Thursday, August 30, 2007

LeBron Pitches A Perfect Game

LeBron James was a madman on Wednesday night. With leading scorer Carmelo Anthony on the bench with a sore heel and Kobe Bryant playing well, but hardly brilliantly, LBJ made Las Vegas’ Thomas and Mack Center his own personal playground. Against a very game Uruguayan team, the United States found itself searching for a spark. Despite holding a 12-point lead two minutes into the second quarter, Team USA had not looked particularly impressive, the offense running in fits and starts and their ball movement falling short of the standard they’d set in previous outings.


Enter LeBron James.


LBJ re-entered the game with about seven and a half minutes remaining in the second quarter, having already made all five of his first quarter attempts, three of them from behind the 3-point line. Within seconds of returning to the floor LeBron took a Jason Kidd pass on the left wing, elevated in the lane and hammered home as powerful a tomahawk dunk as you’ll ever see. Just over a minute later, LeBron slice through the Uruguayan defense for a transition lay-up, followed by an off-balance finger roll in the lane about ten seconds later. For those of you scoring at home, that’s 8-for-8 for LeBron, and a suddenly commanding 18-point lead for the United States. James added another 3-pointer and a bone-jarring dunk on the baseline just before halftime, giving him 26 points on a perfect 11-for-11 from the field, 4-for-4 on 3-pointers, and giving Team USA a commanding 66-38 halftime lead. It was one of the most exciting and impressive basketball clinics in recent memory, enough to leave anyone watching his performance laughing in disbelief.


Showing a quality that few possess and many relinquish upon entering Las Vegas, LBJ took his winnings and walked away at the highest point. In what was an inspired move by James and Coach K, LeBron spent the entire second half on the bench. With Team USA cruising to yet another blowout win, and a showdown with unbeaten Argentina looming on Thursday night, there was no point in having him on the floor any longer- both individually and from a team standpoint. LeBron had played the perfect game of basketball in the first half: 26 points, 11-11 field goals, 4-4 3-pointers, 4 assists, 2 steals 0 turnovers!


Outstanding work, LeBron! I’m glad I stayed up to “witness” that performance!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

USA Basketball Showing Signs of Recovery

Team USA looks really good.


I realize it’s only been two games. I also realize that Venezuela (ranked #21 in the world) and the Virgin Islands (#38) are not the stiffest of competition, but the United States men’s basketball team has looked downright unbeatable in the first two games of the FIBA America’s Championship in Las Vegas, winning by an average score of 118 (actually 117.5)- 64. That doesn’t just sorta happen. More than any U.S. national team since 1996, the current incarnation of USA Basketball has the look of an actual team, not just a collection of incompatible individual talents that happen to be wearing identical shirts. A chemistry exists between the members of this team that only results from genuine commitment and a desire to make the game easier for one another.


Obviously it’s important to maintain some perspective. Needless to say, this team is only beginning its journey, and match-ups against Brazil and Argentina will serve to either validate this early dominance or to brutally strip off its luster. However, it must be said that right now this team has come flying out of the gates, looking like it actually believes that not only will it not be beaten, but that no team in the world can eve compete. Kobe Bryant has been an outstanding playmaker, looking to make the extra pass that will get his teammates an easy bucket. He, Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups bring experience and a winning pedigree to a team that otherwise has little of either. Aside from this trio, Team USA has a combined 3 trips to the NBA Finals (LeBron James and Tayshaun Prince twice) and just one championship ring (Prince). Additionally, Michael Redd and Mike Miller give this squad a deadly outside threat that’s been missing since Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller were wearing the red, white and blue.


With a full complement of backcourt players, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (particularly LeBron) have been afforded the luxury of being able to play almost exclusively on the wing, rather than having to both set up the offense and finish going to the basket. Playing with talented guards that can spot passing lanes and get him the ball has revealed the possibility that LeBron James is truly at his best making cuts in the halfcourt and filling the lane on the break, not bringing the ball up the court and setting up the offense. Add in the inside presence of Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire, two of the NBA’s top big men, the maturity and defense of Tayshaun Prince, as well as the defense and rebounding of Tyson Chandler (underrated!), and Team USA really does not have any glaring weaknesses. What will happen when this team lines up against the likes of Brazil and Argentina? That remains to be seen. But right now, it needs to be said-this team is STACKED!


