Uh, so I guess there’s some basketball on, too…

Can’t say I’ve watched too much of the NBA playoffs up to this point, but now that we’re into the conference finals, things are getting interesting.  Well, in the Eastern Conference, anyways.  And thus, while I’ll be awaiting the start of the marquee Boston-Pittsburgh Eastern Final with all the other hockey fans, I’ll be sure to watch the Pacers and Heat in the meantime.

Of course, everybody expects Miami to win this series, and subsequently, the Larry O’Brien Trophy.  Let’s just say that if Dennis Green coached basketball, he would crown their ass by now.  But the hicks from the sticks (who once famously nixed the Knicks in six) have been giving them one heckuva run thus far.  Playing the first two games in South Beach, the Pacers took Game 1 into OT on a last-second shot, only to have the Heat squeak out a one-point win.  But instead of hitting the game-winning layup in Game 2, Lebron James turned the ball over, as the road team hung on for a 97-93 victory.  Now the series heads back to Indiana, where the home team is undefeated in the playoffs.  If they can get ahead in this series, it would really put the defending champs on the ropes!

In any case, I’ll be cheering for ‘em.  So will 49 of the 50 states, apparently.

On the other hand, while the Western Conference final has seen some competitive basketball with the last two games going into OT, the San Antonio Spurs have emerged victorious with a 3-0 series lead.  Although trading away Rudy Gay helped propel the Memphis Grizzlies to the conference final, it doesn’t look like it was enough to win the West.  Meanwhile, the Raptors have been sitting at home since April 17th.  I mean, basketball players don’t golf, right?

My point exactly.

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The Knicks let Lin leave!? Talk about Linsanity!

Now, I must say that I’m not the biggest fan of NBA basketball (gimme the NCAA any day!), but I found myself tuning in to a lot of those Sunday afternoon 1 o’clock games on ABC last season, for pretty much one reason: Jeremy Lin.  The man came outta nowhere (Harvard, actually), was signed off the street and burst out of the gate for the Knicks, earning a spot in the rookie-sophomore game on All-Star Weekend, and ultimately putting up impressive totals of 14 points and six assists per game in his first significant NBA action.

But while his final numbers were pretty impressive, the start he got off to was simply ridiculous.  After being pressed into starting duty due to a rash of injuries in February, Lin reeled off six straight 20-point performances and scored 20 in nine of his first 10 games–including a 38-point effort to beat the Lakers on Feb 10th.  Linsanity had arrived, and though he missed the last 17 games of the season and the Knicks’ playoff series with a knee injury, his run through February and March is what put the team in the playoffs in the first place.  Not only that, but he became a mass media and social media phenomenon in the process, and as the first Asian-American to play in the NBA, a role model for an entire demographic–of which a large portion live in the Big Apple, where his jersey and t-shirts were flying off the shelves.  This is a man who single-handedly made basketball in New York matter again–and yet, when the Houston Rockets made him a three-year, 25-million-dollar offer, the Knicks decided to walk away when they could’ve matched it.  What gives?

I suppose leaving Lin behind would’ve made sense had New York signed Steve Nash, a guy who, let’s face it, is clearly the young PG’s role model.  But the Steve Nash sweepstakes landed in La-La Land, disappointing many fans on the East Coast, especially in Toronto, where the Raptors are now stuck with Landry Fields in a gamble that didn’t pay off.  Did I mention that Fields was also a Knicks free agent–one who they didn’t opt to re-sign?

After losing out to the Lakers, however, the Knicks offered themselves a consolation prize in Raymond Felton, who had starred in Carolina with UNC and the Charlotte Bobcats, and put together a solid season of 17 points and nine assists per game with in New York before being dealt to Denver for Carmelo Anthony a couple years back.  That said, his numbers took a dive on the West Coast; he averaged just 11.4 points and a respectable 6.5 assists with the Portland Trail Blazers last season–and Bleacher Report is calling him riskier than Jeremy Lin.  Sure, he’s a seven-year vet, whereas Lin really only has two solid months of NBA playing time under his belt–but there’s no doubt who’s going to sell more jerseys and put more butts in the seats.  Felton simply isn’t a captivating player and a feel-good story like Lin and it looks like the Knicks will be fading back into national obscurity due to this questionable decision.

Then again, the New York Jets did just trade for Tim Tebow, so perhaps the Big Apple wasn’t big enough for both of them?

The Miami Heat are NBA champs, and the world didn’t self-destruct… Whoa.

