Friday, December 19, 2008

The Worst 21-4 Team Ever

Are the Lakers the worst 21-3 - oops, I mean 21-4, after losing to the lowly Heat - team ever? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The Lakers are a good team, but not a great team. They're merely a good team that got off to a hot start. Fortunately for the Lakers, they still stand a pretty good chance of getting out of the West, and once you're in the finals, anything can happen...right?

I know, Lakers fans are freaking out and the team is still 21-3. I know, there's still a lot of season left, and this team is still learning to play together. I know, the team is blessed with great depth and loaded with talent. But precisely becuase it is loaded with talent, this team may be the most frustrating Lakers squad I have ever followed in my life. On a team this loaded, nothing short of the title will be a success. The Lakers' offense has misfired recently, but that's not the major problem. After going to the Lakers-Knicks shootout with my family (Merry Xmas, guys) and watching the Lakers-Heat debacle, I'm convinced that this team has no chance of winning the title - zero - without a serious change in defensive philosophy, especially guarding the high screen and roll.

First, this article from Forum Blue and Gold sums up the issues very well. There are certainly some games where the Lakers don't seem to be playing very hard. However, in most of the games this year, I do think the players are trying. They are simply victims of a poor defensive strategy masterminded by Kurt Rambis.

Rambis has instituted a few wrinkles that I like. Shifting over the weak-side big to zone off guards successfully deters penetration, and the rotation back to cover skip passes is adequate. However, the Lakers screen-roll defense is atrocious becuase it is always the same. The Lakers always ask the big to show and to stay doubled on the guard, no matter what the situation. The Lakers almost never go under the screen, even if the guard is a poor shooter. If the screen is ineffective and the defending guard is back in position, the Lakers' big stays out on the guard. This scheme caught some teams by surprise at the start of the season, leading to songs of praise about the Lakers' length and steals forced. But guess what? Apparently NBA teams have "scouts" that devise tricky strategies like "ball reversal" and "weak-side cuts to the basket" that exploit the Lakers' predictable ball traps and hard doubles. The result is a steady diet of defensive confusion, wide-open threes, and 100 point games.

Let me give one example from tonight's game. Dwyane Wade has the ball and Haslem runs up to set an ineffective pick that Wade doesn't use. Kobe stays on Wade. Bynum, guarding Haslem, immediately shows on Wade and stays on Wade after Haslem rolls to the basket. However, Bynum is not in a hard double on Wade to force him to give the ball up. He's just sort of caught in no-man's land, shadowing Wade. Gasol is forced to rotate to Haslem, leaving the other Miami big (Joel Anthony) open underneath. Now a Laker guard (Fisher) has to sag into the lane to prevent a pass to Anthony, leaving a shooter open, or has to leave Gasol covering two men. Wade passes to the open guard, forcing Kobe to jump over and take Fisher's man. The guard immediately swings it back to Wade, leaving Bynum guarding Wade, one-on-one.

This exact turn of events also happened at the end of the Knicks game, leaving Nate Robinson vs. Bynum one-on-one at a critical juncture. Wade scored today; Robinson missed on Tuesday. Both plays are bad outcomes for the Lakers.

Because this is the first year that the Lakers have played defense this way, and they do it consistently (to the point of ridiculousness), it has to be a coaching problem and not just an execution problem. The fix should be easy. Don'd do the same thing every time! Show, half-show, or go under depending on the opponent. Get back to fundamentals, with scouting reports to help. In some situations, a hard show and trap can lead to turnovers. In others, it's inane. The Lakers' scheme is nothing but a gimmick. Forcing every big to show no matter what leads to terrible mismatches, defensive confusion, and easy buckets, IF THE OPPONENT KNOWS IT'S COMING. The strategy is easy to defeat because there are no surprises - the Lakers play every single screen-roll the same way. We need to stop this. The players are obviously confused, as you can see Bynum, Pau, and Odom helplessly glancing at the bench as they execute orders and give up points. It's not a natural way to play basketball, and it's not a smart way to play basketball.

At this point, Kurt, it's time to switch off your defensive masterpiece. Let the Lakers get back to playing solid man-to-man defense for a few games, so they remember what that is like. Then reinstitute the hard show at select times for select matchups, as one weapon in your defensive arsenal. In any sport, running the same strategy time after time will not work. In football, a good running game opens up the passing game, and vice versa. No team would blitz every single down, because opponents would just run screen plays. That's just common sense, right?

Why are the Lakers bringing the house on every single screen-roll of the 2008-09 season? It makes no sense, and may cause me to suffer an aneurysm before long. Fortunately, Gary Vitti will probably be able to tape me up and send me back in with blood spurting from my eyes.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Underworld: Part 3

Maybe Baron Davis fakes a bad back so that he has time to howl at the moon and fight vampires:


I couldn't be more excited for the start of the season, and not just because I love werewolves. For a preview of the Lakers season to come, I refer you to this excellent review.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

WELCOME BACK! Plus, LeBron News.

First of all, welcome back to all of our loyal readers (if indeed we have any). We apologize for our time away from the blog -- the end of the law school semester and our mutual departures for summer jobs led us away from the job we'd really like to be doing (writing on this blog). But, we're back -- just in time for an exciting new season.

So, on to the season. Justin, Jordan, and I will be writing season previews for our teams very soon. But, right now, I'd like to focus on a topic that's been, of course, everywhere over the offseason: LeBron's "impending" departure to New York/New Jersey.

I know others have made similar arguments, but I'm going to attempt to break it down simply.


The Brooklyn/New Jersey/Brooklyn/New Jersey Nets:


Why Bron would go: They're moving to Brooklyn! Jay-Z! Exciting young core! Chinese guy for the global icon! Young point guard!

Why he won't: Let's be real, people. The Brooklyn thing just isn't happening. Bron and Z are best friends right now; I don't think Bron going to Trenton is going to advance that relationship -- and it's certainly not going to make Bron any happier. The "exciting young core" is made up of a guy who can post up, well, a folding chair. And this guy. Who's also the exciting point guard.

Look, I know the arguments for, but it's starting to look like it's just not going to happen. In 2010, the Nets will still be in New Jersey, and Vince Carter will still be a Net (at least for now). They won't be competitive -- I just don't think Harris and Yi are going to get it done, though they will be in their prime along with Bron. Ultimately, I think the case for NJ is getting less likely.


The New York Knickerbockers:


Why he'll go: Mike D'Antoni! Running! New York!

Why he won't: Mike D'Antoni is exciting, but if Mike Brown can actually install this uptempo offense he's been promising, that takes away D'Antoni's best argument. Plus, D'Antoni has had playoff success, but there's still so much skepticism about whether it can win a championship that I don't know if LeBron will buy in all the way. Remember, Bron's time in the NBA has been dominated by the Spurs and Celtics -- two teams that play a game similar to Mike Brown's (great playoff D and decent halfcourt offense).

Plus, the team is just not going to be good. David Lee's on his way out -- and he's the only player to really get excited about (sorry, I can't get that pumped about Danilo when he already appears to be having Ben-Wallace-esque back problems). Plus, the Knicks have a huge problem (that NJ also does) -- they can't go after two guys as easily. They don't get Bird rights on any of the big free agents -- meaning that if they want to get two (which is, I think, the only way they are players for Bron) they will basically have nobody else on the team. They just won't -- can't -- be as competitive as the Cavs.


The Cleveland . . . . Cavalieeerrrrrsssss:


Why he'll stay: Bron gets all the big stage he wants right now. He gets the benefit of both worlds, actually -- adulation in New York when he goes, and the unconditional love of a fan base in Cleveland. He grew up watching the Cowboys and the Yankees -- teams that built dynasties around iconic players (Aikman, Jeter, etc.) Note that the "hired guns" in Dallas and NY were never as beloved as the core guys (see also, Irvin, Smith, Posada). He also grew up watching Jordan -- who became the iconic figure for an entire city in the way LeBron is now. He's also seen how people react to Boozer and knows the reaction to him leaving would be a million times worse.

Plus, we're going to be competitive. We have a solid young core -- Mo, Boobie, Delonte, JJ, and Darnell aren't the best five in the NBA by any means, but they're all around LeBron's age and will be comfortable playing his game. We can also afford to go after one of the other big free agents since we'll have 1.) cap space and 2.) Bird rights to Bron.

Look, I'm not an optimist by nature. Everyone who knows me knows that. But I'm starting to think that if we perform the way we should the next two years, it's going to happen. We have Wally's expiring, Andy, and a full slate of draft picks to potentially move this year. We have Ben Wallace's expiring (let's be honest, Z isn't going anywhere) next year, which is just massive. And we have some young players we could move if necessary. In short, I think we have the best mix of young players and trade assets to keep Bron around, and I'm starting to believe that we'll be able to keep this banner up outside the Q.

Again, welcome back, everyone! Looking forward to an exciting NBA season. T-minus 13 days.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Playing 5 on 8

Halftime of Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Boston up by 12. One of the worst officiated halves of basketball I have ever seen...pretty close to the first half of Lakers-Spurs, Game 4. Maybe more miserable because of the free throw disparity, 19-2. Leon Powe has 9 FT attempts. Normally, I'd assume that he got a bunch of offensive boards, and got fouled on put-back attempts. Nope. Powe has 1 FG attempt and 1 rebound...and 9 free throws.

The worst isn't even the fouls called on the Lakers, though at least 5 have been questionable (including all 3 on Kobe). The worst is the inconsistency. The Lakers can't touch a single Celtic, but the Celtics have to really mug a Laker to get called. I mean, the Lakers have had one - one! - shooting foul called for them.

