Monthly Archives: February 2012

Making Sense Of The Malice

Photo by Smaku via Flickr

If you haven’t taken the time to read Jonathan Abrams phenomenal oral history of the Malice at the Palace from earlier today at Grantland, you definitely need to take the time to go ahead and do so. Abrams talked directly with or pulled historical quotes from over 20 individuals connected to that fateful night in Auburn Hills when Ron Artest fouled Ben Wallace, Wallace shoved Artest in retaliation, a fan launched a cup of beer at Artest, Artest charged into the stands, and the NBA was changed forever. Reading through Abrams’ article, there were a number of interesting quotes that jumped off the screen that provided insight into the thinking of those involved and altered the future of the league.

“[Toward] the end of the game, I recall somebody on the team told Ron, “You can get one now.” I heard it. I think somebody was shooting a free throw. Somebody said to Ron, “You can get one now,” meaning you can lay a foul on somebody who he had beef with in the game.” – Stephen Jackson

The beginning of the end of Ron Artest’s season began with those five simple words. “You can get one now.” Who’s to say that if those words are never spoken that the melee doesn’t happen at all? The game was well in hand by the time that the foul occurred; Indiana led by 15 points with less than a minute to go. If Artest isn’t encouraged to exact revenge on Wallace whom he had an issue with all game, there is a realistic chance that it’s just another November regular season game rather than one of the most memorable games of all time.

 “Ronnie did try to get away from it because he had been told, “If you see yourself getting too excited, disengage and get yourself out of it and get your thoughts together.” That’s why he went down and laid down on the table. It was so he wouldn’t get all excited and do something wrong.” – Donnie Walsh

One of the more unfortunate parts about the entire night is that Artest actually tried to diffuse the situation by stepping away from it. Now, we can sit and debate all day about whether or not laying on the scorer’s table was the best way to accomplish this, but the fact remains that he removed himself from the central point of the confrontation and did as he was taught. If John Green, the guy who threw the beer on Artest, doesn’t have a better aim than 95% of the quarterbacks in NFL on that throw, the night’s entire events are altered.

“ Tommy Nunez Jr. was one of the three officials, a very small guy. He was in there frantically trying to separate guys. Ron Garretson looked like he was going to soil himself, and the third referee that no one ever remembers was Tim Donaghy.” – Mark Boyle

Tim Donaghy seems like one of those people who is bound to pop up in every critical moment in NBA history. The infamous Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Kings and Lakers? He was there, essentially rigging the game for Los Angeles to win. The Malice at the Palace? He was there. Central focus of the worst scandal to ever hit the NBA? Yup, he was it. Donaghy is essentially the real life version of the casually pepper spraying cop meme showing up at some of the NBA’s most pivotal moments. Are we sure that he wasn’t the one taking the picture of Wilt holding up the “100” sign after his 100 point game?

“We have zillions of security plans for the Palace, for all kinds of things. But none included a player going up in the stands. That just is not something anybody foresaw.” – Doreen E. Olko

“There were only three police officers in the arena to handle things. They did a great job with what they had.” – Jim Mynsberge

The most important thing that we all can do when mistakes, no matter how big, happen is to take steps to ensure that they do not happen again. It’s awful that it had to take an incident like this to raise awareness, but teams are infinitely more prepared today to handle, and ideally prevent, a repeat situation like this from ever occurring. As a direct result of the brawl, the NBA instituted numerous policies to reduce risk including limiting size of alcoholic beverages to 24 oz., setting a maximum number of alcoholic beverages a person can purchase at one time at two, banning the sales of alcohol at the conclusion of the third quarter, and ensuring that a minimum of three security guards were located between the players and fans.

“There was no control. This wasn’t a game anymore. This was about these fans. They don’t know the rules. They’re not going to listen to a referee pulling them apart. A whole street mentality takes over. The fans are not part of the family, the NBA family. Even though you’re fighting against these guys on the court, they’re still in the other team’s jerseys. You’re not trying to kill anybody. But the fans don’t know that, and you don’t know what they’re thinking. That changed the whole scenario.” – Scott Pollard

I’m as surprised as you are that the guy who once told kids to do drugs in the middle of a basketball game offered up the most insightful quote in the entire piece. For as much as we live and die for our teams, the average NBA player is closer to his fraternity of fellow players than he is to any fan. Whether it’s this incident, Dwyane Wade breaking Kobe Bryant’s nose resulting in a concussion, or any of the countless hard fouls handed out on any given night during the season, players in the NBA respect each other and will put aside their differences to join forces if the situation calls for it. Sports has a way of galvanizing players and fans alike in their own individual ways, and this situation was a perfect example of it playing out before our very eyes.

“After we calmed down, [Artest] looked at me like, ‘Jack, you think we going to get in trouble?’ Jamaal Tinsley fell out laughing. I said, ‘Are you serious, bro? Trouble? Ron, we’ll be lucky if we have a freaking job.’ That lets me know he wasn’t in his right mind, to ask that question.” – Stephen Jackson

If there was a quote to sum up Ron Artest and what goes on in his mind, this is it. I would pay an absurd amount of money to crawl around in Artest’s brain at that moment and just walk around. Analysts often talk about how the best athletes are able to compartmentalize different aspects of their lives. The best closers in baseball routinely get over blown saves far quicker than 99% of fans. Pure shooters can put poor shooting nights behind them and come out guns blazing the next game. Was Artest simply assuming that others would see his actions and think it was just another confrontation that happens all the time in the league? Had he already moved on to focusing on the next game rather than dwelling on what had occurred literally minutes prior? No one knows, but I would love to find out.

 “It’s hard to say, “I wouldn’t do this again,” or, “I wouldn’t do that,” because in a similar situation, you don’t know how you’ll react. It was a unique situation with so many things that happened so fast.”  – Ben Wallace

“ I told my lawyers, I told the jury, and I told the judge — I said, “What would you do if you were put in that position? What would I do with my kids and my wife if I was hit in the head and killed by a flying chair that they were throwing? Who was going to tell that story? What would the story look like then?” I was put in a position as the leader of the team to protect by any means necessary when we’re talking about something that has nothing to do with basketball. That had nothing to do with basketball.” – Jermaine O’Neal

O’Neal hit it on the head. When it was all said and done, this had nothing to do with basketball. In the most basic high school health classes, we are taught the nuances of the “fight-or-flight response” which exhibits itself during times of stress. In a highly competitive environment between professional athletes who have a long history of bad blood with one another, it takes just one spark to ignite a powder keg of emotion. There was absolutely no hope for a “flight” response at this point; there was going to be a fight, consequences be damned. While it’s easy to point the finger and ask “How could this happen?” I can’t fault guys like Wallace, O’Neal, or Jackson for implicitly suggesting or explicitly saying that they would have the same reactions today if the situation were to happen again. Overcoming basic instincts is hard enough in day to day life; it’s virtually impossible when your job takes place in front of 20,000 screaming fans and millions more watching at home. While I didn’t understand it at the time, I can certainly see where they were coming from. David Stern called the events of November 19, 2004, “inexcusable”; after reading Abrams’ work, couldn’t you at least argue that it was explainable?

Three Knicks Fans Send Each Other Sporadic Emails

Photo via The Knicks Blog

Unless you’ve been living under a rock – and even then I still think you would have heard about this – you know there are some big things brewing in New York right now as it relates to the Knickerbockers. Jeremy Lin has emerged from out of nowhere and taken the nation, the city and the fan base by storm. One of the best parts about this story is that we’re all really experiencing it together. So with that in mind, over the past week or so, I’ve had the pleasure of e-mailing back and forth with two of the most knowledgeable – and hilarious – Knicks fans on the interwebs, Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting and netw3rk aka Jason Concepcion of Twitter, the Internet, Corgi conventions and SBNation, about our experiences experiencing Linsanity individually, together as Knicks fans and as part of the larger NBA universe. We started our discussion after last week’s Knicks-Hawks game and kept it going right up through yesterday. Enjoy.

Dubin: We’re now through Game 11 with Jeremy Lin as a regular presence in our lives, and it undoubtedly feels different today than it did when he first surfaced on February 4th against the Nets. He’s gone from one hit wonder to improbable surprise story to international sensation in a span of just over two weeks. Everyone’s experiencing Linsanity in some way, but as Knicks fans, we’re really right in the middle of it.

The ride has been incredible. As I’ve already said, it’s often left me speechless. Sometimes because I have nothing to say, others because I don’t want to say anything for fear that I’ll somehow mess things up. That’s the nasty undercurrent with Knicks fans; we’re so neurotic, so used to everything going so spectacularly wrong that even when we’re in the middle of something as joyous and undeniably terrific as Linsanity we still have that creeping doubt in our minds. The one saying, “This will all end soon. It always does.” We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I know that when I see a short-handed team fight for a huge comeback win against the Mavericks, it feels like that feeling is going away and that I can trust this team, but then they come out and lose to the Nets in the next game and that feeling gives way to a different one. I’m confident in the kid and I’ll defend him against anyone who says he can’t play or he’s not that good, but sometimes I can’t help but feel like this all isn’t really real.

