Nash angry
That's the face of a killer.
Or the Incredible Hulk.

Last night, the soon-to-be named MVP Dirk Nowitzki and his 67-win Dallas Mavericks choked up a 3-1 first round series lead to the not-even-supposed-to-be-here-today Golden State Warriors. This was quite a contrast to what had happened just a few hours earlier, when Steve Nash once again proved why he's the reigning MVP.

The Lakers won Game 3 of their series against the Suns for a variety of reasons, the primary one of which was that they used a series of aggressive traps and double-teams to keep the ball out of Nash's hands. But instead of blaming the refs, a lack of effort (by his teammates), a dearth of talent (in his teammates), or his teammates' inability to hit shots, Nash took the onus on himself...promising to keep the ball, split those traps, and make things happen for his team.

What "happened" was 17 points and a career-high 23 assists in a 113-100 smackdown of the Lakers. Those 23 assists, by the way, were one shy of tying the all-time playoff record co-held by Magic Johnson and John Stockton, the two greatest point guards of all time. They also came in a contest in which Nash outdueled the supposed "best player" in the league, Kobe Bryant.

What I love about what Nash is doing is his swagger and killer instinct. While his buddy Dirk was putting on the ten-fingered necklace he loves to wear in big games, Nash continued to attack the opposing team and his critics. And those who like to point at his talented cast of teammates should review Games 3 and 4 and watch what happened when Nash came out of the game. His value to his team, and in the league, should be unquestioned.

Like Bob Cousy and Magic Johnson before him, Nash is proving (or re-proving) that you can dominate the game of basketball without scoring 50 points. It's as beautiful and fun to watch as anything you'll ever see. Kobe fans like to make the claim that Bryant's efforts go unappreciated because of his sketchy past. But Nash's efforts often go unappreciated by the casual fan because he's short, white, unathletic, and probably will never go for 50 (although he'll probably dish for it). The fact is, this guy's the best player in the league right now five minutes ago (see below).

It's official: Baron Davis is the best player in the NBA. Although I really wish this movement had started after the Warriors completed their upset of the Mavericks, because if Dallas comes back all of this talk will be forgotten in less time than it'll take Baron to get injured next season.

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It's official: The Chicago Bulls have swept the defending champion Miami Heat. No repeat for the champs. No more 16 freethrows per game for Dwyane Wade. No more rings for Shaq. No more theatrical inspiration from Pat Riley. No more temper tantrums from Gary Payton, crazy shots from Jason Williams and Antoine Walker, and no more insane screaming/flexing/staring by Alonzo Mourning.

But what made the difference between last year's 4-2 first round loss and this year's 4-0 victory? Was it the addition of four-time "Defensive Player of the Year" Ben Wallace? The emergence of Luol Deng as an all-star caliber player? The continuing scoring exploits of Ben Gordon? The bulldog coaching style of Scott Skiles? Or was it simply the ongoing maturation of a team full of talented, hustling, hard-working players?

Nope. It was none of that. It was all Basketbawful.

Ten days ago, I resolutely stated that the Bulls had no chance whatsoever to overcome the Heat. On the surface, it seems as if I simply made a tragic error of judgement. But that's not it at all. I wasn't discounting the Bulls; I was helping them. Allow me to explain.

I've already described the phenomenon of the stat curse. This is where a team or player is undone after a broadcaster, analyst, and/or fan cite a positive statistical trend related to that team/player. For instance, if Tracy McGrady steps up to the line and the announcer casually mentions that he's 10-for-10 on the night, he's going to miss the next freethrow. Or if anyone notes that a team hasn't committed a turnover yet, they'll immediately throw the ball away. This stuff happens all the time.

But what you might not know is that there's also a reverse stat curse. This is where a negative statistical trend is noted, and the opposite happens. A terrible freethrow shooter hits two in a row (or seven of eight, as Ben Wallace, a 40 percent foul shooter, did last night). A team that plays no defense holds their opponent under 100 points. Or a team that's supposed to lose a game or series...wins.

So that's what happened. I pulled off one of the greatest reverse stat curses of all time. My bold prediction actually guaranteed that the Bulls would win. If the Bulls go on to win the title, I'll be expecting a championship ring for my efforts.

Wade sad
Wade was swept away by emotion. Get it?
Swept away? It's a homon...forget it.

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Yao - WTF
"Mud lun yeah?!" Translation: "What the f***?!"

Lenovo Stat is a new plus/minus statistic that compares the point differential when players are both in and out of the game to determine how a team performs with various combinations, thus demonstrating [dramatic drum roll here] "the power of teamwork." According to this new measure, the Houston Rockets featured the most effective five man player combination during the 2006-07 NBA season. The Rockets' line-up of Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Rafer Alston, Shane Battier, and Chuck Hayes led the Lenovo Stat rankings (+269), enjoying a significant lead over the second-best five man unit comprised of Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Erick Dampier, and Devin Harris (+215). The Phoenix Suns combination of Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, Raja Bell, and Leandro Barbosa came in a distant third (+165).

Something must be seriously wrong with this statistic, though, because only four of those five Rocket players managed to score in Houston's horrifying 81-67 Game 3 loss to the Utah Jazz. In fact, only four Houston players scored, period. Let me repeat that for dramatic effect: only four Rockets scored in last night's game. Yao Ming (26), Tracy McGrady (24), Shane Battier (11), and Rafer Alston (6) did all the "scoring" while their teammates did all the sucking. Although, maybe that's not a fair statement since only three other Rockets even attempted a shot: Juwan Howard (0-5), Luther Head (0-5), and Chuck Hayes (0-2). No, on second thought, they all sucked about equally. Only the ancient corpse of Dikembe Mutumbo -- who played only five minutes and couldn't score by himself in an empty gym full of 5-foot baskets -- is off the hook.

Overall, the Rockets shot 32 percent from the field and had 19 turnovers. The Rockets' bench went 0-for-10 and didn't score a single point (to go along with six rebounds and zero assists). The team's 67 points were the fewest in Rockets playoff history. And it was the only time in NBA playoff history that a mere four players on one team scored. It was a performance so spectacularly bad, so truly vomit-inducing, that David Stern should retroactively take away one or both of the Rockets' victories in this series. Look, I'm not trying to say that scoring is the only meaningful statistic, but last time I checked, the NBA was still using points to determine who wins and loses.

Now that something this sucktastic has finally happened, is anybody surprised that it was presided over by Jeff Van Gundy, the doleful mastermind of many a joyless "75-71"-type victory while coaching the Knicks in the late 90s? Somehow, despite the fact that it's 2007, despite the fact that David Stern has changed the very rules of the game to increase scoring, Van Gundy still manages to preside over 1990s basketball, which was actually just 1950s basketball in a taller, faster, more muscular package. I know Jeff has won a lot of games that way, but then again, barbarians used to win a lot of battles by chopping off the heads of their enemies and then hanging them from trees to induce a sense of fear and awe. I guess what I'm trying to say is that sometimes the ends don't really justify the means.

Shane - WTF
"What the f***?! No, really. What the f***??"

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"As you know, this season has been interesting and challenging..."

So begins the following video, which was recently sent out to all Indiana Pacers' season ticket holders. To call the Pacers 2006-07 season -- which included an 11-game losing streak, a 35-47 record (worst since 1988-89!), and the first playoff misfire in a decade -- "interesting and challenging" is like calling the Holocaust one of the worst cooking disasters of all time: it's understated to the point if insanity. Anyway, prepare to have some blue and gold smoke blown up your you-know-what...

