Saturday, May 3, 2008


For the time being, I'm going to be moving this blog from Blogger to Wordpress.  I'm not fully convinced at the moment, but I'm going to give it a shot for a while.

So, you will find Hoops Column at:

Friday, April 18, 2008

Mavericks vs Hornets - Game One Preview

Call this the Rodney Dangerfield series.

Is there anything either of these teams could do in this series to earn some respect across the league?  

I don't think so.

Despite earning the number two seed in the West and Chris Paul earning legit MVP talk... Nobody believes this team can win the Western Conference.  All of the experts are pointing to their lack of playoff experience as the fatal flaw that prevents expectations from rising too high.

Is it just me, or does this team remind you a little bit of that first Sacramento team when Chris Webber lead them to the playoffs and several years contender status?  Or maybe they remind me of that first Mavericks team to crack the first round of the playoffs with Dirk, Nash and Finley guiding the way?

Nobody really thought much of either team until they had made some noise in the playoffs.  Then, they spent several seasons in the limelight, knocking on the door.

Is that what we have in this New Orleans team?  Is this the first of many trips deep into the playoffs for CP3, West and Chandler?  Or are they going to be back in the 7th, 8th, 9th seed battle with recent almost contenders like the Nuggets, Clippers, and Rockets?

Notice what I just did?  I tried to talk them up and ended up dismissing this season's chances and started judging the team by what they might do next year instead of what they might do in this playoff run.

So, yeah, I'm with most of the rest of the critics.  I just don't think the Hornets can win the West.  Actually, I don't even think they can make it to the Western Conference Finals.

IF the Hornets knock out the vulnerable Mavericks they will run smack into the winner of the Suns-Spurs series.  Nash-Shaq-Amare or Duncan-Parker-Ginobli.  CP3 is really good.  But this team isn't going to the Western Conference Finals.

What about the Mavericks?  What are we to make of this team?

Dirk is playing with fire, even on a bum leg.  Jason Kidd.  Yeah, all of these years later and you can still call him "ason Kidd" because he doesn't have a J (jumpshot).  But seriously, what does a guy have to do to earn your respect?  He's lead a team to the finals twice already.  He has inspired Dirk, which is worth a large chunk of his contract by itself and he has made Dampier into a legit center.

Seriously.  Go watch the tape.  Dampier hasn't played like this in any season with the Mavericks.  Dampier has a legitimate chance to hang with any center in the West this year (since Yao is out).  Yes, even Shaq.  Have you SEEN Shaq play this year?  I didn't say he could beat Shaq.  He can hang with Shaq.

This Mavericks team really is quite talented.

But, Avery has looked like his is in over his head since Game One of LAST years playoff series.  He hasn't made much sense all season and has made lots of wacky moves during the games and said lots of wacky stuff between games.

Dallas should have the talent to win this series.  I just don't know if their coach can get them there now.  He could two years ago.  But, he seems lost and panicky.

Chris Paul appears to be on a mission.  But he also seems doomed to failure.  If Steve Nash couldn't will the Suns to the Finals how is CP3 going to do it?

This probably is a cop out, but I think the winner of Game One will win this series.  If the Mavericks come out and get the job done, their confidence may soar and the Hornets may face an impossible task.

On the other hand, if the Hornets get the job done at home and find a way derail Dirk then I suspect Avery will overreact and send his team into a tailspin.

Jazz vs Rockets - Game One Preview

If the Rockets were going into the playoffs fresh off of their 20+ game winning streak, or with Yao in the line up... this might be an interesting series.

Instead... Yao is out with an injury (again).  Alston is out for several games with an injury.  The winning streak is history.  McGrady is shooting a lot but not making much of anything.  And Mutumbo is still getting calls from AARP about his pending membership status.

Meanwhile, the Jazz won their division and added an outside shooter at the trade deadline to finally balance out their offense a little bit.  Oh, and Jerry Sloan may be the best coach left in the NBA right now.

This series should not be that interesting.  The Rockets have home court advantage but the Jazz overcame that last year even with Yao in the line up.

The Jazz will most likely punish the Rockets early and often for their weakness at the point guard spot and at center.  This could be the least interesting first round series in the West.  I would love to be proven wrong by the Rockets.  But they just don't look all that good going into this series.  The Jazz should win game one handily in Alston's absence.

