Category Archives: Sports

Meet the Involuntary Workers of the Little League World Series

Some unpublished work from the 2015 Little League World Series. Reporting from South Williamsport, Pennsylvania:

Little League takes great pride in the thousands of volunteers that coach, umpire, sell nachos, and otherwise make its youth baseball programs happen worldwide. So much so that they named the secondary, 5,000-seat stadium at the South Williamsport grounds “Volunteer Stadium” when it opened in 2001.

During the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, though, one can find a crew of unpaid laborers who are not there for their children or love of the game. These folks are performing a Community Service, like the volunteers helping to instill the timeless American values of friendly competition and baseballing in the youth. But you won’t see them cheering on ESPN; they’re only here because the county probation office said so.

The probationers are easy to spot around the Series grounds. They wear faded yellow T-shirts that say simply “Little League World Series” and walk in zigs and zags with a broom and dustpan around the concourses, brushing up a bit of dust here, a Coke cup there. They are in the parking lots, waving their arms vaguely at incoming vehicles. And they line up near the end of games in the stadium entranceways or up the steps, waiting for the fans to leave so they can do a clean sweep of trash left behind. Between the games, the trash crews of 10 or 12 saunter about emptying cans and throwing the bags onto four-wheel Gators that are driven to out-of-sight dumpsters.

Workers take breaks in a fenced-in area under the stands shielded from easy viewing by green plastic. There are a few picnic tables, some leaf blowers, rolls of trash bags, and a pile of folded yellow T-shirts awaiting new recruits. Maybe 30 people are working at any one time during the day, with the numbers going up in the evening after people get off work and when clean-up is most needed.

Community Service workers relax at the Little League World Series. Photo: Josh Brokaw

Listen in as they work or wander and you catch snippets of regretful conversation: “So I got leaving the scene of an accident.” “They said my taillight was out. And then I blew a .09.”

A man with long stringy hair and gray stubble sweeping up had figured out how he will knock out his 68 hours of service time.

“If I work five doubles at 13, 14 hours a day, I can get it done.” Shifts start at 8 a.m. and go until 3, then the second shift works until 11 or so, depending on when the games end.

Assigned sweeping duty on a Friday night, a machine shop worker named C.J. was not shy about sharing his feeling on his assignment.

“This is all bullshit,” he said in a loud rasping voice, his scraggly beard titled toward the ground as he looked for more debris. “I punched a truck because they did fucking burnouts in front of my house and were throwing rocks at my nieces and nephews.”

A bypassing Little League staffer in a red shirt heard C.J. cursing and took him aside for a minute’s conversation.

“No, you didn’t get me in trouble,” he said, as he returned to his sweeping. “I got here at 7 after a 10-hour day. At my job, I sweep and pick up trash all day long. I mean, it’s my career. They said ‘You can come in at 7 and stay till its done. It might be 4 in the morning.’ I said you can keep fucking smoking what you’re smoking. That’s not happening.”

A lady in pink sweatpants who was waving pedestrians out of the buses’ way Friday afternoon said she found herself here after passing out at the wheel during an allergic reaction to her Ambien scrip. She was slapped with an under-the-influence charge.

“Here I am, 50 years old, and I don’t even drink,” Pink Sweats said. “There are people here who I guess have DUIs, and theft charges and stuff. Everyone who goes in front of a judge gets community service.”

Pink Sweats is right on a number of counts. Drunk driving charges provide plenty of labor for Little League. On last check, in early 2013, DUI charges were 40 percent of court filings, according to the local district attorney. In 2012 Lycoming County had more DUI charges than Philly, with a population of roughly 120,000 and a land area larger than Rhode Island. “Theft by unlawful taking” — i.e. shoplifting — at the local K-Mart or mall is another popular misdemeanor, along with plenty of drug charges in this heroin-hit region.

Everyone charged in Lycoming County gets community service hours – 50 hours is the standard, given with everything from six months probation to 20 year state sentences – and the unemployed can use service time to work off fines and costs. In 2011, the most recent numbers easily available in the “Best Jail Practices” report, 1,232 people did 130,604 hours of service – worth $946,879 in savings to government and nonprofits if paid at minimum wage.

However many of those hours go to Little League is unclear, but it’s a fair chunk. At 30 people for 15 hours a day, a conservative estimate, that’s 450 hours a day in people power for the two weeks of the World Series. Sit in the Lycoming County probation office every week for an hour, and the first offer you hear PO’s always make is “You can work at Little League.” It’s the easiest to schedule for both sides, with so much work available there during the Series and also during 9-5 business hours six days a week for most of the remaining year. It’s also got a bus stop — important if your driver’s license is suspended or taken away.

None of this is illegal, of course; nonprofits have always benefited from community service programs and Little League is a nonprofit, albeit one with a newly inked, eight-year, $60 million TV deal, and a CEO who takes down over $450,000 a year in total compensation. And according to (another) C.J., who was parking cars off Route 15 on Saturday, working in small crews of four or five during the offseason isn’t awful: they can drive the carts, then, and they get a lunch made in the dormitory kitchen “which isn’t too bad.”

Would you volunteer for this gig, though?

“Well, no.” C.J. laughed. “I guess we’re the volun-TOLDS.”

A lone man named Rod drinking at Riepstine’s brewery on the rained-out first day of this year’s World Series was less kind. His first and only DUI in 2011 led to him getting assigned World Series work. “They tell you you have to go to Little League. It’s a scam.”

The yellow T-shirt was presented him upon arrival.

“I went in and said I’m not wearing that yellow shirt, like a work release convict. I went home.”

The next spring, he was given extra time, 75 hours, and was sent to work it off at the World Series grounds in May.

“I power-washed the whole damn stadium myself,” Rod said. He got up and grabbed his growler to go.

“Volun-teer Stadium, my ass.”

Josh Brokaw is a writer currently based in Ithaca, N.Y. Direct critiques, communiques, and cash to jaydbrokaw at gmail.com

The Promoter: Everything Is So Right In Boxing Land

Yes, Manny Pacquiao won a clear decision over Tim Bradley last Saturday, whether you believe the experts or the vox populi. No, it’s never good when a sport’s Result Generation System is broke. That’s how I feel about the latest megafight, if you care.

 Yet blest be we, the unpaid sporting pundit class, for we have no obligation to inveigh against unpopular outcomes before the sun next rises, nor must we trod the same old ground on Friday that pattering feet turned to stone by Monday morn. Since the ostensible mandate here at The Promoter is a celebration of boxing and all its foibles, let us talk of who emerged from Saturday’s mess smelling of fresh baked goods and dandelion wine.

 Boxing did pretty well for itself on Saturday: Pacquiao-Bradley was no classic, but it was a well-contested fight of high quality. Everlasting arguments have been generated from more dramatic fights (Chavez-Taylor comes to mind), and again, judges are often bad at their jobs, and yet no one was booing when I left my watching spot before the scores were announced.

