Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Four Steps to a More Perfect NBA

Gimme Gimme
With the lifetime ban of Donald Sterling today, the NBA got a lot closer to a more perfect league... but, well, it made me wonder what steps you'd have to take to get even better. So here's my 4-step Crazy Dream List for Utter Hoop Domination. Adam Silver, give me some of that sweet Sterling fine money, and we'll call it even.

1) Expansion.

The NBA has an increasingly solid D-League, with dozens of solid rotation players having spent some time in the middlings, and that trend is growing. They also have explosive growth and interest in the game in foreign lands, with China in particular being absolutely obsessed with the game. The best players from six continents come here, and there's many markets where the Association has skipped town, and could easily return to solid acclaim. And with the increasing burning oil smell coming from the college game with unionization and one and done players, and public perception of the NCAA going to the sewer where it belongs, I'm just not seeing the league staying at its current size. Especially with the TV business continuing to favor live events, and hoop not having That Concussion Problem that ever-increasing amounts of football can cause. Besides, there are no shortage of players that can give you a watchable product, unlike what happens when you go to second and third tier QBs and starting pitchers.

Where can the game go next? Honestly, there are plenty of green fields. The simple ones are Seattle and Vancouver. Both had good crowds that got their teams ripped by slash and burn owners, and have better regional metrics than when they lost their teams. Putting both in gets local rivalries right back in play, along with more equality for Portland, who have been eating a hardcore travel disadvantage for years now. I'll also happily add Kansas City or St. Louis, which would help us get to a more equitable situation for Minnesota and OKC.

I also want to tap into that explosive interest in Toronto, by giving Montreal, and maybe even Buffalo, a franchise. I'm also ready to have an entirely new dynamic to the SoCal hoop wars with San Diego or Anaheim -- as if the market won't support a third team? Hell, we could probably do both -- and if baseball and football can support teams in DC, Baltimore and Philly, so can hoop, which gives Charm City its own basketball team to keep the Wiz on their toes. If none of these work for you, Pittsburgh could easily become a 4-sport town, and it's not as if the Association has had no luck with single town teams. Put a team in Iowa, they'll go nuts for it for decades.

Oh, and some combination of Vegas, Honolulu, Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, London, Paris, Rome and Berlin. We'll get to them later.

2) Reshuffling.

It's absurd, how much better the West is than the East, and I'm completely tired of waiting for things to balance out.

So rather than ignore geography, let's just change it from East vs. West to North vs. South.

The North has the East (Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Philly and DC), the Central (Toronto, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago) and the West (Indy, Minny, Denver, Utah and Portland).

The South has the East (Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami and New Orleans), Central (Memphis, OKC, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio) and the West (Phoenix, Lakers, Clippers, Dubs, Kings).

See what we've done here? First off, we've balanced the Texas / Florida problem -- two states with warm weather and no state income tax, which attracts the best veteran free agents -- by making them play each other more often. We've kept travel distances down, made Miami actually have to try during the regular season again, and given the beaten-down fan bases of the non-warm West hope for long playoff runs again. Hell, we've even given the Ol' South lovers a reason to NASCAR up the All-Star Game. I'm a giver.

Oh, and when we get to the Final Four, throw the regional demos out the window, and just re-seed by best record. Anything to avoid a repeat of the tomato can row that the Heat will stroll down before they get to the Finals this year.

And yes, I know it's not perfect, but it's also not permanent, because now I'm going back to point one.

3) A Real Summer League... with (a limited but outstanding amount of) RELEGATION!

Remember all of those expansion teams I listed above? They don't get into the Big Boy League right away. Instead, they play each other... and the top four teams go up to the Association in the Fall, while the bottom four teams find themselves down-shifting to all of those new rivals.

Now, look what we've done. We've expanded the season where people care about, and watch, pro hoop. (OK, maybe we've killed the WNBA, but honestly, I'm not sure we have. I just don't see how these markets overlap.) I've killed, once and for all, the tanking insanity that has been the scourge of the league for decades, which made a solid quarter of the league commit fraud this year. And with the rapid expansion of teams, and inevitable dispersal draft that would be required to help staff those clubs, I've leveled the playing field and re-set things away from the star-driven machinations that seems to offend so many casual fans... while also rewarding teams that build deep rosters with spread minutes and actual coaching. I've also created interest in every franchise for every game, since the bottom clubs are going to be desperate to avoid summer school trips that will redefine the misery of jet lag. Oh, and  I've kept the league from having to put up with a long-term prime time Clipper problem, ever again.

4) Shorter playoffs, with actual bye rounds.

Want to know why the regular season seems to long, and the playoffs so good, but damn near random? Because one doesn't matter enough, and the other matters too much. This year shows how futile the high seed home court edge is; the Heat more or less trolled the year rather than put their best players on the floor very often, and next year is going to be worse. The NFL doesn't have this problem, because they've got bye weeks for the top two seeds. Cut the playoffs teams down to six teams in each conference, with byes for the top two, and I guarantee you that we'd get rid of this April Fool season of the last two weeks going to Amateur Hour. Besides, we're going to have to hollow out some space for a Summer League that people actually care about.v

So look what we've got now. A league where no one tanks, every game matters, Summer League isn't just for degenerates and trivia experts. Year-long hoop for those that want it, with a true world-wide league, in a dozen new markets or more. An ever-growing amount of Game.

The possibility that we could, one day, watch the Celtics or Lakers or Knicks or whoever you truly hate get punted off to Brazil and beyond to earn their way back to the Big League.

And the option to never, ever spend months with only freaking baseball, or the ever-spreading mess of all-week NFL, to give us what we really want.

More, and better, Hoop. For more, and better, places.

And vast stretches of time where the games are just as important as what we are getting right now.

A man can dream...

Every Single Night's A Fight

Every April
A couple of weeks ago, I was playing golf with friends. We got to the 18th, an elevated par 5, 500+ yards, a beautiful driving hole. And I absolutely crush my drive. It's one of those abiding memories, the sun setting, everything pristine and perfect, and my ball is ascending in that damn near professional way, bouncing high on the fairway, kicking further down the green, leaving me dead center for my second shot.

I am not a good golfer. I consider it a great round if I don't lose too many balls and finish under 100. But I have my moments, as does every hack, that keep me coming back. And I'm old and smart enough to remember the good shots, and do everything I can to keep them fresh in my mind.

What I am not smart enough to do is to, well, put that shot out of my mind and play the second one well. Or just to pick up the ball and call that my final shot of the day, knowing that nothing else as good can happen after that.

And that's how I feel about the NBA's first round.

Let's get the compulsories out of the way first. Washington ended Chicago in a rock fight that might have been the final game for Tom Thibodeau in Chicago. It hurt the eyes, the rim, and the continuing fact that people who go to bed early have no idea why this first round has been so awesome. Congrats to the Wiz, who have to be considered the favorite to win their next series, since they'll get either the Hawks or Pacers. Moving on.

Tonight in Oklahoma City, something historic happened; the first time in a playoff series that the game went to overtime for the *fourth* straight game. No, seriously. Tonight was a big early Grizzly lead on the road, then a furious Thunder comeback, then a rock fight for most of the fourth and a late Grizz lead... which was erased by a Russell Westbrook strip and slam to tie it. Zach Randolph's game winning tip at the buzzer was a tenth of a second late, and history was made. In the overtime, Mike Miller made two threes, the Thunder fought back with a grow-up effort from Serge Ibaka, and then true weirdness happened.

Down two late, Kevin Durant got to the line with a chance to tie it. He hit the first, and was about to take the second when referee Joey Crawford -- honestly, I love the Association, but how many years do we need to have these Joey Crawford moments -- seized the ball from him instead of letting him shoot in rhythm, berating the scorer's table for some unknown transgression. After a minute of choice shade and delay, Durant inevitably missed the second. OKC got a stop and the ball back with 3 seconds left. The inbounds came to Durant, who hoisted from forever and missed. Ibaka then tipped it in for the apparent win... but the refs had him late to the clock, and rather than review the replay for the extensive amount that you'd think that a series-changing play would warrant, Crawford was definitive. And, seemingly, irritated at having to work overtime. No goal, Grizz win, 3-2 series with the chance to close it out in six.

I have no idea if Ibaka scored in time. I also have no idea why your need one point end of game play is a contested 30-footer. And I have absolutely no idea why Crawford goes into full freakout twice, with merely the entire series on the line. What I do know is that this matchup, just like every other freaking series in the West, is absolutely medicinal grade hoop, glistening and perfect, hopelessly addictive. And I'm rooting for seven games no matter who wins it.

And then there's the late game.

