Monday, May 30th, 2011 at 3:00 pm  |  48 responses

Links: NBA Finals Preview

Featuring LeBron, Dirk, Karl Pilkington and LA Noire…

by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

Hey folks!

My name is Lang Whitaker, and after announcing my full-time departure from SLAM and taking the last few weeks off from SLAMonline, I’m back on the grind for the NBA Finals.

I’ve been gone from SLAM full-time for a few weeks now, which in internet time is like 8,000 years. In the meantime, I’ve been spending my days working hard at doing mostly nothing. Sure, I’m still recording podcasts with Sekou for NBA.com. I’ve been taking meetings, lunches and dinners. I wrote a couple of SLAM magazine features for the next two issues. I went to Oklahoma City for Round One of the Playoffs, then went to Atlanta for Round Two. I’ve been out pimping for my book, and I finished off my second season of “The Beat” on NBA TV, and even wrote a couple of Playoff-related pieces for GQ.

So I haven’t been completely useless. But with the weather turning beautiful this spring, and without an office requiring my presence hanging around, I’ve spent my mornings juggling emails and phone calls, then set out to enjoy my life. I’ve gone jogging in the middle of the day, taken my dog Starbury on unbelievably long walks, brought Starbury outside while I spent hours sitting on benches in the park outside my house reading and staring at the Hudson River. For the most part, I’ve worked hard at not working. I feel I deserve it, at least for a while, or until the money runs out.

I’ve also spent significant time working my way through my back catalogue of video games. Once I finished those, I recently immersed myself in the world of LA Noire, the new crime procedural video game from Rockstar. It’s a strange ride, the least action-y action game I’ve ever played. The game is set in 1940’s Los Angeles, and you are an up-and-coming police detective, running around Hell-Ay charged with solving a series of gruesome murders. The way you’re supposed to solve these crimes involves scouring crime scenes looking for clues, then interviewing suspects and trying to piece together what happened. There are a few gunfights and chase sequences, but the majority of the time is spent talking to digitized people.

As someone who basically makes a living interviewing people, I thought I’d be pretty good at LA Noire, especially the part where I’ve got the perps in the interview room and I’m grilling them for information. I know how to listen to people, how to broach sensitive topics, how to bob and weave, how to drop the hammer when necessary. Yet, at least in the world of LA Noire, I’m terrible at interviewing people. These criminals lie to me and get away with it. I accuse innocent people of doing horrible things they haven’t done, then let guilty communist sympathizers walk away free.

After a lot of consideration, I think the reason I’m subpar as a digital interviewer is because I’m trying to apply real-world logic to an unreal world. When I ask a suspect if he knew the murder victim and he tells me no, he did not, then refuses to look me in the eyes and gets all fidgety, I immediately believe I’m being lied to. What really matters, however, outside of the game, is whether or not the video game programmer wants me to think I’m being lied to. So instead of just reading and reacting to the characters in the game, you need to read and react to the people who developed the game — the producers, writers, animators, etc. How did these people expect me to respond, and how can I out-fox them? The more I play LA Noire, the more I realize how my initial, instinctive reactions are pretty much worthless. I try and think deeper and deeper, in what can quickly become circular logic. Before you know it, you’re busy trying to out-think yourself.

Similarly, in assessing these NBA Playoffs, I’m not sure if I should believe what my brain is telling me to think. At the most basic level, I think Miami has the best player in the series, and maybe in the NBA, in LeBron. No matter how you rate Dirk versus Wade, Miami has two superstars and Dallas has one. Miami also has home court advantage, and they have two superstars who can drive to the rim, who will get calls and get to the line. And they’ve got LeBron and Bosh, who can reasonably be considered able to defend Dirk one-on-one. So my initial thought is that Miami must have the advantage.

