Blake Griffin dunks all over Kendrick Perkins, Clips win

January 31, 2012

By Jack Maidment

I’m not sure if BINGO!!!!!! is still an acceptable exclamation for a TV announcer at an NBA game, or Holy Christmas! Or even Jeepers! But it’s certainly a lot more printable than what I shouted after Blake Griffin’s dunk on Kendrick Perkins in the third quarter of last night’s Clipper-Thunder game.

My goodness what a throw down.

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Heat down Bulls after minute of madness

January 30, 2012

By Jack Maidment

It was almost too perfect.

After providing their respective teams with the kind of heroics usually reserved for the pages of Homer, LeBron James and Derrick Rose found themselves on the free throw line at the end of the fourth quarter within seconds of each other; LeBron with the chance to solidify a Miami Heat victory, Rose to put his Chicago Bulls up one with just a few ticks left on the clock.

Both had played absolutely out of their minds for the preceding 98% of the first meeting between the two best teams in the NBA.

Their play was such that any questions about the identity of the two best players in the world now seems strangely obvious and a little redundant.

Rose spun and powered his way into the paint and shot some of the most difficult tear drop floaters you are ever likely to see. Not just one either. All game he went wherever he pleased, size be damned, scowl of determination etched firmly across his face.

As for James, he submitted an almost flawless 40 minutes of basketball with some terrifying dunks, including one jumping right over the top of John Lucas on the baseline for a ridiculous one handed finish that almost killed the Chicago back up point guard, as well as dropping in an array of raise-up jump shots which frankly made him look invincible.

The strength of their two respective games made the finish feel that much more surreal, like seeing a Terrence Malick masterpiece for two hours only to switch to the ‘climax’ of Cowboys and Aliens for the ending.

It just didn’t feel right.

For Rose, maybe the moment was too much. After piling the blame for the Bulls’ playoff loss to the Heat last year squarely on his own shoulders, maybe the chance to vanquish some of those painful memories was overwhelming.

How else do you explain hitting 29-29 fourth quarter free throws this year but buckling on two in a row against the Heat?

As for James, his fourth quarter woes have been well documented this season. Even so, did we really expect him to miss his two as well?

Maybe they both just missed. It happens. It’s percentages.

One thing is for sure: The remaining three regular season games between the two teams and the almost inevitable Eastern Conference Finals rematch in the playoffs will be some of the best basketball contests of the past five years and you better believe Rose will be storing this latest loss as additional fuel for when it really matters in May.

The next time the Bulls take on the Heat you can expect 46 minutes of impeccable basketball.

After that, in those final two minutes?

Who knows.


NBA Keys: Chicago Bulls visit the Miami Heat

January 29, 2012

By Jack Maidment

The Chicago Bulls will take to the floor against the Miami Heat in little over an hour. They are the two best teams in the East with Chicago atop the conference at 17-4 and Miami trailing at 14-5.

Between them they have three of the best four players in basketball and they are both struggling with injuries.

Here are some things to think about:

@Who will guard Derrick Rose? In the playoffs last year it was LeBron when it mattered and Rose had an extremely tough time of it. LeBron’s length caused all sorts of problems. For Chicago to win they need Rose to be at his MVP best, the question will be if he has figured out how to do his thing while staring at someone half a foot taller, stronger and almost as quick.

@How will Chicago make up for the loss of Luol Deng? Deng is the player that makes the Bulls tick on offense and defense. If there is a job needs doing the man from Sudan is usually the guy to do it. His wrist injury presents the Bulls with a number of problems. Firstly, who will guard LeBron? Secondly, who will provide the scoring punch off the bench if Kyle Korver starts? And thirdly, who will pick up Deng’s 16 points a game? The answer should be Boozer and the bench. The reality may be something different.

@How will LeBron James assert himself down the stretch now that Dwyane Wade has returned? It is a tired discussion but a discussion nonetheless. I see Wade closing with LeBron facilitating.

