Utah Jazz

Around the Rim: Home cooking rules the West

1. Jazz jump on Kobe’s back
Utah came roaring back on their home floor over the weekend, winning both games to tie their series against the Lakers after getting punked-out on the road. Despite having a bad back for most of the game, Kobe Bryant poured in 33 points and 10 assists, helping the Lakers force overtime where they fell to the Jazz 123-115. It’s difficult to say a team that gave up 115 points played good defense, but Utah did. Jerry Sloan’s boys forced 12 turnovers, blocked 10 shots and stole the ball seven times during the 53-minute grudge match. Deron Williams paced the Jazz with 29 points and 14 assists while Carlos Boozer (14 pts, 12 reb) and Mehmet Okur (18 pts, 11 reb) posted double-doubles. Game 5 should be a doozie back in L.A. on Wednesday. If the Jazz want to win this series, they are going to have to take a game on the road at some point.

2. Champs have new life

San Antonio came roaring back on their home floor over the weekend, winning both games to tie their series against the Hornets after getting punked-out on the road. (Hmmmm, this sounds familiar.) The Spurs finally looked like the defending champions against New Orleans on Sunday, pounding the Hornets 100-80 in a contest that was all but finished in the second quarter. San Antonio led by 2 points after one, 13 at the half and 24 by the end of the third quarter, tying the series at two games apiece. Tim Duncan was solid with 22 points, 15 boards and four swats while Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili chipped in a combined 36 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists. San Antonio allowed Chris Paul (23 pts, 5 ast) to get his by design, choosing instead to limit his teammates. Bruce Bowen kept Peja Stojakovic out of synch, limiting the sharpshooter to just six points on 3-of-9 shooting. David West was well below average as well, missing 11 of his 15 attempts. Game 5 should be a doozie back in N.O. on Tuesday. If the Spurs want to win this series, they are going to have to take a game on the road at some point. (Hmmmm, this sounds familiar.)

3. Rick Carlisle heads to Texas
The Mavericks have a new head coach and his name is Rick Carlisle. The former Pacers and Pistons big cheese now heads to Big D where he hopes to change the fortunes of the franchise after a pair of brutal first round exits and one monumental Finals collapse. The news conference is set for Wednesday and the parties appear to be looking at a contract of four years worth a guaranteed $17.5 million. Carlisle has experienced similar disappointments in the postseason with a 30-32 combined record, but the guy was good when he had solid talent around him. With Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard and Jason Terry to play with, we expect Carlisle to lead the Mavs back to respectability after finishing seventh in the West this season. The mystery remains if he can get the soft Mavericks to show some guts in the postseason.

Sunday’s Player of the Day: Deron Williams vs. Los Angeles Lakers 44 min, 29 pts (FG: 9-13, 3FG: 3-4, FT: 8-8), 3 reb, 14 ast, 2 stl, 1 blk

Buzzer Beater:

“I’m not trying to be arrogant or cocky or anything like that,” said [Jameer] Nelson after the Magic fell to the Pistons 90-89 Saturday in Game 4. “But tonight, we let it slip out of our hands. Game 2 we let slip out of our hands.”

“We’re going to win this game in Detroit.”

NBA General

Around the Rim: It’s just a matter of time now

How did this guy not inspire
the Cavs to victory?

1. “I was fouled!”
It’s all over folks. But we didn’t need Game 3 to tell us that. San Antonio put a hurtin’ on the LeBron James gang when the series was in Texas, so why should anything change because the finals shifted to Cleveland? The Cavaliers let a golden opportunity slip through their hands as Manu Ginobili didn’t score a point in the game until the final 11 seconds. And Tim Duncan struggled from the field to a 14 point night. But LBJ couldn’t connect on a long 3-pointer as time dwindled away and the Cavs fell down 3-0 in the series with a 75-72 loss. Of course, there’s was a little controversy surrounding Bruce Bowen‘s defense of James on the game-tying attempt and the refs blew a critical call that could have forced overtime but that’s no excuse for losing the team’s first ever home finals game. In the end, it simply came down to the fact that SA hit the big shots when they needed to and Cleveland didn’t.

As fans, we’d much rather see back and forth games that end in the 120’s, but the Spurs are a team that will beat you anyway you choose. Their versatility is unmatched as they can win an exciting, up-tempo game against the Suns or they can win a game that ties for the second lowest scoring game in the history of the finals. It’s not always pretty but you can’t fault the guys for being good; just don’t get unappealing confused with boring. The Spurs can run with the best of ’em but they will always be unappealing to the masses. Even if they hang four banners in the rafters and a sweep out the league’s golden-boy.

2. Sad, sad story

J.R. Smith was released from the hospital on Tuesday after being involved in a horrific car accident that claimed the life of his passenger and good friend Andre Bell. By all accounts, Smith drove through a stop sigh before colliding with another car and ejecting both himself and Bell. Unfortunately, this could have all been prevented if Smith had been just a little safer on the road. And what makes a sad situation even worse is that Smith had numerous traffic violations on his license that should have indicated to himself, if no one else, that he needed to become more cautious when behind the wheel. The Nugget had 27 points against his license stemming from eight violations in just seven dates, with five being for speeding. His license had also been suspended on five separate occasions in less than one year. Obviously fines and tickets just don’t affect supremely wealthy individuals the way they are intended to; it’s just a drop in the bucket to them. But hopefully this tragic accident will teach Smith a lesson that could end up saving someone else’s life in the future; perhaps even his own.

