Saturday, November 24, 2007

Go back to the book, Shaq

Maybe instead of playing basketball, Officer Shaq should work full-time for the Miami Beach Police Department.

"I know that when I'm thirty-two and thirty-three, there will probably be a youngster coming in, twenty-four or twenty-five. He will have much more energy. Might even be a little bit bigger, a little better. Once it's time, it's not fun and I can't dominate anymore, then I'll be ready to give it to the next dominant big man." - Shaquille O'Neal, Shaq Talks Back

Shaq the Deeziest wrote those words seven years ago, in his autobiography, shortly after he won his first NBA championship. The upcoming June, he would capture another title, the second of three consecutive for him, solidifying the beginning of the 21st century as The Shaq Era. Maybe it was short, but it was memorable: from 2000-2002, Shaquille O'Neal completely and utterly annihilated several other very large men. He probably peaked in 2001, on the 15-1 Lakers playoff team, when during a two-month stretch he did enough damage to send Arvydas Sabonis into retirement, totally shatter the confidences of Vlade Divac and David Robinson, and make Dikembe Mutombo, four-time Defensive Player of the Year, look as hopeless and helpless as Jake Voskuhl.

By this time, there was no gameplan to even contain him. Sure, he couldn't make his free throws, but so what? At his absolute apex, ages 28-30, at 7-1 and 340, Big Shaq was a wholly unique mix of size, strength, quickness, explosiveness, skill, and attitude. He had developed a varied low post package, featuring a baby turnaround jumper along the baseline on the right block; a baby jumper to the middle off of the left block; the dropstep; and the spin move. He knew how to use the glass and had excellent foot work and passing skills. No one completed more alley-oops, either; remember the lob from Kobe against Portland in 2000 that Bob Costas immortalized ("The Shaq!!!!!"), or the ShawShaq Redemption? In those days, all you had to do was throw it up there, didn't matter how high, and he would get it. Of course, though, he will always be remembered as the ultimate basketball bully. Shaq's go-to move was to establish ridiculously deep low-post position, catch the ball, lower his shoulder, pound it directly into his man's chest until he was right under the basket, reach up and dunk emphatically on his man's head. It was physically abusive, and for him, it was child's play. So unstoppable was Shaq that the NBA - the NBA! - decided to implement zone defenses in a futile attempt to even out the playing field. He was also a dominant rebounder and intimidating defensive presence, because of his sheer size and shotblocking ability. The center position had never been played better.

Now, things are a little bit different.

At least for me, the play that will always symbolize the beginning of the end of Shaq's Reign of Terror happened two years ago, in the Game 5 2006 Eastern Conference Finals, against the Pistons in Auburn Hills, when Ben Wallace stuffed Big Daddy to the floor on an aborted dunk attempt. Understand, stuff like this never happened to Shaq; before, he would have dunked Wallace through the hoop along with the ball, or at least left him splattered up against the stanchion. Maybe he was just as strong as he had always been, but he didn't have the same burst in his legs. I'll always remember that play.

Now, I'm not saying that that was the day he officially starting losing it; Shaq started slipping the year before, in his first year in Miami, only he was still a prohibitive MVP favorite for turning the Heat into title contenders, so few noticed. He averaged a 23-10 that year; the real Shaq was good for 28-12, for the first 12 years of his career. In 2006, he dropped to 20-9, then to 17 and 7 last year. Then he comes out this year, with expected to carry the team through the first week or two of the season with Flash out, and he scores single-digits in his first two games, and everyone is shocked.

Um, why?

(Note: In 2004, Shaq averaged a then career-high 21.5 points per game, but that had more to do with the additions of Malone and Payton, and, thus, fewer shot attempts, than any type of slippage on his part. He was still at the tail end of his prime at this point. For the record.)

