Friday, March 30, 2007

Bobcats 97, Bucks 81

"The one thing I'm impressed with the coaches and the players is the professionalism in how they practice and how they play,'' Coach Bernie Bickerstaff said after Tuesday’s win over Atlanta. I love it when pros praise each other for their “professionalism.” With that in mind, the Bobcats made an evening appointment with a Milwaukee-based firm on Saturday, and took care of business, making the Bucks feel about as welcome as Michael Ray Richardson at a bar mitzvah.

Milwaukee, having long since decided to liquidate their FY 06-07 operations, were playing guys with names like “Ersan Ilyasova” and “Damir Markota,” mysterious Europeans who sport mid-length black socks and shoes that make them look like they’re wearing Doc Martens. They also had some dude named Jared Reiner who reminded me of the bassist from Nirvana, the relatively normal-looking one who didn’t go on to another band or shoot himself in the head. And here’s something that occurred to me: you know why everyone thinks Greg Oden is much earlier than he is? Because he has Ruben Patterson’s forehead. Patterson actually had a strong game, getting 14 points and several personal fouls, every one of which seemed to involve a violent injury to Gerald Wallace.

The Bobcats had some personnel changes of their own. First, Derek Anderson was back after five games. Second, Brevin Knight is now bald! And I dig it; he looks like a black Telly Savalas. Emeka Okafor played his second game in a row since returning from injury (11 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks) but is clearly still a little rusty. He’s lost of a bit of his touch and is really firing it hard at the hoop—has anyone ever shattered the backboard with a free throw? Mek came close a couple of times. Still adjusting to playing with starters, the Cats bumbled their way out of the gates en route to a 46-43 halftime deficit.

That would have been a good time for Bucks fans to crack open a sixer of Milwaukee’s Best, pop in an old videotape of Storm A-Brewin’: The 1982 AL Pennant Winning Brewers, and call it a night, because it was all downhill from there. The Bucks were outscored 30-12 in the third, and zany, end-of-the-season, teams-going-nowhere hijinks and shenanigans quickly ensued. The Bucks also turned it over just about every play (finishing with 24), many of which I actually missed, because I caught a glimpse of Coach Bickerstaff’s tie, which appeared featured either an emblem or seal, causing him to look sort of like a prep schoolboy. And then for the next five minutes I couldn’t get the image of him with shorts and a guitar--a la AC/DC’s Angus Young--out of my head, doing the Chuck Berry walk up and down the sideline.

Anyway, one thing that was impossible not to notice is the play of Walter Herrmann, who had 23 points and 9 rebounds. I’ve gotten to love how he crosses his legs just before he spots up for a 3-pointer like Marilyn Monroe standing over a fan. He might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer—his theory in the Charlotte Observer about the frequent comparisons to Fabio: “maybe it’s because of the hair”—but he’s also endeared me with his drives to the hoop, in which he palms the rock like he’s playing team handball.

Wallace had 24 points, 13 rebounds, 5 steals, and just 2 turnovers (not counting the teeth he lost to Patterson’s elbows). So that makes 28, but we want 30! We want 30! After three years in the league, 30 is the new 20.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bobcats 101, Hawks 87

There were a number of key matchups on Wednesday night. And there was also this game between the Bobcats and Hawks, whose fans probably feel like those of Level 2 Football League teams in England. The game did at least feature the Grand Reopening of Okafor’s House of Blocks-and-Rebounds. Emeka! Eureka! It’s so good to have the big guy back, and I was clearly not the only one to think so—Gerald Wallace (31 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocked shots, 4 steals) looked happier than my dog slurping toilet water. Okafor only had a modest night statistically (9 points, 7 boards, 3 blocked shots), but his disruptive presence was obvious (just 40% shooting for Atlanta)—he’s the 252-lb 800-lb gorilla in the paint.

FSN South commentators Bob Rathman and “Sleepy” Steve Smith (nice guy, but I kept expecting to hear snoring sounds at any moment) referred to us as a “hex team” for Atlanta—as if they have a stellar record otherwise. True, Josh Smith (25 points, 15 boards, 6 blocks) is a phenomenal and underappreciated talent, but after that? Ugh. You know it’s bad when a player from the other team wins one of those little “sponsorship awards” they do throughout the game, as Wallace did when they made his steal-and-breakaway dunk the “Dodge Drive of the Game.” And Marvin (-arvin, rvin,) Williams was a friend of mine, but what do they have him hanging around the perimeter for? He had 12 and 10, but he was 4/14 from the field (including 0/1 on a missed 3-pointer) and more invisible than Sue Storm.

Okafor’s return down low also freed up our shooters from the outside, as the Hawks left Matt Carroll, Walter Herrmann, and Brevin Knight more unattended than a pack of middle-schoolers loitering outside a convenience store. Carrol hit 4/4 3-pointers for 19 points, while his blond buddy Herrmann had 13 points. Felton went for 10 points and 10 assists.

On a more somber note, Sean May has revealed he’s shutting it down for the rest of the season. Darn, there goes the playoffs. "The disappointment is we think we should be much better, but because of circumstances we're not,'' Coach Bernie Bickerstaff said afterward about the May injury. Those damned circumstances get you every time. But dry your eyes, coach, we’re hustling hard; we had ten steals. Once Coach Bickerstaff seeks out new life and new civilization next year, you’ll have set up whoever takes over for him with a hardworking team, one that stretched a 5-point halftime lead to 10 by the end of the third quarter, and to 14 at the end of the game. I don’t need a forecasting class to tell me that’s a positive trend.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Book Review: Pistol

Pistol is a darkly beautiful study of one of America’s quintessential 1970s athletes, “Pistol” Pete Maravich. Brilliantly flashy and groundbreaking on the court, Maravich was also eccentric and self-destructive off of it. Haunted by expectations from his father, his teammates, and his fans, Maravich had a tragically truncated career and life. Thus, in keeping consistent with the tradition of modern sports biographies (ushered in by Richard Ben Cramer’s Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life), Pistol's author Mark Kriegel does not shy away from documenting the bad (alcoholism, depression, self-centeredness, family abandonment) equitably with the good.

However, anyone expecting a straightforward biography will be surprised to find themselves roughly 100 pages into the book before our hero makes his proper appearance. This is because Pistol rightfully serves as a dual biography: Pete’s father Press is every bit as engrossing a protagonist as his prodigious son. Further, as the reader comes to find, the two were entwined in life, basketball, and possibly even death. Accordingly, Press’s rise to prominence comprises the book’s opening act. A first generation Serbian-American, Press Maravich fell in love with the fledgling sport of basketball as a child and used it as a vehicle to escape the near-inevitability of a grim life in the West Virginia mines. One of the early barnstormers, Press played, promoted, and coached the game in front of a postwar nation in need of a winter pastime, and the pleasure he took from the sport was often his only meaningful remuneration. Moving from the coach of Western Virginia high schools to Clemson to one of the premiere jobs in the country, NC State, Press established himself as one of sport’s great founding fathers.

And then along came Pete.

Dribbling just about as soon as he could walk, Pete was the prototypical savant, and the book dutifully chronicles the conflicts often posed by child prodigies. Though this topic has been explored before in movies such as Searching For Bobby Fischer and Little Man Tate, the difference in Maravich’s case is that the child shows ability in an area about which one of the parents is already passionate. Predictably, therefore, Press threw himself into molding Pete’s skills, often to the detriment of his own career, the other kids he coached, his wife, and Pete’s brother Ronnie. Press also made it clear to Pete at an early age that anything was acceptable except failure on the basketball court. As perspicacious as Press was about Pete’s long-term basketball potential, he seemed just as oblivious to the rest of Pete’s development, including his educational and emotional needs. Meanwhile, Press’s wife Hannah failed to supplement Press’s parenting shortcomings by lapsing into alcoholism and, eventually, suicide.

Nevertheless, Maravich forged ahead, fully aware of his talents and the stakes Press had placed on him. The two of them went to LSU, obscure in the college basketball world at the time, as something of a packaged duo: Pete the star player and Press the coach. Maravich then became a national sensation for his scoring exploits and his unique ball-handling showmanship, as well as a box office smash at LSU's Cow Palace. He graduated in 1970 as the all-time collegiate scoring leader, albeit without an NCAA championship to his name. Pete's presence also had a detrimental effect on Press's professional reputation, as the man formerly renowned for his basketball intellect began receiving scorn over the gross favoritism he showed his son.

