Saturday, December 18, 2010

Charles Barkley Likes the Mavs! Hooray!

Charles Barkley isn't the most articulate analyst for the NBA. In fact, if you listened to him talk just normally, you'd wonder why he has a job that requires him to speak to a national audience. But if there's one thing the man knows, it's basketball. Maybe not as in-depth as some other guys and scribes out there, but I feel that of all the former players that have these gigs, Chuck useless his former experiences to the best degree. He's honest, and if he thinks a team sucks he says they suck. He's refreshing in a world where TV heads are more concerned with image and how they are perceived by the public. Well, anyway, here's Chuck talking about the elite teams in the West. The juicy part is at the very end of the video:

Awesome! Dallas is good! Hooray! Celebrate, dance in the streets!

In all seriousness, Charles has always had a love/hate relationship with Dallas. It's been well documented  how Chuck either thinks the Mavs are fantastic or Dirk can't win squat. I think ever since Dirk changed his game to be a more tough-minded scorer in 2005, Chuck has approved. Best team in Texas? That's a bold claim considering the Spurs are one game off the pace of the 72-win Chicago Bulls of 1995-96. Sweet! Keep it up, Chuck.

(Hat tip to Daily Thunder for the link)


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Friday, December 17, 2010

The Emancipation of DeShawn Stevenson

When the Mavericks shipped away Josh Howard before the All-Star game in Dallas earlier this year, the prized packages of the deal were of course Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. Unfortunately, to many NBA scribes, Dallas had to take on DeShawn Stevenson and his fat contract, considering his usage. Stevenson hauled in over $3.8 million last year and exercised his player option for $4.15 million for this year. Sounds like a lot for someone who could barely score three points per game last year.

Fast forward to this year - Dallas is looking nothing special with a 3-2 start after a puzzling loss to Memphis and getting blitzed by Denver. From what we now know, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry went to Rick Carlisle and pleaded for them to insert DeShawn Stevenson into the lineup. Weird, considering Terry was enjoying a good start shooting wise, and was the starter. But the team realized that the bench was lacking. Terry accepted his role as the sixth man once again and Stevenson was put into the lineup.

Great, now what?

How about a 50% 3PT percentage. Which is higher than his overall percentage of 48. Pretty shocking considering Stevenson's last three seasons shooting the three were horrendous: 32%, 17% and 27% respectively. This is all well and good, with the theory that Stevenson is now giving the starting lineup a little more of a defensive edge without losing the shooting pop from Terry. But I wanted to dig a little deeper. Like it is in baseball, defense is the hardest thing to classify with statistics in the NBA. All the NBA really has are the defensive stats of rebounds, steals, blocks and defensive rating. For me, I wanted to dig a bit because really, the eye test wasn't really passing Stevenson on the defensive level. I didn't think he was awful, but he did have a propensity of letting his man drive past him - only to be erased by the beauty that is Tyson Chandler.

In the digging I discovered the Stevenson's defensive rating is 107, which is actually three higher than Jason Terry's 104. I think this is more of Terry's improvement, as it's the lowest number Terry has posted in his career. Now, defensive rating isn't the be-all, end-all number. After all, Zydrunas Ilgauskas is fourth in the league in defensive rating and I’m pretty sure your little brother could spin him in a circle. It is a fair argument though, as I’ve wondered if Stevenson should be allotted more minutes.

I think the fairest way to look at the question is this: Stevenson’s biggest value to the team is hitting spot up three pointers while holding water until Terry enters the game midway through the first quarter. In games such as Wednesday against Portland, what good is Stevenson if he is 0-for-4 on threes? Especially since as mentioned above, his defense isn’t even significantly better than Jason Terry’s.

I think Dallas fans have to just be happy with what Stevenson is giving them in short bursts. Stevenson’s niche on the team is the type that can wear out if played too long. So, rule of thumb: if DeShawn is knocking down threes and doing this, upwards of five times a game (like he was against Utah last week) let him pay 20+ minutes, which he did with 21. If not? Keep Jason Terry in, wait for Roddy B and the Mavericks suddenly have a depth problem (the good kind) at the guard spot.

(Advanced stats courtesy of


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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Next Evolution?

If there is one thing that Dirk Nowitzki has never been given enough credit for, it's how he's changed his game throughout his entire career. Entering the league as a skinny, shy teen with a beautiful jumper, Dirk learned the hard way about the physical and athletic nature of the NBA and how it is unmatched in any other form of basketball around the world.

He adjusted. He learned the NBA style, the pacing and realized he needed to spend hours and hours in the gym to condition and tweak holes. Paired with Don Nelson, Dirk flourished and truly "arrived" in the 2002-2003, in which he averaged 25.1 points, 9.9 rebounds (can we just changed that to 10?), a then career high of three assists and led the Mavs to the brink of the NBA finals, falling to Steve Ke...err the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Finals after he injured his knee and sat out the last two games.

But the game once again caught up to Dirk. Realizing that Dirk is mainly a jump shooter who likes to launch threes and mid-range jumpers from the high post, coaches started throwing wicked double teams and smaller athletic defenders who could keep up with Dirk's subpar handling and stay in front of him and still contest his jumper. Now, Dirk never experienced a "lull" because of this, because he is so good. In fact he's never shot under 45% from the field except his rookie season. But people watching could sense that people might be starting to figure out ways to at least manage Dirk and not let him dominate a game.

When Avery Johnson took over for the last 16 games in 2005, he knew Dirk could be even better. It helps that Dirk knew too. It was a radical transformation that not only Dirk pursued, but thrived in. Dirk utilized his best assets more efficiently: Less threes, more back to the basket and more free throws. In 2003-2004, Dirk averaged 5.5 free throw attempts per game. In 2005, he sky-rocketed to 9.1. He averaged one less three per game (a trend that continued till now.) Dirk had turned into everything people thought he wasn't: A tough-minded scorer that doesn't just rely on a jump shot to beat you. The culmination of this change is displayed in this beautiful, epic play during the Mavericks most magical season: The and-one to tie Game 7 against the Spurs in the 2006 playoffs.

Since then, Dirk has been at his usual pace: about 25 points, 8-9 rebounds and ridiculous shooting percentages (including the ultra rare 50 FG%-40 3PT%-90 FT% in 2007). The rebounding is declining, but that's a topic for another post. What I'm talking about with what is happening to Dirk this season could be another evolution of his game.

Dirk is 32. In NBA years, that's getting up there. Add in all the playoff games and international basketball and Dirk's body has taken a beating. Maybe that's why Dirk is averaging only 5.8 free throws per game, his lowest since 2004. Oddly enough, Dirk is technically taking less mid-range shots (16-23 feet) than last season (83. to 7.7) but remember, he's taking one less shot per game so the percentages differ. What's most interesting is that Dirk's mid-range shots are being assisted on a whopping 83.5% of the time. Overall, 65.1% of his shots are being assisted, a career high. If you watch how Dallas is running its offense this year, Dirk is now coming off screens at a higher rate, almost looking like a 7-foot Ray Allen. Dirk is being run off the baseline (thanks to Tyson Chandler screens) and is catching and shooting almost immediately, taking away much of the iso-heavy driven offense that we've been accustomed to seeing over the last five years.

