April 28, 2008
If I seem a little churlish today, a little angry, and a little more sensitive than usual; it's because I am. Things tend to build up over the course of an evening, essentially when presented with the scepter of the Chris Webber Excuse Factory Era prattling in my presence pre-game, post-game, and for all the bits in between. It's taken down lesser men, you know.
For some of our overseas readers, it should be known that Mayce Edward Christopher Webber III took to the TNT airwaves on Sunday over here, dispensing all sorts of wisdom and generally talking a great game. He wasn't completely infuriating, there were plenty of bits of humor, insight, and interesting anecdotes to take in - but to those who get it, you'll understand that it was a downright Webberesian performance. Bra-vo.
The rants come later. On to the games.
If people hadn't forgotten that he actually ran the Mavericks, Donn Nelson's name would be on a bigger hot seat than Avery Johnson's. After all, it was the bench that Nelson le Younger created that is routinely being destroyed by what most considered to be the weakest bench of any of the Western playoff hopefuls midseason.
Now, New Orleans' bench has consistently gotten better as the year has gone along, and Brandon Bass (12 points, though on 12 shots, with nine rebounds in 25 minutes) has been a fine addition for the Mavs, but Dallas' top-heavy approach is going to have the team out in the first round for the second straight year. And don't blame this on the New Jersey trade, which sent bench depth like Sagana Diop and Trenton Hassell to the Nets. They're Sagana Diop and Trent Hassell. Chill.
Actually, you can blame the Jason Kidd trade, only because Jason Kidd came through with another classic on Sunday: play horribly, watch as the TV talking heads defend him to no end post-game, and watch as the league whiffs on suspending this tired mug for Game 5.
Cut the excuses, and forget how much he makes per year: this is a man that should be suspended, and this is a league that needs to wake up. That wasn't a "playoff foul" that sent Jannero Pargo to the floor in Game 5; because when you feel a man's neck or head in your hand, you let -- the heck -- go. You take your hands off of him as soon as you know you're feeling neck.
And if we're dealing with a league that suspended Kobe Bryant (twice!) for a pair of slaps on the follow-through of a jump shot (slaps that I've still yet to be convinced were thrown on purpose), how can we justify Kidd playing in Game 5?
Because he was "caught in the heat of the moment?" Stop it. It was a dumb, lazy, play that could have truly hurt Pargo, and it just happened to take place after the Hornets quashed what was likely Dallas' last chance at a game-changing run on the other end. Kidd was ticked and decided to get physical. He had a chance to let go of Pargo, and thought nothing of it.
The league needs to show some mettle and do something about this, before a ticked-off player from a team about to go down in five games does something to the person that has been scoring on them all week in the minutes before that special someone moves on to the second round. Not sure if I was vague enough about that, but the way things have gone since the playoffs started, it could happen this week. I've never seen so many first round flagrants.
That said, at least a dozen players have managed to commit "playoff fouls" over the last nine days without coming close to ending someone's season. If they manage to lay the wood without acting a fool, while still getting the job done, then why can't Brendan Haywood or Jason Kidd? And why shouldn't Haywood and Kidd be suspended for taking to the next level?
Listen, I spend way too much time in the regular season yelling at the TV because the referees decide to throw players out of a game after a "flagrant" foul that is little more than a player landing the wrong way. Understand where I'm coming from, and think about all the times you may have palmed a good piece of neck or head in "the heat of the moment" during a basketball game.
Have you ever thought to push down? Jason did.
And nearly as ridiculous was Webber's, not necessarily defense, but apropos of nothing batch of platitudes sent Kidd's way following the game. Out of nowhere, Webber put words in Kidd's mouth, going on about how he'd listen to Kidd, above all else, should Jason tell his teammates that they had to take things one game at a time. Because, and I'm paraphrasing, "you know Kidd is going to be always there for you, always giving it his all."
Jason Kidd, on Sunday, before being ejected: 29 minutes, three points on 1-6 shooting, three assists, two turnovers, four rebounds.
I shouldn't be surprised, I truly shouldn't. These guys are
so lost in their own little world, they keep having excuse after excuse made
for them, so why wouldn't they feel like they can do and say whatever they
Webber couldn't run faster from the ball in the waning seconds of a big game. He's sitting on the same set where Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith (with guest Jalen Rose) famously (albeit anonymously, the Western conference power forward wasn't mentioned by name) destroyed Webber for not wanting the ball in the clutch within a tremendous column by Bill Simmons some six years ago.
And to hear him go on about his bad self on Sunday night, it was ridiculous. No trepidation, no fear, no sense of who he was. It was quite the sight to behold.
I'll make sure not to take it in for a while, if at all possible. Back to what counts ...
David West, showcasing a veteran's ability to adapt and work beyond the adjustments of a good defense, scored 24 points in the New Orleans win. Chris Paul was efficient with 16 points, eight assists, one turnover, and seven rebounds; while Pargo and fellow Chicagoan Julian Wright had 11 points a piece off the New Orleans bench.
Dirk Nowitzki had 22 points and 13 rebounds, but he wasn't scaring anyone, and Josh Howard continued his year to forget (and, remember that he's 28, so this should be his finest season) with six points on 3-16 shooting.
