Halfway There [Originally posted 2/14/14 on sportsblog.com]

Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy All-Star Weekend. Had there been any forethought to my plans this year outside of getting into grad school, I would have planned around engaging in the madness that is going down in New Orleans. I don’t remember my first and only trip to New Orleans and want to go back and see it sober. This would have been the perfect backdrop to make my return. This is actually the first All-Star Weekend since I was a teen that I cared about the dunk and 3 point shooting contest.

I watched a little bit of hoops last night, Lakers vs. Thunder. KD did his normal thing, 43 points, 12 reb, 7 assists, and 3 steals. He struggled early on, but managed to pour in 19 points in the 4th quarter. What impressed me the most was that OKC started making stops in the 4th quarter;in contrast to the first 3 periods where Shawne Williams (was on fire the first half) and Kendall Marshall (17 assists for the game) looked like they were going to put a damper on OKC’s weekend. I never thought I would say this but its really hard to hate the Lakers right now, in fact, I kind of feel sorry for them. I just knew they’d find a way to lose to OKC.

It was the kind of game where they easily could have mailed it in and called it a good first half of the season. But KD went into Jordan mode and kept fighting–the whole team did. You can often look at games over the course of a championship run and see where teams win games they shouldn’t win. The Heat are at the point where they can play 30 plus minutes of bad basketball and still put things together in crunch time and gut out a W. The Spurs were renown for this, 2000 Lakers as well. The difference between home court advantage and a number one seed in the playoffs is often attributed to beating the teams to are supposed to beat. I think Durant understands this now. I can’t wait to see how the Thunder look when Russell Westbrook finally comes back.

Jayhawks get winged

Everything that could be written about Monday night’s game has already been written or tweeted about. K-State pulled out a gutsy win the other night. Every other play someone was going to the trainer’s room or getting looked at on the bench. Kansas got destroyed on the pick and roll; for some reason their guards would switch onto the rolling big men and the Wildcats would capitalize on the mismatch. Of course with a healthy Embiid (who hasn’t looked quite right since the TCU game) ,the result would probably have been different, but let’s just deal with the facts today.

The Jayhawks were so close to winning a game they had no business being in. When they came back to tie it and send it into overtime, I thought for sure the momentum would carry over into the extra period. Kansas just didn’t have the frontcourt depth on Monday (I would love to know what Jamari Traylor did to piss off Bill Self–Self runs a pretty loose ship so whatever it was must have been a serious bonehead move on Traylor’s part) to handle K-State’s bigs. The failure to defend the pick and roll, coupled with KU’s 17 % shooting (3-17) from 3 point land (in contrast to K-State’s 8-15 from downtown) culminated into one ugly performance on Big Monday, and the Wildcat faithful could not contain themselves. To show just how one sided the “rivalry” is, K-State’s fans stormed the court–something you would never see in Lawrence no matter who they defeated.

As I mentioned before, young teams can look like world beaters one week and then second round knockouts the following week. If KU and Wichita State played today, I’d lay my money on the Shockers.

I’m not sure if I’ll even bother watching the game Saturday afternoon. It depends on how well I recover from Friday night. Either way, its way too early in the game to get excited about how well or how poorly this team is doing. As I’ve pointed out before, its going to be an up and down year depending on which Jayhawks team shows up.

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day, and don’t catch VD.

Woodenesque? [Originally posted on sportsblog.com on 2/25/14]

20 years from now, how will Bill Self’s legacy be perceived? Ten straight conference titles in ANY sport is a major accomplishment–especially in the post Wooden era of “one and dones”. I would put Bill Self up there with Coach K, Jim Boeheim and Rick Barnes (just kidding) as best coaches in the game right now. I got into the Texas game on Saturday (for a pretty reasonable price) and if you had told me the Horns would get smashed by 30 I would have looked at you crazy. But that’s what happened isn’t it? Of course, I knew there was the possibility of an emotional letdown come Big Monday; even with the chance to clinch the Big XII title in front of the home crowd. OU came with it, but it wasn’t enough. One major goal down, now its time to finish the season strong, remain healthy, and gear up for the Madness of next month. Here are a few random observations from the past few days:

Reintegration

Everyone knows that the Thunder need a healthy Russell Westbrook to be a legitimate threat to the Miami Heat, but the Thunder have lost the last two (big) games with him back in the starting lineup. Keep in mind that Westbrook has missed almost two months of hoops action due to his knee injury. Anybody who has even just played pickup ball can tell you that even a two week layoff can make you feel rusty. So imagine what 2 months can do to someone’s game. I’m curious about the thought process with Russ, Coach Brooks, and the front office about how to get him back involved with the team. He has been playing on a 25 minute limit basis, but with the way the team and Reggie Jackson have been playing, it makes you wonder if they considered bringing Russ off the bench with the second unit, until Russ got his legs and timing back. It is one thing to be out of sync against the Celtics or Bobcats, but the World Champs? Kinda dicey to throw Russ in there with such high expectations. Glad you’re back Russ. Can’t wait to see you at full speed.

While we’re at let’s talk about KD vs. Lerbon II

The stats from this game are a bit deceiving. Lebron had 33 points (15-22), 3 assists 7 boards and 4 steals (he also had 8 turnovers), while KD had 28 points (10-22) 8 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals (5 turnovers for Durant). You could tell Lebron was locked in from the tip, he made the first 10 points for the Heat and didn’t let off the throttle until Serge Ibaka Blocka Flame broke his nose. You could jump to either conclusion that a) Lebron outplayed Durant. or b) that the numbers were a pretty much a wash.

But either conclusion would be insufficient without taking into account that Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade scored 24 points a piece. KD’s crew of Ibaka (14 points) and Westbrook (16 points) could barely muster 30 points between them.

The Heat looked more locked in, they shot 54 % and Oklahoma City only made 2-20 from 3 point land. The passing just wasn’t there for OKC, and settled for way too many jumpers (which is practically begging Miami to fast break on your team).

Let’s also put to bed this whole “OKC has the best crowd in the NBA” myth. I have been to many games at the Ford Center. They do get loud. But from my experiences the OKC faithful get loud at to start of the game, then they quiet down until something cool happens to get them loud. The Warriors fans out in the bay are a bit more involved, and sometimes directly affect plays with the level of noise they create (one can even use this same corollary with the Duke fans vs. Jayhawks. Cameron Indoors is always going HAM, while Allen Fieldhouse seems so dead sometimes when I’m there–though I don’t think it was always this way).

Boeheim Going Fed

I’m feeling this newly borne rivalry between Syracuse-Duke. The level of play of both games has been extremely high, and the pedigree both schools bring to the table amp the games up to a higher intensity. Its like watching a Final Four game without a neutral setting. Dick Vitale says that the first meeting this year was one of the five greatest games he’d ever been associated with. I cannot wait until they meet in the ACC tournament.

As for Boeheim losing his s#$% over that call, I can see why he did it (I got a chance to watch the replay last night). There was a lot of inconsistency in the officiating. One particularly error was a missed bump on CJ Fair that resulted in a traveling violation being called. The blocking call that gave Jabari Parker the AND1, was the exact same situation that went against Syracuse when Rodney Hood got the benefit of the charge. All that being said, Syracuse still had a chance to foul and get the ball back with a chance to tie it (depending on if Duke makes the ensuing one in one free throws). His ejection gave Duke four points plus the ball and thus ended the game. A tough way to end such a highly competitive game. If I’m a ref I don’t think I make a call that late, and let the game get decided on the court.

I went away from the game thinking that perhaps Syracuse is the best team in the nation, and even though the Jayhawks are the most talented, Syracuse would be a nightmare matchup for KU. Syracuse’s backcourt and disciplined big men could create a frustrating night for the Jayhawks and Bill Self. KU fans better pray this match up doesn’t happen until the Final Four in Dallas.

