NBA Shootaround: Dunk in Love
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is back to help you keep track of it all. You’ll find takes on moments you might’ve missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
Chris Ryan: “He’s feeling it tonight,” Hubie Brown said, after Kevin Love had knocked down his second 3 from the wing. “Home cooking.” Love was in Minnesota, laying down the foundation of what would become a 42-point performance against the Pacers. He was back in the only city he has called home in his professional basketball career, and watching him put on a stretch-4 clinic, running David West absolutely ragged, you saw the difference between franchise hero and franchise cornerstone.
Cornerstone players are transformational; they elevate teams to a higher level. Other players don’t just want to play with them, they want to play for them. Franchise heroes, on the other hand, are almost like martyrs; they win your heart, and then they break it, because you know they are only going to realize their gifts somewhere else, somewhere warmer, somewhere brighter, somewhere where they can play with other players of their caliber.
I should know the difference: My favorite player of all time is Allen Iverson. And no matter how much Philadelphia loved that dude, there was always a sense like we were holding him back.
Kevin Love is no Allen Iverson. And he’s no franchise cornerstone. You don’t really build off a Kevin Love; you top off a building with him. That’s going to be hard for Timberwolves fans to accept, just like it was hard for them to swallow it when Kevin Garnett went east, just like it was painful for Philly fans to watch guys like Barkley and A.I. seek other opportunities. But it’s the reality. All you can really do is savor nights like this, favorite the YouTube highlights, knock it down, and start building again.
The Uncontainable Kendall Marshall
Corban Goble: Once sidleine reporter Israel Gutierrez cashed his obligatory Dwight Howard question during the second-quarter interview break, he asked Rockets coach Kevin McHale about containing Lakers PG Kendall Marshall.
“He’s turned out to be a much better player in his second stint here, with the Lakers,” McHale said. “He’s got the ability to make all the passes, all the pocket passes, throwing it to the far corner. If we help out on [Chris] Kaman rolling, he finds the shooter. He’s becoming a problem to guard out there.”
After the Suns bundled Marshall into the Marcin Gortat–Emeka Okafor trade so that salaries matched last October, it was only natural that Marshall would eventually rise like a phoenix. Given his spare-part status on the Wizards, Marshall was cut three days after the swap and, a month later, found himself in Delaware with the D-League’s 87ers. A torrid December stretch in Delaware earned Marshall a shot with the injury-ravaged Lakers, and his renewed confidence and freedom of spirit have served his game well.
“Going down [to the D-League], my objective was to win and to play carefree. Those were the only two things I was worried about,” Marshall told me recently. The new approach has translated into results — 20 and 15 in his first start, and 20 and 16 last night in the blowout (on the season, KButter is averaging 10.7 PPG and 9.8 APG). Watching Marshall snap the ball around, making flashy passes without sacrificing precision and steering a D’Antoni offense, it’s impossible not to think of another Sun turned Laker. I’ll be fair, though. It’s mostly the defense.
He Will Remember This White Dude in a Zip-Up Sweater for the Rest of His Life
The Most Valuable Blake Leaves Los Angeles
Kirk Goldsberry: Who cares about the games, am I right, Warriors fans? In the biggest upset of the night, you guys landed Steve Blake. I have always loved Blake, who has been marvelous this year … well, maybe not marvelous, but he’s been really good. He’s the exact kind of player that makes a playoff roster a bit more complete. Like the departed Jarrett Jack, he’s got that veteran backcourt poise that only comes with time. As a shooter, he’s made 40 percent of his 3s this year and continues to be very strong above the break. As a playmaker, he has flourished; he is averaging nearly eight assists per game, which, if he qualified (he doesn’t because of missed time), would rank eighth in the league. Now Blake switches teams, ecosystems, and Californian metro regions. His minutes will decline, but his meaningfulness in April and May will surge.
David Lee Explains the Universe
Steve McPherson: Octodad is a video game with a simple premise: An everyday husband and father to a human wife and children is secretly an octopus wearing a suit who can barely control his limbs to hilarious result.
I remain unconvinced that Corey Brewer is not also an octopus. When he gets out ahead of the pack on a fast break, the court is his ocean — a broad expanse of limitless possibility where he can effectively propel himself all the way to the hoop for ferocious dunks.
However, involve the obstacle of human contact in the equation and it devolves into this:
Your secret’s safe with us, OctoBrew.
The Rise and Fall of Iman Shumpert
Jared Dubin: It’s hard to believe that just four months ago, Iman Shumpert was one of the things we were most excited about for the 2013-14 NBA season. Hell, not even two months later, netw3rk and I were already trading woeful emails and I was saying things like, “It seems a foregone conclusion at this point that Shumpert is on his way out.”
Between the coach alternately threatening to take away his starting spot and professing not to hate him, the constant swirl of trade rumors supposedly begotten because he rankled the owner’s ire by attending summer league for only one game (despite being a third-year pro who was just a little more than a year off major knee surgery and was about to become one of the most important players on the team, it was for some reason deemed necessary that he attend), the revelation of his secret summer knee surgery, and the recent expiration of my sponsorship of his Basketball-Reference page, it’s no surprise that Shump’s quality of play has taken a steep decline this season.
He’s appeared overly hesitant to let his jumper fly from the perimeter, routinely passing up open shots in favor of wild drives in an attempt to prove that he’d worked on his ballhandling skills this offseason. His once-renowned defense has become shakier than ever as he’s taken to being uber-aggressive with his weakside help, often leaving his man wide open for a 3 or a drive to the rim. A player who was once the source of so much light in Knicksland has seemed dark and despaired for much of this campaign.
With the trade deadline beating down the doors and Shumpert supposedly on his way to Los Angeles or Denver or wherever, things took yet another turn for the worse as he pulled up lame on a drive to the rim against the Fighting Anthony Davises last night. Now Woj is reporting that Shumpert has a sprained MCL in the same knee that’s already been operated on twice, and maybe even meniscus damage as well. The hits just keep on coming.
The Image You MUST See From the Beginning … or Not at All! … For No One Will Be Seated After the Start of … Alfred Hitchcock’s Greatest Shocker: Raymond Felton’s Shot Chart
His Swag Was Phenomenal
The Wizards were up 19 in the second quarter, and then I looked up in the third quarter and it was a one-point game, and I was 100 percent certain they were going to blow it in the fourth quarter, making it six losses out of seven and driving me to drink a gallon of paint thinner. Then Trevor Ariza hit this shot and the bleeding stopped, and the Wizards were OK. Trevor Ariza saved everything.
No matter how many times I say I hate this team, I will love this team forever.
A Tale of Two Point Guards
Brett Koremenos: The only things Goran Dragic and Rajon Rondo have in common is their age (27) and the fact that they both play basketball. After that, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many other similarities between the two. From their career arcs to their reputations, the two playmakers bring completely unique approaches to the same position on the floor.
Rondo is the epitome of a true floor general. He doesn’t really “play” the game as much as he controls it. On any given trip down the floor, Rondo knows exactly where his teammates are and how he’ll get them the ball. Nothing escapes him. Watching him live, you can really gain a sense for how quickly he processes this information. You see him thinking through each scenario as it’s happening — If I take one more dribble and get to this spot in the paint, I can make a left-handed pocket pass to [insert teammate here] for an open baseline jumper. That level of thought puts intense pressure on a defense. Rondo can manipulate the game to make any player on the floor an option.
Dragic, on the other hand, puts pressure on defenses in a different way. He’s not going to cause defenders mental anguish as much as wear them down with his endless forays toward the rim. From the minute the ball is tipped, Dragic is in attack mode, a sea of arms, legs, fakes, and step-throughs that doesn’t end until the buzzer sounds. His one-man fast breaks symbolize his entire approach to the game. As soon as he gets the ball, he pushes it up the floor, finds a body, and gets fouled or finishes. It doesn’t matter who or what is in front of him.
