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.
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Jason Concepcion: History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. It’s been observed that a central theme of LeBron James’s career — both as a basketball player and businessman — is the idea of team as family. J.R. Moehringer, in a 2010 interview with Kevin Arnovitz, discussing his GQ profile of a post-Decision LeBron, said of James:
This really comes across when you watch the More Than a Game documentary about LeBron and the Akron Fab Five. He thrives, he’s happiest, he does his best, when he is surrounded by friends. He just didn’t feel like that was happening in Cleveland.
Pat Riley understood this and crafted his pitch during that crazy summer to highlight the Heat’s familial bonhomie — the team as a sun-warmed cocoon within which personal aspirations could safely develop.
“I think the one thing we tried to get across as an organization, when we met with all of the free agents, is I introduced Andy [Elisburg, assistant GM] and Nick [Arison, VP basketball operations], Micky [Arison, Heat owner], I didn’t introduce myself. Coach and Alonzo [Mourning] was there. And I spoke about how long they’ve been with us and what we’re about,” Riley said after the Heat’s welcome party in the AA Arena. … “And I think (LeBron) understood that this is a group. This really is stability and it’s about a family.”
And it worked. Of course, nearly five years on, we know how things have turned out. Even so, reading Moehringer’s lead in that 2010 GQ profile today generates a similar buzz of “Oh, wow” recognition that I felt when Kevin Spacey’s limp disappeared at the end of The Usual Suspects. Moehringer wrote: “He can imagine, he says, playing for Cleveland again one day.”
So, last night was not just the second meeting of the season between the Cavaliers and the Heat. It was a family reunion. One that LeBron’s new-old family dominated, from pistol to finish line. Since David Blatt took the team bowling, the Cavs have gone 14-1, with a league-leading plus-12.3 net rating over that time. That upswing is definitely more related to James coming back after a two-week rest and the addition of Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert than it is about the bowling.
Still, it’s a neat little rhyme, isn’t it? The Cavs taking off, becoming the offensive force that everyone expected, after a day out bonding and doing bro stuff together? During the third quarter against the Heat, before being forced out with an eye injury, Kevin Love fell down after rebounding his own miss. LeBron rushed over to help Love up, even though Mozgov already had him to his feet.
That rhymes too.
Fifty Shades of Green
Danny Chau: With about 38 seconds left in the Hawks-Celtics game, Brad Stevens called a beautiful play out of a timeout for Jared Sullinger with the Celtics down one. Avery Bradley moved from east to west down the baseline to draw Jeff Teague with him while Marcus Smart darted toward the top of the free throw circle to draw the attention of DeMarre Carroll and Kyle Korver, which freed up Evan Turner at the top of the key. If Tayshaun Prince had wanted to, he could’ve inbounded the ball to Turner for an open 3, but Turner had been 1-for-12 from long range in the eight games before last night, so, LOL, nope. Instead, with the floor spaced kind of like a parallelogram, and with Sullinger’s ass completely eclipsing Al Horford behind him, Prince lobbed the ball right under the basket to Sully, who predictably missed the easiest bucket of the night.
Honestly, that’s what Stevens gets for trying to outsmart the Hawks. If you’re a team like the Celtics, you don’t beat Atlanta with wit.
About 30 seconds later, he would rectify his error with the game on the line. Look, the play call was never in doubt. If you’re the Celtics, and you’re down one against the best team in the East with 6.4 seconds to go, there’s only one play you’re considering. You don’t put lipstick on a pig, and you don’t fight fire with fire. If your goal is to overcome the tyranny of beauty, you burrow inside and claw your way through from within.
You call for an isolation play. You call it for Evan Turner. You let him throw up a floater over three defenders. And you happily take whatever that yields. In a game like this, wherein the victor shot 32.3 percent from the field, of course the Villain would become the hero.
Enjoy your break, Evan! You deserve it.
The game ball is yours. So is the ball gag.
You’re the Worst
Jason Gallagher: I had one clear objective going into this one: figure out which team I hated more between the Clippers and Rockets. Like a lot of people, I really dislike both teams. But ties are for communists, and there can be only one true “least favorite.”
I decided that whichever team owned their dickish-ness more would be the team I liked over the other. If you’re going to be the worst, might as well go all in.
