Tuesday, November 30, 2010

El Thrashico

Barcelona Routs Real Madrid, 5-0

Regardless of the language or locale, sports fans speak in hyperbole.

Greatest. Le plus grand. Most. La mayoria. Ever. ├╝berhaupt.

The demands of the 24-hour news cycle and the voracious metabolism of the Interwebs further fortify the belief among sports fans that everything that happened today is more awesome and more significant than whatever happened yesterday. Just ask Bill Simmons. I guess this urge is sort of why every generation thinks that the world is likely to end during their own lifetime. Because, after all, how could anything that world-historic happen on someone else's watch?

Well, when it comes to last night's 5-0 thrashing of Spanish Giant Real Madrid by Catalan powerhouse Barcelona the hyperbole may be justified. This 2010 edition of el Clasico featured two sides with arguably the greatest players ever assembled on one field and may have been the most resounding triumph ever in the storied rivalry between the two dominant sides of La Liga.

Greatest. Le plus grand. Most. La mayoria. Ever. ├╝berhaupt. If someone goes and tells Simmons then maybe we'll get a retro preview.

On the field for Barcelona were 2009 FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, likely 2010 Ballon D'Or winner Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Villa, Carlos Puyol and various members from the Spanish side that won the 2010 World Cup as well as the 2008 Euros. Madrid sent out 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, high-priced starlets Mesut Ozil and Karim Benzema, as well as Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas from the Spanish National Team. Virtually every key player from the world's dominant national squad was on the pitch at Barcelona's Camp Nou with Messi and Sexy Ronaldo added to the mix, not to mention international standouts like Ricardo Carvalho (Real/Portugal), Dani Alves (Barca/Brazil) and Eric Abidal (Barca/France).

Heading into the match, Real Madrid sat atop the standings in La Liga and were undefeated through a dozen games, but in the biggest match of their domestic season the Catalans were artful and ruthless, revealing Camp Nou as the true source for recent Spanish dominance. The mesmeric tikka-takka passing game that made Spain's recent ascendance such a pleasure for football purists around the world was largely honed in the Barcelona youth academy that produced so many of these players.

If the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Miami Heat on national television on Christmas day by a score of 128-79 then perhaps it would approximate the resounding nature of this victory. But most likely not. And even though we'd all be certain to call such a Lakers result the greatest ever. It wouldn't be. Because of El Thrashico.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ronny Turiaf is the Baking Soda in the Knicks' Recipe For Success

The kitchen at WWOD? Headquarters is occasionally mangled and messed by my amateur gastronomy. And, not to brag, but I've been known to come up just short of the medal round in various local cooking competitions. In those situations, well-intentioned strangers are almost uniformly complimentary. Although I may not ready to host an episode of Cafeteria Fraiche, I've got a few staples down pretty good, including a delectable Chili con Cornbread (which is my signature chili with a layer of cornbread baked right on top).

With Thanksgiving upon us, food and cooking are frequent topics of conversation. Being non-denominational, gift-free and focused almost exclusively on gluttonous self-indulgence (with a heaping helping of football), Thanksgiving is threatening to pass Halloween as my favorite holiday.

Perhaps the only unsavory aspect of the very well-seasoned and toothsome day, at least in my family, is the annual question controversy of who will prepare what dishes for the big extended family sit-down feast. Who makes the stuffing? Is grandma cooking the turkey? If not, who is breaking the news to her? What about a ham? How many pies can we be expected to eat and compliment? What happens if an aunt shows up with a goat cheese salad that nobody really wants to dig into after it spent better than two hours in the car on the way over? And, most importantly, were any of these items cooked around nuts of any sort? Great Sacagawea's Ghost, let there not be nuts in that pecan pie!

Despite any delusions of Altonesque proficiency simmering in my soul, I've volunteered to not cook anything this year to help keep the peace. Aside from the obvious bonus of not having to spend Thanksgiving morning figuring out how to transport various foodtsuffs across statelines, I also am spared the first-bite fear of screwing up a recipe. It's one thing to cook something mediocre for myself or for a few friends who came over on a Sunday to watch football and drink beer, but it's another to explain to my grandmother why my pie crust isn't flaky or there seems to be too much salt and not enough celery in the stuffing.

When dealing with a recipe that calls for more than a dozen ingredients in various weights and measures it almost always seems like it's the one or two things that are barley used at all can wreak the most havoc if misused or forgotten. Add 5 tablespoons of butter instead of 4? No problem. Run a 1/4 cup short of the 4 cups of flour? Don't sweat it. But if you forget that 1 teaspoon of baking soda then you might as well do everyone a favor and immolate whatever you're cooking in a cleansing house fire. Because somehow that relatively minuscule quantity of that tasteless ingredient somehow means the difference between success and failure regardless of the artisinal quality of every other scrumptious ingredient.

Even though it's almost always used in small quantities, bread won't rise without baking soda and your cake won't be fluffy. Your cookie dough won't expand while it's baking on its cookie sheet and your shortbread may end up tall and un-crumbly. Despite not tasting good and seeming more chemical than culinary, baking soda allows all the other ingredients to shine. As I've watched the Knicks pull themselves out of their early-season hole, I've come to realize that Ronny Turiaf is the baking soda in the Knicks' recipe for success. Whatever athletic alchemy he is performing in the paint allows the other high-priced groceries that Knicks GM Donnie Walsh brought in to shine. In games that Turiaf has played (and not left early due to injury) the Knicks' record is 8-4. In games that Turiaf has started at center, the Knicks are undefeated with five wins. Looking at the box scores from any of these games, one wouldn't think that Turiaf's contribution was critical. Just like one glance at a 15-item recipe for carrot cake wouldn't leave you thinking that the 1 teaspoon of baking soda was make or break. You might think the butter was more important or all that cream cheese and confectionery sugar in the frosting. And, you'd be right in a matter of speaking. Just like you'd be correct to say that all Amar'e Stoudemire's scoring and all of Raymond Felton's assists are more important than Turiaf's 5 points and 3 boards per night. By volume, he's not doing that much. But without him all the tasty things about those other ingredients go to waste and this team won't rise.

