Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Ringing in the New Season

Mets at Dodgers, Dodger Stadium 2005
Well, so much for the World Champs. The Mets just finished off a nice first series of the season by destroying the St. Louis Cardinals in a three-game sweep and raining on their victory bling parade.
As much as I'm a pimp for the Mets, I have to say they were helped along by the awfulness of the Cardinals who misplayed easy fly balls (three times) and were decidedly impatient at the plate. New York outscored the St. Louis 20-2 and turned eight double plays in the first two games (which hadn't been done in forty years). It's possible they might have had some more in Wednesday night's 10-0 drubbing, but the Cards only got one guy to second and that was in the, um, ninth inning. Ho-hum.

Let's not get too excited. The Mets travel to Atlanta to face the Braves this weekend and so far, the youngins down South have looked very, very sharp. They go into game three against Philly looking for the sweep. Speaking of the Phills, Jimmy Rollins must be feeling a little sheepish
about now as even after a minuscule sampling of games, the Phillies have to be very concerned about their bullpen.

Break up the Pirates - the Bucs swept Houston this week and are 3-0 for the first time in ages and ages. Well you might think that if you looked at their recent record of futility but the last time they were 3-0 was back in '03, a season in which they finished 75-87, four games back of the Central Division champion Cubs.

NBA Down to the Wire

Well, well, well, Lakers fans. What did S.O.L. tell you would happen to Kobe and krew when they started playing teams that belong in the NBA? After tearing up the likes of Portland and Memphis and Sacramento, the Lakers have run into a wall and face the very real possibility of dropping way down the playoff chart as both Denver and the Clippers (and Golden State) are surging at the same time the Lakers are flat-lining.

In the last six games the Lakers have gone 2-4, beating Golden State and Sacramento and losing to Memphis, Houston, Denver and last night, the improving Clippers. All of the losses exposed the Lakers' horrid defense and now only one game in the loss column separates them from losing their hold on the number sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs to Denver or the Clippers. Lucky for the Lakers, the Nuggets have continued to be schizophrenic -- going 5-5 in a series of games where they could have easily gone 8-2 or 9-1, had they not suffered from some last-minute meltdowns and last-second buzzer beaters.

Frankly, after watching Denver play the last couple of weeks, I'm at a loss to predict how they'll do in the playoffs. Being so inconsistent doesn't bode well for playoff success, that's for sure. They are so big and fast and long, you have to think they'd be good on the defense and they've got three legit go-to scorers in Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and to a lessor extent, the improving J.R. Smith. But man, they play like a bunch of idiots sometimes. You wonder if guys like Nene even have any brains in his head. Maybe that's why he only goes by one name. Do not get me wrong. I love the guy. But man, his basketball I.Q. is severely lacking. All you had to do see what I mean about the Nuggets is to watch last night's game against Sacramento, in which they blew a 71-50 halftime lead and ended up playing for their lives in the fourth before pulling it out. This time of year, a playoff-bound team hoping to make any kind of run should not be giving back 21-point leads.

I mean I've never seen a playoff team make so many stupid mistakes. I'm surprised George Karl has any hair left on his head. If these guys could put it together, they could beat anybody. I mean it. Even Dallas and Phoenix.

As for the Lake Show, their game last night against the Clips was a perfect microcosm of their season. After a tight back-and-fourth first quarter, the Clippers outplayed the Lakers on defense and built a double-digit lead by halftime. In the second half, the Lakers tightened up their D and the Clippers just tightened up, and the Lakers got to within one. But the Clippers made the plays and the Lakers did not and that was all she wrote. Kobe finished with 29 points but shot only 13-34 to get them. A few of his shots caromed off the backboard they were so off-line. And this was a game where Lamar Odom and Luke Walton were playing well and yet Kobe still tried to take it all on himself. Two games ago against the Kings, the Lakers won fairly easily by sharing the ball (Kobe had 13 assists and didn't lead the team in scoring) and yet the King of Stubbornness misses the lesson.

The Clippers double-teamed him whenever he got the ball and Black Mamba forced several shots, expecting the refs to bail him out. (Even I thought he got fouled a couple of times only to change my mind on seeing the replay.) The Clippers broadcasters said the game had a real playoff feel and the refs called it like that -- everybody was getting mugged under the basket. But the Clippers played into that and the Lakers didn't. (I mean if there's one thing you learn playing in the NBA is to adjust to the way the refs call the game. They're human. Sometimes they have good games, sometimes they suck. Sometimes, like last night, they're reffing is frustratingly uneven. But there was a time in game where it was clear they were letting everybody play, where they were only calling the most obvious fouls. You have to adjust your game accordingly. )

I'm not sure, having looked at the potential match-ups, how much falling down the playoff seeding chart would hurt the Lakers.

If the season ended today, the Western Conference playoff picture would look like this:

1. Dallas vs. 8. Clippers
2. Phoenix vs. 7. Denver

3. S. Antonio vs. 6. Lakers
4. Utah vs. 5. Houston

The Lakers have had success playing the Spurs in the past (not that S.O.L. thinks they can beat them this year) and there's just no way Kobe and Kompany wants to see Steve Nash or Dirk Nowitzki in round one. The Suns aren't the same team they were last year when the Lakers took them to seven games. There is one big difference. (Say it with me everybody: Amare!)

So you see how come to think of it, the Lakers would be fucked no matter who they play, especially the way they're defending the hoop these days. Maybe they can muster enough team defense to slow down Tim Duncan or Tony Parker or Manu Ginobli but all three? I think you can bet the house on that not happening.

The Lakers have a big week ahead of them. After what should be an automatic win at Seattle, they have four games in six games against Western Conference playoff opponents - a home and home with the Suns, a visit to Denver and at home against the Clippers. After that it's smooth sailing with Seattle and a finish at Sacramento, both lottery teams. The thinking goes they'll make the playoffs if they finish at .500, which means they need just two wins in those final seven games. The question is can they win enough games to keep their hold on the sixth spot, and will it even matter?

No comments: