What with all this playoff action, I've been neglectful in letting the readers have their say, so, despite the big news that a lower seed actually won an NBA playoff game Wednesday night -- the Bucks tried and failed to blow a big lead in Detroit -- it's time to dive into the old in box and share the wisdom that lurks therein.
First we turn to reactions to my NBA playoff preview:
Alex Hoffman: I have to take exception with your comment that the Lakers are "the team to beat" and how the Spurs aren't "as deep as last year." In case you didn't notice, the Spurs won 57 games (and nearly the top seed) with Tim Duncan missing 13 games. They have a bench that includes Robert Horry, Malik Rose, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Willis and Charlie Ward. Granted, Ward hasn't played much, but then again, neither did Steve Kerr before last year's playoffs. And while it seems to be an oft-repeated claim by the national media that Speedy Claxton was the most valuable Spurs bench player last year, obviously no one has noticed that this year's backup to Tony Parker -- Jason Hart -- is just as solid as Claxton was (at least, heading into the playoffs).
King replies: What I wrote was that if the big four -- Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton -- are healthy, the Lakers are the team to beat, and I think that's true. Even if the Spurs are as good this year as they were last year, which I don't think they quite are, I don't believe they were the best team last year. They got some huge breaks in the playoffs, not having to face the Kings' or Mavs' best player.
Ari Schnitzer: The Pacers are the best team in the league? What are you smoking? Yes, they went 20-8 against the West -- but they went 3-5 against the Kings, Spurs, Lakers and Wolves. Also -- they play in the East! Everyone knows the East was horrid again this year. Who do the Pacers have that makes them the best team in the league? That's a rhetorical question, since they are not the best team in the league. At most, they are the fifth best, because the four best teams in the West are all better than the Pacers -- and one of them will demonstrate that in the Finals, if the Pacers get past the other middling teams in the East.
King replies: Here are the records of the Pacers, Timberwolves, Lakers, Spurs and Kings in games against each other this year:
The Pacers didn't do any worse than the Lakers and Spurs in that pool. The sample size is too small to tell us anything, especially given how individual regular-season games don't mean a whole lot (my pet theory). Most teams beat up on the turkeys and muddle along against the powerhouses.
Michael Grosse: I have to take a little issue with this line from today's column: "You don't win without a great or at least a good center, and [Don] Nelson's teams never have one. After a while, like two decades, that becomes not a coincidence." As a die-hard Bulls fan I have a two-word response: Luc Longley.
King replies: Actually, I originally wrote that sentence, "Michael Jordan teams aside, you don't ..." -- and then took that phrase out, for reasons that now escape me. So yeah, Jordan's championship teams were an exception.
Jon Simmons, on the NBA suspending Ron Artest one game for leaving the bench vicinity during an altercation: The NBA needs to draw a line on the court defining exactly what constitutes the "bench vicinity" so the 9-12 guys high-fiving each other after a starter's alley-oop finish don't get carried away and leave it. Then the starters will be really happy 'cause they won't get subbed. What we know about the NBA's "vicinity" is that one step is OK (see Richard Jefferson) and four is too many (Artest). Anyone for three? Two plus a bunny hop? Stu Jackson, who couldn't coach his way out of a wet paper bag when he was in the league, has smooved his way into having a big power trip that he can arbitrarily apply. No wonder his players didn't respond to him.
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I wrote last week that Barry Bonds passing Willie Mays on the all-time home run list didn't float many boats because Mays' home run total, 660, was never one of baseball's magic numbers.
Timothy Kirk: I note that the milestone numbers you mentioned were either round ones or were records set long ago, most of them before you were born (I assume you're in your 30s). No mention of McGwire's 70? That's both round and recent, and it was certainly a big deal when it was going on, Creatine fueled or not.
My long-standing theory about what's important to us in sports statistics -- especially baseball, for some reason -- is that we start to notice them when we're quite young and the world is much larger and those accomplishments are the stuff of legends. Our fascination with the numbers broadens into something more complex, but that early "imprinting" stays with us. Maybe that's the kid in us that doesn't grow up but only becomes cleverer, learning how to dress like an adult. I wonder what numbers will stick with young kids today as they become adults.
King replies: Interesting point. First of all, I'm 40, and still haven't learned how to dress like an adult. Certainly I grew up with 61 -- which I didn't mention -- and 714 and some others. But the other part of it is that those numbers were targets for a long time. I don't think 70 will ever take on that magic, except as a milestone to shoot for, like 50 home runs has been throughout the live-ball era and 60 is now. Seventy was only the record for three years. But 73 will take on that aura if it stands long enough, or even sooner rather than later if someone makes a serious run at it. I think 755 will take on the aura that 714 has had if Bonds gets within range of it. And not just for kids.
Brad Smith: You don't believe that Bonds has abused steroids? I no longer think that Dubya is the stupidest man in America.
I gave ESPN analyst Barry Melrose the business for saying that several NHL Western Conference teams "can play better and will play better" in the playoffs, and then in literally the same breath saying, "But I don't believe in flipping switches. You can't just say all of a sudden that it's April 7 and we're going to play better."
Nigel Cook: Makes perfect sense to me. Many teams have that undefinable ability to turn on the jets when they have to. I think his point was that a team can turn it on occasionally, but as a coach you can't just "flip a switch" in the playoffs, and force a team to step up the pace. Some teams will continue to coast regardless of the dressing room speeches, and others just pull together, with seemingly little encouragement, when the chips are down.
Paula Langley: I think other factors in the "flip switch" theory of playoff hockey include the length of the season and the attempt by older players to dance in the fountain of youth. You do not always want your over-30s and over-35s to give it 100 percent during the season when you know how much you will rely on them in the playoffs. That is what the young, surprising boys are for. Rick Nash of the Blue Jackets looks like he will have a lovely career as a natural goal scorer but the Avalanche and Joe Sakic don't give a rat that he scored fewer goals than Nash. I have to be honest, I cheer for the old guys, being 40 myself.
King replies: Forty is not old! Ow, I pulled something gesturing.
I mentioned Wednesday that Americans, me included, don't really get the fierce rivalry between the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs, known as the Battle of Ontario. The Leafs beat the Sens in a Game 7 Tuesday, the fourth time in five years they've eliminated their provincial neighbors. Some Canadian readers volunteered to help Yanks try to understand, though we first have to get that "centre" means center.
Trish Gushue: Let me just say that, as a resident of Leafs-obsessed Toronto, the hatred runs wide and deep, and woe unto anyone who may think otherwise. I don't go around with my face painted blue and white, but I try to support the home team on a more abstract level -- that is, I never utter a kind word about Ottawa. To observe the fanatical Leafs fans that clogged the main thoroughfares after the Game 7 victory, you couldn't help but come away with a sense of a Hatfields-and-McCoys blind hatred for the Senators. No one really remembers why we hate them and no one really cares, either. As long as a same-province team exists in the playoff division, that's good enough reason for most to take to the streets and clog the bars in fervent support of our mostly luckless Leafs.
Daniel Royer: It's probably true that Americans don't understand this rivalry. But let me try to help you out. I've taught my daughter that hate is a very strong word and we only hate three things: George Bush, Dick Cheney and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not necessarily in that order.
Nick Taylor: The Battle of Ontario reveals a tenuous relationship between the cities of Ottawa and Toronto: the diminutive, staid Capital vs. the Centre of the Universe, apex of all national self-importance. The undercurrent coursing through the rivalry is, of course, which personality prevails, and which is less pathetic. Ottawa is accused of comparing itself to its bigger brother at every opportunity, as a metropolitan destination as well as a hockey market, much in the same way that English Canada, the epicentre of which is Toronto, compares itself to its even bigger brother, the United States. Each are defined by what they're not, as the saying goes. Toronto's not a small-town Ottawaian cowpoke. Ottawa's not a pigdog capitalist Torontonian.
So you see, the subtext of the B.O.O. is: "We run this country/ No, we run this country," and Toronto is still at the helm as of Tuesday night. That is, until the Habs go and win the Cup again and put the provincial peepee contest to rest for a while.
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Finally, several, in fact many, readers wrote in to inform me I was mistaken when I wrote last week that in baseball, "If you steal second and the defense doesn't try to get you out it's not a steal, it's a fielder's choice." That play is known as "defensive indifference," each of them informed me, not a fielder's choice.
The news here -- and it's taken every ounce of restraint I can muster not to lead the column with this -- is that I was right. It is a fielder's choice. I happily referred each reader to Major League Baseball Rule 10.08(g), to wit: "No stolen base shall be scored when a runner advances solely because of the defensive team's indifference to his advance. Score as a fielder's choice."
Score one right for the columnist, speaking of magic numbers.
Previous column: Sens choke, TNT's "Inside the NBA"
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