October 2004 - Posts

As I blogged about this time last year, each season the Lakers make the two hour trek down to San Diego to play a pre-season game in the San Diego Sports Arena.  The last two years I've gone, even though the games are scrub players for 75% of the minutes.  I contemplated going this year, kicked around the idea with my wife, but wasn't too jazzed about it.  I've been pretty busy with work and haven't been following the Lakers as closely as in the past, so I couldn't even tell you who their scrubs this year are, let alone get too excited about watching them.

Two years ago Shaq sat out, but it was still an exciting game, coming down to a last second shot by Kobe for the win, but, alas, he missed.  Some of the highlights two years back included:

  • A wide-open three pointer at the half taken by rookie Kareem Rush that was about a foot short from the front of the rim.
  • Darium Miles (with the Cavs at the time), jumping about four feet in the air, fully extended to swat a Kareem Rush shot near its pinnacle about five rows back in the stands.
  • The last second shot by Kobe that, sadly, didn't fall.

Last year's game was pretty painful to watch.  Last year both Shaq and Kobe sat out, and the Lakers suffered an 18-point loss from the Suns.  There were some nice plays on the Sun's side, though, an awesome 'oop to Marrion, and a killer block from Amare.  It was probably last year's ho-hum experience - plus the increase in ticket prices - that caused me to opt out this year.

It looks like my presence might inversely affect the outcome of these preseason games.  Midway through the 3rd quarter, the Lakers lead the Sonics by 22.

For those Lakers fans out there, check out this 2004-2005 NBA preview from Marc Stein.  One choice quote from the article:

"In about a year or two, (Kobe) will be calling out to Jerry Buss that we need some help in here, or trade me," Seattle's Ray Allen recently told ESPN.com contributor Frank Hughes.

Added Allen: "We'll all be saying, 'We told you so' when he says that."

It'll be an interesting season to say the least.  The two teams I'll be keeping my eye on the most are the Lakers and the Heat - I'm interested to see what Shaq can deliver, especially in a size-challenged Eastern Conference.  I also am excited to see how the Rockets do this year with the pickup of T-Mac, the release of Stevie Franchise, and the continued maturation of Yao Ming.  I don't know if this year can promise to be as titilating as last year, with the Lakers “dream team” assembled, but if this off-sesaon's bevy of trades and drama are any indication, we're in for an interesting season nevertheless.

Posted by Scott
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About once every two to three years I like to pick up the latest NBA video game out on the market.  My first NBA video game was for the Sega Genesis back in the early 90s, NBA Live.  If I recall correctly, this game was set in the '90/'91 season, making the Lakers the top team in the game, although the Bulls and Pistons were considerable forces as well.

My next NBA game was NBA Live '95, also for the Sega Genesis.  This game greatly improved on the playability of the earlier game I had: the action was faster, the narration much more interesting.  There was a turbo button that would make a player sprint.  The only problem was that if you held down the turbo button while shooting, your shooting percentage went through the roof.  Not being the most dexterous person, I could never hold down the turbo button and the shooting button simultaneously, but my younger brother could, and he would never hesitate to pull out that moved on me when I had a substantial lead.  He'd just start jacking up 3s with his little cheat, hitting 80+% of them.

Following NBA Live '95, I picked up an NBA game for the Nintendo 64, NBA Live 2000.  This was was set in the '98/'99 season, when the Spurs won it all.  The game was all right, definitely a major improvement on the graphics, but the AI was still weak, and it still didn't feel like real basketball, but rather more of an arcade game that lightly simulated basketball. 

All of this was changed with my most recent game, Sega's NBA 2k3 for the XBOX.  NBA 2k3 offerred the realism that had been sorely missing from all other NBA games I had played in the past.  There were some annoyances, sadly, one of the main ones being that players would stop to catch the ball when receiving a pass.  Nothing is more infuriating than trying to run a fast break, trying to execute a give and go, but when doing the “giving” having the man come to a dead stop, allowing the defense to catch up.  Meh.  Also, NBA 2k3 made the opposing team's point guard too good.  They could always blow by me as I guarded them, forcing me to call double-teams.