Basketball is unique in that one player’s success necessarily detracts from the opportunities of his or her teammates. It is a dynamic that followers of today’s NBA certainly recognize with stars such as Allen Iverson. Thus in college began Maravich’s eventual mixed professional legacy as a sort of double-edged sword: his entertaining style of play and his requirement to be the offensive linchpin ensured ticket sales and fan interest but not collective team success. For Maravich, first with the nascent Atlanta Hawks and then the expansion New Orleans Jazz, his teams’ definitive lack of talent and experience amplified his own shortcomings. Further, his lucrative, highly-publicized contracts, his frailty and propensity for injury, and his reckless off-court habits (I actually lost count of the number of DUI’s he accumulated), only exacerbated his problems and his teammates' perception of him. All too often Maravich bred resentment from teammates who felt underutilized and unappreciated.

Sometimes it seems as if an alarmingly high rate of humans are ill-equipped emotionally and physically to handle the realities of the world—even if we do not suffer true catastrophes, such as the loss of limb or eyesight. Instead, many of us succumb to intangible stimuli, such as pressure, disappointment, and failure. I have always found this fascinating, considering that these are artificial constructs, and yet the suffering they cause is very real. The Pistol was no exception, as the psychological impact of not being able to score enough points so that his basketball team could win a championship—seemingly trivial maladies in the grand scheme of things—took its toll. Alcohol was his escape, as were paranoia and passionate infatuations with karate, vegetarianism, and aliens (he referred to his various manias as his “isms”). But they all failed to adequately sublimate his anxiety and depression: after a brief stint with the Celtics, Maravich was out of basketball in 1980, physically crumbling and emotionally spent.

His story didn’t quite end there, though. In fact, Maravich recovered enough to reconcile his marriage and raise two fine sons. He also discovered God and became a somewhat prominent evangelist, much to the bemusement and occasional aggravation of his faithful wife, Jackie. Coincidentally (or was it?), his life ended in 1988, just months after he made peace with and buried his father.

Those looking for detailed, season-by-season recaps of Maravich’s play might be dissatisfied with Kriegel’s book, though the key statistics are dutifully relayed (5 All-Star appearances, 2 First Team All-NBA and 2 Second Team All-NBA honors, 1 scoring championship). As with Maravich’s game, Pistol’s strength exists outside and between the facts and figures. Kriegel concerns himself mostly with Maravich’s influence on the game and the fans. As such, Kriegel’s extensive interviews vividly recapture Pistol’s complex relations with his teammates and (especially) his father, his spreading of the game’s gospel to new frontiers (Pete one-upped Babe Ruth and “built” two arenas, the Omni in Atlanta and the Superdome in New Orleans), and his legacy as one of basketball’s all-time unique superstars. Kriegel astutely points out that Maravich’s closest parallel was not another basketball player, it was an entertainer: Elvis Presley. Both southerners popularized a predominantly black art form for consumption by the white masses with bombastic style and controversy. And both died young. Nevertheless, Pistol’s beauty is demonstrating that the significance and mystique of Maravich, the man whose game was built for highlights before there was such a thing, is everlasting.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

76ers 106, Bobcats 97 & Nets 113, Bobcats 107 (OT)

Sorry I didn’t get a chance to comment on Friday night’s game against the Sixers. I’m in a Forecasting class at school right now and I was working on an insanely difficult assignment--the handout for the project itself was 9 pages of single-spaced, 10-font instructions. I took this class ostensibly to help me predict things like market share but secretly to help me pick football games (in the final project we have to take a series of data sets—of our choosing—and use software to help us make predictions—hmmm, wonder what topic I’ll pick there). So anyway, because I was overburdened with work and because the Bobcats played back-to-back games (and because both games were really depressing in their own way) I just decided to combine the recaps into one.

If you were looking for a good game Friday night…then I hope you flipped over to the NCAA Tournament, because the 76ers-Bobcats game was awful. Charlotte was run over by a Philly team that was playing without Andre Iguodala, their only legitimately good player. The other Andre—Miller, that is—had 19 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and was impossible to contain despite the fact that he’s slower than a 3-legged dog. Steamin’ Willie Green had 18 points and 6 boards, Stephen Hunter had 18 and 9 and made every single shot he took—he shot more accurately than Rick Hunter. Lord, must I go on? Are you getting the picture? It was horrible.

For the first time, I started to liken following the Bobcats to some sort of experiment to see how much I can take. I’m beginning to feel like the guy in Supersize Me!, only instead of bad food, I’m trying to show what watching months of bad basketball will do to you. And to make things worse, lately commentators Matt Devlin and Henry Williams come back from every commercial break holding up some sort of cheap promotional merchandise you can buy (usually made by some company/guy called “Crazy Fred”) and there’s even a "" graphic that blinks on and off, QVC-style.

And have you noticed how many shady financial/insurance companies we’re in bed with now? We’ve got Geico, which has gotten so huge they now have 2 mascots, the gecko and the cavemen (wasn’t that a crappy 80s/90s band that a bunch of early indie prototypes insisted rocked? No wait, I’m thinking of Echo and the Bunnymen--sorry), State Farm (“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there…except when your entire neighborhood floods in a massive human tragedy, because we sure as hell aren’t going to cover that sort of thing—try the Red Cross”), Lending Tree (“When banks compete, they end up making some terrible subprime loans”), and on and on.

Anyway, the best thing about the Philly game was that it ended. On Saturday, Raymond Felton and Gerald Wallace were out with injuries that were basically just exhaustion-related. "We need to make sure the guys get two days off. The bodies just need to recover,'' Coach Bickerstaff said, sounding like Lindsey Lohan’s publicist every time she checks into rehab. This meant that we started a somewhat ridiculous lineup of Brevin Knight, Matt Carroll, Walter Herrmann, Adam Morrison, and Jake Voskuhl. That’s right, we were one Steve Blake-for-Brevin Knight trade away from a Bill Simmons “Whitewash.”

Devlin did me a tremendous personal favor early on by clearing up the whole Herrmann pronunciation controversy. Apparently, “they” came to Devlin and Williams and said that Walter’s surname is in fact pronounced like plain old “Herman.” So I’m just glad to put it behind me, and I take back everything I said about the Cleveland announce team (actually, just this part). Now if some sort of authority would just do this with Mehmet Okur’s first name, maybe by circulating a “Mehmet memo” Ha!! Don’t forget to tip your waitresses…

Speaking of Walter, he had another 17 against Philly and put up 20 and 6 against New Jersey and is playing pretty darned well (and have you seen how focused he is when he runs? He reminds me of the Terminator 2 bad guy). It’s kind of funny seeing stuff I wrote about him months ago now cropping up in national publications (e.g., the Fabio comparisons, “Herrmann Monster,” etc.). Just remember: I was making fun of Walter before it was cool.

The other bright spot of the past few games has been Alan Anderson, who had another 12 points against NJ and was a real presence in the lane. I’m starting to think a good coaching technique would be to make rookies and young players watch video footage of D-League guys doing things like staying in Super 8 Motels and taking 15-hour bus rides from Tulsa to Sioux Falls; it’d be like a "Scared Straight" program that would hopefully motivate them to try harder. Anderson is clearly playing as if he’s terrified at the thought of having to go back and play for someone like the Dakota Wizards.

