Friday, December 26, 2008

Towel Wavers Recap of the Day 12/25/08

Welcome to the first ever Towel Wavers Recap of the Day. Here we do a rundown of the best and the worst of each gameday. The Towel Waver of the Day is the end-of-the-bench player that stepped up the best during the day and the Towel Waver Wannabe is the highly-regarded player that played like he deserved to be buried in the back of the rotation the most. Yep, this is Towel Wavers, where we honor the meek and mock the mighty. So without further ado, the Towel Wavers Recap of the Day.

Towel Waver of the Day

Mike James
Washington Wizards
26 pts
10-14 FG, 5-8 3pt
4 reb, 3 ast

Our first ever Towel Waver of the Day is Wizards PG Mike James. Though James is technically a starting guard in Washington, it's probably the only place he'd be a starting guard in. Before he was traded by New Orleans, he had appeared in only 8 of the team's 17 games, where he averaged 2.5 points and 1 assist per game. He hadn't played in the last 6 games, and had given his team no points in the last 10 games (9 of which he sat out). He actually played quite decently in his first seven games in Washington, where he was putting up 10.8 points per game (and 14.5 points in the last four games). None of them were wins.

Today, he gave the Wizards a fighting chance in a near upset of the unbeaten-at-home Cleveland Cavaliers. He shot about 70% from the field and over 60% from three point range as he dropped 5 threes on the Cavs. LeBron, who had 18 points on 6 of 13 shooting, and the Cavs pulled off the 93-89 squeaker, but Mike just may have been the better James out on the floor tonight.

Towel Waver Wannabe

Greg Oden
Portland Trailblazers
4 pts, 5 reb
2-6 FG
0-3 FT
3 TO

It's never a good thing when you have more missed shots (4 from the field and 3 from the charity stripe) and turnovers than you have points and rebounds. Even more when you're a former number 1 overall draft pick facing insurmountable expectations from the entire basketball universe (save the front office of the Blazers, they want to be patient with you). Oden also committed 4 fouls and wasn't even on the floor for the final minutes of the 102-94 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What's Up With the Lake Show?

It's been a bad month for the Lakers. It wasn't long ago when they were being primed as the team that could challenge the 96 Chicago Bulls record 72-10 mark. In December, they're a mediocre 7-4. And that record isn't even what's worrying - it's how they accumulated it that's got the Laker fans sweating.

Losses to under-.500 teams Indiana and Sacramento. A blown 20-point lead to Eastern Conference-worst Washington. They even had to scramble to beat the rebuilding New York Knicks after being down 15 points at the half. Now, their first losing streak of the season. Back-to-back losses to Miami and Orlando.

The Lakers' vaunted depth? Missing. Kobe has taken 55 shots in the last two games. Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom are averaging a combined 7 points in those two games. So-called MVP candidate Pau Gasol is averaging just 12. And the greatest closer in basketball? Mamba missed two at-the-buzzer shots that could have sent either game in overtime.

Meanwhile, their rivals from Beantown are on a 17-game winning streak and are at 25-2. The Lakers have dropped down to 21-5 and are now third (behind the 22-4 LeBronaliers) in the league.

Have they been overlooking the past few games - excited for their Christmas Day rematch against the Celtics? Or have they been exposed? That they're essesntially the same team that lost to Boston last year, so expecting this year to be any different is wishful thinking.

Guess we have to wait til Christmas to find out.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tough Enough

The Houston Rockets have been all about their big two the past few years. Ever since they brought Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady together, expectations have soared. And why wouldn't it -- with two otherworldly talents like Yao and T-Mac together?

However, this is what their dynamic duo has given them: a first round loss to the Mavs in 05, missed the playoffs in 06, and a pair of first round losses to the Jazz in 07 and 08. Oh, and 154 missed games between them. I'm talking regular season here - not counting the playoffs.

So far, McGrady and Yao have shown two chinks in their armor. The first is durability. Both players have had to carry the Rockets on their shoulders all by their lonesome for long stretches because of injuries to the other. They rarely ever get any real momentum as a team because one of their stars is always in street clothes. The second weakness is mental toughness. T-Mac is a guy who can do this, but never when it really matters. Yao has a size advantage on maybe about... yeah, 100% of the league and yet he's had issues with agressiveness. He's only averaged double figures in rebounds twice in his career. At his size, he should be putting up Shaq-in-his-prime numbers, not Shaq-at-age-32-or-33 numbers.

In the offseason, the Rockets acquired defensive superstar/rapper/headcase Ron Artest in a trade. Now Artest is best known for his toughness, something they hope he can impart on the rest of this team. But it's been less than 20 games into their season and it looks like T-Mac is already shutting it down. He's missed the last 5 games, and still out indefinitely.

This is what the Rockets starting five looked like before McGrady got injured:

G Alston, Rafer
G McGrady, Tracy
C Yao Ming
F Scola, Luis
F Artest, Ron

and after the injury:

G Alston, Rafer
G Artest, Ron
C Yao Ming
F Scola, Luis
F Battier, Shane

Now, it looks to me that this second lineup looks a lot tougher than the first. NOTE: NOT NECESSARILY BETTER. But tougher. It may be the insertion of the tough-as-nails Battier. Or maybe it's addition by subtraction (sorry, Tracy) but it just looks tougher physically AND mentally. Plus it's not doing a shabby job. When Rockets coach Rick Adelman has used this starting lineup, the team is 2-1 with that one loss being a one point heartbreaker to the Pacers. Sound familiar?

Yao has upped his scoring from about 17 points per game to 21. Artest has raised his from 14.5 to 19. Alston is averaging about 15 points and 6 dimes since Tracy went down. And with the depth this team has (remember their record 22-game winning streak last year with many of the wins without Yao?), well, it looks like it can survive without the talented but frail T-Mac. With him on board, they always seemed like they were a team that could collapse under extreme pressure. The new starting unit (plus bench players Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks, Luther Head, etc) seems like they're tough enough to just want to get the job done in the playoffs. No excuses.

They're the big three now, sure. But should the front office consider trading T-Mac and get some value in return (maybe someone like Detroit's Rip Hamilton, who has struggled to fit in with Allen Iverson)? Or should they just reduce his role and move from the Yao and T-Mac era to the Yao and Artest era. The latter pair seems like it has the necessary toughness to push past the first round, something the former pair has never done. Addition by subtraction? When it comes to mental toughness? Nothing against McGrady but the team might do well in fashioning its personality after newcomer Artest over its resident leading scorer. Then maybe they can finally get something done in the playoffs. It's been long overdue.

They've always been good, but never tough enough. Until now. But can they have T-Mac log heavy minutes without compromising their toughness? Maybe we have to wait one more first round flameout to find out.