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.
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.
On the Waterfront (1954, Columbia Pictures)
“I apologize for us being healthy. I apologize for us playing who was in front of us. I apologize for all the accolades we received as a team and individually. I’m very, truly sorry, and we’ll rectify that situation this year.” – Steph Curry, October 2015
So often, when assessing the circumstances surrounding a season and its participants, onlookers make the critical error without the proper framing. This is true of culture – Lemonade as the greatest work of artistic liberation this year, this decade or this century, let alone this week – but is dominant in sports. Conversations abound concerning Karl-Anthony Towns’ place in the all-time NBA player hierarchy with, now, nearly as much frequency as LeBron James’, if you look in the right places.
Rare is the situation that doesn’t need the benefit of hindsight to have a definitive historical identity waiting in the wings. This season, the NBA gave us two, possibly three, teams whose historical contexts seem almost preordained. Rarer still is the fact that each team faces unique circumstances which are fascinating in a vacuum but even more so when contrasted with one another.
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.
Yes, yes, yes: Russell HUSTLE BUSTLE Westbrook hails from a different dimension. But there will be more on him later. The age of the Brow is upon us, but you already knew. To have 39 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks in a game but be overshadowed is a travesty which can only exist in today’s NBA given the embarrassment of talent in the league. Elsewhere, Wesley Matthews is out for the season, and Ray Allen says he won’t play this season but will re-assess his options over the summer.
Klay Thompson enjoyed a record-setting 37-point quarter last week against the Sacramento Kings, sending the internet into a frenzy and reminding people that Steph Curry is not the only #heatcheck member of the NBA’s best team. Not to be outdone, Kyrie Irving put up 55 points against the Blazers without the help of LeBron James. Elsewhere, Damian Lillard of that aforementioned Blazers team is thankful to his detractors for not being an All-Star, and DeMarcus Cousins, noted first-time All-Star, corrects a writer on Instagram.
The NBA announced its All-Star starters this week, with a certain pair of Spanish hermanos at the forefront. Interestingly but not surprisingly, Steph Curry beat out LeBron James and Anthony Davis as the highest vote-getter, and the Eastern Conference has an entirely new backcourt for the first time since 2000. Elsewhere, Kobe Bryant, destroyer of efficiency ratings, has become Kobe Bryant, destroyer of his own rotator cuff, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s injury has the Blazers reeling.