In Los Angeles, against the backdrop of the incredible Donald Sterling resolution (at least for now, before the lawyers get into it)... we pick it up in the third. With TNT puling for Stephen Curry to get into it, he seemingly hears the announce team, drains a deuce, then makes an absurd three off a fast break for the lead. The Clips then get turnovers -- Curry's true Achilles heel now that his ankles have seemingly grown into adulthood -- to get the lead back. Deep foul trouble littering prominent players on both sides. The crowd seems subdued, not sure if it's a holdover from the unseemliness earlier in the week, or just plain worry that the Warriors aren't going to be denied. Chris Paul with the hero ball triple to end the third, and the Dubs nearly hit a 55-footer to answer. Ye Gads.

In the fourth, the Dubs just kept matching shot for shot and play for play, with the Clips seemingly struggling, but maintaining their lead. I kept expecting the Dubs to take a lead, and it kept not happening. Curry with a late clock three? Jamal Crawford right back with an answering one. Andre Iguodala with the resurrection series, but Blake Griffin just growing with every possession... and because this isn't Thunder vs. Grizz, it actually led to a game that wasn't decided in the final minute.

Credit DeAndre Jordan, who made enough free throws to make intentional fouling a bad play, and Jamal Crawford, who has been on fire for the last two games.

Such a difference for the Clips in Game Five. Wonder why?

So, why did the Clips hang on? Well, they do have the better bigs, and even with a balky hamstring, Paul is just so damned mentally tough. But the biggest edge that the Clips have is on the sidelines, where Doc Rivers has somehow Jedi Mind Tricked the Warriors into not getting enough shots for Curry (5 for 10 tonight?), who got Jordan back into the game after an AWOL Game Four, and who just managed the most ridiculous owner situation ever...

And he's got his team up 3-2, with two chances to finish.

Maybe Mark Jackson never really had a chance in this series, what with Andrew Bogut not suiting up. But it's not as if he's got nothing from Jermaine O'Neal, and after watching the job Rivers has done on him, I'm not sure it would have mattered. Final score: Clippers 113, Warriors 103.

What a round. And it's far from over.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Pacers Crumble, The Spurs Prevail, And The Heat Lurk And Rest

Add caption
After the Paceres had got back to even in their series against the Hawks, things seemed simple: the top seed was going to throttle the 8 in Game Five at home, order would be restored, and Indy was going to get some of that They Could Beat Miami gleam back.

But then they played the game, and the Hawks decided that making 2 out of every 3 shots would be fun, with guys named Mike Scott and Sheldon Mack (yes, I don't know who they are either) making shots like it was a video game. Especially from beyond the arc.

How crazy was it? Atlanta led by 30 before the Pacers finally got some traction and made a too little, too late run. The courtside mics picked up Pacer Fan -- singular, loud, profane -- giving his team business that would have got you tossed in New York. Your final was Hawks 107, Pacers 97, and honestly, it wasn't that close. Shocking is too soft of a word.

The thing to keep in mind is that the Hawks aren't, well, good. They've got two very good players in Jeff Teague and Paul Milsap, and if Kyle Korver can make threes he's worthwhile, but the rest of the roster is ballast, and they nearly spit the bit to the freaking Knicks, of all teams. In the playoffs, against what was the best defensive team in the East this year, Teague was going to struggle, Milsap wasn't going to be enough, and Korver would get exposed. They were going to be punching bags in front of a fan base that could care less, and be an object lesson of what happens when you ride the NBA's low tier playoff treadmill. And, well, none of these things are happening.

Why? Well, the Pacers are just unstable all over, and proof of why superstar-free teams never make it at the highest level. It's not just Lance Stephenson (owner of the clip of the night, when he stuck the ball against the board on a dunk attempt), though he's the poster child for shaky; it's also even Roy Hibbert and Paul George, and hell, maybe Evan Turner is just such a loser that he's dragging them all down. The Pacers' best players in their comeback tonight were bench guys who weren't going for hero ball or shrinking in the moment, which makes their chances of forcing a Game Seven even shakier.

The Pacers can, of course, still do this: as noted previously, the Hawks aren't good. But maybe they don't have to be.

Meanwhile out West, the Spurs ran off to a 20-point third quarter lead in their attempt to get back to even against the surprising Mavericks. Order would be restored, right? Not so fast, and not in 2014. Behind DaJuan Blair and Devin Harris -- in other words, fungible bench guys who have been around the league -- the Mavs got all the way back against the suddenly lead-footed Spurs.

It came down to the final four minutes, like seemingly every game in the playoffs. Blair got ejected with 3:08 left on what seemed to be an inadvertent kick to the head of Tiago Splitter, leading to a 3-point possession and a fresh lead. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker made plays, Samuel Dalembert did not, but Monta Ellis tied it with a 3-point play at the start of the final minute. Boris Diaw with a monster three with 35 seconds left, Ellis misses, but Dirk with the follow to make it a 1-point game. The Mavs send Manu Ginobili to the line; a monster miss, then a make. 10.4 left, 2 point game, yet another classic playoff game. These happen every night, right?

Ellis misses at the rack, so close, such a good look. Duncan with the board, gets it to Ginobili, who's fouled and makes two to ice it. 2-2 series, could have been 3-1 if not for Vince Carter's miracle in Game Three. The Spurs had beaten Dallas in 10 straight games before this playoff, and barely missed losing three in a row to them. Just another great series, in a month that is just chock-filled with them.

Earlier in the evening, and almost completely under the radar, Miami closed out the game but doomed Bobcats, who were without Al Jefferson. Charlotte never lost touch with the defending champions and acquitted themselves admirably, but they never had a chance once Big Al became compromised. The road teams are now 19-14, this is rapidly becoming the best first round in NBA history, Donald Sterling notwithstanding, and the Heat will likely get up to a week off before having to confront another highly flawed opponent in their increasingly inevitable run to the Finals.

So enjoy this while you can, folks. There's a reason the first round is the most fun. It has the least amount of Heat in it.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Rockets - Blazers Game Four: Oh, What A Lovely War

And How
The late game tonight from Portland was yet another battle for the ages, with both teams making adjustments and getting to that special level of hatred that only happens with close and repeat contact. This series is everything you could hope from 4 vs. 5, and part of the reason why this NBA playoff season has just been must-see TV, each and every night.

Houston came in needing the win to even up the series and get back to home court disadvantage, as the road team had won every game so far this series. They got out to the early lead behind Chandler Parsons' first good game of the series, and the continued hot three-point shooting from D-League revelation Troy Daniels. By the half, they were up by 10, but in no way comfortable. In the third quarter, Portland started force-feeding LaMarcus Aldridge to much better effectiveness, but the Rockets kept getting just enough from Dwight Howard and company to keep the lead at five into the final quarter. Dorell Wright's three-pointer got it down to a deuce, but makes by Jeremy Lin and back to back definition mid-range shakes and makes by James Harden pushed it back to eight. Damian Lillard finally ended the lead with six minutes left, only to see Harden make a miracle bailout to push it back to three. Portland led for just 90 seconds of the first 43 minutes, but with Nicolas Batum making the three to make it 99-97 with 4:31 left, you got the feeling the summit had been achieved. Houston bogged down with Howard misses at the line, Harden misses from deep, and the fact that this game was happening past midnight on a Sunday night is just all kinds of wrong.

Howard fouled out Robin Lopez with 2:37 to play, and rattled home both to make it a 3-point game. Batum misses, one and down for the Blazers. Howard off transition, back to the line, one shaky make. Howard blocks Lillard, but Patrick Beverly misses the corner three for the lead. Howard rejects Batum, bailing out Harden after great ball movement by the Blazers. Harden from the line ties it with 71 seconds left. Good Lord, What Hoop.

Aldridge misses, too strong on a diving layup. Harden gets to the line again as the Blazer crowd chants in derision. The Gods Of Ball disagree, as he makes both. And then after a game filled with plays where they weren't ever getting rebounds, Portland got multiple attempts following a Lin boner turnover, with Mo Williams probably getting away with a foot out of bounds, then canning the go-ahead three with 18.2 left. Signature moment of this game.

Smart ball would have the road team trying to score early in the clock, so that they can foul and have a second try at the win. Harden goes to the rack and got denied by Aldridge for his fourth block of the night. Immediate foul on Wright leads to a missed FT, then a make, with 8.3 seconds to go. Harden drives again, dishes to Howard, who slams for the tie, as the Blazers fail to foul; 3.6 seconds left. First field goal made in forever for Houston, and a ton of time for Portland... who settle for a 35-footer from Williams, who misses. Third OT in four games. What a series.

In the overtime, Parsons takes a flagrant on Aldridge, leading to the early lead, but Wesley Mathews turns it on the next possession, and Howard makes on Aldridge for the tie. Daniels sends Mathews to the line, who makes both, as Portland's really good at the stripe. Howard iso on Aldridge, gets to the line, makes both, tie again. Batum, too easy on the drive and make. Houston offense is all Howard, and he turns it this time. Batum with a giant triple, over Howard, and Portland is suddenly up five, halfway through the OT. Biggest Blazer lead of the night.

