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REASONS TO WATCH THE GAMES OF THE NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION TONIGHT:

Ain’t That a Shame

Charlotte at Indiana

Danny Granger v. Gerald Wallace would have been worth the price of admission alone, if Danny didn’t have to injure himself and spoil our fun. Even though the souring Granger and the soaring Wallace are currently headed in different directions, it’s still one of the premier offense-defense match-ups that the Eastern Conference has to offer. Plus, with the way Gerald’s been rebounding and scoring lately, he could actually demand that the Bobcats are must-see TV, as long as you’re a masochist who can deal with the rest of the team’s (Jax excluded) inability to put the ball in the damn hoop.

Luckily, there’s still plenty to like about this match-up, even if you aren’t particularly interested in either team.  TJ Ford and Raymond Felton are both equally frustrating in their own way, but Felton’s defense and Ford’s offense (when his head is right) make for an interesting give and take. Tyson Chandler will be chasing Troy Murphy for stretches, which in itself seems like a strange, punchline-less joke. And Stephen Jackson-Mike Dunleavy? Too much. A priceless face-off of former Warriors, once swapped for each other, who play completely different yet eerily similar styles. Don’t question it, just nod along.

Care to Explain?

Toronto at Orlando

Every time the Raptors play, I take it upon myself to mention just how bad their defense is. Consider this a change of pace.

Despite the fact that the Raps have the same interior as a Cadbury Cream Egg, they’ve had some pretty remarkable success against Dwight Howard this season. 20.5 points and 11.5 rebounds may not strike you as noteworthy defense, but Howard’s FG% is what sticks out to me: In his two games against Toronto this season, Howard is averaging just 34.6% shooting from the field. Toss in a half-tick above his usual turnover rate, and you’ve got a head-scratcher. That’s Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani, and a bit of Amir Johnson and Rasho Nesterovic holding one of the league leaders in FG% (2nd, if you wanna be specific) to a miserable percentage on his attempts. What gives?

You Have My Attention, and Now You Have Five Seconds to Completely Sway My Opinion

Cleveland at Philadelphia

The fun has been gone from Philadelphia since the bell tolled on their playoff run last season, and it has yet to come back. That’s in spite of some early success from Marreese Speights, who is still one of my favorite young players in the league. That’s in spite of bringing back a high-profile, energizing player in Allen Iverson. That’s in spite of Jrue Holiday, who while he isn’t all that great at running an offense, has the potential to be a terrific defender at the 1. And that’s in spite of Philly finally winning one after dropping twelve straight. The Sixers are all over the place, as long as the place doesn’t involve anything resembling offensive efficiency. Their style of play may be a sight to behold if only for all the questions that have no answers, but for the moment I’ve deemed them unwatchable. I’ve seen the novelty of a bad team with nowhere left to turn, and while it’s always a tad interesting to watch the flames begin to consume everything.

But tonight, I may give them a few seconds of my full attention. If, in one random possession, the Sixers can do something to pique my interest? Well, maybe we can do business together. But otherwise, I’m not that interested in watching Cleveland hand them yet another loss.

Feeling Bad Never Felt So Good

Memphis at Atlanta

Honestly, I feel horrible for the Grizzlies. After fighting to hang with the Celtics, Ray Allen decided that it was his personal mission to make the city of Memphis miserable…that is, if the city of Memphis managed to burden itself with even looking at the final score. But almost every Grizzly in the rotation had a solid night or better, and to deny them a win simply because Ray Allen is Ray Allen? I know that nothing in this world is fair, but they deserved better. Shame on you, basketball gods. Shame on you, precise mechanics of Ray’s jumper.

Still, it’s hard not to feel good about just how well Memphis has played lately, and tonight is another opportunity for them to earn some street cred. The Hawks are among the class of the East, and a win over a quality team like that suddenly adds legitimacy to their extended run. Wins over the Mavs and the Cavs were nice, but a short burst in the schedule could be nothing more than an aberration. A win tonight not only carries the literal impact of having a quality win over a quality opponent, but it authenticates everything that the Grizzlies have done of late is more than just streaky play and some good luck. 10-14 is a pretty swell record, but 11-14 is that much closer to the almighty .500, and that much closer to some respect.

