Dwight Jaynes

Rockets, you want to fight? Do it out there where we can watch

Rockets, you want to fight? Do it out there where we can watch

I love it when NBA teams actually show animosity between each other during a game. There's too much hugging and chatting between opponents for me these days.

So when the Clippers and Rockets showed some genuine hate toward each other yesterday during their game, I enjoyed it. But when I heard that Chris Paul led a trio of teammates into the threshold of the Los Angeles locker room after the game, I was astounded. Paul, after all, is the president of the NBA players' union. And he's pulling this thuggery on Martin Luther King Day?

It's been no secret that Paul and the Clippers' Blake Griffin did not get along during Paul's tenure in Los Angeles. And I've always heard that Paul is often not the best of teammates. And on the other side, Los Angeles' Austin Rivers has been seen as a player who is only there because his father, Doc, is the coach of the team. The perception is that the son takes advantage of the situation by being critical of his teammates under the protection of his father. Not in uniform for the game, the younger Rivers was apparently yapping from the bench throughout the contest.

This from Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:

The incident was a reminder of something about Paul that bothered all of his teammates. Paul was never so much a team leader as a team instigator. He was tough to play with, and tougher to play with when you didn’t play his way. He was Kobe Bryant without the ability to finish. For all his greatness, he was the guy who would lose the game, then look for a back door to pick a fight.

I would expect the NBA to hit the Rockets with a very big fine. An excursion into the opponents' locker room after a game could be a very dangerous move -- although I would still say the number of NBA players ready to get into an actual fight is very small.

The whole thing reminds me of a time when my long-departed friend, local wrestling promoter Don Owen, was telling me about a couple of his workers squaring off in the locker room after a match. After all the scripted entertainment, these guys were ready to go at it for real.

Owen was ready, too. "I told them it would be fine to settle it that way but to hold on for a couple of minutes. Let me go out and announce a rematch and we'll put it in the ring where it belongs."

I feel the same way about these guys. If somebody really wants a piece of another player, do it out there on the big stage where everyone can see it.

 

The Lakers are getting what they deserve from LaVar Ball

The Lakers are getting what they deserve from LaVar Ball

The youngest pair of the Ball kids are in Lithuania, taking a stab at pro basketball far from home. Why do I think this has no chance of working out well?

Of course, ESPN has a crew following the Ball family, much to the chagrin of a lot of people. In fact, Golden State Coach Steve Kerr spoke for many Monday about the coverage of Old Man Ball:

“I was thinking about ESPN, and they laid off, I don’t know, 100 people,” Kerr said. “How many people did they lay off over the last year? Well over 100, many of whom were really talented journalists covering the NBA. So, this is not an ESPN judgment, it’s a societal thing more than anything. Where we’re going is we’re going away from covering the game, and we’re going toward just sensationalized news. It’s not even news, really. It’s just complete nonsense. But if you package that irrational nonsense with glitter and some ribbon, people are going to watch.

“So, I talked to people in the media this year. I said, ‘Why do you guys have to cover that guy?’ And they say, ‘Well, we don’t want to, but our bosses tell us we have to because of the ratings, because of the readership.’ Somewhere, I guess in Lithuania, LaVar Ball is laughing. People are eating out of his hands for no apparent reason, other than that he’s become the Kardashian of the NBA or something.”

I tend to agree with Kerr but I also understand that if news outlets, blogs or websites don't give people what they want, they will soon be out of business. And the public is fascinated by the loud-mouthed father and his impact on his talented sons.

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Caught in the crossfire of all of it is Los Angeles Laker Coach Luke Walton, pretty much an innocent bystander. The Lakers had to know what would happen when they drafted this kid -- his father's  meddling behavior was no secret. I think Walton has done a very good job with his young Laker team this season but, of course, the elder Ball has alleged that Walton has lost control of the team and players don't want to play for him.

Yes, a lot of NBA parents would like to blame coaches for the problems their kids are having -- and I'm guessing if they start popping off about it, there will be a microphone in their face, too. But this guy is a rare one in that he doesn't seem to understand the impact his antics are having on his children. And that makes him news whether we like it or not.

The biggest problem in Los Angeles, though -- and the reason people are actually listening to the Old Man -- is that the Lakers themselves set the  bar way too high for their performance this season. I was sitting in the Thomas & Mack Center last summer when the Lakers beat Portland for the summer-league championship and the celebration, in front of a pro-Laker crowd and NBA-TV, was way over the top. And the centerpiece of all that was an overly excited Magic Johnson proclaiming, "The Lakers are back!"

Ugh. No way. It's the freaking summer league. And Magic should have known better. But summer league helped create an unrealistic expectation that Ball was going to be an immediate superstar and that the Lakers were ready to contend for a playoff spot. And when expectations aren't met, people always look for scapegoats. The elder Ball found his -- the coach -- and it's just his way to take the heat off his son, who hasn't had the kind of season the Lakers obviously expected from him.

Fans, searching for who to blame, are ready to latch onto the coaching narrative because they never want to blame players.

And it became Luke Walton's job to try to meet those lofty expectations with a team and a point guard not ready for such a task. He deserves better and I don't blame the media or LaVar Ball. The Lakers set themselves up for this and they did their coach wrong by it.

(UPDATED): Isaiah Thomas will play vs. Blazers, but Kevin Love is ill

(UPDATED): Isaiah Thomas will play vs. Blazers, but Kevin Love is ill

UPDATED WITH CLEVELAND ILLNESS: At first glance, the NBA schedule has dealt the Trail Blazers a tough hand Tuesday night.

After an overtime win in Chicago Monday, Portland travels to Cleveland for a game tonight vs. the Cavaliers -- a back-to-back contest vs. one of the league's very best teams. But sometimes, the first glance doesn't tell the whole story.

Cleveland is facing a back-to-back, too -- and the backstory there is worth examining.

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The Cavaliers' back-to-back features a trip to Boston on Wednesday night to play the Celtics -- a big rivalry game made even more heated by another matchup between the Celts' Kyrie Irving and his former team. The Trail Blazers' best hope would be that Cleveland is looking past this home game against Portland to that contest against the Celtics. The Cavaliers are also on a three-game losing streak, although those were road games and the Cavs have won 12 straight home contests.

Tuesday also will mark the season debut of Boston guard Isaiah Thomas, who has been sidelined with a hip injury. Is that good or bad for Portland? Thomas is expected to be on a strict minutes restriction against the Trail Blazers and will not play Wednesday at Boston against his former team. Often, the first game back after a prolonged injury absence can be a little rough, which would be another bonus for Portland.

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are expected to welcome Damian Lillard back to the lineup after a five-game absence due to a hamstring injury.

It's worth noting that last season at Cleveland, former Lake Oswego High School star Kevin Love was impossible for Portland to control. Love scored 34 points and made eight three-point field goals in the first quarter, the most points a player has ever scored in the opening quarter of an NBA game. Love is enjoying an outstanding season and has scored at least 20 points and hit at least three three-pointers in six consecutive games.

UPDATE: The bad news for Cleveland is that Love missed shootaround this morning and word is that he's suffering from food poisoning that has caused him to lose 10 pounds in two days. LeBron James is also suffering from a cold.

Coverage starts on NBC Sports Northwest at 3 o'clock with Rip City Live.

 

Nurkic is in the lead car of the Trail Blazers' rollercoaster ride

Nurkic is in the lead car of the Trail Blazers' rollercoaster ride

The rollercoaster season of the Trail Blazers hit another big skid Saturday night with a nasty loss at Atlanta to the hapless Hawks.

The only thing you can regularly expect from this team is inconsistency. I realize a lot of people see this season as simply the byproduct of a .500 team. You know, the whole "this is who they are" theory. By nature, a mediocre team is inconsistent. That may well be true but I'm still not ready to give up on my opinion that this is a better team than that.

Look, even a .500 team ought to be able to beat the worst team in the league. Or at least not get blown out by the worst team in the league.

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Jason Quick, on "Talkin' Ball" following Saturday night's embarrassing loss, searched for words to characterize the team he covers and came up with "nonchalant." And I think that's a very apt description. There is a casual acceptance of what's been going on. Nobody seems willing to get angry or openly irritated about playing poorly against some of the worst teams in the NBA. I don't know if that's because most of this roster is being very well paid or if it's just a natural evolution born of keeping the same group together for too long.

