Ah, the coldest winter. We've had a couple of days of no good, very bad, terrible news coming out of the NBA (D-Rose, Marc Gasol, Iggy, Beal injuries). So give thanks that we have guys like Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley, and Tim Duncan for livening up the mood while franchise cornerstones fall, Derrick Williams moves to Sacramento, and O.J. Mayo puts up minus-20 plus/minus nights.
Now, when you think of Duncan, Wade, and Beasley, you probably don't think comedy. I personally think of ill-fitting button-up shirts, dirty plays, and weed. But after last night, all that is changing.
In case you were busy trying to figure out if the Xbox One is a prequel to the original Xbox, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
LeBron James scored an extraordinarily efficient 35 points on 14 shots as the Miami Heat beat the Phoenix Suns 107-92. He did so despite a strange moment when James called over an official and yelled, "Xbox! Turn the difficulty up!" before realizing he was actually playing basketball and not a next-gen copy of NBA 2K14.
Colin Kaepernick and San Francisco's offense finally got rolling in the 49ers' 27-6 win over Washington. "They dared me to throw the ball," Kaepernick explained after the game. "And at first I was all like, 'Nuh-uh,' and they were all like, 'Double dare,' and I was all like, 'Nuh-uh,' and then they were all like, 'Double dog dare,' and I was all like, 'No way,' and they were all like, 'Triple dog dare,' and that was unorthodox 'cause they totally skipped triple dare, and also they start Josh Wilson in their secondary, so I don't know why they were daring me to throw at all."
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.
Last season, in late March, I awarded John Wall something called M.V.P.N.N.K.L. It's the MVP for people not named Kevin or LeBron. The only NBA players disqualified from winning the award are LeBron James and Kevin Durant (and Kevin Garnett, and Kevin Martin … sorry, Kevin Martin). The point is, while Durant and LeBron are around, it's hard to imagine anyone else winning the MVP award, so we have to come up with something for the rest of the league. Hence, the M.V.P.N.N.K.L.
After one week, this award belongs to Paul George. In fact, he might not even need the Kevin/LeBron exemption. He might just be the MVP.
If there was a Year 1 winner when the Nets moved to Brooklyn, it was the Modell's on Flatbush Avenue that sits across the street from the Barclays Center. What was formerly a rundown sporting goods store with little on the shelves transformed itself into a bright beacon of fluorescent light featuring row upon row of apparel sporting the logo of the borough's newest franchise.
Ninety minutes before Brooklyn opened its 2013-14 home schedule against the Miami Heat, a few dozen people milled about Modell's. I asked a casher if Nets stuff was selling fast. "Of course. It's the first day of the season. They are going to buy it all," she told me in an optimistic tone that sounded like the party line. I looked around. They were not buying it all. One guy inquired about two Nets hats; almost everyone else seemed more interested in purchasing soccer balls or asking about the length of the crew socks. An employee stocking the shelves said it wasn't nearly as busy as the season opener last year. His take: The jerseys were too expensive and no one had any money. If the Nets won, however, the fans would come back after the game to buy something.
You see that flag, billowing in the darkness up there? That's the flag of champions. This isn't some crazy, premature, homerific Philly sports rant, people. We don't engage in that kind of propaganda. This is science. The Philadelphia 76ers are the champs. The Regular-Season NBA Champs.
In case you were busy walking the plank at the behest of Bill Belichick, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
LeBron James and the Miami Heat opened their NBA championship defense with an impressive 107-95 win over Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. An optimistic Rose, who was playing in his first regular-season game since recovering from a torn ACL, said, "I'm disappointed in the loss, but my performance, I can easily change that by making shots and keeping down the turnovers." When Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau heard his point guard's comments, however, he flew into a rage, screaming, "He could have made more shots and avoided turnovers? Well, why didn't he? What the hell was he thinking?" Thibodeau then threw his hands in the air and said, "Jiminy Christmas, he was only out for a year. I have to micromanage everything with this team."
These are among the most important song lyrics of many a childhood and they're from a Gatorade commercial. The Gatorade commercial.
And after a full minute of seeing your hero, this untouchable flying creature, come down to earth to hang out and do normal things like laugh and let the basketball hit him atop the head, you had no choice but to follow the cultish messaging at the end.
The past two NBA seasons haven’t felt right without Derrick Rose having his say. When the league’s youngest-ever MVP went down in the Bulls’ first game of their first-round series in the 2012 playoffs, the NBA immediately became an incomplete product. He was the bright future of the league, destined for, at the very least, epic annual playoff clashes with elite teams. Immediately after tearing his ACL, the Eastern Conference became less competitive, turning into a relative cakewalk for the Miami Heat. We badly missed the mere presence of Rose in a playoff series — he alone gave you enough reason to believe that the Bulls could prevail.
In the lead-up to the 2013-14 NBA season, Grantland will examine key players — X factors — for contending teams.
There are millions of basketball fans in America who still hate LeBron James more than any athlete in sports, but when you look at why they hate LeBron, the guy they really hate is Dwyane Wade. The one who's overrated, whiny, and flops constantly. Cocky when he's good, petulant when he's not, always in need of a good ego massage. He gives himself nicknames, he dresses like an asshole. Hollywood as hell. That's Wade, not LeBron.
