Wednesday, April 27, 2011

nuggets > knicks?

When the New York Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony, there were whispers and rumors of a return to significance, if not a return to excellence. Yew York City has always been thirsty for great basketball, and has not often been rewarded with it. Amar'e Stoudemire had already been delivered to the Knicks via free agency in the summer and things had been looking up for New York's team. The chemistry that Amar'e had built, however, with Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari vanished when they did, in the trade that brought Anthony in from the Denver Nuggets.

The Nuggets, meanwhile, had been better than the middling team many predicted them to be during the 2010-2011 season. The drama surrounding the trade that Anthony was intent on forcing hurt the team, but they still managed to win at a greater clip than the Knicks. New York's record before the trade was 28-26, good for a 51.8%. Denver, on the other hand, clearly had a better team, and better chemistry, as they ran out to a 32-25 record, good for 56.1%.

Looking at the raw percentages and records, it's clear that, even though Anthony was holding the Denver Nuggets mentally hostage, the team was set up to succeed. The Western Conference is a tough place to win, with the championship pedigree of the Los Angeles Lakers and the size and wisdom of the San Antonio Spurs and the youthful upstarts of Portland and Oklahoma City hungry to take the crown. But the Nuggets were holding their own.

After the trade, New York was, essentially, the exact same team. The Knicks went 14-14 after February 21, finishing with a final regular season record of 42-40, winning 51.2% of their games. The aforementioned loss of chemistry between Stoudemire and the teammates that were sent to Denver for Anthony might have been to blame, but it's honestly hard to say. What can be said when a team trades three guys (four, in reality) for one guy, but their winning percentage remains almost identical?

On the other hand, the Denver Nuggets - who, remember, had already been winning at a greater clip than the Knicks - improved dramatically. After moving Anthony, the Nuggets went on a tear of 18-7, finishing with a regular season record of 50-32, improving their percentage by more than 4 points. It was impressive mostly because it was unexpected, Anthony is widely respected as one of the best closers in the game of basketball, and Denver was thought to have lost the trade, if the discussion was going to center purely on wins and losses.

That logic, clearly, was flawed.

And now, the Playoffs have revealed another wrinkle to this issue: The Boston Celtics just swept the New York Knicks. No matter how Denver finishes this season, they will have won more Playoff games than the Knicks.

So what does this mean? Does it all come down to chemistry? Is this something that'll have to wait to be truly judged until next season's Playoffs? Or is that over-complicating things? Is it a simpler matter of looking at the teams and saying, Bravo for team play, for coming together in the aftermath of one player thinking that he was bigger than the team.

Monday, April 25, 2011

comics for the week of 04/20/11.

In keeping with my new sports column, I'm going to be a bit looser in these reviews.

Fables 104 - The cover kicks ass, the concept kicks ass, the execution kicks ass. You can't ask for much more from a comic book. I love how Pinocchio is one of the leaders of this team of Super Fables despite not really bringing anything to the table. Then we switch back to Castle Dark and we see Mister Dark interacting with the formerly fat lady. Their duo is going to be trouble, as if it's not already. The loss of Flycatcher from the team didn't come as a complete shock to me, but I will be shocked in a great way if Boy Blue does make a return during these next three or four issues. That seems like it could be an interesting thread to pursue. Obviously, though, we'll be distracted from the main fight with Dark during next issue's tussle between Bigby and his father - this is going to be a big, bad one. (No pun intended.) And, repeating what I've said earlier, from the way the North Wind spoke to him, I honestly think that Wolf Sr. is hoping to die here, as opposed to having to kill his grandson. Wow. God stuff.

Green Lantern 65 - The issue starts with Kilowog being a badass. It gets better from there. For Krona being such a smart, old dude, it sure took him a lot longer than Guy, John, Kyle and Hal to figure out the Parallax thing. And there's a curious line on page 2 when Krona says, "No. It can't simply be emotional. It has to be scientific." For a guy whose whole beef seems to stem from the Guardians refusing to acknowledge the importance of emotion, this is interesting. The Green House concept is a good one, if an obvious (necessary) retcon and the relationship between Guy and Hal while Hal's flying is something that I can't believe hasn't been explored yet. The four remaining GLs meeting up and the page (from Mahnke!) of Hal holding out the other rings is pure gold. I love the fact that they all choose rings that seem to make sense to us, and yet, when they meet up with Ganthet (in the next issue) he speaks (in that wise manner that Johns uses to convey that he knows something we don't) of how they all chose poorly. Loved the last page. Not everything has to be a cliffhanger. Some things can survive on just being awesome.