Suns vs. Spurs - Game One Preview

Easily the most anticipated match up of the first round.  The defending champion Spurs in a rematch with the team they bounced last season in a controversy filled series.

And, a man called Shaq.

The Spurs managed to stay under the radar most of the season, again.  Yet, they uncharacteristically let the division championship fall into the hands of the Hornets.  How long has it been since the Spurs failed to win their division two years in a row?  It feels like a long time.

History says the Spurs never win titles back-to-back.  So, this is the year for the upstarts to capitalize on their apparent weakness.  But, how many times have we all counted the Spurs out only to end up watching yet another parade down the River-walk when all is said and done?

Meanwhile, the vultures circled around the Suns this season after the Marion-Shaq trade.  Yet, they've appeared to find their groove and Shaq has reportedly revitalized their locker room.  And given that Amare has apparently run off Joe Johnson and now Shawn Marion, saving that locker room could be Shaq greatest challenge and greatest accomplishment yet.

It feels like the Spurs have been playing coy all season.  Parker hasn't been in the headlines as much (sports or celebrity headlines).  Ginobili has been their been their offensive spark but has missed a notable amount of games and spent most of the season coming off the bench.  Duncan has been solid, but unspectacular.  Or, else we've just become bored with his consistency.

But when the playoff lights are on, you expect to find this team's intensity at 11 and their coach making all of the right moves.

The Suns have been all over the map this season.  They paid Seattle to take their best defender away (Kurt Thomas) and watched Thomas join the rival Spurs.  Then they made the trade for Shaq to address their long lasting weakness in the middle at the risk of destroying their strength of spreading the floor and shooting from every position.

Okay, so enough history.  What is going to happen in game one?

I admit, this is one of the two Western Conference first round series that has me pretty stumped.

Here is what I think I know...
  • The winner of this series will ultimately make it to the Western Conference Finals.
  • You can't convince me that this series will be settled in less than six games.
  • San Antonio looks vulnerable.  This is the Suns series to win.
  • Shaq's ability to stay on the court and play 7 games should be the key to the series.
So, I guess I'm picking the Suns in six.  If that is going to happen, I must believe that the Suns are going to win game one.

Thanks Portland and Seattle

Last week, I was preparing to write one of those "we believe" kind of articles that was going to link the 1994-1995 Houston Rockets with the late season acquisition of Clyde Drexler to the current edition of the Dallas Mavericks.

I was prepared to talk about the Rockets of 1995 entering the playoffs as the sixth seed, but improving game-by-game in the playoffs until they reached their potential and became "unbeatable." And how the Rockets carved their way through 3 teams with 60 wins or more to win the championship, despite a shaky transition period while integrating Clyde.

I was ready to go out on a limb and say these Dallas Mavericks were ready to follow that same path. That they were finally coming together as a team and to actually be better in the playoffs than they were at any point in the regular season.

Then, thankfully, the Portland and Seattle games happened. Two lottery bound teams between match ups of playoff contenders. Two good warm up matches that the Mavericks could use to tune up and begin flexing their muscles.

TWO Loses! ? Que?

Thank you.

Thank you for bringing me back down to reality. Yes, this is a very capable and talented team that can, I still believe, beat anybody. But, they are still lacking that confidence and chemistry. They still can't get the job done night after night. Even against less than capable competition.

Thank you.

Now, I can safely enter the 2008 NBA playoffs with few expectations for the Mavericks. Lots of hope. But few expectations. Unlike the last 2, or 4, editions of the Mavericks, there is nothing this team could do in the playoffs that would disappoint me.

0-4 sweep by the Hornets. Fine.
7 game nail-biter against the Hornets. Fine.
Getting blasted in the second round. Fine.
Getting blasted in the Western Conference Finals. Fine.

This team has already disappointed me.

The 2008 Dallas Mavericks are Cousin Eddy. They might make you proud. They might really mess up. They might show some promise and THEN really mess up. But, you've lived with Cousin Eddy in your life for so long you are immune to the disappointment.