Be Thankful

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Foursquare: NYK checking in @ MSG

Knicks Edge Bobcats, Run Streak to Four Wins

The last time the Knicks were at Madison Square Garden they lost to the Houston Rockets to drop their record to 3-7. The game wasn't as close as the 104-96 scoreline indicated, and the new New York Knickerbockers were freefalling like bad boys who didn't even miss her.

The Associated Press account of the game that ran on ESPN.com reported that "The New York Knicks seem headed toward continuing their recent holiday tradition of being hopelessly behind by Thanksgiving."

But for the first time since I can remember they went west to get healthy. After a respectablish loss (and, yes, after years of putrid, soul-clattering defeats I do distinguish respectable losses from the rest) at Denver, Amar'e, Gallo and Raymond led the team to three straight wins in Oakland, Sacramento and lesser Los Angeles.

No longer toeing the edge of the abyss, the Knicks find themselves firmly in the undeveloped playoff picture after holding on for a win over Larry Brown's Charlotte Bobcats. The Knicks were pushing and penetrating early last night, looking like the team that had won those games on the road rather than the one that lost those ones at home last week.

Toney Douglas and Rony Turiaf helped stake the 'bockers to a large lead, but the 'cats clawed back into it thanks to a flurry of Knicks turnovers early in the fourth. The beat reporters on the sidelines re-wrote their ledes several times during the second half. The first story was about Douglas, then it was the collapse then it was the Landry Fields of Dreams as he put a tourniquet on the Knicks' hemorrhaging lead. Then the story was the inability to get stops, and lastly it was about Felton laying in a few key free throws to ice his old squad.

Monday, November 22, 2010

LeBron James and the Plastic Riley Band

In December 1970, songwriter, guitarist, painter, author and aspirant fisherman John Lennon sat down with Rolling Stone mogul Jann Wenner for an interview. With the entire world listening during the past decade, he'd gone from writing about holding hands to screaming about kicking heroin. The Beatles had disbanded just better than a year earlier. Lennon was 30 years old. And Famous. Really, really damn famous. Bigger than Jesus, in fact.

In the aftermath of the Beatles break-up, each of the Fab Four was publicly coming to grips with their accomplishments and the damage that accompanied them. Ringo even put out a country record. Not coincidentally, Lennon released his solo debut, Plastic Ono Band, the same month as the sit-down with Wenner, agreeing to the interview in order to help promote the album. Then undergoing something called "primal scream" therapy, which had been helping him release pent up emotion and deal with the apparently overwhelming paranoia that had built as a result of the scrutiny he'd been under (as well as the copious drug use), Lennon was unflinchingly honest at this point in his life. Gone was the cheeky wordplay and the surrealistic imagery of his youth, replaced with unadorned, and sometimes downright nasty, truth on record and in person. The transcript of the interview was later published under the title Lennon Remembers.

Sonically, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is at turns spare and rootsy. There are blues, folk and rock sounds. Lyrically there is anger and vulnerability, introspection and aggression. In "God," Lennon tears down civic and religious idols from Jesus to JFK. To the chagrin of twenty-something acolytes, he declares, "I don't believe in Beatles." In the early-Dylanesque "Working Class Hero", he refers to his middle class listeners as "fucking peasants," a turn of phrase that had the album's second single banned in various locales.

Aspects of the record are so caustic and elemental that a case could be made (and probably has by those better equipped to write about music) that this is even proto-punk. The vocal-chord shredding wail in the middle of "Well, Well, Well" sounds a lot like Kurt Cobain's cry of "go away" at the end of the "Scentless Apprentice" on In Utero, an album that I think has a few tunes that would fit right onto Plastic Ono Band. In particular, Lennon's "Look at Me" seems a precursor to Nirvana's elegiac "All Apologies."

"Look at Me" features John singing accompanied by his picking at an acoustic guitar while the lyrics detail his complex relationship with his audience, whom he addresses as "my love." Lennon dutifully admits that he feels compelled to comply with the world's demands on him and his art, even asking his listener/lover, "What am I supposed to do?" Rather than lash out (as he does several times in Lennon Remembers and on the record), here Lennon concedes the symbiosis between the famous and the fan. He admits that part of him hopes to please them. That he loves them and needs them.

Upon its release, the record was a critical success and Rolling Stone ranked it No. 22 on its Top 500 Albums of All Time in 2003. Last Sunday morning, I was alone in the car listening to the record for the first time in a few years, and "Look at Me" reminded me of another commercial meditation on fame that I saw for the first time just a few weeks ago.

LeBron James' "Rise" spot for Nike was created by Wieden & Kennedy of Portland. Directed by Stacy Wall, the spot tackles head-on the fallout of James' decision to take his talents to South Beach. The director was previously behind the NBA puppet commercials as well as several other notable spots. Just as LeBron repeatedly asks "What should I do?" in that recent advertorial, Lennon alternately asks "Who am I supposed to be?" and "What am I supposed to do?" in "Look at Me."

By asking such questions, both men are admitting that the opinion of those strangers matters, regardless of how much it may rankle them. The only thing outstripping the creeping disdain for the audience is the continued need for the attention and the platform. Their nearly unprecedented worldwide fame* is both addictive and alienating.