Green Lantern Corps 59 - The art of Kirkham is significantly worse than Mahnke's, which makes for a bummer of a start to this issue, but the writing made up for it, and I like that the once-separate groups are now much closer, so the story feels like it's actually flowing as one entity, as opposed to three different threads. The inability of all four 2814 GLs to control their new rings is also something that moves this issue along in a great way. It would have been way too easy for the guys just to slip on the rings and charge to the rescue. I love the fact that they're not actually in control. When they finally get to Ganthet, as I mentioned, I think his words are clues as to how this is going to end up: Kyle will definitely end up a Blue Lantern, which is what most of us had been predicting, but John will not be an Indigo Tribe member. This, to me, is a shock. I think we'd all felt pretty confident that John was headed that way. Johns loves to throw out these little future hints and I think these are pretty clear. John's "ill-suited" but Kyle's simply "not prepared" - those are key differences. As for Guy's "red ring" being "likely a death sentence" well, that's got to be a red herring. Johns is a hell of a writer and if you don't think he's slipping some hints to Bedard, you're out of your mind. And, of course, for the ending here, we pull in Mogo for another one of those semi-cliffhangers.

Invincible 79 - Dropping the bomb on us, Kirkman gets subtle with the timespan and then, promptly afterwards, makes himself an enemy list of most of the Religious Right. Invincible switches his costume back to an older design, falls back into some nice habits on Earth and is getting along well in his relationship with Eve. On the other hand, most other people in the book are struggling. Eve and Debbie are friends, which is weird for Mark, and every single person that Nolan crosses paths with at the Pentagon trembles in fear of him. Cecil admits that perhaps it's not a great idea to have him around. Dinosaurus makes a brief return, which promises to turn into a larger event. But the real meat of the issue arises when Mark and Eve go to dinner with Kate and the Immortal, who appear to be the very picture of wedded bliss. They've got kids, and everyone's happy, except Eve. She breaks down and gives Mark the news that I refuse to spoil here. But let me voice my genuine shock. I mean, no one else knew this was coming, did they? We were all supposed to think the opposite? Cuz, man, that caught me off guard. Great issue, great handling of real emotions. The page of both of them crying almost got me to join in. And, of course, in Kirkman style, we can't have all that genuine emotion, so we got one panel of Kate playing comic relief, which felt perfect.

Book of the week goes to Invincible for being willing to push boundaries even while it remains the same book. It doesn't need to change to be great, but it constantly finds a way to move forward without compromising its core values. Fantastic stuff.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

unleash the slovenian farm team analysis.

With the news last week that Free Darko was ending I decided to say fuck it and stop writing my Alibi posts as though I was still constrained by the newspaper, as though I have something to shill. It's never worked for me anyway.

The NBA Playoffs have gotten off to a bang and it's time to unleash your liberated fandom. The games started off with what some are calling the best NBA weekend ever - although The Basketball Jones wonder how you can qualify that - and have continued to spill over in complete madness.

Over the weekend, in the Western Conference, both the 1 seed and the 2 seed lost their first games. There were indications that it would be this crazy when the boring game that everyone was talking smack about turned into an almost-instant classic.

On Tuesday night, Carmelo Anthony decided to take things to a whole new level by scoring 42 points in a noble effort to keep the New York Knicks afloat. It didn't work. But it made for one of the most entertaining games thus far, in a postseason that's been filled with them.

The time has come to declare that, if you're not watching this season of basketball and especially now, if you're not watching this postseason of NBA, you're clearly not a fan of basketball. There are always arguments made about whether the NCAA game or the NBA is a better product, but putting aside the notion that this is a subjective argument and cannot be won by one side or the other - the quality of play thus far has been far beyond what fans even had a right to expect.

The righteous anger of Denver, with the drama surrounding Anthony all season, has been galvanized since the trade. They're playing out of their heads against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that some claim is ready to take that next step - all the way to the Finals.

On the other side of the bracket, no one expected the Chicago Bulls to be this good when the season started. But now that it's finished, and the Bulls had the best record in the league, the weight of expectations has been foisted upon them. The struggles that presumptive-MVP Derrick Rose and his team are having with the Indiana Pacers do not bode well for the other young gun team.

