Thursday, May 31, 2007

If the Crown Fits ...

My Pool Man. Healdsburg, Ca. May 2007
Betcha didn't watch.

Betcha thought "fly-over" basketball wasn't your cup of tea. You're too busy following the Kobe saga, perhaps. Or maybe you're catching up on summer re-runs. If you weren't watching the Detroit-Cleveland Game 5 on TNT tonight, S.O.L. feels sorry for your ass.

Your friend is probably leaving you a voicemail right now saying how sick that game was. He's telling you how LeBron took over the game in the fourth quarter, how he scored his team's last 25 points, how three of his teammates fouled out and his boys were trailing by eight in the fourth and somehow, someway he managed to put his team on his back and lead them to victory. This is one time when the telling ain't gonna come close to the actual seeing.

You had to be there sitting in front of your flat screen, sport. Sorry for you if you weren't.

This game was crazy. Crazy. LeBron hit a few shots that were unstoppable. I mean seriously, how can you expect anyone short of nine feet tall to block a jumper when LeBron leaps off the floor and hangs there for days? You can't. It's crazy. And he didn't it again and again. Like the other team was just a mild annoyance.

How crazy? Down the stretch and in the overtimes (that's right there were two of those) there were four key moments when the Cavs had to score. It's simple: they don't get a basket, game over. That's all she wrote folks. Pistons get two games to get a return trip to the final.

And we're talking about a great defensive team in the Pistons. Not the kind of club you can waltz through the paint and, say, slam the ball through the hoop, right?

Shit, if you're LeBron James that's exactly what you do. Three times he faked and juked and jammed -- as easy if the Pistons just engraved a Dunk Anytime Invitation for him.

The other time, the hoop that won the game, was just a mortal's layup. If you don't take into account his lightening head fake, the underhanded scoop and double pump and finger tip action that spun the ball off the backboard and through the net. I ain't lying. Watch ESPN tonight and see for yourself.

LeBron finished with 48 points (18-for-33), nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals. And as good as his numbers were, he should have had a half-dozen more assists. In fact, if Cleveland had anybody else who could score, LeBron would be looking at a nightly triple-double. I can't remember a player so young who got so far with so little talent at his side. But he's so good right now, he's overcoming his team's mistakes and even his coach's mistakes. And he can't be counted out against anybody, not even the waiting San Antonio Spurs, although they have a lot more weapons on offense then the Pistons do.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

Tonight's game was a signature, career-defining moment for a player that was anointed before he even played one game in the NBA. Well, for once, the anointers got it right. This performance will be remembered for a long time.

Longer still if LeBron finishes what he started come Saturday. Yep, Cleveland's got just a 3-2 lead. You gotta close the deal, King James. This win won't mean shit unless they're talking about it (and you) in the NBA Finals.

Go claim your mantle, young man.

You have made believers out of all of us.

The Kobe Chronicles

Louie the Pug
I so wanted to write about the Mets crazy fun comeback Tuesday night but it will have to wait. S.O.L. cannot let an uncharacteristic Kobe meltdown go by without adding my two cents.

On a message board elsewhere, someone made a joke about the effect of the draft lottery on Kobe Bryant. The poster mused that upon seeing that two young, talented teams in the West were about to get better fast by virtue of this year's top-two-spot-heavy NBA Draft, Kobe saw his future and it suddenly dawned on him that there would be no more NBA rings in it.

With Portland and Seattle drafting one-two in this year's NBA draft and getting what everyone has rightly concluded are franchise-altering players, the best side of the NBA just got downright beastly. Even without adding a Greg Oden and a Kevin Durant, the Blazers and Sonics were already chockful of talented youngins.

And Kobe's Lakers? Mired in fat salaries and mediocrity, and with no apparent or obvious way to get better as fast as their leader wants, they are no longer a lock to even make the playoffs next year. And even the thick-headed Kobe can see the writing on the wall.

I don't think it's farfetched to imagine Kobe waking up the other morning and choking on his Wheaties. Think about it. With everything being equal and barring major injury, there's no way the current Lakers jump passed even an unimproved Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Houston, Denver or Utah. That's six of eight playoff spots tied up for the near future. For the sake of argument, let's say Golden State is a lot closer to their second-half selves than their first (and why not, after the trade and when two of their injured stars returned, they were almost unbeatable) and let's further argue (though with some reservations) that the Clippers will rebound from a strangely disappointing season (also marred in part by injuries).

Six plus two equals Lakers in the lottery .

Let's suppose though, that I am overrating the Clippers. Not a hard thing to do in my book and then let's give Kobe the benefit of the doubt and add a healthy Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown playing out his contract year (they should do a study on how athletes perform in the walk year. I bet we'd discover to our "surprise" that it's statistically their best seasons). An older and presumably wiser Jordan Farmar and the return of Chris Mihm (I know, big fucking deal) and improved play of Andrew Bynum. Let's say this is enough to make the Lakers competitive for a playoff spot.

But realistically you're looking at one or two spots at best, and that's if you think Denver or Golden State are overrated, too (and I'm not saying they're aren't). But really, who was better more recently -- Warriors, Nuggets or Lakers? See what I mean?

If you believe in the Nuggets and the Warriors and you think the jury's out on the Clips, that leaves Seattle, Lakers, Memphis, Portland, Clippers and Sacramento to fight for the one playoff spot.

Forget the Kings and the Grizz for the moment (they suck) and a blind soccer fan can see what Kobe sees -- a long way up and no place to go.

The Clippers have the pieces in place in Brand, Corey MG and the young point guard Livingston (who is coming off a season-ending injury and has a lot to prove) plus a good bench. They were as beset by injuries as anyone last year and Brand is a true leader who will not let his team falter for a second year in a row. The clock is ticking for him playoff-wise too.

Seattle and Portland will get better right away with their draft picks -- Seattle in my mind will get better faster (if they can re-sign free agent Rashard Lewis) but even without Oden, the Trailblazers are loaded with young talent and ask anybody who ever played in the NBA (who isn't named Don Nelson or Michael Jordan) and they'll tell you hands down the most important element of a championship team is a great big man.

And speaking of Rashard Lewis who surprised a lot of people by opting out of his contract after the season (and after the draft). It's possible he re-signs with Seattle (or re-signs and is dealt elsewhere like to S.O.L.'s Knicks who have offered Jamaal Crawford, Nate Robinson and others to the Sonics) but what if he ends up in Houston (his hometown) or what, God help Kobe, takes less to go to San Antonio or even Dallas or the Suns? And who doesn't think any of those teams, especially the Suns, Mavs and Jazz, who came oh-so-close to breaking through this year, will not go out and get better. All three are in good financial shape to make a move. Even Houston has options.

For real, Kobe is seeing his career flash before his eyes. Even he should see, though, that the Lakers only true long-term solution is to sit tight, draft wisely and wait for next summer at least when Kwame Brown and the Space Cadet comes off the books. Maybe then, they'll get a great draft pick, Bynum will have developed into an elite center and Farmar a steady point guard and with the cap room they can sign a big-time free-agent. But we're talking minimum two seasons and the big question isn't whether the Lakers can do it or even if Lakers fans can stand another down year or two, it's if Kobe can wait.

Chances are, based on the last week of frantic interviews and such, Kobe won't want to wait. He'll stew until they trade him (unlikely) or make a splashy trade for someone like Jermaine O'Neal (more likely and more uncertain) and then make the playoffs the next five years but lose in the first or second round because there's not enough players around Kobe and (O'Neal or whoever max-contract guy they trade their future for) because there's not enough money to left.

(And by the way, the only way they can get a guy like O'Neal is to trade Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown and who would take that deal? They'd have to give up something of value along the lines of the young Andrew Bynum or Jordan Farmar).

I'm Kobe, I take my chances. I bide my time and take care of my body. I shoot from the outside and pass up the pinball machine of the lane, and I practice being a better teammate and a good leader. And I pass the ball, a lot. I mean I become the Distributor of the Year and challenge Steve Nash for NBA assist leader and I do it with grace and dignity and with an eye to making my teammates better, not pay mind to who is leading the league in scoring.