If you actually watched the video, you probably noticed a couple things really quickly:

1. The Pacers have chosen to use fan favorites Larry Bird and Reggie Miller -- neither of whom play and one of whom (Miller) isn't currently affiliated with the team in any way -- as the proverbial spoonfuls of sugar that are supposed to help the medicine go down. And by "medicine" I of course mean "the dawning realization that the Pacers are probably going to suck in a major way for the next three to five seasons. At least."

2. Bird is transforming into a mutant right before our very eyes. What in the name of almighty Odin is happening to Larry Legend?! I mean, seriously...he looks like a soggy poop-sculpture of Larry Bird that a group of disabled third graders mashed together with their clubbed feet. I know Bird was never an attractive man, but I haven't seen sombody become this hideous this quickly since that guy in Robocop got soaked in toxic waste. I guess this just proves the old adage that "Legends never die, they just get fat and/or ugly."

In essense, the video is the basketball equivalent of a wife* who's gained 200 pounds, wracked up $50K in credit card debt, crashed your sports car into a lake, and booty-banged the next door neighbor, but then begs you to stay with her, promising that with a little effort and committment -- on your part, of course -- everything will work out just fine.

*I apologize if that example is too male-o-centric. If you're a heterosexual female basketball fan**, then the video is the basketball equivalent of a husband who's gone bald (and I mean the bad kind of bald where he parts what's left of his hair at the ear and swirls it all over the top of his head), borrowed from your 401K to finance his sports car (which he then nicknames "The Pussy Magnet IV"), thrown out all 147 pairs of your shoes, and screwed his 19-year-old secretary (whom you later find out was actually 17), but then asks you to let him back into the house because he can change if you just believe in him.

**If you're a homosexual female basketball fan, I apologize for the exclusionary nature of these examples. Feel free to leave your phone number in the comments section of this blog, and I will apologize over dinner and drinks.

In order to underscore the inspirational message in the video and show a renewed commitment to their fans, the Pacers fired coach Rick Carlisle. If you thought the Pacers' woes were due to a combination of fights, suspensions, injuries, trade demands, strip club shootings, bar fights, mascot arrests, and "blockbuster deals" involving names like "Mike Dunleavy Jr." and "Troy Murphy," you were wrong-o. Apparently, Carlisle was the problem the whole time. His pre-Brawl coaching record of 161-85 (which equates to a winning percentage of .654) , three division titles with two different teams (including a 61-21 season with the Pacers in which they had the best record in the league), two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, six playoff appearances in seven years, and 2001 Coach of the Year award? All smoke and mirrors. The guy is distant, moody, and can't connect with "today's NBA player." Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.

As a Pacers fan, I am now filled with the unfamiliar tingle of hope and optimism, even though the team has no coach, the team leader/franchise player/chronically injured Jermaine O'Neal just had arthroscopic knee surgery, and Dunleavy, Murphy, and Jamaal Tinsley are all still on the active roster. After all, as Dr. Loomis said at the beginning of Halloween, "The evil is's gone from here! The evil is gone!" Go Pacers!!

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James Posey has a reputation for getting all WWE against the Chicago Bulls. It all started with a stiff hip check on Kirk Hinrich in last year's playoffs, followed up with flagrants against Tyrus Thomas (who missed games with a broken nose) and Luol Deng (who nearly ended up with a broken wrist) this season. Needless to say, Bulls fans don't care for him much.

So, thanks to this, we had no problem whatsoever in firing up a healthy "Posey Sucks" chant several times during Saturday's game. There was even a bit of a hangover in game two! Why is inspiring hate in mass numbers so enjoyable?

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Game 1-itis (gam wun-it'-uhs) noun. The tendency for teams to play poorly in the first game of a playoff series, especially during the first round.

Usage example: The Mavericks and Spurs both had a bad case of Game 1-itis this year.

Word Trivia: If the NBA regular season is like a game of popomatic Trouble -- with teams and players just focused on scrambling their way to the end -- the playoffs are more like (you guessed it!) a chess match. Coaches have the time necessary to create highly detailed strategies with which to simultaneously attack and stymie their opponents. The intensity level increases, and, as a consequence, so does the defensive effort. Furthermore, in most cases the referees allow greater contact and and an increase in physical play (which typically leads to one or more cases of "Post Game 1 Whine-itis").

As a result, the first game of a playoff series is usually the worst. Take a look at the Game 1s that were played last weekend. Only one team, the Detroit Pistons, reached the century mark (and they scored exactly 100 points) in eight games. The high-scoring Nuggets, Suns, and Warriors scored 95, 95, and 97 points respectively (all at least 10 points below their regular season averages). The best (i.e., worst) example of this was the depressing 84-75 slugfest between the Rockets and the Jazz, which brought back decidedly unpleasant memories of those Heat/Knicks playoff games of the late 90s. Poor shooting, turnovers, and low scores are all symptomatic of Game 1-itis, so this year has (so far) certainly lived down to expectations.

Game 1-itis
Well, 0-for-6, no points, and 5 turnovers.
Sounds like Game 1-itis, Mr. Stackhouse.

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The NBA Playoffs turned all wonky on Sunday, as the following two things happened:

1. The Dallas Mavericks (who have the best record in the league) succumbed to the Golden State Warriors (a team that qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the regular season), and

2. The San Antionio Spurs (who have the best record in the NBA since the All-Star Break) were defeated by the Denver Nuggets (a team that struggled all year due to injuries, suspensions, and chemistry problems).

Now, mind you, I don't think -- even for a single millisecond -- that the Warriors and/or Nuggets are going to win their respective series. I have full confidence that the Mavs and Spurs are going to wake up and assert their dominance, probably starting in Game 2. But...this isn't supposed to happen, is it? Aren't the best teams supposed to come out and immediately show why they're the best teams? I mean, the Mavericks won 67 games (which has happened only nine times in NBA history). The Spurs won "only" 58 games, but they coasted through the first half of the season, and they have a handful of championship, and bucketloads of playoff experience. So what gives?

Well, I read an interesting observation over at TrueHoop yesterday:

"Dallas vs. Golden State, San Antonio vs. Denver, and Chicago vs. Miami all feature one team that come into the postseason on a big tear, and one team that basically limped home. While Golden State finished 9-1 in their last 10, Denver 10-1 over their last 11, and Chicago 10-3 over their last 13 (all fighting for playoff spots/seeding) Dallas rested starters and finished 2-2 in their last 4, San Antonio 0-3 in their last three, and Miami 2-4 over their last six."

This theory makes a whole lot of sense when you think about it. The Warriors and Nuggets have been in "playoff intensity" mode for weeks, whereas the Mavs and Spurs just kind of coasted in (I think the term "limp" is a little strong). In this case, the lower seeds were simply more ready for playoff basketball than the higher seeds.

This doesn't happen only in basketball, by the way. Remember a few years ago when the Indianapolis Colts won their first 13 games and then sat their starters for the rest of the regular season? Their first playoff opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, had to win their last five games just to make it into the playoffs. By the time the two teams met, the Colts hadn't played a meaningful game in almost two months. The Colts were rusty, the Steelers were sharp, and the Colts lost. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl.

The rustiness isn't as much of a problem in the NBA, since there are best-of-seven series rather than a single elimination tournament. You can lose a game and come back. The Spurs lost Game 1 to the Nuggets in 2005 and went on to win the next four straight. Still, losing Game 1 at home is never good. You surrender home court advantage, and you provide your opponent with momentum and (more importantly) hope. Even if you win the series, it means playing one or more games than you wanted to, which increases fatigue and the potential for injury.

Anyway, this all brings me back to Mike D'Antoni. When the Phoenix Suns clinched the second seed in the Western Conference, he continued to play his starters 30+ minutes over the last few meaningless games. The media wondered what he was doing, the bloggers wondered what he was doing, I wondered what he was doing. It seemed like madness. What was the point? There seemed nothing to gain and everything to lose.

