Posted: Tuesday December 19, 2006 12:40PM; Updated: Tuesday December 19, 2006 3:06PM
Mardy Collins and J.R. Smith were involved in a brawl that has dominated the league's headlines lately.
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images
Can we end this ... now?
Are we really so reverent toward a sport that we have to spend weeks hemming and hawing over the supposed classless ingrates who dared defile a (really crummy) professional basketball game at Madison Square Garden last Saturday night?
Yes, some overhyped, overpaid athletes full of bluster and bravado let things get out of hand, spurred on by two coaches and a sporting climate that led them to believe that this particular Nuggets-Knicks game was the most profound happening within their own green world. Worse, the subsequent bouts of overwrought attention will likely turn a Jazz-Kings matchup in January 2009 (the next fight, because they seem to happen every 2,400 games or so) into the latest indication of David Stern's millionaires gone wild.
Yeesh. Can't we get over ourselves? Can't we react the same way that, I don't know, baseball reacts during the half-dozen bench-clearing brawls it sees a year? Should we be expecting this much from these players when we constantly remind them and delude them into thinking that playing a game for our amusement means so bloody much?
Some of these guys eat cheeseburgers before games. They affix bracelets to the wrists on their shooting arms. They get tattoos on their shooting wrists! Mike Miller is in Memphis right now wearing a 12-year-old girl's headband, Marko Jaric can't put his jersey on the right way, and Etan Thomas just wrote some more poetry. These guys aren't thugs; they're eccentric millionaires. Thugs throw better punches. Thugs don't commit backcourt violations after slapping someone.
(While we're at it, first Allen Iverson, then Carmelo Anthony ... when will "The Curse of the NBA's Leading Scorer Doing Stupid Things" cease? Good thing we have the mellow-as-Michael McDonaldGilbert Arenas -- third in scoring, at 29.1 points a game -- to keep things chill and end the streak.)
We're not saying what happened on Saturday night wasn't ugly or embarrassing -- but it wasn't scary. And it wasn't indicative of anything more than a bunch of bratty kids, full of themselves, letting their false bravado get the best of them after the levels of accountability were lowered by the opposing coaches.
Together, cats and kittens, let's turn off the cable TV and move on.
It seems as if half of Golden State's roster is up for the Most Improved Player Award. Its newest candidate is Matt Barnes, who is probably best known for curiously starting five of the first six games for Larry Brown's Knicks last season before being waived (not a bench demotion, mind you, a release). The 26-year-old forward later caught on with Philadelphia, where he posted numbers right in line with his career averages of 3.7 points and three rebounds in about 15 minutes a game.
Barnes has taken off with Don Nelson's Warriors, averaging 8.7 points and 5.7 combined assists/rebounds in 21 minutes a game. And you can't credit the increase in production with increased playing time; Barnes' per-minute numbers have risen, and his shooting percentages (51.3 percent from the floor, up from a career mark of 47 percent; 47.1 percent from long range, up from 20 percent) have made him a tough cover.
Better yet, he's done his work alongside Mike Dunleavy off the bench. Dunleavy, who has started just five times in 26 games, boasts a similar skill set, but the two have meshed well. Barnes is averaging 13.5 points and 5.4 rebounds in about 31 minutes a contest over his last 13 games.
Last Friday we mentionedCarlos Boozer's difficulty scoring in the face of a zone defense, and we should probably add that the Utah Jazz as a whole are having difficulty putting points on the board against unorthodox defensive setups.
Though the Jazz usually have no trouble scoring (the team is sixth in the NBA in points per game and second in overall offensive efficiency), Jerry Sloan's bunch managed just 78 points in a game last month against Golden State while being thwarted by what could hardly be called a withering 1-2-2 zone. And Monday night in New York, matched up with an eight-man Knicks roster, the Jazz managed 10 points in the second quarter (after a 34-point first quarter) after Isiah Thomas ordered his team into a similar zone defense. The Knicks went on to win in overtime.
When the NBA legalized a modified zone defense before the 2001-02 season, the Jazz (with their pick-and-roll attack) were picked on as one of the teams destined for failure now that teams were allowed to stand in a specified area with their arms raised for 24 seconds at a time. It's curious that it has taken until now, five years later, for Sloan's team to struggle against the gimmick defense -- especially now that Utah employs no more or less pick-and-roll sets than 29 other NBA teams.