Posts Tagged ‘Prime Minister’

The Official End Of An Era?

DALLAS – It’s over now. Officially over.

The Miami Heat’s elimination of the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals last night at American Airlines Arena guaranteed that we’ll have a NBA Finals that doesn’t include Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan or Kobe Bryant for the first time since the 1998.

Think about that for a second … let it marinate … and then realize that those are the three players that define their generation. Their faces make up the Mount Rushmore of the league since 1998. No one starred brighter on the biggest stage as much as — or more often than — those three future Hall of Famers.

Their teams fell like dominoes in this postseason. Duncan’s Spurs went out in the first round to the No. 8-seeded Hang Time Grizzlies, a shocking exit for a team that finished with the best record in the Western Conference during the regular season.

Bryant’s Lakers topped Duncan’s crew, losing to Dallas in the conference semifinals in just four games. It was a stunning end to the two-time defending champions’ threepeat bid and the worst possible way for Phil Jacksonthe fourth face on our hoops Mount Rushmore from this passing era — to end his Hall of Fame coaching career.

Shaq wasn’t even in uniform for the Celtics’ finale, his body betraying him in the twilight of his career the way it has so many other larger-than-life legends before him. His inability to play against the Heat no doubt changed the course of the Celtics’ playoff fortunes, while also raising the question (once again) about what time is the best time for a living legend to ride off into the sunset. And it’s a conversation that’s extremely tough to have, as Celtics coach Doc Rivers explained late last night in Miami (via the Boston Herald):

“I don’t know,” Rivers said of whether this may be the end for O’Neal. “It’s too early to talk about it. I’ve learned personally that you never try to make a decision in the heat of the battle. Emotionally you’re always going to make the wrong choice then. He’ll walk away for the summer and then decide what he wants to do.
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Celebrating Sloan

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Prime Minister isn’t the only one that’s going to miss Jerry Sloan:

About Last Night: Manu’s Encore!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Mr. Clutch, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, was at it again last night.

The league’s best team (22-3), the Spurs have won seven straight games, continuing this month’s streak theme around the NBA, and two straight on Ginobili game winners.

And unlike his shot to beat the Bucks Wednesday night, there should be no controversy on this latest one (above). Nuggets fans will argue (and who wouldn’t?) that the charge Ginobili drew on Carmelo Anthony on the ensuing play was iffy.

Two dramatic games this week didn’t change the way we feel about the Spurs here at the hideout. We were on their bandwagon before now. The way they came out of the block, let us know that they realize that time on South Texas Big 3 of Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker is running short. They only have a small window of time left to contend for titles, and they are playing like it.

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The Blueprint

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If and when the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat meet in the playoffs (and after yesterday’s opening-night clash, when is the preferred scenario), the guys in green might want to rewind the tape.

There won’t be a better training video for dealing with the Heat than what they provided last night.

You won’t be able to count on those 14 turnovers from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. And surely Chris Bosh won’t be dominated as badly by Kevin Garnett as he was in the opener. But the Heat’s other glaring issues (Rajon Rondo will have his way against whatever point guard the Heat throw out there and they have no answer for a healthy/conditioned/inspired Shaquille O’Neal, even in five-minute spurts, in the middle) were on display for all to see.

The Philadelphia 76ers won’t have those advantages tonight, but the same two areas of concern in Boston will have a spotlight shining on them again Friday night when the Heat faces Jameer Nelson, Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.

Yes, it was the first game, the first of 82, mind you. So there is no need to overreact, as my colleague Steve Aschburner of NBA.com made clear after witnessing the action in person last night.

