Archive for May, 2008

Monkee Business

While Phil Jackson finished up his first NBA season in the spring of 1968, all the kids were getting high while real political conspiracies played out. And in a very short cinematic release, a film called “Head” entered and exited the cultural chaos of the times without leaving much of a mark, just as Phil had not done much to get noticed with his 6 points and 4 rebounds in 15 minutes per game behind Willis Reed and Walt Bellamy. “Head” starred the Monkees, and featured a screenplay written by Jack Nicholson following a weekend with the band in which they consumed something like a a garbage bag full of pot and “brainstormed”. Cut to 40 years later and it is hard not to think that not only Josh Howard, Joakim Noah, and 80 percent of the players get silly with the weed, but that maybe Jack and Phil get together for a few hits off the bong now and again.

You know Nicholson must be getting a buzz on at some point, with those sunglasses always there to counteract dilated pupils. Maybe the two of them get together in the back of Jack’s limo pre-game, reliving the hazy days of the late sixties, and hyperventilating while laughing at comparisons of the present-day Lakers with the original Monkees.

Jack: That kid Vujacic is Davy Jones. I bet he even dances like Davy. You should make him dance Phil. Make it a part of his practice sessions. You’ll see baby - he’s got Davy Jones living right there inside him.

Phil: Yeah yeah. He’s pretty enough with those perfect fuckin’ eyebrows of his. I swear he gets that done on Rodeo. Radmanovic - he has a little of Mike Nesmith in him. I’ll see if I can get him wearing toques.

Jack: Pau is Peter Tork if I ever saw a Peter Tork. He was the one that played his own instruments, but looking at him you’d never know it. Maybe he played too many - the bass, the banjo, keyboards. There was that awkwardness, like what am I noodling around with now? I see that at least once a game with the Spanish kid, like he can’t quite figure out if he’s going to make a power move or a little finesse.

Phil: Whoa - you blow my mind Jack. Whaddya say we make Luke into Mickey Dolenz then.

Jack: I’m a believer coach. I am a believer!

Well, my mind wanders to these kinds of wonderings after nights like that last one with the Lakers wrapping up their series against the Spurs. LA is down bigtime early, and Phil’s got his three big weapons on the bench. And he doesn’t flinch. Now how many coaches can get away with that kind of thing? Doug Collins starts to question it a little bit, but then makes it about how it’s this kind of thing that makes Phil so good. It’s all about trusting his bench. OK - of course. And sure enough it works out! And there’s Barkley at the half proclaiming the zen-master’s genius and his own utter bewilderment.

But wouldn’t a stoner have done the same thing? Could that be the secret? Could that be where the zen comes from? When Phil came on for his interview between the third and fourth quarters, complaining about the Spurs getting to toss an extra free-throw that only could have happened in his imagination, well I had to think that maybe there was something enhancing how he was “seeing the game”.

And if it works it works. Really I can’t see THC being of any benefit to players within any game. But coaches? That might just work. Get Sam Mitchell some hash brownies, or put some in that yellow cake he loves so much.

This article courtesy of •LX•.

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Guinness Required

Watching the playoffs so far, I can’t get over the abundance of jumpshots, many of them forced or out-of-rhythm. I have to give some credit to good defense, but I feel that the increased use and refining of zone defenses offers the best explanation. Through long stretches of both current series, the success rate in the paint plummets. Ball-handlers get crowded-out, big men get cramped, and passers lose their passing lanes, all thanks to four defenders, sometimes five, all sticking a toe in the lane and collapsing from there. When teams try to space things out on the perimeter, defenders run out at them all and stop ball movement. Early offense off of transition works to an extent, but all the remaining teams deserve credit for being able to take away that first option in early-offense scenarios, forcing their opponents into half-court sets, which they then can’t get going all too often. And the result has been a lot of attempts at drawing fouls, and jumpshots that are merely last resorts.

