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We Got the Best Player in the NBA. And Timmy Too.

Hello there, my pretties. As you're no doubt aware, I've missed recapping the past two games because of my Reno sojourn, so in order to fulfill my contractual obligations to both PtR and Spurs Dynasty (which means I can't post the same stuff, in it's original format, in both places) I'm just going to write one long blog and break it up in two. Part I will be the Rockets game, on Spurs Dynasty, and Part II, the Heat game, will be on PtR. So, um...enjoy, I guess.

Part I.

Spurs 88, Heat 78

Okay, so the title of the post is a tad on the hyperbolish side. But the idea is not as preposterous as it once was, no? We'll get to Opus, in copious amounts, later on.

We woke up early on Wednesday, good and pissed about the Spurs and our gambling misfortunes from the night before. OK, I guess technically that was just me. Manolis was Manolis, so annoyingly Manolis. Completely unflappable, unless I happen to flap him. I, however, was in no flapping mood.

We woke up like at 8:30 or something, ridiculously early for a vacation, and watched the last 90% of the Bourne Ultimatum or whatever the last one was called. It was aiight, but since I actually read the books, there was no chance I'd ever truly enjoy the films. They're completely different stories, and to go into detail about it would just frustrate me and bore you, so I digress.

We ate a mediocre breakfast at Tavoli, (the Chinese food was much better) and took a short walk to Harrah's to make a dinner reservation at their fancy steakhouse. Plus, we were hoping their sports book would have kinder odds than the Eldorado one. No dice there. Actually, you can't even wager on Celtics games at Harrah's because apparently one of their minority owners is the CEO of the hotel chain or something. And you know how David Stern pretends to feel feels about gambling.

We quickly got sidetracked at Harrah's by this new blackjack game they were experimenting with, called Blackjack Switch. In it the gimmick is that you play two hands at a time, open-faced, and that you have the option to switch the 2nd card (the one closest to the dealer) of both hands with each other. So an A-6 and a 5-10 can become an A-10 and a 5-6. Pretty awesome right?

There are a few catches though. First off, you can only switch the top cards, you can't make diagonal switches. So if you get like 4-Q and 6-J you can't make it 4-6 and J-Q, all you can do is make it 4-J and 6-Q, which makes no difference, unless you're really superstitious or stupid. Secondly, you only get paid off even money for blackjacks, and you only get paid automatically if you're dealt a natural blackjack. If you switch to make it a blackjack, then you have to wait it out and hope the dealer doesn't push you. Finally, if the dealer gets a 22, he/she doesn't bust. It's a push, whether you have 20 or 12, it's a push. That's not as big of a deal as you'd guess really, only came up a couple of times for me.

What I like about the game is that it gives players a lot more opportunities to double down, which is how you make your real profit in blackjack if you know what you're doing. That's how I got my $60 wager, actually. I had two $15 bets, and got dealt A-4 and 7-2 against the dealer's 5 card. I switched my hands to make A-2 and 7-4, doubled down both to make it two $30 bets and was lucky enough to have the dealer bust. I won a $100 pretty quickly and felt like my fortunes were turning after that miserable -$320 Tuesday I suffered.

We planned on playing Hold 'em poker because we figured it'd be a good way to pass the time and the money would trickle down a lot slower than at the tables, but we had to back to Eldorado because nobody was at the Harrah's poker room. Before we sat down though I wanted to test to see how my blackjack luck would carry over to the conventional game and I plopped another $100 down and played with quarters ($25). Wouldn't you know I won four straight bets, even getting a blackjack on the first one, and made like $110 in literally two minutes. Like an idiot, I left.

Like a bigger idiot, I promptly blew the ten bucks on the roulette, waiting for Manolis. None of my ten numbers came up, his 23 did. The Number 23? Whoa. Off we went to poker.

