NBA Shootaround: The Western Conference Arms Race

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’ll remember forever.

#TheClippersWillWinTheWest

Jason Gallagher: Here are some thoughts on the Clippers. I am now on Team #TheClippersWillWinTheWest.

• If it weren’t for the Pellies, the Clips would be streeeeaking. I know the Spurs are about as untouchable as Rodrigue Beaubois right now, but the Clips are on a pretty nice run themselves. They’ve won 17 out of the last 19 games, with wins against OKC, Houston (twice), Dallas, Golden State, and Phoenix (three times). Dare we say the more or less.

• Darren Collison is getting pretty good at his CP3 impression. He was huge in helping the small-ball Clippers erase a 17-point deficit last night against Phoenix, with 23 points on 56 percent shooting, five assists, three rebounds, and three steals.

• Blake Griffin’s CP3 impression still needs some work.

• Jamal Crawford tweeted this after the game. J.J. Redick has a 75 percent chance of returning Thursday, with Crawford returning shortly thereafter.

• Cedric Ceballos’s Instagram game is as on point as Cedric Ceballos’s hashtag game. #CedricCeballos #ialsolovethisgame #instagram4life #hashtag4life #blessed #hyb4life #whatishyb4life?#redshoes #jasongallagher

• For a guy who’s made a career out of getting techs, Matt Barnes sure does seem surprised every time a ref blows him up for one. I’m baffled by how baffled he gets. Barnes has received a T in each of the last three games he’s played in. And every time he stands there, shocked by what just took place. So here’s a refresher for Matt Barnes: When you shove Shawn Marion, it’s a tech. When you curse/stare down Anthony Davis, it’s a tech. When you throw a tantrum right in front of a ref, you best believe that’s a tech.

• This Hedo nickname kinda really works!

• Griffin eating Jordan: I read somewhere that lions eat their own on occasion. If it’s true, then buckets for the Flyin’ Lion.

Frontier Tales

phx_wash_center_ca1907

netw3rk: In 1867, a morphine-addicted former Confederate Army soldier and his polyglot Englishman friend figured they’d build some irrigation canals in the desert, a little ways off the Salt River, for a farmstead. The settlement eventually gave birth to Phoenix. History is the constant calcification of people just improvising shit. Almost 150 later, the Suns patched together some seemingly mismatched prospects and castaways with an eye toward the draft, using the armor-plated rebuilding strategy that must not speak its name. And accidentally-on-purpose, they got good.

Sky Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green, and a pick came over from the Pacers for Luis Scola, who is currently balling out from the Indiana bench like a beaten canvas sack filled with gym socks. Eric Bledsoe is averaging 17 points and 5.7 assists for the Suns, after averaging 20 minutes a game for the Clippers under the confused gaze of whiteboard artiste Vinny Del Negro. The Morris twins are having a singular career year. Goran Dragic is the Slovenian Jesus. Coach Jeff Hornacek took the reins of a team that ranked 29th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in defensive efficiency, and fun-and-gunned to a top-10 offense (109.5 offensive rating) and a middle-of-the-league defense (106.8 defensive rating).

It’s a great tale of spontaneous reinvention, of unproven players exceeding expectations. It’s just happening in the worst possible place.

The Suns lost to the Clips last night and are 44-31, after winning 25 games in 2012-13. But this is the West, where your ostensible hero/feel-good story gets ambiguously shanked in a dark and dusty outhouse scene of a Gothic Western novel. Dallas and Memphis also sit at 44-31, which, through a nebulous web of tiebreaks involving head-to-head records and winning percentages, currently has the Suns sitting smack on the ninth (i.e., nonexistent) seed. It is quite possible that one of these teams will be the first in NBA history to win 50 games and miss the playoffs. Such is basketball life in the unforgiving West.

Round of Applause

The Pacers and Perspective

Andrew Sharp: You know what? The more I think about the Pacers, the less concerned I get. There have been real problems; I just don’t think any of this will be a real issue in the long run. I watched them slug it out with the Pistons last night — Paul George broke out of a slump with 27 and 13 and this shot — and the win was every bit as forgettable as all this panic will be a month from now.

