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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ramble On: The NBA ... We Know Drama

A few notes, quotes and observations from poolside at the Orlando World Center, the media hotel for the 2009 NBA Finals:

NEWS ITEM: Check out the take on the NBA from the other side of the pond:

Magical Lakers extend basketball's global reach

By Richard Copeman
Last updated at 12:47 AM on 13th June 2009

Derek Fisher. Know the name? No? Well, admittedly he is not exactly up there with Cristiano Ronaldo in the British sporting consciousness right now.

But the night after Real Madrid's new £80million galactico was cuddling up to Paris Hilton in a Hollywood nightclub, Fisher was busy ensuring he will not have to buy a drink of his own in a Los Angeles bar for a long time to come.

The LA Lakers veteran was the toast of America's most glamorous and successful team - think the Real Madrid of basketball and you get the idea - on Thursday evening after his two high tension three-point shots won Game Four of the NBA finals against Orlando Magic for a 3-1 series lead.
Fisher saved his side from defeat with a 25-footer with just 4.6sec to go, before nailing another from 27 feet deep into overtime to clinch a 99-91 win.

His long- distance prowess left the Lakers one victory from their longawaited first title since 2002, before the fifth game in the best-of-seven series tomorrow night.

And it is such moments of drama that make the NBA confident they can sell their game on an increasingly global scale and specifically, now, here in the UK.

But what are their chances of success? Isn't American sport best left on the other side of the Atlantic? Where everybody knows a tripledouble from a turnover. Where you are considered 'world champions' just for winning your domestic title.

It will be a tough sell, but there are encouraging signs for the NBA. While participation is key - most people with an affinity to the sport will have played it - it seems to be the least of the NBA's challenges.

NEWS ITEM: When it comes to drama, the NBA takes a page from its longtime TV partner, TNT when it proclaims, "We know Drama."

Another bemused take from that Bemusement Movement's principal avatar in Laker coach Phil Jackson, and another entertaining run from the Magic's Stan Van Gundy in Thursday's pregame press conferences.

Van Gundy was on a roll, decrying the NCAA as "the worst organization going," and the NBA/NCAA's one-and-done rule as "a sham," telling the press that he doesn't "understand how we got away with [the one-and-done] rule as a league."

Jackson, typically, was more serene. As opposed to being a particular focus point in the upcoming Game 4, Jackson told the media that Pau Gasol(notes) getting touches in the post was a priority "for every game," but credited the Orlando defense (something Phil, as only Phil can do, called "space defense") for taking that option away, though his team will "continue to try and get the ball inside.

The Lakers coach also dryly took on the contention from Alonzo Mourning that Jackson "doesn't have anything to do but call timeouts."

Mourning told the media in a conference call Wednesday that "Kobe is the facilitator. He is the one driving the mission of this particular team right now. The communication level he has with his teammates out there, you can just see it."

"I think Phil is just showing up, to tell you the truth," Mourning continued, "and Kobe is doing all the work to make this team successful."

Jackson said that Mourning's sentiments were "a pretty good assessment," and went on to say that "Kobe's doing a lot of the work. I'm just kind of here, sitting in my chair."

Beyond that, Van Gundy continued to call out those who call out the way his team ranks among the league leaders in three-point shooting, a pronouncement that nearly made me stand up and clap slowly instead of sitting through the press conference.

"There's a significant group of people who it just drives them crazy that the mid-range game is disappearing, despite the fact that all you have to do is look at all the numbers and know that about the worst shot your team can get, at least by the league averages, is a mid-range jump shot."

"The three highest percentage plays in the game by far right now are free throws, number one, layups, number two, and three-point shots number three. So why you would try to build a game around lower percentage plays, I don't know. Other than there's some people that just like to watch it, I guess."

Jackson credited Orlando's "middle penetration" as the difference between the team's poor offensive output in Game 1, and Game 3's potent shooting, the penetration putting the Laker defense on its heels as it attempted to contain the middle.

Van Gundy dismissed jitters as the reason behind the team's poor Game 1 showing, sarcastically mentioning that "it cannot be that you just played poorly." And the Magic coach also made a point to discuss the fact that he tends not to get on his players for shooting long shots, just as long as the rest of their game is there, and that if anything he rails on his team for passing perimeter looks up.

"When you're missing those shots, people criticize and write, ‘they settle for too many shots, they need to be more aggressive.' When you make them, you talk about how great our ball movement is."

Both coaches credited recent rule changes for helping to make the modern game a more enjoyable watch, though Van Gundy made a point to mention that the game is always evolving for the better and discussed (without mentioning the rules by name) the zone additions before the 1999-00 and 2001-02 seasons have made it "a tougher game for post players."

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