Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Meet the First-Place Mets

It's April and the standings are not particularly significant (unless, you're talking about the 4-16 Baltimore Orioles). But first place is still nice. Especially after the entire civilized world had written this team's obituary following a lackluster start to the season.

The Metsies have now won six on the bounce and eight of nine. They've got one more with the visiting Dodgers before heading down the NJ Turnpike for a weekend series with the Phillies.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Slowtime

The No. 1 seed Los Angeles Lakers - the franchise of Magic, Kareem, Worthy and AC - scored just 2 fastbreak points in their Game 4 loss to Kevin Durant and the No. 8 seed Oklahoma City Stolensonics.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Father of Turner Davis

In May 1995, Lawrence "Chipper" Jones hit the first home run of his Major League career. It came against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. Bret Saberhagen started the game for the home team, but the homer came off reliever Josias Manzanillo in the top of the ninth. And it was a game-winner. Surprised? Not if you're a Mets fan.

Chipper is to the Mets as Reggie Miller is to the Knicks. Except, unlike Miller, Chipper's team actually came out on top in most of their crucial encounters with the Mets. Which I guess could make Chipper more like Michael Jordan than Miller. But that doesn't really work either because Chipper's Braves usually came up short after getting past the Mets, unlike Jordan's Bulls, who won championships after outlasting the Knicks. So, in that regard, maybe, Chipper is like Jim Kelly and the Braves were the Buffalo Bills of the Major Leagues. But, I digress. Regardless of which provincial rival you pair him with there is no doubting that he was the Mets' nemesis. Jimmy Rollins ain't got nothing on Chipper.

In 731 at-bats over more than a decade of playing against the Mets, Chipper has hit for a .321 average, gotten on base. 42 percent of the time and slugged .560. He's got 42 home runs, 235 hits and 134 RBI. He's even got 20 steals, while he's got no more than 14 against any other team. I don't have the breakdown, but it just feels 50 of those hits put his team ahead.

In 1998, Chipper raked at a .356 clip against the Mets and in 2000 he hit for a .395 average against his northern rivals. But both those seasons pale in comparison to what he did against the Metsies in 1999. Chipper hit an even .400 against the Mets during the regular season with a .510 on-base percentage and a 1.000 slugging percentage. He hit 7 and notched 16 RBI in 12 regular-season games. And then the Braves topped the Mets in the NLCS.

Fully aware of his dominance against the Mets, particularly at Shea Stadium, Chipper famously named his third son after the Mets' home field. Shea Jones was born on August 30, 2004.

In the first game between the Mets and Braves this season, the 38-year-old (as of Saturday) switch-hitting third baseman who still lets other grownups refer to him as Chipper opened the scoring in the third with a two-out RBI single to right. Even on rookie sensation Jason Heyward's first trip to Flushing, Chipper was still the one getting it done for the Braves.

With Heyward scuffling in his Citi debut and the Braves staked to a 1-0 lead thanks to Chipper, another rookie put his stamp on this game. And hopefully this rivalry. Leading off the bottom of the fifth, the Mets' first-year first baseman, Ike Davis, crushed an offering from Braves pitcher Kenshin Kawakami, sending the ball well over the wall in right-center field, over the bullpens and onto the Shea Bridge. The homer was estimated at 450 feet, but that distance will grow by feets and bounds and yards and country miles if Davis can develop into a bona fide star. If he can one day be to the Braves what Chipper was to the Mets, a nemesis.

After being pulled even by Davis' big fly, the Mets went ahead, 3-2, on back-to-back triples by Jose Reyes and Jason Bay and a deep sac fly by David Wright in the bottom of the sixth. The Bravos pulled back a run in the top of the seventh, but the Mets did them one better by scoring two in the bottom half of the frame.