In case you were busy frantically shorting Arian Foster futures, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Mike Napoli hit a monster home run as the Boston Red Sox got to Anibal Sanchez and beat the Tigers, 4-3, to take a 3-2 ALCS lead back to Fenway Park. When asked how big a moment the home run was for him, Napoli shrugged, scratched his hairy face, and said, "Smallish? Scale of 1-10? I honestly don't care enough to rate it." When asked where he'd place the team's win in the context of Red Sox franchise history, Napoli yawned, drooled a little into his mustache, and said, "I couldn't care less about history. The only thing more boring than new baseball is old baseball." When asked why he has devoted his life to a pursuit he apparently thinks little of, Napoli stroked his beard and said, "Duh, beards." When told he didn't have to play baseball to grow a beard, Napoli chortled, filling his beard with spittle and sunflower-seed detritus, and asked, "Now who's being naive?" Napoli then ignored a text message from his girlfriend and said, "Now if you don't mind, my beard and I would like a little alone time," before walking into a supply closet at Comerica Park carrying a gilded comb.
In case you were busy remembering when Kirk Gibson made the impossible happen in the year of the improbable, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Matt Holliday and Shane Robinson hit the first two home runs of the NLCS and the St. Louis Cardinals are one game away from the World Series after their 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. "Man, what a thrill to be a part of that slugfest," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny after the game. "For fans who love offense, tonight was your night. It was just fireworks and explosions." Matheny then chuckled and added, "I mean six runs? In regulation? What game were we even playing? Hockey?"
Mike Napoli's solo home run off Justin Verlander was all the offense Boston would need, as John Lackey and the Red Sox bullpen led their team to a 1-0 win over the Detroit Tigers and a 2-1 series lead in the ALCS. The game was notably interrupted by a 17-minute power outage in the second inning, a time that Lackey referred to as "one of those things where my stuff was bad before the thing, then the power outage happens, and boom, my stuff gets good again. It's like some sort of small version of my last few years." When asked if he was saying the power outage was perhaps microcosmic of his career in Boston, Lackey replied, "Nah, I'm just talking about like how things can be going badly, and then they can change and be good again, and like, this moment was like a tiny version of that feeling, which I know all too well." When told that's what a microcosm is, an angry Lackey responded, "I'm not an idiot, OK? I'm not talking about some sort of tiny universe where Neil deGrasse Tyson is a wizard. I'm talking about a small version of a big thing! Like this conversation, and how it's like all my relationships with the Boston media, but in a small amount of time." Lackey then shook his head and said, "There's gotta be a word for that."
In case you were busy being harassed by Brian McCann and the party police, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Detroit Red Wings made an early two-goal lead stand up in their first game as an Eastern Conference team, taking their season opener against the Buffalo Sabres 2-1. "It's tough," said Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg after the game. "We had to get rid of all our board shorts and flip-flops, invest in some blazers and khakis." Zetterberg then looked down at himself, attired nattily by Brooks Brothers, and sighed, before saying, "The Eastern Conference sucks. I feel like I sold out, man."
The Tampa Bay Rays will be playing more postseason baseball after surviving their second consecutive elimination game, with a 4-0 win over the Cleveland Indians in the AL wild-card game. When asked how his team dealt with the pressure of back-to-back one-and-done situations, Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "Terribly. Everyone in the clubhouse is a wreck. Lots of shaking and crying. We were this close to just forfeiting." When asked if he was worried about facing the Boston Red Sox, who had the AL's best record this season, Maddon screamed, "Ahhhh! We get the Red Sox? Why?" before vomiting on himself.
In case yinz were busy getting to Pittsburgh to wait, yinz? Who the hell are yinz? Anyway, here's what you may have missed in sports on Tuesday:
Oh my goodness, hockey's back? Hockey's back! And with it came a barrage of goals from defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago, which beat Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, 6-4, in its season opener. "Ten goals?" yelled 58-year-old Blackhawks fan Gary Habermeyer. "What the hell is this garbage? Polo? What happened to hockey?" When his son-in-law Dan Nielson tried to explain that there were a number of offseason rule changes put in place by the NHL to increase scoring, Habermeyer slammed down the legs of his Barcalounger and shoved a finger in Nielson's face. "I'll tell you what the problem is," Habermeyer shot back. "It's your generation. A bunch of showboaters. No one willing to do the hard work. No one willing to play defense. Patrick Kane? That's just a child wearing skates carrying around a big stick. When things get hard he'll just shut down the government. Not like Bobby Hull. Now there was a real man. Don't look at your phone when we're having a heart-to heart conversation!" But Nielson didn't look up from his phone, as he was texting his wife, Bridget, to say that she owed him more than one for spending the evening bonding with her father, and also to ask what Patrick Kane had to do with the government shutdown.
Pittsburgh's battery of Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin made sure the Pirates' first postseason trip in 21 years would not be a one-game affair, as they topped the Cincinnati Reds, 6-2, in the NL wild-card playoff. "I just keep thinking, What could I have done differently?" said Reds manager Dusty Baker after the game. Baker then took a moment to think back over the events of the game, during which he managed to use seven pitchers without deploying superstar closer Aroldis Chapman, before adding, "And the answer is nothing."