Mike D’Antoni reassures Balkman that, despite his claims, the Knicks don’t regret trading him away: “First of all, who’s that?” D’Antoni was about to walk away from the conversation when he realized it was a bit cold — even for the player we all know by the nickname, ‘Cool’ — and explained. ‘We don’t have regrets, no,’ he said. ‘We only had him for a little bit and he wasn’t going to play a whole lot. We don’t’ regret playing [Wilson Chandler] a lot of minutes and that would be taking Will’s minutes away and Gallo’s minutes. Now, we didn’t know that Gallo was going to be hurt like that, but when we made the trade we thought Gallo would take all the minutes up. It would be kind of crazy for even him to want to be there. So that was the thought behind it.’”
by Marcel Mutoni
Now, before any of you get too emotional about a player whooping it up at The Mansion during his rehab from a serious knee injury, as his team’s title hopes hinge on the outcome of said rehab, do know this: Andrew Bynum is reportedly closer to returning than previously thought.
Ok, with that out of the way, we discuss the important stuff: Such as Bynum apparently testing the knee’s strength by carrying a Playmate on his shoulders. SI.com has the details:
While the Lakers were in Atlanta preparing for what would be an 86-76 loss to the Hawks on Sunday, Bynum was in Los Angeles mingling at a pajamas and lingerie party after the Playboy Golf Finals. Wearing a green smoking jacket and slippers, Bynum, whose injury status is generating daily headlines in Los Angeles, partied like a rock star near the infamous grotto.
He picked up Playmate Nicole Narain and placed her on his shoulders and got somebody to take a picture with his digital camera. Upper-body strength, check. He hopped over a velvet rope near the DJ booth so he could take a picture with Narain and other Playmates who ended up sitting on his lap. Jumping ability, check.
He sidestepped a few of the roaming cameras and got down with some Playmates on the checkered dance floor set up in the backyard. Lateral movement, check. Later, with lines around the bar getting longer, he pulled out a bottled beverage from one pocket and four plastic cups from another and offered up drinks to three Playmates who were with him. Ability to adjust to game situations, check.
Though he probably should be keeping a lower profile as he works to get back on the court before the Playoffs, it’s important to remember that the man is just 21 years old, and as such, will no doubt engage in questionable behavior from time to time.
Here’s to hoping he and the rest of the squad can get back to The Mansion in a couple of months for an even bigger celebration.
by Holly MacKenzie
Very quiet night in the L to recap.
Hamed Hadaddi with 10 points and eight rebounds in less than minutes of play. That’s kind of nuts. He may finish with more, but that’s what he’s got with 3:14 left in the fourth quarter of this Clippers/Grizz game.
What is with Al Harrington screwing up in crunch time? Getting ejected last night in the final minutes of the game really wasn’t smart.
It’s official: I’ve added Pops Mensah-Bonsu to my list of guys that make me happy to watch. He’s just loving life and kicking ass and has all of Toronto absolutely in love with him. It’s fun.
I have to admit, I missed the retiring of Zo’s number. Yikes. I probably also missed the tears that would inevitably go along with that. Sorry but, I needed a timeout with my roommate and I missed it. And, by timeout, I mean a coffee break that was wonderful, not a timeout like, in trouble timeout. May not have mentioned it lately, but I am so lucky to have many amazing people in my life.
Besides the timeout from the world with my roommate, I had lunch with a college friend that turned into a three hour affair and then spent a piece of the evening with one of my most favorite people in the world. Not a lot of basketball, but it was still a wonderful day. Hope you all have a great one today.
ps. How are the Cavs really first in the league? I see this every day and don’t believe it sometimes.
Moving away from the NBA for a moment, I had my Cuse love challenged yesterday because there was no mention of their season-ending game against Oklahoma. Let me tell you, I was buried in the media gondola watching the game on my laptop at the ACC in-between the Raptors/Thunder contest last Friday. My heart was breaking for the boys in Orange and then I was gutted when Flynn stepped in for the charge against Blake and instead got run over and landed hard on his back.
I thought his night was over and that the Orange were done. He came back and played the second half, the Orange made a late run, but it was over. Props go to Blake Griffin and his squad for that game (and then to UNC for dethroning them), but my champions are Syracuse and nothing will change that.
Also, that Villanova/Pitt game was one of the best tourney games we’ll probably see this season. That was wild. When Dixon went down into what was basically a split with a guy on either leg, yeooooch. Talk about painful. And the guy came back to play! I didn’t expect that.
Also, Kemba Walker. Love that. A rookie scoring a career-high in a tourney game. Fantastic.
This night has flown by and I don’t know where the missing hours have gone. The Nets played the Bucks and they kind of forgot to show up. Honestly. Down 19 after one, down THIRTY at the half, the Nets lost to the Bucks, 107-78. It was ugly. Really ugly. Devin Harris and Vince Carter combined for 19 points on 6-22 shooting. Richard Jefferson had 29 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Bucks as Charlie Villanueva added 20 and Joe Alexander had 16 off of the bench. Chris Douglas-Roberts scored 14 for the Nets and Brook Lopez scored 10 points to go with 10 rebounds.
With a 101-95 victory over the Heat, Dwight Howard grabbed his 5,000th career rebound, becoming the youngest to reach the milestone. The Heat had retired Alonzo Mourning’s number prior to the game but Howard was the man of the night, finishing with 22 points to go with this 18 rebounds as the Magic continue to hold onto the number two spot in the Eastern Conference as the season winds down. A three from Rashard Lewis sealed the victory for Orlando in the final minutes. Lewis finished with 21 points as Hedo Turkoglu added 16. The Heat were led by Dwyane Wade’s 42 points, but they weren’t enough.
The Jazz survived a late run by the Knicks to hang on for the 112-05 victory last night. In the final minutes Al Harrington was ejected in the final seconds as the Knicks came back from a 24-point fourth quarter deficit to briefly go ahead by one. With his team trailing by six, 22 seconds on the clock, Harrington again showed bad judgment as he argued with officials and was thrown out of the game, setting up Kyle Korver for two free throws that extended the Jazz lead and sunk the Knicks. Before the ejection, Harrington had 24 points (but 8 turnovers), as David Lee scored 21 points to go with 10 rebounds and Wilson Chandler added 14. The Jazz received a 24-point, 13-assist night from Deron Williams, while Carlos Boozer had 21 points and 11 boards and Ronnie Brewer scored 17.
Speaking of that Golden State/Memphis game, the Grizzlies pulled out the victory, taking down the shorthanded (nine men in uniform), Warriors, 114-109. They were down by nine in the final quarter before coming back by outscoring Golden State 37-25 in the period. OJ Mayo had 24 points and a career-high 10 assists, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley scored 21 points apiece and Hakim Warrick added 16 off of the bench. Monta Ellis scored 29 points for the Warriors as Jamal Crawford had 22 points and Kelenna Azubuike added 14 in the loss.
Sure, March Madness is going on, but this nexus of heavy metal icons and 50- and 60-something college hoops coaches just seems odd…
Photos by Jeffrey McCullough
Originally published in SLAM 120
Can he make it in Europe? Should he have made the move to skip college? Will this start a trend among top high school players? All of these are valid questions. One that isn’t so valid: Does Brandon Jennings have game and style all his own? Well, that one’s pretty simple. — Adam Fleischer
Seth Curry won’t be in a Duke uniform until October ‘10, but every minute of anticipation will be well-worth it for Duke fans. Take a peek at the 18-year-old Big South Freshman of the Year’s work from the past season. The natural 2-guard dropped 26 (four threes) at UVA, 24 (six threes) at Clemson and 22 (three threes) in a win against George Mason. Much like his brother Stephen, a projected 2009 NBA lottery pick, Seth has the uncanny ability to shoot the ball. But Seth also faces some of the same issues as his brother as well. Can he play defense? Is he comfortable taking the ball to the rim? No matter how you twist it, Duke will at least have a dead-eye shooting guard coming off the bench.
