Monday, May 28, 2012

Celtics vs Heat, the Bosh X Factor

Of the four teams left in the hunt for the NBA title, by far the worst is the Boston Celtics who, tonight, open the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat in Miami.

The Celtics' main problem is age. Three of their big stars are old. As the Celts run up and down the court, those who have courtside seats can probably hear the creaking bones of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. The only key Boston player young and spry enough to keep up with the Heat is point guard Rajon Rondo, who's capable of triple doubles. Late in Saturday's close game 7, after Paul Pierce fouled out, Rondo took over and guided the Celts to victory.

The X factor in the Finals is Heat big man Chris Bosh, who's been out since game 2 of the Eastern semis with an abdominal strain. He could miss the Celt series too, leaving the Heat, once again, with an inferior inside game. Backup center Dexter Pittman, serving a three-game suspension for a flagrant foul, will miss the first two games of this series. The Heat's Udonis Haslim isn't talented enough to rule the interior, leaving it open to the Celts' crafty Garnett. But age may slow Garnett.  A few years ago the Celts featured a dominant inside game with Kendrick Perkins and Glen (Big Baby) Davis. But those giants are long gone. The Celts, though, have gotten a boost from big Brandon Bass, who really has to step up if the Celts are going to seriously challenge Miami.

The Heat might just blow out Boston based on the brilliant play of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who've carried the team to victories over Atlanta and Indiana. Without Bosh, the weight of the team is squarely on their shoulders.

Squeaking by Atlanta and Philadelphia, the Celts haven't looked like a powerhouse. Losing guard Avery Bradley recently for the rest of the season with a bum shoulder has been a bummer, forcing aging Ray Allen into the starting lineup, where he hasn't flourished. Bradley might have put the brakes on the James-Wade express. Without Bradley, though, the Heat he-men just might run wild.

In tonight's game the Heat is favored by 8. They should be favored in every game, even the ones in Boston. If you're betting this game, take the Heat. A word of caution though, With Bosh out and unpredictable Rondo, who could turn into Superman, on the court, who knows what could happen. Some of these games might be close. Miami should win the series but don't be surprised if the Celts push the Heat to the limit.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Spurs vs Thunder--Gvie Spurs Slight Edge

Welcome to the NBA Finals--whoops, that is the NBA's Western Conference Finals. Actually this is like a battle between the league's best, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs, since the two teams in the Eastern Finals--Miami and Boston--are inferior to the West's best. The West winner will, most likely, win the NBA title.

Picking a winner between the Spurs and the Thunder--the series opens tonight in San Antonio--is tricky. Both steamrolled through two opponents in the first two rounds, the Thunder losing only once, to the Lakers, while the Spurs, swept all eight games from Utah and Dallas. In fact, the Spurs are sporting an incredible 18-game winning streak, stretching back to the regular season. Their last loss was April 11, to the Lakers.

Handicapping this series is tough because neither has a real edge.The Spurs big three--Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker--and older than the Thunder's top trio--Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden--but, in these well-spaced games, that's not a real factor. Besides, the Spurs, with a much better bench, can substitute without losing much strength. Road records aren't a factor either, since both play well away from home--particularly in the current playoffs.

Looking for an edge in their season series? In three games, Oklahoma City won one, on Jan 8, while the Spurs took the next two, on Feb 4 and March 16. In each, the victor won by about 10 points. So season-series results don't tell much. Neither does the turnover record. The Spurs protect the ball admirably but the Thunder, during the season, were the worst in the league, with nearly 17 a game. In the playoffs, though, the Thunder has shined, leading the league with about 10 a game.

Seasoned bettors, though, will probably side with the Spurs. They love San Antonio. The smart ones have been picking the Spurs on their 18-game streak and have been piling up cash. On that streak, the team has beaten the spread 15 times, winning by an average of 14 points.

If pressed, I'd take the Spurs in the series, mainly because of an experience edge--an often meaningless factor. In how many games? No idea.

In tonight's game, with the Spurs a five-point favorite, I'll take the Spurs.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Laker Post-Game Blues

In the fourth quarter in Oklahoma City on Monday night, when the LA Lakers were being trampled by the Thunder, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant were sniping at each other on court. They were expending more energy battling each other than they were on fighting the Thunder. Kobe was angry that Pau, who had a great night rebounding but was missing easy shots, seemed to ease up., loafing in that final quarter. Pau was steaming because Kobe, as usual, had been taking too many shots--some, as usual, bad ones. Pau felt Kobe's ball-hogging was forcing the big men into a background role. The Lakers lost, 106-90, meekly bowing out of the series in five games.

According to a source close to two Lakers, the arguing continued in the locker room and got pretty nasty. Pau, Mr. Nice Guy, finally backed off. But Kobe, Mr. Intensity, was seething for the rest of the night, continually jabbing at Pau and also at point guard Ramon Sessions, complaining that these two and others had underperformed. Meanwhile Pau was mired in gloom, concerned that he may have played his last game as a Laker. He may be right.

That loss showcased the Lakers flaws. One problem is that the Thunder outran the Lakers, who are anchored by two big men, Pau and Andrew Bynum. Both can be a liability in a fast-paced game. Their height--both are seven-footers--can be an asset but that size, when the pace picks up, can be a drawback. To speed up the offense, one of them may have to go--and it's not going to be Bynum, who  is only 24. Pau, however, is 31 and not the power in the paint that Bynum is. In trade talks, Pau, who was almost traded last year, is clearly their juiciest bait.

Other problems.The bench, once again, was horrible-particularly Matt Barnes, who lost his shooting touch. Almost certainly he's finished as a Laker. Jordan Hill was OK at times, but the others, including guard Steve Blake, are terrible. Another sore spot is point guard. Sessions, who finished the season promisingly, fizzled in the playoff pressure, being woefully outplayed by Denver's Ty Lawson and embarrassed by the Thunder's fleet Russell Westbrook. Will the Lakers give up on Sessions or will they gamble that he improves?
That's a huge decision.

The Lakers' biggest problem, though, is their biggest asset--Andrew Bynum. He can be an unstoppable force or he can be a lazy blockhead. His pulling down just four rebounds in Monday's closeout game against the Thunder? Unacceptable.

According to the sources, Bynum, after Monday's Thunder loss, didn't seem that perturbed. Typical Bynum. That, said the sources, also made Kobe fume. Bynum's feeling about Kobe's anger? Said the sources, Bynum couldn't have cared less.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lakers Nasty Infighting

The LA Lakers are fighting for their lives tonight in the playoffs, down 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Meanwhile there's another nasty fight going on--among the Lakers.

According to a source close to one of the players, the squabbling between Kobe Bryant and the rest of  the team has escalated. It was bad, he said, during the Denver series, but got worse during the Thunder games. Quite simply, the others players resent Kobe's "emperor" attitude. Apparently he's placed himself on a pedestal and, dealing with the other players, is cold, distant and very critical, while unwilling to accept criticism. He can dish out barbs but he won't take them. So the team, according to the source, is constantly grappling with tension and ill-will, all Kobe related.

The team, noted the source, puts on a good show for the public. Though some media members are well aware of the bad feelings between Kobe and the other Lakers, they choose to present the team as one big happy family.

Well, it's not.

The tension leaked out to the public after the loss to the Thunder Saturday night, when Kobe Bryant, in a media conference, zinged Pau Gasol. In the last minute of that loss, when the Lakers blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead, Gasol, near the basket, ignored an open shot and made a horrible pass, setting up a Kevin Durant three-pointer with about 14 seconds left that cinched the 103-100 victory. Clearly Kobe was disgusted with Gasol and didn't try to hide it. Gasol wasn't happy with the way he was publicly abused. In the post-game locker room, according to the source, the Lakers and Kobe were arguing. Bad will, he said, was everywhere. But that's nothing new.

Here's what's at the root of the tension between Bryant and his teammates. The transfer of power, from Kobe to Andrew Bynum, hasn't been smooth. Kobe sees it happening, but won't accept it. Bynum, who doesn't really care about team politics, is apparently oblivious to the Lakers' emotional mess. This situation, says the source, seems to be getting progressively worse and may spill over into next season.

The question, of course, is can a team that's so aggressively engaged in infighting win? Yes, but when everyone is on good terms, it's much easier. The Lakers blew two critical, close games to Oklahoma City. The Lakers could easily be up 3-1. If Kobe and his teammates were in a more cooperative mode might that have made a difference in those two losses?



Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lakers Inferior, But Not This Bad

Gamblers refer to last night's LA Lakers game against the Thunder in Oklahoma City as "easy money." That means smart bettors have over a 90% chance of  winning. A seven-point favorite, and it should have been twice that, the Thunder destroyed the Lakers, 119-90. Those smart bettors, backing the Thunder, cleaned up, while die-hard Lakers fans, foolishly wagering with their hearts, got burned.

Realistically, the Lakers never had a prayer. Coming off that brutal Saturday night win against Denver, the Lakers needed a week off. That all-the marbles game against a group of young, sprinting thoroughbreds, drained the Lakers, who have three key players---Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol who are over 30. That may have been the toughest game the Lakers played all season  They had less than 48 hours to rest before tackling the younger, faster, deeper Thunder on the road, a team basking in nine days' rest.

Down by 35 in the third quarter yesterday, the Lakers really looked awful. An older, worn-out team simply can't compete with a spry, quick, rested outfit playing at home. Early in the game, you got a glimpse of the real Lakers, when they were playing hard, even leading for a time. But they still had their legs. Then in the second quarter, sooner then expected, their legs gave out. Game over. Anyone who bet on the Thunder didn't even have to bother watching the second half.

Look for the remaining games to be more competitive. Though the Lakers could easily be swept, they're not quite as inept as they looked yesterday, while the Thunder aren't quite that good. For instance, Oklahoma City, worst in the league in turnovers, gave the ball away only four times on Monday. That's not likely to happen again. With that Denver series in the rear-view mirror, the Lakers, with a little more fuel in the tank, should play more effective defense.

Still, can you see the Lakers winning four out of six games against this team, which has home-court advantage? Not really. The Lakers are a long shot to win just one game in this series. They're facing a Mt. Everest situation, having to play three games in five days. What's worse, their two home games are back-breaking back-to-backs, Friday and Saturday. That schedule, of course, doesn't favor a team stocked with veterans.

If you're betting, the Lakers' best shot to win a game is on Friday, their first at home. Then, they're liable to be down two games and desperate. If you're looking for another sure-shot, like yesterday's blow-out, zero in on the Saturday game, wagering on Oklahoma City to beat whatever the spread is. After giving their all in Friday's game three, the Lakers, in game four, should be sluggish and just plain out of gas.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The No. 1 Laker? Bynum not Kobe

As irritating as this may be to so many, it's a fact. The Los Angeles Lakers not only rule the LA sports world, they rule the NBA--the league's glam unit. Yet, they're not even the best team--barely, maybe, in the top 5. What happens to them, though,  is national news. Well, something important has happened to them this season, something that hasn't received much attention.

There's been a power shift on the team. All those Kobe Bryant fans don't want to hear this, but it can't be ignored. Center Andrew Bynum has slipped past him into the top spot on the team. Bynum is now the No. 1 Laker--the most important player on the team, the one who's play determines whether the team wins or loses, the player who can load the team on his back and drag them to victory. Kobe, who can't do that any more, has slipped to No.2.

When Bynum is playing hard, is mentally and physically engaged in the game for all his minutes on the court, the Lakers win. In fact, when Bynum is at his best---and they're all healthy, they become a legitimate threat to win the NBA title. But when he plays half-heartedly, which is all too often, the Lakers don't have a chance.

