"It's great for the league," Toronto coach Dwane Casey told reporters before last night's Raptors-Lakers game. "It sucks for us tonight."
"Yeah, I think the expectations are too high," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said beforehand. "But he'll probably meet ’em."
Because Mamba Mentality is immune to pressure. And injuries. And age. And all the other excuses other mortals fall back on.
If you see Kobe in a fight with a bear, pray for the bear. If you see Kobe in a fight with the Toronto Raptors, expect a religious awakening, with Kobe rising from the ashes in front of 20,000 Lakers fans who never doubted him.
That's obviously not what happened at Staples Center on Sunday, but first and foremost I'll remember Kobe's comeback game for how high everyone's expectations were. There's no better testament to Kobe than how excited everyone was to watch a guy who by any reasonable measure should not have been playing basketball eight months after rupturing his Achilles. We should've known this would be depressing, but somehow Kobe convinces everyone to abandon logic. This is his greatest superpower.
The Raptors canvassed damn near the entire league in their quest to become the second team in two seasons to dump Rudy Gay well in advance of the trade deadline, according to sources across the NBA. They went to every team that made at least some theoretical sense: Detroit, with expiring contracts and at least some need on the wing; Milwaukee, with fading postseason ambitions and a massive hole at small forward the Greek Freak isn’t quite ready to fill; Cleveland, with a playoff mandate, a GM on shaky ground, and perhaps the worst group of starting wing players in the league; and many others.
Everyone said no, and they did so abruptly. This is how far Gay’s value has declined league-wide over the last 18 months. I know GMs who say they wouldn’t touch him now in free agency for the midlevel exception. Only one team was left: the Kings, with a new ownership group determined to make a splash and a new GM, Pete D’Alessandro, who worked with Toronto GM Masai Ujiri in Denver. The Kings’ wing rotation is a disaster, even after the recent acquisition of Derrick Williams, who has never resembled an NBA-caliber small forward. The Williams swap and DeMarcus Cousins max-level extension left Sacramento without meaningful projected cap room this summer, putting the Kings in a position where they could plausibly look at Gay’s $19 million player option for 2014-15 and say, “No harm, no foul.” The Raptors were betting Gay would pick up that option given his poor play this season, and dealing Gay allows them to plan with more certainty.
It was 34 degrees in New York City yesterday, but my son Sam and I decided to spend 45 minutes in the cold walking home up 9th Avenue instead of sitting in Madison Square Garden watching the second half of the Knicks/Celtics game.
I can’t offer Zach Lowe–like analysis of the statistical inequities between the teams. But I can try to bring you inside what it feels like to still care about a team that so obviously doesn’t care about us.
To honor the great Larry Bird, Bill and Jalen have decided to do a leaguewide wrap-up every 33 days, or, as they call it, every Birdmester. In this episode — Part 3 of our video series — Bill and Jalen praise the funniest YouTube video, the biggest media-created controversy, the most heartwarming story, and more.
The Nets came into last night’s Toilet Bowl having allowed 107.5 points per 100 possessions, the very worst mark in the league. They outdid themselves against the struggling Knicks, allowing the equivalent of 130 points per 100 possessions in a game that began as something of a snark spectacle and gradually became a serious embarrassment for a team with absolutely no clue right now on either end of the floor.
The Knicks did nothing special, though they did come out in the second half clearly committed to running more motion-based plays and generally playing the kind of offense an NBA team should play. They ran a few Carmelo Anthony–Andrea Bargnani pick-and-pops, and they thrived whenever they posted Anthony up against the game but overmatched Alan Anderson. Anthony loves to catch the ball, face up in one-on-one situations, and take midrange jumpers off the bounce. That is glamorous, highlight stuff.
Bill and Jalen are back! To honor the great Larry Bird, Bill and Jalen have decided to do a league-wide wrap-up every 33 days — or, as they call it, every Birdmester. In their first episode, they crown the best team in the league, the best tanking performance thus far, the league’s least valuable player, and more.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is back 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.
Chris Ryan: Since November 23, Portland has played in three of the season's best games: the Golden State shove-fest, Sunday's heavyweight title fight against Indiana, and last night's masterpiece of a regular-season showdown against Oklahoma City. OMG PORTLAND AND OKC SHOULD PLAY IN THE PLAYOFFS is probably getting a little dull, just like OMG OKC AND THE WARRIORS SHOULD PLAY IN THE PLAYOFFS, but come on. It's Christmas, we've been good, and we want what we want. Besides, there was something about this Thunder-Blazers game that felt so right. It was just a drag race of stupendous, young, mostly homegrown talent. And Kendrick Perkins. You had one of the point-guard battles of the year happening, with Russ and Dame, and from that faceoff you got one of the best moments of the night:
To do it right, you need to dress as if you’re going to the club. Not a pretentious one where suspender-clad mixologists painstakingly measure absinthe in mason jars. More like a place where jeroboams of champagne are ferried to tables by go-go dancers on zip lines and "Welcome to St. Tropez" eternally pounds.
Allow me to be more specific: For gentlemen, proper wardrobe options include white dress shirts (unbuttoned to the solar plexus), black V-necks (bicep-baring sleeves), Michael Jordan–approved distressed denim, and a sturdy pair of indoor sunglasses. Put on some Flo Rida records before visiting your haberdasher to get inspired. For the women, freakum dresses are definitely appropriate.
Today's justification for the entire Internet comes from YouTube user Maxim Libert, who, in June 2011 posted "Delonte West & Von Wafer mix," a video that, as the title promises, mixes together highlights of Delonte West and Von Wafer. If you're like me, this is the greatest title for a movie since Kung Fu Hustle set the gold standard. Let it run.
