After not having gone to a movie in forever, Manoli and I have seen three in the past week. Apparently our taste is in direct opposition to the mainstream, or at least to the mainstream critics. We saw Unstoppable this afternoon. Sorry ladies, it was not about Tiago Splitter's sex drive. I kinda wish it had been though. Instead it was some Denzel Washington vehicle about trains that was short on thrills and long on meh. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 87%.
A few days before that, we saw Red, starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren. It's about a bunch of ex-CIA operatives who are trying to figure out why they're being hunted down by their own government. Formulaic and boring, a complete waste of time. It's rated 70%.
Last week we saw Due Date, which has been lamely compared to The Hangover because it stars Zack Galifianakis, but in actuality is more like a next era Planes, Trains & Automobiles, on steroids. We laughed ourselves silly and had a wonderful time. It's rated 39%.
I guess it makes perfect sense that I root for the Spurs. I actually find a team that can move the ball and pass and shoot and make the game look beautiful and easy all at once more interesting than what the mainstream public tells me is basketball at its most entertaining: the preening, tone deaf, one-dimensional iso-fest that is the Miami Heat.
Clearly the problem is with me.
Jeopardy basketball question (via IceSlater)
"Who are three people destined to become ESPN executives, Alex."
Eh, screw it. Spurs won a laugher, let's go to the jump...
Here we are, the dreaded sports columnist's lament. What the heck do we write about when just about everyone plays well and there's nothing to complain about? I mean, you can nitpick here or there, but literally no one played poorly in my opinion, all things considered. The Spurs followed the blueprint perfectly: They thumped a crappy Sixers squad on a SEGABABA that was in no mood to compete, stepped on their necks for good early in the third quarter, got their stars plenty of rest and are in the best shape they could possibly be for their own SEGABABA tomorrow. They got some floor time for Gee, got Bonner back into the flow, and even Hill and Blair are starting to come around. We'll get to them all (briefly) shortly.
Me, I'm revved up about our backcourt. For my money it's the best in the NBA. Yeah, I said it. THE BEST BACKCOURT IN THE NBA.
Boston? Allen is too one-dimensional. LA? Fisher sucks. Utah, OKC, New Orleans? Who the heck are their two guards? Miami? Don't be daft.
Right now Manu and (especially) Tony are playing out of their minds. They're scoring at a ridiculously efficient clip, setting each other and their teammates up like Gretzky and Kurri, and seem to be more comfortable playing together than they've ever been. They are an absolute joy to watch, night in and night out, and people out there who are more focused on the league's so-called glamor teams don't know what they're missing.
Surprisingly though, Manu and Tony have been at their most dangerous in their own end, where it's obvious that the coaching staff has taken the reins off them and given them the freedom to gamble. The effect? Well...
clever girl (via afrothunder08)
Yup, they're like a couple velociraptors out there, hunting prey. They're stalking passing lanes, sneaking in from behind, purposely letting people dribble past them so they can poke the ball away. Tony and Manu are a pair of snarling, ravenous beasts, reminiscent to Pippen and MJ back in their heyday. They're wreaking havoc and playing like madmen, lethal and on the verge of frenzy. They are two of the top 20 offensive forces in the world with the ball in their hands but right now I can't stop thinking about their manic, hellbent, rabid defense. Five more steals tonight and a big part of the team's 36 fast break points. They're basketball's answer to Patrick Bateman and Aaron Stampler and I love it. I really fucking love it. This is the most exciting Spurs team in years. They can beat you in so many different ways. I'm practically frothing at the mouth, waiting for them to play some real teams to see if this is for real or just an elaborate tease.
Anyway, here's an observation or two about the participants (I use that term loosely in the Sixers' case) of tonight's game.
Matt Bonner - Good to see him back, even it was mostly in garbage time. His shot looked a bit rusty, but I noticed more vigor on the boards and on D from Rocket than normal. I'm probably wrong, but in my crazy, delusional, conspiracy-driven mind, I can imagine Bonner thinking, "Oh shit, this Splitter kid is pretty good. If I don't start hitting the glass when I come back, I'm never gonna play."
Elton Brand/Andre Iguodala - Pathetic. Seriously, these are supposed to be one of the best forward tandems in the Eastern Conference? Brand bricked a couple of second quarter shots and called it a night. Iguodala had Manu on him and didn't try to drive on him or post him up. These guys gave a token effort for like ten minutes and then checked out completely. I know you were on a back-to-back fellas, but at least pretend to give a damn. It's sad that out of the Sixers, Bobcats, Knicks and Wizards, two of those teams will probably wind up making the playoffs. I'd prefer the Cavs and Nets. At least those teams try hard. Or better yet, do what the MLS does and rank the whole league by record. In their eight-team playoffs, they had six clubs from the West and two from the East. Sure it produced a San Jose-Colorado East Finals, but at least the best teams made it. In the NBA teams like the Grizzles, the Suns and the Warriors will miss the playoffs, and all those teams could trounce anyone in the East not in the top six.
Doug Collins - The Bruce Willis of NBA coaches. He will literally take any job. ANY. JOB. The players have already tuned him out completely. How could a bunch of young guys like that not have the energy or desire to get back in transition? The Sixers let people score in the paint all night, gave up offensive boards to the likes of Gary Neal and Alonzo Gee and just generally looked like they would rather be anywhere else but on the basketball court. Don't they have pride at all? It's just disgusting. It makes me angry, as an NBA fan to see (lack of) effort like that and it's why this league has such a shitty reputation across the country.
Tim Duncan - Forget everything else. The relevant numbers here are 24 and 5, as in 24 minutes and five assists. Thanks to the flu he played through against the Clippers and the blowout tonight, Timmeh hasn't had to do much these past two games. He should be primed for a good game tomorrow, or as a good game as we can possibly expect him to play under SEGABABA circumstances. Really, if he has a stinker on Sunday, then you might as well just sit him for all future SEGABABAs, because if he can't do it tomorrow, he's never gonna do it.
As for the five assists, Tim's passing wasn't very sharp at the beginning of the year, but he's cleaned up that part of his game considerably the past couple of games. Now we gotta see him do it in the post when he's doubled. If he ever gets doubled, that is.
Alonzo Gee - In our first extended look at the would-be defensive stopper, Gee showed some decent lateral quickness in his own end and wasn't afraid or meek. However, it seems to me that because he's an unknown, the refs aren't going to give Gee much of a fair shake against good players, so I don't see what advantage putting him out there would be. Also, we never saw his jumper. In our offense if the small forward can't hit that three from the corner, he can't be on the floor because people will just double off of him. Obviously, we need to see more to form a proper evaluation.
Spencer Hawes/Jrue Holiday - How are either of these gentlemen starters in the NBA? You mean to tell me there aren't guys playing in Spain, Greece or Italy who are better than these schmoes? I don't buy it. Hawes is a complete stiff, far too slow to do anything. Holiday is another standard issue undersized combo guard, fresh off the assembly line, masquerading as a point.
George Hill - Georgie boy must be a mind reader. He knew I've been juggling around the nickname Cubits Zirconium in my head, ready to stamp it on him if he had another couple of lame performances, so he's come through with flying colors and declared, "Hold off, Stampler, I'm back. This is the real me." He's reprieved, for now.
Richard Jefferson - Ho hum 10-4-2-1-1 in 27 minutes. He didn't do a whole lot, but at the same time you're positive that if you needed him to do more, he would have. Isn't that a nice feeling to have with RJ?
Gary Neal - I liked his rebounding. It shows he'll fight and do anything he can to get minutes. Doesn't look like offensively he can do a whole lot besides hit threes though. That's fine.
Andres Nocioni - Poor bastard. He desperately needs to play for a good team. It's gotta be killing him to play with these halfwits. I'm surprised he hasn't thrown up his hands in frustration and taken his talents back across the pond. When you play for a squad as tight and fundamentally schooled in team basketball as Argentina's national team, to have to make a living with the likes of Sacramento and Philly must be a living hell. At least he's well compensated.
Marreese Speights/Lou Williams/Thaddeus Young - Continuing the Jeopardy theme, "I'll take three guys who should be starting for the 76ers, Alex." Credit to them for playing hard. Speights is way better than Hawes and I have no idea why Collins hasn't figured that out and given him some real minutes. Is he coming off an injury? Young can play as a four or a three, depending on where you put Brand. Williams has more traditional point guard size, is quick and willing to defend harder than Holiday does. You can start him alone or the both or them together to create the homeless man's Stephen Curry/Monta Ellis backcourt.
Pop - What's he gonna chew on his guys about? Manu's turnovers? Neal's shot selection? Allowing too many offensive rebounds? He's probably scheming how to do everything possible for us to get our asses kicked tomorrow night so he can drive the point home that we've got a long way to go. On the heels of a six game winning streak, this would be a classic Pop sabotage game.
Chris Quinn - Now that's what a third point guard is supposed to look like. Some shooting, some passing, and he played like he's been with the team for years. Didn't seem confused or passive at all and knew what he was doing out there. Solid debut for Dr. Quinn: Victory Cigar.
Tiago Splitter - Every game Leg busts out something new. Today we saw flashes of a face up game, an improved free throw stroke, and a couple of nifty passes. This kid has a lot of skills, and it's just a matter of him figuring out to do what when. He'll be a nice surprise to spring on OKC tomorrow.
Evan Turner - For me by far the most disappointing part of the game, and I'm not even a Sixers fan. How can a number two overall pick care so little? He just flat out did not compete in the game. He didn't want to play. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It's one thing if people misjudge your ability and you suck. He didn't even TRY. It must make Collins throw up having to play him. His whole attitude was, "Well Iguodala's back, I'm not gonna get many touches, I'll just shut it down." Awful.
I thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster every day that I root for the Spurs, and all of you should too.
Your Three Stars:
3. Manu Ginobili - Game best +29, a far better defensive effort, and 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Almost a flawless performance, outside of a couple of silly, needless passes, but you live with those. As always with Manu, "The beauty is in the attempt."
2. DeJuan Blair - He's back! DeBeast is back! I missed ya, buddy. 13 points (on 5-of-8 shooting), 12 rebounds and some super athletic hustle plays on defense. I'm telling you, this Splitter dynamic has - excuse the awful pun - planted a spur on all the bigs' rear ends. They know all five guys can play, they know Pop isn't afraid to throw any of them out there, and that there's only so many minutes to go around. Blair, Bonner and Splitter have no excuse and no incentive to not bust their ass every second they're on the floor. If they get tired or in foul trouble, there is plenty of cavalry to call in. We should really be able to wear opposing bigs down, constantly bringing in fresh reinforcements, and what I like is that all five guys are different, bringing in a unique mix of skills to the table, forcing foes to constantly have to scramble to account for their various strengths.
1. Tony Parker - Pop said it was his finest game of the season, and who am I to argue? Tony was brilliant at both ends. What he did to the Sixers' guards is illegal in 42 states. I can't think of a single critique of his game right now, but I'm very interested to see how he'll do tomorrow against Westbrook, one of the young pups who has overtaken him in the point guard hierarchy in the eyes of many analysts.
Up Next: Sunday @ Oklahoma City (5-3). The Thunder haven't gotten off to the kind of barnstorming start that most expected and at the moment they are, like the Spurs, just another good Western Conference team, not any more distinguishable than Portland or Dallas. Their last game was a comeback win over the Blazers at home, where a fourth quarter blitz by Durant and Westbrook overshadowed a lackluster first three quarters. The were still a Rudy Fernadez open three from the corner away from losing. Going into the game the Thunder have a lot of advantages. They're at home, they're more rested, they've got youth on their side and there doesn't seem to be anyone on our roster who can slow down their two stars, or even Jeff Green. On the other hand, they've struggled quite a bit shooting the three and they're dead last in the league in assists. Either Westbrook creates offense or it's strictly iso ball, and those kind of teams play into our hands.
It's definitely a scheduled "L" for us, no doubt about it. If we win, the RAGE-o-meter will go to +1, which I'm sure quickens your pulse just imagining such a scenario. As mentioned above, it's a game where Timmy is going to have to step up and have a great night against Ibaka, Green, Nenad Kristic, Cole Aldrich, Nick Collison and whoever else the Thunder decide to throw at him (Shawn Kemp? Frank Brickowski? Ervin Johnson? Jim McIlvaine?). I think this game will tell us a lot about what to expect from The Golden God in 2010.
Or maybe our assassins in the backcourt will come up with 14 steals between them and it'll be moot.