Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Fix That Wasn't

This weekend in the NBA, two Conference Finals had the opportunity to go to a seventh game. For NBA detractors -- and yes, you are legion -- this was an easy time to bitch about the officiating, to call for a Kobe-LeBron fix, and to cite the presence of Nike puppets as something sinister.

And yet, for both conferences, the simple conspiracy was that the better team won in the minimum number of games necessary, without any officiating moment of consequence. The result is an NBA Finals that will feature Los Angeles and, gasp, Orlando, but not until Thursday night, or in just enough time for the national media to exhaust every man, woman and child on the planet with LeBron James 2010 Free Agency Speculation. (I don't think he goes anywhere, but then again, I thought he was going to force Game 7 tonight. So what do I know?)

A few notes on the vanquished. For all of the early talk in the series as to how Carmelo Anthony was making The Leap and Chauncey Billups was the best thing that had happened to Denver since the discovery that snow could create tourism... well, Occam's Razor is a fine way to keep your head in such matters, and it may be just that once Lamar Odom's back had recovered from the hard foul that he took in the Rockets series, this series was over. Kenyon Martin may look scary with all that ink, Nene is a nice player with active hands, and Birdman Anderson can block you all day from the weak side, but Odom is just a poor man's LeBron with the big man passing, and when he plays well, the Lakers don't lose, mostly because he makes Pau Gasol the most effective offensive center in basketball. The Nugget bigs are good defensively, but they aren't 2008 Kevin Garnett.

For Cleveland... I just had the sense, in watching the game tonight, that they knew they were beaten every step of the way. LeBron James might be the only player in NBA history who can get a near triple double without seeming like he's having anything close to his usual game, and when he takes "only" 8 free free throws in his first 39 minutes, that's just not the same guy that was in that laundry in the first five games. James had just four points in the fourth quarter tonight, 1 before the final minute of garbage time; his tank was long past "E".

Mo Williams is going to wear the goat horns for not showing up early in the series and then making the non-valid guarantee, but if Cleveland desperately needs to upgrade their bigs. Zydrunas Ilgauskas gave them 2 points, 7 boards, 2 steals and 4 fouls in 22 minutes, and if the Cavs allow him to get a year older and a year less mobile while playing meaningful minutes for them, they are absolutely insane. The same goes for Ben Wallace, of course; had the Cavs simply had a Kendrick Perkins / Joel Pryzbilla type to mix in as a true defensive stopper, they might have won this series. Hell, a Brad Miller might have done it for them, and I could easily throw out another dozen low-tier names. A team should not lose in the Conference Finals with home-court advantage because their best defensive play from a center is a Sideshow Vareajo flop.

It was also striking that, when the Cavs season was on the line tonight,for the first time in the series, the best player on the floor wasn't wearing a Cavs jsersey. Instead, it was Dwight Howard, just running wild without early foul trouble, taking advantage of the pick your poison single defender option that Mike Brown threw at him. Every team in the East has been wondering how on earth they could comppete with an unstoppable force, but given his age and power, it's possible that the force is in Florida. The signature play of this game was a lightning-quick spin and spike that made Sideshow Vareajo look like he was bolted to the floor. It's not like NBA history is absent the example of any big man just crushing everything in his path.With the Cavs shooting terribly at the line, and not getting there very often, against the Magic when they were hitting their threes... well, that's just about the living prescription of a game the Magic can't lose.

Lakers-Magic will get similar or better ratings that LA-Cleveland, though probably not up to LA-Boston last year. People forget that James was already in one Finals that no one watched, though the anti-Spurs bias probably had more to do with that. There would have been more interest in watching him this year, since he's a bigger star and on the radar for any number of NBA+ markets that look at him and dream of the future, but not so much.

And as for Cleveland Fan, who doesn't even get a signature play to pin this losing memory on -- really, the lasting memory of this series is still going to be James stealing Game Two at the buzzer... well, I just feel bad for you. Best record in the NBA in the regular season, best player in the world on the roster, two crushing sweeps in the first two rounds, and done. You aren't the only ones surprised by this, really.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Scene (and question) from a train

For those of you who know the daily joy of regional rail, a quick question.

You board a Friday afternoon rush hour train for a 40-minute trip. The AC is off, and the car is 80% filled. The train is late, and your mood is not great.

You pass by a white male in a blue striped polo shirt and aviator sunglasses who is taking up two seats up curling up in the fetal position to snooze.

On the other end of the car, a black woman is having an energetic conversation on her cell phone about the failure of the person on the other end to arrive in Newark on time with a baby for transfer. This conversation lasts several minutes,and can be heard clearly for several cars, such is her volume.

Do you:

1) Tell the white guy to move over so you can sit next to him, just for malicious spark of ruining his nappy time,

2) Inform the black woman that, if the baby looks and acts anything like her, she's better off flying solo, especially since that might mean she could STFU,

3) Admire the white guy's stick it to the man attitude, especially since the train conductor isn't calling him on it either, and think about pulling it off yourself on some future trip,

4) Crank up the headphones so you can ignore the black woman and not be one of the pissy passive-aggressive people who are telling her to shut up, albeit not to to her face or in a way that she even actually hears, or

5) Write about the whole mess on your wildly unpopular blog to distract yourself from the lack of AC, and to kill most of the trip time with the writing, image find, editing and posting.

I'll leave it to the reader to guess which way I went...

Obvious But Fun

Plus, it shows up KanYe as being a white boy, which I'm pretty sure we can all agree on at this point.

And where there were no sand, we ate Blogrolling. (You ate what?) We ate Blogrolling.

Why Citi Field is just so twee, so pwecious, so Mets. And yet another reason why new ballparks suck, and should be actively worked against by a more mature, post-recession, America. (This is a whole 'nother post, one that longtime FTT readers probably already know, but so be it.)

Is there anything more frightening than the phrase "ESPN Innovation Lab"? I'm seeing a "Clockwork Orange" kind of situation in which I'm forced to watch a continual loop of Home Run Derby, Who's Next and Pardon The Braying Jackassery. Quite Frankly, I think this is just a Lemur move to get the hell out of the armpit that is Bristol, Connecticut... but don't tell Red Sox Nation. They'll get bent if they lose NESN2, aka ESPN, and we know what happens when those very special people face adversity.

Your $1 magazine that features nothing but random mug shots from random arrests, which made my brain give me nothing but "Raising Arizona" references for a half hour. Turn to the right!

Nick Underhill gives the heads-up on Tigers' pitcher Rick Porcello, who might be historically good. Useful to know.

Tom Scocca points out that the NBA marketing machine is also Kobe vs. Not Kobe; I'll even forgive him the snotty Bird/Erving aside. That's what happens when you're (a) really good, and (b) really reprehensible. But remember, Philly Fan was bad, bad, bad for booing him as the All-Star Game MVP. (Once again, score one for my town's ability to spot a problem before it's obvious.)

205 drop: Top 10 least-loved MLB promotional giveaways

Your drop today has one item that's in highly questionable taste, and that's not even considering the highly unseemly thought of Manny Ramirez eating a home pregnancy test. Comedy ain't pretty, people. Go click and see where I've offended.

Cavs-Magic Game Five: Where Amazing Happens Late

Tonight in Cleveland, the Magic didn't need the game. The NBA didn't want them to win the game. The Cavs, especially on their home court, came out and established a +20-point lead fast. And then for three quarters or more, the home team was good and terrified, until a bench player saved them.

Let's just say that if you are a Cavs fan, you're not exactly filled with confidence that you are going to win this in seven.

Cleveland came out like a house on fire, building a 22 point lead in the first nine minutes with scoring from just about everyone wearing the laundry. Anthony Johnson and Michael Pietrus cut into the lead a little at the close of the quarter, which ended at Cavs 35, Magic 18. In the second, the Magic started chipping, as everyone in Cleveland knew they would, completing an 11-1 and then starting another, which is where my family obligations ended.

The lead got down to eight on a Rashard Lewis free throw make off transition. Delonte West made an old-school three on very nice use of continuation, but Hedo Turkoglu answered with a make. Martin Gortat got a flat-footed O-board, leading to a Turk turnover in traffic. Rather than get back, the Turk and van Gundy went nuts over a non-call, leading to a van Gundy technical. Mo Williams made it to push it back to 10.

I'm been trying to avoid talking about the zebras, because it's such a chalk argument to make. It's like going to a baseball or football game and bitching about the weather; it won't make you happy, and it will distract you from the game. And as bad as the officiating has been, I'm not sure what kind of golden standard we are comparing it to. I don't remember NBA officiating ever being good; it is what it is. I'm also not sure how it ever gets better. So, moving on.

After the Cleveland celeb crawl, Craig Sager talks to CC Sabathia, who gets to talk as a Cleveland fan despite, well, being a Yankee now. How the hell is that OK for Cleveland Fan?

Back to the micro blog, where the Turk hits a three to cut the lead to six, and the pick and roll has just murdered the Cavs; the run was 27-11 before Mo Williams connected on his fourth three of the night. James penetrated like a knife through butter, finding Joe Smith for an uncontested layup, and this is the Cavs team I picked to win the series. The lead went back to 11 with four minutes left in the half.

In the timeout, we hear Mike Brown telling his bigs that fouling Dwight Howard is better than giving him dunks. And to think, some people wonder about Mike. Not surprisingly, Rafer Alston left his jumper in Orlando, along with Dwight Howard's free throw stroke. The Cavs offense went stagnant in James' hands, and the Magic started to feed Howard with success, but Z rolled to the hoop for a slam, only a small respite before Howard owns him at the other end. Z can't even foul Howard right. Yeesh.

The Magic then makes another run as James can't avoid turnovers, the Cavs can't get back on defense, and Howard is just alone in the world as a big man with hops in this series. Howard with 14 and 4 at this point, 11 in the second quarter, and the Magic are doing everything but shoot threes. The Cavs just can't defend this team at all; the Magic are shooting 44% from the field, with tons of open misses, and yet they are in the game. Two LeBron free throws stops the bleeding until Lewis makes another easy runner. James can't make, and Lewis drains the three to close it to one at the half. Right now, it seems like the Cavs don't even think they can win this series. Cavs 56, Magic 55.

The third quarter began with a miss trade, and then the Magic took the lead with Howard owning Z. Lewis then stole from Z, and the Turk nailed a three, and it's a four point game and a dead, dead, dead building. Z should just fake a blown hammy at this point; he's putting up Maginot Line level resistance to Howard. A quick Brown timeout gets them a West turn and a Lee make, and that's a 7-0 run. After matching turnovers, the Turk hits a runner, and the Magic are up 8. West gets a make out of a stagnant set, but the Cavs are dead team playing right now, and Reggie Miller was openly begging for James to do everything.

Williams makes his fifth three pointer, and he has 20, to cut it to three. The Turk drove around Sideshow with ease, but can't finish. James gets a steal and Alston picked up a very iffy clear path foul call; James makes both and it's back to one. West missed the corner three, Lee did that, and that's the series in microcosm; instead of a Cavs lead, it's the Magic by four. Z gets an old school three with Alston doing the honors; kind of lucky there, but they'll take it. Z is 5 for 5 from the floor, and yet a crippling problem. Alston misses, James doesn't, and the Cavs take the lead back halfway through the quarter. That was fast, and yet Cleveland Fan was still on the fence about it.

The Turk misses a quick three, and Lewis drew his third. Z makes again, and the Cavs lead is three. Howard walks trying to punish Z, on his awful cross-court hook thing that makes me wonder if he's ever going to be a good post player. Lewis missed at the rim, and James take it a million miles an hour at the Turk, who puts him on the line in self-preservation. James missed both to stop the momentum, and the Turk scored, now has 18, to really kill it.

Reasonable ball movement ends with West not wanting the shot, but then taking and missing it. The Magic remember that they have Howard, and used him; fouls on consecutive plays puts him on the line, and he gets a ridiculous hop and roll to give his team the lead back. Z finally missed, a foul line shot that was easier than many of his previous makes. After a Williams miss and a Sideshow board, Z makes a good move to the hoop and draws Howard's third foul; one make ties it again.

Lewis with all day for the three, but couldn't get it. Z missed from the elbow, too much going through him now. Sideshow flops to no effect, and Howard slams for the fresh lead. Williams has to go to the dressing room with a cut. James found Sideshow for a runner and Howard's fourth foul, and maybe the Cavs can finally take advantage of his absence, given that the Magic haven't been hitting their threes (yet). The Sideshow miss kept it tied.

The Turk drew Vareajo's fourth, and that's a problem for the Cavs. Two makes send the lead back their way. Wally Sczerbiak missed, then fouled, putting Lewis on the line; the Zerb is not a part of a balanced champion's breakfast right now. Two makes and it was four. West with a nice make on a hesitation jumper. The Turk can do anything he wants to West on the other end, and he makes the jumper. James finds Gibson for the corner three, and Gibson's been huge for the Cavs tonight. Gortat can't finish, and James feeds the Zerb for a miss to end the quarter. It's Magic 79, Cavs 78, with twelve minutes left to close the series.

Williams starts the fourth with a three for the lead on James' ninth assist. Gibson dominates Johnson on defense, and van Gundy would have his first tech if he didn't already have one. James missed over the Turk, and he's just 5 of 14 tonight; the MVP then picked up his third on Pietrus. If James is going to win this game, he'll have to do it with penetration. Pietrus got one of two, keeping the Cavs in front. Williams moving nicely tonight, fed James who got blocked by Gortat, but Wallace got the o-board and the Turk's fourth. James gets his triple double in assists with Gibson's second triple, and West then turns the Magic; transition ends with James collecting the Gortat foul and two makes. The Cavs are suddenly up six, and van Gundy has seen enough for a timeout; Cavs Fan was getting loud.

I love the Association, but after 40 days of this, I've really heard quite enough of how Dylan McDermott IS DUMPING THE BODY! I mean, do I share my personal problems with him?

Better Cavs defense is spiked by Howard scoring over Wallace. Gibson missed a three, Wallace board, West missed... and Pietrus connects. Series in microcosm again, and it's 86-85 Cavs, with Brown going for the instacall timeout. James goes by Pietrus for the half-court layup that's his stock in trade as a ridiculously good player. Johnson's three stayed out. James drove on Lewis for no call. In transition, Z gives Howard his fourth, rather than a monster dunk, but Howard hits both. The Cavs got stagnant, but James picked up Pietrus' fourth late in the clock. van Gundy continued to hyperventilate, and James missed the second. Cavs by 2, seven minutes to play.

Z with a touch foul, his fifth, on a push to Howard's back. The end of this game is not promising much flow. Pietrus makes a high degree of difficulty three for the lead. James has to force and missed, but Williams gets it back with a transition steal, missed another three, then made a great hustle play to save the possession.

James then made the shot of the night (so far), getting Howard's fifth on a drive and scoop layup for the old school three. With six minutes left, van Gundy leaves Howard out there. The Turk missed a quick and not very good three. James missed a runner, no call. Alston missed another three, and he's 1 of 9 tonight and the sole reason why the Magic aren't ahead. James in stagnation over Alston to make it four. West buys a Turk fake and puts him on the line for three; wow, that's not a good play. The Turk makes three, and it's a 1-point Cavs lead.

LeBron drives on Pietrus, hits Sideshow in the hands, gets the stone deflection, then fed Gibson for another three. Yes, he's really, really good. Wow. Sideshow with a block on the Turk after the Turk walked. A bad Williams three and miss goes off Howard for the Cavs team board. James runs clock on an iso, then makes over Pietrus to push it to six, and while it's not exactly pretty to put the ball in LeBron's hands and watch him do everything, it's also effective, at least tonight. It also tells how much faith van Gundy has in Pietrus, that he keeps letting him try his luck even up; considering how much LeBron is doing without a jump shot, it's not even a bad tactic.

All series long, the Cavs have not gotten stops. Can they start here? Pietrus missed the three badly, and the Cavs run iso clock with LeBron. A great pass to Sideshow ends in a missed dunk and the O-board. LeBron wisely ran clock, then owned Pietrus, fouled out Howard, scored the runner, drained the free throw and, I think, cured cancer. I think we're getting Game Six, folks. Your fresh play of the day there, and start the highlight reel. Nine point game with 2:22 left, and Howard's gone.

Of course, the Magic Will Not Die. Pietrus gets Vareajo's fifth and the old-school three with an awkward drive that could have been a charge, but it's not and it's six. James runs iso clock again, then nails the jumper over Pietrus; huge. Alston's nightmare continues, and the Zerb gets the board. James runs iso clock, but mixes it up with a supreme bullet to Sideshow on the back door, who finally hits the open make and the free throw. The lead is 11, there's 67 seconds left, and Orlando can start the bus. For the first time this series, the Cavs will win a game and deserve it. James with 17 in the fourth, and his line reads 37-14-12 right now, and he's got the most points in Association history for someone playing five games in a conference final. Yes, he's very, very good. Ye. Gads.

The Zerb makes a bonehead foul, but Lewis misses the tech. Lewis fouls out Sideshow, the second straight game he's given all six; his 7-8-2 line tonight was useful, even if his point-blank misses were not. Lewis makes both to get it to nine, but with 62 seconds to go, they'd need to reach deep into the George Karl playbook to blow this one. Z converts on a Gortat foul; it's an 11-point lead with 60 seconds to go. The Turk gets a call on Z, and now he's fouled out as well, and the game will take three hours. Ow.

Williams gets the inbounds and is able to run some clock, blissfully. Williams makes two, and those are the first points in the last 32 (!) that James wasn't involved in. The Turk with a layup, and the Orlando press requires a Cav timeout. 31.2 left, and Just. End. It. Already... and it finally does. Cavs 112, Magic 102.

What it all means for Game Six? Hard to say. James was, if possible, even better tonight; he delivered on possession after possession late, even on a night where his jumper wasn't much. But the Magic were right there on a night where no one really shot very well, and Alston shot terribly. At home, with the refs probably reverting back to them after van Gundy planted seeds all game, it's far more likely than not that they will close it.

But James is simply playing better than anyone since vintage Jordan right now, and you pick against him at your peril. I just hope the game has flow, because as much as James's individual moments make the series riveting, three hours of free throws is just not as good as it should be. We'll see it on Saturday.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Magic's Trick

When you sit down to watch the Magic try to end the Cavaliers season tonight, they are going to look, to the non-NBA obsessed eye, like a lot of other basketball teams. But they aren't. Here's why.

What you have with the Magic is something of a unique hybrid that straddles a middle ground. On the far left side of the spectrum (yes, everything eventually goes back to politics here), you'd have a team like Phoenix -- fast shots, three pointers, run your opponent into the ground with superior conditioning and score easier points than them; the signature play here is a three in transition as a soul-crushing unequal trade for the opposition's hard-won deuce.

The downside of that approach is that the defense usually falls to pieces, because the coaching staff needs to spend all of their time getting the players to recognize good shots and forget their own numbers, despite the fact that compensation is based on numbers. Also, it's a team based on jumpers, and when they aren't falling -- particularly in half-court grind games, or late in a series when the legs aren't there anymore -- you lose. When this kind of team works, they are a joy to watch, and beloved by fans as if they were a champion, even though they almost never are.

On the far right side of the spectrum would be an old-school walk-it-up power team, like the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, the Billups-era Pistons, and on some level, the Spurs. Here, you stress the importance of every possession and try to make sure that you are always taking more shots than your opponent with superior rebounding and ball-handling; you also get to the line more. This kind of team is more consistent and less explosive, and the downside is that talent acquisition and evaluation is harder, because fewer elite-level players really want to play like this.

Even when it works, it's not very pleasing to the eye, and whether you like it or not, there's a level of artistry to pro hoop, especially among the best and most highly compensated, that has to be indulged. If you don't accommodate this to some extent, you get guys just executing the game plan, rather than being a fanatic about it, and in such differences, wars are won and lost. When this kind of team works, they seize games in the fourth like an anaconda, because the opponent is just unable to get points for 48 minutes against this kind of relentless pressure.

So here is the Magic, and to the naked eye, they look like the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, in that Dwight Howard resembles nothing more than a young and lithe Shaquille O'Neal. His hands aren't as good, but he's a better leaper and more committed on defense; he's also been better at the line, so that you aren't as afraid of using him late in games. It's not a perfect match, but it's 90 to 95% of the way there, and Howard's demeanor is also a good match for Shaq, in that he alternates between determined bulldozer to foul-prone flake.

But he has no Kobe. Hedo Turkoglu is a point forward with a good passing eye and fourth quarter confidence. Rashard Lewis is a matchup problem small forward who is very good from distance, but prone to giving you absolutely nothing if his jumper isn't falling. Neither has Kobe's all-around game, the ability to finish in a game and mood-altering way, or the curse/gift for scoring 1-on-5 if his teammates aren't bringing it.

In the backcourt, the similarities to the Shaq champions really falls apart. None of the Magic guards are the kind of oversized defensive stoppers that the Shaq teams employed. Instead, they are guys that can create their own shot off the dribble more than creating for others, and they all push the tempo. No one calls them tough, or defensive-minded, though they actually are, at least this year.

