Do you guys remember the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs? They’re still in the playoffs, I swear! That Heat-Bucks series was actually this season. I know — it seems like it might have been Miami’s first-round series last season, but it really was just a week ago the Heat wrapped up the most predictable sweep of this season’s first round.
The biggest story out of Miami since then has been Shane Battier’s decision to grow something like a Fu Manchu mustache. They may have also scheduled some exhibitions against the Generals, just to stay fresh. The Spurs have presumably been on a wine-tasting tour with Gregg Popovich, and rumor has it franchise higher-ups forced Pop to undergo a media-training refresher after he was strangely polite to sideline reporters during the Spurs’ first-round whitewashing of the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
In case you were busy having an adorable cat on your chest and being unable to move, or breathe, or — hey, this cat's trying to kill me! — here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
We're headed back to Boston after the Celtics held on for a 92-86 win over the New York Knicks, forcing a Game 6 in their first-round playoff matchup. Kevin Garnett fueled the Celtics with a vintage 16-point, 18-rebound performance. "Man, that takes me back," Garnett said wistfully after his double-double. "Remember when I was crushing it up in Minnesota. Just me and Terrell Brandon. So young, so naive. Maybe I could get that TV show about my posse off the ground now. Do you think the breakthrough success of Entourage makes it more or less likely? I mean, it was gonna be The Monkees meets The Beverly Hillbillies. I guess it could be reality. That's basically what Carmelo's wife has going on. Nah, TV is a young man's game. I was just born too young."
Despite the absence of Sidney Crosby, the Penguins took care of business by thrashing the New York Islanders 5-0 in Pittsburgh. "Oh man, that'll teach us to come on the mainland," Islanders captain Mark Streit said after the loss. "It's weird here. First of all, not everyone takes boats to get places. Also weird, the lack of nautically themed dining establishments. I'm starving for some fried calamari down by a marina; I can't find that in Pittsburgh at all. Total nightmare. They told me, 'Go to a river.' I told them to go up a river, with dumb advice like that. A butt river. Man, I'm hungry."
Tonight is a night for both rejoicing and sadness: Depending on the results of three crucial games, including two elimination games, this could be the last night featuring more than two games until next season opens. This is a bad thing for fans seeking a variety of entertainment options, especially on nights with one or two blowouts, but a good thing for the spouses and loved ones of us poor saps watching every single one of these first-round bad boys.
A lot is at stake in tonight’s tripleheader, obviously. A game-by-game look at some key questions on this busy Wednesday, in order of Most Intriguing to Least Intriguing:
That’s right — I’m giving Most Intriguing status to this season’s NBA TV/Illegal Streaming/Ratings Basement special. (It’s a league rule, by the way, that the NBA TV Special first-round series must include either Indiana or Atlanta every season. Seriously — I think it’s in the new collective bargaining agreement. Plenty of good seats still available on the cheap for tonight in Indy, by the way. Catch the fever!) After three boring blowouts, these two finally gave us a competitive contest in Game 4, albeit one in which the Hawks were in control after a blistering second-quarter run. Some key questions:
• Can Indiana figure out the Hawks' “big” lineups?
In case you were busy being the guy who started icing bros again, much to the chagrin of everyone who knows you, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
James Harden and the Houston Rockets gave the Thunder their best shot, overcoming a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit, but Oklahoma City held on late to win, 105-102, to take a 2-0 series lead. When asked how he and his team would recover from the defeat, Harden said, "Oh, we won't. It's over." When asked if he was serious, Harden replied, "Have you seen Kevin Durant play basketball? I mean, playing with him, you know he's good, but playing against him? No, no, this is done." When asked again if he was serious, Harden replied, "Yes, I'm dead serious. We might not even go back to Houston. We're just going to pack it in." When asked again if he was serious, Harden shook his head. Then he nodded. Then he shook his head again. Then he shrugged.
Tony Parker had 28 points to lead the San Antonio Spurs over the Los Angeles Lakers, 102-91. "We are ahead by two games," Parker, a noted French person, said after the game, twitching visibly. "But I do not care an iota. The degree to which I care is so infinitesimal as to be not a thing at all, as my very existence has been laid bare by a new team policy banning smoking during the postseason. What is it to make policy anyway? To say, 'I know a thing and you must behave thusly.' How much false arrogance must live in the mind of a man who believes he knows a thing? When the mind is mere electricity that wants wants it wants a smoke so bad, I just want one drag, just one, just please one drag. Oh, I am no more than a dog!" Parker then let out a cry of lamentation before closing his eyes and willing a Gauloises into existence between his fingers. He then added with a wink, "One cannot know of policies if one cannot know, yes?"
