NBA Shootaround: Small Thing to a Giant

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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.

Kevin Love Is Ready for His Close-up

San Antonio Spurs v Cleveland CavaliersDavid Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Chris Ryan: Here is a trollgaze power ranking of things that are wrong with the Cavs, in order of relevance to last night’s home loss to the Spurs:

7. Does LeBron have a liftoff problem?

6. Does Kyrie have a sharing problem?

5. Does Dion have a sitting problem?

4. Does LeBron have a minutes problem?

3. Does David Blatt have a running his huddle problem?

2. Joe Harris?

1. Does Kevin Love have a being-the-third-dude-in-the–Big Three problem?

Because he sure is playing like the third dude.

The Spurs cause teams problems. They exploit, torment, nip, and cut. So if Love was going to have a particularly bad night, it’s no surprise it came against San Antonio. But there was something a little eyebrow-raising about Love’s performance. There were plays like this on offense:

And the defensive work he put in prompted tweets like this:

It looked like he and Anderson Varejao were playing different sports. While the Brazilian was slashing, running the floor, and throwing himself around with abandon, Love looked like he was playing with concrete in his sneakers.

When Zach Lowe made his case for Cleveland as title contenders, he painted a tantalizing picture of how Love’s post prowess, basketball smarts, and deadly outside shooting could open up driving lanes for Cavs slashers. Lowe included some examples of past T-Wolves plays that might look good to Cleveland coach David Blatt this season. I watched those plays again last night, after the Spurs game. There was a certain level of attention Love’s teammates in Minnesota were paying to him, possibly to their detriment. I always like to think of great NBA players like movie stars — they tell you where to look when they are onscreen. When he was on Minnesota, Love was definitely a movie star.

The footage from last night’s loss — in which Love put up 10 points and grabbed 11 boards — looked like it was directed by a totally different filmmaker than the one who made those Minnesota clips. Love is like a bit player out there right now — just floating around the outer edges of the frame. Kyrie matters, Dion matters, and, of course, LeBron matters the most. But if the Cavs are going to be who we thought they were, Blatt needs to get his impending free-agent power forward some close-ups.

Taylor, How Was That Last Cavs Play Supposed to Go?

Moon Pie Sonata

Danny Chau: Boris Diaw flows. Like Lizst, like water. Last night, against the Cavs, he was the best player on the winning team. He finished with a 19-6-7-3-1 stat line, and did it as only Diaw can. Most players use hesitation dribbles to jar the defender; the staccato is aimed to break the opponent’s focus for a split second with an unexpected shift. Diaw’s changes in motion are incidental. He’s like a hippie out there, one with the environment, interacting with every aspect of it through free-form interpretive dance. A pump fake and an overhead pass don’t necessarily share the same antecedents, but when you watch Diaw do both, on the same play, in the same beat, the two motions blur and become a chicken-or-the-egg question — how does one exist without the other?

Diaw has always been amorphous — the Suns let him play point center before his 23rd birthday. He was slim then, asked to bang around with bodies much bigger than his. Being forced to play “out of position” expanded his game, but also gave him a built-in excuse to indulge his epicurean impulses. He willfully got fat, but for years was unable to reconcile his two loves. Even counting that first season in Phoenix, you can argue that he didn’t discover his best self until silver and black draped his full figure. He’s always been amorphous, sure, but the true wonder of his game hatched once he found a coach who embraced his play as a blob.

All of this leads me to a question that I’ve pondered for a while, and I’m opening this to the floor: Beyond Shaq, is there another NBA player whose abilities clearly changed for the better once he got fat?1 I think you can make a decent argument that, like Shaq, Diaw’s best form came nearly a decade after his athletic peak. I guess what I’m also trying to say is, there’s still hope for all of us.

“How Do You Grow a Beard?”

Shea Serrano: The Spurs won last night. And that’s fine. That’s a thing they’ve done more than 1,000 times since Tim Duncan became a Spur in 1997, so I’m used to it. So that’s not what this is. What this is is a thing about the new H-E-B commercials that were released earlier this week. The ads star the Spurs.

I wrote about the history of the Spurs’ H-E-B commercials in March. The short version: H-E-B is a grocery chain in San Antonio. For a little more than a decade, it has used Spurs players (and even the Coyote and Pop, if you can believe that) to help sell brisket and milk. The commercials have achieved this neat little cultlike status in San Antonio, and they have begun to earn appreciation outside of the city. They’re surprisingly silly and funny, in as much as a commercial about laundry can be funny.

