by Lang Whitaker

Ahhh….Wednesday. Hump day. And with SLAM’s China correspondent Alan Paul in town, we had a SLAM staff lunch at a fantastic new barbecue restaurant around the corner from here. As a native Southerner, any restaurant that serves sweet tea immediately has my heart. And a place that serves sweet tea in a glass jar damn near brings me to tears. Now I’m full and my sugar rush is wearing off and I just want to crawl under my desk and take a nap.

Today started out horribly enough. Woke up and looked out my window and the sun was shining, weather was sweet, but there were literally hundreds of people waiting at the bus stop a few blocks away, which was a strange sight to see. So I flipped on our local 24/7 news station — one of the cool things about New York is that we have a cable channel that has live news about nothing but New York City; shouts out to Pat Kiernan — and I discovered there had been something like a monsoon early this morning. And apparently the subway system in New York isn’t equipped to deal with rain, so none of the trains were running, and it was 100 degrees outside, so people were literally melting into the sidewalks while walking to work. So that was fun.

I was little tired this morning because I couldn’t sleep last night — I was still worked up from last night’s Braves/Mets game, which Sam touched on here. It’s a big series for teams, because the Braves could cut the gap to under two games with a sweep of the series. Plus, I just love that even though the Mets are in first place and have been coasting along, they can’t seem to beat the Braves.

Sam was particularly shattered by last night’s Mets debacle. The tipping point came in the bottom of the eighth, when Braves reliever Rafael Soriano sauntered in and zipped a 95 mph fastball underneath David Wright’s chin to drive him off the plate. Most of the Mets fans booed, but Sam was immediately incensed, standing up and challenging Soriano to a fight in the parking lot after the game. Soriano did not hit Wright, I pointed out, just backed him off the plate to set up a pitch on the outside corner. That’s baseball.

Well, the Mets didn’t seem to understand how baseball is played, because in the top of the ninth, reliever Guillermo Mota drilled Braves first baseman Mark Teixiera with a pitch. I suppose he was retaliating, but for what? Pitching inside? Perhaps Soriano shouldn’t have scared the Mets’ golden boy, but it’s not like he threw behind him or anything. Sam was late to work this morning, I think Sam because he spent the night stalking around the parking lot at Shea Stadium, hoping Soriano would show up.

(I loved that Soriano buzzed Wright, though. Can’t remember the last time the Braves had someone with some attitude in the bullpen. I just wish Soriano could throw like he was throwing back in June.)

Despite the Mets’ dismal performance, Sam and I had fun at the game last night. Sam particularly enjoyed when I told him about what I did last weekend. Wifey was out of town, so I had the crib to myself. I declared it the Weekend of Lang. I slept late Saturday, played video games for a few hours, went out and did some shopping for myself, went to the movies alone, ate dinner at McDonald’s, then came home and watched the Braves play while reading the new Harry Potter book. (That Harry Potter book is really good, by the way. I started reading it at about 7:00 p.m. and read it for almost 12 hours straight, finishing it as the sun came up.) Then I slept until about 1:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, waking up just in time for another Braves game. Sam commented that it sounded like what he used to do when his parents went out of town and left him alone. It was probably very similar.

Over the weekend, between wasting time and wasting time, I started thinking about SLAM’s Official NBA Preview. I’ve written it the last couple of years, and last season I did pretty well with my predictions. I don’t have to write this year’s predictions for another month or so, but I’ve already begun to try and put some thought into it, to begin sorting out who’s going to finish where.

One thing that hit me (last night, actually, walking home from Penn Station after the game) was that the Western Conference powers are being awfully quiet. The top eight teams in the West last year:
1) Dallas
2) Phoenix
3) San Antonio
4) Utah
5) Houston
6) Denver
7) LA Lakers
8) Golden State

Now, during this offseason, those eight teams have added (other than rookies) the following players: Grant Hill, Eddie Jones, Chucky Atkins, Austin Croshere, Steve Francis, Jackie Butler, Mike James, Derek Fisher, Ronnie Price, Jason Hart.

I guess Grant Hill is probably the most effective of that bunch, though he’s playing on one leg. You’re my guy, Mike James, but where’s the pass-first point guard Houston needed? Where’s the outside shooter for Utah? Doesn’t Golden State need more size? Couldn’t Dallas use a guard who doesn’t exhale cobwebs? Phoenix needs some depth, right? Denver still needs a big guard to pair with AI, right? And the Lakers have been full of sound and fury but have signified nada.

So what’s going on? With teams in the East wheeling and dealing and Portland and Seattle adding young guys, why aren’t the teams at the top of the West doing something, anything? Are they all already that good? Do they think they’re just going to magically improve enough to win a title?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?