It is the latter half of the 2021-’22 NBA regular season, and the Los Angeles Lakers sit in eighth place in the Western Conference with a 28-29 record. Big man Anthony Davis, acknowledged to be a big without allowing himself to be referred to as a center, has missed twenty games, while LeBron James, the fulcrum upon which all Lakers-based activity must depend, has incurred an apparent return of the high ankle sprain which had once befallen him.
James has taken to imploring his teammates to work harder in his absence, which seemingly grows longer at his whims. On Instagram, his beseeching increasingly includes the term “brodie,” seemingly in the pejorative. Teammate Russell Westbrook notices.
The thousand injuries of Lebrunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled – but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity.
Historically, there is a slight dispute over the first usage of the term “triple-double” in a basketball context – Philadelphia 76ers publicist Harvey Pollack stakes a claim, as does ex-Los Angeles Lakers PR man Bruce Jolesch. Fittingly, they are intertwined courtesy of the same player, Magic Johnson, who had seven triple-doubles the 1980-’81 season and would ultimately finish with 138 in his career.
That number was still 43 behind the career total of Oscar Robertson, who held the record for nearly half a century and had set his final total at 181, in 1974. That number stood until Monday night, when Russell Westbrook, now of the Washington Wizards, pulled down his tenth rebound against the Atlanta Hawks and, having already notched double-digit points and assists, broke the Big O’s record for career triple-doubles on his way to a 28-point, 13-rebound, 21-assist performance. Naturally, Westbrook barreled up the floor and promptly missed a three-pointer.
After all of that, Kevin Durant managed to play nine games with the Brooklyn Nets, only six of them alongside Kyrie Irving, before that team acquired another All-Star Wednesday afternoon. Joining Durant, Irving and DeAndre Jordan, the latter of whom Jarrett Allen had finally supplanted as the Nets’ starting center this season prior to the trade, will be one James Harden, Durant’s ex-teammate, the 2018 MVP and a revolutionary offensive genius.
Of course, Harden has become as confounding a teammate as he is an actual basketball player, and his uneasy exit from Houston begs many questions, not the least for which because of the destination. The ever-prickly Durant is playing at an MVP level; Irving is essentially AWOL; Harden openly ripped the Rockets organization Tuesday night, all but forcing his team’s hand. Now, those three find themselves together, apparently at their communal behest.
Taking a concept to its ideological extreme can be a perilous exercise: first, one must fully concoct an actionable conviction, one that finds pros outweighing cons; then, after experimenting with the idea, one must attempt to put it into practice and – the hardest part – convince others that this pursuit is, in fact, worth investigating, in the hopes that an audience sees its potential, wildly glorious benefits and agrees that it is, at the very least, worth a shot.
Ideas like this tend to provoke the “hard sell” label, and they allow detractors to seize upon various nooks and crannies in order to mock the ideation and its true believers. To buy all the way in, one must steel themselves for the possibility of a very public humiliation, often in the mouths of bad actors and those who could never regress to the norm for lack of having ever deviated from it. Somehow especially content with the median, these people envy middle managers and the people who ride the coattails of people who actually possess half-decent beliefs, for they themselves believe only in what they see, not in what may be.
When they traded starting center Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks in a multi-team deal that netted them the coveted Robert Covington at this year’s trade deadline, the Houston Rockets bought all the way into an idea that head coach Mike D’Antoni pioneered over a decade ago yet was unable to fully realize before various factors ended his tenure with the Phoenix Suns. Now, with none other than Russell Westbrook as their nominal center on offense, Houston is making the bet that running teams into the ground can overcome any, uh, shortcomings they may otherwise have.
Bradley Beal, magician – Noah K. Murray, USA TODAY Sports
Along with the New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Sacramento Kings (who have apparently revealed themselves to be frauds) and, until very recently, the Phoenix Suns (who very well may still be frauds but are enjoying a good run right now), the Washington Wizards are, historically speaking, an NBA team only ostensibly and have a history of producing the sort of spectacular assclownery typically reserved for Stefon’s nightclubs, the bum-rush for Popeyes chicken sandwiches and Congress, all of which can be set to the Benny Hill theme music without much disruption.
On Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets, however, the Wizards reached a new low, one to which only one other team in NBA history can stake a claim: they managed to score 158 damn points in regulation in a one-point loss. Their forebears? The 1991 Denver Nuggets, who lost 162-158 to the Golden State Warriors on November 2, 1990. That team won 20 games. When you’re hanging with the post-ABA, pre-Melo Nuggets, you know you’re in great company!
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports
To get this out of the way up front: the NBA shrinking in the face of one nation in which it has interests – one whose interests happen to conflict with those of what the American ideal is supposed to be, mind you, as it suppresses the protests of people in Hong Kong, facing potential extradition to the mainland, where prisoners’ cases can be ignored entirely – makes the league’s put-on image of empowerment look transparently weak.
That Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sparked the current, ostensibly bipartisan discourse with a fairly innocuous tweet seems to say more about that nation, its insecurity as a world power and its desire for overwhelming power on a world stage, than it does about anyone who has anything to say about it, but the NBA is at some fault here, and commissioner Adam Silver is in an even more unique position than he was when the Donald Sterling circus unfolded five years ago.
With a deep breath – and I know it’s complicated to dig out of that tunnel, even if human rights shouldn’t be – I would like to move on to the Rockets themselves, and the fascinating approach(es) they may take this season in integrating the likes of, ehem, Russell Westbrook into their offense.
Courtesy of Everclear
A circus comes to town, and you expect a few things. Maybe it’s a flame-eating swordsman, or a karate hero, or someone whose tattoos outnumber your hangers, or a lady with the high-wire abilities of your last boyfriend, struggling to explain why you need to make his share of this month’s rent. It happens.
What you end up expecting, though, is something magical, something surreal. It becomes something that you yourself do not think you could ever accomplish, even provided the time and, perhaps, physical ability to do what you are seeing. The Oklahoma City Thunder have become the NBA’s traveling circus. I cannot tell you how much it pains for me to describe them as such.
Courtesy Associated Press
Not that you were especially curious about my opinion, but being that we’re all curious about everyone’s opinions – only to the extent that we can then espouse upon our own, I suspect – let me be clear about what has happened over the past week: no, I have no idea what’s going on in the NBA, other than that players are doing whatever the hell they want, which is good for fans from an objectivity standpoint and bad for fans from a “We want a title at all costs!” standpoint.
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.
It is admittedly unusual for us to recap a single game from a first round playoff series. Even elimination games, which are so ripe for assessment and criticism, both in the immediate aftermath and as time wears ceaselessly on heading into every other team’s offseason. Free agency beckons; fresh wounds heal, but the scars can inform decisions for players and teams, altering the direction of the entire league.
As such, the Utah Jazz’s prompt dispatch of the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games calls for some prompt discernment. Russell Westbrook is the center of the Thunder’s galaxy, and as such, he draws adulation and condemnation in equal measures. He deserves considerable amounts of both, to be certain, but context is vital. Collective blame is undoubtedly shared in Oklahoma City.