So are the Magic closer to the Suns-Kings axis? No... because those teams are, by necessity, defined by their point guards, who keep everyone involved and positive by meting out the opportunities to shine, like a conductor. The Magic have no one like that.

They also, and this is really where they aren't like any championship-level team I've seen, do not have a key player who you can neutralize as a tipping point to victory. When Howard is unavailable due to suspension or foul trouble, it makes for better ball movement on offense. When Turkoglu can't find the range, Lewis has a game that can compensate, and vice versa. Sporadic explosions from the guards -- today Rafer Alston, yesterday Courtney Lee, tomorrow Mickael Pietrus -- seem to come easily, because the opposition just has no one they can play off, and in pro hoop, unlike football or baseball, good offense always beats good defense.

When the Magic aren't committed, they look like a soft Euro team, just another in a long line of hoopsters that feel like a passing dome team in football -- i.e., a regular season mirage. But what they are really are, this year and this playoff, is a covert defensive hammer.

Cleveland came into this series as the lockdown masters of opposing three-pointers; after four games, that reputation lies in a smoking ruin. Cleveland has the best player on the floor and the planet, and honestly, I don't think I've ever seen a player better than LeBron James in the first four games of the series. He's a defensive monster, and breathtaking on offense. When he isn't scoring, he's generating some of the easiest looks you'll ever see in a playoff game. His teammates aren't hitting them, not because they are terrible basketball players, but because, despite the easy road in the first two series, their legs have been taken away by this Borg-like team from central Florida.

I've never seen anything like it before, and I don't think we're going to see it for very long, like, say, this year's Celtics. (That team was doomed as soon as they signed Marbury, Garnett injury or no Garnett injury, and now that he's in a career-ending way with that knee, they are a 50-win and timber mode, because Allen and Pierce can't stay this good. But I digress.)

The Magic will tune out Stan van Gundy soon enough. When Howard develops more of a post-up game (honestly, what he's got now is kind of embarrassing for a guy with this level of publicity; it's Ben Wallace-esque) and Jameer Nelson returns, the balance will be thrown out of whack. They also won't be able to keep all of the pieces over time, and the loss of someone like Pietrus could be as problematic for them as, say, the Celtics losing James Posey last year.

But for the time being, they are fascinating, dangerous, and could have the highest ceiling of any of the final four teams. For a club that looked vulnerable in the first round to a middling Sixers team, heart-free against the D-league deep Celtics, and the near-universal fast out against the Association's best regular season team with playoff rest and home court... well, it's all unprecedented stuff.

And no, I'm still not really believing it myself, because my faith in James is nearly absolute.

But with just one more win, they'll prove me, and the rest of the world outside of central Florida, definitively wrong.

At least for this year.

205 Drop: Top 10 approaching ethical crises in sports

Today's list is educational all over. For instance, I wasn't quite sure of the plural of crisis before. But seriously...

It has long been the belief of this writer that, as base and craven meatbags, we're in a bad way to deal with the ever-increasing speed of ethical concerns that breakthrough tech can bring. As a very small aside/example... I am, on average, a fairly dramatically short adult male. (How much? I'm looking up at Nate Robinson, and eye to eye with Muggsy Bogues. It comes in handy on trains and planes.) This (really, honestly, truly) doesn't bother me, and I'm sure it helped me develop my grinding worker ways; I wouldn't change my size, even with a pain-free one-shot pill.

But what if the Shooter Wife and I had the ability to give that one-shot pain-free height pill to the Shooter Kids? Would they be better off being more likely to be average height? (And, um, especially if the Shooter Kids were male.) And if we really want to up the ante into realms of not sports and not politically correct, substitute "sexual orientation" for "height."

In any event, my brain isn't big enough to deal. So, um, very big brained people? Please work these questions out, and fast, because the tech isn't slowing down... and I'm not sure our brains are speeding up.

Anyway, go click, post a comment, tell me I'm short, etc. And thanks, as always, for reading.

Lakers-Nuggets Game Five: Welcome to the Series, Lamar Odom

Tonight in Los Angeles, the Lakers took the predictable 3-2 lead over the unpredictable Nuggets, with a surging fourth quarter run that showed just how potent this team is (a) when their bigs show up, (b) when Kobe Bryant doesn't dominate the ball, (c) when they are at home with the winds to their backs, (d) when Phil Jackson buys the refs with his annual costly referee jockeying, (e) when they've lost a game and have had their hearts questioned. Pick any that apply, or all. And now, your micro-blog.

The first quarter was back and forth, with neither team getting any real separation; the signature play was Chris Anderson rising to block a Lamar Odom dunk attempt with seconds left in the quarter, which kept it tied. The Lakers shot the ball much better, but lost the rebound battle by five as the Nugget bigs continued to dominate. Kobe Bryant worked to get others involved, taking only two shots and generating two assists (along with two turnovers). Chauncey Billups hit two three-pointers but also two fouls, and considering that the home team usually jumps out to an early lead, a tied game wasn't too bad for the Nugs.

The second quarter started with a nice play by JR Smith to set up Kenyon Martin, but he missed the free throw; already four misses from the lines for the Nuggets. As usually happens, the start of the second quarter was ragged, marked by Carmelo Anthony stretching his bad shooting to 1 for 6 before a nice shake and bake jumper. The Laker offense seemed awkward, but Odom collected Anderson's second foul, showing his usual home-court-only aggression. The refs let the Lakers go with some exceptionally physical interior defense, and both teams looked like they left their legs in Game 4.

Anderson guarded Gasol nicely in the post, leading to a Smith make and a three-point Nugget lead. The Lemur gives us the never-tedious celeb roll, ending with more Jack Nicholson face time, because that guy never gets any pub. Bynum found Walton for a lay up where Walton was open for so long, the audience called for it, and I'm not sure how that wasn't three seconds. In general, I wasn't very impressed by the Nugget energy here, but Smith was playing well, and the Nuggets score easily than the Lakers, just from the bigs.

The Lakers played volleyball on the o-glass to tie it back up, but Nene finds Carter -- really, I had no idea the big man was such a good interior passer -- to tie it back up. Bynum got Carter's second foul and made the first, then saw Odom collect the second free throw miss for a fresh possession; Odom then fed Bynum for a made hook, and Bynum is showing some small flash of utility there. After the ads, the Lakers volleyball but can't finish, and Kleiza avoids three Lakers on a runner for the lead. Nene got whistled on a 50/50 loose ball, Fisher with the makes and new lead. Kleiza got Bryant's second foul, this one on a three, and to say that Kobe has snoozed so far this first half would be 100% true. Kleiza made one of three, and that's 6 of 12 from the line. A miss trade ended with Garol finding Bynum for the flush, and the younger Laker big now has 9 points on the night, albeit with another free throw miss.

Anthony to the rack and looking stronger. Bryant walks baldly, and even the most hard-core Association hater has to admit that the traveling calls have been made in this playoff season, at least for the most part. Billups missed a three, and the Lakers answer with good ball movement on confused Nugget rotation, but the Fisher miss from the arc now makes them 0 for 7, and Anthony gets an easy block call on Odom in transition. The Lake Show was in the penalty, and Melo made both for the new lead.

Despite all of the back and forth and the stakes, the game wasn't all that good here; just a dead crowd and the sense that no one should get too excited, since we all know this game is going to the wire. A Fisher layup; an Anderson dunk in transition. Kobe draws the third from Billups -- rut roh! -- with 2:35 left in the half and the Nuggets up by two. Furious George leaves him in anyway. After a pair of Kobe makes, Smith drained a three, but Bryant answered with a circus layup for an old-school three over Anthony; heck of a play by the Mamba. Melo's answer is very nice and healthy, from the top of the key. Odom to Bryant at the cup, and the stars are feeling it. Anthony fed Carter for a corner three. Home Court Odom fed Gasol at the rim for the make and Nene foul; it's missed, but the o-board follow isn't, and that's a four-point trip. Anthony owns

Walton to the line for two makes, and he now has 13 and is looking like his old unstoppable self. Fisher couldn't connect, and Martin called time on the floor to save the possession. The game picked up a little at the end of the second, but no one is mistaking this for crunch time intensity just yet. Karl puts Kleiza in for offense on the last possession, and the Nuggets fail to inbound as Kleiza turned it. Just inexcusable, if you're a Nugget fan, but that's who they are. Bryant fed Vujacic for the Lakers' first three of the night; he had all day to line that up, and it tied the game. Vujacic is shooting 23% for the series, but maybe he can pick it up after that; he certainly can't be any worse. Anthony's half court bank misses, and the first half ended even up at 56.

In a way, I feel the same about this game as I did Cavs-Magic last night -- that the star was doing what he could to have his teammates get comfortable, but knowing that they're going to have to saddle up and lead. But with the Nugs playing as if winning this game was more optional than mandatory in the first, maybe the Mamba picked to right time to conserve his jets.

The third quarter starts with a bang, with Anthony nailing a three and Bryant answering at the rim on a feed from Odom. Dahntay Jones collets an o-board for a layup. The teams traded misses, and Ariza then made an awkward drive and lay up. The Lakers continue to disregard Martin's jumper to their peril off a Billups feed. Bryant owns Jones on a pull up, and the Mamba is now 5 of 6 from the floor; danger, Will Nugget. Jones collected Bynum's third foul and made both for the 3-point lead, 3 minutes in.

Nene with a nice steal, and Anthony makes one of those hidden plays that mean points later on a great catch from a terrible entry pass. Another arc-free Martin jumper goes to make the lead five. Ariza draws Nene's fourth on a pump fake behind the arc, just a terrible decision by Nene. At least there hasn't been any technicals tonight, mostly because there also hasn't been a whole lot of energy. Man, you people are some spoiled sons of bitches.

Jones with a make and a miss, but Anderson gets the board and fed Anthony, who scores and goes to the line on his own. He makes his free throw, and the four point trip pushes the lead to 7, the Nuggets' largest. Bynum picks up his fourth and a turnover; Odom returned for him. The Nuggets volleyball for o-boards but can't score. Anderson's fourth (!) block of the game comes on a drive, but the Nugs turn on the trip back, leading to a Gasol dunk. People talk about how Gasol needs more shots, but the real issue is that the Lakers just don't pass that well, and it's not like Gasol can get down low without the entry pass.

After the commerce, Gasol stops Jones at the rim, and flow be damned; Chris Anderson is going to call time on the floor with a loose ball, and does. Jones with another o-board and make. Bryant with another good assist as Bwon gets the lay up. Anthony feeling it with the drives, but Lakers are D'ing up here and now. Billups turns it, and Brown finishes over Anderson. A good coach calls time there, but not George. Billups turns it on the next trip down, but Bryant matches with his third foul of the way. Anthony travels, the third straight turn for the Nuggets. Still no Karl timeout. Odom hits the open three, and the game is tied. Heckuva game you are watching, George. Fourth straight Denver turnover on good Laker defense. Crowd getting into it now. Bryant missed a long three, Odom can't control it, and we get a TV timeout to stop the bleeding for the Nuggets.