After a while, you just want Hubie Brown to grab Cavs coach Mike Brown, and just start screaming.
Or, at the very least, you'd like Hubie's ABC partner Mike Tirico to just re-phrase everything Brown says as a question, only much louder, and in Mike Brown's direction.
"YOU SAY THAT THE CAVS ARE MAKING IT TOO HARD ON LEBRON TO SCORE BY PUTTING HIM AT THE TOP WITH THE BALL, HUH?"
"WHAT'S THAT? THE CLEVELAND SHOULD STOP SENDING A SCREEN FOR LEBRON'S MAN, MAINLY BECAUSE IT MAKES IT EASIER FOR WASHINGTON TO DOUBLE-TEAM JAMES? FOR REALS, YO?"
Because that's how Mike Tirico talks.
James had 34 points in the win, he probably should have had 15-20 more, but Brown seems intent on making life as hard on his superstar as humanely possible. LeBron settled for three-pointers too often, but it may have been his only chance to get a shot off against a Washington zone that Mike Brown had no answer for.
I understand that it's easier for Kobe Bryant to make himself tough to guard off the ball because of Kobe's far superior teammates, who demand much more defensive attention than James' gang, but couldn't Brown at least attempt to see what happens when he flashes James to the ball?
Couldn't he have set something up with James as a decoy, rather than asking him to emulate Allen Iverson's role on the 76ers from 1999 to 2006?
Cleveland won by riding James in the second quarter, crashing and eventually dominating the boards, and relying on a hot shooting night from Delonte West and Daniel Gibson that can hardly be banked on by any right-thinking individual from here on out. Bully for West, who had a terrific game, clocked 21 points, and nailed the game-winner, but come on. Delonte West?
Like I said, someone's got a case of the Mondays. Actually, I never said that. You probably said that. Either way, I'm obviously in need of the Little Book of Calm (1:25 in).
Something's clearly wrong with Gilbert Arenas. He's working hard, and not trying to dominate too much, but the word "microfracture" was uttered by Tirico during today's broadcast in reference to Gilbert, and though nobody's mentioned this type of surgery thus far, it makes sense. The man has no lift, and he's taken long enough and worked too hard - the man should have his lift back.
That third quarter, the one that scared you? The one that made you wonder if it was fair for a team like the 76ers to have to play against those guys from Detroit? A little secret, if you will. Lean close ...
Detroit can play like that, all the time.
All the time.
In fact, just one quarter of playing like "that," and it's enough to take down an honest-to-goodness playoff team, one that's already beaten them twice in a week, at home. The Pistons are that good.
Of course, Detroit won't do much with this. They'll probably win the two in three games needed to beat the Sixers, but it's over after that. They're showing the same signs we saw in 2006 against Milwaukee and last year against Orlando: they don't care, for long enough.
Don't let them tempt you. Don't let them fool you. Don't let a 3-2 win over the Sixers and, let's say, even a sweep of the Magic in the next round change your line of thinking. Do NOT let the Pistons mess with yo' mind, all over again.
Restricted Philly free agent Andre Iguodala (11-49 shooting on the series, 4.3 turnovers per game) is going to sign a minimum salary contract with the Grizzlies this summer. And the 76ers won't match Memphis' offer. Just a hunch.
Here's the issue: you want to slough this off.
You want to chalk it up to Phoenix having one of its best shooting nights of the year (111.7 points, pro-rated per 100 possessions, against the Spurs? Brilliant), you want to give in to the ideals of desperation and despondency; you know better, you've seen it before. But something clings to you that can't be explained away by the typical, about-to-be-swept-at-home-can't-let-it-happen bits:
Boris Diaw, as a starter.
Think about it.
Is he the ideal sixth man? Of course. Come off the bench,
watch as the offense goes through him, set up some shooters who can't create
their own shots, start the break, work against reserves, no pressure at all,
Except, these days, there is pressure. Pressure to be "that guy" coming off the bench. Seriously, it's there.
Maybe the anonymous role as Phoenix's offensive third-wheel as a starter suits this guy. After all, Boris was starting back in 2005-06 when he did all that damage. The rock went through him plenty with Amare Stoudemire out and Steve Nash taking a rest, but the ball also went through him plenty with Nash on the floor. And he was fantastic. Wonderful to watch. Effective. Killed teams. Made himself a lot of money.
So, while I want to go with every instinct I've accrued since I started paying attention to these league, just as I had back in February when the Suns acquired Shaquille O'Neal (who hasn't properly covered a screen and roll in his life) for "defensive purposes," something inside of me is curious. Could it work?
Could Boris Diaw, the guy who couldn't hit jump hooks over Tony Parker while coming off the bench, actually make more of an impact as a starter? With Nash either slowing or dulled by Bruce Bowen's presence, wouldn't it help? Just enough to make a series out of it? To give us another competitive game or three between two teams we love to behold?
Even if the Suns are done in Game 5, wouldn't it be something to work on over the summer? After all, you're paying the guy enough.
Just something to think about. I'm off to go yell at my neighbor's shed.
Just kidding. My neighbor doesn't even have a shed.