Jerry Lara/San Antonio Express-News
By now – that is, twenty or so games into the NBA season – we have seen enough of Kawhi Leonard in Toronto to buy into what he is post-injury to the Raptors. With LeBron gone, and the Celtics’ offense sputtering to the shoulder of the Eastern Conference, the Raptors have seized an opportunity to claim their place as the toast of the town. Leonard and Kyle Lowry have jelled in marvelous fashion, despite the latter’s evident dismay at the departure of his running mate and best friend in the course of Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri doing business. So what of Lowry’s erstwhile backcourt partner?
With just under three and a half minutes remaining in a game in which his team was clinging to a one-point lead over the all-galaxy (but notably Steph Curry- and Draymond Green-less) Golden State Warriors, DeMar DeRozan did what he does best: he went and got two points, with the kind of inspiring ease that makes you laugh, grit your teeth and shake your head simultaneously.
In stretching the lead to three, DeRozan jump-started a seven-point run that gave his San Antonio Spurs just enough of a buffer to hold against the two-time defending NBA champions. He added a trio of free throws down the stretch before Patty Mills hit a clinching three-pointer, and San Antonio beat Golden State 104-92. In his fraught discomfort, away from the organization that drafted and fostered him, DeRozan has found something like peace.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Well well well. Here we are again. After a four-month period that felt like several millennia, the NBA regular season begins tonight with two games featuring four of this season’s expected biggest draws: at 8 p.m. Eastern, the new-look Boston Celtics face the relatively old-look Cleveland Cavaliers, and following that, the Chris Paul-James Harden era begins as the Houston Rockets take on the current proprietors of the universe, the Golden State Warriors.
The question isn’t “Did you miss it?”; it’s how much you missed it, and in an age in which every single day is a testament to human will, the slightest reprieve can provide the biggest impact. If everything is bad, fine, but there is some reason to believe the smallest hints of light can fight back all this darkness. Best of luck to all of these teams, except for the Warriors, whose organization’s luck is such that two of its four (!) All-Stars could sustain injuries, and the team would still be favored. 2017 is such a crushing time. Unless you’re a borderline Eastern Conference playoff team, which everybody is. Congratulations: we’re all borderline Eastern Conference playoff teams.
The final battle between Bhima & Duryodhana
For a moment, I beg of you to try and envision yourself as Kyrie Irving, in several stages of his life. You’ve got perhaps the best handles in the history of basketball, routinely curling camels through needles’ eyes for fun as you lampoon your beguiled opponent before an adoring crowd, which screams at you to end the procession and join your only true love, the basket, in eternal harmony. They recognize you from Sprite commercials; you recognize them from the hordes of people shielding their eyes, but peeking through, as you did this in your youth to many nameless foes in the neighborhood, on schoolyard courts and in parks near and far.
One minute, it’s 2016, and you’ve hit The Shot™, solidifying your immortality, both in the annals of professional basketball and to Clevelanders everywhere. The next minute, it’s 2017, and you’re requesting a trade out of the city that drafted you, that crafted you, that created a media megalith despite its decidedly Middle America setting. If the preceding period is any indication, twelve months is enough to change anything, least of all the presumption that a team owns an entire conference because of one man. You are not that man, but you strive to be. And now, you need to be.
Triple Self-Portrait, Norman Rockwell (1960)
Today marks the beginning of the NBA playoffs, a most glorious time of the year when the basketball is noticeably better. In a season full of downright certainty underpinned by complete uncertainty, these playoffs are going to shock and surprise us in ways we can’t even imagine, because they almost universally do. Can’t hold anything back now, and all that.
For just a brief moment, however, it seems fitting to gaze back with awe on one of the more improbable regular seasons we are ever likely to see, one full of jaw-dropping individual performances. Specifically, and with the utmost respect, it is my duty to inform you that, unless you are one of the members of the media yet to reveal their MVP vote via a longform column explaining why you didn’t pick any of the other candidates instead, nobody cares about your choice for this year’s NBA MVP.
