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Talk Is Cheap

   by Bryan Leonard - 01/16/2008

A key to deciphering basketball point spreads and totals is finding out what is going on inside a team. Stats can only tell you so much. Are the players passionate? Is the coach competent? Does one injury make a difference? Or will an injury bury a team for a stretch?

Find out what players and coaches are saying is an excellent way to get inside the huddle and practices of teams. However, one must weigh quotes with caution and careful thinking. Because sometimes talk is cheap and doesn’t mean anything.

For instance, last week Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said he is confident he will remain on the bench through the end of the season. Can anybody read that quote without giggling? He later said, "I don't think right now I will find anyone who is more committed or passionate about making this thing right and fixing it than myself."

Thomas is due to get fired soon, if owner Charles Dolan ever comes out of his coma. Dolan has not commented on Thomas' job status since giving him a contract extension last March worth a reported $24 million. The Knicks are 13-41 since Thomas received the extension. Why do pro ownerships do this? The Ravens gave Brian Billick a contract extension last January, and regretted it by recently firing him.

Before the season, Clipper coach Mike Dunleavy said he expected the team to compete for one of the Western Conference's final playoff seedings even without Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston. But again, talk is cheap. The Clippers started 5-19 SU, 10-14 ATS as a dog and with an overall losing record both straight up and against the number. "The approach now is, you are in distress mode," Dunleavy said recently. "Get the life preservers; throw them out, save people right now. We are trying to save ourselves." That’s more accurate and candid!

Speaking of talk being cheap, how about the Miami heat’s theme coming into the new season: One team, one theme, redemption. Ha! It should be “One injured center, one overpaid no-show center, and a lot of flotsam.â€쳌 Coach Pat Riley recently said he spoke with Shaquille O'Neal about team and individual challenges, stressing that O'Neal must “do what he has to do to help us win.â€쳌 Miami has been a mess all season and just 4-7 SU, 3-8 ATS as a favorite.

There’s been a lot of talk going on in Chicago, but the results have been impressive. Chicago has a new coach in Jim Boylan starting 5-3 after underachieving under Scott Skiles. Boyland has encouraged that his players to call team meetings if he thinks it will help. Players-only meetings usually take place after a particularly tough loss or stretch of losing, but Bulls veterans Adrian Griffin and Ben Wallace wanted the team to talk some things over Saturday after a 100-97 victory Friday at Philadelphia.

“Our two elder statesmen -- Adrian and Ben -- they brought everybody together and just said their little piece,â€쳌 Joe Smith said of the short and to-the-point meeting that took place after the Bulls' practice. “Hopefully, we can take something from it. Even after a win, at times, you still need to talk about some things that may have went wrong.â€쳌

The Bulls fell behind by 18 points to the 76ers in the first quarter, but bounced back through the second and third quarters and led by 16 before escaping with the victory. They players were loose and in good spirits at practice the next day.

Sometimes talk is very real, other times it’s a smoke screen. It’s up to the handicapper to be able to sift through what is real and what is phony. Speaking of phony, Isiah Thomas said recently, "There are players and coaches who have laid foundations and played in organizations where there's a certain standard that's been set, but they didn't necessarily get the ring for it." Is this guy delusional? He’s made a complete mess of the situation he inherited! Again, take all talk you find with a grain of salt. But don't ignore it, either, because it can help identify which teams might be turning a corner and start covering numbers.

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