Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Look! A Music Post! ...and I didn't even have to put pants on!

In the midst of all this Deadspin attention that I imagine my blog is getting (keyword: imagine), I'm going to venture into the world of, uh, non-sports. I'll try to be short and sweet, because as the Michael Nielsen pointed out, I've been advancing towards Carpal Tunnel with the amount of typing I've done through four posts.

Here's five songs I've been listening to instead of studying for finals, since the two tasks are, in fact, mutually exclusive.

Black Kids, "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance"

I'd never before heard a lesbian's song of confession sung by a man, but we'd also never seen a trippy video featuring a George Washington-esque wig before. So not only am I recommending the song, but I'd say it couldn't hurt to enjoy the video, too.

Kate Nash, "Fluorescent Adolescent"

This Arctic Monkeys cover is the kind of up-tempo pop song she needs to be making. Enough of those ballads my sister listens to. I really love this song. I can't say enough about British accents, really.

Archers of Loaf, "Web in Front"

Highlighted by the line "All I ever wanted was to be your spine" and the late-arriving chorus, this a pretty addicting song.

White Rabbits, "Sea of Rum"

I've been listening to this song almost daily since last August, and I don't really know if it's solely attributable to the fact that they mention the town where my mom works. Kinda cool.

The Wrens, "Boys, You Won't"

The Wrens are about as emotional as my music taste gets. Their 2003 CD, "The Meadowlands" is a post-divorce angst-fest, perhaps also owed to major record label troubles. It's also one of my favorite things I've heard. They write perfect power-pop songs, and this one may be a downer, but if I had to choose a song to cry to every night for the rest of my life, I'd probably choose this. I don't cry, though. Last time I cried was when the Yankees reportedly fired Joe Torre after losing in four to the Tigers. True story, don't tell anyone.

Happy Wednesday! My semester ends in three hours!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The NBA Playoffs: Where Nothing Really Happens.

First off, we're switching to I. Or, I'm switching to I, and today I'd like to tell you why the NBA's playoffs system needs to change.

The NFL has win or go home. College football only gives two teams a chance at winning the National Championship, and yeah, the BCS is corruptawfulridiculouswhatajoke, but the games themselves? Two teams fight for a bowl championship, so there's a lot of tension and urgency and all those things that make for the great sports moments. Baseball gets the 'series' model of postseason play right for two reasons; first, just eight teams have a shot at the World Series, and the first round, which in any sports just feels like a preamble, is short and sweet. One week into the postseason, four or so teams are usually remaining. Managers panic and get weird with their staffs, and the games are all exciting. Plus, we get to hear Joe Buck!!!

So those sports all trump the NBA in postseason play and format. To get a bit more comparative, hockey is the other profession sports that employs an identical postseason format to the NBA's. How, then, can I belittle one and not the other? Well, call it a cop out, but postseason hockey is just a different brand of sports. NBA players like to hit each other on open layups and lump together, exchanging dirty, disgraced looks while the refs step in to prevent any escalation. Oh, and inevitably Bruce Bowen does something to someone's nuts. Hockey has the same extracurricular brush-ups, only better: it's fun to see a goalie get ice in his face and to then watch as his Russian body guards step in and shove Sean Avery.

The difference is that in hockey, this translates to live play; the play gets more physical, the checks rack up, and within minutes, one team has an extra-man advantage, which in itself is another reason why hockey's just more fun to watch.

College basketball, meanwhile, is comparable to NBA in that, well, it's the same sport being played. But March Madness is unspeakably great. It transcends sports and enters the realm of oxygen--pretty tough to go without either of these things. Great analogy, I'd agree.

So in the five other major postseason formats, there's something appealing. And what does the NBA have to offer? Forty games in as many nights? Well, everyone knows NBA games either breakdown like this: they either over before they start, or they're only worth watching in the fourth quarter.

Couple that with these drawn-out seven game series in the first round (why! Why give sixteen teams a crack at a seven game series after they've played 82 games?) and there's hundreds of minutes or boring basketball. The Eastern Conference is a conference full of inept point guards and mediocre big men, and they all thrive in the kind of half-court sets nobody really enjoys unless LeBron gets enough space for a dunk.

