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Last night in the NBA by the numbers

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Last night, in one of the most historically-relevant nights in NBA history, I couldn’t help but think about numbers. They were everywhere. Let’s break some of them down.

14 – The number of NBA games played last night. OK, that one was easy.

2 – The number of NBA games played last night that REALLY mattered. Sure, there was some Eastern Conference seeding to hammer out and the Houston Rockets clinched a playoff berth. But the two games that people will tell their grandkids about (the most reliable barometer for historical significance BTW) were the Golden State Warriors gunning for 73 wins in a single season and Kobe Bryant’s last NBA contest.

2 – The number of NBA streams I flipped between for about three hours from 10:30 p.m. ET onwards. Yup, it was a late night. And yup, I should have split-screened them. And yup, I’ll go to bed earlier tonight.

37 – The number of years since Kobe was born. His age, in other words.

20 – The number of consecutive seasons Kobe has been a Los Angeles Laker, the longest any NBA player has been with the same team. Death, taxes and Kobe being a Laker. Three things you can always count on.

Infinity – The number of damn celebs at this damn game. I mean I know this is L.A. but damn!

A fun hypothetical: How people would have reacted had Kobe dropped X number of points

X=15Good job, good effort. I mean, he averaged 17.6 points this season, well below his career average of 25, so this hovers around what he’s been doing all season. Makes sense. Thanks for the memories, #mamba.

X=25Alright, now we’re talking. A nice throwback effort from the Black Mamba. He hit his career average, a solid way to end his career. Enjoy retirement, Kobes!

X=40Yo, did Kobe really just do that?! That shit is crazy. I did not see that coming. This from a guy who shot 29% from three and 36% from the field this year?! SMDH. Hats off to Kobe. What a way to go out. Mad respect.

X=50Hold up, Kobe did WHAT?! You’re fucking with me, right? No way he did that. Dude IS like 50. Let me look up the box score. Damn, you’re right. #Mambaout indeed. Kobe dropped that mic and stepped on it.

60 – The number of points that Kobe scored last night in the final NBA game of his amazing career. That means that in the 2015-2016 NBA season, Kobe scored more in one game than any other player. Watching this unfold live was one of the most insane things I’ve seen on a basketball court. It was surreal. It was video game-like. It was like one of those cheesy yet fantastic Disney sports movies. It was everything anybody could have hoped for in Kobe’s finale.

50/50 – The odds that Kobe was going to have to be carried out on a stretcher (thumbs up raised to the sky just like a Disney movie) due to exhaustion. Seriously, he looked THAT tired.

Oh right, the other game. Well, the other game was ONLY the Warriors trying to win the most games EVER in an NBA season. Only.

72 – Prior to last night, the most wins in a single NBA season, set by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1995-96 campaign.

73 – The number of wins the Warriors achieved last night after beating the Memphis Grizzlies 125-104. The Grizz never stood a chance in this one. I don’t care how good Matt Barnes is at scowling.

30 – The number of dollars I won this year from betting on the Warriors 🙂

402 – The number of three pointers that Steph (i.e. Chef) Curry has made this season, the most in NBA history. Dude is lit from three.

286 – The second-highest number of three pointers made in a single season, accomplished last year by, wait for it, Curry. That means he broke his own record by 116. WTF.

276 – The third-highest number of three pointers made in a single season, accomplished this year by, wait for it, Curry’s backcourt mate, Klay Thompson. Yeah, they’re the heavy favourites to repeat as NBA champions, I’d say.

433 – The total number of three pointers made this season by the entire Milwaukee Bucks team.

2 – The number of days left until the NBA playoffs tip off. Can’t wait.

4 – The number of hashtags I’ll end this post with.

#ThankYouMamba #ThankYouWarriors #LetsGoRaps #WeTheNorth

 

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Here’s some reasons to get excited about the Raptors season

The Toronto Raptors have wallowed in mediocrity for the better part of their 20-year existence. For the most part, the experience of watching the Raptors over the years has been trying at best and depressing at worst. They’ve qualified for the post-season six times and have won ONE measly playoff round all the way back in 2001. Throughout their history, they have a win-loss record of 630-882, just under 42%. To be fair, we haven’t been the only tortured fan base in the league, seeing as how only 17 teams have ever won the chip. But there have been times when every new Raptors season has felt like a foregone conclusion: complete and utter insignificance.