This is tough to watch. Maybe the Celtics are better than the Lakers are. It's sure hard to tell, though, when they're taking players out of the game on touch fouls. I wish we could just have a real basketball game.

Kobe needs to drive more. Against the Celtics, he inexplicably refuses to go around Ray Allen. I know they are showing a second defender, but not even getting around Allen to challenge that second defender is a strange decision.

EDIT: Well, game pretty much over now. Lakers can't let themselves melt down like that. They let the horrible officiating get them out of their game. They have to assume that the refs are going to rig the game for Boston, and play through it. Right now, they are a soft team. You don't let Leon freaking Powe dunk on you. You knock him down and send a message.

Of course, in meaningless minutes, the refs are calling touch fouls on Boston. Way to even out the final foul count, and make the box score look fair. David Stern is a genius. I just hope he dials in Games 3 and 4 for the Lakers. Basically need to win 4 in a row now...Game 7 officiating would be a disaster.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Leaderboard Update

Andrew: 14.5 (previous two rounds) + 4 (LAL) + 4 (BOS) = 22.5
Justin: 11.5 (previous two rounds) + 4 (LAL) + 4 (BOS) = 19.5
Jordan: 10 (previous two rounds) + 4 (LAL) + 4 (BOS) = 18
Rakesh: 9.5 (previous two rounds) + 4 (LAL) = 13.5

A refresher on finals picks:

Andrew: LAL (7)
Justin: BOS (6)
Jordan: LAL (7)
Rakesh: LAL (6)

If the Lakers win, Andrew clinches it, regardless of how many games it takes. But if Boston takes advantage of home court, and pulls out the series, then Justin is our new champion. Will the prestige of the title of "Best NBA Playoff Picker" motivate Justin to root against his beloved Lakers? Only time will tell.

One thing remains certain -- Rakesh's picks were aptly titled.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Leaderboard

Still in a state of deep depression about the Cavs, mixed with resignation since it's always been clear that this is how our season would end. I'll write a retrospective on the season/prospective for the offseason shortly, but for now, a leaderboard update.

After two rounds:

Andrew: 6.5 (1st round) + 2 (DET) + 2 (LAL) + 2 (SAS) + 2 (BOS) = 14.5
Justin: 5.5 (1st round) + 2 (DET) + 2 (LAL) + 2 (BOS) = 11.5
Jordan: 4 (1st round) + 2 (DET) + 2 (LAL) + 2 (BOS)= 10
Rakesh: 5.5 (1st round) + 2 (DET) + 2 (LAL) = 9.5

Andrew rides the Spurs to a dominant lead, whereas Rakesh's sentimental pick of the Cavs turns out to bite him in the ass. Interestingly, nobody gets a bonus for picking the correct number of games for any series in the second round -- guess we all overestimated home court in some cases, and underestimated it in others.

However, Andrew has not clinched the title yet. A brief reminder of Conference Finals picks:

Andrew: LAL (7), BOS (7)
Justin: LAL (6), BOS (7)
Jordan: LAL (6), BOS (7)
Rakesh: LAL (7), DET (7)

Everyone picked the Lakers, so that series is largely inconsequential -- though two players can pick up a two point bonus. If it takes seven, Andrew is in prime position, but Rakesh is in striking distance.

The Boston-Detroit series is more interesting. With Boston looking vulnerable (and tired), and the Pistons looking motivated (and rested), Rakesh may be able to ride the Pistons to the Finals (believe it or not, he will be rooting for them because of a newly deep-seated hatred of Boston and its frontrunning fans) and a big bonus that would put him in the thick of things. It's still anyone's game.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Why I Hate Utah

It's one thing to lose a basketball game. It's another thing to lose to a dirty team. When you feel like your team got jobbed on virtually every play, as officials swallow their whistles or referee the two sides of the court inconsistently, it feels like a punch in the stomach. It leaves you feeling angry and demoralized, like the sport has been tarnished.

Playing Utah feels bad. Even when the Lakers win, I feel relieved that no one got hurt. It feels like the good guys won - the team playing real basketball, rather than some thuggish brand of rugby. And when the bad guys win, it's sad to see the good guys changing how they play. No more passing to the guy open underneath, because you know he's going to get crushed with no call. No more hard fouls at the basket, because your player will get thrown out of the game.

I hate whining about the referees, and it isn't really their fault. The Utah strategy is quite simple - referees can't call every foul, and they don't want to award one team 100 free throws a game. Thus, if you push in the back on every rebound, you'll get away with it most of the time. If you hack and grab and hold, you slow down the other team. You also anger them, and maybe a few plays later they will retaliate - and the refs will whistle that, since they want to be "fair" by calling fouls on both teams. And it's an effective strategy, especially in Utah, where the refs seem to be swayed by the crowd.

But it's a disgusting strategy. It's not basketball. I've played basketball for as long as I can remember, and everyone gets away with things on the basketball court. I've nudged a bigger player in the back, knowing that most of the time it'll help me get the rebound. I've slapped at the ball and gotten nothing but arm. And I've pushed off a defender to get a little extra space off a curl or to get a pass on an inbounds play. But I've never considered grabbing my defender and throwing him into a pick. The Jazz do. I've never pushed off when no advantage can be gained. The Jazz do, just to be "physical." These are not basketball plays. The level of grabbing that the Jazz do is unprecedented.

And the thing is, we've seen it for 25 years now. Stockton, Malone, Hornacek, Foster, Ostertag - that whole crew did it. Now Williams, Boozer, Okur, Kirilenko, Harpring (oh how I hate Harpring) do it. I didn't use to think Jerry Sloan was a dirty coach. Now, there's no other explanation.

Being physical is one thing. Being dirty is another. If the Lakers lose this series, it'll be more because of Kobe's back, Sasha's toe, and Bynum's knee than the referees. Players have to adjust to the officiating, and Game 4 would have been won with a healthy Kobe. But some small part will be because the Jazz are coached to play dirty basketball. And the fact that dirty basketball wins over unselfish, flowing, artistic basketball is something that should not be allowed.

Yes, Mr. Harpring, it's a foul to deck someone. No matter whether it's called or not, it's not part of basketball.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Crow Tastes Good + Leaderboard

Great performance by the Cavs tonight, and I have to give a great deal of the credit to Mike Brown. Yes, I called him out for a poor coaching performance last Wednesday, but give the man credit, he came up with a good game plan. The key was that he actually focused on both sides of the floor -- trademark Mike Brown defense coupled with a solid offensive gameplan. If he did that more often, I will say right now that there's no question he should remain head coach. So we'll see. I was excited by what I saw, but it's one game -- if the Cavs keep it up, then I'll be the first to say I was wrong about Mike.

Second, hopefully Wally can keep this up. This reminded me a lot of Donyell's performance in Game 6 against the Nets last year, and we all know how that turned out. But Wally looked like he was finally getting in a groove, so we'll see -- if he can shoot like this, and Boobie keeps it up, the Cavs are going to be a tough out for anyone.

Finally, I think the verdict is in -- the trade was a solid one. Joe Smith provided veteran smarts, length, and some offensive energy, even without his trademark midrange J (wait for that to start falling). Ben Wallace played solid D and changed shots, and I'll look for him to have even more of an impact against KG (if that's who we end up facing). Wally will be streaky, but when he's on, he's a much more reliable kickout option than Larry (not that that is saying much). And Delonte has quietly put up good numbers since the trade, even if he does get shot happy. Especially in a defensive system like Mike Brown's, that rewards smart defense and directing your man to positions rather than overplaying for steals, subbing in these guys for Larry and Drew was big.

So who's next? Cavs-Celts would be epic, and you have to figure that's going to be the matchup, though it has been so much fun to watch the Hawks. Who would have thought we'd get through before them?

None of us, apparently. Which brings me to the leaderboard after the first round (I say after because we all picked a Boston sweep, so we are all getting one point or none in the next round):

Andrew: 1 (LAL) + 1.5 (ORL) + 1 (SA) + 1 (NO) + 1 (DET) + 1(UT) = 6.5 pts
Rakesh: 1 (LAL) + 1 (ORL) + 1 (DET) + 1.5 (UT) + 1 (CLE) = 5.5 pts
Justin: 1 (LAL) + 1 (ORL) + 1 (DET) + 1.5 (UT) + 1(CLE) = 5.5 pts
Jordan: 1 (LAL) + 1 (ORL) + 1 (DET) + 1(UT) = 4 pts

To refresh your memory of the second round picks:

Andrew: LAL over UT (7), SAS over NO (6), BOS over WAS (6), DET over ORL (6)
Rakesh: LAL over UT (7), PHX over DAL (6), CLE over BOS (6), DET over ORL (6)
Justin: LAL over UT (7), PHX over DAL (6), BOS over CLE (5), DET over ORL (6)
Jordan: LAL over UT (7), PHX over DAL (6), BOS over WAS (5), DET over ORL (6)

So, here's how it stands -- everyone except for Andrew is rooting for the Hornets, because that will erase our catastrophic PHX/DAL picks. Rakesh (as usual) is the only one rooting for the Cavs, since that would give him a coveted two points over the rest of the field. As for the other series, nobody stands to gain or lose from the Lakers or the Pistons, since everyone made the same picks. So SAS/NO and BOS/CLE are the series to watch.

Of course, if Atlanta were to win, Rakesh would be in good position, as the only person to not have Boston in the Eastern finals. But, if Orlando takes care of business against Detroit, his Eastern pick will also be dead, meaning that it'll come down to Finals picks more than anything. Everyone's still in it, folks!

