Friday, June 6, 2008

2008 NBA Finals: Point/Counterpoint

(As Seen on afraidofedhochuli)

When Mike came to The Hoch, I was hoping he would bring insight into the game of basketball as well intriguing articles from the East Coast perspective. Well, he has succeeded in this venture. Now that we are facing a great NBA Finals series that could go down as the biggest in 15 years; o
ne that will add to the legacy of some of the games best players and two of the leagues most storied franchises. It is time for a Point/Counterpoint. Mike is defiantly more versed in the NBA, so a good point by me will just be plain old luck. I gave him the choice of the team to argue; he chose the Lakers. Great, fine…I can find joy in the Celtics; they have Ray Allen.

This is how it works: we are on opposite sides of the country so we are doing this by email. One makes a point, the other recants; we then go back and forth until we get tired or we change the other person's mind. This could be 300 words or it could be 300,000 words…we'll see.

This is where we start with Matt arguing for the Boston Celtics and Mike arguing for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Opening Statements

As frustrating as it may be, the construction of a team by purchasing contracts and
"shooting the moon" has worked. The trading of the future to win in the present was proven to work this season as the Celtics won 20 of their first 22, finished the season 66 and 16 (tied with the 1970 Milwaukee Bucks for 10th best all time) and then took down 2 of the best teams in the playoffs – and the surprise of the year in Atlanta.

Doc Rivers has led a team that includes the "Big 3" into the finals for the first time since they were defeated in the 1985-1986 season by – who else – the Lakers.

Do you think they have a bad taste in their mouth?

If so, they need to get over it; it has been 12 years. This is a new team, most of which were not even alive to see Magic take on Bird.

Thanks for the kinds words Matt. Actually I was more defiantly versed on the NBA back when I watched it more because, let's face it, the Knicks are extremely unwatchable these days. Oh how I long for the days of Charles Smith. Yeah, I bet you never thought you would hear that from a Knicks fans!

Anyways, on to the "Historic, Amazing, Mythical, Legendary before Game 1 is even played" matchup in the NBA Finals where the Bandwagoners of Beantown take on the Los Angeles Stealing Centers from Other Teams and Only Giving up .20 Cents on the Dollar. I think this was David Stern's ultimate wet dream. OK, so can you tell I'm a bit bitter
about this series. I hate Boston and Insane Garnett almost as much as Spike Lee hated on Reggie Miller back in the 90s. Actually, if these two teams can make such blockbuster (and by blockbuster I mean steal from other inept GMs) moves it gives my Knicks some hope. Now where did I put my LeBron in 2010 t-shirt?

Ok, on to the Finals. Am I going to watch? Sure. Am I happy that Boston is in the Finals? Not at all. Am I going to enjoy Kobe putting up 35 ppg against a grade school like defensive trio of James Posey, Eddie House and Tony Allen? Yes. Actually, I think I can put up 13 and 7 against that trio and I'm only 5'9, 150lbs and white! Am I going to enjoy when Kobe gets in Sasha Vujacic's face and bitch slaps him for missing an assignment on defense? Absolutely. Ok, so after all I may enjoy these Finals. As long as the Lakers win in 5, max.

The Lakers seem to be the more trendy pick in this series partly because they were the 1 seed in a far superior Western Conference, even though Boston has home court advantage. Besides the Big 2 featuring Ray Allen, LA has there own kind of Big 3 featuring the Black Mamba, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom. If Odom plays lights out, there is no way LA loses this series. It's that plain and simple.

This version of the Lakers is much different than the past Lakers teams that have went to the Finals. They are not flashy like the Magic's Showtime Lakers in the 80s and they don't feature 2 Hall of Famers because Kobe is sans the Diesel this time around. This squad features a bunch of role players and a quasi dominant finesse center that the Lakers traded a bag of peanuts and a piece of bazooka Joe for. Just look at what happens to the Lakers when Bryant goes to the bench to start the 2nd quarter and players like Jordan Farmar and Ronny Turiaf come in. Its energy central at the Staples Center as these guys play an up-tempo in your face style that always keeps the Lakers in the game when the starters rest.