(It'd be more than bizarre, but a little apropos, at least, if the Bulls were to meet the Thunder in the 2011 NBA Finals. I don't think it'll happen.)

Dirk Nowitzki was mentioned early in the season as a possible MVP candidate, but then his team merely did what it's done for the last 12 years straight: win more than 50 games in pretty convincing fashion, despite a host of injuries. He's roared back to life (along with the old man swag of Jason Kidd) for the Playoffs and the Dallas Mavericks look to be a tough out for anyone, much less the (seemingly, at this point) over-matched Portland Trailblazers.

The thing about this postseason is that it's reaffirming the notion that this season was (and is) one for the ages. With the worry of a lockout looming over everyone's heads (the players, the owners, and, most of all, the fans) this feels a little bit like insurance: if the building burns down, at least we'll have memories of that one last rager of a party.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

comics for the week of 04/13/11.

I honestly bought no comics last week. I know Fear Itself 1 came out, but I have no interest in it. At this point, I feel like my comic fandom is winding down but I'm not happy about it. I am, however, happy about saving some money. Of course, I made up for that by getting a large stack (for me) this week.

Batgirl 20 - Part 2 of the Slipstream story and it was gooooood. Batgirl has gotten better and better since I expressed doubt about it, just after the first year of books ended. The art fits the book, the storytelling is concise and fun, and the characters are developing nicely. I don't know what else someone could honestly want from a comic book. In this issue, Batgirl gets a rematch with the speedster from last issue, and shows some ingenuity in coming up with the solution. She's also getting along nicely with Proxy, which is good, because (apparently?) Barbara is out. (To know what's happening there would require me reading Birds of Prey, but I'm sure I can fill in some of the gaps.) The continuing relationship with Nick the cop is also nice. This book is fun.

Batman and Robin 22 - Every time I feel like I might be getting to the drop point with this book, something switches up. It's totally uneven and frustrating at times, but the good, to me, outweighs the bad. I love the trend in many of the Bat books right now to come up with fresh new villains instead of having year-long arcs using the oldies but goodies. The new writing and art team have done a good job, but it doesn't feel compelling. I love the relationship between Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne and I'm happy that's a focus of this book. But...other than those good elements, I'm not sure this is a must-read.

The Flash 10 - Flashpoint continues to disappoint. The alternate world Barry Allen was disappointing enough as the big reveal on the last page of the last issue but it got worse this issue. The relationship between Bart Allen and Barry is good, and the art of Francis Manapul continues to be one of the best things going in comics right now but I don't find much else in this book, or in Barry's story since return, to care about. The only compelling thing would be if Barry's squeaky clean image as shed, he left Iris for newly-returned Patty and we had some drama going in this book. That'd be compelling, but it would also be something that no one (including myself, who's writing about it) would want to see. I'm not sure what's going to save this book.

New Avengers 11 - I wonder if Bendis plotted this cover as a joke. Seriously, look at it. Maybe this is his middle finger to the older fans, by saying, 'Hahaha. These are the Avengers now!" I like the book, normally, but he does seem mean-spirited (and stubborn) enough to do something like that. The current story, though, is really testing my patience: while I care a little bit about saving Mockingbird, and a little more so about Victoria Hand's battle to be accepted by the New Avengers, I'm really loathe to accept the retcon of Nick Fury putting together a team of Avengers in the 50s including Sabretooth, Namora, Kraven, Bloodstone, Fortune and some other Silver Sable (her father? Really?). It's overly campy, I'm never a fan of Chaykin's art, I don't care how much of a legend he is, and I don't see the point. It doesn't always have to have a point, but if it's just a fun story, well, it's not much fun. They're badass, they don't like Nazis, I get it. And Cap appears at the end, and this is supposed to be some kind of cliffhanger? No.

Shield Infinity - Nice touch with the numbering, nice story. The Colossus of Rhodes going up against the Kree? Geek heaven. Newton's evil genius? Understandable. The hidden message? Not really clear to me. The book is good, and it shows tremendous promise, and the best news is that they seem to have a solid plan moving forward. I'd be interested in learning if this is planned as a finite series, or if they're just gonna roll with it as long as they can. I see a lot of LOST parallels here and they'd benefit from some overall-plotting type of thinking. Regardless, it's definitely one of the most exciting books on the market.