So my question(s) for you guys is(are): how have you felt about your experience with Linsanity? Do you feel that doubt at times too? Have you at all worried, despite everything we’ve seen and read and written about him that points toward any of this being sustainable, this will all come crashing down? Has that feeling waned? Have I asked enough questions yet?

Rosenthal: Pretty much the whole time I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop or whatever, but recently, I’ve found myself able to take my eyes away from him and not fretting over every little move he makes. I trust him and, I’m scared to admit, I must be starting to feel like he’s reliable. I know this because I looked at his stat line after the Atlanta game– a 17-point, nine-assist outing that, if it came from a Knick point guard in January, would have made me soil myself– and, you know, didn’t soil myself. I must have involuntarily adopted a set of expectations for Jeremy.

But then, as a self-centered Knick fan, I’m now making myself worried that I’m taking the kid for granted and he’s suddenly going to fail or melt into a puddle or something. The Knicks can’t just establish something good and keep it that way. That opposes everything I’ve been conditioned to expect from this organization. Oh god, where’s Jeremy? Has anybody seen him recently? Did he disappear? Are we even sure that he ever truly existed?

See what you did, Jared!?

netw3rk: Lin’s emergence has been, for me, the most purely enjoyable stretch of Knicks game I’ve experienced. Even when the Knicks were contending in the 90′s, the pressure of trying to overcome Chicago or fend off Indiana and Miami, was suffocating. The Knicks were truly the bad guys in black sneakers & shaved heads then, an eminently hate-able (if you weren’t a fan) team who physically pulverized opponents. The winning was fantastic but it was gone about with an air of grim duty and a hint of maliciousness. The incredible run during the 99′ postseason comes close — the peaks were higher — but there wasn’t the sustained feeling of happiness game-in, game-out.

What links 99′ and Lin’s emergence, in my mind, is that both were near total surprises. I was pretty darn sure NY’s window was tightly shut in 99′, at least as far getting to the finals was concerned. I was also pretty sure Lin — despite flashes — didn’t have anything close to the games he’s put up in him. I’m still find myself jolted with by an electric bolt of surprise when he makes a layup.
Now, 20 points and 8 assists is not sustainable. I’d be happy with 12 and 6.5. I am concerned about the effects of the hype, and the hype backlash, on him. In general I think I feel like most Knick fans do towards him: protective.

Dubin: I definitely feel you on the “protective” bit. Especially after last night’s game against the Heat (we’re onto a different day now, readers), when all the, “Oh, man. Linsanity is OVER. This kid is done and it was allllllll a fluke,” type of people came out, I felt the need and the urge to rush to his defense. Lin got so big, so fast that there are people who are now rooting for him to fail because of it; and at times I really do feel like it’s on us as Knicks fans to be, for lack of a better description, his offensive linemen, and protect him from all that criticism. I think that plays into Seth’s point about developing a set of expectations for him too. I think a lot of people did, and that made it pretty jarring to see him fail so spectacularly against the Heat, even if we should have expected him to struggle – though not to the degree that he did – given their defensive strategy and the athletes they can put on the floor.

You bring up a good point about the 90s Knicks as well. Those teams were flat out awesome, and I loved rooting for them. They’re the teams I grew up on and I’ll remember them for the rest of my life, but they were NOT fun teams. Fun to root for, sure, but not to watch play the game of basketball. It was dirty, it was ugly, it was hang em and bang em, knock down, drag out basketball and not a soul would tell you it was aesthetically pleasing.

But I’ve had sooo much fun just watching Jeremy Lin and these Knicks play basketball. The fact that I share the experience nightly with everyone on Twitter, in my writing and in reading everything that everybody else writes probably plays into that, but he’s also just been exhilarating to watch. The last second heroics, the charisma, everything. It’s been kind of surreal, the Knicks have never been this fun.

How has all that played into you guys’ experience with Linsanity? Do you feel that Twitter and writing and just generally being part of the NBA blogosphere has elevated it to another level than it would be at if you weren’t an active participant in those arenas? I know that sometimes I feel like everyone is watching us very carefully as Knicks fans to see how we react to all this. Some people are waiting to jump down our throats for getting too high or too low on the kid, others are just watching for entertainment purposes; but it does feel like there are eyes on us for sure. Do you feel that way too?

netw3rk: Twitter has definitely magnified the Lin experience for me, mainly, because Twitter has become the de-facto way I talk about basketball. I think people are watching Knicks fans reaction to Lin for a few reasons, the largest ones being:

The Knicks are viewed as star-crossed franchise, so something unexpected AND good happening is a new experience for everyone involved.
Various flavors of Knicks/New York/Big Market hate manifested in a hope that Lin fails so that people can rub it in our faces.
Dubin: That Knicks/New York/Big Market hate hasn’t really hit Lin yet, but it has to be coming pretty soon, right? You just don’t have an extended period of success in New York without people turning on you unless your name is Derek Jeter. Right now, there’s the occasional salt-thrower on Lin’s game, but nothing too crazy. I could really see him engendering big time haters because of how big his story has gotten and how fast. Do you guys see that in his future?
Rosenthal: I think a big part of Lin’s avoiding the “HE’S FROM NEW YORK! BURN HIM!” backlash is how consistently he deflects even remotely seedy attention. Who knows how he’ll fare over the long run, but guys like Jeter have gotten in trouble in part because they occasionally get caught with their hands in the cookie jar– gallivanting around with some hottie, or living lavishly in some other realm. Lin’s been pretty outspoken in saying he doesn’t want to become like that, though there’s no way of knowing how he might change as he gets comfortable here (and that isn’t to say that a guy having a nice car or keeping hotties around as company is a bad thing. People just flip out about those things).

I think that, because it still seems so improbable and because it’s New York, people will be especially prone to dissecting Jeremy’s game as long as he stays reasonably good. As long as his apparent flaws are confined to the basketball court, though, I can’t see it getting out of hand the way it does for some other New York sports figures.

Dubin: That’s a good point you bring up about how Lin deflects that type of attention, because I feel like he tried to do that with all the on-court attention when this whole thing first started as well. He would constantly bring up guys like Jared Jeffries and Shump and Tyson in interviews as if to deflect praise away from his own efforts and highlight theirs. He’s seemingly made a lot of the guys on the team more confident in their abilities through his confidence in them on the court, and also the way he speaks about them off it.In terms of his on-court performance, though, do you feel that people will be quicker to pounce on him if he does wind up falling back to earth because of the way this story developed? They almost have to, right?
Rosenthal: Oh, definitely. It’s bound to happen and it’s already started to happen after a bad game or two. I just hope people are directing some of that grouchiness toward the entities that blew so much hot air into Lin’s story (none of whom were Jeremy himself).
netw3rk: I’d probably pounce on him if the situation was the same except he played for someone else.
Dubin: It feels like the All-Star Break may help some of the hysteria around Lin die down, especially since the Knicks only play once between now and Sunday. The fact that it was a continually ongoing story that had so much momentum because it felt like the Knicks had a game every day played a huge part in Lin’s rise.

So, where do you see this all going from here? Will the crazy amount of hype die down naturally or will it take a string of bad performances like the one against the Heat last week? As a Knick fan, would you like it if the crazy hype and all the pomp and circumstance surrounding this situation all just went away? I know that, when I saw how exhausted he looked during All-Star Weekend, I definitely wished a few times that he could just play basketball. I’m happy for the kid that he’s a big story and he deserves everything he gets, but I can’t help but worry that it’ll burn him out (which again, plays into that creeping doubt that all Knicks fans experience).

Rosenthal: I do think the All-Star break and the loss to the Heat and just the passage of time and people’s wandering attention will allow the “Linsanity” stuff to die down somewhat. And he’s bound to have some more bad games here and there, which will throw off some of the more casual observers who don’t really understand what’s going on and expect perfection.
In the long run, I think everybody settling down can only help matters because, like you said, he’s going to get burned out if he remains such a point of focus off the court. I just hope that it doesn’t turn into a case where, instead of just retreating from the story, folks feel the need for backlash. It’s not Jeremy’s fault that he’s been lionized and I hope he doesn’t have to bear the brunt of any unreasonable outrage if he makes mistakes that are perfectly acceptable from an undrafted second-year player.
netw3rk: I don’t think anyone knows where Lin’s ceiling will end up. But if I had a gun to my head, right after wetting my pants, I’d say Lin will develop into better Ramon Sessions, adept at the pick and roll, not a great shooter.
The upside to Lin’s well publicized weaknesses — going left, shooting — is at these are things that should improve over the course of his career. He’s only 23 after all. What Knicks fans need to prepare themselves for is more games in the mold of the Miami game as defenses catch up to him. He’s not going to fix his problems this season.
So, get ready for some backlash.
Big thanks again to Seth and Jason for their participation in this here thing. 

