January 2005 - Posts
In their fourth game without Kobe the Lakers pulled off another close win, beating Golden State 105-101 tonight. So far, sans Kobe, the Lakers are an impressive 3-1, boasting a 75% winning percentage, which is head and shoulders above their season average of 58.9%. Granted, these last four games have all been against teams playing 0.500 ball or worse, but a W's a W. A challenge is coming, though, as the Lakers are scheduled to next play Seattle on Tuesday.
Bryant is off crutches now and able to put weight on the sprained ankle, but is still another 10-15 days from playing..... The Lakers are currently in 6th place in the Western Conference, but the Rockets, Grizzlies, and T-Wolves are all right at their heels.
The quote of the week comes from color commentator Kenny Smith: “After San Antonio, who do you really believe in?” Even with an impressive start from Seattle, Miami, and Phoenix, would you really put your money on any of those teams winning it all?
In an earlier blog entry I mentioned how EA and the NFL had signed a long-term licensing deal, meaning that EA's Madden game would be the only football video game with actual NFL teams, players, and stadiums. Fortunately, the NBA did not strike such a deal. However, ESPN has signed such a licensing deal with EA, inking a 15 year deal. This is a blow to Sega whose sports games used to have the ESPN branding.
Sega's going to have a hard enough time with their football game for next year, being unable to use NFL teams/logos/players, but now their basketball games will be further diluted since they must abruptly end their ESPN branding. Betcha they wish they hadn't named their basketball game ESPN 2k5, since next year they won't be able to call their 2k6 game that.
How disappointing... I'm a big fan of competition, as I think it makes everyone do better... it's sad to see EA monopolizing the industry in this fashion....
The NBA has seen two darling teams emerge this year: the Sonics and the Suns. The Suns, though, have been falling from favor as of late, tonight losing their fourth in a row to Detroit, 80-94. This game, like the three previous loses, was without assist leader and floor general Steve Nash, who'll remain sidelined until later this week with his bruised thigh. This losing streak exposes one of the Suns's main weaknesses: their lack of depth. Not much happening with their bench, which is one of the reasons why I can't see this team making a profound impact once the playoffs roll around.
Seattle is continuing to win, though, holding steady at a 75% winning percentage and leading their division by 8.5 games against the Timberwolves. Of course the deepest team, the one I picked at the start of the season to win it all, the San Antonio Spurs, are continuing to steadily win games, racking up a 31-9 record, second only to Phoenix's 31-8 record. The Spurs meet the Suns on Friday the 21st, and with any luck Nash will be back in the lineup. Assuming Nash is back to 100%, it should be an exciting and fun game.
Looking to the East, the Heat have been anything but hot lately, cooling off from their impressive 14 game winning streak that spanned from December 6th through January 1st. Since the new year, the Heat have played 8 games and won only half of them. All four loses came to Western Conference teams: Seattle twice, Phoenix, and the Clippers. They still lead the Eastern Conference by a handful of games and have some easy Ws coming up in the next couple of weeks with games against Atlanta twice, New Orleans, Philly, and Toronto. Their only real challenge over the next two weeks will be their game on Friday the 21st against the Pacers, the only +0.500 team they'll be facing in this upcoming stretch.
Finally, looking at my latest entry on the Ewing Theory and Kobe's absense from the Lakers is having mixed results. The Lakers won their first game without Kobe in a close one at Golden State, but just lost their second contest without Kobe in an 8 point loss to the Jazz. With any luck they'll pick up the remaining two home games this week: on Wednesday against the Timberwolves and on Friday against the Golden State Warriors.
The Ewing Theory, as you may know, is the postulation that a team that is playing mediocre will improve dramatically once their star athelete is taken out of the picture. For a more in-depth definition, see Ewing Theory 101, which describes the gensis of the Ewing Theory:
The theory was created in the mid-'90s by Dave Cirilli, a friend of mine who was convinced that Patrick Ewing's teams (both at Georgetown and with New York) inexplicably played better when Ewing was either injured or missing extended stretches because of foul trouble.
I bring this up because we might have an opportunity to see a mini-Ewing Effect again, this time with the Lakers. Last night Kobe Bryant rolled his ankle while playing against the Cavs, forcing him out of the game for, likely, weeks. The question now is how will the Lakers respond with his absense? Without knowing about the Ewing Theory one would immediately assume the Lakers would crash and burn without their superstar, and they just might. But armed with the knowledge of the Ewing Theory one might not be terribly surprised if the Lakers, sans Kobe, go pull off a seven or eight game win streak, or win 80% of their games while Kobe sits. (And the schedule should help them - in their next eight games the Lakers play Golden State twice, the Nets, the Jazz, the T-Wolves, the Bobcats, the Clippers, and Seattle, teams that have a combined 103-139 (Seattle being the only +0.500 team on the list).
Let's see if the Lakers can't pull off a mini-run here, providing another validation to the Ewing Theory. (Be sure to check out the Ewing Theory 101 article for a long list of anecdotal evidence for the Ewing Theory...)
Bill Simmons's latest article is on the NBA: A Few of My Favorite NBA Things. In it Bill provides his 33 favorite things about this year's NBA season. There's three items on Kobe: Kobe Bryant being Kobe Bryant, Kobe's media blitz after his fallout with Karl Malone, and a bizarre Kobe Bryant radio appearance that I was unaware of. I particularly enjoyed this quote from Bill's article:
My favorite e-mail of the season, courtesy of Houston reader John McMurray: "We need, at a bare minimum, a 5,000 word column on Kobe Bryant. Can you believe the drama that surrounds this guy? He is absolutely crazy, but in a Michael Corleone kind of way. Can't you just see Kobe sitting alone in the boathouse at his mansion on Lake Tahoe, just staring into the darkness?"
The Suns & Sonics season ranks it at #7 and Bill's #1, #2, and #3 things he most enjoys about this year in the NBA?
Another great article by, IMO, the best writer on ESPN.com. I can't wait to read what he has to say about this past weekend's wildcard NFL games.
Following Bill Simmons popular “mail-bag articles,” ESPN.com's Eric Neel's latest article is a similar response to recent emails. I only mention it because I thought he had a very good comment on the Suns current record and the (un)likelihood of them reaching or exceeding the Bulls' 72-10 record from the '96/'97 season. (Currently the Suns are 28-4, which puts them finishing the season with 71.75 wins, should this average hold up.) Anywho, Neel's insight is as follows:
Not going to happen. I mean, come on, they're already 27-4. The Bulls won 41 games before they lost their fourth.
Not going to happen. After Nash, they're too young, and winning is too new to them. They won't be able to stay focused. The 1996 Bulls were stacked with vets. Even Rodman, motivated by the chase for the record, was a leader on that club.
Not going to happen. The bench is full of so many Jake Voskuhls. The Bulls brought in guys like Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr and James Edwards.
But John Hollinger over at SI.com makes the point that teams who start as hot as the Suns have just don't fade too far, historically, so even with the reasonable expectation that they might suffer an injury or a sinking spell, put me down for 63.
I like how he repeats himself - “Not going to happen” - three times to really drive home his points. 63 wins in the season for the Suns? I think they'll do a bit better... but 72+? Not gonna happen.
Eric closes out his article with a similar sentiment of mine. When asked, “who are you picking to win it all,” Eric responds: “The Spurs, same as I was back on July 19.” Ditto for me.