In case you were busy giving grudging credit to Rick Barnes for a game well coached, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Jaromir Jagr set the career NHL record with his 122nd game winner in the New Jersey Devils' 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators. Unfortunately for Jagr, the possibility for an in-game recognition of his achievement stalled when Senators goalkeeper Robin Lehner refused to take the procedural steps required to pause the game to allow for an ovation or an announcement to be made. Any attempt to overturn Lehner's decision was thwarted by captain Jason Spezza, who cited the need to respect the team's procedural methodology before checking Devils winger Patrik Elias into the boards.
In a battle of the Eastern Conference's elite teams, the Miami Heat overturned a 15-point deficit to top the Indiana Pacers, 97-94. After the game, the two teams met at midcourt to survey the surrounding area, only to find themselves alone in a desolate wasteland. "It's just us, huh?" Pacers forward Paul George asked the Heat's Dwyane Wade as he looked at the Eastern Conference standings. "All the other teams they're gone?" Wade shook his head grimly. "Not gone. Undead." George gasped, but Wade clapped a hand over George's mouth and whispered, "No, no. They can smell fear. If you don't watch out you'll wind up in Brooklyn." Wade shuddered and added, "But if one of us manages to make it to play the West, I hear that the virus hasn't taken hold out there." George's eyes were wide as he asked Wade, "What virus?" Just then, Heat forward Chris Bosh popped up from behind his teammate and said, "Suck! They all suck. The virus is sucking. They suck so much. Everyone else just sucks so, so much."
The NBA season is 82 games long, and for fans of many teams, to watch those games is to enter an endless, Kafkaesque hellscape that lives outside of time. Non-fans simply avoid the sight of such teams unless some other interest-inducing factor compels them to watch.
The Eastern Conference is a wreckage of bad luck, poor stewardship, and strategic losing. New York and Brooklyn expose 8 million people, several times a week, to the smoke coming off mountains of burning cash and melted credit cards. Boston is the 4-seed at 12-14 and Jordan Crawford — JORDAN CRAWFORD! — won Eastern Conference Player of the Week by virtue of solid play and the postapocalyptic East-West talent gap (Crawford — who, again, has played well — being Eastern Conference Player of the Week is like Rick Grimes being the leader of your zombie-world survivor coalition because he owns a sheriff’s hat). Milwaukee is probably the very worst team in the NBA after being set upon by the Wisconsin winter, freak lower-body injuries, and its defensive destroyer Larry Sanders tearing ligaments in his thumb while fighting on a dance floor that appeared to be covered in margarine.
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.
Dinner Is Served
Chris Ryan: Early in the night, when nothing seemed to be going in for Steph Curry, and by extension, nothing seemed to be going right for the Warriors, Doug Collins said something about how Oracle Arena needed a 3, because it fed off long-distance shooting the way some crowds fed off a dunk. It took him a little while, but by the end of the night, Curry got around to feeding the Dubs fans, and they went home stuffed.
It has been a weird start to the season for the perpetually funky Milwaukee Bucks. Five rotation players are dealing with injuries, including Brandon Knight, the team's most important offseason acquisition. One of those players, LARRY SANDERS!, is under investigation for his possible role in a nightclub brawl that may have involved people getting hit over the head with bottles.
The team's marketing and creative group, perhaps the league's best, installed a brand-new floor intended as an artistic homage to the court used at the MECCA — the Bucks' old arena. It immediately became the league's most daring and interesting court design, with two giant, shaded "M's" you might miss if you didn't know they were there.
It has been quite a year for [clears throat] LARRY SANDERS!. He broke out last season, blowing away his previous minutes totals, cutting his once astronomical foul rate, cleaning the defensive glass, and scaring the hell out of any opponent who dared enter the lane. Milwaukee’s defense collapsed whenever SANDERS! hit the bench, and his rare combination of elite rim protection and deft footwork against the pick-and-roll earned him a monster extension that kicks in next season. He is now the face of the Milwaukee Bucks, as strange as that sounds.
