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Friday, February 17, 2006

First Installment of HoopsHype All-Star Weekend Report Published

Here is the link to the first installment of my daily All-Star Weekend reports:

http://hoopshype.com/articles/allstar_friedman.htm

posted by David Friedman @ 11:40 AM

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All-Star Weekend is Here

I arrived in Houston on Thursday to cover All-Star Weekend. My first stop after obtaining my credential was the NBA All-Star Jam Session at the George R. Brown Convention Center. This is the 13th edition of the Jam Session, which features contests, clinics, basketball collectibles for sale and much more. On Thursday TNT broadcast its studio show from there and I had the opportunity to interview Charles Barkley. After that I stopped by the Naismith International Basketball Foundation display and spoke with Ian Naismith, the grandson of Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Quotes from both interviews are included in the first installment of my daily HoopsHype reports from Houston. After the article is posted there I will add a link to it here at 20 Second Timeout.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:20 AM

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Second Annual ABA Reunion Will be Held During All-Star Weekend in Houston

All-Star Weekend is just around the corner. In addition to the Rookie-Sophomore Game on Friday night, All-Star Saturday Night (featuring Shooting Stars, the Skills Challenge, the Three Point Shootout and the Slam Dunk Contest) and the All-Star Game itself on Sunday, there will also be the second annual ABA "Ole School Reunion." I covered the ABA Reunion during last year's All-Star Weekend in Denver; here is a link to my HoopsHype story about that event:

http://hoopshype.com/articles/aba_friedman.htm

This year's ABA Reunion is being held at the Houston Marriott Medical Center Hotel, which is located at 6580 Fannin Street. The following information comes from the official press release for the ABA Reunion:

Saturday, February 18th, 2006: Party with ABA basketball legends Moses Malone, Roland "Fatty" Taylor, James Silas, George Gervin and many, many more. Pictures taken with your favorite ABA/NBA sports celebrity. This can happen when you join us at Houston's Medical Center Marriott, in the ballroom, 8:00pm - 2am. Tickets are $50 in advance. Dance the night away. Entertainment provided by Houston's finest "ole school DJ." For ticket information contact Roland Taylor (713-796-0080), Marriott Medical Center Hotel.

This will be a night to remember. See you there.

Sunday, February 19th, 2006: Party again with the "Stars". The Marriott Medical Center Hotel provides an intimate setting to mix and mingle with ABA/NBA celebrities starting at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $50 each in advance. For ticket information contact Roland Taylor, Marriott Medical Center Hotel (713-796-0080), or you can email Cheryl Maxwell (cheryl_maxwell_1@hotmail.com).


I just spoke with Fatty Taylor and he mentioned that fans can come early to the Sunday event and watch the All-Star Game at the Marriott Sports Bar with the ABA legends before the post-game party, which will be held in the Marriott Grand Ballroom.

I will be writing daily All-Star Weekend reports for HoopsHype.com, so be sure to go there to find out what is going on behind the scenes in Houston.

posted by David Friedman @ 7:07 PM

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Cut--And Get Me Rewrite!

All the world's a stage--and sometimes the actors flip the script in the middle of the play. As I watched the Pistons-Heat game on TV today, I began composing this post, noting what seemed to be key themes. For instance, Shaquille O'Neal had his best first half scoring output of the season (21 points) and the Heat still trailed 59-49 at the break. I asked myself, "If Miami cannot keep up with Detroit with Shaq operating at peak efficiency, what chance do the Heat have to win a title?" Then, after Detroit showed that it had no answers for Shaq, Miami did the Pistons a big favor and stopped feeding the Diesel, who amazingly had no field goal attempts in the third quarter. I thought back to how often Shaq publicly blasted former teammate Kobe Bryant's style of play and lauded Dwyane Wade as his best teammate ever. With Wade having a miserable first half (nine points on 3-11 shooting from the field) and Shaq not receiving many touches in the third quarter I wondered if Shaq felt like reconsidering his previous statements.

Detroit led 84-71 at the end of the third period, their biggest margin all game, and Miami seemed to be headed for another disappointing loss. The outline of this post seemed to be crystal clear: Shaq gets the ball less in Miami than he did in L.A. when he was doing so much griping about Kobe, Miami is not a real championship contender, and Wade was doing basically what Kobe did playing alongside Shaq, only less effectively. Then Wade poured in 18 fourth quarter points, including the final 17 points by the Heat, capped off by nailing the game winning jumper with 2.3 seconds left. Tayshaun Prince missed a three pointer at the buzzer and the Heat won, 100-98. As a movie director might say, "Cut--and get me rewrite!"

So, what are we to make of this game? Certainly it was a stirring second half performance by the Heat, particularly Wade, who finished with 37 points, eight rebounds and four assists; that truly is like what Kobe did when he played with Shaq: closing out a win with clutch play down the stretch--a lot of people forget how often Kobe filled the "closer" role, even in games when Shaq might have had bigger overall numbers. Miami was coming off of an embarrassing 112-76 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night and has fared poorly against good teams all season. So this win was very timely for the Heat, but it is important to guard against the natural tendency to overreact to what we have most recently seen. Miami still has a poor record against good teams and Detroit is still the best team in the East. O'Neal (31 points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots) won three championships playing alongside Bryant and provided some much needed perspective with his postgame remarks, first stating the obvious--"It was a big win"--and then adding, "Anybody can win one game. Now we have to keep it going. We need any win, especially against the top teams." Detroit's Chauncey Billups (29 points and 10 assists) also cautioned against reading too much into one game: "It's just another win (for them) really. They might look at it as bigger than what it really is, but it is just another win against the team with the best record in the league." The Heat are now 1-7 against the NBA's top four teams (Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio).

