Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bobcats 113, Pacers 102

You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have Charlotte defeating Indiana on Saturday night for their unprecedented second win in a row. The Bobcats also completed a 1-for-1 trade with the Injury List, getting Sean May for Gerald Wallace straight up--hard to believe that a) Wallace has been seriously injured twice by the Indiana Pacers this year, and b) neither of the incidents involved Stephen Jackson. Other than Gerald’s separated shoulder and rib contusion, however, it was all good news for the Cats, who had one of those blowout/collapse/blowout-style wins. Charlotte built a 13-point lead in the third quarter, lost it all and were trailing by three in the fourth, then blew it open again at the end to win by 11, providing one of those rare opportunities to have my vision obstructed by opposing fans filing out of the arena early.

I remember an old Mad Magazine issue in which they had “Mad Jeopardy,” and one of the Answers was, “He defeated Jimmy Carter to win the Democratic nomination in the 1980 elections,” and the Question was, “Who was Jimmy Carter?” That’s kind of how this game went, as the Bobcats beat the Indiana Pacers thanks largely to the help of the Indiana Pacers. First of all, Indiana went a horrendous 26/40 from the free throw line to go with 4/17 on 3-point attempts. But more than that, Indiana just had a despondent, sulking attitude in general. Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal were visibly frustrated early and often and Rick Carlisle got ejected in the third quarter for arguing a foul call. I have no idea what Indiana was so pissy about, considering the Pacers had won two straight (including the night before against the Pistons), they were only trailing by a few points at the time, and they were at home--it’s like the entire team was PMS-ing.

For the Cats, Sean May could not have picked a better time to return. At the end of the previous night's marathon with the Lakers, Emeka Okafor was staggering around, looking like my buddy Nate used to when the Bar None had its 4-AM last call—EO definitely was going to need backup for this one (everyone was dragging, by the way; sometimes it felt like watching a game of water polo). Even though he’s been out for several days, May looked to be in great shape. Apparently he’s been working out and he says he’s lost 20 pounds.* Though at first it looked like the only skills May’s ankle sprain hadn’t affected were his ability to commit fouls and traveling violations, he got it going in the end with Gerald out, getting a clutch 8 rebounds and 8 points to help seal it.

Meanwhile, Okafor had 19 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots. For whatever reason, the pick-and-rolls he’s been running with Raymond Felton have absolutely befuddled opposing teams lately. Even though it’s probably the most basic play in the game, defenses are helpless against it like it’s some unstoppable, mystical ancient ninja move. Speaking of Felton, 19 assists! 6 rebounds! Fans, there’s still time: log onto and vote for your favorite Bobcats to play in this year’s All-Star game (live from Las Vegas!).

But the gold star of the night goes to Adam Morrison and his 30 points and 6 rebounds. 9/17 from field, 2/2 from 3-point land, and 10/11 on the foul line. Plus one odd-ball quote afterward, as Morrison attributed his success to the advice of Suns point guard/Eastern metaphysical philosopher Raja Bell: "Raja Bell said it to me,'' Morrison recalled, "just slow down and let it come to you.'' I’m wondering if Morrison didn’t confuse Bell with someone else** , considering Raja seems to communicate with opposing players primarily by flagrantly fouling them. But if Raja did say those words, I wish he’d put more stuff like that in his recurring column, rather than mostly just talking about how much he likes to play poker and take naps.

*Okay, I made that up (it just seems like they always say that any time a player comes off an injury).

**Not to mention some other team, as the Suns aren’t exactly known for slowing games down—didn’t they just have an entire book written about their ability to execute in under seven seconds?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bobcats 131, Lakers 124 (3-OT)

Oooh, it’s the lights…action…Hollywood! The Lakers were in town Friday night--the much improved Lakers. Sure, Lamar Odom’s out, but Luke Walton’s been much better this year, Kwame Brown’s been, um, less worse, Andrew Bynum has played like an experienced veteran (or at least as if he’s of legal drinking age)...Actually the only real disappointment has been off-season acquisition Vladimir Radmanovic, who should be doing a lot more for this team other than looking eerily like a Bee-Gee (who’s in his entourage anyway, James Spader?). In fact, Coach Phil Jackson called him a “space cadet” a few days ago, and folks if Phil Jackson is calling you out for your detrimental quirkiness, you’ve got a problem.

Radmanovic’s blow-dried uselessness aside, we were going to need all hands on deck for this one, which means that Sean May IS…looking very dapper in business casual on the bench—doh! Plus Brevin Knight’s groin pull has somehow spread to his abdominals—did the doctors not catch it in time? This has got to be the world’s first malignant groin pull. BK will be out for…for…forever, I fear. Jeff McInnis never looked so good.

Anyway, if there’s been any pattern to the Bobcats losses this season, it’s been their victimization at the hands of a shot-happy superstar—you know, your Paul Pierce’s, Rashard Lewis’s, etc. Good thing the Lakers don’t have anyone like that on their team! Oh, wait a second…Yes sir, Kobe Bryant was in full effect Friday night, putting up 58 points and firing more shots than my nephew in a game of Call of Duty. KB24 attempted 45 field goals, when no one else on the Lakers took more than 10—makes one really appreciate the intricacies of the Triangle Offense.

The Lakers raced to a 30-18 first quarter lead based on Bryant’s 16 points, but with Kobe on the bench to start the second we were able to even it at 60 by halftime (although I suppose, theoretically, it could have also been due to Smush Parker sitting out an extended time). Thus the trend was established. Having watched An Inconvenient Truth earlier in the day, I think you could have made a graph showing the correlation between the “Lakers Lead” vs. “Kobe in the Game” that would make Al Gore proud.

On the other hand, the Bobcats didn’t just accidentally score 133 points. Playing at a pace that would leave Gilbert Arenas wheezing, the Bobcats had some superstar performances of their own. Normally, accusing someone of getting more rebounds than points would be considered an insult, but not when Emeka Okafor grabs 25 boards and scores 22. Raymond Felton hung 22 points as well and issued 15 dimes (not to mention playing almost 57 minutes), and Gerald Wallace has become a focused, fine-tuned machine, emblemized by his groomed-to-a-perfect-cone beard. 28 points, 8 rebounds, a block, and a couple of steals for G-Dub, and only the Bite of the Mamba managed to bring him down when he fouled out covering Bryant in the first OT (which reminds me: special props to Bernard Robinson. How would you like to sit on the bench the whole game, then come in in OT and have to cover Bryant?).

And once again, Matt Carroll was HUGE with 27 points (4/7 on 3-pointers, 7/7 on the foul line) and 8 rebounds. Perhaps even more amazingly, he caused Ronny Turiaf to lose his temper and rage at little Sasha Vujacic when Carroll blew by him in the second quarter for a layup. Wow, that’s the first time I ever saw the happy-go-lucky Turiaf look like something other than the next contestant on the Price is Right.

Really, the only down note was Adam Morrison, who shot just 1/15. He was 0/5 from the 3-point range but stubbornly kept firing away until Coach Bickerstaff finally had to yank him; it was like dragging a gambling addict away from a slot machine. I have faith in Adam, though—he’s soaking up the experience and playing hard.

I can live with about 1 win a week, especially when most of the games are at least watchable. Heck, that’s more than I can say for the Panthers this year…

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Wizards 114, Bobcats 107

Open Memo to Your top two headlines currently read “Iraqis Brace for Saddam Execution” and “Colorado Braces for New Blizzard.” I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before we hear about “California Bracing for Ford Funeral.” Let’s go, CNN headline department, you’re putting forth a Vince-Carter-in-Toronto effort right now. I know you’ve got a “Thesaurus” function on your Word program, so make use of it.

Anyway, the Charlotte Bobcats braced for the Washington Wizards on Wednesday. The Wizards, fresh off beheading the Memphis Grizzlies the night before, continued terrorizing the Eastern Conference by throttling us 114-107. We put up a good fight though, spearheaded by a spectacular individual effort by Gerald Wallace. I don’t play fantasy basketball, but I assume that anyone who does would find G-Dub’s performance awesome to the point of being mildly arousing: 40 points, 14 rebounds, 6 steals, and 4 blocks. Emeka Okafor was also his usual studly self, with 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Adam Morrison went for 17 points and 5 assists off the bench. The problem, as usual, was shooting: we hit a smaller percentage of field goals than the Wizards did 3-pointers (42.9% to 43.8%).

How easy is Eddie Jordan’s job nowadays? What does he say in huddles? Does he even draw up plays? Gilbert Arenas is so ridiculously good that any plays a Coach tries to run would be considered micromanaging. In order to look like he’s doing something for the cameras during time-outs, I imagine Jordan pulls out his dry-erase board and begins scribbling, but the whole time he’s probably just saying “Give it to Gil and let him do his thing” while doodling his favorite “Peanuts” characters. This certainly explains why Jordan is one of the more entertaining dressers in the NBA—all that free time gives him ample opportunity to think about how he can spice up his wardrobe. Last night’s purple-and-checkered ensemble was a cross between a used car salesman getup and Jack Nicholson’s Joker from Batman.

In my opinion, Gilbert Arenas is the best player in the League right now. I used a very scientific formula to determine this, and it’s known as the “Hugh Hate Rating.” I hate Arenas, and I mean that as a compliment (as opposed to when I say I hate, say, Brian Scalabrine), because he consistently quashes rallies. Every time the Bobcats come back (we were down 16 in this one), Gilbert will casually begin making 3-pointers like he’s tossing some eggs on a frying pan after just waking up. This has happened repeatedly over the past three seasons and it hasn’t gotten any less demoralizing. Playing against Arenas is like spending two hours building an elaborate model, only to have someone come in and stomp it out in thirty seconds. He scores so effortlessly—particularly from long range—I think it’s actually been detrimental to his career, because he looks like he doesn’t care. In actuality, though, it’s because he’s so strong that it's just not physically taxing.

As well as he plays, Arenas also benefits greatly by getting some hearty “Dwyane Wade” treatment from the refs. He was at the line 16 times, and it seemed every one of his possessions resulted in a basket, a whistle, or both. And the Wizards didn’t need any help either, as they shot 72% in the first half and built up a 10-point lead. Poor Raymond Felton, on the other hand, continues to get “Raymond Felton” treatment and was limited with foul trouble. With Felton sitting, Wallace picked it up and Walter Herrmann mysteriously played almost the entire second quarter for us even though Matt Carroll was available—was that intentional? I kept waiting for the cameras to catch Coach Bickerstaff in the following conversation with one of his assistants:

Assistant: Hey, how long are you going to leave Walter out there?
Coach B.: What are you talking about? Walter’s not out—oh $#*%! I thought that was Matt!

Nevertheless, we came all the way back and closed out the third ahead 83-82. Wallace personally outscored the Wizards 18-16 in the quarter, and made FGs in every conceivable fashion: off his own steals, off alley-oops, off back-down moves, and off what looked to be Brendan Haywood’s head at one point. I had to admit I didn’t see this one coming, because generally when the Bobcats are losing big at the half they simply end up losing REALLY big at the end. The only explanation I could come up with was that the Wizards, like me, became confused by this really long “” advertising banner that’s starting popping up on our scorer’s table recently. What is this company/service? I’m still not even sure what it says exactly, because it’s so long you can’t ever get it all on the TV screen at one time.

Bob Johnson’s New Year’s Resolution should be getting us a point guard, especially if we have big guys who are DNPCD (as Othella Harrington and Melvin Ely were last night). We don’t even need anyone great; I’d simply settle for someone who naturally plays the 1. As Raymond headed for the bench with his sixth foul and three minutes to go, I was hoping the cameras would show Brevin Knight suddenly stand up, rip open his suit, Superman-style, revealing a Bobcats jersey underneath, and take the floor. Didn’t happen, unfortunately…

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Mavericks 97, Bobcats 84

Very little irony to be had in Tuesday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks; the whole thing was as familiar as a rerun of Seinfeld. Everything went exactly as you would imagine: Dirk Nowitzki may be searching for freedom, but he’s not searching for a high shooting percentage, as he hit a ton of his usual awkward-but-effective fade-aways and pirouettes; Coach Avery Johnson ran frantically back and forth throughout, shouting orders like a high school drama teacher during the final dress rehearsal; and Josh Howard did everything for Dallas except authorize a Code Red on T.O. en route to 27 points and 8 rebounds.

If there was any serendipity, it’s that Jason Terry didn’t do that much, and as a result didn’t feel compelled afterward to declare how “clutch” he is (perhaps someone finally told him how ridiculous that sounds when you consider his 20-16 lifetime playoff record). The key to the game was Dallas’s airtight perimeter defense, which was so impassable that Raymond Felton couldn’t even penetrate deep enough to not get a foul call. I don’t even want to know what the final points-in-the-paint numbers were, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Lowe’s Home Improvement doesn’t call at some point to demand a refund for sponsoring that stat. Meanwhile, down low, Primoz Brezec went from high-fouling/high-scoring to just high-fouling, so Eric Dampier and DeSagana Diop had free reign to clog things up.

Doomed to shooting exclusively from long-distance, we actually held our own in the first quarter and led 26-24. But it caught up with us in the second, as we went without a field goal for the first…12 minutes it seemed—jeez, we did score a second quarter field goal, right? All I remember is Derek Anderson shooting some free throws. Oh wait, there was a Gerald Wallace alley-oop. And…ummm…well, Adam Morrison had 17 points, so I’ll just assume that one of those occurred in the second. But that was pretty much it.

The Mavericks stretched it out to 78-65 by the end of the third, and Coach Bickerstaff had Jake Voskuhl, Walter Herrmann, and Melvin Ely all on the floor at the same time for most of the fourth, which should tell you how serious he was about trying to mount a comeback. As for the Mavericks, we got to see a lot of the always electrifying Devean George and Greg Buckner, so as I alluded to in the opening paragraph, if you didn’t get a chance to see the game, don’t kill yourself trying to get a bootleg copy of it.

Boy, who did owner Bob Johnson tick off in the NBA front office? Two games against Dallas, Detroit, and San Antonio, and 1 each with Phoenix, Houston, and Utah…all before we’ve played anyone in our own division twice? Did Johnson block a donation to the scheduling department or something? And as long as I’m thinking about it, thanks a bunch to the Charlotte Observer for making Johnson’s veto of minority owner’s Felix Sabates stock transfer sound as controversial as humanly possible. For those who don’t know, Johnson blocked a proposal by Sabates to give his $1.34 million stake in the team to the foundation that supports Carolinas HealthCare System, a move that is purely business-related and downright uninteresting. But anyone who read the “Bobcats Owner Blocks Donation to Charity” headlines probably pictured starving children, too weak to even swat the bugs from their eyes, collapsing in a heap outside Johnson’s mansion, all while Johnson rolls cigars out of $1,000 bills.

Monday, December 25, 2006

NFL Thoughts, Week 16

First of all, Merry Christmas to everyone! Also, I appreciate everyone’s cards and/or gifts. I also want a take a moment to answer a question my sister asked: No, Lydia, it was not a problem for me that you used the word “shit” in your Xmas card—at least, not after you used the word “damn” twice.

This was a fabulous Panthers weekend. Just tremendous. Come what may next week, I will never forget this weekend’s Panthers-Falcons game—ever. Coach Fox, I take back all I’ve said about you (though not all that I’ve thought). Instead of choosing between injured Jake Delhomme or ineffective Chris Weinke at quarterback, Fox just went with nobody—and to think I’ve criticized him for being too conservative! I mean, deciding to play a football game without a quarterback is about as “outside the box” as you can get. I bet anyone who just looked at the box score and saw that Weinke only passed 7 times probably assumed that Falcons LB Ed Hartwell must have swallowed Chris whole and spit out his ACL midway through the first quarter. Nope, instead Coach Fox figured that because passing—at least to teammates—hasn’t been Weinke’s “strong suit” thus far, the Panthers should just try to run it. And because Weinke would just be handing off anyway, why not just cut out the middleman and snap it directly to DeAngelo Williams? "Whatever fashion we did it in, we did it," sayeth wise old sage Keyshawn Johnson afterward. The Panthers might have 99 problems but a coach ain’t one.

Meanwhile, in a heartwarming story just in time for the holidays, Chicago Bears DL Tank Johnson has issued a “10-Point Program” for turning his life around, according to Inside the NFL’s Peter King. Among the points are “no pit bulls” and “no guns.” Unfortunately, King didn’t reveal the other eight. In case you haven’t followed this story, police found 6 unlicensed firearms in Johnson’s house shortly before his bodyguard was killed at a club. And if you haven’t followed this story, that’s probably because the media buried it under headlines about the “latest” NBA brawl, which was an interesting choice of words considering the most recent brawl happened over two years ago. Double standards are a confusing fact of life. I'm still trying to figure out why Axl Rose was so villified for using the homosexual "f-" word in one of his songs (one that wasn't even released), yet Dire Straits used it repeatedly in "Money For Nothing" and it became one of the most beloved 80s singles ever.

Offensive Player of the Week: Marc Bulger, Rams. 25/38 for 388 yards, 4 TDs, 0 interceptions. All this after not only his team gave up on him, so did the fans and the television coverage…

Defensive Player of the Week: Aaron Kampman, Packers. 3 sacks and 7 tackles in a truly wretched game against the Vikings. This was the sort of game you could sentence a felon to watch. I cannot believe how badly Minnesota performed with the playoffs—and, more importantly, my pick—on the line.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Bulls 115, Bobcats 76

One night after shocking the Utah Jazz, the Bobcats looked to make it two in a row in Chicago and, well…hey, how about that Jazz victory, huh? That was really something, wasn’t it? Too bad I can’t just write a follow-up on it.

It was sort of close after the first quarter, with the Bulls up 24-19. But when the game finally ended, you could pretty much sum things up by saying that during the last 36 minutes, the Bulls went on a 91-57 run. This was the kind of blowout where midway through the third quarter, commentators Matt and Adrian quit bothering to even cover the game and just went into sports talk show mode, discussing news and notes from around the NBA—they ought to start taking callers when this happens. I stuck around just to make sure no one rolled an ankle or started a fist fight.

I’m sure John Hollinger at could point out a number of Efficiency Ranking categories in which we underperformed, but that would be entirely unnecessary; it’d be like trying to offer a literary criticism of a song by the Ying Yang Twins. How about keeping it simple: 4 points on 1/12 shooting to start the second quarter, for starters. Or the field goal percentages: Raymond Felton went 4/15, Gerald Wallace went 3/9, Emeka Okafor went 3/9 (although on the positive side, all the team’s misses helped him to 12 rebounds), Adam Morrison went 3/13, Derek Anderson went 2/7…These are some horrible fractions, people. Melvin Ely, who hasn’t really been doing anything all year other than sitting on the bench and growing facial hair, was actually our leading scorer. And forget trying to match up with Kirk Hinrich, Felton got outplayed by Thabo Sefolosha. Here’s my favorite one: twice we had players get called for traveling because they caught their own airballs.

One important side note: I don't know if you can download this sort of thing on, but if you can, check out a brilliant comedic performance by Coach Bickerstaff. With about two minutes to go in the third quarter, the Bulls' Luol Deng started to lose control of the ball near our bench, and Coach did the ol' kick-it-from-out-of-bounds-while-pretending-not-to-see-it maneuver, hoping they'd call Deng for the turnover. Then he just kept walking casually and shouting encouragement to the team, hoping nobody saw what he'd just done, like he'd just shoplifted a magazine at an airport newsstand. And when the refs blew the whistle on him and called him for a delay of game, he went into a truly hilarious shock-and-outrage act--it was AWESOME!! You're the best, Coach!! I was out of commission for about the next ten minutes because I was laughing so hard.

Anyway, the Bulls got superior performances out of Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni to break it open. Gordon, the former UConn star, blew us away with 18 points in the second quarter. Nocioni, the former Argentinian leftist guerilla freedom fighter,* had 19 points and 11 rebounds. These guys played about a half and then they bought in the subs, who also kicked our ass.** It’s hard to believe that rookie Tyrus Thomas (14 points, 4 rebounds, 1 blocked shot, 1 steal) is only averaging 10.5 minutes a game with this team—hey, Chicago, we’ll take him if you don’t want him.

Most of all, we need a guard to replace Brevin Knight, who’s now out for...3 weeks?? What did he do to his groin, anyway, jump on a bicycle with the seat missing? We’re going to regret not trading BK in the off-season, because Derek Anderson is substituting for him about as well as Weinke is for the Panthers. And who’s going to take Knight now? He’s got such chronic problems, he’s not worth the hassle—his groin is the new Jackie Christie.

*I just made that up
**Good thing the mascots didn’t square off—probably would’ve been a beatdown there too

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bobcats 101, Jazz 89

Heading into Friday night’s game against the Jazz, I had three critical questions:

1. How would the Bobcats respond to the Wednesday night Knick-ocaust?
2. What’s worse, being unable to sell your arena’s naming rights like the Bobcats, OR selling them to a toxic waste disposal firm, as the Utah did with their newly-christened “EnergySolutions Arena”?
3. Is Jazz forward Mehmet Okur’s first name pronounced “meh-MAY” or “meh-MO”?

We all know the answer to the first question; the Bobcats dominated the Jazz in nearly every facet of the game. I’m not a gambling man, but I’m willing to bet the Bobcats covered the spread on this one. Seriously, even though I’m elated with the outcome, a part of me is afraid that the NBA is suddenly becoming completely unpredictable. Think about it: the Heat are (is? I hate non-pluralized team names) awful, the Clippers are terrible, and the Nets are dreadful. Meanwhile, the Lakers, Trail Blazers, and Raptors are suddenly highly respectable. Yes sir, the NBA: it’s the new NFL.

As for the second, the jury is still out. We probably won’t know the answer until the Bobcats actually do sell the arena’s naming rights. If the highest bidder ends up being something normal, and “Charlotte Bobcats Arena” becomes, say, “IBM Arena,” then it’s always better to sell the naming rights. But if it ends up being called “Paco’s Bail Bond Arena,” then I’d prefer we keep it sponsor-free.

As for #3, I STILL don’t know how you pronounce that Turk’s name, which is even more incredible considering I watched this game on FSN Utah (not that I had a choice, thanks once again to News14's 1-outta-3-games-ain't-bad telecast policy). As it turns out, even Okur’s own announcing team can’t seem to agree on the pronunciation. The only sure thing is that Okur gets my vote for “NBA Player Who Most Looks Like He Just Rolled Out of Bed.” Memphis’s Pau Gasol and Toronto’s Jorge Garbajosa keep it close, but Okur gets the edge because on top of being slovenly, he also looks stoned. In fact it’s easy to picture him on off-days lying around on a vomit-stained frat couch, eating a box of Frosted Flakes, milk dribbling into his goatee.

Anyway, I don’t want to detract any further from this upset, because this is a great Jazz team we just beat. And they’re huge too—they’re average size has got to be 6’8”. Even their guards are "guard"-gantuan; if star PG Deron Williams played for us, Coach Bickerstaff would probably be rotating him in at power forward. Up and down, the roster is solid. Besides Okur, Carlos Boozer is having a great year (interestingly, he was booed so lustily by the Charlotte crowd, you’d have thought it was us he’d stabbed in the back a few years ago rather than Cleveland). They’ve also got stat-machine Andrei Kirilenko (fun fact: thanks to the good folks at FSN Utah, we learned that AK currently has the longest shot-blocking streak in history going: 28 games. Is it me or does that seem low? I would have thought that Wilt Chamberlain would have had a block in, like, 200 straight games.) Derek Fisher’s a cagey veteran, Harpring and Giricek are solid off the bench...Plus they have phenom Paul Millsap, who is so highly-touted that for the past three weeks it seems like analyst John Hollinger can’t go to sleep at night without writing at least two articles on what a travesty it was that Adam Morrison got the November Rookie of the Month award over Millsap. Hollinger’s been so outraged by this decision, by the way, that after he got done showing how much better Millsap is than Morrison in every statistical category, he began making up his own statistical categories and had Millsap dominating those as well.

So even though we led by an astonishing 20 points at the half, there was no reason to be particularly optimistic—especially after Wednesday. I was treating this very much the way my buddy, a die-hard New Jersey Devils fan, did in junior high school when he actually dated the Devil’s coach’s daughter (who also happened to be totally hot): it was unbelievably awesome but couldn’t possibly be expected to last long, so just try to enjoy it while you can.

And sure enough, in the third quarter the wheels started to fall off. Emeka Okafor got into foul trouble, and a groin was pulled—guess who’s? Yep, Brevin Knight is out again after “aggravating” his groin; he and his groin are like an old married couple at this point. “Bad Boy” Primoz Brezec also fouled out again for the second straight game (although not before getting 14 points and 11 rebounds—I’m kinda digging this new high-foul/high-scoring version of PB). But Jake Voskuhl of all people stepped up with 8 big points (at one point he scored 6 straight for us, which had me thinking it would have been cool if FSN had put up a “Voskuhl on 6-2 Run” graphic). The announcers were psyched that the quarter ended with the Jazz only trailing by 14, but I was frankly surprised that they weren’t ahead.

The fourth quarter was about one man: Matt Carroll, Jedi-Knight. On this night, the force was with young Carroll, whose perpetual sweatiness causes him to resemble Luke Skywalker on Dagobah. After the Jazz cut the lead down to 5 and all seemed lost, Carroll bailed us all out in one spectacular play: he hit a three pointer, drew the foul (and later made the free-throw), AND knocked out Kirilenko’s tooth. It was a four-point play at a time when we couldn’t buy a basket. It was the equivalent of Skywalker’s triple-flip off Jabba-the-Hut’s plank to save the day in Return of the Jedi. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anything like that before. The only down side of it was we had to watch the ref pick up AK’s tooth off the floor and bring it to the scorer’s table—gross! And the ref did it with his bare hands and was all casual about it too; it reminded me of Reservoir Dogs when Blonde cuts off the cop’s ear—the only thing the ref didn’t do was jokingly talk to the thing.

Anyway, Okafor looked great (21 points, 10 rebounds), Gerald Wallace had 12 points, 7 rebounds, 5 steals, and 1 block (and a partridge in a pear tree), and Raymond Felton (18 points, 12 assists, 3 steals, and even 5 rebounds) is fully in command of this team. We’ve now taken out the Cavs, Spurs, Jazz, Pistons, and Nets. Just keep us away from those Grizzlies and Knicks…

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Knicks 111, Bobcats 109 (2-OT)

There’s losing, and then there’s losing to the Knicks in double-overtime. I think some of the images from this game will scar my memory for life: Stephon Marbury, fresh off a 53-minute, 10-point, 9-assist performance, celebrating wildly as if his team had just won Game 7; Matt Carroll standing in blank, horrified shock, looking like Carrie without the pig’s blood; Isaiah Thomas, eerily rocking in his chair throughout the whole game, smiling slightly, looking for all the world like a man strapped with dynamite and preparing to blow up a bank. Yes, it was a spooky, haunted affair. Even the impromptu standing ovation for Michael Jordan—in Madison Square Garden, mind you—was creepy.

Mostly though, this was just a badly played game between two teams who were undermanned (and who aren’t very good even when they are at full-strength). No Sean May (who is out until next week at the earliest) and no Brevin Knight AGAIN (question: is it possible to hate a man for his groin?) for the Bobcats. And the Knicks, as you may have heard, were without a number of players due to suspension. They also didn’t have Jerome James. By the way, everyone who follows the League seems to be questioning why Coach Thomas wasn’t given a suspension for his threats to Carmelo Anthony. My answer to that one—and I’m honestly surprised this hasn’t occurred to more people—is that Commissioner Stern thought it would be an even greater punishment for the Knicks if he allowed Thomas to continue coaching.

One more thought on the Brawl: Knicks PG/budding Civil Rights Activist Steve Francis cites racism as the reason why the Nuggets-Knicks fight got disproportionate media coverage. Believe me, except for maybe Larry Brown and Jeff Van Gundy, few people are less interested in Stevie Franchise’s thoughts than me. But I also know this:

1) The fight was front page news on USA Today—not front sports page news, front page news.
2) NBC Nightly News had a full segment on it, complete with Brian Williams’s patented earnest introduction, delivered as solemnly as when he sets up a piece on the Middle East.
3) felt compelled to cover it on their daily podcast, although it's probably safe to guess that its effect on the Dow Jones Industrial Average was minimal, at best.
4) ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning covered it extensively, and they almost never stray from baseball or football (and, technically, even their football coverage is 99% limited to the subject of “quarterbacks”). In fact, this was the first time I could remember them talking about basketball since the "Dress Code-gate" last year.

Keep in mind that #’s 2 and 3 on that list haven’t mentioned sports at all in the year+ I’ve listened to them, despite the TO/Ozzie Guillen/Manny Ramirez/Albert Haynesworth/Jeremy Stevens knee-to-the-groin insanities, the Janet Gretzky gambling pool, the steroid scandals, etc, etc., etc. So what exactly is going on here? I never thought I’d write these words, but Francis, I think you’ve got a valid point.

Anyway, Nets-Suns this wasn’t. Witness this sequence of possessions in the first OT:

1. A Bobcats 24-second violation (resulting in a turnover)
2. A Knicks 3-second violation (resulting in a turnover)
3. A Bobcats missed shot, a Knicks defensive rebound-and-bad-pass-out-of-bounds (resulting in a turnover)
4. A Bobcats offensive foul (resulting in a…you get the idea) Yeesh, this was like a crazy duel where the rules call for each combatant to take turns shooting himself in the foot, and whoever dies first loses.

But what most maddening of all were the blown leads. We had a 19-point lead in the first half that actually had me thinking to myself, “Uh-oh, Coach Bickerstaff better not forget to pull his starters with less than five minutes to go.” TV commentator Matt Devlin, clearly giddy to be back in the saddle after missing two games, was tossing out some stellar hyperbole. “When he gets off to a hot start,” said Devlin, after an early Primoz Brezec FG, “watch out!” Devlin later speculated, “I don’t know if there’s a center out there who can shoot with the likes of Brezec.” This was pretty funny, considering PB’s career high is 26 points, and it happened two seasons ago. Incidentally, Brezec had one of the best worst games ever: 21 points, but he fouled out and was entirely incapable of guarding Eddy Curry.

Ahhh, Curry. I actually spent much of the first quarter making up a list of “Fat Guy”-jokes about him (e.g., “this could be the game where color commentator Stephanie Ready sets the unofficial record for number of times saying the phrase, ‘wide body’”). Then I spent about half of the second quarter debating the moral/ethical implications of using them, because I forgot that Curry’s body type might be attributable to his heart condition (thus it wouldn’t be cool to joke about his appearance). Then towards the end I scratched them all out anyway, because, let’s face it, Curry absolutely KILLED us.* 29 points and 9 rebounds—the man was unstoppable (and if he had just made a few more free throws--7-12 from the line--he could have spared us all about 45 minutes of OT). Curry + Channing Frye (30 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks) + Jamal Crawford (four 3-pointers--apparently he's a rare sufferer of that peculiar disorder in which the patient is only able to score when the distance is twenty feet or greater) = Bernie Bickerstaff head-slapping himself enough to raise welts (Tom Coughlin, I hope you were watching—THAT’s how you look properly pissed; poor Bernie put on a clinic tonight).

It’s all right. There’s no shame in it. If we think we feel bad, imagine how the Jazz felt. And now we get to play them next. As Corky taught us all in the moderately successful 1989-1993 family drama: life goes on.

*It wasn’t a total wasted effort, though—I’ll just have to save them until our next game against Jerome James.

Monday, December 18, 2006

NFL Thoughts, Week 15

Fortunately, I was actually at a friend's Christmas Party during Sunday’s Panthers-Steelers “contest,” and save for passing by the TV during a few shots of Steve Smith on the sidelines looking suicidal, I was spared the embarrassing details. My only other thought regarding that game occurred afterward, when I learned Mike Rucker tore his ACL: is it just me or is it more often than not that “injury” gets added to “insult,” rather than the other way around?

Anyway, I was back home in time to catch most of the Giants-Eagles gem, and I actually thought it deserved strong “Game of the Week” consideration. The informal consensus seems to be that the Bears-Bucs was Week 15’s best, but a) that one had zero playoff implications (other than the Bears clinched homefield advantage, which was really just a matter of time anyway), and b) it was a great comeback, but not particularly close most of the way through. I’ve heard the Cowboys-Falcons game was good too, but I’m unfortunately part of the 75% of the population that doesn’t get the NFL Network, so for me those were mostly unconfirmed rumors. The Giants-Eagles game, meanwhile, was back-and-forth, close throughout, featured strong defense, and had the added bonus of Jeff Garcia shown wearing a stocking cap for no possible reason except to cover up his baldness. There were also a number of compelling questions raised and answered:

Q: Would the denigrated Eagles run defense be able to stop RB/multimedia conglomerate Tiki Barber?
A: Yes, only 19 rushes for 75 yards for Barber, followed by yet another silly, soul-searching post-game press conference about his loss of love for the game and his glorious destiny as a Fox News commentator.

Q: Has Tom Coughlin clinched the vacant title left by the retired Dick Vermeil for Most Annoying Faces Made By a Coach?
A: He’s still trailing the screw-faced John Gruden, but I have to admit Coughlin’s dopey, incredulous look is closing the gap fast. He’s supposed to be an angry disciplinarian, hence he should frothing and ranting after every one of his team’s self-destructive acts, not looking like a business traveler waiting impatiently on an explanation for why his flight’s been delayed.

Q: How is it possible that The Pursuit of Happyness (sic), Will Smith’s latest shameless Oscar-grab, could be the weekend’s #1 box-office grossing movie?
A: People are stupid.

Q: How much more desperate can Smith get?
A: I don’t think he’s above putting on weight and feigning Parkinson’s disease in order to make Ali II if he thinks it will generate Oscar-buzz. I can actually see the “uplifting” reenactment of Ali lighting the ’96 Olympic torch right now.*

In other news, how ironic that of the two, Jim Mora is actually less likely than Art Schell to keep his coaching job. Earlier in the week, Mora declared repeatedly on local radio that he would take the Washington University head coaching job immediately if he could. Then when his comments aired nationally, Mora spent the rest of the week desperately backtracking, saying his words were taken out of context, and sounding comically similar to a husband explaining to his wife that his fondling of a female coworker was “not serious.” This season Mora has become one of the highest-maintenance coaches in the league—besides this embarrassment, you had his goofy, entirely inappropriate “I am FIRED UP” speech after his team dropped back-to-back games to the Lions and Browns; his hair-brained scheme to play Michael Vick at tailback (also clumsily retracted once it became public); and his overbearing father calling Vick a “coach-killer” on his talk show (really, someone needs to keep the entire Mora family AWAY from microphones). Diva receivers are one thing, diva coaches are another—somewhere, Jim Fassel is whistling his way to Kinko’s, resume in hand.

Offensive Player of the Week: LaDainian Tomlinson. This is probably long overdue, considering Tomlinson’s historic season. He had 199 yards, 2 touchdowns, broke the NFL’s single-season scoring record, and basically turned the Sunday night game into one big LDT love-fest. And what has gotten into Marty Schottenheimer? A fumble-roosky last week, a fake punt this week, Tomlinson lined up at quarterback—all of a sudden, Team Marty-Ball has become the San Diego Globetrotters.

Defensive Player of the Week: a collective award to the entire Titans defense, led by CB Pacman Jones. The Titans defenders had touchdown runbacks of 92, 83, and 61 yards. “Dark Helmet” himself had one of them, plus he returned a kickoff 70 yards for another, all of which made up for an offense that generated only 98 yards.

*Okay, so those last two didn’t really have anything to do with the Giants-Eagles, but it was still a good game.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Celtics 106, Bobcats 100

Time for Round 3 of this year’s Boston-Charlotte Trilogy, and although it hasn’t exactly been Ali-Frazier, it’s hasn’t been Holyfield-Ruiz either. Once again no News14 coverage (although if you looked close during the last two games, you could actually see poor Matt Devlin sitting sadly in his announcer’s chair anyway, looking pitiful without his headphones—he’s like an angel stripped of his wings), so we have to go with Boston’s FSN “commentators,” and I use the term loosely.

Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn get my early vote for worst announcers in the league. These guys announce like Brian Scalabrine plays. Had I not known that one of them was a former Hall of Fame player, I would have had difficultly distinguishing who was play-by-play and who did the color. They were both clueless, the kind of commentators who never have any idea what happened when a whistle blows, wait for the arena announcer to tell the crowd (“Foul on # 3, Gerald Wallace, his second”), then insultingly repeat it to TV viewers (“That one was on Gerald Wallace, #3 for the Bobcats, and that’ll be his second one of the game.”), as if we can’t hear the arena announcer for ourselves. I know I’m treading on shaky ground here, because Heinsohn is a Boston legend, but I have no idea how Boston viewers can stand him. Other than offering key analytical points like “Wow!” and “Yes!” after Celtic field goals, his four primary functions last night were:

1) Accusing the Bobcats of fouls while they were on defense
2) Accusing the Bobcats of traveling while they were on offense
3) Giving out “Tommy Points” (in which a cheap little “Tommy” cartoon pops up on the screen, reminiscent of Whammies on the old game show Press Your Luck) at arbitrary moments when he saw hustle from the Celtics (to give you an idea of their worth, I think Scalabrine got two)
4) Complaining of having his view blocked. He literally did this about six times, which is really not something you want to hear from someone who is supposedly getting paid to watch the game—did he not have a monitor??

I’m sure I’m just a bitter jerk who’s pissed his team lost, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Celtics fans actually loved Tommy. They probably keep him around the way Yankees fans used to tolerate Phil Rizzuto. But at least Phil was amusing; he told stories, and he never talked bad about the other team. Heinsohn just hurls accusations and sounds senile. He baselessly accused Wallace of sticking his leg out under Celtics shooters “a la World B. Free” which was ridiculous for two reasons: 1) after what he’s gone through, no one is more reticent of not harming others nowadays than Wallace; and 2) if Heinsohn wants to make “ankle-turning goon” comparisons, someone should tell him that the more updated culprit (by nearly thirty years) is Bruce Bowen.

As for the game, the injury bad news was plentiful for both sides. The Celtics were without Ryan Gomes, and I think the only one more upset about this than Boston fans was me, because this meant extended playing time for the atrocious Scalabrine. I can’t emphasize enough how much I hate watching him play; I find not just his skills but his entire appearance to be a desecration of the game. He makes me feel the way I imagine the President feels when he watches footage of someone burning the flag. The Bobcats, meanwhile, had no Brevin Knight, and when Raymond Felton picked up two quick fouls, Derek Anderson of all people took the point.

Which brings us to…this will be hard to even type…Sean May, who sprained his ankle early in the second period and didn’t return. Of course he was in the midst of scoring eight points in ten minutes, spurring us on a 13-2 run. And of course as soon as he left, we blew a 9-point lead. After several screams of helpless horror, I had two thoughts: 1) why oh WHY couldn’t his injury have happened against a team like Phoenix, rather than against one of the few teams we actually have a chance of beating; 2) I was willing to trade BK and May to Philly for Iverson right now, on the condition that AI be ready to come in at the start of the third quarter. *

To their credit, the Cats rallied and were in it until the end. Okafor had 19 rebounds and 8 blocked shots. He missed some key put-backs but still finished with 12 points. Wallace was a force of nature: 31 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, and a steal. Felton slashed for 16 points and 6 assists. The problem, as usual, was Paul Pierce, who started 7-for-7 from the field (Heinsohn on Pierce: “Wow!”), finished with 35 points and 11 rebounds, and took over in the end, as expected. Meanwhile Tony Allen and Al Jefferson (both of whom Heinsohn frequently referred to as “Al”) have suddenly become potent offensively. Jefferson had 22 points and 10 rebounds (Heinsohn on Jefferson: “Look at Al!”), and the explosive Allen had 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals (Heinsohn on Allen: “Look at Al!”).

As a final insult, the game effectively ended with the Bobcats blowing a 3-on-1 breakaway late. The “1” was Scalabrine. It was that kind of night…

*FYI: This did not happen, and now that I've had a moment to step back, I've since retracted that thought.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Bobcats 99, Magic 89

I’d like to begin this recap with an important public announcement, and I can only hope I’m not too late with this one; this could save lives. Here it is: Whatever you do, stay as far away as possible from the podcast interview between’s Chad Ford and NJ Nets President Rod Thorn. It is possibly the most excruciating few minutes I can ever remember—it makes Roseanne Barr’s singing of the national anthem sound like the Gettysburg Address. I kept expecting one of Thorn’s endlessly long-winded, rambling, non-answers to suddenly get interrupted by the sound of Ford stabbing himself. I’m sure Thorn is a nice guy, and he sounds smart, but without getting into details, you could seriously play this interview to beat a confession out of a POW.

Other developments: David Thorpe has released an in-depth scouting report on Adam Morrison. The most important thing to take away from Thorpe’s analysis is the final 5 words: “I think he will succeed.” Here’s the crazy thing, though: preceding those 5 words is a staggering 2,750 other words! Talk about comprehensive, this thing is longer than the Iraq Study Group report. Before realizing how long it was, I attempted to print it out and actually ran out of ink. Thorpe’s sweeping epic is broken down into four parts: “Offense With the Ball,” “Offense Without the Ball,” “Defense” (not surprisingly the shortest part), and “Outlook.” It’s too bad I don’t know any big Morrison fans, because I would have printed this thing out on nice paper and made a Christmas gift out of it.

Enough about that, onto the game! And no, it’s not a mistake, it actually was on TNT. All day long I kept waiting for TNT to announce that their televising of this game was either some sort of typo that had slipped through the cracks, or it was a practical joke played by Charles Barkley on Kenny, Ernie, and the gang. I was a little concerned for the Cats, because I think the only guy on the team who has played professionally in front of a national audience is Primoz, and even for him the “national” is referring to his native Slovenia. Heck, I became nervous for myself; I realized I better be accurate with what I report, because for the first time there’s a chance that someone actually watched this one.

So we had that working against us, but here’s what we had going for us: three Magic starters (Jameer Nelson, Grant Hill, Hedo Turkoglu) out of action with injuries. As a result, except for Dwight Howard, the poor Magic were forced to play with a Bad News Bears-caliber lineup. At PG was Pistons castoff Carlos Arroyo, who actually has nice moves and a decent outside shot but cannot pass to save himself, which is kind of important if you’re playing the 1. Some of Arroyo’s passes were downright safety hazards the way they went flying into the crowd. After about the fifth one of Arroyo’s ballistic slingshots went whipping dangerously into the audience, I became worried that Commissioner Stern, in attendance, will probably now consider putting up hockey-style plexiglass walls to protect the fans. Also starting was Tony Battie, who is so well-traveled that I imagine every year at family reunions at least one of his relatives asks, “So who you playing for these days?” Finally, Travis Diener got extensive burn, and he played extremely hard, but he’s about as terrifying a force as Luke Ridenour. He’s so tiny he makes Earl Boykins look like Hakeem Olajuwon. Interesting who didn’t get a lot of PT was Darco Milicic, with just 26 minutes despite the depleted lineup—has he already lost the respect of Coach Brian Hill?

Faced with this rag-tag group of misfits, the Cats cruised to a pretty easy victory. We were a little stiff at first, but Sean May came in off the bench with about 5 minutes left in the first quarter and immediately took over. He scored 13 of the team’s next 25 points and had a career night. When he wasn’t scoring field goals he was getting fouls (and making them—14/17 from the line). The big guy finished with 32 points, 6 rebounds, a block, and a steal, and the Magic really didn’t have any answer for him. Gerald Wallace also looked a little more like his old self (6 steals).

Beating this depleted Magic team is not exactly the upset of the year, but after four straight losses (not to mention three straight for the Panthers), beggars can’t be choosers. Heck, I’d have settled for a 1-point, triple-OT exhibition victory over the Charlotte Sting at this point. Oh, and Morrison did pretty well to boot (22 points and 6 rebounds). I’d like to see it expanded and fleshed out a little bit more, but Thorpe may be onto something with that little memo of his...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Cavaliers 104, Bobcats 101

Cue the theme to The Jeffersons: I’m so excited to announce that I’m now a member of the “Bobcats Planet” staff! From now on, my loyal readers—both of them—can catch my recaps either on my own web page or on There are several great aspects to this development. First, the name: “Bobcats Planet.” Let’s face it, if there was a requirement to name our site in accordance with the team’s present fan base level, we’d probably be forced to call it “Bobcats Village” or possibly “the Township of Bobcats.” But the guys at Bobcats Planet have a dream. And that dream is to make every man, woman, and child on God’s Green Earth a Bobcats fan. Now cue “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” or if you can’t find it, “America the Beautiful." And I share in that dream. And we’re going to make it happen. New York Yankees, Manchester United, I’ve got two words for you: we’re coming.

Second, getting picked up by a site brings me one step closer to my other dream: writing about televised sports for a living. I am praying for the day when my wife asks me to do something and I get to tell her (with a straight face), “Sorry, I’m working,” and the “work” consists primarily of watching television. What a wonderful world this would be. Early in my childhood, perhaps while watching a rerun of Three’s Company, I heard my calling, and I realized that—if I worked hard at it—I could go down in history as one of the greatest television watchers ever. I know, I’m sure you’re thinking: what are the odds of someone living out such an ambitious dream? All I have to say is: shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you might hit a star.

Onto the game! We were in Cleveland Wednesday night, where they actually enforce a fairly strict dress code for fans. Apparently, you're not allowed in the door unless you’re wearing an Anderson Varejao wig, and either a “LeBron James” jersey or an Ohio State sweatshirt. The Varejao wig-thing was cute about the first 1,000 times they cut away from the game to show fans wearing it, but the last 20,000 times or so it became kind of annoying. We’re talking little boys, little girls, old ladies, guys in suits, midgets in wheelchairs—EVERYONE was wearing the stupid things. I’m halfway surprised Coach Bernie Bickertaff didn’t get in on it. Hopefully they’ll try something else next time we’re in town—how about Zydrunas Ilgauskas wig night? Cleveland actually has quite a few standout haircuts, now that I think of it: Varejao’s springs, Donyell Marshall’s "Medusa" look, Scot Pollard’s Mohawk. At one point when all three of those guys were out there it looked like the Bobcats were playing a pickup game against the band Rancid.

Anyway, no News14 coverage tonight, so I had to make due with Fox announcers Fred McCleod and former UNC Tarheel Scott Williams. We know Williams played for UNC, because he mentioned it approximately every 6 seconds. And anytime Sean May and Raymond Felton were on the floor for the 'Cats at the same time, Williams went into UNC-name-dropping-hyperdrive, unleashing a staggering array of UNC-related anecdotes, quips, home improvement ideas, cooking recipes…good lord! Okay, you went to UNC, Scott, we got it! It’s easy to imagine Scott having a son and naming him “Roy Williams Williams.” Also, whenever he wasn’t doing PR work for UNC, Williams demonstrated he has an absolute fetish for the “Points in the Paint” statistic. I’ve never seen such timely P.i.t.P. updates; all the Fox Broadcast team was missing was a continuous ticker loop running along the bottom of the screen. Is it me, or is there entirely too much made of this statistic? So what if one team has more points in the paint? What exactly is that indicating? Are they worth more? They must be, because Williams treats them like they’re a Gallup Poll.

So I don’t know exactly how the all-important paint-related point stats ended up, but as for the rest of the game, the Bobcats kept it fairly close. It was really a 7-point loss, because Matt Carroll hit a what-the-hell 3-pointer with no time left and no one guarding him. But considering this was on the heels of three straight blowouts, I could barely stand the tension of such a nail-biter. Much to the delight of the crowd, and much to my disgust, Varejao figured fairly prominently in the win (16 points, 10 rebounds). He also got to the free throw line 10 times and could have had a lot more if he’d been passed to all the times he was WIDE FREAKIN’ OPEN under the hoop. Honestly, it’s hard to understand how the Bobcats left Varejao open so much, considering (a) the crowd noise level shot up anytime they sensed he might receive a pass, and (b) the man resembles a 7 foot-tall potted fern. There was also Larry Hughes, who dropped 16 of his own to go with 4 steals. He and Fern-Head effectively ended the game with a steal and a dunk, respectively.

Other than a downright putrid 2nd quarter, it’s hard to fault the Bobcats too much for this one. There was the huge free-throw discrepancy (35-20), standard at this point, and it was essentially due to the fact that anytime LBJ missed a shot, the referees couldn’t seem to come up with any other rational explanation for it except that he must have been fouled, so they blew the whistle. The 'Cats limited their turnovers as well (10). Really, the team’s only problem seems to be their half-court offense; the Bobcats stand around entirely too much. They’re downright relentless about it. They stand and stand until--due to time constraints--someone just chucks one from long range (and misses). Coach Bickerstaff ought to get some sort of megaphone that makes cow “mooing” noises to get them to quit grazing. Occasionally Felton gets pissed, decides to just cut out the middlemen, and takes a kamikaze drive to the hoop. But unfotunately, he’s the anti-Dwyane Wade when it comes to getting foul calls. I’m still trying to figure out why they don’t just get it to Emeka Okafor more often for either a foul or a lay-up. Seriously, guys, try it; there’s no shame in it.

May’s game is coming along nicely as well—he’s got to be the most pleasant surprise this year. I like how Coach Bickerstaff talks constantly about how much more effective Sean is off the bench, then substitutes him in only about 3 minutes into the game and leaves him there the rest of the half. I have to admit that for whatever reason, that slight 3-minute delay seems to make all the difference. Morrison also snapped back to reality tonight with 16 points.

Next up is Orlando, and according to the schedule it’s on...TNT? What? No, that can’t be right…

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Book Review: The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game

I should preface any review of a book by Michael Lewis with a disclaimer: Lewis is one of the few writers today whose work I will purchase sight unseen. As with Lewis’s luminaries Malcolm Gladwell, Chuck Klosterman, and David Sedaris, I tend to have an unconditional interest in any topic they choose to explore.

Lewis’s previous book, the seminal Moneyball, had a profound impact on my life for two reasons. First was its underlying premise: baseball scouts and experts had for too long been relying on their intuition—rather than making use of what the statistics were reporting—to build their teams. As such, they wasted time bidding on overvalued talent while disregarding those neglected prospects who could actually improve their club’s performance. Enter Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane, a man wary of the perils of “gut instinct” and the allure of the “5-tool prospect,” who goes on to consistently out-perform his competitors, and all without the benefit of a huge payroll. The concept had personal appeal to me, because it has applied to so many aspects of my own life, professional and otherwise. As humans, we’re all prone to making judgments that are distorted by our own fallibilities and biases. Therefore, whenever statistical tools are available, we should use them—and if we’re paid for our insights, using statistical analysis should be considered a fiduciary duty. Lewis’s contempt for Beane’s less sophisticated counterparts was overt; like me, he thinks their under-management is a moral crime.

So that was the hook, but the real meat of the Moneyball story was the character study of Beane himself. This was a man whose decisions contradicted those of men who were older and presumably wiser, and who certainly had more experience. It takes courage to be the one outlier who refuses to acquiesce to the current standards and practices, regardless of how certain you are of your correctness. Beane was also heroic for choosing to stay in a line of work that had begun in failure (prior to his GM career, he was a bust as a Major Leaguer despite being once considered to be among baseball’s top prospects). And finally, Beane was passionate. I used to be deeply troubled by the fact that I am largely unable to watch Yankee games, because I get so upset and enraged any time they don’t win. How twisted is it, I thought, to love a team so much that you can’t watch them actually play?? However, we learn in Moneyball that Beane is also incapable of watching his team, and it’s arguably quirkier because he actually works for them—they’re literally his team. Beane was the first person I ever heard of who shared my bizarre affliction, and I have to say I took comfort in the discovery that I have company. I delighted in the anecdotes of him listening to the games on a little transistor radio while running on the treadmill, all while he was actually in the stadium where the game was being played! It made my fretting and pacing and constantly clicking the internet scoreboard for updates (even though I could simply turn the game on TV if I wanted) look downright normal.

All of this build-up is simply to illustrate that I have tremendous respect for Lewis’s topic choices, his writing style, and his thought-provoking conclusions. Therefore, I was slightly disappointed with his latest endeavor, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. In many ways, The Blind Side mirrors Moneyball’s narrative model: we get a description of a game undergoing a paradigmatic shift, interspersed with a character study of one of the players involved in this evolution. In this case the game is football, the sweeping change is an increased reliance on the left side of the offensive line, and the subject is Michael Oher, currently playing for Ole Miss.

We come to meet young Oher when he enrolls in an elite Memphis private school, Briarcrest, to play football. Oher, the black son of a single mother with a crack addiction, has risen from the direst circumstances the modern inner-city ghetto can provide. His harrowing early life, his good fortune to become the beneficiary of a prominent white Memphis family who more or less adopts him, and the complications that result when an outsider struggles to adjust socially and succeed academically in a private school, are all vividly detailed. Oher’s tremendous size and natural athleticism allow him entry into the high school, but his perseverance (and the perseverance of his adopted family, the Tuohys, particularly their indomitable matriarch, Leigh Anne) keep him from failing out. Eventually, despite the obstruction of the NCAA, which Lewis depicts as a hopelessly backward bureaucracy, Oher makes it to Ole Miss, where he now plays as an offensive lineman. Oher’s story is reminiscent of the two kids in the brilliant documentary, Hoop Dreams, and overcoming-impossible-odds tales are always gripping. Had Lewis simply focused on that tale, and perhaps waited to see how Oher fares in the NFL—assuming he makes it—the story would have been complete and satisfying.

However, Lewis cuts in and out from Oher’s saga by chronicling how in the past twenty-five or so years, football coaches and officials have placed increasing significance on offensive linemen, particularly those on the left side, because they protect the quarterback’s "blind side" (most quarterbacks are righties and hence drop back to pass looking to their right). As evidence, Lewis supplies anecdotes of how mobile linebackers in the early 80s, particularly Lawrence Taylor, lined up on the quarterbacks’ left and became terrorizing forces. Their threat compelled innovative coaches, chiefly Bill Walsh, to neutralize them with increasingly larger and more agile linemen. As a result, linemen, who had previously been seen as expendable, interchangeable components, became sought-after commodities who commanded larger salaries. There is a wonderful interlude where we visit former 49ers lineman Steve Wallace, now retired in luxury. Wallace was an erstwhile journeyman who prospered handsomely late in his career after the change in perception of his value suddenly landed him an unimaginably high contract. Lewis also briefly profiles some of the position’s current stars, such as Walter Jones and Jonathan Ogden, and how incommensurately large their contract sizes are compared to their predecessors.

The problem for me is that the connection between Oher and the evolution in football is not nearly as direct as Beane’s was to baseball. In Moneyball, Beane is portrayed as the revolutionary pioneer of the change in his sport. Oher, however, is neither a founder nor even a unique exemplar of the change in football strategy (that would have been someone such as Walsh or Wallace). True, if Oher does eventually become a high NFL draft pick with a huge contract offer, it will be due to his ability to play what has correctly come to be thought of as a key position. However, Briarcrest’s (and arguably Ole Miss's) decision to admit Oher would have happened regardless of his position on the football field. In fact, Oher was originally groomed as a basketball player, and even after he transitioned to football he first lined up on defense. The school’s administration took one look at Oher and recognized that he had enormous athletic potential somewhere on a field or in a gym; they did not take him because they believed he now played the “it” position in football. In other words, had Oher been born 20 years earlier and had all of the same good fortunes bestowed upon him, he would still have gone on to play college ball; it just so happens that he’s playing a position that’s now perceived as marquee.

This isn’t a huge problem, except that the loss of connectivity makes for a bit of a disjointed book. With Evolution, I often felt as if I were reading two books, neither of which gets fully fleshed out. I am still unclear why Lewis did not choose to either wait on Oher, whose future is still up in the air at the time of this writing, or delve deeper into the biography of someone such as Ogden—who has already established himself as a Pro Bowl lineman—to better augment his thesis on football’s evolution. In fact, had Lewis just waited a few more months, he would have seen cerebral Jets O-line star D’Brickashaw Ferguson get drafted high out of UVa and shine as a rookie, or he would have witnessed Steve Hutchinson sign a monster off-season deal with the Vikings strictly because of his blocking prowess. Lewis could have then done a few more chapters discussing what exactly goes into being an All-Pro lineman—what distinguishes the best, mentally and physically? How do they train and prepare, especially compared to their antecedents?

Oher could then have gotten his own book, and Lewis could have focused entirely on the social implications of poor inner-city children who receive advantages because of their athleticism, or discussed further some of the other misguided absurdities of the NCAA—topics at which he only has time to gloss over here.

This is far from a scathing review; I would recommend this book to anyone (especially football lovers, obviously). For someone as talented as Lewis, I simply have higher standards. In the most recent issue of ESPN Magazine, he has a small article on new evidence that suggests most football coaches are making a mistake when they choose to punt on fourth-and-short, and you can almost feel his desire to parlay it into another book with Moneyball-like effects. Hopefully, he’ll succumb to the temptation.

Monday, December 11, 2006

NFL Thoughts, Week 14

Well, I can now officially stick a fork in the Panthers, who lost to the Giants this weekend. I actually spent most of the first half trying to come up with an appropriate name for this game, eventually narrowing it down to two candidates: “The Collision of Two Train-wrecks” and “The Blind Fighting The Blind.” Because both teams were essentially playing for the right to get destroyed in the first round of the playoffs and therefore were doomed either way, the game had a tragic tone to it—it was almost like watching a cockfight. The Panthers at least had the decency to drop out of it in the third quarter—rather than stringing me out until the last 30 seconds like they usually do—and I was sadly appreciative. I can’t really say I’m particularly surprised either, considering I’ve picked against them for the last three weeks. I know it’s treasonous to go against your own guys, but hey, those kids loved Old Yeller too, and we all know how that relationship ended. Although Disney probably would be dismayed to hear this was the only lasting lesson I ever took away from their films, the truth is when the dog goes rabid, the proper thing to do is take it behind the shed and shoot it.

I also owe some gratitude to the Giants; they sure tried to give the game to us. Heck, Plaxico Burress was doing everything he could to instigate a fight with his teammates on the sideline even when they were ahead by 14. But they can only fumble the ball right to us (twice) and repeatedly lob easily-caught passes to our cornerbacks, they can’t be expected to intercept them for us too. And John Fox simply refused to be under-coached. He started out by not letting Weinke throw under any circumstance (side note: we actually handed off on third-and-eight in one of our early drives, prompting commentator Troy Aikman to say, “I know Panthers fans are booing because they ran on third-and-eight, but Coach Fox doesn’t want to try anything crazy with Weinke”—umm, what’s “crazy” about throwing on third-and-eight?). Then, after we tied it up, Coach Fox did a complete 180 and called the next three quarters as if he were trying to get Weinke to set the passing attempts record—Weinke attempted 62 passes!! What made this really mystifying was that not was Fox doing this with a backup quarterback who hadn’t started in literally years, but this was also our first game in months in which both running backs were healthy.

The autopsy on this season won’t be complicated; you don’t need to ask “what happened” when you actually watched the person get run over by a tractor. Start with the secondary: my mother will tell you that last year, practically every email I sent was a love letter for Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble. Lucas was not just incredibly skilled, with those dreadlocks spilling out of his helmet he actually looked like Predator out there. Both of those two vanished this year. The linebackers are average, and the defensive line is decent against the run, although Kris Jenkins played yesterday as if he fell off the wagon again right before kick-off—two off-sides (at home!) and a defensive holding. The O-line is musical 350-pounders—we had two injuries at the beginning of the year and never got it straight after that; the starting lineup was about as settled as the one for Guns’N’Roses. And finally, I think after yesterday we can all comfortably say that Weinke is not the answer at quarterback, so now I’m actually hoping to lose out the rest of the way in order to somehow trade up for Brady Quinn, Troy Smith, or even Chris Leak in the draft.

Defensive Player of the Week: Shawne Merriman, Chargers. Five tackles, two sacks, two quarterback pressures, two forced fumbles, one recovery and a pass defensed. And speaking of defense, what happened to the Broncos? Remember at the beginning of the year, all the talk was about how they “bend-but-don’t break”? The last few weeks it’s been “break-and-then-shatter.”

Offensive Player of the Week: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars. The little cannonball on legs had 303 all-purpose yards. And check this out: Jack Del Rio notices his opponent can’t stop the run, then repeatedly hands off until…until nothing! Until the game ends and they’ve won! Imagine that. I hope Coach Fox was paying attention.

Also special runner-up to Steve McNair, who had an interview with Sports Illustrated this week that I can only describe as “spectacular.” After gushing over his sword collection (150 of them and presumably counting), he described his Mississippi childhood as one in which “we got up at four in the morning…to do chores, whether feeding the pigs or the chickens or going out in the garden and harvesting food…Then we’d go in, get us (“get us!”) something to eat, do our homework. When darkness fell, we were in bed.” It left me dying to know: whenever Steve watched Little House on the Prairie as a child, did he even realize the show was set 100 years earlier?

Suns 118, Bobats 88

Once again, thanks very damned much to the NBA for scheduling this one right in the middle of NFL Sunday. I’m pretty sure no one I know is more of an NFL fan than me, and I’m positive no one is more of a Bobcats fan, and so here I am of all people forced into a totally unfair "Sophie’s Choice" of sports to watch. I can’t even tape something on the other TV either, because my wife’s claimed that one. And what’s really annoying is she’s not even technically watching anything, she just likes to have something on in the background while she studies. I’m tempted to call up her mother and have her mother tell her that she’s not allowed to watch TV until after she’s done her homework.

I just don’t get this policy!! What is Stern thinking lately, with his weird new balls and dress codes and scouring outer Mongolia to find new ballers when there are plenty in uptown Harlem, and now this bizarre push to make sure everyone’s got…their driver’s license and proper registration? Did I read that correctly? I guess as long as he’s doing this though, I’m curious, what are the stats on this one? Do most NBA players have their driving papers in order, or does, say, Dikembe Mutombo not even have a driver’s license, or is Rasheed Wallace still using his expired one issued by the state of Oregon, featuring a picture of him beardless? I could honestly see it going either way. That reminds me, I love how on a recent Q&A with Rasheed Wallace referred to Stern as “Dictator”—not even “the dictator,” just “Dictator.” I guess I understand that if you have to schedule Sunday afternoon games (although why would you have to?), you might as well make them Bobcats—or Raptors—games to try and minimize the potential audience affected. But man, it sure sucks when you actually happen to be in that minority.

Anyway, Phoenix was in town, and I figured we’d at least be able to get more than 62 points against them, but would we be able to hold them to under 161? The good news is the answer to both questions is “yes”! Umm, the bad news is we still lost by 30. I should probably be more distraught by the fact that we’ve lost the last three games by a combined total of 80 points, but it’s hard to be too upset after any contest against the Suns. They’re like the NBA version of a Jerry Bruckheimer film. Contrasted with Friday’s agonizing asphyxiation loss to the Houston Rockets, this blowout was much more exhilarating, like watching the Bobcats get sucked into a giant airplane engine turbine.

My biggest desire coming in was to get a look at Boris Diaw. After all I’d heard about how much weight BD’s put on and how out of shape he is, I halfway expected him to look like DeNiro at the end of Raging Bull. After what he did to us though (17 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists), he sure seemed pretty fit to me. Amare Stoudemire is all the way back too, or at least he looks that way (22 points, 12 rebounds), and I’m happy for him. Except for one thing: it’d be nice if he didn’t slam every dunk so hard; it actually got annoying after a while, because it wasn’t really necessary (it’s not like we were putting up much defense or anything). It was kind of rude in a way—those are our rims, after all, not his. It’s like having a buddy over at your house and he puts his feet on your couch: “Amare, do you slam those rims like that at your home arena? Well stop doing it to ours!” It was also nice to see former Bobcat Jumaine Jones continuously laughing over on the Suns’ bench—talk about a guy finding himself in a much better place! Good for him, he always seemed like a decent dude. And he looked downright giddy with his new lot in life. He was giggling so much he reminded me of the fat guy in Office Space after he got hit by the car and won the huge lawsuit.

As for us, nowadays there’s Sean May (26 points, 10 rebounds, 1 blocked shot) off the bench, Raymond Felton (14 points, 9 assists, 1 steal) driving relentlessly...and that’s about it. Oh, Matt Carroll came back as well and deserves some props for his 12 points, 2 steals, and a block, especially considering he was playing with those injuries—how was he even doing anything at all? I’m the kind of person who’ll call time-out in a pick-up game if I notice my laces aren’t properly double-knotted, so I stand in awe of someone who is playing with a busted elbow and a splint on his finger.

Cleveland Rock City is up next, and not until Wednesday. Maybe we’ll have Allen Iverson by then, although if we were looking to woo The Answer, this was not the game to do it. Interesting side-note on that one, by the way: when Gerald Wallace was asked after the game if he thought Iverson could help us, he said, "I don't think Iverson would do us any good right now. He scores 30 (but) we're already losing by 30." I’m not quite sure I follow Gerald’s logic on that one. It seems to me that based on what G-Dub said, AI is exactly what we need: 30 more points. You figure he’d at least get us into overtime…

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Rockets 92, Bobcats 62

Oh man, why couldn’t we have played the 76ers tonight? At least we were in it for a quarter against the Spurs; this one was just horrible from the giddy-up, and it had all kinds of bad omens right away. Matt Carroll and Brevin Knight were both DNP’s—Matt was still out with Jake Delhomme’s Disease (a.k.a. nerve/ligament damage) and Knight was suffering from calf problems, although Coach Bickerstaff might have just been giving him a time-out.

Other bad signs: Emeka Okafor picked up two fouls on Yao Ming almost immediately, so Bickerstaff sicced Primoz Brezec on Yao, and he immediately picked up two fouls. Uh-oh, I’m afraid that only leaves…yup, here he comes bounding in, like a big, happy puppy dog…Jake Voskuhl. Folks, it’s never a good sign when Jake makes his first appearance just 4:30 into the game. And then when he immediately picked up two fouls, I was in a full-fledged panic, because Plan D I guess would be Melvin Ely, and Plan E is Raymond Felton standing on Sean May’s shoulders.

More bad signs: we were down 31-17 at the first quarter, had stood around and watched Tracy McGrady and Yao pour it on, and even let Juwan Howard have his way with us. And you know it’s bad when play-by-play announcer Matt Devlin starts talking in really low tones, sounding like a guest at someone’s Thanksgiving Dinner after the host’s 15-year-old daughter has just announced she’s pregnant and then angrily stormed out of the room. Coach Bickerstaff called timeout with three seconds left at halftime just to chew the team out; my lacrosse coach did this exact same thing once, except it was at the end of a game in which we had blown a lead. I’ll never forget it: with, like, two minutes left he called time out and said, “I don’t have anything to tell you, I just called this time out to make sure you took a moment to let it sink in that you completely blew a game against a terrible team.” Ouch. Perhaps I never recovered from that one. Speaking of high school, the game had completely devolved by the third quarter into a random shoot-around. The scrubs were in, and the game looked like my old gym classes when the teacher would just announce that today would be “free-shoot day,” and then he’d toss out a bunch of balls and go lock himself in his office and smoke.

Anyway, this game really drove home how horrible a mistake it was for the Knicks to let go of Jeff Van Gundy. I’m trying to remember why now they even did it? It’s kind of like when I think back on all of my college roommates: I remember hating most of them at the time, but now I can’t even remember why. Perhaps the Knicks were just letting Jeff go for his own sake; no one, but no one, takes a loss harder than him. In fact, no one takes a win harder than him. The Rockets were up 52-31 at the half, but to look at Jeff standing there, beleaguered and arms folded, you would have thought a bus full of nuns had just exploded in front of him. And he’s really grafted himself to this team; they’re actually even taking on his appearance and mannerisms. I could swear McGrady never used to have those bags under his sad eyes, and look at his hair! T-Mac has completely stopped giving it any kind of style; it’s probably only a matter of days before it starts falling out on top. Mark my words: if Kirk Snyder can get healthy, and the team can figure out how to get rid of Bonzi Wells (perhaps another “accidental” elbow from Mutombo?), JVG will once again do more with less than anyone.

The Bobcats need to figure things out. I know this part of the schedule is tough, but they only played on Sunday, Wednesday, and Saturday this week—they should be rested and energetic. Instead, they didn’t just look like a bad team, they looked like a bad old team. Except for Raymond Felton (16 points, 6 assists, and a bunch of fouls drawn) there was little movement, and the team’s shooting percentage was a decent ACT score. Felton was our only guy in double figures. Okafor had a double-single. Had Gerald Wallace not made two free throws, there’d be very little evidence in the box score that he even played. Morrison shot 1-for-11 and nobody looked more miserable on the bench…except maybe Van Gundy.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Spurs 96, Bobcats 76

Could the Bobcats make it two in a row for the first time this season? Well, we’ve beaten the visiting Spurs once already, how hard could it be to do it again? The Bobcats had no Matt Carroll tonight (he sprained his elbow against Detroit), but guess who we did have? Oh yes, that’s right, we had Walter Herrmann! I had pretty much written off seeing Herrmann anytime soon, because according to the daily injury reports, Hermann was having problems with his “Visa,” and I hear those can take a long time to heal.

Anyway, Walter came in late in the second quarter, looking very much like a circa-1993 Fabio, only thinner and with a headband (I truly wish there was more hazing in the NBA, so some of these rookies would get their heads shaved, and then subsequently realize they actually look better that way—I mean, if Bon Jovi can see the light, why can’t everyone else?). Herrmann played 17 minutes, and by my unofficial count he gave us 2 three’s, a rebound, a foul, and a traveling violation. Oh, and one high-comedy moment: I forget whether it was in the 3rd or the 4th quarter, but at one point long after the game was out of reach, the Spurs lost control of the ball, it bounced over mid-court, and Herrmann—who could have easily gotten to it—made this big show about not getting it, because he thought it was an over-and-back violation. Except it wasn’t. One of the Spurs—I think it was Ginobli, because I seem to remember a body flopping around—scrambled to pick it up and San Antonio resumed their systematic beat-down of us. I guess I have written a disproportionately large amount on Walter, given his meager contribution thus far (in that respect, I’m like what Slam magazine is to Kenyon Martin), but maybe it’s because I hope he’ll morph into a superstar, and then I can someday look back at all the fun I used to poke at him. Also, I can’t get it out of my head that Scoop Jackson of all people predicted big things for him, which has got to be one of the more random endorsements in recent memory.

As for the rest of the game, it was total domination by the Spurs; the only things they were missing were whips and knee-high leather boots. We did lead 23-22 after the first quarter, but that was because the Spurs were in the midst of an uncharacteristic 4-minute scoring drought. Then the second quarter began and the Bobcats went on a 4-minute scoring drought of their own, which unfortunately for us is very characteristic. The match-up that symbolized our submission was Bruce Bowen on Adam Morrison. Adam finished with just 4 points in 30 minutes and shot 1-10 from the field. You could see the frustration in his face; he looked like he wanted to stab Bruce with one of his insulin injectors.

Brevin Knight also had a tough night, but for altogether different reasons. Early in the first he picked up two fouls in 30 seconds and had to sit. He played most of the second, but then early in the third he got nailed with a technical, and then a short time later he picked up another technical and was ejected. None of it was ever explained. Clearly he was angry about something—the game, the team, or maybe just life in general. When you look at his employment history it’s almost heartbreaking: Cleveland, Atlanta, Memphis, Milwaukee…It makes you wonder why Kevin Garnett gets all the sympathy for never being on a winner.

Even though we’re 5-13, this was one of the few games that was difficult to sit through in its entirety. It wasn’t just that it was a blowout, there was also very little star power. Sure, there was Tim Duncan with 25 points, but nothing he does is particularly spectacular to watch. And Tony Parker (can you believe he’s only 24?? when did he first join the Spurs, in the second grade?) was used sparingly. Coach Popovich was spreading it around: 9 Spurs played at least 19 minutes.