Superboy 6- I like it when huge crossovers, like the Reign of Doomsday, invade books I read and I don't have to worry about the overall plot. I don't care about the Reign of Doomsday and I don't want to have to care. Its run through this book didn't negatively impact me because I didn't need to know what was going on with that story to understand this story. And I like that it'll run into Action 900 so I'll get a little continuity. It was refreshing to see Connor get his ass kicked by Doomsday, because I hate it when a previously killer villain gets turned into a pale version of him (or her) self. I'd like to see Valentine be mentored by Ray Palmer as they're hinting at. The thing about Superboy's book is that it could use more supporting characters that can stand on their own, and all the Superman knockoffs are kind of worrying in that aspect. If they can't create someone(s) for Connor, I'm OK with using an established character in a (kind of) new way.

The Unwritten 24 - This issue was as good as I was hoping, which is a rare thing in any medium. The return of Pauly, some more of the best behind the scenes looks at what's really happening in this book, no mention of Tom, a lying, hypocritical leader, and it kicked the ass of everything else this week. The art was different, but it fit, and the way that Pauly relentlessly manipulated everyone and, eventually, abandoned them was heartbreaking and perfect at the same time. In a way, this issue alone could serve as a microcosm for so many other stories (and religions) - including the Unwritten itself. This issue will stay engraved on my brain for a long, long time. The journey up the stairs, the appearance of Pauly, the takeover, the betrayal of the free people, and the battle and climax were all pitch perfect.

Book of the week should be obvious, but it's definitely the Unwritten. I don't know how a book could be much better than this book has been for two years straight. I know I sound like a broken record by now regarding this one, but if you're not picking it up, you are denying yourself in a wicked way.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

playoffs seeded. battles still to be fought.

On the last day of the NBA regular season, all 30 teams in the league were in action, something that hasn't happened since 1957. It was an action-packed night.

With the Eastern Conference all taken care of insofar as seeding, the Bulls were still fighting for the overall first seed, should they make it to the Finals. The only team they were battling, the San Antonio Spurs, lost while Chicago won, avoiding the potential for a tie-breaking random draw. The Boston Celtics beat the New York Knicks in a game that was at least partially a preview of the series they'll start this weekend. It could (and probably should) be argued their neither team brought their A Team (the starting line up for the Celtics consisted of Jeff Green, Glen Davis, Nenad Krstic, Carlos Arroyo and Von Wafer. I promise this is the only time you will ever see those names together as a starting line up. For anyone. Ever.) but that also didn't matter; both teams had been locked into their spots for more than 24 hours. New York is a trendy pick to upset Boston, who appear to be struggling right now, but that's far from a sure bet, especially given the way Boston's left-for-dead corpse roared back to life like Frankenstein propelled by the lightning during last year's post-season. The aforementioned Bulls will face the Pacers in the first round and the Miami Heat will go up against the Philadelphia 76ers. The only asterisk is left for the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks series, with Atlanta leading the regular season campaign at 3-1. That stat conveys to some that the Magic are ripe for downfall.

Meanwhile, over in the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies tanked so hard people were disgusted in their last regular-season game against the Clippers. The Clips had no chance at the playoffs and were more than happy to play the role of spoiler. The Spurs had been clinched as the top seed for almost a week and it appears as though the Grizzlies, in control of their own destiny, chose to play against that top seed. With the loss from Memphis, the New Orleans Hornets were cemented as the 7 seed, but their opponent took some work to be determined: after taking an 18-point lead into the beginning of the 4th quarter, the Lakers needed a 3 point shot by Kobe Bryant just to make it to overtime. A commanding 17-9 performance in the extra period gave Los Angeles the win, giving the Lakers a date with the Hornets. The Dallas Mavericks cliched the 4th seed for the Oklahoma City Thunder with their win, ensuring that the Thunder will be playing the Nuggets, who rest in the 5 spot. That left only the Portland Trailblazers, locked at the sixth seed, to play the third-seeded Dallas Mavericks, thanks to the magic of their win, combined with the Laker win and the Thunder loss.

It was a rare night from the get go, but most of the teams did their best to spice up the drama. The playoffs start on Saturday, with first rounds that promise to be exciting in the East, where it seems as though all the top seeds should win out (but nothing is guaranteed) and especially scintillating in the West where anything could happen. Tune in.