Monday, November 5, 2007

Around the Internets in Eighty Minutes

1)ESPN.com's first college basketball Power Rankings are out and there are a many shades of blue at the top

2)The Football Outsiders on the Game of the Century (this is sort of hard to follow at times but these guys are smart as anything when it comes to football)

3)Would you trade Milledge, Pelfrey and Heilman for Kazmir? Will the world explode if Omar does?

4)Charlie Weiss: Real American Hero

"I served with Kevin Garnett, I knew Kevin Garnett, Kevin Garnett was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Kevin Garnett."

Knicks defeat T-Wolves, 97-93 // Post-Game Thoughts

--Al Jefferson is very good and he's probably only going to get better. Ryan Gomes and Craig Smith are quite talented as well and they both maximize their abilities through hard work. But none of those guys come close to replacing Kevin Garnett. They know this better than we do and that is why it is admirable that they still play as hard as they do.

--The Knicks zone defense was again horrendous. Just silly bad. A well-coached high school team from the NBIL in northern New Jersey could pick it apart. Watching them fail in zone for the second straight game I was wondering if the fact that so few of these guys played much college ball has anything to do with it. There'll be a separate post later about this. I'm very interested in the ways in which the overall lack of non-NBA basketball experience is impacting this team. Starting with their coach (Isiah only played two years at IU and right on through the roster this is not a team that has ever had the chance to learn the game in a non-NBA setting).

--Marbury was good at times, absent at others but his aggressiveness early set the right tone for the offense. He showed little fear of a potentially hostile crowd (the last two home openers have NOT been pleasant) and started playing for the lead from the first whistle. And, notably he wasn't taken out of the game with the first round of substitutions like he was in Cleveland.

--Crawford, as usual, had the ball in his hands down the stretch. He clearly wants the role and all the preasure. He makes shots but can be his own worst enemy at times as well. Still, it is the job of his coach and his teammates to rein him in once he starts popping off-balance, heat-check shots from the wing. Steph had to literally rip the ball from his hands so he wouldn't take another shot as the clock was running down.

--David Lee showed some (surprisingly) polished moves on the offensive end but he can't let Craig Smith get the better of him consistently.

--The T-Wolves need to get Craig Smith in the starting lineup.

--Watching Zach Randolph play in person it is clear that he is more gifted than most. His shots weren't falling (like they normally do, fingers crossed) but he is obviously comfortable getting the ball anywhere on the court. And confident that he can hit a shot from most anywhere as well. This sets him apart from most every player with his size. On an off night he still backed into a double-double.

And, It Gets Worse

According to the NY Posts's venerable Page Six an unnamed Jets player should have been nicer to the strippers at Gossips in Melville, dubbed "the Scores of Long Island." According to their source this player is "not a good tipper, not a nice person, and smoked a funny- smelling cigarette."

While posting this feels like piling on a Jets team that is already struggling mightly, I couldn't read about a place that bills itself as "the Scores of Long Island" and just forget about it.

Any guesses as to which player this might be? And does anything sound more gross than "the Scores of Long Island"?

And on the 8th Day, the Purple Jesus Broke Records

While most people were getting their beer and the pretzels ready for the Colts and Pats there was something amazing happening: Adrian Peterson set the single-game rushing record by running for 296 yards in the Vikings win over the San Diego Chargers. He ran for 296 yards on 30 carries (the same number of carries Jamal Lewis had when he ran for 295 and ten less than Walter Payton had when he ran for 275) while LaDainian Tomlinson watched and pouted with Phil Rivers on the sideline.

Peterson aka The Purple Jesus is really the Incredible Hulk and The Flash all built into one purple-package. He only needed eight professional games to break this record! Eight games. He already has two 200+ yard games this season. And he did this against a very good defensive team. This was not Jamal Lewis running against the 2003 Browns.

We need to enjoy every minute of his career before his ankles inevitably explode in Week 15.

