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



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


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!


1) The Los Angeles Lakers


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:


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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)


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



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 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 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 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 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 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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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 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.


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.