Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hawks 99, Bobcats 90

Weird game. Strange game. I woke up this morning confused and hazy about last night’s loss to the Hawks, similar to the way I used to wake up disoriented after an all-night drunken pub-crawl. A lot of occurrences seemed jumbled and nonsensical: Atlanta’s Joe Johnson was both breathtaking and horrible; Derek Anderson played significant minutes for us, and I didn’t realize he was even on our team; we were losing by 24 but we also couldn’t quite pull out the victory in the end; Okafor only played 15 minutes despite having no injuries or foul trouble; the Phillips Arena seemed to play only Muzak versions rap songs like “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” and “Lose Yourself”—all in all, it was a dreamlike affair.

The start to the game was perversely fascinating: we didn’t score for the first 6:25 of the game, and we didn’t get our first field goal until just 4:10 remained, yet the 1st quarter ended with us only down 19-16. As it turns out, we were historically bad: by missing our first 13 shots, we set the NBA’s record this season for worst start to a game. And I’m not sure which is more depressing, setting the record or that when I found out, I could swear we’d had a much worse start in an earlier game this year.

We continued our putrid dreadfulness in the second quarter, and yet we managed to suck in a completely different way. When it comes to sucking, there really are no limits to our innovation. Actually, we put up 25 points and had only a couple turnovers, but no one will remember that, because this will go down in history as the quarter when Joe Johnson scored 21 points in seven minutes.* I’d probably spend longer reflecting in awe over such an accomplishment, except it’s not the first time it’s happened to us. In fact it isn’t the second, third, or fourth time (see Mike Miller, Wally Szczerbiak, Rashard Lewis, and Peja Stojakovic).

I will say this, though: a lot of people—including me—owe JJ an apology. Remember the belly laugh we all got when the Hawks acquired him at the beginning of last season? How soon we forget that before all the “Isaiah Thomas, Worst Executive in the History of Civilization” stories, the Atlanta Hawks had sole possession of being the NBA’s Most Farcical Franchise. Every article that wasn’t about how Atlanta had massively overpaid for JJ was about how their front office was all suing each other over the deal. And then, just for variety, there’d be an article about how stupid the Hawks were to pass on Chris Paul in the draft. Well, for laughing then, I guess I’m crying later…

Anyway, in the third quarter things fell apart for the Hawks, primarily due to the play of Raymond Felton (21 points, 7 assists), Sean May (21 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks), and…Othella Harrington and Derek Anderson? Huh? Anderson checked in from the planet Neptune and promptly launched an air-ball, causing color commentator Adrian Branch to chuckle and say, “I like what I’m seeing from Derek right now; even though he just shot an air-ball, you have to like his confidence.” I absolutely need more people like Adrian in my life; the man could find the bright side of a nuclear holocaust. But Adrian was onto something, because Anderson’s defense eventually not only shut down Johnson, it got in Joe’s head. Johnson began turning the ball over at a prodigious rate, became visibly frustrated, and by the fourth quarter we had gotten to within one point.

That’s when the Hawks’ other hero, PG Tyronn Lue, just took over. Despite not starting, Lue finished with 25 points and killed us in the end with his slashing drives. After our huge comeback, Lue’s dagger-in-the-heart performance was a morale-killer—the crowd was so sparse, it couldn’t even drown out the sound of Brevin Knight’s swears. Meanwhile, Gerald Wallace sat down dejectedly with a bruised hip, and Derek Anderson had this what-I-can’t-guard-everyone look on his face. I can only imagine that Nets coach Lawrence Frank went sleepless last night after he heard about how we played in this game. He probably thinks of his team's loss to us the night before as a bad dream.

*This, of course, is assuming one day someone rights a book on “Great NBA Quarters in History”—ball’s in your court, David Halberstram.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bobcats 96, Nets 92

I missed the opening minutes of tonight’s game for reasons that were oddly sports-related. We have a big group presentation due in my Marketing Strategy class, in which our grade will be based on how well we can persuade other students to “invest” in this mock business we’ve been running. Personally, I’ve been relishing the chance to give this presentation for weeks now, because our firm, which has competed against other student-run companies via a computer simulation, has quite frankly been kicking the shit out of the other teams. In fact, as our stock price kept going up and up and our market share grew, I found myself wishing the computer program had some sort message board on which we could taunt the other firms. So I volunteered to handle the balk of the speaking on this presentation for my team, because I plan on turning it into twenty minutes of pure trash-talk.

So anyway, the names assigned to all the mock firms are simply random alphabet letters, and as it turns out we’re Firm “U” (anyone who knows my taste in college football can probably see where this is going). So I decided to use Miami’s “U” insignia and to format the slides of our PowerPoint presentation in the 'Canes' obnoxious green-and-orange color scheme. Really, could there be any better way to accentuate a trash-talk briefing than to bathe your slides in green and orange? And thus over the weekend I worked for hours on this damned thing, formatting all these charts and whatnot into the proper colors. Anyone who’s screwed with PowerPoint knows how tedious it can get. And I kept sending my teammates updated copies of it, asking if anyone had any problems or suggestions, etc., and all I got back was stuff like, “Looks great!” and “No problems here” and other responses that were basically business school code for, “I didn’t really look at this and don’t really care because with the tuition this school charges they wouldn't dare fail us, so whatever.”

So I finally finished it all up, and of course, last night, at the last second, all of a sudden people want to change everything. I got pretty pissed, first of all because I thought the format was original--it would certainly stand out among everyone else’s boring old blue-and-white Times New Roman tripe; and second of all because people should have spoken up a long time ago--I worked so long on this on Thursday I didn't even get a chance to see the actual Miami Hurricanes get one of their few wins. We finally reached the agreement that if they want to change it, fine, but it’s on them to do it, because I’m done with the thing. I'm still kind of bitter about it. And I haven’t seen the final product yet, but I’m sure it’ll look nice and I’m guessing it will be blue-and-white, or perhaps—if someone is feeling frisky—blue-and-yellow.

So the other consequence of this last-second meeting, besides me sulking, was missing a lot of the beginning of the Bobcats game. And good lord, I leave the team alone for one quarter and total madness breaks out! Where to start? First, no color commentary from Adrian Branch. Instead, it’s former Charlotte 49er and radio announcer Henry Williams alongside Matt Devlin tonight, and the contrast in dynamic between the two completely throws me for a loop. Matt always does a pretty straightforward announcing job with AB, but with Williams he unveils his “playful” side, good-naturedly ribbing Henry, who apparently didn’t put up many assists during his playing days. Henry, meanwhile, clearly loves the game and did a serviceable job (although no one will ever be able to touch AB’s sunny optimism), but he has a tendency to begin every sentence with the word “Well,” as in: “Well it is, Matt,” or “Well they do, Matt.”

The game’s other jarring aspect was Primoz Brezec, who went from being too exhausted to even suit up to playing 34 minutes in one game—welcome back, PB!! PB's been gone for so long because of the suspicious ailment of "exhaustion," that I was starting to wonder if someone hadn’t stuck polonium in his sushi while he was playing in the summer European tournament. No anecdotes about Brezec bulking up in the off-season to be found here—the only muscle that looks stronger on him this year is his Adam’s apple. But 13 points and 5 rebounds in his first game back? I’ll take it. PB would have actually played even more had he not gotten 5 fouls, most of them for looking at Vince Carter sideways.

The team played incredibly well in the first half (or was it the Nets who played incredibly bad—that’s the problem with Bobcats victories: they almost can’t happen unless the opposing team experiences some sort of meltdown), shooting an astonishing 50+% from the field and making the Nets look like the 1986 version of the team—all that was missing was the red-white-and-blue map of New Jersey on their warm-ups. The Nets, who are going through a bad losing streak of their own, looked utterly disconsolate. Even their arena announcer calls everything in the same dispassionate monotone, whether it’s for or against the home team. In an era where most arena announcers practically start leading a cheer for something as minor as a turnover by the visiting team, calling everything even-keeled sounded almost creepy, like we’re playing this in the USSR or something. Anyhow, with a 10 point lead at the half, I almost didn’t know how to handle it.

And clearly the Bobcats didn’t either, because the second half was excruciating. It was like watching a recovering heroin addict who’d shown signs of turning his life around suddenly relapse and show up at your house strung out and begging for money. The Bobcats went cold, at one stretch going over 6 minutes without scoring a point, and the Nets crawled back into it, mostly via the foul line. In fact, the Bobcats could barely ditch their warm-ups on the sideline without picking up a foul. At least with Miami, even though D. Wade got to the foul line seemingly on every possession, both teams took an equal number of shots. In this one the free throws were 46-25 in favor of New Jersey.

Still, almost in spite of their best efforts to do otherwise, Charlotte pulled out the victory. Taking advantage of foul trouble to Okafor and Gerald Wallace, Sean May came off the bench and scored 20 points, plus he had 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Adam Morrison, during a key stretch late in the fourth, scored 7 straight points, including another tremendous 3-pointer, and pulled down the game-ending rebound. He finished with 22 points and added another 5 assists.

I know I’m not breaking any news here, but New Jersey’s bench is terrible ("Well they are, Matt"). I can’t think of a more damning statistic for a team’s bench than getting outscored by the Bobcats bench 36-7.

