Monday, February 19, 2007

All-Star Thoughts

I have to admit, I skipped the game.

You can be disappointed in me if you'd like, but I have my reasons. They are as follows:

1) I couldn't get past whatever has happened to Wayne Newton.

Seriously, what was going on there? He looked like he was 85-90% not human. It really frightened me and I had to change the channel.

2) The All-Star Game is a great theory and a terrible reality.

It plays out like a shootaround with scores. Guys are clowning, no one is really trying, and there's no incentive to truly care. I don't know, maybe perception differs from reality, but I feel like the games of the 80s had meaning since there were so many excellent rivalries across the league. It was an extra chance to see Magic vs Larry, you had Celtics teaming with Pistons, Pistons teaming with Bulls, etc.

Plus, the league wasn't the love fest that it has become. Guys got frozen out. There was legit competition in who would walk away with the MVP trophy. Again, maybe I remember this differently than it actually was, after all, I was merely an impressionable youth. I do know that these games today are void of anything substantial, and you can tell immediately that there's no point in watching. This goes for all All-Star games, with the lone argument being the mockery that the MLB game has become (frankly, I don't buy that argument).

It all makes me sad.

3) All-Star Saturday night killed my weekend.

I'll level with you. I was geeked for this event. I had planned a live blog around it. I considered having people over. But, then I realized it's 2007 and this event blows. A lot. I know I'm not close to the first or the thousandth to suggest this, but the NBA needs to blow this whole evening up and start over. It used to be special. Now, it's just boring.

This isn't a shot at the players so much. They do their part and show up.

But, the events are for the most part awful. I don't know a single person who enjoys the Shooting Stars competition. As an added bonus this year, it ended in a DQ and the Thomas and Mack Center booed the winners. That's no good. I don't know about you, but I can live without WNBA stars and living legends chucking half-court shots for a minute. There must be something better.

The Skills competition is another one of those events that sounds good in theory. They even convinced Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Steve Nash to compete. Chris Paul was a perfectly suitable replacement for Nash when he couldn't go. So, I expected some good competition. Instead, I got players moving at half speed in round one, and Kobe Bryant unable to execute a pass in the Finals. Rough.

I have nothing bad to say about the Three-Point Shootout. It was fine. My pick won. I was happy.

The main event is always the dunk contest. It has delivered some of the most memorable moments in NBA history. Sadly, it's done.

Look, if Nate Robinson can't make a dunk in two minutes (TWO MINUTES!!!), it has to be over for him. I know he's 5'7". I know he's the defending champ. But, goodness, it's brutal. It completely kills the crowd to watch guys miss that many times in a row (DISCLAIMER: unless it's Chris Andersen...then it's great). He should have been eliminated.

Also, while I'm ranting, they should outlaw homages to dunks of the past. I've seen the dunks already. I don't care that you can do it too. No more jumping from the free throw line. No more Dee Brown imititating. No more trotting out Spud Webb. No more Kenny Smith dunks. Come with something original like Dwight Howard or Andre Iguodala. If you can't, you lose.

Here's what I propose. Participants get one dunk per round. There are 6-8 dunkers instead of four. If you miss your dunk, you get a zero. The top four move on. Everyone gets two dunks in round two. You average the scores. Top two go to the finals. Each participant gets three dunks. Highest average wins.

The whole weekend can be fixed. We must rally together and make changes happen. It should not be acceptable to anyone that the highlights of the weekend were Charles Barkley racing Dick Bavetta and Shaq break dancing during a practice.

What used to be a great event has turned into a mockery, and something must be done. Let's figure it out together.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Scottie Pippen is coming back?

Well, that's what he'd like to do:
"I'm thinking of trying to come back for the playoffs," Pippen said. "Something like the last two months of the season, somewhere I can come back and play limited minutes to start, play point forward for someone and build toward the playoffs. It's something I've been thinking about for the last three months."

For Sam Smith's full story, go here.

I'm probably going to end up being in the minority on this one, but I wouldn't do it if I were Miami, Cleveland, Detroit, the Lakers or some other "contender." Pippen is 41. He hasn't played in two years. He says his body has never felt better, and I'm not going to argue with him, but the last time I saw him on an NBA roster in 2003-04, it was his body that kept him off the floor.

Pippen is one of the best ever, and if he wants to give it a try for the veteran's minimum, that's his choice. As a fan, I would hate to see this end up as another sad case of "aging great player missing the life and tarnishing his legacy in the process" syndrome.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sunday Slams: Raptors, West races, All-Star Saturday and more!!!

