by Lang Whitaker

Three questions worth answering from Game 4:

1) Should we blame the Orlando loss on Dwight Howard for missing free throws down the stretch?

Dwight is my guy, but yes, absolutely, he deserves at least partial blame for the loss. Of course, every Orlando player should get a little heat. Jameer Nelson should’ve played up on Derek Fisher on that three point attempt. With the game tied, there’s no way Orlando should’ve burned two timeouts and still ended up with Mickael Pietrus taking their final shot of regulation.

Sure, Dwight played an awesome game, finishing with 16 points, 21 rebounds and 9 blocked shots. But Duh-wight also had a whopping 7 turnovers (as many as all of the Lakers players had combined), and he shot a miserable 43 percent from the free throw line. Hey, It’s not every day a Magic player can resemble both Shaq and Nick Anderson. Those kind of numbers might win you a Division, or maybe even a Conference. But they aren’t good enough to get you a Championship.

2) Shouldn’t that have been a foul on Kobe for elbowing Jameer Nelson on the chin?

Probably. But then it also should’ve been a foul on Dwight Howard a few seconds earlier when he bent Pau Gasol with a forearm shiver. (That was pretty funny that they called a foul on Fisher on that play, as though Fisher had the strength to knock over not only Dwight Howard but Pau Gasol as well.)

I know picking on the refs is the easy thing to do, for both fans and writers, but I think there’s something to be said for not making calls in certain situations. Did Gasol touch the rim at the end of Game 2 while Courtney Lee was trying that game-winning lay-up? Yes. Was that technically a violation? Yes. But did Gasol affect the shot in any way at all? No, so I like that the refs put the whistles away there.

Similarly, even though Kobe decked Nelson on that play, I thought it was a good no-call because it wasn’t like Kobe went out of his way to drill Nelson with his elbow. With the clock running down, with the game on the line, Kobe was simply trying to get the ball to the open guy. Nelson was right up in his grill, contact was made, but none of it was intentional. (The Lakers might even be able to make a good argument that Nelson wasn’t giving Kobe the space to make that pass.)

3) Should the Lakers replace Derek Fisher next season?

I think they should. Sure he hit two huge threes down the stretch, but he’s also mostly stood around and watched as Rafer Alston zoomed past him in every game. He can no longer create his own shot, and he doesn’t have the speed to keep up with most starting point guards (Aaron Brooks, I presume).

L.A. has a bunch of money problems coming up this summer, but I think they really need to figure out some way to move Fisher to the bench (he’d be a better Sasha Vujacic than Sasha Vujacic is) and get another guard to start; not necessarily a point guard, but an athletic guard who can defend and be the Ron Harper to Kobe’s MJ.

• And like I wrote yesterday, I’m sticking with LA in five.

• I have two quality Separated at Birth’s today, two Lakers with the always difficult cross-species calls.

First, my cousin submitted this one with Pau Gasol and I think a creature from Star Wars.

Microsoft Word - gasol separated at birth.docx

Second, here’s Kobe (doing his new weird jaw thing) and either the Alien or the Predator from Alien vs. Predator.

sabkobe

As always, if you have a good Separated at Birth, send it in.

• Hey, it’s a link to an interview with me!

• One of my favorite Cajuns on Twitter asked if I could explain the most recent Ricky Rubio contract story. I don’t fully understand it either, but from what I can tell, once Ricky officially told Joventut that he wanted out of his contract, the Rubios and Joventut appeared headed for arbitration to see if Ricky could get a lower buyout on his deal that the reported $6 million.

Then, at least according to this report from ESPN.com, the Spanish IRS, which is called Hacienda, approached Joventut on some unrelated ish and informed the team that they owed some significant back taxes. The team said OK, and then realized that the Rubio’s were under contract to give them about $6 million if Ricky was leaving. Think of it like an IOU. Joventut knew Ricky owed them $6 mil, so they instead just passed the IOU over to Hacienda.

Now, I’m not sure what all this means, exactly. If Ricky leaves and goes to play in the NBA, he was supposed to have to pay Joventut to become a free agent. But what if he decided to stay in Spain? Would he no longer be the property of Joventut? I’m very curious to see how all of this plays out.

• And finally…

If you haven’t heard, the media is dead. There are no jobs, there’s no ad money, people aren’t buying magazines, etc. Writers can’t find work, editors can’t get gigs. So we should all just quit and go home and get jobs at McDonald’s or something.

Well, not so fast, there. Every time I read a story about how there’s no work out there for anyone, I kind of laugh. Because I’m always on the lookout for writers to hire to write for SLAM. Yes, we have a great crew of people who contribute regularly to our magazine. But we can also always improve. I read articles by people I’ve never heard of every single day, looking for different voices or new ideas that will fit within the SLAM formula. That was how we added Bethlehem Shoals to the SLAM team a few years ago before FreeDarko blew up. And that’s how, in the new issue of SLAM, we have a great feature by James Morris.

You might be asking, Who? Well, James Morris is allegedly from a website called Wizznutzz.com. (Although I’m sure the Wizznutzz will insist there’s no such person as James Morris.) I’ve been reading Wizznutzz.com for a while now, and the posts never fail to make me laugh out loud. Sometimes the stories are a little difficult to decipher, but they’re always highly entertaining.

So we got in touch with the ‘Nutzz and asked if they’d be interested in doing a story on what it’s like being a fan of the Wizards, a franchise that was slogging through yet another disappointing season. They obliged, although the story was turned in written on greasy paper bags.

Here’s the first half of the feature the Wizznutzz wrote in SLAM 130. If you want to read the entire thing, go buy a copy of the magazine!

