Wednesday, October 30, 2002

ENN BEE "A": Both of the Bill Simmons NBA Conference previews are up now, but because this is the NBA in 2002, the really interesting stuff is in the Western preview. Here he is on the team that I am hyped to see for some reason--maybe even more than the Rapmaster--the Memphis Grizzlies:

As Pete Carroll would say, "I'm as shocked as you guys!" Once Drew Gooden started slapping 20-10's on everyone in the preseason, it pushed me over the edge. Drew Gooden! Who knew? I'm so excited about the Grizzlies, I'm dusting off the old Hubie Brown impression:

"Okay, you're Jerry West. You have Drew Gooden, who plays hard every night, crashes the boards, and does all the Little Things that helps your team win. You have Shane Battier and Michael Dickerson, who also love ... doing ... the Little Things. Then you have two athletic bodies with upside, Lorenzen Wright and Stromile Swift. You have Wesley Person and Gordon Giricek shooting threes. You have Jason Williams pushing the ball and CREATING scoring opportunities. And you have a premier offensive player in Pau Gasol, who commands double-teams. Now you're getting easy points, you're getting threes, you're wearing out other teams, and you have a GENUINE OFFENSIVE OPTION at the end of games. You're also not as bad as you were defensively last year. And you have a fan base that WANTS to win. Everywhere you look, you see upside, nothing but upside."

On the Houston Rockets, who he has finishing fourth in the West:

I love the NBA. Have I mentioned that? Here you have the Rockets, who were already one of the most fun teams in the league ... and now they have a 7-foot-5 Chinese guy playing center. It's too good to be true. Stevie Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Eddie Griffin, Glen Rice, Mo Taylor, Rudy T., Moochie Norris, Moochie Norris's hair, Kelvin Cato's Burmese snake, and a gigantic Chinese guy who also happens to be the most intriguing new player in the league. I still think he will be a modified bust -- Rik Smits with 20 times more distractions -- but Bob Ryan swears up and down that Yao Ming will eventually become the most important player in the league. And Ryan has forgotten more hoops than I ever learned.

Now I'm torn. When I was stating the case against Yao last June, one of the things I worried about was his personality -- every video clip of him in China looked like a hostage video, like the camera could pan back a couple of feet and you would see a gun being pointed to his head. And yet, by all accounts, Yao seems much happier in America. Just yesterday, I was reading a story in which Yao was startled after hearing a teammate say "What's up?" because the sound of the phrase resembled a Mandarin obscenity. So after they cleared up the confusion, Yao started shouting the phrase to everyone, and it's become a running joke in the locker room. Can you imagine Mobley and Francis saying "Wassup, Yao?", Yao breaking into hysterics, and then everyone attempting a nine-step handshake? These are the things that need to be televised.

Anyway, I'm digging the Rockets, not just because I might have been wrong about Yao, but because Francis and Taylor are healthy, Griffin is ready to make The Leap, and there isn't a better coach on the planet than Rudy T. If anyone can figure out how to make this work, it's him. Better yet, this is fun. I like having a 7-5 Chinese guy on the Rockets who may or may not be the future of the NBA.

Passages like this are why I dig Bill Simmons, not because I believe the Houston Rockets are going to finish fourth in the West--that seems pretty unlikely--but that Bill Simmons loves the Houston Rockets and gets his enthusiasm for them across. I like the Houston Rockets more for reading this.

And here he is on the Kings:

And yet, there are some jarring similarities here to Isiah's Pistons teams of the late-'80s. Remember how Detroit could have beaten the (banged-up) defending champs in the '87 Eastern Finals, if not for Vinnie Johnson and Adrian Dantley banging heads in Game 7 (like Peja's sprained ankle), or the Basketball Jesus singlehandedly saving the day in Game 5 (like Horry's back-breaking shot in Game 4)? The next season, those same Pistons regrouped and toppled their bitter rivals in six games. As the old saying goes, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

In other words, I'm picking the Kings.

The NBA started last night and the Magic beat the Sixers and the Spurs beat the Lakers and I watched most of the latter game, looking for the sweet Lakers loss and got it. This should be a fun fun season.

UPDATE: Oh, and the Marv/Czar/Van Gundy announcing trio was completely topnotch last night and I hope ABC goes with them on the big games. Their subdued sniping at each other is just a million times funnier than the Marv/Walton/Jackson cutesy-poo fights were.

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