The Indiana Pacers are a confusing mess of a team right now. At 16-14, they're hovering ever-so-slightly above .500. That's pretty good I guess, but what does it really mean in the mediocre Eastern Conference? They haven't won more than two games in a row all year...but the Indianapolis press is quick to point out that they haven't lost more than three in a row either. That's called a "moral victory," which, it's important to note, isn't the same thing as an "actual victory."

In the off-season, coach Rick Carlisle was supposed to institute a high-octane, up-tempo offense that emphasized an efficient transition game and quick series of high-percentage shots (think the Phoenix Suns, only without Steve Nash, or Shawn Marion, or Amare Stoudemire, or Raja Bell...). This has resulted in a whopping 94.8 PPG average (including a season-low 71 points in a recent home loss to the lowly Timberwolves). Good job, Rick. Misery accomplished.

As bad as that sounds, it gets worse. This year's average isn't even a full point better than the team's average during last year's injury-ravaged season (93.9 PPG), and only 1.8 points better than the year before that when half the team was suspended (93 PPG). Meanwhile, their opponents are averaging 96.3 points. This is up over four points from last season (92.0). So at least Carlisle improved somebody's offense...the opposition's.

Oh, and the team's top three scorers -- Jermaine O'Neal, Al Harrington, and Stephen Jackson -- are all averaging two to three points fewer than they did last year. This has to be especially upsetting for O'Neal and Harrington, who both predicted they would have "breakout" years. As for Jackson, well, he's just happy he isn't in jail.

How fucked up are the Pacers? Well, if all the crap I just said doesn't answer that question, then this picture should. It sure looks to me like Danny Granger is blocking Jeff Foster's dunk attempt. Maybe they're just scrambling for the rebound or something, but Granger's stuffing his own teammate. And that's crazy. Even for the Pacers.

Not me you idiot
"Not me, you idiot!"

So despite the preseason focus on becoming a fast break team, the Pacers are shuffling and stumbling their way to what will probably be a 42-40 finish, which now that I think of it could end up being the best record in the East. That's how bad things are over here.

But amid all the empty hopes and shattered dreams, some light must shine. And that light is Al Harrington's mowhawk. Even after the latest soul-crushing loss, chances are you'll find a picture of Al and his awesome hair in some Yahoo image gallery. Here are some of my personal favorites. I'll be adding to it as the season progresses. One for every win, I think. That way I'll only have to do it every other game or so.

Al hawk 2

Al hawk 1

Al hawk 4

Al hawk 3

Al hawk 5

Statbuster's $.02: Let's not forget WWE's failed attempt to introduce "Road Warrior Al" as the third member of the Legion of Doom...

road warrior al

...or as Mr. T's replacement during the actor's strike? Coy and Vance must have been spoken for.

harrington a team

This has nothing to do with anything, but a while back in Esquire magazine, somewhere in between the photos of Scarlett Johansson shaving her legs we came across an NBA season preview. And the article quoted a Basketbawful post! And it wasn't the Gatorade Conspiracy! Is it wrong for a grown man to giggle like a 12-year old girl?

Knowing that award-winning journalists read (or at least Google) our sanctimonious little blog gives us a sense of accomplishment...until I realized I discovered this on accident while eating alone at an In-N-Out Burger on a Tuesday night. I'm never happy.

We recently spotted Armon Gilliam in a car insurance commercial. I'll do something out of character and not say anything bad about the Hammer, because I think he's a good guy. He shook my hand during a preseason game while he was on the Bucks, and that goes a long way in my book. During his NBA days he was a genuine class act, and often had a Bible with him on flights and in locker rooms! But for some reason here he's going one-on-one against a midget. I'll fight the urge to make a Muggsy Bogues reference here.

Sixers GM Billy King made good on his promise to not hastily deal Allen Iverson by hastily dealing Allen Iverson to the Nuggets! The good news for AI (besides getting the hell away from Chris Webber) is that he will get plenty of shots...for the next 15 games.

