There was a Grade A meat party going on in Cleveland last night, and only LeBron James and Wally Szczerbiak were on the guest list. I can't decide which is more titillating: Wally's possessive "he's mine, bitch!" expression or LeBron's "get off me, pimpmeister!" look.

Bron and Wally love 1

Here's another angle. Note how Wally's pout is equal parts longing and regret. (His contract is expiring, after all. Once that happens, he'll never be allowed within 20 Oliver Miller's of LeBron ever again.) Note also that 'Bron is desperately trying to convert the man-hug into a fist kiss.

Bron and Wally love 2

Here's another shot from last night's game, in which Wally seems to be going for the dual hand-hold and butt slap. Man, LeBron's lucky that Wally has only two hands.

Bron and Wally love 3

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The agony of Gortat

The Orlando Magic: This is the kind of loss that could convince Ben Q. Rock to change the name of his blog to "Fourth Quarter Collapse." Much like the Nuggets in their Game 5 failure in L.A., the Magic played the Cavaliers to a standstill through three quarters -- despite falling behind 32-10 nine minutes into the game -- and were actually up by a point going into the fourth. And that's when Orlando crumbled under Cleveland's defensive pressure.

On the Magic's first fourth-quarter possession, Anthony Johnson had his shot blocked by Boobie Gibson, which forced a shot clock violation. That one play seemed to set a tone for the final 12 minutes, during which Orlando couldn't get on track offensively and couldn't get a stop on the other end. The bottom line was, they were just straight-up outplayed, not to mention outscored 34-23 on the way to a 112-102 defeat. Basically, it was the second-worst ending I saw yesterday...the first-worst being this conclusion from Charles Barkley Shut and Jam Gaiden:

Defensively, the Magic weren't able to stop Cleveland's three-point shooters (who went 9-for-18 on the night), and they couldn't do ANYTHING with LeBron James (37 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists). They did manage to shut down Ben Wallace (zero points, 0-for-2), but that's about it. Of course, things might have gone a wee bit differently if not for...

Orlando's free throw shooting: The Magicians bricked 13 freebies, which is a pretty significant number in an 10-point loss. And 10 of that basker's dozen worth of misses were split up between Orlando's big three of Dwight Howard (five misses), Rashard Lewis (three) and Hedo Turkoglu (two). Then too, another problem was...

Orlando's three-point shooting: While the Cavs were knocking down half of their three-bombs, the Magi were hitting only 32 percent (8-for-25) of theirs. Considering how many long-distance shots they take, it seems to me that Orlando really needs to shoot 40 percent or better from downtown to win. On the subject of shooting blanks from distance, I should probably address the woes of...

Rafer Alston: My oh my this guy was awful last night: 1-for-10 from the field, 1-for-7 from beyond the arc, 3 points, 4 assists, 3 turnovers and 4 fouls. Oh, and he had BY FAR the worst plus-minus score (-20) of the night. (Hedo Turkoglu was a distant second at -11). And yeah, a lot of that was racked up when the Magic fell behind by 22 in the first quarter, you can see by this game flow chart that Orlando wasn't making much of anything happen when Skip to My Lou was on the floor. And that's becoming a pattern, as Ben. Q. Rock pointed out: "Rafer has shot 6-of-27 in the three games in Cleveland this series, which has me wiping egg off my face after highlighting his usually outstanding marksmanship in The Q over the last several seasons. Poor shooting, poor decision-making, and poor defense from Rafer tonight. Not even Anthony Johnson's steady play -- yeah, he shot 2-of-6, but it seemed better than that -- mitigated Rafer's poor showing." Which brings up an intersting point...

Stan Van Gundy: Why did he go to Rafer in the fourth quarter despite the fact that Alston was having the kind of night that was only slightly less humiliating than starting the first slap fight in NHL history? There HAD to be a better crunchtime lineup, right? Mr. Rock thinks so: "Rafer's poor play had me questioning why he was even on the floor with the game on the line during the fourth period. Either he has it or he doesn't, and tonight, he didn't. Quite obviously. The Magic have had some success with Hedo Turkoglu running point-forward, using Courtney Lee as the nominal point guard with Mickael Pietrus in the backcourt. Very, very surprised not to see that lineup on the floor late in the game, and I can't think of any disadvantages to using it, frankly. Lee can handle either Williams or Gibson, with Turkoglu trying to check the other one as Pietrus works (futilely?) to defend James. And before pointing out that Turkoglu hasn't the quickness to effectively defend those guys, let me remind you that they're essentially stand-still shooters in late-game situations, as James gets the ball at the top of the key and goes to work. He's the one doing the driving and the kicking, not them. Turk, at 6'10", has the size and length to effectively close out on either player. So again, I ask: 'why didn't the Magic go point-guard-free at the end of the game?'"

Thursday night lacktion report: Even this titanic Game 5 clash was not free of lacktivity, as Chris will now prove: "Sasha Pavlovic moved some building blocks to the tune of 'Korobeniki' for a 58-second Mario, while Tarence Kinsey did his part to will the Crabs to victory, eating a power-up mushroom quickly for a 2-second Super Mario! In his three lacktive appearances so far this round, Tarence has continued to mash the NES Advantage with Marios in all of those games, a total of a mere 19 seconds played so far for the aforementioned matches!"

Cleveland: Remember how almost a month ago I posted that Cleveland tourism video? Well, an alternate version made it onto TNT last night. Hey, TNT crew. I beat you by 24 days. I'm just sayin'. Here's the video:

Ron Artest: Basketbawful reader Yiping said that this was the best 4 minutes of his entire lifetime. Maybe it'll be yours Crazy Pills video-blogs from his bed.

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So white it hurts

The Denver Nuggets: Give the Nuggets some credit: They played the Lakers to a standstill through three quarters. Unfortunately for the Denver faithful, David Stern continues to insist that games go the full four...which turned out to be seriously bad news for the Nuggets. I'm talking "the groom drinking too much at his own wedding and DYING" bad. Denver was thoroughly outplayed in the final period en route to a 103-94 knockout that sorta reminded me of this one:

The Nuggets shot 23 percent (5-for-21) in those final 12 minutes, during which they were outscored 27-18. But actually, their fail parade started with a case of butterfingers in the third quarter. Denver was up 73-68 with 4:20 to go in the third when Chauncey Billups got caught in the air and threw a tuuurrible pass that was stolen by Pau Gasol, which led to this momentum-changing posterization of the Birdman by Shannon Brown:

That was the first of four straight turnovers by the Nuggets. On their next possession, Billups had ANOTHER pass stolen by Gasol. After that, Carmelo Anthony got called for traveling. Next up was a shot clock violation. Denver scored only once more in the quarter -- a three-pointer by Billups -- which allowed L.A. to come back and tie things up.

After that, the Nuggets became totally unhinged. It took them more than four minutes to score their first points of the fourth which time they were already down 11 (87-76). The good news is that they outscored the Lakers by two the rest of the way. The bad news is that they lost by nine.

Nene: The Lakers' big men (Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum) owned the paint the way these exercise balls owned their exercisers, combining for 54 points, 31 rebounds and 11 blocked shots. And while they were kicking sand in the Nuggets' faces and taking their girlfriends and/or baby mamas, Nene was either a helpless shooting prop or watching from the sidelines. Shackled by foul trouble all night, Nene fouled out in only 26 minutes, finishing with 4 points (1-for-3) and as many fouls and turnovers as rebounds (8). Of course, it's worth pointing out...

Nene's sixth foul: It was complete and utter crap. I've seen Nigerian money scams that were easier to swallow. (Speaking of which, if you haven't checked out, you really should.) Pau Gasol -- while trying to drive from 17 feet out -- bent down, stuck out his off arm and shoved Nene down. Nene had position and was moving his feet...but Gasol got the benefit of the whistle on what really should have been an offensive foul. Instead, Nene had to sit and Pau was rewarded with a couple foul shots. Mind you, the Nuggets had just used a 6-0 run to pull to within 91-87. But instead of getting the ball back with a chance to pull to within one or two, they lost their only true center and fell behind by six. That was a huge swing at a critical time. And helped lead to...

Another officiating controversy: After Game 4, Phil Jackson went semi-postal on the refs due to what he felt was unfair and inconsistent officiating. In particular, he blasted the zebras for hitting the Son of Walton with a tech after Luke complained about being elbowed by Nene. Said P-Jax: "It was an off-ball cut, and the referee gave him a technical then subsequently gave him three consecutive fouls out on the floor. That kind of disparity, we don't like in ball games. That's not equal refereeing and those are the things that change the course of games. We don't like that. We want the game to be fair and evenly played." Naturally, the NBA fined him $25,000 for not keeping his trap shut (the Lakers as an organization were also fined $25,000), to which Jackson responded with more vitriol: "I didn't think very good of [the fine] at all. I thought I was very conciliatory, tried to soft-pedal my comments, but that's the league for you. They'll come back and hammer you."