 That watching-spot was a suburban Philly Hooters, and the crowd was “mixed,” to use a demographic euphemism. The kids across the table shoveled down a 50-wing pile (no more than 20 they were, with that sort of digestion sans beer) and talked about how they’d not missed “any fights” except for the last Mayweather fight, and their banter made me think that they’d probably watch the next Mayweather and(ha-ha)/or Pacquiao fight from a similar spot, possessed of similar analytical background. These are the casual fans that diehards so often talk about gaining or alienating, and really, if the big fighters are there, they’re there. The storylines, the press: they don’t follow. Boxing just needs to turn up one or two new fighters to beat the two stars of the moment, and it can roll along at its current mainstream level in America of 2-4 Big Fights for another five years. Stasis isn’t great, but it’s not death; a new Mexican-American star (remember that dude De La Hoya?) could break some non-heavyweight PPV records easy.

 So the scores sucked; if you’re a dialectician with a Marxist bent this can only mean that the sport’s structural issues are that much closer to resolving themselves through collapse. The contradictions are brought before the public at-large; the clamor for change gets louder; the oldheads who somehow still maintain a grip on power (i.e. one Bob Arum) make behind-scenes strides towards real reform even as they continue to amuse us with talk out of all available 78 sides-of-mouth. Or so the long delusioned can hope.

 That Manny Pacquiao is not shot and Tim Bradley is a game fighter (how could he ever go down, with that head of marble?) speaks well for the both of them, and whatever happens in the unknown Future, they have not covered themselves in shame this time out. Whether Bradley is able to handle the irrational scorn heaped on a fighter who gets an undeserving victory remains to be seen. He’ll always have respect from the Serious fight crowd, though, for what that’s worth.

 So there you are: the two main event fighters and the sport won on Saturday. Why do we even have judges?

Photo credit AFP

Scripps National Spelling Bee Live Blog

The nine finalists for the 85th Scripps National Spelling Bee: Snigdha Nandipati, Frank Cahill, Stuti Mishra, Gifton Wright, Jordan Hoffman, Emma Ciereszynski, Arvind Mahankali, Nicholas Rushlow, Lena Greenberg.

8:00pm: Jon: And here we go! I’m here all alone for the time being but I think some people are on their way.

8:05pm: Jon: There’s no way Frank is only 14 years old. I think I need to see that kid’s birth certificate.

8:10pm: Jon: With all of these features and interviews the production is very similar to the World Series of Poker.

8:24pm: Jon: Okay, so we are down two contestants already, Jordan and Emma. Is this going fast or is it me?

8:29pm: Jon: You know ESPN went to Arvind’s school because it was a safe bet the kid was going to go deep after finishing third last year. The kid is probably the favorite tonight.

8:31pm: Jon: Here comes Lena. She’s a 10:1 favorite to become a cat lady, right? I was watching some of the preliminary rounds and she is completely overdramatic.

8:41pm: Jon: Frank kind of reminds me of Cam from Modern Family. And as I type that he botches ‘porwigle’. Sorry, Frank.

8:46pm: Jon: Gifton is a beast. I want him to spell a word correctly and then do the Mutombo finger-wave.

8:47pm: Jon: Was that racist?

8:49pm: Jon: That cappuccino skit wasn’t bad. I think it’s a bit disturbing for a 14-year-old to be drinking a cappuccino, though.

8:54pm: Jon: Lena always speeds up while spelling her words. Bold strategy.

8:56pm: Jon: All these root word questions are borderline angleshots. Especially if you are allowed to keep asking once you guess incorrectly.

8:58pm: Jon: Stuti doesn’t even mimic writing words on her hands, she acts like she is typing them. Why does that make me feel old?

8:59pm: Sean: So I just got home from work… and immediately I see nothing but words that have never actually been used before. “Luteovirescent”? Insane. One minute in and I already feel like an undereducated slob.

9:00pm: Jon: This isn’t about you Sean.

9:00pm: Greg: I can’t even spell the names of some of these kids.

9:00pm: Jon: I literally just googled ‘Jacques’ to make sure that I was spelling it right. (As in Dr. Jacques Bailly, the… pronouncer?)

9:02pm: Sean: Is it really in good taste to use a song performed in part by Michael Jackson, in a program featuring children?

9:02pm: Sean: Too soon?

9:02pm: Greg: Speaking of too soon, has Gus Johnson been apart from CBS long enough? Can you imagine it. That kid was PUUUUUUURE.

9:03pm: Sean: Well, if Gus Johnson was calling this, it would be an absolute barnburner. We’d still be here at midnight.

9:04pm: Jon: The words that Gifton is getting are absurd. The Scripps computer is a racist.

9:05pm: Sean: AND WE’RE DOWN TO FIVE! Gifton goes down and is referred to as “The Pride of Jamaica” as he exits the stage. Bobsled Team, move over.

9:05pm: Jon: Why does this kid get a standing O? Just because he is from Jamaica? I thought we lived in a post-racial world now. It’s a little condescending.

9:06pm: Sean: Simmons comes to mind right now, his love for Mike Breen. “ARVIND… BANG!”

9:09pm: Jon: Clearly, Nicholas doesn’t listen to Vetiver.

9:09pm: Sean: Is “vetiver” the easiest word of the tournament so far? As close to a slam dunk as I’ve seen so far… and he clanks it. Scripps claims another.

9:10pm: Jon: A fifth-timer at that. His last stand and he goes down to a meatball like ‘vetiver’.

9:11pm: Greg: Looks like a larger version of his lucky ‘bee’ shirt wasn’t good enough. Should have stuck with the one two sizes too small.

9:11pm: Sean: They’re really dropping like flies now. The official Nowhere Plans hometown girl, Lena, next to fall.

9:11pm: Greg: I am not going to harp on a child, but she went way too quickly. I’ve learned over the years your gut is never good to go with in this bee.

9:11pm: Jon: Lena rushed that one. She should have sat on the word a bit and drove through it.

9:12pm: Greg: Haha wow a plug for the French Open. OK where is the NBA Finals music when you need it.

9:13pm: Sean: Jon, I think she was expecting fastball and reacting to the change.

9:14pm: Jon: That’s a minor league move. We’re down to three. I need a beer.

9:15pm: Greg: What a waste of a first round pick on Nicholas.

9:15pm: Sean: Did he just refer to younger contestants as “undergrads”?

9:15pm: Jon: Nicholas has really turned a corner in the eye of the public after the Webster’s recruiting scandal that plagued his first two years in the bee. Yet even without those distractions he whiffed, and now he’ll have to lay down the dictionary.

9:17pm: Sean: I think Snigdha has to be the favorite going forward. Totally locked in right now.

9:18pm: Jon: Don’t let Stuti’s soft smile fool you, she has a killer instinct.

9:18pm: Sean: “Prolegomenon,” a word that is spelled exactly as it sounds. A rarity in the late rounds.

9:19pm: Jon: You’re right, hopefully she doesn’t overthink it.

9:19pm: Jon: Is India the Samoa of spelling? That place just turns out champs. The remaining three are all of Indian descent.

9:21pm: Sean: “Schwannoma” could be Arvind’s undoing here. Let’s see if he can pull the upset.

9:21pm: Jon: And Arvind just can’t finish, again.

9:23pm: Sean: Arvind has become the Buffalo Bills of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

9:24pm: Sean: It appeared Arvind had really stepped up his game this year. He had to be considered one of the favorites going in, but it just wasn’t to be.

