The disparity between the Eastern and Western conferences is so embarrassingly large that you must take it into account when evaluating a team's ranking in any leaguewide stat. Eastern Conference teams will end having played 52 of their 82 games against their stinky conference brethren, meaning they will have faced a much less difficult schedule than a Western Conference playing the inverse slate of opponents.
An East team that ranks eighth in points allowed per possession probably hasn't been as stingy as a West team that ranks 11th. Schedule strength can skew things more at this stage, since teams have only played about 20 games.
And so we come to perhaps the most surprising number of this young season: The Bobcats, a punch line for so long, rank third overall in points allowed per possession. Remember, these guys came in dead last in this category in both 2011-12 and last season; they were the worst defensive team in the league. Their only significant offseason acquisitions were a rookie big man who looks lost on both ends and a plodding veteran big with a charming self-awareness about his limitations as a defender.
Though the transition back to being the Charlotte Hornets in the 2014-15 season is purely superficial, it still leaves this year’s Bobcats in a strange situation. On one hand, the best thing the Bobcats can do to usher in this new era is suck. Selecting one of the many potential stars at the top of the upcoming draft is exactly what the team needs to complete its makeover. It helps that Charlotte could potentially have three first-round picks in 2014 — Portland’s top-12-protected pick, Detroit’s top-eight-protected pick, and its own first-rounder, which goes to Chicago if the Bobcats fall out of the top-10 range. On the other hand — and maybe this is a bit too romantic a notion — wouldn’t it be neat if the Bobcats’ last hurrah led them into the postseason? For the first time in nearly four years, it’s a possibility. The East is in ruin. Why not try giving this novel “winning season” concept a shot?
In case you were busy finding the perfect throwback NFL tie for your big media appearance, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Knicks continued their early-season troubles, as they fell 102-97 to the Charlotte Bobcats while losing defensive fulcrum Tyson Chandler to injury. "Oh this isn't good, but don't worry, this doesn't dent my championship dreams," said Knicks owner James Dolan, who then perked up and asked the reporter to read back what he'd just said. After she did, Dolan bobbed his head for a second before running out of the room so he could get his band together to record a new JD & the Straight Shot jazz fusion EP titled (This Don't Dent) My Championship Dreams.
In case you were busy coming around to the idea that Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is just the sort of guy who sometimes has to be yelled at, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
In what may prove to be the biggest upset of the entire NBA season, the Philadelphia 76ers stormed out to an early 19-0 lead before holding on late to beat the two-time defending champion Miami Heat 114-110. Rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams looked like a star, putting up 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals, and seven rebounds in his NBA debut. Unfortunately, Carter-Williams was shut down for the season after the game by 76ers GM Sam Hinkie for what he described as "precautionary reasons." When asked to clarify, Hinkie said, "I'm hoping this will serve as a precaution to the rest of the team as to where looking like a star will get you."
The Red Sox are your 2013 World Series champions after John Lackey powered Boston past the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-1, in a deciding Game 6. "Just as I predicted," said Boston superfan Aaron Sullivan. "Lackey brings us another banner. Never doubted that it would happen." When asked specifically when he made that prediction, Sullivan replied, "Fourth inning, right after we went up 6-0. And I swear I only backed off it three or four times," before promising to name one of his middle children John Lackey Sullivan, assuming that one of them came out looking a little squished.
Compiling the Triangle NBA All-Stars offers a way for us to celebrate the players we love way too much. You can see the other entries in the series here. Check out the latest additions, Nick Young and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, below.
Swaggy Motherfucking P
If you don't enjoy Nick Young, you need to step back and take a look at your life. Ask yourself where it all went wrong. Really, seriously. You are not a basketball coach. There is no reason to not love Nick Young. Get off your high horse and jump on top of a camel.
Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons marvel at the damage Michael Jordan has done to his hometown Charlotte Bobcats, ponder the fate of Al Jefferson's gigantic $23,000 bed, and Jalen predicts that Michael Jordan will play one game for the Bobcats. Yes, he is serious. You can learn more about the feasibility of Jalen's bold prediction here.
In the below video, taken from Bill and Jalen's forthcoming preview of the Charlotte Bobcats' season, Jalen explains to a flabbergasted Bill that he thinks Michael Jordan will return to the NBA to play one game for the Charlotte Bobcats.
The madness is nearly over, just like that. Dwight Howard has taken his farts to Houston, finally, and may God have mercy on all our souls. The Lakers are flailing (and should probably join the deepening Tank Pool), the Thunder are still looking for some wing depth, the Clippers need a third big man who can catch a basketball (i.e., not Ryan Hollins), the Warriors need to fatten up their bench, the Nuggets are doing interesting stuff, the Hawks are Hawking, the Bucks are Bucking, the Bobcats somehow agreed to pay Al Jefferson twice as much as Atlanta paid Jefferson’s superior Jazz partner, and the Sixers should perhaps sign an actual NBA player or two, just for appearances.
Free agency only started a week ago, and executives around the league are just now popping their heads up to examine the landscape beyond their own team’s cap sheet. Still, some early themes are starting to coalesce as free agency spirals to a close:
You know how at the beginning of every NFL season, everyone is 0-0 and has a chance at the Super Bowl? That is not true in the NBA. For fans of five to 10 teams every year, the NBA draft lottery is the Super Bowl.
No other sport decides its future like this — with an uncomfortable, surreal 30-minute raffle, basically — and that's what makes it so great. In the span of 30 minutes, jammed in before some conference final game every year, the directions of entire franchises can change one way or the other. For instance, 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the most insane lottery night of all time ...
... when Memphis nearly landed LeBron James, only to end up with nothing (its pick was protected as no. 1 overall but otherwise the Grizzlies had to send it to Detroit). Instead, we walked away thinking Cleveland had just fallen into a dynasty, Detroit was about to extend its dynasty another decade with Darko's frosted tips coming to the Midwest, and the Nuggets were getting Bernard King 2.0 for the next 15 years. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies were destined to remain in NBA no-man's-land, wondering what might have been.
Coaching news has rudely interrupted the endless stream of first-round playoff games, as both Charlotte and Cleveland came to major decisions about their head-coaching positions on Tuesday. The Bobcats’ semi-surprising decision to fire Mike Dunlap with one season left on his contract marked the fourth departure of a head coach since the end of the NBA regular season, which happened just one week ago. That round of firings followed four in-season dismissals, and three of the teams that made in-season changes — Milwaukee, Phoenix, and the Nets — are at the very least going to think very hard about making new hires in the next month or two.
In case you were busy soothing your aching joints with an old-fashioned Epsom salt soak, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
The NCAA tournament Sweet 16 is set, and the biggest story thus far has been the run of Florida Gulf Coast University, who find themselves among college basketball's elite after an 81-71 win over San Diego State. Based on all my knowledge of the school from before the tournament started, "FGCU," which has probably been around for over a decade, has amassed a number of victories on their way to becoming a true school where NCAA basketball is played. The team features players, of which five play on the court at the same time, barring truly unusual circumstances, who shoot basketballs toward baskets, which is a thing those players do to get basketball points. They employ strategies regarding where they should run so that they can shoot basketballs from preferable positions, implemented by a coach with a unique backstory that I remember hearing about once but mostly forget. He might have been a baron of some sort? So mark it down in your personalized line drawing of college names: Florida Gulf Coast University is a school from Florida, probably located along the gulf coast, that plays basketball and is eligible for advancement in the NCAA basketball tournament. Up next for Florida Gulf Coast University is the University of Florida, a school that is also run by the state of Florida. Expect basketball shots, two strategic men telling basketball players what to do, and collusion.
Louisville, the tournament's no. 1 seed, advanced to the Round of 16 after dismantling Colorado State, 82-56, at the University of Kentucky's home court, Rupp Arena. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said after the game, "Man, it's nice to be back at the old stomping ground, playing out of the home locker room. Hey, has anyone heard how the Wildcats are doing? No? Yeah, no, me neither. That's really unusual. But hey, tell John, old friend of mine, 'Thanks for the hospitality.' Also, we used all of the condiments that were in the fridge here. Hope that's not a problem."
Amid the buzzer-beaters, heartbreak, and drama in the NCAA tournament, NBA teams are using college basketball’s biggest stage to fine-tune their evaluations of some of the league’s future stars. For someone like Ben McLemore of Kansas or Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, a brilliant stretch in March will allow them to stake their claim as the no. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. Regardless of where they are selected, both McLemore and Smart — should they declare — will move on from successful college programs to teams in the professional ranks that aren’t exactly synonymous with winning. During the past two seasons, no team has represented this perennial lottery dweller quite like the Charlotte Bobcats.
After a historically bad season that was partially obscured by a lockout-shortened schedule, the team has continued its futility again this year. In 11 of its past 13 games, Charlotte has been blown out by 14 or more points, an embarrassing stretch that has helped make the team owners of the league’s worst record. Or, in other words, things are going exactly as planned in Charlotte.
Welcome to life in the NBA, where every spring brings not only the excitement of the playoffs, but the unsavory notion of tanking. In a league that rewards losing and incompetence with valuable high draft picks, it pays to be bad. So with organizations like Charlotte, Orlando, and even Portland actively looking to avoid respectability, it’s time to restart the conversation about what tanking does to the competitive nature of the league.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Ricky Rubio
Chris Ryan: This is not the most wonderful time of the year. And it shows. Most of the NBA stories you're going to be reading during the last few weeks of the season will concern knee drains, tanking, tightening up defense, shortening the rotation, getting into a postseason mind-set ... you know, "finding out who we really are" kind of stuff. It gets a little LOL-free around here. So when you see something like Ricky Rubio's performance against the Spurs last night, you have to savor the flavor because you know that tomorrow night (or the next night, or the next night), it's going to be you, Frank Vogel, and the harsh realities of this world.
In case you were busy fixating on that piece of popcorn stuck between your molars, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The San Antonio Spurs took down the Bulls in Chicago, 103-89, despite missing their trio of future Hall of Famers, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. When asked about the challenge his team faced, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, "It doesn't matter; I could wring 40 wins in the NBA out of the San Antonio Silver Stars. Seriously, I started some French guy named Nando de Colo at the point today. None of our scouts had ever heard of him. Apparently, he's a friend of Tony's. They met at a Parisian falafel stand last winter, debated the nature of existence until 6 in the morning over a pack of Gauloises and three bottles of Malbec, before deciding that we're just shadows of an unforgiving god who vomited our spirits into this hellhole we call Earth. Whatever. Tony tells me to sign him up; guy's never even heard of basketball before, but apparently he's a hell of a freestyle walker, and in our system, he gets seven assists in his first start." Popovich then offered to play any of the reporters in the room at small forward against the Cavaliers to prove his point, but there were no takers.
The Charlotte Bobcats ended the Boston Celtics' seven-game winning streak with a 94-91 home win. Byron Mullens powered the Bobcats' upset with 25 points and 18 rebounds. Celtics forward Kevin Garnett was apoplectic after the game, saying, "Who let Nowitzki come down to Charlotte and wear some Mullens jersey so he could clown on KG? Y'all know I got the best sense of smell on this team, and something here was stinking to the high heavens." Garnett then broke into the Bobcats' locker room and started yelling "Sprechen sie Deutsch" at Mullens in a hapless effort to secure some sort of confession.
On a day with trade rumors swirling around the team, the Brooklyn Nets got a huge conference road win over Indiana in overtime, 89-84. "Everyone was a little on edge with all the speculation, but for some reason, I'm kind of used to it," said Nets forward Kris Humphries, who was ineffective in limited minutes and is rumored to be included in proposed deals with Atlanta and Charlotte. "Relatively speaking, this media attention seems pretty nice."
Marquette fell at Georgetown in a battle of soon-to-be Catholic 7 rivals. The game was decided late when all the players huddled at midcourt and deemed Georgetown the most prepared to be a communicative vessel for God. The referees then released a could of white smoke into the Verizon Center, which activated the sprinkler system and caused the game to be called with a final score of 63-55.
Kansas ended its three-game skid with an 83-62 win over in-state rival Kansas State. Ben McLemore had 30 points for the Jayhawks, and center Jeff Withey broke Greg Ostertag's school record for career blocks. "I view Greg as a bit of an idol," Withey said after the game. "I, too, wish to one day play center in the NBA, establish myself as a bona fide quality defensive player, sign a massive contract, and immediately stop trying. Also, I fully expect Glenn Robinson III to do something like this to me in the tournament this year."
Michael Vick renegotiated his deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, and will join new head coach Chip Kelly as the Eagles attempt to bounce back from a disappointing four-win season. Philadelphia fan Burt Gortowski reacted with uncharacteristic calm to the news, as he decided to only throw one rock through Kelly's window as a show of support for the new coach. "I think that Vick's game could work coming out of Kelly's blur offense," Gortowski said as he picked through the "throwing pile" of empty Yuengling bottles and rocks that he keeps in his backyard, "but just in case he doesn't, I don't want to be the one guy who didn't throw a rock through Chip's window. How would I be able to show my face around the Wawa?"
Liverpool squandered a number of scoring opportunities, including a Steven Gerrard penalty, before conceding twice to fall to West Bromwich Albion, 2-0, at Anfield. West Brom keeper Ben Foster, who had seven saves in the win, said after the match, "Liverpool is one of the biggest clubs in the Premier League, and a real threat to get back into the Champions League, so you know you have to bring your top game …" before collapsing in a heap of laughter. "Oh man," Foster continued, "I almost kept it together for that one. No, but seriously, Stewart Downing wasn't nearly as bad as I expected, so I did have to try almost all match long."
Kobe Bryant took to Twitter to admonish one of his fans (@PacSmoove) for calling a fellow Lakers fan "gay." Kobe went on to say, "If you really want to hurt someone with words, you can't be homophobic. I learned that lesson the hard way; it's wrong and only makes you look ignorant. What you have to do is get personal, learn about your foe, what they care about, and what they're ashamed of. Then you'll be ready to hurt people the way your high school girlfriend Michelle hurt you when she made out with your best friend on the way to junior prom. The way it hurt you when your dog Patches got real sick and died after you accidentally let it eat a piece of your birthday cake and you cried and cried and cried. The way it hurt you when your mom said your sister Kelly was her favorite kid, and that you'd never amount to anything. Then and only then will you, @PacSmoove, or should I say, 17-year-old Michael McFarlane, be ready to play with the Mamba."
The final prize on the MLB free agent market, All-Star center fielder Michael Bourn signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Cleveland Indians. Bourn, a client of super-agent Scott Boras, said he chose the Indians because of "the wonderful town of Cleveland? Are you kidding me? It was the money! No one else was going over $30 million in this market. Do you know what you can buy with $18 million? Art, you dumbass. This painting by Gerhard Richter. Look at it! I own that now. Best $16 million I've ever spent. Plus, I'll still have two million "Boras dollars" left over to get this work by Richard Serra installed next to my hedge maze. Yeah, I have a hedge maze."
In case you were busy hunting for valuable royal bones in a local parking lot, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Tyson Chandler secured his third straight 20-rebound game, becoming the first New York Knick to do so since Willis Reed in 1969, as the Knicks topped the Detroit Pistons, 99-85, at Madison Square Garden. After the game, an excited Chandler said, "I hope to channel that energy in the postseason and have another Willis Reed moment when it really matters." When asked if he knew exactly what having a Willis Reed moment entailed, Chandler pulled a knife out of his pocket, stared straight into the camera and said, "Yes, I will do anything to motivate my team to win a championship. Anything."