Playoff Purgatory: A Supersonics Fan Rant

NOTE: I know that this post bites on Bill Simmons’s style a bit, but I’ve spent as much time as anybody watching and reading about Lost. I demand the right to use the show for a sports metaphor! Don’t you judge me!

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Life is hard for a Sonics fan right now. You never really understand or accept that they’re not your team any more.  The problem is that the Sonics didn’t die, they merely re-spawned in some bizarro, corn-filled reality. If you’ve never had a team depart from your hometown, it feels like being Desmond in season six of Lost. A cataclysmic explosion (the Sonics leaving) has divided your life into two realities. In one blissful life there is no nuclear explosion and you still have your soul mate, “Pinny” (the Sonics). In fact, you never lost her, you’ve can’t even imagine life on the island.

Then there is reality in the aftermath of the bomb. Hollowed out by regret and heartbreak, you are thrown down a well by a force of evil incomprehensible to mere mortals (Locke/David Stern).

The difference is that Desmond seems to have some agency over how these two realities are resolved. For Sonics fans, there’s no leaving the island.

I have no beef with the OKC players. In fact, I LOVE them. It kills me to write it, but it’s the truth and I would have turn away from great young talent and really enjoyable team basketball to think otherwise. I can’t do it. As much as I love the Sonics, I love the Game more.

This is how it is: the Thunder are in the playoffs and have a 21 year old top-four player surrounded by athletic and lovable young teammates. It’s hard enough to watch the team that should be the

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Is it the shoes? KD, Rashard, Mo-Will and Iguodala

A friend showed me this video a few days ago, and I wanted to throw it up here because it’s been a while since a shoe commercial made me want to run out of the house and lace ‘em up. Also, it looks like these ballers are actually the ones flowing over this track. That’s pretty impressive, because when rappers try to hoop, it often goes awry, but these guys sound pretty natural.

Also, great job of coming up with the Hyperizers’ rap names, especially Velvet Hoop (KD) and FogRaw (Mo Williams).

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Is Kobe's Sun Setting in LA?

Last night we watched a legend in decline, Kobe Bryant, fail to recognize the deterioration of his powers and cost his team the game. It made me wonder whether Kobe ever really understood that he can’t do it alone.

I know this seems like a reactionary statement, but Kobe has been playing losing basketball for the past two months. Manu Ginobli has been outplaying Bryant in April, and it’s not even close.

Right now Kobe just isn’t scoring efficiently. I’ve seen plenty of Lakers games in the last month or so in which Kobe has struggled to make shots against single coverage. Shots that are bad shots for every other player, but ones that Kobe regularly converts. Portland’s Batum did a great job on him, and even Arron Afflalo was able to force Bryant into an ugly shooting performance.

Last night, we saw an increasingly one-dimensional Kobe Bryant snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, one contested jump-shot at a time.

What? I can't go for 40 at will anymore?

If you had to ask yourself what the main advantage LA has over OKC, you would immediately answer “height!” (or experience, if you are “Kinny” Smith). LA is enormous, but they lost game 3 because the one LA player without a significant size advantage decided to take all the shots.

And I don’t want to hear about how his Game 2 scoring outburst showed he’s “back.” He shot 43%, got a lot of freethrows at home, made them, and had 1 assist. You are bound to score some points if you try to shoot or go to the basket 35+ times in a game.

Let’s compare last night’s 4th Quarter Laker offense to the first quarter of game one, by far LA’s best 12 minutes.  In that opening

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WTF?!: Utah Fans for Carmelo Anthony Video

I saw this ad while watching the Utah-Denver game last night, and thought I might be tripping. After poking around I found out that it is a typically clever and newsworthy Jordan Brand ad.

If you haven’t seen this already, it’s definitely worth a watch.  Lame-Os like “Dan on the Street” thought this wasn’t funny, but I’m all for anything that will spur an already rabid Utah crowd, hopefully inspire Carmelo to show his top form, and is unlike any commercial I’ve ever seen.