On to Hot-lanta tonight, where—and this is an actual line used by a roughly 60-year-old stewardess once to welcome us when our plane touched down in Hartsfield airport, and which subsequently caused me to nearly choke on my peanuts—“the players play.”

Monday, November 27, 2006

NFL Thoughts, Week 12

I had a pretty rough weekend. Not only was I dealing with in-laws (mostly by hiding from them via “errands” I suddenly needed to run), I also endured a brutal—even by their standards—Bobcats loss on Saturday (see my earlier blog for the gory details), topped off by an even more grizzly Panthers loss on Sunday.

The Carolina game was a defensive stalemate—emphasis on the “stale”—with both teams playing it more conservative than Trent Lott. Neither team could get much of anything established; it was like watching a sumo match in which both wrestlers are armless. Much of the game was knotted up at 3-3, and at one point commentator Sam Rolen even mistook the score for how many timeouts each team had left. As we moved into the second inning—er, half—and the Panthers failed to pull away, I knew what was coming, and the end results were almost anticlimactic. 4th quarter leads were blown. Horrendous interceptions were thrown. Curses were screamed. Pillows were punched. Excrement on the carpet was pooped (by the cats). In short, it was a tragic sequence of events that’s become all too painfully familiar.

Making matters worse, just after the game ended, and while I was reeling around on the carpet agonizing, Lexus unleashed its new ad campaign, in which people are actually giving each other the $50K luxury vehicles as Christmas presents. Are they serious?? They even play syrupy music and show the cars wrapped in cute little “bows,” presumably to tug at our heartstrings. I wonder if it’s occurred to the good folks at Lexus that a lot of people might find this a tad bit, um, I don’t know…revolting?

Anyway, I recovered sufficiently enough to catch the Patriots-Bears. I could be wrong on this, but I saw a lot of curious parallels to the way this game played out and Jay-Z’s new album, Kingdom Come:

1. Explosive BeginningBears-Patriots: three straight turnovers in the red zone, the spectacular blocked field goal
Kingdom Come: three straight awesome songs, the spectacular “Oh My God” track

2. Middle That Lags at Times But Occasionally Amuses
Bears-Patriots: a couple of obligatory pass interference calls for no reason and some three-and-outs; but also a horrific Junior Seau broken-arm (in which his reaction was eerily similar to that of the character he played in the movie “Any Given Sunday” in the scene where his eye gets gouged out), and the game’s single best moment: a crazy fumble-within-a-fumble play
Kingdom Come: a couple of obligatory odes to the rapper’s single mama and dead/imprisoned homies; but also a plug for my future employers, Amex (“now I’ve got the Black Card, good credit and such”), and the album’s single best line: “I’m the monster of the double entendre, coke is still my sponsor”

3. Sweeping, Epic Ending
Bears-Patriots: Tom Brady’s dramatic run for a first down and Asante Samuel’s sprawling 3rd interception
Kingdom Come: the dramatic Katrina victims tribute “Minority Report,” and “Beach Chair,” a sprawling opus that sounds like something U2 would do if Bono was a former drug-dealer from Brooklyn who wrote things like, “Look but don’t touch, muthaf---a think twice, cuz the Gat that I clutch got a little red light”

Offensive Player of the Week: I’m giving it to Roscoe Parrish, who ran a kickoff back 82-yards for a touchdown and also made a truly fabulous 30-yard catch along the sidelines to keep alive a last-minute Bills drive that ended with the game-winning field goal.

Defensive Player of the Week: Take your pick among any of the Ravens who sacked Big Ben an astonishing 9 times. Nine times? Niiiiiiine times. I also have to give an honorable mention to the Redskins secondary, particularly Carlos Rogers, Shawn Springs, and Sean Taylor. They completely neutralized Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Smith, limited them to 72 total yards, and basically were the polonium in the Panthers’ bloodstream all day.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Heat 102, Bobcats 93

The good news is we’ve now got something in common with the Dallas Mavericks; the bad news is it’s not a high-powered offense, a win-at-any-cost owner, a superstar forward, or League championship aspirations. It’s being victimized by phantom foul calls on Dwyane Wade. D-Wade lit us up for 35 points, approximately 34 of which came from the free throw line. Some of the “fouls” called on him were downright farcical, coming either well before or well after he’d taken his shot. I propose Wade change his Converse marketing slogan to “Fall down 7 times, shoot 14 three throws.” The officiating was so cumbersome and intrusive that it even compelled commentator Adrian Branch to say that Wade has “the gift of getting calls,” which is about as cynical as AB can get.

That’s it! I finally have a “bad guy” team to root against. When it comes to other teams, I’m usually unmoved emotionally (other than maybe feelings of disgust for the Knicks), but from now on the Heat cannot lose by enough to suit me. I want them to garner a losing record and fail to qualify for the playoffs. And it really has nothing to do with any boorish personalities on their team or something like that—it’s just too laborious to watch their games if fouls are called on every possession. I want the League’s prevailing style to continue trending toward open freeform, but the Heat are causing it to devolve; this game was like a Knicks-Bulls game from 1994.

As for the game itself, Heat coach Pat Riley was in clear dartboard/throw-it-out-there-and-see-what-sticks mode, starting some guy named Dorell Wright over Antoine Walker and giving Jason Kapono enough playing time to accumulate 4 fouls (note: this was also a homecoming for Kapono, who played for us two years ago, although its level of significance would be several rungs below Joey Harrington’s return to Detroit on Thanksgiving). Otherwise, the usual Heat suspects, Gary Payton, Jason Williams, Alonzo Mourning, and Udonis Haslem did their thing, which is to say they took their proper places at the lane for Wade’s endless free throws. Sorry, I guess I shouldn’t shortchange them like that, I’m just frustrated. Mourning actually did the best job on Emeka Okafor all year, limiting him to just 9 points and 11 rebounds. And 5 fouls.

We were never really able to establish any sort of rhythm. Matt Carroll came in off the bench in the first quarter and immediately scored 8 in a row but soon had to sit after picking up his third foul (I never thought I’d see the day when Carroll getting into early foul trouble would have me so worried and upset). Gerald also had 5 fouls as well. We got two T’s alone in the second quarter, one to Brevin Knight and another to Coach Bickerstaff. In fact, watching Bernie’s priceless facial expressions (think Cliff Huxtable every time Denise or Theo did something stupid, or when Claire would catch him in the act of eating junk food) constituted the only pleasurable experience of this whole miserable affair. And where was Sean May? Is he in Coach B’s doghouse? I mean, this was the second game of a back-to-back (and May hardly played in the first one either), and if nothing else we needed all the foul accumulators we could get, but Sean only played 7:29.

One encouraging development was Adam Morrison, who led us with 27 points, but even more importantly had 5 assists. These weren’t generic assists either; he was penetrating and then getting that last extra pass in. Unfortunately, his teammates didn’t appear to be ready for them half the time. But as AB continues to patiently point out, the team is still “gelling,” and if Morrison develops consistency with those last-second feeds into Okafor and Wallace down low, we could really diversify our attack. After all, I know for a fact that right now we’re struggling to score in the paint. Why do I know this? Because every game, Lowe’s Home Improvement gives us its “Points in the Paint” stat, and I can’t remember the last time the Bobcats were actually leading in it. In fact, usually we’re trailing by a comically wide margin—last night it was 32-16 in favor of Miami. Really News14, could we try some other sponsored statistic, please? Preferably one in which we have a good chance of being the better team? How about, for example, H&R Block’s “Block”ing Leaders of the Game?

Oh well. Best thing to do is put this one behind us…

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Pistons 105, Bobcats 95

Even though we lost, I think this was our best effort all season. We had the lead in the fourth quarter and the mighty Pistons scrambling at home. Detroit clamped down though, and effectively ended things by mugging Emeka Okafor with about three minutes left, causing him to lose the ball out of bounds. A foul was shamefully NOT called, despite Coach Bickerstaff hopelessly pleading with officials and looking like a guy getting his apartment ransacked by cops with no warrant. The last minute collapse was somewhat foreseeable; when we were shooting nearly 60% at the half and still trailing, I had that feeling I used to get at high-school cross-country races when I would hit certain landmarks way ahead of schedule—I knew I’d be paying for it at the end.

So it was fitting that we would lose primarily to Rip Hamilton, who plays as if he won a few track meets in his day (question: if in fact he did run track, did he still wear the face protector?). Hamilton slashed us for 26-6-6, and left poor Adam Morrison with no alternative except blatantly stiff-arming him and taking the foul. Over the summer I interned with a U. of Michigan dude who was naturally a serious Piston fan, but who inexplicably despised Rip. He thought Rip was overrated, which is an odd to thing to think about a guy who’s only been selected to one All-Star game. He reminds me of this other friend I have who thinks the band Death Cab for Cutie is overrated, even though I don’t know anyone else who’s ever even heard of them. Anyway, overrated or not, Rip left us in the dust.

The game still had its pleasures though. Matt Carroll turned in his first bona fide coke binge performance of the year, complete with bangs of hair sweat-plastered to his forehead a la a mid-80s Mark Price. In fact he must have done two lines, once in the second quarter and once in the fourth—did someone give him an adrenalin shot in the heart at halftime? The little speedball was all over the place, driving relentlessly, collecting his own rebounds, even protesting calls—atta boy, Matt! 16 points off the bench! I only hope the withdrawal symptoms subside before tonight’s game with Miami.

The other pleasure: Adrian’s AB“C”s for success were finally somewhat substantive. They still weren’t earth-shattering—“play smart,” “play aggressive,” and “play as a team”—but at least they didn’t sound as if he’d scrawled them on a hot dog wrapper during a commercial break. Hey, I know AB can’t get too controversial with this, and I’m certainly not asking for tips like “poison the other team’s Gatorade” or something, but it’d be cool if they were at least a little edgier—something like “try to goad Rasheed Wallace into a technical foul” would have been cool.

Let’s see, I suppose at some point I should mention something about the actual game…foul shooting was good (81%); Okafor went for 23 and 12, that was nice…I also took personal delight in watching Gerald Wallace blow by Rasheed several times, who’s apparently too cool for defense—that’s got to be the kind of thing that causes Joe Dumars to spit out his coffee up in the press box. If Joe D. was actually coaching this team, he’d kick Sheed to the end of bench for that horrendous effort, all the way down next to Carlos Delfino. Instead, mealy old Flip Saunders just stands out there with his hands on his hips, looking like a sit-com dad trying to deal with two teenage daughters. I really have no idea why Pistons fans seem to adore Sheed so much…

We’ve got the Heat tonight, and I’m actually feeling pretty confident about this one—no, seriously. They’re just 4-9 and only have one more win than us. Plus they’re old and creaky and immobile—they look like U2 out there.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bobcats 92, Celtics 83

Charlotte hosted Boston on Thanksgiving Eve in the team’s first rematch of the season. Prior to tip-off, my only request was to have anyone but Wally Szczerbiak beat us. This is how we Bobcats fans set our goals: we pick ways we don’t want to lose. We’d make excellent death row victims in this respect: we’ve already accepted our fate, now just let us pick our means of execution in order to make the experience as painless as possible. And of course not two minutes in, there goes Wally flopping on the floor and hitting the ground like a safe for no discernable reason. C’mon Wally, act like a man, Big Bad Brevin Knight isn’t even playing tonight. Hey, Wally is American-born, right? It is an East European name…hmmm…Are you racist if you think all Europeans flop? Forget it, I better shut up before I pull some sort of Michael Richards.

A few minutes later, I upgraded my request: I didn’t want to have Brian Scalabrine beat us either. The stats say the much maligned, frequent Bill Simmons target only saw about fourteen minutes of “action,” but it seems like he was in there much longer. It also seemed like he took a lot more than four shots—that’s how excruciating he is to watch; he’s like an even less-skilled Eric Dampier. I can see why Bill hates him so much. It’s borderline insulting to have to cheer against him, as if the opposing coach is rubbing it in by putting him out there; I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to cheer for him.

And I can see why practically every other column Bill writes criticizes Celtic management. In an interview with Chad Ford the other day, Celtic GM Danny Ainge was saying something about not wanting to pull the trigger on a trade involving any of Boston’s young guys too quickly before they’ve had a chance to develop. But I’ve got news for you, Danny, you don’t “develop” 8 inches of height—look how small this lineup is! Of course, some of these guys are so young they might still be due for a growth spurt. But right now, there are no bigs to speak of, unless you count Kendrick Perkins, who is so stiff he looks like he’s playing with ping pong paddles stapled to his hands. How much longer is Ainge going to wait? You don’t think the Timberwolves would be interested in a Garnett-Pierce swap? The Bobcats had free-range to get in the lane last night and took full advantage of it. The really surprising stat is that Emeka Okafor didn’t go for 30, 20, and 10 blocks.

Well, as usual I tend to spend half of these columns talking trash about the other team, which is pretty ridiculous considering my own squad is 3-8. Tonight’s hero was Raymond Felton, who logged 48 minutes in BK’s absence and registered 16 points, 9 assists, and 6 rebounds. Adam Morrison scored 26 as well, but here’s the thing: he went 5-6 in the first quarter and then 3-9 the rest of the way. Those last three came in the fourth quarter, including a big 3-pointer that pretty much cemented the win, which is why no one will complain. But we’ve seen this a few times from him now: a big first quarter and then a sharp decline in performance the rest of the way. Is it the diabetes? Perhaps Coach Bickerstaff should consider implementing some play/nap/nap/play quarterly rotation for him.

There were a couple of positive omens early on. In the second quarter, Matt Carroll did one of his patented drives to the hoop, laid it up there, and then—get this—the ball just went in. That’s it! End of story. No ridiculous charging call, no weird bounce, no technical foul from someone not even involved in the play that negates everything--nothing! This is such a rarity for the perpetually star-crossed Carroll that I took it as a harbinger of hope. And sure enough, in the fourth quarter young Matthew was huge, getting 9 points and becoming Paul Pierce’s personal gadfly.

The other encouraging beacon was Gerald Wallace in the third quarter getting one of his signature steal-and-breakaways. Welcome back, G-Dub! It’s been, what, a year now since we’ve seen you.

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the crowd was excited and we sent 'em home happy to their awaiting poultry carcasses. The team was pumped too. Jake Voskuhl got a bucket-and-one in the fourth and acted like he just scored a soccer goal. Happy Thanksgiving and God bless us one and all. Too bad I’m stuck with Time-Warner Cable and hence will get no good football games tomorrow. Oh well, I’ll just have to make do with the Lions-Dolphins and Cowboys-Bucs. What else am I going to do, spend time with my family or something? Please.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Mavericks 93, Bobcats 85

Okay, so we lost another one and dropped to 2-8, but look at it this way: at least afterward Avery Johnson didn’t call us a bunch of lattes afterward. We actually held it close, and we were even leading with about 5 minutes to go. Unfortunately, we got burned by 24 points and 14 rebounds from one of the best players in the game: Eric Dampier—no wait, I mean Dirk Nowitzki.

Maybe some people would be pleased that we gave a decent showing, but I wasn’t. I didn’t think these Mavs were all that good. True, they were without Josh Howard, but when we were tied up after the quarter, I was actually pretty pissed, feeling we should be ahead of these jokers. I’m not even sure what it was exactly; the turnovers were there but no worse than usual (15), the foul-line shooting was actually pretty good (75%), and we even out-shot them from the floor (46% to 39%). Still, there was something lethargic about everyone’s play, some stupid passes, and some stupid three-point attempts (1-11—where did this inflated sense of our long-distance shooting come from?).

Gerald Wallace played 41 minutes, put up 21, 5, and 6, and looked a little better, but he still hasn’t strung together any of those signature sequences where he completely takes over. Adam Morrison shot about what Adam Everett hits in a three-game series (3-14), BK pulled up lame chasing around Devin Harris, and a blazer-and-tie-wearing Matt Carroll was on the bench with an injury DNP and looking eerily like one of my old substitute teachers. Primoz played and didn’t have any points, although he did have a few fouls. Okafor had another huge effort (22 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 blocks for a new new franchise record), but I’m wondering if his performances are starting to have that detrimental “Teen Wolf” effect that Bill Simmons always mentions, where one guy is so awesome (in the case of his team it’s Paul Pierce) that everyone else loses interest.

Even our announcing seemed half-assed. One of Adrian Branch’s AB“C”s was to “make shots,” and another was to “make free throws.” Jesus, what’s your next helpful tip, “score more than the other team”? Matt Devlin, meanwhile, was clearly sick of having to shill those cheap alternative blue jerseys. About every five minutes, they make the poor guy remind viewers that if they act now, they can buy season tickets and get a cheap replica jersey with the deal. The whole thing makes no sense. One, if you’re rich enough to buy season tickets, you’re rich enough to get a real jersey. Two, no kid who is old enough to know the difference would be caught dead in one of those cheap-o replicas. I remember going to a Yankees game once when they were giving away free plastic helmets, and I indignantly refused—and I was about seven at the time. Who’s doing the marketing for these people? Matt seemed to be rebelling in his own way by holding the things up and talking about what a “great value” they were before wadding them up and stuffing them under his desk.

I will give props to Stephanie though. She actually earns her money as a sideline reporter by eavesdropping on the other team’s huddles and then immediately reporting their plans to us at home. Now that’s doing something productive. Suzie Koebler on ESPN could learn a lot from our gal.

And I lost count of the number of fouls Dirk drew from his annoying pump-fake. Memo to opposing teams: Dirk always, always pump-fakes—quit falling for it!! If he were all alone on a breakaway, he’d pump-fake before the jam. When he parks his car, he pump-fakes before feeding the meter. When he’s at his house, he probably pump-fakes before sticking a Hot Pocket in the microwave. It was maddening to watch everyone bite on his fakes, go leaping to block, inevitably land on top of him, and then watch him shoot two from the line. Once when he did it near our bench, I think even Coach Bickerstaff went for the block.

I’m frankly surprised Avery is putting up with his own team’s sub-par effort. Every time they showed him on the sidelines, I kept expecting to see AJ visibly boiling over. And I’m sure he (like me) would be just fine if he never saw Eric Dampier play again. Sure, Dampier had 15 rebounds, but look at this guy! With his size, he should be doing a ton more, starting with going more than 2-9 from the foul line. But forget about that, I watched Adam Morrison rebound over him; I saw Brevin Knight rebound over him. I can see why Dirk called Dampier out a few years back in the playoffs, because he’s soft and clearly doesn’t practice very hard. Ah, forget it—he so mopey and pitiful out there, it’s not even worth beefing with him; it’s like when Eminem goes after Christina Aguilera. But I could seriously spend the rest of my life happily not watching him, similar to how I feel about the game of soccer.

At least there’s Kingdom Come to look forward to tomorrow—now watch, that’ll probably suck too…

Monday, November 20, 2006

NFL Thoughts, Week 11

Although my wife would disagree, the time is long overdue for some self-congratulations, for I will win my pool this week, regardless of Monday night's action. I’d like to say that my victory is the product of dogged preparation and the cerebral application of lessons learned, but I don’t even do either of those things in school, let alone in real life. For instance, I’m coming up on the end of my Competitive Analysis class, taught by Professor Severinov, and the only thing I’ve taken away is how odd it is to be lectured on the finer points of succeeding in a free-market system by a man with a Soviet/KGB-style accent. If I close my eyes, it honestly sounds like the class is being taught by Ivan Drago. Though Professor S. is quite obviously a genius, in ten years from now, if anyone asks me what I learned in Competitive Analysis, I will probably respond with, “If he dies, he dies.”

Not only was it a gratifying week analytically, I also experienced some good old-fashioned visceral joy at the expense of St Louis. Seemingly nothing could go wrong for my Panthers in their one-sided triumph over the Rams—except, of course, a ton. Consider the following Carolina gaffes:

1. Three defensive off-sides penalties. This might seem minor, but I’ve always considered off-sides penalties to be an unforgivable sin when you’re playing at home, and I know at least my father will agree with me. In fact, while growing up I probably learned half of my swear word vocabulary by listening to him curse out the Giants for doing this.
2. Two, two, interceptions in the end zone. And the second was thrown by Keyshawn Johnson, in yet another horrible, overly hands-on play-call by John Fox—why does he keep trying to do these silly stunts!? Seriously, you’ve got Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson out there—just throw it to them NORMALLY, for goodness’ sake!
3. A long drive negated by a fumble giveaway on the Rams’ 5-yard line.
4. A touchdown negated by an ineligible receiver downfield.
5. An 80-yard kickoff return negated by an illegal block.
6. A Steve Smith touchdown celebration negated by him needing to vomit into a trash can (note: this didn’t really impact the game, but I hope Smith gets over his flu nevertheless).

So even though we won comfortably, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Holt and Bruce mysteriously dropped a bunch of passes, and a beat-up Rams line allowed seven sacks. We were lucky more than we were good this week, and it was either 17th century French philosopher Rene Decartes or Jeff Daniels’ character in the movie Speed who once said, “Luck will only get you so far and then it will get you dead.”

Offensive Player of the Week: It’s hard not to give it to Buffalo Bills WR Lee Evans, who caught 11 passes for an astonishing 265 yards and 2 TD’s. On the other hand, he did it against Houston in a game that was about as meaningful as a David Lynch film. So I’m going to go with RB Frank Gore, who ran for 212 yards and who has single-handedly restored the 49ers to long-lost relevance. Special Offensive Player of the Bi-Week Award to Chad Johnson, who’s gone for 450 yards in the last two games.

Defensive Player of the Week: The Bears’ Brian Urlacher bailed out his team with a critical interception in the end zone and contributed 10 tackles in a nip-and-tuck win over Gang Green. In business school, we call that “adding value” (or “creating value,” or, in some cases, “growing value”).

Gotta run! I’m sorry this week’s thoughts are shorter than usual, but my in-laws are in town, so my time to do what matters most, i.e. watch televised sports, has been limited. Instead my wife’s got me on my best behavior and engaged in activities I normally scoff at, such as socializing with others and remembering to flush the toilet.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Magic 97, Bobcats 83

Fresh off an inspired win against NBA royalty San Antonio, the Bobcats took their campaign to the boondocks of Orlando. What a difference in ambiance; the Magic’s court is a mom-and-pop bodega compared to the wheeling and dealing Spurs’ mass merchandising arena. Even Orlando's center court ads are small-time, with promos for “1-800 Flooring,” the “Mattress Barn,” and some local law firm that offers “full-service.” Are there drive-thrus? I wonder if they do litigation combos—if I want a parking ticket fixed, an assault-and-battery plea-bargain, and a side of perjury charges dropped, can I order the #3 off the Value Menu?

The Bobcats didn’t bring their “A” game tonight, although they did bring their alternate blue uniforms. The jury’s still out on them. I like to poke fun at their noxious, radioactive-looking road orange, but at least they’re original. These alternate blues look like the designers from the Knicks and Wizards were assigned to a group homework project to come up with new uniforms, put it off until the last minute, and then just threw these together the night before.

Two other debuts of note: Adrian Branch’s AB“C”s. This is Adrian’s version of that “keys to the game” thing most commentators do early on, the ones where they offer insightful tips like “limit the turnovers.” I’m not understanding the title on this one though. Why is the “C” in quotations? Matt Devlin and Adrian are getting a chuckle out of what apparently is a clever pun, except that it’s so clever I don’t even get it. Hmmm. Well, “AB” I guess is Adrian’s initials, but what’s the “C” all about?

My pondering was broken up by the other debut…Primoz!!! Mark it: with 1:15 to go in the 1st quarter, the big guy is back! This was funny because they had just finished announcing Primoz’s name on the inactive report, and then immediately after Matt realized that not only was Primoz active, he was in the game playing! It’s a tight ship channel 14 runs.

Those were pretty much the highlights. This was one of those games where the lopsided score still made it look closer than it was—the entire 4th quarter was garbage time. Okafor and May were solid down low, but we got nothing from the perimeter. Adam Morrison started 5-6 from the floor and finished 5-15. Felton tried to penetrate, couldn’t, and then just began settling for 3-pointers (most of which he missed). Wallace is still “hearing the choppers” from Game 1’s spill and was a non-factor. Brevin Knight was injured and not in uniform, and all things considered it was probably for the best; this was the kind of game where BK gets frustrated and “accidentally” elbows someone in the groin.

The Magic’s half-filled, murmuring crowd failed to register excitement even as Dwight Howard put up 24 points and 21 rebounds. Howard, the Magic’s pious, God- and turnover-fearing behemoth was simply too much for the Cats. He’s so huge he sticks out even among NBA players; he reminds me of Chief standing head-and-shoulders above the other inmates in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. One of his rebounds came off his own missed free throw.

Howard’s partner in the paint, Darko Milicic, also proved he’s far more than just a goofy first name. Darko didn’t play much, but he had four blocks and 14 points. Between him and Howard swatting away everything, it seemed as if all our shots—jumpers, hooks, dunks, whatever—had to come in the form of a fadeaway. Milicic is also fascinating in the way he puts almost no arc into his shots—he doesn’t so much shoot baskets as peg them. Someone needs to tap into the frequency on Art Shell’s headphones and get him to take a look at this kid—I guarantee Darko's arm is better than either Andrew Walter’s or Aaron Brooks’.

It’s unfortunate Orlando’s arena is so somnambulant, because they have a stellar team in their midst. Tony Battie and Grant Hill are hustling, lead-by-example veterans. And Howard, Milicic, and PG Jameer Nelson, who resembles Jerome Bettis (if Bettis were younger, faster, stronger, and less obese), form a strong, youthful nucleus.

We’ll meet again, Magic. And now that Brezec is back, here’s my bold prediction on future matchups: Darko + Primoz = Awesome-o!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bobcats 95, Spurs 92 (OT)

Spurs. Bobcats. 6-1. 1-6. Besides the obvious marketability of the records-being-a-palindrome angle, I have to admit I was struggling for a reason to care about this one going in. On the road against the Spurs, with Coach Popovich already PO’d over San Antonio’s poor showing the night before against the Rockets (even though they still won), this game looked to have all the drama of a porno flick. For Bobcats fan(s), it would also probably be the ultimate test in finding the bright side. Basically, as long as we kept the deficit under 20 for most of the way, and no one rolled their ankles on a Bruce Bowen cheap shot, I would have happily called it a moral victory.

Just looking at the Spurs lineup, hearing their raucous crowd, and listening to their announcers, Dave Barnett and Sean Elliot, talk about how this 6-1 team better “start picking up their performance,” I felt like a poor kid pedaling his bicycle through the rich neighborhood. In fact, Barnett and Elliot are a pretty smug little duo; they practically sound like a bad guy heel tag-team doing a WWE interview. They discussed the importance of taking away “what little confidence the Bobcats have left,” “not letting the lesser team hang around,” and predicted that Adam Morrison “didn’t get bodied-up at Gonzaga the way he will against Bruce Bowen tonight.” Now I actually like San Antonio. I have many fond, drunken memories of stumbling along the River Walk. I love the way they play the beat from Dr. Dre’s “The Watcher” when the team brings it up court. But when the Spurs act so full of themselves that Manu Ginobli doesn’t even bother flopping in the first half? Oh yeah, it’s on!

Awesome “teacher vs. pupil” match-up down low between Duncan and Okafor. Emeka actually blocked Timmy twice in the first half, and the two went back and forth—you could almost hear the light-sabers clashing. Timmy finished with more points and rebounds (24-13 to 19-9), but Emeka had 5 blocks to Duncan’s 0. Advantage goes to the grasshopper. Strangely, despite its obvious success rate, the Bobcats abandoned feeding Okafor down low in the second half, and instead relied more on their outside jump-shooting. Considering the team’s 30-something shooting percentage, this “strategy” had me using several seriously bad words—it was like Indiana Jones deciding to fight the swordsman hand-to-hand rather than simply pulling out the revolver. But fortune was on our side tonight, as we shot a somewhat miraculous 44%, including 4-9 from three-point land.

The real story of the game was the turnovers, and for once it was the other team’s that doomed them. The Spurs lost the ball an uncharacteristic 18 times, and 12 of them were steals. We had three straight huge snatches early on in the fourth quarter to help us build a 7 point lead. The other stat Spurs fans can use to talk themselves into believing this game was an anomaly is they went an abysmal 2-17 from behind the arc (they’re 40+% normally). Elliot’s sense of entitlement never shown through better when he cried, “This team can’t catch a break!” after another Robert Horry brick. Ahh, Sean? Three-pointers aren’t foregone conclusions—hence the phrase “missed the lay-up” rather than “missed the long-distance 3-pointer with guys in his face.”

Still, the game went into OT after Okafor missed both free throws with the Spurs in need-to-foul mode. Here we go again, I sighed. We’ve had so many teams on their backs and down for the count, only to let them escape our clutches, that I’m starting to feel like a James Bond villain. But here was Adam Morrison knocking down his 27th point (a contemptuous Elliot: “Morrison’s feeling a little too good about himself”), there was Tony Parker NOT getting the “Dwyane Wade treatment” on his drives (and throwing tantrums as a reult), and here was fiery little BK icing it with his suddenly lights-out 15-footer.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a pretty miserable sports fan most of the time. When my teams lose, I’m furious. And when they win, I’m merely temporarily appeased. My celebrations are about as animated as Carcetti’s when he won the mayoral election on The Wire. But this one felt good…

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hornets 94, Bobcats 85

Another day, another loss, this time to the New Orleans and/or Oklahoma City Hornets, led by plucky point guard Chris Paul. Charlotte, at least, was eminently more watchable in this one than they were on Sunday. They cut down their turnovers (well, down to 17 anyway), stepped up their rebounding, and shot an acceptable 45% from the field. We were still only 13-23 from the free throw line, but that statistic is starting to become like your drunken uncle at a wedding—sure it’s embarrassing, but it’s funny and charming too, and you kind of like having it around.

Emeka Okafor was also spectacularly Duncanian, going for his third straight 20-10 performance (21 points and 16 rebounds), while setting a franchise record for blocks (which I’m prepared to assume was previously held by Okafor) with 7. At least once every game this year an announcer has done the obligatory, “He worked real hard during the off-season, he lost 20 lbs, he locked himself in a dungeon, he burned the word ‘Victory’ on his chest with a branding iron, he received hand-to-hand combat instruction from the world’s leading ninja, he tells us he’s never been more focused, etc.” speech about Okafor. I must admit to never buying those spiels—just look at all the superlative hype they gave Daunte Culpepper this year. But so far, so good with Emeka.

The game also featured another tremendous individual performance by Hornet free-agent acquisition Peja Stojakovic. Peja scored the Hornets’ first 20 points—literally. On multiple occasions in the first quarter, Peja had his own personal lead—he was beating the Bobcats 11-9 and 17-15. Peja’s dominant first quarter represented a paradigm shift that ironically gave me hope. Because an opposing player usually explodes against us in the second half, I thought we might be able to win if we let them get it out of their system right off the bat.

Before the game, Coach Bickerstaff pronounced that he was going to start playing only the people who deserve to play. Ummm, I’d like to think he’d always been doing that, but okay, Coach. Apparently, the undeserving are Matt Carroll, Othella Harrington, Melvin Ely, and Jake Voskuhl, because they barely got any run. Adam Morrison, however, responded to the challenge with 21 points in 41 minutes. He was clearly in over his head trying to guard Peja, but that was really the first time I’ve seen him struggle defensively, which is remarkable considering how much his guarding abilities were criticized in college. Sean May was also as assertive as I’ve seen him this year (18 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks); perhaps those Chinese characters he got tattooed on his arm read: “Note to self: don’t forget you’re the 6-9,” 260-lb 13th overall pick, and son of a former NBA star.”

We kind of lost our way in the third quarter, at one time going four minutes without scoring a point. But then Okafor had back-to-back blocks on Tyson Chandler that momentarily lifted me with hope; it was a spectacular 30-second rush of euphoria, like doing a good whip-it. But Peja heated up again, Brevin Knight started losing his temper (only on the Bobcats could you have a point guard who consistently gets into foul trouble), and the OK City crowd, which gets insanely happy with anything this team does, lifted their Hornets to victory.

I am the biggest fence-sitter on Chandler, by the way. On the one hand, he had 15 rebounds; on the other he had two points, picked up some silly fouls, and was usually outworked (or “out-physicaled” as Jeremy Green would say) by Okafor and May. But was Ben Wallace really worth that much more than Chandler? Mightn’t the Bulls have given up on Tyson a tad bit early? Chandler, it should be noted, seems to have a Mohawk project in-progress on his head. You can see the structural framework for it developing within his ‘fro. Clearly, he is attempting to Send a Message. Dramatic changes in haircuts are the traditional medium through which athletes put their fans and competition on notice. For instance, if a player shaves his head, he’s letting others know that he’s going back to the basics and is totally focused. If he lets his hair and beard grow out, it either means he’s riding some sort of streak, or again, he’s so focused he doesn’t have time for trivial things like grooming. But what exactly is the message that the Mohawk sends? I’m goofy? I’m a Chad Johnson fan? Rocky 3 was cool? I don’t get it.

Whatever the case, the Spurs are up next. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, you want some of this? Come get a taste.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Nuggets 108, Bobcats 101

Everyone lock your doors and grab your cups, Reggie “Nutcracker” Evans is coming to town! Evans, who gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “ball-handling,” actually raises an interesting existential question: if you had to pick one, whose playoff legacy would you rather have—Bill Buckner’s or Reggie Evans’? Buckner was a decent player, but will forever be known as the guy who cost his team the championship by bungling a routine ground ball in the playoffs. Evans, a similarly decent player, didn’t cost his team the championship, but will almost certainly be remembered only as the guy who willfully grabbed another man’s testicles in the playoffs. Discuss.

I’m having some extended fun with Reggie because fun was in short supply on Sunday night. The Bobcats played their worst game of the season (at least I’m pretty sure it was) against a team that itself isn’t very good. With the loss, the Bobcats are now one of three 1-win teams. The Celtics and the Grizzlies are the other two, and of course both of their victories came against…the Bobcats.

The only other remotely enjoyable aspect of this game was Denver coach George Karl. Due to his famously short fuse and old-school demeanor, I have a hard time imagining what Nuggets practices are like. Can you imagine him dealing with Carmelo, Kenyon Martin, JR Smith, and Nene on a regular basis? It’d be like Bill Parcells having four T.O.’s on his team. Seeing him percolate with barely-contained rage last night as Smith chucked a slew of ill-advised 3-pointers, Andre Miller’s guarding ability was so bad that 5-footer Earl Boykins was actually brought in as a defensive upgrade, and Martin and Nene didn’t even play, I imagine that with HDTV you could actually watch individual hair follicles on Karl’s balding head slowly loosen and detach. And what was up with Marcus Camby? He’s a 7-footer, but he kept drifting around on the perimeter, brought the ball up-court repeatedly, and once or twice even tried to drive with it. One play actually featured Camby feeding Boykins down low!

Who knows, and never mind, because the Bobcats truly outdid themselves on this one. They had more problems with turnovers than a fast-food joint. They committed a whopping 16 turnovers…in the first half! And they gave up a—I don’t know, whatever’s greater than “whopping”—18 offensive rebounds. Their defense mirrored that of the San Diego Chargers’ secondary last night, as Nugget after Nugget was mysteriously wide open right under the hoop. I can understand how little Earl Boykins slips through the cracks every now and then, but what about Eduardo Najera? He’s got to be the world’s only 7-foot metrosexual--how do you lose track of him? Sean May had 5 fouls before we were even midway through the third quarter, and then got T’d up from the bench! Somehow Matt Carroll managed to pick up 4 fouls, even though I don’t think he played more than four minutes. And Adam Morrison had two points. Total. He looked awful; he had that lost, A-Rod-in-the-postseason look of confusion and hopelessness. Trust me, it was bad.

NFL Thoughts, Week 10

My NFL second-half-of-the-season resolution is to quit whining about how unpredictable everything is. First of all, unless you’re a fan of slasher movies or porn, predictability isn’t necessarily a good thing. Second, if the NFL is weird this year, the college game has gone completely bizarro. You’ve got Rutgers competing for the national title, while things are so desperate down in Miami that they’ve actually reverted to running the option! (Side note: I forgot how fun the option is to watch! After one of the Canes’ touchdowns, I nearly spontaneously broke into “On Brave Old Army Team.” I especially love how on half the plays, the cameraman guesses incorrectly who has the ball, and then has to furiously pan left or right.) And third, I’ve been pissing and moaning about it for so long I’m starting to bore even myself. It’s similar to how I used to go on and on about how disgraceful it is to have two consecutive Commanders-in-Chief who actively avoided military service; even if it’s true, it gets old. So from now on I’m just going to concentrate on the positives. Here were Week 10’s, in ascending order:

Third place: Michael Vick’s fumble. With no one around him, Vick made an abrupt cut while running, and the football he was palming (dangerously low) ended up bouncing right off the ground and into the arms of the Cleveland defenders. After watching this a few times in super slow-mo, I’m convinced Vick momentarily confused sports and started to execute a cross-over dribble. I honestly believe this was one of those fascinating situations in which one’s freakish athleticism actually costs him. It’s a common occurrence with certain extraordinarily gifted athletes; Bobcats’ high-flying forward Gerald Wallace also occasionally falls victim to this phenomenon. Rather than simply dunking an alley-oop, Wallace will feel a compulsive urge to land with “both feet in bounds” and ends up twisting his ankle.

Second place: Devin Hester’s return—how cool was that? The old, “fake-like-the-play-is-dead-and-then-suddenly-burst-out-running” move. I wonder if he was actually whistling while he did it. It was the NFL equivalent of the “snowball decoy trick” from childhood, in which you pack two snowballs, lob one up in the air slowly to catch your target’s attention, and then peg the second one as hard as you can. This game also had an honorable mention: Giants RB Brandon Jacobs, who had to have been the first player to ever be penalized for impersonating a pregnant woman. The Garden State Giants have certainly been tugging on my heartstrings lately. It was a tough loss but look at all their injuries. Don’t worry, NJ—take my hand, and we’ll make it I swear…

First place: how about the wacky San Diego-Cincinnati game? That was the early televised game down south, and the momentum swung back and forth more often than a drunken cop collapses and vomits on an episode of The Wire. After the Chargers scored point #49 and then nearly blew it, I was actually expecting the camera to suddenly zoom in to catch a gasping Marty Schottenheimer make television history by becoming the first coach to have an on-air cardiac arrest. As if the on-the-field action wasn’t enough, we were also treated to Dan Dierdorf as color commentator. Dierdorf has a dream (or at least a piece of one), and that dream is to single-handedly resurrect the sports colloquialism “piece of.” Most people, if they use it at all, apply “piece of” to baseball only, as in “a good piece of hitting.” Not Dierdorf, who clearly has a very fragmentary view of the athletic mechanics of football. For Dierdorf, one can execute good “pieces of” blocking, running, play calling, and presumably cheerleading, end zone celebrating, and headset throwing.

Offensive Player of the Week: Phillip Rivers. No interceptions, incredible poise, 337 yards and three touchdowns, all on the road? And besides Gates and Tomlinson, look at his primary receivers: Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker—not exactly Rice and Taylor. People should probably quit talking about the Chargers defense and start discussing Rivers as the primary reason San Diego is a good team.

Defensive Player of the Week: I’m not really sure—it certainly wasn’t anyone from the Chargers-Bengals game! I guess I’ll go with Dunta Robinson from the Texans, who had 7 tackles and an interception. Too bad Houston can’t play Jacksonville every week.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sonics 99, Bobcats 85

Okay, okay! Stop me if you've heard this one before: Bobcats go into halftime with a small, ground-out lead before completely crumbling in the third quarter. I understand this team isn't the Celtics of the 50's and 60's, but I'd at least like a little variety in my losing. I suppose the Memphis loss was different, but only because they crumbled in the fourth rather than the third quarter.

The Bobcats also continued their odd habit of rendering an upper-tier playmaker meaningless in the first half, only to watch him wake up, smell the soul-food, and realize he's playing Charlotte, for God's sake, and better get with it. Tonight, playing the role made famous by Mike Miller and Wally Szczerbiak, was Rashard Lewis. Lewis scored all of 2 points in the first half but finished with a game-high 21. Chris Wilcox also put in a workmanlike 12 points and 13 rebounds and played 31 minutes. These stats are significant, because Wilcox was a pre-season favorite to win the Jerome James Award for the player who completely quits the season after he lands a windfall contract and invests all of his money in personal Krispy Kreme consumption.

And then there was Ray Allen, whom I was curious to see in light of the controversial new basketball. People have been complaining that it has an adverse affect on shooting and handling. Oddly enough, the majority of these critics have been owners and journalists, rather than the athletes who, you know, actually shoot and handle the ball. But anyway, the critics claim that because of the new ball’s slippery texture, shooting percentages are way down and turnovers are way up. Watching the Bobcats, I haven’t noticed significant differences in performance, but then they’re never very good in those categories anyway. However, if sniper Ray Allen was having trouble shooting, I figured there may be something to the controversy. Allen put those rumors to permanent rest—for me, anyway—by hitting 4-6 three-pointers in his usual disinterested manner.

The night’s pleasant surprise was the Seattle announcing team. That cocoa-buttery-licious skin, that modified Elmer Fudd Brooklynese accent, who could it be now? It’s, its…Lenny Wilkens! I'm happy for him, because he looks positively glowing in his job, genuinely delighted to not be coaching anymore, and remains ever the gentleman. With the Bobcats en route to 17 turnovers and 40% shooting only if you round up the decimal, he politely referred to our play as “accommodating.” I liked that; it puts a kind of pleasant spin on our suckiness—play the Bobcats and enjoy deluxe accommodations!

Pleasant surprise #2 was Alan Anderson, who checked in from the planet Neptune and gave us 9 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and a lot of spunk in 22 minutes. Lord, I had forgotten he was still on the team. Anderson was the beneficiary of a Raymond Felton DNP. On the flip side, Adam Morrison struggled mightily in his first game as a starter, hitting just 3-of-12 for 9 points. This is his second consecutive game of horrible shooting. In the local press, Coach Bickerstaff has actually been calling on Adam to shoot more, which seems somewhat counter-intuitive. Perhaps Coach B. mistook the word "more" for "better."

Pleasant surprise #3: Seattle Coach Bob Hill. With that hair, Bob Hill is the spitting image of Christopher Walken’s character in Batman Returns. Or Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future—take your pick. I’m shocked there haven’t been more articles about his zany appearance. The man is one Bunsen Burner and one bloody lab-coat away from completing the mad scientist look.

One good trend and one bad trend have continued. Emeka Okafor continued on his brutal blocking spree with three more, plus 20 points and 15 rebounds. However, Gerald Wallace, even with 14 points, continues to look very much like the guy who couldn’t find a spot on Golden State.

Walter Herrmann also made his debut, albeit in garbage time. He played 6 minutes and…sat back down again.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Celtics 110, Bobcats 108 (OT)

Two things before performing the grim post-game autopsy:
1) Mark Cuban’s greatness needs to be recognized. Asked by a reporter a few nights ago if he could only save one, who would he rescue from a sinking ship—ingrate ex-employee Don Nelson or arch-nemesis Commissioner David Stern? Cuban answered, “The boat.”
2) It’s been a tough few days for breakups. Reese and Ryan, Brittney and K-Fed, George and Donald…I just want to take a moment to reaffirm my commitment to the Orange and Blue.

On to the game! The bad news is the Bobcats lost to a sub-par team (actually, that’s not really news). The good news? It took Sportscenter’s #1 Top-10 play of the night to make it happen. Delonte West hit a buzzer-beater in overtime to win it for Boston, but the Bobcats essentially lost to Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak. Wally was invisible for two quarters, but during halftime he must have called Mike Miller and gotten some séance tips. He scored 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the third quarter, including four straight back-breaking 3-pointers, and finished with 35. Pierce matched Wally’s 35, but did his damage in spurts. In a way Paul was even more frustrating; even when you’re able to deny him the lane, he’ll pull up and toss something long-range as the shot clock expires that violates every shooting fundamental in the book…before swishing. Perhaps only Gilbert Arenas is more maddeningly proficient at this.

This wasn’t exactly a meeting of powerhouses. In the pre-game, color man Adrian Branch euphemistically noted that these teams “match up well against each other”—a nice way of saying they’re equally crappy. The Bobcats are comprised mainly of college all-stars, while the Celtics are a bunch of high-schoolers. Man, this team is young! Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green…it’s funny watching “Old Man” Pierce looking around at all his juvenile teammates like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop. Jefferson’s actually out right now with appendicitis—that says it all. Gomes will probably miss time later with tonsillitis, followed by Telfair with chicken pox, and then Green to get his braces tightened.

We finally got a Primoz Brezec sighting(!); he is still inactive from “fatigue” and also now “dehydration,” but he apparently has recovered sufficiently enough from “exhaustion” to get a courtside seat. They showed him on TV literally as I was deciding between jokingly suspecting him of having East European mob ties or referring to him as the Bobcats’ answer to Carl Pavano.

