Archive for May, 2009

The Tiger Has Purple Eyes

May 30, 2009

Canadians that have gone onto recently will have been treated to an advertising alerting them of the opportunity to meet NBA legend Jerome Williams at Best Buy in the coming weeks. I’m quite amused that a player who averaged 7 points and 6 boards a game and was out of the League by the time he was 32 is being referred to as a “legend”.

Which brings us to talk about something truly legendary – this year’s Lakers team. After seemingly playing around with the Rockets before knocking them off, L.A. has the look of a champion now, or to get all cliche up in here, they have the “eye of the tiger”. In their dismantling of Denver last night, Kobe and the boys appear to be out for blood. And it probably won’t even matter who the Eastern Conference crowns as their champion, because the Lakers are stronger than both Cleveland and Orlando. As already mentioned here, Cleveland has been exposed as a championship-contender fraud, and Orlando probably doesn’t have a legit chance at beating L.A. unless they get really hot from long range for the whole series.

Meanwhile, all the pieces are there for the Lakers to dominant the Finals – a superstar with a killer instinct, a big man who is happy playing the part of secondary star, role players willing and able to play their roles, and a coach with the most rings in NBA history. In fact, considering Kobe and Derek Fisher are the only members of the team who have blown out 30 candles on a cake, this Lakers team could be dominant for a long, long time. Assuming they can resign Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza, who has probably earned himself a big raise after his play this playoffs.

Which means I’m going to have to come to grips with my hate for the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite possessing the only Lakers home jersey with CEBALLOS on the back of it left in existence, the Lakers have always worn the black hat in my world. My distaste for them has only increased with the rise of Kobe Bryant. While commiserating with a fellow Lakers hater (who especially hates them due to Sasha Vujacic screwing him out of winning bets twice by hitting meaningless three-pointers at the buzzer of blowouts instead of dribbling out the clock), he hit the nail on the head why we don’t like this team. In his words, they are like the spoiled rich kid villains in movies (Caddyshack, Revenge of the Nerds, Animal House, etc.) that terrorize the heroes, steal the girl and have everything go their way, only to have the heroes turn the tables and vanquish the bad guys at the end of the movie. Except, in the Lakers case, it doesn’t appear like it will blow up in their face this year.

Additionally, as a Kobe “hater”, both of the way he plays the game and the way he carries himself, I’ve always had the “can’t win a ring without Shaq” defense in my arsenal. Looks like that is going by the wayside also. All biases aside, Bryant is having a great playoffs and is one of the rare players who actually posts better stats in the playoffs than in the regular season. I still believe LeBron is the best player in the game right now, but with the game on the line there is no one I’d rather have take the last shot than Kobe Bean. As much as all this pains me to say, the truth can not be denied.

So Lakers haters will have to come to terms with the fact that L.A. is probably going to win the title this year. And this could just be the start of the purple reign.


Down With The King?

May 27, 2009

We should have seen this coming, all the warning signs were there. But winning can cover up a lot of a team’s flaws. And Cleveland has done a lot of winning – 66-16 in the regular season, undefeated through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Cavs looked like a lock to at least come out as the champions of the East, if not the champions of the “world”.

So, what happened on the way to The King’s coronation? The true Cavs team has showed up, that’s what. It is true that this the best team that LeBron James has had since he can upon the scene, but that is more of a backhanded compliment than anything. The thought of Mo Williams as a solid second “star” on the team is laughable. Williams is apparently more concerned about listening to the sound of his own voice than the sound of the swish of the net after taking a shot. (As an angry aside, Williams and J.R. Smith need to SHUT THEIR MOUTHS. If your name is not LeBron, Kobe, Dwight, Chauncey or Carmelo, you have no business predicting victories. Since when do role players get to make such bold statements?).

So the fact that Cleveland is down 3-1 shouldn’t come as a very big surprise. Orlando simply has more talent than the Cavs do. Dwight Howard is one of the best players in the League, Rashard Lewis is a two-time all-star still in his prime and Hedo Turkoglu could be the least-decorated best player in the League. What does LeBron have on his side? A borderline all-star in Williams (he only made it this season because a bunch of players got boo-boos and skipped the game) who is shooting under 40% these playoffs. The rest of the roster is dotted with washed up stars and role players. Not a recipe for a championship team. Or for keeping LeBron from jumping zip codes in 2010.

