December 2003 - Posts
I did for the first time today. Doug Floutie, San Diego's 41-year old reserve QB and one-time great Patriots QB, is known to play at the Pacific Beach Rec Center every now and then in the off-season, which is where I play a few times a week. Anywho, since the Chargers did not make the playoffs this year like usual, his season ended yesterday, so he showed up at the rec center today and I played (and lost) against his team.
Anyway, when I typically think of an NFL player I think of a 6'5”, 275 lbs. monster. Floutie, though, is the exact opposite. According to his profile page on ESPN.com he's 5'10” and weights a scant 180 lbs., although to be honest it looks like he is closer to 170. His hands aren't as big as I expected them either, they didn't look that much bigger than mine, and I have pretty small hands. Anyway, in case you're wondering, he's the best 41 year old I've seen play. He's got a nice, smooth shot, a really impressive and quick first step, and, naturally, is one hell of a passer. He made a couple very impressive down court passes setting up fast breaks.
Like I said, we lost pretty convincingly, something like 15 to 9, in large part because we were outsized and had a number of mismatches. But it was fun to have my 15 minutes against an old NFL QB.
The Lakers apparently broke out of their funk last night with a 23 point drubbing of the Celtics. The Lakers finally played a good second half, holding the Celtics to 33 points the last 24 minutes of regulation. Now, hopefully the Lakers can execute in their upcoming matches with the Sonics and Clippers, because they have the hot Timerwolves and equally impressive Nuggets to face next.
Also, some good news on the Rick Fox front - he should be back for the January 9th game against the Atlanta Hawks:
According to the Dec. 26 Los Angeles Times, Fox, who had foot surgery in May, plans to play Jan. 9 against the Hawks. He's running up to 50 miles a week and is practicing when he can. "I could play if I had to right now," Fox told the Times. "The last two weeks have been very heartening.”
It'll be interesting to see how quickly Fox gets worked back into the rotation. I'm certain George will get to keep his starting position initially, but I wonder if Fox comes back to playing in top form, if he'll get the nod to start and Devon will come in off the bench. In any case, it will be nice to have Fox back, the Lakers sure could use his defense.
All sports have streaks of one kind or another - winning streaks, losing streaks - and the NBA is no exception. There are microstreaks, like the runs teams make during the game, and macrostreaks, like the streak the Spurs are exhibiting right now, and the slump the Lakers are going through at the same time. The Lakers have been playing like a disinterested, second-rate team as of late. After their 10 game winning streak early on in the season they are 2-3 in their last five games. And the two games at the end of their 10-game streak earlier in the season ended with two close victories against mediocre teams (the Knicks and the Jazz).
With the Mailman's loss to injury last night, the Lakers played the Golden State Warriors, a sub-.500 team prior to their victory tonight. The Warriors offered the Lakers an easy win before their Christmas day game against the Rockets, but the Lakers played ho-hum and lost 107-98. They lost to the Blazers last week. Their two previous wins - against the Nuggets and Suns - were squeakers.
While the Lakers are cooling off dramatically, their rivals are getting hot. The Spurs have matched the Lakers earlier streak, having picked up Ws their last ten outtings. The Kings, sans Webber, are playing lights out, and the Timberwolves are getting hot as well. Denver and Dallas, while not exceptionally streaky, can always win on any given night.
While talking about the Spurs, Wolves, Nuggets, and Mavs, how about taking a moment to give props to the Western Conference Midwest Division. The worst team in this division - a tie at 15-13 with Memphis and Utah - would be first in the Atlantic Division, and fourth in the Central Division. Records aside, Utah/Memphis would both have better records if they were in the Leastern Conference, and only a handful of Eastern teams, I think, are better than the worst teams in the West.
Anywho, Lakers have a good game this Thursday against the Rockets. Should be a nice addition to the inlaws Christmas party.