Yes there have been some nice displays of guys hitting shots over three, four, or five defenders, and aggressive drives that at least lead to the foul line, as well as some nice accurate entry passes - all providing momentary offensive advantages. But it all seems to come down to which team hits their J’s. I heard Doc tell his team that they were allowing the Pistons to take them “out of their stuff”. But I have to wonder if the kind of timing that Stockton and Malone perfected in running their stuff would have any effect today. Or if the footwork and passing of Hakeem and McHale would be the kind of stuff they could go to nearly as often as they did.

There was about three minutes of last night’s Pistons-Celtics matchup, mostly at the end of the game, where I got the distinct impression that I was watching a basketball game. The rest of the way I saw freethrow after freethrow, and jumpshots aplenty. And if you even go back to the Spurs vs Hornets, you will find that the team that hit their shots won easily in each game. It’s been a pattern throughout the playoffs really. Granted the need to establish aggressive play inside, whether succesful or not, has still been a necessary element. But that doesn’t take away from the feeling that wells up in me - that I’m watching a glorified darts tourney.

It all comes down to who handles the pressure and gets their shooting form working for them. Of course dart tossers don’t need to work to get their shots off (that’s something they might consider working on though - imagine Bowen face-guarding some guy with a sharp object at the ready). But these playoffs have shown that their is too often no amount of work that will allow for a team’s best options to open up. After spending a first quarter of futility in the paint last night, both teams finally went to what was there for them - quick shots off one or no passes. If you hit those shots then eventually a few other things might open up, or if you miss particularly bad shots it might lead to a nice fast break. Mostly the games plod through the ugliness, and if a real basketball play looks to be available, there will be a quick foul, helping get both teams into the penalty early, and adding to the march to the stripe, where the resemblance to darts can’t get any stronger.

You can even start to think of the Boston fans in the same terms as those insane Brits with a Guinness in them, cheering as the in-house announcer yells “RAY-jon RONdo for THREE” in a manner not so different from the guy with the mic who shouts “ONE-undred-an-AYteeee”. And the sound of thuds hitting back-rim inhabit the same deadness as the darts that miss triple-twenty only to land in the one-point piece of the pie. So should they try taking the game clock out of the equation, start each team with 80 points, and count them down to zero to decide a winner? Or should they just reduce some of the crowding issues by going with an international key, widened under the basket? Of course they will do nothing, and if games don’t end up like darts exactly, then they will surely be not much different from gridiron efforts featuring dozens of runs up the middle into the strength of the defense, and short routes that move a team downfield in short segments of nondescript action.

Which wouldn’t necessarily be bad for our Raptors. They are gaining an understanding of these kinds of games, and need maybe only one more player who can be that one good on-the-ball defender while the rest crowd the paint, as well as be that guy who can run it up the middle along with Bosh, and get enough foul calls to take a little pressure of of the guys with the darts. But it does disappoint me that so much of the give-and-take that played out between defenses and offenses in the past, has become less meaningful, if not altogether non-existent. Those Brits might be able to get inexplicably excited all the same, even if there were five Scalabrines with bad teeth thrown out on the court (all the better reason to down another pint). But I do hope for the beauty of the game to return to the forefront. Think of that shot by Ray Allen over Sheed’s outstretched hand, rolling in a perfect arc right into the pocket of air surrounded by the rim. Think of that happening every fourth time down the court,and then think of real ball movement, real footwork, and bodies acting and reacting every other possession. Think of not having to remind yourself that you are watching a basketball game showcasing the pinnacle of achievements.

This article courtesy of •LX•.

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The Difference Between the Raptors and the Pistons

If you managed to find Game 1 of the Pistons-Magic series (and seriously, can anyone explain why the NBA lets Round 2 begin before Round 1 is finished?), you saw all of the things the Piston do that the Raptors don’t and why the Magic were exposed in Game 1 for what they really are, pretenders.

