In case you were busy watching The Great Gatsby in 3-D as an ill-advised cram session for your 11th-grade English final, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Miami Heat rebounded from a disappointing Game 1 defeat by pasting the Chicago Bulls, 115-78, to even up their second-round series. After a pair of ejections, the Bulls found themselves playing without Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson, meaning they had to play a mostly reserve lineup of B.J. Armstrong, Jud Buechler, Toni Kukoc, Bill Wennington and Luc Longley. Despite the influx of forgotten veterans, the oldest player on the court remained Heat reserve Juwan Howard, who was inactive with "being tired, man; real, real tired."
Klay Thompson had 34 points and 14 rebounds as the Golden State Warriors held off the San Antonio Spurs, 100-91. Midway through Thompson's explosive first half, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was seen staring at the Warriors' wing, mumbling, "decent athleticism, floor-stretching 3-point shooting, on a rookie contract … how do I not possess him?" Popovich then wiped off the small amount of drool that had collected at the corner of his mouth, snapped at Spurs guard Danny Green for being a "lollygagger," before making a mental note to himself to take the title of "general manager" back from R.C. Buford after the game.
Phillip Thomas just wanted everyone to put on their damn T-shirts.
This was Friday, about 5:30 p.m. in Oakland, on the north end of a still mostly empty Oracle Arena. The Warriors and Nuggets were still tied, 1-1. Steph Curry had not yet shot his way to the moon and back. Andrew Bogut had yet to put JaVale McGee in a GIF. It was not yet a time of triumphalism, but of possibility. Also: a time for yellow T-shirts.
“Where your shirt at!?” yelled Thomas. He’s an usher and a security guard and a guy who wears a blazer and a headset (both of which let you know: He runs shit). He was yelling at someone who was wearing a green polo — or, more importantly, someone who had the gall to rock anything but a yellow T-shirt. The shirts — which said “We Are Warriors” on the front — had been given to every staff member and placed on every seat, and after the 13 years Thomas had worked in this arena, he wasn’t going to let people off the hook for refusing to wear the right shirt.
Predicting the impact of Danilo Gallinari’s season-ending knee injury on Denver’s playoff hopes is one of the trickiest bits of analysis the NBA’s roulette wheel of injury luck has given us this season. The Nuggets might be one of the league’s deepest teams, full of wing types ready to sop up Gallinari’s minutes and ballhandling duties. But one of those wing types, the scorching Wilson Chandler, didn’t become a big-minutes fixture in George Karl’s rotation until mid-January — one of many in-season quirks that leaves us with dangerously small sample sizes almost everywhere we look. And an even more important Denver player, Ty Lawson, is dealing with plantar fasciitis. He might not return until the playoffs, and his health will be in question when he does take the court again.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. The Thunder's Body Language
If you have Insider, you should check out David Thorpe's piece on the chemistry of the Oklahoma City Thunder. There's a lot of speculation in the article, a lot based on the very shaky science of body language, most of it suggesting that this is a more selfish Thunder team than ones we've seen in the past. The piece serves as a reminder that if it's spring, it must be time to judge every time Kevin Durant shakes his hands in the air to demand the ball, every time Russell Westbrook ignores him, and every time Serge Ibaka stares into space. Last night? They looked fine to me.
There's long been a general skepticism around the league about whether the Nuggets, so exciting and so dominant of late, can translate their regular-season success into true title contention. Three questions drive that skepticism:
1. Can they score in the clutch?
2. Can they score in the half court?
3. Can they defend well enough to beat elite offenses four times in seven games?
Denver has now won 14 straight after an improbable comeback against Philly on Thursday night that had George Karl telling Grantland this morning, “I woke up a lucky, lucky guy.” And though the schedule during that stretch has featured plenty of rest, close calls, and bad teams, it's also brought a handful of showdowns with the Western Conference’s elite — including two wins over the Thunder.
