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.
They Can Taste It
Chris Ryan: Something about the beginning of the NCAA tournament always signals the cessation of competitive regular-season NBA basketball to me. I know there are still postseason seeds to be sorted, but mid-March is when you turn on a game and find out that Denver is sitting a bunch of starters, or Kevin Love is resting. Lose to the Sixers on a Monday? Spring break forever, bitches.
Nobody told the Warriors about my theory, I guess. Rather than pack for Cabo, Golden State is playing out the string while performing the basketball version of the jailhouse workout from The Raid 2.
Winners of their last three, and eight of their last 10, the Warriors didn’t just play well against Atlanta — Steve Kerr had them playing differently. This is sort of the quiet miracle of Golden State. One substitution changes the basketball complexion of the game. They’re big, then they’re small, but they play big when they’re small. Their defensive switching chokes offensive motion, their shooting opens up the lane, and their point guard has eyes in the back of his head.
And can do things like this:
There’s Harrison Barnes playing like a lottery pick; there’s Andre Iguodala playing like he’s still a Sixer; there’s Shaun Livingston eating the opposing point guard for dinner on the block. There’s Leandro Barbosa trying a finger-roll 3 …
Golden State, playing without Klay Thompson, ran its normal stuff, as well as a few things I hadn’t seen before — like a play in which Steph Curry handed off the ball to Draymond Green and then watched him dribble-barrel down the floor, almost coast to coast, in a manner that can only be described as “Marshawnian.”
Atlanta shouldn’t take it too hard — this is what happens when you visit the Oracle and leave a key part of your offense behind with a broken nose. The Hawks just ran into a team that doesn’t know the meaning of spring break. The Warriors have their eye on summer vacation.
The Real Spurs
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
Danny Chau: As life-affirming as it was to watch the worst team in the NBA defeat the defending champions on Tuesday night, it essentially amounts to a clerical error in the grand scheme of things. Alexey Shved, bless his frail little heart, is not the second coming of Drazen Petrovic. The Spurs aren’t a team that is normally limited to 38.3 percent shooting from the field. And if you give the Knicks, the second-worst defensive team in the league, 10 chances to duplicate that feat, they’d probably be able to do so only twice, if that. You knew the Spurs were going to win against the Bucks last night. Indeed, they did win, and they won by being the Spurs.
One of the neat things about the NBA making player-tracking stats public is the ability to contextualize ball movement. Last night, the Bucks made and attempted more field goals and had more assists than the Spurs. However, Spurs players passed the ball 123 more times than the Bucks during the game, and Spurs players had 482 touches compared with the Bucks’ 352. Let’s put those numbers further in perspective: The Spurs passed the ball 356 times last night; the Warriors, who crushed the Hawks with an incredible 39 assists, passed the ball 358 times. There are different approaches in maximizing the effectiveness of ball movement. For the Spurs, more is more.
We know what all of these passes led to. The Spurs were plus-14 in points in the paint and free throw attempts. When defensive breakdowns happen, so do frustration fouls. Ultimately, it was the 12-point advantage at the line that did the Bucks in. San Antonio tiki-taka’d the Bucks to the grave, not just finding seams, but also creating them by testing their young opponents’ resolve.
Despite losing 11 of their last 14 games, the Bucks are still ranked the second-best defensive team in the league by defensive rating.1 Milwaukee is so young and tall and long and fast, it can feel like the Bucks stumble unwittingly into suffocating defensive stands. And, you know — with all credit to Jason Kidd for the masterful job he’s done, and a big shout-out to Khris Middleton for holding it all together — sometimes they do. You combat that with incisive passing, by keeping all defenders on their toes, by keeping them in motion. With apologies to the Hawks and Warriors, the Spurs, when they’re locked in, still do it better than anyone else.
However, the difference between the second-ranked defense and the fifth is only 0.9 points per 100 possessions. The difference between no. 2 and no. 10 is only 1.3 points.
Call Me Waiters
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images
Jason Concepcion: Some months ago — never mind how long ago precisely — with only a paltry 10 field goal attempts per game in my purse, and no respect from my peers, I dreamed of setting out from Cleveland and sailing west in search of a place to call my own. Whenever my mood fell dark under the spell of those grim and gray Rust Belt skies, I would raise my arms to the heavens and pray for some ship to deliver me to new pastures.
I got my wish. I resolved to shoot more and shoot more and shoot again.
Dion Waiters Island Journal, Game 33
The Celtics are on the island, fighting for a playoff spot, just like us.
Men lie, and it was men who created numbers as well as methods of dividing numbers to create shooting percentages, which, by extension, are obviously lies. I’m shooting 35 percent in March. I begin the game 3-of-5; Russell shoots 1-of-7. The air is fragrant with the scent of flowers in bloom, and the spray off the waves feels like kisses upon my upraised arms.
I miss all five of my shots. Some huge bastard — Canadian, they tell me — with hair like an Amazon and rough-spun hands like leather mitts, disrupts my layup, a sure bucket if I ever saw one. I corral the ball, and, spotting the giant again lumbering toward me, fade backward, releasing the shot like a rainbow tracing a perfect arc towa— and he blocks it again. The sun darkens, and the wind screams off the rocks.
I miss both of my shots. Why only two shots? John Donne once wrote that no man is an island, but in every picture I’ve ever seen of him, John Donne is wearing a doily around his neck.
I stunned Steven Adams by passing him the ball with two seconds left on the shot clock. Thunder win. I shoot 4-of-14 and score eight points. Four of my layup attempts smash against the glass like dead birds and never even hit the rim.
