It was suppose to be the glorious return of the Lion Face/Lemon Face.
It really was. I was going to try to come up with a clever introduction that was befitting of a great night of basketball. It was going to warm your heart, open your minds and get you craving several hundred words recapping individual and team performances from the night before.
Instead? We got an excrement filled gyro of NBA games with only two of them ending up with a sub-10-point margin of victory. So itâ€™s going to be a bit of a stretch to make this a great return for what started out as the equivalent of your morning bag of donut holes but weâ€™re going to try to persevere.
To help make up for this, Iâ€™ve hired half of a barbershop quartet called â€œThe Gigli Identity.â€ Here is there hit song:
Lion Face: Nicolas Batum
The last two games for Nicolas Batum have been pretty spectacular and eye opening. He had 31 points, seven assists, seven rebounds, five threes and three steals against the Tâ€™Wolves on Saturday. He followed that up with a 21-point performance against the Grizzlies last night that went much deeper than what the box score says. Batum was a big part of a 41-point third quarter for the Blazers by knocking down two threes and scoring 12 points total in the period.
Then he followed that up at the end of the game with a key block against O.J. Mayo. Mayo stole the ball on an atrocious pass by Andre Miller at halfcourt. He dribbled down the right side of the court with Batum doing everything he could to cut off his path to the basket. He stayed with him the entire time, waited for OJ to go for the layup and used his go-go gadget arms to block the layup attempt. If he doesnâ€™t play defense like that, Mayo makes the bucket and the Blazers lead is cut to three with 30 seconds left. Instead, they get the defensive stop and close the game out with two free throws and a three-pointer to win by 10. By the way, Batum made that three.
Lemon Face: The New York Knicks
Mike Dâ€™Antoni said he would have to wait until next year before he could answer whether this â€œwait for the summer of 2010 strategyâ€ is worth all of the losses and heartache. And with the way the Knicks played Monday night against the Cavs, it seems unlikely itâ€™s going to be worth it unless someone from that game switches to their uniform next season (and no, Iâ€™m not talking about Jawad Williams). The Cavs looked like they were at practice, not a regular season game. The Cavs nearly doubled the Knicks rebounding totals (60-31). The only placed the defended the Cavs decently was the free throw line where Cleveland made 16 of 27.
When a team is down 24 points going into halftime, you want them to respond in the third quarter and try to put up a fight. Even if they canâ€™t pull out a win or even chip away at the lead, you still want them to put up a fight. The Knicks responded by scoring 11 points in the entire third period. They were down 42 headed into the fourth quarter. Thatâ€™s not fighting. Thatâ€™s thanking the Cavs and asking them if they may have another.
Lion Face: Delonte West
Delonte West is a key to the Cavsâ€™ winning the title this year and possibly keeping LeBron James in Cleveland for the duration of his next contract. You know how you accomplish this if youâ€™re Delonte West? You dunk on Tracy McGrady and make the Cavs bench lose their minds.
Two things I love about this video: 1) LeBron goes back to the bench and immediately looks for the replay on the jumbotron and 2) the bench nearly canâ€™t contain themselves, which could have resulted into a technical foul against the Cavs. They lost it and reacted like a streetball crowd. Oh hell, let me add a third thing after watching it one more time. Delonte flexing was hilarious too.
Lemon Face: Tracy McGrady
You donâ€™t see it in the video but Tracy McGrady was laughing and smiling about being dunked on. I know after all heâ€™s been through the last two years heâ€™s in the â€œjust happy to be thereâ€ mode. Heâ€™s just happy to be playing. But at the same time, itâ€™s that exact kind of attitude that has Mike Dâ€™Antoni a 45-point blowout away from jumping off the Empire State Building.
Lion Face: Bill Walker
There is one good thing emerging from this whole Knicks debacle and itâ€™s the rebirth of Bill Walker. Bill Walker had two decent games since joining the Knicks as a contract throw-in to the Nate Robinson deal. But Monday night, he exploded for 21 points on 14 shots. He scored 14 in the first half when it seemed like only he, David Lee and Al Harrington were the only ones taking this season seriously. Then he scored seven more points in the one quarter that the Knicks actually won in this game (fourth quarter). Walker had all of the tools to be a star in the basketball world. It was him and OJ Mayo. Then his knee exploded in college and he became an ordinary player. Now heâ€™s getting a shot in the NBA and getting a feel for where he fits in on an NBA court.
Lemon Face: LeBronâ€™s 22 points
There is nothing wrong with LeBron dropping 22 points in 31 minutes of a blowout. Over the last 14 games, LeBron is putting up unreal numbers. Well okay, over his past five years heâ€™s been putting up unreal numbers. But especially in the past 14 games, heâ€™s either had five games in the low 20s (three games of 22 and one game of 20) or heâ€™s had nine games in which he averaged 36.3 points, 10.0 assists, and 7.1 rebounds. In those nine games, he never scored under 32 points. So by the standards heâ€™s set over the past month or so, a 22-point, 7-rebound, and 7-assist performance is worthy of a Lemon Face. Thatâ€™s how scary good this guy has become. Wow.
Lion Face: Atlanta Hawks 4th Quarter
The Hawks were up 85-79 and looking a little worried with the Chicago Bulls looking a confident in closing out this home game. Then the Hawks went on a 15-2 run to push the lead to 19. Then they threw in a 10-2 run just for good measure to turn the final score into what looks like an absolute laugher. All in all, they scored 41 points in the fourth quarter with 31 of them coming in the final 7:35 of the ball game. They ended the game on a 14/16 shooting binge with eight straight baskets at one point and a 15-3 fourth quarter rebounding advantage. Thatâ€™s a really impressive way to close out a road game against a potential playoff foe.
