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.
Bay City Roller
(GIFs by @HeyBelinda unless otherwise noted)
Chris Ryan: One of my secret favorite things about All-Star Weekend, of which I am now a grizzled, two-year veteran, is watching the final few games of the first semester in the hotel bar. Each All-Star host city has that one hotel that serves as the nerve center for the heroes and villains, players, agents, autograph seekers, and, of course, the media. But right before All-Star starts in earnest, it’s just a big hotel with a lot of very tall people walking around, while various networks, websites, and radio stations put the finishing touches on their sets and setups.
No matter what purpose a person is serving in New Orleans this week, there is a better than likely chance that person loves basketball. So if there’s a good game on in the hotel bar, the reaction and engagement are much higher than you’d experience anywhere else. Basketball is the center of the universe here. And if you love basketball, that’s a really cool bar to be in.
Last season, I remember watching Heat-Thunder with a bunch of folks in Houston. I don’t recall a lot of details about that game, to be honest. Not without looking at the recap.
I don’t think I’m going to forget the game we watched last night for a long time, though.
Everyone in that bar last night — a rich kid wearing Melos and the dad who paid for them, on-air TV personalities, Detlef Schrempf, Ron Harper, the bartenders, me — we all got rowdy as the drama played out at the Oracle, between Miami and Golden State. When Steph hit the runner to put the Warriors up two with 14 seconds left, one champion piped up: “I’m an agent, and let me tell you, Curry is going to be the best point guard in the league.”
I’m a basketball blogger, and let me tell you, I wouldn’t have let this guy rep me as I bought a cup of coffee. But the fun part was the talk. Everyone just jawing away. People were talking shit, talking trash, talking hoops.
And when LeBron hit that fadeaway 3-pointer to win the game, people just stopped talking. They were just screaming. I think I even saw Schrempf lose it for a second.
I’m Your Pusher
Kirk Goldsberry: LeBron James hit a great shot last night, but the odds weren’t in his favor. Although the left wing has long been his favorite spot beyond the arc, his efficiency has been down in that area this year. A quick look at his shot chart from this season reveals he’s only making 36 percent of his shots from there.
Really, though, it’s a matter of perspective. A closer look shows that James is actually quite good from that spot.
The Monster at the End of the Dream
(True LeBron Detective GIFs by Jason Gallagher)
Jimmer, As a Verb, Is BACK!
Jared Dubin: Given how Jimmer Fredette’s NBA career has gone to date, it’s easy to forget the phenomenon that was Jimmermania.
Back in 2010 and 2011, when Jimmer was dropping 30-bombs on the reg, it was not uncommon to hear on SportsCenter that an opposing team had gotten “Jimmered.” My brother could often be heard shouting “That’s Jimmer!” whenever a shot was in the air and he thought it would go in, whether Jimmer himself launched the shot or not. (Where some people would scream “That’s money!” or “That’s cash!” he would scream “That’s Jimmer!” The kid is strange. It’s not my fault we’re related.)
Things calmed down once Fredette hit the NBA. For two seasons plus 52 games, Jimmer as a verb was dead. So if we take nothing else from this disaster of a New York Knicks season, let us take that they brought back Jimmer as a verb, because they got straight Jimmered last night.
With the Kings down 11 points in the second quarter, Mike Malone brought The Jimmer (and remember when everyone called him “The Jimmer,” like he was some robot specifically constructed to Jimmer folks?) off the bench to spark his flailing squad. FARTDOG (that’s the Friendly Alliance of Really Terrible Defenders of Opposing Guards, with a tip of the hat to Posting & Toasting’s Seth Rosenthal) parted the lane like the Red Sea; The Jimmer walked to the hoop for a layup, and the rest was history. Two transition 3s, a runner, and another 3 later, The Jimmer had 13 points in four minutes.
He did it again in the fourth quarter, where he nailed three 3s, the last of which pulled the Kings within two points in time for Rudy Gay’s subsequent 16-footer to send the game into OT, where Sacramento pulled out the victory. He was basically wide open on all three, like the Knicks didn’t even know he was The Jimmer.
Add it all up and The Jimmer finished with 24 points, becoming the fifth player this season to post a career high in single-game points against the Knicks. That’s what we called getting Jimmered.
How Do the Kings Feel About the Jimmer?
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netw3rk: Distilling a series of events — like a basketball game, or a string of basketball games — down to a single, emblematic image is inherently unfair, and terribly difficult. A GIF or a Vine won’t tell you the whole story, can’t show you all the defensive breakdowns, the missed shots, the squandered possessions. So, let me say I realize the attached Vine is terribly unfair to Ray Felton, who, OK, was not at all good last night versus the Kings, but who was in no way alone in that regard. He was 3-of-11, with eight points, 12 assists, and three turnovers, the last of which — committed in OT — became a Derrick Williams dunk that gave Sacramento a five-point, ultimately insurmountable lead. Felton got caught on innumerable screens, somehow constantly a foot behind his man, waving his tiny T. rex arms like a man who just missed his bus.
