"C'mon, dog. Pass me the ball. Don't make me call the Fun Police..."
The Boston Celtics: From an NBA record 27-2 to 2-5 in their last seven games (including back-to-back road losses to sub-.500 teams). Is that a slump? Well, let me put things into perspective for you: The Celtics' "Bizarro" counterpart, the Minnesota Timberwolves, are 5-2 in THEIR last seven games. No, seriously. Check it out. To which Kevin McHale has to be thinking...
So what happened? For starters, the Celtics let the Bobcats -- the league's lowest-scoring team at a "mid-90's Knicks"-like 91.8 PPG -- have their second-best scoring night of the season. Sure, it took a 17-point overtime session for them to get there, but still. Other notable issues included Rajon Rondo's 9 turnovers, the combined 14-for-38 shooting of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, KG's turnover (travelling) with 2:04 left in overtime (and the Bobcats up 3), Paul Pierce's turnover (dribbled the ball out of bounds) with 38 ticks to go in OT (when the Bobcats were still up only 5), the frigid shooting from three-point range (6-for-23)...so on and so forth. And how's this for adding insult to injury? After the game, DJ Augustin -- who plays for a 13-22 team -- had this to say after the game: "They come in and intimidate you and try to punk you. But if you don't back down from them, they kind of fold." Wowowowowowowowow...wow.
So: What's wrong with the Celtics? According to Doc Rivers, opposing teams are gunning for the champs, which requires them to maintain their peak mental focus and intensity on a nightly basis. "We told our team before the season it will be 82 Game 7s. Every time we play it's a Game 7 for the other team. On the nights we're not ready mentally for that, we're going to have to get lucky and play over our head to win." Now, I suppose there's some credence to this. EVERY team wants to beat the champs, especially when the champs talk as much trash as these Celtics do. And for those of you who think other top teams like the Cavs and Lakers go through the same thing, you're wrong. They are not the champs. The champs always take the best and hardest shots. Period.
That being said...I think Doc's theory is only part of the story. I believe the championship hangover that everyone thought the Celtics had managed to avoid simply hit them later than expected. And I think that the 19-game winning streak made the hangover worse, because it lulled them into a false sense of security while simultaneously RAISING expectations. And, honestly, I think Kevin Garnett's recent bouts of superdickery are a result of the increased pressure and expectation that they repeat AND dominate every game, every night. All of which means the challenge isn't as "fun" as it was last season. Instead of enjoying a journey of rebirth and redemption, they're being forced -- for the first time in any of their careers -- to fight and claw and scratch just to hold onto what they've got. Meanwhile, other teams (like the Cavs and Lakers) have gotten better...and Ainge's "stand pat" method of offseason team mismanagement succeeded only in making the Celtics worse.
You know, pressure may make diamonds, but it also turns people into jerks. Don't forget, Larry Bird got into his infamous fight with Dr. J the season AFTER he won his first MVP and the Celtics beat the Lakers in the Finals. I've also read that Bird started talking more trash and becoming harsher and angrier on the court after '84 (and he took some criticism for it). And I remember either hearing him say or reading him comment that it's harder -- and much less fun -- trying to repeat. Because, see, then you have something to lose. That's not the case when you're not the champion. I mean, think about it. Let's say you wake up one day and realize you've gained 10 pounds. It's much easier to motivate yourself to go all out to lose the extra weight than it is to go through the day-to-day drudgery of preventing yourself from gaining it in the first place. It's just human nature to let up a little bit after you've reached a major goal. The "maintenance stage" is always harder.
I think it also bothers KG that his (and Allen's, and to a certain extent Pierce's) NBA clock is nearing midnight. He finally gets to be on a powerhouse team, and it might (read that: probably will) all come undone in the next year or two. See, with L.A. and Cleveland, they have the potential to be very good for several years to come. They could go on winning for the next 5-6 years, barring injury, a free agent defection or somebody demanding a trade for whatever reason. Next year will probably be The End for the Celtics, in terms of them being a serious contender...which, again, makes Ainge's decision to let James Posey walk seem insane. He was willing to introduce a potentially fatal weakness in his team to save one year and $6 million? Really?! It seemed crazy then, and it seems like madness now.
