Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng combined for more than half of the Bulls’ field goal attempts, which makes sense. When your best offensive weapon goes down, you look to the next-best options. To a degree, it worked. But the Jazz’s young frontcourt was also shorthanded, with Enes Kanter out because of injury and Derrick Favors in foul trouble for most of the night. This left the task of guarding an energized Boozer to the likes of Marvin Williams and rookie Rudy Gobert, human magic beanstalk. Boozer won’t have such favorable matchups in the future.
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."
Today’s installment of NBA Betting Lines comes to you from a Greyhound parked outside the Atlantic City hospital. It’s 9:14 on a Sunday morning. A dense, acrid fog sits over the boardwalk and everything smells like fish guts in the sun. For reasons unknown, half the passengers on this bus carried on mini-breadmakers. It’s been 10 years since I’ve done the Port Authority–to–Bally’s route and I’m pleased to report that the horrors have not ceased. Mom, rest easy. I came down here only because a close friend has just caught the bug. He lived his entire life in New York City and up until recently had never been to Atlantic City. In the past six weeks, he's been here three times. This is called a problem. So I thought I'd be a good buddy and take the bus down with him so that when he finally got felted at the blackjack table, all his dreams turned to lies (that line courtesy of Mike Tyson), I could laugh and feel superior and throw my arm around his shoulder and tell him about all the parlays My Scrabble Friend and I have laid because My Scrabble Friend says he has a "good feel" about Troy’s football team.
Connoisseurs of basketball misery, pour out a sip of your MD 20/20: For the first time in history, Grantland’s Fate Worse than Death column will not open a new NBA season with a Washington Wizards game. This year, Randy Wittman and the Verizon Center posse decided not to be the last team in the NBA to win a game, so we were forced to abandon the tradition of writing about the Wizards’ firstvictory of an NBA season. Also, Washington’s 2-4 record is just good enough to fend off inclusion in a series that looks to feature the true dregs of American professional basketball, especially on a night that features the 0-7 Utah Jazz hosting the 1-4 Denver Nuggets. Don’t worry, Coach Wittman — I’m confident that I, you, John Wall, and Marcin Gortat will get to dance the Dougie of despair before season’s end.
It has been a whirlwind first few years in the NBA for Derrick Favors, who was barely 19 years old when he made his on-court debut. His short career has included being drafted no. 3 overall by the New Joisey Nets; spending his entire rookie year as a key piece in the Carmelo Anthony trade talks; Anthony's trade to the Knicks; the Nets responding with an out-of-nowhere deal sending Favors and several other assets to Utah for Deron Williams; the subsequent NBA lockout; and a recently inked four-year contract extension that will pay Favors about $12 million per season.
Favors is now set as a long-term member of Utah's so-called "core four" of Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward, and Alec Burks. During Utah's visit to Brooklyn this week, Favors sat down for a one-on-one with Grantland on his new deal, life in Utah, and the future of the Jazz.
In case you were busy coming around to the idea that Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is just the sort of guy who sometimes has to be yelled at, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
In what may prove to be the biggest upset of the entire NBA season, the Philadelphia 76ers stormed out to an early 19-0 lead before holding on late to beat the two-time defending champion Miami Heat 114-110. Rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams looked like a star, putting up 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals, and seven rebounds in his NBA debut. Unfortunately, Carter-Williams was shut down for the season after the game by 76ers GM Sam Hinkie for what he described as "precautionary reasons." When asked to clarify, Hinkie said, "I'm hoping this will serve as a precaution to the rest of the team as to where looking like a star will get you."
The Red Sox are your 2013 World Series champions after John Lackey powered Boston past the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-1, in a deciding Game 6. "Just as I predicted," said Boston superfan Aaron Sullivan. "Lackey brings us another banner. Never doubted that it would happen." When asked specifically when he made that prediction, Sullivan replied, "Fourth inning, right after we went up 6-0. And I swear I only backed off it three or four times," before promising to name one of his middle children John Lackey Sullivan, assuming that one of them came out looking a little squished.
Rookie-scale contracts have given teams time to assess talent, but they still have to make bets on very young players, often committing borderline star money to guys who have never worked as anything close to primary options — or who have perhaps not even started for their own teams.
The Jazz made such a wager over the weekend, reportedly signing Derrick Favors to a four-year, $49 million extension (though the team has never confirmed those numbers, and wouldn't over the weekend) that will pay him a tad more than fellow defense-first extension signee LARRY SANDERS! Favors will earn about $12 million per season — in the Joakim Noah/Al Horford salary range, about $2 million less than what Favors could have earned on a max-level contract (and what DeMarcus Cousins will earn on a contract that surely hovered over the Favors negotiations).
If you gave me 20 minutes to create a player in NBA 2K13, my finished product would basically be Gordon Hayward. He'd be a tall and athletic wing capable of doing a little bit of everything — solid perimeter shooting, posting up against smaller players, making quick reads in motion (with or without the ball) — with a delightful little quirk in his programming, like, say, the block rating ratcheted way up, to gift him with an unnatural propensity for chase-down blocks. This player would probably rate out to a 77 overall — very good, but not at an All-Star level. In actual unreality, Hayward was a 68 in NBA 2K13. Fair, considering the limited sample of his productivity. But last year, despite the Jazz’s best efforts to screw it up, Hayward was excellent. So, in the initial ratings list released for NBA 2K14, he got a much-deserved bump — to a 70. Wait, what?
Bill and Jalen take a studied look at the Utah Jazz and break down the growth of Gordon Hayward, an important season for Derrick Favors, and the work of one of the NBA’s most underappreciated mascots, Jazz Bear. Check out the video, below.
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?
To say Trey Burke has struggled during his first few games as a pro might be putting it mildly. Though it's obviously just a short stretch of games, all the aspects of Burke's game that have brought concern — specifically a shot-happy approach and inability to finish at the rim — were on full display during the past week. Against Indiana yesterday, Burke was just 3-of-15 from the field; that raised his shot total to 42 for the week, the most of any Utah player, despite the young guard sitting out one of the four games. For Burke, finding a better pass-shot balance must be priority no. 1. Against longer, taller defenders and more sophisticated schemes, Burke won't ever be the same dominant scorer he was in college. Having trouble finishing against a defense anchored by Miles Plumlee isn’t the most encouraging sign. Burke’s poor 3-point shooting both yesterday and this week is slightly fluky (it's highly unlikely he’ll continue shooting 6.7 percent), but he still must learn to pass up semi-decent looks in order to make simple passes out of isolations and pick-and-rolls. Getting the ball (and defense) moving has far more value than Burke pulling up from 19 feet for a jumper or barreling toward the rim and flinging up a wild shot.
Speaking of shots near the basket, Burke's problems finishing are going to be very tough to overcome. He hasn’t shown the burst necessary to get by defenders consistently and often ends up having to use tough angles to finish (think Brandon Jennings, though Jennings's struggles are caused by his build, not speed). Because of his length and some clever touch, Burke can occasionally make it work, but it’s hard to shoot a high percentage near the rim when finishing at such extreme angles. There are some things Burke can do to improve this, like playing with more changes of pace and using his body better to create space from big and small defenders alike, but they are far from quick fixes. After such a disappointing week, the Jazz are hoping that Burke proves capable of making them.
In case you were out filibustering an impending breakup, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
UCLA won its first national championship in baseball, defeating Mississippi State, 8-0, to sweep the best-of-three series. "Eat your heart out John Wooden, you pompous old owl!" shouted Bruins coach John Savage in the postgame celebration. After he realized the severity of his words, he tried to convince reporters that he'd said "Doc Gooden." When reached for comment, Gooden was thrilled that the caller wasn't an angry probation officer.
Yankee legend Ichiro Suzuki hit a walk-off solo shot to give the Bronx Bombers a 4-3 win over the Rangers. I don't have a joke here, guys. The spectacle of Ichiro rounding those bases in pinstripes, the pride of New York in the twilight of his career, is too poignant to spoil with humor. Because that's how we'll always remember him, you know? As a Yankee.
In case you were busy scaring little children by reciting Mariners hitting stats from the past decade, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Utah Jazz were eliminated from the NBA playoff picture after an 86-70 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. But don't worry, people of Salt Lake City, you still have a critically acclaimed production of the classic musical West Side Story playing through April 21 at the Capitol Theatre. The Salt Lake Tribune raves, "This touring production of the 2009 Broadway revival hits on most cylinders."
Who will be taking the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs? Why, it's the Los Angeles Lakers, who not only qualified, but in beating the Houston Rockets 99-95 in overtime, were able to snag the seventh seed in the West. "It's quite an achievement," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni after the game, "that a team no one believed in overcame all the odds to make the playoffs. If you had told me when I took over this team that was stuck in a mire that we would be seventh in the West " D'Antoni then drifted off and shook his head, before Lakers center Dwight Howard tiptoed up behind him and dumped a small cup of red Gatorade over his head.