Ladies and gentlemen, here to bring some much-needed positive vibes to this whole debacle, I present to you the 2014-15 NBA season. At the time of writing, the Raptors have the best record in the East (13-3) and the highest average point differential (10.6) in the entire league. Our record sits just a smidge behind two Western Conference powerhouses  in the Memphis Grizzlies and the Golden State Warriors.

Tack on a super-successful #WeTheNorth (#WeTheFourth?) marketing campaign and this season has been a ball so far. It’s finally time to feel good about our team. We’re deep, we’re likable, we have all kinds of swag, we have Drake sitting courtside, and we’re finally having fun playing basketball. Here’s some top moments so far.

 All things Drake

I’m trying my best to resist posting a series of pics and gifs of Drake being Drake and just calling it a day, dropping the mic. Because when he’s sitting in his courtside seat (sometimes in awesomely lame outfits such as the one above) clapping, cheering and generally going nuts, it’s hard to not get down with that. Love him or hate him, he’s one of the best (some might say the best) at his craft right now and he’s a legitimate fan of this team, having grown up in The 6.

Probably my favourite Drake moment of the year came at the George Constanza glasses/grandpa sweater game, a rout of the Philadelphia 76ers. In the fourth quarter, with the Raptors easily handling the Sixers, James Johnson broke free for a breakaway dunk. Old man Drake had quite the reaction:

Drake’s official title is the Global Ambassador for the Raps. I’m not entirely sure what that entails but if it means more Drake-ey things from his courtside seat, I’m all in. And I’m pretty sure an official Drake Cam is the best idea I’ve ever had. Just throw it in the top-right corner of the screen and we good.

The travelling band of merry Raptors’ fans

So we all know we have one of the best fanbases in the league. We’re loud, we’re passionate and we can be a little crazy, over the top even. In one of the more satisfying wins of the season, the Raptors travelled to Cleveland and soundly beat LeBron’s new superteam. But one of the more interesting aspects was something that was happening in the stands. In one section of the arena, there were, according to the Toronto Star, “a few hundred” diehard Raptors fans cheering on their team. Decked out in Raps gear, they were chanting and screaming their heads off. They even sang the Canadian national anthem at one point. In a classic backfire, the arena staff decided to turn up the music to drown out the pro-Toronto chants. And what did they play, you ask? Yup, they played Drake. Yeah, I doubt that did much to dampen their collective spirit.

Oh, and they didn’t stop once the game was over. Don’t let anybody tell you Toronto doesn’t love basketball. The Toronto Maple who?

The blowouts

Sure, we could have a real debate about strength of schedule. Eleven of the Raps’ 16 games have been in the friendly and supportive confines of the Air Canada Centre. They have played zero road games against the much tougher Western Conference. And they’ve played Orlando twice and Philadelphia once, both relatively easy outs. But the Raptors didn’t make the schedule. They have to play the teams the NBA tells them to play. Sure, it’s been favourable but what I’ve really liked is the ease in which they’re dispatching opponents. They beat Philly by 32, Utah by 18, Milwaukee by 42 and took down LeBron and co. by 18 in their house, apparently with the whole city of Cleveland behind them. All of these wins results in the 10.6 average point differential mentioned above, tops in the league. So sure, it hasn’t been the most gruelling schedule but this is a deep league where nearly every team can beat any other team.

#forgivevince

It was about time, right? It’s been a full ten years since Vince Carter left Toronto for New Jersey. And he’s been loudly booed ever since. Sure, he was far from perfect on his way out of Toronto whether it was not giving 100% on the court or childishly refusing to dunk. But he brought excitement and credibility to the Raptors around the same time the other Canadian team was going belly up out west. It’s time we forgive him. And earlier this month, the fans took a step in the right direction. After a video tribute played on the jumbotron, the fans stood up and gave him a standing ovation. Vince even shed a few tears.

