into someone while they were up in the air and in the act of shooting. I don’t believe Bruce Bowen should belong in that category.

Dirty is a subjective term. There are those that believe “dirty” means intent to injure. I agree with this statement yet Bowen hasn’t exhibited a blatant attempt to injure. Sure, he throws elbows. But if you’ve played a game of basketball in your life, you’ve most likely been on both ends of an elbow.

As early as middle school, coaches would teach me to throw a ‘bow for space after a defensive rebound. Unfortunately, much like oil on your driveway, elbows are ubiquitous in this game.

And you know what? Offensive players throw elbows too! While driving or when in a triple threat position, offensive players have perfect opportunities to throw elbows. However, it’s very nonchalant and difficult to catch because the movement looks so natural.

There is a general perception of Bowen that is quickly permeating basketball ranks. He is seen as a demon that should be sent to basketball purgatory for half of the regular season.

Let me remind you that the men officiating these games have been through hell and back. Most of the playoff referees easily have 15 years of experience each. They remember that John Stockton threw elbows and low blows during his thousands of moving screens. They remember millions of Karl Malone’s elbows. They remember John Starks’ playoff football tackles.

And only one suspension has broken Bowen’s 500 consecutive game streak. He was suspended for kicking Chris Paul about a month ago. Of all the officials calling Spurs games and with all the angst about Bowen’s game, he was only suspended once. The rest of his antics were reprimanded by fouls – personal, flagrant and technical fouls.

Mind you, Kobe Bryant drew a similar suspension for his forced follow-through that resulted in an elbow to Manu Ginobili’s face. So is Kobe dirty too then?

The role of NBA defensive specialist seems to be a very polarizing issue.

For better or worse, athletes’ value and talent are measured by their offensive skill-set. Marketers and league officials have caught onto this trend and subsequently resulted in the recent rule changes.

This is why you hear the phrase “Kobe Bryant is a great player AND he can turn it on defensively when he needs to,” as though deficiencies during half of a game can be overlooked.

This trend can be seen if you examine those who gets the league’s highest individual award. Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkeley and Magic Johnson are amongst recent (1985 and on) MVP winners that were nothing but serviceable defensively.

Everyone’s attention is on the star offensive player. And guess who’s guarding that player?

Offensive players are given a “silver spoon,” so to speak, when it comes to going pro. So if a player isn’t as gifted offensively, they create a niche for themselves. They become a role player in order to get on a roster.

Basic basketball fundamental: a defender’s job is to harass the offensive player and create a turnover, disrupt the offense or force a bad shot.

There’s obviously a line between good, hard play and dirty play. And it’s Bowen’s job to get as close to that line as possible. Since specialists, by definition, focus on only one aspect of their game, they’re often pigeon-holed. I will admit that it’s difficult to root for one-dimensional players. This fact also accounts for the public dislike of players like Bowen.

But you can see it steadily changing. Compare Bruce Bowen with Raja Bell and DeShawn Stevenson. Those three players present a very subtle evolution of the defensive specialist role.

Bowen is a defender that has developed into a kick-out option beyond the 3-point line. Raja Bell is a defender with a steady long ball and an ability to score off the bounce, albeit with limited efficiency. Stevenson is a defender with a shot and slashing ability who has been entrusted with setting up the offense on various occasions.

These developments may go a long way in alleviating the hate for defensive specialists.

As for Bowen: he’s doing his job. If he’s defending your favorite player, of course you’re going to hate him. But let’s not pretend like he’s the scorn of Western society.

The Tragedy of Tracy McGrady

22 04 2008

Long ago, a forlorn young baller played in a far away land. This young baller had the promise of many but his potential was quickly overshadowed by his older cousin’s amazing skill.

This young baller was Tracy McGrady and he played in the faraway land that is Toronto, Ontario.

In three seasons and 192 games, young Tracy averaged 11.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting a healthy 44.8% for the Toronto Raptors. He had a lot of promise, that much cannot be disputed. There was a fluidity and confidence to his game was dazzling, especially when paired with cousin Vince’s high-flying antics.

Tracy got his first taste of the playoffs in his third season; the Raptors made their first ever playoff appearance in a first-round exit. Tracy was that team’s second highest scorer. But his appetite could not be satiated in the barren grounds of Canada.

The young man, full of promise and desire, traveled to the southern reaches of the league. He went to Orlando, Florida. Another young franchise had plans for him to become “the man.” Once there, he would team with the once-great Grant Hill by his side. Magic fans had echoes of Jordan and Pippen in their mind. At the very least, they could become a modern Drexler and Terry Porter.

However, trouble struck central Florida. The talented duo never got off the ground. In Tracy’s four seasons with the Magic, Hill played only 47 games.

