The Mavericks’ series with Denver got ugly on a number of fronts. There’s no need to rehash it all here, but the series did place the NBA’s officials back under the spotlight. Without defending the NBA refs get a bad rap. First of all, if you watch college basketball, high-school ball, the D-League, or the foreign leagues, you’ll realize that there’s no land of milk and honey where the basketball referees are magically better than the NBA’s. Heck, the Olympic gold-medal match between USA and Spain last summer featured some horrible officiating by the top refs from Italy and Slovenia. (More people would know about this if the game hadn’t aired at 2 o’clock in the morning over here.) There’s nothing more sinister than incompetence going on. However, incompetence is itself reason enough for worry, and in this area, perceptions matter as much as reality. The NBA’s officials have an image problem, and the league so far hasn’t taken the necessary steps to correct it. Stay tuned through the later rounds.
The Mavericks can be proud of the way they played over the past month or so. The New Orleans Hornets lost to Denver in five as well, but the Mavs put up much more of a fight and never lost by 53 points. The same goes for the Houston Rockets for stretching the Lakers to seven games minus all their big-name talents, and the Boston Celtics for surviving this long without Kevin Garnett. Now Orlando gets to be crushed by the LeBron James juggernaut, while Denver will present an interesting matchup for the Lakers.
Spike Lee’s made-for-TV documentary Kobe Doin’ Work aired on ESPN to tepid reviews this week. The basketball movie to watch out for is More Than a Game, Kristopher Belman’s documentary about LeBron James and his high-school basketball career that features extensive footage (on and off the court) of LBJ in his school days. It’s slated for release in October.
On a more somber basketball note, Wayman Tisdale died over the weekend. Some will remember his jazz music, while others will remember his battle with cancer. I’ll remember that weird shooting form of his, the sweet mid-range jumpers launched with his ass sticking way out. By all accounts, he was a terrific person, too. We lost him too soon.
Meanwhile, there’s fantastic stuff on the hockey front. The Pittsburgh vs. Washington series featured both Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin finding new levels of greatness. After flailing through much of the early season, the Pens suddenly look like world-beaters again. Unfortunately the Carolina Hurricanes had to go and screw up a Pittsburgh vs. Boston conference finals tilt. If I were a Bruins’ fan, I’d be bitter for decades about unpunished cheap-shot artist Scott Walker, who skated away from a suspension and then scored the winning goal for the Canes. That’s the only thing that could have been worse than Sergei Samsonov eliminating the Bruins. I was all prepared to talk about karma, but the sobering news about Walker’s wife brought me up short.
If you want a feel-good story, check out Chicago, whose loyal hockey fans have suffered through so much irrelevance in the past few decades. I just saw their gritty effort against Detroit in Game 1, where they didn’t quit even when they were down by two late in the third period. Either this will be a long series, or the Wings will school the young Black Hawks and expose them as a team that’s a year away (as they did with the Penguins in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals). Also, the possibility of Marian Hossa facing the Pens is still on the table. Hossa bolted Pittsburgh for Detroit last year because he thought the Wings had a better chance of winning the Cup. Penguins’ fans will be itching to bid him welcome.