In fact, if Cleveland did win the title this season it would be the least talented team to take home the crown since Hakeem’s 1995 Houston Rockets squad. Every other championship team since that time has had at least two stars to carry the load. Michael & Scottie. Tim & David. Tim & Tony & Manu. Shaq & Kobe. Shaq & Wade. Every team left in these playoffs, outside of Cleveland, has at least a couple of star players in place to diversify their attack. Cleveland has Mo Williams. And Delonte West. And Anderson Varejao. And it became quite apparent at the end of Game 4 that LeBron realizes that he has to try to do it all on his own. But it is a futile task, even for a talent like James – look no further than his turnovers and missed shots in overtime. So while James is a singular talent, that is exactly the problem – he’s singular – he’s only one man(child).

And with each Cleveland (and L.A.) loss, a little piece of David Stern dies.

MMA Manifesto – Float Like A Butterfly

May 25, 2009

If these NBA playoffs have been too rough and violent for you, then this column is probably not for you. Rather than to write some more about how great these playoffs have been, today it is time for The Hoops Manifesto to make way for The MMA Manifesto. If you don’t know what MMA is, that is that sport where you are allowed to punch, kick and choke your opponent (and I’m not talking about hockey).

And if we are going to talk MMA, we have to talk about the man of the hour – newly crowned UFC light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida. The Dragon’s mix of Shotokan karate and Brazilian JiuJitsu has taken the fighting world by storm, and his name is now in the mix for best pound-for-pound fighter in the world (along with GSP, Fedor and Anderson Silva). And, perhaps most interesting, he has shown that karate can be an effective tool in the octagon.

What the 14-0 Machida has done over his past two UFC fights is truly stunning. His knockouts of previous undefeated Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans were devastating, with neither opponent having a chance in either fight. His dismantling of Evans on Saturday was especially impressive, as, per usual, Machida barely got touched throughout the fight. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee couldn’t be a more fitting description of Machida’s fighting style. With precision, pin-point kicks and punches his offense is deadly, especially considering he leans back when he kicks his opponent, nullifying any chance of a counterstrike. But his defense might be even more impressive than his offense. Extremely quick and light on his feet for his size, The Dragon dodges and weaves his opponent’s strikes and is next to impossible to take down.

Next up for Machida is apparently top contender Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. As formidable as the former champ is, he has no shot at beating Machida. Jackson has proven to have no desire to check his opponent’s leg kicks, and it cost him the belt when he fought Forrest Griffin. The Karate Kid will eat him up with kicks, and Rampage’s aggressive style will allow Machida plenty of openings to strike.

So if Rampage doesn’t have a shot at beating him, then who does? Undefeated fighters don’t stay undefeated for too long, so Machida is bound to lose soon, right? Maybe not. Scanning UFC’s current light heavyweight division (perhaps the company’s strongest weight class) there are no names that jump off the page at you as a potential knight to slay The Dragon. But there is one man who would have a shot at beating Machida. That would be middleweight king Anderson Silva.

Silva, like Machida, is a puzzle that few opponents can solve. Silva is also one of the rare fighters who can go up in weight and still be successful. So Silva going up to light heavyweight and fighting Machida in a “superfight” that Dana White is so fond of would be a no-brainer, right? Wrong. Silva and Machida are training partners and have stated that they have no interest in fighting one another. And even if they did step into the octagon to face one another, would they even fight? Both Brazilians tend to dance around the ring and wait for their opponent to make the first move. Would there even be a first move if these two went at it?

So what should be a dream situation for the UFC – two champions with awe-inspiring skills – could become a nightmare. With no one really having a chance at beating either man, where is the drama? The reason sports are interesting to people is because the outcomes are unknown. When these two step into the octagon, the outcome is pretty much known before the first punch is thrown. The only answer is to get Silva and Machida to go at it. And while Dana White talks loud and carries a big stick, his stick might not be big enough to make this dream a reality.