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
He Ate the Bones
Bucks coach Jim Boylan on LeBron James: "I mean, what can you do?"
In case you were busy scaring little children by reciting Mariners hitting stats from the past decade, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Utah Jazz were eliminated from the NBA playoff picture after an 86-70 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. But don't worry, people of Salt Lake City, you still have a critically acclaimed production of the classic musical West Side Story playing through April 21 at the Capitol Theatre. The Salt Lake Tribune raves, "This touring production of the 2009 Broadway revival hits on most cylinders."
Who will be taking the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs? Why, it's the Los Angeles Lakers, who not only qualified, but in beating the Houston Rockets 99-95 in overtime, were able to snag the seventh seed in the West. "It's quite an achievement," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni after the game, "that a team no one believed in overcame all the odds to make the playoffs. If you had told me when I took over this team that was stuck in a mire that we would be seventh in the West " D'Antoni then drifted off and shook his head, before Lakers center Dwight Howard tiptoed up behind him and dumped a small cup of red Gatorade over his head.
At the end of last night's Lakers-Hawks game, with L.A. down two and three seconds to go, Kobe Bryant (guarded by Dahntay Jones) attempted a baseline jumper to tie things up. His shot rattled out and Kobe collapsed to the floor, clutching his leg in pain. In replays of the incident, it appears as if Jones intentionally left his leg underneath Bryant as he landed. Kobe certainly seemed to think that's what happened, tweeting this out after the game:
In case you just saw the trailer for Upside Down and found yourself suddenly back to square-one on your big screenplay idea, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Wide receiver Wes Welker has left the New England Patriots, signing a two-year contract with the Denver Broncos. "I always hated Welker," said Northeastern sophomore and Patriots superfan Aaron Sullivan. "Just like I always hated Clemens, Vinatieri, Damon, Beckett, Ray Ray, Manny B, and Tom Brady." When asked why he hated Tom Brady, who never has left a Boston-based team to play for a rival, Sullivan responded, "Oh, guy thinks he's so great because he never left the Pats. Real Pats leave. Period."
The Miami Heat won their 20th consecutive game, beating the Philadelphia 76ers, 98-94, on the road. "Twenty in a row, that's a perfect game in Magic: The Gathering, am I right?" asked Heat forward Shane Battier after the game. "If only someone on this team would play with me. I have a sweet black/blue deck I want to try out. I tried to teach Chris Andersen how to play, but he kept folding up the cards and throwing them at me while yelling, 'Cacaw!' It was disappointing."
Kobe Bryant suffered an ankle injury while landing awkwardly on a late field goal attempt defended by Dahntay Jones, as the Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Hawks in Atlanta, 96-92. Bryant has been ruled out indefinitely with the injury, saying after the game, "Revenge isn't the sort of thing that has a timetable. Except for a 30-minute head start." When told of Bryant's statement half an hour later, Jones asked, "Wait, when did he say that?" before slipping on a loose piece of linoleum and bruising his knee.
In case you were busy dealing with your body shutting down all systems unrelated to the production of mucus, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Dwight Howard scored 39 points as he led the Los Angeles Lakers to a 106-96 win over the Magic in Orlando, where he played the first eight seasons of his career. Howard was met with a chorus of boos, or as he calls them, "Laughs, right? Cause that's the typical reaction to my hilarious antics. That and guffaws. Kobe's a big guffawer. Let me show you what I mean." Howard then stared at the assembled press and did a throat slash gesture, before adding, "Oh, man, that guy can't get enough of me."
Valparaiso beat Wright State, 62-54, to win the Horizon League championship and qualify for the NCAA tournament. "Bryce Drew isn't walking through that door, so it's time to write your own destiny," said Valparaiso legend and current head coach Bryce Drew after the game, before adding, "Well, he is. He did. I mean, I is — I did. I meant, as a player, you're gonna have to create your own legend. But he will be attending the game. I mean, I will. You don't have to worry about that."
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Monta Ellis
Ellis had 34 points on 15-21 shooting last night, leading his Milwaukee team to their second overtime win in as many games (this time over the Jazz), and their fourth straight win overall. With J.J. Redick in the lineup, Monta's averaging 21.5 points, 9.3 assists, and 4.3 steals per game. He also does stuff like this.
In case you were out getting back what's rightfully yours, here's what you missed in sports this weekend.
Duke avenged an earlier loss at Miami to beat the Hurricanes at Cameron Indoor Stadium, 79-76, behind 36 points from Ryan Kelly. Kelly, who had missed the previous two months with a foot injury, said after the game of Miami's NCAA title chances, "We have done far worse than killed them; we have hurt them. And I wish to go on hurting them. I shall leave them as they had left us: marooned, on the periphery of contention. Buried alive. Buried alive."
