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Via @Yugobasket on Twitter

Just when you think you have a pretty good understanding of the landscape, it shifts. You see the same things, but you see them in a different way, like removing the filter of designer shades [or your last Instagram post]. It isn’t negative; it still works. Maybe it works better than you originally suspected? It always seems worthwhile to shuffle back and forth for a bit just to make sure.

It was going to take someone like Nikola Jokić to prove that what he is currently doing could, in fact, be done. In the NBA in 2019, it is illogical at best, and malpractice at worst, to assume that a big man of most vintages could orchestrate an entire offense, such that passes from the elbows cease being a novelty or the in-between to something better on their way to becoming essential.

In a way that roughly approximates the annual appreciation of Al Horford’s defense, Nikola Jokić has been sensational for the Denver Nuggets in these playoffs. The implications of that adjective are exactly what I mean – you, the viewer, can feel Jokić’s impact on games just as his own teammates, and the typically-confused opposition, feel it.

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Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

We all saw it, and we knew what it was when it happened. With a little over nine minutes remaining in the third quarter of Game 2 of the first round playoff series between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, two plays in succession told us everything we needed to know. A team expected to, at the very least, physically challenge the Golden State Warriors has once again fallen flat in the playoffs, its back prone against the 3-1 deficit it faces, neither of its stars producing at the levels we’ve come to expect.

Down three, Russell Westbrook shoves his way into what he believes with all of his heart, an organ I have come to believe is ablaze within his chest at all times, is a foul against Damian Lillard. Dame waves off the non-foul and subsequent possession – in which Westbrook drops himself out before bricking a three-pointer – in order to literally hype himself up before, you guessed it, knocking down a three-pointer in a seemingly-disinterested Westbrook’s face from just in front of the gigantic Blazers logo at center court. At that point, you knew what was coming, against the dying of the light.

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The Garden of Eden, Erastus Salisbury Field (1860)

At one point, it seems, humans were much better off. In our innocence and, eventually, naïveté, we inherited a large swath of flora, fit for our use and designed to provide eternal happiness. It was here where we were whole, and it was here where we decided to channel our desire to the one thing we could not have. We’ve been suffering ever since, to our great delight.

Edinnu was the Assyrian root, via Sumerian, that ended up giving the Garden of Eden its modern-day name, courtesy of the Aramaic root, meaning “to be fruitful, plentiful.” We could’ve had it all, indeed.

I realize this can be a lot to handle, and I’m not asking you to internalize it all at once. This is the same effect that defenders likely have when facing James Harden, and, similarly, that stupefied state renders fans senseless when they watch him.

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Image result for twisted metal ice cream truck

Courtesy Sony Computer Entertainment

The idea that Magic Johnson had, I’m guessing, was simply that adding the best player in basketball – whatever that means – to a 35-win team might just be able to push the door open on a Western Conference playoff picture that it has not entered since 2013.

In a vacuum, this makes sense, being that LeBron James had led his various, sometimes-oddball teams to the NBA Finals in each of the prior eight seasons. For what Zach Lowe refers to as “the junior varsity conference,” LeBron was the final boss, and the Finals boss, for longer than erstwhile running mates Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas have been in the league.

In hindsight, what has happened was, or could have been, plain to see. LeBron had interests beyond basketball; the Lakers had interests beyond developing (admittedly big name!) young talent; LaVar Ball had interests beyond Lonzo Ball. These things happen.

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Assyrian king and Marduk-zakir-Å¡umi I of Babylon shaking hands in a public display of Assyro-Babylonian friendship. Reproduced from M. E. L. Mallowan, Nimrud and its remains, London 1966, vol. 2, 447 fig. 371d.

From “Peace and Conflict Monitor,” depicting diplomacy in 2300 BC

I’m not so much scared as just, well, on notice. Who knows what could happen? At any time, somebody may think more of you than everybody else, and then you’re onto a new journey, full of promise, confidence and relative autonomy. Conversely, though, maybe somebody decides you’re worth less than that, and you end up an errand person, subsisting on coffee and nodding your way through days that are no more notable than others as you try to take stock of who you are, where you are and how you can change one or both of those things.

Has it ever occurred to you just why you look at your phone so much? Starting from the premise that nobody on Twitter is actually that funny, so – Let me backtrack. Maybe you don’t check it that much, and if not, more power to you. It might be a performative power play on your part, but even in that case, you’re doing better than Rob in accounting and the New Orleans Pelicans.

On that last bit: better check your phone right now, just in case Woj has traded you from your cushy, insurance-laden desk job to a gig economy substitute that will drain your bank account as quickly as your will to live. For which, by the way, you’re working. If you’re in the NBA, today is an especially sweat-inducing time, as the trade deadline is upon us, and it has already played out as one of the most unpredictable in years.

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(Citation needed)

Expectation can be a funny thing. In the abstract, we – in some cases, admittedly, the royal we – all expect things, whether it be the acceptance letter to a prestigious college, the big-time promotion that will finally make you feel a certain kind of comfortable or, in a more macro sense, the giant orb of light rising each morning despite all of the darkness, everywhere, all the time.

A funny thing about expectation, though – often, it doesn’t belong solely to the person on whom it is placed. That is to say, nurture makes itself apparent against nature, and whether you like it or not, you’re going to military school so that you can be a doctor. The other side of it, though, is that expectation, when set against the vast unknown, can be as powerful and as stupefying as fear. Like expectation itself, it isn’t always up to one person to decide whether to shoulder it on their own.

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Graphic by Brian Kraker

Another year down. Another year older, but perhaps none the wiser? Maybe that decision doesn’t belong to you alone. It felt like nothing did, most of the time. From Tide Pods to the Philly Special to countless acts of cruelty and many more of plain senselessness to the continued existence of the Golden State Warriors to having 12 years left to stop the sun to inexplicable blue lights over Astoria, everything that happened felt like it was going to happen anyway, sooner or later, and we were all left to bear it as best we could. Same as it ever was, but different.

Still: we would be equally bereft of sense to assume that darkness would drive out darkness. You may have heard that only light can do that. For all the bad and rot everywhere, urban, suburban and rural, at home and abroad, there were the moments in between that made everything we experience every day that kept us together, however briefly. If we experienced them together? All the better.

As Bootsy Collins said in 1972, “Balance is my thing/The snow, wind and rain must come.” With that, we delve into the year that was, with an eye toward the twelvemonth ahead.

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