Then, the more I think about it, the more questions arise. Can Marion/Stevenson stop LeBron? Can Terry/Kidd stop Wade? Who runs the point for Miami? Does it matter if they don’t really have a point guard? Can Wade start playing the way he did earlier in the Playoffs? Will anyone on Miami be able to shut down Dirk? Will they be able to even slow him down at all? Can anyone on Miami keep up with JJ Barea? Will JJ Barea’s wifey be at any of the games? Will Miami go zone? Will Dallas go zone? Will the classic LeBron/DeShawn battle rear its ugly head and require someone to “Blow the Whistle”?

The last time these teams squared off in the Finals, back in 2006, was the first time I covered the Finals in their entirety. I spent over two weeks going back and forth from Dallas and Miami, flying over 8,000 miles, even hitting NYC for a day between each stop. My saving graces during that time were the 2006 World Cup, and discovering The Ricky Gervais Show, the greatest podcast on earth. Last night I went back and re-read all my notes from that series. I remember thinking Dallas had it locked up after winning Games 1 and 2, then thinking Miami would definitely win it after taking all the games in Miami, which they eventually did. What ended up making the most difference in the entire series was Dwyane Wade. Yes, he shot a lot of free throws, but he also drove to the basket and forced contact over and over again.

So Wade was the best player in that series. And his team won the series.

Maybe I’m overthinking these Finals. Perhaps, like in LA Noire, I’m overthinking the thinking behind the questions and not looking at simple logic. This all makes me sympathetic toward Ricky Gervais’s sidekick, the great philospher Karl Pilkington of Manchester, a man who once asked, “Does the brain control you or are you controlling the brain? I don’t know if I’m in charge of mine.”

Boiling it down, the best player in this series will lead his team to a title. And I’m guessing that LeBron James will be the best player in this series. Which leads me to believe that his team will win.

Then again…what if Dirk turns out to be the best player? And what if having a lot of really good players is more important than having two superstars?

Crap, I’m doing it again.

OK, look, I don’t have any idea who’s going to win. Trying to keep it simple, I’ll pick Miami in 6. But I wouldn’t be shocked if Dallas pulls this off.

On Tuesday, I’m flying into Miami and I’ll ride with you guys here on SLAMonline throughout Games 1 and 2.

Let’s have some fun.

And I’m glad to be back.

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  • OneStep

    Karl Pilkington the philosopher savante. A frightening example of someone whose entire knowledge base emanates from TV and the internet. Parents: you have been warned!
    Dallas in 6.

  • Yann Blavec

    “And what if having a lot of really good players is more important than having two superstars?” I remember a season preview in Slam stating that having Shaq and Kobe made your team better than 10 great players as they had in the Blazers team (damon stoudemire, scottie, rasheed, sabonis, steve smith, schrempf, kemp, i must be missing someone, etc.)
    Anyway, I still think that dallas is gonna win.

  • http://slamonline Brion

    Does the Peja in the Laker series show up or the Peja in the OKC series.

  • Bruno

    what brion said will be a huge factor

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca/ niQ

    So…you’re full-time departure was only for a few weeks?

  • chris

    This is what i have never liked about “SLAM” the writers they have are to,..well,.. “minor league”, and the articles are crap. Heck of a “finals preview” This Mag and its articles are aimed at “home-boys” at best, no substance ever, but what do you expect,…its SLAM. It may go without saying to though,…this writer with all the other writes from this joke magazine are never “missed” lol

  • chris

    I mean come on,…his first 4-5 paragraphs have nothing to do with the finals,..yet its titled “NBA FINALS PREVIEW” Dose this clown actually think people care what he has been doing lol? Slam do yourself a favor, get rid of jack off writers and get some writers that no how to do just that,…WRITE ARTICLES! A third grader with a crayon could do better!!!!!!!

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ Lang Whitaker

    @niQ: I’m still gone full-time. Just popping in for a couple of days of part-time work.
    @OneStep: I think you’re giving Karl too much credit. He mentions TV occasionally but I think he’s really mostly informed by the internet. Like the time he mentioned when he tried to confuse his computer by googling “Why?”