Has no one been watching basketball over the past two years? What's so sudden about this? More importantly, why is Shaq, after all these great years and all these accomplishments, being treated with such disrespect? Why is D-Wade calling him out, questioning his motivation? Shaquille O'Neal will be 36 in March. He is in his 16th season, plus another 2 1/2 seasons worth of playoff games. He's on the downside of his career. He's not the same cat anymore. Why would anyone expect him to be?

Come to think of, the answer to that last question is probably the ultimate tribute to his legacy. Through a decade plus of badness and unstoppableness, Shaq has managed to convince everyone - the fans, the media, his own teammates- that he is infallible. Through the thousands of soundbites he gave us over the years declaring his own supremacy and superhero tendencies, Shaq has effectively induced the world into believing he really is Superman. So in a roundabout way, the discourteousness with which he has been treated over this month has actually served as an appropriate homage to his eminence over the past 15 years.

Although I do have one question for you, Shaq: Why do you still play basketball? The premonition you made in your book has come to fruition. Yao, DHow, and Amare are all younger, they all have more energy, and they're all a lot better. You don't seem to be having much fun. You also said in your book that you'd like to retire at 35, and that you would like "to win a couple more (rings) and just say, "You know what? That's it. I don't want to play no more."" Well, you won three more, even one without that damn Kobe. You've played in 14 All-Star Games, won an MVP, scored more than 25,000 points, brought a lot of people (like me and every other Lakers fan during your time here in Los Angeles) joy and happiness. You've got the respect, admiration, and fear of anyone you ever played against, everyone and their momma loves you, you've got hundreds of millions of dollars (that you'll get to keep after you get finished clipping Shaunie becuase of that shrewd prenup - if only Mike had had the same foresight ) and you'll never be forgotten. Why not just hang it up. You have nothing left to prove to this game, or to the people.

Listen, I would never try and suggest to another man what he should do with the prime years of his life, but if I were you, right now I'd be filming the second season of Shaq's Big Challenge, setting up my third pay-per-view celebrity roast, and trying to convince Penny to do Blue Chips II with me. I'd be doing more police work. I'd be negotiating with ESPN for another season of my brilliant 2005 reality show, Shaquille. Remember that show? Remember Shaq ragging Damon Jones after LeBron dunked on his head on TNT? Or the time Van Gundy paired each guy with a teammate at practice and told them they each had to make 10 consecutive free throws before they went home, followed by Michael Doleac and Udonis Haslem ribbing Shaq (coupled with Wade) about his foul shooting, with Haslem joking, "We're gonna come back tomorrow and you're still gonna be here, with the same s--t on." High-class comedy. That show was hilarious. They need to bring it back.

I'd be all over the place, I'd have a full plate, and I'd be having fun. Doesn't that beat averaging 15 points a game on a 41-win team and having to deal with Riley's s--t for the next five months? Any day of the week, right?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Barry Bonds is...Frank Costello

Costigan: "As for running drugs, what the f--k are you doing, what are you doing? You don't need the money or the pain in the ass, and they will catch you."

Costello: "I haven't needed the money since I took Archie's milk money in the third grade. Tell you the truth, I don't need p---y anymore either. But I like it."

That's dialogue from The Departed, Marty Scorcese's 2006 Oscar-winner for Best Picture. Young Billy Costigan (played by Leo Dicaprio) is an undercover cop sent to infiltrate the Boston mafia and bring down the aging Don, Frank Costello (named after the New York mob boss of the 50's and 60's but based on Irish mobster Whitey Bulger, currently second on the FBI's most wanted list behind Osama Bin Laden, and portrayed by the legendary Jack Nicholson). It's my favorite part of the movie because it gives insight into the mind of a madman: Costello is 70 years old and has made enough money to retire to Florida and kick his feet up for the rest of his life; only with him, it's not about the money and never really was. He's just a thug at heart, a career crook, and he lives to take part in criminal activity. It's his passion, his pleasure. He was never gonna stop, no matter how much money he accumulated. As Tom Sizemore's character (also financially set for life) said in Heat before the classic bank robbery and subsequent shootout scene, "For me, the action is the juice." And so it was with Costello. And in the end, they caught him.

