Thursday, May 18, 2006

Randomization, 05/18/06

First off, a couple early responses to my roundtable post yesterday. Some folks jumped in right away. If you're a little bit behind these bloggers, and you still want to respond, that's cool. I'll post more reponses as I get them. If you want to get my attention more efficiently, e-mail me and tell me that you've posted, and I'll go check it out.

First off, here is a link to my original post, even though it's directly underneath this post. This should help if you're really lazy.

I believe that the prize for "First to Respond" goes to old buddy "USAFA Bulldog" who writes a blog about UMD hockey. Congrats, Bulldog. You win absolutely nothing!

He says "No" to the shootout, and he also proposes a rather radical overhaul of the conference playoff system.

Chris, who writes the Western College Hockey blog, also chimed in. Chris says that WCHA officials "don't do anything well", and he'd like to see more done about checking from behind. I think he makes a good point about that crackdown, and he proposes an idea that does what I'd like to see, which is putting some discretion in the hands of the officials without removing the teeth from the crackdown.

Also responding early was "Drop The Puck", who writes about Alaska-Anchorage hockey. Among his responses was an assertion that officials did a pretty good job with the checking from behind crackdown, and he really doesn't like the shootout that much. Puck also recommends expanding the schedule by four games per season, which would give his team, UAA, more opportunities for home non-conference series. He actually brings up a good point. Between the games against Alaska-Fairbanks and the lengthy WCHA conference schedule, UAA only gets one weekend per season where they can see different Division I programs (their home tournament - the Nye Frontier Classic).

Keep the responses coming. For now, I'm going to hit a few other topics.

Is Detroit really on the brink? I can't believe what I'm seeing. I figured Detroit wouldn't be stopped until the inevitable happened and one of their main rotation players finally got hurt. If there was a safe bet in these playoffs, it was that Detroit would play someone in the Eastern Conference Finals, and it was probably a safe bet that Detroit would advance to the NBA Finals.

Now, the ironclad, invincible, wonderful Pistons are one more nonchalant performance away from elimination.

I'm left to wonder a few things...

1. How good a coach was Larry Brown with this team? They can complain all they want about his inconsistent rotation in New York. But that wasn't a problem in Detroit. Brown had a set lineup and a set rotation, and his famous impatience with younger players wasn't really tested thanks to a veteran lineup. Not only that, but Brown made sure that the occasional nonchalant performance stayed occasional. He never let this team sink into bad habits for more than a few minutes. I really like Flip Saunders, but I don't think he's taken control of this team the way he probably should, and they've picked the absolute wrong time to play sloppy basketball.

2. What happened to Chauncey Billups? After an MVP-caliber season, Billups flamed out when his team needed him most last night, shooting 6-16 from the field and turning the ball over six times. That came after a couple of key turnovers by Billups late in their Game 4 loss on Monday night. If Detroit is to survive and advance out of this series, Billups is going to be one of the main reasons why, but he will have to raise his level of play from what we've seen the last two nights.

3. Where is the on-court leadership? I know the Pistons have never struck me in the past as having a rah-rah mentality on the court, but they've never been in this spot before. And no one appears willing and/or capable of lifting this team out of its current funk. I think Rasheed Wallace may have been at least indirectly trying to light that fire with his failed Game 4 guarantee, but it seems like this team is waiting for its wake-up call. Will it come in time? Who will make it happen?

4. How could a matchup this potentiall intriguing produce basketball this sloppy? Part of the problem is Detroit's play. They're just not getting it done the way we're used to seeing them get it done. And part of the problem is that Cleveland is really not a great basketball team. They have LeBron James, who will be the biggest star of the first half of this century in the NBA. But they don't have much else. James, though, makes everyone around him better, and with how Detroit is playing on the offensive end, it doesn't take much offense to beat them.

I'm rooting for Cleveland. I didn't think they would win this series, and I certainly don't think they should. They're not as talented or experienced as Detroit, and they're not as good defensively. However, I didn't expect Detroit would pick this time to start looking like a team that had played deep into the postseason three straight years. The Pistons look somewhat tired, and I don't know if they can shake that in time to save their season.