The debut of the funky-as-ever Bucks did not go well Wednesday night against the Knicks. Brandon Knight tweaked his hamstring less than two minutes into the game, SANDERS! barely played because of foul trouble (that old bugaboo), and a feisty group of reserves couldn’t complete a comeback down the stretch.
After the game, SANDERS! sat down for an extended one-on-one with Grantland. What follows is an edited transcript of our chat.
We need to talk about the youngest player in the NBA. The one they call the Greek Freak. The one who was sent here to save pro basketball in Wisconsin. Where did he come from?
As the New York Times reported in June, "Other Greek stars worked their way up through youth national teams and joined top professional clubs like Panathinaikos and Olympiacos. Adetokunbo, essentially stateless before he received his passport in May, has never played above Greece’s second division. He grew up at a tiny club called Filathlitikos, which took him in six years ago, back when he still shared a bedroom with his three brothers and preferred soccer."
The freaking Bucks, man. Right when you think the NBA’s wheeling-est, dealing-est candidate for the no. 8 playoff spot has left you alone to write about something fun — like perhaps this ode to Action Park, one of the half-dozen most important formative places in my life — here they come, dealing for an aging small forward on an expiring contract whose old team couldn’t even manage to snag a second-round pick in exchange.
And the Bucks, by the way, are sitting on as many as five extra future second-round picks. Five! And they are shipping exactly zero of them to Phoenix in exchange for Caron Butler, who remains a useful spot-up shooter, fills a glaring need on the wing, and has helped Milwaukee cut down to 15 guaranteed salaries via this trade. The Bucks are sending two players to Phoenix — Ish Smith and Slava Kravtsov, neither of whom is likely to ever make a meaningful impact in the NBA. This is a pure salary dump for Phoenix, leaving them with about $5.2 million in cap room once they finalize Alex Len’s contract. Only the Sixers, reportedly still planning to participate in games next season, are slated to have more cap room going into the season.
John Hammond and Larry Drew, the Bucks’ GM and new head coach, sat together watching practice at Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas last month lamenting a little thing in LARRY SANDERS!'s offense. SANDERS! was just barely hamstringing his team’s scoring chances as the screen-setter on pick-and-rolls. “There it is again!” Hammond would exclaim to Drew. “And again! He’s so close.”
Coach and GM were noticing a tic in SANDERS!’s offensive game — a tendency to nail an opposing point guard with a pick and linger there for an extra beat, making sure his pick serves as a real obstacle. It’s an admirable habit at a time when a lot of big men are so eager to dart to the hoop that they start their dive before making contact on a screen. But SANDERS! errs too much in the other direction, delaying his rolls to the hoop just long enough that help defenders are ready by the time he catches the ball — if his point guard can find a passing lane to him in the first place. It’s fixable with time and practice, though exchanging Brandon Jennings for Brandon Knight will introduce a new challenge in SANDERS!’s quest to master the pick-and-roll ballet.
First of all, let’s congratulate the Pistons and Bucks on collaborating for a fitting capper to the NBA’s silly season. It seemed at times like these two were at the center of at least half the free-agency rumors after July 1. The Pistons used their cap space — earned mostly via sacrificing a first-round pick to dump Ben Gordon on Charlotte — to sign one polarizing lefty free agent, and have now nabbed another via sign-and-trade. In between, they signed Italian sharpshooter Luigi Datome, who joins Milwaukee’s Miroslav Raduljica in the club of “international guys only 2 percent of NBA fans had heard of before Detroit or Milwaukee signed them.”
The Bucks, meanwhile, turned over two-thirds of their roster in ditching every perimeter player from their 2012-13 squad, save for Ish Smith. They signed Zaza Pachulia in what might have been a clerical error, and they and the Hawks damn near discussed flipping rosters at one point. The Bucks and Hawks should have worked a token swap of second-round picks into this Brandon Jennings deal, making it a three-team trade that would have worked as a convenient shorthand for the entire non–Dwight Howard portion of the 2013 offseason.