Uh, Kevin, that's not quite "holding onto what you've got."
And don't think for a moment that the bench players aren't feeling pressure to live up to expectations. They get to hear pretty much every day that they're the team's Achilles' heel Walton's foot. That's gotta get to them. And there's not much they can do to disprove it. They simply aren't that talented of a bunch, and they don't have an anchor. I mean, every great bench has to have an anchor guy. Bill Walton was the anchor of that '86 team's reserves, and James Posey was the anchor for last year's group. This year? It's Eddie House...I guess. And no offense to him, because he always brings effort and intensity, but when Eddie House is your bench anchor, there's a big problem. Big enough that, I guess, Ainge is seriously considering bringing in one of the league's all-time locker room cancers. Yep. It really is that bad.
One last point: In that loss to the Knicks, the Celtics didn't bring the serious intensity -- well, except for KG; he was wired all game -- until the fourth quarter. On top of everything else, they're falling into the classic "We can turn it on when we need to" mentality that really good teams (especially post-championship) tend to fall into, particularly when facing teams they always beat or expect to beat easily. I've played enough basketball to recognize when a team starts coasting through parts of a game. And the Celtics have been doing that lately. Because, trust me, they won't win 70 and they might not repeat, but they're better -- much better -- than teams like the Knicks and Bobcats. Now they just have to go out and re-prove it.
Michael Jordan: He spent the game jumping in and out of his courtside seat, arguing almost every call that went against his 'Cats. Great. He's becoming the next Mark Cuban.
Just what we needed: Another Mark Cuban.
The Houston Rockets: On the subject of teams with high expectations being in a slump...the Great Space Coasters have lost five straight on the road for the first time since 2004 and three straight overall for the first time this season. And defense is a problem: Houston let Philly score 104 points on 56 percent shooting...which is a bit higher than their 45 percent season average. Said Rockets coach Rick Adelman: "We have to really start looking at things and finding out why we're giving up way too high of a percentage to every team that we play. You can't win on the road unless you defend and we haven’t been doing it." But it wasn't just the defense. The Rockets were missing Ron Artest (sore ankle), and then there was...
Tracy McGrady: Here's what AP sportswriter Dan Gelston had to say: "...the Rockets may as well have also played without Tracy McGrady in the second half. McGrady didn't make his first basket of the half until 2:07 remained to make it 98-94, then watched as Sixers rookie Maurice Speights rattled the rim with a dunk that pushed the lead back to six." Knee-Mac finished with 9 assists but only 14 points on 15 shots.
The Yao Watch: A few days ago, I asked Basketbawful readers for an update on The Watch...and my faith was rewarded. Spencer informed me that Dr. Yao had been (to that point) blocked 48 times over the course of the season and Artest Is My Hero found out that, according to 82games.com, 11 percent of Yao's shots get stuffed. Nice work, you two. And Yao had another shot blocked last night, giving him a season total of 49. And so The Watch continues...
The Washington Wizards Generals: They scored 6 points in the second quarter. And yes, that was a franchise-worst total for a single quarter. In that period, the Wiz scored exactly zero points in the last eight minutes by missing 14 straight shots and turning the ball over six times. And even though they made a scrappy second-half comeback...they never could recover from that 'bawful 12-minute span of lacktion. Said interim coach Ed Tapscott: "We put ourselves in the grave in the second quarter." Pretty much, yeah.
The Orlando Magic: Yeah, they held the Wizards to 6 points in the second quarter then let them back in the game and barely held on to win. Said Rashard Lewis: "They've been playing well lately and picked it up in the second half and started making shots. But I thought it was mostly on our end. We got lackadaisical and didn't play good defense. We played terrible on the offensive end, didn't move the ball around, didn't have a rhythm and they got back into the game. We have to learn to beat teams and put them away if we want to be one of the best teams in the league." Pretty much, yeah.
The New York Knicks: How did they follow up their hope-lifting win over the defending champs? By losing to the worst team in the league, of course! The Knicks shot 39 percent while letting the league's fifth-worst offensive team (94.7 PPG) score 107 points on nearly 53 percent from the field. Ah the glory of Mike 'Antoni teams. Said Al Harrington: "We dug ourselves a hole and tried to climb our way out of it and just came up short. No disrespect to those guys, but we were supposed to win this game." Well then. Now you know how the Celtics feel, Al.
The Memphis Grizzlies: They let the Timberwolves come into their house and beat them for their season-high third win in a row. Fail.
Kevin McHale: Yes, his team is on a nearly unbelievable three-game winning streak. But you know that whole O.J. Mayo versus Kevin Love thing? Mayo outscored Love 20-6, out-rebounded him 8-7, out-assisted him 5-1 and had only 1 turnover to Love's 4. As always, I'm just sayin'.
Darius Miles: He played seven minutes and finished with zero points (0-for-2), 2 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. And then he got waived. He's still eligible to sign a 10-day contract with any team, but not being able to stay on with the Grizzlies is kind of an indicator of his worth around the league.
The Chicago Bulls: Let's check the facts. They were playing at home against one of the worst teams in the league. They forced 20 turnovers which were converted into 29 points. They hit a franchise-record 29 consecutive free throws and held a 36-24 advantage in attempts at the line. Yet they barely won. How is that even possible? Well, you can probably point to some spotty defense (the Kings shot 50 percent for the game) and even spottier offense (the Bullies hit only 38 percent of their field goals). Ben Gordon was 6-for-14. Tyrus Thomas was 5-for-13, including 2-7 on jumpers and 0-for-2 on layups (he was 3-for-3 on dunks, though). Andres Nocioni was 1-for-11. After hitting those 29 straight 'throws, they missed three of 'em down the stretch while trying to hold the Kings off. The newly returned Drew Gooden was responsible for two of those misses. Look, all I'm saying is that this victory should go into my suggested "Win That's Not As Good As Others" category in the standings.
David Guthrie, David Jones, Joe Forte: Okay, here's the thing. Not once but TWICE during the Kings-Bulls game, a Sacramento player took a dive on a three-pointer after NO CONTACT WHATSOEVER from a defender and they drew the foul and got three free throws. The first "foul" was called on Thabo Sefolosha with 5:12 remaining (and Kevin Martin hit all three foul shots), while the second was called on Larry Hughes with 21 ticks to go (and Martin hit two of the three free throws). And in the second case, Martin twisted his own ankle coming down from the shot. Again, there was NO contact by the defender. This shouldn't happen once in a game, let alone twice. How do all three refs miss stuff like that? And this isn't the first time I've seen the three-point flop draw a foul this season. It's happening with growing frequency. I think the three-point flop has replaced the draw-an-offensive-foul flop as the NBA's most annoying play. To me, anyway.
The Dallas Mavericks: Okay, so the Clippers were missing Baron Davis (bruised tailbone), Zach Randolph (left knee), Mike Taylor (right thumb), Chris Kaman (left knee) and Ricky Davis (serving the second of his five-game NBA suspension for violating the league’s drug policy), and they only won by 5 points at home?! I can't add enough question marks and exclamation points to the end of that sentence. Let's just say it's bad. Said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle: "The way the first half ended was really sort of a microcosm of the game. Just very poor execution on our part. The latter part of the second quarter was our undoing because we gave them life. And then we were poor." You know, when the epitaph of this season's team is written, I think it should end "And then we were poor." Is it just me?
