January 2004 - Posts
After suffering through several games without Shaq, Malone, or Kobe, the Lakers welcomed back both Shaq and Kobe to the lineup this week. But not for long. Kobe cut his finger moving boxes, so severely, in fact, that he'll be out of action for a week. He didn't play in Friday's game against the Wolves, which led to a 97-84 Minnesota victory.
The Lakers have an upcoming Eastern Conference road trip. Tomorrow, on Sunday, they play the Raptors and face the Pacers in Indiana the next night. On Wednesday they meet up with the Cavs - who have been playing anything but typical Cavaliers basketball as of late (they have a better record than five other NBA teams at this point in time!) - and then square off against the 76er's the night after.
The Lakers are going to need to pick it up here, and sooner than later. The Western Conference is just way too good to allow for the Lakers to play like this, even with injuries, and still hope to have a respectible season-ending outcome. It's a shame the NBA playoffs can't just take the top 16 teams, irrespective of their conference, as even the mid to lower eschelon in the West - the Jazz, Grizzlies, and Supersonics - are better than the vast majority of teams out East.
In his article “These Fakes are a Real Pain,” Bill Simmons rants entertainingly about the five professional atheletes he irrationally hates:
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- Isaih Thomas
- Bill Laimbeer
- Pete Rose, and
- Roger Clemens
If you read Bill's articles regularly you know that he was born and raised in Boston and is a die hard Red Sox and Celtics fan, so his irrational hatred of Kareem, Zeke, Laimbeer, and Clemens is, ironically enough, rational. In any event, this short piece by Simmons is funny to read, it's like a one page bitch-session. Here's what he has to say about Thomas:
I turned on Isiah during his prime, when his frozen smile disguised a cheapshot artist and poor sport, not to mention he was the ringleader of those physical Pistons teams that almost ruined basketball. He was nearly exposed after blaspheming the Basketball Jesus ("If Bird were black ... "), but it was only when he and his loser teammates stormed off against MJ's Bulls that we saw the real Isiah. And you wonder why they left him off the Dream Team.
Since then he's burned bridges in Detroit and Toronto, struggled famously as a talking head, destroyed the CBA and stumbled comically as Indiana's coach. Now we get to watch him screw up the Knicks, which obviously isn't a bad thing. I just want to know why he keeps getting chances. Shouldn't you have to display some degree of competence to land six high-profile jobs in less than a decade? When he's running for president in 2008, don't say I didn't warn you.
Ouch. He doesn't hold back, does he? While Zeke's abilities in basketball after retiring have been suspect, you have to respect the man for what he did on the court. He was a poor sport, but he was as tough as nails. And if you look at his background growing up in rough parts of Chicago, it makes sense. Today the basketball high school phenoms are worshiped - LeBron got a Hummer, for Chrit's sake. While Isaih's skills did give him the opportunity to play in a better high school with better coaches, his treatment wasn't even remotely comparable to what today's youngesters are being handed.
On an aside, what pro basketball greats have had the greatest careers in basketball jobs after retirement? Jerry West, perhaps? On the flip side, what ones have had the worst success? Zeke is probably up there on the list, MJ too.
After taking the Nets to back-to-back Finals appearances, Byron Scott is getting the ol' heave-ho as Nets coach, being replaced by assistant coach Lawrence Frank. I guess the new owners of the Nets were not big fans of Byron.
I think this firing makes sense only because he does not command the respect of his players. Both Kidd and Martin are known to have had disagreements with his coaching style, especially in last year's Finals. Still, it's gotta be a hard blow for Scott - here he has taken perenneal losers to the NBA Finals two seasons in a row. Most coaches would get a raise for doing that. I wonder how many - if any - head coaches have been fired the year after taking their team to the Finals, and how many - if any - have been fired immediately after taking their team to the Finals in multiple concurrent seasons.
I don't watch the Nets often, so I can't fairly assess Scott's coaching prowress, but I don't care if the Nets had the best coach in the universe the last two seasons, they still would have lost to the Lakers and Spurs.
Coach Phil Jackson has shared his timelines for when he expects Kobe, Shaq, and Malone to return to the court. The tentative plan, which Phil was quick to add serves as no guarantee, is as follows:
- Bryant returning Saturday the 24th againt Utah (home)
- Shaq next Wednesday against Seattle (home)
- Malone on February 1st, against the Raptors (away)
And for those die-hard Ho Grant fans, he's expected to be back on Saturday's game against Utah. Let's hope the Lakers can soon return to their winning and healthy form............
