Friday, February 24, 2006

NBA Buzz Feb 24

Tread Deadline Day is always such a bad day for me at work if I want to earn my salary.  Yesterday was quiet as deadline days go, but it was still enjoyable.  Briefly running through the trades (and I don’t see why the media is so determined to count the Artest move):
Steve to New York was done a day early to be a precursor to a follow-up trade that never happened.   Several reports suggested that Isiah was looking to make a major (but deluded) push for Garnett, despite the fact that the Wolves will be disinclined to move him until he kicks in their door threatening to go Owens on them.  The Knicks were also bidding for Earl Watson but lost out, and revisited but did not go through with a revived Kenyon Martin deal.  While it’s clear New York will seek out more blockbusters this summer (Isiah took his GM skills from playstation, it seems, with the cap featured turned off), what’s important to take away from this is Larry Brown is not getting the roster he wants and is instead getting guys he can’t stand shoved down his throat.  The showdown can’t be far away.
Denver finally freed Earl Watson from his primary role of trade bait.  His signing was based on a Paul Pierce trade that fell through, leaving him stuck as a third PG.  In Seattle, he should see 20 mpg even when Ridnour returns from injury.  Denver grabbing bulldog Ruben Patterson as well as one-dimensional rebounder Reggie Evans has to be considered a major plus for their ragged frontline, though they never did get the bonafide SG they needed.  
Seattle purged its pending free agents that were itching to bolt and may soon hold a fire sale, since the franchise is perennially held to a shoestring budget.  

Paul Allen is whining that his Jailblazers need a new arena deal from Oregon taxpayers or some other public-funded “structural fix” since he claims the team is losing a little more than 30 million a year.  Oddly, I didn’t see any mention of the frighteningly bad contracts his team has awarded players (Zach Randolph, Theo Ratliff, and Darius Miles alone account for $30 million this year and will have $130 million remaining after that) or that the last few years have returned fans off to the point that they currently rank next to last in NBA attendance.  When you jade your ticketholders and stay in the luxury tax territory each year, you can hardly blame your financial woes on parking revenue.  This team may be surprised to find that the city will be just as happy to see them pack up and head East as Houston was to see Bud Adams go to Tennessee.   Squeezing an already jilted fanbase when your product has been this sour is foolish.

As the season’s homestretch hits, one of the things to try and do is pick out which elite teams are true title contenders and which are fools gold.  Nearly every year, a surprise team takes the league by storm, usually with an unstoppable running game, but falls apart in the playoffs.  I’ll go more in depth later, but the simplest test for measuring whether a team will be successful in the postseason or not is to imagine things as if they were a college football overtime.  If you took team A and team B, and each one got a possession to try and see which one scores and gets a stop first, who would win?  For example, take the Pistons and the Nets.  You already know how daunting the Pistons’ D is, but they also have the key pieces for go-to buckets.  Rasheed is underrated as an automatic low post scorer with his unstoppable baseline turnaround jumper.  The other go-to play they have is running Rip off of staggered screens and letting him impersonate Reggie with a little flame icon above his head.  Sealing the deal is Billups, whose poise keeps Detroit’s execution among the best in the league and who is very capable of creating and nailing his own shot if the called play somehow breaks down.  On the other side of the coin are the Nets.  New Jersey’s wingmen trio excels at running the floor, but often sputter in halfcourt possessions at the end of games.  None of the three could be described as marksmen, though Jefferson and Carter can get hot on a good night.  While Carter is able to get to the bucket at will, it becomes extremely difficult to draw fouls out of refs in the deciding moments.  They want the players to decide and swallow their whistles.  Drawing a foul on a high caliber defense like Detroit makes it even harder.  On the other side of the court, the Nets have a near-laughable interior defense.  Krstic is developing but he can’t stop upper level big men in the post or deter slashers from going to the hole.  The playoffs are a different breed of basketball, and the biblical truth will come out when teams run into real contenders like San Antonio and Detroit.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

My Favorite Places to Be

Fav Places:

6th St, Austin
The Burboun St of Texas, and the best block party to run 12 months a year.  Endless choices of clubs and bars, and always filled to the brim with 20-somethings.  This alone solidifies Austin in any discussion for Single Capital of the country.

Little Five Points, Atlanta
Due east from the Big Five in downtown, this franchise-shunning mini-district is home to Frisbee-golf shops, vinyl record supply stores for DJs, rave outfitters, and what is far and away the greatest burger joint I have ever encountered in my long walks over the planet.  The Vortex is a place I absolutely must have on the itinerary during any swing through Atlanta, joining the likes of Rochester’s Dinosaur BBQ.    

