NBA Kingdom, Pt. 1: Lay of the Land

Once the clock hit zeros in Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals, it was finally clear the league didn’t belong to LeBron James for the first time since 2010, at least not solely. But James didn’t lose the league to another player or a single rival opponent who outgunned him in a one-on-one showdown. No, James lost the league to a collective of individuals who had no chance to dethrone him without the assistance of one another. They jumped him for it.

Still, the Warriors haven’t completely snatched the league from James. With two championships in a three year span, they simply forced him to share it with a worthy opponent. When an individual changes teams, yet stretches his streak of finals appearances to seven straight like James did, it’s hard to draw an end to his reign, regardless of recent results. All it takes are a few calculated moves and the Cavaliers could be right back in position to win their second championship in three years. Even if they don’t make moves, most of us expect them to at least get back to finals.

It’s asking for a lot of any team to knock off the likes Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the best supporting cast in the league without injuries playing a factor. This means star players will join near-forces to have at least a fighting chance at sniffing a championship. It means Chris Paul will consider joining the Spurs, Blake Griffin and Gordon Hayward will consider the Celtics, Dwyane Wade might team back up with James in Cleveland, and Kyle Lowry might leave a good situation in Toronto for a better one elsewhere. It also means players still under contract like Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and Carmelo Anthony will be brought up in trade speculation.

Before James took hold of the kingdom, it hadn’t belonged to a single player since Michael Jordan. It was shared by teammates on great teams, or fought for every year by new contenders, but it hadn’t been shared by individuals from separate teams since the Celtics/Lakers rivalry of the 1980s. In order for that type of shared kingdom to continue to exist today however, James will need to win another ring soon. Because if Golden State wins another championship or two, he’ll simply be a footnote in what we look back on in the future as the Golden State dynasty.

Draymond is the bad guy, and that’s a good thing

Are you not entertained? I have to ask, because everyone’s complaining about Draymond Green’s intensity as if they’re a Cleveland or Golden State fan.

Unless you root for the Warriors, you should probably look down – you’re sitting on a high horse that’s not in the race. The thoroughbreds left awhile ago. Get down and enjoy the show. This shit is getting good.

Green is providing all you pundits the talking points necessary to bash the bad guy, but without him you wouldn’t have anything interesting to talk about – just the mundane chemistry issues of a 35-6 team. Poor Warriors, with their best record in the NBA, how will they ever get it together? Let’s face it, Green’s the most interesting thing about this team right now.

His 2nd-quarter flagrant-1 foul on LeBron James Monday night was probably unnecessary and uncalled for, but it was also run-of-the-mill. This is the type of stuff rivalries are made of. People complain about the new, “softened” NBA, but when someone infuses some old-school toughness, it’s a problem?

Maybe it’s the antagonistic nature of the person at fault that turns you off, but beggars can’t be choosers. Personally, I can’t think of anyone better to get this party started. I didn’t like the foul. I loved it.

James denied the validity of this Warriors-Cavaliers thing as a rivalry, attempting to downplay the reality of what it is to ease his own psyche more than fool any of us. We, however, know exactly what this is. It’s more than Heat vs Spurs. It’s even better than Bulls vs Jazz. No two teams have met in the finals three years in a row in NBA history, and these two teams are heavily favored to become the first. Green embraces what this is all the way, and he plays like it.

“A team that you beat, beat you, it’s definitely fun,” Green said. “If you look at the last two years and this year, we’ve been the top two teams in the league each year, and so I look at it as a rivalry, and it’s definitely a fun game to play in.”

Is he over the top sometimes? Sure, but why strip down the thing that makes him such a good player at risk of minimizing the pure enjoyment and entertainment of this wonderful rivalry. Green is just as integral to this series as James, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, or Andre Iguodala are – and more so than the Kevins, with Love missing the first finals and Durant just coming around this season.

Rather than complain about Green picking up flagrant fouls that don’t affect anyone outside of potentially himself and his team, let’s embrace the fact that as himself, Green makes this thing interesting. He’s the wild card.

Without Green on the court last summer, Cleveland picked up a pivotal Game 5  victory necessary to spark a rally from being down 3-1. Had Green kept his cool, the Warriors may have clinched a second ring – but Durant doesn’t enter the fold. This season (and rivalry – maybe still?) wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if the latter happened. Green is what makes this thing fun. We need start embracing him finally and stop resisting the urge to enjoy the bad guy.

 

Melo passes MJ, USA rolls over Venezuela

It took over a quarter, but eventually USA started playing like USA in a 113-69 victory over Venezuela in Monday’s preliminary round, Group A game.

In a first quarter that ended in a 18-18 tie, defense was the USA’s saving grace. The Americans struggled to make open shots and turned the ball over with sloppy play, but made sure to contest every shot by Venezuela.

Once USA started knocking down open shots, the score rapidly separated. Venezuela, suffocated by tight man-up defense, was outscored 30-8 in the second quarter.

Carmelo Anthony hit a pair of 2nd-quarter three’s to help push USA’s lead into the 20’s, while also passing Michael Jordan for 3rd-most career points by a US player in the Olympics. It was also Anthony’s 25th career Olympic Game, breaking a tie with David Robinson and LeBron James for most career Olympic Games played. He finished with 14 points and now sits at 262 career Olympic points, trailing Robinson on the points list by 8, and 12 points away from passing James as the all-time leading scorer.

Paul George led USA with a game-high 20 points on 6-7 shooting, all off the bench. Kevin Durant, who scored the team’s first seven points of the game, finished with 17 points on a perfect 5-5 from the field.

George also came away with the highlight of the game, an explosive one-handed tomahawk dunk. This after being on the business end of a highlight in the game against China.