Obviously, the implication is that by being Cousin Eddy you don't ever really expect the ultimate success. And that is very true of this Mavericks team. The only thing they could do to shock me would be to win the whole darn championship.

This team has the talent and the superstar to win each and every series set before them. Yes, I believe they can win any of those series. But I just can't convince myself that this is a team ready to make a championship run of destiny.

On the other hand, I pretty much felt the same way about the Rockets back in 1995. Though, I was probably not quite as harshly disappointed in that team. I just couldn't find the fire in the team that had pushed them through the previous season's championship.  And so I really didn't expect them to make the run they had.

So, once again. Thank you Portland and Seattle for busting my bubble before the playoffs began. I'll be able to enjoy the whole thing a lot better from this perspective.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Jump Shooting Team

In general, folks should not spend too much time worrying about what Dale Hansen says. But this past week he said something on the radio about the Mavericks that I've heard repeatedly for years and I think it needs to be addressed.

Dale said: "The problem is the Mavericks are (still) a jump shooting team."

And then he went on to say that when the shots are falling they are great and we they are not falling they are doomed. This is an argument that became very popular during the Nelson-Nash-Dirk heyday and has been said repeatedly of the Phoenix Suns the last few years as well.

My question is, what team ISN'T a jump shooting team in the end? How would a team qualify as a non-jump shooting team?

I suppose you could come up with a percentage of points scored "in the paint" that transforms a team from "jump shooting" to "non-jump shooting". But what percentage is that?

Suppose you come up with a number like that and identify a certain (low) percentage of NBA teams that qualify. What happens to these teams when they run into a team that is smart enough to clog the lane and take away the "points in the paint?"

Trust me, if your bread-and-butter scoring play involves scoring in the paint, NBA teams are going to adjust to shut you down. How? One word. Zone.

Then what? For that game, that quarter or even those few minutes in a quarter, a team needs to be able to score from the outside. They need to be able to adjust. They need to bring out their jump shooters, set off-the-ball screens, space the floor and get some open shots wherever they can.

Dale Hansen said that the Mavs reliance on the jump shot is why they lost the Finals two years ago to Miami. Dale is, as he often is, wrong.

If you can stomach the experience, go back and watch the tape from the 2006 playoffs. You will see that the Mavs made it to the finals because they learned to score consistently inside the paint. Devin Harris broke down Parker and Nash and scored consistently in the paint, Stackhouse drove the lane, Howard drove the lane and Dirk dominated at the free throw line and drove to the lane in key situations. And then came Miami.

The Hansen's of the world would like to argue that the Mavs went away from what was working in the finals. That the Mavs slipped back to the jump shooting ways and thus doomed themselves.

But if you watch the game, you will see that Miami took the inside away. They put Alonzo, Shaq and Haslem in the lane and in Dirk's face. Dirk tried to go inside and he got swatted away and knocked down to the ground repeatedly. Miami looked at the Mavs gameplan and realized that they had to take the Mavs bread-and-butter away. They commited their defense to shutting down the inside.

With the middle clogged up, the Mavs had to and should have adjusted. In football, if the defense loads up to stop the run, even the most run heavy offense has to open up the playbook and prove they can pass the ball to open up some room for the run. NBA teams face the same delima when the paint is clogged up with "seven foot shot blockers." In this situation, you must find away to score from the outside.

The Mavs failed because their offense wasn't flexible enough to score from the outside consistently. Their shooters wilted under pressure and failed to open up the lanes. Jason Terry, Devin Harris, Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse all failed to become threats from the outside. And the Mavericks were doomed on offense.

What Dale needs to realize is that the Mavericks problem isn't that they are a jumpshooting team. Their problem is that they can't be a jumpshooting team when the need arises. Jason Terry is their only real outside shooter other than Dirk.

On the other hand, the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs have proven time and time again that they can play any style. They have enough clutch shooters to break you down if you try to focus your defense on Duncan. If you try to take out their other playmakers, Duncan will slowly destroy you in the paint.

I think Dale can be pretty funny sometimes and has a knack for breaking down social issues in sports like few other in the media. But his actual X's and O's analysis comes up a bit short. Just like too many of the Mavericks shots these days.

