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Friday, November 8, 2002
Updated: November 11, 2:52 PM ET
Fired-up Road Dog fires it up for NBA

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

Hooked up with Dog, to go once around the NBA. Raw Ball style.

Larry Hughes
Larry Hughes has got lift, but can he help lift the Wizards?
Had to get him fired up first. Once you get Dog fired up about the NBA, you can definitely get him to unpeel you off a fresh or little-known item or two. It's harder to get him fired up these day, because his Knicks are toast. No. Dead earthworms on toast.

"Let's go see the Wizards run, and talk to Larry Hughes. I just like his game. Period. I see what Jordan was trying to do, bringing him in. Him and Doug Collins. They want some size back there. To defend."

"Yeah, but Larry Hughes ain't no point."

"Maybe not. But he could run point for the Knicks. He could play 2 for the Knicks. Or maybe 3. Or possibly 4. He'd star in NYC."

Dog winced.

"Face it. It's over, Dog. The Garden is empty. The Meadowlands is empty, too, except they've got about 10 real ballplayers over there. I doubt if the Knicks finish within 10 points of them in any game this year. So let's go down the pike and see the Wizards run. I know you say Hughes isn't a point guard, but so? He plays up top to start their games, and gets caught up in traps, and doesn't see the whole floor or deliver rock like a point. We all know in the fourth quarter, Jordan will go to point anyway, like he did in Chicago. And either Hughes or Stack will go to 2. If Jordan or Stack throw a rod, Hughes is there to step in. So let's go see what he says."

Dog mumbled something unintelligible, but came along quietly.

Dog loves hoop even more than the Knicks. I counted on that.

***** ***** *****

Wizards locker room: Larry Hughes smiles at me, but looks warily at Dog. Dog has heckled him before at The Garden, and Hughes, like most NBA players, has a long memory for that kind of abuse. What Larry doesn't know is that Dog only heckles guys who can hurt him. "The reason I came here was because they saw me doing several things," Hughes said. "Playing several positions. Scoring, defending. I got no ego about it. I just want to win. And play with Michael Jordan. So I never said I was a point guard. Neither did they, really. Just let people say and think what they want. There's a plan. I'm not worried. I'll do some things."

Kobe Bryant
Minus Shaq and a great supporting cast, Kobe Bryant will drop 70 one of these nights.
On Friday night, he was going to be Kobe Stopper, we all here knew that already, as the Lakers would be hitting MCI to face MJ and the Wiz. "Hughes looks the same. T-Mac put on 15 pounds of muscle," Dog said. "So did your other boy, Kobe."

"Yeah, but Hughes has got lift," I said. "We all know what's gonna happen. The Wiz signed Hughes to be their 2 guard of the future, and to check the tough 2s around the league. We all know Michael's going to play up top in the fourth quarter. The offense will go through Jordan's old ass. He'll have Hughes and Stack on either side of him, and they'll live and die with that. Plenty enough to drum on the Knicks, but Jersey? I don't know ..."

"Mike ain't done. You just down with Kobe. Kobe soft. I'm a T-Mac man. I'm a KG dude. Love Alley I. Kobe? Ain't feelin' him."

I smiled. Dog was just trying to set me off.

"What, Dub, you ain't gonna defend your boy?"

"No need. Kobe'll drop 70 one of these nights. And why do you keep saying he's soft, Dog? Because he hasn't shot up a club lately with his 9? Because he isn't low-riding with Snoop 'n'em? Because he's not with Suge Knight? What, you want him to curl up in a ball 'cause Jam Master Jay is no longer with us? You want him to ooh and ahh over "8 Mile"? You want him to hook up with Dre on a bomb beat album? You want him tatted and chain-braided and goateed, with a do-rag up under a ball cap? You want typical?"

"Well, yeah. That might help. Might seem like he keeping it real then. C'mon, Dub. Forty-seven shots. What do that tell you?"

"Tells me he could go for 70 some night. Kobe is best in ball."

"Gotta be better than T-Mac, KG and Alley I first. Before he even get to the Man. You know who the Man is now, Dub?"

Now we were getting down to it.

"Who?"

"JKidd. No question. But Jordan ain't done either."

"Done."

"No, he ain't," said Dog.

"You heard what Pat Riley said, Dog?"

"What?"

"He said T-Mac and Grant Hill were 'better than Magic and Worthy.' Now, I don't know why Riley said that. Maybe he was being honest. But maybe he was blowing smoke. They beat him in his home opener. Wasn't close. There's no match-up for McGrady in the whole Eastern Conference. But KG held him to 18, and T-Mac said he'd never been D'ed-up like that ... then there's Indy."

