Author Archives: Scott Leedy

The Sublime Is Disappointingly Elusive

I want the Blazers to tank. I know the Blazers need to get their superstars through the draft. I want them to have a legitimate shot at Wiggins, Parker, Randle, the better Harrison twin, etc. I believe this is the type of draft that could legitimately change your franchise. I think there’s at least a chance that some small market team gets their Tim Duncan, if that’s even possible in the current NBA. I don’t want to sneak into the playoffs next year. I don’t want to be the team that takes the Rockets to an “interesting” five games in the first round. I can’t stand the Blazers becoming the Macklemore of the NBA, spectacularly mediocre with an overly white fan base. I want to say the Blazers have screwed this off season up, that they should have traded LaMarcus Aldridge and done their best to be their very worst. I want to make fun of Paul Allen, question Neil Olshey’s decision making and write the stereotypical “woe is the poor Blazers fan who has had to endure such crippling disappointment” post. But I can’t do any of that.

Tankathon 2014 has been ferociously competitive. Terrible teams are tanking with inspiring passion and precision, and the Celtics are burning the farm to the ground while Danny Ainge smirks “what fire?”. While the Blazers’ bench was amongst the worst in the NBA last year, their starting five was that of a playoff team. In order to get bad enough, Olshey would’ve had to move at least Aldridge, maybe Nicolas Batum too. At some level, moving Aldridge seems like an obvious choice. His age and talent make him the worst type of rebuild player. He will keep any roster from reaching its highest form of terribleness, while deservedly wanting a situation more conducive to title contention. No one walks away satisfied .

Unfortunately, the Blazers are a little stuck. A bad team is unlikely to trade their 2014 pick for Aldridge, and even if they did his play would likely decrease the value of that pick by the time the lottery rolls around. Maybe the Blazers could move Aldridge for a handful of younger assets, but they’d be stuck getting cents on the dollar. If you can’t get good return value, keeping Aldridge really becomes the only option. Fortunately for the Blazers, retaining Aldridge is a good problem to have.  Aldridge can only help the development of Damian Lillard. Having an intelligent, extremely talented big man to work with, around, and through is an invaluable experience for a young NBA point guard.  The fans love Aldridge, and with so many weakened teams, the Aldridge-Lillard-Batum core may be enough to carry the Blazers to a playoff berth.

If the Blazers can’t get worse, they might as well get better. Not only has Olshey improved the team, he’s done it at next to no cost. Acquiring Robin Lopez, a defensive-minded center, on a cheap contract was the perfect antidote to the J.J. Hickson plague. Lopez provides the rim protection required of any center that plays next to Aldridge, something Hickson was never suited for. Olshey took advantage of Houston’s burning desire to clear cap space, and netted Thomas Robinson for essentially nothing. This is a no lose situation for the Blazers; Robinson can’t make their bench any worse. Certainly he was somewhat of a disappointment last year, but he has the talent and work ethic to become a useful NBA player. Add in an intriguing, generally well thought of prospect in CJ McCollum, two cheap useful bench guys in Dorrell Wright and Earl Watson, and the Blazers have at least upgraded their bench from “abominable: keep away from children at all costs” to “I might vomit a little but it’s not so bad once you get used to it.” Given the situation, Neil Olshey hasn’t just been good, he’s been damn near perfect.

Barring a miracle, the Blazers aren’t getting an Andrew Wiggins or a Jabari Parker. There’s not a clear path back to relevancy; there’s no one to put the entire weight of the franchise upon. Lillard is terrific but I’m not sure he’s that kind of special. For the, Blazers I think that’s a good thing. They need a break from the savior storyline. It’s refreshing to just try and forget about expectations and deliverance. For even the best teams, perfection and triumph can be disappointingly elusive.  I think it’s a good idea to let this team breathe. It’s okay to wait this one out. It’s okay to both want more and be satisfied with less. With all the young talent, the promise, and a little Rose Garden voodoo magic this will be a very fun team. For now anyway, that should be more than enough.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJDzT3FwEWs

Skelethon & Aesop Rondo

 

*** Author’s note: The incredibly wonderful art for this piece was created by Mike McGrath from Double Scribble. You should check out their prints, originals, and shirts(one of which includes the piece above) and buy some stuff with all of that money you may or may not have just received from various holiday celebrations. Seriously their work is amazing, and I can’t thank Mike enough. He killed it. 

Aesop Rock’s Skelethon isn’t easy to like or understand. I suppose at a very basic level, you can enjoy Rock sounding fly while spitting over dope beats, but I imagine everyone’s first, second, third, and nth listen of Skelethon ends with an audible “What the hell did he just say?” (It’s no coincidence that, before the album’s release, Rock released a handful of videos explaining to various degrees the meaning of some of the tracks). In Rock’s world, donuts replace your previously held faith, fireworks distract us from a drowning child (don’t worry the dog saves the child), a frustrated teenager carves Zoso into his desk and scribbles Zulu on his Chuck Taylors, a dare devil serves as the patron saint of lane changing. Sure, Rock is off the grid, but what do those symbols under the dresser mean?

I love Skelethon. It pushes and challenges all expectations. That’s not to say it’s operating on some higher plane. Skelethon exists in its own space, mainly Aesop Rock’s scattered, thoughtful, isolated, and (and at least in this case) angry mind. If there’s anyone one thing you can take away from this record, it’s that Rock is pissed off (By all accounts it hasn’t been an easy five years since None Shall Pass). It’s no coincidence that Rock describes “Zero Dark Thirty,” the album’s lead single, as his “temper tantrum.” But there’s no screaming and shouting, no obvious lashing out or bashing at the walls. With Rock it’s more subtle and subversive, virtues go the way of Chinatown turtles,  the huntable surplus is down to one, his discontentment evoked in his donning of “4 walls like a wooden coat,” his only escape from a collapsing world.

******

Rajon Rondo isn’t easy to like or understand. Sure, he does things like this, this, and this, and he’s prone to unleashing sprawling, game-controlling masterpieces on national television, but it’s difficult to really wrap your head around him. He can’t shoot and yet he can be the most dangerous player on the floor. He’s prone to doing some pretty dumb things, but is also one of the smartest players in the league. He breathes life into the Celtics’ offense with his creativity and expansive understanding of the game, while suffocating it with his lack of aggressiveness and poor shooting. Sure, he’s a brilliant passer, but his numbers are inflated by incessant assist hunting. Yeah, he gets lots of triple-doubles, but his PER is fairly underwhelming. He coasts through regular-season games, but in the last few years has often been responsible for punctuating big moments for the Celtics. He’s cold, distant, and acerbic, his game built on sharp angles and violence, rather than the elegance, fluidity, and ease associated with the league’s best point men.

He’s also one of the league’s most divisive players. He’s beloved and cherished for his creativity by some, and derided for his inconsistency and poor shooting by others. Part of this difficulty comes from a lack of definition. Ethan Sherwood Strauss once posited that Rondo’s supporters were enamored with the pollyanish legend of the point guard as “distributor,” that he fit some mold or narrative we had built around the “ideal point guard.”. While the argument certainly holds merit in a vacuum, it doesn’t fit Rajon Rondo. Nothing about Rondo really “fits.” It’s part of his appeal, and it’s part of the confusion that surrounds him. He’s weird, he’s different, he’s distant, he’s hard to understand. He disappears, and reappears without any notice. He doesn’t invite comparison, because there’s really no one to compare him with.

****

I enjoy listening to Skelethon, and I believe in its brilliance. But I don’t begrudge anyone who doesn’t. I understand if you felt like Rock’s references were too esoteric, or if his lyrics just came off as a bunch of nonsensical non-sequitirs. I understand not wanting to decode and decipher. I completely get wanting something more approachable. Skelethon is a record you have to spend time with. It requires work to really dig deeper and begin to comprehend . That’s not going to be for everyone. Trying to convince someone else their preferences are “wrong” seems misguided. For the most part, this idea seems pretty inherently obvious with music, everyone “likes what they like” and it’s probably easier to just leave them alone.

Sports mix objectivity and subjectivity in a much more subversive way. In the midst of arguments about a player or a team, it’s often difficult to parse out the difference between preference and merit. Depending on the situation, and your opinion, there are any number of facts, statistics, and anecdotes that can used to either build a player up or tear them down. There’s always a sense that each side is trying to convince the other of a purely identifiable fact or truth. How could anyone be so foolish to deny what is so plainly obvious for everyone to see?

This is the place I’ve found myself more often than not with Rajon Rondo. Arguing incessantly, defending his brilliance, trying to convince others of the inviolable truth that Rondo is among the league’s elite point guards. I get frustrated with the detractors. Tired of hearing the same boring, monotonous criticism over and over again. And yet, what’s really the point? Does my enjoyment of Rondo increase if I convince everyone else of his greatness? Do I gain some sort of karmic sports points for bringing others into the light? I guess Rajon Rondo matters to me, and I wish he mattered to you. This feels so much more objective than my opinion on Skelethon, so much less like a preference and so much more like the “truth.”

