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.
Top of the Wish List
Chris Ryan: Since November 23, Portland has played in three of the season’s best games: the Golden State shove-fest, Sunday’s heavyweight title fight against Indiana, and last night’s masterpiece of a regular-season showdown against Oklahoma City. OMG PORTLAND AND OKC SHOULD PLAY IN THE PLAYOFFS is probably getting a little dull, just like OMG OKC AND THE WARRIORS SHOULD PLAY IN THE PLAYOFFS, but come on. It’s Christmas, we’ve been good, and we want what we want. Besides, there was something about this Thunder-Blazers game that felt so right. It was just a drag race of stupendous, young, mostly homegrown talent. And Kendrick Perkins. You had one of the point-guard battles of the year happening, with Russ and Dame, and from that faceoff you got one of the best moments of the night:
At some point, I believe in the third quarter, Westbrook, while being guarded by Lillard, started getting hot. Blazers coach Terry Stotts had Wes Matthews switch onto Westbrook, and this — like the rising of the sun, the sound of birds chirping, and the prospect of anyone touching his drum set — pissed Russell off. He started barking on Dame, on Stotts, on Matthews, on Carrie Brownstein, on everyone. And you know what happened? Damian Lillard clapped back. It was just an awesome back-and-forth, where little tactical switches actually revealed themselves in the drama taking place on the court. So, too bad, we’re going to say it: WE WANT A SEVEN-GAME SERIES BETWEEN THESE TWO.
It’s Getting Hard Not to Fall in Love With These Guys
Matthews on Batum's kill-shot three: "I was scared he wasn't going to shoot it." * Batum sprays aerosol deodorant at him from next locker *
— Ben Golliver (@blazersedge) December 5, 2013
Blazers locker room tonight: Lillard sings NEXT's "Too Close" in falsetto Aldridge: "Sounds like a little girl getting beat up by a dog"
— Beckley Mason (@BeckleyMason) December 5, 2013
Portland Has the Regular-Season Belt Now, BTW
Durant vs. Kid
Jason Gallagher: What makes a home-court advantage especially advantageous isn’t the deafening roar of the crown or the matching T-shirts sponsored by your local bank. No, it’s the brave men and women who are close enough to the court to get into their opponents’ heads and wreak all sorts of crazy havoc. The bearded gentleman in the above video is a prime example of the advantage a home court can bring.
Here’s the transcript if you can’t quite make out the dialogue.
“Oh, you got all ball, Kevin?”
“Go back to Texas.”
Bombs dropped. Some say, when Durant looked into the crowed, he responded with a nasty, “Shut up.” It’s debatable, but I’d be willing to bet that he did say it, mostly due to the barrage of “YOU SHUT UP”s aimed directly at him as he walked away. That’s fandom right there. This little redheaded kid knows it.
KD IS NOT NICE, CHAPTER IVXXX
That Could Have Gone Better
netw3rk: David Stern and the NBA’s ever-widening global outreach suffered an unexpected reverse last night when the Mexico City arena hosting the Spurs and the Timberwolves — the first NBA regular-season game in Mexico since 1997 — began to fill up with smoke. Players continued warming up, despite the increasingly noxious air and troubling lack of power in part of the arena, but eventually sense — probably the existential sense that human life should be preserved — took hold, and players were ushered from the building. San Antonio Express-News reporter Jeff McDonald’s tweets from inside Mexico City Arena, starting at about 8:30 local time, grew increasingly alarming to read, until McDonald finally broke the tension with a well-timed J.R. Smith hot-boxing-the-chronic joke. The source of the smoke is thought to be a fire in one of the arena’s generators.
“I thought they were practicing fireworks,” said the ever-perceptive Sean Elliott. “A lot of teams do that before introductions. But then the smoke just kept creeping and it wasn’t white smoke. It was like a brown dark smoke and it started taking over the whole court. It was surprising.” Yes, it was! Fire is so annoying the way it just happens unexpectedly sometimes.
Even though packing an arena that is perhaps partially on fire — and definitely filled with mustard-colored smoke — with thousands of people is an evidently terrible idea, it took about an hour until the league officially called off the game, because, hey, Stern didn’t fly all the way out here for nothing. The cancellation certainly sucks for the expected sell-out crowd, although not suffering from smoke inhalation seems a pretty decent trade-off. The game will played at a date to be determined in Minneapolis, presumably under less life-threatening circumstances.
Shame of the West
Kirk Goldsberry: It was the quintessential Clippers play, drawn up by DeAndre Jordan and Doc Rivers during a fourth-quarter timeout. The result was an impressive late-game dunk at an important moment, but it was too little, too late. The Clippers embarrassed the entire Western half of the United States by losing to an Eastern Conference team (not named Miami or Indiana) last night in Atlanta. However, losing to the Hawks may not be something to be ashamed of much longer. Coach Mike Budenholzer has the team playing really well; they may end up with the third-best record in the East.
(All GIFs by @HeyBelinda, unless otherwise noted.)
Brett Koremenos: Entering his third year in the league, Kyrie Irving and an influx of new faces were supposed to raise the Cavs from the ashes and put the team back in the playoffs for the first time in the post–LeBron James era. But instead of ascending to true superstar heights, Irving has regressed. His numbers are down in every relevant statistical category and too often his decision-making with the ball has resembled that of J.R. Smith. It’s fair to wonder just exactly how good Irving is. If he can’t elevate a franchise single-handedly, is it time to strip him of his “next big thing” label?
