Saturday, January 31, 2009

Requiem For A Miracle

My Last Trip To Shea Stadium

BallHype: hype it up!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Around the Internets: Super Bowl Edition

While I'm busy constructing my fool-proof gambling plan, I figured you might want some things to read about the big game.

-The fine folks at Football Outsiders have broken down all the numbers and carried all of the ones for their annual SB Preview.

-They've also done the same with all of the exotic prop bets. This is my favorite pre-SB column to read.

-Speaking of prop bets, if you know me then you've undoubtedly already heard about the wagers that I may or may not have placed on Springsteen's set at halftime. Does he open with The Rising and close with Born to Run? Will he really play Born in the USA? Who knows? Not me. But after some speculation in Rolling Stone magazine, a bunch of online sports books were pulling down the bets for fear that word was out on what songs the Boss may or may not be playing.

-While most people are worrying over Heinz Ward's knee and Big Ben's brainspace, the fine folks at The Times are getting to know Pittsburgh's long snapper.

-The key to the Super Bowl: mullets.

-Don Banks at SI, Gene Wojciechowski at, Adam Schein at FOX Sports and Butters Professor Chaos are taking the Steelers. I'm not. My neighbor Carl, on the other hand is.

-Adam Duerson, Big Daddy Drew, The Sports Gal, Gregg Easterbrook, The Wildcat, King Kaufman and WWOD? are going with the upstart Cardinals.

-Although WWOD? is pulling for the Cardinals and is crafting a theory in which they win this game handily, I wouldn't mind if the Steelers won just so we could, as a nation, watch the fiscal situation in the Steel City play out. Because, you see, the economy is in such a state of disrepair that the city of Pittsburgh cannot actually afford a victory parade.

-The Super Bowl means four things. 1) Football 2) Gambling 3) I use the deep-fryer and my apartment smells like a carnival for two weeks 4) Commercials. With the fourth thing in mind, here's a rundown of the best Super Bowl commercials. Ever.

-If sport is not your cup of tea (which means you probably also have a literal "cup of tea" that you prefer over all others) then perhaps you should check out The Puppy Bowl. This marathon of canine cuteness is counted as one of EW's best counterprogramming options for those people too good for football or your boyfriend's, brother's or buddy's Super Bowl Party.

-The tens and tens of longtime Cardinals fans around the country are hoping that Sunday will provide a marquee moment for a franchise that has only given us one all-time great gridiron moment.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Great

According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary there are more than ten definitions for the word "great." I'm assuming that this is one of them.

Nate the Great exploded for 20 points in the fourth quarter tonight against the Hawks and led the Knicks to their fifth home win on the bounce. This ally-oop began a one-man 7-0 run about midway through the fourth that penciled the game into the win column for the Knickerbockers.

He was a revelation. He's so small but so quick and so strong that his diminutive stature becomes more of an asset than a liability. In this regard, he is unlike any of the super-small players that came before him. He has far more in common with Allen Iverson than with Spud Webb.

Notes, Observations and Things Better Left Unsaid:
-With the win last night, the Knicks moved into a virtual tie for the 8th spot in the East. If the season ended right now, however, the Knicks would be out in the cold because the would lose the tiebreaker to Milwaukee, who has inexplicably owned us this season. With Michael Redd recently rendered ligamentless, though, the Knicks are in prime position to pass them and challenge for the postseason throughout the second half.
-Right now, starting Al Harrington and bringing Will Chandler off the bench seems like the way to go moving forward.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wednesday's Starting Five

1. LBJ. Going back to the Phoenician city of Tyre, purple has been a color associated with royalty. With the Cleveland Cavaliers looking to trot out a different uniform at least once a week this season it seems like it's just a matter of time before King James is regally attired in purple. LBJ had a triple-double last night as the Lebronaliers won their 21st home game of the season. To put that in perspective, 13 teams (Knicks included) don't even have 21 total wins yet.