It's an interesting wrinkle and Dirk is responding with ridiculous numbers, shooting over 55% from the field and 40% from three. I can't help but wonder if Dirk is utilizing the catch-and-shoot more for a couple of reasons: 1.) Tyson Chandler gets more involved in the offense, able to slip picks and be open for dunks/alley oops when teams close hard on Dirk's catch and 2.) Maybe Dirk is saving his body for the playoffs. After all, in last night's win versus Portland, we saw the Dirk we were accustomed to seeing in the last minutes of the game: Give him the ball, and get the hell out of the way and he'll score, come hell or high water.

(Advanced stats courtesy of


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Monday, December 13, 2010

The Mavericks are Amazing...And in Second Place

Oh, poor Mavericks. You've changed a lot. You've turned around your defense to make it one of the best in the league. Tyson Chandler is a candidate for both defensive player of the year and most improved player. Too bad non-locked in NBA fans and fair-weather Maverick fans aren't buying in.

What are the reasons? They're numerous. For starters, how can a team drastically change this much with the changes of Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson when Brendan Haywood has regressed? But a big reason? The Spurs. Yep. Still good. Really good.

So any non-believer can just say "blah blah blah, the Spurs are better." It's hard to sway fans and doubters that only look at the standings and see "1. San Antonio: 20-3, 2. Dallas: 19-4" even though the Mavericks handled the Spurs in San Antonio earlier in the 12-game win streak. But the Spurs are playing some pretty efficient basketball.

They're second in the NBA in offensive rating and eighth in defensive rating. And, try this on for size: The Spurs are 11 places above the Mavericks in pace. Yes, the Spurs play a faster pace than the Mavericks. The Tim Duncan, half-court, defensive oriented Spurs play faster than the run-and-gun, trigger-happy, Nellyball Mavericks. I understand philosophies have changed for both teams, it's just awkward to see.

I think what concerns me most about the Spurs is they're playing exactly how I thought they'd play...last year. The addition of Richard Jefferson, I thought, would lead the Spurs to an NBA title last year. It really was their missing piece, as the Spurs desperately needed a fourth scorer since Manu, Parker and Duncan all get banged up with injuries during the regular season. What I thought would make them unstoppable is all four playing well and healthy. And this year is proving the case.

After being abysmal last year, Jefferson is shooting 46% from three and averaging 14.3 points per game. He's feasting off the corner three, getting good looks from Manu and Parker's penetration and Duncan's double teams. Manu is averaging a little over 20 a game and is probably having his best and most efficient season ever. What's nuts is Duncan isn't averaging a double-double for the first time since 1954. Every year we say this is the year he's declining, but it's proven that he takes it easy during the regular season save for the big games, then kicks it up a notch in the playoffs.

All that said, the Mavericks kicked their ass in San Antonio. Just jump the Spurs in the standings, and the lukewarm fans will come flooding in.

(Sorry, had to homer up the end of that post realizing I just wrote an entire post about the San Antonio


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Friday, December 10, 2010

You're Welcome, Miami Heat

Remember when the Miami Heat were the worst team in professional sports? OK, maybe it wasn't that bad. But after that Mavericks destroyed them a week or so back, all the talk was how it couldn't work, what's wrong and if ERICK DAMPIER would be the solution.

Now the Heat are rolling. They've won six straight. They ruined Cleveland basketball, again. They can't be stopped. ERICK DAMPIER.

They also had the most publicized players-only meeting on this decade. Seriously. They might of sacrificed four goats and the blood of a lesser being. You can never be too sure with these things.

So, from TROP, you're welcome Miami Heat. You needed a butt-whooping for the Mavericks, and although you wont thank them for it, I'll be the bigger man and tell you you're welcome.



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Thursday, December 9, 2010

If Not Then, When?

When Tyson Chandler was deemed unavailable for Tuesday night's game against the Golden State Warriors, it was a given that Brendan Haywood would be the starter. His second stint in Dallas has brought its fair share of hate ranging from apathetic to Erick Dampier-like. The rational observer (me) kept thinking that we should wait before we declared shenanigans.

Well, it might be time to go get your brooms.

As you might of known from watching the game, Haywood started but did not finish. In fact, he did not play the entire fourth quarter of Dallas' 105-100 win over Golden State. Ian Mahinmi finished the game, and in the process got his first double-double in his three year NBA career. Watching the game, I didn't think there was any other alternative. Mahinmi was active, energetic and looked like, you know, he was having fun playing a game he loves for money.

Signing Brendan Haywood to a six-year, 55-million dollar deal wasn't outlandish at all over the Summer. The Mavericks didn't make it a secret that Erick Dampier was on the move and the team needed to retain Haywood after his productive second half in 2009-2010 that showed flashes of greatness wrapped around some slight mediocrity. With how rare a traditional center is in this league, it seemed as if Dallas didn't sign Haywood to that deal, any other number of teams would. (Interestingly enough, Miami was the other team in hot pursuit. I wonder how the this past summer would of gone down if Haywood was inked to a similar deal by the Heat. Would Miami try to trade him for scraps? Just sign LeBron and Wade? Very curious "what-if?")

But at the very least, Haywood had the opportunity to prove to Dallas that he can still compete. He can still give Tyson Chandler a run for his money. But I think after being outperformed in training camp, the preseason and now obviously in the regular season, it's safe to say that Haywood is in no way going to live up to the money he's been given...this year. The Maverick coaching staff has been watching these two since October. They knew that Chandler was going to give this team something special and he's paying off in more ways that we could of imagine.

Haywood meanwhile is stuck on the bench, barely registering 20 minutes a game as every Maverick fan panics as Chandler rests on the bench, wondering how soon he can come back in whenever he takes a seat during a game. The numbers aren't pretty either: 4.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and a staggeringly, absolutely, no-good, terrible 25 percent free throw percentage. He's also turning it over at a career high rate and averaging his lowest total rebounding percentage in a full season since 2007-2008. Just for fun, let's go ahead and throw in career-lows in offensive rating (99) and win share (an appalling 0.8).

Tyson Chandler hasn't played a completely healthy season in over two years. While his latest sit-out was due to an uncontrollable stomach virus, it's highly likely that Chandler is a spill on the floor away from missing up to a week. Haywood was supposed to make us feel warm and fuzzy, but now it's cold and dilapidated. Don't get me wrong, Mahinmi's contributions on Tuesday were almost Tyson Chandler-light. But if Mahinmi ever passes Haywood on the depth chart with a healthy Chandler, the Mavericks are going to be faced with numerous questions once the off-season rolls around (For example, how much do you resign Chandler when you've just been burned twice by giving centers large deals?)

Haywood had an opportunity on Tuesday to silence the doubters. What's sad is, he didn't even have to do much. He just had to improve Dallas' chances of winning while on the floor and show some life. His numbers (4 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks) seemed hollow. They seemed Erick Dampier like.

And hey, at least Dampier could set one helluva screen.