Isn't that the Bonds saga in a nutshell? Before he is believed to have begun doping, before the start of the 1999 season, he had already totaled 441 jacks, 445 bags, three MVP's and eight gold gloves. At 33, he was a Hall-of-Fame lock. One of the very best all-around players EVER, his resume nearly unmatchable and at the time untarnished. But like Costello's desire to cheat and still and kill and all of the other things gangster's do, Bonds had a fatal flaw that would lead to his downfall: jealousy. First it was for his friend Griffey, then for Mac and Sosa. Bonds considered himself the best player in the game, and rightfully so, but Junior got more attention. That was one thing; at least Junior was clean. But then McGwire and Sosa take off the race for Maris' record, and they start overshadowing Bonds too, only it's obvious to him they're using the juice, so he decides, "F--k this, I'ma get on a little cycle of my own," and it turns him into the modern-day Babe Ruth, to the point that he ends up breaking the all-time home run record. Only he's doing it at a point in his career when even the best athletes have started their decline, and it doesn't help that he looks like Hercules now, so the suspicion begins to arise...and arise...and he's Barry Bonds, so you know he's gonna get the most attention, so he becomes The Target, The Gotti, The Capone, and then a book comes out with details and stories, and it doesn't help that nobody likes him because he's been such a jerk his entire career, so it becomes a witch hunt in which no one is willing to give him the benefit of a doubt, and it becomes commonly accepted that he cheated, and now he's about to break Aaron's record and taint the game's most hallowed mark, and now it's just a raging volcano, and yesterday, it finally erupted.

"...they will catch you."

They caught him.

Now he's looking at 30 years at the most, a forever tarnished legacy at the least, for cheating and lying about it. Costello ended up getting killed by his mole in the state police department, Collin Sullivan (played by Matt Damon), after a tense confrontation brought about by Sullivan's discovery that Costello had been cooperating with the FBI - so that they would allow him to continue his life as a criminal, of course. But for the purpose of this post, the details of their comeuppance don't matter as much as the primary reason for their downfall:

The refusal to leave well enough alone.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nice knowing ya, Barry

Inside The NBA kicked off tonight with EJ, Kenny, and Charles kicking around the big sports story of the day, Barry Bonds being indicted for obstruction of justice and being a liar-liar-pants-on-fire in front of the grand jury. Here goes a synopsis and analysis of the actual charges against Bonds listed in the indictment. Barkley was ticked, not only because Bonds is a friend, but because of the way the whole thing has been handled: it's been a witch hunt from day one. Kenny made the very fitting comparison of Bonds to Al Capone, the famous Chicago mobster from the 1920's. And they're both right: Barry has definitely been singled out, and it's definitely unfair, but you can understand why: He's Barry Bonds. A lot of guys have used the juice, but none of them possessed the star power and stature of Bonds, a three-time MVP and Hall-of-Fame lock even before he made the decision to cheat for no good reason. Barry, you did this to yourself.

At halftime of the Mavs-Spurs game in Dallas (which Dallas dominated from start to finish in a 105-92 victory), Kevin Durant was in studio, and he was impressive. He's obviously shy, but he's also well-spoken and even got in a little jab at Barkley's weight when Chuck suggested that he wasn't eating enough. Not bad for an 18-year old in his first trip to the kitchen, he definitely handled himself well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Classic (Better Than He's Ever Been)

