You know how at the beginning of every NFL season, everyone is 0-0 and has a chance at the Super Bowl? That is not true in the NBA. For fans of five to 10 teams every year, the NBA draft lottery is the Super Bowl.
No other sport decides its future like this — with an uncomfortable, surreal 30-minute raffle, basically — and that's what makes it so great. In the span of 30 minutes, jammed in before some conference final game every year, the directions of entire franchises can change one way or the other. For instance, 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the most insane lottery night of all time ...
... when Memphis nearly landed LeBron James, only to end up with nothing (its pick was protected as no. 1 overall but otherwise the Grizzlies had to send it to Detroit). Instead, we walked away thinking Cleveland had just fallen into a dynasty, Detroit was about to extend its dynasty another decade with Darko's frosted tips coming to the Midwest, and the Nuggets were getting Bernard King 2.0 for the next 15 years. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies were destined to remain in NBA no-man's-land, wondering what might have been.
I was one of eight or 10 media members who got to watch the lottery last night from inside the television studio where the NBA draft order is filmed. It’s not quite as cool as being in the secret locked-down room where the lottery actually happens, but it’s an experience — a bizarre event filled with odd moments, awkward silences, uncomfortable people, team representatives wearing ridiculous amounts of makeup, endless commercial breaks where everyone on the dais just sort of sits there, Jay Bilas, and other strangeness. Some quick observations from TV land:
• The Cleveland Cavaliers contingent at these things is just very weird. They make a party of the lottery, and the party treads the line between quirky and unseemly. They bring at least a dozen people every year, and there is always a local celebrity or two among them; Bernie Kosar came last year, and he was on the list again this year. He didn’t show, but a rapper named Machine Gun Kelly, who does not know how to tie a tie, filled the celebrity void.
The Brooklyn Nets took care of business at home, beating the Chicago Bulls, 110-91, to force a return trip to Chicago. Brook Lopez, who led the Nets with 28 points and added 10 rebounds, said after the game, "I dedicated my game to fellow tall Stanford alumnus and twin, Jason Collins, for his bravery today. I have nothing but love." Lopez then hung his head and added, "Unfortunately, I let him down by amassing a large number of points and rebounds. If you're listening, Jason, I'm sorry. But also, I'm really proud of you. I'll try to contribute in fewer tangible ways next game."
The NBA playoffs are upon us, with 16 teams competing for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. But what about the other guys? What about the teams we wish were in the playoffs? We may know, in our heads, that they didn't do enough to get into the postseason, but that doesn't change how we feel in our hearts. We'd like to see these teams competing in Bill Simmons's Entertaining as Hell Tournament, but until that day, we'll just have to write longingly about why we wish they had made it to the promised land.
Portland Trail Blazers
Sean Fennessey: This isn't exactly a song for the Blazers because the Blazers were hard to watch this year. Nic Batum was long and lean and aggressively French, J.J. Hickson played like an exploding can of soda, and Weber State's Damian Lillard was a revelation to those who enjoy tiny-man dunks but don't much care for consistency. (He is only the Rookie of the Year because Anthony Davis hasn't totally figured out how to play basketball yet. He will.) I won't miss those Blazers and I certainly won't miss their bench, mostly because their bench doesn't exist beyond the many terrified faces of Meyers Leonard.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Kobe Bryant
Robert Mays: I haven’t looked at the box score from last night’s Lakers win, and that’s on purpose — because I really don’t care to see it. I don’t know if Kobe Bryant went 10-for-30 or 15-of-25. I don’t know if he turned the ball over five times in a first half that I missed, or missed a dozen free throws. I do know that he scored 23 points in the Lakers’ 34-point fourth quarter, and that when Kobe was doing what he did last night, I have no use for words like “efficiency.”
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."
Back on March 25, the Grizzlies and Wizards were playing a game at the Verizon Center. The score was only 4-4 when Zach Randolph missed an 11-foot jumper along the left baseline. The rebound came down into the hands of Washington’s Emeka Okafor, who quickly fired a long outlet pass to John Wall, who dribbled across midcourt and attacked Memphis’s transition defense. As Wall weaved toward the free throw line, Steve Buckhantz, the Wizards play-by-play guy said, “Here comes Washington with Wall who cuts into the middle.”
As Wall rose for a transition 17-foot shot, Buckhantz said, “now he’ll take that shot ... ”
The shot fell and he noted, “Very confident. I mean his game has come to a new level right now.”
In case you were busy learning how boring Nevada is outside of Las Vegas, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Texas's Yu Darvish was one out away from a perfect game, but he was forced to settle for a near shutout as Marwin Gonzalez singled late in the Rangers' 7-0 win over the Houston Astros. "He sure did mar my win tonight, didn't he?" Darvish asked rhetorically after the game, before adding, "see, you can make puns out of anyone's name. Not just mine, Yu guys."