And I don't care about W's either. I concentrate on getting better first and if we make the playoffs, than we give it our best shot but if we make the lottery, good for us cause we'll be smart and draft well and bring the kids along. Meanwhile, the bad salaries fall off our books and I personally woo a young superstar free agent to Lakerland. And I make him feel welcome.

And then our time comes around again and I'm only 31, 32 years old and even though there's miles of wear and tear on me, I'm still fresh cause I've been saving myself for this moment, when I can lead a young, talented group of playoff upstarts to the Promised Land. And I know we'll get there, because when the game is on the line and my team needs points, I can deliver. Or I can pass off to an open teammate ala Jordan-to-Steve Kerr or Tim Duncan-to-Bruce Bowen or LeBron-to-Daniel Gibson, because I've done it a thousand times the last three seasons and by now, they know I trust them to make it when I can't.

And my legacy will be written in stone -- a young stubborn, wildly talented superstar reinvents himself as a true leader and winner. And Los Angeles will be my oyster and no. 24 will dwarf the memories of Magic and Baylor, of the Logo and even Shaq.

That's how I would want to be remembered, if I'm Kobe Bryant.

Back to reality, however.

I don't think Kobe sees this in his future. I think he, like a lot of people, wants a quick fix and he's not willing to live with his part in creating the mess in the first place. Part of his latest disaffection, which has included calls for the Lakers to trade him, is his frustration at being blame for the departure of Shaquille O'Neal. In recent days, even, he has posted on his website how it was Jerry Buss who forced out Shaq and not Kobe. But I wonder if Buss would be so fast to dump Shaq if he and Kobe were getting along instead of openly feuding? Would he have balked at paying the Big Fella if Kobe said it was sign Shaq or see ya when I see ya?

What do you think, sports fans?

He doesn't see this which is one reason why I think he doesn't get his present situation either. He doesn't see how hard it's going to be for the Lakers to be competitive right now and how smart it would be to stick to a two- or three-year plan.

He doesn't see that his coveted legacy is the only thing that's taking a hit right now. Kobe's always looked out for himself first, no matter how many times he's protested otherwise. This week it's just more Kobe being Kobe and the Lakers will be worse for it I think.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A King Arrives

Moon Shot (blue) Healdsburg, CA May 2007
I told ya.

I told ya LeBron was getting it. I told you the Pistons were vulnerable. Well fuck me if we don't have a series or what?

Who among you now wants to bet against the King getting into his first NBA Finals?

And now, can Deron Williams make up for the meltdown of Derek Fisher and the Jazz on Monday night? What intrigue. Damn, I love the NBA Playoffs.

What's with the Pistons, anyway? They're the best third-quarter team in basketball. I mean they seem to always changed the course of the game in the third quarter, only to barely survive a fourth-quarter comeback. It happened in their series against Chicago. It happened in almost every game in this series too.

S.O.L. wasn't the only one paying attention. Young LeBron saw how close he and his team were to winning Games 1 and 2. Seriously, if Rasheed doesn't hit those crazy ass shots in Game 2, we might be looking at a Cleveland close-out game tomorrow night in Deetroit.

As it is, we're at 2 games apiece and if ever a very good team looked in trouble, it's the Pistons. They had no answer for LeBron in the fourth quarter last night. Seriously folks, how does one stop a step back three-point fade away jump shot? S.O.L. bows down to his Kingness.

I wonder if the Jazz is toast after that awful display of losing its cool in Game 4. In my mind's eye, I was watching Deron watching LeBron last night and thinking, "I can do that.

Well, I can't do that sick shit, but I can lead my team to victory."

But I'm not sure about the psychological makeup of the Jazz. I guess we'll all find out tonight.

Later today: another Mets comeback.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bronx Bombers

Barry Bonds (25) will be in Shea tonight for a three-game series against the Mets.
Well, shit. The Yankees looked like comeback kids suddenly after taking two-of-three from Boston last week. What a difference a weekend makes. While Yankees fans were celebrating the series victory (a rare one for the Yankees in what is turning out to be an awful season), I wasn't impressed by it.

For this simple reason: the Yanks went into the series trailing the Red Sox by 10 1/2 games. If you're that far back in the standings and you want to get back into the race, 2-of-3 ain't gonna cut it. The Yankees didn't even whiff a sweep, either. They won game one, then lost game two which put them right back where they started the series. Going into the final game of the series, all they could do shave off one game. I'm sorry, but one game when you're down by 10 is like not even starting up the mountain.

The Yankees had reason to worry. On the horizon was a three-game set against the hottest team in baseball -- at that point the Los Angeles Angels. I predicted (elsewhere - you'll have to trust me on that) that the Angels would likely win the series. For one, they're better than the Yankees. For two, they've had the Yankees number even during their good years.

I always predicted that Boston would win it's series -- again not a stretch as they were playing in Texas against the AL's worst team.

Angels did win the series -- they swept the Yankees at the Stadium. Meanwhile, Boston was sweeping the Rangers. Ooops. So much for progress in the right direction.

Monday morning, the Yankees wake up (in Toronto no less - another team ahead of them in the standings) with a 12 1/2 deficit to Boston, closer to last place than first. After a Yankee loss in Toronto last night and a win by Boston against Central-Division leading Cleveland, that deficit is now at 13 1/2 games.

I'm not sure even the Yankees mystique can overcome that many games back. If you're thinking perhaps they could back in a different way, they 7 1/2 behind Detroit in the Wild Card Standings but would have to leap over seven other teams to make it into the playoffs without winning the division. And just to put that into perspective, they are currently tied with perennial doormats Tampa Bay.

The only reason the baseball world hasn't counted the Yankees out yet is because they're the Yankees. They have actual talent (they have the league's best hitter by average and home run leader). And because coming up through the minors is the Second Coming (a.k.a. Roger Clemens). Though I'm wondering if even the Rocket is questioning his choice now. The Red Sox perhaps didn't need him as badly as the Yankees do, but maybe Roger could use the Red Sox more than he could use the swirling bad winds that are prevailing in the Bronx.

While the Yankees were playing Boston, the Mets lost two-of-three to their rival Braves to close their Division lead to 1 1/2 games. Worse result but better situation. The Mets did their job. They had to at least win one game to keep the lead. Why? Because their next three games were against a team they've owned lately (Miami) and beyond that a cozy nine-game homestand (not that they've been playing all that great at home this season). In other words, they have breathing room.

(Not that they shouldn't have tried like Hell to beat Atlanta. The Braves are 6-3 against the Mets this year. If the Mets win the division, it won't matter much how they play against the Braves -- except if they meet in the playoffs. So yeah, the Mets have to figure out a way to beat this team again. Like last year.)

Over the weekend, you might be interested to learn, the Mets swept the Marlins as the Braves were getting swept in Atlanta by the surging Philadelphia Phillies. Now the Mets lead is 4 1/2 games. Not world beating but at this stage of the season, it's pretty damn good.

My next big question is when the New York Times will finally anoint the Mets the best team in their city. Even when they were playing those interleague games last week and the Yankees had to win the third game to avoid a sweep, the Times' game stories were all about the Yankees. Maybe in the past, they deserved that coverage, but right now, the Mets should be the lead story, not the fall of the House that Ruth Built. Come on, Gray Lady. Give Flushing some love.

Welcome to the NBA

Los Angeles Sunset
Roll out two welcome mats this week for young comers, LeBron James and Deron Williams.

For Deron (pronounced like Darrin), the welcome party was not a good one. Coming off a great Game 3 performance in which he single-handedly got his team back into their playoff series against the Spurs, Williams had to fight the effects of a stomach flu and a tough defense down the stretch in watching his team flail, fade and fall to the Spurs in the crucial Game 4. Now the Spurs get two of three in San Antonio to close out the series and get to their fourth title game in the last decade.

Meanwhile, the young Jazz have only to sit and wonder why. And part of the reason is with the meltdown of the team's one supposed veteran. Derek Fisher, until now an inspirational figure and floor leader during Utah's playoff run, completely fucked his team last night. His flopping has always been more suited for World Cup Soccer than the NBA and when he wasn't getting the calls last night, he lost his cool and Utah lost the series.

