Kobe Bryant has officially asked the Lakers to trade him.

Why? As Terrell Owens' former publicity agent might have said, Kobe has 136 million reasons to be a happy little Laker. But he's not. The gist of it is that Kobe believes that the Lakers (specifically Jerry Buss) lied to him about their long-term plans and are now trying to make him (via a Deep Throat-esque "insider") the scapegoat for the team's woes. Moreover, it has become increasingly clear that the organization is either unwilling or incapable of providing him with championship-caliber teammates. Enough, apparently, is enough.

From Kobe's perspective, the whole saga hinges on making people believe that:

1. He had nothing whatsoever to do with breaking up the team -- exiling Shaq, running off Karl Malone, letting Gary Payton walk -- that made it to the 2004 NBA Finals, and

2. The Lakers promised him during the summer of 2004 that they were in "win now" mode and not "rebuild around Kobe" mode.

Sorry, but I'm not buying it. I mean, it's been three years -- three years!! -- since Jerry Buss hit the Reset button on the Lakers mini-dynasty. Kobe had to have some idea before right now that the team was rebuilding. It's not like he went to bed one night with teammates like Shaq, Malone, Payton, Derek Fisher, and Rick Fox...and then suddenly woke up the next day surrounded by stiffs like Smush Parker and Kwame Brown. How can he be acting so shocked? It's been three years, Kobe. Where've you been?

Kobe's a smart guy. You cannot convince me otherwise. He's not coming to this realization out of the clear blue. Phil Jackson wrote a freaking book about how Kobe couldn't coexist with Shaq, and how the Lakers were ready, willing, and able to mortgage the team's future to hold onto the young superstar, even if it meant dumping the old superstar and the legendary coach. And I don't care what Kobe says, he and his people knew what was written in that book practically the minute it was published. He didn't pick it up just yesterday.

I can't help but feel that Kobe's rewriting history because he's finally realized he can't do it alone. For most of the past three years, I think Kobe honestly believed that all he needed was one or two decent players to back him up. Well, he's finally starting to get it -- one superstar does not a champion make -- and he's freaking out. He's like a woman who's just turned 30 and says to herself, "I thought I'd be married by now. I should be having babies by now. I only have a few productive years left before I'm old and ugly and I can't have babies anymore! OH MY GOD!!"

This isn't just me hating on Kobe, either. It simply makes no logical sense that Kobe didn't see what was going on around him. He's acting like he just slipped on a banana peel. If he'd lost his nut during the Lakers' first Shaq-less year, maybe then I would have believe him. Maybe. But now? No way.

Mind you, Lakers management had there grubby little paws in this mess. As a group, they were like a high-stakes poker player who lost his mind and decided to go all in even though all he had was one ace and a bunch of crap cards. They figured any hand that they dealt would be a winner as long as they had Kobe in it, and Kobe seemed to believe the same thing. Because Kobe's like Mike, right?

People don't truly understand what an ideal situation Jordan had in Chicago. The Bulls didn't start winning titles until Jordan was surrounded by the perfect supporting: veteran players who were hungry to win and willing to work within the system (John Paxson, B.J. Armstrong, Bill Cartright, Steve Kerr, Ron Harber, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, et al.), legitimate all-stars who took the pressure off him and enhanced his game (Pippen, Grant, Rodman), and a coach who was able to keep everybody relatively happy and supremely motivated (Phil Jackson). But those systems are fragile. Look at what happened when Jordan came back to the Bulls in 1995. Until they added Rodman, they were just another really good team...even with Jordan.

And let's take a closer look at the players that Kobe claims the Lakers supposedly failed to land:

Baron Davis: According to Kobe, the Lakers believe that Davis is "injury prone." Uh, Davis is injury prone. Don't let this year's great playoff run fool you. He's missed 98 games over the last four seasons, including 19 this year. His numbers also had been steadily declining until the Warriors hired Don Nelson, who immediately instituted a run-and-gun offense.

Carlos Boozer: In the summer of 2004, Boozer signed a contract with the Jazz worth almost $70 million dollars. The Lakers didn't have that kind of money to throw at Boozer after signing Kobe. And even if they did...would they really have committed that kind of cash to a guy who, at the time, had career averages of 12 points and 8 rebounds per game? I mean, they could have spent a little more and held onto Shaq. Besides, Boozer seems like a no-brainer now, but don't forget that he missed 80 games in his first two seasons with the Jazz and looked like a bust until he broke out this year.

Ron Artest: You're kidding, right?

All in all, it's a bad situation for everybody involved. Can Kobe really force a trade? Would the Lakers actually do it, knowing they'd never get comparable value? And they can forget about cutting a quick and equitable deal, because the whole world knows Kobe has the Lakers over the barrel. Jerry Buss will have very little negotiating power, and Kobe's no-trade agreement ensures that he has the final say over where he goes.

Let the games begin.

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Finally, what you've all been waiting for: Greg Ostertag dancing in his underwear. Shake it, big man, shake it!!

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The latest installment of Kobegate is embarrassing for pretty much everybody in Lakerland, but especially for the team's septuagenarian* owner, Jerry Buss. Kobe hates Mitch Kupchak, Kobe wants Jerry West back, Kobe wants to be traded, Kobe doesn't want to be traded, Kobe feels betrayed by the organization, Kobe deserves better, Kobe needs to shut up...Kobe, Kobe, Kobe!!

*Latin for "wrinkly old dude."

Buss apparently was so sick and tired of the whole situation that he got liquored up and then went for a drive through streets of Carlsbad. Going the wrong way. Cops finally pulled him over -- Buss didn't immediately respond -- and he (surprise!!) failed a sobriety test.

Jeannana M. Flores, a 23-year-old escort woman from New York City, was also in the car with Buss. I'm sure she's just a dear family friend and not some skanky chick Buss was going to nail in the back seat have intimate relations with. No, seriously.

In case you're worried about Jerry's mental state and the effect it'll have on his future driving safety, don't. "Although I was driving only a short distance, it was a bad decision and I was wrong to do it," Buss said in a totally made-up statement issued by the Lakers. "It was a mistake I will not make again."

Jerry and ho
They're just friends, you perv.

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Here are my thoughts on the game...

1. Lebron James: Wow. This is what we've all been waiting for. It's not just the superstar stat line -- 25 points, 7 rebounds, 11 assists -- it's the way he dominated the game down the stretch. Not only did he toss in 13 ginormous points during a come-from-behind fourth quarter, he also created a bunch of opportunities for his teammates...opportunities they repeatedly took advantage of. (Take heed, Kobe.) He even defended (and successfully contained) Billups down the stretch. Not a bad night's work.

2. Chauncy Billups: Can we revoke his "Mr. Bigshot" nickname? Billups got blanked in the first half (0-for-6 from the field, 0-for-4 from three-point range, 3 points, 1 assist, four turnovers), and although he did manage to score 23 points, his shooting was terrible (6-for-16, 2-for-9 from beyond the arc). He also forced up an off-balance three-pointer with his team down 88-85 and 21 seconds left on the clock. It was a bad miss at the worst time. Sure, it's a shot Chauncy usually makes, but not in this series so far.

3. Drew Gooden: His 19 points and 8 rebounds made the city of Cleveland forget about how well Carlos Boozer is playing for the Jazz. For tonight at least. More importantly, Drew hit a cluster of big-time jumpers to stave off the Pistons' fourth quarter rally. He also played some seriously aggressive defense on 'Sheed.

4. Rasheed Wallace: He's so fiery, so talented...and such an unbelievable douchebag.

5. Daniel Gibson: When Larry Hughes got injured (again) in Game 3, most people were predicting a little doom and a lot of gloom for the Cavs. Enter the rookie: 21 points on 4-for-7 shooting and 12-for-12 from the line. Uh, Larry, why don't you just take your time and get healthy, mmm'kay? Yahoo headlines for this game include "Unknown rookie leads Cavaliers to victory" and "Who is Daniel Gibson." Enjoy the limelight, rook. You earned it.

6. Rip Hamilton: Not only did The Phantom have a regrettable shooting night (9-for-21), he also had the audacity to talk trash at Lebron before the King's game-clinching freethrows. His smackity earned him a little forearm shiver, and James looked really fired up afterward. Bad move there, Rip. It's never a good idea to start whacking the bee's nest with a stick.

7. That Cavalier defense: The Cavs gave up only 93.8 PPG this season (fifth in the league), and teams shot only 44.8 percent against them (eighth in the league). What's more, they've upped their defensive intensity in the playoffs: their victims are scoring only 85.5 PPG (ranked first) and shooting 42.5 percent (also ranked first). How is it nobody was talking about that before they started manhandling the Pistons?

8. Ooooops: Did everybody see Lebron accidentally tip in two points for the Pistons with four tics left on the clock, reducing the Cavalier lead to two? That had to be a crappy feeling.

9. That sinking feeling: If you're the Pistons, you're probably feeling a little nervous. And if you're not, you really should be.

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Check out this compliation of Larry Bird's best playoff moments. Great stuff...but there are two unforgivable omissions: Bird's stop-and-pop bank shot that defeated the Philidelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals, and The Steal that stole Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pistons.

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Ginobili flop
Admit it: Aren't you a little tired of
seeing this crap game after game?

This has been going on for years: a star player charges headlong toward the basket and then either flails his arms or drops to the floor like a lead brick. Tweet! Foul. The San Antonio Spurs -- specifically Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and especially Manu Ginobili -- have become the undisputed ninja masters of this tactic, and they used it last night to con the referees into an endless litany of freethrows en route to a 41-20 advantage from the line and a 91-79 victory.

