The Playoffs' Potted Plants

A few weeks ago, there was a distinct smell of funky rot in the air, a kind of chaotic desire for everybody to dump their old junk on the curb in order to relive the various cleansing rituals of our ancestors. A similar effect was going on in the league at that point, where the reek of failure was thrown by the wayside as surging squads passed their struggling compatriots, and the playoffs began. Spring cleaning, as it were.

Almost a round and a half into things, our perspective is poles apart from where we were, and as we revel in the fresh scent of spring’s flowers and the cool, rubbery feel of newly-borne leaves, once again we are in the position to shrug off the stench of death as vigorous youth finds a way to surpass crackling experience. But sometimes that willingness to let go of failure is a little rough. Just today, we have been treated to an array of different headlines about our favorite (or most hated) sports teams’ struggles, as they lumber on in their ravaged bodies.

Across the country from my homestead, fans of the Los Angeles Lakers are eating their breakfast with a yogurt parfait filled with dread as their team looks forward into an assuredly hostile crowd in central Texas. And as their coach appears to be ready to start Shannon Brown Lamar Odom instead of their suspended defensive genius, the press has groaned and lamented the loss of the demolishing force which has wrought two consecutive titles back to the environmentally unsustainable sprawl of southern California.

This morning, John Krolik wrote in Off the Dribble about the ineffectiveness of the Lakers’ Pau Gasol against Dirk Nowitzki (and about Pau’s general ineptitude throughout the playoffs). Gasol “looked confused,” the Lakers “simply looked slow” against the likes of Jason Terry and J.J. Barea. Krolik criticizes the Lakers’ dependence on size and aging players, without the irony that comes with how the Mavericks have the oldest lineup in the league, as they play with a larger frontcourt than any of their possible Western conference opponents (Update: Until game 3, apparently). Even the Mavericks’ backup small forward is 6’10”.

But why the Lakers will lose against the equally disgusting Mavericks isn’t a matter of the changing of the guard, or the “end of an era,” as Krolik puts it. Both teams are bonded to their dependence on age, size, and outsized contracts. They are both models of “large market” teams. The Lakers aren’t playing the Thunder here. Their weaknesses have been exposed through the simplest of means, and Jackson has been late in correcting his mistakes (like having Gasol attempt to guard Nowitzki, which Sebastian Pruiti exposed as a hilarious farce days ago). It is possible that in Dallas that the dinner table will be cleaned of this Lakers mess, but if Shannon Brown Odom is starting tonight instead of the creepy Matt Barnes, any kind of strangeness is possible. The absence of Artest might mean more than his middling presence.

Closer to the “real America,” on Red’s Army, a well-regarded Celtics homer blog, co-founder Chuck asked his minions the following rhetorical question: “Is anybody else fed up with Rondo’s bull-sh*t?” I think that there is some total weirdness afoot in that thought, and how Chuck supports his argument may be equally as strange, comparing Rondo to a woman who is eight months pregnant, amongst a couple other degrading remarks. As well-documented as Rondo’s struggles have been – heck, I probably helped build the “Sad Rondo” meme myself, in my little way – he’s also played a lot better than several other teammates have during these playoffs, e.g. all of last series, regardless if he was able to take advantage of the Knicks’ horrible point guard options. Chuck is right where he says that Rondo is lazily deferring after starting offensive sets, but that’s been a problem for months. Really, the problem is with the matchup with the Heat, where the Celtics are unfortunately undersized, out-hustled, and (cough) jobbed out of the game. It is hard to win when a team can’t get a charge call on a blatant offensive foul, which Heat fans will realize when playing against Derrick Rose in the conference finals. Like blaming Gasol for the Lakers' faults, planting the faults of the Celtics entirely on Rondo's headiness isn't entirely fair.

In the same post, Chuck links to an article by Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston, who taking from the guidelines on NBA Playbook postings, points to video screenshots to indicate where things went wrong in the entirely winnable Game 2. The fault, in those critical moments of decision making, should go to Glen Davis, whose foray into “hero mode” put the Celtics three possessions behind the Heat, whose level heads destroyed the Celtics in transition from those missed shots and put the game out of reach. Out of stubbornness or whatever, Rondo rarely attempts forays into heroics – likely too rarely. Their opponents were just too strong, their ordinarily lackadaisical crowd too robust and full of pride, blind to the cyclical future. Things may change beginning tonight (or tomorrow, when the remains of Shaq are scattered at half court and his ghostly visage appears to haunt the pick-and-rolls of the Heat), but for now, they are bleak for both of last season's finals competitors.

We feel crippled by how these teams that have been built in our own halcyon days have begun to wither away, to “go gently into the good night” like the now-ancient teams of our fathers and mothers. For fans of the Celtics and Lakers, this is a more difficult transition than most will carry. Some of us wonder what sort of sports/cultural world that our current or far-off children will inherit, and whether we will be able to raise our children high above our heads to mark the occasion where our team won, where we represented greatness, nobility, perfection in the sport. Sporting aside, this year is a troubling mess already, and it almost seems perfect that this is the season where all of our legends die, to be put on the sidewalks like potted plants that we forgot to water all winter.