Jeff Van Smarty

One moment of the Lakers-Mavs game this past Sunday afternoon really stood out. Late in the game, Lamar Odom was busy clanking some clutch free throws when coach-turned-announcer Jeff Van Gundy dropped a pearl of wisdom.

He pointed out that he didn't like the match up of Brandon Bass trying to block out Kobe Bryant during free throws. He noted that Bryant is a crafty rebounder and could school the inexperienced Bass.

Right on queue, Odom missed the second free throw, Bryant darted around Bass and grabbed the key rebound. Seriously! How did JVG call that? Is Bass really that bad at boxing out on the free throw line? Is Kobe that good at getting offensive rebounds? Is JVG just that lucky?

There was a little luck involved, but Van Gundy deserves a tip of the hat to his insight. I'm sure he got a lot more things wrong during the broadcast, but he got this really important play dead on. And I'm sure plenty of Mavs fans were left shaking their heads wondering why Avery didn't see this match up problem too.

In the middle of a week where Avery's coaching skill and judgment are already in question, this was yet another blow to his credibility.

I wonder, as the rebound was being gathered by Kobe, if Van Gundy's agent was placing a call with Mark Cuban's office and faxing over a copy of his resume?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Seat Warmers Now Available

These days, there is something new at the AAC. Seat Warmers.

Well, actually, seat warmers are not provided for the average fans or even the folks with big hair and courtside seats. This luxury accessory is on just one seat in the whole arena. Who occupies that seat?

Avery Johnson.

Somehow, over the last few years Avery has deftly avoided much direct criticism of his coaching style and ability. Yes, there have been a few rumblings upon occasion, but he has avoided any real heat. And for good reason. The Mavericks have, almost unquestionably, been better daily under the leadership of Avery than they were with Don Nelson.

But with ghosts of the last two playoff collapses hovering over the city and the (re)arrival of Jason Kidd, fans have started applying the heat to Avery.
Is Avery's job really in jeopardy? Of course, nothing of that nature has been said by anyone within the organization. But if you corner any Mavs fan or sports "expert" in the city this week you will find at least a little doubt about Avery.

This week's doubt is largely due to the ending of the Spurs-Mavs gain from a few days ago. Those last 34 seconds have been well chronicled and dissected. To make matters worse, Avery's response to the criticism has probably increased the anxiety of local hoops-heads rather than serving to calm the situation.

Obviously, he can weather the storm of this one incident. But Avery's new "On The Hot Seat" status is not likely to go away anytime soon.

Three seasons of playoff failure have been rationalized thus far by the organization. Most of the post-collapse analysis focused on the problems with the players and the things that could be done to get the right players in place to avoid another collapse.
But the general feeling of local fans going into the 2007-2008 season was that the Mavericks team approached its last chance together. You could almost hear Mark talking to himself on the stairmaster saying "I'll give them one more year. But one more collapse and I'm cleaning house. One more year."

For a Mavs fan, this season has been painful to watch. After witnessing last season's regular season success it is painful to see virtually the same team under achieve on a nightly basis. They haven't been terrible, but they haven't played at the same level. And optimism has been hard to find in the fanbase.
But the late season trade that essentially swapped Devin Harris for Jason Kidd changed the equation. They didn't exactly blow up the team, but they did remove one of the biggest excuses for past failures. More specifically, they finally addressed the gaping hole that had haunted the team since Steve Nash exited in free agency.

Which means that even if Avery successfully washes last week's San Antonio folly under the bridge, when this season ends short of the ultimate goal (which is the most likely outcome given the competition) the heat will almost certainly be turned directly on Avery Johnson.

Sure, they could further shake up the team. They could swap this season's batch of veteran role players with another selection of aging former stars. They could exchange one or two parts with another under achieving team. But if this team can't get it done with Kidd and Dirk leading the way, the pressure from fans, media and most likely the owner is going to be to change something significant.

Dirk is not going anywhere. There are few trade options that include Dirk that would make sense for the Mavericks even if they wanted to get rid of him (and they don't). Terry, Stackhouse, Dampier and even Josh Howard could be floated as trade bait. And if the right trade came along, one or more of those players could be moved to significantly improve the team. But the odds are against a trade involving those players that helps the Mavericks in the short term.

