Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Flash Catchin' a Little Air...

Wow. Positively Jordanesque.

(And by the way, this series is over.)

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Skip Bayless, I Am Not

I was thinking about the "You're not invited to my party" list, and it got me thinking. That's pretty negative, ya know?

I mean, it's a good idea, I'm pretty sure, because anytime you watch a sporting event you are invariably yelling at the TV because some idiot can't catch a pass or some announcer is babbling incoherently about something that had nothing to do with anything or is so biased you can't even watch a game in peace (cough, cough..Vitale!..cough, cough).

The last thing I want to turn into is Skip Bayless, who couldn't find the good in the second coming of Christ, let alone Tom Brady's clutch play or LeBron's glorious debut. "Honestly? All that bright light? Got in my eyes, and I think I have a mild sunburn. And the angels playing harps? So last millenium. Get with it, JC. We're going to stay positive - for the most part...or at least make an effort - around here at Point 23.

Thus, I give you "The Cool Lunch Table," the exact opposite of the hit list that is "You're Not Invited to My Party." Here's where the coolest, funniest, most clutch, admirable figures of the sporting world all hang out.

So send in your submissions, and I'll take care of the rest. Good times, good times.

And dear God, keep the Skip Bayless comparisons as far away from here as possible.

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Big Bang Theory

Much has been said lately about the Suns and Mavs changing the face of basketball. And you know what? It's about flippin' time.

I always wondered what would happen if 5 guards took on 5 centers. The guards would be able to get the ball up the court easily, but I don't think they'd be shooting too many layups. They'd have to win shooting jumpers. The big guys, though...how would they handle the guard's press? Who knows - just throw over the top of the press, perhaps? - but once they did get it into the frontcourt, it would be a layup drill. Still, thats easier said that done. I could never make up my mind who would win.

Well, I think the Mavs and Suns have answered that question. They have made the big man basically irrelevant - to an extent. Their systems and philosophy force the most skilled players onto the floor. If DeSegena Diop and Nazr Mohammed are dinosuars, Steve Nash an
d Devin Harris are the asteroid that wiped their tall, unskilled butts off the face off the earth - poof - in a single, blinding flash. They were just sitting there, being big and unskilled, and then all of the sudden, they're irrelevant. Poor guys.

This new style of play has been seen as something revolutionary and inventive, which may be true, but it is actually the purest form of basketball. For all the Pistons' success and every coach's harpings that defense is what wins games, basketball is essentially an offensive game. You win by scoring more points. And this "new" style of play forces the best players onto the court; the importance of size is diminished. Skill - reardless of who has it - is what matters. The best players play. No specialists; no one out there just because they are tall. And that's basketball at its purest.


But back to the Suns and Mavs making "the big man" irrelevant. That couldn't be further from the truth; they have done no such thing. If that were true, Tim Duncan would have been chillin' with Nazr and Rasho for the entire Mavs series, and Dirk Nowitzki - all seven feet of him - would not have the Mavs out to a 2-1 lead against the Suns.

What the Suns and Mavs have done, however, is eliminated the
unskilled big man. And that's a huge distinction. Nazr and Rasho and Diop and anyone like them are on the court for two reasons: 1) guard the other team's big man and 2) rebound. Well, when the other team doesn't play any big men, suddenly those big guys are standing around with nothing to do. Not good. They end up guarding small forward-types, which is obviously a nightmare at both ends. Plus, they aren't great rebounders. Serviceable at best, I'd say. Throw in the fact that the Suns and Mavs shoot either layups or threes most of the time, and that means the rebounds are either non-existant (layups) or long (off threes), where centers aren't handling them anyways.

That said, those big men could still be getting some burn. They are riding pine because they can't keep up defensively, plus they can't score, either. So whats their value? None, that's what. But if Rasho and Nazr - or Diop, for that matter - could play offense, their minutes wouldn't have changed. Duncan and Nowitzki, who can actually score - let alone catch a basketball - stay on the court. Why? Because they are good. They are skilled. They can score. Hence, they stay on the court. Their value isn't diminished just because they will struggle on the defensive end.

If the Heat end up playing in the Finals against either the Suns or the Mavs, Shaq's minutes will only be slightly decreased. He's such a good scorer and rebounder (honestly, have you
seen him against the Pistons? The Big Fella is lookin' nimble!) that his defensive shortcomings are worth it. His skill offensively more than makes up for his shortcomings at one end of the court. Same with Ben Wallace. Even though he can't score, his rebounding and hustle make him too valuable to sit on the bench (plus he's quick enough to guard a small forward without too much dropoff, so maybe he's a bad example). The point is, Shaq, Duncan and Nowitzki all create matchup hell when other teams try to go small. Rasho, Diop and Mohemmed, Inc. don't. Skill rules. Basketball at its purest.


Honestly, Diop scored 192 points the entire season. He's not a good basketball player. He's just big. Why should he be on the court? The newest iteration of basketball, sans the quickly-becoming-extinct Hugus Bigguyus, is phenomonal for the sport. Pair it with the new Golden Age the NBA is teetering in the brink of, and I for one couldn't be more excited.

And that question the Mavs and Suns answered, who would win 5-on-5, guards or big men? The answer is obvious now, isn't it? Obviously, its whoever is more skilled. Regardless of size. And isn't that how basketball should be played?

(Nod your head yes.)

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Is Quoteable a Word?

Much like the previous post, I'd like to get a list of sports related quotes together.

Any suggestions or quotes, leave it in the comments section and it'll make its way to the official list.

Prize to whoever posts the Allen Iverson "we talkin' bout practice!" quote first.*

*All prizes are fake

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The "You're Not Invited to My Party" List

There are, for a plethora of reasons, athletes - or just people associated with sports - who get under your skin.

You know exactly who I'm talking about; I'm sure four or five people immediately popped into your head. They can be obnoxious, brash, too loud, too quiet, over-the-top cocky or under-the-radar unassuming. They can be perennial choke artists or continually come through in the clutch with the minor drawback that they play for your archrival. They can run run thier mouths, saying (or writing) some of the dumbest, thoughtless, most idiotic things you've ever heard. Or they can say nothing at all. Maybe they do nothing at all and you just can't stand them. For whatever reason, they get under your skin, but you can't put your finger on the reason why.

That's what this list is for. All these people need to be rounded up, grouped together and exposed for what they really are - annoying pests who drive you crazy for a million reasons - or none at all.

Some are no-brainers that immediatley jump to mind. These are the people who can barely be defended by thier hometown crowds: Barry Bonds, Terrell Owens, Jay Mariotti, anyone associated with Duke University, the immortal Paul Maguire. But there are other, less obvious ones. Chris Paul, for example is on my eternal shitlist for punching Julius Hodge in the balls from the blindside (he was the original Reggie Evans/Jason Terry).

Now that's not to say your mind can't be swayed. Maybe through years of rehabilition, Shawshank-style, this person can redeem themselves. But to get on this list, the possibility of that happening has to be between non-existant and slim.

So who's on your list, people? If you were throwing a party, who shouldn't be lookin' for their invite in the mail?

Let's hear 'em. Give a good reason and I'll add 'em to The List.

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Expanding ideas on expansion.

Lamar Hunt tabled his proposal to expand the NFL playoffs to seven teams before it had a chance to go before the competition committee. Too bad. I was looking forward to seeing the record broken for Fastest Proposal Ever Shot Down.

Doesn't this idea cost him credibility among his fellow owners? Do they take him seriously now? To make an analogy that is no where near accurate...if in your fantasy football league, you were offered a ridiculous trade, after accepting said trade, doesn't That Guy who offered you the trade just get bombarded with trade offers? Because everyone knows he's a moron who will do pretty much anything as long as you ask nicely. I think this is now Lamar Hunt in the NFL.