Over the years, as the Spurs roster has evolved, so, too, has the lineup of players in the commercials. The current group — Tim, Tony, Manu, Kawhi, and Patty — is the strongest, most likable ensemble yet. Timmy is (duh) the straight man, the stately grown-up who Tony and Manu bounce their goofiness off of. Kawhi is the young one, and 100 percent the funniest person of the group. And Patty (it would appear) is the whatever-you-need piece, serving as either the odd man out or another person for Tony and Manu to influence into silliness.

I love the Spurs so much. And I kind of might love them in these commercials more than a win over Cleveland in June, which is what’s going to happen in seven months, FYI.

The NBA Shootaround Museum of Fine Art

kawhi-hand-(1)Louisa Thomas



Let’s Get Weird: Nets-Bucks Edition

Corban Goble: Though Jason Kidd did clutch a mini Dasani bottle at his hip during the third overtime of the Bucks-Nets game, Spillgate redux would not have been the strangest thing to happen at Barclays Center last night. After all, this was a game during which I saw a scoring play completed by two dudes named “Jared.” Here are some other notable moments:

First OT
Brandon Knight jumped into a passing lane with the entire court ahead of him and the score tied 105-105. He sprinted to the other end with plenty of time, only to completely chunk a bunny, much to the dismay of his fellow Deer.

(Video by Jason Gallagher)

Second OT
Completely upending a nightmare narrative, Knight got his revenge with a late, contested 3 to tie the game. Joe Jesus got a look, but clanged it.

Third OT
Ersan Ilyasova started the third extra period by hitting a floater without his feet leaving the ground. The Nets did not have an answer for Khris Middleton. Knight hit two free throws to seal it.

“You know J. Kidd wasn’t going to come in here and lose after all that booing!” an usher/Kidd apologist hollered as I left. The court was bone-dry.

Fresh to Death


Bob Voulgaris: One thing that has always bothered me is when teams don’t go to backups in double and triple overtime. A fresh backup versus a much better but tired starter seems like the right move to me. There was one game that especially stood out, a triple-overtime 2011 Western Conference semifinal game between the Thunder and the Grizzlies.

By the end of the game, the Memphis bigs couldn’t even move up and down the court anymore, but then–Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins refused to give Darrell Arthur any minutes.

Last night, Jason Kidd went with a fresh bench and it paid off. It would be interesting to see if he would have the same trust in a playoff game.

Late Nights in Brooklyn, Am I Right, Taylor?

Kobe Strikes Oil

Kirk Goldsberry: Most nights, it’s safe to make the jokes about all the shots and the record chasing, but last night Kobe reminded us why he is a legend. Just when it looked like another disappointing loss, Kobe willed his team to an improbable comeback win on the road. The rally began with 1:45 left in the fourth quarter, with the Lakers down 91-86. Bryant outwitted Trevor Ariza and drained a monster 20-foot and-1 jumper, cutting the lead to two. The basket sparked a crazy 12-1 run and helped the Lakers win their second game in a row. The Lakers may be 3-9, but Nick Young is undefeated. 

Half Amazing Night

Memphis Grizzlies v  Toronto RaptorsRon Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

Jared Dubin: This might have been a game between two of the best teams in the league, and it featured some Marc Gasol–Mike Conley pick-and-roll magic and some folk-song-worthy step-back jumpers by Kyle Lowry, but the night belonged to Vince Carter, even if the game didn’t.

Carter sulked and dogged his way out of T-Dot almost a decade ago (in fairness, the Raps did mismanage the hell out of the roster around him, but still), and he’s been vociferously booed each and every time he’s returned since.

But in this, the team’s 20th season, the Raps decided enough was enough and paid homage to one of the best players in their history, in town for the first time as a Grizzlie (Grizzly? Grizzle? Grizz and Dot Com?). During a first-quarter stoppage, the Air Canada Centre video board showed clips of dunks, dunks, and more dunks, a fitting tribute to the former Raptors star.

It brought Carter to tears.

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How Did He Get the Name “No Heart”?

Steve McPherson: It’s only fitting that on the 10th anniversary of the Malice at the Palace, Detroit should play a butt-ugly game in Auburn Hills. The Pistons combined with the Suns to shoot 27.5 percent from 3-point range in a game that Phoenix won 88-86 after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s desperation 3-pointer didn’t go. According to Dr. Markieff Morris, that was due to a disorder even more rare than situs invertus (which is something that affects Randy Foye, and means that all of his internal organs are on the opposite side of his body — I shit you not):

Morris MD’s diagnosis began early on when he hit Eric Bledsoe on a beautiful cut off a give-and-go, leaving Caldwell-Pope burned so badly that all he could do was messily foul Bledsoe and send him to the line.

