Shoot Style: Vol. 1
In the pilot edition of my new NBA Column, I look at the superiority of the Golden State Warriors, the stupidity of the Los Angeles Clippers, and the rise of an unsung star.
Welcome to the opening edition of Shoot Style, a column dedicated to the highlights of the NBA. Stats, laughs, and intricate insight on basketball news is what you will get from me and without further ado, let’s get started with five topics worth discussing.
In what was highlighted as a heavyweight Western Conference showdown between #1 and #2, it was anything but as the Golden State Warriors (41–4) dismantled the San Antonio Spurs (38–7) by 30 points last night 120–90. Steph Curry made the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard look silly, dropping 37 points off 60% FG and 66% 3PT while collecting five steals. Just only after a week embarrassing the Cleveland Cavaliers into firing their head coach David Blatt, the defending NBA Champs are out for blood and showing no mercy on anyone. Amazing considering that San Antonio had been on their heels all season long and historically had been the Warriors’ Achilles Heel. In true show-and-prove fashion, Golden State was tired of being the little brother bullied by the long dominant big brother and slapped the hell out of them.
It was so bad that Lamarcus Aldridge’s Twitter account is mysteriously deleted (he stunk up the place with 5 points and 3 rebounds) and I’m sure that Gregg Poppovich wants to terminate himself and then hire himself back with a new coaching scheme. The Spurs and Warriors will meet up three more times in March 19th, April 7th, and April 10th. Hopefully they’re a little more competitive than Monday night.
It’s a shame the Sacramento Kings (20–23) are looked as a bigger laughing stock than the Los Angeles Clippers nowadays. It’s even more unfortunate that they’re still in Sacramento and not in Virginia Beach, but that’s another discussion down the line. After a debilitating 5–10 start, a heart-to-heart with head coach George Karl, veteran aloof point guard Rajon Rondo, and franchise star DeMarcus Cousins righted the path though slowly. The Kings turned around winning 15 of their next 28 games as D-Boogie came out as an elite-level superstar. Cousins in this month alone has averaged 34.4 points per game and 13.6 rebounds per game, culminating in two absolutely fantastic performances in the past three days.
Saturday had Cousins delivering 48 points and 13 rebounds in a Kings win against the Indiana Pacers and on Monday topping that with a franchise-best 56 points and 12 rebounds against the Charlotte Hornets. Granted, the Kings loss in another overtime thriller in the latter contest, but the fans of Sacramento have nothing to be ashamed of how well their star player has been performing. It’s crazy how little the public has seen of Cousins and don’t look at him as an All-Star starter. Maybe his reputation precedes him, but he’s far and away a better player than Zaza Pachulia and the Kings are looking to be better than many thought.
The Clippers Still Clipping; The Rockets Still Soaring
It’s better to combine these two topics as their stories have more in ties with each other since June. It was not that long ago that the Clippers blew away a 3–1 lead in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets, adding another humiliating L in a very long list to the secondary Los Angeles franchise. Their fates met once again in a stellar OT matchup last week when the Clippers finally edged out their rivals 140–132. Afterwards, things have been in an upswing for Houston more than the Clippers.
Despite a 10-game winning streak the Clippers have been struggling against teams over .500 recently losing to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. Things get even more tumultuous for them as Blake Griffin suffered a broken hand after beating up a team staff member later on that night. Griffin is already recovering from a quad injury and this will keep him on the sidelines even longer when he is desperately needed for the playoff stretch. This is coming off days after the Clippers shipped Josh Smith back to the Rockets after providing nothing for them, only to pay dividends once again for Houston.
The Rockets are 2–1 since their defeat to the Clippers, but has played inspiring basketball since starting out horribly with a 7–11 record in the first two months. It led to Kevin McHale’s dismissal from the team and replaced by interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff. They now hold one of the highest winning percentages this month (.692 with 9–4 January record) with James Harden performing back to MVP-caliber form (25.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 7.4 apg). With Josh Smith’s inclusion to add support defensively and with the increased production from everyday hustleman Trevor Ariza, the Rockets are looking to be the threat they should’ve been.
As far as Clippers and Griffin is concerned, what is going on with NBA Players fighting folks? With Jahlil Okafor, Matt Barnes, and Zach Randolph by his side, Griffin could compose a MMA Fight Club to let off some steam.