In answering Wenner's first question of the aforementioned interview - "Would you take it all back?" - Lennon says:
And these fucking bastards there just sucking us to death, that's about all we can do, is do it like circus animals. I resent being an artist, in that respect, I resent performing for fucking idiots who don't know anything. They can't feel; I'm the one that's feeling, because I'm the one expressing. They live vicariously through me and other artists, and we are the ones ... even with the boxers, when Oscar [Bonneventura] comes in the ring, they're booing the shit out of him. He only hit Clay once and they're all cheering him. That's what I resent, you know. I'd sooner be in the audience, really, but I'm not capable of of it."
After watching James's most recent commercial and noting his increasingly defensive and combative statements since signing with the Miami Heat over the summer, I can't help but think that he'd have a knowing nod for Lennon's feelings about fame and the fickle nature of the crowd.

Like Lennon after the break-up of the Beatles, LeBron is now attempting to get out in front of the stories being told about him. He's trying to write his own narrative rather than let jersey burnings commence in Cleveland unabated. LeBron's defiant shots at his critics, such as Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan, echo Lennon's own verbal barbs for former bandmate Paul McCartney and even his younger self. In each case, the anger and resentment comes off as petty. But both Lennon and LeBron are humanized by their melancholy and their pathos. Both Lennon, directly through his lyrics, and LeBron, at the behest of ad mavens and marketing wizards, admitted that they need us not only to look at them, but to support them. And perhaps even guide them. In both cases, fans have mixed reactions to seeing the flaws of their heroes.

I can't help but wonder if Wall and the fine folks at W&K created this commercial with "Look at Me" in mind, or if there are just so few ways to described the rarefied place that LBJ and Lennon have held in popular culture that they pair of searching creations just seem intrinsically linked.

"Look at Me," by John Lennon

OK? (yes sir)
Look at me,
Who am I supposed to be?
Who am I supposed to be?
Look at me,
What am I supposed to be?
What am I supposed to be?
Look at me,
Oh my love, oh my love.
Here I am,
What am I supposed to do?
What am I supposed to do?
Here I am,
What can I do for you?
What can I do for you?
Here I am,
Oh my love, oh my love.
Look at me, oh please look at me, my love,
Here I am - Oh my love.
Who am I?
Nobody knows but me,
Nobody knows but me,
Who am I?
Nobody else can see,
Just you and me,
Who are we?
Oh my love, oh my love.
Oh my love...

*Random Music Footnote (at the end of a random music post on a sports blog): John Lennon received a song-writing credit on David Bowie's "Fame" after singing the word FAME over the Carlos Alomar's guitar riff during a one-day studio session in New York with Bowie in 1975. Bowie was inspired by the theme and the chords and dashed off the rest of the lyrics. On the finished single, Lennon contributes backing vocals.

Monday Mudita

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Foto

Dare to Follow in Our Footsteps

Favre's Consecutive Fantasy Starts Streak in Jeopardy

And in the 11th week of his 20th season, be-denimed sexter and future Hall of Famer Brett Favre has become a less useful fantasy football quarterback than washed-up second string born-again signal caller Jon Kitna. At least, that's what I think. So, I've dropped the Land Baron outright. That just happened.

UPDATE: Unlike some many of my fantasy football moves, dropping Favre for Kitna actually paid off. Favre's Vikings were shellacked by the Packers, 31-3, while Kitna led the suddenly frisky Cowboys to a 35-19 triumph over the Detroit Lions.

Favre: 208 passing yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 1 rush, 0 yards, 0 TD
Kitna: 147 passing yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 4 rush, 40 yards, 1 TD

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Messi Just Happened

Rival football superpowers Brazil and Argentina shipped their national sides all the way to Qatar for what amounted to a not-so-friendly match. Qatar occupies a peninsula in the Persian Gulf and they've got themselves some oil and gas riches out there. Which is probably how they persuaded two South American nations to square off halfway around the world. Ronaldinho even made the trip, his first appearance since being dropped from the Samba squad in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup. I'd assume that reunion had something to do with all of that persuasion changing hands. As the clock ticked past 90 minutes, the match seemed destined for a scoreless draw. But then Argentine wunderkind Lionel Messi gave everyone their monies worth.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NBA History with Matty Guokas

Without the same old new New York Knicks playing tonight, I tuned in to the Magic-Grizzlies game on NBATV (after watching last night's episode of The Walking Dead). I flipped to channel 216 during the studio halftime show featuring a youthful Kendal Gill and spent Dennis Scott, and the studio team soon sent viewers back to the arena as the third quarter got underway in Orlando. A few plays in, Jameer Nelson sent a long outlet pass, after Dwight Howard handed him the defensive rebound, to Rashard Lewis who broke for the other end as soon as he saw that D12 was corralling the carom. Lewis had been boxing out former Knickerbocker Zach Randolph when he took off for the other end. Lewis upshifted as he crossed midcourt to receive the pass in stride, but he had left Z-Bo plodding up court far behind him. At this point, player-turned-coach-cum announcer Matty Guokas provided a Knicks-related lesson in hoops history.

Matt Guokas: I think Zach Randolph is maybe one of the slowest transition players in the NBA. I'm trying to think of somebody who is poorer at getting back in transition defense than Zach right now. Well, Eddy Curry. When they were teammates in New York, very briefly because Eddy Curry didn't play too many games, that was the worst combination in the history of basketball.

David Steele: Wow, that's saying a lot. A bold statement.

As if the weekend hadn't provided enough discouraging Knicks memories, Guokas is dredging ghosts of Knickerbockers past. But, yeah, he might be right. Remember, when that seemed like a good idea? Actually, check that. Remember when Isiah Thomas tried to sell us on that as being a good pairing? Strange days inside the goldmine, indeed.

Monday Mudita

Saturday, November 13, 2010

One Man's Trash ... Is a Cleveland Coach

Cleaning out my car is not a regular activity. This is partially because I don't use the car to commute. I'm swiping Metrocards to get to and fro my workplace. I really don't do much of anything in the car besides weekend trips to the grocery store, liquor store and Target. Some weeks I only start her up in order to move across the street to avoid tickets. And then back. This sporadic use keeps too many coffee cups or food wrappers from accumulating, but if some piece of trash does find a good nook, say anywhere in the back seat then it might be there for a while, like several NFL seasons.

