Thomas B. Shea/USA Today Sports
Early returns on the 2018-’19 NBA season have been extremely varied. That’s not to say the basketball itself hasn’t been good; between the paralleled excellence of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis, the ongoing development of LeBron’s Lakers Day Care, DeMar DeRozan embracing San Antonio, Steph Curry firing out of the gate and Klay Thompson one-upping his Splash Brother by nearly quadrupling the number of threes he’d made all season in a single night, there has been plenty to see, and not all of it has to do with the Golden State Warriors’ seemingly inevitable death march to their fourth title in five years.
Some of it has been a bit…strange, though. Some things are off, and it isn’t just Markelle Fultz. Defenses are getting to Ben Simmons (or, rather, not getting anywhere near him, except in the paint). The Boston Celtics, who took LeBron to seven games in the East Finals last year and are now re-integrating two All-Stars into their lineup, have returned a maniacal defense but have been unexpectedly dysfunctional on the other end. Oklahoma City stumbled out of the gate. 50-point Derrick Rose? 50-point Derrick Rose. The Sacramento Kings have won four in a row and five of their last six! What is this world coming to?
In the midst of all the madness lie the Houston Rockets, who currently sit at 1-5 with matching bottom-five Offensive and Defensive Ratings. James Harden has looked all the MVP he was a year ago, and Clint Capela has continued to progress into a two-way force, but everything else is amiss. Mike D’Antoni and company have some ’splaining to do.
They said it was coming, but then – they tend to say a lot of things that don’t end up coming to fruition, don’t they? The Industrial Revolution presented us with a future that increased efficiency in equal measures, counterintuitively, with the waste they created; electricity allowed us to light, to heat, to dance into the night and passively allow dawn to become more a frame of reference than a time; Future is called Future, but he lives in the present, so what, or when, is he, exactly?
Health, though, is the great equalizer, one never to be fooled by fancy gadgetry or horse economics, ailments simultaneously unpredictable and inevitable. Anthony Davis has missed a combined 82 games out of 492 since he entered the league with the now-New Orleans Pelicans. That equates to a full regular season of NBA basketball. Comparatively, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo has missed 17 games of a possible 414 after entering the league a full season after Davis.
These two are the (extremely early, but completely veritable) frontrunners for MVP this year. What separates them on the surface are their respectively unique and valuable skillsets, but what may very well make the difference between them in this particular race is that ever elusive, despicably cunning bill of health, springing up for you to care at only the most improper times.
J Alexander Diaz/Los Angeles Lakers via NBA.com
Dearly beloved, the NBA season is once again upon us, beginning with a doubleheader featuring Celtics/76ers and Lakers/Trail Blazers on TNT Tuesday night. It felt like centuries ago that Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors disposed of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second NBA Finals sweep of LeBron’s career, and that we all took it with a benign shrug because the sun was corrupted, and the walls were falling in anyway. James Harden, the reigning MVP, lost grip of a 3-2 Western Conference Finals lead that could’ve been his own coronation. People were rioting in the streets over the definition of the word “rookie.” It was anarchy.
You may remember that, once upon a time, many centuries and heartless regimes ago, there was a simple game that giants played involving one round, orange object, two baskets and 94 feet of freedom. It was a simpler time, even though the stats were already advanced.
Below, there will be no “Which NBA team most closely mirrors your favorite airline perk,” or “NBA All-Star candidates-as-Wu Tang Clan affiliates.” Flashy graphics are limited because we spent the entire budget on donating to a GoFundMe for Joakim Noah’s stretch provision. As a small favor to you, I also promise to spend the absolute least time here on the Golden State Warriors, who will almost undoubtedly win the forthcoming NBA championship for the fourth time in five years. So, without further ado, let us basketball.
Elton Brand was last an active NBA player less than two years ago. He put up 4.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists in seventeen games, including one start, with the 2015-’16 Philadelphia 76ers, which won exactly 10 games, only one ahead of the all-time NBA record for fewest victories in an 82-game season, held by the 1972-’73 Sixers. He wasn’t especially good, but neither was anybody else on that team. Shout out to leading scorer, then-rookie and soon-to-be journeyman Jahlil Okafor for throwing up 17.5 points and seven rebounds a night; your efforts were well-regarded in Manayunk, I’m sure.
A native of Peekskill, New York, and well-traveled otherwise via his not-quite-journeyman-like career in the NBA, Brand would qualify as the Wooderson-like guy who has seen some things, if the NBA were a teen sex comedy. Following his retirement, the second and final he would announce, he was immediately appointed to various player development positions within the Sixers organization before, on Tuesday, being announced as Bryan Colangelo’s non-burner account replacement as Philadelphia’s general manager. By bringing in a relative veteran of The Process, this puts the fittingly weird cap on a strange but bountiful summer for a team on the cusp of Eastern Conference pre-eminence.
Photo courtesy of moi
“Ladies and gentlemen, due to the humid conditions, Millman is going to change his attire.”
In the middle of the second set on during the men’s quarterfinal at the US Open on Wednesday night, with his opponent, Novak Djokovic, up a set already, unseeded John Millman took a precautionary measure with regard to his attire. He was sweating through his shirt, his shorts and maybe his shoes and hat, and he wasn’t going to stand for it anymore. For all intents and purposes, it’s been the story of the tournament in Flushing Meadows: the heat is just too damn hot.
The weather is a clichéd topic, one befitting casual acquaintances at a party while waiting for someone better to arrive, anyone who rides public transit at any time and Al Roker. At best, it should merely be tertiary fare for the final Grand Slam of the year. Yet, it has defined many of the matches so far, including Millman’s shocking, four-set upset of Roger Federer in the round of 16. Mother Nature would not sway Novak Djokovic so easily.
The first time I internalized Aretha Franklin – not “heard,” because as an American growing up post-1966, you never hear her for the first time – I was playing a video game against my oldest, not older, brother, back in the relatively nascent console days when video game producers didn’t know what to do other than to license actual music to fill in gaps in gameplay.
Specifically, the first time I internalized Aretha Franklin, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 76, was during one of the marathon sessions of NFL GameDay 2000 that yours truly used to play against his older, wiser sibling. To give you an idea of how the games themselves usually went, I relied on the fake punt-pass as my go-to fourth down play, and it never worked, and the most memorable game we ever played rests on that guy using that play, my play, to beat me in the final seconds of a game in which I was already ahead. He kept a running log of this particular series, but that is neither here nor there. It’s in Chicago, if I had to guess.