So its been a little while between updates lately. My bad. Some overseas travel and my annual Golf Trip are the main culprits. But I’m back home and geared up for some serious ILP watching and blogging over the Christmas break, so I promise I’ll make up for it.

ONE: Our little blogging drought lately happens to have coincided with the Bogey Man completely dominating. The Bogometer hit a season-high 97% when he went for 24 points, 22 rebounds and 5 blocks against Houston on December 10th. It was the fourth 20-20 of Bogut’s career, and his best rebounding game since that horrific injury last season. After that game Bogut was typically dismissive – “Every rebound seemed to fall in my hands and I made some easy buckets, especially in the third and fourth quarters”.  Sure, maybe against the undersized Houston Rockets he was destined to have a big game. But against Tyson Chandler and the Mavs three days later you would have expected a very different outcome. Not so. Bogut shredded the Mavs defense for 21 points on 10-12 shooting, to go with 14 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 assists and a nifty steal. The Bogometer dropper slightly, to 92, but would have been higher if not for Bogut’s 1-6 free throw blemish.

Two days later against the Spurs Bogut went for 15 points, 7 rebounds, 7 blocks and 4 assists. It was the third time in AB’s career that he’s gone for 7 blocks (his career-high), and it included a couple of rejections on Manu late in the fourth that kept Milwaukee in the game. Unfortunately that game didn’t end well for the Bucks, but it did send a message that Bogut is back to his elite defensive best. It capped a remarkable four-game streak with 19 blocks in total, and put Drew #1 on the Blocks leaders with 3.11 per game (curiously, Darko is second with 2.58).

Today against the Jazz Bogut lead his team with 19 points and 9 boards, on 8-13 shooting. As good as his defense has been lately, it’s important not to forget that Bogut’s offense has been just as stellar. Through December he’s averaging 19.8ppg on 56% shooting, to go with 4 blocks. The Bucks have had an extremely tough schedule during that time, playing Denver, Orlando, Miami, San Antonio, Dallas and Utah. That’s about as tough as it gets right now, and they’re still yet to face the Lakers and Bulls before the month’s end. So despite the team sitting at a disappointing 10-15, I actually think the Bucks are in a pretty good  position to start charging up the Eastern standings over the next month or two – after all, they’re only two games behind 7th position (Indiana). With Bogut back in All-Star form, there’s no question that there’s a little more reason to start fearing the dear.

The other exciting Aussie news lately has been Patty Mills finally hitting the pine for some minutes in Portland. After what seemed like an eternity on the sidelines, Patty had his first decent run against Washington a couple of weeks back. The Blazers lost, but Patty put up 7 points, 6 assists and 3 steals in 18 minutes. He followed it up with a perfect 8 points on 3-3 shooting against the Clippers. And for the hat-trick, had his season-best outing against the Suns – 9 points, 7 assists and 3 rebounds in 29 minutes, including this freakin sweet pass to Rudy…

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Since that little streak Patty has continued to get steady minutes, including 24 yesterday in a win over the Timberwolves. Patty’s 8 points, 4 assists and 2 steals were instrumental in the win – both his steals came in the fourth, and his two free-throws with 2:56 left in the game stopped a 5-0 Wolves run that had them within four points.

Over in New Orleans the third Aussie in the NBA, David Andersen, has been seeing little court time. Since the trade in mid-November, DA has played just 34 minutes and none of those games saw him score more than 3 points. In fact, through December Andersen averaged only 5.7 minutes – which puts him last on the Hornets roster in MPG. Still, it’s early days for Andersen in New Orleans, and given he’s not the type of center who will give you three-minute bursts of energy/rebounding off the bench, the Hornets coaching staff need to figure out exactly how to integrate him into their offense. Here’s hoping that doesn’t take too long.

