Thursday, February 10, 2005

Like Yoni

This is a nod to blogging superstar Yoni Cohen, who as you probably know has the most comprehensive college hoops blog out there. A master at taking bits and pieces from around the web while adding his quick opinion, I'll do my best to in giving quick roundup of stuff from around the web that's caught my interest lately:

  • Big-time Bulls coverage over at the 'sports leader', lead by Marc Stein's 7 questions regarding whether you should believe in the Bulls. Feel-good stuff all around, with quotes from nearly everyone. Makes me feel even worse that Stein has to moonlight getting yelled at by Steven A. Smith and Greg Anthony.
  • Another ESPN article by former NBA assistant coach Brian James (sub. reqd) delves into the coaching stuff that I won't even attempt to comment on. Certainly interesting though.
  • This post by APBR member Dan Rosenbaum, after running some numbers, finds that Ben Gordon and Eddy Curry are near the poorest in all of basketball in terms of 'doing the little things'. Unsurprisingly, Chris Duhon rates fairly well. Dan's not one to overvalue the little things compared to big things (like putting the ball in the basket), but his contention is that these overlooked stats that contribute to the Bulls success, and that Duhon's minutes are warranted.
  • Via Hoopshype, here's a review of "When Nothing else Matters", with special emphasis on the book's commentary regarding sports journalism. Anything that makes Mike Wilbon seem like a stooge is welcome on this blog. In case you missed it, here's my review.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Bulls defense: slippin' like the quality of ESPN's product

Hey, I'm able to see the game! Time for a good ole-fashioned recap:

The first quarter of tonight's game against the Rockets started out well for both teams, each moving the ball well, and the quarter finished with a 1 point Bulls lead at 29-28. Luol Deng was taken out of the game early with foul trouble, which especially hurt since judging by his early dunk over Yao he was looking to build upon his career high effort the night before. In the second quarter the Rockets bench exploded for a 15-0 run, behind the scoring of Jon Barry and the rebounding of Bull-for-a-week Dikembe Mutumbo(with names like that no wonder they have the league's oldest team). If I hadn’t been watching I’d assume that Tyson Chandler was getting his lunch handed to him by Mutumbo, but I personally thought Tyson was getting his as well, while overcoming a raw deal from the refs. This was especially true when he had the ball in his hands, as Rockets would come in from all angles ready to break his wrists at a chance for the ball.

The Bulls were outscored in the second quarter 23-14 yet kept the halftime deficit under single digits at 8.

Another run (this time 8-0) by the Rockets opened the 2nd half. Things were looking so bad on the offensive end that Jannero Pargo got in the action midway through the quarter (Duhon was still out there though, so go figure). Going to a smaller lineup and zone defense initially didn't help with Tracy McGrady and David Wesley shooting the Rockets (ugh, pun) to a 18 point lead. But the Bulls answered with a flurry of points to end the quarter down by a manageable 11 points, perhaps gearing up for another stirring 4th quarter comeback.

The Bulls came out in the 4th with the same lineup (Hinrich/Pargo/Pike/Noc/Chandler), which I thought was a case of Skiles pushing his luck. Mutumbo again was taking over inside(13 rebounds in 17 minutes!), even driving the baseline for a ferocious dunk (which made me think it was 1994 again, when Mutumbo was a spry 35 years old).

In the end the Rockets shooting was just too much as they went on yet another scoring run and built the lead to 20, on their way to handing the Bulls a 105-92 loss.

Some bright spots for the Bulls were Tyson Chandler, who had 20 rebounds and verified my (usually) lying eyes. Pike and Duhon had decent shooting games. Noticeable MIAs were Curry (10 pts in 23 min) and Gordon (9 in 24). Deng finished with 20 minutes after playing 47 the night before.

Lets chalk this one up to bad legs, the Bulls were on the second of a tough back-to-back, against a good veteran Rockets team. For a team that is among the league leaders in field-goal defense to give up an eFG% of 54% and give up 105 points to a team that normally scores a Van-Gundy-style 93 shows that the Bulls just didn't have it on the defensive end tonight.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Back on board

Big win for the Bulls tonight, a 107-100 win over the Dallas Mavericks. That's number 23, matching last season's total (man, last season sucked). After 3 straight losses doubt had to be creeping in to the point where wondering if the Bulls outstanding January was a fluke. This game also serves a sweet vindication after the stomach punch the Mavs gave them at the United Center.

Check out this balanced attack:

Deng - 30pts, 11rebs (he's 19 years old folks)
Curry - 23, 5
Hinrich - 12,6,6ast
Chandler - 8, 15
Gordon - 16 pts (4-7 3pters)

As a team, the Bulls out rebounded Dallas 56-40.

Wish I'd seen it, I was too busy half-listening on the radio while counting my blessings after the Illini squeaked out a win in Ann Arbor.

A tough game awaits tomorrow in Houston, followed by the reeling T-Wolves on Sunday.

I'll now open up the floor...