I’ve now missed 80 of my last 121 shots, which includes missing 25 of my last 31 3s and 10 of my last 26 free throws. I have 23 assists in 10 games. Men lie, it’s true. Buckets, though, buckets …
GOODNIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, GOBERT
Andrew Sharp: WHERE ARE YOUR SYNERGY STATS NOW, GO-BURT? YOUR FRENCH TRICKS DON’T WORK AGAINST A CHILD OF THE AMAZON.
YOU THOUGHT IT WAS A GAME? WELL, I THOUGHT YOU WERE A RIM PROTECTOR WHO WOULD OBVIOUSLY WIN DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR IF MINUTES DIDN’T MATTER. THEN NENE DUNKED YOU INTO THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE. I GUESS WE ALL LEARNED THE TRUTH TOGETHER.
GOODNIGHT, UTAH. THANKS FOR COMING OUT. SEE YOU NEXT SEASON WHEN YOU GET EVERYONE’S HOPES UP AND THEN DISAPPOINT THEM ALL OVER AGAIN. THE WIZ TRAIN ROLLS ON. FIVE STRAIGHT. HORNETS, GRIZZLIES, KINGS, BLAZERS, AND NOW YOU, UTAH. NENE’S BACK, BEAL IS HITTING, UNCLE DREW IS DRAINING 3S, JOHN WALL IS JOHN WALL. THE SLUMP WAS ALL A TRICK, JUST LIKE THE SPURS. NOW WE’RE BACK.
SEE YOU SOON, CLEVELAND. SLEEP WELL, ATLANTA.
(I’ve been awake for 19 hours and the Wizards just did everything in their power to lose to the Jazz in the final five minutes. On Monday, they blew a 25-point lead to Portland in the second half. Every loss is depressing, but every win is false hope and more Wittman.)
(I’m so, so confused and alone.)
All Eyes Somewhere Else
What’s in a Name?
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Dave Schilling: During last night’s broadcast of the Mavs-Magic game, the question was raised: Why — after 17 memorable, legendary seasons in the NBA — does Dirk Nowitzki not have a recognizable, credible nickname? After MVP seasons, championship glory, and one of the finest color commentary performances by someone not named Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, one of the 20 greatest players in the history of the game is still just called plain-vanilla “Dirk.” To be a great player, you have to have a great nickname: Air Jordan, Magic Johnson, the Mailman, the King, Sir Charles, the Captain, Zeke, the Answer, Larry Legend, Black Mamba, and the 70 nicknames Shaq gave himself (my favorite is “the Big Galactus”). As a player, Dirk Nowitzki belongs in that group, without question. So why doesn’t he have a good nickname?
In an appearance on Conan last year, it was suggested that Dirk’s nickname is “The Dunking Deutschman.” First of all, alliterations are dumb unless you’re a Marvel Comics character, a teen pop star, or January Jones. Second, Dirk’s signature move is NOT a dunk. It’s a one-legged fallaway jumper. So that name is terrible, and it is not recognized within the walls of my cubicle at Grantland HQ. You know who else does not recognize that nickname? The Dallas Morning News, which issued a poll in 2011 begging Mavs fans to find a more suitable option for the greatest player in their team’s history. The winner of this nonscientific Internet contest was “ReDirkulous.” I should not have to tell you how horrid, corny, and embarrassing that is. This is the basketball equivalent of “adorkable,” “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” or “Jai Courtney.” Also, why is the “D” capitalized? That makes it look like the name of a shitty MTV hidden-camera prank show.
Other options in the Dallas Morning News poll included “The Human Mismatch,” “Sergeant Swish,” “The Fadeaway Führer” — wow, Hitler references? We get it, he’s German and so is Hitler. Not sure you want to make that association, Mavs fans — and “White Mamba.” For God’s sake, there’s already a White Mamba and his name is Brian Scalabrine! Let’s all take a hot second to recognize that Brian Scalabrine has a cooler nickname than future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and that even that nickname is derivative of someone else’s cooler nickname!
I don’t want to just complain, so allow me to offer a solution: King Schnitzel, or King Schnit for short. Dirk fans could be called “Schnit Heads.” If that doesn’t catch on, then how about “Untitled”? It worked for Led Zeppelin, Nas, and R. Kelly when they couldn’t think of a good name for an album. Whatever happens, we need to hurry up. A man’s legacy is at stake.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Brett Koremenos: With the Mavericks sputtering on offense late against a resilient Magic team on Wednesday night, Rick Carlisle swapped out Rajon Rondo for Devin Harris. I watched the ensuing possession — which was almost a turnover, despite the substitution — and started to think about how this was going to be more ammo for the crowd that thinks Dallas never should have dealt for the mercurial point guard.
The Mavs won their third straight game — their first winning streak since the fallout between Carlisle and Rondo in February — but my guess is that any critic of the trade who saw the ending of this game will happily point out that Dallas won not because of Rondo, but in spite of him.
I’m no Rondo fanatic. Nor do I think Dallas is some sleeping giant, playing possum before the playoffs. It’s just that, of all the things I believe about basketball, one of the more prominent is the notion that smart people in this sport tend to figure shit out. And in Carlisle and Rondo, the Mavericks have two of the sharpest basketball minds in the league.
I get the critiques of Rondo’s game, and recognize he’s far from an ideal fit for this Dallas club, but I can’t bring myself to write off him or this team, especially before we get to see which version of the statistically superior Playoff Rondo is going to show up in a few weeks. There are glimpses of things — like Rondo’s savvy but unnoticed cut into a wide-open paint on a late Dirk Nowitzki post-up — that make me think it’s just a matter of time before the point guard and the coach can find ways to cover up his weaknesses.
Now, this trade may turn out to be a mistake and Dallas may suffer an early postseason exit. But if I had to wager on it, I’d say it’ll end up having far more to do with Dirk looking not just mortal, but old, too, along with a host of other factors besides Rondo’s deficiencies. To me, betting on smarts is the only intelligent decision.