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:
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.

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.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Simmons/Stern Interview Notes

I thought that the Bill Simmons podcast interview with David Stern this week was quite good. In addition to hinting at remorse over the Seattle situation for the first time, the commissioner was also quite forthcoming in answering Bill's random assortment of questions relating to Stern's 25 years of service (as of Feb. 1, 2009).

I thought that these answers were among the most interesting:
    Simmons: Who's your favorite owner? The guy that you point to and say, "That's how you run a team."

    Stern: I actually have three favorites: Bill Davidson [Pistons], Abe Pollin [Wizards] and Larry Miller [Jazz].
I doubt that there is much objection to this answer in either Michigan or Utah, as Davidson built the league's model arena (among many other things), and Miller has been a model for sustained small-market success. However, I'm sure that there are some guffaws of disbelief around the nation's capital that Pollin would be included in such an answer.
    Simmons: What's the one decision that you'd like a mulligan on, that you wish you could do over?

    Stern: I wish we hadn't had the Vancouver experience.

    Simmons: For what reason?

    Stern: Great city and we disappointed them and we disappointed ourselves.... I think that was a great city.... We didn't take advantage of the opportunity. Maybe we shouldn't have done it there - maybe we should have only gone into Toronto, and not Vancouver.... But that's a great disappointment to me.
I agree with this one across the board. I'm a Seattle resident who thinks Vancouver is one of the great cities in the world, and I loved having an excuse to make an annual trip up to catch a Grizzlies game.

I've always believed that Vancouver could have been a successful NBA city, but there were three main problems that plagued the franchise:

Abject on-court failure. I mean, maybe it's obvious, but really, I think you forget just how poorly this team performed. Take a look. In six seasons, they never won more than 23 games, never had a winning percentage above .280.

Think of the pathetic franchises in the league - they were never close to this bad. Charlotte has won 33 and 32 games the last two years. Even the patehtic Clippers have never gone more than *three* consecutive seasons winning fewer than 30 games. The Grizzlies went *six* seasons winning no more than 23.

They never gave their fans even a glimmer of hope that they were improving, that they were merely bad instead of awful. Even a season of wins in the low-30s would have been a huge help. Mere mediocrity would have been a godsend! Think of it: a 35-win season would have been huge for them!

Lack of marketing focus. The demographics of Vancouver are unique in that there is a huge community of recent immigrants from Asia, many who came over from Hong Kong after the British handed it back to the Chinese.

I've always thought the Grizzlies failed by not making this community a target of their marketing efforts for the following reasons:

1. The NBA has had great success not only in attracting fans in Asia itself, but also Asian-American fans as well. Some of the most rabid fan bases in the league - Lakers, Warriors, Raptors - are teams which have a substantial base of Asian-American fans (or Asian-Canadian fans!).

2. I thought that targeting this demographic was doubly attractive because they were new to Canada. Vancouver is a Canucks town through and through. For people who were established Canucks fans, the Grizzlies were *never* going to be the no. 1 team in town. Never.

That's the thing - by targeting the immigrant community, I thought they had the chance to not only capture fans (and a largely affluent base at that), but also to capture fans who would be Grizzlies fans first and foremost, which seemed especially valuable, and otherwise challenging in the Vancouver winter-sports market.

Never got a galvanizing player. The reality is that you sometimes need a little luck - something that helps galvanize a city. Usually, it's simply getting the right player to galvanize the fan base.

Many wondered if Toronto would be a successful NBA franchise... until Vince Carter entered the league spectacularly and galvanized the fan base. Chris Paul seems to have done the same in New Orleans.

Vancouver never found the right player. Passing on trades for B.C. native Steve Nash were certainly major missed opportunities. And they never just got lucky at the draft by falling into the right player - Yao Ming (who was drafted after the franchise left) would have been the ideal, given the demographics expressed above.

And alas, where there was once a bounty of NBA action for the fan in the Northwest, now there is just one team left standing....


Quick programming note: Thursday's Euroleague matchup between Ricky Rubio/DKV Joventut and Brandon Jennings/Lottomatica Roma did not materialize into much of a duel, as Rubio is still recovering from a wrist injury and played just eight minutes. Jennings, however, did seem to play well with 12 points and 2 assists in 23 minutes.

