Scoop Jackson: All right, who's up to bat?
You be Rickey Henderson, E. Swing first.
Eric Neel: I'm ready, I'm eager. I'm looking forward to AI being AI in the first round against the Pistons. He's on fire right now and I don't expect it to stop. Did you see that little hesitation dribble-drive against the Bucks Monday night? Felt like Sinatra: "I got the world on a string, sitting on a rainbow ... " Detroit's going to have to put a body on him to stop him. And they will. And he'll get up. And keep coming.
Scoop: I got AI as the MVP this year. I really don't care what anyone says, he should be given the darn thang without drama or arguments. That said, Tayshaun Prince will make it impossible for Chuck to go nuts in their series. TP shuts cats down in the playoffs, Dennis Johnson-style.
I'm more intrigued to see what Denver is going to do. They're maybe the best seventh seed in history. I'm calling an upset. Remember, they got K-Mart for one reason: To get past the first round. I think their "mission" is deep. I'm sniffing Earl Boykins Round 2, Baby. Earl Boykins!
Eric: You've got the Nuggets in Round 2? Bold! That means you've got Boykins and NOT Manu "The Beast" Ginobili in Round 2? I gotta say, I'm not seeing that.
I'm also not seeing Phoenix going out early, even against Memphis. Here's my thing about the Suns: They've been hearing all year how they're not built for the postseason game, how their running thing is fun but not for real. I figure they've developed a nice us-against-the-world edge by now, you know? If I'm thinking mission, I can't think of a team in the tourney who has more of it than the Suns.
All right, so let's continue the look ahead: What are you least looking forward to?Waiting word,
Scoop: I'm least looking forward to the Bulls and Wizards, J. The Bulls are not at full strength and last week the Wiz had their butts by 25 in the first. Without Curry and Luol, they won't be the same, even though BG (Gordon) might be fun to watch.
Eric: I hear you on the Bulls, especially with Deng out. I love Deng. Maybe my favorite former Dukie of all time (along with Elton "How Long Must I Toil In Obscurity?" Brand), not that that's a long list, mind you. In fact, I'd much rather make a list of least-favorite Blue Devils, but I digress, and the question at hand is what I'm least looking forward to in the first round.
How about this: The first it's-the-playoffs-now, tough-guy foul down low or on the break, the first McHale-Rambis sort of message, the first flex of muscle for the sake of muscle. I want flow. I got no patience for the strong-arm, and I know somebody's gonna bring it down, just to see how some finesse player might react. It's cheap, and it's as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning. Leading candidates? K-Mart, the Collins kid in Jersey, maybe D. Ham in Detroit ...
Scoop: No, my friend ... Danny Fortson will be the first. Tech foul. Big "bows." Maybe miss a game. That's who my $$$'s on to be the first Dennis Rodman of the playoffs. And if I'm Beano Cook, I'm predicting it'll be Brad Miller (if healthy) at the other end of the drama.
Eric: Sweet Lou Hudson,
Here's my unexpected treat-of-the-playoffs prediction: Gilbert Arenas is going to go off, at least once. I'm talking a 40-point night, with a bunch of assists and rebounds and a side of fries to go with all that shake.
And here's my unexpected postseason trick: Carmelo's going to regress a bit, look more like first-half Carmelo and less like George's top gun. I see him pressing when the Spurs put the clamps on, and then I see him pressing harder still.
What say you?
Trick and treat?
Naw, I don't see it happening with 'Melo like that. I think he may have a game where he doesn't do his thing, but still I don't see a regression to the point where it becomes "news" or affects the Nuggets' shot at the upset. Which I have a feeling will happen.
As far as GA is concerned don't you love how black folks automatically give each other our initials as nicknames? I agree, he's going to rip at least one game. 40 easy. Larry Hughes is going to have a couple of five-steal games and Ant is going to steady kill 'em with 25/12 per. Gilbert is crazy. His game is Michael Jackson (Off-the-Wall). Once they get past the Bulls, he's going to be hell to mess with. Unless Tayshaun gets at him.
All the best, Louis Clyde Hudson aka Greensbough's Finest
P.S. Put me down for this treat: Bobby Jackson being back is going to be a treat because now we can see him, Bibby and Cuttino do the Zeke, Joe D and Vinnie thing, 2000-style. Those three on the court together will be bucknoodles. The other unexpected treat will be the VC/D-Wade battle. Jefferson's coming back and Shaq's gonna miss a game. But VC and D-Wade are 'bout to do something ill against each other.
And while we're at it, cast my vote for the following unexpected trick: The Erick Dampier sky hook. He's going to be sitting back one day this week, watching "Classic," and that 60-watt is going to pop up over his head. Next thing you know, he's going to be dropping the retro Cap move on Yao because that's the only way he's going to be able to score. Don't get me twisted, the shot's going to be Phyllis Diller (ugly) but it's gonna drop. Until Van Gundy puts in Dikembe and he sends one into Row 5 ...