The runs came largely because Chipper dropped a routine pop fly from Reyes with Angel Pagan and Luis Castillo on base. Reyes popped up to the left side of the infield and the infield fly rule was called. But Chipper whiffed on the catch, and after much confusio the ball (by way of catcher Brian McCann) as well Reyes ended up going to first. Problem for the Braves was that Reyes was out as soon as the infield fly rule was called. Once McCann sent the ball towards first, Pagan broke home for the first run. Castillo advanced on the return throw home and then came around to score on a single from Wright.

After all of these years, Chipper improbably gave us a game back. We're not even. Not by a longshot, but I'll take it. And it got me wondering if there was some sort of passing of the torch going on here. Not from Chipper to Heyward. Or even Chipper to Wright. But from Chipper to Davis.

Could Chipper's error coupled with Davis' mammoth maiden longball represent some sort of changing of the guard? Chipper's first homer came against the Mets and Davis' first came against the Braves. And it came in a game when Chipper muffed a routine play on the day before his 38th birthday. Maybe with the sun setting on Chipper, the Mets will finally have the corner infielder that owns this NL East matchup. Perhaps Davis will head down to Turner Field in Atlanta and tear the cover off the ball. Perhaps Davis will be player that defines this rivalry for the next decade.

Perhaps when Ike Davis settles down with a nice Jewish girl and prepares to become a father he'll feel compelled to name his son after the Braves' ballpark.

Turner Davis does have a good ring to it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Curious Incident of the Knicks in the Prime-Numbered Season

The Knicks opened the month of January with consecutive wins over the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Bobcats. After a tight 97-93 win over Larry Brown's club, the Knicks - with a 15-20 record - were tied for eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and a half game behind the seventh-place Bobcats. The Hawks were rolling towards Jamal Crawford's first-ever playoff game and the Pacers were on a collision course for Midwestern collegiate phenom Evan Turner.

Charlotte's Stephen Jackson reminded reporters that the Knicks hadn't snagged their playoff spot with the win whereas the Associated Press report of the game made certain to mention that the Knicks' win earned them a potentially important split of the season series.

A funny thing happened on the way to the playoffs, though. The wheels came off. The defensive intensity, or at least, defensive activity, that fueled the Knicks' December-into-January hot streak disappeared quicker than those the 2010 glasses in the windows of all the souvenir shops in midtown. By the third week of January both were gone.

The Knicks went on to outpace the Pacers in the race for the ping pong balls. Sort of. After all, the Knicks' lottery pick belongs to the Utah Jazz. The Bobcats never needed to worry about the season series with the Knickerbockers. On the bright side, Crawford has finally lost the ignominious distinction of being the longest-tenured player without a playoff minute.

In a deluge of losses, the 2009-2010 Knicks season concluded. 53 losses. 29 wins. Four players remaining under contract. Space for two max-contract players. Zero picks in the upcoming draft.

So much of sports is numbers and arithmetic. Point totals. Shooting percentages. Two beers per person per trip to the concession stand.

29 wins against 53 losses. Both are prime numbers. The have no factors save themselves and zero. In other words, there aren't a lot of ways to create those two integers. Just like there aren't a lot of ways to end up with a 29-53 record.

"Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away," Mark Haddon wrote in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. "I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them."

True to Haddon's words about prime numbers, this just-wrapped Knicks season, with it's prime numbered wins and losses will never stop seeming logical, perhaps even inevitable. Yet, for me, it may also remain impossible to decipher or reduce to patterns or root causes.

Of course, the team was this bad this season. I mean, that was sort of the plan, I guess, as club president Donnie Walsh made getting under the salary cap heading into this July a higher priority than getting into the playoffs this June. Actually, it may not have been the "plan," but it was the accepted cost of future flexibility. And this was neither a secret nor the wrong thing to do.

When recalling the personnel moves of Isiah Thomas, the way that Lenny Wilkens was shuffled off to a coach's hospice even though he'd wrung a .500 record from this club, the Allan Houston Rule being used to waive Jerome Williams, Mike Sweetney's expanding waistline then 29-53 couldn't seem more matter of fact.

