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Nuggets' Nikola Jokic picked as starter for Western Conference in 2021 NBA  All-Star game
Nick Wass/AP

It’s almost guilt-inducing to laugh at anything right now. Aside from the scornful, halfhearted chuckles any of us get from seeing anything people with a higher Q-score than I have deem “newsworthy,” genuine joy begetting laughter is akin to heartbreak. For every laugh, there are countless tears, and even (especially?) if they’re happening elsewhere, you’re aware of them and their beholders, and you become innately attuned to that reflexive awareness. Laughing to keep from crying almost becomes communal.

The thing about laughter, though, at least usually, is that it’s spontaneous – we expect the things we love to make us smile, whether it be foster pet success stories, an ELI5 display and accompanying graphic of how light moves through space or a book by a favored author. This is trusted comfort, something we can at least give a courtesy smile, as if remembering the one dog, or the one gif, or the one line from a book we were forced to read in high school that brought us here.

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NBA fines Clippers Paul George $35,000 for criticizing officials
Photo by Eric Hartline, USA TODAY Sports

At some point, what you are becoming and who you are meet. Sometimes you decide the time and place of that meeting; most often, you do not. Rarely is it easy, a Craigslist handoff that satisfies both parties over a diner coffee at some halfway point. Someone is usually coming away sour. Given that who you are now, in the present, has the benefit of hindsight, it seems reasonably safe to say that who you are looks at who you were and wonders how, exactly, you are standing here, right now, like this.

Who is Paul George, now? I can tell you – anybody who watched the NBA at the beginning of the last decade can tell you – who Paul George was in 2014, which was a would-be dominant force meant to supplement the LeBron-stopping powers of Roy Hibbert and the rest of his merry band in Indiana.

Following Tuesday night’s Game 7 loss against the Denver Nuggets, however, in a series George’s current team, the Los Angeles Clippers, many observers heavily favored to win and one in which those very Clippers were up 3-1, the question becomes much more hazy: who is Paul George, and what is he going to be in terms of championship contention in the forthcoming NBA?

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Jamal Murray, relatable (Courtesy ESPN)

On Tuesday night, we received the first-ever NBA Game 7 that occurred in the month of September. The series had been a showcase for two of the league’s premier young teams, the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, and specifically for those teams’ respective young guards, Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell.

Two teams, of the same juggernaut division in the same juggernaut conference, sporting a guard apiece of the modern vintage, but with a distinctly timeless flair: they are Murray and Mitchell, players who would’ve been wildly successful in any era of the NBA but are coming into their own now, in an exceedingly strange 2020. This first round series, an instant and all-time classic, certainly had the flavor of, if not necessarily “kingmaking,” then a long-awaited debutant ball. Each of them revealed parts of themselves and their respective games that are almost certain to shock and amaze for years to come.

So, as with everything showing any kind of promise under the microscope of popular opinion, we ask: Where do they go now?

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Odysseus and Polyphemus – Arnold Böcklin (1896)

Canonically, Odysseus ends up becoming immortal. He was always destined to be, of course, but depending on where you go for your Greek epic epilogues, his fate was either a bit in doubt or entirely certain after dying at the hand of his own son, Telegonus. It is less an Oedipus situation and more a Meat-Becomes-Murder ordeal as far as familicide in Greek epics goes, but you can look into it yourself if you are so inclined.

Similarly close to a place called Ithaca, Carmelo Anthony is already a Hall of Famer. He is likely also the most divisive player of his generation[1], a member of the venerated 2003 draft class and the only player picked in the top five of that class without an NBA championship ring[2]. His legacy has been in question for at least half a decade. Anthony had been out of the league for over a year until Tuesday night, when, carrying an exhaustingly-explained double-zero on his back, he made his debut with the Portland Trail Blazers.

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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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Getty Images

Wake up, dust off your finest Jordans, throw on a pair of sunglasses and tell the world to deal with it, because the NBA is finally back on your television tonight. Three games featuring five playoff teams from a year ago, including the defending champion Golden State Warriors, return us to the hardwood. So much has transpired this offseason, it can be easy to get caught up in it. Such is life in the 24/7/365 NBA, if you allow it to be.

We can only say and think so much about basketball, however, without there being any games. Before the first tip-off of the season (Cavs/Bulls or, if you prefer, Hawks/Pistons, tonight at 8 pm), let’s spare a thought – not necessarily a prediction, though there will be more than a fair share of those – to each franchise, in alphabetical order. Some of them may be painfully obvious or extremely misguided, because I guess I don’t think about the Minnesota Timberwolves nearly enough. Anyway, best of luck to the following teams, especially the Knicks. Those dudes are gonna need it.

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KDRW

In this installment of the TwH NBA preview, we look at what will be one of the most competitive divisions in professional basketball, the Northwest. Kevin Durant has the weight of the world on his broad shoulders in the biggest small market in the league, Kenneth Faried is a double-double machine and Damian Lillard will drastically improve upon one of the finest rookie campaigns in recent memory as he returns the Pacific Northwest to basketball relevance. When they can avoid the infirmary, the Minnesota T’Wolves are one of the funnest teams in the league to watch, and the Utah Jazz are, under no circumstances, one of the funnest teams in the league to watch.

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