Category Archives: Ballin is a Habit

A Night At The Garden

By Zach

As a newly transplanted New Yorker and NBA fan, it’s been hugely entertaining for me to watch the Knicks this year. This is probably much more so the case because I don’t actually root for them (I’m a Celtics fan), so I was able to watch dispassionately as their season descended into a macrocosm of exciting, dysfunctional uncertainty. Even at the height of Linsanity, when Lin dropped 38 on Kobe and his two under-utilized stooges, questions abounded. No one in New York knew if the Knicks would even make the playoffs; no one in New York knew if Lin’s transcendence would last until April.

It didn’t. The Knicks entered the playoffs without Lin, lost in late March to a bothersome torn meniscus. Without Lin, the offense devolved into a predictably iso-heavy, Melo-centric barrage of contested jumpers. Valuable seconds were wasted, of the shot clock and of legitimate basketball fans’ lives.

So naturally, for game 3 of the Knicks-Heat series, my girlfriend and I decided to join the craziness for a couple hours, in person as opposed to the tacky Mexican restaurant and dive bar with a projector we’d frequented for games 1 and 2. Game 3 would be better, we surmised — it was at the Garden and the crowd would be going nuts. Amare and his disinterested defense had been extinguished. Bosh went home to watch his egg hatch (a cruel joke, yeah, but Gator never filters itself in the name of kindness).

Even though, by game time, we knew that only the first two assumptions would prove prescient, there was reason for optimism. 7th Avenue was buzzing outside the Garden. Melo shirts abounded, interspersed with the occasional Lin or Stoudemire or I’ve-made-a-huge-mistake-in-purchasing-this Fields jersey. The Knicks dancers were performing in the main entryway, much to the delight of all hairspray and spandex enthusiasts present. Beer still hovered around 10 dollars, but it was flowing!

(On a side note: If I ever own a sports team, I’m definitely lowering the price of beer for the playoffs. With 2 dollar beers, a decent team with home court advantage would ROMP its way to a championship. There’s an undeniable effect that drunk, rowdy fans have on both sets of players and, yes, the referees. Someone should do statistical analysis of that effect sometime. The point is: a trophy should take precedence over profit margins, a few black eyes and some vomit cleanup detail expenses.)

Back to the Garden. One of the best parts of seeing a sporting event live is the pre-game action. The warmups, for starters, can sometimes be pretty illuminating in regards to players’ personalities and team dynamics. Of course, I focused on LeBron, whose physical characteristics are obviously much more easily defined than his personal traits. It’s clear that he’s a specimen (all the more so when you see him in person), but I was interested to see how he acted before the game.

The answer? Kind of insecure, just like you might expect. He insisted on viciously dunking a disproportionate amount of his layup line attempts (missing two in a row at one point), and kept doing this stupid little dance while he waited in line. It was like watching a white middle schooler Dougie.  I’m sure it was his attempt to tell the crowd, “Look at me, I’m relaxed,” but to me it just seemed contrived. But then again I’m a completely biased Celtics fan, and I can’t defend five positions in the NBA.

Everyone in the Garden expected at least a tight game, and they got it. It was ugly. We hadn’t seen offensive sloppiness like this from LeBron, Wade, and Melo in a while, and the offensively sloppy play we’d come to expect from guys like J.R. Smith and Landry Fields hadn’t abated.

That said, the Knicks led at halftime and kept it close until the fourth quarter. We all know how the fourth turned out. I’ll spare you the disaster-GIFs of cats falling out of windows or fat ladies tumbling down stairs. Here are my takeaways:

1) Melo, not LeBron, should have been looking to team up with a superstar these past two seasons. It’s not just that he needs good players surrounding him — he needs good players who bring with them a culture of ball movement and teamwork and who will tell him to buck up, reduce his shot attempts, and get his teammates involved. Iso doesn’t win championships, and when your best three scorers are three players who LOVE to iso in Melo, Amare and J.R. Smith, you’re going absolutely nowhere. We all know it, but I thought I’d reiterate.