Allow me to reiterate. I’m not saying that dishing out a couple of beatdowns to a couple of marginal international teams is cause to hang a “Mission Accomplished” from the roof of the Bellagio. However, the way in which Team USA has dominated these games is extremely encouraging. These guys are looking to make the extra pass, hitting the open man on lobs and backdoor cuts and, most importantly, protecting the ball (15 turnovers in 2 games; just 4 turnovers against the Virgin Islands). Beyond that, this version of Team USA just has the look of team that’s out for blood. These guys look like they are on a mission.


Now that we’ve seen they’ve got it in them, let’s hope they can maintain their focus, because this team has to potential to be special.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

All-Time NBA Starting Fives- Northwest Division

With the All-time Starting Fives for the NBA’s Eastern Conference franchises in the books, it’s time to jump into the Western Conference. I’m going to start today with the Northwest Division. Have fun reading and debating these. As with the previous batches, I had a great time putting these together! I’m very eager to hear your opinions.


NORTHWEST DIVISION


DENVER NUGGETS

PG- Lafayette Lever (17.0 ppg, 45.4% FG, 78% FT, 7.6 rpg, 7.5 apg in 474 games)- A woefully underrated player. Other than Magic Johnson, the best all-around point guard of the 80s. He scored, shot a good percentage, and check out his rebounding and assist numbers!

SG- David Thompson (23.7 ppg, 50.6% FG, 77.6% FT, 3.9 rpg, 3.4 apg in 415 games)- One of the best NCAA players ever. Along with Dr. J, Thompson is responsible for taking the NBA game “above the rim”. If not for injuries and substance abuse, he’d be one of the all-time greats.

SF- Alex English (25.9 ppg, 50.9% FG, 84.0% FT, 5.6 rpg, 4.4 apg, in 837 games)- English had some stiff competition from Kiki Vandeweghe and Carmelo Anthony here, but his scoring, better-than-expected rebounding and assists and “face of the franchise” status won out.

PF- Antonio McDyess (18.2 ppg, 48.6% FG, 65% FT, 9.0 rpg, 1.7 bpg in 361 games)- Before injuries turned him into a role player, McDyess was one of the best young PFs in the NBA. George McGinnis got a look here too, but McDyess’ played three times as many games in Denver.

C- Dikembe Mutombo (12.9 ppg, 52.3% FG, 65% FT, 12.3 rpg, 3.8 apg in 391 games)- A two-man race between centers with contrasting styles. Dan Issel outstanding offensive game made a strong case, but the nod goes to the NBA’s best defensive centers of the 90s.


MINNESOTA TIMBERWOVES

PG- Terrell Brandon (15.6 ppg, 45% FG, 89.5% FT, 3.5 rpg, 8.3 apg in 202 games)- A solid PG everywhere he went, Brandon’s teams just never won enough for him to become a star. More interesting here is that Stephon Marbury came in third, behind Brandon and… Pooh Richardson!!!

SG- Isaiah Rider (18.8 ppg, 45.9% FG, 82.2% FT, 3.8 rpg, 2.9 apg, in 229 games)- One of the most gifted, and dumbest, players in NBA history. Rider was a pretty easy choice here since Sprewell’s numbers didn’t real stack up well and, well, he was REALLY good for a while.

SF- Christian Laettner (17.2 ppg, 47.4% FG, 81.4% FT, 8.1 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.2 spg in 276 games)- Laettner’s NBA career never lived up to hype of his NCAA dominance, but he was actually a very productive pro. His main competition here? The immortal Tony Campbell (seriously, a franchise-record 20.6 ppg in 237 games!).

PF- Kevin Garnett (20.5 ppg, 49.1% FG, 78% FT, 11.4 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.7 bpg in 851 games)- Almost as easy as SG for the Bulls. He is (still!) the face of this franchise and one of the greatest all-around forwards ever to play the game.

C- Felton Spencer (6.0 ppg, 47% FG, 69.7% FT, 6.6 rpg, 1.2 bpg in 213 games)- Center for the Timberwolves may be the worst position in NBA history. Spencer won an epic battle against Rasho Nesterovic and Sean Rooks. You could make a case for Rasho here.


PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS

PG- Terry Porter (14.9 ppg, 47% FG, 84.6% FT, 38.5% 3PT, 3.5 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.6 spg in 758 games)- A team leader and an excellent postseason guard. Porter teamed with Clyde Drexler in the best backcourt in franchise history, appearing in 2 NBA Finals.

SG- Clyde Drexler (20.8 ppg, 47.8% FG, 78.9% FT, 6.2 rpg, 5.7 apg, 2.1 spg in 867 games)- The best player in franchise history. Drexler’s all-around game was so good, there was actually a debate at one point over who was better, Drexler or Jordan. Appeared in two finals with Portland before finally getting a ring in Houston.

