So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here 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.
Old Beard America
Chris Ryan: On the road, against a team that had won 13 in a row coming into the game, and playing without his best teammate (huh), James Harden took on the Warriors by his damn self. He scored 34, took 27 shots, and posted a minus-5. He jumped into dudes, flopped around, got bulldozed on defense a few times by Harrison Barnes, and talked trash to Steve Kerr, according to … Sir Mix-A-Lot.
He was also pretty easily the best player on a court that included Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. Some on Twitter suggested this was a chip-on-his-shoulder game for Harden — as if all the Klaytheism was pissing him off. Personally, I cannot deal with the way he plays, but he is the MVP of the league after 20 or so games. His play created gravity on Wednesday — as he hit shots like above, the Rockets stayed tethered to the ground despite a pretty marked talent difference between the rosters. Watching Harden last night felt like watching Aaron Rodgers this season — you just never feel like their teams are out of it as long as they are playing.
Golden State of Defense
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
Kirk Goldsberry: Is Steve Kerr a basketball coach, or is he a trickster sent by the ghost of John Wooden to spread the gospel of beautiful basketball? Who knows, but the seventh son of Pop and Phil just became the first coach in NBA history to win 19 of his first 21 games. Who cares what this says about Mark Jackson? All that matters is that Kerr has the Warriors playing an extremely potent, highly enjoyable brand of basketball that’s bringing the league to its knees. They’re faster than you, they shoot better than you, and doggone it, they shut you down on defense.
Warriors NBA Ranks, Last Season vs. This Season
|Last Season||This Season|
|Pace||98.5 (6th)||100.3 (2nd)|
|Offensive Rating||105.3 (12th)||107.3 (6th)|
|Defensive Rating||99.9 (3rd)||94.5 (1st)|
How do you hold opponents to 94.5 points per 100 possessions? Easy. You hold them to 50 percent shooting close to the basket (best in the NBA), 38 percent in the midrange (sixth best in the NBA), and 31 percent beyond the arc (fourth best in the NBA). In other words, you turn your opponents into the Sixers. Here’s what that looks like:
Wolf Like Me
Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images
Danny Chau: If your favorite aspects of basketball are all the crazy ricochets off rims, off backboards, off fingertips, and off other unintended appendages, you would’ve loved the Blazers-Wolves game. It was a glorious slop fest. Both teams shot under 40 percent and combined for 38 turnovers, 20 steals (13 by the Wolves), and 13 blocks (10 by the Blazers).
There were multiple missed dunks. Seconds ticked away without anything actually happening because the ball was being batted around like a beach ball without either team securing control. There were plays in which the ball flew in unbelievable directions simply by virtue of Corey Brewer being in the game for more than 37 minutes. Imagine Brewer’s essence distilled and captured in a giant aerosol can that misted the arena for 48 minutes, and you might get a sense of the kind of game this was.
Frenetic energy, drunken dribbling, and horrid 3-point shooting: Normally, this would be a recipe for disaster for the young Wolves. But all the switching they did on defense, and all the 50-50 balls the team forced, weighed down on the Blazers, who came into the game tied for the second-best record in the league. The Wolves corralled nearly 43 percent of their offensive rebound opportunities last night, a staggering number. They did it with effort, leveraging their obnoxious advantage in youth.1 The Wolves don’t have much on other teams, but they do have that. They put it to good use last night, and have a 90-82 win over one of the West’s elite to show for it.
This is where I give props to Andrew Wiggins, who had his best game of the season, with 23 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a game-high plus-15.
“The baby Wolves grew up a bit,” Flip Saunders said after the game. A little bit, yeah. For a night, the sandbox turned into a pit of quicksand.
Live by the Monta/Die by the Monta
Jason Gallagher: The city of Dallas is petrified of the thought that their team will soon belong to someone not named Dirk Nowitzki. Most people don’t know this, but there’s actually an alarm for this very occasion that reads, “Shut it down. Let’s go home,” located in the basement of the NorthPark mall. It’s protected by two layers of glass and shall never be broken until that day when the Mavs no longer belong to their beloved Dirk. There’s also an emergency kit buried deep beneath the earth’s surface with extra blankets, coolers of ice cream, a Blu-ray copy of What Dreams May Come … and several cases of Shiner Bock.
