MOUSE IN THA HOUSE!

And just like that, the season is here. What a treat opening night was. The Spurs get their rings and eek out a one point victory against the Mavs in what definitely was a “Good Ass Game.” Both teams a little sluggish early on (My boy Boris A.K.A. “the Big Pastry” looked especially out of sync), but by the 3rd quarter they were grooving. For a brief second I wondered if the Mavs were going to ride Dirk’s hot hand all the way to a “W”, and they even had the final shot at the end.

Somehow they managed not to exploit the switch on the pick and roll, which left Danny Green guarding Dirk for about 5-7 seconds. Chandler Parsons chucked it up for one of his 8 misses (2-10 for the whole game) and the Spurs escaped what could have easily been an opening night defeat. Now I may be giving the Mavs too much credit here (San Antonio is a little banged up and missing their Finals MVP–Kawhi Leonard– with an eye infection), but this could easily be a Western Conference Finals preview–don’t sleep on that Rick Carlisle and Dirk tandem.
Kiss the Rings BITCH!!

I peeped the majority of the disastrous Lakers-Rockets game. If you like watching isolation sets and one on one ball, then this was the game for you (38 combined assists for both teams). Besides James Harden, the Rockets have no one who can consistently create points for the team. The only excitement throughout the game was the weird 5 minute stretch where Dwight and Kobe had a tiff, and then Julius Randle (get well soon man) broke his leg on a freak play. It was not the kind of game that left me with swooning with excitement.

One bright spot was seeing my man Tarik Black out there on the court in an NBA uniform. I think he will add a little class to that Houston Rockets locker room. Dude is seriously one of my favorite players to come out of Lawrence in a long time. With his positive outlook and great work ethic, he should never have trouble finding work in the league. Big Ups!

There are going to be some good ass games this week tho:

OKC vs. Portland (Illard vs. Westbrook)
Washington vs. Miami
Milwaukee vs. Charlotte
Lakers vs. Phoenix (I forgot how much I enjoy watching the Lakers lose. I find Kobe at this point in his career as entertaining as Barry Bonds’ own “%&$@ it” period near the end of his own career. I like that brutal honesty. I think its good for the game–keeps all these yahoo media types on their toes.

Golden State vs Sacramento
OKC vs. Clippers (Thunder will go 0-2 to begin the season but Russell Westbrook will have a combined 75 points for both nights)

Cleveland vs. Chicago Possibly a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals
Golden State vs. Portland (two of the best backcourts in the NBA facing off)
Dallas vs. New Orleans (Can there be too much hype surrounding Anthony Davis at this point?)

Memphis vs. Charlotte (Grimey!!!)
Chicago vs. Minnesota (I get headaches from watching Minnesota homegames–not from the players–but because that court is so damn ugly)

Lakers vs. Golden State (#asswhupping)

Charlotte vs. New York Knicks (Two of Brooklyn’s finest coming home. No way in hell I miss this one)

Milwaukee vs. Washington (why not?)

Free Trial with NBA League Pass so I will be on that tip. This is the year I finally purchase it for real. It is going to be hard keeping a girlfriend who doesn’t like hoop. She better be damn interesting–that’s all I’m saying.

Basketball Never Stops………….. It only Rotates [originally posted 12/21/13 on sportsblog.com]

Not much going on here at home front.

Some miscommunication cost me a chance to see the Jayhawks live in person last Saturday. They were some good seats too. I was so depressed that I slept through tip off and sludged my way through the second half.

Jayhawks won. My boy Embiid cemented his status as my favorite current Jayhawk on the roster. I was so ecstatic about his up and under baseline move that I didn’t realize he was on his way to getting 18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 4 blocks. If I’m the right team in next year’s lottery, and I got my shooting guard spot locked up, (say like Orlando) I’m taking Embiid if Parker is already taken.

The rest of the game was pretty ho hum. They did what they were supposed to do, and I honestly was so distracted about not being there (and needing to finish my grad school application) that it wasn’t very enjoyable. So enough about that. I’ll have more to say about the team after Georgetown ( I couldn’t tell name a single player on this year’s roster. I had to look up where Otto Porter got drafted). This week has been all about the NBA. After spending a great deal of time watching the games last week, this week has been kind of quiet.

A few quick hitters before I settle down tonight to watch Spurs-Warriors play:

I love watching the Lakers telecast. The pregame is awesome with former teammates “Big Game” James Worthy and Byron Scott. I think it’s really cool that the Lakers franchise still find ways to stay linked to past players. Plus it sometimes makes for cool moments like these.