But it was not all Ray’s fault.
Certainly he was aided and abetted by Mike Woodson, who, at this point, exists as a kind of Schrödinger’s coach, neither truly employed nor realistically close to being fired. Woody decided that overtime was the moment to keep it one-hunnit with a truly inexplicable Chandler–Jeremy Tyler–Amar’e-Melo-Felton quadruple-big lineup. It didn’t help that Jimmer Fredette decided that nothing’s equivalent to the New York state of mind, a state of mind best described as “leave Jimmer open,” dropping a Glens Falls Stand Up career-high 24 points and becoming the fifth player THIS SEASON (note: it’s February) to notch a career-high against the Knicks, joining Belinelli, Born Ready Stephenson, Evan Turner, and Brandon Knight in the pantheon of Knicks shame.
It’s a team game, the lineups are chosen by the coach, the players and the coach are selected by the front office, and the executives are hired by the owner. It’s not just Ray. OK.
That being said:
LOOK AT MY MAN RAY FELTON FRESH OFF A CRUCIAL OT TURNOVER, YAWNING LIKE HE’S SITTING IN FRONT OF THE TV, WATCHING FOOTBALL ON THANKSGIVING EVENING WITH TRYPTOPHAN AND GRAVY RUNNING THROUGH HIS VEINS INSTEAD OF PLAYING IN A MUST-WIN GAME (Melo’s words) AGAINST A BELOW-.500 OPPONENT. LOOK. THIS IS THE KNICKS’ SEASON IN SIX SECONDS. THIS IS #KNICKSTAPE.
Is This Even Basketball?
Why Does This Keep Happening?
Andrew Sharp: Sometimes I wish I didn’t even have League Pass, so I could live my life in peace, without Randy Wittman Fourth-Quarter Collapses hijacking two nights of every single week. BUT NOPE.
Pierre Is a Dead Man. Miss Him. Miss Him! MISS HIM!
Jason Gallagher: The public has been told a lie.
Two nights ago we were informed of an “injury” suffered by our beloved/satanic Pierre the Pelican, and that he would require emergency surgery on his beak. A photo was later tweeted of Pierre in a seemingly optimistic mood about his recovery, as signified by the two thumbs up. Why was he so happy immediately after such a horrific procedure? Was it because his recovery was going smoother than expected, or was it because the real Pierre is long gone?!
Last night, after hours and hours of waiting, we were finally shown Pierre’s surgically healed face. Reactions varied from celebration to confusion, but ultimately the public settled on acceptance that this is Pierre the Pelican. I, for one, refuse to play along.
There are too many dirty clues left behind by the New Orleans Pelicans organization. For one, Pierre has new eyes. In Pierre’s “road to recovery” video, Pierre’s beak is wrapped in medical gauze, yet his eyes (though completely different) remain exposed. I’m no fool. These new eyes are wider and much happier than his old soul-sucking ones. If they had been worked on (which they had), it would be medically impossible to have them exposed that quickly after surgery. Then there’s the Mohawk, which used to be primarily blue and is now red? I was unaware that hair color changed during surgery. Were you? Lastly, there’s the newly plush skin. In the past, Pierre’s skin was a lighter, paler shade of brown that was both unappealing and freakish. Now, it’s darker and more appealing to the eyes, like the inside of a North Face jacket. I’m no doctor, but I’m fairly certain skin doesn’t just magically turn to fleece after surgery.
We’ve been spoon-fed this vicious lie. Pierre is dead and the Pelicans killed him. And if he’s not dead (demons don’t die), then he must be locked away in the dungeons of Smoothie King Arena, rotting his satanic, bloodstained life away. I refuse to accept this new Disney character of an impostor. I want the truth. Where is the REAL Pierre the Pelican?
Danny Chau: Alec Burks has amassed 50 points in the last two nights with the Jazz. He came off the bench for both of those games, against the Lakers and Sixers, and 28 of those 50 points have come in the fourth quarter. Burks isn’t likely to be the first (or second, or third) player who comes to mind when you think of Utah’s expansive collection of young talent, but he might put on a better individual show than anyone else on the team.
After a particularly strong drive last night, Jazz play-by-play man Craig Bolerjack asked if there’s anyone in the league who goes to the rim as strongly as Burks does. He might have meant that rhetorically. I couldn’t tell; neither could Matt Harpring, who paused and stammered for a bit to let what had just been said sink in. A beat later, Bolerjack quickly answered his own question by mentioning LeBron. Good save, sort of.
