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Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Friday Night's Action

Friday night offered a full slate of NBA action. Here are some things that caught my eye:

The Score: L.A. Lakers 122, Boston 96

The Key Stat: Kobe Bryant had 22 points and three assists in the first quarter, finishing with 38 points, nine assists and five steals as the Lakers ended their six game losing streak, the longest such run of Coach Phil Jackson's career, and handed the Celtics their worst loss of a very dismal season.

The Bottom Line: Bryant's performance reminded me of two very different songs: "All By Myself" by Eric Carmen and "Forgot About Dre" by Dr. Dre (featuring Eminem). The first reference should be self explanatory: with Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm, Luke Walton and Vladimir Radmanovic--players who were expected to be key members of the eight man rotation--out of the lineup, Lamar Odom struggling to regain his form after his knee injury, the youngest starting center in the league and a starting point guard who would likely be in the minor leagues if the Lakers had not signed him, Kobe Bryant must feel very alone at times. The Lakers' only chance to stay afloat until Odom and some of the others return to form is for the "new" Kobe Bryant (who is actually the "old" Kobe Bryant who led the three-peat Lakers in assists) to go off for about 35-40 ppg for the next few weeks. Or, as Dr. Dre put it, "Y'all are gonna keep (messing) around wit me/And turn me back to the old me."

The Score: Utah 114, Denver 104

The Key Stat: Carmelo Anthony scored 36 points and Allen Iverson scored 33 points, but the Nuggets committed 24 turnovers (including seven by Anthony and three by Iverson) and were outrebounded 40-36.

The Bottom Line: The Anthony-Iverson combination has produced a ton of points but has yet to make much of a dent in the win column and time is rapidly running out on this season. Denver simply does not have enough of an inside presence to be a serious playoff contender.

The Score: Chicago 105, Washington 90

The Key Stat: Chicago outrebounded Washington 47-40 and committed just five turnovers while forcing 14 Washington turnovers. The difference in points off of turnovers (21-5) almost exactly matched the final margin of victory.

The Bottom Line: Ben Wallace has had back to back monster games (14 points, 19 rebounds, five assists and seven blocked shots in Thursday's win over Cleveland; eight points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots versus Washington) and his activity and energy take the Bulls to another level. Chicago is a defensive minded team that will be a very tough out in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Like Denver, Washington is an offensive minded team that does not have the fortitude in the paint to advance very far in the playoffs.

The Score: New York 95, Milwaukee 93

The Key Stat: The Knicks have won five of their last eight games and dropped a two point decision in overtime at Utah.

The Bottom Line: Isiah Thomas' crew is steadily improving and could make a run at the last playoff spot in the East, particularly if the Miami Heat struggle to adjust to the absence of Dwyane Wade. Orlando is reeling lately, so even if Miami stays in the playoff hunt the Knicks could pass the Magic.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:13 AM

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Dwyane Wade and Purple Rain

I hope that Dwyane Wade makes a full and speedy recovery from his shoulder injury. Meanwhile, am I the only one who thought that using a wheelchair and then a stretcher for an arm injury was a bit over the top? I'm no doctor but I recall Jack Youngblood playing in the NFC Championship and then the Super Bowl with a broken leg. I'm guessing that he would not require a wheelchair for a shoulder injury. Scottie Pippen returned to game six of the 1998 NBA Finals despite having not one but two ruptured lumbar disks that ultimately required surgery. I have some personal experience regarding that type of injury and I find it difficult to believe that a dislocated shoulder is more painful or debilitating than the radiculopathy that results from a ruptured disk pressing on a nerve. The first thing that I thought of when Wade was wheeled off the court was the scene from Purple Rain when the police drew a chalk outline on the ground after a suicide attempt; chalk outlines are used to indicate where somebody died, not where somebody was wounded, so that seemed a little overly dramatic (as a VH1 special about the movie pointed out). Being wheeled off of the court for an arm injury also seems to be a bit overly dramatic. I remember when ex-NFL player Chris Spielman talked about how he abhorred when players were helped off of the field only to return to action minutes later. He vowed that if he were ever helped off of the field he would retire--and he did just that after being helped off the field after suffering a serious neck injury.

