NBA Shootaround: Clash of the Titans
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: Cool, I had been wondering what it would look like if the Seahawks defense played the Seahawks defense in basketball. I love how we live in a sports world where power forwards play tight end in football, and free safeties play small forward in basketball. Some folks on Twitter were talking about this being the regular-season game of the year. In terms of the scoreboard, that doesn’t really scan, and in terms of season-long narrative, I think you have to look at that Pacers-Blazers game in Rip City as the jewel in the crown. But in terms of pure athletic displays, upper-echelon coaching, and Sasha Vujacic cameos, I don’t think we’ve seen anything like that this season.
This comes down to Blake and LeBron. These guys don’t play forward, they play Ultimate Warrior. LeBron was so turnt up, making up for the egg he laid in the last notable nationally televised game he starred in, I Am Death: The Kevin Durant Story.
But it was Griffin who blew me away. In Chris Paul’s absence, this has become Blake Griffin’s team. He’s been averaging almost 30 and eight in his last 10 games, and he looks more and more like Charles Barkley with booster rockets, which is probably his ceiling. Come to think of it, after watching Griffin put up 43 in a loss last night, I actually wouldn’t put it past him to jump right through that ceiling.
Slip and Slide
Blinded by Science
Steve McPherson: You guys catch any of that debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham the other night? The one pitting creation science against, well, normal science? Like, science science? A large chunk of Nye’s argument was that creation science is unable to predict anything, whereas the science that he works in and studies is built around the idea of creating testable hypotheses. He also said that if there were just one piece of evidence to support creationism he would change his mind. Jamal Crawford might be that piece of evidence.
I mean, look at this shot:
According to NBA.com, Crawford is 6-for-8 from 30 to 34 feet over the last two seasons, including 4-for-4 from that distance this season. This isn’t analytics, this isn’t science. This is some wedge-14,000-animals-onto-a-boat-the-size-of-Manhattan-with-eight-people-and-ride-out-the-flood-on–Mount Sinai–type shit. Go ahead: Explain to J-Crossover that there are no kangaroo skeletons or evidence of a land bridge between the Middle East and Australia. He will calmly break your ankles and then drain a 33-footer at the buzzer. He has to make these shots, because when you’re building the ark, you don’t use bricks.
netw3rk: I have no hard statistics on this, but years of close study of the Knicks, and the way opposing stars approach games at the Garden, have convinced me that Spike Lee has cost the team a steady about three games a year since the 1992-93 season. Spike’s abrasive pro-Knicks heckling; his penchant for the loudest of the loud orange and blue garb; that he sits right in the players’ eyelines — all of that together, combined with the natural competitiveness of the players and the antagonism of the home crowd, create something akin to an alchemy of annoyance, like a bright orange cape flapping in front of a rampant, angry bull.
Reggie Miller’s 25-point fourth quarter in the 1994 playoffs, which featured Spike jawing with Reggie practically every time down the court, is the prototype Spike-inspired opposing star loss. The moment is so iconic that succeeding generations of players have used it as a template. Spike has become the stand-in for eight million New Yorkers, a lightning rod for spite-filled glares, victorious smirks, and curse-laden tirades. Kobe Bryant scored his then-Garden record 61 while Spike was filming a documentary about him. In 2010, Kevin Garnett trash-talked Spike as Paul Pierce airplaned around the Garden floor celebrating a dagger, Nate Robinson falling off Pierce’s shoulder like a drunken parrot. I mean, really, how does this help? Earlier this season, Blake Griffin gave Spike the polar vortex after hitting a circus layup over Tyson Chandler. This never happens to Jack Nicholson.
Last night it was LaMarcus Aldridge’s turn. Aldridge was only 1-for-7 in the first half and finished only 5-for-17. But he hit two huge shots in the fourth quarter, including the dagger with 35 seconds left, after which — according to now well-established tradition — he stared down Spike as he backpedaled up the court, the Garden emptying into the slush-filled February night.
The Raymond Felton Anti-Revenge Game
Jared Dubin: In an effort to liven up a dismal season, I’ve begun to invent ridiculous story lines for Knicks games to give myself a reason to watch beyond “I like this team because my father likes this team.” Last night, I sold the matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers to myself as the Raymond Felton Revenge Game.
Felton played (horribly) for the Blazers during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, and after a while, his season morphed into some sort of weird sniping match with the Portland media and fans, for whom he now seems to share a mutual hatred.
Knowing Felton as I do, I knew he would psych himself up way too much for the game, and subsequently psych himself out and play terribly.