You know, it's funny, and it's a sign of the changed times: When the Nuggets hosted the Cavs on Monday, the man that has become synonomous with the post-Jordan NBA was mostly an afterthought. Understandable and explainable. This isn't 2002. Kobe, T-Mac, Duncan, and KG are all at their peaks, and Shaq will always be Shaq, but with the emergence of all these new, young stars, they aren't really the focal point of the NBA anymore. When SLAM magazine was at it's peak five years ago, they were The Guys, the torch-bearers; now, it's Carmelo, LeBron, Wade, Dwight, and Paul. Two of those guys were playing Monday night. They are special and important, no question. LeBron for being LeBron, the perfect hoops creation: guard skills, power forward body, unreal athleticism, inborn basketball intuition, etc. Carmelo, with the Larry O'brien-sized chip on his shoulder caused by being the most underrated superstar in the sport, continues to improve. First his shot selection, now his passing, next his rebounding and defense. He will make himself a complete player. Carmelo cares - about entering the discussion with Flash and LeBron, about his standing in the game, and about his legacy, and he goes about earning the respect he deserves the old fashioned way: no talk, just hours in the gym. He's gonna make people appreciate him. He's gonna leave them no choice.

And both he and his '03 classmate were impressive. Carmelo is the second best pure scorer in the game behind Kobe, and showed flashes of why he is while not having a huge game (22 points). And the game comes so easily to LeBron it's downright surreal; he was born to play basketball. But the dominant player of the night was the old guy, Allen Iverson, the man who continues to be defiant. First it was against conformity, now Father Time. Against Cleveland, Iverson put up 37 points and 8 assists on 14-20 shooting in a 122-100 victory; for the year, he's averaging 26 and 8, to go along with three steals, on 46 percent shooting. Maybe he's not quite as quick as he used to be, but he's still too quick for any mere mortal to handle, he still plays the passing lanes better than anyone else, he still doesn't get tired, and he's still fearless and relentless. If anything, the advancing age is only helping him: he plays smarter and more under control now, which has brought him closer to being a pure point guard than he's ever been before. You watch Iverson and hope that Gilbert is Arenas is watching too, taking down notes.

At 32, in his twelfth year, on the most talented team of his life, still with most of his unmatched physical gifts and a heightened understanding of the game, Allen Iverson is as good as he's ever been. To put him in perspective, Isiah Thomas, his only real challenger to Best Little Man Ever, played his last season at 32. Allen Iverson is a freak. Nothing short of amazing.

Then again, we knew than already. They (mainstream basketball media) keep expecting him to slow down, he hasn't, and they shouldn't be surprised at all. He's never played by their rules. The bigger story here is that The Answer has given us The Answer: Yes, he is a team player, yes, he can integrate his individual brilliance. For the first 10-plus seasons of his professional career, Iverson was the NBA's Lee Harvey Oswald, the Lone Shooter on some pretty mediocre Philly teams, one of which he willed to the Finals with the help of Larry Brown. Ballhog, that was the perception. And that was the huge subplot for me, what made the whole trade to Denver so intriguing: Allen Iverson had never played with another great scorer before. Suddenly, he was going to be playing with a guy that was good for thirty a night. Could he defer? Could he accept less shots? Would he be okay with not being The Man for the first time? This was the first fair oppurtunity at assessment. I needed to know for myself: Is Allen Iverson really an unforgivable gunner who can't assimilate his game to mesh with others, or were all of the shots he took in Philly a result of circumstance? Obviously, it's the latter. Allen Iverson is a fierce competitor, a historic warrior, he will always fight to survive and he will do whatever it takes to win. If that means jacking it up 28 times a game on a team where 34 year-old Derrick Coleman is your second best scoring option, then so be it. If that means taking 18 shots a night as the second option behind Carmelo, then so be that. Whatever gets him closer to the W, baby.

