Thursday, August 14, 2008


Not that any of you out there read this, but if you're in Vermont, give this page a look.



Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"P-U-R-V-I-S. Purvis."

Happy birthday to Mr. Purvis Short, one of the more unheralded players in basketball history and surely the only man ever to score 28 points per game and miss the all-star game (despite getting an MVP vote).

I wrote about Mr. Short's career a couple of months ago here.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Finals Final und Draft Shaft

I generally think of the time between the finals and the draft as a journalistic no-man's land. No one cares about post-finals stories unless their team won or the story involves a blowup on the losing team (which, unbelievably, didn't happen this year). No one cares about mock drafts in the NBA, because there's usually a very small pool of talent that can actually play. Personally, I think mock drafts are much less interesting than trying to figure out how well certain players will adjust to the league, but every web site that covers basketball keeps doing them, so maybe I'm all alone in that feeling.

In any event, I can wrap up my thoughts on the finals quickly. I thought the Celtics played great defense and I enjoyed watching Ray Allen get his groove back and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce win a championship. I'm happy the Lakers lost because I don't care for Kobe, and I'm still awestruck that the Jazz didn't stick it to them in the playoffs (many said this about the Spurs, but I didn't think the Spurs looked great this year).

The draft is a little more interesting than looking back at the finals. The newsmaker to me was the Knciks' drafting of Danilo Gallinari. To a Knicks fan like myself, following the team has become almost a masochistic endeavor, because each decision seems improbably less logical than the last. Even this spring, seemingly a step forward, was haphazard. "Let's hire Donnie Walsh without interviewing Jerry West, even though Jerry wants the job." "Let's hire Mark Jackson sight unseen. No wait! D'Antoni will fit in great with the New York population, let's hire him! And let's make him the highest-paid coach in NBA history!"

The really sad part of the story is that the Knicks, due to their crazed, cash-throwing hubris, aren't even lovable losers...they're like the fat, ugly, unbelievably rich girl who thinks she's better than everyone and refuses to talk to them because thusfar she's lived a life of luxury without consequences.

Last night, of course, the Knicks drafted the player from Italy whose father was roommates with Mike D'Antoni and who refused to work out for any team other than the Knicks or Nets. As his draft profile said: "He is a proven scorer who needs help to develop defensively." There doesn't seem to be a single person on the planet outside of the Knicks management who is optimistic abotu the pick and I can't think of many positive signs to note about Gallinari. For a team that has embittered its fans so often by making novel picks or thoughtless trades, it would have been sensible for the Knicks to just get a solid player.

Sadly, Gallinari brought fans straight back to the Knicks' last draft debacle, when they drafted young Frederick Weis, arguably the worst player in the entire world, in front of Ron Artest, the penultimate Knicks prospect (played at St. Johns, best defensive player of his generation, mean, nasty, and crazy...oh it was so perfect).

The story on Gallinari is that he's a euro who can shoot and handle the ball, something Donnie Walsh described as "an unusual package". Broadcasters were trying to throw all sorts of comparisons out last night as to who Gallinari plays like, and I think their statements ("he drives to the hoop like Ginobili") were somewhere between uneducated and insane. After watching the video of this guy play, he seems to me to be a less-polished, worse-shooting, higher-jumping version of Andres Nocioni. This sounds like a bit of a slap in the face but I actually respect Nocioni as a good forward (of course, he can play defense, which the scouts say Gallinari can't). So maybe Donnie Walsh knows what he's doing and we should all try to ignore that his last draft pick was Shawne Williams at 17.

Sadly, the Gallinari pick seems like another small step in the Knicks' fractured yet constant struggle for identity and development. It appears that because the Knicks refuse to think long-term, each step is in a different direction and there is almost never tangible forward progress.

To be fair to the Knicks, though, I don't know that any team who drafted last night made significant forward progress; the Bulls got a great point guard when they already have a good one. The Heat got an undersized power forward who needs the ball and I don't see how that could fit with Dwayne Wade. Memphis's trade/pick of OJ Mayo might have been the best fit, or perhaps Minnesota's pick of Kevin Love (who I think will be terrible, but who still fits on that team nicely). Even those picks have massive qualifiers like "OJ Mayo has the kind of ego that could destroy a young team," or "Kevin Love's best talent is throwing outlet passes". Everything else is a total crap-shoot: Westbrook to the Sonics, Augustin to the Bobcats, Lopez to the Nets, Alexander to the Bucks....who knows what to think about these moves, none of which seem like home runs.

Perhaps more meaningful than the often-mediocre draft picks were the big trades pulled off during the day and then later at the draft.

The Bucks moving Yi Jianlian and Boby Simmons for Richard Jefferson, kind of a strange draft-day deal in that it did not involve draft picks, seems like it could work out well for both teams. The Nets get a Chinese hero, never a bad thing to have in the New York market, as well as a decent shooter at small forward. (The price they pay is inheriting one of the worst contracts in the league.)

By acquiring Richard Jefferson, the Bucks get one of the better small forwards in the league, who is highly-paid but probably deserves it (and who had an under-the-radar career year last year). The Bucks now have Mo Williams at point, Michael Redd at SG, Jefferson at SF, Villenueva at PF, and Bogut at C, with Charlie Bell coming off the bench as their sixth man. Frankly, that's a team with offensive and defensive potential, and I think with the right coach they can put themselves in pretty strong position in the Eastern conference. Is Scott Skiles the man for the job? Who knows.

The newsman says that the Raptors and the Pacers agreed to trade Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto for TJ Ford and Radoslav Nesterovic, but that the trade can't go through until July 9 because TJ Ford is a "base-year compensation" player. I don't know what that means.

I think this is also a good trade for everyone. The Pacers get rid of a monstrous contract and get two good ones (both Nesterovic and Ford earn about $8 million but both expire in 2009). (Wondering who signed Radoslav Nesterovic to a six year, $45 million contract? Bet you wouldn't have guessed the San Antonio Spurs.) They also get a point guard who can compliment Crazy Jamaal Tinsley. As a Knicks fan, it's nice to see somebody unafraid of rebuilding, and based on Jermaine O'Neal's recent injury struggles and his generally bad attitude, this seems like the perfect time to let him go. (Oh yeah, that reminds me, they're rebuilding a team that was completely screwed up by the guy the Knicks just hired...)

The Raptors will be an interesting team with O'Neal and Bosh up front. O'Neal is a very good shot-blocker and both players have good offensive games and will provide rebounding and toughness. When you think about it, it's almost a perfect compliment to the many euro-shooters on the Raptors, because they'll be able to set up outside and let the two big guys work on the boards to get the break running or to get offensive rebounds. The more I think about this, the more potential I think it has to work. The only downside is that Jermaine O'Neal will be making close to $20 Million for the next two seasons.

Despite the possible trade gains for the aforementioned teams, I think there was some nice drafting that could pay dividends in the long term. In my eyes the teams who made the best moves last night were the Minnesota Timberwolves and the New Jersey Nets, and I am not referring to the OJ Mayo/Kevin love pick or the "better" Lopez twin.

After everyone went to bed, the T-Wolves used the 34th pick to get a great backup and probably a solid starting point guard who can shoot, defend, and who has good size when they drafted Mario Chalmers, the guy who beat the number one pick in the draft last year in a head-to-head matchup.

The Nets got Chris Douglas Roberts with the 40th pick in the draft, a great move and a good excuse to get Vince Carter the hell out of dodge. I think Douglas Roberts will be a good player in this league and if the Knicks hadn't traded away their 33rd pick to Portland (who landed Joey Dorsey, a guy who might have fit in nicely with the Bockers), I would have loved to see them get Douglas Roberts or Chalmers. I would go so far as to say that Chris Douglas Roberts was the best shooting guard in the draft.

Chalmers and Roberts are the kind of players that can make any team better and I hope they both get to see some quality playing time.

As always, e-mail me at

Friday, June 13, 2008

3-1 and done

Last night was one of the great games in NBA history. For the Lakers and their fans it was a true heartbreaker, a game where they got the lead too early and had to bear the weight of hope and fear as it was whittled down. For the Celtics, and especially Ray Allen, it was vindication for everything they've worked for and a statement that despite their lack of playoff experience and their early troubles, they were not going to give up without a fight. I was particularly happy for Jesus, who probably played one of the best and definitely the most significant game of his life last night. He was outstanding on both ends of the floor, he drove and shot with amazing skill, he scrapped and fought even when the Celtics were down 21, and he never sat for one second. In the end, every one of his 19 points and 9 rebounds seemed like they were more significant than those of anyone else.

This year's Celtics bring to mind another great team, the 1994-1995 NBA Champion Houston Rockets. Those Rockets had an even more difficult time in the playoffs than the Celtics; they were down 2-1 in a best-of-five series to the Utah Jazz in the first round and down 3-1 to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals. They were scrutinized during their entire playoff journey, and when they reached the Finals, they had to face an Orlando Magic team featuring Penny and Shaq in their prime that had just beaten the Michael Jordan.