It only took three weeks for the Toronto Raptors to make me look like a moron. Actually, that’s longer than it normally takes.

You see, it was 21 days ago that I wrote the following about the Atlantic Division:

“Meanwhile, everyone else has been awful. The Knicks are still a mess. The Celtics have been understandably terrible since Paul Pierce went down. The Sixers dealt Allen Iverson away and are completely rebuilding. The Raptors are the Raptors.”

Well, so much for that opinion. The Raptors have been playing nothing like the team they were at the start of the season, or the start of 2007 for that matter.

I glossed over this at the end of this column last week, but the Raptors swept the January awards for the Eastern Conference. Chris Bosh won player of the month. Andrea Bargnani won rookie of the month. Sam Mitchell won coach of the month.

Let that sink in for a second.

Now that your brain has processed that knowledge, let me blow your mind again. Chris Bosh is playing some incredible basketball right now, and he deserves to be in the MVP conversation for the time being.

Over a two-game span, Bosh made 17 consecutive field goals. In a victory over Orlando, he outlasted fellow budding superstar Dwight Howard, scoring a career-high 41 points in the process. He followed that performance up with a 75% shooting night in a hard-fought win over the Lakers.

Meanwhile, Bargnani has gotten nasty. Last Sunday, he dunked on Chris Kaman with fury and buried a three on the next trip down. He knocked down four of five from behind the arc against Los Angeles on Friday night. Bargnani is drawing so many comparisons to a young Dirk Nowitzki that I’m already tired of hearing it, and even Dirk himself got into the act saying Bargnani is better than he was at the same age.

In addition, Jose Calderon has been wonderful at the point, and with T.J. Ford getting his health back, that’s a pretty solid two-headed monster in the backcourt.

Predictably, the Raptors faltered last night in Detroit in what was hyped as a big test for both teams. Toronto might not be the best team in the East right now, but they seem to be in great shape to win the Atlantic. The Raptors are 18-7 at home, and they’ve compiled a 7-2 record within their horrible division.

It remains to be seen if they can keep this run going, but with a 14-6 record in 2007, Toronto is certainly a team to keep an eye on as the season progresses.


I know we have a ton of basketball left to play, but it sure looks like you can start creating division championship banners in Phoenix, Dallas and Utah.

Entering today, the Suns hold a seemingly insurmountable 9 ½ game lead over the Lakers. The Mavs hold a surprising eight game lead over San Antonio, while Utah owns a 7 ½ game cushion over Denver.

Because the NBA changed the playoff seeding rules, the only sure thing at this point is that Dallas and Phoenix will be one and two, with the order to be determined.

What makes the West so interesting is how well the next tier of teams is playing to this point. Utah, San Antonio, Houston and the Lakers are indistinguishable based on record, and that’s what has NBA fans excited for playoff time.

Dallas and Phoenix have separated themselves from the pack, and while a potential playoff series against the Clippers or Nuggets is by no means a cakewalk, it looks a lot nicer on paper than the options facing that middle pack of teams. That’s assuming that Denver and the Clippers don’t kick things into another gear during the stretch, which is entirely possible considering the rosters on those teams.

With the division races seemingly non-existent, the real race to watch in the West is which teams end up with the coveted third and fourth seeds. Since the matchups appear to be tough, home-court advantage should play a key factor in the opening round series.


The field is set for both the Slam Dunk contest and the Three-Point Shootout, so I think I’ll go on record with some predictions leading into what used to be one of the most fun nights in sports.

The dunk contest used to be the marquee event of the weekend, but not anymore. Tyrus Thomas said he was going for the free money, and now that the Bulls fined him $10,000 for his comments, he’s probably going for a victory so he can have more free money.

Thomas is the sleeper in the contest. His leaping ability is off the charts, so who knows what he can come up with.

Nate Robinson is back to defend a title he never should have won. In my opinion, Andre Iguodala would have won the competition if not for the emotional, nostalgic influence of the great Spud Webb.

Anyway, most are excited to see what Gerald Green of the Celtics comes up with, and I think many are confused by Dwight Howard’s inclusion in the proceedings. Howard’s size makes his entry unique, and I’m thinking somewhat prohibitive for a contest like this.

So, with all of that said, I think it comes down to Thomas and Green, and from what I’ve seen I think Thomas will impress the crowd and judges with his power and athleticism. That is, of course, unless someone has already decided that he can’t win because of his comments. Just kidding. Ahem. Let’s move on.