2. Mo Williams. Scottie Pippen is today's archetypal No. 2. He was by Jordan's side through all those titles in Chicago. He was the second 20+ scorer that the Bulls needed to keep teams honest on defense. But this dichotomy doesn't really hold up with a longer look back at the NBA. Because there was only one Jordan. Most dynastic teams had several great players. The 1980s Lakers had Worthy and Jabar to pair with Magic. Their rivals in Boston trotted out McHale and Parrish alongside Bird. The championship Knicks from the early 1970s started Hall of Famers at four positions. Greatness hasn't historically been about one superstar and one sidekick. There has been only one Jordan. But it also feels like we might one day say that there is only one Lebron James. Who seems capable of leading a Jordanesque charge for the Larry O'Brien Trophy with just one top-flight compatriot. Fans in Cleveland are hoping that Williams is that guy. His 43 points last night in a win over the Kings had to go a long way towards making them feel like he really might be their Pippen.

3. Quicken Loans Arena. There are hallowed sporting venues in this country. Madison Square Garden is one of them. Fenway Park and the LA Coliseum are others. The Q in Cleveland isn't. At least, not yet. In spite of not being likely to end up in the national registry for historic places, the home of the Lebronaliers has been a haven for its residents this season. Cleveland is 21-0 when playing at home. It's the fourth best home start in the history of the NBA. I've been to several Knicks games this year and I've seen them lose a few times. I might see them lose tonight. And, I'm fine with that. But if you're a Cleveland fan with season tickets then you haven't seen them lose at home since a one-point loss to the Wizards in Game 5 of the opening round of last year's playoffs. It was a Wednesday. It was April 30th.

4. Mickael Pietrus. He's French. From France. Not like French Fries, which are from Belgium. But he's just as awesome as julienned potatoes. In his first game back after suffering a broken wrist, Pietrus scored a game-high 27 points and grabbed 10 caroms to lead the Magic over the Pacers. The former Warrior added 4 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. He was 8 for 13 from the field, hitting 3 three-point shots. With Pietrus healthy, Pacers wunderkind Danny Granger dubbed the Magic "the best team in the East." With Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Pietrus spreading the floor around a surprisingly good Jameer Nelson it is getting hard to argue.

5. Bobcats over Lakers. From the department of inexplicability: Charlotte owns Los Angeles. With last night's double-OT win @ Los Angeles the Bobcats have shockingly won 5 of 6 against Kobe and company, including three on the bounce at the Staples Center. I won't even pretend to have insights or stats to explain this one.

Tuesday's Starting Five

1. Chris Paul. The prominence of fantasy sports and video gaming have made most sports fans hyper-aware of statistics. On any given regular-season NFL Sunday, most might care more about numbers than game scores. This is the double-edged nature of all of these things. They simultaneously bring us closer to the games we watch while also distracting from what is really happening. From the hustle and flow of the players. The emotional impact of what one player is doing to another. While hoops fans will surely marvel at the game that Chris Paul had last night against the 76ers they still won't really stop and think about how dominating the play that produced those numbers must have been. Paul nearly had a quadruple double. He scored 27 points (a game high), grabbed 10 boards, dished out 15 assists (a game high), had seven steals (a game high) and one blocked shot (just one off the game high). He did everything. His assists led to 39 points. Combined with the points he put on the board himself, CP3 accounted for 66 points. As a team, the Sixers scored 86. The Hornets scored 9 points directly following steals by Paul and Philly fouled CP3 a dozen times. The numbers are mind-bottling. It was Paul's fifth triple double of the season. But, try to comprehend the way that he really just dominated the game itself. The effect that he had on the court. Virtually everything that happened in that game did so because of him. He was great in a way that not even his gaudy numbers can quantify. Like Larry Fitzgerald has been in the playoffs. Even better than the numbers. Unstoppable.

2. Dwayne Wade. The Heat were 9-34 on Jan. 28, 2008. They finished last season15-67 and secured the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. They selected Michael Beasley out of Kansas State. Last night, Beasley played just 8 minutes off the bench and scored 2 points as Miami took on the Atlanta Hawks. Given those facts, it would be safe to assume that the Heat were throttled by the Hawks and are as much of a doormat as they were last year. But they're not. And this is because Flash is playing out of his mind this season. He's healthy and fired up. Already leading the Association in points per contest, Wade scored 35 to lead the Heat over the Hawks. He also grabbed 5 boards, stacked 4 dimes, stole two and blocked two. Relegated to best supporting actor in the free agent class of 2010, Wade has been going out of his way to show that he has leading-man potential. I surely wouldn't mind watching him tread the boards in Manhattan.