When I think about the Knickerbocker monies being paid to attorneys to refute charges that Eddy Curry sexually assaulted some dude who drove a car for him, the poorly-handled divorce with prodigal son Stephon Marbury, the swapping of Trevor Ariza for Steve Francis, and the underreported theory that Jerome James ate Michael Sweetney then 29-53 couldn't seem more matter of fact.

Of course the Knicks were going to be bad in 2009-2010. There was no other way. No multiple versions of this season that cold have been. No mitigating factors. No alternatives. This was one season indivisible except for by itself. Prime. And time and patience were the only salves.

But then I think about December and those first three wins in January and wonder how did they accrue those 53 losses? What rhyme and/or reason was there to the cavalcade of near-misses and barely-trieds? Why did they win so many games in December only to look so bad in January? Why did this group of players and coaches fail to turn up when they had the most reason to put forth maximum effort? Qyntel Woods and Jackie Butler weren't playing in February. Fred Jones wasn't getting minutes just because the coach knew him from Indiana in March. By then Lee was an All-Star. By then this group had shown themselves capable of contending for a playoff berth.

When faced with these questions, I cannot figure out how this core group of players and coaches couldn't do better in the second half. I can't figure out why they descended into darkness while the Bobcats, Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks all stayed the course in the second half.

How did head coach Mike D'Atoni misplace Toney Douglas for so long during the season? Why did Chris Duhon prove imminently incapable of duplicating the sort of effort that he gave in the Knicks win in his hometown of New Orleans? How did Al Harrington go from the team's leading scorer to being an afterthought? Why could Gallo go shot-for-shot with Carmelo Anthony yet seem unable to match that gaunt Turkish guy on the Bucks? How did David Lee's stellar offensive numbers not translate into more wins?

When thinking about these things then the 29-53 tally is as inscrutable to me as the Nazca Lines. There must be some larger pattern or significance, but I cannot see it. Why did it have to be this way? Why was there no other choice? What is 23-59 the product of?

I feel this season has left me like Christopher, the autistic teenaged protagonist in Curious, who stumbles upon a twisted family secret while invesigtating the murder of his neighbor's poodle.

This isn't what I wanted. And, I don't mean that I didn't want the losing. I can handle the losing. I can take pride in rooting for a loser. What I didn't want was lack of emotional investment. I just wanted to watch some basketball games. I used to go with my dad, uncle and grandfather. We'd hope somebody would mess with Charles Oakley and that Mark Jackson could find Patrick on the break. Yet, know I've lost emotional ties to these games. It's become too binary. Win. Loss. 23. 59.

There wasn't righteous indignation like in year's past. It was inevitable but impossible to explain away. They just won sometimes. And lost nearly twice as many other times. No rhyme. No reason. But totally obviously the only way. Curious...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Mudita

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday's Starting Five

1. Trader Mike Tannenbaum. The general manager of the New York Jets has done it again. And by "it" I mean aggressively improved the talent level of his team by swiping a risk-reward player from another team for a pittance. At this point, he's like a portly and balding wholesome-seeming but ruthless Kansas City shuffler (played with a southern accent and a cloying wink-and-nudge sense of humor by John Goodman) that a down-on-his luck protagonist in a Coen Brothers movie might be flim flammed by during an "anyone sitting here, partner" lunch at the White Mana on Route 9 in Jersey City.
Golly, you know what? You're right, Pittsburgh. This is just too bad about these troublemakers. You really should hold onto them, though, you've got a good squad. Even if your fans are turning on you... What? The talk radio guys are giving you a hard time. Mercy me (pats lightly perspiring forehead with a ketchup stained napkin), well I guess you're right. Like you said before, you might have to get rid of that Super Bowl MVP. Oh, you didn't say that? Pay me know mind then, I pay too much attention to all the rumors. Everyone is saying that any upstanding Christian organization would have already dropped him. Yeah. That's what they're saying. What choice do you have? Trust me, I hear you. It's the right move. You can't do that to your city. Not those loyal fans. No way, sir. Well, yeah. Of course. It would be different if he were a quarterback.

And you know what? I probably shouldn't... Oh boy, Mr. Johnson is gonna be sore at me for this. But I sympathize. I really do. I've got kids. What if you send me Holmes? We'll figure out something to do with him. What? Not sure. But in such a big city he can fly under the radar. And with so many Jews and Muslims here, it's not like it is in Pittsburgh. You've got a responsibility to the community. Yeah, we can just put him on the scout team keep him out of trouble. And, we should probably give you a draft pick or the bookkeepers will just kill me on this deal. It's hard enough to get down to 53 on the rosters without taking on dead weight like Holmes. How about an eighth rounder just we don't end up bringing another guy aboard? You want a seventh? You know what, since I know you're in such a bind, I'll send a fifth rounder. Boy, I'm gonna get raked over the coals for this. But I know what a roll of bad luck you guys are on. Trust me. We've been there. I'm just trying to do right by enough people so that we can get our own karma turned around. You ever watch that
My Name is Earl show? Sorta like that. I always thought that Earl's brother coulda been a lineman. Now there's a nice white boy that doesn't seem like he'd be a character risk. I'll see if I can get some one to put him in touch with your staff.
On Sunday night, while most people were waking up from their Masters-induced nap or waiting breathlessly for the results of the Sanitation Jones' football score (we won), the Jets acquired 2009 Super Bowl MVP Santanio Holmes from the Pittsburgh Steelers for a fifth-round pick in the upcoming draft. The 26-year-old Holmes is currently dealing with accusations that he threw a glass at a young lady at a bar and has been on the wrong side of the NFL's substance abuse policy (there's a four-game suspension coming at the start of the 2010 season) but he's caught wheels, paws and the toes for important game-winning catches on sidelines and/or goal lines. Tanny is preying on his colleagues' public relations problems with a instinctual relentless that deserves its own Life episode.

2. Barcelona. Fresh off their 4-1 thrashing of Arsenal in the second leg of the Champions League quarters, the Catalans took the pitch against blood rivals Real Madrid in the latest installment of El Clasico. Madrid was unbeaten at home when the game kicked off at the Bernabeu and both were teams were tied atop the league standings with just seven additional games to play after this tie. And true to Maradona's recent claim that Barca's Messi "is playing a kick-about with Jesus," the diminutive Argentine forward netted his 40th goal of the year to open the scoring in the 33rd minute. Pedro would add a score in the second half to provide the 2-0 score line. Barcelona is now three points clear and owns the season series. Although the impossible trophy haul of last year has eluded them, Barca is coming down the stretch of the European and domestic seasons looking as dominant as they have at any point during this campaign.

3. Boston College Hockey. The Eagles flew skated circles around the Wisconsin Badgers to wrap up their fourth national championship Saturday night on a makeshift rink at Ford Field in Detroit before the largest crowd to watch an indoor hockey game. For the upperclassmen it was the second national title of their stay on the Heights and it was the third crown for coach Jerry York, as classy and understated a guy as you'll ever see on the sidelines of a collegiate contest. A typically speedy and undersized Eagles squad, tore through the top-ranked Miami (Ohio) squad in the semifinals before toppling the Badgers.

4. The Chicago Bulls. As Knicks, Mets and Jets fan, I consider myself a connoisseur of good games between bad teams. And yesterday's Bulls @ Raptors had all the makings (just like the Rangers @ Flyers). Two teams enter. One team leaves with a great chance of reaching the playoffs. With just a handful of games remaining these two took the floor in the Canada in a flat-footed tie for the eighth spot in the East. The Bulls, buoyed by the return of Joakim Noah from a foot injury were surging. The Raptors, deflated by Chris Bosh's face injury were reeling. Both trends continued. The affair was tight early but Chicago took control with a 26-17 third quarter. They now control their own destiny in the season's final week. For the purists out there, this is also a test to see if a sub. 500 team can reach the playoffs yet again in the East.

5. Roy Halladay. The longtime Blue Jays frontman and erstwhile Phillies ace take his nickname "Doc" from renowned Wild West gambler and mustache wax enthusiast Doc Holiday. And based on his first two starts of the season I cannot do anything but recommend betting the money line on Halladay every time he takes the hill this year. If the guy gets 34 starts then the Phillies will win 25 of those games. Heck, Halladay may even get 25 decisions himself based on the way he's looked thus far. The payout will be in the -250 range but just take the free money and up your bets with each successive win (dropping the wager back to its original amount after each loss). It's not a sexy bet. But just do it once or twice weekly as the rotation allows for the next few months and then send me a nice Sam Goody gift card after the season. Halladay went the distance yesterday as the Phils edged the Astros. It was Halladay's second sterling effort in two tries.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gallo Versus the C's

In Boston, the Celtics are affectionately reffered to as the "C's" and the NHL's Bruins as the "B's." The nicknames, in each case, are clearly derived from the first letter of each franchise's team name. There may be a lot of prestigious universities for book learnin' in the Hub but nobody has ever accused the locals of being particularly clever or level-headed up there when it comes to sports.

But, I digress. While watching the Knicks take on the Celtics this season (and last), the petulant antics of Kevin Garnett have made me think of another C-word. Not Celtics. But another C-word. With four not six letters. And, last night was no different.

The Big Ticket kept on and keeping on with his tired, highly-orchestrated and generally-in-the-direction-of-a-TV-camera demonstrations of "intensity" while counter intuitively appearing genuinely angered by anyone who attempted to play the game with similar measures of violence and energy. How dare you play assign a foe to guard me! Zounds! What nerve of another man to mix sweat with mine. Apparently scowling and hand checking are his toys. Not yours. Or Danilo Gallinari's.

I hate harping on this (aside from the fact that I don't want to seem petty for taking non-hoops digs at a better team) because I rooted for Garnett in Minny all those years. When Sprewell landed in the Twin Cities I was following the T-Wolves through the myriad twists and turns of that above-ground skyway they got out there. But he's really become both a caricature and a whiner. And a Cunt. There, I said it. I feel better.

Garnett repeatedly tried to intimidate Gallo and sent a few cheap shots his way after plays were over. Thankfully, like he has shown a penchant for doing for the past few months, Gallo was fired up and not felled by the grandstanding. He chirped back. And he got aggressive on offense, scoring 19 of his 31 points in the third quarter.


Particularly impressive was his game-winning bucket in the final minute. Boston foiled (quite easily) the Knicks' attempt to run a pick and roll for David Lee, forcing Billy Walker into a poor three-point shot. Clang. Lee industriously grabbed the offensive board and kicked it to Gallo. Unselfishly, the young Italian looked to get the ball back into Lee. But Lee slowed him up and came to the top of the key to set a screen. Bank. Game. It wasn't the prettiest shot. Or what the coach drew up. But Lee and Gallo made it work. Both showed their selflessness on the play.


Although everyone has known for some time that Gallo could bank in knock down buckets from deep, he's been trying to amp up his rep on the other side of the ball down the stretch. The last stop of the game provides a glimpse of his desire and attention if not his skill at defending. Just like Boston knew the Knicks were going to try to get the ball from Toney Douglas to Lee on a PNR on their last play, New York knows that the ball is looking for Ray Allen as Boston tries to prolong the game. Gallo denies the ball nicely and Rasheed Wallace ends up taking a bad-looking three at the buzzer.

