After a crazy night of NBA injuries, wild finishes, and resounding wins, a smorgasbord of random thoughts that don’t merit their own posts:
• The Lakers’ defense has been a disaster over the last 20 games whenever Dwight Howard sits, mostly because the Lakers have zero reliable big men beyond Howard, with both Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill injured. An Earl Clark-Antawn Jamison-Metta World Peace front line offers some interesting athleticism, but very little in the way of size or rim protection. It cannot survive against good offenses over extended minutes.
But now we might get to see the opposite challenge: Can the Lakers’ offense survive without its own crutch in Kobe Bryant, dealing with a severe ankle sprain suffered when Dahntay Jones stepped underneath him in defending a potential game-tying shot? (Note: Can you imagine if the Lakers rallied to win that game, with the Hawks missing a couple of late free throws and Kobe nailing a instant killer 3 on an out-of-bounds play to keep L.A. alive with about 20 seconds left? The Lakers were due for a close loss after semi-miraculous wins over the Hornets and Raptors in the last week, but they damn near pulled off another one.)
George Hill dropped his second game-winner of the season Tuesday in Los Angeles, sparing the viewing audience five additional minutes of ugly basketball and dropping the Lakers to 7-8. The sub-.500 record has predictably inspired panic around the Lakers, even though they are one of just four teams ranked in the top 10 in both points scored per possession (no. 9) and allowed per possession (no. 4). The other three members of this ever-changing crew — Memphis, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City, the last playing surprisingly good defense that will merit some in-depth attention if the Thunder maintain it as their schedule gets tougher. The Clippers, at no. 11 in defensive efficiency, are basically in the club, and the Knicks, still tied with Miami at no. 1 in offensive efficiency, were heading it up until their defense started slumping a week ago.
In early July, the Phoenix Suns signed restricted free agent Eric Gordon to a four-year, $58 million offer sheet. Gordon is only 23 years old and is a rising star in a position losing its star power. But he has missed 107 games in four seasons and played in just nine last year. The New Orleans Hornets had a tough decision to make: match the offer sheet and secure one of the more promising shooting guards in the league or leave the Suns to worry about an injury-prone player on a max deal.
Fast-forward to today. Gordon’s a Hornet but he’s not in the lineup. He’s missed every game up to this point, including the preseason, with lingering knee pain. Gordon’s return to the court was last reported to be six to eight weeks away. Given his continued setbacks, it’s easy to be skeptical he’ll make it back in that time frame. Even if Gordon’s rehab goes flawlessly, he's still slated to miss roughly a third of this season.
It's only natural for the New Orleans brass to be questioning their investment. Maybe they’re kicking themselves for not working out a sign-and-trade with Gordon when they had the chance. But maybe they’re keeping the faith, holding strong to the idea that Gordon’s injury woes will soon be a thing of the past and he’ll prove to be a cornerstone in their rebuilding process.
The decision the Hornets faced back in July — a common scenario in today’s NBA — carried with it major ramifications. With a strict salary cap and an increasingly harsh luxury tax, it is imperative to make the right call when it comes to huge financial commitments like the one made to Gordon. But as the Hornets initially debated the best course of action, their thought process was influenced by something that affects decision makers in the sports world and beyond: something called the optimism bias.
1. Christian Watford, Indiana
Call this The David Freese Rule. Anytime you actually do something that hundreds of thousands of people dream about doing from a very young age, you go to the top of Rankonia. Down two, clocking running out, playing at home against the no. 1 team in the country. If this was March Madness, Indiana would have been rocking so hard it would vanished into a parallel universe. Check how Watford freezes after his release like the Statue of friggin' Liberty, a beacon, saying, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled Hoosier masses."