Sunday, August 6, 2017

From Worst to First

The worst kind of writer that you can be is the type of writer that I have been: one who does not write. So then, how could I call myself a writer?

In elementary school a teacher once shared with the class the notion that "what you are to be, you are now becoming." I did not totally grasp the severity of the situation at that time, but as with most things in life you begin to understand the deeper meaning of words and events through time and experience, and this particular scenario is no different. What I am to be I have now become, a writer who has not written.

Well not a writer who has not written entirely, but rather a writer which has not wrote enough. Not nearly enough. And for this I apologize. Not to you who reads this, and certainly not to I who writes this, but to the stories, the articles, and the essays themselves. For not applying the due diligence to research. For not displaying the ability to focus. But most of all, for not taking the time to just write.

So once again I sincerely apologize. Not that you were waiting. My stories were.

I will not make them wait any longer.

[*Editor's Note: "There will be appearing from the date of this entry archived pieces which were intended for release and consumption earlier."]

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 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.

Monday, December 5, 2016

QUICKCAP: Sacramento Kings vs New York Knicks (12/5/16)

The New York Knicks, with balanced scoring from their back-court and front-court, beat the Sacramento Kings 106-98 Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, and have now won eight of the last ten games they have played in front of the hometown crown. They also notched their third victory in a row, and now stand with a record of 11-9 after the first 20 games of the season.

The Knicks, with leads of 21 points in the first half, and 20 points at the beginning of the third quarter, were able to stave off several runs by the Kings, including a 16-0 run in the same quarter, and never relinquished those leads. The Kings were able to close within a point on several possessions, but were never able to tie the game or take the lead after the Knicks were able to establish control of the game from the second quarter until the final buzzer.

Timely baskets by the guards Derrick Rose (20 points) and Brandon Jennings (19 points), as well as Carmelo Anthony (20 points ) and Kristaps Porzingis (15 points), ultimately made the Kings' runs come up short. Although they were threatened at various stages of the game the Knicks never panicked and composed themselves productively on the possessions they needed most; defensively as well.

This game had the makeup of a blowout due to those 21 and 20 point advantages, and although the Kings made their run, as most NBA teams do, they never quite could get out of the hole that they dug for themselves. Sound familiar? Usually this is the Knicks alibi and prescription for heartbreaking losses of this type. In seasons past, and even at times this year, it usually is the Knicks playing the role of the Kings, falling behind early, only to make a run late, but never quite able to get over the hump themselves. Leading to many a frustrating night, for Knicks fans, and players alike.

Thankfully this is a new season and thankfully these are new Knicks. Going into this season, with so many unfamiliar faces added to the roster, it was the sentiment of this scribe that we (as well as the Knicks themselves) would begin to have an idea of this team's identity after about twenty games or so. And, after twenty games, it's safe to say that these Knicks are destined to be much better than their 15 and 30 win counterparts from the last two seasons.

These Knicks should most certainly win 45 games, and could possibly win 50 or better. 15 win improments in 2 to 3 season increments is certainly not astonishing, although it is nothing to blink at, but the notion that these Knicks could be embarking upon something of a special journey, gives rise to the sentiment that they may indeed be worthy of doing some real damage this season.

[Editor's Note: This piece originally was intended to appear during the New York Knicks 2016-2017 campaign.]

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.

Monday, November 28, 2016

QUICKCAP: Oklahoma City Thunder vs New York Knicks (11/28/16)

The Russell Westbrook show, a season-long performance in its early stages, literally hit the big stage tonight as the Oklahoma City Thunder played to rave reviews, albeit Off Broadway in the World's Most Famous Arena. The Thunder, along with the uncanny yeoman's effort which Westbrook routinely supplies usually in the form of triple-doubles (as he did tonight), defeated the New York Knicks 112-103. Turning what was an 11-point 1st quarter deficit into a "knock 'em down, drag 'em out" beatdown.

The Knicks, as mentioned before, squandered an early lead by allowing Westbrook his usual forays into the paint. Wrecking havoc to the tune of his 8th triple double of the season as he finished with a line of 27 points, 18 rebounds, and 14 assists, along with contributions from Enes Kanter and Steven Adams, who scored 27 points and 14 points respectively. The Knicks seemingly could not, nor did not want to, provide the effort defensively that was needed to support their offensive output.

The objective to winning in any sport is to outscore your opponent, especially in basketball. This, however, does not mean that in order to be victorious that it is all about scoring points. Defense matters. Keeping your opponent from scoring as much as you do ultimately is the deciding factor between wins and losses. The ancillary components of the game come into play as well in support of the success of teams in the form of taking care of the ball via not turning the ball over. Securing rebounds on the defensive side of the court matter as well. These seemingly minute, but critical, aspects of the game have always played a hand in how any team on any given night will fare against another team. Handle these functions of the game and you will find yourself if not at the very least in contention in most contents. Excel at these functions of the game and you will find your team at the top of the standings, year in and year out. And yet, in the effort to be a more cohesive unit, these are some of the issues that continue to plague Knicks.

Seventeen games in, with a record of 8-9, after seemingly finding their way and their identity in propelling themselves to an 8-7 record, the Knicks have now lost two in a row. No the sky is not falling, as the need to panic this early into the season reeks of the desperation which has emanated from the bowels of Madison Square Garden for what feels like the last decade or so (minus lackluster playoff appearances from 2010-2012), but the signs are alarming enough. Are they harbingers of what might finally do in this version of the Knicks? Or is this something that can be corrected by alot of tape? No, not the tape that is used to stabilize joints and limbs, although that would seem helpful as the Knicks looked as disjointed and wobbly as ever on both sides of the floor, but tape as in watching film and figuring out exactly what will be the Knicks approach to defending (pick and rolls especially) and not being out-hustled and out-worked on the defensive glass. Also up for review: What to do offensively in the waning moments of games when possessions are crucial and the conversion of shot attempts can decide a game, whether ahead or behind.

The Knicks for now continue to be a work in progress. Pieces of the puzzle to their identity continue to be put into place. Tonight Russell Westbrook and the Thunder knocked most of those pieces out of place.

[Editor's Note: This piece originally was intended to appear during the New York Knicks 2016-2017 campaign.]

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.