In basketball, the idea of “value” looms large over every player. There’s always a question of worth, and how much Player X really means to his team. The question presents itself in such a way as to connote an easily definable answer, as if each player’s existence is a multiple choice test question. We get stuck arguing over choices C and D, when the answer is probably more open and malleable than we recognize.

This isn’t to say I’ll stop arguing about Rondo, or that we should stop arguing about player value. It’s still important to keep an open discourse. But for me, at least, I think a change in perspective is in order. There’s room to relax a little, to be more open and less entrenched. To recognize that sometimes it’s more matter of opinion than matter of fact. Skelethon isn’t for everyone; maybe Rajon Rondo isn’t for everyone either. P.S. I wrote this on a self destructing memo.

Hardwood Paroxysm Celebrates A 5-Year Paroxy-versary: Helping Hands

Image via calotype46 on Flickr

Matt Moore cares. Yes he’ll troll you on twitter (with great frequency, actually). Yes he’ll mock your opinions from time to time, and yes he does in fact hate your team. Yes he thinks Rajon Rondo and Russel Westbrook are great players and he’s a Grizzlies fan. Maybe he’s been a little rude to you once or twice. Maybe he clogs up your twitter feed with endless rants and retweets. Maybe you get annoyed by his seemingly endless memes. You may not agree with everything he writes or always agree with his approach to a certain topic. But I promise you, he cares.

Just over a year ago I was lucky enough to be brought on as part of a new crew of writers for Paroxysm. Having worked with and under Matt during that time I can say I’m often in awe of what he’s able to do. I’m incredibly jealous of his work ethic; his ability to bang out thousands of words a day with little to no sleep. I’m amazed by his ability to manage the 1,000 writers that Paroxysm currently employs. I always marvel at his commitment to learning more, if he’s not looking up obscure synergy numbers for how well Andrea Bargnani plays defense after eating chicken for dinner, he’s probably watching film of some awful Bucks-Warriors midseason game and LOVING it; his passion is undeniable. He soaks up every minute of every game, and if he feels like he missed something, or there’s some area he still doesn’t understand, he’ll watch it again.

I respect the hell out of Matt as writer and a basketball mind, but I respect him even more as a person. In my year at Paroxysm the thing that has impressed me most about Matt is his heart. He kept Paroxysm running when it would’ve been easier to just let it die. He’s used his success to try and bring others along. He brought in a bunch of young unproven people (like myself) and gave them a chance. He helped us grow as writers, and never once wavered in his belief in all of us. He continues to fight for the site and his writers in ways that often go unnoticed.

I owe pretty much all of my “basketball-twitter-blogger-writer” existence to Matt. He’s always been there. He gave me an opportunity despite essentially zero writing experience. He’s continued to support me despite the fact that I never write, and say incredibly stupid things on Twitter. When I was nervous as hell to go to my first game as a credentialed member of the media. He was there. He talked me through it, he told me it was going to be fine and that I would do great. It was fine, and at the very least I didn’t totally suck. He’s promoted my work more than he should. He’s been willing to send me detailed feedback despite his insanely busy schedule. He’s always gone above and beyond.

I owe more than an HP position to Matt .This past summer I started having panic attacks. I can say that is was the most awful, horrific, and terrifying experience of my entire life. I didn’t understand what was happening and I was incredibly scared. A few months removed, I’ve learned to deal with the anxiety, avoid the full on attacks and I feel much much better. I can also say, that looking back on that time, Matt saved me. Maybe some one else would’ve come along who could’ve empathized and explained what it was like dealing with anxiety attacks. But in my story, Matt’s the one who showed up. He shared with me his experience with panic attacks, listened to mine, and gave me tips on how to handle them. He told me I could call him anytime if I needed help. More importantly he told me I would be okay, and I believed him. It wasn’t easy, and often it still isn’t but on that day I felt so fortunate to have Matt in my life.

Matt Moore cares. That’s why Hardwood Paroxysm has grown and gained the respect of the basketball community. That’s why the site has made it 5 years and is still going strong. That’s why the site will never die. That’s why you read the site. That’s probably why you clicked on a link to this post. That’s why every writer on the HP staff, past and present, would stand behind the statement : Matt Moore is the F***ing man. That’s why so many of HP’s former writers have gone on to full time writing positions. That’s why all of the writers continue to work their hardest to provide interesting, unique, insightful content daily.  That’s why all of us are proud to write for Hardwood Paroxysm.

Dwight Howard, Spitta, and Every Fan’s Nightmare

 

(THIS VIDEO IS EXTREMELY, VERY, VERY NSFW. SERIOUSLY THIS IS NSFW AT ALL)

So Dwight Howard is a Laker now (wait, am I late on this?). If you’re looking for a post ripping Dwight and declaring this trade the death of basketball, you have come to the wrong place for two reasons: 1. As I understand it, you only get a particular amount of outrage in this life and I want to save mine for the important stuff. Such as, how the hell did JR Smith end up making only 2 million dollars? (Actually, this website has a great in-depth analysis of exactly how and why the Knicks were able to keep Swish for so cheap.) 2. I want to be one of the first people on the “Oh, Dwight Howard isn’t that bad, narratives are the worst” bandwagon. That way all of you will be able to see just how liberal and open-minded I am.

So no, I am not concerned about the state of basketball. The Lakers are going to be an incredibly fun and interesting team to watch and there are still exciting smaller market teams out there for us to love and cherish (The Nuggets for one). I do not feel bad for the owners getting strung out by these stars. For me players having more control is generally a good thing. Might there be some hiccups along the way? Sure (okay so the whole DH thing was more of a heart attack but bear with me). But I think it’s better for everyone if the players have a greater say in their future.

Despite my lack of outrage and general indiff… Excuse me, “open mindedness” to the entire situation, I can’t help but be fascinated by the superstar-fan relationship. With the actions of LeBron, Melo, Paul, and Howard over the last couple years, it’s becoming clear the idea of “franchise savior” isn’t quite holding the same amount of weight as it used to. On the other side, for any fan outside of the large markets, drafting a potential star, and having him develop into one of the league greats is essentially your only hope. Furthermore, in cases like LBJ, Howard etc. you get to watch them grow, hear them say all the right things, and really come to believe that they are the answer to the proverbial basketball fan prayers. You love them and they love you back, they promise greatness both in their play and their demeanor. Whether spoken or not, there’s an understood agreement that they will deliver a championship, that they can and will do anything to make every fan’s dream come true.

******

The power of “She Don’t Want A Man” lies in the brilliance of Curren$y’s storytelling. It’s a recounting of his sexual tryst with a married woman, but he’s not really here to brag or boast about stealing anyone’s girl. In this instance, Spitta plays the role of cool observer, a vehicle through which we enter the world of this woman. She’s married to a doctor, who by all accounts loves her. He hasn’t appeared to do anything wrong and yet she doesn’t feel satisfied. She’s tired of picking her kids up, tired of the grind of everyday life. She just wants to ride jets. Spitta knows what her husband may only suspect, that things aren’t as rosy as they once seemed.

Through this woman’s actions and words, Curren$y re-imagines the great fear of many married men: it’s not that Spitta(or someone else) might steal your woman, your woman is looking to be stolen. The idea that she wants to be elsewhere is much scarier than the idea that someone out there will try and woo her away. How do you protect against that? Even more frightening is the idea that you might never know. Jeff Weiss, over at the terrific Passion of the Weiss, writes “[Curren$y captures] the nightmare of many men: that one day the mother of his children will get bored… Instead of “shopping” she’ll be… sated… with another man. Then she’ll return home and you’ll never know what happened”.

I can’t help but feel a similar fear will start to eat at fans of teams with young superstars. We can’t ever really know what’s going on in these player’s heads. While fans will still enjoy the early years, the recent flurry of stars rushing off to greener pastures (or in Melo’s case, New York) will always be a present reminder of the possibility that their first franchise is simply a stepping stone. Or perhaps more appropriately, that things can and do change. All of those guys previously mentioned signed their first extensions with their original teams and for the most part seemed genuinely interested in carrying their respective franchise to glory. It’s doubtful that any of them had this shift fully planned out, it probably started as a simple feeling or question, an idea that it might be fun to try something different. You can’t blame them for that. After the initial high, saving a franchise is more of a weight than anything. The rush of praise and love that accompanied their arrival turns into disappointment and questioning. So, understandably, they take off and join up with their friends. Hoping a new scene and better teammates will make it a little easier and a lot more fun.

Certainly there are counter examples to what feels like the current trend, but to tout Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as proof that fans need not be worried would be a little like telling Curren$y not all married woman cheat. It’s about the possibility that they might, the idea that some will. The power of what if? is enough to cause even the truest of fans unease. Instead of asking the usual questions like ” I wonder when we’ll get our first championship” or “Who do we need to surround him with to get our ring?” they may be forced to ask “What if we can’t get the necessary support?,” “What if things change?”, “What if he leaves?”. Unfortunately we can never really know the answers to these what ifs. Instead we are always stuck in limbo, wondering if our worst nightmare may just become a reality.