The Three-Point Shootout is my favorite event of Saturday night now that 2-Ball is gone, and this year’s field is deep. Defending champ Dirk Nowitzki will have his hands full trying to repeat, as he needs to hold off Gilbert Arenas, Jason Kapono, Damon Jones, Mike Miller and his teammate Jason Terry.

This is a tough event to predict, but I like Kapono based on how he’s been shooting the basketball lately. He feels the least streaky to me, which is either good or bad depending on how you look at it. I will argue that it's good, since he'll be more consistent. However, I have no evidence to back this up, so take it for what it’s worth. Mike Miller also seems like a good choice.

Everyone is a winner in the Shooting Stars competition due to the inclusion of WNBA greats, but I think San Antonio repeats, holding off Detroit.

As for the Rookie-Sophomore game, the Sophomores will blow the Rookies out in a game that has absolutely no defense, and Andrew Bynum will win the MVP thanks to Deron Williams and Chris Paul constantly feeding him the basketball.


-Just as everyone in the world predicted, the Wizards are really struggling without Antawn Jamison. They’re now 1-4 since Jamison was injured, and they’ve been blown out at home by San Antonio and Portland. On top of that, Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood can’t stop fighting each other. Oh, and Miami is only four games back.

-There are a lot of slumping teams out there. Orlando is back down to .500 after their torrid start. The Lakers desperately need to get back to California following an ugly road trip. The Bulls are having the same issues on the left coast. Then there’s the predicament the Celtics find themselves in. Boston is headed towards a historic level of losing, but with each loss comes the increased hope of Greg Oden or Kevin Durant.

-On the flip side of the previous "putback" are the few scorching teams in the NBA. Detroit is rolling with Chris Webber, and they’re very quickly separating themselves from the pack at the top of the East. Meanwhile, Sacramento has very quietly won five straight to pull closer to a playoff spot.

-I highly doubt this will hold up, but it’s fun to consider: if the season ended today, Miami and Detroit would meet in the first round of the playoffs. Since I still consider the Heat and the Pistons to be the best teams in the East, wouldn’t it be something to see that series so early? Again, don’t bet on it happening.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sunday Slams: All-Stars, Blazers, Wade and more!!!

The NBA All-Star Game is two weeks away, and 24 lucky players are headed to Vegas for what should be a unique experience.

Selecting rosters for this game is certainly no easy task, especially for coaches who have seven roster spots per conference to fill. All things considered, I think everyone did a pretty good job this year.

The fans actually got it mostly right with the starters, with the obvious exception being Shaquille O’Neal. While it’s unfortunate that oft-injured O’Neal is taking a roster spot of someone clearly more deserving this season, it’s supposed to be the fan’s game. If they want to see him, they’re going to see him.

Joining O’Neal in the starting lineup for the East are Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Gilbert Arenas. I enjoyed reading all week that Arenas’ selection somehow had to do with the blog explosion. I guess because Arenas yells “hibachi” before shots, fans felt he was worthy of an All-Star start. To me, Arenas was a clear choice since he’s having one of the best seasons in the Conference.

Rounding out the East roster are Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Vince Carter, Richard Hamilton, Dwight Howard, Jason Kidd and Jermaine O’Neal.

In looking at that roster, I don’t think anyone was blatantly snubbed. I do question whether the New Jersey Nets, who have been one of the biggest underachievers all season, deserve two All-Stars. However, this is a clear case of star power perception in the NBA. It’s easy to make an argument for Ben Gordon or Joe Johnson being worthy of a Vegas trip, but I’m wondering if either is truly perceived to be an elite player around the league. That’s why Carter and Kidd get to go, even though their stats and overall record don’t necessarily reflect their worthiness. Gordon and Johnson need to keep their high level of play going, and their time will come.

For the West, the fans elected Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Yao Ming to the the starting lineup. That’s fine. It’s odd that neither Steve Nash nor Dirk Nowitski are starters, considering they’re the clear-cut top two choices for the MVP award at this point, but this is the system for selecting starters.

Filling out the rest of this roster is no easy task. The coaches had two no-brainer choices in adding Nash and Nowitski. Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Carlos Boozer, Allen Iverson, and Tony Parker are joining them in Nevada.

Carmelo Anthony, the league’s scoring leader, is the obvious snub of the group, but he missed all of those games after punching and running in New York. That probably hurt his case badly.

To me, it’s not right that the league’s best team, Dallas, only gets one All-Star. Josh Howard is having a year worthy of a trip to Vegas, and he should be on the team. It’s not meant as a slight to Shawn Marion, who is also having an amazing year. However, taking three players from Phoenix to only one from Dallas doesn’t feel right. I also would have selected Utah’s Deron Williams over Tony Parker, but that’s being nitpicky.
David Stern will likely add Howard and Anthony as injury replacements for Yao and Boozer, so all will be fine.