With this series in mind, the playoffs have been great. Despite the lack of visual appeal in the Pistons-Cavs series, there is something special about a team like Cleveland and a player like James getting their first moments in the spotlight. And as Bill Simmons pointed out on Wednesday, these playoffs have seen some positive changes in how the game is played.

No longer do teams with hulky seven-footers automatically advance deep in the playoffs. Now, the teams that have skilled point guards and speedy wing players are the ones advancing. A team like Phoenix, which would have been lucky to win 30 games a season in 2000, is one of the favorites to win it all. A guy like Steve Nash, who never would have gotten a second look in 2000, is a two-time MVP (like it or not!).

And the overall quality of the games has improved dramatically. As Simmons correctly pointed out, there have already been close to a dozen ESPN Instant Classic-caliber games played in the postseason, and the conference finals haven't even started yet.

It's as if the NBA is undergoing a rebirth, and while James needs to be credited for helping bring it along, I think you also have to look at guys like Carmelo, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitski (who has come a long way after having been last seen screaming at his teammates in the 2005 playoffs), Kobe Bryant, Elton Brand, and others, and watch the impact that they're having on this league. The NBA may never be as good as it was in the mid- to late-1980s, when guys like Bird, McHale, Magic, Kareem, and Worthy were slugging it out, and Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan were coming into their own as the next cornerstones in the league, but the NBA of 2006 is so much better than the NBA of, say, 1997-2002, that it's not even funny.

The toast of Canadian hockey. The Edmonton Oilers, who needed a late-season Vancouver loss to, strangely, San Jose, just to qualify for the playoffs, are now a finalist in the Western Conference. The Oil made the conference final for the first time since 1992 after they eliminated San Jose on Wednesday night. The 2-0 final gave Edmonton the series in six games, and it gave Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson his first career playoff shutout. Edmonton plays Anaheim in the West Finals (conference finals preview tomorrow), which start Friday in Anaheim. The Oilers advanced with a dazzling combination of speed, physicality, and the best forecheck of any team in these playoffs. Edmonton is kamikaze-like on their forecheck, and San Jose never figured out how to handle it. The Sharks weren't ever able to establish a solid breakout of their defensive zone, and they gave up numerous scoring opportunities by succumbing to the Oilers' forecheck.

Edmonton played better in their own zone than San Jose did in theirs. Edmonton was stronger on the puck the whole series, and Edmonton was better in goal, thanks to Roloson. The Oilers were questioned by many for their willingness to give up a first-round pick for Roloson, who had struggled in Minnesota and is on the verge of unrestricted free agency. But the Wild didn't need him, as they had Manny Fernandez playing well, and Roloson clearly benefited from going to a team that would allow him to be the undisputed number-one goaltender.

(Sharks goalie Vesa Toskala was very good in this series, and it wasn't his fault that they lost. But that doesn't change the fact that the Sharks' goaltender was badly outplayed by Roloson.)

I have a bad feeling about this. I admit that I don't follow European soccer enough to know a ton about this, but I know bad officiating when I see it, and I saw it yesterday. Barcelona ended up beating Arsenal 2-1 in the UEFA Champions League final in Paris. It's the top club soccer tournament in the world, and both teams had marvelous runs through tough competition to make the final. I wasn't really rooting for anyone, as I'm more of a Manchester United fan, and I don't care for either club that was playing. And the officiating sucked.

Arsenal's goal came off a free kick that never should have happened. An Arsenal player got close the the penalty area and proceeded to take a dive that made Peter Forsberg jealous. The referee called a foul and awarded a free kick, which was executed perfectly, as Theirry Henry fed Sol Campbell for the game's first goal. And that wasn't the end of questionable officiating. Henry got carded on a play where it looked like he got at least a piece of the ball. There were at least three card-worthy Barca challenges that didn't even get whistled.

I don't know who the ref was or where he was from. I just know he was bad, and there has to be at least a chance that this same referee, or one or more referees who will do a worse job than he did, will be reffing games in the World Cup. And that's not a good thing.

No comments: