Game 9: Celtics 105, Jazz 86

Reaction from tonight’s Celtics victory over the somewhat injured Utah Jazz

  • The Celtics defense, who had shown some tiredness and was absolutely dusted by the Phoenix Suns last Friday … well, it has not fully healed yet.  However, the 86 points allowed in 91 possessions is a good start.  Most of the work came in the form of the Jazz going 0-10 from three point land while turning it over 21 times, thus wasting a pretty good offensive rebounding performance.
  • Rasheed Wallace sure ain’t scared.  7 three point attempts tonight.  That said, the defense and fit on the team continues to look as good as advertised.
  • Good balance.  Not only no 20 point scorers for the Celtics, but nobody took more than 12 shots.  Good distribution (7 in double figures), which implies …
  • RONDOOOOOOOOOO … 14 points, 11 assists … and total control.  Yes, Deron Williams had some back issues from the game before apparently.  However, still … Rondo showing his chops as a top 10 PG if not a top 5.

 

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The Legend of Jimmy the Greek

(Note: part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series of films)

Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder seems almost impossible to imagine these days.  Sure on Sportscenter, you see Hank Goldberg make his weekly picks with the gambler in mind (trend analysis, picking against numbers etc) – but an actual gold chain wearing gangster?  But indeed, Jimmy the Greek was for real, a professional gambler who set lines in Vegas and went on to be the handicapper on CBS’ then-iconic The NFL Today.  His rise on TV is known, and his famous slave theories about African-American athletes is the stuff of TV legend.  But of course like many gamblers, he was shrouded in mystery.  Fritz Mitchell’s The Legend of Jimmy the Greek tells the story of Snyder from start to finish, focusing especially on the rise of gambling in America.  While the film is skillfully made, it does not really add much to the Greek story, so if you know it, you know it.

Gambling is the NFL’s dirty secret.  Of course, this secret might not be seen as mysterious when every schmoe out there is in a fantasy football league or a pick ’em league – often involving money (or in the case of your intrepid reporter, involving losing money).  The league is very reticent about going into Las Vegas, and disassociates itself with gambling – all while mandating that teams publish specific gambling information weekly for no other perceivable reason.  In any case, point spreads are common knowledge among fans now, and each NFL pregame show proudly displays its picks segment.  The surprise is not that Jimmy the Greek came along, but that it took him so long.

Fritz Mitchell worked on the CBS pregame show during much of that time period, and so his insight into Jimmy theoretically would weave a full picture of him, and his role in the explosion of all kinds of betting.  However, Mitchell does not really get there.  One of the big problems in the movie is the first person narration in a voice that is clearly not Snyder’s.  While Mitchell probably believed this was the only way that exposition might have occured, the actual end result is a distracting back and forth between the real life Greek and this fabricated one.

Also, there is not a lot new unearthed in the material about the Greek.  Mitchell presents the obvious NFL Today stalwarts, Brent Musburger, Phyllis George, Irv Cross and lets them all speak – and the opinions and stories are well known – from his arrival to his friction with George (to the point that they prerecorded his segments) to his grisly departure over the slave breeding comments he made regarding the superiority of the black athlete.  But there is not a new angle to speak of, or a new philosophical change that made the show MORE compelling.  It feels like replaying old tapes.  For those who are not familiar with him, it is an interesting film, but for the other .0001% of us?

There is a lot of expositon, as is typical with the documentary form, but ultimately not enough primary information.  In the vernacular of creative writing instructio, Mitchell tells us a lot about Greek but does not show the layers behind the man or the phenomenon effectively enough to qualify as truly revelatory.

Week 2 NBA Power Rankings

If you want the methodology, go back to Week 1:

Rank Team W L Off Def Road SOS Rating
1 Celtics 7 1 103.531 (7) 87.765 (2) 1.75 0.844 (29) 18.359
2 Heat 5 1 101.608 (13) 91.216 (4) 1.167 3.471 (16) 15.029
3 Rockets 4 2 103.308 (8) 96.995 (11) 1.75 6.575 (2) 14.638
4 Lakers 6 1 101.267 (16) 94.329 (8) 1 5.551 (5) 13.49
5 Blazers 4 3 101.749 (12) 96.188 (10) 1 6.601 (1) 13.162
6 Mavericks 4 2 101.593 (14) 94.242 (7) 1.75 3.505 (14) 12.606
7 Nuggets 5 2 106.883 (3) 100.163 (15) 2.5 2.792 (21) 12.012
8 Hawks 5 2 104.938 (6) 100.19 (16) 2 4.796 (8) 11.543
9 Thunder 3 3 95.693 (23) 92.266 (6) 1.167 6.568 (3) 11.162
10 Suns 7 1 106.563 (4) 102.543 (20) 2.625 3.071 (20) 9.716
11 Cavaliers 4 3 98.068 (19) 91.808 (5) 1.5 1.925 (27) 9.685
12 Magic 5 2 105.351 (5) 103.003 (21) 2 2.293 (26) 6.642
13 Spurs 3 3 107.107 (2) 106.852 (28) 1.75 3.761 (12) 5.765
14 Bucks 3 2 90.176 (28) 86.328 (1) 2.1 -1.071 (30) 4.877
15 Raptors 3 4 111.23 (1) 111.922 (29) 2 3.361 (18) 4.669
16 Bulls 4 2 91.286 (26) 95.196 (9) 1.75 6.366 (4) 4.205
17 Clippers 3 5 97.808 (20) 97.828 (13) 1.313 2.329 (25) 3.62
18 Hornets 3 5 100.643 (17) 104.083 (24) 2.188 4.773 (9) 3.521
19 Pistons 3 4 97.447 (21) 98.78 (14) 2 2.519 (23) 3.186
20 Wizards 2 5 96.18 (22) 100.579 (17) 2 5.491 (6) 3.091
21 Pacers 2 3 93.661 (24) 97.561 (12) 1.4 5.407 (7) 2.908
22 Kings 3 4 103.213 (9) 105.374 (26) 2 2.409 (24) 2.248
23 Jazz 3 4 100.17 (18) 103.915 (23) 1.5 4.185 (10) 1.94
24 Bobcats 3 3 87.241 (30) 90.962 (3) 1.75 3.715 (13) 1.745
25 Sixers 3 4 102.321 (10) 106.595 (27) 1.5 2.557 (22) -0.217
26 Warriors 2 4 101.337 (15) 104.678 (25) 1.167 1.563 (28) -0.612
27 Knicks 1 7 93.633 (25) 101.824 (19) 1.313 3.114 (19) -3.765
28 Grizzlies 1 6 102.18 (11) 112.154 (30) 2.5 3.493 (15) -3.981
29 Timberwolves 1 7 90.867 (27) 103.771 (22) 1.75 4.06 (11) -7.094
30 Nets 0 7 88.598 (29) 101.638 (18) 2 3.369 (17) -7.671

Some observations:

  1. The Nets stink.  They had a dead tired motivation-less Celtics team in, had a chance to win and still let it get away.
  2. The Magic, who were the top defensive team a year ago using these sorts of metrics, are a paltry 21st so far.  It’s an underreported story, but their defense is why they won a year ago.
  3. The Warriors only moved up to 26 on the strength of a 146-105 pasting of fellow dreck Minnesota.
  4. The Celtics still #1, but the defense slipped to #2.  The Suns diced them up good last Friday, and hopefully it’s tired legs (4 games in 5 nights) and not something larger.
  5. Suns obviously a huge surprise.  Their #10 ranking is really due to the #20 defense.  That said, an adequate defense has been good enough for their really good teams – so maybe this is not so bad.
  6. The Rockets still in the Top 5.  Incredible.

Racists Getting a Jolt of Joementum

OK. Chutzpah is a good word.  Chutzpah is actively campaigning against a majority party’s candidate while begging for a Senate chairmanship.  Chutzpah is threatening to filibuster against the party’s pet bill – a historic bill no less.  But chutzpah is one thing.  Racism is another.  Take it away, Israel’s United States Senator:

So the Fort Hood shooter is Muslim.  He is also a member of the military, which is no stranger to religious indoctrination.  And, perhaps, he was crazy, which trascends any other demographic slice that matters.  Sigh.