This was the right thing to do. Finally, some closure. Now let’s start focusing on our team. And so far, what a team it’s been.

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The NBA and its endless entertainment value

The NBA is such a fascinating league. While the actual games are obviously entertaining, the behind-the-scenes, off-court stuff is often equally intriguing. Consider it the salt on your french fries or the mayo on your sandwich. You’d be fine without it but the final product just wouldn’t be quite as good.

I’m talking about everything that happens in the Twittersphere. I’m talking about the tension between the new school (“We’re all bros”) and the old school (“If you’re wearing another jersey, don’t even look at me”). I’m talking about how social media allows players to be more creative when interacting with fans. And please, we simply cannot forget about the questionable fashion choices that occur each and every day in this wonderful sports association.

What I’m trying to say is that the NBA has something for everyone. Even if you’re not a fan per se, you should still relate to these stories on some level. NBA players are eccentric, quirky and downright entertaining. It’s what happens outside the lines that really makes this a special league. To pay homage, here are my favourite off-court moments of this young 2013-14 NBA season.

Roy Hibbert’s Twitter Account

In a league where swagger is an essential ingredient to success (Thunder, Heat, Warriors, Clippers, etc.), there is perhaps no team with more swag than the Indiana Pacers. And that combination of confidence, arrogance and cockiness is exemplified by the man in the middle, Roy Hibbert. For example, after the Pacers won their first five games, Hibbert took to Twitter:

Only five games into the season, this tweet rubbed some people the wrong way. Personally, I loved it. It’s no different than an athlete wanting to make it to Sochi. Or an employee wanting that promotion. We all have goals. Hibbert just chose to broadcast his goal to the world. NBD. Here’s what he had to say in response to the haters:

While his DPOY tweet irked some people, this next set of tweets is so adorable that you can’t help but sit back and appreciate the fact that Twitter exists. Here’s the story. The PS4 was hitting the shelves but Hibbert didn’t feel like waiting in line to pick one up. So he offered to buy it off someone. But that’s not it. In addition to the money, he would also go to your house and “chill w the fam n eat dinner.” No word on whether this actually happened but the tweets themselves are priceless.

Is this a joke? Hibbert wants you to know that no, it is definitely not a joke.

Once again, not a joke.

Amir Johnson and Drake

Being a Torontonian, there’s no way I could forget about Amir Johnson and all the refreshing things he does off the court. He once, for no reason whatsoever, went and bought every single copy of Drake’s new album from Future Shop and HMV and proceeded to hand them out to fans. If you’re cynical about this (i.e. Drake sucks anyway, he just did it for the good press), then you really need to start enjoying life. He didn’t have to do this. He wanted to do this.

But wait, there’s more! He did the Zombie Walk in Toronto…

And! He shaved the Raptors logo into the back of his head. And dyed it red!

Raptors fans love a player who embraces the city (Matt Bonner taking the TTC comes to mind). So it’s probably fair to say that Johnson is the people’s favourite around these parts, no matter what his statline might be.

Jason Kidd spills his drink

Forget about the Nets’ horrible start amid such lofty expectations. Forget about how they mortgaged their future for two aging (washed up?) superstars. Forget about how somebody with zero coaching experience parachuted into a head coaching gig. Because the biggest story of the Nets season so far is something called Cupgate or Spillgate, depending on your personal preference.

In the dying moments of a close game, Coach Kidd somehow produces a cup of pop with ice. (Sidenote: I’ve been watching hoops for a while now and never have I seen a coach with a cup of soda, but I digress). The Nets are out of timeouts so to buy some time to draw up a play, the savvy Kidd instructs one of his players to hit him on the way back to the bench, thus spilling the drink, thus giving him some time to draw up a play while the mess is being cleaned. At first, Kidd denied it. Then, he realized that you don’t have to be a professional lip-reader to determine what he said to the player. You can’t make this stuff up. Ladies and gentlemen, Spillgate.

