Smith stuns

I don’t care for J.R. Smit’h’s game at all, but her certainly provided the Dunk of the Year on Thursday night.  Blake Griffin may have something to say about it, but it’s gonna be hard to top Smith’s acrobatics over Gary Neal.

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Celebrating UConn

UConn coach Geno Auriemma and Maya Moore are on the verge of college basketball history.

More so than many, I’ve long been a supporter of women’s basketball. Yes, the high school and lower college games can be downright ugly. Too many turnovers, an ungodly amount of missed easy shots, the whole nine yards. But at its best, women’s basketball is a game of teamwork, movement and sound fundamentals, since it is a game that does not thrive above the win.

Sunday, the UConn Huskies can tie the UCLA Bruins’ men’s team of the 1970s by winning their 88th straight game. The Huskies play No. 10 Ohio State, and at the moment, there is a lot of discussion centered around what coach Geno Auriemma’s squad is about to accomplish.

I, for one, think it’s a time for celebration. There is no point in demeaning such superior dominance, no matter what the sport. As a point, I wrote my Sunday column for the newspaper about this very topic. I feel UConn is being given the short end of the stick, because women’s basketball is “not cool” and is generally frowned upon by the sporting society.

So, here it is. My column on what the Huskies are about to achieve. It’s inevitable they will tie UCLA’s mark tomorrow and then break it early next week. We should be happy for them.

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“On the brink of history”

They hail from two different eras. They are also of two different genders.
They are the UCLA men’s basketball teams of the 1970s and the University of Connecticut women’s teams of current days. But for one day, today, they will be compared, related, discussed and debated, as the Huskies can tie those Bruins’ record 88-game winning streak with a win over No. 10 Ohio State.
Whatever your thoughts are in regard to what the Huskies are about to achieve, know this much: It does no one any good to compare them to the Bruins of then. Apples and oranges. When making comparisons, or trying to determine who was better than whom, someone ends up getting the short end of the stick, and the bottom line is these are great, great basketball teams who dominated their sport.
Iconic UCLA coach John Wooden won 10 titles in 12 years. Geno Auriemma’s Huskies have won seven national championships since 1995, including the last two.
Both respective coaches have basic foundations of success. For Wooden, it was his vaunted “Pyramid of Success” and the minute detail that went into what took place before and after games.
“I want the scores to be the byproduct of our preparation,” Wooden once said.
For Auriemma, it has always been about challenging a team within itself, so much that “it doesn’t even matter who the opponent is.”
Auriemma has always chased perfection, and, arguably more than any other coach, relishes, if not obsesses, in its pursuit.
He also understands that a team’s success is primarily due to those in between the lines than those on the side.
“I’ve always said there are two types of coaches; I say this all the time,” Auriemma says. “There are coaches who coach great players. And then there are ex-coaches.”
These are two of the best basketball minds to grace the hardwood. Even more so, they are two of the brightest in building teams and sustaining success over a significant amount of time.
It’s not about debating the glamour of men’s basketball versus women’s, and those who choose to chase that argument are selling it short. You cannot underrate UConn’s accomplishments because it’s “women’s basketball” and you cannot give greater meaning to UCLA’s because it’s “men’s basketball.”
You can only beat who you’re up against, and give UConn this: It does not shy from the elite. The Huskies, over the course of their streak, have defeated 29 ranked teams, including 16 in the Top 10. Those wins have come by an average of 24 points per game.
Unheard of. Well, almost.
Instead of dismissing the Huskies, we should adore them. It’s not often such distinct dominance crosses our world and UConn does not figure to stop anytime soon.
This is a team that plays the game the right way; it is a team that embraces that favorite motto of coaches, “It’s not about them. It’s about us.”
It’s hard enough winning 88 straight games on NBA 2K11, let alone at the highest level of your sport.
The UConn Huskies, as they go for at least a share of history today, should not be scoffed at, ignored or pushed aside.
They should be applauded, commended. They should be respected. And if you must compare, at least realize what the Bruins of the past and the Huskies of today have most in common.
“Being unselfish and sacrificing,” Auriemma says. “Those are the two things that stand out the most when comparing what they did to what we’re trying to do.”

My Top 5

I haven’t done this in a while, so I thought I’d report my starting lineup if I was given a pick of today’s players; my top players at each position in the game.

Wasn’t easy, obviously, and I think some picks may surprise some. But, here goes. Stats are compiled before Sunday’s games.

POINT GUARD

DERON WILLIAMS, UTAH JAZZ.

Anyone who knows me knows I think Williams is the best PG on the planet. His combination of size, speed and strength is second to none at this position, and he has continued to evolve as a leader and playmaker, someone who knows when to take over games. I love how recklessly he attacks the rim, and he is always looking for the open teammate, a dying art in today’s game.

2010-11 STATS: 21 games, 21.6 ppg, 10.0 apg, 4.2 rpg, 1.43 spg, 46.7 FG%, 35.2 3%.

SHOOTING GUARD

KOBE BRYANT, L.A. LAKERS.

Every year, Kobe is supposed to take that inevitable dive down back to mortality. Apparently, that’s not this year. Bryant is as good as ever, and why not? There’s not a more dedicated student of the game. Over the years, his game has evolved radically, and he is the best player on the league’s best team. I learned to stop doubting Kobe years ago. The so-called “experts” should learn to do the same.

2010-11 STATS: 20 games, 26.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.6 apg, 43.1 FG%

SMALL FORWARD

KEVIN DURANT, OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER.

There’s not a better pure scorer in the league, and while Durant has struggled – by his standards – early this season, he’s still a dominating scorer and someone whose defensive ability has progressed so much that he’s guarding whoever necessary in order to win games late (see Durant on David West in the Thunder’s recent victory over the Hornets).

2010-11 STATS: 16 games, 27.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.19 spg, 1.o0 bpg, 41.9 FG%

POWER FORWARD

KEVIN LOVE, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES.

We all know what a great rebounder Love is – he leads the league – but did we see him eventually becoming a 20-point per game scorer? Love is having a beast of a season, but what I specifically like about him is his ability as a 3-point shooter and his great passing. He’s unselfish and can step out and spread the defense and open lanes for teammates. If he wasn’t abandoned in Minnesota, he’d be on everyone else’s radar as well.

2010-11 STATS: 20 games, 19.4 ppg, 15.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 43.4 FG%, 38.6 3%

CENTER

DWIGHT HOWARD, ORLANDO MAGIC

Howard wins this almost by default, because the lack of the true center in today’s NBA is embarrassing. But he has expanded his offensive game, thanks to a summer learning under the wing of Hakeem Olajuwon, and that tells me he truly cares about the game, something I doubted before this year. He’s still the best defensive big in the league, though Joakim Noah is hot on his tail, and his growth as an offensive player is very encouraging. He now has more offensive moves other than a dunk, as seen in his slight drop in field goal percentage. That’s a good thing, as it means he’s taking more liberty with his shot selection. His immense athleticism is such that he averages more steals per game than Bryant and almost as many as Durant.

2010-11 STATS:  18 games, 21.3 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 2.39 bpg, 1.17 spg, 58.5 FG%

State of the Rockets

 

Luis Scola and the Rockets have had a tough go of things this season.

It has been a tough year for the Rockets so far this season. Mind you, I was never delusional enough to see the Rockets as a sincere threat in the West even with a healthy Yao (this team’s defense has regressed so considerably the last two years that it deprived of them of serious contender status), but I certainly never saw this either.

The Rockets are sitting dead last in the Southwest Division at 7-13. The defense, as mentioned, has been horrific, allowing 106.9 points on 46.8 percent shooting, and forcing just 13 giveaways a game. This is a team that won’t truly challenge the league’s elite until the defense improves, and it doesn’t help that its two most significant players – Luis Scola and Kevin Martin – also rate as two of the league’s worst defenders.

Slowly  but surely, the Rockets have sacrificed defense to improve and diversify offensively, and that has come to bite them big time.

Offensively, there is no go-to guy; the team is essentially a slew of role players and second-tier talents without a true playmaker. Aaron Brooks best fits that role, but he’s miscast as a point guard when he’s really a shooting guard in a point’s body.

But they have overachieved more often than not this season, boasting wins over the Lakers and Thunder. There have been glimpses of promise, and that is because this is a team that relishes team basketball.

While there is, indeed, no true interior or perimeter presence to make defenses shake in their shoes, the fact is this is a team where anybody, at any given moment, is a threat to score. The Rockets do a sound job of moving the ball, ranking fourth in the league in assists, and getting quality shots; it’s a testament to Rick Adelman’s offensive system that the team scores 105.7 points per game.

The Rockets, through the motion offense, often catch defenses out of position, leading to a slew of free-throw attempts and open 3s. Houston averages 28.3 free throw attempts a game, connecting on a healthy 79 percent. The Rockets also get a bushel of open, 3s, connecting on 38 percent of their 20.2 bombs per game.

