Friday, May 23, 2008

Well, I'm Exhausted

Look, I hate to harp too much on the broadcasting of these playoff games, and I'm normally a fan of ESPN's lead team. But good night, nurse. Jeff Van Gundy and Co. absolute beat me into submission tonight with their analysis of Rajon Rondo's sketchy jumper.

Look, we all know that drilling open shots is not yet Rondo's forte. He's not a Vujacic or a Boobie Gibson type of player that just stands out there and stretches defenses. Okay, big deal. Is that the only skill that now matters in a basketball game?

To hear Beetlejuice tell it, Rondo is single-handedly destroying Boston's every offensive set simply by breathing and having a pulse. EVERY TIME someone from the C's would miss a shot or turn the ball over, JVG would chime in with, "It's because the Pistons are doubling off Rondo!" As for Mark Jackson, he would chide Rondo for not shooting every time the young point guard passed up a shot. It didn't matter if it was a wide open look that indeed warranted pulling the trigger (which happened maybe three times the whole game) or if it was just any crease, regardless of rhythm, time left on the shot clock, or available scoring options (this happened more like 96 times during the game). I know Rondo has to keep defenses honest, but this doesn't mean firing the ball up every time it hits his palms! Had he taken even 20% of the shots that Mark Jackson was advising, he would have been benched and blasted in every publication in America tomorrow morning.

Not only that, but repeatedly banging the Rondo Can't Shoot drum misses several other key points:

1. Rondo does other things. Sure, he missed a few open shots and passed up a few more. Yes, he's not yet effective at keeping defenses honest with his perimeter shooting. Again, big freaking deal. If he could do that, he'd be Deron Williams. And focusing on the negative ignores all the positives: he plays tenacious defense, he rebounds like a beast, he gashes the defense to create plays for teammates, he pushes the ball very well in transition, and he gets to the rim to create layups, free throw attempts, and even easy offensive rebounds for his squad. Tonight he nearly had a triple-double (10-9-8) and boasted a 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio while holding Billups to 10 field goal attempts. You could tell that Mike Breen noticed, because he kept trying to sneak in Rondo's rebounding numbers. But to Jackson and the Juice, Rondo might as well have been winging the ball into the 19th row and defecating on the court.

2. The double teams come from other places as well, folks. I hate to break it to ESPN's esteemed analysts, but double-teaming is not unique. It happens to every team, in every game, on almost every trip down the court. Teams double hard up top to slow dribble penetration. Teams double in the post. They double on the wing. They trap in the corner. They double off the pick and roll. They double all the damn time! Tonight, when Eddie House replaced Rondo for a few ineffective minutes (House came right into the game, fouled Billups on a 3, jacked up a bad jump shot, caused KG to get an offensive foul by throwing a hideous entry pass, and kept them out of their offense by taking 16 seconds just to dribble to the three point line), Paul Pierce absorbed a double-team from Tayshaun Prince (his man) and Antonio McDyess (doubling off of P.J. Brown), spun away from the trap, and hit a tough fadeaway. What did Van Gundy say? "With Rondo out of the game, Pierce finally got single coverage." Um, no he didn't! Pierce didn't see single coverage all game. There was always someone lurking, ready to double. Always help defense just a few yards away. Whether that double came off of Rondo or Brown or Perkins or Posey (ironically, not one mention was made of Posey's 1-for-5 brickfest from three, which didn't exactly keep help defenders glued to him) or even KG wasn't really the issue. The point is that Detroit decided not to let Pierce beat them, to play aggressive help defense, and then try to recover on shooters - whoever that might be.

Now, I understand it is a little more noticeable when Rondo gives the ball up and peels toward the corner, only to have his defender leave him to go trap. But guys get open due to help defense all the time. This is not unique. It is not special. It is not some Rondo-specific issue. It boggles my mind to hear it presented that way.

Not only that, but while Rondo didn't make the double-teams pay with jumpers, he did kill them with offensive rebounds, plays in the passing lanes, and other mischief that went unchecked because he didn't have someone putting a body on him.

If anything, he should be applauded for having such an impact on the game without being a great shooter. Put a sock in it, Beetlejuice.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


One thing I've noticed this year in the playoffs is that announcers (save for maybe ESPN's lead team of Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mike Breen) REFUSE to criticize the referees for anything. This, despite the fact that NBA officials are an abomination.

Tonight, Kobe Bryant employed a move in the third quarter that was clearly a travel, yet Doug Collins exclaimed, "Guard that!"

