Thursday, April 26, 2007

Notes or Jerry Sloan benches himself

Hello, and happy Thursday.

Just a few notes today: Jason Kidd is good, Dwyane Wade is bad, Phoenix lights up the Lakers, and the compelling tale of Andrei Kirilenko.

- In ego news, my hit counter (which is found at the bottom of this page) tells me that 104 seperate people have visited this blog (totalling 264 hits) since I started telling people about it one month ago. As I've requested, the people I told seem to have told other people, and others have found me through search engines.

My hit counter also tells me that four people came here by total search engine mistake. And two of those idiots were looking for "Larry Birkhead." I'm just swelling with pride.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure that the counter reading is fake. Several times I've come on late at night, sometimes just an hour or two after midnight, to find out that someone has already visited my site that day, which... I just don't think so. Maybe, but no.

But, even without the four mistakes, I'm in triple digits. And even if they're mostly fake, at least nine or ten of them had to be real people. I'm not sure where this was going, but thanks, and I'll spare you any more of this crap until I'm at 1,000 visitors.

So, onto a few notes on the NBA playoffs.

- Jason Kidd was really, really great in the first game of the New Jersey-Toronto series, which is meaningless unless you frequent or this blog. Yechh. Makes me want to take a shower.

- Staying in the East, Dwyane Wade, who is playing while still recovering from a dislocated shoulder, is playing a bit like Michael Jordan did -- when he was 40. If you watched the Heat lose games 1 and 2 in Chicago, you realized just how much of Wade's game last season was predicated on beating one player, taking one step in the lane, jumping as high and far as he could, and making it up from there. That fearlessness is noticeably absent right now.

When I saw Shaq in person in March, he looked fat. Right now he's playing fat. He won't play himself into shape in the next 15 games, so he's going to have to realize he's fat and play smart. On a side note, if you could've picked one player to blow up like an Earth Day Balloon (actual size) this year, it should've been Antoine Walker. But he actually looked quite sleak when I saw him, and that may mean a lot to them, because James Posey doesn't play basketball very well.

Now, for Wade fans, the dangerous thing is this: he seemed to play it passive for about 44 minutes in game 1. Then it was like he looked up at the scoreboard and thought, "Oh, God, we could still win this." At which point he pretty much did what he wanted: jumper, jumper, running jumper and a foul, incredble drive-and-almost-lose-it-and-dish to Udonis Haslem for a layup. Throw in a couple J-Williams 3-pointers, and Miami scored 13 points in three minutes and one second.

If you're keeping track, that's 16 points the entire third quarter (12 minutes), and then when they feel like it, 13 in three minutes.

The entire Heat team, Wade included, seems to have taken Shaq's "We can turn it on whenever" philosophy, which, if you have the young Shaq, seemed to work okay. If you have the old Shaq? It makes for a delicate situation.

And in Game 1, that house of cards fell through when Wade missed an ill-advised three that would have tied it with 11 seconds left. And by the way, taking, and missing that three was totally something that would have happened to Michael Jordan.

When he was 40.

Then the Heat got run out of the gym in Game 2, and it seemed clear that the entire second half they were thinking about a plane trip back to Miami. You could almost hear Gary Payton and Walker arguing over who would deal the first poker hand.

Until Wade is Wade again, they need to show up for, oh, how about 30 out of 48 minutes. And, assuming Luol Deng stops doing his Jerry "Yeah, that's me in the logo" West impression, I still see these Heat getting to the East finals.

- We switch now to the West, where I offer a brief thought on the Phoenix-LA series. I should say first that I love Phoenix, I have tried to play like Steve Nash before there was a Steve Nash, and my absent "MVP column," which would have been awful, would have eventually named Steve-O because he seems to make his teammates not just satisifed but actually happy.

When Kobe, Michael and Isaiah got their teams to play championship ball, they did so out of pure fear. Their role players were playing with someone so fierce, who wanted so badly to win, that if they were the jackass who stood in the way, it was not going to end well for them. It was not only possible, but likely, that if they screwed around they would be at least threatened, if not swung upon. (It's rumored that MJ hit two different teammates, including Steve Kerr, which, if you read my previous entry, would be, like, the 10th most interesting thing going on in Steve Kerr's bio.) Anyway, these dynasties ran on fear.

But Nash, like Wade last year, and Magic and Larry some time ago, seems to inspire his team through pure joy. Barbosa, Stoudemire, Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, even Marion -- who just strikes me as an odd fellow -- they all seem to have dropped the requisite tough guy attitude and are not ashamed about how much fun they're having. I'm not sure if it translates to a championship, maybe not yet... but it could, and I think they should be embraced for it.