As it happens, the Bobcats welcomed back Vince Carter (Ha! I'll be at Jake's Comedy Club on Friday...) to NC and very nearly pulled out an upset over the Nets. It took a last second, improvised alley-oop by Carter off a desperate Jason Kidd airball just to tie it and send it into OT. In the extra frame, VC took over with 10 points and the Bobcats ran out of gas, diesel, solar power, alternative energy sources, slave galleys, or whatever they were miraculously running on in the first place to keep it so close. Carroll had 27, Voskuhl had 14, Knight had 15 and 8. It’s sad, really, because we’re taking on the Hawks and the Bucks next, we just had Philly…the schedule really favored us at the end, it’s just too bad we didn’t have enough guys to make it happen—makes me want to break into Tiffany’s “Could’ve Been”…

After the game, by the way, when reporters asked VC about his upcoming free agency this summer, he said, “As of right now, I'm a Net. I'll always be a Net, so we'll just go from there when it's time.” When Carter speaks, you can almost see the fine print—maybe State Farm is an appropriate NBA sponsor after all…

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bobcats 92, Celtics 84

The Bobcats defeated the Celtics Wednesday night in a game that probably had Red Auerbach stubbing cigars out on himself in the grave. After watching the Celtics squander an 18-point lead, all I can say is, if they want Kevin Durant that much, they can have him—they’ve earned it. Forget the 18-point lead: Boston led by 10 with 9.5 minutes to go and the Bobcats playing about as coherently as Borat. Up 74-64, Boston committed 4 fouls, 3 turnovers, and a missed lay-up over the next 6 minutes before their next field goal. By the time the smoke had cleared and the echoes from the referees' whistles had died down, Charlotte was comfortably up by six and Doc Rivers was calling up Alberto Gonzales for tips on stonewalling the press.

For most of the night, it was the Jefferson and Pierce show. Good thing the Celtics don’t have anyone else named after a 19th century president, otherwise Charlotte probably would have been down 30. Al Jefferson purchased a Louisiana-sized level of respect from me with 22 points and 11 boards. Meanwhile, Paul Pierce scored 22 points and had 2 steals, but he sustained a cut inside his mouth off an inadvertent Gerald Wallace elbow with 4 minutes to play in the 3rd quarter and didn’t return, and thus he failed to prevent the civil war that ensued. Kendrick Perkins had 13 points and 11 boards as well. Overall, Boston had more free throws (22/27 to 15/19) and rebounds (51 to 36), but they were done in by 21 turnovers and an abysmal 2/11 on 3-pointers. They also have Brian Scalabrine on their team.

And Sebastian Telfair didn’t even play until the fourth quarter!? Good lord, has he gotten that bad? I thought it was bad enough when he lost his spot to Delonte West, but now Rajon Rondo plays over him, a guy no bigger or skilled than Bow Wow (and possibly less skilled—I watched that Celebrity All-Star Game). The moral of that story, kids, is never have a gripping, compelling basketball documentary made about you (see: Through the Fire, Hoop Dreams, and of course Eddie).

The Bobcats were led by the usual cast of characters: Raymond Felton, Gerald yadayada—WHOA, wait a second, Alan Anderson had 14 points! I love how the NBDL has become the NBA’s equivalent of growing up in the projects. Every time an NBDL vet makes an NBA roster, all we hear about is how we just don’t know how bad it is down there, and how thankful they are to have made it out alive. Anderson probably dedicated this game to his homies back in Tulsa. Welcome back, Alan! Just remember to keep it real.

And finally, the most unsettling part of the game: one day after I lambasted Cavaliers commentator Scott Williams for pronouncing Walter Herrmann’s name like “Herman,” now Matt Devlin and Stephanie Ready are doing it too—with no warning, no explanation, no anything. All year we’ve been giving it the soft “H” and stressing the second syllable, and now it’s just plain old “Herman.” What is going on here? I feel like I’m in the twilight zone. Have I gone mad? Has someone stolen my identity? Am I in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, possibly involving Sandra Bullock as some sort of special agent? And if so, am I the hunter or the hunted?

I think I know what it might be: those disturbing “Sprite” ads that line the scorer’s bench. Have you ever noticed those things? There’s something really sinister about them, particularly if there are a series of transition possessions and the camera has to pan back and forth. You end up repeatedly getting the message “OBEY Sprite OBEY Sprite OBEY Sprite” implanted in your brain. It’s evil. Whatever happened to that wise-cracking little doll that used to trash-talk with LeBron? The one that looked like Josh Childress with black sunglasses? He just vanished…

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bobcats 108, Cavaliers 100 (OT)

Okay, let’s face it: the Bobcats aren’t making the playoffs this year. Worse, they’re probably not terrible enough to get a very high draft pick. So we’re just playing it out right now, and if the Bobcats’ season were a Megadeth album, it’d be Countdown to Extinction. But I’m going to keep watching, because they play hard and because I love them. And that’s what love does to you—like my man Huey Lewis said, it’ll change a hawk to a little white dove.

And how satisfying was the ‘Cats win against Cleveland on Tuesday? The answer: very. There’s plenty to dislike about Cleveland, starting with their schizophrenic uniform selections. I mean, what was with those dark red duds they were rocking last night? Oh wait, those are their regular jerseys. The Cavs wear so many alternative and retro get-ups it ends up looking weird when they’re just dressed normally—they’re like Andre 3000 that way. Why is Cleveland so eager to celebrate its crappy past teams, anyway? Do they really feel a need to commemorate the 86-87 Cavaliers? You don’t see this with other organizations; Pepsi doesn’t occasionally put out retro six-packs of Apple Slice soda; U2 doesn’t do limited tours featuring only songs off the Pop album. And what colors are the fans supposed to get behind, the dark red? Dark blue? Gold? Pumpkin orange?

Even more of an embarrassment, however, is Cleveland’s announcing duo of Scott Williams and Fred McCleod. The two actively try to instigate fights by always painting the opposition as arrogant punks. This is fine when the Cavs are playing a good team, but why in the world would the Bobcats be acting like jerks? We’re 25-43, for God’s sake. Even if Gerald Wallace is trash-talking to Eric Snow (as they incited), it’s more ridiculous than anything else, it’s like Hans and Franz.

I can understand McCleod’s shameless antics—the man makes Tommy Heinsohn sound like Walter Cronkite—because he’s in the former player/colorman role, so that’s basically his job. But what on earth is Scott Williams’ deal? At the buzzer to end regulation, Matt Carroll grabbed a rebound and was basically chop-blocked by a Cavalier. No foul was called, which isn’t really surprising, but then Williams says, “They’re crying here in Charlotte, but the strip appeared to be all ball…(awkward pause as Williams watches replay, in which Carroll appears to be caught in the old third grade trick where one kid kneels behind him and the other guy pushes him over)…maybe he got a little of the lower body.” I’ve heard less biased commentary from Jerry “The King” Lawler. Williams also spent the game uttering little gems of incomprehension such as, “The Bobcats play quite a bit of zone from time to time.” Most egregious, however, was Williams’ mispronunciation of Walter Herrmann’s last name as “Herman,” as in “Pee-Wee Herman.” Actually, what’s funny is McCleod started off the game pronouncing Herrmann’s name correctly but gradually drifted over to the way Williams was doing it, so by the end of the game it was “Herman this” and “Herman that” out of both knuckleheads. For kicks, I actually began visualizing Pee-Wee Herman out there, getting t’d up by telling the refs, “I know you are but what am I?”

Perhaps the reason it got so annoying is because Williams and McCleod ended up saying Herrmann’s name a lot. Walter went off for 19 points and 10 rebounds in 40 minutes of action. He got plenty of run not only for his effectiveness, but also because heading into the game the Bobcats had less manpower than The View. Last night’s All-DNP Team consisted of Brevin Knight at the point, Derek Anderson at the 2, Sean May at small forward, and Emeka Okafor at the 4. I guess our injury team was short a center, but not if you count Ryan Hollins, who didn’t play.

Cleveland, meanwhile, was coming off their 8th straight win and finally seems to be clicking. 22-year-old LeBron James hasn’t played this well since he was 21, Aleksandar Pavlovic has somehow become the second good young talent (after Jason Kapono) we’ve given away in our three-year history (plus he’s gone all Fight Club on us by shaving his head and morphing into a bad-ass). And what’s the deal with Larry Hughes, is he an overrated mediocre player or an underrated good player? I can never decide. I’ve also got to hand it to Anderson Varejao—as annoying as he is, the dude takes more charges than an E-Z Pass.

Most of the game was a debacle. We were frequently down by more than ten, and we committed 20 turnovers, 9 of them by Raymond Felton. I’m starting to dread Felton’s drives to the hoop, because the other teams have learned to collapse on him—it’s like watching Daniel trying to take on 4 Kobra Kai at once. But Gerald Wallace kept us close (as usual) with 27 points, 11 boards, and 5 blocks (although that was not enough for Williams to declare that Snow “shut him down”). Adam Morrison had 13 and Carroll had 20.

In the game’s zany final minute of regulation, Carroll hit two free throws, stole an inbound, got fouled, and hit two more free throws to tie it. In overtime, first Morrison dropped a 30-foot laser-guided bomb to put us in front. Then Felton finally broke through with a drive, a lay-up, and an elbow to Varejao’s face, thereby exorcising all of his demons in one play. And then Herrmann hit a 3-pointer to ice it, which was perfect, because we got to hear Williams mispronounce his name one last time, and this time he did it all slow and dramatic: “Herman shoots, Herman scores. Walter…Herman.” I think from now on I’ll pronounce Williams’ last name “Will-EYE-ams.” Whatever…the man’s an assweepay.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Bucks 97, Bobcats 91

Last night’s Charlotte-Milwaukee game had something in it for everyone: 1) a win for the winners, 2) the third-worst record for the losers. The Bobcats chose Door #2, and we’ll see what our Mystery Surprise is come draft day. Plus, the good news is I’m positive we’re not tanking these games down the stretch—we really are this bad, and our conscience will be clean when we get that high pick.

Then again, we put the Bucks on the line 20 times in the 4th quarter to blow a 6-point lead with six minutes left. Milwaukee coach Larry Krystkowiak said, "It doesn't take a genius to know that when you're more aggressive and taking the ball to the basket you're probably going to get more calls." Maybe, but it also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point out that three of those foul shots were technicals and another was a defensive 3-second violation. Neither do you need a brain surgeon to tell you that Charlotte went just 5/10 from the FT line themselves in the fourth quarter. So who knows, when crappy teams run aimlessly in circles it’s a very, very…mad world.

One thing I do know: I’ll miss Terry Stotts. His appearance always made me want to run up and down the street of my neighborhood yelling “Merry Christmas!” to everyone, but Coach Krystkowiak seems like he might be able to whip these guys into shape in a way that George Bailey never could. Last night Brian Skinner actually looked and hustled like Rick Ross with 12 big rebounds. Meanwhile, it appears that Australia’s Andrew Bogut (17 points, 11 rebounds) will have the longevity of AC/DC rather than Silverchair in this league. Charlie Bell and Mo Williams had 17 and 18, respectively, and of course Michael Redd (27 points, 10/10 from the line) handled all of the foul shooting.

The Bobcats did get one of their injured guys back. Unfortunately, it was Primoz Brezec. This left Voskuhl in a night-long mosh pit with Skinner and Bogut, and he actually had a respectable 10 points and 5 boards (the problem is he only went 4/10 from the line). I liked how commentator Henry Williams said early on that Voskuhl would have to "use" all 6 fouls, as if that’s some sort of viable technique of Voskuhl's. Derek Anderson had 15 points and Walter Herrmann exploded for 18 points in 30 minutes of action—call him Herrmann Monnsterr. He’s still kind of hard on the eyes defensively, with all his flailing and flopping (not to mention everyone younger than Dikembe Mutombo blows by him fast enough to send his pony-tail whipping in the wind like a flag), but as long as they don’t change the rules on that he’ll be okay. And I don’t think they will, because I think flopping is actually just a “make-believe” problem--like expanding the NCAA Tournament or illegal immigration--that the powers that be just want to talk about in order to skirt the actual issues.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Michael Jordan was fined by the league for mentioning Kevin Durant in last week’s press conference. What’s interesting is, MJ didn’t actually say the words “Kevin Durant,” he just said “that kid in Texas”--for all we know he was talking about D.J. Augustin or possibly even Jenna Bush. And what’s really weird is I actually made fun of him for this at the time by suggesting that we’re in trouble if our VP of operations either didn’t know or forgot the name of the biggest college sensation in years. So now it appears that a) Jordan is not out-of-touch (not that I really thought he was), he was merely shrewdly trying to stay within the rules by not saying Durant’s name; b) he was not shrewd enough, because you apparently can’t even talk around a college player’s name; and c) I look stupid for making fun of Jordan, who was in reality acting shrewdly, but d) not as stupid had I might have looked had he avoided the fine altogether. It’s a twisty world we navigate, we online blogging smart-asses.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Clippers 102, Bobcats 93

The Bobcats lost another heartbreaker on Friday night, but at least it wasn’t another bone-breaker, because I think we’ve got an injury DNP Brady Bunch going at this point (with trainer Joe Sharp as Alice). For Gerald Wallace, the game was a toenail-breaker, causing him to miss most of the second quarter. Normally I would’ve made a joke about that, but not after seeing Syriana a few days ago.

And not after another horrible performance. We put up just 13 points in the third quarter, which tied with the President’s reaction to the Twin Tower attacks in Fahrenheit 9/11 for the most excruciating 12 minutes I’ve ever witnessed. After missing just 6 FG’s in the first quarter, we only made 5 in the third. But what made things even more painful was that the Clippers are so crappy they couldn’t just pull away and end our misery in a rout, so the game stayed stuck in the 10-15 point deficit for most of the 2nd half. It reminded me of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre where the old guy was too weak to bludgeon the girl to death with a hammer, so he just feebly tapped her a few times on the head while she lay there bound and writhing*.

Things looked good to start, though. It’s too bad NBA games don’t end midway through the first quarter, because I bet we’d at least be over .500. "We came out running and gunning,'' Gerald Wallace said afterward. "We had them on the ropes, but the bodies that we had just kind of wore out.” Hopefully the guys can get some new bodies in time for tonight's game (ask for the “Kevin Garnett” models—they cost a little extra but they’re worth it). There’s a chance Emeka Okafor might be able to go, although there’s also a chance my dog will go to the park and not spend the whole time licking another dog’s genitals. Who knows with Sean May, and even if Brevin Knight can heal, he’s locked in a feud with the league’s officials. By the way, I loved his quote from a few days ago: “(The official) made contact and then he said to me, ‘Oh, you're going to bump me.’ I said, 'You bumped into me.' So he gave me the tech.” BK needs to realize that if the officials aren’t going to call fouls when opposing players bump into us, they’re certainly not going to when they do either. BK needs to take Phil Jackson’s advice and realize somebody has a sacred cow somewhere else (or whatever the hell Phil said about officiating; I just remember it had something to do with cows).

The Clippers were led by Tim Thomas (always fun getting beaten by a classy guy like him), who had 24 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds. The Rental also went 5/8 from downtown, demonstrating that he’s in love with his 3-point shot almost as much as he is with himself. Elton Brand went for yet another quiet 19 and 10 game, which I said after our last game with the Clips isn’t all that impressive when your main adversaries are Jake Voskuhl and Ryan Hollins. Meanwhile, the Bobcats were misled by Adam Morrison, who had just 4 points on an appalling 1/9 night. On the bright side, Walter Herrmann (15 points) has quietly not sucked for the last couple of games.

Oh well. It must be spring if we’re talking about Pete Rose again. The founding father of baseball pariahs has pointlessly been in the news all week—I’m honestly surprised Rose himself isn’t sick of it by now. Still, he’s always good for a few inadvertent laughs, and did anyone catch this quote? "Don't penalize McGwire because you think other guys are taking steroids," Rose said on the air with Dan Patrick. That’s nice of you to stick up for him, Pete, but I’m pretty sure people are actually penalizing McGwire because they think McGwire took steroids.

*note: I haven’t seen any of the remakes, but I’m assuming in the updated version he’s too weak to drop a plasma 50” big-screen TV on top of her or something

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bobcats 111, Kings 108

Wow, who’d have thought the Bobcats would be leading the newswire during their off-day with two separate headlines: Coach Bickerstaff’s non-extension and Brevin Knight’s fine. Even though we all knew Coach B. was going, I’m still a little saddened now that it’s official. If nothing else, one of my favorite 'Cat quirks will soon be coming to an end, which is that we had to be the only professional team in all of sports whose head coach has openly insisted on a number of occasions that he’d rather not be coaching—not something you see everyday.