Update! Devean George: I can't believe this got missed. And Basketbawful reader My Mother left a comment to set me straight: "How about Devean George? He played 0.8 seconds and only a foul "So-dumb-I-won't-get-on-the-court-again-this-game" prevented him from a SUPER MARIO?" Well, every source I can find credits George with playing a full second. Either way, he definitely earned a Super Mario for this peformance. And hey, he was on pace to commit...let's see, 60 x 48...2880 fouls if he'd played a full 48 minutes. Impressive. To further update, My Mother -- who is a female, and I'm sorry if at any point I indicated otherwise -- provided proof that George logged less than a full second of PT. The quote: "...and Devean George logged a forgettable 0.8 seconds to end the first half. George fouled Eric Gordon with the Clippers inbounding from the sideline to send Gordon to the free-throw line. He made both shots to pull the Clippers to within 64-54 at halftime." Oh, and here's a pic of his 0.8 seconds of fame. That's the Superiest Super Mario of all time.
The Los Angeles Clippers: Eh...you know what I'm thinking. (But here's a hint in case you don't: Who do I think they are?)
The Los Angeles Lakers: Jordan Farmar (left knee) and Luke Walton (right foot) were already missing, and then they lost Lamar Odom in the second quarter with a hyperextended right knee. And suddenly the Lakers weren't as deep and couldn't finish. That's what a couple injuries will do to you. L.A. scored only 13 points in the fourth quarter -- 2 fewer than David West had in that period by himself -- and had their 15-game home winning streak tossed into a fresh grave.
Kobe Bryant: Mr. Best Finisher in the League failed to finish on a night in which he scored 39 points. Mamba managed only 2 points (on 1-for-6 shooting) in the fourth quarter after going 13-of-16 -- including 6-of-6 from 3-point range -- in the first three quarters. Said Kobe: "After the third quarter, they pretty much weren't going to let me get a shot off." Oh really? When was the last time a team could stop Kobe from getting a shot off? Oh, wait, that's right. Last year's Finals.
Vladimir Radmanovic: Space Cadet was shocked and a little insulted when The Son of Walton replaced him in the starting lineup. But with Luke out, Vlad is a starter once again. Unfortunately for the Lakers. Radman scored 3 points on 1-for-7 shooting in 23 minutes. But the night wasn't a complete waste. I understand he flossed after the game.
Update! Rasual Butler: What should have been a breakaway layup turned into a smother chicken / ego-ectomy combo, courtesy of Dr. Mamba. (Thanks to Flip for the head's up.)
Lacktivity report:Chris's obsession with lacktion continues:
Celtics-Bobcats: Brian Scalabrine had a 3.5 trillion in another Celtics letdown, while Charlotte's Ryan Hollins recorded a 29 second Mario.
Wizards-Magic: Washington's Juan Dixon gave the ball away twice and bricked once for a +3 SD in 3:05.
Wolves-Grizzlies: Another "OJ Mayo Trade Matchup" game leads to another appearance in the lacktivity report for Greg Buckner, whose solitary foul gave him +1 in 3:40.
Clippers-Mavs: Cheikh Samb knocked down a 2.5 trillion for Los Angeles's Other Team.
Hornets-Lakers: In New Orleans's win over the Lakers, Melvin Ely (+2 in 6:10 via a missed shot and foul) and Antonio Daniels (+1 via one brick in 4:06) served as the human victory cigars.
Ahmad Rashad, unintentionally dirty quote machine: From Stephanie G: "I feel kinda weird sending all this pervy stuff, but here's another: During the halftime show on NBATV between LA-NO, Ahmad said 'His [CP3's] penetration is a little deeper than most people's.' Webber and Payton didn't seem to notice though." How did they miss that??
LeBron James: Even two days after the fact, "King Crab" can't stop himself from trying to justify his traveling violation against the Wizards: "I've done that move plenty of times and I believe it's a good move. If they called it more consistently, then I guess it ain't a good move then and I'll change my game. But it's not called consistently." Oh, so now he ADMITS he traveled but wants to excuse it based on the fact that it isn't called consistently. Okay, got it.