Here's Lamar's reasoning:

“That’s been the argument in the past by those who were opposed to it, that it cheapened the playoffs. I think it actually makes it more interesting. The Steelers were a Cinderella story this year, and there are other Cinderella stories waiting to happen. Plus, we miss the playoffs by like a game every year, and we probably will for the foreseeable future, and well, that really sucks.”

Well, yea, Lamar, it makes it more interesting. But a playoff including every single team would also be more interesting. Interesting is not a good selling point. Fair is. (And that last sentence of Lamar's may have been made up.)

Why does everyone want to expand? Lamar barely misses the playoffs - expand 'em. Boehiem gets into the NCAA Tourney by the skin of his teeth - expand 'em. LA doesn't have a football team and wants to add two to the NFL - expand, expand, expand.

Everyone of those ideas are atrocious for blatantly obvious reasons (not the least of which is that Ahnold is behind one of them). Just leave everything as it is. Please. I'm begging you.

The NFL playoffs are beautiful, OK? No sport has higher ratings - its working. Just chill, Lamar, and get a decent defense and some wide receivers. The reason there are “Cinderella stories” are because the NFL playoffs include only the best. You have to be damn good to get in. Hence, an “upset” or two. And just because a 10-6 team got left out this year doesn’t guarantee it will in the future. What if that 7 seed is 8-8? That’s no good.

March Madness is beautiful, just beautiful. Ask anyone what the greatest weekend in sports is, and if you get one response other than "March Madness," you asked a moron. Boehiem wants 5 or 6 more teams - how the hell would that work? Who would get those seeds, the winners from the smallest conferences, or the 7th place teams from the SEC and the Big East? It doesn't even matter; it would ruin that gorgeous opening weekend - plus the brackets! Oliver Purnell wants to double the field! I don't know if I'm against this idea because he has the same name as my cat (really, he does) or because its makes about as much sense as Mays fans booing Michael Finley.

And two teams in L.A.....no, you moron, just no. If a team wants to move there, fine, but we aren't adding anymore teams. The divisions are perfect now - four divisions per conference with four teams apiece. Ideal. Don't touch it.

Everyone just chill out. Everything is fine. And Lamar...I'll trade you Shaun Alexander for Samie Parker and Craphonso Thorpe. Deal?

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Reggie Bush, Quarterback

Why can't Reggie Bush wear number 5? Is there a good reason not to let him? Besides the fact that its currently a rule, I can't think of a single good reason.

Rich McKay, the co-chair of the compeition committee, had a few reasons, none of them worthwhile:

"No. 1, no one's comfortable with their making an exception to the policy, because the exceptions just create a problem for every team."

Um...what problems? What cosmic problems would immediately arise that no NFL team could possibly remedy in time for the regular season if players were suddenly allowed to wear whatever number they wanted? Is there some unforeseen disaster that "every team" would somehow be unable to cope with? I really can't think of one, unless there is an overwhelming desire by entire rosters to change their numbers, and the teams don't want to order new jerseys and even that doesn’t make sense.

What else ya got, Rich?

"No. 2, we're not comfortable recommending any change at this time, because to have something adopted at this time, meaning at this meeting, you would have the difference between the way a rookie's being treated and the way a veteran's being treated, because there's so much in the pipeline with respect to jerseys that there is no way a veteran would be in the position to change his jersey number."

Oh, so its because he's a rookie. I see. A little mess with the rook, eh? Well how about if he sings for his supper a couple times and then you duct tape him to the field goal post? Will that do the trick? Maybe a few cream pies to the face?

And if it is such a problem that veterans can't change their numbers, there is a simple solution laying around. Let them. Change the rule.

Let NFL players wear whatever number they want. This is such a stupid rule to even be debating (which is exactly why I'm debating it).

The main reason, I suppose, that its needed is to recognize players by positions. But just because you wear a certain number doesn't mean you can't play a certain position. Antawn Randle El wore 82 for the Steelers; I don't recall the refs being baffled when trying to assess him with a penalty. "Who...who is this on? 82? No...he...I don't get it...he's 82 but he tried to throw it? Wha..what do we do?" (I do recall, however, how baffled they - and pretty much everyone else - were when he threw that lateral for no good reason. And how he always spins around after he caught a punt. But thats it.)

I mean, he was allowed to throw passes right? When he lined up under center, I don't recall the ref blowing the whistle and reigning down yellow flags all over the place. Whoa, whoa, whoa there pal. Just what do you think you are doing? You see that 82 on your back? Don't give me that dumb look...just get out there with the rest of the your kind...ah-ah-ah! I don't want to hear another word! Now...can we get someone wearing 1-19 back here please?

So why doesn't Bush just wear No. 5 and have the Saints list him as a quarterback? Apparently, it doesn't matter what you are listed at, you can play wherever you want. I'm sure it would piss the NFL off, but you know what? They have rules about socks, so they can relax a little bit.

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Game Sixes Letdown.

Oh boy. Deep breathes. Woo-sah, woo-sah.

Six hours ago, the conference finals had a pretty good chance to look like this:

Western Conference: Mavs vs. Clippers/Suns

Eastern Conference: Cavs vs. Heat.

That's a fun, enjoyable week of basketball right there. But after two less than desirable outcomes tonight, the overwhelming odds favor the Pistons and the Spurs advancing. This...this just isn't good. Damnit. Excuse me, I'm going to slam a tire iron to my shins. I'll be right back.

Now, this can still happen. I can still get those dream matchups. But I'm not getting my hopes up...not that they were up in the first place. That final four was going to be unreal to watch. I feel like a kid standing at the top of the waterslide, all excited to go down, and then someone pantsed me and kicked me face first down slide without my little blue rubber thing. Something was supposed to be really fun, and then suddenly, it is not. Damnit.

Man...D-Wade battling LeBron in the East; the Mavs and Suns playing small ball or the Mavs running against the freakin' Clippers! Suns/Clips is really a toss up, both would be fun to watch. And the Heat are already in. But everything needs to be done to keep the Pistons and the Spurs out of the conference finals.

Repeat: everything needs to be done to keep them out. I can't watch another series of the Pistons' smugness or the Pistons whining and flopping. I just can't. And I don't care if they are probably the two best teams in the L; they aren't fun to watch. Actually, they are decidedly unfun to watch. And if both Detroit and SA advance, that probably means they will meet in the Finals...and then blood will pour out of my eyes and ears as I figure out the most excruciating way to end my own life.

If they advance, get ready for another month of:

The Spurs whining. Some of the Spurs favorites:
- Tim Duncan standing there with his arms wrapped around the ball, basically hugging the ball in disbelief. "Can you believe that call, ball? Me either, buddy, me either. Awwe."
- Manu Ginobili with more flops than a Texas hold 'em tourney. He looks worse than this jackass.
- Bruce Bowen holding his hands up. "Look, ref, you can see my hands, how can that be a foul?" Because, you dirty SOB, you jacked him with the body 46 times. And because you're dirty. Did I mention how dirty you are? Go stick your feet under another jump shooter, you dirty, dirty person.
- Michael Finley running away from calls in disbelief. He's annoying, and I'm pretty sure he looks like Mickey Mouse.