Found out right before the start of the Lakers-Thunder game that Kobe would guarding Westbrook. I had a feeling that Russ would be licking his chops. [I just found out like 30 seconds ago that Kobe is out for 6 weeks with a fractured knee. It may be time for him to start taking PED’s] Russ played pretty good with 19 and 12 assists, but KD went HAM with 31 points, 8 boards, 5 dimes, and 4 steals. Lakers as a team were over matched from the start. And now things won’t get too much better with Kobe out for another 6 weeks.

So maybe they should shelve him for the year? Lottery pick this year and they get some top flight talent. I ain’t gonna lie. If two years from now, the Lakers have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, I’ll be tuning in big time to watch them play. Which I gotta say, I’m not disliking Kobe as much as I used to. You can tell he was happy to be just playing again. He was smiling more in the game against Phoenix than I seen him grin all season last year. I also gotta admit that he’s a pretty amazing distributor when he wants to be. I saw him make some sick dishes the other night, he had 13 assists for the night, and he didn’t even play in the 4th quarter. This period of Kobe reminds me of when I started digging Barry Bonds for his candid quotes and “don’t give a s#$%” attitude.

The Thunder have a better team than I gave them credit for. Their bench is much better this time around. It looks like Reggie Jackson took the experience from last year and learned from his increase in playoff minutes. Jeremy Lamb is much better than I expected him to be. I still haven’t seen much from Perry Jones III to have an informed opinion, but Steven Adams is a legit big to bring off the bench. If they had another center besides Kendrick Perkins, I’d feel comfortable about penciling them in for the Finals. It’s still crazy to me that they “couldn’t afford” Harden but are paying Perkins. It’s true that Harden’s defense is suspect, but he’s a better team defender than people give him credit for. I think Houston’s defense is so bad that it makes him look worse than when he was on OKC (better team defense than Houston). Plus Harden has to be the guy on offense. It is asking a lot of him. Then again, they are paying him a lot of money.

There is a great Jonathan Abrams article on Oklahoma City native (and former Jayhawk) Xavier Henry. I’m a big fan of Abrams (in my opinion, he and Andrew Sharp are the best writers on the Grantland staff) I was hoping to see him bring the boom in front of his hometown folks but the game got busted open so early that the story line fizzled pretty quickly. He did have some decent plays though. The article answers a few questions that I had about why he had trouble early on. I didn’t realize he was only 22. It seems like it was forever ago when he signed on with KU.

The Indy-Miami game was another (pardon the pun) “heated” contest. It certainly had that level of playoff intensity.I usually try to avoid any game involving Eastern Conference teams (more on this in a second), but this has been worth the stop down both times I’ve watched them play this year. I was just remarking to my housemate how much it bothers me to dislike someone who used to rep the crimson and blue when Lebron almost got in Mario Chalmers grill during a (here it comes again) “heated’ time-out.

Udonis Haslaam held Lebron back, but it initially looked like Mario was about to get socked. Earlier in the game I decided that I was no longer on the fence about Chalmers after his “extra” during a hard foul on my boy “Born Ready” Lance Stephenson. I think Mario is a punk and there is evidence to prove it. The main reason I dislike Heat players are Dwayne Wade and Mario. They both play dirty and try to behave as if they are not. It would be one thing if they owned it–but they don’t. It’s the same reason why I disliked Stockton and Malone years ago. That’s not Jayhawk basketball Mario. Why don’t you and Elijah Johnson take that mess overseas somewhere, will ya?

I may have to get League Pass before it’s all said and done. I purposely avoided the Cleveland-Portland game because hey–it’s the Cavaliers– and missed one of the best games of the year (according to Lebron). I felt way more remorse about missing the dueling point guards , than missing Lillard’s game winner against Detroit (I watched it up until OT because the Warriors were playing the Suns–seemed anti-climatic once it was certain that they were playing an extra 5 minutes) on Sunday. I been streaming the games on certain illegal websites for free, but the problem with that is that you can’t go back and watch replays of the games you missed. League Pass is at least good for that. I don’t have enough free time to watch Eastern Conference basketball in the hopes that I’ll catch lightening in a bottle. Perhaps when I’m finally getting paid to cover bad hoops–but even then it’ll be begrudgingly.

UCLA vs. Duke tonight as well. I’m hearing some hype coming out of the PAC-12. I’m gonna have to ch-ch-ch- check it out. Check back in with me next week. Hopefully this holiday break I can restart the running “Lovable Losers” series.

Peace.