@Who will win the duel at power forward, Boozer or Bosh? Last season it was no contest as Boozer struggled and played with a lack of explosiveness while Bosh took advantage (most of the time) of the open looks thrown his way courtesy of James and Wade. The wings may belong to the Heat, but the paint is usually Bulls territory. It’s up to Boozer to make sure that’s the case against the Heat.

Check back tomorrow for a post-game breakdown.

Enjoy the game.


NBA Rookie Ratings: Williams joins Rubio

January 28, 2012

By Jack Maidment

Straight to the League’s Week 3 NBA Rookie Ratings. Let’s get it.

1. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves. As of next week these rankings will probably be renamed the Ricky Rubio Ratings. Or something similar but a bit snappier. Third week, third top spot, and the scary thing for all the other rookies in the league is that he is statistically better and visibly more comfortable than last week. The Wolves have won their last two since resigning Kevin Love and Rubio was instrumental in both.

Against the Dallas Mavericks Rubio played 46 minutes and poured in 17 points, 7 rebounds, 12 assists (!) and 4 steals. Two nights later against the San Antonio Spurs he had 18-10. He is really good. What more can you say.

2. Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons. I have to confess I didn’t think I would be writing about Knight in this column. No knock on the Kentucky man, more about how I feel about the Pistons and their surplus of guards – hardly a great situation for a rookie point guard.

But Knight has pushed his way to the top of the rotation, playing at least 33 minutes in each of his last three and Knight has made the most of the court time with some excellent performances in three Piston losses this week. His best showing was a 42 minute effort against the Atlanta Hawks where he had 20-5-8 and zero turnovers.

He deserves the number two spot in the ratings. (MarShon Brooks who was second last week injured his Achilles’ this week, hence the no show).

3. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats. Charlotte are probably the least watchable team in the NBA right now but Kemba Walker is doing his best to make their play more palatable. His minutes are gradually going up and he is trying to make the best of the situation. The problem for Walker is the lack of talent that surrounds him.

That’s why his assist numbers are low and his field goal % isn’t exactly swell. But still. Considering where he is and who he is with and the fact he’s not going to be on the winning team too often this year, he is doing a sterling job. Up two.

4. Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves. To clarify: I am not a Timberwolves fan. I just think Rubio is great and Williams has had a good week. Ok? Good. Now stop rolling your eyes. Truth be told Williams doesn’t get too many minutes because of all the wings in Minnesota but when he has got in this week he has done well.

He has at least 10 points in his last three games with a handful of rebounds and he does a great job off the bench. What I will say is there is no way Williams is a small forward. No way. Which raises questions down the road what with Kevin Love now locked up. Even so, fourth in the ratings is a good start. Let’s Go Wolves. Wait. What?

5. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers. Kyrie dropped to fourth last week and he slips a little more after a tough stretch for his Cavaliers. He is in a similar situation to Kemba Walker in that if he doesn’t do it for his team it isn’t getting done. Irving had a typical atypical week. Typical in that he has been inconsistent, as many rookies are prone to be, but atypical in the huge difference between his best game and his worst.

The best: 32-6-2 with one turnover against New Jersey. The worst: a 1-7 shooting night against the Knicks. Boom and bust. I wrote last week I don’t see Kyrie dropping out of the top 5 and despite a tough week for him, I stand by that.

Sneakers and Creepers: Chandler Parsons.

Drop Outs: Iman Shumpert. New York’s poor play finally caught up with their versatile rookie.

Last week:

  1. Ricky Rubio
  2. MarShon Brooks
  3. Iman Shumpert
  4. Kyrie Irving
  5. Kemba Walker

Sneakers and Creepers: Kahwi Leonard.


The Art of the Miami Heat

January 28, 2012

By Jack Maidment

I cannot stand people who are addicted to their cameras. If I go the aquarium I don’t want you in my face taking pictures. If I’m drinking at the club I don’t want you bothering me for a snap.