Eric: All right, Captain America, Here's another: The proverbial one-shot question: Clock winding down, series on the line, who you got?
Kobe's out of the mix now, MJ's long gone, and let's take Reggie out of this, too.
Make it a new power generation thing: Which of the young lions do you want taking matters into his own hands?
I'll take Wade. The way he came on in the first round last year, when he had no right, and there was no kind of reasonable expectation that he should be so good and so fearless, that was the stuff. Now he's got all that and then some (where "and then some" means Big Daddy's got his back).
Scoop: I can't argue, Young Skywalker. D-Wade is that cat. AI is nothing to mess with with the game on the line ... Paul Pierce, either. But to be honest with you, in a big, big game the one player who right now I'd like to have the ball with one shot to win it is Chauncey Billups. While others are cool under fire, that dude's ice cold.
One and done,
Eric: Hey, Silk, my pick for early-round mismatch is at the point, where Mike Bibby is about to make Luke Ridnour look like Luke Appling, which is to say, you know, dead and buried.
How about yours?
Scoop: Dear Downtown Freddie Brown, I say it's going to be some white-on-white crime at its finest. No disrespect to J-Will, 'cause I love him, but Nash is about put it on him.
Now let's talk officiating and such. I have a feeling Steve Javie and Mark Davis are going to be topics on "Rome is Burning" before the end of next week. Especially Davis. If he gets a Philly game (and I think he will) he's going to do something that's going to have AI following his butt out of the stadium.
Eric: Remember Javie and Van Exel tussling on the scorer's table like two chaste screen stars trying to keep to the Hays Commission rules? Ah yes, those were the good old days.
I'm watching for two things when it comes to officiating in these playoffs. Thing One: How much beating will the whistles let Shaq take? Thing Two: Will they keep calling the perimeter contact close, like they've been doing all season. If so, we've got a show.
Hey, here's a fun foul fact before I get out: The Suns don't foul anybody. Lowest average in the league, something like 18 a game. Too busy playing ball, don't ya know ...
Scoop: D'Antoni's been a wizard in the Southwest. His reputation is made. So who's the coach most likely to damage his rep in these playoffs? I think of it like this: I don't know if Jeff Van Gundy has a rep, but it's going to be mad classic watching him go up against Avery Johnson. After it's all said and done, when Houston's "gone fishin'," no one is going to look at Van Gundy the same. Trust me on this one.Eric: Sure, JVG's got a rep. He's got a rep for slowing it down and sucking the air out. He's got the Patrick-in-the-post rep. I talked to Doug Moe earlier this spring, about coaching, the sportcoats of old, the whole nine ... and he said coaches today get all crazy for defense because they believe it gives them control, and because they L-O-V-E control. He wasn't talking about JVG, but he was, right? Anyway, I hope you're right; I hope Avery keeps it loose and blows right on by him.
But JVG's not the marquee sort of coach I'm thinking of right now. I'm thinking of Larry Brown. Larry's thinking of a job in LA or New York, probably. But I'm focused, I'm thinking of nothing but him. His rep took a major hit last summer in Athens, just weeks after he'd reached his highest heights with the NBA title. So which Larry do we get this spring/summer? The genius of ball "the right way" or the out-of-touch disciplinarian? If the Pistons stumble ... If they go down, say, to the Pacers, Larry's moment in the sun is going to be Warholian, over in 15.Scoop: Speaking of in and out of fashion, let's get serious. Let's get on the Craig Sager wardrobe watch. I can't lie. I have this feeling, since he's been on the low this year, that Sager is about to come full blast. Bishop Don Juan is going to lace him, he's going to get one of the Miami games, come straight off South Beach, into the locker room with a six-button linen fuchsia Pucci leisure suit on with salmon Stacey Adam gators. Shaq going to see him and lose it.
Eric: Dare to dream, Mr. Mizrahi. Aim high. Your sartorial musings have me thinking this way: Once upon a time we talked about the coaches' kits. Hair, suits, shoes, ties ... Riles, Chuck Daley, even Phil's suspenders and Nellie's silver mane. What's happened to all that? We're stuck in an era of bland, conservative looks now; guys are combing over and dressing down. It's sad. I blame Stern (take a look at the glasses ... need I say more?). I can't tell you what I'd give to see Larry Brown come out for one of these games in the old-time denim overalls and wide lapels ...
Scoop: Yeah, with the patchwork patterns. I was in his basketball camps back then. He told me I was his first Iverson. Head case. But I agree with you about LB and his rep. The way D-Wade, LBJ and Amer played this year and the fact that he really didn't use them in Athens ... I can't disagree with you on that one, Hef. Just as long as you don't show up to a game sporting one of Nellie's fish ties from the Milwaukee days.
