Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Down for the Count


Tyler Hansbrough spent the last four years in Chapel Hill torturing fellow power forwards in the ACC with his relentless aggression and unparalleled intensity. He played against bigger and stronger players. He played against guys twice as talented and ten times as athletic. He had his face mangled by a vicious Gerald Henderson elbow. None of it was enough to keep Hansbrough down. That all changed last night.

The Pacers (Tyler's current squad) were in the Windy City to run with the Bulls in a battle between two of the Eastern Conference's worst teams. Indiana was mired in a brutal six-game slide, but Hansbrough, Jim O' Brien's ace rookie off the pine, entered the game flying high after consecutive double-double performances earlier in the week. (Even though the second of which miraculously came without the aid of a made field goal. 0-5 FGA, 10-10 FTA .) His minutes were becoming more consistent as well, climbing over 30 for the first time as a professional in his 19 point, 11 rebound performance Saturday night against Atlanta. (Amazingly, the seemingly unselfish Hansbrough fired up 20 shots in that ballgame without collecting a single assist. Yinka Dare would be proud.)

So, with the teams ready to take the floor at the United Center, the sky was the limit for the workhorse wearing #50 for the Pacers. Until word hit press row that Hansbrough was out of the lineup. He would not be suiting up. What was it? A torn ACL? Ruptured bicep? Maybe even a bout of semi-respectable back spasms? No, sir. None of the above. The former college warrior would be sitting out this affair with an affliction that had previously only affected newborns and toddlers up to the age of three. Hansbrough could not play...he had an inner ear infection. Poor baby. Literally.

Seriously, when is the last time you heard of an NBA player actually sitting out a game because he had an ear infection? Come on, Ty. What's gonna be next? Perhaps missing an entire road trip with a "tummy ache?" Excusing yourself from the second leg of a back-to-back with a "sore throat?" Hell, why not just make the transformation complete and retire from the game permanently because of the unbearable pain that comes with "teething" and the nasty bout of "colic" that just won't seem to go away?

I remember having an ear infection every now and then growing up. You'd go see the Doc, sit up on the table covered with the loudest paper known to man (seriously, could you move one inch on that thing without it making a huge racket?), and let the guy take a peak in your lobe. He would poke around a little bit, flick his flashlight on and off a couple times to make us think he was actually "seeing something," and in the snap of a finger, you were bounding out to the car with a cold juicebox in hand and promises of a late-night trip to Blockbuster floating in the air. Ear Infection, Shmear Infection. This thing wasn't holding us down. We were back in pre-school the next day finger painting, singing songs, and eating enough graham crackers to ensure we wouldn't feel quite right on the inside for the next 3-6 weeks. But Ty Hansbrough, known throughout the league as a savage competitor, and one that is virtually unbreakable, could fight back no longer. Ear Infection in a 3rd round TKO.

Not surprisingly, without their sizzling spark plug off the bench, the Pacers dug themselves a cozy little 19-point first quarter hole on their way to a season-high 7th consecutive defeat. Former Dukie Josh McRoberts was forced into action in Hansbrough's place, seeing 28 minutes of court time. Needless to say, that's about 27 minutes, 53 seconds more than Josh McRoberts should ever be getting in any game unless the letters "JCC" are involved. The Bulls dominated the glass all night, bullying the Pacer bigs to the tune of a 47-31 rebounding advantage.

As NBA fans, we become accustomed to seeing a lot of things on team injury reports. Pulled muscles, twisted ankles, and even the occasional Delonte West special, "Personal Reasons." But Hansbrough's outright surrender to an apparently 'agonizing' war with the dreaded ear infection is a tale that will live on in basketball lore for years to come. The Pacers return home tonight for a clash with Memphis. Will Tyler Hansbrough be in the lineup? I highly doubt it. Word on the street is that the ear infection has settled down a bit, but the worst is still far from over. Hansbrough might have Chicken Pox. And he's already started scratching. Better get crackin' on those retirement papers...


Contact the High Socks Legend at highsockslegend@gmail.com

Monday, December 28, 2009

Taking a Trip Through "Struggles City, USA." NBA Style...


Rock bottom. That's where this beleaguered bunch of Pistons currently reside. Seven losses in a row, several to the dregs of the league, while failing to eclipse the 100-point mark in any of those contests. Rodney Stuckey is quietly morphing into Baron Davis. (Seven straight sub-50% shooting games.) Jonas Jerebko is becoming our go-to guy. (Not a good thing.) And Ben Wallace's pathetic free throw stroke continues to regress, if that is even possible. (He's made 6 of his last 20 at the stripe.) It is most definitely not a good time to be wearing the red, white, and blue in Motown. Even with all of the troops back in uniform Sunday afternoon, the sub-.500 Raptors were still too much to overcome. You would think that with everybody back now, things would start to turn around and the Pistons would begin their climb back to respectability. But Sunday's performance was anything but encouraging.

The suddenly brittle Rip Hamilton returned to the lineup after missing a handful of games with a hamstring issue. Normally, when guys miss time, they come back and try to let the game come to them. As in, try to find the rhythm of the game again, don't force up shots, and just try to fit in again within the confines of the offense. Of course, with a guy like Rip, you do need him to be aggressive, but still, isn't 20 shots in 27 minutes a little too aggressive? (He made 6.) It's like telling a guest to "make yourself at home," and the next thing you know, the guy is taking off his shoes and jumping in the master bed for a nap. You skipped a couple of steps there, pal. Just like Rip on Sunday. By comparison, take a look at Tayshaun Prince, another player that made his return to the court after a long layoff. He played the same amount of time as Rip, 27 minutes, but hoisted a very reasonable eight shots, making four. Again, I understand that a player like Rip is counted on more than Tayshaun to create shots and initiate the offense, but there's got to be a grey area somewhere, and 20 jacks in 27 minutes is simply not even in the ballpark.

On the bright side, the Pistons' next two ballgames will be home affairs against the struggling Knicks and Bulls. I know the term "must win" is thrown around too often in sports, but I'm gonna join that silly parade and declare this pair of battles as such. With a complete roster for the first time since opening night, there is no reason the Pistons shouldn't take both of these games and head into 2010 with a mini burst of momentum. And if they don't, then all bets are off and I'll see ya at my NBA Draft Lottery party next summer.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

After the New Jersey Nets picked up their first win of the year following 18 straight defeats (which the HSL predicted, by the way), they quietly exited the spotlight and went about the rest of their season in peace, hoping that nobody would bother them anymore. Not so fast, fellas. When you win two of your first thirty ballgames, somebody's gonna notice...and proceed to write about you in a very disrespectful manner. Might as well be me.

Simply put, this team is pathetic. And not even that cute kind of pathetic like the kid in Little League who strikes out 85 times in a 12-game season, but finally gets on base in his last at-bat of the year by chopping a slow roller down the third base line and beating it out by a half-step after tumbling to the ground three feet from first base and winding up with a face full of dirt and a huge smile plastered across his delightfully oversized melon. No, this Nets team is just pathetic. They opened the campaign with 18 straight L's. Then they won two of three. The light was starting to appear at the end of the tunnel. Yeah...if that "light" meant another depressing losing streak, this one a nine-gamer, including a home defeat to the similarly-woeful Timberwolves.

Kiki Vandeweghe's Nets defied logic late in that ballgame when, needing a quick score down by four with 16 ticks left, they inexplicably decided to work the ball around, run some clock, and eventually toss up a meaningless three-point attempt at the buzzer. Remember, they were down by four. You have to get a bucket, then foul the other team, hope they miss a free throw or two, then score again to possibly tie the score. But to simply burn off that last 16 seconds with virtually no regard for the score or situation facing them at the moment takes a level of incompetence that we don't often have the privilege of witnessing in professional sports. This is a special time...I suggest we all cherish it.

Alllll that being said, I'm getting that funny N-E-T-S feeling again, so I will go out on the limb one more time and tell you that the fellows from Jersey will be picking up their third win of the season tonight at home against the steadily improving OKC Thunder. Kevin Durant's crew is coming off a tremendous road win in Phoenix and a workmanlike home W over Charlotte, but something tells me the fightin' Vandeweghes get it done tomorrow night at the IZOD Center. Devin Harris pours in 25+, Brook Lopez provides his usual double-double, and perennial chucker Courtney Lee will tally more than three assists for the first time all year. You heard it here first...


Contact the High Socks Legend at highsockslegend@gmail.com

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday NBA Week: The Ultimate Journeyman Point Guard


Yesterday, in the first entry to "NBA Holiday Week," we focused on the tumultuous and partially wasted career of Vin Baker. Today, our attention shifts to a player that has gone underappreciated and unnoticed for far too long. Well, the buck stops here. He gets the spotlight today...for the first time in his life. So take the stage, Mr. Rick Brunson. You were a journeyman backup point guard, and nobody's ever done it better.

This group of players has always formed a special bond in NBA circles. These guys live their lives 10 days at a time. Sometimes, they get that second 10-day picked up, but more often than not, it's a week and a half, and then it's the door. These guys are not flashy. In fact, most of them are completely anonymous to the casual NBA fan. But they are out there. Guys like Kevin Ollie. Anthony Goldwire. And one of the founding fathers, Nomadic Tyronn Lue. But the preeminent figure in this long line of nameless heroes remains Eric Daniel Brunson, or as he's always been known to his loyal band of followers, just Rick.