The great thing about this sport is that each approach works. Rondo is the chess grandmaster, always planning one step ahead. Dragic is an agent of chaos, figuring it out as he goes. Despite such distinct styles, the two actually have one more thing in common that I forgot to mention — they’re both really fun to watch.
Fun in the Sun
A Diseased and Unsound Animal
“I’m Just Here to Do My Job”
Jason Gallagher: When I’m running my own business someday, I plan on adding Al Jefferson highlights and interviews to the list of required videos for new employees. This has nothing to do with company ethics or sexual harassment in the workplace. This is pertaining to the character of a hard worker doing his job well, no matter the circumstance.
The task given to Big Al at the start of the season was essentially this: Take the unbelievably bad Bobcats and turn them into a playoff contender. Bear in mind that, being in a small market, you’ll probably continue to be overlooked and underappreciated by the general public, no matter how well we’re playing. Great? Great!
Al Jefferson stood up and went to work.
Last night, on the tail end of a back-to-back against Detroit, Big Al once again did his job from all angles — clocking out at 29 points by way of jump shots, spinning hooks in the post, running floaters, and baseline fades. Add 60 percent shooting, eight boards, and positioning the Cats 2.5 games ahead of Detroit for the 8-spot, and let’s call it a day. Hell of a job, Big Al.
There Is No God But Lance
Sharp: Lance Stephenson actually had a pretty rough game last night, but it doesn’t matter, because this will be the best thing you see all day. Get lost in it. Let it wash over you for the full three minutes. Sing the song of spiritual freedom. Thank you, Jose3030. And thank you, Lance.
Into the Mystic
Danny Chau: The Blazers played their 54th game of the season last night, but only their first without LaMarcus Aldridge. Their front line was thin — Joel Freeland sprained his right MCL last week, and Meyers Leonard sprained his ankle in practice on Tuesday. Dorell Wright got the start at power forward, which hasn’t happened since 2012, the last time I played NBA Live 06. Playing small, with only Robin Lopez holding down the fort inside, meant the team required a group effort in corralling defensive rebounds. Unfortunately, after playing 53 games a certain way with one of the best big men in basketball, some players found themselves victims of their own muscle memory. Instead of staying back to ensure the possession, Wes Matthews leaked out on a few plays, only to find that his absence led to a San Antonio offensive rebound. Their spacing was off, as was their timing. It was ugly. In the opening quarter, the Spurs and Blazers combined to shoot 34.7 percent from the field (17-of-49).
The Spurs had their own absences to deal with, playing without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard. It was a strange game to watch at times. These are still two of the best teams in the West, and yet, for stretches, they were completely unrecognizable. At one point in the third quarter, to match up with the Blazers’ four-out lineups, Pop rolled out a lineup of Patty Mills, Shannon Brown, Marco Belinelli, Danny Green, and Matt Bonner. Not sure if it was a coincidence or not, but that was right about the time the Blazers scored on four consecutive layups over the span of exactly one minute and 30 seconds of game time.
There is a real mysticism to this Blazers team, and no matter what, their games stay interesting to the very end, and this apparently applies even in the absence of their best player. But that mysticism was broken by a machine, as it often is. That machine (within a much larger machine) was Patty Mills. For the second consecutive night, he wore Tony Parker as a costume and completely disarmed his opponent. He did it with guile reminiscent of his sensei, and the energy of a dude who finally has the opportunity to unleash all the wind energy he’s generated waving around a towel for three years.
Maybe this game was a testament to how much better the Spurs are at adjusting to unforeseen realities on the fly, but still, I ended up developing a stronger appreciation for the patterns and routines that often shape a team’s identity. I think I’m starting to understand why players often look up directions to the nearest Cheesecake Factory upon landing in a new city. Consistency and familiarity are important. Take those away, and there’s never enough time to figure out what you’re left with.