Friday, June 27, 2008

2008 NBA Draft Thoughts

  • Despite all the predraft hype and talk leading up to the draft, there were really no shocking surprises. Chicago takes Derrick Rose, Miami settles for Michael Beasley, and Minnesota drafts O.J. Mayo only to trade him to Memphis for Kevin Love, who went fifth.

  • What was an eyebrow raiser to others was the Seattle Sonics selecting UCLA combo guard Russell Westbrook at four. My perspective of Westbrook is skewed, because I watched a lot of him at UCLA, especially during their tournament run where he really shined.
  • The Sonics had six picks in this draft, yet after a few trades came away with four players, including three first round picks. The folks in Seattle, though, are less than pleased.The
  • Sonics selected a point guard for the future, and three more project big men with "potential." Again. Ugh.
  • The reasoning behind picking Westbrook is that he gives the Sonics a lockdown defender. The Sonics are one of the worst defensive teams in the league and routinely lost close games last season because they were not able to get stops down the stretch. General manager Sam Presti comes from the Spurs front office, which won championships based on players making those defensive stops in those critical situations.
  • The base case dream scenario is that Westbrook turns out to be the next Gary Payton. Payton was always a great defender, but took years to develop an offensive game before becoming the best player in Sonics history. What is more likely is that Westbrook is like an Antonio Daniels, another player drafted fourth overall who is a good defender and loves to attack the rim. After watching the Celtics win a championship with Rajon Rondo, the Sonics will look to develop Westbrook as a similar point guard. Both are excellent perimeter defenders who cannot shoot, but can occassionally make good plays by penetrating.
  • The decision on the future of the Sonics will be decided next week, so keep an eye out for that.

  • The Portland Trail Blazers had another great draft. Remember, the Blazers are already expected to make a huge leap this upcoming season with Greg Oden joining last year's breakout stars Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. They then pulled off a trade with Indy to bring in Arizona stud Jerryd Bayless, whom many believe was the one of the best point guards in the draft. When Kansas forward Darrell Arthur fell into their lap because of a kidney issue, they traded him for French phenom Nicolas Batum to stash in Europe for another year or two, adding even more potential to an already bright future. What is most amazing about this all is that the Blazers still have less than $20 million on the books for 2009-2010.

  • The New Jersey Nets may look back on this draft as the beginning of something special. They have completely blown up their roster, essentially trading away Richard Jefferson for Yi Jianlian to clear more cap room. At number ten, they took Stanford center Brook Lopez and got a second round steal in Chris Douglas-Roberts. But the grand prize may be Lebron James, who happens to be a free agent in 2010 when the Nets will have enough money to throw at him along with an attractive new home in the large market of Brooklyn, New York. Oh, and then there is that well documented friendship between Lebron and Nets part owner Jay-Z.

  • I love ESPN bringing along Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson to analyze the draft. They brought great perspectives and insights as a recent coach and player, respectively. Plus, the hilarious split screen interview of the Van Gundy brothers was utterly priceless.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hope(less?) in Seattle

As the trial that will decide the fate of professional basketball in Seattle rages on this week, Page 2 had a nice short story touching on the highlights of the Save Our Sonics rally.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Friday, June 13, 2008

Game 4: Lakers collapse

Boston Celtics 97
Los Angeles Lakers 91

Lakers blow a 24 point lead in one of the best Finals games ever.

Sheer joy.

I cannot do better than this.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Game 3: Return to the Crime Scene

Boston Celtics 81
Los Angeles Lakers 87

  • As the NBA Finals shift across country to Los Angeles, the biggest news to come out of Game 3 had nothing to do with the game itself, but rather the fact that Tim Donaghy called out the NBA officials on fixing playoff games.
  • Whether or not this is true is up for debate. Obviously Donaghy is desperate to cut his eventual jail time, but none of these allegations are really all that extreme. In fact, they are so likely that no one should be surprised that the NBA influenced its own games for some extra profit.
  • The 2002 Western Conference Finals were supposedly affected, which brings into question the validity of the Lakers championship. If the Patriots deserve an asterisk next to their championships for blatantly cheating, maybe the Lakers should get one next to theirs as well.
  • Then again, those Laker teams were so amazingly dominant that there is no question they were the best, as evidenced by their impressive three peat. I take this story deeper and wonder just how much pull the NBA league office has. Maybe they really did orchestrate the trades to make the Celtics and Lakers relevant again. Or maybe Donaghy is just appealing to the conspiracy theorists looking for evidence. The tough part is we will never know for sure.
  • ABC did a great job of addressing the story up front and completely, while getting David Stern and even Jeff Van Gundy to respond.

  • Back to basketball. Although Kobe Bryant is finally attacking the basket and scoring at will again, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol are still struggling. As good as Kobe is, the Lakers are not going to win this series with Odom and Gasol playing as poorly as they are.
  • Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce also struggled, with Ray Allen taking up the offensive load. Interestingly enough, the Celtics are 1-4 during these playoffs when Allen scores 20 or more points. Allen kept the Celtics in the game until late in the fourth quarter, but missed a couple open shots late that were followed by clutch Sasha Vujacic points. In other words, the Celtics are only going as far as Pierce takes them, especially because he needs to be the man and take over the end of games a la Kobe Bryant.
  • The refereeing favors the home team. Everyone should get used to it already.
  • This was a game that the Lakers should have won by a larger margin. Coming off two tough road losses and returning home, many expected the Lakers to come out fired up and blow out the Celtics. It remains to be seen what this means going forward.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Pow(e)! Celtics Survive Laker Comeback

Los Angeles Lakers 102
Boston Celtics 108

  • Yes, the Boston Celtics are now up 2-0, but the Lakers have to be heading home with confidence while there is a sour taste left in the mouths of the Celtics after blowing a 24 point lead with 7:40 remaining in the fourth quarter. The series now shifts to Los Angeles for the next week, in a year where home court advantage has mattered more than ever in the playoffs. The Lakers have yet to lose at home in the playoffs, and no one will be surprised if they rattle off a few consecutive wins with the help of their home crowd and favorable officiating, especially after they found some life at the end of Game 2.

  • Alright, one year ago, who had Leon Powe winning player of the game in the NBA Finals? Who outside of Boston even knew who Leon Powe was? How about Paul Pierce being on pace to win Finals MVP, vaulting him into the top 20 or so players in the league?
  • So much for the Lakers' enormous bench advantage.
  • To Phil Jackson and the Lakers, and the Laker bandwagon fans: Do not even start whining about the officiating. The referees have been favoring the home team for the entire playoffs.
  • Everyone understandably dismissed the Celtics 2-0 record against the Lakers during the regular season because those games did not include Pau Gasol. But now that they are 4-0 against the Lakers, is it possible that the Celtics simply have the Lakers number? To be more specific, maybe Tom Thibodeau and the Celtic defense is actually effective against Kobe Bryant and company.

  • Watching the Kobe Bryant interview in between Games 1 and 2, Kobe seemed almost too happy to be in the Finals. There is nothing wrong with that at all, but compare it to the focus and intensity shown by Kevin Garnett and company, whose championship goals are crystal clear.

  • As much as I love the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird split screen "rivalries never die" commercial, I cannot help but notice how much weight they have put on over the years, especially after just watching them run around in their physical primes during the 1984 NBA Finals, which have been on ESPN Classic all week.