But hey, maybe he knew what he was doing after all. The Suns certainly didn't play their best ball in Game 1, but they were sharp enough to execute down the stretch and hold off the Lakers. So I guess what I'm saying is: I'm sorry, coach D'Antoni. You're the coach and I'm the fan. You followed your game plan, and it's worked so far. I will now trust you without question until you screw up. Thank you.

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Bulls blimp
"Oh the humanity!"

Much like high school Geometry, Game 1 of the Bulls/Heat playoff series taught us several valuable lessons, many of which we won't remember past the end of the week. But as with my old math classes, I'm going to jot down a few notes that I most likely won't be able to understand when I reread them ten years from now.

The lesson stuff

1. Keeping Luol Deng (game-high 33 points) and Ben Gordon (24 points, 11 assists) instead of trading for Pau Gasol was the best non-trade GM John Paxson ever made. The people of Chicago will continue to believe this until Deng and Gordon have a bad game and the Bulls' lack of an inside scorer comes back to haunt them.

2. When you out-shoot, out-rebound (by 13), and out-assist (by 10) your opponent, and get their two best players in foul trouble (Shaq: 26 minutes; Dwyane Wade: 33 minutes), you will usually win.

3. If all the above are true, you should probably win by more than five points.

4. And you really shouldn't allow them to rally from nine points down with less than two minutes left, nearly allowing them to steal a game they had no business winning. Just sayin'.

(I'd just like to point out that, until Wade caught fire at the end of the game, Antoine Walker and his 20 points kept the Heat within striking distance. That's right: if the Heat had come back to win this game, it would have been because of Antoine Walker. As a Bulls fan, I'm not okay with this.)

5. Shaq doesn't commit fouls. He just has big feet. No, seriously, his feet are like little, feet-shaped people.

The funny stuff

There's nothing quite like witnessing an NBA playoff game live. You get to experience things you never get to see on either local or national television broadcasts. Such as:

The Hinden-Bull Disaster: The Bulls have a blimp -- called the "Bull-imp" -- that soars majestically over the crowd during games, sometimes dropping little t-shirt patties onto the frenzied attendees. During Game 1, the blimp lost power and plummetted into the waiting arms of the fans, who grabbed onto and started hitting it. I probably don't need to mention that they sell beer at these events. Anyway, the blimp rested on top of a group of people for several minutes, undoubtedly obstructing their view of the game, before a group of maintenance workers showed up to retrieve it. But here's the thing: What can you do with a giant, powerless blimp in the middle of an NBA playoff game? The answer is: absolutely nothing. They tried to shove it into the tunnel that leads to the locker rooms, but it wouldn't fit. There must not be a way to deflate the thing, so it just sat there, stuffed halfway into a tunnel, it's big head bobbing in front of an entire section of fans who could no longer watch the game.

James Posey isn't any good: The absolute highlight of the game, aside from the Bulls' victory of course, was the Basketbawful gang leading the crowd in a chant of "PO-ZEE SUCKS, PO-ZEE SUCKS, PO-ZEE SUCKS!!" a record-setting three times (a fourth attempt fell flat). Even better: during the first chorus, they showed Posey's face on the JumboTron mid-chant. He just kind of shook his head and laughed, but you know that, deep inside, he was filled with a savage rage. Fortunately for the Bulls, this rage didn't turn into a flagrant foul or a scoring explosion. In fact, he immediately came out of the time-out and missed a three-pointer. For the record, he didn't score again after the chants. We were so totally in his head.

(Here's a little lesson in Fan Taunting 101: Never, under any circumstances, should you taunt a superstar. Chanting "KO-BEE SUCKS, KO-BEE SUCKS!!" might get a 15-point bomb dropped on your team immediately. Instead, choose a roleplayer with limited scoring ability. Bonus points will be awarded if he's overly aggressive and imminently James Posey.)

Fat guys in party hats: The Bulls are one of the many teams who employ a group of singing/dancing fat guys to provide "entertainment" during timeouts. When the Matadors were unleashed during a break in the third-quarter action, they were met with a stunned silence from the crowd. No one seemed to know who these pork beasts were, or what it was that they wanted. Perhaps these lurching ham monsters had taken over the building in order to raid its concession stands? were here to perform the Truffle Shuffle while singing "YMCA." Remember that projectile vomiting scene from "Team America: World Police"? If so, then you can imagine how the crowd reacted when their shirts came off.

(Before you start accusing me of being insensitive toward the plight of the obese, allow me to remind you that their insatiable hunger has left them bereft of normal human emotions. In fact, their brains send out one message, and one message only, in an endless loop: "EAT NOW, ROOARRGH!!" Anyway, maybe you'll think my disgust is justified after you review this picture taken during the Bulls' St. Patrick's Day game.)

Yes. Those are shamrock-shaped pasties.

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This should be the Bulls' playoff slogan...

The Chicago Bulls have been one of the hottest teams in the league during the second half of the season. They're 20-8 since the All-Star break. They won 10 of their last 13 games, going 6-2 down the stretch. They finished with a record of 49-33, third-best in the Eastern Conference. That said, they have absolutely no chance of making it to the second round of the NBA playoffs.

I'm not saying this because their opening round opponent is the defending champion Miami Heat. I mean, the Heat are good -- they managed to win 44 games despite the fact that Shaq and Dwyane Wade combined to miss 73 games -- but they're not great. Shaq is past his prime, Wade isn't fully recovered from his shoulder injury, and the supporting cast is either old (Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning) or achingly average (James Posey, Udonis Haslem, Jason Kapono). Are they a threat? Absolutely. Are they world-beaters? No so much.

But my feelings about the Bulls chances for success have nothing (or at least very little) to do with the Heat. It's not about X's and O's, or the matchups, or Kirk Hinrich's idiot mistake of suggesting to the press that the Bulls should have beaten the Heat in the first round last year (seriously, what was he thinking?!). Hell, it's not even about the fact that the Bulls are a team with no inside scoring threat that relies almost entirely on jump shots to win (a strategy that, to my knowledge, has never worked in the playoffs).

No, this is the reason they're going to lose: the Bulls have had two "gut check" games in the past month -- a March 31st home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers and a season-ending road game against the New Jersey Nets -- and they lost them both. These games were absolutely crucial to the Bulls' hopes of landing the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. If they had won either one of those games, it would have meant the difference between going through Washington, New Jersey, and/or Toronto to get to the Eastern Conference Finals, or being forced to knock off Miami and then (most likely) Detroit.

The Bulls think they're okay, though. They're confidant...cocky, even. After all, they started out 3-9 and then steadily improved throughout the season. They won the season series against both the Heat and Pistons (3-1 each). They beat Dallas and San Antonio at home, and they beat Phoenix on the road. Going 3-3 against the three best teams in the league, and 6-2 against their probable first and (if they make it) second round opponents, has given them reason to hope.

But hope and a couple bucks won't even get you a double diet frapacheeny decaf ventie whatever at Starbucks. If you really want to be a contender, you have to come through in the must -win games. And regardless of what the media and the experts say, there are only a few of those very season. The Bulls had two -- one of which was at home, where they're 31-10 (best in the East) -- and got their buttocks handed to them in each case. The Nets weren't even a .500 team at the time! If you can't beat a sub-.500 team on the road in what's probably the most important game of the regular season, do you really expect me to have faith in you during the playoffs against teams with proven championship pedigree?

Had the Bulls won either of those games, I would believe in them...even if they hadn't ended up as the second seed. I really don't think seeding is that important, as long as a team has shown it has the mental toughness to win a game against quality competition when it really, truly counts. But they were outplayed by two teams that had been underachieving for most of the season. What this tells me is that the Bulls may play all-out every night, but they have only one speed. Teams like New Jersey, Cleveland, and even Miami...they can turn it on when they need to. And that, more often than not, is the difference between winning and losing.

The Bulls just aren't there yet. And I don't think it's even a case of needing a low post scoring threat. I think it's about having an unshakeable team leader who has proven himself in clutch situations. Chicago has a nucleus of young, smart, hard-working players and a bulldog coach who gets the most out of his squad on a regular basis. It's an inspirational story, but inspiration and a plucky spirit alone don't win playoff series. The best team is usually the toughest team. And that's why, yet again, it just isn't the Bulls' year.

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The first round of the NBA playoffs is usually about as exciting as watching paint dry while waiting in line at the DMV. The top seeds almost always crush their hapless victims opponents, and the drama (if any) typically occurs when the fourth and fifth seeds battle it out to see who gets to lose in the second round. That's not how David Stern wants you to think about it, but that's how it almost always goes. However...every once in a while a great team flounders, flops, or otherwise fails to live up to expectations. Here are the Top 5 most notable first-round fold-a-ramas from my lifetime.

5. The 1980-81 defending champion Los Angeles Lakers lost Magic Johnson to a leg injury for 45 games, but thanks to the stellar play of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jamaal Wilkes, and Norm Nixon, they still managed to win 54 games, second-best in the Western Conference. But even with a healthy Magic back in the lineup, they still lost their first-round miniseries to the 40-42 Houston Rockets. Strangely enough, the 57-25 Phoenix Suns, best in the West, lost in the second round to the 40-42 Kansas City Kings (remember: this was back when the West sucked), setting up a Western Conference Finals "showdown" between two sub-500 teams. Houston won the right to lose to the Celtics in the NBA Finals, and thus we were robbed of what should have been the first Bird versus Magic championship matchup.

4. In the summer of 1982, the Philidelphia 76ers added league MVP Moses Malone to a loaded roster that already included Dr. J, Andrew Toney, Maurice Cheeks, and Bobby Jones. The 1982-83 Sixers won 65 games during the regular season and then went 12-1 in the playoffs (or, as Malone put it, "Fo', Fi', Fo'"). That same team went into the 1983-84 season determined to repeat as champions, but something was wrong...the chemistry just wasn't there. They won only 52 games and then went belly-up during the first round of the playoffs, losing 3-2 to -- of all teams -- the New Jersey freakin' Nets.

3. Larry Bird missed all but six games of the 1988-89 season. As a result, the Celtics went on to win only 42 games and were promptly swept out of the first round by the eventual champion Detroit Pistons. Expectations were high when Bird returned for the 1989-90 season, but the team struggled early on while trying to implement coach Jimmy Roger's new "spread the wealth" offense. The C's caught fire late, though, winning 11 of their last 13 games and drawing a first round matchup with the New York Knicks, who had lost 15 of their last 22. The Celtics took a 2-0 series lead, which included a record-setting 157-128 annihilation in Game 2. But the Knicks stormed back and won the series in Game 5 in the Boston Garden. Historical Footnote: Late in the fourth quarter, Bird blew a reverse dunk that would have tied the game.

2. The 1994-95 Utah Jazz won 60 games, second-best in the league. But fate once again kicked the Jazz in the balls when they drew a first-round matchup with the defending champion Houston Rockets. The Jazz built 1-0 and 2-1 series leads, but they couldn't hold off the Rockets, who closed out the series in Utah, winning Game 5 by a mere four points. The Rockets would go on to win the title, marking yet another one that "got away" from Karl Malone and John Stockton.

1. During the 1993-94 season, the Seattle Supersonics went 63-19, which was easily the best record in the league. Most experts were predicting a trip to the NBA Finals for the Sonics and their All-Star tandem of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. But they lost in five games to the 42-40 Denver Nuggets, led by Dikembe Mutumbo and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. This series has become the Citizen Kane of first round playoff upsets, and it's used each year as a cautionary tale for top-seeded teams who might be taking their first-round opponents too lightly (ahem, Phoenix). Historical footnote: That which does not destroy a team only makes it stronger, right? Wrong. The 1994-95 Sonics won 57 games but still lost to the Cedric Ceballos-led Lakers in the first round. That's right; they let Cedric Ceballos beat them.

Anyway, this particular flop gave us one of the most iconic (and replayed) moments in NBA playoff history: an ecstatic Mutumbo falling to the floor and holding the basketball over his head like it was the championship trophy. Without question Dikembe's greatest moment.

Dishonorable Mention: Remember that Miami Heat/New York Knicks rivalry from the late 90s? If so, you probably remember that the Knicks usually beat Miami come playoff time. In 1997-98, the Heat won 55 games but still lost to the Knicks (43-39) in the first round, three games to two. During the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, the Heat had the best record in the East (33-17), and many people felt that Alonzo Mourning should have been the MVP. But the Knicks still beat them in the first round, winning Game 5 in Miami by a score of 78-77, courtesy of an Allan Houston buzzer-beater.

Second dishonorable Mention: I almost didn't include this one, because in 2002-2003, the 42-40 Orlando Magic weren't expected to beat the 50-32 Detroit Pistons. But the Magic still went up 3-1, which prompted Tracy McGradey to proclaim that he couldn't be stopped and that it felt good to finally reach the second round of the playoffs. Ooops...should've waited until the series was over, Tracy. Sure enough, the Pistons stopped the "unstoppable," and they came back to win the series 4-3. And McGrady still hasn't made it past the first round.

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Acrobatic trampoline dunks are commonplace during today's NBA halftime shows. But this isn't a skill you can pick up overnight. this video, and appreciate what you're missing while you're waiting in the line for the urinal.

Remember those awesome "Nothin' But Net" commercials where Larry Bird and Michael Jordan played HORSE for a Big Mac? Of course you do, but here's a reminder anyway...

McDonald's is in negotiations to remake the commercial, only with current stars Dwyane Wade and Lebron James instead of Larry and Michael. "The idea is to contemporize 'Nothin' but Net' to 2007 and make it relevant for the two best players in the NBA today and fit their personalities and relationship," said Bill Lamar, chief marketing officer for McDonald's USA.

The two best players in the NBA? That's an interesting statement, considering that neither of them are being seriously considered for this year's MVP award. And, given his string of 50-point games this season, I'd say Kobe is a step or two ahead of them in the "best player" race. Maybe what Lamar should have said is the two most marketable players in the NBA today. Because they aren't the best players (although they're at least in the discussion), or even the best shooters (and not even close on that count). I'd be much more interested in seeing a HORSE shootout between Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki (the MVP frontrunners and 50+ percent shooters), or even Nash and Kobe, whose relative values are continuously debated by NBA fans and analysts.

But instead, we'll be forced to watch two players with clunky, inconsistent jumpers both shooting and (probably) swishing one ridiculous shot after another, even though we all really know they can't shoot that well. Bird, obviously, always had a fantastic outside shot, and by 1993 Jordan had transformed himself into one of the best shooters in the game (inside the arc, anyway), so the original commercials kind of made sense. The new one (as proposed) doesn't, except from a marketing standpoint. So while the goal is to capture the spirit of the original commercial, they really won't be able to with the players they've chosen.

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A true basketball legend and snappy dresser...we salute you!

Don't laugh. It's a very meaningful
coat...jacket...uh, thing.

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I was watching the Spurs/Mavericks showdown yesterday, and I was as stunned as Tim Duncan was when Joey Crawford ejected him near the end of the third quarter for laughing. I've been following the NBA since the early 80s, and I've never seen nor heard of a player getting tossed for giggling on the bench, let alone a superstar, champion, and former MVP like Duncan. And unless I'm very much mistaken, it's completely unprecedented in the history of the league.