If Phil's right -- and believe me, he is -- then you can probably expect George Karl to get hammered after expressing the feeling that his players got screwed in Game 5: "I'm not going to get fined," said Karl, who proceeded to make comments that almost certainly will get him fined. "... It was a difficult whistle to play, no question about that. Every player in my locker room is frustrated, from guards to big guys. Look at the stat sheet. Gasol goes after at least 20 jump shots and 20 shots to the rim and gets one foul. Our big guys have 16. I don't know. Nene has six fouls; three or four of them don't exist. And it's frustrating when you take one of your big guys off the court for that many minutes. ... I think Stan Van Gundy says it right. In the postgame, we're lobbying for the league to help us with the refereeing. And this is too good a series. It's too good of teams competing that we're sitting here just confused by the whistle."

One anonymous Nuggets player -- he requested anonymity ostensibly to avoid being fined, but I'm guessing he was just as afraid of the public backlash -- even accused the Lakers of "buying" the game through those two $25,000 fines: "The Lakers paid $50,000 to win that game. They got their money's worth." Wow. Next thing you know, we'll find out that Ron Garretson was the second gunman on the grassy knoll.

That anonymous Nuggets player: Grow a pair. Seriously.

J.R. Smith: "Smitty" is supposed to provide scoring punch off the Denver bench, but he has yet to offer up more than a weak slap on the road in this series. He scored 8 and 3 points (on combined 3-for-13 shooting) in Games 1 and 2, and last night he finished with only 7 on 3-for-13 from the field and 1-for-10 on threes. That last stat is the one that really bothers me. Why not try DRIVING for a change, Smitty?

That nasty smell? It's your jumper, Smitty.

Chris Andersen: He had a typical Birdmany game -- 2 points, 8 boards and 4 blocked shots in 24 minutes -- but the number that caught my eye was -17. That was Birdzilla's plus-minus score. Now, normally I don't pay much attention to that statistic. However, in this case, it's pretty telling...because (as noted above) the Lakers' big men had their way, particularly when Andersen was subbing at center for the foul-plagued Nene. Guys were scoring over Chris like he wasn't even there, and it became pretty obvious (in case it wasn't already) that the Birdman is best used in relief and NOT as a first option at the five spot. Oh, and also as noted above, he took it in the face from Shannon Brown, which I guess was Shannon's revenge for this:

Update! Lamar Odom: Not only is Lamar dangerously obsessed with candy...he has a personal assistant who BUYS HIS CANDY FOR HIM. His daily candy expense would buy two weeks of groceries for me. Seriously. The diet of an elite professional athlete? Apparently. Thanks to Elvar from Iceland for the link.

Kobe Bryant: He had one of his most efficient games of the playoffs: 22 points on 13 shots to go along with 5 rebounds and a game-high 8 assists. Of course, he also had a game-high 7 turnovers, but that's not why he's here. It's because he some predictably Mamba-like things to say after the game: "It was a big gamble for me coming in, but I wanted to change my approach this game and be more of a decoy. The past couple games they really were loading to my side and I figured I could be a decoy and try to give chances to my teammates." Yes. Trusting his teammates was a BIG GAMBLE. Passing the ball when the opposing defense is loading up against you is Basketball 101, but it sounds like Kobe wants a bag full of extra hands to pat himself on the back with for actually, you know, playing smart basketball instead of continuing to shoot over triple-teams. Yay for you, Kobe.

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Cynical fans

The Cleveland Cavaliers: The best team in basketball. At 66-16, that's what the Cavs were during the regular season. That's what Mo Williams says they are now (see below). They were so dominant in the opening two rounds of the playoffs (against the hapless Pistons and overrated Hawks) that some people were talking about them going fo' fo' fo' on their way to the NBA Finals. And yet, after last night's 116-114 overtime loss in Orlando, the Cavaliers are staring up at a 3-1 series deficit that, if not for some truly lousy last-second defense by the Magic, would have been a 4-0 sweep. When was the last time that the "best team in basketball" came within a single second of getting swept out of the postseason?

Mind you, this has been a freaky-close series. (It actually kind of reminds me of the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and Sixers, where Games 1 and 7 were decided by a point and Games 4, 5 and 6 were decided by two points.) Games 1 and 2 both featured clutch shots and were each decided by one point. Game 3 featured even more clutch shots and went to overtime, where the final margin was only two. So clearly things could have gone either way, and Orlando could very well be the team that's down 3-1. But they aren't.

So what went wrong for Cleveland? Well, for starters, their best-in-the-league defense failed them once again. The Magicians shot 50 percent from the field (40-for-80) and nearly 45 percent from downtown (17-for-38). In fact, those 17 threes set an Orlando team playoff record. And it wasn't even the usual suspects (Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis) doing most of that triple-threat damage, either. Rafer Alston (26 points, 10-for-17) drilled six three-pointers and Mickael Pietrus (17 points) nailed five. (Alston even knocked down a banked three-bomb over King James.) Of course, that's what makes Orlando so really do have to guard everybody on the floor. Which is something the Cavs weren't able to do last night.

It also didn't help that their offense has, at times, regressed to the 2007 version, or the 2006 version, or the 2005 version. That is, lots of standing around while LeBron either holds or dribbles the hell out of the ball. Sure, that allows 'Bron to pad his stats and, yeah, it sometimes generates open shots for his teammates. But when that happens, Cleveland's shooters had all the rhythm of The Urkel Dance, hence the 6-for-22 shooting from beyond the arc (2-for-12 sans LeBron's 4-for-10). Mo Williams (5-for-15) and Delonte West combined to go 0-for-6 from distance. And those guys shot 43.6 and 39.9 percent in threes during the regular season. The other big problem was...

LeBron James: His near triple-double (44 points, 12 boards, 7 assists) was actually a near triple-bumble, thanks to his game-high 8 turnovers. Even more damning is WHEN those turnovers occurred: 3 came in the final 3:50 of regulation and he committed another 3 in overtime. That's 6 TOs in "clutch time." (For the sake of perspective, all of the Cavaliers not named "LeBron James" had 4 turnovers FOR THE GAME.) And a few of King Crab's TOs were just bad, careless passes. I suppose it's also worth mentioning that he was guilty of overdribbling and spending way too much time looking for or trying to create his own shot. The Cavs' offense was at its best last night when the ball and the players were moving. And last night, LeBron spent too much time killing the clock.

Mo Williams: In case you missed it, here's the full text of Mo's guarantee: "They deserve respect. They are a good team. But we are the best team in basketball. I don't feel that they've had to adjust to us one time in the series. ... Guarantee we're going to win the series? Yeah, yeah. We are down 2-1. But there is nobody on this team and definitely not myself that says we are not going to win this series. Yeah, it is going to be tough. We know that. We get this game tomorrow, go home, still got home-court advantage. We don't see ourselves losing two out of three at home." If Cleveland goes on to lose this series, Mo is going to surpass Devin "We knew we were going to be a playoff team" Harris for the season's greatest and most crippling stat curse. Oh, and here's a memo for Mo: Next time you make a "Guaransheed," you might wanna do better than 5-for-15 from the field and 0-for-3 in threes. I'm just sayin'.

The Orlando Magic: The Magicians played most of the game from behind but managed to forge an 8-point lead (83-91) when Courtney Lee hit a three with 7:48 left in the fourth. From that point on, their offense went stupid. I'm talking grown men dressing up like the Super Mario Bros. and waging a live action lightsaber duel (with special effects!) stupid. I'm talking Sony releasing a stupid piece of sh*t that doesn't f*cking work stupid. Rushed threes, too much dribbling, nothing going toward the basket. I will never understand why a team insists on chucking it up from 20+ feet when they're in the freaking penalty. Can anyone else explain this?

Oh, and here's a memo for Stan Van Gundy: The Cavaliers figured out that high screen and roll with Hedo and Dwight. I understand Van Gundy's desire to go back to that play, because they've scored a lot of points off of it during this series. But it wasn't working in the fourth quarter, mostly because Anderson Varejao -- unlike Zydrunas Ilgauskas -- can actually MOVE LATERALLY. Sideshow Bob even pilfered Hedo twice, so easily that it was embarrassing. Not exactly the leader of the free world getting outsmarted by a door, or getting your frank 'n beans caught in your zipper on prom night, but still.

Dwight Howard: He had a MAN-type game (27 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocked shots), a MAN-type overtime (10 points, which included three dunks) and a Rick Barry-type night at the line (7-for-9). BUT...he scored only 4 points in the third and fourth quarters, and he was blanked during the fourth when the Cavs were making the charge that almost allowed them to steal the game. Heck, Delonte West even drove right at Howard for a layup near the end of regulation. His second-half disappearance (until overtime) very nearly cost his team the game.

More lousy officiating: Ugh and double-ugh. Dwight Howard gets a technical foul with 4:11 left in the fourth for...flexing looking really happy after getting an And-1? (If this one stands, I will demand that the NBA retroactively assess about 371 technical fouls on Alonzo Mourning.) And even though only one tech was called, Mo Williams gets two free throws? Did I miss something? (Not according to the game log I didn't.) LeBron draws a foul by falling into Pietrus with 0.5 seconds left, "earning" two FTAs that allow him to tie the game. Then Varejao rides Howard out of bounds on Orlando's final play and there's no call. (Even the always-impartial AP said: "Both players tumbled out of bounds, and although there was enough contact for the officials to call two or three fouls, there was no whistle.") Now, mind you, I would have been fine if either a) both had been no-calls (my preference) or b) both had been called. Again, at this point I've given up my hopes for correct officiating and only want consistency. But I can't even get that. Unless by consistency I mean "King James always gets the benefit of the doubt"...because I get that in spades.