The game itself was your typical Rockets-Clippers affair. Chris Paul and Doc Rivers complained a lot about calls, while Patrick Beverley and James Harden did their best to get under the skin of every living being within a 500-mile radius. Also, Dwight Howard and Josh Smith were there.
With just less than four minutes to play, the Rockets became the bigger bastards by going with the Hack-A-DeAndre. Keep in mind, two minutes of DeAndre Jordan shooting free throws in an NBA game is equivalent to 45 years on Miller’s planet. The Rockets didn’t care. They didn’t care if they had little to no shot at winning this game because they shot 9-of-45 from 3. They didn’t care that this was their last game before the All-Star break and everyone on the court was ready for vacation. They didn’t care that the game was in Los Angeles and the boos were raining from the heavens. They didn’t care that the TV audience had to sit through Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson arguing about the ethics of Hack-A-DeAndre because something had to fill the silence. The Houston Rockets just didn’t care, and they owned it with every grasp of Jordan’s torso.
The Rockets are who we thought they were. I respect that enough to like them more than the Clippers.
DeAndre Jordan Goes Solo
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Brett Koremenos: This is the first time since the 2010-11 season that DeAndre Jordan has played an extended stretch without Blake Griffin as his usual frontcourt partner. In NBA time, that’s an eternity. We’ve spent much of that time dissecting the growth and impact of Griffin, while almost forgetting about the freakishly long and athletic Jordan — who, by the way, is still just 26 years old.
Last night’s game against Houston wasn’t overly exciting. The Clippers couldn’t buy a 3-pointer and the Rockets couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat. What saved it was the play of Jordan. The dude was a monster on the glass and bullied Houston’s front line all game. I mean look what he did to poor Donatas Motiejunas:
Jordan assuming the Tyson Chandler role has been an awesome thing to behold. With his 24-point, 20-rebound effort against the Rockets, he helped the Clips secure their second consecutive win against a Western Conference playoff foe, while also raising his two-game, Griffin-less tallies to 46 points and 47 rebounds (granted, shooting 26 free throws in a game will help pad your point total).
This stretch without Griffin, however long it lasts, is giving us a glimpse of just how good Jordan has become. It also serves as a reminder that fit can, and pretty much always does, mitigate the loss or deficit of talent. Spencer Hawes may be struggling in his first year in L.A., but his perimeter-oriented style allows Jordan an opportunity to take his game to a new level.
Come on, Pek
Kirk Goldsberry: Last night in Minneapolis, the Timberwolves were just a layup away from a huge potential upset of Golden State. Unfortunately for the Wolves faithful, the man shooting that layup was Nikola Pekovic. He missed, and the Warriors went on to win. Now, at first glance that just looks like a weird ursine man having bad luck. But check this out: Among the 50 most active close-range shooters in the NBA this season, Pek ranks 48th in field goal percentage. The dude makes only 51 percent of his shots inside of five feet, so last night’s potential game-winning gimme was much more of a coin toss than you might think.
Giannis Is a Goon
Fate Worse Than Death
Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
Andrew Sharp: We go live to a sequence from the end of Magic-Knicks. I’m watching this on TV from 30 feet away in a bar. It’s tied 75-75 with five minutes left, so I figure I have to watch. Then:
- Nikola Vucevic tries to post up and falls over, crumbling to the ground and losing the ball.
- Knicks ball. Pablo Prigioni dribbles around for 10 seconds, jumps in the lane for no apparent reason, and throws it right back to the Magic.
- Victor Oladipo takes the steal the other way and crashes into Langston Galloway for an obvious charge but somehow gets the foul, possibly because the refs can’t bear to watch overtime.
- He hits both free throws. 77-75 Magic.
- Tim Hardaway Jr. leans across the lane and gets his shot obliterated by whichever Magic big man isn’t Vucevic.
- Fast break the other way. Elfrid Payton gets fouled.
- He sinks two free throws. 79-75.
- Bargs ISO. He dribbles inside, dribbles outside to the baseline, loses control of the ball twice, nearly falls out of bounds in the corner, then regains his composure to take an all-four-limbs-flying-different-directions fallaway jumper from 18 feet.
And … yep. That’s enough Knicks to hold me over for the rest of the season. Also, probably enough Magic. It was a fun three minutes!