"OK, stop. Freeze. I see why you brought me along, Dub. Let's go Raw Ball here. In the first place, Orlando ain't even got that kind of muscle anymore. What, Shawn Blimp? He'd have to ride the exercise bike from now until Groundhog Day, straight, without gettin' off it at all, just to get down to three bills. Orlando's playoff material, but they're as flawed as Philly. I ain't so sure Hill and T-Mac just gonna stomp over Alley I. and McKie. And Indy? Forget Indy. You go ahead and take Indy, then. New Jersey dealt with Indy in the offseason. That's one reason Thorn and Byron got Mutombo, to negate O'Neal, eat his ass up, and to free up the spot for Jefferson, so he can blow up. Jermaine O'Neal's a front-runner anyway. He's the Lennox Lewis of big men. Let him get the edge on you, let him be bigger than you, then yeah, he's King Kong then. Make him have to think, figure, scheme, plot, double him, off and on, take away that little turn to the right for the J or the hooker, and what have you get then? I'd rather have your boy, Burning Spear, Keon Clark. Least he ain't got delusions of grandeur ..."

"Whose the best player in the league."

Jason Kidd
No player is more relentless than Jason Kidd.
"The UnKobe. JKidd."

"Dahmn! Jason is a good call."

"Jason so tough. Always play at the same speed. Overdrive. Got all the handle of life. Got the D. Run it like it's his. Diming like crazy. Reward the big men. Make the little men pay. Never seen nothing like Jason up top or out front with the rock, except Earv. Will strip you rockless in the last two, will D-up, will rock your jumper. You saw what he did to the Wizards single-handed the other night ... and there's no back-down in him. He plays at the same speed all the time. He's always coming back at you, you never get to rest, you never get to breathe, he's r-r-r-r-r ..."

"Relentless."

"Das it, Dub ... Kobe, he be thinking too much, trying to figure how Phil's trying to manipulate him. Jason don't give a damn what Byron doing. Jason just running. Kobe taking it too personal. Like that Tex Winter thing, where Phil was trying to get next to Kobe, fire him up, get him in that Triangle Offense, which I personally think is just another set. That's all it is. It's a set, with options. It ain't like it's a religion or nothing like that. Kobe should'a just blowed it off. But no, he gotta go 33-15-12 back-to-back games ..."

"He had to do that, or the Lakers wouldn't have won a game yet without Shaq. That's the worst supporting cast since 'Pluto Nash'!"

"Granted, the Lakers, outside of Robert Horry, are pretty much garbage. But to come back and score only 70 against Cleveland, because Kobe still playing games with Phil. You could almost see him saying it. "Oh, OK, I'll get my teammates involved. I'll drive off the the Triangle set, and they'll have open shots. But see? They can't hit them. The Lakers are the worst deep-shooting team in the league. Worse than your Wizards. The difference is, Mike can save the Wizards, Dub. See, all Mike gotta do is look at a dude, and that dude straighten up, do what he think Mike want him to do. Every team needs that. But it's only one Mike. Think the other Lakers care if Kobe frowns at them? If Kobe frowns at them, they take it as a compliment. They think that means they're down."

"Yeah, whatever, they do, Dog, until game time. Then they're looking for him to save them. The Wizards won't let Mike get close to Kobe. They don't want the legend tarnished. We saw that last year, in the Torchlight game at Staples. You could see then that Mike was like a child when facing Kobe. Stackhouse can't do anything with him either. Not quite flexible enough. So it all comes back to Larry Hughes. I love Larry Hughes' game."

"Yeah, Dub. You would. You like them soft players, them angular dudes with all this ... (Dog began to wave his hand around, I think he meant to mock angular creativity) ... lemme tell you about Hughes, Dub. See that tattoo on his neck? That LH? A direct bite on Alley I. He wanted to be Alley I. more than Alley I. wanted to be Alley I. That's why your boy Larry Brown had to drop him. Then he went out to Golden State, and he basically disappeared ..."

"Except for when he played against Kobe ..."

"You like Hughes over Jamison?"

"Well, Jamison's better than I thought, but I can't figure his game. He can score, but to me, the test is, can you be effective without the ball? Can you affect the outcome of the game without the ball?"

"Oh. You ain't gonna like none of the Marburys then."

"It's not that I don't like Stef. He's just got that selfish Me Game. That Me Go Wild, Soul In The Hole, David Edwards Game. You know, Dog. That game you wish you had ... I'm just messing with you, Dog. You know as far as hoop goes, you the man. Run it down one time for me -- and for the folks at home. Raw Ball."

"OK. Top to bottom, on the real, Road Dog's Raw Ball:

Glenn Robinson
Glenn Robinson's making noise in Atlanta, but don't count on him in his own end of the court.
"Atlanta Hawks? Big Dog making noise, averaging 30. But check it out. Anybody with a good 3 -- which ain't that many -- will squeeze them dry, because Big Dog can't guard deodorant.

