Over and Under the NBA

Earl is short. Yao is tall.

Join KFAN's Cory Cove (Sludge) and Tru (yours truly) as we go OVER and UNDER the NBA. We've enlisted the help of the league's shortest and tallest players -- 5-5 Earl Boykins and 7-6 Yao Ming -- to make sure we chat about the league's most pressing issues.

Cove happens to be what his cohorts at KFAN would call a "great basketball mind," and that's why he's here. If anyone in the Minnesota sports scene isn't familiar with him just yet, a change is on the horizon. "Sludge" is quickly becoming the hardest working sports guy in Minneapolis. Tune into KFAN (1130 AM) to hear him on the Power Trip (weekday mornings 6-9:00 a.m.) or speaking on "Sludge and Lake" (weeknights M-W and F, 7-9:00 p.m.).

Our first league wrap will include debate, discussion and dissection of the following:

1) NBA 1v1 and 2v2 tournaments
2) Lebron James - What's his deal?
3) Effort level in the NBA vs. college
4) Can the Mavericks win 70 games?
5) Kobe Bryant's suspension

MT: Hey Cory, how are you man? Before we get into our first topic, tell us where "Sludge" came from?
Cory Cove: Actually it was a name given to me the first day I interned here at the Fan about five years ago. Mike Morris (the Superstar) didn't want to call me "Intern Cory" or anything, so he gave me a choice between "Filth" and "Sludge." I think I chose wisely.

MT: I concur. And now you're on the Superstar's morning show...
CC: Yeah, which is good and bad, because he's a big, dumb idiot. But it's fun, right? With that guy, you never know what we're going to do, and he's one of the funniest dudes ever.

MT: Let's get right to what I consider one of the most important NBA questions you can ask. Who would win a league-wide 1v1 tournament? Keep in mind that we'll have a $10 million grand prize (sponsored by KFAN) to guarantee effort, the game's will be played in Rucker Park, N.Y. in June, and the two of us will referee.
CC: I don't have to hesitate at all. There is no doubt that the most unguardable player in the NBA is Kobe Bryant. I don't think anyone in the league could beat him, even the big guys. No one is more complete or dangerous one-on-one.

MT: Not cool, Sludge; Kobe's my choice too. I was hoping you'd go with someone else. For argument's sake, if we're playing make-it, take-it, I'd come at you with Dwight Howard, and just instruct that beast to back you completely out of the lane.
CC: He's the first name that comes to my mind too.

MT: OK. Well. Let's move onto 2v2. Give me a tandem that could beat my chosen 2v2 squad, Kobe and Dwight.
CC: Give me a healthy Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki. Howard would have problems guarding Dirk, and Wade is an excellent defender as well. I still think Kobe would have a slight edge, but Dirk could do a decent enough job on Howard to compete.

MT: Not a bad mix there. Another delectable matchup would be KG and Lebron vs. Tim Duncan and Gilbert Arenas.
CC: KG and Lebron are very versatile, that could be good...I love Gilbert, but he's pretty streaky, so I'd trust him the least. Duncan is the most boring guy on the list, so that's my least favorite, but it's not like they're a terrible team. I don't think they could beat anybody we just named.

MT: Truth. Unless Gilbert went all Hibachi and starting doing his game-winning pull-up three bit.

MT: OK Cory. I'm really torn on the LBJ issue. After watching three Cavs games before the New Year, I got quite angry at Lebron, and accused him of several things: not trying; mailing it in; and having a mammoth ego that gets bigger and bigger each day. Yet the Cavs (38-25) are in second place; Lebron is now, finally, going nuts on box scores (I guaranteed 35, 6 and 6 a night after the All-Star break); he has no good teammates; his ego is a product of everyone telling him he's the King since he was five years old. What do you make of all this, Sludge?
Lebron is filthy, nasty good...when he feels like it, at least.
CC: The Cavs are a weird team. I don't think they're complete enough, but they're second in the East. The strange thing about Lebron is that I've heard a lot of fourth quarter criticism, and not making the big shot or the big play. But if Lebron flips that switch on and is putting up basically a triple-double every night, how are you going to stop the Cavs? It's going to be very tough.

MT: See, I don't think the clutch angle is fair with Lebron. He was the opposite of a choke artist in beating the Wizards by himself in last year's playoffs. No Chris Webber - Fab Five stuff going on at all. I'm more concerned with the effort/chosen one/global icon scenario.
CC: Maybe so. But you have to talk about body language as well. Lebron is so smooth and fluid, that it looks like he's not trying. He's kind of floating. It doesn't look like he's going full speed because every move he makes is fluid. He's one of the all-time freak athletes that can hit his face on the rim.

MT: But even statistically...you could literally watch him float his way through games in the first half of the season, pulling up for threes so he didn't have to run an offense or take his game down low. While you can now watch Lebron fly to the hoop and dunk 67-69 times a game, prior to the break there wasn't a deep three he didn't love. His stats weren't as good and he was coasting.
CC: One of the general knocks on the NBA is that teams coast until they need to turn the switch on.

MT: Good segue Sludge.