To be sure, Duncan isn't faultless in this. He's playing the aggrieved party and claims (probably correctly) that he didn't say anything more than "I got fouled" to Crawford during the game. But then, backtalk never has been Duncan's modus operandi. He's a non-verbal complainer who uses well-timed eye-goggles and mildly disbelieving looks that, in and of themselves, speak volumes. That's what happened yesterday, when Duncan reacted to a lousy call by Crawford with some pointed cackling. See for yourself:

On the surface, Crawford's actions have a by-the-book justification, since the NBA began the current season with a zero-tolerance policy for post-whistle complaining. But if you've been watching the season unfold from opening day, you know that most of the enforcing was done during the preseason and the first few weeks of the regular season. Once the complaints had died down to what the league probably deemed an acceptable level, the refs pretty much put their whistles away.

However, Crawford has a history of trying to tame "unruly" players, and while his actions may have followed the letter of the law, they certainly violated the spirit of it. Duncan's complaints weren't affecting the game or showing up the officials, primarily because they came from the bench. If Duncan had been on the court, laughing in Crawford's face, the ejection might have been warranted. But Crawford wanted to make a personal statement -- I won't let a player mock me -- and he ruined a highly competitive, nationally-televised game between two of the best teams in the league (the first and third, to be exact). Now, the day after what could have been a regular season classic (had Duncan remained in the game), everybody's talking about the officiating instead of the game (which will now and forever be considered a "tainted" win for Dallas). What's more, it effectively cost San Antonio any realistic shot at the second seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. It's more bad publicity for a league that's constantly trying to improve its image, and I bet David Stern is pissed.

But in the end, Stern will at least publicly support Crawford. He has to, because the only other alternative is to openly admit that one of his top officials is willing to compromise the integrity of a game, and a big-time game at that, to address what would appear to be a very personal vendetta against one of the league's poster boys for good behavior. The problem with that, of course, is that it will only serve to re-enforce the notion held by many fans that officiating can, does, and will continue to decide games, both during the season and (more importantly) in the playoffs. So while the short-term victory may have gone to Crawford, in the end we all lose. Unless of course we get to see a Crawford/Duncan fight during next year's All-Star Game. Then it will all have been worth it.

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I, Evil Ted, would like to issue a formal apology. I appear to have offended a number of people in my recent post regarding Don Imus's comments. I realize that although I meant to convey no actual opinion in the matter, my assertion that "This is what free speech has come to - fear," is, in fact, an opinion. And I would like to sincerely apologize for it.

In no way did I mean to imply that Don Imus's statements were right. They are disgusting, awful - in fact, so awful as to be basketbawful - statements. This is not to imply that Basketbawful himself ever said or repeated these statements. He did not, but if I implied that, I wish to apologize.

I wish to apologize to the Rutgers womens' basketball team if they felt that I in any way implied that I think what Don Imus said was ok. I do not. I am currently working to secure a private meeting with the Rutgers team to express my deep sorrow over the matter. They are not remotely obliged to accept my apology, but I shall offer it nonetheless.

I wish to apologize to Basketbawful Systems Inc., Basketbawful Industries LLC, Basketbawful Magazine, Basketbawful TV, Basketbawful TV2, and Basketbawful Air (makers of the official Basketbawful ball inflator). My comments in no way reflect the thoughts or opinions of these organizations.

I also wish to apologize to you, visitors to Basketbawful. My comment was insensitive to the larger issues at play, and I apologize for my blatant display of ignorance.

I also wish to also apologize to people who have never even visited Basketbawful, but who have still been offended at any time by anything - like the way people talk on cell phones when they drive, or don't pick up after their dogs, or eat competitively just for the free food and not for the love of sport, or annually assert that a large bunny and chocolate eggs have something to do with the ascension of Christ.

Finally, I wish to apologize to myself. Clearly, my attempt at satire was weak, hurried and ill-conceived, and I have offended even myself.

I shall be appearing on Al Sharpton's radio show this coming week to further echo these sentiments, and be verbally lashed for two hours.

Evil Ted

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This will be a short post. Why? Because, frankly, I'm afraid to say anything positive about Don Imus or anything negative about Rutgers womens' basketball team. Even the most well-conceived commentary may be misconstrued, and if someone finds it offensive, I may get in trouble. Yes, people, that is what free speech has come to - fear. Get used to it.

In lieu of well-conceived commentary, here are some words/phrases I find funny:

Diaper Genie
Carrot Top
Steve Grogan

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The Bulls pounded the Knicks 98-69 last night, strengthening their hold on the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race and helping to ensure that New York will remain a lottery team (which is important since the Bulls get to swap draft picks with the Knicks as part of Eddy Curry trade). The Knicks, of course, got all pissy after the game, but not because their pride was hurt by the 29-point loss, the near-destruction of their waning playoff hopes, the probable loss of their lottery pick, or the fact that they just flat-out suck. They were upset that the Bulls were trying to feed their fans.

Like many teams, the Bulls run countless promotions, using sexy cheerleaders, hilarious fat guys, and dancing old people to shill t-shirts, drink cups, bobbleheads, and even Chicago Bulls-themed drinking water. One of their many game-night promotions is free food any time the team reaches 100 points (redeemed by presenting the game ticket). Sometimes it's a burrito from Taco Bell, sometimes it's a personal pizza from Pizza Hut. Last night, fans would have recieved a free McDonald's Big Mac (with a side of clogged artery) if the Bulls reached the century mark.

Mind you, the Bulls scored their 98th point with almost two minutes left in the game. They then took four more shots, one of which was a tip-in attempt of a missed shot. Considering the fact that there's a 24-second shot clock, basic math tells me that they probably would have put up three or four shots even if the additional two points wouldn't have rewarded their fanbase with a delightfully fat-filled mega-sandwich. But of course the Knicks felt that the Bulls were trying to run up the score, which, naturally, showed a lack of respect.

Steve Francis, a model citizen who had decided to pull the plug on the season until an injury to a teammate ensured him more playing time, was one of a group of Knicks shouting at the Bulls on the way to the team locker rooms. Said Francis: "I've been in the league long enough; I know when teams are trying to run up the score. I don't respect nobody trying to do that to my younger players."

Jerome James, who in the summer of 2005 signed a 5-year, $29-million contract with the Knicks and then promptly began to suck, was one of the aggrieved parties and actually had to be restrained by teammates. James apparently was going after the Bulls' Tyrus Thomas, who aggressively defended a Nate Robinson layup attempt in the closing seconds. When asked about it after the game, James pulled out the Kobe Bryant "I don't know this kid" defense. Said James: "Oh, the little jumpy kid? No, I don't even know him." What? You didn't know James played for the Knicks? Well, it's true. Go check the box score. He's the guy near the bottom with the "DNP - Coach's Decision" next to his name.

For the record, Nate Robinson, who's involvement in the infamous Knicks-Nuggets Brawl is well-documented, also participated in the verbal sparring. That fight, by the way, erupted because the Nuggets were still playing some of their starters while ahead 19 points with a couple minutes to go. And, like last night, the Knicks played the Lack Of Respect card as a means of justifying their behavior.

But honestly, what should the Bulls have done? Stopped shooting and just let the shot clock expire? They weren't playing their starters. The Bulls' reserves were in the game, and reserves don't get a chance to play all that often. Can you really blame them for taking shots? Especially when your fans are cheering you on? You'll also notice that the Knicks were still trying to score right down to the wire. But I guess that's okay when you're down 30, and wrong when you're up 30. I guess the Bulls didn't get that memo.

The bottom line is this: the real problem is that the Knicks suck. So my message to the Knicks is that, if you don't like getting blown out by 20 or 30 points every night, just stop sucking. Until then, take your beating like the group of fat, lazy, malcontent men that you are.

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First Round Dark Horse (furst round dark hors) noun. A team that, despite having a low playoff seeding, is generally considered capable of, if not contending for the championship, then at least possibly defeating a higher-seeded first round opponent.

Usage example: The Lakers are this year's premier First Round Dark Horse.

Word History: This is a Basketbawful original based on a recommendation from reader Adam D. Jacobs, who suggested we coin a term "for 'would hate to see in the first round,' that old chestnut that announcers use to try to drum up interest in a hopelessly one-sided series."

Adam was right on the money with this one. Every year there are a handful of teams that have little or no chance of winning the big one, but nonetheless generate a significant amount of buzz as potential first-round spoilers. Experts, analysts, and broadcasters will repeatedly assure us that nobody wants to face [Insert Team Name Here] in the first round, or something to that effect. This usually happens under one of the following four circumstances:

1. The team is talented enough that it should have been much stronger during the regular season, but injuries and/or suspensions weakened them and provided a (somewhat) reasonable excuse for their poor record.

2. The team started off poorly but grew increasingly stronger as the season progressed, gaining momentum and finishing strong down the stretch.

3. The team is a former heavyweight contender who has underachieved, coasting throughout the season possibly (even probably) due to a lack of focus, intensity, and desire.

4. The team has a superduperstar that is theoretically good enough to win all on his own.

Based on these criteria, the potential First Round Dark Horses for the 2007 NBA playoffs are:

Los Angeles Lakers: The premier FRDH this year, due mostly to Kobe's otherworldly scoring explosions from a few weeks back. They started out 15-6 before injuries, suspensions, and Smush Parker doomed them to a series of nearly catastrophic losing streaks. But most of the team is healthy now, and conventional wisdom says that Kobe can score 50 points a game and beat the Suns singlehandedly. Won't happen, though.

Denver Nuggets: Like the Lakers, the Nuggets suffered through injuries and suspensions that marred their record. Also like the Lakers, they have superstar talent in Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. Furthermore, they're finishing strong (they've won six in a row, including two wins over the Lakers and a win over the Spurs). Talentwise, they're probably a better FRDH than the Lakers, but Kobe, and the Lakers "rivalry" with the Suns, will dominate the headlines.

New Jersey Nets: They honestly do suck and probably shouldn't even be in the playoffs, but thanks to a mediocre Eastern Conference, we're going to have to hear all about how "a team with Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson could beat anybody." Too bad Kidd's almost washed up, Carter wilts under pressure, and Jefferson still isn't 100 percent after returning from injury.

The East has been cheated out of a couple potential FRDH's in the Miami Heat and Washington Wizards. The Wizards are the 6th seed, owing mostly to the extended absence of Antawn Jamison and the recent injuries to Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas. If Butler and Arenas hadn't gone down, this team would be a legit FRDH. Of course, if those guys hadn't gone down, they very well might have won their division and the Heat would be the sixth seed.

Instead, the Heat are seeded fourth and will have a very good chance of moving on to the second round, especially now that Dwyane Wade is back. If they had remained in the sixth spot, or if Wade hadn't been able to overcome his shoulder injury, the Heat would stand very little chance of making noise in the playoffs, thus ensuring their FRDH status. As it is, they may be the second-best team in their conference.


I was perusing youtube last night and came across a video called "Lakers/Celtics Bad Officiating" with its submitter claiming "Kobe can't get a call in his favor from the refs no matter how hard he goes to the hole and gets fouled."

This video is perfect example of seeing what you want to see.

I'll admit I'm not Kobe Bryant's biggest fan. I don't care for most aspects of his play and attitude (weak defense - except for the highlight reel, selfish offense, unjustified arrogance, pretending Shaq's greatness is his own, etc.) And I'll admit I don't like the Lakers (on the other hand, I don't like the Celtics much these days either - dearest Lord, bring me back to 1986).

Considering the notion that the world is divided into Celtics and Lakers fans, watch the following video, assess your emotions, and you should know which you are. I'm convinced, however, that my distaste for the Lakers has no bearing on the fact that I am positive this video is crap. It shows Kobe Bryant driving to the hoop over and over and deservedly not getting foul calls. Yet, with the caption on this video, combined with the commentary of the L.A. announcers, it's easy to be lulled into the notion that this is simply bad officiating or Celtics home cooking.

Sorry, it's not home cooking. You know what it is? It's that guy we've all played with in pick-up ball who rams into you and calls a foul...every...single...time. Only in this case, it's the NBA, and Kobe has to rely on other people to make his lame ass foul calls for him. And they ain't playing that. And he doesn't like it. Wah.

Almost every drive to the hoop in a given basketball game initiates contact, and almost any play can appear to be foul. But they're not all fouls. And the slow motion replays on this particular video proove that out. This is a whining prima donna of a player tossing himself toward the basket and looking for calls. Just because he doesn't have the clout to intimidate officials like Jordan did, doesn't mean he's getting screwed out of calls. These are legit non-calls, and he's doing what comes naturally to himself, Phil Jackson, and Laker nation - whine.

Proof of the whining will come, I assure you. I can already see the angry e-mails by Laker fans who - despite Kobe scoring 43 in the game, scoring a basket on almost every play where he supposedly got fouled, and the Lakers winning the game against a lowly, pathetic Celtics team - will feel compelled to tell me what a baised idiot I am, and how blind I am to Kobe's greatness.

Let 'em come.

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Reader Mark recently posted the following comment:

"Random Question: Why do the Pistons double and triple team Eddie Curry but not Shaq?"

The easy answer is that Eddy Curry is a terrific shooter (57.9 percent) but a lousy passer (he averages 0.9 assists and 3.6 turnovers). To put things into better perspective, he's dished a total of 64 assists on the season while turning the ball over 282 times. This means that he is much more dangerous as a scorer than as a passer. If you double or triple team him, he's unlikely to hit the open man and he's very likely to turn the ball over by forcing a shot (he has more offensive fouls, 82, than assists) or throwing it away. In fact, in three games against the Pistons this season, Eddy notched only two assists but committed 12 turnovers. So if you're the Pistons, you definitely want him passing the ball, not shooting it.

Shaq, on the other hand, is a high-percentage shooter and a talented passer. His numbers aren't great this season (2.0 assists per game compared to 2.5 turnovers), but he does an excellent job of finding the open man and getting his teammates involved. And many of his passes result in ball rotation that leads to an open shot. If you've followed Shaq's career you'll know that his teams are most dangerous when he's dominating the paint, drawing double teams, and hitting the cutters and spot-up shooters.

The Heat's offense -- as long as Dwyane Wade isn't isolating and/or dribbling the hell out of the ball -- is predicated on going inside-out. While Curry is an important component of the Knicks offense, it doesn't run through him (it runs through Stephon Marbury, which is another problem altogether). The Knicks rely on him to score, not make plays. So if you turn him into a passer, you significantly limit his effectiveness. Shaq, on the other hand, can dominate a game even when he isn't scoring.

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statement game (stat'-muhnt gam) noun. A late-season game in which the outcome is thought to have either positive or negative implications (depending on whom you're rooting for) should the two teams meet in the playoffs.

Usage example: The Lakers had a statement game against the Suns yesterday. Their statement was "This team is going to beat us like a circus monkey in a gypsy camp if we meet in the first round of the playoffs."

Word Trivia: The Phoenix Suns took part in three statement games against probable playoff opponents last week, including a 126-104 win against the Dallas Mavericks, a 92-85 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, and a 115-107 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. If the so-called "statement game" is a legitimate indicator of playoff success and failure, then the Suns should beat the Lakers in the first round, lose to the Spurs in the conference semis, and then miraculously go on to defeat the Mavericks in the conference finals. Sorry Tim Duncan and Tony Parker; the statements have been made.

