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Sunday, October 12, 2008

TNT Broadcasters Steal Show During NBA's First Outdoor Game in 36 Years

"Basketball calls us all outside to play, for outside is where the game lives"--David Aldridge during TNT's introduction to the AutoTrader.com Open

The Indian Wells Tennis Garden hosted the NBA's second outdoor game ever, a 77-72 Denver victory over Phoenix. Denver All-Stars Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony sat out due to minor injuries, as did Phoenix All-Star Amare Stoudemire. J.R. Smith and Mateen Cleaves led the Nuggets with 12 points each, while Steve Nash paced Phoenix with 16 points. Denver shot 29-80 from the field (.362), including 1-11 (.091) from three point range, while Phoenix shot 25-79 from the field (.316), including 2-16 (.125) from three point range.

Considering the lack of star power plus the fact that this is just the second preseason game for both teams, one would expect a sloppy game. Add in windy conditions and rapidly dropping temperatures and we found out that the concept of an outdoor preseason game is good but the execution--at least in this case--left something to be desired. Remember those backyard pickup games on crisp fall nights when the wind was gusting, you could not get loose and there were more airballs and bricks than swishes? That is what this game looked like, particularly in the second half.

Or, as Charles Barkley is fond of saying, "The operation was a success but the patient died." In this instance, the banter among TNT's broadcasting trio of Barkley, Reggie Miller and Marv Albert was often more entertaining than the game itself, although after this airballapalooza/brickathon I don't think that Commissioner David Stern will follow up on Barkley's suggestion to play the All-Star Game outdoors. However, Miller's idea that the game should have started an hour earlier is worth implementing if the NBA decides to have another outdoor game.

With both starting units on the court--albeit bereft of the injured All-Stars mentioned above--Phoenix outscored Denver 20-18 in the first quarter. The Suns enjoyed a 41-37 halftime lead, a Bizarro world score for two teams that are known for playing run and gun ball. The Suns went ice cold from the field in the third quarter, scoring just 13 points, and the Nuggets pulled ahead and hung on for a win that will not be replayed on ESPN Classic any time soon.

The Suns have replaced Mike D'Antoni and his offensive philosophy of shooting in "seven seconds or less" with Terry Porter, who plans to place an emphasis on defense and half court offensive execution. As Porter put it, the Suns will still run this season but they want to do so after defensive stops, not after taking the ball out of the basket after the opposing team scores. The Nuggets feature the same coach (George Karl) and the same stars (Iverson and Anthony) that they have had in recent years. They lost defensive hub Marcus Camby but the defensive intensity of their bench figures to improve with the addition of energy players like Renaldo Balkman, Chris Andersen and Ruben Patterson. However, the "knucklehead quotient" on this team is reaching levels not seen since Portland housed the "Jail Blazers": let's just say that a locker room with Iverson, Anthony, Patterson, Andersen, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Smush Parker will never be a dull place (not to say that all of those players are bad people but they all have repeatedly demonstrated bad judgment on and/or off the court on more than one occasion).

Shaquille O'Neal looks like he is in decent shape but it is obvious that his days of being an explosive and nimble inside player are long gone. He is huge and he literally throws his weight around but his game is shockingly ground bound now; he seems to struggle to dunk in traffic, something that he did with ease during his prime, often while defenders clung helplessly to him trying in vain to foul him before he slammed the ball through the hoop. That said, O'Neal still has an impact on the defense--literally and figuratively; he has to be guarded and at times still has to be double-teamed and that creates space for the other Suns. The Suns were a better team last year after they acquired him, even thought that truth became somewhat obscured by their meltdown in the first round of the playoffs versus San Antonio.

Phoenix rookie Robin Lopez played with a lot of energy, contributing eight points, five rebounds and seven blocked shots. He looks like Anderson Varejao with his wild, flowing hair and he plays like Cleveland's frenetic Brazilian center/forward.