MT: When I started working for the Wolves, I was curious to see NBA players practice and play games on a daily basis. I'd hear the whole "these guys don't try until the fourth quarter" argument, and in my opinion that's completely inaccurate. The fact is, these guys put their bodies through a great deal of rigor from practice, to shootaround, to the weight room, to 82 games of 48 minutes. Do you get 48 minutes of complete effort every night in terms of running, jumping and sprinting? No, but it's wholly unrealistic to expect that. I've been consistently impressed, and don't think 99% of college players could last a week in the NBA if they came over right now -- conditioning and skill wise.
NBA players are the best athletes in the world...including some Knicks, even...
CC: I agree. I don't think you're watching if you say that college is better. For me, it goes back to middle school when football and hockey players would tell me that basketball players are a bunch of sissies, but I don't think most people have any idea of how much banging goes on. It's a physical, physical game, particularly at the highest level. That's why a guy like Shaun Livingston, who's rail thin, gets crushed every year. The physicality of the NBA is the biggest thing, and that's why most current college players would get killed in the league without development.

MT: The other big difference to me is the pace of the game. I bet you've got a nice TV, Sludge, and if you worked that split screen with NBA on one side and NCAA on the other, it's like eating a Wendy's Crave case burger instead of a nice meaty sandwich from Mortons. If you and I played at a Wolves practice, I'd tear my groin and you'd pull your hamstring within 35 seconds.
CC: Maybe. But I have a lot of friends that are anti-NBA and pro college ball. They give me the whole "that's the way the game is supposed to be played" bit. My comeback to that is that the reason college guys move the ball around so much is they don't have any players capable of getting past everybody on their own. That's why in the NBA, you see a lot of pick and rolls, because most NBA players worth a darn need just one solid pick. In college, it's a rarity to find a guy who can do it on his own. The talent level isn't there.

MT: That's a great point C^2. I like where your head's at. I spoke to Rob Babcock about this because he watches a great deal of college ball. He vastly prefers the NBA, and he told me that he can watch a whole college game and see only two or three plays executed well. In the NBA, you see that in the first three minutes. What the difference is, primarily, is the atmosphere. Think Duke-UNC. But that's not the basketball.
CC: I'm in your camp there. What's next?

MT: What do say, Cory?
CC: Man. They have 23 straight wins at home, so I guess you have to give them a 90-95% chance to win at home every night. They can only afford to lose a couple more games, but they're going to be right there. The stat that keeps blowing my mind is this is the 6th best record in NBA history at this point, and all five of those teams have won the title.

Dirk hits shots like Chuck Norris roundhouse kicks bad guys
MT: Indeed. But I think you're on record with the Phoenix Suns, dude...
CC: I did pick Phoenix to win before the season. I think they're the only team that can really give Dallas a run, aside from maybe the Spurs. But 18 more wins to go...

MT: After blowing L.A. out of the proverbial water, Dallas is 52-9. That's almost as good as Penelope Cruz's unofficial winning percentage in good-looks contests. Come on Sludge, give us your prediction.
CC: I'm going to have to say they come up a little short. They already clinched a playoff spot, they want the title as their main goal, and I think they miss by a couple of games.

MT: I'll disagree. I think that, on a nightly basis, they are still angry about losing the title last year after being up 2-0, and they want to show every opponent they play that they're the best. That's every night. Their toughest road games are at Detroit, at Cleveland, and at Phoenix but the rest of the schedule isn't all that crazy. They get Utah and San Antonio at home...I say the do it. 70-12 on the dot.
CC: You look at their roster, and I don't see a 70-win roster. You can tell that they were are to be a top team in the NBA, but I don't see Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman there. I wouldn't have thought they'd be this good, but they just play A+ basketball every night.

MT: Phoenix is better on paper. But the Mavs just do everything very well. Until a team actually wins playing their style (to me the Suns are like the Colts of the last few years) we still have to go with the tough defense that Avery Johnson imparts.
CC: See, if you take the first six on Dallas and the first six on Phoenix, I'll take the Suns. But if you add Stackhouse, Diop, and the rest of the second tier, that's the difference.

MT: I don't disagree, but I think the other thing people forget about is Dallas' defensive personnel. Devin Harris might be the best defensive point guard in the league - he doesn't let anybody by him. Josh Howard is a great defender, and their two centers clog up the lane.
CC: And the Suns don't play a lot of defense. But I compare them to the 1998 Vikings. Obviously they came up a little short, but they just said, we're going to score 40 points a night and you have to match us. That's what Phoenix is going to do, and I don't see why they have to play more defense to win. Don't change your game - put up 115 points and make Dallas match you.

MT: What's up with your boy Kobe Bryant giving Steven Segal impressions lately?
CC: Kobe is a smart enough player to know that if you go up and someone's in your face, you want to try and draw a foul. Did you think it was intentional?

Kobe didn't flare his elbow after this shot...but he thought about it. Twice.
MT: No, I didn't, which is why I thought it was pretty harsh to suspend him for a game, because that's a guaranteed loss for his team. And they did lose, to Milwaukee. I would have preferred a fine, because one loss in the Western Conference is a big deal right now. I guess like Mark Madsen and Wittman said at practice on Thursday, it's more of a precedent thing.
CC: I get a little on edge when people start to tell me how they judge intent. This goes back to the UNC-Duke game this past week. People were calling me an idiot because I was saying I wasn't sure it was intentional. But how can you judge intent? People look at results and consequences when they make these decisions. I think Kobe's intent must have been to just draw a foul.

MT: Well Sludge, we don't want to wear out your vocal chords, so, we'll get your great basketball mind out of here on this one. Who is the ugliest player in the NBA?
CC: Sam Cassell, no hesitation.

MT: Correct.
CC: There's no doubt about it.