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Monday, November 29, 2010

Having a Nice Little Saturday (Er, Week)

As I'm working on a few other things that I'll share with you throughout the week (for instance, what's up with Tyson Chandler, does DeShawn Stevenson need to play more and is Jason Kidd's shooting something to worry about?) I figure I'd throw down some bullet-points and thoughts on what was a fantastic week for the Dallas Mavericks

  • Any qualms or trepidations I had about Tyson Chandler before the season started have quickly evaporated. Quite simply, the man is dominating in the paint like NO other Maverick center has before. James Donaldson, I love ya, but what Chandler has done to this team is fairly remarkable. The team has a completely new defensive identity and pick-and-rolls (the torture play for Mavericks teams past) are less effective with Chandler's hedging ability. His length and athleticism have altered how teams run their offense down the stretch with Chandler showing inhuman like instincts on getting out to the guard on a pick-and-roll and forcing an awkward fade-a-way jumper.
  • Four games in five nights? Psh. A sweep of this type of run (and three of which being Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Miami to boot) doesn't happen very often. In fact, the Mavericks have only done it twice before (correct me if I'm wrong though): In 1988, the Western Conference Finalist team and 2007, the 67-win team. So people, this Dallas team has a great chance of being special. These type of runs aren't fluky at all. These are the type of runs great teams make.
  • Think about the teams Dallas has beaten this year: New Orleans. Denver. Oklahoma City. San Antonio. Miami. That's five playoff teams and two preseason title contenders. Not bad at all to be sitting at 12-4.
  •  Now for a power down moment: Brendan Haywood has been a complete disaster for the Mavs so far this year. He has not played more than 20 minutes since Nov. 15. He was suspended on Friday for having a dispute with Rick Carlisle. I'm not sure what has happened to Haywood. He really isn't doing much and his defense looks small and puny compared to Tyson Chandler. Maybe it's the fact that he's now playing with J.J. Barea more instead of Jason Kidd. Maybe it's because he's not alongside Dirk Nowitzki anymore. I don't know. What I do know is that Chandler is very fragile and will very likely miss between 5-10 games this season (I'd be shocked if he played between 77-82 games this year). I hope Haywood is able to remember who he is by then. 
  • If there is one thing I love about this team, is that Carlisle is playing whoever works. He has no second-thoughts about sitting Shawn Marion or Caron Butler for the entirety of the fourth quarter. In the last two cases, it paid off beautifully. On Friday against San Antonio, Butler was lousy offensive and not doing much on defense. As Manu torched Dallas on plenty of pick-and-rolls and step back jumpers, Carlisle switched Marion onto Manu for the entire fourth as Dallas rolled to the end. On Saturday, Butler actually had it going offensively as Dirk looked like a normal basketball player. Carlisle stuck with Butler and the Mavs pulled away in the fourth behind Butler's 23 points.
  • A key point in the San Antonio game was the beginning of the fourth quarter. Carlisle left in JJB and Ian Mahinmi as Chandler and Kidd watched from the bench, getting some rest. As I screamed at my TV to let these two back in, Dallas held serve as the game was tied I believe around the six minute mark when both players checked back into the game. The bench has gotten it's fair share of criticism this year (and rightly so) but on Friday, they won Dallas a game against the hottest team in the league on the road. Impressive, if only for one night.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

In Dirk We Trust

In this league, superstars win. Rarely will you see multiple years in a decade such as 2004, when the Detroit Pistons team-first, defense-first mentality won over a stacked Lakers team. It just doesn't happen (and to be fair, that 2004 Pistons team didn't have a superstar per say, but had five All-Stars at/near their prime.)

So when superstars don't get their title, it's sometimes a travesty/bad luck/both. Karl Malone played on some of the greatest NBA teams of all the same time of Michael Jordan. Charles Barkley, same thing. Titles aren't automatic and unfortunately they seem to be the underlying tie breaker in disputing who's greater. So is the case for Dirk Nowitzki. 

You rarely see Dirk grabbing headlines or being the focus of a Sports Illustrated cover. This despite being one of the greatest players (not just forwards) of all time. But you already know that. We've been through the countless articles and radio segments detailing how great Dirk is, how little help he receives and sometimes, if he should be traded. There's also no question about Dirk's work ethic and personality, which has endeared him to fans outside of Dallas city limits. You won't find too many keyed-in NBA fans hate on Dirk, much like you wont find those same fans hate on Kevin Durant.

So what's the point of this already long-winded post, three paragraphs in, if I'm not going to recount how Dirk is never respected nationally, long due for a championship and one of the greatest ever? 

It's to tell you one thing: appreciate him.

Superstars don't grow on trees. And when you lose one, the results afterwards aren't pretty. Ask Toronto if they'd take back Chris Bosh. Ask Suns fans if they think Amar'e would of been worth the price. Dig deep enough into Cleveland fans' souls, and they'll tell you if LeBron uttered "I'm taking my talents back to Cleveland" instead of "South Beach," they'd welcome him back with open arms. You think Minnesota, as dreadful as they are, wouldn't like to see a healthy Al Jefferson complete a front-court of Kevin Love and a rejuvenated Michael Beasley? (Did I just compare Al Jefferson to Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire and LeBron James? Yes. Yes I did. Shut it.)

So appreciate Dirk. Appreciate that he's off to one of his best starts in his career. Appreciate that he's single-handily the reason Dallas sits at 10-4, being the second leading scorer in the NBA. Appreciate how he's taken his criticisms as a "soft jump shooting Euro" and turned into one of the most versatile, complete offensive players in the NBA today. Appreciate that Dirk is making more unassisted shots at the rim than ever before (which means he's making more shots off his own offense at the rim than ever before). Appreciate that in the last two games, Dirk took over a game where his teammates looked weakened and meager and put in two clutch performances.  

I think we as a fan base have become desensitized to Dirk's brillance. Don't ever take it for granted. Dirk is a special player, one which continues to get better as his age gets closer to 35. His personal 7-0 run Wednesday night in Oklahoma City to tie the game slapped me from my state of acceptance. I remembered what it was like to be dazzled by Dirk's spin moves, his pump fakes, his MJ-like tongue celebration. 

Dirk is the greatest player of the Mavericks franchise. When he's gone, we might be faced with mediocrity that this town hasn't seen from it's basketball team since the 90s. 

Enjoy it. 

Cherish it.


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Monday, November 22, 2010

Recurring Nightmare

Tossing and turning, you awake with a cold sweat. Sometimes with a scream or yelp. It happened again - another nightmare. You keep seeing the same visions: Smaller front-court players grabbing long offensive rebounds. Double teams on Dirk as other shooters fail to convert open looks. A stagnant half-court offense. A lack of production from the starting small forward and back-up point guard. A center paid very handsomely failing to live up to the pricey contract. Second half leads evaporating over the course of a few minutes.

Wait, you don't have those nightmares? Oh. Well, I do. Especially after the Mavericks last three games against the Hornets, Bulls and Hawks. In each of those three games, ghosts of Maverick teams past came creeping up and either delivering a heartbreaking loss or making fans sweat out what was supposed to be an easy-breathing fourth quarter.

Each instance of ineptitude over the last three games (Dirk's supporting cast no-show in New Orleans, terrible rebounding against the Bulls and an 18-point lead whittled away in Atlanta) have cost the Mavericks of regular season and postseason victories over the last decade. The playoffs last year exposed the Mavericks with having a roster of one All-NBA talent (Dirk) with a bunch of third, fourth options at best. I can't count on my fingers and toes the number of losses Dallas has endured thanks to terrible rebounding - you could just paint a broad stroke with the Nellie years. And who could forget Steve Kerr help erase a 13-point fourth quarter deficit for the Spurs in the clinching Game 6 of the 2003 Western Conference Finals (I won't. I was there. And I cried. A lot.)

The Mavericks are a good team. But like good teams (as opposed to great teams) they have their fair share of problems. Caron Butler's line against Atlanta on Saturday still hasn't cast away the doubt that I brought up a week ago. J.J. Barea is 7 for his last 35 shot attempts, which is to say in NBA technical terms, is shitty. Brandon Haywood only grabbed two defensive rebounds against the Bulls on Friday, while Taj Gibson racked up eight rebounds...offensively. Haywood, as you know, is the Mavericks $55 million backup center. Sound familiar? While Haywood has shown signs of living up the contract, it's hard to justify it over the first 12 games of the season. But aye, there's the rub: 12 games is a lousy sample size, so people should probably wait till January to give more hateful judgments.