9:24pm: Jon: The champion this year will be a female. Whatever.

9:25pm: Sean: For Snigdha, her second trip to Nationals will be her last chance at Scripps gold.

9:26pm: Jon: They had the split-screen camera going there showing Stuti’s reaction to Snigdha nailing whatever that last word was. Stuti was all class, naturally, taking it in stride. Deep down you know she was hoping for Sniggy to throw in a random ‘x’ or something.

9:27pm: Sean: Back to Arvind quickly, where does he go from here? He’ll be the top free agent on the market this offseason.

9:28pm: Jon: The ball is in his court, for sure. There could be a bidding war between Oxford and Merriam-Webster this summer.

9:29pm: Greg: And as a wild-card, Prokhorhov.

9:29pm: Sean: My sources tell me that Jim Gray has cleared his schedule next month.

9:29pm: Jon: I’ve been told that the Boys & Girls Club of Bayside, NY has been reserved as well.

9:30pm: Greg: Ask and you shall receive, though I wasn’t serious about wanting an NBA plug during this.

9:31pm: Greg: Has there ever been a Scripps Spelling Bee that didn’t involve two announcers with the last name Steele?

9:31pm: Sean: The silent “e”, very tricky. Fitting for this event, really.

9:32pm: Sean: For Snigdha and Stuti, where do they go from here? They’ve reached the top of the sport and are out of eligibility. Next year’s draft will be one of the strongest in recent memory. 1983 is on notice.

9:33pm: Jon: We may have a Rocky Balboa/Apollo Creed type bout on our hands here. Neither is showing signs of letting up.

9:34pm: Jon: Stuti is going to regret making that weird ass smile when she goes back and watches tape of this event.

9:34pm: Sean: Watching tape, though, is really what separates Stuti from the rest of the field. She’s really been able to advance herself into the ranks of the elite with her attention to detail. Nobody prepares more for the event.

9:35pm: Jon: “Schwarmerei”, is that some sort of Jewish samurai?

9:35pm: Jon: YES, she sees the time. Don’t rush her, clock lady.

9:36pm: Greg: We might be over before 10!

9:36pm: Sean: Snigdha has a chance to achieve glory here. One word for the game.

9:36pm: Jon: She’s got her eyes on the prize.

9:37pm: Greg: Prediction. This isn’t ending now.

9:37pm: Sean: The pressure she is under must be enormous. Will she be Pujols or Lidge?

9:38pm: Greg: Wow, that was anticlimactic. I need passing out. Sage Steele needs to take a class with Jim Nantz.

9:38pm: Jon: ‘Guetapans’. She knew it all along. With that slight smile right around the ‘p’.

9:38pm: Sean: A true Joe Buck effort from the broadcast team. Even as we followed along with the spelling and saw it was right, there was a moment where I wondered if she actually won.

9:39pm: Sean: And then they almost interview the wrong girl!

9:39pm Greg: NOOOOOOO. OK was that racist?

9:39pm: Jon: Wow she can’t even tell one Indian girl from another. A near Chris “All Y’all Look Alike” Tucker moment from Samantha Steele.

9:40pm: Jon: I KNEW she knew it.

9:41pm: Greg: I am blown away by the cheapness of networks these days. FOX already uses the baseball music for NFL games. Now ESPN uses their NBA music for the Spelling Bee. Are we running out of generic tunes? Anybody looking for a job?

9:42pm: Sean: The old National Hockey Night theme was available. Huge missed opportunity for The Worldwide Leader.

9:43pm: Jon: The only word I got right before they showed it was ‘rouille’ and that’s because I thought it’d be like ratatouille. That was a fairly anticlimactic finish. I guess they can’t all be nail-biters.

9:48pm: Sean: The late rounds proved to be every bit as challenging as ever. All the talk about offense on the rise this season… I think what we saw tonight tells us that defense still wins championships.

9:49pm: Jon: Snigdha went first in the final rounds, you have to think that’s a disadvantage, and yet she still came out victorious.

9:50pm: Sean: Disadvantage? Not at all. The elite savor the opportunity to put the pressure on the opponent early and often. Snigdha really found a rhythm in the second half and made shot after shot after shot. Relentless, really, and one of the all-time great performances.

Ed note: Josh was having problems with his internet, and so he decided to (self-admittedly) add his drunken ramblings to the end and told me to integrate them at my whim. Well, I think his thoughts act as a pretty good epilogue for this Live Blog so I’m just going to keep his stray thoughts together for the end of this post.

10:35pm: Josh: I watched the last hour on silent whilst fucking with a new computer, only to find out that I was just dealing with the shittiest wireless card in man’s last 5 years. And drinking a pitcher by myself-so account for that while editing. That said, my brain said:

I’m pretty sure the “arm-around” girl was not nearly so attractive in my day or round exit. Also, where has ESPN been hiding this fresher, fuller Erin Andrews clone?

A sketch for every child in the last few peoples is just the most Disney-ESPN thing ever. I’d rant about it more, but I have work to do. Dr. Jacques looked absolutely mortified after he appeared, and all the families just look confused.

When my version of Baseketball goes big enough for ESPN to buy in, the league/competition/whatever keeps the right to name announcers, video production crews, and definitely monolgue producers.

AC, given its perilous financial situation, should really look into getting broke 20somethings into spelling bees. Hell, anything bees. Put up a prize, and they’ll obsessively compete, and ESPN can cover it. They’ll all wear decidedly non-cute backwards baseball caps, as opposed to the little tophat flip Astaire routine one of those Indian girls did.

(I really don’t want to know the contents on the voiceovers).

I didn’t realize no homeschooler had won it since George what’s his name-in ‘01. He was there my year-his family had someone in it like 12 straight years.

The homeschooler that won my year was named Sean, (he was white(!)), his e-mail was like Mac Geek something, and the two 8th grade girls there (and maybe a freshman-sister ringer) who knew how to rock a haltertop and could shake it about blew his brilliant head up the night he won.

The Modern Day Ray Robinson And Cassius Clay

Before the second weekend of May 2012, there was no one on Earth that could claim s/he’d seen Ray Robinson and Cassius Clay on the same fight card. The “Show Down in Newtown (PA)” changed that, as a couple hundred honest folks can show off their programs and say “I was there” to their grandkids, not that the kids will care about a Dead Sport.

Newtown Borough proper is a classic Bucks County enclave: brick crosswalks pass under deciduous arches that shade a Cosi and other assorted monied, high-rise one-story storefronts containing general retail and chain restaurants. After some curving and dipping to get out of town, the Newtown Athletic Center is found on one of those once 40-acre farm developments, sitting up against one of those four-lanes that exist for a while around there before boiling down again into the pleasant congestion of horse farm country. A SUV provided by Lawrenceville Lexus sits shining before the “NAC’s” three-story glass entryway: No postindustrial town casino, or revamped warehouse, this—strolling into the NAC, a snack counter advertises the “King Kong Muscle Builder Shake” (40+ grams of protein! 710 cal! $7.50), and downstairs one of the fighters warms up in a spit-shine gym that looks out on 12,000 square feet of grass turf and elliptical machines; a 20-foot wall of TVs faces the toned-in-tights legs and sweaty golf shirts. Next year comes a “resort-style” pool.

Cassius Clay’s dreads flapped as he got smacked around the ring by Philly’s Hassan Young, a fighter making his pro debut. A gentleman in front of me leans over the folding chair-back to tell me Hassan hooked up with this promoter through the Philly Golden Gloves. “He’s a good fighter,” he says, and the guy’s right: Young throws combos high; he goes to the body; he even throws a little smack on the break just as the referee steps between the two fighters, just enough to sting and not enough to lose a point.

The Greatest’s namesake goes down in the third round on a nasty body shot. Clay skips around enough to draw a “Dance more, Lil Wayne!” jeer; he’s laughed at when he tries to fight out of the corner with a slapfrenzy; he’s never in this fight.

Four little boys standing on the three rows of bleachers that prop up behind the rolled-up lacrosse turf scream “Let’s GO HASS” throughout the bout. When the scores are announced, the boys celebrate by screaming and sprinting around the gym.

The next fight, a six-round lightweight co-feature, is distracted from by two natural forces: gravity and volume.  Gravity was represented by the  swaying, hanging, compact-car sized fluorescent light getting tugged about by a high school AV kid on the end of a rope, so that a half-opened cherry picker could roll through and aim a spotlight that never ended up illuminating much.

Once no disaster struck, attention turned to the voluminous force, a female partisan of fighter Tevin Farmer.  She might have swung the bout to her man through pure insistence, for though Kareem Cooley was bigger and perhaps a bit stronger, this sister(?)/girlfriend(?)/wife(?) brought authoritative noise to the ring. A couple of fight fans pointed her out in her hot pink shirt and leopard pants across the gym from the bleachers where we enjoyed a ring-level view (if you attend a fight, always opt for a bit of elevation if possible), and a dutiful notation of the two fighters’ similar styles (from outside, wide-stanced, with low front hands) shifted to her exclamations . “That’s her, I think,” said one. “She was shadowboxing at that Armory show,” said another. “She’s just yelling now. She ain’t throwing punches.”

Pink Shirt did keep a-yelling the whole fight, enough so that a nicely dressed woman in her 40s stood and moved–“I seriously can’t take it,” she said—and moved fifteen feet to the right, where she covered her left ear and fixed the rest of the fight with that blank waiting-it-out stare of the not-so-excited-to-be-there.

Yet some of her advice and exhortations might be useful for the novice fight goer, who needs to tap into an authentic phraseology, and so:

“Farmer Farmer Farmer Farmer Farmer Farmer Let’s GO Tev.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Box, baby, BOX.”

“You’re hungry, Tev. Let’s go get something to eat. It’s time to EAT.”

“All right. Get smart. Upper cut all day. Give him that upper cut. You make me proud with that uppercut.”

“Get with the program.” (said in the best derisive Eighties movie high school principal manner).

“Nick ’em and pick ’em. NICK him and PICK him.”

Her last round advice got both more technical and aesthetically demanding:

“Two overhands and two hooks, and you got him. Two overhands, two hooks.”

“Make him look pretty. Show me something. Show me something pretty”–she held up her smartphone for documentation in that last moment, looking for the pretty.

A unanimous decision win had her happy, and then the ring ladies from the Pennsylvania Pole Academy stepped up to show off the pretty state WBA welterweight strap to be won by the winner of the evening’s main event, which turned out to be dirty and quick.

“The New” Ray Robinson won a clean first-round, before things got messy in the second. First, the veteran Terrance Cauthen caught Robinson and put him down on the canvas. Then something happened that caused referee Gary Rosato to step in between the two fighters, and it evidently irked Robinson enough that he fired a shot into Cauthen’s head over the ref’s shoulder.

This was clear grounds for a point deduction, despite the “protect yourself at all times” defense offered by a loud Robinson backer. Now down 10-7 for the round, Robinson’ s angst carried over to one flurry that put Cauthen stumbling against the ropes for one standing-count, and then a flush knockout right that had Rosato waving off the fight before Cauthen hit the canvas.

The last of the boys had had their picture taken with the ring girl-dancers before Cauthen was allowed to get off his stool and take a stretcher ride out the gym doors into the Pennsylvania night.

 

2012 NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference Semis: Indiana Pacers Vs. Miami Heat

You’re getting no objectivity in this preview, if such a thing even exists. Your correspondent is regionally biased towards the small-town, hardhat, no-stars, blue collar, made by local workers for local people team in this second-round series, between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, and anyways, it’s not like you know anything about the East’s 3-seed. Indiana was on national TV once in this shortened 2012 season. The Heat, I figure you’ve seen them.

Expect some stock farmland footage:

If the Pacers play well, this series has the potential to be one of those talked about by NBA junkies for years: This could be the series that vaults Miami’s SuperTeam into the first of a gazillion championships, this could very possibly maybe be the series that sets up Indiana for another run as the Spoiler Sans Stars that maybe will break through someday soon, like they were for so much of the Nineties and early Aughts.

Effective bigs, big wings, a bunch of shooters, youth, experience–that’s what the Pacers got going for them this year, and if they don’t fall apart (which I don’t expect), we’re getting a classic.

Some notes on what makes the Pacers the best bet in the East to beat the Heat:

No Man An Island

No one who’ll be playing significant minutes for Indiana can be left alone. No, Roy Hibbert, despite all of his improvements, cannot yet hit threes, but he’s not going out into the Promised Land. LeBron is at his defensive beastly best when he gets to play free safety, and though Danny Granger isn’t nearly as good a pure scorer as Carmelo, Batman can’t be left alone. Miami was really bad at 3-point percentage defense for an elite team–the Pacers aren’t reliant on the three, but they can hit them, especially when they’re in rhythm and open, which brings me to point two…

David West Is A Swinger

If you’re at work, just read Zach Lowe on this series and come back to me in five, but if you’re pressed for time I’ll sum it up: David West has been really, really effective on offense late in this season, and getting the ball in his hands in high pick-and-roll situations has been really, really important to the Pacers scoring buckets. Indiana is 16-4, including the Magic series, since April began, and a lot of that has been George Hill dumping the ball to West, who then makes a decision. He was slinging crosscourt passes during the Orlando series and Indiana was rotating the ball around quite well, excepting that horrid Game One collapse.  As Lowe points out, lots of side-to-side action involving a bunch of shooters is the Heat-beating blueprint-reference Dallas Mavericks, 2011.

Whip Out The Measuring Stick

It’ll doubtless be pointed out ad infinitum over the next week or so, but the Pacers are a pretty big squad. Roy Hibbert is very tall, and pretty good at basketball. He wasn’t so effective on offense against the best Big Baby we’ve ever seen, but if Indiana is following their recent pattern, that’s not so important. If Hibbert can protect the rim and rebound without fouling-Frank Vogel has already begun inveighing against the refereeing-and drop in just a few awkward hooks over Joel Anthony, the Pacers will keep the Heat from running them off the floor, which brings me to even more cribbing from other peoples…

Destroying The Big-Small Dichotomy

The Pacers are big, and LeBron is a freight train, and so Indiana should slow the game down. You’ll hear this from someone, probably on the ESPN side of the broadcast divide. And truly, it’s not a good idea to let LeBron and D-Wade get loose in transition. The Pacers can run too, though, and they showed a desire to push the ball in the Orlando series after Game One got all mucked up. One Indiana blogger called this the Power of And-power through the post, and points from running. Kareem and Magic, Bird and Parrish and McHale–those teams could do everything. Jordan and Pippen ran the floor, and then Rodman and whatever center du jour slaughtered you on the boards. Without a superstar, until Paul George gets some more seasons in, Indiana has to play every way they can to win a series like this one.

