Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bullet Proof Federer Denies Fiesty Berdych

Tomas Berdych came ready for a fight.

Facing Roger Federer in a Grand Slam is never an easy proposition for any tennis player, but at least the 23-year-old Czech player should get credit for coming prepared.

Attack, attack, attack and if that fails, then attack some more.

For the first two sets, it worked. The 20th seeded Berdych maintained his aggression and pounded away at Federer, hoping the Swiss genius would break. Berdych's forehand supported his game plan. Everything he fired at Federer landed in and his confidence grew with each winner.

Surely, Berdych must have thought, that having just won the second set on a tie-breaker, combined with the scorching afternoon sun, Federer simply would wilt under the prospect of having to play three more sets of tennis.

Yet, despite being only one set away from recording the biggest win of his career, it was Berdych who floundered. All that energy and effort was taking its toll.

While Berdych was feeling the effects of the intense heat, Federer, as he so often does, barely looked like he'd even broken a sweat.

Then it happened. Slowly at first, but just as if Federer might adjust the climate control in his house, the momentum swung in his favour. As quickly as Berdych appeared to be on the brink of the upset of the tournament, he looked outclassed and hopelessly mis-matched. The confidence which he carried through the first two sets had vanished.

By the time the fourth set had arrived and despite still trailing in the match, Federer was looking in total control. Berdych on the other hand, started looking anywhere for help. Rattled by a hawk-eye system failure, the Czech soon began to resemble so many of Federer's beaten opponents.

The sweeping ground strokes that Berdych had used effectively earlier in the day had deserted him. He was now left to effort and energy, with the unrelenting sun draining the latter.

Distraught and desperate, the fifth set became a formality. Like a python suffocates its prey, Federer denied Berdych a look in and eased into the quarter-finals.

This is what makes Roger Federer so good. He never gives up, never quits. He might sometimes be beat, but he is rarely beaten.

Anybody looking for a role model should study Federer closely. He is a model of professionalism. He never doubts himself, nor does he distrust the strengths in his game. He doesn't resort to throwing tantrums when things don't go his way and has a respect for the game and its history.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Toronto Raptors Continue Stink-A-Thon

The Toronto Raptors dismal season slide has a boring repetitiveness to it, especially during the most recent six-game meltdown. Brainless plays and an inability to execute when it matters is happening with such consistency, that there is no suspense any more.

At least the Raptors aren't having to console any team mates for missing a game winning shot. The Raptors always blow it just before they need one and save themselves the trouble.

Against the Chicago Bulls, Chris Bosh put up a pathetic attempt against sophomore Joakim Noah and was promptly blocked. The Bulls won, Bosh sulked and shrugged his shoulders. Noah looked like a 15-year veteran with steady hands, not the second-year guy who sometimes barely makes it off the bench.

Whomever came up with the cliche about "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory", must have been a Toronto Raptors fan in a previous life.

Forward Jamario Moon is the Raptors worst offender. He should be banned from ever shooting a three-pointer again. Not because he mis-fires them at a horrid 33-percent clip, but because of the times he chooses to take them.

Just when Toronto needs a crucial basket, something clicks in Moon's mind that says "Now Jamario, now" and he launches away with free abandon. They always miss.

Raptors beat reporter Doug Smith from the Toronto Star makes mention of this in his latest article.

It's funny to keep hearing Toronto's broadcasters and commentators constantly referring to each loss as "heartbreaking". In basketball, it should only be referred to as a heartbreaking loss when a bad team is shorthanded and fights life and death over every possession and almost upsets a good team. Not when a mediocre team chokes time and time again.

There can't be much sympathy for a team that puts zero pressure on the defense and vacates their own lane when the other team attacks. If the Raptors only could learn from the their opponents how to close out possessions and games rather than just watch and get embarrassed.

While Monday's loss to the Atlanta Hawks had all these ingredients and more, it was Sunday's collective brain cramp which stands out more.

With the score tied at 102, Phoenix Suns coach Terry Porter called a time out. His choice of play on the reset was to dump the ball into Shaq in the low post and let him go to work against Andrea Bargnani. The result was one that any NBA fan of the last 15 years has seen about a million times. Shaq nudges his way a little closer to the hoop, raises up and drops in a baby hook shot.

A solid, high percentage play. Porter, in his first season as Suns coach after two with the Milwaukee Bucks had no interest in trying to do anything fancy. He just wanted to win the game and chose smart plays to help him do that.

He could have asked Steve Nash to break down his man, or dump the ball to Amare Stoudemire or even he could have designed a play for Jason Richardson, but he decided that his best option was Shaq. Smart move.