In any event, I think I'm ready for a new NBA game, one for the XBOX.  Right now I'm leaning toward ESPN NBA 2k5, as it sounds like it's still the ideal choice for a realistic game of ball.  Also, it's got quite a low sticker price, $19.95, compared to its competitors that are priced ~$35-40.  The other standard basketball game is NBA Live 2005, but I've always had an arcade-like experience playing NBA Live games (too many dunks, fast breaks, one-on-one play, etc.).

Posted by Scott
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Accurately predicting the outcome of an NBA season is hard enough when you have just a core of stable, dominant teams, but it's near impossible this year, with so many teams in the league reaching parity, thanks in part to some blockbuster trades and player movements in the offseason.  (On an aside, can you remember a more eventful off-season in the past 15 years?  Granted, there have been some big names moved from one team to another in the past 15 years - J-Kidd for Starbarry, for example - but most moves have been free agency or haven't occurred to the degree in this off-season.  Shaq for Odom, Grant, and Butler and T-Mac for Francis being the big two.)  The Vegas oddsmakers illustrate this coming season's parity among the top teams:

  1. Spurs, 9-2
  2. Pistons, 6-1
  3. Kings, 7-1
  4. T-Wolves, 8-1
  5. Heat, 8-1
  6. Pacers, 9-1
  7. Rockers, 10-1
  8. Mavs, 14-1
  9. Lakers, 16-1
  10. Nuggets, 18-1

Just a factor of 4 separates the top team from the 10th picked team.  Compare this landscape to the odds in 2002-2003, when the Lakers had won two straight championships, winning the second in a dominant style, losing only one game in the entire playoffs.  At the start of that season the Lakers were favored with 5-2 odds, or about twice as likely to win it all as the oddsmakers pick the Spurs of winning it all this coming year.

In any event, I want to make my picks for this coming season, so here we go:

Eastern Conference
The Eastern Conference is going to be dominated by the Pistons, with the Pacers close to their heals throughout.  Look for the Wallaces to shine, Rip to hussle, Chauncey to make big shots when needed, and Tayshaun to look disinterested throughout.  Darko might actually get some playing time, although I'd wager you could count his minutes on one hand, barring a major injury from another player.

The Heat are highly overrated, in my opinion.  They'll do fairly well in the East, standings-wise, but will have a ho-hum record and have zero chance of making it to the Finals, let alone winning them.  The Nets are kaput, expect a most dismal season from them.  They'll be parring with the Knicks to see what team is more pathetic.  Of course, in the East the Nets and Knicks will look leagues better than the bottom feeding Bobcats and Hawks.  I think the Magic are overrated as well, I doubt Stevie Francis will be able to ignite the team any more so than T-Mac.  The Celtics may be on an upswing, adding Payton, havig some time to gel after last year's mid-season trades.  With any luck, the Cavs will build upon their successes from last season and break into the playoffs this year.

I think the East playoff picture will shake down like this:

  1. Detroit
  2. Pacers
  3. Heat
  4. 76ers
  5. Bucks
  6. Cavs
  7. Nets
  8. Knicks

I now I just disparaged half the teams on the list, but when your competition is the Eastern conference, shit starts to look like gold.

Western Conference
The Western Conference is going to be where the excitement this year resides.  I think we're going to have the most balanced conference that we've seen for a long time.  As with last season, the majority of the West teams will have better records than the majority of East teams, and the perennial contenders will again rise to the top and make the playoffs.  I am really expecting good things this year from the T-Wolves, Nuggets, and Rockets.  The Spurs will be the Spurs, of course, and have one of the top records in the league.  The Kings and Mavs will both be around the middle of the pack, as usual.  I don't think the Grizzlies are going to be able to make the impact and have the success they had last season.  I think the other teams - namely the Rockets and Nuggets - have improved too much and are too hungry.  The T-Wolves have proven themselves and have added experience, KG is coming into his prime.  Just too many good teams out there.

The teams I think have no chances to make the Playoffs include the Sonics, the Clippers, the Warriors, the Suns, and the Hornets.  Everyone else in the conference has a shot, and I'd be willing to wager that we won't have a true picture of the Western Conference playoff seedings until very, very late in the regular season.  Here's how I see the playoff picture boiling down:

  1. Spurs
  2. T-Wolves
  3. Kings
  4. Rockets
  5. Nuggets
  6. Mavs
  7. Lakers
  8. Jazz

Teams in the bottom spots could easily be replaced by the Grizzlies or the Trailblazers.

The Finals
In the end I'm hoping for a Spurs, T-Wolves showdown in the WCF, and a Pacers, Pistons showdown in the East.  The Finals will pit the Wolves against the Pistons, with the Pistons coming out on top again.  Yes, you heard it right: back-to-back for the Pistons, in part because of history.  (Look back in the last 25 years, a lot of NBA teams win multiple, consecutive titles: Lakers, Bulls, Rockets, Pistons, Lakers, etc.  Even those teams that don't are almost always contenders the subsequent years, such as the Spurs, who are still contenders after their last Final win back in the last millenium.).

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Posted by Scott

If you, like me, experienced adolescense in Chicago while the Bulls went through their championship runs, you have a special spot in your heart for the Bulls and all of the great memories.  Damn, those were some good years, filled with great games and exciting finishes.  Anywho, everyone idolized Jordan, naturally, he is the greatest of all time, but Pippen, in Chicago, didn't get as much respect as he probably deserved thanks in large part to his quitting in the '94 playoffs, sitting out the final 1.8 seconds since the play wasn't called for him. 

An aside: I remember watching that game at a friends house.  “WHAT”S WRONG!?!” we wondered, as we saw the players take the floor for the last few minutes, “Pippen's not there?  Is he hurt?”  And then that inbounds to Kukoc, and the 18-foot shot over a defender, and.... swish!  BULLS WIN!  BULLS WIN!  And man, we needed that, having gone down 0-2 to the Knicks, the most vile team to ever play any pro sport.

And then we found out why Pippen was sitting.  It wasn't an injury.  He was pouting.  Phil drew up the play for Toni, so Scottie sat.  He pouted at a time a champion can't afford to pout.  From that point on, it was hard to have the respect for Pippen that one had for Jordan.  After Jordan returned, there were important playoff games that Pippen sat out with migranes, but did you ever see Jordan bow out in a big game?  When he was down with the flu, he didn't quit, he freaking made the game winning three pointer.  That's what a champion does.

In any event, Sam Smith has a good reminicient writeup on Pippen's career, worth reading if you were a Bulls fan and shared in the highs and lows of the city of Chicago during the 90s.  Pippen's career was a parable for two brothers, the younger one outshined by his older brother's great accomplishments.  The younger one lives his life in the shadow of the elder, and when he finally breaks free, he tries and tries - but, sadly, in vain - to make his own mark and show that he is just as good as his sibling.  But Pippen never was as good as Jordan, no one has been.  But that doesn't take away from his accomplishments and skills.  As Sam says in his article: “No, Pippen may never have had a title without Jordan. But there's a good chance Jordan would never have had a title without Pippen. And what would NBA history be like then?”  Too true.

Posted by Scott
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According to this story, Malone has informed Jerry Buss that he won't be wearing the Purple and Gold this coming season.  He's yet to announce, though, if he's retiring or not.

What a wild change from one season to the next.  In a few short months the Lakers dropped:

  • Phil Jackson
  • Shaq
  • Karl Malone
  • Gary Payton
  • Rick Fox
  • Derek Fisher

They say winning is about team chemistry (see also, the Detroit Pistons for a good example; see Team USA for a bad example).  I don't know how the Lakers can expect any chemistry on this team with, essentially, and entirely new roster.  Next year is going to be painful, I'm afraid....

Posted by Scott
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