DeMarcus Cousins keeping it real

A lot of people pine for the NBA of the 80s. Their argument is that the league has gotten soft, blowing too many whistles for ticky-tack fouls. In the 80s, you also had real animosity between teams. Not everybody was buddy-buddy. If you were in a different uniform, you ain’t shaking my hand. So when DeMarcus Cousins wouldn’t let Isiah Thomas give Chris Paul some dap after a game, actually dragging him off the court, it symbolized a battle between new school and old school, between “We’re all in this together” and “F you, y’all ain’t my friends.” After the game, Chris Paul said that Cousins needed some “guidance.” No doubt a fair point but fans of the gritty, physical play of the 80s sure enjoyed what they saw that night.

LeBron, Christmas and some bonus LeBron

I’m a sucker for creative commercials, even once going to a movie theatre to watch an hour-and-a-half of TV ads. Yes, that really happened. So far this year, there have been two NBA-related ads that I have absolutely loved.

In the first, LeBron James runs, bikes and swims his way around South Beach with an ever-growing throng of fans and supporters close behind him. From the pack of fans waiting for him outside his mansion to LeBron sprinting into the Atlantic to LeBron crashing a game of pick-up basketball, the spot is perfect. I could watch it a million times.

Forget the presents. Every Christmas, I look forward to about 12 straight hours of hoops. The NBA is unique in the sense that they schedule all their box-office teams on Christmas Day. From noon to midnight, it’s a day of non-stop hoops heaven. This year, to make some more money on top of all the money they already have, the NBA has decided that all teams will wear short-sleeved versions of their jerseys on Christmas Day. And look, they made a commercial to celebrate the moment. What we’re left with is a xylophone-type-thing with basketball meshes, with a nice little surprise at the end. I wonder how many takes this took. Either way, it’s pretty damn cool.

Fashion

Oh, the fashion. No words are necessary here. Just pictures. Thank you NBA for your endless entertainment value.

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Let’s break down the NBA offseason a little bit

It’s been a busy offseason in the NBA, and I’m not just talking about Dwight Howard. Here are some thoughts, and predictions, on four teams (two from the East and two from the West) that will enter the 2013-14 NBA season with different personnel.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets landed the biggest fish in free agency. After playing one (rather forgettable) season as a Los Angeles Laker, Howard fled the bright lights of LA for a lower-pressure situation in Houston. His main running mate will be James Harden, arguably a top-five player in the NBA, who is nowhere near his ceiling. For the most part, Jeremy Lin (Linsanity!) is a promising young point guard who should improve in the coming years, the top priority being his shooting. Chandler Parsons doesn’t kill you with his athleticism but he’s a smart, heady player who shoots great percentages from the field (47% for his career) and from deep (37% for his career). And Omer Asik is a starting-calibre centre who will be a great backup to Howard. The potential knock is that Asik is almost TOO good to be a backup but that’s a nice problem to have. If they can find a way to play these two together, opposing teams will be scared into a lot of jump shots. By the way, I’m giving Howard a pass for last year. He was coming off two serious injuries and his fit with the Lakers just always seemed off. With improved health, a new city, a new situation, less pressure, a desire to quiet the naysayers, and no Kobe Bryant to satisfy, I’m expecting a monster year from the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

Prediction: Third seed in the Western Conference after finishing eighth last year

Los Angeles Clippers

It’s accepted as fact that Vinny Del Negro was not the best coach in the world. And that’s the most polite thing you can say about him. You can argue all you want about the relative importance of coaching in the NBA but hiring one of the best (if not the best) NBA coach in Doc Rivers is sure to help the Clips. Hiring Rivers proved to be the final impetus for NBA superstar Chris Paul to sign a five-year deal worth more than $100 million. You can crow all you want about how Paul has never done much in the postseason but you can’t ignore the fact that the six-time All-Star has been on some poor teams. You just can’t count this guy out, especially in the fourth quarter when he’s needed the most. I expect Blake Griffin to come back with a large chip on his shoulder after all the chatter about him being a soft player. Jamal Crawford is instant offense off the bench and DeAndre Jordan, while disappointing, still has time to improve. Adding J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley are under-the-radar moves that should have a huge impact. Both are smart players who understand the game and can spread the floor with their solid three-point shooting. If you’re a team in need of role players, you can’t do much better than Redick and Dudley. The Clips’ season might come down to rim protection so Griffin and Jordan will need to step up on the defensive end of the floor for the Clips to challenge the top of the standings.

