Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wednesday's Starting Five

1. Chris Paul. Hello, History. Have you met Mr. Paul? Oh, you have? You two go way back? OK, great, we'll I'll just leave you two alone then. CP3 closed out the Mavericks last night with a triple double (24 points, 15 assists, 11 rebounds) in front of his home fans in New Orleans. He is only the seventh person ever to average 24 points, 12 assists and 2 steals in a playoff series.

2. Houston Rockets. They're whole again (well except for that big Yao-shaped hole in the paint) and it shows. Rafer Alston missed the first two games and Carl Landry played limited minutes. The Rockets went 0-2. Rafer Alston and Carl Landry have played large roles in the three games that followed. The Rockets went 2-1. The team that rolled off most of those 22-straight was back on their home floor last night and their defense made sure that the Jazz wouldn't be celebrating a series victory just yet. The interesting thing to remember is that if Houston can survive Game 6 in Utah then they will host Game 7 on their home floor in as electric an atmosphere as the first round will see.

3. Evgeni Malkin. There was this heavyset young lady-person wearing a retro Pirates pullover jersey sitting behind me at the Mets/Pirates game last night. She was constantly on the phone getting updates on the Rangers/Penguins. I kept hearing all about Mr. Maaaaaal-Kinnnnnn. Well, at least when she wasn't talking about softball or reminiscing about the Lilith Fair or her favorite all-time Skoal flavors. Although I don't think that her and I have a future together I do think that this Malkin fellow may have actually been worth the commotion. He netted two power-play goals and had an assist last night as the Penguins threw the Rangers into an 0-3 hole deep enough that they might find Jimmy Hoffa.

4. The Kibosh. This week's Sports Illustrated features Chicago Cubs import Fukodome and a headline (in Japanese) proclaiming that the team's 100-year title drought will be broken this year. When the editors at SI decided on this cover they also sent seventeen black cats and 34 fragile mirrors over to Wrigley Field.

5. The Spurs. You're the best around. Nothing's gonna ever keep you down. No matter how much fans and the TV execs may not want this to be true it is.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Checked Your Local Listings

And here's what's on TV tonight:

7:00 PM EST on TNT: Dallas Mavericks at New Orleans Hornets. Tonight is the night that Chris Paul can officially end this team. He can end their season. He can end their run as a Dirk-Howard-Stackhouse-Terry team. He can end the idea that Jason Kidd (who shouldn't even be playing in this game after that foul he put on Pargo on Sunday) was a good idea.

7:10 PM EST on SNY: Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Mets. Huh? Johan Santana is pitching tonight and he is appointment television. The sooner you realize this the better.

7:00 PM EST on NBATV: Philadelphia 76ers at Detroit Pistons. Now that Orlando/Toronto is done with I guess NBATV needs some programming. Well, this series feels far less exciting than it did at about halftime of Game 4. By taking control of that game down the stretch it felt like the Pistons took back control of the entire contest. Perhaps not. But it sure feels like it.

9:30 PM EST on TNT: Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs. The Suns go into tonight's game hoping to do the impossible. No NBA team has ever come back from 0-3 to win a 7-game series before. But, it's got to happen eventually and this team seems as well equipped as anyone will ever be. They should have won Game 1 but blew it. They had a big early lead in Game 2 but couldn't sustain it. Although they just Dirk'd-the-Bed (I just invented that phrase for sucking. Let's use it from now on) in Game 3 they were back to being dominant in Game 4. So, if anyone's going to pull of the Lazarus trick in the NBA it could very well be this Suns team. Hopefully they'll at least win tonight so we can entertain this notion (and be entertained by it) for a few more days.

9:30 PM EST on TNT: Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets. So, the latest installment in teary-eyed depressingly-honest Tracy McGrady-playoff-losing-press-conferences could be held tonight. Or, the Rockets could be energized by their home fans, who learned how to cheer again during that winning streak, and let their team defense and their team's superstar carry them to a win.

10:00 PM EST on HBO: Noted hater of sports blogs Bob Costas will be doing a segment on the blogosphere during his HBO program tonight and one-time plugger of this site Will Leitch of Deadspin will be on representing the everyman.

Around the Internets


Not only has Matt Ryan taken Mike Vick's old job but he may also want Mel Kiper's gig too.

Although, Matty Ice taking over Kiper threatens to change everything you know about the draft you can rest assured that Jets fans will always boo stuff.

One of the great things about the draft being over is that you don't have to read any more meaningless mock drafts. Now the football writers of the world can actually analyze what players are really playing for what team rather than just guessing. It's not surprisingly more informative that way.

And, just when you thought he was out of your life for good, Colt Brennan is back. And still a jerk.

Tuesday's Starting Five

1. Joe Johnson. How 'bout them Hawks?!?!?!? Even thought the West was the Bestern Conference this season the (L)East has brought the most playoff drama thus far. And that all starts down in ATL where Johnson and the young Hawks are playing out of their heads against the suddenly tight and shallow Celtics team. Watching last night's game I thought that the fun had ended (much as it did in Philadelphia when Detroit finally took over Game 4) when Boston built that ten point lead toward the end of the third quarter. I thought it was done. But I was wrong. At least, according to Joe Johnson, the former first round draft pick of the Boston Celtics. Johsnon took it to his old club last night, scoring 35 points in the game and dominating in the fourth quarter (scoring 20). He put down one of those great transcendent playoff performances that make the NBA so great. This was the Joe Johnson game. And, a game like this makes you look at this Hawks team a bit closer. Forgetting what uniform they're wearing or what clueless collared-shirt-under-replica-jersey fans they've got, you realize that every single regular was a top draft pick, since this team was so bad for so long. Marvin Williams was a #2. Al Horford was a #3 pick. Joe Johnson was a #10 pick. Josh Childress was a #6 pick. Josh Smith was a #17 pick. These guys can play. And they're supposed to be good. And, that isn't even counting proven-playoff commodity and Cherry Hill, NJ native Mike Bibby, who was also a #2 pick, or European big man Zaza Pachulia whose toughness in standing up to KG cannot be overlooked when talking about this club.

2. Larry Brown. He's back. The prodigal son returns to the North Carolina to take over the Charlotte Bobcats. This is at once a no-brain hire and a brainless hire by Michael Jordan.

3. Byron Scott. We all heard last night that he will be named the Coach of the Year. I find it fitting that he wins this award in the season that Jason Kidd has reverted to his pre-Nets carcinogenic self. And even better that Scott's new point guard gets to humiliate the old (and old) point guard who had him fired in the Swamp.

4. Dwight Howard. If a young Moses-Malone-Clone scores 20 points and grabs 20 rebounds in the woods does it make a sound? Yes, but not a very loud one. Howard dominated again last night as the Orlando Magic ousted the Toronto Raptors from the Playoffs but few people saw as this Series has inexplicably (or not depending on who you ask) been relegated to NBATV and Morse Code broadcasts. Thankfully, Howard advances to TNT/ESPN in the next round. Considering Chris Paul's relatively quiet (but still a double-double) Game 4, the argument can be made the Howard has actually had the biggest playoff breakthrough so far.

5. Making Free Throws. The Hawks made 29 out of 33 free throws last night to beat the Celtics. If you make your free throws you can beat anyone. It's science. Now, hopefully someone will tell the Suns and the Big Lane Violation this tonight.

Off-the-Benched. Pat Riley. The Slick One is stepping away from the bench in Miami to focus on his front-office duties. Applications are now being accepted for the opening to coach the team until they are good enough for Riles to come back to the bench.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday's Starting Five

1. Lebron James. Is he Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan? Is Delonte West playing the part of Steve Kerr or Donyell Marshall? Last night it looked like the jury is still out on LBJ and that West is more Kerr than Marshall. The Lebronaliers took a commanding 3 games to 1 lead over the Wizards after West hit a tie-breaking three-pointer with less than six seconds remaining. Lebron, drew the defense to him by looking like he was going to pull up for a potential-game-winner, but then swung the ball to West in the corner. He had daylight in Lebron's shadow and canned the shot. Had he not it would have been LBJ's fault and not his own. After all, what kind of best-ever-superstar doesn't take that shot himself? Apparently, Lebron does. It worked last night. Will it next time?