So maybe it isn’t laugh out loud funny, but it’s enhanced the theater of the sport and, hopefully, intensity of the series.

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Andre Miller Is a Matchup Nightmare

Phoenix are tossing and turning after last night’s haunting Game 1 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Usually, playoff series are decided by match-ups, as in, who’s got the one player that the other team just cannot stop.

In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, Lebron and Howard largely canceled each other out, and it was Hedo who made the difference. You just can’t guard someone who is 6’10 with Delonte West, and ultimately this awful matchup undid the Mr. James and the Cavettes.

In the Phoenix-Portland series, Andre Miller appears to be that bad matchup.

Perhaps Dre has never gotten the credit he deserves because his jumpshot is horrifying to look at, or because his hair looks like it has eight ounces of Soul Glo in it, or because he is one of those thickish players who, no matter how well  he plays, always looks a little bit out of shape. Whatever the reason he hasn’t been invited to All-Star games in the past, he looks determined to make this playoff series his party.

Dre brutalized every Suns defender that tried to check him, from Nash to Dragic to Barbosa to Richardson. Is Grant Hill the next candidate? Showing off his blacktop bully game, Miller went off for 31 and 8 by employing a torture chamber of post moves and calmly knocking down midrange jumpers. He got whatever he wanted all night, especially during his 14 point “this is my paint, MINE!” fourth quarter.

Expect to see Jared Dudley on him as the series progresses, using his length and strength to keep Miller out of the paint.

On the Phoenix side, Amar’e was pedestrian and often ineffective. If he can’t score consistently in one on one confrontations with veteran defender Marcus Camby, the Phoenix Gorilla is going to be

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Thunders-Lakers: Run, Kevin, Run

Now, I don’t think the Lakers will go down to the Thunder because I’m not sure Durant is ready to take over in his first ever playoff series. If they met in the second round, once Durant has his playoff sea legs, I think it would be rough waters for the Lakers. (See 2004 D-Wade playing much better in his second round series).

As it is, the main issue will be whether Russell Westbrook can dominate his match up with Derrick Fisher to the point where it outweighs what Pao Gasol is about to do to poor Serge Ibaka. You’re a nice young player Serge, with some serious length and energy, but Gasol’s oily post moves were way too much for Dwight Howard last year. Gasol is simply an elite scorer. Whether or not you think he looks like the “a bit too old foreign guys” hanging out in the club with preposterously hot/expensive looking girls, he’s going to get his on Serge and Nick Collison.

The Thunder do have a chance to win this series though, if they force the right tempo. They’ll rebound well, play scrappy, intelligent half court defense, and be way too much for the Lakers in transition. If you haven’t seen Durant run the floor this season because the NBA decided to broadcast the Boston Assisted Living Tenants twenty times this season, it’s the most surprising part of his game.

If you Durant dunking with no one around, it's a bad sign for the Lakers

In the half court, he is devastating coming off picks and shooting, or going through his triple threat series. But in the full court, you realize he is 6’10’’, running the break like a 2002 Randy Moss + 6 inches, has guard passing skills, and willing to go

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Hanging With Mr. Hooper #3: The Washington Post's Joel Censer

For my third podcast I sat down with a buddy and Washington Post contributor, Joel Censer. One of the fastest rising lacrosse writers in America, Joel is helping produce “The Season” for the Post, a web series about a local a high school lacrosse team, along side his excellent work as a columnist for Lacrosse Magazine.

A high school baller, his Lax Mag column, titled “Uncensered,” has recently focused on cultural and game play parallels between basketball and lacrosse. Seems Joel just cant shake the hold of hoops culture.

We talked about similarities and differences between the two sports, our favorite basketball movies, and sketch the outline of the first great lacrosse movie.