UPDATE: Looks like everyone (save Andrew) correctly picked the MVP, not that there was any score attached to that. Congrats, Kobe. You earned it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Leaderboard Update

Four series in the bag:

Andrew: 1 pt for LAL + 1.5 pts for ORL + 1 pt for SA + 1 pt for NO = 4.5 pts
Rakesh: 1 pt for LAL + 1 pt for ORL = 2 pts
Jordan: 1 pt for LAL + 1 pt for ORL = 2 pts
Justin: 1 pt for LAL + 1 pt for ORL = 2 pts

Yaphe dominating right now, correctly picking what should have been no-brainers the other way in NO and SA.

But it's not over: Andrew and Jordan will be desperately hoping the Wiz go the distance and take this one to seven, giving them 1.5 points and putting me on suicide watch. But hopefully the Cavs can get it done, which would give me and Justin a few points.

Everyone has the Jazz, who looked pretty awful tonight. If they close out in the next round, Rakesh and Justin get a coveted .5 bonus. Right now, Yaphe and Jordan are probably cursing Carl Landry for robbing them of their half point.

In other series, everyone's got to be sweating their Boston-Detroit in 4-5 picks. The upstart Hawks and 76ers have the NBA world abuzz and all four of our columnists angry over their willingness to usurp our .5 points for their moment in the sun. Actually, that's a lie -- I could not be happier that the Hawks have a shot. Same with the Sixers. KG is just too crazy for his own good . . . I'm waiting for him to actually cut Zaza's throat on the court, instead of just making "menacing gestures" like DeShawn "Gross Beard" Stevenson and Paul "Blood Sweat and Tears" Pierce. But, it looks like Philly is done; even if they take game 6 at home, they'll probably lose to Detroit, who apparently feels like showing up now.

Stay tuned for updates.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Luke Walton Phenomenon


First, quick note - Chris Paul demolished Dallas again. At this point, I'm not sure that Dallas can win this series, even though I picked them. Maybe they can rediscover their mojo at home, but having Kidd on the floor is truly a liability on offense. Paul is essentially playing free safety and ignoring Kidd on the perimeter when he doesn't have the ball.

Now, on to the main subject: the Luke Walton Phenomenon (LWP). The LWP comes in two forms. The first is when Luke Walton decides to post up whoever is guarding him, whether it be Shawn Marion or Kevin Garnett. This results in unmitigated disaster, and a confused/delighted look on the face of the defender, who usually gets 6 blocks in 3 minutes. To avoid this form of the LWP, I suggest hypnosis, or breaking the player's legs. Nothing else has been shown to work - just ask Kobe, who can be seen trying to talk some sense into Luke here. However, since most players know when their post moves only work on Brian Cook, form 1 of the LWP is mostly confined to Luke Walton.

The second form of the LWP occurs when an opponent purposely chooses to guard Luke Walton with a smaller man, thus tempting the Lakers to go outside their usual offense to seek an isolation post-up with Luke Walton. This invariably takes quite a bit of time off the clock, since the Lakers are not used to any set prominently featuring Luke Walton, and rarely results in a basket.

Tonight in the fourth quarter, the Suns fell prey to the second form of the LWP. Popovich decided to guard Boris Di
aw with either Ime Udoka or Michael Finley, both small forwards. The Suns decided to run their offense to exploit this "mismatch," force-feeding Diaw and standing around while he tried to do his "moves." Even though Diaw is a far superior player to Luke Walton, the results were disastrous - instead of a Nash-Amare screen and roll, which is virtually unguardable, the Suns got tons of awkward Diaw misses and quite a few turnovers as well. Apparently, Diaw should stick to scoring with the ladies rather than scoring in a basketball game. He might want to do some sit-ups too.

If the Suns come back to win this series, I hope Phil Jackson is paying attention. We should guard Diaw exclusively with Luke Walton and hope that the LWP can work in our favor as well. And, to be fair to Luke, he played extremely well last game - so well that Horace Grant and Karl Malone want some of the Walton love.

Monday, April 21, 2008

WHAT DO SOME OF THE PLAYOFF TEAMS REMIND ME OF?

EAST:

1) The Boston Celtics

Mainline Protestantism, Circa 1951.

Curiously dominant, and yet impossible for me to imagine feeling passionate about. Built around a gospel of redemption: things have sucked for years, but THE PROMISED ONE WILL REDEEM US. Inextricably linked to the Northeast, and accordingly given an extraordinary amount of attention. "Intense," but only in a Puritan sense.


2) The Detroit Pistons

The École Normale Supérieure.

So arrogant. So ordinary.


3) The Cleveland Cavaliers

Fabolous.

Utterly electrifying at times, but sometimes lackadaiscal and oddly complacent. "Breathe": 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. Neither would impress Harold Bloom, but both almost certainly would impress Michael Eric Dyson.

4) The Atlanta Hawks

National Socialism.


Some people are intoxicated by the "potential." Nominally associated with liberation ideology. And yet for all the babble about Lebensraum: 12-29 on the road. ONWARD PANZERS ... oh no, the Reds!


WEST:

1) The Los Angeles Lakers

China


Several years spent slogging around trying to recapture former glory; much if it is now recaptured, even if the whole edifice is currently in the future tense. More dependent on "The Machine" than most people realize, though in the Chinese context it is unclear whether that is mechanical or political. Tough enough?

2) The San Antonio Spurs

Global warming.

Inexorable--and you can't convince me otherwise--but so grim. If it comes to pass, it will mean the end of a glorious age indeed. There is nothing worse than eating skirt steak and watching the Lakers and fearing that both may vanish soon.

3) The Phoenix Suns

18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.


"The constitution, the National Assembly, the dynastic parties, the blue and red republicans, the heroes of Africa, the thunder from the platform, the sheet lightning of the daily press, the entire literature, the political names and the intellectual reputations, the civil law and the penal code, liberté, egalité, fraternité ... - all have vanished like a phantasmagoria before the spell of a man whom even his enemies do not make out to be a sorcerer."

4) The Dallas Mavericks

The Iraq War

How much can you spend to pathetically simulate success? What is the difference between these:

http://mavsblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2008/03/cubans-policy-bans-bloggers-from-locker.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/washington/20generals.html?em&ex=1209009600&en=3ee3387c020a7f71&ei=5087%0A

Having a German, even the best one in the world, is about as remarkable in today's NBA as projecting power with an aircraft carrier. VTOL jets, another Jason Kidd triple-double, it all adds up to the same thing: a loss to the insurgents, again, and again, and again.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Justin vs. Allen Iverson: The Breakdown

Watching the Lakers-Nuggets game reminded me of what an incredible player Allen Iverson is. He's a career 27.7 ppg scorer, and whatever his faults, plays incredibly hard. He is also listed at 6'0", 165 pounds (but I suspect he's actually 5'11"). I am 5'10", 165 pounds - pretty much the exact same size! This begs the question - how do I compare to Iverson? Let's break this down, Dr. Jack style.


ATHLETICISM: VERTICAL LEAP

I have a vertical leap of maybe 12 inches. AI almost certainly leaps at least 25 inches, if not 35. Even if you assume that I could train my legs and get up to 16 inches, it's pretty clear I lose here.
Advantage: Iverson


ATHLETICISM: QUICKNESS

AI has one of the quickest first steps in the league, and has a killer crossover. I eat extremely fast. I'm also 10 years younger, and everyone knows that younger players are quicker.
Advantage: Even

SHOOTING

Iverson has never been known for being a sharpshooter, and is a career 42.6% shooter. He is only 31.4% on threes. In recent years, as my explosiveness has waned, I have developed a reliable jumper playing pick-up ball against players who are usually as slow as I am. I can shoot 90% on free throws, if that's all I'm doing, and 60% on college threes if I have a rebounder. How much harder can NBA threes be?
Advantage: Justin

PASSING

Iverson is not a natural point guard, but has averaged over 7 assists the last few years because of his quickness and ability to draw double teams. I am well known for my excellent form on chest passes and bounce passes, and have never been accused of being a ballhog.
Advantage: Even

BALLHANDLING

Though Iverson averages almost 4 turnovers a game, this is usually because he dominates the ball so much on offense. His handles are quite good. I have decent handles for a big man, but probably cannot play point guard in the NBA (except against Smush Parker).
Advantage: Iverson

INSIDE GAME

I have never seen Iverson post up an opposing defender, ever. He seems to have a complete and alarming lack of post moves. In contrast, I post up early and often, and have a variety of fade-away jumpers and up-and-under moves.
BIG advantage: Justin

DEFENSE

Iverson is clearly undersized, but vultures over 2 steals a game. He's not a fantastic on-ball defender but is an underrated help defender. I average fewer steals than Iverson, but significantly more blocks. I have trouble with quicker guards but am a tough post defender even against bigger players.
Advantage: Even

AGE

Let's face the facts - Iverson is turning 35. I am turning 25. Would any GM other than Isiah Thomas take the player who is ten years older? I didn't think so.
HUGE Advantage: Justin

HEALTH

Iverson is known to take a beating as he throws his body in amongst the trees. For instance, here are his injuries from 1996-2006. He has missed an average of 10 games a year, but has not gone down with any catastrophic injuries. After being a model of good health until 2005, suffering only one sprained ankle (that did not cause any missed games) and a fractured finger (no missed games - played through it with an expert tape job administered myself. Admittedly, had no idea it was fractured until I noticed it was crooked), the past three seasons have been plagued with serious, Yao Ming-like injuries. There are serious doubts about my right knee (ACL tear), and a freak eye injury cost me much of the 2006-07 season.
Slight Advantage: Iverson

EXPERIENCE

Iverson has been in the NBA for 11 years and has been to the NBA finals (losing to the Lakers in 5 games). He was the NBA MVP in 2001. He is a 9-time NBA All-Star and has been selected to the All-NBA First Team three times. I have extensive experience playing IM basketball and hit a memorable game-winning shot in 2001. I have also hit a moderate number of clutch shots in pick-up games, without being able to rely on NBA-caliber teammates to draw the defense. I have also never played with Carmelo Anthony, instead having to carry teams on my own.
Advantage: Even