Prediction: Second seed in the Western Conference after finishing fourth last year

Brooklyn Nets

In the most win-now move of win-now moves, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov proved that he’s not messing around. He was in the middle of the fairway on a par-five and he reached for his 3-wood. And I like it! In a league where half the teams are tanking for Andrew Wiggins, it’s refreshing to see a team do everything it can to win this year. Why the hell not? Sure, Kevin Garnett (37) and Paul Pierce (35) are entering the twilight of their careers. But I remain confident that these guys can still ball. Look at what Tim Duncan (37) did last year. Garnett and Pierce will bring a championship mentality to a team weak on championship experience, not to mention some serious toughness and swag. The Nets are the NBA’s latest superteam as Garnett and Pierce join Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez in the starting lineup. Wow. And their bench isn’t too shabby either. Andrei Kirilenko, Shaun Livingston, Jason Terry and board-machine Reggie Evans? Not bad at all. If Garnett and Pierce stay healthy and effective (admittedly a mighty big “if”), this team could beat Miami, Chicago or whoever else in the playoffs. It would not surprise me.

Prediction: Second seed in the Eastern Conference after finishing fourth last season

New York Knicks

Sometimes, I wonder what this team is doing. Maybe they see something in Andrea Bargnani that others don’t. Maybe they think a change of scenery will do him good. But my gut feeling is that the added pressure of playing in Madison Square Garden (in front of those pesky Knicks fans) won’t do him any favours. His mental fortitude has never appeared very strong and this is coming from a Toronto Raptors fan (aka someone who knows). I could be wrong here but I see him shrinking in the moment. I just don’t see how the Knicks trade a first-rounder and two second-rounders for him. Other than that, there’s a lot of players on this roster who I simply don’t trust. I don’t trust Tyson Chandler’s health and Raymond Felton’s game as a starter. And I sure don’t trust Amar’e Stoudemire to have any sort of a comeback year. Re-upping J.R. Smith and signing Metta World Peace leave me scratching my head a little bit as well. Now surprises do happen but I just don’t see this team earning home-court advantage in the playoffs.

Prediction: Sixth seed in the Eastern Conference after finishing second last season

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I hate tanking but maybe we should do it anyway

No sports team should be incentivized to lose games yet here we are

Unless you have stacks upon stacks of cash like the Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Knicks, the best way to improve your team is likely through the NBA Draft, the annual tradition of 19-year-old basketball players stumbling through their first TV interviews.

Some of these guys will be good. Some great. And some will be Darko Milicic, a player who, by the way, EVERYBODY thought was going to be great, and then suddenly wasn’t. I guess even the experts are wrong sometimes.

The draft becomes that much more important when your team is located in a cold-climate city and you don’t have South Beach nightclubs to help convince free agents that this might be the city for them. Or when there’s no real history of winning associated with your ball club. Or when you’re named after a movie about dinosaurs. Or when it’s located IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY THAN THE REST OF THE NBA.

Hey NBA free agents, come to Canada!

Morally, I’m against it. I think it’s wrong. But I’m starting to come around to the idea that the best way to improve the Toronto Raptors is to lose a lot of games this season, what NBA fans refer to as “tanking.” Basically, the worse an NBA team’s record, the better its chances are of landing a high pick. Finishing 7th or 8th in your conference might get you a playoff berth but it’s also a good way to ensure that you continue getting a 7th or 8th seed (and likely a first-round playoff exit).

Most of the time, to be really good, you have to be really bad first.

I have problems with this system. I’m not the only one. A model that encourages teams to win less games on purpose just shouldn’t be part of professional sports, period. NBA players are getting paid millions and millions of dollars to lose? Are you serious?

Enter one of my least-favourite expressions: It is what it is. You can’t deny that this flawed system is what we have right now and as long as we do, it’d be shortsighted not to acknowledge its existence and act accordingly. If you don’t play the system, the system will play you (or something like that).