Well, you can't "guard that" - not when a guy is allowed to take six, yes SIX, steps. Watching in real time, you could see that Kobe, at the very least, took multiple steps and changed pivot feet. Watching in slow motion, his sequence was:


Yes, six steps in all. Yet no travel. Only a "guard that!" taunt from Doug Collins. Nice job by everyone. Real fine work at the highest levels.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Latest On Hoops Addict

My latest column for HoopsAddict is up on their site and it was a pretty fun one to write.

Check it out here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

"In and Out"

"In and Out" - a terrible Kevin Klein movie?

Yes, but also the title of Game Seven between the Hornets and Spurs. New Orleans' fantastic season came to a bitter end at home tonight when shot after shot after shot after shot found nothing but rim. It was painful to watch. Even more painful was watching uber villain Robert Horry being rewarded yet again with open threes. The NBA, more than any other sport, feels awfully unfair sometimes.

Alright, I never thought I would say this, but GO LAKERS!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Long Offseason Ahead

It looks like it might be a long summer for Carlos Boozer.

Not only did he struggle mightily against both the Rockets and the Lakers this spring, not only did his team seem to play much better when he was off the court, and not only did the NBA apparently amend the rule book (Section 8.6 now reads: "Any contact on Carlos Boozer is allowed, at any time, regardless of the severity or the impact on the play"), but Boozer's kryptonite was on full display for all the world to see.

Boozer plays below the rim in an above the rim world.

It's pretty much as simple as that. He had a hard time with Duncan last year in the postseason but nobody really noticed because the Jazz weren't quite ready for prime time. But this year, with Deron Williams taking his game to the crazy next level and with an improved bench, Utah was poised to emerge as the West's best. Alas, it became very apparent that Boozer struggles mightily against taller, more athletic players. As in, he can't get a clean shot off. And he throws passes away because he's trying to move to quickly. And he changes pivot feet.

It was actually pretty hard to watch. And it doesn't stand to get any easier for Boozer next year. The Lakers will be even taller and more athletic with Bynum back in the mix. Tyson Chandler and the Hornets will be bringing the Birdman back into the fold (goodbye, Melvin Ely). The Spurs will no doubt find a way to extend their deal with the devil. Shaq and Yao and Camby and Biedrins will all be around. And, most terrifying yet, the Blazers will be adding Oden to a front line of LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Pryzbilla. Will Boozer ever get off another clean shot attempt?

My man has a lot to think about this summer, that's for sure.

Friday, May 16, 2008

No Class

If I ever needed yet another reason to root against the Spurs, I got it last night when the home crowd rose in unison to chant Robert Horry's name after he re-injured David West's back. Horry is nothing but a hatchet man and has come to represent the incredibly lucky and shady ways that the Spurs are surviving in these modern day playoffs. San Antonio would not have beat Phoenix last year without the suspensions and they would not be able to beat the Hornets in New Orleans with a healthy David West. Alas, there were suspension and West is not healthy and so the wins pile up. And Horry is always there, standing over a fallen player, smug and proud of his pathetic enforcer role.

Even worse than Horry though is every single person in San Antonio last night who lifted his voice to chant Horry's name. Being a villain is one thing. But the people who turn the villain into the hero just because he wears their uniform are beyond pathetic.

Have I mentioned how sick of the Spurs I am? Chris Paul, please, find some way to end this.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rondo to the Rescue; Utah is a One-Man Team

Quick hits from tonight's games:

1. Boston better be glad that Rajon Rondo was in uniform tonight, because he saved them from going down 3-2, probably losing the series, and being viewed as a giant disappointment. The Celtics were crapping the bed tonight as all their veteran stars played with a "oh crap, we are about to choke" look on their face. But then the young point guard came swooping in to drain threes, take the Cavs out of their offense (more on this in a minute), and go for 20 and 13. He literally saved the season.

(One more note on Rondo, pertaining to the immortal broadcasting duo of Dick Stockton and Mike Fratello. They spent so much time raving about Doc Rivers that they failed to note the key factor in the game, which was Rondo's defense on Cleveland's point guards. He was so dominant on that end of the floor that Mike Brown had to use LeBron just to get the ball up the floor and initiate the offense. This, of course, took James away from the spots on the floor where he'd been so successful in the first half. When LeBron can use screens and get on the block and work from angles, the Cavs are actually at least mediocre. But when he has to start the offense and do all the ball handling, they are atrocious. Rondo single-handedly forced them into the latter. Yet no mention of this was made. Not once. Good job, guys. On the plus side, they lavished praise on Rivers for having the genius to "insert Rondo into the game for Sam Cassell in the second quarter." Oh, really, putting your starting point guard back in after his regular rest is genius now? Good night.)