The Chicago Bulls also had some things to say last week, taking part in an unprecedented (I think) four statement games. Their first statement was "We can't win a crucial home game against a quality opponent" when they dropped a 112-108 overtime decision to the Cleveland Cavaliers. A few days later, they turned things around with a resounding "We can pound the sh*t out of the top team in the their house" by thumping the Pistons 106-88. Then, in a potential first-round playoff preview, their 105-74 win told the New Jersey Nets "Don't even bother to show up, chumps." This was followed by a 103-89 "I really hope we don't have to play these guys in the second round" loss to the Toronto Raptors.

In the end, the statement game is relatively meaningless in terms of predicting who will win or lose a playoff series. After all, the Spurs lost a late-season statement game to the Sacramento Kings and still whupped them in the first round. Dallas likewise lost a late-season statement game to the Suns and still managed to win that series. Some people will say that winning a statement game will give one team a psychological boost and make a playoff series more competitive, but come on...these guys are professionals. Once a series is underway, the regular season becomes a distant memory and the best team (usually) wins.

statement game 2
Smush Parker made a statement to Steve
Nash's face: "Not in my house, yo!"

Statement game
Shawn Marion then made a statement to
Parker's genitals: "Don't do that, yo."


new ball
The object of undeserving hate and scorn

We all know the story of how David Stern ditched the new microfiber basketballs after a vocal handful players -- Dirk Nowitzki, Richard Hamilton, Shaq, and Steve Nash in particular -- whined and cried about it for three months. But despite the complaints, and the allegations that the balls dried out players' hands to the point of causing tiny cuts, my interest was peaked. After all, the players who didn't hate the ball seemed to really like it. And why not? The ball was designed by Spalding using a new design and material that supposedly offered better grip, feel, and consistency than the traditional leather ball.

Based on his statistical analysis of the new ball, John Hollinger came to the following positive conclusion: "For all the complaints about difficulty in handling, players are making fewer miscues than a season ago and haven't seen an increase in bad passes. The one apparent change is that it appears shots from 15 feet and in have become slightly easier thanks to some kind rolls. Shots from midrange have changed by a similar factor, and while the close-in shots have increased by more, we may just be seeing an increase in easy layups rather than anything related to the ball." This only served to heighten my interest.

Once the balls were discontinued, I kept waiting for them to drop in price, since $100 is (for me) a lot to spend on a basketball. But the price never came down, so I finally (and somewhat reluctantly) paid the money and eagerly awaited the new ball. It arrived yesterday. I was stoked, and promptly toted the new ball to my Wednesday night pickup league.

The Shootaround

The new ball drew a chorus of "oohs" and "ahs" when I pulled it out of my gym bag. Several of my buddies came over to test it out, feeling the material and hoisting up a few shots. My buddy Mr. P* said, "I like this ball. It feels great, good grip." Evil Ted thought the ball "stuck to the hand well, bounced well, came off the board well, and it seemed to get friendly bounces on the rim." It got a positive review from everybody who got a chance to check it out and use it.

Personally, I loved it. I was able to get a good grip on the ball, loved its physics off the dribble, and it shot well. Things were looking good. I was cautiously optimistic.

*Mr P. loved my post about pickup basketball nicknames, but was bitterly disappointed that I omitted his nickname: "Tape." So consider this an addendum. See, Mr. P has a few very specific spots on the floor that he loves to shoot from. I once suggested that he probably puts a piece of tape on the floor so he can remember where to spot up. After that, we started calling him Tape, and shots from his sweet spots are often referred to as "Tape shots." Oh, and during a game, if he's open at one of those spots, he simply yells "Tape!" and, no matter where I am on the floor, I can immediately get him the ball, regardless of whether I can even see him.

The Game

My league uses the Wilson Evolution basketball. This is partly my doing, because I've spent the last few years experimenting with different basketballs and bringing them in for league play (most notably the Wilson Solution, Wilson Jet, Spalding Never Flat, and Spalding TF-1000). The Evolution received the best response by far, and we've been using them exclusively (unless I bring in a new test ball) for almost two years.

We began the first game using the new microfiber ball. That's when the trouble started. People immediately began asking "What's that?" and "What's up with the ball?" One of the guys asked me, "Why do you keep bringing in all these funny balls?" The negative responses, for the record, came only from people who hadn't gotten a chance to use the ball prior to the game.

The first shot was an absolute brick, and someone actually said, "That new ball sucks." As if the new ball was so bad it caused a brick on the first shot of a pickup game (see, pickup players have honed their shooting to laser-like perfection). What none of the naysayers seemed to realize is that, other than in appearance, the NBA ball isn't very different from the Evolution, which also is made out of a composite, microfiber material. But according to Evil Ted, the different look was the problem.

"The look was striking. It's harder for you to justify using a new ball when it looks so different. People are used to their basketball looking a certain way. Think about it. If you had two hamburgers that tasted exactly the same, but one of them was purple, you'd probably think it tasted different, even if it really didn't. It's the same with a basketball. Even if it behaves the same way, because it looks different, people think it behaves differently. That's how the human mind works."

And he was probably right. The ball is bright orange and has two interlocking, cross-shaped panels, as opposed to the eight oblong panels found on traditional basketballs. The decidedly unusual look seemed to cause a lot of dismay, particularly since the players hadn't gotten a chance to use it outside of a game situation. So, despite the fact that, after the first shot, people were shooting well (Evil Ted was 2-for-2 from beyond the arc), the ball was discarded in favor of the more familiar Evolution about midway through the game. When I voiced my displeasure, the anti-new ball guys responded with their complaints, which amounted to "it looks funny" and "it feels weird." That was really all they had.

You know what it reminded me of? It's like when you're at a bar or dance club with a mixed group of men and women, and an absolutely gorgeous woman walks in. Half the group (i.e., the guys) become transfixed and ogle her at every opportunity, while the other half (i.e., the women) slowly and methodically pick her apart ("She doesn't look that good," "Her boobs aren't that big," "I can't believe she's wearing that outfit," "Those shoes make her feet look like baby goats smashed between two rocks," and so on). And the complainers in my league were "the women"...nitpicking over superficialities without really giving the new ball a chance.

Which is exactly what happened with the NBA players. They just didn't want to change what they'd always known. Doc Rivers admitted as much when he said, "I think there's a resistance to change in all of us. Whether it's cheerleaders, a dress code, a new ball, whatever. People don't like change. I just think that's the way life is."

Hollinger agreed. "And I think [resistance to change is] the real problem, in the end. People liked the old ball just fine and didn't understand why it had to change."

So, thanks to the fear of change, I'm out a hundred dollars and stuck with a great ball that nobody wants to use. Great.

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I, Evil Ted, will begin this post with an embarrassing admission: I don't have cable TV. That's right. You heard me. I didn't stutter. I'm one of those sorry souls whose weekend is usually left to golf, Nascar, and, yes, sometimes even women's gymnastics. I'm not proud of it, but frankly, 75 percent of the time, I'm cool with what's happening on network TV. I've got a job and kids, so if I'm only channel surfing during primetime hours, I manage to keep myself fairly well entertained with The Office and various other network fare (here's where I'd mention American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, but I've already embarassed myself enough).

Besides, how much TV can a person watch? Who needs Sportcenter, HGTV, Bravo, Lifetime, Disney, "What Not to Wear," The Shield, Monk, music videos, HBO premium programming...alright, I'm getting myself depressed. Let's move on.