All Is Fair In Love And War
The Cleveland Cavaliers are imploding and it is grand. After one of the most humiliating defeats in NBA History for the franchise last week, the Cavs ran out David Blatt a little over a year of hiring him. Truth be told, his job was dead in the water once Lebron James decided to come back in the city, but we’re giving the latter a little too much to blame. Is Lebron mostly responsible for Blatt getting fired? Maybe, but we could tell that Blatt put himself in that position by not being more assertive. It’s what separates that haves (Poppovich, George Karl, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson) from have-nots (Mike Brown, Byron Scott, Scott Brooks) and Blatt got punked out more times than he should have. I surprised he lasted this long as he could’ve been kicked out the middle of last season before the trades that made Cleveland into an Eastern powerhouse.
Those roster changes are proving to do more damage for the long-term with Timofey Mozgov declining in health and production, Iman Shumpert becoming a family man and rapper, Kevin Love’s inconsistency returning, and Lebron slowing his game down. With Tyronn Lue becoming the new head coach and getting a nice extension to boot, the change hasn’t been all that promising. They got torn apart by the equally inconsistent Chicago Bulls on Saturday and barely took down the lower-tier Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. Lue has nothing to worry about right not as Lebron respects him (right now), but Kevin Love is on the chopping block again.
After coming back to the team in the offseason, things were looking up for Love early in the year. After averaging around 20 points and 12 rebounds in November, Love took a massive decline as expected when Kyrie Irving returned. He’s provided only 12.8 PPG and 10.7 RPG this month, which is rather pedestrian for a player of his level but didn’t show up for neither of the big games against Golden State offensively (6.5 PPG, 3.0 APG). Though it is very harsh to put a lot of the blame on poor Kevin, as he has a role to uphold to and that’s one he’s not very good at.
At 31–12, you would think that this team doesn’t have a lot of problems being at the top of the East yet they do. It’s very glaring too, with a streaky bench that’s zapped in athleticism and doesn’t fare well for Lue’s new philosophy. In wanting to speed up the pace of the game for Cleveland, they have to be more consistent on the offensive side for a team that’s only as good as their 3-point shooting. J.R. Smith (41% FG, 38% 3PT) needs to be there whenever Kyrie and Love are not. Tristan Thompson needs to play at the level $84 million contract asks for. Timofey Mozgov should bring that killer edge on the inside that made him beloved last year. And Iman Shumpert….actually Iman can stay being Iman.
The Withering Wizards
I really don’t know what to think of my home basketball team anymore. At times the Washington Wizards can look like one of the most complete teams in the league, moving the ball at a controlled pace and picking apart defenses with one of the best players around in John Wall. Most of the time however, they can be unhealthy, sloppy, and hilarious to watch them give up leads. Last night was the epitome of that as they got swept in the regular season to the Boston Celtics in a 25-point blowout 116–91. In those four games, Boston has defeated the Wizards on an average of 20 points, with the worst being a 33-point rout in November. Isaiah Thomas shredded the Wizards defense like Swiss Cheese, averaging 23.0 PPG and 6.3 APG in the series.
Watching those games it didn’t get any better on how the team has declined in the past year. The Wizards lost a number of key players in the offseason through free agency with Rasual Butler, Kevin Seraphin, and Martell Webster moving to greener pastures and Paul Pierce opting to reunite with Doc Rivers in LA instead of saving the team’s ass in late-game situations again. The lack of perennial stretch forwards Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden hasn’t helped matters either along with Bradley Beal’s being on-and-off with injuries and Alan Anderson yet to suit up for the season. The former broke his nose just mere weeks after returning, ruling himself out indefinitely and adding more pressure for John Wall to carry the team.
All is not lost for the Wizards though as they still managed to play well despite the pitfalls. The team is two games under .500 (20–22) and two games from the 8th seed in the East. John Wall has been tremendous with 19.6 PPG, 9.7 APG, and 2.1 steals this season shooting at 43.1%. In the wake of Beal’s absence, the likes of Garrett Temple and Otto Porter, Jr. showed promise. Marcin Gortat continues to be one of the most underrated centers in the league (13.5 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 1.3 BLKPG) and Jared Dudley has been a solid replacement for Pierce though not as efficient. There’s still time for them to climb back from the depths of despair, but there’s only so much they can do when they still have Randy Wittman coaching that team and Nene is reliant on rebounding when it counts.