Tuesday, February 14, 2017

It Was Written...

Is this season just a prelude? Is this, the 2016 NBA season, the 71st installment of such, which has now spilled into 2017 calendar year, a prologue of a story which many believe is already written? The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the former the defending champions and the latter the recently reloaded, are the two teams most expect to be the finalists by the time The Finals roll around in June. And with good reason. The two have split the title of NBA Champion between themselves over the last two seasons and have shown no signs of letting up. Most believe the Warriors to currently hold the edge over the Cavaliers as they added a former MVP by the name of Kevin Durant to a team which boasts a two-time MVP of its own in Stephen Curry. The Cavaliers themselves are a well-oiled machine, pulled by the locomotive that is LeBron James, and need to make no argument for why they will be there in the end as well. And although for most, that this season is already a forgone conclusion, barring major injury or act of God, there does not seem to be a palpable pulse beating in either the direction of apathy or intrigue. And it is not as if there should be a definitive feeling either way.

The 1990s saw the Chicago Bulls win six championships during the decade. The Bulls won back-to-back-to-back titles twice, as those reigns were broken up by some mere mortal's quest to be decent at baseball, ultimately winning their six championships over the span of eight years. The notion that the Bulls would have won eight in a row, while adding Hakeem Olujawon, to the list of Hall of Famers such as Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Gary Payton to succumb at the hands of the aforementioned mortal, stands as plausible. Imagine if the 90s did provide eight consecutive titles crafted by Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. It would be akin to the Boston Celtics era of dominance in the 1960s provided by the efforts of the incomparable Bill Russell and Red Auerbach. These two dynasties during the height of their powers gave NBA fans at the time the same result over and over, whether they wanted it or not. Whether good or bad for the league, it is what it was. The same way in which it continues to be it is what it is today.

To say that the state of the NBA as it pertains to winning a championship or two is monopoly-driven endeavor, would be to acknowledge the history of how championships are one and spread out amongst not the entire league on a whole, but to a special select few franchises. Namely those that have been able to field teams which combine great teamwork and coaching with superstar talent and the killer-instincts that accompany said talent. The teams who fall under this distinction are those whom we name readily when it comes time to talk about just who has hoisted a championship banner in their respective arena's rafters. The aforementioned Celtics of the 60s fit the bill. The Los Angeles Lakers and (once again) Celtics teams of the 80s do as well. The previously referred to Bulls of the 90s are revered to the point of worship. The Lakers of the first three years of the new millennium take a backseat to no one. And the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat teams of recent memory give of fresh reminders of just how this thing works. In short, everyone gets invited to the party, but not everyone gets to dance.

As this season reaches the All-Star break, the fact that this campaign is more than halfway complete is a notion that is not lost amongst both players and fans alike, although both entities may process the thought in entirely different manners. For the player, to know where his team currently stands, and to understand what lies ahead within reason and within expectation; the opportunity to substantiate or create anew the narrative that this season is becoming, his is the perspective of faith and hope. The fans do the same as well, although their approach is one of hope and prayer. For some a hope that we get the championship round we all expect, and for others a prayer that this is not the beginning of a back-to-back-to-back-to back (well you get the idea) and forth between the Cavaliers and Warriors that completely excludes their own teams. You know, the ones that never get invited to dance that last dance.

The season is a prelude. Although it differs greatly from a book already printed for publishing, words, letters, and characters deeply embedded and unchangeable, an NBA season is quite similar in its structure and presentation. The difference between the two is subtle, yet sublime. The difference? The ink has already dried on the pages of the literary work of art. The ink is still drying on the pages of the annals of NBA history. Already written. Awaiting the drying breaths of air to be drawn and blown from the lips of players on teams that were already written.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

AIN'T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT: A Voice In Support of A Philosphy

There are no ethics in the NFL, and why should there be?

Every NFL team, from the players to the coaching staff to the front office has an obligation to win. At all costs.

The Seattle Seahawks and their head coach Pete Carroll have recently come under fire, stemming from their decision to fake a punt with less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter of a game in which they led by three touchdowns. The game, which was played last Thursday night, saw the Seahawks ultimately complete their rout of the Los Angeles Rams 24-3, as the outcome was never in question.

Another Thursday Night Football game, another blowout.

At first, there was consideration from this scribe that this maneuver may have seemed a trite bush-league. I mean come on, faking a punt up 21 points! It even sounds funny.* However, "upon further review" it dawned that this is nothing new. More importantly, it may even be something to be lauded, if not appreciated.