Back from a glorious international wedding, I'm ready to give my jet-laggy thoughts on a whirlwind second day of free agency — a day refreshingly free of the tanking taint. Most of the teams who made moves Tuesday did so in an attempt to actually get better at NBA basketball next season. We saw borderline playoff teams (Minnesota, Washington) stock up on players they like, and the incumbent Western Conference finalists reupped with key present and future cogs at fair-market deals. Heck, even Phoenix, which probably should be tanking, helped its 2013-14 cause by swapping Jared Dudley for a roughly equivalent player (Caron Butler) and a prized young asset in Eric Bledsoe. Only the Bucks took a clear step back in completing the epic transformation of Tobias Harris into J.J. Redick and then into zero human beings who will play for the Bucks next season.
Some quick-hitting thoughts on those moves:
The Clippers, Suns, and Bucks strike a three-team trade centered on Eric Bledsoe and a signed-and-traded J.J. Redick
A very solid deal for the Clips, who have known for a long time — at least a year — that they would have to trade Bledsoe in the event the NBA’s resident slumlord owner somehow convinced Chris Paul to ink a long-term deal. The Clips have acquired two very nice role players at fair prices — contracts that are easy to move in case it ever becomes necessary. They’ve got only seven players under contract now (including Reggie Bullock, their first-round pick), but those seven players alone have enough to form a top-three offense. The Clips already had a top-five outfit on that end, but it was uncreative and faced occasional spacing issues — little flaws that don’t show up in the big regular-season picture, but can become fatal against an elite playoff defense geared toward stopping a single opponent.
In case you were busy on eBay trying to unload your Tim Tebow Jets jersey, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The San Antonio Spurs dispatched the Los Angeles Lakers, 103-82, to advance to the Western Conference semifinals. Lakers center Dwight Howard, who was ejected from the game after getting two technical fouls, said after the game, "Gotcha! Oh, man, that was hilarious! Classic Howard. I was all like, 'T me up! I totally want to never play basketball in a Lakers uniform again,' and they totally did! Joke's on them! I'm pranking people left and right! L.A. is Prank City!" When asked if this meant he was going to re-sign with L.A., Howard's demeanor quickly shifted. "Absolutely not," he said. "This has been the worst year of my life."
Stephen Curry drained six 3-pointers as the Golden State Warriors beat the Denver Nuggets 115-101 in a pivotal Game 4. "Do I feel threatened by Curry? Absolutely not; my legacy is intact," said TNT analyst Reggie Miller after the game. Miller then wiped the steam off his bathroom mirror and examined his temples. Were they grayer than the day prior? "Perhaps," Miller said to himself, "but that just means you're getting wiser. More mature. And some punk kid in Oakland can't take that away from you."
In case you were out changing the world with the first-ever mass-produced backyard eagle coop (patent pending), here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
On a day when men in the trenches were in demand, the Kansas City Chiefs selected OT Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan with the first overall pick in the NFL draft. "Oh, that's awesome, I love Eric Fisher," said casual Chiefs fan and Kansas City transplant Bill Franzen. "I remember watching him in college and thinking to myself, 'Man, I hope that guy ends up on my Chiefs.' What an exciting year to have the top pick in the draft. I remember last year; I was in the break room at the actuarial firm where I work, and I was like, 'This team is an Eric Fisher–type talent away from contending.' I just can't wait to watch him stop guys from hitting newly acquired quarterback Alex Smith next year." Franzen then paused, looked over his shoulders and asked in a whisper, "Right? Was that a good reaction to have? I have no idea what to think."
Manti Te'o was among the high-profile prospects to drop out of the first round of the NFL draft. Te'o's embarrassment was compounded by a phone call he received from someone purporting to be an NFL general manager. "He said his name was Trick Footballsworth of the Los Angeles Footballers and that I was for sure going to be his first-round pick," a sheepish Te'o explained after the first round was over. "All I had to do was give him my social security number, some bank passwords, and then mail my car keys to a P.O. Box in Simi Valley. Anyone could've fallen for that, though, so I'm not going to beat myself up too hard over this. Though I do need a ride."
In case you were busy mixing up Davy Crockett with Daniel Boone, much to your own embarrassment and chagrin, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Golden State Warriors, powered by Stephen Curry's 30 points, beat the Denver Nuggets, 131-117, to even up their first-round playoff series at a game apiece. Curry, who fought through a twisted ankle in the third quarter, said after the game, "Of course I overcame a twisted ankle. I'm Steph Curry. A twisted ankle to me is just an ankle. A sprained ankle for me feels like a twisted ankle for you. I need to have my entire foot removed from my shin at this point to be fazed by my ankle."
Despite a night that many would say was quiet by his standards, LeBron James and the Miami Heat used a strong fourth quarter to dispatch the Milwaukee Bucks, 98-86. "Sometimes you have to be subtle, understated," James said after the game. "You can't just score 40 every night; you have to treat each game like it's a snowflake. Sometimes you have to be gentle with it. Let it know you care, that you see its unique qualities. And then some snowflakes you drop 60 on because that's what that snowflake wants. Tonight wasn't about that. Tonight was about the velvet touch."
In case you were busy devising an elaborate fake game show so you could injure otherwise forgotten celebrities, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
LeBron James flirted with, but fell two assists shy of, a triple-double as his Miami Heat throttled the Milwaukee Bucks, 110-87, to begin their NBA title defense. "Yeah, I saw her across the court," James said of the triple-double. "And you know I was interested, so I said, 'What's up,' bought her a vodka soda, asked the triple-double about her interests. Stuff like that. I mean, there was some chemistry. We had some stuff in common: She's associated with three statistics; I have three MVPs. Stuff like that, you know? But some nights it's not about the triple-double. You aren't generous enough to get her, and that's OK. You learn from that. Triple-doubles aren't objects. Triple-doubles are unique snowflakes, and sometimes, they aren't yours to possess. I mean, we aren't all Oscar Robertson. He once said he had 10,000 triple-doubles. That number's probably too high, but we all know the guy was a player."
The San Antonio Spurs took care of business with a 91-79 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. The Spurs overcame the Lakers' perceived advantage inside, which exists because people forget how good Tim Duncan is. "Dwight should be dominating this game. What's going on?" asked self-described medium-core NBA fan Paul Witten of Dallas. "Wait, Tim Duncan's PER was over 24? That's like, really good, yeah? Does everyone know that Tim Duncan is still Tim Duncan? Oh, man, this is what I get for tuning out the regular season when the Mavs went in the tank."
In preparation for the NBA playoffs, this is the first of four entries breaking down one key play or action central to the success of each playoff-bound team. Check back later this week for the remaining 12 breakdowns.
New York Knicks: The Carmelo Anthony Iso
New York was considered a relative afterthought in the Eastern Conference before the season started, but thanks to a shift in its offensive philosophy, the Knicks now represent the biggest threat to Miami. Their explosive offensive scheme leans heavily on their star forward to create mismatches in isolation plays all over the floor.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson gets Anthony into these spots in two ways. The first is by using false action.
By using a loop cut or quick down screen, the Knicks give Anthony just a little separation in order to cleanly get to his spot and use his jab-attack game. But because the team has played a vast majority of the season with one lone big (or sometimes none at all), it's also been able to just let Anthony walk into isos without any help.
The key to Anthony’s success is the newfound space he has to operate. With shooters spread around him, teams are forced to pick between letting Anthony attack an overmatched defender one-on-one or leaving an open shooter on the perimeter.