Curry will come into 2010 with at least one five-star caliber player in Andre Dawkins and two top-50 true freshmen in Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston. Despite Duke’s early out in the Tourney, there’s plenty of reason to be positive in Durham.
by Ben York
Last Wednesday Steve Nash surpassed Maurice Cheeks for 9th on the all-time Assists Leaders list with 7,393. It was a moment that went virtually unnoticed apart from a few minor blurbs in the papers and quick mentions on television. Unlike others who go out of their way to pull down a 10th rebound late in the game to record a triple-double (even if their team secured the win minutes before), this achievement was attained by Nash as a direct correlation of perseverance and unselfishness.
Working hard and changing the minds of doubters is nothing new to Steve. Upon his return to the Suns as a free agent in 2004, many wrote Nash off and believed he was on the decline. Pundits couldn’t fathom that him continuing at his customary break-neck pace to justify the lucrative, long-term contract. It’s no secret that Nash proved his critics wrong, leading the Suns to the Western Conference Finals the next two seasons winning the MVP Award each year. Nash continued to perform as steadily as any point guard in the game through the ‘07-08 NBA season. After the loss to the Spurs in the first round of the 2008 Playoffs, however, grumblings and skepticism once again were directed Nash’s way.
The perplexing thing in the minds of many fans and analysts is the transformation in his demeanor. Never one to let anger or negative thoughts get the best of him, the smile that had become a staple in the Phoenix sports world had become strangely absent. It seemed Nash just wasn’t enjoying the game as much as he once did. His head hung more, frustration had markedly set in, and doubt had crept into the forefront. But, in looking at the changes over the past year, who can blame him? Over a period of less than 12 months the coach who helped revive his career had left for New York, the system that produced so many victories had slowed down considerably, and his best friend was traded away. On top of that, the Suns’ window for a championship was thought by many to have shut.
While personnel changes are nothing new in the business side of the NBA, Nash has never been driven by the money, celebrity or recognition that come with being a professional athlete. A genuinely loyal person, he’s been quoted several times saying how difficult it is for him to separate the business side of the NBA from the personal side. The Suns’ success during this era could certainly be attributed to Nash and the D’Antoni system alone, but what truly made it unique and effective year after year has been the close-knit relationship of the players; Nash was a big part of facilitating that closeness as the leader and captain.
Yet, his humbleness and selflessness are what set Nash apart in such a narcissistic world. Whether it’s asking his teammates to join him at the podium when he accepted his first MVP award or visiting children in the hospital after beating the Lakers in the 2007 Playoffs, Nash stayed grounded and deflected the credit he unquestionably earned. Perhaps what’s more noteworthy is that the aforementioned stories about Nash surprise no one.
But as we all know, the tide can ostensibly turn overnight. In the 2008 off-season rumors started flying about Nash possibly following D’Antoni to New York or heading back home to Toronto. Many detractors continually cited the end of the Nash era in Phoenix, much of which was attributed at the time to Nash getting older and losing a step. In fairness, the criticism he faced in the off-season was justified early on in the regular season with his sub-par play (compared to his standards). In November, Nash averaged just over 7 apg — almost 4 assists less than his average over the previous four seasons. His scoring dropped almost 5 ppg while also displaying an increase in turnovers. The proverbial torch-passing from Nash being the best point guard in the NBA was accelerating much faster than anticipated. Was it a product of Terry Porter’s more methodical system? Could it be attributed to playing with Shaquille O’Neal? Or maybe, despite the Suns training staff’s best efforts, we were finally seeing signs of wear and tear catching up with Nash?
The answer wasn’t immediately clear, and fans were left to speculate if the end to the Steve Nash era in Phoenix would come to a screeching halt much sooner than originally thought. Questions arose regarding the Mike D’Antoni “Seven Seconds or Less” philosophy and if his engine, not the driver, was the central foundation of the Suns recent success. Once again, Nash had something to prove.
From October to December, the Suns were consistently amongst the league leaders in turnovers, averaging nearly 19 per game. What is most overlooked regarding is that the ball was shared more evenly throughout the rest of the team rather than solely being in Nash’s hands (as had been the case the previous four years). Turnovers actually increased when more players were handling the ball. Now, it’s a natural assumption that the more time one player controls the ball, the higher the probability of turning the ball over. In fact, the opposite has been true for the Suns this season. When Porter started allowing Nash to facilitate and be the floor general again, turnovers lessened. To date, the Suns have improved their average turnovers per game to 15.7, almost 4 less than the first half of the season. Again, this has improved despite the ball being in Nash’s hands more and returning to a much faster pace of play.
After Terry Porter’s mid-season firing, assistant coach Alvin Gentry took the reins and set Nash loose again. Phoenix returned to a quicker system; however, it’s still considerably slower than the D’Antoni years due to the focus on incorporating Shaq in the low post. Nevertheless, even in this hybrid system where Nash doesn’t have as much flexibility to create as previous years, his individual statistics are eerily congruent with his revolutionary ‘04-05 MVP season when the Suns went 62-20. Nash is averaging 15.7 ppg (he averaged 15.5 in ‘04-05), 3.5 turnovers per game (an increase of a mere .2 percent from ‘04-05, and the exact same amount as Deron Williams), shooting a career-best 94 percent from the free throw line (he shot 88 percent in ‘04-05), making the exact same amount of shots per game (5.7), and shooting 49 percent from the floor (only 1 percent less than ‘04-05). Perhaps what is more amazing is that he’s having this success while averaging the least amount of minutes per game in four years (33.9).
In addition, despite spending three months of the season in the most lethargic system of his NBA career, Nash still has 635 total assists, trailing only Chris Paul (741). Though his assists per game is down by about 1.5 to 9.7, it’s still a solid third in the league behind youngsters Chris Paul and Deron Williams (who are only ahead of Nash by about 1 assist per game). Upon the gradual return to a faster pace beginning in January, Nash proved he can still hang with the young guns leading the league in assists during that month with almost 12 per game. Amazingly, he tallied 12 or more assists in nine of the Suns 16 games in January. He continued the trend in February averaging 10 apg with only 30 total turnovers the entire month.
There is no refuting that Steve Nash doesn’t have the legs he once did in the early 2000’s. He struggles in the second game of back-to-backs and continues to a difficult time defending the quicker and younger guards in the League. But Steve Nash, at the age of 35, is irrefutably still one of the best point guards in the League today. Players come and go, philosophies differ and the League is perhaps as dynamic as it’s ever been. Nash has seemingly found the “Fountain of Youth” in Phoenix and still shows little signs of deteriorating. Take his most recent game against the Sacramento Kings: 31 points, 14 assists, 57 percent from the floor — not bad for someone on his “last leg.”
There will surely be weighty decisions for both the Suns franchise and Nash’s future in the off-season. What will happen if the Suns miss the Playoffs? Do they owe Nash a trade to a contender before we really see signs of his downfall? Would Nash even want that? Undoubtedly, those questions will be addressed, but this season isn’t over quite yet…
Let us not hastily forget that Steve Nash has exuded character, integrity and resolve to dazzle fans on a nightly basis for 13 years, and his tank is far from empty. As the Suns continue their push for a final playoff spot, and in an era full of change and doubt, he’s been able to remain a Solar Constant on Planet Orange.
Ben York is a Managing Editor for the NBA section at Fanster.com. He can be contacted with comments and/or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Lang Whitaker
While I was glad to see so many of you chime in on the MVP post I wrote the other day, I didn’t expect there to be over 400 responses. Man. So I fired up one of the new Radiohead remix CDs and read through your comments…all 409 of them (as I went to type). And I want to read and react here.
Before we get into that, though, I should say that yesterday afternoon I watched both the Cavs/Mavs and Hawks/Lakers game, and one thought that jumped out at me is that while Kobe Bryant is probably the best offensive player in the NBA, LeBron, at least yesterday, seems like the most versatile player.
(And just after I typed that sentence, my official awards ballot arrived! Is that a sign?)
Anyway, here’s a few comments and emails…
Co Co wrote…
Look Lang, don’t try to be some go against the grain type of guy. The award is LeBron’s. It was his to lose and he hasn’t lost it. Just fall in line and vote for the King.