Of course, LeBron couldn't resist making a dig on everybody who's been calling him out since Crab-Dribble Gate: "Everything I do is a big deal. It's easy for people who don't play the game of basketball to say something about a certain move. You hear all the people on SportsCenter talk about it, but they've never touched a basketball in their lives. They just report about it." Oh, snap! But he's totally right. It's impossible, even with the benefit of slow-motion replay, for a non-basketball player to count the number of steps somebody takes on their way to the basket. Somebody better tell The Count on Sesame Street about that. He's been wasting his time teaching kids to count all these years. What he should have been doing was handing them a basketball.
For the record, Bill Spooner -- the ref who made the call -- explained the situation in an e-mail: "3 steps on the move to the basket. Basic travel call." Pretty much, yeah.
The Phoenix Suns: Some updates on the Suns from Clifton:
On Lopez losing his playing time to Amundson: In Friday's game, Lopez did not make an appearance for the fifth time this season, and he has lost out on playing time to Louis Amundson.
"Overall, I'm still pleased with what he's done," coach Terry Porter said of Lopez. "He just has to be more ready at times.
"When he got into the game the last couple times, it didn't seem like he was ready and as sharp as he needs to be. He just didn't seem to have the focus. Missed two or three balls. Missed some assignments on the defensive end. Missed box-outs, things you have to focus on when you step on the floor."
... "Robin's had some good moments for us. Lou's played really well, so it's hard for us to find any minutes for (Lopez), and that's OK as long as he works hard in practice. It's part of the natural progression rookies have to go through."
Then, after the article in the Notes section, this gem: • Amundson needed seven stitches on his chin after an inadvertent elbow from Lopez during practice Monday.
Yeah, like how Elizabeth Berkeley inadvertently spilled those marbles on the stage in "Showgirls."
Also, Goran Dragic was apparently slated to go to the D-League before his "virus and rash" flared up. Kerr said it's "still an option." The Suns cut Dee Brown today, and rumor has it that they're interested in Shaun Livingston, who was also cut by the Heat today. So, if you're keeping score at home, a one-legged Shaun Livingston is still a better option at backup PG than Blotchy Dragic. Eesh.
Eesh is right. It should NOT be this hard to find a backup PG, should it??
The New York Post: From Basketbawful reader husqvarna in Portland: "Here's a suggestion for WOTN: really crappy 'reporting' by the New York Post -- and really gullible readers commenting on said article. Case in point: Trail Blazers Eyeing Curry. Ok, I realize that unsubstantiated rumors are what the Post does best, but that's ridiculous. Does anybody really believe one of the better GMs in the game is going to trade some half-decent talent and maybe an expiring contract for an overpaid, overweight doorstop who can't defend, clogs up the lane (not in a good way), and who can only score if the ball is dumped to him in the post? This is especially mind-boggling when you consider that Oden is steadily improving (and is still a rookie!), Pryzbilla would be a starter on half of the teams in the league, and both are better defenders than Curry. I mean, come on: There's well-reasoned reporting (and blogging), and then there's wild speculation. Seems like wild speculation should be left to the experts, i.e. the rabid fans commenting on homer blogs." I agree. And if Curry ends up on the Blazers, I'm eating my throwback Clyde Drexler Blazers jersey and replacing it with a Kobe jersey. I kid you not.
China: From Basketbawful reader Jordan G.: "Bad, bad China. You're not supposed to vote into the All-Star Game the third-best player on a sub-.500 team averaging 10 and 6. Especially when that team has not won three games in a row this season. I'm holding down the acid reflex as both Yi and -- gulp --- Vinsanity are mysteriously coming on strong in the All Star voting returns. BTW, I think Yi deserves a nickname. Maybe Yi Jiuicebox? Or maybe Governer Yi (because somehow he's in this All Star voting race)." Now, see, I like Yi Juicebox but I thought his nickname was "The Chairman"? Can I get a confirmation?