On Sheed, Conspiracy, And The Future

Photo by whileseated on Flickr

We don’t quite know for sure yet, but Rasheed Wallace could be walking through that door, for better or worse.

Say what you will about his squandered talent and short temper. In his infinitely quotable press interviews, his animated face and flailing limbs, his steadfast dismissal of authority figures in the game Wallace offered a unique view of the NBA. He racked up technical fouls because he had no ingrained fear, because he was too convinced that he had been done wrong. The subsequent fines didn’t stifle his voice. Most players understand when to stop arguing with officials in fear of a technical foul and fines. But hegemony isn’t always complete. And that hegemony, that implied power the league and its official have over players, was lost upon Wallace. Wallace, throughout his career, retaliated against that which he could not understand or control.

If only that Sheed—happy, almost blissful, the way he is during his traditional pregame dance in the huddle—were the only Sheed. Instead, that guy is often wrestled into submission by another who looks hard for conspiracy.

via …Listens to his head …Follows his heart | Eric Adelson, ESPN Magazine 

It’s a familiar perspective. As fans, we will only ever be observers of actions and reactions of which we have no control over. What we consider consequences are either self-imposed or purely psychological. Sheed was never truly an outsider, but that didn’t stop him from considering himself one.

Who else could have inspired his theory that the NBA has “baby dolls” it protects at all costs? “I can take losing,” he says. “But don’t BS me. Give me a fair shake. We make up this league too.” By “we” he means his teammates. Last anyone checked, most of them were former champions, not pariahs.

via …Listens to his head …Follows his heart | Eric Adelson, ESPN Magazine 

Wallace bought a championship belt for every single one of his teammates after the Pistons won the title in 2004. Wallace wore his proudly. After all, what was the NBA to Wallace if not a professional wrestling reenactment; a universe that perpetuates the good/bad binary? Wrestling fans cling onto the storytelling of professional wrestling because they know deep down that good will always prevail. A fan’s belief can be tested through the twists and turns that plotlines often create, but ultimately they are rarely led astray. Yet half of the wrestling experience is bracing for the inevitable conspiracy that threatens to ravage the pure narrative. There is backstabbing, collusion, and puppeteering from the forces that be. NBA fans caught a glimpse of this two summers ago in how easy it was to link Miami’s Big Three to wrestling factions built to be hated. For a moment, the NBA was a platform for the wrestling idiom. And the blind, uninformed vitriol and derision reached caricatured levels that would feel at home at any WWE event. Angry fans jumped to collusion and conspiracy. That’s the world Rasheed Wallace inhabits.

But wrestling isn’t all about suppression. There is breakthrough. There are unlikely victors. The flawed, tragic hero soldiers on despite himself and the pressures and challenges of external forces. Through struggle, sacrifice, and sheer will, the tragic hero prevails. He holds up the championship belt and kisses it in unassailable joy. By slinging the belt over his shoulder, Wallace chose to broadcast that narrative for himself and the Pistons. It was proof. Despite David Stern, the refs, and the far more talented Lakers, the Pistons won and won convincingly.

Unfortunately, paranoia doesn’t just leave once good times surface. As Eric Adelson notes in his ESPN Magazine article, Wallace actively sought out the conspiracy. It’s always looming.

This is a post-Tim Donaghy, post-Decision, post-lockout negotiation, post-“basketball reasons” NBA. For all of the questionable activity that has transpired in recent months, years, we’ve chosen to forgo the pursuit in hopes that this new golden era will absolve all sin and misgivings. The league appears to be in good hands. But Wallace’s fabled return comes with his immutable paradigm. We are never truly safe from what we cannot know of and cannot control.

Maybe Wallace’s return is a sign of Dwight Howard’s imminent departure to Los Angeles. Maybe it’s a way to bring new life to the Lakers’ existing frontcourt. Or maybe his return doesn’t happen at all. Maybe it serves only as a harbinger of turbulent times to come. Wallace may not come out of retirement, but his paranoia never retired to begin with.

 

Bold Predictions for the Second Half

Photo by Jennuine Captures via Flickr

One half down, one to go. It seems like the first half of this season has flown by, hasn’t it? Didn’t we just start the season a couple months ago? Checks schedule. Oh right, we did. Stupid lockout. Among other things, we’ve already seen a first half of Miami bludgeoning opponents, an undrafted kid from Harvard taking over New York, the Clippers actually being relevant, and the worst dunk contest ever. Good times! With two months in the books, it’s time to take a look at what the second half of the season will have in store for us. In my quest to be able to look back on these predictions in June and laugh at how absurdly wrong they are, here are five bold predictions for the second half:

Dwight Howard will remain with Orlando through the end of the season. Relying on Magic GM Otis Smith to make the right move and trade Dwight rather than letting him walk for nothing is a risky proposition. Unfortunately for Smith, there are not a ton of trades out there that make sense for both parties. The Lakers are not going to package both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol for Howard and Hedo Turkoglu’s albatross of a contract. Are the Lakers even a better team after that trade? You don’t need the Trade Machine to tell you that they are not.

Who even becomes the Lakers third best player if they get Howard in that trade? New Jersey is another team linked to Howard, but they too would need to gut their team to land Dwight. Brook Lopez would obviously be the centerpiece of the deal, but there is roughly a $15 million difference in contracts between the two players and the Nets are already over the salary cap. Pairing Dwight and Deron Williams together is an alluring concept, but that is most likely to happen in Dallas in the offseason, not in Jersey by the trade deadline. A Golden State trade consisting of Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins for Howard? If there was more than a 1% possibility of Howard signing long term with the Warriors, I think Golden State would be open to this, but I don’t see it happening. When all is said and done, the Magic will roll the dice and try to make a championship run in a season where everything is wide open. They won’t be successful at it, but they’re going to try it anyway.

Charlotte will not finish with the worst record in the league. Charlotte reminds me a lot of last year’s Cleveland team. They are absolutely excruciating to watch. Staring at their roster, you can’t help but wonder, “So…which of these guys is announced last during team introductions? It’s usually the spot reserved for the best player on the team.” The Cavs last year managed to pull off a 26 game losing streak and still not finish with the worst record in the league. Charlotte already has a 16 game losing streak under their belts and still has half of the season remaining. After starting the season with nine of their first 11 games against current playoff teams, the good news is that their second half schedule is considerably easier. They finish the season with a host of winnable games in April with Toronto, Washington (twice), Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans, and New York on the last day of the season when the Knicks conceivably could have a playoff spot locked up and be resting their starters.

When it’s all said and done, the Washington Wizards will be left with the worst record in the NBA. Ernie Grunfeld has proven in the past that he has no qualms about dismantling a roster, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him do it again. Aside from Rashard Lewis’s ridiculous contract, no one on the Wizards makes over $6.5 million which means they have a slew of tradable assets that can be flipped for low level players and picks; basically, anyone not named John Wall on this team should be available. The combination of a dearth of talent and potentially changing team chemistry is going to be enough for the worst record in the league.

The Indiana Pacers will secure the 3 seed. Prior to the season, my assessment of the Pacers was that a 3 seed was their ceiling, 4-5 seed was most likely, and 6 seed or below would have been a failure of a season. After watching the first half, it’s looking more and more like they are going to reach their ceiling and lock up that 3 seed. Not only do the Pacers have a ton of talent capable of playing in both well lit gyms and, as Paul George showed during the dunk contest, glow-in-the-dark facilities, they are the only Eastern playoff team that has cap room – $14,270,964 of cap room to be exact. This makes them a major sleeper to make a big move at the trade deadline since they really do not have to worry about coming close to matching salaries on a potential trade. Whether they choose to use up some of their cap room at the deadline or wait until the offseason to chase someone like hometown boy Eric Gordon remains to be seen; regardless, given Orlando’s instability, Philadelphia’s offensive woes, and the fact that under no circumstances should you ever trust the Hawks, Indiana will maintain its hold on the 3 seed heading into May.

Boston will not make the playoffs. If the fans of Boston have learned anything over the past six months, it’s not to count their chickens before they hatch. A Red Sox team predicted to be one of the greatest of all time ended up not making the playoffs while the Patriots came into Indianapolis favored to win the Super Bowl and were defeated by the Giants. It seems unfathomable that a Celtics squad that many thought could take out the Heat last year could miss out on the playoffs a year later, but this is not your slightly older brother’s Celtics. The season started poorly for them with Jeff Green needing heart surgery, and it hasn’t necessarily improved from there. The Big Three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett is a year older and looks every bit of it. There is not a defender in the league who respects Rajon Rondo’s jumper enough to stay within four feet of him. Chemistry wise, the team still looks like they are reeling from the Kendrick Perkins for Green deal at last year’s trade deadline. In the long term, Ubuntu has proven to be a better operating system for computers than it has for a basketball team. The last game of the season for the Celtics has them hosting the Milwaukee Bucks. I see the Bucks going into Boston, sneaking out a win, and securing the eighth seed in order to set up an intriguing first round series with the Miami Heat, a team that Milwaukee has given fits to all season long.