Harden hurries a three, misses, leading to a Blazer runout and score. Harden to Howard for the settling dunk, but Aldrige answers from mid-range, and this is starting to look like Portland's night. Harden draws a foul, airballs one, but the Rockets get the board and find Daniels, who hits; 4 point game. Blazer turn, Harden make, 2 point game with a minute left. So evenly matched. Aldridge misses, Harden boards, but a terrible Rocket possession ensues, ending with a Harden brick from the arc -- possibly a bad no-call -- and a Howard foul down low. Beverly puts Lillard on the line with 17 seconds left, and the O-town guard hits both. 4 point game.

Parsons with the fallaway three, terrible idea, and a miss; Aldridge boards and gets the insta-foul. He misses both, so a comeback is still possible, and Daniels is fouled shooting a catch and shoot three; just a second off the clock. The D-Leaguer hits his first three NBA free throws (!), and it's back to 1 with 8.9 seconds left. Good Lord.

Beverly fouls Williams on the inbound; he makes two... and Mathews steals it from Beverly to end it. Weak screen by Harden, McHale looks like he's just passed a porcupine, post-game anger from both teams, chaos on the floor and +18K people breathing in relief. I have no idea what the Rockets were doing on that possession, other than running the front court and maybe expecting that Portland was just going to let them set up for a three with no pressure. Ye gads.

Portland should win this series now, as they have three shots to get it done, and Houston looked beaten for much of the fourth and overtime, even when the scoreboard wasn't a disaster. They had four guys score over 20 tonight, they've got the best guard in this series in Lillard, and the best big in Aldridge, who has been downright historic so far. But whenever you have a series with this many overtime games, there's just so little separating these teams. They are both incredibly flawed, they aren't likely to survive the next round, and it doesn't matter at all, because the games have just been so damned good.

Game Five in Houston is on Wednesday night. I don't really care who wins this series anymore, I just want to see as many games as possible. Such Good Game...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Nets - Raptors Game Four: Who The Hell Knows

All Of These Things
With five minutes left in tonight's Game Four between the Raptors and the Nets, the home team held a one point lead after a couple of Kevin Garnett free throws. So it was simply a matter of who would be the better team in clutch time; the road Raptors, who had frittered away a 17-point lead, or the hometown Nets, who have all of the playoff experience in the world.

Your money would have to be on the Nets.

And you would have lost your money.

Brooklyn couldn't put the ball in the ocean half of the time. The other half, they were turning it over or getting charge whistles. On the other end, Greivis Vasquez and Kyle Lowry made shots, then free throws, and all of sudden, we're got another series that looks like it's going the distance, with the Raps holding home court in front of a nation that's just plain marking out for them. (The Raps attracted thousand and thousands to Maple Leaf Gardens tonight to watch the game on the monitors.) The Brooklyn crowd tuned out entirely on their team tonight, almost as if they were watching a team of aging mercenaries who were failing to deliver on their promise against a younger and more entertaining team. You can do a lot of things in front of a New York City hoop crowd, but fool them, not so much.

So what could have easily been a simple first round narrative -- crafty old team works its ugly defensive magic against just happy to be here noobs -- has now gone to another level of Who The Hell Knows, where home court advantage means squat, and each game fails to build a narrative.

I still think the Nets win, but I think it a lot less than I did, well, five minutes ago...

Clippers - Warriors Game Four, Or What Distraction Really Looks Like

Rain Makers
There's a lot of noise in sports about how distraction hurts teams, how one player can't put himself above the others, and how you can't tolerate that kind of thing, regardless of the talent of the individual doing the distraction. Sports teams are said to be fragile little bubbles of focus, ready to be spooked by any shiny item or petty disagreement, and the job of management is to eliminate all of that. Particularly steely or virtuous players are able to overcome that, but distraction is all-powerful, until it's not.

Which leads us to the first quarter of today's Clippers-Warriors game, where the Clips came out as flat as you might expect from a team that was up 2-1, and reacting to an owner that is eclipsing the league with his mouth. Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan picked up three fouls apiece, Stephen Curry finally got loose and rained down threes from everywhere, the Roaracle crowd went into full bloodlust mode, and the Clips didn't get an o-board until halfway through the third quarter. It wasn't a blowout, but it was also never in serious doubt.

What was winning this series for the Clips is their bench, and the fact that the Warriors are frauds. Jamal Crawford brought them back into the game for a while in this one, and if Steve Blake has had a good moment in this series, I haven't seen it. Even in their good stretches, the Dubs are so turnover-prone and pretty-pass happy that runs don't stick, and it leads to weak moments on defense. They play to the scoreboard, and when they aren't making threes, they are vulnerable. The Clips have better bigs and home-court advantage, and that should be enough to tilt the series in their direction.

But if it doesn't?

No one will credit the Dubs' Mark Jackson for putting in Draymond Green into the starting lineup. No one will think about how Andre Iguodala got back on track, or how Harrison Barnes is giving them bench utility, or that Curry just could not be denied over seven games.

There will be only one person that history will give any influence to, and he's the one that never scored a point, grabbed a rebound, made an assist or a defensive play or played a minute.

And that's a distraction the entire Association can't tolerate.

The Wiz Make It Not A Series

Exit, Stage Youth
The thing about the NBA that's both great and terrible is that the best team nearly always wins a best of seven series. There are moments where a team gets tripped by flukes, bad officiating, lapse moments where a team doesn't need a game so much as to bring maximum intensity... but over seven games, it just doesn't overcome proficiency or talent. It's a crucible, where heat and pressure produces truth, and when a series ends, you rarely hear anyone say that the better team did not win.

The better team is up 3-1 in the Bulls-Wizards series, and really should be the owner of a 4-0 sweep. Today, they got up big with Trevor Ariza going for 30, took their foot off the gas long enough for the Bulls to make it a game late, and did all of that without starting power forward Nene Hilario. The Bulls got a great effort from the emerging Taj Gibson, but no one else could put it in the ocean, and Joakim Noah continues to make his defensive player of the year chops look like a mistake.

It's one thing for the Wiz to be more athletic, explosive, and just plain faster than the Bulls; we all knew that was the case before the opening tap. But it's quite another for Chicago to be so turnover-prone, so static in the half court, and so prone to long stretches where they appear helpless. I get that defensive teams can look this bad from time to time, but this looks more and more like a team that's tuned out head coach Tom Thibodeau, and is just looking for this to be over.

The question now isn't if the Wizards will win. It's whether they've got enough focus and steel to do it on the road in Game Five, or if it will happen in a coronation Game Six at home.

For the sake of the Eastern Conference, who desperately need a young and rising team, I'm hoping the former.

The end of Donald Sterling

See Ya
Unless you've been under a rock, you've heard about the audio tape of Clippers owner Donald Sterling with his presumably ex-girl friend, in which the scumbag (allegedly) shows all of the world his repugnant racist stripes. Given the demographic makeup of the NBA, the extraordinary bad timing to sully the sparkling first round of the playoffs with the kind of Bigger Than Game story that the media can't stop discussing, and the fact that everyone kind of hates Sterling already, it seems like a matter of time before the Association takes his team away.

And I actually feel kind of sorry for him.

Now, that amount of pity that I've got is infinitesimal. If Sterling were reported to have been framed somehow in this audio tape, I wouldn't feel sorry for him, because it's not as if he hasn't been a scumbag before this. No, where I feel bad for him is because he's the same exact guy he's always been. But now, when exposed and in the changing environment that is modern multi-cultural and less straight white mail centric America, that's intolerable. And, well, everyone is subject to changing tides ruining your footing.

Listen beyond the racism in that tape, and what you hear is a simple matter of an old white guy with money trying to control his woman. That used to be common, expected, even lauded. Women were deemed to be lesser creatures then men, and if it's OK to judge parents by the actions of their children (well, it's not, but everybody does it), the same went for wives and girlfriends. Sterling's the same racist he's always been, and the same patriarch, and the same misogynist, and the same bullying rich prick. It just took an open mouth to take him down.

Oh, and one other thing. Notice how Sterling says "Don't bring him (Magic Johnson) to my games?" It's not that Johnson is a Laker, or a more successful businessman, or a man who is more respected and loved in the community, that calls out to me in that moment. It's also not even that Sterling can't see Johnson as anything beyond his skin color.

It's the pronoun that gets me.

Not "the" games, which would have been neutral and accurate, not "our" games, which would have been mildly presumptuous but understandable and common... but *my* games. The games that belong to me, because the team belongs to me, because I am lord and master of all that I survey. Hubris writ large.