Tuesday night lacktion report: It's pretty hard to hunt down lacktion in a two-point overtime game, but Chris did it: "Joe Smith routinely pinched out a 4.15 trillion (the largest payday in the third round so far), while Tony Battie continues his epic run to the Damon Jones Award -- and a potential trip to the Finals - with a celebratory brick for a +1 suck differential in 5:09."

Weird Gold Jacket Guy: From Basketbawful reader Wade Wisdom: "You might have already addressed this at some point in time, but my friend and I have seen this guy (picture attached from the Magic game 5/26) at four sites during the playoffs, including L.A., Denver, Houston and now Orlando. He is really weird and seems to have no affiliation with any one team. The only constant is that he wears that stupid jacket and hat. Maybe one of your readers will know? Thanks for the help."

Gold jacket

Well? Anybody know who this guy is?

John Denton, unintentionally dirty headline-writing machine: NBA rescinds 'flagrant-one' foul on Magic's Johnson‎. Let's hear it for jokes that write themselves.

Kobe Bryant: Basketbawful reader catfish writes: "From ESPN: 'Who would win a 1-on-1 game? Quick Olympics story: Both guys played P-I-G against commoners last summer. LeBron almost lost to Sean Gregory of Time Magazine. Kobe used a dunk on his first shot to give Adam Wright of the U.S. water polo team a P, and it was all but over. It's Kobe.' Who dunks in P-I-G or H-O-R-S-E other than a huge dick? That's like challenging a small kid to a game of 1-on-1 and making it 'make it take it.' I'm gonna put my foot on your throat and never let up, and I could care less if you're only seven years old..."

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The Los Angeles Lakers: After so much was written in the last two days about how tired the Lakers were following Game 3, they came out last night and played like they wanted to prove just how exhausted they really were. You know: Like a group of narcoleptics who ate a huge Thanksgiving dinner (I'm talking, like, four or five helpings) after running an ultramarathon and now are snuggled up on the couch under a warm blanket watching the Detroit Lions get destroyed by [Name of Whatever Team They're Playing on Thanksgiving This Year]. It's sort of understandable that the Lakers would be tired, since they've played every other day for three straight weeks now (with the one exception being the two-day break between Games 6 and 7 of the previous round); but then again, they have no one to blame but themselves for not having extra time to rest after needing seven games to beat a depleted Rockets team in the Western Conference Semis. It doesn't figure to get any easier for the Lakers either, as they will continue to go every other day (only now with traveling in between each game) for the rest of the conference finals. On the upside, if they play the way they did last night in the next couple games, they'll soon have a couple months off to rest up.

The Lakers' lethargy was especially evident on the glass, where they were absolutely obliterated 58-40. (That sound you just heard was Wilt Chamberlain rolling over in his grave, probably after zombie-sexing up the hottie three tombstones over.) Even more telling was that they let Denver rip down 20 offensive rebounds. Not only did Denver outboard the Lakers by 18, but it was the first time in 8 meetings between the two teams this season that Denver had outrebounded the Lakers at all. The best Denver had done on the boards against the Lakers prior to last night was just tie them in total rebounds (Game 3), but otherwise the Lakers have held a fairly decisive rebounding edge against these Nuggets all year. Clearly one team came to play last night...and the other team was the Lakers.

Officiating: Unfortunately, this was was yet another game in these Conference Finals where the refs tried to steal the show. And not in a totally sweet "Vanilla Ice cameo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze" kind of way. What had started off as a really great third round in both Conference Finals series has turned into the same traveshamockeriness we saw in the last round, with way too many fouls and free throws, and a bunch of questionable technical fouls and flagrant fouls being called. After Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, some people made a skunky beer stink about the absurd 86 combined foul shots. Well, apparently the NBA doesn't care that the fans don't want to watch a free throw parade, since the Lakers and Nuggets combined to shoot 85 last night.

In the last game's writeup I pointed out that four of Denver's starters had 5 or more fouls. Well, they must have made some pretty big adjustments, since only three Nugget players had more than 2 fouls last night (Kenyon Martin with 3, JR Smith with 4 and Carmelo Anthony with 5). Meanwhile three Laker players had 5 fouls and Luke Walton fouled out in only 12 minutes. In Game 3 the Lakers had a 14 free throw advantage, while in Game 4 it was Denver that enjoyed a 14 free throw advantage. It's just too bad the refs can't be a little more consistent in any area other than with all the excessive technicals (Denver once again had 3 last night, just like in Game 3) and flagrants (Andrew Bynum received one last night for swiping at the ball -- and hitting it -- and ruffling the Birdman's headband in the process). The officiating didn't cost the Lakers the game, not by a long shot, but it's just an ongoing concern for basketball fans that we can't watch the players settle things from somewhere other than the free throw line. Like maybe the Thunderdome.

Trevor Ariza: After being such a major contributor for the Lakers in this series, Ariza was about as invisible last night as Kevin Bacon was in Hollowman. [Edit: Or, alternately, as invisible as "solid plot" or "good writing" or "anything not resembling a giant turd of a movie" in the woefully bawful Terminator Salvation. -Basketbawful] He finished the game with as many fouls (5) as he had points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals combined. He also had one turnover. You could argue that he helped defend Carmelo Anthony into shooting only 3-for-16 for 15 points, but 'Melo looked like he was limping around a lot out there, so I don't know how much credit the Laker defense should get. To be fair, Ariza supposedly is fighting off a couple injuries himself (and possibly an ouchie in his girl parts), but if those wounds are gonna limit him to the kind of performance he had last night, the Lakers might as well replace him with a runway model who can't walk down a runway. Because at least a hot babe falling down is fun to watch.

Derek Fisher and Sasha Vujacic: At this point, I'm ready to write a stock paragraph about these two guys and just auto-insert it into every Lakers-related WotN for the rest of the playoffs. They are officially the worst duo since Coy and Vance Duke. Last night, they combined for 11 points on 11 shots, 1 assist and 2 turnovers in 39 combined minutes of oncourt poopery. There's not much else to be said about these guys that won't make me throw up in my own mouth, so let's just move on to someone who hasn't made a recent appearance in the Worst Ofs...

Lamar Odom: I feel like I'm actually being pretty generous when I say that Lamar is having a subpar series (7.5 PPG, 34 percent shooting, 8 RPG, 2 APG), and last night was his subpariest yet. While he WAS one of only two Lakers to grab more than 7 rebounds (Gasol being the other with 10), Odom needs to contribute a hell of a lot more than just 8 boards if he's only gonna score 5 points on 1-for-8 shooting while committing 5 fouls and turning the ball over 3 times. Missing half his free throw attempts didn't help either. Which reminds me...

The Lakers' free throw shooting: This definitely could have been mentioned after the last game when they missed 14 gimmies, but after last night's 11 misses (in 35 tries), the Lakers have now bonked 33 foul shots in the last three games. In case you don't have an advanced degree in numeromatics, that's an average of 11 misses per game. Did someone expose the Lakers to an open vial of undiluted Shaqnopsis or something?

Dahntay Jones: He swept the leg, just like a good little Cobra Kai should. John Creese would be proud.

J.R. Smith: Dude was celebrating so hard last night you'd think he just got named Super Captain of Giant Awesome or something. Memo to J.R.: You didn't WIN the series, you only TIED it. Calm down. Buck Nasty said: "Yes, you made a three J.R. That is no reason to pretend that you are a three-point shooting chicken, who is also retarded."

More from Stephanie G: "Last night J.R. Smith was extremely animated, mugging and shimmying all over the place. Is this a proper all-time ranking of celebratory moves do you think or am I being too premature?"

1. Antoine shimmy

2. Cassell huevos juggling

3. Mario Ellie kiss of death

4. Reggie Miller choke

5. Shaq arm waving/pointing/looking at his off hand like it's talking to him

6. DeShawn Stevenson "can’t feel my face" / throat slit

7. And now, the JR Smith shimmy
That's a good list, but you forgot a couple. There was the Mark Jackson shimmy, the Larry Johnson arm bar, Dikembe Mutumbo's finger wag, the jersey pop (by many players, notably Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant), and of course the Kobe-trying-to-imitate-Jordan-and-falling-on-his-ass-and-rolling-over.

Memorial Day lacktion report: Chris trudges on, bringing us lacktion the way we like it: Very hot, and awfully wet. "Josh Powell bricked once in 2:43 for a +1 suck differential, a mark matched by DJ Mbenga in a mere 1:01. For George Karl's Nuggets, Johan Petro and Jason Hart resumed their familiar roles as human victory cigars, with Petro running out of gas during a shot for a +1 in 1:01, and Jason Hart stomping out a Koopa shell in the midst of a 37 second Mario."

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I must hump you LeBron
LeBron sure is excited about that all-you-can-eat popcorn shrimp buffet...

