Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dallas Road Trip

Hello there, we are back from our holiday travels, which took us to Big D, Dallas:


As always, The Painted Area tried to work some hoops into its travels, which included our first-ever visit to American Airlines Center, for the Mavs-Grizzlies game last Tuesday.

First things first, we needed a pregame meal. The cover story of the Dec. 2006 issue of Texas Monthly magazine ("The 63 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die") ranked the top tacos in Texas.

At no. 1 was the Picadillo Taco at Fuel City in Dallas, just a couple miles away from the AAC - we figured you can't beat that.

Fuel City is certainly an unorthodox place to get your taco on. As its address of S. Industrial Blvd. might indicate, Fuel City is said to be in a somewhat seedy part of town, on the wrong side of the massive jumble of freeways from downtown.

And as its name might indicate, Fuel City is primarily a giant gas station/convenience store complex:


Just off to the right of the picture above is this 24-hour taco window:


There are five main options for tacos: Picadillo (ground beef with diced potatoes and green sauce), Barbacoa (steamed roast beef), Pastor (spicy pork), Beef Fajita, and Chicken Fajita.

There's no place to sit, so you gotta eat 'em in your car. We went with 2 picadillo, 2 barbacoa, 2 pastor:


The verdict: DEFINITELY worth the hype. I honestly can't single out a favorite - each was unique. Loved the feel that the potatoes gave to the Picadillo, but I'm always a sucker for Pastor.

And at $1.16/taco, you can't really complain about anything. Even though we had to drive with our windows down for the rest of our stay to air out the rental car, it was still well worth it.

What's that you're saying? Isn't this a basketball blog, not a food blog? Consider that culinary digression a tribute to Dr. Z, may he get well soon. But yes, enough preamble, let's get over to the AAC for some hoops:


It was a fairly unremarkable, unsurprising game of regular-season NBA basketball, as Dallas jumped on the Grizzlies early and pretty much cruised to a 100-82 win.

Dallas' bigs played well: Erick Dampier gave them a big boost with 8 pts/8 reb in the 1st. Damp had 13-9-5 blks on the night, and he and Gana Diop really controlled the interior defensively, as they held Memphis to 38% FG. Brandon Bass helped seal the deal with 11 explosive points in the 4th after surprisingly not seeing action before 0:34 of the 3rd.


Some thoughts:
MAVS
Dallas just kind of looks exactly like an "It is what it is" kind of team: they're an efficient, well-drilled Rick Carlisle team of smart veterans. They're a professional team that executes well, but we can't imagine how their season ends with anything other than, say, 46-51 wins and a first-round exit.

As we sat through the starting lineup hullabaloo, we were reminded that the bad news for these guys is that they are old. They trotted out Kidd (35), J Howard (28), D George (31), Dirk (30) and Damp (33), with Jet (31) off the bench.

When your ceiling is the first round, that's not good. Yes, they have a nice collection of decent young prospects - Bass (23), G Green (22), Barea (24), Diop (26), S Williams (22) - but we certainly don't deviate from opinions previously voiced in this space that a) they should have blown up the team after the 2007 Playoffs disaster and b) the Harris-Kidd trade was a colossal stinker.

GRIZZ
A lot of talk about top Rookie of the Year contender O.J. Mayo lately, so let's focus on him. In January, we were somewhat critical of Mayo in voicing the opinion that he was a good player, but not a great player.

We actually came to appreciate O.J.'s game more as the college season went on, once we accepted him more as a scoring combo guard than as a true point guard. Still, we think his potential falls far short of the superstar hype which followed him through his high-school years, and aren't yet convinced that he'll be an All-Star player.

The night before our game in Dallas, Mayo reportedly dueled pretty well with Kobe in L.A., with 22 points and 6 assists in 37 mins (Kobe had 36 points in 38 min) as the Lakers had to rally in the fourth for a home win.

O.J.'s performance prompted this note in TrueHoop:
    O.J. Mayo seemed to enjoy getting a crack at Kobe Bryant. Sure, Bryant's Lakers won, but Mayo looked comfortable on the same court with him. TrueHoop reader Alan e-mails: "Last night, OJ Mayo went up against Kobe, a reputable wing defender and his generation's most reasonable MJ facsimile, and at one point canned a 3 in his face. In crunch time, he confidently whipped a pass to an open Darko when Kobe and a helper collapsed on him. In their first meet in the NBA, Kobe and Mayo resembled some of Kobe and MJ's early matchups. Then, Kobe was 19 and MJ was 35, and now, Mayo is 21 and Kobe is 30. Kobe likes his jumper more than MJ did, and in turn, Mayo likes his jumper more than Kobe did. But like a young Kobe, Mayo embraced the challenge against the more experienced 2-guard, and demonstrated a fearlessness and skill, honed from hours of hard labor, that the young Kobe and the young MJ approached their games with."
That's all well and good, but in this league, you've gotta perform night-in and night-out to be a star, and Mayo was completely invisible the following night in Dallas, with 7 pts on 2-10 FG, with 3 reb, 2 ast, 3 TO in 33 mins. I can't stress how much of a non-factor Mayo was - yes, Josh Howard did a nice job on him, but Mayo was completely uninvolved in the offense for much of the night.

