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.

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