Shaq isn't the force he once was, but as we saw, he is still a handful for the best defenders in the league, let alone Bargnani.

For those last six minutes of the game, as the Suns eased their way out of Toronto's reach, Porter could have been San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. Often regarded to be boring, Popovich's Spurs set the NBA standard in no-nonsense basketball.

It's what good teams do. And the Toronto Raptors are NOT a good team. They have no leadership and no "go-to" guy or even play. When the game is on the line, the Raptors put all their eggs in the "hope someone hits a miraculous game winner" basket.

Raptors General Manager Bryan Colangelo has his hands full. Once a mastermind who was building a mighty house from the ground up, he is starting to resemble a shonky tradesman who is trying to cover up his dodgy work.

is praying that Jermaine O'Neal's wonky knees hold up long enough for Miami Heat General Manager Pat Riley to take him and his monster contract on board. If Riley bites, it would mean he would in effect have traded Shaq and his $40-million for Jermaine and his $40-million and he'd be back to where he was a year ago.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Rajon Rondo Being Exposed as the Weak Link on the Boston Celtics

After riding an impressive 19-game winning streak, the Boston Celtics had galloped out to an NBA best ever start of 27-2. Chests were being bumped and fists were being pumped and the smug looks on the Celtics players faces were clear for all the basketball world to see.

The arrogance and self congratulations were growing by the day.

However, five losses from the following seven games has dropped the Celtics record to 29-7 which has quickly doused any talk of them eclipsing the Chicago Bulls record 72-wins from the 1995-96 season. It is still possible that Boston could achieve a new mark, but the Celtics most recent meltdown to the lowly Charlotte Bobcats Tuesday night makes the task seem less likely.

The strutting, preening Celtics have tripped up and are finding that no opponent is intimidated by them.

As reported in Tuesday's edition of the Boston Globe by Frank Dell'Apa, it seems that teams are starting to work out that Boston has at least one critical vulnerability. Point guard Rajon Rondo is a poor shooter and his ball handling is suspect at times, as evidenced by his nine turnovers in the loss to Charlotte.

The Lakers found this out successfully back on Christmas Day. Actually, they found this out last season during the NBA finals, but inexplicably, didn't expose Rondo like they should have.

By keeping Rondo out of the lane and forcing him to shoot the ball, it does two things. It shows him up to be the bad shooter that he is and it also stops him from using his pace to blow past defenders which he has been doing all season.

It also helps to take out the cockiness which has crept into his game.

From his body language, it's easy to tell that Rondo isn't comfortable taking mid-range jumpshots and only looks totally confident when he can drive into the lane. His 1-for-7 shooting performance in Sunday night's loss against the New York Knicks all but confirmed it.

Celtics Head Coach Doc Rivers and General Manager Danny Ainge both noticed it too.

That's why, it comes as no coincidence that as the sudden run of losses have piled up, the Celtics are becoming increasingly concerned about their point guard situation and know that if they don't get a decent back up, it could hurt them down the stretch and in their bid to repeat.

So desperate are the Celtics in fact, that they appear to be holding out hope that Stephon Marbury can orchestrate his release from the Knicks and join Boston.

Rondo will say all the right things, but deep down, it won't be good for his confidence to know that the Celtics want the poisonous Marbury around to share the back court duties with him.

Rondo's form has perhaps come about from him believing some of the reports that were being written about him. He was being touted as an All-Star and the leagues Most Improved Player, however he has become sloppy with the ball and teams are either throwing double-teams at him or daring him to shoot the ball, both of which he's having trouble dealing with.

Rondo will find that other teams will have noticed his weakness and they will be coming at him harder than before now.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Now Stephon Marbury Wants to Play With Kevin Garnett

Sources have told that New York Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury is interested in joining the Boston Celtics if he is released from the Knicks.

If that happens, it would mean that Marbury would be reunited with Kevin Garnett. Garnett and Marbury played together in Minnesota and formed what looked to be a lethal tandem before the Timberwolves got the first taste of Marbury's "me-first" attitude and he forced them to trade him to the New Jersey Nets.

Marbury back then, wasn't happy sharing the spotlight with KG and wanted to run the T'Wolves. Minnesota wisely felt they were better off keeping Garnett, though he didn't reap them much success for a variety of reasons.

Now, as Marbury's career has gone from an All-Star player to an All-Star joke, he has begun to realise that time for winning a championship is running out and he wants to ride KG's coat tails to try to get his hands on an NBA title.

