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96 Minutes In

Last season’s epic NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs got a remix and is currently tied at one game a piece with a critical.  This year’s rematch between the league’s top two teams is shaping up to be as good or better than last season’s 7 game masterpiece.  Both games in San Antonio were mirroring images of each other.  Game 1 saw the Heat more in control throughout most of the game with the Spurs using a bit of luck (LeBron James’ muscle cramps) to propel them to victory1.  Roles were reversed in Game 2 as the Spurs lead most of the way and luck coming the Heat’s way (Tony Parker and Tim Duncan missing 4 free throws).

These teams are evenly matched2 and it is a privilege to watch them battle for the Larry O’Brien trophy. Based on the first two games it’s nearly impossible to say which team has the advantage for the remainder of the series, though someone has been predicting the Spurs since the season started.  Instead here a few quick takeaways from Games 1 & 2:

  • The King is still the King – Yes, Kevin Durant was a deserving MVP for the regular season and, yes, James is still the world’s best player.  We covered “crampgate” and the ensuing fallout in our last episode.  In case you were paying attention, he was the best player on the court until he was forced to sit out the last 4 minutes of Game 1.  It’s not a small coincidence that the Spurs late 4th quarter surge came after James was carried off the court.  James responded to the ridiculous criticism by being transcendent yet again in Game 2.  As if for shits and giggles he did it in a variety of ways.  From attacking the lane in the 1st quarter, hero ball jump shots in the 3rd and, finally his likely favorite, making the right play by finding an open Chris Bosh for the go ahead 3 pt shot.  I can’t wait to see what LeBron has in store for us next.
  • The Claw – Kawhi Leonard was brilliant in last season’s Finals and many believe he will be the face of the Spurs once Duncan retires.  These two games have been somewhat rough the stone faced wingman.  Leonard’s been plagued by foul trouble in both games and gets the tough task of being the primary defender on James.  Having to expend an enormous amount of energy defending James has probably lead to his underwhelming performance on the offensive end.  Leonard has totaled 18 pts on 6-14 FGs and 2 rebounds thus far.  Those numbers don’t exactly shout out at you.  He’s still, at worst, the Spurs’ second best two-way player and they’ll need him to have a bigger impact to be successful.
  • Gray Haired Contributors – Chris pointed out that during their Finals’ fun, Miami always seems to find a way to get older, seemingly washed up players to contribute in major ways.  Whether it was Ray Allen, Shane Battier or Mike Miller, the veteran players that have filled out the Heat’s lineup have always come through.  This year it’s looking like that player will be Rashard Lewis.  Lewis is far from the player he used to be and his role has been so small that sometimes I forgot he was still in the league let alone on the Heat roster.  However, since being dusted off and inserted in the starting lineup in the Eastern Conference finals he’s made an impact.  He’s totaled 24 pts on 5-13 3PT’s and is on his way to being the Heat’s unsung hero should they go on to win the title.
  • Return of the Catch Phrase – Mark Jackson didn’t take a break after being fired by the Golden State Warriors.  Instead, he immediately reached a multiyear agreement with ESPN and rejoined the broadcasting team of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy.  The back and forth banter between Jackson and his former head coach is enjoyable and even funny at times.  Jackson also dusted off his familiar catch phrases such as “Hand down, man down” even if he hasn’t always used them at the appropriate times.  Even after a 3 year absence from the broadcasting table Jackson’s catch phrases are in danger of growing stale.  He might want to get together with Dwayne Johnson and come up with some new ones
  1. Every NBA Champion has had good fortune, luck or things going their way.
  2. In the 9 Finals games played thus far, a grand total of 18 points separate the two teams.

The NBA’s Silver Age

Mr. Silver,

I take it that you’re all settled into the big chair now.  You’re probably still winding down from the tornado that is All-Star Weekend, but I figured now is as good a time as any to make our acquaintance.  He likely didn’t mention me, but that other commissioner, David Stern, listened to my opinions from time to time and I’m hoping that you’ll do the same.  I know you’ve been inundated with suggestions on how to the improve the NBA so I’ll limit this to one topic.  You’ve said that you want to look into speeding the game up and I’ve got a few simple ideas on how you can do this: Continue reading

The Miami Heat Absolutely Suck at Tanking

miamiHeatBlowItUpIt’s painfully obvious to anyone with two eyes and a league pass subscription that the Miami Heat suck at tanking. Their big three are deeply committed to winning, fighting through injury and overcoming ennui to grit out one of the best records in the league after having won the last two NBA titles. Despite signing head cases and draft busts, and filling up his cap space with onerous contracts Pat Riley can’t seem to stop his team from winning. If Riley was half the GM that David Kahn was he’d have crippled his team with aging vets, disinterested journeyman and mediocre draft picks, and begun Riggin’ for Wiggins, but it appears that Riley just doesn’t have the competitive spirit necessary to truly bottom out a professional sports team in the name of improvement. Continue reading

Quarter Season Ponderings

Christmas is coming which means that a little more than 25% of the 2013-14 NBA season has been played. Now’s a perfect time to share with you a few observations I’ve made about the season thus far. I even ran them by outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern1, who allowed me to type up some of his remarks. Continue reading

Kyrie Irving Went Top Gun on the Knicks

Top Gun is one of my favorite movies, and I never miss an opportunity to drop a reference to Maverick, Goose, or the rest of the pilots at Fighter Weapons School. Kyrie Irving provided me two such moments last night.