I really cannot think of a more perfect player to truly symbolize this unique fraternity of players. Brunson was the ultimate "serviceable" point guard. He had no real definitive skills, and the fact that he played parts of nine seasons in the NBA remains one of the more remarkable accomplishments in sports history. And our boy Rick definitely knew how to get around. Chances are, if you were a team looking for a plug-in floor leader for a couple weeks, he was available.

Brunson began his career in Portland in 1997. From there, he moved on to New York. Then to Boston. And back to New York. In 2001, it was Portland. Next year, Rick was in Chicago. Then to Toronto for a quick three-game stay. And back to Chicago. Of course, he had to be a Clipper at some point, so that came next. Finally, in Rick's final season, he spent a half hour in Seattle (literally...he logged 31 minutes), and then bopped over to Houston to close out the year and his career.

(Sidenote: I love that Brunson got stuck with the #40 for his short tenure in Boston. How much more disrespectful can you be to a point guard than to staple a number in the 40s or 50s on his back? Those digits are typically deserved for plodding big men that require such a high jersey number to represent their oversized...umm, wingspan. But to see a little fella like Brunson rockin' the 4-0, the team was obviously trying to get a very clear message across. Don't get too comfortable, kid...you ain't gonna be here long. They were right. Brunson lasted seven games for the Celts. But it was a blessing in disguise. A mere seven days later, Rick was a Knick, and his famous #9 was etched on to his gear.)

Talk about a guy being just good enough to keep finding NBA jobs, but also just forgettable enough for none of these franchises to ever want to be attached to him for more than a couple months at a time. He wasn't a good shooter, but he wasn't the worst. (36 3P%, 69 FT%) He was definitely no lockdown defender, but he was still usually good for a swipe or two every couple months. And most importantly, like any respectable hooper that plays the point, Brunson could handle the rock and find his big man for an easy deuce off the pick-and-roll. And let's not forget that in 2004-05, Brunson ranked 9th in the NBA for all qualifying point guards in the illustrious "Assist Percentage" category with a sparkling 32.7%. I'd put that number right up there with Gretzky's 92 goals and Chamberlain's 100 points on the list of greatest statistical accomplishments.

There were journeyman PGs that came before him, and plenty that followed, but when it comes down to it, Ricky B. is the gold standard. He is the absolute definition of the "journeyman point," and he's got the frequent flyer miles to prove it.

So congratulations to you, the reader. You now officially know more about Rick Brunson than any member of his own family. You should be proud...I know I am.


Contact the High Socks Legend at highsockslegend@gmail.com

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday NBA Week: "The Baker's Dozen"


Throughout this holiday week, the High Socks Legend will be taking a look at a handful of random NBA players from years gone by. It could be a guy that made multiple All-Star teams...it could be a guy that rode the bench for an entire career. You never know where this train is gonna stop. First up: Vincent Lamont Baker, or as he would come to be known, The Big Margarita...

Sometimes Vin Baker is only remembered for his precipitous food and alcohol-induced fall from grace, and that's unfortunate. Because when #42 had it going for the Bucks and Sonics in the late 90s, he was as good as any power forward in the league. I mean, there were games when Baker was flat out unstoppable. He had a clever little post-up game built more on craftiness and precision than sheer force or athleticism. His fadeaway J and baby jump hook presented a lethal combination that few in the league could defend.

I would always get excited when TNT would head to the Pacific Northwest for the second leg of the Thursday night doubleheader during those years because it meant a steady dose of Gary Payton, Detlef Schrempf, and the quietest superstar in the league in Baker. Many NBA pundits felt like Seattle got fleeced in that trade by giving up Shawn Kemp and getting Baker in return. But in the first year following that blockbuster, the Sonics ripped off 61 wins, which is most definitely nothing to sneeze at.

(Sidenote: that Baker-Kemp swap might go down in history for the most combined weight gained by two players following a trade. Kemp started packing it on as soon as he hit Cleveland, transforming his once-sculpted physique into something that could best be described as "doughy." His high-flying ways of the past were now being replaced by a steady diet of long 18-footers from the wing while munching on a chicken wing in the process. By the time Kemp finished up as a member of the Magic in the '03 playoff loss to the Pistons, he was testing the 300-pound waters and gradually losing playing time to the forgettable Andrew DeClercq, who incidentally happened to be the only man ever to play in the NBA without a human soul.)

Unfortunately for Baker, the beginning of the following season was delayed by the lockout, giving him ample free time to do things he should not have been doing. In short, the lockout hit Baker hard...and right in the belly. While other NBA stars were maintaining their bodies by working out and playing pickup ball, Baker just kind of chilled out and got in touch with his inner-appetite. In a big way.

Ol' Vincent picked up the knife and fork, plowed through a few thousand pieces of pizza and birthday cake, and when the season finally got underway, he was on the wrong side of three and a half bills. Soon after, his obsession with grub turned into an obsession with the bottle, and in a couple short years, Vin had went from a star on the verge of superstardom to a washed-up 30-year-old journeyman that required oxygen following each trip down the court.

It is only appropriate that Vin Baker's career finally came to an end with him squeezing into an XXXL Los Angeles Clippers jersey and playing out the string behind mooks like Vladdie Radmanovic and Zelly Rebraca. So on April 19th of 2006, knowing it might have been his final night as an NBA player, Vin decided to turn it on one final time. He knocked in a few jumpers, got himself to the line, and found himself logging heavy minutes for the first time in a long time. Only, by this point, Vin's body just didn't move the way it used to. His defensive mobility was severely lacking, and to say that the girl currently starring in the movie Precious would have been a better option on D is not an understatement. Baker picked up the maximum six personal fouls in just 25 minutes of play, quietly left the court, and just like that, his basketball career was finished.

He could have been the next Karl Malone. Instead, he became a right handed Derrick Coleman. Vincent Lamont Baker. Number 42 in your programs...and probably nowhere close to number 1 in your hearts.


Drop your own thoughts on Bakes here, or shoot me an E-mail at highsockslegend@gmail.com

Monday, December 14, 2009

Marvin and Max...It's an M & M Monday with the HSL


Marvin White

All I can say is, "Wow." Is this guy actually starting at safety for an NFL team? No, it can't be. I mean, have you seen this guy play? You'd have a hard time convincing me that Marvin White deserves even a spot on an NFL practice squad. And yet, here he is, starting at strong safety for our very own Detroit Lions. His performance yesterday pretty much sums up this putrid decade of Lions football. To say he was awful would be putting it lightly. The Ravens had countless explosive plays on offense, almost all of which saw Mr. White have a clear shot at making a tackle early in the ballcarrier's progress down the field. And almost every time he came up empty. He came up to "blast" Derrick Mason after a short completion. Instead, he wound up bouncing right off the former Spartan and had to watch from his backside as #85 in purple hightailed it 62 yards to the end zone for an early Christmas present TD. White was also victimized frequently throughout the day by little Ray Rice. Granted, there were times during the afternoon where Rice made special moves that almost no safety in the league would be able to counter. But there were also numerous occasions where Rice simply ran around or right through our "strong" safety.

White's atrocious play against the Ravens reminds you just how far this franchise is from even sniffing respectability. When I think of the strong safety position, I think of guys like Steve Atwater and Ronnie Lott. Locomotive trains with no intentions of stopping until the man holding the pigskin is either on the ground or completely unconscious...preferably both. But the Lions line up this NFL retread, Marvin White, at the position, who treats contact with opposing players like it is a jailable offense. Strong safety is a spot that is usually counted upon for an extra layer of run support, while reducing the amount of home run plays from the offense. With ol' Marv White overseeing the action, the normally offensively-challenged Ravens went off for 308 yards rushing on their way to an eye-popping 48 points. Coincidence??? I think not.


Max Scherzer

While Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson were undoubtedly the highest-profile players moved in last week's 3-team mega deal, let's not forget Mr. Maxwell M. Scherzer, the most important player coming to the Tigers from this blockbuster transaction. Scherzer fits the bill of almost all big-time Tigers starting pitchers over the last number of years, meaning he is a tall righthander with the ability to produce whiffs at a staggering rate. Heck, in Scherzer's first ever big league appearance, he retired all 13 batters he faced while striking out 7. So at the very least, he's no Beiker Graterol. In his first full year last season, Scherzer compiled a semi-respectable 9-11 record for a woeful Diamondbacks team, finishing with a very solid 4.12 ERA. And in more than half of those losses, his batters managed no more than two runs of offensive support. For a young guy going through his first full grind as a major league starter, it was a very encouraging season. He also only issued 63 walks on the year, which is the same number as AL Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander, and also the same number Dontrelle Willis allowed during his son's "coach pitch" Pinto season.

The loss of Jackson will be felt, but there is no reason Scherzer cannot turn into an All-Star caliber pitcher in the next couple of years if he is able to stay healthy. All told, the Tigers might have gotten worked over a little bit in the trade, and obviously, the motivations were largely financial. But if Scherzer can improve upon his steady '09 campaign and take advantage of pitching in a new league, the Tigers might have one of the top hurling trios in the circuit for the second consecutive year. Now as for the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation...well, that's another issue for another time.

(Graterol famously started one game for the Tigers early in the '99 season. It happened to be the home opener for the Bronx Bombers in The Stadium. Not the best spot to put a guy in making his major league debut. Sure enough, Graterol was absolutely tattooed over his four innings of work, allowing seven runs and three gopher balls. To make matters worse, the last dinger Graterol surrendered was of the grand salami variety to a near 40-year-old Chili Davis. Yikes. After his four horrific frames, Larry Parrish gave Beiker the hook for the day, and as it turns out, for his career in The Show. One start. That was it. I'm still waiting for Disney to option the movie rights to his story.)