We're thinking come mid-January the Nuggets will have 2001 Blazers-like chemistry problems, with two 30-point scorers in the mix and still no defense or outside shooting (Denver is 31% on 3s this year, 24th in the league). And losing one of the best playmakers in the league in Andre Miller will hurt. Folks will say AI was a top-ten assist man in 2005 and 2006, but that was more of a product of him handling the ball so much. The man shoots first, people.

But, anyway, deep down inside we feel Jerry West was insane to not even make a move for the Answer.

The collapse of the Grizzlies this year has gone mostly ignored, much like their three consecutive winning seasons. But an AI trade to Memphis was out of the question because it made sense. The Grizz have found success by being the "unselfish hustle" guys, which is exactly the personnel AI needs to be surrounded by. Even with their disastrous start, they still manage to be 10th in the league in fewest points allowed.

But Memphis is a team that needs scoring in the worst way(their watered-down offense caused other teams to refer to them as a "first round bye"). They are currently 28th in the league in scoring, which is mostly due to Pau's foot injury, but isn't surprising since Memphis nearly finished in the bottom 10 in scoring the last two years. And last year they were dead last in pace of game (which is an elaborate calculation that basically tells you how boring the team is). When the defense clamps down on Pau Gasol, the Grizz needed huge games from guys like Mike Miller and Eddie Jones to stay competitive. The team struggles to create shots, and AI would've been that go-to guy.

What should also be alarming to Jerry West and company is that, even after posting a 49-win season, the Grizzlies are still in the basement in league attendance, down from 26th last year. So even when winning no one pays attention to the Grizzlies. AI could have be the jolt of life this franchise needs. He is the type of player that will get people talking about the team and, more importantly, going to games.

Salary-wise Memphis could have made it happen. Philadelphia would take on the expiring contract of Eddie Jones, and Memphis would likely have to part with Rudy Gay and/or Hakim Warrick and draft picks. I'd rather see Memphis find a way to hang on to Rudy; Hakim Warrick is a tough fit in Memphis since him and Pau are both interior players with questionable shooting range, plus Rudy Gay has more upside.

That would leave their starting lineup with AI, Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, Gasol and Stromile Swift. Their bench is still painfully thin, but this squad is at least as good as the 49-win group from last year.

Then add in the fact that the Grizzlies' current skid does wonders for their odds in the Greg Oden draft...
In case you've been in the mall all weekend looking for that perfect gift for your favorite sports blog, the Knicks-Nuggets game turned into a Ron Artest-esqe brawl after a hard breakaway foul on JR Smith. Sure, that Mardy guy (who now has more ejections than blocks on the year) thugged the hell out of JR, but things were calming down until Nate Robinson pulled aggro Leroy Jenkins-style. Christ.

Nate Robinson has his own blog on MSNBC, an amazingly lame fan page and 6,822 friends on Myspace (approximately 6,000 more than Screech). He's created a ridiculous amount of buzz for himself, a feat for a diminutive backup shooting guard on the most unwatchable team in the league. But, to us, it makes perfect sense. With his insane hops and bone-headed decision making, Nate Robinson thinks he is a real-life video game character...this isn't always a good thing.

Nate Robinson wins 2006 Slam-Dunk Contest: Once you get over the giddyness from seeing a guy the size of Spud Webb in fact dunking on Spud Webb, you realize that Nate Robinson went into "Options" and put the Slam-Dunk Contest on "Practice Mode", shamelessly taking 13 mulligans on his final dunk and robbed Andre Iguodala of the win. All the guys from 1984-2005 who were forced into a simple dunk on their second attempt to avoid disqualification collectively threw up in their mouths. I know you're out there Tim Perry.

Nate Robinson smothers Yao's chicken: Nate Robinson squashes Yao's move to the hoop. Impressive? Yes. Totally feasible in NBA Live? Totally. Anyone who's played the Live series has come to terms with the fact that, in the computer's hands, the Dan Dickaus and Earl Boykins of the world will reject your shit with ruthless aggression. In Live 2004 I had Wally Szczerbiak averaging 8 atom smashers a game. He had me jumpin' outta my seat, but I never could get Wally to finger wag...