The very best owners in sports understand this. The game does not belong to you. You are nothing but a caretaker. If you do your job properly, the team and game prospers under your stewardship. If you do your job terribly, they don't, but you can still get bailed out by a rising tide or pure luck. In any event, the game, like life, is bigger than you, and will move on with or without you. There are always going to be more rich people who want to be part of the show, who understand the ridiculous rate of return on being part of a fixed monopoly, and who want the public acclaim. But the team, and the game, will outlive you, and all your money can not change that.

The game belongs to the players, the crowd, the moment, to no one and everyone.

The money?

That's yours, Donald.

At least for now.

P.S. -- Oh, by the way? Sterling's married. With his wife still at court side. Good grief.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

For Home Teams, Nothing Is Easy: Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Troy Daniels (Who?) Save Their Teams

Five overtime games so far in the first round, and no series has gone past Game 3 yet. Oh, and both 4-5 series are devoid of wins by the home team. Play, Ian.

I didn't see much of Nets-Raptors, because watching these teams makes me sad. I get that they are playing close games in front of great crowds, and Kyle Lowry is doing nice things... but if you like to see a grindy old team nearly blow a game at the line, only to see the athletic young team blow it right back, have at it. I've got too much pretty to watch instead.

In Washington, the Bulls staved off a 3-0 hole behind a career night from Mike Dunleavy Jr. -- and by career night, I mean his entire damned career hasn't been worth this one game -- and a poor decision ejection for the Wizards' Nene Hilario. After watching the Bulls blow both games at home, this was borderline shocking, but if Dunleavy is going to hit eight freaking threes, that just tells you that there's a blood moon or something going on.

The Bulls have to be thrilled to have a pulse, especially when they didn't really get good games from anyone but Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler (who was the focus of Nene's ire, and also had a big three late). If Hilario gets tossed from Game Four, which seems quite possible given the MMA nature for his contact with the smaller Butler, this could swing right back into Chicago's favor, when they looked eminently sweepable.

If you had given me a list of players who could swing a series for their team, I think I would have listed some guys who are not in the Association right now, before I got to Dunleavy The Younger. I was in the Bay Area when he broke into the NBA as the third overall pick (yes, seriously, he went #3), and I got to see his utter lack of game at close range. But every dog will have their day, and this was clearly his. He now has the most three pointers in a playoff game in franchise history. Seriously, it's not Michael Jordan, B.J. Armstrong, Craig Hodges or Scottie Pippen... it's Mike Freaking Dunleavy. Junior. Previous career high in a playoff: 17. Tonight, 35. Literally no one saw this coming.

The night ended in the glorious West, where in Portland, Houston continued the road warrior ways with an overtime win over the Blazers, who finally got a human effort from LaMarcus Aldridge, but still clearly could have won just on the effort of point guard Damian Lillard. Houston got a determined bounce-back game from James Harden that started to reclaim the idea that he's actually an asset, some good work from center Dwight Howard, and some early threes from defensive savant point guard Patrick Beverly. But Terrence Jones was an utter no-show -- this is a terrible match-up for him, because he's got no one that he looks comfortable guarding -- and when you are relying on Jeremy Lin for crunch-time minutes in the same backcourt as Beverly, you have a 3-guard lineup where two guys can't defend. There's only so much that Beverly and Dwight Howard can do to cover that, and it's not like Chandler Parsons is a stopper, either.

Watching the fourth quarter of this game, with the Rocket lead slip sliding away, was like watching the tide come in. Possession after possession as the clock ticked down, the Blazers got closer and closer, and looked better and better... and when Howard finally missed a free throw, and Lilliard beat Harden off the dribble by miles, which he just kept doing... they finally had the lead with 1:59 to play. And then the Rockets called time, Harden got to the line twice, Aldridge missed, and Lin had a clear transition opportunity to go up five with 40 seconds let... and misses. Portland got Nicolas Batum clear for a three, which he buried, and we had the rarest thing in the NBA -- a crazy exciting and fast end of game, because neither team called time during all of that. Have I mentioned that the NBA's first round is the best?

This was just a crazy tight game, with the refs ignoring a lot of stuff that usually get technical foul calls, and players ping-ponging from hero to goat with utter randomness. Harden had 37-9-6, but set a new Rockets record in shots taken to get there. Lin made some great plays, but also missed a layup that could have ended it in the final minute and had a bad turnover in OT, while missing a 3 that could have been huge. Then he got his hands on the ball at the end of an ugly scramble possession, found D-League Refugee Troy Daniels at the arc, and the undrafted anonymity just canned the killshot. Just loco. A guy who had only played 75 freaking minutes all year saves the season, at least for one more game. He even secured the board off the Blazers' last gasp, though it was more to the credit of Beverly, who skied for the tip on his should have had an operation knee. If you are a Rocket Fan and you don't love Beverly, something's wrong with you.

Just like in DC, we're one more road moment away from the series going back to re-start and the favorite having the upper hand. You have to think that Harden's starting to find his way in this series, and Howard is looking better than he has in years; Portland's lack of bench remains troubling. But the Rockets have all of these one-way players, and Aldridge might go back to Unstoppable Mode. The dark horse pick for bet series in the first round is gaining steam, but it's got competition all over the board.

Friday, April 25, 2014

There Is Nothing In Sports Better Than The First Round Of The NBA Playoffs

This Chaff Pic will make sense later
Seriously. And it just keeps getting better.

Tonight in the Assoc- iation, we started with the #1 seed in the worst conference in league history going down 2-1 to the 8th. Atlanta took this by 13 points on a night when fading MVP candidate Paul George took the pipe for the Pacers, and make no mistake about this, Indy's in real trouble. They've got no answer for Hawks PG Jeff Teague, who has savaged them in two of three games. The Hawks do one thing well on offense -- move the ball while shooting threes -- and that one thing has made Indy center and lodestone Roy Hibbert useless. Even if the Pacers survive, they look like stone cold losers to the surging Wizards, who are up 2-0 and going home in their 4/5 matchup against the fading Bulls. So much for the club that was supposed to give the Heat their biggest challenge before the Finals.

But then, we got to the good stuff: the Western Conference games. In the middle game, Memphis looked like they were going to go up 2-1 with ease against the #2 Thunder, only to get caught by a 17-0 run to end the fourth... which was one point too few, as Mike Conley got things back under control in the overtime, making the series 2-1 for the 7th seed. Memphis was able to keep Kevin Durant under control for much of the game, but Russell Westbrook's Random Acts of Randomness was almost their undoing. I don't know if I've ever seen a great player with as many terrible moments as Russ; in one late sequence, he made a turnover, bricked a shot, lost his man in transition and then canned a 30-foot 4-point play, when everyone in the building knew the ball was going up no matter what. I have no idea if you can win with Russ, but I also know the Thunder are helpless without him... and if I had one bet to make on this series, it would be that it's going to Game Seven, and will be among the best in the Association this year.

Then, the late game: Clips-Dubs. I find myself rooting for both teams from moment to moment, mostly because each team has a couple of guys who I don't want to see succeed. For the Clips, that's Doc Rivers and Big Baby Davis; for the Dubs, it's Mark Jackson and David Lee. The Clips led almost the entire game after a curb-stomping blowout in Game Two, but the Dubs kept coming late, with Draymond Green playing great and Stephen Curry finally getting loose for some Are You Kidding Me bombs from deep. The Clips got the benefit of some shaky calls, and combined with Paul's brilliance and the all-night action of Blake Griffin (32 points) and DeAndre Jordan (5 blocks and 22 boards), that was enough to make it 2-1. The Dubs are doomed, of course, and have been ever since Andrew Bogut was out due to injury; there's just no one from NoCal that can keep the Clipper bigs from getting easy score. If I were Jackson, I'd tell my wing players to drive into Jordan and fall down as often as humanly possible, because the Clips have no one else to protect the rim, and when that opens up, the entire offense does... but it's not like Jackson is a master of strategery here. I'm just hoping the Clips ease up on the throttle enough to give us extra hoop, as this series is just a weak call on Paul in Game One from being 3-0 LA now.

Oh, and all of this doesn't even get into Dallas giving the Spurs a series out of the blue, or Portland riding LaMarcus Aldrige to a borderline shocking 2-0 bump over the higher seeded Rockets. (I guess some might find drama out of Brooklyn and Toronto being tied, but as that might involve watching the Nets play basketball, I'm abstaining. There's a reason that series keeps going to NBA TV, folks.)

The problem, of course, is that *right freaking now* is the very best time of the year for the very best hoop on the planet. In round 2, San Antonio will have found it's stride and used the Blazers' lack of experience, and Aldridge's inevitable regression to something approaching humanity, to advance without drama. If it's OKC-LAC, that will be fun to watch until Paul or Westbrook break down (the former is already dealing with a hamstring); if it's MEM-LAC, it will be Thug Ball in the '80s and sorrow-inducing. (I don't dare hope for GS-OKC, and neither should you, as the Dubs are Fun Frauds and aren't getting out of the first.) Both series won't be half as much fun as the ones that preceded them, and in the East, fun exists only if you are a Wiz fan, because everyone else is either old and expected, or about to be terminated. The third round and Finals will be OK, because they always are, but I prefer More Great Games to Fewer.