Here’s some news. That day is upon us.
The 2014-15 Dallas Mavericks are Monta Ellis’s team, but that didn’t hit me until late last night, when Ellis once again took the Mavs home down the stretch. This came the night after Dallas fell to the Grizzlies, a game in which Ellis missed the entire fourth quarter because of an injury he suffered against the Bucks on Sunday. It was up to Nowitzki and the rest of the Mavs to close out Memphis — something we’re all accustomed to seeing, only this time the Mavs were without their fearless leader. [Breaks glass.] Last night against the Pels, Dallas ran into another tight one with Ellis available to close, and just like last week against Chicago and Milwaukee, close he did. After Brow cut the lead to three with just under five minutes to play, Ellis scored the next 13 points by playing pure Monta-ball, with a variety of shots including layups, 3-pointers, teardrops, and a couple of midrange jumpers.
The fact that Dirk is not really the leader in Dallas anymore is difficult to swallow. He’s still the face of the organization and crazy effective, and I’m sure every Mavericks player would insist this really is Dirk’s team, but the truth is that this Dallas team is living and dying by Monta Ellis — for better or worse.
One last thought: Monta Ellis is winning games for Dallas with some really ridiculous/stupid shots. As fun as that is to watch, it should make Mavs folk a little nervous. According to the EIC of this here website, every great team should have an “irrational confidence guy.” The question that’s keeping me up at night is, can a great team be led by an irrational confidence guy?
[Clings to blanket and a Shiner.]
How to Fix the Pelicans
Andrew Sharp: The Pelicans were up four on the Mavs near the end of the third quarter when I stopped and thought to myself, They are definitely losing this game. It’s hard to explain why. Maybe it’s because Rick Carlisle is neck-and-neck with Pop as the best coach in basketball, and Monty Williams is … not. Maybe it’s because Monta and Dirk are great all game, but they both get a little more impossible in the fourth quarter. Maybe it’s because the Pelicans are still learning how to win, and losing a bunch of winnable games is just part of the process. I don’t know; I just knew it would end exactly the way it did.
Everyone knew. Right? While the whole world tunes in to watch Anthony Davis this year, there will be lots of nights like this. We should all accept it. Have you seen the rest of the West?
That doesn’t even include OKC.
The Pelicans aren’t making the playoffs.
And that’s OK. We can still enjoy nightly Browgasms, we can still enjoy Tyreke Evans hurling himself at the rim, we can still … well, actually, I don’t even know if Eric Gordon still plays in the NBA. But the Pelicans will be fun, win or lose. Just try not to read too much into it when things don’t work.
It’s Year 3 for Brow — in Year 3 of Kevin Durant, the Thunder were the 8-seed. If the Pelicans finish one or two spots lower than that in the MurderWest of 2014, that’s about where you’d expect them. Most younger, sloppier teams have had the benefit of easing into the playoffs on the strength of talent alone, but the West is full of killers right now. Older, smarter, and more clinical on both ends of the floor. Watching the Pelicans try to close against the Mavs is like watching a bear cub face off with a pack of wolves.
I’m writing this just because I can feel the “How do you fix the Pelicans?” articles coming, and there’s one simple answer:
And maybe fire Monty Williams, and definitely get rid of Gordon, and hopefully find a 3-and-D James Posey clone in the draft or free agency.
But mostly, just wait. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Take a second and imagine this same Pelicans team playing this same Mavericks team two years from now. The Wolves won’t have a chance.
You’re the Worst
Ryan: You’ve got to hand it to Lance: This is at least the second time a guy has tried to take his tonsils out on a basketball court.