2. Boris Diaw and Raja Bell. Although their performances and those of their teammates may fall into the too little, too late category after they've dug themselves a 0-3 hole, it was still one heck of a game that Diaw and Bell played last night. The 6-foot-8 power point forward from France was unguardable last night and was two assists short of triple-double while Bell was flat-out dominant in the first half, scoring 21. Diaw got the starting nod in place of an (gasp) injured Grant Hill and scored twenty points, hauled in ten boards and dished out ten dimes and revitalized a team that seemed crestfallen after squandering Game 1. Meanwhile, Bell epitomized the potential in the Suns lineup. When they're are on they can't be guarded.

3. Matt Ryan. This time last week many experts and website commenters were forecasting the Aaron-Rodgers-like fall of Ryan in this past weekend's NFL draft. Now, they're just talking about the bust he'll be as such a high pick. So, I guess he wins Round 1. The former Boston College QB was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the #3 overall pick. It's a mess that he's heading into. Frankly, I had talked myself into him falling to the Jets. It would have worked out for both of us. He could have learned in the wings for at least a season and likely two before being thrown into the fray. I could have gone out and bought myself a nice green Ryan jersey. But, who knows what will happen to him in Atlanta. I do think he's got the right stuff for the gig but do any of those offensive lineman? Does that coaching staff have the patience to play Joey Harrington while Ryan gets his sea legs? Does that fan base have anything left to embrace a new "franchise" quarterback while the dog blood over at Vick's place is barely dry?

4. Gilbert Arenas. I know that the story was Delonte West's three-pointer from the corner or the fact that Lebron passed the ball with the game on the line. I know that those were the important takeaways. But, I can't stop thinking about what Agent Zero did just to get his team to that point. He hit two free throws and made one acrobatic circus-bank shot to put his team in a position to play an overtime period if they got one stop. And, since they didn't get the stop none of this mattered. Gilbert is clearly still hurt. That brace on his leg looks like it is just slightly more mobile than a full-on cast. But he has also displayed a willingness to play through pain and still take the big shot that made me take notice. He played the fewest minutes of any starter last night and had only scored 6 points heading into the endgame but he came through for his team (well, except on the very last shot that he tried to squeeze off after West hit his 3) when they needed someone to step up to give them a chance.

5. David West. Alas Chris Paul has been usurped from The Starting Five by the seventeen-foot assassin. West was the one who took this game over in the third quarter just the way that CP3 took over Game 1. He scored six points in the stretch that saw the Hornets push their advantage to 14 and push Avery Johnson one step closer to play-by-play commentary.

Benched. Jason Kidd. If not for the preternatural balance and strength of Jannero Pargo, Kidd would be in a heap of trouble right now. If the Hornets back-up point guard hadn't miraculously gotten his hand underneath him before he got the hardwood imbedded then Jason Kidd would undoubtedly be suspended for Tuesday's Game 5 and his reputation would be even further sullied. He was ejected from the game for his head-grab and shove to the ground on an airborn Pargo but he most certainly got off lucky. It was a bush-league frustration foul by someone who clearly has no concern for any player (or coach) that isn't working on his behalf. And, I like hard fouls and a no-layups ethos. Many of my fondest basketball memories involve Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason. However, this was no heat of the moment situation that Kidd got caught up in. His team was trailing by 16 with less than eight minutes to play.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Knicks Are Like the Dream Team

Insofar as Isiah Thomas is Not Allowed to Contact Them

Isiah Thomas knows all about the ol' freeze out. He's done the freezing and he's been frost bit before. As the story goes Isiah Thomas was the ring leader in the East locker room prior to the 1985 NBA All-Star Game. In this capacity he convinced his teammates, including Moses Malone, Larry Legend, Dr. J, Bernard King and the Chief, to keep the ball out of the hands of a rookie from the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan. Thomas's reason for this was that he felt like the young scorer was getting an inordinate amount of media attention for someone who hadn't paid his dues yet. You might have heard of this Jordan character. Well, apparently he was a bit of competitor and he didn't take kindly to being locked out of the offense. In fact, he held that grudge for decades.

When the IOC amended their rules so as to allow professional basketball players to participate in the 1992 Olympics the whole sporting world was aflutter with the possibilities. The NBA was in a golden era and the spots on the team were priceless. Chuck Daly was named the head coach of the squad and the roster was assembled. The starting center was Patrick Ewing (of course). The starting power forward was Karl Malone. The starting small forward was Charles Barkley. The starting shooting guard was Michael Jordan. And the starting point guard? It sure as hell wasn't Isiah Thomas. It was Magic Johnson. And the backup point guard? Isiah? Nope. It was John Stockton.

This time, as the tale is told, Michael Jordan was the one doing the freezing out. And Isiah was the one out in the cold. He was passed over by the United States men's national basketball team in spite of recently leading the Pistons to back-to-back titles in the years leading up to the Games. He was passed over in spite of the fact that he was undeniably one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game. He was passed over in spite of the fact that his own coach was calling the shots.

He missed out on one of the defining moments for a generation of ballers because he was so selfishly short-sighted in that 1985 All-Star Game. He missed out because his petty jealousy incited him to use his Napoleonic sway as PG in that game to try to take down a kid who had done nothing wrong other than score points as a rookie. And, don't get me wrong, I hate Michael Jordan as much as you can actually hate a professional athlete that you don't know. But, I'd take his side in this battle.

And, as usual, Jordan wins in this rivalry too. Yeah he only got off 9 shot attempts as a starter in his first All-Star Game appearance but he also led the most celebrated team possibly in the history of sport and participated in what could only have been some of the most dramatic high-stakes poker games in the history of gambling during those weeks in Spain.

So, Isiah must have felt a familiar feeling when new Knicks Team President Donnie Walsh informed him the other day that he was prohibited from making any contact with any players on the Knicks roster or coaches on the coaching staff. He must have had a little deja vu. Because he's been here before. He's been told to stay away from team's he felt, in one case rightly and in the other wrongly, that he should have been on. He knows what it's like to not be welcome. To be frozen out.

The karmic paybacks are just starting for Isiah Lord Thomas. He tried to hold down Jordan. Talk about your all-time backfires. He tried to run the Knicks for his own vanity rather than for the fans and for the players. He stubbornly insisted that he would never quit or change even if the circumstances seemed to beg either or both of those moves. And, now his bluff has been called. He has been stripped of his titles. He's likely had to give up all of his office space. He can't show up at the Garden unless he's coming to report to Walsh. He is barred from contact with anyone other Walsh. And his bold proclamations about never quitting, ever, will force him to be powerlessly present as his work is undone. His refusal to admit failure will allow him to be even further humiliated by Walsh who can now use him as an errand boy and doesn't seem shy about doing so, already mentioning that Isiah will be available to be sent to Europe if there is a prospect to be seen.

That example of the sort of task that Isiah could be assigned is particularly hilarious given the complete lack of European scouting that occurred under his stewardship. And, this is why I have no problem with the fact that Isiah hasn't been totally fired from the organization. In fact, I like this even better. He's been stripped of all power and now only has accountability, something that he never had before. Now he is Donnie Walsh's basketball concierge. That is a far more shameful fate than simply being fired. If he'd been fired he could have just left town. He could have potentially even moved on to another pursuit (probably not a NBA job) and distanced himself from the past few years of his life. That isn't an option now.

He's stuck, frozen in fact, by his refusal to quit. He's not allowed to talk to the players who he coached and hired because of how poorly he has been known to handle himself. Walsh doesn't want Isiah whispering poisoned somethings in the ears of Jamal Crawford or any other Knicks who may still foolishly trust him. He doesn't want him turning the Knicks locker room against whomever the new coach is in the same way that he turned that 1985 All-Star Game locker room against Jordan.