San Antonio will beat Oklahoma City in the playoffs. From the “If Something Seems Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is” file, we have Oklahoma City as the favorites to come out of the West. The Thunder have been impossibly healthy this year with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins all playing in at least 33 of the 34 games for the Thunder this season. Meanwhile, San Antonio has, as usual, quietly been taking care of business down in Texas. They currently sit three games behind OKC in the Western standings, and this is after having Manu Ginobli only play in nine games so far this year. Gregg Popovich, more than anyone, knows how to prepare his team to compete with a shortened schedule. If that means resting his star players in exchange for a 40 point drubbing, he’ll do it. This isn’t Pop’s first rodeo, and just like 1999, the Spurs will have done just enough to sneak past OKC in a memorable seven game Western Conference Finals.

And now we wait. I have no clue how accurate my crystal basketball will turn out to be; I just know it’s going to be fun getting to June and seeing the rest of the season play out.  Enjoy the second half everyone.

Gustavo Ayon Gets Sequential

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABYnqp-bxvg]

Last night against the Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Hornets forward Gustavo Ayon did something pretty cool.

He had one assist, two steals, three blocks, four rebounds, and five points.

1-2-3-4-5.

It’s a nifty stat line; a testament to the type of yeoman’s work Ayon does for the Hornets. With his sequential line, he stands among players who proudly own similar 1-2-3-4-5 stat lines like Vlade Divac, Ben Wallace, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas—players beloved by fans for doing the little things to keep their team in the game.

While Ayon didn’t have a particularly strong outing, his two field goals in the game came late in the fourth quarter, both game-tying baskets. Two of his three blocks came in crunch time; one as the Hornets mounted their late comeback, and the other as the Hornets were protecting their short-lived lead with less than two minutes left in the game.

His lone assist was a smart bounce pass out of the post, away from the reactive Bulls defenders, to a wide-open Trevor Ariza for a corner-3.

As far as 1-2-3-4-5 games go, since the 1985-86 season, only Danny Schayes has logged the same combination of points, rebounds,  assists, steals, and blocks as Ayon. He did it in 1985.

Ayon is tied with a bunch of other players for most games with the 1-2-3-4-5 stat line. However, they all (probably) trail Jon “Contract” Koncak, the Hawks’ 1985 draft bust and pariah, who has logged a 1-2-3-4-5 stat line on at least two occasions, in addition to playing in the same game where John Williams logged a 1-2-3-4-5 of his own. Not sure this achievement really makes up for his outrageous contract, though.

I’m getting sidetracked. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Gustavo Ayon did something pretty cool.

15 Footer 2/28/12: Nikola Pekovic Presents: Pain

Photo by isdky via Flickr

I hope that you’ve read this interview with Nikola Pekovic by now, in which he (unsurprisingly) expresses his enjoyment of the movie Gladiator and desire to go back in time to when swords were still considered a reasonable accessory. The guy’s the perfect combination of terrifying and hilarious, much like this compressed NBA season. In that spirit, we’re previewing each of tonight’s games with a quote from the Pek interview.

“How about this: ‘Here lies Nikola Pekovic, who played tough basketball.’” (Celtics at Cavs, 7:00 PM EST)

That was Pek’s response to what he’d want on his tombstone, and it’s fitting for the Celtics. They’re pretty much dead and buried – I’m 80% sure that Jermaine O’Neal has been zombified, killed, buried again then re-zombified – but they’ll have a nice legacy of tough basketball, tenacious defense and a championship for Boston. And the team ready to read the Celtics’ eulogy and knock them out of the playoffs is the Cavs.

Can Cleveland finish off Boston? Either way, the funeral is inevitable.

I really don’t have a favorite actor or actress.” (Warriors at Pacers, 7:00 PM EST)

This must be devastating news for television actor Roy Hibbert. Getting to play in the All-Star Game is great and everything, but if Pek doesn’t recognize your star turn on Parks & Recreation, what’s the point of even going on?

I wonder what Pek thinks of Detlef Schrempf.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1LRPff8UQ8

When I was a kid, I didn’t really think about what I wanted to grow up to be.” (Sixers at Pistons, 7:30 PM EST)

I’m not really sure what either of these teams is going to be in the future. The Sixers are a solid team, but their offensive limitations make them seem like a second-round team at best. The Pistons have Greg Monroe, but everything after their big man is up in the air. Brandon Knight’s progress has come in fits and spurts, Rodney Stuckey is Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince’s contract goes through 2015. WHAT ARE YOU, DETROIT?!

I watched all the cartoons, like ‘Tom & Jerry.’ I didn’t have a favorite.” (Hornets at Bulls, 8:00 PM EST, NBA TV)

Tom and Jerry seems like a great metaphor for an NBA TV matchup between these two teams. The Bulls have the clever, diminutive protagonist who can’t really be caught or even slowed. The Hornets have Emeka Okafor, who I could definitely see chasing mice around with dynamite and ridiculously oversized mousetraps. And the whole thing will be broadcast to a much larger audience than you’d imagine such a mismatch would draw.

A time machine? If I had one, I’d go backward a couple of hundred years. I’d like to go back to the time they used swords. I think I’d be good with a sword.” (Raptors at Rockets, 8:00 PM EST)

Dinosaurs versus modern rocket technology? Pek will meet you in between the two, with a sword, and fight everyone to the death. Though I like to think he would enjoy Jose Calderon and be entertained by his passes, therefore deciding to keep him as a pet/mascot in his giant pocket.

“I just like to be alone and be by myself.” (Wizards at Bucks, 8:00 PM EST)

If you’re watching this game, this is the best advice I can give you. Don’t inflict the pain and suffering on anyone else, no matter how great the instinct to seek aide is. You got yourself into this mess, now deal with it. Besides, JaVale McGee will probably find his way to your house during halftime, anyway.

“Sometimes it’s hard in this league because there are so many games.” (Nets at Mavericks, 8:30 PM EST)

Deron Williams would likely echo Pek’s sentiment. The more it looks like Dwight will be staying in Orlando until this summer, the less Williams must look forward to each of his remaining days in New Jersey. There’s a 50% chance that he’ll simply defect to Texas during the first quarter of this game. I’d put a higher probability on that, but never underestimate Prokhorov’s ability to ensure he gets what he wants.

I’m just a regular guy.” (Jazz at Kings, 10:00 PM EST)

The Kings received some good news on the arena front during the break from basketball. Now they’ll hope that they continue to see improvement and maturation in DeMarcus Cousins, who’s having quite a season while remaining off the radar for any bad behavior. If Cousins can get to the point that he utters Pek’s quote, and we don’t laugh, then the Kings will be in a good place.

If I could trade places for a day with anyone to see what their life is like, it would be somebody from another planet.” (Wolves at Clippers, 10:30 PM EST)

I’m fairly certain that Pek is talking about Blake Griffin in this quote. I mean, being Pek has to be amazing and everything, but the one thing I’ve yet to see him do is fly. Imagine Pek being able to jump as high and dunk as violently as Blake Griffin!

…on second thought, don’t. Your head might explode from the sheer splendor of that visual.

The Hill You’ll Never Get Over

Via Flickr - Courtesy H. Mike Miley and the Illinois Railway Museum

We’re approaching the 50th anniversary of an historic moment in the NBA, a moment that first made me aware of the game as a young boy. Some 30-odd years ago a school assignment, my first book report, led me to discover an unreal feat of scoring prowess from a legend (stay tuned to HP for a special report on this unmatched performance on Friday from Curtis Harris).

Some 30-odd years later another 50-year anniversary stirred similar feelings in my heart for the game of basketball.

To understand the scope of this moment you have to understand just how much the Utah Utes and BYU Cougars hate each other. The rivalry between these two schools is such that normally civilized people will stoop to attacking each other at a single mention of a recruit some years removed from even attending one or the other of these universities. It’s gotten so out of hand that each school’s athletic directors are trying to ween fans from their “Holy War.”

While the term “Holy War” is generally applied to only the football rivalry, don’t be fooled. The ugliness spans the spectrum, from any sport all the way to academics and alumni. These two groups genuinely hate each other, so much so that at a recent Sacramento Kings at Utah Jazz game this happened.  Y Fan will say they cheered because Jimmer was booed. U Fan will tell you they booed because Jimmer was cheered. An entire NBA arena was taken over by a  college rivalry spilling over nearly a year after it had all ended. Slow sports day? No problem. Just say “magic happens,” and it does — a tried and true way to fire up local interaction and reaction anytime ratings are low and reporting slow. These fanbases will leap at any opportunity to belittle their nemesis, and never forget an incident.

Except in the case of former Utah Ute Billy “The Hill” McGill. A week before Wilt dropped his 100-point bomb on the NBA, the soon-to-be number one pick in the NBA draft set a record of his own. Getting off the team bus on the BYU campus, heading into the gym for a rivalry game on February 24, 1962, averaging an NCAA-best 38 points-per-game, McGill, only the second ever African-American player for the Utes’ program, received extra motivation courtesy the Cougars.