The Greatest Game Ever Played: T-Mac Retro Diary

Photo by KingsleyRN from Flickr

When @OrlandoMagic_89 alerted me on twitter that NBA TV was showing Tracy McGrady’s 60 point game, I knew immediately I had to write about it. There’s nothing like watching the best perimeter player of the early to mid 2000s unleash every last bit of his unnaturally natural basketball ability (Yes T-Mac was better than Kobe, and no Kobe fans I am not wrong, for two reasons. 1. you are a Kobe fan 2. Since you are a Kobe fan you’re probably a Laker fan. Game over). I’m more excited to watch this game than possibly anything I saw this season.

I miss watching Tracy McGrady. I’ve never been able to replace the feeling I got of knowing a T-Mac game was on TV. I was always captivated by the way McGrady moved through space, how easily the game seemed to come to him. No player before or since has ever captured nearly the same aesthetic, the same feel, the same emotion. I felt everything with McGrady, the pain and the joy. I know I’ll never really quite recapture that again. But for tonight at least, I get to pretend that the real T-Mac never really left. I can’t wait.

1st Quarter:

  • First thing to note is that this game, unfortunately, could not be presented in high definition. If I miss something important I’m gonna go ahead and blame it on that.
  • The starting lineup for the Magic is Tyronn Lue, Juwan Howard, Deshawn Stevenson (pre Abe neck tattoo, I think), Andrew Declerq, and T-Mac. Three of those players now actually has an NBA championship ring, and neither of them is named Tracy McGrady. Hold on a second I need to go cry for a bit.
  • For his first score, McGrady calmly takes a pick from Howard, gets the switch he’s looking for, calmly sizes up the defender at the top of the arc, beats him with a hesitation left, gets in to the lane, rises with his left hand only to switch back to his right and and hit a contested floater. He does all this while seemingly moving at half speed, and also making it look like just about the simplest task you could complete. Dear god.
  • On a nearly identical pick McGrady gets the switch again. This time he hits the sagging defender with a smooth cross into a step back jumper that rips through the net.
  • It’s worth noting that the entirety of the Magic offense runs through Tracy McGrady. This is not because T-Mac is selfish or needs the ball all the time. This is no Carmelo Anthony situation. It’s because his teammates are Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue and… well you get the idea. Basically it’s Tracy McGrady or Tyronn Lue trying to drive and making a fool of himself. Where’s the Kleenex I was using before?
  • Deshawn Stevenson just drove into the lane and threw a reverse lay up into the bottom of the rim. Maybe we are underrating the power of that neck tattoo.
  • It’s too bad McGrady didn’t have a halfway decent pick and roll big man on this team. His pacing coming off screens is great, and his vision was always the most underrated part of the game. Would’ve loved to see him play with someone like Amar’e Stoudemire, would’ve been essentially unstoppable. Instead I’m stuck here watching Andrew Declerq (also is the Q at the end of your name really necessary Andrew? Because it’s confusing as hell)
  • It’s also worth noting how, early on at least, McGrady is not jacking up terrible shots. On many possessions he drawn defenders and kicked to the open guy only to have a teammate clank a jumper or turn the ball over. Do you think at the time he realized how terrible his team was? Did he tell them? How do you deal with that? “uh hey Tyronn, yeah, it’d be great if you weren’t terrible. Maybe then I wouldn’t have to score every single point for us to have a chance”.
  • McGrady just fought for (and won) post position on a big man and then proceeded to make a beautiful drop step move and draw the foul. What I failed to mention was that big man was Etan Thomas.
  • Wait Steve Blake played for the Wizards? Damn, he really has taken his awful, life sucking brand of basketball to every NBA city. He’s so obnoxiously unimpressive I’m surprised he was never a teammate of Tracy’s in Orlando.
  • The Magic shot 25% in the quarter and had 15 points. Without McGrady they would’ve had 8. Man it had to be depressing playing for that team.

2nd Quarter

  • After a first quarter in which McGrady tried to coax his teammates into, maybe, you know, putting the ball in the basket every now and again, he’s essentially entered what can only be described as F*** it mode. He started by hitting two ridiculously tough turn around fade away jumpers, then drilled an “easy” mid range shot coming off a screen. After hitting another tough long range two, McGrady proceeded to look for, and take the type of heat check three that’s really only a good shot for superstars who are “feeling it”. This shot of course hit the bottom of the net, giving McGrady 11 points in a row.
  • McGrady had a way of floating and moving on his jumpers that was so soothing. Maybe it wasn’t fundamentally correct, but it’s a little like the Dirk fallaway. If you’re really really really good, sometimes breaking the rules makes sense. T-Mac was able to hit such a variety of difficult shots, in such different positions. He could lift off, float, contort his body, and then calmly stroke his wrist forward, without once betraying the ease that permeated his game.
  • This epitomizes the reason we’ll never see a player quite like T-Mac again. Imagine Chris Paul completing the following maneuvers. Paul comes off a high pick at the top of the key, and the defender shows hard. Paul sees this and reacts with a behind the back dribble. Both defenders stay with Paul as the roll man leaves, so Paul attacks the man on his left side and leads him into yet another screen. Once off that screen, one defender is now trailing him, with the other hurrying over to cut off his driving lane. Paul unleashes a cross over back to the right, that splits between both defenders, getting the ball low enough to keep it away from the big man’s outstretched arm. Paul then makes two pass fakes and snakes to the rim finishing with a beautiful finger roll. That’s a pretty incredible series of moves, and reads. Except it wasn’t small, lightning quick Chris Paul, it was the lanky 6 foot 8 inch frame of Tracy McGrady. Incredible.
  • The announcer for this game just informed me that McGrady has scored 17 points in 5 minutes, and somehow that seems too low. Oh also just by the way, McGrady has 24 of Orlando’s 34 points.
  • After going off for 17 points in five minutes, McGrady takes a double team toward the rim and calmly kicks it Howard at the elbow for an open 2. This is one of the things that always amazed me about McGrady. Did he have games where he forced it? Sure. But you could never accuse him of a Kobe Bryant like attitude. He understood how to play and was more than willing to set up his teammates for easy scores. It makes sense. Nothing about McGrady’s game every really belied force. T-Mac was all about feel. Sure his prowess and talent allowed him to dominate. But it never felt external, it never felt like an impression or “will”. It’s like there was some energy that already existed within the game he could tap into. As if there was some secret harmony he just naturally fit within.  I think I just described a Goku spirit bomb.
  • For editing purposes I think the could’ve removed the “LIVE” icon that popped up every now and then throughout the broadcast. Also the broadcaster mentioned a “T-Mac giveaway” and I got excited. I need help.
  • The Magic announcer keeps mentioning how some player other than McGrady needs to make a shot. Meanwhile Lue just clanked two wide open threes. This, apparently, was life.
  • To the end quarter the Wizard defense falls asleep, allowing a lob to McGrady on an inbound who finishes through a foul. McGrady completely the half with 28 points, 21 of which came in the 2nd quarter.

3rd Quarter

  • McGrady hits another pretty long range two. His jumper always had such beautiful relaxed motion on it. While Ray Allen is the greatest shooter I’ve ever seen, his motion has always seemed violent to me, as if born out of hours of militant, hard-nosed, practice and perfection. I remember going to watch McGrady at the Rose Garden and observing as he warmed up. His form was exactly like the rest of his game, it was so easy, so smooth. Just a soft flick of the wrist, effortlessly guiding the ball toward the rim. (If you’re getting tired of poetic waxing about Tracy McGrady this post is obviously not for you)
  • On a pick both defenders go with McGrady, he rises with Jeffries right in his face takes a hit to the arm and still drains the jumper. The Magic announcer declares it “that kind of night”. Well said, sir.
  • After drilling a 3 McGrady has the Magic’s first 10 points of the quarter (in only two minutes), I’m beginning to sense a theme here…
  • Also, at one point or another DeShawn put on a headband, I really have no idea why. Worth noting again that DeShawn Stevenson has a ring and T-Mac does not. Excuse me I’m gonna go drink something radioactive.
  • Mcgrady puts a series of dribble moves on Arenas, pulls up for three, and proceeds to run the other way before it even goes in. The Announcer is “upset”with T-Mac, asking him emphatically to “cut it out”, and describing the entire sequence as “nasty’. There’s really no room left for me to comment. Well played.
  • Who let Tyronn Lue be an NBA starting point guard? He’s missed so many open shots even Ray Felton thinks his jumper is broken. (note 1: chronologically this joke probably makes no sense) (Note 2: I don’t really care)
  • T-Mac is now putting in anything and everything. He’s making terrible pull up threes, difficult mid range jumpers, and anything else you can imagined. he has 44 points with 5 minutes with left in the 3rd quarter. The rest of the Magic team has 24 points. Yikes.
  • Gilbert Arenas also has quite a few points in this game. I don’t care, and neither should you.
  • Keith Bogans made a three pointer that hit the rim 25 times. I was just amazed to see a Magic player not named “McGrady” hit a three.
  • Finally they flash that McGrady is 19-26. 50 points on 26 shots. He has 22 this quarter all on what can only be characterized as extremely difficult shots. They’ve all been contested or off balance or some combination of both. The announcers have essentially left themselves to making excited noises when McGrady makes a shot, because, well, what is there really left to say?
  • While earlier the Magic announcer had hopes for “other Magic players” making shots. He has now resigned himself to the fact that they all suck, and is instead hoping that “McGrady can maybe get to the free throw line” and find some easy points to give himself a break.
  • McGrady is starting to look tired. Not from all the jumpers but from carrying an entire group of NBA-player sized people on his back for the last 35 minutes.
  • You know your team is horrible when the announcer declares that “Deshawn Stevenson has just checked in for Tyronn Lue”
  • (Now I will not mention that towards the end of the 3rd quarter McGrady went a little cold. This is meant to be nostalgic, which can be defined as remembering things in a way that makes you happy no matter what you have to ignore (Source: Webster’s)
  • McGrady finishes the quarter with 52 points, and yet through 2 the Wizards are still only down 9. *Gives the rest of the Magic a standing ovation* *Ironically*

4th Quarter

  • Deshawn Stevenson just threw the worst alley-oop pass I’ve ever seen. McGrady proceeds to look at Deshawn like it was the worst alley-oop pass he’d ever seen. Again, Deshawn Stevenson : 1 ring, Tracy McGrady: 0 rings.
  • Sure McGrady is out there point chasing but he looks so elega… Okay, I won’t do it. This part of the game is just about T-Mac getting the most points he can, I’m not gonna pretend any different.
  • McGrady makes a free throw to break Shaq’s franchise record of 53 points in one game. Can’t believe Shaq didn’t do a rap about that.
  • McGrady saves the best points of the night for a driving, contorting, reverse lay up that he some how puts in despite having over 1000 pounds of dead weight chained to his ankle. Seriously on replay you can actually see Andrew Declreq holding down Tracy’s ankles while Tyronne Lue hopes on his shoulders for a piggy back ride. Incredible stuff.
  • Also Tyronne Lue just set the Franchise record for most open jumpers clanked in one game. Congrats to Lue and his family.
  • After a foul McGrady banks in a half court shot (that doesn’t count) causing the arena to erupt in applause. Miss you T-mac.
  • Mcgrady hits a free throw to give him 62 points. 62 freaking points. That is unbelievable *Ignores the fact that if McGrady had made his free throws he might have gotten to 70*
  • Steve Blake just made a three and I got irrationally angry as I always do. Good to know that he haunts me even in chronologically irrelevant events.
  • Shoutout once again to the rest of the Magic team for keeping this close enough that McGrady had to keep playing. Without their awfulness we never would’ve gotten 62 out of McGrady. Inspiring stuff from everyone. Good job, good effort all around.

Well that was just about perfect. It was really exhilarating and a little sad, the quintessential T-Mac experience. Maybe if he’d practiced harder he’d have scored 60 every night and The Magic would’ve won a title, is that how it goes? I could never really get the argument straight. Anyhow, I hope y’all enjoyed that as much as I did. I laughed, I cried, and I made fun of T-Mac’s teammates a lot to cope with the deep sadness that his career brings me. I got to glimpse something that I haven’t been able to replace since 2007. I felt like a kid again, a naive loving fan. I allowed myself to get lost in a game. I got to experience and enjoy the first player I ever truly felt attached to, the first sports player or team I ever shed a tear over. I got to witness effortless perfection; fluid, unimposing dominance. Tonight, I got vintage T-Mac, if only for a moment. Sounds like the perfect Monday night.

Summer League Notebook: Blazers vs. Hornets

It’s difficult to know what exactly we can take away from a performance at Summer League. There’s a delicate balance between management of expectations, and general excitement and intrigue that surrounds the influx of new talent. Damian Lillard put together a nearly perfect second half, attacking the rim effectively, and perfectly pacing his pick and rolls, while Austin Rivers generally struggled to find consistent offense. Blazers fans are already talking about Lillard being a savior, and while it’s entirely ridiculous at this juncture, who could really blame them? These young prospects offer hope. It’s why any fan gets excited about a promising rookie, or yearns to see flashes of brilliance in an otherwise meaningless summer league game. Performances like Lillard’s second half allow the most pollyanish vision of the future to feel realistic, or attainable. Maybe Lillard will be great, maybe he won’t, but the possibility that he might it was makes Summer League so intriguing.

Here are some observations and thoughts I had as the game progressed.

1st Quarter

  • Great slot pass from Lillard to Leonard on their first pick and roll together. Blazer fans are already deeming Lillard a future Hall of Famer.
  • Wes Matthews starts out by hitting a couple of very tough step back jumpers. Kind of weird seeing him out here for Summer League. Maybe he wants to get used to playing with Lillard. Or learn to run a fastbreak without looking completely terrible.
  • Nolan Smith put a nice spin move on fellow Duke alum Austin Rivers, therefore proving he was a better draft pick than Kenneth Faried.
  • Rivers has already taken three pull up threes off of pick and rolls, and he’s made one. Somewhere Eric Gordon must be quivering.
  • The first part of Rivers debut went pretty much as expected. He mostly looked to shoot and generally failed to set other people up. He committed one turnover but in general he  looked comfortable handling it out top.
  • As for Lillard it generally went pretty well. As mentioned the first pick between him and Leonard was great. He followed that up with a couple careless turnovers but also threw in a really nice take to the rim. The pace of his game is already pretty good, and he has done a solid job so far of running the team, and finding open shooters off of penetration. Leonard has mostly been big and athletic. He’s had a couple very nice contests at the rim going straight up with his arms extended, forcing Hornets players to finish over him (a skill Andersen Varejao has perfected). On offense he generally looks lost, though him and Lillard could end up being a very good PnR pair given his size and athleticism.

2nd Quarter

  • Nolan Smith still doesn’t look very comfortable handling the ball or being any kind of playmaker. He has however had a couple of very nice takes to the rim, so at least we have that. (Seriously why didn’t they draft Faried?)
  • He may be out of control at times, but Leonard is extremely active, which is something that can be very valuable if harnessed in the correct ways. If he learns to rotate effectively and avoid foul trouble he could end up being a very nice pair with Lamarcus Aldridge on the defensive end of the ball.
  • Lillard’s form looks very good, but he’s struggled to find any kind of rhythm. He’s also settled a couple times coming off a pick and roll when I think he had a lane to the hoop. It seemed like both times the angle he took of the pick was a little too wide causing him to get pushed farther out than if he had been slightly more aggressive.
  • And while he is very good at finding the shooter in the corner, I wonder if he is giving up on drives a little too early.
  • Rivers is very, very aggressive, always looking to attack when he can. He reminds me a lot of Jerryd Bayless in that way. However, it does seem while his attitude may be similar, Rivers may not have the same ability and strength that’s necessary to make that style effective. It also means he’s probably not the best option as a point guard – like Bayless, he will struggle if forced to fit that mold. His ideal situation will likely be as a scoring punch off the bench. Unfortunately, I’m not sure New Orleans will utilize him in that way.
  • Will Barton obviously needs to add some weight to his frame, otherwise he’s going to struggle getting to the rim with any kind of consistency. He’s also seemed generally kind of out of control out there.
  • Amazingly Damian Lillard (2-10) was much more shot happy than Austin Rivers (1-4). Lillard definitely didn’t take any horrible shots, though he did force at times. Rivers was much more patient in his pick and roll sets after his first run, and did a better job of not forcing any jumpers.