Billups with a monster triple out of timeout, but Kobe Does Not Care, and make his own right back. Martin's jumper missed. Odom begs for a call to no avail on a miss. Smith with a bad and missed three. Smith damn near kills himself on a steal attempt, but can't control it. Odom turned it, leading to Anderson missing at the cup. Smith gets the board and runs clock before missing, Bryant's pass, picked. The third ends with Smith missing from the arc, and just like at the end of the first and second, we're tied after three, 76-all. Buckle up, folks.

A quick flurry to open the fourth to give the Lakers a five-point lead, the largest lead of the game for LA, with Odom continuing his solid game; he's now at 14-9-3, with 3 blocks, and the simple fact is that when Odom plays well, the Lakers rarely lose. Nene got his fifth on a push, and Laker Fan smelled blood as the Brazilian added a technical to the trouble. Bryant missed it to keep it at 5 with 9:33 left. Odom again in the lane to push the lead to seven. Anthony missed the three as Anderson got hammered on the o-board attempt; coming back the other way, Anthony clocks Bryant with a foul that would have been flagrant if Bryant was smaller. Kobe made both and the lead is nine. Anthony missed a tough runner. Brown drains a beautiful leaner as the clock expires, and the Nuggets are not long for this game if things don't change soon.

Two Anthony makes from the line stops the bleeding, but only for a moment, as Gasol scores over Anderson; the Nuggets defense is just not good right now. Kleiza with a corner three to make it 8. Gasol down low on Anderson, and it's a pick and roll clinic right now. Gasol makes two to push it to 10. Anthony can't finish at the rim; nice Gasol block there. With 6:35 left, the Lakers lead by 10, and it's like they just flicked the switch in this game.

Anthony blocks Walton, and Kleiza shows good speed to get to the rack; 8 ponit game. Walton can't finsh inside. Kleiza misses the three after Billups defers. Nugs get another turn. Kleiza fed Nene down low, and he misses a wild layup rather than dunk it. Lakers nearly turn it again on a Smith steal, but Bynum gets it on the floor and calls time. Four second to shoot, 4:58 to go, down 8. Not a game the Lakers should lose, especially not with Kobe Bryant, and especially not with Brayant fresh... but he misses the three, and Kleiza continues his solid play by going hard to the rim and getting the call on Odom. Two makes, and it's six. Nugs are getting something from this small line up... and then Smith stripped Bryant, leading to a Melo slam. Four point game.

At the 4:02 mark, Gasol picks up Nene's sixth on a very questionable blocking foul -- how you block a guy when the offensive player hits you in the gut with an elbow, I have no idea -- but the home team gets calls. Two makes pushed it to six. Melo down low, gets Fisher's fifth, not quite a get even call. Melo now 11 of 12 from the line, a big part of his game. Gasol feeds Ariza on a back door cut, and the Nugs defend it horribly; Kleiza with the foul for the old-school three. Gasol's fifth block on Anthony is huge, and the Lake Show now has five in double figures. Another questionable call, this one on Billups on an errant entry pass to Odom, and the karmic misses are inevitable. Odom and the basket blocks Martin at the rim, and if this Odom showed up every night, the Lakers would be as good as they think they are. Martin gets the block back on Gasol, and the refs are letting things go, with Ariza the next to take advantage, erasing Anthony at the other end. The Nugs got the team board, and there's 144 seconds left and a 7-point Laker lead. In other words, the Nuggets are going to have to be close to perfect to pull this one out, and I don't like their chances.

Billups three misses out of the inbounds; this could be over soon. Not on a Laker turn, but Smith misses the open three. Fisher misses horribly, and Anthony drives and scores to make it five. The Nugs are 3 for their last 21, and still in the game, Amazing. With 65 seconds left, Kleiza and Anthony both inexplicably move away from Bryant, leaving a clear passing path to Odom, who was also open. Wow. Old school three, 8 point lead, ball game. Kleiza missed, and this one's over; Bryant makes two to make it 10. Anthony drives and scores an old-school three, just to show that Trevor Ariza doesn't have much of a basketball IQ, either. Melo puts Fisher on the line, just hoping for drama, two makes gets none. Smith misses a three, the Nuggets don't foul, and that is that. Lakers 103, Nuggets 94.

I don't mean to chastise the Nugs overly much, or to disparage the Lakers; the former weren't going to win this game, or this series, because then the Lakers bring their "A" game, they beat this team, and probably the Eastern reps, too. They are also going to win Game Six, because the Lakers don't show up on the road when they don't have to. But for all of the good things this team has done in this playoff season, and for all of the good feelings that people have from Billups' return and Anthony's emergence, they will never -- never -- get to the Promised Land with George Karl as their coach.

Karl as your coach means small guys inbounding late. Karl as your coach means coddling talented rockheads like Smith, Jones and . Karl as your coach means that players like Kleiza have no clue on help defense late in the game, and that the bigs can't stay out of foul trouble, and that everyone on the team feels compelled to take technical fouls. There's a reason why he's never won, despite some really good talent (the Kemp/Payton Sonics, the Cassells/Robinson/Allen Bucks, these Nuggets, etc., etc.); he just doesn't control his team enough to win when there's no margin for error, and at this point in the Association's development, there are no teams with that margin for error. Game Six is in Denver on Friday...

and as a small programming note, FTT won't be covering that one live, as I'm previously booked. So enjoy the inevitable Nugget win to force LA to win in seven, tune in on Saturday or so to catch my recap, and we'll all regroup on Sunday, when Melo gets his chance to earn the undying hatred of the ABC honchos that really aren't hoping for a Kobe-free Finals. Even in the best playoff year in the history of the Association, some things are predictable.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blogrolling knows where the bodies are buried

MLJ with the true crime story of spreading his mother's ashes at Fenway. Kind of amazing on many levels, and certain to become a huge story, I think.

Barney Frank continues to make me happy. Harry Reid? Well, let's just say I wasn't thrilled to have to speak well of him in 2004 when I canvassed in Reno, and I'm even less thrilled about it now.

National MLB ratings on Fox down about 9% from last year, 23% from 2000.

Meanwhile, the NBA is getting some of its highest ratings ever.

Fran Tarkenton
is not a Favre hag. But he does speak the obvious truth that, well, anyone with eyes who hasn't been polishing Brett's knob for quotes over the past decade knows. It's the little things in life that make you happy, really.

205 Drop: Top 10 items on my sports bucket list

Some nice morbid moments on this list, and if I'm lucky, a headline grabbing amount of interest for my refusal to get over my hate for Harold Katz. Go check it out, will you?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cavs-Magic Game Four: 48 Minutes Wasn't Enough, But 17 3's Were

Straight to the micro-blog for the continuing saga of the best playoff year in the history of the Association...

I missed the first half as per usual for family obligations, but judging from the game trackers, Orlando came out fast in the first with threes, but the Cavs finally got some support for James. Mo Williams managed twelve in the first half on multiple trips to the line, and Boobie Gibson emerged from utter irrelevance to make two triples, one to close out the half. Add in a little Delonte West support, and the Cavs look like themselves again, and the half ended at Cavs 58, Magic 50. Looking at the numbers, it's hard to see how, but at this point in the series, the Cavs will take any lead they can get.

At the start of the third, Rafer Alston made three in a row on lax pressure from James to cut it to one, and in just 130 seconds, the lead was down to 1, and Magic Fan was alive. After the timeout, James got to the rack and picked up Howard's second on the old-school three. The Turk's new school three attempt was off, but the Cavs turned as James continued to look a little passive, at least in comparison to previous games. Lewis missed, leading to Williams scoring off the rebound, and Alston answered with his fourth three. West scored over Lee to make it five again, and then West found Vareajo alone at the rim for the flush. Doug Collins correctly called out Dwight Howard, who is just not into this game defensively, at least not this half. The Magic's run was answered.

After the timeout, the Turk hit the Magic's ninth triple of the night, and Vareajo missed a dunk. Lee missed the triple, and Williams tossed in a nice banked off side runner, adding in a Lee foul for the three point play. Z stripped Howard down low and got clocked for his trouble; incidental, but ye gads, and the big man is not pleased. Alston got a banked three to fall, and everything is going in for him right now. Z missed from the corer, and Alston picked up a charge on James to boot. Vareajo with a great steal on the Turk, but Williams couldn't get the three, and the Turk answered with a bank to get it back to two. West posts the Turk beautifully to stop the bleeding. Alston finally missed a three, and James drew Howard's third with a spin move; lazy, dumb foul on Howard, and Magic Fan doesn't cover himself in glory by howling at the replay. James made one, and Vareajo picked up a loose ball foul and some pain. Howard wrestled a loose ball away from the corner, and Vareajo tried to foul before the dunk to Howard's disgust. The refs want nothing of Howard's disgust, and that's his sixth technical of the playoffs, a major issue for the Magic. Patrick Ewing picks one up from the bench as well, and Magic Fan sings the Bulls*** Song very, very loudly. Hopefully, this won't lead to 18 minutes of free throws.

Once all that was over, it was 74-71 Cavs. West missed the corner three, but Howard continued his awkward play with a turnover rebound. James drains the three over Pietrus, and when he hits that, it's Crazy Time for his opponents. Alston with a bad miss, but West couldn't add ot the lead. Wallace battled Howard well down low, and the Turk took a foul to stop the break. Pietrus flops on James for a no-call, but Williams can't hit, and Pietrus answered with a three. Gibson couldn't make, and the Cavs are taking too many from distance right now. Two Turk makes cut it back to one.

Very physical defense from the Magic ends with Howard goaltending Wallace, and the Cavs are actually getting something from him tonight, as he follows up by taking a charge on Pietrus. James settles for a long three and misses, and Alston got the dish -- he now has 15 in the quarter, and 21 for the game -- to cut it back to one. James with another bad iso three, and Alston misses from 35 to close the quarter. It's a Magic win, but the Cavs still have the lead, 79-78.

Van Gundy hates his team in the TNT interview. Big surprise! Williams missed the jumper, and Pietrus gets Wallace in the air, but West goes hard for the block, and that's just playoff basketball, along with West's third foul. Pietrus misses both to add to West's karma. The Ghost of Wally Sczerbiak missed, and Howard gets hacked on the board. Pietrus makes a go-ahead three on great ball movement. James can't finish at the rim, but Z can to tie it; Alston responds immediately, and so does Z with his jump shot. Much more balanced attack from the Cavs, but Alston hits again, his sixth three pointer of the night. I'm not sure when Alston sold his soul, but Magic Fan isn't bemoaning the loss of Jameer Nelson right now...

