Monday, November 16, 2009
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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