2nd Half

  • Lillard starts off the half with a beautiful alley oop to Leonard on a base line cut. While he’s not an elite level passer, his vision has definitely impressed overall.
  • Rivers’ aggression was showed beautifully when splitting between two defenders on a pick and roll and getting all the way to the rim to draw a foul.
  • Lillard goes straight to the hoop on a dribble drive. That is something I’d like to see more of. I do worry about his size, he’s much shorter than I expected, and even in summer league it feels like it’s deterred him from being as aggressive as possible attacking the basket.
  • Lillard converts the shot of the game, taking a lot of contact and finishing a tough fade-away-floaterish shot for the and one.
  • It says something about Wes Matthews that he doesn’t at all stand out at Summer League. With this much time in the league you’d think he’d at least impress somewhat. But he’s been mostly underwhelming.
  • Rivers has missed more than one open player off the pick and roll. They haven’t been particularly difficult reads either. They are the type of plays that pretty much every NBA starting point guard would be capable of making. Just further evidence that he’s really better off focusing on getting his own shot.
  • Babbit’s shot looks really good, he’s essentially automatic when wide open. While he’s basically not good at anything else, if he’s an elite level shooter he can serve a Steve Novak-type role for the Blazers and really help space the floor.
  • Rivers isn’t at all afraid of contact. He’s taken hard hits a couple of times at the end of his drive. While it’s good to see him play so fearlessly, you also have to wonder how well his more slight frame will handle that type of beating.
  • Worth noting that Lillard has pretty much owned this third quarter, he’s converted a number of tough shots inside (a couple with fouls on top), looked much more aggressive in attacking the rim, and continued to set up his teammates nicely. He’s also gotten his outside shot working a little bit better, though he’s still not shooting the ball particularly well.
  • A very split and dish by Rivers on the pick and roll was negated by a charge call. Too bad. It was a really nice play, and his aggressiveness probably deserved to be rewarded. The charge on the pass off is definitely something I’d like to see eliminated from the game.
  • The difference between Lillard’s approach in the first and second half has been pretty startling. While he took ten shots, he was much more passive in his approach in the first half. Maybe he’s seen something specific in the defense or just feels more comfortable after settling in, but in the second half Lillard has been pretty relentless. He’s come off of the pick and roll with a lot more pace, looking to get past the screener’s defender and all the way to the rim. If he’s capable of making these types of reads and adjustments throughout a game, he’s going to be a very good point guard in this league.
  • To continue my Lillard love-fest: His pace on the pick and roll has been pretty perfect in the second half. He has a great sense for how to vary his speeds and probe the defense to find the correct lane or gap. He’s also shown an ability to finish very tough shots in the lane. In the first half he struggled in that area, but in the second half he’s been basically perfect in that area.
  • Despite throwing an outlet pass into the courtside press row, Leonard has quietly been pretty solid. He has a double-double, and seems to have pretty good chemistry with Lillard both on cuts and as the screener in the pick and roll.
  • Lillard daggers the Hornets with a step back three over Austin Rivers. Pretty impressive debut, Damian.
  • I asked Lillard about his more aggressive approach in the second half after the game: “When I came out a lot of my shots were jumpers. I felt like I needed to get in rhythm which meant I needed to get to the free throw line. I needed to get to the rim and draw contact and get to the line. Once I started to get fouled, I hit a few free throws and I got rollin’. I started to get to the rim and then I hit a few jumpers” (note: Video for this quote can be found over at CSNW)

Summer League Notebook: Toronto Vs. Miami

This was not the most entertaining of games (this is also a huge understatement). Ed Davis who was probably the best player on the floor for most of the game, was actually fairly underwhelming. Terrence Ross struggled to find any kind of rhythm. Watching the Heat was an experience that generally led to something along the linnes of “Oh my god I can’t believe that guy was on an actual NBA roster last year”. Safe to say it was not the most compelling of games (even for summer league), but throughout there were some interesting and or fun things to talk about. You can find those things below.

1st Quarter

  • Ed Davis just made one of the more awkward, generally terrible drives to the rim of the week so far. And that is saying something for Summer League.
  • Miami has busted out a full court press. Toronto seems to be handling it just fine. Unlike the Knicks yesterday, who scientists estimate turned the ball over 1,000 times against the Grizzlies press.
  • The problem with Norris Cole is that he’s fast, but he’s consistently out of control. One of the things that has made Ty Lawson so damn good is his ability to go at incredible speeds while still aware of everything around and in front of him. Cole needs to figure out how to change pace better, and avoid getting himself into difficult situations.
  • Ross hits a jumper off a curl for his first bucket. His release is so high and so smooth. For all the fuss over Beal, he could easily end up being the best shooter from this draft.
  • Dexter Pittman still leaves a lot to be desired. He’s traveled once, and made a pretty lackluster move on his other post up. Also, couldn’t the NBA have suspended him for Summer League for the flagrant foul he committed against the Pacers? Just to spare the rest of us?
  • After two slow, deliberate, and generally poor looking moves to the rim, Ed Davis makes a beautiful baseline spin to a nice lefty finish. I was just getting ready to ask if Davis was supposed to be any good, but I suppose I have to hold off.
  • Ross struggles a bit trying to create his own shot of the dribble. His handle is pretty week, and his center of gravity is too high. Defenders are going to get in his grill and force him to put the ball on the floor. He has to figure out a way to get by guys and then find his way to the rim, because once he’s there he’s very good at using his length and athleticism to finish over taller defenders.

2nd Quarter

  • Drew Viney has some very nice fakes, but that’s kind of all he does. If you just stay on the ground with your hands up and don’t jump, he’ll probably never score.
  • Bobby Brown just had the highlight of the game so far with a LeBron-esque fastbreak block. Brown is listed at 6-2. There’s no way he’s actually that tall.
  • Quincy Acy is giving Royce White some competition for most overly physical player in summer league. He just shoves pushes and grabs whenever possible.
  • The Raptors only have 13 points so far….This is painful.
  • Via @outsidethenba, Terrence Ross sat for 3:39 seconds and the Raptors were outscored 10-0. M-V-P. M-V-P. M-V-P.
  • Ever since I wrote about Cole staying under control, he’s played very well. He’s generally taken what has been given to him, and has even hit a couple jumpers coming off the pick and roll. He’s also shown more patience on the break, allowing guys to fill lanes around him, and then delivering them the ball in good spots.
  • Ross made a pretty solid drive to the rim, but the spin move put him kind of in a crowd. He ended up drawing the foul, but I think the defense kind of bailed him out as the finish was going to be pretty difficult.
  • Ross with a nice fake spin along the baseline to get to the rim and draw the foul. Yes, I will be chronicling nearly all of Ross’s forays to the rim. I find it interesting, and that’s all that matters.
  • Offensively, this game has not been pretty. Neither team has anyone that can consistently create looks for themselves or others. Davis has made a couple nice moves but he generally looks awkward trying to get in near the rim. Ross has been most impressive but even he has looked uncomfortable involving any situation other than coming off a screen or hitting a spot up jumper. The Raptors biggest problem is that no one is capable of penetrating all the way to the rim. You can have all the passing and movement in the world but if no one can actually attack the rim it’s difficult to score consistently. For the Heat, Norris Cole is pretty much their best scoring option, but he’s also trying to run point. Then there’s Dexter Pittman who…well…see…he’s Dexter Pittman. This is why we find ourselves with a 31-29 game at half.
2nd Half
  • The boxscore I was just handed reveals in the first half the Heat shot 22.9%, while the Raptors shot a scorching 28.6%. Yikes.
  • Viney gets yet another player with one of his old guy at the YMCA style pump fake pivot moves. You’d think they would’ve figured it out by now.
  • Ed Davis just had one of those travels where he jumped in the air to shoot but then couldn’t get it off before he landed because of a good contest. Good to know this happens to NBA players too.
  • Ed Davis has gotten to the line a ton by essentially spinning back to his left hand and having the Heat foul him, even though he’s not in particularly great scoring position. This does not seem like a particularly sustainable strategy. Though I think this is generally what Corey Maggette has been doing for years.
  • Chris Wright takes every opportunity he can get to send himself flying towards the rim. It’s not a particularly effective strategy, but it is pretty entertaining to watch.
  • What will make Ross so difficult to guard is how difficult it is to bother his shot. His release is very high over his head and he gets incredible lift on his jumper. This allows him to focus mostly on his footwork and placement coming off screens with little worry of any defender impending his look at the rim.
  • Norris Cole made a really nice find off a pick and roll, drawing the defense and delivering the ball to a weak side cutter. If he can provide this kind of steady play for even 15 minutes a game next year, the Heat will benefit quite a bit. That backup point guard spot has always given them a bit of trouble (shoutout to Mike Bibby).
  • So far I’ve gathered that Daniel Orton is very large, and not much else.
  • In the 3rd quarter over 20 fouls were called between the two sides. 20+ foul quarters happen way too often in summer league. I’m not sure whether this is the refs’ fault or if the players are really just fouling way too much, but it needs to stop. Now.
  • It’s not that Pittman looks completely terrible, he’s just generally struggling against pretty mediocre competition.This is also your friendly reminder that Dexter Pittman started an NBA playoff game, and the team he started for ended up winning the NBA championship. You can’t make this stuff up.
  • Just a gorgeous display of passing from the Heat. First, a beautiful around the back save to Norris Cole who delivered an around the back pass to a cutting wing, who then left it off for Pittman, who finished it off with a… super awkward lay up. That almost made up from the rest of this awful game.
  • The Heat have finally found some offense and broken this game open (relatively). Looks like they might even crack 80 points. Things are not looking nearly as rosy for the Raptors.
  • Terrence Ross did the ‘drop it off to the big guy after coming off a curl screen’ thing that Ray Allen is so good at, only Daniel Orton fumbled it out of bounds. Awesome.
  • Ed Davis has probably been the best Raptor on the floor, but he also hasn’t really impressed me. Generally it feels like he’s getting to the line on pretty dumb fouls by the Heat. Other than his spin move, Davis’ movements seem awkward and clunky and not particularly effective. But hey he has a double double so maybe I’m just crazy.
  • Also of note: Ross has generally struggled to find any kind of rhythm today. He’s gotten some good open looks off screens and spot ups but mostly failed to knock them down. This shouldn’t really be of too much concern, any good shooter is bound to have a poor game every now and again. Worth mentioning that after the game, Ross mentioned that it felt like Miami had a much better gameplan defending him than Houston.
  • After the game I asked Ross a question similar to the one I asked Terrence Jones yesterday, about growing up and entering the league together. Ross had this to say, “Not too many guys get to say they played with each other since 6th grade and get all the way to the NBA. It’s been fun, we have a lot of memories together. We still have a long ways to go, but we’re enjoying it.”