Putting aside the fact that the buzzer was sounding, the Celtics likely wouldn't have come down with the board like the Knicks just had when forced into a bad three of their own. The Celtics hadn't been getting to many of the key boards or loose balls for some time. This was largely thanks to Lee and D-League call-up Earl Barron. When asked about Barron after the game, Gallo reveals just how his stature and comfort level have grown. He lights up like a proud father when Tina broaches the subject of his teammate's performance and even jokes that Barron's time overseas helped prepare him. The way that he carries himself off the court and goes right back at veteran bullies like Garnett shows that Gallo thinks of himself as a superstar.

Goose Vs. Gander

Knicks and Pacers Don't Know What's Good For Them

Last night the Knicks strange on-and-off-and-on-again road trip took them to a sparsely-populated Canseco Field House in Indianapolis for the second game in two nights. Both the Pacers and the Knicks came into the contest, and the final stretch of the regular season, within hailing distance of 30 wins.

The Knicks should want to reach that plateau. The Pacers should not. Because the Knicks do not have possession of their draft pick in the upcoming draft. The Pacers do. The Knicks "core" players are looking to prove themselves as the team goes into an uncertain offseason. The Pacers "core" will likely remain intact for at least another year.

What was good for the goose Knicks was not necessarily helpful for the ganderPacers . But nobody seemed to inform the teams of the circumstances in which they were playing. Perhaps had their been a few more fans in attendance then someone might have passed along the message.

The Pacers, winners of 7 of their last 9 heading into the game, came out like gangbusters. Which, I guess, would mean the Knicks came out like gangsters. Insofar as they were being busted. The Pacers stormed out to a 26-12 lead thanks to Danny Granger's sharpshooting and Roy Hibbert's interior presence. They would stretch that lead to as many 20 points before the half. The only positive that the Knicks had early was the fact that it didn't look like Mike Dunleavy was going to set a new career high. Granger or Hibbert, though, looked to have a shot.

Coming off Tuesday night's exciting win over the Celtics, that took place at the Garden and was followed up by a late flight, Knicks' early lack of focus early on was understandable. Or, at least, it was easily rationalized.

But was the Pacers diving-into-the-stands intensity? This season is a lost one for them, yet they are playing their best ball right now. Each day they cede another ping pong ball to the Utah Jazz.

Other Thoughts, Observations and Things Left Unsaid:
-Despite their sluggish start, the Knicks could have won this game late. It was all tied up well into the fourth, but the Knicks couldn't close the deal.
-Part of the reason that they couldn't close the deal is that Bill Walker and Toney Douglas combined for more fourth quarter shots than David Lee and Danilo Gallinari. I don't know whether to credit Walker for being so energetic given the team's grueling travel schedule or to lambast him for not knowing his role. And, as far as Douglas, he showed that he hasn't sacrificed his big shot ambitions(which served him well in college and at every other stage of his hoops life) in order to more effectively get a team of professionals through a key possession.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Knicks Can Bring Out Best in Worst

During the first quarter of Sunday night’s Knicks-at-Clippers game, MSG (and ESPN) play-by-play man Mike Breen—who was impressively working a personal doubleheader at the Staples Center after calling the Spurs-Lakers do-sa-do earlier that afternoon—noted that the Clips were playing far tougher defense than was normally their style.

And, they were.

For a team that was allowing north of 100 points per contest and had one of the worst point differentials in the league, Los Angeles was playing pugnacious defense. They were guarding tightly, denying the ball, getting hands into passing lanes and contesting shots. The Knicks weren’t penetrating this defense and opened up 4 for 13 from the field. They had a shot blocked and a pass stolen en route to an early 8-18 deficit.

Were the Clippers this good? Nope.

Were the Knicks this bad? Well, maybe. But that’s not the point. (Nor is it that the Knicks dug out of that early hole and won the game.) I was watching and thinking about Breen’s astute comment about the Clips being unusually feisty. It seemed a recurrent thing all season long. Even the Raptors gave a solid defensive effort agianst the Knicks.

Do the Knicks bring out the best in bad teams? I say, yes.

