15-Footer, 11/11/13: The Struggle On The Road, Or NBA Blues Travelers

97 games into the 2013-14 season, home teams have been rather inhospitable to their road brethren. Since 2000-01, teams playing at home have won approximately 60% of their games; so far this season, their winning percentage sits at 67%.

And the teams on the road tonight fit right into that early-season narrative, as they’ve won just 35% of their games away from the friendly confines of their home arenas. On the bright side, at least that’s slightly better than this season’s league average, right? We’re all about finding the silver lining around here, even if it means ignoring the impending storm.

Nine games on the slate tonight. Let’s go!

Atlanta Hawks at Charlotte Bobcats (7:00 PM)

The Hawks are a perfect example of just how razor-thin the margin can be for a team on the road. Yes, Atlanta is 1-3 as the away team, but their last two losses away from The Highlight Factory have each been by two points. It’s just another showcase of how easily a small sample size can betray us; if a bounce or two goes the Hawks’ way in either of those games, suddenly they’re a .500 team on the road and a winning team in the aggregate.

Instead, this becomes a matchup of two 3-3 teams both looking to solidify their identities. For Charlotte, much of their season so far has been defined by the absence of Al Jefferson, the player many expected would anchor their offense and allow the rest of the team room to blossom around him. Jefferson was back in practice on Sunday and may be available for the Bobcats on Monday night. They’ll also see the return of their head coach, Steve Clifford, who had been hospitalized over the weekend after experiencing chest pains on Thursday. He too was at practice with Charlotte on Sunday and should be ready to take his place on the bench on Monday night.

The Hawks continue to count on the maturation of Jeff Teague, who seems to be more and more comfortable in coach Mike Budenholzer’s offensive system with each passing game. And while Teague has had his ups and down, the one constant for Atlanta has been the three-point shooting of Kyle Korver. He’s shooting over 56% on threes this season, and he’s knocked down at least one triple in each of his last 79 games, which has him tied for the second-longest streak in NBA history.

Memphis Grizzlies at Indiana Pacers (7:00 PM)

“It’s early, but…”

“You know, it’s a small sample size, however…”

“I don’t know if they can keep this up, though…”

I’m done with caveats. I’m done with warnings shellacked onto NBA games like some sort of Surgeon General’s admonishment about the health hazards of looking too deeply into a seven-game sample. The Indiana Pacers are a fantastic basketball team that built upon their experience going deep into last year’s playoffs by fleshing out some of the holes in their roster and seeing continued growth from the core of their team, particularly from Roy Hibbert and Paul George.

It’s early, but the Pacers are the best team in the NBA. You know, it’s a small sample size, however, no one is playing basketball on anything close to the same level as Indiana. I don’t know if they can keep this up, though it’s a scary prospect for the rest of the league if they can. Paul George has handles. Roy Hibbert’s post game continues to flourish. And no one can score against them. Indiana’s for real, early season eschewing of conclusions be damned.

The Grizzlies, however, are still an open question. They looked downright dominant in their lambasting of Golden State Saturday, but it was some of the first flashes of what Memphis hopes will be a prolonged growth curve under new head coach Dave Joerger. If any team hopes that “it’s early, but…” is a sign of things taking a turn for the better, it’s the Grizzlies.

San Antonio Spurs at Philadelphia 76ers (7:00 PM)

San Antonio keeps marching on, regardless of circumstance. Once again, they’re at the top of the Western Conference. Once again, no one’s really talking about them. They just play their “boring” brand of ball, win games and film commercials for local grocery store chains. When one player falls off, another steps up to take his place. It’d be heartwarming if it weren’t so disgustingly efficient; to try to love the Spurs is to generate affection for a robot in the hopes that it will someday develop the necessary pathways to love you back.

The 76ers have no such love problems. Their disregard for preconceived notions about the team has made them one of the early season darlings. They get out in transition, they hoist a ton of threes and they win our hearts. If Philadelphia were an animal, they’d be a Corgi-Husky puppy hybrid — the internet loses its collective mind whenever they do something adorable like beat the Heat, and when they crap all over the bed, we clean up the mess and offer them a biscuit. It’d be heartwarming if it weren’t so…heartwarming. Damn you, Hinkie!

Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics (7:30 PM)

At first glance, the Magic are a young team struggling to find their way on the road. But two of their three losses away from Orlando have been to the Pacers and Wolves; I’m not entirely sure even home court advantage would have helped in those scenarios. The major worry for the Magic is their ability to get Nikola Vucevic going. Vucevic has been held below his typical standards in his last two games, including a defeat at the hands of the Celtics on Friday night in which Boston limited him to just 14 points. He grabbed 13 rebounds against the Celtics, but with both teams shooting under 40% from the floor, there were plenty of rebound opportunities to be had.

Boston comes into the contest riding high off of their unlikely defeat of the Heat on Saturday night, a game that saw them down 4 points with 3.6 seconds remaining. We all know how things went from there, with the night capped by a Jeff Green triple as time expired to give Boston a one-point victory.

Cleveland Cavaliers at Chicago Bulls (8:00 PM)

I usually try to write at least a hundred words for each of these little blurbs; I like to think of all of the games as my children, and they each deserve their fair allotment of attention.

Some games are simple, though, and this is one of them. Please, basketball gods, give us Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose going at each other for at least 36 minutes. Let it be a close game down the stretch that invokes the full fury of both and leads to a hundred different .gifs throughout the twitter universe. That’s all we want.

Oh, and Joakim Noah and Anderson Varejao battling each other would be neat, too. But mostly the first thing.

Toronto Raptors at Houston Rockets (8:00 PM)

If ever there were a game to symbolize home court dominance, it’s this one. The Rockets are 15-3 all-time against the Raptors in Houston; it doesn’t get much more dominant than that. Even when the Rockets tried to even things out by sending Hakeem Olajuwon to Toronto, it wasn’t quite enough.

And that’s probably a good thing for Houston, who could use a little bit of sacrificial lamb to get things back on track. They came out the gate looking like the 3-point shooting, glass dominating, defensively menacing outfit many expected they’d be after the acquisition of Dwight Howard, yet they’ve come back to Earth recently with losses in three of their last four games.

The Raptors will be game, and any time you’re dealing with raptors, there’s a chance that a trap is being laid just for you. But with Kyle Lowry nursing an ankle sprain and Tyler Hansbrough one of the most important players for Toronto, the Rockets should be able to avoid too many “clever girl” moments tonight.

Denver Nuggets at Utah Jazz (9:00 PM, NBA TV)

Okay, honestly? I did a double-take when I saw this game was on NBA TV. The Nuggets were a train wreck before receiving the awful news that JaVale McGee had suffered a stress fracture in his left tibia. Now their roster shuffling becomes an even more desperate affair, as coach Brian Shaw tries to figure out what combination of players might give Denver even the faintest glimmer of competitive hope.

Things are even worse in Utah, where the Jazz have yet to notch their first victory of the season. Perhaps a visit from the scattershot Nuggets is just what the doctor ordered to get one in the win column. For the sake of Jazz fans, here’s hoping that Utah doesn’t continue to mark it zero on that side of the ledger. Walter Sobchak isn’t walking through that door.

Detroit Pistons at Portland Trail Blazers (10:00 PM)

Quite the contrast of styles between these two teams late on Monday night. The Blazers are a perimeter-oriented bunch; even their All-Star big man, LaMarcus Aldridge, is most known for his propensity to knock down a 17-footer. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Mathews man the three-point line, and Damian Lillard, Portland’s wrecking ball of a point guard, is their most consistent interior threat.

Detroit, on the other hand, was assumed to be a team whose entire offense would be stationed in the paint with the kind of spacing reminiscent of the living quarters in the Mir space station. And while it’s true that the Pistons often rely on their two post-dominating bigs in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, Josh Smith is providing them all the space they could possibly need with his incessant desire to launch threes. Over 40% of Smith’s field goal attempts this season are from deep, a preposterous number for a player who’s shooting less than 30% from behind the three-point line.