Eastern Conference Finals Roundtable: Rajon Rondo Is An Alien

 

Photo by rm996s from Flickr

We have finally been granted reprieve from that awful Celtics-Sixers series (Why god? WHY?), and it’s time to start gearing up for Celtics-Heat. In order to do so, Connor Huchton, Amin Vafa, Jared Dubin, Sean Highkin, and Noam Schiller answered some important questions about each team’s chances in the series, and some even more important questions about Rajon Rondo’s origins and entirely hypothetical series defining moments. Enjoy.

1) The Heat will win if…

Amin: Wade continues his play of late. LeBron will continue to be a beast. Wade needs to be one, too. And if they get Bosh back, too? Oof.

Noam: Neither LeBron nor Wade pull off a major disappearing act. Miami’s defense will sustain against an atrocious Boston offense regardless of any individual, but which mean that this series will come down to the Miami’s duo and their ability to put points on the board. They should have enough just from the twosome playing to their regular standards, let alone the insane bar set by te Indy series. But if LeBron inexplicably vanishes yet again or Wade’s knee-drain revival is cut short, they might lack the firepower to topple the KG Wall.

Connor: Both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade play up to their respective average levels and Mario Chalmers or Udonis Haslem provide some form of adequate production. Basically, the Heat’s two remaining stars have to stay healthy and the rest of the team has to do better than terrible. The Heat are the better team, Bosh or no Bosh, so they just need to play like ‘themselves’.

Sean: If LeBron and Wade play at even 80 percent of the level they did in the Indiana series, I’m not sure how much Boston can do. Getting Chris Bosh at some point would help, just to make Kevin Garnett work a little bit on defense. But if the Flying Death Machine does Flying Death Machine things, Miami should be fine.

Jared: LeBron doesn’t vanish off the face of the Earth.

2) The Celtics will win if…

Amin:This year, Rondo falls on Wade’s arm and makes it bend the other way. Seemed to work well for the Heat last year, though they would have won regardless. Still, the Celtics are going to need every advantage they can get.

Noam: They benefit from a borderline inconceivable medical miracle and/or Miami shoots itself in the foot. Boston has the heart of a champion and the ghosts of Celtic teams past and they’re in Miami’s head or whatever silly junk we’re supposed to believe, but this team just isn’t very good. Ray Allen looks horrendous, Paul Pierce’s “LeBron Stopper” reputation died last year when he still had his knee, and Ryan Hollins is getting major minutes. This team is completely overmatched unless something ridiculous happens.

Connor: If the Heat forget how to play offense and Boston scores more than 90 points on three separate occasions. Both are unlikely to happen.

Sean: How does “Boston can win if their defense slow down the deadliest open-court tandem in the world without having Avery Bradley to stick on Dwyane Wade” sound? If Bosh remains out, Garnett should have a monster series. But I don’t think that will be enough.

Jared: LeBron vanishes off the face of the Earth and Kevin Garnett goes ape shit.

3) Is Rajon Rondo an alien? 

Amin: No, because he’s too flawed to not be human. Though if our planet needed some sort of intergalactic liaison to the rest of the universe, I’d nominate Rondo in a heartbeat.

Noam: Yes. The peaks and valeys his play sees on a quarter-to-quarter basis, let alone game-to-game, are too volatile to be caused by any human trait. It can only be explained by the unique chemical reaction caused by the fluctuations in the distance between his home planet of Tripdub and its pointguaridium-based moon.

Connor: No, triple-doubles are a purely human achievement if you discount Space Jam’s alternate universe.

Sean: The debate about whether or not there are intelligent life forms beyond earth is one of the most divisive, polarizing topics there is. You know what’s the most contentious topic in many parts of the NBA internet (besides the clutchness of LeBron)? The worth of Rajon Rondo. If you told me he were an alien sent to the NBA to bring to the surface every fan’s beliefs about what makes a good point guard, I’d have a surprisingly easy time believing it.

Jared: At this point, there’s more evidence for than against, right? Those gigantic hands, those octopus arms, the fact that he hasn’t shown an ounce of emotion since he entered the league. He’s got to be either an alien or a cyborg, and since I’m not comfortable with the thought that he might be a computer-generated program designed to deliver pinpoint passes, I’m going with alien. Seems like a safer bet.

4) If The Heat are The Flying Death Machine The Celtics are..

Amin: The Rack. You know, that medieval torture device where one’s body was tied to it, pulled in several directions, so you’d suffer a slow, disorienting, and painful death? That’s basically what the Celtics try to do. Their offense isn’t that good, especially compared to the Heat’s. But they try to trap others and get them out of rhythm so their offenses don’t work. It’s slow and painful to watch, but sometimes, it does the trick.

Noam: The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon. There is nothing momentarily powerful about this team, but they are so desperate to continue with their incessantle feeble attacks that they are deadly just by sustaining their snail pace.

Connor: The beginning of Benjamin Button.

Sean: Brett Favre’s first season with the Vikings. Will they be blown up? Or will they remember they’re not supposed to be in the conference finals at this age? Every basketball fan kind of wants them to go away, even as they’re sort of in awe of how well they can utilize their age and evolving strength to hang with much younger teams.

Jared: The Venus Fly Trap. Their rotations are always on a string; never late, but never hurried. You think you have an open passing lane, and then it’s gone. You think you have an open jumper, and then it’s blocked. Boston’s defense tricks you into thinking you have an opening, and then slams it shut before you know what to do with yourself.

5)Provide a completely hypothetical moment that will define this series.

Amin: WARNING: THIS IS GROSS: Dexter Pittman will try to be a tough guy again and flagrantly foul KG, but KG will see it coming, and he’ll rip off Pittman’s arm and use it to trip Wade. Wade will strain his ACL, and Bosh will reinjure his abs because he got so grossed out watching that happen that he puked a lot. The Heat bench, then the entire arena will be like the pie-eating contest scene in “Stand By Me,” and Celtics will win the series by default.

Noam: Wade and James will combine for 79 points in an 87-85 win in game four that will put Miami up 3-1 and seal the deal. The game winning shot, however, will be made by Joel Anthony, thus keeping the clutch narrative alive.

Connor: With the series tied 1-1, the Heat have possession and are inbounding with seven seconds remaining. LeBron James catches the ball at half court and quickly drives towards the basket. Just when all seems lost for the Heat and James is hurtling out of bounds, he ‘passes up the moment’ by throwing the ball back to a patiently waiting Joel Anthony. Anthony dunks the ball as time expires, and the Heat win. Confused, the Boston crowd accidentally cheers.

Sean: LeBron and Wade will do the unthinkable and actually score ALL of the Heat’s points between them in a close win, putting to rest any doubts about whether they can play together at the ends of games. Needless to say, the following game, LeBron will pass to, like, Dexter Pittman for the final shot and the “WHO’S TEH CLOSER” debate will become five times as annoying as it already is.

Jared: Game 5. Heat up by 2. Boston has whittled Miami’s 20 point lead all the way down and it looks like they might actually make a series of this thing. And then LeBron dunks in KG’s grill, and for the first time in his career, the big man doesn’t get up woofing and hollering.

6) Who ya got and in how many?

Amin: Heat in 5. I would have said Heat in 6, but I think it’d be really difficult for the Heat to win a closeout Game 6 in Boston this year, and I don’t think the Celtics will provide enough resistance to take Miami to 7 games.

Noam: Heat in 5. The Celtics have 4 players who are both good and healthy. When you’re playing the Heat and even depth is a disadvantage, you’re not in for a pretty sight. Honestly, Miami should probably sweep this, but they’ve consistently lacked the focus to do so against any opponent and Rajon Rondo will have his one crazy game at home because that’s what he does.

Connor: The Heat will win in five games, unless they don’t, in which case I would like to change my prediction to whatever actually happens. Please edit this when the time comes.

Sean: Heat in 5. LeBron and Wade will just be too much for the Celtics to handle.

Jared: Heat in 5.

NBA Playoffs: The Knicks Live To Die Another Die… But Seriously Congrats New York

Wow. That was a whole lot of fun for everyone involved. The Knicks finally got a playoff win.  Sure Miami will still win the series, likely in five games, but that still had to feel really good for New York and their fans. Here are my thoughts and musings from the game:

  • In some ways it’s really admirable that Amar’e wants to play, in other ways it seems really silly. If you’re a New York fan it’s difficult to feel too excited about having him out there; it’s no small secret that the Knicks have looked better with lineups the feature Melo in iso, surrounded by shooters. However, given how well equipped Miami is to defend Melo and the incredible job they’ve done so far this series at limiting his ability to score, the Knicks only chance may be to put Amar’e out there and hope for a reversal of the discouraging trend.
  •  The Heat’s defense has been absolutely unbelievable on Carmelo Anthony. Yes, a lot of that has to do with LeBron James. Carmelo has generally been reluctant to attack the rim whenever LeBron is checking him, which is both understandable and somewhat odd. I am by no means an expert in the matchup history between Carmelo and LBJ, but in the past I’ve seen Carmelo be much more willing to go at James and try and get to the basket. Maybe LeBron’s gotten better as a defender, maybe the help defense surrounding him is better, maybe Carmelo just feels he needs to conserve energy since there other scoring options on the Knicks are few. Whatever it is, Carmelo has been generally ineffective through 3 games and that’s no small feat. Coming into the the playoffs, there was not a scorer in the league that was playing better than Melo; the Heat’s ability to corral Anthony has been as important as any factor so far in this series.
  • Credit Stoudemire, he’s been aggressive and active both offensively and rebounding the basketball. Despite having the left hand wrapped up with layers upon layers of tape, gauze, and steri strips, he’s been really effective. This as well as I’ve seen Amar’e play in a very long time. Carmelo has been getting some pretty good looks, but so far has been generally unable to put them down. He needs to keep staying aggressive and refuse to settle for quick pull ups; it’s the Knicks only chance at winning this game
  • This is a really really ugly game. Per Tom Haberststroh of the ESPN Heat Index, just over a quarter into the game the Heat and Knicks had combined to miss 20 of their 23 jumpers. Yikes. Also over 4 minutes into the 2nd the quarter the Knicks have failed to register a field goal. PLEASE GOD MAKE IT STOP.
  • The Heat are doing an incredible job of shadowing Novak. They are really determined to keep him from getting any kind of space. Really smart move. The only way the Knicks win this is probably behind a Novak-Smith 3 point barrage, if you prevent them from getting good looks, it makes it difficult for that to happen. For his part, Woodson needs to make some adjustments, and get creative in finding ways to get Novak free. I feel like at some point, we should also talk about how generally awful JR Smith has been offensively. For the series he’s shooting below 40% from the field and 25% from behind the arc, which really hurts considering that’s supposed to be his specialty. The Knicks needed JR to be an X-factor for them in this series, unfortunately he hasn’t delivered at all.
  • Multiple times in this series, Tyson Chandler has lost his composure, and it’s cost his team. Don’t get me wrong Tyson has been this team’s MVP for the whole year, but he can’t be letting his emotions get the best of him, even if it’s only for a moment.
  • The Knicks finally made the Heat pay for their fronting of Carmelo Anthony, with action on the baseline from Landry Fields. It only took them three and a half games to figure out it. Congrats guys!
  • Oh so apparently the solution to the Knicks’ 3rd quarter offensive woes is to start JR Smith(who once again, is shooting 40% from the field, and 25% from behind the arc). Actually as crazy as this may sound I think it’s the right move. They Knicks need to hope for something kind of unexpected to happen and JR is capable of scoring 10 points in just as many seconds; might as well roll the dice. And of course JR goes and dribbles it out of bounds while trying to go around the back. At the very least this will be entertaining.
  • I can’t believe I’m saying this: get Amar’e the ball more. He’s been pretty incredible getting his shots and finishing them, something that he’s struggled mightily with at times this year. I mean absolutely no one expected this kind of game from Amar’e right?. This is completely and totally out of the blue. Amar’e punches glass, gets a ton of stitches, and then you plays his best ball the  season? Ya, this year makes absolutely no sense. I’m not even sure why I’m trying to “analyze” or explain any of this, I might as well be drawing pictures of magical creatures over here.
  • After a couple bonehead plays, JR Smith makes a beautiful pass to Melo on the break, then gets a steal and hits a huge three. Mike Woodson is a genius!
  • Oh man, Baron just went down with one of the more ugly knee injuries you’ll ever see. This doesn’t look good at all. The playoffs really need to stop hurting people.  Man. Ugh. Ya, this is no fun.
  • Really silly for Chandler to pick up his fourth while contesting a jumper. Credit Woodson, who is normally very conservative with players in foul trouble, for leaving Chandler in. If Chandler sits for an extended period of time the Knicks are done, might as well ride it out and see if you can get the win. In general benching players with fouls doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Let the guys play it out, don’t let the fouls defeat you by giving away a section of the game… And as I’m typing this Chandler comes up with a huge block on a nice Wade drive. See, I was right! (no, there is no confirmation bias here. Go away.)
  • That was a really really fun third quarter. The Knicks looked like they were moving slowly but surely toward elimination, until a few fastbreaks, a Tyson Chandler block, and a JR Smith three got the energy up and the crowd into the game. The Heat got a little stagnant on the other end, as they are wont to do from time to time, which allowed the Knicks to jump out to a 6 point lead. Also, good to see Woodson finally used some screens and action to get Anthony open to receive the ball more easily.  Melo responded by going 5-8 in the quarter for 11 points.
  • After leaving Chandler in with 4 fouls, Woodson is waiting way too long to put Chandler back in after he picked up his fifth. You have to roll with you best players, no point in waiting till you are down to throw Chandler back in. Put him in before it’s too late. Seriously, I can’t stand this tactic, it makes no sense. You end up beating yourself by keeping Chandler off the court. Oh well, I’m just crazily rambling at this point. Point is put Chandler in and live with the result.
  • Yes Smith has been terrible on offense, he’s taken lots of bad shots and had some terrible turnovers, but he’s also done and admirable job defending Dwyane Wade. Is he as good as Iman Shumpert would’ve been? No, probably not, but still Smith deserves credit for his defensive effort which hasn’t always been there during his career.
  • The Knicks ran a really beautiful play to get Anthony an open lane on a back door cut, and then Dwyane Wade came over and made an absolutely unbelievable block on Melo’s dunk attempt. Totally clean. Totally awesome. Totally badass. Dwyane Wade will end you.
  • Mike Bibby just made a crucial playoff three pointer… in 2012… In real life… In The National Basketball Association… Against the Heat… Over Dwyane Wade… While sitting on top of a unicorn.
  • Wow. What. A. Game. The Knicks made it a little more difficult than it needed to be missing 3 free throws within the last minute, but they got the win. Carmelo Anthony was flat out phenomenal in the second half going 9-for-15 from field for 23 points and adding 3 assists. Melo called upon all of his other-wordly offensive abilities to help give the Knicks their first playoff win since the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. You have to wonder why Spolestra stuck with Battier on Melo almost entirely through the fourth quarter, sure Melo may have still hit some of the same shots but why not put the best wing defender in the world on him? Sure hindsight is 20/20 but I think that’s one you can catch with regular ole present sight. Still, the focus of this game really deserves to be on the Knicks and the city of New York. They finally got that playoff win, that’s no small thing. Congrats New York that was a lot of fun and it had to feel good. You know in the sort of small victories before impending doom kind of way.

NBA Playoffs: Grizzlies Dominate… Wait The Clippers Came Back And Won?!

So… Well… See the thing is. I have no idea how that just happened. I’m glad I was just taking notes as we went because I would no idea how to sum up what just happened. The Grizzlies were cruising to a victory, they should have won that game, but they didn’t and now they find themselves down 0-1 after dropping a game at home. What. A. Game. Here are some thoughts, reactions, and just random outbursts I had throughout the game:

Pre-Game:

  • In the midst of all this Rondo craziness, I’m made aware of the fact that Chris Webber is going to be calling this game. Tony Allen? Chris Paul? Blake Griffin? Grit and Grind? Chris Webber? On TNT? OH MY GOD THIS CANNOT GET ANY BETTER!
  • Also looks like Zach Randolph will be in the starting lineup, interesting move given he’d been coming off the bench for most of the season.

1st Quarter:

  • Grizzlies are running their offense through their two post players, and getting very good results. Gasol is passing beautifully out of the high post, and seemingly scoring at will. Randolph has faced up on Griffin twice sinking the first jumper and missing the second. On the other side of the ball Memphis is doing a great job defending the side pick and roll. Considering that’s essentially the only play the Clippers run, if Memphis can continue to limit it’s effectiveness LA is in some serious trouble.
  • Also, Memphis is booing Blake Griffin whenever he touches the ball, apparently they hate fun in Memphis. Nothing but grit and grind.
  • Seriously Marc Gasol’s passing is the best.
  • OH MY GOD NO ZACH!!! YES HE’S OKAY!… And Zach doing pushups happened
  • The Clippers look incredibly lost right now. Four turnovers so far, the pick and roll isn’t giving it’s usual returns, and Blake Griffin just picked up his 2nd foul. This would be a great time for the Point God to show himself.
  • Can’t say enough about the ball movement from the Grizzlies this quarter. This shooting isn’t sustainable, but if the Grizzlies keep getting good looks every time down the floor, they shouldn’t have an issue taking this game, and ultimately the series. Predictably, Memphis has had a lot of success cutting after entering the ball into Gasol in the post. To me at least, this team is at it’s best when it’s running through Marc, he’s capable of controlling the offense in a way unlike any other big in the league(including Pau), sort of like a point center maybe? Also worth noting that OJAM checked in, hit a ridiculous three, and has been aggressive in attacking the rim so far. He could be huge for the Grizzlies in this series if he shoots well and stays committed to getting to the basket.
  • Paul finally finds an easy basket out of the pick and roll with a lob to DAJ, but follows it the next series with an offensive foul. Really hard to imagine a scenario in which the quarter went any worse for the Clips.
  • Grizzlies completely dominate that quarter, mostly due to their ability to neutralize Paul in the PnR and their offensive brilliance, especially Gasol, who finished the quarter 5-6 from the field for 10 points while also netting 4 assists.  Worth noting that the Memphis crowd was absolutely fantastic that quarter, you could see the Grizzlies feeding off the energy after every made basket and defensive stop. Really, really fun stuff.