Before I even begin, let me clarify that I am fully aware how far off the scent this current group of Knickerbockers has gotten. They are not consistent on offense or defense. They do not always open games with acceptable intensity. Or close them with necessary urgency. They’ve alternately lacked interest and seemed overstimulated (Toney Douglas, I’m looking at you). Over the course of the season, it’s been a poor showing. None of what I’m about to say refutes or rationalize that.

In fact, the notion that other bad teams get up to play the Knicks is predicated on the notion that everyone knows just how poorly the Knicks have played this year and in seasons past. It’s not unusual to hear about talented teams playing down to bad competition and we’ve seen he Knicks play up to a handful of playoff teams this year, with the win over Denver being the latest example.

Now, I’d like to submit for your consideration, the notion of bad teams getting up to play other bad teams. I don't think this is particularly original but I do think that it is relevant to this Knicks season. Struggling teams, that recognize their own ineptitude, realize that a visit to or from the 2009-2010 Knickerbockers represents one of a limited number of winnable games in any given stretch.

We’ve seen this idea come to life whenever the woeful Nets have played the Knicks this season. For a team that made hallmarks of confusion while shunning cohesion, the Nets have looked downright focused and keyed up whenever they take the floor against the Knicks. Two of their 11 wins have come against the blue and orange.

While the other bad teams out in the league think “Hey, we can beat these guys” when they play the Knicks, Mike D’Antoni’s club has been telling itself “Hey, we can beat anybody.”

And, while that may be true it has distracted them from making the most of their meager talents. And their own winnable games against crappy teams. By no means is this an above average group but had they gotten amped up to play the lesser teams in the league in the same manner that the lesser teams have gotten amped up to beat them then they could surely be vying for a playoff spot with Charlotte, Milwaukee and Toronto rather than jockeying for (or against) ping pong balls with Indiana, Minnesota and the rest of the lottery teams.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

David Abdul JaLee

The Knicks lost to the Warriors on Friday night because they were outscored 31-19 in the second quarter. They won the rest of the game by a point but couldn't overcome the walloping that Don Nelson's track team gave them in the second.

David Lee had 9 points 4 rebounds and an assist in that second quarter while his teammates combined for just 10 points, 8 boards and 3 dimes. And, it's worth noting that two of those three assists were converted into buckets by Lee.

The rest of the team didn't play markedly better in the other three periods but, remarkably, Lee did. He finished the regulation-length game with a staggering tally of 37 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 1 blocked shot. He accomplished this triple double while sparing two minutes of playing time for sitting on the bench to argue with the mysterious Earl of Barron about the best spot to get some dim sum in Oakland after the game.

The last player to post a 35/20/10 game was Kareem Abdul Jabbar in March 1976. Kareem also notched one such game in 1972. George McInnis, who managed to snag an ABA MVP Award away from Doctor J in the mid-70s also managed a game like this one time. But all three of those efforts came before the merger of the NBA and the ABA. Which means that Lee is the first person with a 35/20/10 in the "modern" NBA.

I'll admit that may seem a needless qualification when talking about something that only two other dudes ever pulled off, but it's one that I'll make all the same since someone (or, more likely, someones) will write off this statistical accomplishment because it came in Oakland against the uptempo Warriors. I'll pre-emptively remind the skeptics that Kareem's Lakers were putting up 106.9 per night during the 1975-76 season while allowing 106.8 the last time this feat was accomplished. Lee's 2009-10 Knicks are below that output and allowance while this year's Warriors are only a few points above in each category.

From the outset of the Donnie Walsh era it's been widely noted that Lee is expendable if the team can acquire max-contract talent during the summer of 2010. And, I agree that he should be. But, his well-known dead-Knick-walking status has undermined his stature among casual fans and has obscured how much he's really developed since Walsh took over.