Eric: Mr. Speaker:
I nominate ...
Kirk Hinrich as this year's Sleepy Floyd All-Star and Quentin Richardson as this year's Dennis Scott All-Star.
Care to attach any riders or propose any amendments?
The gentleman yields the balance of his time ...
Scoop: Tip ONeil, I concur. But ... Bobby Simmons gets my LL (Don't Call It A Comeback) Award and Carmelo gets my Common Sense (Resurrection) Award. After that, I'll get back for Round 2.
Eric: All right Butch,
Beyond the five starters, the Suns are about as deep as a dish of Palmolive ("you're soaking in it!"), and the Heat, even with Eddie Jones' .806, are the worst free-throw shooting team in basketball (just what you want when the game slows down and all, right?). As you see it, what are the Achilles' heels of the other two top contenders, Detroit and San Antonio?
San An has drazama if TD isn't 100 percent. And after looking at him twice since he's been back, it doesn't look like he's there yet. This is going to prove what type of ball player he really is. K-Mart and Camby ain't lying down this year.
And 'Troit? The only podiatrist issue I see is Larry Brown's drive. If he brings that "I need to prove to you all how Hall-Of-Fame I really am" attitude to the bench, it's over. And Rasheed needs to make some noise. He neeeds to get on blast, fired up for a second. You know, like last year, instead of guaranteeing a game, he needs to guarantee a series. that would be sick!
Eric: I want to go on record here and now on the LeBron thing. Point One: His first two years do not suffer next to Michael's just because his club didn't make the show. Check the W-L records twice, get plenty of rest, and call me in the morning. Point Two, and I know this one is sacrilege, but ... I'm not going to miss him in these playoffs. The Nets are better than Cleveland right now, and even if LeBron could come up with some crazy 63-pointish madness in the first round (which I very seriously doubt), it wouldn't be enough to make a good series against the Heat. But with Carter and Kidd both healthy, and understanding each other better than ever, the Nets are going to be some serious counter-punchers for Shaq and Wade to contend with.
Speaking of which, I was watching a replay of Leonard-Hearns I on "Classic" last night and it got me to thinking about 1981, and about Larry Bird's off-his-own-miss-right-hand-to-left miracle shot in the Finals against Houston, which got me to thinking that, much as I'm pained to admit it, that might just be the best shot I've ever seen in the playoffs, even better than Magic's junior junior hook in 1987.
So now two questions for you:
Does VC's resurrection in NJ bother you the way it bothers a lot of other folks? Why or why not ...
And what's the best shot, move, etc., you can remember seeing in the playoffs?
Scoop: Your son has nice game. Make him come out. Forget repeating. Make that money!!!!
On the strength, I agree with you on the LBJ tip. I think we're getting caught up subliminally in the MJ comparisons. The question is, who has a better chance of winning? NJN. That's who we should want to see, even though their demise wasn't their (the players on Cleveland) fault.
That said, Naw, I ain't mad at Vince at all. For what? Dogging it at times in Toronto? OK, if that bothers me, then Shaq bothers me more. Smell me? And I ain't mad at Shaq. It's so funny (and hypocritical) to me that folks are heated at VC for his resurrection but aren't mad at Diesel. I mean, why did it take his being traded to another team to get him "motivated" to get back into ShaqMode? And to be honest, he had more at stake than Vince ever did. If Vince played the best basketball of his life, Toronto was not challenging for a championship. The Lakers had legit shots at two more. And if Shaq is Shaq, he never gets traded to Miami. And if I don't have beef with Shaq, how can I be salty at VC? I'm not like that Omarosa.
Best shot, is without question, argument, doubt, challenge, Julius' under the backboard joint on Mark Landsberger and Cap and the whole Lakers squad. Larry's putback was ridiculous, but what Doc did, to me, was so, so, so refreakindiculous, I can't even think of a word to define or describe it. Then there were these Rex Chapman, Sean Elliot, Baron Davis shots ...
Eric: All right Chief,
Let's close this out proper and agree to reconvene on the other side.
I've got Spurs and Pistons for all the marbles, and Spurs winning out. Called it that way last summer, when they signed Brent Barry, not going to change up now.
It's been real,
Scoop: I'll take Detroit to win it ... over Denver.
Didn't see that coming, did you?
That's why they play the games, Grasshopper.
Now let's get it started.
Eric Neel is a columnist for Page 2.
Scoop Jackson is an award-winning journalist who has covered sports and culture for more than 15 years. He is a former editor of Slam, XXL, Hoop and Inside Stuff magazines; and the author of "Sole Provider: 30 Years of NIKE Basketball," "Battlegrounds: America's Street Poets Called Ballers" and "LeBron James: the Chambers of Fear." He resides in Chicago with his wife and two kids. You can e-mail Scoop here.