For exclusive commentary on basketball and culture, check out more Negative Dunkalectics, follow @negativedunks on Twitter, and become our fan on Facebook.

On the Daily: Where Dwyane Wade Takes a Stroll Through the Streets of Hamsterdam

(All this week, the Negative Dunkalectics editorial crew has been convening in a secret lair to discuss the night's NBA playoff games. Last night, Chris was joined by Kirk, David, and a guest, Michael "Professor of Boots" Dwyer, to watch the Celtics' title chances apparently disappear.)
Chris: If Spencer Hawes is in as much love with The Wire as he seemed to be in this tweet yesterday, does he simply not understand what the show is about, or does he think that free market corporatist capitalism is what is missing from the West Baltimore? Does Spencer Hawes think that building a Wal-Mart and Lowe's in West Baltimore's projects is the cure-all for the blight of generations of poverty?
Kirk: At some point is Hawes going to become the Atlanta head coach because some cheapskate down there says "there's really not much difference but the one letter"?
Michael: Wasn't "Build a Wal-Mart and a Lowe's!" the revitalization plan for Bedford-Stuyvesant a few years ago? I think I remember seeing a panel on this at MLA a few years ago (the point of this panel was "We know that big box stores destroy communities... what this panel presupposes is... maybe they don't?). Perhaps that can go next to the Jay-Z Roc-A-Fella Izod Ray*Ban Heritage Foundation Brooklyn Nets Arena in 2014.

Regardless, I've always thought of The Wire's depiction of the drug trade as the pinnacle in free market capitalism, so Spencer Hawes probably thinks of Marlo as some sort of Randian superhero, and Hamsterdam as a libertarian paradise like that alternate future Hill Valley in Back to the Future 2.
Chris: “Much heralded Atlanta Hawks head coach Spencer Hawes was fired this morning, after a dismal 4-20 start to the 2022-23 season. Hawks GM Spaceman Grunfield expressed his disappointment in Hawes, who in accordance with his beliefs as a ‘libertarian’-style Republican, refused to provide consistent minutes to anybody besides the team's most well-paid player, Old Joe Johnson, or use any offensive plays besides isolations. Asked for comment, Hawes replied that the players besides Johnson were ‘moochers’ who ‘wanted to share [the ball].’”
I can't wait for the Nets' new arena to destroy Brooklyn. As a New Englander, there is nothing we treasure more than the degradation of other parts of the country. I say this while sipping a giant Dunkin Donuts iced coffee that has a styrofoam cup on top of the regular plastic cup.
David: Hey, I live just down the street from the future site of Barclays Arena. That's my hood you are rooting for the destruction of.
Chris: I'm sorry, Dave. The hammer of super gentrification must come down in Brooklyn! I feel weird about this game. In terms of the “Hamsterdam” theory of famous/hacky writers, it's hard not to root for the scrappy, yet simultaneously riveting play of Wade in the first half of this game (even as a Boston fan, he was thrilling), yet ultimately - like the drug laws of our country which the concept of “Hamsterdam” is all about exploiting holes in - the Heat's plodding pace and Wade's ultimate deference to LeBron (or higher ups in the police department, as well as political pressure, in our analogy) keep him from truly being free. Ice cold bummer!
Michael: What does everyone think of Miami fans chanting "M-V-P" for all of their players, seemingly (besides Mike Bibby). In a way, it seems kind of appealing, like on a team full of stars everyone is the star.

On the other hand it seems like nobody actually knows which of these players is most valuable, not even the players themselves. I mean, it very well might be Joel Anthony, in that he gives the team something they don't get from anyone else. It's definitely not Mike Bibby though.
Chris: Relating back to our earlier joke subject, I feel like Spencer Hawes would hate to be on that team if mediocrity is celebrated with such vigor! I always figured that the Anthony MVP chants were sarcastic, similar to how the Celtics' home crowd always chanted for "Scalabrine" in his day, but the fans in Miami seem to be out of touch and dense enough that they probably mean it seriously.
When I've watched the Heat and Celtics play during this year's playoffs, I wonder what exactly the Celtics would have to do in order to win a game or two. Stab everybody?
David: Jeff Green’s doing thangs on offense, but on defense he just got sonned. And it isn't just that he's guarding LeBron, he can't get around the screen at all.
Michael: Well, they chant MVP for both LeBron and Wade as well as Anthony. Maybe Bosh? I still can't figure out if Miami fans like him or not.
When I was 11 I was the goalkeeper on a youth soccer team that went undefeated and didn't give up a goal the whole season. The next season they moved us up a division, but because I wasn't as athletic as the other kids and there was this younger kid who was a better goalie than me, I didn't make the 2nd division team and got stuck on a team with the dregs of our youth soccer system.
I played goalie and repeatedly saw plays unfolding in front of me that I knew were going to result in goals, I'd see them as they were happening and scream at my defenders not to pressure so high, to watch the runners, to clear their lines, etc... but it'd be too late, the other team would break through and from there it was 5-0, 8-0, 11-0.
I feel like that with the last 1/3 of this Celtics season. There was a moment when all the fans recognized "Oh no..." but by then it was too late. I still think they could tie this series up at 2-2, and who knows what happens from there... but it doesn't really feel like a championship team.
Chris: Good point. They do seem outschooled, wakka wakka. I hate to sound bitter after last night's game, but I guess I just am disappointed to not see as much fight in a supposedly “tough” team! I really feel like LeBron pushed and shoved his way through the game and his brand of “physical play” (i.e. where everybody is too small on the other team to mess with him, and if you do, you won't get a call) is kind of horse pucky. That said, I think that if the Celtics take the two games in Boston, it will be a series, but if Miami blows out Boston or something in Game 4 (or obviously in Game 3), it's all over.