TWO: The big news today is of course the mega trades that went down, sending players sprawling across the country in search of new beginnings. The Magic send Rashard Lewis to the Wizards for Gilbert Arenas. They also sent Vince, Pietrus, Gortat and a 2011 first-round + cash to the Suns, in exchange for Hedo, J-Rich and Earl Clark. I’m still trying to wrap my head around these absurd trades, but here are my early thoughts:

  • What the fuck.
  • Losing Vince and gaining Hedo is a reversion to 2009 for Orlando– not a bad thing, and we all know how well Hedo worked in that system.
  • Losing Rashard Lewis on the other hand may hurt a lot – he was one of the few “power forwards” in this league who could easily co-exist with Dwight, and stretch the perimeter as well as any three-point shooter in the league. Plus he’s clutch. He’s hit countless big threes for them over the last few years. In those last-second situations, having a 4-man with that range and fearlessness is invaluable. In that sense, there’s arguably no one in the league like Rashard Lewis.
  • Arenas will be better than Vince, but I’m not so sure the Magic need him now. The reason the Vince/Hedo swap didn’t work was because Vince could never replace the point-forward play-making ability of Hedo. Arenas can score like Vince, and of course, can play point guard, so he gives Coach Van Gundy a lot more options. He closes that gap. BUT, the Magic went and got Hedo again anyway! Plus, they got Jason Richardson who is essentially Vince Carter with a better three-point stroke. So what exactly do they need Arenas for?
  • Losing Gortat and Pietrus is a punch in the defensive balls. Orlando will realise that when they’re trying to get past Boston or Miami in the playoffs. Pietrus was their one guy they could throw at Lebron/Wade/Pierce/Allen – now who covers them? Gortat added rebounding the toughness and ugly bald-headedness, and in the playoffs you need these things. Especially when Dwight gets into foul trouble, which will happen and cost Orlando at least two playoff games. Earl Clark is more of a finesse guy. He counts for nothing in this regard. This is the main reason I don’t understand these trades. If you want to win the championship this year you need size – size to get past Shaq/KG/Perkins in Boston, size to have an upper-hand against Miami (because you will almost certainly lose in every other aspect), and size to have a hope in hell against Gasol/Odom/Bynum if you make it that far. With this trade the Magic did a few good things – ditching Vince, getting some help for Jameer, and adding perfect offensive players for their system (J-Rich namely) – but they lost size. Interior size with Gortat, and perimeter size with Pietrus. Defense wins championships. Orlando are a championship-caliber team. These trades might win them a lot of games, but it will not get them over the final hump. And let me just say that I do love Brandon Bass – he is an animal and is playing great right now. But he is an undersized forward, and certainly not a backup center. You cannot win a championship with Bass and Ryan Anderson as your backup bigs, even if you have Dwight. Gortat was their insurance, and they’ve lost him.
  • Now, lets forget about Orlando for a second. For the Suns, this is a great trade. Hedo didn’t really fit in that system, not with Stevie Nash at the helm. Vince will go a long way to replacing J-Rich, with a slight loss in three-point shooting ability. Gortat and Pietrus finally give the Suns a defensive identity – the ability to guard perimeter players and bang inside. They also get a first-round pick next year which will help in building the post-Nash era. It is a smart trade for them, it really is. There is a clear winner in this mess.
  • For the Wizards, they’re just happy to lose Gil and his contract without it costing a draft pick or young talent. Lewis will improve them in the short term, and possibly be used as trade bait down the track. Arenas had no future in Washington, so to get a talented shooting big man out of this trade is a win for them.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m overrating Gortat and Pietrus. Maybe Arenas has way more in the tank than we all think. But overall I can’t help think these trades have resulted in a lot of roster re-shuffling and not much else. But there is one other angle here, and that is that perhaps Orlando just needed a change – any change. Having been title-contenders the last two seasons, maybe Dwight and Co. will be happy to see the backs of Vince and Rashard and Pietrus and Gortat? After all, those guys never truly made the big difference they needed to. Maybe bringing back Hedo, an ex-franchise player in Arenas, and an excitement-machine like J-Rich will have a big enough influence on the chemistry and self-belief in this ball club that the Xs and Os won’t matter. Basketball can be funny in that sense. Get the right mix of personalities together and the sum of the parts can all of a sudden be greater than the whole. Maybe the Magic know something we don’t?

THREE: I watched the second half of the Heat v Wizards game today. Partly because I like to watch Miami whenever I get a chance, but mostly because this game was smelling of “upset” at half time. Indeed, it smelt of upset until the last minute when the Wizards gave a superb lesson in how to completely throw away a game. I’m still stunned. I’ve seen a lot of shitty teams lose to great teams in the final minutes – the Clippers and Lakers a week ago was another perfect example (where D-Fish hit the buzzer beater). But today trumps that. Today topped everything I’ve seen. There were so many stupid turnovers, terrible fouls, and unbelievably shit passes that I almost vomited on myself. There was Kirk Hinrich’s lazy pass that Lebron picked off for a breakaway dunk with 1:38. Luckily Kirk made up for it with a nice dish to Josh Howard who scored to give the Wizards a 5-point lead with 32 seconds left.

5 point lead with 32 seconds left.

Ok, so a lot can happen in 32 seconds in basketball. Bosh managed to make a clutch three and only burnt 5 seconds of clock, and eventually the Heat fouled and put Howard back at the line with 19 seconds left. He misses the second one but grabs his own rebound. At this point you’re thinking, “Wow, Miami are destined to lose this one”.

Not so fast. It’s the Wizards we’re talking about here. Howard only makes one of the free-throws, putting Washington up by 4 with 18 seconds left.

4 point lead with 19 seconds left.

Then Andrew Blatche, who I will now just call Shithead, fouled Chris Bosh on a three-point attempt. How the fuck do you foul Bosh from out there I’ll never know, but Blatche charged at him like his life depended on it. Unbelievable. In keeping with the rest of their fourth-quarter play though, Miami did their best to gift Washington the game – Bosh only made two from the stripe. Wizards up by 3 with possession, with 13 seconds left.

Cue amazing  turnover. Nick Young fumbles the inbounds pass – not his fault, the pass wasn’t great – and James Jones steals it and is immediately fouled. Now, I was watching this live on International League Pass, which had the Wizards home commentators, and let me tell you something. They went completely silent when they play unfolded. Didn’t say a thing. It was the first time in my life I actually heard a face palm. Not just one, but 20,278 of them.

Jones hit both free-throws. Hinrich then missed one. Wade drew a foul from Shithead, Hinrich’s last second effort was woeful, and the rest is history. The Heat players celebrated like they’d just won a playoff series. I don’t blame them – they were celebrating the most comically awful late-game collapse in recent history. The Heat was terrible in this game. Stone cold. Nick Young ripped them apart. It promised to be the perfect dawn to  the post-Arenas era. But it wasn’t. How the Heat won this basketball game is still beyond me. And watching them celebrate, and the Wizards slowly shuffle off the court, I realized one thing. I now hate the Miami Heat an extra 15%. For those keeping count, I’m now at 125%.

God I hate you guys

FOUR: It’s not often I get a phone call from a mate about a dunk that just happened. And when my mate Pete was explaining it to me, it didn’t sound that awesome.  But having seen it, I can confirm it is definitely in the category of “dunks to immediately phone a friend for”. Thank you JR.

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And thank you Kevin Harlan.

FIVE: Aussie NBA fans rejoice. We now have a new NBA magazine to call our own, called Buckets. Their first issue hit the shelves a few weeks back, and its well worth the read. A very slick looking mag I might add. What’s more, the Buckets team regularly update their site with news and opinionated content, so its more than just a magazine. It’s been a long time since we had an NBA mag to call our own, so try and get behind the cause and buy yourself a copy.

SIX: The first returns from the All-Star votes are in, and Kobe is leading the way at #1, with Dwight, Lebron and Wade following him. For what it’s worth, here is my ballot:

F – LeBron James
F – Amare Stoudemire (narrowly over Pierce)
G – Derrick Rose
G – Dwyane Wade
C – Andrew Bogut

F – Pau Gasol
F – Dirk Nowitzki
G – Kobe Bryant
G – Deron Williams
C – This position was so weak on the ballot I didn’t choose anyone

What’s yours?

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