Read To Achieve

May 24, 2009

I’m assuming anyone checking out this site knows how to read (although a lot of the photos I put up here do tell a story on their own). So with basketball season almost over, it’s time to take a look at some of The Hoops Manifesto’s recommended readings for the hoops junkie this summer. Welcome to The Hoops Manifesto Book Club.

When March Went Mad
Seth Davis

You all will probably know Seth Davis as that handsome, young studio analyst for CBS’ college hoops coverage. You know, the guy who likes to slip “Baba Boey’s” into the middle of sentences. Well Davis is also an accomplished scribe and his latest offering is When March Went Mad, which tells the tale of the 1979 NCAA Championship game. The game otherwise known as THE GAME THAT CHANGED THE WORLD. Perhaps you’ve heard of Michigan State and Indiana State’s star players from that season – Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird. Their head-to-head cage match for the NCAA title is still the highest rated NCAA game ever, and sparked a massive outpouring of interest in college hoops, and later on, the NBA. What many tend to forget is that their title game tilt wasn’t a very good game – the Spartans were in control of the contest throughout and Bird played poorly. Luckily Davis’ book doesn’t just deal with the actual contest, but also doubles as a bio of the key antagonists’ lives. A thoroughly entertaining read.

Buy it here (Canada): When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball

or here (Rest of world): When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball

The Madness Of March
Alan Jay Zaremba

The Madness of March deals with two of my favourite things – basketball and gambling (although I prefer to lose my money on cards rather than on teams). Professor Alan Zaremba chronicles the scene in Las Vegas during the opening weekend of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. And what a scene it was, full of colourful characters employing even more colourful language. Zaremba becomes fully embedded in the action, as both a bettor and an amused observer. The result is a fascinating, often humorous, look into the lives of the (mostly) men who converge on the desert every March with their “locks” and “sure thing” picks. The book also contains a sentence that fully sums up my thoughts on gambling: “How much difference is there between betting on tech stocks and betting on North Carolina?”. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Buy it here (Canada): Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys in Las Vegas

or here (Rest of world): The Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys in Las Vegas

And on a totally unrelated note – LYOTO MACHIDA IS A BAD MAN!!!!!!!

I Love This Game

May 23, 2009
I did the deed for SLAM tonight, so for my recap of the Orlando/Cleveland tilt go here. The only other thing I have to say about that game that I didn’t mention over at SLAM was how refreshing it was to see some critical fourth quarter calls go against LeBron. Nothing personal against the King – its just that it is (rightfully) assumed that the superstars of the League have all the calls go their way. So when James got called for back-to-back charges early in the fourth, along with a travelling call with less than a minute left, it was refreshing.

Now if you haven’t enjoyed the playoffs thus far you probably aren’t a basketball fan – so get the hell off of my site! Just kidding – I welcome all the traffic I can get. But, seriously, this round of the playoffs has just been remarkable. Free Darko was just talking about historic moments in NBA playoff history. Well tonight LeBron had his. His game-winning three probably is being edited into a commercial as I type these words.

But this is just one remarkable moment of these playoffs. We’ve had close games, highlight reel plays, and probably most importantly to the “powers-that-be” (aka The Man), some of the League’s brightest stars twinkling in the night sky. LeBron, Kobe, Dwight, Pau, Chauncey and Carmelo were all named on the All-NBA teams this year, and all are still slugging it out on the big stage. And if Kobe and LeBron end up meeting in the Finals, David Stern might spontaneously combust due to his excitement.

Perhaps most telling of how good the playoffs have been, I’ve been willing to stay up past my bedtime to watch the games. Now that’s saying something. This really is where amazing happens.

Future’s So Bright

May 20, 2009

I know I probably should be talking about the thrilling Lakers-Nuggets game from last night, but, to be honest, I didn’t watch it. When you have to get up at 6:00am everyday, most playoff games end too damn late to watch (wow – what an old man comment that was). No, I’m here today to talk to you about the NBA draft. Besides, the future is always infinitely more interesting than the present. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side concept comes into play here.

