Friday, May 18, 2007

Notes, or Just gun


Coming up, the NBA playoffs, a couple leftover thoughts, and one of the strangest things I've ever heard.

First, a couple corrections.

- In the second graph of the last "Notes," I wrote "lately-roped-off," which was a case of over-hyphenation, which I've been guilty of once-or-twice before.

- My baseball paragraph should have included the sentence, "Jason Giambi used them, too, and is not a dick."

- I wrote last time about how one of the potential youtube home movie entrepeneurs is named "smosh." Unfortunately, that was correct.

Okay, now to the crazy thing, which I'm not going to make you wait for.

I learned from the Animal Planet the other day that there is a tiny parasite that invades the brain of ants and takes over. The ant acts erratically for some time, and eventually finds a blade of grass, which it bites and holds onto. It may do this for as many as eight days, until it is eaten by a passing rabbit. At this point the ant ceases to be, but the parasite takes root inside the rabbit. Its eggs pass through the rabbit, whereupon they are picked-up by snails. Stay with me. The snails coat the eggs in slime, cough them up, and another ant comes along and eats that.

Do you actually believe any of that? It was Animal Planet, so I wanted to believe it, but how could there be something like that out there and I never learned it? I think something like that should come up-front with a high school education. We should all be aware if that kind of thing is happening on our planet.

Okay, now to the NBA, where I've got a lot to say.

First, Chicago and Golden State went out. Let's take the easy one first.

- Chicago and Detroit are the same team. They've got dynamic guards who can score, experienced muscle down low, and a swing man that can spark, and even take over a game for short bursts. But in every matchup - Hamilton-Billups v. Hinrich-Gordon, McDyess-Wallace-Webber v. Wallace-Brown, Prince-Deng - in all of them, Detroit is better. Chicago winning Game five was so incredible because it was so odd. I don't have Detroit losing another home game until the Finals.

- Now, to Golden State. And I should mention Utah here, and I will, but somehow Golden State seems like the story here. When the Warriors went up 3-1 on Dallas, a large portion of the sports media adopted Golden State as their own. I was not a part of this movement. The Warriors home page today looks like this:

"Another Magical Oakland Night"
-ESPN The Magazine

"Simple and Fearless"
-Sports Illustrated

"Warriors Fever Spreading Fast"
- San Jose Mercury News

"This is the game I wanted to invent"
- Dr. James Naismith

"I don't recall any of their games"
- Alberto Gonzales

Okay, the last two I made up, but, that's my evidence. The picture on the intro page shows two huge fireballs shooting up off the court in Oakland, which we can assume were started by Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, who are totally insane as soon as the game tips off, and sometimes before or after.

By the way, SI, it's easier to be "Fearless" when Stephen Jackson is packin' heat.

Others praised Don Nelson as a basketball genius. I was not one of them. But David Dupree and Bob Ryan were.

First, to Nelson, I don't know whether or not he's a genius. I know I loved watching his Dallas teams, and rooted for them. But - and he was general manager at the time - I can see now that the all-offense teams he put together were just ridiculous. Fun to watch, but, come on. Nash, Finley, Nowitzki, Antawn Jamison, Antoine Walker, Nick Van Exel... how many points does Nellie think you need to win? 160?

I still like some of those players, but when Nelson moved to the Bay Area, I didn't follow him. I found the Warriors that closed the season so well and stunned Dallas to be more of a nuisance to watch than they were a thrill.

Baron Davis ranked himself in the top 20 players in the league with his play, and everyone else had their moments. But for every second of every game I saw them in the playoffs, they looked like they were playing pick-up ball at the gym. Guys moved, and dribbled, and shot - oh, man they shot - but no two players ever seemed to have a real idea, or even an interest about what any other player was doing. They dribbled, tried to get free for a shot, if it didn't work they passed and the next guy immediately shot.