Like James Tweeted:

“Rome wasn’t built in a Day! Work in progress. On to the next one”

Even the Prime Minister, the reigning Hater of the Century and an eternal pessimist if ever there was one, emailed this morning with some gravity in the sea of panic we both expected following the game:

Heat in 2003-04 — Wade’s rookie season, 0-7 start (ended up making playoffs, winning in first round)
Heat in 2005-06 — 2-3 start, ended up winning Finals

Cavs in 2003-04 — LeBron’s rookie season, 0-5 start (ended up missing playoffs)
Cavs in 2004-05 — Started 0-3, also missed playoffs
Cavs in 2005-06 — Started 1-2, made it to East semifinals
Cavs in 2006-07 — Started 2-2, made it to NBA Finals
Cavs in 2007-08 — Started 2-3, made it to East semis
Cavs in 2008-09 — Started 1-2, made it to East finals
Cavs in 2009-10 — Started 1-2, made it to East semis

Raptors in 2003-04 — Bosh’s rookie season, started 2-1 (missed playoffs)
Raptors in 2006-07 — Started 1-2, made playoffs
Raptors in 2007-08 — Started 2-1, made playoffs
Raptors in 2008-09 — Started 3-0, missed playoffs
Raptors in 2009-10 — Started 1-2 (including win over LeBron’s Cavs), missed playoffs
All this to say that the first few games of the season don’t mean jack when it comes to the Big Three, if you believe history.

Exactly.

But the dynamics that were on display in Boston last night — the matchup issues, the hype and the unbelievable amount of pressure to succeed — will all be greater in the postseason if these teams meet up there.

It’s reasonable to expect substantial improvement from the Heat, who will likely have Mike Miller back by then in addition to the improved cohesion among James, Wade and Bosh (who for a nice stretch late reminded us all just how lethal a group they can be when get rolling).

It’s also reasonable to expect the Celtics, if healthy, to be equally improved and even more powerful in the middle with the return of Kendrick Perkins.

Barring a seismic trade-deadline move by either team, the blueprint for this clash of NBA titans is set.

We saw it on opening night.

The New Look Celtics?

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Posted by Sekou Smith

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A rematch is the easy box to place these NBA Finals in after the 2008 title chase won by the Celtics in six games.

Not exactly, warns the Prime Minister, who pointed out a major difference in the Celtics now compared to a two years ago.

Sure, that 2008 Celtics team was led by the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. But the supporting cast was led by veterans Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown. They were the ones that provided the glue work that kept things together for the Celtics throughout the playoffs and particularly against the Lakers in the Finals.

Fast forward to Thursday night and ask yourself if you believed that Nate Robinson, Glen Davis and Tony Allen would play critical roles for a team trying to win a second NBA title in three years?

I know it sounds crazy. It sounded the same way when we started bouncing the idea around here at the hideout (prior to our Memorial Day grill-a-thon that will commence this afternoon or whenever the rain stops).

Viewed by most people (including most of us around here) as an elderly outfit that is swinging their sword for basically one last time, the Celtics have a decidedly different look when you strap on your BluBlockers and really study their moving parts.

They’ve certainly relied on their youngsters (Rajon Rondo is included in that group) during this Finals run. Robinson’s 13-point outburst in the first half of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals (below) was the difference in the Celtics leading at the half in a game that, had it gone any other way, might have cost them this opportunity to snag banner No. 18.

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The Celtics have two veterans (Rasheed Wallace and Michael Finley) I suspect will be called upon for major contributions in the Finals, so maybe we’ve seen the last of Robinson. And perhaps Tony Allen and Davis won’t need to perform any superhuman feats this time around.

But this idea that the Celtics are the Geritol Gang is pretty misguided.

They’ve had a steady flow of contributions from their youngsters this season. Whether that continues or not, remains to be seen. But you can be sure that Celtics coach Doc Rivers will push every button he can to get his team going.

Rivers was the one that promised Robinson when they traded for him that he’d help them win a playoff game at some point, a point he reiterated after that cosmic performance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals:

“I told him I loved him, and I told him at some point it was going to happen for him,’’ Rivers said. “And it was all up to him to stay engaged. And he did. I get no credit out of this. Nate Robinson stayed focused in 30-straight-whatever games without playing, and stayed focused. And to me, that is more important than anything he’s done tonight.’’

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Last Rites

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We were hoping we’d have to wait another 11 games or so do this, but it’s become painfully clear that it’s time to put an end to the playoff dreams of a few teams, including (dabbing napkin to BluBlockers) Hang Time’s Grizzlies.