So Tracy would have to do it himself. He made Magic fans forget about Penny Hardaway and look for a new beginning. But regardless of Tracy’s efforts — in his four seasons, he averaged 28.1 points, 7 rebounds and 5.2 assists — his playoff aspirations bore no fruit.

His lack of success in the post-season began to create whispers. These whispers were something every great player dreads. “Loser” began to be associated with the proud Tracy McGrady. And as his injuries began to accumulate, so did questions of his toughness and durability. Could he succeed in the playoffs? Can he be trusted with a franchise? Can he stay healthy?

At one point, this man was considered a top 3 player in the league. How could this be happening? He’s never had any help and never has he played with a dependable big man.

That would change. Enter Yao Ming and the Rockets. The 25-year-old Tracy would now share the spotlight with a Western giant. He now had a legitimate force down low to throw the ball to. But it hasn’t been enough so far.

In Tracy’s four seasons with the Houston Rockets, they have never won a playoff series. Those whispers from his Orlando days have followed him to the Western Conference. His Rockets just dropped both home games to the Utah Jazz. They are about to travel to Salt Lake City where the Jazz own a highly-publicized home-court advantage.

And now I whisper to myself… Maybe some people just weren’t supposed to win. The game has been so good to Tracy McGrady but what else will it give? Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Maybe Tracy will never win a playoff series.

The tragedy of Tracy McGrady is all I hear and it’s breaking my heart.

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

10 Things To Look For In The NBA Playoffs

17 04 2008

The playoffs are coming! The playoffs are coming! I wish there was a young boy in each American town that proclaimed “the playoffs are coming!” while dressed in revolutionary war garb. If only my dreams were a reality.

Here are a few things to look forward to during the 2008 NBA Playoffs.

1. Shamelessly-integrated movie promotion

The last one, I think, was the Vantage Point amalgamation of Dennis Quiad running and Steve Nash dribbling up the court. Look for spliced images of LeBron James dunking on Chris Kaman with Prince Caspian — of the Chronicles of Narnia — chopping some werewolf in half.

2. Craig Sager decides to dress down

(Courtesy of the Sports Hernia)

In an effort to keep the attention away from his infamous wardrobe, Craig Sager usually decides to dress down for the playoffs. A selection his normal playoff fashions can be seen in the above picture. Could you imagine what Craig Sager’s parents dressed like? Craig Sager probably dreams in black and white.

3. Showtime Lakers and Oldtime Celtics comparisons

The Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics have the #1 seed in their respective conferences. Do you have any idea how much of a frenzy this will cause with the commentators? It’s going to be ridiculous. A week from now, I’m going to be so sick of Magic and Larry Legend talk. Look for constant zoom-ins on Magic Johnson’s face throughout the Lakers-Nuggets series.

4. Southwestern feuds

The Spurs and Suns are going to get some much publicity. Look for numerous replays of Robert Horry’s hit on Steve Nash. After a while, it’ll be like we’re watching football.

5. References to injured big men

We’re going to hear so much about Andrew Bynum and Yao Ming. Any time either the Lakers or the Rockets give up a run, we’ll hear something about how their inside game is lacking. Eventually, we’ll feel like those two teams are in the movie Big.

6. Prop to the Spurs

This time of year, people stop talking about how old the Spurs are. And they start talking about the Spurs’ game. No more talk about Tim Duncan’s plantar fasciitis nor do you hear about Tony Parker’s marital relations.

The talk starts centering on the Spurs’ great team concept and their legacy. Oh, and we’ll still get to see Eva Longoria.

7. Pistons turn it on

This time of year, the Detroit Pistons turn on the proverbial “switch.” When the Pistons are on, they’re a great team to watch at the end of quarters. They show no fear and it’s like a prize fight with the game on the line, they just keep coming.

We’ll also get to see Rasheed’s pre-game dance.

8. Rising big men

The Magic-Raptors will feature two of the brightest young big men in the game. Dwight Howard’s squad will face off against the Raptors and Chris Bosh. Although they won’t be manning each other up each time down the floor, it’ll be great to see them play together. We will see which player’s game is ready for the grueling playoffs.

9. Marv Albert’s “Yes”

There’s not much better than hearing Marv say “yes” in a playoff game.

Bryant… YES. Billups… YES. McGrady… YES.

Check out Jordan… YES!

10. Playoff ball

And finally, as cheesy as it sounds… I’m looking forward to the actual games. There’s not much like an appreciation for a seven game series. These guys are professionals. Regular season ball is one thing.

The playoffs shines light on all of a team’s weak points.  It’s clearly evident who does their homework and who sits around watching Dancing With the Stars.

The adjustments that are made and then the re-adjustments that follow just make me smile. Look for my first-round picks shortly…