They're deep into the conference semifinals of the NBA playoffs, and the vise is tightening. It happens every year the game slows to a turgid pace, forearms live in the smalls of backs, and hips and shoulders greet anyone with designs on an easy hoop. The NBA Playoffs: bumper cars in shorts.
Teams like the Suns, Mavericks and Sonics don't win titles. We would like that to change, for aesthetic reasons. We'd like to see a return to the days of the Showtime Lakers and the Larry Bird Celtics but wait, I watched an old game with those two teams the other day and realized I'd forgotten how much time Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Parish spent doing things to each other that aren't legal in the red states.
So the Suns and Mavericks are putting on the best display of pure basketball, but don't get used to it. It's the last you'll see of the free-spirited, open-court game.
Beauty gives way to the beast in the playoffs, when it seems like they're playing half-court. Everybody's grabbing, nobody can move, the jockeying for rebounding position looks like feeding time at the stockyard. It's a mess, and there are times when it's unwatchable.
If you're an official, what do you do? How would you like to have that job this time of year? You could call seven fouls legitimately on each possession, and everyone would hate you for killing the game. Or you could call nothing but the most obvious fouls, and everyone would hate you for allowing the game to become a brawl.
Seriously, is there any other way? Danny Fortson is out there daring the refs to call fouls on him. Watch him for an entire defensive sequence sometime and see if there's even a moment when he isn't fouling someone. The man lives in a constant state of foul, and he's an incredibly valuable player because of it. The Sonics would have taken their fancy-pants offense back to Seattle after the first round if they didn't have him out there hammering people.
Here's one solution for the enterprising referee: a timer. Maybe it would emit a tiny electrical impulse, reminding the ref to blow the whistle and call whatever foul is taking place in his line of sight at that moment. He could set it for one minute during the first quarter and decrease the time by 15 seconds every quarter after that. By the fourth, we'd get a foul every 15 seconds and both sides would be equally furious.
It wouldn't matter to Fortson, though. At a pace of one foul every two minutes, he'd be gone by halftime.
This Week's List
• Cascading beer, half-naked goofballs bounding out of the stands: You know, it's probably good for Jason Giambi to return to Oakland, if for no other reason than to know there's a place where he still matters.
• The logic isn't linear, but I think you'll understand: If Jose Vizcaino is your starting first baseman even for a game or two, even if you so much as consider it a viable option then maybe it's time to trade Roger Clemens.
• Comeback player of the week: Erick Dampier.
• Where did he come from?: Damien Wilkins, Sonic savior.
• Since he was being paid to watch that deadly swill of a team: How does Tony (I Can't Take It Anymore) Pena think the people who pay good money for a season ticket feel about the Royals?
• Overplayed story of the week: LeBron James firing his agent and hiring his friend Maverick Carter to take over.
• Why it was overplayed: As long as you're not the guy getting 4 percent of LeBron's take, or the guy thinking he should, why should you care who the man's agent is?
• Just for the heck of it: Tank Black.
• The last choice of the first round in 2003, the man was picked eight players after Boris Diaw, for heaven's sake: Josh Howard, proof that sometimes the scouts and GMs can be howlingly wrong.
• Five words, many interpretations: When Duke's Shavlik Randolph declared early for the draft, Coach K said, "I support Shavlik 100 percent."
• Oh, sure, you can appreciate the way the Pistons and Pacers play: But it's damned hard to like it.
• Not to go all Tony Pena on you, but: I can't take it anymore with the Whizzinator jokes.
• Mr. Cause, meet Mr. Effect: In the first year of semi-serious steroid testing in the big leagues, home runs are down roughly 9 percent so far.
• Go ahead and laugh, wise guy, but you would have been the first one to blame the authorities if those dolls ended up being al Qaeda: Five thousand Tony Graziani bobbleheads that were scheduled to be given out to the AFL's Philadelphia Soul fans last Sunday didn't arrive on time because they were held up by U.S. Customs in Southern California.
• And finally, it's mid-May, and there's only one burning question in the world of big-league baseball: Why hasn't Bruce Chen been traded yet?
Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.