Join your Shootaround crew for some fake trades, pipe dreams, and beautiful, dark, twisted, deadline day fantasies.
The Book of Revelation
Golden State Warriors get: Devin Harris (Hawks), Earl Clark (Lakers), DeMarcus Cousins (Kings), Aaron Brooks (Kings) Los Angeles Lakers get: Josh Smith (Hawks), Andris Biedrins (Warriors) Atlanta Hawks get: Pau Gasol (Lakers), Tyreke Evans (Kings) Sacramento Kings get: David Lee (Warriors), Klay Thompson (Warriors)
The worst-case scenario is that this is the annihilation of many teams at once — but at least it will be entertaining! The Lakers reunite Dwight Howard with his old pal Smith, who gets reunited with his own Cliff Paul; Biedrins slides in at the end of the bench. The Hawks build around Al Horford, Gasol, and Evans, who gets a little more institutional structure — for him, this is one of those “change of scenery” reboots. The Kings lose two streaky young stars but acquire solid cornerstones for the future, whatever that concept means to them. The Warriors get a couple experienced guards who, on any given night, might offer a passable impression of a fourth-quarter triggerman. They also get the budding Clark and Cousins, a combustible talent who could really benefit from a God-fearing coach. Ivan Johnson gets thrown in just to give the Warriors an edge in weirdness. Consider it an homage to 2006-07, when the Warriors traded a third of their team away in January and went on one of the most thrilling playoff runs ever. — Hua Hsu
Mays and I did this with the NFL, and I managed to spoil Cabin in the Woods and wrongly assert that Michael Vick would play all 16 games for the Eagles. We're blinding you with science over here. Same rules as before: I say something, Mays argues whether it's plausible or implausible. Let's get weird.
If the first half of the season belonged to Kyrie Irving, the second half will belong to John Wall.
Chris Ryan: Upon his return from a summer knee injury, John Wall was subject to speculation and scorn. People made fun of his weight and questioned whether he was a franchise player. While Kyrie Irving, another point guard and more recent no. 1 overall draft pick, has had a coronation of a season, picking up plaudits wherever he's played, Wall was been largely forgotten or dismissed.
Much like their Northwest Division rival Denver Nuggets, the Utah Jazz are a collection of talented youngsters and productive veterans void of a superstar. Without a clear central figure, the pressure has been on head coach Ty Corbin to identify the best rotation of players that are, almost to a man, multi-talented but somewhat limited in some facet of the game.
The lineup data shows that the Jazz boast some downright awful five-man units, but they also have a few very productive ones. Injuries have forced the team into some tough spots this year, but among its roster, Utah may have the right combinations to seriously compete with the West’s elite rather than settling for a one-and-done stay in the playoffs. The main problem with that option is that it’s boring as hell.
Utah has multiple picks in next year’s first round, and and a few of those productive veterans — most notably Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap — are on expiring contracts. This makes the Jazz an ideal candidate for a big deadline move. By dealing one of their surplus big men to upgrade a backcourt in dire need of help (and making a few other small tweaks), the Jazz could become Denver 2.0 — a team that no one takes seriously as a Finals contender but that everyone wants to avoid in the postseason. To figure out how they might get there, I visited the trade machine and descended further into madness to whip up yet another ridiculous multi-team deal:
So far this season, the Nuggets’ Danilo Gallinari is shooting 42 37 percent from behind the 3-point line. This is kind of impressive, although unremarkable by itself, but when we account for shooting angles, something more noteworthy is revealed. First off, Gallinari shoots 3s from all over. He’s pretty active in the corners and at the top, but he’s most active along the wings; this season, well over half of his 3-point attempts have come from the wings, where he’s gone 41-for-123 (33.3 percent). Again, this is unremarkable. However, breaking it down further reveals Gallinari is much better from the right wing than the left one. In fact, of the dozens of players with at least 50 attempts in each of these zones, Gallinari is the best from the right wing (28-for-53, 53 percent), and the worst from the left (13-for-70, 19 percent).
The two most fundamental components of spatial analytics are distance and direction, but too often we neglect the import of direction in even our most “advanced” NBA metrics. The case of Gallinari reminds us why that is limiting. By lumping all of his 3-point attempts into one convenient distance-based bin obscures a key bit of information about his game.
Anyway, since we looked at the best shooters around the court space yesterday, it makes sense to look at the bad news today. And, while Gallinari does appear on this chart, he doesn’t deserve to be the focal point of a discussion about inefficient NBA shooting. Instead, I will devote that to the player who blends incredible talent and fan infuriation like no other; the guy who deservedly comes up every time we talk about players who are really active outside of their proper jurisdictions, that crazy sheriff down in Georgia — no, not this fella.