Category Archives: Basketball discussion

Kobe’s defense steals spotlight

It has been the talk of the night – the block heard ’round the world. With a little under three minutes remaining in the 2013 NBA All-Star game, LeBron James looked to cut the West’s lead to just six points. But as he took off for his jumper from the top of the key, Kobe Brant timed his own jump perfectly, and swatted away the otherwise open look.

Like most NBA All-Star games, the first two or three quarters are mostly filled with alley-oops and a multifariousness of playground moves. But those final 12 minutes can be as intense as any regular season game, and fundamental basketball returns. The point guards run plays, picks are set, and defenders start to get up close and personal.

But I don’t know if we’ve ever seen anything quite like this. Not in an All-Star game, at least. Even from the clip, you can see that both Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant were ready to double-team James, but when he went to shoot, neither defender even came close to putting a hand in his face. Bryant had something different in mind.

Kobe Bryant relished his chance to defend King James.

Kobe Bryant relished his chance to defend King James.

“He was talking during the timeout saying he wanted to take [James] one-on-one, and he did a pretty good job,” West All-Star Tony Parker said.

Did playing around fellow All-Star caliber players reinvigorate Kobe’s game? We all know he’s a competitor, but it almost seemed like no one was playing as hard as the 17-year veteran, especially down the stretch. I’m sure L.A. fans are curious to see how this display of hard-nosed defense, even in a relaxed setting, affects his teammates back home. Will this inspire them, as well? Can the Lakers start playing cohesively, or will it be too little, too late?

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Pitt enters Big Dance as number one seed

Let’s take a break from professional sports just for a moment so we can all bask in the glory that is college basketball.  More specifically, March Madness.  My alma mater, Pittsburgh, is ready to take names.

After losing four starters going into the 2009-10 season, including NBA draft selections Sam Young and DeJuan Blair, I figured that Pitt would go into a transitional phase as younger players figured out their roles.  My fear was that the program would fall into a brief one or two year stretch of Big East mediocrity.

Ashton Gibbs, who leads the team with 16.7 ppg, hopes to take his team deep into the tournament.

Fortunately, and somewhat shockingly, Pitt retained its poise under Jamie Dixon, who had won the Naismith College Coach of the Year award just a season prior.  The school finished the year fourth in the rough and tumble Big East, a 25-9 record, and a #18 national ranking.

The magic eventually ran out in the NCAA Tournament, as Pitt fell in the second round to Xavier.  It mattered little though, since the team had already far exceeded expectations.

This year was different.  The bar was set high, as the team returned four starters and the bulk of their reserves.  Preseason polls ranked Pitt in the top-10 and favorites to win the Big East.

Living up to the hype, the Panthers won the regular season Big East title with a 27-5 record, going 15-3 in conference play.

Hopes of taking home the Big East Tournament crown were dashed when Pitt bowed out in their first game against UConn after a double bye, losing on a Kemba Walker buzzer beater.  I’d like to think that losing that game was a blessing in disguise, as Pitt now has had the last week off to rest and prepare for the Big Dance.

Gary McGhee will need to stay on his feet against his next opponents.

Even with the loss, Pitt was still able to lock up a one seed, along with Ohio State, Kansas, and Duke.  Pitt is the only one seed not to win its conference tournament.

Under the new format, there will now be four play-in games instead of one as in previous years.   The Panthers will take on the winner of the NC Asheville/Arkansas-Little Rock game.  St. John’s, who beat Pitt late in the season this year, is the only other Big East team in the Southeastern bracket.

Despite its regular season success under Jamie Dixon, the Panthers have struggled in the NCAA tourney.  When I was attending Pitt, the team made to the Sweet 16 only once.  For a couple years, it seemed like a struggle just to win a game in the second round.  In 2009, the team went to the Elite 8 for the first time since 1984.  Is this a sign that Dixon is ready to take his team to new heights?  Or was it just a tease?  Either way, I’ll be watching intently as the madness unfolds.

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Surprise? Six players can’t take down Sixers

If you’ve been following the implosion of the Detroit Pistons this season, you have to feel a little bad for them.  And if things weren’t bad enough, they somehow got worse last night.

Taking on the 76ers in Philadelphia, embattled Pistons coach John Kuester had only six players on his squad suit up for the game.  This stems from a recent boycott of a morning shootaround practice by key players such as Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Tracy McGrady.  In last night’s game, as Kuester was being shown into the locker room following his ejection, McGrady could be seen smiling and laughing at the incident.

Between the five Pistons starters, each played an average of over 42 minutes with point guard Will Bynum playing the entire 48 minutes without a break.  In contrast, the Sixers, playing with four subs, were able to better rest their players and soundly won by a score of 110-94.

Pistons head coach John Kuester's days are numbered.

The question I find myself asking most in all of this is why Rip Hamilton has fallen so quickly from grace (at no fault of his own, I might add).  Last year, Hamilton sat out a total of 36 games, but he still had valuable contributions when he played, averaging over 18 points in games he played.

This year, however, Kuester has kept a healthy Hamilton on the bench for a number of games, allowing him just one appearance since January 10th, and greatly reducing his minutes in games he gets to play in.  The 33-year-old still has a lot of ability left, and if injury prone Tracy McGrady is starting, certainly Rip can still provide something more than just cheerleading from the sidelines.

Alas, with this most recent player uprising, I doubt we will see Hamilton back on the court for the rest of the year.  But although it’s pretty much guaranteed that he’ll be back playing next year (in Detroit or elsewhere), I can’t say the same for Kuester.  He should be fired long before the season is over.

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