What I’d love to have for Coach B.’s last home game is a video montage of all of his greatest facial expressions—the numerous frowns and winces, the negotiating-with-the-refs ones where he’s got his hands halfway up, the helplessly confused/pleading ones after yet another unforced turnover where he looks like Mr. Mom trying to handle a bunch of wild 3-year-olds, and of course the head shakes of disgust. You string those together and maybe play “Nobody Does It Better” in the background, and I guarantee you’ll bring the house down. (note: in the press conference about Coach B., why was MJ referring to Kevin Durant as “the kid in Texas”? Did he just forget or did he really not know Durant’s name? Either answer seems somewhat troubling. MJ also stressed repeatedly the need for “versatility,” which I found ironic after he couldn’t have selected a more un-versatile player in the draft last year)

As for the game, a few things jumped out at me right away. First, the Kings were in their Oscar statue gold outfits, making it look like we were playing a team of C3POs. Second, the joint was EMPTY, even by our standards. If this keeps up, they might have to take out the “Arena” and rename the place to Charlotte Bobcats Tavern and maybe put some bouncers out on the sidewalk with flyers, urging people to come on and check out the pro basketball team inside.

Sacramento was coming off an awful loss to the LeBron-less Cavaliers, their third in a row in what could very well be the end of the Musselman Experiment. For us, Raymond Felton didn’t start because of nausea and Brevin Knight was out with a strained groin—at this point I didn’t think BK had any groin left to strain. Fortunately, Raymond came in toward the end of the first quarter (what does that mean when that happens? Did he get better in those ten minutes?), but he was used sparingly until the 2nd half.

This meant that Gerald Wallace would essentially have to cover for Emeka Okafor’s rebounding and Felton’s assists. Unfortunately, all he really did was make up for Primoz Brezec’s fouls—he had three before the half was up, as well as a bunch of out-of-control commando raids to the hoop that really killed us. Not to be outdone was Coach B., who picked up a tech himself (which reminds me, I left one off the “greatest looks” list: the incredulous one, always a classic—it’s the same look my dog gives me when I pick up his doo-doo in a bag, as if he’s asking, “Why are you putting it in a bag and not eating it?”).

Nonetheless, the Bobcats held a 2-point, 82-80 advantage entering the fourth quarter, thanks to tremendous efforts by Felton (16 points, 8 assists), Sean May (20 points, 12 rebounds), and Matt Carroll (22 points, 5 assists). But the foul shots nearly did us in, as G-Dub fouled out with 3:37 to go, May had 5, and Primoz had 4 (how unlike him!), leading to a 38 to 16 disparity in free throw attempts. For the Kings, Kevin Martin (26 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) and Mike Bibby (15 points and 6 boards—twice we get to see him in two weeks! How lucky can we get? What a gay old time it’s been!) led the way for Sac-town. Despite 6 turnovers, Ron Artest also had a stellar performance. Besides his 21 points and 7 assists, he drained a huge 3-pointer with 30 seconds to go and was disruptive on defense all night long, lodging 3 steals. His hands are so quick, it’s easy to see why he’s such a skilled spousal abuser.

Once Primoz missed a put-back off a Matt Carroll missed lay-up with 1:45 left that you just have to see to believe, and then followed it up with a mishandled pass from Felton under the hoop that somehow took him by surprise, I prepared to make my peace with Loss #42. But Sean May single-handedly saved the day with a 3-pointer to reclaim the lead and then drew a charge off Artest with 10 seconds to go for the turnover. Felton sank two free throws after getting fouled on the ensuing inbound, and that did it. Awesome victory! Eric Mussleman can probably start entering “basketball coach” and “DUI’s not an issue” as keywords in his account.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bobcats 118, Magic 108

Okay, quick test. In his essential-reading weekly column, “Monday Morning Quarterback,”’s Peter King had this item in his “Things I Think I Think” section:

“a. Craig Biggio has some Tom Brady in him. Same kind of superstar -- accessible, team-first, thoughtful.”

After reading this, is your first thought:
a) Great comparison, they’re both old-school competitors who just want to win but are also very down to earth and “team-first,” as King pointed out.

Or is it:
b) So, apparently, does Gisele Bundchen.

I’ll admit it was (b) for me, and in fact I was vaguely surprised that none of King’s editors caught what I thought to be an obvious set-up line and asked him to re-phrase it. On the other hand, maybe I’m just a total gutter-brain and I’m a terrible, hell-bound human being for thinking like this. However, if other people out there had a similar experience when they read that line, I’d like to hear your thoughts—I think they’d be comforting for me.

Anyway, onto the game, and cue either Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” or Snoop Dogg’s “Tha Shizznit,” because our 8-game losing streak is NO MORE!! The Bobcats erupted to shoot 56% from the field and 64% on 3-pointers to defeat the Orlando Magic. Leading the way was Derek Anderson with 24 points and 10 assists, his first double-double since April 2003, or 4-months BHY! (Before Hey Ya!, which tends to be how I measure events that occurred during that year).

I suppose the victory is a bit loaded, because let’s face it: Orlando has been Magically Atrocious lately. I’ve been watching them for the past few games (although not because I’ve been “scouting” them or anything dorky like that; they’ve just been coincidentally playing teams I’ve wanted to see, like the Spurs, Bulls, and the Mavericks), and this is clearly not a good team. Granted, their last game was against the Rockets, who are like a subway restroom mirror: they make everyone look bad, but still, Orlando's scrapping for that last playoff spot yet playing as if nothing is on the line.

Case in point: Dwight Howard was invisible all night, which you’d think would be hard to do if you’re 7-feet tall—hell, even Primoz Brezec fouls people to remind us he’s there. True, Howard had 26 and 11, but 13 of his points came at the end of the game, when the only people left watching were the type who have no qualms wearing orange wigs in public. The foul line is also proving to be Howard’s End, as he went 10/19 at the charity stripe. Between Howard and Milicic, the Magic are solid in the interior, because even if they don’t put up stats, they disrupt lots of shots. What Orlando needs is help on the perimeter, an upgrade over the wildly competent Jameer Nelson, perhaps in the form of a certain score-first, ego-centric Florida native and soon-to-be free agent, if you catch my drift…

Enough about the Magic, let’s take a nice long swim in Lake Us. It was a fabulous effort all-around. Of course G-Dub was doing his thing, twisting Orlando’s minds and smashing their dreams with 20 points and 9 assists. But Raymond Felton also had 21 points and 7 assists, and Sean May—played, first of all—had 14 points on 6/8 shooting. The Bobcats had a team record of 14 3-pointers and 39 assists—when was the last time they set a team record that was actually a positive one?

Even Brezec had 17 points! I haven’t been this surprised and proud of a person since my parents—who are as white as can be—told me over the phone that they had rented and enjoyed Barbershop and 8 Mile (“he’s a tremendous wordsmith,” my father told me afterward). Yep, Primoz had a little something in him last night, and that wasn't a bulge in his disk, if you know what I'm saying...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Grizzlies 115, Bobcats 107

Hey, did anyone notice that both Timbaland AND Rick Rubin had birthdays yesterday? That’s a pretty amazing coincidence, in my opinion—two superstar music producers having the same birthday….huh. What does this have to do with the latest Bobcats lost to Memphis? Nothing, except that I noticed it while flipping through the newspaper while the game was on…because there was no television coverage of it!! This now marks the second Cats game I’ve missed all year, but I don’t feel guilty, because on both occasions it was because there was no broadcast—even on League Pass. I’ve been thinking about calling up Time-Warner and using this as grounds to get my money back, but I’m afraid of the operator not believing me when I say there’s a team in the NBA called the Charlotte Bobcats. I suppose if I were really loyal I could actually go to the game, but, dude, it’s a long way. Some people insist it’s only 3 hours, but hey, that’s what they told Gilligan.

Plus, why bother going when you already know the outcome? This is why I have no interest in seeing movies like 300 or Hog Wild. I’m positive that 300 is a bunch of lines like, “Without loyalty, there is no honor, and without honor, there is no victory” (followed by someone getting very artfully decapitated); meanwhile, I’m fairly certain that Hog Wild is mostly a series of gag-injuries to Tim Allen’s crotch. Thanks, I’ll pass.

And speaking of “hog wild,” it looks like Pau Gasol went just that last night, steamrolling us for 31 points and 15 rebounds (even though he went just 13-20 from the FT line). “I thought they pulled up their straps and came to play tonight,” remarked Memphis head coach Tony Barone. More like they pulled out their straps, as the relentlessly unstoppable superstar that is Hakim Warrick gunned us down with 18 points and 6 rebounds. And Rudy Gay, noted for getting shut down last year by perennial powerhouse George Mason, was apparently too much for us to handle with 16 and 10.

