Monthly Archives: December 2009

Contentment on a Treadmill

There are so many players in this league that infuriate me with their unfulfilled potential. Every time Tyrus Thomas bites on a bad pump fake, I end up with my head in my hands. Every time Marvin Williams starts to slowly turn invisible, I shake my head. And every time Mario Chalmers hands the ball to an opposing defender, I damn near throw my remote through my television.

But Trevor Ariza is a bizarre exception. He has the athleticism necessary to be an elite two-way swingman, but he proves night after night that he has no business whatsoever operating in a shot-creating capacity. His defensive aptitude is completely reliant on quickness and length over technique, even if his style doesn’t scream for it as obviously as, say, Josh Smith’s. And with the Rockets, Ariza consistently plays as if he’s everything he should be, rather than everything he is.

I know that Houston deserves a more natural scoring leader, and no team in the league would benefit more from one. But the little voice inside my head (the same one that screams at Tyrus or sighs at Marvin) only seems to reiterate what I already know: Trevor Ariza is exactly where he’s supposed to be.

You could blame a lot of people for Ariza’s stunted offensive development, but it just seems natural for him to exist in his current state. As a Laker, Ariza’s skill set made him not a Kobe wannabe, but a welcome, unique part of a championship squad. And as a Rocket, Ariza’s physical tools would seemingly allow him to step into Tracy McGrady’s shoes, but his limitations allow him to be something so much more. If you were to pick out the teams of the NBA in the truest sense of the word, the Rockets would certainly be among them. Would that be the case if the divide in traditional statistical production between Ariza and his teammates was more notable? If his high number of shot attempts were a product of anything other than necessity?

Hardly. If Ariza had a more diverse offensive game, it’s probable that the Rockets would be improved as well. But everything we’ve come to know about them this season would be eclipsed by convention. Ariza’s mediocrity (which isn’t meant to be an insult) is part of what makes Houston so unbelievably charming, as if each clanging jumpshot or overambitious drive was only further evidence of Trevor being earnest. The Rockets are only the Rockets because of their delightful limitations, and to expect more of Ariza is to wish death upon the Rox as we know them.

15-Footer: 12.31.09 — Funny Hats and Noisemakers Edition

Unless you live in the Soviet Union — which would likely require a DeLorean and one of either (a) some plutonium, (b) an opportune lightning storm and a bell tower, or (c) a train — you’ll probably be drinking your face off tonight while wearing a silly hat and looking for some strange to make out with at midnight.

But since you’re a full-on hoop head, you’ll likely be sneaking into the other room to check out a game or two between rails nice conversations about knitting with your family and friends. Therefore, today’s 15-Footer is more special than ever since you’ll have limited time to watch and really need to know what to look for.

Plus, it’s the final one of the decade and all.

As always, these are the:

REASONS TO WATCH THE GAMES OF THE ASSOCIATION OF NATIONAL BASKETBALLS TONIGHT:

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Early-Bird Special
Chicago Bulls @ Detroit Pistons – 3:00 pm EST

Whoa … there’s a day game today? I had no idea. And it’s currently 2:45. So, yeah, even though this match up isn’t exactly Young MJ vs. Zeke, you should watch this game cause it will have already started by the time you’re reading this and Army had a half day so you’re probably already home.

Tooth Fairy Bowl
Dallas Mavericks @ Houston Rockets – 7:00 pm EST

The last time these two met up, Dirk had to leave the game because he got shards of Carl Landry’s teeth lodged into his elbow. Now, I’m not sure where that lands on The Vengeance Scale, but Dirk has helped lead Dallas to an 8-2 record in their last 10, so I’m guessing he and his Mav-mates are ready to strike down upon Carl with furious anger. Landry, who is averaging 17.8 ppg on 58.6% shooting in December, will presumably have a rebuttal. Meanwhile, Houston is 9-4 at home while Dallas is 11-4 on the road. Something has to give there.

They Might Be Giants
Miami Heat @ San Antonio Spurs – 7:00 EST

With a 18-11 record, it’s past time for the Spurs to get serious about this season. We all knew they weren’t going to try in 2009, but 2010 is nearly upon us. Handing out a solid a**-kicking tonight on TNT to ring in the New Year would be the perfect way for them to show us that they really are the sleeping giant in the West that we think they should be. On the other side we have Miami, who lost to New Orleans last night and could use a nice jolt of life themselves. Michael Beasley in particular. He hasn’t scored 20 in any of his last 5 games and he hasn’t recorded 10 rebounds in any of his last 6. The Heat need him to play Robin to Flash’s Batman (*immediately realizes how retarded that sounds but not changing it*) if they’re going to keep over-achieving this year.

Game O’ Da Nite
Utah Jazz @ Oklahoma City Thunder – 8:00 pm EST

Don’t look now but the Loud Noises During a Storm are only one game out of the 8th seed out West. Who do you suppose they are behind? That’s right — the Jazz. (Feels like I scripted that.) Not that there are any games with Playoff implications before the New Year, but both of these teams will be fighting it out in the coming months for a playoff birth, so that pissing match may as well start tonight. In more immediate news, this is Kevin Durant’s world and you’re just living in it. He has at least 30 points in each of his last 5 games (30, 38, 30, 40 and 35 in order) and is shooting a NOVA-level 58.8% (60/102 FGs) during that stretch. And he hasn’t even relied on the three-ball to get those numbers, averaging “only” 3.4 attempts from behind the arc. Do the Jazz have anyone that can slow him down? I doubt it. But AK-47 and the ever-evolving beaver pelt atop his dome sure will try.

Party Time, Excellent
Philadelphia 76ers @ Los Angeles Clippers – 9:30 pm EST

Mainly, I’m just hoping to see Chris Kaman in a party hat and 2009 glasses.

new-years-ball

Seems sort of wrong that Monta Ellis isn’t playing on the night they drop the ball.

Lion Face/Lemon Face 12.30.09: Delonte. Carrots. Boom. Albuquerque.