The Magic got a ridiculous home-court call on the inbounds and that's a shot clock violation; I'm pretty sure the buzzer sounded before the ball was even touched. Lewis with the bank gave the Magic a five point lead, and the Cavs were on the ropes. A Zerb miss and a Wallace board leads to a James miss; Pietrus can't sink the dagger, but Williams can't finish tin the trees. Zerb flops on Howard before a dunk. With 8:05 left, the Magic lead by five, have the ball, and just look like the best team in basketball right now. Color me surprised.

The Turk and West return for Wallace and Lewis. The Turk misses from the baseline, but gets the O-board and finds Lee for the triple -- the Magic's 14th -- and the lead was 8. James to the rim in Determined Mode, and he gets to the line, but only makes one. The lead was 7. James blocks Howard from behind, but the MVP then missed Z with a pass for an unforced turnover. Pietrus to the tin, but can't finish, and the Cavs are sloppy but lucky with the ball. I don't like their game right now; it's all one on one, but at least its James doing it, and he gets the call on Pietrus, and two makes got it back to five. James with 27 now.

Howard walks and misses, just a sad move for a great player, and Z got the board. West hits from the post, but Lewis answered, and it's still five. James posts Pietrus and gets a layup; better offense from the Cavs now, and Howard continued his indifferent game with late weakside help. Lewis turns on decent defense from, of all people, the Zerb. It's a 3-point game with the Cavs having the ball at 4:55, and Magic Fan has to feel more antsy now.

Howard and Vareajo each have four fouls; no one else has that many. James with a great drive and dish, but West can't make the tying three, and Lewis nails the Magic's 15th from 30 attempts. I don't know if any team can lose when they shoot 50% from the arc on this many attempts. James turns it. The Turk misses, but the Magic get the team board on good Howard effort. Alston finally missed from the arc, and James finds Vareajo in the lane for the make and a Turk foul; his free throw cuts it back to three with 3 minutes left. The Turk walks baldly on a drive, and it's called. Just another classic game here; I don't root for either of these teams, and I'm totally into the game. I can't imagine how Cleveland Fan or Orlando Fan feels.

James elbows Pietrus hard on a spin and drive, and the Frenchman goes down for James' fourth foul and a bad turnover. Pietrus got up and stayed in the game. Vareajo turns a pass to Howard, but James turns it back, his second in a row. Pietrus with a three miss, and this time in transition James goes to the rack with killing speed for the flush. Vareajo has to foul Howard down low, his fifth, and Howard missed the first badly, and the second goes down; 2 point game, 100 seconds left. Wow.

West drives on Howard and scores; just nice. Alston missed. James to the lane and draws Howard's fifth, and he can give Cleveland the lead... but he missed the first badly. The second goes down, and that's a 1-point lead with 1 minute to go.

The Turk can't get the three, and it was an ugly possession. The Cavs match with James missing. No timeout. Pietrus can't get the three to fall, but West fell/was tripped on good hustle from Howard, and the Magic got the ball back with 6.4 seconds left. For every Association detractor who wants to talk about how the last minute takes forever, I give you this game -- it just freaking breezed by, mostly because I think both of these teams are too exhausted to do anything else.

Will Cleveland contest the inbounds, unlike Game Two? The Cavs bring in Wallace, and James doesn't contest until the last second, when the Turk calls for time; no Magic player was close to clear on that. Hmm. Some ref issue delays things, and Lee comes in for Alston. The Turk finds Lewis unconscionably open on the uncontested inbounds, and he drains the Magic's 16th three of the night. Wallace will wear goat horns for that and should, but give credit to Lewis for being that difficult a cover. The only problem is it might have happend too fast, as there is still 4.1 seconds left on the clock, and the Magic are only up two, but can LeBron James win two games in the same series with miracles?

Will the Magic guard the inbounds? It's Williams. He finds James, and with five tenths of a second left, James gets the block call on Pietrus. Conspiracy theorists will look askance at that call, but when the best player on the planet goes down in a tangle of limbs on a drive at the buzzer against a no-name defensive player... well, I'm sorry, Magic Fan, but that call will be made for the offense 100 times out of 100.

James had to make both to tie. The first is all cotton. The second just leaked in, and James knew he got away with something there. With half a second on the clock for the Magic to dodge overtime, Z guarded the Turk inbounds. A lob to Howard draws contact with Vareajo, and that's going to be a controversial no-call, especially after the James draw on Pietrus, but I'm not even sure that it shouldn't have been Howard to get the over the back call, or from hooking Vareajo's arm. Just an impossible situation for the refs; a no-call is probably their bet option. 100-all, and it's free basketball time.

The Turk is owned by Vareajo with a steal, and Gibson gets to the line in transition; he made both. Howard drove Vareajo into dust with an old-school Shaq dunk. James turns it. West and Vareajo fall, and Howard flushes for the lead. West missed, but Vareajo boards, and James hits the three to take the lead back. Howard again on Vareajo, too easy. James turns it, and Vareajo picks up his sixth by proximity; that's going to hurt, not that anyone is stopping Howard right now. Z replaces Sideshow.

Pietrus hits the three right away on the weak Cav pick and roll defense, which is the problem with Z. James misses from the arc at the clock, and the Magic now lead by four with he ball, and James looked tired on that miss. 100 seconds left. Alston's three front rims, but James turns it for the eight time in transition. The Turk walks and misses, but the first isn't called and the second is finished by the suddenly dominant Howard, and it's a six-point game with 72 seconds left. The Cavs look dead in the water. Again.

James scoops and scores; he has 39. The Turk misses on a bad drive, but James gets a call on Lewis on a drive, and he hits both to make it two points again. James just won't die. Howard gets it down low, and Wallace gives the foul; 21 seconds left. Howard makes both; huge, and he's got 27-14-4, 10 of the Magic's 13 points in overtime. The Magic let the Cavs back into this game with missed threes late; they've taken the lead in the overtime by forgetting about that shot.

James is blocked by Pietrus and Howard, and it's a jump ball call with 16.5 left. At this point, the Magic should really just win this game; Howard has the reach and height on James, and it's a two possession game with little time on the clock, really. James got the tip anyway, saving to West; James got Howard in the air at the arc, but the refs don't give the call. Z to to the line on a whistle against Pietrus, his fifth. Z made both to cut it two, and West fouled Lewis on the inbounds, the man the Magic want to have the ball here. Lewis makes both, and that should be that... and Lewis had 4 points through the first three quarters, and ends with 16. James makes an insane three off the catch, and I can't imagine the human that can do that at the end of 53 minutes. Lewis goes to the line and misses the first, and with 3.2 seconds left, it's, amazingly, still a game. He makes the second, and Cleveland has to inbound from their own basket. The inbounds gets to James, and from 40 feet, moving left to right against seemingly the entire Magic team... James finally misses. Magic 3, Cavs 1, 116-114, and what a game, what a series, what a year.

The most meaningful thing to take out of tonight's game is that the Magic took Cleveland's best shot -- balanced scoring from West, Williams, some support from Gibson and Z and Wallace, another 44-12-7 from James -- and won. They made 17 three pointers, got a 27-14-4 from Howard, and took the game they had to have, mostly because they limited Cleveland's assists and, well, rained down threes like a Biblical plague.

I still think Cleveland wins this series, because I've just never seen a team depend so much on three pointers go all the way... but the Magic are just a game away from making believers out of all of us. Or should I say... witnesses?

205 Drop: Top 12 ways to get a small child through an MLB game

Today's drop goes to dark places while having tons of useful suggestions for the baseball-loving parent. Honestly, your best move for such things is to never buy very good seats -- the kid will never be able to take anything less -- pack food if the stadium allows it, and keep in mind that you're not really going to see a game, so much as you are trying to indoctrinate a new person that will take you to games when you are old and feeble. Anyway, go click, there's some nice nastiness today.

Lakers-Nuggets Game Four: Denver Rebounds, and Rebounds, and Rebounds

Tonight in Denver, in a game where the home team got little from their best player, the Nuggets more or less ran the Lakers out of the building, because the Lakers are just that gutless, and didn't need the game, or much want it. That may sound harsh, or dismissive of a great night for Kenyon Martin, Nene and Chris Anderson, but having seen this Lakers team do the same thing a few weeks ago in Houston... well, ask any Lakers Fan, and he'll tell you I'm not wrong. (He'll also tell you that Kobe isn't a blight on the face of humanity, so don't believe everything he says...)

And now, the micro-blog; there will also be Final Thoughts after the minutaie. I missed the first half of this game due to family obligations, which means I miss Carmelo Anthony's 1-for-11 half, as well as his early exit with an ankle problem. Despite the terrible work from their best player, the home team was still up 7, mostly due to J.R. Smith, Birdman Anderson and Kenyon Martin -- in other words, three sources that aren't likely to hold up in crunch time. Despite shooting 38% in the first half, and getting an incredible load of nothing from their bench -- 3 points on 1 of 8 shooting in 38 minutes from six players, including Lamar Odom -- the Lake Show was just down seven at the half. I didn't see the half, but I can't imagine Nugget Fan is geeling all that great about their chances right now, and if Anthony is incapacitated, that would make the second straight series in which the Lakers have seen their opponent lose their best player due to injury.

The second half began with listless Nugget play and an old-school Gasol three. Anthony got away with a walk en route to a layup, and the Nuggets defense picked up with a steal. The Lemur told us that Anthony had an IV and a re-tape on the ankle, neither of which helped his three-pointer go down; he doesn't look right to me. Anthony then made a great hustle play to start a break; Nene made a nice pass to close that. Ariza's wide open three stopped the bleeding and made it five; Billups whiffed on the answer. Gasol made an easy hook, and after a miss, Fisher's three hit every part of the rim and stayed out; the trip back gets Nene to the rim after a Melo drive and miss to push the lead back to four. Ariza was denied at the rim by good Nugget big work, and Billups then makes a classic drive to blow past Odom and create contact on Gasol for the old-school three. Seven point game again, which means the first four minutes of the second were even.

Jones collects Ariza's third on a block, which given how bad the Laker bench was in the first, could be meaningful. Bryant cut it back to seven, and it's just like he's lurking in this game right now. A miss and a Billups make brings it up to 11, and that's a 10-2 Nugget run: hmm. Odom with just one make, and Nene volleyballed for a putback and his double-double. Odom hits a three as Jones abd Bryant got tangled up, and Kobe was irate. Another Melo miss from three, and another o-board from the Nugget bigs, their 14th, ending with a Martin make; the Denver bigs were in control. A frantic Laker possession ended with Odom not finishing the o-board, and Ariza getting the call on a loose ball with Anthony.

