His defense never rests (cont.)
Posted: Friday February 9, 2007 10:22AM; Updated: Friday February 9, 2007 2:34PM
Others in the NBA are complaining that proper defense can no longer be played on the perimeter because hand-checking has been outlawed in order to liberate the All-Star slashers to drive to the basket. Amid this oppressive climate, Bowen is fulfilling his desire to improve. Despite his advancing age, he is having, according to Popovich, "maybe his best year'' at the defensive end by focusing ever more on the fundamentals.
"You've got to get lower, you've got to be quicker,'' he says. "My biggest thing is to make sure I show my hands. Because a lot of times the officials call for things like this'' -- he stabs out with his hands -- "jabbing at the ball, touching your midsection, things like that.
"So if he puts the ball on the floor, I have my hands out and they can see my hands. Then whenever contact is made, if he goes into me, I go, 'Hey!' The official sees my hands, and then it's like, 'I've got to give him the benefit of the doubt here.' ''
"People say he's dirty,'' says Bowen's teammate Tim Duncan. "He's not dirty. He just puts a different level of defense on people that people aren't used to. He's in people's faces from start to finish, he's within proximity on every shot that you take, and that's just uncomfortable for people.''
A few hours later Bowen returned to the arena for a duel with Caron Butler, the 6-7 All-Star forward of the Southeast-leading Wizards. Antawn Jamison's knee injury made Butler's contributions more important than ever to Washington, and at 228 pounds he held a 28-pound advantage over the 6-7 Bowen. Bowen nonetheless succeeded in forcing Butler to miss his first five shots. The Spurs ran out to a 33-16 advantage in the first quarter on their way to a 110-83 win.
"He did a great job,'' Butler said after finishing with 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting. But it's in the nature of the best scorers that they never want to give too much credit to Bowen. They accuse him of flopping and grandstanding and dirty play.
"The first play, when I went up for the rebound -- the first flop -- I was like, 'I didn't touch him,' " Butler said. "But you know he set the tone right there. He was everywhere and he made things really difficult for me to get into a rhythm.''
Popovich believes that his team is turning the corner defensively, and locking down as a group. If so, then the West may quickly become a three-team race.
"It's a five-man focus,'' he says, "where [earlier this season] we had one or two guys playing well.''
One of those guys was Bowen.
2. So former NBA player John Amaechi announced that he's gay. So what?
ANSWER: I met several times with Amaechi over the years. In 1996 I had cappuccinos with him at a hotel café in Bologna, where he was a professional for the local Italian basketball club. He had never lived in Italy before, and I remember how he marveled over the cappuccino as if it were his discovery for all of mankind. I'm telling you, I have never seen anybody rave so much about a cappuccino. (Though it was very good.) He ordered cup after cup, and I couldn't keep up with him.
A few years later in Orlando we talked again about how he had decided to remain with the Magic for far less money than he could have earned from the Lakers, who were offering a long-term contract. When he went to Los Angeles for his free-agent visit, Amaechi told me, Jerry West picked him up at the airport and drove him around the city.
"That is a very big deal,'' I said. "Jerry West is one of our most famous players.''
"So I'm told,'' Amaechi said. "When I mentioned it to some of my American friends, they were very impressed.''
Amaechi is a hulking 6-10 Englishman. People who know him well say that he takes pride in being unpredictable or different. I used to wonder if his attraction to the unique helped lead him to a career in basketball, a sport upon which Britons generally look down their nose (too much scoring, they complain). He used to take pride in declaring that basketball was a job and that other higher interests were more important to him, which made it obvious why Jerry Sloan hated him so much during Amaechi's time with the Utah Jazz. Sloan doesn't appreciate that point of view from his employees.
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