Denver has played top-five-level ball on both sides of the floor during this stretch — sort of a necessity for any 14-game winning streak. But dig a bit further, and watch the tape, and there are even more encouraging signs a real contender might be developing in the Rockies: The Nuggets are scoring well in the half court and destroying teams in crunch time.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. George Karl
Chris Ryan: Last night's Thunder-Nuggets clash wasn't exactly the basketball game you meet in heaven that I had billed it as (to myself) (I may have sent you an e-mail about it), but it was pretty instructive. I think it's becoming harder and harder to quantify what coaches do in the NBA, if only because it's becoming easier to do so for players. We can see where players should shoot, where they shouldn't, we can watch them take 200 elbow jumpers on Synergy, and talk about how efficient or effective they are when they take them. For almost everything we might think about a player's game, we have a number to support or poke holes in our convictions. For coaching, though, we're still just guessing, really; reading body language, judging substitution patterns, second-guessing timeout calls at the end of games. If you're like me, you judge them by their hair. (Hi, Vinny.)
Early in Denver's game with Phoenix on March 11, as a deflection sent the ball into the hands of Denver's Andre Iguodala, his teammate Wilson Chandler took off toward the opposite rim. As Iguodala moved the ball toward the center of the floor with a series of high, hard dribbles, forcing two retreating Phoenix defenders to shift toward him, an open pathway to the rim began to emerge in front of Chandler, bounding along the right flank. A quick shovel pass from Iguodala was easily secured by the galloping Chandler, who needed only two long, explosive strides to soar past a helpless Luis Scola for a vicious, two-handed dunk.
When the Houston Rockets pried Omer Asik away from the Bulls with an aggressive offer sheet, the most pressing question (after "Who?" and "Him?") was if he could maintain his effectiveness with greater playing time. As a backup center in Chicago, the towering Turk had spent only 15 minutes on the floor per game. But in that limited sample, there were intriguing indicators that he could be a valuable big man. He was an elite rebounder — averaging more than 17 boards per 48 minutes — and his defensive rating was 92, which meant he surrendered fewer points per possession than Dwight Howard's career-best.
Now, Asik is considered a "surprise," despite being a very similar player to the one we saw as a reserve on the Bulls. In truth, he's gotten better. His rebounding rate is slightly up, his free throw shooting has improved, and he's committing fewer fouls (a consequence of needing to stay on the floor, one category in which he's slipped is shot-blocking). Asik has become more comfortable on offense and is now supplementing those wounded-circus-bear reverse layup attempts with new tricks, such as a cutting catch-and-kick to the corner after rolling off a bone-melting pick at the top of the key. In general, he's proved that his success in Chicago could be replicated on a larger scale, even if some of that success was bolstered by playing alongside Joakim Noah and the Bulls' army of smothering wraiths.
For the most part, NBA head coaches tend to like predictability. Given the complexity of their schemes, there’s a certain comfort in knowing where players are going, and when they’re going to be there. With coaches working hard to control every aspect of the game, it’s remarkable to see the success George Karl has had by giving up that control.
Over the years, Karl’s offenses have largely been defined by, well ... lacking definition. The past two seasons in Denver are no exception. Karl’s three-out-two-in, dribble-drive motion offense provides his team with a template to play an exciting brand of basketball that every NBA player would love to be a part of. There are only a few guiding principles — namely moving the ball, playing fast, and attacking the rim for layups or fouls — and that lack of structure creates a system that grants his players almost total autonomy.
I ride or die for the Sixers. Unfortunately for me, they are currently riding a four-game losing streak that is probably going to kill me. Sometimes, when you are being raked over the coals by the team that has your heart, your mind wanders. And mine has wandered to Denver.
On Monday night, the Nuggets beat the Warriors, 123-84, behind a career night from rookie Kenneth Faried (27 points, 17 rebounds). If the Nuggets are a new team to me (and you, non-Nuggets people), that's OK. They're pretty much a whole new team to Denver, too.
Upon hearing this, I poured a full grande-in-a-venti-cup coffee all over the floor because it seemed like an appropriately absurd reaction to such a ridiculous statement. JaVale McGee is supposed to be comic relief. He's supposed to run the wrong way down the court, sing Adele to himself in his car, and get text messages from his mother about going KILLMODE SQUARED. He's not supposed to be developing his game and getting compared to one of the greatest big men in the history of the game, right?