“On the bus ride to Brigham Young, unfortunately I think I heard a kind of a word you don’t wanna hear right before I went into the gymnasium, and it was the “N” word. I kept thinking about that once we got into the locker room. [My teammates] knew about it, cause some of them heard it. I tried to push it out of my mind…but it gave me a little more incentive I think. It was like a 22-point incentive.”

Before punishing the Cougars with a 60-point retribution, as a junior in Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, McGill had been told he’d never play basketball again. Coming up in a predominantly Caucasian game at the time, he’d been told something that would “stick with him.”

“”A black player can’t be hurt. A black player don’t get hurt.’  The doctor, he told me I’d never play again…that was my junior year…[I] just destroyed my kneecap, and I never got it operated on. The doctor says “We can put an iron – iron, Tony – kneecap in. At least you’ll be able to walk halfway normal, but as far as basketball, you’re done.”

-Billy McGill with Tony Parks, 1320 KFAN

McGill, out of fear of folks finding out, folks that could keep him from the court, would rehab himself instead, never telling anyone until years later about his personal ordeal, in his own words, “loving the game of basketball so much” that he rehabilitated himself out of shear determination, dragging, crawling, and finally running around the football field and track at Thomas Jefferson High until he was able to play his beloved game again.

All through his college dominance no one would know that today McGill wouldn’t be able to enter an airport or an NBA arena without drawing the ire of a security guard with a wand had he chosen medical iron over hoop iron. McGill was a pioneer, a playground legend with a shot that would go on to make many men much more famous than he would be.

It all happened one beautiful summer day in 1955 at the Denker Playgrounds in the inner-city of Los Angeles. Back then, the royalty of the basketball world would regularly gather at Denker for spectacular summer romps. Everyone was there, and the play on this particular Saturday was dominated, as it often was in those days, by a young, spindly high school freshman from L.A.’s Thomas Jefferson High School named Billy McGill.

Holding court was never a problem for Billy, even as a ninth-grader, and people would flock to the dilapidated gym whenever he played. As the pickup games stretched on and the crowd swelled, three college stars of the day found their way to Denker and immediately claimed “winners” — Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Guy Rogers. The intensity ratcheted upwards as Russell strode onto the court, announcing to the assembled masses as he stroked his long jaw, “I’ll take the young guy on my team,” instantly recognizing the burgeoning talent of McGill.

-Bill Walton, Special to ESPN.com

That unstoppable skyhook would land McGill with the Chicago Zephyrs (now the Washington Wizards) as the number one pick in the 1962 NBA draft. With high hopes for his future, “Iron” Bill McGill would undertake his professional career, only to find himself stuck behind Walt Bellamy in a tweener’s no-man’s land.

His intended pro path wasn’t going as planned.

Quickly the word got out: “He’s a wonderful shot, but he kills you on defense.’” His critics drew up a catalog of horrors about McGill: he dribbled too high, he couldn’t get to the backboards for rebounds, he was easily faked out on defense, he looked cautiously for a spot on the floor from which he could loose his delicate, arching shots. This last fault was critical, for it gave the pros the half second needed to smother the shot before it ever got off.

-Circa November 26, 1962, SI Vault

Eight years, two leagues, and eight teams later McGill would find himself without a job or a degree, having completed only two years of academics at the U of U in his playing days, and no NBA pension since less than four of those pro-playing years had come in the league. Despite knowing so many people, McGill’s options were limited, so he was lucky to have a friend set him up with a job at Hughes Aircraft that he’d hold for 23 years until being laid off in 1995.

McGill would like a job with the NBA, but it seems the only time the league calls him is to give a speech to rookies about finishing their education.

“They have successful millionaires talk to them . . . then they have me,” he said.

He also would like a job passing along his basketball knowledge to younger players–a place like Utah would be perfect–but the Utes’ athletic director sighed again.

“With all the NCAA rules, you can’t really involve yourself much with boosters or former players unless you hire them,”[Chris] Hill said.

-Bill Plaschke, LA Times

And of course, you can’t hire a guy who has no degree, now can you? What would people say?!

So we’re left with a broke and broken pioneer, a legend full of colorful stories and history of the game who’s dying to tell you about. Upon hearing Billy McGill’s tales on KFAN with Tony Parks I immediately texted in, saying “I’ll buy that book! Where can we find find it?” That’s the sad last segment you’ll hear in the interview.

“There’s no copy. I’m going through the rigors…I’m beatin’ on doors, I’m tryin’ to get a publisher. I know that’s gonna be a big, big task, but God willing maybe some publisher out there will take a look at it. My thing is, as far as [the book] From the Hill to the Valley, I just want the people that I love…that I feel dedicated to, [to get an explanation] of what happened to me in the pros.”

-Billy McGill with Tony Parks, 1320 KFAN

Highlights of McGill’s jump hook and 60-point game

Last I’d heard, from Parks Monday afternoon, some interest had been expressed by a firm in publishing Billy’s story. I have no further details at this time, but will keep you updated as more information becomes available.

___

Why did the Washington Wizards used to be called the Chicago Zephyrs?

As far as I can tell it was for an historic rail line run by a train called the California Zephyr, to McGill’s home state. The line began in Chicago, Illinois, ending in California. Remnants of the original line are still used for freight today.

The Washington Wizards were born the Chicago Packers in 1961-62, then the Chicago Zephyrs for the 1962-63 season before moving to Baltimore as the Bullets until 1972-73. The franchise played one year as the Capital Bullets in 1973-74 before becoming the Washington Bullets until 1996-97.

___

Thanks to Mike Miley for the header photo. Check out his photostream on Flickr.

A New Way: Using Carmelo Anthony As A Roll Man

It’s been three games since Carmelo Anthony returned to the New York Knicks lineup in the midst of Linsanity, and things haven’t exactly been smooth sailing for the All-Star small forward. He’s struggled to find his rhythm, struggled to get the shots he likes, where he likes and struggled to maintain an attacking style while trying to find his touches within the offense. He’s yet to register more points than shots since his return, and it’s plain as day to see that he’s not yet comfortable with the way the offense is being run because he’s not getting the ball where he likes to get it. It’s clear that Mike D’Antoni, the rest of the coaching staff and approximately 110% of New Yorkers would like to see Jeremy Lin handling the ball in the pick-and-roll as the primary set in New York’s offense rather than Carmelo isolating on the wing or posting up on the block, so the Knicks have to come up with more creative ways to get Anthony – still the team’s best scorer – the basketball in spots that he likes.

This is just as much up to D’Antoni and Lin as it is up to Anthony. Using Carmelo as a cutter or spot-up outlet man off a Lin-Tyson Chandler pick-and-roll is a dangerous weapon, but it often makes Carmelo into a second or even third option. The Knicks didn’t give up half their rotation last year for that type of role player. If Lin pick-and-rolls are going to be the main action the Knicks run – and that has absolutely been the case since he became the starter – you have to find a way to get Carmelo more involved in that. One way to do so is to use him as the screener in the pick-and-roll. There are a few drawbacks to this, some of which I’ll get to as we go along, but the first one is that it’s an unfamiliar role for Anthony. Prior to Lin’s emergence, Melo had just one possession used as the roll man in a pick-and-roll all season. In 31 games with the Knicks last season, he had only 16 such possessions and in the 50 games he spent with Denver he used just 21 possessions and the roll man.

However, said unfamiliarity did not stop him from being extremely successful on these plays. In his 50 games with Denver last season, Melo posted 1.29 Points Per Possession (PPP) and shot 60% from the field as the roll man in P&R’s according to mySynergySports. In New York that number dropped to 1.06 PPP, but he still shot 50% from the floor. In total, he was 18-for-32 from the field and produced 44 points on 37 possessions, good for 1.19 PPP as the roll man last season. By way of reference, Amar’e Stoudemire’s 1.13 PPP as the roll man last season ranked 35th in the NBA, placing him in the top 10% of all players.

Using Melo as the roll man was pretty much out of the question early on this year because the Knicks didn’t have a point guard and he was counted on to be the primary ball-handler out of the pick-and-roll most of the time. Now that Lin has emerged as a starter-quality point guard, it seems like a good time to revisit this. The Knicks have run a Lin-Anthony P&R three times since the latter returned from injury, and all three times it’s resulted in an easy basket.

Because of the way teams are choosing to defend Lin on pick-and-rolls – either with a hard trap or a hard show by the screener’s man – it leaves a lot of open room for pick-and-pop jumpers. Getting Carmelo a wide open mid-range jumper is about as good of a possession as you can ask for if you’re the Knicks, and that’s exactly what’s happened on two of the three Lin-Melo P&R possessions since Melo came back from injury.