The saviors for the previously mentioned woes aren't riding in on a sterling white steed anytime soon. Roddy Beaubois is still at least another week or two before he returns to practice. Rick Carlisle has shown no indications of putting rookie Dominique Jones into any meaningful situations. Jones and Beaubois represent the most unknowns of this years team, but to a lesser extent Roddy. I can't help but wonder if Jones' out-of-sorts preseason performance made Carlisle reconsider his minute distributions. Because before the season started, Carlisle offered some unique praise, saying he could be the teams best on-ball defender and is ready to contribute. At least Beaubois last year found some time in spot starts that gave us the glimpse of his future brilliance. Even as Barea continues to rack up awful numbers, Jones waits patiently, watching the Mavs rely on a zone far more often than any elite NBA defense should. And while there is cause for Jones to perhaps see some burn, Barea is the back up PG. No matter how bad he may play, (and no matter how much playmaking skills Jones has displayed) there is no way Carlisle will hand the reigns over to a rookie, much less one playing somewhat out of position.

As for Butler, his expiring contract is indeed flippable, but it's similar to the same contract Peja Stojakovic has, and he was just exchanged for Jarrett Jack to back up Chris Paul. So there might not be a game-changing answer there.

Like I said before, Dallas is a good team. But the nightmares of past Maverick teams will most likely continue to crop up from time to time, until one of the young guns eradicates those memories.


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Monday, November 15, 2010

Making Sense of the Dallas Defense

When you ask someone "what's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Dallas Mavericks?" you're sure to get a variety of responses: Dirk, Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, Steve Nash, run-and-gun, Jason Kidd, Shawn Bradley posters, high tempo, fastbreak and maybe even Nick Van Exel.

Noticeably absent from that list is, of course, defense. Throughout Dallas' renaissance of basketball over the last decade, the facet of the game that the Mavericks hung their hat on was definitely putting the ball in the basket. A lot. Who can forget the Western Conference Final team of 2003 that featured Dirk entering his prime (and chucking away a career high 4.9 threes a game), Steve Nash becoming the All-Star we know him as, Michael Finely being an all-around offensive machine and Nick Van Exel lighting it up, much in the same form as Jason Terry.

But it's never brought a championship. The only year Dallas has made it to the finals (2006) was when Avery Johnson drastically changed the culture of the club to a half-court, defensive oriented team. The Mavericks finally looked at bringing in a defensive center to compliment Dirk (Erick Dampier, 'Gana Diop) instead of failed offensive specialists that couldn't rebound or protect the rim (Raef LaFrentz, come on down!)

So now, how amazing/surprising to see the Mavericks with a higher defensive efficiency, than the rough, rugged and other arbitrary adjective Boston Celtics? That's right. Dallas is giving up 97.1 points per 100 possessions, which ranks them fourth in the league behind New Orleans, Orland and Miami (with the only shocker in that group the upstart Hornets.) How does this happen? Sure, playing games at the Clippers, Bobcats and 76ers certainly helps. But the Mavs have also had to tangle with potent offenses in Boston, Denver (twice) and Memphis (twice). How does this happen with a defensive black hole like J.J. Barea?

The first reason is that when Barea has been in the game, Dallas has gone almost exclusively to a zone, which hides many players individual faults. There's no question that the zone has seen effecitve use in wins against Denver and Memphis, where Dallas has been able to rest Jason Kidd and allow a well-prepared zone to befuddle opposing teams. Of course, zone does not work in the NBA over and extended period. Flaws will be shown and rebounds will be allowed. But used in short bursts? To hide weak defensive players? Why not?

Of course, the Mavericks have typically ranked low in the league in defensive play rate, which judges the rate at which a team collects steals, blocks and charges. Dallas has always been content with sitting back in man-to-man and playing straight up defense. No longer, at least this year. Dallas now ranks eighth. Jason Kidd averaging over two steals a game helps, along with Shawn Marion's ability to rack up a couple of steals and blocks a game to boot. But a big reason? Tyson Chandler. He's averaging 2.25 defensive plays a game, his highest since when he was running rampant in New Orleans. He's also cleaning up the glass, a big component to defense, grabbing 26.8% of the total defensive rebounds in a given game - once again, his highest since New Orleans.

Chandler also helped Dallas match up with the quicker centers and power forwards that has normally plagued Dallas in the past. As much as we scolded Erik Dampier, the man was a decent rebounder, screen setter and plug in the paint. The problem was asking him to step out of the paint. It's been well documented how well "fast big men" have given the Mavericks trouble. Nene, Amar'e Stoudemire, etc. With Chandler mobility, combined with health and an apparent enjoyability he's having right now, has given the Mavericks something that they aren't used to: defense. It's too early to know if the play will progress, but given the new variables of the use of zone, Chandler + Haywood's full-season impact, the unseen potential of rookie Dominique Jones (who Rick Carlisle has said is one of the teams best defenders) plus the ever steady Shawn Marion, Dallas might be able to jump into the upper echelon of elite NBA defenses.

(Advanced stats courtesy of


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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Curious Case of Caron


That's the number of players that have a higher 3PT field goal percentage than Caron Butler's the rim.


Now, understand, that we're about two weeks into the season. DeJuan Summers is not going to shoot 100% for the rest of the year, or shoot enough to qualify that mark. But still. In his stay with Dallas so far, Butler has a 45.8 FG% at the rim. That, put bluntly, is absolutely horrible and unacceptable for the kind of player Butler is and his role on the Mavericks.

To compare, Dirk Nowitzki's percentage at the rim hasn't been lower than 59% in the last four years. Same for Jason Terry. Even Jason Kidd - the only point guard in the league that appears allergic to layups - has never posted a field goal percentage below 51 in his time with Dallas.

So what gives? The strange thing is that Butler hasn't posted anything this poor over the last four years. From 2007-2009 his FG% at the tim was 59, 69 and 63, respectively. And this is with about one more shot attempt at the rim per game to boot. What's the diagnoses? It's hard to tell. Butler has been an above average finisher at the rim for most of his career. He's always been an excellent free throw shooter. Whatever it is that's plaguing Butler at the rim, it needs to be fixed and fixed soon. We can only hope that as the season continues, Butler's at the rim percentage simply reverts to his career norm. If it doesn't, the Mavericks could be in for a woeful offensive season.

But don't expect those mid-range jump shots to start falling that much more regularly. His highest FG% from 16-23 feet was actually his stint with Dallas, a 48 percent mark. He's hovered between the high 30's and the low 40's otherwise. But, he always managed to shoot a respectable percentage and score a decent number of points by attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line.

When the Mavericks shipped away Josh Howard for Caron Butler and Brandon Haywood last winter, the consensus was that Butler would be able to provide, at worst, Howard's production level. While the offensive woes have been detailed, the defense hasn't been much better. Monday nights win over Boston was a prime example as Paul Pierce toyed with Butler to get off any shot he wanted. Understand that defense in the NBA is more than just contesting a shot. It's forcing players out of their comfort zones. Putting a hand in Dirk's face as he's falling away might look like good defense, but if he's doing it from the free throw line or the left wing? Forget it. Players make good shots when they are in their comfort zones. Butler allowed Pierce to catch the ball wherever he wanted and lost him in transition a couple of times. As a result, Shawn Marion played almost all of the fourth quarter, posted a +10 (for what it's worth) and Pierce wasn't heard from with much regularity down the stretch as he was in the third.