Editor's note: This post contains 30 percent fewer fart and penis jokes. You know, in honor of the holiday. Also, Wild Yams continues to cover the Fakers.

Stan Van Gundy and Orlando's end-of-game defense (Game 2): Game 2 was almost a mirror image of Game 1, with the Crabs scurrying out to a huge first-half lead -- 23 points this time -- and the Magicians rat-a-tat-tatting their way back into it. (Is a great three-point shooting team EVER really out of the game?) Orlando cut the lead to 12 by halftime, to 6 by the end of the third quarter, and then tied the score (at 84-84) midway through the fourth. It was back-and-forth for the remainder of the quarter, and then Hedo Turkoglu nailed a three with about 48 ticks left to tie the score at 93-93.

Then there was a flat-out "I do NOT believe they just called that" moment as LeBron traveled en route to an apparent go-ahead layup...and the refs actually blew the whistle. (It was the correct call, so here's a wag of the finger to the Associated Press for saying it was "one of several calls that could have gone either way in a second half filled with whistles." Stating that a clear and obvious violation "could have gone either way" is sort of like suggesting that maybe it shouldn't have been called. Anyway...) After that, the Turkish Assassin hit another superclutch bucket to put the Magic up by 2 points with one second left. That's it. The Magic had to defend the ball for only one more second and they would have taken a 2-0 series lead back home for Game 3. But, well, you know...

Okay, sure, it's an amazing shot, particularly since King Crab isn't exactly an automatic basket from long distance. But there were so many things wrong with Orlando's defense on that play, even Joe Biden couldn't count them all. Here's Basketbawful reader J.R.'s take: "Great shot by LeBron. But it's hard to fathom the bawfulness of Orlando's one second of non-defense on that final play. Why in the world was Turkoglu guarding LeBron? Pietrus had been doing a good job on King James down the stretch, and last time I checked Turkoglu has never been confused with Bruce Bowen. But worst of all, they gave Mo Williams A FREE LOOK FOR THE INBOUNDS PASS as Rashard Lewis just stood five feet away guarding nobody. Too bad there haven't been any recent examples of tall defenders bothering short inbounds passers in endgame situations..."
I'm guessing that he reason Van Gundy put Hedo on LeBron was because of his length, which, in theory, would make him tougher to shoot over. And yet, here's a quick quiz: Didn't the Magic sign Pietrus last July because he's supposedly a lockdown defender? Quick answer: Yes. But that said, I was troubled more by the fact that the Magic essentially conceded an inbounds pass to the league's MVP. I will never understand why so often the guy guarding the inbounds pass doesn't do anything. I mean, seriously. There are two options: Either get right up on the guy passing the ball so he can't get the angle he wants or double on the opposing team's biggest threat. Lewis didn't do either. He just stood their. Honestly, it was the worst ending I've seen since the Walker Texas Ranger movie.

Van Gundy screwed up big time...and he knows it. "I'd like to have that last one back from a coaching standpoint. I should have defended it differently. It's crushing enough to lose as a coach, but when you feel like you're the guy who could've made the difference, it hurts a lot more. I just want to win and we should have won." Note that if the Magic go on to lose this series, that one second of lousy defense will probably be the reason why.

Dwight Howard (Game 2): He had a MAN-type rebounding game (18), but he scored only 10 points (3-for-8) and had more blocks against (3) than blocks (2). I've got to tell you, Dwight's offense in these playoffs has gone a long way in explaining why Shaq gets pissed every time somebody compares him to Howard.

Friday lacktivity report: From Chris: "Tony Battie continues his playoff lacktivity with a 3.8 trillion, while preemptive human victory cigars Daniel Gibson and Tarence Kinsey each crawled onto the Power Pad for a sixteen-second dash as Mario Brothers, motivating King Crab to rescue the crustaceans at the last minute!"

The Denver Nuggets: Fresh off stealing home court advantage from the Lakers in Game 2, the Nuggets decided to give the Lakers a "welcome to Denver" present by giving it right back to them in Game 3. The good news for the Nuggets is that even though they don't have HCA anymore, the road team is now 2-1 in this series, so maybe they can pick it back up when they go to L.A. for Game 5. The bad news for Denver (and for anyone who's an NBA fan) is that the refs probably played too big a role in this game; whether it was because they were just worried things would get out of hand, or whether they thought the Lakers were due up for some good ol' road cookin'. Either way, the Lakers enjoyed a 45-31 free throw edge (not that they took advantage of it, since they missed 14 of those tries), and Chauncey Billups was the only Denver starter who didn't pick up at least 5 fouls (two starters, Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony, fouled out). Maybe the fact that the road team has had more free throw attempts in every game in this series is why they have won 2 of 3. I'm just sayin'.

The officials aside, the Nuggets had every chance to win this game anyway, and just like in Game 1, they pissed those chances away. To start with, Denver was out there shooting so many bad threes that you almost thought Antoine Walker and Jason Williams were playing for them. JR Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups combined to go 5-24 from three, and you don't need John Hollinger's calculator to tell you that's bad. Anthony Carter and Linas Kleiza (unable to recreate his Game 2 performance) also poured in three misses, to give Denver a 5-27 performance from distance on the night. On the bright side, at least the Birdman didn't attempt one.

Much like Game 1, the Lakers won this one on the back of Kobe Bryant, who spent so much time at the free throw line they should have just honorarily named it after him. Kobe found that with Melo saddled with foul trouble for much of the game he had a much easier time against the likes of JR Smith and Dahntay Jones (who also combined for 9 fouls). The Lakers also got great play from Trevor Ariza and Pau Gasol (with his series-high in points and his third double-double in all three games in the WCF), but they didn't get much help from anyone else. It was an odd game in that Denver had much more well-rounded contributions, but for the first time in the series lacked a real standout performance from anyone (other than maybe Chris Andersen), and it ultimately cost them the game and the series lead. Despite the good balance from Denver, not everyone played well, beginning with...

Kenyon Martin: K-Mart actually played a pretty good game at the defensive end of the floor, but on offense he was awful; and he finished the game off by doing an Anthony Carter impression that Nuggets fans could have done without. Martin was 3-10 for the game to finish with as many fouls as he had points (6). I'm sure Nuggets fans are wishing he'd fouled out sooner than he did though, since his play on an inbounds pass with the Nuggets down 2 with 37 seconds to go, pretty much cost Denver the game. Keep in mind that preceding this play the Nuggets had called a timeout and drawn up a play, but K-Mart was unable to find anyone to pass it to so they had to call a second timeout to avoid getting a five second call. So here you go, after not one but two timeouts, here is what Neck Lips did with the game on the line:

If just turning it over and giving the Lakers free throws wasn't bad enough (actually it could have been a clear path foul after all, since it looked Melo might not have grabbed Ariza till he was across half court), it forced Melo to use his 6th foul to prevent the layup, taking away the Nuggets best and most clutch player for the end of the game. K-Mart then fouled out himself 14 seconds later for intentionally fouling Kobe after the game was effectively over. At least K-Mart was able earlier in the half to bait Derek Fisher into a technical foul by shoving him in front of the referee.

JR Smith: I understand that the Nuggets really need Smith to get going in this series if they want to give themselves a chance to win, but lately Smith has been looking about as useless on the court as Sasha Vujacic; and like The Machine, Smith just kept firing in Game 3 even though they weren't falling for him. 2-10 from three point range and only 4-15 overall is not what his team needs (it also doesn't help when one of his threes has a point given back due to Smith getting T'd up for taunting afterward). With his shot not falling he should focus more on defense, but helping to allow Kobe Bryant to get 41 points shows poor play at both ends of the floor. The worst thing about the 15 shots Smith took is that you can't help but feel they may have come at the expense of someone else on the team getting touches, namely...

Carmelo Anthony: His streak of 30-pt games was halted at 5 after he only had 21 points in Game 3, and that was largely due to the fact that he only got 13 shots for the game. Even worse for the Nuggets is that 14 of Melo's 21 points came in the 1st quarter, which meant he was largely invisible for the rest of the game. There's no denying that Melo definitely stepped up huge in both games in LA, to the point where he'd started to enter the whole LeBron-Kobe-Wade discussion, but a game like this makes you remember why he's never been a part of that before now. The foul problems hurt, but the guy did still play 37 minutes for the game (second only to Chauncey Billups for the Nuggets). The bottom line is that he needs to get more shots, and his teammates need to make sure that happens.

The Lakers' point guards: I've been talking about it for a while, and I noticed that the TV crew made menion of this before Game 3, but it really is a risky thing to try to have a three man rotation at one spot at this time of the year, and you only need look at the production of the Lakers' point guards in this game to see why. Derek Fisher finished with 4 points in 26 minutes, Jordan Farmar finished with 2 points in 14 minutes and Shannon Brown finished with 2 points in 8 minutes, as the trio went a combined 4-12 for the game. They did contribute in other areas (Fisher had 3 steals, Farmar had 3 assists and Brown had a block), but in the Lakers offense they need these guys first and foremost to hit wide open shots, especially from downtown (where these guys were 0-4), and they just didn't do that.

