Saturday, April 19, 2014

Quick and Dirty NBA First Round Predictions

Sorry this isn't longer or more thought out, but I got crunched on time this weekend, and am now just scrambling to get these out before tip off. Which means they'll probably be better than any well reasoned picks...

Leastern Conference

Toronto v. BROOKLYN - Nets in Six

Brooklyn is designed for ugly, painful to watch, playoff basketball, and pretty much managed their lineup so that everyone would be fresh for the real season. The Raptors are happy to be here, and have some advantages down low; Brooklyn also spends way too much of their crunch time minutes staring at Joe Johnson as if he's actually a good basketball player or something. But having said that, props to the veteran guile of Paul Pierce, Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett. They'll advance. But for the love of your eyes, don't watch it.

INDIANA vs. Atlanta - Pacers in Five

Don't get carried away by Indy's struggles down the stretch, and the fact that Atlanta has some nice ball movement and recent competence. The Pacers can still bring A-level defense and have options in slowdown grind ball, while the Hawks have large chunks (Elton Brand, Lou Williams, Kyle Korver) of the Meh, I Say, Meh Era of Sixers Basketball. Watching this series might qualify as a diagnosable condition.

MIAMI vs. Charlotte - Heat in Five

The Heat have been a sub .500 team for the better part of a quarter of the season, and Al Jefferson might average something 30 and 15 in this series against a bunch of sluggy Florida bigs. But Kemba Walker is going to enjoy this series about as much as root canal with rear entry, and Miami will hit enough threes to make this look easier than it is. Surprisingly watchable, though.

Washington vs. CHICAGO - Bulls in Six

Basically the flip side of the Raptors-Nets series, with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau using waves of defenders and schemes to neutralize PG John Wall, and soon afterward, the entire Wizarding community. This is the time of year when people remember that Joakim Noah is the best real center in the NBA.


LA CLIPPERS vs. Golden State - Clippers in Seven

Everyone's favorite pick for the series to watch. This might have gone to the Dubs if their bigs were healthy, or if Marc Jackson wasn't a borderline NBA coach who gets emotional buy-in much more than, well, actual coaching savvy. But against Chris Paul and Doc Rivers, they don't have enough to overcome that, assuming Paul doesn't get hurt again. This might be the best series of the playoffs, between two fun teams to watch that really, truly hate each other. Stay up, DVR it, I don't care, just watch it.

OKLAHOMA CITY vs. Memphis - Thunder In Six

This is not your old-school Grizz, with expert coaching and tenacious defense and great halfcourt playoff offense. The bigs have faded this year, the coaching change didn't help, and their bench has fallen off quite a bit. So they'll give the Thunder a scare, and win on some night where Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook shoots his team in the foot, face and manhood... but not four times in seven games.

SAN ANTONIO vs. Dallas - Spurs in Four

Why so down on this Mavs team? Because they are frauds that relie on guys like Samuel Dalembert to rebound, need Monta Ellis to provide effective offense, and Vince Carter to keep having an oddly useful late career arc. Against the relentless Spurs engine, they will stay in games for a while, then get ground into dust by the crazy deep energy and killshot mindset. If the Spurs that you had heard of were younger, everyone would be talking about a dynasty.

HOUSTON vs. Portland - Rockers in Seven

The other great first round series, with sneaky great crowds, highly matched teams, and tremendous individual matchups -- can Dwight Howard guard LaMarcus Aldridge? can Patrick Beverly clamp up Damian Lillard? can the Rockets really go run and 3 in the playoffs with strong inside advantages? can the Blazers take advantage of a superior starting lineup in a playoff season where rest is usually nor a problem? -- and so on. In the end, I like James Harden too much to go the other way.

* * * * *

No reason or time to predict the second round just yet. Enjoy the games, people! Especially the ones from the lonesome crowded West...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Top 10 Takeaways About Donovan McNabb's Day In Jail In Arizona

And When There Were No Crawdad, We Ate Sand. You Ate What? We Ate Sand.
10) At some point in this country, we're not going to love the fact that mug shots are damn near universal for African-American men

9) If you are a person of some financial means, and choose to live in Maricopa County, you may be a candidate for concussion aftermath testing

8) Regardless of your feelings for McNabb or whatever crime he served time for (TMZ says it was DUI after a mild speeding offense), it's just plain reprehensible to post the mug shot and not attach it to the offense, just so you can be dicks about it and let the racists attach any rumor they like to it

7) Once again, the preventive nature of the Posse / Designated Driver service is proven

6) Perhaps it would just be better if anyone who has their number retired for my laundry is also then executed on the field, just so we don't have the next 20 to 40 years of waiting for them to appear in crime reports

5) You folks who are waiting for the McNabb vomited in the Super Bowl and probably vomited here too because vomit is funny and tee hee hee really don't need me to do much on this matter

4) If Fox Sports One is very lucky, they'll be able to weather the PR storm from their association with McNabb, because that network has been so super-relevant with him