Same old, same old for us. Out-rebounded, just 67% from the line (I love how the one guy who consistently gets to the line for us, Gerald Wallace, is of course our worst foul shooter), a disastrous 3rd quarter (16 points!?) that opened too big a deficit for us to overcome in our typically valiant but futile 4th-quarter surge…Whoa, I see we only had 9 turnovers, so that’s a little plot twist for you, but not exactly The Crying Game, now, is it? Wallace had another furious 24-point, 17-rebound performance, and congrats to Raymond Felton for a season-high 24 points of his own. Congrats also to Adam Morrison, for finding his way to the arena, because that’s about all he did (3 points in 15 minutes??). And congrats to Primoz Brezec for keeping it under 4 PF’s—oh wait, I take it back, he only played 8 minutes.

The Bobcats at least got Sean May back. May, who’d been missing in action longer than Chuck Norris, had 13 points and 3 boards. “I still got some time before I get some time before I get my rhythm back and my timing back,” May said after the game. Nice, but unfortunately time is not on our side before time runs out on the season, time-wise. Perhaps this is just as well, what with this “deep draft” I keep hearing about. I think's Chad Ford has used the words “Oden” and “Durant” more times in the past few months than the word “the.” My question is, who’s after them? Joaquin Noah, FSU’s Al Thornton, Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker, UNC’s Brandon Wright, a bunch of guys from Kansas—are any of these guys going to make that big a difference?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Book Review: :07 Seconds or Less

I have three complaints—all of them minor—about Jack McCallum’s fascinating :07 Seconds or Less that I’d like to get out of the way before I begin praising the book so incessantly that you’ll probably think I owe him money:

1) The subtitle, “My Season on the Bench with the Runnin’ and Gunnin’ Phoenix Suns,” struck me as a bit of a false advertising, because 95% of the book concerns itself just with Phoenix’s 3-round playoff run. There are a few “flashbacks” to key points earlier in the year, but the recounting certainly does not start with the preseason and progress on an exhaustive, game-by-game basis up to the Suns’ eventual Western Conference Finals submission to Dallas. And the few occasions McCallum does discuss any of the key regular season occurrences, they “mysteriously” seem to involve the same two or three games every time. I only want to point this out because McCallum goes to great lengths in the introduction to impress upon the reader that he was basically embedded with the team for a year—practically 24/7. However, either that January 2nd game with the Knicks had hugely significant repercussions for the team, or McCallum was only with the Suns for a handful of games prior to the playoffs.

2) As I will discuss later, this book is a real “ground’s-eye” perspective of the Suns organization in action, rather than a broad overview of a modern-day NBA team’s philosophy on attacking the game, assembling personnel, marketing their product, etc. This book is for an NBA team what the movie Black Hawk Down was for the conflict in Somalia: not a lot of high-level overview of the “big picture,” but instead a close-up study of on-the-fly decision-making. All that said, I would have appreciated a bit more on the background and origins of Phoenix’s style of play, which most people would agree was trailblazing and refreshingly distinctive when it manifested a few years ago. Specifically, how did it all come together, this “7 seconds or less” strategy? Was it a conscious effort by the coaching staff, or was it more improvisational? In fact, I could be wrong, but I do not even remember the phrase “7 seconds or less” explicitly defined in the book, although most fans probably understand it prior to reading the book.

3) This may be a trivial complaint, but using the word “enervating” 7-8 times in a 300-page book is a little too often in my opinion (even if one of the team’s main obstacles was overcoming Steve Nash’s late-season fatigue).

Okay, so with that out of the way, here is one of my favorite things about the book: contrary to what we all thought, the Suns are not one of the more loveable teams out there. In fact, more often than not, they’re actually kind of a bunch of jerks. Of course, you probably already thought that about Tim Thomas, and 7 Seconds dutifully has a couple of chapters devoted to his selfishness (I particularly loved how the coaching staff and the other players openly refer to him as “The Rental”). But who knew that Amare Stoudemire was such a prima donna? That James Jones is overwhelmingly lazy and unmotivated? Even “Saint Steve” has a few renegade transgressions, such as pretending not to hear plays being called in by the coaches. And although I’d forgotten how moronic Raja Bell’s unprovoked forearm was to Kobe Bryant in that epic Suns-Lakers series, it’s fascinating to hear just how little Bell seems to have learned from his tantrums through the years. “Bell admits to a history that includes more than a few scuffles on and off the court,” writes McCallum, and he “attended a couple sessions (of anger management training) but nothing much came of it. ‘I didn’t dig it,’ he says. ‘I never thought I had an anger problem.’”

However, the undisputed king of the immature malcontents ends up being—shockingly, at least to me—Shawn Marion. The Matrix is portrayed as titanically insecure and consumed with jealousy over the public’s adoration for Nash and Stoudemire. Even during what was arguably the team’s most joyous moment of the season, their rousing Game 6 victory over the hated Lakers, we find Marion sulking by himself in the corner of the locker room, barely suppressing his bile. The author tells Marion, “great game,” and he replies with, “'We win, it’s everybody but me; we lose, it’s my fault. I don’t understand that.’” Marion remains staunchly convinced that all criticism from the coaches—no matter how broad—is either directly or indirectly aimed at him.

Which brings us to the real stars of this book, Mike D’Antoni and his coaching staff, which includes his brother Dan, Marc Iavaroni, Alvin Gentry, and Phil Weber. As the playoffs drag on and the team’s organizational strife (resentment over Stoudemire’s irresponsible attitude toward rehabilitating his knee, Eddie House’s perpetual clamoring for more playing minutes, Marion’s ongoing pathological obsession with his perceived lack of respect) threatens to supersede their injuries as the primary reason for their downfall, I found myself wondering why D’Antoni and his staff were so highly-regarded in the first place. After all, it seems as if nothing is done to address any of the myriad interpersonal conflicts, as players simply continue on with their own destructive self-centeredness. Nor does D’Antoni seem to be much of a rousing speech-maker. Yet as if on cue, McCallum provides us with the book’s signature passage, in which he himself struggles to assess D’Antoni abilities as a coach:

“What I do know is that the closer you get to someone’s work process, the more you resist calling it genius. That’s because what you see at work are the sweat glands, not the brain cells. Had you been able to observe Hemingway pecking away in front of his old Royal, tossing away page after page until he got it right, you probably would conclude: ‘Damn, that guy rewrites a lot.’ D’Antoni and his coaches rewrite a lot.”

I found this insight, which occurs roughly halfway through the book, to be remarkably enlightening. It really is true: the closer we zoom in on a person’s profession, a person’s life, the more mundane and unspectacular each of the daily activities appears, just as a high-powered microscope reveals the flaws and cracks of a diamond. But the truth is, D’Antoni and his staff achieved a minor miracle last year by going deep in the playoffs with players no one had heard of before (chiefly Bell, Leandro Barbosa, and Boris Diaw). Moreover, they created such an aesthetically pleasing and potent style of play—with Nash and Marion as the cornerstones—that they have effectively architected what many feel is the NBA’s free-flowing renaissance. This book simply focuses so thoroughly on every one of those incremental steps that the chaotic rough edges seem just as pervasive as the sublimity of the overall sculpture.

And to be sure, the coaching staff sweats. They’re up at all hours, agonizing and brooding over strategies and match-ups, all the while haunted by the knowledge of their own limitations once that ball is tipped. The players, meanwhile, simply rest up and then execute. This player-coach dynamic reminded me a little of Tom Wolfe’s depiction of the engineers in The Right Stuff, who probably deserved far more credit than the astronauts. It was the engineers who labored and fretted while designing and perfecting the wondrous space shuttles, yet it was the astronauts who received all the accolades simply for sitting in them.

Obviously, D’Antoni’s players are not mere passengers, but neither is their sheer talent what solely drove (and drives) the Suns’ success. Somehow, everything connects and enjoins, even if the closer we examine it, the more unstructured it appears. In short, it’s a team effort, and it’s a non-linear process. It’s also real life, so there’s petty bickering and seemingly illogical shortsightedness—it’s probably a lot like where you work, in other words. Ultimately, it’s that mystery of how parts can comprise a body of work that transcends its components that is the essence of 7 Seconds, as well as what makes it so compulsively readable.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Suns 115, Bobcats 106 (OT)

The Bobcats were in Phoenix on Wednesday night, coincidentally just a day after I finished reading Jack McCallum’s revealing look at last year’s Suns team, 7 Seconds or Less. I plan to do a full-blown review of the book in the next few days, but in short I would highly recommend it to anyone (other than my ignorant neighbor, the kind of guy who is immovable from the “basketball players are thugs” stance and who routinely cites the Latrell Sprewell choking incident like it happened ten days ago, rather than ten years ago). Not only is it a terrifically expository page-turner, it’s inspiring to people like me. In fact, I’m now thinking of turning these recaps I’ve been doing into a book of my own; perhaps I could call it 7 Losses in a Row or Less.