2) If the Knicks ever become good, MSG will be absolutely insane during the playoffs. The atmosphere was great even though they were down 2-0 in the series and hobbled. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like if they’re ever a Finals favorite. Of course, this might be in 2019 when Melo’s long gone, they’re built around a Lin-Shumpert backcourt and they have Anthony Davis anchoring the paint following a TV special announcing his decision to take his talents to Broadway.

3) The Heat are eminently beatable this year, but only in the Finals. The Pacers can take a couple games off them, as can the Celtics/Bulls/Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals, but they’re not losing four times in a series before June.

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An NBA Trade Deadline Breakdown In Which I Solely Use Harry Potter Analogies

Harry's been a revelation for the Timberwolves this season.

By Zach

So the trade deadline passed for the National Basketball Association yesterday, and while some teams were flailing around in the market like a Whomping Willow, others stood stiller than a first-year in an Invisibility Cloak. This means that the Boston Celtics will go into the playoffs with a frontline of Flitwick-sized big men. The plus to this is that they’re currently projected to play Miami in the first round, and let’s face it, Joel Anthony isn’t exactly Hagrid when it comes to controlling the low post. And Chris Bosh, despite his talents, still looks more like a Norwegian Ridgeback than a human, so we can always hold that against him.

But I’m getting off-topic. This is about basketball.

There were a couple trades yesterday that weren’t quite Voldemort-is-back type news, but they were definitely newsier than your average Rita Skeeter column. In probably the biggest trade of the day, the Washington Wizards sent renowned Lee Jordan-impersonator JaVale McGee to the Nuggets, an Angelina Johnson-style gunner in Nick Young to the Clippers, and in exchange Denver power forward Nene received his Hogwarts letter and will now be a Wizard.

This has multiple implications. First of all, the Nuggets taking McGee is riskier than a Forbidden Forest foray at night. McGee might have potential, but he has all the intelligence of a troll; we’ll see if Denver coach George Karl can put a wand up his nose and knock some sense into him.

Also, the Wizards don’t exactly have a sure thing in Nene. He’s kind of like the Slytherin Quidditch team — he looks really good on paper and his physical attributes are basically a Nimbus Two Thousand and One, but there’s a Malfoyan inability to dominate lurking beneath the surface of the big Brazilian. Plus, he’s aging faster than Dumbledore on a Horcrux hunt.

The other big trade was between Portland and New Jersey — the Trailblazers sent forward Gerald Wallace to New Jersey for a high pick in this year’s draft and a couple of guys who are more hopeless than Neville Longbottom on a broomstick. (Portland also sent veteran center Marcus Camby to Houston in exchange for a couple of Chocolate Frogs). Essentially, Portland decided to go to Albania, hide their soul in a quiet, inexperienced professor (interim head coach Kaleb Canales) and try to rebuild their team.

Of course, the question arises: what was New Jersey thinking? They’re trying to rebuild as well, and bringing in Gerald Wallace instead of Dwight Howard is akin to taking Luna Lovegood to a Christmas party instead of Ginny Weasley.

Meanwhile, the Lakers were also busy at the trade deadline, bringing in Ramon Sessions and shipping out Derek Fisher. Sessions is rather like Seamus Finnigan — he brings some stuff to the table, but overall he’s rather unappealing, a booger-flavored Bertie Bott’s Every Flavored Bean, if you will. But he’s still an improvement over Derek Fisher, who is so old that he still refers to You Know Who as He Who Must Not Be Named.

Wait, we’re missing a big trade — Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson! Milwaukee got tired of Bogut’s injuries, and/or discovered that he was moonlighting as a werewolf during his absences. So it made sense for them to trade for Ellis, a guy who can put up Cedric Diggorian numbers (and no, we’re not talking about Quidditch) but might need an Oliver Wood-esque leader in his life. It’s not clear if Milwaukee has this kind of leader. Brandon Jennings is talented, but he’s no Viktor Krum.

Tune in next time, when I’ll examine the similarities in personality between Carmelo Anthony and Gilderoy Lockhart.

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Prediction: Someone’s Gonna Make a “Shit Jeremy Lin Fans Say” Video Really Soon

By Zach

…And it will get millions of hits. Linsanity has been ridiculous on a number of levels. There’s the basic athletic unlikelihood of Lin’s accomplishments these last six games, the shock of the sports establishment at a nobody coming off the end of the bench and upstaging names like Kobe Bryant and Deron Williams. Then there’s the media frenzy surrounding Lin, the adoration on Twitter and the sudden, previously tenuous connection between the Asian-American population and the NBA.

