Last week, My Scrabble Friend had an idea. Because I want to steer as far away from endorsing this as I can, I'll let him explain it himself:
Scrabble Friend: There's a prop bet for the first team to score 20 points in a game. These lines actually carry odds on them, roughly 20 percent adjusted from the game's original money line. So, if the Suns are a +400 for the entire game, they'll be something like +320 to get to 20 first. Basketball is a weird game filled with runs and it's silly to assume that any team in the NBA would really be +320 to get out to a quick start and put up 20 before the other team wakes up. As far as my research finds, the underdog wins this bet 80 percent of the time. The research in question started last night, when I bet five underdogs, four of which hit, hence the 80 percent. We will call the bet "Death Race." Small sample sizes are for nerds.
Here’s the irony: The 2011-12 Blazers serve as my personal reminder against overreacting to any team trend over the first 10 or so games of the season. Those Blazers started 7-2, and the wins included an icy coldcocking of Oklahoma City on the road. LaMarcus Aldridge was cementing his status as one of the league’s 15 best players, and Gerald Wallace, still starting ahead of future nut-puncher Nic Batum, was playing the very best basketball of his life. Lots of teams have gotten off to unsustainable starts; witness last season’s Bobcats and this season’s Sixers. But Portland had been a solid playoff team three years running; this felt like a good team taking the next step, overcoming a sad injury history in the process. It felt real.
We know what happened after that: Raymond Felton forgot how to dribble, infighting engulfed the team, and the front office eventually waved the tank flag by dealing Marcus Camby to Houston and fleecing the Nets in what became the Wallace-for–Damian Lillard heist.
Carmelo Anthony led the NBA in scoring this season, but not everywhere. Every player has their own sweet spots — Shane Battier loves the corners, and Al Jefferson is in love with the left block. After an entire season of play, it’s interesting to look at scoring through a spatial lens. Here’s a look at who was most productive from different parts of the floor during the 2012-13 regular season.
Basketball remains a fairly simple game. If you can regularly score close to the basket, you have a good chance of winning. It’s fitting that LeBron James, the league’s best player, is also its leading scorer close to the basket. Between his post game, his attacking, and his brilliance in transition, James creates and converts tons of opportunities at the rim. As a result, he is the most successful player within the NBA’s most vital space.
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.
On our first full day in Houston, Jacoby, Zach Lowe, and I had the pleasure of talking with a few of the NBA's brightest stars. Jacoby spoke with Kyrie Irving about video games, 3-point shooting, and Uncle Drew. I got a chance to talk with Chandler Parsons about the Rockets' rivalry with the Warriors. I also chatted with comic-book fan (and Nets center) (and All-Star) Brook Lopez, who told me about who hogs the stereo in the Brooklyn locker room and where The Dark Knight Rises stands in the Batman canon. Finally, Zach Lowe got an incredibly detailed account of who sits where on the Blazers' team plane from LaMarcus Aldridge and heard from Warriors guard Klay Thompson about what it was like to give up 140 points in one game. Check out the full podcast, as well as the video clips, below.
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.
There’s really no way around it anymore — Marco Belinelli has become the most clutch player in the NBA. It started in Boston less than a week ago. With the Bulls and Celtics tied in overtime, Belinelli put up a twisting, fall-away, physics-defying shot with 3.1 seconds left to secure the win. If it had ended there, I can understand how it might be considered an aberration. But it didn’t. Last night, with the game again tied, Marco dropped in a game-sealing, acrobatic lay-in with only a second left to down the Pistons:
With a 19-15 record, and currently the 8-seed in the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers have been one of the league’s most pleasant surprises. It’s been even more surprising that a first-year point guard has been their catalyst.
A year ago, it’s doubtful that LeBron James even knew who Damian Lillard was. But a day before his Heat team takes on the Blazers in a national showdown, James named Lillard his Rookie of the Year, and it’s not hard to see why.
For Portland, it seems as though a possession never goes by without the rookie guard and his boundless energy making their mark. Watching Lillard weave in and out of traffic to unfurl one of his silky-smooth jumpers has been a common sight, and with very little punch from the team’s bench, he and his fellow starters have shouldered the bulk of the scoring load. That burden has forced Lillard to be more of a scorer than a distributor in this first season, but his low assist rate isn’t a product of lacking skill.