3) This off-season just keeps giving aid and comfort to fans of other teams in the NFC East, which is not, um, the preferred way to run a railroad

2) This is really not going to do much for McNabb's eventual Favre-esque Loathed Comeback Attempt

1) Looking at the bright side of things, McNabb just got through an encounter with Maricopa County law enforcement without getting deported to Mexico, demonized for his sexual orientation, turned into an object for roadside plantation style amusement, stealing a toddler, or getting attacked by the Lone Biker Of  The Apocalypse

The Year That Was: NBA Regular Season Awards

Having a Year
What a weird year. A third of the East tried not to win games. The Phoenix team that lost the game of musical chairs for the final seed in the West probably would have had home court in the East. The top two seeds in the East spent the last six weeks stumbling over their shoes, giving hope to all of the teams that were feeling stupid for trying. The weakest rookie of the year class ever, any number of guys taking time off to get right for playoffs that are going to be one and done, and everyone just waiting around for 80-plus games to see if Miami still has an on switch.

But before we get into all of that, a nod to the games that were. Which were all kinds of fun to watch, assuming, of course, that you didn't pay any attention to the Eastern Conference.

NBA First Team: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Love and James Harden.

Comments: Really thought hard about Paul George instead of Harden here, as pace of play is probably making The Bearded One look better than he is, and leading a team to the #1 seed should get you a guy on the first team... but George just gacked his way through the last 20+ games, and shooting 42% from the floor can't be the best we can do here. As for the others, these are pretty much a slam dunk, with the lone surprise to some being the best guy on a non-playoff team (Love) getting the nod. This is controversial only if you haven't seen him play, and as soon as he gets out of Minnesota, no one will argue with this assessment again. (Curry vs. Chris Paul might not have gone for the Warrior in a normal year, but CP3's injury made it a done deal.)

NBA Second Team: Anthony Davis, Joakim Noah,  Chris Paul, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge.

This is the group of guys who showed you just how crazy valuable they were by missing a portion of the season, and having their teams suffer from it. Davis would have been the defensive player of the year if he had just made it through the season, and might have dragged the Pelicans to playoff contention, too. Paul's the best real point in the league, and George, we've discussed. Portland played at a top seed level with Aldridge, then nearly spit the bit without him. Finally, there's Noah, the linchpin of the Bulls, who pretty much dragged that franchise to another playoff run despite their best intentions. Huge respect for that guy.

NBA Third Team: Al Jefferson, Serge Ibaka, Damiam Lillard, Blake Griffin, Goran Dragic.

My third team would hang with either of the teams above for vast stretches of time, because they are just so idiosyncratic. Jefferson's never been better in the hyper-effective and increasingly anachronistic post game, while Dragic was the engine to a Phoenix team that deserved so much more for its heart. Ibaka just keeps shaving his game upward, and is now a consistent asset on both ends of the floor. Lillard is Steph Curry without quite so many highlights, while Griffin finally added health and tolerable free throw shooting to his game.

Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams. I get the idea that we shouldn't encourage anyone from one of the worst teams in NBA history, and that the up-tempo game meant cheap numbers for all... but his numbers are just wildly better than everyone else's, and he passes the eye test for me. If he ever gets a jump shot, he's showing up in some of the other lists. Runners-up: Victor Oladipo, Mason Plumlee.

Defensive Player of the Year: Noah. Davis and Ibaka will have their adherents. I might never have seen a more lockdown point guard than Patrick Beverly, but he can't stay healthy. But the plain and simple nature of this award is that the bigs will win it unless a small does something off the charts, and Noah's just been amazing this year.

Coach of the Year: Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix. We can give this to Gregg Popovich every year, but since that's not feasible, let's give it to the guy who more or less doubled his expected win total despite injury issues, a bunch of bigs that can't play defense, and in the murder conference. Actually, scratch that; anyone that wins this award is unemployed in 18 months. Pops, take your award!

Sixth Man of the Year: I kind of hate this award, since it doesn't really come into play in the thin and win NBA. If it really went to a dedicated non-starter, rather than just a bench gunner, Nick Collison would have gotten a sniff at it back in the day. But since we have to award it, let's throw it to Taj Gibson, who was a wrecking crew for Chicago.

Most Valuable Player:
Durant. OKC didn't have Russell Westbrook for much of the year, played in the Murder Division of the Murder Conference, and nearly got the #1 seed anyway. I don't generally quote numbers in making these judgments, because game speed and context matter so much, but Durant just won a scoring title while shooting 50.3% from the floor... and making 192 threes. Oh, and just in case you think he's just a scorer, 7.4 boards and 5.5 assists are actually right there with James. Dude is just unfair.

All-Overrated: Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyrie Irving and Rudy Gay. All of these guys give up tons at the defensive end, don't justify their brand name, and will hoist up shots late as if there were playing 1 on 5. You can have 'em.