The departure of Granderson was shocking to many fans, but take a minute and flash back to this post from late August. Might help explain why this trade wasn't so crazy after all. Reach the High Socks Legend at highsockslegend@gmail.com

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Hardest Working Team in the NBA


The effort from the boys in red, white, and blue is almost unrecognizable. For the last couple of years, our once-powerful Pistons had grown to be complacent. They would struggle with teams they should dominate. They would get pasted on the road and blame it on the whistles. They would eventually bow out in the playoffs and you weren't really sure if it truly bothered any of the players to have their season end early (excluding Antonio McDyess). Don't get me wrong...the mini-dynasty the Pistons had throughout this decade produced some very memorable basketball. But it was all too clear at the end of the run that the will to win just wasn't the same.

Enter this year's squad. They are woefully thin in the frontcourt. Heavily banged-up in the backcourt. And they have a first time NBA head coach. Heading into the season, most people had the Stones pegged for the lottery. After all, Joe D was merely using this year as a way to set up for the big free-agent class of 2010, right? Not so fast. We learned towards the end of that Pistons run that talent and experience were essentially useless if they were not combined with effort. You can't just go out and get it...you have to want it.

Well, this current squad is doing all the things that team stopped doing. They're flying after loose balls. They're cheering each other on wildly from the bench. And they are out there competing from the opening tip to the final horn. They aren't the best team in the league...but I dare you to find one that works harder.

The home win over the Nuggets tonight is one that symbolizes the perseverance and intestinal fortitude that this Pistons team is becoming known for. To say they were short-handed is putting it lightly. They were without Rip Hamilton, who has officially been on the shelf longer than anyone in NBA history with a "sprained ankle." They were without Tayshaun Prince, the iron-man small forward who before this year only sat out games when Rick Carlisle was the coach, since he preferred a washed-up Mike Curry to an energetic youngster like Tay to defend elite NBA swingmen. (Seriously, if Carlisle would have had one more year as the Pistons head coach, I might have had to just move somewhere else. I couldn't be in the same city with that man any longer.) Tonight's Pistons squad was also without their high-scoring guard duo off the bench in Ben Gordon and Will Bynum. Facing an angry Nuggets team coming off a sloppy loss to the Bobcats, it didn't appear to be a real recipe for success tonight at the Palace. But you just can't underestimate this Pistons team.

After every big moment in tonight's game, the camera would inevitably pan towards the Pistons bench. One guy was always on his feet, cupping his hands over his mouth, and barking encouragement to his on-court brothers. That man was Chris Wilcox. You heard me right. The only healthy Piston that didn't see the hardwood tonight was the loudest and most passionate member of the sideline cheering party.

Here's a guy that's been in the league a number of years. He's paid his dues, played on some truly horrific teams, and when he signed with Detroit this summer, he fully expected to be the starting center. It didn't quite work out like that. Ben Wallace came aboard and somehow took about ten years off his odometer. Jonas Jerebko arrived and began stealing minutes by the boatload with his intensity and defensive ability. Kwame Brown and Jason Maxiell filled in the blanks. That left Wilcox with...nothing.

A longtime vet on a struggling club and he couldn't get a sniff. Some guys woulda gone in the tank. Just went through the motions and called it a day. But Wilcox has been the polar opposite. He hasn't sulked, he hasn't gone to the press, he hasn't demanded a trade. He simply takes his seat on the Pistons bench and spends the next two and a half hours screaming his head off like he's a 12-year old in the upper deck with a foam finger and a stack of Twizzlers. In a sports world filled with me-first players and personal agendas, a guy like this is downright refreshing. There's no better way to put it.

And what about the peerless leader at the point, Chucky Atkins? This Pistons turnaround has been linked in large part to Kuester's altered starting lineup, which now includes Maxiell, and more importantly, the cagey as can be Chuckster. Obviously, little fella isn't the same guy he used to be. The once semi-prolific shooter and scorer is now basically a game manager.

He brings the ball past halfcourt, he points and shouts for a few seconds, and then dishes off to Rodney Stuckey before setting up shop in a deep corner. You might recognize this form of point guard play from the "Lindsey Hunter Handbook for Aging Point Guards." He can still knock down the occasional jumper, but he's not bombing away for 5-6 treys in a night as was the norm in the 2000-03 years. But one play tonight just put a big ole' smile on your face if you are a Chucky fan.

The Nuggets were running a little two-man game with Ty Lawson handling the rock. Lawson got a pick, and tried squeezing through the two Piston defenders to split the double team. Sorry Rook, but this ain't Chucky's first rodeo. Number 17 reached around, poked the ball away from Lawson, and went "speeding" back the other way. I put that word in quotes because what looked to be a clear breakaway for our man turned into a dead heat after about 2.5 strides. Lawson immediately caught up and was now on the verge of passing Chucky to prevent any kind of easy bucket coming off his silly turnover. But Chucky isn't about the quicks anymore...he's about the tricks.

Maintaining his dribble with the right, Chucky threw a little chicken wing elbow/forearm with the left to fend off Lawson. He even darted a couple steps in Lawson's direction to cut him off, a classic slow guy move, which also now allowed him a little room to possibly finish at the rim in what was very slowly becoming a career-defining play for Chucky. Sure enough, he took a couple of long Ginobili skips through the paint, went up with the right hand, and finished for a hard-earned two with the fleet-footed Lawson staring in disbelief from below.

He huffed and puffed his way back to the defensive end, but after the play he just made, you could tell he was in no shape whatsoever to play for one second longer. Our man was gassed. Thankfully, the bucket had gotten the crowd going, and was enough of a momentum-builder that it forced George Karl out of his seat to call for a timeout. Maybe my favorite sequence of the whole season thus far.

Basketball fans in the city of Detroit will sleep well tonight. Because they have a team that cares again. They lost seven in a row at the end of November, culminating in a depressing home defeat at the hands of the Clippers. But this team just sucks it up, and keeps playing. And now they've won four straight. A win at the Palace on Saturday night over the hapless Warriors will make it five. You won't find many All-Stars or award winners on this club like the team that came before it, but that doesn't matter right now. Because this team cares about winning, and cares about each other. Just ask Chris Wilcox...


The HSL is attending his first Pistons' game of the season on Saturday, so you know who to blame if the streak ends there. Leave a comment below or feel free to send me a thought by E-mail at
highsockslegend@gmail.com

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Crazy Movie Characters, Gumps in the Big Ten, and One Very Strange Major League Career


  • The Billy Crystal comedy "classic" Forget Paris has always been one of my favorites. Great basketball scenes, some excellent supporting pieces (including the chronically underrated Richard Masur), and enough of a comedy/romance mix to keep everybody happy. But I gotta say...Debra Winger's character in that movie might be one of the least rational people you will ever come across. My mom, who has always been a faithful Winger fan, even admits to being unable to watch this movie all the way through due to the violent mood swings and incomprehensible behavior from her favorite actress. When we are first introduced to her in Paris, she is a cute, sweet-natured girl always laughing at Crystal's jokes. A half hour later, Winger does a complete 180 and at times borders on legitimate insanity. Even though she is well aware of Crystal's affinity for being an NBA referee and how important it is to maintaining his identity and happiness, she thinks only of herself for the remainder of the picture. She even says stuff to our man Billy like, "Why should I be happy the three days you're home when I know you are gonna have to leave again for seven more??" Wow. That makes sense. Might as well be miserable for that 72 hours than try to live it up as much as possible until the next time he's home. And it's not like the guy is living in the lap of luxury. He's out there earning a living as an NBA official, which can be one of the toughest and most stressful jobs in the sports world. Berated by fans, players, coaches...second-guessed by everybody and their mother. And now he's gotta come home to a complete psycho that appeared to be a total angel when they had met just months before. That's a rough ticket. Still, I will admit to getting a littttle emotional when she returns (seemingly now sane again) to Crystal in the climactic scene at Madison Square Garden with the legendary David Sanborn blasting the National Anthem in the background. If you haven't seen the movie, I would advise you to do so...immediately. It will definitely frustrate you at times, and you might even consider sending hate mail to Debra Winger once the final credits roll, but when all is said and done, it's a hidden gem that leaves you smiling and wanting to be friends with Joe Mantegna.
  • On the other side of the cinematic spectrum, we have Into the Wild, which is by far the least re-watchable movie in history. I mean, don't get me wrong. It was excruciating the first time around. But I just can't imagine any movie being less enjoyable to forge ahead with the repeat viewing. Emile Hirsch spends the duration of the flick eating squirrels and talking to himself, while we are treated to multiple (and excessive) close-ups of the generally unwashed main character. So please, movie channels...chill with the repeats. We ain't interested.
  • Every time I watch the Minnesota Gophers hoops squad play, I find myself wondering the same thing. Why would the NCAA allow a guy like Colton Iverson to play college basketball after he just completed a 10-year career in the NBA? Absolutely ridiculous. I mean, that is Michael Doleac, right??
  • Speaking of unathletic big men in the Big Ten, how about Zach Gibson of Michigan and his unending array of reverse layups?? This guy could be left alone under the hoop without a soul around him, and he would still go with the reverse, using the rim as a shield from the invisible shot blockers. Something tells me Gibson has had some severe swats thrown back in his grill over the years, and will do absolutely whatever it takes not to let history repeat itself.
  • Bespectacled White Sox slugger Ron Kittle had one of the more peculiar baseball careers you will ever find. In 1981, Kitty absolutely ripped AA pitching to shreds. He connected for 40 homers, knocked in 103, and batted .326. You'd think maybe that would have been impressive enough to warrant a spot on next year's big club. Incorrect, sir. Kittle was modestly promoted to the AAA Edmonton Trappers, where he proceeded to make his AA numbers look pedestrian by comparison. This time, he socked 50 long balls, drove in 144, on his way to a sparkling .345 batting average. Finally, in 1983, big fella was a full time member of the White Sox. And he didn't disappoint. Even after his heavy overseasoning in the minors, Kittle still managed to crack 35 taters and collect 100 rib-eyes while being named to the All-Star team and taking home AL Rookie of the Year honors. But that's where the fairy tale ends for Ronald Dale Kittle. It turned out his best years were wasted in places like Appleton, Wisconsin...and Glens Falls, New York...and even Edmonton. I mean, who knew they even played the game up there?? Those gaudy rookie numbers would never be sniffed again by Kittle. His home run total shrunk each of the next four seasons. 100 RBIs was out of the question...he never again got within 25 of that fabled mark. I know the Pale Hose were pretty good some of those years, and already had guys like Harold Baines and Greg Luzinski firmly entrenched in the lineup, but couldn't they have found some way to get Kittle to the show a little earlier? Like, maybe before he walloped 90 home runs in a two-year span?? Not the saddest baseball career you'll ever hear about, but definitely one of the oddest.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