First of all, condolences to Blake Griffin. A player with his skills and strong character shouldn’t have to start his career off with the Clippers. To follow in the shoes of Michael Olowokandi, Darius Miles and Shaun Livingston is every ball-bouncing youth’s dream come true. And to top it off, he gets to learn the ropes of his position and the pro game from none other than Zach Randolph.

Maybe Griffin will end up being a martyr for future pro prospects thinking of declaring early for the draft. Beware or you might end up a Clipper.

But the player’s fate that I’m most interested in is the player who make the young girls’ (and GMs‘) heart aflutter. A heartthrob and rock star on the level of Pistol Pete (minus the brooding). None other than the cutie pie below.

But Ricky does more than just make the girls swoon. He’s also the most exciting player in this year’s draft, an 18-year-old who had the label “Next” placed on him years ago. His ball-handling and passing ability is otherworldly, and he is a magnet for steals on the defensive end. And we need to make sure he gets drafted by Oklahoma City.

Why Oklahoma City you say? Because with Rubio on that squad they would become must-see-tv. A terrifically exciting – and flawed – team playing in relative obscurity. A backcourt of Rubio and Russell Westbrook – both undersized defensive menaces with no jump shots – would be like watching a summer league game all season long. And on OKC it wouldn’t matter that Rubio isn’t a shooter or scorer – that is what that Kevin Durant kid is for. And if the thought of one of the best young passer/playmakers in recent times dishing to the best young gunner in the League on a full-time basis doesn’t turn your crank then maybe its time to get a new crank.

It doesn’t appear that the Clippers will get in our way of making this dream a reality – they have stated that Griffin is their man. Now we have to get Memphis on board with the plan. We have to convince the Grizzly Bears that Mike Conley Jr. is the second coming of Zeke. And that O.J. Mayo is a very capable backup point guard. And that Hasheem Thabeet is Dikembe Mutombo resurrected. Even Ricky would probably prefer to play in Memphis, considering fellow Spaniard Marc Gasol is there. But trust us Ricky – we know what’s best for you.

I know – we have hard work ahead of us, but pairing Rubio with Durant is worth every bead of sweat. Together I know we can make this dream a reality.

To Be The Man

May 18, 2009

“I have an opinion, I have a right to have one and that’s the way I feel. I felt I’ve played against the best over the years and felt right now that I’m the best player in the world.”

Paul Pierce, Boston Herald, Aug 2008

Paul Pierce, the best player in the world? I never bought what Pierce was selling for a second, even after he won the Finals MVP last season. Pierce has always been a level below the top tier of players – LeBron, Kobe, Duncan, etc. – in my books – a star, but not a superstar. Yes, he won the championship and the Finals MVP, but the voters must have not been watching Game 3 when he went 2-14 or the close-out game when he was 4-13. And that whole wheelchair nonsense of Game 1 really rubbed me the wrong way.

But Pierce did outduel LeBron and Kobe in back-to-back series, so I guess he felt he earned the right to crow. But clearly Kevin Garnett was and is the Celtics’ heart, soul and vertebrae. It’s hard to be considered the best player in the world when you aren’t even the best on your team. Don’t get me wrong, Pierce is a nice player. He’s one of those guys who gets the job done without being a “NBA-level” athlete, and that is always cool to see. But he’s not the complete package – a franchise player. If he was Danny Ainge wouldn’t have had to trade for Ray Allen and Garnett. But there is nothing wrong with that – there aren’t too many guys who are legit franchise players anyway. However, when you call yourself “the best there is”, you raise the stakes and leave yourself open for criticism from jerky writers like myself.

So with Garnett out of action for this playoffs, it was time for Pierce to change my mind. How did he do in Game 6 & 7 versus Orlando, when he had the chance to lead his team into the Conference Finals? 10-27 from the field, including 4-13 in Game 7. Not exactly “best player in the world” stuff. What Mr. Pierce must learn is that being the best player in the world takes more than a good playoff series or two. It takes consistently being the best player on the court, year after year. That is why Duncan, LeBron, Kobe and co. have the reps that they do. Because to be The Man, you have to beat The Man (consistently).

– In other news, my quest for complete domination of the World Wide Web continues.