With the decade just hours away from being completed, I was trying to figure out what my favorite faces are from this past decade. Bill Simmons invented the Peyton Manning Face and the Derek Lowe Face but neither of those made my list.

There were only two faces that made my list for the All-Decade Faces List. And I’d like my good pals, Matt and Ben, to present the list to you right now.

Gentle sirs?

Lion Face: Kobe Bryant
You know when Kobe was least effective in trying to score his 44 points during Tuesday’s win over the Warriors? When he went to the basket. Think about that. Kobe Bryant scored 44 points and it wasn’t because he scored a bunch of easy buckets (2/6 around the hoop). Sure, he was 16/16 from the line and a lot of those came from being aggressive and drawing fouls. But he made 11 of his 21 jump shot attempts to account for 28 points. And 27 of his 44 points came in the second half when the Lakers evened up the score and eventually won the game. A perfect example of how deadly and crafty Kobe was a sequence towards the end of the third quarter.

Kobe attacked the basket by driving up the right side of the floor on a fast break. Anthony Morrow was completely resigned to letting Kobe fly in for the dunk. But Ronny Turiaf hustled back and blocked the dunk attempt. The Warriors took the ball the other way and got a transition dunk by Vlad Radmanovic. So what does Kobe do? He just calmly gets the ball on the ensuing possession and has Monta Ellis posted up around 14 feet from the basket. He completely turns Monta around defensively by pivoting towards the baseline but he never takes a dribble. Somehow he completely fakes Monta in leaving him open by never even taking a dribble. He beats him on great footwork, raises up and knocks down a jumper. This is how he scored 44 points all night (having Monta guarding you throughout the evening certainly made it easier). Oh and by the way, he also had 11 assists.

Lemon Face: LeBron James’ offense
Although he had a couple of highlight plays, LeBron James was completely taken out of the scoring aspect of Tuesday’s win by the Cavs in Atlanta. He was the opposite of Kobe last night. He did all of his damage inside and couldn’t make a single outside jumper. And when I say he couldn’t make a single outside jumper, I literally mean he couldn’t make a single outside jump shot. He was 0/11 from the perimeter. Some were good shots. Some were bad shots. Some shots were just right. But no matter what he threw towards orange roundie, it was met with a clang and a rebound for someone on the court. Luckily for the Cavs, he found other ways to contribute (9 assists, 8 boards, 5 steals). But for once, the Cleveland star needed his teammates to bail him out.

Lion Face: Derrick Rose
You know what’s a cure for a case of the ole struggles? Having T.J. Ford trying to guard you. Derrick Rose played a dominant game for the Bulls by obliterating Ford the way Jerome James attacks an appetizer sampler. Much like Kobe, he did a lot of his damage with the jumper. He only scored one basket around the hoop and stayed with a steady diet of pull-up and step-back jumpers. Ford couldn’t stay with him. Dahntay Jones couldn’t stay with him. Hell, his jersey even had a rough time staying with him. He was just too quick for his own good. Not something men usually want to be described with but against the Pacers it worked.

Lemon Face: Atlanta Hawks Fourth Quarter
It took eight minutes and 47 seconds for the Hawks to get on the board. This is the same Hawks team that is currently second in all of the NBA in offensive efficiency. At one point they had missed 11 straight shots, turned the ball over six times and missed three straight free throws during the fourth quarter. Amazingly, the Cavs took it easy on them during this stretch by only scoring 10 points themselves. This was a game in which momentum and home court advantage looked to be reasons the Hawks would pull out this win. Then the fourth quarter happened and the Hawks decided to go all Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje on themselves.

Lion Face: David Lee
I can’t figure out if David Lee is actually a good basketball player that matters on the court or if he’s just a good fantasy basketball player who puts up empty stats like Zach Randolph (pre-2009-10 season). But against the Pistons and their semi-big, mostly stunted frontcourt he was definitely a good basketball player. He scored 18 points inside and finished with 30 points overall. He also had 12 rebounds and five assists. He didn’t allow any of the Pistons’ big men to get a lot of easy buckets inside and kept them off the boards for most of the night. He was a dominating presence inside. It shoots my theory of “post-Jack Sikma curly-haired white guys not being able to positively affect a team” right in the foot.

Lemon Face: Michael Smith, Kane Fitzgerald, Tony Brothers
I really hate bitching about officials. I think it’s contrite. I think it’s a tired act of heaping responsibility away from the performance of the team. Even in the most egregious situations (Kobe vs. the Bucks a week or so ago and Game 6 of the 2002 WCF), I feel like ultimately you have to blame the players for not persevering through the bad calls. But Tuesday night in Houston was a joke. They completely took Emeka Okafor out of a game in which Emeka Okafor was defensively the reason the Hornets had stormed back into the game and taken the momentum. But questionable call after questionable call against Okafor on plays in which he didn’t commit a foul or was actually fouled but given a foul ended up unfairly fouling him out of the game. It was a shame too because it took away what was shaping up to be a fantastic finish.

Lion Face: David West
The offensive side of that run the Hornets made against Houston was thanks to this man. David West outscored the Rockets by himself in the fourth quarter when he exploded for half of his 44 points. He did it all. Score inside against guys like Carl Landry? Check. Face up jumpers? Check. Step-back jumpers? You betcha. Three-point shots from Chris Paul passes? Well of course, he did. David West was just in a freaking zone like a man who can hear Jimmy and stretches like Jane Fonda before he laces them up at Venice Beach. 30 second half points for West on 11 of 18 shooting. Congrats on the new career-high and I’m sorry about the loss.