That being said, what the Suns don't do, what they choose not to do, is play a lot of defense.

120, 114, 116, 121, 124, 116, 122. Those numbers are points, points that Phoenix gave up this season without going to overtime, in games against Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago, Minnesota, Golden State, and Memphis.

If I tried to reach players on some of those teams for comment (and I didn't), it would have been tough, because most of those guys can be found golfing for the next couple months.

And LA shows up with 98 and 87? You mean LA can't hang with them for a few quarters, then try and win a close one? Not only does Phoenix not seem disheartened when someone scores, they hardly seem to notice. And Kobe -- who would have gone down hard in that MVP entry, and may still -- can't listen to Phil Jackson and figure out how to get more than 87 points on this Phoenix "Look but don't touch" defense?

I'm about to waste a line here that should have come in its own entry, but there is no physical difference between MJ and Kobe, save MJ's extra inch of explosiveness and Kobe's extra inch of arm length, which obviously cancel out.

But the difference seems to be that, from about 26-35, Jordan got better and more efficient and smarter every year. And Kobe Bryant, 28, seems for the moment to be on that same curve, only he's moving in the opposite direction.

- And now, to Houston-Utah. Here's how you explain Andrei Kirilenko.

Blocked shots became an official stat in 1970, and until 2003, only 10 times in 33 years had a player finished a game with 5 or more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. (Also called a 5 x 5.) And of those 10, Hakeem Olajuwan had six. (By the way, six?)

And then, in 2003, at the age of 22, Andrei Kirilenko put up two 5 x 5s... IN - ONE - WEEK.

Kirilenko, who also notched a 5 x 5 last year seemed to be emerging as the best-on-the ball defender, and a rebounder-hustler type, and maybe about to join Duncan as a great player who could happily help his team win while scoring less than 10 points.

But right now Kirilenko is adrift. He played only 30 minutes per game this season, down from 40 last year. In Game 1 against Houston, that number shrank to 16. A few days ago, he teared-up a bit when the media was pressing him on his lack of playing time.

Charles Barkley then said this was inexcusable, that you can cry after you lose a big game. But this has never made sense to me. I lost plenty of games as a basketball player, and some of them I really cared about. Some of them cost me $20. But I never cried afterwards, because I never felt like there was something more I should have done, or that I had let my teammates down with my effort.

But to be a once-in-a-lifetime talent, just entering the prime of your career, finally playing with a skilled group, and have your coach decide the team is better without you?

I think that would have a lot of players asking major questions of themselves.

Now, let's examine the coach here. Jerry Sloan played 11 years, 10 of them with the then-expansion Chicago Bulls. He was a hard-nosed guard who never averaged 19 points a game. And when you're playing 35 minutes a game, and averaging only 10 points a game, as he once did... and let me mention that, to average 10 points a game for a whole season, that means sometimes you score 25 points, and some games you score two...

(Aside: sometimes I put things in italics, which would be me putting extra emphasis on them, like I would when talking. And sometimes I capitalize words, which should signify shouting, which is something I sometimes do, and which I fear I might do in the near future.)

... when you're not dishing out more than 3.5 assists per game in any of your 11 seasons... we can assume you are a greased cog in the machine, a hustler-defender-rebounder, a guy out there to do things that other guys can't or just won't do... the kind of guy whose competitive fire might have made him feel great personal indignity if a coach cut off his young career...


Play him, Sloan. Play him 40 minutes a game. You played him 18 and then 16 minutes, and you lost twice. You don't even have to tell the public, or the team, that you were wrong, though we all know.

But you need to tell Andrei, who seems to have a sense of self and a fragile ego at this time, that you made a mistake. And then you need to play him. Or else you will lose in four or five games, you will set Andrei back five years, and reporters who know and like you will begin to wonder whether you're the best thing for Utah anymore.

Even your Mormon fans know that a jazz band needs a bass player.

Well, I've gone on too long, and I apologize, but other notes of consequence will have to wait. Sorry.

By the way, as for the teams I didn't mention, the Spurs' fourth, fifth, and sixth best players are Mike Finley, Brent Barry, and Robert Horry. They have the best top six in the NBA, bar none. They even got the quintessential "scare game," an ugly gaffe in Game 1 against Denver, and they looked like cold-blooded professionals in game 2. Until further notice, they're the team to beat.

I'll see you soon. Thanks.

No comments: