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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Phoenix Suns Cruise to Victory Against Lottomatica Roma

The Phoenix Suns got off to a 13-5 start en route to a 100-93 win over Lottomatica Roma. Could there possibly be an NBA team better suited for the NBA Europe Live Tour than Phoenix? Their coach, Mike D'Antoni, was a legendary player and coach in Italy for many years, and they regularly play a free flowing style based on ball and player movement. D'Antoni even conducted his postgame press conference in Italian, no doubt delighting the locals, though it must have frustrated NBA TV, which provided neither subtitles nor translation.

Phoenix led 27-17 after the first quarter and pushed the margin to 36-22 before a 12-2 Lottomatica run closed the gap to 38-34. The Suns countered with a 16-9 spurt to take a 54-43 lead into intermission. Shawn Marion led Phoenix' attack with 14 points, while ex-Temple Owl David Hawkins had 12 for Lottomatica. Dejan Bodiroga contributed 11 points. Before the game, D'Antoni said, "Bodiroga for years has been the best European player. He's definitely the best European player never to play in the NBA." The Suns built their first half lead largely on the strength of 16-16 free throw shooting and 6-14 three point field goal accuracy; Lottomatica shot 7-11 on free throws and just 2-10 from the three point line.

Hawkins scored four points in a 9-4 run to open the third quarter, as Lottomatica cut the margin to 59-52. Raja Bell answered with a three pointer and a couple possessions later Steve Nash tossed a gorgeous alley oop to Marion, putting Phoenix ahead 64-52. Phoenix extended that to a 78-62 bulge and still led 84-70 going into the fourth quarter.

Phoenix missed a lot of easy shots in the fourth quarter, which is not unexpected for a running team still getting its legs in the early stages of training camp. Lottomatica fought hard throughout the game and battled back to 91-85 but Marion's three point play put Phoenix ahead 94-85. That was the start of a 9-0 run that gave Phoenix a commanding 100-85 advantage with less than two minutes to play; that sealed the outcome in Phoenix' favor, although Lottomatica scored a few baskets in the last minute and a half to make the score look better. Marion finished with 19 points, while Leandro Barbosa and Bell had 18 each. Hawkins had a game-high 22 points and Bodiroga scored 17.

There are some dark clouds in the Valley of the Sun, though. Amare Stoudemire's surgically repaired knee is still not healthy enough for him to resume a full practice schedule and now his other knee is bothering him as well. NBA TV reported that he may not be back in the lineup until January. We can only hope that his career is not heading in the same direction as fellow microfracture surgery alums Penny Hardaway and Allan Houston.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:39 AM

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Friday, October 06, 2006

L.A. Clippers Defeat BC Khimki, 98-91

The L.A. Clippers forced 24 turnovers, built a 15 point fourth quarter lead and survived a late run to post a 98-91 victory over BC Khimki. The game was played in Moscow and telecast by NBA TV, with Rick Kamla and Bill Raftery providing commentary; they were not shown on-air and sound like they are broadcasting from a closet instead of the arena but some of Raftery's comments suggest that they are actually on site.* Sam Cassell is not injured but did not play; Shaun Livingston, his replacement, led the Clippers with 19 points, while Chris Kaman and Corey Maggette added 17 each. Melvin Booker, who played briefly in the NBA a decade ago, led Khimki with 19 points.

The Clippers used a 14-4 first quarter run to take a 21-11 lead and were ahead 30-23 at the end of the quarter. During the second quarter, Raftery and Kamla talked a little bit about the 76ers' loss to FC Barcelona. Raftery pointed out that the international teams have already started their seasons while the NBA teams are still in the early stages of their training camps. I know that some people look back on how the U.S. used to dominate international competition and say that this is just an excuse but if that is the case then why do NBA teams have training camps for a month? Why does Tiger Woods practice? He's the best player, so can't he just show up and win? The reason that U.S. teams used to dominate FIBA teams is that most of the FIBA teams were not very good. The U.S. did not have to do a lot of special preparation to play against those teams or adjust to the FIBA rules because the talent/skill disparity was so tremendous. Eventually, the talent level and skill development of the FIBA teams caught up with the U.S. collegians and then the U.S. started sending professional players to FIBA events. Now, FIBA teams are able to compete with--and even beat--U.S. professional teams. This is a tribute both to how well U.S. coaches and teams have served as ambassadors of the game over the years and how hard the coaches and players in other countries have worked on their games.

I think that the emergence of good players and teams from around the world also refutes a certain mythology that has arisen around basketball. We have heard the cliche "white men can't jump" and the unstated belief behind that phrase is that white men can't play, either. Larry Bird stated this overtly a few years ago in an interview when he commented that he felt insulted during his career if a white player was assigned to guard him. What we are seeing in FIBA play is that various nationalities and ethnicities are able to play basketball at a high level; the key factor is not race but preparation and practice. I do not disagree with those who suggest that American players and teams should rededicate themselves to the fundamentals of the game but I believe that we are not witnessing a decline in U.S. play as much as a tremendous increase in the playing level of FIBA teams over the past 15 years.

Back to the game in question, the Clippers led 51-42 at halftime. Kaman had 10 points, while Booker paced Khimki with 12. The Clippers hurt themselves with poor free throw shooting (12-22), while Khimki made the most of their limited free throw opportunities (10-13). Neither team shot well from the three point line (1-5 for the Clippers, 4-18 for Khimki).

The Clippers used a 7-2 run to take a 58-44 third quarter lead but Khimki countered with a 6-0 run to pull within 58-50. Livingston then scored on a drive and the Clippers pulled away to lead 74-61 at the end of the quarter. Quinton Ross opened the fourth quarter with a jumper to push the Clippers' advantage to 76-61 and they maintained a double figure lead for most of the quarter. Khimki made a final run in the last three minutes and got within 96-91 with 11 seconds left but that proved to be too little too late.

*--Never mind. The Phoenix Suns-Lottomatica Roma game just began in Italy and Kamla and Raftery are doing that game, too. So, unless they have access to some Star Trek technology, I doubt that they are either in Rome or Moscow.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:11 PM

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San Antonio Spurs Rout Adecco Asvel Lyon-Villeurbanne, 115-90

The San Antonio Spurs easily defeated Adecco Asvel Lyon-Villeurbanne (hereafter referred to as Adecco Asvel) 115-90 in their first game in the NBA Europe Live Tour. In contrast to the Philadelphia 76ers, who lost to FC Barcelona, the Spurs had no difficulty adjusting to the hybrid rules* and did not play like a squad that has just started training camp. Of course, unlike the 76ers, the Spurs have several players on their roster who have extensive FIBA experience. One of them, Tony Parker, excelled in his return to his native France, pouring in a game-high 26 points on 10-13 shooting from the field. Another of them, Manu Ginobili, had a solid game as well (11 points). Tim Duncan contributed 19 points, while Rowan Barrett led Adecco Asvel with 22 points. The one highlight for Adecco Asvel was a sensational second quarter dunk by Amara Sy, which you will be seeing on continuous loops on Sportscenter, NBA TV and assorted other channels. Two of Adecco Asvel's starters are Americans--Brian Greene (who is averaging a team-high 16.3 ppg in three French League games so far, according to NBA TV's Rick Kamla, who called the game with Tim Capstraw**) and Chevon Troutman.

If anything can be learned from the 76ers loss and the Spurs win, it is that preparation, organization and structure mean something. The Spurs' key players have played together for several years at a high level and Duncan has been the centerpiece on three championship teams; in contrast, the 76ers did not qualify for the playoffs last year and have almost completely overturned the roster that made it to the NBA Finals just five years ago. Before the game, San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich told NBA TV that he does not view the NBA Europe Live Tour games as ordinary exhibition games in which he will give a lot of playing time to his bench players: he will be coaching these games with the focus on winning them. NBA TV also reported that Spurs assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo scouted Adecco Asvel's previous game to get an idea about how they play; hopefully Team USA will learn from this and find out the names (and tendencies) of opposing players before their next FIBA event. It must also be noted that, based on what Kamla and Capstraw said, Adecco Asvel plays in a lower division than FC Barcelona does. After watching both games, I think the NBA should have sent the Spurs to Spain and the 76ers to France.

Parker scored 17 of his points in the first quarter, but the Spurs only led by four, 33-29. San Antonio started the second quarter with a 13-0 run--Adecco Asvel did not score until the 7:48 mark--and the game was never in doubt after that. The Spurs led 67-44 at halftime and, as Marv Albert would say, "extensive gar-bage time" ensued.



*--This game may have been played with different hybrid rules, though. The court where the 76ers-FC Barcelona game was played had the restricted area semi-circle painted in but this was not the case for the Spurs-Adecco Asvel game; Tim Capstraw also said that the NBA's defensive three seconds rule was not being applied--that was not mentioned during the Philadelphia-FC Barcelona contest.

**--I wasn't sure if Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel were at the Philadelphia-FC Barcelona game, but since Kamla and Capstraw sounded like they were stuck in a closet, not a loud arena, I assume that they were in a studio somewhere.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:16 AM

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Philadelphia 76ers Open NBA Europe Live Tour With a 104-99 Loss to FC Barcelona

The Philadelphia 76ers became the first NBA team to lose a game to a European team in Europe, falling 104-99 to FC Barcelona in the NBA Europe Live Tour. NBA TV telecast the game, with Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel handling the call. Admittedly, the "in Europe" distinction that NBA TV kept stressing* seems a bit irrelevant--for one thing, the Toronto Raptors lost to Maccabi Tel Aviv 105-103 in Toronto less than a year ago. Also, Team USA has lost so many times in recent FIBA competitions that it hardly seems shocking that a FIBA team would beat an NBA team, particularly one that has just opened training camp. In any case, although there had been some close calls, NBA teams had been undefeated on European soil since they started playing exhibition games there in 1987. Here is a history of games played by NBA teams in Europe: NBA.com Europe Live History

Samuel Dalembert led the 76ers with 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocked shots. Philadelphia shot just 26-48 from the free throw line, while FC Barcelona shot 26-29 on their free throws. Barcelona also shot 10-24 on three pointers, while the 76ers were just 3-8 behind the arc. Juan Carlos Navarro, who plays for Spain's FIBA World Championship team, led FC Barcelona with 18 points. Throughout the game, I kept having flashbacks to the old Keith Olbermann/Dan Patrick Sportscenters, when Olbermann would exclaim "Gianluca Pagliuca"--only this time, it was Gianluca Basile, who you might remember from the Italian team in various FIBA competitions. Basile contributed 17 points.

The 76ers got off to a quick start, taking a 16-6 lead in the first quarter. Guard Jaka Lakovic score nine first quarter points and had two assists to help bring Barcelona back to within one (30-29) by the end of the period. The second quarter was played at a slower pace and the teams were tied at 51 at halftime. Chris Webber led the 76ers with 13 points, while Denis Marcunato had 10 for Barcelona. Lakovic picked up his third foul late in the first quarter and still had nine points at halftime.

Barcelona scored the first basket of the second half on a Fran Vasquez putback; the Orlando Magic drafted him with the 11th pick overall in the 2005 draft, only to be stunned by his decision to remain in Europe. He is a starter for Barcelona and showed some real flashes in this game, including a spin move on the left baseline against Webber, capped off by a dunk that put Barcelona up 68-62. Barcelona led for most of the quarter, but their coach Dusko Ivanovic got a technical foul late in the quarter for arguing a call. The 76ers nailed three straight free throws to go up 73-72 but Navarro countered with two free throws of his own with just five seconds left, putting Barcelona back on top 74-73 going into the final period.

Neither team led by more than four points for most of the fourth quarter and the 76ers pulled within 93-91 after Iverson split a pair of free throws late in the game. Navarro answered with a three pointer and Webber threw the ball away on the 76ers' next possession. Basile sealed Philadelphia's fate with a four point play, pushing the margin to 100-91.

You may be wondering what exactly the NBA Europe Live Tour is. Four NBA teams--Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns--will be playing games against various European teams. For the NBA teams, these are exhibition games that take place right after training camp has begun; for the European teams--and their fans--these games are an opportunity to compete against the most famous basketball players in the world. The games don't actually count in either NBA or FIBA records but you can be sure that any NBA losses--and we know now that there will be at least one--will be dissected as if basketball in America is coming to an end. NBA play is one thing and FIBA play is another, but what are we to make of NBA preseason games played in Europe at the beginning of NBA training camps?

The NBA Europe Live Tour games are being played with hybrid rules: the NBA's four 12 minute quarters, three point line, new basketball and sixth foul for disqualification but FIBA's trapezoid lane and goaltending rules. The NBA restricted area semi-circle has been painted underneath the basket. What, if any, rules regarding zone defenses are in place was not made clear. The lengthier three point line and longer game might be considered to be advantages for the NBA players, although Barcelona's players certainly did not have much trouble adjusting to either. The trapezoid lane and whatever defensive rules were being applied seemed to have the 76ers confused--but, then again, the 76ers are not a good defensive team under NBA rules, either.

The Philadelphia-FC Barcelona game was officiated by NBA referees Joe Forte and David Jones and Euro League referee E. Viator (his first name was not given). Forte and Jones wore the standard NBA referee uniforms, while Viator wore a neon orange shirt that undoubtedly sent some viewers scrambling to adjust their televisions (or grab sunglasses). I've seen players in various All-Star games wear the jerseys of their regular teams but I've never seen officials in the same game wearing different uniforms. The statistics and graphics were interesting: players' heights were given in meters and shooting statistics were only given in percentages, so unless you kept a running play by play in your head you had no way of knowing if a guy who is shooting 75% has made three of four or six of eight. I would have loved to watch this game in a sports bar with the sound off and listen to people trying to figure out who was playing and what was going on. I imagine it would have sounded something like this:

"Is that the 76ers?"

"Naw, it couldn't be--look at that funny lane. It must be one of them foreign teams."

"Is that guy on fire???"

"No, I think that's just his shirt."

"Did you see that guy drive to the basket and pass off for an uncontested dunk?"

"Yeah. I think that is the 76ers--their defense is in midseason form."


While there are NBA TV correspondents in Europe covering this event and filing reports from the teams' training camps, Spanarkel and Eagle were never shown on camera during the game, so I wonder if they were doing the game from NBA TV studios, just like Jim Durham and Fran Fraschilla did the FIBA World Championships live from Bristol, Connecticut.

*--It may also be inaccurate: According to this AP report, the Soviet National Team defeated the Atlanta Hawks 132-123 in Moscow on July 30, 1988. I guess it depends how you define what Europe is.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:05 AM

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

2006-2007 Eastern Conference Preview

Training camp time has arrived and the NBA regular season tips off in less than a month. That can mean only one thing: the much awaited, much anticipated Christian Laettner comeback is beginning. Order your Grizzlies season tickets now before they sell out! I’m sorry—I should let it go, but I just can’t; nothing beats that kind of unintentional comedy. OK, let me start over. With NBA training camps in full swing—and making stops in various European locales--the time has come to post my NBA season previews. First up is the Eastern Conference, home of the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat. Last year in my Eastern Conference preview I picked Miami to finish first in the East by default, though I had my misgivings. Then the performances of Detroit and New Jersey in the regular season caused me to pick against Miami each step of the way after the first round of the playoffs; I guess I should have stuck with my original thought before the season began. The funny thing is, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I feel pretty much the same way about the Heat now that I did a year ago at this time: they look like the best team in the East but it also looks like several teams could topple them by designing the right game plan and employing it consistently; that will be an interesting subject to discuss when Playoff Preview time rolls around. Meanwhile, here is the East as I see it:

1) Miami Heat: Reasons for hope: Miami’s roster returns intact as the Heat attempt to repeat as NBA Champions. Finals MVP Dwyane Wade is young and will continue to get even better—a truly scary proposition for the rest of the league. Pat Riley has a track record as a championship coach; since his formula worked last year even during times of adversity, it seems unlikely that this team will experience chemistry problems even if it hits some rough patches along the way. Reasons to mope: Veterans Shaquillle O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton and Antoine Walker are all past their primes, which raises several questions: (1) How motivated will they be to work hard now after winning the 2006 championship? (2) How much do they have left in the tank physically? (3) Will they be able to avoid injuries? Bottom line: With Pat Riley at the helm, the Heat will not be outcoached and they showed their resilience by overcoming a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals. Perhaps injuries or complacency will derail the Heat but at this point they have to be listed as the number one team in the East.

2) New Jersey Nets: Reasons for hope: The Nets had an excellent opportunity to knock off Miami in the playoffs, but an injury to Richard Jefferson and the suspension of Cliff Robinson proved to be very costly. In the offseason, the Nets added rookies Marcus Williams, Josh Boone and Hassan Adams and veterans Eddie House and Mikki Moore. The perimeter trio of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Jefferson is extremely dynamic and if the draft picks do well then they can provide the depth that this team lacked last year. Reasons to mope: Jason Kidd is the one upper echelon player who has returned to near pre-injury form after microfracture surgery but can he stay healthy and productive? There is a lot of mileage on his odometer. New Jersey is not an overpowering team physically, so it is reasonable to question the Nets’ ability to counter Shaquille O’Neal well enough to beat Miami four times in a seven game series. Bottom line: As long as Kidd, Carter and Jefferson are healthy, this team is very difficult to match up with and a serious Eastern Conference contender.

3) Chicago Bulls: Reasons for hope: The Bulls pulled off the biggest free agent move in the league, signing Ben Wallace. That move strengthens the team’s one weakness while at the same time hurting Detroit, the team that has dominated their division in recent years. Chicago fought valiantly against Miami in last year’s playoffs even without Wallace and the Bulls quite naturally believe that his presence in the middle gives them an excellent chance to defeat Miami this year. Reasons to mope: Wallace is an undersized center who relies on energy and hustle. How long can he continue to play that type of game against taller and heavier opponents? All of the other top Eastern Conference teams have at least one bona fide star. Granted, Wallace is a much decorated player, but that is for his work on the glass and defensively. Who will take over a close game for this team the way Wade, Carter or LeBron do for their squads? Bottom line: Chicago has an excellent chance to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, but how many teams have won an NBA title without having a legitimate superstar? The 2004 Pistons could be considered an example of that, so maybe Wallace will have the same effect in the Windy City.

4) Cleveland Cavaliers: Reasons for hope: LeBron James, LeBron James, LeBron James. During the playoffs didn’t it seem like there were as many LeBrons on the court as in his funny commercials? He scored, he rebounded, he passed—and he believed that the Cavs could beat the Pistons before anyone else did and then convinced his teammates to believe it as well. The Cavaliers are bringing back the same cast that beat the Wizards in the first round and put a real scare into defending Eastern Conference champion Detroit before bowing in seven games. Reasons to mope: A cynic would just repeat the previous sentence. Cleveland did not make significant personnel changes and it is not clear that this team is quite good enough to win an NBA title. Bottom line: The Cavs believe that LeBron is still improving (which is at least as frightening as the idea of Wade still improving) and that if sidekick Larry Hughes stays healthy that this nucleus can indeed contend for the NBA title. Considering how close the Cavs came to eliminating Detroit, that is certainly a reasonable position to take.

5) Detroit Pistons: Reasons for hope: Detroit has All-Stars Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace, plus Tayshaun Prince, who certainly can play at an All-Star level. This team has won a championship and advanced to the NBA Finals, so they know what it takes to win playoff series. Reasons to mope: Ben Wallace was the heart and soul of this team and personified the team’s identity as a hardworking group that focused on defense and played with a chip on its shoulder because so many players on the roster had been let go by other teams. Supposedly, the absence of Wallace will allow Flip Saunders’ “liberation offense” to reach new heights of efficiency. We heard that same story all throughout last season—how much better off Detroit was with Saunders at the helm instead of Larry Brown—but the “liberation offense” was less than impressive during the postseason. Critics say that Wallace can be easily replaced on offense but that ignores the extra possessions he created with his offensive rebounding. Bottom line: That crashing sound you just heard was Detroit’s window of opportunity to win a championship slamming shut.

6) Washington Wizards: Reasons for hope: Gilbert Arenas had an outstanding season and apparently will be playing with a chip on his shoulder this year because he feels that he was slighted by Team USA’s coaching staff. The Wizards are bringing back most of the core players who took the team to the playoff last year, losing only Jared Jeffries. Darius Songaila takes his roster spot, so the Wizards did not lose much, if anything. Reasons to mope: This team simply does not get after it defensively the way that championship contending teams do. Gilbert Arenas is not as good as he thinks he is and if he believes that he can carry his team to a title by outdueling LeBron or Wade one-on-one then he will always come up short. LeBron told Arenas before some key free throws that if Arenas missed then he would send him home. Arenas missed and LeBron sent him home. Bottom line: If Washington does not put some more talent around Arenas and ratchet up the defensive intensity, Arenas’ playoff career will resemble Dominique Wilkins’—lots of points and highlights and no conference finals appearances.

