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Vipers Dispatch: The First 20

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The Vipers have lost three games in a row, The Dream Shake examines why.

The Dispatch had a week off due to Turkey Day and its sad to say that we don't exactly have glad tidings to report this week. Things change so quickly in the D-League. After starting 3-1, the Vipers are now 4-4 and are currently drecking their way through a three-game losing streak.

You'd be surprised at how professional basketball teams can often suffer from the same problems that plagued your junior high B-team. I believe that there are a few things that remain constant at any level of basketball competition.

You have to practice. You need to rest. And you need continuity in your line up to develop chemistry. The Vipers could use a re-up in every one of these categories.  With Nick Jonson and Clint Capela recalled to the corporate office, the Vipers played against the Texas Legends (Dallas affiliate) last night without an assignee on the roster for the first time this season. Earl Clark, who's been as productive as he has been reliable, was out for a handful of games but returned last night looking a little stiff despite putting up a good stat line.

Watching them last night, things were clearly off. They started the game horribly, scoring a mere 18 points in the first quarter and only 45 in the first half. Both season lows. Still, there were stretches in the game when the mechanisms that propel the Vipers forward were working at full-speed. At the top of the second quarter, with the score 18-34, the Vipers swished together 12-point run to put them within four points, only to let the Legends, led by Eric Griffin -- who's a bit of a D-League Journeyman story himself -- sink in a 12-point run of their own to completely negate the hard work the Vipers had just logged.

The Vipers trailed for the majority of the night, but were able to come within three in the closing minutes of the game only to see a would-be game-tying three rattle off the iron. Unable to force overtime, the Vipers lost 109-117 after the Legends foul-shot their way to a secure victory.

It's a difficult and frustrating feeling as a competitive athlete to end the game and look up at the scoreboard and thinking that you didn't exactly lose, you let the other guys win. There's a difference.

In each of the last three games the Vipers have lost, including two straight losses to the Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State affiliate), the Vipers fell behind early. The thing about running an offense the way the Vipers do is that it's tiring enough running the floor when you're ahead and dictating the pace. When you're down by double figures and have to play catchup? It may seem like everyone's palms are surgically sewn to their knees considering the all the time the players spend hunched over trying to catch their breath.

"It takes a lot of energy to come back." Head coach Nevada Smith said after last night's game. "We want to get to a position where we are always controlling the pace. When you're down, your energy level decreases because you have to use more to get back into it which is kind of what happened in the third quarter (against the Legends)."

The shots were not falling either, shooting percentage has hovered just around 40 percent or so with a about a 3-point margin of error. Nevada contends that the Vipers have probably been outplayed in 6 of the 8 games they've played. Not to sound glib, but fact that the Vipers have consistently been unable to score more points than the other team is probably the biggest reason the team has lost half of its games this season.

But that is the risk of playing a system like Nevada's. You live by the three, you die by the three. When the three ball doesn't fall in the early quarters, it creates an easy, early lead for the other team. The result of the first 20 baskets pretty much sets the tone for what the entire game is going to look like.

With Nevada it's safe to say that about 10-12 of those first 20 field goal attempts will be behind the behind the arc. If only one or two of those shots go in, which was the case last night, then it's likely the Vipers will be operating in the red going into the second quarter. In that situation, your game plan for the entire night is pretty much hijacked.

The Vipers don't get to explore rotation options and very rarely is the floor manned without at least one starter still in the line-up. One of the early trends through first eight games is that the starters are playing a ton of minutes which has a direct effect on that energy thing Nevada was talking about earlier.

The Vipers return to action tomorrow with a home game against the Idaho Stampede (Utah's affiliate) but considering the way the Rockets shuffle assignees back and forth between the RGV and Houston, it may be possible that the team might get an assignee back soon.

Loose Ball Observations

  • One of the charming things about the D-League is that it's not only the rosters that are lined with NBA talent, the front office is just as likely to be a who's-who of NBA namesakes. The Texas Legends are partly owned by Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson. Their president of basketball operations is Spud Webb. An assistant coach is Nick Van Exel and Nancy Lieberman, Lady Magic, one of the greatest female basketball players of all time, is Texas' assistant general manager. And most interestingly, former NBA journeyman Eduardo Najera is part owner of the team, head coach and general manager. If he could still play, and I think he can, he'd be a real life Jackie Moon.
  • It's always nice to see novelty acts in pro sports. The Legends have one of the most endearing ones in 5-foot-7, 143-pound point guard Yuki Togashi out of Japan. I wish I could tell you that this cat can ball, but he really wasn't all that impressive last night. In 15 minutes of play (not an insignificant sum) he went 0-2, one rebound, 2 assists and one steal. It was amusing to see him try and guard 6-10 Earl Clark when he caught a pass at the corner and pump faked. Yuki came to put a hand on him and I swear I saw Clark look at him and stifle a smile before he swished a three right in his face. But you go ahead and live the dream Yuki. Don't stop believing.