Lovable Losers: 2002 Sacramento Kings

Recently the 2002 Western Conference Finals was commemorated with an oral history by the people closest to the action.
A lot has happened in 12 years and there was so much I’d forgotten or just plain missed during that epic series. I wanted so badly for the Kings to dethrone the champs that I’d forgotten how lousy the officiating was for both teams throughout that series. I’d forgotten how poorly the Kings had played besides Bobby Jackson (why didn’t Rick Adelman give my boy more burn during crunch time?) and Mike Bibby (who was absolutely clutch). Let’s not waste anymore time, here is a long overdue, installment of “Lovable Losers”–an homage to the 2001-2002 Sacramento Kings.

Head Coach: Rick Adelman

Record 61-21

Starters: C Vlade Divac, PF Chris Webber, SF Peja Stojakavic, SG Doug Christie, PG Mike Bibby

Key Bench Players: C Scot Pollard, SF Hedo Turkoglu, PG Bobby Jackson

Were it not for Lebron James ascent into basketball royalty, the Eastern Conference would still be a doormat. Besides the Heat, there isn’t a team in the east what could beat any of the top Western Conference teams twice in a 7 game series. After Michael Jordan retired, the Eastern Conference became a doormat and once the Lakers grabbed the mantle away from the Bulls, the NBA Finals was about as entertaining as a community pick up game. The New Jersey Nets were atrocious and everyone knew that whoever won the West would take the title. The kings won 61 games that year, had home court advantage and looked primed and ready to finally give the Lakers a run for their money.

Well what happened? Why did they lose? The Kings had one of the most entertaining teams around. They played good enough defense. They were easily the best passing team in the NBA at that time with a legitimate point guard taking over the duties from Jason “White Chocolate” Williams. Chris Webber (a human highlight reel all by himself and Vlade Divac were two of the best passing big men around. Bobby Jackson was an electrifying spark plug that came off the bench (he won the sixth man award that year). Peja Stojakavic and Doug Christie were bombing 3 pointers from the wings and the corners. They also had one of the loudest arenas around (Think OKC’s Chesapeake Arena but with Cowbells). Watching the Kings play at home was about as good of a basketball watching experience as you could get back then. Just hearing the crowd go apeshit to Rock N “Roll part 2, after a back breaking 3 pointer, would get me and my brother hype. “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!” I’m serious. I thought 2001 was the year. They had a better team than the Lakers from top to bottom, but a lot of things conspired to happen to keep that from happening (we’ll leave the refs out of it this and only discuss the things that were in the Kings’ control).

Coaching

Most players will tell you that Rick Adelman is a “player’s coach” and great to play under. He is a great offensive mind who has gotten multiple teams deep in the playoffs. However, no coach has cock-blocked Adelman’s path to the title more than the Zen Master, Phil Jackson. Jackson had Jordan when the Trailblazers ran into the ’92 Bulls, and ten years later he had Shaq AND Kobe Bryant. What the fuck you supposed to do with that? Outside of the Spurs and Kings, nobody could give the Lakers any run, and that was at Shaquille’s absolute peak as a player, and Kobe had barely scratched the surface of his potential. Phil was always a step ahead of Adelman, and Adelman’s failure to give Bobby Jackson any meaningful minutes (in game 7) when the rest of the players were nutting up, was a gigantic coaching error. Doug Christie was chucking up bricks, and Peja was shooting air-balls. I’m saying though.

Bench and role players

The Kings had no bench really. They only went 8 deep. Los Angeles had chess piece upon chess piece. Robert Horry, Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, Brian Shaw chipped in just enough to help out Shaq and Kobe. Scot Pollard was good for committing fouls on Shaq, and offensively he was good for rebounding, or passing.

I’m going to name off these names and you tell me if any of these guys scare you:

Mateen Cleaves
Lawrence Funderburke
Jabari Smith
(a young) Gerald Wallace
Brent Price
Chucky Brown

That is what Adelman had to work with. When it came down to crunch time, the starters were tired. Christie was asked to guard Kobe Bryant on defense and then was expected to create shots on offense. Hedo Turkoglu was still green. Vlade was banging with Shaq the entire game, and Chris Webber preferred to get his teammates involved rather than take over (Bill Walton would call out Webber time after time saying “Chris Webber needs to take over this game”). Webber made great passes, they were just to people who didn’t want the ball in crunch time.

