This is probably my favourite time of year. I worked my last day of the year on Friday and now face a month of summer and beer drenched days stretching all the way though till early January. I plan to spend a lot of that time walking around without pants on, watching a lot more NBA, dancing around like a fool at Meredith, shanking drives at Yarrawonga & Border Golf Club, and sucking the sweet goodness from the air that is Melbourne in Summer. There’s something about this city in Summer. Some days the weather is perfect, it’s hot but not humid and you just need to get outdoors, whether it’s St Kilda beach or Chapel Street, a barbecue along the Yarra, or a trip to the beach (for me most likely Shoreham or Anglesea). Other days it’s just too fucking hot – the last thing you want to do is go outside so you settle for a few beers and the cricket on TV, poking fun at Tony Greig and Bill Lawry and wondering how on earth Richie Benaud is still alive. Either way it’s a great day. Here are a few snaps I like, taken by my good friend Wibo (check his Flickr) who takes the best photos of Melbourne I’ve seen.

Bogut Watch: The Bogey man returns from injury and surprise surprise, the Bucks win two straight after losing three straight without their big man anchoring the middle. The Bucks need Bogut – a realization the Bratwurst Blog had just recently but really I could have told you that at the start of the season. Sure their recent wins came against the Bobcats and Bulls, but as the guys over at Bucks Diary said getting the gettables is a sign these Bucks are building some respectability. With six of their next seven on the road to say the Bucks needed those wins is a massive understatement

And in other Bogut news, AB has thrown his support and money behind the Sydney Spirit in a bid to save the struggling team. What a guy. No one could acuse Bogut of becoming a money-driven star who has forgotten his roots. Thanks Bogut!

I saw half of the Celtics v Blazers game yesterday. I was disappointed that Oden could barely stay on the court, and I continue to be impressed by the recent play of Rajon Rondo. As I remarked to one of my friends yesterday, “it’s annoying he’s playing this well because he’s supposed to be the weakest link on that team”  – annoying from a non-Boston fan’s point of view anyway. That’s the guy that the Chris Pauls, the Tony Parkers and Chauncey Billupss are supposed to have their way with. But right now he is solid as a rock and beating every PG that lines up against him. Over the Celtics 10 game winning streak Rondo has been averaging 14 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals – they are huge numbers. On the season he is averaging 10.4 points, 7.7 assists, 4.8 boards and 2.2 steals, all on 52% shooting from the field and just 2.1 TOs per game. This is Rajon Rondo we’re talking about people. To put that in perspective for you, if Rondo goes 10-7-5-2 for the rest of the season he would be only the fourth guy to do that over the last decade, along with Lebron James, Jason Kidd and Baron Davis – and none of them shot 50% for the season.

Pierce, KG and Ray will of course get all the headlines this season, so here at NBAMate we felt it only necessary to hand out one of the highest honors we can bestow upon any player, and let’s be honest, an award that is far more meaningful and manly than anything David Stern is going to hand you. Ladies and Men, give it up for Rajon Rondo, your new Luke Hodge Man of the Hour. Extra man-points earned for making Nicolas Batum look like a dickhead…

At about the same time they do every season, ESPN has put up the 1995-96 Bulls 70-win chase page, for the first time comparing two teams against the Bulls: both the Lakers and the Celtics. But why stop there? A quick calculation tells me the Cavs are on track for 70 wins too. This could be a historic season indeed. Here’s my take:

  • The Celtics will be all too wary about resting the old legs of KG, Pierce and Ray late in the season so I’d be surprised if they continue at this pace. Unfortunately for them, the Cavs are right on their heels and knowing how shaky they were on the road in last season’s playoffs, the Celtics will do everything in their powers to ensure four games are played at the Garden in the Eastern Conference Finals, and not in Cleveland. What does that mean? Well, we could end up with the curious situation where the Celtics and the Cavs are so far ahead of the rest of the pack in the East, yet determined to fight for that #1 seed and in the process might push both of them into 70-win territory.
  • I haven’t seen the Cavs play in a couple of weeks and I can’t quite figure out how they’ve been playing well enough for Lebron to reduce his output the way he has. But you can take it from Lebron’s mouth that this is the best team he’s ever been on, and lately they haven’t just been beating teams, they’ve been utterly destroying them. The Cavs haven’t played a game decided by 10 points or less since they lost to Detroit nine games ago – since then they have averaged a blistering 21.7 point win! $@#%!! They have had a very easy draw however, and right now I simply think the Cavs look better than they really are. Once they’ve taken a couple more road trips out West I will reassess.
  • The Lakers still have a higher ceiling than the Cavs or the Celtics in my opinion, but it has become blatantly clear they have a problem of closing out games. Sure they still get out of jail sometimes thanks to Kobe (like yesterday against the Wiz), but even a 20 point lead doesn’t seem to be safe for the Lakers, and opposition teams know this. You get the feeling that the historic Celtics comeback in Game 4 of last year’s Finals still haunts this team. Regardless, they have the best chance of winning 70 out of any team because they are on a mission and they are hurting more than any other NBA team from last season. That was a strong motive for the 95-96 Bulls when they were knocked out by the Magic the season before – that playoff exit was a humiliating slap to the face of the Bulls organization, and especially MJ who had returned mid-season. With five of their next six games against the Bucks, Kings (twice), T-Wolves and Knicks it won’t surprise me to see the Lakers sitting at 22-2, which is a 75-win pace. Phil Jackson’s take? No chance the Lakers get to 70.

About an hour ago I received this SMS from Ham the Atlanta fan:  “Fucking Puerto Rican guy

I quickly looked at the live scores and what I saw was both shocking and unsurprising. Puerto Rican Guy (Jose Barea) had scored 16 points in the third quarter, torching the Hawks in what should have been a lop-sided victory (Atlanta almost pulled off a miracle comeback). I don’t know what more I can say about Puerto Rican guy. Is he the biggest surprise player this season? Without doubt. Is he an All-Star? Probably. Is he the greatest Puerto Rican guy in the history of Puerto Rican guys? Absolutely.

Barea hit the winning 3-pointer Tuesday to beat the Clipps, then scores 18 points in his first start of the season two days later against Steve Nash and the Suns no less, and now this. Coach Rick Carlisle must have felt like Christmas has come early, this quote from today’s game: “I’m a believer that anything is possible. Would I have predicted it? No. Who would have? He’s just some Puerto Rican guy”. Not just any Puerto Rican guy Rick, but now the Puerto Rican guy that has officially become part of NBAMate. He is our new inductee into the Wall of Fame (the faces in our logo at the top) at the expense of Dan Majerle who lets face it, is simply not in as good form as Jose Barea right now (and cheers to CP4 for the worthy suggestion). I’m also happy to announce Jessica Alba is stepping down to be replaced by Megan Fox, Jobba’s ‘Official Unofficial Idiots Guide Blog Babe Representative‘ and all-round hottie. As a tribute to Jessica, here are some recent snaps of her in her post-baby body looking as gorgeous as ever. She will be missed, but then again…

Few other random things around the league that caught my eye…

  • On Thursday I joked to one of my work mates that the Memphis @ Atlanta game might draw a crowd of 250 people if they were lucky. It was with great amusement therefore when I read this blog from 3 Shades of Blue the next day, asking the deeply profound question: “If the Griz lose in Atlanta and nobody sees it, does it really happen?”
  • I just followed the final minutes of the Suns v Jazz game where the Suns nearly blew it again. But it doesn’t change the fact that Suns are in a serious rut and looked ready to self-implode after losing to the Heat (by 15 points which is unforgivable), the Nets (giving up 47 points to Devin Harris which is just plain confusing), the Hornets (understandable) and the Mavs (Puerto Rican guy). Things have become so desperate in the Suns camp that it has lead their fans to seriously contemplate whether Coach Porter should bench Amare Stoudemire. Umm do you wanna piss Amare off even more? That is a stupid idea. Here’s a little more Suns-bashing from With-Malice to round it out – I wonder if we’ll be reading blogs like this every week for the rest of the season? On the positive side, Amare did pull out a 22 point, 20 rebound game today which is only the fourth 20-20 game of his career. So Suns fans, maybe things are on the up? Here’s a comic to cheer you all up, you deserve it.
  • My tip for the basketball blog set to become the most famous over the next year? Baller-in-Chief, a site dedicated to Barack Obama and his balling ways. Watch this space.
  • Need4Sheed is left wondering (as am I) how on earth the Pistons lost to the Sixers? I don’t want to talk about the Pistons right now. Too upset. How you can lose to a Brand-less Sixers team is absolutely beyond me. Do check the Need4Sheed blog though, it’s worth it just to see Rodney Stuckey’s ridiculous changing-hands shot.
  • Sam Mitchell got fired as Toronto Coach and Raptors Republic is really happy about it.
  • About five games in to the Iverson-Billups trade I starting telling a few people that I thought Chauncey Billups could be the MVP because of the dramatic impact he’s had on the Nuggets, and the fact they looks set to win a lot more games. Of course I was partly overstating things – I do not seriously think he could touch Lebron or Kobe in the MVP race if they keep playing like this. But I was interested to hear Coach George Karl say he thought he was coaching an MVP candidate. Denver creamed the Kings today and Billups went for 24 points – the seventh time he’s hit 20+ points as a Nugget. With Denver on pace for 55 wins and a top four finish out West, Chauncey’s MVP chances aren’t as remote as you think. What if they hit 60 wins? What if they finished second to the Lakers, or if Lebron got injured? That’s some big what-ifs, but in a few months the Chauncey-for-MVP talk might not be as ridiculous as it sounds now.

UPDATE: After being pounded by Billups and the Nuggs today, Mikki Moore had this to say:

Would you let someone go into your house, smack your wife around, make a sandwich and change the channel on your TV? We’re disgusted with ourselves.”

I don’t even know where to start with that, but I just thought you should all read it.

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