The first Sunday following football season is always a transition period for sports fans. Some deal with it better than others. Some shrivel in a corner in the fetal position and question the meaning of life as the opening of training camps seem forever and a week away. Myself? I’m fine because it allows me to focus all my attention on the world’s best sport anyway, basketball. The NBA’s first big Sunday featured a pair of games on ABC with four of the league’s poster-teams – Knicks Vs. Clippers and Heat Vs. Lakers.
Both games played out the same way. A close game for three quarters with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat and Chris Paul and the Clippers pulling away in the final frame. How exactly did this happen? It’s a simple answer only need in four words. Grant Hill and turnovers.
Even in a loss, Carmelo Anthony continued to solidify his MVP-caliber season. He had 42 points and eight rebounds; his fifth 40-point effort of the season. The rest of the team amassed 46 points. But when it came down to winning time in the fourth, the bottom dropped out for the Knicks. Maybe Carmelo got tired, but credit Grant Hill – yes, Grant Hill – with slowing Melo down rendering him essentially ineffective. He hounded Anthony into bad shots, turnovers and set the stage for Chris Paul to put the game on ice finishing with 25-6-7-4.
It was inspirational, really. So if there’s an unusual amount of old heads at the gym attempting to run full-court after work today, chances are Grant is the reason. He really helped turn a close game into a laugher before anyone realized what was going on.
The Clippers being fully healthy (except Caron Butler hurting his back) was also an important factor in Sunday’s victory. Friday in Miami was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time against the wrong team with the absolute worst player to face. On Sunday, the only thing better than the Clips bench (outscored New York’s 48-15) and Grant Hill’s Elmer’s glue defense was Justin Timberlake’s marketing scheme at the Grammys. And Jennifer Lopez’s leg handcrafted by the gods themselves.
Meanwhile, about 900 miles south on I-95, the Lakers stood toe-to-toe with Miami for 42 minutes. Despite the 107-97 loss, the Lakers are still 7-3 in their last 10. They look like a totally different team who appear to be on the brink of realizing the magnitude of the hole they’ve put themselves in. And yes, I’m just trying to give Laker Nation some sort of hope. The fact of the matter is this: L.A. lost for two main reasons.
1. LeBron James is playing out of his mind, as in he’s 49 of his last 65 (32-7-4-3 in the flow of the game on Sunday). His last five games of at least 30 points and 60% shooting him only the third player in the history of the game to produce those numbers (Moses Malone and Adrian Dantley being the other two). Swept under the rug because of James and one of the all-time great runs, Dwyane Wade has been playing out of his mind lately, including 30 points on 12-18 shooting on Sunday.
2. The Lakers’ sloppiness in the fourth quarter played into their demise. They had seven turnovers in the first 36 minutes, and seven in the final 12 leading to all sorts break-away dunks from LeBron.
The funny thing is, regardless of what happens to the Lakers this season, Earl Clark is using this run as his coming out party like he’s “Sunshine” from Remember The Titans. It’s difficult to fault a guy using an opportunity to showcase his talent to a league which had basically relegated him to bench warrior status the first few years of his career. Regardless, my biggest question from yesterday’s loss – aside from how Dwight only manages to get nine field goal attempts in 41 minutes – is why Steve Nash is forced to play off the ball so much in the fourth quarter.
The only time Nash was even a factor in the final quarter was when he was attempting to flee for dear life when LeBron was barreling towards him 125 miles an hour. I’m no analyst, but allowing Nash to run the floor making decisions when the game’s on the line just seems to makes sense. That’s what he was brought in for, right? Because that’s what Kobe was forced to do when Ramon Sessions left him no other option last season, right? It’s not like Kobe is unable to get his points moving without the ball. I mean, shit, he failed to register a shot attempt in the second half.
I digress, however. L.A. has basically two months to cover four games to at least clinch the eighth spot out West, which I fully expect of them. Godspeed, Lakers Nation. Godspeed.
Court Side Notes
— It took four quarters and three overtimes, but Boston outlasted Denver 118-114. Kevin Garnett finished with 20-18-6 and Paul Pierce with 27-14-14. In other words, what I wrote about Boston post-Rondo is completely useless. If the playoffs started today though, Boston and New York would meet in the first round, which I’m not opposed to at all. There’s no chance in hell KG and Carmelo could be cordial for seven games. Or KG and Spike Lee. There’s a better chance David D. writes a Chris Brown tribute.
— Am I the only one who thinks Kevin Love will be traded before the start of next season? I am? Cool. Minnesota lost (again) 105-88 to Memphis yesterday mainly due to the fact they have no go-to player, they’ve been ravaged by injuries and Memphis is a tough-ass defensive team.
— Luckily for Portland, the Lakers lost. Otherwise, their 110-104 loss to Orlando would have stung ever more. Nikola Vucevic’s near 20-20 game (17-19, to be exact) helped lead the charge for the Magic who probably are playing more for lottery position than anything right now. Nikola Vucevic also sounds like the name of a European spy capable of taking all of our wives/girlfriends. He’s actually a 22-year-old who went to the University of Southern California, which probably means he got high all day. Which is just fine.
— Maybe those Josh Smith rumors need to become reality. And quick. The Nets scored 36 points in the first quarter. Then scored 50 for the rest of the game. Put the pieces together and it’s not hard to see why they got ran out their own gym 111-86 to San Antonio while Jay-Z was cross-country drinking Cognac and sitting front row at the Grammys. Tony Parker finished with 29 points and 11 assists, which is a damn shame. Why? Because Parker’s been a legit MVP candidate the past three seasons now, but he’s probably never going to win one because he’s playing in a league that has LeBron in his prime, Kevin Durant approaching his prime and other superstars and superstars-in-the-making who will inevitably leap frog him. Is it right? No. Do I think anybody on the Spurs actually care? Absolutely not.
— Like Portland, Houston benefits from the Lakers loss too. Their 117-111 L to Sacramento (or Seattle) didn’t help. Isaiah Thomas could very well be the best player 70% of NBA fans either have no clue or don’t give a damn about.
— The Raptors won again to the tune of 102-89 over New Orleans. One of these days, my dream of a quadruple alley-oop will be fulfilled when Kyle Lowry tosses a half court lobs to Rudy Gay, who then leaves it in the air for DeMar DeRozan who leaves it for Terrence Ross. Tell me that wouldn’t be one of the top 10 plays of the decade when we’re discussing that type of thing in December 2019. Also, Greivis Vasquez (#GravyVasquez) had 17-7-6-2 in a losing effort. Most Improved Player, folks. Write that down.
— It seems Oklahoma City has played Phoenix 1,000th time since the start of the new year. And for the 1,000th time, the Thunder won again 97-69 behind another balanced attack, led by Russell Westbrook’s 24 points and six assists. Circle your calendars for Thursday though, folks. Miami comes to town.