I don't doubt that Wade's shoulder is seriously injured but there is something to be said for not letting your team or the other team see you looking vulnerable. Isiah Thomas had to have dozens of stitches after taking a Karl Malone elbow to the head but he returned to action in that very game; earlier in his career, he scored a Finals record 25 points in one quarter despite a severely sprained ankle. Just tonight, Jason Kidd shook off a sore back and a cracked rib to post a triple double. I am always reluctant to comment about another person's injury but Wade being wheeled off the court after a shoulder injury just seemed very odd to me. I used to play pickup ball with a guy whose shoulder would periodically come out of its socket. He would propel himself into a wall to push it back into place and then keep playing. Wade's injury may very well be more serious--and I would not expect a multimillion dollar ball player to propel himself shoulder first into a basket stanchion and then keep playing--but a wheelchair? For an arm injury? What's next--a neck brace for a sprained ankle?

posted by David Friedman @ 1:28 AM

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Friday, February 23, 2007

What is a Good Shot?

A couple months ago I did a post titled Is Gilbert a Gunner? That came shortly after Gilbert Arenas scored 60 points against the Lakers and Kobe Bryant questioned Arenas' shot selection. Of course, most people jumped on Bryant for being a sore loser as opposed to actually considering whether or not what Bryant said may actually be true. Looking at Arenas' stats--and watching him play--it is pretty clear that he is a gunner in both the good and bad senses of the word: he scores a lot of points, including making big shots at key moments, but he also fires away from all angles regardless of the game situation. That post prompted a lot of comments and Agent Zero's defenders argued that his good three point field goal percentage makes up for a multiude of sins. My response to that is that if your point guard shoots 6-9 on three pointers in one playoff game and 1-9 in the next that his percentage is .389 but his team will be 1-1 at best and possibly 0-2 in those contests.

The reason that I am rehashing all of this now is that TNT's Doug Collins talked about "What is a good shot?" during Thursday's Chicago-Cleveland telecast. Collins explained that when he was coaching he impressed upon his players that four factors determine whether or not a shot is a good one:

1) Time and score
2) FG % of the shooter
3) Chance to get an offensive rebound
4) Chance to defend if the shot is missed

Notice that the shooter's field goal percentage is just one of four things that Collins considers. The amount of time left in the game (and on the shot clock) and the score are important; if your team is winning, then it might be advisable to pass up even shots that are open in order to drain the clock and give the other team less of a chance to come back. If none of your teammates are in position to get an offensive rebound then if you miss the shot it is basically a turnover and an invitation for the other team to start a fastbreak. On the other hand, if the floor is balanced in such a way that no one is in position to get back and the missed shot is not rebounded by the offense then the other team will get an uncontested layup.

Of course, no player always takes good shots. Above average players, because they have the ball in their hands more than good, mediocre and bad players, take more bad shots than other players--but if the best player on your team regularly takes bad shots it can seriously limit the team's opportunity to be successful.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:40 AM

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dennis Johnson, 1954-2007

Five-time All-Star Dennis Johnson passed away on Thursday, apparently of a heart attack. Much like Pistol Pete Maravich died on the court after playing a pickup game, Johnson collapsed and could not be revived while he was on the court working with one of his NBDL players after a practice. Johnson coached the Austin Toros and longed to get an opportunity to helm an NBA team.

"Bird stole the ball" is one of the most famous calls in NBA history, but without Johnson's timely cut so that Bird could feed him for a layup Bird's theft would have gone for naught in Boston's game five victory over Detroit in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. After that play they shared a brief embrace on the way back to the bench. Bird has long said that DJ was the best teammate he ever had and it is easy to understand why. Johnson was a clutch player, a tenacious defender and a good playmaker. His jump shot was erratic but he had an uncanny ability to make jumpers in big situations, like the one he hit to sink the Lakers in game four of the 1985 NBA Finals. Johnson won the 1979 Finals MVP after leading the Sonics to their only NBA title and twice earned All-NBA honors but he willingly took on a lesser--but still very important--role when Boston acquired him prior to the 1983-84 season. The Celtics needed someone who could at least slow down 76ers guard Andrew Toney, who had earned the nickname "The Boston Strangler" after shooting down the Celtics with 34 points in game seven of the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals in Boston. It is not a coincidence that Boston won two titles in the first three years after Johnson became a Celtic. He guarded Magic Johnson about as well as anyone did at that time.

Johnson made the All-Defensive Team for nine straight seasons (1979-87). Though he stood just 6-4 he was an exceptional shot blocker for a guard, particularly in his first few seasons. He blocked 59 shots in 54 playoff games with the Sonics in his first three seasons in the NBA, twice leading the team to the NBA Finals. In game three of the 1978 Finals he blocked seven shots, one off of the NBA Finals single game record that is held by Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan.

Johnson's relationship with Sonics' Coach Lenny Wilkens soured and he was traded to Phoenix, where he was an effective player for three seasons. Then the Suns traded him to Boston for Rick Robey, who turned out to be a non-factor in Phoenix. TNT's Charles Barkley has repeatedly said that Johnson deserves to be inducted in the Hall of Fame and a strong case can definitely be made for Johnson based on the essential contributions that he made to three championship teams.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:49 PM

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All-Star Weekend Recap Reprinted at Legends of Basketball

Legends of Basketball has reprinted the fourth installment of my HoopsHype.com All-Star Weekend reports (links to each of the reports can be found on the right hand side of 20 Second Timeout):

All-Star Weekend Rewind

posted by David Friedman @ 4:32 AM

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Catching Up With...Dave Bing, One of The NBA's 50 Greatest Players

The February issue of Basketball Times includes my article about Dave Bing, who starred at Syracuse before earning recognition as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Bing is that after he reached the pinnacle athletically he did not rest on his laurels; instead, he embarked on an extraordinarily successful business career, building Bing Steel from scratch into an industry leader. Now called Bing Group, the corporation has expanded from steel into real estate and other fields. He wishes that today's great athletes had a better understanding of how to most effectively utilize the prominence that they have achieved and the large amounts of money that they make: "If four or five of these high-paid players would get together they would have enough capital, enough assets, to be able to go out collectively and buy Fortune 500 companies. They could really make a real difference in urban America--and make money doing that. We just have to get these guys to think differently."

The article is not available online but here is a link to Basketball Times' website if you would like to purchase the magazine: http://www.basketballtimes.com/

posted by David Friedman @ 10:34 PM

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The Kobe Show is in Full Effect

As you probably already know, Kobe Bryant won the 2007 All-Star Game MVP award as he led the West to a 153-132 win with 31 points, six assists, six steals and five rebounds. My fourth and final 2007 All-Star Weekend report for HoopsHype.com describes that performance--and also tells you about the busy schedule he maintained throughout the weekend. Also, I did not have an opportunity to post a link to my third report, which described Saturday's All-Star Weekend happenings. Here are those two links:

Veteran Shaq Still the Class Clown (Day Three)

Kobe Show (Day 4)

posted by David Friedman @ 3:32 AM

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mark Aguirre: "DVD Extras"

Here are some Mark Aguirre quotes and facts in addition to the material covered in my HoopsHype.com article about him.

Aguirre averaged 24.0 ppg and 7.6 rpg in 1979 as a freshman, shooting .520 from the field while leading DePaul to a 22-5 regular season record. DePaul earned a second seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Final Four before losing to Larry Bird’s Indiana State team.

The next two seasons Aguirre performed at an even higher level--winning numerous Player of the Year Awards in 1980 and recognition as the 1981 Sporting News College Player of the Year--while twice leading DePaul to the number one ranking in the final regular season poll. Yet, DePaul did not win an NCAA Tournament game in either season. In 1980, the Blue Demons (26-1) were upset by eighth seeded UCLA in the NCAA Tournament. "I think that we ran into the hottest team in the country," Aguirre says of that loss. "UCLA beat us and they were just hot. Eventually they went to the Finals." The 1981 Blue Demons (27-1) lost to ninth seeded St. Joseph’s. "I wish they had had a shot clock," is Aguirre’s lament about that game. "We were definitely the best team in the country but we ran into a team that said that this (DePaul team) is Jack Nicklaus and I don’t want to play Jack Nicklaus for 18 holes; I want to play him for one hole and if Jack hits the ball to the right then I can win. That was the kind of game that they played; they weren’t going to shoot and they were going to stall."

