Thursday, January 3, 2008

Game to pay attention to: San Antonio at Denver

Game to pay attention to: San Antonio at Denver
Here's where I eat a little crow.

Just about every time a nationally televised day or night of NBA "action" pops up, I take issue with the choice of games. The NBA, for years starting during the lockout season, seemed intent on driving the same series of tired matchups down our throat, usually based around slow-down teams that did well in the postseason. And, while a nice Eastern Conference finals preview might be a little interesting in the middle of winter, why wouldn't the national TV audience (made up of junkies and fair-weather fans alike) prefer a more aesthetically-pleasing pair of teams that they may not have seen much of?

So, last summer, the NBA got to thinkin' ...

Chicago's young, they're not great offensively, but they run quite a bit and seem to be the favorite to come out of the east in spite of their relative inexperience. Portland, meanwhile, is chock full of rookies, second and third-year players looking to alternate bad mistakes (that Chicago can take advantage of to the tune of fast-break buckets) and sweet finishes. Also, Greg Oden is tall.

Secondly, the Phoenix Suns run like few other teams; and while the Seattle SuperSonics have (wrongfully) gotten the tag of an up-tempo team over the last few years, they can still put the ball in the hole, they have Kevin Durant (not as tall as Greg Oden, but still tall), and the youthful legs could trump the savvy in this instance.

The NBA got it right!

And what happens? The Bulls stink, while the Trail Blazers are hotter than hell, but without Oden. The Suns are hot, and the SuperSonics are running, but they're not scoring well (27th in offensive efficiency) in spite of all their gifts. Topping that, the SuperSonics will be without Durant tonight.

And, as much as I'm feeling the Trail Blazers and Suns right now, you know what I'll be watching?

San Antonio at Denver

The Spurs will be looking to slow Denver's fast-paced attack, Allen Iverson will trying to escape Bruce Bowen's clutches, while Denver's surprisingly good defense (4th in the NBA, right now) might be enough to down a Manu Ginobili-less Spurs attack. Sure, last spring's first-round series between these two clubs wasn't the most aesthetically-pleasing, but neither of these teams start Chris Duhon, or Earl Watson.

San Antonio: 21-8, 88.2 possessions per game (28th), 112.2 points per 100 possessions (6th), 104.1 points allowed per 100 possessions (6th).

Denver: 18-12, 99 possessions per game (1st), 107.8 points per 100 possessions (14th), 103.3 points allowed per 100 possessions (4th). �

UPDATE: Kevin Pelton writes in to remind us that nobody previews SuperSonics games like him, nobody should even try (he didn't actually type that, but he does at least deserve to feel that way), and that Kevin Durant IS going to play against the Suns tonight.

Boston fans? You make the call

We're likely about to enter the midst of a perfect storm, here; and you'll have to trust me when I promise that references like this have little to do with Boston accents and New England proximity. Put that mess of a film in San Pedro, California, and the title still works. Alert the lighthouse, and tell the McCallahan kid to get on his wireless: things might get a little nasty from here on out.

There is a lot that can go into what can aptly, in spite of the blanked-out letters, be described as the "------le Phenomenon." Bill Simmons may have a bit to do with it, we've always loved his work, but in spite of his better (or, at times, lesser) efforts he tends to come across as someone who prefers things played by his rules when it comes to Boston-area sports.�

Dane Cook probably has a bit to do with it as well, he's a unmitigated tool who appears to want to revel in Boston's North Face/faded jeans/goofy t-shirt with a lot of drawings on it-look it without deigning to actually follow any Boston-area sports; and this tends to resonate with non-Boston fans who (right or wrong) want to designate the greater whole of Boston fandom as bandwagon-jumpers who couldn't pick Brett Szabo out of a police lineup.

There's also the fact that, since the outset of this decade, Boston has won. A lot. The Red Sox have made a series of postseason runs, including two World Series triumphs. The Patriots have formulated a dynasty since 2001, and the Boston Celtics (after hitting the playoffs a few times over the last few years, including an inspiring run in 2002) now appear to be the cream of the NBA's current crop. This city is on fire; and, to be honest, we couldn't feel happier for them.