"Boston Celtics? Everybody having fun calling him Vin Garbage. Around January, he'll kick in. He better. Or they're done. Come to think of it, they're done anyway. They miss Kenny Anderson. Kenny funny dude. He's like a woman. You know. Can't live with him, can't live without him. He's also like New York. All the game you need, but kinda wack. Still, just because Jason dogged him, that don't mean he's a bad point. Jason dogs everybody. Can't nobody play with Jason. Jason best in ball. Pierce? Machine gun. 'Toine can play, just like the light to be on him a little too much. Can't see them beating Jersey. Question is, can they beat Detroit, Indy, Orlando, Philly? They might be worse than the Knicks this way; they give their fans a little bit of hope, up until May. Then they get bounced. Like Delk though. But you ain't gonna win in my league by shooting all 3-balls and doing the shimmy.

"Chicago Bulls. Please. Jay Williams, it'll take a year. He used to be quicker, stronger, better than every guard he played. Now one night it's JKidd, then it's Alley I., or Snow, and Snow might be worse -- beat him up more. What's he gonna do with the Glove? With Nashipoo? Can't play with Bobby Jackson, and Bobby Jackson is Bibby's backup. Check with me next year on the Chicago Bulls. Right now, they put a hurting on my eyes, man.

"Cleveland Cavaliers. Interesting squad. Guys will play for Luke. Something about Luke. Luke will say something like, 'We are gonna lose some games fellas -- but it ain't gonna be tonight.' He find just the right tone. And Miles and Ricky Davis fall out of the skies on a brother. But what's up with Juannie Waggie? Him and this Eurorology deal. He had to have surgery. He from Camden. But maybe he should'a been from Condom. Looks like some honey might have given him what we used to call a standing O.

"Dallas Mavericks. Same old same old. What's changed? They'll shoot you out of the building. Until playoff time, when shots get challenged. They entertain, but their grind quotient is nil. I'm sure JKidd would love to see them in the Finals, so he could have a party, but nahhhhh. Not unless they get Kobe. He'd fit right in.

"Denver Nuggets. Hate 'em. Hate 'em, 'cause I like how Kiki Vandeweghe stole us raggedy. Stole my Knicks. Dice -- damaged goods. Like taking home a beautiful chick, then she starts taking stuff off. Wig. Padded bra. Glass eye. Wooden leg. A wooden leg don't seem to bother Larry King, but you can't drag one around the NBA. Now NeNe is looking real sexy to me. I hate KiKi now. Always did. But I'd trade Layden for him in a heartbeat.

"Detroit Pistons. They better hope nobody gets hurt. Remember Grant Hill? I'd advise any of them, like that light-in-the-ass Rip, that if he gets busted up -- which, trust me, he will -- get a second opinion. That's all I'm saying about that. Chauncey's gonna help them too. Tayshaun too, later on. Corliss, Ungentle Ben, Uncle Cliffie, Sick Chucky Ack, the Bald Barry. Leon the Barber should be alive to see this run. They're only a few heckles away from the conference finals. If Rip can hang together through 82. Big-ass if.

"Golden State Warriors. So is Jason Richardson the bomb, or what? Antawn Jamison, I can't figure. I guess he's real, and now they look lucky for trading Vince for him, where before they looked like fools. Troy Murphy having a ball pushing around Dunleavy in practice. Young Musclehead cracked me up, had me dying when he was asked how come Dunleavy only played 18 seconds in his first game. 'Mike didn't play because we wanted to win.'

Yao Ming
Give hime time. Yao Ming will not be a bust.
"Houston Rockets. Got news. Yao ain't no bust. Just gonna take a year. This ain't some three-car garage suburban kid who won't like the fire and say later, y'all, take the money and run like some studio analysts I know. Yao's mentality will keep him in there. He can't go home with the shame of being a national hero who tanked when the going got tough. He's like Jackie Robinson, only to a billion people. Remember how bad Kwame Brown looked last year. Seen him lately? That's Yao in a year. Year of the Dragon, for real. Seen his legs? They'll be the difference. Steve Francis. Eddie Doctor Griff, Cuttino ... fun run. Probably drive Rudy T. nuts, though.

"Indiana Pacers ... no. I don't care what they got. No. Gut call.

"Los Angeles Clippers. No. Miller for DMiles? Mistake.

"Los Angeles Lakers. Shaq & Kobe & Witness Protection Program material. It's been enough for three straight years. But read on ...