Kobe Bryant got his 19th career triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks, 101-81, in a critical Western Conference showdown. The Lakers also retired star center Shaquille O'Neal's no. 34 at the game. Bryant showed great respect for his former teammate, saying, "He's the best player I've ever suited up next to. I mean, even Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal." Bryant's eyes narrowed, as a flood of memories came back to him before he added, "But, of course, Shaquille O'Neal is no Dwight Howard." Bryant's eyes narrowed yet further as he felt compelled to add, "But Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal," before Bryant's eyes became somehow even narrower as he said, "But Shaquille O'Neal is no Dwight Howard." Then Bryant, his eyes now impossibly narrow, added, "But, of course, Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal," before he closed his eyes completely, swallowed hard, and said, "and neither of those guys could hold Elden Campbell's jock."
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. John Wall
John Wall might be the best player in the NBA right now not named Kevin or LeBron. That should actually be an award: The M.V.P.N.N.K.L. Give that award to John Wall. Also, Ted Leonsis, fellow blogger, here's a note: Pay John Wall. As someone who cheers for a team that just paid Jrue Holiday, that might pay a one-legged bowling enthusiast, that might pay Evan Turner, let me repeat: Pay John Wall. Check out Wall's shot chart from last night:
In case you were busy crashing Lark Voorhies's birthday party (and if so, kudos to you), here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Tiger Woods had a vintage weekend as he both reclaimed the no. 1 world ranking in golf and won his record eighth Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. When asked if things could be any better than they are right now, Woods responded, "Um, yes. Yes, they could. You have no idea." When asked to elaborate, Woods responded, "No, I better not. I I better not."
The Miami Heat ran their win streak to 27 games after a 108-94 win over the Orlando Magic. Miami forward Chris Bosh was jubilant after the performance, saying, "Big things are happening in Miami. I'm hoping this will finally get the media to pay attention to us down here. These 27 straight wins should definitely get us the attention we deserve."
The NBA is funny this way: We still don’t know all that much about John Wall, but from now until the end of October, the Wizards will already have to wrestle with the idea of giving Wall an extension as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. Wall missed a chunk of his rookie season with knee and foot issues. His second season was the lockout-shortened mess in which he dealt with lingering knee pain, and he missed the first 33 games of this season after doctors discovered the early signs of a stress fracture in his left knee.
But the clock on Wall’s rookie contract hasn’t stopped ticking. And as a no. 1 overall pick, Wall may well demand both a maximum extension and the extra fifth year Washington can tack on if it names Wall its “designated player.” Washington can choose only one such player among its current roster, and given what Bradley Beal has shown in the past six weeks, it will at least have to kick around the idea of saving the honor for him. Minnesota’s desire to keep the “designated player” tag in reserve for Ricky Rubio influenced its negotiations with Kevin Love and played a role in Love insisting on an opt-out after just three seasons on his new deal.
The Wizards are 15-13 since Wall returned, and they’ve been better on both ends with him on the floor. He has meshed nicely with Beal and Nene, and the Wiz have maintained a top-10 defense all season. Wall is on pace to shatter his career-best assist rate, and though he’s still a below-average shooter even from the midrange, his accuracy on those shots — which he’s taking more than ever — is beginning to creep within sniffing distance of the league average.
But he’s still shooting just 41 percent with five 3-pointers combined over the past two seasons and has a borderline-alarming turnover rate. The Wizards, dead last in points per possession, are indeed scoring more efficiently with Wall, but their scoring mark with him on the floor would still rank only 25th overall.
In other words: This is a strange, unproven player entering a very important phase of his career and financial life. During Washington’s visit to Brooklyn on Friday, Wall sat down with Grantland for a one-on-one about his game, his team, and his future.
Mays and I did this with the NFL, and I managed to spoil Cabin in the Woods and wrongly assert that Michael Vick would play all 16 games for the Eagles. We're blinding you with science over here. Same rules as before: I say something, Mays argues whether it's plausible or implausible. Let's get weird.
If the first half of the season belonged to Kyrie Irving, the second half will belong to John Wall.
Chris Ryan: Upon his return from a summer knee injury, John Wall was subject to speculation and scorn. People made fun of his weight and questioned whether he was a franchise player. While Kyrie Irving, another point guard and more recent no. 1 overall draft pick, has had a coronation of a season, picking up plaudits wherever he's played, Wall was been largely forgotten or dismissed.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here 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.
The Wizards beat the Knicks last night, in Washington, deading New York's five-game win streak. Trevor Ariza wore his Chuck Person contacts, going 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, including a game-swinging four-point play early in the fourth quarter. The Knicks were up three with about 11 minutes to go and the Wizards were running their, "Hmmm ... OK?" set, which is kind of like the pin-down the Thunder run, minus the movement and the hope. But here's the thing: The Wizards have John Wall. Running some kind of post play to Kevin Seraphin, who was being doubled because the world doesn't always make sense, Wall floated toward the foul line. Seraphin kicked out to the former Kentucky point guard, who leaped to catch the ball and in midair redirected the pass to a wide-open Ariza, standing in the near corner.
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.