It certainly is convenient to do such a thing given the circumstances, but it’s forgetting one thing: Irving is still really freakin’ good for a 21-year-old NBA player.
That above play last night against the Nuggets — a same-hand split of a pick-and-roll coverage into an over-the-shoulder pass to a trailing big for a layup — is one that only a handful of players in the league have the skills to make. The problem for Irving is that it’s hard for him to consistently flash such brilliance given the chaos around him.
Cleveland replaced his first head coach, Byron Scott, with the underwhelming Mike Brown this summer. As in his first stint with the Cavs and later with the Lakers, Brown has continued to use the most unimaginative and mind-numbing offensive schemes in league. His sets and concepts don’t do much to augment the talent on hand. And speaking of the talent currently around Irving … yikes.
The starting lineup, which has been a revolving door all season, now includes two borderline NBA rotation players in C.J. Miles (who, in fairness, is currently blowing past his uninspiring career norms) and Alonzo Gee, the ghost of Andrew Bynum, and the bland Tristan Thompson. Anderson Varejao, arguably Irving’s best running mate, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds against Denver, is now inexplicably coming off the bench despite being an ideal pairing for the pick-and-roll point maestro. The rest of that bench, aside from productive but trigger-happy Jarrett Jack, isn’t anything to write home about. Now, Irving isn’t blame-free in all this; some unsightly habits have creeped into his game. But it’s hard to blame him for developing ugly tendencies when his coaching staffs and teammates have been either substandard or ill-suited to complement his game.
Irving may not be James, or even Chris Paul for that matter, but he’s still one of the league’s most electric talents. It’s just been hard to see it because of the glaring power shortage in Cleveland.
Greek Freak Alert
Half-Man, Half–Role Player
Jared Dubin: If you had told me 10 years ago that Vince Carter — who was at the time sulking his way out of Toronto — would one day seamlessly make the transition from overpaid, underperforming superstar to vital, willing role player, I would have bet my life that you were on some kind of crazy future-drugs you got from Rob Ford, who at the time was just a second-term city councilman. I mean … if you told me that three years ago when Vince was hoisting up bricks in Phoenix, there’s a snowball’s chance in hell I would have believed you.
Shockingly, the man they once called Half-Man, Half-Amazing has dialed down the hero act and accepted his fate as an off-the-bench fill-in-the-blanks guy for a Dallas team that is back in the thick of the playoff race after a year on the outside looking in. Vince himself isn’t playing as well as he had the last two seasons (he’s shooting 37 percent from the field and 34 percent from 3 this season, compared with 43 percent and 39 percent across his first two years as a Mav), but last night against the Pellies he turned back the clock and looked like Solid Role Player Vince again.
He got out in transition; he tipped in a miss with his left hand; he broke out the “jab-step before splashing a 3 in your eye” routine (twice!); he deftly attacked closeouts with pump fakes and dribble drives; he snaggled five rebounds (two offensive); he dished out four assists, including one particularly pretty no-look pass after splitting a double-team in the post; and he even put in some solid defensive possessions to boot. He didn’t try to take over the game, nor would he likely have been able to do so at his advanced age. He just knew his role, shut his mouth, and played well. And he helped his team secure another victory.
Welcome to the Andre Drummond Era
Andrew Sharp: Andre Drummond had a lot of hype coming into this year. He was supposed to turn into a dominant big man and franchise player for the Pistons, and Detroit was expected to go from a 10th seed to a real, live playoff team. As I said back in October, “He is Biggie before Ready to Die. He is Francis Ford Coppola in 1972 and this season is his Godfather. There will be bodies everywhere when he’s finished.”
AND IT’S HAPPENING.
He’s tied for second in the NBA in rebounding; he’s averaging five offensive boards a game, which is easily best in the NBA; he leads the NBA in field goal percentage; and he’s been every bit the force of nature we were hoping for all along.
Two important background notes:
1. Drummond was one-half of the greatest love story of the new millennium, but that has since ended, and it’s OK. We’re all gonna be OK. What’s important is that it happened in the first place.
2. The Pistons started the year at 2-5, and for a second it looked like the America’s Team experiment had failed and the dream was dead. Since then, they’re 7-5, they beat Miami on Sunday, and now they’re a game away from .500, which basically makes them royalty in the Eastern Conference. God bless America.
And then there’s also the obvious caveat in any Andre Drummond celebration: He’s still shooting 37 percent from the free throw line.
That’s the biggest reason he’s not one of the two or three most dominant big men in basketball right now. But the past few nights — three wins in which Drummond averaged 21 points, 18.7 rebounds, two blocks, and three steals — amounted to everyone’s notice that he’s not far off.
For now, Drummond personifies this whole Pistons team. Despite the unfair athleticism and talent that can match up with anybody in the league, there are some gigantic weaknesses (Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith shot 10-for-35 combined against the Bucks last night) that make it hard to get too excited just yet.
But that’s what makes them great. Everything that makes it irresponsible to believe in the Pistons makes it twice as much fun when it actually works. Who needs free throws when you’ve got DUNKS?
When Drummond plays like this, all the Detroit weaknesses start to look irrelevant.
For now we know this: The Pistons are a playoff team, Drummond will be leading the NBA in rebounding by the end of the year, he’s only going to get better as a scorer, and this week has been one long reminder that we’re nearing the point where we stop talking about what Andre Drummond might do one day and start gawking at what he’s doing.