Lemon Face: Clyde Drexler
Clyde Drexler you say? But he doesn’t even play in the NBA any more. You’re right; he definitely doesn’t play any more. However, he DOES do color commentating for Houston Rockets games and I couldn’t have been more disappointed. Here is a list of things that I wouldn’t say are his strong suit based on what I heard from him Tuesday night:

– English
– Verb Agreement
– Watch a basketball game and accurately explaining what’s going on in the game.
– Offering up an unbiased take on the situation.
– English
– Offering up a correct take on the situation.
– Questioning calls against the Rockets when it’s clear on the replay it was the correct call.
– Public speaking.
– English

It definitely reminded me of this scene from Bedazzled, which is something that only Austin Carr has done before:

And Now for an onslaught of Lion Faces…

Manu GINOOOOOOOOOOOBILIIIIIIII
Just do me a favor and watch the highlight package here from the Spurs win over the Wolves. Manu Ginobili’s passing was certifiably insane.

I mean, seriously… the behind the back pass is not something people just do. You can’t just go out there and be whipping the ball around like that. You have to at least pretend it was challenging to pull that off.

Go Go Gadget Tyrus
Tyrus Thomas struggled to score during the Bulls win over Indiana but he made up for it with rebounding. On this play, he was Inspector Gadget:

LeBron James Defies Physics and Time
I refuse to believe this play actually happened:

There is just no way you can catch the basketball 30 feet away from the hoop, dribble down the lane and dunk it with two hands in two seconds. I just don’t believe it. There had to be some time of clock malfunction or teleporting that wasn’t discovered.

Hot Sauce in My Bag!
Bugs Bunny may have been a G but he never bumped on Josh Smith’s head.

Their Losing Decade

One team played defense down the stretch, relying on sound man principles and getting the job done. The other resorted to a gimmick zone and couldn’t stop anyone.

That’s the bottom line.

via Wizards lose … again – Bullets Forever.

I’m of the opinion that a book needs to be written by this team. Maybe by Mike Jones. Maybe by Mike Prada. Maybe by Kyle Weidie. But someone needs to document this Wizards season.

They finally have their components back, and all being paid a King’s ransom. Think about how much money they have invested in this team. How massively disappointing is this? To have put that much money in and gotten this kind of performance?

They brought in a new coach. A good coach. Maybe a great coach, offensively. They all spoke of sacrifice and leadership and always, winning, winning, winning. The golden principles that are supposed to lead to salvation. For nothing.

They lost their owner.

And now this team is the new posterchild for losing. Forget the Nets. We can forgive them, attribute growing pains. Forget the Knicks (a game and a half out of sixth in the East!), who are simply dealing with past sins. Forget the Timberwolves, because they weren’t wrong, they just didn’t know what they were doing (STILL LOOKING FOR MORE POINT GUARDS. ALL YOUR POINT GUARDS ARE BELONG TO US). Hell, Golden State has at least put forth some idea of effort.

But this team? It doesn’t care enough to try and create effort to execute the plan that was flawed to begin with. This is Pat Conroy’s “My Losing Season” epic. There’s an epic sense to this failure, systemically, personally, for the fans, the management, the players, everything.

It’s made more crushing from the fact that there was such excitement, such hope. After such a miserable slide due to injury last year, they couldn’t be as bad, right? They couldn’t be.

(Side note: The thing that really inspires pity is the constant talk of “Looks like Gilbert’s back” every game. I’ve read it maybe twenty times. He’s not back, because he’s not making a difference. He hasn’t created any fear. He’s just another guard who shoots. When he makes the difference? Then we can talk of him being back. )

But they are. And it’s wrong. It’s all wrong.

You’re looking at detonation. You’re looking at trading away the central core. You’re looking at the end of the road for an entire era that was never really born. In a way, LeBron killed it. And I know that hurts. But when he spoke to Gilbert at the line, something changed. Nothing was right after that. It was just disaster after disaster, be it  the quiet unfortunate kind (the playoff elimination sans Gilbert), the abject demolition (the injury 08-09 season), or this year, the death of hope.

This needs to be watched, and we’re fortunate we have such great writers covering this team, day in and day out, even though you can feel how much it kills them. This is a story that needs to be told, even if there is no lesson. Expected greatness? Pass, I’m full on that. The tragedy you never saw coming? That’s the story you have to read, even if you’re left with nothing but emptiness after.

Their Losing Decade

One team played defense down the stretch, relying on sound man principles and getting the job done. The other resorted to a gimmick zone and couldn’t stop anyone.

That’s the bottom line.

via Wizards lose … again – Bullets Forever.

I’m of the opinion that a book needs to be written by this team. Maybe by Mike Jones. Maybe by Mike Prada. Maybe by Kyle Weidie. But someone needs to document this Wizards season.

They finally have their components back, and all being paid a King’s ransom. Think about how much money they have invested in this team. How massively disappointing is this? To have put that much money in and gotten this kind of performance?

They brought in a new coach. A good coach. Maybe a great coach, offensively. They all spoke of sacrifice and leadership and always, winning, winning, winning. The golden principles that are supposed to lead to salvation. For nothing.

They lost their owner.

And now this team is the new posterchild for losing. Forget the Nets. We can forgive them, attribute growing pains. Forget the Knicks (a game and a half out of sixth in the East!), who are simply dealing with past sins. Forget the Timberwolves, because they weren’t wrong, they just didn’t know what they were doing (STILL LOOKING FOR MORE POINT GUARDS. ALL YOUR POINT GUARDS ARE BELONG TO US). Hell, Golden State has at least put forth some idea of effort.

But this team? It doesn’t care enough to try and create effort to execute the plan that was flawed to begin with. This is Pat Conroy’s “My Losing Season” epic. There’s an epic sense to this failure, systemically, personally, for the fans, the management, the players, everything.

It’s made more crushing from the fact that there was such excitement, such hope. After such a miserable slide due to injury last year, they couldn’t be as bad, right? They couldn’t be.

(Side note: The thing that really inspires pity is the constant talk of “Looks like Gilbert’s back” every game. I’ve read it maybe twenty times. He’s not back, because he’s not making a difference. He hasn’t created any fear. He’s just another guard who shoots. When he makes the difference? Then we can talk of him being back. )

But they are. And it’s wrong. It’s all wrong.