Here’s the guy everyone’s after

Want another reason why a chance at a top pick next year would be extra sweet? Well, barring injury, Toronto-born Andrew Wiggins will be the number one pick. There’s no point in even debating it. It’s happening.

Not only would this be great because he’s from Toronto. It would be great because he’s one of the most highly-touted players in recent memory. I’m reluctant to use the words “sure thing” because nothing in this world is for sure. But Wiggins is a sure thing in the same way that LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal were sure things. He instantly becomes the face of whatever franchise selects him as soon as his name is called. The 18-year-old they call “Canada’s LeBron” is a franchise-changing talent. And teams are taking notice.

  • The Boston Celtics basically threw their 2013-14 season down the toilet when they traded away their two best players (Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce) for three first-round draft picks. This is a move towards the future. But it’s also a potential move towards the top of the stacked 2014 draft.
  • The Philadelphia 76ers shipped Jrue Holiday, their blossoming 23-year-old All-Star point guard, for the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, Nerlens Noel. Noel was expected to go much higher than sixth so there’s no doubt that the Sixers got a nice piece back. But this is hardly a win-now move. This is a tank now, win later move.
  • And depending on what you think of Andrea Bargnani, either the Raptors or the New York Knicks are trying to win less games this year. The Raptors traded Bargnani to the Knicks for a package headlined by Steve Novak and three picks. That’s how polarizing Bargnani is. You’re not even sure if you want him or not. Speaking of the Raptors, if they unload Rudy Gay to the Detroit Pistons for basically nothing, as has been reported, consider the Raptors to officially be in tank mode.

As a fan, the worst thing about tanking is playing a season without hope. It’s giving up on a season before it’s even begun. The Halloween tradition of “Maybe we’ll be good this year” turns into looking forward to the following Halloween. We are forced to put our hope on hold.

In Toronto, the tanking contingent has been alive and well for at least the past few seasons. “Just one more year of futility,” say the tanking advocates. But at a certain point, don’t you just have to be satisfied with what you have and go ahead and leave it all out on the floor? Remember that thing called effort?

This is the problem with having a mediocre to bad NBA team. The idea of tanking is always hanging there, tempting those who understand the business of the NBA. A league that rewards poor play (especially when teams know this and react accordingly) goes against the fundamental spirit of sports.

But it is what it is. So sure, let’s take a swing at Wiggins. If we miss, we can always tank again. I heard the 2015 Draft is promising.

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Five random, bulleted thoughts regarding the NBA

So I read a lot of columns, sports or otherwise. And whenever I see a piece that’s bulleted, my first thought is to deem the writer lazy. Because a bulleted article allows the writer to hand something in to his/her editor that doesn’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. It’s pretty much just random thoughts. For those of you who remember essay writing from your university days, bulleted columns essentially lack a thesis statement. But hey, we lead busy lives, right? Not all of us have time for thesis statements, rising action, conclusions, and whatever other components make up an official essay these days. All that being said, here are some of my bulleted thoughts. Feel free to call me lazy because you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.

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Kobe Bryant on his own team: “We’re old as shit.” I love this guy.

  • How in the world are the Los Angeles Lakers (15-16) a sub-500 team? We all expected a getting-to-know-each-other phase. Not many people expected them to come flying out of the gates. But this? If the season were to end today, the Lakers would finish as the 10th seed in the Western Conference and miss the playoffs. If I had more energy, I’d look up the last time that happened. OK fine, I’ll look it up. They last missed the playoffs in 2004-05. One other tidbit: Since 1948, they’ve missed the playoffs a total of five times. Thanks, Wikipedia. Anyway, coming into the season, it was clear to me and everyone else who cared that they had a measly excuse for a bench, “highlighted,” I suppose, by 36-year-old Antawn Jamison. But I thought given their starting lineup of multiple All-Stars Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol and one-time All-Star (look it up) Metta World Peace, they’d, at the very, very least, be a playoff team. If this team doesn’t put together a winning streak soon, chants of “We Want Phil” may start raining down at the Staples Centre once again. Or maybe “We Want Andrea.” Wouldn’t that be sweet?
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Yes you do, Matt Barnes. Yes you do. That’s why Clips fans love you. And opposing fans, well, don’t.