After a loss to the Grizzlies last night, the Lakers lost again tonight, this time facing the Mavs in Dallas. And this time getting run out of town, losing by 19, 106-87. You know the Lakers are probably going to chalk up an L when the three leading scorers for their team are:
- Devon George,
- Slava Medvedenko, and
- Kareem Rush
Also - and not that this has any bearing in the Lakers loss - Horace Grant is still MIA for personal reasons (sick parent).
At least with the Lakers absenses we're seeing some good ball from Rush and Medvedenko. Rush shot 7-13 for 18 points, with 2 blocks, 2 boards, an assist, and only one turn over, scoring 18. Medvedenko also scored 18 on 50% shooting from the floor, with 5 boards and a steal. Russell, who's scores double-digits the last two games on solid shooting, returned to his expected form tonight, scoring 2 points shooting 1 for 9. (Ouch.)
After a scary year or so of the Portland Trailblazer front office saying that they were going to shore up the image of their team and stop promoting a bunch of nanny-beating, pot smoking, tantrum-throwing thugs, it is apparent now that they were just joking. Recently Paul Allen silenced talks about trading Rasheed “Just Imagine What This Guy Could Do If He Had a Strong Work Ethic” Wallace, and, today, the Blazers traded McInnis and (everyone's favorite name to say) Boumtje Boumtje for Darius Miles. Now I'm not saying Miles is necessarily a nanny-beating thug, but let's just say I wouldn't be surprised if he could become one. Maybe he'll join 'Sheed and Damon on their pot runs up to Seattle.
It's nice to see the Cavs cleaning house. Entering the season the Cavs didn't know King James's career would pan out. Would he be a disappointment? Mediocre? Well, he's the real deal. Look at recent youngsters in this league who are still years away from being top-notch players - Chandler, Curry, Stoudemire, Yao, Darko (if we get to see him play), and others. Now, some of these guys are stellar players, but franchise players? Not yet. So, the Cavs look like they're investing their future in LeBron, and rightfully so. THEY'RE BUILDING A TEAM AROUND AN 18 YEAR OLD. Pretty crazy....
There are also rumors that there may be another big trade involving the Bulls. It even seems like the Knicks have talked to the Bulls regarding potential trade options. (Zeke is a man on a mission over there in New York...) John Paxon, the Bulls G.M., is ready to shake things up after their lackluster start to this season (which has already involved a coaching change, remember). Paxon, when questioned if Chandler or Curry are “untouchable” responded: “I played with one guy who was untouchable or untradeable. There are maybe a handful of guys in the league right now who fit in that category. The fact we're 12-29 answers whether any of our guys are untouchable.”
This week is going to be hard on the injury-ladden Lakers. They lost last night to the Suns, the worst team in the West, they've got road back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday against the Grizzlies and Mavs, and then play in Utah on Saturday. All without Kobe, Shaq, or Malone. The Lakers are still barely holding on to third place in the conference, but after this week they'll likely be fifth or sixth.
In the absense of Kobe/Shaq/Malone, Kareem Rush and Slavo Medvedenko have really been stepping it up. In fact, in last night's loss to Phoenix, Rush was the leading scorer with 18 points. He's matured nicely since when I first saw Rush play in his rookie season in a pre-season game. In that game he shot the ball twice: the first one was an air-ball from three-point land; the second was mercilessly blocked by Darius Miles. (And I mean blocked. Miles must have given him five feet. And Rush shot, and Miles just jumped up, extended, and swatted the ball right back at him. Hard.)
While it's nice to see some Laker players who don't get much playing time getting their minutes, it would be better to see the big three back! But it appears that they're all still a couple weeks from returning............ Bah.
A week ago Denver drubbed the Lakers to the tune of 22 points. Last night the Lakers were able to return the favor, decimating the Nuggets by 26, and without Shaq, Kobe, or Malone in the lineup. The Lakers numbers were quite impressive - 50.7% field goal percentage for the game (compared to Denver's 35.9%), and 40 boards to Denver's 28. This win was Phil Jackson's 800th win as an NBA head coach, making his career record 800-301, for a 72.6% winning percentage. That averages out to a season record of 59-23, not too shabby.
More good news, Kobe's shoulder injury is just a sprain, as opposed to something more serious.
The Lakers play the scortching Kings (27-9) on Friday night, again without Kobe, Shaq, or Malone. And this time they'll also be missing Ho Grant, who's leaving the team to go visit his ailing father back in Georgia. Go Lakers!
Isaih Thomas was hired as the president of operations for the Knicks to make something happen. And, boy, has he ever. Thomas, in his short time there, has not only traded for Marbury and Hardaway, but, today, fired coach Chaney and replaced him with Lenny Wilkens. Lenny Wilkens has coached a number of teams throughout his career and has amassed the most number of wins and loses of any NBA coach. It'll be interesting to see if Wilkens can make any more of an impact than Chaney.
What is driving Zeke, of course, is to get the Knicks in the playoffs - this year. He's said as much in press conferences. But do the Knicks have a plausible chance of making the playoffs this year? They're 15-24, and clearly still need much more time to gel with the Marbury and Hardaway addition, and now will understandably require more time with a new coach. Of course, 15-24 puts you in 10th in the Eastern conference, so there may still be an opportunity, but the Knicks are going to have to start winning games here, and start sooner than later.
The Lakers play the Nuggets tonight. Last time they played them - about a week ago - they got blown out by 22. This time they go in without Kobe. (And, of course, without Shaq or Malone.) Fingers crossed that G.P. and the rest of the guys can put something together, but it's hard to be too optimistic knowing Ho Grant and Russell are going to get significant playing time. Hopefully the second stringers - Rush, Walton, and Medvedenko - can really step it up. Devon George too. Go Lakers!
At the start of this season the Lakers will touted to have “four future Hall of Famers” in Shaq, Kobe, Malone, and Payton. Well, with Kobe's shoulder injury last night in the Lakers 89-79 win over the Cavs, the Lakers are now down to one future Hall of Famer - Payton.
These rash of injuries couldn't come at a worser time. Yes, the Lakers has two Leastern Conference teams they beat in their last two games (Atlanta on Friday and Cleveland last night), but the Lakers have upcoming games against Denver (22-16) and Sacramento (26-9). With the way injuries have been going lately, I wouldn't be surprised to see Gary Payton's leg fall off midway through the first quarter in Wednesday's game against the Nuggets. Bah.
There is an interest piece on the Lakers, published last week in the Dallas Star-Tellegram, predicting the downfall of the Lakers. To quote the thesis:
Kobe Bryant's lingering rape case will strangle the Lakers like a bad case of the flu.
Karl Malone is 40 years old. Yes, Malone is one of the hardest-working and most competitive players to play in the NBA. But there was this guy you might have heard of named Michael Jordan. He, too, was one of the hardest-working and most competitive players to play in the NBA. However, at the age of 40, Jordan wasn't the same player.
Shaquille O'Neal is hurt again. Shaq is questionable for tonight's game against the Clippers after leaving Friday's 111-109 loss to Seattle in the second quarter because of a strained right calf. This was after Shaq missed Wednesday's practice because of back spasms, leading to a visit to the chiropractor.
With Shaq, Kobe, Malone and Gary Payton, the Lakers possess the most devastating Fearsome Foursome since Deacon Jones led the LA Rams' defensive front in the 1960s. But the Lakers' big four all have issues -- Payton still doesn't know coach Phil Jackson's triangle offense -- that will catch up with them at the wrong time. And that's not counting the pressure of capturing a title that nearly everyone has practically handed them.
The article makes some good points, worth a read. Of course, being that it was published in a Dallas newspaper, one might say there is a bit of Laker envy going on, but the author's article still has merit.
So I noticed www.NBA.com now has a blogging section - the NBA Blog Squad. As it stands, their blog lineup is pretty weak. The only basketball player is Jay Williams, who isn't even playing this year. Doc Rivers has a blog there, but the rest of the bloggers are ho-hum, to put it kindly.
Hell would freeze over before this would happen, but it would be cool if David Stern encouraged NBA players and coaches to have a blog presence on NBA.com, and he granted them total freedom to say whatever they wanted. Could you imagine, with that immunity, what entertaining things Mark Cuban would write? Or Rasheed Wallace? Wouldn't it be a hoot to get to know what's going through Ron Artest's mind, courtesy of his daily blog entries? Phil could post his book recommendations. The Van Gundy's could blow their fuses on an entirely different medium. The Maloof brothers could post pics from their parties at The Palms, and dinners with celebs like Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton. It would sure make NBA.com a place to actually visit for more than just the latest scores...
Ever since stepping into his new role as Knicks president, Zeke has been making things happen. He's let players go and, most notably, executed the Marbury and Hardaway trade. Given his propensity to “shake things up,” I wouldn't be surprised to see Thomas insert himself as the Knicks head coach. Let's just put it this way - Chaney ain't gettin' it done. Zeke knows it and, more importantly, the New York fans know it too. In the Knicks 32 point loss to the Rockets on Thursday the crowd chanted “Fire Chaney” multiple times. Guess they weren't impressed with the Knicks giving up 23 points before scoring four themselves.
The question, “Should Zeke coach again,” and “Will he coach again” have two different answers, in my opinion. I think he will coach again, maybe as just an interim coach for the remainder of the season if he decides to fire Chaney. Should he? Nah. They say the playoffs are when a coach's skills really shine. After all, it's up to seven games in a row against the same team. There are matchups, changes, additions, subtractions, fine tuning, etc., all that a coach should be doing during the series. While Zeke was able to give the Pacers a good regular season run, he seemed to not have much coaching smarts come the playoffs.
I see Thomas saying to himself, "We need to be contenders NOW." That's why, I think, he brought in Marbury and Hardaway, even though he has now effectively killed off all cap space. And when Zeke sees Chaney can't cut it, and Chaney at the helm won't lead to a Knicks playoff berth, Thomas is going to say, "We need to get rid of Chaney NOW." And who's going to replace him? You know the answer to that....
Shaq's MRI showed no serious damage to his strained calf, but he will sit out the next two games - home games against the Hawks and Cavs. The bad news is that Malone is still not ready to go, probably won't come back until the week after next, and Phil says Fox is still a ways off from being able to handle the daily basketball grind. Injuries are a drag, but I guess it's better that they're happening now as opposed to the start of the playoffs!
I'm like a stinkin' broken record here. Lakers got blown out - again - this time by the Nuggets, to the tune of 22 points. Another solid game for Rush, 14 points on 50% shooting in 18 minutes of play. George needs to step up, especially with the absence of Shaq and Malone.
When I watch the Lakers play I have a special spot in my heart for Ho Grant. He reminds me of me on the pick-up basketball court. No, I'm not 6'10”; no, I don't have the skills to play in the NBA. But, on the court, I am usually like a Grant out there. Watching, it's easy to overlook me. Nothing fancy. If I get the ball in close to the basket, I'll score more often than not, hit a J every now and then, get some boards, but there are many players out on the court who are better than me and make more of an impact. (Of course Ho Grant wasn't always as much of a ghost as he is now adays - he was a force to reckon with in the early and mid 90s.)
The Laker's next two games are home games against Leastern teams - Atlanta on Friday and Cleveland on Monday. It'd be nice to see the Lakers blow these two teams out of the water. But then it's back to the grind, facing Denver again, and then Sacramento, but with any luck Shaq will be back in action by then, Malone too, fingers crossed. And Fox will, hopefully, make his return to the lineup sometime this month as well...
The Lakers lost against the Wolves tonight, 106-90. The Lakers will playing shorthanded - no Shaq, no Malone - and the Wolves looked sharp, especially compared to the Lakers lackluster apperance as of late.
Dr. Jack Ramsay has a good piece on ESPN about the Laker's shortcomings and his proposed “fix.” Dr. Jack hits the nail on the head in pointing out the Laker's main weakness - defense. This must be burning Phil up inside, he's always stressed the importance of D. (The Lakers are ranked 23rd in points allowed...)
Watching the Lakers play they look to play D with apathy. Perhaps because it's not as glamorous as running the offense, or perhaps they slag on D because they figure they'll make it up on offense... or maybe the team's yet to gel.
Every now and then I like to pop the old Bulls Finals into the VCR. Part of the fun is watching the games where MJ dominates, but it's also amazing to watch the defensive prowress of the Bulls. Scottie and Michael were probably among the top two defenders in the 90s. It's too bad Shaq is such a wash on D - sometimes he dominates, other times he plays lazy D - it's so much fun to watch him take control down low, swatting shots, pushing guys out of the paint, mopping up the boards......
Tomorrow the Lakers take on the Nuggets. It'll be Kobe's first game in Denver, should be interesting to see the fan reaction, if any. Another tough game without Shaq or Malone - won't be surprised to see another mark in the L column.
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