Feeling automotively inclined this morning, I renewed my drivers license, which had expired in August. I then got an overdue oil change (but turned down the recommended engine flush). After that I didn't go all out and replace my stolen spare tire or the blown fuse that disabled the windshield wipers, but I did clean out random stuff in the trunk and empty out the pockets on the backs of the front seats. And, what a blast from the past was in those two stretched leather time capsules. In one pocket there were assorted gas station maps from states this vehicle has never entered and two ticket stubs from a terrible concert that I went to with a girl that I haven't even spoken to in years. In the other there was a half-used, wind-up disposable camera from an age before digital cameras and a dog-eared copy of Grays Sports Alamanc 1950–2000.

There was also a game day program from the Jets-Pats game played on Sept. 17, 2006. The cover featured an artist's rendering of former Jets head coach Eric Mangini. With Rex Ryan's Jets visiting Mangini in Cleveland tomorrow the timing of this find seemed quite fortuitous. Or coincidental. Or, perhaps, just a sign I need to clean out the whip at least as frequently as every presidential election.

That Jets-Pats game was the home opener in Mangini's maiden campaign as HC of NYJ. His Jets were 1-0 when his mentor Bill Belichick brought the Patriots to the swamps of Jersey. The sun was shining for the 1 o'clock start. Probably too much. It was one of those 80 degree autmumn days that makes you think polar bears need to be stronger swimmers. It would be an understatement to say that my girlfriend, who doesn't handle her pooridge temperatures too hot or too cold was not enjoying herself before the game in the parking lot.

The Jets, running a no-huddle offense, fell behind 7-0 early but were holding the Pats close when they let the visitors get their typical hammer score just before the half. For me, their is nothing more emblematic of the Patriots' run of AFC East dominance (which is hopefully coming to a close) than that score with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter (it feels like it was usually 13-yard pass to a tight end of wide receiver running a crossing pattern across the back of the endzone) change the complexion of a previously close game just before the intermission. On this sweltering afternoon, it was Chad Jackson that caught the score.

The Pats led 17-0 at the half and went up 24-0 in the third quarter. But, to his credit, Mangini got the Jets to roar back into the game. Both Jerricho Cotchery and Lavernius Coles made tough scoring grabs on balls from Chad Pennington to help get Gang Green back into the game. Cotchery's catch in particular was breathtaking, probably the first glimpse that we all got his focus and strength. He caught the ball with a defender draped over him, seemed to be tackled after reeling it in. But somehow, he managed to keep his knees or elbows from touching the ground and then wheeled off and broke for the endzone. All told, the play went 71 yards.

Although the Jets' comeback bid would fall short, Mangini would orchestrate a gritty, muddy win at New England late in the season en route to a Wild Card berth. Not bad for a chubby-cheeked rookie coach. At that point, I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that the the 2010 AFC Championship Game was in the cards, but I'd have been shocked to learn it wouldn't be the Mangenius leading the way.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Andy "Rout"-ins

Knicks Trampled by Bucks

All I heard was one name: Andy Rautins. I quicky mashed the PREVIOUS button on my DIRECTV remote control before I could hear any more or, even worse, see the game score. But those four sylables told me everything I needed to know about the in-progress Knicks-Bucks game. It wasn't close.

I had recorded last night's game on the DVR because my best gal and I were embroiled in the heretofore unheard of Date Night (which has been collecting dust on the coffee table in its Netflix envelope for weeks) and 28 Days Later (a choice inspired by the opening scenes of the first episode of The Walking Dead on AMC) movie doubleheader.

As any sports fan who has recorded a game they were going to view late knows, you've got to make sure that your television isn't tuned to the channel in question before you turn your attention to whatever is necessitating the late start. Fail on my part. Because the game popped on midstream when we turned off the second movie. Before I was ready to start viewing the Knicks-Bucks game, I already knew that Rautins was seeing his first game action of the young season.

Of course, I didn't know if this was good news or bad news. And with the Knick visiting Milwaukee it wouldn't have been hard to imagine either team running off with the game. Led by emergent point guard Brandon Jennings (who could have been a Knick had he not turned off Donnie Walsh and the staff by skipping a tryout) and Aussie center Andrew Bogut, the Bucks reached the playoffs last year. The Knicks, meanwhile, are greatly improved from last season. On paper, I'd say these are a pair of evenly matched teams, likely to be vying for one of the last playoff spots come April Fools Day.

Knowing that a blowout was potentially in the offing, Amar'e Stoudemire's dunk to stake the Knicks to an early 2-0 edge seemed monumentous. As did Ray Felton's ensuing four-point play (made jumper plus the harm with an extra technical by Jennings thrown on top).

My brief glimpse of the future of this game had me wondering how quickly the Knicks would be dining on venison. Soon enough, though, Drew Gooden of all people set me straight. He rattled off a few buckets in short order to get the home team out in front. And then came the onslaught. Bogut, Jennings and Gooden were joined by John Salmons and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in running the Knicks off the floor. Bunches of layups were followed by flurries of jumpers. Tips ins begat free throws. And by the time the buzzer buzzed on the end of the first quarter the score was 19-41.

The only surprise was that it took until the fourth quarter for D'Antonit to call on Rautins. This was a Bad News Bears performance from yesteryear's Knicks. I don't meant this next comment as a disservice to Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles or the any of the talented and industrious Bucks players, but the early action reminded me of the Jets-Lions game from this past weekend. The snowbelt home teams came out with ice chips on their shoulders and took it to the higher-wattage players from the Big Apple. I know that the Jets managed to salvage the win but there was no doubt in the first half that the Lions were the aggressors. Same song and dance in Milwaukee. Jennings and Bogut were the aggressors. For his part, Rautins went 1-2 from three-point territory in his NBA debut, finishing with just those 3 points in 8 minutes of action.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Mudita

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Yeah, it's Still the Mecca

During the great free agent diaspora of 2010, there was much schadenfreude out in the provinces when LeBron James did not decide to sign with the New York Knicks. Whether fueled by envy, disdain, regret or one of the myriad emotions that the words "New York City" elicit in those from the other 49, false prophets decided that the formation of the 2010-2011 Miami Heat was a referendum on the status that NYC held around the league.