At the 3:54 mark, Bryant doesn't get a technical, despite two solid minutes of chirping over the Jones call, which the Lemur cameras now show might not have been an accident. The Kobe I remember destroyed guys for cheap shots; curious to see how he reacts now, in a game the Lakers don't need. The Lakers got into foul trouble, but Anderson missed two, and the lead stayed at 11 when it should have gone higher -- but Kenyon Martin gets to 13 and 13, and then Anderson follows his miss with a slam, and you could file a missing persons report for Lamar Odom right now. Yeesh.

Chris Anderson missed his corner heat check three. Um, that's Nugget basketball, and I'm not kind in that assessment. The Lemur dwells on Jones' trip on Bryant, and in retrospect, yes, a clear flagrant. Smith drills a triple to make it 14, and Bryant couldn't answer, but Billups can't can the necessary transition shot, and the Lake Show enters with a Vujacic corner three. Smith's heat check three missed, as did the final Lake Show shot, and the third quarter ends with the Nuggets up 11.

I got the feeling, from watching this quarter, that the Laker Run was coming, and that Bryant was just biding his time. But why it didn't come earlier, as an immediate response to the Jones trip, was curious. Was he biding his time, disgusted with his bigs, exhausted from carrying his bench, not feeling the need since he already had home court... all of these questions. The Nuggets had 47 rebounds to the Lakers 29 in the first three quarters. Unreal.

Bynum made an easy bank off a nice Walton pass to start the fourth, then got a block at the rim. Vujacic continued his nightmare year with a miss, and Bynum ended his useful play with his third foul, this one on Smith. Smith missed both free throws, then a bad three; what an idiot this guy is. Bynum made another to cut it back to 7, and Vujacic ties up Smith; who wins the tip. Billups gets the old-school three and gets up hobbling, and that was Bynum's fourth foul in 19 minutes. Let's just say that I'm not seeing Bynum's name in Laker big man history. Smith steals, and Billups finally gets one of those Mr. Big Shot triples to land, an absolute rainbow out of transition, to push it back to 13. Live by the instant triple dagger attempt, die by the instant triple dagger attempt...

Brown got one of two on a drive. Nene feeds Smith on a flush, and the Nuggets are feeling very good about themselves right about now. Walton missed from the arc on a bad decision, but collected the O-board and Smith's fourth foul. For some reason, Luke Walton picks up a technical after more or less ordinary contact with Nene, which Billups drains, and that's a 15-point game. Bynum picked up Anderson's second, but can't finish the old-school three. A Kleiza triple makes it 16 with 8:40 left, and the bus is leaving for the airport after Walton's loose ball foul on the other end. With 8:30 left and down 16, time is running out on that Laker run I was expecting; this is the largest lead of the series for Denver, and Bryant is still on the bench. Hey, if you're not going to try to win the game, Coach Philip, why not make it obvious and send Bryant home early?

Billips missed from the corner. Odom finally shows his height, and picked up a foul on Kleiza; he got it to 15 at the line. After a bad Smith miss, Farmer makes over Billups, but missed the free throw. Gasol sat next to Bryant, and Smith picked up a technical because he's just that kind of dumb and the refs are that kind of scared; Vujacic blows it badly to keep it at 13, but hits his three to make it 10 with 7 minutes left. Finally, Jackson decides the game is worth Bryant's time, just in time to watch Anthony make two from the line. It was 12 with 6:43 left.

Bryant's three missed, and so did his bank shot two after an Odom o-board. Anthony feeds Anderson down low, who picks up a flagrant from Bynum, who's about as subtle as a wrestling heel with his two-handed hammer job. I think if I were a Laker Fan, I'd welcome any new Bynum injury right about now; it really does seem that the team is better off with Josh Powell or even DJ Mbenge. The intent might not have been flagrant, but the body language was, and Anderson's made both to push it back to 14. Billups missed, and Bryant answers, but doesn't get the extra foul call, and lobbies for it afterward. I guess when Kobe says he's not going to get his sixth technical this year, he must be referring to an NBA memo to the refs.

Anthony answers with an old-school three, but Bryant makes a ridiculous jumper. Anthony goes iso on Walton for an ugly possession, but it ended well for him with Walton's fifth foul, but only one make. Bryant drains another three to make it 11, and he's starting to glow with nuclear power, but Anthony fed Smith for a straight up three to answer. Bryant continues to fire from distance and finally missed, but Gasol collected the board and got to the line on an Anderson foul, and two makes cuts it to 12 with 4:05 left. It's antsy time in Denver.

Anthony ends Walton's night easily, with six fouls in 13 minutes. Jackson pulled a jerk move by delaying to substitute Brown for Walton. Anthony made two to push it back to 14. The Laker offense now is Have Bryant Do It, and Anthony gets his fourth foul and a technical, because it's Everyone Gets A Technical Night in Denver, and this is the second straight night that the Association is going to see over 70 free throws in a 48 minute game. Martin picks up a technical next, and just laughs as Gasol didn't get one as well; Bryant makes it to cut it to 10.

Smith missed a three, but another o-board, this one by Melo, burns more clock, and Odom fouled Billups, who made both. The Nuggets are up by 17 boards and 13 free throws. Anthony collects his fifth foul trying to guard Bryant, which means that someone else will be getting whistled the next time down the floor. Bryant makes both and this game may last 4 hours. The Lakers almost turn Billups but can't, and Smith goes to the line on Brown; he made just one.

Billups on Bryant this time down, and a deflection lets us go to commercial with 2:51 left and an 11-point Nugget lead. It's 8 minutes to midnight on the East Coast, and as much as I love hoop, I don't love this game; it's just 100% Flow Free, and while I'd like to credit the Nuggets for being morons, the simple fact of the matter is that when you have four technicals in a half and 52 fouls and counting, you have bad officiating.

An awful turnover off the inbounds -- and hey, the Lakers can do that, too! -- results in a Billups layup. Bryant misses another quick three, but the Laker bigs collect the board, and Brown scores it. Denver solved the Laker trap, ran clock, and got a Smith three with 2 minutes left. Bryant misses a drive, and Smith cans another three to end all suspense, then proceeds to walk like a doofus back up the floor, because that's just Nugget Basketball. It takes work to be the second-most likable team in a series with Kobe Bryant, especially when you get here on hard work, but the Nuggets do what they can...

Brown with a three to make it closer, but it's 14 points with 79 seconds to go, which is to say, Impossible. After the timeout, Nene off a dish from Billups, and Karl pulls out Billups and Anthony, wisely. The last minute was garbage time, punctuated by a Jones slam and general Nugget happiness. The final was Denver 120, LA 101.

A few final thoughts on this:

1) If J.R. Smith shows up like this in Los Angeles, the Nuggets can win this series. He won't.

2) If the refs want to make us forget how good this playoff year has been, just keep calling every possible touch foul and technical.

3) Andrew Bynum is cursed.

4) Phil Jackson knows when his team is quitting, and quits first.

5) The next two days, you will hear nothing but how bad the Laker bigs played. Then, they'll play well enough to win Game Five.... and fail to show again in Game Six.

6) Post-game, Karl talked about how J.R. Smith drove him crazy. Um, George? That's because his coach enables him to do all of that nonsense. Why don't you just make Billups the coach already?

7) Kenyon Martin is Lamar Odom's Kryptonite. That, and any serious amount of adversity.

8) As bad as the Lakers played tonight, they were close late -- and Jackson had Bryant and Gasol on the pine. Game Five, they'll both play 42+ minutes, and LA will win.

Monday, May 25, 2009

205 Drop: Top 10 Historical Lays

Today's list for 205 is one of those classic Dumb Guy hypotheticals: who would you want to have relations with throughout history? I went partly from personal lust, partly from societal responsibility (you, yes you, could save the Beatles), and partly from the dream we all dream of -- being the very worst soul in Heaven. Enjoy the blasphemy!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cavs-Magic Game Three: Dwight Howard Is Speed Magic

Tonight in Orlando, Dwight Howard was the best player on the floor, despite being on it for barely half of the available minutes. He led his team to a 2-1 series lead in a sluggish, foul-filled game that was compelling more for the stakes than the play, though there were still a half-dozen jaw-dropping moments, not the least of which is that LeBron James scored 41 on a night where his jump shot was less productive than mine. And now, the micro-blog...

In the first, the Magic came out with the usual home court bump and a sudden surge of usefulness from Rafer Alston, but didn't score enough, despite Cleveland turnovers, to take a big lead. In the second, the Cavs bench started with an 8 point surge to get it to one, but an offense of Joe Smith and Delonte West can only take you so far, and the Magic got useful minutes out of Martin Gortat and Mikael Pietrus. At the 7:30 mark, LeBron James was able to get Dwight Howard's third, and Magic Fan shows his Outer Redneck with a LeBron Sucks serenade; the makes cut the lead to 29-25, and allow Mike Brown to try to get Z Ilgauskas some comfortable minutes. Mo Williams hit a three to cut the lead back to a point, and a James make gave them their first lead with 5:44 left.

Orlando Fan sounds like he's not alone in the Amway Arena, which given their curious ticket distribution pattern (if you want to buy two tickets, you have to buy ten and find buyers for the other eight -- thank you, Dirty Davey, for that) isn't too surprising...

Anthony Johnson assaults Mo Williams with an elbow, and almost gets tossed with Flagrant Two, but since Williams is able to return despite looking like he's been in a street fight. Ball karma demands Johnson miss his free throws and WIlliams makes his, and that's exactly what happens; the Cavs then led by three. James went serpentine through the Magic to push the lead to five, and the Cavs have that Pissed Off Road Team feel to them right now. The Magic went cold in the second, and part of this is simply that the Cavs stopped turning it over. The game got chippy/slow with free throws. James let Pietrus go by for a layup, then took the inbounds and immediately counterattacked to get a Rashard Lewis foul, and that's an even or better trade. Sideshow Vareajo wants to guard Lewis, but want and can are two different things. James falls and still controls the ball; the possession ended with another Z miss, but still, holy crap. A Lewis slam cut the lead to one and provoked a Mike Brown timeout. Despite the game not being much on the eyes, it's still tight and clearly leading to something good... and if I were a Cav fan, I'd be a little bent at not being able to get more of a lead with Howard on the bench.