High Socks Review: Five Thoughts on the Detroit Pistons


1. I know this Pistons season has been anything but memorable thus far, and the year is most likely going to be a long one, but I will say this: I am thoroughly enjoying the resurrection of the Chucky Atkins era. I mean, how can you not like Chucky? Sure, the guy has always been a suspect defender and was literally ripped to shreds by an elderly Kenny Anderson in the '02 playoffs, but I will always have a soft spot for the little fella. And even at his advanced age, it is no coincidence the Pistons are playing with much more passion and purpose since Chucky was inserted into the starting lineup. He's hitting some open J's, running a little pick-and-roll with Big Ben, and even driving to the hole once in a blue moon. He made Gilbert Arenas look downright catatonic tonight on a couple moves, including a nifty And-1 scoop shot with the left hand. Plus, now that Placido Polanco and his perfect square of a melon have jumped ship to Philly, Chucky has moved into the top spot for the title of "Oddest Shaped Head in Detroit." Congrats Chuckster...to you and your oversized dome.

2. Gil Zero might still have some 35 point games left in his tank, but those multiple injuries in the last couple years have left him looking a lot like the crippled Loy Vaught circa 1998. Arenas was gawdawful shooting the rock tonight, and got torched on the defensive end by the Chucky and Stuckey Show. He even went so far as to blame his struggles on the temperature inside of the Palace, stating, "The building was cold tonight and I just didn't get into a rhythm." Oh, riggggght, I forgot about that.

3. I know it's kinda cool to set a starting lineup that you know will bring loads of energy and hustle, while saving some scorers for the pine, but isn't Pistons boss John Kuester taking it a bit far? Charlie Villanueva...Ben Gordon...Will Bynum...all explosive scorers and highly respected players that do not hear their names announced in the pre-game introductions. With Austin Daye also coming alive tonight with a sparkling 5 for 5 from the floor, the Pistons reserves managed to outscore the starters by a 54-44 margin. It's been working fine so far, and obviously things will change once Rip and Tayshaun return, but Kuester is definitely playing with fire for the time being. Thankfully, Rodney Stuckey has been shooting the ball very well lately, making the "effort" starting lineup look a little more potent than they really are. Non-scorers like Maxiell, Jerebko, and Ben Wallace all sharing the court at the same time is generally not a recipe for success. But they've been getting off to solid starts as of late with this group, so I can't blame Mr. Kuester too much. Just don't get too comfortable with it, as there is almost assuredly a single-digit first quarter coming from these guys in the very near future.

4. Some scary free-throw numbers to go with your morning coffee. The Pistons missed twelve more freebies tonight (out of 36), which now puts them safely in 28th place in the league (out of 30) in charity stripe accuracy. Yikes. They are shooting just 72% from the line, and of course a part of that is due to the return of chronic bricklayer Ben Wallace. To nobody's surprise, Ben hasn't exactly been stroking it this year, converting just 19 of 35 attempts for a ghastly 54 percent. But you wanna know the sickest part about that? The 54 percent for Ben...it's a career high. And it's not even close.

5. Everybody is down on the Pistons this year, and the common rhetoric is that they "aren't fun to watch" and "they have no chance of doing anything in the postseason." Let's cut them a little slack, though. They have played virtually the entire season without Rip Hamilton, their leading scorer. They've played all but three games without the services of Tayshaun Prince. They've worked in a new coach, a new system, and several new players in a very short span. And ya know what? They aren't in terrible shape. They currently sit at 8-12, which is good enough in the East to be tied for the last playoff spot. And when healthy, they are probably talented enough to move into that 6-7 range of the standings. I know this year is not going to end in a Conference Final like we've grown accustomed to over the years, but I really think there will be more smiles than people anticipate. Jonas Jerebko looks like he might be a legitimate second-round international steal in the Memo Okur mold. Rodney Stuckey continues to show flashes of brilliance, and is proving himself to be one of the hardest players in the league to defend off the dribble. Even Kwame Brown and Jason Maxiell have managed to devise a cute little plan where one of them decides to display a pulse every other night. Like I said, this group won't be doing any banner-raising anytime soon, but that doesn't mean we can't fill out tens of thousands of write-in ballots for Chucky Atkins and get our boy to this season's All-Star Game in Dallas.

This year might be a little different, but we're gonna have some fun along the way...


Drop a thought on the Stones here, or shoot me your thoughts at
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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Laughin' It Up with the High Socks Legend...


  • What's the deal with women referring to being pregnant as having a bun "in the oven"?? Isn't there any way they could have come up with a location that is...I dunno...a little less sizzzzzling???? Every time a female drops that phrase on you, it's hard not to picture little fella just absolutely baking inside that belly like a batch of baby hot dogs at 375°.
  • Was there ever a more widely-used and less-understood term in sports than the mysterious "Left Wing Lock"?? The good ole LW Lock was all the rage when the Devils "apparently" perfected the strategy in the mid-90's on their way to a massacre of the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. In the years to follow, other teams jumped on board and started instituting the Lock, and fans kept discussing it at length like they knew what it was. But to be honest, did any of us really have a freakin' clue what it actually meant?!?? Did the "locking" team decide their main priority was to shut down the opposing left wing at all costs?? And if this was indeed the case, why was that so important? Wasn't the right wing just as dangerous? Why was he treated like persona non grata?? And there was always that strange "is this legal or not?" vibe surrounding the L.W.L. throughout its existence. It was like, "Yeah, it's within the rules to do it, but it's kinda cheap...like doing the same move in Mortal Kombat repeatedly without allowing your opponent a chance to stand up and recover." I mean, did Slava Kozlov and Bob Errey even bother sharpening their skates and curving their sticks when they knew the L.W.L. was going to be in effect? What would be the point?? Wasn't it impossible for the left winger to do any damage with the "lockdown" in effect?? This strategic hockey phenomenon temporarily took over our lives for a number of years. And the best part about the whole thing...nobody ever really knew what it meant.
  • Pizza places always have those signs and tags telling you, "Our drivers do not carry more than $20." I guess this is done so people won't get the idea to rob the delivery guy when he arrives at the door. They are telling you, "Our man does not even have twenty bones on him. Whatever you're thinking about doing...it's not worth it." That's all well and good, but there's one thing I still fail to understand. What makes these pizza joints think that we have any desire whatsoever to rob a guy that is simply trying to give us fresh 'Za??? There are a lot of situations in life where a robbery/hold-up might be warranted, but ambushing a saintly delivery guy whose sole purpose in life is to provide us with delicious pie is most definitely not one of them. The only dough we are interested in is the one laying safely in that piping hot box, so let's end the shenanigans and just make this transaction as simple as possible. Now if the guy were carrying $30, it might be a different story...
  • Do we really have to call it "Silly" Putty?? Isn't that kind of assumed? Is there a more serious version that I am unaware of? It's a big gob of stretchy material that is able to copy whatever you stick it to. We get it...it's silly. Real silly. So chill out with the repetition in the title. Next time, just tell us it's 'Putty'...we'll take care of the rest.
  • Wasn't "Pool Basketball" one of the more overrated water sports in history? It always seemed like a pretty good idea at the time, but it never really lived up to the hype. The rules were constantly an issue. Was it a requirement that you did that weird "mock dribble" when you had the ball, kinda moving it up and down under the water as if you were actually bouncing the rock on a real court?? Most times it was understood that carrying the ball was okay and that this bizarre ritual was not necessary, but there were also those times when "traveling" was whistled, inevitably leading to a bout of splashing, and somebody leaving the pool in tears.
  • You always hear the same names when the topic of steroids in baseball comes up. Sosa...Bonds...Big Mac...A-Rod. But let's not forget our good friend Todd Hundley, who went from middling catcher to record-setting basher in one short off-season. Check out Hundley's home run totals from the first six years of his career: 0...1...7...11...16...15. Sure, his power did seem to be progressing nicely as he matured, but the number to follow in the infamous 1996 season was something from another planet entirely. The newly "sculpted" Hundley cracked 41 round-trippers, breaking the single-season record for a catcher, while basically becoming a walking billboard for performance enhancing drugs in the process. He could have walked to the plate with a syringe sticking out of his backside that whole year and I don't think anybody would have batted an eye. Within two years, Hundley's body was crumbling like a Ritz cracker, and the '98 season saw him hit just 3 bombs in 142 turns at the dish. He did manage to dial up the power again a little bit in the coming years (back-to-back seasons of 24 HRs), but Hundley could no longer play catcher like a real man. He was exiled to left field, and anyone that saw him try to resemble a major league outfielder during those times will tell you that it was without question one of the most depressing sights ever witnessed on a baseball diamond. A pretty sad career, in general, but luckily for Hundley, it is one that seems to have gotten lost in the 'Roids Shuffle.
  • HSL Prediction:
    The record-setting 0-18 New Jersey Nets will finally get their first win tomorrow night. (Even though I am a littttle less confident after the Nets got blasted again last night, giving up a staggering 49 points in the 2nd quarter to the Mavs in the process.) The Nets will be playing at home against the 7-10 Charlotte Bobcats, and let's face it...they are WELL overdue. Now, I'll grant you that Nazr Mohammed and the 'Cats have been playing well lately, winning 4 of their last 5, but still, something tells me the dribblers from Jersey get it done in this spot. Look for Brook Lopez to haul in 15 boards, Devin Harris to go off for 28 points, and for Larry Brown to announce his retirement effective immediately following the most embarrassing defeat of his career.
  • Threatening comment I wish we heard more of. "If I want your opinion, I'll beat it out of you." That's some classic lingo right there. How come it isn't said more often? It's the perfect way of letting someone know (in so many words), "Hey, your input is not really needed in this situation. If I do intend to hear your thoughts on a particular topic, I will let you know by becoming extremely physical and inflicting large amounts of pain towards you. Then, you can give us your side of the story. Otherwise, shut your f#%&ing trap." It's the best kind of put-down because there really is no good response to it. You could say, "Oh really...I'd like to see you try," but let's be honest, that's an empty comeback. You do not want this person to try. They will succeed. And your opinion will never be heard.
  • Quentin Richardson...now 362 minutes (and counting) without a single free throw attempt this season. Mazel Tov, Q-Rich...and we wish you the best of luck avoiding the line again tonight in Denver. Not that you'll need it...

