Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Last Gasp, Last Rites and Race & the Refs

Spring blooms

Well, Dirk Nowitzki finally showed his pretty little ol' basketball playing self on Tuesday night, sparking a do-or-die last-minute rally against Golden State to snare victory from sure this-loss-we-never-get-over defeat. Nowitzki hit a three-pointer, blocked a sure lay-up and hit another three on his way to scoring 12 of Dallas' last 15 points in a 15-0 run to force Game 6 in Oakland.

It was a rough end for Golden State who was on the brink of being the darlings of the NBA playoffs, and only the second eighth seed ever to take down a number one in round one (and still are). Why not - they had a 9-point lead with four minutes to go and then without warning, couldn't hit anything but the actual rim of the basket. Clank, clank, clank.

The result - the Warriors host Game 6 up 3-2 against a seemingly resurgent Dallas squad, particularly its unbelievably fragile Nowitzki. Frankly, I have no idea what to expect from Game 6. No clue. I will be rooting for a Game 7 however cause I'm a basketball fan.

Speaking of meltdowns, another bush league move by Stephen Jackson (who to quote his own insightful comments Wednesday, does have "moron" written across his forehead). I thought he deserved the T if for nothing else but for losing without grace, as the Warriors also did in getting flustered in Game 2. Love their confidence, love their groove but don't tell me you can't turn off the chest-thumping bravado when appropriate. I know they can do that -- how else did they lose all those games during the season?

As for Game 6, the Chuckster is right. Golden State has to win tomorrow night's game. There is no way they want to go back to Dallas for a Game 7, especially how badly they seemed to gag up at the end of Game 5.

And by the way, as much as I love Avery Johnson, I'm trying to figure out how come it took so damn long for Dallas to freaking put a trap on Baron Davis? The kid is killing them. He practically scores wherever he wants to and however he wants. He's faster than the Mavs' backcourt players and his step-back jumper is money. Dallas will have its ownself to blame if it doesn't keep Davis out of the lane and from the bulk of his playmaker duties. If not, they'll be watching Davis and his boys in the second round. And they have the players to slow him down. You don't win 67 freaking games and not have a damn defense. Does S.O.L. sound mad? Well you would to if your first-round prediction was about to go up in smoke. I thought this was the easy series, too.

Anyway, it's must-watch NBA t.v. Thursday night. I got half a mind to go down to the Oracle myself and scalp a ticket. The fans are going to be frenzied.

No frenzy in L.A. this morning, as the Lakers have gone fishin' early again, the fifth straight year the Lakers have not embraced the O'Brien trophy. Kobe's fans will say it's the Big Guy's fault but so far, the score is Shaq - 1, Kobe - goose egg. I just don't see ol' Mamba winning a title any time soon, not with that roster and not with the Logo no longer working in L.A. I love how Kobe is "demanding" he get help next season. He had help. His name was Shaquille O'Neal and he drove his ass out of town and anyone who thinks different is just drinking the Kobe KoolAid. Kobe has what he wants. He's the man. Just don't ask him how it feels right now.

I was only slightly surprised how easily the Spurs got past Denver. I swear, Allen Iverson is the hardest working player without a ring. I'll always root for A.I. Here's hoping he gets a real coach next year. Does anyone doubt, for example, that recently departed Indiana coach Rick Carlisle could make Denver tougher? He can be a real hard-ass and his shit gets old fast, but the guy can freaking coach and frankly, that cast of characters could use an ass-kicker to whip them into shape. I felt bad for 'Melo, how hard he took the loss, but I'm thinking that can only be a good thing if he tucks it in a safe place for next year. All great players suffered major early disappointment on their way to great things (except Kobe - he's doing it in reverse).

The big question for the Nuggets is if Kenyon Martin will ever play another minute for them and when he does if he'll be even a shadow of his old self. If he could come back and play half the way he did before all those injuries (he's missed all or most of two seasons), Denver's frontcourt suddenly looks formidable.

Perhaps I'm burying the lead but I was floored at reading this article in Wednesday's editions of the New York Times. The piece, "Study of NBA Sees Racial Bias in Calling Fouls," reported on a study done by a University of Pennsylvania professor and a Cornell University graduate student that suggested a subconscious bias by NBA referees, where white refs called fouls at a greater rate against black players than against white ones.

My first instinct is no shit Sherlock, since most of the players in the NBA are black and the majority of refs are white (though there are more black NBA refs than ever). But the study's authors were fairly thorough in their analysis, according to the Times, which hired three experts to check the findings. The basis of results, according to these experts, is that most people when forced to make snap decisions are likely to make them based on subconscious bias. NBA refs, apparently, are not immune to this instinctual cultural behavior.

The study, which you can read (and I think download as a .pdf) here, is the fourth most popular email on the Times website and it's being talked about all over the sports world. The response has been mixed though what's even more curious is the rapid reaction by the NBA itself. Upon hearing about the study (before it was even published), NBA commish David Stern sponsored an internal review and apparently did not reach the same conclusion as this study. Wow, go figure.

I guess I buy the whole subconscious prejudice thing in general -- based on my experience growing up in this place called America. But in gabbing with a few of my former sportswriting colleagues and a couple of NBA insiders today, it seems few around the league think the findings are valid -- even the players.

Many are making the same point that former player and GM Kiki Vandeweghe made today in an interview I saw on ESPN when he argued that the flaw was in how the authors gathered their data. For the 13 seasons they went back to examine, almost all the data was garnered from box scores, which only include the names of the referees assigned to that game. No where in the black and white of those stats is any indication which ref called what foul on who (or is it whom). I think this is a good point. Do I think this means that there's no racial bias? Well, duh, of course there is. But I bet the real bias is refs calling fewer fouls on the league's bigger stars and more for them. Now that's a study I'd like to see.

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