Also, you can look forward to the Pistons being incredibly smug and condescending:
- Rasheed Wallace saying outlandish, stupid things that don't do anything but annoy you. But even more annoying is the rest of his team backing him up. "That's just Sheed bein' Sheed, homie." Shut up.
- Chauncey Billups making smug comments while eating carrot sticks out of the reporters hands. Reporters: make sure you keep your hand flat and still - you don't want to lose a finger.
- Flip Saunders. Aaaah.

So really, if the NBA cares about me at all, they will make Joey Crawford ref both games and get me a favorable outcome. Because the world revolves around me.

How badly do I want to see Dwyane Wade go against LeBron James? Badly enough that I'm asking myself questions about it and then answering myself. Can you imagine the shoot out that would be? The Cavs perimeter defense is awful...but the Heats is worse! Neither team has a player than can even remotely slow down the opposing team's superstar...James Posey and Flip Murray will be about as useful as a handful of quarters at a strip club. This should be the first of many, many Eastern conference showdowns between the two greatest players from the '03 draft.

And in the West? Suns are fun as hell to watch. But how cool would it be to see the Clippers play in the conference finals? Plus, you get to watch Shaun Livingston. Its a win/win. No one will hate you either way for cheering for one team or the other. But the Mavs? C'mon man...would anyone outside of that "ugly ass river walk" want to watch the Spurs style of play over the Mavs? I don't know any.

So here's what we have to do. Teach the Cavs how to box out (I can't even begin to go into how painful that was to watch. Just excruciating.) Then we have to show the Mavs how to extend the game and take the layup with 15 seconds left. And everything will be fine. Please let everything be fine. Please.

And if they aren't? Well...damnit.

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Stu Jackson, Meet Common Sense.

Stu Jackson is an idiot.

After Jason Terry got a suspension for giving Michael Finley a beeper (you know, little love tap to the cookies), I have no idea what the baseline is for getting suspended for a game. What does Stu use for criteria?

God, Stuart is an idiot. Let's compare Jason Terry vs. Reggie Evans, shall we? Reggie tries to rip off someone's manhood and gets a fine. Terry barely grazes Finley's jewels and misses maybe the biggest game in Mavs history. I mean, for all intents and purposes, this is the Western Conference Finals. Whoever wins this series will be the heavy favorite to go to the Finals, and probably win it all. Its that important. And little Stuey thinks its a clever idea to suspend the Mavs second-best player for something that probably wouldn't even make you that mad if it happened in a bar. It would be an "alright, man, you made your point" moment. You aren't getting kicked out, and a fight certainly isn't breaking out.

Can we use a little common sense here? Yea, there's a rule that says if you throw a punch, you get a game. But that really wasn't a punch. Just because your fist is closed, that isn't a punch. If you showed that tape to 100 people, how many people would characterize that as a punch? One, maybe (and that's if you polled Stuart).

The Jason Terry fiasco, to me, is a microcosm of the NBA's refereeing (is that how you spell that? I have no idea) and discipline issues. The NBA is horribly, awfully, painfully inconsistent.

First, the refs: atrocious. Plain and simple. I'm not well-educated enough on the topic to know whether its the NBA's influence or just something the refs decided to do, but the ticky-tack fouls have to be at an all-time high. If you drive and jump into your defender - in other words, if the offensive player creates the contact - you'll get two shots. How are you supposed to play any defense?

And when the offensive player pump fakes and gets his defender in the air, all he has to do is launch himself into the airborne defender, regardless of where that defender is, and he'll get the foul call. If the defender jumps in the air and runs into you, fine. But should the offensive player be allowed to go out of his way to create contact and then be rewarded for it?

(Not to go off topic here...but I'm currently watching the Spurs/Mavs game...and Snapper Jones is an idiot, maybe on par with lil Stuey. He is the Paul McGuire of NBA broadcasts. His latest gem: "Everyone is talking about small ball...but its not just small ball, you have to have skill, too." Oh, really Snapper? You don't say? Five Vern Troyer's couldn't beat the Spurs? Hmmm, point well taken. I never thought of it like that. Excellent insight. I hate you.)

And the reffing of Shaq is an issue completely unto itself. Jason Collins is on the all flop team with Ginobili, Rip Hamilton, and everyone who played in the Arsenal/Barcelona game. Can the refs really not tell the difference? I never thought I'd feel bad for someone of Shaq's stature, but its borderline unfair.

Now, I understand the NBA wants higher scoring. But high point totals aren't exciting; the way the points are scored is. When Player A scores 24 points on 18 free throws and a pair of threes, that isn't exciting. A parade to the free throw line is not exciting. If offensive players are going to be allowed to use their off arm to guide their way to the basket, should they also get the call for creating contact, too? Why don't we just give them a lance and a shield, too? Perhaps a club? Maybe all defenders should have to wear roller skates.

The foul call situation, even though it is a serious issue, is nothing compared to the suspensions the NBA is doling out. Inconsistent is being generous.

Remember when Kobe elbowed Mike Miller in the regular season? He got two games for that. Had that happened in the playoffs, he would have only gotten a game. That's a fact. Inarguable. So the NBA is clearly saying that playoff games carry more weight than regular season ones. So if you follow that logic, shouldn't elimination games carry a little more weight? If you aren't going to differentiate between levels of games, you might as well go all the way.

It is also ridiculous how minor and major incidents each get the same suspension time. Tap some one in the jewels? One game. Clothesline someone? One game. Throw a mouthpiece? One game. Drill someone in open court? One game. These are all wildly different infractions and all garnered the same punishment. Inconsistent, inconsistent, inconsistent. Imagine of you ran a red light, punched someone in the face while walking down the street, robbed a bank and murdered someone. And you got a day in jail for all four offenses. Doesn't really add up.

(Oh, a nugget from Walton: "In a big game, never waste a time out on possession. You can always get possession back." Wow.)

The point is, its too easy to get suspended. Basketball, especially at the NBA level, is a physical game. Things are going to happen. The NBA is the overprotective parent who ends up turning their kid into a huge wuss. Things should get a little chippy. That's fine. Its almost embarrassing how big of a pansy the NBA is being lately. These are adults. Let them play like it.

And Stuart is a moron.

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Hope is a Bad (Good) Thing.

I'll admit it: I'm scared.

LeBron - and what he is trying to do - scares the hell out of me. See, I was all set to watch LeBron make his playoff debut against the Wiz, tear 'em up, give us a handful of memorable moments, silence all doubters, etc. But that was it. That was as high as I let my hopes get.

Now, don't get me wrong. I wanted The LeBrons to win an NBA Championship with The Chosen One averaging a trip-doub the whole way there. But baby steps, right? First time in the playoffs, lets get our feet wet, play well, and win a hard-fought series before falling to the eventual champs. Considering the supporting cast around LeBron, it wasn't even remotely realistic to consider anything beyond that. And after Game One - and much of Game Two - it was all too obvious that the Pistons had a superior team. A sweep (maybe the Cavs steal one at the Q) seemed all too likely. But that's OK. First time in the playoffs, memories and moments galore, just ran into the better team. No shame in that this early in his career. I was content.

And then LeBron went and did this.

Three striaght wins. Against the best record in the NBA. Uh oh.

Still, throughout the not-a-chance-in-hell three-game run, I kept my doubts sky high. Hope was kept at a minimum. Remember what Red says to Andy the first time they discuss hope? "Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane."

And you know what? Red is absolutely right: hope is dangerous. And it wasn't about to drive me insane. Disbelief (and well...rational thought) trumped everything. Rationalizations were rampant. After Game Three, well, that was LeBron's one moment before the Pistons snapped out of it and realized who they were playing. After the Game Four win, well...Detroit is heading home - and when have they ever lost three in a row? Then, after the Mistro (Does Bron need another nickname? Probably not, but this one is to apt) conducted another masterpiece on Detroit's home court...hope started to eek its way in.