Suffering from a deafness which plagued him over the final three decades of his life, Ludwig van Beethoven explored new and innovative areas of musical theory which sometimes left him in controversial straits with critics. Having already composed countless quartets and sonatas as well as several symphonies, Beethoven continued to push the bounds of sound through his late period, often incorporating the influences of Bach, Handel and his immediate predecessor as foremost composer in the world, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Until his death in 1827, Beethoven strove to perfect the sounds and styles of the time which produced him.
On Sunday, two NBA title contenders, each by an MVP candidate, met in Houston for the second and final time in the regular season. The team that prevailed, the Houston Rockets, did so in much the same fashion as they have done all year: by adhering to their particular brand of the NBA’s prevailing style, launching as many threes as possible and, when that wasn’t available, getting to the rim for high percentage shots and foul opportunities. At the eye of the Rockets’ storm is James Harden, high-volume wing-turned-obscenely efficient point guard, a scoring machine in either case.
The Man Who Fell To Earth
Every year during the NFL season, the remaining members of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins gather to engage in the most obvious display of schadenfreude possible between ostensible peers in the hushed community of professional athletes. On the occasion of the last remaining undefeated team losing its first game of the season, Mercury Morris and company sacrifice a few bottles of Cristal to the sports deities in exchange for their annual moment of relevance, leaving the rest of us to go on mowing our lawns and picking up our children from not-American football practice° while pondering whether the ’85 Bears could’ve beaten the Panthers from this past season.
Watching history be made doesn’t usually feel so… humdrum. For the Golden State Warriors, making history has become as routine as showing up for the morning shootaround. Win #72, against one of the only teams who plausibly stand a chance in any single game, let alone in a seven-game series, felt almost mundane in its execution, and yet it may be the most important victory thus far, Crying MJs be damned.
Noah Graham/Getty Images
Following a fan vote which understandably, if unjustly, selected Kobe Bryant to the start for the Western Conference All-Star team, Draymond Green was the odd man out. His all-existence teammate Steph Curry was an easy choice; Klay Thompson was likely to make the cut anyway, having been an All-Star in 2015 and the acknowledged second-choice weapon of the Golden State Warriors’ attack.
But what of Green? Indeed, he was an almost unanimous selection of pundits and the like to make this year’s squad, and sure enough, Thursday’s edition of NBA on TNT made room for the announcement of All-Star reserves, with Green among the most prominent. The man who once favorably compared himself to Al Gore is, finally and deservedly, an NBA All-Star.
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.
Yesterday, the NBA officially announced Wardell Stephen Curry II as the MVP, and rightfully so. With the possible exception of Russell Westbrook during the second half of the season, nobody was more consistently electrifying than Curry, whose barrages of three-pointers and Vine-worthy displays of ankle-breaking handles impelled the Warriors to a league-best 67 wins. Curry’s play leaves you gasping for air, wondering if the sun rises simply to shine on the scrawny kid from Charlotte and his band of audacious musketeers.
Instead, however, I want to talk about another product of North Carolina, an injured point guard who never so much inspires gasps as he does head-nodding. He is the smartest on-court player in the league, perhaps its best backcourt defender, as polarizing as he is mesmerizing. On one leg, he may have just ended the greatest sports dynasty of the last two decades (“may have,” only because nothing is certain in San Antonio’s Fountain of Youth, and that sentence could’ve been written anytime from 2006-2013, with any number of slayers replacing Paul). The time has come to lavish praise, begrudgingly if you must, on Chris Paul, one of the greatest point guards in history.
Jacque Vaughn’s time in Orlando has come to a merciful, if somewhat misguided, end. The Magic have parted ways with the 39-year-old former point guard who struggled to coax the NBA’s fourth-youngest roster at the start of the season to competitiveness in a historically feeble Eastern Conference. Elsewhere, the Eastern Conference named an entire starting five as its Player of the Month, and Adam Silver is reportedly open to changing the playoff structure.