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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Answer Hits 20,000, Phoenix Cools off Agent Zero's Hibachi and Dwane Casey Gets the Ax

Tuesday night in the NBA saw Allen Iverson score his 20,000th point, "The Takeover" morph into "The Big Payback" and the Timberwolves jettison yet another head coach after less than two years on the job. Allen Iverson is the most amazing athlete that I have ever seen--not the greatest basketball player (although he is certainly great) and not the greatest athlete (although he is certainly a great athlete) but without question the most amazing. I say that because Iverson is a normal sized human being who excels in a league that consists of super sized human beings. He is listed at 6-0, 165 but both of those numbers are generous to say the least. If he is wearing a warmup suit so that you cannot identify him by his tattoos, from a distance you might think that he is one of the ballboys. Yet he has survived and prospered against elite athletes who, on average, are 6-7, 225. Iverson is just the 30th player in NBA history to surpass the 20,000 point plateau (Julius Erving, Dan Issel, Rick Barry and Artis Gilmore also scored more than 20,000 points when their ABA numbers are included--which they certainly should be). Remarkably, Iverson reached 20,000 points faster than everyone in NBA history except for Wilt, Michael, Oscar, Kareem and Elgin (if you need last names, you are not a real NBA fan); there is not a player under 6-5, 220 in that group and each member of that quintet would be in most people's listing of the top ten players of all-time. Iverson ranks third in career regular season scoring average (28.1 ppg) behind only Wilt and Michael. Say what you want about Iverson, but if you say that he is not amazing then you are simply lying to yourself.

Gilbert Arenas had 54 points on December 22 against Phoenix, putting him more than halfway toward his stated goal of scoring 100 points this season against the Suns in revenge for Coach Mike D'Antoni's supposed role in cutting Arenas from the final roster of Team USA last summer (Arenas has also pledged to torch the Portland Trail Blazers and Coach Nate McMillan in a similar fashion). More significantly, Arenas' scoring outburst resulted in a 144-139 overtime win for his Washington Wizards. Arenas has nicknamed himself "Agent Zero," likes to scream "Hibachi!" or "Quality shots" after his baskets and his termed this season "The Takeover." All of this makes me think of the recently departed James Brown and wonder if the second half of this season may turn from "The Takeover" to "The Big Payback." Larry Bird talked trash and backed it up for years; likewise with Michael Jordan. Arenas has some nice pelts on the wall--as Bill Parcells might put it--with his 60 point game against the Lakers and the aforementioned 54 point game versus the Suns. The thing is, after all the "quality shots" and all the funny comments, he and the Wizards have to play those teams again--and I suspect that his opponents may not be nearly as amused by his act as his fans and the media are.

Agent Zero led the Wizards into Phoenix and the Suns cooled off his hibachi, rolling to a 127-105 victory. Phoenix led 41-20 after the first quarter (Arenas had four points and two assists). Arenas made his first shot of the game and then missed his next six, failing to hit another field goal until the score was 62-36 Suns; Arenas had just eight points at that juncture and the game was, for all intents and purposes, over (the Suns blew some leads early in the year but they are not likely to blow a 26 point lead and even less likely to do so against a Wizards team that is more defensively challenged than they are). Yes, Arenas finished with 31 points, but he shot 11-25 (3-9 on three pointers) and the vast majority of his points came with the game completely out of reach; after the game briefly became "semi-close" in the fourth quarter (Washington was still down by 15), Arenas only scored five points and Phoenix again pulled away. Amare Stoudemire said this about the Suns' dominating performance: "I did hear that they wanted to be the Phoenix Suns of the East. I think there's only one Phoenix Suns, and we rest in the West. And that's how it's going to be for a while." Steve Nash took the diplomatic approach: "I think respect, more than revenge. We know they're a good team, and we didn't want to underestimate them or have a lack of energy to start the game. That was, I think, our motivation. We respected how well they played at our place and we wanted to give them a better game." Nash shot 11-13 from the field (!), scoring 27 points and dishing 14 assists (as many as the entire Wizards team). Phoenix shot .608 from the field and their top seven players each scored at least 10 points.

The Wizards' return engagement with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers is on February 3. Portland makes its only trip to Washington eight days later. We will see if February's theme track is "The Takeover" or "The Big Payback."

If you want job security as an NBA coach, steer clear of Minnesota. Other than Flip Saunders--who coached Minnesota for nine years--no Timberwolves coach has lasted more than two years. Now you can add Dwane Casey to that list. Casey's 33-49 record last year and 20-20 start this season was enough to convince owner Glen Taylor and president of basketball operations Kevin McHale that the team was headed in the wrong direction. Casey will be replaced by assistant Randy Wittman, who will finish the season as interim head coach; Wittman had a 62-102 record in two seasons as Cleveland's head coach (1999-2001). Apparently, Taylor and McHale believe that the mediocre roster that they have assembled around Kevin Garnett should be performing at a better than .500 level in the stacked Western Conference. I don't think that Casey's name was going to appear on too many Coach of the Year ballots but I also don't see any reason to believe that a coaching change will significantly improve the long term prospects of this franchise, which has spent most of Garnett's career in the bottom part of the playoff chase--or out of the postseason completely.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:44 AM

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At Wednesday, January 24, 2007 1:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're a regular ESPN Coast-to-Coast viewer, so perhaps you can enlighten me: In switching between the Suns-Wizards game last night, I kept coming back to Coast-to-Coast when some new analyst/guest was talking. It's killing me that I don't recognize him--he was sitting on the far end of the set and looked small, like a point guard, short hair, lighter skin. Not the most eloquent speaker. Any clue who it was?

 
At Thursday, January 25, 2007 5:42:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I missed that particular episode, so I am not sure who you are talking about.

 

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