Which brings us to that whole "I'm scared outta my mind" thing. When nothing is invested, its easy to just sit back and watch. But now that something - everything - is on the line, that's scary. Plus, if I start hoping, won't that jinx everything? I mean, not hoping has gotten it to this point - why change now? Its like sitting in the same seat through all 47 minutes of a game, then sitting on the floor for the last minute. Why would you ever do that?

Still...things are looking pretty ideal for Cleveland, are they not? The game is in Cleveland, who's homecourt advantage has been second to no one's this postseason, if not the flat-out best (I always wanted to say "flat-out." I'm happy). Sheed is a little banged up, which gives the Pistons a minimal advantage in the post. Couple that with Detroit's guards not playing particularly inspired basketball right now...And LeBron is playing OK, too.

The last three games have raised an interesting question, and the answer to it decides who will win the series: has Cleveland won the last three games or have the Pistons lost them?

Cleveland could not have played any better the last three games. With LeBron being the constant, they have gotten step-up performances out of unexpected guys. Anderson Varajeo? Are you kidding me? A week ago, he couldn't have caught a golf ball with a first baseman's mitt, and now he's snagging dimes from LeBron and finishing in traffic. The LeBron/Varajeo pick and roll has been surprisingly effective. Actually, a pick and roll with anyone and LeBron is a good thing - Donyell Marshall pick and pop? Buckets.

That said, though...Detroit clearly isn't playing its best basketball right now. And it all starts with Chauncey Billups. He looks like he's trying to prove he can get a win and not try hard. Like playing all out is an admission that the Cavs are kinda good or something. If he give the Cavs his top effort, it shows that they are an equal, which I'm sure he feels they aren't (actually, I think all the Pistons feel this way; from Sheed on down they have been ridiculously dismissive of the Cavs so far). In Game Five, when Billups started asserting himself, the Pistons got back into it. If Billups wouldn't have fouled out...who knows what would have happened.

Which gives you the feeling that the Pistons have kinda lost this thing. Taking nothing away from the Cavs, if the Pistons play hard, and smart...they should win. But you know what? They haven't, and there really is no evidence that they will in Game Six either.

Like Andy said to Red, "hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies."

(Oh, who am I kidding? This series has been killing me for five games now. Game Six may give me a heart attack.)

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Who is Voting for the MVP?

Who votes for the NBA MVP award? Is there a list somewhere? Is it made public? What qualificiations do you need - any? Because I am fairly certain there are more than a few idiots voting this season. I think I even had proof.

Did you kno that not one player was on every ballot this year? Not one. How can this be? Is there an acceptable answer other than "several morons who did not watch basketball this year were given ballots and allowed to vote?"

Its perfectly understandable that the MVP wouldn't be unanimous, especially this season. But there are five places - five! - on that ballot. Surely everyone can agree that Steve Nash should be in the top 5? LeBron? Kobe? And its even more ridiculous when there were votes cast for Allen Iverson and Shawn Marion - Marion wasn't even the best player on his team!

This just really bugs me. Keeping in mind that 125 people were told to vote, look at the leading vote getters, in terms of total votes, regardless of place:

  • Steve Nash - 123 total votes
  • LeBron James - 120
  • Dirk Nowitzki - 114
  • Kobe Bryant - 103
Now...this is just baflfing to me. So there are two people out there who honestly feel Steve Nash was not one of the five most valuable players in the league this season. Really? As crazy as that is...the madness increases the farther down the list you go. Five people think LeBron wasn't in the top 5? Jaw dropping. Eleven people think Dirk wasn't one of the 5 best? Irrational. But wait...22 people (22!!!) thought Kobe wasn't in the top 5. If someone were to say that to you in person, you would be well within your rights to kick them in the shins. If someone actually said that to you, you couldn't even argue with them. That is turn-around-and-walk-away stupid.

Which is why these votes need to be made public. I assume most of these people are members of the media, right? So shouldn't each of them be forced to list their top 5 and then write a column explaining why the hell they thought Shawn Marion was better than LeBron James this season? Or why Allen Iverson was more valuable than Steve Nash? (To be fair, whoever game Marion and Iverson votes could also have voted for Nash, LeBron, Dirk and Kobe...but I'm doubting it.) This is their jobs - to watch basketball and then write intelligent, well thought out pieces about what they watched. Clearly, there are at least 22 people - and probably more - not doing thier jobs.

And just to be safe, let's make everything public. Anytime there is a vote, print it. MVPs, NCAA hoops and football rankings, the March Madness selection process, Heisman voting - everything. Just let us know. If there are idiots out there, we should at least be allowed to know who they are.

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Figured I'd Get Around To It Eventually...

After going 6-for-8 on first round predictions - in which every single top seed advanced, expcet the Nuggets, who shouldn't have been a high seed, anyways - I figured I needed a little help in making my Round 2 predictions. Not too much, though - just a game. So now that all four series have played one time, here goes...

In order of easiest to predict to toughest...

Pistons vs. Cavs. After that game one debacle, its painfully obvious the different classes the Cavs and the Pistons are in - kinda like in third grade how there was always that little table of the "advanced" kids reading their books with "hard covers" and then the rest of us drooling idiots trying to color inside the lines. Man, I hated that table. Buts that's the Pistons. Excluding LeBron, they are superior in basically every meaningful facet of the game: defense, rebounding, passing, shooting, execution, cohesiveness...and plenty more, I'm sure. The LeBron Factor is good for one game, maybe two (hey, if the Bucks can pull of a W, I think Bron Bron can snag at least one at the Q). Although the Pistons are pretty upset over being relagated to NBATV for three games (Why, though? They were playing the Bucks. And when they watch game film of themselves, are they ever jumping up and down? Chauncey looks pretty sleepy in the commercial where he's watching film.) But still, they're pissed, so they could turn this into a statement series.
The call: Pistons in 5.

(OK, screw that "easiest to hardest" thing. The next three series could go either way...)

Heat vs. Nets. In my humble opinion, Game 1 was an anomoly, for a few reasons: 1) The Nets aren't going to continue shooting like that. 2) The Heat will stop being idiots and play hard. As much as you can talk about strategy and whatnot, it comes down to one thing with the Heat: do they play hard? When they give their top effort, they are very, very good, but they don't always do that, probably because their alleged leader will "make his free throws when they matter" (hey, Shaq? They always matter.) and will "decide when he wants to get mean." I think Game 2 sounds like a good time to start. Flip the switch, Big Daddy.

Plus, why are the Heat doubling ball screens with Shaq? Why not go under every screen? Make Carter, Jefferson, Kidd shoot over screens? The Heat perimeter is full of more holes than a pound of Swiss cheese (there's my best Rick Reilly impression), so why not play off them and force them to shoot? If the Nets are going to consistantly drill long range shots, you aren't going to win anyways. So make 'em shoot, Miami, and sure up that perimeter D, and take your chances. Reilly should be able to figure this out, although he seems to just be chilling during games and then all depressed after them, so who knows.
The call: Heat in 6.

Suns vs. Clippers. First and foremost, thank God the "hallway series" never happened. That's the one and only time that monstrosity is ever getting mentioned.

