Wednesday, November 25, 2009

All My Friends Are Funeral Singers: An NBA Experiment Vol. 2.2

It's almost a month into the 2009-2010 NBA season, and it's apparent that the Nuggets are lacking two things: a big-bodied, true center; and the discipline and focus to step on the throats of clearly inferior opponents early in games.

We'll address the first issue much later on in the season, when it becomes an even more glaring problem. But now it's on to the lack of focus and so-called "killer instinct." Denver has blown out a few teams so far this year on their way to a 10-4 record, but just about all of them have been second-half runs. This could allude to the fact that the coaching staff is making necessary adjustments at halftime, but I'm of the mind to believe that most of the time the players are just deciding to play defense more than every third possession or so.

Take last night's game against New Jersey, for example. Three weeks ago, with the year in its infancy, the Nuggets beat the Nets 122-94 on the road. That 28-point cushion has stood up as the Nuggets' biggest margin of victory of the year ... however, Denver actually trailed by one at halftime; it took a 44-point explosion in the third to make it a cakewalk. And even though they led by dozen at the break last night, the Nets had a 10-0 run at one point in the second. The highlights will likely show the Nets turning it over again and again in a montage befitting an 0-14 team. Yet they barely lost the turnover battle to the Nuggets, 23-22. If you're the only winless team in the league, your miscues define you. If you're a division leader, your sloppy play gets glossed over all too easily.

This may seem like nitpicking, since the Nuggets won by 14 anyway, but here's the thing: Chauncey Billups was 1-8 from the field. He actually airballed a 3 from the right wing at one point, which I don't think I've ever seen him do. He played "only" 27 minutes, but if the Nuggets effectively put this one out of reach early, Billups can take most of, if not all, the 2nd half off. They can get Ty Lawson even more involved in the offense, and J.R. Smith has shown - albeit sporadically - that he can also play the point. Chauncey is 33 years old. Those minutes, especially at altitude, are going to take their toll. The quicker you break a shitty team's will, the quicker you can sit your starters and get them rest they'll need in April. This team's good enough to look that far ahead. And they should start.

Friday, November 13, 2009

All My Friends Are Funeral Singers: An NBA Experiment Vol. 2.1

Sometimes, it's weird to think that the Celtics won't have a Marreese Speights, a Brandon Jennings, a J.J. Hickson or a Jared Dudley that will surprise me this year. Rajon Rondo is nice and all, don't get me wrong, but he's reached that all-too-important (and amazing) pinnacle of next-level for me. This is not a complaint about an 8-1 team that just destroyed the Jazz (note: 8-3 after losses to the Hawks and, uh, Pacers-- yikes) and showcased exactly why Deron Williams has trouble with elite point guards despite being a damned good one.

I happen to think the difference in elite and damned good might just be personnel. Chris Paul is the only elite point guard without good personnel. Deron and Rajon have good personnel (when Boozer shows up to play), so they look like elite points. I'm wondering what would happen to Deron without the cast he has and Jerry's ever-vigilant eye. I wonder, also, what will happen to Rajon once his cast begins to depart. So here's the math problem then: If R is a better passer/user of space than D and D is a better shooter/creator than R, which variable stabilizes as a point guard without a better cast? I'm afraid it might be D.

Back to the present though: went to see the C's play in Jersey in a particularly uninspired contest. Rajon and Ray were great, Garnett is a step slower and (my) reports of Marquis Daniels being a pointless acquisition are a bit premature. Perkins was a rebounding machine at the end-- he sealed the Nets fate in the last couple of minutes. The Nets are a bad team, only, I don't think they are 0-8 bad. Terrence Williams was a certified scorer when he got some space, B. Lopez played big and actually hit some 15-footers after struggling early and once Devin Harris comes back, they'll have a nice rotation on their hands. They aren't gonna be good by any stretch, but they aren't this bad. That said, they were inspired and worked extremely hard and scored 76 points. Yikes.

Some of that goes to how the Celts played them. When they ran a basic 2-1-2 zone the game and doubled anyone-- ANYONE-- who got below the elbow, it was nice change from the man-to-man they use. Perkins got into foul trouble trying to cheat off of his man early (in the man-to-man), so the zone saved Garnett from having to protect him. Smart move there. Once they established that Ray-Ray was on, Rondo actually sat a long time in the fourth and they went with House and Allen bringing up the ball. Strange move. Ray doesn't need to play 35+ minutes against the Nets. Bad coaching move. So, more of the same from early-season Doc: make the right moves and the wrong moves and the players pretty much sort it out. I can live with this but it makes me nervous.

Let's get to the scorecard. We're 8-1 (pre-Hawks and Pacers, I know) and playing excellent defense minus the Suns abomination. When the Suns are on point, you can only hope to outscore them and we aren't that team. The first unit has been good but not great and the second unit has been playing above their level. Somewhere in the middle is the truth (pun not intended) and all of this while being witness to a laid-back sense of the Truth (pun intended). Thus far, I'd say the team is playing right into my expectations. Thing is? Cleveland and LA have been playing above theirs (at least Cleveland has since they played Orlando). So, it may take another level-- Rondo may need to have some Chris Paul or Deron Williams rub off on him (that didn't come out right) and where Garnett raises a level he may not have any more. They may need a calmer Sheed (not gonna happen) and Pierce may need to replicate that 2008 run (uh, maybe?).

But that's in May. Right now, it's a Sheldon Williams November and I will take 8-1 all damned day. (Again, 8-3... I've been busy these last few days.)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Payoff

One day in March Stan and I were watching the Madness ensue,
When we drank some scotch and right on the spot decided a wager was due.
"My favorite team will win more than yours," I said about 2009,
He looked on in awe, let out a guffaw, and quickly said "That's fine."
So this is the start of the lengthy rhyme I write with some defiance,
Concerning the winning exploits of the San Francisco Giants.
Despite missing out on the post-season and finishing just in third,
They were 13 games ahead of the Pads, rendering this bet absurd.

We begin at a ballyard north of the park on the island of Manhattan,
Where a nickel gets you the Gothams and a chance to smuggle your cat in.
Soon the name was changed to the Giants, a powerhouse world renown,
At least until the end of '11 when their third ballpark burned down.
But at this time they were run by a legend, the fiery John McGraw,
And Christy Fucking Mathewson, the handsomest ace you ever saw.
In Aught 4 they told the Series and Boston to suck on their pole,
Then turned around the next year and won the whole damn rigmarole.
Matty ruled the mound back then, so too Iron Joe the loner,
But none of their excellent pitching could atone for Merkle's Boner.

The next few decades saw some titles but they also saw some trouble,
For all the best hitters alive, that is, getting K'd by King Carl Hubbell.
There was a sweet-swinging first-sacker, too, his skills were many and scary,
The last National League player to bat .400's name was Big Bill Terry.
A shot to center at the Polo Grounds back then was all for naught,
But a drive down the short lines was very sublime, so hello, Mr. Mel Ott.
The war years proved futile for Giants fans, but it seemingly was just a blip,
Because the Say Hey Kid was coming to town, as was Leo the Lip.

On October the 3rd, 1951, the world stopped for a moment in time,
Because a Brooklyn pitcher by the name of Ralph Branca tried to commit a crime.
Bobby Thomson hit a heater way up and in, and of it he left no remnant,
And as he joyously circled the bases thus did the Giants win the pennant.
With such a blast Thomson turned fast to a celebrity to rival the Pope,
Nevermind he may have received the sign from a 'mate holding a scope.
We move ahead to 1954, and to an Indians fan, this hurts,
Remembering the mighty blast deep to center off the bat of Vic Wertz.
Willie Mays turned to run, shot out of a gun, and it seemed like he could fly,
But like a dead dove, the ball fell in his glove, which is where triples went to die.

As the country expanded, and more and more planes landed, the NL looked to the West,
And the hilly burg of San Fran was the spot that Horace Stoneham liked best.
This killed the Golden Age of baseball to the dismay of New York codgers,
Still the Giants' exit lacked the oomph and merit of their bitter rival's, the Dodgers.
But '62 brought a chance at redemption to make their new home come alive,
Alas the Yanks won again, in this, Game Seven, on Willie McCovey's line drive.
And although Juan Marichal was superb on the bump, darker days lay ahead,
Specifically when he, in a fit of non-glee, took his bat to J. Roseboro's head.

We'll skip the 70s and first half of the 80s for it appears the Giants did too,
And move on in to the end of the decade to check on the Humm Baby crew.
There was fat Rick Reuschel, Garrelts, Dravecky, and Candy Maldonado,
Plus Jeffrey Leonard, Matt Williams, Chili Davis, and a hitting aficionado.
Will the Thrill they called this man with a smooth swing made of pure love,
And Kevin Mitchell tracking down long fly balls without the use of a glove.
The 1989 NLCS brought the dysfunctional Cubs into town,
Where the red-hot Giants in just five games performed an immortal beat-down.
But a long-lost pennant and half the bay's fans would not a championship make,
As the Giants were squashed by the crosstown A's and an untimely earthquake.

Now it's '93 and the Giants and Braves are involved in the "last" pennant race,
With a giant named Barry Bonds, who, back then, had a normal-sized face.
Needing to win on the last day of the year the team started Salomon Torres,
It's unclear how many pitches he threw, but they were surely all of 'em horrid.
After some decent teams and a new park the Giants made it back to the series,
But 2002 against the Anaheim Angels only brought up several new queries.
Was Dusty Baker the right man to lead? Did the rotation need a new face?
The questions were met like a lost 3-2 lead, with changes all over the place.

Now the Giants are without Mr. Bonds and the offense is just barely so-so,
But the rotation's so stacked the fourth-best starter can rattle off a no-no.
With Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain at the top, San Fran has quite the pair,
Of aces it seems, the stuff made from dreams, and stuff to match the flair.
And let's not forget the hot corner man whose moniker is Kung Fu Panda,
Pablo Sandoval is pretty good, y'all, and if you don't know I'll reprimand ya.
So that's the short story of this proud franchise, from one coast to the next.
No need to write any of this shit down, for I doubt there will be a test.
Hope you liked it, Stan, for I believe it encompasses all I can say,
Since I really hate the fucking Giants, but at least they're not L.A.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Just saying.

The AL is apparently not used to Cliff Lee despite him playing for the Indians for most of this year. Just saying.