I’m assuming that was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Either way, the reason I’m trying to make this a dialogue is because I don’t want to just fall in line like everyone else. It’s my vote, but it’s also SLAM’s vote, and it’s also your vote, because without you guys, our readers, we don’t get a vote. And I don’t want to be one of those columnists/writers who is always telling you what you should be thinking. So I’m listening. Next!
I agree that the race is a close one, but I dispute your premise that the East is a “much weaker conference.” Respectfully, I think you’re stuck in last season on that one. Without question the East has 3 of the 4 best teams. The West clearly has a lot more teams that will finish with 50 wins. The East has a 226-208 record (.521) in inter-conference games. It seems pretty hard to navigate those facts in any way that makes either conference “much stronger” or “much weaker.” Since you were writing about the relative challenges facing the Cavs and Lakers, however, it might be instructive to look at those teams’ comparative records against the West and the East. The Cavs are 35-9 (.795) against the East and 25-4 (.862) against the West. The Lakers are 20-8 (.714) against the East and 38-7 (.844) against the West. It is pretty clear that as between those two teams, both of which are utterly dominant against Western Conference opponents, it is the Lakers that have an advantage playing more games against the “weaker” conference. Good luck deciding on your vote!
You know why I say the East is a much weaker Conference? Because the Hawks, MY Hawks, are solidly in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. HOWEVA!, if they were in the West, they’d be battling for the 8th seed. Both Conferences have a lot of flotsam and jetsam at the bottom of the standings, but look at the BETcats — seven games under .500 but only two games out of the Playoffs in the East. Maybe the West has a more clearly defined top and bottom than the East, but to me the East has a lot more mediocre teams.
The Seed wrote…
I feel Kobe is the MVP, because his team will have the best record and he has taken a back seat to help the team win. Just wait until playoffs start and Kobe like last year, increase his scoring per game and assists and rebs. People wait up and see we are going to give a player who fundamentals suck, playing with just brute force an MVP award. Whats wrong with America.
Well, we’re not voting on the Playoffs. We’re voting on regular season.
Rue Morgue Avenue wrote…
Just want to start by saying I’m a lifelong Laker fan, but also a fan of the NBA in general. Obviously, I’m gonna try to convince you to vote for Kobe as MVP. For me the biggest argument in his favor is that the Lakers play in the tougher Western Conference, where they have to play teams like the Spurs, Rockets, Jazz, Blazers, Hornets, etc. on a regular basis multiple times a year. Over in the Eastern Conference, LeBron and his Cavs get to beat up on the likes of the Knicks, Pistons, Pacers, Bucks, Bulls, Nets, etc. on a nightly basis. I know that there are some awful teams in the West like the Kings and the Clippers, but the difference is that there are still the other eight good teams fighting for playoff spots, while the teams I mentioned from the East are all sub .500 teams that are fighting for the last 2 playoff spots in the East. LeBron does have a weaker supporting cast in general, but the Lakers bench is a bit overrated as of recently. While they’re going through their slumps, while Lamar Odom is going through his moments, while Andrew Bynum is injured, Kobe (and Gasol, but more on him in a sec) is the guy that’s got them winning games. Also, Kobe makes the guys around him significantly better too. I’m not too familiar with Gasol’s career with the Grizzlies, but he’s putting up all-NBA caliber numbers this year. Playing with Kobe has made guys like Ariza, Farmar, Walton, Vujacic, and Powell improve significantly…both because playing with him leaves them with great looking shots and because his work ethic rubs off on them. LeBron has been playing great as well…he’s a freak of nature and it pains me to stay that at some point he’ll probably overtake Kobe as the best in the game today, but I don’t think he’s there yet. Also, don’t forget the Lakers are the only team to beat the Cavaliers at home, at the end of a long road trip, about a week after Bynum went down, two or three days after an emotionally draining battle with the Celtics in Boston. I think that ought to count for something.
Hey, tell that to The Seed. Good point about the head-to-head match-ups.
my two cents Lang? Don’t overthink it, oh great thinker. You have scaled both awards down to 2-3 candidates each. Even have your arguments, and are still unsure. So, who do you like watchingthe most. Who makes you leave your seat during games? Who is the most awe inspiring? The big 3 are all mvp candidates for different reasons. So who is Whitaker down with? And ROY is quite clearcut no? Rose.
No, not quite clearcut. Getting clearer, though. And thanks for recognizing my great thinking ability.
The only reasonable argument anyone can possibly have to why Kobe would be MVP has not even been said yet, Kobe is the only player who has not lost to the top teams in the league this year. He beat Cleveland twice and is the only team to beat them in Cleveland (to my knowledge), and they beat Boston twice. If anything Kobe’s MVP argument hinges on him beating his championship competition.
Dude above made a similar point, but the more I think about, the more I think we should make clear that we’re not voting for best team. We’re trying to pick the one player who has the most value to his team.
Tommy from over at Hoopsworld emailed to say…
per your recent post - I don’t think CP3 get enough love. I wrote about it here. The premise: “While intangibles such as leadership and nebulous concepts such as “making your teammates better” are difficult to measure, the one thing we can clearly quantify is the statistical bottom line.”
Sure. And I love CP3. But he’s not the most valuable player in the NBA.
Finally, Dr. Brent Brossman sent this thesis along…
The attachment below is a detailed analysis of your question and (I think) proves conclusively that LeBron James is your MVP. I’ve attached a Word version as well, which may be easier to read and also has links to the relevant articles.
This is new to me. I follow basketball closely, but I don’t write to voters or columnists. However, since you asked for input, I’ll gladly provide it. I hope you will take the time to read it, because I put a lot of thought into answering what I perceive to be a legitimate question on your part. I think I can conclusively prove that LeBron James is the MVP.
You start with the assumption that it’s a three man race between Kobe, Dwyane and LeBron. I’ll agree to limit the debate to those three guys. Additionally, I’ll argue for the use of statistics for determining which one is best because they cut through the personal biases of watching (or rooting for) some players more than others.
There are several statistics that I believe are the most important because they measure specific things. First, there is John Hollinger’s PER. Hollinger claims it “sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance.” It appears to be the best evaluation of a player’s overall contribution to his team. It does not take into account the intangibles like leadership, but I think we’ll all concede that LeBron, Kobe and Dwyane are great leaders for their teams. It doesn’t take into account some defense (which is still subjective), but there seems to be a general consensus that all three of these guys belong on the first team All Defensive Team. Additionally, it does account for rebounds, blocks, steals, etc. So, what do they do in the rest of the game?
According to PER, the top 5 players – in order, are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant. It assumes that an average player who is worthy of 500+ minutes per year is valued at 15. On that scale, Kobe is 24.77, while LeBron James is 31.67 and Dwyane Wade is 30.34 In other words, while LeBron and Wade are close, Kobe isn’t. In fact, if Tim Duncan were .10 better this year, Kobe wouldn’t be in your top 5.
Those numbers replicate themselves in more traditional stats as well. Kobe is behind LeBron and Dwyane in scoring, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, etc. He’s great; but not as good as the other two.
Now, I know your answer is, “but Kobe plays in the tougher conference.” Except, he doesn’t. In years past that was true, but now the East is the tougher conference. I know it doesn’t look like that given that the East has two teams with losing records in the top 8 and the West will have a team at close to a 60% win-loss record who doesn’t make the playoffs. However, it is the teams below that that artificially inflate the West. The worst team in the NBA (Sacramento) and 6 of the 7 worst teams overall play in the West. Assuming you play a team 3.5 times a season (you play all teams in your conference EITHER 3 or 4 times; 2 if they are in the other conference), that’s 23 games against the worst teams in the NBA if you are in the West, but only 15 or 16 if you are in the East. That 7-8 game difference makes a huge impact in the standings.
How do we know that it is the bottom dwellers pushing records up and not the better teams forcing the lower teams down? The statistics prove that again. In head to head competition, the East and West have played 430 games against each other including the games of March 27. The EAST leads the season 223-207 for a .519 winning percentage. I don’t see how the West can be better if the East is winning the head to head games. However, there is additional evidence.