(I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that fact that Kevin Harlan alleges that LBJ has "no regard for human life" because of a dunk in a basketball game. Uh, Kevin, did LeBron drive drunk on the way to the arena? Is there something you're failing to mention?)

Anyway, the NBA, believe it or not, is not a league of parity. The Western Conference had eight fifty-win teams this season, which is rare and special and creates a wide open field until you look at the whole picture and see that other half of the NBA's lawn had three teams with records at or below .500 playing to advance to the second round. In theory, I suppose the concept offers an exciting moneymaker: a wide-open field with the potential for a 7x8 divisional series (eight series all going seven games).

There isn't anything wrong with the format theoretically. In a league with more parity and better tempo, like hockey, I'd agree: the more games, the better. Unfortunately, the NBA's present brand of basketball offers a lot of slow-paced half-court sets, chock-full of Kurt Thomas jump shots (oh, wait, he doesn't even really leave his feet) and, well, 76 foul shots.

In some ways, this has a lot to do with the present state of basketball: three of the dominant teams in the league (Boston, Detroit and San Antonio) win by grinding it out defensively, controlling the glass and getting shots within their sets. The Jazz also play a pretty defensive offense in order to make basketball a game of possessions when, in Deron, AK, Harpring, Brewer, Miles, and even the likes of Okur and Millsap they have a balanced group of slashers and shooters who could all run the break. The Cavs don't quite, but they don't run much. The Magic try to get Howard working in the post and when he isn't, still try to run their offense inside-out by dropping Shard down.

But that doesn't mean these teams can't play exciting games. Despite all my criticism, I am excited by the prospect of a Pistons-Celtics series, as long as it's a continuation of the regular season match-ups the teams had. And I won't pretend that for every Kurt Thomas jump shot there aren't three brilliant plays by Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant. But NBA basketball isn't supposed to be in such a rut. There have always been stars, but now it's all the NBA can market. In the 90s, the Pacers weren't just Reggie Miller, the Knicks weren't just Patrick Ewing, the Jazz weren't just Karl Malone, and even the Bulls weren't just Jordan. Of course NBA superstars still have supporting casts, but the only thing enticing about watching these teams play these days is what those few stars might do. I'd say that for every exciting playoff game so far, there have been two, maybe even three games that I just haven't enjoyed watching.

Maybe it's just bad luck that this year, two of the best, and perhaps more importantly, most exciting offenses--Dallas and Phoenix--were eliminated early in the first round. Maybe Arenas has a healthy season and the Cavs-Wizards series doesn't bust. Maybe the Hawks play a memorable Game 7, maybe the Sixers steal a third game from Detroit and keep me on the edge of my seat, maybe the Suns take down the Spurs and it's anyone's game...

Surely, then, my argument would be moot. But right now I'm left with the feeling that the playoffs are marketed around superstars and overhyped to compensate for the fact that, well, the games aren't that great. And judging by how much ratings have been sinking since the 90s, I'm inclined to think the system needs reform.

Since we can all agree on that, don't mind if I do make my proposal.

It's laid out as follows:

1. Fewer Teams!

I know the Warriors took down the Mavs as the eighth seed just a year ago; I want twelve teams in the playoffs. Besides, as I'll show, under my proposal, they would have had the chance to make the playoffs, anyway. The fact is, there's no reason for any team below .500 to ever play in any sport's postseason. If you can't win more games than you lose, are you really contending for anything? No. Then why should the system pretend that you are? On average, fourteen or so teams finish at or above .500 in the NBA, at least lately. Look around: the other models don't even offer all of the teams above .500 a playoff berth. I want good series from the get-go. I saw the Lakers demolish the Nuggets without any excitement to it, same for what New Orleans did to Dallas. And after seeing the way each team finished out the series, I would argue that the only reason Philadelphia and Atlanta won games in their respective series is because, well, their opponents didn't feel challenged. And the playoffs should create a different environment, as KG could be heard saying yesterday. If twelve teams get the invite, the first round will be more intense, and the level of competition will be higher. And besides, I don't mind about fewer games...

2. Play fewer games!

Whose idea was it lengthen the first round? Terrible. Why? So a superstar can get injured? So an obvious sweep can be prolonged? It's the first round! Those sub-.500 teams that "earn" playoff appearances should be given the short end of the stick; win in five or don't, because you're not really good enough to be playing anyway. This also would do away with the apathy teams like Detroit displayed early on, as going down 2-1 would mean impending elimination, not the comfort of four games to put it together.