And so continues the saga of Allen Iverson the basketball player, the part of him that has been overshadowed over the years by his all-around thuggishness. 10 years from now, when he's all done, I'll remember AI for the tats, the cornrows, the practice ("Practice?") like everybody else. But not before I remember what he was on the court: a coldblooded assassin that played every minute with the intention of eventually killing you, ripping your heart out, eating it, and then leaving the rest of you there for all to see; a scrawny package of determination, toughness, and fire that was the smallest man on the court but played the biggest and made his living in the forest; a guy that treated his body with the same recklessness and disregard as Matt Hardy, all in the name of winning; someone who hit the floor (hard) countless times and always got up; an expert ball-thief; an And-1 worthy ballhandler who possessed a move so unstoppable that even Michael Jordan himself got embarrassed by it, so deadly that the league was forced to ban it; a man with a jumper that kept you honest all of the time, and slit your throat when it was really going; the man that, when Ray Allen elbowed him in the mouth in Game 4 of the 2001 East Finals ("They tried to knock my m---------n' tooth out," he said at the time), swallowed his own blood to keep from coming out of the game; the man that hit a big jumper over Tyronn Lue right in front of the Lakers bench during overtime of Game 1 of the Finals that same year, on the road, then stepped over him in mock fashion as he handed L.A. their only loss of the postseason; 2001 league MVP; 7-time All-Star and 2-time ASG MVP; three-time All-NBA first team; four-time scoring champ; three-time steals champ; and counting; someone who got better as he got older; the fastest player ever.

l'm gonna remember Allen Iverson as a basketball icon because of his style and ability as a basketball player. Isn't that the way it should be?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Only Deron Williams-Chris Paul Comparison That Matters


Been seeing a lot of these lately. Tim Legler broke them down today in the Daily Dime, and there's one on, too, by Maurice Brooks and John Jacobson. Just for the record, I thought of comparing them today at school, befor I had even laid eyes on a computer. Anyways, I used to argue with Kane, but he's real busy as he's just now entering the early stages of the whole progression from high school to college (we all understand, Kane). From here on out, I'll still being doing the debates, only with myself. I'm gonna be disputing my own arguments.

First up, two junior point guards spearheading 6-2 ballclubs in the West. They're both great and future 10-time All-Stars, but who's better? Anthony Wilson and Anthony Wilson are today's debaters.

Argument in favor of Williams:

Well, Williams is significantly bigger than Paul, for one, by about three inches and thirty pounds. He's right up there with B-Diddy, J-Kidd, and Chauncey in terms of the strongest guards in the league. Big and smart enough to use it, he's one of the most physical 1's in the league. He's relentless and indefatiguable (he doesn't get tired); he just keeps coming and coming, pushing and pushing. From here on out, he's The Greyhound. Williams is also a superior outside shooter (37 percent from deep, compared to 32 percent for Paul). And he runs Jerry Sloan's offense to near perfection: 9.3 assists last year, 10.0 this year. Has a serious chance to become the first point to average a 20-10 since Tim Hardaway in '93. Simply put, other than Baron, no other point guard can match his combination of fullback body/strength, pure scoring abilty, and ability to run a team.

Now Wilson, you take that, and you shove it up your ass.

Counterargument in favor of Paul:

The closest thing to Isiah since Isiah, CP3 is an edgy, no-nonsense pure point guard that cracks the whip for this year's Utah. Last week, he had 21 assists against the Lakers; last night, he had 27 points and the game-winner against Joisey. He's totally unselfish and looks to pass first, but also knows when to score, and is shooting 50 percent this year while averaging 19 a game, to go along with 11 assists. He doesn't take bad shots and has more than a three to one assist-to-turnover ratio. Blessed with incredible quickness, both hands and feet, which makes him an expert ball thief and very good defender, and also unstoppable when he wants to get in the lane, which he does often; once there, he draws defenders and feeds lobs to Chandler or kicks out to his shooters, Mo-Pete and Peja, who hit 10 threes against L.A. last week. At only 6-0, he's the second best rebounding point guard in the league, behind Kidd. I remember watching him his rookie year and being shocked that such a young point guard could be in such control of a team; you have to put his rookie year right up there with TD, AI, 'Melo, and Bronny as the best of the last decade. That team won about twenty more games than it should have, and he probably deserved 90 percent of the credit. He was incredible. Two years later, he's a full-fledged maestro.

