Before this dissection of the latest drama in the NBA playoffs, let's give a hand to reader Melvin, who replied to the posting about Josh Hancock by pointing out the previously unrecognized similarity between Tony LaRussa and Harvey Keitel. You're right, and I swear I hadn't noticed until I looked at the video of the post-accident press conference (available at the Post-Dispatch website). Maybe we should stop calling LaRussa "Genius'' and start calling him "The Wolf.''
Meanwhile, the P-D's Bryan Burwell likens LaRussa to Buford Pusser instead, because of the whole bust-you-in-da-head-widda-bat routine. (Which, if that's the case, we've got to consider Tony Soprano as an influence as well.) Also, very nice perspective in the same paper from ex-Sun writer Bernie Miklasz, who acknowledges his own DUI past and says it gives him more authority, not less, to raise it as an issue.
Enough of that for now.
One major drawback of having all the good playoff series taking place out west is that if you're trying to keep up with it, you're not going to bed before midnight any time soon, and haven't for a while. I actually had to squeeze in two power naps last night, but they allowed me to see the fourth quarters of both the Raptors-Nets game and the Mavs-Warriors game, both stupendously suspenseful and satisfying. Good thing I waited to expound on the playoffs, because I was going to say that overall, the first round is a real letdown from last year. Now it's conceivable that at least two series will go seven games (Mavs-Warriors, Jazz-Rockets), possibly a third (Raptors-Nets) and if Kobe goes hog-wild and Kwame decides to start earning a fraction of his paycheck, a fourth. If last night taught us anything, it's that a 3-1 series lead does not mean it's over. Easy to forget sometimes.
* Dirk was three minutes away from becoming instantly eligible for induction in the Karl Malone-Chris Webber Playoff Shrivel-Up Hall of Fame. It was stunning to hear Dick Stockton say, after the three-pointer that started that final 15-0 run, that that was Dirk's third field-goal attempt of the fourth quarter. He was literally running away from the ball the entire quarter up until then. If they had gone ahead and lost that game, especially after blowing that lead, especially after Avery Johnson and every NBA writer in America had called him out, he would never have lived it down. But he went back to being an MVP in those final three minutes.
* The Warriors are in big trouble. Wonderful way they went up 3-1, but there are two flashing, screaming warning lights going off. First, nice way to finish the game, jacking up three-pointers nonstop down the stretch with a nine-point lead and time on their side. If you have to shoot, how about going inside, making the other team foul you? Then again, was there some compelling reason you had to shoot at all? Second, in each of the two losses, neither Baron Davis nor Stephen Jackson finished the game. Inexcusable, especially Jackson getting thrown out again. Charles Barkley defended him on the TNT postgame show, a fine show of support from Mr. Self-Control. Not really clear why you'd bait the refs like that when they've been T'ing up players all season for that and accelerated it in the postseason, including games you've played in. The only explanation: Stephen Jackson's fearlessness/insanity is both his best and worst enemy.
* It took Avery Johnson this long to undo the blunder of Game 1, trying to match lineups with Don Nelson, but he coached the Mavs right back into this series. People get way too blustery about in-game Xs and Os when judging a coach (for proof, check out how Sam Mitchell is scrutinized in Toronto and see his post-game snippiness last night), when knowing when and how to push the right buttons means a lot more. Avery pushed Dirk's button at the right time, and it may have saved their season.
* It's not going to be easy for Dallas to go into Oakland and force a seventh game, because that place has been a pit all series long. Good for the Warriors fans, who I said years ago, when covering them for the S.F. Chronicle, that they are the best fans in the NBA, maybe in all sports. But it's not impossible. The Warriors obviously don't completely have the Mavs' number. Who knows if that Warriors choke last night changes things?
* If the Jazz and Rockets weren't tangled up in their own madness, they'd be hanging on every second of the Mavs series, because the winners play each other. Great story, but who do you think either Utah or Houston would rather play next round, Dallas or Golden State? By the way, everyone in the league should be paralyzed with fear over what the Rockets might be like if T-Mac and Yao are both healthy and maxing their abilities out. Yao in particular is so close, he can taste it. He's right there, in position to rule this league for the next decade, like Shaq.
* It took too long for the Phoenix-L.A. series to resume. Steve Nash goes for 23 assists, Amare gets a 20-20, the Lakers crumble on their home floor, and then we wait three days for the possible clincher? The NBA is just never going to get this first-round scheduling straight. Contrary to their belief, it's not great for TV, because even if there are two or three games on every night, with at least one of them you've forgotten what happened in the last game by the time the current one tips off.
* I may never stop laughing at the Raptors fans' serenading of Vince Carter last night. Throughout the fourth quarter, no matter who had the ball, they would alternate chants, seemingly one side of the arena to the other: "Let's go Raptors ... V.C. (STINKS)!'' Of course, he caps the night by having the ball for the game-tying shot, driving the lane, then veering off to his right, then passing to Bostjan Nachbar so he can have the pressure of draining a game-winning three (which, of course, they didn't need). If they make it back to Toronto for Game 7, the fans should just pass on the booing and chanting; instead, every time Vince touches the ball, they should flap their arms and make clucking sounds.
* Other guys to be scared of in the future: Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon. Warning: I am about to exercise the weakest, laziest sportswriting trick in the book, comparing a tall white guy who can shoot to Larry Bird. But Bargnani is the closest player I've ever seen to shoot like Larry Bird. His entire motion is a carbon copy, as if he spent his childhood in Italy watching old Celtics videos. It was weird to see last night, because Toronto games were not a must-see destination for League Pass, and when I did catch them, he was either hurt or not playing much. But wow.
* How in the world did three teams in one conference - no, one division - get swept out of the playoffs in the first round? Not that it was a huge surprise under the circumstances. The Wizards had been pretty much reduced to their Jordan-era selves (thankfully, minus Kwame, although Brendan Haywood did a nice sulky, whiny impression) by the injuries. The Magic never had a chance against the Pistons. And the Heat aged before our eyes. Still, that was embarrassing. It also was an indictment of one of the bigger, least-addressed flaws of this league: the season is too long. Everybody just wears down, young and old. Now, they've also got this nonstop commitment to the U.S. national team to worry about. It doesn't matter how much money they make, how does grinding them into dust year-round and expecting them to be at their peak during an also-too-long postseason make this game better?
* Last but not least: of all the shows on all the networks in the entire broadcasting universe that will ever be aired, the one I absolutely, undoubtedly, unquestionably will not watch one second of is "House of Payne.''