2. The Jazz are officially a one-man team. In the playoffs, you need multiple players that can step up and carry you for stretches of games. The Pistons have Billups, Hamilton, Wallace, AND Prince that can do it. The Celtics have, well, presumably they have guys that can do it (provided they are playing at home). The Spurs have Parker, Manu, and Duncan. The Hornets have CP3 and David West. The Lakers have Bryant, Gasol, and Odom. The only remaining teams that don't? The Cavs and the Jazz. Cleveland, you know about, with LeBron being the only guy on that team that can create his own shot, generate plays for others, or finish on a consistent basis (and since he can't clone himself to achieve all three at once, it makes things tough ... as Jay-Z would say, "Hello, Brooklyn!"). But wasn't Utah supposed to have the two studs in the "Next Stockton and Malone"? Um, somebody forgot to fill Carlos Boozer in on that deal. His below-the-rim style, rushed shots around the basket, and moronic turnovers are absolutely killing Utah. So while Williams continues to play like a beast, the Jazz can't quite get over the hump against a Lakers team that was ripe for the taking tonight. As Avery Johnson said in the postgame, if they get even a little bit from Boozer inside, they win that game.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Minor Observations on Hornets-Spurs

I only caught the second half of game 5 of Hornets-Spurs last night, but being a member of Section F and occasional contributor, I'd weigh in and take some pressure off of Adam. Here are some minor things I noticed:

1) David West wants it more. West just looked like he was trying harder than anyone on the court, and especially anyone on the Spurs, last night. He was forcing his way into the low post (Fabricio Oberto, any time you want to use your body, go ahead) and just willing shots into the basket. The Spurs looked passive, and the Hornets, and especially West, were the aggressors.

2) The Spurs need to stop whining. This has been mentioned a lot on this blog by Adam, but usually their constant complaining seems to benefit them, and they get some calls. However, it is clear that last year's Tim Duncan-Joey Crawford fiasco has not endeared the Spurs to Crawford. Now, it seems like they expend more effort trying to win with their mouths than their bodies. Shut up and play, boys.

3) This Hornets team is limited by a weakness on the wings. Peja Stojakovic played well the first two games of the series, but he is clearly past his prime, and would be more of a shooter off of the bench for a championship-level team. He is also slow on defense. And while Mo Pete hit four threes last night, I still think he stinks. His D isn't great, and his skill (shooting) just duplicates Peja's. They need an athlete who can cover opponents' top wing players. Ultimately, they should have signed Ime Udoka in the offseason, or start giving Julian Wright more of a chance. I shudder to think of who would guard Kobe in the next round, if that is how this matchup plays out.

4) Chris Paul is awesome. Everyone has already discussed this, so I don't need to say much, but it needs to be mentioned. David West is good, and Chandler is solid, but beyond that, this team is extremely shallow talent-wise. Paul does more with less than anyone else in the league. His body control and ability to set himself in the air and get a controlled shot off is incredible. He is carrying this team, and makes it look easy. His spectacular play seems to make up for all the Hornets' other weaknessess.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Simple Request

I've made no secret of the fact that I don't much like Kobe Bryant (who I believe is selfish and contrived) and that I'm beyond sick of the San Antonio Spurs, so this post probably comes to the surprise of no one. But I have one simple request for these playoffs: give me Deron Williams vs. Chris Paul.

I can take or leave the Celtics and Cavs. I don't care that much about the Pistons or Magic. But man, oh man, I REALLY want Utah and New Orleans to meet in the Western Conference Finals.

Can you imagine Williams and Paul going head-to-head for somewhere between four and seven games? In New Orleans (a new basketball madhouse) and Utah? The #3 pick going against the #4 pick? The two best point guards in the world right now? Williams' power and decision-making and deep stroke against Paul's speed and feel and ridiculous handle?

Sign me up right now.

Kobe: Faker or Ballhog?

Sorry, Lakers fans. Sorry, Kobe lovers. Tonight you get just one choice when it comes to your MVP: was Kobe Bryant a big faker or just a ballhog during Sunday's game at Utah.

I ask this question because of some pretty simple facts:

1. Bryant apparently suffered through a back injury all game. (I say "apparently" because I'm never quite sure with this guy. He has a history of milking injuries for dramatic effect and is the king of playing 100% while trying to score and then limping off the court during timeouts. Plus, his dramatic halftime report to Pam Oliver detailed his back injury, but Utah's Deron Williams thought it was an "ankle tweak." Anytime the other team doesn't even know what the injury is leads me to believe it might not be as life-threatening as Mike Tirico makes it out to be.)

2. Bryant shot 33 times.

Okay, if you are so injured that you have to grimace and wince and limp around and lay on the floor all game, then why on earth are you shooting 33 times? More to the point, why are you shooting 33 times when you are only making 13 of them and you have Pau Gasol (11-for-16) on your team?

Look, you can't have it both ways. You can't try (for the umpteenth time) to replicate Jordan's Flu Game and then shoot your team out of the contest. And if you are healthy enough to jack up 33 FGA's, then you shouldn't be milking an injury like it's career threatening.

I was always told that if you are injured, than you don't play. If you are merely hurt, then you suck it up and stop making a big scene.

In this case, if Kobe was as hurt as he made himself out to be today, then he should have got out of the way. The Lakers were playing great basketball when they were running and cutting and moving. When Gasol was operating inside. When Odom was isolating Boozer at the top of the key. When Fisher was draining deep threes. But there was Limpy McGee, jacking up wild shots from all over the court, trying to take his man one-on-one, milking every moment with that creepy "are they zooming right now?" awareness he's always had regarding the broadcasting of his profession.

So which was it, Kobe? Were you exaggerating your injury for maximum media effect? Or were you so arrogant and selfish that you put your team's chances in jeopardy? I don't see any other option on this one.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sweet Justice

The Utah Jazz pulled out a 123-115 overtime victory over the Lakers today and for that I can only say, thank goodness, because they nearly got screwed worse than any team this postseason.

Obviously, officiating is a constant problem with the NBA Playoffs, because you have three (often times old) dudes trying to chase 10 supreme athletes up and down the court. The current officiating model is so broken that it's a joke we aren't trying to fix it. Therefore, a good percentage of the plays and of the entire games are sullied by one terrible call after another.

But today's LA-Utah game might take the cake. The first 45 minutes of the contest weren't unusual as the officiating team made some good calls and some bad ones and seemed to go both ways with each variety. The only major issue was the Turiaf ejection in the first half, but that only seemed controversial because Mike Tirico and Hubie Brown were so clueless as to the reason the Frenchman was ejected. Turiaf got the Flagrant 2 and the boot because he fouled Ronnie Price AFTER the whistle had blown out on the perimeter. They spent 10 minutes dissecting arm angles and attempts to go for the ball, but all that stuff was beside the point.

Anyway. For most of the game, the refs were fine. Then, they collectively lost their minds with four of the worst calls I've seen this postseason. All of which came in an 8-minute stretch from the close of regulation through overtime. And all four went against the home team.

1. Mehmet Okur's T. This was pure garbage. Okur got called for a very close foul when he nearly snuck in and poked the ball away from Odom. Then, when he expressed his frustration by swinging his arm in frustration, he got hit with a technical. I still can't fathom how Eddie F. Rush could justify that T. What did Okur do? Guys do that - and worse - on 95% of the calls during every single game. And you're going to hit a guy with a tech in the closing minutes of a must-win playoff game? Nice. (By the way, that free throw was the difference between Utah winning the game by one in regulation and going to overtime.)

2. The offensive foul on Kyle Korver. Early in overtime, Korver had the ball out top and was dealing with Vujacic, who was employing Derek Fisher's favorite move, which is when the defender pokes and bodies the offensive player repeatedly and then takes a dive when the offensive player asserts his space by swinging he ball through. There is a slight chance that Korver tapped Vujacic's arm when he swung his elbow through, but even if he did, he has a right to that space. You can't swing your elbows out at a defender, but you can pull the ball through anytime you want. If the defensive player happens to get in the way, tough luck for him. I learned this in like fourth grade at basketball camp - it's one of the most basic concepts in the book. But since Vujacic took his Fisher dive, the weakside official decided to come tearing in to make the offensive foul call. Horrible.

3. Not long after the Jazz got hosed on an offensive call, they were then on the bad end of another missed block/charge call when Kobe Bryant got cut off by Kirilenko on the sideline and then just shoved AK-47 to the ground. It was as obvious as charging calls get in the NBA and the perfect chance for a good old-fashioned makeup call. So what's the determination? Blocking foul. Holy hell.

4. Finally, Derek Fisher was trying to probe the defense late in the extra frame when he chicken-winged Deron Williams to the floor. Granted, Williams flopped to sell the call, but until the league decides to crack down on flopping, you can't punish a guy for doing what everyone else does. In fact, the very guy throwing an elbow - Fisher - invented that move. But instead, they somehow found reason to charge Williams with a foul (even if you think it was a flop, the worst possible outcome for Utah should have been a no-call).

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know I'm not a Utah fan or apologist. I have nothing against them, but I'm a Blazers guy and when Portland isn't in the mix, I root for the frenzied teams like the old Suns, the Warriors, and the Nuggets. Plus, I'm a big McGrady guy, so that takes the Jazz down a peg. But on this day, I was the biggest Jazz fan alive, because had they lost because of those four atrocious calls, it would have been a crime.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Paging Carlos Boozer ...