Craig Sager reported that Williams received four stitches from Johnson, and I wouldn't be surprised if it winds up helping him. Z couldn't finish at the rim because that's what happens when you are a finesse 7-footer. James continued to hit from the free throw line as TNT fitted Hedo Turkoglu for goat horns. James had 18 as Boobie Gibson actually gets on the floor; the man who owned Chauncey Billups in 2007 as a rook now isn't even in the rotation. Funny game, basketball. Gortat blocked James twice in the first half, both times kind of amazing. Gibson missed a three with no one within ten feet of him. James goaltends Gortat to give the Magic another lead, and LeBron airballs the three from the corner, then Gortat got to the line with 2.8 left in the quarter, an end game that clearly went to the home team, at least until the big man missed both free throws. Williams misses the three-quarter court heave, and the half ended with the Magic up by a point, 42-41. But of a grind of a game, with only two Cavs (James and Williams) able to do much; neither team can feel too good about their standing right now.

The third started with more Cleveland weaver work, but it didn't end with a make. Howard with his fresh legs burned Z for a super-easy make and old-school three. Vareajo knocked down two on an Alston foul, ans the Cavs have outperformed the Magic at the line. Lee made a corkscrew jumper to push it back to four. James took a head shot from the Turk to bail him out, and Magic Fan is outraged by an obvious call; not exactly covering themselves in basketball IQ there. After a team board on the second make, Orlando Fan really sang hard, just in time to see James make another and give the Cavs a lead. By my count, the madder the Magic's fans get, the better the Cavs played....

Howard collected another down low and made both free throws to change the lead again. James can't buy a jumper tonight, and Howard's half hook converts. James missed his 11th jumper of the night, a three pointer that hit every part of the rim and stayed out, and Lee drops the corner three for an instant 8-0 run, seven point lead, and Cleveland timeout. I realize that every NBA conference final has to go to the wire this year, but with James not hitting anything from outside, I'm wondering exactly how.

Lee steals and slams as Magic Fan sensed blood in the water. A Z miss is followed by Howard getting subdued under the rim, but it wasn't a shooting foul, and James then got to the rim after a miss, picked up Lee's third, and made both to stop the bleeding and cut it to six. Alston fed Howard for a slam, and the big man now had 15 points in 14 minutes. A Williams three answers to five, and Howard got an ofensive board, then punctuates it with an elbow that could have gotten him tossed, had it found a body. The Cavs reacted to it as it were a smoking gun in the parlor, which tells you just how much they are dreaming of Howard not being on the floor. Vareajo sits after a bad foul, and Alston pushed it to seven. Mike Brown puts in Ben Wallace, who is just an embarrassment at this point on offense. James couldn't make another jumper, but the o-board led to an alley-oop slam that sucked the air out of the building, and while the Cavs really weren't the best team on the floor so far, they were still freaking dangerous. The Turk got to the line from a Smith foul and made both. Williams missed from the corner, and while James still hasn't made a jump shot tonight, the Magic are still collapsing on him, giving up open looks to the supporting cast. Wallace is called for a foul on Howard, who cans one, and I guess Wallace still has a use for that. A West make brings it back to six, but Wallace's third is a block on Alston, and ye gads, Ben Wallace Is Terrible. Two Alston makes, and it was 8 again until West answered.

Smith picked Pietrus, then missed; a Wallace o-board led to another West miss, and as we go to commerce, Howard picked up his fourth on a push. Big moment there, as the crowd goes quiet all of a sudden, and compounded the error with a tech, his fifth of the playoffs, but Williams missed it. Howard is just two techs away from sitting, which could be a very big deal later. Worth watching.

West missed and Gortat with the board, but Smith erased Alston, and James feeds Wallace for a slam to cut it to four. James ripped Lewis, but Smith missed the open jumper. Cavs looked much more together with Howard on the bench and Alston missing forced jumpers, but good Magic defense led to Pietrus getting a turnover layup and old-school three; just an immense play in the flow of the game there, and the lead was seven again. Williams tried to do too much and blew the two-for-one possession, as the Cavs did bad things on the end of quarter again. Pietrus traveled baldly for the second time tonight, and the quarter ended with James scoring on a typically brilliant drive. At the end of three, it was Magic 68, Cavs 63.

Z tries to exploit Gortat, but it went the other way, and the teams combine to go 1 for their first 11 in the quarter. Yeesh. West got a call and a make to cut it to six, and with 9:28 left, Stan van Ron Jeremy Gundy gets antsy enough to put Howard back in. The fact that the Cavs are in a game at all while shooting 36% from the floor on the road is kind of amazing. Pietrus made two off a penetration drive, and it was eight again. A Z jumper actually goes down to cut it to six. Lewis drained a three off good ball movement, and that could be a dagger, especially after Mo Williams is whistled for a moving pick. With 8:19 left and commerce happening, it's a 9-point Magic lead and a growing sense that this one might not have last second drama, if only because I'm not sure the Cavs can score enough points to close this lead.

Z stopped Howard down low, and James bulls to the line for instant offense. but only one make. West's fourth foul got the Magic closer to the penalty. Pietrus missed from the corner, and West doesn't; just that fast, it was 75-70, but West got his fifth right after, and since that means Sasha Pavlovic has to come in, not a plus. Pietrus penetrated and finished, rather than take the corner three. James starting to feel it, and just bounced Howard away on a drive and make; wow. After a Magic turnover, James fed Z for a distance miss; Vareajo got the board and a Lewis foul. James missed another three that could have dropped, and the Turk answered with a drive to the line on the Pavlo Virus. Two Turk makes pushes it to seven halfway through the fourth.

Williams with a quality make off the dribble. The Turk might have gotten away with a walk on his driving miss, but Howard collects the board and went to the line, but only after five minutes of Tyler Perry Et Al. These Gatorade ads with Kevin Garnett are a lot easier to take this year!

Two big Howard makes pushed it to seven, and the Cavs haven't profited from putting him on the line tonight. Z avoids an obvious traveling call to draw a foul on Tony Battie, then makes both to get it back to five. Howard gets it down low and powers through a James block attempt to get to the line. A lucky roll on the first was followed by a miss, and we're at six. James draws a 50/50 blocking foul on Pietrus, and ball karma forces two bad misses. On the second, Sideshow Vareajo picks up his fifth and doesn't draw a Howard technical, and I can only imagine that was his intention on that play. With 4:40 left, Howard rams the first free throw in, and the second as well. The lead ws 8 with 4:40 left, and Howard was 11 of 15 from the line.

James finally gets a three to fall, and hmm... but Alston gets it right back in the corner. James airballs a three to Vareajo for an easy lay up. The Turk realized it was the fourth quarter, so he hits. Williams with a bad miss, but Lewis can't hit the killshot three. Pietrus put James on the line with 3:03 left and the Magic holding an 8-point lead; two James makes cut it to six. Vareajo takes his sixth with speed, rather than spend any more time in the presence of Mr. Howard. After commerce, Howard missed the first as TNT wonders about intentional fouls, and hits the second. The lead was 7 with 2:40 left.

James drives the lane, scores, and gets Howard's fifth foul. Holy diver. Old-school three cuts it to 4, and LeBron suddenly has 38. Z sends Howard back to the line with his fifth, and the real problem with fouling Howard at this point is that I'm not sure they'lll have enough guys to do it. It's especially ineffective when Howard makes both, as he did here. Howard with 24 points in 25 minutes. James missed the three but get the board, and Pietrus gets called for a blocking foul with 2:01 left for instant offense as van Gundy throws a rod. Karma misses, and it's six again. Alston's killshot three does not go. Williams boards, then James turns on loose interior passing to Z. The Turk runs clock and misses from the arc, but Pietrus gets the o-board that will more or less end this one, and West adds dumb to bad with a technical. Z fouls out stopping Pietrus, and the Magic are 68 seconds away.

TNT notes that there were 77 combined free throws so far tonight, and I can't say that I haven't noticed. Smith replaced Z as Lewis blows the tech. Pietrus is also not a good free throw shooter, but these two go down smooth, and it's eight and almost done. Pavlovic misses from three, and that makes them 5 of 23 from the arc, 39% from the field in total. The Magic run clock with the Turk missing. James gets Howard's sixth on a bad call from the refs, and he barely avoids the crippling technical on his way out of the game. With 36.1 seconds left, there still should be no way the Cavs escape with a win, but Howard can still eject himself from a future playoff game...

James was 5 of 10 from the line before the three attempts; after three makes, it's 8 for 13, and he now has 41 points for the night, only five of them on jump shots. Wow. Lewis makes just one, but the Cavs miss two three-point attempts, and that's that, really; what might have been a three-point game turns into eight after two Turk makes. James is blocked by Pietrus at the rim to punctuate things, and his free throw makes push the final score out. Magic 99, Cavs 89.

If you want to look at this from a Cavs perspective, they were in a game where they could not buy a jump shot from anyone. If you want to look at this realistically, they are a James miracle in Game Two from being down 3-0. Considering that the Magic were also down big in the first two games of this series, and... well, I'll be honest, I have no idea what to make of this series so far. But Orlando has the lead, the home court, the momentum, a 10-4 record against these Cavs, and a chance to put a hammerlock on this with a Game 4 win.

They also have Howard getting much less mileage than James; if James is losing his legs on jumpers from fatigue, which is very possible given how much effort he's had to put out in these first three games, the Cavs are done. I still think the Cavs are going to win this series, but you've got to give it up for this Magic team, who have lost multiple buzzer-beaters in the playoffs with no carryover from game to game. Give credit where due.

The Yankees Are Hospitable Hosts

I had the Phillies-Yankees game on this afternoon while doing the laundry, and I have to congratulate the Yanks for being so accommodating to the visiting team. After years of a huge and unfair home field advantage, complete with ghosts and full-throated partisans and wall-to-wall Yankee Fans, the most valued franchise in baseball has, in one fell swoop, made the playing field much more level. With acres of empty seats in the close areas, a permanent tourist mindset from the overpriced everything, and the sense from non-locals that they need to see the new yard, you've never heard so many fans happy to see the home team lose... which they did today, to the immortal Carlos Ruiz and Clay Condrey, to drop their series with the Fightin's.

In many ways, it just makes things like the Yankee road games, where they have any number of road fans ruining the experience for the local faithful, and helps us get to that perfect moment for MLB -- a post-modern age where every person in attendance is more or less neutral in their rooting interests, maybe because they're all fantasy sports players and/or corporate greedheads who are too well-heeled to applaud. It's certainly making life easier for the Phillies, who are below .500 at home and far above that on the road. If they could ever get their home and closer problem (Brad Lidge blew his second save of the series today, has an ERA of over 9, and just looks snakebit) dealt with, they could be, you know, good or something.