Got a thought or comment of your own?? Drop it here, or float me an E-mail at
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Monday, November 30, 2009

A Forgotten Friendship: The Story of Quentin Richardson and the Free Throw Line


It doesn't exactly take a heroic effort to get sent to the foul line in the NBA. You drive to the hoop, go up for a shot, take a little contact, and earn yourself a pair at the stripe. It's not rocket science. Now, there might be a game or two where a player will be hesitant taking the ball to the rack and go free throw-less for a short span. But to play in multiple games at the swingman position in the NBA without ever shooting a single free throw is nothing short of miraculous. A few weeks ago, we looked back on the career of Nick Anderson. Anderson famously became spooked of the free throw line in his later years, and even played an entire campaign one season, spanning 169 minutes, without once going to the line. Turns out that was just chump change compared to our boy Quentin Richardson.

The forward for the Heat has played a staggering 322 minutes this year and is still yet to attempt his first free throw. Don't bother rubbing your eyes or adjusting the brightness of your screen. You read it right the first time. 322 minutes. And not one free throw attempt. Is he afraid of something here? Did a teammate jokingly tell him that the free throw line is actually a "danger zone" loaded with hidden landmines and traces of anthrax, only for Richardson to miss the sarcasm entirely and regard the comment as a legitimate national security threat? How else to explain a starting small forward in the NBA playing that many minutes without ever taking a free throw?

With Nick Anderson, it was understandable. The memory of the '95 Finals never stopped haunting him, and he eventually became Polynice-esque at the line, causing him to make a personal vow never to return. Richardson, on the other hand, is a semi-respectable 71% free thrower for his career. He's always been able to get himself about 100-120 freebies a year. Now, all of a sudden, that number has been whittled all the way down to Goose Egg City. I know Q-Rich has essentially become a 3-point "specialist" these last few years (with 'specialist' being used very liberally), but he is taking that title to new and dangerous heights this year. When you are able to play the shooting guard/small forward combo position in the NBA as a starter for as many games and minutes as Richardson has without earning a single trip to the line, and not be banished to the NBDL or Slovenia in the process, it is truly a miracle of the highest proportions.

I've always been a sucker for unique streaks in sports. When Baron Davis repeatedly failed to shoot better than 50% in a game for nearly an entire season (62 games total), I basically shut down the rest of my life to devote all my attention towards it. In the world of baseball, I developed a secret affinity for Rondell White's bizarre stolen base streak, and was crushed when it finally came to an end. (White registered at least one theft in each of his first 14 big league seasons, and oddly enough, in the last 6 years of the streak, he stole one, and one only, every single year to keep the streak alive. Tragically, in season #15, ol' fella couldn't get the legs going for a single attempt. I'm still recovering.) Former Piston legend Terry Mills took the city of Detroit by storm in 1996 when he canned 13 consecutive treys to tie Vanilla Brent Price's NBA record. Those 13 bombs might have only spanned three nights during the season, but to us wide-eyed Pistons fans, his name might as well have been DiMaggio.

To most NBA fans, Quentin Richardson is just a washed-up swingman gunner who no longer does much swinging or gunning. He doesn't capture any headlines and will never be the focal point of a Kornheiser/Wilbon on-screen debate. His durability has and always will be a major issue, and there have even been some rumors that Q-Rich is planning to change the name on the back of his jersey to "Smits" in honor of his similarly oft-injured Dutch mentor.

But to me, Quentin Richardson is so much more. Because there are good streaks. And there are bad streaks. But it doesn't matter to me...I like 'em all. Which is why I'll be paying extra attention to those Miami Heat box scores in the coming weeks.

You'd think it would be impossible for any NBA player to keep logging court time and hoisting the rock without ever once getting bumped or grazed in the process. But then again, nobody ever thought Brent Price and Terry Mills would knock down 13 straight from long range. And nobody ever thought that Kwame Brown could fumble 768 consecutive post entry passes without once making a clean catch. But those things did happen. So maybe Q-Rich can go the whole year without ever stepping to the free throw line. I know I'll be watching. (Even if I am the only one.)

Because after all, a streak is a streak, and no matter how obscure or bizarre it happens to be, sometimes you just have to sit back and acknowledge the consistency, appreciating the little nugget of minutiae that is being cemented into the long and glorious history of the NBA.

I love this game...


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Monday, November 23, 2009

You Can't Make It...So Why Take It??


A reputation is a powerful thing. Many times, simply having a reputation for being good at something outweighs the reality of whether or not that skill actually exists. I present to you now, Exhibit A, in this demonstration: Rasheed Wallace and his reputation for being a guy with the ability to "stretch defenses" with his long range shooting. NBA followers for years have touted Sheed's "inside-outside" combination, and his uncanny knack for a power forward to step out and knock down the three. But when you stop taking all of these myths as gospel, and actually watch Mr. Wallace play for several seasons in person, you ultimately discover the truth. Just because he likes shooting the three does not mean he can shoot the three. I just thank the Lord he's doing it somewhere else now.

The Celtics lost a rare home game Friday night to the defending East champs, the Magic. Interestingly, heading into this game, Doc Rivers had went public with his unhappiness regarding the team's shot selection and their propensity to settle for the deep ball instead of attacking the basket. Prior to the game with Orlando, this excerpt appeared in the Boston Globe.

The Celtics have become 3-point happy at the wrong times this season. Coach Doc Rivers finally stepped in, telling Rasheed Wallace to limit the threes, during the final quarter of last night’s 109-95 win over Golden State. "I got on him, and I rarely do, about the threes. Because even though he was wide open, it’s really tough. I mean, he was wide open and he took two, but we had just taken two quick ones."

So all of this was said heading into the Friday night game with the Magic. Rivers was clear; more ball movement, better shot selection, less 3s. What does Rasheed do? He goes out and jacks up eight bombs from downtown, making a grand total of zero. Now there are very few players in the NBA that can hoist that many 3s in a game and get away with it. Steve Nash...Andrea Bargnani...maybe even Jason Richardson, with the way he's been stroking it this year. But Rasheed Wallace?? After a very specific order from his head coach to "limit the threes"??? He shoots eight of 'em????? Trust me when I tell you after watching this man play in Detroit for the last six years...the more 3s he takes, the less likely you are to win the game. How did the Celtics do Friday night in that game with the Magic? They lost by five, and scored a season-low 78 points. It was an ugly affair, filled with clumsy offense and errant shooting. And our man was at the center of it all.

I still do not know where Rasheed Wallace's reputation as a "dangerous outside shooter" originated. It's the classic case of, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story," because the facts in this matter do nothing to support this longstanding claim. Sheed has played in the league for 15 years. You wanna know how many times he has shot above 36% from beyond the arc? Once. And that was 11 years ago. Keep in mind, 36% is not some ridiculously high number for a 3-point shooter. It's probably a little below average, at best, especially for a player that fires them up at the rate Sheed does. How many times did we as Pistons fans have to watch Rasheed on those silly "pick-and-rolls" in late game situations when there was nary a "roll" to speak of? He would set a lame pick, float behind the long line, wait for the pass, and then jack it up as soon as the ball touched his fingertips. The shot would almost always go begging, and you were left wondering how this continued to be viewed as a smart offensive strategy when it worked so infrequently.