Marc Stein from ESPN has compiled a list of FAQ's which covers the likelihood of Marbury ending up in Boston, assuming he gets his buyout from Knicks General Manager Donnie Walsh.

Marbury refused to play for the Knicks this season even when they were down to seven healthy players and now he expects New York to immediately bow to his wishes and release him - with full pay - so he can join the red hot favourite to win the NBA crown.

Strange as it sounds, Marbury might actually be getting dumber and more selfish than ever.

Marbury's salary for this season is $21,937,500 which works out to $267,530.49 per game. The Knicks play game number 32 Sunday afternoon, ironically versus the Celtics. So, with 50 games remaining the Knicks still owe Steph $13,376,524.39 less the $400,000 that they fined him for refusing to play against the Detroit Pistons back on November 26.

The reason I'm bringing up these numbers is that Walsh might just have decided to pay Marbury out and let him sulk and miss the entire season. Let's hope so.

Marbury no longer deserves anything from New York, especially from Walsh and head coach Mike D'Antoni. Marbury was causing problems in the Big Apple long before those two turned up and in any case, he won't be there next season.

It isn't Walsh's money and even if he decides to release Marbury, any team that signs him will only pay him the absolute minimum, meaning that the Knicks are still on the hook for almost all of his salary still anyway.

No team is going to offer a decent trade for Marbury either. Earlier in the season, Walsh offered to release Marbury if he took $3 million less than his full $21 million. Marbury refused, saying that he'd only do it for $1 million.

Now, Marbury does have every right to expect to be paid the salary he signed up for. However, if he wants to be able to go and sign with whichever team he wants, then he should be prepared to give up a little something in return. 1/7th of his salary isn't too much to ask, but then again it seems that anything that is asked of Marbury is too much.

From a playing point of view, Marbury is still an NBA caliber point guard. He could easily start for several teams, although if he does join the Celtics, he would play back up to Rajon Rondo.

The whole situation has been a black eye for the Knicks, or maybe that should be a tattoo on the side of the Knicks head !

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Express Post - Tracy McGrady Mails it in (again !) Against the Toronto Raptors

Houston Rockets guard/forward, Tracy McGrady has been constantly teased throughout his 12-year career for having that "sleepy-look" about him. His heavy eyelids give him an appearance like he's just gotten up out of bed...wake up T-Mac, you've got a game to play !

His dozey eyes haven't affected his ability to play in the NBA, but McGrady certainly conspires to the old theory of "hard work never killed anybody...but why take the risk".

Friday night in Toronto against McGrady's former team, the Raptors, T-Mac didn't feel much inspired to "stick it" to his old team. When a lot of players find that little bit of extra motivation playing against their ex, McGrady instead decided to take the night off.

Rockets beat reporter Jonathon Feigen from the Houston Chronicle sums up very accurately a play that McGrady opted out of against in the 94-73 loss to the Raptors. T-Mac just didn't fancy playing defense, in fact, he barely bothered to show up for the game at all, scoring just four points on nine field goal attempts. A steady reminder of what much of McGrady's career has been.

He would like to win, but he doesn't really want to, especially not if it means he has to try too hard.

Look at his awful playoff record. Seven trips to the post season, seven first-round failures. And it is ok to use the word "failure" with him despite making the playoffs so many times.

Once one of the most exciting players to watch, he now looks burnt out and bored. He treats life in the NBA like its all a bit of a hassle to him and it shows in his attitude and performance. If he doesn't feel like playing, he just mails it in.

Like he did last night.

Playing against the Raptors - hardly one of the most intimidating teams in the league - McGrady just decided he wasn't in the mood. And that sort of attitude is accepted in this current NBA.

“(Effort) is something we’re obviously not giving right now,” McGrady said after the game.

A shrug of the shoulders from a guy earning millions of dollars after he suggests that effort is a part of the game that can't be controlled.

It's ridiculous that he can use such a limp excuse for a weak performance and he is not chastised more for severely for it. With McGrady, most fans have come to accept it.

That's why he'll never be a true winner.

How can McGrady, as the supposed leader of the Rockets, take his 21-12 team into battle against the 12-20 and short handed Raptors - who had lost four-in-a-row at home - and let them get blown out by 21 points?

We all remember McGrady abruptly ending a press conference two seasons ago, with tears in his eyes. His Rockets had just blown a 2-0 lead in the first-round series against the Utah Jazz. Lost for words at his latest failure, but dressed sharply in an expensive designer suit, he just picked up and walked out.

Sadly for McGrady's legion of fans, it's become an all too familiar sight.