Experience

The Lakers had been there. Let’s face it. Experience is a motherfucker. Think about the first time you fell in love. Shit was overwhelming wasn’t it? All these hormones and feelings that you had never felt before. Some people got it right the first time, and said and did the right things. Often times this is not the case. More often that not, the flubs and mistakes from that first serious relationship are the reasons why you make things work the next time around. The Kings had never made it this far, and the Lakers were two time defending champs. Being down 3-2 did not scare them in the least bit. I remember in one interview Kobe said that “was looking forward to the challenge.” That was when I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy (though I still thought the Kings would win). The Lakers never blinked while the Kings traded haymakers with them. Any other team would have folded like lawn chairs in an overtime game 7 on the road. Not the Lakers. They stayed focus, climbed on the back of the Big Diesel and pounded their way into the NBA Finals against the putrid New Jersey Nets.

So did the Kings choke? Was there a conspiracy in game 6 to give the game to Lakers? Was Rick Adelman just a basketball version of Buck Showalter (the classic good enough coach to get you there but not good enough to win)? Or were the Lakers just the better team? Maybe it was all of these things, maybe it was none, or maybe the results speak for themselves. The Lakers were good and the rest of the NBA was really bad. It’s hard to call a team that won 61 regular season games and the only team that gave Los Angeles any type of run, a loser.

Maybe they were losers,but they were a fun team to watch, and if they were losers, then what does that say about the rest of the NBA at that time? San Antonio was winning championships back then, but no one outside of south Texas would pay to watch them play. I lived in Texas back then (in Austin) and their style of play put me to sleep. I’d have rather watched those Kings play and lose, than tune in to the Malik Rose, Speedy Claxton, slow it down Spurs of 2002. It just wasn’t entertaining. Maybe we all lost when the Kings were knocked out of the playoffs back in 2002. You’ll never convince me otherwise.

Lovable Losers Part Two: ’99-00 Portland Trailblazers

[Originally posted on sportsblog.com 12/29/13]

This will probably be one of the more painful posts I will ever have to write. Not just because this was one of my favorite NBA rosters of all time, but also because it signaled the beginning of a Lakers dynasty that (arguably) should have never been. Had Portland won that series, Jalen Rose, Reggie Miller, and Rick Smits may have won themselves championship rings. Rip City might have had a different decade than the one that elicited this video essay from Bill Simmons. We would be talking about Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in a whole new light. Maybe even the 2002 Kings would have managed to not get jobbed out of a chance to compete for the NBA title. As it stands, the Lakers beat the Blazers in the ’99-00 playoffs and this play will remain in NBA folklore forever. Today we will examine one of my favorite all time teams not win a dog gone thing: the ’99-00 Trailblazers.

Head Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Team Record: 59-23

Starters:

C Arvydas Sabonis, PF Rasheed Wallace, SF Scottie Pippen SG Steve Smith, PG Damon Stoudamire

Key Bench Players: PG Greg Anthony, SG Stacey Augmon PF Jermaine O’Neal, PF Brian Grant

SF Detlef Schrempf , SF Bonzi Wells

Besides Scottie Pippen, no one on the team had won an NBA championship. Scottie was supposed to be the player they needed to get them over the hump. I was never crazy about Scottie as a player (I hated the Bulls) but I had to admit the dude was good, and he definitely had championship experience playing with Jordan.

Rasheed was already one of my favorite players of all time. I had watched him as much as I could during his Carolina days and I loved his game. Rasheed could post up anyone on the block (something I always wished he’d done more of–he seemed to fall in love with shooting the 3 pointer). He could also get hot and make teams pay with his long range shooting (I remember him yelling at the Mavericks one time to “get someone on him” after he was taxing them with 3 pointers). Best of all, ‘Sheed refused to break under the iron fisted rule of David Stern. He managed to become one of the best quotable athletes of my generation (Warren Sapp is one of the other guys who comes to mind too)

Greg Anthony was one of may favorite guys too—I had first started watching hoops during his UNLV days and rooted for him when he played on the Knicks. I can’t say enough about Sabonis. I loved how he passed, I loved his shot, I loved that he was old and rickety, but still had enough old man game in him to make an impact. The whole time he played in the NBA, I wondered just how good he’d have been had he came into the league when he was young and healthy.

The rest of the guys I was whatever about. My little brother loved Bonzi for some strange reason (I think it was the head band). Mighty Mouse (Stoudamire) was an okay player, Augmon, Steve Smith, and Schrempf were good enough. I had never been too crazy about them as players, but I had owned their basketball cards at one time or another when I collected. Brian Grant seemed like a cool dude (this would be confirmed years later when I would run into him at PDX airport one summer).

