Monday, May 19, 2008


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