Lee may still be on his way out of town. But he's a better That midrange jumper wasn't there a few years ago. It wasn't there last year. Neither was the ability to pass the ball or get the team into its offense from the top of the arc. People still think of him as the hardworking rebounder that he was early in his career but he's as versatile an offensive big man as there is in the East.When he has every reason to be playing for himself, Lee has dished out 53 assists from the center position in his last 12 games. The guy may still not be able to defend a seven footer in the pivot but he looks to have a shot at an All-Star spot for the next five years.

Had Lee been drafted two spots earlier in the 2005 draft by the Spurs, three spots earlier by the Blazers or five spots earlier by the Sonics then he's likely already been signed to a long-term extension and is a franchise cornerstone. And, he might even have a championship ring.

But he was drafted out of Florida with the 30th selection of the 2005 NBA draft into the NBA's most dysfunctional family by Isiah Thomas. Since then, he has been written off despite being consistently written about by the media in the Big Apple. The rest of the country's healthy anti-New York bias thas kept outsiders from beleiving in him and our internal dreams of free agent signings have led us to take him for granted.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Indignity

Two nights ago, I was sitting in a bar on northeastern edge of Midtown. I was drinking cans of PBR at the bargain price of $2 per. I was with two friends from high school. And we were discussing the indignity of being dunked on. None of our merry (and not particularly tall) band has inflicted this minor humiliation upon another. Nor dunked anything save for Oreos, donuts and the occasional kangaroo-shaped cookie. But two out of the three of us had been dunked on - or at least dunked around. I'd most recently been dunked on last summer and one of the other two expected to have someone throw down on him in a corporate tournament that he was playing in next week.

Running the risk of failure, and even the embarrassment of getting posterized at the park, is key to sporting competition. Because by running such a risk you give yourself the opportunity to experience victory, to tower above (metaphorically if not literally) an opponent in your own moment of glory. All wins must come at the expense of a loser. Don't forget that. I know that I won't. Because my teams (Knicks, Mets, Jets) have so often been on the wrong side of this winner-loser dyad.

Last night, the Portland Trailblazers enjoyed a few special moments at the expense of Mike D'Antoni's New York Knickerbockers.

With a merciless 90-118 thrashing of their visitors, the Blazers clinched a playoff berth for the second straight season. This contest was over before the first quarter was through. Behind the aggressive play of Brandon Roy, the outside shooting touch of Nicolas Batum and the inside-out game of Lamarcus Aldrige, the Blazers were running off with this contest as fast as the restrictions of the 24-second shot clock allowed. The Blazers led by 11 points after one quarter and 27 points at the half. With 34 points in the second quarter, the Blazers were one point shy of matching the Knicks' total output for the half (they were four points shy in the first).

Some would say that the Knicks' "dunked on" moment of the game would have been the second-quarter ally-oop slams by Martell Webster or Aldridge. Others might say that it was the thunderous dunk by Roy over Lee in the second half. I would disagree. Because the most indicative play of the game may have been the alley-oops layup by Juwan Howard that came shortly before the aforementioned dunks by Webster and Aldridge.

With the Knicks trailing, 26-42, nearly halfway through the second, Blazers point guard Steve Blake send a long arcing pass to (another Blazers point guard) Rudy Fernandez in the corner. The Spaniard quickly lobbed a ball across the rim towards the 37-year-old Howard who was running out of the opposite corner towards the rim along the baseline. Howard stutter steps to get his feet set for a leap but quickly realizes he hasn't had those sort of hops since Everclear were rocking the Rose City more than a decade ago. So he gathers himself, corrals the ball and lays it in. The only thing as big as the smile on Howard's face as he lumbers back up the court is his team's ever-expanding lead. Howard shoots Fernandez a look like "son, who did you think that you were throwing that to?" And Fernandez just laughs and shakes his head. It's one thing to get dunked on by Roy or Alridge but it's another to have teams throwing ally-oops to dudes that get "Over the Hill" novelty balloons on their birthday.

All of that being said, Roy's dunk over Lee is worth a look.