I've been bad.
I went away for a week and I just let them play the first half of the first round of the NBA playoffs. I didn't obsess over it. All sports fans should come to the realization at some point in their lives that sports don't need you. They play the games even if you're not watching. I had that epiphany a long time ago. I'm just saying.
Oh, I kept an eye and an ear on the games, but I didn't compose columns in my head or anything. You wouldn't believe it but even the best job in the world is good to get away from for a few days.
The first week of the playoffs isn't the best time to do that, I'll concede, but major family and near-family events thousands of miles from home don't always happen at convenient times on the calendar. Aside to those close to me planning major life events: August is nice!
In an effort at full detox, I didn't even bring a laptop with me, so I just had to imagine all of the e-mails I was getting as my pick to win the championship, the Mavericks, dropped the first two games of their series against the Rockets at home, and then the silence of my in box as the Mavs won the next two to tie up the series. Game 5 is Monday in Dallas.
Let's see, what else have I missed?
The two top seeds, the Suns and Heat, not only won their opening-round series, they swept them. So long, Nets and Grizzlies, nice to see you. The sweeps give Phoenix and Miami a chance to rest for a week or so, which the Heat really need because of Shaquille O'Neal's sore quad, but more importantly they give me a chance for my annual review of the lopsidedness of the first round of the playoffs.
Coming into this season, in the 21 years since the NBA playoffs expanded to eight teams per conference, No. 8 seeds had won two of 42 series against 1 seeds for a winning percentage of .048. Reminder: The worst team ever, the 1972-73 Sixers, had a winning percentage of .109.
So No. 8s are now 2-42, winning at a clip of .045. One day this week I'll figure out their winning percentage in actual games. I'll bet it's better than .045. I wonder if it's better than .109.
Seven seeds are 4-38 (.095) against 2s. Reminder: The worst team ever, the 1972-73 Sixers, had a winning percentage of .109. And the No. 7s aren't looking so good so far this year. The 76ers are trailing the Pistons 3-1 after their overtime loss Sunday, and the Nuggets are trailing the Spurs 2-1, with that win looking like one of those first-game steals. Game 4 is Monday night.
Six seeds do a little better, historically, going 11-31 (.262) against 3s. With the new three-division format making it possible for the third seed to be worse than the third-best team in the conference, that record figures to improve.
I picked the lower seed in both 3-vs.-6 series this year, Celtics-Pacers and Sonics-Kings. The Celtics pounded the Pacers in Indianapolis Saturday to even their series 2-2, with Game 5 Tuesday in Boston. The Kings are in a 3-1 hole after Ray Allen dropped a 45 on them Sunday night.
Allen was preposterous, hitting 17 of 28 shots, and it seemed even better than that. Perhaps I nodded off for a few of those 11 misses. He put the game away with an off-balance, shot-clock-beating 3-pointer, one of those shots that, ridiculous as it looked when he let it go, you just knew it was going to go in because Allen was having that kind of night.
Allen was spectacular, but it wouldn't have mattered if the Sonics hadn't played some defense in the second half. Down 68-56 at the break and looking like they were on their way to an amiable series-tying defeat on the road, the Sonics allowed the Kings 34 points in the last two quarters, precisely half what the Kings had scored in the first two, and three points fewer than they'd scored in the second alone.
Mike Bibby missed 13 of 17 shots, and it seemed worse than that. I'm not sure the scorekeeper didn't give a couple of his misses to Allen. But it wasn't like the shots just weren't falling. The Kings weren't finding good shots.
But let's talk about Jerome James for a second. All season long, this Sonics center never played 33 minutes or grabbed 10 rebounds in a single game, and he scored as many as 19 points exactly once. Those are his averages in the playoffs after four games. Where'd this guy come from?
James has been a Sonics reserve for four years, consistently averaging 15 to 17 minutes and about five points a game. In general, players' per-minute averages are pretty constant.
Youngsters who are still learning aside, bench players tend not to blossom when they get more playing time. They give their teams about the same minutes, just more of them. Give a 15-minutes, five-points-a-game guy 30 minutes a game, and he'll give you 10 points. There are exceptions, but that's the rule.
James' time has roughly doubled in the playoffs, and his scoring has quadrupled. Throughout his career, James has been good for about 15 points for every 48 minutes played, which for him has taken about three games to amass. In the playoffs so far, he's averaging 27. He's rebounding better too, around 15 per 48 minutes as opposed to a career figure of around 11, and more like nine this regular season.
It's been funny listening to John Thompson on TNT talk about the things James has to do to improve his game. He has to defend better, Thompson says, and at one point Sunday, after a nice offensive play by James, Thompson complimented him but said he has to develop a passing game to really be an effective player.
James is 29 years old. He's played part of a year in Sacramento and then four years in Seattle, with some time in Italy and Yugoslavia in between. He's played for the Harlem Globetrotters, for crying out loud. If he hasn't developed a passing game at this point, he isn't going to.
Enjoy this run by Jerome James. It doesn't figure to last.
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Neifi for MVP! [PERMALINK]
Speaking of runs that don't figure to last, how about Neifi Perez!
I've been asked by several readers to comment about the first month of the season turned in by Chicago Cubs infielder Neifi Perez, inspiration for and namesake of this column's proprietary Neifi Index, which measures the ineffectiveness of reserve players by comparing their team's winning percentage when they do and do not play.
Through Sunday Perez was hitting a cool .366, with an on-base percentage of .408 and a slugging percentage of .549 through 22 games. Career averages: .271 average, .303 OBP, .383 slugging, and remember, Neifi played well over half of his 1,131 career games for the Colorado Rockies. Perez has three home runs. His career high for a season not spent playing for Colorado: four.
This run actually began last season, when the Cubs signed Perez in August and called him up Sept. 1 and he hit .371 with an OBP of .400 and a slugging percentage of .548 in 23 games. This is a guy who consistently fails to reach base 30 percent of the time or slug better than .400, both pathetic figures even for a Gold Glove middle infielder.
So he's now played a little over a quarter of a season as a Cub, 45 games, and he's hit .368 with five homers, 18 RBIs, an OBP of .404 and a slugging percentage of .549. He's basically been Melvin Mora or Carlos Guillen, without so many extra-base hits or walks but with lots more singles.
What's going on here is that Perez just loves hitting at Wrigley Field. On the road, he's been his usual offensive liability, hitting .216, with an OBP and slugging of .256/.324. For the first half-dozen years of his career, Coors Field gave Perez's numbers a boost that almost made him look like a big-league hitter if you didn't look too closely. Wrigley has turned him into a slugger. In 42 games there, he has a career OPS of 1.021, a Pujolsian figure.
The answer to the question I've been asked more than any other in April is no, I'm not going to change the name of the Neifi Index, and I wouldn't even if Neifi keeps hittiing like this, which he won't.
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