It’s a testament to the Rockets’ willingness to play team ball and to never give up that they are competing hard every game, often falling short when the lack of talent starts to hurt them deep into games.

This team’s fortunes won’t turn around until drastic changes are made. They need a true interior presence, and that may have to come at the cost of Brooks. Yao is who he is at this point, probably a center who can offer no more than 25 minutes per game and get maybe 12/7 a night.

Yao is no longer the team’s centerpiece, and the sooner the Rockets come to terms with that, the better.  Perhaps if the Rockets tried to target the likes of a Marc Gasol, they could see a big boost in production. Not sure Memphis would be willing to be suckered into trading a Gasol a second time around, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try; say like a deal of Jordan Hill, Jermaine Taylor and a pick for Gasol.

Ideally, you’d like, for example, a starting lineup of Gasol, Scola, Battier, Martin and Brooks. Yao would be the backup C, and then you’d have a nice bench of Chase Budinger, Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, and bring up Patrick Patterson. Essentially, the days of leaning upon Brad Miller and Chuck Hayes would be gone; as much as I admire their effort, these are players you can’t be relying upon for big minutes if you intend to be a true threat in the West.

Either way, it starts inside with the Rockets. This is a team that has a history of success playing inside and out, and that style of play wins in the NBA. You don’t need a motion offense to create shots if you have big men who can do that, and having Gasol (or someone along his skill set) and Yao split the 48 minutes gives you room to do that and opens opportunities for Martin and Brooks and the spot-up shooting of Battier.

The Rockets have been said to have been interested in Carmelo Anthony and Andre Iguodala, names that will improve the team but won’t make it better in the long run, or a championship contender for that matter.

GM Daryl Morey promises fans that he is doing his hardest to put a championship team on the floor. For him to do just that, it starts with rebuilding the middle.

It starts with rebuilding the foundation.

 

Pointing NBA fans forward

As far as NBA blogs go, I’ve found few better than Zach Lowe’s ‘The Point Forward’ on SI.com.

http://nba-point-forward.si.com/?eref=sihp

Zach was a prolific blogger for CelticsHub before moving on to SI. His blog entails everything. Anything in regard to the NBA, it’s there.

I think it’s cool that SI.com has opened its doors for bloggers who take their jobs seriously and exhibit a sincere passion and knowledge for the game that benefits readers. Lowe does an outstanding job and is highly recommended.

If I had the time to dedicate toward his thorough analysis and research behind the game, his job now would be my dream job.  I’ve long desired to cover the NBA, or write analytically, for Sports Illustrated. Kudos to Zach.

Check him out.

In her words

Julie and I at a Spurs-Rockets game in early November.

Every now and then, for our new sports magazine, I’ll have my fiance, Julie Daffern, pen a column. It’s to attract women to read the magazine, too. The idea is they’ll pick it up, read it and see that it’s not some barbaric, man-heavy publication that demands none of the interest.

Essentially, we’re looking for the non-sports reader. That’s where Julie’s columns come into play, because she’s by no means a sports fanatic and offers a comical spin to her writing, one where the reader can enjoy and laugh because, more often than not, they could tell a similar tale.

Here is Julie’s column submitted to me on Nov. 15, not long after we took in a Spurs-Rockets game in San Antonio in which the Rockets eventually met their demise in OT.

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I never had any interest in basketball until I moved in with a new roommate my freshman year in college. Her name was Krista and she was from San Antonio. She was also a huge Spurs fan.

Not long after we moved in together, she had me sitting through entire Spurs games. That’s pretty good, considering I have the attention span of a gnat.

It was through Krista that I learned what “flopping” was (shame on you Steve Nash), and it was through Krista that I developed a deep appreciation for the Spurs. It also didn’t hurt that they won the championship that year.

Krista and I had another friend, Lilia, who now coaches a girls’ basketball in Texas City. Lilia taught me to shoot and when to aim for the backboard rather than the rim. I once went around the entire basket shooting while Lilia told me where to aim and I didn’t miss a shot. Her first year coaching in Texas City, she was named “Rookie Teacher of the Year,” and I know she deserved it.

That first year I became friends with Krista and Lilia, Lilia was a Blazers fan. I for the life of me can’t remember why, but she vowed that if the Spurs won the championship in 2007 that she would become a fan, and she was true to her word.

It was nice to have us all rooting for the same team.

