We Made a Mistake...Please Come Back
Priscilla Presley had one of the more famous quotes in movie history when she uttered "Good men don't just fall out of the sky" during the climactic scene in the final "Naked Gun." For some reason, whenever I think of this year's Pistons team, that quote comes to mind, only with a bit of a twist; 'Great leaders don't just fall out of the sky.' And Chauncey Billups was a great leader.
On paper, many people thought the deal that saw the Pistons receive Allen Iverson for Chauncey was a wash, or even a slight nod to Detroit. Not the case...at all. Chauncey has gone to Denver and taken the league by storm. Leading a collection of talent around him that is serviceable, at best, Chauncey has led his Nuggets to a 29-15 mark, good for 3rd in the hellacious Western Conference. George Karl has recently talked about his lack of nerves going into games ever since CB arrived on the scene. He no longer worries about calling timeouts or making quick substitutions (though I'm sure some fans of the 2001 Bucks wonder if he ever worried about such things), all because of his confidence in Chauncey's ability to lead the team on the floor. Without Carmelo Anthony in the lineup, Mr. Big Shot has taken to tutoring the erratic and freewheeling J.R. Smith. He has managed to turn back Kenyon Martin's clock a little bit to when he was throwing down alley-oops from Jason Kidd in New Jersey. He has also been getting to the line at an alarming rate recently, around 10 times a night, sometimes more. When you're a 90% free throw shooter, that's a very good thing.
Allen Iverson's entrance into Detroit has been the exact opposite. Whereas Pistons' brass thought this deal would bring life to a perceived worn out group of players, it has done nothing of the sort. The Pistons performance of late has been lackadaisical and uninspired. The defense, at one time this organization's staple, is non-existent. On Sunday night, in a home loss to Houston, Rafer Alston and Luis Scola ran pick-and-rolls on basically every possession of the 1st quarter. After those 12 minutes, the Rockets had 39 points, and Alston and Scola had to return to the locker room to get new jerseys with the names "Stockton" and "Malone" printed on the back. And while Allen Iverson cannot be blamed solely for this team's struggles, his addition has done none of the things that might have been expected when the deal was made. His game is simply not suited for a team with other talented players. He is most comfortable when he is dominating the ball. In his heyday in Philly, he was free to dribble out shot clocks trying to get a better look for himself. He was free to jack up 25-30 shots on any given night. He was playing with marginal players like Aaron McKie, George Lynch, and Eric Snow. These were guys that would do the dirty work and let Allen do his thing. It's the only way he can function. He has not proven in his time in the NBA the ability to blend with other All-Star talent and make something special out of it. For now, he and the other Pistons seem content to mosey on through the 82-game season, showing glimpses of life every couple weeks. I don't think that's what Joe D had in mind when this deal was made.
When you see highlights of the Nuggets crowd on their feet, enamored with their hometown boy's return, it's hard not to feel jealous. When you see a Pistons team aimlessly go through the motions for 2 straight home games, it's hard not to feel depressed. Chauncey Billups was the driving force on a team that appeared in six straight conference finals. Of course, only two of those resulted in finals appearances, and just one ended with a title, but there are very few teams in any sport that can lay claim to such an extended run of contention. And if there was ever a year to chalk it up to, "Hey, the other squad was just too good," it was last year, when the Celtics knocked off the Pistons in 6. When a basketball team can stay that good for that long, chances are there is a gifted leader at the controls throughout the journey. That was Chauncey.
Bounce Back Weekend
Wednesday night, Michigan State suffered an absolutely shocking defeat at home to Northwestern. The same Northwestern that tries to play like those old bracket-busting Princeton teams, just without the cutting, passing, and legendary coaching of Pete Carril. With a tricky road game in Columbus on Sunday, it was a chance for Tom Izzo's club to show some resolve and right the ship immediately without the hiccup turning into a week-long stumble. They did just that, playing an absolutely superb final 20 minutes, punishing the Buckeyes inside and out en route to 52 2nd-half points and a double-digit win. It was clear early in the contest that Thad Matta's club was extremely fired up for the battle with the conference leaders, jumping out to a 13-point 1st half lead. The Spartans calmly took Ohio State's best punch, and began to chip away at the lead. Durrell Summers kept things within striking distance by way of his blazing stroke from the long line. Even though Izzo and Co. had a small lead with about 6 minutes to play, you didn't get the sense that the Buckeye players really thought they had any shot to pull it out. The Spartans were just too good. The combination of Summers, Kalin Lucas, and Goran Suton would have been too much for most any team in the country to handle on this day. Ohio State can certainly attest to that.