But in any event, continued thanks to the Yanks for replacing their perfectly acceptable, massive home-field advantage with a massive boondoggle that will, over time, destroy their pitching and retard their player development and talent evaluation. (Oh, and what a fair home run for Mark Teixeria today, who went deep to left when his bat broke all the way into the outfield.) Good work, gents!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lakers-Nuggets Game Three: Kobe Bryant Has His Way In Colorado (Again)

Tonight in Colorado, Kobe Bryant willed the Lakers to the series lead, with a flat-out dominating performance, especially late. The game was also notable for the continued late-game failures of the Nuggets, which is to say, the Nuggets remain coached by George Karl. If I could double up my wager on Lakers in seven now, I would. And now, the micro-blog.

In the first quarter, Carmelo Anthony made the short-term case that he's the best player on the floor by getting to the line for eight free throws, leading to 14 points. The Lakers started 4 of 10 from the line, and Nene outplayed Andrew Bynum, but the Lakers got close at the end of the quarter on makes by Jordan Farmer and Lamar Odom, and it was 28-26 Nuggets after one. Closing out quarters has been a consistent problem for the Nuggets, and a consistent win for the Lakers; had they made their free throws, they'd be ahead.

In the second, the Nuggets get some early separation as Melo continued to drive the action with boards, an assist and steals; the latter is 3 in the first 14 minutes of action, which shows you just how D'd up he is for this playoff. (Melo, for his career, is a steal per game kind of guy, which isn't all that impressive given his big minutes.) Chris Anderson continued to be one of the best values in the Association this year, and I'm more of a fan of his for Sixth Man of the Year than I am Jason Terry. The Lake Show closed the gap with Melo on the bench, with Kobe Bryant making back to back shots to tie it at 39-all.

After a timeout, the Nuggets ran off five in a row, but a Kenyon Martin miss -- his fifth against zero makes -- followed a Pau Gasol dunk, and Bryant drew a Melo foul -- and that became meaningful later. Denver stretched the lead to 8 on good ball movement, but the Lakers ended the quarter positively with an Ariza three and a Bryant make on a Kleiza technical At the half, it was Denver 52, LA 48.

In the third, the Lakers tied it up in a blink with Bynum and Bryant. Dahntay Jones then had his best sequence of the series with a foul draw on Bryant, two makes and a nice lay up, forcing one of those Coach Phil Jackson is Actually Paying Attention Tonight timeouts. The way that Jackson has managed his timeouts in this series, as opposed to the Rocket one, tells you all you need to know about his confidence level.

Out of the timeout, Bryant had all day to measure and make from the arc. Melo got blocked at the rim by Bynum, forcing a turnover; it's his third block and a big play. The game got really grindy, with both teams jawing at the refs, and Nugget Fan sangs the Bull S*** Song. The Nugs contested everything on defense as Ariza got worked on the sidelines; he would return and be huge. Jones shoved Bryant in the back on a layup, and Bryant's refusal to sell the foul kept it from being a flagrant; since Kobe's had his complement of technicals this year, he held his tongue.

Melo then worked Walton like a speed bag, feeding Martin down low for a dunk. After a steal, the game turned into rugby with multiple floor burns, ending in a jump ball from the blown fast break. The game got increasingly chippy, and Fisher picked up a technical after some back and forth with Martin, with Billups missing the free throw to make up for the bad karma of Martin also not getting whistled. Nugget Fan really getting loud here. Jones drove and scored over Gasol, very impressive, to make the lead six.

Perhaps the biggest hidden play of the game happened with Walton selling Anthony's fourth foul; Melo hooked Walton to get to the rim, and Walton sold the elbow enough for get the call, and it's the right call, but it's also one that isn't always whistled, particularly at home. Walton then fed Bryant for a slam at the cup, and that's also Jones' fourth foul; the old school three tied it up, and that erased the Nuggets 7-point lead for the quarter. As Ariza went to the locker room, the refs hurt the flow some more, and a Billups make gave the Nuggets the lead again.

Bryant got Martin one-on-one, and that's a matchup the Lakers must love, but Bryant settled for the jumper and misses. Walton earns another possession by taking the charge from J.R. Smith. Anderson can't handle Gasol down low, but the big man misses another free throw, LA's 11th of the night. Smith can't get a call on Vujacic at the arc, but the refs make up for the non-call by giving the Nuggets possession, and Billups took advantage with a three; this is clearly the most officiated game of the series, and that's not a compliment. Bryant knew what kind of game this is, and picked up Martin's fourth with a chunky leaner.

Smith with a three from Billups at the buzzer, and the refs got Anthony Carter for a Vujacic flop; wow, the refs are just terrible tonight, and for the road team. Karma demands a Machine miss, which is followed by a Bryant airball from three. Nugget Fan was wild loud as the Nuggets got multiple offensive rebounds, finished by an Anderson putback. Vujacic stopped the bleeding with a three that Billups got right back; great back and forth here. Vujacic feeling it and missed, and at the end of the quarter Smith makes a huge three out of a bad Billups pass, and marks the occasion with a stupid taunting technical at Vujacic as Carter tried to get him away. Unreal talent, unreal knucklehead, unreal play, and unreal officiating. I've watched a lot of hoop in my life, and I don't think I've ever seen a guy like Smith; he makes Stephen Jackson look sane. For once, the Nuggets own the end of quarter, and it was 79-71 with twelve minutes to go. The biggest point about the surge is that it buys time for Anthony to stay on the bench, because no one believes this is going to be decided before the final minutes.

In the Lemur interview, George Karl noted how his team lost composure in the third. And to think, some people wonder about George. Bryant made the taunting tech to cut it to 7. Vujacic continued his bad play with a moron reach in. Smith went again from the arc and missed; only in Denver can a guy who is 2 for 9 take a heat check. Odom owned Anderson down low for an easy one. Kleiza missed a tough shot in transition, and here come the Lakers again, but Anderson made a great weak-side block. Billups misses the transition three, and the Nuggets are 4 for 21 now. Farmer travels on defensive pressure, then compounds the error with a stupid tech that could have got him tossed. Wow, these teams aren't playing smart. Billups makes that one, then watches Anderson miss in traffic; the Lakers turn, but Smith couldn't take advantage, and Carter got the whistle on Gasol down low. Anthony returned with 9:26 left as Karl tries to get the game to stop being so ugly; he was joined by Nene. Good Laker ball movement ends with a Gasol dunk. Nene can't score over Gasol, but he can pick up his fifth foul, and that's a problem all over, as Gasol is starting to make his presence felt. The Nuggets needed Anthony to take the game over, and it just didn't happen.

Gasol drew Anderson's second on another touch call. After two makes, it was a 2-point game, and that's another one for the Conspiracy File. Lakers D up hard and forced a wild Martin miss; that's now 0 for 8 for the quarter. A messy Laker possession is ended with Anderson pulling the chair on Gasol; at the other end, the Birdman blows it at the rim, pouted at the refs, and watched as the Lakers took the lead on an Ariza three. The Nuggets are really showing their knucklehead weakness tonight. Anthony finally got to the line, but only makes one to tie it back up. Bryant scored over Smith, then Smith got it back with a great pass to Martin for the flush. Gasol couldn't finish over Anderson, and Billuips is stopped at the rim, but Martin followed for the lead lay up. Big crowd noise again from the Denver faithful, and you can't ask for more from them. Halfway through the fourth as we went to commerce, it was a 2-point Nugget lead.

The Lemur cameras follow up on Coach Philip abusing Odom in the timeout, but he didn't remove him. Smith got away with touching Bryant on a three, who missed, but the Lakers get the team board. An awkward drive and dish by Ariza finds him again in the corner for the three-ball make. Anthony couldn't get a call on a drive, but the Nuggets get the team board, and Billups hit a corner three on the inbounds, drawing Bryant's fourth foul, and he makes for the three-point lead and Kobe Frustration. Billups was the Nuggets best player this half. Gaosl with an easy make down low, and Anthony's nightmare half continued with a miss. Nene guarded Gasol perfectly to no avail, and the Lakers took the lead back, 90-89, with 3:45 left. Fisher then does the same thing to Smith, and the Nuggets lead. Bryant drives on Anthony, collects the foul on Smith, and goes for the old-school three, but that's the 12th Laker miss from the stripe. Billups missed the three, and Fisher has to call time on the ground. We went to commerce with 2:46 left, and yet another classic game on tap. It's every night this year in the Association, this insane drama...

Smith D's Bryant nicely, and he missed late in the clock. Ariza got his fourth away from the ball on Anthony, and he takes the easy points to give the Nuggets the lead back. 2:15 left. Fisher gets to the rim, but Nene is there first, and the charge call keeps him on the floor and gives the Nuggets the ball. Good ball movement by the Nuggets ends in a Smith miss from the arc, and Martin took an over the top on Odom, sending him to the line. Odom made the first and missed the second to tie it back up. Smith made a great drive and pull up, owning Fisher; 2 point lead, but Kobe Bryant Does Not Care, and his jaw-dropping three changes the lead again. Billups to the rack to Martin, but he couldn't finish, and Jackson called time with 46.4 left and a 1-point lead. Bryant, I think, has had quite enough of the doubts that he isn't the best player in this series.

Bryant to the baseline to draw Smith's fourth foul; no chance for the defender on that. Just one make from the Mamba makes us all wonder if the Lakers are just going to miss too many free throws to win this game; it's a 2-point Lake Show lead with 37.1 seconds left. Martin can't inbound before five seconds are up, and Nugget Fan is having nightmare memories of Game One; and it happens *again*, with Ariza collecting the tip from Odom. Anthony has to take his sixth to prevent the game ender, but Ariza makes that moot with two makes. 99-95 with 35 seconds left. Billups overdribbles and got bailed out by Odom. Billups makes two to keep it in doubt, but the Lakers can actually execute an inbounds pass, and Martin sent Bryant to the line; that was the end of his night as well. With Nugget Fan raining down the hate, Bryant made both. Billups got nothing but air from 35 feet, and Jones put Bryant on the line with violence as Nugget Fan starts leaving. Courtisde mics pick up some ugliness as the Mamba makes it a six point lead. The game ends on Nugget misses.

Pretty great game, despite the over officiating, and that's the first loss at home for Denver in their past 16 games. I can't shake the feeling that the Nuggets actually have a better team here -- the Lakers needed every ounce from Bryant tonight, who had 41 and looked visibly spent for perhaps the first time in his NBA career, as he was bent over double during his Lemur post-game interview -- but when you have George Karl as your coach, you are going to blow big games late with things like taunting technicals and failed inbounds passes. Yeesh.

Lakers 2, Nuggets 1, and if you don't think this series is going long -- Game Four will see a referee free throw correction, I'm sure -- I've got a bridge to sell you.

Oh, and here's a final fun fact for Nugget Fan: Coach Philip is 49-1 in series when he's up after three games. The lesson: you get him early, or you don't get him at all.

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