Holy moly. Did someone poison Carlos Boozer's food? Kill his beloved pet?

I mean, this guy is supposed to be an All-Star player and the straw that stirs the drink for Utah and he's a complete no-show right now. Can Utah get a refund?

In fact, there were several players tonight that should have been cutting the check with a money back guarantee for their employers. These are guys that couldn't find any semblance of a game when their teams needed them most. Guys that I wouldn't want on my rec league team right now. They are:

Carlos Boozer, team captain.

Hedo Turkaglu (his stats always turn out okay, but he commits the most horrific turnovers and has the worst shot selection I've ever seen).

Matt Harpring.

Rasheed Wallace (more temper tantrums than field goals, quit on this team multiple times)

I wanted to find a fifth starter, but nobody quite measured up to the ineptitude of the four guys above. So congrats, fellas, you were in a league of your own.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Oh. My. Goodness.

The Boston-Cleveland game was arguably the worst basketball game I've ever seen in my life.

- LeBron with the worst game of his career.

- Ray Allen with the worst game of his career.

- Ilgauskas shooting an eight-footer but only getting making it two feet.

- Mike Brown and Doc Rivers making coaching look extremely difficult.

I'm still in shock from how completely and truly miserable that viewing experience was.

Paul Plays D

It was a wild night in the NBA tonight (the Magic getting ripped off by the NBA, the Spurs getting ripped by the Hornets), but one thing stood out to me and it needs to be addressed:

Chris Paul can play some defense.

Late in the season - probably in response to the raging MVP debate - a flurry of stats came out that attempted to prove that Paul was an inferior defensive player. Something about adjusted plus/minus numbers that proved New Orleans was a defensively superior team when Paul was off the floor. It all struck me as overly complicated and ignorant of some critical factors such as: pace, who the backups are guarding, and garbage time minutes. Plus, I just felt like I'd rather trust my eyes on this one, since Paul always seemed to be a disruptive factor on both ends of the court.

[Update: It appears that I'm quite the rube when it comes to understanding Adjusted Plus/Minus. See the comments below, to which I have no real counter. So I definitely back off my harsh critique of the stats, but remain certain that his work on defense was the key to last night's game.]

Tonight, I felt validated, because Chris Paul was a monster.

Sure, he dominated offensively, but what else is new. He had 30 and 12 with just one turnover, continuing his reign of terror over opposing defenses. He embarrassed defenders with ridiculous slashing drives, hit tough floaters, and set up Chandler for dunks and Peja for threes. In other words, he had a typical Chris Paul game.

It was on defense where I really took notice of his ability to control the game. He kept Tony Parker completely under wraps with great footwork and an innate ability to go under or over screens when the situation calls for it. The NBA is such a pick-and-roll league than when a perimeter guy can deftly slide around screeners, it makes everything easier for the defense. So that's one skill that he's got in spades, adjusted plus/minus be damned.

Another area where Paul is terrific is as a double-teamer. He's so quick and has such instincts that he can get down to double from virtually anywhere on the floor, no matter how many passes away he is from the target. He's not as good at closing out (mainly because he likes to lurk around for steals), but when the game plan is to funnel the ball back out, that's not a huge problem. He did a great job harassing Duncan in the lowpost tonight and has quietly been the key to New Orleans' success doubling everything.

Paul's also a vacuum on long rebounds and with his speed and ball-handling, he can turn a bricked three into two points in mere seconds. In fact, his hands are so strong and he moves from the glass to full speed so quickly that long rebounds are pretty much turnovers for the Spurs. Parker actually does this as well, but he's an inferior rebounder to Paul, so it doesn't happen as often.

Finally, there are the steals. Everyone knows Paul is the best in the game at picking pockets and playing passing lanes, but the thing that makes his thievery special is his timing. Nearly every steal is a back-breaker for the opponent. He doesn't just tip balls to a teammate and then trot the ball up the floor, but instead he slips around a dribbler, knocks the ball loose, and takes off for a transition basket. Or he scores and quickly pivots to steal and score for a four-point swing. Or he'll break up an opponent's fast break by recovering from a Hornets' turnover and jumping the outlet pass. It's just sick how good he is in the lanes.

All told, he's actually dominating the game from the defensive end of the floor. Not only is New Orleans far better off with him on the court (as always, blindly trust stats are your own peril), you would be hard pressed to find a perimeter defender having as big of an impact on the NBA playoffs.

So let's put all the "weak defense" nonsense to rest, because this guy can play some D.