Hope you’ve had a supreme 2013 and that there is more in store for 20-1-4. LeBron is turning 29, having already accomplished enough to merit Hall of Fame induction if he retired tomorrow. What is in store for the King, maybe halfway through his career? Also, James Harden as the theoretical unstoppable force facing an entirely movable object in free throws, and Andrew Bynum is this year’s George Sauer, probably without the journalism aspirations. But you never know with that guy, and that hair.
1. Try as you might, James Harden cannot – WILL not – be stopped: On Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, The Beard went 2-for-9 from the field. Common sense would suggest that his field struggles would imply a scoring deficiency on the night. In the weird and wonderful world of James Harden, however, this was not so, as he amassed 27 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, to lead the Rockets in a come-from-behind, 100-92 victory. Harden managed to attack the rim and work his way to a 22-for-25 performance from the free throw line, and in doing so became the first player in league history to score 27 points on two or fewer made field goals. It was a truly masterful operation highlighting one of the game’s most underappreciated, thankless skills, and Harden put on a display which brought the importance of the free throw to the forefront of contemporary basketball.
2. LeBron at 29: In grammar school, I remember watching one of LeBron James’ nationally-televised St. Vincent-St. Mary High games, right at the beginning of ESPN’s “Worldwide Leader in Hype” era which peaked with Tebowmania and has continued since, and wondering if he would be everything they said he would. He wore the #23 and dominated just like Jordan, but he retained a likeability and an effusive approach to pro basketball, particularly early on with the Cavaliers. Yes, The Decision was a major misstep, probably the biggest PR disaster in the career of any otherwise amiable athlete. But Dirk and the ragtag Mavericks beat the Heat in the 2011 Finals, and then we all had to kind of accept that, as the world’s best basketball player, LeBron would not let something like that happen again. Two years, two titles and two MVPs later, LeBron is still in the prime of his career and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down on this, his 29th birthday. With any hope there will be a huge party following Miami’s game against Denver tonight, complete with the Big 3 Swing Band. Here is a fantastic LBJ-Mamba-MJ comparison infographic, far better than any I could have created, courtesy of ftw.usatoday.com:
3. Andrew Bynum doesn’t like basketball anymore: If he ever did. Effective in limited minutes (8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game), the Cavaliers suspended Bynum for “conduct detrimental to the team” last week. In all likelihood, he has played his last game for Cleveland, who is apparently now shopping him to potential trade suitors based on his limited work this season, his prior reputation as a two-time NBA champion (joining the likes of the aforementioned King James and the immortal Adam Morrison, his former Lakers teammate) and his contract flexibility, which is unique in the league. Whether any of that coaxes a team into giving up anything for Bynum remains to be seen, but if this is the end, at least Bynum can hang his hat on the fact that he’s probably not the most frustrating teammate Kobe Bryant has ever had.
Happy 2014, everyone.