NBA Shootaround: Guess Who’s Back

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.

Greg Oden Returns

Mark Titus: As the only person who is both a lifelong friend of Greg Oden and a member of the media, I speak on behalf of every one of his friends, family members, and anybody who has talked to him long enough to realize how great of a person he is when I say this: CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES COME ON!

Immediately after it was announced that Oden was going to play against the Wizards, I sat down to write about our friendship and what it means to see him back after all he’s been through. And even though I had to fight back tears after seeing him in a meaningful NBA game again, I just couldn’t bring myself to write another somber piece reflecting on his last four years. I’ve written about that enough. Other people have written about that enough. This isn’t the time for reflection. It’s a time for unbridled joy. It’s a time to pop the champagne, hit the dance floor, and open-mouth kiss a stranger. Does that sound good to you, Greg?

Cynics might say that playing eight minutes in a blowout loss is hardly anything to be excited about. Cynics might say that he’s either just going to get hurt again or at the very least he’s never going to be a significant contributor for the Heat anyway. Cynics can lick my b-hole. I’ve never been more proud of anybody for anything than I am for Oden to work his ass off for four long years when 99.99999 percent of people would’ve thrown in the towel. Whether this is a big deal to anybody else is irrelevant. Whether he averages a triple-double as he leads the Heat to another championship or never plays another second is irrelevant. He’s already won. Nobody can take this from him.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go watch his two dunks from last night at least a thousand more times.

Fire Walk With Me

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netw3rk: The Miami Heat player intro video is the Heat dudes doing a bunch of P90X stuff inside of a flaming kiln. LeBron works his shoulders. Wade does curls. Mario shadowboxes. Bosh flaps the giant ropes. Fire licks from the walls and ceilings, the orange-yellow glow of the flames shimmering off perspiration. Much fierce workout warrior face is displayed. “Seven Nation Army” pounds in the background. This is intense. Look at the flames. Look how intense this is. In the midst of the intensity, you see Greg Oden, post–bench press, looking into the camera like “Hey, man, are all these flames and stuff really necessary? It’s really hot in here, dudes.”

I’m guessing when you haven’t played in an NBA game in more than four years, all the pomp and stagecraft can seem pretty empty. Like, what am I doing here? Imagine being Oden during the filming. Knowing that all the hype, the special effects, the play-act intensity is to create buzz for an activity that you haven’t done in four years. Maybe will never do again. Forget everything that’s been said and written about Oden since he was drafted in 2007. Forget the millions he’s banked and the money he’s making — probably the league minimum — this year. It’s one thing to be paid to be something; it’s another to actually manage to self-identify as that thing when you’ve been unable to do it more often than you’ve been able to do it, by a factor of years.

Greg Oden played in an NBA game last night. He scored six points and grabbed two rebounds in about eight minutes of court time. He looked good. Like a person capable of moving around on the same basketball court with the greatest athletes in the world. Don’t make the mistake of trying to figure out what this means for the Heat, how this affects the playoff picture. Just enjoy eight minutes of Greg Oden playing basketball.

The LeBron-Oden Pick-and-Roll

Kirk Goldsberry: The first time Greg Oden dunked last night, like all of us, I thought, Wait, who is that, Gre— NO WAY! I was thrilled. My surgically repaired right knee may have even wept a little bit. It may have been the most heartwarming moment of the season. But it was Oden’s second dunk that was more interesting. Late in the second quarter, LeBron James and Oden ran a pick-and-roll near the left elbow. Marcin Gortat switched over to slow the attacking James, allowing Oden to take a few unabated strides to the rim. Unsurprisingly, James found a way to get Oden the ball for the dunk. It was a small glimpse into how Oden could actually fit as a tactical piece, and evidence that he’s more than just a giant person, he’s a good basketball player.

LARRY SANDERS!

Wizards Against the World

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Andrew Sharp: They said it would get ugly. They said LeBron had been making headlines all week because people read Tom Haberstroh’s article. They said he’d be mad about everyone accusing him of coasting this year. They said he was going to drop 70 on Wednesday, just to prove a point.

Actually, I said all that when I was talking to a friend back home who was going to the game. LeBron made these points himself.

“We’ll see Wednesday how I’m coasting,” he said. “You’ll see the numbers I’ll put up on Wednesday. Just watch.”

The Wizards were standing on the train tracks and the train was coming through, and yes that’s a Major League II quote, because LeBron is Washington D.C.’s Jack Parkman. His powder toss makes us puke.

D.C. has a history with LeBron. We hated him before the rest of the world caught on, for all the same reasons that everyone else eventually adopted, but also because he and the Cavs kept ending our season.

I’ve come around to loving him, but when he’s playing in D.C., the loathing all comes back to me. Because of the Heat fans who show up everywhere, the playoff PTSD he triggers, and everything in between. Last night was supposed to LeBron’s Statement Game and that was the worst, too, because of course it would happen in Washington. The Wizards were in the wrong place at the wrong time again.

But you know what? NENE HAD OTHER PLANS.