Still, I waited it out, and color commentator Adrian Branch—as he so often does—made it all worthwhile. After Morrison missed shot #10 late in the game, AB asked, “Do you know who always wanted to finish a game strong, whether it was a blowout or not?” I immediately perked up, thinking this might be a great trivia question or at least a good anecdotal tidbit about an often forgotten or underrated star from yesteryear that I could later share with others. But after a brief pause, AB gave the answer: “Michael Jordan.” Ha! So much for it being some unsung hero…It was still kind of funny though. I’ll have to try that with other sports. Next time I’m talking to one of my buddies, I’m going to go, “Do you know who always played great hockey, even when some of his teams weren’t very good? Wayne Gretzky.”

Monday, December 04, 2006

NFL Thoughts, Week 13

In choosing which early game to watch, I certainly didn’t predict needing to switch over to the Colts-Titans and Patriots-Lions games to see who would win in nail-biters. I know Tennessee was coming off a win in New York, but the Giants have lately been threatening the Knicks—who really looked invincible here—to become the city’s new most self-destructive team. And I also figured Peyton would have revenge on his mind after what the Titans’ secondary did to his little brother last week. And has anyone seen Tennessee CB Adam Jones? With his oversized helmet, I can’t help looking at him without being reminded of Rick Moranis in Spaceballs. Nevertheless, it turns out Eli must be more like Fredo than Sunny to Peyton…

As for the Patriots, who on Earth wants to bet against evil genius Bill Belichick nowadays? Except for the fact that he doesn’t (a) put up flags on his porch featuring random barnyard animals, or (b) take approximately six dogs for a walk past my house every fifteen minutes, Belichick looks and dresses exactly like my next-door neighbor, Judy, who happens to be bat-shit crazy. Actually, I gained huge respect for Belichick after reading David Halberstram’s excellent biography, The Education of a Coach. This was a man who was helping his assistant coach father break down film by the time he was seven and drawing up plays on his elementary school lunch bags. Basically, there was little doubt about what he was going to be one day. As someone who went well into high school daydreaming about potential career opportunities in the field of bounty hunting, spaceship command, and post-nuclear holocaust freedom fighting, I’ve always admired that type of focus.

Except for that first Super Bowl victory against the Rams, I thought Bill did his finest work last year, even though the Pats lost in the playoffs. People forget they were even more beat up then than they are now, and they still had the Broncos on the ropes in Denver in the Divisional round. Terrible turnovers, including one on special teams, were all that did them in, and I felt bad for BB, who had coached his team masterfully. The Pats did eventually finish off the Lions on Sunday, and truthfully, I was never too worried. When push comes to “shovel,” as my Russian professor likes to say, I’ll bet on Belichick every time.

One final thought: usually when ex-quarterbacks announce games, they tend to favor their current counterparts on the field in almost any issue. Not Phil Simms. Phil gets downright indignant any time QBs are not called for obvious groundings or when an opposing defense gets an unjust roughing-the-passer penalty. Reflecting on Phil’s career, I can see why. He has to be the one player from my childhood in which the only highlights that come to mind are him staggering to his feet after getting blasted yet again from behind. While others probably remember Johnny Unitas or Roger Staubach throwing picture-perfect passes, I mostly remember Phil getting practically snapped in two by Reggie White, Charles Mann, Ed Jones, et al, and then stumbling over to the sidelines, where Bill Parcells undoubtedly offered helpful words of encouragement like, “You’re really worthless, you know that? I’m telling Jeff Hostetler to get warmed up.”

Offensive Player of the Week: Devin Hester, Bears. Ran back his fourth punt for a TD this year. Who else but the Bears could throw for just 34 yards and 3 INTs and still win?

Defensive Player of the Week: DeMeco Ryans, Texans. 14 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and an interception. Who else but the Raiders could hold a team to just -5 yards passing and still lose?

Bobcats 97, Pistons 89

Before I forget: a few days ago, after the Mamba dropped 52 on the Jazz,’s Ric Bucher wrote that people need to appreciate Kobe, despite all the ways he’s so completely hateful. Acknowledging that most people will never like KB24, Bucher rebutted with: “But how many times does one man have to drop iodine tablets into the same village well to make it potable?” Damn straight, Ric! How many times does one man have to keep purifying the water with iodine tablets? You took the words right out of my mouth with that one. But next time, try to come up with something more original, okay? At this point, I’m absolutely sick of the old “iodine-tablet-in-the-well” cliché.

Anyway, except for maybe being chronically forgetful about putting the toilet seat down, I’m nothing if not loyal; I flipped away from a scorchingly good Giants-Cowboys game to watch what I assumed would be a Pistons blowout of my Cats. And by the way, I really appreciate these Sunday afternoon Bobcats games, NBA. Way to put them right smack in the middle of football games. Explain this rationale to me: we won’t play any afternoon games all year, except the one afternoon of the week in which we’ll compete against the most popular sport in America. This policy makes about as much strategic sense as attacking a tank with a Vespa.

Okay, NOW onto the game. The nay-sayers keep, er, saying that the Pistons are in trouble because they have no bench. But when you think about it, what team in the East even has a good starting five? And Flip Murray was back in action for Detroit on Sunday, which—in addition to making the Pistons probably the only team in sports that you have to clarify which “Flip” you’re talking about—gives them a pretty decent bench, in my opinion. McDyess, Davis, Hunter—that’s not too bad. And don’t forget Delfino…well, okay, you can forget Delfino.

So Detroit started out on a 6-0 run, and we started out shooting 3-for-12. In other words, all was right with the world. But lo and behold, the game got competitive! Detroit, having won its last eight, was looking a little road-weary. And Matt Carroll was looking a little coked-up. Maybe I’ll start calling him “Meth” Carroll for his random bursts of hyperproductivity. He came in off the bench in the second quarter and hit 12-of-14, including ten straight points, and propelled the Cats to just a 1-point halftime deficit.

And what more can be said about Derek Anderson? Quite a bit, actually. Talk about a guy who needs a nickname! After emerging from the underground and shutting down Joe Johnson the other night, and then thwarting Rip Hamilton and Tayshawn Prince on Sunday, I’m leaning towards calling him “DA Team.” What the Bobcats should do is this: the moment the arena announcer sees Coach Bickerstaff motion to Anderson on the bench to get ready to come in, they should start playing some sort of modified version of the opening theme to The A-Team: “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you should hire: DA Team.” 11 points in 18 minutes, including a gi-normous 3-pointer-and-one in the fourth quarter that pretty much sealed it, BA—I mean, “DA”—has been our 6th Man of Fortune.

I suppose the only downside was (1) Okafor sat a lot in the first half, for reasons that remain unclear. But he did play most of the second half and was good for 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Also, Adam Morrison was once again a non-factor, with just 2 points. But Felton had 15 and May had 17. And Gerald Wallace was a human floatation device, with 10 rebounds and a big steal. G-Dub landed on the floor an awful lot on his sides, though—his hips have got to be killing him 24-7. If someone ever wanted to torture him, a good way would be to--immediately after the game--force him to watch a Shakira video.

So at last we took it to a tired Pistons team. Detroit is still good, but I don't know about that bench. A great win nonetheless, and just in time for me to flip back over to the NFL to catch Jay Cutler’s debut. And the Panthers didn’t play! Hard to imagine a better Sunday, really…

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Wizards 121, Bobcats 109

The Cats traveled to DC to take on the Washington Gilberts in a game whose tempo contrasted heavily with the recent bogged-down quagmires against Miami and New Jersey. From a fan’s perspective, the impact was almost jarring; it was like listening to two straight hours of Boston’s greatest hits, and then suddenly switching over to Slayer.* I clearly wasn’t the only one struggling to keep up either. After one of several back-and-forth transition sequences, even color commentator Adrian Branch sounded like he needed Ritalin: “The Bobcats need to calm down, be aggressive, probe the defense, and attack!” was his somewhat convoluted advice. Let’s see…calm down but be aggressive…got it! All right, boys, let’s go probe and attack!

For the Bobcats, their biggest mistake was trying to match Wizard guard Gilbert Arenas speed for speed, compulsive disorder for compulsive disorder. Let’s face it: this is a man who, by his own admission, sleeps on a couch (even at home), frequently wakes up at 2 in the morning, orders someone to open up the team’s training facility, and goes to lift weights. And he doesn’t think that’s strange either. It’s a bad idea to try and one-up someone who, for all intents and purposes, is utterly insane. Arenas scorched us in every conceivable way: 33 points and 10 assists on three-pointers, drives, feeds, free-throws—all in fast-forward. How fast is Arenas? I’ve never seen so many people pick up fouls mostly for failing to get away from him in time—Adam Morrison picked up two despite looking like he was actively running in the OPPOSITE direction; he just couldn’t help getting gobbled up in Arenas’ tornado.

In general, the Wizards shot nearly 60% for the game and basically ran over us. Actually, the Bobcats shot fairly well too (52.5%). In fact, just about anything thrown up there seemed to fall; it was reminiscent of that scene in "Airplane!" when the natives pick up the balls for the first time and just start tossing them in from all directions. But with Wizards field goal, Raymond Felton and Brevin Knight tried to make it a race back down to the other end, and 21 turnovers and All-Star Game-caliber defense were the results. I guess Coach Bickerstaff’s gang couldn’t help themselves, especially when we were able to stay close for most of the contest—it was tied up at 63 at the half (making a further mockery of the Wizards’ pre-season claims of suddenly being born-again defensively).

We needed more from Emeka Okafor tonight (12 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks). As lethally extreme as "Agent 0" is, we let Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood—neither of whom can do much from more than 0.1 feet away from the hoop—have their way with us. Okafor seems to be in a funk—maybe his new charity work has got him really upset about that AIDS situation in Africa. And for once I’m not joking either. Seeing poverty and social catastrophe on such a massive level can really fuck you up. He traveled three times, had five turnovers, and when he picked up his second foul not 5 minutes into the game he looked near tears. On the positive side, Morrison put up another 23 points and 4 assists, and BK (22 points, 9 assists) has really improved his stop-and-pop outside shot. Is MJ doing something with these guys? Knight, May, and Felton have all become remarkably consistent with their mid- to long-range jumpers.

But the bottom line is, because the Wizards are so out of control, they’re capable of beating themselves if you simply let them. We didn't let them, and hence we lost. And that sentence makes no sense. Perhaps I should get control and be more aggressive...

*Speaking of Slayer, did anybody see the profile on Etan Thomas in—I can’t remember which—SI or Included was a sample of Etan’s poetry, and it appeared to be stuff straight out of the "Reign in Blood" album—something about “soldiers emerging in flames,” “chemical destruction lays waste to the land,” etc. Hopefully someone at Metal Blades records caught it; with Thomas’s dreads, I’d say there’s some obvious Bad Brains-like potential there. And he’s from DC too, just like BB!