In case you were busy blowing $100k on trying to bump into a professional football player, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Roy Williams improved to 7-0 against Tom Izzo since taking the helm at North Carolina as the Tar Heels upset the top-ranked Michigan State Spartans 79-65 on the road. When told of his dominant run against Izzo, Williams shrugged and replied, "Who's Tom Izzo?" When told that Izzo has been the head coach at Michigan State for almost 20 years, Williams looked concerned and replied, "Man, you really think I would have heard of that guy. But I'll be honest, I had no idea there even was a Michigan State. Michigan, sure, but Michigan State? No idea." When told that Michigan State was the team he had just played, and that there was no need to continue with the head games as his team had already won, Williams said, "Head games, what are those? Who has even heard of head games? Unless you're referring to the song 'Head Games' by Foreigner. I've heard of that." Williams then winked and added, "I bet that Izzo guy you were talking about is a real big Foreigner fan, if you know what I mean."
Portland snapped Oklahoma City's eight-game win streak with a 111-104 win over the Thunder. Despite the win, a lackluster shooting night for Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews knocked him out of the league's top spot in True Shooting Percentage. Heading into the game, the top five in that category were Matthews, Kyle Korver, LeBron James, Ryan Anderson, and Samuel Dalembert, notable for all being professional basketball players who shoot more accurately than you might expect, and having literally nothing else in common.
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."
To date, My Scrabble Friend and I have made 67 bets on the NBA, including the picks from this column, and have won a whopping total of $10. This isn't bad, especially when you factor in the vig, but we have probably invested at least 50 hours in developing different "systems" and gambling rules, which means that we're each getting paid about 10 cents per hour. That's three cents less than what we would make pounding out license plates in a prison in Nevada. Gambling is hard, stupid work.
Happy days are here again! My Scrabble Friend and I went on a run this week thanks to the Phoenix Suns, who have gone undefeated against the spread this year. We have bet and will continue to bet the Suns until Vegas throws out a scare line like Pho (+2) @ OKC, at which point we will sigh deeply, say a prayer to the God of Repeated Mistakes, and keep betting the Suns.
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.
A review of two big moves that broke Friday evening:
Wizards Trade Emeka Okafor and 2014 First-Round Pick (Top-12 Protected) to Phoenix for Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee, and Kendall Marshall
This is what happens when an owner gives his general manager, in the final year of his contract, a very loud mandate to make the playoffs. The Wizards might have been able to make a run at that goal with their pre-trade roster — even though Okafor, co-leader of their surprise top-five defense last season, is out indefinitely with a herniated disk. Look at the Eastern Conference outside the top four teams. You’re telling me a core of John Wall, Nene, and Bradley Beal couldn’t snag the no. 7 or no. 8 seed, provided anything close to competent play from the supporting cast? The Wizards gave Wall a max-level extension, voluntarily took on Nene’s $13 million annual contract, and can’t stop talking about what a wonderful player Beal is going to be. But they’re not good enough to carry the Wiz to the last playoff spot in a top-heavy conference? Things are so precarious that a team that should still be building to the future has to sacrifice a first-round pick — and potentially a first-round pick in the most loaded draft in years — to acquire a league-average center on an expiring contract? All for the short-term endgame of losing to Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn, or Indiana in the first round?
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.
The Suns, by any measure besides championship banners, are one of the most successful franchises in NBA history. They missed the playoffs just seven times from 1975-76 through 2009-10, with 19 50-win seasons in that span. But they’ve missed the playoffs three straight years now. Last season, the first of the post–Steve Nash era, might rank as the most depressing in the modern history of the team. Phoenix has since acquired Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler in a three-team sign-and-trade that Phoenix hatched with Milwaukee and the Clippers, but they still figure to be among the dregs of the league as a new regime enters an earnest rebuild.
The Suns, like several others in this crazy summer of coaching hires, settled on a first-time head coach to helm that rebuild — Jeff Hornacek, the sweet-shooting combo guard who played a crucial role on the 1980s Suns and 1990s Jazz. Hornacek got the head job in Phoenix after a half-decade as an assistant in Utah, where he began as Andrei Kirilenko’s shooting coach. He spoke one-on-one with Grantland in Las Vegas this week about the challenges ahead.
Ryan McDonough, the team’s new GM, says you blew him away in the interview process with your preparation — your knowledge of the team’s roster, and your plans for how the team should play, especially on offense. So: What’s that offense going to look like after a year of struggling to find an identity without Nash?
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.
When Paul George was drafted out of Fresno State in 2010, he came to the NBA as an underachieving 3-point gunner with loads of raw talent but a tendency to float through games. It’s rare that a player is so talented and so singularly motivated that where he lands on draft night plays little to no role in his development. It’s hard to imagine a situation in which Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant wouldn’t have thrived, but most players are like George, players with certain abilities that might only be unlocked based on the infrastructure and influences of the organization around them.
