Monday, January 4, 2010

Gettarlo Gui, Uomo Grande!

The player that smoothly head fakes a charging perimeter defender after recieving the ball outside the three-point arc; drives past another en route to the paint; before cruising into the interior before a third can help from the far side; and ultimately splits two more opposing players, dunking over the tallest one is none other than the man-child who leads the National Basketball Association in three-point shots made this season.

Knicks second-year forward Danilo Gallinari has settled in as a 15-24 points per game scorer and shown flashes of being an inside-out player with few equals. His three-point shooting has been noted but every once in a while he shows off a dunk like this or blocks a shot to remind everyone that he's nearly seven feet tall and only getting stronger.

New Year, New Normal

Playing for the first time in 2010, the New York Knicks routed the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden, 132-89. And almost nobody noticed. There are three reasons for this.

1) The Jets were playing a nationally televised game last night in the Meadowlands with a playoff berth on the line.
2) Lots of people don't care about the NBA. Especially in (October through...) January (...through June).
3) A Knicks' win no longer qualifies as a "man bites dog" situation.

The first two reasons are self explanatory. The third reason is actually quite shocking if you think about the state of this team at the start of December when they were 3-15. At that point, Mike D'Antoni's Knicks were just barely behind the Nets in the race towards the bottom. Each Knickerbocker win was treated as a fragile, handmade curios like one might buy for their girlfriend from Etsy. In November the few Knicks' wins were to be examined, appreciated and set aside in a glass-walled cabinet alongside small animal figurines. They were conversation pieces for longtime fans, collected and cataloged but not for everyday use.

In the span of few weeks, though, the circumstances have changed. Including last night's home win over Indy, the Knicks have won 10 of their last 15 games. They've learned that, on defense, effort can make up lack of acumen. The Knicks held 12 foes under 100 points during the month as opposed to just 2 previously. They've righted the ship after the franchise-worst 1-9 start. They've put themselves squarely in the hunt for the eighth spot (and maybe even the seventh, sixth and fifth) in the Eastern Conference.

Monday Mudita

Founded in 1919, the Leeds United Association Football Club has a proud history. "The Whites" were among Europe's top clubs in the 1960s and into the '70s. Once again they rose up during the late 1990s and into the 2000s. Located in West Yorkshire in Northern England, Leeds AFC counted titan of English football Manchester United as its chief rival for many years. In spite of past glories and a loyal - albeit increasingly fatalist - fanbase, Leeds has fallen on hard times in recent years and fallen out of the Premiership. And then out of the league just below that one. Financial mismanagement leading to notable player sales have (mostly) landed the club in its current spot.

But the FA Cup - one of those events that soccer fans (used to) hold up as an example of how the beautiful game is also the best organized sport - allows teams from the top EIGHT professional divisions to participate (after the first two leagues, teams from the next six have to have played in a qualifying tournament previously, sort of like running a top marathon). Each year the minnows hope to catch a top-flight squad off guard in the single-elimination knockout competition. In recent years, though, the big four clubs - Man. U, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal - have often fielded weaker sides to marshall strength for the title race and Champions League play. Critics have called for the end of the tournament which was first contested in 1871 thanks to such watered-down sides. This weekend, however, provided evidence that the tourney hasn't lost it's ability to produce memorable moments.

Flush from confidence from their promising start to the League One (which is really the third division) campaign, Leeds took the pitch at Old Trafford brimming with belief. In the 19th minute Jermaine Beckford got loose for the lone goal in the affair. The 1-0 win was Leeds' first away to Manchester United since 1981. Relentless pressure in the middle of the field stymied the Reds the rest of the way and made Beckford's goal hold up.