3. Do Away with the Conference Concept!

I don't care if the Eastern Conference is tremendously inferior today and it's short-sighted to think that will last. I want the best teams in the playoffs. The best twelve teams in the regular season should be the only teams playing in the playoffs. Is this absurd? To be fair, this would also require more inter-conference play, but big deal. Seed the team 1-12 and forget the artificial barrier of conference play. Good teams are good teams.

4. Play the Tiebreakers!

Nothing is more exciting in sports than the one-and-done threat. It creates the kind of urgency that brings March Madness-type intensity to any sport. If there is a tie for the twelfth best record, I bet the game played to resolve this tied, simply because it offers a unique opportunity to watch a loser-go-home NBA game, would draw better ratings than most playoff games. But that might not be saying much.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Early Season Oddities

Whistle, whistle! We don't have a whistle, but we'd like it if you paid attention now. We were reading this earlier todayfivesecondsago, and it reminded us of Wandy Rodriguez's baffling home/away splits from a season ago (95 ip, 2.94 home era; 87.2 ip, 6.37 road era), which have ensued this season, as W-Rod (we insist that every player with the Rodriguez surname needs a nickname ending in 'Rod'. Felix Hernandez's? PotentiallybetterK-Rod.) has gave up more earned runs in his lone road start than he has in his three home starts combined.

So, what else in the early season has been bizarre? Well, our sister's boyfriend did ask our sister if we were balding today. But that's not so bizarre, since we probably are. It just kind of sucks.

We want to focus on baseball, though, and what's been surprising us. Here it goes:

Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants:

At first we misspelled 'Francisco', so there's an oddity. Also, Barry Zito is like the highest paid surfer ever, and he's already been to the bullpen and back this season. Or has he? He didn't actually get any pen appearances, but whatever. We remember once when Barry Zito played some Dave Matthews Band songs during a rain delay, and that was kinda odd, because aren't ballplayers always all just patting each other on the ass and wincing while they adjust some part of their body, or is that just A-Rod? Also, A-Rod tends to play with his phlegm on the tip of his tongue.

We know a story about A-Rod which you'll like to hear, we think. It could be true, so believe it. The Yankees were playing a series on the road, and one night, A-Rod was hanging out at a hotel bar when he spotted a girl he liked. They got to flirting and Rodskis took her back to his room. Well, before they could get to making the A-Rod happy collectively, A-Rod let Sportscenter do the foreplay. Yes, he turned on the night's Sportscenter and awaited the Yankees highlights. Well, earlier that day, Derek Jeter and 'Rod had hit back-to-back homers. A-Rod brought his face in front of the TV, and, watching Jeter's clip, muttered, "Do it Jete! DO IT!" When it was his turn to go yard, "Do it Rod! DO IT!"

The highlight ends. A-Rod turns back to the girl and quickly fires out, "OK, here's what's gonna happen. I'm gonna jerk off in your face and then you're gonna leave." And, it so happens, A-Rod got his wish. No word on whether or not the 'girl' was, in fact, Scott Boras.

We also remember when the Yankees lit Barry Zito up for like seven runs in less than an inning (we think) of work on Opening Day like four years ago. He also won a Cy Young and his fastball probably never topped 90. We're surprised at all of this.

Andruw Jones, Los Angeles Dodgers:

We remember this Mad TV skit once where Oprah kept getting bigger every time the camera returned to her, and this is in itself an important oddity, since we don't remember ever really watching Mad TV. Anyway, he's a really fat baseball player, so it's funny that he plays centerfield. It's like he's the overrated version of Torii Hunter, only Torii Hunter is also the overrated version of Torii Hunter. Today he said he was embarrassed by his early-season performance, which is odd because he's 6'1, 240 pounds, isn't Prince Fielder, and hit like .222 last year.

Julian Tavarez, Nobody:

The Red Sox designated him for assignment today. We always remember when he dropped the "I like fat girls" revelation on a pool of reporters for no particular reason other than to point out that he likes fat girls. Dwayne Wade likes skinny girls who used to be fat, like Star Jones, which is interesting because she's definitely an alien or just really annoying.