Instead of being drafted early in the lottery to massive expectations by a franchise with no semblance of veteran leadership and no hope of playing in meaningful games, George landed with an Indiana team on the upswing. Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert were already on the roster when George was selected in 2010. Frank Vogel, fast becoming one of the game’s better head coaches, replaced the underwhelming Jim O’Brien during George’s rookie year and guided the team to the playoffs, exposing George to a level of competitiveness, intensity, and skill he had never seen before. The following year the Pacers added a consistently productive and highly respected veteran leader in David West. The team finished with a winning percentage of .636 in a lockout-shortened season and made the Eastern Conference semifinals. This year, the team finished one game short of the NBA Finals.
In just three seasons, George was baptized into a culture of winning, one where effort, preparation, and attention to detail were non-negotiable requirements. George grew up in a locker room with respected personalities and quality players, worked with a sharp head coach, and developed out of a harsh spotlight. Had George started his career in Sacramento — where the troubled but supremely talented DeMarcus Cousins, drafted fifth in 2010, has enjoyed just 74 career wins — would he be the same rising star the Pacers forward is today?
In case you were busy ironing all of your white pants, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
LeBron James set up shop in the post as the Miami Heat had a 70-point first half en route to a comfortable 114-96 win over the Indiana Pacers as they took a 2-1 Eastern Conference finals lead. Chris "Birdman" Andersen, who continued his stellar play in the series, going 4-for-4 from the field while scoring nine points and hauling in nine rebounds in limited minutes, said after the game, "I feel like no one takes me seriously. Sure I have a lot of tattoos, and a Mohawk, and crazy eyes, and by 'no one takes me seriously' I mean no one wants to join me after the season at the cliffs of Dover to see if the Birdman can fly, but caw! Caw caw!" When asked why he was cawing, Andersen replied, "I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you, I was too busy caw cawing."
Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs are one game away from the NBA Finals after beating the Memphis Grizzlies, 104-93, in overtime. Duncan chalked the win up to "playing slightly better basketball than our opponent." When asked to elaborate, Duncan added, "Over the course of the game we scored more points, which is how wins and losses are decided in basketball. Additionally, winning feels good, so we pursue that through playing the game well." When asked if there was anything he wanted to add on a personal level, Duncan said, "Well, I am a person, if that's what you mean. I suppose I could add that I am alive, I went to college, and I have a job as a basketball man." When asked if he had had any interesting thought in the past 15 years, Duncan said, "I saw a cloud once, and a friend I was with said it looked like a lion, but I corrected him explaining it was an altocumulus … hey where are you going? I also know things about stamps and actuarial tables."
In case you were busy letting yourself go after realizing that a late push for a role in Pain & Gain was a fool's errand, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
In a battle of red-hot Eastern Conference foes, Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks outdueled John Wall and the Washington Wizards, 120-99, securing their first division title since 1994. The Knicks drilled 20 3-pointers in the win, their 13th in a row. This game came one day after Knicks legend Bernard King was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade announced that he's likely out of action until the playoffs begin. Additionally, the weather in New York was perfect, with sunshine and highs in the low 80s. Am I blaming this run of Knicks good fortune on global warming? No. But am I blaming global warming on the Knicks' unprecedented run? Maybe.
The Los Angeles Lakers beat the New Orleans Hornets, 104-96, to move back into the no. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoff race. Kobe Bryant was sensational in the win, scoring 23 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter. "You know what they say about Kobe; he's a closer," said Lakers center Dwight Howard after the game. "Well, that's what Kobe says about Kobe when he refuses to let me have any coffee in the clubhouse."
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. LeBron James
I know that this one came with all the attendant "Here lies Jason Terry/He did the Jason Terry dance/He wore a headband" kind of memorials. But it was just one French horn stab in what was a masterful funeral procession written, composed, and conducted by James at the Garden last night. This dude was responsible for 64 points last night. SIXTY-FOUR. 37 points and 12 assists. He is the engine inside the fourth quarter soul harvester that is the Miami Heat offense. I mean ... look at this:
In case you were busy getting your NIT bracket in before tipoff, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The Miami Heat secured their 23rd consecutive victory, overcoming Jeff Green's 43 points to grab sole possession of the second longest winning streak in NBA history, as they edged the Boston Celtics, 105-103. "That has a nice, non-confrontational ring to it," said Heat forward LeBron James after the game. "'Second best of all time.' Maybe people can just say that about me. And just leave it at that. Really. I don't care at this point."
Not to be outdone, the Denver Nuggets won their 12th consecutive game, overcoming 34 points from Nate Robinson to beat the Chicago Bulls, 119-118, in overtime at the United Center. "That has a nice non-confrontational ring to it," said Nuggets head coach George Karl. "Second best team in the NBA hold on, I seem to be getting a call." Karl then looked at his phone before sheepishly muting the ringer. "It was Coach Pop. I'll call him back How about third best team in the NBA?"