This wasn't run and gun. Phoenix is run and gun. Golden State was just gun. And the number of times I saw this pay off over the course of the Dallas series seemed, off the charts, I guess, given the level of talent on this team. And the number of times one of them shot and missed, only for a long rebound to bounce to a Golden State player who had been standing still also seemed unreasonably high. In the Utah series it balanced out, thanks a little to Kirilenko and Deron Williams chasing, but mostly because that's just what happens.

19, 24, 25, and 27. Those are how many 3-pointers Golden State missed in each of its four losses here. That's hard to watch. It's not "Live by the three, die by the three." It's just die by the three.

Golden State also had meltdowns and temper issues throughout the playoffs. Like, as a group, they had hideous shot choices and moments of thuggery that brought on numerous flagrant fouls and technicals. Just like Dallas, I don't know if you can point the finger at any one player, but there's one guy who's in charge of all the players.

How does any of this make Nellie a genius? I'd believe he went the whole playoffs without a clipboard. What discussions could he be having with his assistants on the bench?

Assistant coach: "They're not shooting enough."
Nelson: "No, they're shooting enough. They're just not far enough away. Did we bring a clipboard?"
Assistant coach: "Clipboard, yeah. But no markers."

Those words I made up. These ones, and I'm paraphrasing, were real. They came from the post-game press conference.

(reporter): "What does this team need to do to get over the hump?"
Nelson: "Over the hump? (laughing) I think we got over the hump--"
(same reporter): -- "to get deeper into the playoffs, then?"
Nelson: (talking over him) "Next question."

This is it, Don? The second round of the playoffs? They knocked off Dallas, which was great for them, but what was this magical run that everyone saw? This team won five games in the playoffs. It lost six of them. They'll go down as the first 8-seed to win best-of-seven games against a No. 1, but in five years, will we be harking back to that golden time when the Bay Area got basketball fever for a week and a half?

It now looks like Don, 67, might be on his way out, by choice. From what I saw, he probably okay'd the trade for Jackson and Al Harrington, handed the ball to Baron Davis, and checked-out in late March.

- Now another note. Wouldn't you have liked to see Mehmet Okur and Andris Biedrins just trade teams? Biedrins maintains Utah's quota of "Eastern European White Guy With Spiky Hair," and Okur joins the shootaround on the Golden State end. I think Jerry Sloan is playing a long game of "Red Light, Green Light" with Okur. Once a night, he says, "Green light," Okur shoots four threes in 90 seconds, and Sloan says "Red light." It either works or it doesn't, and he won a couple of games for them.

Speaking of those two, I want to make a point about foreign players.

I'm not going to shock anyone, except Isaiah Thomas and Danny Ainge, but foreign players are here to stay and they seem really important.

San Antonio - 5, Phoenix - 4, Utah - 4, Cleveland - 3. That's the number of players on those teams that either start or play significant minutes who were born outside of the lower 48 states.

Five of the last 6 NBA MVPs fit the same description. The other MVP was Kevin Garnett, who was created in an American lab, but using mostly international parts.

This trend will not end any time soon, and while teams can't continue to add foreign players at the same rate, we can assume those teams that haven't drafted outsiders soon will. Anyone who fights this, or fails to see its importance, is like the 1960's music fan who heard the Beatles and thought, "Well, that'll be the last time rock and roll comes out of the UK."

It's already over.

Now, to Ginobli and Barbosa, who are the best South American players. Ginobli's from Argentina, and, as a soccer fan, I can tell you that for all he is, he's not in their Top 10 athletes. Barbosa, from Brazil, who is as fast and slick as anyone anywhere in the league? He's not in Brazil's Top FORTY. If this game really takes root in these countries - and in Italy and Germany - believe me, these countries have got brilliant young athletes with free time. If you set up camps, if you send coaches, if you build hoops, if you make sure it's on the TV...

Very soon, my friends, this game will no longer belong to us. We will see the NBA's first all-foreign starting five. That team will make the playoffs. Either get in on it, or get out.