You’re looking at detonation. You’re looking at trading away the central core. You’re looking at the end of the road for an entire era that was never really born. In a way, LeBron killed it. And I know that hurts. But when he spoke to Gilbert at the line, something changed. Nothing was right after that. It was just disaster after disaster, be it  the quiet unfortunate kind (the playoff elimination sans Gilbert), the abject demolition (the injury 08-09 season), or this year, the death of hope.

This needs to be watched, and we’re fortunate we have such great writers covering this team, day in and day out, even though you can feel how much it kills them. This is a story that needs to be told, even if there is no lesson. Expected greatness? Pass, I’m full on that. The tragedy you never saw coming? That’s the story you have to read, even if you’re left with nothing but emptiness after.

15-Footer: 12.29.09

REASONS TO WATCH THE GAMES OF THE ASSOCIATION OF NATIONAL BASKETBALLS TONIGHT:

Must See KD
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Washington Wizards – 7:00 pm EST

Kevin Durant dropped 40 on 22 shots last night. He might do that again. And you’re gonna feel like a giant douche if you miss it two nights in a row.

Game O’ Da Nite
Cleveland Cavs @ Atlanta Hawks – 7:00 pm EST

I couldn’t possibly be more excited for this first game in a home-and-home-back-to-back that will hopefully foreshadow the series we see in the Eastern Conference Finals. At least I hope so. Nothing against Boston and Orlando, I’m just a big Hawks backer right now, am a little bored of Boston and am ready to watch LeBron re-enact Apocalypto in this year’s Playoffs. We’ll see. As for now, the Hawks are 8-2 in their last 10 while the Cavs are 9-1 in their last 10. Someone has to lose, I suppose. And no matter what happens tonight in ATL, shawty, it will set the scene perfectly for tomorrow’s re-match in the Mistake By the Lake.

The Schadenfreude Bowl
New York Knicks @ Detroit Pistons – 7:30 pm EST

The Pistons have lost 7 in a row despite Rodney Stuckey averaging 21.1 ppg in December. Or perhaps they’re losing in part because of his high usage numbers? I honestly have no idea. Don’t watch Pistons games. But … ummm … you should. That way, you will get to see them snap this skid of futility. Or you will get to point and laugh at them when they lose their 8th straight. To the Knicks of all people. Now, normally, I wouldn’t waste a lot of time watching New York either, but what with them TRYNA PUT NATE IN A BOX and all, it’s almost worth tuning in. Almost.

Why Don’t We Gather Up All These Bricks and Build a Shelter for the Homeless?
Indiana Pacers @ Chicago Bulls – 8:00 pm EST

A good game to watch if you want to see some really good defense a ton of missed open jumpers. The Bulls, for example, shoot an embarrassing 36.2% on shots taken between 16-23 feet (which ranks them 27th best in the league from that location) yet they opt to lead the league in attempts with 29.8 FGAs between 16-23 feet per night. (For perspective, only two other teams take more than 25 attempts per game from that range. And Orlando only takes 13.2 per from this notoriously inefficient distance.). The Pacers, on the other hand, like to miss from further out. They attempt 20.8 three-pointers per outing despite only shooing 31.8% from there as a team and only having one healthy member of the rotation (Troy Murphy) shooting above 34% from behind the arc. I suppose none of this should come as a surprise since these two teams rank 28th and 29th in the NBA in FG% (Indy is 43.0% while Chi-Town shoots 42.8%), but these really are some staggering numbers. Get amped for this one, sports fans.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (Spoiler Alert: Me. Also: Sidney Poitier)
New Orleans Hornets @ Houston Rockets – 8:30 pm EST

What happens when the jambalaya of continual sadness that is Chris Paul’s ongoing prison sentence in Nawlins meets the smorgasbord of effervescent joy that is the Rockets of Houston? A great meal. But probably one that gives you heartburn. Either way, I’ll be watching.

Meh
Minnesota Timberwolves @ San Antonio Spurs – 8:30 pm EST

Since I don’t have a marketing degree and am not a good liar (I suppose that’s redundant), I’m not going to try to polish this turd. But I would like to point out that the gamblers among you may want to think about parlaying some of the home teams tonight. Why you ask? Well, the Hornets, Pacers, Wolves and Warriors all play on the road tonight and have a combined 11-50 road record. Or, in other words, those four teams, in 61 opportunities, have failed to win as many road games as Cleveland has (12) in it’s 18 opportunities. Thus, if anyone tries to convince you that there is anything even remotely resembling parity in the NBA, you have my permission to punch them squarely in the throat. Don’t worry, I’m a doctor.

The Makings of a Franchise-Altering Win Streak?
Golden State Warriors @ Los Angeles Lakers – 10:30 pm EST

Last night, the Lakers were embarrassed by Phoenix and Monta Ellis played all 48 minutes for Golden State (something he has now done in 5 of the Dubs last 11 games) in a win over Boston. So it’s pretty hard to imagine this one staying close. Then again, if the Warriors can figure out a way to beat the Lakers in Staples Center on the night after they beat the Celtics, it would be the best thing to happen to the franchise since the We Believers knocked the 68-win Mavericks out of the first round of the 2007 Playoffs. Considering that the current best thing to happen to the franchise since then was their coach getting pneumonia and opening the door for someone else to run the team for a few games, we’re not exactly talking about an achievement on par with putting a monkey on Mars or recording Illmatic, but it would still be two nice, back-to-back wins nonetheless. And who knows: Maybe Premo, Pete Rock and Large Pro all show up for this one, too. Provided they don’t get stuck in traffic with all the other bandwagon Laker fans, of course.

illmatic

Lion Face/Lemon Face – 12.29.09: Where Underdogs Sweep the Association (Except for Jersey & DC, Natch)

Can’t believe I just used “natch” in the headline. Lemon Face for me.

What’s a “Lemon Face”? Break it down for ‘em, Ben.