If you believe that then I've got a bridge to sell you.

Ever since original Garden impresario Ned Irish began hosting college hoops doubleheaders at the old Garden uptown, basketball players have known that the game's biggest stage was in the Big Apple. LBJ may have taken his talents to South Beach but Madison Square Garden is still the Mecca. That's why the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft John Wall laced up a pair of special edition sneakers last night when he made his Garden debut.

The North Carolinian who arrived in the NBA by way of Kentucky is going to accrue a lot of firsts this season with the Washington Wizards. He's got the speed and power to put up some eye-popping numbers, coming within one steal of his first triple double in just his third game. A week from tonight he'll play against future rival Derrick Rose for the first time, and at the end of the month he'll travel down to Miami to play his first meaningful game against LBJ and Dwyane Wade. Certainly it'll be a season full of first-ever moments that Wall treasures and that his fans do as well. But no one is going to talk about his "American Airlines Arena debut" unless he goes ahead and gets that triple double or breaks some sort of record. And even then, it'd be known as the Great Wall of Triple Double Game or something. I'm also guessing that Reebok ain't going to be rolling out a 13-of-a-kind sneaker to mark the occasion of his maiden trip to Oklahoma City or Milwaukee.

During the long summer of 2010 (when, by the by, one of the game's top talents in Amar'e Stoudemire did emphatically choose the Big Apple) it was explained to me by those kind enough to diagram the irrelevance of my favorite team that MSG had more meaning to old timers than anyone young and spry. But there isn't anyone younger or sprier in the game right now than Wall, and it sure seems that he's gotten the message passed down from his forefathers (and endorsers) like religion. The Garden is still the Mecca. Wall wore the shoes to prove it.

The Defensive Double Double

Nobody Knicks beat the Wiz, 112-91

The outcome was not in doubt when the Washington Wizards brought the ball up the floor for their last possession of the scheduled 48 at the Garden last night. The Knicks were going to win. Done and dusted. But New York's second-string point guard Toney Douglas was still jumping passing lanes near half court, pestering No. 1 overall draft pick John Wall as he tried to initiate one last set. Wall managed to corral the ball and pass it up court, but Knicks co-captain Amar'e Stoudemire was waiting in the paint. STAT stepped up to contest and perhaps deflect Washington's last field goal attempt of the night. It missed.

That the Knicks showed such defensive intensity on a possession only relevant to those teasing the point spread or wagering on individual prop bets (since the Knicks were in decent shape to cover the -5.5 even if they surrendered a bucket) shows how much this team has transformed itself from previous seasons. The 2010-2011 iteration of the Knickerbockers gets an evident thrill from stops in a way that I haven't seen 'round here in a while. Players are pumping their fists after forcing 24-second violations and bouncing around after blocks. And, oh yeah, they're actually blocking shots. So far, this team appears to enjoy playing defense.

In the waning moments of the contest, MSG play-by-play man Mike Crispino remarked to his esteemed broadcast partner: "The Knicks are starting to develop an identity, Clyde."

Resplendent in a wide-lapeled powder blue suit with a shimmery white shirt and lava-lamp patterned orange and gray tie, Walt "Clyde" Frazier responded, "Yeah, because of their defense, man; suffocating D."

As a team, the Knicks recorded a defensive double double with 11 blocks and 11 steals. Douglas was responsible for five of those thefts and outplayed the highly touted Wall in his Garden debut. Douglas finished with 19 points, 10 boards, 3 assists and the aforementioned haul of steals. It was his second impressive effort on the trot. The 2009 ACC Defensive Player of the Year seems to have been challenged by the acquisition of Ray Felton to start at the point rather than chastened. Just as he seemed to be invigorated by the presence of the lightning quick Wall, who marked the occasion of his first game in at the Mecca by wearing a pair of gold high tops designed by Reebok.

Described by Clyde as "stylin' and profilin'" during his pregame remarks, Wall flashed his burst and potential a few times in the second half but the Knicks did a tremendous job of keeping players in front of him on the break and not leaving him openings to knife through in the halfcourt. Amar'e stepped in and took a charge on his first breakaway attempt, really setting the tone for the team's handling of him.

All that being said, wow. Where this kid is going, he doesn't need roads. He's got footspeed and airspeed and probably could move fairly well on the high seas. His length and his musculature are already special, and at his age it would seem that his body is going to get even more impressive. Less boxy than Celtics uber athlete PG Rajon Rondo, Wall seems more serpentine without sacrificing too much strength.

But tonight's game was not about Wall as much as it was about the Knicks guards. Both Ray Felton and Douglas ate Wall up at both ends. Both picked his pocket and both scored against him. Felton skinned him with nifty change-of-pace dribble drive that had to elicit approving nods from every wizened hoops head in the Big Apple.

Aside from the defensive pressure applied, the other aspect of the Knicks' effort that impressed was the physicality with which they attacked the rim. Notably, Bill Walker attacked the rack in the second half and scored on a few dunks. Turiaf, Amar'e and the Moz all contributed slam dunks as well. But nothing could have topped the reverse slam by Chandler after a baseline drive. He posterized McGee in what could turn out to be this team's dunk of the year.

Asserting themselves at both ends of the floor, this Knicks group is further establishing its identity and reputation. They are prideful and motivated. Perhaps the two most important attributes after "talented" and "healthy" for a team to possess during the long haul of an NBA calendar.