There are clearly 4 elite teams this year – Cleveland, Los Angeles, Boston and Orlando. Their records are in a different stratosphere than the other teams. But, that also means they are driving down the win-lose records of their opponents. Eastern teams have to play those 4 teams an average of 13-14 times, while the West plays them 9-10 times. That’s another 4 game swing in the standings. Given that three of those teams are in the East, they have a disproportionate impact on the standings, making the East look worse than it is.
And, how do those teams do against the other conference? Through March 27’s games:
Team East W East L East % West W West L West %
Cleveland 35 9 .796 24 4 .857
Los Angeles 38 7 .844 20 7 .740
Orlando 33 11 .750 21 7 .750
Boston 35 10 .778 20 9 .690
Of the four, only Boston has a better record against the East. Both Cleveland and Los Angeles are SIGNIFICANTLY better against the West. So, I do not accept your argument that “Bron also plays in a much weaker conference.” LeBron plays in the stronger conference.
Given that, there is no real case to be made for Kobe this year unless it’s the “best player on the best team” philosophy. Even then, the Cavaliers have the best record in the NBA at the moment; although the Lakers could easily have that by the time the season is over. Still, in a world in which those two teams will clearly have the best records, and those records will be significantly better than any other team and very close to each other, there is no justification for giving the award to Bryant over James.
As for James v. Wade, the debate is more interesting. Wade actually leads LeBron in both scoring and assists, the first time Wade has led James in any of the “big three” categories in their careers. Wade has been an unstoppable force, and has almost single-handedly kept his team respectable. However, you were right-on in your argument that Wade’s team is only 4 games over .500. That doesn’t deserve MVP honors. It would certainly be unfair to change the criteria and award it to Wade this year after LeBron should have won a year ago and Kobe two years ago if we used that standard.
However, even by that standard, Wade doesn’t win. It’s easy to say that Wade is obviously more important to the Heat than James is to the Cavs, but the statistics don’t support that either. The obvious statistic to use is EWA – an assessment of the estimated number of wins each player is responsible for. Wade does amazingly well with an Estimated Wins of 27.0. In other words, without Wade, we could expect the Heat to drop from 38 and 34 to a lowly 11 and 51. Clearly, Wade is ESSENTIAL to the Heat. But, James’ Estimated Wins is even better – a league high 28.8. So, even in this category, NOBODY is more important to a team’s success than LeBron James. For comparison, Kobe’s EWA is 18.6.
And even in the traditional statistics, Wade is second to James. First, while Wade does have more points and assists (barely in both counts), they are only two of the many statistical categories in basketball. PER balances those two statistics with rebounds, steals, blocks, turnovers, etc., and demonstrates that LeBron is the better player by a significant margin – although Wade’s PER is 2nd in the league. How good is LeBron? He’s having the second best season ever since the advent of the modern statistics in basketball; second only to Michael Jordan’s best year (31.89 to 31.67). Hollinger has an important two-part series as to why LeBron is clearly the MVP.
LeBron James is your MVP. Hope I helped. Thanks for reading.
by Jake Appleman
Before we get going, a big thanks to Anthony Gilbert for the ride. It’s much appreciated, dude.
– In the hallway outside of the visitor’s dressing room, I’m pretty sure I hear Keyon Dooling quote Jay-Z’s line “I ain’t animated, like say a Busta Rhymes.” Of course this leads me to wonder: if Devin Harris is Busta Rhymes (unlike Keyon, his game is very “animated”), who is Dirk (compared by Sam Rubenstein to Busta in a recent issue)? Maybe he’s Beanie Siegel because he “keeps three shooters like the Mavericks” and his game is “short and to the point like Nash is.” Maybe Beanie (Dirk) and Busta (Devin) were the pre-Kidd incarnation of the Mavericks. So there’s Dallas and I can only wonder about Debbie…Hip hop lyrics and legendary porn; just a typical Friday night inside my brain…And it don’t stop…
– Nets Assistant Coach (and former Vancouver Grizzlie) Roy Rogers goaltends a Brook Lopez mini hook during a drill. Lopez demands a burnt biscuit with gravy.
– I eat dinner with some members of the IZOD Center security team. They’re all talking about traffic and when they talk about a sign that fell I think they’re talking about Seinfeld. In fact, that would be an interesting new show for Michael Richards: offended patrons dropping street signs on him from above; signs like “Say no to Racism.”
– Russ stands for dinner, without a “will pay for chair” sign.
– The Lakers finish off their intros with some ring around the rosey skipping shit that I can’t describe any better than that. The Nets go for the more lighthearted hokey pokey-esque finish to their circle fun.
– Sasha “Machine” Vujacic boxes DJ Mbenga’s body, landing pretend blows with clenched fists of metrosexual fury.
– Kobe airballs a fadeaway over the appropriately named Trenton Hassell. Speaking of Trenton Hassell, he should record a YouTube video of himself hassling customers with free upper bowl Nets tickets at the Trenton train stop. Speaking from experience, he would be best suited to head to whichever track has the Septa waiting to take people to Philly.
– It’s Derek Fisher 7, the New Jersey Nets 5. Shortly thereafter, Fisher would be on pace for 76. He didn’t reach it, of course, but math is fun.
– Vince gets careless on an exchange bounce pass to a cutting Devin. I want Vince Carter, once in his career, to play the perfect basketball game: 14-14 from the floor, 6-6 from three, 11-11 from the line, 45 points, no turnovers, 10 assists, 7 rebounds. One victory over an unsuspecting opponent. The reason I bring this up is because he could come close.
– Jay-Z is courtside…NOT WEARING SUNGLASSES…His jacket seems like it was dusted with gold, which is entirely possible. I need to get at that dude. I should be a ghostwriter. Sell him or his label some fire. There was a dude on page 34 of the most recent XXL (Killa Cam cover) that looked like he could use some. When you’ve written an entire album’s worth of material that’s the same title of said dude’s mixtape, you tend to think about these things.
– VC flips in a pretty floater off glass. Between five Lakers. 18-16, Hollywood.
– It’s great to see the IZOD Center mostly full. I haven’t seen it this full since the Cavs-Nets series almost two years ago.
– I’m sitting next to my friend—gasp if you need, I’m totally serious—Charley Rosen. For those that need more, Charley and my father are buddies. Charley offers that the Nets love to front the post. He isn’t on board philosophically with this is and, not surprisingly, Gasol burns the Nets for an and one after getting fronted by Josh Boone. Before you pooh-pooh this as bias, just know that Nets coach, Lawrence Frank, the longest tenured coach in the Eastern conference, reads Rosen, too. Check your radar for a potential change in strategy.
– REVERSE SHOWTIME: VC finishes the oop off of a pretty Devin Harris alley.
– Trevor Ariza knocks down a long jumper. Loving that development; remember, he’s an All-Apples selection.
– I’m pretty sure Gary Susman is mispronouncing Sasha’s last name on purpose: Voo-ja-Chich? Erm…
– The Lakers are showing little ill effect in their shot-making on the second night of this back to back. Gasol and Fisher are particularly impressive. Kobe would be off, but he’s dealing with various knick knacks and bugaboos.
– Kobe abuses CDR with a blow by, behind-the-back feed to Gasol for a flush. 39-27, LakeShow.
– Jordan Farmar goaltends a Jarvis Hayes layup into the basket. I assert that this should count for four points: the two he subtracted and the two he added.
– If Brook Lopez were an Outkast album, he’d be The Love B Lo.
– The Nets are frazzled and confused without Vince and Devin on the floor (VD w/o VD!). CDR is especially mistake-prone. This is unfortunate because, after some noticeable growth, I was hoping to see him do well against the big boys. At least Bobby Simmons is there to follow his shot. 43-31, Bollywood.
– A tech is called on Josh Powell. This is somewhat surprising because I wasn’t aware Powell had earned the right to argue.
– DJ Mbenga checks in to team with J-Pow on a quest for world domination. Hopefully, they don’t try to argue with anyone postgame.
– If I don’t have to watch another Mbenga eight-foot fadeaway again, I’ll be happy. He’s too muscular, overbearingly muscular one might say. Dude is like the hunchback of Notre Congo.
– The Nets have done a great job rebounding missed free throws, and rebounding in general. That and an ability to find Brook Lopez rolling to the rim have kept them in the game so far. For what it’s worth, Phil Jackson would criticize Pau Gasol’s first half rebounding after the game. And that’s about the only bad thing you could say about his performance.