By games end, the Spurs had more freethrows (30) than field goals (28), which was a staple of basketball in the 1940s but is generally looked down upon these days. Jerry Sloan and Derek Fisher became so riled up after a late-game Ginobili flop that they got themselves ejected, which led to even more Spurs freethrows and effectively ended the game. The Energy Solutions Arena crowd, which usually doesn't do anything more controversial than boo really loudly, threw lip balm at the retreating Spurs after the game.

It's just another example of lousy NBA officiating. I have two requests for David Stern:

1. Please, for the sake of all that's holy, do something about flopping. It's a throbbing hemorrhoid on the tender butt cheeks of professional basketball. Every player hates flopping, yet every player does it...even Shaq, the loudest anti-flop complainer of them all. And the fans hate it too. It's not fun to watch. There isn't a single redeeming quality to the flop. It's a cheap and cowardly play. The players obviously aren't going to police themselves on this, because it provides an obvious competitive advantage. The league has to step in because it's getting worse by the year.

2. Adopt a "challenge" policy similar to the NFL. Allow NBA coaches to challege two (or more?) calls a game. Make the referees review some of their crummy decisions on the spot. If it is indeed a bad call, it should be overturned; maybe that would embarrass the officials into making the right call next time. If it was the right call, then the challenging team should lose a timeout, or maybe the opposing team should be awarded a technical freethrow. Whatever. But at least it would provide some measure of justice and relief against the obvious and egregious bad officiating.

Is this post a bunch of sour grapes? Maybe. But that doesn't mean that flopping and flailing isn't ridiculous. Imagine if guys started flopping in your pickup league. How well do you suppose that would go over? Take a look at this hilarious YouTube clip and then you be the judge:

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So let me get this straight: the first three - and most important - picks in the draft are left to a mysterious, shady system of "Here's who we supposedly selected to pick 1 thru 3 in a back room somewhere," but the rest of the picks are ordered by the traditional system used by every other league since the beginning of time, "That team which sucketh the most shall getteth the highest pick."

This lottery system supposedly defends against teams intentionally tanking to get a higher draft pick. But the fact is, there's STILL an incentive for teams to tank - they get a higher percentage possibility of receiving a better pick. Or at least they THINK they will...I'm guessing Stern, realizing that his lottery plot hasn't kept teams from doing what they will, is now choosing the order of the draft himself to further dissuade what he considers bad behavior. Is that grassy knoll conspiracy theory talk? Yes, and that is how much I have lost faith in the ability of Stern to lead this league. I can just see him in a dark room, putting the cards in the envelopes, muttering to himself..."That'll teach you to intentionally suck, Boston."

What Stern doesn't realize is that the Celtics weren't trying to suck that hard - THEY REALLY ARE THAT BAD. C'mon, David, throw us a bone here. We were half of what kept the league alive during the Bird/Magic era...hell, with Larry's help, we MADE YOU WHAT YOU ARE, MAN. Are we asking for all that much? Oden is going to be little more than Ben Wallace when he hits the Pros, and Durant is a whole lotta hype. C'mon, dude - give us a reason to breathe.

The fact is, tons of enormous, legendary talent has been selected at or below the fifth pick, where the Celts now stand. But is Danny Ainge smart enough to find it? Hmmm, just peek at the last 20 years of Celtics lore a few posts down to figure that one out.

OK, back on point: Mr. Stern, leave it to you to make your draft as inconsistent and unpalatable as your league's officiating. No wonder a website called Basketbawful has so goddamn much content.

Below is some excruciating video of an NBA draft party attended by every basketball fan in the Portland area, made up predominantly of what appear to be illiterate lumberjacks. My favorite part of this video is the end where the dude says "We TOLD you we were headed in the right direction! We weren't lying." Way to interpret pure, blind luck as managerial prowess, dork. Even Danny Ainge wouldn't have said that.

Am I bitter that this stupid lottery system has
consistently worked against the Celtics? You betcha.

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1994 Knicks/Rockets Finals (nin-teen' nin'-tee-for niks-rahk'-its fi'-nuls) noun. An example of and comparison point for any low-scoring playoff series that is generally regarded as boring and possibly unwatchable.

Usage example: Watching the Cavaliers/Pistons series is almost as painful as the 1994 Knicks/Rockets Finals.

Word Trivia: The 1994 NBA Finals was one of the most competitive championship series in league history. It featured a marquee matchup between two superstar centers (Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing) and a cast of other all-star-caliber players (Robert Horry, Sam Cassell, Mario Elie, Charles Oakley, Doc Rovers, Derek Harper, Rolando Blackman). It lasted the full seven games, and there wasn't a single blowout; none of the games were decided by more than nine points, and Games 6 and 7 were decided by two and six points respectively. Olajuwon outplayed Ewing on offense (27 PPG on 50 percent shooting versus 19 PPG on 36 percent shooting), but Ewing was a defensive monster, setting an NBA Finals record with 30 blocked shots, including a record-tying eight blocks in Game 5. However, this series is poorly regarded by most NBA fans for the following reasons:

1. Star bust: It was the first NBA Finals of the first post-Jordan era, and the first final series since 1978-79 that didn't feature Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and/or Michael Jordan. Due to the absence of an nationally recognized fan favorite, many casual fans were uninterested in the series and therefore neglected to watch it. The series was further marred by Ewing's poor play, John Starks' 2-for-18 shooting performance in Game 7, and the fact that Olajuwon -- who was named Finals MVP -- submitted a performance that was very good in its own right, but hardly among the all-time greats.

2. Defense wins championships...not ratings: The series revolved around defense and, for that reason, the scores were painfully low. In fact, neither team scored more than 93 points in a single game. The scores were as follows: Game 1 - 85-78; Game 2 - 91-83, Game 3 - 93-89; Game 4 - 91-82; Game 5 - 91-84; Game 6 - 86-84; Game 7 - 90-84. Game 6 was the only time a player scored as many as 30 points, when Olajuwon had exactly 30. It was basically a case of two teams walking the ball up the court, tossing it into the post, and four guys spotting up beyond the arc and waiting for the return pass while the centers beat the hell out of each other.

3. The juice was on the loose: The series had the misfortune of being played during the onset of the the O.J. Simpson murder case. During Game 5, NBC split coverage between the game and Simpson's freeway chase with the LAPD. While the Knicks and Rockets were battling down to the wire, the national attention was focused elsewhere.

And so, despite the many rule changes that were instituted specifically to irradicate this kind of grind-it-out basketball, there are still one or two playoff series each year that are highly reminiscent of the '94 Finals (most notably the 2005 Pistons/Spurs Finals, which nearly qualified as an historical recreation). And it's then, like clockwork, that everybody harkens back to the series that defined the term "boring series."

Knicks-Rockets Finals
We know these guys were watching.
But only because they had to.

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This is the second part of the sad tale of why the Celtics will suck forever. You can go back and read Part 1 if for some reason you enjoy really depressing stories.

1998-99: The Celtics draft Paul Pierce, which ends up being the first good draft choice the team has made since selecting Rick Fox in 1991. But the reality is that the team is still dependent on guys like Vitaly Potapenko, Tony Battie, and Dana Barros. 'Nuff said. The C's finish 19-31 in a lockout shortened season and, again, fail to make the playoffs.

1999-00: Rick Pitino continues to destroy the Celtics*. Thanks to some of his earlier deals, the Celtics don't have a draft pick until the 26th spot of the second round. Pitino still manages to screw that one up by selecting Kris Clack (who never plays for the Celtics -- or any other NBA team) instead of Manu Ginobili. For some reason, the Celtics trade Ron Mercer in order to reaquire Eric Williams (despite the fact that he had suffered a serious knee injury). They also get Danny Fortson in the deal. Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce both pour in 20 PPG but shoot in the low 40s. The season's most memorable moment is when Pitino gives his famous "Larry Bird is not walking through that door…" speech. The team plays no defense and finishes 35-47. They don’t reach the playoffs. Again.

*During the summer of 2000, I was in Chicago’s O’Hare airport waiting to catch a plane to Myrtle Beach when I looked over and noticed Rick Pitino waiting for the same flight. Being a long-time Celtics fan, I had grown to hate this man the way that Holocaust survivors hate Hitler. As I walked through First Class where he was sitting, I yelled at him, "Hey Pitino, you screwed over Red Auerbach and destroyed the Celtics. Good job." He didn’t respond or even look at me, but I hope my diatribe had something to do with his resignation the next season.

2000-01: Pitino drafts Jerome Moiso (who plays only 24 games and averages 1.5 PPG) instead of Quentin Richardson, Jamaal Magloire, or Michael Redd. On Septemer 25, 2000, Paul Pierce is hit in the head with a champagne bottle and stabbed 11 times in the neck and back outside a Boston nightclub. The attack punctures Pierce's left lung and surgery is required to save his life. Miraculously, Pierce recovers and plays all 82 games an sets career highs in points, assists, field goal percentage, and minutes. However, the team starts out 12-22, and, as a result, Pitino finally cracks and resigns with a record of 102-146 as the Celtics coach (he later admits he never would have taken the job if he'd known the team wouldn't be able to draft Tim Duncan). Pitino is replaced by Jim O'Brien as coach and Chris Wallace as General Manager, and Red Auerbach is reinstated as Team President. O'Brien coaches the team to a respectable 24-24 finish which, despite the 36-46 overall record, gives reason to hope.

2001-02: The Celtics have the 10th, 11th, and 21st picks in the draft, and they select Joe Johnson, Kedrick Brown, and Joseph Forte over guys like Richard Jefferson, Zach Randolph, Tony Parker, Gilbert Arenas, and Mehmet Okur. Their one good selection, Johnson, is dealt to the Phoenix Suns in a midseason trade for Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk. Jim O'Brien works some serious coaching magic, leading the team to 49 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they fall to the New Jersey Nets in six games. During this series, the Boston crowd shows how far they've fallen by serenading Jason Kidd with chants of "wife beater" throughout Games 3 and 4.