The Rockets steamrolled the Magic in four games. They were led by hungry and humble Hakeem Olajuwan, an aging but excellent small forward in Clyde Drexler and a scrappy team of adequate scorers like Vernon Maxwell and Mario Elie. The offense was conducted by the tandem of quick Kenny Smith and a young Sam Cassell.

One particularly notable moment in the Rockets 1995 playoff run came during the series they played against the San Antonio Spurs, who had won 59 games that year. During the pregame events, David Robinson was presented with the Most Valuable Player award, a clear statement by observers and prognosticators that he and his Spurs were superior to Olajuwon's Rockets. Hakeem dominated Robinson, outscoring him 42-22 and showing that being MVP is about more than the ability to dominate the regular season. (Robinson had averaged 27.6 points per game that season.)

Obviously, the resemblances to the Celtics are significant, and that's fine and dandy, but if there's anyone who should take an interest in the old Rockets team, it's Kobe Bryant. Kobe is currently on the hook for an epic collapse, and it is clear to everyone watching the game, from me to Curt Schilling to a beer-drunk redneck in Easton, Pennsylvania that he is not doing anything to make his team play better than the sum of its parts.

Olajuwon, in my opinion the greatest center of all-time, was also one of the great leaders of all-time. He was humble both on and off the court, he was accepting and open-minded, and he displayed honesty and candor without worrying that it would undermine his authority. When combined with his incredible talent, these qualities that made his teammates admire him, follow him, and play better and more cohesively under the capable command of Rudy Tomjonavich.

When Hakeem's team was down 3-1 to the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, he spoke to his teammates about the position they were in and the pressure that was on them. He explained that any fear or nervousness they had was misguided, because down 3-1, no one expected them to win, so they had no reason worry about losing. They (along with everyone else) had already written themselves off, and although that was certainly not positive, they could play without the pressure of expectation (something Kobe knows a thing or two about).

Hakeem explained how the Rockets' near-failure also presented a great opportunity, because if they played hard, they could do something historic. Each athlete recognized this opportunity and instead of coming into Game 5 depressed and embarrassed, the team came out focused, hopeful, and relaxed. Hakeem knew he was the best player in the series and he knew his team could win, and his team knew this, too. Bolstered by Hakeem's confidence in himself and in his team and his sheer domination on the Court, the Rockets won their next three games and stunned a Suns team that seemed destined for greatness.

Anyone who has watched the Finals would assume that there is no way Kobe can perform similar magic, but his team is in the same position those old Rockets were. It is probable that they have the ability to beat the Boston Celtics if everyone can get on the same page, and Kobe is capable of a much stronger performance than he has given so far.

Can the Lakers make a historic comeback? I say no. But if Kobe ever hopes to be remembered as an all-time great, and if these Lakers want to be known as true peers of their forebearers in LA, they should see that they have been given a chance that very few athletes ever have: beat the odds, beat the favorites, and you will be remembered next to the most dominant of champions in the annals of history.

As always, e-mail me at

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Random Video Moments!

I'm pretty excited for the first truly series-changing game of the finals tonight, as I'm sure most fans are. I think the Celtics will pull it out if they play as physically in the post as they did in Game 3.

As for this video, it's a highlight reel of dunks by Isma'il Muhammad. Why? Why the fuck not.

As always, e-mail me at

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Here is the best I could do all day to find some highlights. You'll have to sit through some droning and you don't get to see things as they happened, but it's better than nothing.


This is not happening, this is not happening, this is not happening, this is not happening....

The allegations of Tim Donaghy, summarized in an ESPN article that came out this morning (here), are fairly extreme, and describe a conspiracy that goes all the way to the commissioner. Most significant is Donaghy's assertion that the league was behind controversial refereeing in Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Kings and the Lakers (the Lakers went on to win the Finals that year). If what Donaghy states is true, basketball would sustain a black mark rivaling any in the history of sports. David Stern's reputation would dive into Nixonian territory and, frankly, basketball could find itself in the hands of a different governing body.

Let's remember, though, that Tim Donaghy is a convicted felon and a Grade A scumbag. He's the kind of gambling-addicted suburban slob that once tried to run his mailman off the road when the mail truck hit his recycling bin. He's the idiot who took loans from the mafia. He has shown a clear lack of morals and honesty and his own selfish sense of self-preservation led to his downfall. He may be just a rat trying to swim his way to shore, only this time he's trying to welch his way out of dealing with the FBI instead of the mob.

It's impossible at this time to tell which side is telling the truth, but it seems worth it to at least discuss what's going on here. I vividly remember the 2002 playoffs (and many series of those years) for their incredibly inconsistent refereeing. That Kings/Lakers game in particular stands out as one that I will never forget because I felt it was actually turned by poor officiating. From that day on, if you asked me for an example of a game should have gone the other way, I would have said Kings/Lakers, 2002, Game 6.

I realize my memories, like those of most people, are susceptible to change over the years, so I decided to check out some video highlights from the game. Interestingly, there are none anywhere on the internet. Considering this was one of the most important (and discussed) games of all time, I found that surprising, especially in the wake of this morning's news, but maybe it's just a coincidence.

Actually, I had a hard time even finding the play-by-play. Once I got a hold of it, I realized that it wasn't going to be much help--it's hard to bring back memories of what actually happened (calling phantom fouls, for instance) with numbers on a chart. But here's what I can tell you:

The game was tied at 75-75 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. It went back and forth until 3:06, when the Kings took the lead at 92-90 and the Lakers called timeout. Up until that point, if you're reading the play-by-play and can't remember anything and are only able to analyze the numbers, nothing seems awry.

After they were down 92-90 at 3:06, the Lakers scored sixteen points. Fourteen of those points came from eight trips to the free throw line (in 2:55). In the same period of time, the Kings went to the line three times, made six foul shots, and scored two baskets, losing 106-102. The Lakers' only conventional score came at 0:52 (by Shaq).

That Shaq basket made it 101-98, Lakers. In the next forty-three seconds, the Lakers went to the line three more times, went 5-6, and put the game away.

If that helps you, great, but I hope some video of the actual refereeing or the whole quarter comes out sometime soon. If it does, I'll post it here. Numbers never tell the whole story and I wouldn't be surprised if many close games end in a flurry of free-throws by the winning team because the losing team is forced to foul (though by my reading, this was not the case in the Lakers/Kings game).
Whether or not Donaghy is telling the truth about this game or his other allegations is hard to judge, because he's created a "chicken or the egg" situation. Is he finally able to provide evidence that games many have always thought were rigged actually were, or is he using those assumptions to take advantage of fans who demand an explanation and save himself? Donaghy's letter (only five pages, written by his lawyer) discussed almost exclusively highly-publicized refereeing controversies of the past few years, and each of Donaghy's allegations are based on things he "heard" from referees or officials involved with the game. Though the supposed transgressions are explained in detail, there is no explanation why Tim Donaghy, a man who did not officiate any of the games in question, would have access to such dangerous information. Although Donaghy was the back-up official for one of the games he described, it may be that he is merely using that fact to gain a foothold to show he has primary knowledge.

The unfortunate truth that it is so hard to determine whether there are teeth to Donaghy's allegations underscore a larger problem for the NBA: this is an era of inadequate officiating. If fans were satisfied with the quality and fairness of officials, it would be a lot easier to deny Donaghy. Of course, fans of all sports are always complaining that the referees are biased, but in my opinion, for the last decade the NBA has retained the least professional, least consistent officials in major American sports. This is significant regardless of their intent.

One thing I thought was interesting about Donaghy's letter (not in the ESPN article) was his statement about the lack of objectivity of the NBA's "observer" program (something he would have actually had direct experience with). This program is set up to monitor referees, and a designated (and I assume anonymous) observer goes to a game, takes notes, reviews the game tape, and writes a report on how fair he thinks it was called. According to Donaghy "the observer rating system was frequently manipulated. Although the observers were supposed to remain anonymous, all the referees knew who they were. Referees friendly with NBA observers monitoring their game would likely receive a good report."

The only example of impropriety Donaghy could give was an observer asking a referee to buy his book, which doesn't sound like a big deal. However, a breakdown in oversight is hard to identify and there is often no evidence because it's more about cordiality and lack of professionalism than formal deal-making or guns, drugs, and money. Arthur Anderson's failure to objectively audit Enron because the executives were buddy-buddy and too trusting of each other is a good example of this. I wonder if the observer program is a problem that Donaghy was aware of that he tried to exaggerate into something criminal to support himself. Obviously, that throws doubt on whether anything he says is true, but it follows the pattern of his trying to take a problem and make it look like impropriety, and if the observer program is that - a problem - then it underscores the bigger point about poor refereeing.

At this point, I believe David Stern, and do not think there is a conspiracy by the league to help some teams and hurt others. The ten years of embarrassment by the New York Knicks and the fifteen years of hell for the Celtics before 2008 are the basis for my beliefs, along with what I believed were preferential calls for the small-market, unexciting San Antonio Spurs since roughly 1999. (And how about that other team from Los Angeles?)

The thing is, when the quality of officiating stinks, it leads fans to conspiracy theories, and everything that is accomplished by any team is thrown into question. That the Donaghy situation even developed is evidence of the NBA's failure to exercise oversight over its referees.

In the end, let's hope that the NBA does the right thing to heal itself from this scandal. Fix the referees, fix the league.