I'm not sure this is a game you can rebound from but Deron Williams is such an unusual character and such a gifted player, that I think it's entirely possible to see this series return to Utah. Playoff teams have to grow up sometime. Why wait til next year?

Halfway across the country, the NBA's so-called lessor Division is playing basketball too. The feeling among most experts is that Detroit and Cleveland are playing for the right to lose the NBA finals to whoever comes out of the West. I think it's overstated but there's no doubt that the East is way behind the West in terms of fielding the NBA's best basketball teams.

Like the Spurs, the Pistons rushed out to a 2-0 lead and looked headed to an easy series win. But LeBron James continued his maturation as player and leader and with each passing quarter, his play has subtly and not so subtly improved by noticeable increments. Cleveland didn't so much as beat the Pistons on Sunday, LeBron took it from them.

Word is that shooting guard and quality defender Larry Hughes will miss tonight's game with a food injury but I'm not so sure this will slow down LeBron just yet. I think a switch went off somewhere in the course of the fourth quarter in Game 2 and he's coming to understand how to win playoff games. I don't know if he has the horses to help him but I do know that the Pistons are beatable (Chicago won two straight off the Pistons in the last series after they took a 2-0 lead against them) and Dwayne Wade proved last year that they are susceptible to a one-man team.

The Pistons strength is keeping the game close until the fourth where their quality defense (especially in playoffs) and ice-water shooters (Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton) hit just enough down the stretch to give them the win. But in a close game, there's no guarantee of stopping a guy like LeBron when he gets it. And right now, he's getting it in a big way.

It's clear by now that S.O.L. fears the end of the basketball season is upon us and for that reason, I'm rooting for the underdog in both series. I'm not ready to give up on the hoops obsession, even if USA basketball is coming this summer. Shit, especially since USA basketball is coming.

Poor Kobe

Kobe announced this weekend that he’s frustrated by the lack of progress by his Lakers and the inability of the front office to surround him with a championship caliber team.

Kobe’s solution is to invite Jerry West back to L.A. when the Logo officially steps down from his current job in Memphis.

The irony here runs deeper than a black hole. In the Kobe-said, Shaq-said fallout in L.A. two summers ago, plenty of blame went around. But no one can convince me that Kobe did not want to be The Man in Lakerland, at any cost. The cost was, apparently, Shaq being run out on a rail – all the way to South Beach where he got his, with the help of Dwayne Wade and a bunch of has been backups.

Meanwhile, Kobe has the Lakers to himself, continues to fail to learn what it takes to be an actual leader of them and wonders why he’s been watching the playoffs (and in his mind less talented players) from the confines of his own home?
Deny all he wants, but Kobe could have gone to Jerry Buss and been a real man and said “do what it takes to keep the big fella – I’ll make it work”. But he didn’t and if anyone’s surprised at the results, they’re not paying attention.

You can’t call yourself a leader. You have to actually be a leader. You don’t have to be a nice guy, you have to get your team to believe – not in you but in themselves. You have to show them the way and let them know they can follow you over the steepest cliff and if they crash, you will crash together. And never, for even a second, let them think you will ask of them what you wouldn’t do yourself.

You want a team leader? Watch the Utah-Spurs game tomorrow night. Take a gander at a kid named Deron Williams. Shoot, you could have your pick tonight in Cleveland – between LeBron and Billups. You want leaders. Them there’s leaders.

Don’t cry for Kobe. Unless you want to cry for his thick head.

Monday, May 21, 2007

S.O.L. on the Road

I'm going down to L.A. for some business this week. I wanted to blog about tonight's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals but as usual, I'm running behind schedule. I will post about it soon so stay tuned.

Also, I got a really tough contest coming -- I just have to think of an appropriate prize. :-D

Sunday, May 20, 2007

You Can't Win Them All

New Moon, May 2007
The Mets proved their current superiority over the Yankees this weekend in the team's first Subway Series of the season. For the most part, it was the Mets who played smarter, more aggressive baseball, had the better starters and came through when it counted.

This trend continued through the early innings on Sunday night as the Mets, having won the first two games of the series, were going for a sweep of their crosstown rivals. They were up 1-0 on David Wright's third home run in as many official at-bats and even though starter John Maine was struggling, the Yankees couldn't seem to capitalize.

But then the wheels fell off, the Yankees got four runs in the fourth and the Mets never really found a way to solve the Yankees 22-year-old rookie Tyler Clippard, who was making the first start of his career.

Give propers to Clippard who had command on his pitches, changed speeds well and never seemed too overwhelmed by such a big stage. But still, the Mets weren't aggressive enough at the plate and when they had chances to drive in runs, they got caught looking a called third strikes or hit weak ground outs. It felt like the Mets were satisfied taking the series and it would have been nice to see them going for the jugular. Especially Maine. The second-year righty has been phenomenal for most of the early season -- winning his first five starts. But his last three -- two losses and a no decision in a game the Mets came back to win to save his ass -- have been dismal. He seems to have fallen back on his old bad habits. He needs to get right, right now.

The Yankees have lost all of their last three series, having fallen 10 1/2 games behind the division-leading Red Sox who they face in a three-game series beginning tomorrow night (Monday) in the Bronx. Will the Yankees rebound and cool off Boston, turning a big lead into a division race? Or will Boston leave New York with a double-digit lead?

Meanwhile, the Mets head to Atlanta for what is a much bigger series than this one with the Yanks was. The Mets have a 2 1/2 game lead over the second-place Braves (who lost two of three to Boston this weekend). A series win will give the Mets a nice cushion at this juncture in the season but a loss would put them in a real dogfight.

Still, the Mets should enjoy their flight to Atlanta tonight and a day off before facing the Braves there, having at least struck first blood against the Yankees. Until the Round Two of the Subway Series, we Mets fans can claim the best baseball team in New York. Sweeter words have never been spoken to a Mets fan.

Life Goes On

After an appropriate period of mourning over the Suns-Spurs playoff series, S.O.L. is ready to talk about the Western Conference Finals.

It's hard to pick against the Spurs. They're deep, smart, physical, play great defense and most important, they're on a serious roll. Nothing is as important in the playoffs of any of the major sports -- nothing -- than getting hot. How many times have we seen the blistering team beat the better one on their way to an improbable title? Too many times to list here -- and in this case, the blistering team is arguably the better team anyway. But does that mean we should just anoint the Spurs as Western Conference Champions?


The Jazz aren't playing half bad either. And they're built for the playoffs. On top of that, surprisingly for a Jerry Sloan-coached team, they score a lot of points and they run a lot.

I think the matchup will come down to Utah's outside shooting -- which will decide who goes on to represent the West in the NBA Finals. The Spurs have a very, very good interior defense -- as they proved against the Suns. If they can stop the best distributor in the league in his sneaker tracks, then there's no reason to think they can't stop a mere mortal from getting to the basket. However, Utah has two things the Suns didn't have. They have bigs who can shoot outside (Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko) and they've got a strong, tough inside post-up game (Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap). On top of that, AK 47 can also play a pretty decent point forward and it's hard to stop dribble penetration by a guy who's 6-9 but as rangy as a seven-footer.

Deron Williams, Derek Fisher and AK will get into the lane and if Okur is his usual accurate three-point shooting self, Utah has a chance to spread the floor in a way that Phoenix only did in spurts against the Spurs. Forcing Duncan (and/or Francisco Elson and Fabricio Oberto) to guard Boozer one-on-one will play right into to Utah's hands. And here's where the refs could play a role in the outcome -- Boozer is a master at getting to the line and he continued doing this in the first two rounds. If he can get his share of free throws, that could be a problem for San Antonio. They're deep, yes, but there is a precipitous decline from Duncan and Horry to Oberto, Elson and then to Matt Bonner.

On defense, the Jazz have the big bodies and physical play to slow down Manu Ginobli and keep him from taking over the game like he did in Games 5 and 6 against the Suns.

The big concern for the Jazz will be stopping Tony Parker from dashing around the floor like a speed demon. Williams is going to be great one day but he's still prone to getting into foul trouble and he will have his hands full staying in front of Parker. If he's got two fouls in the first eight minutes, the Jazz don't have a chance.