  • Can we keep Jeff Van Gundy as the permanent commentator for nationally televised games? His apology Dr. J on behalf of Mark Jackson, calling his comparison to Leon Powe the worst comment ever said on the ABC airwaves, was just utterly hilarious.
  • The NBA Finals are far from over, folks.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Celtics Rebound, take Game 1

I love this game. Like several other great Game 1's we have seen throughout these playoffs, the epic Celtics Lakers Finals tipped off with another amazing game. Here are some quick first thoughts:
  • REBOUNDS - Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom need to learn how to box out. The Lakers were constantly missing out on critical rebounds, most notably Kevin Garnett's thunderous putback dunk after Posey's three point miss late in the fourth quarter. The teams shot nearly identical from the field (32-77 and 32-76) but the Celtics outrebounded the Lakers 46-33.
  • PIERCE COMEBACK - Paul Pierce's Willis Reed moment coming back in the third quarter after being wheeled away with an ugly knee injury. This is more homecourt advantage than anything else, as adrenaline led Pierce to hit a couple big three point baskets. It will be interesting to see if this injury lasts.
  • KOBE - 9 of 26 from the field is not going to do it in Boston. Kobe may have forced a couple tough shots, but those same shots can and will go in, and then we can and will be having a completely different story.
  • RAY ALLEN - Do not underestimate the presence of Ray Allen. Jesus Shuttlesworth does not need to score or be popping threes to be effective. Notice the great spacing the Celtics have when Ray is on the floor, running around and spotting up. The Lakers cannot cheat off him on defense, and were often trapping him out of screens, freeing up other players for shots.
  • SAM CASSELL - Although he made some important shots, Sam also turned the ball over in situations where the Celtics could have blown the game wide open. Doc Rivers should think about giving Eddie House some time.
  • PJ BROWN - Perhaps the most important forgotten player. Brown was big on the boards of course, not to mention keeping Kobe and the Lakers out of the lane.
  • Looks like we have a classic series coming our way. Here is hoping this is where amazing happens.

OK, this is sad

While I was browsing prop bets for the opening of the NBA Finals tonight, I stumbled upon this line, which just makes me sad:

In what city will the Seattle Sonics play in during the 2008-2009 NBA Season?
Seattle +175
Oklahoma City -325

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Oh Matt, you so funny 8

Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck grew up in the Boston area during and after his father's playing career with the Patriots. He's a Boston College alum and Celtics fan, so there was little doubt about his pick in the Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals. "I'm making a prediction," Hasselbeck told reporters after practice today. "I'm thinking Celtics in three. That's how good they are. They're so much better than the Lakers." He's apparently predicting a Lakers surrender before Game 4.

Fortunate 50

Sports Illustrated has their annual list of the top earning athletes in America, The Fortunate 50.

Monday, June 02, 2008

THE Finals

Just in case you were having a hard time finding something to read on the fixed Celtics Lakers Finals set to begin later this week...


Hall of Famers
Lakers: 15
Celtics: 25

NBA Titles
Lakers: 14
Celtics: 16

NBA Finals appearances
Lakers: 29
Celtics: 20

Playoff Wins
Lakers: 395
Celtics: 300

Head-to-Head Finals wins
Lakers: 2
Celtics: 8

Now for some (not so) random thoughts...