3. The New York Knicks. Yeah. I just did that. I just used one of the few non-Knicks spots on this site to write even more about the Knicks. Sigh. Groan. But, they belong here. Seriously. In the past week the Knicks have established themselves as firmly (read: tenuously) above .500 when playing at the Garden and gotten themselves back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. Barely past the midway point of the season the Knicks are just one game out of the eighth spot in East. That spot is currently held by Milwaukee, who just lost Michael Redd for the season due to an exploded knee. This team had a winning record before Crawford and Randolph were shipped out of town and after several weeks of crawling and teething it seems ready to start winning again. At the very least, the Knicks are now one of (along with Milwaukee and New Jersey) the very best bad teams in the NBA.

4. Marquette Men's Hoops. Early on it seemed like Marquette was a fluke waiting to be exposed. Early on it seemed like Notre Dame was for real and capable of beating anyone who came out to South Bend. ND rocked Indiana, topped Texas and then upset Georgetown early in the New Year. The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, came into the New Year with more wins over teams like Houston Baptist and Chicago State than over major programs. The rigors of the Big East were supposed to derail them. But, then Marquette derailed the Big East instead. In 2009, they've beaten Villanova, Rutgers, Providence, DePaul and now they've won in South Bend. Up next is a visit from Georgetown on Saturday.

5. Shaq. After watching the first half of last week's Suns @ Knicks game I could no longer doubt the resurgence that the Shaqtus has made this season. His footwork was quicker and his hunger seemingly sharper than it had been last year and the year before. And, the dude is still strong and can still be as vicious on the court as he is funny off of it. Still, after watching the second half of last week's Suns @ Knicks game I also knew that a team built around Shaq can't win a seven-game playoff series against the best of the West. He tired late in the game and can be exposed on the defensive end by smaller, quicker players. He's not Shaq of 2000 any longer. Which isn't saying he's lost it. He's way better than the Shaq of 2007 and 2006. Even if the Diesel-powered Suns will ultimately fall short because they rely on Shaq doesn't mean that they still won't do just fine on most nights when depending on the Thesaurus Rex. He had 29 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists and 1 steal in a win over the Wizards last night.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"A Tough Bunch of Dudes"

Knicks Come Back in 4th, Top Rockets, 104-98

Now, that is a win. A come-from-behind home win against a playoff-bound team from the Western Conference. It's true that the Rockets didn't have Yao. But they did have Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest. And, while the Rockets are a different team (more 3's, less dunks) without Yao they are still a very good team without him. They experienced half of a 22-game winning streak without Yao last season. And, they didn't come out feeling sorry for themselves last night as their first-choice center sat with a sore knee.

When asked after the game about his team's resolve, Nate informed an MSG reporter that the Knicks "are a tough bunch of dudes" and that he wasn't surprised by the come-back win. I'd like to think that I root for a tough bunch of dudes. Again. The hallmarks of my most beloved teams was toughness. Putting aside questions of toughness, though, last night marks the first time the Knicks have won a game when trailing heading into the fourth quarter. 21 times the Knickerbockers have headed into the fourth quarter trailing before last night. And, they have lost each of those games. The Knicks were the only team in the league to have never come back in the fourth. have been unable to overtake teams because a) they had dug themselves too deep a hole or because b) they have possessed the lesser amount poise in games that were close. Last night, they didn't let themselves fall too far behind at any point and they displayed the greater poise down the stretch. They did it on defense. They did it on offense. They got the must-have hoops. And they did it at the free throw line.

Thoughts, Observations and Things Better Left Unsaid
-The Knicks are now 13-9 at the Garden. They've won four in a row at home. Looking back, the re-arrival of Danilo Gallinari seems to have catalyzed the home court advantage. The team has enough players to go hard for 48 minutes and the fans are fully into it. The DEE-FENSE chants were loud even on television last night down the stretch. I'd say that the signs of Gallo's viability as a pro have renewed some faith in management and reinvigorated the short-term enthusiasm for the team among fans. With Atlanta, Los Angeles (Lakers), Cleveland and Boston coming to town in the next 10 days it's high-time to try to develop a legit home-court advantage. Of course, it's also possible that the very real home-court advantage that we've been creating gets snuffed out by the class of the Association before it has a chance to mature.
-The Knicks didn't win this game with the 3. In fact, the Rockets hit more three-point shots than the Knicks. When winning (with Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph) meant sprinting to 120 points then the Knicks relied excessively on shots from beyond the arc. This made the team dangerous but inconsistent. The emerging go-to-ness of the high pick and roll with Lee and Chris Duhon's confidence in attacking the rim when the team needs a hoop have made the three less of a necessity. Which makes the Knicks a better team.
-With 17 and 13 last night, David Lee has now tied Dwight Howard for the league lead in double-doubles. By virtue of this accomplishment he should be the second-string center for the East in the fast-approaching All-Star Game. I'm of two minds about this.
-Wilson Chandler was a revelation off the bench. After recently seeming as confused on the floor as W Bush likely would be playing a game of RISK, Chandler exploded for 18 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and a block shot after being "relegated" to the bench. I say "relegated" rather than relegated because Chandler played 28 minutes, which was one more than Al Harrington, who moved into the starting lineup. Coming off the bench seemed to enervate Chandler and keep him fresh (perhaps more mentally than physically) late in the game. It was a Chandler three-pointer that gave the Knicks the lead for good with just under two and a half to play. He seems as meek as he does muscular and I can't help but applaud the early returns on D'Antoni's handling of his mini-slump.

-The big three that Will hit to put the Knicks ahead was brought to you by the letter N. For Nate. Robinson led the Knicks with 19 points in the game and also had a team high +13 in terms of point differential when he was on the court. Nate scored 14 of his 19 in the fourth quarter and was the real difference maker even if Chandler's performance was more impressive. Nate the Great stepped up in the middle goings of the final frame and did everything that Tracy McGrady good do but did it better. This guy plays himself into and out of the future with equal aplomb.
-Tim Thomas is really impressing me. I'm not ready to quantify those emotions just yet. But soon.

Read All About It:
The News
The Times
The Post

Non-NFL Monday Schadenfreude

Monday's Starting Five

1. Joe Torre. The former Yankees skipper (which is how most people think of him in spite of the fact that he is currently managing the Los Angeles Dodgers) apparently collaborated with Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci on a book about the rise and fall of the recent pinstriped dynasty. It's been reported that Torre is candid about his distaste for A-Rod, Yankees GM Brian Cashman, and the personnel decisions that submarined the ethos and comraderie of the '96-'00 teams that Torre helmed. I say, god for Joe. The guy was the epitome of class (even if he was less than stellar at managing a bullpen) and brought four world titles to an organization that had been marked more by apathy than ambition when he arrived. And, then he was more-or-less forced out without having ever actually missed the postseason during his tenure. Not surprisingly, some are up in arms about Torre's "betrayal," which just blows my mind. Only would Yankees fans do this. As if the club is some sort of all-important monolith that is more important than the flesh-and-blood folks who fill the uniforms.

2. Danny Granger. He's the best player you're not watching in the NBA right now. Provided that you've actually been paying attention to what Dwyane Wade's been doing in Miami rather than focusing just on Lebron and Kobe. The third-year small forward out of New Mexico is averaging over 26 points per game (4th behind Wade, LBJ and Kobe) and has Indiana contending for mediocrity in the month of January (7-6). Last night he netted 27 points, including 8 in the fourth as the Pacers held of the Charlotte Bobcats at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Pacers and Granger worked out a 5-year contract extension just hours before some contractual window (that I don't quite understand) would have closed on Oct. 31 2008. I would imagine that the club has to be pretty psyched that they were able to get this deal done before Granger went out and made a hard charge at the scoring title.

3. Pat White. Every time this guy has a big game (which he does 60% of the time, every time) it is documented as a some sort of message that he is sending. Each yard gained is a pronoun. Each pass a verb. Each time he reverses the field he adds a transition to whatever "statement" he is making to the assorted naysayers who doubt his viability as a professional prospect. At what point does White simply become a good quarterback? Because actually quarterbacking West Virginia superbly for four seasons and to four bowl victories didn't seem to do the trick. Perhaps the two touchdown drives (for the victorious South) that he orchestrated in the Senior Bowl will do it. Maybe the 39-yard TD pass to Mississippi's Mike Wallace was worded correctly. Probably not. But maybe.

4. Al Jefferson. Last season I began calling AJ the "Rain Ticket" after he landed in Minnesota in the deal for Kevin Garnett deal. It seemed like at least twice a week Jefferson was throwing up one of the best statistical games in the NBA. He was a beast. And, he is a beast, who dominated the Bulls last night. With 39 points and 9 boards, Jefferson led T-Wolves to their 9th win in 11 tries, which is pretty darn good for a team that went 2-14 in December.

5. The Arizona Cardinals. Who knows what will happen next week? Not me. Not you. Definitely not the (seriously) smart guys at Football Outsiders, whose Jan. 13 DVOA rankings had Arizona as the 18th best team in the NFL. And, as long as nobody knows then people will be talking themselves into the Cards. The week before the Super Bowl is the week that underdog-lovers everywhere can fine tune their own logic for rooting for (and betting on) Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald to topple the Steelers. Those who haven't bet on them yet feel like they're missing out and those who have won some money by tapping them over Philly and Carolina don't want to walk away just yet.

Horrific. Awful. Tragedy.

Eddy Curry's high-school sweetheart and the mother of one of his four children was murdered over the weekend in Chicago. She was shot to death along with an infant daughter (not by Eddy). And, Curry's 3-year-old son witnessed the whole thing. He was found by his maternal grandmother covered in blood but unharmed. He was covered in his mother's blood from attempts to wake her up after she had been shot to death and the killer had fled the scene.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, police have a suspect in custody. Allegedly, the gunman was an "acquaintance" of Curry's ex who had formerly been romantically involved with her. Of late, he had threatened her enough that friends and family members were concerned.

Eddy found out about the murders while in Philadelphia with the Knicks for a game against the 76ers. The Knicks lost and Curry, again, was in street clothes on the sideline. At this point, I don't know if there is a player whose experiences could be better used as a cautionary tale for youngsters looking to leap from high school to the NBA. He shows that even if you "make it" that everything can go horribly wrong. Curry declared for the 2001 NBA draft directly out of Thornwood High School. He was selected by Chicago Bulls with the No. 4 pick. And, little has worked out since then. He's been rich and famous. But, has it been worth it? On the court, he's been handicapped by a blatant lack of understanding for how to play the game. If you get him the ball on the block then he can score over most anyone. But he has never understood how to pass out of the double team or how to play team defense. He never learned how to play basketball, having not needed to know in high school and having eschewed college where he would have learned the game. Of the court, he's been a seeming constant target for trouble. In 2007, he was duct-taped in his own home in Chicago and robbed by a group armed men who had planned the attack on his home. Just a few weeks ago, he was accused by a former employee of all sorts of bad things. Except, it turns out the employee has a criminal record and had been trying to extort money from Curry for some time before going public with a lawsuit.

Eddy Curry is 26 years old. His former girlfriend, Nova Henry, was just 24 when she was murdered. Her daughter was 9 months old. Eddy and Nova's son is 3. This is just about the worst thing I could imagine for a child. The worst. And, for Eddy it's the latest turn on his carousel of public pain.

And, I don't meant to randomly imply that this all would have been avoided had Curry opted to spend two years at the University of Illinois. Not at all. It's just that when looking at the decisions that Curry has made in his life in relation to the sorrow that has been disproportionately heaped upon him I look for reasons and explanations wherever I can find them. A nice guy by all accounts and a too-gentle giant on the court, Eddy's life is not punctuated with trouble-making incidents like Plaxico Burress or hard-living like Josh Hamilton. He doesn't seem to have brought this upon himself. Aside from the fact that I think he should have dipped his toe into the collegiate waters there really isn't anything I can say that he did wrong. His crime seems to be being a very young public figure who seems nice enough that you can take advantage of him and get away with it. In that regard, it makes no difference that Eddy jumped from high school to the NBA. Not at all. In that regard, his life is a cautionary tale for all professional athletes. Or anyone at all. I guess.