The X-factor has got to be Derek Fisher, a familiar thorn in the side of the Spurs. How much his veteran leadership adds to the mix, whether he can hit those clutch shots down the stretch like he did against Golden State – those can be turning points, one way or the other.

The Jazz are an underrated team in part because there is a consensus that they lucked out in drawing a second-round matchup against Golden State, the eighth and last seed in the West, instead of number one, 67-win, MVP carrying, juggernaut of Dallas. But the Warriors were not your typical eight seed. Injuries put them in a hole the first half of the season and they not only fought out of it, they imposed their will on the basketball court in getting into the postseason and all but sweeping the Mavs out in the first round.

They play a frantic, scrambling, all-hands defense, like the Orcs in Lord of the Rings attacking the castle in waves upon waves upon waves upon waves. If you can withstand that sort of pressure – and the way the Warriors almost never quit and made shot after improbable shot – you can call yourself a proven playoff performer. If that doesn’t give you confidence that you can win it all, nothing will.

While the Spurs have to feel confident, too, you’d have to think they feel lucky to have been able to dispatch the Suns in six games. Lucky that the League disemboweled Phoenix by suspending two players who didn’t throw a punch – and that the guy who did throw one, is back on the bench in uniform for today's Game One.

They should feel that they are better than Utah, of course, but who could blame them for having a seed of doubt in the back of their minds about what went down in Round One? Yeah, right. Doesn't sound like a Gregg Popovich-coached team, does it? Well, the truth is that over the years the Spurs have been at times mentally soft (2004 vs. the Lakers for example) and anyone who has seen Duncan on the free-throw line knows he can have lapses in confidence.

It’s obvious no doubt, but if Utah is to have a chance in this series, they need to assert it today, in game one. This team has to come out firing, has to keep the pressure on, has to play like this possession right here might be the difference between a trip to the finals and a trip home.

Tomorrow: finally, S.O.L. talks about the East.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Suns Set

Road Oak, Healdsburg, Ca. May 2007
Wow. S.O.L. is not used to being wrong.

But last night’s game between the Spurs and the Suns makes twice this playoffs that I’ve been on the flip side of right. I really thought the Suns would pull out Game 6 tonight, even though it was in San Antonio. But playing short-handed in the previous game seems to have taken the flow out of their free flow offense.

That and a stifling Spurs defense, especially Bruce Bowen on the perimeter and Tim Duncan inside. T.D. had something like 10 blocks in the game, most of them coming from the weak side as a help out defender. When a two-time league MVP and 10-time member of the All-Defensive team, is playing help D, you’re offense is in trouble. Even the high-powered, high-scoring Suns offense.

The Spurs harassed Steve Nash all night and the refs were letting them do it. For the third time this series, Nash and his mates didn’t solve the Spurs’ defense until their backs were against the wall. And except for Game 3 in San Antonio, they ran out of time.

I still think the decision to suspend Diaw and Stoudemire was stupid and could have been handled better. It disemboweled the Suns for Game 5 and now we'll never know what this series could have been had NBA commissioner David Stern kept his whistle in his pocket.

Nash summed it up well in comments quoted at

"I can sit up here and complain about it after the fact... I guess cry about it after the fact. But it's tough not to just think forever what would have happened if this stupid rule didn't get in the way of this series. There's no guarantees of anything, but to come this far and put this much into a season and for us to be without two key guys for Game 5 for nothing we instigated -- and for not either one of them having a malicious tone in their offense -- will forever haunt us. But I don't want to cry about it after the fact. The Spurs played great."

Allow me to cry then.

This will be a rough summer for Nash and the Suns, a serious bitter pill that was in part self-inflicted. If Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw stay rooted to the bench after Robert Horry hip-checked Nash into the scorer’s table at the end of a stirring come-from-behind win in Game 3, we might be talking about the Suns moving on, instead of the perennial championship-contending Spurs.

The only good thing about the Spurs going on to win another title is Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich surpassing Phil Jackson and the Lakers’ recent run. Three titles don’t seem all that impressive when the other guy is out there winning four. And with Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker still relatively young, there’s no reason to doubt they could win this year -- and next.

The Spurs will face the young, upstart Utah Jazz. On paper it looks like a mismatch. But if anyone can man-up against these Spurs, it's the Jazz. Still, the wound of seeing the Suns bounced out of the playoffs like this is still too fresh to talk about the next round. I'll save that for another day.

There’s a fine line between getting over the hill that stands between pretenders and contenders. The window of opportunity is small and it shuts awfully fast (see: Sacramento, Portland and Indiana for recent examples). The Suns are fortunate to be young but if they can’t figure out how to stand toe-to-toe with physical, grind-’em-out teams like the Spurs at playoff time, this Phoenix team will fade into history title-less, just like all its predecessors.

Game 3 should have been the defining moment for the Suns. But it all changed in a blink when Horry disgraced the NBA and Stoudemire and Diaw left the bench to defend their fallen teammate. A lesson learned of course. A lot of lessons learned. How will the Suns respond? They have all summer to think about it.

For now, NBA fans are poorer for not getting to see more of Steve Nash.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cover Me, Part Two

Louie the Pug, May 2007
Under the guise of turning the world onto lesser known singer/songwriters, I'm offering S.O.L.'s second 'name that tune' -- and this time there's a prize involved. Time for you lurkers to get on board (I know you're out there). Again, thanks to my friend Undercover Black Man, for turning me onto Truth is, I stole the contest idea from him.

This guy has been around for awhile, but only in the last three or four CD's, has he expanded his repertoire from acoustic blues to his brand of what I like to call singer/songwriter Americana. This here is a cover he did of a famous old folk song.

First one to gets the artist and the song title correct will get a choice between the new Wilco CD "Sky Blue Sky," or Patti Smith's "12."

Good luck all

NOTE (5/17/07): We have a winner. I thought this one might take awhile but I'm thrilled that it didn't and Kelly Joe Phelps gets his due. Congratulations, UBM, send me your address and let me know which CD you'd like.

Pinstripes Look Good in Blue, Too

Mets 3B David Wright with SNY's Kevin Burkhardt after his game winning hit May 9 in S.F.
It's been said that we die hard Mets fans put too much energy into hating the crosstown rival Yankees (after all, we don't have to beat the Yankees to win the National League Pennant). It's not hard to hate the Bronx Bombers. They are (appropriately I might add) arrogant, tough and worse, for the most part in recent years, good citizens and professionals. It might be said that no franchise in the history of sports have been so consistently good for so long. Are we Mets fans just player haters? Maybe, but I feel like it's part of my personal history.

First, I'm a Mets fans and in New York you can be one or the other but not both (if you are, you're a phony or a fence-sitter and I can't be your friend). Second, my family spent summers on Cape Cod and back when I was yae high, they didn't have cable. You couldn't live in Massachusetts ity and watch the New York baseball teams. You could in some cases in some places -- especially where a team was representing a larger regional area -- but basically you were stuck with your home town team. So those summers, I came to root for an appreciate and die for the Boston Red Sox. And of course the Damn Yankees were as big of a thorn in the side of those Red Sox as they are today (though the humiliating, history-making 3-0 comeback by the Sox in 2003, did a lot to ease those previous failures).

But I digress. The reason I'm talking about the Yankees is this weekend begins the Subway Series -- the first of two regular season series between the Mets and Yankees.

For a change, it's the Mets who come into the series on a high note, having just taken three-of-four from the Cubs in dramatic fashion. This after taking two of three from the Brewers last weekend who when they came into Shea had the best record in baseball. The big win Thursday (the Mets overcame a four-run deficit in the last of the ninth inning to win at home) coupled with the Braves' loss in Washington (in a game they led 3-1 late), gives the Mets sole ownership of first place in the NL East. The Mets have the best record in the National League and the second -best in the Majors, trailing only Boston.

The Mets victory today was stirring. S.O.L. might have had something to do with it. With the Mets trailing 5-1 going into the ninth inning, I was just finishing up my workout on my new toy (a refurbished Precor EFX that I got for my birthday - yay me!). I decided superstitiously, to continue the workout until the Mets made the last out. Who knew that last out was never going to come?