Then, in the second quarter, Morris drew a charge on Caldwell-Pope that apparently confirmed his suspicions. Doctor-patient confidentiality means we can’t know what they said to each other here, but I’m fairly certain Morris is saying, “Sir, I’m concerned by the hollow sound your chest made when you bounced off me just then, and I think you should see a cardiovascular specialist.”

Morris’s accomplishments in medical science (including cloning himself) are well known, but with only two other known cases of cardia in absentia, there just isn’t enough precedent for him to recommend a course of treatment. The best option is hospice, a duty for which the Detroit Pistons are well-suited.

Solomon Hill: Born Ready 2.0

Charlotte Hornets v Indiana PacersRon Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Jason Gallagher: My hopes were crazy high as I tuned in to Lance Stephenson’s return to Indy — maybe too high. I was envisioning fireworks made of gunpowder and shenanigans, raining down in a spectacular homecoming. I mean, this is where he discovered the wind beneath his wings and helped uncover Indiana’s greatest natural resources — Birdface.

I was expecting Lance to hit somewhere between four and six banked 3-pointers, and to lick something he’s not supposed to.

Unfortunately, Lance didn’t feel like performing last night. In fact, he didn’t do anything. He went for 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting, while letting Roy Hibbert, one of his 35 mortal enemies, put up 18 and 11. All of this and ZERO shenanigans. Dafuq, Lance? You mean to tell me I just watched a Pacers-Hornets game for nothing — or worse, for basketball reasons?

Lucky for me, heroes emerge from the unlikeliest of places. Solomon Hill’s game wasn’t glamorous — six points on 3-of-8 shooting. But from the ashes of a Rodney Stuckey missed jumper, Hill rose with an over-the-shoulder putback to deliver one of the wackiest game winners of the year.

Solomon Hill is a hero for saving us from this game. Salute.

Wiggins Watch

New York Knicks v Minnesota TimberwolvesDavid Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Ryan O’Hanlon: If you didn’t watch the Knicks-Wolves game last night, go buy one of those noise-canceling machines, turn the setting to “babbling brook,” sit in a dimly lit room for three hours, and you’ll be all set. But Andrew Wiggins did play — and that seems more important than anything else from a game that featured this phrase: “And a season-high eight points for Travis Wear tonight.”

Here’s all you need to know about Wiggins’s first quarter (and his third quarter and his fourth quarter):

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He scored all of his points on a 4-for-6 clip in the second quarter, otherwise going 0-for-7. For 12 minutes, though, it looked like the no. 1 pick might go off. He didn’t.

While there was a brief stretch when Minnesota force-fed him (control+F “right elbow”), most of those points came near effortlessly. With the game humming along at the lowest frequency you’d still consider professional basketball, Wiggins dialed into the lethargy and exploited it for a cheap dozen. While going 4-for-13 with five turnovers isn’t quite the kind of world-conquering output expected from a no. 1 pick, one great quarter’s just enough to rise above the background noise.

Notes on a Night With the Wizards

The Washington Wizards play the Dallas MavericksJohn McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Andrew Sharp: Five notes from the Wizards-Mavs game last night.

1. Wednesday was my first trip to a Wiz game this year. Does Wale come to every game? I liked how he rotated between three courtside seats through various parts of the game. That’s my creative liasion. You may see this and sneer, “Wale is a lifelong B-lister who’s impossible to rep with a straight face and has never once been taken seriously by the mainstream.” But then again, you just described the Wizards for the past 40 years. Wale is perfect. We’re all going to the top together.

2. Nene hasn’t looked good all year. He’s been bad on offense and horrible on defense. Randy Wittman has actually been decent this season, but if the Nene struggles continue, it’ll be interesting to see how long it takes Wittman to realize Kris Humphries should be starting, with Nene anchoring the second unit. Likewise, let’s go ahead and never put Kevin Seraphin on the court again. Where is Grizzly Blair when you need him?


(That was a direct transmission from my heart last night.)

4. Last night was failure that still felt like success. John Wall and Beal reminded everyone why they’re so much fun, Beal looked healthy, Otto Porter and Paul Pierce hit big shots, and I spent the entire game bracing for a blowout that never came. The Wizards may not have won, but last year this would’ve been a 15- or 20-point loss. I walked out Wednesday thinking this team can hang with anyone, knowing their two best players are only getting better. Not bad. Plus …


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5. Now it’s time for the Cavs on Friday. You ready? Let’s do it.

Filed Under: NBA, NBA Shootaround, Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Dion Waiters, David Blatt, Chris Ryan, Danny Chau, Haralabos Voulgaris, Steve McPherson, Corban Goble, Jared Dubin, Kirk Goldsberry, Boris Diaw, Andrew Wiggins, Kobe Bryant, Andrew Sharp