We called this the Sherman Alexie tribute podcast, because Alexie is a Native American (lacrosse was invented by Native Americans) writer who loves to talk about basketball. Unfortunately I butchered the name of one of his most famous works, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, during the pod. This was particularly embarrassing because of his noted love for my Seattle Supersonics. Sorry, Sherman!

Anyways, check out Joel’s recent Uncensered column on movies here; and his discussion of Michael Lewis’s Moneyball here.

Hanging With Mr. Hooper #3 Listen

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He May Not Be in the Hall, But Nelson Is An All-Timer

Last week Don Nelson became the winningest coach in NBA history to little fanfare, when his struggling Warriors topped the bottom feeding Timberwolves.

Don Nelson isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He isn’t even in the discussion. This is probably because he has coached 10 teams that finished with fewer than 40 wins.  His current squad won’t even win 30.

So who is this guy? When you Google “Don Nelson” the search engine suggests the following terms:

Don Nelson coaching record

Don Nelson wiki

Don Nelson alcoholic

Don Nelson wins

Don Nelson stats

Don Nelson contract

Don Nelson drunk

That’s a pretty hilarious list, and one that accurately represents the complicated legacy of Don Nelson. What else do you expect from a guy who had to be told not to drink beer during post game press conferences?

Compare him to his longtime peer, Jerry Sloan, a far more respected (and certainly more conventional) member of the NBA community as evidenced by his 2009 induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Both men grew up in the Midwest. Both became known for their toughness and efficiency as rotational players in the NBA. Sloan had a couple of All-Star appearances, while Nelson won five championships with the Boston Celtics (where his number is retired).

After solid playing careers, both coaches have gone on to win over 1100 games and are the only two coaches who have won 1000 games without winning a championship. Today, both coach in front of the two most rabid and contrasting fan bases in the NBA.

Despite their similarities in background, these two coaches have led careers as divergent as the Salt Lake and Oakland crowds that cheer on their teams.

Nelson was a 5 time champion 6th man

While Sloan has been a model

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HoopSpeak Welcomes New Writer Andrew Willingham!

HoopSpeak is proud to welcome Andrew Willingham as a contributing author! Andrew’s first post is representative of his passion for basketball, and his ability to communicate his experience as a fan. The biggest Seattle Supersonics fans I know, Andrew has struggled to find his way as an NBA fan in the post-Sonics world. His first post chronicles that journey.

Andrew already contributes to HoopSpeak as the technical producer of our podcast, and I look forward to his ongoing work on the site!

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Surviving the Sonics: A Personal Story of Basketball Loss

Note: If you have yet to watch Sonicsgate, a documentary about the Sonics leaving Seattle, I suggest you do. It will help you understand the facts behind many of the issues I mention in this article. You can see it free online at www.sonicsgate.org

As many of you probably know, Beckley and I grew up in Seattle and are die-hard Supersonics fans. Following the Sonics’ sale to Clay Bennett and the subsequent move to Oklahoma City, I have had to redefine myself as a basketball fan. I am often asked, “What does it feel like to lose your favorite team?” Let me tell you, it doesn’t feel good.

How did we get here?

In 2005, Seattle lets its young, talented coach leave. They trade away their best player, Ray Allen, who also happens to be one of the best 3-point shooters of all time, for rookie Jeff Green and some bench players. They trade away their second best player, Rashard Lewis, for Kurt Thomas and a couple of 2nd round draft picks. The team drafts future Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant. The team is sold to a bunch of people from out of town. The new ownership purposefully tanks, alienating Seattle fans. The team marches out to their worst record in history. In 2008, The Sonics move to Oklahoma City.

How do you sleep at night, Clay?

That is a hell of a couple years.

What transpired between 2005 and team’s move in 2008 is a terrible and supremely unfitting ending to not only Seattle’s most successful and storied professional franchise, but also one of the top-tier NBA teams.

My personal history with the Sonics

So why write about the Sonics? Well, to start, they remain my favorite sports team. As you may have guessed, basketball is

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