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Making the best of an unavoidably depressing evening.
That was the only goal when Professor Hollinger and I reached way back into our youth Tuesday night, turning to the greatest sports simulation game of our respective childhoods to help get us through what was supposed to be opening night on the NBA’s 2011-12 calendar.
I’ve been stuck on Strat-O-Matic, as Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim Durham would undoubtedly describe it, since I was 9 years old. I could spend hours at that age crouched on the floor, shuffling through the magical charts and player cards that, when mixed with three rolling dice, could instantly make you feel like a Major League Baseball manager.
Hollinger, not surprisingly, was the same sort of the kid, which is why we quickly and eagerly agreed to share the same coping mechanism on what was going to be a sad, sad night. Using the modern-day computerized version of Strat-O-Matic, ESPN.com could at least stage facsimiles of the three games we were all denied from watching Tuesday: Bulls at Mavs, Rockets at Jazz and Thunder at Lakers.
Kids today naturally prefer high-tech video games when it’s time to recreate big league pro sports on a monitor. This is the NBA 2K12 generation. But for the two fortysomething curators of ESPN.com’s NBA Power Rankings, Strat-O was the only choice. On the day after Halloween, Strat-O would give us all the tools we'd need to masquerade as NBA coaches and lose ourselves for a couple hours in the company of a couple thousands friends in the Daily Dime Live chat room who, like us, just wanted to have a little game-conditions fun to distract us from the real deal we’ve all been deprived of. (Click and scroll here for the highlights.)
And I’d say it worked out OK given that A) I hadn't played any form of Strat-O-Matic since our Daily Titan baseball league in college in the late 1980s at Cal State Fullerton and B) DDLers couldn’t actually see what was happening and had to rely totally on their reporter-coaches to keep them updated.
Dirk Nowitzki (31 points), Jason Kidd (25) and the Digital Mavs, with yours truly assigned to Rick Carlisle duty, coasted to a 113-87 rout of the computer-coached VirtuaBulls despite 22 points from Derrick Rose and 20 from Luol Deng. Strat-O-Matic can’t simulate banner-raising or ring ceremonies, but rest assured that no one in Dallas will complain if the Mavs shoot the ball anything close to the way they did digitally -- 16-for-30 on 3-pointers in this computerized exercise -- when Mark Cuban finally does get to break out those rings.
In the second game, with Hollinger stepping into Scotty Brooks’ shoes as coach of the Digital Thunder, Oklahoma City fell to a 103-97 loss to L.A. despite Kevin Durant’s 36 points. The electronically coached Lakers didn’t miss new real-life coach Mike Brown at all, thanks to 21 points from Kobe Bryant and 19 from reigning sixth man of the year Lamar Odom.
We likewise made sure to run a computer simulation from the other game on the original schedule, since the least you deserve from this Next Best Thing experiment is a complete set of box scores from the Opening Night That Wasn’t. It won’t make pleasant reading for new Rockets coach Kevin McHale -- and something tells me I'm eventually going to hear from a fuming Tom Thibodeau about what happened in the Chicago-at-Dallas sim -- but don’t forget that the Rockets (actual or digital) haven’t yet had a chance in free agency to try to sign a replacement for Yao Ming. Jazz 115, Rockets 94 is pertinent solely because it gives you one more make-believe box to dissect.
Best we could do at a time when no one in the NBA universe can tell you how long it’s going to be before we see actual humanly generated box scores on this site.