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Don’t Start Believing in the Suns…

May 12, 2010 Leave a comment

At what point do you start believing? After so many years of having your heart torn out in such spectacular fashion, when does the seed of hope, the idea that maybe this year is something different, when is that borne out in your brain?

On January 27th I wrote the Suns off as dead. Sure, they were still sitting in 8th place, but they were perched there about as securely as a hippo standing on an egg. Even if they held off Memphis and Houston, they seemed certain first round fodder for the defending champion Lakers. Over their previous 30 games they were a putrid 12-18. They’d squandered all the goodwill bought by a 14-3 start and had reminded everyone of their 9th place finish the year before. To make matters worse, it seemed like a matter of when, not if, Amare Stoudemire would be sold in one of those classic Suns’ trades where all the talent goes one way and all the savings go to Robert Sarver’s pocket.

From that point, from the day I wrote them off for dead, the Suns won five straight. Then after a loss in Dallas, they won another five. A 3-3 stretch followed, before they really exploded, running their way to ten straight wins. Finally they finished the season with a 4-2 streak that landed them the Western Conference’s third seed. Add that all up and after that my idiotic article, the Suns went 27-5 to finish the season. Look, I’m not saying that I inspired them to greatness, but…

So, when they survived a tough six game series with Portland to draw the (hated) San Antonio Spurs, I wondered whether this could be their year. Steve Nash can say all he wants that these Suns and these Spurs are different than the versions that saw the Spurs rip out Phoenix’s heart in 2005, 2007, and 2008. He can pay lip service all day long, telling everyone that beating the Spurs really wasn’t slaying the dragon, but the Spurs still had Duncan, they still had Ginobili, they still had Parker, and they still had Popovich. Beating the Spurs was not just another series, this was something special. Especially after Duncan’s elbow made Nash’s eye look like Tiger Woods the morning after. So, is it now that you start to believe? That you unwrap the protective layer of disbelief that you’d cello-taped around your heart for safe handling?

Of course, next on the card is the defending Champion Lakers. Most pundits I think will be picking the Lakers, but mostly that’s because they are the defending champs and they are the Lakers. It becomes easy to pick the champs, but really winning last year actually doesn’t help the Lakers one iota on the court. It creates an aura, a myth that they now ‘know how to win,’ but ‘knowing how to win’ and $4.50 will get you a really frothy, whip cream covered drink from Starbucks.

What matters far more to a champion than winning last year, is how they are playing this year. The Lakers started out like the defending Champions they are, going 37-11 through the first three months of the season, but then they showed some subtle deficiencies. Their point guard rotation is pathetic. Kobe’s played 44,000 minutes and those start to make the legs heavy and the nagging injury bug buzz. Their greatest advantage, their length and size inside, seems to be their greatest source of strife, as getting touches for their bigs cause Kobe’s brain to twitch. Ron “I rub baby oil on myself three times a Day” Artest thinks he’s a three point shooter, but he’s not. Other than Lamar Odom, who in big moments is a little like a sheep, their bench is made up of Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, and Sasha Vujacic. Those are all little things, certainly things which the Lakers can overcome, but then LA did finish the season 20-14. Certainly not abhorrent, but not championship level great either.

In the last two weeks of the season, when the West was jockeying for playoff positioning, I wanted the Spurs to finish 8th, because I felt like they had the best chance to knock off the Lakers in the first round. I still think that they certainly had a solid punchers chance. I love the Zombie Sonics, but they were just too young, too doe eyed, and Scottie “Great, I won coach of the year, that means I’m going to be fired in 16 months, couldn’t we have given this thing to Sloan, he’s had that job forever?” Brooks was too green to coach past the Zen master.

The Spurs would not have had those problems. I felt then, and I feel now, that the longer the Lakers stayed in the playoffs, the tougher they would become. Now, they’ve won six straight and swept aside the Utah Jazz. That the Jazz were missing two starters matters not. When you sweep aside a Jerry Sloan coached team, you can feel good about your accomplishment. That late season swoon is a distant memory now. The Lakers have that proverbial swagger back.

What isn’t a distant memory is the Suns’ equally impressive sweep of the Spurs. So, how do these two teams break down? Are the Suns just lambs walking toward the slaughter here, or do they have a legitimate chance to knock off the Lakers and advance to the NBA Finals. As I said above, I expect that most pundits will be picking the Lakers in a solid five, maybe six game victory. I’m not so sure.

The Lakers’ biggest strength in this – and really any – series, is their front line. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bogut, and Lamar Odom are all 6’10 to 7’1, and they all have arms that stretch from the Hollywood Hills to somewhere East of Iowa. This will be particularly poignant if the Suns are still without Robin “Sideshow Bob” Lopez. Of course, what the Suns do really well is box out and attack rebounds from a variety of different points. Amare led the team with a paltry 8.9 boards per game, but all of their wings chipped in to the cause. Grant Hill had 5.5, Jason Richardson grabbed 5.1, Channing Frye 5.3, Robin Lopez 4.9, and the great and mythical Louis Amundson 4.4. Despite having nobody who could match the prodigious rebounding talents of Tim Duncan or Dejaun Blair against the Spurs, the Suns were +29 in rebounding through the four games.

Yes, the Lakers can pound the ball inside and nobody on the Suns can stop them, but on the reverse side of the ball, neither Gasol nor Bynum can keep up with Stoudemire and Bynum’s abilities in the paint will be somewhat neutralized by Channing Frye drawing him out to guard threes. The Lakers do have Kobe and he’s still the Black Mamba, but… his fangs are a little longer in the tooth than they once were. Not drastically longer, but perhaps, maybe, just enough. The Suns will throw Grant Hill and Jared Dudley at him. They will make him work for everything. They will try and irritate him into wanting to take over the game, thereby neutralizing that size advantage.

Offensively, the Suns will do what they do… space the floor, throw shooters from every angle, run the pick and roll. Who on the Lakers is going to stop Steve Nash? Who’s going to make Steve exert energy on defense? Yes, the Suns will give up some easy put backs to Pau “I’m not soft, I’m more Squelchy” Gasol, but they will also destroy the Lakers when the second units are on the floor. And if they can dictate the tempo? If they can get Bynum out of the game and get Lamar “Wait, I married that Kardashian? I thought I married the hot one, how many Quaaludes was I on?” Odom performing his usual big game disappearing act, well… I don’t know? I want to tell you that I think the Suns will win in six. I do. I really want to believe that, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid that if I start believing in the Suns, well, that it will end in some ignominious fashion. With Nash’s front teeth knocked out, with Amare having surgery, with Grant Hill crying in the middle of the court…

I just don’t know. If I wrote them off for dead in January and they started playing the best ball, maybe of the entire Nash-era, well, what happens if I start believing? Ah F*** it… it’s on b**ches, Suns in six.

The Caveman Roareth…

January 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Chirs Kaman, or the Caveman as he’s more accurately known, said yesterday that Pau Gasol isn’t an allstar, which sort of elicits a, “huh?” That statement is so ridiculously, absurdly stupid, that it’s actually deserving of his nickname. Kaman is having a great season, a career season actually, but if he really thinks Gasol isn’t an allstar he’s dumber than that sad, facile Geico caveman.

Lets break it down a little here. Gasol is the second best player on the defending champs. A status that, unless Cleveland were to win a title this year, pretty much makes a guy an allstar. Before that, Gasol was the best player on a Memphis team that between the 03/04 season and the 05/06 season averaged 48 wins. For his part, Kaman is — this year — the second best player on a team trailing Gasol’s Lakers by 13.5 games. Until this year, Kaman has been the third, fourth, fifth, or ninth best player on a team that’s averaged 32 victories over his six year career. This includes the outstanding 19 games the Clippers won last year, while Gasol’s Lakers were winning the title.

Now, I am usually the first to say that you cannot weigh team results too heavily when comparing players (this, is of course the only thing the Kobe lovers have in the Kobe-LeBron debates, Kobe’s four championships…), so lets look at them individually. Neither is known for their defense. . While Gasol is solid and slightly underrated in that regard, the best thing we can say about Kaman’s defense is that he plays next to Marcus Camby. Still, this is really a discussion of their offensive acumen, so lets see… As I said at the beginning, Kaman is having a career year, which means he’s putting up a PER of 18.43. In Gasol’s worst season (his rookie year), Gasol had a PER of 20.66. His WORST year. This year, Gasol is averaging 16.9 points per game on a sizzling 54.5% shooting percentage. He grabs two more boards per game than Kaman, gives out twice the assists, and takes five and a half fewer shots per game. So yes, the Caveman is averaging 20.2 points per game, but given Gasol’s 22.74 PER, he’s far less efficient doing so.

Finally, there’s this, why in the world would Kaman want to call out Gasol? The Clippers are the laughing stock of the league, a team best known for the supposed curse that ruins everything they do (to cure the curse they need look no further than ousting their racist, cheapskate owner, but that’s a rant for another day), meanwhile the Lakers are, well the Lakers. So, maybe there’s a jealousy thing going on here, but considering that the Clippers beat the Lakers, what, like once, twice in a lifetime, I don’t think I’d be doing anything to incite extra flames on the competitive fires of the defending champs. But, then again, I’m not a caveman, so what do I know…

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