Stylistic comparisons to Dwyane Wade have trickled in since Burks’s college days at Colorado, and it’s a good reference point when trying to describe his style of attack. But he isn’t built like Wade — he’s leaner, more beanstalkish — nor is he as explosive. Yet his body type is what makes his daring drives a spectacle. The hanging reverse layup might be as much of a hallmark of great swingmen as the fadeaway jumper, and Burks has made several beauties this season. He isn’t the strongest slasher in the league, but no one drives to the basket looking like he might end up snapping his own back in half quite like Burks.
Bolerjack has taken to calling Burks the “Magic Man.” It’s an awful nickname without much imagination or context. But, wait, if this catches on and leads to a bunch of highlight mixes of Burks layups set to Heart, I reserve the right to change my opinion.
Thank You for Coaching
Brett Koremenos: NBA head coaches can often outsmart themselves. What separates the elite from the average chump is a relatively simple concept: How often do they put their players in positions to be successful?
Constantly dealing with oddball personnel, Rick Carlisle has become a master at tailoring his game-to-game approach (and overall system) to accentuate his players’ strengths. When you have Dirk Nowitzki, a Swiss Army knife of offensive awesomeness, it’s not hard to look like you know what you’re doing. In a typical Dallas game, the big German can be seen doing a variety of things, from picking-and-popping to coming off screens. But most of the time on offense, Nowitzki is posting up. According to data from Synergy Sports, he attacks from this action just over eight times per game, and whether he’s getting offense for himself or someone else, Nowitzki is also very, very good at creating chances.
But in matching up against archnemesis David West last night, it was a quiet case of the unstoppable force meeting the (somewhat literally) immovable object. The physical Pacers forward holds opponents to a meager .688 points per possession when covering them in the post. Faced with this dilemma, Carlisle had two choices — let Nowitzki fight a losing battle versus a stronger opponent or shift his game plan. He chose the latter, electing to take Nowitzki post-ups almost completely out of his playbook.
Nowitzki posted up just a handful of times last night (three by my count), only one of which — a short clock situation — was against West. The rest of the time, Carlisle put his burly but not-so-nimble opponent on the move. Whether it was coming off an inverted pin-down (where a guard screens for him to get open), lots of pick-and-rolls, or tricky misdirection sets involving two actions — like the game’s second play, where Nowitzki set a screen on the ball on one side of the court and then sprinted off a double screen on the opposite side — it was clear that Carlisle wasn’t going to play into Indiana’s strengths.
The Blake Griffin Effect
Sharp: Here’s the thing: We’ve all made this mistake before. You have those regular-season nights when the Clippers look incredible and you start wondering. Maybe they can do it this year? Maybe this team is really for real now? Then it all falls apart against the Grizzlies, and you feel like an idiot for ever believing in the first place.
But here’s the other thing: Vinny Del Negro was always an integral part of those collapses, and he’s gone now. That alone makes the Clips harder to dismiss.
The other other thing: BLAKE. He fell apart the past two springs, but this feels like a completely different player. He was playing well two months ago, but once Chris Paul went down, he hit a whole other level, including 13-of-21 for 36 and 10 last night, roasting LaMarcus Aldridge. It’s the year of “Stop Saying Blake Griffin’s Overrated” stories, but only because it’s finally true.
You can throw it to him down low, clear out, and he’ll score now. He won’t settle for clanked jumpers, or do three spin moves into an awkward shot over two defenders, or bull-rush the rim and bitch about it when he doesn’t get the whistle. Blake Griffin has real offensive moves now, and he’s using them, and he’s making his free throws, and the only player who’s had a better two months in 2014 is Kevin Durant.
For a team that’s always broken down in the playoffs, when games slow down and half-court offense matters twice as much, this is an important development. This version of Blake Griffin gives them a solution to the problem that’s always ruined them. Add in Evil Chris Paul, Doc Rivers on the sideline, and improved DeAndre Jordan (he’s averaging twice as many rebounds per game as he did last year), and it’s hard to ignore the potential, even if there are still questions.
The Blazers game was phenomenal last night, in part because Portland’s just as impressive. These teams had 40 lead changes and 18 ties, and nobody led by more than six points in the second half. It was the kind of game where everyone on the floor was so good and playing so well, you wished they could play eight quarters.
But when it was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about how good Blake looked. There’s a chance that four months from now we’ll look back at that Chris Paul injury and say it allowed Blake Griffin just enough space to come into his own and become more dominant than ever, ultimately making the Clippers the best team in the West once CP3 came back.
I told myself not to take this team seriously this year, I promised myself I wouldn’t get sucked in during the regular season, but here we are. Chris Paul has a real second superstar. The Thunder have gotta be the favorites right now, but watch out for the Clippers. Or just watch Clippers games. Blake will make you wonder.