Sasha Vujacic: Another game in which he had at least as many missed shots as points. I'm not sure what in his recent play made Phil Jackson decide he needed twice as many minutes in Game 3 as he got in Game 2, but maybe The Machine has some compromising photos of Big Chief Trianlge. Or maybe Phil is senile.

Mo complains
The soon-to-be classic "player with arms out complaining" stock photo.

The Cleveland Cavaliers (Game 3): Okay, what happened to the team that was steamrolling its way to the NBA Finals? Could it be that bullying lousy teams like the Pistons and Hawks made the Crabs look a helluva lot better than they actually are? I'll let you answer that question for yourself. (Here's a hint: Yes.) There's no big story here. Cleveland simply got outplayed...despite a few iffy calls that might've gone their way. (Like, for instance, that truly bawful call that fouled out Dwight Howard. If Superman had gotten any more ball on that play, we probably would have found out afterward that Dwight's hand WAS the ball.) The Craboliers got a near triple-double out of King Crab (41/7/9), but shot 37 percent as a team, missed 21 of their 26 three-point attempts and blew nine free throws. That's not how you win on the road in the NBA playoffs.

Even more damning is that this loss came in the face of constant foul trouble for Dwight (who played only 27 minutes), a gak-inspiring shooting performance by Turkoglu (1-for-11) and 12 bonked FTs by the Magic as a team. And oh sweet Lady Marmalade, what an ugly game this was: 86 free throws attempted, 58 personal fouls called, two technicals, and a flagrant. Oh, and about 726 player complaints to the officials. It was painful. I've have hangovers that were more enjoyable to sit through than that friggin' mess. Let's not forget, also, that the flagrant I mentioned resulted in blood, stitches and an ejection:

I guess that's what Mo gets for throwing the ball at Howard in Game 2...

LeBron James (Game 3): Yes, he was his team's main man last night, but he missed more field goals (17) than he made (11), went 1-for-8 from downtown (you gotta stop shooting them at some point, 'Bron) and bricked 6 free throws, including two in a row with under two minutes remaining and his team down 92-86. Must have been for that Game 2 game-winner...

Everybody on Cleveland who isn't LeBron James (Game 3): Remember all the hand-wringing that went on in Cleveland when Mo Williams wasn't named an All-Star on the first go-around last February? Well, the coaches were right the first time. And Mo sure didn't step up last night: 15 points on 16 shots, 3-for-10 from distance and a game-high 5 turnovers. Delonte West had more fouls (5) and TOs (4) than assists. Big Z went 3-for-10 from the field (including a trio of missed threes) before fouling out in 30 minutes. Sideshow Bob finished with more fouls (6) than points or rebounds (4 each). The bench shot 4-for-11 and finished with more fouls (10) than points (8). Is this REALLY the best team in the league?!

LeBron's amazing "block from behind" on Courtney Lee: made this their block of the night:

I just want to remind everybody that when ANY part of the ball is over the cylinder on a shot attempt, touching it is a goal tend. But whatever. Orlando got the offensive board and Rafer Alston hit a jumper less than 10 seconds later. And Courtney Lee learned a valuable lesson: Dunk that ball home next time. And he did (welcome to the poster, 'Bron):

Random playoff thoughts: From Stephanie G:

1. The Cavs are playing like a team with Mo Williams as their second best player.

2. The highlight of the Birdman's twitter page: "We're going nuggular at your jugular."

3. Game 3 of Cleveland-Orlando by the numbers: both teams combined for 98 FGA, 43 3PA and 86 FTs. How is that even possible? That's an abomination. The most pathetic fact is that LeBron had by far his worst shooting performance of the entire playoffs (11-28, 39%) but that was still somehow better than the rest of his team put together (18/50, 36%).

4. The refs in the whole playoffs but particularly in the Cleveland/Orlando series have been god awful. Can I get an amen? How can the NBA look at this and say yeah, this is an acceptable product, let's not try to change anything next year? Games nowadays seem to mostly consist of players complaining to the refs all night, making pained faces, and flopping trying to bait calls, like a game within a game. And then pretty much every game thread on the two forums I visit are composed of people legitimately bitching about the refs anyway. It doesn't help that it seems most of the refs are in their 70s and that LeBron is approaching Wade 2006 "I can do whatever I want and it's a foul on you" mode.

5. Orlando is probably the hardest team to rig against, from a conspiracy nut viewpoint -- they just keep draining threes, which forces the refs to make more absurd calls. Even all those phantom fouls against Dwight weren't enough in the end.

6. Tell me I'm not the only one rooting for an Orlando-Denver finals out of spite for this whole contrived LeBron/Kobe propaganda campaign. I want to see vitamin water execs and the smug talking heads on ESPN jumping out of windows.
Sunday lacktivity report: From Chris: "As Orlando held home court for Game 3, the same folks as the last battle snapped into lacktion, with a new face joining the fray. Tony Battie followed up his wealth-seeking expedition with a 58-second quest through the Mushroom Kingdom for a one-foul/+1 suck differential Mario, also counting as a 1:0 Madsen-level Voskuhl. Also exploring the realm of Giant Land was Tarence Kinsey, who made one giant crawl towards lacktion immortality with what appears to be a one-foul/+1 SUPER MARIO GALAXY of less than a second!!!!!! Daniel Gibson once again continues to avoid contribution, this time clawing out a brick from downtown for a +1 in 2:56. And Anthony Johnson spent a full 6:16 lacking it up with four bricks (twice from the charity stripe) and two fouls for a +6."

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Poor Spanish Marshmallow
I never knew marshmallows could cry...

The Los Angeles Lakers: See if this sounds familiar -- one team comes roaring out to start the game, goes up by double figures, looks to have the other team on the ropes, only to have the other team come all the way back right before the half to turn it into a game. Then, in the second half, it's back and forth most of the way, with the team that had the early lead up for most of it, only to get outplayed down the stretch and lose by one basket.

If it sounds familiar it's because the same thing that happened in Game 1 repeated itself last night in Game 2, only the teams were reversed, as were the results. Last night the Lakers came out like they wanted to show people the team that everyone expected when the playoffs started was finally here and playing the way they were capable of...and that all the issues with a lack of effort or focus were firmly in their rearview mirror. [Edit: Warning! Assholes in the rear view mirror are closer than they appear! - Ace Ventura] But after taking a 14-point first-half lead, they seemed to quickly lose their effort and their focus -- AGAIN -- and suddenly their halftime lead was only one point. The Lakers started the second half with energy and intensity, but by that time it was too late, because the Nuggets had been brought to life like the Bride of Re-Animator...and yes, this analogy is an indirect reference to Kenyon Martin's horrific tattoos.

The mirror image similarities between Games 1 and 2 are almost eerie. Each team's stars had almost the same performance that the other had in the previous game, with Kobe outscoring Carmelo by one in Game 1 by shooting 13-for-28 while Carmelo shot 14-for-20; and then with Carmelo outscoring Kobe by two in Game 2 by shooting 12-for-29 while Kobe shot 10-for-20. In Game 1 the Lakers' starting center, Andrew Bynum had only 6 points, while in Game 2 Denver's starting center, Nene, had only 6 points. The assists, steals, blocks and fouls for both teams were almost the same as each other in each game, and from one game to the next. The Nuggets shot better from the field in Game 1 and lost, while the Lakers shot better from the field in Game 2 and lost. In Game 1 one thing the Nuggets could really point to to explain the loss was the dozen free throws they missed; and it was the same for the Lakers in Game 2, as they missed 5 free throws in the 4th period while Denver overcame some early FT misses to hit 17 straight (and 18 of their last 19). In Game 1 the Lakers won 105-103, in Game 2 the Nuggets won 106-103. Really, really odd how similar these two games were. And I mean odd kind of like how Jesus and Elvis were basically the same person.

The big difference in this game came down to rebounds. In Game 1 the Lakers held a 46-37 rebounding edge (17-7 offensive), but in Game 2 the Lakers only outrebounded Denver by one, 43-42, and were actually beaten on the offensive glass 14-13. Like Game 1, it was just a very hard-fought game by both teams that was won by an extremely narrow margin. But the Nuggets are now in control, having gotten the split they wanted when they came to L.A. to start this series, and with the way they've played at home in these playoffs, we could very well be looking at a 3-1 lead when the series rotates back to LA for Game 5 next week. [Edit: Somewhere AK Dave is laughing and dusting off his "2009 Nuggets = 2004 Pistons" theory. I have to say, after two games, that theory seems less crazy. Well, slightly. -Basketbawful]

Derek Fisher: After hitting the three-pointer in Game 1 that put the Lakers ahead for good, Fisher came out and stunk up the joint in Game 2, going 1-for-9 for 3 points to go along with 2 turnovers and 5 fouls. At the other end, he was part of the group of players that was guarding Chauncey Billups, as Mr. Big Shot went off for 24 points in the last 25 minutes of the game. He wasn't the Lakers' worst guard though...

Sasha Vujacic: Fresh off being publicly outed by his teammates as being "annoying", the Machine gave his team another reason to be irritated with him last night by going 0-for-4 in 6 minutes of playing time. How has this guy not yet figured out that he's ice-cold this year? [Edit: Does everyone realize that Sasha signed a new contract with L.A. last summer? I have three words for you: Contract Year Phenomenon. I'm just sayin'. -Basketbawful] It seems like no matter how many games go by in which he bricks everything imaginable, he still comes out firing away as soon as he's inserted into a game. I know a shooter is supposed to shoot through a slump, but this is getting ridiculous. Maybe the question is why is Phil Jackson even playing him at this point? Speaking of which...

Phil Jackson: Andrew Bynum looked to be having one of those moderately decent games he has every third or fourth game (9 points on 4-for-8 shooting in the first half), but apparently Phil decided to pull the plug on Big Bynum before he had a chance to regress by playing him for only four minutes in the second half. It should be pointed out that when Bynum went out with just under three minutes left in the second quarter the Lakers were up by 13...but then finished the half only up 1. Maybe it's just me, but it seems odd that Phil decided that Luke Walton should get more playing time last night than Bynum. Which reminds me...

Luke Walton: Good thing for Denver that Phil decided to go with Luke instead of Bynum in the second half, as the Son of Walton not only poured in 2 measly points to go with 2 turnovers and 2 fouls, but he also got lit up by Linas Kleiza, who scored 16 points and grabbed 8 rebounds off Denver's bench. [Edit: For the record, I checked Kleiza's game log, and there were only six games during the season in which he had 8 or more rebounds. And he's only averaging 2.9 RPG in the playoffs this year. All of which makes the Lakers' inability to keep Linas off the glass a little more pathetic, don't you think? - Basketbawful]

Dahntay Jones: While he did double his scoring output from Game 1 (scoring two points this time instead of one), he deserves a mention here for picking up four personal fouls in the first quarter. [Edit: According to the play-by-play, he committed those four fouls in the first five minutes and 49 seconds of the game...during which time he also missed two layups. But it gets worse: Dahntay picked up his first foul with 7:46 left in the quarter, and his fourth foul came at the 6:11 mark. This means that he picked up all those fouls in a minute and 35 seconds. -Basketbawful]

I don't think I've ever seen a player do that before. I mean, yes, players have fouled out super fast before (they mentioned last night that Travis Knight did it in 6 minutes once); but I can't say I've ever seen a player pick up that many fouls in the first quarter, if for no other reason than a coach will almost always take a player out after two fouls in the first quarter, let alone three. To Jones' credit, he didn't foul out, but in the process of avoiding his sixth foul he probably ended up on a Trevor Ariza poster.

Kobe Bryant: Basketbawful reader Justin B. sent the link to this video of Chauncey Billups inbounding the ball off Kobe's back for a layup. Inbounding off the Mamba seems to be the hot new trend.

Officiating: Let's face wasn't so good. But Dick Bavetta was the lead ref, you know? That's like letting Charles Manson watch your human ear collection. It's not going to end well.

Jeff Van Gundy: Kobe Bryant is the greatest Laker of all time? Really?! Uh, Jeff, Bill Walton called. He said that was the worst attribution in the history of human civilization.

The plus-minus stat: From Buck Nasty: "Trevor Ariza had the worst plus-minus on his team (-11) while going 6-for-7 from the field and 6-for-8 from the line for 20 points in 33 minutes (though he did turn the ball over in some terrible situations). By comparison, Shannon Brown played 17 minutes, went 3-for-8 on FGs and 1-for-2 from the line, but still had a better plus-minus. Thanks for plus-minus, stat-geeks. It's clearly the best way to tell how well a player played. And yes I know it's net points or whatever, screw it, it's just dumb."

Val Kilmer: He was in L.A. for the game last night...

Val Kilmer is Meat Loaf

...and it appears his transformation into Meat Loaf is officially complete. To make things even worse for the former second-worst (to George Clooney) Batman of all time, his Top Gun co-star was also on hand and looking as good as ever. You know, if you like insane, midget pretty boys.

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Could this picture be any more perfect?

The Cleveland Cavaliers: Whoooooops. So much for the Cleveland Playoff Steamer. Some people may be blaming the extended layoff -- the Cavaliers hadn't played a game since eliminating the Hawks on May 11 -- but rust usually manifests itself on offense, not defense. And make no mistake: Defense is what cost Cleveland the game. According to John Hollinger's team stats, the Cavs have been BY FAR the best defensive team in the 2009 NBA Playoffs, giving up only 90.8 points per 100 possessions. By contract, Orlando is a distant second at 98.7. But the Magicians apparated into "The Metropolis of the Western Reserve" and made Clevelan's "D" disappear. Orlando scored 107 points on 55 percent from the field -- including 59 percent in the second half -- and 45 percent (9-for-20) from beyond the arc. A pessimist might say "The Magic played at their absolute best and barely won"...but the only important part of that sentence is the "won" part.

What makes the defeat even more painful for the Cavs is that it was one of those heartbreaking come-from-ahead losses. Cleveland was up by 14 after one quarter (33-19) and 15 at the half (63-48). But instead of cruising in for an easy blowout win, they forgot the whole "hand in the face" thing and got outscored 30-19 in the third period...and then it was a dogfight. And mind you, this was all despite a uber-game from LeBron (49 points, 20-for-30, 6 rebounds, 8 assists). Of course, Dwight Howard (30 points, 14-for-20, 13 rebounds) kind of countered 'Bron Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus-sytle:

But in all seriousness, the Cavs just got too happy with themselves after their dominating first half, particularly after this:

But from that point forward, there was waaaaaay too much standing around and watching...

LeBron James: From Stephanie G: "On the one hand LeBron's team mates looked lethargic and useless. But what are they supposed to do when LeBron has the ball for 20 seconds each possession? Or am I hating?" You are not hating. As an anonymous commenter noted: "Kenny Smith called LeBron a 'copycat killer,' i.e., that with Kobe and 'Melo getting huge numbers, LeBron would have to get his. Spot on. But I think that may have hurt the Cavs. I thought LeBron had figured out something by watching Kobe over the years: On average, big numbers from the star can make it LESS likely for your team to win. Not always, of course, but I think it may have this time."

Yup. And don't forget how King Crab missed four of his 10 free throw attempts, including a huge bonk with 1:39 left in the fourth quarter. Pretty big miss in a one-point loss, especially from Mr. Superclutch MVP.

Update! In the interest of fair and equal representation, NarSARSsist chimed in on this subject:

I have to disagree with anonymous about LeBron only trying to score because 'Melo and Kobe did it too. In his defense, his teammates were kinda cold.

He had four early assists seven minutes into the game. If he was looking to score, starting early when they were in no danger seems to be a good way to go.

It's not like he was mediocre but shooting in volume, 20/30 was the second best shooting percentage on his team, with the first being Varejao, who almost exclusively shot layups (4 of his 6 makes came off of LeBron feeds).

Though I have to say, Williams, West, and Big Z had some pretty questionable shot selection. I can't recall what the circumstances were, but looking at the shot chart, most of their misses came from areas where they are below their own averages in shooting (the two guards shooting a bunch of <45 degrees 3 pointers and around the free throw line area, and big Z shooting 20+ footers from everywhere except the top of the key). That could easy alter LeBron's assist numbers (which was already at 8 anyway).

Big numbers coming from a star equating to less of a chance for you to win isn't really that causal when the star is shooting well. They generally come from the opposing team trying to shut down everyone else and forcing one guy to try and beat them (Pistons not doubling Shaq in 2004), or the star being forced to rise to the occasion when their teammates weren't shooting well.

I sorta gag at the media's mancrush with LeBron, and I look forward to instances where Lebron shows some kinks in the armor. Still have to be objective about it though, and this was not one of them.
Anderson Varejao: Dotted by the game-winner. I'm just sayin'.

Ben Wallace: There was a time that the presence of Ben Wallace would have meant holy terror for Dwight Howard. Sadly, that time was around 2004. Last night, the 15 Million Dollar Man logged just under 10 minutes and finished with 2 boards, 1 foul and a plus-minus score of -14...easily the worst of the night. (Joe Beast was second-worst at -8).

Delonte West: From Basketbawful reader zzz: "Anybody see Delonte West's 'semi-worst-possession-ever'? Dribbling, nearly turning it over against Anthony Johnson, dribbling again, nearly getting pilfered by no-neck again, and ending the whole mess by launching a sitting three-pointer at the buzzer, which fails to touch the rim." Yep, yep, yep. A special Basketbawful Medal of Valor to anybody who can find me video of that black eye to the sport.

Chris's very brief lacktion report: Daniel Gibson clawed his way to a 3.25 trillion payday at the Q.

Dirk Nowitzki: Wow. Turns out his ladybeast is preggers. With Dirk's baby. And check this out:

The woman arrested at Dirk Nowitzki's house on May 6 says she is pregnant with the child of the Dallas Mavericks' star and that they had been engaged.

Cristal Taylor spoke to The Dallas Morning News from jail in Beaumont, Texas.

"I've known Dirk for seven years -- and, no, I didn't tell him everything about my past because I was afraid," Taylor said, according to the newspaper. "But I mean, now I'm pregnant and alone and broke because he is my only source of income."

Taylor said that Nowitzki has not contacted her and likely does not know that she is pregnant. She said that she didn't know before she was arrested.

"I didn't even know," she said, according to the newspaper. "Nobody knew until they tested me in Dallas."

Taylor said that she was tested at the Dallas County Jail where she was held for one week before a transfer to Beaumont.

"They give you a urine test when you walk in and they give you a T.B. test," she said. "And the lady was like, 'Oh, so when are you due?' I was like, 'I don't know when the court date is due.' She was like, 'Uh, no, you're pregnant.'

"That was at intake. When I went upstairs, she said, 'I'm going to start you on these prenatal vitamins.' I was like, 'If you could just test me one more time, I just want to make sure.'"

A second test also came back positive, Taylor said.
As AnacondaHL said: "This is too beautiful. Like life unfolding like a perfect movie. A blooming blossom of shadenfreude. On a brighter note, you all realize how much ass this will get Dirk, right?" I do NOT want to know how that ass tastes. [shudders]

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Spanish Marshmallow

The Denver Nuggets: Basketbawful reader AK Dave has been saying for a while that these Nuggets reminded him of the 2004 Detroit Pistons, while I have contended that, other than Chauncey Billups, there are few similarities...beginning with the fact that this Denver team has no Tayshaun Prince-like player to put on Kobe for defensive purposes. And boy was that ever the case last night. Denver squandered a golden opportunity to steal Game 1 in L.A. despite leading for most of the game, having a large edge in free throw attempts (gotta love road cookin'), and Carmelo Anthony going nova for 39 points on only 20 shots. And it was mainly due to the fact that nobody on Denver could slow down Kobe Bryant. Without Shane Battier or Ron Artest (or even Andrei Kirlienko and Ronnie Brewer) to semi-contain him, Kobe looked like a guy who'd just been released from prison, scoring 40 points on 28 shots to go with 4 assists and 6 rebounds. Kobe also did it at the defensive end, as he helped hold Denver's shooting guard duo of Dahntay Jones and JR Smith to only 9 combined points. [Edit: You can also credit Jerry West for hyping Kobe up with all that "LeBron has surpassed him" talk. -Basketbawful]

To be fair to AK Dave, I'd told him that I thought the Lakers' size was going to bother Denver, but Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum only combined for 26 total points, while Nene, Neck Lips and the Birdman combined for 37 points. The Lakers' size did help with blocked shots and rebounds, however, as the Lakers outboarded Denver 46-37 and blocked 9 shots to Denver's 8. [Edit: Don't forget about the 17-7 edge on the offensive glass. -Basketbawful] But make no mistake, this is a game the Nuggets should have won, and really needed to win, since you don't know if they're going to get another opportunity like this on the road in this series. On one hand the Nuggets probably shouldn't expect Kobe to get 40 again (it was only the ninth time he'd done so in the postseason). On the other hand, him taking 28 shots and scoring upwards of 30 seems to be de rigeur for him in these playoffs; while the relative no-show by the rest of his team is not.

Here's a little bonus discussion of who to blame for last night's loss, courtesy of some bad animation:

Denver's bench: One of Denver's strengths is that it's supposed to have a fair amount of depth, but that depth certainly wasn't on display last night, as the Nuggets' bench was outscored by L.A.'s subs 27-16...and that was with Lamar Odom being the only Laker sub to score more than 5 points (and even Odom only had 7). Denver got zero points from Linas Kleiza and Anthony Carter, and when your team only goes nine deep and one of the starters finishes with only 1 point, you can't have two of the four subs get goose eggs. Not if you want to win. It also doesn't help if your backup PG has his inbounds pass stolen when the team is down two points with only 30 seconds to go.

JR Smith: It could almost be said that as goes Smith in these playoffs, so go the Nuggets, as Smith had scored 18 or more points in 5 of the 10 games Denver had played in the playoffs this year prior to last night's game, and he'd only scored less than 14 twice. Well, whether the Lakers just had him scouted well and defended him great or whether he just picked the wrong time to forget what a basketball was, it all added up to the same. Smith notched his worst scoring output of the playoffs with only 8 points on 7 shots, to go with 3 turnovers and 5 fouls. When you add in his role in "defending" Kobe (see above), it was a pretty poor night all around for the Nuggets' 6th Man. Denver wasn't alone in having some players who played especially poor though...

Andrew Bynum: The man who was supposed to be The Difference Maker for this year's Laker team continued his march of futility throughout the playoffs, this time with 6 points, 6 boards and 5 fouls in only 16 minutes of daylight. Here's a tip, big guy: when you're fighting for playing time, the best thing you can do is not collect a foul every three minutes. It doesn't matter if you're Michael Jordan, if you rack up fouls like Greg Oden with a blindfold on, you just aren't gonna be on the court for very long. I'm just sayin'.

Kobe Bryant: Kobe picked up another technical (his 5th of the playoffs -- two more and he'll get a one-game suspension) for slamming the ball off the floor and into the stands while complaining about a call he didn't get (replays showed the non-call was probably correct). Maybe he figured slamming the ball was less offensive than hiking his shorts up to his armpits. Who knows. [Edit: And seriously, I'm sick of Kobe reacting as shown below after EVERY call. -Basketbawful]

more bitching

Blake Griffin: The Other L.A. Team won the NBA Draft Lottery last night, which means that nobody had a worse night than presumed #1 pick in this year's draft: Blake Griffin. Sorry Blake, allow us here at Basketbawful to tell you that unfortunately everything you've heard about the Clippers is true. After all, they proved all year that they were who we thought they were; though apparently that paid off last night with the extra lottery balls that frequently bounce the way of the worst organization in pro sports. Said Griffin: "Maybe I can fill a gap that they've had or been missing." Well Blake, when it comes to gaps in the Clipper organization, this photo says it all:

Lacktion report: From Lacktivity King Christopher: "DJ Mbenga commenced the third round of the postseason by opening up a brand new copy of WiiFit and working out a grand total of 22 seconds for a mid-game Mario."

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As the self-appointed chronicler of the best of the worst of professional basketball, I would be doing you, the readers, a disservice if I failed to report on the dispute brewing between the National Basketball Association and World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. So sayeth the press:

Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are scheduled to be at the Pepsi Center in Denver next Monday night.

Problem is, so are John Cena and a bunch of wrestlers -- and they called it first.

World Wrestling Entertainment said it is booked at the arena for an episode of Monday Night Raw, the same night the Nuggets are slated to host the Lakers in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

WWE chairman Vince McMahon told The Associated Press he doesn't believe there was "any malice, just ineptness," on the part of Kroenke Sports, which owns the team and the building, but can't tolerate the company "just simply throwing us out on our ear."

Without a quick resolution, McMahon plans to send his trucks to Denver.

"That's what we intend to do," he said. "We're going to show up."

WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman said the organization secured the Pepsi Center last Aug. 15 and has already sold more than 10,000 tickets for the event. He says the organization expects a sellout, with tickets ranging from $20 to $70.
Naturally, the NBA is being its typically arrogant self:

"The Nuggets and the WWE understand that the date of Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals cannot be changed," NBA senior vice president Mike Bass said. "We are confident that the Pepsi Center and the WWE will resolve their scheduling conflict."
What a joke. There is nothing in the world of professional sports that "cannot be changed." (Seriously.) Which means the translation is: The NBA is more important, so the WWE has to surrender its legal rights to the arena...period. And make no mistake, the contractual ink has long since dried:

Zimmerman said the Pepsi Center confirmed in March with the WWE that the organization wanted to keep the May 25 date, and sent a contract on April 15 -- the final night of the regular season -- which WWE signed and returned. Tickets went on sale April 11.
It appears that since the NBA is playing hardball, McMahon (surprise!) is prepared to play it right back. Here's an article from the official WWE Web site:

World Wrestling Entertainment’s live, internationally televised broadcast, WWE Monday Night Raw (USA Network, 9:00 PM ET) to take place at the Pepsi Center in Denver next Monday, May 25 is in jeopardy of being cancelled by the Denver Nuggets. WWE and the Denver Nuggets are currently at an impasse in resolving a scheduling debacle by the team and the Pepsi Center. A sell-out crowd is expected to attend the WWE show at the same time the Denver Nuggets are slated to square off against the Los Angeles Lakers for Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference Finals. WWE has held the May 25 date with the Pepsi Center since Aug. 15, 2008.

"Even though the Denver Nuggets had a strong team this year and were projected to make the playoffs, obviously Nuggets and Pepsi Center owner Stan Kroenke did not have enough faith in his own team to hold the May 25 date for a potential playoff game," said WWE Chairman Vince McMahon.
And here's some added info from Basketbawful reader Karc:

More fuel from McMahon. On ESPNews, he was interviewed by one of his former employees, Jonathon Coachman (which I can almost bet ESPN did intentionally to try to unravel McMahon), about the situation. He pretty much buried the Pepsi Center management for having no faith in the Denver Nuggets again, but this time, he offered the owner of the Nuggets a Kobe Byrant Laker jersey (as if the folks in Colorado weren't angry enough), claiming that he must not be much of a fan of his own team. I guess he thinks he can channel Mark Cuban by trying to get into the heads of the Nuggets.

Notable quotes: "He (Stan Kroenke, the owner) should be arrested for impersonating a good business man." This coming from a guy who made one his wrestlers literally kiss his ass on live TV.

And yes, Vince made the steel cage challenge to Stan. ESPN should pay WWE 10 percent of the ad revenue for this series and that match. I promise I'll try to objectively look at this tomorrow, because I cannot stop laughing right now.
I'm not really sure how the legalities work in a situation like this. To me, it seems pretty clear-cut: The WWE has a contract to use the Pepsi Center for the night in question. And yet McMahon actually sounded somewhat defeated when he said: "When you do have a date, you plan everything around it...we may be holding an event in a parking lot somewhere." Does the NBA really have the right to boot the WWE out of the building?

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Basketbawful reader Dave R. sent in this steamy pic of Boston's Stephon Marbury and Eddie House, um, celebrating a successful play during Game 5 of the Magic-Celtics series...while Big Baby provides the obligatory high five/fist bump.

Marbury love

Note Eddie's ecstasy and Hedo Turkoglu's agony. Poor Hedo must have felt left out. No matter. Based on this pic sent in by Dan B., Hedo got his -- and then some -- in Game 6. And based on his "That ain't right!" expression, Rashard Lewis apparently didn't appreciate it.

Hedo love

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Sad Celtics

The Boston Celtics: The defending champs are now officially the dethroned champs. The Celtics didn't have it on offense (39 percent shooting), and they didn't have it on defense either (the Magic hit 51 percent from the field and nearly 62 percent from beyond the arc). The end result was 101-82 home loss in a do-or-die (in this case die) Game 7. And it all came down to this:

out of gas

Seriously, a car will run on fumes for only so long. And make no mistake: Boston's Mach 5 wasn't just out of gas, the engine (Kevin Garnett) was shot and it was being held together by duct tape (an exhausted Paul Pierce), chicken wire (a flat-footed Ray Allen) and chewing gum (a no-tricks-left Rajon Rondo). Oh, and whereas last year they had a couple of quality spare tires (James Posey and P.J. Brown), this year they had a leaky donut (Stephon Marbury) and a useless block of wood (Mikki Moore). And in the end, they fell apart kind of like the Bluesmobile at the end of "The Blues Brothers."

Last-second shots and fourth quarter heroics are what make the headlines, but teams usually win or lose based on what happens during the game as opposed to what happens at the end. The fact that the Celtics couldn't finish around the basket was a sure sign that the team was wobbling toward an ugly end. Boston missed 17 of the 24 layups they attempted. Kendrick Perkins was 1-for-8 at the rim (and four of those were stuffed). Paul Pierce was 1-for-5. Ray Allen was 1-for-3. Rajon Rondo was 0-for-3. That's 3-for-19 (15 percent) on LAYUPS from your four best players...which is a pretty clear-cut sign of team with dead legs.

That's not to take anything away from Orlando's defense. Dwight Howard blocked five shots and intimidated several others. But the Magicians' interior D certainly benefitted from going up against a team that really didn't have anything left to give. (Other than a bunch of pained and sour looks from the bench during garbage time.)

Paul Pierce: Hey, I know that Pierce has been logging heavy-duty minutes for the past few months. And for the most part, he's done an admirable job of picking up the slack in KG's absence. But his final line -- 16 points (4-for-13), 2 rebounds, 3 assists -- in an elimination game at home doesn't really jibe with all that "I'm the best player in the world" noise he was making after the Celtics won the title last season. I'm just sayin'.

The Boston bench: Holy shnikes, where are Greg Kite, Jerry Sichting and Sam Vincent when you need them? The only three pine riders who got significant PT for the C's were Brian Scalabrine, Eddie House and Stephon Marbury. Think about that. Those dudes were the best the Celtics' bench had to offer. [shudders] No wonder they lost by 19. They probably should have lost by 30. That trio combined for 8 points on 3-for-12 shooting to go along with 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 turnovers and 6 fouls. About the only thing you can say in these guys' favor is they didn't set the locker room on fire. So they have that going for them...which is nice.

Stephon Marbury: The numbers (4 points, 1-for-4, 1 assist, 3 turnovers) don't really get across how incredibly catastrophic his 13 minutes and 46 seconds of playing time really was. It was almost like he was intentionally sabotaging the team, which would be crazy, even for Starbury. If there was any question about whether Stephon was going to be back in Celtic green next season, this game answered it.

Danny Ainge: Way to restock the shelves there, Danny. From letting James Posey walk over one year and about $5 million to jumping all over the Mikki Moore signing instead of patiently waiting for Joe Smith to get bought out, Ainge's every decision this season seemed to be the wrong one. And the end result sure makes some of his other master deals look like a lot of luck. (And a lot of Kevin McHale.)

Reggie Miller: As karl pointed out: "I swear to you, I just heard Reggie Miller say that Marcin Gortat (God Bless his little Polish heart) is just as athletic as Dwight Howard. Officially the worst announcer ever."

Ben Affleck: It's bad enough that his "Daredevil" movie nearly made me tear out my own eyeballs with a spork, but he has now succeeded in making poor Jennifer Garner look exceptionally average. Screw you, Ben.

Freaking Afleck
I swear, Jennifer Garner used to be hot.

And now, from Wild Yams, our special Lakers correspondent:

Kobes freakout

The Houston Rockets: Per the request of my biggest fan, starang, I will attempt to make this entry in the Lakers-Rockets series more humorous than the last one (in case the Rockets' play yesterday wasn't funny enough). Houston must have thought that after winning Game 6 that they had won the championship, because they certainly didn't appear to realize that there were any more games left to be played this season. Or maybe Houston's team bus was stuck in traffic for a few hours, because it seemed like nobody showed up till they were down by 31 with about two minutes remaining in the game; and that my friends is waiting just a bit too long to start your comeback. Yes, if Houston hadn't scored the game's final dozen points, they might not have broken the 60 point mark (they only had 58 points with 2:15 remaining in the game, when Phil Jackson emptied his bench). There were so many Rocket failures during yesterday's game that I felt like I was watching a highlight reel from the early days of NASA.

The Rockets were embarrassed in all areas of the game yesterday, but the main things they did poorly were shoot and rebound, and those are fairly important parts of winning a basketball game. Houston only shot 36% from the field and only 25% from the 3-pt line, and they got murdered on the boards 55-33. When a team plays that poorly in those areas, well it's no surprise the Associated Press said: "This one was practically over before the fans settled into their seats." Scanning down the box score it's tough to find any Rockets players who played well, but it's pretty easy to find a couple who played exceptionally poorly, starting with...

Ron Artest: Crazy Pills started the game off with a pair of airballs, and it didn't get much prettier after that, as he finished with only 7 points on 10 shots (including 1-6 from 3-pt range). If his play on the floor wasn't enough by itself to earn him a mention here, then this postgame quote sure should be: "Obviously, the Lakers are more experienced than us, but I thought we were the better team." Too bad they didn't show even a hint of that in yesterday's game. Maybe he means they're a better team in some other sport, like dodgeball, for instance; cause they're clearly not a better basketball team.

Carl Landry: A guy who had stepped up all series long picked the worst time to pull a disappearing act, as he finished the day 2-10 for 4 points and only 2 rebounds. Even weirder, he decided to fire up two ill-advised 3-pt shots, which of course, both missed. He also was frequently on the wrong end of the Pau Gasol smackdown, which included 21 points and 18 rebounds. Fail.

Aaron Brooks: Despite being Houston's "high scorer" with only 13 points (which is pretty pathetic in and of itself), Brooks needed 13 shots to get to that total (hitting only 4), and he led the team in two other dubious stats: most turnovers (5) and worst +/- rating (-24). He also managed to piss off Isaac Hayes and get thrown out of his rib joint.

I'm not gonna be around today as I'm going to be traveling and won't be able to check the internets till tomorrow (much to my number one fan's chagrin, I'm sure), but for anyone who's looking ahead for a preview to the Western Conference Finals between Denver and LA, this kid's got you covered:

Kobe Bryant: Hey, does anybody know where I can get a picture of Mamba complaining about a foul by yanking his shorts all the way...oh, never mind. Got one!

Kobes sexy legs

And now it cannot be unseen.

Lacktion report: And now I give you Chris and his amazing lacktivity update. Remember: Small sips.

Rockets-Lakers: DJ Mbenga scratched out a singular brick for a celebratory +1 suck differential in 2:40.

Magic-Celtics: Tony Battie laid down one piece of masonry for a +1 in 3:05 to give Stan Van Gundy his tobacco fix for the series, while Gabe Pruitt missed from behind the arc for a +1 in 2:30. Fellow Celtic Bill Walker took home a pedestrian paycheck of 2.25 trillion, the second largest procurement of wealth in the second round.

Battie's appearance gave him his third straight lacktive game, and fourth in the series, with a total unproductive run of 13:46 -- still only good for second in the playoffs behind Daniel Gibson's single-game 14:06. (Add the 15-second Mario from the first round against the Sixers, and he STILL ends up 5 seconds behind the crustacean!)

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