"Memphis Grizzlies. Gooden I likes. Gasol. But they thin up front. Long, but thin. Space-eaters bother them. And gotta get rid of Brevin Knight. He might can help somebody. But not them. Is Watson ready to play or what? If they could put Jerry West in a Wayback Machine and suit him up, they might be able to get to .500. Lost season. But suppose they get LeBron ...

"Miami Heat. Dead in the water. But such nice water ...

"Milwaukee Bucks. George Karl should be throwing everybody in the league a parade for making him rich. Seven mil per, and never done nothing but rode young Reign Man and GP to the Finals once, and, oh yeah, pitch a bitch here and there. George is more sign of the times than a coach. Once he started knocking Byron and Doc for no good reason, the guys on his own team bailed on him. Kohl don't know no better. It's not that I can't believe he's an NBA owner. I can't believe he's a Senator. Hell, I need to run, then.

Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett does what others can't, such as slowing Tracy McGrady.
"Minnesota Timberwolves? Troy Hudson, nice cherry-picking there. KG. Can guard the unguardable. Best in the league at guarding T-Mac, and maybe Kobe too. Stay up on that.

"New Jersey Nets? 2003 NBA champions.

"New Orleans Hornets? Do they make the conference finals? Depends on Baron Davis. Is he the plumping up Pillsbury Doughboy fraud people want him to be? Or does he rise up and give JKidd a game? He's one of the few who can. Lotta good grub in New Orleans. We'll see. Elden, Magliore, P.J., Lynch. They bang.

"New York (My) Knicks? In a word: fuhgetaboutit. Hurts.

"Orlando Magic? Combine them with the Hornets, you got the NBA champs. T-Mac, best in ball. The Sleeper is awake. Large and in charge. Grant Hill's perfect for him, too. No size though.

"Philadelphia 76ers? Remember that song they had back in the '70s, with Doc, Chi-Chi, Strangler, BJ, Choco-Thunder and them? 'Here they come, Philadelphia ...' They should change it now to 'There they go, Philadelphia ...' Hurts me to say it. I love AI. But now his shooting hand is broke up, and who's gonna board?

"Phoenix Suns? Like the young boy, Amare Stoudemire, and so does everybody else. He's the best rook to have. Otherwise, trash. And untradeable trash, too, except for Swamp Fox Marion. Better keep him, or they lose all cred, street, ball, financial and otherwise.

"Portland Trail Blazers? Can't believe how long a line of talent they got. If Rasheed had JKidd's drive ... school would be out.

"Sacramento Kings? Keon Clark isn't the difference. The Kings had more players than the Lakers last year. They had them beat last year. They just didn't have what it takes to close the show. What's different? We'll see. Christie had to clock Fox for punking him like that. Had to do it. We'll see what's inside their chests, their lower abdomen. Keon helps. Oughta be their show out West, since Mitch Kupchak is asleep at the switch in the offseason. What is that guy doing? Shaq's big toe was more active than he was.

"San Antonio Spurs? Yeah, Tim B. Dunkin', but not quite enough to carry the whole squad by his lonesome. Although that young Argentine boy will bust you, if you let him, cram on you. Yeah, well, it's November. Let's see how much cramming he be doing in April, when there ain't no more uncontested posterizing.

Kenny Anderson, Nate McMillan
If Kenny Anderson stops whining, Nate McMillan's Sonics might create some havoc in the West.
"Seattle SuperSonics? If GP plays with Kenny A., instead of them acting like a couple of trash-talking sisters, they could do some things. But one of them things ain't winning the West. But they could do some entertaining in the West, dictate who does go. They could even knock somebody off in the first round, with Drobs and Vlad Rad and Lewis ... question is, will Kenny quit bitching?

"Toronto Raptors? There Vince goes again. When he limped off, I thought they might have to amputate. Then they took pictures to see the damage and -- no damage. Vince has the pain threshold of a baby seal. And everybody knows it. Like, the other Raptors.

"Utah Jazz? Change it up. Call yourselves the Utah Choirboys or something. Trade the name Jazz back to New Orleans for their first round pick, and use it take a thug. A real thug. Not a country thug like Mailman, or a closet thug like Stock. Quiet as it's kept, you're more likely to get a concussion or undercut against this team than any other. Let it go, fellows. And run something for that Russian.

"Washington Wizards? Yeah, R-Dub bailed on me. He's with the Wizards and the Magic now. He thinks Larry Hughes is some kind of secret weapon. He likes his game. He loves Kobe's game. Well, if the Wizards do anything, it won't just be because Kwame's growing up, or because Stack is in a walk year, or because Jeffries is flexible, or because Laettner wakes up and doesn't mail it in and uses some of the ability he got, or because Bryon Ds up (on who?) or because Oakley slaps somebody at a shootaround. It'll be because Mike ain't done. Hear me people? Mike ... ain't ... done."

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."