The Home Opener: Part 2

Starting Lineups

NYK:
PG Marbury
SG Crawford
SF Richardson
PF Randolph
C Curry

T-Wolves
PG Sebastian Telfair
SG Rashad McCants
SF Ryan Gomes
PF Al Jefferson
C Theo Ratliff

Curry wins the tip and Marbury is looking for his shot from the start, alternating a make and a miss from three to bookend a bucket by Al Jefferson for the Wolves. The basket that the Knicks are shooting at seems to have a lid on it until Curry breaks the seal with a powerful dunk to put the home team up 7-6. A surprisingly stout "DEE-FENSE" chant fills the Garden but seemingly does little to inspire actual defense. The Wolves jump ahead 7-15 behind a hot start from Jefferson and the first smatterings of boos are heard with 5:41 left in the first quarter. On the bright side, Zach Randolph has shown signs that he fully grasps his rebounding responsibilities as a member of the frontcourt. Even if he isn't corralling every rebound (and he assuredly isn't as defensive rebounding continues to be a problem) he is trying in a way that highlights the lack of effort and understanding on Curry's part.

With 2:20 left in the first quarter the loudest ovation of the early going is for the winners of today's marathon who are brought out to center court during a timeout (kudos to the guy from Kenya who is sporting an Arsenal shirt). And the second-loudest applause thus far is for David Duchovny. A lot of people must be psyched about that long-rumored X-Files movie...

Meanwhile, Craig Smith (of Boston College) is having his way with our interior defenders and looks set to play the part of Daniel Gibson in tonight's performance (i.e. the role player who inexplicably destroys us and likely ends up with a career high in some statistical category). In the plus column, Randolph is showing some life and looking like he is a play-maker who can make things happen from anywhere on the court, but the Knicks still trail (mostly because is missing shots that one must hope he normally makes).

Turning up the energy offensively as second quarter heads towards halftime, the improved play turns into a full-fledged run after Nate Robinson hits a three with a hand in his face as the shot-clock is expiring. The possession began with Crawford dusting off his lethally cartoonish crossover and beating his man only to have his shot clinically rejected by Ratliff (who can still block a shot or two on those creaky stems of his). However, the rejection fell to Lee who quickly swung the ball around to Nate who drained the shot to bring the Knicks within 33-34. Nate bounded back down the court with his arms raising up and down to incite the crowd.

Amidst the raucous encouragements of the home crowd the Knicks allow Craig Smith to get into the paint (again) and tip in a missed shot. Knicks trail 33-36. Refusing to let their lackluster defense inhibit them on the other side of the court Crawford hits a three to tie the contest at 36. The Knicks soon grab the lead and soon settle into as comfortable a four-point lead as one could have. The two teams essentially trade baskets and missed shots for a stretch.

During the Knicks mini-run to grab the lead Marbury came back into the game to replace Nate and the dissension in the crowd was audible. Marbury wasn't quite booed but he might want to give Chad Pennington a call. They could soon have more in common than they would have guessed a few months ago.

The Knicks were able to maintain the slim halftime lead throughout most of the third quarter although many familiar bad habits make appearances. The defense is atrocious. Craig Smith exposes David Lee's weaknesses as an on-the-ball defender. We see '06 Nate with a sloppy turnover and a general aversion to boxing out. And, the Knicks seem to be hopeless when it comes to playing a zone defense. The T-Wolves can consistently pick it apart with just one pass. Perhaps having a roster full of players who played, if at all, just one or two season in college means that we are ill equipped to play anything but man-to-man? Meanwhile, creaky Theo Ratliff is showing that he can still provide a strong presence in the paint.

The Knicks escape a forgettable third quarter with a two-point lead intact at 75-73. Of course it is 79 apiece all of sudden (because sustained success is the home team's worst enemy) but the Knicks do seem to grab tight to the game from that point on, taking a 89-81 lead. The crowd is very into it and Randolph and Curry are even fighting over rebounds with about 4 minutes left. The sight of these two big men high in the air (with Curry and Randolph leaping at the rim there isn't even room for anyone else to get in there for the ball) grabbing at rebounds is the first time this team does anything that reminds of the Knicks teams of the late 80s and 90s. However, before I can get too psyched or too nostalgic, Ryan Gomes and Al Jefferson are pulling the T-Wolves back into the game. The Knicks lead is down to 6 at 93-87 and panic has decidedly set in amongst the crowd.

Maintaining this lead is entirely predicated on shot selection since the team has shown no ability to get a stop or a defensive rebound. And, in a game that hinges on shot selection who would you want handling the ball other than Jamal Crawford? Um, well perhaps I might have a few other choices. But Jamal is making some tough shots down the stretch even if it is maddening to watch us go into our iso Jamal offense with so many possessions remaining.

The endgame truly begins with a solid foul by Randolph that stopped a lay-up or a dunk with one minute remaining in regulation. Last year that was an uncontested dunk that swings the momentum to other side. Tonight it was a hard foul and two free throws. No momentum swing. Knicks lead 96-93.

After receiving the inbounds pass Jamal takes the ball up court. He dribbles, dribbles, dribbles and misses a contested jump shot. Thankfully the rebound is bobbled and goes out of bounds to the Knicks. The inbounds pass comes out from under the basket to Jamal at the top of the three-point arc, but unlike the last time around one of his teammates flashes out to save Jamal from himself. Marbury sprints over to Jamal and almost rips the ball from his hands. Isiah is even up and away from the bench. Against all odds, he seems to even be barking instructions. I think he is coaching!

Steph drives to the basket and kicks the ball out but Randolph intercepts the pass before it can make it out of the paint. The clock is down to 20-something seconds. Randolph shoots. He misses. The rebound comes to Curry. Just under 18 seconds left. He doesn't pulling the ball down, kick it out and start the parade to the free throw line. Instead he goes right back up with it and misses a lay-up.

Wolves ball. 17 seconds left and with a chance to tie the game with a three.

Ultimately, little comes of Curry's mental mistake as Antoine Walker is brought off the bench to take the potential game-tying three pointer. He misses. Randolph wrestles away the rebound and hits a free throw to ice it.

Knicks win 97-93 and even their record at 1-1.

The Beautiful Game

(a recap of this weekend's key results)

Arsenal 2 - 2 Manchester United: In EPL version of the Colts/Pats tilt these two teams ended level at the Emirates in London. Arsenal's young gunners stood up to the challenge of the Pug (Rooney), the Pretty Boy (Ronaldo) and the rest of the defending champions to stay on top of the League table. Goals were scored by William Gallas (the equalizer in 90+ minutes and an own-goal in the first-half) and Fabregas for Arsenal and Ronaldo for United.

Drew University 2 - 0 Scranton University: the Rangers took home the first ever Landmark Conference title behind goalscorers Greg Zizik and Andre Callejas.

New England Revolution 1 - 0 New York Red Bulls: As if the New England domination couldn't extend any farther, their soccer team has advanced in the MLS playoffs.

The Home Opener: Part 1

Game 2: Knicks (0-1) versus Timberwolves (0-1)

It’s late on a Sunday afternoon or early on Sunday evening and no one is quite sure because Daylight Savings Time just ended (or started) at some point last night. Either way, it is a Sunday in November and most New York sports fans are glued to their coaches watching football. The Colts and the Pats are slugging it out and all eyes are turned towards the Midwest and yet here I am exiting the PATH train in midtown: the Knicks’s home opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves tips off at 6 PM.

A few dozen people are milling about in the concourse area on Seventh Avenue. Ticket scalpers are perfunctorily asking if anyone needs tickets. They’re in trouble as the remaining loyalists glide by with tickets already clutched tightly in hand. This isn’t a game for passers-by or the casual New York sports fan. There isn’t any electricity in the air. It’s a Sunday. Basketball isn’t a sport for Sunday afternoons in November. And these Knicks aren’t set to change that.

The fans shuffling through the security checkpoint are admirably decked out in their blue-and-orange. Marbury jerseys still dominate but 42 (David Lee) is creeping up right behind him. Meanwhile, Curry and Robinson shirts are about as (in)frequent as the Starks or Oakley throwbacks. An older, seemingly dazed gentlemen rushes by with a too-small Antonio McDyess jersey pulled tightly over his winter coat. Nice.

The Knicks make their first appearance on the Garden floor with 16:30 to go before tip-off. A smattering of applause issues from the small crowd already in their seats. Marbury leads the team out, followed closely be Lee and then Nate Robinson. They quickly get into their lay-up lines and the T-Wolves soon take the floor as well.

A quick look at the T-Wolves and the enormity of the Garnett deal really hits. This team was gutted by his loss. Al Jefferson—the key ingredient the Celtics sent back—is a fine young talent but I’ve met Kevin Garrnet and Al Jefferson is no Kevin Garnett. The Timberwolves are one-part college All-Star team (with Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith, Rashad McCants and Randy Foye) and one part rusty spare-parts bin (Theo Ratliff, Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, Mark Madsen and Greg Buckner). Oh, and they’ve got Sebastian Telfair. That should probably work out well for them.

Now, looking across the court at the Knicks I’m not sure what they are either. Eddy Curry is just standing by himself at mid-court dancing while everyone else shoots or stretches. He’s shimmying his shoulders and occasionally shaking his hips. In any case, the Knicks seem to be three parts underachieving talent (Marbury, Curry, Q, Crawford), two parts un-molded potential (Lee, Nate, Curry, Crawford, Balkman, Collins et. al), one part thankless ingrates all too happy to take their money and play (or sit) out their contracts (Marbury, Jerome James, Malik Rose) and one-part Zach Randolph who I haven’t really figured out yet and who could be the league MVP (at some point in his career) just as easily as he could be any of these other things. Still, when these ingredients are shaken, stirred and combined with ice, the Knicks seem markedly better than the T-Wolves.

As the game was about to get underway the crowd was subjected to a horrendously overproduced video montage during the player introductions. Original footage of a few people literally jumping around Manhattan was interspersed with highlights of players on the current roster. It’s just awful stuff considering that as recently as two seasons ago the Knicks had a video package that would send the crowd into rapturous applause with glimpses of all-time great players and the franchise's most memorable plays. How we went from Willis Reed limping out onto the court and John Starks dunking over the entire Bulls roster to some overwrought YouTube video of a few dancers jumping off ledges and stoops is beyond me. You’d think that now more than ever this team would want to associate itself with its dignified history. After all this isn’t the T-Wolves, this is a charter member of the NBA. We’ve got history and highlights and banners in the rafters. As soon as the Fame outtakes were off the video board and the crowd’s awkward silence passed the Knicks starting lineup was introduced.

The introductions begin with the pubic address announcer comically rushing through “Welcome your 2007-2008 New York Knickerbockers coached by Isiah Thomas and starting at…..” Shying away from the boos that inevitably would have come down the team cleverly tucked away Isiah’s name behind the first reference to the team which was invariably going to garner applause. Sitting in the stands you didn’t realize Isiah had been introduced until they were on to the next player. Even those who had been planning all summer to air their disappoint were robbed of the chance. Well played, Knicks. Well played.

David Lee received the loudest applause followed very closely by Renaldo Balkman and Nate Robinson. The crowd is clearly siding with the second team, the few guys who aren’t overpaid and still are working towards that goal. Jamal Crawford probably gets the next warmest welcome followed by Quentin Richardson and Zach Randolph. Marbury hears a bit more love than Curry but decidedly less than some of his teammates.

Crowd favorite, Nate Robinson takes a microphone and heads out to center court as the coaches give the last instructions to their starting line-ups. He let’s us know that the team is “gonna play harder this season…We’re gonna win more games.”

There’s nothing like an implicit admission that they didn’t play so hard last year as we’re about to get underway this year. Experience Knicks basketball!