I recently picked up a copy of Elliot Kalb's Who's Better, Who's Best in Basketball?: Mr. Stats Sets the Record Straight on the Top 50 Players of All Times. I wrote an earlier blog entry - Who's the Best Player of All Time? - questioning Mr. Kalb's choice of Shaq as his choice for the best player in the history of the NBA. (The moniker “Mr Stats“ is a good one for Kalb - he's worked as a statistical analyst for NBC's NBA department for numerous years, has been courtside for all NBA Finals games since 1991, and has met with and talked with hundreds of present and past NBA greats for their take on the greatest players of all time.)
In the book's introduction, Kalb starts off realizing that he may be stepping on a few toes with his selection. He recounts a story when he was playing in a celebrity golf with Jerry Rice. Kalb asked Rice if he was an NBA fan, to which Jerry replied in the affirmative. Kalb then asked if Jerry agreed with him that Shaq was the best NBA player of all time. Rice was taken aback. Shaq? No way, Jordan was the best player of all time! “Have you seen Michael play?” Jerry asked Kalb.
Kalb admits that many people have strong feelings on who the best player is, and while Kalb makes cases for his top 50, I like how he includes the comments of others. In each of the 50 player discussions, he has quotes from other NBA greats and analysts, like Pat Reilly, Bill Walton, Snapper Jones, Bob Costas, Matt Goukas, Don Nelson, P.J. Carlissimo, Derek Harper, Marv Alberts, and others. Despite the views of other individuals, Kalb makes a strong case for his selections using a bevy of stats as fodder. The stats Kalb gives the most weight to include:
- Performance in big games / championships
- Scoring titles
- Rebounding titles
- MVP selections
- All-Team NBA
Another nice touch to the book is that for many of the players, Kalb had a paragraph of two recounting their big games. This is especially true for the top 5 players, especially for those who battled one another. For example, he recounts many of the classic matches between Wilt and Russell, between Wilt and Kareem, between Magic and Larry, and many of the magical moments in Jordan's career.
Kalb's ranking of the top seven players of all time goes as follows:
- Bill Russell
- Larry Bird
- Magic Johnson
He makes a good case for Shaq being #1, citing statistics highlighting Shaq's domination of the game since his rookie year. His claim is that there is no peer to Shaq in the NBA today. Chamberlain had Russell in the first half of his career, Jabbar in his second half. Magic had Larry (and Zeke, to a degree). MJ had contemporaries too in Magic/Zeke, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone. But Shaq, Kalb contends, is in a league of his own. (I still hold that MJ is the best ever and that Shaq would not even be in my top 10 of all time.)
Before this book I never realized how dominant Wilt Chamberlain was in his prime. One season he averaged over 50 points per game! He typically had over 30 points and 20 rebounds per game. He's had games with over 50 boards, has scored 100 points (the league record by a long shot), and has had over 120 50+ point games. Wilt was also a good passer. Wilt, as Kalb discusses, lacked the fire that folks like MJ, Zeke, and Kobe have had, and performed poorly in numerous big Game 7s throughout his career. I also learned a lot about Bill Russell. Did you know he never lost a Game 7 in any playoff or Finals series in his entire career? He is the most winningest player in sports history, with 11 rings. His career scoring and rebounding averages rivals Wilt's.
One top 50 player I was pleasantly surprised was there was Dennis Rodman. Kalb gives his respect to the worm for his defensive prowress. Rodman, Kalb points out, had had to defend all positions, having guarded Jordan with skill back in the late 80s, as well as doing a number on Shaq and Malone in the late 90s, men who were much stronger and physically dominant players. He notes that even while Dennis led the league in reboundings throughout much of the 90s, his teammates' average rebounds per game were roughly the same from before Dennis joined their team. Also, Rodman holds the record for most offensive rebounds in a game. Kalb closes his comments on Dennis with saying had Dennis been six inches taller he'd likely have had the performances and statistics to place him in the top 10 of all time players.
This book is a great joy to read, and kept me up several hours last night as I read through the top 7 players, and then started roaming around and reading the scoop on players of interest (Zeke, Rodman, Pippen, Malone, Stockton, etc.). The book, which is under $11 at Amazon, clocks in at over 400 pages and will give you hours of enjoyment. Very highly recommended for any NBA fan.