Nate Robinson's ego-ectomy: On a breakaway dunk attempt against the Cavs, Nate Robinson went NBA Street on us, and threw a bounce alley-oop to himself and went to throw it down, only to fail miserably. As an NBA Street-ologist, Nate went for the classic 4-turbo button "Dinner's Served", which would've gave the Knicks a good dose of trick points. Nate was thinking ahead; If the dunk landed a Gamebreaker for his squad, the -2 points laid on the Cavs would've put the Knicks lead out of reach, forcing coach Mike Brown to substitute Drew Gooden and Damon Jones with Stretch and Biggie Little.

Or maybe I'm the one that plays too much Xbox...
After playing 15 of their first 21 games at home, the Lakers went into last night's game against Dallas with a 15-5 record...the third best mark in the West*. Everybody's singing the Lakers praises these days, and Steve Kerr even thinks they're the best team in the league.

* This season, "third best in the West" really means "third best in the entire league." The East is just that bad. Orlando currently has the best record over there, and, at 15-9, they'd be the 8th seed in the Western Conference. That's right: the best team in the East would barely make the playoffs out West. Ouch.

They do seem to be more balanced this season. Lamar Odom is averaging a career-high 17.5 points and leading the team with 8.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. Luke Walton is on fire from the field (51.9 percent) and beyond the arc (51.4 percent). Kwame Brown and Andrew Bynum are providing a solid "two-headed center" attack; their combined average is 16 PPG (on 57 percent shooting), almost 12 RPG, and over 3 BPG. And of course Kobe is, well, Kobe.

Now, a lot of people attribute the Lakers improved play to Kobe's maturity and increased willingness to trust his teammates. Analysts have noted that Kobe isn't demanding the ball as often, and that he seems content to play within Phil Jackson's offense until it's time to assert himself. And for the most part, they're right.

But...I watched last night's game. It was close until about midway through the fourth quarter, when the Mavericks went on a little run to go up by 10 points. And then "Dr. Bryant" snapped and reverted to his "Mr. Kobe" form. Or maybe it's just his inner Mamba. Whatever the case, he began bringing the ball up himself or demanded it as soon as it was brought over half court, then dribbled and juked and jumped his way to several questionable shots. He hit a couple, but he missed most of them, and the Mavericks padded the lead and won going away.

Of course, the commentators placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Kobe's teammates. Tom Tolbert noted that the other Lakers had struggled all night. Although that's not quite true. Sure, Luke Walton was a corpse-like 3-13 from the field, but Vladimir Radmanovic was 5-9 and Jordan Farmar was 5-6. Of course, their minutes and shot attempts were limited, especially in the fourth quarter when it became "Kobe time."

And yet again I'm forced to come to grips with the primary reason I cannot embrace Kobe as the "best player" in the NBA. Because, quite simply, he isn't. He's the best scorer for sure (or maybe, in some cases, he's tied with Allen Iverson). But he doesn't really improve his teammates. He gave up on them last night and just stopped passing the ball. That is not what great players do.

For instance, take that that classic Game 2 of the 1986 first round series between the Celtics and the Bulls. You know the one where Michael Jordan scored 63 points in double overtime. Yeah, well, the Bulls lost that game. Why? Because Larry Bird trusted his teammates. Bird had a triple-double in that game, and he assisted on the go-ahead basket off a pick-and-roll with Robert Parish. Now Parish was a great player in his own right, but he was having a terrible game, and had spent most of it on the bench because of foul trouble. But Bird hit him with a pass when it counted, while Jordan was trying to do it on his own, and the Celtics won the game because of it.