I hadn't played in a while and I despise 3-6 where no one ever folds. I hadn't played in forever and was rusty as heck, fumbling my chips like a moron, but I got up to +60 quickly before I started playing like a dummy and a few flush draws didn't pan out. I was I think down 60 at one point but built it back up with a couple of lucky straights and flushes and after an hour and a half left there even. Whee. I'm telling you 3-6 Limit is pointless.

I went to the sports book and made five basketball bets for $19 each plus a $5 parlay on all five. I took the Spurs -11.5 vs. the Heat, the Celtics -6 vs. Nuggets, who had lost the night before at New York, the Pacers -6 vs. the Clippers who had won the night before at Chicago, the Suns -4.5 at Atlanta, and the Hornets, -2.5 at Portland. We'll get to those later.

Still having an hour to kill before the Spurs game and +$200 on the day, (although half of that was now invested in basketball bets) I decided to try my luck one last time at roulette. The Spurs uniform numbers couldn't be that unlucky, could they? I got 50 $1 gray chips and decided I'd try five more spins of the wheel. 1 chip each on 4, 7, 9, 12, 15, 17, 20, 21, plus 27 (for my favorite active hockey player, Alexei Kovalev of Montreal. All I would need is to have the ball land on one of the numbers twice in five spins to make a profit. It landed once in seven spins and the $50 was gone. The one time it hit was on Brent Barry's 17. He would go on to turn his ankle three hours later. 00 came up twice in the seven spins, 32 once and 33 once. I think Simmons would've made a lot of money.

Frustrated but defiant, I decided to chase the $50 and win it back on the blackjack table. Little did I know that the bespectacled dope sitting to my far left (also known as "3rd base" because he makes the last decision before the dealer) was a complete twit. In the span of two hands this guy stayed on 13 when the dealer had a 9 showing, and then refused to double down on 11 when the dealer had a 6 showing.

Wait, it gets better. The dealer gave him an ace, making his hand 12. So the doofus hits. Of course he does. The dealer gives him a 2. Now he has 14 to the dealer's 6. The bastard hit again and busted, taking the 10 that would've been the dealer's bust card. Sometimes I wonder if these people work for the casino, it's so sick. Naturally the dealer wound up with a five card 20 and beat everyone at the table. The guy to my immediate left muttered, "Can't play with an idiot 3rd baseman" and left. I lost the last of my $50 one hand later and joined him, yelling to no one in particular, "Fucking idiot 3rd baseman."

I don't think the guy was offended. I don't think he had any idea what we were talking about.

Stubborn as a mule I found another blackjack table, got almost all the way back to even, before promptly losing another $100 after the dealer kept making 18s and 19s on hands he should've busted with. All my progress on the day was ruined and I as actually down another $100 if you count the money put into the basketball bets.

I took a short walk around the casino and debated whether I really was stupid enough to chase the money some more. Well guess what? It turned out that I really was. Shocking, I know. However even in my stupidity, I've found a measure of maturity and discipline. You see, when I was a kid, I used to be that idiot guy in the glasses. No, I never stayed on 13 with a 9 showing, but the problem was that I never stayed period. I would routinely hit on 12s and 13s, regardless of what the dealer had, because I thought it was chicken and unmanly to hope for busts. I can only shudder when I think of how many hundreds of dollars that recklessness has cost me.

Now when I play, I'm like a conservative machine, literally on autopilot the whole time. That's why the "switch" game initially appealed to me I think. It was the first time in ages I had to think at the blackjack table. Anyway, my point is that now, unfailingly, I stay on 12 or higher whenever the dealer shows 3 through 6 and I've even found the balls (some would argue lack of balls) to stay on 16. It's just not worth it to hit it, even against a 10. Suppose I have 16 and the dealer has a J. Only five out of 13 cards in the deck don't bust me, and of those five, three could still lead to losses if he pulls another face card and a fourth only would give me a push. Why hit there, hoping for a 4 or 5 to come? Your chances are so small. I refuse to give the house an easy out anymore. Now I make the dealer beat me.