So the Cavs traded Ricky Davis - Mr. I'll-Shoot-a-Shot-at-my-Own-Basket-for-a-Tripple-Double - and a couple other guys to Boston for some average veteran players: Eric Williams, Tony Battie, and Kedrick Brown. The analysts are saying that this trade makes sense for both sides: the Celtics are picking up a potential high-scorer after having shipped of 'Toine in the pre-season, and the Cavs are getting some veteran leadship to help their young team mature. More accurately, the Cavs are getting rid of the main reason why they are an immature team.
I think this trade can help the Celtics only if Ricky Davis grows up, brings a good attitude to the table, and plays ball. The likelihood of that, in my estimation, is near zero. Of course, I never though Vin Baker could have turned around from his former overweight, drunk, depressed self into a solid player, which he has done so far this season, so, who knows, Ricky might be the missing ingredient that the Celtics need.
For the Cavs, they get rid of the most selfish and immature player on their team (perhaps in the entire NBA). Do they get much in return? Nah, nothing to get too excited over, but that's ok, after all, the Cavs are still years away from their first playoff berth since the Mark Price era. Hopefully, though, these veterans can bring some stability to this young team. Although I doubt they offer much, and wouldn't be surprised to see two of the three as free agents or traded in the next couple of years.
What's interesting to me is that there seems to be some teams seem that are extremely trade happy, willing to mix things up each and every year, trading supposed “franchise players” and solid role players. The Mavs, of course, are the best example of this class of team, but the Celtics also have been trade happy the past few years, bringing in Baker, releasing Walker, a coaching change a few years back, etc., etc. If I were a GM in the league, I would be of the school of forming a core nucleus, and adding role players and pieces to the puzzle. I couldn't see myself making major adjustments unless the team actually stunk. The Mavs and Celtics, though, both made it deep into the playoffs last year, and made it to the playoffs the year before that... yet these big trades haven't stopped...
On my way home from teaching last night I was fortunate enough to be able to catch the last couple of minutes of the Clippers-Mavs game on the radio. Typically, I just scan on past the Clippers ball games on the radio, and rarely watch one on TV as the games this season have been pretty one-sided, with the Clippers getting smacked around. However, Brand has returned lately, casting a slim ray of hope on the Clippers season.
Anywho, the game was neck and neck down the stretch. With 50 some seconds left, the game was tied and the Mavs had the ball. A suspect foul by Chris Wilcox - is it just me or does he look like he could roll with Snoop and his thugs? - sent Wilcox out of the game on his 6th and put Walker on the line. Walker made only one of two, keeping the Clippers hopes alive. The Clippers, then, played Clipper ball. They brought the ball down, wasted the shot clock, then threw up a prayer and missed. But! They get the ball back in a Mav mishandling of the ball. Kick out to Glen Rice for 3! Miss. Clipeprs basketball. The Mavs get the ball back and get it into Steve Nash, who is immediately fouled.
Now, Steve Nash is the 4th best free throw shooter in the league. Perhaps for a second the Clipper luck rubbed off on Stevie Nash, because he proceeded to miss both free throws, and the Clippers rebounded. One more chance for the Clips. With 12 seconds left they'd have to play non-Clipper basketball to pull this game out and get the W. The ball is inbounded and dumped into Brand, who's posting up. Brand backs down, does a fade-away and misses. However, the ball gets tipped out to Glen Rice who is at the top of the key, and drains the shot as the clock expires for the W!
It was exciting to listen to, and, believe it or not, but on the radio the crowd sounded really into it and excited. Most amazingly, the crowd sounded...well... big. Perhaps it was because the Mavs were in town. In any event, it was good to hear such an exciting finish, and good to have the Mavs pick up the loss.
With that single 18-foot jump shot, Glen Rice almost surpassed his average points per game this season (2.7) (granted, he's only played in 6 games thus far). I have always hoped someone would take a survey listing previous good players - not great ones, but solid, skilled players - who today still play but are mere shadows of themselves. Players like Glen Rice, who in a past life was a 20+ point game player. People like Rod Strickland, who through the mid-90s was a solid 18 pts and 8 assists per game. Who's your favorite “past-life” hopeful? Someone who, in a time long ago, used to be a solid player, a go-to guy, and now is happy with the 10 minutes per game the coach let's him see?
The Lakers beat the shorthanded Knicks last night, 98-90 to come away with their 10th straight win and 27th straight home win (dating back to last season). The Knicks played without their leading scorer, Allan Houston, plus the Knicks are miserable team this year (7-15), so the victory isn't too awe-inspiring. But it's good to see them win against the Eastern conference teams, which any competent West team should be able to do with ease.
The Lakers are looking good going into a tougher upcoming schedule, which includes Dallas on Friday, Portland the day after, Denver (they're half a game out of first place in their division!), a couple of scrub teams, and then the Rockets on Christmas day.
What's important is to have the Lakers close out these games with confidence. Listening to the postgame comments, the Lakers sound very cocky, which is not necessarily a bad thing if you can back it up. Part of domination is having total confidence in yourself as a team, but the other more important part is having your opponent's respect and to have them expect a loss. In the Lakers last two wins - against scrub teams nonetheless - the Lakers have not put away the team like they should. Utah clawed back from a 20-some point deficit to tie it up late in the 4th; the Knicks hung around all game - in fact they led handily in the first quarter. What I hope to see from the Lakers, especially against Dallas, is a hard-played game all four quarters, a game that leaves no doubt in their opponents mind who the better team is.
The last of the big games this week for the Lakers is tonight in Dallas. They won Sunday's game against Indiana convincingly, but had to struggle for a victory against the Spurs last night. (Unfortunately I wasn't able to watch the game last night, nor will I be able to watch tonight's. I teach a class from 5:30 to 9:30 pm, and the game gets started at 5:30 pm PST. Bummer.)
Today, Scott Howard-Cooper had a good article on the Lakers emerging dominance, You Better Recognize These Lakers. He gives them their props for coming out and playing cohesively, for Bryant not being too distracted by his legal case, for Malone and Payton picking up the offense and playing team ball, and for Shaq responding quieter and more maturely to talk of contract extensions and his relationship (or lack thereof) with Bryant. Of course, things always seem to gel nicely when you've won 10 of the last 11.
Tonight's game is a back-to-back game, the third of the season. Coincidentally, their last back-to-back had the first game against the Spurs (which they beat by 3 in double overtime), but then lost to the Hornets. Granted, the game the night before had been a 72 minute affair, but even for regulation-length games, back to backs are always harder on the older players. Should be a good game tonight, Dallas having just come off of a 25 point blow-out of the Wizards on Tuesday. What's kind of mind boggling is that if Dallas loses tonight.... THE DENVER NUGGETS will be in first place of the Midwest division! Who would of thunk it?
Tonight the Lakers square off against the Spurs (third meeting since the start of the season) and tomorrow night the Mavs, both road games. Tonight's game will be a test for the Spurs, they've lost the last three:
- A rout by the Lakers the day after Thanksgiving,
- A loss to the Golden State Warriors, and
- A loss to L.A.'s lesser team, the Clippers
Granted, they were without Duncan for the game against the Clippers, but still the fact remains - the defending champions ain't playing like defending champions. Reminds me of the Laker's lackluster start last year. Shaq was out with injury, much like Duncan (and Parker) missed most of the first month of regular season play. The Lakers, as you know, turned it on the second half, much like I expect the Spurs to do once they get firing on all pistons.
The Lakers have been on a tear lately, dismantling the Spurs, the Pacers, and now hopefully the Spurs again. If the Lakers can decimate the Spurs tonight and shut down the Mavs tomorrow, then I think the other teams in the league will (rightfully) start to fear the Lakers. Having that awe goes a long way to having a championship-calliber season. If the Lakers can instill fear in their competitors just by stepping out onto the court, then we're in for a fun season!
The Pacers were able to beat the Suns last night, so the Lakers need to step up and win tonight to keep up. Go Lakers!