On the John
Let them eat Cubs
Originally completed April 13, 2010
It’s magic number time here in the Windy, as nail-biting as it gets. Magic numbers are rarely discussed in basketball. More of a baseball thing, I suppose, the everyday nature of the sport prompting followers to contemplate combinations of wins and losses in pennant races, the rabid hordes eyeing the standings at every wild pitch. Fortunately, we have no need to bathe in that mess for at least four months, especially with the Sox and Cubs already fish-flopping out of the gate a combined 4.5 games out of first…
No, no, this is basketball season! And tonight our Chicago Bulls are welcoming those wily Celtics to the United Center, home of last season’s St. Patty’s Day magic, along with five overtime periods in Games 4 and 6. It was assumed that Sunday’s game against the Raptors was the make-or-break, the Eastern Conference play-in game, as it were. The formerly-injured Joakim Noah handled that one nicely, packing his line with 18 points, 19 boards, and even 7 assists, plus a bunch of wild-eyed long-haired box outs, screens, and shouts. After we wrapped that ballgame with the convincing 16-point victory, the postseason seemed Assured.
But then we looked ahead, saw that Toronto needed only to top the Pistons and Knicks, with fewer than 60 wins between them, while we were on the hook for the playoff-bound Celtics and Bobcats.
Which means that our postseason plans are not locked safely, especially not with those pesky Raptors walking into the Palace and whipping our old friend Ben Gordon and his Detroit Pistons.
Excluding his first nine games, so many months ago, Little Ben (as he was briefly known) is enjoying his finest stretch of this lost season: 26.5 points in four games on 47% shooting and a stunning 27 of 28 from the foul line. Back in July, he made the baffling decision to sign with the neighboring Pistons, a team with more guards than sneakers… He probably could have been in Oklahoma City as a specialist for Kevin Durant’s soaring club, or even on the Bobcats with those first-timers in Charlotte. But he chose Detroit, and thus will be watching this postseason from a different sort of bench.
His former teammates may be headed for a similar fate, should they be unable to stop those vets in Green. Of course, there are still knuckleheads sliming around us insisting that the Bulls would be better missing the playoffs for a draft pick. Apart from the immediate foolishness of that thinking (we are swapping picks with the 6th seeded Bucks as part of the Johnny Fishsticks deal), it is cowardly and short-sighted no matter the pick.
“Who wants to make the playoffs just to be swept by Cleveland,” they mutter. Well, me, for one. The playoffs are where It Happens! Were you not watching those magical seven games last May? Are you cheering a basketball team or operating a hedge fund? I will take four straight losses of 25 points or more any day of the week and twice on Sundays over the excoriating indignity of a Lottery spot.
First of all, you don’t learn anything in the Lottery and rarely win a prize of True Value. It’s enough already with the ping-pong balls. We want Rose and Noah and all the rest to live in the playoffs, to begin regular seasons and demand they end in post-seasons, to take the stage and do their damndest.
Second, you want to measure yourself against the best. Because when you achieve against the best, you’ve actually achieved. No way MJ’s 63 is half as sweet if it comes against Sidney Moncrief and Terry Cummings on the Bradley Center floor. No offense to those two, fine players as they were, but when no less than Larry Bird makes claim of “God disguised as Michael Jordan,” it’s a sweep to build on.
And third, good gracious, have you seen LeBron James play basketball? Ye gods! The man is God disguised as Michael + Magic + Karl Malone’s body. He does things with the basketball that makes Michael tumescent. Typical LeBron sequence came 11 days ago in Cleveland during the 3rd quarter. Atlanta had cut an 11-point lead to two, so Cleveland gave the ball to LeBron and said “Now you go.” Big Z set a screen top of the key which LeBron’s man was able to scoot around, while the switch defender remained out in front. All five Hawks were now within whispers of the lane, and as LeBron accelerated Atlanta’s Joe Smith stepped in front and prepared to take the charge.
…only he did not account for this 250 pound man’s ability to curl his legs, twist his hips, and scoop a righty layup going left while descending around the defender.
And this sort of thing happens all the time.
Count me in as a basketball fan rarin’ to watch Mr. James teach Mr. Rose a few lessons for at least four games, while Derrick throws back a few of his own. That might not interest all sports fans, but screw ‘em. More for us.
Copyright 2010, jm silverstein
From January 26, 2010: The sound of greatness
From June 1, 2009: The First LeBron — more than just a puppet
From April 20, 2009: Breaking through the wall of fools
From March 15, 2009: Appreciating Clark Kent