  • Oh, I ain’t done with the City of Angels just yet. If the Lakers have been bad, their stadium-mates have been, well, great. That’s right. The Clippers, perhaps at one point the biggest laughing stock in any sport, consistently dismissed as the clumsy little brother to the Lakers, didn’t drop a game during the month of December as they amassed 17 straight wins. 17! They have the best record in the league! Unlike the Lakers, their bench has a collection of guys who would start on most other teams. The Clippers!? With the Lakers falling like flies and the Clippers rising like stars, the city of Los Angeles is truly embroiled in a bizarro world-type situation. Oh, and they play each other tomorrow. You don’t think both LA squads will be up for that one? Please let Gasol pat Chris Paul’s head again. Please. And in case you were wondering, since 1970, the Clippers have qualified for the playoffs a grand total of eight times. Ocho!
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He seems like perfectly nice guy so he’s only here because he’s the oldest player in the league. In your face, Grant Hill!

  • Let’s start off by reviewing the ages of some of these New York Knickerbockers. Kurt Thomas: 40. Jason Kidd: 39. Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace: both 38. Amar’e Stoudemire: plays defence like he’s 38. Just kidding. Well, not really. For the record, he’s 30. To be fair, of these senior citizens, only one, Kidd, plays more than 20 minutes per game at 29.9. Coming into the season, I expected the Knicks’ age to show. But thanks to an MVP-like performance so far from Carmelo Anthony as well as an honourable mention to J.R. Smith’s decision to stay away from the New York nightlife, this team is 21-10 and currently in second place in the Eastern Conference behind LeBron et. al. Now, as we all know, the East is (how should I put this politely?) inferior to the West but still. The Knicks could potentially beat Miami in a seven-game series. They’ve already done it twice this year, by a combined 40 points, actually.
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Will this happen again in June? I’d put their chances at 60-40.

  • As for the aforementioned Heatles, they’re doing pretty much what I expected. They have the best record in the East but the fourth-best record in the league. There’s no doubt the champs are playing well but isn’t there a feeling that they could have a better record at this point? A vague sense that because they realize the weakness of their conference, that they’re not playing full bore at this point? They’re smart enough to know that preserving their bodies for a deep playoff run should be their top priority right now, not winning games in November and December. They should focus on getting the top seed in the East and not on shooting for any single-season record at this point. Win the East, win the “statement games” such as their Christmas tussle with the Thunder on Christmas day and they should be just fine.
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  • So I can’t talk about every team so let’s just move right along to my home squadron: The Toronto Raptors. I, along with many members of the media, were putting forward a strong sense of cautious optimism at the beginning of the season. Given that the pucks were in a lockout, I was hoping (praying) for some Cinderella-type story that seems to mostly happen in the movies but sometimes materializes in real life. In an ideal world, the Raps come out of the gates strong, beating teams nobody expected them to beat, eventually wrapping up the season somewhere in the 2-4 seed range in the East. Meanwhile, the NHL owners and players are forced to cancel the entire season, putting the Raptors directly in the spotlight in Hogtown. After that, who knows what could have happened? But winning a round and maybe even losing out to the Heat in the Conference Finals would have been priceless for the game of basketball in Toronto as well as Canada. As we all know, this will likely not happen. Because from November 20 to December 12, the Raptors lost 12 of 13 games (we beat Phoenix at home!), putting us at 4-19 on the season. The good news? What we’ve done since then. Coincidentally, once Bargnani left the lineup due to injury, the Raps magically started stringing together some wins, namely eight of their last nine. Now I’m no rocket scientist. I can’t even tipe corretcly but it seems we may be a better team without our no-doubt-talented yet no-doubt-unmotivated no. 1 pick. And according to ESPN, he’s a lock to be traded. Please take note of the four exclamation points after the topic name. And this is a pro-Raptors site. ‘Nuff said.

 

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What I got right (and wrong) about Jeremy Lin

I wrote about Jeremy Lin a few weeks ago. At the time, the biggest story in sports had put together three straight gems, garnering attention from all corners of the globe. Many, including me, didn’t see it lasting much longer. It simply seemed too good to be true, a blip on the radar, a fluke occurrence.

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After all, the first three games of Linsanity came against NBA bottom feeders who were probably as caught off guard as the general public. Moreover, after three stellar games, the Knicks’ secret weapon wasn’t much of a secret anymore. Teams knew they couldn’t take him lightly. They planned their games around stopping him. If this wasn’t enough pressure, Lin’s next game was a nationally-televised one against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the toughest outs in the league.

Talk about having the cards stacked against you. So how does Lin respond? Well, to the tune of 38 points (vs Kobe’s 34) in a seven-point win over the visiting Lakeshow. With all due respect to LeBron James, he outdueled the GOAT, rising to the occasion like few thought he would.

Since then, Lin has kept it up, putting together a string of seven strong games, including a game-winning three-pointer against the Toronto Raptors and a 28 point, 14 assist, five steal effort against the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.

If it wasn’t clear before, it sure is now: Jeremy Lin is for real.

I’ve never done this before but I though I’d revisit some of the claims I made about Lin a few weeks back, with the benefit of hindsight. Let’s dive in.

I wrote:

For those who don’t know, Lin, who was playing in the D-League a fortnight ago, has enjoyed three consecutive impressive games and is, all of a sudden, the NBA’s new golden boy and the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Can you hear the sarcasm in my voice? While I didn’t come right out and say it, the underlying message here was that the gushing praise for Lin by the sports fans and the media was too much, too soon. While he definitely deserved some attention, the coverage, in my opinion, was a wee bit over the top. Especially after only three games. Now, two weeks later, after Lin led the Knicks to nine wins in 11 games, I humbly stand corrected. The kid was worthy of the hype.

I wrote:

So why has three games caused such a huge buzz? Maybe it’s because Lin stands out in a league dominated by African-Americans. Maybe it’s because this is all happening in New York City, romanticized as the city where dreams come true. Maybe it’s because he’s been sleeping on his brother’s couch for the past few months. Maybe it’s because Ivy League schools are associated more with books and brains than basketballs and brawn. If a black kid put up three consecutive games like Lin did in say, Milwaukee, would we be talking this much about him? Would I be writing this blog post? Would that player have his own catchphrase? It’s a fair question to ask.

I got some flak for this sentiment but I will stand by it. Even looking at recent history, this is not the first time that someone’s race has elevated their personal story. Part of the media’s strategy to lure viewers or readers is to seek out people who stand out in our world. Trailblazers, if you will. When you’re the first person to do something, you can be sure the press will come knocking.

Some examples?

One of the reasons that society gravitated toward the Barack Obama story the way they did was because he became the first African-American president. Tiger Woods whipping the field at the 1997 Masters became a much bigger story because a black athlete was dominating a historically white sport. Ditto for the Williams sisters in women’s tennis. What this says about us as a society is a completely different discussion. But we, as a society, are not blind to race. It matters. It’s out there whether we want to talk about it or not.

I wrote:

In this age of instant gratification, we can tear down our heroes as quickly as we build them up. And that’s what I’m worried about. Let’s say Lin has a poor game tonight. I can almost see the hashtag: #Linisabust. And that, once again, would be entirely unfair.

Luckily, this never had a chance to materialize because Lin amazingly kept on having good games until his most recent effort against the Miami Heat. But hey, it’s LeBron and Wade so we can cut him a break. I think everybody can agree at this point that Lin is the real deal and the word “bust” should continue to keep a safe distance away from Linsanity.

I wrote:

It’s sad to say (and I sincerely hope I get proven wrong) but tonight may just be the night that Lin comes back down to earth. His past three games have come against the Nets, the Jazz, and the Wizards, hardly elite teams in the NBA. Tonight’s game will see the Knicks host Kobe and the Lakers at MSG.

Oops again. And…38 points later, my prediction falls flat.

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