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.