Lion Face – Underdogs

Except for the Nets and Wiz — who are two teams simply beyond help at this point — every underdog that played last night won. The Suns destroyed the Lakers, the Dubs held on against the Celtics, the Kings edged out the Nuggs, and the Sixers smacked around the Blazers. Even the Bobcats beat the Bucks, which while maybe not as unexpected was notable since the lower-profile party had their way with America’s darling — sorta like me and your sister after she won that Idol contest thing.

underdog

Lemon Face – KG Fading Away

After resting on the bench for quite some time, KG entered the game in the fourth quarter with about 6 minutes to go and his team down by 5. About three possessions later, he found himself with the ball being guarded by Monta Ellis. To be completely fair, he didn’t have a ton of time left on shotclock, but that does not forgive the terrible, awkward, off-balance fadeaway he opted to take over a 6’3″ guy who weighs less than the sandwich Big Baby ate during half-time. Then, on the next trip down the floor, Garnett again found himself with the ball in the midrange and, again, had himself a nice mismatch, this time over Corey Maggette. What did KG do? He took and badly missed another off-balance fadeaway. Rajon Rondo was able to score the next 6 points for Boston and keep them within a few missed Ray Allen threes from coming back to steal the win on the road, but it’s inexcusable for the Big Ticket to ruin two key fourth quarter possessions — especially when Paul Pierce isn’t playing, Rondo is reluctantly not completely taking over and Ray Allen is shooting like Marquis Daniels. That’s just not a winning formula for the Celtics. In fact, I actually have the formula that proves it.

The Kevin Garnet EquationLion Face – The Suns Offense and the Best Dudley Since Chris

The Suns straight up murdered the Lakers last night on the strength of good passing (25 of their 43 total FGs were assisted), good shooting (55.7% eFG) and 12 treys (3 of which were made by one Jared Dudley). In hitting 3 of his 4 attempts from behind the arc, Dudley played the able finisher role last night for Phoenix on his way to 19 points on 10 shots, 7 boards (2 offensive) and 3 assists. He also led the roster with a +21 and has generally become a big spark for Alvin Gentry off the bench, something evidenced by the 8 double-figure scoring nights he’s put up in his last 11 games. That “swing forward who can play bigger than he is” role has always been a key to Nash’s uptempo success and Dudley gets it done on both ends while giving them a much different look than any of Amar’e, Channing Frye or Robin Lopez. His emergence has been key to the Suns success and he definitely looks like a guy who will be playing at a high-level for a long time in this league. Imagine if he ever got in shape.

Lemon Face – The Bucks Offense and the Worst Redd Since Mountain Dew Code

The Bucks put up a decent effort in the second half to almost make a game of it against Charlotte last night. Too bad they put up a laughable 34 first-half points. The whole team was gross, shooting 38.5% for the game (and 6/25 or 24% from three), but Michael Redd managed to be the most useless of all. He was 0/4 with 0 rebounds, 0 assists and 1 turnover in 17 minutes, during which he helped his team by recording a -15. In his defense, however, he did also spend those 17 minutes sorta looking like Kanye West. So there’s that.

kanye west fishsticks

Lion Face – Durantula vs. Chinese Guy

I don’t care that New Jersey didn’t win. They actually looked good for major portions of the game last night — aside from the last 6 minutes or so when, ya know, you kind of want teams to look their best. No matter, however. Yi unleashed a shocking 29-point, 7-rebound outburst, and Devin Harris’ 11-point, 11-assist tally was actually even more impressive than it sounds since a few of the buckets were on sweet drives. I’m burying the lede here though. Durant was on another level and had a very nice 22-point first half and 18-point second half distribution while scoring his 40 points on 22 shots. Yup, the future scoring champ dropped 40 on 15/22 and did it without even making a single three-pointer (something aided by his 10/12 from the line). We have ourselves a really special one here. Meanwhile, the Thunder now have Eric Maynor to back up Russell Westbrook and, hopefully, even push him over to the SG at times so we can see a Maynor/Westbrook/Green/Durant/Whoever lineup crack some skulls. Good times in OKC.

tarantula

Lemon Face – The Wizards … The God-Awful, Unwatchable Wizards

So … lemme get this right. Gilbert goes for 30, Jamison drops 24 and Tough Juice puts up 24, and you guys still can’t beat Memphis? Have a fun season.

Lion Face – Z-Bo Always Makes My List

I think Zach Randolph has gotten a Lion Face every time I’ve done this column so far this year. Dude just loves to go off when I’m paying attention to the Grizz. Last night, it was 23 and 19, and even though it wasn’t the most efficient of outings (7/17) he did a ton of good stuff to help Memphis win this one. Still, this is funny.

Lion Face – Sacramento Hard-Hat Wearers

Nene was the only real bright spot for the Nuggs as they lost to a Tyrekeless Kings squad, which had some great performances from their hard-hat-wearing role players that helped overcome the Brazilian’s 25-point evening (in addition to Melo’s pretty weak 34-points-on-35-shots outing). Jon Brockman (who I really hope is not seriously being called “The Brock-ness Monster” by Sacto announcers as they joked about last night) was a revelation with his 10 boards in 16 minutes and really sparked the team off the bench with some qualtiy crunch-time minutes. Andres Nocioni dropped 21 points on 7 shots while also drawing my unwavering hatred and infinite scorn. Omri Casspi further proved why he might be my favorite player in the league with a HUGE three that gave the Kings the lead back with 2 minutes left, just as the game looked like it might slip away. He grabbed a few boards late, too. Love this team. Love these role players. (No, that doesn’t include you, Nocioni. Go back to whatever circle of Hell you came from.)

hard-hat

Lion Face – Presuming He Deserves This

I actually completely forgot this game was on and watched nary a second. But The Answer dropped 19 points on 7/11 shooting (and a notable 0/0 from three) to go along with 5 dimes, 4 boards and only 2 TOs. Me likey.

Lemon Face – I Know He Deserves This

Jerryd Bayless went 0/7 in 15 minutes. I don’t need to watch to know that sucks. Also, I didn’t manage to mention James Harden’s 0/10 earlier because I didn’t want to ruin what was otherwise a nice paragraph about the Thunderous ones. But, yeah, he was awful, too. Let’s not take it too hard on the guy, though. That beard isn’t gonna manicure itself, so he was probably just tired from all the hedge trimming.

Have Respect: He Was Legend

As sports fans – and more importantly here basketball fans – we tend to have terrible short-term memories. It’s all about what’s next. We hardly consider what happened last year because we’re too wrapped up in what is now and what that means for the future.

For example, take the Sacramento Kings and Oklahoma City Thunder of last year. Do we even remember how atrocious these teams were? They combined for a record of 40-124. The Kings were worst defensive team in the league. The Thunder were the second worst offensive team in the NBA. But looking at the way they are now, the futures look so bright we can’t even see the doldrums that plagued two fan bases from just eight months ago.

So when we’re asked to think back four seasons ago, it’s hard to remember the order of things and how we rated players. Hell, it is damn near impossible to think back six, seven, eight and especially nine seasons. This season I’ve been given the opportunity to participate in the new Daily Dime Live Chats on ESPN.com. It’s one of the many perks of being affiliated with the TrueHoop Network. And with the latest news that Tracy McGrady is in fact done with the Houston Rockets, there were naturally questions about where he may go for the rest of the season.

Most people remember him as the broken down scorer who is about as reliable to play on any given night as Kwame Brown is to catch any given pass. They think of him as an injury-prone joke of a superstar – someone who has wilted away in the NBA sun. But that’s not the Tracy McGrady I remember.

I Remember The Sleepy-Eyed Kid
Nobody really knew what to do with Tracy McGrady. He wasn’t on the radar of NBA scouts since he was in the seventh grade. He was a nobody in the ranks of the college recruits. He was having a good but not overly spectacular high school career for the Auburndale High School he attended from his freshman to junior years. If you were to look at the list of the top 500 prospects in 1996, you’d see a lot of names. In fact, you’d see 500 of them. But not one of those 500 names was Tracy McGrady. He was an unknown. He was a high school athlete that was expected to be a professional baseball player – not a professional basketball player.

Then he was given a shot to show what he had at the Adidas ABCD camp. He lit up the camp. He lit it up like he was playing Simon. He dunked on blue-chip recruits and lit the high school basketball scene on fire. Afterwards, when you looked at any list of top high school players, you only saw Lamar Odom’s named above McGrady’s. A year later, he polished off a fine senior basketball season at Mt. Zion Christian Academy by declaring for the NBA Draft.

After being selected ninth by the Toronto Raptors in the 1997 draft, he was now a complete anomaly. Raptors fans saw flashes of what he could do. He was a dunking machine and looked like he had glimpses of Scottie Pippen-type defense in him when he was given the chance. He was fortunate enough to have his cousin Vince drafted to the team a year later and with his cousin’s national exposure he finally got a little national spotlight. It culminated for his Raptors career when he participated in the 2000 Dunk Contest. In any other year, he would have run away with it. He just happened to be in his cousin’s spotlight again at the wrong time.

I Remember The Revolution Of The Small Forward
When Tim Duncan passed up on joining the Orlando Magic, it opened the door for the front office to throw a lot of money Tracy McGrady’s way. Nobody really knew what they were getting with him. This signing was based more on potential and what he could do to complement Grant Hill than on him being the number one guy for this team. But that’s not what the Magic got. Grant Hill’s ankle problem didn’t go away and Tracy McGrady was left alone on the court with Darrell Armstrong, John Amaechi, Bo Outlaw and Andrew DeClerq. So what happened next?

Tracy McGrady went OFF.

His first game with the Magic, he scored 32 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, dished out four assists and blocked three shots in a win over the Wizards. In a nine-game stretch from mid-November to early December, he averaged 29 points and nine rebounds with 49.5% shooting. In the month of February in 2001, he averaged 29.3 points on 50% shooting over the course of 12 games. He was a one-man wrecking crew. He was Bernard King’s scoring in Scottie Pippen’s athletic frame. It was something we hadn’t seen before. And it was something everybody wanted.

I Remember Self Passing
I know you remember it too. It was a momentary glimpse of brilliance and creativity that NBA players didn’t dare attempt. Hell, they didn’t even think of it. It’s something we did as kids when we’d kick the adjustable hoop in someone’s driveway. It wasn’t something that 22-year old guys did against five of the best players in the world. Had hundreds of basketball players on thousands of basketball courts done it before Tracy McGrady attempted it in the 2002 All-Star Game? Probably.

But this was the NBA. This was chicanery of the most impressive time. This was the seal of approval on the arrival of Tracy McGrady into the superstar club. It was over Steve Nash’s head, off the backboard to a sideways, flying T-Mac that launched a brand, a weapon, and a star all in one fell rip through the rim.

I Remember 13 Points in 35 Seconds
It was just another typical TNT blowout game. The Spurs were giving the Rockets their medicine on national television and showing the world once again the Spurs were capable of dismantling even the most promising squads. And then something happened. Something galvanized Tracy McGrady into thinking this game shouldn’t be in the loss column for Houston. My words will never do it justice. Just watch the video.

The insane thing about this performance was the sense of calm McGrady showed through the entire moment. The first three was no big deal. A long range shot over Bruce Bowen who was probably trying to figure out what he was going to eat for dinner after the game. Then he frees himself from Bowen by running him off of a Yao screen. It allows him to pump fake one of the most intelligent players we will ever see in Tim Duncan. Duncan bites on the fake, McGrady draws the foul and knocks down a three. After the free throw, the four-point play has put everybody on alert that this game might be heading to overtime. But it’s no big deal for the Spurs. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the league and Bruce Bowen is one of the best perimeter defenders out there. He’ll slow down McGrady and allow the clock to run out on this run.