2002-03: Due to earlier trades, the Celtics don't draft until the 21st spot of the second round. They select Darius Songaila. The team trades Kenny Anderson, Vitaly Potepenko, and Joseph Forte for Shammon Williams and a fat Vin Baker (and his even fatter $12 million contract). Baker manages to average 11 PPG and 8 RPG, but turns out to be a binge-drinking alcoholic. Coach Jim O'Brien repeatedly smells alcohol on Baker's Twinkie-coated breath and confronts him about it. The team is forced to suspend Baker and eventually releases him. Danny Ainge is hired as the Executive Director of Basketball Operations. The team loses a step without Anderson, who was their floor leader, and wins only 44 games. The team does qualify for the playoffs, but they are knocked out in the second round by the New Jersey Nets.

2003-04: Danny Ainge drafts Troy Bell, Dahntay Jones, and Brandon Hunter instead of players like Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Josh Howard, Luke Walton, or even Kyle Korver. Bell and Jones never play for the team, and Hunter is a bust. Ainge also trades Antoine Walker and Tony Delk to the Dallas Mavericks for Raef LaFrentz (along with his chronic injuries and ginormous contract) and a draft pick. Ainge feuds with coach Jim O'Brien, then trades Eric Williams and Tony Battie to Cleveland for Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm, and Jiri Welsch. O'Brien resigns in disgust with the team only 22-24. John Carroll takes over as coach and the team struggles to a 14-22 finish. The C's 36-46 record is (amazingly) good enough to make the playoffs...where the team is promptly swept in the first round by the Indiana Pacers. It's important to note that the Celtics were part of the trade that sent Rasheed Wallace to Detroit, which helped propel the Pistons to the 2004 NBA championship.

2004-05: The Celtics have a successful draft by selecting Al Jefferson, Delonte West, and Tony Allen. They also manage to dump the salaries of Chris Mihm, Chucky Atkins, and Jumaine Jones by picking up Gary Payton and Rick Fox (who immediately retires) from the Lakers. Danny Ainge hires Doc Rivers to coach the team. During the season, Ainge trades Payton to the Atlanta Hawks in order to reaquire Antoine Walker. The Hawks release Payton, who immediately resigns with the Celtics. The team manages to win 45 games and captures their first Atlantic Division title since the 1991-92 season. However, they lose in the first round to the Pacers, who finish them off in Game 7 at the Fleet Center.

2005-2006: Danny Ainge lets Gary Payton walk as a free agent and completes a sign-and-trade deal that sends Antoine Walker to the Miami Heat for Qyntel Woods and Curtis Borchardt (neither of whom ever play for the Celtics), two future second round picks, the rights to a Spanish center who never plays for them, cash, and some old Rainbow Bright trading cards. Ainge also signs Brian Scalabrine to a five year, $5 million contract. During the season, Ainge trades Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, and Marcus Banks to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Wally Szczerbiak (and his bad knees), Michael Olowokandi (and his lousy work ethic), and Dwayne Jones. Paul Pierce plays like an MVP, but the team finishes with a 33-49 record and doesn’t make the playoffs.

2006-07: The Celtics trade for Sebastian Telfair instead of drafting Brandon Roy; Telfair proves to be a bad fit, gets into legal trouble and is eventually released while Roy goes on to become the Rookie of the Year. Red Auerbach dies. Doc Rivers continues to "coach." Paul Pierce gets "injured" and the team begins to tank. This leads to a franchise-worst 18-game losing streak in the midst of a 2-22 stretch that lasts from December 2006 to February 2007. Dennis Johnson dies. The team finishes 24-58, which is the second worst record in the NBA. The team gives Rivers a contract extension. The Celtics effectively mortgage their future in the hopes of landing the first or second pick in the draft (and thus the chance of selecting Greg Oden or Kevin Durant). Instead, the Celtics end up with the fifth pick, which was (of course) the worst possible slot they could have drawn. It becomes official: the Celtics are doomed forever.

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The term "Destrucity" isn't just a word that was made up by the very, very insane Ultimate Warrior...it's what's happened to the Boston Celtics. Some people might date the Celtics' downfall to July 27, 1993 -- when Reggie Lewis passed away -- but the seeds of Destrucity were sown exactly 20 years ago, and they continue to bear evil fruit.

The following is part one of a timeline that describes the rotten luck and bad decisions that have turned the league's most storied franchise into a yearly embarrassment:

1986-87: Len Bias dies. Scott Wedman has off-season heal surgery and plays only six games. Bill Walton breaks his foot riding a stationary bike during the off-season and plays only 10 games. Kevin McHale has an MVP-caliber season before breaking his foot in March; he continues to play but is never again the same player. Robert Parish repeatedly sprains both ankles and suffers from tendonitis in his right elbow that's so bad he can't even make a fist. Larry Bird's back and right elbow continue to bother him. Dennis Johnson ages 17 years during the off-season. The Celtics' "bench" is reduced to Jerry Sichting and Greg Kite. Seriously. The Celtics finish with a record of 59-23, failing to win 60 games for the first time since 1982-83 and for only the second time in the Bird Era. They reach the NBA Finals by playing their starters 40 minutes per game, but ultimately surrender their title to the Lakers.

1987-88: Kevin McHale misses 19 games as he recovers from off-season foot surgery. Larry Bird injures both Achilles tendons only seven games into the season and never fully recovers. Bird also fractures his zygomatic arch, which causes his eye to pop out in the shower after the game in which the injury occurred. Dennis Johnson ages another eight years during the off-season. The "bench" features such stalwarts as the Mark Acres, Darren Daye, Brad Lohaus, and Fred Roberts. Things get so bad that the Celtics sign the now-ancient Artis Gilmore and trade for Jim Paxson (about four years past his "sell by" date). Reggie Lewis is a promising rookie, but K.C. Jones refuses to play him. Bird carries the team by playing 40 MPG and scoring 29.9 PPG on 53 percent shooting. The C’s win 57 games but fall to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals because their starters are exhausted*. K.C. Jones "retires."

*The Celtics held 4th quarter leads in all four games they lost.

1988-89: Jimmy Rogers becomes head coach. Larry Bird plays only six games before having season-ending surgery to remove bone spurs from both Achilles tendons. Dennis Johnson is officially running on fumes. Danny Ainge is traded for "Easy" Ed Pinckney and Joe "The Human Victory Cigar" Kleine. The Celtics win 42 games and sneak into the playoffs before getting swept in the first round by the eventual champion Detroit Pistons.

1989-90: The Celtics draft Michael Smith instead of Tim Hardaway, Shawn Kemp, B.J. Armstrong, Vlade Divac, Sherman Douglas (whom they will later trade for), or Cliff Robinson. Brian Shaw stages a contract holdout and leaves the Celtics to play with the Itialian team, Il Messaggero Roma. Larry Bird returns from his dual-Achilles surgery, but he injures his back when Michael Jordan undercuts and then falls on him in the Kenny Rogers Charity Basketball Tournament in Kentucky*. Dennis Johnson's corpse is now running (or, rather, walking) the Celtics' offense. Jimmy Rodgers tries to implement a "spread the wealth" offense and seemingly feuds with Bird (although both deny it). The team wins 52 games but fails to win the Atlantic Division. They are upset by the New York Knicks in the first round. Jimmy Rogers is fired.

*According to his second autobiography, Bird Watching: On Playing and Coaching The Game I Love, Bird said: "We were in the final minutes of this charity basketball game when I went up for a rebound and came down a little sideways. Michael Jordan was going for the ball too, and he landed on my back. Right away I knew I was in trouble. I had torn additional portions of the disc wall, and my back was really traumatized. I didn't know it then, all the way back in 1989, but that was the beginning of the end…I never came all the way back." Yet another reason I hate Michael Jordan.

1990-91: Dave Gavitt is named the Celtics' new CEO. Gavitt hires Chris Ford as coach and remakes the team by cutting Dennis Johnson (who then "retires"), persuading Brian Shaw to leave Italy and return to the Celtics, and convincing Red Auerbach to draft Dee Brown instead of Dwayne Schintzius (although the C's do pass up guys like Elden Campbell, Cedric Ceballos, and Antonio Davis). The Celtics blast out of the gates en route to a 29-5 start. But then Bird's back goes out and he misses 22 games. Shortly after Bird returns, McHale badly sprains an ankle and misses 14 games. Neither player ever fully recovers. The Celtics do manage to win 56 games, but they get pushed hard in the first round by the Indiana Pacers and then fall to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

1991-92: Larry Bird undergoes off-season back surgery. Dee Brown injures his knee and misses 51 games. Brian Shaw undercuts Bird in practice, re-injuring the Legend's troublesome back and causing him to miss 37 games. Ten games later, Shaw is traded to the Miami Heat for Sherman Douglas, who, as it turns out, sucks. McHale tears a calf muscle and misses 26 games. The Celtics' point guard situation becomes so dire that John Bagley becomes the starter. Somehow the team manages to win 51 games and take the Atlantic Division title away from the Knicks. They sweep the pacers in round one but fall to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference semifinals.

1992-93: Larry Bird retires. The Celtics sign Xavier McDaniel and find out that the X-Man does not equal Larry Bird. Kevin McHale ages dramatically. Reggie Lewis discovers it's a lot harder to be The Man than he ever could have imagined. However, the team remains relatively healthy and manages to win 48 games. Then Reggie Lewis collapses on the court during Game 1 of the Celtics' first round series against the Charlotte Hornets. Without Lewis, the Celtics lose the next three games despite a couple "turn back the clock" performances by McHale. The Hornets win their first ever playoff series...against the Celtics.

1993-94: Kevin McHale retires. Reggie Lewis dies. The Celtics draft Acie Earl to replace McHale and eventually succeed Robert Parish. In the process they fail to draft players such as Sam Cassell, Nick Van Exel, and Bryon Russell. They even could have had Gheorghe Muresan. The team finishes 32-50 and fails to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1978-79...the year before Larry Bird’s rookie season.

1994-95: The Celtics fire Dave Gavitt and M.L. Carr becomes the Celtics' General Manager. He drafts Eric Montross to replace Acie Earl, who, as it turns out, sucks. In doing so, he passes up Eddie Jones, Jalen Rose, Yinka Dare (kidding!!), and Voshon Lenard. To make matters worse, he chooses to let Robert Parish leave the team as a free agent in order to sign a washed up Dominique Wilkins and "Never Nervous" Pervis Ellison. The team finishes with a record of 35-47 yet somehow qualifies for the playoffs, where they are pounded into submission by Shaq and the NBA Finals-bound Orlando Magic.

1995-96: The Celtics adopt the Fleet Center as their new home and the Boston Garden is razed. M.L. Carr fires Chris Ford and names himself the new head coach. He then drafts Eric Williams instead of Theo Ratliff, Michael Finley, Travis Best, or Greg Ostertag (kidding...sort of). The Celtics feature a starting lineup of Rick Fox, Dino Radja, Eric Montross, Dana Barros, and David Wesley. The one bright spot is that Radja develops into an "almost 20/10" guy by averaging 19.7 PPG and 9.8 RPG while shooting over 50 percent. However, the team wins win only 33 games and fails to make the playoffs.

1996-97: The Celtics draft "Employee Number 8" Antoine Walker, passing up Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Jermaine O’Neal. Dino Radja suffers a mysterious ankle injury, misses 57 games, and never plays for the Celtics again. Walker shows some promise but the team is comprised of -- at best -- a group of secondary players: Eric Williams, Rick "I will one day get bitchslapped by Doug Christie" Fox, David Wesley, and Todd Day. They finish 15-67 -- the worst record in team history -- to become the front-runner in the "Tim Duncan Sweepstakes."

1997-98: M.L. Carr "steps aside" as the Celtics break the bank to hire legendary college coach Rick Pitino, who is named Front Office Manager and Head Coach. Pitino even steals the title of "Team President" away from Red Auerbach, who becomes the "Vice Chairman of the Board." Thanks to their worst-in-the-league record and a trade that sent Eric Montross to Dallas in exchange for the Mavericks’ first round pick, the Celtics have not one but two lottery picks. However, San Antonio (who finished the previous season with only 20 wins) gets the number one pick and happily drafts Tim Duncan. The painfully disappointed Celtics draft Chauncy Billups and Ron Mercer with the third and sixth picks in what turns out to be a very thin draft. However, the future all-star and NBA Finals MVP Billups plays in only 51 games before being traded to the Toronto Raptors. David Wesley and Rick Fox are released, and Eric Williams is traded to the Denver Nuggets. Antoine Walker goes off for 22 and 10 a game, but the team wins only 36 games and once again fails to make the playoffs.

Next: Part 2.

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Portland, Seattle and Atlanta all coming out on top of the 2007 Draft Lottery was a far more unlikely outcome than anything the Orlando Magic pulled off in 1993. Going in, you knew one of the mid-level teams had a decent chance of sneaking into the top three. But the chances that Memphis, Boston and Milwaukee -- all three of the worst teams in the league -- would all be pushed out of the top three were almost nil. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but they were still pretty damn low.

Expect the weighing of the lottery odds to come under plenty of scrutiny in the next few days. But the lottery itself can be an unsolvable dilemma. Is weighing the odds more in favor of the near-playoff teams hurting the teams that are legitimately terrible? Is tipping the scale more towards the basement dwellers encouraging teams to throw games? We need John Hollinger or the guys at 82games.com to create some sort of "Tanking Algorithm" or "Laziness Index" to get to the bottom of this.

I'm going to resist the urge to go on a conspiracy theory rant here, but I can't be the only one who's thinking that The Powers That Be stepped in to not only help franchises in financial peril (e.g., Seattle), but also prevent rewarding teams who unofficially announced their intentions to tank.

I feel especially bad for Celtics fans. Between Len Bias, Michael Smith, Rick Pitino, Antoine Walker, Eric Montross, Ron Mercer, Jerome Moiso, and Sebastian Telfair, I couldn't imagine the pain of being emotionally attached to the NBA equivalent of "Gilligan's Island".

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Jason Kidd Triple Double (ja'-sun kid trip'-ul dub'-ul) noun. A triple double in which the player barely reaches double figures in points, rebounds, and assists.

Usage example: Lebron almost had a Jason Kidd Triple Double last night: 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists.

Word Trivia: Jason Kidd is the NBA's foremost master of the triple double. He's third on the all-time list (behind only Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson) with 87. However, Kidd has never been a great scorer -- as evidenced by his lifetime averages of 15 PPG on 40 percent shooting -- so there are times he barely squeezes into double figures in points. Of his 87 triple doubles, 38 of them have featured a total of 15 points or less, 45 of 16 points or less, and 54 of 19 points or less. In fact, he's only scored more than 15 points in four of his last 20 triple doubles. A standard Jason Kidd Triple Double looks something like this: 10/11/11, 13/10/12, 12/10/11, 13/14/11, and so on.

Mind you, this term isn't meant to detract from Kidd's amazing versatility. Kidd averaged a career high 8.2 RPG this season (to go along with his 13 PPG and 9.2 APG) and actually led his team in rebounding...as a point guard. By the way, that 8.2 RPG average was good enough for 17th in the league, putting Kidd ahead of starting centers like Chris Kaman, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier, Mehmet Okur, and Eddy Curry. Amazingly, nobody really talks about this, probably because the Nets aren't a very good team. Did I mention Kidd got jobbed out of the 2002 MVP award? Well, he did.

[All triple double statistics were retrieved from Basketball-Reference.com.]

Jason Kidd TD
What fuels this triple double machine? Jersey.

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When I'm down, there's always something on YouTube to pick me up. In this case, a Ha Seung Jin highlight video, courtesy of NBA Live 2006.

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Here's a hypothetical situation for you:

1. Your old man is the most famous basketball player of all time.

2. As a consequence, you're filthy freaking rich.

3. Oh, and you're high school age.

Now let me ask you this: Think you might go out and do a little partying? Yeah, I thought so. Apparently Michael Jordan's sons are just like you and me...and they have gone wild. MediaTakeOut has published photos of Marcus Jordan smoking, drinking beer, and passed out in a puddle of his own puke involuntary personal protein spill. There are also several photos of Jeffrey "dancing suggestively" with various hot babes and eyeing a bottle of Grey Goose vodka. Oh. My. God. I can hardly stand it.

Maybe their parents' divorce is hitting them harder than we thought, or maybe they're just normal kids doing normal, stupid kid things. I'll let you be the judge.

Jordan son dance
He's...dancing with a girl! Scandalous!!

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The Spurs beat the Suns. In NBA parlance, that makes the Spurs the "better" team. The beauty and tragedy of professional sports is that they are a bottom line business in which winning is all that matters, and losers are relegated to historical footnotes.

Okay, fine. I'll take my medicine and accept the fact that the Suns lost. I'll even (grudgingly) accept that the NBA "did what it had to do" by suspending Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for Game 5.

What I will not accept, however, is the ridiculous notion that the Spurs were simply a superior team and the suspensions didn't have a significant effect on the outcome. Are you kidding me? Does anybody realize just how close this series really was? It was a dead heat in almost every statistical category, and it should be noted that the only truly dominating performance was put forth by the Suns in their Game 2 blowout. Let's take a closer look at the raw numbers.

Scoring: The Suns averaged 100.5 PPG (603 total points) to the Spurs 100 (600 total points). The Suns failed to reach 100 points only once -- surprise!! -- in Game 5. The Spurs failed to reach the century mark three times.

Shooting: The Suns shot 47 percent (226-for-477) for the series. The Spurs shot 45 percent (220-for-481). The Suns also shot 41 percent (37-for-89) from three-point range, while the Spurs shot 36 percent (44-for-122). The interesting part is that the Spurs attempted 33 more three-pointers than the Suns, which is the exact opposite of what I would have expected. The Suns shooting percentages for each game were as follows: 46, 52, 48, 48, 40, 48. Notice how they had their worst shooting performance in Game 5, when they were missing their leading scorer and best percentage shooter? I'm sure that was just a coincidence, though, and had nothing to do with Stoudemire's absense.

Rebounding: The Spurs averaged 41.6 RPG (250 total) and the Suns averaged 40 (240 total).

Assists: The Suns averaged 20.3 APG (122 total) and the Spurs averaged 18.5 (111 total). The Suns had their lowest assist total (18) in Game 5.

Steals: The Spurs averaged 7.8 SPG (47 total) and the Suns averaged 5.5 (33 total). The Suns worst game for steals was Game 5, when they had only three.

Blocks: The Spurs averaged 6.3 BPG (38 total) to the Suns' 6.1 (37 total). The Suns, however, outperformed the Spurs in this category in every game except Game 5, when they were missing their best interior defender and had only three blocks.

Turnovers: The Suns averaged 14.5 turnovers (87 total) to the Spurs' 14 (84 total).

By the numbers, this series was exceedingly close. The Suns worst performance, by far, was their critical loss in Game 5. They fell way below their series averages in every category except (surprisingly) rebounds. They led for most of that game, by the way, and only fell apart at the very end before losing by a mere three points. And there are people out there -- experts and analysts who get paid to break this stuff down -- who honestly believe that the Suns missing Stoudemire (their leading scorer, rebounder, percentage shooter, and best interior defender) and Diaw (his backup) when they already had a thin bench had no effect on the outcome.

