In case you were busy running into a heavily padded man one last time for the kids, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Former Boston head coach Doc Rivers's emotional return to Boston was a success as his Clippers came from behind to top the Celtics 96-88. It was a less successful return for Clippers center Ryan Hollins, who mistakenly assumed that the pregame tribute to Rivers was in honor of his own brief tenure with the Celtics in 2012 and awkwardly had to turn his grateful wave to the fans into an arm stretch/scratch of the head combo when he realized his mistake.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is back 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.
This Garden Belongs to Paul George
Chris Ryan: Is Paul George the third-best player in the NBA right now? Did Paul George walk into Madison Square Garden and guard the Knicks' best player (both on the perimeter and in the post)? Did he match Carmelo's 30-point night with a 35-point turn of his own? Did he go into the visitors' locker room, see a glass case marked "Break in Case of Fourth-Quarter Emergency," think about the people who had came before him who had broken things at Madison Square Garden, laugh, shatter it, and score 12 in the final period of regulation and 13 of the Pacers' final 18, including three free throws to send the game into overtime? Did he punch Shump's layup off the backboard? Did he walk off the court like the legend in the making that he is and get dap from celebrities in the making like A$AP Rocky?
In case you were busy clearing your name in the best place for levelheaded legal analysis: sports talk radio, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Knicks failed to make a late lead stand up, as Paul George and the Pacers topped New York, 103-96, in overtime. "But dad," a young boy in Queens said after the game, as he held his head in his hands. "All they had to do was not foul Paul George on the 3. Why would they foul him, dad? Why?" His father sat on the couch, staring forward, his gaze extending through the television, out to infinity. "Because, son," the father said, mindlessly crushing a beer can in his left hand. "Because the world is a cruel and ugly place. Because the universe bends toward entropic chaos. Because man is nothing more than a wad of rotten flesh stretched over an angry skeleton." The boy was crying a little now, but he managed to mumble, "But I don't understand." The father turned to his boy as he said with profound clarity, "Because Knicks, son. Because Knicks."
Despite a season-high 33 points from Dwight Howard, the Houston Rockets
fell, 123-120, at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, who improved to 6-0 at home. "Ha-ha, yes!" Howard said after the game despite his team's loss. "What a night! What a night!" When asked if he was talking about his own breakout performance, Howard replied, "Nah, man. Did you see when Dirk totally slipped and fell over? And I was all like, 'Nirk!' And he was all like, 'Nirk?' and I was all like, 'Yeah, Nirk D'oh-witzki!'" Howard then collapsed in hysterics before gathering himself and saying, "He didn't get it, but man, he got covered in Dwight-Out."
In case you were busy officially filling out the paperwork necessary to hand over the title of "World's Most Obnoxious Argonauts Fan," here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Cam Newton's late-game heroics, and a controversial non-call on a game-ending interception, gave the Panthers a 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots, their sixth straight win. Bill Belichick was furious with the officiating after the game, asking quarterback Tom Brady, "Who are those officials carrying all those flags for anyway? Goodell? Is that it? Goodell? Well I tell you, let me give you a little inside information about Goodell." Flames roared behind Belichick, and the stench of brimstone hung in the air as he added, "Goodell likes to watch. He's a prankster. Think about it. He gives men instincts. He gives players this extraordinary gift: instinct. And then what does He do — I swear for His own amusement, his own private, cosmic gag reel — He sets the rules in opposition." An increasingly animated Belichick continued, "It's the goof of all time. Look, but don't touch. Touch, but don't grab. Grab, but don't catch." Belichick then let out a horrible laugh, pointed to the ground, and yelled, "And while you're jumpin' from one foot to the next, what is he doing? He's laughin' His sick ass off! He's a tight-ass! He's a sadist! He's an absentee landlord! Worship Goodell? Never!"
Tony Allen was ejected for kicking Chris Paul in the face, but his Grizzlies held on, beating the Los Angeles Clippers, 106-102, at Staples Center. After the game, an excited Blake Griffin ran to Paul and said, "Dude, dude, dude. I have the best idea for a dunk-contest dunk, dude. Dude, will you help me do it?" Paul nodded and asked Griffin, "Does it involve kicking me in the face?" Griffin's eyes got wide as he said, "How did you know? Dude. Dude. Are you psychic?" But Paul didn't answer, and instead just shook his head and walked away.
Today’s installment of NBA Betting Lines comes to you from a Greyhound parked outside the Atlantic City hospital. It’s 9:14 on a Sunday morning. A dense, acrid fog sits over the boardwalk and everything smells like fish guts in the sun. For reasons unknown, half the passengers on this bus carried on mini-breadmakers. It’s been 10 years since I’ve done the Port Authority–to–Bally’s route and I’m pleased to report that the horrors have not ceased. Mom, rest easy. I came down here only because a close friend has just caught the bug. He lived his entire life in New York City and up until recently had never been to Atlantic City. In the past six weeks, he's been here three times. This is called a problem. So I thought I'd be a good buddy and take the bus down with him so that when he finally got felted at the blackjack table, all his dreams turned to lies (that line courtesy of Mike Tyson), I could laugh and feel superior and throw my arm around his shoulder and tell him about all the parlays My Scrabble Friend and I have laid because My Scrabble Friend says he has a "good feel" about Troy’s football team.
The Dallas Mavericks are the last team to have ousted the Miami Heat from the NBA playoffs. As we all know, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs bested LeBron James and the Heat in six games in the 2011 NBA Finals, clinching their first championship on Miami’s home floor. Although that series was Nowitzki’s finest moment, it also inspired James to drastically transform his game. He's never been the same since.
The ridicule has trailed him for years, in out-of-town gyms and on the NBA’s snarkiest message boards. Perhaps no player has been mocked more than Monta Ellis. He shoots too much; he has never met a jumper he didn’t like; he’s a ball hog; he’s a volume shooter with an efficiency problem. I myself have been guilty of casting such aspersions. Well, although the samples are small, and the fresh season has just begun, Ellis might be rewriting his own story and teaching basketball analysts a very important lesson in the process.
Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose skeptically review Mavs owner Mark Cuban's latest attempt to field an NBA championship roster, consider what Monta Ellis can provide as a second scorer, and Clairvoyant Bill sees a big year coming from Dirk Nowitzki. NOTHING IS OVER!
Yesterday we looked at ShotScore, a new method to identify the NBA’s best scorers. You can read the full piece here, but in a nutshell, the method compares the actual point yield of an individual NBA shooter against an estimated tally of what an average NBA shooter would accrue from that exact same set of shots. This is a useful way to evaluate shooting because unlike field goal percentage, it accounts for where on the floor the shooter is most active and factors that in to the analysis. Midrange shooters are compared against the NBA’s average midrange production, etc.
Players like Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Jose Calderon, and Kyle Korver immediately rose to the top; these players consistently outperform league averages from their most active shooting zones. But, it’s also instructive to identify the players who make shots at rates much lower than league averages, the guys that regularly underperform relative to their shooting cohort. Here is the bottom five:
We've been getting in the mood for basketball for a few weeks now, but the NBA season doesn't officially begin until Media Day.
That's when everything that's amazing and ridiculous comes back at once. The photos, the quotes, the trash talk, the outrageous predictions. It's all there. And it's been even better the past few years, because Twitter makes it easier than ever to share all the best moments. With the help of Danny Chau and the rest of the NBA Internet, let's run through some important moments from around the league.
Ricky Ledo’s contract negotiations were going badly. Which sounds a little ridiculous. The Mavs selected Ledo with the 43rd pick in the draft, meaning he was a second-rounder with very little leverage and almost certainly no place else to go if he wished to play in the NBA anytime soon. His track record to that point was spotty. He played for several high schools and logged zero minutes in college after being ruled academically ineligible. He looked so disinterested in some pre-draft workouts that officials from two teams told me they'd concluded that Ledo was “undraftable.”
And yet Ledo and his agent, Seth Cohen, were locked in fairly contentious negotiations with Dallas officials during much of the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas. Those negotiations, and several others, shined a light on the NBA subculture of second-round picks — an asset type teams have found increasingly valuable under the restrictive new CBA, and one that brings a bit more negotiating wiggle room than a first-round pick with a set salary slot, according to several team executives and player agents. Want to know how smart your favorite team is with the cap, or how much it values a particular second-round pick? Pay attention to the nuances of that player’s contract and salary.
Over the weekend, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban took to his blog — normally an outpost for stock investing advice, third-way political observations, and Shark Tank updates — to explain not just the Mavs' current offseason but the entire series of decisions he'd made since they won the championship in 2011. The complaint from a noisy section of the fan base is that he let most of the team's talent leave so Dallas could pursue the white whale of future cap space — or, if you believe the more conspiratorial arguments, to coast off the championship win and save money.
Cuban's post didn't have a lot to say that he hadn't already said in the press. But its format (sort of like a misguided apology e-mail you'd send your ex-girlfriend late at night to explain why you'd been such a dick) and its timing (Mavs season tickets, on sale now!) require some sort of notice.
It's mid-July, the offseason is two weeks old, the second (or third?) Dwightmare is officially over, and we have at least three teams who vaulted themselves into the title contender conversation. This summer's especially fun because teams who were good last year (Nets, Rockets, Warriors, Clippers) have gotten much better, and then you have a separate group of teams who are going into scorched-earth tanking mode already. In a normal year, you're not technically tanking until you bench your best players for the final three months of the season, but what the Sixers just did has gotta qualify. Ditto for the Suns, Magic, and especially the Jazz, who let Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk and then replaced them with Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson. INSPIRED.
The offseason is always great, but this one's been especially fun as two sides of the league do everything they can to either contend for a title or gut their roster and lose 50 games. In the middle we have the Lakers, reloading with Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar and Nick Young as Kobe's wingmen for next year. Again, the offseason is GREAT.
Anyway, to celebrate the season, let's check out a handful of teams and hand out grades for what's happened thus far. We begin with the trade that kicked everything off back on draft night …
The NBA playoffs are upon us, with 16 teams competing for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. But what about the other guys? What about the teams we wish were in the playoffs? We may know, in our heads, that they didn't do enough to get into the postseason, but that doesn't change how we feel in our hearts. We'd like to see these teams competing in Bill Simmons's Entertaining as Hell Tournament, but until that day, we'll just have to write longingly about why we wish they had made it to the promised land.
Portland Trail Blazers
Sean Fennessey: This isn't exactly a song for the Blazers because the Blazers were hard to watch this year. Nic Batum was long and lean and aggressively French, J.J. Hickson played like an exploding can of soda, and Weber State's Damian Lillard was a revelation to those who enjoy tiny-man dunks but don't much care for consistency. (He is only the Rookie of the Year because Anthony Davis hasn't totally figured out how to play basketball yet. He will.) I won't miss those Blazers and I certainly won't miss their bench, mostly because their bench doesn't exist beyond the many terrified faces of Meyers Leonard.
Injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried have George Karl understandably scrambling for healthy rotation parts, but I’m not sure the world is ready to watch the Wild Child front line play heavy minutes. On their very first possession as a duo against Houston on April 6, Jeremy Lin blew by McGee’s overly aggressive and off-balance help defense on a pick-and-roll and launched a layup that Anthony Randolph, helping from the weak side, blatantly goaltended.
Randolph and McGee have combined for at least a dozen moments of sublime chaos since, including a half-dozen alone in Denver’s wild and very necessary win Monday night in Milwaukee — more silly goaltending infractions, two completely out-of-control offensive fouls by a stumbling Randolph, and at least one McGee into-the-stands rejection so dumb McGee expressed immediate regret that he didn’t just catch the ball.