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.

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