Update: Obama has an answer, though not optimistic it will help …

Week 1 NBA Power Rankings

With one week in the books, we are in a position to put together our first edition of NBA Power Rankings.  Now these rankings are cumulative over the season.  I thought of, like John Hollinger does, trying to add a factor in to emphasize recent results, but any choice (time interval) would be arbitratry.  Best to stick with the tried and true basic method.  One caveat – I do data entry as close to the games finishing as possible, so if later corrections are made by the league, my rankings might not capture them.  Anyway, the methodology:

Real Offense = Points per possession times the league average number of possessions per game, denoted in table by Off, with the rank in parentheses

Real Defense = Points per possession allowed times the league average number of possessions with a twist … instead of how many FTs a team had scored against it, I take the league FT% and apply it to the FT attempts allowed … a team does not get credit for luck, denoted as Def

Possessions = FGA + 0.44 * FTAs + Turnovers – Offensive Rebounds … this is familiar from the Hollinger stats on ESPN

MarginA: Real Offense – Real Defense

Road factor: Assume that being on the road is a 3.5 point handicap over a regularly paced game.  So the percentage of road games times 3.5 is the road factor. Denoted as Road

MarginB = MarginA + Road Factor

ScheduleA = first component of strength of schedule.  The average MarginB of a team’s opponents

ScheduleB = the other component of strength of schedule.  The average ScheduleA of a team’s opponents.

SOS in table is strength of schedule = ScheduleA + ScheduleB

Overall Rating = MarginB + ScheduleA + ScheduleB

With the methodology cleared up, the ratings through November 3

# Team W L Off Def Road SOS Rating
1 Celtics 4 0 106.646 (7) 86.106 (1) 0.875 3.264 (18) 24.68
2 Heat 3 0 103.439 (11) 87.638 (2) 1.167 1.614 (26) 18.582
3 Magic 3 0 115.83 (1) 105.683 (23) 2.333 2.562 (22) 15.041
4 Rockets 3 1 104.258 (10) 98.384 (11) 2.625 5.833 (5) 14.331
5 Sixers 2 1 110.012 (3) 104.035 (21) 2.333 5.505 (6) 13.815
6 Nuggets 3 0 113.359 (2) 102.838 (20) 1.167 2.032 (23) 13.72
7 Mavericks 2 1 95.168 (23) 90.411 (4) 2.333 5.153 (8) 12.243
8 Wizards 2 1 106.654 (6) 100.04 (13) 2.333 3.003 (20) 11.95
9 Hawks 2 1 105.092 (9) 100.696 (15) 1.167 5.158 (7) 10.72
10 Blazers 2 2 99.207 (15) 97.857 (10) 1.75 6.712 (3) 9.813
11 Cavaliers 2 2 98.186 (18) 94.055 (8) 1.75 3.785 (16) 9.666
12 Thunder 2 1 95.878 (20) 90.475 (5) 1.167 2.712 (21) 9.282
13 Suns 3 0 109.594 (4) 100.846 (17) 1.167 -1.721 (30) 8.194
14 Lakers 2 1 96.414 (19) 93.859 (7) 0 4.99 (10) 7.545
15 Bucks 1 1 90.969 (28) 91.754 (6) 1.75 6.051 (4) 7.015
16 Spurs 2 1 105.965 (8) 101.293 (18) 1.167 0.898 (28) 6.737
17 Raptors 1 2 106.783 (5) 108.085 (29) 1.167 4.755 (12) 4.62
18 Pistons 1 2 95.286 (22) 96.263 (9) 2.333 1.935 (24) 3.291
19 Bulls 1 2 92.576 (27) 102.827 (19) 2.333 9.154 (1) 1.235
20 Clippers 1 4 95.328 (21) 99.239 (12) 1.4 3.441 (17) 0.93
21 Hornets 1 3 99.327 (14) 105.459 (22) 2.625 3.141 (19) -0.365
22 Jazz 1 2 101.53 (13) 108.021 (28) 1.167 4.579 (13) -0.745
23 Knicks 1 3 98.838 (16) 105.9 (25) 1.75 4.34 (14) -0.972
24 Bobcats 2 2 82.014 (30) 89.969 (3) 1.75 4.76 (11) -1.446
25 Timberwolves 1 3 94.422 (24) 100.717 (16) 1.75 1.386 (27) -3.159
26 Kings 1 3 98.234 (17) 105.852 (24) 2.625 0.276 (29) -4.718
27 Pacers 0 2 94.219 (25) 107.794 (27) 1.75 7.036 (2) -4.789
28 Warriors 0 2 93.903 (26) 105.925 (26) 1.75 5.144 (9) -5.128
29 Nets 0 4 88.859 (29) 100.687 (14) 2.625 3.925 (15) -5.277
30 Grizzlies 1 3 102.96 (12) 113.076 (30) 1.75 1.894 (25) -6.471

Obviously the takeaway from this is that its early. However, the Celtics defensive form seems back to 2008 levels, or at least reasonably close. The big surprise of course is the Rockets, who are 3-2 against very quality opponents. They do it with mirrors and Darryl Morey knows how to find random dudes and Rick Adelman is a very underappreciated coach. This might last in some form. Maybe not 50 wins, but still 45 wins with this outfit is something.