So I hope you are watching, because the NBA doesn't get better than this round... and yes, that's something of a problem, but probably not one that can be "fixed". Hoop is as much art as sport, and art is better when it comes with flaws, so the greatness shines brighter. By the time we've learned who's the best, a good amount of the fun gets boiled off with the chaff.

Mmmmmm, chaff.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Eagles 2014 Schedule: We're Boned

The NFL released the 2014 schedule today, and while this was always going to be a harsh return to reality after the 2013 creampuff parade... this is just setting up as all kinds of problems, mostly around the three Prove It moments in the schedule. Let's dig into it, shall we?

Week 1 - Jacksonville, Sun Sept 7 at 1 pm

Well, OK, that's as close to a homecoming game as you can get. But the Jags were secretly the best team in the turrible AFC South last year, and if the Birds drop the opener, it'll be full-on crisis mode. Let's assume they don't.

Week 2 - At Indianapolis, Mon Sept 15 at 8:30 pm

Joy, a road dome game for a MNF right away, to get you off your regular schedule. It's also the Colts' home opener after a more or less automatic road loss at Denver the week before, so they'll be good and amped. Fun.

Week 3 -- Washington, Sun Sept 21 at 1:00 pm

Hey, don't you want to play Bob Griffin and DeSean Jackson in Week 3, when they are still healthy, especially when they've spent the first two weeks getting fat on Houston and Jacksonville? If you are the fatalist type, this game ends with Jackson dancing around as the first place team in the division. Oh, and DC will have an extra day of rest, too.

Week 4 -- At San Francisco, Sun Sept 28 at 4:25 pm

Pretty much an auto-loss in the new Niner yard, and they won't be sated after an at Dallas, Chicago and at Arizona slate that is likely to leave them 2-1. At least both teams are on equal rest. but man alive, I'm not liking this one at all.

Week 5 -- St. Louis, Sun Oct. 5 at 1:00 pm

A likely recovery week, but the Rams are defensive hammers, and they can't be as bad on offense as they were in 2013. Oh, and the Rams are coming off a bye. Great.

Week 6 - NY Giants, Sun Oct. 12 at 8:30 pm

Last game before the bye, and the first time they'll see a Giants team that spent a lot of money in free agency. Equal rest for both teams. The schedule gets murderous after the bye.

Week 8 - At Arizona, Sun Oct. 26 at 4:05 pm

Arizona is coming off a likely beat-down of the Raiders, but less rest is less rest, and that might be a big help in what is usually a house of horrors road trip. I think they could be 5-2 after this game, but 4-3 is more likely.

Week 9 - At Houston, Sun. Nov 2 at 1:00 pm

First back to back road game of the year, against a Texans team that will be getting their bye the next week. This one could be the high water mark.

Week 10 -- Carolina, Mon. Nov 10 at 8:30 pm

The second game of the year against a dominant and physical defense, and likely their second loss to such a beast. Maybe the defense steps up and forces turnovers, but this one will be a serious test.

Week 11 -- At Green Bay, Sun. Nov 16 at 1:00 pm

Unless there's a repeat of the Seneca Wallace / Scott Tolzein Experience, this has 2-game losing streak written all over it. Packers with the day advantage from the MNF game in Week 10, too.

Week 12-- Tennessee, Sun Nov. 23 at 1:00 pm

Critical recovery game against a Titans game that shouldn't be very good, and will be coming off a MNF week. This couldn't come at a better time.

Week 13 -- At Dallas, Th. Nov 27 at 4:30 pm

Well, at least it isn't the annual Dallas Quasi Bye Game for the Thanksgiving holiday. Dallas will have half a day less rest from a Week 12 SNF game, so this might be a fun death knell for the NFL's Greatest Pretenders. I have them at 8-5 at this point in the year.

Week 14 -- Seattle, Sun Dec. 7 at 4:25 pm

As good of a spot as you could hope against the defending champs. 10 days between games... but SEA has equal rest due to being in the late game on Thanksgiving against the Niners. If this completes an 0-3 year against the Niners, Panthers and Seahawks, it doesn't really matter if they make the playoffs or not.

Week 15 - Dallas, Sun. Dec. 14 at 8:30 pm

Dallas has 10 days of rest for the return, having a TNF date against the Bears in Week 14. I fear no Cowboys.

Week 16 - At Washington, Sat. Dec. 20 at 4:30 pm

If DC's off-season moves have worked out, this could be for the division, since they've got the 4th place schedule, and swap in Tampa for Carolina, and Minny for the Packers. But if their defense has collapsed like always, or if the offense is beat up, this might be one of those Empty Late Season Yards that have marked the Daniel Snyder Era.

Week 17 - At NY Giants, Sun Dec. 28 at 1:00 pm

Green has a spare day of rest for this one, but the Giants also have that safety schedule (Detroit instead of Green Bay, Atlanta instead of Carolina), and could also be in the mix for the division.

Early prediction: 10-6, #4 division winner or #6 wild card, first round loser

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Youth Will Be Served: The Wiz Go Up Big

Bull Futility
Tonight in Chicago, the too young for playoff success Wizards, who clearly were not going to be able to score in the half court, or have enough poise to convert in deep shot clocks... and weren't going to show the hunger to go for the 2-0 jugular vein start after winning game one on the road... went on an 20-4 run late and into the overtime, and made the home court Bulls look like, well, a team without a star. a bench, or a coaching situation that could manage minutes to give their team any chance at even scoring the basketball, let alone winning the game.

How bad was it? When Nene hit a jumper halfway through the overtime to go up 6, I pretty much expected the Bull faithful to head for the exits. Chicago missed 12 straight shots, ending the drought only when futile Kirk Hinrich got a transition trip to the line. Washington held on, with a classic Ball Don't Lie free throw moment when Hinrich's free throws that could have sent the game to double overtime missed.

But it's unfair to pin this all on Bull Futility. The Wiz had better ball movement, athleticism, and depth. Bradley Beal was smooth in the filth, and while John Wall had all kinds of bad moments, with a terrible fifth foul on an inbounds play, he's still growing by leaps and bounds in this series. They'll go home to a DC crowd that will mark out for playoff hoop like nothing you've ever seen, and so long as they can manage their emotions, they'll sweep this series.

Which leads me to wonder what's next for Chicago. They've got money to spend, having dumped Luol Deng, and with soft forward Carlos Boozer widely expected to be amnestied. There's always the possibility that star struck Derrick Rose might come back and give them something; the man was the MVP not so very long ago, after all. The salary cap is going up by about $5 million as well, and it's not as if they don't have guys you want to play with in Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, and a nice bench scoring reclamation asset in DJ Augustin.

But what they might not have is coach Tom Thibodeau, who hasn't been able to ride home big third and fourth quarter leads, and who has been there too many years without a Finals run to survive a first round upset. Thibs won't be unemployed for long, and he's far from a bad coach, but it's just not working out here. and the fact that he clearly lost out on the Deng situation to miss the handwriting on the wall. That's life in the NBA, where the coaches control everything and nothing, and the only job security comes with rings.

Top 10 signs you have a terrible fantasy baseball team

Danny Salazar Is Not Happy
10) You were betting on the Royals to hit for power

9) The "He's Thin!" spring training excitement over C.C. Sabathia convinced you to buy in

8) Your closers were Joe Nathan, Jim Johnson and Nate Jones

7) Bryce Harper's lack of hustle matches your own

6) You regard Homer Bailey's first name as an unheeded warning

5) The name "Danny Salazar" makes you engage in spontaneous weeping

4) You keep telling yourself that Prince Fielder is just a slow starter, and not, well, just freaking slow

3) Your stolen base strategy of paying too much for Billy Hamilton and otherwise ignoring the category isn't exactly looking airtight

2) Writing off counting categories is already part of your mindset

1) You are paying more attention to the NFL Draft, and what it might mean to your football league, than anything in hardball

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Grizz Grizz, and the Dubs Fade

Tonight in the NBA playoffs, both western conference first round match ups went to 1-1, but in very different ways.

First, the early game; Memphis took out the Thunder in OKC, in overtime, in what might have been their best game of the year. Most of the time when a road team wins in overtime, there were moments that they were long stretches that they weren't the better team, or got good and lucky, but not so much in tonight's game. OKC got an absurd 4-point play from Kevin Durant on a falling down three pointer from the corner, then a putback overtime-forcing bucket from noted offensive machine Kendrick Perkins (?), just to get to bonus time. In overtime, the road dogs kept pounding the Thunder on the glass, owning them in half court, and honestly should have won by more. OKC should still win this series, because the Grizz are not going to get this much from Beno Udrih, Mike Miller and Courtney Lee, but what was looking like a squash for much of Game One has now moved up into Must Watch status.