Whatever. Those people are living in the NBA equivalent of the Smurf Village. It feels like an attempt to convince the fans that everything's okay, that officiating and league adjudication have no real effect on the eventual outcome of any series. But there's something wrong in the NBA. It's been wrong for a long time, and there's no sign that it's going to get better anytime soon.

Think about it. The NBA suspended Kobe Bryant twice this season for flailing his arms after a shot attempt and tagging his defenders in the chops. The league called Kobe's arm swipes "unnatural" moves and insisted that they endangered his opponents by striking them in the face. Then, after all that, they let Baron Davis pop Derek Fisher in the face with an intentional elbow, Al Harrington club Carlos Boozer in the face, and then allow Jason Richardson to clothesline Mehmet Okur. There wasn't a single suspension nor even a fine! Oh, did I forget to mention that Raja Bell got a one-game suspension in last year's playoffs for clotheslining Kobe Bryant? Where's the consistency? And don't even get me started on all the stuff Bruce Bowen pulls.

(Although I will say this about Bowen. Remember earlier this season when the league office called him directly and told him to lay off the "foot defense"? Well guess what? He's still doing it. Another example of how the league can't or won't police its players appropriately.)

That's what it's come to. Whether it's Dwyane Wade getting almost 20 freethrow attempts per game in the Finals or Joey Crawford suspending Tim Duncan for laughing, both casual and serious fans have reason to wonder what the hell's going on. It's also important to note that Crawford had every right to hit Duncan with a technical in that game. After all, the NBA enacted a zero tolerance policy against players complaining about calls. And everybody who knows the sport knows Duncan was doing just that. Hey, zero policy means zero policy, right? Whther it's stepping up off the bench to check on a teammate or bitching about a ticky tac foul. Crawford had the right to interpret that rule the way he did. But then the league came out and said what he did was wrong, even though they gave him the power and authority to do it.

Officiating is terrible. The league's tyrannical attitude towards certain rules and unwillingness to consistently enforce other rules is embarrassing and shameful. It's really sapping all the joy out of watching basketball for me. I might be done with the playoffs this year.

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I can safely say that the majority of NBA fans did not want the Phoenix Suns to lose in the Conference Semis. Especially the way they did. And I can safely say that I do not want to see the Spurs and the Pistons in a rematch of the 2005 Finals.

Even though that series went the full seven games, at times the '05 Finals were nearly unwatchable. For starters, the first four games were decided by an average of 21 points. In three of those games, the losing team shot 40% or worse.

The remaining three games were competitive, but in the low-scoring, two-dogs-chewing-on-each-other slugfest-style of the 1990's. Do you have fond memories of the 1994 Finals, where the Rockets or Knicks would win handily by barely scoring 90 points?

The high-scoring Phoenix, Denver and Golden State shootouts (insert Stephen Jackson joke) have spoiled us this postseason. This June, mentally prepare yourself for the basketball equivalent of a root canal.

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Hopefully you've recovered from Cheap Shot Bob and Horrygate in time to watch the Bulls postseason come to a painful, screeching halt.

Over the last few days, I've heard more iterations of "Ben Gordon has finally figured out the Pistons zone", "The Bulls are one of the best home teams in the league", "The Bulls are back...I'm callin' a game seven" than I care to mention. That made tonight's game quite possibly the most heavily stat-cursed sporting event since Buster Douglas punched-out Mike Tyson, sending him on a downward spiral towards unprecedented insanity (much like my college graduation).

Although the Bulls stayed competitive, things went wrong immediately. Kirk Hinrich suddenly turned into Randy Brown. At one point Tyrus Thomas had more fouls than minutes. It took a career night from PJ Brown to keep it close; he was the only Bull in double figures well into the 3rd quarter. Even 'Sheed's imminent meltdown (which was awesome; he nearly swallowed his mouthpiece on an obvious traveling call) didn't get him booted! Murphy's Law in full effect.

The Bulls offseason should be an interesting one. Back in the Jerry Krause days I'd be worried Luol Deng would be dealt to Utah for Rafael Araujo and a conditional second rounder. But John Paxson is smarter than that. Unless he resigns Mike Sweetney, then I'll have to edit this post.

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After the New York Knicks built a 3-1 series lead against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1973 NBA Finals, the Lakers' team physician, Dr. Robert Kerlan, uttered -- as Wilt Chamberlain put it -- one of the classic lines in sports history:

"The pressure is all on the Knicks. They have to win one game."

It sounded crazy at the time, and it turned out to be just as looney as it sounded, because the Knicks closed out the series with a 102-93 win in Game 5. But maybe Kerlan was pulling a Nostradamus and looking ahead 34 years to the Bulls/Pistons series. After taking a 3-0 lead, the Pistons only needed one more game to finish off the Bulls. Two games later, they still need that one game.

Do I still think the Pistons will win this series? Absolutely. But they aren't doing themselves any favors. Their businesslike approach helped them polish off the Orlando Magic in short order, and it helped them build a nice cushion in this series, but...where's the sense of urgency? The killer instinct? Those a qualities that are absolutely necessary for a team to win a championship. So even if they win, you really have to question their chances going forward.

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Here's a true story. A few years ago, I was hanging out at night club with a couple female friends. I was standing off to the side, just sort of people watching, when a guy came up and started hitting on the girls. After 47 unsuccessful attempts at buying them drinks, he resorted to what I can only assume was a desperate, last-ditch attempt at wooing them. "Wanna see a magic trick?" he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he plopped his butt onto the edge of their table and started gyrating. "I call this...'ass on table,'" he said with a pride born of sheer, drunken stupidity.

Crappy magic? Yes (although not quite as bad as those lousy David Blaine commercials). Although it was good enough to make him disappear almost immediately. So that's something, I guess.

My point is this: Some things, even if they make you laugh, are simply painful to watch. In that vein, is anyone outside of Cleveland and New Jersey bothering to follow the Nets/Cavaliers series? The Cavaliers have been the single most unwatchable team of the 2007 playoffs, and things went from "bad" to "claw my eyes out with a spoon" last night. Here are the lowlights:

1. The Cavaliers shot 33 percent (24-for-72) for the game.

2. Lebron James and Larry Hughes combined to shoot 8-for-31.

3. Donyell Marshall was 0-for-7.

4. The Nets scored 6 points in the 4th quarter. Why? Well...

5. They shot 1-for-15 from the field.

6. Oh, and only 4-for-10 from the freethrow line.

7. And Jason Kidd? He missed five straight freethrows in the last 56 seconds.

8. Kidd also had 8 turnovers by the way.

9. Fortunately for the Nets, the Cavs only scored 13 points in the 4th.

10. On 3-for-17 shooting.

I should probably also point out that the Nets shot 45 percent (9-for-20) from the line for the game. What, did they hire Shaq as their new freethrow coach? Oh, man. Just a terrible game all around, even worse than Game 4 of this series, which I wouldn't have thought possible before seeing this one. My prediction for the rest of the series? Whoever totally sucks the least...wins.

James vomit
"This series...so bad...I think I just
threw up in my mouth a little.

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The 2007 NBA Playoffs have forced almost daily updates to my "Dead To Me" list. Here's the current listing:

10. Reed Richards and Tony Stark
9. Seventeen-year cicadas
8. People who misuse ellipsis points
7. I-290 East (prior to the Austin Blvd. exit)
6. Hugh Jackman
5. Linear algebra
4. Kobe Bryant*
3. StubHub
2. Stu Jackson
1. San Antonio Spurs

*This is the first time Kobe's been out of the top 3 since the fall of 2001.

So...what have the NBA playoffs taught us so far? That it's okay to sweep a leg (Bruce Bowen), knee an opponent in the frigamajig (Bowen again), mash somebody's face with an elbow (Baron Davis), and clothesline a guy nearly to death (Jason Richardson) -- none of those plays resulted in a suspension (and lest anyone forget, Kobe Bryant got suspended this season, twice, for doing less). It is not okay, however, to step over a painted line after somebody shoulder-tackles your two-time MVP teammate into the scorer's table. Way to maintain order, David Stern!

This is a textbook example of traveshamockery. A roleplayer from one team thugs the best player on the opposing team, and the team that gets punished is the one that was victimized in the first place. NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson had the audacity to say, ""It's not a matter of fairness. It's a matter of correctness."

Really, Stu? Is that right?

Here's what I want to know. How is the "can't leave the bench" edict the only true zero tolerance rule in the NBA? Everything other rule is open to some manner of interpretation. If a player charges into the stands after an abusive fan, he might get suspended 11 games (Vernon Maxwell), 73 games (Ron Artest), or only 1 game (Antonio Davis). If a player punches somebody, he might get suspended for five games, or he might get 25. Every situation is unique and must therefore be judged on its own merit. I mean, referees are forced to make judgement calls all the time on what consitutes a hand-check, a travelling violation, a charge, a flagrant foul, and so on. Why can't there be a judgement call in this type of situation? There's also supposed to be a zero tolerance policy for post-whistle complaining, but players bitch and moan about fouls (and non-fouls) all the time. The fact is, NBA officials have always been able to pick and choose how and when they enforce the rules.