This series features so many fun questions to look ahead at. Can Kendrick Perkins continue to play at the level he did against Detroit? Will Los Angeles expose Rajon Rondo on offense and force him to continuously knock down mid range jump shots? Who will guard Kobe? Will Ray Allen show up to these Finals or is it another series where Jesus Shuttlesworth bricks his way to 2-11 on a nightly basis? Will the triangle offense be enough to break the rotation and communication of Boston's furious defense? Will Kevin Garnett murder someone? Ok, that last one was a joke. I think. Seriously that guy is psycho! How badly will the Zenmaster out coach Doc Rivers? And speaking of Rivers, will he use more than 7 man rotation (the answer is yes and I will tell you why later).

So now that ESPN has almost wrapped up their weeklong love affair with everything LA-Boston, the series promises, if nothing else, to be entertaining. Unfortunately for Boston, the only entertaining they will do is playing host when the Lakers celebrate the championship on the parquet floors of the new Boston Garden.

When you think of them what do you remember? The memory that comes to my head is the wispy mustache of one of the greatest blondes to ever play the game (sorry Lauren Jackson). Other images are the hook shots from Kareem and the fast breaks from "Magic" in the Lakers Championships over the Boston team.

That was then.

Now they have an 11-Time All-Star in
Kevin Garnett who earned Defensive Player of the year award this season, was 14th in the postseason in scoring (21.1), 11th in Rebounds per game (9.8), 11th in Field-Goal percentage (51.7%) and second to Tim Duncan with Double-Doubles.

Add to him
Ray Allen who seems to have lost a step this season, yet still was 5th in 3-point shots made (180).

Rounding out the "Big 3" is
Paul Pierce who averaged 19.6 points/game and 4.5 assists, while playing in 80 of the 82 games.

The role players have played solid with guys like
Rajon Rondo leading the team with 5.1 assists/game and 1.68 steals/game.

What does all this mean? It means that they are a very talented team. They didn't dominate any given statistic this year but they were solid across the board: 4th in FG%, 5th in 3-point%, 8th in FT% and 9th in turnovers forced.

The match ups will be where this is made (coming later) but with the strength of Garnett, skills of Pierce and the "eagle eye" of Allen this team is going to be hard to beat.

If I could only grow a moustache 1/10th as cool as Larry Legends I would be a happy man!

To counter the Celtics “Big 2 featuring the corpse of Ray Allen”, the Lakers have the Big 1: Kobe Bryant. The self-proclaimed Black Mamba took home the League’s MVP award this season while averaging 28.3 ppg (2nd behind Bron-Bron). More importantly he won’t have to face Bruce Bowen this series and may even get to the line once or twice.

Laker haters want to get on Memphis’ GM Chris Wallace for gift wrapping Paul Gasol to the Lakers for next to nothing yet everyone seems to overlook Minnesota GM and ex Celtic Kevin McHale for handing Kevin Garnett to the C’s for the poo poo platter of Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, and Sebastian Telfair. Both trades smell fishy but improved both teaming dramatically. The Lakers have been 34-7 since the Pau Gasol trade. That would equate to 68 wins in a full season. Better than the 66 the Celtics put up.

The Lakers have averaged 105 ppg (1st) in the playoffs and the Celtics have only managed 91 ppg (11th). Yes the Celtics defense has been good (giving up only 87 ppg) but they have faced the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland LeBrons, and Detroit Pistons. Not exactly top scoring teams. And can the Celtics win at the Staples Center? They may not have to but don’t expect the Lakers to get swept at the TD Bank North Center.

Closing Statements

I am trying to argue a point I don't really believe in; I am truthfully in the Lakers' corner. However, I do think that the Celtics have a great chance. Why? Because other people tell me so.

Scouts Inc. said it the best:

Can a young bruiser like
Kendrick Perkins make life difficult for a world-class player like Pau Gasol? The same question exists for Rajon Rondo, who has exceeded many expectations this season but now faces veteran point guard Derek Fisher and his multiple rings. Then there's mercurial talent Lamar Odom, against Hall of Famer-to-be Kevin Garnett, who's never been to the Finals before -- few players have the skills to give Garnett fits like Odom can. And can Paul Pierce, a top NBA player with a long career, carry his team to a title against the league's best player, Kobe Bryant?"

