Hate the Playoffs, Love the Game?

God created the world in six days, so why does it take eight weeks to pick an NBA champion: A City Pages dialogue

Though I've got some colorful theories about Tip's son, in point of fact I have no idea what he's like "as a person." Being that we haven't spent all that much time together--scratch that, being that we've never met and never will--I suppose I don't much care. That said, I know with absolute certainty that I'd rather ride shotgun in Shaq's Escalade while listening to a remix of "(I Know I Got) Skillz" off the Shaq Diesel LP than accompany Michael Jordan to his weekly, billion-dollar-stakes Bingo game at the Bellagio.

 

While I'm making shit up, this seems as good a moment as any to try to extract some actual hoop knowledge from you guys. For instance:

 

--Just what does Phil Jackson, or any other NBA coach, actually do during a game anyway? (No tawdry suggestions about the owner's daughter allowed). How can a team like the Lakers beat a well-known divisional rival (like Sacramento) by 24 points one week and then lose a fortnight later by 17? How did the Wolves drop a couple of games to Golden State? I ask you the following in a spirit of genuine and earnest curiosity: How many games do you think the Wolves would have won if I'd been coaching the team? Or to take it a step further, how many games would the Wolves have won if I suffered a blunt head trauma and became aphasic--and yet continued to coach. (This post suggests I'm not that far away, right?)

 

--What is the leading industry in Sacramento? No googling allowed.

 

--If we're in accord that coaches essentially have no immediate effect on the game, who's controlling the remote-control device in Michael Olowokandi's head that tells him to run out of the key at random intervals in search of WMDs or Halloween treats?

 

--I'm sure we're all in total agreement that the Wolves will be lucky to get out of the first round. How much further do you think they could go--or to allow the verb tense to color the question, how much further could they have gone--with Rasho the Gentle Slovenian in the middle?

 

--Who looks more like a dinosaur: Wally or Kevin?

 

--Are the braintrust at KFAN being condescending when they praise Ervin Johnson for "knowing the right way to play the game"? I don't see him doing too much on the stat sheet. So what does that phrase mean in a practical sense and why is he starting (beside for the fact that they win when his name is penciled in the lineup)?

 

--I appreciate your forbearance here, but there's one last thing I absolutely must know. Which Logdog (not including the coaching staff) do you think has the greatest affection for Elton John and Bernie Taupin's elliptical-yet-maudlin anti-war ballad "Daniel"? (If the answer is Mark Madsen, please also select a credible second choice.)

--Michael Tortorello, 3:14 a.m. Wednesday, April 21

 

A Wolves Loss Against Denver Creates the Specter of a Paralyzingly Nasty Failure That Will Create a Train-Wreck Aura of Fascination Around the Rest of the Series

 

There's a reason only a few thousand natives have even rudimentary knowledge about cricket, Michael, and I won't pass judgment on your membership in that sorry little club. There's also a reason many more thousand will pony up more than $500,000 in net profits to the NBA (by Wolves owner Glen Taylor's estimate) tonight at the Target Center to watch the Wolves take on a #8 seed. It's not because, even with extended time outs for national television, the game will start and finish in less time than it takes to play nine innings of baseball, not to mention the interminable soccer games, hockey overtimes and, yes, cricket matches, you allude to. It's because the Wolves are playing against their history as much as the Nuggets, which makes this game mean something very much indeed.

A Wolves' win means Denver will have to take four out of five to advance to the second round. But a loss opens the door in the closet, where the ghosts of playoffs past will emerge, rattling their chains. If Minnesota wins tonight, they essentially wrap up the series, and the rest of the playoffs--compared to preseason expectations for this team--will be nothing but gravy. But a loss creates the specter of a paralyzingly nasty failure that will create a train-wreck aura of fascination around the rest of the series.

Do I think the Wolves will lose tonight? Obviously not, Michael, since I gave you 3 to 1 odds back in January on any bet you wanted to make that Minnesota wouldn't win its first round series. (A proposal that only slightly quelled your season-long baiting of my affection for this year's Wolves. Then again, you also didn't accept my proposed wager rebutting your own NYC-biased belief that the Knicks might make at least a little noise over in the Eastern Conference playoffs.) But there's a little more drama involved than prancing around in shinguards in some Staffordshire meadow with Earl Gray leaking from the corner of your mouth.

On to your questions.

In my opinion, basketball coaches are more influential than baseball coaches and less influential than football or hockey coaches. As in all sports, the coaches' job requires two interrelated skills--creating a personality blueprint (a mixture of tone, style and attitude, abetted by strategic Xs and Os) for how your team will play, and generating enough respect from the players for them to turn that blueprint into reality. Different coaches are more adept at guiding teams during different stages of their development. Phil Jackson is obviously a master at transforming a playoff contender into a champion, but might be less capable of transforming a 20-win team into a 40-win team.

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