CATCH THEM IF YOU CAN
Each year, some of the more anticipated games on the schedule are the contests played between the two teams from the previous year's Finals.
We get a chance to see one of those this week, as the Lakers head east to take on the New Jersey Nets on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Then, on Jan. 24, the Nets meet the Lakers in L.A.
If you're a fan of this matchup, I advise you to get your fill (or Phil?) on these two nights because it doesn't look like we'll get four of them (seven, if necessary) in June.
Heading into Thursday's meeting, neither team has the sparkle they had last year. The Nets have the same record this season after 24 games (16-8) as they did in 2001-02, and are holding up their end of the bargain. The biggest difference, however, is the Nets are currently the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference where last year, they were tied with the Celtics for the best record in the conference.
As for the Lakers, well, you know there's gonna be drama every season. You know the principals: Shaq, Kobe, Phil Jackson. They grumble about each other in the press and in June they end up winning the NBA title.
This season, though, the barbs seem sharper, the mood seems gloomier and the gap between the haves (superstars Shaq and Kobe) and the have-nots (the rest of the supporting cast) wider. (L.A. Times)
Then again, even when they were bickering and injured in previous seasons, the Lakers were still winning. This season, the Lakers are 10-15 and even their coach is having trouble getting a handle on it all. (CNNSI.com) Or as Jackson put it, his team knows "how lousy they are."
Heck, even the folks in New Orleans are piling on. (New Orleans Times Picayune)
Hey, no one is perfect. Every team has their problems. (My favorite team seems to win one game convincingly, then turn around and lose the next in the most agonizing manner. All I ask is that they win all the time. Is that too much to ask? Yes, I'm in therapy for it.)
Anyway, if you could get your team one present this holiday season, what would it be? E-mail NBA.com's Click and Roll and let us know what you'd like it to be (a more forceful power forward, a shooting guard with a sweet touch and uncanny accuracy, or a savvy veteran for the stretch run are some examples.)
SEE YOU IN JUNE?
This Tuesday, the Indiana Pacers head to Dallas to take on the Mavericks.
Pacers vs. Mavericks: now there's a Finals preview!
After all, the Mavs were one win away from tying the league record for wins to start a season at 15 before the Pacers won by 12 on Nov. 28. Both have the best records in their conference as of Monday (Indiana is 18-5, Dallas is 20-3).
If you're lucky enough (or smart enough) to have NBA League Pass, this is the game to watch this week.
And what a week it will be for the Pacers if they can thrive in Texas. (Indy Star)
In this game, you'll see: the two best teams in either conference -- although, not according to Don Nelson (Fort Worth Star Telegram) -- a team that is 11-0 at home, and Jermaine O'Neal.
O'Neal has been tearing it up as of late and it has led Isiah Thomas to gush about the power forward. MVP? We'll see. (San Francisco Chronicle)
MORE TUESDAY SHENANIGANS
On Tuesday, the Nets hop on a bus and go through the Lincoln Tunnel to play in New York. And this sportswriter throws down the gauntlet in the name of the Knicks. Don't you just love it when sportswriters get feisty? (New York Post)
Meanwhile, Byron Scott doesn't believe in that piffle. He says the Knicks aren't the Nets' rivals. (NY Post)
SMELLS LIKE DIRTY LAUNDRY
I take full responsibility. It's my fault. My bad.
We're responsible for getting Horace Grant released from the Magic.
Never did we think it would come to this. It all started with a simple Click and Roll's question: Who, in the absence of Shaq, is the best player the NBA?
Then, Chaos Theory took over. Like a butterfly flapping its wings in New Jersey, we caused a hurricane in Orlando as our readers claimed Tracy McGrady was the best player.
Although no one will admit it, those results spurred some columnists to debate and ruminate (Walt Frazier, what are you doing here?) about the subject. One article on "the new home of the NBA's" Web site put T-Mac into a tizzy. (ESPN.com)
Here's the excerpt that allegedly sent McGrady to confront Grant on an airplane after a loss:
"Orlando's most veteran player is Horace Grant, and he agrees that McGrady's energy level is sometimes inadequate. 'The thing is,' says Grant, 'that Tracy's still only 23, and his competitive nature is still maturing. And, yes, a young player can learn to play with greater intensity. It's a technique, just like good footwork or making an outlet pass. But time is running out. If Tracy doesn't learn to play all out all the time within the next two years, then it'll be too late. Nothing gets unfixable as quickly as bad habits.'"