******

Most people think of Mark Aguirre as a scorer--and he certainly could put the ball in the hoop from a variety of places on the court--but he was also a very good passer. Early in the 1988-89 season, before he was traded from Dallas to Detroit, he had 17 assists in one game, an almost unheard of total for a small forward. "Coach (Ray) Meyer used to tell me that the only way I could make the teams pay for double-teaming me was to make sure that I made the right pass," Aguirre says. "Then I would study other teams to find out where the double teams were coming from and where the open guy was and really try to make a point of delivering the ball to the right guy. If you’re going to double-team me, I’m going to make you pay.”

The key to being a good passer out of the double-team is making a productive pass as opposed to just getting rid of the ball. Aguirre's ability to do this led to open shots for his Piston teammates Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Vinnie Johnson and Bill Laimbeer. "You can throw it out of the double-team to a guy who is covered if you want," Aguirre says, "but the real way to make a double-team pay is to determine where is the guy who is open. When the double-team comes, usually there are two people on the other side of the floor who are open, because you have to move three on one side. You have to figure out who the shooter is, who is the diver (player who cuts to the hoop), who has the best shot, can I draw one of the defenders in. That is how you pick teams apart, kind of like a quarterback checks off (at the line of scrimmage): 'I see you and everybody knows that I see you—you’re my first check and then I have a second check.' I created a lot more space for them offensively. I told them that I knew that if I had that much room that they (the defense) were going to have to give up something: they were going to have to either give me a bucket or give them (the guards) a bucket. It worked out beautifully. On some nights they just double-teamed me all night and I just passed the ball to Joe, Isiah and Laimbeer and they did what they do. Some nights they didn’t double team me and I would get an opportunity to go.”

******

Much is made of the Detroit Pistons being "Bad Boys" but what few seem to remember is that Detroit's style of play was deliberately modeled after the team that the Pistons were trying to beat in the East at that time: the Boston Celtics. The Celtics were a physical team and Detroit had to be able to match that physicality to have a chance to win. "Every championship team during that era was physical," Aguirre points out. "Even in order to get deep in the playoffs you had to be physical. You had encounters with Atlanta, getting into it with Boston, you had encounters with New York, with Washington, all those teams. At that point you had to be physical in order to get deep into the playoffs. So, I mean, that’s what it was-—it wasn’t just us. It was like a league standard. That’s how you got there; you had to be physical in order to get there."

The Pistons may have been the first team to be marketed as a physical team but they were hardly the first or only team that employed a physical style. Just ask Kurt Rambis about Kevin McHale's clothesline maneuver in the NBA Finals.

******

Aguirre successfully played on the block despite being just 6-6 and not having exceptional leaping ability. He candidly admits that most if not all of the players who he currently coaches have more jumping ability than he did during his playing days. What they have to learn is how to use footwork and leverage to get good post position. These things are not being taught--or at least not being mastered--at the high school or college levels.

“They (young players) have no idea about that," Aguirre says. "They have no idea. I haven’t taught a player that when I started knew what he was doing on the post. Not one—and I’ve taught 25 or 30 of them."

******

Every year there are more worthy All-Star candidates than there are spots to fill but Aguirre missed making the squad a couple times when he was a prime time scorer on a good team. Aguirre is not sure why that happened but he offers this interesting idea: "I put a lot of vicious poundings on opposing teams that I think that opposing coaches didn’t like because I would really try to take a guy’s heart. In taking a guy’s heart, you get real nasty in doing that. I got nasty every night and I don’t think that coaches really liked the fact that I got that nasty. My mode was not to just beat you but to destroy you. I didn’t want you to ever even think that you had a shot. In doing so, every moment I tried to destroy you and that kind of looks bad, when you go at a coach’s player like that, but I went at them like that."

posted by David Friedman @ 9:08 AM

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