CAPITAL OFFENSE

As this season proves, the Washington Wizards may still be the most frustrating franchise in the NBA. Just ask the Wizznutzz.
by James Morris of Wizznutzz.com

As the idiot kings of Washington, DC basketball blogging, we know a great many things about our home team. We know, for example, that Juan Dixon carries his own toilet paper on road trips and that Chris Webber once cut a rap single where he rhymed “Lettuce” with “Jerome Bettis.” We know that if you re-arrange the letters in “Gilbert Arenas” you get ANGEL RAREBITS. But there are some things we don’t know, like how you spell “threepeat,” or what happens at a ring ceremony. For us, these are the unknowables. We have a motto about Washington basketball: Our story isn’t one of triumph and trophies and ESPN highlights. Ours is mostly a story about not overcoming odds.

From ’82-83 through ’04-05, the Washington Wizards (née Bullets) didn’t win a single Playoff series. Twenty-two years! To give you a sense of how long that is: In 1982, there was no such thing as Phylicia Rashad. In 1982, you might have felt like listening to a Whodini cassingle, but you couldn’t because the cassingle hadn’t even been invented yet. Twenty-two years, no Playoff series, no MVPs, no national TV. Here is a complete list of franchise accomplishments from that time period: 1992: Pervis Ellison wins “Most Improved Player” award; 1996: Tim Legler wins the Three-Point Shootout; 1998: Tracy Murray scores 50 points in a game; 2001: Calvin Booth gets his driver’s license.

During that era, we lost in every way possible. We were out-shot, out-hustled and out-dressed. Blown-out, buzzer-beaten and season-swept. We had teams that were thin on big men, and teams that were big on thin men. We lacked intangibles and lacked tangibles. We drafted busts, flops, DNPs and DUIs. We had more rebuilding years than Haiti. We lost with past-their-prime veterans (Bernard, Moses, MJ), with before-their-prime youngsters (Rasheed, Big Ben) and with the primeless (Terry Davis). We suffered bad coaching (Gar Heard was discovered at a mall!), bad contracts (Juwan Howard, a one-man Ponzi scheme), bad trades (Webber for Thorpe, Wallace for Austin, Blake for “Magic Beans”) and bad injuries. More than anything, we suffered the injuries. We know all teams go through injuries; it’s part of the game. But over the years, we’ve had some truly freakish afflictions, like when Chris Whitney was diagnosed with Restless Legs Syndrome, or the time doctors discovered a colony of spiders living in Robert Pack’s knee, or when Ledell Eackles played through a paralyzed face, or when Christian Laettner lost his brave battle with menopause.

And then a kid called Zero showed up, who was good enough, and maybe just crazy enough, to kiss the franchise frog on the lips, who would dare to wrestle the monkey off our collective backs and lead us out of the shadows and into the promised land. (The wrestling the monkey part was pretty easy actually, once he pulled the monkey’s Jim McIlvaine jersey over its head.) Gilbert didn’t waste any time. He set about with furious purpose. He launched dagger upon dagger, he scored 40, then 50, then 60! He led us to a dramatic Playoff series win against the Bulls and deep into Round 2 one year, and matched LeBron blow for blow in front of a national television audience the next.

It was like he was trying to make up for lost time, to fill a franchise film reel that for 22 years had nothing on it except for the few minutes at the beginning where Calbert Cheaney is staring at the camera saying, “Hey, is this thing on?” In a few short months, the whole city was stirred from the ground, like that 17-year cicada we have in DC, the “Brood-X” cicada.

And then…boom, it was over. Zero crumpled to the floor, his knee giving in to the weight of history. Then Brendan Haywood went down, then DeShawn Stevenson. Our key bench players, Antonio Daniels and Roger Mason Jr., left town. Coach Jordan got fired. So there we were, back in the NBA’s basement, running out a lineup of barely-legals: Young, McGee, McGuire, Crittenton and the Curious Andray Blatche, the only player in the League who appears to be aging backward.

What have we done to deserve this? Are we cursed? I mean, besides that Romanian gypsy curse we got for stealing farmer Muresan’s baby. Are we like Sisyphus, condemned each day to heave a boulder up the hill, only to wake the next morning to find it has rolled right back down? Are we like Icarus, punished by the Gods for our ambition, for daring to dream? (If you don’t know the tale of Icarus, it’s about Tony Icarus, who killed his wife and was sent to Alcatraz for his crime. There he earned the nickname “The Birdman of Alcatraz,” because he trained pigeons in his cell by feeding them cheap prison heroin. Each day he would pluck a few feathers from his pigeon friends, until after many years he had enough feathers and built himself giant bird wings so he could fly out of jail and into freedom. When the day came for the great escape, Tony carved a fake head out of wax and placed it under his sheets so the guards would look in his cell and see a lump under a sheet thick with bird droppings and say, “That’s just Tony Icarus sleeping!” Then the time came and Tony leaped from his window. He only had one shot, but the wings worked perfectly! He soared up over the prison and swooped down by the ocean and whooped and laughed and cried with joy. But there was one problem: back in Tony’s cell, the hot sunlight had melted the wax head, and all the pigeons were screaming because they had become trapped in the hot wax, but also because they were having withdrawal symptoms from missing their morning heroin. The racket brought the guards around and they raised the alarm, and as Icarus did one last pass over the horrible island that had kept him for so long, the tower guards shot him in the back, and he crashed to the rocks and the tower guards yelled into their walkie talkies: “Birdman Down! Birdman Down!”)

(for the rest, pick up SLAM 130!)