Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lucy Holds The Basketball

So I'm working out at the gym tonight, catching the only NBA game on the treadmill; it's Mavs-Nets from Dallas. And it's your classic NBA script, in that the road underdogs start off hot and have an early lead, then piss it away under pressure from the cagey veterans, and suffer one of those feel even worse, but think they can build from this, kind of losses. Dallas didn't score for something like the first half of the fourth quarter, led for the first time in the third quarter and never got any real lead. And Brook Lopez was having the game of his injury-riddled year, and Dirk Nowitzki was looking all kinds of old... but still. When I left the treadmill with three minutes left, the Nets led by 8. When I looked up again after my rack of free weights, they were down by 1 in the final minute. Same old Nets.

But then Lopez got to the line and gave them the lead again. And Jason Kidd missed from distance, giving the Nets a chance to put the dagger in. They didn't, of course, because they are the Nets... but on the game's final possession, Nowitzki couldn't get free for a shot, Kidd nearly mishandled, and it ended with a 30-foot heave that missed. Ball game to the visitors, the kind of 1-point game that the young road club never wins, the kind of home loss the defending champions never suffer. Interesting. Very interesting. The hoop equivalent of Lucy van Pelt holding the football, and Charlie Brown putting it through the uprights. Worth a comment, really.

Firstly, because it says something about the Nets. This isn't a playoff team, not close due to the loss of Lopez for nearly half of the sprint season, but the idea that they need to sell off all assets for Dwight Howard to have a competent team in Brooklyn next year might be a whiff. If, and it's a huge if, you can keep the center healthy and pair him with point guard Deron Williams, that's a very reasonable start to things. Kris Humphries may be a a reality TV punchline and dead from the neck up, but he's also an athletic 4 who has a feel for rebounding and decent enough hands to finish down low. Anthony Morrow is a pure shooter who would be a fine thing off a bench. Marshon Brooks has been the rookie of hope this year; he's got handle, skills, and some hope for a bench role. Avery Johnson may have the most irritating voice in the NBA, but his teams try hard and play defense, which is more than half of the battle when you are trying to show competence. In the last couple of weeks, they have road wins over Philly, the Linsanity Knicks and the defending champions, all of whom are likely playoff teams with real home court advantages. If all things shake out, it's in the 35 to 45 win range of mediocre; if you sell everything for Howard, it's probably still in the same area code, absent any other talent imports. I've seen worse teams. Hell, Boston might be a worse team.

Finally, the Mavs. The world is not teeming with respect for last year's champion; as a matter of fact, I think we're all still trying to figure out just how they did it. But man alive, did this team lose some defensive teeth in Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson, and it's generally not a win for one of the oldest teams in the league to lose all of their plus athletes on defense. Time after time, Lopez and Humphries were able to attack the rim and get second chance opportunities, and if you knew nothing else about these teams other than this game, you'd be hard-pressed to peg Dallas as the better club.

They could, of course, be playing possum (or Boston, as the NBA goes)... but at home, first night back from the All-Star break, hardly seems like the time for it. And sure, they were hot before the layoff, so maybe this was just an off night for them. It happens.

But rarely against a team like the Nets, and rarely in a way that would make you question who and what they were, moving forward. And yet another reason why I'm loving this odd little year in the Association...

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