Anyway, closing out this west coast swing—which has turned into quite possibly the worst road trip since the Bay of Pigs invasion—against the Phoenix Suns was probably the last thing the defensively-challenged Bobcats wanted to do. On the other hand, the nice thing about playing Phoenix is they tend to wildly inflate your own statistics—they’re like South America and currency. Therefore, it was fitting that it was Brazilian Leandro Barbosa who contributed most to the Cats' eventual demise in overtime. Barbosa scored 32 points (including 7-of-11 3-pointers) in the deadliest Brazilian shooting spree since City of God.

However, except for the Bobcats losing, this game had a number of surprising elements—going into overtime, for starters. The Bobcats got a solid performance from everyone (how about that double-double from Jake Voskuhl?), had multiple leads, and out-rebounded the Suns 53-40. Mercurial Phoenix head coach Mike D’Antoni, known for his legendary temper-tantrums, rants, and sideline antics, was so incensed with his team’s lackluster performance that at one point he even folded his arms and grimaced slightly. Seriously though, the game got pretty chippy, as the refs called a total of four technical fouls and even ejected Amare Stoudemire early in the second half. It was something you don’t expect from these fun-lovin’ Suns; it was almost like seeing a brawl break out at a Harlem Globetrotters game.

Using the zone, the Bobcats eliminated cuts in the lane and forced the Suns to beat them from long-range—which, unfortunately, they did. But the point is, we looked good as well. Adam Morrison and Gerald Wallace get the Jay-Z award for their 22-points apiece (Wallace also added 15 rebounds), Matt Carroll had 16, and Brevin Knight scored 14 and had 9 assists. Best of all, Raymond Felton had 13 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds for his best game in quite some time. Rick Bonnell’s blog headline in today’s Observer reads “Felton Looks like a Point Guard vs. Suns,” which is the kind of thing I imagine Felton likes to read about himself, considering he is a point guard. All in all, it was the kind of upbeat effort you like to see. Perhaps Coach Bickerstaff put it best when he said after the game, “Some things we do out of necessity. A drowning man will grab a razor blade.” Then again, perhaps Coach Bickerstaff didn't put it best, because I really have no clue what that means.

Finally, special props tonight go to commentator Stephanie Ready, who is certainly not shying away from asking the tough questions. First, in an interview during the game she asked Sean May point-blank what he is doing for his daily cardio-routine while he’s been sidelined all this time with his injury. Maybe it’s just me, but this struck me as sort of a sensitive subject to bring up, as we all know May isn’t exactly known for his hard-core training regimens even when he is healthy. It was sort of like asking Barry Bonds what supplements he’s taking right now—not controversial on the face of it, but kind of touchy considering who you’re talking to. Then, after the game, Steph asked Shawn Marion about a key blocked shot he had in overtime that pretty much broke Charlotte’s back, and she actually pointed out to him that it looked like goaltending. “It was a blocked shot,” Marion quickly snapped back, “It is what it is.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who loathes that phrase, especially in this case, when it wasn’t at all what it was; that the ball was coming down when Marion blocked it couldn’t have been more obvious if it was hanging from a parachute. So anyway, go get 'em, Steph. If only she had conducted that exclusive interview with Michael Jordan instead of Matt Devlin, maybe she would have asked MJ which shower-curtain ring dealer sold him that earring—you see that hula hoop he was wearing? Thing was huge.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Jazz 120, Bobcats 95

The Bobcats are currently running a promotion called “Guys Night Out,” in which you get 2 hot hogs, 2 sodas, and 2 t-shirts. I’m not sure what’s so “guy” about this, so they ought to consider changing the title to “Come for the hot dogs, stay for Gerald Wallace.” Really, what other reason is there to attend a game at this point? And heaven forbid G-Dub gets injured or it’s discovered he’s ordering HGH online or something, because then you’d be left with, “Come for the hot dogs, stay for the condiments.”

It was another sensational effort by an increasingly haggard-looking Gerald Wallace last night, as he put up 33 hard-fought points in the latest Charlotte loss. In the third quarter, after G-Dub tripped over Gordon Giricek hustling for a loose ball and then skidded to a halt on his stomach, it looked like he might pull out a pillow and take a nap right there on the court. Wallace actually sounded delirious in the post-game interviews—either that or whoever was interviewing him was hard of hearing. "They (Jazz) run, they move, they cut, they slash and they have great passers and they've got guys that can make shots," Wallace said. Then, just a few paragraphs later, he follows up with almost the exact same words: "They never stop moving. It's hard to help when your guy's always cutting and slashing. I think they did a great job at executing; they got the ball to the guys that were making shots." Somebody get this man an IV-drip.

We are keeping Gerald Wallace, right? I see he’s generally considered the third most coveted free agent for the upcoming off-season, behind Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis. And no offense to those two, but G-Dub wakes up in the morning and pisses excellence. Other than Josh Smith, I challenge you to find a more consistent stat-stuffer. G-Dub is everything I deserve for being such a good fan. Anyway, before I start serenading him with “Underneath Your Clothes,” I suppose I should mention the game from last night.

So, newsflash: the Bobcats lost. Besides being out-moved, out-cut, and out-slashed by guys that can make shots, they were also out-rebounded by a comical margin, 48-21, allowing the Jazz more second-chance opportunities than Dwight Gooden. They also put the Jazz on the line 47 times. In fact, those two disparities fused together awesomely during a stretch early in the second quarter. With the Bobcats down 8 and still more or less in the game, Jarron Collins gets a lay-up and a foul, but he misses the free throw. However, Collins grabs his own rebound to keep the Utah possession alive, and then Jake Voskuhl commits a defensive 3-second violation. Giricek then makes the technical, and then Matt Harpring gets fouled and hits both his free-throws. Bam! The 8-point deficit is now a 13-point deficit in 9 seconds of elapsed time (although it felt something like 2 hours in human time), during which the Jazz only made one field goal.

Although Utah didn’t need any outstanding individual performances to win this one, they apparently didn’t get the mehmet—er, memo. I still for the life of me can’t figure out how to pronounce Mehmet Okur’s first name (and apparently neither can commentator Henry Williams, who actually gives the “Meh”-part a hard “c”, making it sound like something off a McDonald’s menu), but if he keeps this up maybe should call him “2Pac Okur,” because the dude is a prodigiously out-of-control handful. He had 9 rebounds and hit 13-of-15 for 32 points, scoring every which way: long-distance, cuts, and backing it on up like a U-Haul truck. Poor Wallace’s efforts to try to keep the much larger Okur away looked as ridiculously futile as my dog attacking its reflection in the mirror.

Harpring also had 19 points off the bench, and Deron Williams went for 12 and 6. If there’s any positive to all of this, it’s that management has finally realized that they might be better off just going 4-on-5 like a penalty kill than they are putting Primoz Brezec out there--there would at least be fewer fouls.

Monday, March 05, 2007

SuperSonics 96, Bobcats 89

After the “Misfortune in Portland” on Friday, Derek Anderson predicted the next team wouldn’t be as equipped to beat them from outside. "That's not going to be the norm," Anderson said, and I remember having to bite my tongue at the time, wondering how DA came to that conclusion, considering the next opponents were Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis (who are basically equipped to do little else). Maybe Anderson was counting on Allen’s ankle keeping him out, but the Sonics have proven to be the Anti-Bobcats this year: their seemingly catastrophic injuries turn out to be much more benign, while Charlotte players get muscle strains that morph into leprosy.

Call Allen the Ankle Whisperer: "I just tried to listen to (my ankle), take the shots that I had, and move and not put too much pressure on it," Allen said. He and Lewis combined for 62 points and Earl Watson (more on him later) had a double-double to run our losing streak to five in another Okafor-less, blooper-filled dud (all we were missing was Bob Ueker on the play-by-play). No one else on Seattle did much of anything, which begs the question: why does Lewis seem all but gone in free agency this summer? After Ray Allen, who do the Sonics have all their money tied up in, Nick Collison?