SF- Kiki Vandeweghe (23.5 ppg, 52.6% FG, 88.1% FT, 40.8% 3PT, 2.9 rpg, 2.2 apg in 285 games)- One-dimensional? Maybe. But Vandeweghe was one of the league’s top scorer’s in the 80s, including a great run in Portland in the middle of the decade.

PF- Sidney Wicks (22.3 ppg, 46% FG, 71.3% FT, 10.3 rpg, 4.1 apg in 398 games)- Wicks just edged out Maurice Lucas, Portland’s Walton-era enforcer. Though he peaked in his rookie year, Wicks’ was a monster in Portland, producing some huge numbers in his five seasons with the team.

C- Bill Walton (17.1 ppg, 51% FG, 67.4% FT, 13.5 rpg, 4.4 apg in 209 games)- An obvious choice. The real story here is that Walton would have been a top-five all-time center had he stayed healthy. A classic “What if?” By the way, did you know Mychal Thompson was pretty damn good over 7 seasons in Portland?


SEATTLE SUPERSONICS

PG- Gary Payton (18.1 ppg, 47% FG, 72.9% FT, 4.2 rpg, 7.3 apg, 2.1 spg in 947 games)- Payton was the heart and the swagger of the franchise in the 1990s and one of the best defensive guards of all time. This was no gimme though- Lenny Wilkens stats warranted serious consideration here.

SG- Ray Allen (24.1 ppg, 44.1% FG, 89.8% FT, 38.9% 3PT, 4.7 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.3 spg in 241 games)- An extremely strong and competitive position- even surprisingly so. While Ray Allen’s stats set him apart, Dale Ellis, Ricky Pierce and Gus Williams also put up outstanding numbers in the Seattle backcourt.

SF- Detlef Schrempf (16.6 ppg, 49.4% FG, 80.9% FT, 41.4% 3PT, 6.3 rpg, 4.0 apg in 393 games)- Although Tom Chambers and Xavier McDaniel produced better offensive numbers, Schrempf’s all-around game was vital in making the Sonics a Western Conference power in the 90s and making the 1996 Finals.

PF- Spencer Haywood (24.9 ppg, 46.3% FG, 81.3% FT, 12.1 rpg, 2.4 apg in 326 games)- I’ll let Spencer Haywood’s stats speak for themselves at this position. I’d like to mention his main competition here: Shawn Kemp. Please take this moment to think back and remember when Kemp was the “Rain Man”.

C- Jack Sikma (16.8 ppg, 47.1% FG, 83.6% FT, 10.8 rpg, 3.3 apg in 715 games)- While the best Sonics’ teams were from the 1990s, it was Sikma’s 1978-79 team that won the only championship in franchise history. Interestingly, Bob Rule (with whom I’m not very familiar) put up huge numbers for the Sonics in the early 1970s.


NEW ORLEANS/ UTAH JAZZ

PG- John Stockton (13.1 ppg, 51.5% FG, 82.6% FT, 38.4% 3PT, 10.5 apg, 2.7 rpg, 2.2 spg in 1,504 games)- One of the great point guards in history and the all-time leader in both assists and steals. He and Karl Malone will forever be the faces of this franchise.

SG- Pete Maravich (25.2 ppg, 43.4% FG, 82.9% FT, 4.3 rpg, 5.6 apg, 1.4 spg in 330 games)- The first superstar and most spectacular talent in franchise history. Maravich was the runaway choice here. Jeff Malone and Darrell Griffith also deserve a great deal of respect for their efforts in Utah.

SF- Adrian Dantley (29.6 ppg, 56.2% FG, 81.8% FT, 6.2 rpg, 3.7 apg in 461 games)- No contest! Not only was this a one-man race, the one man is among the greatest, and most underrated offensive players in NBA history.

PF- Karl Malone (25.4 ppg, 51.7% FG, 74.2% FT, 10.2 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.4 spg in 1,434 games)- One of the best power forwards in history, the NBA’s #2 all-time scorer, a two-time MVP, and he led the Jazz to consecutive NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. Not bad- if you’re into that sort of thing.

C- Mark Eaton (6.0 ppg, 45.8% FG, 64.9% FT, 7.9 rpg, 3.5 bpg in 875 games)- Mark Eaton made up for his limited offensive game by hitting the boards and playing defense. He’s still the NBA’s all-time leader in blocked shots per game.

Up next: The All-time Starting Fives for NBA’s Southwest Division. Stay tuned!