Almost as conspicuous in his absence was Gerald Wallace. The statsheet says he played 33 minutes, but he only put up 10 points and three assists. I’m telling you, he hasn’t been right since landing on his head last week. He’s been like Maverick in Top Gun just after Goose died—he won’t engage. I’d give anything to get the old G-Dub back, even if it entailed him going 0-20 from the foul line.

Adam Morrison was quiet too—12 points, most of them from the foul line. On his weekly chat, ESPN’s Mark Hollinger actually said that Morrison has been moving “better than he expected.” That, my friends, is a scary thought. Morrison does a lot of things well, but move gracefully is not one of them.

Raymond Felton hurt his back early on and didn’t return—Jesus, who did play?? Oh yeah, Okafor. He was a beast, justifying Elton Brand comparisons with 28 points and 18 rebounds. And Brevin Knight knocked down 7-of-15 for 22 points and also knocked down one Wally Szczerbiak after taking a cheap-shot elbow from him. Watching Wally roll around on the floor in histrionics over a man who’s almost two feet shorter than him, NOW I see why he’s such a favorite of Danny Ainge. I’m so glad the Bobcats held onto Brevin—just think where they’d be right now without him? Probably 0-4 instead of 1-3…

Well, we’ve got the Supersonics on Friday which WON’T be televised, and we’d like to thank News14 for generously announcing so beforehand. I just ponied up for NBA League Pass, so I should be able to get the Seattle broadcast. It’s always fun to see who the other team’s regular announcers are, and I’m secretly hoping for Xavier McDaniel with perhaps a guest appearance from Bridgette Fonda in Singles-era flannel.

Monday, November 06, 2006

NFL Thoughts, Week 9


My picking abilities continue to be so inept, I’d probably be better off just putting two pictures of the opposing teams’ logos on the floor and choosing whichever one my cats defecate on. Nevertheless, I’m in a pretty good mood. First, the Panthers had a bye and thus weren’t able to torment me; second, it was a tremendously entertaining weekend, what with the Patriots-Colts showdown, the start of the NBA season, and the entire Ted Haggard story.

In the Panthers’ absence, I was treated to the Ravens and Bengals in the early game and got a chance to witness Baltimore’s rejuvenated offense, now that it’s no longer shackled by self-proclaimed guru Jim Fassel. As an ex-Giants fan during the Fassel Administration, I know I speak for every Big Blue supporter on this one: how Fassell ever came to be regarded as an offensive “expert” is as mysterious as the appeal of Deal or No Deal. This was a man with a 2-time MVP quarterback (Kurt Warner), a likely Hall of Fame running back (Tiki Barber), an explosive wide-out (Amani Toomer), and a Pro-Bowl tight-end (Jeremy Shockey), and all they were good for was one blowout loss in a Super Bowl that that they had no business being in in the first place. Fassell personally cost us a number of games with his boneheaded play-calling, turned Tiki Barber into a fumbling head case, foolishly drafted and stubbornly held on to Ron Dayne for years (Dayne was actually cut this year by the Texans—the Texans!!). The fact that they’re great again under half-wit Tom Coughlin speaks volumes about Fassel’s supposed genius.

Defensive Player of the Week: Jason Taylor. Jason scored a DE hat trick with a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception that he returned for a touchdown; all this after trash-talking the Bears beforehand. The performance was similar to what Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols did in the NLCS by talking smack about Tom Glavine’s pitching before homering off him and eventually knocking the Mets out of the playoffs. I’m assuming both Taylor and Pujols are now being vilified by Chicago and New York, respectively. As a fan of pro wrestling, it's always cool when a regular athlete does an evil heel-turn.

Offensive Player of the Week: Larry Johnson. He and Stephen Jackson put on a dazzling, dueling banjos-style game of one-upsmanship, but Johnson’s 172 yards eventually prevailed. Also, hope everyone was able unload that Vick stock in time…

Random thought that occurred to me in the absence of having to mentally curse the Panthers ineptitude this weekend: have you noticed how many TV shows out there nowadays feature reenactments of one kind or another? Between the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and all those true-crime shows, the market for reenactment actors has got to be at an all-time high. I have no idea why television producers feel having cheesy, low-budget reenactments of historical occurrences is better than simply showing still photographs of the events depicted, but it’s gotten me wondering about the actors themselves—who are they? I imagine them to be struggling thespians who are hoping to get better parts down the line, similar to soap opera stars. Anyway, my idea is this: they should do an Entourage-style show about a reenactment actor and his life as he drifts from one gig to another, playing a Civil War foot soldier, an ancient Roman senator, a Jeffrey Dahmer victim, etc. There could even be a running gag in which he’s insulted whenever someone refers to him as a “reenactment actor” and insists instead on the title of “historical re-creation progenitor” (the way some nannies prefer to be called “child technicians”).

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Bobcats 92, Cavaliers 88

Okay, first things first: we need to get Liv Tyler a permanent courtside pass. For some unknown reason, the moderately popular actress was in attendance last night and as a result, the Bobcats scored a highly unlikely victory. What did Tyler’s appearance have to do with the win? Possibly nothing. Then again, can you think of a better explanation for why we held LeBron to 16 meaningless points? Why our turnovers were kept to a respectable 15? Why we won despite getting out-rebounded 46-34? Why we went a shockingly decent 23-of-30 from the free throw line (actually that one has a great explanation: Okafor and Wallace only took 4 total foul shots). Very little about last night’s game made any sense, and therefore my delight is superseded only by my perplexity.

I’ve been secretly wondering why Cleveland is so highly touted this year. Everyone’s been praising LeBron’s “business savvy” for not signing a max contract extension and keeping his options open, but I’m more confused why he even re-signed at all. What did Cleveland do or say to convince him that they were building a better team?

I know the answer to the “do” part: nothing. In fact, they’ve regressed in personnel by losing Flip Murray to the Pistons. So now they’ve got Eric Snow running the point, inconsistent Larry Hughes and his highly variant attention span at the 2, glue-guy Drew Gooden, and foul magnet/Russian mafia hitman look-alike Zydunas Ilgauskus lumbering around center. And that’s it. Donyell Marshall does little more than resemble a 6-9” version of heroin addict Bubble on The Wire, Damon Jones is good for some unintentional comedy, and Anderson Varejo runs around very energetically but also very aimlessly. What about that lineup convinced LeBron that the Cavs meant business?

For them to make a serious run in the playoffs this year, LeBron is going to have exceed Kobe Bryant's singlehanded efforts last year, because this team is even more stiff than the Lakers. LeBron's basically going to “out-Kobe” Kobe. So maybe it wasn’t about the money or the franchise. Maybe he really is simply loyal to his home state of Ohio, maybe he really does just want to give back to the community that raised him. Maybe deep down, LeBron has realized that there is something more important in life than wealth, power, prestige, and endorsements. But what is this precious "it"? I'm guessing it's tax benefits—they have to be much greater in Ohio than New York.

On to the game. It was kind of an ugly foul-fest. Cleveland pulled out to an early lead and things seemed to be progressing as normal. They hit on the magic yet aesthetically excrutiating formula of feeding Z and letting him get fouled. Drew Gooden was also all over the court, and I was soon seriously contemplating flipping over to see another of my teams with an equally unlikely chance of winning: the U. of Miami, hosting Virginia Tech in college football. The Cleveland announcers (once again, no local coverage) were praising the Cavs for holding Charlotte to 36% shooting—if only they understood how little that’s saying. All our bigs got in early foul trouble: Voskul, Okafor, and even third-man-in Melvin Ely. Primoz Brezic, by the way is STILL not in the lineup. In fact, the reason listed is now “exhaustion”—is this a downgrade from “fatigue?”

The Bobcats slowly narrowed the gap in the second quarter, but I attributed that mostly to the fact that the Cavs were resting LeBron after Cleveland’s big win against the Spurs last night. I kept watching and tried to enjoy what I could, even if it was only tangentially a part of the game. For instance, the night’s trivia question was, “What was the name of the original arena that the Cavs played in?” The answer was…Cleveland Arena. Huh? Doesn’t that seem like a kinda stupid question? I mean, if you were to ask someone that question and the person had no idea what the answer would be, wouldn’t a sort of default stab be to just name the city or team, followed by either “Arena” or “Stadium?” I say it's not a very good trivia question if anyone has a pretty good chance of randomly answering correctly.

Other items of interest: the Charlotte arena announcer was continuously imploring the crowd to “make some noise,” and even becoming mildly antagonistic with taunts of “I can’t hear you!” After several iterations of this, you could sense the crowd’s growing annoyance. With the team well on it’s way to going 0-3 and looking AWFUL doing so, shouldn't the front office just be happy that people are paying to show up?

Somehow the Bobcats hung around, and this was largely due to Raymond Felton’s first big night. With Wallace still looking a little woozy from his spill in the opener (and also wearing a bizarre band-aid on his shoulder that looked as out of place as Nelly’s), Raymond began doing everything, getting 23 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. Most important, he was getting to the free throw line, something he hadn't done in the first two games. And—get this—he was actually MAKING them!! 11-for-13—as I said, nothing made sense here.