Plus, he once meatchecked Julis Hodge in an ACC game a few years back.

Verdict: Williams is fantastic, but Paul is a better rebounder and defender and does more with less. No lead guard is more valuable to his team than Chris is to the Hornets. Make no mistake: Nash has the MVP's, Chauncey has the postseason hardware, and Kidd has the basketball universe's complete and total reverence and respect. But Chris Paul is the best point guard in basketball.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Gilbert Arenas = Insane In The Membrane

We all love Agent Zero (Hibachi!), but that'll change quickly if he continues to make comments like the ones he made to Ian Thomsen.

I'm not even gonna waste too much time on Gilbert, or rip into him for being an idiot, because that's not what I got into blogging for. I'm gonna give my opinion, certainly, but I'm not going to get personal with any of these guys, because I don''t believe in that nonsense. With that said, Gilbert is clearly starting to go crazy. If you haven't read his recent SI interview/rant yet, check it out. The guys over at freedarko sum up the way I think everyone feels about his comments. Hey, Gilbert, look at me: You're a terrfiic player. You're an unstoppable scorer when you're on. But people are right when they say question if you're a true point guard; you'd almost certainly be better off playing the two guard position. You shoot two much to be a true point guard; that's not a knock, it's just a fact. In Philly, AI shot a lot no matter what position he was playing, but when he was playing the point, he virtually always put up at least 7 dimes per; his rookie year (7.5); in 2004-05 under new coach Jim O'Brien (7.9) and every year since: 7.4 in 05-06, 7.3 in 15 games with the Sixers before getting dealt last year, then 7.3 at the same position after arriving in Denver. This year, he's averaged 11 in his first two games, sliding into the 1 role after Anthony Carter and Chucky Atkins went down. The only time he didn't was his second year, and that because he was adjusting to Larry Brown, who had been hired before the season and is famously demanding of his point guards. Your career high, on the other hand, is 6.1. And trying to place yourself in the same class as all-around players like LeBron, D-Wade, and Kobe? Intimating that you're a better player than Isiah Thomas? Gilbert, you've become very popular by being refreshingly funny and playfully outspoken; please, don't cross over to being annoying and stupid. With that SI article, you seem to be headed that way. Reign it in.

I Can't Believe What I Just Saw!

Phil was being a jerk last night, and it couldn't have felt more right.

The Lakers absolutely thrashed the Suns last night, 119-98, in Phoenix's home opener, without Lamar Odom, with Kobe playing only 28 minutes and scoring only 16 points (although he did have 11 rebounds and 3 steals). Did NOT expect to be writing that sentence this morning, obviously. I'm the biggest Lakers fan this side of Jack Torrance, and a fairly optimistic one, but even with Phoenix playing the second half of a back-to-back (after a relatively hard fought win last night in Seattle) and L.A. coming off of three days rest, I gave Team Chaos zero chance last night. Zip, zilch, nada. Squadoosh. If anything, I was anticipating in horror a looming Monday morning, when the Lakers would be 0-3 after losing to another superior Western foe, the Jazz, at home on Sunday night, compacting an already terrible atmosphere. You could see it in the opener against Phoenix two nights ago against Phoenix; the whole Kobe Saga has cast a huge black cloud over the players, the fans...everything the associated with this franchise. It's a MAJOR distraction and it hangs over EVERYTHING. That was the darkest Lakers home game I've ever seen; Kobe played hard as always and did everything in his power to try and win the game (45 points, including 18 in the fourth, to go along with 8 boards and four steals), but he did it with the same sullen disposition similar he had against Phoenix in the second half of that infamous Game 7 two years ago. I didn't hear the fans boo him during introductions, but when I heard that they did it was absoutely surreal. the fan base has always stood behind this guy, no matter what. In the studio with Charles, Kenny, and Ernie (or Ernie, Kenny, and Charles), Magic was very frank, criticizing Kobe for not being able to work it out with Shaq and management for having too many voices speaking on the matter. And he's right; the entire situation is f----d up, from Kobe on up. Magic being Magic, he was still optimistic that the Lakers would keep Kobe as the centerpiece and try to improve the talent around him; I think everyone else realizes that we've reached to point of no return with the Kobe Era, and Tuesday, with the crowd booing Kobe for the first time ever, signified the beginning of the end. Of course, then John Paxson comes out and says trade talks between the Bulls and the Lakers are over for now, meaning that they'd be opening 0-3 on top of everything else, and everyone would be even more miserable than they already are.