Thursday's Starting Five

1. Kobe Bryant. Kobe came out shooting last night. He scored 20 points in the first quarter. He scored 5 a piece in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. And, then added 19 in the fourth quarter. That's 49 points. Which is a lot for a basketball player. The interesting thing is that the Lakers best quarter, as far as point differential, was the second quarter when they outscored the Nuggets by 9 points. By comparison LA only scored one more point than Denver in the first quarter when Kobe went off for 20. I call this Exhibit Y in the case for Chris Paul being the MVP. When CP3 is playing at his best his team is playing at its best. Meanwhile the Lakers are actually at their best when Kobe sublimates his scoring, which is his best asset. All of that being said, Kobe dominated at will last night and is easily the most cold-blooded scoring machine on the planet. He's Mr. Freeze out there.

2. The Heavies. They all won last night in convincing fashion. The Lakers rolled. The Celtics cruised. The Pistons bruised. It was a good night for anyone with a 3 or 4 team parlay of the favorites in the first round.

3. Predators. I was watching this amazing documentary last night about this disaster in this small town Gunnison, Colorado. Although the doc was pretty graphic I learned a lot about this amazing series of animal attacks and such there about a year ago. Apparently there are these predators who battle these scary aliens, who just want to explode your skull or terrorize maternity wards in hospitals. I mean these Aliens are terrifying but these Predators are rough dudes and they totally fought back on behalf of mankind. Thanks.

4. Johan Santana. Last night was what he's all about. The Mets had lost three straight games (after winning five straight), they were listless and on the road. And, that's where Johan comes in. He is the stopper of the Mets pitching staff. He takes the ball every fifth game and makes sure that three-game skids don't become four-game losing streaks. He was his masterful self last night on the mound as well as at the plate. He pitched seven innings, allowing just two runs on seven hits while striking out three. And, he smacked two doubles.

5. The PacMan. I hope T.O. popped enough popcorn to share with this guy. Ne'erdowell cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones has finally been traded from the Tennessee Titans to the Dallas Cowboys after weeks of speculation. Of course, he has yet to be reinstated by the NFL so it is possible that he won't actually play for the 'Boys. Still, I'd imagine that Dallas Owner Jerry Jones will have that all ironed out by Week 1. Tennessee receives only a 4th-round draft pick in return for a player who was the top defensive player taken in the 2005 draft and was easily their best defensive player in 2006/2007, before Albert Haynesworth went from dirty throat-stomper to all-world throttler. Either way, Pacman is a top-flight player who is a difference maker if he can stop being arrested (6 times since he's been in the League).

Benched. Trevor Hoffman. The great bullpen compiler of his era blew another high-profile save last night. Greg Maddux was going for his 350th win and pitched well enough to earn it. Middle reliever and former Met Heath Bell locked down the eighth inning and handed the ball to Hoffman (who you last saw blowing the save in 2007 NL Wild Card play-in game against Colorado), who characteristically choked. I feel like this guy has accumulated so many saves because he can get outs on every non-All-Star caliber player at any time. Well, unless that time is in the final moments of a game of any importance. Because then he can't even do that.

Benched. Christiano Ronaldo. The sexy, prostitute-loving Ronaldo of Manchester United missed a penalty kick in the opening minutes of yesterday's Champions League semi-final clash with Barcelona. Not only did he miss but he missed it because he tried to be fancy and clever and float the ball into the corner. He had the keep going the wrong way and rather than clinically put the ball into the right side of the net he chipped it wide and high. Well done.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wednesday's Starting Five

1. Chris Paul. I hope that you're watching this. Because what Chris Paul has done in leading the Hornets to a blitzkrieging 2-0 edge over Dirk and the Mavs is flat-out amazing. He scored 32 points last night to go along with 5 boards, 3 steals and a franchise-record 17 assists. Paul is maestro on the floor, controlling the game in every facet and at every turn. The way he moves the defenders around the court to suit his intent is like watching a master chess player (but without the anti-semitism). The Mavericks tried to double team him early in the game. They sent every combination of defenders that they had at him. But he patiently stretched the defense once two men were committed to him. He pulled the double-team away from the paint and the rest of the Hornets before throwing a cross-court pass to an open Peja or Mo Peterson. Or if the angles were in his favor he would simply lower his shoulder and dribble right at the bigger double-teamer, passing them by and lofting a floater in the lane. He quite simply couldn't be stopped by a team whose entire game plan was structured around stopping him. This is greatness. I understand that Kobe Bryant is a technically flawless gamer and the Lebron is a force of nature (I mean, he's the same size as Willis Reed!) the likes of which the game has never seen but there is no one playing at the level that CP3 is right now. It's a wonder.

2. The San Antonio Spurs. They shall overcome. They shall overcome first-half deficits. They shall overcome last-second deficits. They shall overcome the lack of enthusiasm in their title contention. After stealing Game 1 (any victory that wouldn't have happened without Timmy Duncan hitting a three-pointer qualifies as a theft in my book) versus the Suns, the Spurs got their doors blown off in the first stages of last night's Game 2 in San Antonio. But they stayed close and didn't give in. They weathered the Shaq-Stoudemire storm and pulled themselves within striking distance by the half. And, then in the third quarter, Game 1 hero Michael Finley rolled off a few buckets to ignite his team. The Suns went ice cold and the Spurs dragged themselves ahead to stay. Once they smelled blood their defense went from stifling to suffocating.

3. Dwight Howard. It seems to me that this Magic and Raptors series is the "lost" pairing of the first round of the playoffs. It doesn't get talked about too much, just as Orlando didn't get talked about too much all season in spite of being a better team than the Lebronaliers. Last night these two were relegated to NBATV while the other games got the full-on TNT treatment. So, most people likely missed Dwight Howard's second HUGE playoff performance. If not for the otherworldly Chris Paul then Superman would be the story so far. He's put up two 20 point/20 rebound game so far. And, he did this all while being matched up with Chris Bosh, who not too long ago was the game's fastest emerging young big man.

4. Hedo Turkoglu. For all the raw power and charisma of Dwight Howard there is a certain cologne and cigarette smoke infused European musk about the Turkish Assassin that wafts through Orlando when the game is on the line. With the Magic trailing 101-100 with 30 seconds to go, Turkoglu sliced to the rim making an off-balance layup to give his team the lead. He would then add the two free throws that would provide the winning margin. I remember the Turkish Delight hitting a step-back, buzzer-beating three to beat the Celtics mid-season. Apparently this guy is fearless in the late stages and wants the ball in his hands.

5. Jake Long. The Dolphins are no longer on the clock. With the first selection in the 2008 NFL Draft the hapless Miami club selected left tackle Jake Long out of the University of Michigan. The five-year, $57 million contract is signed and Long is ready to play from day one of the pre-season. It's a nice precedent to set this year after Jamarcus Russell held out seemingly forever last season after the Raiders picked him first overall.

Benched. There is no play as unforgivably shocking as the own-goal in soccer. Especially if that goal costs your side the game. It's one thing to miss a shot in basketball (see Rasheed Wallace and Chris Bosh) that will cost your team the game. That sucks. It's a downer. But it's not the end of the world. Or your life. Remember when that Colombian defenseman was shot and killed after his own goal in the 1994 World Cup? Well, I bet John Arne Riise does right about now. The red-headed Liverpool (by way of Norway) midfielder deposited the ball in his own team's net in the last moments of injury time to erase his team's 1-0 advantage against rival Chelsea in the first leg of the Semi-Finals of the Champions League.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tuesday's Starting Five

1. Hard Fouls. They have a place in the playoffs. Lay-ups are unacceptable. And the paint is to be protected. I remember watching John Starks come charging down the court to catch Chicago Bulls forward Scottie Pippen as he coasted towards the goal for what he thought was going to be an easy bucket. Starks, not giving up on the play as is the norm today, caught Pippen and clotheslined him rather than give up a free two. The demonstrative, diminutive and stuttering fan favorite was given a technical foul and Pippen thought twice about going to the hoop. That is playoff basketball. Lay-ups are unacceptable. And the paint is to be protected. Washington Wizards big man Brendan Haywood put a hard foul on Lebron and the world almost went off its orbit in the third quarter. As Lebron flew towards the hoop Haywood flung himself into LBJ's path, knocking him several feet off course. He landed in a heap beneath the hoop but popped up in a flash ready to fight or shoot free throws. He shot free throws.