Now, it is far too easy to talk about the many ways in which the Pistons are better than the Raptors, it’s not even fair to have that conversation on the whole. What is fair to look at is the attitude that was brought to Game 1 by the Pistons. To quote Rasheed Wallace (and really, is there a better guy to quote?), ”You can’t rattle us,” Wallace said. ”We ain’t no punks.” Wallace stepped in right off the start and made it clear how this series is going to be played. The Raptors can talk all they want about statement games and making statements, but when it comes right down to it, they don’t have anybody who can step up and make a statement like that…well, at least nobody who anybody is going to believe. When Rasheed tells you that they “ain’t no punks”, you had better believe him.

But as we saw many times with the Raptors this season, saying things and then going out and doing them are completely different matters. The Pistons beat down on the Magic and did not let Howard rule the interior like he did against the Raptors. They didn’t buy into any of that “Superman” bull, they pushed Howard around, shoved him away from the basket, even had the guy’s hand taped up by the end of the game. You could see the demoralized look on Howard’s face, realizing that this wasn’t going to be like playing the Raptors. To take a quote from the NBA’s new darling, “I don’t think I even looked up at the scoreboard for a while…[i]t’s disappointing.” Now does that sound like “Superman?” Does that sound like a guy who thinks that he is going to dominate the paint? No. Howard was not able to deal with the fact that the Pistons have some big boys who like to bang and aren’t afraid of a little contact. Wallace, McDyess, Maxiell, Ratliff…those guys all don’t mind getting rough if they have to. Now THAT’S the Legion of Doom. As Rip Hamilton said, “You can’t rough up the game with us…[t]hey tried. We like it. We enjoy it. That’s the way we want to play.”

If you want to make another comparison between the Raptors and the Pistons, take a look at what happened when Hedo went end to end for an uncontested dunk. How many times did we see that against the Raptors? Hedo looked like Clyde Drexler against the Raptors, taking the ball and gliding down the lane untouched, dropping 2 and then heading back for an easy time on defence. Let me tell you how many times that happened against the Pistons yesterday. Once. You know why? Because after it happened the first time, Flip Saunders called a timeout and read the team the riot act. I mean, the dude was livid. Flip understands that while the Most Improved Player of the Year is a good talent, there is no excuse for him going end to end for an easy dunk against you. That isn’t even his game. When this happened against the Raptors, Sam Mitchell sat back and let it continue, allowing his players to try to find their own solution, which was not forthcoming.

Let’s just continue the comparison. The Magic only shot 18.8% from 3-point range yesterday, as the Pistons were up in their faces all night. There weren’t many open looks, with the Pistons daring them to try to take them off the bounce. Just as you would think, the Magic couldn’t put the ball on the ground and weren’t able to create any offensive output. 73 points in the playoffs isn’t going to cut it against anybody.

Anyway, just a few thoughts I had when watching parts of this game. There are miles between the Pistons and Raptors, but the Raps would be wise to take a page or two out of their book.

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A Few Thoughts…Including the Coaching Situation

Well, I don’t know if things could have ended with any more of a thud than they did a few nights ago…well, I guess there could have been a sweep, which would have been a serious thud, but there’s not much of a difference between a sweep and a 4-1 series win. The Raptors put themselves in a hole in the series by having those two bad first quarters in the first two games and they never seemed to fully rebound from that (wow, the Raptors not being able to rebound…there’s a new one). There were times when they looked very lethargic, being outhustled to loose balls, outmuscled on the boards and just not showing any sense of urgency regarding their season that was quickly coming to an end.

Well, let’s take a quick look at some of the good things from this season. I was actually pleasantly surprised with the progression of the Raptors defence over the season. The Raptors were continually in the top 10 on defence for most of the season and while there are a million things to criticize Sam and the Raptors on, you have to say that they stepped up on D, without their supposed best defender in Jorge Garbajosa. The Raptors were good at using their team speed to close in on shooters and also used that speed to effectively double team players, especially in the low block. The problem for the Raptors was that they had to double on the low block because they just don’t have anybody big and athletic enough to crash with the big boys down there. The Raptors lost a lot of games this season due to their inability to rebound, which led to numerous putback points. Job number one this offseason will be for Colangelo to address the lack of size and strength inside. Bosh needs some protection out there, some room to operate, because if he has to keep going up against guys like Dwight Howard, it is going to be a jump shot special on a lot of nights next year.