I think I'm a little dissapointed in Sam I Am. Kenny had it right on TNT: he let the Clips fall for the bait. The Clippers were running at weird times, forcing tempo, taking pull up jumpers without numbers...it was just, um...disconcerting. I think they'll figure it out. Plus, if Kwame Brown was able to eat these guys up inside, what can Elton Brand do? Even Kaman? Elton's 40 point game should be a good indicator. Plus, when you throw the ball inside, it forces you to be patient on offense. You put it inside, wait for the double team, play of that...maybe you end up taking a jumper, but it's going to be an open one, and it's going to be later in the shotclock. Which is how you beat the Suns. And the Clippers are going to have 2 very good guards on the court at all times, which means the MVP is going to have to play defense at all times for the first time this playoffs (thank you very much, Smush).

But as much as it is about taking advantage of the Suns lack of D, it's more about stopping the Suns on offense. You are gonna get your points. You need to make sure the Suns don't get yours...and you do that by controlling tempo. By being patient on offense, you slow tempo. Make Phoenix score in the halfcourt. They are still very, very good at that...but the opportunities are limited. The Suns want more attempts. Limit those attempts, and you've won yourself a ball game.

As long as the Clips stop falling for the bait, this series is theirs; they clearly have a superior, deeper team. During stretches last night, when the Clips didn't fall for it, they led. But that bait is so tantalizing. You don't think that carton of milk looked good at first to Ron Burgundy? And we all know how that worked out..."milk was a bad choice." Don't drink the milk, Clippers, and you'll be fine.
The call: Clips in 6.

Spurs vs. Mavs. There is no logic here. None at all. But I think this is Dirk's coming out party. And he really didn't have an exceptional game one...and Bowen pretty much locked him up on that last shot...and he kinda flipped out to the press...I dunno. Just a hunch. Pretty insightful analysis, eh?

This is probably just because I hate the Spurs. Well, mainly Manu. Freakin' balding flopper, I can't stand him. And Bowen is dirty as hell, putting his feet underneath jump shooters...that's so damn wrong, I can't even talk rationally about it. And only Tony Parker could make me hate some one like Eva Longoria. Thanks, "TP" (as in, "old man johnson called the cops on us for playing football in the street, lets "tp" his house.) Duncan and Horry are OK, I guess...but they don't really make me like the Spurs, just not hate them any more than I already do. The sooner they are out of the playoffs, the better. Let's go Mavs!
The call: Mavs in 6.

Read the Rest After the Jump...

"The Greatest First Round Ever" Recap.

Odds and ends from the Greatest First Round Ever...

- Aren't you glad the first round is a best of seven format? I am.

- If I was Boris Diaw, I would switch my first and last names. Doesn't "Diaw Boris" sound much cooler, not to mention about ten times tougher? I think he'd average 3 more rebounds and 1 more block per game just by doing this. And his first name wouldn't be "Boris." It's a win-win.

- I am officially off the Manu Ginobili bandwagon. I still had a pinky toe on just cuz I liked when Barkley yelled "GINOBILI!" but enough is enough.
He is Vlade Divac's little brother. The flopping is borderline ridiculous; you get anywhere near him, and he goes down like a sniper's bullet just shredded his hammy. Next time he does this, someone run at him with a yellow card. Please. (Also, I'm sick of looking at his bald spot. He looks like Freddie Prinze Jr.'s dad.)

- The Grizzlies will never win a playoff game. Ever. And you know why? Mike Fratello's hair. We all know that isn't your real hair color, Mike. Listen...I have no problem with a guy getting up in his year's and not wanting to show his grays. Fine. But...that's a little excessive, no? Just trick us a little bit; at least give us the illusion that that may be your real hair color. Kinda like seeing the tissue paper sticking out of the bra. (Unbelieveably, Fratello is only second on the That's Not Your Real Hair Color List. No one was ever, ever born anywhere on this earth with hair the color that Doug Collins is currently sporting. No one.)

- Too bad Michael Redd didn't sign with the Cavs in the offseason. Really.

- Why does Smush Parker have that line shaved down the middle of his head? It looks like the stripe on a football helmet. He lives in L.A. for God's sake; couldn't someone tell him he isn't on the set of Boys 'n da Hood?

- Does it seem like Steve Nash lost the ball an unnatural amount of time? Have I just not seen him play enough? Not even on those memorable traps in the corner...just in general - little bobbles here, a fumble there. Seems like something to be concerned about, maybe.

- While the Kobe vs. LeBron debate rages on, maybe an even more important debate surrounding those two should start: Who's supporting cast is worse? I'm going to give a slight -
slight - nod to the Cavs, because the Lakers have another bonafide player on their team in Odom. Cleveland's second best player is..who, exactly? Hughes? Z? I don't know...worth exploring though, and I'm not sold either way. Convince me.

- Best pass of the first round, of the top of my head: Shaun Livingston's no look, lefthanded, underhand flip through traffic against the Nugs. When it's all said and done, his name will be up there with LeBron, Kobe, Wade, Melo, and all the other defining players of this era. If he plays one, maybe two more years under Cassell and then takes over that team...look out. Is there a more promising budding nucleus than him and Brand? Maybe the Baby Bulls, maybe what the Bucks are trying to put together...but for my money, I'm going with Dr. Livingston.

- Heard Kenny say something interesting on TNT after the Bucks blew a close, late game against the Pistons. "The Pistons are comfortable in a close game late." Any other team feel that way? The Spurs perhaps. But that's the list. And that's probably why those two are going to be playing in the Finals.

- I got nuthin' on Pacers/Nets since it was always relegated to NBATV - and rightly so. Seems like Jermaine O'Neal is really good at spinning baselines and dunking with his left hand. Must have done that at least twice every game. I'd sit on that if I was guarding him.

- LeBron telling Gilbert that he better make his FTs or the game was over...wow. I mean, he probably shouldn't have touched him, but to make that kind of statement -
when you are losing - is just incredible. Imagine the pressure LeBron put on himself? I think that had to freak Gilbert out more than anything. How could anyone be that confident? And especially since he didn't end up taking the GW himself? Unreal. If I was Gilbert, I woulda missed, too. Probably an airball. To the left. And short. And then peed myself. A lot.

- And if LeBron had done that to someone he didn't know, then it might have been out of line. But Gilbert was in the Cavs' locker room after Game 5, joking around and saying that since he didn't get to be Mr. Game 5, he would have to be Mr. Game 6. So it's just a little gamesmanship. Some freakin' ballsy gamesmanship, but gamesmanship nonetheless.

- Not to sound like Seinfeld here, but
what's the deeeeaal with players being so chummy after games? This is the playoffs, isn't it? And I understand they all know eachother and they played AAU ball together and All-Star teams and whatnot...but its the playoffs! Jason Kidd and Anthony Johnson hugging and smiling after the Nets bounced the Pacers; players going out to dinner with eachother in between games, Arenas in the Cavs freakin' locker room? I don't know..something just seems wrong there.

- Call their name before throwing them a pass: Anderson Varejeo and Kwame Brown. Those two are where assists go to die.

- This has been bothering me: Simmons rips the Heat fans for wearing white t-shirts, then lauds the Clip fans for wearing red ones? Plus, the Clippers fans did the wave. During a playoff game. No explanation needed. Those in glass houses shouldn't...ah, I forget the saying, but that's a little hypocritical, methinks.

- Things I will never get sick of: Ben Gordon's tear drop runners...LeBron throwing chalk in the air...Steve Nash running a pick and roll...Steve Nash's fake drive, pull up for a J move...Dwyane Wade create in mid-air...Dirk's stroke (not a classic beauty, but still can't take my eyes off it - it's the Angelina Jolie of jumpshots)...Tayshaun Prince chase someone down and swat their layup to halfcourt while the shooter stands there with a "where they hell did
he come from?" look on his face...being scared to death whenever Kobe has the ball...watching Gilbert flick on shots from 40 feet like he's at the free throw line...watching Jason Kidd place passes perfectly...watching Vince Carter get his ass put on the floor...