Our boys are not alone. The Bulls and Rockets are in need of last rites as well.

It’s a sad day here at the hideout, where the Prime Minister was the first to notice that the end, however painful it might be, was already here for these teams.

At least our Grizzlies are still fighting until the very end. The Rockets are, too.

We can’t say the same about the Bulls, who flashed a little playoff potential earlier in the season before injuries (and a head-scratching trade — John Salmons anyone?) led to their current slide. They’ve lost 11 of their last 13 games, with those two wins coming over the Rockets and the mighty 76ers, another team that could have set out on summer break a month or so ago.

The Bulls saved Vinny Del Negro‘s job with a run that began the day after Christmas and ended late last month. The Bulls were 18-11 in January and February. And that’s usually a good indication that a team is surging at just the right time. But starting with a Feb. 27 road loss in Indiana, the Bulls went on a 10-game slide that cost them any chance of keeping the pace for a playoff spot.

In defense of our Grizzlies, and you had to know this was coming, they are simply the victims of having to play in a power conference. They’re 18-9 against the Eastern Conference. If they just swapped conferences with the Bulls, they’d be battling the Bucks and Heat for the fifth spot in the playoff race.

Still, it’s time for us to end the playoff campaign honorably. There’s no need dragging our guys through the drama over the next couple weeks without any realistic chance that they’ll be rewarded for an admirable season.

We will rest this summer, see what the summer (the draft and free agency) brings us and then be back next year ready to fight for the right to party into the postseason.

But make no mistake, Hang Time’s Grizzlies will rise again!

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REMEMBER THE WARRIORS?

There’s only an outside shot they’d meet in the postseason, but the Mavericks should be worried about their inability to do anything with the Trail Blazers this season.

They struggled during the regular season like this a couple years back with a Warriors team that ended up dumping them in the playoffs.

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News talks about the team that currently holds the power over the Mavericks:

“Maybe it’s true that everybody has their personal kryptonite.

For the Mavericks, it’s got to be the Portland Trail Blazers.

Heading toward the playoffs, the Mavericks should avoid the Blazers at all costs in the first round. Portland made it 3-0 against the Mavericks this season with a 101-89 victory early this morning at the Rose Garden. The Blazers remain the only team in the NBA the Mavericks have yet to beat this season.

But as for a team having another team’s number, coach Rick Carlisle wasn’t buying it.

“They’re no bargain,’’ he said. “But we’re no bargain. You want to play us?’’

At the moment, the Mavericks’ fear-factor is somewhat diminished. They now have lost four of their last six games since the 13-game winning streak that seems like eons ago.

Some disturbing numbers Thursday were their zero — yes, zero — fast-break points and the fact that they only got to the free-throw line nine times.

And allowing 50-percent shooting was a bit problematic, too.

“They played a really good game,’’ said Shawn Marion. “It was a playoff game out there. There was a little testosterone going on.’’

The Mavericks simply came up short in this one.

“Look, we had zero fast break points and that to me means you just got to get more stops and give yourself more chances to got out and run,’’ Carlisle said. “They beat us 16-0 and that’s hard to overcome.”

We’re not suggesting that we could be in store for another such series this postseason (for starters, we don’t believe the Blazers possess that same sort of schizophrenic brilliance that Warriors team did). And Carlisel clearly isn’t buying it.

But it’s worth paying attention to if you are the Mavericks.

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DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY FOR HORFORD

We’re not sure Al Horford meant for this to come out the way it did (English is his second language), but we’d like to commend the Hawks’ All-Star center for saying it.

When Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked him why the Hawks can’t seem to hold on to late-game leads  Horford pointed the finger in the right direction.

“That really falls on the guys that are running our team,” he said. “The guards have the ball in their hands. They control the game, and that’s something they have to kind of realize.”

There’s no telling if this comment will make it back to the people it needs to, the guys Horford identified. But it would be nice if it did, for the Hawks’ sake. Maybe then they’d stop blowing those late leads.

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THE WHAT IF GAME WITH BEASLEY

Michael Beasley‘s a lot of things, but shy about expressing his true feelings is not one of them.

He says what is on his mind whenever he is approached. And that’s a great thing for us and probably a horrible thing for the Miami Heat’s PR machine.

My main man Michael Wallace of the Miami Herald dishes up some timely scoop from Beasley:

“There are times when Michael Beasley  wonders how things might have turned out had he switched places with Derrick Rose in the 2008 draft.

The Bulls selected Rose No. 1 overall, and Beasley was drafted second by Miami.

Since then, Rose has become a cornerstone of the franchise and an All-Star. Beasley has become a starter, but the only constants with him have been inconsistencies in his performance and fluctuating playing time.

Conventional wisdom would suggest Rose has delivered as an impact player while Beasley is still developing.

“I think, ‘what if’ on a lot of things. I’m a ‘what-if’ thinker,” Beasley said before Thursday’s game against the Bulls. “I think things would have been different [for me] here. They don’t have Dwyane Wade. No disrespect to D-Wade or anything. But it’s a fact. A lot of things would happen different.”

Beasley insists he isn’t envious of Rose’s status in Chicago. But Beasley believes his development in Miami has been slower because he is on a veteran team, which requires more patience.

“I feel like I haven’t shown nothing yet,” Beasley said. “I’m kind of disgusted with the way I’ve played these two years. I averaged 14 points last year, 15 this year. Those are disgusting numbers — based on my expectations. I just don’t like them.”

Beasley said he is still a bit surprised he wasn’t the No. 1 pick, based on the workout he had in Chicago and his talks with the Bulls front office.

But he knows there is no looking back. Instead, Beasley searches for the impact he had in college, when he averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds his lone and All-American season at Kansas State.

“I haven’t played in two years, freely,” Beasley said. “I don’t know who Mike Beasley, the NBA player, is. I look back to K-State. But we haven’t seen him in two years. I’m waiting on him to call. I guess it isn’t my time yet. Hopefully, I’ll find him.”

Keep it real Michael Beasley, keep it real!

ANOTHER SMITH DELIVERS THE GOODS
Just so we are clear, the Smith name is safe in the NAB so long as guys like my cousin Craig (of the LA Smiths and Clippers) is getting the job done:
Get ‘em big fella!
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CANZANO STAYS AFTER BLAZERS

HT favorite John Canzano of the Oregonian continues to poke holes in the Blazers’ off-court operation and what he sees as their dysfunction, despite statements to the contrary.
We’re not picking sides here. You can do that for yourself.
“The statement was released a couple of hours before tip on Thursday. It consisted of three paragraphs. And the only thing anyone can reasonably gather after reading it is that Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen must have realized that he’d better issue the statement lest he be forced into an uncomfortable position of having to support his general manager.

A few hours later, Allen would be courtside at the Rose Garden Arena, wearing a suit and tie while watching the team he’s owned for 21 seasons. His general manager, Kevin Pritchard, would be on the road, scouting prospects, preparing for the NBA Draft and running off résumés.

Without those flimsy three paragraphs Allen would have to answer questions. He’d have to give Pritchard a guaranteed future or acknowledge what we all already know — that the Blazers general manager is a dead-man walking.

“Painful to see a friend in that spot,” one Blazers front-office executive said. A second offered that Pritchard should stop moping, channel the theories of “The Secret” and start projecting confidence, “You know, I believe what you put out comes back around to you.” And before Allen arrived at the arena a Blazers spokesperson was dispatched to inform reporters that the Blazers owner would have no further statement.

That’s all he has to say on the matter.

Given that he could have ended the speculation on Thursday, I’m not sure we need to hear anything more from Allen. But I asked him at the end of the first half, as he headed into the room he uses as an office, if he’d mind going stronger with the comments on Pritchard.

The Blazers owner waved me off and shook his head. I asked him if there was anything more he wanted to say to Blazers fans. He hurried off, waving his hands and shaking his head. He finally nudged one of his private security guards and pointed at me before disappearing into a room with a small group that included Vulcan executive Bert Kolde, who was puffing his chest out at me.

After the door closed, a second security guard turned to me and said, “Keep writing what you write.”