Lemon Face: Morris Peterson Starting
Just stop it, Jeff Bower. Quit doing this. Marcus Thornton is a much better player. There isnâ€™t one thing Mo-Pete is better than Buckets at on a basketball court other than being a worse basketball player. Buckets is better in all aspects of the game. You need scoring from your shooting guard position and Buckets gives that. Morris Peterson doesnâ€™t give that and he hasnâ€™t given that for years. This isnâ€™t a new development. Just stop starting Morris Peterson. Give the kid a chance.
Lion Face: Marcus Thornton
Buckets (care of Hornets Hype) had another spectacular scoring barrage. He poured in 30 points against the Spurs with 15 of them coming in the fourth quarter. He made 12 of his 19 shot attempts. He made six threes. He can just flat out score. Heâ€™s like Jannero Pargo, only if Jannero Pargo was a MUCH BETTER basketball player. I donâ€™t know if Thornton can keep this up or repeat these types of games on a consistent basis. I just know that when heâ€™s on, itâ€™s hard to want to watch a game other than his.
Lemon Face: LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus, you played 40 minutes. You grabbed two rebounds. TWO!!!! You did something similar a week ago against the Raptors and I was willing to look past it. In that game, you played 39 minutes and grabbed only two rebounds. But thatâ€™s twice in one week that youâ€™ve played so atrociously apathetic on the boards. Youâ€™re 6â€™11â€ with a wingspan as long as the Appalachian Mountains. Youâ€™re also in the top one percentile in terms of athletic ability in the world. Maybe next time you throw out a little effort and grab at least three rebounds.
Lion Face: Josh Smith
The 17 points and 18 rebounds were very impressive. And the four assists, two steals and two blocks are astoundingly average for him. Most of all, Iâ€™m giving him the Lion Face tonight because of this block on Brad Miller (Trey, donâ€™t watch).
That was so angry. In some states, that kind of act of violence would get charges pressed against you.
Lemon Face: OJ Mayo
I love OJAM. Heâ€™s one of my favorite players in the league to watch. Heâ€™s just so fluid and composed at such a young age. But I worry about what heâ€™s doing to our fearless leader, Matt Moore. Heâ€™s been abysmal in the closing minutes of three of their last five games. Against the Lakers, he missed some key free throws, which eventually allowed Kobe Bryant to rip their hearts out. Against the Bobcats, he didnâ€™t score at all in the fourth quarter. And last night in their loss to the Blazers, he made just one of three shot attempts (including that key block by Batum) and he missed three of six free throws. Please OJ, for our sake and most of all for Mattâ€™s sake, play better at the end of games. Itâ€™s the only way you guys will sneak into the playoffs.
Lion Face: Brooks & Martin
Sounds like a type of bourbon, doesnâ€™t it? Well, itâ€™s almost better than that. Itâ€™s a high-scoring backcourt. Over the last three games, this backcourt has scored a total of 171 points. Kevin Martin has averaged 31 points and Aaron Brooks has averaged 26 points per game during this time. Against the Raptors Monday night, they each scored 28 points on 16 shots a piece. Theyâ€™re both so good at knocking down jumpers and getting to the basket. Imagine them with Yao Ming. Thatâ€™s going to be a nice trio if he can come back and be healthy.
Lemon Face: The Raptors Without Chris Bosh
Chris Bosh, please have a little heart for our neighbo(u)rs up north. Watch the game against the Rockets from Monday. This was a pathetic display of defense and basketball by the Raps. This is what itâ€™s going to look like if you leave this summer. Thatâ€™s a horrible thing to do to a group of people. I hear Toronto is a lovely city so that canâ€™t be the problem. And the money looks funny so you probably always feel like youâ€™re playing Monopoly. That doesnâ€™t sound too bad either. Donâ€™t do this to Canada. Donâ€™t do this to the Raptors fan. Just suck it up, sign another three-year deal and tough it out. Thank you.
Lion Face: Goran Dragic
Have you ever played basketball at a local gym and thereâ€™s a goofy looking kid who everyone assumes canâ€™t play? He looks too young. He doesnâ€™t quite light it up while everyone is shooting around, trying to get warm. Even when you shoot for teams, he probably fumbles the ball a little and misses badly. Heâ€™s almost like a consolation prize. As the game begins, nobody thinks he can play still and they avoid passing him the ball. Then a random carom brings the ball to him. He pulls off an incredible move against a defender, whips a pass through the lane and he sets up a teammate perfectly for a score. The next time down, he gets the ball and knocks down a jumper. He probably steals the ball the next time down the floor and takes it the other way for a score. All of a sudden, there is this realization with how good this kid is. Nobody expected. And yet here he is making a name for himself.
Thatâ€™s Goran Dragic right now. Last year, nobody wanted him on their team other than the Suns. Everyone assumed he couldnâ€™t play. Now? Heâ€™s perfectly playing the backup point guard role. He came in against the Nuggets on Monday and just ran the team. 12 points and four assists in 17 minutes later, people are starting to realize that he belongs. The Suns were +20 when he was on the court. Thatâ€™s very lionous of him.
Lemon Face: Deron Williamsâ€™ Free Throwing
You canâ€™t help lead your team furiously back in the fourth quarter, get a chance to tie the game with two free throws and then miss them both. His eight fourth quarter points ended up being for naught. The 9-0 run near the end of the game was just a waste of energy.
Lion Face: Chuck Hayes Defies Logic
This is Chuck Hayes! He has no discernable basketball skill other than his ability to stay in front of a player with the basketball. He is also one of two players in the NBA who pump fakes on his free throws for no reason (you too, Andris Biedrins). Is he trying to create more space on a free shot that nobody is allowed to defend? I donâ€™t know. So you can imagine the mind explosion that happened when I was watching the Raptors-Rockets game and he pulled this pass out of an orifice.