Monday, February 07, 2005

A Tale of Two Jordans

Over the course of many lonely rides on the El, I finished two books recently about the crown prince of Chicago: Michael Jordan. Set roughly 10 years apart, "The Jordan Rules" by Sam (my man) Smith, and "When Nothing Else Matters" by Michael Leahy both offer an interesting look at how Jordan's desire and 'appetites' led to both great and disappointing results on the court.

Set during the Bulls' first championship during the '90-'91 , "The Jordan Rules" is set at a time when Jordan was obviously regarded as a great player, but perhaps not able to make others better and take his Bulls to the title. Absurd as it may sound now, Jordan especially faced scrutiny after yet another defeat in the 1990 Conference Finals against the champion Detroit Pistons. And with very few personnel changes in the offseason (despite Jordan's pleadings for more help), the team set out on a season-long journey to the top.

While the term 'Jordan rules' was actually named after Detroit's defensive strategy against him, Jordan's sometimes preferential treatment by the organization served as a the metaphorical meaning of the title. Throughout the season Jordan engages in battles with the likes of Horace Grant, BJ Armstrong, Will Purdue (who received a Jordan punch in the face) and perhaps most publicly with GM Jerry Krause. But as described in the afterward section of the book, Phil Jackson would serve as the 'hero' in this story. His ability to come from basketball obscurity (an underrated Krause move) to accomplish with his team what former coach Doug Collins couldn't (more on him later) gave him this 'hero' title. Jordan's relationship with Jackson was always tense yet respectful, as Jackson tried to get Jordan to share the ball more in the team's now-famous triangle offense. This attempt to curtail Jordan within the offense did not always work, but as Bulls fans can remember came through in the title-clinching game when Jordan repeatedly found an open John Paxson who drove many a nail in the Lakers' coffin.

Beyond the main story-arc, there are backgrounds on nearly every player, from Scottie Pippen's humble upbringing to Craig Hodges' muslim faith. Also includes the expected behind-the-scenes stories of trade and contract negotiations between Krause (and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf) and the increasingly disgruntled and underpaid players that they employed. I was really impressed in Smith's ability to tell these mini-stories within the context of the regular season. They really kept the book interesting in parts where as we know an NBA season can get pretty dull.

Fast forward past 5 more titles and 2 retirements, where Michael Leahy of the Washington Post offers his 'tell-all' portrayal of an older Jordan in "When Nothing Else Matters". An outstanding character study into Jordan's desire for victory in anything and everything, Leahy's book is perhaps the first book to become critical of what Jordan can do to a team. While Jordan's berating of teammates was found frequently in "The Jordan Rules", back then it was with the underlying understanding that he was the best player in basketball. Practicing and playing with such ferocity meant that you either had to bring your best when playing with Jordan or be left behind. In Washington though, Jordan's lust for competition bests his judgement as he moves from the executive office back to the court, extending his desire to win to everything from late-night blackjack to personal relationships with his teammates. His attitude coupled with his inconsistent play led to the self-destruction the Wizards over 2 mediocre seasons.

If Jordan was the main problem behind the Wiz's inability to make the playoffs in each of the comeback seasons, than Doug Collins is 1-A. he was the anti-Phil Jackson, a Jordan enabler, not forcing Jordan to rest his tendanitis-riddled knees despite doctor's orders to the contrary. Worse was Collins' insistence of his team to play in a slowed-down offense revolving around Jordan's array of fallaway jumpers. When Jordan's shot was falling, the team was average-to-good. However when they weren't, blame went from Collins' lips to the ears of the young Wizards for failing to set up Michael properly. Soon players like Rip Hamilton began to question the direction of the team, and we all know what happened to him. While the book doesn't spend as much time covering the second season of the comeback, by then veterans like Jerry Stackhouse and Byron Russell feuded with Collins to the point where the team completely disintegrated right in front of him.

This book delves more into Jordan's life off the court than his Washington teammates, but like in "The Jordan Rules" I thoroughly enjoyed the character profiles of Jordan's 'supporting cast', including Hamilton, Stackhouse, Courtney Alexander and Tyrone Nesby, all who had to come to grips with playing with their boss and completely deferring to him while trying to make a name for themselves in the league. Another interesting character is Wizards owner Abe Pollin, one person who Jordan failed to get the upper-hand over. Of particular pleasure to read was a short aside of how Leahy's colleague Mike Wilbon let his relationship with Jordan lead to him boycotting Leahy's work and never failing to let Jordan use his column to provide a rebuttal for whatever negative press surfaced about him.

You know by now that I treat any pining for Jordan's return to the Bulls organization (mostly by Jay Mariotti) as a joke, and reading "When Nothing Else Matters" did little to dissuade my opinion. While both great (and quick) reads, Leahy's book shows what Jordan would bring to the Bulls now if he were asked back. "The Jordan Rules" reads more like historical tale, a time when Jordan's attitude was backed up on the court, and undoubtedly drove him to become the best player ever. I recommend it especially to Bulls fans who want to relive the glory days.  But as Rip Hamilton said: "He was the best ever as a player. As an executive? I'm not so sure."