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Friday, December 07, 2007

Slamming Some "Sick" Basketball Writing

I just read three magazine articles that perplexed me. "Mal" means sick and if you flip that around and add an "s" for "subpar" then you'll know where I found these articles. Anyway, the first one declared that the New York Knicks and Sacramento Kings are going to face each other in this year's NBA Finals. Maybe this was just a satirical piece--albeit one that failed to provide either humor or insight--because even with the long lead time it takes to put out a magazine there is no way that anyone who actually watches the NBA could possibly believe that those squads are going to the Finals in 2008 without purchasing tickets. If the Knicks get rid of Stephon Marbury soon then they could possibly, maybe grab the eighth playoff spot in the East. As for the Kings, they are currently 10th in the West and, looking at the teams in front of them, it is hard to picture them moving up in the standings (obviously, Kevin Martin's recent injury makes a playoff push even less likely).

The second article discussed the Detroit Pistons and tried to make the case that they are being disrespected. Huh? Consider these preseason predictions: The Sporting News picked the Pistons to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, CBS Sports.com ranked the Pistons as the third best team in the East, David DuPree of USA Today also had the Pistons third and Sports Illustrated called Detroit the second best team in the East. In addition, most of the NBA analysts on ESPN, TNT and NBA TV generally offer nothing but praise for the Pistons, even though Detroit has failed to return to the Finals since the departures of Coach Larry Brown and center Ben Wallace. I guess that the magazine in question wants to say that is it taking a "countercultural" position on this issue but it is hard to be "countercultural" when most of the mainstream media actually agrees with you that Detroit is one of the top teams in the East. I have consistently predicted that Detroit would not win a title without Brown and Wallace and so far I have been correct; my take is certainly more "countercultural" than an article that offers by the numbers praise for Detroit without addressing why this team has annually underachieved in the playoffs since winning the 2004 championship. The Eastern team that has actually been disrespected is the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have one of the best players in the league, rebound very well and play good defense when their lineup is intact. The Cavs used that three pronged formula to beat Detroit four straight times in last year's postseason yet many "experts" suggested that they will struggle to make the playoffs this year. Injuries and a couple contentious contract negotiations led to a mediocre start for the Cavs but they will be right back in the hunt as soon as LeBron James returns to action. As Cleveland Coach Mike Brown said a couple weeks ago after a victory over Toronto, "The thing that I am excited about is that we have time. We don't need to be perfect on either side of the ball right now. We take this one day, one game at a time and--I've said this since I've been here--we use the regular season to get better. We do that, and if our offense continues to get better and our defense continues to get better with our focus on that end of the floor then by playoff time we'll be right where we need to be." Barring a serious injury to James, the Cavs will be a very tough out come playoff time and the article about Detroit being disrespected will look pretty foolish after the Pistons once again fall short of their goal.

The third article was a profile of the late, great Gus Johnson. I'm all in favor of honoring the legends of the game, as any visitor to this site can plainly see--but this article did not really capture the essence of Johnson's career. Johnson and Dave DeBusschere engaged in several memorable playoff battles when Johnson was with the Bullets and DeBusschere was with the Knicks; to write about Johnson and not devote significant space to his rivalry with DeBusschere would be like writing about Magic Johnson without mentioning Larry Bird (or vice versa). My 2006 article about the DeBusschere-Johnson rivalry explains that their matchup not only provided compelling theater but often decided which of their teams would win. As Knicks Coach Red Holzman once said, "People came to see the Knicks play the Bullets and left talking about the mini-war between DeBusschere and Johnson." Also, while the "Mal" article just lightly touched on Johnson's role with the 1973 ABA Champion Indiana Pacers, I interviewed Pacers starting center Mel Daniels and Coach Slick Leonard in order to find out exactly how Johnson made a vital contribution in a key ABA Finals game after Daniels got in foul trouble.

Here's a better prediction than the one forecasting a Knicks-Kings Finals: if "Mal" offers a response to this post, the ratio of snide remarks/off topic comments to actual basketball analysis will be about 10 to 1; I mean, if you have a subpar product and it is publicly available for everyone to see, it is kind of hard to argue that it is not subpar--and what other word could be used to describe wack predictions, the playing of the tired "Detroit is disrespected" card and a superficial look at Gus Johnson that does not do justice to him or to his great matchups with DeBusschere?

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:55 AM

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