And there isn't even the "well he's not used to being a second option." Butler has been just about every option possible during his stints with the Heat, Lakers, Wizards and Mavs. He's gone from third to second to first to second and almost everything around that. If Caron Butler doesn't turn it around, the Maverick's Jekyll/Hyde offense is going to have lasting problems.

(Advanced stats courtesy of


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Saturday, November 6, 2010

10 Things the 2010 Texas Rangers Did to Me

Now that i've let some time pass and reached "acceptance" I feel like I can finally recount all the wonderful things the 2010 Texas Rangers did to me over this past summer (Note: Shut up, you pervs.)

1.) Rekindle my love for Josh Hamilton: Before the 2009 season, I bought my first Ranger t-shirt jersey. It was a no-brainer - Josh Hamilton. The magical 2008 season, the southern drawl that made him sound more Texan than North Carolina. What more could I ask for? How about a repeat performance. Granted he was injured for most of the year, but 2009 was to my love of Josh Hamilton as Batman and Robin was to my love of Batman. So needless to say, I was ready to buy another t-shirt. 2010 proved to me that Josh is more than a one-hit wonder and is still the most talented positional player in all of baseball. Now if only he could play 150 games a year...

2.) Discover some talented writers in the area: As sports-nutzy as I am, my sports consumption usually consisted of the Star-Telegram and ESPN. Shocking I know, but I usually watched most of the games so I didn't need to dig much deeper. I knew what happened. As I started getting into the NBA blog scene over the last three to four years, I realized there are incredible writers all over. So without further ado, a many thanks to Adam J. Morris, Joey Matches and Richard Durrett and the multiple, talented Ranger writers over at

3.) Realize how nice it is to enjoy a beer at the Ballpark: Even if it does cost $25.99 before taxes

4.) Let me witness a sports celebration at its finest: Watching Neftali Feliz break his nasty slider over the outside part of the plate. Alex Rodriguez frozen as if Kate Hudson just told him she has herpes. The Joy, the noise, the fireworks. Watching the end of Game 6 of the ALCS will go down as the greatest sports moment I've ever been apart of. I can't really imagine sports getting better than that. Except for, you know, actually winning it all. Baby steps.

5.) Make me look cool for always being a Ranger fan: Can't tell you enough how awesome it is to be following a crappy team in a sport that is losing fans across the 18-25 demographic to then finally be the story in the area. I had friends text me what some stats meant, if the Giants were good or not and who some of our bullpen and bench guys were.

6.) Get congratulatory text messages: What am I, a player? Jokes aside, it was very, very cool to receive texts and phone calls from close friends telling me how happy they were for me.

7.) Get an actual fan base? If you're reading this blog, chances are you went to high school with me or are one of my good friends. As much as I try to get this some more exposure (Note: I don't) it's pretty awesome to finally have some readers who aren't from Bedford, Texas. Of course, many of them are readers of the Ranger sites I dived into this summer and I consider them friends now as well.

8.) Make me appreciate (even like) country music: If 2004 Josh read this right now, he'd find me, punch me in the nuts and tell me to downtown Dallas and attend a hipster/indie/hardcore show ASAP. I can't help it. The Rangers played the song "I Like Texas" by Pat Green after every win and it's so damn catchy. I also attended Billy Bob's in Fort-Worth, the huge country music bar in North Texas. And guess what? It was the best night of my summer, country dancing the night away with the patrons. I don't know what's become of me. But I do know that life is too short to be stuck up about music or having fun. The youthful Rangers team taught me to hang loose, and have some fun in life.

9.) Inspire me to learn sabermetrics: WAR, UZR, wOBA, OPS+. Those could of been Franklin Roosevelt New Deal programs for all I knew. But I realize that the eye test and sabermetrics. Think Michael Young's defensive range is similar to Mo Vaughn's after he had a sleepover in a bakery? Check the UZR, you're probably right. Think Justin Smoak is actually hitting the ball well, he's just getting some bad luck and good plays made in the field? Check his line drive percentage and his batting average on balls put in play. You're probably right. Sabermetrics and the eye test can combine into a beautiful thing.

10.) Make me proud to be a Texan again: There's something about the Texas Rangers. They aren't the Dallas Rangers or the Arlington Rangers. They're the TEXAS Rangers. I don't know what it is about that, but it inspires a great sense of community and local pride. I compare it to the New England Patriots. I don't think the loyalty and the community for the fan base would be there if they were the Boston Patriots.


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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Stage Two

I'm fairly certain that I passed staged one after I witnessed Madison Bumgarner mow down the Rangers like Jessica Simpson at a Chinese buffet. I couldn't believe it was happening.

After Nelson Cruz whiffed through a Brian Wilson fastball that was almost assuredly due to the magical powers invested in Wilson's beard, I didn't want to hear it from anyone. Reading Twitter, Facebook and all the blogs and papers, the "It was a great season!" line was not really working for me. I understand that it is. But I have to go through these three stages before I get to uttering that sentence.

Maybe it's because I'm a hyper-competitive guy. When I was cut from my 8th grade basketball team, I went into an uncontrollable rage/depression. I mean, I was cut for a reason: I sucked. I only played basketball for three years and only played because I was three feet taller than every other kid in our school. I grew to love it in 8th grade, but love only gets you so far. So I took that as a personal vendetta like my 8th grade basketball coach killed my parents leaving me only with my inherited fortune and a wise butler. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, basketball.

So I realized that even though I was a "big" guy, I needed to learn how to shoot. While the rest of my friends toiled around with toilet papering the jocks' houses and having Halo LAN parties, I told my Dad to buy me a basketball hoop so I could shoot baskets for two hours a day. (Note: let the record show that as soon as those two hours were over, I went and played Halo and participated in shenanigans.)

So yeah, that's me. I'm the guy who leaves the room and won't talk to you after losing in a "Madden" game in overtime. I'm the guy who kicks and throws chairs after losing in a pickup game at the local YMCA. I'm the guy who has single handily ruined dates because the Mavericks blew a 13-point lead to the Celtics in Boston.

(Note: Yes, sadly, these are all true)

So forgive me if I don't want to embrace the positive. I'm in no mood. The Rangers were in the World Series for the first time in their history. And it's never a lock, ever. For a local example, when the Mavericks made their historic run in 2006, the core group was still in it's prime with a head coach well respected throughout the league. The team even had a few youngsters that had room to grow (Josh Howard, Devin Harris) and the MVP of the league. How's that worked out? Oh, how about they've been done after the first round since except for 2009 playoffs. For a recent baseball example, remember the Tampa Bay Rays improbable World Series run of 2008? Fans didn't worry, they had one of the youngest teams in the league with rising stars. B.J. Upton looked like the next "it" guy. What's happened since? Missed the playoffs in 2009 and lost in the ALDS this season. Now their entire team might be scrapped to frugal finances and B.J. Upton gets as many hits as Amy Winehouse lately.

There are no guarantees. Win the championship while you can. The A's young guns are going to be a year older/better and the Angels will be a year healthier.

So, yes. Eventually I'll be able to say "Well, it was a great season!"

But that'll be another three stages first.


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Monday, November 1, 2010

This is Madness

“'But I don’t want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.
'Oh, you can’t help that,' said the Cat. 'We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.'
'How do you know I’m mad?' said Alice.
'You must be,” said the Cat. 'or you wouldn’t have come here.'”