That said, Wade did some astounding stuff last night, completely in admiration of his skills.

I am also sort of bitter about the OKC/Memphis game not being closer last night, but what can you ask for when Eric Maynor decides to have a sort-of career night? It was at least, very interesting to watch. I know this has already been said, I don’t think the Grizzlies can win if Zach Randolph is taken out of the game? Mike Conley did the best that he could to keep them in it last night, but Perkins and Ibaka were just destorying Randolph under the basket, not allowing him to get offensive rebounds or pull out for mid-range jumpers. It was something.
More tomorrow!
For exclusive, smart commentary on basketball and culture, check out more Negative Dunkalectics, follow @negativedunks on Twitter, and become a fan of us on Facebook.

The ND Sportsbook: Conference Semis Edition

First off, we'd like to let everyone who won bets with us last time but have yet to receive payments know that your money is safe and sound. We've reached a deal with the Department of Justice to allow payouts on February 26th, 2013 from 8:35pm to 8:38pm. Please hold off on any requests until that time.

Now that the legal mumbo jumbo is out of the way:

The highly anticipated 2nd round of the NBA playoffs is hours away! And what better way to make your viewing experience even more exciting than placing some money on the exotic bets below:

During Game 6 of the Spurs/Grizzlies series, a rather unlikely alley-oop occurred between Greivis Vasquez and Darrell Arthur. Which of the following odd alley-oop pairings will happen in the next round?
  • Lebron James to Joel Anthony: 25-1
  • Shaq to Troy Murphy: 80-1
  • Rodrigue Beaubois to JJ Barea: 200-1
  • Jason Collins to Zaza Pachulia: 250-1
  • Derrick Rose to Derrick Rose: 300-1
In which game of the Bulls/Hawks series will the Hawks quit on their coach?
  • Game 1: 10-1
  • Game 2: 5-1
  • Game 3: 2-1
  • Game 4: 1-3
  • None, as player/coach Josh Smith has them extra motivated this year: 45-1
During the Miami home games, fans ironically chant "MVP" to Joel Anthony while he's taking foul shots. Which similar chant will Jeff Green hear from Celtics fans when he's on the free throw line?
  • "D-P-O-Y": 5-1
  • "Ainge is a Genius": 8-1
  • "You Fat Fuck": 15-1
  • "Larry Bird": 25-1
  • "Akron Loves You": 40-1

Not that we condone such action, but if there were objects thrown at Mark Cuban while he is in attendance at a Lakers game, what would they (hypothetically) be?
  • Sushi Rolls: 2-1
  • Crumpled up $100 bills: 4-1
  • SAG cards: 10-1
  • Screenplays: 25-1
  • Tickets to "Lopez Tonight": 100-1
The Memphis Grizzlies' arena DJ delighted the NBA Twitterverse by playing the opening riff of Danzig's "Mother" during a Memphis possession. Which off-beat musical choice will be played in Memphis in honor of Oklahoma City coming to town?
  • The Kinks "Oklahoma, U.S.A.": 5-1
  • Mastodon "Blood and Thunder": 8-1
  • The Flaming Lips "The Sound of Failure": 10-1
  • The Sonics "Have Love, Will Travel": 25-1
  • Theme Song to Thundercats: 70-1
How many meetings will David Stern have with NBA game officials in preparation for a Lakers vs. Oklahoma City/Memphis Western Conference Finals?
  • One: 1-2
  • Two: 3-1
  • Three or more: 6-1
  • None, David Stern trusts the refs to call the series fair and without bias: 500-1
That's it for now. Stay tuned for the NBA draft edition of the Sports Book, featuring over/unders on the phrases "Tremendous Upside Potential", "He's Very Long", and "He Already Has An NBA Body".

For exclusive, smart commentary on basketball and culture, check out more Negative Dunkalectics, follow @negativedunks on Twitter, and become a fan of us on Facebook.