But Bowen can’t do what Duncan just did. He can’t foul McGrady on a long-range shot. So he bodies him up as much as he can and McGrady hits an almost desperation three-pointer. He drains it and now it’s a two-point ball game. This leaves the Spurs expecting a foul from the Rockets to extend the game clock. Instead, Devin Brown dribbles out of a double team and falls to the floor. McGrady picks up the loose ball. With the Rockets down only two and less than 10 seconds remaining, the smart play is to take it to the rack and either kick it out for a game-winning three when the defense collapses or you get a bucket/foul situation. But that wasn’t good enough for T-Mac. He was Jaws. He tasted blood. He wanted more. He pulls up in the face of improbability with two seconds left and drops another dagger – his fourth three-pointer in 35 seconds. There was no way he was extending this game. The Spurs screwed up and allowed the Rockets to have some life. McGrady wasn’t going to let that opportunity pass without making them pay for it.

I Remember Having A Serious Debate On Our Hands
Let me drop a couple of average stat lines on you from the 2000-01 season through the 2004-05 season.

Player 1: 74.6 Games | 44.3% FG | 35.2% 3FG | 6.8 rpg | 5.3 apg | 1.6 spg | 0.9 bpg | 2.6 topg | 27.6 ppg
Player 2: 72 Games | 45.2% FG | 33.3% 3FG | 5.9 rpg | 5.4 apg | 1.7 spg | 0.6 bpg | 3.2 topg | 27.1 ppg

Looks pretty even, right?

It’s hard to tell who is the better player here. One is a little more durable. That same player is also a superior three-point shooter, a better rebounder, a better defender in terms of garnering steals and blocking shots and a better scorer. The other player shoots a higher percentage from the field and does a slightly better job passing the ball but has turnover issues.

Player 1 is Tracy McGrady. Player 2 is Kobe Bryant.

Now, I’m not trying to say Tracy McGrady was a better ball player than Kobe Bryant during these five seasons. There are plenty of factors to consider when comparing the two.

McGrady being slightly more durable is kind of shock based on what we know about the two players at this point in their careers. Kobe is a guy who plays through broken and torn fingers. McGrady’s knees have failed him along with his back.

Kobe’s scoring might have been more impressive due to the fact that he had Shaq on his team who took up a lot of possessions. At the same time, he also had the floor opened up to him much more than what Tracy McGrady saw.

Kobe’s assists are slightly higher but when you consider that he was passing to Shaq, Robert Horry, Rick Fox and Derek Fisher you’d expect him to get more assists than Tracy McGrady who was passing to Pat Garrity, Darrell Armstrong, Mike Miller and Yao Ming (one year).

Kobe’s rebounding being lower makes sense because he was a shooting guard (not a small forward like T-Mac) and he had Shaq to battle for boards as opposed to McGrady who was trying to out rebound Andrew DeClerq.

So what do we make of this? Was McGrady better than Kobe from 2000-2005? Personally, I don’t care. Lakers fans will call it absurd but for those of us who remember how unstoppable McGrady was, it makes a lot of sense. But that’s not the point of this exercise. The point is there was a debate to be had. There was no definitive answer between who was better between Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant. Much like now with LeBron versus Kobe, fans of each player were circling each other with strengths, weaknesses, and stats too similar to decipher a winner.

THAT’S how good Tracy McGrady used to be.

Don’t look back at his bad back, his micro-fractured knees and his inability to get out of the first round when his team wasn’t helping him out. Remember him for the incredible player he was. Hope that he can come back for a new team and help them win some games. We don’t want to remember our stars fading into obscurity. And I certainly don’t want to remember this Tracy McGrady as the player I reflect on.

He was a legend for the first half of this decade. We need to condition our short-term memories to keep that in mind.

Lion Face/Lemon Face 12.23.09: The Z-Bo For President Edition

It’s that time of year for some Christmas Caroling. Hit it boys!

Well, that was great TBJers but I was thinking more of these guys:

Lion Face: Zach Randolph
Wait, THAT Zach Randolph? The guy who does stuff like this?

Yep, it’s THAT Zach Randolph. Z-Bo has been a monster this year and particularly monstrous over the past two games. 33 points and 18 rebounds coming off of a 32-point, 24-rebound performance and he’s shot 27/42 in this period. Hell, looking back over his last three games, he’s averaging 30 points, 19 rebounds and shooting 38/62 (61%). What do we do if Zach Randolph starts going like this all the time? Who is going to be willing to call him an All-Star? Who’s going to be willing to call him anything but a stat whore? I’d rather remember him as the lazy Anthony Mason and Anthony Mason was 350 pounds!

Lemon Face: Chicago Bulls
If Vinny Del Negro doesn’t get fired after his last two games, I’d like to apply for Jerry Reinsdorf to be my boss so I can kick back, be mediocre at best, and have a blank, confused look on my face 24/7. Oh wait, I already do that except Reinsdorf doesn’t sign my checks. Not only did they blow a 35-point lead to Tyreke Evans, his onions and the rest of the Kings but they followed that up with a loss to the Knicks in which they scored 81 points. 81 points against the Knicks? I feel like the Bulls situation has become the end of There Will Be Blood (spoiler alert). The players are the young reverend who have smugly decided to strong-hand Daniel Plainview (Vinny Del Negro). They’re playing horrible basketball in a way to hold him ransom. Maybe they feel like playing this way will get him to either give in to what they want as a basketball team or get him fired. Only VDN has other ideas. He’s going to beat them to death with a bowling pin until he decides that he’s finished. Then maybe he’ll tell Reinsdorf to fire him or he’ll step down. But not until after he’s brutally beaten this team to a bloody pulp.

Lion Face: Gerald Wallace
First, he called out Tyson Chandler, which everyone in the basketball blogging community has been doing since we realized he isn’t any good. Then he decided to keep up his spectacular play this season with an all-around performance against the Pistons. He poured in 29 points (10/18 shooting), 12 rebounds, four threes, four blocks, three assists and two steals. He also made a lovely lasagna, washed his dog, decorated a gingerbread house and the entire series of Sports Night. He did it all and is still third in the NBA in rebounding. He’s always been a player with an S-load of potential but if he begins to harness his powers like this, he could very well be just what we need to defeat Joy Behar.

