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.
Ask About Me
Danny Chau: In the NBA, every player was a star at some point in his life. Stardom, and the unshakable confidence that comes with it, is born and bred in the insulated bubbles of small-town high school basketball and the AAU circuit. But the pool widens at each level up, and most stars fizzle out and are faced with their new realities. Not everyone can be a star in the NBA, but the long season offers even the most marginalized player at least a few chances at capturing some of his former glory.
I wouldn’t lump Lance Stephenson anywhere near that “most marginalized” category; his season has been a great success, though quiet. But the high school phenom he once was might’ve scoffed at his modest averages as a show of triumph. There was nothing understated about New York City Legend Lance Stephenson. He was brash, he had a comically presumptuous nickname, and he bullied his way into the all-time record for most points scored in the city.
That outsize caricature of Stephenson still shows its face. In the second quarter of Game 5, Stephenson inexplicably jumped from the dotted semicircle in the lane while attempting to posterize Tyson Chandler. It was a foolhardy attempt, and probably wouldn’t have worked once in 100 computerized simulations — he just isn’t that kind of athlete. He dared to dream, and was given a lesson in pragmatism as he crumpled to the floor. It was the perfect play to illustrate the kind of humbling Stephenson has endured in the league.
Before they broke out in Game 5 and started to look like themselves again, something had been off with the San Antonio Spurs’ offense. In the first four games of their series against Golden State — the first legit playoff team the Spurs had faced after their first-round bye — scoring points and getting clean looks, especially from the perimeter, was beginning to feel like work. It was an unusual feeling for a team that played the league’s prettiest, most well-oiled offense before Miami found a new groove this season. It felt like the last four games of their conference finals loss against Oklahoma City last year, when the Thunder’s athleticism and amped-up scheme forced enough extra steps into the Spurs' process to turn the league’s best offense into an average one.
Something has been going on with New York’s offense, the league’s third-best in the regular season, since the day the playoffs started. New York has averaged just 97.3 points per 100 possessions in the postseason, by far the worst mark of anyone who advanced beyond the first round, and such a monumental drop from their regular-season number (108.6) that we can’t just chalk it up to tougher competition.
The trade deadline, even a mild one, reshuffles rosters and hints at franchise priorities going forward. The changes and the signals combine to heighten the scrutiny and pressure placed on certain players. Here, we present a list of who — and what — is on notice after last week’s relatively uneventful deadline:
It's baaaaaack. The NBA Shootaround crew is here to go over the best and brightest story lines coming out of media day and the opening days of NBA training camp. Basketball, basketball, basketball, basketball, basketball!!!
Kobe Clearly Still Mad About the Ellen Kid; Lying About Having the Ball in Hands; Wishes He Were a Transformer
Quick sidebar: Does Craig Sager make it through a day of his life on Earth without having a professional basketball player question his ability to dress himself or ... ask questions? It's the FIRST DAY and Kobe is already treating him like an emotional speed bag. This dude's life is Groundhog Day and the day he is reliving is the first day of high school, with 6-foot-6 guys stuffing him in a locker. The humanity!
Anyway, Kobe's back. Despite the new constellation of supernovas in Lakers purple, no star burns brighter than no. 24. And don't you ever forget it. Somehow Bryant was able to spend media day at once shirking responsibility (on handling the ball less this season: "Thank God") and reasserting his dominance over his surroundings ("I get to be Megatron"). (Yes, he was referring to being able to "run routes," à la Calvin Johnson, while new point guard Steve Nash takes care of the ball ... but let's just pretend he meant he gets to be the evil Transformer. It's much more on-brand.)
This made me giddy. Putting aside that I am willfully misinterpreting what he said, do you know how extra-Kobe Kobe Bryant is going to have to be this year to make sure we're all paying attention to him? In the face of the media-friendly Nash, the confounding Dwight Howard, and the downright weird Metta World Peace, Bryant is going to have to be in full Prince Joffrey mode. I can't wait to watch the throne this season.
— Chris Ryan
For the remainder of the NBA season, The Triangle will be breaking down the biggest games of the week. Up first: Knicks-Mavs, a game in which Tyson Chandler returned to Dallas and faced the team he won a championship ring with last season. In Dallas's 96-85 victory, Dirk Nowitzki resumed his single-footed heroics and Carmelo Anthony gave more fuel to his growing army of critics.
What Was at Stake
Since the Knicks had amassed their full arsenal of weapons — Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Baron Davis, and Iman Shumpert returned from injury, and J.R. Smith came back from joyriding junkets down the Yangtze River — they’d gone 2-3, with losses to Boston, Miami, and New Jersey going into Tuesday's game. The two wins were in games that presented challenges as daunting as spotting someone in Los Angeles wearing a fedora: One was a trouncing of a depleted Atlanta team, the other a rout of the Cavs. (Even then, the Knicks trailed at the half by 12.)
The Magic have just beaten the Knicks, and Dwight Howard’s in a good mood. Most of the Orlando players in MSG’s petite visitors’ locker room are strategically maneuvering orange towels while silently changing; meanwhile, Dwight’s riffing. The first target is Jameer Nelson, who just polished off a postgame Styrofoam platter of wings and fries and now can’t find his shower shoes. Howard offers a hand, ducking his head up to the top shelf of the 6-foot Nelson’s locker: “Oh, you can’t see 'em? Y'all got an apple box?” The assembled media scrum titters, and Howard moves on to one of the refs: “They need to send him to the D-League. He didn’t know what three seconds was. It’s when you’re in the paint for three seconds!” Then he spots ESPN’s news-breaking specialist Chris Broussard and rattles off an impersonation: “I talked to LeBron James … inside sources tell me … I just talked to Jesus and he said …"