Up next for USA is a preliminary round game against Australia on Wednesday at 6 pm.

USA too long for China

So much length.

The USA men’s Olympic basketball team cast a giant eclipse on the rim and China couldn’t find it.

Aside from a few acrobatic layups, and deep shots by former NBA player Yi Jianlian, points were hard to come by for the Chinese in a 119-62 loss to the United States in a preliminary round Group A game.

Kevin Durant was by far the best player on the court and perfectly embodied the difference between the US and its opponent Saturday evening. Possibly the tallest player on the court, Durant lit China up from the perimeter, scoring 25 points on 5-8 shooting from three.

Defensively, the likes of Durant, DeAndre Jordan, and the rest of their super team, forced China into quick shots early in the clock. And the longer possessions dragged on, the more unlikely it was China would find a better look. Yi scored 25 points. No other player for China reached double digits.

DeMarcus Cousins dominated the fourth quarter, providing the presence of an interior bully that seemed to demoralize China down the stretch. He scored 17 points. Paul George scored 15, and Kyrie Irving scored 12.

The highlight of the game depended on which side you were rooting for. George was dropped to the floor by a step-back dribble from China’s point guard. But by then, the game was well out of reach. For USA fans, DeMar Derozan’s two-handed fast break dunk on a defender probably took the cake.

Up next, USA faces Venezuela in another preliminary round Group A matchup. Venezuela lost to Serbia, 86-62, in its opening game.

dmv collapse

i hurt for kevin durant. i can sympathize with the entire oklahoma city thunder team, but i hurt especially for kd. on the same day the maryland lacrosse team lost the national championship in heartbreaking fashion to north carolina, the dmv’s biggest sports star became the biggest player on the losing side of arguably the nba’s worst postseason collapse, ever. a lot is made about cleveland’s suffering sports fanbase, but it isn’t much better in dc.

from what i could tell of the post game press conference, kd handled the loss well. he put a good public face on. but i can’t imagine he’s taking it well in private. for three games, the thunder were a win away from another nba finals appearance, the second appearance for that core group, and they choked it away. kd put up admirable numbers in game 7, but this series failure falls on him as much as it falls on anyone. he came up small in game 6, when okc should’ve finished golden state off.

now, kd is set to become a free agent, where a loss of that magnitude could  force anyone to make an irrational decision – like sign with your hometown’s washington wizards. hopefully kd makes the right move, however, and resigns with okc, at least for one more year. he and russell westbrook have unfinished business, not to mention an inflated cap next season means he can make more money by signing a long term deal next year. i root for most things dmv, especially pg county, which kevin durant represents through and through. but i don’t need him to be in the dmv to appreciate his greatness. there are people disappointed in what durant has yet to accomplish so far, and this collapse is just another thing for them to point to. and when he doesn’t come home, even more people will turn on him. i, instead, choose to appreciate the greatness of a dmv legend and continue to root for him until he gets the ring he deserves. 

Loss to Bobcats expose hole on Wizards roster

Monday night’s loss to the Charlotte Bobcats exposed a kink in Washington’s newly crafted armor; one that isn’t as obvious when the Wizards are playing as well as they did in the second quarter of the 100-94 loss to Charlotte.

That weakness is the lack of a true wing-man.

Not a wing-man as in a guard, or forward playing on the wing of a basketball court – but wing-man as in a sidekick. A Robin. The Dwayne Wade to John Wall’s LeBron James.

This weakness has been revealed in past games but recently forgotten given the way that the Wizards have collectively performed to compensate for one another’s deficiencies.

But the presence of a true, top-tier player as a second option is necessary for any team that wants to compete for a championship.

Just ask Tony Parker and Tim Duncan of last year’s western conference champions, the San Antonio Spurs. They get an awesome contribution from the entire team, but if either one of those stars is struggling, they can rely on the other to pick up the slack.

It’s very rare that two top-tier players on the same team will struggle at the same time.

It was evident that Washington didn’t have this when John Wall struggled with scoring and turnovers against Charlotte, and no-one else could step up to secure what should have been an easy win.

The entire team played very well for the most part, but in the end when it was time for someone to take over, Wall was an absentee participant without an understudy to fill-in.

For Washington, it’s either John Wall leading the team to a win or bust.

And when Wall struggles, his ability to be a play-maker and set- up his teammates tends to falter as well, and no-one is else is able to take the game over.

This doesn’t mean that this type of player isn’t on the team. Eventually, Bradley Beal will develop into that guy. He has all of the skills necessary to be an efficient scorer and play-maker in this league. He just has not developed in to that guy yet.

Beal doesn’t handle the ball well enough to create offense for himself on a consistent basis, and too often, he makes passes that are off the mark and leads to turnovers.

It’s not as if he’s an awful dribbler or distributor though, he just needs to work on it and eventually he will become the Russell Westbrook to John Wall’s Kevin Durant.

If not, the Wizards will never make a serious playoff push, because it is inevitable that Wall will struggle at times during playoff series and Washington won’t be able to rely on 38-year-old Andre Miller to play heavy minutes during those times.

What will become of Washington is a poor man’s version of the Indiana Pacers, with one Paul George and a pretty good team around him.

Indiana’s recent struggles are an indicator of what can happen to a defensive-minded team when it’s main offensive threat isn’t playing at his highest level. You fall short.

Coming from where the Wizards are coming from a season ago, being a poor-man’s Pacers is not so bad, but this team has higher hopes.

Eventually, they’ll need a second game-changer on the roster to reach those lofty goals.

Until then, we’ll continue to see games slip out of their grasp when Superman, aka Wall, isn’t up to the challenge.