- And now, since I've gone long, as always, I'll try to make this quick. Phoenix 2, San Antonio 3. Tonight's game in SA. Horry's bump on Nash, Stoudemire and Diaw leave the bench, get suspended, Phoenix loses game five. My thoughts:

- David Stern is getting nailed on this. Everybody says he needed to do something to keep Phoenix from losing this game for this reason. Let's think of what we're asking for here.

You want David Stern, who has for years been criticized for doing whatever he wants as comissioner, to make a personal judgment call on a rule. How could he possibly put himself in that position? There are already a hundred conspiracies about how Stern wants this team to make the finals, this team to do that, etc. And now he's supposed to rise up and say, "You know what, fellas? Forget the rule. I'll handle this one."

This rule is what's on the books. The people hammering Stern now are the same ones that have for years said he had too much control. Now we want to open it up for him to revoke, on a case-by-case basis, any rules on the books? It's just stupid.

We're ready to give one guy that much power? I think Alberto Gonzales is about to be unemployed. Maybe Stern could take him on as a secretary.

If the players union wanted this changed, if the owners wanted it changed, they should have been on the phone with Stern and Michael Wilbon every day since it happened 10 years ago.

But those were the rough-and-tough Knicks and Heat in a series no one watched, because Michael Jordan wasn't in it. But now, in the marquee series, we say this rule has to go, TONIGHT. Stupid.

Just to float an idea, what if Horry was a more volatile person, felt someone coming, fast, on his blindside, and Kermit Washington'd Stoudemire's goddamn eye? Given the on-court fights we've seen in the last couple years, I don't think this is something you can just write off. "Oh, but this time..." If players thought they could leave the bench, thinking they were acting in self-defense...

Earlier this season, Stephen Jackson's self-defense involved firing several gunshots outside of a nightclub. That's not even run and gun, that's just gun.

I'm just making the point that what's reasonable to Amare Stoudemire might be different than what's reasonable to someone else.

By the way, I admire the instinct in Stoudemire, who went much farther than Diaw and seemed like he actually had something in mind. I'm not sure if he wanted to get to his teammate Nash or the offender Horry, but seeing that happen to Steve Nash made Amare Stoudemire think, "I gotta' get there," and there's a big part of me that likes that.

And, according to the rule, he had to sit. If you want to change the rule, you do that in the offseason, not in a 36-hour window between playoff games. Stern had no play here.

Now, to the basketball itself. Game five was a really draining loss on Phoenix. Without Stoudemire to pick up a handful of dunks and layups down the stretch, they didn't have it. Nash got decent looks in the last minute and he missed them.

By the way, I just saw that Nash has played the most NBA games without playing in the Finals. It's getting to the point now where, for all the great things he does for his teams, you need to see those kind of results. Dude's got a bad back: how many years does he have left?

Earlier in these playoffs, I picked San Antonio to take the whole thing. I liked their depth, I liked that their best player always shows up and is incredibly low-maintenance. Everyone on the team seems just icy and professional down the stretch, except Ginobli, who runs way hot and way cold, and doesn't hurt them enough to lose many games.

Now, Phoenix has lost home court, has pretty much burned itself out in Game five, and Nash missed his big shots.

I will now, in the interest of some kind of blogging integrity (copyright Mike Mullen), change my pick. While my head has been so far in the San Antonio tent to this point, my heart was in Phoenix. I love everything they do. They seem to be enjoying the way they play, and the only other person having fun on the court, in the entire league, is Gilbert Arenas.

And don't tell me they don't play defense. Raja Bell, Marion, and Stoudemire all contest shots and board up. And Nash and Barbosa fly around and dive at everything on the ground. And they all take charges and flop, except Stoudemire, who is so strong it would just look silly for him to ever hit the deck.

So I'm switching. With Phoenix down and beaten up and needing to win in the Alamodome, I'm going to pick them to do it. My head fought it, but I want them to win so badly, and I like so much what they do, I've won it over.

I've got Stoudemire scoring a furious 35 tonight and Nash making a play in the final minute. I've got Ginolbli going cold one night. I've got two close ones. Classics. Maybe even an overtime.

I'm taking Phoenix in seven.

Good day. Back soon.

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