I sat back down on the table, plopped down another Benjamin, made a $50 bet on a hand and lost that. All of a sudden I was down to the last $50. The moment of truth. This hand quite possibly was going to make or break my trip. I got a 9-7 and the dealer showed an 8. I stayed. He busted. I went on a roll and collected 12 of the precious green chips I so yearned for. I was back where I started when I left the poker table, +200 on the day.


Unfortunately my gambling euphoria was all too brief as the second I sat down at the sports book I saw that the Suns were down to the Hawks and the Pacers were in a game with the Clips. In fact, Manolis had made a $25 wager on Cassell and Co. (perhaps he did so because as a Warriors fan he developed an involuntary facial tic at the mere mention of Troy Murphy or Mike Dunleavy Jr.) and he would go on to taunt my Pacer pick for the better part of the next three hours.

Worse still, the Spurs were deadlocked with the pathetic Heat, a squad that had no D-Wade or any other perimeter threat of consequence but did very much have, in excess, one Shaquille O'Neal, still wearing his Jabba the Hutt costume from Halloween.

Like Anakin Skywalker, Shaq Fu has fallen victim to the dark side of the Force. And by the Force of course I mean gravity.
(Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE/via Getty Images)

Still, we went into halftime ahead merely by a point because of an all too common problem - NOBODY ON THE TEAM WAS PLAYING GREAT BESIDES MANU GINOBILI.

<Manu rant>

On one of his posts Matthew raised the question what has gotten into Manu, and as you could've guessed, I have several theories that go beyond the simple, "He's fresh and well rested after a summer of inactivity."

I think Manu is pissed. I mean really pissed.

He's talking trash to Andre 3000 and White Chocolate now. He's dunking on people's grills again. He's even argued with a ref once or twice. Hes' openly trying to embarrass people with his hustle, waiting to pounce like some coiled puma (the most dangerous kind) when he gets the slightest inkling that an opponent is being too lackadaisical, even for a moment. He's playing balls out practically every second that he's out there on the floor like he did in 2003 when he had to prove himself to both his teammates and the league.

And you know what? Maybe he feels like he has to do it all over again.

Say the name "Manu Ginobili" around the league and the first two things people think about are "flopping" and "bald spot." Nobody, outside of John Hollinger maybe, recognizes him as one of the top 15 players on the planet and nobody thinks he's as good now as he was in `04-05 when he had a lot dunks.

The funny thing is he's not as good now. He's better. He's smarter now. He knows what he can and can't do and what his opponents can and can't do. He takes fewer hopeless shots, he puts the ball right in his teammate's breadbaskets on every pass, and he knows when to conserve his energy and when to pick his spots to take over games. The `04 Ginobili couldn't pass or shoot threes like this version. He's at the absolute apex of his game.

You see, for every athlete, their career is like one of those supply and demand graphs you saw in economics class. One line, representing the supply, goes from the bottom left corner of the box to the top right corner and the other line, representing demand, goes from the top left to the bottom right. Wherever the two lines meet is the optimum point of profitability for your wickets or whatever. With an athlete replace the "supply" with "athleticism" and replace the demand with "veteran experience" and you understand why every guy, regardless of talent level has a peak year, relatively speaking.

While athletically most guys are at their peak around 22-24 years old, they don't really know how to play so whatever they're doing, they're doing with their physical skills alone. Conversely there are plenty of 35 year old veterans sticking around, regardless of the team sport, with their bodies almost totally used up, but they're still able to be effective because they think the game so much better than the inexperienced youngsters. Every year they last in the league, the more knowledgeable they get, about themselves, about their opponents, about the refs. I guarantee you that Shaq now is a hundred times smarter when it comes to basketball than he was at 22. It's just that his body can no longer do what his brain tells it to.

Anyway, this is why for most guys, their peak years are between 28-30, the perfect blend of athleticism and experience. Manu came into the league a bit late at 25, and I think that, along with the fact that his limited minutes have produced less wear and tear on his body than the average NBA star, might be the reason that we're witnessing his peak at the age of 30.

Or maybe he's simply willing himself to do it, motivated as hell.

He has a few reasons to feel slighted. After game 7 vs. the hated Mavs two years ago, Pop spent a week consoling him for his last second foul on Nowitzki and defended him to the press. That seemed noble of him, right? Except the coach changed his tune by the time the next training camp rolled around. Go watch the 06-07 Spurs DVD sometime. You see Pop barking at Manu during the drills, "You're not going to have that stupid foul this year, are you?" or something like that. And countless times in the press he countered accusations that the team was too old with, "We were one stupid foul from beating Dallas last year." It was like he blamed Ginobili for the whole season.

There has been a definite shift in Manu and Pop's relationship ever since, and even if the outside world doesn't notice it, I sure do. It's like from that one moment two years ago, Pop has never blindly trusted Manu the way he used to. Almost all the end of quarter plays go to Tony now, even though indisputably Ginobili is still better at them, always creating a good shot for himself or his teammates.

It's no wonder that Manu willingly moved to the bench last year without complaint. He had to put up with half a season of not touching the ball for the first six minutes of the game when he was playing because every single play was called for Tim or Tony would just take it himself. How many times did we see Manu check out at the halfway mark with maybe one shot attempt? It's like he was an afterthought.

Moving to the bench though changed everything. All of a sudden when he checks in he is the first option and the ball is in his hands. He gets to get into the flow of the game right away and he gets to show both Pop and our starters what he's got. Then in the second half, once Pop and Tim and Tony see that he's got it going, they include him in the offense whereas they might not have before. It's kind of a catch-22, but Manu needs to play with scrubs first to prove he's good enough to excel with the starters. Weird.

But going back to the Championship DVD, did you notice that Gino is practically not in it? The playoff highlights make it seem like a two-man team and his contribution to the cause is relegated to the background, no more significant than Finley's or Oberto's. The 33-11-6 game he put up to close out Phoenix, probably the best game he's ever played, isn't mentioned at all. It's like nobody was paying attention at all to the fact that Manu repeatedly saved the team's bacon in all the critical playoff games.
This must be how the defenses of all those great 49ers or Cowboys teams of the 80s and 90s must have felt when their team's highlight video lavished all the credit on the offensive stars while their defenses were quietly dominating the league year in and year out.

But quick, ask yourself, in last year's Denver series, when did Opus have his best nights? Games 3 and 4 in Denver, in an hostile environment back when everyone thought it'd be a long, drawn out series and we'd be lucky to win it.

And pray tell, why are idiots like Kornhiser and all the other nitwits at ESPN still talking about how the Suns got screwed on leaving the bench suspension to Stoudemire? It's because of Manu, that's why. If you remember we were trailing Game 5 in Phoenix by something like 20 points at one time and it was Gino who brought us back from the grave with a big 4th quarter, with an arena full of people raining boos on him for 48 minutes. He saved us from having to go back there in a Game 7, facing not only Amare but a referee crew that surely would've been intimidated and feeling to pressure to give the calls to the home team. When you stop and think about how many millions of dollars Manu cost ESPN and ABC with those 12 minutes, robbing them of their precious LeBron vs. Nash Finals, well you can maybe understand a little why Tony is deemed more "Now" than Manu at Bristol.

Anyway, going back to the playoffs, after Gino helped close out the whiny, bitchy Suns with his career game, the team faced maybe one last moment of adversity. The Jazz had embarrassed the Spurs in Game 3 at Utah and were threatening to make it a series, up double digits in Game 4. It was Manu who changed the tide, once again on the road, by bullying his way into the lane time and again and drawing fouls. Again, this game has been forgotten in the annals of history. It was clearly the most important one of the series. We blew the dispirited Jazz out in Game 5 and off we went to the woefully uncompetitive Finals. And even then, it was Manu's monster 4th quarter and clutch free throws at the end of Game 4 that preserved the sweep and saved the country from having to watch the wretched Cavs for another night.