This has nothing to do with past failings, observers outside of Boston shouldn't feel a need to hand fans of these teams more sympathy because of the frustrations the Patriots and Red Sox felt for decades, or the failings of the post-1986 Boston Celtics.

Pro sports are a series of random events, bad GMs tend to meet up with bad owners and lousy coaches who take on disappointing players - and, before you know it -- you've gone a few decades without a title. It happens. Every city goes through it, at varying and random lengths. It doesn't mean you pity the fans.

Unless, of course, they turn out. And Boston fans turned out. They stuck with their teams, offered sober analysis when ready, and lost their you-know-what when little bouts of oh-my-god turned up. So you'll have to excuse me when I give them the benefit of the doubt. Yeah, they can be act like Sidney Wicks' last name; but we're also dealing with a pretty big fan base, so these things tend to happen. Stupid goatees also tend to result.

But things are going to get a little nasty in the coming months. The Patriots just completed a mercenary-like run through the NFL's regular season. They'll likely be on your TV until the first week of February, followed by the cable-addled (in sports' slowest month) take on whether or not the Pats are the best team in pro sports history (not giving an opinion on the Pats' year, just pointing out what you'll see), and the lead-in to an NFL Draft that will see the Patriots picking in the top ten. The Red Sox report to camp in a month probably stronger than ever, and the Celtics are on pace (at least) to challenge the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' 72-10 mark, and win the team's first title since 1986.�

And as much as the fandom gains strength, the backlash will be twice as strong. Count on it. And not entirely undeserved. Or, your call, deserved.

This is where Jeff Clark, from, comes in. Last week, he put together a piece detailing why it is that non-Celtic fans might regard C's backers as obnoxious. It's a great take, to me, until the end, when he appears to give in to the idea that the overwhelming bulk of Celtic fans and NBA-observers regard the team as obnoxious:

"So we've established the fact that there are plenty of reasons why the rest of the world is annoyed with Celtics fans.� The next question that comes to mind is "do we care?"

For one thing, the only actions one person can control is his or her own.� We can't change how fans treat the people around them.� People will (in large part) be treated with the same amount of respect that they give others.

In addition, maybe a little swagger isn't a bad thing.� Red Auerbach used intimidation and arrogance as an effective weapon against opponents.� It wasn't just the team or the coach, but the Garden was filled with fans that got loud and expected the opponents to be pounded to dirt."

Seriously, what's wrong with that? The impetus behind Jeff's post was an unfortunate choice of words regarding a lame (and, to me, downright offensive) nickname for the Sacramento Kings (circa 2002) that he put together and quickly regretted. But beyond that, I'm having a hard time finding fault in the aggregate fandom supporting the team to the strains of what 2008 regards as "tactfully" (assuming, of course, that has its tongue placed firmly in cheek with this post, then we'd more or less have to change the entire tone of this column).

I'm not going to hop all over Celtic fans just because Dane Cook is an absolute douche and Bill Simmons seems obsessed with the Indianapolis Colts.


Either way, it's up to you. The Celtics are likely going to play deep into May, and probably June, and the worst is yet to come. It's worth talking about now, and determining where things stand before things really start to get nasty. Talking things out never hurt anyone, so it probably behooves us as a community to determine where we stand on the issue, what we expect from Celtic fans, and what Celtic fans expect from everyone else.

Photo of the day: Rip Hamilton channels Bob Fosse

Disagreement with the ref? Frustrated with your uniforms? Own some dodgy facial hair? Looking for a way to express yourself? May I suggest ...


Behind the boxscore, where Pau shaves for no man

Memphis 90, Indiana 72

I don't usually go to the gambling world for a reference; it took me five minutes of searching just to find the number, but the over/under entering this game was 210.5 points. And, considering the pace each of these teams likes to employ, the miserable defensive mindset each squad tends to exude, and the offensive talent on both sides (even with Jamaal Tinsley out for Indiana), I would have put a million on the over. A 106-105 Memphis win makes you money? Yikes. Sign me up.

Good thing I don't bet. These two teams combined for just 28 points in the fourth quarter, Memphis pulled away when the Pacers couldn't hit a shot (28 points in the second half alone), and Pau Gasol (30 points, 12 rebounds, one turnover in 40 minutes) easily had his best game of the year. Or, easily the best strike beard of the year.

Also, Mike Conley Jr. is going to be brilliant someday. He's already pretty good: seven points, six rebounds, eight assists, three steals, and one turnover in his second game back from the injured list and first career start.

Portland 90, Minnesota 79

The sign of a good team, and not just a "good, young" team: going into the building of a crummy team, owning the pace, and coming out with a safe win. James Jones hit three of five three-points to raise his percentage on the year to 55.4 from long range.

Sacramento 107, New York 97

I know the Knicks are pretty ridiculous, I know you're not supposed to expect anything from them, but seriously: look at this boxscore. Look at the players in the Sacramento rotation, and compare them with the New York rotation - even considering the myriad mitigating factors that usually contribute to the Knicks failing to meet lowered expectations.

Pretty sick. I'd give Brad Miller props for out-running Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry (three rebounds in 31 minutes last night), but that would involve me thinking that out-running Curry and Randolph (even at 7-feet tall) is a notable accomplishment. The Kings continue to play hard in spite of all sorts of turmoil they don't deserve, and you have to love this team.

New Orleans 95, Los Angeles Clippers 81

The Hornets, Chris Paul mainly, kept catching the Clippers off guard, kept getting to the line, and Byron Scott's team keeps winning. David West had tremendous game with 29 points and ten rebounds, turning the ball over just once in 43 minutes in spite of going off the dribble more than he usually does.

Ron Hitley from has a nice live blog and recap, including some more impressive stats regarding David West.

Utah 110, Philadelphia 107

Sadly unimpressed with this one. Sad, mainly because I want Utah to start holding its own defensively, and get back up there with the NBA's elite. This is a team that should be winning more games, and dominating the games they do win.

Utah gave up a pro-rated 115 points per 100 possessions to Philly tonight. The league's worst defensive team (New York) allows 113.6 points per 100 possessions, and there's no real excuse for a team with Utah's personnel to be one of the worst (23rd) defensive teams in the NBA.

Deron Williams cobbled 20 assists, great job, but anyone who can make a sound bounce pass after Carlos Boozer sets a screen for you can average double-figure assists. Boozer and Mehmet Okur were quite nice on Wednesday: 18 of 30 shooting, 42 points.

Detroit 106, Washington 93

If you're the rest of the NBA, numbers like these have to scare you:

Chauncey Billups: 28:50 minutes.
Rasheed Wallace: 33:29 minutes.
Tayshaun Prince: 31:28 minutes.
Antonio McDyess: 31:48 minutes.

The Pistons, finally, go 12-deep. Legitimately 12-deep, as their 12th man (Walter Hermann) is in his prime and was the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month last March.

On the Washington tip, Antawn Jamison should not be shooting three times as many (six) three-pointers as he does free throws.

New Jersey 96, Orlando 95

It's not the nicest thing to say, and it's a bit of a stereotype, but you can tell when the NBA's most notorious veteran underachievers (New Jersey, Miami, New York ... Detroit was in the mix until this season) decide to put forth an honest night's effort after being inspired by a petty grievance.

The Nets wanted to win one for assistant coach Brian Hill, who was (rightfully) let go by the Magic last season as head coach, and the team's effort was obvious. It's a pity that the team can't be bothered to let their paycheck provide the impetus on most other nights, but that's what you get used to in this league. Nets guard Darrell Armstrong, about as big as an NBA overachiever as we've ever seen, also contributed with nine fourth-quarter points.

We're not sure which is crazier: Sean Williams' six rebounds in five minutes of play, or his six fouls in five minutes. Somewhere in Tennessee, Bubba Wells is lovingly stroking his Don Nelson bobblehead.

Cleveland 98, Atlanta 94

I didn't get to see much of this one, so you're welcome to add whatever thoughts you had on this one in the comments. We should point out that LeBron James is insanely good, the best player in the NBA thus far, and scored 32 of his 36 points in the second half.

Milwaukee 103, Miami 98

Free David Lee? Forget that. Free Udonis Haslem:

"We're probably going to end up playing zone the whole game, because we can't guard anybody one-on-one. It's how many games into the season, and we haven't guarded anybody?"

I love this cat.

New challenge to The Bratwurst (I prefer my brats from Hot Doug's, by the way), find out if any player who entered the night hitting 26.7 percent of his shots on the year after two months of play turned around and nailed five of nine shots in a win over a team with Chris Quinn and his wispy mustache on the other side of the floor, on the same night that I made a delicious breadcrumb blend to coat my tilapia in? Find THAT out.

Chicago 109, Charlotte 97

The Bulls got out to another pair of slow starts (-4 combined with Chris Duhon running things, before Ben Gordon came off the bench) to start the halves against a lousy team, but sterling frontcourt play allowed the Bulls to pull away in the second half. Luol Deng was the quiet star with 21 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and zero turnovers.

Give Bulls coach Jim Boylen credit for this: he's starting to figure out that Andres Nocioni can't play power forward anymore (in spite of a stellar turn at the position last year), and went with Joakim Noah (17 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals, a block in 18 minutes) as his first front court sub off the bench in the second half on Wednesday.

The trick here will be to watch the Thursday night game: Ben Wallace played a great game against Charlotte, but he also played 36 minutes, and it's likely that he'll be worn down against Portland tonight. Boylen will have to be quick with the hook if it becomes obvious that Wallace doesn't have it early in the halves against the Trail Blazers.

The Bobcats, meanwhile, are imploding. I'd like to take another week to make any definitive statements about them beyond that, but this is a bickering, frustrated bunch right now.

Boston 97, Houston 91

Odd game here, the Celtics and Rockets somehow made it so my dual and mutually exclusive expectations (big Boston lead early, or competitive game) somehow came true at once, leaving me looking like a sage and a mug at the same time. Either way, the Rockets should be commended for their strong play: Houston could have folded early, but played strong enough ball to give themselves a chance late to blow the game with poor shot selection late. Kudos.

Boston looked fantastic. Tired, but fantastic. Kevin Garnett (26 points on 15 shots, nine rebounds, three assists, three blocks, two steals, only one turnover in 35 minutes ... what a freakin' game) was amazing. We'll show him some love later today, promise. Also, Scot Pollard had his best game of the year in spite of some pointless foul calls (stop hacking, stop flopping, Scot).

Dallas 121, Golden State 99

I want to give this one a bit more than the usual pithy paragraph or two. This was a game that more or less set afire every significant tenet of my Golden State-vs.-Dallas line of thinking that has been taking shape since late 2005, and we'll have to re-approach this one later.

The 10-man rotation, starring a toasty Dikembe

A look around the league and the web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out.

C: Boston Globe. Dikembe Mutombo loves defense, hates the cold. Figuring that the Boston Celtics had enough defense, and way too much cold weather, he decided to re-sign with the Rockets last summer.
PF: Thank You Isiah. On the day of a Blazers/Bulls "tilt," HSCS re-iterates that he is not impressed with LaMarcus Aldridge.
SF: East Valley Tribune. The Phoenix Suns celebrate retro night tonight, their 40th anniversaire; but they won't wear the old uniforms, boast the old logos, sweat the old socks ... BOGUS, man. Bogus.
SG: When an Isiah Thomas lie is actual, if temporary, relief.
PG: New York Sun. John Hollinger with the only rankings that count.
6th: HoopsAnalyst. Harlan Schreiber with his always solid transaction page.
7th: Sixers Shots. Roland Laird with another solid missive sent in the direction of Maurice Lucas.
8th: FreeDarko. PhDribble with a solid guest lecture on the Diesel that wuz. �
9th: The Basketball Jones. The TBJ crew discusses another busy Wednesday night, with their usual aplomb.
10th: Mavs Moneyball. Mavericks fans ... feelin' alright. Uh-huh.

No comments: