Fish enjoys the Mavs' week while dining on some fava beans and a nice chianti. ...
The annual Mavs road game against the Bulls afforded me the opportunity to take a side trip away from the United Center in Chicago. I enter the building and ask the uniformed attendant for permission to see Sam Smith. I intend to bring him a blanket. And to maybe read to him.
what would be a 103-99 Dallas victory over the Bulls, Mavs-hater Sam had written that the two teams are “mirror images’’ of one another. I thought that an odd pro-Chicago spin, given that the Mavs are now 12-6 and the Bulls 4-11.
So I sought insight.
“If I help you, Fish, it will be ‘turns’ with us, too,’’ Sam hissed at me. “Quid pro quo. I tell you things, you tell me things. Not about this game, though. About yourself. Quid pro quo. Yes or no? Yes or no, Fish? The poor little Mavericks are waiting.’’
“Sam!’’ I said, “did you watch the game? Do you watch any of the games? How could you flatter the Bulls by saying they are ‘Mavs Lite’?’’
Responded Smith, as he eyed my good bag and my cheap shoes while sniffing my Evyan skin cream: “The Bulls really are most similar to the Mavs, with the exception of MVP Nowitzki. … He’s at eight-year lows in scoring, reounding and three-point shooting. … ’’
“Well,’’ I countered, “first of all, isn’t that kind of a big exception? I mean, couldn’t you say that about every mediocre team in the NBA? Put the MVP on any other team, and that team looks like a contender, right? Besides, aren’t you being a little dismissive of Dirk? His numbers are down in some categories for specific reasons; his assists and minutes are right where Dallas wants them for other reasons. Oh, and you do know Dirk scored 25 points on Monday night – meaning that in his last 10 games against Chicago, he’s averaging 27 points per?’’
Smith fingered his exquisite drawings of the Duomo seen from the Belvedere. “The Mavs don’t have another star,’’ Sam cooed. “Josh Howard made the All-Star team last season, but not based on the fans’ or coaches’ vote. He was picked as a replacement by the commissioner, mostly because of the Mavs’ great record.’’
I told him that was cheap, the kind of thing Miggs would say. “Sam, a lot of basketball people think Josh is emerging as a Pippen-esque talent. You knew Pippen, right? You don’t see that? Or, at least, you don’t see that he’s kind of like Dallas’ version of Luol Deng? I gotta tell you, Sam, J-Ho played as if he read your column. I mean, he outscored Deng 21-2 in the first half. Finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and six assists – and limited Deng to four made shots. Your precious Bulls ended up double-teaming Howard as much as they double-teamed Dirk! You might be underrating Josh a little. In fact, Sam, maybe Dallas’ success is being used against them here. Maybe you underrate them all. …’’
No, said Sam, before ominously but vaguely using the word “It.’’ “It’ appears to have caught up with them now. … They have a lack of athletes. … They don’t scare anyone anymore, and probably need some changes.’’
“It’’? What’s ‘It’? ‘Scared’? It’s early December. Is anybody supposed to be scared of anybody? Changes? I tried to explain to Sam that his belief that the Mavs lack an interior game might be solved by the emergence of Brandon Bass (“The Animal’’ had 12 points, including a soft-touch 8-of-8 from the line). Oh, and that for Dallas at center, it’s mostly about defensive play, and that Damp and Diop combined for 15 rebounds and eight blocks – erasing Ben Wallace, who did nothing in 48 full minutes. I try to tell him that his belief that Dallas lacks supporting stars ignores not only J-Ho, but Jason Terry (18 points, five assists) and some kid named Devin Harris. Devin got clonked in the back of the neck in the third quarter, so maybe Sam didn’t get a chance to fully appreciate him.
But Sam really likes the “changes’’ motif.’’ He always has, of course. He’s got the Bulls trading for every star, he’s got the Bulls trading for every Chicagoland native, he’s got the Bulls trading for a player on every team coming into town. The Chicago Tribune has two columns up right now; one has Sam suggesting the Bulls deal for Pau Gasol. The other, the one I’m reciting back to Sam, suggests the Bulls acquire. … Jerry Stackhouse?!
“One player who has been yanked around from starter to the bench is Stackhouse!’’ Sam screamed at me.
“No,’’ I calmly explained to him, following Dr. Chilton’s advice by using a soothing voice. “Stack hasn’t been mistreated here. Sam, there’s been no ‘yanking,’ there’s no problem, really, everything between Stack and the Mavs is OK.
Sam Smith leaned toward the glass that separated us. “Stackhouse is the kind of big, tough shooting guard the Bulls could use. … Perhaps there’s something there for the teams.’’
And thus was revealed why Sam Smith is in this place. I summon the uniformed guard; my time here at Chicago State Sanitorium was done. But Sam was not done with me.
As I walked back up the corridor, Sam yelled for me. “I have no plans to call on you, Fish,’’ he said. " The world is more interesting with you in it. I do wish we could chat longer but. … I’m having an old friend for dinner. Bye.’’