A few seasons ago, 2007 to be exact, during their undefeated, record-setting, record-breaking run to the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots under the stewardship of their incomparable head coach Bill Belichick, continually and routinely, almost as if in their sleep, ran the score up on their opponent from week to week. Some of the outcomes were closer than others. The majority being blow-outs on the scoreboard, but the message was clear: This is a professional league. Players get paid to perform. ALL. THE. TIME. There is never a moment to take a play off. There are only so many possessions and plays within those possessions to be treasured with the utmost respect. For at any time, the game, and the momentum it totes so carefully, can shift.

There have been games in which teams trailing by three touchdowns have overcome such a deficit. The instances are many, albeit far and few between, to provide evidence of such, but rest assured it does occur. Opposing teams have scored three touchdowns in less than two minutes as well; similar to what took place between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers a month ago when both teams traded back-to-back-to back touchdowns, the Cowboys being the one to fall on the right side of the coin in that affair. So the game can change, and the tempo and momentum can increase at any point in time in a game, and it is there which lies the reason as to why teams should never take their foot of the gas, take their foot off the throat, take their foot out the...well, you get the point. So for Carroll to take the friendlier (read: less aggressive) approach with about five minutes left in the game it would be the football equivalent of sacrilege. The football gods are watching. Always watching.

There are various other instances where the supposedly improbable suddenly became probable. This is why coaches like Belichick and Carroll (who themselves are from the Bill Parcells School of Coaching) do what they do. They are not putting their destiny and fate in the hands of anyone else but their own. They get paid to win, not to make sure that the other team is feeling good about themselves.

Yes ethics and morals do matter...in all walks of life. Yet, as is the case with most things, there is a time and a place for everything. The football field is not one of them.

* Not that it was funny, but the punter, Jon Ryan, who faked the punt, after a gain of 26 yards on the play was concussed on the ensuing hit. Imagine that. You fake a punt up 21 points and get your punter knocked out. It provided a measure of hilarity to the whole situation. For the Los Angeles Rams it provided a measure of retribution to the fake.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

QUICKCAP: New York Knicks vs Washington Wizards (11/17/16)

As per their lighting-quick leader point guard John Wall, the Washington Wizards raced out to an early lead and a barrage of 3-pointers allowed them to extend their lead to 27 points in the 3rd quarter as the home team defeated the visiting New York Knicks 119-112, who like themselves were playing on the second half of a back to back.

Let's not dwell on this one for too long other than to point out a few positives from a situation which was mostly negative. Back to backs aside, the hope that the Knicks would be able to put on a strong showing on the road after an emotional victory at home the night before were quickly dashed as the Wizards hit three after three and were basically offered valet service for any drive into the Knicks paint as they seemingly scored at will. That being said, even after falling behind by almost 30 points the Knicks did not succumb. 

Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings once again answered the toll scoring 27 and 17 points respectively. They were able to spearhead a comeback of epic proportions, as the Knicks offense blew up for 47 points in the fourth quarter. However they fell short in their quest to tie or take the lead in the final frames of the quarter. 

Give credit to coach Jeff Hornacek for leaving his starters in the contest despite the deficit and the fact that this was their second games in as many nights, if not just to see them get back in contention and to see what different line-ups could provide after the Knicks initial lackluster effort.

Rose, as mentioned before, put forth a season-high output in points and even caught a powerful two-handed dunk on the break over and around a helpless Wizards defender. 

These may seem like few and inconsequential positives, but in the construction process that is season's version of the Knicks, these positives will suffice in forming their own part of the foundation that they so desperately need.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

QUICKCAP: Dallas Mavericks vs New York Knicks (11/14/16)

The New York Knicks bested the Dallas Mavericks Monday night 93-77, upping their sub-.500 record to a count of 4 wins and 6 losses. Ten games into the season it would stand to reason that they are far from near they want to be; hopefully 20 to 30 games into the season this will not be their narrative. Playing another team in recent days devoid of two of its starters, a team who themselves has been putting on a poor display, the Knicks did what they were expected to do, and put a reeling Mavericks team out of its misery.

After an ugly start by a seemingly disinterested first team, the Knicks looked to their second unit to bail them out of an ugly first quarter in which they shot poorly from the field and seemed to resume the same porous defense that has been their calling card in their previous two losses. To be fair, both teams seemed hard-pressed to even be able to hit the side of a barn on most of their attempts, initially turning the game into a barely watchable contest as both teams aimed to find cohesion.

The second-half turned into a much better deal for the Knicks, with contributions from the unlikeliest of sources. Such as shooting-guard Justin Holiday, who continues to show flashes on both ends of the court and is making it difficult for coach Jeff Hornacek to keep him on the bench. Holiday started the second-half, and the length and energy which he provided helped to add another dimension to the usual contributions from Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.

An ugly win it may have been from an aesthetic point of view, however a loss under the aforementioned terms would have painted a much uglier picture than the one the Knicks are currently attempting to create of themselves. We will just have to see if this is the beginning of their version of a masterpiece.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

QUICKCAP: New York Knicks vs Toronto Raptors (11/12/16)

The Toronto Raptors beat the New York Knicks 118-107 tonight, and although the game was played north of the border, leagues away from the southern regions of this great country, the New York Knicks still found a way to pay a repeat visit to ATL tonight. ATL in this case being: another tough loss.

Once again they played hard, and maybe even a bit smarter than they way they did last night in Boston, however they found themselves still falling victim to the same deficiencies that have been ailing them so far in the infancy of this season. Most notably on the defensive side of the basketball court.

Yes it is still early. Very early. And time will only tell if the trends which have made themselves visible so early on will be prevalent throughout the season. However the way that the Knicks have been playing defensively is a bit alarming. Numbers can be analyzed as much as possible to reflect the Knicks ineptitude in the defensive department, but in this case they eye-test is probably the one in which they are failing the most. To see them allow teams to come and go as the please is to know that a step-up in that area is direly needed.

Picking up on the notion that every quality team in the NBA has an identity and that teams on the cusp of being quality teams have to find their identity, standing at a record of 3-6, no where near being into the quarter or mid-point of the season, one expects that the Knicks should be closer to that realization 25 to 40 games into the season. Will they be a quality team just on paper or will they be a quality team on the floor as well? Once again, time will tell. Until then a stop or two on the defensive end with the game in the balance won't hurt. In fact, it will help.

QUICKCAP: New York Knicks vs Boston Celtics (11/11/16)

The New York Knicks let a prime opportunity to beat the Boston Celtics get away from them last night succumbing 115-87. Despite playing in front of a hostile crowd at TD Garden, but with the added bonus of the Celtics being short two regulars in Al Horford and Jae Crowder, they most certainly could have won. 

The game itself was officiated in a subpar and inconsistent manner, however the Knicks did not lose because of that. Carmelo Anthony being ejected toward the late minutes of the 3rd quarter did not help either, but even after his dismissal from the contest the Knicks still had a chance.

The deciding factor was the Celtics grit and toughness. They controlled the game from start to finish. The Knicks out-rebounded the Celtics on the offensive glass quite decidedly, but turnovers negated those  advantages. The Celtics just wanted it more and it showed; and this is not to say that the Knicks did not play hard because they did, they just weren't smart enough at times.

You have to take care of the ball! The Celtics make you work hard for everything and you can't make it easy for them by giving them extra possessions. Charles Barkley on TNT Thursday night said it best: "The good teams in the NBA have an identity." The Celtics without a doubt have theirs, the Knicks on the other hand are still searching for their own.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Opportunity Knocks

Sitting at exactly 130 games played, and with 67 of those games recorded as victories, the New York Yankees continue to find themselves embroiled in contention for a post-season berth. Thirty games or more prior, this scribe detailed exactly what it might take for these damned Yankees to do just that: contend for the post-season. Well with 32 games left to play, seemingly a game a day for the rest of this month and all of the next, the Yankees can put themselves in position to do something that would be as amazing as the feat they achieved back in 1978, albeit under less strenuous factors and a wholly different landscape considering how teams make the playoffs in this day and age of baseball, a wild-card or two notwithstanding.

Most have already given the Yankees no shot at making the post-season. And most, to this point, are seemingly correct in their position, for the Yankees have given no indication that they will indeed make it in...to this point. Were the season to end to today they would obviously be correct. And, when the season ends and the Yankees do not make it in they would be correct then too as well. And therein lies the issue. To think and believe they will not make the playoffs is right, however stating that sentiment now is wrong. The season though, does not end today. It still allows though, for the proverbial hot streak. And here we go.

For any to pronounce the Yankees as D.O.A. they may be permitted to do so. The fat lady is already humming, and she may not even need to raise her voice any louder in order to do the job. This is all well and good, but consider this at your own peril, or the peril of the Yankees as it were. The circumstances of the 1978 season are in stark contrast to what these Yankees face. Yet, the hill is just as steep. Yet, all a player ever asked for is the opportunity to play another day. And this is what the Yankees have currently, the opportunity to play another day. Hoping for the opportunity to have the opportunity to play another day. For all that they have not done, it still cannot be counted out. For others, not just that 1978 team, have achieved such a feat. Baseball is the ultimate game of averages, is it not? Then let it play out and see what these last 32 games have to offer. The offer of an above average month of productive, winning baseball. The offer of a hot streak. The offer of opportunity.