Why can’t people just enjoy the now, the real thing, instead of interrupting the moment to create a pale imitation?

Why take a picture of a Lichtenstein original when you can take in its genius with your own eyes in the present?

The same can be applied to sports.

Basketball is such a unique blend of power and poetry that the game can explode into life at any moment. Why miss the explosion or interrupt the oh-shit-this-is-about-to-happen feeling trying to grab a photo?

I just don’t understand it. Watch the game.

The Miami Heat are the reason I bring this up.

They beat the New York Knicks last night 99-89 and they put on a show so exciting it was enough to shake me from my severe dislike of The Decision. No mean feat.

The first quarter was an absolute dunkfest and the entire game was one long highlight reel.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had five dunks each, running the floor and punishing the Knicks for every sloppy turnover.

Two especially stood out.

1.LeBron James dribbles his way down court off a Knick miss, backing into the paint with Bill Walker trying to guard him. LeBron feints slightly to his left shoulder as if looking for the turnaround jumper before powering to his right as the Knicks clear out. One dribble, two steps and LeBron elevates off his left foot before powering the ball through the hoop with his right hand, the wrong hand.

2. Wade receives the outlet pass off another New York miss just before half court on the near side. Two Knicks race back and Landry Fields meets Wade at the three point line. Wade takes one dribble before executing a perfect euro step, evading Fields, and elevates, jams. No other guard in the league is physically able do this. When you thought he would reach his ceiling and have to lay it up Wade carried on rising. Unbelievable.

Why the hell would you want to miss this?

(For the record I love photography, especially Ansell Adams and Weegee. Check them out.)


NBA Superstar League: Durant by a distance

January 27, 2012

By Jack Maidment

A weekly statistical snapshot, out every Friday, ranking ten of the best players in the league.

Our 10: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James/Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge.

Let’s get to it.

Week 3.

1. Kevin Durant: NOH, DET, NJN. It was only a matter of time before Durantula made it to the top of the NBA Superstar League (5th last week). His Oklahoma City Thunder have won their last three and have the NBA’s best record at 15-3. KD had games of 25-7-4, 20-5-2 and 20-15-3 this week and he is the main reason OKC is looking like the best bet to come out of the West.

2. Kevin Love: DAL, HOU, UTA. New contract, same player. Nobody in the league is doing more to help his team win than Love who is top five in both rebounding and scoring. The Wolves did lose twice this week (Houston, Utah) but that’s to be expected. They are young and going through the same learning-to-win process experienced by the Oklahoma City Thunder two years ago. More than that they downed the champs in Dallas behind 31-10 from Love who was 4-6 from three. Can he do anything more?

3. LeBron James: DET, CLE, MIL. He was number one last week and he has continued his strong play in the absence of Dwyane Wade. Two wins and a loss to Milwaukee (urgh), but good James games them all. In each he had at least 5 assists as he sought to set the table for the whole team. He is a joy to watch at the moment. The question is, will things change when Flash returns?

4. Derrick Rose: IND, NJN, TOR. Rose was effectively exempt from the Superstar League last week due to injury but he has come back strong after two wins and a loss, all without Luol Deng who has caught the prevalent Bulls injury bug. Yes the wins were against bad teams (Nets, Raptors) but you can only play who is in front of you. Rose has Chicago tops in the East with a 16-4 overall record, 8-2 in their last 10. For the Bulls to carry on with that pace without Deng it will mean Rose giving even more for the cause. And he will. Rise.

5. LaMarcus Aldridge: GSW, MEM, SAC. The Blazers are slumping a little of late, 4-6 last 10, and LA has struggled with consistency but two wins and a loss this week should help steady the ship.

6. Kobe Bryant: LAC, IND, ORL. KB24 fell from 1st to 7th last week as the Lakers struggled to score. They are the league’s third best defense according to the numbers but the other end of the floor has been a problem, especially for the bench where production has been virtually non-existent. However, the Lakers snapped their skid on Wednesday night with a marquee win in a chippy game against the Clippers. Kobe threw the ball away 7 times but was successful in sharing the ball, especially early on, dishing 6 assists to go with his 24 points. He stays put, give or take one or two.

7. Chris Paul: MEM, LAL. CP3 has only just returned from a hamstring injury and this week we learned he doesn’t like people touching his head. Aside from that Paul gave us a demonstration of how to control a game by passing with his 4 points 12 assists against the Lakers. He drops but fitness and lack of activity is mainly responsible.

8. Dwight Howard: BOS, IND, BOS. Dwight Howard had a bad week with two awful losses against the Celtics, begging the question: is the trade speculation (this week the Knicks) getting to Dwight? Probably not. It’s more about the team he’s on and the relative lack of help he receives. If he doesn’t do it, who else will? The Celtics embarrassed the Magic and Howard twice this week. Good enough for a four place drop.

9. Carmelo Anthony: CLE, CHA, DEN. Uh-oh. 17 games into the season and there are already calls for the Knicks to blow up the roster and trade one of their stars. Carmelo was bottom of the Superstar League last week and he deserves to be there this week too. In their last 8 games, the Knicks have won 1, lost 7, the lone victory coming against the Charlotte Bobcats. Melo scored 1 point. Man. If he could be lower than 9th he would be.

10. Dirk Nowitzki. Has not played in almost 10 days due to injury and a terrible haircut, hence the fall.


Boris Diaw: An alternate history

January 26, 2012

By Jack Maidment

In Jack McCallum’s excellent 2005/06 season-on-the-bench book Seven Seconds Or Less, Mike D’Antoni, head coach of the Phoenix Suns, sits down with Boris Diaw for the Frenchman’s end of season exit interview.

“Boris, real quick, I’ll tell you what I told you last night. In the biggest game of the season you gave us thirty and eleven. You were the league’s Most Improved Player. I just appreciate everything you’ve done. You’re fun. You helped make the locker room great. Other than kissing your ass, I don’t have much to say.

“The main thing is that there is no reason your goal should not be to be one of the best players in the league. That’s how good you can be.”

So what happened?

At 6’8, 230lbs and with all of the skills of a guard, Boris Diaw was an absolute revelation in his debut season in Phoenix.

Having played two non-distinct years in Atlanta for the Hawks he arrived in the desert in 2005 as a result of the Joe Johnson trade with no hype and proceeded to tear our of the blocks doing everything the injury ravaged Suns needed.

He had played back up point guard in Atlanta but in the absence of Amar’e Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas, he dutifully played center. Like that’s a normal progression.

How many times has that ever happened before? How many players could even contemplate such a shift?

Regardless, Diaw poured in his best ever season, 13-7-6, the versatile fuel which ignited the Suns to their imperious high-tempo best.

He was too big for guards, too skilled and quick for hulking big men who grimaced at the thought of running with the Frenchman in the 7 Seconds offense.

He was the MIP in the league during the regular season and got even better in the playoffs (19-7-5), culminating in his 34-11 game one performance against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals, including the game winner, which caused D’Antoni to gush with praise.

So what happened?

Things changed.

Stoudemire came back and he never averaged double digits as a Sun again. He got traded to the Charlotte Bobcats in 2008. He put on weight. He became a pale imitation of the match up nightmare born in the desert.

Four years later and Diaw is playing off the bench for the woeful Bobcats, posting 8-6-4. Solid numbers for a bench player, but for D’Antoni’s Diaw?

It’s tempting to write the Frenchman off as his production drops and say that he is done.

But he is only 29-years-old. Why can’t he come back?

He is enduring the toughest stretch of his career right now, a bench cog on a perennially bad team, potentially a fire slowly petering out.

It would surely be fitting, almost poetic, for him to rise again. Just like a Phoenix.