  • http://kb24.com Bigi

    So Cris, why bother reading? Welcome back Mr.Witaker!(Even if it’s just for the Finals)

  • http://kb24.com Bigi

    Whitaker, obviously…

  • treetrunks

    hey Lang, why are u letting that Cris guy sh*t on u like that?!

  • http://www.slamonline.com Eboy

    lest we not forget Lang picked the Lakers to threepeat….so Im not sure if the Heat or the Mavs are getting a fair shake! :)

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @treetrunks: Doesn’t bother me. He’s allowed to have his opinion. Doesn’t mean I have to agree.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Orvall

    @Lang – what other games did you play? Anything worth checking out?

  • http://Nba.com GP23

    I totally agree with you on the LA Noire game, them interviews are frustrating !! And yes, Karl Pilkington is the funniest guy on television. Oh and btw, Miami will sweep Dallas. Lebron will be unguardable. Peace.

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca/ niQ

    In that case, WELCOME BACK!
    For a guy who’s “doing nothing” you sure sound busy!

  • David

    Welcome back, Lang. Slamonline’s been different without The Links in the middle of the page.

  • MikeC.

    If we can only get some part-time Lang, that’s better than no Lang at all.
    @chris – if you dislike the site so much, then why are you here? The interweb is a big place, start your own site. Unless doing that is too much work for you.

  • MikeC.

    Forget Lebron or Dirk getting their first ring. The real winner out of all of this is Spoelstra. It’ll be really hard for Riley to justify sliding down his grease trail to coach again next year. I truly believed that Spoelstra wasn’t going to make it past Christmas. I thought that Riley was going to let Spoelstra work through the early hiccups and then let him “spend more time with his family” for the rest of the year so he can take all the credit. Again.

  • Ronald

    @treetrunk: It’s not like Chris was wrong. Despite Lang being one of the best sports writer out there, this was a weak “NBA Finals Preview Piece”. But it was a good Lang update piece imho. And the thing about weak writers on Slamonline? That kinda speaks for itself.

  • http://www.fiba.com Darksaber

    Ah this finals preview only revealed one important fact: Nba Finals LIVEBLOOOOG!

  • http://www.fiba.com Darksaber

    Also love how a guy who can’t spell is unloading on Lango. That and the homeboy comment make Cris quite the prince.
    Interesting thing though: you came here to read the preview, dunce. Case….closed.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Thanks Lang and yes, indeed, Darksaber. Live Blogs coming in just 24 hours!!

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    I tried playing LA Noire. I’m not sure if it’s good or not yet. I was hoping it would be like The Godfather games, and I do love the setting, but it just seems like it’s not really a game. In a weird way it kinda reminds me of Nighttrap on the Sega CD (I’m old).

  • doyouwantmore

    I have a hunch that Wade, Haslem, and even Bibby are in worse shape than they’re letting on. If the Mavs come out unintimidated they will win by a war of attrition.

  • http://www.angryarab.com Tariq

    As for the Finals, I thought the Mavs would lose to Portland in the first round, but I’ve been believing in them more and more as the Playoffs progressed. I think it’s a really tough Finals to call, but it’ll ultimately come down to match-ups. The Heat can’t guard Dirk, simply because he’s been unguardable this postseason. It’ll be interesting to see whether Miami will double him, because that would allow about eight other guys to hit open threes. I think Dallas’s zone could be an adequate way to defend Miami, although I don’t really think they’ll be able to stop LeBron especially. But I do think they should be able to contain Bosh. I can’t wait.

  • http://www.fiba.com Darksaber

    Thanks, Ben.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    Welcome back, Lang! Let’s hope the finals will be just as good as the rest of the playoffs so far. I feel we’ve been really spoiled by this year’s playoffs, the last 3 games in particular with their epic comebacks and all.

  • http://www.slamonline.com/ Lang Whitaker

    Yep, I’ll be liveblogging live from MIA tomorrow night. I hope all of you guys — including Chris — will be here with me tomorrow night!