That's why it took Jordan seven years to get to the Finals. But he learned the lesson. My lasting memory of the Bull's first title will forever be Jordan pulling the defense to him and hitting a wide open John Paxson for five straight jump shots that finished off the Magic Johnson's Lakers. And that's just one example. Another is from Jordan's first comeback year, when he was dropping his famous double-nickle on the Knicks. One of the lost memories of that particular game is that Bill Wennington hit the game winner. On a pass from Jordan.

For some reason, Kobe just doesn't get that. This is his 11th season in the league. Just think about that for a second. He's been in the league 11 years now. And he still hasn't totally figured out how to keep his teammates involved. Maybe he never will.

The Lakers are lucky to have Lamar Odom. He's their most complete player, and he also serves as the facilitator that gets everyone else involved. Kind of like Scottie Pippen was for the Bulls during those times (and they happened) when Mike forgot how to pass the rock. And you could see last night how much the Lakers missed Odom (who is out 3-6 weeks with a sprained knee). It could be be a rough month without him, especially since the Lakers play six of their next nine games on the road. Although, seven of those games come against teams below .500 (mostly Eastern conference foes of course), and one of the two winning teams (Houston) is without its second best player (Tracy McGrady). So they'll probably weather the storm and keep the early buzz going.

But trust me on this one: Mr. Kobe isn't going away. He's going to pop up from time to time, even if people don't immediately recognize it. And I can't help but think it'll end up costing the Lakers at crucial times, as it did last May when he went MIA during Game 7 of last year's first round loss to the Phoenix Suns. Which is great for me, since I hate the Lakers. So, yeah, I guess there really isn't a down side.

Kobe alone
Kobe can't stop trying to do it on his own.
After months of relentless bitching and moaning, the NBA players finally got what they wanted: David Stern is going to scrap the new ball and bring back the old one. And just in time for Christmas! Truly this is the season for giving. (Unless you're one of the schmucks who dropped $100 or more for the new ball; in your case, it's the season for regifting the horrible thing.)

Pretty much everybody is happy about the reverse change. According to Mark Madsen, Minnesota teammates Kevin Garnett and Ricky Davis
practically started humping each other when they heard the news. Kobe proclaimed that he'd might not have missed a shot yet this season if he'd been shooting with the old ball. And someone on the Milwaukee Bucks said something vaguely positive about the switch, but frankly I don't really care about those guys.

The best "I love the old ball" comments came from Rip Hamilton, who apparently is planning a romantic dinner date followed by a night of slow and passionate lovemaking with the returning rock, which he described as a "lost girlfriend." That's, uh, great, Rip. I'm happy for you. And I'm glad I don't have to share athletic equipment with you. So my message to the other Pistons is this: disinfect the ball before every shoot around, just to be safe.

ball love
Remember: When you try to steal the ball from Rip Hamilton,
you're really trying to fuck his girlfriend. That's not cool.
First off, I'd like to apologize to reader Istvan. Dirk's last name is indeed spelled "Nowitzki," and not "Nowitski." My bad. The German language is so full of gutteral sounds and spitting that I sometimes get confused and try to spell things out phonetically. Really. Seriously. Okay, I can't back that up. I just goofed.

I mentioned yesterday that 12 of the Lakers first 17 games this season have been at home. I just checked the schedule, and their next three games are at home too. This means that, as of December 10th, the Lakers will have played 15 games at home and only five on the road. Three times as many home games as road games? And people wonder why they've started off so strong...

We also received a message from reader D. Hendrix. He's used the new NBA ball, and he ended up with the same "paper cuts" that Dirk and some other players have been suffering. I've got to get that ball and try it out. Of course, my feet are still recovering from using the Starbury Ones a few months ago...I'm not sure I want to lose the use of my hands too. But if anybody would like to loan us the ball, we'll test it and return it to you along with the official Basketbawful Fan Club package, which consists of a pirate eye patch and some Rainbow Brite stickers.

By the way, you have exactly one shopping day left until Larry Bird's birthday. Make it count.