Never mind that I just quoted Alice in Wonderland. Never mind that I haven't written in 8,000 years. It's 1:30 a.m. I've been up stirring and this is what you get.

Because I think it fits. We've all gone just a little (if not more) mad following this team this year. Between the sometimes egregious baserunning, the silent bats, the terrible defense at third base or the fact that the your colored dot lost for the 10th straight dot race, we all have our reasons.

The Rangers are in the World Series. If it ends with the Giants capping off an improbable season (maybe more so than ours. At least SOME experts thought the Rangers would actually make the playoffs) they'll say we should celebrate. They'll say we should enjoy it. They'll say to remember it it. 

I say the Rangers should of won. And not winning isn't OK. We've already celebrated. Between the filthy slider from Neftali Feliz against Alex Rodriguez and Elvis Andrus' soft single to left field against the Tim Lincecum, the Rangers have celebrated. We've celebrated. It was great, it was grand. But it isn't everything.

Sure, I sound like a rotten old curmudgeon (Note: I am. My mother has been calling me a cranky old man since I was in 6th grade) but I don't care. I want to win. If we don't win I'll be pissed. I know every other Ranger fan will be too, but I really won't care for the first person to tell me "Hey it was a good season!" after the Giants win.

And tonight was a sucker punch. It felt like my fiance dumped me at the alter for her second cousin and then started making out with him in front of my parents. That's how I feel. Does that make me sick? (Note: Yes) Do others feel how I feel? (Note: hopefully not) but all I can say is it sucks. Tonight was worse than the first two games by a long shot. At least we weren't at the 8th inning meltdown in Game 2. At least we weren't at Cliff Lee's shelling in Game 1. I was there tonight front and center. A crowd that was ready to burst. 

After Josh Hamilton reached on an error in the bottom of the 7th, Vlad stepped to the plate. Despite looking absolutely foolish in two earlier strikeouts, the crowd rose up. They remembered Game 6 of the ALCS. They remember Joe Girardi intentionally walking Hamilton...again. They remember the swing. They remember the emphatic 'claw.' They chanted his name

Vladdy! Vladdy! Vladdy!

The chant rang once again. Only a 3-0 San Francisco lead. One swing could cut it to one, with Nelson Cruz waiting. There was still life. The crowd keep chanting throughout the count.

Vladdy! Vladdy! Vladdy!

Hell, I even chanted. I try to keep my emotions in check while attending games as a fan because I don't want to look like an ass or curse in front of children. Those parents' glares are the worst. But I didn't care, everyone was chanting. It was the World Series. 

Then Vlad swung through a change up from Madison Bumgarner. "Swung" is probably to kind. It looked as if Vlad was trying to return a senior citizen's serve in  a game of badminton. A pathetic swing on a change up that floated right over the heart of the plate.

The crowd was done after that. We tired. But the Rangers were not scoring tonight, no matter how much we chanted. Vlad's demise over the second half and the postseason are greatly explored by much brighter minds than myself. I don't dare to read over the numbers again. 

The Rangers will recover. They have too. But the crowd has to recover too. Whenever I watch a game in person or on TV I always think of what I would make the lede for the story (I know, I know, I'm a big nerd.) Tonight I probably would of gone with something like this:

"On a night that celebrates ghosts, ghouls and goblins the Texas Ranger bats were more frightening than Frankenstein."

I told my Dad and a few friends about how I'm worried about tomorrow. Cliff Lee has never pitched well in Arlington. I don't know why I said or thought that. Maybe it's because his career 5.07 ERA in Arlington terrifies me. 

But then I looked at this year: 61.2 innings pitched, 2.92 ERA, 55 strikeouts, 4 walks and a .205 batting average against. 

Halloween sucked. Tomorrow is Cliffmas. Mission NOT accomplished.


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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cowboys-text retro diary

The Cowboys are mess. You know this, your friends know this and your dog has probably been rolling around on his back  and shaking lately because he knows this (or he's hungry/has to pee). The Rangers are tied 1-1 with the Yankees in the ALCS. So why on this green Earth am I writing my first post since Oct. 8 on the Cowboys and not the Rangers? Because I felt like reliving the game through me and my buddy Jeff's text conversation during the game. Jeff is the hardest of hardcore for the Cowboys. But he isn't a blatant homer - he calls it like it is, he just knows his football and knows the roster like his favorite iTunes playlist. So without further ado, we start just after Roy Williams scored the first TD for the Cowboys in the first quarter (sorry for the texting grammer in advance):

5:02 first quarter: Roy Williams TD gives Dallas 7-0 lead

Me: "So even if the Cowboys win, they're still 2-3. This sucks."

Jeff: "Josh this right here is why I hate you a little bit. Let me enjoy this one touchdown we get today before the Vikings dline eats out oline on their way to raping and then eating romo."

Me: (After a long "haha" stretch) "I'm sorry. By the way, is Roy Williams being good at football?"

(Note: legit question. For some reason this year Roy Williams is looking like someone who is good at football, as opposed to someone who is very bad at football)

Jeff: "I'll never believe it (I started wearing my Roy Williams jersey again)"

Me: "Haha. And if Romo gets raped let it at least be Allen or the Williams duo. Don't let that sh*t Edwards sack him 28 times." (As you can tell, I'm real classy when I text my buddies)

Doug Free then completely freezes as the ball is snapped, misses the snap, and Allen rolls over Romo for a sack

Me: "Wow Doug Free. Eat my *rhymes with "dock"*

Jeff: "Yeah f*ck that guy. And as you just saw it was Allen that got the raping."

Me: "BTW, I bet the Vikings/Cowboys are the best Madden teams ever."

Greg Camarillo scores a touchdown, beating Orlando Scandrick, which a paraplegic could do, to tie the game at 7-7 at the end of the first quarter.

Jeff: "I hate my life."

Jeff: (Getting to my Madden text since Camarillo's TD interrupted him) "Haha, btw I bought Madden yesterday. Finally fell off the wagon."

Me: "Hahaha. How is it? I still don't have it." (I'm very jovial in my texts. I enjoy laughing through texts.)

Jeff: "Only had time to play one game so far. It's weird. Going to take some getting used to. Good news is I played cowboys v. Vikings and we won. Big time."

Miles Austin breaks what would of been a 50+ yard TD

Me: (being snarky) "dude why did we pay Miles Austin? He's such a one hit wonder."

Austin is flagged for offensive pass interference


Me: "Dammnit"

Jeff: ":("

Jeff: "I waited to celebrate, they threw that flag so late!"

One of the many Cowboy screen attempts fails miserably thanks to a hapless offensive line

Me: "I know! It was a good call though. And can we try out for cowboys o line? I think we can help."

Jeff: "Harwood bteam oline was much better." (Harwood was our Jr. High. There was an A team and B team. Yep, we were B team offensive linemen.)

Some penalty occurs, lost track since there were 23982039

Me: "Alright. This is pissing me off"

Jeff: "F*ck every coach on this staff."

Me: "And f*ck Jerry a bit for hiring coaches with no spine." (Note: on second though, f*ck Jerry a lot)

Jeff: "Seriously man. F*ck this shit."

The Cowboys are driving to end the half thanks to some semblance of a running game. Romo has had two long runs out of scrambling. 

Me: "At least we're sorta running."

Jeff: "Romos running that's cool, we'll get to the two and buehler will miss the fg."

(Note: It's unbelievable how little faith the Cowboys or its fans have in David Buehler. It's about as much faith the kid in "Liar, Liar" has in Jim Carrey at the beginning of the movie)

Me: "Probably. I love when the o line celebrates a Romo run. Even though it's their fault he had to take off in the first place."