  • Zabba

    Glad to have you back Lang, but less personal stories and more Finals preview. Whatever, it’s your column and I’d skim it anyway.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.l.brewer3 BlackPhantom

    Yaaay Lang is back.

  • http://www.slamonline.com James the Balla

    I really wish I could watch the games, sucks, but I will try and get on for the live blog for 20 or 30 minutes! Hopefully the live blogs are filled with lots of slang so that Cris can read it. Welcome back Lang. My heart says Dallas in 4, but my head says Miami in 5. If there is a basketball god, Lebron will not get a trophy this year and I will be able to make fun of Eboy for another year!

    Peace everyone

  • http://www.bulls.com. Rigo Gonzalez

    Dose this clown actually think people care what he has been doing lol?

    I hope all the “Welcome back Lang!” comments have answered your question, Chris.

  • Mike From Spain

    I don’t think you have to call someone a clown if you feel that a piece about the Finals was weak… anyway, I have to say I am one of the newer readers and nothing personal, but I was done halfway the ‘Chris update’ part and went to the real preview.

  • Koen

    I wonder if Dirk’s hair will bother Lebron

  • Morgan

    LA Noire is just a modern rehash of the Bladerunner game from the early 90s. Its a very good rehash – and I love it – but it isn’t very original. A lot like the NBA in a way…first team to lose at home loses the series…again.

  • http://www.stonesthrow.com Michael NZ

    Always great to see Lang’s work here. Can’t wait for the coverage guys. I got the Heat in 6.

  • Paps

    I can’t wait for the million free throws a game! I hope it’s be a good finals.

  • Sparker

    jj barea is the man. that is all.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Cheryl

    you, me and Eboy should meet for a drink. you’ve been here way too many times for us not to hook up! hit me up, Lang. and welcome back to the circus…

  • http://slamonline.com 1982

    @Lang I wrote you an email like 10 years ago and you actually replied. Welcome back boss

  • http://twitter.com/smileyoufckers Bryan

    This is easily my worst case scenario finals. And considering the last 2 days I’ve had the games better be good or I’m not gonna be a happy camper.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    What I’ve found bothersome lately is the media narrative that the Mavs have paid their dues and that the Heat haven’t. Utter nonsense. 1.) Most of the Mavs players have only been on the team for 2 or 3 seasons tops, it’s not like they are longtime playoff comrades. 2.) Lebron/Bosh/Wade spent 20+ years collectively carrying teams which would otherwise be filter feeders. How is this not “paying your dues”? 3.) How about guys like Mike Miller, Big Z, Bibby? Don’t they “deserve” at title too?

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    Also since this is the first Finals in years I won’t be biased by my own weirdly personal white hot love/frustration for Kobe, I’m actually looking forward to just kicking back and enjoying basketball. ‘Tis the strange relief of having the team you usually root for as well as your sh*tty hometown team (Raps) out of the picture.

  • Ben Taylor

    Great piece Lang. Good to have you back.

    Also, massive hat-tip for the Karl Pilkington reference.

  • http://wwwslamonline.com Jeremy Bauman

    Great set-the-plate article for the series and I have the same “I know the logic but really have no idea who is going to win” problem going on inside my head as well. I just want a thrilling series, just hardnosed basketball with a title on the line

  • http://sohh.com teamplayer65

    Mavs are taking this thing in 7. There will be 3 ot games, with game 7 being one of them. All go down to the wire. (Chris: “homeboy”? really? Only Dark found that offensive out of everyone who read that crap? Screw you guys)

  • Paul

    Great write up Lang! I am glad to have you back. I have been reading Slam since the first issue and have watched it grow. It’s funny because I have been reading Slam since I was a SrA in the Air Force hahaha Now I am a Master Sgt and about to retire next year. I love reading your articles and now watching your input on NBA TV. I am a big fan of your work and Slam. I am looking forward to your reports and the rest of the Slam online crew during the finals. I think the Heat will win in 6. However it would be nice to see the Mavs pull this one out.