Donkey Games

May 16, 2009

Now is not the time to be messing about. If you want to take games off, do it in November or December, not in May and June when the outcomes really matter. Yet the Lakers of Los Angeles think it is ok to only show up every other game, and wave off lax performances with a shrug and a “we’ll get ’em next game”. Sorry, in the playoffs, THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

The Houston-Lakers series should have been over games ago, after Yao went down with his injury. Instead Houston has won two games since then – with a lineup that wouldn’t have even come close to making the playoffs, even if they played in the (L)Eastern Conference. Yes, somehow the Lakers are allowing the Rockets to fulfill the prophecy of another bunch of Houston’s finest.

The Lakers 40-point blowout win in Game 5 shows that they think that they can just turn it on and off whenever they like. And against a decimated Houston team they probably can get away with it and win Game 7 on their home court. But if they think that they can show up only when the spirit moves them in the next round against Denver, they are in for a rude awakening.
Denver has a legit leader and champion running their team, and a scoring machine star holding it down on the wing. Throw in some athletic bigs and energy guys off the bench, and the Lakers will have their hands full. That is assuming they can even get past Houston tomorrow.

Now Cleveland, on the other hand, know what time it is. They are going about their business like it is just that – business, not fun and games. Get in and out as quick as possible then chill at home and wait for their next victim. As well as Houston is playing, there is no way the Cavs would be letting them hang around for seven games. Despite the Lakers having more talent than LeBron’s squad, and having a “genius” coach, Cleveland has to be considered the heavy favourite to grab the title this year. And if the Lakers don’t get their act together in time for Game 7 on Sunday, all this “we’ll get ’em next game” talk will be fruitless – eventually there is no next game.

Ringleader of the Tormentors

May 14, 2009

There is no way even the most prescient of fortune tellers, looking into their most reliable crystal balls, would have forsaw at the starting of the season the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals. The Nuggets were a ruddlerless group of outcasts and misfits. The front office gave the word “inept” a bad name. Case in point – after coach George Karl decided the team would have to be better defensively heading into this season, the team shipped off defensive stud Marcus Camby in a salary dump.

Then Allen Iverson came to the rescue. Except, it wasn’t on the court. As exciting a player as Iverson is, he hasn’t been real great at helping teams win many games (YES, I know he got Philly to a Finals, but winning the Eastern Conference is like winning an Emmy to the Western Conference’s Oscar). No, Iverson’s biggest contribution to the Nuggets was the day he left town and Chauncey Billups rode in to save the day.

What the Nuggets were lacking all along was a ringleader for their group of misfits. And make no mistake about it, the Nuggets are misfits. A former junkie who spikes his hair and thinks he’s a bird (man) every game. A center with one name, coming off knee and cancer surgery. A heavily tatted guard coming off the bench whose next ink job should say “mercurial”. An underappreciated and underperforming superstar. A power forward with the League’s largest “swagger to actual skills” differential. Billups is what this team was missing. While Iverson was just another misfit, Billups is their ringmaster. The one who can bring all the misfits together and make them one.
Now the team actually plays defense, even without Camby. Now Melo doesn’t have to worry about being a leader and can just punish opponents with his unorthodox game. Now J.R. Smith can just come off the bench and bomb. Now George Karl can look like a good coach.

What is forgotten in all this is that Billups is a misfit himself. After going third overall in the draft, he played on four different teams within his first four years in the League. He really didn’t establish himself until his sixth season in the L, and his fifth team, Detroit. Then he goes and wins a Finals MVP, even before he becomes an All-Star? Things like this don’t happen. Draft lottery busts don’t go on to become MVPs and All-Stars and potential Hall-of-Famers after burning through five teams.

While Denver is sure to be underdogs the rest of the way through the playoffs, the way they’re playing they very well could win it all. Its all due to the fact that they got their math correct finally: Billups > Iverson.


May 14, 2009

I’ll be a guest on ESPN radio in Hawaii on Thursday at 12:20pm Eastern, dropping knowledge on the upcoming NBA draft. All of you with ears and the internet should take a listen.

In the meantime, I’m off to watch the Nuggets finish off the Mavs, and should be back in the next day or so with an ode to Chauncey Billups.