Mike said: "Yes the Celtics defense has been good (giving up only 87 ppg) but they have faced the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland LeBrons, and Detroit Pistons. Not exactly top scoring teams." That is true, but incomplete. Those numbers are for the playoffs, yet the Celtics were 2nd in the league giving up only 90.3 ppg during the regular season. They will be facing the Lakers who were 4th with 108.6 ppg scored.

My match ups will go like this.

Gasol over Perkins
Rondo over Fisher
Garnett over Odom (overall…I think that this will be a great battle)
Bryant over Pierce (but expect Pierce to show up)

Lakers in 7

My prediction for this series is the Lakers will win in 6 games. Of course I could be totally wrong and the Celtics could sweep. No one knows what will happen, not even the experts. But here are the reasons why I think the Lakers will bring home the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

The Lakers have a great coach who is one of basketball’s top 10 minds along with the likes of Auerbach, Riley, Daly, Wilkins, and Ramsey among others. Notice how I didn’t mention Doc Rivers anywhere close to that. If Rivers makes more poor decisions like even letting Sam Cassel sniff the court during the Finals, he may be the next thing hanging in the rafters of the New Boston Garden, not another championship banner.

Reason number 2 is obvious: Kobe Bryant. The Celtics have any one (and don’t tell me James Posey is a Kobe Stopper) that can shut down #24. He can create his shot at will all the while making his teammates better (Is this the same Bryant who wanted out and who was ripped by Phil in his book “The Last Season”)?

The Lakers have a deeper, more productive bench and that will be the X factor. Boston can't match it. The Celtics go through stretches when they can't score; they don't get easy baskets. LA has 11 players who can score (Sorry Chris Mihm). The Lakers have a distinct advantage at every spot on the floor. The only spot where the Celtics might have an edge is Kevin Garnett against Odom or Gasol, depending on who guards him.

Derek Fischer is better than Rajon Rondo. I will give credit to Rondo’s on the ball defense but Fischer is better in every single other aspect of the game including 3 point shooting, mid range jumper’s, leadership, calmness, and not turning the ball over. The Lakers are never lost when Fischer is running the show.

Boston does not close out games well. They lack that killer instinct that championship teams are made of. Look at KG, he has been known for years for disappearing in the 4th quarter. In 19 playoff games this postseason, the Celtics have been outscored 450-403 in the fourth quarter, an average deficit of 2.47 points. In the other three quarters, they've outscored their opponents 1,339-1,214, an average of 6.58 points. They're 3-2 in closeout games, having failed to win series-clinching Game 6s in Atlanta and Cleveland. And Paul Pierce was even quotes as saying, Throughout the game we played well," Pierce said, "but the fourth quarters are something we're going to have to go back and look at." (
Thanks to Ken Berger from Newsday for the stats and quote).

I don’t like Boston teams. Therefore LA will win. Easy enough.

Matt: Lakers in 7
Mike: Lakers in 6

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

College Majors of Professional Athletes

TheSportsApple has uncovered the college majors of some of the best professional athletes. And let me just say I am very happy that Michael Jordan did not pursue that Geography major he was earned at the University of North Carolina. On a side note, since Jordan is a US American, I would hope he knows where Iraq is on a map.

Imagine if your favorite ballplayer was not good enough to make the Big Leagues. What would he being doing these days? He would have had to put his college degree to good use. Let's find out what would have happened to some of the best professional athletes if they did not make in their sport:

Michael Jordan received a Geography degree from UNC. I didn't know geography was still offered as a major. What was he going to do, become a teacher or, I guess that's it.

Joe Schmo College Student: Sweet, I have Professor Jordan this semester for Geography. I heard he's pretty cool and he likes to gamble.
Friend: Yeah, I had him last semester and he was really clutch with his Powerpoint presentation on Eastern Africa.

Mike Mussina earned a degree from Stanford in Economics in 3 and 1/2 years. He must have been very smart. I could see him these days being all GQ with perfectly shined shoes, his sideburns exquisitely trimmed to perfection, riding to work in a sports car with the top down and thinking to himself "The Moose is going to solve this country's weakening economy today."

Eli Manning has a degree in Marketing from the University of Mississippi. This way if his pro football career hadn't worked out, he could have used his marketing skills to get brother Peyton into another commercial.

Isiah Thomas earned a Criminal Justice degree from Indiana University. Seriously, the jokes here are endless....(insert your favorite here)