Finally, I was watching NBA Fast Break on ESPN last night and -- surprise!! -- Ron Artest is starting to complain about not getting enough touches in Sacramento. Just like he did in Indiana. Oh, and also like he did in Chicago. Now mind you, Artest is averaging the most shot attempts on the team (16) while shooting only 39 percent from the field and 23 percent from three-point range. On the other hand, Kevin Martin is getting almost three fewer shot attempts, but he's shooting 52 percent in twos and 47 percent in threes, and averaging four more points than Artest (21.9 to 17.4). Who do you think should be the offensive focus?

Did I mention that the Fast Break guys think Artest should, in fact, be the focus of the team's offense? And these guys are experts? Forget about the numbers. As a fan of both the Bulls and the Pacers, I've seem a lot more of Artest than I ever would have wanted. Believe me, he's an above average scorer, but he's not a franchise-type scorer. His jump shot is terribly inconsistent, even given the general inconsistency of most jump shooters, and his post game relies on a lot of pushing and jostling around the basket. He's best suited as a second or third option, not as the first. But he'll never, ever, ever consent to be used that way.
I was just perusing the league standings and reading some headlines, and here are some things that caught my attention.

1. The Fakers: The Los Angeles Lakers are a surprising 12-5 and leading the Pacific Division. The pundits will tell you that it's because a) the players have finally gotten accustomed to running the Triangle Offense, b) Phil Jackson is a coaching genius, and c) Kobe Bryant has finally matured, deferring to his teammates throughout the game and taking over only when necessary. Personally, I think it's because the Lakers have so far played 12 games at home (where they are 10-2) and only five games on the road (where they are 2-3). That's a seven-game disparity. To put this into perspective, let's look at the other division leaders. Utah is 15-4, having had 11 home games (10-1) but also eight road games (5-3). San Antonio (13-5) has played nine (6-3) and nine (7-2). Over in the Leastern Conference, Orlando (14-5) has had eight home games (7-1) versus 11 road games (7-4). The Pistons (11-6) have notched eight home games (6-2) and nine road games (5-4). I'm not even going to talk about the Nets, since the Atlantic Division sucks ass. But do you see the pattern? Not only have the Lakers played a disproportionate number of home games, they're the only non-Nets division leader with a sub-500 road record. Give it time. They'll get worse.

2. The Leastern Conference: I'm not going to go into this in detail, or give you any whys and wherefores. But as of today, exactly three of the 15 Eastern Conference teams are .500 or above -- Orlando, Detroit, and Cleveland. The Atlantic Division doesn't have a single .500 ballclub; the Nets are leading that division at 7-9. The Western Conference, on the other hand, has 10 of 15 teams playing at .500 or better, with every single team in the Pacific being at least .500. So I guess you could consider the Atlantic Division to be the Pacific Division's Mexico. If you watch the Colbert Report, you'll get that one. If you don't watch it...I don't really care whether you get it.

3. God hates the Pacers: Where only a month into the season and already the Pacers are caught in that "we're going to hover around .500 most of the year and lose in the opening round of the playoffs" funk. The team has absolutely no personality. How depressing has it become? The only news snippit about the Pacers in the ESPN Local section is about how the Pacers last morning shootaround took place at somebody's house. Of course, that somebody has a regulation-size NBA court that is an exact replica of the Staples Center, but still.

4. Bullish contenders: Despite paying $60 million for an over-the-hill center with no scoring ability, a horrific freethrow touch, and a history of fueding with his coaches, the Bulls were considered a strong contender for this year's Eastern Conference Title. The talk kind of died down after they started 3-9. Now they've won five in a row to push their record to 8-9, and people are starting to talk about them again. I'd like to point out the streak includes two wins over the Knicks and wins over the Hornets, Wizards, and Celtics. The combined record of those teams: 27-42 (or 34-55 if you count the Knicks twice). Let's not start getting excited about the Bulls yet.