- The All-First Round Team. Unbelievably, two players from losing squads make the team:

  • Steve Nash, PHX
  • Kobe Bryant, LAL
  • Gilbert Arenas, WAS
  • LeBron James, CLE
  • Dirk Nowitzki, DAL
Honorable mention: Bonzi Wells...Rip Hamilton...TJ Ford...Dwyane Wade...Kirk Hinrich...Andres Nocioni...Jason Kidd (1o assists per)...Elton Brand...Raja Bell.

Coach of the First Round? Pop, solely for that sweet baseline pass play he drew up in Game 2 of the Kings series. It was so pretty.

Anything memorable I forgot?

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Fake Playoffs: The Quarter Finals.

Time for Round 2 of the Fake Playoffs. (The Fake Playoffs are matchups based on the premis that there is no divisions or conference in basketball. Just seed everyone one through sixteen, they giddy up!)

Something interesting to only me, probably, and frankly, I have no idea how this happened: Seven of the teams that are stil alive in the real playoffs are alive in the Fake Playoffs as well. The lone exception: the Lakers are into Round 2 of the Fake Playoffs (must not have been a 7 game series. Ba-zing!). The team that is out: the Nets, who, ironically enough, lost to the Lakers. OK, enough of that - onto the matchups!

(1) Pistons
(9) Clippers

Hell of a second round matchup, no? This has a legit chance of being a Finals matchup in the "real" playoffs.

Free polls from Pollhost.com
Who will advance: Pistons or Clippers?
Detroit Pistons L.A. Clippers

(4) Suns
(5) Heat

A slow, grind it out, typical playoff series. Both teams have excellent perimeter defenses - expect low point totals, but clinics on how to play D at the NBA level.

Who will advance: Suns or Heat?
Miami Heat
Phoenix Suns
Free polls from Pollhost.com

(3) Mavs
(6) Cavs

Nos. 2 and 3 in the MVP voting go head to head. If it comes down to better head coaches, Mike Brown is a lock. Wait - dumb looks on your face at all times is a bad thing? Oh. Better go with the other guy then.

Free polls from Pollhost.com
Who will advance: Mavs or Cavs?
Dallas Mavericks Cleveland LeBrons

(2) Spurs
(10) Lakers

Kobe is guarded by Bruce Bowen, somehow who "really makes him think out there." And doesn't clothesline him, either.

Who will advance: Lakers or Spurs?
San Antonio Spurs
L.A. Team Players
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Read the Rest After the Jump...

23 > 8 (and 24).

Well, you can stop the MJ comparisons now.

There is a ton of uncertainty surrounding Kobe after he took only three shots in the second half of the Lakers/Suns Game 7, but one thing is now abundantly clear. He's not the next Michael Jordan.

Anyone even vaguely familiar with basketball knows exactly what would have happened if that would have been MJ wearing that purple number 8 Friday night. MJ would have lit Raja Bell up for 55 and advanced his team to the playoffs, strategy be damned. He would have owned Raja Bell, to the point that it was better for the Suns that Raja not even be in the game. Even if Phil had MJ convinced he needed to involve his teammates, MJ would have scored his and found a way to get the W. Its as simple as that.

What was Kobe thinking, shooting only three times in the second half? Sure, he scored 23 in the first and all it got his team was a 15-point hole. But the main reason the Lakers were down by so many was because no one in a Laker uniform could throw in the ocean. (Well, that and that fact that their defense was biddy-league bad. I mean, the pick and roll D was pointless; whoever set the screen knew they were getting a layup. All they had to worry about was choosing between layup or dunk, because the help D was no where to be found. And Leondro Barbosa dribbled through the Laker defense without being even mildly challenged. If Smush Parker is on an NBA roster next season, consider me stunned.) What better time to start gunning than when everyone one of your teammates can't buy a bucket? Sometimes Plan A doesn't work. There is a reason for Plan B, yes?

And yea, I understand that the Lakers probably weren't going to win unless they got above average contributions from a number of people, and they weren't getting them. But it was the way Kobe went about not shooting that was troublesome. He almost looked disinterested, like it was a lost cause not worth his time or energy. Why not penetrate a little, get some teammates some easy buckets? Why not post up, force a double team and get some open looks from 3? Why not try to create some offense yourself? WHY NOT SHOOT OH, I DON'T KNOW, FOUR TIMES? For all intents and purposes, Kobe became a role guy, someone to reverse the ball: he wasn't even a threat. Total FGAs isn't the problem; the reason for the low FGAs is.

So Kobe isn't the next MJ. Big deal. He's not the greatest player ever to touch a ball - doesn't mean he still isn't great. But it makes you wonder what exactly motivates Kobe.

Kobe, at least to me, seems very sensitive. He has said nearly every time he's been asked that Raja Bell doesn't concern him. Kobe "has bigger fish to fry" and he "can score on Raja any times he wants" and he doesn's consider him in the same class as an Artest or a Bowen. But you know what? We know that, Kobe. Really we do. We heard you the first time - and every time after that. We know you can score whenever. We know you are better than Raja Bell. Just do it then, alright? You sound like someone who claims they are over an ex, but then won't stop talking about how much they hate them. If he's not big deal, why talk about him to such an extent? Thou protest a bit too much, Bean.

What about his Raja Bell comments? Calling him "this kid" and "maybe he wasn't hugged enough as a kid." What are you talking about? I get that you are trying to demean him, but resorting to calling out his family...um, necessary? Kobe's life was so hug filled, apparently, in between his pickup games on the streets of Philly, where, he delighted in telling us time and time again, he grew up and played in some brutal pickup games. The games were so brutal, apparently, that Raja's take down of Kobe was nothing, at least not to him. I just find myself wondering where Kobe found time for these games on the playground while being raised in Europe?

And his reaction to the chant from the Suns' crowd was even more telling. When the fan's started an impromptu "Kobe sucks!" chant, Kobe held up a cupped hand to his ear and made a frowning face, implying, "What? I can't hear you." But the message he sent was just the opposite. Everyone knew Kobe heard it loud and clear, and everyone saw just thow much it bothered him. When does a player ever acknowledge boos or negative chants? Ever? Why give the fans that kind of fire power?

Kobe just seems way to sensitive. Every little thing bothers him. And I don't know why this bothers me so much - maybe because of how damned good he is, and how much I want to like him, but just can't. I really do try to like him, and I think he's the best player on whatever court he steps on. But his sensitivy kills me. Its unbearable. And he's so contrived, I can't stand it.

Alright, that's it. That's the last thing I'm writing about Kobe Bean Bryant. Until next season, at least.

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Best of 7: Experts weigh in on the 'best first round ever'

From ESPN.com...

We asked our writers seven questions (and a bonus) about what many are calling the best first round in NBA playoff history:

1. Who is the defining player of the playoffs so far? Which player, other than Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, has been most compelling to you?

Chris Broussard: I think Kobe is clearly the defining player, just because of his incredible shift from gunner to facilitator. The most compelling player has been Bonzi Wells. Talk about being motivated in a contract year! Wells, a free agent this summer, has abused Bruce Bowen like no one alive ever has.

Ric Bucher: Defining player? Kwame Brown. Compelling? Bonzi Wells. The theme of these playoffs has been redemption. Complementary players dismissed or discounted have loomed large while the stars have canceled each other out. Wells, who was not even on the All-Star ballot, has exposed a weakness in the defending champions' arsenal and made good on his tantalizing talent.