The first game in the Denver Nuggets series, when Bynum scored that unique triple double, including ten blocks, scared the hell out of the rest of the league. That Bynum, a frightening defensive force, dominated the game, was Dwight Howard with effective post moves, the reincarnation of Wilt Chamberlain, blocking and altering shots, making the Nuggets think twice about driving to the basket. That was the new No. 1 Laker in full glory.

As we know, though, Bynum doesn't always play hard. Sometimes he'll take a whole half off or become disinterested when teammates aren't passing him the ball or, for whatever reason, mentally checks out. To his credit, Bryant doesn't slack off. He always plays hard.
But at his age, Bryant is no longer a defensive force and is basically a jump shooter. He can't personally guide the Lakers to wins any more. Yes, he does have his spurts, when his shot is falling, as it was late in the Lakers' 102-99 loss Tuesday night. In that game Bynum did more pouting than playing hard. If he'd played well, the Lakers wouldn't have needed a late-game bail-out.

All Kobe can do now is score points. But when he scores big, takes lots of shots, he become a liability, upsetting the offensive balance, stealing shots from the big men,  Bynum and Pau Gasol..

The No. 1 Laker has the fate of the team in his hands. If Bynum played with fury and focus all the time, the Lakers would have disposed of the Nuggets in four games and would be licking their chops, ready to feast on Oklahoma City.

Which side of Bynum will show up for the Denver game tonight? You never know. That's the downside of the new No. 1 Laker.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bulletin Board Material? Idiotic Concept

The LA Lakers' center Andrew Bynum was running off at the mouth again yesterday, saying how easy close-out games can be, before the Lakers blew a close-out game Tuesday night, 102-99, at home to the Denver Nuggets. Bynum was berated for giving the Denver "bulletin board material," the theory being he pumped up Denver with his comments, motivating them to punk the Lakers, foiling a 4-1 close-out.


The whole "bulletin board material" concept is ridiculous. It's old-school nonsense. Supposedly, if a superior team speaks condescendingly about an opponent in the media, that opponent, riled up at being dissed, could rise up, like little David, and polish off Goliath. So coaches want players to speak respectfully of opponents, no matter how lousy they are. That's just what Bynum didn't do. Rather than sugar-coat the other team, he spoke the truth, which almost all players never do. With better personnel and more experience, the Lakers probably don't think much of Denver and feel they should beat them easily. No other Laker would say that. But that's what Bynum, known for being honest with the media, essentially said, thumbing his nose at the "bulletin-board theory."

Coaches have been pushing the "bulletin board" baloney forever, and it's just not true. According to this notion, the miserable St. Louis Rams, if labelled as miserable in the media by a New England Patriots' player, would get so angry that they just might beat the Patriots. That's not the way it works. Words don't lose games. The Patriots could dump all over the Rams in the media and sorry St. Louis still couldn't  muster up enough skill and grit to whip the mighty Pats.

Similarly, what Bynum said about Denver didn't matter. Here's what he said: "Close-out games are kinda easy. Teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning." That makes sense. Those words didn't make Denver sky-high. They were just desperate to avoid elimination. The Lakers laid an egg at home because they didn't take Denver seriously enough. LA didn't bring its A game. Defensively, they were a step slow and too timid in the paint. For most of the game they were thoroughly outplayed by point guard Andre Miller and center JaVale McGee. Bynum had respectable numbers, 16 points and 11 rebounds, but he was overpowered by high-flying McGee, who piled up rebounds, dunks and easy layups, consistently making Bynum look like he was stuck in mud.