After seeing Mayo in action, I thought that this John Hollinger note was a real eye-opener:
    1. O.J. Mayo, along with Derrick Rose, is making a run for rookie of the year honors, but the Grizzlies guard might have trouble sustaining his level of production. That's not because he's a bad player. In fact, Mayo's fundamentals are much more solid than most one-and-done products, as he is a good defender, handles the ball well and doesn't try to overdo it.

    That said, I can't imagine he's quite as good a shooter as he's shown so far. For starters, Mayo is at 40.8 percent on 3-pointers -- a range nearly all rookies struggle adjusting to. It's possible he's really that good, but he might just be shooting over his head.

    But that's nothing compared to his success rate on long 2-point field goals. Mayo is shooting 66-for-120 on long 2s this season for a 55.0 percent conversion rate. I can't emphasize this enough: Nobody shoots that well. Last season, only two players with at least 100 attempts made more than half their shots from this range, Steve Nash and Mo Williams.

    The odds of Mayo's shooting anywhere near 55.0 percent on his next 120 long 2s are very, very low. Even the best open shooters in the league have trouble maintaining such a high success rate, and Mayo is shooting contested jumpers far more often than a lot of those players do.

    So, as impressive as his start has been, there's a good chance his shooting numbers will cool off a bit.
Take a look at Mayo's shot chart from the Mavs game:

He was 2-3 on 3pters, 0-4 on long 2's, 0-1 on a 9-footer, and 0-2 at the rim (one missed shot is not shown on this chart).

Here's what struck me:
- With his long jump-shot game not working, Mayo basically had nothing else to contribute to the ballclub. He didn't really get others involved, and didn't really get to the rim (1-2 FT). He just kind of hung out around the perimeter for the evening.
- He was not able to finish at the rim against a good defensive big like Dampier inside. As much as Mayo has good strength and athleticism overall, he is still listed at 6-4/210. That's great size for a 1, but for an NBA 2, not so much. I think that these will be the biggest questions O.J. will have to answer if he is to become a true NBA star:
1. Can he run a team as a 1, at least some of the time? Given his size, this would greatly increase his value. Based on what I've seen to date, I am skeptical, though I'll keep an open mind.
2. Can he consistently finish/draw fouls at the rim vs. NBA bigs?

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate what the rookie is doing in scoring 20 ppg right out of the box, but I just don't see a superstar-type player - I don't see a guy who's anywhere near complete enough in his potential skill set to be worthy of being talked about in terms of an MJ-Kobe-O.J. continuum.



Alright, the other hoop-related adventure on our journey involved our continuing, likely quixotic, quest to build the ultimate basketball library.

We had a huge Texas road-trip day to what have to be two of the best used bookstores in the country, Booked Up in Archer City, and Recycled Books in Denton.

I don't even really know where to start regarding Booked Up. It's owned by famed author Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove), who has tried to turn his old hometown into a "book town."

Archer City, which is about a two-hour drive from Dallas, has a population of less than 2000 people and more than 300,000 books. Booked Up is comprised of four different buildings - a couple are across the street and another is down the block from Building 1, which is pictured below.


Yet, notably, Building 1 is the only one where books can be bought! Yes, I found the books I wanted in Building 4, down the block (and adjacent to the Royal Theater of Last Picture Show fame), and brought them back to Building 1 to check out.

The whole thing was quite an enjoyably bizarre experience, even if it became a bit exhausting that many of the books are arranged "Erratically/ Impressionistically/ Whimsically/ Open to Interpretation," as their web site says.

On the way back to Dallas, we stopped at Recycled Books, in an old converted opera house on the charming town square in Denton.


We actually scored the majority of our haul at Recycled. Here's what we came away with after both stops:


I've done a bit of research overall, so I was pretty impressed that Recycled had a few that I'd never heard of, such as Basketball Is My Life by Bob Cousy and the autobiography of former official Richie Powers, who called the Celtics-Suns "Greatest Game Ever Played" in the 1976 Finals. Who knew there was such a thing? Now it goes right next to Calling The Shots by Earl Strom on my bookshelf!

[Other notes: The World's Greatest Team is about the Celtics dynasty from 1957-69, while My Unforgettable Season 1970 is coach Red Holzman's memoir of the Knicks championship season, and Magic is an early (1983) autobiography - usually My Life and Magic's Touch from the early '90s are the ones you are likely to find at bookstores.]


One other non-hoop note... for tourists, we'd also recommend a trip to the Sixth Floor Museum, at the former Texas School Book Depository, which is of course the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK in November of 1963.

The museum is housed entirely on the sixth floor, which is where Oswald performed his evil deed.

He was perched in the window on the far right of the second floor from the top in the photo below. The area around that window is glassed off (it is a reconstruction of Oswald's sniper's nest, which he constructed with boxes of books), so you can't get right up to it, but you can get the gist by looking out the adjacent windows. It's a little bit eerie, and certainly evocative.

We found the museum to be quite well done overall, even-handed in terms of presenting information about the official facts of the assassination as well as some of the conspiracy theories which have developed over the years. We will note that we did not find any suspicious activity upon our investigation of the grassy knoll - other than a few conspiracy theorists selling their wares!


Please note that there are No Firearms Allowed inside the Sixth Floor Museum!


Finally, just because, our favorite gifts in the Mavs team store were the "Dancin' Dirk" and Cubes dolls....


...though we had a soft spot for the Little General t-shirt we found on the clearance table. Such is the cyclical nature of the NBA....


Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks for reading The Painted Area. We're looking forward to a hell of a run to the '09 chip.

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