I’ll admit that I didn’t watch Game 5 (after all, I had other plans on Thursday night), but I wasn’t shocked to see that the Heat closed out Oklahoma City in five.  Though the first four games of the series were close, competitive contests, the young Thunder team was outdone by their lack of experience on the biggest stage.  Miami’s “Next Big Three,” no longer the young punks they appeared to be when they were first assembled, turned out to be the most seasoned team, rising to the occasion to win their first title as a trio.  Of course, I had them losing to the Spurs, a more senior squad, in six, but the old guys ran out of gas against OKC–while to their credit, the Heat were able to outlast a veteran Celtics outfit in seven.

While Dwayne Wade had been there before, this was the first NBA title for both Lebron James and Chris Bosh.  I guess we can now discard the “Lebron has never won a ring” argument when discussing the all-time greats.  That said, while he was named Finals MVP, James didn’t ascend to the highest peak until he had two more superstar players alongside him.  No offense to Scottie Pippen, but he couldn’t take over a game the way Wade can, and neither Horace Grant nor Dennis Rodman compare favourably to Chris Bosh–except maybe on the defensive end. *snicker*  For what it’s worth, my money’s still on MJ.

Speaking of Bosh, he recently gave credit to the Raptors for helping him “build character”–but then again, he had also said that he never learned to play defense until he came to Miami.  I think the jury’s still out on that one, but I can think of a couple Raptor fans who were cheering against the Heat the entire postseason.  And when I say that, I mean that I can only think of a couple people who’ll admit to being Raptors fans–but they’ve both got the hate on for Bosh.  Here’s hoping the Raps can make a splash in the off-season, and/or that the Great Lithuanian Hope can lift them into playoff contention next year–but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Meanwhile, I’m probably the only person who sees it as a bad omen that both Darryl Sutter and Chris Bosh won titles in the same year.  In any case, I’m done with winter sports for another season.  Right now, I’m more than ready for some football–of the CFL variety, natch–and if the Jays can scrape a few wins together, hey, I certainly wouldn’t mind.  Which reminds me, I still hafta buy my ticket for Ricky Romero Bobblehead Day

Your Vancouver forecast: cloudy with a chance of elbows…

CTV viewers in Vancouver were left scratching their heads the other day after a bizarre weather forecast provided by Metta World Peace on Wednesday night.  The Laker forward, best known for jumping into the stands and for elbowing people, displayed his expertise on the topic by saying “There’s a line up here, I don’t know what that means, but the Earth is moving right now.”

He continued with such nuggets of information as “It’s raining everywhere to Victoria.  She sounds like she’s hot, um, but she’s actually cold” and “Tofino! Little tofu. I like tofu. Yes. Eleven degrees up there.”  And don’t visit the upper tip of the Lower Islands, either.  “I’m assuming it’s cougars and bears up there, too, so … watch out,” says the man who’s not nearly as worldly as his name would suggest.

Artest, erm, World Peace ended with one other useful piece of information, stating “To get from this island to this island, take a boat—I’m assuming.”  His sign off would bring Ron Burgundy to tears: “So yeah — this is beautiful,” he says. “CTV, baby.”

Full transcript and video at Yahoo Sports for your viewing pleasure.

Might as well weigh in on the NBA playoffs while I’m at it…

What with the lockout pushing things back a bit, the NBA playoffs are a full round behind the NHL this year, as their conference finals get underway this evening.  I’d say I’ve been watching about as much basketball as hockey this postseason (which is to say a couple periods/quarters here and there without following either religiously), but whereas I’m not overly interested in an LA-NJ final, these last two rounds of the NBA playoffs should be pretty exciting.

In the West, we’ve got the two top teams who’ve advanced with ease, San Antonio and Oklahoma City only losing one game between them over the first two rounds.  Safe to say they’ll both be adding a couple more to the loss column in this one.  Unlike the Stanley Cup final, I expect this series to be a high-scoring affair, since the two teams finished second and third in points per game this season, both averaging over 103.  The young, run-and-gun Thunder led by the likes of Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant suit up three of the top 20 scorers in the league, while the Spurs offer up a more balanced attack with veterans Tony Parker and Tim Duncan leading the way.  This may be the Thunder’s first conference final, but it won’t be their last, if they can keep this team intact.  That said, I say experience rules the day, with the most consistently strong team of the past 10-15 years teaching their younger opponents a thing or two.  Spurs 4, Thunder 3.

The Eastern Final showcases another case of youth versus experience as the Miami Heat do battle with the Boston Celtics.  Boston, led by the veteran Big Three of Pierce, Garnett and Allen have little time to rest their creaky knees and ankles before they meet Miami’s Next Big Three–James, Wade and (provided that he’s healthy) Bosh.  Miami met little resistance in getting past the Knicks and Pacers, while Boston was pushed to the brink by the scrappy Sixers in a series that just ended last night.  The short layoff certainly doesn’t do the Celtics any favours–nor does their star players being tested every possession on the defensive end.  They might dig out a game or two, but I don’t think Boston can beat the Heat over a seven-game series.  Heat 4, Celtics 1.