There is something about game 7 of the Western Conference Finals that still haunts me to this day. I watched the game with my little brother and we laughed, oohed and awed in glee at the way the game was going. The Lakers were making mistakes and the Blazers were capitalizing on it. Los Angeles couldn’t figure out an answer to the Blazers’ offense the whole series.

Sabonis was setting up outside of the paint and daring Shaq to come and guard him. If Shaq ventured out to pick him up, Sabonis whipped a sick pass towards a cutter for an easy bucket (and for those of you who don’t know, Sabonis is one of the best passing big men the NBA has ever seen–check out this pass). If Shaq stayed in the paint, then Arvydas just hoisted up a 3 ball. Rasheed was popping it like he was known to do back then (he had 30 points in that game 7 while shooting only 2 3 pointers). There was even a stretch where Bonzi Wells seemed to be taking over the game (eliciting a “give it to Bonzi!” every time the Blazers brought the ball down).

To this day I can’t stand to watch replays of that game. My brother and I watched in uncomfortable silence as the Blazers all of a sudden stopped making baskets, and the Lakers started to digging into the (what appeared to be a comfortable) 15 point lead. By the time Kobe hit Shaq on the alley-oop, we were too stunned to speak. I spent the rest of the day trying to process the disappointment of not only the hated Lakers being back in the Finals, but my favorite cast of characters (since the ’93 Suns) losing their chance to face the Pacers. It reminded me of the feelings of bewilderment as I watched the Houston Oilers collapse against the Buffalo Bills in the 1992 playoffs.

So was it the Lakers defense or were the Blazers just standing around and settling on bad shots? I can’t tell you, and I don’t care to remember. But if you look at the box scores of that game you will see that Schrempf and Bonzi were the only two players to come off the bench and score (a combined total of 13 points). Robert Horry, Brian Shaw, and Derek Fisher combined for 25 points off the bench.

I can vividly recall the growing frustration with Portland’s inability to get buckets (there may have been a 8 minute scoreless stretch during the 4th quarter). They played great defense that game. If someone told me beforehand that Kobe would only get 25 points and Shaq would only get 18 points on 5 for 9 shooting, I would have penciled in a W for the Blazers. But it just wasn’t meant to be. No one could get any buckets in the paint (Sabonis and Pippen combined to score as many as Shaquille).

I’m sure some of the outcome has to do with the coaching match up of Phil Jackson vs. Mike Dunleavy. I’m sure by game 7 Phil had made the necessary adjustments to curb the Sabonis-O’Neal advantage that Portland had been exploiting over the course of the series. I’m also certain that Phil had made sure the Lakers stuck to their defensive assignments and forced Portland to be a jump shooting team.

Looking at things now as a 35 year old man, and not as an emotional 21 year Lakers hater, adds a little context to the situation. If I were to watch that tape now, it would probably be more of an examination of how brilliant of a coach Phil Jackson was, rather than revisiting one of the greatest collapses in sports history. The final score of the game was 89-84, Los Angeles, and the rest is history.

The Lakers became a dynasty and Portland well…. just watch the video essay by Simmons. I can’t necessarily say the Trailblazers were losers, they fought back from a 3-1 series deficit to get to that pivotal moment for both franchises. I can say that every Trailblazers fan I have come across since that night wears the same look of disappointment when that game 7 comes up in conversation. If you watched game 7 of the Western Conference Finals that year, its something that is impossible to forget.

Unfortunately Sabonis never got a ring, neither did Anthony,or anyone on that team other Rasheed (2004 Pistons). Only three players from that series are even active now, Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, and Jermaine O’Neal. Of the three, Derek Fisher is the only one not on the injured list (I’m not sure what this says about OKC that they are still relying on his production). O’Neal broke his hand playing for the Warriors, and Kobe of course broke his kneecap.

You know what? This post wasn’t quite as painful as I thought it would be. After careful examination, its much easier to give props to L.A. than to chastise Portland for choking. A few years ago, my buddy and I replayed this game on X-BOX, with me as Portland and he the Lakers. The game wasn’t even that close. He smashed me. Besides an occasional 3 pointer from Sabonis and Wallace, it was difficult getting buckets. I figured Greg Anthony and Schrempf would keep his team honest, but if the jumpers weren’t falling, I was in trouble. Every time I took the ball in the paint, my players would get blocked by Shaq or the ball would get stolen by one of his lengthy defenders. The frustration was building and soon I was cussing and yelling at the players on screen. His response was classic. ” Why you getting mad dude? There is a reason why they didn’t win anything. Pick a better team next time.”

Sometimes it’s not meant to be. Just ask Spurs fans.