Suns forward Boris Diaw drew Barkley's ire on several occasions for being too laid back and lacking a killer instinct. "He gives up more layups than any player in the NBA," Barkley grumbled about Diaw's propensity for passing the ball when he is right in front of the rim. That was a mild remark for Barkley on this night as he offered wide ranging commentary not only on the game but also on politics, the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team and seemingly any other thought that came into his mind. TNT executives were probably alternately laughing, cringing and wondering if it was too late to put Barkley's microphone on eight second delay. At one point, Albert wryly asked, "Are we on the air?"

Barkley made a candid admission that he has mentioned a few times on TNT: "One of the big regrets of my career is that I did not become a better defender." Of course, he then (half jokingly) took a shot at his first team, the Philadelphia 76ers: "I blame that on all the dead weight I had to carry with the 76ers." Barkley suggested that he could not play defense with the Sixers because he had to do all of the scoring and rebounding. He did carry a heavy burden at one point in his career but in his formative years with the Sixers Barkley played with Moses Malone, Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks, so there were plenty of opportunities for him to learn how to play defense and plenty of role models from whom he could have sought guidance. The reality is that Barkley was a great talent and a very productive player but he never took his conditioning or his defense as seriously as Michael Jordan did or Kobe Bryant does. Barkley added that he is still made at the Sixers for not drafting Brad Daugherty in 1986 and I completely agree that that was a travesty.

Miller offered a clip and save prediction--"Houston is my pick to win the West"--but Barkley is not convinced, largely because of the unreliability of Ron Artest, of whom Barkley said, "He's a couple sandwiches short of a picnic." Miller also said, "Larry Brown got on me as much as any coach in my career and made me a better player. I think he's the best thing that ever happened to me in my career in Indiana."

Speaking of demanding, hard driving coaches, Barkley recalled that he, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Terry Porter rode to the airport together after Bobby Knight cut them from the 1984 Olympic Team. Keep in mind that Joe Kleine, Leon Wood, Jon Koncak and Jeff Turner made the cut.

Barkley touched on Phoenix' inability to win a championship despite having a two-time MVP and a host of All-Stars and skilled role players. He said point blank that the Suns probably could have won a championship or two if they had focused more on defense and rebounding. Miller offered up the same weak excuses that Suns' fans--and sometimes Suns' players--cite, including what Phoenix supporters call the Horry game but what should properly be called the Stoudemire/Diaw game; after all, it was their overreaction that cost the Suns, not Horry's shove of Steve Nash. If Stoudemire and Diaw had kept their cool, then Horry would have been the only player who go suspended. Anyway, Barkley rightly insisted that if the Suns had defended and rebounded better then they would have had a much better opportunity to defeat the Spurs.

As for the Nuggets, Anthony told TNT's Cheryl Miller, "I think that when I put my mind to it, I can defend whoever I want to." Needless to say, that begs the question of when/if Anthony will in fact put his mind to playing good defense on a consistent basis. Barkley said flatly that Denver is Anthony's team and that how much he buys into what Karl is selling will determine how far the Nuggets go. Miller is convinced that Anthony learned how to step his game up from his experience playing alongside former NBA champions Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade with Team USA but Albert said, essentially, that talk is cheap: the Nuggets need to see real progress from Anthony, not just hear him say the right things during preseason. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Anthony to play good defense or to even know exactly where he is supposed to be defensively.


The venerable Joe Gilmartin describes the NBA's first outdoor game, a preseason contest in 1972 in which Phoenix defeated Milwaukee 113-100: "The game marked the debut of Butch van Breda Kolff’s brief (seven-game) stint as Suns’ head coach, and with Neal Walk scoring 15 points and Charlie Scott 14, the Suns beat the Bucks, who were led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, 113-110. As he usually did, Suns forward Connie Hawkins drew the most oohs and ahs with some of his patented swoops."

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:33 AM


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At Sunday, October 12, 2008 11:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sort of funny to write a post about the commentary of an outdoor game, but that was actually a very entertaining read....



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