An Independent Variable Of Lesser Discussion

Darren Collison played pretty OK in the Orlando series (23/1 assist-turnover ratio), and Leandro Barbosa had his moments, too. Everyone knows Paul George is the X-Factor; Collison and Barbosa could be the Y. It’s a bad defensive backcourt, but they brought a lot of energy against the Magic, and Miami’s defense against guards-anchored by Derek Fisher-wannabe Mario Chalmers-isn’t so hot either.  If those two guards coming off the bench along with the sometimes effective and always irritating Tyler Hansbrough and Lou Amundson can be effective at all, at least holding serve for a few minutes, that might be enough to tip the series to the Pacers. The Heat were going eight-deep against the Knicks, and that includes 20 minutes a game for Anthony and Udonis Haslem.

I’m going Heat in 7, because I don’t think the Pacers are quite ready. Barkley’s hedging his bets and saying that Indiana can win in 6 or Miami in 7. Chuck really likes this series by the way; I could’ve just said that and been done. It’s gonna be a doozy.

Photo Credit: Michael Hickey / US Presswire.

The Promoter: Mayweather And Cotto Excite, Apocalypse Near

The funny thing about boxing scoring you might not understand, if you’re like a lot of general sporting types and get most of your boxing news from the Bottom Line, is that a wide score doesn’t necessarily indicate the competitiveness of a fight (Duh, says the fight fan: There are travesties in judging and refereeing all the damn time) and so even if a fighter is knocked down five times in say, two rounds, as long as he stays on his feet he can squeak out the other ten rounds of a championship fight and claim the victory.  It’s like awarding a baseball team the win for hitting three solo home runs in three separate innings, while the opponent hung a nine in the first.

Yet this year’s Mayweather Fight on May’s First Saturday portrayed this little scoring quirk of the Science sans controversy, and the result was just: Floyd Mayweather took all three judges’ scorecards, with one putting down a 118-110 mark and two scoring it 117-111—that is, ten rounds to two, and nine rounds to three—and very, very few cried nay.  By trying real hard, a Puerto Rican partisan might have been able to give Miguel Cotto five rounds.  Yet Cotto, a man who has had the Possibly Shot tag applied since his 2008 loss to Antonio Margarito, made the toughest fight Floyd’s fought in years.

So the gist of this column is: Watch This Fight. Yes, it’s over, the decision is made, but that’s not the point.  With this one, I can guarantee you good action. Find a local with HBO; they’ll play it all week, starting Saturday.  Or be good at the Internet.

Floyd got his nose bloodied, people.  You want to see that, because he can still box, and whether his cheesy heel antics turn you on or off, he’s one of the best we’ve got.  Watching a modestly sized screen through a barroom window, it was evident even from afar that over 12 rounds, Mayweather was getting his hardest test since I started watching him live in 2006, and lots of people far more knowledgeable than I considered it his toughest fight since a controversial decision win over Jose Luis Castillo in 2002.

A quick-paced, clean, hotly contested fight without controversy at the end—that’s all your average boxing fans prays for before every bout.  The unjust thing about the Hype Machine is that neither Floyd Mayweather nor Miguel Cotto will receive nearly the sort of buzz that Floyd got for slapping down Victor Ortiz last September.  This was a far better fight, the sort of fight that makes you wish Mayweather fought more often.

I gave up dragging people into buying or finding Mayweather fights a couple years ago—they were always boring for my novice friends, and I’d hear about it. I love watching him work, even against lackluster competition, because he demonstrates the level of technique that crosses naturally into swagger that is only manifested by the very best practitioners of a craft.  Now, Floyd could be entering that evening of his career where there’s more knowhow than ever, but the legs aren’t there to completely dance around opponents, confuzzling them into lopsided decisions.  Melee Mayweather could be our next Floyd.

 

2012 NBA Playoffs: Your Brain, During Timeouts

There’s one terrible thing about obsessive consumption of playoff basketball, and that is the commercials. The games are live, and you must watch them as such to be an objectively good fan(atic), and so those commercials keep on coming; the ad buys are already made and whatever awful, no-good, obnoxious (and therefore, in the twisted world of Commerce, good) idea some executive had months ago beats itself into your brain with alacrity. With so many games coming over so many weeks, there will be new ads popping up from time to time, but the worst offenders are already here to stay.

In the Mayday spirit, let’s register our displeasure with late capitalism as expressed through the spectacle that is TNT with that most subversive of activities, a Power (To Drive You Insane) Rankings.

Merely Dull

We already discussed Jimmy Johnson’s private parts, but the Pompadour Cowboy doesn’t appear to be in heavy rotation this May, unlike the new up-and-comer in the credit score game: Credit Karma. I suppose that sites like this make money off traffic or something, or from the poor saps who need higher-test credit reports for which they must pay (who knows-I only take payment in maple syrup pegged currencies); however it works, they badly want you to know they exist. Credit Karma doesn’t have a band of scruffy 20somethings screaming a ditty at me from a pirate ship yet, so they (so far) get a pass as being only annoying through stick-to-itiveness.

Time To Drink

It’s true: Our macrobrewers are the cultural avant-garde. Corona deduced far before the rest of us that people liked beaches, and so they continue to bathe us in the divine knowledge that, with Corona and a lime, anywhere you go will be as a beach, but now, they figure, you don’t even have go more than a mile away to get un-ordinary these days, such is the transformative power of their Mexican brew.

Eat Work Gym Shower CORONA LIGHT.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viXhp0v1gGY

And Heineken and Bacardi continue spreading the gospel that when we consume alcohol in a well-branded way, we become attractive as Don Draper, except with less work and emotional ambiguity and more women and dancing in an amalgam of Twenties Weimar Germany and Fifties Havana. Stale pale lager and $12 rum is a mystical cocktail, too subtle for the unattractive whiskey and Bud drinkers that live somewhere far away from your 400 square foot whitewalled coastal city apartment.

Yet the runaway winner for innovation in alcohol consumption this spring is Miller Lite. The world was asking what they’d do to follow up on the groundbreaking VORTEX system-because you couldn’t get that beer out of the bottle before-and SABMillerCoors has delivered, with the Punch Top Can.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-dAZ-qhwTw

There were the Dark Ages, when only stadium vendors and fat frat boys who had cracked the 5,000 Gallon Mark knew how to stab a disposable aluminum can for a quick pour, and then 2012 came, and we were all freed from tasting Miller Lite.