In the context of sports, I generally find myself satisfied with my NFL selections on network TV. The NBA, on the other hand, did me a great disservice some years ago when it chose to air only the Finals - and therefore NO playoff games - on the networks. Did I finally decide to loosen the purse strings, stand up to my parsimonious wife and watch a full complement of NBA playoff games that should be the inalienable right of every American male? Hell no. I looked the cable TV-slash-NBA monopoly square in the face and said "To Hell with your jacked-up prices and your complicated remote controls." Then I looked around at the other 299 Spartans and announced "TONIGHT WE DINE IN HELL!"...and if you've ever had dinner at my kid-laden, cableless home, well, you'd know I was fairly accurate.

But there is a ray of light, a glimmer of hope...that I'll get cable? No. Stop it. Don't even joke like that.

ABC is finally making a habit of putting premium games on network TV on the weekend. It's about frickin' time, ABC. Maybe you realized you weren't really doing a service to your potential legion of fans by making your games more difficult to watch. I'm a 36-year-old white dude with three kids who doesn't have cable and didn't get sucked into it just to chase after NBA basketball. God only knows how many inner city boys and girls are sitting in cableless homes not watching your sport. On the other hand, maybe they're using that free time studying to be doctors and lawyers, so maybe...just ARE doing a service to your potential fans...

OK, enough of my high-minded horseshit. I wanna watch more NBA games, and ABC is making it easier. Thanks, ABC. Rather than graciously thanking you as I should, I'll just say it's about frickin' time, and what the hell took you so long. If you're smart, you'll toss a nice Tuesday night game onto the network every now and again too. Don't worry, I'm not asking for your precious Thursday...God knows we must have our Grey's Anatomy fix (perhaps you were reading sarcasm into that. Sadly, there is none. Seriously, ABC, don't fuck with Thursday. If you deprive me of the sexually-charged medical rollercoaster that is Meredith Grey's life, I shall smite thee).

Speaking of sexually-charged, now we get to more things that ABC is doing right. Uhm, hiring the Pussycat Dolls to sing on the way in and out of commercials in tight uniforms, thigh-high stockings and f*** me boots? Give the dude who came up with that a raise - a big one, not just that cost-of-living bullshit. And to the corporate chickie who said "Passing glimpses of cheerleaders twice a game should satiate the needs of our viewers," you're fired.

Talk about "Must see TV." When I hear that conga beat and that "Right Now!" and the trumpet blasting "ba-da, da-da da-da," I bolt to the TV. Fast. Even from the toilet. OK, just with number one. With number two, I'm kinda stuck there, but it makes me rue the day that God cursed us with a regular need to expel waste.

And now, I give you the best thing ABC has done in a while, aside from Grey's Anatomy:

Basketball and Sex. Now you've
got it, ABC. Duh.

Oh, and on the "Well done yet again," my compliments to the NBA for the "Thanks Red" commercials. Let's see, the greatest basketball guru of all time (no offense, Phil) talking about the importance of blocking, rebounding, passing, and TEAM play mentality (no offense, Kobe) - it seems like a no-brainer, but since those in TV and sports management generally behave like people with no brains, it's actually quite a wonderful, nostalgic ad campaign for the basketball purist. Not to mention it gives a little "We feel your pain" to those of us suffering through the current state of the Celtics Organization (I'll say it before you do, "Celtics Organization" is an oxymoron).

I couldn't find the "Thanks Red" stuff on youtube, and I'm not one for research beyond two clicks, so in place of that, here's a tribute to Red. It illicits very contrary emotions to the Pussycat Doll video, and will make you sufficiently ashamed of your erection.

7-11 defense (sev'-uhn uh-lev'-uhn de'-fens) noun. A lazy defensive tactic in which the defender simply stands still, raises his hands straight up in the air, and allows the offensive player to shoot over or run into him.

Usage Example: Instead of contesting the shot, Damon Jones just played 7-11 defense.

Word History: The term was coined by Kevin McHale during the 1986-87 season, as chronicled in Home of the Brave: A review of the Celtics' 1986-87 Season (available as part of the Boston Celtics Dynasty Series DVD set). This particular defensive move is typically used for one of the following reasons: either to avoid fouling (or getting called for a foul), or to (hopefully) draw an offensive foul. Sometimes this move is used to disguise a well-aimed body bump, and sometimes a defensive player will adopt the 7-11 stance immediately after fouling someone, as if to say, "Look at me! I'm just standing here! I could't have possibly fouled him!" (It is important to note that no NBA player has actually committed a foul since 1974; referees obviously call fouls either out of spite or to justify their bloated salaries.)

7-11 defense
A textbook display of 7-11 defense, courtesy
of defensive stalwart Damon Jones.

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Do you sometimes go home after a rough day at the office or a rugged game of pickup hoops and say to yourself, "If only I could find comfort in the tender embrace of NBA superstar Ben Wallace?" You really don't need to answer that question, because of course you do.

Previously, the only way to turn your dreams into sunshine was to buy an Inflatable Defender. But the ID is fifty bucks, and its plastic skin can really chafe your nether regions during a night of tossing and turning. But now you have an alternative: check out this auction for a throw pillow that depicts Ben Wallace. Sure, it makes Big Ben look like some kind of freaky mutant with a squashed face, but sometimes it's the little imperfections that make you love something even more dearly. At least that's what I tell myself every morning when I shove in my glass eye.

throw pillow
Wouldn't you like this to be the last thing
you see before drifting off to sleep?

Frugality Alert: Target is selling the Inflatable Defender for $10 less than the ID's official site. I'm not a mathmatist, but the people at Target say that's 20 percent off the suggested retail price. So if a mere ten bones was all that was standing between you and your very own air-filled Ben Wallace, your wait is over.

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The Mavericks have been the best team in the league since about mid-November, and the primary reason for that is their improved defense. The Mavs are fourth in the league in points allowed (93.4), eighth in field goal percentage allowed (45.0), and second in point differential (7.7). Yet in yesterday's 126-104 drubbing, Dallas allowed the Phoenix Suns to shoot a video game-like 65 percent from the field -- an NBA season high. The Suns' "Big Three" of Steve Nash (7-for-11), Amare Stoudemire (10-for-13), and Shawn Marion (8-for-10) combined to shoot almost 74 percent from the floor (for what it's worth, they were also 100 percent from the line).

Of course, as always we need to keep this game in perspective. The Suns' have the most potent offense in the NBA, but they aren't going to shoot 60+ percent over the course of a seven game series against an excellent defensive team. And the Mavs' defense is much, much better than what we saw yesterday. The fact is, the game meant more to the Suns, who are trying to hold off San Antonio in the battle for second place in the Western Conference (and home court advantage for a likely semifinal series against the Spurs). The Mavs, on the other hand, have essentially wrapped up the best record in the league and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. That's not to say they didn't try, but they most certainly didn't play with the intensity and sense of urgency that they would have had in a more critical game.

WofW - Mavs
Dirk and the Mavs bent over and
took it from the Suns yesterday.

Runner up: Over the last couple weeks, the Spurs have been hot on the heels of the Suns for the second-best record in the West. But their quest to overtake Phoenix might have taken a critical blow yesterday, and not just because the Suns beat the Mavs. The Spurs, who hold opponents to a league-best 89.5 points per game, lost 100-99 to the Jermaine O'Neal-less Pacers. This would probably be a good time to point out that the Pacers are 32-41 and have lost 16 of their last 19 games (including 11 straight losses). Probably a game the Spurs should have won.

Second runner up: The Bulls had an excellent opportunity to take over second place in the Eastern Conference on Saturday, but lost a 112-108 overtime decision to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The loss came while playing at home and after establishing slim leads in both the fourth quarter and overtime. What makes the loss even more painful is that, thanks the the NBA's new playoff seeding formula, the Bulls are now ranked fifth instead of second, despite having the third best record in the conference. When you lose a must-win game at home, that doesn't bode well for making an extended playoff run.

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