No Respect, Nyah-Nyah-Nyah!

Utah at New Jersey

It’s so easy to count out the Utah Jazz. I mostly blame Carlos Boozer, who remains a public enemy. His style is just so easily disregarded, so typically understated, and yet so utterly productive. And as much as we love to pick on him for his passive defense and his tendency to get his shots swatted, he’s probably an all-star. That’s not nothin’, and considering all the completely pleasant players in Utah, I’m honestly surprised they don’t get more credit for being a credible team. Deron Williams is about as real as point guards get, Mehmet Okur’s still tougher and more reliable than people think, and Andrei Kirilenko is just a peach. Plus, Wesley Matthews and Eric Maynor? Two of the best rookies living out of the spotlight, even if only one of them gets consistent PT.

The Nets are similarly situated in terms of public perception, at least relative to their predicted standing. Whereas the Jazz were expected to be sub-elite (which they are, if you’ve been paying attention…another reason why I don’t understand the Jazz disregard), the Nets were expected to be bad, but not awful. And despite what their record says, that’s what they are. There’s been so much written trying to make sense of Jersey’s miraculously awful start, and I’m not sure that the formula is anything remotely simple. But the odds were certainly stacked against the Nets, and although that doesn’t excuse their effort in some of their losses, no one expected the Nets to be good. No one expected them to be mediocre. And even though every rebuilding process doesn’t involve reaching historical levels of failure, this is the kind of thing that happens when an already limited team trades away part of its core, integrates new pieces, finds minutes for younger players, and faces a boatload of injuries. The Nets are a bad team, just not as bad as other indicators would have you believe.

Last Time, on NBA Team Missing Their Star Contributors

LAL at Milwaukee

I’m still warming up to the concept that Michael Redd is a part of this Bucks team. The team still sends out the paychecks and Redd will probably be under contract until next season (he has a player option for 2010-2011), but I’d just grown accustomed to Milwaukee games being about the progress of Andrew Bogut, the return of Ersan Ilyasova, and the arrival of Brandon Jennings. Just add Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and you’ve got a squad with all the scrap, the defense, and the bursts of greatness that you’d want out of what was supposed to be a depressing year for a depressing franchise. And for whatever reason, Redd doesn’t seem to be a part of that. There’s nothing wrong with his attitude, his work ethic, or even his play (the Bucks were already using the long ball as their calling card, and they could use Redd’s mid-range shooting), but just this feeling in the pit of my stomach that he’s loitering in a space that doesn’t belong to him anymore.

The Lakers are completely different, even if I’m still acclimating myself to Pau Gasol’s return…which was about a month ago. With Pau in the lineup, the Lakers have lost just one game. One game. I kept telling myself that with everyone healthy and on the court, something was bound to fall apart. Maybe Artest would go haywire, or Bynum would feel alienated, or Derek Fisher would try to play from the convenience of his Rascal. But instead, they just use every single game as an argument of why they’re the best team in basketball. With the way the Lakers started the season defensively, I knew they’d be good. But I don’t think I was prepared to acknowledge that they’re as good as they are. The supposed offensive juggernaut is simply slaughtering teams with their defense alone, and I’m not sure that I want to live in a world where these Lakers solve all of their problems offensively. It’s just not fair.

Remember When He Was… Uhh…Had to Cross All That Broken Glass Without Shoes On, and There Was Nothing He Could Do About It So He Just Walked On All the Broken Glass With His Bare Feet? Did You Like That?

Detroit at New Orleans

Yes Chris, I did. I liked it when Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince were injured, and the Pistons had to make do because there was nothing they could do about it. I liked how it opened up the game for Stuckey, Bynum, Villanueva, Jerebko, and Daye. I liked how they desperately tried to keep their heads above water, even as the realities of having a team full of average players weighed against them. It’s not a slight to the team or their effort, but just an honest appraisal of a team that lacks legitimate difference-makers on both ends.

And Yes, Chris, I did. I liked it when Chris Paul was injured, and the Hornets had to make do because there was nothing they could do about it. So they found more minutes for Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton, and now those two are rotation mainstays even with Paul back in the mix. I liked how the team still managed to win games, even when David West, the next in line and logical candidate for more shots and more points, struggled. I liked how they put together a few solid defensive efforts, even though the team as a whole is not very strong on that end of the court.

But mostly, I liked how both team will now be better for all of it. They have their proven stars who we know can produce, and now they have valuable young parts that are plenty capable of contributing under any circumstances.

Sometimes You’re the Windshield, Sometimes You’re the Sledgehammer of a Disgruntled Ex-Employee Who Has Plenty of Free Time, Nothing to Lose, and Endless Rage

San Antonio at Golden State

Oh boy, the Warriors are going to get it tonight. The Phoenix held San Antonio at arm’s length last night, and even though this year’s Spurs outfit is going through some growing pains, they’re a prideful team. And Golden State is a bad team. Not exactly the best combination for a competitive match-up, but it could be yet another opportunity for the Spurs to get their paperwork in order.

While I don’t understand why Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, and Richard Jefferson are always on different pages, I do know that Gregg Popovich has all the tools necessary to play stop-n-go with the Dubs. Duncan can slow the game down, and even though his post moves are a little bit less reliable than we’re used to, he’s still a force…especially when Corey Maggette is playing serious minutes at center. Then, when TD gets tired or just plain bored, the Spurs speed unit is more than capable of pacing Monta Ellis and company. To make matters worse, the Warriors haven’t topped 101 points in the last three games (all losses), despite playing at the fastest pace. Wins over the Warriors aren’t quite a recipe for righting the ship, but sometimes you’ve just gotta pick out the smallest kid on the playground, and bully him until you feel better about yourself.

The $1 Beer Night Debacle That Will Take My Life

Washington at Sacramento (Zach Harper)

I’m not going to lie; someone is going to jail tonight at this Kings game. The Kings were given a nationally televised game by ESPN a couple of weeks ago. Because attendance has been so poor for the Kings (I’d be shocked if there have been more than 9,000 people in any given home game after the home opener), the Kings had to think of something to fill the arena for this game. So they decided to offer $1 beer through the end of halftime in order to fill up the stadium. And it worked. As of yesterday, there were fewer than 900 tickets left for sale for this game. The problem is the Kings didn’t realize the arena will still look empty on TV for the first half because everybody will be on the concourse, standing in line for beer. At some point, there will be far too many drinks in far too many people and there will be a riot. You’ll get a text from your friends saying, “OMG there’s a riot at the Kings game turn on ESPN!!!” Just watch the game from the start so you don’t have to wait for the replay at midnight to watch the Sacramento Apocalypse.

Return of the Mc

Rockets at Nuggets, 9:00PM EST (Zach Harper)

Get it? Return of the Mc sounds like Return of the Mack, that song by Mark Morrison from like 1996. It’s clever. Okay, well it’s sort of clever. And Tracy McGrady isn’t really a “mack” anymore. He’s more of a “you know if he stays healthy and can spread the floor with Trevor Ariza and Shane Battier then the Rockets will have a nice balance of scoring all over the court and… OHLOOKIT’SSOMETHINGSHINYOVERTHERE” kind of story. McGrady probably won’t play more than 10 minutes in this game. Actually, it’s the second night of a back-to-back so he might play at all even though he played just eight minutes last night. But if he gets on the court, we might get a little flash of McGrady versus Carmelo that could provide scoring delight for a couple of minutes.

LET’S HAVE OURSELVES A HOE-DOWN! (Oh, Sorry Dirk.)

Dallas at OKC, 8:00 EST (Matt Moore)

Josh Howard and Kevin Durant against one another? Jason Kidd versus Russell Westbrook? Dirk being guarded by Green? Erick Dampier versus Nenad Krstic? This couldn’t be better. Unless there were jelly sammiches. Because that would be better.

YOUR NIGHTLY HORROR

Clip at Wolves, 8:00EST (Matt Moore)

I suggest wrapping presents and thinking happy thoughts while watching this. On second thought, nothing with scissors.

Seth Carstens