Monday, March 30, 2009

Pickup Chronicles: Is Pickup Dead?

I wanted to start a series on pickup basketball as the weather warms up and more of us find ourselves wanting to replicate NCAA heroics on our local courts. It's called the "Pickup Chronicles" as a wordplay on the Chronicles of Narnia. Pickup ball is its own world at times, and I find that world fascinating and quirky. Here you have a situation where strangers from all walks of life come in, compete vigorously for hours, and then leave, often without even having spoken a word to each other except "Pick" and "Ball." If you take any time to study the dynamics, it's actually rather bizarre, and yet it works just fine for most of us. Here's one clip on pickup ball (language warning) from a documentary called "Ballin at the Graveyard":

I truly discovered pickup ball when I was a college student. I lived in a large city, and there were three different courts with decent games that were about 5 minutes from my apartment. I spent a lot of time hanging out at different courts and learned to really love the game. I learned the different styles of play as well; I played one style on the Italian court, another on the Black court, and another on the Asian court. While it wasn't quite "White people play like this, Asian people play like that" type differences, I definitely think culture leads to some differences in style.

However, as I've moved recently, and re-visited some of my favorite courts, I'm starting to wonder if pickup is dead. There are fewer tournaments than there used to be, and I find myself driving to parks at 5, 6, or 7 and finding no one there. I've gone to stylish suburban parks where the court is fenced in and the backboards are glass, and to inner-city parks where not all the hoops have nets, and in both areas it seems that the number of players is declining. What has happened to pickup basketball? The NBA definitely seems to be increasing in popularity. Yet it seems like people don't want to play anymore, or that they're more interested in shooting by themselves rather than playing with others. Is it just me, or have the rest of you noticed this as well? And what does it mean, if anything, that pickup basketball is breaking down? Was pickup basketball just a fad when kids had nothing better to do and Jordan flew the friendly skies?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

NCAA/NBA show Thursday on Blogtv

In a moment of youthful indiscretion, I decided to hold a live video broadcast on for the NCAA/NBA games tomorrow. I'll be on camera here discussing the NBA and NCAA games with fellow chatters. Yes, this does mean you get to see the ugly mug behind the fist in my profile pic.

We'll see how this will work. I welcome your participation, support, and scorn as I stride bravely forward into the technology frontier (ouch!). No registration needed to chat. See you there!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Is Orlando Flying to the Finals?

Brett & Dwight Howard
Back when I was still writing for Sports on My Mind, I did several NBA preview columns. I picked Orlando as my dark horse to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. However, I was much more optimistic about Phoenix at the time.
DWIGHT HOWARD!!! I met him at the mavericks magic game!!
(Photos of Orlando's frontcourt (Rashard, Hedo, and Dwight) with fans is today's theme).
However, the last few weeks have changed my mind. I now believe Orlando can WIN the NBA championship, this year. What changed my mind?
month of may-2007 168 (Quick FYI: these guys met Dwight Howard at the bowling alley.)
The deceiving effect of Jameer Nelson's injury on Orlando's record. For the seven games during which Jameer was injured, Orlando was only 3-4. They lost to Dallas, Denver, Indiana, and New Orleans. I think a Magic team at full strength loses two of those games, at worst. If they went 6-1, they would be tied with Cleveland right now for the #1 seed in the East.
month of may-2007 165
Orlando's excellent road record They are a small-market team with no built-in fan base on the road ala Los Angeles or Boston. They are located in one of the corners of the country, which results in many annoying road trips. Yet the Magic are 22-9 on the road, only slightly behind Boston (23-9) and Los Angeles (21-8). That statistic surprised me. I thought a team built on perimeter shooting should struggle on the road at times because of the way each arena's rims and lighting are slightly different and fatigue. But it makes no difference to the Magic. Even if Jameer's injury costs them the #1 seed in the East, they could still have a chance at winning in Boston or Cleveland. I don't buy the logic anymore that the Magic aren't playoff-tested enough to make an impact in June. Which leads me to...
dwight howard, and grant hill ( in the back)
The 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers. Much like Orlando, most considered the 2007 Cavaliers to be inferior in comparison to the previous champion (Miami) and the playoff-tested veterans (Detroit). But when Miami faltered due to injuries, fatigue, and lethargy, and Detroit proved weaker than anticipated, the Cavaliers took full advantage. Losing in the second round the year before to Detroit was enough preparation for the Cavaliers to get to the Finals in 2007. I see no reason why Orlando can't duplicate that success.

Injuries to the best low-post defenders of other top squads. Bynum? Ben Wallace? Garnett? All of them could give Orlando's talented frontcourt problems in the play-offs--and all are now injured. Sure, Garnett and Wallace will be back for the play-offs, but both are older and may not be at full strength. I think Orlando's play-off chances have improved significantly due to all its main competitors having frontcourt injuries.
Acquisition of Alston
The Magic are 7-2 since acquiring Alston. He isn't a full replacement for Jameer, but it's rare for any team to do so well after changing their starting point guard via trade in the middle of the year. Meanwhile, Boston, Cleveland, and Los Angeles did next to nothing at the trade deadline, although I do think Marbury helps the Celtics match up better in the play-offs.
Hedo Turkoglu (6' 11") and us - Aug 02
Struggles of Detroit. Ian Thomsenpointed out that the Magic are 3-16 against the Pistons since 2006. Unfortunately, Orlando is now slotted to play Detroit in Round 1 of the play-offs, and plays them again today. But if Detroit keeps struggling, or improves, Orlando will be able to dodge that matchup and beat nearly anyone else. And I've saved my best evidence for last...
Rashard Lewis & Damon Jones
Orlando's dominance against the other Top 4 teams.
Go ahead, guess Orlando's record against the Lakers, Boston, Cleveland, and San Antonio in the 8 games they've played them this season. 2-6? 4-4? No, Orlando is 6-2 against the other 4 teams, losing only to Boston! That's right, they've swept both LA and SA this year. Still don't think Orlando can win a championship this year?
andrew & i w/ the basketball guy