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.
It's mid-July, the offseason is two weeks old, the second (or third?) Dwightmare is officially over, and we have at least three teams who vaulted themselves into the title contender conversation. This summer's especially fun because teams who were good last year (Nets, Rockets, Warriors, Clippers) have gotten much better, and then you have a separate group of teams who are going into scorched-earth tanking mode already. In a normal year, you're not technically tanking until you bench your best players for the final three months of the season, but what the Sixers just did has gotta qualify. Ditto for the Suns, Magic, and especially the Jazz, who let Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk and then replaced them with Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson. INSPIRED.
The offseason is always great, but this one's been especially fun as two sides of the league do everything they can to either contend for a title or gut their roster and lose 50 games. In the middle we have the Lakers, reloading with Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar and Nick Young as Kobe's wingmen for next year. Again, the offseason is GREAT.
Anyway, to celebrate the season, let's check out a handful of teams and hand out grades for what's happened thus far. We begin with the trade that kicked everything off back on draft night …
In case you were out fighting off the pre-Valentine's Day crowds at your local florist, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls, 71-69, at home in a low-scoring matchup of traditional Eastern Conference powers. "Even though we lost, tonight's game was as if the perfect game of my dreams sprung to life before me on the court," said Bulls head coach and former Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau. "The game waved at me. I waved back. 'Hello,' I said. 'You may not be beautiful to others, but to me you are perfection.' The game giggled at me coquettishly, but it would not allow anyone to score. No matter, that only made the game more appealing to me." Thibodeau then, suddenly lost in reverie, began waltzing with an invisible dance partner as he murmured sweet nothings about defensive rotations and clogged passing lanes into her invisible ear.
In case you were busy finally figuring out the trick to seeing the hidden image in those Magic Eye posters, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
LeBron James became the first player in NBA history to score 30 points on better than 60 percent shooting from the field in six consecutive games as the Miami Heat beat the Portland Trail Blazers, 117-104, at home. "What's with these newfangled statistics?" asked elderly Miami resident Saul Zinman. "Points? Shooting percentage? When I played, we only had two statistics in netball — bouncy passes and bloody noses, and I led the Staten Island Pantaloons in both. Also, all the teams used to be named for types of pants: The San Francisco Denim Men, the Columbus Corduroys, the Weehawken Torn Trousers. I bet you three nickels there's not a single team left named after a type of pants."
[Editor’s note: An old friend called and asked if he could take over today's column. He sounded really sad and desperate on the phone, so I agreed.]
In case you were too busy NOT being the greatest shortstop AND third baseman of all time, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Hey guys, future Hall-of-Famer Alex Rodriguez here. Spike asked me to take ALN off of his hands for the day, and I generously agreed. I figured I could use humor to start getting back into America's good graces after a not so great day of news for me. Hey, it's like they always say, when life gives you deer poop, kill the deer and drink the liquefied remains of their antlers. Hehe. OK, let's go.
We're going to start with my favorite sport other than baseball, and that's NBA basketball. Last night the Los Angeles Lakers of Los Angeles played the New Orleans Hornets at home. (Oh wait, I wrote Los Angeles twice. How do you erase words that you already wrote? I guess it's not technically wrong I'll leave it.) Before the game, I gave my best friend Kobe Bryant like 15 phone calls to be like, "Hey, bud, how's it going?" cuz I could really use a pick-me-up, but he must've been busy or something because he never answered. Anyway, he's a great friend, and the Lakers won, 111-106.
I know the the Blazers' announcing team of Mike Barrett and Mike Rice are trying to keep their enthusiasm for the visiting Wizards to a minimum, but come on, you called the shot before it happened, then it happened; you might as well bask in the Kreskin-like glory.
With a 19-15 record, and currently the 8-seed in the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers have been one of the league’s most pleasant surprises. It’s been even more surprising that a first-year point guard has been their catalyst.
A year ago, it’s doubtful that LeBron James even knew who Damian Lillard was. But a day before his Heat team takes on the Blazers in a national showdown, James named Lillard his Rookie of the Year, and it’s not hard to see why.
For Portland, it seems as though a possession never goes by without the rookie guard and his boundless energy making their mark. Watching Lillard weave in and out of traffic to unfurl one of his silky-smooth jumpers has been a common sight, and with very little punch from the team’s bench, he and his fellow starters have shouldered the bulk of the scoring load. That burden has forced Lillard to be more of a scorer than a distributor in this first season, but his low assist rate isn’t a product of lacking skill.
People get so excited about the NBA trade deadline because it holds the promise that something transformative can happen — that a team can be remade, reloaded, revolutionized. On Thursday, we saw the flip side of that — the dark side of the trade deadline.
Wednesday night — against a Knicks team still reeling from the resignation of its coach, Mike D'Antoni — the Portland Trail Blazers got embarrassed, losing 121-79. It was the kind of loss that suggested their season could be over.
The next day, owner Paul Allen made sure that was the case.
It gets dark at 3:30 p.m., it's either raining, or freezing, and sometimes it's doing both. Every day looks the same because every day looks like you just stepped out of your house and walked into The Road. It's seasonal affective disorder. And it's enough to make you fire up the Leonard Cohen and pull the covers over your head.
NBA players, despite their seemingly enchanted lives, are not immune to the emotional perils of winter. Compound the blues that go along with the first few months of the year with the fact that this highly compressed season is harder on their physical and mental stability than any other year in recent memory, and it's no surprise that we're seeing a few guys start to crack. Let's dip our heads into the waiting room and see which NBA players are waiting to see their shrinks.
To Watch the Best Division in Basketball ...
As someone who — from the time he learned to talk to when he moved away from home — consistently referred to every single place outside of Philadelphia as "down there," be it "down" the Jersey Shore, "down" Lima, Peru, or "down" Boston, Massachusetts, I am totally down with the fact that the Northwest Division features only one team in the actual Northwestern part of the United States.
It's the best division in basketball, the only one in the NBA that four teams with winning records (Oklahoma City, Denver, Utah, Portland) call home. Hell, even its basement dweller, the Timberwolves, is the most entertaining 3-7 team that I can recall. The Thunder are clearly the class of the division (if not the Western Conference), but don't expect the rest of the Northwest to fade any time soon.