Jason Kidd isn't going anywhere either. This organization has made that mistake before and it is not likely to repeat it. That leaves the head coach on the hot seat.

Would the Mavericks dare enter the 2008-2009 season with essentially the same cast of characters? At the moment, it seems unlikely. The momentum to replace Avery Johnson as the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks has begun.

Will it really come to that?
In comparison... who would have thought that Doc Rivers would survive last season as the Celtics coach?

Avery has certainly done a lot to deserve more time. But he has also made his fair share of mistakes and has been out-coached in numerous key situations.

Mark Cuban has historically been loyal to his employees, almost to a fault. But at what point does he have to choose between loyalty to Dirk and loyalty to his coach? What if the best thing for the best player is a new coach?

I don't know what Cuban will do. But I do know that the the window of opportunity is narrow and unforgiving.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


We begin this column with Moses.

Moses Malone to be specific.  My first NBA memories are of the 80-81 Houston Rockets amazing run to the NBA finals and the force that was Moses Malone.  My basketball memory then shifts to college hoops and the arrival of Akeem Olajuwon with the Houston Cougars.

And yes, there are some bitter memories of the NCAA championship failures.  Bitter, bitter memories.  But lets not dwell down there in the bile.  

I was young, so my basketball focus was not yet honed.  It took another big playoff run to draw my attention again.  The 1985-1986 NBA playoffs once again featured the Houston Rockets, this time lead by Olajuwon and Sampson to the NBA finals.  Once again, they were knocked off by the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird.  And yes, to this day the image of Larry "Legend" brings up a little more of that bile for me.

Nothing against the man.  Heck of a basketball player.  He just played for the wrong team.  And from what I know about him he would respect that opinion.

Despite the beat down handed out by Bird and the following years of Rockets failures, the 1986 playoffs signaled the true beginning of my addiction to basketball.  Admittedly, my fandom simmered for quite a few years but in the early 90's I found myself in college thus a little more free to expand my obsession.

In other words, out of the iron grip of my parents... I got cable.  And suddenly I could watch basketball all of the time.  And not long after that the Rockets made their return to the NBA finals and this time Larryboy (just kidding about the link, try this instead) wasn't there to stop them.  Critics will point out that some dude named Jordan wasn't there either.  But to that I say... don't blame the Rockets for Jordan's own problems.  He should have been there and the critics should give him a little more grief about that.  But that is another story.

Regardless, the Rockets championships in the 90's were huge for me. Hey, folks from Houston have a LOT of bitter sports memories across the board.  Give us a little latitude please.

The late 90's found me living in Dallas and starting to attend Mavericks games because I could finally attend NBA games whenever I wanted.  It is a perk of having a J-O-B.

I wasn't a Mavericks fan then.  I was an NBA fan.  I had the NBA League Pass and watched all kinds of NBA games.  I got hooked on fantasy basketball and that just made it worse (the addiction that is).

Then a funny thing happened.  The Mavericks started to be fun to watch. Don Nelson had drastically rebuilt the team and they weren't exactly good, but they were pretty fun and every once in a while they did themselves proud.  I didn't realize it yet.  But I was turning into a Mavs fan and eventually into a Mavericks season ticket holder.

Then Mark Cuban came on the scene, Dirk and Nash became stars and suddenly other people wanted to go to Mavs games too.

I'm not going to detail my history with the Mavs from 2000 on because, quite frankly, after the last two playoff runs it is just too painful at the moment.  But, the point is that I found myself, quite unexpectedly, a Mavericks fan.

I'm still a Rockets fan.  But it used to be easy to figure out who to root for when the two teams clashed.  Then one game, I realized I was rooting for the Mavs to beat the Rockets.  I'm not quite sure I've come to terms with that yet (and that was several years ago).

So here I am.  Mavs fan and Rockets fan.  All in one.

And in case you are wondering, I classify myself as a respecter of the San Antonio Spurs.  But, like Larryboy, they suffer the incurable problem of being competitors to my teams.  So, I'm no fan of the Spurs.  And I'm sure they can live with that too.

And that is how we got here.  Moses to Akeem to Dirk.

Seems like a good foundation for a basketball column to me.