Jayhawks of the week:

Andrew Wiggins for his monster first half against Texas

17 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists to begin the game on Saturday. The game was all over by halftime.

Tarik Black

There is no way to describe what it felt like to be there in person when EVERYONE collectively lost their minds.

Thomas Robinson
In a game where he put up 14 points and 18 rebounds. It was this block that made Jayhawks fans oh so proud.

This week is a real lull in the basketball week. KU goes down to Gallagher Arena on Saturday. Friday night Steph Curry goes up to MSG (not sure if you know this but players love to play in Madison Square Garden). Other than that, there isn’t much I’m hype for. I guess this means instead of watching basketball, I’ll be playing it instead. It never stops………….

Shaking Up the Narrative [originally posted 3/25/14]

With no NCAA games until Thursday, I wanted to take advantage of the reprieve to talk a little NBA. We’re still mired in the NBA doldrums until next month, but there are a couple things I wanted to discuss:

KD for MVP Part II

According to Magic Johnson, KD has locked up the MVP this year. I’d been saying it since January, but it seems like every night, the “D.C. Sniper” does something incredible to distance himself from the rest of the pack. He absolutely killed it against the Raptors putting up 51 points, 12 boards, and 7 assists. The three pointer to end the game in double overtime was filthy. Down 110-118 with 49 seconds to go, it didn’t look good for the Thunder, but I should have known better than to doubt KD and company. After having my bracket busted earlier that day, KD’s game winner made my night.

Why not the Clippers?

For anyone who hasn’t been paying much attention to pro ball, the Los Angeles Clippers are the trendy pick to unseat Oklahoma City and San Antonio Spurs as the favorites to win the Western Conference. A friend of mine has been blowing up my phone with texts saying this was the Clippers’ year. I didn’t take him seriously for the first couple of weeks he said this, but during the most recent Warriors-Clips game, I asked myself “Why not?”

Their bench is pretty decent with Matt Barnes, Glen Davis, Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison,and Danny Granger coming off the bench.
This is the best coach any of the current Clippers have ever had (except Matt Barnes who played for Phil). Doc Rivers already has a ring, and is one of the five best coaches in the league right now. Most of the reason it was hard to take the Clippers seriously was because of Vinny Del Negro. He’s gone now though. Coaching is no longer an impediment with the team.

People were getting excited about the Warriors getting Andre Iguadola, but many foresaw them regressing this year. Their bench play has been lacking, and this has caused the Dubs to struggle more than they did when they had Jarrett Jack to help spell Steph Curry. With Phoenix surging and the Warriors not looking quite as strong, it’s going to be interesting to see who has to face LAC in the first round.

I can’t wait to see how the seeding works out, though I wish the NBA would get crazy with it and adopt this playoff model.

Speaking of playoff intensity, Miami vs. Indy tomorrow night. Clear your schedules.

#winorgohome

WOW!

From the way these guys have been celebrating , you wouldn’t think it was only the first round. This weekend brought us some great action and its hard to believe that we are only in the second round.

Game 7 in Los Angeles was as good as advertised and the two teams played with the intensity of an NBA Finals. Even though I had picked the Clippers to win, deep in my heart I wanted to see a Warriors-Thunder Second round. I think a healthy Andrew Bogut would have swung the series, but am I alone in thinking that Doc Rivers out coached Mark Jackson? For the record I think Mark Jackson is getting a raw deal. He has led the Dubs to two straight 45 plus win seasons and this year he had a patchwork team to put together with a bunch of role players and Steph Curry (No I don’t think Klay Thompson is there yet). If Warriors ownership fired Mark Jackson after winning 50 games this year (in the toughest bracket in NBA playoff history) over some personality conflicts, it would be a HUGE mistake. Can you think of a viable replacement? Neither can I. This would be them doing the old “two steps forward, three steps back routine” that they’ve been on since Mullins, Hardaway, and Webber left the team. Joseph Lacob would be shooting himself in the foot if he didn’t bring back Coach Jackson.

