This years NBA playoffs has been amazing. First we had the Bulls vs. Celtics series with who knows how many overtimes and now we get to watch one of the best players in the history of the NBA in Kobe Bryant go against one of the best defenders this league has ever seen: Ron Artest. And of course there are times when emotions are going to flare like they did last night.
The one thing about both of these players is that neither one is going to back down. Having played with Kobe Bryant for three years in Los Angeles, I have to say that Kobe just does not back down or withdraw from challenges. And Kobe has to deal with the best defender on every team he faces. Not only that, but if you’re that “best defender” on a team getting ready to guard kobe, you’re going to be getting extra rest, extra conditioning and watching all kinds of videotape on Kobe Bryant in preparation–Kobe will probably still get 30-40 points. But when it comes to toughness not too many guys surpass Kobe.
I’ve never played on the same team as Ron Artest, but I’ve played against him dating all the way back to college. Of all the guys I’ve played with or against, there were always two people who stood out as aggressive defenders who guys around the league don’t want to mess with. Both Latrell Sprewell and Ron Artest are guys who you absolutely want to go to battle with. They are known as great players around the league, but everybody also knows not to cross the line with either one.
This is just a great matchup. Ron Artest is 6’8″ and 250 and Kobe is 6’7″ and maybe 220 or 230, and they can each play finesse basketball or scrappy basketball. If you can’t watch the next game live, be sure to get out your TIVO!
The other day someone said to me, “Who do you want to win the championship…the lakers or the celtics?” That’s one of the hardest questions I could answer, but the truth is that I want the Lakers to win. I am a Timberwolf first and foremost, but I gave three years of blood sweat and tears to Phil Jackson and the Lakers. I have to pull for my old team even though I do want Kevin Garnett to get a ring.
I cannot believe that Flip Saunders was fired. I cannot believe it. This man can flat out coach and while I hope that the Pistons have success in the future, let’s not forget that Flips tenure as head coach of Detroit took the Pistons deep into the playoffs every year. Coaching is not an exact science and it’s not easy at the NBA level with mature and grown men all of whom have strong competitive natures. I wish Detroit well, but they lost a gem with Flip.
My summer is going well. I enjoyed watching Kobe tonight. It’s nice when you see someone care so much about what they do as Kobe cares about his profession. Phil Jackson used to put us in the video room and show us film. “Fellas…like it or not, what you see on the game film is what the fans see….this is your livelihood. It should be important to you.”
Tonight, right when I got into the Locker room, Andre DeLoya (Head phyical Therapist) announced to everyone coming in that Wally and his wife Shannon had given birth to a beautiful baby girl. The irony of course was that tonight Wally was wearing a green uniform that read Celtics across the chest and that we were going to play against him and Michael Olowokandi as opponents for the first time ever. I still really miss both of those guys.
Right before tip-off, Wally and Kevin met at halfcourt in an embrace. I think it was nice for the fans to see that. So much has been talked about here in MN about whether or not Wally and Kevin got along. I can tell you first hand that they got along fine and they both have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. On any team at any time there are going to be moments of frustration, and moments when the team struggles. I think the media tended to focus too much on those very rare moments (which happen with every teammate) and not enough on the majority of the time when Kevin and Wally were sitting there playing cards on the plane or laughing and joking in the locker room.
Tonight in the locker room, there was an incredible energy and a great atmosphere. Ricky, Justin, Marcus and Mark Blount are going to be LOVED at the target center on and off the court. Stay tuned for some exciting basketball!
Fred Hoiberg called me on my hotel phone at about 8:00 p.m. Thursday in Houston and asked, “Did you hear about the trade?” I told him that I had heard about it already, as I had just read on ESPN.com that Nikoloz Tskitishvili had been traded to the Phoenix Suns for a future second round draft choice. “There’s a lot more involved,” Fred added. “Wally Szczerbiak, Michael Olowokandi and Dwayne Jones just got traded to the Celtics!” I am going to really miss all four of them. On my personal blog, www.MarkMadsen.com, I’ve commented in a little more detail about each player and what it’s like to lose a teammate and a friend through a trade. Fred later recounted to me that he and Wally had been at dinner at a restaurant in Houston and right as they were paying for the meal, Wally’s cell phone rang. The voice on the other end was Wally’s agent who gave him the news. I know that I was shocked about the trade. Besides losing a few games on some last second shots, I really feel like Dwayne Casey has us playing good basketball. Sometimes change can be a good thing for everyone and I think the trade is going to help both teams. After just two games together, I have already gotten to know the new players a little bit and want to share some of that with you. I have always been a fan of Ricky Davis, ever since his days in Cleveland. He is a good defender, a great shooter and he has “swagger.” In our game at Houston Ricky had 26 points, but more importantly, whenever anyone on the team scored or did something good, you could hear Ricky yelling out “Great job A.C. or way to rebound Eddie!” In our loss to San Antonio there was a play where Ricky caught up to a San Antonio fast break after being starting about 30 feet behind the play. He is the fastest NBA player I have seen and he jumps out of the gym. More importantly, he’s very smart and he can shoot. Everyone calls Mark Blount “M.B.” and he has a very good post-up game. Mark is one of the few seven-foot players in the NBA that can knock down the 18-footer and get past the defender with his post-up footwork. M.B. is “long” as we like to say in NBA talk (that means tall with long arms) and he has great basketball instincts. On our flight home it was interesting to hear Kevin McHale talking footwork with Mark, knowing Mac used those skills to become a Hall-of-Famer. Justin Reed is one guy who could be playing in the either NBA or the NFL. He is 6’8,” 240 pounds and explosive. Justin played great in San Antonio going right at Tim Duncan. He scored on Tim right away and then in the fourth quarter he went into the lane to dunk over the Spurs seven-footers and was fouled. He also guarded Tony Parker who is one of the quickest players in the league. Mark Blount told me in Houston that Justin is “kind of like Ron Artest in terms of his special ability to defend.” Unfortunately, Marcus Banks just joined the team Monday morning due to a death in his family. McHale described Marcus as a great one-on-one defender and a point guard who is unbelievable going “north and south,” which means taking the ball from one end to the other on the fast break. I am always open to suggestions as to what Timberwolves fans want me to write about. If you have a topic suggestion or a question you want me to answer, please feel free to drop me a note firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great week. Have a great week. -Mark