3. Is Rick Carlisle gonna get first crack at coaching Kevin Durant?
The NBA coaching carousel continues to turn and while Rick Carlisle might have been booted out of the coaching slot in Indiana for a far lesser coach in Jim O’Brien, Carlisle’s future looks like it could still be pretty darn bright. Especially if he ends up as the new head man in Seattle with the possibility of leading a Sonics squad with the untapped potential of Kevin Durant at his disposal. Despite getting fired as the head coach, Carlisle was still with the Pacers’ organization as the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations. However, now Carlisle is free to go anywhere he wants since he’s completely cut ties with Indiana. And regardless of where Carlisle ends up, we’re pretty certain that he’s going to land on his feet. Of course, it would be a heck of a lot easier to hit the ground running if he ends up with the young and hungry Seattle club as opposed to a sorry Sacramento franchise that is just waiting to fall apart at the seams.

Game 3’s MVP: Tony Parker @ Cleveland 39 min, 17 pts (FG: 7-17, 3FG: 1-3, FT: 2-4), 5 reb, 3 ast

Buzzer Beater: Phil Jackson went in to the hospital the other day and had his left hip replaced just eight months after having his right hip replaced. So, needless to say, the Zen Master is no stranger to pain. In fact, he would probably rather deal with the physical pain of an operation over the mental anguish that a coach’s personal worst season can bring on. Jackson’s biggest headache this season is also his most potent pain reliever: Kobe Bryant. So, Jackson better get back into form quick because there is no telling when the next time Bryant flips or flops might be. And after he seemed to be the only guy to talk Bryant out of his “trade me” demands, Jerry Buss had better hope that the doctors don’t give Jackson any medication that causes drowsiness. Who knows, he could fall asleep for ten minutes and wake up with Bryant blasting the management on the radio again. For the Lakers’ sake, get well soon Phil.

NBA General

Around the Rim: Warriors lose their cool and game two

1. It’s getting hot in here
The series between Dallas and Golden State just keeps getting better and better as the rivalry grows bitterer and bitterer with every dribble of the ball. In game two we saw some real fire between the clubs in a very physical session that was littered with enough trash talk to fill a city dump. And in the end it was the Mavericks who walked away with a 112-99 victory and tied the series at 1-1. Baron Davis got ejected from the game at the end of the third quarter for clapping sarcastically at a call, which basically ended the Warriors chances of leaving Big D with a two game sweep in hand. Then Stephen Jackson took his sweet time leaving the court after he got ejected late in the fourth and gave the refs a nice sized piece of his mind on the way out. But just wait until an arena full of blood thirsty Warriors fans provide the backdrop for a big time game three that could swing momentum into the direction of either team. Hopefully there won’t be any suspensions handed out for the Davis and Jackson incidents or for a brief skirmish that broke out during the third quarter. Maybe all this bad blood stems from the Don Nelson connection but who cares how it originated, it’s producing some freakin’ exciting ballgames; even the one’s that are 13 point blowouts.

2. Carlisle out

In a pretty shocking move, the Pacers decided to axe their coach after the team suffered through a dreadful second half of the season en route to a 35-47 record. Indiana had a horrible season, their worst since 1988-89, and has gotten gradually worse every year under each of Rick Carlisle’s four years. But don’t expect this to be the last thing you hear from Indy this off-season because a complete overhaul could be in store for the Pacers. Stephen Jackson was already traded away and Jamaal Tinsley and Jermaine O’Neal probably aren’t too far behind. Larry Bird is a hardcore winner and he will do anything to get his fix, so a blockbuster deal for Kevin Garnett or Pau Gasol could definitely be in the cards. And, well what do you know; Larry Brown is suddenly interested in coaching again.

3. Gimme that game back!
San Antonio was rolling to an easy victory as game two of their series with Denver entered the fourth quarter but the Spurs almost let a late game slip cost them the victory. With 7:16 remaining in the game, San Antonio grabbed a 17 point lead, 84-67, but by the time the clock struck the 45 second mark, the Nuggets were within three points, 88-91, of a 2-0 lead over the three time champs. But the Spurs held on and evened up the series 1-1 after ripping off six unanswered for a 97-88 victory. The defensive focus was targeted on Denver’s duo of Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson after they torched SA for 61 in the first game; in game two they were held to a combined 46 points on 46 shots. This series will be rockin’ in the Rockies on Saturday when these two hook up for game three.

Wednesday’s Player of the Day: Drew Gooden vs. Washington 32 min, 24 pts (FG: 10-13, FT: 4-5), 14 reb, 2 ast

Buzzer Beater: Earlier this week, Kobe Bryant made an interesting statement when asked about the window closing on his career. He responded by saying “We definitely have to get to that elite level. And we have to get to that level, like, now.” Bryant has been a winner for most of his career and you know that he is just praying for a Shaqless championship ring to go on his pinky finger, so getting bounced in the first round every year is probably not going to cut it for league’s best scorer. Without executing a serious roster overhaul, the Lakers will never reach that “elite level” that Bryant speaks of considering that Dallas, Phoenix, Utah, San Antonio and Houston don’t look like they’ll be giving up their spots any time soon. So, would Kobe consider leaving Tinsel Town for a more championship conducive environment? Hmmmmm.