As always, e-mail me at

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Better Know the Lakers

Kobe. Pau. Bynum. Fisher.

These are the Lakers we know. Some of us love them. Some of us do not. As a matter of fact, some of us feel that Derek Fisher is a smaller, more annoying version of Bruce Bowen without the defensive skills but with all of the "flop to injure the other player" mind-set who has been the beneficiary of more calls in the last decade than any single player other than perhaps Shaquille O'Neal and who is wholly undeserving of being known as an even adequate point guard.

Note: Yes, I feel bad that Shaq gets hacked a lot without intervention, and I'm totally with him when he complains about how much it hurts when other players rap him across his forearms, which are generally considered his most sensitive body part, but that doesn't change the fact that for about twelve years, his go-to move has been "spin, elbow defender to face, drive". Here are some of his greatest hits in reverse chronological order:


But let's forget about Shaq's dirty elbows and try to concentrate on the 2008 Lakers, because they are, after all, more than just Kobe, Pau, Bynum and Derek Fisher. Interestingly, they're one of the least-black teams in the NBA, the complete opposite of both their old dynasty and the current Celtics team they oppose. They have a lot of specialists, weirdos, Euros, and long-hairs, and frankly, they're pretty interesting. So let's get to it.

The Roster, Ordered Alphabetically, Erratically Rated by Jimmy V

Trevor Ariza. Trevor is one of the only South American players in the NBA. Trevor was born in Venezuela, generally a baseball country, and one can only imagine how much difficulty he would have had with his strike zone. Trevor went to high school in LA where he averaged an impressive 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 9 assists per game and played every position. He is asthmatic and during his freshman year at UCLA one of his lungs actually collapsed. He is a very, very good dunker:

Dunk rating: 8. Hustle rating: 7. Shooting: 5. Lung rating: 1.

Jordan Farmar. He has very large ears. He wears his hair in the "Long Island Guido" fashion. Like Ariza, he is from LA, where he averaged 27 a game in high school. His favorite music artist is Usher. He is half black and half The Jew.

Douchebag rating: 8.2. Hair rating: 2. Sneaker size: 7.5. Chances that he hangs out with Kobe and actually enjoys it: Actually, quite good.


Coby Karl: For first 22 years of his life, he played second fiddle to his dad as the second-best Karl in the history of basketball. Now, he adds the distinction of being the second-best "Kho-bee" on his team. Remarkably, Karl only averaged eight points and two rebounds per game in his junior year of high school but managed to shore up his game enough to go to Boise State and make the NBA as an undrafted free agent. He made his NBA debut on the same day he made his NBDL debut because he played only 37 seconds in the NBA game and was sent down quickly enough (to the Los Angeles D-Fenders) to play in a night game.

Dunk rating: Shaquille (I've seen him dunk. He dunks like Shaq. It's weird. It makes the rest of the Lakers just about shit their pants.). Whiteness factor: 93. Overall: Possibly the worst player in the NBA.

Chris Mihm. In case you forgot, he was drafted with the seventh pick in the first round of the draft by the Chicago Bulls (and traded to the Cavs). The All-Star "Traded for Chris Mihm" team is unusually good: Gary Payton, Rajon Rondo, Jamal Crawford, Larry Hughes, Toni Kukoc, and Chris Webber have all found themselves on the other side of deals including Mihm. (Webber was traded to the Bullets in 1994 for, among other things, a pick that in 2000 that became Mihm.) He is a tall, stiff, somewhat athletic white guy. His favorite cereal is undisclosed.

Dunk rating: Was once dunked on by Chris Wilcox twice in one game, the second time so seriously that he was badly injured. Pass rating: Can pass. Height rating: 9.

Ira Newble. One of the better defensive players in the NBA in the past few years, he somehow has aged to 33 in a flash. He once refused to play in a Cavs game, which is, frankly, amazing. He may have had the worst college career of anyone in the NBA, averaging 3.2 points per game in his senior year at Miami University. He got most of the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign a letter condemning the Chinese government's investment in the genocidal regime in Darfur. The two players who refused to sign were LeBron James and Damon Jones for what one can assume were "economic reasons". I'm not sure whether I think it's nice that he's trying to help people or a little lame that he only did it once he saw Hotel Rwanda. Your call.

Dunk rating: 3. Defense: 7.5. Humanitarian efforts: 4. (Most NBA players would be a 1, so that's fair given that he hasn't actually spent much money or devoted much time, in my opinion.)

Vladimir Radmanovic. Shoots high-arcing shots. Flops. Sucks at defense. Am I telling you anything you don't already know? No. But did you know he's in the midst of a six-year, $42 million dollar contract? Did you realize he resembles Joe Namath? Did you know he embarassed his country in the 2002 FIBA World Championships? He was not playing well and when his coach, an obviously fiery man named Svetislav Pesic, saw him sitting at the end of the bench "eating a banana", he kicked him off the team. The team rallied in the second half, and then beat Argentina (featuring Manu Ginobili among others) in the final to win the gold medal.

Rating in American basketball: 3.5. Rating in Serbian basketball: 2.5. Ability to hit meaningless three-pointers: 9.

Ronny Turiaf. From Wikipedia: "Turiaf is most notably known for his aggressive play and his dance routines at the sidelines used to support and invigorate his teammates."

Aggressive play rating: 2. Dance rating: 1. Invigoration rating: 0.

Sasha Vujacic. Goes by "Sasha". Is from Bosnia, which makes him Vladimir Radmanovic's mortal enemy. His nickname, supposedly, is "The Machine", which was also Vladimir Radmanovic's nickname when he played sixth man for the Sonics. No word on who is involved with who's wife. He is actually 6'7", which he does not appear to be on television. Phil Jackson once called him an "11:00 a.m. player", as in "he's good in practice but sucks in games". Sasha cheers for the Kings and hates the Lakers because of fellow Former Yugoslavians Vlade Divac and Predrag Stojakovic.

Annoying rating: Very. Hair rating: 2. Potential to engage in a fight to the death with Vladimir Radmanovic: 10.

Luke Walton: Bill Walton's son. I bet you had no idea.

As always, e-mail me at

Monday, June 09, 2008


Throughout this (and many) year's NBA playoffs, refereeing has been a problem. Last night's game was called with almost no objectivity or precision which has resulted in unwarranted questioning of the fairness of the Celtics' victory. It's time to have a conversation about how the NBA can effectively shore up their officiating corps so that the game is more watchable and more fair.

Regarding gameplay, it's easy to diagnose the problem - the refs are blowing their whistles too much. They seem to err on the side of making a call despite the damage the constant whistle-blowing does to the pace of the game and the competitive balance. From opening tip to closing buzzer in last night's game, if any referee saw something that might be interpreted as a touch foul, they called it. It didn't even matter if it was off the ball and away from the play. It didn't matter if the referee didn't have a good sight line or if the call was based on an interpretation of a reaction. Amazingly, the only time the referees seemed willing to swallow their whistles was when there was genuine contact during difficult but dangerous offensive foul-or-blocking-foul "50/50" calls.

I recently watched the Stanley Cup and was pleasantly surprised by the uninterrupted pace that was the direct result of restraint by the referees. Of course, there were bad calls, but they mattered less because more was decided when the puck was on the ice. The reduction in the play stoppages made the game much more engrossing and exciting and I found myself concentrating on what was playing out in front of me much more than I have during this year's Finals. In light of the fact that I know almost nothing about hockey and barely follow it and have been a basketball fan since childhood, this is distressing. I can't imagine I'm the only one who feels this way.

The best thing about the reduction in calls during the hockey game was the shift in focus from the referees to the players. When I watch a basketball game, I am conscious of the effect of the referees perhaps every other trip down the floor. In the Stanley Cup, they were ancillary, keeping the game clean but otherwise putting the onus on the players. If the NBA was played this way, the game would be much-improved.

As a result of the way the refs called the game last night, I've read this morning numerous complaints about Boston-biased officiating. There were certainly some questionable calls that went the Celtics' way. Foremost among these were the two off-the-ball fouls the called on Kobe as he tried to get through screens. However, I don't believe that the free-throw disparity (which was 38-10 for the Celtics) showed that the officials were biased against the Lakers.

The Lakers lack of free throw attempts was caused by their reluctance to attack the hoop and their limited commitment to maintaining a presence in the post. Frankly, I can't think of Kobe driving to the hoop once, except for the quasi-fadeaway bank shots he executed on a couple of possessions. Most of the contact between the teams was during rebounding or off of the ball, and I don't think anyone would allege that Boston was beating up Kobe, Derek Fisher, or Gasol, who were responsible for most of the offensive execution. The only hard foul last night that I remember was on Rondo when he went up for a probable dunk attempt.

The fact of the matter is that the actual fouls called last night were pretty even - 28 against the Lakers, 21 against the Celtics. The Lakers couldn't stop penetration by Leon Powe (who shot thirteen free throws), and aside from him, none of the Celtics starters shot more than seven free throws. (Kobe also shot seven).

In fact, the only Laker who consistently tried to get the rim was Pau Gasol, and he was rarely successful at getting good position when the Lakers were looking for him, which was also rare. When he did get close, he generally beat his defender badly, and that is why he was 8-12. Oftentimes when there was contact, he initiated it as he drove to the hoop, especially with his off-hand. The bottom line is that Pau's lack of production had as much to do with lack of position as it did with clearing out the post for isolating Kobe or moving to the top of the key to execute the triangle offense and his game was not affected in any meaningful way by Celtics fouling.

Of the other Lakers, Lamar Odom was content to settle for jumpers, and the role players (Fisher, Radmonovic, Vujacic, Farmer, and Walton), who are jump-shooters anyway, were not attempting to get to the hoop or draw contact at all. I don't know what play Lakers fans can really complain about, unless they believe that the Celtics shouldn't have gotten as many attempts as they did.

On that front, it seems to me that it was pretty fair. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen combined for five free throws. Rondo shot six (which he definitely deserved). Paul Pierce shot seven and was robbed of a four-point play for an alleged travel that I thought was more of a message to him to stop trying to make the refs call the "Barry Foul". (For the record, the correct call was a no-call, because Pierce jumped into the defender and the defender jumped into him. The shot should have counted. As a matter of fact, in the vast majority of questionable situations [especially the early Kobe foul calls] I am convinced that the correct call would have been the no call.)

I just don't see a lot of evidence that the Celtics were unfair beneficiaries of the shoddy officiating. The Lakers should have attacked the hoop and they failed to. Pau Gasol only took twelve shots even though he was doing damage. Kobe shot mostly fallaways and pullups. It's true that Lamar Odom was mugged on a rebound at the end of the first half and Gasol may have deserved a whistle or too, but you could say the same about a number of Celtics possessions.

The real issue is not whether the Celtics or the Lakers were favored, though. Last night's game was not fun to watch because the only time the referees relaxed was when it was a blowout. (This was also when the game got exciting and there started to be a meaningful give-and-take between the teams.)

The NBA Finals should be as exciting as any championship game, and until the referees show greater restraint, the Finals will be the ugly sister of the major American sports. I love basketball and I can barely enjoy watching the games. I am not one of these bleeding heart "oh if only it was like the good old days" fans and I'm not trying to show how much I know by constantly complaining about the incompetency of teams/coaches/refs/administrators. I have two eyes and I like basketball and I know that if the NBA doesn't get its refereeing sorted out people are not going to continue to enjoy watching big basketball games, even if this year's rivalry produces a misleading ratings jump. If anything, the jump in ratings is an indictment of our current era, because it shows that people would rather connect to the past then take an interest in the future.

I don't know why the league or the referees are doing things the way they are and why last night was so bad. Whether the officials were making an unnecessary attempt to "take control" or "establish guidelines" by making "statement calls" or whether they are just incompetent doesn't matter. The athletes in the NBA are tough and do not need touch foul-calls unless the foul affects a shot. Fat, middle-aged men and women all over America are able to comprehend this system in pick-up basketball.

The NBA's referees need to let the players play and have the courage to step in only when they feel that an offensive player is impeded or a foul is in bad faith or the result of being out of control. I can only imagine how much more enjoyable it would be to watch uninterrupted basketball (though I'm sure ABC would lose a lot of money in advertising revenue). No rule change could help the game as much as this.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Don't Ever Give Up: The Finals Preview

This Finals is about two men - Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant.

For Pierce, every game will be a home game (his hometown being Inglewood), and he will be arguably the only player in the contest that will lead his team to victory if he plays well and doom them if he does not. He will be playing against the team he loved as a child and he will be playing to change the way history will remember him. One might say Kevin Garnett is playing under similar circumstances, but Garnett has had many chances for success in his career. This is either Pierce's second or third chance, depending on how you consider the old Jim O'Brien teams, and that makes it much more special.

For Kobe, this game will represent vindication. I don't think it (or anything) will satisfy him, but he doubtless believes winning the Finals by himself will fulfill some sort of legacy or need. If he didn't think that, I can't see why he wanted to be traded out of L.A. Any casual observer watching Kobe can see that he has spent a good deal of his career trying to satisfy his audience, to be something he thinks he should be, and to be loved by everyone. His canned laughter, his attempts at a rap career, and his so-called "style" have all been little steps in this direction, and this Finals will be a big one. I expect Kobe to play like a man possessed.

Don't forget, Kobe's dad was an NBA basketball player. Perhaps he wasn't a great one, but there have always been examples of athletes, artists, intellectuals, and even politicians with famous fathers who display a profound and urgent desire to eclipse their fathers and whose success (and often downfall) is powered more than anything else by a fear of nonacceptance. I'm not sure this explains Kobe's oft-awkward personality, though - as Freud allegedly noted, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

My personal feeling is that Kobe Bryant has already failed in his role as a leader, and that a Lakers victory would be, if anything, a victory for Phil Jackson. The interesting thing about the series is that although it feels like the first game with any historical potential since the end of the Shaq/Lakers dynasty, it will probably be remembered as a one-time event rather than the drawn-out rivalry it evokes.

If one sets aside the geographic and historical implications, the matchup between the Lakers and the Celtics, in theory, is a good one. The Lakers are one of the top offensive teams in the league, and the Celtics are one of the best defensive teams. The best sporting events are generally contests where irresistible force meets an immovable object, but frankly, the playoffs have shown that the Celtics are not exactly "immovable". If they lose this series, that will be their undoing.

The Lakers, despite their consistent success in the playoffs (against some very good defensive teams and also the Nuggets), are a very good but not great offensive squad. They have a two-dimensional point guard in Derek Fisher, a shooting guard who has an extremely inconsistent on-court demeanor in Kobe, a small forward who is frankly not good in Vujacic, a power forward who can't shoot and has taken advantage of matchups against "whoever's not guarding Pau Gasol" (Fabricio Oberto, for instance), and a center who is truthfully more of a power forward and who has never averaged ten rebounds per game in his career.

The Celtics match up well with this team. Rondo is the kind of defender who should be able to euthanize Derek Fisher, but I'm fearful that Boston will try to drop him down on Pau Gasol when the ball is in the post. If this happens, Derek Fisher is all but guaranteed to hit three to five backbreaking three pointers a game, and this may decide the series. (All too often in the Shaq/Kobe years, games were decided by guys like Fisher, Horry, Fox, George, and Lue because they hit those open shots when teams were forced to double down.)

The matchup between Ray Allen and Kobe presents an intriguing dilemma - is it worth leaving Ray Allen in the lineup when he's been the most inconsistent player in the playoffs, especially on defense? Or is it better to give up offense at the shooting guard position and put a big guy like Posey or a small guy like House in and let them try to pressure Kobe defensively?

This dilemma illustrates why it is such a problem that Rondo can't shoot. If Rondo could even occasionally hit three-pointers, taking Ray Allen out might not be a huge problem in terms of running the offense, but when it's Rondo and James Posey out there, you can't really rely on either player to hit a three when the ball's kicked out of a double team or a driving player. That brings the whole offense closer to the hoop, lets the Lakers double-team or crowd the key, and causes problems for Pierce and Garnett. (I know James Posey and Eddie House are not bad at shooting threes. But they're not threatening the way a proper shooting guard should be.)

I think it makes sense to leave Ray Allen in for his offensive potential and hope to god that getting him minutes helps him iron out his problems. To compensate for his defensive shortcomings, I would advocate switching Allen's defensive assignment to Derek Fisher and telling him to only concentrate on stopping Fisher from getting open shots. Ray may be a little slow laterally, but he can do that effectively in a big game.

This puts Rondo in a tough position, because he can't guard Kobe, but neither can Posey, Allen, or House. Rondo at least has a chance of keeping Bryant from penetrating effectively, and honestly, with his long arms, I don't know if its as bad a mismatch as it seems in theory.

Although this defense is vulnerable to pick and rolls, Kobe's perimeter game, and the crippling of Rondo's self-esteem, the Celtics need to have a perimeter guy in if they're going to have Rondo running things out there. Ray Allen is one of the best in the league's history and to limit his opportunity in the Finals could be a terrible mistake for the Celtics. He might be the smartest and best prepared player on either team. He has a history of success against Kobe and of success in the playoffs. Also, he had the second-best dunk-on of the 2000 Olympics (fast forward to 1:20):

The biggest advantage Boston has (and the reason I believe they will win or lose with Paul Pierce) is at small forward. The only player who can possibly guard Pierce is Kobe, and that will leave a player like Sasha Vujacic or Vlad Radmanovic on Ray Allen. Either way, this is a win-win situation, because if LeBron James can't stop Paul Pierce, neither can Kobe. But for Pierce to be unstoppable, he must be aggressive, get to the hoop, get to the line, and hit those terribly hard-looking shots he seems to toss up so easily. If he scores an efficient 25 per game, the rest of the Celtics could more than make up for as much as 35 per game from Kobe.

I'm assuming for the purpose of this article that Lamar Odom will be matched up with Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol will be matched with Kendrick Perkins. I flip-flopped back and forth a few times in my assessment of who would guard who, and to be honest, it doesn't really make sense either way. My rationale for the choice I made is that Perk and Pau play in the post more than Garnett and Gasol do. But who knows what Phil Jackson or Doc Rivers will do.

Lamar Odom is going to have his hands very full whoever guards him. This will be the first series he doesn't have to go up against another Western team's terrible excuse for a center. Garnett should shut him down entirely, and that's a big problem, because Odom has been very important for the Lakers in the Spurs and Utah series. The question is whether he was so helpful because he raised his quality of play or because he took advantage of the lack of skills of his defender. I can't believe it is the former, even though I like Odom, and I think he is due for a serious slump.

Garnett, on the other hand, will be guarded by one of the weaker defenders on the Lakers. In Boston's first meeting, he outscored Odom 21 to 4, and the second time, outscored him 22 to 14. However, both Lakers/Celtics contests during the regular season were before the Pau Gasol trade, so it's impossible to know how this will effect the matchup.

It is Pau that will be the biggest unknown in the series, and other than Pierce, his success may be more important than anyone else's (only because Kobe's is a given). I don't know how well Kendrick Perkins will guard him. The only game Boston played against Gasol (when he was on the Grizzlies) saw him score 12 points on 3-13 shooting (in 40 minutes). I didn't watch that game and frankly know nothing about it. I am familiar enough with Gasol and Perkins to be sure that Perkins will have his hands full, even though he's been playing well. Gasol has all the tools necessary to get Perkins uncomfortable and into foul trouble, and I'm sure he'll do that.

However, the Celtics play great interior defense, and Kevin Garnett will provide help from the weak side along with whoever else is near the key. Pau is the player who can really screw up the team defense of the Celtics if he requires a lot of help to guard, but I'm not convinced he will be able to do it in what should be a very physical finals.

The Celtics have a great advantage in the depth of their bench, but this will only really matter if they decide to get out and run, which I don't expect. Doc Rivers has not done a good job being consistent with his lineups and although the quality of the players on Boston's bench is better, I do not think their play will effect the series in any meaningful way (at least any more than the Lakers bench).

The bottom line, for me, comes down to defense. I can see Boston shutting down every player on the Lakers other than Kobe, whereas the Lakers will have the ability only to slow down Ray Allen. Two heads are better than one, even Kobe's. Celtics in six.

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PS: I leave you with the sage words of Ray Allen circa 2004, immediately after Shaq left the Lakers, on Kobe Bryant:

"He's going to be very selfish and he feels like he needs to show this league and the people in this country that he is better without Shaq. He can win championships without Shaq. So offensively, he's going to jump out and say, 'I can average 30 points. I can still carry the load on this team...If Kobe doesn't see he needs two and a half good players to be a legitimate playoff contender or win a championship in about a year or two he'll be calling out to Jerry Buss that 'We need some help in here,' or 'Trade me' and we'll all be saying, 'I told you so,' when he says that."


Monday, May 19, 2008

Problems and Solutions around the NBA

Problem: You are the Celtics, one of the most egregious examples of a team built for the short-term in the NBA's history. If it hadn't been for the Shaquille O'Neal/Gary Payton/Dwayne Wade Heat, you would probably be the worst, and if you lose this year, history will remember you as something akin to basketball's equivalent of the Jose Canseco/Greg Vaughn/Fred McGriff Tampa Bay Devil Rays. You have to do well right now because the chances of another injury-free, high-spirits season are slim.

Solution: Remember that Paul Pierce is still in his prime, averaged at least 25.0 points per game for the two years before this one, and has always come to play in big games. Last night he was as good or better than LeBron, and he will present serious problems for Detroit in the next round.

Problem: Now you have to play the Pistons, you have a terrible record in away games, and as an opponent, the Pistons are vastly superior to the Cavs and the Hawks.

Solution: This is going to be a tricky puzzle for Boston if the Celts can't find some offensive continuity. Last night, it was depressing to see Kevin Garnett unable to shake Ben Wallace laterally and be forced into shooting turnaround jumpers, and I'm of the opinion that he'll do the same against Rasheed Wallace. It was even more depressing to see Ray Allen mired in what has to be one of the worst slumps of his career. Doc Rivers benching him for most of Game 7 will not bolster his confidence.

However, the Celtics have something to counteract the Pistons: defense. I believe that Garnett can shut down Rasheed Wallace in the post and on the perimeter, Rondo can give Chauncey Billups serious problems, James Posey can hold off Tayshaun Prince, and that Eddie House can guard Richard Hamilton. I think that's exactly the way the Celtics should try to match up, because they will still be superior offensively, can float Paul Pierce around wherever he pleases, and can try to work Ray Allen in as a sixth man. If Allen gets his groove back, it's over.

The problem with this, obviously, is that Detroit will have another big man on the floor, but I like the strategy of making the Pistons adjust to a small lineup. The other big man will most likely be Antonio McDyess, who can't defend Pierce and who is mainly a mid-range jump shooter. If Detroit decides to use Jason Maxiell, this will be more of a problem for Pierce, but again, on offense, he will be almost untouchable. I think in this scenario the Celtics could and should win the series within six games.

Problem: P.J. Brown just knocked you out of the playoffs.
Solution: None.

Problem: It is 2008, this is the playoffs, and P.J. Brown is emerging as your second best player.
Solution: None.

Problem: Last night's game was one of the worst examples of officiating I can remember. To the credit of the refs, they were fairly impartial in their incompetency. The only time the game had any flow was in the latter half of the third quarter, when the refs swallowed their whistles and watched as Paul Pierce and LeBron James engaged each other in great display of individual rivalry within team sports.

The only thing more frustrating than the refereeing was the shoddy coverage by ABC. They refused to show replays of bad calls and Jeff Van Gundy failed to notice many of the errors. It seemed like he was more concerned with one-liners, and it was quite vexing to hear the commentators discuss the replays being shown to the Garden crowd (eliciting loud boos) but not get to see them on the broadcast.

The sorry state of refereeing is a real problem in the NBA, and I'm always astonished how bad the playoff crews can be. I realize that they can't see everything, but there's one ref for every three players out there and they are generally inconsistent, inattentive, and combative.

Specifically, last night's crew of Ken Mauer, Eddie Rush, and Bennett Salvatore was calling fouls with a complete lack of uniformity (the only thing Van Gundy noticed), missing travels and double dribbles, unable to see who touched the ball last as it went out of bounds, not getting offensive fouls right, and doing a grave injustice in failing to assess Delonte West a technical foul for his antics during the Eddie House jump-ball fiasco. The crew not in control, they let players and the crowd influence them, and they were not up to the standards of professional referees, let alone the more elite crews that are supposed to officiate playoff games.

Some background on the bunch: Ken Mauer served five months in jail for felony tax evasion in 2000. Eddie Rush is statistically one of seven referees in the NBA who had worse records for the home team against the spread than Tim Donaghy. Salvatore is remembered for making two series-changing calls in the Miami/Dallas finals of 2006 including a foul call with 1.9 seconds remaining in a game the Mavericks led by one that led to a problem wherein "ABC sports, the television network covering the 2006 finals, could not display a conclusive replay supporting the call by Salvatore". (See Salvatore's wikipedia entry. He also once said "I can't tell you how many times I make a call that I think is correct -- and then go into locker room and it's wrong or vice versa.")

This is the play from the 2006 Finals (fast forward to 3:55). Keep in mind we're talking about a last second shot here in a one point game in overtime in the NBA finals with a series tied at 2-2.

I love to watch basketball and it kills me when games are decided or affected by referees. Anyone who thinks this is not a problem, in my opinion, is not paying attention.

: For all the NBA's talk, they obviously have poor accountability. They happily let Tim Donaghy ref important playoff games despite years of statistics showing a spread-based bias, and he'd probably be doing the same thing if the FBI hadn't stepped in with some help from an organization that knows how to conduct an investigation.

It's not that hard to explain to refs what rules you want standardized and how they should be called. The NBA probably employs a few hundred people who are experts in basketball, even compared with the most self-righteous fan (me). Why can't they figure out a program to shore up the refereeing and make the games more about basketball?

I truly believe the games would be much more fun to watch if the referees called the game consistently and let the players play in the playoffs. Though I was happy they didn't call a foul on PJ Brown on LeBron's last drive last night (which was, by the way, a very good call).

Problem: David West won't be at 100% tonight after being injured by Big Game Bob.
Solution: Chris Paul.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Calculated Video Moments!

Just a little reminder of what a classy organization the Spurs run and how little help they get from officials. By the way, in case it's not clear, the call there was an offensive foul on Chris Paul. As the announcer notes: "not only was it not a good play right there, but ...Chris Paul was called for the offensive foul."

In case my criticism is getting excessive and turning away folks who like to hear more than one side of the story, I decided to insert a little piece of wisdom from a true Spurs fan. Her web page is here. As you can see, she seems to be a Spurs fan and a Cowboys fan...kind of a funny combination for a Texan like herself, but I'll let you draw your own conclusions about what that says about the clearly bandwagon nature of most Spurs followers, who may or may not live in a city that should have been given to the Indians or the Mexicans or made into the world's largest garbage barge.

Here is her statement (check the link if you don't think I'm pasting it in its entirety): Anyone who thinks David Stern was on the Spurs side in anything is extremely ignorant of the NBA. David Stern hates the Spurs because he, like every other idiot who prefers an open dunk to a blocked ball, thinks the Spurs are boring which is why when he was asked who he'd prefer in the playoffs he said "Lakers VS Lakers". Because they get ratings, as do the dirty, back 'n forth up the court, drama filled, Suns. Find another excuse as to why you lost because you will never take responsibility for lacking in the fundamentals of basketball.

If you're interested, LoneStarScorpio, as she calls herself, also made a video where she defends the Spurs actions in last year's series (the one where Robert Horry hip checked Steve Nash twenty feet, inciting a fight that caused Amare Stoudamire and Boris Diaw to be suspended) and the misanthropic demeanor of Philadelphia Eagles fans. Her videos are on the page linked to above.

Don't Ever Give Up: The Basketball Blog. Always fair and balanced.

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"Things went our way tonight, that's for sure."

The title above is yesterday's quote by the ever-introspective coach of the San Antonio Spurs.

I can't write intelligently on this because I am so filled with rage. Between the "offensive foul" on Paul (Bowen flopping), the three fouls in less than a minute on David West (Ginobili flopping), and Robert Horry's objectionable cheap shot to injure Mr. West, it's just more of the same from the dirty, officially-sanctioned, incomparably frustrating Spurs. That their classless, unintelligent, inhumane, bandwagon-redneck-beer-drunk-circle-jerk fans cheered for Horry as West had to be carried off the court was the icing on the cake.

Game 7 is on Monday. Let's pray for good officiating, correct interpretation of the NBA's rules on fouls (and illegal screens!), and a New Orleans victory.

As always, e-mail me at

PS: I would love a career-ending injury to Bruce Bowen, too. Like a bullet to the fucking head.
PPS: I'm with Ozzy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Random Video Moments!

Here's a playoff edition of random video moments.

Since I was a little unfair to the Pistons in my last post, I figured I'd do a video moment for a player on the Pistons I like a lot, Jason Maxiell, the spiritual successor to Maurice Evans.

Maxiell offers some food for thought about a possible NBA Finals matchup:

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PS: Happy birthday to Pooh Richardson, whose jersey I own and who, in 1991, averaged 17.1 points and 9.1 assists per game.

The Playoffs and Mike D'Antoni: Formerly Synonymous

There's a lot going on in the NBA as the Playoffs hit the stretch and the Knicks hire their new coach, Mike D'Antoni. Let's take this one at a time.

The Playoffs.

The playoffs are looking really exciting from here on out. The series that is the least fun to watch (Orlando/Detroit) is over and done, the Lakers/Jazz and Celtics/Cavs series are both at 2-2, and the New Orleans/San Antonio series is arguably the most historic contest in five years.

When the Lakers were up 1-0, I said the Jazz would win in seven, and I still think they will. I'm really happy that they climbed out of their 0-2 hole and it's exciting to see them keep up with LA offensively.

Maybe I'm underestimating Kobe (or Pau Gasol), but I'm discouraged that the Jazz have had to outscore the Lakers rather than beat them with defense. The Lakers are a two-dimensional team at best, and they can't rebound or play defense. That the Jazz are in this series based on their scoring is an incredible endorsement for Deron Williams and, in my eyes, one of the biggest surprises of the playoffs.

The Celtics/Cavaliers series is obviously not playing out as I expected (Celtics in 4). I incorrectly believed that the Celtics aversion to the road was an anomaly and that it was their inability to deal with two slashers (and Josh Smith's out of character shooting excellence) that made the difference for the Hawks. The Cavs, with only one slasher (albeit the best in the league), seemed to me like armadillos in the road. Frankly, I still feel that way.

What I can't fathom is the Celtics' inability to score against the Cavaliers, who have only been able to produce meaningful offense in one of the contests. It's a serious problem; the Celtics have failed to score 90 points in any game. That is unbelievable for a team that averaged over 100 during the regular season and scored over 110 in two of the four regular season games against Cleveland (one was an overtime game).

I have to admit that I was a little surprised (owing to my own ignorance) to find the Cavs had beaten the Celtics twice this year. Perhaps that should have been an indicator of their ability to match up, or gain a mental edge, or something. But I still don't see it, and until I can put my finger on why the Celtics are unable to score against Cleveland, I continue to believe that they should be favored to win every game. I think they will from here on out.

Random note: Did you know that Sam Cassell's 1994-1995 Houston Rockets set a playoff record with seven straight away wins? Cassell, a 25 year old rookie at the time, noted "I love the playoffs because they're the money games, that's where you make your name. You don't have to be 35 years old to figure that out." Let's hope a 35 year old Cassell can help Boston figure it out.

Detroit Basketball! has gone from a team I loved to watch (when Rick Carlisle and Larry Brown coached them and they took down the Lakers Dynasty) to a team I generally avoid. I just don't care for them anymore, even though they play great defense, good offense, have a great point guard, and seem like a club I would enjoy following. They're something that I may have enjoyed at one time but now I've just had enough. It's like when there's nothing on but a Frasier rerun.

The most important series that makes the rest of the playoffs seem unimportant is New Orleans/San Antonio. Who could have imagined that in one season the Suns and Mavericks would falter as the Spurs main foe and the Hornets would rise to fill the spot with perhaps more talent, brains, and tenacity than any of their forebearers? Not I, and I love them to death.

It seemed remarkable at first that the Hornets opened up a 2-0 lead, but the Spurs held serve at home (following a year-long pattern) and seemed to crush the resolve of the boys from New Orleans by bringing the series to 2-2.

New Orleans, though, showed their psychological strength by coming back and blowing out the Spurs, setting up one chance at home and once chance in San Antonio to end the Spurs' season.

I think they'll have to get off the mat one more time but that they will be able to make the Game 6 away game closer than their other two losses, and that this will give them the belief in themselves to go home and take care of the Spurs. It's an incredibly hard task against the most-seasoned, best-coached, best-executing team in the league, but I have faith in Chris Paul above everything else. There are just some players that are superior, and when they play point guard or center, they can win a game by themselves.

One thing that I think really helped New Orleans was their reluctance to double-team Tim Duncan in Game 5. I have urged singled coverage from the start and believe that if the Hornets let Tim Duncan get his shots off against one man while avoiding those backbreaking role-player three pointers (almost always the result of late switches caused by double teams in the post), they will win. Last night, the Hornets did that, and were successful at compromising Duncan's offense as well as the Spurs' three point attack (The Spurs went 9-23 with a 3-4 night from Ime Udoka, but I still consider the Hornets' strategy to have succeeded.)

There is one huge problem for New Orleans, and that's the possible loss of Tyson Chandler. I am a huge Chandler fan and I think he's necessary for his defensive and rebounding acumen and his ability to guard Duncan and save David West from potential fatigue and foul trouble. The late word is that Chandler will be okay for Game 6, but he's as much an athlete as a basketball player, and if he can't run and jump well, he's going to be ineffective. We'll see.

Iron Mike

In closing, I want to comment on today's news that Mike D'Antoni is being hired by the Knicks. I have nothing against D'Antoni and frankly don't believe the person chosen to coach the Knicks will matter much, as their problems have much more to do with personnel and salary.

However, I'm saddened that the Knicks felt they needed to sign D'Antoni to a 4-year, $24 million dollar deal, continuing a cycle of finding a big name, hiring them at a huge cost (money and time) and waiting and hoping.

I realize that the big deal was probably the only way to get D'Antoni, but we're not talking about a member of the NBA's coaching elite the way we were with Larry Brown five years ago. I can understand throwing money at a coach that is possibly top ten. With D'Antoni, I would argue that despite his coach of the year awards, he is not.

It seems to me that the best thing for the Knicks to do would have been to have gotten either someone with a lot of experience who is now an assistant or "retired" (how about Rudy T? Paul Westphal?) or an assistant on the rise. (Why not go after Gregg Poppovich's assistants? How about Bob McAdoo?) If either of those two options are taken, you have a fresh face for a low salary and a chance for them to coach for a season with almost no culpability. If they succeed at all, they've clearly got the goods. If they fail, no big deal, try someone else and see if they work.

The Knicks are just continuing a pattern of refusing to look at many options (how about doing some interviews?) and throwing money at their problems. It doesn't work, and it never will.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Counterpoint: O.J. Mayo

I've been reading a little bit about this OJ Mayo situation and its supposed connection to the NBA's new rule requiring draft entrants to be 19 years old. If anybody is unaware, OJ Mayo was recently accused of having taken payments to play basketball for USC for one year and then sign with sports agent Bill Duffy.

I'm introducing a new feature here at Don't Ever Give Up in which I provide editorial counterpoint to another article that presents an opinion I don't agree with. Today's entry is this article by ESPN writer Tim Keown, reproduced below in its entirety. I made it red, which seems to be ESPN's official color. My remarks are in black.

Here we go:

OJ Mayo demonstrates the NBA eligibility rule is a disaster

So take a look at O.J. Mayo now, staring bug-eyed into the camera, trying to get his mind to work fast enough to figure out how not to answer a question regarding improper payments while he was in high school and at USC. And please, tell me again how great the NBA age requirement is for the college game.