In the late game, the Warriors mailed it in, with Blake Griffin shaking off the Game One foul trouble to dominate, Klay Thompson disappeared, Steph Curry deferred too much in the first half and the Clips more or less ended things early for everyone. There's a reason why the Dubs are a fraud, and games like tonight, when they didn't need the game and clearly weren't all that interested in going after it, are the reason why.

A real team with steel in their hearts doesn't go for all of that touchy-feely stuff of showing up for coach's Easter ministry service (I have nothing against Mark Jackson's religion, except when it creeps over into work, and becomes one more way in which boundaries are blurred between coach and pal), or letting a hated rival clown you for a 40-point blowout... but the plain and simple of this series, and hoop in general, is that good big men beat good small men, and with Andrew Bogut out and David Lee turning into a softer and softer turnstile, the Dubs are left with long periods of time when they are reliant on 35-year-old Jermaine O'Neal to hold down the fort. Against Griffin and the startlingly improved DeAndre Jordan (dude even hit his free throws tonight, that's unfair), it's really not enough, especially when Chris Paul is eating Curry alive.

Things will change in Game Three, of course; they always do, and I'm not changing my picks for either series. But long, deep, nasty series with road teams winning early to set up serious drama and more Western Conference games? Please and thank you. By any means necessary.

Top 10 reasons why Phil Jackson fired Knicks' coach Mike Woodson

Weak Boss Level
10) Woodson didn't show enough excitement over the Lamar Odom signing

9) Insists on the ability to have his own choice to lead this terrible, terrible collection of talent

8) Certain that Carmelo Anthony will react well to constant change in the coaching spot

7) Woodson clearly responsible for Tyson Chandler being made of balsa wood, and Ray Felton being made of fat balsa wood

6) Gave the team an important small moment of tabloid relevance against a Nets team that's, um, actually in the playoffs

5) Insists that his team run hard to watch isolation-riffic half court sets from a triangle basis, rather than with all five players on the floor

4) Woodson's suggested reading list for his players dramatically lacking in New Age nonsense

3) Doing something that was totally expected convinces players, media and management that, dammit, there's a new sherriff in town

2) Any number of former players and assistants ready to come in and lose before getting big-footed in the end game

1) Helps to convince Ted Dolan that he's, like doing stuff to justify that absurd paycheck

Monday, April 21, 2014

Loving The End Days Of Golf

Oh Noes, Not That
So there was a story in the NY Times last weekend about how people are taking steps, including but not limited to just ditching the rules and making Frisbee sized holes that make putting and chipping an anything goes experience. The reason why this might happen is because the demographic playing the game is graying strongly, and the young'uns just aren't playing the game. So if something isn't done, and done fast, it will all go sideways.

Now, I play. Badly, pretty much a 30 handicap, with a desperate need for lessons and all of the failings of the hack golfer. Inconsistent yardage, poor striking consistency, erratic wedge work, emotional instability that makes the game harder than it should be, etc., etc. I didn't play for a good 10-plus years after my kids were born, mostly because kids just require that much freaking work and money, and when I lived in California and the cost of a round was always 2X more than what I thought it should be, and I'm pretty cheap. But in the past couple of years, now that I'm back on the East Coast where mediocre golf courses are prevalent and not cost-prohibitive, I get out.

And you know what's awesome, when you are playing golf? Not having other golfers on the course.

Other golfers make you wait, or hit up on you. Other golfers make you hurry your shot after you've already hit a crappy one, and maybe aid and abet your round being more expensive from the lost ball kick in the pants that happens when you hook or slice your ball into Parts Unknown. Other golfers keep the cart girl occupied and are in the fairway you wind up using, which is to say, the one you are not supposed to be playing. If there were no other golfers, and Mr. Ranger is also so Not Busy as to just go the hell home early in the day, you can just keep playing after 18 holes are up for fun and for free, because, um, who the hell cares and it's scramble golf bonus time. Some of the best times I've ever had on a golf course have occurred when the sun was setting, no one's around, and I'm just tired / loose, knowing that I've dragged every good moment of the day out of a course.

None of that happens on a crowded and prosperous course. Nor does the post 3pm discount, the emailed coupons to get you to come back, the free balls at the driving range or the ranger not giving you grief for maybe driving the cart at something other than 90-degree angles.

The best golfing run I ever had was in the fall of 1999, when a job in Oregon didn't work out the way I was expecting, and I found myself with an untold amount of free time in a part of the world with 5-star golf courses, and not enough people to play on them. I'd go out for peanuts as the rest of the world spent the day hunting, play 36 holes, and even got borderline good, with rounds in the mid '90s and best-of-life iron play.

So, if golf is going through a tough time, and might not survive for my kids to not play it?

Well, don't expect the world's current golfers to shed too many tears over it. There's a lot of play in the end game... and in the long run, we're all going to wind up hitting into a green screen as soon as someone gets the technology down just right anyway. Because when I hit into the green screen, I don't ever have to worry about Other Golfers...

The Poker Diaries: Right, Right, Right, Wrong

Mah Poor Aces
Deep stack home game, coming off a win the last time out, and things are going great. I've been patient and decisive, gotten paid for my big hands, and I'm over 2.5X times the starting stack as the small stacks are starting to bow out. I weather a bad hand or two, but haven't really lost any big pots, and look up under the gun to pocket aces. I raise it 3X the big blind, and the first action is a 3X raise from the tightest guy at the table, and one of our best tournament players. Right.

Knowing this guy and this situation, he's got three possible hands: the other aces, A-K suited, or a pair of kings.The small and big blinds clear out, and I think about just calling to try and disguise my hand, but put that out of my mind. This guy isn't raising with anything but pocket kings or A-K suited, which means that I'm no worse than 80/20, and maybe even 87/13, to win the hand... and he's not getting away from that hand pre-flop. If I raise, he's just calling, and an Ace on the flop will keep him in the tournament. I've got him by about $20K in stack size, and if I shove, he's going to call and hope I've got A-K myself, or maybe even bullying tens, jacks or queens. He hates my move, but says, "I can't fold these. If you've got aces, you win" as he turns over his kings.  Right.

The flop is three hole cards, rainbow, as good as I could hope. I've gone from over 80-20 to 95-5, and he's got two outs for his tournament life. If I fade two cards, I've got $140K+ in my stack in a tournament where there is only $540K in play, with just 12 players left, and something 140BBs. It's all going so right...

And the turn is a king, and the river a brick, and, um, that's poker.

Horribly, terribly, awfully wrong poker.

I wind up busting a half-hour later on J-10 suited versus Qs in the big blind as a blind steal goes wrong (dude actually had to think about it, so I guess my table image was tight), but the last half hour was just lying to myself as to how I was going to shake the 2-outer off. And it's not right to think about the 2-outer that way, since all five of those cards were always going to get flipped, and the 80/20 is based on 5 cards getting turned over, not the last two. And it's not as if I've never been on the other side of the suckout win; as a matter of fact, it's a rare tournament win where I don't get that lucky. That's the story for my kings' man, who winds up taking down the $410 first place win, because, well, who's going to stop a guy who cracks aces like that?

Final point: it's just another tournament, just another night at the tables, a game I've played over 170 times in the past five years to some net profit and a lot of good times. There's no reason to remember it any more than any other hand. And yet, I'm pretty sure I'm never going to play another hand with this guy without remembering this hand, and how bad that suckout tasted. Because, well, that's poker... and it's also the way I'm wired.

Goddamned turn.

Top 10 takeaways from NBA Playoff Opening Weekend

Rockets vs. Blazers, Game One
10) Perhaps the Pacers' problems in the last two months were not overstated after all

9) Chicago was wholly unprepared for the annual appearance of Healthy Nene

8) Brooklyn proved that nothing succeeds in the playoffs like a few centuries of experience

7) The refs admitted that they blew a crucial late call in Game One of Warriors-Clippers, but not the dozens of earlier crucial calls

6) Al Jefferson's foot injury ended any sense of drama in the Drama-Free Bobcats-Heat series

5) There is no truth to the rumor that Craig Sager's illness was caused by his clothing

4) In a shocking development, the Spurs used their experience and poise to win their game against Dallas, causing the sun to set in the West

3) OKC nearly coughed up a historic lead against Memphis before remembering that they are, well, an awful lot better than the Grizz

2) Portland beat the Rockets in an overtime Game One that featured turrible ejection fouls on LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard, intentional fouling that works, a ridiculous number of lead changes and runs, and the feel of an Icelandic revenge saga or 4-hour opera

1) Every NBA team did the lower-bowl trick of giving out free T-shirts to give their gym the look of a cult rally, leading to 5 road teams winning

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Quick and Dirty NBA First Round Predictions

Sorry this isn't longer or more thought out, but I got crunched on time this weekend, and am now just scrambling to get these out before tip off. Which means they'll probably be better than any well reasoned picks...