The wonderful thing about this game -- and about the Mets in general since Willie Randolph took over as manager two seasons ago -- is that the bench played a big role in the comeback. Utility reserve David Newhan was among five non-regulars to start today's game. Randolph sat Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Paul Lo Duca and Damien Easley to rest them after last night's rain-delayed game went well past midnight. With the Yankees coming this weekend (and the second-place Braves after that), Willie was thinking ahead.

Newhan singled up the middle off of Cubs closer Ryan Dempster -- it was Newhan's second hit of the game one fewer than his total for the entire season. After Ramón Castro made an out (a line shot to right that Newhan nearly blundered into a double play), rookie Carlos Gómez, playing his first week in the majors, singled to right. First and third, one out.

Willie sent up Beltran, the Mets superstar centerfielder to pinch hit. Dempster was already rattled, throwing more balls than strikes, and notoriously fiery manager Lou Pinella was starting to steam in the dugout. With a four-run lead, the Cubs let Gómez take second -- killing any chance for a game-ending double-play. Beltran has only three pinch hits in his career (in 15 at bats) and his hot start has been slowed by leg soreness, but he worked out a walk, loading the bases.

After a visit to the mound by Pinella wherein pitcher and manager were screaming at each other, Endy Chavez came up to bat, fought off some tough pitches and he, too, walked. Only his walk plated Newhan, cutting the lead to 5-2.

Willie surprised a lot of people, including Rubén Gotay, by sending up the backup infielder to hit for himself. Gotay was hitting .150 coming into the game but he'd already stroked a run-scoring single earlier -- leading to the Mets first and until the ninth, only run. The decision looked awful as Gotay (pronounced Go-Tie) went to 0-2 against Dempster.

“I’m not going to lie to you, I thought I was going to be pinch-hit for,” Gotay told the New York Times.

The something remarkable happened. The little infielder rewarded Willie's confidence in him and belted a clean single beyond the reach of slick fielding shortstop César Izturis, plating run number three. That was all Pinella could stand and he almost ran out of the dugout waving his left arm frantically to call on lefty reliever Scott Eyre to face Shawn Green. Willie countered by sending up David Wright to pinch hit - his first pinch-hitting appearance of his career.

The unwritten law about pinch-hitting is to go out their hacking and that's what Wright did, perfectly placing the first pitch up the middle and into centerfield. Cubs 5, Mets 4. Still only one out and the batter Mets cleanup hitter Carlos Delgado coming to the plate.

To say that Delgado, one of the nicest, coolest, most thoughtful guys to wear spikes anywhere, has been in a slump is putting it mildly. A home run hitter, he's only got three this season and his batting average has hovered around the Mendoza line all year.

But on a 1-0 pitch from Eyre, Delgado hit a sharp grounder between second and first and the Cubs sure-handed second baseman couldn't get to it and it bounded into right field for a single. The throw from right wasn't even close as Gotay came all the way around from second to score the winning run. Wow. Amazing. And thirty extra minutes on the workout machine for S.O.L.

It was the largest ninth-inning comeback for the Mets since May 23, 1999, when they scored five runs off of Curt Schilling to beat the Philadelphia Phillies.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have lost four of six and have posted a losing record since Roger Clemons announced he was coming back to New York to an adoring crowd at the House that Ruth Built. The Yankees are not in first place and at 18-21 are currently nine games behind the Red Sox (who still have the second game of a double-header to play tonight).

Friday night pits the young enigmatic Mets starter Oliver Perez against steady as she goes Andy Pettit. Perez has been as schizophrenic a pitcher as there is in the league, going win, loss, win, loss so far all season. Though his last outing was special, as he gave up just one hit in a win over the high-scoring Brewers. Pettit is 2-2 but is also coming off of a solid game, although the Yankees inability to put runs on the board lately, hurt him in what was a loss to Seattle.

Saturday it's Tom Glavine (4-1, 3.31) for the Mets going after career win no. 296 vs. Darrell Rasner (1-2, 3.28) and then last season Yankees ace Chien-Ming Wang (2-3, 4.54) pitches Sunday in the finale against the Mets John Maine (5-1, 2.15) who was the NL pitcher of the month for April, but has only one win so far in May.

NOTE ADDED: The Yankees manager Joe Torre announced today that he would not start Wang on short rest on Sunday. Instead, the New York Times reported that Tyler Clippard was removed from the game "after striking out the side in the first inning Thursday for Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, a strong indication that Clippard will start for the Yankees on Sunday."

Clippards, 22, is a righty who compiled a 3-2 record (2.72 ERA) for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He has 41 K's in 39 2/3 innings. He would be the seventh rookie and the 11th different starter to pitch for the Yankees this season. The Mets have started seven different pitchers this season.

The Mets lead the NL in hitting and pitching but this will be a real test for them, even against a Yankees team that (shhhh) isn't really that good. Both teams get up for the Subway Series (even if they claim they don't). They get into it because the fans seriously get up for it and everybody seems to play a little bit harder.

The Mets have big-time momentum and with the Braves waiting in the for an early-season critical series in Atlanta next week, I predict the Amazin's will take care of business.

Suns Burned

Somewhere in the middle of the chippy third quarter Wednesday night in Phoenix, it was clear how badly the Suns missed their two best big men. It was visible on the offensive side of the court for the Suns when playmaker extraordinaire Steve Nash would work the pick-and-roll. He'd go around a pick, get into the lane and when the defense closed in, he'd pass it off to .... Kurt Thomas?

Thomas was game but he's no Amare Stoudemire and that reality, more than anything else last night is what burned the Suns, putting them in a 3-2 hole in their best-of-seven playoff series.

You won't likely see as gutty a performance (on both ends of the court) from an aging defensive specialist like Thomas in a bigger game. He gave it all he had. But while Thomas is known for his ability to play tough under the basket, it's in bursts of minutes here and there, a total of 20 or so a game. Last night, he played nearly 40 minutes and by halftime he was sucking wind so bad he could barely answer Craig Sager's halftime interview questions. Or maybe it was Sager's lime green coat.

Considering their handicap, it was amazing to watch the Suns nearly run the Spurs off the court in the first half. They held them to season lows in points for a quarter (13 in the first) and a half (33 at intermission) but they couldn't score at their usual blistering pace and their short rotation all but gave out by the end of the game.

You could blast the league (as S.O.L. did yesterday here) for suspending the Suns best big man Amare Stoudemire and his backup Boris Diaw, and in my oh so humble opinion, you'd be right. But those two knuckleheads knew the rule and left the bench anyway, so some of the blame ought to be on their very broad shoulders.

The dirty, black-hatted Spurs -- a team I liked before this series -- now has the series lead, ahead 3-2. But as tough a loss this must have been for the Suns to handle (they held the lead for all but perhaps five minutes of the game), they have to feel good about the way they played and how easily they could have won this game despite being without two of their most important players (Did I mention that Stoudemire is leading his team this series in scoring and rebounding).

You could even that the Suns are missing another player too, even though he's on the floor for everyone to see. I'm talking about Leandro Barbosa. This is the cat who shredded the Lakers during the first round. There is just no way the Brazilian Blur should not be torching the Spurs up and down the damn court. The Spurs really don't have anyone who can hang with him. The problem is that his success really hinges on his shot and right now that shot is just not falling. Last night he was 3-for-12 for a measly eight points, only two more than the number of fouls he picked up (6).

S.O.L. predicted a Suns win last night and was feeling pretty damn good after the first quarter -- though I admit to being nervous at the relatively close score. A new day dawns for the Suns come Friday night in San Antonio?

Remember the Alamo, indeed.

Suns fans. Keep your tickets for Sunday. Game 7 will happen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Warriors Wash Out

My Backyard, Healdsburg, CA April 2007
Golden State's run in this year's playoffs was both inspiring and awesome -- and at times completely frustrating.

Tonight's Game 5 loss to Utah summed up the Warriors' run -- the good, the bad and the oogily.