Finally, I didn't want to turn this into a Manu v. Tony thing, but I'm going to turn it into a Manu v. Tony thing. It seems somewhere along the line in the past two years it became accepted that Parker is the team's second banana and Gino is number three, the "x-factor" or "break glass in case of emergency" guy. I've never understood this.

One guy rebounds better, both offensive and total.
One guy steals the ball more.
One guy blocks more shots.
One guy is a better defender, both man-to-man and in terms of playmaking.
One guy is a better passer.
One guy is a better three point shooter.
One guy is a better free throw shooter.
One guy is a more efficient scorer.
One guy is a better clutch player.

The other guy is better at making lay-ups.

But not by much. (Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/via Getty Images)

So how is player B better than player A again? Because he's married to Eva Longoria. Hey, I'm just the messenger. Sorry, but frankly Parker has invited such rage from me when asked about Manu, he told Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News, "Everybody remembers 2005, when he was on fire. So if he can do that again, that can definitely help us."

Yes, because he clearly hasn't been "helping" you the past two years you croissant. All that Manu did better than this version was dunk. And that, ladies and germs, brings me back to my original point.

Maybe Manu is dunking again because it's the only way idiots notice that he can play.

It's either that or he wants to help Powell get over James White not being on the team anymore.

</Manu rant>

Getting back to the Heat game, thanks to a big 3rd quarter from Opus, it looked like my Spurs -11.5 bet was salvageable indeed, and this was very much good news as I'd already lost the Suns and Pacers bets. We were up by as many as 17 with six minutes to go, but because Pop, who blatantly had money on the Heat, (yeah, I said it)refused to put Duncan back into the game, Shaq made three straight lay-ups on us to get it under ten points. Also, on the other end we got way too 3-pointer happy and neither Bonner nor Finley could hit anything.

No, Stan Van Gundy isn't available to clean up this mess. Why don't you try his brother, you iguana? (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

With the score 84-75 and under 30 seconds to go, all hope seemed lost. I needed a three pointer or a three point play. But then, out of nowhere, Opus spotted a wide open Elson under the basket and threw a laser beam at him that led to an emphatic dunk by Francisco (who was a monster all night) and a foul by Two Bits Hardaway.

Pleasemakethefreethrowpleasemakethefreethrowpleasemake thefreethrow.



One day I'll forgive you Frankie. One day.
(Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE/via Getty Images)

To top off the evening, the God forsaken Blazers upset the Hornets and I ended the Reno trip 1-5 making basketball bets. I'm retarded very bad at this.

After a magnificent dinner at the steakhouse (they even shape their butter like little roses) we finished off the night with the cinematic classic "Balls of Fury" and passed out around 1 AM. I won another $200 in like ten minutes Thursday morning and we got out of there by 11 AM. A good trip, by all accounts, but not a great one.

I think we've got a chance to be a pretty good club this year, and definitely an entertaining one, but for the love of God, learn from my pain and don't play roulette with our jersey numbers.

Your 3 Stars...

3. Tony Parker - Led all scorers with 12 in the first half, on 5 of 7 shooting, and finished with 23 points and 8 assists, plus only one turnover. Really made good decisions about how to attack the Heat defense all night and got it to the open/hot shooters.

2. Francisco Elson - Easily had his finest game of the season with 12 points and 14 rebounds and did a good job of neutralizing Shaq. Some would argue too good as his play inspired Pop to keep Timmy on the bench and likely cost me the bet. I seriously would've given him first star if he made that last free throw. I'm fickle that way.

1. Manu Ginobili - 25-7-7 and 8 of 12 from the field. Completely destroyed the Heat almost singlehandedly in the 3rd quarter with a dozen points. Also, he was +23 in the game when the next highest Spur was +10. Finally, there's this.

Record: 4-1
Up Next: @ New Orleans Hornets, Vs. Milwaukee Bucks.

I'm behind. Recaps coming!