Leastern Conference

Toronto v. BROOKLYN - Nets in Six

Brooklyn is designed for ugly, painful to watch, playoff basketball, and pretty much managed their lineup so that everyone would be fresh for the real season. The Raptors are happy to be here, and have some advantages down low; Brooklyn also spends way too much of their crunch time minutes staring at Joe Johnson as if he's actually a good basketball player or something. But having said that, props to the veteran guile of Paul Pierce, Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett. They'll advance. But for the love of your eyes, don't watch it.

INDIANA vs. Atlanta - Pacers in Five

Don't get carried away by Indy's struggles down the stretch, and the fact that Atlanta has some nice ball movement and recent competence. The Pacers can still bring A-level defense and have options in slowdown grind ball, while the Hawks have large chunks (Elton Brand, Lou Williams, Kyle Korver) of the Meh, I Say, Meh Era of Sixers Basketball. Watching this series might qualify as a diagnosable condition.

MIAMI vs. Charlotte - Heat in Five

The Heat have been a sub .500 team for the better part of a quarter of the season, and Al Jefferson might average something 30 and 15 in this series against a bunch of sluggy Florida bigs. But Kemba Walker is going to enjoy this series about as much as root canal with rear entry, and Miami will hit enough threes to make this look easier than it is. Surprisingly watchable, though.

Washington vs. CHICAGO - Bulls in Six

Basically the flip side of the Raptors-Nets series, with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau using waves of defenders and schemes to neutralize PG John Wall, and soon afterward, the entire Wizarding community. This is the time of year when people remember that Joakim Noah is the best real center in the NBA.


LA CLIPPERS vs. Golden State - Clippers in Seven

Everyone's favorite pick for the series to watch. This might have gone to the Dubs if their bigs were healthy, or if Marc Jackson wasn't a borderline NBA coach who gets emotional buy-in much more than, well, actual coaching savvy. But against Chris Paul and Doc Rivers, they don't have enough to overcome that, assuming Paul doesn't get hurt again. This might be the best series of the playoffs, between two fun teams to watch that really, truly hate each other. Stay up, DVR it, I don't care, just watch it.

OKLAHOMA CITY vs. Memphis - Thunder In Six

This is not your old-school Grizz, with expert coaching and tenacious defense and great halfcourt playoff offense. The bigs have faded this year, the coaching change didn't help, and their bench has fallen off quite a bit. So they'll give the Thunder a scare, and win on some night where Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook shoots his team in the foot, face and manhood... but not four times in seven games.

SAN ANTONIO vs. Dallas - Spurs in Four

Why so down on this Mavs team? Because they are frauds that relie on guys like Samuel Dalembert to rebound, need Monta Ellis to provide effective offense, and Vince Carter to keep having an oddly useful late career arc. Against the relentless Spurs engine, they will stay in games for a while, then get ground into dust by the crazy deep energy and killshot mindset. If the Spurs that you had heard of were younger, everyone would be talking about a dynasty.

HOUSTON vs. Portland - Rockets in Seven

The other great first round series, with sneaky great crowds, highly matched teams, and tremendous individual matchups -- can Dwight Howard guard LaMarcus Aldridge? can Patrick Beverly clamp up Damian Lillard? can the Rockets really go run and 3 in the playoffs with strong inside advantages? can the Blazers take advantage of a superior starting lineup in a playoff season where rest is usually nor a problem? -- and so on. In the end, I like James Harden too much to go the other way.

* * * * *

No reason or time to predict the second round just yet. Enjoy the games, people! Especially the ones from the lonesome crowded West...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Top 10 Takeaways About Donovan McNabb's Day In Jail In Arizona

And When There Were No Crawdad, We Ate Sand. You Ate What? We Ate Sand.
10) At some point in this country, we're not going to love the fact that mug shots are damn near universal for African-American men

9) If you are a person of some financial means, and choose to live in Maricopa County, you may be a candidate for concussion aftermath testing

8) Regardless of your feelings for McNabb or whatever crime he served time for (TMZ says it was DUI after a mild speeding offense), it's just plain reprehensible to post the mug shot and not attach it to the offense, just so you can be dicks about it and let the racists attach any rumor they like to it

7) Once again, the preventive nature of the Posse / Designated Driver service is proven

6) Perhaps it would just be better if anyone who has their number retired for my laundry is also then executed on the field, just so we don't have the next 20 to 40 years of waiting for them to appear in crime reports

5) You folks who are waiting for the McNabb vomited in the Super Bowl and probably vomited here too because vomit is funny and tee hee hee really don't need me to do much on this matter

4) If Fox Sports One is very lucky, they'll be able to weather the PR storm from their association with McNabb, because that network has been so super-relevant with him

3) This off-season just keeps giving aid and comfort to fans of other teams in the NFC East, which is not, um, the preferred way to run a railroad

2) This is really not going to do much for McNabb's eventual Favre-esque Loathed Comeback Attempt

1) Looking at the bright side of things, McNabb just got through an encounter with Maricopa County law enforcement without getting deported to Mexico, demonized for his sexual orientation, turned into an object for roadside plantation style amusement, stealing a toddler, or getting attacked by the Lone Biker Of  The Apocalypse

The Year That Was: NBA Regular Season Awards

Having a Year
What a weird year. A third of the East tried not to win games. The Phoenix team that lost the game of musical chairs for the final seed in the West probably would have had home court in the East. The top two seeds in the East spent the last six weeks stumbling over their shoes, giving hope to all of the teams that were feeling stupid for trying. The weakest rookie of the year class ever, any number of guys taking time off to get right for playoffs that are going to be one and done, and everyone just waiting around for 80-plus games to see if Miami still has an on switch.

But before we get into all of that, a nod to the games that were. Which were all kinds of fun to watch, assuming, of course, that you didn't pay any attention to the Eastern Conference.

NBA First Team: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Love and James Harden.

Comments: Really thought hard about Paul George instead of Harden here, as pace of play is probably making The Bearded One look better than he is, and leading a team to the #1 seed should get you a guy on the first team... but George just gacked his way through the last 20+ games, and shooting 42% from the floor can't be the best we can do here. As for the others, these are pretty much a slam dunk, with the lone surprise to some being the best guy on a non-playoff team (Love) getting the nod. This is controversial only if you haven't seen him play, and as soon as he gets out of Minnesota, no one will argue with this assessment again. (Curry vs. Chris Paul might not have gone for the Warrior in a normal year, but CP3's injury made it a done deal.)

NBA Second Team: Anthony Davis, Joakim Noah,  Chris Paul, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge.

This is the group of guys who showed you just how crazy valuable they were by missing a portion of the season, and having their teams suffer from it. Davis would have been the defensive player of the year if he had just made it through the season, and might have dragged the Pelicans to playoff contention, too. Paul's the best real point in the league, and George, we've discussed. Portland played at a top seed level with Aldridge, then nearly spit the bit without him. Finally, there's Noah, the linchpin of the Bulls, who pretty much dragged that franchise to another playoff run despite their best intentions. Huge respect for that guy.

NBA Third Team: Al Jefferson, Serge Ibaka, Damiam Lillard, Blake Griffin, Goran Dragic.

My third team would hang with either of the teams above for vast stretches of time, because they are just so idiosyncratic. Jefferson's never been better in the hyper-effective and increasingly anachronistic post game, while Dragic was the engine to a Phoenix team that deserved so much more for its heart. Ibaka just keeps shaving his game upward, and is now a consistent asset on both ends of the floor. Lillard is Steph Curry without quite so many highlights, while Griffin finally added health and tolerable free throw shooting to his game.

Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams. I get the idea that we shouldn't encourage anyone from one of the worst teams in NBA history, and that the up-tempo game meant cheap numbers for all... but his numbers are just wildly better than everyone else's, and he passes the eye test for me. If he ever gets a jump shot, he's showing up in some of the other lists. Runners-up: Victor Oladipo, Mason Plumlee.

Defensive Player of the Year: Noah. Davis and Ibaka will have their adherents. I might never have seen a more lockdown point guard than Patrick Beverly, but he can't stay healthy. But the plain and simple nature of this award is that the bigs will win it unless a small does something off the charts, and Noah's just been amazing this year.

Coach of the Year: Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix. We can give this to Gregg Popovich every year, but since that's not feasible, let's give it to the guy who more or less doubled his expected win total despite injury issues, a bunch of bigs that can't play defense, and in the murder conference. Actually, scratch that; anyone that wins this award is unemployed in 18 months. Pops, take your award!