It’s almost as if Anthony Bennett is the victim of some voodoo carnival fortune-teller incantation that has caused him to switch bodies with an unknown JV player, who even now is stroking 3s and dunking on hapless 15-year-old opponents in a dusty high school gym. The lively, sweet-shooting college athlete who finished with power around the rim has been replaced with a rain-slicked pile of loose bricks covered with a tarp that starts breathing hard after walking from the bench to the scorer’s table. He’s a project, though just what kind is hard to say. Bennett was slowed over the summer by a shoulder injury, coupled with a diagnosis of asthma and sleep apnea, all of which, perhaps, have contributed to his overall appearance as a guy who spent those balmy months trying to tunnel his way out of a giant tub of Häagen-Dazs.
Though the transition back to being the Charlotte Hornets in the 2014-15 season is purely superficial, it still leaves this year’s Bobcats in a strange situation. On one hand, the best thing the Bobcats can do to usher in this new era is suck. Selecting one of the many potential stars at the top of the upcoming draft is exactly what the team needs to complete its makeover. It helps that Charlotte could potentially have three first-round picks in 2014 — Portland’s top-12-protected pick, Detroit’s top-eight-protected pick, and its own first-rounder, which goes to Chicago if the Bobcats fall out of the top-10 range. On the other hand — and maybe this is a bit too romantic a notion — wouldn’t it be neat if the Bobcats’ last hurrah led them into the postseason? For the first time in nearly four years, it’s a possibility. The East is in ruin. Why not try giving this novel “winning season” concept a shot?
There was no time to print new programs before last night’s game between the Nets and the visiting Nuggets: There, on page 28, was Lawrence Frank’s name, first among the six assistant coaches listed. Good-bye to all that. Just a few hours earlier, Frank had been reassigned from bench duties “to doing daily reports,” which presumably means he will now be undermining Jason Kidd’s authority in writing on a daily basis. It’s easy to make up some reason Frank lost his place in Kidd’s inner sanctum — perhaps it was all those times Frank rolled his eyes and air-jerked during Kidd’s halftime team talks. Or maybe the “philosophical differences” that divided Frank and Kidd boiled down to the fact that Frank actually had a philosophy. The harder part to process is why Frank remains in the building at all.
Just a few months ago, I would have never cared about any of this. I was perfectly content watching the Nets from a safe, neutral distance. The only person in the organization I was remotely curious about was Mikhail Prokhorov, mostly because of my hobby fascination with post–Cold War economies. But shortly after the Nets torpedoed the future to acquire two-fifths of Ubuntu, I found myself on their team website, studying ticket packages for the upcoming season. I remember looking out my office window and regarding the fine, possibility-rich glint of a summer day, and convincing myself this was a totally reasonable investment in my future happiness. I convinced my friend Reihan that Nets tickets would improve his life as well and, a few bank transfers later, an official Brooklyn Nets thumb drive and a card loaded with all our tickets arrived in the mail. I began to give a shit about Mason Plumlee and Tyshawn Taylor, I saw wisdom in the signing of Shaun Livingston, I parsed the enigma that is Andray Blatche. I looked forward to Jason Terry doing the jet thing and punching his chest within seconds of his Brooklyn debut. I couldn’t wait to watch Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce again on a consistent basis. I began to receive weekly emails from the Nets and Barclays Center gauging my emotional responses to sponsors, security companies, party supply outlets.
The Knicks have lost nine games in a row. In the last couple of days, Iman Shumpert lit up Carmelo Anthony in a huddle, reportedly for playing poor defense during New York's loss to New Orleans. Shumpert spent the rest of the game on the bench. Since then, it's been reported that Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace got into a heated argument, and Mike Woodson has called the perception that he does not like Shumpert "bullshit." We asked our two biggest Knicks fans, Jared Dubin and netw3rk, to take stock and try not to ingest any hemlock in the process.
netw3rk: Dearest Jared,
I have spent the last week with a fever, violently evacuating effluvium from my various orifices. So now that I’m semi-back on my feet, let’s talk Knicks. Excuse me. [Disappears into the bathroom for 30 minutes.] OK, the New York Knicks are 10 games under .500 after losing to the partially Unibrow-less Pelicans. They managed this feat with the help of well-timed turnovers and the Memento-like way in which they approached defending Ryan Anderson (7-of-11 from three, 31 points). They also managed to waste a six-block, seven-rebound performance from Andrea Bargnani, who continues to play kinda well while seemingly floating in a vacuum of total despair.
“Play better lineups” is an idea that feels pretty obvious, especially as J.R. Smith continues his Jackie Chan-like assault on basketball decorum, but is it really that simple?
Jared Dubin: Yes. But also, no.
That's the thing about this Knicks season. Everyone keeps trying to boil it down to one thing or another, but it's not nearly that simple.
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.
Welcome to the official Kobe Returns Survival Guide, in which I’ll walk you through, step-by-step, the rules and procedures for preparing, watching, and analyzing Kobe Bryant’s first game back from injury.
On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being "I’ll catch the highlights later on YouTube" and 10 being “I don’t care if the light’s red, the Mamba is playing in five!," Kobe Bryant's return is a 20. Kobe is on a mission to prove the haters wrong. He is here to defy his age, bones, muscles, and most importantly, tendons. This is like if Broadway, the WWE, and a Kanye West interview had a baby ... and that baby tried to play basketball only nine months after it tore its Achilles tendon. This will be a very important moment that must be seen and processed in the quickest and safest manner possible.
This survival guide is not for everyone. It is for those who love Kobe, basketball, and any type of entertainment whatsoever. If you do not fall into any of these categories, feel free to move on. For the rest, please proceed — and good luck.