The ebb and flow of this game epitomizes what is so wonderful about sports--unscripted drama. You can't write the story beforehand: you have to watch the action unfold, sitting on the edge of your seat, and only when the buzzer sounds do you know the identity of the winner and the loser.

During Julius Erving's last season, Tom Callahan wrote a wonderful article about Dr. J's Farewell Tour ("Dr. J is Flying Away," published in the December 22, 1986 issue of Time). Callahan quotes Dr. J saying, "Man makes plans, God laughs." This is as true of retiring legends as it is of championship contenders--and writers.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:57 PM

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Shootout at the Q: King James Versus J Rich

LeBron James and Jason Richardson staged their version of "Shootout at the OK Corral" on Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena as Richardson's Golden State Warriors defeated James' Cleveland Cavaliers 99-91. The problem for the Cavs is that Richardson brought a whole posse to the shootout, while James' teammates looked like the gang that couldn't shoot straight, connecting on only 23 of 66 from the field (.348). Richardson (31 points, eight rebounds, one assist) received a lot of support from Derek Fisher (6-7 from the field, 18 points) and Andris Bierins (5-5 from the field, 11 points). James was terrific (33 points, six assists, five rebounds, two blocked shots, 10-17 from the field, 8-8 from the free throw line) and Eric Snow was solid (6-8 from the field, 12 points), but the rest of the Cavs' starters (Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden and Sasha Pavlovic) shot 6-28 from the field and scored only 17 points. The Cavs no doubt miss the all-around play of Larry Hughes, who is out with a broken finger, and the recent announcement that he will not return to action as soon as expected does not bode well for Cleveland--but Golden State is a sub-.500 team that was missing starting forward Troy Murphy and lost starting point guard Baron Davis less than 11 minutes into the game when he sprained his ankle going for a rebound. This was simply a game that the Cavs should have won--and losses like this prevented the Cavs from making the playoffs in each of LeBron's first seasons. The Cavs are 18-7 at home but only 5-5 versus losing teams.

James cut straight to the point in his postgame comments, saying, "I don't think that mentally we were there tonight. We need to find a way to not have games like this in order to be a great team." He tried to soften that harsh (and accurate) statement by expressing faith in his teammates: "I'm never disappointed in my team."

Cavs' Coach Mike Brown probably disagrees with that sentiment. Before he even took any questions from the assembled media he declared, "Offensively they executed better and longer than we did. We played defense--we tried to play defense--for 10 to 15 seconds at the most on each possession...eventually they got what they wanted. At the other end of the floor, offensively for us, we didn't execute at all, especially late in the ball game; I'm disappointed in our execution. We just came down, tried to throw the ball to Z, but we didn't space the floor the right way. We didn't do anything prior to getting him the ball, didn't set any screens. We held (the ball) for a long time without cutting or moving the defense...Having said that, the team that deserved to win the ball game tonight won it. You have to give everybody in that locker room down the hall credit because they kicked our behinds." Listening to Coach Brown, you could hear and feel the influence of San Antonio Spurs Coach Popovich in his blunt, straightforward assessment of the game and his acknowledgement of the fine play of the opposing team. When he kept mentioning execution I thought of the old line by John McKay when he was coaching the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Asked about his team's execution, he quipped that he was in favor of it.

Seen and Heard
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I spoke with Warriors' assistant coach Mario Elie prior to the game. All-Star Weekend kicks off in just a few days in Houston and Elie can't wait: "I'm looking forward to All-Star Weekend when they will be honoring our team (the '94 & '95 Rockets' championship teams will be feted at Sunday's Legends Brunch). We'll have Frankie Beverly. My wife and kids will be there with me. It's going to be a nice event."

Coach Elie is a real student of the history of the game and wishes that today's players knew more about the previous generations of players who paved the way for them to make so much money now.

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I joked with Coach Elie that he will be forever young because ESPN Classic and NBA TV are always replaying his "Kiss of Death" shot against Phoenix in the '95 playoffs. Another Warriors assistant coach, John MacLeod, also was part of such a moment when he was head coach of the upstart Phoenix Suns, who took the Boston Celtics to triple overtime before losing game five of the 1976 NBA Finals, a contest that many still call "The Greatest Game Ever Played."

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LeBron James' ever growing repertoire now includes a step back three point shot. Larry Bird used to free himself when a defender played him closely by taking a jab step and then stepping back behind the three point line to launch a rainbow jumper; James' move is similar to Bird's, except it looks like James is doing it in fast forward. As Hubie Brown is fond of saying about Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady, distance is not a factor with these guys.

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As part of a pre-game shooting contest with some of his teammates, Richardson hit a high arcing shot from out of bounds next to the left baseline. The shot went over the backboard from behind and dropped in, reminscent of another shot that Bird hit, albeit from closer range and during an actual game--Bird's behind the backboard shot made all the highlight reels in the mid-'80s, but if you look closely you will see the official waving it off, because any shot that goes over the backboard is out of bounds, even if the shooter remained inbounds. Coach Elie just shook his head when Richardson's shot dropped through. I have always admired Michael Jordan for using the pregame warmups to work on shots that he actually would use during the game. Coach Elie agreed that that is important, but hastened to add that this particular shot is a pregame ritual for Richardson after he has completed his regular warmup. Athletes are creatures of habit and ritual and there is nothing wrong with having a little fun after taking care of business. Richardson shot a solid 12-26 during the game and made three of his six three pointers, but he did miss four of his eight free throws.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:44 AM

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