Sixth Man of the Year: I kind of hate this award, since it doesn't really come into play in the thin and win NBA. If it really went to a dedicated non-starter, rather than just a bench gunner, Nick Collison would have gotten a sniff at it back in the day. But since we have to award it, let's throw it to Taj Gibson, who was a wrecking crew for Chicago.

Most Valuable Player:
Durant. OKC didn't have Russell Westbrook for much of the year, played in the Murder Division of the Murder Conference, and nearly got the #1 seed anyway. I don't generally quote numbers in making these judgments, because game speed and context matter so much, but Durant just won a scoring title while shooting 50.3% from the floor... and making 192 threes. Oh, and just in case you think he's just a scorer, 7.4 boards and 5.5 assists are actually right there with James. Dude is just unfair.

All-Overrated: Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyrie Irving and Rudy Gay. All of these guys give up tons at the defensive end, don't justify their brand name, and will hoist up shots late as if there were playing 1 on 5. You can have 'em.

All-Improved: Jodie Meeks, Deandre Jordan, Gerald Green, Paul George and John Wall. More than a matter of just getting minutes, these five made themselves money for years in the future. Meeks was one of the few consistent pieces of evidence that the Lakers actually like Mike D'Antoni, while Jordan took to actual coaching from Doc Rivers like a duck to water. Shame that Rivers can't teach him FT shooting. Green went from fungible rotation guy to essential viewing, George became a star, and Wall developed a 3-point shot and pick and roll game with Marcin Gortat.

Sometime before the playoffs start, picks. Check back for those, as last year's were startlingly good, which means this year is going to be a flaming mess...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

FTT Off-Topic: Parent and Time Traveler

Not really sports, and so on.

I'm the youngest of three kids, the smaller of two boys, and the dramatically worse athlete. My older sibling is still active, post-50, in a rec ice hockey league. He's also got me by half a foot, was in the USMC for seven years, and was a borderline star at football and hockey back in his teens, before a lack of personal discipline (then, not now) sidetracked him. He's seven years older than me, and as the oldest kid of a single parent, had to drag me along to games with friends of his when I was, well, the youngest and clearly worst player on the field or court. He did what he could for me, insisted that I shake hands with the guys who crushed me, and instilled a love for sports, even though I had a real problem with the not being any good at them.

Working against me wasn't just my age. I've always been small; 33 pounds in kindergarten (that number stuck with me for some reason), with big '70s bifocals that eventually manifested themselves into a complete lack of depth perception. I'm quick, but not fast, and also not shifty. Not exactly a great thing for, say, hitting a baseball, making a catch, or breaking my man down, one on one. I'm determined, with good endurance, focus and tolerance for pain, but the actual ability has always been in short supply. I don't have a great deal of angst or regrets about this, as I think all men get to their Failed Jock moment in time. (Maybe my brother hasn't had his yet. It would explain much.) Mine just came earlier than most, so I was able to move on to school and business and family with more of a head start, but enough of the love of game and desire to lead in a team environment that translates to, well, the world.

It is, of course, different for girls.

My eldest is a very solid gymnast; one of the better performers at her gym, continually improving, fairly dedicated and conscious of being a good teammate. She is already better at her sport of choice than I was at any of mine, and while she's also short (we're not getting away from that part of the DNA, folks), this isn't exactly a drawback in her world. She's mostly avoided serious childhood mishap, hasn't spent much time in hospitals, and is as healthy as you could hope for 13 going on 14, and headstrong about, well, everything. (Feeding this kid has never been fun.)

Her sister? Her younger sister, her short and not as athletically gifted to date sister, who has had multiple overnight hospitalizations from breathing problems, who has always been a little more clumsy, and has other issues that I'm not going to get into here, because they are kind of private and not particularly germane to the conversation?

Well, not so much. But there are glimmers.

She's completed a couple of courses in swimming, and is pretty good at it -- not to the point of making me want to race her, but enough so that I don't freak out if she's in a pool with a deep end that's taller than she is. She's been taking soccer classes with kids that are at a younger age than her for a while, and tonight, got to graduate up to an actual league of 8 to 12 year olds... which is to say, not exactly cutthroat, but one where she's younger, smaller, and a lot less experienced than her teammates. Deep end of the pool.

So as I'm watching her, the ball getting stopped by big tufts of grass, everything coming off a dominant foot, operating slower, with less power and confidence in what she's doing than everyone else... and none of that matters, of course. What matters is that she listens to her coach, tries hard, gets better, and gets along with her teammates.

I will turn 45 in a little more than six weeks. The youngest will turn 9 in just over three months. And as I talked to her after practice, giving her my gentle pointers, talking about how she was getting better even in the course of the first hour, asking her about her teammates and, in general, doing everything I can to make sure she doesn't get discouraged and think about quitting... I realize that this, well, is what children do.

They make you time travelers.

But not always to the super fun times in your past...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Top 10 reasons why the Knicks are bringing in Lamar Odom

Not A Dave Chappelle Character
10) Winning the back page of the tabloids is what's important

9) If you bring him in, everyone forgets all about Fat Ray Felton and his gun totin' ways

8) It would totally make up for the Jeremy Lin fiasco, assuming you believe the fans are dumber than a box of hammers

7) Odom has photos of new Knicks poohbah Phil Jackson that would invade your dreams and put you off food forever

6) Guys with recent DUI arrests are the new market inefficiency

5) That shambling mound wretchedness that was his time as a Clipper shouldn't prejudice you at all

4) Team is in desperate need of grade Z reality show groupies in the crowd

3) If bringing in a washed-up three-ring circus doesn't convince Carmelo Anthony to stay, nothing will

2) Ron Harper, Horace Grant, Shaquille O'Neal, Slava Medvedenko and Sasha Vucevic were not available

1) It makes Jeanie Buss giggle

Monday, April 14, 2014

Top 10 reasons why the Pistons aren't retaining Joe Dumars

10) Think it's finally safe to say he boned that Darko pick, that the Iverson trade isn't going to work out, and Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva aren't looking good

9) The last half-dozen coaching hires haven't inspired confidence

8) Feel kind of embarrassed to not make the playoffs in the East, given that they were the only team who was actually trying to do that and miss

7) Really feel that he could have noticed Andre Drummond's free throw shooting issues at some point in the scouting level

6) You can't just let the guy who traded for Brandon Jennings and signed Josh Smith continue to be employed

5) Living off your 2003 accomplishments only really works for Jon Gruden, Saddam Hussein and Lance Armstrong

4) After cutting him checks for the last 30 years between his athletic and administrative career, HR is well and truly sick of him

3) Keep thinking that maybe it would be nice if someone in the area actually gave a fig about the team

2) Making the playoffs once in the last six years in the East while remaining employed really is a tremendous accomplishment

1) They believe they can still get all of the um, value out of him by keeping him on as an advisor, because, well, that's just how forgiving life is for anyone who once had success in Detroit

Top 10 takeaways from the Aldon Smith arrest at LAX

10) This is a big response to everyone who is convinced that TSA screenings are pointless, especially if they don't root for the Niners

9) At least he wasn't drunk at 7am, so this is clearly a step up from past transgressions

8) As Smith is 24, posts double-digit sack seasons, and not very expensive, he clearly deserves another chance, so long as his cap number is low

7) We've gone from felony gun to false bomb report, so the next step up is driving a tank around downtown, which is the most fun GTA level there is

6) Legions of hack stand-ups are wondering why they didn't try this, if only for the social media traffic lift

5) Smith posted a $20K bail by sacrificing his per diem for the better part of a week

4) He's clearly playing for the wrong Bay Area team

3) NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to take action, because otherwise we wouldn't know that what Smith did was bad

2) At this time, Smith remains employed by the Niners, because while getting arrested at an airport after felony gun and public intoxication charges isn't good, it's not obviously gang-related

1) You can start pre-writing those head trauma autopsy stories about him anytime now

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Dream Golf Range

It's a start
Here's what it has.

> It's neither empty nor crowded, and there's never a person in either stall next to you.

> The guy who sells you the range balls has the ability to send idiot teenagers who want to recreate "Happy Gilmore" away with a single raised eyebrow.

> The sun is always shining, but you are always in shade, and it's never in your eyes.

> Wind is always at your back, and subtle enough that you never really notice it (but your ball does).

> The targets are slightly recessed, so that shots fall into them easily.

> When you hit the ball retrieval cart, there's a sound of breaking glass and the cart shakes violently, but without anyone actually getting hurt, or real damage.

> There are cameras and laser tracking ti tell you the distance and diagnostics of your shots.

> It's open all year round, with heated stalls in the winter, and extensive cover to let you hit, even in a monsoon.

> The vending machines are low priced, and also take credit, debit, or smartphone payments.

> You can adjust the mats to practice off-level shots.

> There's a bunker area with good sand, and an undulating green where you can try all kinds of double break shots.

> And it's the closest range to your house.

So, which of my neighbors wants to build it?

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