John Hollinger: The defining player of the playoffs has definintely been LeBron James, just because he's been under such a microscope in his first playoffs and delivered so hugely. Other than Kobe and LeBron, I would say Dirk Nowitzki. He dominated the Memphis series and showed why he merited being in the MVP discussion.

Chris Sheridan: While the defining players have been Kobe and LeBron, the most compelling player has been Andres Nocioni of the Bulls. I've been covering him since '99, and I knew he was good. But not this good.

Marc Stein: It's been a first round of surprises and so I go with my biggest individual surprise: Luke Walton. He probably wouldn't start for any coach in the league besides Phil Jackson, but he's as important to what the Lakers are doing to control the tempo against Phoenix as Kobe or Lamar Odom. And he tied up Steve Nash in the most controversial play of the playoffs so far, setting up the wildest of numerous wild finishes. Luke is the poster boy for this script-shredding Round 1.

Point23: The most defining player - so far - has been Kobe, but jsut barely, over LeBron. The two most memorable plays so far this postseason both involve the soon-to-be No. 24: Kobe's game winner after the improbable jumpball, and Raja Bell laying him out. Plus, Kobe's willingness to change his entire philosophy is the storylines of the playoffs. But if the Lakers blow a 3-1 advantage - which they are dangerously close to doing - then most defining goes to LeBron. Two game winners and a triple-double in your playoff debut as a 21 year old? We' re all just witnesses - truly. As for most compelling - I'll take Dirk. Remember not so long ago when he was yeling at teammates at midcourt and his leadership was under fire? Not anymore. The Greatest German Ever (and not even grreatest baller ever - the greatest German, period. Can you think of a better one?) pulls off the only sweep off the first round and has his team playing better than anyone right now. Throw in the clutch three and the very real potential of winning an NBA championship, and it's a no brainer.

2. Which team has been the most pleasant surprise? Most disappointing?

Broussard: The most pleasant surprise has been Chicago, because with their lack of power inside you'd have thought the Bulls would be dead men walking against Shaquille O'Neal. The biggest disappointment has been Phoenix. To get pounded inside by the likes of Kwame Brown is just unacceptable.

Bucher: Pleasant surprise? Lakers. Watching any team make itself greater than the sum of its parts is always captivating. The Lakers have done that. Most disappointing? Nuggets. Denver, conversely, has disintegrated before our very eyes, shredding reputations and damaging careers in the stroke of a single series.

Hollinger: Most pleasant surprise has been the Lakers, because they're playing much better defensively than I thought they could. The most disappointing has to be Denver -- they had chemistry problems, took terrible shots and completely gave up in Game 5.

Sheridan: Pleasant surprise is the Clippers, even to those who missed out on the bandwagon when I started it. Most disappointing is the Grizz. Throw a couple of games late in the season if it'll get you the train wreck Nuggets in the first round. There is no chivalry in being 0-12 in the postseason.

Stein: I heard (and cracked) lots of jokes about Ron Artest coexisting with Bonzi Wells when the Artest trade went down. So I'd have to say Ron-Ron and Bonzi emerging as the leadership tag-team behind Sacramento's bid to stun San Antonio has to be the most pleasant surprise. Denver is the easy answer when it comes to disappointments, because the Nuggets didn't even show up for the playoffs, but Memphis extending its streak of playoff futility to 0-12 was just as tough to watch.

Point23: The most pleasant surprise has been Chicago. Has there been a more fun team to watch in the playoffs? Not with the Suns being slowed down, there hasn't. The Baby Bulls play a beautiful style of basketball - push the ball, drive and kick, knock down threes, get in the lane and find people. Plus, they completely exposed Miami's perimiter defense. How geeked are Kidd, Jefferson and Carter right now? I think Shaq just picked up his second foul thinking about Jason Williams or Gary Payton getting beat off the dribble. And no one was more dissapointig than the Nuggets - it wasn't even close. The whole K-Mart debacle was ugly, and Reggie Evans grabbed someone's cookies. Blow it up, Kiki.

3. Which series other than Lakers-Suns has been most enjoyable to watch?

Broussard: Cleveland-Washington has been a blast because it's LeBron's postseason coming-out party, and he's in a shootout with Gilbert Arenas.

Bucher: Bulls-Heat. The two teams have such contrasting styles and personalities.

Hollinger: Cavs-Wizards has been great, especially yesterday's Game 5, but the others were hardly chopped liver either. The LeBron vs. Gilbert shootouts have been reminiscent of Bird vs. Dominique.

Sheridan: Wizards-Cavs, cuz it's fun to see two neophytes kill each other to earn the right to be swept by the Pistons.

Stein: Spurs-Kings. It's more competitive than expected, it's given us multiple great finishes already and it's posing an interesting question to take into the next round: Has Sacramento exposed unforeseen vulnerability with San Antonio or merely sharpened the Spurs up for Dallas? I'm leaning toward the latter.

Point23: For drama's sake, nothing tops the Cavs/Zards. But no team so far has been as fun to watch as the Baby Bulls. Kirk Hinrich's quiet battle with Dwyane Wade has been intense (how many times has one of them stopped the other only to have the favor returned immediately?). And I could watch Ben Gordon shoot those tear drops in the lane all day. Have you seen how high they get? Then swish - pure.

4. What's the best coaching move you've seen? And worst?

Broussard: Phil Jackson has been spectacular. His ability to convince Kobe to share the rock and forego his attempts at scoring 50 is the best coaching move. The worst? D'Antoni's failure to adjust and find a way to run against L.A. (until Game 5).

Bucher: Best? Posting up Luke Walton, Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown. Or, basically, everyone except Kobe. The Lakers' floor balance and the Suns' energy expended defending the paint has short-circuited Phoenix's vaunted offense and, for the most part, neutralized Shawn Marion. And worst? Alienating Kenyon Martin. Pushing K-Mart aside didn't galvanize Denver the way punishing Kwame did last year for the Wizards. As inconsistent as Kenyon has been this season, the Nuggets had little chance of winning without him, reflected in the multiple starting lineups in his absence.

Hollinger: Best? The play Gregg Popovich ran against Sacramento at the end of Game 2 -- it caught the Kings completely by surprise. The worst has to be Mike Brown's play-calling at the end of games -- completely, utterly predictable.

Sheridan: I'm biased in favor of Wiz-Cavs, cuz I've been covering it a lot, but the play the Cavs ran for LeBron at the end of OT in Game 5 couldn't have gone off better. So Mike Brown gets my vote. The worst is George Karl suspending Kenyon Martin. Why does Furious George always feud with guys?

Stein: Phil letting Kobe do whatever he felt necessary to get the Lakers to the playoffs and then getting total commitment and focus from Kobe -- and your Kwame Browns, Smush Parkers and Brian Cooks -- to buy into a totally new game plan for the playoffs. The worst would be an otherwise sharp Rick Adelman not subbing out Bonzi late in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and then bringing Bonzi back when the Kings got the ball back in offense-defense mode. Instead he left Wells on Manu Ginobili to pick up his sixth foul when he didn't even need to be on the floor, forcing Wells to watch all of overtime from the bench in a game that, had Sacramento stolen it, might have had us talking about a historic upset.

Point23: It's not technically a move, but Dr. Phil getting Kobe to buy into this new philosophy and then trusting that Kwame flippin' Brown could control the paint is hand's down the best thing a coach has done in Round 1. Although Pop's baseline kick play to tie Game 2 was brilliant, just brilliant. The worst? Anything involving Eddie Jordan. What a train wreck. Make up your mind on how you're playing LeBron. And call a timeout after he hits the next game winner instead of heaving up a 60-foot airball.

5. What's your quick take on the officiating, rough play, suspensions, etc.?

Broussard: I don't have the stats but it seems like the refs are calling more offensive fouls than ever before, and it seems like they're calling charges on plays that have been blocks in previous years. This is clearly throwing players (Shaq, Jermaine O'Neal, LeBron) off.

I think the league had to suspend Raja Bell after the precedent it set by suspending Artest, James Posey and Udonis Haslem. But I think some of these suspensions could have been limited to flagrants without suspensions. Finally, on a positive note, the officials have been consistent -- every team feels like it's getting shafted.

Bucher: The more competitive the series, the more physical confrontations and heated emotions there are -- and this year we have an extraordinary number of competitive series. The postseason fracases also could be a by-product of the regular season. Referees were instructed by the league to be judicious with their T's and talk through conflicts. Players and coaches subsequently became more demonstrative about calls knowing they wouldn't pay a price. Add the do-or-die emotion of the playoffs to the wider boundaries and you have the spillage the refs are now trying to clean up.

Hollinger: Actually, I think the league is doing a great job of keeping this stuff to a minimum. There's always going to be some chippy play when teams see each other seven straight games, but the NBA has reduced greatly the incentive to vent frustrations against opposing players.

Sheridan: The arc beneath the basket has opened up a can of worms in terms of block-charge interpretations. It needs to be addresssed by the competition committee.

Stein: I can't even answer this until someone explains how Reggie Evans went unsuspended after what he pulled.

Point23: I may be alone here, but I think the NBA needs to take a chill pill. The only person who deserve to be suspended - the cookie monster, Reggie Evans - only got fined. Is Violet Palmer running the NBA disciplinary office? Does Stu Jackson pee standing up? Good Lord, that's atrocious. Every other instance was punished fairly enough when the player was ejected and assessed his tech. This is the playoffs, fellas - expect and allow more contact. Don't tamper with the intensity.

(And in case you missed it, reread Stein's answer. I don't know if it was intentional, but that was the best double entendre I've heard in a while. 'Atta boy, Stein! Way to sneak it past the big boys!)

6. What's the most underreported story of the first round?

Broussard: Pat Riley's playoff struggles. First, few have mentioned that this potential debacle on South Beach is all Riley's doing (revamping the roster, replacing Stan Van Gundy). Then, Riley's last four playoff appearances entering this season ended with his Heat being beaten by lower seeds. What's it say about him if this year's star-studded club falls to a far inferior Chicago club?

Bucher: How the Nuggets, eliminated in five games last year, went from a promising force to be reckoned with, to a team, eliminated in five games this year, that is poised to sink back into lottery hell. When a franchise's front office is in disarray, the trouble eventually will filter down to its team. This should be a cautionary tale for every NBA team -- and every organization of any kind. Underreported Story II: The conflict in the Kings' organization over acquiring Ron Artest and growing speculation that the Maloofs want to both re-make and relocate the franchise.

Hollinger: Dallas kicking the pants out of a very good Memphis team. We've reflexively made San Antonio the favorites in the West, but the Mavs played better than anybody else in Round 1.

Sheridan: Phil Jackson's game plan against the Suns, although I'll opine that underreported is too strong of a word. Is under-understood a word?

Stein: I'd still rather see best-of-fives in the first round. But for the first time since the NBA went to best-of-sevens from the start, nobody's complaining about how long the first round is. Because it's been so good.

Point23: How good the Kings are. They are arguably the third or fourth best team in the West right now. If they played with that roster for 82 games, they could have realistically won the Pacific over Phoenix. Look at that roster: one of the best, playoff-tested PG's in Bibby, the best perimiter defender in the L (and not too shabby a scorer, either) at the 2 in Ron Artest, Bonzi Wells eating people alive at the 3, Abdur-Rahim being the vet that he is at the four, and a versatile shooter and passer at the center spot in Miller. Look out next year. And if Barry doesn't hit that corner three, SA might be goin' fishin' a little early this season.

And as a runner-up: the Wizards making fun of LeBron (Caron Butler mocking his chalk in the air routine; Gilbert Arenas saying "we're all just witnesses" and then LeBron lighting them up. Honestly - they asked for it.

7. Two No. 7 seeds and a No. 8 seed are making serious challenges -- a sign of increasing parity or just a blip?

Broussard: Increasing parity wrought by injuries. Tim Duncan's not himself because of the plantar fasciitis, so S.A. is no longer invincible. Phoenix is without Amare Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas, and Miami's just never gelled and Shaq is aging fast.

Bucher: Fortuitous matchups. Low-seeded teams have been paired with teams they're ideally suited to create problems for. This year also points up the illusion a robust regular-season record can create.

Hollinger: Just a blip -- this has happened before. Three years ago San Antonio had the league's best record but was tied 2-2 after four games; so were the top-seeded Nets in the East. Of course, they both ended up in the Finals.

Sheridan: Blip. The Kings are good, period. They got an 8-seed cuz they stunk before they got Artest. Think they'd rather have him, or Peja Stojakovic and his mysterious swollen knee?

Stein: It's a sign of favorable matchups more than anything. The Lakers, Kings and Bulls have all found the favorites' flaws and (here's the rub) they're all exposing those flaws repeatedly.

Point23: Just a goofy set of circumstances. The Kings snuck into the playoffs after they acquired Artest - if they had him all year, they wouldn't be an 8 seed. The Heat can't guard a soul of the dribble - guess what Chicago thrives on? Perimiter penetration. Plus, it was always effort with the Heat - when they play hard, they win. They just didn'y play 48 minutes in Games 3 and 4. The Suns had to deal with the Mamba factor: 'nuff said.

AND THE BONUS: Are we in a new Golden Age of the NBA?

Broussard: That's hard to say, but there are reasons to believe that. With the Lakers and the Cavaliers emerging as strong teams, a few Finals matchups between the league's two best players (Kobe and LeBron) could be a distinct possibility, starting in a few years. That would be like Magic vs. Bird. Then with other great youngsters like Amare and D-Wade, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul … yeah, this could be the dawn of something special.

Bucher: Only time will tell. The presence of LeBron, the impact of Phil and Kobe reunited, the quiet emergence of the made-over Dallas Mavericks, the resurgence of Jason Kidd and Vince Carter certainly offer an array of interesting story lines moving forward.

Hollinger: Seems like it. With the draft class of 2003 entering its prime and several other young studs stepping forward, the league looks like it's finally over the post-Jordan hangover.

Sheridan: LeBron is going to change things, and Kobe is special, but Golden Age? We're in a transitional age, and we'll appreciate the "team game" more and more as long as we keep seeing the Pistons and Spurs win championships and Argentina win gold medals.

Stein: It's way too soon to talk about Golden Ages. It might be the Best First Round Ever, but it's still only the first round.

Point23: Oh, go out on a limb, fellas! This absolutely is the dawning of the new Golden Age. Look at all the different clashing philosophies trying to win a ring: run like Phoenix, have the single super-duper star like L.A. or Cleveland, be a great team like Detroit or SA? When have their ever been more MVP candidates? Kobe and Lebron and Dirk hitting buzzer beaters...this is The Best First Round Ever for a reason: it's the start of something huge. Plus, look at all the great names not in he playoffs: KG, Amare, Iverson, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, T.Mac & Yao...yikes. Get ready for an NBA Renaissiance. I'm rambling like an idiot I'm so excited.

(In case you were wondering, ESPN held a little round table with its "experts" on their website, and somehow, they forgot us. Simple miscommunication, we're sure. So we took care of it. How'd we do?)

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