All you have to do is look at the last minute of the third quarter. The score is 77-73 Jazz and the Warriors have the ball and a little bit of momentum, what with their usual sure-fire three-point shooting not anywhere in building. Stephen Jackson has the ball on the wing and he's being guarded by Matt Harpring, who truth be told has been giving Jackson a tough time. But Harpring is known for his hard-nosed, football-style defense and Jackson won't be the last offensive player who lets him get under his skin.

Instead of sharing the ball, Jackson tries to go one-on-one against Harpring forces an ugly shot and the Jazz get the rebound. On the way down the court, a frustrated Jackson takes down Jazz point guard Dee Brown (who is playing for the first time since suffering a scary neck injury in Game 1). Jackson draws a flagrant foul, giving Utah two foul shots and the ball back. Bad enough until Jackson's jawing brings him a technical foul on top of that. So it's three free shots for the Jazz and the ball back.

Unbelievably, the Jazz miss all three foul shots and do not even score on their ensuing possession, and the Warriors are still in the game -- even after they just miss an ill-advised three-point shot on their next possession. Ah, but the writing was already on the wall.

There's a tiny bit of redemption in the way the Warriors handled the loss after the buzzer. As the final seconds were ticking off the clock in Utah's clinching 100-87 win, Jackson walked over to Utah coach Jerry Sloan and offered a congratulatory hug. The rest of the Warriors manned up too, staying on their opponent's court under a rain of purple and white confetti, to give propers to the winners.

As stupid as they played in the tight moments of this series, they handled the aftermath with aplomb. Here's hoping they come back more mature -- especially Jackson who is alternately a great team player, a solid citizen and a total freaking knucklehead who lets his emotions overrule is better intincts.

Congrats to the Jazz who proved that size really does matter in the NBA playoffs as they make it to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1998. The good news for Jerry Sloan is he won't be seeing Michael Jordan on the other guy's sideline. The bad news -- his team is going to be the dog to whoever makes it out of the Suns-Spurs war.

You'll hear a lot about how Derek Fisher was the difference-maker in this series and how Carlos Boozer ruled the paint, but allow me to give a shout out to Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap, two of the unsung heroes that made sure the Jazz got their business done. Kirilenko, who was in tears after a particularly poor performance in Utah's first-round series with Houston, has rediscovered the confidence that once made him the NBA's best all-around player. He hasn't yet played like the AK-47 of two season's ago but if he's able to reclaim that magic, the Jazz might just make it to the NBA Finals.

Millsap was just a beast inside. He was first to a lot of loose balls and offensive rebounds and he played great interior defense. He came through in some big moments, not bad for a guy who is getting his first taste of the grand stage of the NBA playoffs.

So much more fun to be had this postseason. I'll be checking back in with you after tomorrow night's game.

Suspending Belief

Magic World, May 2007
S.O.L. is not down with NBA executive vice president Stu Jackson's decision to suspend Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw a game each for their actions Monday night. The starting center/forward and his main backup were guilty of leaving the bench after their team leader was pummeled by the Robert Horry at the end of the Suns' comeback win Monday night.

The rule in question -- "all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of the bench" -- during an altercation was enforced to the letter of the law. But what about the intent, as many people have argued today, including Suns' chairman Jerry Colangelo who spoke to the New York Times by phone after the decision was handed down early Tuesday afternoon.

"Someone takes out one of your players, and you’re the one that gets penalized," Colangelo told the Times. “Horry again was the culprit, and we lose every which way. I guess you’d like to believe that a rule is a rule, but fairness and reason should have entered into the equation. The spirit of the rule is more important than the actual stepping on the court.”

So it's not a big surprise that Colangelo wants his main big man on the court for the pivotal Game (in a series tied at 2 games apiece) but what good does it do to disembowel the Suns when the players in question didn't exactly run out onto the floor? What they did was take a few steps off the bench before being pulled back by assistant coaches. Can't the rule include the discretion of the NBA as to the players' intent -- or at the very least that they did not in any way ramp up the intensity of the moment?

Horry, who's forearm shiver was disgraceful and dirty, got a two-game suspension but S.O.L. thinks that was two lenient. Cat shouldn't be allowed back on the floor this playoffs -- even if the Spurs get beyond two more games.

Frankly, I'm not all that convinced that they will, even with the huge advantage they've now been given with the Suns best player not named Steve Nash sitting at home in street clothes. Sure the Spurs are the deepest team in the league, but with Big Shot Bob not even in the building, they will at least be missing a major playoff weapon and experienced playoff performer.

I've don't think the Spurs play dirty, as Stoudemire and others have alleged during this playoffs in before, but this play was dirty and San Antonio's defense of it (coach Gregg Popovich said he "didn't think it was such a big deal,") makes me lose a lot of respect for a group I previously thought were true professionals. Fuck 'em.

I'm rooting for the Suns tomorrow night. Tune in, sports fans. I gotta feeling this one is going to be one for the ages -- and Phoenix is going to rise up from this injustice.

Golden State Goodbye???

It's early in the second half of the Warriors - Jazz Game 5 -- a series that the Jazz is leading 3-1, and the game is tight, but it feels like Utah is going to pull this game out. I just think the Warriors' short-rotation is sucking wind and the Jazz big men are imposing their will on the smaller, quicker Warriors.

Whatever happens, S.O.L. gives a major salute to the Warriors for an inspired and thrilling -- and surprising run. Here's hoping it keeps up -- either this season or next.

Ad Nauseam

A note about watching the games on TNT. First, loving it in HD so props there. But what's with all the lame promo ads for "House of Payne," "The Closer," and TNT's other upcoming t.v. series. Hey, as a t.v. writer, I appreciate them pimping their own shows, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing and playing the same damn ads over and over and over and over again is too much of a good thing. I mean if I hear that tear-stained screaming woman crying "They murdered my son!!!" one more fucking time, I'm going to throw my beer at the freaking t.v.

And speaking of adverts, what brainiac at Heineken came up with the new lite beer spot? Putting the beer bottles under a spotlight and blaring the song Pussycat Doll's "Don't Cha" is likely causing an increase in the serial killer population.

All I can say is thank God above for the mute button.

Monday, May 14, 2007

More Mets and the NBA Plays Rough

Route 101 North, at Sunset May 2007
The Mets have won four out of five games since shaving their heads. A small sampling to judge whether shaving heads makes you a better baseball team, considering they were 7-3 in the 10 games before they got really short haircuts.

More important, it seems to have done wonders for David Wright, who started the shearing in the first place. The Mets' poster boy has spent the first month and a half of the season mired in a slump. He seemed to be picking up from where he left off last season when he opened by extending his end-of-season hitting streak from last year, but it was clear he wasn't comfortable at the plate.

He finished April with a .244 batting average, one home run and a paltry 6 R.B.I. Not what you want to see from the number five hitter on the major's best run-scoring team.

But since shaving his head before last Tuesday's game in San Francisco, Wright has 7 hits, three home runs and a game-winning double. You know how swimmers and cyclists shave their heads (and other body parts) so they can be more aerodynamic? Well, Wright's got four stolen bases since the barber paid him a visit to his hotel room, including three in one game (a career high). I'm thinking now that Jose Reyes has finally joined the baldies on the team, I expect him to steal 200 bases this year.

Most important development this weekend is how the Mets played against the Milwaukee Brewers, this year's version of the 2006 Detroit Tigers (or the 2005 White Sox) as MLB's most surprising team. The Brew Crew came into Shea with a swagger -- and the major's best record. They looked like world-beaters in crushing the Mets 12-3 on Saturday but that impressive work was sandwiched between two methodical victories by the Mets. It was the first road series loss of the season for the Brewers.

Rough and Tumble

Right now, the most fun-to-watch teams left in the playoffs are getting beat down by more bigger, more physical teams. Saturday's Spurs-Suns Game 3 was about as physical game as I've seen since the Lakers-Spurs series in 2004. That's when San Antonio crushed the Lakers at home in the first two games in part because this youngster named Tony Parker was driving to the basket with abandon and success. Only when the series went back to L.A., suddenly Parker was mugged every time he went to the hoop -- except the refs weren't calling fouls anymore. In the first two games of the series, the foul calls were even at 51 apiece but over the next four games -- all Lakers wins -- the Lakers got 126 fouls to the Spurs' 87.