– Kobe is 1-9 from the floor. I’m wondering if the living mic embodiment of MJ/LBJ sitting courtside is bothering him, but I’m going to guess no. Remember kids, shooting is very much mental.
– Kudos to Lamar Odom for consistently sticking the midrange J.
– The Nets need to see a camel (trust me on this, I recently saw a camel) because they can’t get over the hump. They tie the game and the Lakers immediately go on a game-changing 16-0 run.
– When I tell Charley that the Nets are 6-15 at the stripe, he quips “the Lakers play great D at the foul line.” If there’s anyone that knows about Laker foul line defense, it’s Rosen. Or Roland Lazenby.
– It’s Front-Runners Ville all up in here. I can’t stand it. Really, all of you are true Lakers fans?
– The Lakers have 18 steals. Bernie Madoff demands royalties.
– Pau Gasol, animated after an offensive foul, is fun to watch, though I wish he’d complain louder, and in Spanish. “Madre mia! Porrr Faaaavvvvvvoorrrrrrrrr.”
– Open threes for Keyon Dooling and Jarvis Hayes help the Nets cut into the deficit. Hayes, whose jumper spent the first half in the freezer, would find his inner toaster and help the Nets throughout the frame. He’s frustrating case: one half you’re begging him not to shoot, the next half he’s spot-up-tastic.
– Josh Boone’s touch—and I mean touch as it pertains to all facets of the game (layups, free throws, ball handling around the rim)—leaves a lot to be desired.
– Turnovers are severely derailing the Nets’ cause. Had they taken better care of the ball, they might have been able to pull this one out.
– The Nets go zone, but it’s a swiss cheese zone. Charley calles it a donut zone because there’s a giant hole in the middle. Russ calls it the O-Zone.
– Brook Lopez’s jumper needs some work. Stay close to the basket, big man! Know where your bread is buttered.
– The Lakers struggle to land the knockout blow.
– The face Lamar Odom makes after the game sealing putback pretty much says it all.
– We waited for Kobe. Yeah…
KD says he’s happy in OKC and excited about the future: “There were a lot of unknowns for Kevin Durant concerning what basketball and life would be like in Oklahoma. But in a short time, the budding superstar has come to a conclusion. ‘I love it,’ said Durant in a telephone interview. ‘The weather is unpredictable. You don’t know when it’s going to snow or rain. But the people here are nice. Nice people. I didn’t know anything about it other than playing here in college [at the University of Texas]. Flat land. ‘But after coming here and seeing the city, I love Oklahoma. The fans have been with me every night. What more can you ask for?’”
Hoops fans in the Bay Area must be thrilled with this prospect: “Regardless of how his team is doing at the time, Golden State coach Don Nelson said Saturday night he’s planning to retire when his contract expires following the 2010-11 season. ‘I’ll do two more years and that will be it,’ Nelson said in an interview with InDenver Times before his Warriors lost 129-116 to the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Asked if those in the Warriors front office are aware of his plans, Nelson said, ‘I don’t know.’”
by Aaron Kaplowitz
It’s a designed last-second play that the Villanova Wildcats rehearse at the end of every practice. The ball is inbounded near half-court to Dante Cunningham who hits a streaking Scottie Reynolds. The rest is up to him.
“That play works maybe once every 500 times,” Villanova assistant coach Doug West said.
The Wildcats tested the odds and put the ball—and their season—in Reynolds’ hands. The junior point guard dashed toward the basket and hit a desperate runner over Gilbert Brown with five-tenths of a second remaining to give ‘Nova the 78-76 victory over Pittsburgh in Boston.
Players rarely execute desperation plays the exact way they are drawn up in practice, but those who do in late March secure their legacy in the Tournament’s heroic lineage. Christian Laettner begat Tyus Edney who begat Bryce Drew who begat Scottie Reynolds.
“It’s something that you think about as a youngster,” Reynolds said, “advancing yourself to the Final Four or winning the championship. And to do it with these guys on my back…”
Before ‘Nova Nation could celebrate, Pitt had one last shot to salvage a stellar season. With half of a second remaining, Levance Fields took one quick dribble before heaving the ball 65 feet. The ball’s parabolic flight arced on line toward the rim. The 18,871 in attendance fell silent, expecting the unexpected in one of the wildest games in NCAA Tournament history. The ball caromed off the backboard to cue the Villanova celebration.
“I was scared to death [during Fields’ shot],” Wright said. “We could have lost this game, but they still would have earned the right to be good enough to play in a Final Four, just like Pitt did. We just happened to win this game.”
After Reggie Redding hit one of two free throws to put the Wildcats up by four with 20 seconds to play, Villanova appeared Detroit-bound. But on the Panthers’ next posession Villanova focused entirely on its perimeter defense, allowing Fields to find DeJuan Blair wide open for a quick layup, cutting the gap to a basket, 76-74, with under 11 seconds to play.
On the inbounds, Redding slung the ball downcourt, looking for Cunningham on the deep route. Cunningham handled the pass while falling out of bounds and tried chucking the ball off Jermaine Dixon’s leg. He missed, allowing Dixon to scoop the ball up and push it forward to Fields, who was fouled. Calm, Fields hit both free throws to tie the game at 76 with seconds remaining to set up Reynolds’ career-defining play.
“Somebody had to lose today,” said Pitt’s Sam Young, who led all scorers with 28 points. “Unfortunately we came up short.”
The selfless Dwayne Anderson led Villanova with 17 points and six rebounds. Reynolds finished with 15 points on his way to being named the East Region’s Most Outstanding Player. For Pitt, Blair had 20 points on 9-9 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Villanova is heading to Detroit for its first Final Four since 1985, when Rollie Massimino led the Wildcats to their only national championship.
In the locker room following the game, Cunningham allowed himself a moment to reflect on all the hard work he and his teammates invested to get to this point:
“This means the six A.M. workouts we fought each other over, the five A.M. runs on the football field with the dew still in the air, this means the busted lip, the messed up knees and ankles we came across, everything that just hurt, and now we don’t feel no pain,” he said.
Villanova has a date set with North Carolina to determine who will earn the right to play for the national championship.
“I hope they enjoy it,” Massimino said.
Kidd certainly wouldn’t mind: ” This summer Kidd will become an unrestricted free agent and there’s a good chance that the Cavs will again look into his availability. He has said he wants to remain a Maverick, but Sunday he certainly made it seem like playing alongside James in Cleveland was a viable option. ‘I could sit and watch from the bench,’ Kidd said. ‘[LeBron] is so talented, he’s going to get guys wide open shots. So we’ll look at free agency and what happens for me next year.’”
by Marcel Mutoni
It took a while, but Dallas Mavs owner Mark Cuban finally got in trouble with the League about something he wrote on his Twitter page. Cuban was fined $25K for criticizing the refs following a game against the Nuggets on Friday night.
Cubes took the fine in stride - and even joked about it - but what has him concerned are the legal rammifications of his online writings. On his personal blog, he asks his readers for clarification:
Here is a question for all you legal scholars out there. Is a tweet copyrightable? Is a tweet copyrighted by default when its published ? Can there possibly be a fair use exception for something that is only 140 characters or less?
I got to thinking about this when I tweeted about an NBA game. I tweeted to the people who follow me. While I never asked that they not distribute it to other tweeters, i did not give anyone permission to republish my tweets in a commercial newspaper, magazine or website.
So when an ESPN.com or any other outlet republishes a tweet, have they violated copyright law? Is twittering the process of publishing in 140 characters or less, or is it a private communications to those that follow you ? Even if you dont block outsiders from seeing it?
I’ll leave it to the legally-minded among you guys to figure the answer to Cuban’s question; I just hope Cuban takes this seriously and eventually forces a meeting with a bewildered David Stern to discuss Tweeting.