BASKETBALL INTANGIBLES

Iverson is a beloved teammate and leads by example, always playing extremely hard. However, his disrespect for authority and fiery temper can sometimes be a distraction. For instance, he just got ejected from Game 1 if the 2008 playoffs, and can clash with coaches. I have never said "It's just practice, man" and have never been ejected from a game. I also play extremely hard, and do not clash with coaches other than Mike Brown.*

* I've never played for Mike Brown, but I think he's an idiot.
Advantage: Justin

OFF-COURT BEHAVIOR / MEDIA RELATIONS

Iverson has never handled the media particularly well. His rap career, tattoos, and wild lifestyle can be a distraction to other players on a team. For instance, look how surly he looks here. He's also not wearing a shirt and might be giving the camera the finger. I have no rap career and spend most of my time working, watching sports, and chatting online. I also have a great sense of humor.
Advantage: Justin

SALARY

In the NBA, managing a salary cap is extremely important. Iverson makes $19.2M. I would accept a 2 year, $14M contract to play for a contender. If you do the math, I would make $7M a year and thus represent a $12.2M savings from Iverson.
Advantage: Justin

CONCLUSION

Iverson has an edge in two categories and a slight advantage in one. I win in four categories and have a big advantage in two. Math doesn't lie, people. It's math. Six beats three. In fact, six is DOUBLE three, leading some to make the argument that I am twice the player that AI is. I don't think this is fair, however, since statistics can sometimes be misleading.

In the end, different teams play different styles. AI plays more of a quick, slashing style while I am more physical inside and more of a pure shooter. Any team would be happy to have an Allen Iverson or a Justin on its roster. They'd be happier with Justin, but settling for Iverson - the second best 165 pound player ever - isn't a bad consolation prize.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Andrew's Picks

First of all, I don't have cable, which means that the only NBA games I get to watch on TV are occasional ABC games of the week featuring the Lakers v. whoever. In an act of protest, I will be making my predictions as if this were the 1997-1998 NBA season.

Western Conference

Round 1

Lakers over Nuggets (5)

While the Lakers won 61 games this year, finishing only a game behind Utah for best record in the West, the Nuggets scratched out a mere 11 wins. Given Denver's dreadful .134 winning percentage, it's somewhat hard to see how they even reached the playoffs. I'll assume that a young Bobby Jackson will manage to lead Denver to a win at home, but really this should be all Lakers.

Hornets over Mavericks (6)

Granted, the Hornets were in Charlotte, not New Orleans, and in the Eastern, not Western, Conference. But they won 51 games! Also I think Bobby Phills was still alive. As such, I pick them over a typically poor (for the '90s) Dallas team.

Spurs over Suns (6)

Interestingly, these teams tied at 56 wins apiece. But I think Rookie of the Year Tim Duncan will lead his scrappy squad past Sixth Man of the Year Danny Manning's Suns.

Jazz over Rockets (5)

Stockton-Malone isn't done yet; Houston is a mediocre .500 team.

West, Round 2

Lakers over Jazz (7)

Shaq is simply too dominant in the middle over, um, whichever crappy center du jour Utah has in there accumulating fouls. (Greg Ostertag?)

Spurs over Hornets (6)

Even the hot hand of Glen Rice won't be enough to overcome the deadly Duncan/Robinson combo.

West, finals:

Lakers over Spurs (7)

A classic matchup in the middle, but Shaq in his prime is too much for the still-green Duncan and over-the-hill Robinson to counter.

Eastern Conference

Round 1

Celtics over Hawks (5)

Yes, Atlanta won 50 games, and yes, Boston won a mere 36. Normally I would go with Atlanta, especially given the monster defensive duo of Blaylock/Mutombo. But come on, it's the Hawks! They ALWAYS lose in the first round, if they even make it that far. A young Ron Mercer puts Boston on his back and carries them into the second round.

Pistons over 76ers (4)

Neither team even won 40 games; why are they even in the playoffs? Only in the East ...

Magic over Raptors (5)

The Magic were a solid .500 team; the Raptors won 16 games. Marcus Camby can't block his team to more than a home win against the far-superior Magic.

Wizards over Cavs (7)

This is an interesting matchup. Washington won 42 games, while Cleveland won 47. But Rod Strickland had one of the finest seasons of his underrated career, leading the league in assists, and Juwan Howard and Chris Webber were erratic but often dominant in the frontcourt. Cleveland got amazing performances out of its rookies: astonishingly, four Cavs made the first or second All-Rookie Team. (Granted, one of them was Cedric Henderson, but still!) I see the Wizards gutting out a first round win for coach, um, Bickerstaff?

Round 2

Celtics over Wizards (6)

Ron Mercer is lighting up these playoffs!

Pistons over Magic (6)

Even Lil Penny cannot save this Orlando team, still reeling from the loss of Shaq. Grant Hill carries the Pistons to victory; Detroit fans smile at the thought of all the playoff wins he'll be leading the team to over the next decade or so.

Round 3

Celtics over Pistons (7)

RON MERCER

NBA Finals:

Lakers over Celtics (7)

Del Harris leads his ragtag squad to the title, despite clutch game 3 and 6 performances from Antoine Walker.

MVP: Shaq, I guess.

Playoff Picks

Western Conference

(1) LA Lakers over (8) Denver (5 games)

This could be a tougher series than many pundits think, but the Lakers just haven't had that much trouble with Denver in recent years. This is the best possible first-round matchup for LA, of all the West playoff teams, and I think LA comes out ready to take care of business.

(4) Utah over (5) Houston (6 games)

Utah is scary good, even though they can't win on the road. Houston looks terrible on paper, but they are much more impressive as a unit because their players all know their roles and play them well. In the end, though, T-Mac isn't going to get out of the first round again - he's just running into a superior, tougher opponent, and T-Mac just isn't tough enough himself.

(6) Phoenix over (3) San Antonio (7 games)

Fact - Shaq has held Duncan to 15-40 shooting in their last two match-ups (though, to be fair, one was without Manu). Grueling series for both teams, but San Antonio is just too old right now. If Manu comes back and is at full-strength, the Spurs stand a chance, but if he's still hurt at all, then they're going to go down in flames. Can Phoenix win on the road in Game 7? That's the real question - and I'm going to say yes, because the Shaq trade was made essentially to allow the Suns to beat the Spurs.

(7) Dallas over (2) New Orleans (6 games)

Either the Hornets win in 7, or the Mavs win in 6 - I can't see these Mavs taking a game 7 on the road. They're just too soft. I'm going to go with the Mavs, because they've been playing much better recently and because Dirk's mojo seems to be back. Even though he doesn't seem to understand the concept of popping his jersey (Dirk, the point is to emphasize the team name on the front, not the fact that you can untuck your shirt), the Big German has been more herky-jerky than ever since coming back from his injury. The more odd his moves look, the more effective his game.

Also, New Orleans just looks exhausted. Did they fight too hard to try to win the West? They've also been blessed with near perfect health, and are one of the shallowest West teams. If they have any injury to their rotation, they're toast. Too fragile for me.

By the way, if the Lakers had gotten the Mavs in the first round, the Mavs could have trotted out a lineup of Kidd, Howard, Brendan Bass, Dirk, and Dampier. Terrifying lineup - bigger than the Lakers at every spot, capability to pound on the offensive glass, extremely athletic up and down. I think the Lakers would have had a ton of trouble matching up there. Of course, Avery would play Jason Terry and Stackhouse instead, micro-manage, and eventually his head would explode while Phil sat back and laughed at him.

Western Conference - Second Round

(1) LA Lakers over (4) Utah (7 games)

Tough, tough series for both teams. As I mentioned, Utah terrifies me. Ultimately, if the Jazz had home-court advantage, I think I go with Utah. Because the Lakers do, I'll take them and pray that Bynum can make it back early for this series. His size is sorely missed. Then again, who am I kidding? Bynum back early? Not with the Lakers medical staff...it's been what, 14 weeks already? For an 8 week recovery? I'll be happy if he plays next year.

(6) Phoenix over (7) Dallas (6 games)

Battle of the panicky short-sighted mid-season trades that came together faster than anyone expected. The Suns are better because Shaq has really freed Amare up to do his thing; the Mavs are better because Kidd has lit a fire under Dirk. In the end, I think the Suns take this one. Again, if the Mavs would play Bass more and Stackhouse less, they'd have a shot, but Avery seems to be incapable of deviating from his system at all.

Western Conference Finals

(1) Lakers over (6) Phoenix (6 games)

What a tough road to the finals, and what a phenomenal matchup. I am basing this pick assuming Bynum can make it back for this series, and play 15-20 min a game of solid rebounding and defense. If he is not back, then Phoenix may take it in 6 or 7. The key to this series is rebounding - if the Lakers control the glass, they control the tempo and will pick apart the Suns defense. If the Suns dominate the offensive boards, then they get easy put-back points and the Lakers won't be able to score enough to win.

Eastern Conference - First Round

(1) Boston over (8) Atlanta (4 games)

Not much to say here...welcome to the playoffs, Mr. Childress.

(4) Cleveland over (5) Washington (7 games)

Toughest pick of the first round. Washington has the better team; Cleveland has the best player. In the end, I'm going to just assume that Lebron isn't going to let his team lose this series. His game 7 line might be 64-29-21-5-4. And it probably has to be for his team to win.

Also, I am picking the Cavs so Rakesh does not murder me in my sleep. That seems like a good reason.