I don't get it. I'd like to see a little more of the passion we saw from the Trail Blazers in the fourth quarter of last week's win over Philadelphia.

At the center (literally) of the Blazers' nonchalance is Jusuf Nurkic. This is a player with restricted free agency coming his way this summer. Most players in that situation would be playing their tails off in an effort to try to show prospective new teams they have great value. But it's entirely possible Nurkic is costing himself millions with his own personal brand of nonchalance. Night after night he's not finishing at the rim -- casually blowing open shots in the basket area and turning easy shots into difficult ones. He's shooting just .451 from the field this season and .433 in his last 10 games -- awful for a player who spends a lot of time in the paint.

There are 60 men who have played center in the NBA this season with a higher overall shooting percentage than Nurkic.

But he carries himself on the floor with a certain arrogance, as if he's one of the best in the business. He admits he plays better when he's "mad," but usually seems too cool to get angry. I believe his erratic play has been a big reason for his team's up-and-down performances. From night to night, even quarter to quarter, he's not been reliable.

I would imagine the coaching staff is running out of buttons to push in an attempt to motivate him. I'm pretty sure, too, his teammates are frustrated with him. They came into this season believing he was going to be the long-sought piece they've been missing the last few seasons who could propel them upward in the standings. The 20-game Nurk we saw last season was certainly that player. But for most of the 32 games we've seen him this season, he's not the same player.

I realize he is just 23 years old. But at any age there has to be an understanding of the rewards of playing hard. He needs to be building a foundation for a long career. And with free agency looming, he needs to be making a strong statement that he's a player of great value.

At this time, that's not happening -- and the Trail Blazers are suffering the consequences.

 

Paul Allen to blame for Blazer woes? That's just silly

Paul Allen to blame for Blazer woes? That's just silly

I'm not really sure where it's coming from, but lately I've been hearing a lot of blame for the Trail Blazers' early season struggles directed at the team's owner, Paul Allen.

I mean, seriously?

Let me ask you this: Without Allen as the owner, where would the Trail Blazers be right now? I'll answer that one for you -- in Seattle, that's where. Or Las Vegas. Or Vancouver, B.C. Because without Allen funding the construction of the Moda Center, this team would not have a new arena and would have moved out of town years ago as Memorial Coliseum decayed.

I've lived here all my life and I can tell you, there is no way this city would have ever paid for a new arena. There would have been no political will and no ballot measure. And if it ever got on the ballot, it would have failed. Miserably.

But Allen, unlike just about every other owner in pro sports, didn't come begging to the city for a new venue -- he built it himself. To the everlasting benefit of this city. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in basketball, you've probably enjoyed an experience of some sort in that arena. And the reality is, the Rose Quarter and its arena don't belong to Allen, they belong to the citizens of Portland.

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And you want to talk basketball? This city is very fortunate to have an owner who cares about his team. Cares enough to provide payrolls that have ranked the Trail Blazers very often among the top five in the NBA. This is a small market, folks. The TV and radio rights fees don't provide the kind of coin owners earn in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and many other larger markets.

Allen wants to win more than he wants to make money off his team. Think about that for a moment. How many other owners would even attempt to say that? Allen has proved it year after year and I would guess he's had very few seasons where this franchise has actually turned a profit. Allen wants a ring and is willing to pay for it.

But it's hard. I believe it's much more difficult to win a championship in the NBA than any other pro league. Championships are won by the same teams year after year -- even before this modern era of "superteams."

Yes, Allen is interested in the Trail Blazers. Interested enough that he wants in on decisions regarding drafts, trades and roster. For what he's spent on this franchise, is that not his right? Does he "meddle?" I have no idea. I do know that some of his general managers could have used a little more meddling. Has he made some wrong choices with GMs and coaches? I suppose. But who hasn't?

Allen does not live in Portland but you could make a case with all he and his franchise have done for this city, on the court and in the community, he's one of its most benevolent citizens.

And any assertion that he's been a negative influence on his franchise is just plain silly.

Blazers prove the NBA truism -- the aggressive team gets the calls

Blazers prove the NBA truism -- the aggressive team gets the calls

Some real talk about Portland's 114-110 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday night:

  • A wacky, crazy, strange game. And for Trail Blazer fans, probably the most exciting game of the season. In the fourth quarter Portland did a great job of mucking the game up -- being physical on defense and very aggressive at both ends of the floor. It resulted in a 42-point quarter while holding the Sixers to 25. I liked the Blazers' passion in the period more than anything. They fed off the home crowd, which was rightfully going bonkers for the first time in weeks
  • And speaking of the home crowd, the referees pitched in and helped as much as they could. Portland shot 47 free throws while Philadelphia got just 14. That's a joke, but once again testimony to the NBA truism that the aggressive team gets the calls.
  • The game may have turned on a flagrant foul call on Joel Embiid in the fourth quarter when he bumped Jusuf Nurkic to the floor. Or Nurkic just flopped onto the floor. I can understand an official watching that in real time and thinking it may have been a flagrant foul -- but after watching a replay? That was a real bad call -- and even though Nurkic missed his free throws, you could feel the game changing on that call. Embiid seemed discouraged and tired down the stretch. Great player, though.
  • Nurkic offered a look at both sides of his game. He suffered through all sorts of stumbles, fumbles and misfires over the first three quarters. The man has missed more close-in shots and layups this season than any player I've ever seen. But in the fourth quarter, after getting his nose bloodied, he found passion and assertiveness. He was an inspiration down the stretch -- leading to the obvious question: Where has THAT Nurkic been?
  • The Sixers are a well-coached team but I could not figure out why they didn't send Embiid to the low post in the fourth quarter and let him go directly at Nurkic who played most of the final period with five fouls. My goodness, Nurkic will commit that sixth foul if you give him half a chance. in fact, the passive game officials aside, I thought he did commit his sixth foul two or three times but it just wasn't called
  • Like Nurkic, Shabazz Napier completely turned his game around in the second half. He missed his first six shots and struggled against the quickness of 76ers guard T.J. McConnell in the first half. But he hit seven of his last eight shots and was a big part of his team's late rally.
  • I'm not sure how much longer NBA officials will keep falling for Nurkic's flopping around but you have to figure it will reach that point.
  • CJ McCollum had one of those games we've come to expect of him -- making just about every open shot he got, including some big ones.
  • Somehow, Portland found its passion button in the second half. I don't know what triggered it, but it's been missing most of the season. What a difference when this team is playing with desperation and aggression.

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What can Blazers do to fix their season? They better do something!

What can Blazers do to fix their season? They better do something!

OK, as we finish up a healthy post-Christmas break and near the end of the calendar year, it's probably a good time to assess the Portland Trail Blazers.

Portland sits in a tie for the seventh spot in the Western Conference, with a 17-16 record. So far, the Blazers have been the definition of a .500 team -- win a few, lose a few, neither sinking nor swimming but just treading water.

It's really not much different than the past two or three seasons. But I sense the natives are getting restless. It feels as if Trail Blazer fans are tiring of it all. Where is the excitement? Where  is the buzz? There hasn't been much so far.

So what must a franchise do? Just stay the course and hope that the anticipated roster improvement expected this season finally kicks in? Or is time to make a move?

I think it's time for a change.

And I mean something that changes the nature of this team. Something that changes the course of the franchise.

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What are we talking about here? Well, there's only so much that can be done. But the first order of business would be to figure out the nature of the problem. Is it the roster or is it the coach? When you examine that question you could find answers on both sides of the issue.

This team's roster isn't balanced. It isn't complete. But it's a very high payroll for a .500 team seemingly headed nowhere.

Or is the problem on the sidelines with the coaching staff? Is Terry Stotts getting the most out of his team? Are they playing hard for him? Is the team fully prepared for each game?

If you believe the answers to the questions above are "yes" then you must look to the front office. Has Neil Olshey done a good job of putting a winning roster together? Has he drafted and traded well? Is he doing a better job than could be done by somebody else? And you ask the same question you'd ask with a coach -- is there someone out there available who could do a better job?

I often look at the Portland roster and think it's not ideal for the kind of offense Stotts favors. There aren't enough outside shooters, for sure. But then the question becomes this: Is this Olshey's fault for not getting his coach the pieces he needs to do his job or is it the coach's responsibility to take the talent given him and tailor his offense to their talents, rather than stick with his own system?

Of course, we haven't even talked about the players yet. Changes can come there, too.

Is it finally time to give up on the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt? I ask that question because it seems to me the only trade piece of real value would be one of those guards. Most likely that would mean McCollum. What could you get for him? Do you really want to give up on a player on the verge of all-star status?

And what about Jusuf Nurkic? Once thought to be the team's franchise center of the future and a reason to be excited about the team's potential, Nurkic is shooting just .458 from the field and acting sa if he doesn't have a care in the world. Nurkic Fever? So far this season he seems to be infected with a bad case of Nurkic Disinterest.

But would any team be willing to take Nurkic in a deal? Maybe -- but not with a lot of value in return. And that's the case with a good many Trail Blazers. Highly paid doesn't necessarily mean highly valued.

So where do you go with the Trail Blazers? What do you do? How do you fix this?

All I can say is that this point you better do SOMETHING before it's too late to salvage the season. This franchise is begging for a change of direction, a momentum-changing event. The fans are, too.

And it's time.

LaVar Ball's league would have a chance -- without LaVar Ball

LaVar Ball's league would have a chance -- without LaVar Ball

LaVar Ball's latest attempt to keep his name in the news, the "Junior Basketball Association," is a total non-starter,

But that doesn't mean it's a totally bad idea. I think the concept is one that could work. I just don't think Ball is the one to make it happen. It would take a whole lot of sports-business sense and a ton of money to start this league and I don't think Mr. Ball has either one.

Can you imagine the startup cost of such a league? He wants to play in NBA arenas but I doubt he has any clue what it might cost to rent those venues. He's promising pretty healthy salaries for unproven players and he;s going to have to pay some of that money without a lot of revenue coming in. If he had Nike or Adidas or another major corporation sponsoring the league to help it get off the ground, it would certainly help -- but he's planning to fund the league with his own Big Baller Brand.

And I seriously doubt there's a lot of ready capital in that company right now.

I would say this, though -- there is a place in this country for a league for kids who want to play pro hoops but don't want to attend college. (I've always felt there's a place for such a football league, too.) Spending a few months in college should not be a requirement for playing in the NBA.

Oh, I know -- you can always head off to Europe and play there out of high school -- except most decent European teams aren't going to be taking a chance on spending a foreign-player slot on a high school kid. The run-of-the-mill player has no chance -- even LaBar Ball knows that, after having to place his two sons on a backwoods team in Lithuania where they probably won't even get to play much.

And I don't think the G-League is all that sold on using high-school players. And the G-League has always struggled to make it, even with NBA subsidy. But what a lot of people miss about that league is that it doesn't have big-name players who could put fannies in seats. A high-quality league full of big-time NBA prospects would have a better chance. If the G-League would actively recruit prep players who have no interest in college it would be a big boost to that league. But that's not going to happen.

A league of first-year players has a chance. Oh, it's not ever going to make huge money -- unless it lands a TV contract, which is possible if it can sign up the cream of the crop of NBA-bound players. I think the league actually could land some very good players if it's solidly funded. It makes sense to me for these players to at least have the opportunity to begin a pro career in what would amount to be basketball's version of baseball's rookie leagues.

Players would have no restriction on practice time, the way it is in college right now, and would have a legitimate opportunity to speed their development toward the NBA if the league could sign quality coaching staffs.

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And once a few good players head that way I think there would be a stampede. It would seriously injure college basketball as we know it, but so what? In that case, we could get back to college players who actually want to get a college education. That's not so bad.

But you need the right people (very wealthy ones) putting this together. As you may have noticed, new leagues in any sport have a terrible time succeeding in this country. And I'm pretty sure LaVar Ball isn't the right person to make this one work.

 

 

Blazers get just five free throws for an entire game -- how crazy is that?

Blazers get just five free throws for an entire game -- how crazy is that?

I would assume the frustration bucket is nearly full today for the Trail Blazers and their fans.

Last night in Minneapolis there were some very strange happenings.

You don't hear much about referees in this space. I leave them alone because they have a tough job and are too often used as a crutch for poor performances by teams or players. But sometimes, stuff simply must be discussed. Especially when strange things happen.

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The Trail Blazers shot only five free throws against the Timberwolves, who shot 21. Five? Damian Lillard gets more than that by himself on an average night. Worse than that, Lillard and CJ McCollum combined to take 35 shots, a good many of them surrounded by some heavy traffic. Yet they combined to take just one free throw and that was from Lillard. That is absurd. The Blazers got only two free throws in the second half while getting 34 points in the paint. They shot zero foul shots in the fourth quarter. That's just silly. And you don't see it often in the NBA, where officials are usually very careful not to look like "homers."

There was another play of concern, too:

Trailing by a point with 8.6 seconds to go, the Timberwolves got a rebound and called a timeout. Not before taking a dribble -- at least that's what it seemed. That's a big deal because if you dribble, you aren't allowed to advance the ball into front court after a timeout. And that was the original call. But then I heard something about one of the officials hearing someone yell for a timeout PRIOR to the bounce of the ball. Bingo -- the Wolves got the ball in front court, which was important at that point.

Stuff like that just doesn't look right. Bad optics.

I do not believe the officiating crew of Scott Foster, Leroy Richardson and Ben Taylor had a very good night. Lillard shoots 93 percent from the foul line and averages nearly seven attempts a game. McCollum shoots 88 percent and averages three attempts per game. You don't think it made a difference that they couldn't get to the line more than one time Monday night? And I'm sorry, I've been watching them play since they came into the league and know how often they get bumped or hammered on the way to the basket.

And look, there were plenty of reasons for the Trail Blazers to lose that game after blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. For one thing, Evan Turner's technical foul with 6:17 to go in a game lost by a single point was a big deal. And Al-Farouq Aminu's wild foul on Jimmy Butler with the game in the balance and two and a half seconds to play was a real doozy. I'm not sure what his plan was but he left his feet way too early, landed on top of Butler and that made it a very easy call to send Butler to the foul line for the winning points. Man, just stay solid, straight up and make him hit that shot.

I'm not blaming the officials for the Portland loss. Four straight turnovers in the middle of the fourth quarter had something to do with that.

But on a strange night in chilly Minnesota, the Trail Blazers deserved much better from the guys with the whistles. And it's only fair that they get their share of criticism for a loss that shouldn't have happened.

Steelers: That wasn't a catch -- in football or baseball

Steelers: That wasn't a catch -- in football or baseball

There is a lot of angst over that ruling in the Pittsburgh-New England game Sunday -- the one that disallowed a touchdown catch by Jesse James of the Steelers.

And I may be the only person around who has no problem with the NFL rule that if you're going to the ground as you make a catch, you must hold onto the ball during your fall. Whether you're in the end zone or not. Most people think that when you're crossing the goal line with the ball in control, it should be a TD -- whether you're a receiver or a runner.

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I disagree. I think there must be a standard for deciding whether a pass is caught or not. Touchdown or not. Just catch the ball and don't worry about trying to reach the ball over the goal line. Just catch it.

I had no dog in the hunt Sunday, didn't care which team won. But I will say I'm predisposed to accepting the NFL rule because it's so similar to the rules of baseball about catching a fly ball. If you catch a fly and fall down, run into a wall or bang into another player, you must hold onto the ball:

A catch is the act of a fielder in getting secure possession in his hand or glove of a ball in flight and firmly holding it; providing he does not use his cap, protector, pocket or any other part of his uniform in getting possession. It is not a catch, however, if simultaneously or immediately following his contact with the ball, he collides with a player, or with a wall, or if he falls down, and as a result of such collision or falling, drops the ball.

'It's pretty much the same rule. You can catch a ball and have it securely in your glove, but if you run into a wall or are diving, you better hold onto the ball all the way through the process.This whole process is a product of instant replay, of course. Without it, you'd never be able to see the ball hit the ground.And when it comes to replay, you have to take the good with the bad. And live with it.I'