I feel pretty comfortable with the first six picks, provided that none of these teams suffer significant injuries. The rest of the Eastern Conference picture is a little murkier. Let’s get rid of the easy part first: Charlotte and Atlanta still figure to be pretty terrible, for obvious reasons. Philadelphia missed the playoffs and basically stood pat. Allen Iverson had one of his best seasons ever and will be hard pressed to duplicate such a performance at his age; Chris Webber is likewise not going to get younger or better. The 76ers’ only hope to make the playoffs is to hang around .500 and hope that the teams battling for the eighth spot self destruct or suffer injuries. Boston did a lot of shuffling around but I’m less than impressed. I will be surprised if Sebastian Telfair is ever the starting point guard on a playoff team. Toronto added a European GM and a bunch of talented players who have excelled in FIBA competition—but, to paraphrase Jerry Glanville, this is the NBA. I actually like Toronto’s moves and think that the Raptors will be much improved. If everything breaks right the Raptors could grab the eighth playoff spot but I expect that Toronto’s breakthrough season will be in 2007-08. Unlike a lot of people, I actually think that Isiah Thomas is a good coach. The problem is, he has to coach the team put together by Isiah Thomas the GM. Thomas would argue that during his tenure as GM he has upgraded the talent level of the Knicks by bringing in Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis and others. This is true, on paper—but, as Kenny Mayne might say, NBA games aren’t played on paper, they are played inside TV sets. Thomas would actually be better off dumping Marbury and Francis, putting anybody else at the point—Jalen Rose, Mardy Collins—and getting the rest of the team to play hard, scrap and hustle. Thomas' draft picks through the years have tended to turn out well; Knicks fans will enjoy watching Channing Frye, Nate Robinson, Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins but be frustrated by the predictable failures (and complaints) of Marbury, Francis, Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford.

That leaves us with three teams contending for two playoff spots: Indiana, Milwaukee and Orlando. Indiana and Milwaukee made the playoffs last year and both did some offseason roster shuffling. Orlando finished the season strongly but missed the playoffs. I usually don’t read much into finishing the season strongly. We all saw how much good that did for Golden State last year—but in this particular case, I like Orlando. Indiana and Milwaukee are a toss-up in my book. I’m picking Indiana but would not be shocked if Milwaukee (or even Toronto) grabs the eighth spot.

7) Orlando Magic: Reasons for hope: Dwight Howard is a stud. If/when he develops a go-to offensive move on the block, watch out. Grant Hill is healthy (so far). Darko Milicic can play and has a good on court rapport with Howard; their games complement each other very nicely. Reasons to mope: Grant Hill has not shown an ability to stay healthy for a full season ever since he suffered the original ankle injury that has cause him so much misery. Orlando spent a lottery pick on J.J. Redick, who will not be able to create his own shot and will struggle on defense. Check back here in 3-5 years for the article about how many guys who were drafted after Redick end up having better careers. Bottom line: Howard is an excellent big man and that is a rare, valuable commodity. Now that he and Milicic will have a full training camp together, that tandem will wreak a lot of havoc. This team is not a championship contender but should make the playoffs.

8) Indiana Pacers: Reasons for hope: It’s always something in Indiana—injuries, the infamous brawl in the Palace and the resulting suspensions—but through it all Coach Rick Carlisle somehow shepherds this team to the playoffs. When healthy, Jermaine O’Neal is capable of playing at an All-NBA level. Al Harrington figures to be very productive and, now that he has seen how the other, non-playoff half lives in Atlanta, he should be less apt to complain about his role. Reasons to mope: Ron Artest is one of the best players in the league and the Pacers in essence lost him for nothing because Peja Stojakovic signed with the Hornets. Bringing Harrington back helps but this team is no longer a legitimate championship contender. The departed Anthony Johnson will be missed. Bottom line: The Pacers will have to scratch and claw all year for the opportunity to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