Rick Ankiel, St. Louis Cardinals

Rick's got seven jacks on the season, so we'd like to give a shout out to rick. HiGH, Rick.

LeBron to Ben Wallace for the jump hook. Front rims it, but maybe next time?

Friday, May 9, 2008

What to make of LeBron's meltdown

We told a friend yesterday that LeBron's Game 1 showing just verifies the feeling we've had for a long time--that LeBron is not a naturally gifted scorer. Then we reflected on this, and we realized we'd just essentially peed on the carpet of sports knowledge. We still contend that never has a dominant player been left to essentially figure out NBA offensive basketball on his own like LeBron, but we had a revelation that may just be trite.

As is well known, one star isn't enough to win much in the NBA (to scale for you Denver fans, we thnk the math is that five stars is enough to win a playoff game), and Cleveland's inability to win a championship will be a foregone conclusion until they surround Bron with a legitimate star-caliber player. But we still think LeBron's game is lacking, and we're going to go ahead an attribute that to the reason why a) the Cavs can't get through the East and b) why they won't win until he improves it.

First, it should be noted that, for his combination of quickness and strength, LeBron is a horrid defender. About the only thing he does well is play the passing lanes. He can't guard penetration because he doesn't try to beat his man to the spot, and he doesn't play underneath his opponent; he essentially just likes to flare out his chest, shuffle his feet and use his arms.

Fine. Who needs defense, anyway, when you are a triple-double threat every night and your points will be up around 30? The problem, we think, is with just how one-dimensional Bron's game is for a superstar offensive player. This is known: Bron's drive is unstoppable (anyone who wants to make a fuss over a few blown layups has to realize that, well, even Bron's not Tony Parker!). His shot? It's streaky but pretty damn solid when he plays off the dribble (which is always, because Mike Brown just sucks.)

But we watch Kobe, just like we watched MJ, and there's something missing in Bron's offensive arsenal compared to these two, and it's not his shot. Bron doesn't really play off the ball ever, which means he never, ever plays with his back to the basket. Drawing a double-team in the post is about the best thing a player can do to find his teammates open looks, especially a perimeter-oriented team, because when the guard sags off his man to reach his hands in on the post player, he needs to make a lot of ground to defend that three, and becomes very easy to drive by. It's plain basketball. MJ and Kobe both do/did a brilliant job of finding the cutter off their post games, and Bron's much stronger than either of these two, but he seems to never want to go baseline and never really do anything other than dribble the ball from 25-feet out, smack in the middle of the court, and either go right or kick the ball out for a three.

And that's fine: a scorer this physically gifted will, adjust to to the defense and get his baskets. But so far, it's taken LeBron two games to do that, and with jump shots not falling, Paul Pierce, a really average defender who LeBron's dominates in both size and quickness, has been able to predict LeBron's iso move to the right, and even if he can't stop LeBron, he gets to the spot fast enough to cut off his angle, bump LeBron a bit, and make his layup that much tougher. With Michael, as with Kobe, there's no predicting which move will come. Maybe it's still owed to the fact that Bron doesn't have anything but three-point shooters around him, but we'd say Bron's offense lacks originality right now. He either gets going from three or the drive is all he has. And he dominated the Pistons with that alone a season ago, but now the Celtics are showing they can disrupt him around the basket. Time for Bron to try out a different angle offensively.

Note: we wrote this before game three, and then our laptop died, and then we spent the weekend studying for finals. We think it's still relevant, considering Bron still, well, kinda sucked in game three. We'll readily admit his passing was big in the win, but West/Wally/Wallace/(W)Zyrdunas shot a collective 67%, and that won't recur.

We Did It!

All it took was finals week for us to launch this puppy! We're in that cute stage, you know, where we're teething a bit, learning to walk on all four limbs, and peeing everywhere. We'll try not to ruin your carpet with our posts, but we're pretty sure we just failed another (another!) econ test, and we did try not to do that, as well.

Who are we? No.

What are we? Can you stop with the personal questions?

What is this? Bingo!

Sports, music, pop culture, and we'd say politics, but politics are just pop culture anyway. Barack Obama likes basektball!

Mostly sports. Stay!