It seems crazy to be talking this much about the Warriors when they were the team that was eliminated, but what else is there to say about the Clippers? Is there any more reason to regurgitate what a tough emotional roller coaster they had last week? Their front line was the major difference and I can’t wait to see them go against the Thunder in what will be an entertaining series.

Blake gets to play in his hometown, as does Russell Westbrook (how about that triple double Saturday night? WOW), so look for big series from both of those cats. I’m interested to see the Matt Barnes vs. “Mr. Unreliable” match up (How stupid is the Oklahoman for that headline? This is exactly why people think Okies don’t deserve a basketball team–they should be thankful that a player of his caliber WANTS to live in a shit hole like Oklahoma City). Speaking of Memphis, I knew this was going to be a tough series. Zack Randolph didn’t help his team any by getting suspended, and neither did the injury to Mike Conley (who is having a better career than I ever gave him credit for being capable of–I was wrong Mike Conley is not a bust). Much props to the Grit N Grind crew though, they made games 2 through 5 unbelievable games.

Whether or not OKC does win will depend on a few factors:

1. Can Serge Ibaka be effective? They will need him to stay out of foul trouble and make Blake Griffin work on defense.

2. Will OKC’s team defense be effective against the Clippers offensive firepower?

3. Will the Clipper’s bench outplay the Thunder’s bench?

4. How efficient will OKC be on offense, and will their turnovers and bad shots result in LOB CITY GIF explosions all over the internet?

It’s hard to bet against KD and Westbrook at this point, but I think this series will be extremely close. I’m going with OKC in 7

 

Spurs-Portland will be a fun series to watch as well. I’m hoping that we will get to see more Thomas Robinson in this series, since he played so well against Houston in what little playing time Terry Stotts gave him. Every night I got about 3 texts from my boy Sam that involved the words “T-Rob”,  “going ham”, and “he hongry.” The shot by Damien Lillard did not surprise me one bit. When I saw they had .9 on the game clock, I just had a suspicion that “Big Game Dame” was going to find a way to get  a good look. He was so wide open on the play and as soon as he shouted I yelled out to no one in particular “ball game!”

I’m interested in the point guard match up with Tony Parker and “Illard” guarding each other, but small forwards Nic Batum-Kawhi Leonard facing off is just as intriguing to me as the PG or PF (Tim Duncan vs. Lamarcus Aldridge) match ups.

Portland had a great run this year, and nothing is more magical than having that town abuzz with joy. As someone who saw the Portland-Lakers debacle back in 2000, I can be nothing but happy for Rip City. All sentiment aside, this is where they meet the fate of last year’s feel good story, the Golden State Warriors. San Antonio has a better bench and the best coach in the game. The Spurs will take what a team does best and make them do something different to beat them. San Antonio in SIX.

I’m still quasi-boycotting the Eastern Conference. After seeing so many good games out west, it really pisses me off that the Heat just get to coast their way into the NBA Finals. They would have been a five seed in the Western Conference and it would have been a dogfight. At least if they’d win out west, people would be able to tip their hats to them in good conscience. I just don’t see how the competition committee can’t at least address this. How is fair for a team that plays in a weaker conference get an easier path to the championship?  Brooklyn will at least make the Heat earn their victories, which is all you can ask for at this point. I know Brooklyn is undefeated against Miami this year, but that was regular season. Lebron ain’t even answering phone calls right now, so you know he’s focused. I’ll take the Heat in SIX, but I’m still only watching the fourth quarter of these games. The same goes for Indiana-Washington. I’m taking Indiana in SIX. This is a better match up for the Pacers, but its still going to be ugly. Let’s just hope no one has their teeth knocked out.

I’m looking forward to the start of the second round tonight and if my calculations are correct, I have at least two hours to sit on my front porch, drink some cervezas, eat some chips and salsa, and lounge. Happy Cinco de Mayo!!!