This kind of thinking will work out just fine for them, I’m certain: “Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant aren’t sweating it. Jackson shrugged often and Bryant smiled easily after the Lakers on Sunday went sleepwalking through their lowest-scoring game in two years, dating to March 11, 2007…The way he breezily addressed the home-court topic, Bryant appeared to care more about getting to take his daughters to Disneyland or feeding his cupcake cravings at Sprinkles in Newport Beach than facing the Cavaliers at Staples Center. Bryant wound up categorically dismissing the need for home-court advantage, saying: ‘The better team is going to advance, no matter what. It’s just what it is.’ So there you have the Lakers’ state of mind, which is in part why they let this game in Atlanta slip away. Neither the Hall of Fame coach nor the reigning MVP is prioritizing this issue of home-court advantage over Cleveland, so the trickle-down effect has left all the Lakers quite blasé about it.”
Or whatever it is that has him so damn excited all the time: “D’Antoni has met with Robinson to implore him to stop constantly arguing with officials, grabbing at opponents and getting into altercations. He said Robinson always promises he will control his emotions. ‘It’s the next step in his maturity as a basketball player,’ D’Antoni said. ‘To be able to be a winner, he has to get that under control. You just don’t change overnight. But until he does that, there’s always going to be a game or two that goes the wrong way because of him not having that under control.”’
by Marcel Mutoni
It’s only natural (and fitting), I suppose, to want to beat the team that’s given you so many problems in years past.
Dwight Howard knows who he wants to face, and beat, in the postseason this season. Detroit Pistons, come on down!
Howard doesn’t want to see Chicago, Philadelphia or Miami in the first round of the playoffs. He wants Detroit, which has won eight of nine games in eliminating the Magic from the playoffs the past two years.
“Hopefully, we play Detroit again,” Howard said earlier this week. “That’ll be good for us because we have to get over that mental hump. Those guys have beaten us two years in a row and they’ve left a bad taste in our mouths. So hopefully this year, it’ll be different.”
Dwight and the second-seeded Magic might get their wish, too, as the Pistons moved back into seventh place last night following a home win against the Sixers.
A year or two ago, Howard would’ve never uttered such a bold statement, but with an 18-game gap in victories between Orlando and Detroit this season, it appears safe to say that the Magic’s Playoff demons are about to exorcised.
Why can’t we all just get along: “Nuggets center Nene has fired back at Louis Amundson. Four days after Amundson, a Phoenix forward, referred to Nene as a ‘dirty player’ and a ‘fake tough guy,’ Nene had his say. He called Amundson a ’stupid dude’ and a ‘nobody,’ and said a real blow to Amundson would have resulted in a ‘break all of his face.’ It all started last Monday when Nene head butted Amundson midway through the fourth quarter of Denver’s 118-115 loss at Phoenix. Nene then banged into Amundson’s chest and elbowed him, and was whistled for a flagrant foul 2, an automatic ejection.”
by Holly MacKenzie
A bunch of games yesterday, but my focus was firmly on the Raptors/Bulls contest. I was at the game and spotted an empty seat courtside on press row (I’m usually in a different press section), and emailed Raptors PR who told me to make the move, so I was able to watch Derrick Rose, and Ben Gordon in action and watching them will their team back from 18-down was something.
Watching Gordon’s shot over Bosh to tie the game at the buzzer and force overtime was special. Watching Rose go inside again and again, fearless as he went to the hoop was amazing. He ended up turning the ball over in traffic on the Bulls final possession in the extra session, but it didn’t even matter. 23 points and 9 assists later, he’s no rookie.
He deserves the award though. And you know I was on the OJ side of things. I can’t deny Rose any more. So calm and collected. Except for that turnover at the end of the game. He was furious with himself then. I felt for him. Good win for the Raptors though. Love how they string a four game winning streak together now that it doesn’t really matter.
I really, really, really hope we have Pops Mensah-Bonsu here next season. How guys like this don’t latch on with an NBA team quicker, I don’t know. I’m so happy for him though, whether with Toronto or not, he’s earned himself a contract next season. Chatted with him a bit postgame about the NBDL and his diet. Turns out he’s trying to eat better and take care of his body now, before that metabolism slows down. This led to an interesting convo about per diem and the NBA versus the NBDL.
Speaking of the game, the Raptors won in overtime, 134-129. Chris Bosh finished with 31 points and 15 rebounds as Jose Calderon had 22 points as he tied the franchise-high with 19 assists. The Bulls had a 37-point night from Ben Gordon, while Derrick Rose had 23 points and 9 assists and Joakim Noah scored 16.
Thoughts go out to Stephen Jackson who will miss the rest of the regular season after having surgery on his toe. Kinda screws with my fantasty team and playoffs start today. I’ve been in first for most of the season and I want to keep it that way. Wish me luck.
Thoughts also go out to Mike Taylor, who went down hard after banging knees with Yao Saturday night. He came back into the game, but man, tough break when you’ve finally been given your chance. Hope he doesn’t need any down time.
Okay, so the Lakers were defeated by the Hawks. I didn’t see this, but CoCo tells me so. 86-76 for the Hawks and it looks like it was an ugly one from the boxscore. Neither team shot over 40% and Kobe Bryant and Joe Johnson were fighting each other for the ugliest fg %. Bryant finished 7-19 for 17 points while Johnson finished 4-18 for 10 points. Pau Gasol had 21 and 11 for LA while Mike Bibby had 21 for the Hawks. The Lakers scored just 13 points in the first quarter for a season-low.
The Cavs took down the Mavs easily, 102-74. It was ugly for Dallas. The highlight of the game happened in the third quarter when LeBron James ran into a ref and went down. We were watching in the press room before the Raps tip off and everyone in that room stopped what they were doing as a hush came over us until we saw that Bron was okay. Funny how he can stop the world with a fall. Anyway, the Cavs have another home win, have won 12 straight and have the best record in the NBA. Give this man the MVP and give the Cavs an award for their entertaining intros, I’m enjoying watching them. Bron had 24 points and 12 assists, Mo Williams added 22 points and Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 14 points and 9 boards. Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavs with 20 points, while Jason Terry and Erick Dampier each added 10 points.
I still haven’t seen Bron’s halfcourt shot on 60 minutes that everyone keeps on linking to, apparently it’s not available in my country. Whatever.
The TWolves were killing the Nets for most of the game but New Jersey made a game of it late before falling, 108-99. Vince Carter had 36 points in the loss while Devin Harris ended up with 19. The Wolves were led by Mike Miller’s 22 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. Ryan Gomes scored 21 points while Rodney Carney added 19 off of the bench. Kevin Love added 16 points and 11 rebounds in the victory.
Allen Iverson and Rip Hamilton returned to the lineup for the Pistons, Hamilton starting and Iverson coming off of the bench and the Pistons defeated the Sixers 101-97 thanks to a fourth quarter that saw them outscore Philadelphia 22-14. Tayshaun Prince scored 21 for the Pistons, Rodney Stuckey scored 16 and Rip Hamilton scored 14. Andre Igoudala had 27 points 7 rebounds and 5 assists in a losing cause for the Sixers as Thaddeus Young added 22.
The Hornets escaped with a win over San Antonio, 90-86, thanks to Chris Paul having the mind to throw up a shot just over the half when he was fouled with 7.1 seconds remaining, to draw three free throws. After hitting all three, the Hornets were up four and went on to the victory after a shaky final few minutes that saw the Spurs cut a seven-point lead down to one in a matter of seconds. Paul finished with 27 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists as David West scored 23 points to go with 16 rebounds. The Spurs were led by a 19-point, 15-rebound night from Tim Duncan as Tony Parker added 20 points and 7 assists and Manu Ginobili scored 17 off of the bench.
Losing 126-118 is another nail in the coffin for the Phoenix Suns and their playoff hopes. One night after losing to the Blazers, the weary Suns came to Sacramento and fell again. While they still have time to make up ground on Dallas, they are going to have to get some help from the Mavs if they want to make the postseason. In this one, Spencer Hawes was great for the Kings, finishing with 20 points to go with 10 rebounds while Jason Thompson scored 21 points and Francisco Garcia and Andres Nocioni each scored 19. The Suns were led by Steve Nash’s 31 points and 14 assists as Shaquille O’Neal added 24 points and 9 rebounds and Jared Dudley added 17 off of the bench.
Stephen’s younger bro is not down with the mid-major scene anymore; he’ll be in the ACC (Cameron, to be exact) for the 2010-11 season.
As the NCAA Tourney winds down and 64 teams are whittled down to 1 (I see you, Scottie Reynolds), we continue to unveil Old School SLAM stories that are on-point. This week we take a look back at the ’76-77 NCAA Champs, Marquette. Now known for Dwyane Wade, Tom Crean and their unique jerseys, Al McGuire’s Marquette team was once the champs. Here is how SLAM recaptured that title game in SLAM #59.–Tzvi Twersky
by Ryan Jones
“Coach never actually got it out of his mouth, that he was quitting.” This is how Bo Ellis remembers it. He was there, with his teammates, crowded into a downtown Milwaukee restaurant on a cold December night, when Al McGuire came as close as he could to giving his players the news.
“He said coaching was starting to take a toll on his health, just felt like it was time to stop,” explains Ellis, a 6-9 senior forward and captain of that ’76-77 Marquette basketball team. “But to this day, he never got it out to say he was quitting. He broke down and started crying, and ran out of the restaurant. We finished our meal and kind of went about our business.”
It was a week before Christmas, and Al McGuire, in the midst of his 13th season as head coach, was 48 years old. His teams had averaged 25 wins a season over the past 10 seasons and made it to the ’74 NCAA Final. His career and his program were in their prime, and he stepped away. It’s hard to imagine now, even for those of us whose basketball memories don’t go back that far, whose only direct recollection of McGuire is of the quirky, refreshingly genuine TV analyst, not the street-smart, unconventional coach. Without ever getting the words out, McGuire—who died in January, 2001, at age 72—told his players the current season would be his last.
And then, as Ellis says, the Warriors (Marquette teams are now known as the Golden Eagles) went about their business. Their season had taken an unpredictable turn, but that didn’t change the goal they’d set before it began: a championship. Marquette finished the ’75-76 season No. 2 behind Indiana—and that Hoosier team went 32-0. “We were second to Indiana, who some say was the best team in the history of college basketball,” says Butch Lee, the hard-driving guard who joined Ellis as an All-American candidate in ’76-77. “So I said, Next year’s gonna be our year.”
“Next year,” interrupted as it was by McGuire’s announcement, became far more difficult than Ellis, Lee or anyone else would’ve guessed. A preseason No. 1 in many publications, Marquette lost seven games during that long, strange winter, and entered the final weekend of the regular season unsure if they’d even make it to the Tournament—then boarded a plane for Ann Arbor to play at No. 3 Michigan. They got the news at halftime—yes, they’d been invited to the Dance—then went out and lost by a point to the Wolverines. And it didn’t matter at all.
“We realized that once we got the bid,” Lee remembers, “we were gonna win that thing.”
The ’76-77 North Carolina Tar Heels faced a different set of obstacles. “I remember somebody sent flowers to the basketball office with a note that read, ‘Carolina is dead.’ You know, like sending flowers to a funeral,” Walter Davis chuckles, remembering how the Heels were written off in midseason after senior center Tommy LaGarde was lost for the year with a knee injury. “After that, I think we lost two games the rest of the way.”
Actually, it was three—but the third didn’t come until the NCAA final. Led by the sweet-shooting Davis, All-American pg Phil Ford and precocious freshman Mike O’Koren, Carolina lost two in a row after LaGarde’s injury, then rolled to 15 straight wins. That run was impressive enough on its own, but all the more so considering both Davis (broken finger) and Ford (hyperextended elbow) were injured in the postseason, and each entered the championship game as damaged goods. As Ford says, “You have to give Coach Smith credit for getting the walking wounded as far as he did.”
Dean Smith was in his 16th season, and like McGuire, he knew his squad had potential. “We were excited about that team,” Smith says. “In December, we were out in Portland to play a real good Oregon team, and we crushed them. I thought, Gee, this team could win a championship.”
When it mattered most, the Jersey kids stepped up. Although they played in different time zones at decidedly different programs for diametrically opposite coaches, they had at least two important things in common: roots, and a knack for big play in big games.
Jim Boylan, Marquette’s starting point guard that season, had spent the previous two years at Division 2 Assumption (MA) College. Mike O’Koren, the smooth, lanky 6-8 forward, started almost immediately at Carolina, averaging 14 and 7 as a rook. What they shared was a Jersey City upbringing—they came up playing ball together just across the river from the Manhattan skyline—and pivotal roles in the ’77 final. How they ended up in that game, wearing opposing colors, is a story in itself.
“We used to get calls for transfers, but we didn’t take them,” Smith tells. “So Boylan called, and I called Al and told him Jim would be calling.”
“It’s ironic how it happened,” adds Hank Raymonds, McGuire’s lead assistant. “I saw Jim in high school, he was terrific. We got the call from North Carolina, and I said, If they can’t use him, we gotta get him, he can play!”
And so he could, starting alongside Lee to form one of the best backcourts in the nation that year. And Boylan wasn’t the only Marquette player with a quirky UNC connection. There was Lee, who played for Puerto Rico (he was born on the island) in the ’76 Olympics because he wasn’t invited to try out for the U.S. Against the Americans, Lee scored 35 points to lead Puerto Rico to a near-upset. But the U.S.—coached by Smith and led by Ford, LaGarde, Davis and ’76 UNC grad Mitch Kupchak—survived 95-94.
And then there’s Ellis, by all accounts a shoo-in for the U.S. squad in ’76, whom Smith called “the smartest forward in college basketball.” As Smith recalls, the U.S hopefuls were asked to run a mile during training camp. When Ellis’s turn came, “He ran one lap and kept running,” Smith laughs. “I didn’t see him again until the championship game.”
Ellis remembers it differently. “I don’t think I’ve told this story before,” he says from his office at Chicago State University, where he’s head basketball coach. As Ellis tells it, he became ill during the run—a combination of grits and eggs in his stomach from breakfast and the heat of a 96-degree day—and couldn’t finish. That, and being homesick after traveling to Brazil for a pre-Olympic tournament, negated Ellis’s excitement about making the squad. “If I had to do it again, I would’ve been on that ’76 Olympic team, would’ve won a gold medal,” Ellis says now. “It’s a big mistake, but it had nothing to do with Coach Smith. He was very fair to me.”
Maybe, but as Davis cracks, “I think he used it as motivation anyway.”
Regardless, there was no shortage of motivation when UNC and Marquette tipped off on March 28, 1977 in front of 16,086 fans at The Omni in Atlanta, GA. Both teams were battle-tested: The Heels won their four previous Tourney games by a total of 13 points, including a one–point win over favored UNLV in the Final Four, while the Warriors survived scares against Kansas State and UNC-Charlotte.
Then there was the drama surrounding McGuire’s last game—and his potential to go out on the highest possible note—all played up heavily during the pregame by NBC’s Curt Gowdy, who intoned, “Al McGuire says goodbye tonight…He’s been a winner all the way, the most quoted, the most controversial and the most colorful college coach in America.” For the game’s first 20 minutes, he also looked like the smartest.
When Ellis picked up his second foul 1:38 into the game, McGuire, loath to go deep into his bench, kept his star forward in the game and protected him by switching defenses from man to zone. Crisis averted—Ellis played the entire half without picking up another foul and had 8 points and 7 boards at halftime. With 15, Lee—a Marbury-esque scoring guard whom NBC’s Billy Packer (clad in a godawful red plaid jacket) called “probably the most powerfully built and explosive guard that’s played college basketball in a long time”—was the leading scorer of the half. But it was a team effort, from the 11-1 run late in the first half to the stifling zone defense that helped hold the injured Davis and Ford to a combined 8 points, that gave the Warriors a 39-27 halftime lead.
From there, it was Smith’s turn to look smart—and he got help from O’Koren. The day before, O’Koren was asked if his 31-point effort against UNLV was a career high. His response: “Yeah, so far.” Laughing about it now, the current Nets assistant says, “It made me come out looking really cocky. I meant, yeah, so far, not like, Yeah, against Marquette I’m gonna get 35. So McGuire’s like, ‘Yeah, the cocky kid from Jersey City.’”