Take a look down south, where Atlanta currently sits in the catbird seat of the Eastern Conference with a glistening 11-3 record. Sure, they picked up high-scoring guard Jamal Crawford in the off-season and franchise player Joe Johnson continues to do his thing, but it's been the emergence of Josh Smith that has been one of the biggest differences for Mike Woodson's crew. Before this year, he'd been a freak athlete too block-headed to take full advantage of his insane set of physical gifts. He would dominate for periods, make the occasional highlight play, and far too often, become lazy and go hang out in three-point territory. Should he have been spending that much time out there, or for that matter, any time out there? The answer is a resounding N-O. He was a putrid shooter from long range, and each one of the 100-150 bombs he attempted every year did their own small part in making you realize that this guy was simply "never going to get it." Sound familiar? After all, that's basically the way Rasheed's whole career has been. No light bulb ever went off for him. He entered the league shooting a relatively low amount of threes, usually between 30-50 a year. That changed very quickly. By the time he had gotten comfortable in Detroit, he was practically paying rent outside the line, routinely forcing up over 300 a year, culminating in his unforgettable 2005-06 campaign when he managed to sling 434 from distance. Free-throws for Sheed that year...183. Way to use your 6'11" frame to your advantage, Sir. But Josh Smith made a decision as this season approached. He was going to become a smart player for the first time in his career. He was not going to become another Rasheed Wallace.

The three-point section of Josh Smith's stat line this year has been virtually non-existent. And not just an, "I'm gonna take maybe one or two 3s a game so I don't go into withdrawal" kind of thing. He has literally sworn off the three-point shot entirely. Save for one last-second desperation heave against Miami last week with the first half clock winding down, young Josh has not taken another three-pointer this whole year. And the difference it has made on his game has been evident from opening night, when he made 7 of 10 shots and handed out 8 assists, leading to a double-digit win over Indiana. He is shooting a career-high 54% from the field. (The first time in his career he's been over the Baron Davis mark.) His rebound and assist figures are also the highest they have ever been, and he's committing less turnovers than at any point over the last four seasons. He's like a new person, and it all traces back to his cathartic admittance that he could not conquer his personal devil, the three-point line. It has turned him into one of the most feared players in the league, and it has made the Hawks a legitimate contender in the East for the first time since Mike Fratello was roaming the sidelines. As for Sheed, I wouldn't expect a similar revelation at any point in the near future.

Watching Rasheed Wallace play for the Pistons over the last number of years was one of the more frustrating experiences any Detroit sports fan has had to go through. You always heard from people on TV and around the league that he was such a "team player" and that his "basketball IQ was off the charts," but I got news for you. It was all a whole lot of...you know what. The man could have undergone a Josh Smith-type renaissance at some point in his career, but he never did. He just got worse. That 0-8 three-point performance against Orlando is the perfect reminder of the type of player Rasheed has always been. His coach put out an order for his team to follow, and Sheed simply ignored it. In yesterday's game against the Knicks, a two point escape job in overtime, his minutes were sliced in half. After playing a season-high 34 minutes in the game with Orlando, Sheed played just 15 on Sunday, his lowest total on the year. And he didn't exactly make a case for a bump in that playing time. The old gunslinger snapped off six shot attempts in his limited appearance, again making zero, including a goose egg for three from TreyVille.

As a Pistons fan, I'm just grateful that those shots are being taken somewhere other than the Palace. His act grew tired over the years, and for people to think his addition suddenly makes the Celtics the favorite again in the East is absurd, to say the least. Most good shooters will tell you that the reason they keep on shooting is because no matter how many in a row they miss, they still feel like the next one is going in. For bad shooters like Rasheed, that mentality leads to self-destruction, and an NBA career ultimately defined by countless bricks, plummeting shooting percentages, and a reputation that could not be less deserved.


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Friday, November 20, 2009

A Mismatch in Any Era













The Detroit Pistons have not been playing their best ball of late. Their big men are struggling to contribute offensively, the guards are forcing the action a little too much, and Jonas Jerebko gets more uncomfortable offensively with each passing moment. It has led to three straight losses, albeit to a trio of playoff teams in the West. Looking ahead to Saturday night, the Pistons travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Jazz, and the point is this. The Pistons could trot out five Hall-of-Famers for that game. They could bring back Dave Bing and Bob Lanier in their primes. They could lure Kelly Tripucka back to the Pistons' announcing booth for one more night. Hell, they could be given a 25-point lead at the beginning of the game, be allowed to play the whole 48 minutes on a never ending power play, and be given permission by the NBA to have both Abdenour brothers on the sideline to serve as dual head trainers. None of it would matter. Because as any knowledgeable Detroit basketball fan knows, the Pistons never win in Utah.

A little history here to see exactly how devastating the Curse of Utah has been. It hasn't always been like this for the Pistons and Jazz. After all, when the Jazz played in New Orleans and were led by Pistol Pete Maravich and a generous entrée-sized portion of rice pilaf, the Pistons had tremendous success. They would go 6-4 in the Big Easy during the five short years the Jazz took residence there. Then everything changed. The annual Mardi Gras celebration forced the Jazz on a month-long road trip in the midst of a playoff run, and the franchise decided that was the last straw. They packed their bags and headed for the friendly skies of Salt Lake City, but as the Pistons would discover in the years to come, "friendly" would be the last word to describe a trip to this godforsaken city. "Hell" would be more like it.

The first Pistons-Jazz clash in the new Utah digs took place in the 1980 season. It was too much Adrian Dantley, and not enough Kent Benson and Phil Hubbard, and the Jazz romped by 14. This became a familiar sight. The three years to follow also brought L's to the Pistons ledger on their annual Utah trip. The '84 season also saw a Jazz home triumph, only this time they were especially hostile hosts, exploding for 143 points and winning by 18. Again, the next three years all told the same story: L, L, L. The Pistons had traveled to Utah eight times, and come up short every single time. Finally, in 1988, the 'Stones broke through. They squeaked out a 3-point win, and then somehow managed to make it back-to-back wins the next year with a 4-point thriller in double overtime. Perhaps the pendulum was finally swinging back in favor of the boys from Motown on their yearly jaunt to Jazz Country. Think again.

The Pistons played twice more in the Salt Palace (one of the more underrated arena names from the 'Pre Corporate Naming Rights' era), getting handled both times. The Pistons must have exhaled a bit, knowing the Jazz were moving from that wretched building where they had managed just two wins against ten losses. Off to the Delta Center, the new state of the art facility that would now hold close to 20,000 screaming Mormons intent on making it as difficult as ever to get a W in their multi-wived territory. First trip to the new digs...two point loss in a nail-biter. Ron Rothstein came aboard in '93...Bam! 24-point shellacking courtesy of the Mailman. It was Don Chaney to the rescue in '94 and '95, but sadly his dynamic duo of Rafael Addison and Oliver Miller wasn't enough...they lost both contests by a combined 45 points. Doug Collins took over right where his predecessors left off, making three Utah treks to Utah and coming home empty on each occasion. Thankfully, the lockout forced the league to adopt a reduced 50-game schedule in 1999, and the NBA had some rachmanos for the Pistons, sparing them their annual plank walk in Utah.

This decade of Pistons-Jazz basketball got off to a most inauspicious start. Termed the "Bryon Russell Conspiracy" in these parts, this was the game where the Jazz had a clear shot-clock violation in the final seconds that was inexplicably ignored by all three referees, denying the Pistons a final shot to win the game. (I went into greater detail on this game in an earlier blog...2nd item down.) Somehow, the Stones got up off the mat and took revenge by winning back-to-back Utah affairs in the 2002 and '03 seasons. No matter how much Rick Carlisle frustrated me during his two years as Pistons head coach (and yes, I still wake up in a cold sweat 2-3 times a week over his mismanaging of Corliss Williamson's minutes in 2002), I must give the man his props for going 2-0 in the Utah Dungeon. Granted, in his first win, Karl Malone and John Stockton were a combined 77 years old...and in the second win, Malone missed the game entirely and was replaced in the starting lineup by John Amaechi, but it remains a highly impressive accomplishment by Carlisle, nonetheless. The last six years have been status quo in the "rivalry." Loss after loss after loss after loss. To see a perfect display of the Jazz home dominance, go back to the Pistons' championship year of 2004. They rode into Ostertag's World carrying a 4-game winning streak. Forty-eight minutes later, that streak was up in smoke. Chauncey and the boys then reeled off eight more victories. So that's 12 wins in 13 ballgames for the eventual champs, and the only loss during their hottest period of the season came at Utah. Coincidence?? I think not.

Sometimes I wonder...what makes traveling to Utah and getting a win such an impossible feat for our Detroit Pistons? There have been other dominant teams out West over the years, but none of them strike fear into the hearts of Pistons fans quite like a trip to Utah. For so many years, you knew a game with the Jazz meant endless Stockton-to-Malone pick-and-rolls, where your only hope as a defense was that the ball might eventually be swung around to some mook like Shandon Anderson or Scott Padgett. There's Jerry Sloan, who's been guiding that ship ever since they made the switch from peach baskets. There's the bloodthirsty Utah crowd, which seems to be louder and more intimidating than any other in the league. NBA talking heads would constantly clamor about the noise at Arco in Sac-Town, or the near-impossibility of scoring a victory in Spurs Land; but it was always those hooligans in Utah that made you fear for your life, even while sitting at home watching on TV from 1,700 miles away. And don't think you're getting a fair whistle in Utah, either. The refs are about as impartial as Brendan Fraser's fellow students at the end of School Ties. It is fairly common that a team will outplay the Jazz in their gym, but still fall short due to the alarming disparity at the free throw line.