Now, is this the year Lebron finally gets his ring?  That depends; is this the year he finally shows up in the fourth quarter?  Though he’s one of the best basketball players of the 21st century, James has become known for not exactly stepping up when the game’s on the line, which goes a long way to explaining why his teams have never gone all the way.  Considering his two missed free throws cost the Heat Game 2 against Indiana, I’m not convinced this is the year he breaks on through to the other side.  Spurs in 6–and should the Thunder win the West, this result doesn’t change.

I mean, nobody’s actually gonna follow through on their Twitter threats against Steve Blake, right? Right?

In Pablo Escobar’s Columbia, scoring a big goal—into your own net—would get you shot.  Just ask Andres Escobar (no relation).  In modern-day Los Angeles, missing a big shot could also potentially be life-threatening, for you and your family—if any of the Twitterverse trash-talkers back up their smack, that is.  

Just ask Lakers guard Steve Blake, whose late missed 3 cost L.A. Game 2 in Oklahoma City.  Amongst the barrage of hate thrown his way, some O.G. called JAMESALLONYOU (whose account has since been deleted) tweeted that he hopes Blake’s family gets murdered, while also calling him the n-word.  Nevermind that Blake is white, that’s still some nasty business.

And hey, it’s not like he can take all this stuff lightly when he plays in the Gang Capital of the Nation.  L.A.’s murder rate might be down of late, but after a SWAT team officer was shot in 2008, it’s hard to say that anyone is untouchable in the City of Angels.  That said, murdering a professional athlete over a poor performance would certainly be unprecedented—in North America, anyways.

How I spent an entire weekend without watching any playoff hockey…

As I’ve said before, I’m not all that interested in this year’s NHL playoffs.  The lack of Canadian teams whose fans don’t start riots has left me with no one to cheer for (let’s face it, the Sens probably won’t get past the first round), and after an anti-climatic ending to another disappointing Flames season, I’ve decided to stay away from hockey for a couple weeks, overtimes be damned.  Fortunately, there are plenty of other alternatives in Toronto, the Centre of the Known Universe, including a coupla major-league sports teams at opposite ends of their seasons.

The last time I went to see a Raptors game, it was last season with Steve Nash, Vince Carter and the Phoenix Suns in town.  Suffice to say that Toronto lost–big time.  This year, I decided to settle for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics, along with the faint hope that the Raptors might catch their division rivals on an off night and sneak away with a win.  Not that I was getting my hopes up, or anything.

Mind you, Toronto came through for just the 21st time in this lockout-shortened season, handing the stunned Celts an 84-79 road defeat.  The first half of this game was worse than watching women’s basketball, with the home team trailing 36-30, shooting just 23 per cent from the field.  I think the 12-year-old kids who played at halftime made more of their shots than the pros did.  If you could even call them pros, that is–the Raps were without Bargnani, Calderon and Bayless and had a pair of D-League callups in their starting lineup.  Boston, meanwhile, benched most of their star players, even giving a pair of third-stringers some significant minutes on the assumption that they had this one in the bag.  But then a funny thing happened in the third quarter…

Toronto came out firing on all cylinders, particularly Linas Kleiza, who scored most, if not all, of his 17 points in the second half.  As a team, the Raptors nearly matched their first-half output with 27 points in the third, raising their field-goal percentage by 10 points in the process.  Section 109, which had been dead silent save one fauxhawked fellow, started to come alive, although some of the so-called fans were cheering for Boston.  Meanwhile, the Celtics, suddenly down 13 after the first basket of the fourth quarter, realized they needed Pierce, Rondo and company if they wanted to win this one.  They came awfully close, too, cutting the lead to one in the dying seconds, but DeRozan and Kleiza hit their free throws as the Raptors pulled off the upset.

From the perspective of wanting to see all of Boston’s star power on display, the game was a little disappointing (Ray Allen didn’t even dress), but if you’re a Raptors fan, you’ll take it.  I guess I am, though this might have been the first time I’ve sat through four quarters of one of their games this season.  The excitement of the second half was almost enough to make me forget the worst 24 minutes of NBA basketball I’ve even seen, so in the end, I suppose I’m a satisfied customer.

At first, the plan was to go see the (C)Raptors on Friday, then catch the Jays game on Saturday afternoon to remember what a real sports team looks like.  Toronto was playing Baltimore, the worst team in their division, so it looked like they could probably pull this one off.  Alas, if you had told me on Thursday that I’d watch the Raptors win and the Jays lose over a two-day stretch, I’d have called you crazy.  But you also would’ve been right.

Toronto got a solid seven innings from rookie right-hander Henderson Alvarez (fun fact: he was 3 when they last won the Series), but their bullpen gave up a pair of long balls to spoil a somewhat mild Saturday late afternoon/early evening.  Not sure what was up with the 4 o’clock start–I guess Sportsnet musta been showing an important soccer game or something.  But that didn’t stop a respectable walk-up crowd from heading out to the ballgame, with total attendance topping 28-thousand.

Now, I’ve been to about a dozen Jays games in the 6+ years I’ve lived here, but I’d never sat behind home plate before.  If you can spare the dime, I highly recommend it.  From my vantage point some 13 rows up, any balls fouled straight back went well over my head, and I could see every pitch just as well as home plate umpire Derryl Cousins–who didn’t do the Jays’ pitchers any favours, and called a whole helluva lotta strikes against Jose Bautista, to boot!  For the record, Casey Janssen clearly struck out Wilson Betemit with a 2-2 pitch in the bottom of the eighth, but after Cousins called it a ball, Betemit belted the next pitch over the right-field fence to tie the game.  Had Cousins made the right call, there’s no telling how that game would’ve ended.

Mind you, the Jays could’ve altered the outcome had J.P. Arencibia (he of the .071 batting average) not struck out swinging with runners on second and third in the sixth, or had Brett Lawrie not tried–and failed–to steal home with Bautista at bat in the second.  Remind me to look for a new catcher for my fantasy baseball team, by the way, cuz the kid’s just not cutting the mustard at the moment.  On the other hand, I really can’t complain about Lawrie…

Almost as disappointing as the Jays’ late-game meltdown on Saturday was the post-game meal at a nearby Baton Rouge restaurant.  From a place that’s supposed to be known for its ribs, I was not expecting barely warmed-up pork with sauce stolen from a Swanson’s TV dinner.  Guess they didn’t microwave ‘em long enough.  Also, the coleslaw tasted kinda funny.  Sad to say I can get better food at Swiss Chalet for a significantly lower price–and I guess I’ll be going there next time instead.

(Wait, do they even have a Swiss Chalet on Front Street?)

So, NBA basketball’s back. Meh, I hardly noticed it was gone…

Admittedly, basketball’s not my favourite sport, but I’m hardly ignorant of its existence.  As a matter of fact, I was one of those weird kids that played basketball instead of hockey when I was growing up.  (Saved my parents a ton of money on equipment!)  Last season, I tried to keep tabs on the Toronto (C)Raptors, mostly during commercials/intermissions of whatever football or hockey game I was watching, but it got to the point where I just couldn’t be bothered, since I knew they were gonna lose anyways.  The only game I went to last year was when the Phoenix Suns were in town to A) See Steve Nash in the flesh and B) Boo Vince Carter.  Suffice to say that the Suns still won, though I can’t even remember the final score.

Sure, there was some excitement when Vince was in town, and the team was headed to the playoffs–I’ll admit, I even bought his jersey–but lately, the Craptors have been prime practitioners of bad basketball.  Without Chris Bosh anymore, the team will be relying on a handful of young players, none of whom have shown they can play defence, and it doesn’t look pretty.  (Mind you, Bosh didn’t D up much either when he wore a Raptor uni…)  In fact, in a recent Toronto Star poll (scroll down for it), 82 per cent of respondents had the Raps winning less than 30 games this year, with 27 per cent pegging their win total at 10 or less.  Even with the lockout knocking 15 games off the calendar, Toronto’s still gonna be in for a long season.

Mind you, after they announced the end of the lockout earlier this month, it took me a good two weeks just to remember the names of Toronto’s starting five.  This made me realize that not having the NBA from Halloween through Christmas wasn’t such a huge loss.  Somehow, a league of overpaid multimillionaires with a salary cap that’s soft like Charmin playing a large slate of high-scoring games where points don’t mean much–and most games don’t really matter till you get to the playoffs–has made such a small impact on me that I didn’t even notice it was gone.  Hey, wake me when it’s April, alright?

That’s not to say I haven’t been watching basketball though, having caught all but a couple of Gonzaga’s first nine games.  Although Toronto has been Canada’s Team by default since the Grizzlies moved to Memphis (why they never changed that team’s name is beyond me!), the Gonzaga Bulldogs, with two key starters from north of the border, have a lot more Canuckian hoops cred than a team that’ll be bringing Jamaal Magloire off the bench for the first time this year.  Unlike the NBA playoffs, which resemble the clutch-and-grab postseason play of the pre-lockout NHL, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is one of the most exciting events in sports, with its fast-paced, frenetic, one-and-done format–and I fully expect the Zags to make their 12th straight appearance come March.  As for the Raptors chances?  Well, I think I’ll leave that one to Jim Mora…