(3) Orlando over (6) Toronto (6 games)

I like Toronto; they have good guards, and Bosh is a versatile player. But they're a cute team, not a playoff team. Where is the toughness going to come from? Who's going to stop Howard? Who will match up with Turkoglu? The Magic are too tough for the Raptors, and TJ Ford might die on the court at any time trying to fight through a Dwight Howard pick.

(2) Detroit over (7) Philadelphia (5 games)

Detroit goes up 2-0, winning by a combined 30 points, gets bored and drops game 3, then finishes off Philly.

Eastern Conference - Second Round

(1) Boston over (4) Cleveland (5 games)

LeBron is amazing, but Boston is just going to absorb his 40 ppg and laugh at the 30 points that the rest of the team put up. Much as I'd love an upset of Boston, the only team capable of challenging them in the East is Detroit. The more interesting question is whether Ben Wallace has more points or more fouls in this series. I think it'll be close.

(2) Detroit over (3) Orlando (6 games)

Assuming the Pistons come to play, they should take this pretty easily. The key, as always, is Rasheed Wallace. I still have flashbacks to playoff games in the Garden, against Portland, as Sheed got the ball in the post against Robert Horry on the first play of every game, as the crowd exploded: "Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed!"

And yes, I am still terrified of Mr. Wallace. He needs to post up more and shoot fewer threes.

Eastern Conference Finals

(1) Boston over (2) Detroit (7 games)

Really looking forward to this one, but Boston is the better team. I really hope KG's head explodes in a blowout win, as he screams at Kendrick Perkins for not diving after a meaningless loose ball with 10 seconds left.

NBA Finals

(1) Boston over (1) Lakers (6 games)

Sadly, I just don't think the Lakers will beat Boston in a 7-game series this year. In both head-to-head matchups, the Celtics destroyed the Lakers. Also, the Lakers simply won't be at full strength. If LA had Bynum and Ariza healthy and integrated into the offense, then I'd take LA in 7 - the Lakers would simply be too big for Boston, with Gasol, Bynum, and Odom up front. This year, with both players out, the Lakers don't have the firepower.

Prove me wrong, Lakers.

MVP: Kobe Bryant

I wouldn't be upset if any of the other front-runners won either. In the end, Kobe edges out Lebron because of toughness and leadership - Kobe played through a torn tendon that should have required surgery, while Lebron sat out too many games with a sprained finger. He beats Paul because Paul's team was healthier the whole season, so CP3 did not have to change his game to accommodate a shifting roster. Paul also seemed to run out of gas at the end.

Garnett did transform a franchise, but his individual numbers were worse than the other candidates, and this was not his best individual year. In fact, I thought Pierce was the most important player on that team most nights. The "turned a franchise around" argument is compelling, but I wonder where the line is when a star has a down year in stats. What if team X signed some veteran leader, a Derek Fisher type, and that veteran unquestionably turned the team around? He changed the defensive intensity. He reached out to the star player and got him to play harder. He nurtured the young guys. If that guy averaged 10 points and 9 rebounds, is he the MVP if he changed the franchise? I say no. KG obviously has better numbers than that, but where is the line?

Giving the MVP to Steve Nash two years running, when he wasn't even the best player on his own team, basically ruined the MVP debate. If Kobe had won as he should have in 2006, then this year we could give the award to Paul or LBJ. Instead, we're stuck with a situation where Paul is a better PG than Nash was in either of his MVP seasons, and Kobe turned in a performance that was statistically very similar to his performance the last few years. Plus, we now have the awkward precedent of giving the MVP to someone who can't play defense. If you read recent MVP articles, writers are coming up with convoluted defenses of why Nash could win those years, but this year the criteria are totally different. Marc Stein sounded like a Supreme Court justice trying to draw some artificial distinction between nad law that he had made a few years earlier and the facts before him now. Simmons (who never supported Nash for MVP) argued that Kobe shouldn't win this year because his stats were worse than 2006, and he didn't win then. Fellas, the system is broken. Y'all gave the MVP to some nice, clean-cut Canadian kid who was good at passing the ball to All-Star teammates, not just once but twice, when all the statistics showed that that was ludicrous. Now you have to live with the choice, but it's still impossible to justify

Kobe will win this year, simply because the MVP voters screwed up in 2006. Better late than never, I guess, but it doesn't feel entirely satisfying.

The Stupid Picks

FIRST ROUND

Boston-Atlanta

Boston in 4. They're just too good. The Celtics will force Atlanta to play a halfcourt game, and they'll suffocate them on defense. It will be funny to watch how Garnett reacts the first time Josh Smith throws down a monster dunk; my guess is he breaks his back over his knee, Kane style.

Cleveland-Washington

Cleveland in 7. I think this one's going to be a hell of a series. I'm definitely worried about the Cavs; while I think the trade made us better on paper, it did disrupt some decent on-the-floor chemistry. But, Caron's a bit beaten up, and Arenas is such a wild card. More importantly, I understand the parallels between this year's Cavs and last year's Heat – but there are two differences. First, Z ended the season on a high note (unlike Shaq last year). And, LeBron is bigger, more physical, and more unstoppable than D-Wade. It'll be a bloodbath, but we'll pull it out.

Detroit-Philadelphia

Detroit in 5. I think Philadelphia will steal one at home. The Pistons will probably get up two, relax a bit, and then put things together in Games 4 and 5. Philly has almost no chance, since they thrive on getting up and down the floor, and Detroit really takes you out of that game.

Orlando-Toronto

Orlando in 6. Orlando will probably win the series because they're so damn tough to guard when they're hitting threes. I mean, despite the lack of anything resembling a PG (they may be worse off than my Cavs in that department) they have Dwight Howard (who's probably too much for Bosh to handle over six games) and two 6'10" guys who can hoist threes.. I expect there will be two games where the combination of Lewis and Turkoglu going cold (this happens when you're a shooter) and Bosh taking it to Howard will result in Toronto wins. But ultimately, Toronto just has too many tall, ugly white guys (here's looking at you, Rasho).

Lakers-Nuggets

Lakers in 5. This series should feature amusingly high scores. Most of them by the Lakers. It's funny to think, though – remember when people were saying it was a close call as to who was going to have a better career between Melo and LeBron? I think AI's going to gut out one "no way we lose" game, because he's just that kind of player. But the Lakers have too much talent, and Denver's a team that goes for the fancy play instead of the fundamental play that works. Can't do that against Kobe and Pau.

Utah-Rockets

Utah in 6. T-Mac's curse continues. I think the Rockets would have done serious damage with Yao active, but his injury just kills them. Plus, when Rafer Alston goes down and that's a big loss for your team, that's not a great sign. But, watching the Houston crowd in a game against the Lakers this year, I think they might be good enough to let the Rockets steal a couple at home. But, the Jazz are a great home team, they're solid at every position, and despite AK-47 being the biggest fantasy disappointment on my team, they'll probably win. Did I mention that I HATE Carlos Boozer?

New Orleans-Dallas

Dallas in 6. I know they're thought of as soft, and I know the trade looked bad on paper, and I know they haven't exactly been dominant. But I saw them play New Orleans at the end of the season in what was basically a meaningless game, and they had that look in their eye. Kidd knows he can't afford to lose this series, Avery Johnson is coaching for his job, Dirk is playing to prove he's not soft, and Josh Howard wants to prove he deserves the perpetually-underrated label. I love CP3 and think he elevates his team, but there's only so much there. I'm going with Dallas. (Plus, maybe a string of playoff disappointments will convince CP3 to come out East!)

San Antonio-Phoenix

Phoenix in 6. They made the trade for this series. They thought it would happen later in the playoffs, but it's here nevertheless. Simply put, Shaq occupies Duncan and makes things extremely hard for him. Nash is a better PG-who-can't-defend than Parker. Stoudemire is basically unguardable at this point. And, even Bowen is minimized because instead of trying to injure a superstar, he'll be battling against fellow pest Raja Bell. I think this is Phoenix's year to shed this monkey off their backs.


SECOND ROUND:

Cleveland-Boston

This one really, really hurts my heart. On the one hand, I know Boston is the better team. They have a better starting lineup, they play tenacious defense, and they have just a sick amount of chemistry and intensity. And maybe losing to the Celtics wouldn't be the worst thing in the whttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.giforld for the Cavs -- it might put more pressure on Ferry to go after Redd, and maybe if (ok, when) Mike Brown gets outcoached by Doc Rivers, we'll consider firing him and getting a real coach, as opposed to a defensive coordinator.

But.

I watched the YouTube of LeBron's Game 5 last year. And then I watched it again, and again, and again. Who on Boston can stop him? Pierce can't really guard LeBron, and his MO is to just get into a stupid cockfight with LeBron where he starts jacking up wild shots. Z is slow, old, and lumbering, but he's a surprisingly good offensive player who plays well with LeBron. Plus Delonte West (yes, Delonte West) is playing with a glint in his eye since for the first time in years, he's going back to the postseason. If the Cavs can get some chemistry -- if the team can get together and unite -- then I think they can get this done. But if they continue to look fractured and inconsistent, and not trust the defensive system, they won't.

I'll know if this is a good pick or not early on. It'll happen after the first time Boston gets a cheap dunk. If Ben Wallace does what he was brought here to do and throws the next guy coming into the lane down, then I think we can do it. If we let ourselves get pushed around, we'll lose.

I know this is a dumb pick. I know it's not going to happen. And I know I'm going to lose this bracket challenge because of it, because Boston is going to win the NBA Championship this year. But I've been proven wrong by LeBron before. And I'm really, really sick of losing to Boston. I'm taking the Cavs in 6.

Detroit-Orlando

Pistons in 6. I think this will be a better series than people expect. IF (and this is the big if with Orlando) their wing players shoot well, they'll have a shot at taking a few games. And there's really nobody on Detroit's squad who can guard Dwight Howard. But, I do think the Pistons can do a good job preventing him from getting the ball. All told, I'm not sure how much Flip Saunders is going to trust his bench, but at least his starters are more rested than last year. And I think the Pistons are just going to have an edge this year after losing last year, and being told that Boston's the team to beat. It'll go to six, but I think the Pistons will pull it out.

Los Angeles-Utah

Los Angeles in 7: This one is going to be a close series. Utah is an outstanding team, and they're strong across the board. But I think LA is just a touch better. Kobe's a man with a mission right now, and the one-two punch of him and Pau is as good, if not better, than Deron-Boozer (did I mention I hate Carlos Boozer)? Ultimately, though, I think LA's got better supporting players -- I'd take Odom, Fisher, and Radmanovic over Okur, the lost-in-the-woods Kirilenko, and Ronnie Brewer. And LA's second unit plays together as well as any. I think home court is going to carry, but this one will be fun to watch.

Phoenix-Dallas

Suns in 6. Another battle of a series. These two teams match up pretty well against each other -- both have superlative power forwards who don't play defense, slightly older PGs who have unsurpassed court vision (and also play no defense), big men who have underperformed of late, bench guys who are horribly streaky (Barbosa and Terry, I'm thinking of you) and something to prove after controversial midseason trades. I'm not sure why my gut tells me Phoenix is going to win, but there's something about the Suns this year that just seems more loose and relaxed than Dallas. Maybe that's the benefit of having Shaq on your team. I think the Big Diesel prevails, esp. knowing he'll get to face Kobe in the next round.

CONFERENCE FINALS:

Cleveland-Detroit

A rematch of epic proportions. Last year, this series was where we saw LeBron make the leap. Will it be the same this year? I think the Pistons are hungrier than before, and I think they have what it takes. The question is, can we get inside their heads like we did before. Can we come out in the first game (which I guarantee we will lose) and play them close enough that they start worrying about last year all over again? And can we find someone to step up and make shots?

Ultimately, I think the thing here is momentum. If the Cavs manage to get to this point, they'll have a ton of confidence in themselves after knocking off the team everyone guaranteed would win the championship. But, Detroit is a great basketball team, and they've been operating under the radar all year. I think I'm going to hedge my bets and take Detroit in 7.

AAAAAGH! That was the sound of my body convulsing. But, I'm going to stick with the pick.

Lakers-Suns

Lakers in 7. This will be one of the most fun series to watch in a long time. These teams have history already, plus you add in the Shaq-Kobe rivalry as well. Shaq's going to play like a beast in this series. He's going to have all the fire in the world. And the Lakers are going to struggle to defend Amare. But, in the end, I'm picking Kobe and the Aston 5. The Lakers are playing with a ridiculous swagger this year. They're one of the most fun teams in basketball. And they've got a great home crowd.

NBA Finals:

Lakers in 6. The title returns to LA. This would be an exciting series, largely because the last time it happened, Detroit stopped the unthinkable four-peat, and the Lakers fell apart for a while. But this time, Karl Malone won't be hunting little Mexican girls, Payton won't be talking so much that he forgets he's supposed to be guarding someone. I think this time, Kobe gets it done. The Pistons will struggle with him, and even when they do shift to him, Lamar and Pau should be able to finish. I just don't see the same offensive firepower on the other end. Plus, Kobe's a closer. Once he gets to the Finals, he's not going to let his team lose. Justin and Jordan, enjoy -- because next year, LeBron and Redd are going to end the drought.

MVP:

While I think the most valuable player to his team is unquestionably LeBron (if you took him away from the Cavs we'd go 2-80), I think the NBA will give the MVP to Kobe. Even though the Lakers would be a decent team without him (Bynum + Pau + Odom), Kobe has shown true grit and determination all year. He's playing injured, he's more of a team player, and he's on a more successful team.

Next year, however, ATWGMR (assuming that we get Michael Redd), LeBron will go on a statistical tear, potentially average a triple double, and will do a video of him jumping over a Hummer H2 before the playoffs. So it's his next year. And then, the Bryce Maximus era begins . . .

The Picks.

West, Round 1:

1. Lakers over Denver (5)

AI gets 50,
But Carmelo is still drunk.
Brazilians weep.

2. Dallas over New Orleans (7)

Soundtrack of first round
Becomes Rammstein. "Dirk ist gut,"
Chant game seven Fans.

3. Phoenix over San Antonio (7)

Shaq will take credit,
Though he will pretend not to.
Stat is the real key.

4. Utah over Houston (5)

I will take the Jazz
In honor of Conti-Brown.
But come on--Landry?

West, Round 2:

1. Lakers over Utah (7)

Fierce battle of wills:
Preview of Armageddon.
This time, Satan wins.


2. Phoenix over Dallas (6)

Shaq ought to suffer,
But who will stop Amare?
More Cuban anguish.


West Finals:

1. Lakers over Suns (6)

Redemption is sweet.
If Steve Nash punches Sasha,
Then all the better.


East, Round 1:

1. Boston over Atlanta (4)

I can't dignifiy
This lame series with haiku.
Poor, poor, poor G-State.

2. Detroit over Philadelphia (5)

Series asks, Whither
The post-industrial world?
Too bad Philly sucks.

3. Orlando over Toronto (6)

D-Howard and Bosh!
And yet I would rather read
Con law than watch this.

4. Washington over Cleveland (7)

This pick will enrage
Rakesh. But it is a case
Of too much Wally.

East, Round 2:

1. Boston over Washington (5)

This reminds me of
"National Treasure" starring
Nic Cage. But much worse.

2. Detroit over Orlando (6)

More social science:
Twentieth century grit
Owns simulacra.

East Finals:

Boston over Detroit (6)

Only Rasheed can
Give these Pistons a shot. A
tiny one, mind you.


NBA Finals:

Lakers over Boston (7)

Garden crowd shocked;
BYNUM makes surprise return
To crush KG. Fin.

MVP: Kobe Bryant

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Looking Back on the West

The Lakers won the Western Conference today, a result that seemed unfathomable after those two bad losses to Charlotte and Memphis in March. The rest of the playoff picture isn't set, and there really are no easy matchups. I'm terrified of Utah and Phoenix, and don't really want to play San Antonio either (though they are looking old and vulnerable), but I can wait one more day to figure out what the path to the Finals will look like. I'll find out if I can win my fantasy league too. However things shape up, this should be one of the best NBA playoffs ever.

For the past few months, ever since the Laker injuries started piling up, I've been trying to distance myself from this team and not get too invested in this year. After all, there is a real possibility that Bynum may be done for the season, and Ariza is probably not coming back. Kobe is playing with 4 fingers on his shooting hand and his accuracy from the perimeter has noticeably tanked. Fisher has a torn tendon in his foot. And we still have Luke Walton. There's no sense getting too caught up in this year when the next few years will really show us what this team can do.

How good can the Lakers be next year? Even if Bynum never returns as he was this year, a very real possibility given the sorry Lakers medical staff, his floor is something like Andris Biedrins. Add a Biedrins to this squad to toughen up the post defense and the defensive rebounding, and you are looking at a 60 win team. Add back in Ariza - who has a history of foot problems, so might not be able to recover his athleticism, but is still a significant upgrade over Luke Walton - and I think this team could win 62-65 games.

Now, what if the Lakers sign Kwame Brown as a free agent this offseason for 2 years, $4.5M, a cake to throw at Rony Turiaf, and a guarantee that his coach won't meow at him anymore? I think Kwame can be had for that price because the rest of the league thinks he sucks. But he knows the Lakers system, has good chemistry here, and is an underrated post defender and rebounder. Matched up against second-string centers, he can be extremely effective (and was playing very well last season before his injuries). Plus, Kwame is always good to liven up the locker room, even if he likes practical jokes more than basketball.

Let's look at best-case scenario, then. What if Bynum returns and is healthy and explosive, like this year? What if we hire the Phoenix medical staff to fix Ariza's foot, and he is rejuvenated like Grant Hill? What if the Lakers sign a healthy Kwame Brown, an unquestionable upgrade over DJ Mbenga? Here is the Lakers roster:

Starters: Derek Fisher (maybe Jordan Farmar by next year), Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol

Reserves: Farmar/Fisher, Sasha Vujacic, Kwame Brown, Trevor Ariza, Rony Turiaf, Vladimir Radmanovic, Luke Walton

That is a team that goes 12 deep, with a phenomenal first unit AND second unit, with an excellent backup at every position. Against a big team like San Antonio, the Lakers can go big with Bynum, Gasol, Odom, Kwame, Turiaf. Against a smaller team, the Lakers can bring in Ariza to shadow the perimeter guys and Sasha/Vlad for extra shooting. That is TWELVE guys who can play (okay, 11 if you take out Luke Walton). Most guys on the bench can play several positions, adding quite a bit of versatility.

The quality of the bench is what excites me the most. Even in the Kobe-Shaq era, the Lakers were rarely a deep team. Turiaf has joined the ranks of Millsap, Maxiell, and Bass as reserve energy PFs who can really play, and Sasha has evolved into the guy I trust most to shoot the ball from deep. Ariza is a defensive stopper and brings much-needed athleticism. Farmar/Fisher is a solid backup PG. Kwame would toughen up this team immediately. We don't even have to play Luke Walton AT ALL!

How good can this team really be? Anytime the 57-win champion of the most competitive conference in recent history is saying "Just wait 'til next year," it could be a very special team indeed.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Gasol Effect

No player on the Lakers has been more positively affected by Pau Gasol's presence than Lamar Odom. Friday's game against Dallas was one of Odom's finest efforts as a Laker, and probably the most impressive performance he has had against any team that is not Phoenix. Odom has always been able to pound inside and dominate the smaller Suns, and he looked like that guy again on Friday night against the Mavs.

Without Gasol for the past nine games, Odom looked like last year's player - tentative, frustrated, and stressed. After clanging a jumper or losing a ball out of bounds, he would unveil the Odom Smirk - an infuriating, creepy, and out-of-place grin after making a bad play in a critical moment. With Gasol back on the court, though, the Odom Smirk turned into a happy Lamar smile. Lamar just loves playing with Gasol. He no longer has to be as big of a scoring option, and can instead show off his fantastic interior passing and his ballhandling skills on the wing.

Last night, though, Lamar showed the whole package. For one of the few times I've seen, he simply dominated the game. Instead of tentatively standing 20 feet away while defenders backed off, he charged into the post repeatedly, or drove assertively to force contact. Once the defender came, he either dumped it to Gasol, or ball-faked and went up with his RIGHT hand! His RIGHT!

If Lamar could do this every game, and Sasha could hit 1998 Ray Allen-esque jumpers, the Lakers would never lose. Of course, that's not possible, but it sure was fun watching it for one game. LA is still a team working out the kinks, and it's uncertain how Bynum will integrate when he gets back, but it's easy to forget sometime how incredibly talented Lamar Odom really is. I hope I get the chance to notice that again before the season ends.

Edit: Do you think Pau and Kobe laugh over this play now?
Also, I'm glad I can now laugh about the Smush Parker era.

Friday, March 28, 2008

...Or Was This The Worst Loss of the Season?

Hard to say. Memphis or Charlotte? Which is worse?

Does it even matter?

But hey, at least there was a Chris Mihm sighting. Good job, Gary Vitti.

Of course, Fisher now has a partially torn tendon in his foot, that normally takes 6-8 weeks of rest. He said that his foot had felt a little tight for a few weeks, and he knew something wasn't quite right, but it "flew under the radar." Then he injured it last game. So, your starting point guard feels something wrong in his foot for two weeks, but that flies under the radar? Would this happen in Phoenix? I take back the kudos.

What a miserable game.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Worst Loss of the Season

The Bobcats? At home? Ugh. What else is there to say. Sometimes I forget that with their current roster, the Lakers are just last year's team. And that team wasn't very good. Thanks, Gary Vitti - maybe Pau, Bynum, Mihm, and Ariza can make it back for next season, at least.

More interesting is the ongoing saga of Kobe's rage. He picked up his 14th and 15th technicals last night, for no good reason at all. Yes, he was playing poorly. Yes, so was his team. But he just went off, and though the second technical seemed questionable, he has got to be more careful.

Ever since the finger injury, Kobe has been filled with unbridled rage. (Edit: he has 11 technical fouls in the last 11 weeks, after having only 4 on Jan. 12.) There is only one explanation for this - 'roid rage. Kobe's got to be taking tons of medications to control pain and swelling. At the same time, he is angry all the time. In games, he looks like he wants to throw the barrel of a broken bat at a batter, or at least go and pick fights in back alleys after the game. Maybe he takes Sasha with him, since that guy could annoy anyone he met. Lamar would be too busy smirking nervously in his room.

Henry offered an alternative explanation for Kobe's anger - maybe he spends all his time at home dealing with nagging women, in Vanessa and her mother. "Why haven't you won an MVP yet? How come that Bynum guy is still around after you demanded a trade? Did you repaint Hagrid's cottage like I asked you to? Karl Malone called me again. When are you going to do something about it?"

Yep, maybe that's it. I'd be in a bad mood at the office too.

Time for Us to Make Another City Freak Out

OK, so I saw Cavs-Hornets at the Q last night, and damn . . . CP3 is outstanding. Anyone who can make Tyson Chandler and David West look that good is insane. So I got to thinking.

1.) LeBron has always wanted a sick PG.

2.) Chris Paul and LeBron James are "like brothers" -- quote from LeBron. Also, CP3 was apparently there for the birth of LeBron's kid.

3.) New Orleans is in the West, which is by far the more difficult conference.

4.) The Cavs are in the East, which is by far the easier conference.

5.) New Orleans is having trouble filling seats in its arena.

6.) CP3 is a free agent in 2009.

7.) The Cavs have 30M coming off the cap in 2009.

What does this add up to? It's time for us to talk about stealing someone else's best player. CP3 in Cleveland in 2009!

How does this happen? Well, the best part is we don't even have to kick the tires around for a year before we can improve the team. Our current roster just isn't good enough to win a title (I think). But we have plenty of assets. So here's how you do it.

THIS OFFSEASON:

1.) Draft Robin Lopez (if possible). He's basically Andy Varejao, and he has equally good hair.

2.) This, of course, makes Varejao tradeable (as does his expiring contract). So be ready to trade that + Eric Snow's expiring (together, I think they come to 13M). Maybe offer those two plus some draft picks during the offseason to Milwaukee for Redd? That's a fairly enticing package (though teams don't trade within divisions) similar to the LA package that got Gasol (young player + pick + expiring contract). Plus we get similar production to Andy in Robin, while also picking up an outstanding shooter who loves LeBron.

2a.) Alternatively, we could just trade Wally's fat expiring this offseason, plus some draft picks, for Redd or a similar player.

3.) Re-sign Daniel Gibson.

OFFSEASON 2009:

4.) Let Wally's contract (if his is the expiring we keep) or Andy's and Eric's (if we keep them) expire in 2009, along with the expiring of Joe Smith (good vet who'll be good to have around next year) and Damon Jones. That frees up roughly 22M of cap space (probably a bit more).

5.) Max out CP3. That's about 14M a year (I think) which means we inexplicably save 8M while adding one of the top three players in the league.

6.) Kick the tires around on trades for Ben Wallace and possibly Z (30M in expiring contracts the next year).

2009-2010 REGULAR SEASON

7.) Win NBA Championship with impossible-to-defend trifecta of CP3-Redd-LeBron.

2010 OFFSEASON

8.) Re-up LeBron.

9.) Retire Zydrunas Ilgauskas's number.

10.) Laugh as 30M in Z and Ben's contracts (if not already traded) come off the books, while the Cavs retain their dominant core.

This would be the best team in basketball, hands down. Think Pierce-Allen-Garnett is a big three? Try on CP3-LeBron-Redd. I think I just peed a little in excitement.

So now, I'm going to cross my fingers for Danny Ferry to read this and do the right thing (after the Cavs lose to the Pistons or Celtics this year, which I think might happen given what I saw last night.)

Friday, March 7, 2008

More evidence against Gary Vitti

Ariza out until the playoffs. Bynum way behind schedule. Kobe calling his finger the most aggravating injury he's ever had.

This is not looking good.

Let's all just exhale . . .

So, just finished watching the Cavs game on Tivo. I think I ended up fast forwarding through the entire second half, out of disappointment. For a while, I considered my usual pound-the-couch-hit-the-remote routine, but then realized that there really is no point.

These are not the Cavs.

What do I mean? Well, I know the Cavs are a no-excuses team, which I like. I've always been impressed with Mike Brown and Danny Ferry and how they just do not blame or allow their players to blame back-to-backs or bad refereeing for losses. But, the fact of the matter is that the Cavs just are not the Cavs. What do I mean?

Well, the reason the Cavs made this trade was to increase their defensive presence by picking up a guy like Ben Wallace. A lot of people complain about him not being able to defend the rim, but that's not what Big Ben does. He's best when there's another big man near him protecting he post so that roam and defend players out on the perimeter and then get blocks from behind. Remember that play against Memphis, when he stopped Kyle Lowry from getting the entry pass? That's Big Ben's game. When you ask him to just patrol the paint, you end up disappointed (that's why he didn't work out in Chicago) because he's a bit too small and slow. So, right now, he's hurting because he misses Ilgauskas badly. When Z comes back, Wallace can roam a bit more, and he'll be ten times more effective (not to mention that we'll actually have a second offensive weapon in our starting lineup).

Another reason we made the trade was to pick up a shooter in Wally. His shot seems to be coming around, but he's best when he can operate with less pressure. Having Boobie around as another big shooter will help Wally calm down and stop pressing so much. Same is true for Delonte, who's still learning where he needs to be.

Plus, Andy is just hurting right now. He's clearly not where he should be health-wise. He's not getting to loose balls, he's not able to finish, and he's settling for jumpers. These aren't things that Andy should be struggling at, and the reason he is is just that his explosiveness is not back yet. Having Z back, letting Andy get a bit more rest, and letting him come off the bench (which is his skill set) will really help Andy come around. And as for another injured player, Sasha Pavlovic, people forget what a good defender he was in the playoffs. We really miss his size on the perimeter.

So let's all relax. There is some cause for concern -- LeBron getting a bit too MVP starry eyed and not getting any assists in the first half, for one. As Barkley accurately pointed out at the half, LeBron is at the best when he establishes his teammates as threats early (threes from Boobie and Wally, post play from Z, pick and pop J's from Z and Joe Smith, etc.) and then takes over later. He didn't do that last night, and it really hurt the team. But I think last night may have been a wake-up call for him, and I expect him to play better on Saturday.

Ultimately, the Cavs need to get healthy. I think when everyone comes back, people will see just how good this team can be (with a lot of shooters and low post threats, I think they will be quite good). But we need to get there first. So while it will be frustrating for the next few weeks until Z and Boobie come back, hopefully LeBron will use it as an opportunity to integrate his new teammates. And hopefully Mike Brown will stop starting a 2-on-5 offensive lineup and start Wally and/or Joe Smith, so that we have some semblance of an offense early. That would make it considerably easier for LeBron to not have to dominate from the get-go.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better

The battle of one-upsmanship between LeBron and Kobe has just gotten out of hand.

Sunday (morning): LeBron tries to get his teammates involved, and after seeing them generally confused and out of sorts, decides to just take over the game in the fourth quarter. In one stretch, he does it all -- hits a ridiculous through-the-lane floater where he switches hands in midair; throws down a SICK dunk, hits a nice fadeaway 16-footer a la Detroit Game Five, and then sets up Wally in the corner for a dagger three. Final score: 95-86. LeBron: 37 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists.

Sunday (right after): Kobe decides to take it a step further, and after watching his team struggle to beat a newly bad Dallas team (who kept it close only because Kidd didn't have to guard anyone at PG), steps it into overdrive in the fourth quarter and OT. Looks a bit like a kid in the candy store playing with Pau in the first quarter, but then does it all himself from there. Final score: 108-104 (OT). Kobe: 52 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists.

Tonight: LeBron hits the big stage. Just shoots the lights out. He's said he's at an all time comfort level and it really is showing. Not only is he driving with both hands going both ways, but he's making it rain from three point land. He's looking more unstoppable than I've ever seen a player, and he's doing it with a team that isn't doing a lot for him, but is setting him up when necessary. Final score: 119-105. LeBron: 50 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists.

These guys know who's in the running for MVP. And they're putting on shows every night. It's a great time to be a Cavs and Lakers fan.

OK, so more on the Cavs.

I haven't written on this yet, but I saw Larry's comments about wanting to have fun more than winning. To be honest, I'm not surprised, but I am glad that he's gone. I think Larry is a genuinely good person -- he's done a lot of great community work in Cleveland and he was well-liked in the locker room. But to suggest that the Cavs should have run an offense to fit his needs; to ignore the fact that the Cavs won a ton of games with him at the point . . . in favor of getting to take a few more wild bricks? Come on, Larry.

I guess that's my favorite thing about the trade. All of the guys we got want to win. Drew Gooden lost focus too frequently, and Larry clearly didn't care that much. I don't think the move was a huge upgrade talent-wise, but I think it is an upgrade attitude-wise. Joe Smith is a great locker room guy and is on the downside of a career in which he's never lived up to expectations, and so wants a title to cap it all off. Ben Wallace wants to prove that he wasn't just a system guy in Detroit. Delonte had a taste of winning at St. Joe's and I think wants another. And then there's Wally. His face after he hit that three against CHI was just priceless -- he's fired up to be at home, and to be in a perfect situation.

Obviously, there are still some concerns. Ben Wallace looks a touch slow on his rotations, though the Cavs have given him freedom to roam a bit more and he had a nice defensive line tonight -- 7 boards, but 2 steals and 3 blocks. Wally's shot is a bit streaky -- I think he's pressing because for the first time he has someone setting him up in positions where he's so wide open that he can't believe it. But that shot will come around. Joe Smith is proving to be an upgrade over Drew Gooden -- good midrange game, smart player, and good rebounder -- but he's certainly lost a step.. I'd like to see him get more PT -- in fact, I really like the lineup of Smith, Varejao/Wallace, Damon, Wally, and LeBron. And Delonte's learning, but has been streaky. That'll continue, but it's good to have someone who wants to run out with, you know, the best transition player in the game.

Which brings me to my final point. I know Mike Brown wants to preserve his rotations and all that, but it is just baffling to me why we start Andy and Big Ben in games. It's really playing 3 on 5 on offense. Why not start Joe Smith, who can play offense and hit some jump shots to open things up for LeBron, and bring in Varejao for instant energy off the bench? It gets worse when we also start Devin Brown, who I love but who is also an offensive liability. One wonders how we keep letting teams like NY hang around, but then one realizes that we have three guys on offense who just are not that good, a point guard who's learning the offense, and LeBron. We're going to have to rework the rotations when Sasha, Boobie, and Ilgauskas come back. So why not just start Delonte, LeBron, Wally, Joe Smith, and Wallace? That way you can get Wally going early instead of putting pressure on him to find his shot instantly. And you can have some offense from Joe without too much of a defensive loss from Varejao. Plus, you then get Devin Brown and Andy Varejao off the bench for instant energy. That's a much better solution until we get everyone back -- it'll prevent us from getting behind so early (or not getting up by as much as we should). But nobody ever said Mike Brown paid attention to offense.

Still, a couple wins are a couple wins. Good to see the Cavs closing games out -- that's one of the things the old Cavs did well. Hopefully we'll continue to see improvement, esp. starting this Friday against the Bulls. At least we know LeBron will probably put on a good show. And who knows, maybe Kobe will put up 81 again. It's just been that kind of season.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Should the Heat be in the NBDL?

The Lakers-Heat game last night was like the Lakers-Suns game right after the all-star break, only the exact opposite. That game in Phoenix, with Shaq in town playing for the first time, felt like a playoff game, and an important one at that. Extremely competitive, high-level basketball, a crowd trying to push their team to the next level. Especially with the SA-Dallas game as a warm-up, the Lakers-Heat game felt like a Summer League game where no one really cared.

Even so, there were still flashes of greatness, as the Lakers toyed with a terrible team. It's nice to have a team that is worth watching even when they are blowing out a 10-win team.

Dwyane Wade had better be hurt. Jordan thinks, and I agree, that he's just mailing it in. On defense, Wade got destroyed. Kobe blew by him multiple times with ease, but more telling was the fact that Sasha "The Machine" Vujacic crossed over on Wade and blew by him easily. On offense, Wade isn't the same player when the refs aren't coddling him. He clearly isn't as good a shooter as most of the elite players in this league, and an array of circus shots don't cut it when the whistles aren't blowing.

Mostly, Wade reminded me of Vince Carter last night. Still talented, not trying that hard, and somewhat painful to watch. For his sake, I hope he's playing hurt, because otherwise it's a shame to see what he's become.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Best Season Ever - 11 Games AP (After Pau)

Is this NBA season The Best Season Ever? I tend to think so. With seeds 1-9 in the West separated by 5 games, the entire second half of the season feels like the playoffs. Every game actually matters. Add to that old powers trying to hang on like the Spurs, Mavs, and Suns, new rising powers like the Lakers, Jazz, and Hornets, and even one intriguing question in the East (just how good is LeBron?), and almost every game holds intrigue. Of course, even in a season that's almost impossible to screw up, TNT and ABC show us a Miami Heat game every other night.

The other thing that makes this the Best Season Ever is the midseason addition of Pau Gasol to the Lakers and how that's changed the way the Lakers play. Besides for the fantastic ball movement in the triangle, for the first time in his career Kobe is showing that he understands the concept of a pick-and-roll. With Bynum this season, Kobe reverted back to the Kobe-Shaq model of pick and roll: get a pick, dribble into a corner to invite the double team, then lob it for a dunk. Nothing had ever shown me that Kobe could execute a real pick-and-roll, a la Stockton and Malone (or, today, Nash and Amare).

But add Gasol, and voila - Kobe apparently is quite proficient at a screen-roll when the big knows when to slip the screen! Beautiful to watch, and gives the triangle an extra dimension that has been missing as long as I can remember.

But one thing about adding Pau that I don't think has been discussed enough is the championship swagger. It's back, baby. It's back. It shows in a reporter asking Sasha "The Machine" Vujacic after the Portland game whether it's good to play from behind once in a while, to remember what it's like to trail in a game. It shows in the casual arrogance of Phil Jackson smirking on the bench as he reinserts Kobe at the 6-minute mark of the fourth quarter with a 20 point lead. (Or, maybe that's just stupidity.) It shows in the energy of Kobe night in, night out, destroying this league with 4 fingers on his shooting hand.

Kobe's energy has not been this high since he was a young gun jumping on Shaq's back for piggyback rides. The other night, he felt he was hit on a play in Seattle and began riding the poor young official, Joe Forte's son. Kobe jawed at him all the way downcourt. Then, he got the ball back, stood at the 10-second line with the ball on his hip, and yelled some more. Noticing the 24 second clock, Kobe drove, pulled up, and hit a tough jumper, then stared down the referee as if he had just scored on the ref. At the first stoppage in play, Kobe made a beeline for Forte and eventually got thrown out of the game. Of course, this intensity was with a 25 point lead late in the third quarter! Two years ago, I don't think Kobe cares as much about that game. Now, his competitive fire is burning. He wants to win, and he wants it now.

But more than anything else, this team is having fun. It doesn't matter if they are at home or on the road. They are playing loose - even Luke Walton, worst player in the league, tries between the legs bounce passes and shoots airballs that only miss by 2 feet - and the bench brings a ton of energy. Sasha believes in himself. Rony takes 15 foot fadeaways with no hesitation. Lamar looks rejuvenated, without the pressure of being the second option, and has smiled more in the past two weeks than I've seen in the past year.

Not even the fact that I'll be watching Luke Walton in a Laker uniform when I am 30 years old can dampen the thrill of the Lakers forcing another timeout from the opposing coach, and the team grinning and slapping each other on the backs as they stroll back towards the bench. Maybe it's Kobe, doing his airplane move after shredding a defense. Maybe it's Pau, still a little wide-eyed that he's in LA and winning games for the first time in years. Maybe it's Sasha tucking his ridiculous hair behind his ears, proud of edging out Brian Cook for the title of "most shots per minute in a Laker uniform" and dreaming of toppling Slava Medvedenko's dominance in the category someday. Whatever it is, life is good.

Then again, Luke Walton...when I'm 30...I guess that does dampen it a little bit. But just a little.