“Where did he go?” “Where’d who go?”

The Top Gun pilots are comparing their first aerial forays with flight instructor Jester when this exchange takes place:

Hollywood: Hell no, man. We got our butts kicked.
Wolfman: Thirty seconds. We went like this, he went like that. I said to Hollywood, “Where’d he go?” Hollywood says, “Where’d who go?”
Hollywood: Yeah, and he’s laughing at us, right on the radio, he’s laughing at us.

After this move from Kyrie Irving, we’re all laughing at Pablo Prigioni.

“I’m gonna hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by!”

In the aforementioned instructional dogfight, Maverick and Goose are being tailed by Jester and can’t shake him, when Maverick has a brilliant idea: “I’m gonna hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by.” He executes the maneuver and finds himself in the perfect position to take a shot. Kind of like what Irving did to Prigioni here:

Is it just me, or has Prigioni lost that love and feeling for Kyrie?

And for some more great scenes from Top Gun, check out this video:

Jim and Jerry Buss

The Lakers are Tilting

In poker, the psyche of a player is just as important as the cards he’s dealt. You have to keep your composure; losing control usually leads to losing money. And lots of it. Sometimes though, even the most level-headed player will get pushed over the edge after suffering one too many bad beats1. In poker parlance, they go on tilt.

The Lakers have suffered through their fair share of bad beats in the past few years. Continue reading

Courtside with Lee and Nicholson

Lee Versus Nicholson

Courtside celebrity shots seem to be a signature of every NBA telecast.  Whenever there’s a famous person(s) witnessing NBA action in person the networks can’t seem to help themselves from telling us that they’re there, as if somehow our viewing experience will be greatly enhanced by knowing who’s in the crowd or that we even care.  This goes double for games held in Los Angeles or New York as both cities are flush with celebrity residents and sport two of the association’s glamour franchises, the Lakers and the Knicks.  Naturally, those teams sport perhaps the biggest, celebrity fans in Spike Lee and Jack Nicholson.  Both have been die-hard, visible fans of their favorite teams for many years.  You, my faithful reader, will have the privilege of deciding which of them is the cooler celebrity fan. Continue reading

What To Do When Your Team Doesn’t Matter

At the start of every NBA season there’s a line that divides all 30 teams and the division only becomes bigger as the season progresses. No, I don’t mean the lines that divide conferences, divisions or even playoff teams.  The line I’m referring to is the line that separates title contenders and everyone else. It is, after all, what ultimately counts. I like to call that line Teams That Matter.  For the record, a team that matters is one that is capable of going on a deep playoff run and a deep playoff run is making it to either Conference Finals. In our 2014 season preview, I predicted that there were maybe 8 teams that matter. That leaves 22 teams that don’t matter.  As a fan of a team that doesn’t count this season (LA Lakers), I’ve come up with a list of ways to enjoy the NBA when your favorite team doesn’t matter. Continue reading

Hanging From The Rafters

Glenn “Doc” Rivers is more than just a husband, father and head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers. The man is a visionary, a progressive and ahead of his time.  Apparently it was him who came up with the novel idea to cover up all 16 championship banners and retired jerseys hung by the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.  Instead banners of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and others will be used as cover whenever it’s a Clippers’ home game.  This news didn’t sit well with many Lakers’ fans and guard Nick Young.  Many mocked the idea and Young called it “disrespectful“. Continue reading

Why I’m Rooting for the Lakers…Until Kobe Returns

Watching the Lakers’ two preseason games against the Denver Nuggets I realized that I really like their team: a scrappy underdog squad with an aging veteran core and unproven role players with something to prove. From a narrative perspective it’s an easy sell. Even better, they’ve got two of the most likable players in the league in Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, with Gasol on a mission to quiet his critics after a mediocre season last year spent trying (and failing) to find a way to fit into coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. Gasol already looks more aggressive and more productive in his early court time than he did at any point in the season last year. Back to crisp 16-footers, agile rebounding, and dizzying post moves.

Add journeyman center Chris Kaman, retread Jodie Meeks and Nick Young, the shot-aholic guard you love to hate, and you’ve got yourself a team with enough talent and grit to fight their way to a playoff berth, then use their veteran savvy to make it tough on whatever first or second seed they face once they get there. That’s a team I’m interested in watching. That’s a team I want to win. Nash looking for his first ring to justify joining a long time nemesis, Gasol looking to prove he’s still the player that tore up the US in the Olympics, D’Antoni looking to show the world he’s the kind of coach who CAN mesh superstars into a winning team, and Nick Young looking to prove he can hit contested 18 footers as well as anyone in the league. Continue reading