Thoughts, Observations and Perhaps Things Better Left Unsaid
-Agent Zero is no more. Gilbert Arenas is wearing No. 9 this season. I wonder if this choice is soccer-related since top goal scorers are usually numbered 9. At this stage in his career (and with Wall lining up at the point), Arenas is no longer the No. 10-type playmaker creating and dominating play. Rather he's a mercenary finisher up top. Either way, he singlehandedly brought the Wiz back into the game in the fourth and showed that he might not be done just yet. I hope he can get back some of what he's lost due to injury and firearm-related suspensions. Not necessarily because I think he deserves it, but because he used to be one of the players in the league that I loved most to watch. Before the emergence of Chris Paul, Gil was probably the No. 1 drawing card for me.

-Andray Blatche must be a confounding player for Wiz fans to support. His first-quarter barrage was impressive, he was a one-man wrecking crew. He fluttered about 12 to 15 from the rim as Amar'e was sloughing off to guard against Wall's penetration, knocking down an impressive array of shots. He managed 16 points in the first quarter, but just 6 more the rest of the way. Clyde noted on several occasions that he was out of shape and I could only assume that his lack of conditioning contributed to his eventual anonymity. He also seemed to lose focus mentally, getting T'd up for an obvious shove of Turiaf after they got tangled under the boards.

-The Moz had a nice night. Still bedeviled by traveling violations and personal fouls, the 7-foot Russian nevertheless mixed it up with McGee and got his hands into passing lanes. He was credited with three steals and a pair of assists. After one steal he ran the break with Landry Fields, finishing on the move. He remains just past the edge of control when he's running at pace but his athleticism is apparent. He's not just a big body. He's an athlete. Perhaps eventually he'll be a ballplayer.

-Anthony Randolph is already a ballplayer, but his mind races when he gets the rock. He was all elbows, rebounds and offensive fouls against the Wiz. A tantalizing work in progress, but seemingly not ready to be a functioning part of a halfcourt offensive set.

-Wizards center Javale McGee wanted to dunk every rebound. He's a tremendous athlete who has progressed light years in terms of body control since the last time I saw him.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Foto

The Brothers Wilkins with Marv Albert

Knicks Run Bulls, on TNT

The last time the New York Knicks were invited to participate in a nationally televised game on TNT was Nov. 29, 2007. Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry and company were dispatched to Boston to play the new-look Celtics featuring Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

Isiah Thomas' Knickerbockers were debacled. Thoroughly. ESPN.com's game story referred to the 104-59 defeat as a "colossal romp" in the headline. TNT analyst Kenny Smith eloquently summed up the morale-sapping loss during the broadcast: "I've never seen anyone get beat at darts this bad."

The Celtics led 54-31 at the half and 82-41 after three quarters. The malaise and impotence of that performance in Boston is, for me at least, the nadir of the Isiah Thomas Era. Or at least one of several potential nadirs. Although can a nadir exist in a time or space with no zenith? If not, then this was just another crappy game in the middle of a few crappy seasons.

Well, last night the Knicks were back on TNT, and they were on the road playing another Eastern Conference blue blood, the Chicago Bulls. And, mercifully, things went much better for the guys in blue and orange. The Knicks blew through the Windy City raining down threes en route to a 120-112 triumph that wasn't as close as the score indicates.

Amar'e scored eight of the Knicks first 11 points, showing how reliable his midrange jumper has really become. Last season, Knicks fans rightfully lauded David Lee for adding this to his repertoire, and Amar'e has it as well. In years 3 through 5 of his contract I'd have to imagine this shot becomes more and more integral to his game. But STAT was not the story tonight. It was the ignition of Danilo Gallinari and the explosion of Toney Douglas, who scored a career-high 30.

Gallo took over the reins of the offense from Amar'e closing in on the halfway point of the first quarter when he hit his first three seemingly since the team returned from Milan, staking the Knicks to an early 14-13 lead. He scored the next New York hoop on a dunk and was altogether unleashed for the first time this season.

Perhaps it was the relief of seeing the team's ace marksman finally find the goal or perhaps it was just the fresh legs from having one less game this week, but all of a sudden everyone was hitting deep jumpers. Douglas, Ray Felton and Billy Walker were pouring them right through to the half when they lead 70-52.

Although Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng closed the gap to a mere 10 points by the end of the third period, this game was a formality. Now, that doesn't mean Knicks fans weren't sweating it out on their couches. But it had the look and the feel of cotton a walkthrough that everyone in the building knew was DOA when the teams came out after the half. Former Knicks assistant coach and Celtic defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, who is in his first year as the head coach in Chicago, even benched his starters for the endgame. After years of watching dejected Knicks watching the closing minutes of a dispiriting loss, it was gratifying for the shoe to be on the other foot. The only thing that could have made this ending more appropriate was if Eddy Curry could have been in street clothes on their bench instead of ours.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It's A Block Party

Get the EPMD cassette tapes and D batteries for the boom box. Get me that lighter fluid so I can fire up the grill. Start defrosting some Topps hamburger patties and get some mayonnaise to make some cole slaw. Because the Knicks are having a block party over at Madison Square Garden.

Through three games of the 2010-2011 NBA season, the Knicks have blocked 25 shots. Say what? That's right, your new New York Knickerbockers are averaging 8.3 rejections per game thus far. And while I don't need someone from Basketball-Reference to to tell me that this is a statistically meaningless sample size, I'm still optimistic that perhaps this isn't an early-season mirage. Or an asbestos-induced hallucination.

Last year, the Knicks had the second fewest blocked shots of any NBA club with just 372. During the 2008-2009 campaign, the Knicks blocked the fewest shots, having returned only 204 shots to sender. This was 104 fewer than the second-to-last team in blocks. In 2007-2008, the Knicks were also last in blocks with 213, putting them 93 behind the the 29th-ranked Timberwolves.