Under the Banner of Heaven

It is tempting to tackle a review of Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven as an examination of Fundamentalist Mormonism, it’s almost necessary outgrowth from the Latter Day Saints movement of Joseph Smith at large, and how a church with a violent history created the circumstances for a violent man.  However, that review merely leaves the book as a piece of sensationalistic screed, and that sells Krakauer short.  Instead, Under the Banner of Heaven is a measured account of the story of a religion that is, in a sense, one of the United States’ real triumphs.  Now, measured does not mean sentimental, nor flattering at times – but the research is there, and it is clear Krakauer struggled with the topic.  Moreover, the book really illustrates how fundamentalism itself, in any form, can lead to horrifying results … that it occured in the LDS merely makes it like any other religion.

The book starts with the initial fact of the murder.  The case of course is well known, and Krakauer does not use that for suspense.  However, the murder allows Krakauer to delve into the insights of Dan Lafferty, serving life in prison as one of the killers (perhaps THE killer depending on whose version of events is most accurate).  The simplest insight comes first:

He [Lafferty] still insists that he is innocent of any crime, but, paradoxically, does not deny that he killed Brenda and Erica.  When asked to explain how both these apparently contradictory statements can be true, he says, “I was doing God’s will, which is not a crime.” (page xx)

And his faith is real.  His voice in the book is that of calm.  In fact, from Krakaeur’s depiction, Dan Lafferty is probably the best expert testimony on what happened during the murder itself and the Lafferty mindset in general.  The detachment he speaks with is frightening – the absolute conviction that he did the right thing, the lack of fear or acknowledgment that the murder was in any way “tragic”.  He was merely a true believer doing his duty.

But how did Lafferty get here?  Krakaeur uses this detachment as a springboard to delve into the spread of fundamentalist Mormon onclaves in Colorado City, Arizona and Bountiful, British Columbia, and the fundamental (sorry) schism in the church’s history over plural marriage.  All of this exposition is absolutely necessary.  As one expects, these societies seem extremely patriarchal, and the notion of choice for potential wives is essentially absent.  However, there is not a ton (although there is some) insight from women who support the practices – which would have been enlightening.  However, for readers who are familiar with cults and other varieties of fundamentalism, these communities have plenty of the familiar symptoms.

If this were all Krakauer did though, it would explain the murder, but not explain the underlying belief.  How did the fundamentalists get here, and why the defiance over a simple tenet, albeit one that defines a notion of family?  For that, Krakaeur goes into the history of the Church of Latter Day Saints and Joseph Smith.  The history of the church, as Krakaeur notes is unique in that it took place “a mere 173 years ago, in a literate society, in the age of the printing press” (336).  It is an American story, and Joseph Smith’s ability to get the Church going in the face of a lot of opposition, is a remarkable accomplishment.  The LDS’ movement from upstate New York to Missouri to Illinois and finally to Utah is an Exodus for our time – disregarding the details of the sources of perception of persecution – and like other persecuted peoples, Krakaeur implies that the resulting defiance is sort of a manifestation.  The fundamentalists seem to be continuing the struggles of Smith and Young, at least in their own minds.

The book finishes with a look at Ron’s re-trial, where the defense tried to use his beliefs as grounds for insanity – however the case argued by the district attorney and the eventual ruling place the notion of belief in a focus of unusual clarity.  The conclusions are well known, but in a sense the jury and Krakaeur reached the same place.

Game 4: Celtics 97, Hornets 87

Musings from the Celtics fourth consecutive win:

  • Good to see the Celtics win a game without going nuts from three point land.  6 of 15 is still pretty good, but compared to the 12 of 24, 11 of 29 (yes a lesser % I know), it was good to see them win a game without feeling like a three point shooting team.  That said, having watched all four of the games so far, the threes are rarely poor shots.  Sheed tends to settle, but he makes ’em.
  • Defense lost its concentration in the second half.  Especially Pierce, normally a rugged defender, let Peja Stojakovic get away.  Peja is a fossil, but a fossil who can still really shoot it, as his 6 of 10 from downtown showed.
  • Rondo gets extended.  Is he overpaid?  In the current PG pool, not really.  Nash, Paul and Deron make more, French Tony makes as much.  Sounds fair.  Besides, somebody would have overpaid him in an offer sheet, better the Celtics overpay a little pre-emptively.