posted by David Friedman @ 6:04 AM

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

More on Shaq's Free Throw Shooting

One of my longtime readers believes that I am too harsh on Shaq in general; he also feels that my recent post quoting Shaq's negative comments about Rick Barry is an unfair shot at the Diesel. Normally I would address this in the comments section beneath the post, but I have noticed that posting links in the comments section does not work real well. So, here are a few links to articles discussing Shaq's free throw shooting, his attitude toward improving the weakest part of his game and the disrespect that he showed not only to Barry but also to the venerable Tex Winter. It is very telling that the Shaq-Winter situation never received much attention but that Kobe is often referred to as "uncoachable"--and it tells us a lot more about media coverage than it does about Shaq or Kobe. Phil Jackson mentioned the Shaq-Winter incident in one of his books but pretty much brushed it over to focus on bashing Kobe. Of course, the mainstream media deserves a lot of criticism for completely ignoring this issue and perpetuating the myth that Shaq has such great respect for his coaches (see the third link below for details). Anyone who believes that Shaq's comments to Steven A. Smith about Barry were either meant to be jocular or are actually amusing is sorely mistaken on both counts. I welcome reader comments about whether my original post on this subject seems unfair in light of this additional information.

Shaquille O'Neal's Free Throw Saga

Shaq Should Shoot Underhand (video from Rick Barry's fantasy camp, with Barry talking about free throw shooting)

Who's Not on Tex's All-Winter Team for the NBA's 60th Anniversary

posted by David Friedman @ 3:20 PM

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Top 10 Reasons You Know That Your NBA Comeback is Over Before it Began

I was going to do "Top Ten Reasons to Believe that Bonzi Wells is Receiving Contractual Advice from Latrell 'How Will I Feed My Family?' Sprewell," but something has topped that to instantly become my favorite comic relief story of the basketball offseason. So, without further ado, here are "The Top 10 Reasons You Know That Your NBA Comeback is Over Before it Began":

10) You've been out of the league for more than a year and nobody knew that you were gone.

9) Four out of five NBA TV subscribers cannot name the last team for which you played.

8) The best highlight of your entire career came in college...

7) and LeBron James was in elementary school when it happened.

6) You are the only member of the Dream Team about whom people say, "He was really on the team? Over Isiah Thomas and Shaquille O'Neal?"

5) Basketball Reference.com lists the probability of you making the Hall of Fame as ".000."*

4) The team's coach did not know that you were coming back and, when informed that you and your best friend are buying the team, replies, "I guess if you own the team, you can put yourself on the roster."

3) You admit that the thought of you coming back to play is "odd"...

2) to which a local columnist retorts in print, "Exactly. If by 'odd' you mean 'completely ridiculous.'" (see links below for the full story)

Drumroll please...and the number one reason that you know that your NBA comeback is over before it began is

1) When your comeback is announced, the entire group of assembled media burst into laughter because they assume that the speaker is joking.

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, Brian Davis and Christian Laettner are apparently part of a group that is going to buy 70% ownership of the Memphis Grizzlies. When Davis announced that Laettner is planning to come back and play, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that the room broke out in laughter and Laettner had to try to convince the assembled members of the media that Davis had not been joking. Shortly afterward, the team issued a press release clarifying that Laettner would not in fact be playing for the team.


*--perhaps a bit pessimistic, since the Basketball Hall of Fame considers one's accomplishments at all levels of play, not just the NBA.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:30 AM

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Style Versus Substance

Rick Barry is a perfectionist and can come across as a know-it-all--but no one can argue that he certainly knows a lot about basketball and that he had a stellar career: he is a Hall of Famer, a member of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List, the only man to lead the NCAA, NBA and ABA in single season scoring and his performance in leading the 1975 Golden State Warriors to the NBA title was nothing short of remarkable. A Sport Magazine cover around that time declared "Rick Barry is Superman." Barry used his trademark underhanded shooting style to connect at a .900 rate from the free throw line during his NBA career and has repeatedly offered to teach his method to Shaquille O'Neal, who sports a Superman tatoo but shoots free throws like the rim has been coated with Kryptonite. Here is O'Neal's response, delivered to Steven A. Smith and quoted in Tim Povtak's October 1 article: "Rick Barry's resume is not good enough to even come into my office to be qualified for a job. I will shoot negative-30 percent before I shoot underhanded." Nothing like having respect for one of the game's greatest players and valuing substance--making free throws that can help your team win games--over style, right?

posted by David Friedman @ 3:08 PM

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