2nd Quarter:

  • Speights and Jordan getting chippy. You feel like Memphis is totally controlling the tone of this game, lots of Grit and Grind, also a lot of “WE WILL NEVER MISS ANOTHER SHOT EVER” which always helps. The Clippers so far are sticking to their team motto of “No help defense city”, or whatever it is I can never remember.
  • Worth nothing that the Grizzlies are 4-4 from behind the arc. Also worth noting that the Clippers are getting hammered. Like seriously killed. As in they are losing by a very large amount of points. Really, this is probably verym very embarrassing for them.
  • Eric Bledsoe made such a nice spin move I actually mistook him for Chris Paul for a moment. No seriously, that happened. Meanwhile, the Clippers have cut the lead to 13 and some of the energy from the initial flurry seems to be subsiding. This will be a very key stretch of the game, Grizzlies have to keep their foot on the pedal, so to speak.
  • OJAM is playing out of his gourde as he drills another three coming off a quick screen. OJ looks really good coming off the down pick to shoot, and while I didn’t love that shot, it went in. Also the word gourde is fun.
  • It’s just not a Grizzlies game without a hilarious Tony Allen fastbreak sequence. Difficult to describe this one other than to say that it ended with Allen barreling into the lane and essentially throwing the ball straight in the air and somehow drawing the blocking foul. All about the grit and grind.
  • Griffin is seriously struggling in this game. Can’t find any rhythm offensively, either in the post up, or in pick and roll situations, and defensively he looks lost in his rotations and help defense. This is where Griffin’s lack of offensive refinement really hurts him, without the free form points off of pure athleticism and against a good defense, he’s going to struggle to assert himself. Unfortunately, The Clippers can’t afford to have Griffin be a non-factor when he’s on the floor, they don’t have enough other scoring options.
  • The Grizzlies end the half with a pretty big exclamation. First Cunningham puts back a Gasol miss with a vicious slam that ignites the crowd and sends Dante into a JR Smith worthy post dunk celebration pose. Rudy Gay follows on the next possession with a nice jumper and then, while attempting to dribble the clock out for the last shot, Chris Paul gets whistled for an offensive foul. This leaves Memphis enough time for Conley to deliver a beautiful pass out of the pick and roll right to Gasol for the dunk. What an incredible way to end the half for Memphis, the had let the door creak open, only to emphatically shut it right back in the Clippers face.  Memphis has come out swinging, and hit the Clippers right in the mouth, it’s up to LA to duck, dodge, adjust, and counter punch in the second half.

2nd Half:

  • Note from the first half: Memphis held Paul to 3 points on 0-4 shooting. Raise your hand if you saw that coming? (Don’t you dare raise your hand, liar).
  • Right to Griffin one-on-one versus Z-Bo to start the half, and he gets nothing on an awkward drive to the rim. Gotta agree with Webber, sending Blake on these iso missions seems ill fated. Better off finding ways to get him the ball in space, and/or while in motion.
  • Mike Conley takes a soccer dive to give Griffin his 3rd foul. Seriously just spectacular form on that dive, UEFA champions league worthy. Then to add insult to injury Conley starts drilling threes left and right extends the lead to 21 points.
  • Important point that I think is worth considering. Many are hoping or expecting Chris Paul to shred Memphis much like he surgically dissected the Lakers last year. While certainly Paul is more than capable of taking over games I think it’s also important to recognize the difference in opponent. The Lakers were not well equipped to defend Paul in pick and roll situations. They didn’t really have anyone to hound him on the perimeter and their bigs were generally lost trying to corral him on the pick and roll. In contrast, Memphis has a number of very capable perimeter defenders, and is disciplined in their pick and roll defense. So yes, given the opportunity Paul will engage “Point God” mode, but Memphis might not ever give him the chance.
  • While Memphis has not been terrific on offense during the season, I’m actually not that surprised the Grizzlies have had such an easy time scoring the basketball (generally due to the Clippers well known defensive woes). What I am surprised by, is the Clippers inability to get anything going on the offensive end. Paul has generally struggled against the Grizzlies pick and roll defense and Griffin has been borderline awful (3-10 from the field midway through the 3rd). The Grizzlies aren’t going to shoot this well every night, but if their defenses continues to befuddle and stymie the Clippers offensive attack it won’t really matter.
  • And Mike Conley has made 4 threes this quarter. Analysis: ALL GRIT AND GRIND BABY
  • At this point the Grizzlies are out there like Roy Jones Jr.: Dancing around toying with the opponent, equal parts domination and entertainment. This is a lot of fun to watch, unless you’re a Clippers fan.
  • I’m going to note for the 600th time that Marc Gasol is brilliant. He really is one of the best, if not the very best post passer we have in NBA. It’s so fun to watch him catch it in the high post and hit Tony Allen on a cut, or Rudy Gay on a lob. I think what I’m trying to say is I’m in love with Marc Gasol.
  • Really interesting that Conley and the Grizzlies have legitimately bothered and frustrated Paul. He’s committed uncharacteristic offensive fouls, turnovers, and travels. I honestly never thought I’d see Paul flustered like this. It feels funny.
  • Clippers put together a nice run to cut the lead to 12 at one points with about 4 minute left and are lurking. Would be really tough if Memphis found a way to give away this game after playing so well all night. Give credit to Bledsoe, and Young for providing a spark off the bench. Also, not surprisingly, Paul refuses to quit, despite being frustrated all came he’s taking advantage of Memphis’ lapse in intensity and picking apart the defense.
  •  Mayo delievers the pass of the game on an over the shoulder touch pass, only to have Speights blow the lay up. I guess everything can’t go perfectly for Memphis.
  • Behind Nick Young nailing three 3-pointers in a minute, the Clippers have cut the lead down to 3 points with just under 2 minutes left to play. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? WHAT IS HAPPENING? WHY ARE THE GRIZZLIES TURNING IT OVER EVERY TIME? IS NICK YOUNG ACTUALLY GOD? SO MUCH BUCKETS… AHHH
  •  This would be an absolutely HUGE win if the Clips somehow manage to steal this one.
  • “At this point there’s not much left to say. The Grizzlies completely and totally dominated this game. If you’re the Clippers your defense has to be better, but really you have to be more concerned with your offense. You have to find ways to make the pick and roll work, you have to counter the aggressiveness and grit of the Clippers, and you cannot turn the ball over. You have to believe the Clippers will play better, you have to believe Paul will come out on an absolute mission to destroy them next game. As of now though, the Grizzlies have to feel like they are the better team, they have to feel like at their best they can control this series; that’s no small fact. The Grizzlies came out with a bang, it will be interesting to see how the rest of this series takes shape moving forward” -I wrote this above during the beginning of the fourth quarter and now, behind two Griffin made free throws, the Grizzlies are only up 1…
  • Chris Webber is spot on, Reggie Evans defense and rebounding, and general toughness have been huge during this incredible comeback. On multiple occasions he’s pushed Gasol and Randolph off their spot and forced them into turnovers or uncomfortable shots. Evans deserves a lot of credit if the Clippers somehow steal this one.
  • And just like that Evans hits a lay up to put the Clips up one… WOW
  • Gay hits a turnaround over Paul after getting the mismatch on a switch. That’s one of ways he will be so valuable to Memphis in the playoffs, now they have another go to scorer late in games.
  • Allen fouls Paul who hits both free throws to take the lead by one. Memphis completely bungles the last possession, wasting way too much time as Gay forces up a shot with the clock close to expiring. That’s inexcusable. Down one you have to get a shot up with enough time at least to rebound and have a second chance, and in reality you should leave enough time to foul, force free throws and get another shot at tying the game. Jesus. Cannot believe Memphis found a way to give that game away. Credit the Clippers who did not quit on the game. Also another great performance from Paul who despite struggling most of the game directed the offense brilliantly late in the game. But mostly just WOW. That was an absolutely incredible comeback. This could kill Memphis, this is the kind of loss that breaks your spirit. Series can be won on comebacks like this. Yes the Grizzlies are tough, but this could be a back breaker.

Quick Post Game Note: Charles opens up Inside the NBA with “That’s why I could never coach, right there.” Yup. Lionel Hollins has to be going crazy right now.

Charles again: “I didn’t like Memphis strategy, they started playing not to lose”.