Imagine if every year, your workplace went through layoffs and employee reviews the week before and after Christmas. That light at the end of the tunnel is in touching distance, it's all gift wrap and roasting chestnuts and holiday parties, and then, all of a sudden, your job is thrown into chaos because everyone is watching their backs and wondering what the future holds.
This pretty much describes the NBA right before the All-Star break. And this season's compressed schedule and back-to-back-to-back games have already taken a mental toll on the players. Now, right when most of them are supposed to get a few days off, here come the whispers.
And I love it. I love the NBA rumor culture. On the surface, it's just a fantastically entertaining component of the league. It fuels endless second-guessing and speculation and hope and terror. Then, beneath it all, for league obsessives, there's the whole shadow economy of the rumor industry: The "sources" giving anonymous quotes, the strongly slanted pieces outing players as locker-room pariahs or ball hogs to lower their value.
With all the enjoyment you can take from this game within a game, it's sometimes hard to think about any of it ever having consequences. Today, we learn that it does.
Here's the scenario: A team's MVP-caliber player goes down, leaving room in the spotlight for one of his teammates to finally shine. Nobody believed in him before, but, game by game, he's changing our minds.
Obviously, the MVP-caliber player I'm talking about is Carmelo Anthony and the ascendant teammate is Jeremy Lin, right? Obviously not! No, for today's lesson, class, we're talking about the reigning MVP, Derrick Rose, his spasming lower back, and the Eve Harrington to his Margo Channing, none other than Luol Deng.
I, for one, can think of nothing more romantic to do this Valentine's Day evening than watch the New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors. Valentine's Day is about love, and love is about communication, and the New York Knicks, for the first time this season, are running an offense in which the players are really, truly speaking to one another with their play.
During the opening few weeks of the season, the Knicks played offense like a bunch of Quaalude addicts looking for an emergency exit in a dark movie theater. They just sort of bumped into each other and knocked over people's popcorn.
If you fire up the highlights of Thursday night's Lakers-Celtics overtime clash, you will hear the words, "Mickael Pietrus going to work for the Celtics," over video of the aforementioned Pietrus attempting what would have been a game-winning 3 and hitting someone eating beer nuts at a bar in Lynnfield. That sort of sums up what we're dealing with here; not exactly classic material.
The Lakers wound up beating Boston in overtime, 88-87. The most entertaining passage of play was probably when Kevin Garnett long-snapped the ball between his legs to Rajon Rondo, who then hiked it through his own legs to himself. That was the opening tip-off.
LeBron James is not the Incredible Hulk or Tupac. He does not thrive on hate. He is not fueled by rage. I don't think he's fueled by love, either. He plays basketball like an Apache helicopter and bites his nails. We're not going to know what basketball means to this guy until the (still inevitable, I think) day he wins a ring. Maybe he'll have a Jordan-crying/KG-screaming moment. Maybe he will just clap baby powder in our faces. Maybe he'll just bite his nails some more.
You could say cheering for the Washington Wizards requires a sense of humor this season. If this is true, it means Grantland contributor, semiregular B.S. Report guest, and longtime/long-suffering Wizards fan Joe House is basically the basketball fan version of the second season of Chappelle's Show.
At this point in my life, I am honestly more into Kobe Bryant as an interview subject than as a basketball player. I appreciate how we're back into Kobe-as-performance-artist territory. I'm sure they are studying his newest piece, If I Don't Get to Play With Chris Paul I Am Going to Attempt Field Goals Until I Blow Out My Rotator Cuff, at the Tate Modern right now. It's stirring stuff. But for me, the more entertaining character comes out when Kobe is off the court, answering questions in front of a camera.
If you want to know why Hornets GM Dell Demps went through hell to get Chris Paul out of New Orleans, all you need to do is look at the spot Magic GM Otis Smith finds himself in now. I imagine him smoking a Carlton and drinking Chivas with melting ice cubes. There is a tear running down his cheek while he listens to very sad jazz. Dwight-itis has infected his team, and it looks like it's a terminal case.
So first off let's just say fist-bump-explosion-sound-effect to the Boston Celtics, who came back from down 27 Thursday night to beat the Orlando Magic. Love them or hate them, it's more entertaining to have them in the mix. The win was Boston's third in a row and could be a turning point in its season.
Two things about this game stood out. 1. Quentin Richardson doing air-guitar-Pete Townshend-windmills on the sideline (1:13 into this video) over a Jameer Nelson 3-pointer (I know, the Magic had gone up 27, but drink some dream water, Q) and 2. Kevin Garnett's WAY TOO INTENSE FOR JANUARY postgame interview with Craig Sager, after the Celtics had come from behind for the win.
During last season's playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies were a shocking success story, knocking out the Spurs and taking the Thunder to seven dramatic games before being knocked out. But in some ways seeing the Grizz sitting atop the Southwest Division (albeit by a matter of a few win percentage points), after nearly a month of the 2011-12 season, is almost equally impressive.
What's even more impressive is the way in which the Grizzlies are competing; they're seemingly playing at a playoff-like temperature already. Reading quotes from postgame reports, you get the sense that the togetherness and resolve that carried them through their 2010-11 playoff run has carried over to this season.
After Monday night's come-from-behind win over the Warriors, Rudy Gay, who scored three points in the final 23 seconds, had this to say: "We showed what we’re made of. We showed our toughness. There was a lot of yapping in the huddles. We went through a lot to get it.”
It was just the Warriors, man! Relax! Or don't! Because the Grizz need a little fire in their bellies right now. After all, they're going into battle without their star power forward and beating heart, Zach Randolph.
The most entertaining bad team and the most nerve-wracking good one to do battle. Ricky Rubio brings his ready-for-the-silver-screen game to Hollywood. Chris Paul is still listed as day-to-day. Unless you have a high-stakes craps game, or have recently been involved in a helmet-to-helmet hit with James Harrison, you're watching Dos Lobos take on Lob City. TGIF.
Obviously Thomas Wolfe, writer of the novel from which our little sub-hed borrows its name, never met Kendrick Perkins or Lamar Odom. This is largely due to the fact that he died in 1938. But let's say he had lived to see Perk and Lamar return to their old stomping grounds last night. Surely he would have been kicking himself for naming a book that. He would've been like, "Damn, Tom, you played yourself." Last night Dallas and Boston hailed their conquering (and departed) heroes. And it was kind of beautiful.