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Monday, February 27, 2006

Action Packed Sunday: Why The Cavs Need Maurice Lucas, Kobe Bryant Needs Help and Kevin Garnett Deserves to be Fined

On Sunday, NBA fans were treated to an ABC-NBA TV-ESPN triple header: Detroit beat Cleveland 90-78 in game one, Houston defeated Orlando 89-84 in game two and Boston outlasted the Lakers 112-111 in game three.

The trade deadline has already passed but the Cleveland Cavaliers' real problem is that the player that they need was in his prime almost 30 years ago: power forward/enforcer Maurice Lucas. He would have known how to respond when Detroit's Rasheed Wallace clocked Cavs' center Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the head early in the game, opening a wound that required 10 stitches. Wallace was called for a flagrant foul 1, despite his pleas to the referees that the contact was incidental and that he was trying to make a play on the ball. That was not true, as Wallace admitted after the game that he was retaliating for an earlier Ilgauskas elbow: "I'm not going to start cracking a guy in the skull if I didn't get elbowed first," Wallace said. Here is Ilgauskas' take on the situation: "I got him first with an elbow, but it was unintentional. I made my free throws and came out of the game (to get stitches) because I can't afford getting suspended or thrown out (for retaliating)." No one on the Cavs went after Wallace during the game and Ilgauskas looked soft and tentative when he came back into the game.

Remember when Xavier McDaniel of the New York Knicks would go after Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan jumped right up in his face? Where was LeBron James when blood is gushing out of his big man's head? If in your face confrontation is not his thing he still could certainly make a point of driving right at Wallace and sending a message. Hubie Brown marveled about a play in which James drove to the hoop and used his body control to elude Rasheed Wallace but I think that James should have put his shoulder into Wallace's chest. One, Wallace might have been called for the foul if he wasn't set and two, even if James were called for a foul he would be delivering an important message. Think back to a couple months ago, when Kobe Bryant took a shot from Memphis' Mike Miller and had to leave the game. Bryant yelled to Miller that he would be back; when Bryant returned he made three straight three pointers to put the Lakers ahead 66-58 and he later delivered a forearm to Miller's throat that cost Bryant a two game suspension. The Lakers lost 100-99 in overtime and also lost both of the games that Bryant was forced to sit out, so clearly Bryant's actions had a cost; on the other hand, no championship player or team will accept being pushed, punched or shoved without responding. Bryant's response was a bit excessive and I'm not saying that Ilgauskas should have punched Wallace but how about delivering a hard foul? Later in the game Ben Wallace caught a lob at the front of the rim and dunked over Ilgauskas. Ben Wallace is a bad free throw shooter, so letting him dunk is a bad play anyway and that would have been a perfect time for Ilgauskas to deliver a hard, clean foul.

What the Cavs desperately need is a player like Maurice Lucas, who played power forward alongside Bill Walton on the 1977 NBA Champion Portland Trail Blazers. Lucas was one of the toughest players in the NBA in the 1970s and 1980s; he once explained in an interview that he would foul a guy early in the game just to see if he was ready to play. It's not about throwing punches, delivering cheap shots or injuring people--it's about making it clear that you won't allow the other team to throw punches, deliver cheap shots or injure your guys. If Ilgauskas is unable or unwilling to deliver that message, then someone else on the team has to step up and do it. The first time Ilgauskas caught the ball in the post against Rasheed Wallace he should have planted an elbow in Wallace's chest, deposited him on the floor and dunked the ball. Let the officials call a charge, a block or nothing--the important thing is to deliver a message to Wallace and every other player who might guard Ilgauskas that he and the Cavs will not be pushed around.

NBA TV decided to make Houston-Orlando a "silent game," broadcasting it without commentators; all viewers heard during the telecast were Orlando's public address announcer and whatever court sounds were picked up by NBA TV's specially placed microphones. The concept is interesting as a novelty, replicating the experience of seeing the game in the arena, but it is also enjoyable to hear an intelligent analyst like Hubie Brown or Doug Collins offer insights on the action. The game itself saw Houston take a huge lead and then hold off a furious Orlando run at the end. The Rockets are 10-2 in February as they try to recover from their slow start. Asked about playing against his former team, Houston star McGrady replied, "They let one individual (former club president John Weisbrod) screw the whole organization up. It took awhile for everybody to realize that. Everybody thought I wanted out. I'm home. Then you trade Cuttino Mobley? I didn't understand that." Orlando recently acquired Darko Milicic from Detroit; it is too soon to know how good he can be, but a couple plays caught my eye: a touch pass that he delivered to Dwight Howard for a slam dunk and another excellent pass that he threw to Howard in the paint. Milicic clearly sees the floor well and possesses some basketball skills, so it will be interesting to watch his development in Orlando.

Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce engaged in an old fashioned shootout in the third game and the outcome was not decided until Pierce hit one of two free throws after a Bryant foul with 1.7 seconds left. On the ensuing inbounds play, Luke Walton missed a wide open Lamar Odom under the basket and instead passed to a double-covered Bryant, who missed from 20 feet as time expired. Bryant finished with 40 points, eight rebounds and six assists, while Pierce had 39 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Anyone who asks why Bryant shoots so much should be required to watch tape of this game: Kwame Brown can't catch, Chris Mihm misses point blank shots and Lamar Odom plays passively for long stretches. Bryant frequently drives, attracts two defenders and makes the right pass, but at some point his teammates have to catch the ball and make the shot.

The other NBA news from Sunday is that Kevin Garnett threw a ball into the stands in frustration, hitting a fan in the face. Garnett apologized to the fan, but since the ball hit someone Garnett was automatically ejected and today the NBA fined him $5000. Some have suggested that the NBA should be lenient in this case because Garnett just threw the ball out of frustration and did not mean to hit anyone. I don't know how seriously hurt the fan was or why he was wheeled out on a stretcher--the fans booed because on the surface it looks like he is setting the stage for a lawsuit, but maybe he has some other health problem or a pre-existing injury--but I doubt that the tears of the little girl sitting next to the fan were fake. Garnett's actions are simply unacceptable. There is no reason to throw a ball into the stands and if the ball hits someone then he has to accept the consequences; a $5000 fine for someone who makes $15 million-plus per year seems pretty lenient to me.

posted by David Friedman @ 7:45 PM


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At Tuesday, February 28, 2006 10:17:00 AM, Blogger Scott said...

KG may have gotten the shaft, but wolves fans were jerks for boo'ing the guy who was hurt by KG's little hissy fit, in front of his little girl no less. I ranted about this on my blog at http://mymountain.blogspot.com/2006/02/shame-on-timberwolves-fans-for-booing.html. The hate mail has been interesting. Fans don't like being held accountable.

At Wednesday, March 01, 2006 9:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I checked out your blog and the reaction to your post. I suppose that a psychiatrist would say that the people who are spouting all of this vitriol are projecting their own feelings--i.e., they would try to exploit this situation by filing a lawsuit, so they assume that this individual will do so and they are probably jealous of the riches they assume that he is going to obtain. You mention in your blog post that KG used vulgarities to explain his conduct. This does not surprise me--while he smiles for national TV cameras, he is often sullen or worse when dealing with local media.


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