You can take the Josh Smith out of Atlanta, but you can never, ever make him stop shooting 3s. Ever. 2009-10, when Smith took just 7 three-pointers all year, is looking like a million years ago with every hastily launched trey. Bless you, Josh Smith. Don’t ever change (unless you start playing for my favorite team).

Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 PM)

Oh, did you think you were going to escape the word association game? Not this time, friend. With the assistance of legendary ubermensch Jordan White, we’ve got a fresh batch for you for the best game on the slate.

Prompts by Andrew, responses by Jordan

Nikola Pekovic: Kryptonite. As in, someone must be dousing Pek with a kryptonite mist, or rubbing him with Kryptonite oil (ew) before the game, because so far, Non the Destroyer just hasn’t looked his terrifying, dominant self. His PER is 10.9, he’s only averaging 12.8 points per 36 minutes, and per NBA.com, is only shooting 54.3% from less than five feet, a full six percentage points lower than last year.

DeAndre Jordan, Carnival Worker: I’m picturing Jordan, in a top hat, wearing a long, flowing, maroon coat. You may think him to be one of the spectacles of the show, but he is in fact the ring leader. “See here!” He shouts. “Gaze upon the vicious, dunking ginger! No trampoline here, folks! Be amazed by the mischievous Puck as he disappears before your eyes, stealing your valuables before you even know they’re gone! …Byron Mullens!”

Kevin Martin and the importance of being comfortable: I don’t want to write too much about this, since I have a piece on this very subject coming in the next few days [Editor’s note: BOW BEFORE MY PSYCHIC POWERS], but it’s certainly apparent that Martin is back to being himself. He was productive in Oklahoma City, but playing with two ball-dominant players suffocated a part of his game which is essential to his success, that being, his ability to draw fouls. Welcome back, Kevin Martin.

Reggie Bullock: Las Vegas. We both watched Bullock at summer league, and from the moment he stepped onto the court, it was clear what the Clippers envisioned for him. Firmly planted beyond the arc, normally in the corner, Bullock camped and waited for the ball to…I’m sorry. I just can’t talk any more about Las Vegas. Let’s move on.

Prompts by Jordan, responses by Andrew

Kevin Love-Corey Brewer connection: Compatibility. Does it get much better than having two players with specific skills that dovetail together so perfectly? Corey Brewer is going to leak out after every defensive possession. Kevin Love is looking to deliver pinpoint outlet passes every time he grabs the ball in the back court. With their powers combined, they’re…no, you know what? They’re not Captain Planet. THEY’RE BETTER THAN CAPTAIN PLANET.

Ricky Rubio: Evil?: …I’m calling the police.

Dear Shammgod, can you imagine if Rubio actually was evil, though? He’d be the world’s first successful super-villain. He’d never give you the monologue that reveals his one weakness. He’d just destroy you as you slowly looked into his eyes and realized that his way was the truth. They’d have to rename Stockholm Syndrome to Rubio-itis. Or something. Again, I’m not a doctor.

Jared Dudley, in another life: Probably bodyguard for evil Ricky Rubio. Remember, Dudley was a pretty big guy when he first came into the league, at least girth-wise. I could see him turning that mass into muscle and dedicating his life to serving Evil Emperor Rubio. And it would be maliciously adorable.

I wonder if Evil Emperor Rubio could make it so that Dudley could dunk?

Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins start a business together: The world’s first combination skateboard shop/tattoo parlor/Greek sub restaurant. And it would be spectacular, even if Hollins can’t stop mixing the bearings with the dough they use to make their fresh sandwich rolls.

And finally, a sincere thank you to all the troops who have defended the multitudes of nations that celebrate today as either Remembrance Day, Armistice Day or Veterans Day.

Andrew Lynch

When God Shammgod created the basketball universe, Andrew Lynch was there. His belief in the superiority of advanced statistics and the eventual triumph of expected value-based analytics stems from the fact that he’s roughly as old as the concept of counting. With that said, he still loves the beauty of basketball played at the highest level — it reminds him of the splendor of the first Olympics — and the stories that spring forth from the games, since he once beat Homer in a game of rock-paper-scissors over a cup of hemlock. Dude’s old.