So what happens? They come out last night and mop the floor with a team that had completely owned them 6 1/2 months ago, against the team that I picked to win it all. It was the most impressive (and improbable) win of Phil's Second Act. I don't remember seeing a more perfect offensive performances. Bloodlessly efficient and totally team oriented, the Lakers shot 57 % from the floor and made 8 of 13 from deep. They got 67 points from their bench and no one played more than 28 minutes. They outrebounded Phoenix by 20. Against a team that plays like the hare and is led by the tortoise, the Lakers were the tortoise and the hare all night long. They were quicker and faster and smarter.

And I kept thinking to myself, They're doing this without Odom. And then I thought about Odom, and I immediatley became frustrated, as Odom is the walking embodiment of frustration. Not because he's a left-handed, 6-10 forward with long arms, athleticism, an outside shot and point guard skills. Or that he's a great offensive rebounder who's terrific around the basket, has the ability to post up any small forward in the league (remember what he did to Shawn Marion two years ago) and is unstoppable off the dribble. It's just that even if this ridiculous, nightmarish match-up problem with this inimitable skill set (most people call him The Goods but I prefer The Smorgasbord) were to wake up one morning and start using all of his considerable physical gifts and unique basketball skills to his utmost advantage on a consistent, nightly basis...the Lakers would probably still be better of trading him. He's too similar to Kobe. They're both 1-0n-1 players. Don't complement each other at all. They both need the ball in their hands to be effective. When one of them has the ball, the other one is just standing around watching. It'll never work. Kirilenko would be a much better fit. Back at his natural position, he'd give them the same amount of points while needing the ball half as much, he'd give you roughly the same number of boards and dimes, and he's give you infinitely better defense. He'd even get to show off those underrated point guard skills more often, the ones he displayed against G-State in the playoffs last year when Fish was tending to his daughter. He wanted out of Utah this summer; the Lakers should've tried to make that happen.

Trust me, this isn't about me overreacting to one game, getting carried away after the second one of an 82-game second. Obviously, no one expects them to play like this every night; this is probably still a 43-39 team that'll lose to this very same Phoenix team in the first round again this spring. I would love to think this was a young team that is finally starting to grow up, that this was a preview of what is to come this season, that Kobe will be smiling and clapping for his teammates on the bench because Bynum is punking guys around the basket, because Radman is shooting it like they pay him to, and because Sasha has become an offensive threat, and he doesn't have to score 40 for them to have a chance, but it's unlikely. I'm just excited that after last night's performance, there is some semblance of hope, hope that, to flip one of Barkley's favorite sayings, the light at the end of the tunnel isn't a train. Not only that, but in a time in Lakerdom when it seems like everything is going bad and a new era is about to begin, last night reminded me of when it seemed like the good times would never end: With the Lakers rolling over a Western Conference rival and Kobe and D-Fish playing together flawlessly in the backcourt, it felt like the 2001 playoffs all over again. Hell, Phil even capitalized on the oppurtunity to be an asshole and piss off the opposing coach, calling a timeout with less than five minutes to go and his team up by 30 (a classic Phil moment that made D'Antoni wanna kick his ass). *Refreshing sigh* Just like the good ol' days.