For instance, here’s something fun to read three years later:

It’s March, the playoffs aren’t that far away, and the Heat are still regressing. New York survives two shots out of James in the final seconds. Orlando makes a wild comeback to beat them. San Antonio blows them out. Chicago makes James miss a wild, driving shot in the final seconds. Four straight losses, and the gulf between James and Wade widens with every embarrassment.

That came during a four-game losing streak for the Heat in March 2011. That same day, Erik Spoelstra said some of his players were crying in the locker room. The Heat went on to destroy the East on the way to the Finals later that year. Nobody remembered the wild Orlando comeback to beat them.

Or the Celtics after a losing streak in April 2010:

The Celtics have been playing the “we still have X games to get this right” card since before the All-Star break. But now they’re down to seven games, and there’s seemingly a new hole to plug after each game.

“I didn’t think we played very smart tonight,” Rivers said. “There are so many little things that I could point out — that I won’t — but throughout the game … We played like a high school team at times.”

That Celtics team went to the Finals, too. Everything that looks impossible in the miserable grind of March and April starts to look a lot easier once teams start winning games in the playoffs.

It’s something to remember during this little Indiana freak-out we’re all having. Maybe this Pacers team isn’t the 2011 Heat or the 2010 Celtics, but they also don’t have the same competition. Losing here might actually give them a better draw. If the Pacers end up with the 2-seed, they can handle the Bobcats, and then the Raptors or Wizards (instead of the Bulls or Nets).

Then they’ll come into the Eastern Conference finals with a locker room feeling nice and confident and psychotic against a Heat team they’ve been harassing for two years now.

Every Heat-Pacers game is pretty much a toss-up, with Miami having a slight edge overall. That’s probably how the Eastern Conference finals would look. In other words … it’s been a long month for the Pacers, but has anything really changed?

Pop-and-Lockovich

Jared Dubin: First things first: I’d like to issue a preemptive apology to the Raptors fans who will undoubtedly complain in the comments that their team was either underrepresented or not represented at all in this week’s Shootaround. I know y’all are sensitive about that. Hopefully we can still be friends.

Anyway, down to business. The Spurs vanquished the opposition again last night, which is notable only because it is not notable at all. This time it was the Warriors, by 21, at home, and they shot 53 percent despite making just 4-of-19 3-point attempts. Whatever. The particulars don’t even matter. Winning’s just kind of what the Spurs do.

At this moment in time there are only three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Gregg Pop-and-Lockovich.

(GIF courtesy of Twitter dot com user and Certified True American Genius Rae D. Cabello)

I don’t even know where to begin here, so I’ll just say this: I’m reasonably sure that if my life depended on it, I’d still pick the Spurs to win even if I knew going into the game that Pop, Timmy, Manu, Tony, Kawhi, Danny, Marco, Patty, Boris, Cory, Tiago, and R.C. would all be loaded up on a bunch of those Lemmon 714 Quaaludes that Leo and Jonah dropped.

Point Guard 101

Kirk Goldsberry: Last night the Spurs won their 19th game in a row. Eleven players made field goals for San Antonio, but nobody looked as good as Tony Parker, who put on a point guard clinic and showed why he is one of the toughest players in the league to stop.

His pull-up game is as tight as ever:

Parker1

Parker4

If he detects a mismatch, this is what he’ll do:

Parker2

He can also just be a scoring weapon of the Spurs’ wheel play:

Parker3

Remember when Steph Curry started over Parker in this year’s All-Star Game?

Parker5

Rudy Can’t Fail

rudy-gay-tri

Brett Koremenos: For the first time in what has seemed like an eternity, Paul George put up a stat line worthy of an MVP candidate. The beleaguered forward scored 27 points on 9-of-19 shooting, with 13 rebounds and seven assists, as Indiana finally snapped its ugly losing streak. On the other side of the country, Rudy Gay had a monster night of his own, pouring in 31 on 12-of-24 from the field to go along with five rebounds and four assists. If you had seen those numbers before the recent Pacers woes forced George’s extended slump into the limelight, the narrative would have likely been that Gay got hot while mindlessly gunning and PG — unanimously acknowledged as the vastly superior player — was just doing his thing.