Lemon Face: Brad Miller
Zero points for Brad once again. In his last four games, he’s scored just two points in 80 minutes on the court. What in the name of Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje is going on here? Why can’t Brad Miller score? Why can’t he be effective on the court? Why can’t he play like the All-Star he used to be? Is there something going on this time of year that is distracting him from contributing?

Lion Face: Joakim Noah
I feel like every time I do one of these Lion Face/Lemon Face pieces Joakim Noah goes off and I include him in the Lion Face category. Maybe I’m just good luck for him. Or maybe he’s just an F’ing All-Star. In a game in which both teams shot 40% there were plenty of opportunities for rebounds. But grabbing 21 rebounds is still grabbing 21 rebounds.

Lion Face: David Lee
An even more impressive 21-rebound performance was David Lee’s effort in the Bulls-Knicks game. It’s not like his 21-rebounds were tougher to get than Noah’s 21. But he did it in a win, thanks to also adding 18 points and five assists. I’m still and probably always will be confused about the impact of David Lee. Everybody loves him because everyone thinks with a fantasy sports mentality these days. He still plays atrocious defense in my opinion and I don’t know that his stats mean very much on a consistent night-to-night basis. But the numbers look so sexy, it’s hard not to talk yourself into him. He’s the basketball equivalent of Anna Paquin. I can’t tell if she’s attractive or beastly. But I’m not willing to throw in the towel on her just yet.

Lemon Face: Shawn Marion
One of my favorite comedies to watch on TV right now is Tropic Thunder. It’s always on and I find it to be hilarious. I mainly find Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance in it to be hilarious on so many levels. His own tribute/mockery to actor blacksploitation is pretty brilliant. Well in one scene, an actual black actor gets frustrated with Downey’s character (Australian actor who is outrageously playing a black soldier by darkening his skin and going by every stereotype there is) and yells at him to be himself instead of his version of a black man when the cameras aren’t rolling. He yells, “You’re Australian; Be Australian!” That’s where I am with Shawn Marion right now. I want to grab him by the arms, shake him and yell, “You’re an All-Star; Play like an All-Star!” Especially after he can’t even manage to score in 25 minutes against the Blazers.

Lion Face: Kevin Love
Kevin Love had 19 rebounds last night. In a couple of weeks, Kevin Love is going to qualify for enough games to be amongst the leaders in rebounding. When that happens, he’s going to start the first of an eight-year stretch in which he leads the NBA in rebounding and never gives away the boarding title. It’s going to consist of efforts like this one on the court in which he’s the only player that doesn’t give up on a terrible Wolves team and keeps playing hard. He has one of those motors that doesn’t look to be in great shape but keeps working and getting the job done. Sorry, Dwight Howard but I hope you weren’t wanting to look back on your basketball-reference.com player page in 20 years and see a lot of bold numbers for your yearly rebounding totals.

Lemon Face: Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks are way too talented to have four games this season in which they failed to reach 85 points. Everyone outside of Dirk Nowitzki and JJ Barea combined to score 32 points on 12/1500 shooting. They also missed a bushel of free throws (I have no idea how many are in a bushel). The 20-9 record is great but if you keep having these let downs, I’m going to take you out of my League Pass rotation. If you’re going to lose, lose like the Warriors do – with no defense and very little pride.

Lion Face: Carl Landry
Imagine if 50 Cent was a basketball player, good at his job and a likeable person. His name would be Carl Landry and you’d love watching him play every night. All Carl Landry knows how to do is put up spectacular performances off the bench. He’s averaging 16.4 points per game and trying to run away with the 6th Man of the Year award. He’s only really like 6’7” but he managed to score 27 points on 10 shots off the bench against a huge Clippers frontcourt. He got to the line 15 times in this game. There are times in which he’s the equivalent of Super Mario after getting a star. He just has this glowing, blinking aura around him and runs through everybody. It doesn’t matter that he was once shot or just lost his teeth. He just keeps coming back.

Lion Face: Paul Pierce
He was terrible in the first quarter. He was terrible in the second quarter. He was mediocre in the third quarter. But in the fourth quarter, he took a possible win from the Indiana Pacers and gave Tommy Heinsohn a happy reason to drink. He scored 14 of his 21 points in the fourth by terrorizing the Pacers with his mid-range repertoire. He isn’t the best closer in the history of basketball but he may end up being the Trevor Hoffman of his basketball era. Great numbers in the clutch and probably underrated as a crunch time savior.

Lion Face: Kobe Bryant
40 points on 26 shots with eight rebounds and six assists. The scary thing is we don’t seem to get fazed by these nights from Kobe Bryant. We just accept it as regular news like it’s raining outside, the stock market went up/down, or my rash cleared up so I’m going out tonight. Someday, we’re going to look back on Kobe Bryant’s career and realize we took him for granted.

Lion Face: Oklahoma City Thunder
So many fun parts to this team, so few Lion Faces left to give. If Serge Ibaka can keep giving this kind of effort (8 points, 14 rebounds), I’m not going to be able to control my hyperbole for this team. I still don’t think they’re a playoff team this year (Matt, you’re not getting a cake from me). But with Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook playing so incredibly and James Harden coming off the bench, it’s just too hard to not fall in love with this team. And then there’s Kevin Durant.

I’m not quick to throw him into top 5 or top 10 status like so many pundits. He’s really good and the potential to be one of a kind legendary is definitely there. I can see why everyone wants to elevate him early so they can be one of the first ones to expound on his greatness. Think about what he did last night. He scored 30 points on 19 shots against Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom. And it didn’t even look like it was difficult for him to do so. Throw in moves like the video below and I’m downright giddy for the next decade-plus.