Kareem and the Curse of the Coin Flip

Kareem (then Lew Alcindor) and UCLA coach John WoodenFound a fun fanblog today, or rather the blogger found the Jinx on Ballhype. Ben’s Suns Blog. Ben’s a diehard fan who’s been following his Suns for 20 years, about the same amount of time he’s been hooping. In Milwaukee, I’ve traced the source of the Bucks woes back to the retirement of Bob Boozer and the resulting jinx at the power forward position; in Phoenix, Ben has traced the Suns history of agony back to a flip of the coin for the rights to draft UCLA center Lew Alcindor.

It was 1969 and the Suns and the Bucks were the NBA’s baby franchises. The teams had finished their inaugural seasons (1968-69) with the NBA’s two worst records. In the pre-lottery years, the league’s two biggest losers flipped a coin to see who drafted first. The Bucks won the toss, selected Alcindor and didn’t look back. They brought the title home in 1971, built the Green and Growing Bucks with players acquired in the 1975 trade of Kareem to the Lakers and, save for two down years prior to drafting Marques Johnson, played upper echelon NBA basketball for two decades. Sadly, 1971 was to be our only title, thanks to the jinx.

The Suns, with the 2nd pick, took Neal Walk, a pretty good center in his own right for about five years for the Suns before injuries and a trade to the New Orleans Jazz sent his career into obscurity. Ben picks up the story there and catalogs decades of Suns woe. Unlike the Bob Boozer jinx, which focuses its mojo on a single position on the court, the Curse of the Coin Flip has afflicted the entirety of Suns basketball — everything from the failure to guard the Bulls’ John Paxson in the 1993 Finals to the suspensions of Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire in the 2006 Western Conference Finals (this is one powerful, powerful curse).

“So, when we play the Bucks, I want to literally beat them by 50 every time,” Ben writes. “Even though it wasn’t their fault and we’ve had consistently better records and playoff appearances. I don’t care.

“They are the ones who have a championship.”

But don’t take my word for it, check out Ben’s Suns blog. It’s a fun read. And a good trip into NBA history.

Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O'Neal, left, attempts to drive to the basket between Milwaukee Bucks defenders Andrew Bogut, top right, and Luke Ridnour, bottom right, in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008, in Phoenix. The Suns won 125-110. Shaq diesels through the Bucks again:  The Suns play the Lakers Wednesday night, and coach Terry Porter has Shaquille O’Neal on the “Rest-a-Shaq” plan for back-to-back games. Would Shaq sit out vs. the Bucks and Andrew Bogut? Nope, he played and had field day again, just as he did in Milwaukee.

Midway through the 3rd quarter, Shaq had 21 pts., 7 rebs and 2 blocks. Bogut had 11 and 8 with a block.

Maybe Bogut and Shaq should just play one-on-one.  They both seem to have an aversion for fouling each other: When in doubt, let the other big man score, apparently.

I suppose I shouldn’t have written that:  As I write this Bogut has five fouls. Both he and Shaq are on the bench. They have 38 pts and 18 rebs between them. More of the points are Shaq’s (23) and more of the boards are Bogut’s (11). Shaq now has 3 blocks (none on Bogut). Nobody’s playing much defense in this one — it’s 96-90 Suns at the end of the 3rd.

Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut, right, attempts a shot as he is double-teamed by Phoenix Suns forward Boris Diaw, left, of France, and Amare Stoudemire, center, in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008, in Phoenix. Bogut and Shaq should take this one down to the playground. There’s no snow on the courts in Phoenix.

The Bucks attempt to outscore the Suns is not working vs. the Suns high performance offense. Bogut got ten minutes of rest with those 5 fouls and by the time Skiles sent him back into the game, Shaq had 30 pts and the Suns had upped their lead from 5 to 12. Shaq welcomed Bogut back by hitting a nine-foot turnaround in his face. Ball game. Bucks lose by 15, 125-110.

Between them, Bogut and Shaq finished 21-28 from the floor – 75%. Most of the misses were Shaq’s — Bogut was 7-9 and had no assists. Makes me wonder why the Bucks couldn’t figure out how to get Andrew more touches. Five Bucks took more shots than Bogut: Michael Redd, R.J., Charlie V (nice shooting night for Charlie, 9-15), Crazy Luke Ridnour and Ramon Sessions. Crazy Luke and Ramon are not good shooters (7-24 vs. the Suns). Get the ball to the big man when he’s on fellas.

Let’s look at R.J. and Michael Redd vs. the Suns. Not bad – they shot 36 times and made 17 including three 3-pointers: 37 points, not including free throws, on 36 shots. That’s good enough to win most games, but not good enough to win a shootout that Steve Nash suckered your team into — especially when the defense is apparently buried in a Milwaukee snowdrift. The Suns weren’t playing much D either – especially in the paint, evidenced by Bogut and Charlie V tallying 32 pts, not including free throws, on 24 shots.

What’s more efficient? Getting the ball to the bigs or course vs. the Suns porous defense. I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t some resistence among the guards and forwards to push the game to the frontcourt players. I’m also wondering whether the perimeter players believe they are better than they really are. That’s a problem, a lingering Milwaukee Bucks problem.

Coach Skiles?  You really should have found a way to let Shaq and Bogut decide this one on the playground. Bucks have now lost 21 straight games in Phoenix.

Cavaliers set NBA buttkicking record: No team in NBA history has kicked you know what like this season’s Cleveland Cavaliers. In blowing out the Raptors 114-94 in Cleveland Tuesday night, the Cavs won their ninth straight game by more than 12 points,  the first time that’s ever been done. The Cavs led 59-51 at half and delivered the knockout blows with a 25-2 run to start the 3rd quarter for an 84-53 lead. Along the way Lebron James set the franchise record for career steals, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas stepped atop the Cavs all-time career rebounding list.

Four previous teams had eight game streaks of 12-point+ wins: Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and Terry Porter’s 1990-91 Portland Trailblazers; Michael Jordan’s 1996-97 Bulls; the “It takes five” Detroit Pistons of 2003-04; and, surprisingly, the Houston Rockets last year, who tore through the patsies of the East during their 22-game winning streak. The Bulls and Pistons won the NBA title the seasons they did it; the 1991 Blazers lost to Jordan’s Bulls in the NBA Finals; the injury beset Rockets were the exception, as they lost to the Jazz in the first round of the 2008 playoffs.

In case you were wondering, yes, Raptors center Jermaine O’Neal did play and wasn’t a factor, obviously. The Raptors are now at full strength and still struggling after firing coach Sam Mitchell.

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