Dangers in the wild west

Basketball:

Over at Icemen they have your primer for the classic Western Conference rematch we have come to know and anticipate: Suns v. Spurs. JRo covers the need for team defense from the Spurs in lieu of a Bruce Bowen to handle the Steve Nash experience without overdosing.

The high screen with Nash/Stoudamire is the engine of the Suns offense that will demand the greatest focus from Pop and his wily bunch. It sets up their 3 pt. shooting, which is better this year than in years past, besides setting up Nash and Amare for their variety of finishing moves to get easy baskets and fouls.

But Pop will know the often over-looked flaw with the Nash-Amare tandem that the goggled one is dangerous specifically as a part of the Nash machine. His back to the basket game isn't something that will put the Spurs on DEFCON alert and his failings in the traditional big man duties of defense and rebounding characterize the major short-coming of the Steve Nash Suns.

He has held a stranglehold on the franchise with his explosive offensive abilities in their offense that have overshadowed the fact that another power forward could still offer strong offense numbers playing with Nash while giving a lot more in the other areas of need, like defending the rim against whomever Nash is guarding. Robin Lopez does a lot in this regard but alas, he is uncertain to make an impact coming off injury.

On the other hand at least we will witness a pure Suns performance against the old heavyweights.

That said, I offer power rankings for the remaining playoff teams:

1). Cleveland: They have answers for a lot of different styles, they play strong defense and are led by LeBron playing at a higher level than we've seen from anyone who isn't considered a candidate for top 5 greatest of all time. If he keeps up this pace through a championship it might be the greatest season in the NBA's history.

Strengths: LeBron, versatility, defense

Weaknesses: LeBron's elbow, supporting cast still disappears at times.

2). Orlando: Highest overall talent level and the best defensive player in the game which goes a long way towards winning a playoff series (see Russell Celtics, Duncan Spurs, Walton Blazers, etc). The way they eviscerated the Hawks in game one was an ancient-style example of brutality. Covered by the awful spectacle they can make on a team that isn't prepared to deal with their top to bottom skill is how they get baskets in the 4rth quarter of a close game. Also, Gortat would be the starting Center for almost every other team in the playoffs save the Lakers, Spurs and maybe the Celtics.

Strengths: Extreme depth of talent, interior defense.

Weaknesses: Crunch time scoring, Howard's difficulty with all aspects of the game related to fouls, no perimeter stopper

3). San Antonio Spurs: when the big 3 are healthy and playing to their potential the Spurs have always been near-unbeatable when that is added to that their classic team defense (recently re-discovered). Given their improved supporting cast and speed in the backcourt with Hill and Parker you have a team that can go 7 with anyone with the way games are called and played on the perimeter in today's NBA.

Strengths: The revived Duncan-Parker-Ginobili hydra, intelligent and hard-working team defense (i.e. Popovich), 3 penetrating creators in the backcourt with Hill, Parker, and Ginobili.

Weaknesses: The not unlikely loss of one of the hydra's heads, lack of star power inside after Timmy.

4). LA Lakers: The defending champions look back to form against the mismatched Jazz but their weaknesses are becoming well-documented. I think teams 1 and 3 are bad matchups for them.

Strengths: Size inside (if you can't deal with Gasol/Bynum/Odom you will die a painful death), Kobe Bryant, experience/Zen Master

Weaknesses: Derek Fisher's lifeless body, Kobe's shot selection, "the disease of more" (the theory Simmons hammers in "The Book of Basketball" that the players on champions often lack the desire to play the roles that won the initial title), MJ Mbenga and their other horrendous bench players

5). Phoenix Suns: Steve Nash looks better than ever right now and their personnel matches their style better than any other year since the one that lost Joe Johnson during a Spurs series to a broken face.

Strengths: Steve Nash, 3 pt. shooting (Nash, Hill, Frye and Dudley shoot 40% or better on 3's with Richardson and Dragic really close as well), difficult pace.

Weaknesses: Defense, the difficulty in establishing the high-tempo in a 7 game series, unsteady play from Richardson

6). Utah Jazz: Deron Williams is the best point guard in the playoffs and their highly-touted system is doing a remarkable job of filling in around the Boozer-Williams combo which I would qualify as an even better overall combo than Amare-Nash. Their team-play and superstar combo affords them chances that are wasted by more talented teams in the playoffs. The problem is that Boozer is probably about 6-7 and they have no way to handle the Gasol-Bynum-Odom size of the Lakers while the Lakers can withstand Deron Williams by switching Kobe over when necessary to guard him.

Strengths: Pick'n'roll with Boozer-Deron, the Sloan system, high team involvement on offense and defense.

Weaknesses: No size inside, only 3 legitimate title-caliber players, frequent fouling on defense

7). Boston Celtics: This is a stacked team with arguably more talent than any other team in the starting five. The problem is that Garnett isn't near what he used to be and Rasheed Wallace has infected the team with the ebola virus. Rondo is the rising star on a team built around the big 3 veterans. It's an uneasy existence of talent in Boston whereas the above teams have more firmly established their roles.

Strengths: Offensive options in the starting five, experience, crunch time scoring (Pierce with a little Allen thrown in).

Weaknesses: They don't defend well anymore without fouling, clashing egos, the stinch of Rasheed's decaying competitive desire.

8). Atlanta Hawks: They almost lost to the Bucks.

Strengths: Very strong potential core with Johnson and Josh Smith with Horford as a title-caliber starter as well.

Weaknesses: Not very good at basketball, can't win on the road.

Overall this list would predict a Cavs-Spurs finals repeat of 2007 in which I suspect that LeBron would overcome with a cast better equipped to handle the Spurs big 3. However matchups reign in the NBA and many teams are perfectly suited to beat down every other team save for one glaring exception. I think the Cavs would have at least gone to 7 with LA last year but couldn't handle the Lewis-Turkoglu matchups (or Howard for that matter) while that same trait made the Magic vulnerable to the Lakers' interior.

The Lakers could struggle dealing with Hill and Parker (nowhere for Fisher to hide) but readily handle the Suns while the Cavs are at the mercy of LeBron's elbow and the Magic have yet to be placed in a position where having Vince Carter becomes the problem most anticipated it would be. Should be a fun few series.

Geekdom:

I caught the end of the Alexander the Great vs. Attila the Hun matchup which was fairly useless. They didn't test the Hun bow on Macedonian armor and Alexander was primarily armed with a cavalry lance while his actual world stabbing tour was mainly accomplished with the sarissa. I had little doubt that Attila could defeat Alexander one on one by simply shooting him full of arrows while riding circles so this was an uninteresting revelation. Also of note, in the simulation the Huns were on foot. Pretty poorly done episode.

On the other hand I was pleased with the Jesse James v. Al Capone duel. I would rather have seen the Texas Rangers get some action on the show but that will never happen after the James crew used up the Colt Revolver, Winchester rifle, and Bowie knife. The Capone gangsters lost for the simple reason that it's more difficult to gun down someone shooting from the hip with a tommy gun if they are on a horse shooting you with a rifle than if they are surprised in their own home in a drunken stupor.

The superiority of the Western weapon choices was stark and I couldn't believe how ill-equipped the Capone "experts" were. The only defense for the Capone team was that the marksmanship of the Jesse James advocates might have been far beyond what the actual figures could accomplish.

Nevertheless it should be clear that well-armed fighters are more deadly than street punks and assassins no matter the sophistication of their boss' business.

Football:

Amongst other strong articles Scipio, rather than making his own hastily-prepared top 10 and setting himself up for future embarrassment, has stuck with the tried and true Internet strategy of commenting on a list by an ESPN "thinker". Naturally its wonderful.

I concur with the thoughts on Bama and don't think Saban's crew is positioned to be that much stronger than than Arkansas or Florida. The Gators had some big holes blown in their defense and offense but we've seen that their recruiting is going to pile in more NFL talent, albeit less experienced. Alabama lost their best run-blocker and almost the entirety of their defense, and are they in better or worse shape to pass-protect for McElroy? Teams watching national championship film or the Auburn game should come to the same conclusion as Scipio Tex and notice that the Tide doesn't turn too well in the backfield once it gets going in one direction.

Play-action (if you can set it up) or other misdirection plays should eat up this Bama defense and Florida might have just the weapons on offense to do it if Arkansas doesn't.

Let's round things up with a visit north to the that place we tried to stash all those unwanted Indians. ClosetoJumping already commented on Trent Williams recent renunciation of the looked-over state. What's particularly delightful about this indictment is that, as opposed to the Malcolm Kelly comments, they come from a successfully drafted player who performed well in drills and is signing a huge check. What does he have to be bitter about from his time on the reservation?

Interestingly this came shortly after a post on BoomerandSooner curiously titled "OU in the draft and the vindication of Bob Stoops". Other than an apparent inability to win games with 4 first round draft picks I'm not sure what the draft has told us that suggests anything particularly positive about Bob Stoops.

The arguments for Stoops in this article revolve around how he improved/failed to destroy the draft status of McCoy, Bradford and Williams. At best he sounds like Rick Barnes with only the goal of putting players in the league. At worst he was lucky with the consequences and still failed to produce a worthwhile season despite enjoying one of the better defenses in the Stoops era to complement his NFL talent-loaded team.

Meanwhile it appears Texas will just have to make do again without any star players again.

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