The last respectable showing in blocks for the club was during the 2006-2007 season when the Knicks finished with the 11th-highest tally at 406. Paced by Renaldo Blockman's 42 rejections, the Knicks had three players with 40 or more blocks - Balkman, Channing Frye (42) and Eddy Curry (40). Jared Jeffries added 30 more and even David Lee chimed in with 23.

Ah, remember the Halcyon Day of that '06-07 season? No. Well allow me to remind you: On Saturday March 3rd, the Knicks beat the Hawks at Atlanta in overtime, 104-100. Stephon Marbury finished the night with 38 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals and a blocked shot (which was, in case you're wondering, the team's only rejection of the night). Even recently-acquired redundancy Steve Francis played 41 minutes after Quentin Richardson was sidelined by his balky back. The triumph lifted the Knicks' record to 28-33, and pulled them within a game of the eighth playoff spot. A few days later, Knicks owner James Dolan would extend Isiah Thomas' contract for showing "significant and evident progress." The team would, of course, finish the season on a 5-16 skid and miss the playoffs. The rest, as they say, is history. And sexual harassment.

In the years since, blocked shots have become as rare as winning streaks 'round these parts. And, while this year's Knicks have yet to put together a winning streak they have been racking up the rejections. Offseason acquisition Ronny Turiaf has eight blocks already. Amar'e has 4 and Russian import Timofey Mozgov has a pair. But, most impressively, Wilson Chandler has kept 9 shots from reaching the rim in just three games. While his athleticism was never to be questioned, Chandler seems to have improved his court awareness and dedication on the defensive end. Perhaps it's increased confidence telling him that he can make more plays or perhaps it's anger about coming off the bench that is fueling him to make more plays. Either way, he ranks behind only Dwight Howard and Josh Smith in blocks per game so far.

Again, I'm well aware that we're just talking about three games. But for someone who grew up rooting for defense-first teams, it's got me excited. Stalwart defense and blocked shots in particular always seemed to me the mark of a proud team. From an emotional standpoint, blocks are the defensive equivalent of dunks. Fans and players alike get a charge out of them. After all, who doesn't love a block party?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

UPDATE: Asbestos-Related Nostalgia Plagues New York

Looks like I wasn't the only Big Apple-based basketball junkie who found themselves careening off on asbestos-related tangents in lieu of watching the Knicks play the Magic, True Hoop's Henry Abbott wove the strange up-and-down history of asbestos with his own relation to the Garden itself. I wholeheartedly I agree with his assertion that MSG is "as banal as any [building] in the world," but can't fault his photo research.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Asbestos Cancels Knicks-Magic Game at Garden

After I pestered the gentlemen at Howard the Dunk into answering a few Magic-related queries this afternoon, tonight's hoops action at the Garden has been cancelled due to some asbestos-related concerns.

Apparently, overnight renovations in the attic above the ceiling at Madison Square Garden caused some debris to fall to the floor. Said debris may or may not contain asbestos and almost assuredly contain "cleaning asbestos-related materials." Rather than run the risk of exposing a Van Gundy brother to a known carcinogen the Knicks, acting "out of an abundance of caution," opted to postpone the game indefinitely.

The part of me that has cringed whenever the forthcoming Garden renovations come up is somewhat relieved by today's action. Maybe the building does need some work. As a kid growing up in the mid-to-late 1980s in the suburbs, my elementary school and then my middle school were closed for extensive renovations the year after I'd moved on to the next school. It took them a few years after I left high school before the upgraded the facilities, but in each case I missed out on the high-tech labs, the ergonomic desks, and the better sports facilities. The one thing I never missed out on was asbestos. Which seemed to be cited as a reason for each renovation as best I can remember.

A naturally occurring mineral, asbestos has been mined and used be men going back to Ancient Greece. The Greeks, in fact, gave the material it's name, which means "unquenchable" or "inextinguishable" according to Wikipedia. Pretty badass. Clustering into long fibrous crystals, asbestos is extremely resistant to heat, electrical and chemical damage. Which is why it was used in everything from building materials and brake pads to oven mitts and movie theater curtains. It was mixed into cement a key component of home insulation and was widely used in shipbuilding because everyone thought this stuff was going to keep you safe in case of a fire. And, truth be told, it probably saved hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of lives. While also slowly giving innumerable people lung cancer.

Going back as far as Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist and naval commander who lived from AD 23 to 79 (if you do a Google image search for this guy an image of Bo Jackson on the cover of Beckett price guide comes up), it was suspected that breathing asbestos did some damage. But that just meant that slaves and poor folk did the mining. Because the upper class loved this stuff. It was damn near magical. Charlemagne had a table cloth made of asbestos and so did several Very Important Persians, who impressed dinner guests by setting the material aflame. The heat resistant cloth would not burn yet any leftover crumbs or wine stains would be incinerated. When Marco Polo traveled to China he was similarly amazed by garments that could withstand fire. That ancient Chinese secret? It wasn't Calgon. It was asbestos underpants.

More recently, serious investigations into the health risks of asbestos exposure were already underway in the late 1920s in England. Stateside, corporations that used and produced asbestos were embroiled in Big Tobacco-style cover-ups from the 1930s through the late 1980s. Which was probably when all the schools of my youth were scheduling their own renovations. But I digress, doctors around the world had long agreed that inhalation of asbestos crystals caused lung cancer and mesothelioma and they'd also realized that those fibrous crystals could become embedded in one's skin causing all sorts of lesions and callous-like growths. Gross. It wasn't until 1989 that the Environmental Protection Agency actually outlawed the stuff and asked, pretty please, if we'd try to remove it from older buildings.

And, in November 2010, asbestos rained down from the ceiling at the World's Most Famous Arena and canceled a professional basketball game.

The Post Is Prologue: Magic @ Knicks

Orlando Magic (1-1)
New York Knicks (1-2)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
7:30 P.M.