Personally, I can’t wait for All-Star weekend. It’s always a great event, unless you love defense. Plus, this year, you get Charles Barkley vs. Dick Bavetta in a foot race. It’s hard to be angry with the NBA.


The Portland Trail Blazers have had many bad moments over the last decade. There have been devastating playoff losses and countless off-the-court incidents that soured the fan base on the franchise. Nothing really seemed to be clicking, and there wasn’t much hope or excitement surrounding the team.

I dare say that’s all changing, and it’s happening quicker than I expected.

As I write this, Portland is 20-29. That’s not necessarily worthy of national media praise, but it’s a very respectable record in the brutal Western Conference.

If you heard Blazers Assistant GM Kevin Pritchard on ESPN’s Daily Dime podcast, you know that one of the key things the Blazers wanted to do in the offseason was change their culture. They were looking for guys with class, who would come in and play hard while doing everything the right way.

From where I sit as a guy with the NBA League Pass, they found their man in Brandon Roy. He was the NBA’s rookie of the month for January, when he averaged 16.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals in 16 games. He’s going to be Portland’s go-to player for years to come, and his wild game-tying three pointer Friday night in Denver was an example of why. Roy wants the ball late, and he has a knack for delivering when the team needs him to.

In addition to Roy, who by all accounts should win the Rookie of the Year award, Portland picked LaMarcus Aldridge and Sergio Rodriguez in the 2006 NBA Draft. Rodriguez is getting a lot of build up as the point guard of the future, with Pritchard hesistating before linking him in some ways to Steve Nash. I haven’t seen a lot of Rodriguez, but what I have seen is impressive. Aldridge, to this point, looks like he’s going to take a couple of years to round out his abilities. He’s shown flashes, but he was always considered as a future stud more so than an immediate big time addition.

It will be interesting to see what Portland does from here. They have Jamaal Magloire’s expiring contract as trade bait should they choose to go that route. Zach Randolph is locked up in a long-term deal, but he’s a player that several teams looking for a big man might covet should Portland choose to move him. They seem to be headed back to the lottery, which means they’re going to add another key, young piece to the puzzle.

One thing is for sure: With young players at every position and a mission to do things the right way from management, the future is looking rosy for the Blazers


I wrote a few weeks ago that the sleeper in the MVP race was going to be Dwayne Wade, and that it was only a matter of time.

Well, the time appears to be now.

Wade is single handedly keeping Miami afloat during this 2006-07 season, and he’s kicking it into high gear of late. The Heat got a big win at home against Cleveland on Thursday night, and it was classic Wade leading the comeback. He got to the foul line 24 times, and he knocked down 23 of them. Although he committed 12 turnovers, Wade carried his club down the stretch just like he always does.

Last night, following his jersey being retired in the afternoon at Marquette, Wade went out and torched Milwaukee for the second time this week. He scored 32 points and dished out 11 assists.

He’s scored 20 points or more in 14 consecutive games, which happens to be a Miami Heat record.

We all watched in awe last season as Wade took over the Finals and carried the Heat to a championship. With five nationally televised games remaining this month alone, this could be the time for Wade to again embrace his MVP-candidacy and make Miami a major factor in the NBA’s second half.


-Even without Carlos Boozer, Utah found a way to beat San Antonio and Phoenix in consecutive games. That’s impressive. Jerry Sloan is running away with the Coach of the Year in my opinion, and I think it’s time for everyone to take this team seriously come playoff time. They’re simply not going away.

-The Wizards really miss Antawn Jamison. Watch them carefully over the next three to six weeks. They play no defense, so trying to keep pace with teams without Jamison is going to be interesting. By the time Jamison is back, don’t be surprised if the Heat has crept much closer to the top of the Southeast Division.

-The Clippers are making their run right now, but it’s time to find out if they’ve really figured out how to win on the road. After a 3-9 start away from the Staples Center, the Clips are 4-1 in their last five games outside of Los Angeles, and they kicked off a seven-game East coast trip with a win in Boston on Friday night. Suddenly, they’re only four games behind the Lakers in the Western Conference and with a good road trip, they can pull themselves closer to the middle of the Western pack.

-Did you ever think you’d see the day where the Raptors would have the Eastern Conference player and coach of the month at the same time? It happened in January as Sam Mitchell and Chris Bosh won the honors.