It started there, and only got worse for the Heat. It was all perfect.

John Wall was like … I want LeBron.

And the Wizards were like … We don’t intend to slide.

And for one night the Wizards were kings. That’s all that matters for at least the next 24 hours. LeBron will probably still drop 70 on the Wizards in the playoffs when the Heat sweep this team in a few months. Sure. But not Wednesday. Not “you’ll see the numbers I put up” Wednesday.

Blow it out your ass, Parkman. WIZARDS AGAINST THE WORLD.

Keep on Pushing

Goldsberry: Let’s face it, game-winning midrange jumpers are easier without nearby defenders; they just are! That’s why Heismanning your defender away is awesome. What’s amazing about this James Harden push-off is how fluid it is. In one smooth motion, Harden picks up his dribble with his right hand, extradites Austin Rivers with his left hand, steps back, and knocks down the shot with that same left hand. It’s almost like he’s done it before!

Seeing Red

Chris Ryan: I tuned in to the Rockets-Pelicans because I don’t have a ton of self-respect I wanted to see this Eric Gordon performance that was making the Earth tilt on its axis. Right now, Gordon is the clean-burning power source that makes the Rumor Mill run, and he was certainly playing like he was in the shop window. Without Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, and Tyreke Evans (all injured), Gordon and Anthony Davis were the stars of the show. As they should be. Gordon scored 35, with 22 in the first half. And if I were him, and I had to endure Monty Williams dialing up Darius Miller plays with the game on the line, I’d be up in Dell Demps’s office asking if he needed any help canvassing rival GMs.

But let’s talk about Houston. I can’t, guys. I cannot. I can’t with the 41 free throw attempts. I can’t with Jeremy Lin dribbling in circles. I can’t with James Harden hero ball. I can’t with watching Dwight Howard play fourth quarters frozen in carbonite because he seems to always have five fouls. I like individual players on this team, but is there a less entertaining squad to watch on any given night? With their corner 3/free throws scheme, they may have cracked the system. I don’t know. They’ve certainly cracked me.

Nick Young Falls

Nick Young Fights

Brett Koremenos: After being nearly decapitated on a fast break by Alex Len, who gave a little Eastern European spin to the unwritten “no layup” rule, Nick Young, the master of swag, quickly transformed into a crazed lunatic. I was sitting on the other side of the arena, but even from my vantage point, Young’s reaction to the foul seemed to happen in slow motion. Even before he hit the ground, you could just tell Young was ready to go HAM on somebody. He wasn’t going to just back off — he’s Nick Young! — so to say I was curious to see how he unleashed his fury would be a major understatement.

Here were Young’s four options and the likely outcome of each:

1. Go after Len, a dude from an area of the world where organized crime and sports have a rather cozy relationship.

Possible outcome: Ending up in the bottom of some frozen lake in Ukraine.

2. Fight a handicap match against Markieff and Marcus Morris, a 480-pound tag team of twins.

Possible outcome: Getting his ass kicked, badly.

3. Imitate the same dance routine Kirk Hinrich unveiled after his playoff scuffle with Rajon Rondo.

Possible outcome: Extreme swag loss.

4. Elbow peacemaker Goran Dragic in the head.

Possible outcome: Ejection and suspension.

Derrick Williams Rises: The Revengeance

Steve McPherson: Williams came back to Minnesota last night with the intent of eating the Timberwolves’ still-beating hearts out of their chests. I imagine he was on the team plane into Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport like this:

It’s not, though, as if his numbers ended up gaudy (although 7-of-11 for 16 points to lead the bench is very good) or that he even got to deliver the killshot to his former team on a night when it looked listless, active only in its collective distaste for the game of basketball until a late run got it just close enough to lose YET ANOTHER game by four points or fewer (now 0-11 on the season).

No: It was more in the way he delivered those points, throwing down dunks and alley-oops from on high like the last wolverine in the James Dickey poem, climbing to the top of a towering spruce to mate with the New World’s last eagle, creating something otherworldly, something “SCREAMING that it cannot die, / That it has come back, this time / On wings, and will spare no earthly thing.”

And good for him. He was like a jilted boyfriend coming back for the high school reunion in a Bugatti Veyron with Bey on his arm (or Gay — same difference). But, on the flip side of that equation are those Timberwolves fans who only wanted to see Williams realize his potential, who are happy for him, even if it means they have to miss out on it. They’re fine, really. They’ll just go home and put on “Pictures of You.” You know, from that vinyl copy of Disintegration they special-ordered for Williams but never got to give him. But it’s cool, really. They’re fine.

Kings Bench Runs for Cover

O-LA-DI-PO

Jared Dubin: Almost exactly a year ago, I staked my claim to Victor Oladipo via the Twitter machine.

OK; that was a bit lukewarm, but it wasn’t long before I was completely smitten.

When the video of him singing Usher’s “U Got It Bad” at The Spirit of Indiana Showcase hit the web, I might have sold naming rights to my firstborn child for the chance to get Oladipo on my favorite team. Of course that didn’t happen, but rooting for Oladipo from afar has been plenty fun, and it was never more fun than last night against the Bulls.

Playing against one of the league’s best defenses (and matched up with one of the league’s best wing defenders in Jimmy Butler), Oladipo had the best game of his young career. He played 57 of a possible 63 minutes, scored a career-high 35 points on 15-of-24 shooting, grabbed four rebounds, and dished out eight assists.

He blew by Butler numerous times to get to the rim. He Dirked on Taj Gibson.

He hit Big Baby Davis with a slick pass out of a pick-and-pop to set up a game-tying 3 in double overtime. (That might seem weird, but Oladipo don’t discriminate with his dimes.)

Oladipo didn’t really get a chance to lead his team to the win by taking over down the stretch like he probably should have, because Jameer Nelson and Big Baby at one point decided that Jameer Nelson and Big Baby needed to take every shot, but it was still awesome to see Oladipo go off. The sky is the limit here. Even from afar, it’s going to be awesome to watch.

Slipstream

Burke by Burke

Corban Goble: I’m supposed to hate Trey Burke. Burke, who was largely unrecruited, follows a long tradition of iconic college players who have ripped out the Kansas Jayhawks’ hearts in March — Mike Bibby, Carmelo Anthony, and the guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer Ali Farokhmanesh — but I can’t stay mad at him. Burke was the annual lifelong underdog who slides on draft night because he doesn’t have the kind of physical tools NBA GMs build arenas around, but it was never really about whether he could play or not. Burke can play.

Tuesday night’s game against the Spurs bore all the spoils of the “old vs. young” storyline the broadcast crew was selling as the Jazz got out to an early lead before the Spurs employed another one of their craftiness demonstrations. Tony Parker drew Burke’s second foul early in the first quarter, perhaps not recognizing him as the kid in the beginning of the “Balance Toi” video, and Pop’s plan to increasingly weaponize an adamantium-infused Kawhi Leonard continued unimpeded. The Jazz, who have six players younger than 22 — for the college basketball fans out there, that’s six players who are all at least two years younger than Iowa State star DeAndre Kane — couldn’t decipher the Spurs’ antique language. Burke fluidly moved through defenders and found good spots to pick, but nothing was falling.

Until the fourth quarter. Until that point, the most memorable part of the game was when the broadcast team flipped a coin to decide who would have to interview Popovich, but then the baby Jazz arrived. Burke, who had quietly tallied 11 assists off clever feeds to Enes Kanter (who scored 25) and Alec Burks (who scored 20), started to unsheath his daggers. An off-balance 3 hit back iron and splashed through. The Spurs, displaying unusual panic, gave the ball up and Burke hit another.

The comeback stalled and the Jazz ran out of time — or at least that’s one way you could look at it. Given that they’re probably one dynamic wing away from really having something in Salt Lake City, maybe their timing is perfect.

A Letter From Joel Anthony to His Miami Heat Teammates

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Jason Gallagher: 

Dear Miami Heat teammates,

Well guys. What can I say? Everyone wants a piece of Joel.

It’s the life you lead as a hot commodity in the NBA. You guys wouldn’t understand. Maybe you, LeBron … but as for the rest, just trust me when I say, “It’s not easy.”

I’d first like to start off by thanking my teammates. You guys make me who I am. Who cares if there wasn’t a single inquiry about you all? You guys are the wind beneath my wings and I’d have to be preeetty full of myself if I didn’t give you some credit. Hey. Every lead singer needs someone to run the soundboard, am I right?

Since you guys are all like brothers to me, I wanted to be honest about how this whole thing went down.

Apparently Boston just kept on calling and calling. I mean I was like, jeez guys, let me breathe a minute, ha-ha. Miami’s office phone was blowing up almost as much as my cell phone … WHEN WOMEN CALL IT. LOL.

No, but really, I told them to cool it, but when you’re hot, you’re hot. The Heat organization obviously resisted because Toney Douglas straight-up for me is a little ludicrous. I could hear Pat Riley sarcastically saying, “That’s all you want?” So Boston had to sweeten the pot a little by including a third team. Hey, when you’re desperate, you’re desperate.

You guys are seriously the best though. The “Miami Heat Stepping Stone” phase of my life will always have a special place in my heart. I promise I won’t forget all the little people on this team. Ha-ha.

What? You want to know what one piece of advice I’d give you guys? Wow, that’s a tough one. I’d probably say just to dream big and fly high. Yeah … that’s good. And also don’t let the star inside your heart … fade away. Wow. Did you guys just read that? I wasn’t trying to move mountains or anything but shit.

All right guys. Don’t grieve for me. Everything’s going to be OK and hey, maybe if you’re lucky, one day, you can be the high-valued trade asset like me.

Best of luck,

Joel

Filed Under: NBA, Miami Heat, Greg Oden, Lebron James, James Harden, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, Eric Gordon, netw3rk, Mark Titus, Chris Ryan, Brett Koremenos, Steve McPherson, Jared Dubin, Corban Goble, Andrew Sharp, Kirk Goldsberry, Trey Burke