2. Scott Skiles. The former Bulls coach and NBA point guard signed a four-year deal to take over the reins as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. Skiles led the Bulls to the playoffs three straight time and then oversaw the early stages of their 2007-2008 implosion before being removed right in time for Christmas by Bulls GM John Paxson. Skiles is a hard-nosed disciplinarian who, though a former player, is not considered a "players' coach." This is one less option for the Knicks opening.

3. Tracy McGrady. Is he sympathetic? Or pathetic? Is he Vince Carter? Or is he Kevin Garnett? What sort of fire burns behind those sleepy eyes of T-Mac's? After watching him do everything he possibly could through three quarters last night against the Jazz I have to say that he is sympathetic and he is far more Garnett than Carter. He wants it. He brings it. McGrady may have never won a playoff series but he was scoring, defending, rebounding and trying to rally his teammates last night. He just missed a triple double with 23 points, 9 assists and 13 rebounds but ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. He admitted it himself in the post-game press conference. It wasn't an excuse it was just a fact. Sort of like how it is a fact that McGrady is becoming a sympathetic figure.

4. Deron Williams. I know that I spend most of my time scribbling Chris Paul's stat line on my notebook and wondering what it would be like if the two of us were to hang out but his fellow draftee is having himself a pretty good playoff run too. Although he is battling a bruised buttock injury (and you know it can rough whenever you are battling your buttocks) he was again the catalyst for the Jazz, who took a commanding 2-0 lead over Houston.

5. The Earth. In case you missed it, today is Earth Day. This holiday observed on April 22, which follows suspiciously close to another earthy day in April (4/20), was first observed on April 22, 1970. The idea for a nationwide demonstration in support of Earth’s environment came from Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday's Starting Five

1. Pau Gasol. If you saw this game then you were impressed. Really, really impressed. And, scared. However, the biggest Lakers fan I know missed the majority of play because ABC opted to show the Pope at Yankee Stadium over Kobe at the Staples Center yesterday afternoon. Thankfully, I discovered the game on some auxiliary ESPN channel and was able to see Gasol turn in an absolute gem of a performance in his Lakers playoff debut. He played a game-high 45 minutes. He scored 36 points. He shot 70% from the field. He shot 100% from the line. He grabbed 16 rebounds. He handed out 8 assists. He blocked 3 shots. And the Lakers won.

2. Philadelphia 76ers. And, it's on. The Sixers beat the Pistons last night in Motown. This is the sort of game (and perhaps will become the sort of series) that the NBA playoffs need early on to keep from losing momentum before they have a chance to gain any. 4-game sweeps in Best-of-Seven Series are the worst thing for fans. Not too many people outside of Boston want to watch ten hours of the Celtics beating up on the Hawks over the next week and a half. And, even fewer people would want to watch Detroit beat up on Philadelphia over 4 nights. While I understand that the 7-game format (instead of the 5-game version) does a better job of ensuring that the best teams advance it undeniably hurts the entertainment value of the opening round. Fans love upsets and don't want prolonged routs. So, as last year's Warriors proved, there is nothing like a David challenging a Goliath in the first week of the playoffs to get everyone interested. The really crazy thing is that Philly didn't do anything particularly out of the ordinary in getting this win. No one erupted for a monster game. No one had to hit a wild shot. They didn't have a huge 30+ point quarter. They didn't do anything out of the ordinary. They just played hard the whole way through and defended with a purpose. But they always do that.

3. Chris Paul. It all worked out perfectly for me and CP3. I was down in Philly for the Mets/Phils tilt on Saturday afternoon. Thanks to two eighth-inning strikeouts by Aaron Heillman the Mets held on to win. Then after a short but mildly confusing drive through the backstreets of South Illadelphia and one stop at a liquor store (or actually it must have been a beer store since you can't by beer and liquor at the same place down there), I was on a buddy's coach just in time to see Dallas head into the half with a 12-point lead over the Hornets. That score was a bit of a gut-punch. But Paul and the Hornets went into the locker room, got their playoff bearings and came back out to torch the Mavs in the second half. Paul flat-out dominated in the third quarter. This was right of the Lebron's 25-straight-points-against-Detroit playbook. Obviously it's not the same thing but such was the force by which CP3 grabbed hold of that game. Which was his first-ever playoff game. He ended up 35 points, 10 assists, 3 rebounds, 4 steals and one blocked shot. I've made it clear to anyone that asks that this is the only Series whose result could really upset me. I don't want the Hornets to lose. Not only do I want to keep watching Paul play but I want the rest of the country to be forced to watch him play.

4. Tim Duncan. The Big Bore hit a THREE-POINTER on Saturday to force the second OT in a game that the Spurs would eventually take from the Suns. Yikes. Apparently, no one told him that the nation has decided that we don't particularly want to watch them in the Finals again. Yeah, after the way they twice came back to force extra basketball and eventually won a game that they had seemingly lost on two occassions it seems like the definitely didn't get that memo.

5. Donnie Walsh. It was so inevitable and talked about for so long that the moment of truth actually was a bit underreported. Donnie Walsh stripped Isiah of his last remaining job title on Friday afternoon! He fired Isiah just like we all wanted. It's done. The Knicks will have a new coach and a chance at a new start next season. After all of the drama and anticipation of his dismissal it was a little bizarre how quickly and quietely it went down. You've got to figure that Walsh timed the Friday afternoon/evening announcement so avoid as much attention as possible. It worked.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"This House Is Clean"

Isiah Thomas Is Removed As Knicks Coach

A poltergeist has been exercised from the World's Most Famous Arena. Isiah Thomas will no longer be haunting the sidelines at the Garden. He will no longer be allowed to move around the furniture (or the personnel) while everyone is soundly asleep.

Donnie Walsh made the inevitable announcement late yesterday afternoon that Isiah would not return as coach next season. Everyone knew it just had to be coming. I mean, just look at the last year of his terrible tenure. But we all wanted it so bad that we were afraid that it wouldn't happen. We were so beaten down by the past seven seasons, by everything that has happened from the day that Patrick was traded to Seattle right through the way that Mike Dunleavy carved us up for 36 points for the third time this season. Non-Knicks fans would tease about the possibility that lil' Jimmy Dolan would somehow get Isiah a stay of execution for one more season. When Kiki Vandeweghe was rumored for the gig that Walsh ended up taking the papers reported that Isiah's staying on was a condition of the tentative deal. But Kiki wasn't an Academic All-American at UCLA by accident and he walked away.

And, clearly there was no way that the ol' pro from the Bronx was going to sign on to start with one hand tied behind his back. Walsh knows this city enough to know that if he took the helm of the S.S.Knickerbocker and didn't fire Isiah immediately that we would leave port next season with a breach already in the hull. He'd be taking on water and losing fan support from day one if he didn't make that move. He knew that by firing Isiah he would gain the goodwill of the citizenry and that he would be given a free pass for early struggles because those struggles would be growing pains rather than death throes.

Growing pains and death throes. That will be the difference between next season and last season. Because Isiah Thomas is gone (at least from sight if not from the payroll) this ballclub can move forward. For the first time in a long time, something went the way it was supposed to. Something went the way that we had hoped.

And, after seeing how quickly and clinically Walsh removed Isiah from this position one can even hope to see things being done the right way from here on out.

"I can't really tell you where he failed with the club. I think that we reached a point this season when our team didn't compete for a long time," new team president Donnie Walsh said. "The bottom line is that we haven't won and the team didn't look like it was motivated to try to win and be competitive."~Donnie Walsh on demoting Isiah Thomas

Thursday, April 17, 2008

And So It Goes

The 2007-2008 Knicks Season Is Over After One Last Rout In Indiana
Knicks 123 - 132 Pacers

It's over. It's done with. This incarnation of the New York Knickerbockers will never take the floor again together. Right?

This coaching staff will never lead another group of young men into battle bearing spoons instead of swords. Right?