Anyway, the good news is the Cats were in this right up until the end, beautiful friend, the end. They also played grittier than Shaft’s Big Score—Umm, except for Primoz Brezec, who...lost...a...jump…ball…to Earl…Jesus Shuttlesworth, I can’t even type this sentence without stopping in disbelief…Earl Watson!! (There, I did it really fast.) Yep, Watson beat out Brezec on a jump ball, and all the credit in the world should go to commentator Matt Devlin, who took it completely in stride and said something like, “That Watson can really jump,” as if 6-1 guys out-jumping 7-1 guys is entirely normal. Then, about a minute later, in a sort of Suck Encore, Brezec had his shot blocked by Watson. And AGAIN Devlin barely flinched—he deserves an Emmy for that, in my opinion; either the guy was on a jumbo-sized bag of Dramomine or he’s incapable of getting excited. Imagine if he’d been calling the Hindenburg tragedy (“Those blimps can really explode and shower hordes of screaming onlookers with fiery death from above, can’t they, Stephanie?”), no one would even remember it.

Spoiled in the loss was Adam Morrison’s homecoming to the state of Washington. Supposedly there was a lot of build-up in the press for AM’s big reunion, although the only proof of that we saw were two articles that Stephanie showed us, neither of which looked much bigger than coupon clippings. Morrison himself didn’t seem particularly moved either. “I don't miss going to class,” he said before the game, “I don't miss some of the other stuff…I enjoyed my college days and now it's time to move on.” Well, that’s okay, he’s at that age when it’s not cool to be nostalgic—I remember it well. That was also the age when I lived by codes like, “Never drive less than 15 mph over the speed limit,” so I won’t hold it against him.

Allen’s got some new reality show on NBA-TV, and the promo for it has got to be one of the all-time worst. It tries for this dramatic mood music and then Allen goes into this mumbled, rambling monologue that’s so terrible and meaningless, I had no choice but to transcribe it, word-for-incoherent-word:

“Being able to be the great shooter…or the best shooter—one of the best shooters in the world—really there…as much people…they use the, the phrase, ‘the art of shooting’…if you take a picture of anybody’s shot, you can dissect it and say why it works…but what most people don’t see is the work put into that shot. My point, my point is…when I’m shooting I need to, this ball needs to be part of my body when I shoot. Just, just you go up. When you go up you just let it go.”

Is he talking about how to shoot a basketball or how to pass gas? What’s really scary is that someone edited it to sound like that.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Trail Blazers 127, Bobcats 90

Okay, okay, I take it all back what I said a few games ago about not wanting Vince Carter. I would take Vince Carter. Hell, I’d take Jimmy Carter at this point, if I thought it could help. I’d do anything to avoid having to endure another game like last night’s debacle in Portland. Once again without Woods and Prior—I mean, Okafor and May—the Bobcats were blown away by 37 points, their second-worst deficit ever (and that’s saying something; in terms of severity, it’s comparable to DMX’s second worst run-in with the cops ever). For a large portion of the second half we were down by over 40—40!—man, I want to drink my 40’s, not trail by them.

Every Rose Arena has its thorn, and for the Bobcats it was LeMarcus Aldridge, who scored 30 points on 12-19 shooting (and sat most of the 4th). Of course, it’s hard to miss when every other shot is an unopposed alley-oop. I already compared our defense to a bowling alley last night, so where do I go from there? The Maginot Line? Arena football? Saddam Hussein’s lawyers? I’m taking requests. Martell Webster (20 points) also steamrolled over the Bobcats’ crumbling infrastructure early and often, and the only remaining suspense after the first quarter was when commentator Matt Devlin would realize that Webster’s first name wasn’t “Martin.” (answer: with ten minutes to go in the second quarter, but give Matt credit: he then jokingly asked if Martell “was Daniel’s brother,” and it’s that sort of brilliant humor that lets me laugh through my tears.) Meanwhile, Zach Randolph (20 points) picked his teeth with Primoz Brezec and Ryan Hollins, and I think it’s safe to say at this point that Brandon Roy (14 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds) has the inside track on Adam Morrison for Rookie of the Year.

Then, to put the icing on the turd, we learned that Okafor is headed back to Charlotte to get an MRI on his calf and may be gone 6 weeks?!? What in the world!? I never thought of the calf as a very sophisticated part of the human anatomy. What is it with this team and seemingly innocuous injuries that end up knocking out players for weeks? Sean May has a sore knee and he’s out indefinitely, Brevin Knight pulls his groin and they end up cutting out his stomach…Jesus, at this point, I’ll just be happy if they find out Emeka doesn’t have cancer.

I guess we’ll all be getting a good look at Hollins then. He had 6 points through the first half, but he didn’t get any more after that, and unfortunately his fouls caught up and eventually tied with his scoring. And where was Derek Anderson? With all those young guys on the Blazers, they should have been ripe for some of Anderson’s veteran bamboozling. Instead: 0 points in 7 minutes? It was the worst “DA” performance since Mike Nifong.

Forget it, this hurts too much. I’d rather think about something less depressing right now, like Darfur. I just hope I can contain my excitement until the Bobcats next game on Sunday in Seattle. Will we be able to stay within 40? Will we at least hold the Sonics to under 30 points for one of the quarters? Will Okafor need to have his leg amputated? Tune in to find out…

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Kings 135, Bobcats 120

First, I’d like to apologize. I should never have told female referee Violet Palmer that she needs to “go back to the kitchen.” It seemed funny at the time, but—oh wait, that wasn’t me. That was Celtics announcer Cedric Maxwell, who is somehow still employed after letting that one “slip.” He then actually had the nerve to issue the following statement: "If I said anything that might have been insensitive or sexist in any way, then I apologize.” Ummm, “might”? It’d be interesting to see what Maxwell considers to be “definitely” sexist: maybe hitting women over the head with a club and dragging them into his cave would qualify.

Anyway, my apologies are to Shaun Livingston. I feel bad, because I pretty much spent all of the last blog lamenting Sean May’s bum knee and totally forgot to even mention that Livingston’s own knee pretty much exploded on camera like something out of a David Cronenberg film. I also feel bad because it occurred to me that someone might actually be reading this site for news and information and thus missed out. It’s kind of hard to believe, but then again there are people out there who watch Bill O’Reilly for news and information, so you never know. Thus I if my blog has been seen as informative and competent in any way, then I apologize.

Which takes us to last night’s game, in which Emeka Okafor’s calf was still strained and Sean May’s knee is still bum. This meant once again having to make do with Jake Voskuhl and Primoz Brezec down low, who have worked about as well together as Roy and his tiger; the two seem biologically incapable of going more than 1.5 minutes without collecting a foul. I’m feeling pretty ripped off about making the effort to stay up this late, only to watch the team lose by 15 to Sacramento and play less defense than a bowling alley. It’s kind of like shelling out all this money for protein-enriched gourmet dog food for Lincoln, and then seeing him just as content to walk outside and eat other dogs’ feces.

Nothing like a game in which you put John Salmons and Corliss Williamson on the free-throw line a combined 19 times. Mike Bibby also ruined everything by scoring four points in the first half, giving me what I thought was the go-ahead to begin brainstorming a bunch of “Bibby is worthless” jokes, and then he ended up pouring in 26 in the second half, including 6-of-7 on three-pointers. I really have no idea what about him is so infuriating, but I'm clearly not alone on this. Towards the end of the game, after the 6th in a row by Bibby from downtown, Coach Bickerstaff and the rest of the bench began racking up technicals, and they honestly looked like they were just pissed that it was Bibby who was beating us. Oh well, we’ll meet again, Mike, and I’ll be there for you, these five words I swear to you. Finally, Kevin Martin scored what was quite possibly the least electrifying 36 points ever. He basically just shoots them in, and that’s it—even his hair is no longer interesting.

Well, at least we had Gerald Wallace, our shining beacon of hope: 31 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals. Plus he went 7-for-7 from the free throw line, which is definitely encouraging. After the last few games, I was about to suggest that instead of just slapping hands in between G-Dub’s foul shots, the team should maybe consider a group hug.