Click to Zoom

Let’s start with a play against the Miami Heat on Thursday night. As you can see, this comes right after the opening tip, so it’s obviously something the Knicks knew they were going to run on their first possession. The action starts with Lin dribbling left above the three point line while Carmelo gets a cross screen from Tyson Chandler and Landry Fields runs from the strong side corner to what appears to be the weak side wing.

Click to Zoom

However, after Melo gets that cross-screen from Chandler, which would usually be used to free him up for an isolation or post-up on the opposite side, Melo actually goes and sets a screen for Lin, who has reversed his dribble back to the right. Fields has occupied a space on what is now the strong side elbow extended and Amar’e Stoudemire is in the strong side corner to keep the defense honest. Lin has a few options: he can try to split the defenders executing the trap (here Mario Chalmers and LeBron James, which makes trying to split an unwise decision), he can hit Fields on the wing for a side P&R with Chandler or Stoudemire, or he can keep his dribble and appear to be going directly into the trap, only to throw what is actually a simple pass back across his body to Carmelo, who is rolling into the wide open space created by the Heat deciding to trap Lin on the pick-and-roll. Lin chooses option C. (Here’s another possible problem: Lin is at times careless with the ball, and asking him to throw a pass across his body could result in a turnover. It’s a pretty clear lane, but he’s been known to be loose with his ball control. Not this time, however.)

Click to Zoom

This action enables Carmelo to catch the ball in one of his favorite spots on the floor – the deep wing. It’s a little further out than most players like to get it, but that’s Melo’s sweetspot. Look at all that room he has to work with, too. As it is he gets a wide open 18-footer because the defense can’t recover in time to contest it, but he has driving lanes both toward the baseline and the middle of the floor if he wants them too. Also, look at what you see on that side of the floor: Melo is the only one there. If the shot isn’t open right away, he basically has an isolation against an on-the-move defender, usually a death sentence for the defense. There are still 13 seconds left on the shot clock when he catches the ball with which he can go to work if he wants to.

Therein lies another danger of using Melo this way. Everyone’s heard the criticisms of him, loud and clear. He’s nothing more than a selfish, ball-hogging, ball-stopping, gunner who only looks for his own offense if you believe everything you read in the New York tabloids. The success of this particular play is predicated on Melo making a quick decision to shoot, drive or pass the ball. If he reverts to his, “catch, wait, plan, then attack” mode of offense, it simply will not work. Teams will rotate and recover and the advantage created by Lin being able to beat the trap with a quick pass dissipates.

Melo has to commit to a quick decision, whatever it is. If it’s a shot, great. As I said earlier, a wide open mid-range jumper for Carmelo is an excellent possession for the Knicks. If it’s a drive, that’s good too, because Melo is one of the best scorers in the league when he’s attacking the basket. He’s even shown more of a willingness to hit the open man on a drive-and-kick this year, and you can already see who those open men will be in the picture above. If Melo gets into the paint, you can see Dwyane Wade ready to collapse on him and leave Landry Fields wide open. And since LeBron is still recovering from trapping Lin, Joel Anthony has to leave Tyson Chandler to rotate and cover Melo’s driving lane, which means Chris Bosh has to leave Amar’e Stoudemire wide open in the corner to pick up Chandler. There are options all over the place. Here’s the full play:

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ta1sXwqoX1w&feature=youtu.be]

The Knicks ran a similar action against the Nets in Carmelo’s first game back and got the same result, an open jumper for Carmelo. This time, Fields started off on the strong side wing and Chandler began the play on the weak side block.

Click to Zoom

Here, the Nets go with a “strong show” strategy of defending the Lin pick-and-roll. Carmelo’s defender, DeShawn Stevenson, jumps Lin as soon as he comes off the screen, while Deron Williams chases. Lin recognizes that defense and immediately swings the ball across his body to Melo for another open jumper.

Click to Zoom

Because Deron Williams was chasing after Lin, he doesn’t have enough time to recover and contest Carmelo’s jumper. He catches just off the elbow and unleashes a 15-footer for an easy basket. Again, as before, the entire left side of the court is clear for Carmelo. He can catch-and-shoot, he can put it on the deck and take it to the hoop or he can try to get into the middle of the lane and hope the defense collapses and then dump it off to a waiting Stoudemire for that same wide open corner jumper. And again, as before, the key to making the play work is a quick decision from Carmelo. He has to either shoot, drive or pass the ball right away or the advantage gained is gone.

Here’s the full play:

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHieEQpn-I4&feature=youtu.be]

Now let’s look at the last play, where the defense actually does recover in time to contest Melo’s jumper. Here, the Knicks run a staggered double screen for Lin in transition, where Tyson Chandler and Carmelo are the screeners. Chandler sets the first screen and rolls to the hoop, bringing Shelden Williams with him and leaving a space on that deep wing for Melo to occupy when he pops out off the screen.

Click to Zoom

All 4 defenders here are watching Lin; Shelden Williams plays back because he knows Chandler will roll to the hoop, but his eyes are on the ball-handler. DeShawn Stevenson, guarding Carmelo, is watching Lin to make sure he doesn’t quickly turn the corner and get into the lane. He’s the guy who will show to cut off that driving lane and give Williams time to recover, just as he did on the play above. Kris Humphries is back early in transition and doesn’t even have his eyes on Amar’e Stoudemire yet since he’s not a threat to score; he’s simply watching Lin and ready to trap if he comes out too far around the screen.

Click to Zoom

Now, Williams rotates to get ready to cover Chandler’s roll. Humphries backs off because Stoudemire is getting into scoring position, so it’s up to Stevenson to show on the pick-and-roll to cut off Lin’s driving lane. He does, which leaves Melo wide open in that deep wing where he likes to catch the ball so much. The only reason Stevenson is able to recover in time and Melo doesn’t get an open catch-and-shoot jumper is because Lin bows his route out past the three point line rather than turning the corner hard and forcing Stevenson to stay longer on his show. As it is, Melo catches the ball in one of his sweet spots against an on-the-move defender and is able to easily take advantage of that to get into the middle of the lane.

Click to Zoom

Right here, Stevenson is beat, and he hasn’t even gotten to Melo yet. He’s rotating hard to try to contest that elbow extended jumper which Melo already hit on the same play earlier, and one he’s routinely hit throughout his career. Melo instead catches, plants his foot and takes off in the opposite direction toward the middle of the lane, causing the other 4 defenders to all collapse on him.

Click to Zoom

All 5 defenders have at least 1 foot in the paint. Look at all those options for Melo. Amar’e is wide open for an elbow jumper. Fields is wide open for a corner three. Chandler is wide open for a dump-off. And Melo is on his way to the hoop at full speed with defenders trying to rotate from an out-of-the-way location to stop his drive. He dish or he can try to go up for a lay-up, which will likely result in either a basket or a foul.

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shlUDwmtapY&feature=youtu.be]

Again, as before, the success of this action is predicated on Carmelo making a quick decision, which he does. It’s been hard for Carmelo to stay in attack mode since his return from injury because there was so much hand-wringing over the number of shots he’d take when compared to Jeremy Lin.

I’d argue that the sheer number of shots Carmelo attempts isn’t really what matters; it’s the quality of those looks that’s important. At the beginning of the season and prior to Lin’s emergence, Anthony often had to take bad shots because he was the only one capable of creating them. Baseline fade-aways, pull-up three pointers in the pick-and-roll and forced layups and floaters on the drive are things we saw from him on a nightly basis.

With the attention that Lin is getting, he doesn’t have to force bad looks anymore. He can get plenty of the shots he likes within the offense if he’d let Lin, Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert, Baron Davis or J.R. Smith creates those looks for him rather than thinking he always has to go it alone. This is just one way for that to happen. However, there is one final drawback of using Melo as the screener in P&Rs: any Lin-Melo pick-and-roll is, by extension, NOT a Lin-Chandler pick-and-roll, a play which has quickly become the Knicks’ best. Chandler has been one of the best pick-and-roll finishers in the league this season (his 1.26 PPP as the roll man ranks 8th in the NBA), and taking opportunities away from him may not be the wisest decision. Luckily, this isn’t the only way for the Knicks to get Melo and the ball in a spot on the court that he’s comfortable operating from.

Baseline cuts, entry passes into the post off of drive-and-kicks, side pick-and-rolls off kickouts when he acts as the outlet man on Lin-Chandler pick-and-rolls; all of these actions can be used to get Melo in situations that are much more advantageous to those that he was encountering prior to Lin’s emergence as a threat. He should have more room to operate and get to the spots on the floor that he likes with the defense paying so much attention to Lin as the ball-handler. Think about how many post-up and isolation opportunities Kobe Bryant got in the triangle offense, another system predicated on both ball movement and player movement. Melo can get the same types of looks by playing within the offense but still staying aggressive. It’s a difficult balance to maintain, but if Carmelo can just let the game come to him and still be aggressive in picking his spots, he’ll be able to take advantage of the Knicks’ new reality.