Jeff: "Yeah, they're just taking what they can get at this point."

Roy Williams scores his second TD on a beautiful throw on the slant route to put the Cowboys up 14-7 heading to the locker room. 



Me: "Can we not call him bad at football anymore? I'm scared. That was our fall back joke."

Jeff: "I'm so scared! This is just... NOOO"

Right before the second half starts

Me: "So are we winning this game or are we going to sh*t the bed?"

Jeff: "That bed will have copious amounts of sh*t in, on and around it."

Percy Harvin takes the opening kick off to the house, score tied at 14-14.

Jeff: "Told ya."

Me: "Time to change the sheets. It's stinky."

Jeff: "Putrid. I'm miserable."

Me: "There always has to be something in DFW sports-wise to make us miserable."

Jeff: "Yeah, and since the rangers are the team doing well it requires severe balancing with misery."

Cowboys get backed up inside their own five yard line towards the end of the third quarter

Me: (Sarcastically) "I feel really good about this drive. It's really going to go places."

Cowboys putter around for three plays and punt from their own end zone

Jeff: "Great places."

Cowboys head to the fourth quarter down 21-14. Start a drive and go for it on fourth and one in field goal range. Barber picks up the first down.

Me: "I'm glad we can at least get a first down since we have no faith in our FG kicker."

Jeff: "Haha seriously. Glad we have faith in him to not replace him but not enough to use him."

Romo throws his 99823972 swing pass to Felix Jones on the flank route

Jeff: "I think Jason Garrett got really into the song "swing swing" this week."

Same drive, Cowboys getting closer

Me: "Wait. WTF. Did Romo play-action that to nobody??"

(Note: He really did. Romo does a play action to no one in particular. The RB went on a route immediately and the FB set up to block. I have no idea what that was)

Jeff: "Yes. Didn't fool ya?"

Dez Bryant scores a 31-yd TD on a spectacular throw/catch. Romo puts the right to his hands but the Vikings corner catches up to get his hands in the way. Bryant takes it anyway and scores



Me: "BTW, screens don't work when A.) You run them every other play and B.) Your offensive linemen run like Vlad Guerrero."

Jeff: "Don't give them that. They're all bengie molinas and you know it."

Me: ":( at least that Ray Lewis Old Spice commercial was awesome."

Jeff: "These are the kinds of things you have to appreciate when you're a cowboy fan."

With the game tied and the clock under 10 minute mark, Minnesota runs a screen play on third down that goes absolutely no where

Me: "I'm glad Jason Garrett called that play for the Vikings."

Jeff: "Haha he walked over there and went 'celeb playcall?'"

Me: "And he nailed it."

Jeff: "Oh you know he fist pumped afterward."

Romo throws a back-breaking interception as he tries to go to Jason Whitten over the middle. Middle linebacker faked the blitz and then dropped back to pick it off. Romo never saw him

Me: "You know I love Romo. But these interceptions are really busting my balls."

Jeff: "I didn't see last game but as far as I'm concerned only 1 today is his fault."

Me: "I know. But that last one really steamed me."

(Note: Me and Jeff are pretty big Romo-Homos. Mainly because the Cowboys QB situation before him featured a crack head, some obscure white guy, a guy that used to be good for Michigan and then a 75 year old veteran. I count my blessings for Romo, because the Cowboys could be way, way worse)

Jeff: "Yeah, that one was a dagger. But come on man it was tied we had to do something to eff it all up."

Vikings take the short field after the INT, looking to drive home for a TD. Already in field goal range

Me: "Chances we old them to a field goal?"

Jeff: "-100000000000000%"

Me: "Field goal! and Alan Ball made a play! What next? Leonard Davis makes a good block on a screen?"

Jeff: "I'll tell ya what's next: cowboys drive to the 10, buehler misses tying field goal as time expires, Jerry immediately expresses support for buehler."

(Note: Man, you'd think we are Cleveland fans)

Me: "How about the 3,000 swing pass to Felix Jones?"

Jeff: "get ready for 3001"

Cowboys driving, need to convert a third down with about three minutes left to keep drive alive

Me: "Seriously? That's how it is going to end? Dez has hands bigger than the Seinfield man hands chick."

Jeff: "Okay were punting. We have 2 timeouts and they have Adrian Peterson. This game is over."

Jeff: "I'm miserable."

Vikings take over, need to convert a first down to end game

Me: "But they have Brad Childress."

Jeff: "The Vikings are us in training. They're trying their best to underachieve and blow games, but they just can't outblow the masters."

On a third down with under three minutes to go, Michael Jenkins is called for pass interference 

Me: "There's the poop cherry on top of our sh*t sundae."


Vikings punt away to the Cowboys

Me: "We're fine. We only have 13 seconds to go 8 million yards."


Ballgame. Cowboys lose 24-21 to the Vikings

Jeff: "I want to die."

Me: "Would it make you feel any better if I took our entire convo this game and made it a blog post?"

Jeff: "It would probably be worth the loss."


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Friday, October 8, 2010

Five Things to Watch in Game 3

I've been doing this journalist thing since my junior year in high school. Since that time I've meet numerous colleagues, friends, co-workers, teachers, lovers (made you look!), professionals at countless schools, newsrooms, conventions and conferences. And there's one thing I always hear, no matter where I am or who I talk to:

Everyone likes lists!

I mean how can you not? Lists are great for me because I can mindlessly throw out a column without having to follow the typical story telling format. And you guys love them because you can mindlessly digest the information without having to try and figure out what I'm talking about or what my point is. It's a win-win (win).

Without further ado, here are five things you should watch for the Rangers on Saturday.

1.) Which Colby Lewis are we seeing?

Without a doubt, Lewis has been royally screwed by his own team over the course of the year. He finished the season 12-13 despite a 3.72 ERA and 196 strikeouts. Lewis had more strikeouts in 2010 than David Price, Cliff Lee, Zach Greinke, Matt Latos, Josh Johnson, Chris Carpenter and Roy Oswalt. But while Lewis' low win total has a lot to do with the Rangers offensive ineptitude in his starts, let's not suger coat it - Lewis contributed at times in those losses down the stretch in August and September. Lewis finished with an ERA north of four in those months. What makes me giddy though? Even with the "struggles," Lewis' post-All-Star batting average against was only .249, with the highest month average being .278. Also during August and September, he was still striking out a batter per inning. The key for Lewis is fastball command. We all know how deadly his breaking pitches (such as his slider) can be. But his fastball hovers around 90 mph and with bad control, he can give up the long ball as he's given up 21 home runs on the year. I looked it up and noticed Roy Halladay gave up 24 this year and figured Colby was alright in that number, but then realized Halladay had pitched 50 more innings.

2.) Rangers at max capacity 

For the first time in the playoffs, the Rangers will finally roll out with their most efficient and productive offensive lineup as David Murphy will step in and play left field. It's been a long time since the Rangers have had their number one lineup and they've obviously been fine so far mixing and matching with Julio Borbon and Jeff Francoeur. With 11 runs scored in two games, it's not much to expect the Rangers to try and keep that production up with their best offensive lineup.

3.) Then again, this Matt Garza guy is pretty good

My older brother played baseball since he was five, all the way through college at Texas A&M. I remember once talking to him while watching a Minnesota game and he told me how one of his buddies on his college team had played with Garza in the minor leagues.

"So, how is he?" I asked.

"He's good, but he's a big time prick," my brother said not-so-subtly.