Let's remember here...I'm about as much of a "homer" Pistons fan as there is in the world. I was the guy that had psychotic hallucinations about the Pistons actually coming back against Cleveland last year after two demoralizing blowouts to open the series, even going so far as to use a Hugh Grant romantic comedy as a source of inspiration. All that being said, I will now also tell you that the Pistons have absolutely zero chance of winning in Utah on Saturday night. 100% Loss...0% Win. I hate to be Mr. Doom and Gloom, but the numbers in this case are simply impossible to ignore. Consider these numbers.

-The Pistons have played in the Jazz' current home (now EnergySolutions Arena...maybe the worst creation of the "Corporate Naming Rights" era) 17 times...they've won twice.

-They have played the Jazz 19 times this decade, home or away...again, they've won twice.

-They have lost 8 in a row overall in the series, including a 17-point drubbing in Salt Lake last year.

-And now for the coup de grâce...the Pistons are a ghastly 18-41 all-time against the Jazz of Utah, by far their worst winning percentage (.305) against any opponent in franchise history. Second would be the Celtics...third would be the Lakers. You get the idea.

There aren't many times during an NBA season when you can say with complete and absolute certainty that one team has literally no chance of winning a particular game. Well, this is the rare exception. The Jazz are by no means steamrolling over the NBA in the season's opening weeks. They will enter Saturday night with a pedestrian 6-6 mark. Mehmet Okur is out with an injury and there's something called a "Wes Matthews" starting at shooting guard. On paper, they look very beatable. Against the Pistons, however, they are indestructible. So don't bother tuning in Saturday night or checking out the box score Sunday morning. This game's outcome was decided 30 years ago when that godforsaken Mardi Gras festival forced the Jazz out of New Orleans and into Utah, where they have now taken up permanent residence in the personal nightmares of every Pistons fan from Saginaw to Saugatuck. Utah has always been a state well known for their commitment to religion. But Saturday night, the big fella upstairs will be firmly on the side of the Pistons. They need all the help they can get...


Got a personal Pistons-Jazz memory?? Let your feelings out here, or shoot me an E-mail at highsockslegend@gmail.com

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Sometimes When You Win, You Really Lose..."


As moviegoers, we are always in search of the "perfect film." The one that makes us laugh, makes us think, and keeps us smiling from the opening credits through the final frame. But has a movie ever actually achieved this mythical status? That's debatable. Groundhog Day gave it a good run, but ultimately fell short due to the skin-crawling presence of one Andie MacDowell. A Few Good Men was also close to perfection, but it gets penalized for the awkward "Are they or are they not a couple" dilemma between Cruise and Demi. Ghostbusters II remains an all-time great, but is docked severely because of the terrifying painting of Vigo the Carpathian that kept me awake every single night from 1989-92. The search for the perfect movie is almost always a fruitless one, but there is nothing more frustrating than thinking you really have a shot, only for the dream to come crashing down in one fateful scene. Let's take a little trip down memory lane and deal with a movie, White Men Can't Jump, that was capable of flawlessness, but too often carved a path leading directly to sheer frustration.

Billy Hoyle is the definition of the tragic American figure. He was a basketball sensation until his career got derailed by an ill-fated point shaving incident courtesy of the famed "Stucci Brothers." He had a fiery, trivia-laden, Latina girlfriend on his arm, only he was too absent-minded to figure out how to keep her happy. With the right mentality and a bit of luck, ol' Billy could have had it all. And at one point during the flick, it looked like he was well on his way. He had defeated Sidney in the opening-scene shooting contest. He had a couple more successful hustles, leading his jar of cash to be almost filled to capacity. Yes, he got cleaned out by Sidney in a backstabbing reverse hustle, but even that couldn't keep Billy down. He reconciled with Sidney, they entered the 2-on-2 tourney, and won the whole thing, albeit with enough trash talking and threats of violence to make even Anthony Mason blush. Things were all good for our man Billy. He was a champion. He was on his way home to be with his ever-supportive girlfriend, who also was prepared to surprise Billy with pizza and wine. (An odd combo, but any girl who's at home awaiting your arrival with a pizza is a keeper.) And he had a check for $2,500 in his pocket. So Sidney's driving, Billy's riding shotgun, and the conversation inevitably turns to dunking. I wish they would have just stopped the movie right there. Cut, print, send to the studio. Go no further. Unfortunately, we had no such luck...and neither did Billy.

We all know what happens next. Billy repeatedly tells Sid he can "stuff it." Sidney shrugs it off and hits him with the nondescript, but goading, "Ok, fine." They locate a random "goal," on the side of the road, and before you know it, Billy is putting up his half of the five grand that he can dunk the ball successfully given three tries. One heartbreaking minute later, Billy goes "miss, miss, miss" on his three attempts and we are left sitting in the audience shaking our heads and cursing under our breath. But the question remains...what made Billy think he could jam?!?!?? Dunking a basketball is not one of those athletic achievements that changes for a person on a day-to-day basis. Either you can, or you can't. Simple as that. Like Billy, I've always been a capable hooper with range from deep and a supreme knowledge of the game. But make no mistake...I'm a 6-foot Caucasian with absolutely no illusions of ever flying above the tin and flushing it down unless they one day decide to spring-load the floorboards and shrink the ball to the size of a plum. But here's Billy, vertically and athletically challenged, putting all of his newfound bankroll on the line for a task that he had to have known full well was a virtual impossibility. If he wanted to parlay his money that badly, why not challenge Sidney to another 3-point shootout? Or go find the nearest roulette wheel and throw it all on black? It's so hard to get into his head here and figure out what in the world he thought was going to happen. If you ain't a dunker, you don't just walk onto the court one day and accidentally throw one down. It's not like hitting a half court shot. If you can't dunk, you can't dunk. Period. No amount of pride or determination is going to change that.

The ensuing scene plays out predictably. Billy returns home to Gloria, eventually comes clean that he lost all of the bread (again), and she storms out, leaving him with a couple cold slices of 'Za and an escalating fire inside the motel room. She puts all of the blame on Billy, and that is understandable. But not so fast. What about the winner of the aforementioned Dunk Bet, a Mr. Sidney Deane? I'm well aware that in the world of hustling, there are no friends, only potential marks. We learned this earlier in the movie. But this wasn't even hustling. This was simply Sidney taking advantage of an unstable buddy during a desperate period in his life. Sidney knew Billy was always looking to turn one dollar into ten, and ten into fifty, and he pounced on the opportunity. That's not what I call being a friend.

I also take exception with the famed sports movie writer/director, Ron Shelton, and his handling of this portion of the film. If he wants to make the flick all about streetball and hustling, that's fine. At that point, I'd pretty much swallow everything with a grain of salt and realize there are no morals or ethics involved. But Shelton makes it about more than that. We see a relationship developing throughout the movie between Billy and Sidney that extends away from the blacktop. Even though most of their interaction takes place with a ball and a basket, there is clearly another element at work here. When Billy needs help getting Gloria on Jeopardy, it's Sidney who assists him in making it happen. When Sidney's crib gets robbed and he's strapped for cash, he goes to Billy to help him win one more money game against The King and Duck. Believing these two guys were friends was easy for us as viewers. Their chemistry was undeniable, both on and off the court. Even with the unsavory hustle job by Sidney earlier in the movie, they settled their differences and came together for the tournament victory. So why, Mr. Shelton, did you find it necessary to pull the rug out from under us again and have Sidney fleece Billy for a second time??? I'm sittin' here 17 years after the movie came out, and I can't wrap my head around it. It's gotta be one or the other. Either they are mortal enemies and out for blood at all times, or they are loyal friends willing to lay it all on the line when the chips are down and their partner is struggling. Shelton selfishly yanks us back and forth throughout the 115 minutes when all he really had to do was pick a dynamic, stick with it, and let us jump in with both feet.

White Men Can't Jump will always be considered one of the best sports movies of all time. And that isn't really debatable. There are a million memorable lines, countless hilarious scenes, and some pretty respectable hoops action. Wesley and Woody were both perfect in their roles, as were all of the supporting pieces. Even Snipes' pesky and annoying sidekick, Kadeem Hardison, starts to grow on you after a while. But it could have been the best. It should be one of those movies you see on TV and automatically decide "That's it...I'm stickin' with it 'till the end." But it's not. Because it can be so freakin' frustrating. Because of Billy's hard-headed ways. Because of Sidney's paper-thin loyalties. And because of that damn dunking scene. Maybe one of these days, I'll get past it, and enjoy the movie for what it's worth. But I don't think so. Because everybody knows that white men can't jump. Everybody, that is, except for Billy Hoyle.


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Monday, November 16, 2009

Hoopin' Dinosaurs, Bad Jokes, and a Shocking Discovery in the NBA


There might not be a more enjoyable team to watch in the NBA right now than the Toronto Raptors. Friday night, the Raps trailed the Clippers by 22 on the road. But they kept scrapping, kept moving the ball, and by the time the 4th quarter started, the game was deadlocked. Twelve feisty minutes later, the Raptors had worn down the Clip Show, and were rewarded with an easy 15-point win. But it was the way they did that made it so enjoyable to watch. Franchise player Chris Bosh, the man that is near-unstoppable when he wants to be, did a lot of everything on this night. He hit for 21 points, hauled in 14 boards, and handed out 6 dimes. And unlike most of the other superstars in the league today, he continued to share the ball even at the game's most critical stages. Whereas other "stars" demand the ball at these moments and tell everyone else to scram, on this night Bosh simply took what the defense gave him and reacted. If Chris Kaman was guarding him straight up, he would take him to the rack. If the double team came, he would find the nearest Raptor sharpshooter. And there are plenty of those.

There's Hedo Turkoglu, the big off-season acquisition from Orlando. Once he finds his groove with this club and gets acclimated, look out. At times with Orlando last year, he was relied upon a little too much to be a playmaker and do things off the dribble. With this squad, and proven point Jose Calderon running the show, Hedo can float a little bit more and let the game come to him. Too often during last spring's playoff run he would wind up taking forced shots or making wild forays to the hoop simply because nobody else could really create their own shot. Now he can go back to being that guy from his days in Sacramento. The guy that blends in with the other pieces but can still get you 25-30 on a given night.

The aforementioned Calderon is about as fiery as they come at the point guard spot. He's like a cross between John Stockton and Gary Payton. Like Stockton, Jose is generally a very composed player and smart enough to run his offense fluidly, making few turnovers and getting the ball where it needs to go. And like Payton, he can absolutely flip out on his opponent if the situation calls for it. Late in Friday night's game, Clippers PG Sebastian Telfair tried leaning into Calderon to draw a foul on a desperation three. In the process, he caught Calderon above the eye with a little chicken wing elbow, and wouldn't you know it, the little Spanish firecracker absolutely flipped his wig. He got up off the deck, started screaming at Telfair, the referees...pretty much anybody within shouting distance that was wearing a uniform. Was he right? Ahh, it was questionable. Definitely some contact, but most likely completely inadvertent on the part of Telfair. Didn't matter to our boy. A few possessions later, Jose drove to the hoop and got a layup. And with a minute to go, and the Raptors now fully in control up by 12, he nailed a long bomb from beyond the arc and again started with the hysterics. Yelling towards the crowd, nodding his head violently like some kind of drunk bobblehead...and this was a shot to put his team up fifteen with less than a minute to play. The man might be certifiably insane, but he sho' is fun to watch.

Then there's the little known 2nd year guard from Italy, Marco Belinelli. Until his recent surge with 'Ronto, Belinelli was most known for going off in a summer league game last year for like 45 points. He then spent the actual season rotting in Don Nelson's typically overcrowded doghouse. Now it seems the Italian Bomber has found a home. He comes in off the Raps bench with one order: shoot. He's 6'5" with a quick release, making it pretty difficult to bother him when he decides it's time to fire. On this night, Bells banged out six buckets in his 28 minutes, with three of 'em coming from the land of plenty. It's funny watching him operate in a pick-and-roll situation because the defense reacts to him as if he is a normal guard that is capable of either driving or pulling up. That would be incorrect. This man has one thought on his mind, and that is hoisting from downtown. He's also the kind of guy that will have the ball in his hands with somewhere between 8-10 on the shot clock, only to decide, "Alright, it's up to me now...no time for any more passes!" leading to him dribbling in a circle for the next few ticks before letting fly from 27 feet. This kind of play definitely leads to streaky spells, but when he's got it goin', Mr. Belinelli becomes a very dangerous 4th quarter weapon for these Flying Canadian Dinosaurs.

And last but not least, the forgotten first overall pick from the 2006 Draft, Andrea Bargnani. The lanky Bargnani had a hard time finding his niche in the NBA during his first couple years. He fashioned himself as a Dirk Nowitzki-type double threat, but in reality, he seemed like more of a poor man's right handed version of Sam Perkins. His 3-point touch was suspect, and he made very little contribution on the glass. Still too early to be labeled an outright "bust," there were plenty of grumblings that the big fella was never going to live up to the lofty expectations that come with being Numero Uno in a draft. Fast forward to the present. In the season's opening weeks, Bargnani has taken the Eastern Conference by storm. Averaging just under 20 points per game, he has proven to be the perfect frontcourt complement to the similarly multi-talented Bosh. Bargnani is on his way to becoming the best shooter in the NBA. Yeah, you heard me. Not just one of the best...the absolute best. Doing most of his work from the outside, Bargnani is shooting over 50% from the field, a career-best 47% from long-range, and a mind-boggling 93% from the charity stripe. And this man is seven feet tall! If he continues to stroke it like this, the Raptors become almost impossible to defend. On a high pick-and-roll with Calderon, Bargnani casually floats out to the top of the key after setting the screen. If they choose to cover him out there, Calderon is free to roam and make a play for himself or Bosh on the weak side. If they double the guard, Bargnani is left alone from 23 feet, at which point the referee ought to just extend both his arms into the air and head back downcourt. It's always cash money for the Big Lasagna, and like his predecessor Big Smooth, the ball is released effortlessly without the slightest trace of physical exertion.

I'm not proclaiming the ballers north of the border to be the favorites out of the East, but something is definitely being built there. Bryan Colangelo, once the architect behind the dazzling Run 'N Gun Suns' squads of the early 2000's, is now putting together a similar group of marksmen in Toronto. Hell, even former Piston Amir Johnson has displayed an active pulse playing for this team, putting to rest previous rumors from his days in Detroit that he was born without an ounce of talent...or a human soul. So keep an eye out for this exciting bunch from Toronto. They run the floor, they move the ball, and they all know how to shoot the rock. I look for them to make the playoffs and possibly even get a little run going once they get there. Or maybe they are completely average and everything I just wrote was a blatant overreaction to one enjoyable night of NBA action. They were playing the Clippers, after all...


When you say someone has a "very dry sense of humor," doesn't that basically mean that they aren't the least bit funny? If you're funny, you let people know it. When you make a joke, people know you are making a joke. Heck, you throw a pair of those goofy glasses on with the fake moustache and I'm a happy camper. But with "Dry Humor" guy, you have to sift through the metaphors and the monotone delivery just to try and figure out what what this mook is talking about and why it might be funny. You know what all of these guys with the dry sense of humor have in common? None of 'em are funny. Not a one. And nobody ever just has a "dry" sense of humor. It's always "very dry." Is this supposed to make it better? I mean, is anything really better when it is dry? Dry chicken?? No thanks...that sucker should be juicy. Dry heat? No thanks...I enjoy breathing without feeling lightheaded. Dry ice? I still don't know what that means. So let's stop complimenting these unfunny people for their underrated "dry" senses of humor. They're not funny, and they never will be.


The Pistons and Wizards were getting set to tip-off Saturday night. The players took the floor, the referees got in position, and the coaches took their seats. Everything seemed perfectly fine and normal...then I saw it. It was an uncomfortable sight to see. No, scratch that...it was a startling, nightmare-inducing sight to see. No, no, no, scratch that, too...it was the single worst thing I had ever seen in my life. The it I refer to is none other than the starting shooting guard for the Washington Wizards on this night, Mike Miller. I don't know how else to say this, so I'll just come right out with it. He...looked...pregnant.

You heard me. The signs were all there. He was heavy. He was bloated. Looked like he hadn't showered since training camp. He was wearing a giant shoulder/torso contraption underneath his jersey, presumably a tool from Lamaze class to assist with breathing when the big moment arrives. His hair, typically well-coiffed and styled, now looked unwashed and grimy. It was excessively long, had strawberry blond highlights mixed throughout, and then in the back, Miller had fashioned some kind of dirty mock-ponytail deal that made him look like a cross between Mario Batali and the doughy, middle school version of D.J. Tanner. Almost makes you shiver just thinking about it. I mean, Miller was never Mr. America or anything, but at least when he was at Florida and early in his NBA career, he kept his hair clean and short, even if it did make him look exactly like Hilary Swank's character from Boys Don't Cry.

In the early moments of this game, maybe the second or third possession, a whistle blew and there was a short stoppage in play. The camera panned to a clearly exhausted Miller, bent over with hands on knees, and desperately gasping for air. Pistons' play-by-play man Mark Champion tried justifying Miller's fatigue by saying something like, "Well, that's what happens when you miss a couple of weeks. It takes time to get readjusted to the speed of the game." Nice try, Mark. Miller was most definitely panting and wheezing, but it had nothing to do with missed time. It had to do with the fact that he was carrying another human life inside his belly. Whenever Rodney Stuckey or Ben Gordon would start to make a move off the dribble to steam past Miller, you couldn't help but feel a tinge of sympathy. The poor man obviously had no chance of keeping up and would usually wind up grabbing an arm or piece of the jersey as they sped by. But it didn't end there.

See, pregnant women are known to be moody and irritable. Miller was no exception. Each time the referee saddled him with another foul, Miller would lose it. He made ugly faces. He whined incessantly. He had a look in his eye that said, "I need a big jar of pickles and a quart of chocolate ice cream...IMMEDIATELY!" At one point, a Piston slipped on a wet spot in the paint and the ballboy went to clean it up. Ninety-nine percent of the time in this situation, you assume it's just a player's sweat that dripped onto the floor, making it slippery. However, when Mama Miller is roamin' the hardwood, you really have to consider the possibility that homeboy's water just broke with a wheelchair/ambulance combo being needed pronto. The question is, how are Flip Saunders and Co. going to keep their expectant shooting guard safe as the year progresses and he enters his third trimester?? Your guess is as good as mine, but let's just hope that opposing defenses know better than to foul Miller hard as he enters the lane. There's a bun in that oven...


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