In the fourth quarter, it was highly amusing listening to the Cavalier announcers’ objectivity slowly go out the window. It started with little “this Charlotte team keeps hanging around” comments here and there and eventually disintegrated into “c’mon ref, that was a travel!” outpourings of frustration. This is why I know I could never be an announcer—I would be like that midway through the first quarter.

So the Bobcats got their first win! And we have an excellent shot at beating the 0-3 Celtics in a few days. Flipping over, I see Miami eventually lost out to Virginia Tech. But the Panthers have a bye, which after their play the last two games is as good as a win in my book—what a victorious weekend!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Grizzlies 96, Bobcats 83

Memphis! I’m excited to see Rudy Gay, Pau Gas—oh wait…Well, there’s also…ah…Anyway, Rudy Gay is supposed to be something else. Speaking of which, if Gay, teammate Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, and Brandon Roy all turn in awesome rookie years, will we end up referring to the tandem as “Generation Y”?

News14 found it in their hearts to broadcast this game, and Matt, Adrian, and Stephanie Ready were back! It was like being reunited with old friends (especially when I don’t have any actual friends). I’m also relieved to see Matt hasn’t gone the feathered, mid-80s look—way to not sell out, Matt! Stick with the classic moussed-up commentator look that got you there. Matt also wasted no time in getting down to jive, dropping a “G-Dub” on Gerald Wallace at a breathtaking 30 seconds into the pre-game report.

Programming note: there’s some weird show coming to town that they kept advertising during the commercial breaks called the “Blue Man Group.” The BMG appears to be one of those “Stomp”-esque theatrical music improvisers, except for some reason they dress like blue Darth Mauls, and they bang around those red fluorescent sticks that airport traffic guides use to direct planes around the runway. Is this for families? They seemed a little on the creepy side...

I was happy to see “G-Dub” back in action tonight, although it made for an awkward pre-game interview when Stephanie asked him the old “what was going through your head when you got injured” question. Considering this injury actually happened to be a serious blow to the head, it was difficult to discern whether she meant her question in a literal or physical sense. While I was hamstrung at home, Gerald went the literal route and answered, “Major pain.”

As for the on-court action, it took me exactly one game to get as upset over this team as I do with the Yankees and Panthers. I always joke about how after cheering for those two perennial contenders, it’s kind of nice to cuddle up with the Bobcats in the comfortable Fortress of Low Expectations. No more. Were this the postseason and/or either of these two teams any good, the Bobcats had the kind of collapse that journalists typically describe as “epic.” After trailing most of the way, in the fourth quarter the Grizzlies incinerated a 12-point deficit in 3 minutes. And I was in a full-fledged temper tantrum.

Although he’s starting nowadays, Mike Miller still played last night like he was fresh off the bench. Except for an utterly atrocious haircut that makes him look like Mandy Moore in Entourage, Miller was largely invisible for three quarters, but then he exploded for 21 in the fourth quarter. Charlotte certainly hastened their own downfall; although their 19 turnovers was technically an improvement from the opener, it seemed like they all came with 10 minutes left in the game. They also went 16-29 with their free throws, and Wallace (2-6) and Emeka Okafor (2-8) at the foul line are quickly approaching a “10” on the Painful-to-Watch meter. We needed someone to step up when the wheels suddenly fell off, but Okafor was on the bench with foul trouble and Felton didn’t seem to have anything in his bag of tricks. I guess by definition that’s why “the wheels fall off.” Question: is that a phrase from the early days of automobiles? I know I’ve seen old Charlie Chaplins where all four wheels suddenly going flying away and the car collapses, but was that an actual common occurrence back then?

Anyway, a couple of positives were Adam Morrison, who cracked the 20-barrier for the first time, getting 21 off the bench and hitting 3-5 three’s. Okafor also had four blocks (but missed his usual ton of inside put-backs—does Scouts, Inc. keep track of that one? EO has got to be leading the league there), and the defense as a whole held the Grizzlies to 35% shooting from the field (except for Miller, who shot 243%). Voskuhl also did a decent job in extended play, collecting 6 rebounds—which reminds me, where did Sean May go? I don’t even really remember seeing him in the second half.

I guess the best thing to do is to try and put this one behind me. But with Bron-Bron in town tonight, I don’t see a victory this weekend in my crystal ball. Plus I’m probably going to have nightmares of Mike Miller dressed like a member of the Blue Man Group, chasing me around with one of those fluorescent sticks.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pacers 106, Bobcats 99

Transitioning from Yankee fan to Bobcat fan, I have to keep in mind that victories are now measured differently. Sure, the scoreboard says we lost, but the good news is Gerald Wallace appears to not be a drooling vegetable after getting fouled in the 2nd quarter landing square on his head—somebody cue “We Are the Champions!”

The ‘Cats kicked off their Season of Glory at home against the Indiana Pacers, who would make a team of Tasmanian Devils look plodding. First we must thank News14 Carolina, who decided NOT to broadcast this one on TV. I understand the Bobcats are having difficulty securing a long-term television contract and all, but c’mon, they can’t get someone to cover Opening Night!? Which reminds me of another thing, the Bobcats actually played one of their last preseason games against the Hawks at the Smith Center here in Chapel Hill, but basically decided not to tell anyone. I didn’t even hear about it until roughly two days before the game, when I saw a tiny ad for it in the corner of the local paper under one for a strip club. Trust me, when one of the few people down here in Research Triangle Park who openly refers to himself as “Bobcat Fan,” who actively searches for the latest Bobcat news, doesn’t even know the team’s playing in his town, you’ve got marketing problems.

So anyway, back to the game. I watched it on Indiana’s FSN affiliate, where Chris Denairi and former Ohio State star Clark Kellog play the parts of Matt and Adrian. I’d like to thank both of them for not making some sort of stupid pun about Stephen Jackson having “shooting problems”—it had to be on the tips of their tongues.

Tonight’s riveting subplot: which pathetic streak will get broken first, Coach Bickerstaff’s 0-7 home opener losing streak, or the Pacers’ winless streak at the Bobcats Arena? Also, Primoz Brezec is a last-minute scratch with “fatigue,” which for some reason got fewer headlines than Kobe’s DNP. My immediate impressions were all follicle-related. Rank-ordering the hairstyles in order of importance:

Al Harrington: now sports a Mohawk. Ever since this style improbably exploded a few months ago, I’m starting to wonder, will Mohawks soon be as common as tattoos? Remember how surprising it was when tattoos suddenly starting flourishing about 10 years ago? It seemed startling at the time. I seem to remember an entire Sports Illustrated article devoted to Jason Williams’ tats alone. But at some point they became totally routine. More startling was…

Matt Carroll: has gone from short and conservative to floppy, mid-80s Andrew McCarthy style. After seeing Vladimir Radmonovic sport a similar feathered ‘do the night before with the Clips, I wonder if this is a shoot-first white-guy thing. I’m suddenly tempted to flip over to a Magic game and check on JJ Reddick.

David Harrison: has gone “Shaft” with the mini-, semi-balding, small-sideburned ‘fro look.

Adam Morrison: in the pre-game interview was sporting a positively Rambisian headband, although he was thankfully not wearing it during the game. Man, this has got to be the most creative and richly diverse hairstyle era in, what, thirty years?? That’s it, I’m prepared to call this a Golden Age of Hairstyles.

Rounding out the haircut wrap-up: Sarunas Jasikevicius. No change here—same semi-crew-cut with mini sideburns. But I wanted to throw him in there because, combined with his perpetually squinty/scowling expressions, I’m always reminded of one of the rich, preppie “bad kids” from the rival camps in old “Meatballs” movies.

And basically, we might as well stick with SJ, because this was his ball game. He came in off the bench and went for 20 and 5, including two spectacular shots: a buzzer-beater 3 and a crazy lay-up-and-one that bounced off the top of the backboard. After a stellar first-half performance in which the only thing he didn’t do was flagrantly foul Wallace out of the ballgame, Rick Carlisle mysteriously benched him for almost the entire third quarter. During that time, the Bobcats got back into it, but once SJ came back in the gap widened to blowout levels (we got it close again long after it was over). It’s too bad because between foul-trouble and our typically scrappy defense, we kept Jackson (18 pts) and O’Neal (20 pts and never looking more like Gary Coleman) fairly neutralized.

As for that flagrant foul on Wallace, poor Danny Granger makes for a pretty weak villain, although the crowd did its blessed best to boo him. It was actually a pretty innocuous play, and Granger looked completely remorseful, obviously not realizing that Wallace is dangerously prone to landing on his head on even the most routine plays.

I suppose I should at some point I should mention something about the Bobcats. Adam Morrison nailed a fabulous turnaround jumper from near mid-court, which looked even more fantastic considering he spends most of the time on the court—even when he has the ball—staring at the floor. He had some great catch-and-shoot looks a la Rip Hamilton, and I’m confident his percentage will go up in time. The same goes for Okafor and May; they’ve got to get a softer touch and knock down some of those close-rangers.

For the brief time he was in there, Wallace was tremendous. If he could just work on his free throws…I’m starting to wonder if he’d have more success if he were required to do some sort of triple-flip first, rather than simply stand there.

Up next are the Grizzlies, at Memphis, fresh off a 3-OT loss to the Knicks. Can you say “Bobcats” and “.500?” That’s what I’m talking about!