5. Headbanding together: According to Ben Wallace, his headband fued with coach Scott Skiles brought the team together and led to the current win streak. "Things like that, if you're a fragile team, it'll break you," Wallace said. "But if you have a nice solid core together, it helps you come together as a team. You start to pick it up." Uh huh. It sort of takes some of the attention away from Wallace's diminishing contributions to the team: 5.7 ppg on 43% shooting to go with 8.8 rpg. This is especially painful considering that Tyson Chandler -- whom the Bulls jettisoned after they signed Wallace -- is averaging 5.6 ppg on 67% shooting and (more importantly) 12.2 rpg. Chandler even outrebounded Wallace 17 to 4 when the Hornets played the Bulls last Friday. And did I mention Chandler is 24 and Wallace is 32? I'm just sayin'.

6. Sir Charles' big gamble: Charles Barkley, acknowledging that the first step in overcoming a problem is admitting you have it, has stated that he's a "gambleholic." Personally, I think this is just a carefully choreographed attempt to divert attention to the real problem -- namely that he's an "eataholic." Seriously. He's fat. Charles, gamble more, eat less.

7. Nowitzki's ball woes: Look, we all get it. The new ball sucks. Or so say the players. Get over it guys. According to John Hollinger, there have been no major negative statistical changes. In fact, there have been fewer turnovers and shots from 15 feet and in are falling at a higher percentage. So now at least one player has a new bitch. Dirk Nowitzki thinks the ball is causing gashes to form on his hand. "It's weird," said Nowitzki, who is very scary looking. "I saw it one morning and thought maybe I got a paper cut, but it's happened twice now. I don't know what else it could be. You should see Brad Davis' hands." After reading this quote, I checked out Brad Davis' hands personally. They are bold and beautiful. So I have no idea what Dirk is talking about. It's not the ball. It's voodoo
Marko Jaric is still showing signs that he hasn't adjusted to his rapidly diminishing playing time. And, no, this isn't the Timberwolves new retro jersey....

Just as a side note, as often as
Kevin Garnett is skewered for not doing enough to carry Minnesota to the promised land, I'd like to point out that, at age 28, we're still waiting for Marko to have his break out year. You know, the one that justified trading him for Sam Cassell.

Home Court Disadvantage (hom kort dis'-uhd-vant'-ij) noun. The paradoxical phenomenon in which a team actually plays worse at home than they do on the road, which usually leads to or is caused by the home crowd's intense dislike of or disinterest in the team.

Usage example: The New York Knicks have a serious Home Court Disadvantage this season, mostly because their fans hate them.

Word Trivia: With a 6-11 record, the Knicks are far surpassing everyone's expectations. After all, that's roughly three times as many wins as anybody expected them to have this season. But the crazy thing about their record is the fact that they're 5-5 on the road...and only 1-6 at home. The Knicks are one of only 10 teams so far this season to be at least .500 on the road, but they have the worst home record in the league. Simply put, this is because their fans hate them. Now mind you, Knicks fans are a surly breed to begin with, but several years worth of mismanagement by Isiah Thomas has turned them into the proverbial mob of angry villagers with torches and pitchforks. This isn't exactly unprecedented. When Wilt Chamberlain was playing for the San Francisco Warriors during the 1963-64 season, he claimed that the home crowd was so quick to boo them that they preferred playing on the road. He may have had a point, since the team's home and road records were barely distinguishable (26-14 and 22-18 respectively). Of course, all that hatred is really a sign of how much the fans care. Not so for the Atlanta Hawks. Their crowds don't care at all. In fact, I can't tell whether the 17 or so that show up for games are actually alive. As a result, the Hawks rarely light it up at home. Or anywhere else for that matter.

home court disadvantage
A typical, happy Knicks fan.
Remember last week when little Nate Robinson stuffed the monstrous Yao Ming? It was his proudest moment since stealing the Slam Dunk Contest last year. But this week he managed to blow all that glory straight to hell by trying to pull off a showboat dunk during a game. Not only did he miss the dunk, he got called for travelling. Top notch effort, Nate.