In any event, just wanted to pass along the programming note that the game is being broadcast on NBA TV on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Rose Garden Holiday Road Trip

Hi folks, hope the Americans among you had a nice holiday weekend. We had a healthy serving of hoops ourselves, with a jaunt down to Portland for the Blazers-Hornets game on Friday, and then on Sunday I had a P.J. Carlesimo sighting at my local supermarket here in Seattle (he never moved his family to OKC). While I'm sorry that P.J. got the axe, at least he now has good reason to join the Seattle community in wishing bad karma upon the franchise.

Anyhow, we thought we'd share a few photos from our trip to the Rose Garden for Friday's game between playoff contenders (click for larger images if you so desire):

The Blazers won the contest 101-86, keyed by a 17-0 run in the 3rd/4th quarters which turned a 69-65 deficit into an 82-69 lead.

I got my first in-person look at Greg Oden, who thankfully has shaved his regrettable beard, and now looks just 37 instead of 53. Young fella had a tough night, with just 1 pt, 8 reb, 3 ast, 1 blk in 24 min. He actually showed nice patience in the post - New Orleans was running double teams at him, and Oden passed well out of them, as the 3 assists would indicate.

But the name of Oden's game is supposed to be defense, and he is clearly not yet the same guy who patrolled the paint before his microfracture surgery. A couple times guys were able to come at him and shoot over him, which shouldn't happen. We just need to remember that it took Amare a while to get his legs back after microfracture, and I expect it to be the same case with Oden. I still believe in the big fella. And let's be clear: he still played good position defense and altered several shots, and he is actually averaging 1.55 blocks in just 20.5 minutes per game. This is the area of his game where it is scary to imagine how good he can become.

This was the story of the game on this night - Brandon Roy got into the painted area and Chris Paul by and large did not. B-Roy went off for 25 pts, 6 reb, 10 ast, while CP3 had a subpar game with 16 pts, 6 reb, 6 ast and 5 TO. The Blazers really did an outstanding job of keeping CP3 out of the lane, where he normally does so much of his damage, with a combination of some zone looks and some good team defense on the N.O. pick-and-rolls, with especially good help from the Portland bigs.

So Portland is now 7-0 at home and 12-6 overall, while New Orleans is 9-6. Not to go all Abbotty on you here, but the question of which of these teams is better is worth asking.

I think that the conventional wisdom is that the Hornets are still a title contender because they were last year. But Hollinger has been far ahead of the CW, as he is so often, by pointing out since the preseason that the Hornets' bench on the frontline is atrocious.

That's all I could think of when I was inspired to take the next shot - a Sean Marks sighting! With the result still in the balance, no less!

Let me note that Marks came in at the start of the 4th, with the Hornets still down just 8. Marks played the next 6:40 and N.O. was down 15 when he left. I ain't sayin' Kiwi lost the game for them, but he didn't exactly help.

Terrible bench. (And I'd note that, although James Posey has been a good addition, I still think this team misses Jannero Pargo's potential instant O off the pine in the backcourt.)

Contrast that with Portland bringing in Rudy, Travis Outlaw, and Joel Pryzbilla (shooting 83% FG!) as part of its second unit.

All in all, it was a fairly nondescript game. Not a lot of highlight plays and, relatedly, CP3 was pretty much bottled up all night.

While it was a good, sellout crowd - as has once again become the norm in Portland - let me note that the biggest cheer of the night was related to the following:

The Blazers crossed the magical 100-point Chalupian threshold with about a minute left, the crowd erupted, and summarily streamed for the exits to collect their coupons for free food, with the important business of the night now truly complete.

As Phil Jackson once said (I'm paraphrasing), "I've never understood how people in $100 seats could get so excited about $1 tacos."

One other notable aspect of the night was the preponderance of green/gold and orange/black in the crowd on the eve of the first Oregon-Oregon State "Civil War" with both teams in the Top 25 in something like 400 years.

During the timeouts there were various "Civil War Olympics" contested between the schools' mascots and dance teams. Below, you can see Benny Beaver propelled across the court in mascot bowling:

Just trying to report on the flavor of the evening for you. Again, the crowd responded vigorously to these various activities, as it did not take much to get these folks worked up into a Civil War frenzy.

Finally, just because: Big Red:

Good times are once again ahead in Portland. Take a deep breath, Henry, and all you other Maniacs out there.