There's a reason Minnesota shipped him away to Tampa, besides the fact that they felt they had enough arms in their system to replace him: Garza hasn't always rubbed himself the right way to his teammates. That said, that probably has absolutely nothing to do with what Garza is going to do against the Rangers tomorrow. Whatever. What I do know about Garza (that is actually relavent) is that Garza has a reputation as a "power pitcher." He certainly has a good mid-to-upper 90s fastball but I feel as if casual baseball fans assume he's a strikeout machine. He's not. His no-hitter on July 26th was a perfect example of Garza's game: attack with fastballs in the zone, induce weak contact early in the count, then finish off the batter with a slider late in the count. Garza only recorded six strikeouts in the game, a somewhat pedestrian number for a no-hitter. Garza also hasn't posted a 200+ strikeout season, with 189 being his highest total in 2009. In no way am I saying that Garza doesn't have swing and miss stuff. He does. He just induces more weak contact than he does strikeouts. The caveat to inducing more weak contact than strikeouts is sometimes the hitters put good swings on the ball. Garza has given up 28 home runs this year, and 25 last year and posted a .248 batting average against this year. That's good, but not number one dominant, especially compared to what the Rangers' playoff starters have done this year.

To wrap up this extremely lengthy point, Garza has completely owned the Rangers over his career and especially this year (12.2 IP, 2.84 ERA, 14 K's, 4 BB). He's only struck out one other team more in his career than the Rangers. Ouch.

4.) Have the Rays 100 percent mentally checked out of this series?

The Rays have done everything they weren't in the regular season: sloppy baseball and total discomposure when the heat is on. They've committed three errors in the series (two more than the Rangers). They've suffered two back-breaking calls and let the moment slip away (fail to score after the Carlos Pena "foul tip" with bases loaded and one out in Game 1 and Michael Young's three run home run after a disputed strike three check-swing). Both games the Rays have been visibly upset with themselves and the umpires and the team has imploded in the latter innings of both games. Joe Maddon now looks like an arrogant (or desperate) manager with his lineup moves and pitching rotations. Check the first couple of innings to see if this Rays' team is ready to bring the series back to Tampa or if they've already booked their off-season vacations.

5.) Is Arlington (or North Texas for that matter) a baseball town/area?

Bill Simmons proposed this question during San Francisco's exhilarating 1-0 win over the Braves on Thursday. And while tomorrow's game will technically be played during daylight hours, I'm inclined to think The Ballpark in Arlington (it will always be known as that to me) could crack number three or four. I know an outrageous amount of people from all over Texas that will be attending the game, from Bedford to Denton to Tyler. The ballpark is sold out with no standing room left and will be filled with fans preparing to clinch it's first baseball playoff series win, ever. I can only imagine how jacked tomorrow will be. I'll be there.

Let's do this.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

This Just In: Expect Nothing

As I stayed awake for what seemed like an eternity last night, I pondered my Ranger post-season predictions through my head:

-Nelson Cruz would have a 2004 Carlos Beltran-like postseason.

-Cliff Lee would be a Will Smith action-comedy - satisfying but not memorable.

-The Rangers catching situation would not only produce fruitless outs, but let the Rays run wild. (Granted that falls a lot on Ranger pitchers) I really had no faith in Bengie Molina.

-Ian Kinsler would be the 2009 Ian Kinsler without the home runs. So pretty much a lousy player.

-Rays win the series 3-1 with the Rangers dropping the first two at the Trop (HEY THOSE INITIALS LOOK FAMILIAR), Rangers win Game 3 then drop Game 4. 

After today's 5-1 win in dominant fashion, I couldn't of been more wrong. Cliff Lee looked like a combination between Fregie Jenkins and Jesus (see what I did there?), Bengie Molina looked like the greatest hitter in the world and the Rangers dominated the Rays in their own dome. At least I was right, for now, of Nelson Cruz. His 440'+ monster took the noise out of Tropicana Field (like there were enough fans to make noise anyway, ZING.) 

It was a surreal feeling for sure. I'm used to high-fiving complete strangers in the moment of an intense sporting event...but for the Rangers? Unreal. One of the funnest moments of my life and yes, I lead a very plain life. Sue me.

But back to the game. Lee was masterful, working both sides of the plate with a variety of pitches. After a rough first inning (admit, you thought "here we go again") he retired 14 of the next 15 batters, allowed only one run to a solo home run to Ben Zobrist and then left, like he always does, sprinting off the mound and heading to the dugout, job well done after finishing the seventh. The thing I love about Lee the most today was he never fell in love with one pitch (Note: which was the opposite of David Price. I think he threw 99.9% fastballs. Yeah, no wonder Cruz crushed him. Did Price have a secret sponsorship with Ferrari or something to throw that many fastballs? "Here's the 15th fastball from Price. And remember, if you get a Ferrari you can go 100 mph fast like Price in 0-15 seconds!") Whenever the Rays seemed to get comfortable, if you can call it that, with Lee's fastball he'd drop the curveball. Or a cutter. Or the change up. It was a masterful performance that I should of never doubted and will probably go to baseball hell for. At least Tom Hicks will keep me company. (Note: ZING!)

Speaking of someone who could run a little more back to the dugout after an inning, Bengie Molina must of thought he was in Boston or something. Or maybe he was just being Bengie. After all, for his career Molina is a .274 hitter with a .718 OPS (which is a stark contrast to his .599 OPS he put up with Texas.) I'm not trying to say Molina is an offensive juggernaut, but he had never been the type of catcher you had to worry about putting him into your lineup. He has some of the most postseason experience on the team, which I'm not sure how much it helps, but it's something else to explain his 3-for-4 game with a soft RBI single and perhaps an even softer home run to left (he never got around on the pitch and seemed to hit it off the inside part of the bat.)

What else surprised? How about Jeff Francoeur continuing his relevancy. Ron Washington using Neftali Feliz in a non-save situation. Feliz walking the first two batters of the ninth. Chad Qualls pitching a perfect inning and a third. Josh Hamilton throwing caution into the wind with a head first slide into second on a stolen base attempt, which had the entire population of North Texas ripping their hair out. 

But not everything was dandelions and popsicles. The Rangers were able to capitalize on jumping on Price's fastball for 10 hits, but they also struck out eight times and walked none. Jorge Cantu proved that his role in the division clinching game in Oakland would be about the only role he'll play. Michael Young squandered run-scoring chances with an 0-for-4 game. 

But who cares, right? It's time for Game 2. And as the title of the post suggests, don't get comfortable. You may be reading, hearing or watching that James Shields pitches as well as a narcoleptic on acid lately (I really don't know how well a narcoleptic on acid would pitch, but my guess is not very well). Well here are some "stats" to back that statement up:

13-15, 5.18 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and a .294 BAA. That looks awful right? Rangers should club Shields to death right? Wait just a minute.

Shields BABPIP (Batting Average on Balls Put in Play - which tells of how lucky or unlucky a hitter or pitcher is) sits at .354, which is .38 points higher than his career average. Which tells us he has been a wee bit unlucky. How about how he pitches at home? His ERA in Tampa is 4.53. Not a great number, but still, if he's good, he's going to be good at home. How about his record against the Rangers this year? Two starts, 14 innings, four earned runs (2.57 ERA) and a .255 BAA. The Rangers have not done particularly well against him this year. So when you wake up tomorrow and wonder if you'd rather play the Yankees or the Twins, just calm down for a moment.

Then again, what do I know? I'm the guy who thought Cliff Lee would suck today.