But that's all beside the point. "Zero tolerance" rules are designed by people in positions of power who want to absolve themselves of the need to use logic or wisdom. They can always fall back on this excuse to disarm their critics. The granddaddy of all zero tolerance rules is that the referee is always right, but when Joey Crawford threw Tim Duncan out of a game for laughing at his calls from the bench, the league decided that Crawford needed to be punished for his behavior. Apologists for the NBA can say that Crawford was punished because he asked if Duncan wanted to fight, but asking "Do you want to fight?" is the lamest of aggressive things ever said on a basketball court, even by officials. Crawford was punished because, against all reason, he chose to eject one of a team's critical players during one of the league's critical matchups. And now the NBA is doing the exact same thing.

This is not a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation for the NBA. The following would be a completely legitimate statement by Commissioner Stern regarding this incident:

"In light of the fact that there were no punches thrown and that this incident began as a result of aggressive action taken by the Spurs, I consider it more prudent to follow the spirit of the law. Following the letter of the law in this case would create a very high incentive for teams to send thugs onto the floor to fight in an effort to get opposing benches suspended. I cannot in good conscience allow such a precedent by rewarding bad behavior. In a related story, Robert Horry has been suspended for the next Spurs/Suns game."

That didn't happen though, and it won't. And in the meantime, the Spurs have become the new Bad Boys. They've very quietly played rough and dirty for years, to the point where their behavior is now an irrevocable part of the institution. Trying to combat their tactics is like trying to stop a tank by blowing on it with a straw. You can't talk about it without being labeled a whiner, you can't react without being punished, and you can't count on the league to protect you.

You know what I'd like to see? Retribution. If I was coach Mike D'Antoni, I'd send Pat Burke into the game and instruct him to guard Duncan. I'd tell Burke to do his best Bill Laimbeer impersonation and pull every dirty trick in the book. I'd have him grab, hold, and trip. I'd tell him to step on Duncan's feet and undercut him at every opportunity. Then I'd tell him to deliver five of the hardest possible fouls whenever it looked like Duncan might shoot the ball. Then, for foul number six, I'd order Burke to level Duncan. Just drop him to the floor. Let's see whether any of the Spurs lose their cool and jump off the bench. I'm sure the Phoenix players would be more than happy to donate the money needed to pay Burke's fines.

Would that be a petty, rotten, dirty thing to do? Maybe. But it's not a matter of fairness. It's a matter of correctness.

[Many thanks to Evil Ted for his contributions.]

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Well, well, well...Robert Horry's late-game shoulder block sure blew the lid off of Pandora's Box, didn't it? So what's going to happen now? Will Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw be suspended for Game 5, effectively handicapping the Suns in a must-win situation? It's been pointed out over at TrueHoop (among other places) that the NBA rules stipulate that players cannot leave the bench during a fight...but there wasn't a fight. Just a hard foul and some harsh words. So the final decision should be a simple one: only Cheap Shot Bob should be suspended.

But nothing's ever simple, and the NBA has another image problem on its hands. Many thanks to reader Arif Rahman for bringing to this little tidbit from Steve Kerr's Yahoo column to my attention:

"However, if the league decides to suspend Diaw and Stoudemire, it may have to suspend Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen as well. In a play that went entirely unnoticed until well after the game was over, both Duncan and Bowen actually left San Antonio's bench early in the second quarter after Francisco Elson and James Jones were entangled. Replays clearly show Duncan walking several steps onto the court as Elson and Jones appeared to be ready to get into it. Bowen then followed Duncan onto the floor, grabbed him and led him back to the bench. If the league does indeed follow the letter of the law, both Spurs players would also be suspended for Game 5."

So there you have it. The NBA must choose whether to hand out (or not hand out) suspensions based either on the spirit of the law or the letter of the law. But if Stoudemire and Diaw get the hook for Game 5 and Duncan and Bowen don't...well, then that would be a pretty serious miscarriage of justice.

Random observation from Evil Ted: "How did the Spurs become the bad guys? Bruce Bowen, that's how. F**king 'foot defense.'"

Edit: Here's the video of Duncan and Bowen coming off the bench.

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Nash pissed
Does it really take that many arms
to restrain Steve Nash? Seriously?!

I can't believe Phoenix pulled off that win last night.

The Spurs did almost everything right. They set the tempo. They clogged the lane. They ran out at the three-point shooters. They worked the ball around and continously got high-percentage shots. They dominated almost the entire game and held double-digit leads for long stretches of the third and fourth quarters. The Suns made a run -- as everybody knew they would -- but when the Spurs pushed their lead back to 97-92 with a couple minutes to go, I figured it was over.

Guess I was wrong.

How'd the Suns do it? Well, first off, they got a little road cookin' in that all the critical calls went their way in the 4th quarter. There were some iffy charges and at least one ticky-tac "and 1" in which Leandro Barbosa clearly initiated the contact with Tony Parker. But even more telling is the fact that Tim Duncan got called for travelling twice. Now mind you, both calls were absolutely correct. He shuffled his feet. But Duncan always shuffles his feet...it just doesn't get called, certainly not in the 4th quarter of a home playoff game. But they got him last night.

Of course, even though the Suns got a lot of favorable whistles night, I'd like to point one thing out. You know those handchecking rules that David Stern enacted to free up perimeter players and fast breaking teams? Apparently those rules apply to everybody but the Spurs. They handcheck on every possession. In fact, I think Steve Nash should stencil some hand outlines on his jersey so it's easier for Bruce Bowen to remember where to grab on.

Anyway, it's funny how a few calls here and there will get a team going. Because to tell you the truth, the only Suns player who looked like he really believed they could win during the second half was Steve Nash. The rest of the team looked scared and tentative. Guys were even passing up shots. It was kind of embarrassing, and I think Nash looked a little pissed off about it. But once the whistling winds of change started blowing their way, the Suns got that "We Believe" look in their eyes.

Then it was just a plain, old-fashioned gut check, symbolized by not one, but two behind-the-back passes from Steve Nash to Amare Stoudemire for layups (and not easy ones), the second of which gave the Suns their first lead since it was 38-37 in the first half.

But even when the game was basically decided, the Spurs chose not to go down quietly. That's when Robert Horry -- who for the last few years has been playing the role of the "lovable grandpa" everybody can count on -- channeled his inner Bill Laimbeer and blasted Nash out of bounds. It was a sucker punch worthy of Ric Flair, but I'll give Horry some credit. He didn't pull a Bruce Bowen, which is when you cheapshot somebody, then adopt a look of purest innocence and pretend it was unintentional. No, Horry pistol-whipped Nash and gave him a look like, "That's right, I did that to you."

It's hard to say what Horry's intention was. It sured seemed like he was trying to bait somebody into a fight, which almost happened when Raja Bell charged onto the scene. And of course Nash's teammates on the bench, primarly Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, jumped to their feet and onto the court. Now we have to wait and see if those players get suspended. Yeah, they violated the letter of the law (no leaving the bench during altercations), but not the spirit of the law (which is to prevent brawls). Personally, I think it would be unfair of Stern to suspend anybody on the Suns, particularly after the brutality of Horry's hit and all of Bowen's dirty little tricks. We'll see.

Great win for Phoenix, though. They regained home court advantage and now they [CLICHE ALERT!!] once again control their own destiny.

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Did Bruce Bowen really mean to knee Steve Nash in his fleshy man parts? Of course he did.

Did Steve Nash really mean to execute a "Smash of the Seven Assasins" on Kobe's fandangled mandangler? I certainly hope so.

Extra: Bowen has also been pulling off his infamous "foot defense" during these playoffs...

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I'm almost ashamed to admit this now, but I used to hate Derek Fisher. I mean, he was a Laker for god's sake...and that made him The Enemy. Watching Derek Fisher break down and cry after the the Spurs eliminated the Lakers in Game 6 of the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals was seriously one of my happiest moments of my basketball-watching life. Conversely, watching Fisher hit The Shot That Dethroned The Spurs in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference Semifinals was one of the worst, and it only made me hate him all the more.

When Fisher left Los Angeles for Golden State, I laughed with devilish glee, because not only did it signal the glorious end of the Lakers' mini-dynasty, it also meant that he was doomed to under-perform on a crappy team...a fitting end for someone so reviled.

But then he went to Utah Jazz, a team I quietly root for year after year. I was decidely not happy, especially this season when the team appeared strong but doomed by Fisher's inability to stick opposing 2-guards on defense (seriously, Derek gave up a half-dozen 50-point games). I even went so far as to tell a friend, who's a Lakers fan, that Fisher was "my Smush Parker."

Well, I was wrong, okay?

Fisher's a true leader with a huge heart. He's also a brave and loving father.

Yesterday, he scored 21 points -- 14 of which came in the 4th quarter -- to help the Jazz stick a knife in the hearts of the upstart Warriors and their rabid fans. What made the win even more amazing was the fact that it happened in Oakland, where nobody was supposed to be able to win this postseason. In fact, Baron Davis became so unhinged he took a cheap shot in the form of a Macho Man Randy Savage-esque elbow smash across Fisher's mug. That was followed later by a Jason Richardson clothesline on Mehmet Okur, and suddenly the Warriors had transformed from the babyface to the heel.

But none of that is important. What's really important is what I have to say right here and now:

Derek? I'm sorry.

Excuse me, Derek. How did you
become so freaking awesome?

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If you aren't duly impressed by what the Utah Jazz have been doing in the playoffs this year, then you either 1) hate basketball or 2) have no soul. Either way, I'll be by this evening to jam a wooden stake through your heart...just in case.

I've been engaged in a season-long argument with my buddies over at The Association, who seem to delight in calling this Jazz team a "fraud." Personally, I didn't see it. A fraud is something that people are tricked into thinking is one thing, but in actuality is something quite different. Yet the Jazz have always been one of the most consistent (and predictable) teams in the league: They rough you up on defense, execute a precise offense, crash the boards at both ends, and hustle for 48 minutes.

But based on their first nine playoff games, maybe I was wrong. Maybe the Jazz really are frauds. Because few people expected them to beat the Rockets at their own "grind it to a halt and ride our superstars" game, and nobody expected them to beat the Warriors in an up-tempo shootout. Yet that's exactly what happened with the Rockets, and it's what's happening now with the Warriors (although things may change when the series moves to Oakland). The Jazz have proven far more adaptable than anybody expected. And shame on all of us for not seeing it sooner.

The Jazz have long been considered a bland, one-dimensional team comprised of -- at best -- second-tier talent. But take a closer look at their roster. They have a "Stockton and Malone Lite" in Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. They have a soft-shooting center who's surprisingly effective on the boards (Mehmet Okur), an international man of mystery (Andrei Kirilenko), an eager rookie (Dee Brown), a slowing but stout-hearted veteran (Derek Fisher), and a handful of sturdy roleplayers (Matt Harpring, Paul Millsap, and Gordan Giricek). They may not be fast, athletic, or particularly flashy, but they're a group of mature, disciplined athletes who work exceptionally hard and have what experts like to call "high basketball IQs." All things being equal, there's no reason they shouldn't be able to play any style of basketball necessary to win.

But all things aren't equal, and the Jazz are often thought of as the on-court personification of their coach, Jerry Sloan, who looks (god love him) like a background extra from a zombie movie. His old-school approach is considered boring and unimaginative: it focuses on sound defense, controlled offense, and a whole lot of hustle. Even with a career coaching record of 1035-689 and a string of 50-win seasons a mile long, Sloan couldn't win a Coach of the Year award if his life depended on it. I think one of the primary reasons for this is that Sloan isn't an innovator. He never tries to reinvent the wheel. He expects his players to beat up their opponents and run the pick-and-roll as many times as it takes to outscore the other guys. End of story.

But maybe Sloan is mellowing out in his old age. The Jazz are still playing their game -- in Game 2 they crushed the Warriors on the boards 60 to 32 -- but Sloan is loosening the reins a little bit too. In Game 1, the Jazz attempted 23 three-pointers, almost double their season average of 12.9 per game. And last night he actually let Kirilenko play point guard when Williams (foul trouble), Brown (injury), and Fisher (late arrival) were unavailable. My jaw dropped the first time Andrei brought the ball up the court, but you know what? It worked out okay, and once again I was suprised when I probably shouldn't have been.

So yeah, maybe the Jazz are frauds...because they're much more than any of us thought they were. But they're also very much for real. Bring on Game 3.

Edit: I didn't mean to exclude Derek Fisher's bravery nor his late-game heroics. He's awesome. A lot of people are singing his praises as well or better than I can, so I'll just say one last thing: don't you think the Lakers wish they'd had him instead of Smush Parker this season?

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HPTFZ (ach pe te ef ze) noun. An acronym that stands for "hyperbolic, paraboloid, transitional, floating zone defense." It is a matchup zone that relies on long-limbed, versatile defensive players who can communicate effectively and adjust quickly to the changing shape of the offense. Each defensive player must cover a specific offensive player until that man leaves his area. The defenders must continuously pick up and switch, handing a man off if he goes away from the ball or staying with him if he goes toward the ball. The primary benefit to this strategy is that it limits penetration and inside play, forcing the opposing team to shoot a high percentage from the outside.

Usage example: The Pistons are killing the Bulls by using the HPTFZ defense.

Word History: The HPTFZ was invented by Detroit Pistons coach Flip Saunders prior to the 2001-2002 season, when zone defenses became legal in the NBA. Go here for the full story.

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Prior to the current season, NBA commissioner David Stern instituted the so-called "Rasheed Wallace Rule," a zero-tolerance policy that (kinda sorta) prohibits post-whistle bitching and moaning. Unfortunately, pickup leagues don't have commissioners or referees, and therefore we can't get anti-complaint legislation passed, let alone enforced. But man oh man, I wish we could.

Here's the thing: Pickup basketball works on the honor system. You're expected to call your own fouls in a just and reasonable manner, and the other players are then obliged to respect the call. But if that ever actually happens in your league, please, by all means, let me know...because I'll personally call the Guiness Book of World Records people for you.

See, most pickup players have been balling for 10, 15, even 20 or more years. During that time, they have evolved into sophisticated basketball machines; a vast supply of experience combined with their athletic prowess and laser-like reflexes make them incapable of committing a foul. Or so they think.

So when you do call a foul against someone, that person naturally gets bent the hell out of shape. It's like you just accused your mom of never hugging you as a child, or told your girlfriend she looks fat in, well, everything she owns. Eyes bulge. Arms flail. Curses are shouted toward the unforgiving heavens. What follows is what I like to call The Three Four Stages of Foul Dispute.

Stage 1 - Denial: As soon as the foul has been called -- and sometimes before the words can even leave your mouth -- the opposing player immediately contradicts you. They don't even take the time to analyze what you said, because they know in their heart that they never, ever, under any number of crazy circumstances, could have committed a foul. In the immortal words of Dr. Cox: "Never; not in a million years; absolutely not; no way, Jose; no chance, Lance; nyet; negatory; mm-mm; nuh-uh; and of course my own personal favorite of all time, man falling off of a cliff -- NOOOOOOOoooooooo!"

Example 1a: Last night, Partial Hand Guy set a pick on me. I tried to run around the pick, but as I was doing so he stuck out his exceptionally large ass. Once his ass caught me, he began scooting backward with as much force as he could, in effect bulldozing me backwards with his butt cheeks. The man I was defending, now wide open, shot and hit a three-pointer. On my way back upcourt, I said, "You can't set moving picks. Watch it." Mind you, I didn't call a foul. I was just giving a slightly less-than-friendly reminder that moving picks are, in fact, illegal. Instead of admitting his transgression and (reluctantly) agreeing not to set any more moving picks, or even just quietly accepting what I had to say, he naturally freaked out. "What?! No I didn't! Come on now, that was a clean pick!"

Example 2a: Later, while I was bringing the ball upcourt, Spaz Guy -- who loves to apply full-court pressure -- charged at me with wildly swinging arms. His hand caught me hard across the wrist and the ball popped out of my hands. Never, at any point, did he get so much as a fingernail on the ball. "Got it," I said. His reply? "Wha...what?! Are you kidding me?! Is everything a foul?!"

Stage 2 - Obfuscation: For some reason, many people feel that getting called out or accused of committing a foul is the worst possible embarrassment, worse even than those guys who get caught on Dateline's To Catch A Predator series. So after first making a strong-worded denial, the next step is to embarrass their opponent right back. This means making a sort of reverse accusation, which more often than not has nothing whatsoever to do with the call that was made. The person who committed the foul tries to take a moral stand, accusing the person who called the foul of some previous wrongdoing, either real or imagined, that was worse, wasn't called (out of "mercy"), or both.

Example 1b: Once Partial Hand Guy realized that I wasn't going to accept his denial of the illegal pick, he made a seamless transition from defense to offense. "Oh yeah? Well you travel every single time you touch the ball...I could call that every time!"

Example 2b: As he was stomping his way toward the other end of the court, Spaz Guy felt the need to point out that "You double-dribbled just a couple minutes ago, and I didn't call that! Jesus!"

Stage 3 - Justification: By denying the foul and then pointing a finger at you, the defender has given himself the time necessary to catch his breath and think up a really good explanation of why, exactly, the foul was not really a foul. The hope, of course, is that everyone is so fatigued and confused, nobody will be able to remember exactly what happened, assuming they even saw it in the first place. And at that point, it's your word against his...a veritable no-win situation.

Example 1c: After a heated debate on whether or not I actually manage to travel on every possession, Partial Hand Guy finally got around to pointing out that he wasn't moving on the pick. He was rolling. "I can roll to the basket after I set a pick. That's perfectly legal." Forget the fact that he had his head down, his hands at his sides, and he wasn't even moving toward the basket. It was really a pick-and-roll, and not a pick-and-push-me-the-hell-out-of-the-way. Suuuuuure.

Example 2c: Once Spaz Guy had finished recounting the exact nature of my supposed double-dribble, complete with pantomime and a running commentary, he returned to what presumably was the original point. "And anyway, I didn't hit your arm. I got all ball, and after I stole it your arm came up and hit me in the face." It was, at best, a rewriting of history and, at worst, a ridiculous lie. But it sounded plausible enough to him. He wasn't getting the ball back -- no one ever does, just like in the NBA -- but he now felt absolved of any wrongdoing. And in the end, that's really what it's all about.

Edit: Many thanks to reader JamieK for pointing out the forgotten fourth stage of dispute...

Stage 4 - Threats of Retribution: This is where the person who committed the foul promises to start making every conceivable call against you and your team. "Oh, I see how it is. I'm gonna start calling everything too." Sometimes this is merely a bluff, a classic case of someone blowing off steam. But, more often than not, there will be at least one or two ticky-tack makeup calls immediately thereafter. And usually they're of the exceedingly petty variety. Hand checking? Yup. Three second violation? Of course. Palming? You know it. Fortunately, these are the kinds of calls that can turn a person's own team against him, and once his teammates start groaning and snarking at him, things usually return to normal.

Until the next foul.

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"I'm still glad that we didn't shake their hands. They were whiners and criers. Piss on them."

-"Mr. Sportsmanship" Bill Laimbeer, referring to how he and the other Detroit Pistons starters marched off the court without shaking hands or offering congratulations after being swept by the Chicago Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. If you're wondering why the Pistons hired Celtics legend Dave Cowens as an assistant coach instead of Laimbeer -- who was named the 2003 WNBA Coach of the Year and led the Detroit Shock to two league titles -- that's probably a good reason why. That and the fact that he's pure, dag nasty evil.

Bill Laimbeer: Proud member of the All-Asshole Team

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Here's an interesting excerpt from Sam Smith's magnum opus The Jordan Rules:

"The Bulls coaches had inspected [the basket in front of the Piston's bench] and believed the Pistons had tinkered with it. A rubber-and-foam piece usually found behind the rim appeared to be missing. [Phil] Jackson had studied tapes of the Pistons games noticed that whenever the Pistons were shooting at that basket, they had their best rebounders in the game and crashed hardest for offensive rebounds. Jackson knew the Pistons were one of the greatest teams ever at screening and hitting the boards, but this was different. It was almost as if they expected to miss more on this particular basket."

That passage is from a book written about the Chicago Bulls' 1990-91 championship season. Why am I bringing it up now? Because something struck me as particularly odd in Game 1 of the Bulls/Pistons series: The west-end* basket seemed tight. Exceptionally tight. Like, tight way beyond what you would expect after almost 90 games of professional basketball.

*Direction relative to how it is viewed on television.

The Pistons started the game shooting at the basket in question, and they gangbanged the boards for 12 of their 14 offensive rebounds en route to establishing a 13-point halftime lead. The Bulls switched to that basket for the second half, and things promptly went from "bad" to "tragic." Chicago scored only 28 points after halftime (an all-time team playoff low), including a 12-point fourth quarter. Speaking of that fourth quarter...the Bulls hit only one of their first 15 shots and ended the stanza 3-for-20.

Of course, some of the Bulls' second-half shots were -- as you would expect -- simply off the mark. But some of them were close to dead-on. If you go back and watch the game again, you'll notice that several shots were halfway down the cylinder before kicking back out like they were shot from a gun. Others hit the mark only to clunk off the rim like it was made of stone. There was absolutely no give whatsoever in the west-end basket. I mean, the physics were crazy wrong. I haven't seen anything quite like it in all my years of watching and playing basketball.

Mind you, I'm not trying to give the Bulls a free pass here. They sucked. As a team, they committed 22 turnovers that the Pistons converted into 19 points. The Chicago bench was beyond woeful, shooting a combined 3-for-3o ("led" by Andres Nocioni's 1-for-8 performance). Furthermore, the Pistons played an agressive and energetic brand of defense the Bulls never faced against the Heat.

That said...something was up with that west-end basket. I'm sure of it. And if you wanted to shake up a young and already nervous team, a little basket tampering would certainly do the trick. Maybe I'm wrong here, but it's worth noting that Joe Dumars, the Pistons' President of Basketball Operations, was a member of that "Bad Boys" Pistons team that Phil Jackson accused of such trickery back in the early 90s.

Kirk pain

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Avery pain
The look of ultimate suffering.

Let the crucifixion of Dirk Nowitzki officially begin.

You know the story: The Dallas Mavericks won 67 games this season -- which tied for the sixth best win total in NBA history -- but still got eliminated in the first round by the Golden State Warriors, a team that won only 42 games and qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. And the Mavs weren't just eliminated, mind you. They personally established several new "greatest playoff upset" records that will be talked about and rehashed for years to come. That's humiliation on a grand and historic scale.

Mr. "MVP-to-be" Nowitzki averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds in the series, but he shot 38 percent from the field and 21 percent from three-point range -- 12 and 20 percent dropoffs from his regular season totals. The final game of the series was also his worst: 8 points on 2-for-13 shooting, 0-for-6 from beyond the arc, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers. But the numbers don't really tell the whole story. Dirk was a non-factor througout the series, and most of the time you could hardly even tell he was on the court. He played a total of 239 minutes, but he looked like an MVP for only three of them. That 3-minute tour de force staved of elimination and produced a couple days worth of "Dirk earned his MVP" stories, but in the end it only delayed the inevitable.

Make no mistake, though. This was a team loss. Only Josh Howard picked up his game (21 PPG, 10 RPG, 51 percent shooting) in the playoffs. The rest of the Mavericks sunk like a turd in the toilet, both offensively and defensively. The Mavericks had more talent, more depth, and more playoff experience than the Warriors. They also had that "we should've been the champs last year" swagger that underscored their desire to win the championship this year. Then simply got outplayed.

Last summer, after disappearing in the NBA Finals, Dirk took some shrapnel, but he's definitely going to fall on the grenade for this one. In some ways, it's unfair. After all, he didn't establish the de facto rule that the MVP has to be the best player from one of the best teams in the league. And it's not his fault that the media seemed to decide, en masse, that Steve Nash simply couldn't be allowed to win a third straight MVP. If he is indeed named MVP, as everyone suspects, it will be by default. He didn't ask for the award, or the weight of expectations that go with it.

That's how it work, though, and this will forever be remembered as the series that in which the MVP didn't come through.

But I don't blame Dirk. Not completely, anyway. Yes, I do think he should have done more to expand his game this season, particularly by taking advantage of his size and playing closer to the basket. Everybody likes to compare Nowitzki to Larry Bird, who also had a dynamite outside shot but was terribly slow afoot. In 1984, the Lakers employed the same tactic against Bird that the Warriors used against Nowitzki: using a smaller, quicker defender to either deny him the ball or keep a hand in his face at all times. Bird's adjustment was the obvious one: take his defender, Michael Cooper, down low and beat the crap out of him. It worked.

Why didn't Dirk do the same thing? I guess it's just not his game. But that's when the coaching staff and his teammates need to step in and say, "Uh, Dirk, you're half a foot taller than the guy guarding you. Maybe you should get into the post." That's not rocket science, people. It's Basketball 101. How could they miss that?

I think the Mavericks got complacent. They made the NBA Finals last year and they rampaged through the regular season this year. But they did it with a lot of outside shooting and one-on-one play. Over the past three seasons, they've won 58, 60, and 67 games while being one of the worst passing teams in the league. Didn't anyone realize how much the Mavericks relied on Dirk shooting over people? And on Jason Terry and Josh Howard taking their man off the dribble?

And it didn't help that the team wasn't mentally prepared. They coasted through the last couple weeks, and the starters barely played in the last three or four games of the regular season. Meanwhile the Warriors were fighting for their playoff lives, winning nine of their last ten and 16 of 21 overall. They were psyched, their fans were psyched, and the Mavericks were just twiddling their thumbs waiting for the coronation.

It's happened before. The 1999-2000 Lakers also won 67 games but got pushed to the limit in the first round by the Sacramento Kings. But nobody remembers that because they managed to win the series and, a few weeks later, the title. But that's history for you. It's incredibly kind to the winners, and exceptionally cruel to the losers.

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I came across a Sports Illustrated article (via TrueHoop) that points out how Jason Terry couldn't get the ball to Dirk Nowitzki during Game 4 of the Mavericks/Warriors series. The inference seems to be that Dallas, as a team, occasionally struggles to distribute the ball to their best players for high percentage shots.

This isn't a new thing, people.

As Hubie Brown once said, "Winning covers up a multitude of sins." The Mavericks' greatest "sin" as a team is their relative lack of ball movement. They were tied (with the Boston Celtics!) for 24th in the league in assists per game this season (19.9). The only teams below them were (in this order): the Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, and Portland Trailblazers. Did you notice the rather disturbing pattern there? Except for the Magic -- who finished the season below .500 (40-42) and were unceremoniously swept in the first round by the Pistons -- those were all lottery teams. In the playoffs so far, the Mavs are ranked 13th out of 16 with an average of 17.4 APG. That's only 2.4 more than Steve Nash is averaging by himself.

I don't know about you, but I find it alarming that the best team in the league (by the numbers) is also one of the worst passing teams (by the numbers), particularly since they rank in the top ten in scoring. Maybe I'm a sucker, but I've always kind of assumed that the best teams were the best at moving the ball around to the open man. Not so for Dallas. Last season, they ranked second-to-last (ahead of the dreadful Knicks) in APG, and the season before that they ranked ahead of only the Magic, Wizards, Pacers, and Supersonics. The Mavs haven't been in the top ten in APG since -- you guessed it -- Steve Nash was wearing the green and white.

During last year's playoffs, Dallas was ranked 14th in APG, ahead of only the Kings and Grizzlies...two teams that were eliminated in round one. And yeah, I know they made it to the NBA Finals and everything, but they often struggled mightily to score against the Heat, particularly at the end of Games 3, 5, and 6. And they scored only 74 points in a Game 4 blowout loss. If you watched that series, you probably remember how the Mavericks simply could not get a good shot during crunch time of those close games.

Back in December, after a rare loss to the Utah Jazz in which the Mavericks tallied a mere eight assists, I posted a comment over at The Association that the Mavericks had ball movement issues. My contention was that they rely too much on isolations and one-on-one play from Nowitzki (who can shoot over almost any defender), Terry (who can blow by just about anybody), Josh Howard (who is spectacular at breaking down his man), and Jerry Stackhouse (who is still Jerry Stackhouse). Those players are good enough that the tactic usually works, especially against weaker teams. But in heated, defensive, bump-and-grind games, that style of play can, will, and has killed them, especially when one or more of those guys don't shoot well. The general response was that the Mavs were the best team in league and I was simply nitpicking.

But I think I was on to something. The Mavericks did a much better job at working the ball around during Game 5, and they won. Of course, the victory was also partly due to Dirk's heroics (his first real MVP-type display of the playoffs) and, conversely, the Warriors choking up a 9-point lead by inexplicably slowing down the game (which is antithetical to their usual style) and running a handful of truly awful offensive plays (if you can even call them that).

The Mavericks can -- and, now, probably will -- still come back and beat the Warriors. Heck, they might go all the way to the NBA Finals and win. But if they don't, if they fall short somewhere along the way, it'll probably be because of their ball movement and execution. Or, rather, their lack thereof.

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