Another teammate has a much more critical scouting report: "Instead of busting his butt on defense, Tracy likes to take short cuts. He gambles and cheats so much that he puts the rest of us in jeopardy."
This is the point where you are supposed to wince and suck air through the corners of your mouth, making an "ssssssssss" sound. Yeah, that was harsh. And it became even harsher still, because McGrady thought Grant made the "busting his butt" comment.(Orlando Sentinel)
That led to an argument on the team plane between McGrady and Grant. Coach Doc Rivers then stepped in and all holy heck broke loose. (New York Post)
Like I said, sorry.
REBOUNDS AND PUTBACKS
One billion Chinese can't be wrong, especially if they're wearing Yao Ming jerseys. (New York Times)
Did you know basketball arrived in China in 1898? Now, you do. (Miami Herald)
Here's an interesting take on five members of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players list. (Baltimore Sun)
Hey, that Amare Stoudamire guy is good! (Orlando Sentinel)
A five-game losing streak has people in Philadelphia questioning the Sixers. At least the Eagles are playing well. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
WE REALLY LOVE THIS GAME
Last week, we asked you what you loved about the game. And we received some interesting responses, all professing love.
But some love is greater than others, as shown here as Omair of Silver Springs, Md. notes:
"The love for basketball that I have comes from the beautiful nature of the game. The quick pace, the pinpoint jumpers, the acrobatic dunks all combine to make one amazing show. Watching the Kobe-McIverson trio taking over gets me out of my seat and jumpin' all around, its beautiful.
Basketball players are like graceful artists and each game is a new creation, there is nothing that gets me as excited as watching a basketball game.
We can't think of anything that pumps us up more, Omair, and like Mark from Guelph, Ontario, we can't do without roundball:
"I love everything about basketball to me basketball is like air, I can't live without it."
And then, there are those for whom the NBA is life. I thought this e-mail was a little wack, but then I found this. Lo and behold, it's true. We'll let Russ of Denver describe why his wife quit her job to follow the Nuggets (that is not a misprint):
"Winter of 1993 was bad in Denver. I had just moved my wife here from Virginia. We knew no one. She was homesick. My company then had seats for the Nuggets and I said lets go.
"I don't want to go to a basketball game." was her reply, but we went. Something magical happened. The hook was set. A couple more games and we owned season tickets. Nearly 10 years later and Vicki has not missed even ONE home game.
She arrives [early] and holds her signs, letting players know she believes in them. When Denver had "feet" of snow, she stood, and held her signs. They honk, stop, talk.
The refs greet her with a hug seeing their "We Love the Refs" sign. Past Nuggets... and there are many always stop to say hello and they too get a sign when the visit to play against "her Nuggets".
Players have opened their homes to us. Some we count as friends. She knows their wives and family too. Some writers use her as a lead to their story. Some sports announcers have her on their shows. She never misses any Nuggets function. Dinners, player signings, fund-raisers.
She quit a five-year job because they changed her schedule that would affect game days. Our home houses tens of thousands of cards, many hundreds which are signed. Personalized posters abound. There is a gallery of photos of her and players, staff, and more. She now hand writes and sends Christmas cards to people on 26 of the NBA teams. Every game she's known as "The Sign Lady", holding player signs at court-side.
Mark Cuban invited her to a playoff game last year after Nick and Raef explained to him what a fan she is. It's hard to explain how I feel in awe when Clyde Drexler stops to give her a hug. Or when Doug Moe stops to chat. I will guess that Mr. Stern will likely remember the greeting of "Hello, Vicki Ray, # 1 Nuggets Fan!" when he visited Denver.
I've hung every picture of her in our home ... hundreds more remain to be framed. I often stand and gaze at the pictures of her and players. Hard to believe. We come home to a Nuggets shrine. Player shoes, sweatbands, bobble heads, Ref jackets, keepsakes of all manner. A tiny straw made into a flower given to her by [LaPhonso Ellis'] little girl and 400 pound life-size statues of Raef and [Antonio McDyess]. Ticket stubs from years ago. Flags and balls signed by whole teams, year after year. Our vacations move around "All-Star" breaks or long road trips. Basketball IS life to Vicki.
And yet, I'm the lucky one... a beautiful woman who LOVES B-Ball with a passion is my wife! I'm a very lucky man!"
Yes, sir, yes you are.
AND FINALLY ...
Yes, I saw LeBron James. No, I won't comment on his skills.
One thing, though. I have seen the behind-the-back pass on the break on every level, from rec. league to the pros. And yes, I am serious, baby!
Rob Peterson, NBA.com