One can only hope. Well, except for Mike Dunleavy of the Pacers who probably doesn't want this team to change a thing. To him this Knicks team is just perfect. They've got the perfect combination of slow rotating defenders in the half court and slower transition in the open court for him to score precisely 36 points per night, which he did in 3 out of 4 times he faced NY this season. That's his career high.

It's been a brutal season. It's been exhausting the past few weeks. And, I know that the losing has made it hard to muster the energy to post on this site. Or to sit on the couch and watch games. Hell, I was at the game on Monday actively hoping that they would lose so as not to hurt their draft position. There's no doubt that it's been a rough year. The roughest that I've seen.

It's rougher than 2005-2006 when Larry Brown's team finished with an identical record. That season was terrible. It was dysfunctional. But it wasn't embarrassing in the myriad ways that this year was. This team lost 34 games by ten or more points. They lost 10 games by 20 or more points. They lost a game by 26 points. They lost a game by 28 points. They lost a game by 29 points. They lost a game by 30 points. They lost a game by 32 points. They lost a game by 34 points. And they lost a game by 40 points.

This team even lost a lawsuit. They lost players to injury. They lost their dignity. They lost in every conceivable way that they could have.

But it is over. And so it goes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The End of An Error and An Anthem

Late in Monday night's loss to the second-string Boston Celtics a familiar refrain rang through the Garden. It rose above the crinkling and crackling of food wrappers. It soared up to the rafters and mingled with the names and numbers of the legends hanging high above the parquet floor. It was what seems likely to be the very last "Fire Isiah" chant that will ever be uttered in Madison Square Garden.

After such an arduous season saw this phrase enter the sports lexicon it seems strange that it may never be uttered again. It seems almost unbelievable that I won't need to give voice to those words ever again. Or maybe, "Fire Isiah" can live on as a catch-all call-to-arms for any fan base when their coach or general manager deserves to be sacked.

Perhaps Isiah can attach his name to forcible regime changes in NBA the way that Mario Mendoza forever linked himself to ineptitude at the plate in Major League Baseball or the way that Tommy John ended up being better known as a surgical procedure than a pitcher.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tuesday's Starting Five

1. The Employees at Madison Square Garden. Last night could have been a disaster. Both on the court (which it was) and off the court. But it wasn't. The Knicks were giving out free food and non-alcoholic drinks as part of Fan Appreciation Night and it was the strangest, most polite atmosphere I've ever encountered at a Knicks game. There was more than enough food and more than enough staff to dole it out. It really seemed like the generosity of whomever decided to give everything away really trickled down to each member of the staff. I mean, I was walking back to my seat eating an ice cream bar when I hear a vendor calling to me. "C'mon and grab a bottle of water," he hollered from behind me on the concourse. "I know you're going to want some water after you're all done with that ice cream." And, he was totally right. I turned around and he flipped me an unopened bottle of water to take back to my seat.

2. The Denver Nuggets. They're in the playoffs. By virtue of the Warriors loss last night (to Phoenix) the Nuggets have clinched the 8-seed in the Bestern Conference. I don't know what is going to happen to Carmelo since he was busted for DUI the other day, but I also don't know who would want to play a team that can score 135 points a night and boasts the Defensive Player of the Year.

3. Former Sonics Owner Howard Schulz. Though this likely falls into the too-little, too-late department it's still worth some plaudits. The CEO of Starbucks (who used to own the Sonics) is filing a lawsuit against Clay Bennett and the Oklahoma City Slickers who are attempting to steal this franchise from the city that loves it. Schulz's suit will contend that the sale should be reversed since the deal was predicated on the new ownership group making a good-faith effort to stay in the Emerald City.

4. Former MSG Prez Dave Checketts. In attendance at the game last night (perhaps for the free chicken fingers), Checketts did not hold back about his feelings on the Knicks when talking with Andrew Marchand of ESPN Radio. He was honest and merciless in his assessment of Isiah and the state of the organization. My favorite quote, by a long shot, is what he had to say about Zach Randolph: "You see Zach Randolph shoot an airball from three, come out of the game and get congratulated by everybody. I think Jeff Van Gundy would have spit on him. That's too dramatic, but there is not an environment that demands winning, that expects winning and the kind of character guys that want to win."

5. Jackie Robinson. It was 61 years ago today that Jack Robinson jogged out of the dugout at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn for the very first time. He took his place at first base (where he played before switching to second in '48) with the weight of the world on his shoulders and he played the game as if he was lighter than air and quicker than lighting. Just by playing baseball he managed to change this country to the point where someone like myself cannot really, truly ever understand what it was like before him. I can spout facts about race relations and recall events from the Civil Rights Movement until I'm Dodger-blue in the face but I will never know in my belly what it was like before him. That's how much of a difference this man (along with so many, many, many more) made.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Isiah's Scorched Draft Policy

How Isiah Thomas Wants To Hurt This Team Even After He's Gone

It is a military tactic in use since before the reign of Pontius Pilate. The Scythians used it before their territory was overrun by the Persians. The Armenians used it before their lands were taken by the Greeks. In the American Civil War the troops of the Confederacy were ordered to implement this same action as General Sherman and his Union soldiers marched towards them. (Of course, Sherman was going to do the same when he arrived anyway, but that is neither here nor there.) Throughout all recorded time those who have been certain to lose their lands and possessions in battle have destroyed them rather than abandon them to the uses of the approaching enemy. It is called scorched earth and it is nothing new. It is as old as war itself.

It is another way of saying that if "I can't have it than nobody can." And, it is exactly what Isiah Thomas has been trying to do to the Knicks draft pick ever since Donnie Walsh was hired. With the writing on the wall that his reign over the court at the Garden is over. With the hoof beats of Walsh's horses quaking the ground several floors beneath the hardwood, Isiah has inexplicably started coaching again in what can only be construed as an attempt to squander the one silver-lining in this cloudy season: the team's draft pick. By winning three of their last four games the Knicks have given up the inside track on one of the top three picks. They have potentially forsook that which could redeem this lost season.

The Daily News reported that Thomas even had the audacity to hold the longest practice that the team has had in weeks on Sunday. It was not too long ago that he was barely asking his players to shoot-around before tip-off. And, now he wants them to practice? Why? So that he can get a better look at Randolph Morris? Nope. So that they can squeak out a win over Charlotte? Or a playoff bound Pistons team that is resting its starters?

Actually, yes. That is exactly why. In his own retreat from his soon to be conquered territory Isiah is for-once heeding the lessons of history. He is not ignoring those wiser leaders who came before him. He is listening to them and he is setting fire to the most precious assets that he has so that those who usurp his lands cannot make use of them.

Isiah Thomas is coaching again just to ruin our chance at Derrick Rose. He does not want to help his erstwhile enemies (Donnie Walsh, the players themselves and the fans are included in this number) succeed in the place where he failed so famously. In doing so he is taking away the only good thing that he could have brought forth from the wretched incubator of his tenure on the bench.

He is setting fire to our draft lottery ping pong balls just as those Scythians set fire to their fields and slaughtered all the livestock which they could not carry with them as they fled their conquerors.

Monday's Starting Five

1. The Los Angeles Lakers. After a paper-demolition (Manu didn't play and Kobe and Timmy Duncan sat for large stretches) of the Spurs yesterday, the Lakers find themselves back in the driver's seat in the Bestern Conference. If they beat the Kings they earn the top seed (since New Orleans is a .5 games back thanks to back-to-back losses). Gasol is back and playing well. Odom is playing at as high a level as he has since being a Laker and they seem to be ready for the playoffs.

2. The Seattle Supersonics. Not the organization. Not the soul-less, heartless owners who are ripping the team from the city that loves it. But, the team. The players. And the fans. They came together last night for a phenomenal last-minute win over the playoff bound Dallas Mavericks. It may have been the final time that those fans see their team in home white and, by all accounts, the place was in hysterics. Gary Payton was in the crowd and Durant claims he almost cried the fans were so emotional. The Supersonics rushed back from a six-points down in the waning minutes to best Dirk (who scored 32) and Kidd (who clanged the shot that would have forced overtime with 1 second remaining).

3. Brian Bannister. The former Mets pitcher ran his record to 3-0 after a thorough domination of the Twins yesterday. He tossed a complete-game gem on Sunday and has also pitched exceedingly well against the Yankees and the Tigers. Although both those teams are scuffling a bit (obviously the Tigers far more than the Yankees) this a great start for Bannister. Gosh, it sure would be nice if the Mets were able to slot him in as their fifth starter. Wouldn't it? I know that Ambiorix Burgos is lighting up the gun and all, but Bannister seems like the real deal. Oh, wait. Burgos isn't even pitching. He's still recovering from that elbow surgery that he needed after tossing a whopping 23.2 innings. Oh, yeah.

4. Boston College Hockey Team. After falling short in the last two National Championship games the Eagles overcame the Cinderella team from Notre Dame (the first #4 seed to advance to the Final), 4-1, to win the school's third title. Nathan Gerbe again led the way with two goals and had two assists (one of them a backwards, between the legs bit of wizardry when he was pinned against the boards). And, somehow this guy (also the nation's leading scorer) finished second in the Hobey Baker voting...

5. The Knicks. Not the team. Or the coach. But the organization. For years they've referred to the last home game as "Fan Appreciation Night." For years it has just been another meaningless slogan. There were no giveaways, no discounts. And, no good teams put out on the court by a no-good administration. But, in the first sign that Donnie Walsh is going to change the culture at the Garden, this year's Fan Appreciation night features free food and free non-alcoholic beverages. And, all merchandise is marked down 30%. Even though a free hot dog and pretzel (and a bag of peanuts and anything else I can't get from these folks) doesn't make up for this season it is still a nice gesture from a building that has only featured obscene gestures as of late.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday's Starting Five

1. Dirk Nowtizki. Remember when he crumpled to the floor not too long ago? When the knee/ankle injury pairing was rumored to be far worse than anyone was letting on? When everyone wrote off the Mavs? Remember all that? Well, even if you don't it seems like Dirk does. And he's pretty PO'd about it. Continuing his heroic return from injury he scored 32 points and knocked down a buzzer-beating three last night to defeat the Utah Jazz and clinch a playoff berth for his team. And, he did this just seconds after Deron Williams banked in a miraculous three-pointer at the other end that seemed certain to send the game to overtime. Perhaps the running-away-with-the-regular-season-Mavs weren't that interesting but I can't help but root for the Injured-Dirk-hitting-playoff-clinching-buzzer-beating-threes-Mavs. And, I normally don't really like Germans.

2. Allen Iverson. In an even bigger game than the one Dirk played in, AI led the Nuggets to a (seemingly) season-making win over the Warriors. He scored 33 points, dished out 9 assists and committed three steals in the win that puts Denver in the driver's seat heading for that final playoff spot. His team has a one game lead in the standings which is essentially two games as last night's win also gave Denver the season series over the boys from Oakland. And, to top it all off, he stepped up and gave his uncounted MVP vote for Chris Paul. Nice.

3. Nathan Gerbe. In a classic Frozen Four performance Gerbe and the BC Eagles blitzed North Dakota, 6-1, en route to the National Championship tomorrow night. The 5-foot, 5-inch Gerbe, a Hobey Baker finalist, had a hatrick and an assist in a dominating performance.

4. George Karl. Who would have thought that a game between the Nuggets and the Warriors would have been decided by defense? Not me. But, it was. I swear. It happened last night. Nuggets Coach Karl had his players switch to a zone defense against the fast-breaking Warriors after his team fell behind, 22-37, after the first quarter. It worked. The Warriors didn't top 23 points in any of the three remaining quarters and settled for way too many outside jump shots.

5. Scott Schoenweis. Yep. I just did it. I put Scotty Show in the Starting Five. I put the least-liked Met since Rey Ordonez in the Starting Five. And, he deserves it. He took the mound in the top of the 11th in the rubber match against the rival Phils with two on and one out. He induced an inning ending double play (sort of like he almost did during the home opener when Delgado pegged Utley with his throw to second). The Big Scho then came back on in the top of the 12th and retired the first two batters before Geoff Jenkins reached on an error by Easley. He was pulled for Jorge Sosa at that point, who got the third out. The Mets won in the bottom half of the inning. And, Schoenweis was the MVP. It might never happen again. But it did happen last night.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I Checked Your Local Listings

And here's what's on TV tonight:

6:00 PM EST on ESPN2: Boston College vs. North Dakota square off in the Frozen Four. This is the third straight time that the two teams have met in the Frozen Four.

8:00 PM EST on TNT: Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors. This one is HUGE. Both teams sit on 47-31 records and are tied for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference Playoffs. They've each got four games to go and have to bring their best tonight. Even if the over/under were 300 at tip-off I might still take it.

10:00 PM EST on Versus: Dallas Stars at Anaheim Ducks. In case you didn't notice the Stanley Cup Playoffs have begun. And, in case you didn't know, playoff hockey is very watchable and engaging in ways that regular season hockey may not necessarily be. So, if you're up and don't have a Lakers fan in your house forcing you to watch Lakers vs. Clippers on TNT then you should totally check this out. For a little bit, at least. Before watching the return episode of The Office that you DVR'd while watching hoops.

Around the Internets

Laughing-at-the-Knicks Edition

The Onion reports on the Knicks' ever-evolving (roughly at the same pace as evolution) fast-break.

And, New York takes a moment from making fun of socialites I've never heard of to mocking NBA coaches that I am more familiar with.

Still, after much thought I have to say that THIS is the funniest thing I've seen all day.

"Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner!"

Announcing the Winner of the 2008 WWOD? NCAA Tournament POOL

This familiar (at least to me) phrase comes to us from the casinos of Las Vegas, Nevada. It comes from a seemingly distant time when Vegas wasn't seedy and family friendly in equal parts. It comes from a time when gambling was classy, martinis were taken in a fedora with breakfast and the Mafia and the Rat Pack rather than the IRS and the motion picture business ran the town. Back in those by-gone days calls of "Winner, winner! Chicken Dinner!" could be heard resounding through the oxygenated casino floors all around town. Back then the standard bet was $2. And most casinos offered a three-piece chicken dinner with some sort of potato and another vegetable for the bargain price $1.79. So, one winning hand could bring anyone a chicken dinner. Ergo, "winner, winner, chicken dinner."

Although the winner of the 2008 WWOD? Tourney Pool does not actually get a delicious chicken dinner, they do win the awesomest prize ever (offered by me for winning this year's pool). And, the winner of that prize is none other than WWOD? reader and picker of Kansas MarkJacksonShimmy. Mr JacksonShimmey is a Pacers fan and commenter who beat the rest of us rather soundly in this year's pool.

He picked 11 of the Sweet 16, seven of the Elite Eight and three of the Final Four. And he had Kansas to win it all. The only demerits on this bracket is that he missed the boat on Davidson and Western Kentucky but, then again, so did just about everyone else. Most notably Georgetown and Drake.

For his prescient picks he is receiving a limited edition What Would Oakley Do? T-Shirt. I can only hope that this will be worn with pride around the environs of the state of Indiana and spread the WWOD? gospel to the land of Rik Smits and Chuck Person.

Thursday's Starting Five

1. The Phoenix Suns. If I told that you a game between the Suns and the Spurs, who were playing at home, was decided by defense in the 4th quarter then you would probably think that the Spurs won. Right? Wrong. Shaq keyed a dominant final stanza by the Suns as they knocked off San Antonio, 96-79, in what could be a playoff preview. Shaq and Nash each scored 8 in that decisive quarter as the Spurs only managed 11 against, drum-roll please, a sporadically (when Shaq is on the floor) formidable Suns defense.

2. The Washington Wizards. Agent Zero is back. Caron Butler is back. Antawn Jamison is living up to his potential in a mammoth contract year. All the pieces are falling into place as the playoffs loom. They hung another loss on the Celtics last night, becoming only the second team (along with the Magic) to win the season series with the C’s this year. Unlike the Magic, though, the Wiz pulled off this feat in a 4-game (rather than a 3-game) series. Right now the Wiz are in the 5-spot in the standings, which would pit them against the sputtering Lebronaliers in Round One. I have to think that’s exactly who they want to face right now. Cleveland has sent Washington fishing at the end of the last two seasons and this rivalry is budding. The two teams split four games this season and DeShawn Stevenson famously called LBJ overrated. Nothing like some animosity to spice up an otherwise dull Eastern Playoff race.

3. The Philadelphia 76ers. They don’t have a rejuvenated Shaq. They don’t have a returning Arenas. In fact, no one is really sure what they do have or how they keep beating teams. But, it hasn’t stopped the Sixers from shooting up the sixth spot in the East. They beat the Pistons last night (and, yes, the Pistons are already resting starters for long stretches) and, along with the Wizards, are putting a scare into the higher seeds in the (L)Eastern Conference. Right now, they face the Magic team that no one is talking about.

4. Dwight Howard. The star of the Magic team that isn’t getting nearly as much attention as its record should warrant notched is league-leading 67th double-double last night in a win over the Bulls. He’s got 67 double-doubles in 78 games so far. If you put him on the floor then there is an 86% chance that he will score at least 10 points and pull down at least ten rebounds. Meanwhile, Eddy Curry — who last year was competing with Howard to be the best young center in the East — has just two double-doubles all season long.

5. Golf. The Masters started today. It’s a big deal for people who are into Golf. It’s something that people are not into golf at least follow on Sunday. I’ll catch up with the rest of you on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Really? A Three-Game Winning Streak? Really?

I hate that the Knicks beat the Bobcats, 109-107, at the Garden. I hate it.

"The Mets have found ways of losing that I never knew existed."~Casey Stengel

A Photo Essay of the Mets 2008 Home Opener
Part Seven
Actually there wasn't really anything new for Casey in this one. This loss was eerily similar to so many losses from the end of last year. Timid bats and terrible relief pitching. To be honest, I'd kind of like the team to find a new way of losing.

"I've come to the conclusion that the two most important things in life are good friends and a good bullpen."~Bob Lemon

A Photo Essay of the Mets 2008 Home Opener
Part Six
And, here's the moment when it started to feel like September all over again. When the sense of inevitability crept into my chest. When Willy went to the bullpen and called out #60.

The first home-team-directed chorus of boos for the 2008 season rained down upon none other than Scotty Schoeneweis. After coming on and sort-of starting the seventh inning (after Joe Smith took the hill but never threw a pitch) the Show gave up to 2 hits and a hit-by-pitch before almost escaping the jam on a tailor-made double-play ball to Delgado at first. Unfortunately, Delgado pegged Utley while making his throw to second. Everyone was safe and two runs scored. Tie ballgame. And, boos. Lots of them.   

Down a run heading into the eighth things were not nearly as bad as they felt. Especially since Heillman, arguably the team's best reliever, was on the hill. Wright was leading off bottom of the inning. There was plenty of time to turn this around.

False. Heillman gave up 2 runs on 2 hits in his one inning of work.

"A baseball game is simply a nervous breakdown divided into nine innings."~Earl Wilson

A Photo Essay of the Mets 2008 Home Opener
Part Five

Sometimes you can just sense that it's not your day. Looking at this picture you might think that either Shane Victorino or Jayson Werth had such a sense after their collision in centerfield. But you'd be wrong. That sense was in the seats and at second base. Where us Mets fans and David Wright all felt robbed of at least a double. For what's worth, I thought that Victorino dropped the ball from my perch ten zillion feet away. Apparently the Umpire who was much closer disagreed. 
While all the talk heading in to the game was about the looming presence of CitiField no one knew about the last addition at Shea. The future. You can apparently see it through a hole in the wall on the Mezzanine level. And, it seems to have scared this guy.

Meanwhile, back in the stands fans are much more concerned with the present and with the drunk guy presently punching them in their faces. By the midpoint of the game it was getting rough upstairs. Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer had slowed down the game in a Trachselian manner and the natives were getting restless. This skirmish actually featured someone throwing a cop down a few stairs. 

This drunk wasn't throwing any cops, he was just throwing up. He casually threw up beneath his seat and didn't tell his friends, who didn't notice. He would soon grind the vomit into the floor with his shoe so that no one would be the wiser. Classy. 

We can only hope that these two can reconcile their differences. 

"A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz."~Humphrey Bogart

A Photo Essay of the Mets 2008 Home Opener
Part Four


And, yes, this hot dog actually costs as much as a steak at the Ritz did in Bogie's day.

"They usually show movies on a flight like that."~Ken Coleman

A Photo Essay of the Mets 2008 Home Opener
Part Three

In his first "real" at-bat since that devastating second half slump Jose Reyes grounds out to Jimmy Rollins. That's fitting. 

Howard at first. Utley at second. Rollins at shortstop. That's a pretty impressive infield. Pedro Feliz (who's at third) just needs to remember to show up each day and not accidentally injure any of them and that foursome is as good as they come. 

The second-best first baseman in today's game steps up to the plate to lead off the bottom of the second inning and to the surprise of everyone in the stadium cracks Jamie Moyer's second pitch over the right-center-field wall. Perhaps rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated. Or, perhaps he guessed right on a tepid fastball from an old lefty. 

Either way, HOME RUN!!!!!!!

Mets lead, 1-0 after two innings.

"When they start the game, they don't yell, 'Work ball.' They say, 'Play ball.'"~Willie Stargell

A Photo Essay of the Mets 2008 Home Opener
Part Two
Shea is packed up this afternoon. Our seats are on the aisle in the upper-deck, way down the third base line. The sun is shining on my face and the beers are in commemorative plastic bottles. So far, so good.

And, Citi Field is really right there in left. Taunting all of us at Shea. You've got to wonder how that structure is going to affect balls hit to left field. Is the wind effectively blocked by the team's new digs? Does this mean it will be easy to hit one over that wall? I feel like that used to be the hardest spot to get one out. Or will be there be some new, unnatural wind current pushing balls even farther back into the field of play? You've also go to wonder where I'll be watching the home opener this time next season. Citi Field doesn't rise nearly as tall as Shea does and you know that more seats are going to be downstairs rather than in the upper deck. I hope the last home opener at Shea doesn't turn out to be my last home opener too. 

After a few pitches by Oliver Perez we're right back into the thick of it. The season is on. The red, white and blue bunting already seems out of place. The subway hope is already replaced by upper-deck expectation. And Ryan Howard and the division rival Phillies are already in town. Howard is a big dude. Still, I'm not terrified while he is in the batter's box. He strikes out too much for me to be too scared of him.  

On the other hand, Pat "the Bat" Burrell does scare me. He rakes against the Mets. He just kills us. Ollie and Schneider seem to be aware of this too as they meet on the mound before taking on The Bat with two on and two out in the top of the first. It's totally awesome that we're having mound meetings during inning No. 1 of the home opener. Totally. Awesome.

Well, whatever those two talked about out there it worked because Perez struck Burrell out looking. "Oll-lly! Oll-lly!"

"You always get a special kick on opening day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you're a kid...

...You think something wonderful is going to happen."~Joe DiMaggio

A Photo Essay of the Mets 2008 Home Opener
Part One

And, yes, I just used a quote from the Yankee Clipper to open a photo essay about the Mets. And, I'm mostly fine with it. Joe D captures the feeling of possibility that permeates a home opener (even if it's not actually the true opening day of the season). You look forward to it for so many reasons and there is an awesome sense of possibility that each fan in attendance gets along with the refrigerator schedule.

The 7-train is pulling up to Shea. And, doesn't she look terrific?

Well, at least until you see her much more attractive roommate...

I see the first of, presumably, many Santana jerseys on the platform after getting off the 7. The "Let's Go Mets" chants are starting up as we all head downstairs. After a morning in the office it finally feels like Opening Day. I still think I need a beer before I'm yelling anything.
Leaving the subway station you no longer walk across that small concrete bridge and down those spiral staircases. The stairwell descends right from the station this season and deposits you at ground level standing face-to-face with Citi Field. It looks classy and comfortable and expensive. In other words, it looks nothing like Shea. 

Wednesday's Starting Five

1. Deron Williams. The other point guard from the top of the class of 2005. In fact, he was chosen one spot ahead of Chris Paul. And, whenever the two meet, Williams plays like it. He had 16 assists last night to lead the Jazz over the Hornets in New Orleans. Utah has won 3 of 4 meetings between the two teams this season and they clinched the Northwest Division title last night.

2. Candace Parker. The two-time NCCA Tournament Most Outstanding Player led the Lady Vols of Tennessee to their second straight national championship by beating Stanford, 64-48. Parker netted 17 and her team obliterated the Cardinal in Tampa. Parker dislocated her shoulder twice during the tournament and kept on playing. I haven't heard of someone powering through a dislocated shoulder like that since Sgt. Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon movies. With two titles on her resume and her toughness proven beyond a shadow of a doubt she is forgoing her last year of college eligibility to enter the WNBA draft. It's sort of a shame that there is nothing but the WNBA available for such an amazing basketball player. I'd think that she should still be eligible for inclusion in those "going pro in something other than sports" commercials. At least then I'd hear about her occasionally.

3. Dirk Nowitzki. It's a shame that this team will likely not do much once they reach the playoffs. Because when they bow out meekly in two weeks time everyone is going to forget about what Dirk is doing right now. 10 days after crumpling to the floor with a sprained knee and a high ankle sprain he made a surprise comeback against the Warriors. When everyone thought his team would be the one to fall to the dreaded 9-spot, Dirk made an unexpected return to the court. He scored 18 points that night and his team got the W. They are currently in the seven-hole with a two game lead over both Denver and Golden State. The Mavs have won two of three since his return, including a win @ Phoenix in which Dirk went for 30+. For a guy who is supposed to be soft he is doing something pretty impressive just to get his team to the playoffs.

4. The 8th Seed in the West. The drama brought to all of us by this spot has been the best part of the last two weeks of the season. Once the Rockets' streak ended and everyone realized that New Orleans might actually take the top seed, this became the story. And, the 8th seed is so hot partially because many believe that whomever lands here has a solid chance of taking out the Hornets in Round One. Right now Denver and Golden State are tied. And, they play tomorrow night in a game that could end up deciding it all. I hope that thing is televised.

5. Al Jefferson. The Big Replacement is back in the Starting Five after a long absence. He dropped 40 points last night and snagged 10 boards. And, most importantly, he missed an open jumper that would have sent his team to OT against the Bobcats! Why is a miss worthy of an exclamation point? Because it keeps his team in the running for the #1 draft pick. A costly win (see Knicks, New York) would have been a terrible way to end such a great night for Jefferson.

Benched. The New York Mets bullpen. These guys made it feel a lot like September at Shea yesterday. It all started when Joe Smith came in to relieve Ollie Perez in the sixth. The Mets led the game, 2-0. By the time Jose Reyes made the last out in the bottom of the ninth the score was 5-2. The Phillies had won. The Mets 'pen allowed 5 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks in 3.1 innings. And, for some reason I felt like raking leaves and drinking fresh apple cider after leaving.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Chatting Up Chad Ford

Here Are Some Belated Knicks-Related Excerpts From a "Chat" with the ESPN hoops maven. My reactions are included in italics

Jonny (LA): I know there is lots of volatility right now, but please give me your prediction for the Knicks next coach and GM. Thanks.

Chad Ford: Coach? It won't be Isiah. I think Mark Jackson will get a shot. I don't think Rick Carlisle will. As for GM? If he can get his right hand man in Indiana, David Morway, that would be the most obvious choice (though Morway may choose to stay in Indiana with Larry Bird instead). It's interesting that more people haven't talked about Morway ... a guy who many in the league think is GM material on his own. If it's not Morway ... Billy King is a possibility. I'm told there's no way it will be Mark Warkentein.

WWOD?: First of all, I'm glad that both the question and answer take for granted that Isiah Thomas is gone. Nice. Secondly, I LOVE that Mark Jackson will get a shot. Just because it shows that there is an understanding of team history. Isiah has always ignored the Knickerbocker history because it is not his own and he has done this to his own detriment. That being said, Rick Carlisle also donned a Knicks uniform for a few seasons and I don't like to hear that any high-caliber person won't even be considered. I think we've leave all options open. We've got to realize that this team is still years from being good and that the coach we hire now won't necesarily be the one take us to the mountaintop. Or, even the satelite parking lot where those hoping to go hiking in the state park where the mountain is located. So, we don't need our dream coach right now. We need the guy to turn this thing around and demand accountability in the meantime.

* * * * * *

Doug (NY): Chad, how realistic is it that Donnie Walsh will be able to free up enough cap space by 2010 to lure LeBron or Wade to the Knicks?

Chad Ford: If he let's Stephon Marbury's contract expire and then finds a trade for either Zach Randolph or Eddy Curry that gets back contracts that expire by the summer of 2010 ... the Knicks will be far enough under the cap to make a run at a serious free agent like LeBron or Wade. All it really requires is a little patience. Make a great draft pick this year and next year ... develop young players like David Lee ... and the Knicks could be in very good position in the summer of 2010.

WWOD?: I'd like to believe Chad here. I think the key is really Marbury's contract. We've got to let it come off the books rather than trading it for more contracts, that likely go past next season.

* * * * * *

MRL the Pearl (Owings Mills): Isiah Thomas. Will he ever work in the NBA again?

Chad Ford: I doubt it. Maybe as a coach. Never again as a GM or team president.

WWOD?:One can only hope that this is the case. Perhaps if he took a job coaching in college or a D-League team he could rehabilitate his image as coach enough to come back to an NBA sideline. It seems implausible but there are so many retreads in the coaching ranks that nothing should surprise too much.

* * * * * *

Doris Bullet (Fort Lee): If both the Knicks and Nets are going to be able to fit lebron in 2010 which team do you think Lebron would choose?

Chad Ford: The Nets.

WWOD?:Everyone seems to think that Lebron-to-the-Nets is a foregone conclusion. I guess so, but I hope that this move happened soon enough that the Knicks might be able to force their way into the picture. If Marbury's contract is allowed to die of natural causes and either Randolph or Curry is traded then the Knicks will be rebuilt before the Nets are since Vince Carter isn't going anywhere.

* * * * * *

Matt (CT): Do you think Donnie is looking for a true point in the draft? hopefully the balls bounce the Knicks way so they can get Rose!

Chad Ford: Yeah, Derrick Rose should be at the very top of their list -- ahead of Michael Beasley. He's a huge point guard, with excellent athleticism and great floor vision. He's a leader and a superstar in the making. He reminds me of a 6-foot-4 version of LeBron. Very few players have that combination of quickness and power at his size.

Chris (Boston): Hey chad, can you see a situation where Beasley isnt drafted 1st overall??

WWOD?:Yeah, if any team were to turn their draft board over to me. At this point, there are only five teams that don't take Rose with the No. 1 overall pick: New Orleans, Utah,

Chad Ford: Yes. I think the Knicks would take Rose No. 1. Ditto for the Pacers. I think Miami would have to look very closely at Rose vs. Beasley. And I think Seattle would as well.

Jack (Toronto): You don't think Donnie Walsh got enough of me-first players in Indiana? No way Mayo goes to the Knicks.

Chad Ford: I don't think that's totally fair for Mayo. He's been a team player at USC this year.

WWOD?:Anyone who reads this site or who has talked to me for more than five minutes in the past five weeks knows that I want Derrick Rose on my team more than A-Rod wants to be well-liked. I want him to be our next point guard really badly. And, I'm setting myself up to utterly devastated if we don't land him. Which is stupid. Because there are other good point guards out there. Eric Gordon is strong and young and can score. O.J. Mayo ended up having a much better season than it seems (I agree with Ford's defense of Mayo on this point), even if he was upstaged by a few our diaper dandies. Still, Rose is the prize and to me the rest are thorns.