The Outer Banks, NC
Forget Myrtle, forget Daytona, this is my pick for a top Atlantic beach vacation.  The number one reason is that OBX has managed to stay relatively undercommercialized.  You don’t have one big stretch of skyscraper hotels and private beaches.  You have modest timeshares and public beaches and sounds instead.  There’s hang gliding off of Jockey’s Ridge and the coolest miniature golf you can find.  No, it’s not Putt-Putt.  No Astroturf.  It’s short game golf, with natural landscaping and sandtraps.  My perfect vacation spot.

Cary St/The Fan, Richmond
Named after the way the streets fan out from VCU, this is a high school/college hangout mecca.  When the rest of Richmond’s grid disjointedly meets this area, you’re promised a drive full of HBO language.  The area is chock full of indie shops, parks, Monument Ave (use your imagination), and home to the Bird Movie Theater, quaint with seats that will have you wishing you were in Fenway.  Plenty of unique places to bum around in during the day, and you can’t be more than a block away from a kegger at night.  If you don’t know, you’d better ask somebody.  

The Mall, DC
The original greatest walk-around district in the country.  The standard-bearer.  Who can’t kill several days in at least semi-amusement here, no matter how many times you’ve been?  While train-ing for the train-wreck that would be my marathon, this was easily my most memorable run (among the positive ones).  The Air & Space Museum solidifies it as every kid’s #1 school field trip.  Wishing you had some NASA ice cream right now, aren’t you?

Chinatown, NYC
Maybe the country’s craziest marketplace, along with Seattle’s fish market.  From the price haggling (which you may find yourself in the middle of just by walking out of a store) to the surprise of some of the items for sale, it’s hard to beat.  I don’t personally vouch for the jewelry deals, however.  

125th St, NYC
The 5th avenue of Harlem and home of the Apollo.  In my mind, Harlem’s never fully recovered from the well-deserved rep it earned in the 60s and 70s, despite becoming a pretty safe place to walk around.  Believe me, there are areas around town that I don’t want to be caught in, but I don’t have that same feeling when browsing the shops here or even heading up Fred Doug to Rucker to catch the summer games.  Taxi Driver drove off a while back.  

Jackson Hole, Wy
You know the term ‘God’s Country’?  Aside from the U2 song, this place is the definition.  With the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, this is as close as you may ever come to communing with whatever higher being you recognize.  This area gives you the rare opportunity to be in a traffic snarl caused by buffalo that mosey on the main roads, and unfortunately once or twice a year Daddy gets the ill-fated idea to take little Joey’s picture on top of one of these not-as-docile-as-you’d-think critters.   You also lose a handful of amateur climbers to the Tetons, but hey.  If it weren’t for the 7-month winters, this would be the greatest place to live on the planet.  Inside tip: don’t visit when school’s out.

New Orleans French Quarter
I know this goes on everyone’s list.  But it’s for good reason.  Experiencing Mardi Gras here should be on everyone’s life checklist and is best completed before marriage.  It’s simply otherworldly when you see a 60-year old lady pulling her husband around on a leash, both covered in leather and chains.  For me, I got to first experience it during a college Spring Break when 8 of us headed down.  One of the guys was my buddy Ted, who had recently blown out one of his then three remaining joints in his legs.  Since he was hobbling around on crutches on the cobblestone, he needed a rest as soon as we started.  Marcus and I sent everyone else ahead to see the Wicked Witch chase Dorothy on a scooter by the rainbow district and went with Ted into the first bar & grill we saw a sign for.  Turns out there would be entertainment as we got something to drink; not exactly a deal-breaker.  So we sat, ordered a round, and were thoroughly entertained by Summer, Vixen, and Tequila.  Being the only non-creepy patrons (out of 6) and it being 1 pm, we got to talk to everyone between their rotations.  Slowly, certain things began to click, including how the waitress put down Playboy coasters for the drinks.  Heading to the bar, it was all confirmed when Summer introduced me to the house mother and it turned out this was the place that Playboy had taken over that year (they rotate around).  The three of us got invited back for that evening’s VIP party upstairs, a glee upon all glees.  It’s fun (and a little frightening) to be on a balcony watching below as people are crushed on Borboun St, but it’s a lot more fun to go back inside.  Oh, and don’t get caught sneaking up to the third floor where all the doors have been replaced with red drapes.  Some of them aren’t pulled all the way shut.  On that same trip, NOPD almost arrested me, but thankfully someone outdid me in a bid to earn some beads…we’ll talk about that one some other time.    

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Blah-Blog Rant Review

Been asked more than a few times about why I don’t allow posts on this blog.  Well, as badly as I want feedback, I also would like to keep this page simply for the “columns” that I write up.  The cold hard truth is, we all have friends that wouldn’t rest the urge to toss in a couple of jokes, and those jokes don’t go over well with everyone that may visit this blog.  I’d just rather not have a family member reading something that should be kept inside of a bar.  

Anyway, as a solution, I’ve set up The Blah Blog Rant Review as a comment-happy place.  I’ll try and open a post for each new write-up here.  At least for the ones that deserve it.  By the way, I will hold moderator privileges, so don’t get saucy!

Monday, February 20, 2006

NBA Buzz: Feb 20

The All-Star Game gives way to the NBA homestretch.  Seemed to come quick this year.  First, about the game:
3-point Shootout: What a motley group of contestants.  Still can’t get my head around the number of career chuckers that managed to make it: Terry, Arenas, Q (as defending champ)…why not toss in Walker and Baron Davis and complete the set?  I personally feel there’s no good reason why Sarunas Jasikevicius wasn’t a part of this, if only for the way he assassinates Olympic and World teams.  Hopefully next year, we’ll see him and Redick go gunning for Dirk’s crown and bring back the days where you needed scores above 20 (out of 30) to advance.  
Dunk Contest:  I’m hoping Charles rags Kenny for the rest of the season over fixing the finals.  Golly, the 20-yr anniversary of Spud Webb’s win with the man himself on hand courtside and he’s happy to participate in Tiny Nate’s dunk.  What a coincidence!  Even outside of the outrageous allowance of endless missed dunks (how is there not a 3-strike rule here???), that dunk shouldn’t have won it all.  Sure it was fist-pumping hot, but I still remember seeing Vince Carter do the same thing, over a defender in the middle of an actual Olympic game!  Nate needed a couple tries to do it and couldn’t completely clear Spud.  Vince’s Teabag was on a man a foot and a half taller and was absolutely spontaneous.  Greatest dunk of all time.  I contrast this with Iguodala’s very original bounce alley-oop from behind the backboard.  That dunk literally got me to reflexively leap up in excitement when I was out eating dinner with the wife, my sister, and another friend.  Nearly sent all the food on the table onto my sister.  Nate?  I saw it coming before he even botched his first try.  Unfortunately, Andre was competing against someone who won the contest the second he entered it.  
The game itself: we nearly had another fix, this time with the West openly setting the table for McGrady to get the Karl Malone/John Stockton hometown MVP treatment.  LeBron was not about to go along and sunk the West with the help of the Pistons’ D.  Shaq seemed to be an awfully kiddie mood, really demonstrating how well he’s mellowed over the course of his career.  Even Kobe’s realized that it’s more fun to put on a show rather than be the show.   Pretty fun atmosphere overall, even if there weren’t any exceptional displays.  
Now about the fixes; this was hardly anything new.  Jordan’s dunk contest win over Dominique in Chicago was an absolute sham, with the judges thoroughly intimidated by the hometown crowd.  There was also Magic’s sendoff in the ’92 game where the East didn’t attempt to compete and turned the closing minutes into a nostalgic show by letting the recently retired Magic go one-on-one against each of his old Eastern rivals (Jordan, Isiah, etc).  The players gave the fans what they wanted.  What was disturbing for me last night was how transparent they were willing to be.  We were only inches from becoming an MTV Celebrity Jam, and if Frankie Muniz and Ashton Kutcher were in the building, I shudder to think of what might have happened.  The game doesn’t really matter, but I hope it doesn’t slip into a farce.  

Moving past the game, the trade deadline is Thursday!  Denver, Orlando, and New York all seem hellbent on making big moves involving the obvious players.  It’s still possible they end up swapping amongst themselves, though it’s becoming less likely that Denver can pawn off their max contract mistake on anyone.  
Looking ahead to the stretch run:
-Things have been quiet on the Amare front, but I’m sensing disturbing similarities to the Webber/Kings scenario that played out a couple seasons back.  If he does return, Mike D’Antoni would be wise to hold him back as a reserve for the reminder of the season rather than risk him upsetting the offensive flow that they’re enjoying now.
-The league has realized it’s made a huge mistake in setting things up so that the #1 and 2 West teams will almost certainly meet in the second round.  Does a SA-Memphis West finals light your eyes up?  And yes, I just let slip my first round upset prediction.  
-The Western conference 8th seed dogfight should come down to Sacramento, Houston, and LA, which could be awfully exciting.  Ron Artest in a honeymoon period is a powerful chip to hold.
-Expect Duncan’s inflamed foot to catch up to him before the lights go out this June.  The only reason the Spurs have not been back-to-back champions has been his health, which is looming like a dark cloud at the moment.  This could seal the deal for the Pistons.
-There’s a lot of infighting in Oakland these days, with Baron Davis and Mike Dunleavy on particularly bad terms.  Junior’s ineffectiveness and Pillsbury’s shot-putting approach to the point guard position has the two viciously sniping at one another.  My guess is that Dunleavy will be the one to go, but both have particularly unattractive contracts.