Felton did not disappoint, by which I mean he totally disappointed. He shot 2-for-6 from the field, 3-for-6 from the line, dished only three assists, was repeatedly roasted by whomever he was guarding, and the Knicks were outscored by 10 points in his minutes in the floor. He was also unceremoniously benched for Pablo Prigioni in the fourth quarter.
After the game, Felton took aim at those who speak ill of him.
Things will also get pointed your way when you shoot 39 percent from the field, 29 percent from 3, turn it over on 20 percent of your pick-and-roll possessions, and play defense like a 4-month-old who lost his bottle. Just saying.
Shortly after giving those quotes, Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal straight-up ethered Felton in a late-night post. Ray Felton ain’t about the haters, though. He couldn’t care less.
Manimal Is Still a Thing, BTW
What a Difference a Year Makes
Andrew Sharp: So the Wizards were up 14 points at halftime, up five with two minutes left, and still somehow found a way to give away the win in a double-overtime loss to the Spurs last night. It would be easy to sit here and complain about all that. It’s what Wizards fans do. We talk about curses and awful management and no hope for the future.
But not today. That loss was fun last night. The violent momentum swings, the bad John Wall, the good John Wall making up for everything, Bradley Beal coming a little closer to making me move back to D.C. so I can adopt him, Nene threading the needle on passes half his teammates can’t catch … Everything. Steve Buckhantz nearly had a heart attack on air when Wall tied it up in the first overtime.
None of it’s perfect. It will all be better if Ted Leonsis realizes he’s gotta fire Randy Wittman and get a real coach who does things like call timeouts to stop runs, or shuffle lineups when his starters look like they’re gonna die on the court in overtime. But still. Even with the obvious flaws, riding the highs and lows with this stupid, awesome Wizards team has been way more fun than anyone in Washington is used to from the NBA.
Nothing put the progress in perspective better than last night. When the Wizards played the Spurs at home a year ago, San Antonio won by 30 and it ended with Nando de Colo, Matt Bonner, and Boris Diaw running up the score. It gets no lower than that.
Now they lose and people say stuff like this.
There’s something happening in D.C. The Wizards are not quite a good team yet, but they’re learning how to do it. In the past 10 days they’ve beaten the Warriors, Thunder, Blazers, and should’ve beaten a Tony Parker–less Spurs team.
This is the pre-bandwagon stage, where not everyone’s caught on yet, but anyone who’s watching the Wizards can’t help but come away intrigued about where all this goes.
They still have the curses and awful management, but compare that loss last night with what happened against the Spurs last year. Compare the first month of this year with where they are in February. Good things are happening. There’s hope for the future here, and that makes the present more fun than D.C. basketball’s been in years.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go attack this Randy Wittman voodoo doll and get a face tattoo and pray to my Nene bobblehead. Wizards against the world? WIZARDS AGAINST THE WORLD.
A Song About Gregg Popovich
Danny Chau: “He’s taken two shots, missed one of them, and is controlling the game.”
That’s Sixers play-by-play announcer Marc Zumoff in the second quarter of last night’s Celtics-Sixers game, more or less officially ringing in Rajon Rondo’s return to being Rajon Rondo. Being a TV announcer for a team in the same division, Zumoff recognizes the look and feel of a Rondo puppetry exhibition. The Sixers’ feel-good playoff story back in 2012 was single-handedly crushed by Rondo’s off-kilter, polarizing brilliance.
When Rondo’s on, every possession is a new master class on combining and randomizing tempo, angular vision, and deception to rupture a defense from the inside out. On one play, Rondo crawls around the elbow area like a wraith, aimless and meandering; then suddenly the ball is in midair and it finds its way to a slashing Jeff Green. On another, Rondo pushes up the floor, kills his velocity, and chucks an underhanded pass, like one would toss a boccie ball, that hits Jared Sullinger perfectly in stride. Each play has a unique character, but they all conform to Rondo’s most basic intention: to give his teammates the best scoring opportunity. That’s how he controlled games in the past, and that control is starting to reemerge now.
Rondo had two points and nine assists by the end of the first half, and he finished the game with a quintessential Rondo line of 8-9-11-2. “Overall, I feel great,” Rondo told reporters after the game. “I think I made my teammates better tonight, so I’m getting back to my old self.” Beta testing appears to be over. Rondo is back to being the prism through which the rest of the Celtics are refracted. They won’t always play the Magic and Sixers in consecutive games, and there is probably a limit to how much he can improve the lackluster talent around him, but the important thing is, he’s back to playing the only way he knows how. It’s been tough watching so many point guards lose time to catastrophe this season. Rediscovering Rondo’s charm is a good way to cope.
This Is the Worst Call in History
Sharp: Football season is over, but Lance Stephenson season is just getting started. Everybody’s gonna die.
Western Conference Playoff Race
Jason Gallagher: The backside of the Western Conference playoff race is getting very interesting. Before last night, five games separated Houston, Phoenix, Golden State, Dallas, and Memphis. From now until playoff time, any game between each of these teams (throw Denver and the Clips in there too) is must-see TV.
Lord knows who comes out on top and who gets left behind. There are lots of variables to consider for each team. Can Memphis stay healthy? Can Dallas stay above water with a below-average defense? Will Golden State figure out its stagnant offense? Can Phoenix keep surprise sucker-punching opponents? Does Houston even belong with this pack of teams? I’ve read several reasons for why each team will fall off the map or make a giant leap. We’re all right, we’re all wrong, and we’re all absolutely clueless as to how this whole thing will play out.
For example, I took in Dallas and Memphis last night with the stakes pretty high. If the Grizz won, that would have gotten them within half a game of Dallas for the eighth seed, and only 1.5 games behind Golden State and Phoenix. With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph together at home, and Dallas being LMFAO-bad in the interior, it seemed pretty obvious how this game was going to go down.
If your guess was that Sam Dalembert and Brandan Wright would tear up a Memphis defense that hasn’t given up more than 100 points in 11 games, then scientists should study your brain. But that’s how this wacky game went. In the end, Dallas was plus-3 on the boards, plus-24 on points in the paint, and calmly secured one of its most important wins of the season.
My Empire of Dirt
Brett Koremenos: I’m writing this about a half hour after the Lakers-Cavs game (circus?) ended, and I still have no idea what I just witnessed. It was probably the weirdest, most unexpectedly entertaining, yet bad basketball game I’ve ever seen in my life. I think. I just know strange things happened and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully articulate how it made me feel.
But in case you didn’t see it, or even if you’re like me, and caught the game but are still wondering what the hell happened, let’s start from the beginning and review the order of events in a way that would make Benedict Cumberbatch proud.
• The Lakers started this game with eight healthy players. Steve Nash was technically a healthy ninth, but was not in uniform to start the game.
• The Cavs proceded to get hammered by this skeleton crew from the outset. L.A. led by 29 with nine minutes left in the second quarter. I didn’t actually know getting up that much that quickly was possible in the NBA.
• At that point, I sent Chris Ryan the following Gchat message:
Me: Probably writing something about how they [the Cavs] were handed Kyrie and had a bunch of picks and now they’re a flaming pile of shit and actually gave away a future asset in the process.
• Halftime. Nick Young is ruled out. The weirdness has begun.
• I flip on Rockets-Suns, a game that steals my focus through the early fourth quarter of the Lakers game. Going out on a limb, I’m saying more boring, unimaginative, and/or terrible Cleveland basketball happened during that time.
• Chris Kaman spent part of that stretch just chillin’ on an empty bench.
• A C.J. Miles–led rally (seriously) forces me to pay at least cursory attention to the game. Monitoring Twitter becomes a must.
• Jordan Farmar is forced to come out with an apparent leg injury with just less than 10 minutes to play. Kaman is forced to come back in with five fouls. The Laker countdown officially begins.
• Matthew Dellavedova turns into Mark Price. Kaman fouls out. The weirdness is in full swing.
• My buddy, hanging out nearby, gets drawn into the game because of my unbridled enthusiasm for this insanity. I explain to him that if Robert Sacre — who had four fouls when he checked back in for Kaman with just more than eight minutes left — picks up one more foul, that things are going to get interesting.
• That happens.
• I cue up the Norman Dale “My team is on the floor” clip and make the obligatory Hoosiers joke while eagerly anticipating the prospect of a team playing 5-on-4 in a regular-season NBA game.
• Scrolling back through my Twitter timeline, my dreams are dashed.
• Sacre picks up his sixth foul. This graphic shows up on the telecast.
• #LeaguePassAlerts are echoing across the purple mountain majesties and above the fruited plains because of this batshit crazy-scenario. Twitter reacts in various ways:
• The Cavs can’t mount a comeback over the final three minutes over a team down to five guys, one of whom is literally trying not to touch a soul to avoid a stream of technical fouls. I can’t tell you how hilarious I found this. Mike Brown is going to be earning lots of money from two separate teams not to coach.
• ’Sup, Steve Nash.
• The buzzer sounds. The Cavs lose by 11, at home, against a 16-win team that had to have a dude in a suit come back on to the bench in uniform because they had no players left.
• I still have no idea what to think of all this. I just know I’m glad I experienced it.