If the "bulletin board material" concept has any validity it may be that it signals the better team is overly confident and feels it doesn't have to put out its best effort to win. That kind of attitude will lose games, not dismissive comments. If the Lakers had played hard and skillfully for 48 minutes they probably would have won the game, no matter what Bynum said. Fault Bynum for not playing well, not for that so-called "bulletin-board material."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Here's What's Wrong with the Lakers' Bynum

Want to know what's wrong with LA Lakers' center Andrew Bynum, who sometimes acts like a space cadet? According to two sources close to two Laker players, it's very simple. Basketball just isn't his No. 1 priority. Know why he sometimes looks unfocused? Because he is. His life, the sources say, is cluttered with distractions that often push basketball  into low priority status. In any given ten games, Big Baby Bynum will show up in two or three. For Bynum that nickname is a negative not a cutsey positive.

Laker players try to get through to Bynum but none of them can. Say the sources, he simply just doesn't care enough sometimes and no one can change that lazy attitude. When Derek Fisher was still with the team he had better luck than anybody piercing Bynum's I-don't-care armor. Certain Laker players, said one source, can read Bynum well. It was clear to them late Friday that he was due for a half-hearted effort.

Gamblers are into reading Bynum. If he's not playing well, the Lakers are probably going to lose, as they did, 99-84, to the Denver Nuggets on Friday. One of the sources said he got early word that Bynum was in one of his moods and capitalized by placing a bet on Denver winnning the game and another on Denver winning the first  half.

No question, Bynum's head-in-the-clouds routine cost the Lakers the game on Friday. In the first half, while he was clearly lollygagging and putting out 50%, the Nuggets raced to 24-point lead, including a 19-0 spurt. Meanwhile Bynum took just three shots and didn't score, allowing smaller, lesser players to push him around. He came to his senses in the second half, scoring 18 points and finishing with 12 rebounds, but it was too late. That horrible first half put the Lakers in such a hole they never were able to recover. That loss is on Bynum.

The Lakers are very beatable in Denver. For one thing, Kobe Bryant usually doesn't shoot well there. Also, the high altitude and the Nuggets race-horce style wear the Lakers down. The Lakers could very easily lose this game tonight. A solid, 48-minute effort from Bynum would make a difference.

But there's one bonus for the Lakers. Bynum rarely has two bad games in a row. Beast Bynum just might show up tonight instead of Big Baby Bynum.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Two Sides of Junior Seau

Memories of Junior Seau, the great linebacker who committed suicide Wednesday, via a gunshot to the chest, at his home in Oceanside, Ca. Some good, some not so good.

According to two guys, Seau, who spent his best years with the San Diego Chargers, was a friendly, likable, all-around good guy. Possibly, though, said one of the guys, haunted by demons. To me, above all else, he was the unforgivable, not only an SC Trojan, but a Cal Bear hater.

I met Seau twice, briefly, in Los Angeles, each time at the posh homes of one his SC buddies. Steve couldn't say enough good things about Junior. Neither could Danny. During each encounter, it was made clear that I am a Cal Bear loyalist. A staunch Trojan, Seau verbally brutalized the Bears, pointing out how they are terminally weak and, when he played them in college, like lambs at the line of scrimmage. He kept calling them a Division II team. He thought it was all in good fun. To him it was. Us oft-maligned Cal Bears, though, are thin-skinned. To me he'll always be Junior Seau, Bear hater.

The second encounter was early last year, a few months after he was involved in a puzzling incident, driving his car off a 30-foot cliff near Carlsbad, Ca in October, 2010. He only sustained minor injuries. Though it smacked of a suicide attempt, he claimed he fell asleep at the wheel. That afternoon in Danny's house, he was laughing, back-slapping and, yes, Bear bashing. He looked like he'd live forever.

But Danny was worried about him. He said a few times that day, when Seau was in another part of the house, having fun, "Something ain't right with him." Danny, though, said he couldn't put his finger on what was wrong. Junior's future entered the conversation. A weird question came up. Would Seau be around in five years? I recall Danny's solemn reply. "It's horrible, but I don't think so."

I called Danny on Wednesday night. He said he was in no mood to talk.