Couple of things worth pointing out here. If there is a bigger NBA irritant than Lance Stephenson, it’s the dude who bowed him in the breath box. So there’s that. I didn’t think about it the moment it happened, but Jon Winslow pointed this out on Twitter, and it’s pretty funny to me:
Things are going great in Charlotte, then. Also, I love that Rondo stands over Lance, takes a bit of a shove in return, and then proceeds to follow him through whatever bogus set the Hornets run. Rondo seems to go for 10-10-10 every game and is basically ruining the sanctity of triple-doubles for people who care about those kinds of things. I personally don’t. I loved Rondo’s comments after the game, when he basically accused Lance of flopping. (“He weighs about 60 more pounds than me, but that’s part of his game … I am strong. But I don’t think I was that strong on that play in particular to knock him down.”) If you’re going to lose — the Celtics lost — at least lose with panache.
Dance Like the Knicks Are Defending You
Jason Concepcion: New York Knicks: a team in turmoil, 2001-14. Yesterday afternoon, news broke that Carmelo Anthony and Tim Hardaway Jr. had gotten into an argument during the team’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets last week, after Hardaway yelled, “Get the rebound!” at Melo, prompting Anthony to threaten to beat Hardaway’s ass like Miles Teller’s Whiplash snare drum. Reportedly, the source of the tension between Hardaway and Anthony is that each guy thinks the other guy shoots too much and doesn’t play enough defense. I mean, try figuring that one out; it’s like some kind of ouroboros of terrible basketball.
I especially like the part where Hardaway, owner of a career 6.7 defensive rebounding percentage, a guy currently averaging 1.2 rebounds per game, is yelling at other people about getting rebounds. It’s like Jesse Pinkman telling you to pick up the living room a little bit. According to NBA.com’s SportVU tracking data, Hardaway creates only 2.2 rebound chances per game, third worst in the league for players who have played at least 20 games and are averaging at least 15 minutes per game. Of those 2.2 rebound chances per game, he converts 53.8 percent into rebounds.
Oh, the game.
The Spurs were on the second night of a back-to-back, having lost to the Jazz in Utah on Tuesday night.2 With an eye toward keeping his top guys fresh and giving sub-zero fucks about any threat the Knicks might pose, what with Melo out with a sore knee, J.R. Smith out with a sore heel, and the Knicks generally being in a state of total disarray, Pop sat Duncan, Parker, Manu, and Kawhi (who was out with a hand injury). The Spurs started Corey Joseph, an old toaster, some rando who’s like a friend of a friend, Kyle Anderson, and Aron Baynes.
It was only a four-point game when the third quarter commenced. The Spurs shot 79 percent in that third quarter. SEVENTY-NINE PERCENT. Noted speedster Matt Bonner was Red Mamba–ing dudes off the dribble, and Marco Belinelli went 3-for-3 from deep, and that’s all, folks. Spurs by 14. Knicks fall to 4-20, the dreaded weed number.
That win snapped a nine-game Utah losing streak. New York came to San Antonio on a nine-game losing streak. The stars were aligned.
Steve McPherson: Corey Allen Jefferson was born in the midsize port city of Tacoma, Washington, on the day after Christmas in 1990. After graduating with a bachelor’s of science from Baylor in 2014, he was selected by the San Antonio Spurs with the final pick of the NBA draft. Hardly auspicious, but then again, the Spurs selected Manu Ginobili with the second-to-last pick in 1999.
But Jefferson never suited up for San Antonio, traded instead in the wee hours of June 27 to the Brooklyn Nets, for whom he is now averaging 2.7 points and 1.8 rebounds in 6.8 minutes per game. Before last night, he had taken four 3-pointers and missed all of them.
And then he took this shot.
Who among us has not been shooting around in the gym and risen up to fire a 3, only to have it slip unceremoniously from our hands? It might end up behind us or beside us — in which case we try to recover it as quickly as possible and with a minimum of fuss — or else it sails away, as it did for Jefferson, and then we have to chase it and hope no one saw it.
This shot is going to live and die today, recorded and consumed by the Internet in a matter of hours. It will be forgotten, likely before the end of the week. But let us not forget Cory Jefferson the human being, and the aplomb with which he handled it on Twitter after the fact.
Wizard Party Forever