Thursday, May 7, 2009

Why the NBA now sucks

Not only why, though, but how to fix it. But first,

Lakers 111, Houston 98

The Lakers always get accused of being "too soft" to win a title. I think it's time we remove the word "soft" from the adjective list when describing this Laker team. Derek Fisher threw a solid hip check and knocked down Luis Scola, a player twice his size, following some technical fouls a few seconds earlier. I think the amount of contact in basketball is dumb, and the entire technical/flagrant foul situation is handled poorly. But if Fish getting ejected (and probably suspended for game 3) is what it takes to wake up the non-Kobe Lakers, then I'm all for it. Scola earned it, too, and as far as I'm concerned, if Fisher hadn't thrown up his arms as he stepped into him, it would've been a personal foul.

Here come the "Lakers are dirty" calls. First they're soft, then they fight back, and they're dirty. Uh huh.

Beyond that, LA got good play from Pau Gasol and great play from Kobe Bryant, but the rest of the supporting cast refused to really show up. I liked Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar after Fisher was ejected, and I think both of them are currently shooting better and are definitely better defenders than Fish at this point. If Farmar learns to finish at the rim and Brown can keep up some defensive pressure, the Lakers are probably a better team with Brown/Farmar running the point than Fisher, at this point.

I'd also like to point out the obvious, here. Officials lose control of games by growing more or less aggressive with the whistles. After the triple technicals and the Fisher ejection, the idiot referees started calling incidental contact fouls, and the game got chippy and out of control. In soccer, referees have the tendency to get stricter as the game goes on. If the game starts a little chippy, it ends with 6 players having been thrown out. It's wrong. All an official has to do is be consistent, and calling ticky tack fouls does not improve the level of play or reduce overall aggression.

I think the Lakers can win this series, but I'd really like to see a concerted effort with regards to inside presence. They need to stop settling for threes which just aren't falling, need to stop settling for midrange jumpers which just aren't falling, and need to start playing defense when they're not shooting well. Basketball basic #1: Park a tall player in the painted area and get him the ball. I don't think Bynum is being used properly, nor Gasol.

Also, this:

Anglels 1, Toronto 13

Anthony "AAA" Ortega allowed 6 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks in 1.1 innings, and wasn't helped by Rafael "AA" Rodriguez giving up a three-run homer to Vernon Wells upon entering in the second. Justin "DFA" Speier allowed 5 runs on 3 hits and 4(!) walks in 2 innings, and also managed to nearly get ejected for hitting a batter with a forkball travelling at the leisurely pace of 77 mph. Umpires are dumb. Mike Scioscia argued, though, and succeeded in getting tossed.

The offense was inconsistent, but that's what you get when you're in a 7-0 hole in the second inning. This was a throwaway game with Ortega facing off against Roy Halladay, so I didn't expect a whole lot. I don't think I expected to lose by 12, though.

Why the NBA sucks

If you watch the NBA of the pre-Jordan days, you'll notice something. It's an elegance brought about by players who are playing a game called basketball. Now watch some modern NBA,and you'll notice it looks a lot more like a game called football. The amount of contact is ridiculous. The fact that players can (and are encouraged to) "generate contact" during the shot as a way to get a free throw should be proof that the game has changed. It's ridiculous that there can be three players on the floor wrestling for the ball and a whistle never gets blown. It's dumb that the referees even bother trying to call fouls based on screens. Every screen in the NBA is a moving screen.

Then, of course, you have the end of the game. If the leading team has a 10-point margin with 2 minutes left, the foul train leaves the station. And boy, this is one crappy train. For the next three hours, the two minutes tick away 3 seconds at a time. You get to watch like 50 free throws. You signed up for basketball, and what you got was an insanely boring free throw shooting contest.

And the timeouts! Oh, the timeouts. Every time something fun starts to happen, a timeout gets called. Every time there's the potential for an interesting play, someone calls a timeout. Every time a player is battling for possession of the ball, there's a timeout. There's supposedly 6 timeouts allowed in regulation, but I don't buy that, because I definitely saw at least 30 last night.

So how does the NBA fix itself? First, they need to cut the total number of timeouts per half to two. One full timeout and one twenty-second timeout. Even two might be too many. Basketball is a momentum game, and coaches have learned that an easy way to stop or slow momentum is a timeout. So let's make that impossible. Let's go with one timeout per half. If a team is struggling to defend, too bad, figure it out or lose the game. You shouldn't need to get bailed out by a timeout every three minutes.

Second, the end of a game is incredibly boring because a team that's currently losing will foul in the hopes of missed free throws. So, let's fix that by making fouls in the last two minutes of the game more serious. A two-shot foul becomes a three-shot foul. A three-shot foul becomes a four-shot foul. Now, fouling gives the leading team a chance to increase its lead. It allows the losing team to run their offense without being fouled by the leading team.* It forces both teams to play complete basketball throughout the whole game and not win games in free throw contests. And by golly, it makes the game fun to watch.

Finally, someone needs to figure out how to deal with the contact situation. I think the first step is calling far more offensive fouls. If a player jumps into another player to shoot, it needs to be an offensive foul. This "making contact" crap sucks. There also needs to be a better method for determining and enforcing moving screen violations. When it's clear the officials can't tell whether a screen was legal, something needs to change. The problem, now, is that we've raised a couple generations of kids who think basketball is a contact sport, and I don't really know how to fix that.

But someone needs to.

*I hate that, with a couple seconds remaining, a team in front by three points can foul the losing team and give them two free throws, forcing them to miss one and hope for an o-rebound. This fixes that problem. See also, '07 NU-Maryland, '09 Celtics-Bulls Game 5

NHL Playoffs

Just a quick observation: Marc-Andre Fleury has some truly awful goaltending mechanics. The fluke opening period goal by Alex Ovechkin was a severe misplay by Fleury, and he continued to flop around on the ice like a fish the whole game. If nothing else, Thiessen usually managed to stay upright in the crease, and Tim Thomas aside, it's always better to be ready for the next shot than on your chest flailing about.

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