The Raptors problems this year have been well documented and rehashed a thousand times, but in the past few weeks, there have been some interesting comments regarding the coaching situation. Since Mike D’Antoni has left Phoenix, there has been some natural talk about him coming to Toronto, which Colangelo has essentially quashed by stating that Sam is here ‘for now’. I’m not even that sure if D’Antoni is the guy you would want in Toronto anyway. Quick, what has D’Antoni’s biggest problem been in Phoenix? His inability to effectively use his bench. D’Antoni has always had difficulty finding ways to effectively use his bench, leaving starters in for too long or having them out of the lineup in the wrong situations. There has been some argument that the reason the team always fades in the playoffs is that because of their run and gun style, the wear and tear on the team over the regular season is heightened. So if your bench isn’t being worked in, by the time you get to the playoffs, you just don’t have the depth or energy to compete. I’m not sure if I completely buy into that theory, but it does hold some weight. What you might also want to look at is that while Phoenix management made a mistake by bringing in Shaq (it completely disrupted their flow), D’Antoni struggled in finding a way to effectively implement Shaq into the Phoenix system. He had two options: either work Shaq into the system they were using (which wasn’t impossible…the Lakers were able to use Kareem in a run and gun style) or create something new that could work off of Shaq’s strengths. D’Antoni wasn’t able to succeed with either of those options. Now when you’re saddled with a Raptors lineup and game style that has no clear definition, I’m not sure if D’Antoni is the guy you want at the head.

What about the Little General? Avery Johnson is now available and while it appears Chicago and New York are serious about getting him, how would he look heading the Raptors? I think he might be a better fit than D’Antoni and I guarantee he would whip Andrea and Jose into shape on the defensive end. If there is one thing Avery stresses, it is defensive responsibility and toughness. Make the stop on your end, then get down the court and run your plays. Avery was able to get Dirk Nowitzki to become a tougher player, not just settling for jump shots, which you would love to see him do with Andrea. Avery was able to get the Mavs over the next level, but not the final hump, as he wasn’t able to win a championship there, but he did get them to the final and that was something they hadn’t seen before. You can talk about Avery not being able to get Jason Kidd working again in Dallas, but that could have been one of the worst management decisions I have ever seen. You don’t put an aging PG into a team bound for the playoffs right near the end of the season and expect it all to gel in time. It’s tougher than putting in a new centre. That move essentially killed the Mavs and you could see it down the stretch as with Kidd in the lineup, the Mavs couldn’t beat any teams above .500. Overall, I think Avery Johnson would be an interesting fit here…that is, if the Raptors were looking.

Moving onto some other toughts, I couldn’t believe how afraid of Dwight Howard the Raptors were in the playoffs. Bosh has the speed to take him on the bounce, but time after time, we saw him settle for jump shots or runners. Nobody on the Raptors other than Jamario Moon wanted to go up against Howard for any rebounds and let’s be honest, you have to give Jamario credit, because it’s not like he’s built like a mountain. We occasionally saw Delfino go in tough, but that was only in the times when he felt like playing. That guy’s more inconsistent than American foreign policy. Anybody watching the series was able to see that the Raptors are in need of some interior toughness, they’re practically walking around with a giant neon sign stating the fact. They also still need a slasher, because the options on the offensive end just don’t seem to be there. This could also be a problem with coaching…

Well, it will be interesting to see what happens this off-season and I think the draft will be very interesting for a variety of teams this year. A lot of diffferent directions teams can go with their picks this year as many young players have declared themselves eligible. As we get closer to the draft, we’ll check out how things might shake out.

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