I will always love Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but my all-time favorite Spur has always been David Robinson. I love that he isn’t afraid to tout his Christianity, and I once attended a speech he gave to church youth groups after a Spurs loss. That was my first-ever Spurs game. That same year I went to another game, which they also lost. I began to think I brought some bad karma. I stopped going to games.

That is until earlier this month. I had been trying to convince the fiancé (aka “The World’s Biggest Rockets Fan”) to take me to a Spurs-Rockets game ever since we began dating almost three years ago. Well, he finally gave in when we found out the Spurs were hosting the Rockets the same weekend we were planning a mini-vacation in San Antonio.

The fiancé and I have a complicated relationship when it comes to basketball. I like it and enjoy an occasional Spurs game, but the fiancé is obsessed. He watches as many games as he can and even records them on VHS to watch back years later. He’s always quizzing me about basketball trivia, and I don’t know my record exactly, but I’m sure it isn’t good.

He once wrote that I was the Pippen to his Jordan, and he laughed a few weeks later when I said I was the Pippen to his Larry Bird. He told me the two never played together except on the U.S. Olympic Dream Team. I indignantly responded that of course I knew that, and I covered by saying that he and I were the Dream Team.

He gave me a skeptical look. This is a man who has been memorizing statistics since birth.

“I know basketball!” I exclaimed. It’s one of my go-to phrases whenever I say something stupid.

I don’t think he believed me.

So he and I went to see the Spurs play the Rockets. It was pretty great to see the fiancé in his bright red Rockets shirt surrounded by Spurs fans. It was so much fun experiencing basketball with him. I love to see him so passionate, and it was a blast being a part of it.

And the cherry on top was the Spurs winning it in overtime. It was a close one right down to the wire. I had been pretty cocky going in to it all. The Rockets were 0-4 and, well, the Spurs are awesome. In the first two minutes the Spurs were up 11-2, and had scored three three-pointers. It was all going as expected, and I may have rubbed it in the fiancé’s face a bit before karma took over.

The entire rest of the game the Spurs seemed to be chasing the Rockets. I know I should know how many points the Spurs trailed at their low-point, but I have no idea. And, I’m not going to lie, I gave up hope at one point. The Spurs barely squeaked into overtime. It was sloppy, but my team ended up with the “W.”

I’ll take it.

Not only was I finally able to see my team win one, but I was also able to hold that win over the fiancé’s head.

It was a great night.
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Anytime you can get a woman who at least holds a minimal interest in basketball, she’s a keeper. Fortunately for me, Julie was a great catch. She loves the game, adores the Spurs and can tolerate when I watch countless games, cover them deep into the night and then spend my wee hours of the mornings on HoopScribe.

I would be interested in hearing of stories from readers where they’ve tried (successfully or not) to get their significant other to strengthen their bond through basketball. I think then we could only get a true feel for how basketball really is.

If you wish, submit to me your stories or thoughts at my email: densilva2@gmail.com. If you don’t mind me sharing them, I’d love to. It’s my belief that basketball is a game that binds.

A great one leaves us

PHIL JASNER

It’s shamefully sad how this blog has fallen. However, I feel like my excuse is valid.

My career has taken a huge turn up lately, as I’m almost two months into a new weekly sports magazine for our newspaper, the first of its kid. As Editor of this publication, you can probably imagine the time and effort it has taken upon me. The good news is that I’m still the basketball writer for the local city, covering high school and college sports. Hoops is obviously tattooed in my blood, and I still love writing the game.

Still, I’m back, at least, to pass on the news of the death of a legendary NBA writer, Philadelphia’s Phil Jasner.

A reporter for the Daily News for almost 40 years, Jasner was beloved among hoops scribes. The stories one can tell of him are nothing but gracious and of the upmost respect.

Here’s a very emotional account of Jasner:  http://www.philly.com/dailynews/sports/sixers/20101203_Phil_Jasner__Sixers_beat_writer__dies_at_age_68.html

I’m not by any means a 76ers fan, but I have long been a reader of Phil’s work. I love reading writers whose passion and love for the game seep through each syllable. Phil was certainly one of those writers.

Take this excerpt, from the aforementioned article, for example:

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“He loved to talk about basketball, off the record, just talk hoops,” said Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski, who knew Jasner for nearly four decades. “How many guys who had Stage 4 cancer would continue on like he did? He just loved it. He loved basketball. It was his outlet.”

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Need I really say more? The man bled the game.

He will be missed. True basketball diehards are few and far between these days, specifically in the journalism realm.

Phil Jasner was 68 years old. The world is a lesser place without him.