Please explain to me what the NBA rules have to do with this.

It was a charade when it was enacted, a farce now.

Oh, you're about to explain. Sorry. Go on.

David Stern's brainchild was hailed as a monument of wise paternalism and good sense back when it was enacted. Smarter, more mature players, with a year of college worldliness behind them, would make both world a better place.

This is invective and lacks a real conclusion. The age rule had two goals: (1) Stop unfortunate high schoolers from going to the NBA and getting completely screwed up and failing; and (2) shore up the general quality of NBA play. It was also a response to fans who were upset that so many players went straight to the NBA from high school and had a consistent lack of fundamentals and coping ability. So far, it seems to be working.

But as the Mayo mess shows, it hasn't done the college game any favors.

Actually, it has. The rule was hailed at its inception for the effect it would have on the quality of NCAA basketball - by keeping NBA prospects in school for a year, the pool of NCAA players improves dramatically. That effect has been pronounced. The most exciting players in the NCAA for the past two years have been products of the rule. Before the rule, we had George Mason in the Final Four. Keown still has not shown any causal relationship between the NBA age rule and the Mayo scandal - he's only made conclusory allegations.

First, let's dispense with the idea that one-and-done college basketball players are anything but mercenaries. Mayo was just the worst and most obvious transgressor, choosing USC to use both the school and the city to further his profile. The transparency of the entire Mayo operation was evident from the time he was a junior in high school.

Though I'm no fan of the double-negative, this article from the New York Times shows shows that it is true that Mayo hoped to use USC to showcase himself. (I wonder if the fellow in the Times article was Mayo's "runner" from this scandal.) I think Keown is going a little far with his suggestion that Mayo is the first or most "transparent" athlete to go to a school with the intent of showcasing himself - college athletes in every sport have been doing that since at least the 1980's.

Here's how the NBA's age requirement works for a guy who is guaranteed to be a lottery pick: He can do the bare minimum amount of work his first semester, then go to zero classes his second semester and be ineligible to compete the first semester of his sophomore year.

Finally, here is an attempt to make a connection! Keown blames the NBA's rule for the fact that NCAA players (under NCAA rules) only have to take classes for one semester before they go to the NBA. So, it's the fault of the NBA that players are taking advantage of liberal NCAA rules? This doesn't really make sense, and on top of it, I don't really see what the big deal is. God forbid we have a student athlete who intends to leave college after one year missing a semester of classes! That would have a serious effect on both athletics and academics!

Here's how college sports work in the real world: athletes take bullshit classes and generally detract from the academic reputation of most institutions and America's collegiate system as a whole. From Matt Leinart's ballroom dancing studies to the infamous Georgia basketball "class", it's clear that athletes do not play by the same rules as regular students, and haven't for at least 35 years. (I realize that this isn't always the case, but as they say, there's an exception to every rule.)

Lots of people complain about the defiling of the "student athlete", and if those people want to watch reruns of college sports contests from the 70's and 80's, that's fine with me. I'll take the best (often dumb) athletes, and if the NCAA cares so much about its image, they can get rid of those dummies, and I along with most people will not watch.

I don't think it's fair to question the NBA for the NCAA's faults when the NCAA has put itself in a position to be the NBA's feeder system and made billions of dollars. If a writer, pundit, or even athlete has a problem with the fact that the NCAA is more about athletics then academics even though they still maintain the window dressing of academic integrity, you know who they should go to? The NCAA, that's who.

But guess what? Oh, you already guessed it -- he's gone by then, in the NBA getting paid legally.

So if someone really wants to work the system, he can go to zero classes, use the system for his own exposure, and in the end the NBA can feel good about itself for protecting the youth of America.

This is in stark contrast to the era before the NBA enacted the rule, when NCAA basketball players like Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson spent rigorous freshman years at Syracuse (for the weather) and Georgetown (for its political science classes).

We get it, and that explains the lack of outrage in the wake of the news that a street runner -- agent-speak for "con man who is paid to get close to high school superstars" -- was paid by Bill Duffy and Associates to pay Mayo for being Mayo. Clothes, gifts, cash -- all with the hope that he'll remember BDA when the time comes for a little payback.

Could it be that the lack of outrage has to do with the fact that no one was hurt or even affected negatively?

USC, of course, is the unwitting bystander in all this.

Yeah, right. Just like it was an innocent bystander when Reggie Bush was running the same game. Or when basketball player Jeff Trepagnier was running the same game in 2000 with -- oh, no, it couldn't be, could it? -- alleged Mayo bagman Rodney Guillory.

This makes some sense. The NCAA player, who was breaking the NCAA rule, should have been caught either by his team's management or the governing body. Because, uh, it's the NCAA and its teams that are responsible for enforcing its rules and ensuring its health...not the NBA.

By the way, Jeff Trepagnier could jam.

We've grown immune to this. It's just what happens. Agents pay guys to pay athletes; it's a financial funneling system that bypasses the rules against direct contact with an agent by allowing direct contact with a guy who is one step removed from the agent.

It was painful to watch Mayo and Guillory stammer and stare through their on-camera appearances on Sunday's "Outside The Lines." Guillory is apparently a pretty slick guy, but he sure doesn't play one on TV.

There's an outside chance you can feel a shred of pity for Mayo, and that's being charitable. But any sympathy for Mayo arises only because these runner types are really bottom-feeders, the lowest life form known to sports.

I would say they're a lot less unpleasant than the athletes who cheat, juice, break the law, womanize, get in fights with fans, street race, and sanction dog-fighting rings. Oh, and kill people.

Think about it: They get paid to befriend and pay high school kids for the purpose of turning them over to an agent or financial advisor down the road.

It's pimping, no two ways around it. And somehow, in this system of tortured values, they're an indispensable part of the process. (end of article)

Okay, but how is any of this the NBA's fault? If this is such a problem, then shouldn't someone make it illegal for agents to give money to potential clients the same way lawyers can't solicit crash victims? I still don't see why blame lies with the NBA. It makes no sense.

It's not logical to promote the OJ Mayo scandal as a condemnation of the age rule. Forcing kids to go to college for a year is definitely a good thing, for both the NBA and the college game. Kids learn more about basketball when they can star for a college team than they do riding the pine and buying the donuts for the Clippers, and that benefits the players' future employers as well as their schools.

If academic integrity is the real concern, there's no reason to lay blame on the NBA's rule. The Mayo scandal is one in a long line of publicized screw-ups resulting from NCAA rules designed to maximize the amount of athletes in the extremely profitable sports programs while maintaining a guise of "integrity" and academics. That's the farce.

As always, e-mail me at

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The worst of the best single game point totals.

Sorry I couldn't think of a clearer title - It's not as confusing as it sounds.

This is a study of an interesting phenomenon: Bad players with high single-game totals.

The genesis of this project traces to a series of basketball cards I had when I was younger. In 1993, Topps released the "50 Point Club" set of inserts, which existed a time when inserts were, depending on how you look at it, more or less gimmicky than they are today. Anyway, I was a pretty passionate card collector in the mid 90's and a lot of these old Topps came my way - I probably had at least 80% of the "50 Point Club" set.

Obviously, it contained mostly the usual suspects of the early 90's - David Robinson, Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, and so on. But one always stood out: Nick Anderson. You see, although this was a 1993 edition card, I was probably buying them around 1995, when Anderson was arguably the fourth fiddle on a great Magic team behind Shaq, Penny, and Dennis Scott. (At least that's how it seemed to me at the time.) I found it fascinating to imagine how a player of Anderson's mediocre caliber could do something so significant and to this date I enjoy reading the box scores and looking looking at shot charts when something like that happens. (Linas Kleiza's 41 point game this year is a good example.) It seems like there's always something interesting about the type of players who do that sort of thing. For instance:

This is interesting three ways.

1. Linas Kleiza slammed on Frederick Weis, and yes, I am sure that is Frederick Weis despite the poor description of the video.
2. Frederick Weis wears #15 and a headband, almost like he's emulating a certain shooting guard from the US of A.
3. The Knicks drafted Frederick Weis with the 15th pick in the first round in 1999. (Yes, it has now been almost a full ten years since the Knicks started making terrible decisions!)

In honor of Kleiza, here are the top eight bad players with high single game totals:

8. Terry Cummings. 52 points against the Charlotte Hornets on January 31, 1990. This ridiculous piece of basketball history happened during the Hornets' second season, when they boasted a lineup featuring J.R. Reid, Armon Gilliam, Mugsy Bogues, Rex Chapman, and Kelly Tripucka. The latter three of those players are cool as shit, but we're not talking all-stars, here.

The Hornets were the worst team in the league that year, and at the time of the game, had a record of 8-33. San Antonio was 29-13 and featured Mo Cheeks, David Robinson and Sean Elliot along with Cummings.

The final score tells the story: 129-95 SAS. Every starter was taken out after a merciful twenty five minutes, but for whatever reason, Cummings stayed in the game. Two time all-star TC was no slouch in the eighties but by 89-90 he was in his last 20 ppg season and would never get there again. Why his coach decided that Cummings should have the chance is beyond me. (In case you are wondering, it was not the same coach that left David Robinson in to score 71 against the Clippers in their final game of the season. Cummings was coached by Larry Brown, Robinson by Brian Hill.)

7. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. 51 points against the Utah Jazz - December 7, 1995. The artist formerly known as Chris Jackson and the lineal top free throw shooter in NBA history must have been on fire on that cold December night in Salt Lake City. He was playing the Jazz, one of the best teams in the league, and he didn't have much support. Rookie Antonio McDyess was still unready for full-time scoring duty, and Dale Ellis and Bryant Stith were still, uh, key scoring components of that Nuggets team.

So Abdul-Rauf did what he knew how to do and shot the damn thing. To the tune of 17-27 from the field, 9-14 from behind the arc, and 8-8 from the free throw line. When all was said and done, despite 26 points from the mailman, 21 from John Stockton, and 25 (in 32 minutes) from Jeff Hornacek, the Jazz went were the losers that night. Impressively, despite playing against one of the best defensive point guards ever, Abdul-Rauf had only two turnovers (to go with his two steals, two assists, two rebounds, and two fouls).

6. Dale Ellis: 53 points against the Milwaukee Bucks on November 9, 1989. I can only imagine how crazy this game was. It was the fifth game of the year for both teams and shouldn't have been notable. But it was. How's 155-154 sound for a final score? The Sonics were led by Dale Ellis, who at the time was one of the NBA's best scorers and whose real name, by the way, is Lamar Mundane. Dale had a long and productive NBA career but I had no idea that he once averaged 27.5 points per game, which makes this seem less like an anomaly. But to those of us who saw him play with Gary Payton and Shawn kemp as essentially a role player, it is very, very strange.

What's amazing about this game is not that Dale Ellis didn't have the talent - it's that the nature of the whole production, which was an ironman effort on Ellis's part. This game had FIVE OVERTIMES. Ellis only had 33 at the end of regulation and had to play an incredible 69 minutes to get his point total. Along the way, he took an astonishing 39 shots and managed to avoid being one of the six players to foul out of the game. (In a show of his disregard for the historic game Olden Polynice somehow managed to collect five fouls in 17 minutes that night.)

5. Vernon "Mighty Mouse" Maxwell: 51 points against the Cleveland Cavs - January 26, 1991. In a game that might otherwise be notable only for the facts that Steve Kerr scored four points in two minutes and Larry Smith had 2 points, 17 rebounds, and 5 steals, Vernon Maxwell went Uncle Buck on everyone, helping Houston win by six on the road. Maxwell was in full scoring mode, with a less-than-spectacular 1/5 assist to turnover ratio, but hey, his team won the game, and he didn't do it in a blowout, so you have to give the man credit. As a matter of fact, no starter had more than three assists (Kenny Smith was the leader in 30 minutes of playing), and no one had more than 12 points (again, Kenny Smith). So the Mouse pretty much brought it home. For a guy with a career average of 12.8 points per game, that ain't bad.

4. Tom Chambers: 60 points against the Seattle Supersons, March 24, 1990. 1990 was a year for the Sonics that was much like 2007 for the New Orleans Hornets. They had a great young player (Shawn Kemp) and a pretty good team and were just waiting to bust out, but were still stuck at .500.

That year the Suns fielded a very good and largely forgotten squad with Eddie Johnson, Kevin Johnson, and Tom Chambers leading a team that went all the way to the Western Conference Finals.

89/90 was also a career year for Chambers, whose production would soon begin to slide. He averaged an astonishing 27.2 points per game and dropped a cool 56 only a month before his sixty point breakout.

If it was a 56 point game we were talking about, I don't know if it would be list-worthy. But 60? That's rare air. Here is a list of everyone in NBA history who has scored 60:

David Robinson
Kobe Bryant
Michael Jordan
Tracy McGrady
Shaquille O'Neal
Karl Malone
Gilbert Arenas
Allen Iverson
Wilt Chamberlain
Elgin Baylor
Rick Barry
Pete Maravich
George Gervin
David Thompson
Joe Fulks
Jerry West
George Mikan
Larry Bird
Bernard King
Tom Chambers!

You notice something these people have in common? They're all not only hall-of-famers, but it's basically a list of the most important players in NBA history. Sure, McGrady and Arenas are somewhat outliers, but they have each been NBA scoring champions and have each gone for 30 per game a for full season.

Noteworthy was the nature of the Chambers game - a 30 point blowout against a team with no playoff hope whatsoever. Chambers certainly didn't need to play 42 minutes. But in all fairness, he shot almost 70% (22-32) and went to the line 18 times (hitting 16), so he did have to so some work. Whatever the circumstances, I think this is arguably the strangest high scoring game in NBA history. And it's only number four on the list!

3. Nick Anderson. 50 points against the New Jersey Nets on April 23, 1993. If you had gone to the last game of the Orlando Magic's 1992-93 season, here are some things you would have witnessed:

-Donald Royal scoring as many points as his teammate Shaquille O'Neal.
-20 point efforts from Rumeal Robinson, Drazen Petrovic, Derek Coleman, and Bernard King (wow!).
-A triple double by Rumeal Robinson (Wow!).
-Shaquille O'Neal, despite scoring only ten points in 34 minutes, breaking down the backboard at the support braces so the whole thing tipped over on his head.
-50 points by Nick Anderson.

If I had the chance to go back to any regular season game in NBA history, this would be on my list. But this isn't about the game, it's about Nick Anderson's 50.

It's pretty obvious how this thing happened. It was the last game of the season, and Nick Anderson got hot. Shaq wasn't playing well. The Magic were already out of the playoffs. The Magic had no scorers other than Anderson and Shaq. Tom Tolbert and Anthony Bowie were in the starting lineup.

Interestingly, one player who wasn't in the starting lineup was Nick Anderson. In fact, he only played 33 minutes in the game. In that short time, he went 17-25, hit a few threes, and was 12-12 from the free-throw line, but didn't register an assist, steal, block, or turnover. He only had one foul and two rebounds.

Based purely on statistics, I think you could argue Anderson's game is one of the best examples of quick scoring in the NBA's history, and it is quite odd that a player who never scored twenty points a game is in there.

2. Tony Delk. 53 points against the Sacramento Kings on January 2, 2001. Tony Delk's new year's resolution in 2001 must have been to stop passing, rebounding, and playing defense and concentrate more on scoring. That's exactly what he did on the old iteration of the Suns that was built around Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, and Rodney Rogers.

Kidd helped him out with a cool 17 assists but Delk was hitting everything, and notably did not make a single three-pointer (he only took one). He was 20-27 from the field (.741) and 13-15 from the line (.867)

A six foot player not named Allen Iverson scoring 53 points without shooting threes is nothing short of incredible. Tony Delk was barely a starter (only 11 games that season, and only 103 out of 545 in his career), and he has only averaged ten points a game twice in his career. Throw in the fact that the game was a closely contested loss (Tony Delk couldn't do much about Peja Stojakovic scoring 33 and Vlade Divac scoring 34) and it's nothing short of mind-boggling. I almost had him at number one, if it wasn't for....

1. Willie Ricardo Burton. 53 points against the Miami Heat on December 13, 1994. I bet I can guess your first question. The answer is that Willie Burton was a 6'7 forward who wasn't a great athlete or a great scorer but who was good in most respects. He was one of those players who has a promising rookie campaign followed by an inability to progress (think Shawn Bradley).

Willie's best season was in 1994-95, with a Philadelphia Sixers team that was one of the worst teams in the NBA, eventually going 24-58. Dana Barrows and Jeff Malone were the stars of the team, Clarence Weatherspoon the best forward, and center was manned by none other than The Stormin Mormon. Burton was the fourth leading scorer that year with 15.3 points per game. Aside from his first two seasons (12.0 and 11.2, respectively), this would be the only time Burton ever averaged more than ten points per game.

In December, the Sixers played the Heat, who had just dealt Burton away. Despite their eventual struggles, Philadelphia still was only a couple of wins from .500 at that point, at 8-11. Willie took advantage of the 22-foot three point line that year, making 106 of his 140 career three pointers, and in this game, his 22-foot excellence was on fine display along with the rest of his game.

Burton only had to take 19 shots (eight of them three-pointers) because he was getting to the rack with ease. He shot 28 free throws and made 24 of them, along with five three pointers. He outscored his man, some kid named Glen Rice who averaged 22.3 points per game that year, by a cool 28 points. Outshot him from deep, too.

To go along with his 53 points, Burton had 8 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, two blocks, and only one turnover. Unfortunately, the Sixers lost by fifteen in a game in which Burton's teammates' box scores read like this:

Scott Williams: 2-6
Clarence Weatherspoon: 4-20 (Yes, he took one more shot than Burton)
Shawn Bradley: 1-2
B.J. Tyler: 0-4
Sharone Wright: 2-6
Dana Barrows: 6-10

It is my opinion that the one night when Willie Ricardo Burton went for 53 points despite only starting 116 games in an eight year career, bookending his 15.3 points per game season with seasons of 7.0 and 6.2 points per game, respectively, and only reaching the playoffs once, he turned in the best example in NBA history of a bad player having a great single game.

As always, e-mail me at