After his rocky start in Toronto, Gay quickly became a Basketball Twitter punch line because of his rep as an inefficient volume scorer. After George’s start to the season, we were talking about him as if he were a top-five player. Since December 13 — the date Gay made his first appearance for Sacramento — it’s been a much different story. Here are the numbers (per 48 minutes) to prove it:

Player

Games

FG%

3PT%

TS%

FGM-FGA

PTS

Usage Rate

Gay in Toronto

18

38.8

37.3

46.8

9.8-25.2

26.3

30.1

George since Dec. 13

54

40.4

33.2

53.5

9.0-22.3

27.4

28.0

Gay since Dec. 13

51

48.5

30.3

57.0

10.4-21.5

28.3

26.5

 

Gay was destroyed on every platform by fans and media for his performance as a Raptor. It was a stretch of time so short that, for a different player, many would have defended him with the “small sample size” argument. Even weirder still is that very few have even given Gay credit for his improvement since the Toronto meltdown. And before you chalk up his growth to getting numbers on a bad team, Sacramento is actually 19-21 for the games in which Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, and Isaiah Thomas are all healthy — a very respectable record, given that the Kings surround those three with a host of young, unproven, and/or ineffective rotation players.

Return of the Mac

benmc

Corban Goble: There are few NBA players — or few actual, live civilians — whose success I feel more invested in than Kings guard Ben McLemore. He is basically the American Giannis — a young, sweet-shooting player who grew up in severe poverty and contains a heart so pure that you’re more worried about the NBA corrupting his innocence than his PER. But his season — excluding a nice November, when he won Western Conference Rookie of the Month — has been a little shaky.

But since the Kings traded Marcus Thornton and committed to McLemore’s development, he’s been good! I swear! I’m not just saying this! He went for 12 last night in the Kings’ victory over the Lakers, and he’s averaged 14.2 points and shot 41 percent from 3 over the last six games. Though his skyscraping deep shot is one of his signatures, he’s shaken off the ice only recently. He’s given the Kings good minutes on both ends and in general looks less lost and more confident. So, I implore you to root for this dude, if only because a spike in MPG heightens the chances that stuff like this will happen.

Espionage

Gortat

Kirk Goldsberry: No wonder the Wiz took out the Celts last night. It was almost like they had a man on the inside.

What Rhymes With Orange?

Steve McPherson: Usually, it’s no great loss to miss the local broadcast’s halftime show on League Pass Broadband, even if it means getting stuck in League Pass’s faux-metal hold music hell for up to 15 minutes. But you also miss out on stuff like this:

Now, first of all, Samuel, great job. Your promotional efforts worked. Secondly, really REALLY nice sunrise pic.

The beat sounds a little like a keyboard demo, but the verse starts strong, pointing out that maybe when people said the Suns would be bad this year, they meant it like Michael Jackson bad. It’s always good to start a song by explaining difficult slang concepts for your audience to make sure you’re on the same page. This leads directly into an early peak for Samuel: rhyming “orange” with “scoring.” AND THEY SAID IT COULDN’T BE DONE. You’re not going to write a rap verse about the Suns without hitting that pothole, so kudos to Samuel for going right at it, although I’ve always thought “door hinge” is the ideal “orange” rhyme.

Some other high points and things we learn:

• Miles Plumlee can jump.

• Eric Bledsoe enjoys pudding?

• Leandro Barbosa is on the Suns’ roster.

• Ish Smith is great-ish, which is better than good-esque.

• Shavlik Randolph, Archie Goodwin, Alex Len, and Dionte Christmas are gifted, because you can’t pass up that Christmas wordplay.

• The Suns go harder than Gollum? Maybe this should be “golem,” as in the Frankenstein-ish creatures of Jewish folklore made from stone or other inanimate material. Because the former Sméagol doesn’t really go all that hard.

Overall, Samuel painted himself into a corner by beginning with the starters and working his way down the bench. Because of this, the song falters down the stretch, sort of like the Suns did against the Clippers in the fourth quarter, where they just looked bad. Bad like good? No: bad.

Filed Under: NBA, NBA Shootaround, netw3rk, Jared Dubin, Steve McPherson, Andrew Sharp, Jason Gallagher, Brett Koremenos, Kirk Goldsberry, Corban Goble, Sacramento Kings, Rudy Gay, Paul George

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