For any team to have any chance of making a dent come NCAA tournament time in March, it must prove it can win tough games away from home during the regular season. Michigan has yet to accomplish this, but has a wonderful opportunity to do so this week. While the Wolverines still sit in solid position to make the tourney, a win this week at either Ohio State or Purdue would do wonders for the confidence of this growing program. The early season wins over UCLA and Duke were fantastic, but of course, neither was in a hostile setting. The UCLA win was on a neutral floor at Madison Square Garden with the crowd decidedly in favor of the underdog, and the Duke win was in the friendly confines of Crisler Arena. A victory in Columbus this week will be a difficult task, as the Bucks will be smarting from their beating at the hands of Michigan State. Stealing a win at Purdue will be even more daunting, as the Boilermakers have hit their stride in Big Ten play, winning 4 straight in impressive fashion. The win over Northwestern this weekend was crucial to get things back on track and bring the record to .500 in conference play. Getting a win this week in an unfriendly Big 10 setting would mean much more.
Sounds Like the Name of an Old TV Cop Show...
Afternoons in Michigan will not be the same without 'Stoney and Wojo' commanding the afternoon dial at AM-1130. They were one of the few constants in an ever-changing sports radio climate over the last decade. With almost all local programming now gone from WDFN, a pretty large void emerges for many that used to rely on 'S & W' for entertainment on the drive home. I listened to them them for as long as they were on the air, and both guys were always very friendly and inviting anytime I encountered them in the real world. Short story about Stoney. I was in a public speaking class at North Farmington High and we were given an assignment to interview anyone we wanted, in front of the class. I took a shot and e-mailed Stoney. He accepted. The day of the interview comes, and I'm all ready to go. A fresh haircut, tucked-in polo shirt, and a long list of well thought out questions for my famous guest of honor to answer. About 30 minutes before the interview was set to go down, I got a message: there's a phone call waiting for me in the office. As I made my way down there, I could only think one thing; he's not coming. Maybe I was getting bumped for a George Irvine press conference. Sure enough, I picked up the phone and it was Stoney on the other line. Only, it wasn't what I thought. "Hey, that interview is today, right? Yeah, that's what I thought. Ok, I'll be there." I met him downstairs and took him up to the class, where he entertained everyone with stories about Springsteen concerts and his days working on "The George Michael Sports Machine." My teacher loved the interview and I had myself a much-needed 'A.' That day, just like every day for the last 15 years, Stoney showed up on time...and did not disappoint.
Other Sophisticated Thoughts
Watching the Australian Open on ESPN has been enjoyable this year...as long as you don't care about who's winning or what the current score is. As usual, the score of the current match is displayed on the screen; only, this year, they have decided to post these numbers in 6-point font, making the digits impossible to decipher unless you put your face within inches of the TV. I guess the moral of that story is, "If you're still up at 3:31 AM, watching tennis, then maybe trying to identify the exact score of Verdasco vs. Murray isn't your biggest problem."
Might be a few years late on this, but I recently caught "Catch Me If You Can" for the first time, and was highly impressed. Really enjoyed the flick throughout and wondered afterward why it had taken me 7 or 8 years to finally run it down. It was a little bit like "The Talented Mr. Ripley," except that this movie was good.
I've always been a guy that has preached the importance of marriage...between donuts and sprinkles. They just seem to be made for each other. You throw a little chocolate frosting on that bad boy so the sprinkles can nestle up real cozy, and now you have yourself a real donut. The standard glazed model might command all the headlines and take all the credit, but there's one thing it will never have...my heart.
Jose Calderon hit all 3 of his free throws on Sunday, bringing his consecutive streak to 86. I predicted a slip-up around 85, but it looks like our boy is not feeling the pressure just yet. He still has some meat left on that bone to reach Micheal Williams' masterful streak of 97, but he is looking very good. Maybe I'm making too much out of a semi-obscure streak, but I'm surprised the networks and ESPNews are not breaking into their coverage when Calderon steps to the stripe like they used to when Bonds or McGwire would be at the plate chasing the home run record. I think they are probably just waiting for Calderon to get within a few, and then they will start with the live look-ins. Or there is also the distinct possibility that I have gone completely out of my mind...
Drop your thoughts on the Stones, Spartans, or Wolverines in the comments area below, or just dish me a line about sprinkled donuts at firstname.lastname@example.org