Run Your Car Off A Ledge

By now we all know Flo the insurance lady, who is aiming for that demographic that finds the dotty aunt on British sitcoms sexy and/or hilarious, and that lizard, but now Geico’s stepped it up just in time for a sea change in human consciousness. Warren Buffett spent most of 2010 in Australia, exhorting Owsley Stanley to cross him some diamond with pearl, and the result is a Hawaiian Punch-looking likker that blows Kesey’s Orange Sunshine out of the cosmic waters.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2tXkR8Usp8

wooWOOHOOhoodeyhOOOOOOO

36 hours later, you’ve insured your home, car, motorcycle, all the vinyl and East Indian spices in your niece’s apartment, every Dairy Queen in Iowa, and a goat painted Day-Glo orange, which won’t stop following you across this endless mini-golf green, which would be a fine place to play if the Sphinx there would just spit out your ball.

A Comment On Network Self-Promotion

The nice thing about TNT/TBS having reliably terrible original programming is that if you do have a friend who adores one of their shows (for we all have our guilty pleasures), after watching the NBA/MLB playoffs you’ll know every joke/plot-point the series has on offer, and then will be able to humor your friend with a knowing chuckle/nod when s/he brings up that show in conversation. This also applies to the new Adam Sandler/Andy Samburglar movie that’s getting pushed by Shaq & Chuck.

Weep And Gnash, For Wasted Time

AT&T’s “OMG I KNEW THAT BEFORE YOU” series of commercials informing us just how not crappier than Verizon Mama Bell’s heir-in-name-only wireless service is need little further explication as a piece of Instant Internet Culture criticism. Please don’t rush me in my own rethinking of the possible AT&T, please; it’s a daily process that doesn’t need the added information that Bob woke up late and was then anxious he’d miss the American Airlines presentation, and then he ate some chocolate cake.

Yet the AT&T/Nokia commercial pushing whatever new phone du jour achieves a blatancy in This=Sex marketing that even our preceding booze purveyors can’t match.

Yes, Winnie Cooper lookalike, I have so many friends. Look how strong my thumbs be!

Lock The Gun Cabinet And Throw Away The Key

I hate you so much Dorito Taco, already, and only one series is through Game Three. It’s not only because you don’t come in Cool Ranch. Nor is my fury attributable to the memories  you stir of a time when, perhaps, you could have appealed to my grossest senses-in the darkest hours of the soul’s night-and how  since then my digestive system has grown old in a way that would not allow you safe passage.  Nor did I resent until right now that PepsiCo isn’t just running this far superior commercial:

SPICY.

No, I merely resent your sources, culled from people’s online mutterings, attached to attractive faces, poorly worded, with no disclaimer that the reviewer might be working in an ironic vein, which is always possible among the kiddos who can’t velcro their L.A. Gears without distancing themselves from the action.

http://youtu.be/kf3S66nY95E

There’s my vote, if I had one, for the playoff ad that needs freakin’ so bombed out of its delicious French unicorn existence, hells to the yeah.

Live! Boxing! On Two Pennsylvania Fridays

There are few events in the sporting world nowadays where it is easy for the fan to arrive at the set time and place without any preconceptions about the contest in question. Context, analysis, opinions: all are spewed at the media consumer, from the AP updates on college radio to the 11 o’clock news all the way through the iPhone implanted in your 15-year-old cousin’s right eye.

It’s somewhat refreshing, then, to attend an event with little prior knowledge, hoping only for good action. The average local boxing card, in my limited experience, is a good place to find athletic competition without any sort of preceding hype or spin, at least until you step through the doors of the club or gym. Once you get there, there are guys who’ll talk your ear off about the history and merits of a 35-year-old guy with a 10-12-2 record, but before, good luck finding much more than an online record and maybe a short interview or write-up on one of the many near-unsearchable boxing sites online. Even Golden Boy, one of America’s two superpromoters, can barely keep its website updated. The promoter(s) of a local event, who also often double as the hometown trainer, don’t have time for running a slick PR operation, what with hours in the gym and usually another job on the side.

The downside to the enforced information fast are nights like the recent Friday when I headed over to the Philadelphia Armory, expecting that arriving an hour after first bell would leave me with seven or eight fights still to come. After parking a long couple blocks away, between the Plumbers’ Union and some factory, then walking in through the mostly empty lobby past a kid hustling signed and framed posters of local sports luminaries (Rocky Balboa!) there’s a four-round fight beginning.

Afterward, the ring announcer starts calling out names: “There’s Isaiah Seldon (yes, son of Bruce), and there, where’d he go, there’s Tim Witherspoon—they were were scheduled to fight tonight…and where’d he go? Where’s he hiding? Oh, if you have not seen it, you have to look up this man’s first fight with Arturo Gatti, there’s Ivan Robinson hiding in the back. And we have Harold Lederman with us tonight!”

Nice as it was to have Harold there—his face peeking over the ring looks just as intent from fifty feet away as it does on TV—a couple fighters sitting with their girls in the fold-down high school gym-style wooden bleachers didn’t seem a good omen for the card’s durability.  Sure enough, after the eight-round main event that followed, the crowd started walking out; two fights was all I was getting this evening.

The action that did occur made the trip worthwhile. The main event was a lightweight rematch of a supposedly heated January draw between Camden’s Jason Sosa and Philly’s Angel Luis Ocasio; the extant footage online is about five seconds in a flame-heavy promo preview, and so forming incoming opinion on the fight’s quality or Sosa’s claim that he was robbed because he “crossed the river” was impossible. This particular night, the fights were being streamed somewhere online—there was even a boom camera on one end of the floor, heavily wrapped in electrical tape, along with two cameramen in the ring.

What’s nice about your neighborhood fight card is that the fighters bring along some friends.  Sosa had several dozen supporters in T-shirts printed in a Cooper Black font rarely seen in these Internet design days, and though no one printed up shirts for Ocasio, he had a competing amount of vocal support. In a venue that is, essentially, a high school gym stripped of all banners and climbing ropes and basketball hoops, with all hard tile floors and concrete block walls, all these people who care can make the proceedings quite loud. There were a few stout white guys in ringside seats wielding a swing-around wooden noisemaker, its echoes clicked throughout the hall: one of them got so excited that he hit himself in the face with the thing.

Loudness is not the same as good acoustics, so the bald-domed rapper serenading Sosa during the ring walk could have been dropping rhymes of great brilliance or muttering in Elvish—I couldn’t tell you.  Dozens of smartphones shining their recording lights on the ringwalk, the boxers walking in through the riot gates set up to partition off the reserved and ringside seating from the bleachers, behind the ring girls in their tight red T-shirts and black compression shorts,  stumbling a bit on absurdly high heels.

The bell rings: Immediately someone screams “Hit him! Thank you!”

The two did a decent amount of hitting through eight rounds. I scored it six rounds to two for Ocasio. Sosa was the coming-forward fighter, but his jab didn’t seem to connect often and he rarely released his right. Most of the fight, Ocasio kept Sosa off balance and hit him with some decent body shots; he was quicker, but never really set up Sosa—he made a few vague feints in the second and third rounds, but never laid a trap. Sosa showed his style in the fifth,  going to the body aggressively and then tying up when his attack was spent, keeping Ocasio from dancing at all, and then in the eighth, Sosa looped a right that knocked an off-balance Ocasio into the ropes.

When the decision was announced—a majority draw, one judge giving the decision to Sosa—bull-shit became a common refrain, there were some boos, that sister-kissing deflation took over both sides of the gym.  In the men’s room,  the argument continued:

“They robbed the shit out of him, out of Jason ‘El Carnito’  Sosa” says one man who I didn’t look at because we were next to each other at the urinal.

“No, they robbed my nephew, man, Ocasio,” says a man washing up.

“Sosa knocked him down, man,” says the first.

“That wasn’t no knockdown,” says the second.

“Time for the trilogy,” says another.  He’s likely to be proved right. Try it again, and maybe one of them will crack.

The one four-rounder I did see at the so-called “Philly Barnburner III” featured the bantamweight prospect Miguel Cartagena, who won the award for best-dressed contingent, with a score or so in hand-made shirts emblazoned with the slogan NO FEAR, including one adolescent girl whose Elmo handbag and Elmo hat were accompanied by a spray-painted Elmo shirt, the puppet’s goggling eyes right above the textual declaration that she lacks any anxiety whatsoever.

Cartagena fought with some trepidation, never appearing to throw very hard, but he continually popped late replacement Luis Ortiz with left hooks and a twisting jab, even as he let his opponent back him into stanchions several times. His people finally yelled “GET OFF THE ROPES” in the fourth and final round.

After his fight, Cartagena walked up to talk to a friend who was leaning next to me on one of the gates.

I heard him say “He hit me in the back of the head; I started to get a headache, man.”

A few minutes later, the prospect off to work the crowd, his friend notices my notebook and asks me “What you going to say about Cartagena, man? For 19 that wasn’t bad, you know. That was his fifth fight.”

I told him I was impressed, but thought he needed to sit down on some punches.

“He didn’t want to sit down,” said the friend, with a laugh. “That guy was strong. He hit him on the back of the head. That never happened before.”

My initial thought was that the truly elite prospects throw their heaviest leather against a fighter with a 2-10 record, but what do I know? At 19, there were plenty of nights I couldn’t sit down on a couch.

The next Friday, I didn’t make the mistake of showing up late for a card put on by King’s Boxing at Reading’s Reverb Club. The Reverb is a warehouse club: there are high ceilings and concrete floors; big screens strung up between rafters; a bar in the middle, with the ring off to one side. Ringside seating is about three rows of folding chairs; standing at the bar seemed the way to go for elbow room.

One guy in a Roger Waters “The Wall” tour T-shirt is talking in my general direction as the show is getting underway: “Forty bucks for this many fights, man. What a deal? Why aren’t there more people here?”

There were a couple hundred people in the club, but with everyone crowded around the ring and then a big old dance floor covered with a handful of bar tables, it looked emptier than it was.

My Floyd-loving friend proceeded to have a long discussion with another guy about street racing,  then he played some video poker, all with his back to the ring.  He should have watched the early smokers; the four-rounders were the best fights of the night.

The opener was a professional debut for a fighter named Jeremy Miller, of Baltimore, taking on the 30something local Cesar Gonzalez, winless in four pro fights. The fight was sloppy and pushy, but enthusiastic. Miller moved forward more, his torso always a little ahead of his legs, and so he got the decision. It could have gone either way—I had it for Gonzalez—but it didn’t matter which way it went, honestly, except to those involved.

The second fight was at 140, between Lancaster’s Rolando Chinea, twice a winner by KO, and a southpaw from Rochester, NY named Jamell Tyson, who had a losing record in nine pro fights. Tyson took the first round: from the bell it was obvious Chinea had more skills, but he was facing his first lefty and first fighter with more than one bout’s experience: the first time Tyson’s left snuck through Chinea’s face took on a “whaawhaaa” Urkel look for about three seconds. Chinea’s trunks said “Ironman,” an interesting claim for a guy coming in with four rounds of pro experience, but he did fight through a freeflowing headbutt-induced gash over his right eye for a deserved majority decision.

Then it was to the featherweights for another four-rounder between Philly’s Derrick Bivens and Harrisburg’s Josh Bowles. Bivens hadn’t fought since March of ’09, and Bowles made sure he looked it while sweeping the cards; Bivens was near a head taller, and the 5-foot-5 Bowles stayed in a crouch that made him a small target. The 25-year-old Harrisburg product might not have the power to become an elite fighter, but he has some excellent, subtle footwork, and he focused on the body well for a guy who was in the amateurs 14 months ago.

Two women from King’s go on next to put on a charity exhibition bout, unfortunately titled “for breast cancer” with no foundational qualifier.  One of the ring girls did support them, though, wearing shorts that say “GO GURLZ” bedazzled on the behind. Marie Robson must be very popular in the area, because, besides being  pictured in the program, there were a couple guys asking me “You know when the girl fight is up?” and then indicating their girlfriends to say that “her” friend’s fighting. Once the bell rings, I hear one of those guys screaming: “Stop screwing around Marie, go AFTER her!”

In the moments of relative silence that prevailed between some intermission singing, I overheard at least one pharmaceutical idea that I pass onto you at no cost:

“I’m at the age now where I don’t need Viagra but I can’t multitask. I’m going to invent something that does Viagara and FloMax. I’ll call it Niagara.”

There was then another decent four-rounder between two lightweight southpaws, Reading’s Frank DeAlba and Jersey City’s Andrew Bentley that went to the hometown guy as a split decision, then the six-round 154-pound co-feature, featuring 22-year-old Glen Tapia (12-0, 6 KO) of Passaic, NJ against Lancaster’ s Manuel Guzman, who, according to the gentleman standing over me at the bar, was a late replacement and usually fights at 140, and, I learn later, had lost his last six. Tapia’s punches from the get-go thud in a way no one else has on the night; he looks like a boxer, very cut, and he throws a straight punch. Guzman takes a forced knee after a wicked body shot early in the third and doesn’t get up; he’s well within his rights. A few locals yell “Come on!” at Guzman, but he earned all the paycheck he signed up to get.

Our main event of the evening was a fight at super welter between local Keenan Collins, a sparring partner for Kermit Cintron back in ’05 and ’06, and Charlottesville’s George Rivera. Not a great fight, not bad; each guy took a wide decision on one judge’s card and the third scored it a draw. Neither guy took over and threw enough punches, and both knew it afterward.

My attention through part of the final bout was focused on the photographer incessantly snapping at ringside; he had been there all night. The gentleman at my elbow informed me his name was Jeff Julian, and he’s been shooting since the Ali days. I’ll leave you with a link to his work from one night in Reading, rather than writing another 60,000 words or so.

2012 NBA Playoffs: Pacers Vs. Magic Gets An Extenzion

Pacers vs. Magic, Game One, was a gut-scrambling watch for this native Hoosier. Well, duh, you say, Indiana lost to an obviously inferior team, at home, and it was really ugly, and it just proves that the Pacers aren’t ready to take the Next Step, and even if they do get by Orlando, a Miami series is going to be just no fun at all.