We Will Literally Do A Roundtable About Anything

Here at Hardwood Paroxysm, we LOVE roundtables. You might as well call us… the Knights of the Roundtable (yeah, I went there). This one doesn’t even have any particular subject. It’s just six random questions. I sent an email with six questions and a bunch of the guys (Matt Moore, Connor Huchton, Sean Highkin, Conrad Kaczmarek, Amin Vafa and Steve McPherson) responded. Even though it was haphazardly thrown together, it still worked out really well. This is the part where you keep reading… 

1. If abolishing the weekend in general or any specific event is out, what’s the one change you’d make to All-Star Weekend?

Matt Moore: Kill the game. I hate it. I hate it worse than the dunk contest, because there are down years and up years. The contest is so pointless. “Oh, it got close at the end!” NO ONE WAS TRYING. I’d much rather have a 3-on-3 tournament, 10 minute games. Randomly assign teammates from the 12 man rosters. Would be amazing, could space them out to work in throughout the weekend. So much better, not as exhausting,

Connor Huchton: I’d replace the Shooting Stars competition with a one-on-one tournament. I can’t think of a single person who’d be opposed to this. It’s a simple idea: Eight of the NBA’s best players, games to 11 or 15, and scoring by 1s and 2s. Think about what the tournament might have looked like this year:

First Round- LeBron vs. Westbrook, Wade vs. Kobe, Durant vs. Dirk, Rose vs. Paul
Second Round- LeBron vs. Durant, Kobe vs. Rose
Championship- LeBron vs. Kobe
Any combination of those matchups would be terrific. I didn’t include Dwight Howard because he doesn’t match up well with anyone, but there are other top-tier players that could be included. Again, I can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t want this over any given All-Star competition. And if the superstars are unwilling to participate, lower-level matchups, like Kyrie Irving against John Wall, could still be very exciting.
Sean Highkin: You mean besides not letting Chris Brown participate in the festivities and having everyone involved be generally okay with it? I think Saturday’s dunk contest proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that props and gimmicks need to die. Letting a teammate assist on one dunk is fine, but I’d like to see the contest get back to its roots, so to speak. Jason Richardson summed up my feelings on Twitter: nobody’s going to hold it against you if you do a dunk that’s already been done, as long as you tweak it slightly and use some creativity. I’d rather see a well-executed 360 windmill with no frills than ever have to witness Paul George plastering a backboard with stickers of Larry Bird’s face again.
Conrad Kaczmarek: Would it possible to put the Rising Stars Game and the All-Star Game on the same day? Just make guys like Blake Griffin choose between one or the other and have them both happen on Sunday. Start the Rising Stars Game at like 4 PM and then have the ASG later at 8 PM. The way it worked out this year is that some guys were actually playing the Rising Stars Game on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back. The All-Star Weekend is supposed to be a break, so I think the NBA should try to find a way to give these guys another day of rest.
Amin Vafa: I think I’d make the D-League more of a feature. Like, have the D-League dunk contest winner in the dunk contest (and 3pt contest, etc), and have the D-League All-Stars play the rooks/sophs in the Rising Stars challenge. This would create great exposure for the D-League, all the while adding some competitiveness back in the other events because I assume the pros wouldn’t want to lose to D-Leaguers.
Steve McPherson: My comprehensive plan for repairing All-Star Weekend is completely impossible to achieve, mostly because the cornerstone of it is removing the thick coating of corporate sponsorship slathered onto every damn thing that happens. I understand the machinery of capitalism and that this is just how this stuff works, but if, for instance, props were the death knell for everything exciting about the dunk contest, Kia’s presence in it last year (and the terrible commercial they made out of Griffin’s dunk) was the last nail in the coffin. I think without such heavy and diverse corporate sponsorship, you could trim the number of events and have everything on one day, giving even the players who participate more time on either end to rest up. Have the rookies/sophomores in the afternoon (because I still want that), have the game in the evening (and don’t let anyone participate in the rookies/sophomores who’s in the ASG proper), and have a trim, fighting-fit three-point shootout and dunk contest at the half. You needn’t remove corporate sponsorship completely, but just make one company the sponsor for the whole thing, and spare us this David Foster Wallace-esque, Year-of-the-Tucks-Medicated-Pad silliness.

2. What was the best story of the first half other than Linsanity?

Matt Moore: The Nuggets thriving without Melo until injuries made them crash and burn. They were so much fun to watch. The injuries killed them because otherwise there would be too much joy in Mudville.

Connor Huchton: The Western Conference’s general mishmash of fun, exciting, and decent teams is appealing to me. If I had to pick an individual story, I’d say LeBron’s “I’m quietly having one of the best seasons ever.” year has been interesting to see unfold. When the best player in the game markedly improves, I’m intrigued.

Sean Highkin: The Minnesota Timberwolves being relevant. Besides the fact that Rubio and Love are a League Pass nerd’s wet dream, I just love that we live in a world where Clippers-Timberwolves has the ability to be the marquee game on ESPN’s Friday doubleheader.

Conrad Kaczmarek: TEBOW. Wait, what? But seriously, I think it’s the sudden relevancy of the Clippers. Although I’m not the guy who loves all of the big market teams becoming super powers, I sure do love seeing someone humble Kobe Bryant and his countless fanboys. Lob City has lived up to the hype as far as entertainment goes and probably exceeded it in terms of actual wins.

Amin Vafa: Kyrieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. He was already favored to be ROY, but the way he has elevated the play of the Cavs and the way he has developed a great late-game instinct this early is not only great for the Cavs on their road to recovery post-LeBron, but it’s WAY more than anyone expected of him. I’m looking forward to him for the 2nd half of this season, and I can’t wait to see what the Cavs will look like next year.

Steve McPherson: I’m going to have to be greedy and go with my hometown Timberwolves, and not just for Rubio, but for Adelman, Pekovic, and the establishment of Kevin Love as a legit star in the NBA. For a franchise that’s been the Island of Misfit Toys for so long, it’s been great to see pieces come together in ways that actually make sense. Rubio’s arrival has certainly been the best individual storyline, but it’s doubtful it would have happened the way it has without Adelman’s steady hand and patience. His willingness to be intuitive with his lineups (that is, going with what works, whoever that may be) and to give Rubio a great deal of freedom in the offense have been the motor oil that has lubricated the Timberwolves’ engine—which has also turned out to be a V8 Hemi thanks to the emergence of Nikola Pekovic as a legit NBA center. Rubio’s ability to reward Pek for his good positioning has led to easy buckets and his offensive rebounding has been just ridiculous. The cherry on top was Love’s victory in the three-point competition. And he didn’t even have to pump fake once!

3. In a hypothetical universe in which LeBron James does not exist, who is your first half MVP?

Matt Moore: Kevin Durant and it’s not close. His defensive step-up has been downright incredible.

Connor Huchton: In my eyes, the battle for second place in MVP voting is a definitive competition between Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. Paul is having his best season since 08-09 while leading the Clippers to contention; Durant has improved his all-around game, and the Thunder are the second best team in the league. I’ll give Durant the slight edge, but a vote for either player would be fine with me.

Sean Highkin: Probably Kevin Durant. Oklahoma City is the best team in the West, he and Russell Westbrook seem to have worked out their differences (for now), and he’s having a typically ridiculous season statistically.

Conrad Kaczmarek: In this hypothetical universe, Dwyane Wade probably has to step up a little bit and puts up even more ridiculous numbers, right? I guess that’s probably not the kind of answer you were looking for, so I’ll go with Kevin Durant. He’s the best player on the best team in the Western Conference and he’s certainly making a claim to be considered the second best player in the NBA. His defense seems to be drastically improved and he’s an absolute scoring machine. I was stunned to find that he did not have a 50-point game until his explosion against the Nuggets this year. I will not be stunned when he tops the half-century mark twice more before the regular season is over. Keep in mind that people still hate LeBron and the media hasn’t forgiven him for all of his shortcomings – they may get stupid and give Durant this award anyway.

Amin Vafa: See, I would have said Durant, but the Wizards beat the Thunder this year, so that’s an automatic disqualification. I guess I’ll say Lamarcus Aldridge, because even though the Wizards also beat the Blazers, Aldridge wasn’t playing. And he has been beastly this year, breathing life into a Portland team that everyone assumed would be tanking their way into oblivion.

Steve McPherson: This of course gets into the thorny question of what the MVP is supposed to mean, but based on the idea that this means the player who is most valuable to his team specifically and that value is generated by return on investment, I think it has to be Jeremy Lin. Hear me out. The Knicks entered the season without a real PG and with serious questions about how all the pieces of this team would fit together. When Melo’s adaptation to a point forward role mostly flopped, it looked like the team’s high hopes would once again be dashed, but suddenly, the Knicks were in like Lin with all those wins (that’s my Clyde impression). I think Lin’s numbers will regress to the mean over the rest of the season, but as far as looking at just the first half of the season, no one has meant more to his franchise than Lin.

4. What specific team or player story are you watching in the second half?

Matt Moore: The Western flustercluck. There are 10 playoff teams for 8 spots, a mass of injuries, general instability, and multiple trade possibilities. This is going to get very, very weird down the stretch.