Also, the puns. The awful, eye-goungingly bad puns. Puns so bad they make you want to jump in front of a subway car, puns that make you wish your mother had been a frequent flier at Planned Parenthood in the eighties.

Too far? Probably. Still, it’s shocking that no one’s thrown up a video combining two of the most cliched yet persistent Internet phenomenons right now. It’d be so easy to do. Just have alternating shots of bros in their living rooms and bars saying things like “I am Lincoherent right now” and “The Knicks are playing with so much Lintensity right now.” My favorite Lin pun referred to the minutes that Bibby’s on the court in Lin’s place – the “Gruesome Linterlude.” Or maybe it was “The Disappointing Linterlude,” or something like that. I saw it on some NBA writer’s  Twitter. Anyway, this video would be super easy to produce and require minimal wit and creativity. Which is maybe why the Shit ___ Says meme has exploded like it has.

I think the over/under on this video appearing is 4 days, and I would take the under.

 

 

 

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A Proposal For All-Star Weekend: The All-Bedshitters Game

By Zach

The NBA runs its All-Star weekend better than any other league. Despite the obvious judicial bias towards big-name players, the dunk contest remains a major draw for the viewing public. The 3-point shooting contest is always fun because you get to watch role players beat Hall of Famers at their supposed specialty (see last year, with James Jones beating Ray Allen and Paul Pierce). And of course the All-Star game is exciting in many different ways. You get to see Kobe’s desperate attempts to prove he’s still a level above everyone else, Durant going into Rucker Park mode due to the complete lack of defense, and LeBron trying to remember not to glare at the crowd after every dunk.

The problem with the All-Star game, though, is that there’s nothing at stake. The players know they’re at the top of the game, the cream of the crop, so to speak, and they don’t expend much effort. So why not introduce a game in which there’s a little more drama?

My suggestion: an All-Bedshitters Game. Or an All-Flops Game, or an All-Disappointments Game, or whatever you want to call it. The teams would be composed of the most disappointing players every season – former All-Stars who are averaging career lows, starters who are playing their way out out of the lineup, role players who are playing themselves out of the league. Just guys who have been proverbially shitting the bed for their teams. Not due to old age or injury; we don’t want to put a Bedshitter asterisk next to Kevin Garnett or Greg Oden’s names. These guys should just be having crappy years.

I'm looking at you, Lamar.

Now, there will also have to be some sort of motivating factor for them. Let’s make the prize for the winning team a huge pile of cash.  Where does that money come from? You make these guys forfeit a month’s salary just for being selected to the team. So in essence they’re playing for the chance to recoup their lost salary, plus a good chunk of their opponents’ money.

Also, you want to make sure that there is the appropriate level of glitz and glamor surrounding the game. The NBA could get a bunch of sponsorships from companies like Ocean State Job Lot, Shurfine, 7-Eleven, Arby’s, and so on.

Then, because  you want to ensure that there’s a sellout crowd, invite all the homeless people of whatever city the game’s being hosted in for the night. Play it off as a charity event and get some donations; maybe the government will even subsidize the arena as a shelter for the night. I don’t know how these things work. (Note: I’m aware that Bill Simmons suggested this for the Atlanta Hawks a few years back. Whatever; it’s an inspired idea).

Now that all the logistics are settled…I now present your 2012 All-Bedshitters.

West All-Bedshitters: Devin Harris, Raja Bell (all-Jazz backcourt!), Metta World Peace, Lamar Odom (captain), Andris Biedrins. Subs: John Salmons, J.J Hickson, Dirk Nowitzki (painful, but he’s been bad by his standards), Kendrick Perkins, Emeka Okafor.

East All-Bedshitters: Jameer Nelson, Stephen Jackson (captain), Tayshaun Prince, Glen Davis, JaVale McGee (actually having an OK year, but the stupid stuff he does qualifies him. Like running back on defense when his team still has the ball). Subs: Toney Douglas, Jason Richardson, Omri Casspi, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Glen Davis, Jermaine O’Neal.

Things I learned from this little hypothetical:

The East is much, much worse than the West; Utah has its frontcourt to thank for its surprising start, because Devin Harris and Raja Bell aren’t doing it any Favors (I’ll get my coat); Miami’s looking a bit vulnerable this year because its role players haven’t stepped up as much (Battier also hasn’t been great); Dwight Howard has good reason to want to leave the Magic.

The final lesson: I definitely shouldn’t have picked so many of these guys on my fantasy team.

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On British Sportswriting

By Zach

The United States and Britain have historically been grouped together as a central part of that notoriously pushy entity, The West, for good reasons. American and English people share similar cultures, the same language, the same essentially imperial history in world affairs.

One arena in which they diverge, though, is their media. There’s a massive gap in the quality of American and British sports media.

For some reason I’ve always gravitated more towards written columns about sports than television analysis. In recent months that’s because I’ve made the prudent decision to put my cable money towards beer and student loans, but this tendency predates that necessity. So in lieu of watching SportsCenter, I go to the ESPN website every day. I read a lot of their NBA articles and some of their football, baseball and soccer coverage.

First, a word or two on soccer. Soccer is an interest of mine much in the way that cocaine is an interest of investment bankers. I take it in whenever possible, often guiltily, and I find that the best product is always from out of country. The MLS, while improving, doesn’t come close to the European leagues.

This is why my main source of soccer news is the BBC’s football website. And it’s atrocious. Never mind their recent redesign, which looks like Big Bird smacked into my computer screen (I know, I know, he’s flightless. Whatever.) Their content is EXTREMELY Anglo-centric. The way their pundits talk, you’d think the East India Company’s stock was still trading high.

The site almost blew up the day that England lost out on the 2018/2022 World Cups (admittedly under shady circumstances – Qatar? Really? Air conditioned stadiums sound totally feasible), and it’s hilarious how they tear apart FIFA, which really doesn’t like England, at every turn.

Still, there’s a pervasive xenophobic vibe to a lot of what I read on the BBC. Their pundits, most of whom are former players themselves, obviously long for the days of gritty, aggressive soccer with lots of tackling and aerial challenges, and they loathe the flashy influence that foreigners have brought to the game. This is more of an observation than a critique, really, because I kind of agree with their viewpoint. It’s not xenophobic, merely obvious, to point out that Latin cultures, for whatever reason, have brought more diving into the game.

I’ve also noticed some marked weaknesses in the BBC’s journalistic decisions and writing. Sports journalism is by definition a softer form of news, but at least ESPN doesn’t blow up its front page with boring quotes from players. Every other day on the BBC there’s a headline: “Rooney Looks Forward to Game Against Chelsea,” “Gerrard Says Liverpool Must Play Better.” It’s not front page news. There are a lot of fascinating aspects to soccer, but the BBC doesn’t highlight them.

Which brings me to the writing. Mark Lawrenson, one of their experts who does predictions for each week’s slate of games, recently wrote: “Chelsea are still winning games despite their problems because they have not suddenly become a bad team.”

This man is paid for his written analysis of soccer.

Anyway, the site’s full of drivel like that. And it’s a shame, because I love the English Premier League, and for all its shortcomings the BBC’s still probably the best place to follow English soccer. Their live blogs on game days do a great job of capturing what’s going on in each match, and some analysts (Lee Dixon, who does tactical analysis, in particular) do a nice job of breaking down big matchups. You’d just think that a country as soccer-mad as England is would have better media coverage of its biggest draw.

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…And Duke Still Sucks

By Zach

It’s too bad Doc’s kid is by all accounts a d-bag, because he had a pretty decent game winner last night. Stared down a 7 footer, waited till the last second, boom.

Note to Kobe: that’s how you do it. Still baffles me that people think he’s more clutch than any other good wing scorer. ESPN’s Henry Abbott debunked this last year.

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The New England Football Patriots > The New York Football Giants

By Zach

I can’t tell you how nervous I am about this game. Easily the biggest game in New England sports since the last Super Bowl the Pats were in. It’s been said over and over in the media, but this whole aspect of Brady and Manning’s legacies being defined tonight is just massive. Of course, now that everyone’s played it up, they’ll both probably have good-to-great games and the outcome will be decided elsewhere. But still.