O’Koren had reason to be proud on this night, scoring 8 of the Heels’ first 10 points of the second half. He finished with 14 and a team-high 11 boards—the only double-double of the game—before fouling out in the final 90 seconds. For the moment, though, he had the Heels back in the game, and the UNC took its only lead of the half moments later, when reserve Tom Zaliagiris converted a steal into a layup for a 45-43 edge. Bernand Toone, one of two Marquette reserves to step on the court, tied it a minute later with a jumper. And that’s when the chess match emerged.
“It was sort of a cat-and-mouse game,” O’Koren says, describing the 2-minute, 57-second UNC possession that followed. It wasn’t until Toone’s game-tying basket that Smith went into “four corners”, the clock-chewing set that, before the advent of the shot clock, allowed his squad to hold the ball indefinitely. And when his coach gave the order, O’Koren had the best seat in the house. “I was at the scorer’s table trying to get back into the game, and I’d watch Coach Smith to my right, and Coach McGuire to my left,” O’Koren says, describing the back-and-forth strategizing. “Coach McGuire would say ‘zone,’ then Coach Smith would say, ‘Go four corners, get them out of zone,’ because he wanted to play against them man-to-man. Then when they came out of man-to-man, we’d go into our offense, and Coach McGuire would yell, ‘Back to a zone!’”
Smith successfully used the famous stalling tactic for much of his career, but on this night, it might have backfired. After nearly three minutes, senior backup Bruce Buckley cut toward the left block for a go-ahead layup. It was Buckley’s only shot of the game, and Bo Ellis ate it alive, swatting away any whiff of Carolina momentum. Still, every coach and player involved in the game agreed that Smith’s decision to go to the four corners was the right one. “Dean Smith caught some hell, but he shouldn’t have,” Raymonds says now.
Marquette went into a stall of its own, holding the ball for more than a minute before regaining the lead. Trapped at the top of the key, Ellis saw Boylan cutting toward the basket a half-step ahead of Ford. Boylan caught the bounce pass on his fingertips, pump-faked once under the basket, and threw in a reverse layup for a 47-45 lead with 8:31 left.
Carolina tied in once more on two Davis free throws, but Marquette scored on the next two possessions, and that four-point lead was airtight. For the game, the Warriors hit 23 of 25 from the stripe, including 12 straight in the final 1:29. With Marquette unwilling to miss from the line, and playing before the era of the three-point shot, Carolina was helpless.
In the final seconds of the 67-59 win, Al McGuire sat on the Marquette bench and sobbed. Struggling to check his emotions, spent and relieved and disbelieving all at once, he was barely able to acknowledge Smith when the Carolina coach jogged down the sideline to offer a quick congratulatory handshake. Then, as his players and fans celebrated all around him, he stood up, walked through the frantic crowd and into the locker room, overcome.
Lee, who finished with 19 points, won outstanding player honors and was joined on the All-Tournament team by Ellis (14 points, 9 boards) and junior center Jerome Whitehead, who finished the game with 8 points, 11 boards and 2 blocks. But Boylan might’ve been the real MVP—he helped shut down Ford, scored 14 points on 5 of 7 field goals and 4 of 4 from the line, and hit arguably the games biggest basket. Of the player he passed over a year before, Smith says, “He made some great shots. I thought he was the key.”
UNC was paced by O’Koren and Davis, who followed up a foul-plagued first half by scoring 18 of his game-high 20 points in the second half. Ford, hampered by elbow and Marquette’s D, shot 3 for 10 and finished with 6 points.
The game’s legacy is daunting. In all, 17 of the 21 players who stepped on the floor that night—not counting LaGarde, a ’77 first-rounder—were eventually drafted. The coaching ranks also benefited: Ellis, at Chicago State, while Carolina guard John Kuester, an assistant to fellow UNC alum Larry Brown with the Sixers, joins O’Koren and Suns assistant Boylan on NBA benches. But the real legacies can be traced to the men who coached the games, especially McGuire, whose stunning success over a comparatively short span is all the more intriguing by his unorthodox methods. “Al was a showman, a maverick, this was all a part of his getup. But he lived for the game,” says Raymonds. “Practice, forget about it. We had players tackle him on the floor, fight with him, we used to have a zoo. But when it came time to play…I tell you, he knew what was going on.”
No doubt—and now, 25 years later, so do his players. “After the game, Coach told us that as time goes by, this will be even more significant that it is now,” Boylan says of the game. “And that was absolutely true.”
by Franklyn Calle
According to multiple reports, New York City native Lamont “Mo-Mo” Jones has de-committed from Virginia Tech. The 6-0 senior guard initially committed to Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals last spring after his junior season at American Christian before de-committing over the summer and committing to the Hokies last November. At the time when he picked VTech, Jones was also being recruited by Charlotte, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Georgetown, Providence, Southern California, Cincinnati, and Memphis. He started his high school career at NYC powerhouse, Rice High School, where he spent his first two years before transferring to American Christian last year. After the school closed down in June, Jones ended up at Oak Hill Academy in last fall.
“I really thought Virginia Tech was a good fit for him. An opportunity to play and play in the ACC. I was a little disappointed. But he wants to open things up,” Oak Hill Academy head coach Steve Smith told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Smith also told the paper that Jones has set up a visit to Southern California for the April 10-12 weekend.
Early in the week, Josh Davis gave a verbal commitment to N.C. State. The 6-5 senior was also considering High Point, Gardner-Webb, and North Carolina-Wilmington among others. According to ESPN.com, Davis averaged 16.0 points and 8.0 rebounds for Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. He now joins Lorenzo Brown-a 6-4 shooting guard from Centennial HS in Georgia, Scott Wood-a 6-6 shooting guard from Marion HS in Indiana, and Richard Howell-a 6-8 forward from Wheeler HS in Georgia as part of the Wolfpack’s 2009 recruiting class.
The Tulsa World reported on Thursday that Donte Medder has given Tulsa University a verbal commitment. The 6-1 point guard was also considering Southern Methodist, St. Mary’s, Rutgers, and San Diego State. According to the report, the Arizona native averaged 22.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game at Mesa High School and also took visits ST. Mary’s and San Diego State. Medder now joins Bryson Pope, a 6-6 shooting guard from Jenks High School in Oklahoma, and Kodi Maduka, a 6-10 power forward from James Martin High School in Texas.
The Newport New Daily Press reported that Tre Lee won’t be suiting up for Liberty University this fall. After verbally committing to the school in December, the 6-5 shooting guard, who attends Bethel High School in Hampton, Virginia, is back on the recruiting market again. It is unclear whether Lee de-committed or Liberty took the offer off the table but Lee’s HS coach told Newport Daily Press the following: “The details, I’m not at Liberty to discuss. He had given a verbal commitment, which is not legally binding, and now he’s shopping around and trying to find some interest.” Liberty has three commitments for 2009 recruitng class in Chris Perez-a 6-4 shooting guard from Oldsmar Christian High School in Florida, Ovie Soko- a 6-8 forward from Bethel High School in Virginia, and Joel Vander Pol-a 6-10 center from Evangelical Christian High School in Florida. According to ESPN.com, Lee originally had interest from St. Louis, George Mason, George Washington, and Richmond.
The New York Daily News reported on Thursday that Lance Stephenson is “leaning heavily” toward Kansas. Stephenson is expected to announce this Tuesday in Miami at the McDonald’s All-American media day. The report also says that St. John’s is still in the mix. He is down to three schools in Kansas, St. John’s and Maryland, with St. John’s being the only school he didn’t take an official visit to. But at the same time he has played at St. John’s for the last four years in quarter-finals and semifinals games and knows the entire staff, so does he really need to pay an official visit to the school? A good point made by the report is that if he was to pick St. John’s, he would have announced it at Madison Square Garden after PSAL championship played last week, which was where Stephenson initially had told reporters that he would make an announcement. But it is believed that after the Kansas visit last month, Stephenson decided to move the announcement date to the Miami. Kansas’ assistant coach, Danny Manning, has been recruiting the 6-5 senior guard heavily the last month or so. Stephenson along with John Wall, are the two biggest high profile prospects remaining in the 2009 recruiting class. We shall find out his destination in the next few days.