All-Improved: Jodie Meeks, Deandre Jordan, Gerald Green, Paul George and John Wall. More than a matter of just getting minutes, these five made themselves money for years in the future. Meeks was one of the few consistent pieces of evidence that the Lakers actually like Mike D'Antoni, while Jordan took to actual coaching from Doc Rivers like a duck to water. Shame that Rivers can't teach him FT shooting. Green went from fungible rotation guy to essential viewing, George became a star, and Wall developed a 3-point shot and pick and roll game with Marcin Gortat.

Sometime before the playoffs start, picks. Check back for those, as last year's were startlingly good, which means this year is going to be a flaming mess...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

FTT Off-Topic: Parent and Time Traveler

Not really sports, and so on.

I'm the youngest of three kids, the smaller of two boys, and the dramatically worse athlete. My older sibling is still active, post-50, in a rec ice hockey league. He's also got me by half a foot, was in the USMC for seven years, and was a borderline star at football and hockey back in his teens, before a lack of personal discipline (then, not now) sidetracked him. He's seven years older than me, and as the oldest kid of a single parent, had to drag me along to games with friends of his when I was, well, the youngest and clearly worst player on the field or court. He did what he could for me, insisted that I shake hands with the guys who crushed me, and instilled a love for sports, even though I had a real problem with the not being any good at them.

Working against me wasn't just my age. I've always been small; 33 pounds in kindergarten (that number stuck with me for some reason), with big '70s bifocals that eventually manifested themselves into a complete lack of depth perception. I'm quick, but not fast, and also not shifty. Not exactly a great thing for, say, hitting a baseball, making a catch, or breaking my man down, one on one. I'm determined, with good endurance, focus and tolerance for pain, but the actual ability has always been in short supply. I don't have a great deal of angst or regrets about this, as I think all men get to their Failed Jock moment in time. (Maybe my brother hasn't had his yet. It would explain much.) Mine just came earlier than most, so I was able to move on to school and business and family with more of a head start, but enough of the love of game and desire to lead in a team environment that translates to, well, the world.

It is, of course, different for girls.

My eldest is a very solid gymnast; one of the better performers at her gym, continually improving, fairly dedicated and conscious of being a good teammate. She is already better at her sport of choice than I was at any of mine, and while she's also short (we're not getting away from that part of the DNA, folks), this isn't exactly a drawback in her world. She's mostly avoided serious childhood mishap, hasn't spent much time in hospitals, and is as healthy as you could hope for 13 going on 14, and headstrong about, well, everything. (Feeding this kid has never been fun.)

Her sister? Her younger sister, her short and not as athletically gifted to date sister, who has had multiple overnight hospitalizations from breathing problems, who has always been a little more clumsy, and has other issues that I'm not going to get into here, because they are kind of private and not particularly germane to the conversation?

Well, not so much. But there are glimmers.

She's completed a couple of courses in swimming, and is pretty good at it -- not to the point of making me want to race her, but enough so that I don't freak out if she's in a pool with a deep end that's taller than she is. She's been taking soccer classes with kids that are at a younger age than her for a while, and tonight, got to graduate up to an actual league of 8 to 12 year olds... which is to say, not exactly cutthroat, but one where she's younger, smaller, and a lot less experienced than her teammates. Deep end of the pool.

So as I'm watching her, the ball getting stopped by big tufts of grass, everything coming off a dominant foot, operating slower, with less power and confidence in what she's doing than everyone else... and none of that matters, of course. What matters is that she listens to her coach, tries hard, gets better, and gets along with her teammates.

I will turn 45 in a little more than six weeks. The youngest will turn 9 in just over three months. And as I talked to her after practice, giving her my gentle pointers, talking about how she was getting better even in the course of the first hour, asking her about her teammates and, in general, doing everything I can to make sure she doesn't get discouraged and think about quitting... I realize that this, well, is what children do.

They make you time travelers.

But not always to the super fun times in your past...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Top 10 reasons why the Knicks are bringing in Lamar Odom

Not A Dave Chappelle Character
10) Winning the back page of the tabloids is what's important

9) If you bring him in, everyone forgets all about Fat Ray Felton and his gun totin' ways

8) It would totally make up for the Jeremy Lin fiasco, assuming you believe the fans are dumber than a box of hammers

7) Odom has photos of new Knicks poohbah Phil Jackson that would invade your dreams and put you off food forever

6) Guys with recent DUI arrests are the new market inefficiency

5) That shambling mound wretchedness that was his time as a Clipper shouldn't prejudice you at all

4) Team is in desperate need of grade Z reality show groupies in the crowd

3) If bringing in a washed-up three-ring circus doesn't convince Carmelo Anthony to stay, nothing will

2) Ron Harper, Horace Grant, Shaquille O'Neal, Slava Medvedenko and Sasha Vucevic were not available

1) It makes Jeanie Buss giggle