All very true, I’m saying it too. The Pacers should not have been beaten by a team led by Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson (a middling third banana, at his peak) and the marvellously inefficient Glen Davis, and though the Enlightened part of my mind says there’s lots of basketball left to play, the Reactive part is lighting up with disaster scenarios: Ryan Anderson was awful! What if he gets going, too! and Nelson just obliterated George Hill off the dribble, and Darren Collison was pesky on defense, but only against Chris Duhon, and if Roy Hibbert can’t hit that jump hook over a fat 6-foot-8 guy, what’s he going to do against a real center after the Pacers give him $60 million this offseason, and WHAT THE BLANKETY BLANK DANNY a travel and over-and-back sequence in the last 30 seconds is a GREAT way to establish yourself in the national eye as a humble semi-star worthy of inclusion in those montage highlights that are the NBA’s canonization process.

Now that that’s out, happy thoughts must prevail. There are very few sweeps of seven-game series, and the Pacers are playing a club that’s done a good deal more in May and June recently. Chris Mullin, in all of his Brooklynite eloquence, said several times of Indiana “that’s a tough step, going from an eight to a three-seed.” The tougher step, though, is winning a series. And then two, or three, or four. Playoff basketball is an entirely different entity than the regular season, and what Indiana has yet to learn (and Memphis, too, after their devastating giveaway Sunday night) is that getting buckets in the last minutes can’t be a chuck-it-up-there affair. You gots to dance the same steps that got you there, and those, especially against this Orlando team, include going through Hibbert and David West. Otherwise, you get the same sort of late offensive incompetence that plagued them in that quite close first round five-game series last year against Chicago, saying “Granger’s our best player, give it to him” while conveniently forgetting that he’s not much of a creator.

Also, Paul George had eight points, and two open 3s rim out in the closing minutes. He turns 22 on Wednesday; then the Pacers will be OK.

In all, this was already the Public Access series coming in, particularly without Dwight playing-Games Two and Three are on NBA TV, if you need proof-and the level of play was appropriately Dr. Steve Brulesque.  Thus, the lead-in commercial on ESPN was apropos: I give you Jimmy Johnson talking about improving his nether regions:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oF7peOWD0ws

2012 NBA Playoff Preview: Indiana Pacers vs. Orlando Magic

A knowledgeable NBA fan could have predicted in the preseason that the Pacers and the Magic might finish as the third and sixth seeds in the Eastern Conference, respectively. What many would have failed to predict is that the Pacers would be the host to the Magic in the first round of the Playoffs. Currently, there may not be two more divergent teams in the entire NBA playoff field. The Indiana Pacers on one hand, have exceeded the expectations of most analysts, and have a vapid fan base more consumed with off-season football melodrama than on the court execellence. While the Orlando Magic have come apart at the seams as a franchise, polarized by a season long soap opera most noted for the roller coaster trade-winds surrounding Dwight Howard.

Indiana finished 42-24 in this compacted 66 game season, with five more wins than all of last season, quietly demonstrating the tremendous growth of a ball club ready to contend. Last season’s grueling five game series against the top seeded Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs laid the foundation for the success the team has experienced this year. They return to the playoff stage a deeper, more efficient, and better defensive team than a year ago, with six players averaging double figures, and a tenth overall ranked scoring defense. In a normal 82 game NBA season, the Pacers were on pace to win 52 games, eight more wins than in any of the previous seven seasons, and their best since a franchise record 61 in 2003-2004.

The current state of the Orlando Magic franchise is not one that coincides with the fun-filled, exciting ethos of the city’s famed Walt Disney Resort. There is no question though, this season has been filled with mickey-mouse antics, from rumored deals to the Lakers, Nets, and Mavericks for soon to be free agent franchise center Dwight Howard, to unscripted tell all interviews by embattled coach Stan Van Gundy about his impending firing. Further sowing the seeds of this season of discontent, Dwight Howard has been sidelined with a season ending back injury that significantly curtails the chances of the Magic to advance past the first round for the first time since the 2006-2007 playoffs. The Magic won the season series against the Pacers 3-1, in part because of their scoring defense (93.4), none of which matters now without the 3-time defending Defensive Player of the Year.

X-FACTORS

INDIANA

The front court size of Indiana will be of greater importance in these playoffs without Dwight Howard on the floor. That is the obvious. Indiana is one of the biggest teams in the league with significant length in the post and on the wings. But, the difference in just how well this oiled machine runs will depend on the point guard play of George Hill, Darren Collison and Leandro Barbosa. Collison and Hill have been the starters, with Hill taking over the starting job in the last month of the season. Indiana has gone 7-2 in that span, facing the Sixers as their only playoff foe, with whom they split two games. Hill figures to log the most minutes going forward, but Collison and Barbosa will play significant roles off the bench, depending on the game tempo and matchup. Another key factor in the Pacers chances of moving to the next round could be the play of Paul George. On good nights, George can do a lot of things well, from rebounding to attacking the rim with ferocity. His shooting percentage has generally been better against the Magic, and without Howard clogging up the middle, put backs and drives to the bucket may come a little bit easier for the second year guard.

ORLANDO

Built around their franchise center, the Magic offense is predicated on spacing for open perimeter shots. Third year forward Ryan Anderson had his best season yet, leading the league with 166 three pointers, and is in strong consideration for the Most Improved Player award. JJ Redick has also stepped up his game in the absence of injured Hedo Turkoglu, scoring 14.5 points a game, while shooting 45% from behind the arc in 22 starts. While the open looks may be more difficult to come by, especially when you factor in the opportunistic defense of the Pacers (15 forced turnovers a game), Orlando is still capable of moving the ball quickly enough to get good shots. Anderson and Redick will both have to do a better job of creating their own shots in this series if they hope to make up for the scoring loss of Howard. Glen “Big Baby” Davis will also play a pivotal role for Orlando, as their lone inside presence without Howard. More than anything else, the question regarding Davis will his ability to handle the increased minutes against a physical and deeper Indiana frontcourt unit.

PREDICTION

Pacers in six. Well, I wondered how many times I would mention Dwight Howard despite the fact that he isn’t playing. Doing so as many times as I have, underscores his value to the Orlando Magic franchise, and ultimately their chances at winning this series. Having led his team in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks this season, there is no question that his presence, or lack thereof will be the ultimate deciding factor. Indiana will almost certainly attempt to attack Orlando in the paint behind aggressive play from Roy Hibbert, David West and Tyler Hansborough. They should ultimately be successful in doing so, as the Pacers perimeter players will also have less fear of penetration into the middle of the paint for easy layups and dish offs. The leading scorer for the Pacers, Danny Granger has gotten his game together after struggling in the early season. Look for his play to also elevate in this series, especially in clutch situations.

The Orlando Magic should have a glimpse or two of success and past glory against an Indiana team with less playoff experience in this series. Assuming that the aforementioned shooters Anderson and Redick are able to get open consistently, and Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson and Turkoglu are able to use their experience to drive the lane and kick the ball out successfully. Unfortunately a lethal combination of front office turmoil and the loss of their franchise player to injury, the Magic have been given little chance to win this series. Stan Van Gundy will have to rely on every bit of coaching knowledge and game plan trickery that he can muster just to keep this series competitive. That will be a very tall order for such a short turnaround.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Raoux