Following weekend losses to Boston and Portland, the heavy hitters just keep coming as the Knicks face Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and the powerhouse Orlando Magic at the Garden tonight. To make matters potentially worse for the 'bockers, Orlando is coming off a stinging 96-70 rout in Miami. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, in typical VG fashion, was not pleased with his team's outing in South Beach and I'd have to assume that the players themselves were pretty angry after losing Round 1 of the Squabl for the Sunshine State.

Having swept three games with ease from New York last season, Orlando has to be looking to get well tonight. Vegas has them as 7 point favorites with the over/under at 202. If the Magic cover that spread then I actually have a hard time seeing the game hitting that over. Even when getting blown out by the Heat, they still didn't let up 100 points. I guess that Vegas is looking at the Magic's 112-83 win over Washington in their opener and assuming that the Knicks are good for a few more buckets than the Wiz (while being just as pliant defensively). Perhaps.

With impressive effort in the Knicks' first three games yielding lackluster results I'm keen to see how the ballclub comes out tonight. Has their confidence been shaken or are they also going to come out with a chip on their shoulder because they feel that they had one stolen from them at home by Portland? Hmmm....

Things to Look For:
-Can Danilo Gallinari break out of his slump? How much leash does D'Antoni give him?
-Can the Moz inch his career point total closer to his career foul total? Or, does Dwight Howard have him fouled out before the first TV timeout?
-How does D'Antoni account for Howard? And, after Moz is tethered to the bench with fouls?
-How does Stan Van Gundy account for Amar'e?
-How and when does Amar'e assert himself in this game? Will he play more than 36 minutes f necessary?
-How is the crowd's intensity? It's a midweek game following the home opener. The crowd was TNT on Saturday night, chanting DEEEE-FENSE from the first possession.

In what I aim to be a season-long habit, I've been trading emails today with a blogger who covers the Knicks' opponent. Below you'll find a back-and-forth with Brian Serra, a contributing blogger at Howard the Dunk and the founder of MagicBasketballOnline.com. He's on the Twitter and the Facebook if you're into it.

WWOD?: How does it feel for Florida to be the center of the basketball universe? What, if anything, did you take away from the first Heat-Magic clash?

HtD: Honestly, I think those of us in Orlando enjoyed it quite a bit more when all we had to worry about from Miami was if Wade was going to drop 50 on us or not. However, there is no denying that the fans of both franchises are now talking a lot more smack back and forth than I have ever previously seen.

The first Heat-Magic game last Friday was obviously a disappointment to the Orlando fans and it showed that our undefeated preseason was truly meaningless and that the team is not as far long as we all thought.

WWOD?: Aside from health, what specific factor will determine how far this Magic team goes?

HtD: The team MUST get physically and emotionally stronger. When you get slapped, how do you respond? This was the biggest problem heading into the offseason last year and while everyone seemed to be talking the talk about it being improved, it clearly hasn’t. Unfortunately, this team is riding heavily on Vince Carter right now and his rollercoaster play will likely determine if the Magic are able to return to the Finals or if they head home in the second round.

WWOD?: What is your favorite part of rooting for a team coached by a Van Gundy brother? Least favorite?

HtD: The favorite has to be the Van Gundy mannerisms. He gives great quotes all the time and you love his passion. The thing that seems to wear on fans, and sometimes the players, the most is the constant yelling and screaming. Although I do think he is becoming a little more mild-mannered as he has figured out the players distinct personalities and how far he can/can not push people.

WWOD?: During the second half of his career, Patrick Ewing excelled on offense largely because of his soft touch from midrange and the baseline, do you think that Dwight Howard can develop that shot under Ewing's tutelage? What parts of Howard's offensive game do you expect to develop as he matures?

HtD: Dwight has already begun showing his ability this season to knock down face-up jumpers and is taking them with increased confidence and making us think that we might need to change the name of the site to HowardtheDuncan. The shots he is making and taking now aren’t new to him either. They are things he has worked very hard on in practice and just lacked the confidence to expand them into his regular game. Dwight spent some time this offseason in Houston working with Hakeem Olajuwon and he’s said the biggest take away for him was being 100% confident in the shots he is taking. With Ewing, for whatever reason, he never developed that. However, there is no denying that Patrick has contributed over the last few years to Dwight’s tremendous growth both offensively and defensively.

WWOD?: What unheralded player in your rotation should a Knicks fan keep an eye out for when watching the Magic tonight?

HtD: You mean Knicks fans didn’t buy tickets to tonight’s game to see the return of Chris Duhon?? Duhon aside, the Magic have a very deep bench. J.J. Redick is probably someone the Knicks should keep an eye on as he is the player now that Knicks fans will be praying Andy Rautins turns into in 5 years. When he first came into the league, Redick was slow and undersized. J.J. worked hard every year to turn into a scrappy and versatile player and of course always has the ability to shoot the ball. If Rautins is going to be an NBA success story, he should be studying the history of J.J. Redick.


Monday, November 1, 2010

And Mel Ott Smiled

Monday Mudita

Enjoy some classy black-and-white footage of Clint Dempsey's brace for Fulham at the weekend.

MLS Playoff Addendum

Edson Buddle of the Los Angeles Galaxy, and the US Men's National Team, lofted a superb strike over GK Casey Keller to stake the Beckham and Co. to a 1-0 lead after the first leg of their matchup with the Seattle Sounders.

Showing how far the MLS still has to go in terms of gaining traction with John Q. Sports Fan, the Red Bulls playoff opener was joined in progress on the MSG Network after the conclusion of the Knicks game on Saturday night. Those who managed to find their way to this broadcast, though, were rewarded when Estonian whirling dervish Joel Lindpere slotted home the winner from a scrum in the area. The Red Bulls Metros will hold a 1-0 advantage when they take the field in Harrison, NJ on Thursday night for the second leg of their pairing with the San Jose Earthquakes.