  • POINT GUARD - Derek Fisher has the ability to be the quiet MVP of this series. That is, when Rajon Rondo refuses to shoot the ball or aggressively attack the rim, it would allow Fisher to roam and double team. Fisher may be the best defensive point guard in the league, and certainly has the capability to bother and pest the other Celtics. On the other hand, Rondo should be able to have his way when Farmar or Vujacic dares to try and stay in front of him. Look for Eddie House to come in off the bench and have an impact as well.
  • KOBE - If you find yourself at a magazine rack sometime this week, pick up ESPN the Mag and read the article on Kobe. Amidst all the talk about the personality of Kobe, we sort of forget that he is a workaholic when it comes to playing basketball. The guy is so obsessed with the game, so Jordan like, and comes with such a great story growing up, that he almost becomes likable while reading this feature. This article reminded me that he is the best player in the world because he worked for it, as opposed to Lebron who is more blessed by being stronger and faster than everyone else. So yes, everyone knows that Kobe is hell bent on winning a championship without Shaq, and will take over games at will to do so.
  • Does it matter who guards Kobe? Not really. Bruce Bowen and Andre Kirelinko got beat, and Boston does not have an individual defensive stopper like those two guys. Pierce and James Posey can do a decent job, but Kobe will be able to score when he wants. Having Kevin Garnett waiting at the rim does help, though.
  • PAUL PIERCE - The second best offensive player in this series grew up a Lakers fan in California. Pierce ups his game when he plays his old favorite franchise, averaging 28 points against the Lakers all time, more than any other team. If the Celtics somehow win the title, Paul Pierce has to play out of his mind and win the Finals MVP.
  • RAY ALLEN - This may be the biggest wild card. Ray could not find his shot for most of the playoffs until the final games of the Pistons series. Allen has had a long running feud with Kobe Bryant, so there is motivation to push him back to being the all-star sharpshooter that he is.
  • LAMAR ODOM & PAU GASOL - We know that when these guys are attacking the hoop the Lakers are unstoppable. But I think the key is when they are guarding Garnett. Remember, Kevin Garnett's game is based on him being longer and more athletic than whoever is on him. He loves to simply shoot that fade away jump shot which no one can contest. However, Odom and Gasol are long enough to bother Garnett's usual shot. This will be interesting to see if Garnett adjusts and what type of game he plays then.
  • CRAZY KEVIN & DESPERATION FACTORS - Garnett has never been here. He is going to be so ridiculously fired up, and it will trickle down to his teammates. It may be offensively, but more likely will be on the other end as he continues to will the Celtics to somehow playing great team defense. This is probably the Boston Three Party's best shot at a championship and they know it, while these Lakers will surely be back here again.
  • HOME COURT (2-3-2) - No team has ever won those three middle games. The Lakers have yet to lose at Staples in the playoffs and the Celtics only lost once to the Pistons. The Lakers have proven they can win on the road, but Boston Garden is a whole another monster. The Celtics have only one once on the road in the playoffs, but were the best road team during the season, including a victory at Staples in short shorts. Each historic franchise should bust out their respective legends in the crowd, if only to further fire up their fans and players.
  • BENCH - The Lakers bench is not that great, it is just that Phil Jackson always brings out the champs out of a bunch of chumps, which brings us to...
  • COACHES - Phil Jackson vs Doc Rivers in the biggest mismatch in NBA Finals since...well, last year with Greg Popovich vs Mike Brown. Granted, Rivers has actually done a decent job in getting production out of his chumps. But no one can discount the fact that Phil has always gotten the best out of every one of his players, from the Chicago Bulls in the 90s to early 2000s Lakers and now in this latest generation of Lakers. This championship may be Phil's best job as a coach ever.
  • OFFICIATING - I hate to say it, but the officiating is going to be a big factor in every game, just as it has for most of these playoffs. The referees tend to get caught up and favor the home team.

  • PREDICTION - I want the Celtics in Seven. I think the Lakers in Five.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sex and the City

As we were walking out of a sports bar following the Lakers' impressive series clinching victory Thursday evening, we saw a line outside the movie theatres. This is not uncommon, midnight releases are very popular. However, a bunch of us guys were trying to figure out what big blockbuster movie was releasing this weekend. As we walked past the line, we then realized that there were only about three guys in a line of hundreds of women. Immediately we concluded that the unknown release was indeed Sex and the City. The powerhouse chick flick earned an impressive $55.7 million to lead the weekend box office. Considering most blockbuster hits are in the action and comedy genres and primarily appeal to young males, it is good that the girls finally get to see one of their beloved franchises do well:

"Sex and the City," released under Warner's New Line Cinema banner, had the best debut ever for an R-rated comedy, topping the $45.1 million opening of "American Pie 2."

The movie landed at No. 5 on the all-time list among R-rated films, behind "The Matrix Reloaded" ($91.8 million), "The Passion of the Christ" ($83.8 million), "300" ($70.9 million) and "Hannibal" ($58 million).

I'll drink (a cosmopolitan) to that.