My one completely irrational hope is that Belichick’s evil plan has been to exaggerate Gronk’s injury all week.

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Dikembe Mutombo Was Involved in a Smuggling Operation??

By Zach

There was an article on ESPN a couple days ago, first reported by the Houston Chronicle last week, revealing that legendary NBA shotblocker and priceless interviewee Dikembe Mutombo was apparently behind the attempted smuggling of over 1,000 pounds of gold out of his native Congo.

It appears that the operation was botched, but not for lack of effort. Among the story’s details:

– Dikembe made a PowerPoint outlining his plan and presented it to a Houston oil baron

– The person who caught them in the act of smuggling was a warlord general nicknamed “The Terminator”

– From the ESPN article: “We could go through the whole crazy story for you, but why ruin the fun? All you need to know is that it ends with the general and his chief intelligence officer counting a suitcase full of $3.1 million in U.S. bills, a fire truck being driven in front of Lawal’s jet to stop it from taking off, and all of the passengers inside being taken into custody for illegal possession of minerals.”

I guess that for once, someone else blocked Dikembe.

 

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My Hopes and Dreams for the Boston Celtics

By Zach

Some people say that the Celtics, losers of four straight games, don’t stand a chance tonight against the Thunder, winners of six in a row. Well, GATOR AIN’T PLAYING THAT. He’s thinking positively, and so am I. Here’s what I hope will happen for the Celtics this season.

I hope that Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal will start meeting up in the parking lot after practices to do massive amounts of steroids.

I hope that Ray Allen will kidnap Rondo, lock him in a gym somewhere in Boston and force him to shoot jumpers over and over until he makes ten out of ten. I hope that while this is happening, Ray will bind Rondo’s gigantic man-hands the same way that Chinese parents bind their daughters’ feet to assure the proper level of daintiness, so that his hands will return to normal human size and his shot will no longer look like me shooting a Nerf basketball.

I hope that Rasheed Wallace comes out of retirement to play for the Celtics, putting up a double-double off the bench only to be suspended for a marijuana violation after a game in Portland, but subsequently reinstated by David Stern for “basketball reasons.”

I hope that following his Super Bowl win, Rob Gronkowski joins the Celtics as an undersized center a la Chuck Hayes, and immediately makes the starting position his.

I hope that Greg Stiemsma breaks Elmore Smith’s record for 17 blocks in a game in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat, stepping over a stricken LeBron after the 18th.

Finally, I hope that Avery Bradley morphs into Kobe Bryant.

That is all I ask.

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Knicks – Sixers Game

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By Zach

They just interviewed Tracy Morgan at MSG. Apparently his life goal is to locate the Sasquatch.

Morning Update: Final score, Knicks 85 Sixers 79. Great result for the up-and-down Knicks, who despite their impressive frontcourt have one of the worst backcourts in the league. It’s been said many times, but they are in DESPERATE need of a point guard. Shumpert had a good game but he’s obviously not the solution; it’s going to be really interesting to see if the MSG crowd gets Baron Davis motivated. If it does, and he does, the Knicks could be a really dangerous team. I still think they have odd-fitting pieces, and that Chandler will eventually be looked back upon as someone who was signed at the absolute peak of his value when other options were available (this New York sports media buzz about his signing being “the final piece” is ridiculous), but the Knicks might (MIGHT) be tough to beat in the playoffs because of one player: yes, Carmelo.

Andre Iguodola, who had a couple of monstrous dunks in this game, is probably the second-best defensive small forward in the league after LeBron. And Carmelo scored with absolute ease against him. I wasn’t a fan of most of the shots Melo took, which included a ton of contested jumpers, but he had a good, not legendary game last night and was still absolutely unstoppable on offense. Iguodola had a hand in his face for most of his shots, and it didn’t matter. It might be unsustainable offense that often completely ignores Amare, but it’s really impressive nevertheless. Here’s hoping that if the Celtics play the Knicks in the playoffs, someone not named Sasha Vujacic will be guarding Melo.