Connor Huchton: I’m interested to see how the Western Conference seeding falls. It’s a conference full of good, not great, teams, so what matchups are created and which teams earn higher seedings will determine how the playoffs progress. Basically, I’m fervently hoping for the first two rounds to somehow involve a Lakers-Clippers seven-game series.

Sean Highkin: The Lakers are the kind of trainwreck it’s impossible to look away from: no depth, the very real possibility that Gilbert Arenas is in their future, a front office in disarray, and a front three that’s still good enough that you can’t definitively count them out come playoff time.

Conrad Kaczmarek: I’m watching the Boston Celtics. I mean, I’m not actually going to watch their games because they play some of the most boring basketball possible, but I’m going to follow the story. They keep going through these mini-streaks of winning and losing. Just when you’re ready to call them dead, they rip off three convincing 5-point victories over the Wizards, Nets, and Pistons. The fans seem pretty decisively split on Rajon Rondo. Some people think, for some reason, that he’s among the best point guards in the game. Others, want him traded as soon as possible. Living in Boston, I get to experience their downfall firsthand. For some reason I’m seeing a whole lot more Boston Bruins gear than Boston Celtics gear these days. Hmm, that’s pretty puzzling (it’s not that puzzling).

Amin Vafa: I’m watching the trade deadline. According to the trade machine, it looks like about half the guys in the league (rough estimate) aren’t eligible to be traded until Thursday (March 1st). And the trade deadline is 2 weeks after that. With the Lakers having issues, Dallas having a Chandler-sized hole to fill, Houston needing revenge for the aborted-but-maybe-never-happened Gasol trade, Dwight Howard existing, and lots of teams vying for the lottery… the first half of March is going to come in like a lion and out like a much larger lion.

Steve McPherson: On the flipside of what I said about the MVP, I’ll be watching to see what happens with the Knicks as the season goes forward. In what is always a fascinating study of sheer ability vs. personality, I played as the Knicks against Myles Brown’s Timberwolves in NBA 2K12 the other night. As a video game team, they’re pretty much a dream. Lin, Smith, Melo, STAT, and Chandler all handle their positions amazingly well with Smith raining down corner 3s, Melo driving or shooting out of high post isos, and Amar’e and Chandler catching alley-oops from Lin. Will it come together like that in real life this season though, or do egos take over and sink the whole thing?

5. The Western Conference is pretty wide open: who ya got?

Connor Huchton: The boring, obvious answer here is the Thunder. It’s the logical choice. The Thunder has (singular team names continue to be the worst) more talent than any other Western Conference team and currently hold the conference’s best record. But I don’t believe in boring answers (disregarding my previous four), so I’ll say the Mavericks do. The Mavericks have beaten several good teams in recent weeks, and have braved injuries and a (early on) struggling Dirk Nowitzki to hold the conference’s fourth best record. The Mavericks remain a deep team full of experienced players, sporting a strong defense and a star returning to form. Along with the Spurs and the Clippers, the Mavericks are one of three Western Conference teams capable of stopping the seemingly inevitable Thunder-Heat Finals’ series.

Sean Highkin: Honestly, I kind of like Dallas, not because I think they’re better than every other team but because I don’t think any one team could definitely beat them in a seven-game series.

Conrad Kaczmarek: OKC Thunder. They’re the most complete team right now. Something could change (like a Dwight Howard trade) or someone could get hurt, but right now the Thunder lead the pack. I already talked about how awesome Durant has been and Russell Westbrook is an absolutely phenomenal talent. When you combine that ridiculous one-two punch with a guy like James Harden, you’ve got one of the best cores in the NBA. Serge Ibaka provides a defensive presence and Durant is a clear go-to guy down the stretch. I’m not buying all of the chatter about a Westbrook-Durant conflict, so OKC is my team in the West.

Amin Vafa: I foresee an OKC/San Antonio WCF. If it comes down to that, I think OKC takes it, but not without Pop and his crew giving a huge fight over at least 6 games.
Steve McPherson: I still have to go with the Thunder. If any spectacular, record-breaking performance could be called an ugly win, it was the 50-40-triple-double game against the Nuggets. As eye-bulgingly ridiculous as Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka were, having three players get stats like that is not how you want to play night in and night out. And yet, some of the knock on them in the playoffs last year was that the Mavs were able to take them out of their comfort zone, and this win showed that they can step outside of that zone and get it done. That ability to change up should help them enforce their will on other teams.

6. Who will be the biggest name on the move at or before the trade deadline and where is he headed? 

Matt Moore: Dwight. But I have NO IDEA where he’s going.

Connor Huchton: I have no actual idea who might be traded, but it seems like this could be the year Monta Ellis is finally dealt. The Ellis-Curry backcourt continues to produce mixed results, and it’s eminently clear some change is needed for the Warriors’ to reach a point of playoff contention. At some point, mediocre results grow stale. Ellis is the type of player a contending team could use to their sizable advantage, if placed in the right situation, so I don’t see any reason significant trade interest wouldn’t exist.

Sean Highkin: Phoenix has steadfastly refused to trade Steve Nash, but I think Orlando swings a trade for him as a last-ditch attempt to convince Dwight Howard to stay (which, for the record, I don’t think will work).

Conrad Kaczmarek: First off, I think Dwight Howard is staying put. He ain’t going anywhere. With the obvious name off the board, it leaves some slim-pickings. It seems like the Lakers really want to move Pau Gasol, but I can’t think of a destination that makes a ton of sense. The Celtics are definitely looking in to moving Rondo, but I’m not sure he ends up going anywhere either. I think it’ll be a relatively quiet trade deadline, but there will be one surprise: Steve Nash heads to Orlando. In a final attempt to keep Dwight, Orlando will make a play for Nash and the Suns will let their superstar chase that championship ring.

Amin Vafa: I don’t think Dwight to LAL happens before the summer, which means Gasol to Houston or whatever won’t happen either. I think Beasley will wind up on the Lakers, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the Cavs will part ways with Sessions, Jamison, and Varejao. That’ll catapult them into the lottery, but I think the can get some good depth and picks out of that. And I think Varejao, if he ended up in Dallas, would help Dallas be a top contender again.

Steve McPherson: Although Howard to the Lakers isn’t going to be a good move, I think it might just happen. The trend over the last couple years has been for deals that players want to get done getting done, from Melo to the Knicks to CP3 to the Clippers, and Howard couldn’t be telegraphing his desire to get out of Orlando harder. The future of the Nets is too iffy, so when the Ides of March arrive, I won’t be surprised if Howard is a Laker.

Paroxysm at Gametime: Kings at Wizards Pre-All Star Break Bonanza Notebook

Image via orangejack on Flickr

Just a couple of items that didn’t make the feature, but that I felt were worth noting:

  • Wall came later to shootaround (but before warmups) and pretty much nailed every single jumper from everywhere in the halfcourt with Sam Cassell’s hand in his face. Wall’s jumpers were falling during the game, too (some were ugly, but they still fell). But even though they were falling, he didn’t settle for them. He still moved the ball around a lot. Like 11 assists moved around.
  • Blatche working up a sweat pregame, but misses a few easy dunks. He’s wearing different clothes than everyone else, and he’s got a sleeve on his calf. I later saw Blatche hanging out watching the game under the bleachers. He seemed in good spirits. Here’s Blatche looking terribly blurry.
  • Vesely seemed fine during shootaround, but apparently he wasn’t sitting on the bench in the first half because he had a stomach virus. He played a few minutes at the end of the 3rd, but didn’t really play at all after that.
  • When Vesely checked in during free throws, the crowd cheered loudly. But they were clearly confused, as they thought the awkward white guy entering the game was Jimmer.
  • Speaking of Jimmer, in all my time at the Verizon Center, I have never EVER heard a crowd cheer as loud as when Jimmer nailed an unnecessarily long 3 in the 2nd quarter. I’ve been at the arena for close home games, for playoff games (weird, right?), and for every bandwagon/expatriate fan game you could imagine. And I’d be lying if I said any of those crowds cheered harder for their players than these BYUers cheered for Jimmer.
  • Ronny Turiaf and Kevin Seraphin were chatting in French the entire time people were in the locker room. I bet they do that a lot, and I bet no one has any idea what they’re talking about. And I bet people don’t talk to them too often. Too bad, they seemed to be talking about interesting stuff, though none of it was basketball-related. 8 years of French have not gone to waste!
  • I’m pretty sure Chuck Hayes balked a free throw in the 4th quarter. Is it possible to balk a free throw? That should be some sort of penalty, right? Like, especially if it causes a lane violation? Anyway, it was weird.
  • Bizarre Wizards turnover highlight: Wiz throw the ball out of bounds, and it lands right in Keith Smart’s hands. Right as timeout is being called on the floor, Keith Smart spots up, bends his knees, and nearly nails a shot from out of bounds. Well, at least one team was having fun.