I'm not blaming the refs for this disparity, just pointing out the importance of aggressive play during the playoffs. The first two games Parker pretty much scored at will in the paint, driving and scoring layups or dishing to an open man. He seemed to be going at a different speed than the Lakers' defense.

That all changed in Game 3. The Lakers, having nothing much to lose with a 0-2 deficit, started collapsing on Parker when he drove into the paint and making it hard for him to get off a shot. No question he was getting fouled on some of those drives but it was the playoffs, man, and the theory is you don't get those calls in the playoffs. The Lakers held court and then used a miracle shot by Derek Fisher with four-tenths of a second on the clock to steal Game 5 and that was all she wrote for those seemingly fragile Spurs. Parker scored 50 points in the first two games of the series. The last four? That's right, 50 points -- total.

The Spurs learned a lesson back in 2004 and used it with authority in Game 3 at home against the free-flowing Suns. Two things they did great on Saturday. One is they stayed in front of the King of Point Guards. And two, whenever he did get by a defender, there was always someone waiting to help out on D. But they also played tougher physically and there was a lot of extra-curricular banging and bumping in that game -- by both teams. The only difference it seemed to me, was that the Spurs didn't let it effect them and they made their shots

Nash did not respond to the pounding correctly in the first half -- he looked and acted frustrated. It didn't help the Suns that their biggest man on the floor was saddled with three fouls in the first half and played 19 seconds in the third quarter before picking up ugly number four. But there's hope for Suns fans, in S.O.L.'s view. Nash played a great quarter and for all his youth and too much talking, Amare is a smart kid gifted with an instinct for the game. Plus, for the first time perhaps all season, Boris Diaw played like he did in his coming-out party last year in the playoffs. I believe the Suns are tougher than they get credit for and I predict the series goes to Phoenix tied 2-2.

Up here in the Bay Area, the Golden State Warriors have been all the rage. And why not. They all but swept the defending Western Conference champions out of the playoffs and their open three-point-shooting, in-your-face, speed-demon style is fun as hell to watch. Plus, they opened the playoffs with four victories on their home court, almost all of them by double-digits.

The buzz kill has come in the face of the Utah Jazz. Using tough inside play and showing the discipline to withstand the inevitable roaring-crowd-fueled runs by the young Warriors, the Jazz host Game 5 on Tuesday on their home court leading the series 3-1. No one is really counting out the Warriors but it's hard to see them winning three straight, even with the kind of magical playoffs they've been having.

The Warriors can win if they keep hitting those big threes, but they have to find a way to stop Carlos Boozer from scoring inside. Boozer has become a real floor leader for the young Jazz and he's battling a rep as being too soft under the basket. Okay, so it's not saying all that much against a Warriors team that plays small ball, but still, Boozer has to make those big shots. When he hit two consecutive tough inside jumpers at a critical moment early in the game with a frenzied crowd in his ears, you just had to know he was going to show up at crunch time. And let's face it, if Boozer isn't scoring inside, Fisher doesn't get those open looks in the fourth and maybe they're going back to Utah tied 2-2 instead of up 3-1. It doesn't help Golden State's mojo that Fisher is having a storybook run of his own and Deron Williams and Paul Millsap are growing up before our eyes.

Love watching the Warriors. Love the fan support -- even the Lakers and Kings haven't done what the Warriors did last night -- but I've got a family the magic runs out in Salt Lake.

Speaking of the NBA Playoffs, we all had to watch the games on ABC this weekend. I love Mike Breen - I think he's one of the best broadcasters going these days. But the sexy chicks singing that stupid "right now" song? Please, get rid of that shit. It's beyond bad. It's embarrassingly bad. ABC -- please cease and desist. Right. Now.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

S.O.L. at the Ol' Ballgame

Billy Wagner prepares to shut the door
I went to see the Mets yesterday at San Francisco's AT&T Park. The Mets were nice enough to put together a comeback victory in honor of S.O.L.'s presence, easing the painful costs of our moderately expensive seats.
(All the photos on this page were taken by me at the game and as always you can click on any photo to see it REALLY big.)

The best part of the game was seeing two struggling Mets (David Wright and Carlos Delgado) come through in the clutch (Delgado got the game-tying hit and Wright the game-winning one). The winning hit, by the way, came off former Mets closer Armando Benitez, who self-destructed
Happy Ending
before our eyes, a situation with which Mets fans are all too familiar.

The Mets return home Friday night to face the best team in the majors. We'll see how they measure up -- the Mets I mean.

Mets manager Willie Randolph opted to walk Barry Bonds intentionally early in the game with a two-run lead and first base open. It ended up being a good thing for the Mets who got out of the inning unscathed. Bonds, who hit no. 745 the previous night against the Mets, played a rare day game following a night game on Wednesday. He didn't go yard and actually struck out looking with the game on the line in the later innings.

More photos of my day at the ballpark.

Jose Reyes bats in the second.

Mets starter John Maine warms up. Behind him is third baseman David Wright.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Cover Me

Under Foot. Palm Springs, April 2006
For a change of pace, I'm stepping out of the sports world for a moment to get my groove on.

I don't have the hippest or coolest taste in music (my friends are much cooler than me -- check out this blog if you don't believe me). The older I get, the quieter my tastes, the smoother the groove if you catch my drift. But every once in awhile, I hear something that puts a charge in my dance step.

Such was the case today when I heard this on NPR of all places. I ran home to download the rest of it from iTunes. This is one of those tunes that has half a foot in old school and the other firmly in today, as in now, baby. Interestingly, it's a cover and not any old cover neither, but a song we've all heard a hundred times and can't imagine it sounding better than the original. Not anymore.

You can judge for yourself here. (Special thanks to the aforementioned Undercover Black Man for turning me onto See how long it takes you to 'name that tune' -- my guess is two slides and a drum beat ought to do it for you.

And while you're at it, I'm curious how many of you know who the performer is -- without looking it up of course. It's too easy to make it a contest but just for fun, the first person who guesses right gets to be number one on my too-cool-for-school list. Extra credit if you can tell me who's playing that filthy slide gui-tar.

Enjoy the vibe. I sure did.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Damn Yankees

Rolling Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley 2007
I know, I know. Two posts in one day but here it is Sunday night and I'm getting ready to watch "The Sopranos" when what do I see on SportsCenter but that Roger Clemens is returning to the Yankees, this for his third Last Hurrah in four seasons. The Yankees, one game below .500 and five and a half behind the rival Red Sox who currently sits atop the AL East, need pitching badly and paid dearly for a pitcher both teams coveted, even if the relatively pitching solid Sox wanted him just to keep the Yankees from having him.

Clemons, who will turn 45 in August, will get paid $48 million to pitch a little more than half a season in a deal that will allow him to return home to Houson on days he's not pitching -- something the Bombers weren't willing to provide last season. Oh what a difference a year makes.

The Yankees' pitching corps has been thinning it seems almost weekly. Three starters have been out at various points with hamstring injuries and troubled and oft-injured free agent acquisition Carl Pavano may not pitch again this season. Pavano was the Yankees' opening day starter. Last week, the prized prospect Phil Hughes hurt his hamstring in the midst of pitching a no-hitter in Texas. He left the game, the Yankees lost the no hit bid and Hughes ended up on the disabled list. Suddenly, the Yankees desperation was palpable.

The Rocket says he's in shape and will be ready in the next two to three weeks depending on how soon he can get his arm into game shape. I never thought the Bombers would finish the season in last place or even with a losing record and adding Clemons looks like a great move. But the Yanks are relying a lot on veteran guys who have a lot of mileage on them. Meanwhile, while Boston's lineup isn't nearly as scary as New York's, it's damn good and they've got a guy waiting in the wings too in Jon Lester, a promising young pitcher who is recovering from a bout with Cancer.

I've been around this rivalry long enough to know you can't bet on the Red Sox and you certainly can't count out the Yankees but I've got a feeling Boston's pitching is going to be the difference, even though Roger won't be finishing his career where it started.

While we're on the subject of baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers are sitting atop the baseball world at the moment. Their 21-10 record is the best in the majors. Not bad for a team that's been so bad over the last two decades that usually the only thing in question each game is who will win the sausage race.

I think the Brewers are mostly for real. They have a lot of hitting talent, youth and they have a solid pitching staff. And 21 wins in 31 games is awesome but they've been beating up on some pretty bad to mediocre teams (mostly in their own underwhelming division) like the Pirates, the Cubs early in the season when they were stinking up the joint, St. Louis and the woeful Houston Astros.

They should be able to pad those 21 wins in their upcoming series against the Washington Nationals but then they have three straight series against quality opponents. First it's off to New York to play S.O.L.'s beloved Mets (who at 19-10 are tied for the third best record in the majors) then four at the surging Phillies before hosting an interleague series against the Twins. Then they have to go out west to face the presently first-place Dodgers, the emerging Padres and back home to face the Atlanta Braves (tied with the Mets for first in the NL East).

We'll check back with the Brew Crew at the end of May to see how they handle what is a brutal stretch to their schedule. It will be a good indication whether they're contenders or pretenders.

By A Nose

Steve Nash is a freaking man. There is no justice if he doesn't win his third MVP Award after seeing his gutty performance today against the Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. Down the stretch in a close game, Nash accidentally butted heads with Spurs guard Tony Parker, sending Parker to the floor. Nash kept his feet and even reached down to see if Parker was okay. Nash thought the blood he saw on his uniform was from Parker. Little did he know it was from a big, ugly gash on his own nose.

Nash tried to continue but the trainers couldn't get the blood to stop and he had to sit helplessly on the bench while his teammates couldn't stop the Spurs, giving up their precious home court advantage.

Part of the problem is that the NBA doesn't make the sideline rules about blood -- OSHA does.
Back when Magic was diagnosed with HIV, the league instituted a whole bunch of rules that trainers have to follow. Most important is they can't let blood get on anything - uniforms, the floor, etc. It's not just league rules, it's league rules governed by OSHA. One of the things trainers have to do before treating any player with any amount of bleeding is put on those rubber gloves, which doesn't make it that easy to treat open wounds.

Nash needed six stitches to close the wound but do not for a moment think this kid will not be out there again for Game 2 on Tuesday night. I'm the Spurs, I gotta be thinking what else can we do? San Antonio had to play a perfect game and they still could have easily lost it and might have if not for an unfortunate head butt.

Beer, Basketball, Boxing & a Baby Boy

Farm house
My husband and I went to the Boonville Beer Festival Saturday which takes place every year in Boonville, Ca., which is North East of San Francisco between Cloverdale and the California coast. For those of you who live sheltered lives, hand-crafted beer has been a big part of the California organic movement and over the years has become a pretty big industry, going hand-and-hand with locally-grown and raised food and wine.

My husband and I were early converts to the microbrew. Life is too damn short to hang out with Bud, Coors or Lites, no matter how you spell it. Anyway, festivals like Boonville are just a chance for folks to try different brews from around the country (mostly out West here) and listen to some tunes and eat BBQ oysters, meat and chicken. If you haven't tried BBQ oysters, by the way, you ain't living, folks.

Anyway, I felt appropriately old for the first two or three glasses of brew but once the buzz kicked in, all those evil thoughts receded to the dark recesses of my mind. And I learned something new, too. Every time someone spills a beer, the crowd whoops and hollers -- it's like the wave at a baseball game as the sound picks up and carries all the way across the fair grounds.

Here's a few photos from the event. The good looking guy with the beer is S.O.L.'s other half.

NBA Playoffs Move On

Golden State didn't only finish off the Dallas Mavericks they beat them back in to last year, that's when the Mavs last looked like they weren't as good as their record or their superstar when Miami came back from a 2-0 deficit to take the O'Brien Trophy from their slippery clutches.

This beating -- only the third time an eight seed has beaten a number 1 in the playoffs -- was so thorough and so humiliating, the Mavs may never recover from it and worse, when (and if) Dirk Nowitzki is awarded the award for season MVP (the voting ends before the playoffs), it will seem like a travesty.

I think the Mavs will come back strong next year. I have faith in Avery Johnson though I wonder if Dirk is too fragile to handle the heat of the toughest battles. So far, he's been a no-show when it really counts.

Props to the Warriors, though, who ran the Mavs out of the gym and proved that sometimes it's better to be without expectations.

As for failing on the biggest stage, it's fair to add Tracy McGrady to that list. For now. I think T-Mac stepped up this season more than almost any other player, even Kobe who was said to be the sole reason the Lakers made the playoffs. The number one Rocket played big for his team when their 7-6 centerpiece went down for a long stretch in the middle of the season. The fact that he couldn't lead them over the Utah Jazz isn't necessarily his fault. The Jazz got a big performance by the man that Yao should at least slowed down. Still Boozer's numbers were sick and it's possible even The Dream in his prime might not have made a difference.

Utah's win sets up a second-round matchup against those new darlings of the NBA, Golden State Warriors, though I wouldn't be surprised if David Stern is a wee bit nervous. Not even Nellie could possibly know what his team will do next -- explode or implode. So far in the playoffs, it's been an either/or situation. Ya gotta like the Warriors chances of making it to the Western Conference Finals (think a lot of folks bet on that before the season started?).

The other Western series pits Phoenix and San Antonio, a matchup a lot of folks are calling the real NBA Finals. I think the series is going to be close with the Spurs having a slight edge because they're just playing great D right now. But I like the Suns in a long series because I think they have the ability to adjust and they're younger and possibly more resiliant. Nash is just too good and the Suns coach, while not quite as smart as the Spurs Gregg Poppovich, is a bright guy who is very much underrated. A classic battle between a great offensive and a stingy D. It will be a great series for NBA fans.

And finally, don't worry about this series being the last great one of the season. Whoever comes out of the West will have their hands full if they have to face Detroit which is playing like they did when they won it all a couple seasons back. The Pistons have quietly won five straight games in the playoffs, the last one by double-digits over the Bulls who looked like world-beaters last week in vanquishing the defending champs.

Don't even think about counting out LeBron and the Cavs, either. They have an underrated young coach, and a player who is a true fourth-quarter superstar. Right now they're even playing pretty decent interior defense. I predict they'll have as easy time with the Nets as the Pistons will have with the Bulls.

Pretty Boy is Golden

I don't think anyone who knows the sport of boxing really thought Oscar De La Hoya had any shot of beating Floyd Mayweather Jr. last night in their much anticipated super welterweight bout last night. The big surprise is how well the Golden Boy fought and even more so, that had he really stuck to his game plan (especially that quick, punishing left jab of his) he might very well have beaten Mayweather, a superior fighter in almost every respect but power (and thus a 2-1 favorite).

The only other thing that stood out for me in this fight is the only thing that ever stands out in fights broadcast by HBO Pay Per View (besides the price -- $65 for the privilege) and that's analysis Larry Merchant. Why anyone lets this guy do t.v. is beyond me. Besides being the slowest talker in the history of sports broadcasting, he almost never has anything interesting to say.

And that's not the worst thing you can say about Merchant. Rumors have it that he clashed with other, better color analysts, including former pro boxers like George Foreman and Roy Jones, Jr., who were fun to listen to and actually offered insight instead of bad poetry.

Even last night, he bristled at Emanuel Steward's assertion that de la Hoya would tire late in the fight (basing his opinion on how 'intense' and 'tight' Oscar seemed in the early rounds). And it was pretty clear that Oscar ran out of gas late. Maybe that's because Steward unlike Merchant, actually knows what the fuck he's talking about.

Aunt S.O.L.

That's right, S.O.L. became an aunt for the fourth time today, May 6, 2007. Get it? 5/6/7.

Ain't that sweet?

I wish I had a photo but I'm waiting for my brother to send me one. After three girls, we're welcoming the first nephew to the brood. His name is Seth Reuben (the middle name belonged to my late grandfather on my Mom's side) and he weighed in at 8 pounds, 8 ounces. Welcome to life, Seth. May you make a mark on this crazy world and may you find only love and hope and health and happiness.

UPDATE: Some photos, as promised: