Five Notes on a String: February 3rd, 2012

  • One of the most endearing aspects of cheering for one specific basketball team is the relentless optimism of the beginning of a season; almost as pleasant is the ephemeral breeziness of a season lost once mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. No, the true misery lies with those stomach-churning, disemboweled-thanks-to-all-of-the-gut-wrenching followers of teams on the brink; on the brink of the one seed, of the playoffs, of the ability to completely humiliate and degrade a team’s rival, the pain afflicts those who have something to lose. Suddenly, Rockets fans find themselves back in such murky waters, facing the frustrating reality of logistics, as in, “Who in the hell can the Rockets logistically beat out for a playoff spot?” According to John Hollinger’s Playoff Odds, not many teams. Having had the 12th easiest schedule entering Friday’s play, the Rockets’ strength of schedule surely will increase in upcoming months, with a lot of those games coming against our most virulent rivals for these playoff spots: the surprise monsters of the Northwest (Utah and Portland) and every other team in the Southwest. In fact, the new month will bring with a great deal more crushing, horrifying certainty with two games against Utah, two against Memphis and one in Portland; if there were ever a time to see the Rockets show their mettle, this would be it. Yeah, I remember this feeling, a constant tension after every win, too ready for the other shoe to drop, or a dejected, slow gaze downward after every loss, sure that all of the other teams are having more fun without your team in the playoff hunt. Yup, the playoffs, or at least the promise of them, have returned to Houston; I’m going to need some TUMS.
  • So Eric Todd and I were staring in dumbfounded awe at the entirety of Monday’s Clippers victory over the Thunder, from the 80-second-machine-gun-fire of threes to Blake Griffin’s destruction of al that is good and right over the outstretched arms of Kendrick Perkins’ exiting soul. The latter of course provoked a discussion of the best dunks seen live by the two of us, a dull talk to the say the least (though I think I’m all about LeBron’s full extension in Game 4 against the Celtics in the 08 semifinals), but one that led to much more fascinating gibberish: whether today’s players jump higher than past ones, an assumption I had simply taken as fact long ago. Generally, I firmly preach against the kind of “things done changed” blanket-statements like this one, firmly believing more in the concept that nothing changes in history but the names (the phrase “Kids these days…” is both a perennial punchline and annoyance in my life); still, the differences in body types and established workout regimens seem so vast when compared to those of the 80’s and even 90’s that the idea that these gods among men fly higher than those deities doesn’t really seem all that far fetched. Without reliable data on vertical leaps of NBA players in the past, actual empirical evidence might be missing here, but I don’t know. You guys should be the judges.
  • About that whole “the great fall of the Western Conference” thing? When was that supposed to happen? 10 teams in the West rise above .500, while just seven do so in the East. The gap is closing, no doubt, but can we please stop declaring these paradigm shifts until they happen?
  • So Jerry West’s comments about calling the bluffs of disgruntled superstars and forcing them to leave their home teams, which can offer significantly more money, have been making the rounds and even finding some high-minded (semi-)support. I would like to state my case in the defense of sending Dwight out as soon as the right deal is found; firstly, Dwight Howard will not be a member of the Orlando Magic past this year without a NBA championship won this postseason, meaning that holding on to him will come out of stubbornness, (quite truly) blind hope and hunger for some of the last playoff gate returns this team might see in a while. To add to this, this current collection of misfits wil not bring a title to Orlando, and I seriously doubt that it can do the damage some think it can. The hot start to the beginning of this year was similar to Portland’s, based on a lot of streaky jumpshooters raining it in for the first month. Unlike Portland, though, those Orlando shooters aren’t just streaky: they’re mostly just bad. Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu simply aren’t solid shooters, and outside of one brilliant half-year that everyone continues to bring up, Jameer Nelson has never looked like a proper complement to a player of Howard’s talents. Any run they made would be based around MVP-level contributions turned in by Howard on both sides of the floor for an entire playoff run, which just doesn’t seem like a likelihood (especially for a team that he continues to request a trade from on a seemingly daily basis). Maybe the well has run dry in the two LA’s for their young, superstar bigs, though I doubt it; perhaps Atlanta and Chicago will start to have to look attractive quite quickly. Maybe treading water with a ton of talent like Denver (might be doing; they also might be on the path to a title) isn’t attractive. But playing the smug ex, assured that he/she’ll come back while still completely putting life on hold in the interim… that’s never been a good look.
  • Watching Chris Paul in the last week may have permanently destroyed, or at least bisected, my basketball-loving psyche. For as long as I can remember (a cliché that, due to a pretty damn stupid first 23 years of life for me, doesn’t apply all that much here), my favorite NBA player has always been he who I deemed the league’s veritable best, however skewed that estimation might have been. From AI (I know that was never true) to Garnett to Kobe to Bron, I’ve egenrally just gone along with the one that could make me shake my head most; this year, however, that man is not LeBron James, the clear best player in the NBA. No, this year, Chris Paul and his new assortment of toys has made me wonder how anyone can play basketball with him and not still just ask for his autograph every time he runs back up the court. Words fail me. I think the next Clippers game will just do this to me.

Catch me on Twitter @JacobMustafa and in this weekly notebook every Friday. Thanks for spending your time here.

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