Either way it's gut-punchingly sad. And, if writing the last three paragraphs has taught me anything it is that there is no takeway here. There is no sense to what happened. There is no explanation. None at all. Try as I might, this post has illuminated nothing. If anything, trying to make sense of what happens only leads to talking about things that are totally unrelated. Talking about draft position and passing out of the double team has only muddled the issue and been insensitive. Perhaps it's been my own way of mitigating the awfulness of the reality. But it certainly hasn't been my way of cogently explaining anything. These murders were senseless, brutal, without meaning and all the more tragic for that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Friday's Starting Five

1. The Reigning Champs. It was business as usual for the two squads who faced off in the NBA Finals last night. Both played on national television and both won. The Lakers rolled in a laugher over the visiting Wizards and the Celtics won convincingly on the road in Orlando. After coming out the gates red-hot this season, both teams have cooled slightly. But not too much. You'd be hard pressed not to slot either into the conference championships right now.

2. Jeff Kent. Renowned as much for his surliness as his unprecedented power at second base, Kent announced his retirement yesterday after 17 seasons in the Big Leagues. The Californian broke into the Majors with the Blue Jays before being traded to the Mets for David Cone in 1992. The leading home run hitter at his position, eventually settled in his home state. He won an NL MVP Award with the Giants in 2000 and famously feuded with Barry Bonds. At the time, this was considered a deficiency of Kent's. But, in hindsight, was it really that weird that he didn't get along with Baroid? If anything, that reflects well upon him. After battling injuries with the Dodgers last season he decided to hang 'em up. He gave a shockingly interesting and emotional retirement speech yesterday. It's worth checking out if you can find it on the interwebs.

3. West Virginia Mountaineers. First, the world unearths the long-lost Kevin Pittsnogle and then the Mountaineers pull off a huge hoops upset. Coincidence? I think not. The No. 14 ranked Georgetown Hoyas were pittsnogled in DC last night by WVU, who forced 14 turnovers. And Bob Huggins' squad from Morgantown didn't just win. They stomped Georgetown, 75-58. It was the worst beating that Hoya coach John Thomspon III had presided over since his debut game. Newark, NJ-native Da'Sean Butler netted 27 for WVU to go with 8 rebounds and 4 steals.

4. New Jersey Institute of Technology. The last time they won was February 2007. Eddy Curry was being touted as an All-Star in February 2007. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then. Except for one thing, the NJIT Highlanders had not won a basketball game. Until last night. By beating the team from Bryant University, the Highlanders ended their 51-game losing streak. The streak was, and may forever be, a record for Division 1 hoops.

5. Dwight Howard. It's good for the NBA that Dwight Howard has agreed to defend his Slam Dunk title this year during the All-Star Extravaganza in Phoenix. Most superstars (and, D12 is certainly that) opt out once they get famous. Kobe did. Lebron did. Vince Carter did. But, Howard hasn't. In part, this is why he broke the record for most votes recieved in All-Star balloting by the fans. Even more than Yao, who has the better part of a continent voting for him each year, and more than Vince Carter, who has the...uh... Actually I have no idea from what depths the hordes that annually vote for Vince emerge from each year. What is wrong with them?

Benched. Alonzo Mourning. In case you were wondering, which you weren't, Mourning wants you to know that he is seriously retiring from professional basketball. Nevermind that he hasn't actually participated in a game in more than a year. And that we already knew he was retired because he told us before last season that he was retiring at the end of the campaign. Nevermind that. The guy needed to hold a press conference. While his struggle against kidney disease has been inspiring to many people in similar straits and his persistence in the face of adversity is admirable, there is no doubt that this guy has an epic sense of self-entitlement and looks to make himself the center of attention whenever possible. The "retirement" press conference that he held yesterday is no different. No one thought he was coming back to play for the Heat or anyone else. Last Decemeber, Zo tore his knee all to pieces in a game against the Hawks. After the game, when asked why he refused to be stretchered off the court he replied, "That's not the way I envisioned myself walking off the court for the last time in my career." Does that sound like a guy who might not be coming back? Nope. Especially not when he told everyone with a microphone or a pen during last preseason that he retiring at the end of last season regardless of its outcome. Again, I get that his overcoming health problems is noteworthy. But this guy is a bad dude. He bailed on the Nets because he wasn't immediately put into the starting lineup after returning from his first retirement and then never reported to Toronto after being traded. And this was after the guy openly campaigned to be shipped out of town! When he has wanted to play then he has played at a very high level but he has shown zero professionalism when he wasn't in a situation that he deemed acceptable. Good riddance.

Thursday's Starting Five

1. David Lee. The third-year forward out of Florida is sure making things awkward between him and Knicks President Donnie Walsh. The soon-to-be restricted free agent has been producing numbers at an All-Star clip and only making it less likely by the night that the Knicks will be able to retain him after the close of the season. With 25 points and 16 rebounds last night, Lee is averaging 15.4 points per game and 11.4 rebounds. He's fourth in the Association in bounds per game and fifth in field goal percentage. He's recorded 30 double-doubles in 41 games and at least 10-10 in 13 of his last 14. A lot of this has to do with the 34.9 minutes he is averaging a night (57th in the league) and the speed-freak nature of the Knicks play (they average 86.2 possessions, which is 2nd most per game), but that doesn't really matter in the end. The numbers are what they are. And the better Lee plays and the better the Knicks get the more likely it is that someone offers him a contract the Knicks just can't match when the season is over.

2. Jets Fans. I almost don't even want to write or talk about the way that new Jets coach Rex Ryan makes me feel. My feelings are too pure and embarrassingly unfettered by world-weariness to share. It's like something I felt on a Saturday afternoon during the spring of eighth grade when I was riding my bike to my girlfriend's house to fool around even though my mom thought I was going to my friend Erich's house to play video games and watch Days of Thunder on Laser Disc. I'm excited, nervous, proud, secretive yet wanting to tell everybody where I'm going. Needless to say, Ryan's introductory press conference impressed me. I'm smitten. He projected more toughness then I've seen from any member of this team in as long as I can remember. He's bold and loud and proud of the work he's done in Baltimore and comes across as confident that he can duplicate that tenacity here. Even better, he's actually got a positive connection to this club. Ryan's father. the legendary Buddy Ryan, was the Linebackers Coach of the Jets from 1968-1975. Buddy was here for the Jets' lone triumph and Rex, who was just a kid when Namath and co. won Super Bowl 3, might actually be the only coaching candidate that we could have hired who in his deepest core doesn't think of the Jets as perennial losers. While I still think that Mangini got a raw deal from Woody Johnson, I couldn't imagine being happier about the coaching situation.

3. Antawn Jamison. Washington Wizards Interim Head Coach Ed Tapscott remarked that a day without Jamison is like a day without sun. And for the Wizards that is the truth. They would wither on the vine without this guy. Or, they would wither worse. The Wiz picked up their ninth win of the season thanks to 33 points from Jamison. In the last five Wizards wins, Jamison has scored 33, 28, 26, 30 and 29 points.

4. Jeff Green. It's always Kevin Durant this. Or Russell Westbrook that. And whether Lo Pan should send Clay Bennett to the chamber of grinding or the chamber of tongue ripping. Rarely do we hear about Green. And, we should. I mean those other three topics of conversation are also interesting, but Green is the calm center of the OKC universe. Durant is the mercurial superstar in the making. He's long, lean and more physically gifted than Green. But, Green seems like the 1a star who really decides how far a team can ever go. He's the guy that keeps Durant from becoming Elgin Baylor or Tracy McGrady and gives him a chance to become Magic Johnson. Green's averaging more than 16 points and 6 boards (a team high) per night in his second season out of Georgetown. Last night, Green knocked down a turnaround buzzer beater to lift the StolenSonics over the Warriors. It's worth noting that the play was run out of a timeout. It was run for Green. Not Durant.

5. Andruw Bynum. When you actually go back and look at the box scores you notice that Andrew Bynum only became a safe bet to top 15 points during the last twenty games that he played last season before going down with a knee injury. Bynum had size. He had observable ball skills. But he hadn't actually done anything until he went for 10+ points in 15 of the last 17 games he played last season. There were five 20+ point games during that stretch. And, then Bynum messed up his knee. Two things happened when he went down with that injury. He somehow became the second-highest regarded young BIG in the league (after Dwight Howard but shockingly before Al Jefferson) and he defied the nature of time, as his "six-week" recovery last more than six months. Last night Bynum got off for 42 points against the Clippers (w/o Camby and Kaman). He finally looked like the player who got all the hype.