“Although we’ve come, to the end of the road

Still, I can’t let go.

It’s unnatural, you belong to me

I belong to you.”

Yes, friends, the end is upon us. What marks the beginning of some teams (my Raptors not included) playoff run towards a championship also spells the end of another fantasy basketball season. What did we learn this year? Well, we learned that a contingency plan is always required and you need to have your neck on a swivel when it comes to keeping your squad relevant and competitive. We witnessed the rise of the NY Knicks which absolutely no one saw coming led by Julius Randle and his top 25 finish on the season. WOW! It will be of no coincidence that he is on many championship teams when the dust settles. On the other hand, we were also witnesses to the defending champions free-falling down in the standings as they cobbled together a lineup without LeBron James and Anthony Davis for significant portions of the season. It will be interesting to see what a play-in matchup between the Lakers and the Warriors looks like, the prospect has me more than just a little intrigued. Many storylines created and possibly, we will take a more thorough look at some in the coming weeks but for now, let us end off on one final underperformer before we close out this column for the season.

For the final time this season, I bring to you…

Please, blog, may I have some more?

I’m the big, fat loser this year in our 9-cat league’s championship game. Am I happy I made it this far in a totally insane season? Yep. Am I upset I lost? It always stings, but one week can make or break you and I don’t feel bad losing to a team I lost to the only time I faced them in the regular season. It feels like the right team won.

All that said, this season was completely wackadoodle and probably the most benefit you’ll get from reading these words is this introduction where I’m going to attempt to break down my thinking on the season and how we all got here.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

An overtime thriller last night saw Russ tie the Big O, Oscar Robertson, for the all-time triple-double list, but also had the Wizards pick up their 32nd win and tiebreaker over the Indiana Pacers which allowed them to leapfrog the Hoosiers and find themselves in the ninth seed of the Eastern Conference. 

Starting with that man Russell Westbrook of course, who posted yet again another triple-double of 33 points, 19 rebounds, and 15 assists. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest Westbrook fan, but I’ll also admit that what this man is doing right now is absolutely historic and legendary. At some point down the line, after Russ is long retired, we will all look back and realize how truly underappreciated he is and what he does on the court each night. Like Russ himself says, if it were easy, anyone would do it. Bradley Beal had a phenomenal performance with a 50 piece on 19-for-31 shooting which included only three triples. Russ and Beal seem to be picking it up at the right time. The Wizards also got solid minutes from Alex Len who flirted with a double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds. 

Please, blog, may I have some more?

As of April 28, LaMelo Ball remains Vegas’ heavy favorite (-350) to take home Rookie of the Year honors. I don’t really have much quarrel with that, especially since the rookie of consequence I drafted this season wasn’t Ball or Anthony Edwards but James Wiseman. Whoops! Who’s the wise man? Not me. Despite missing some time, Ball will be a deserving winner if the oddsmakers in the desert prove to be correct. Of the top three picks, I feel like Edwards is the one who gets the least amount of shine despite being the no. 1 selection. Flying under the radar makes sense, especially when considering that he doesn’t hail from a(n) (in)famous family, his team has been in the postseason one time since 2005 and has been out of contention since November, and he’s not trying to integrate his game into the dying dreams of decaying dynasty. If you didn’t go looking for it (or if you didn’t draft him), Edwards’ fine first year could pass by more or less unremarked on.

Or dude could throw out a 40-burger and make himself the lede of my final Wednesday recap of the season like freakin’ boss.

Anthony Edwards

PTS REB AST STL BLK 3PM FG FT TO
42 6 7 1 1 8 17/22 0/1 3

On the year, Ant is a top-100-ish player, a ranking that is weighed down by the 41% shooting from the floor. There have definitely been some clunkers over the course of the season and I generally have not been very quiet about them. That said, he’s been a top-50 guy over the final month, a top-35 player over the last two weeks, and a top-25 player the last week. The FG% has ticked up over that same span too, from 46% to 49% to 58%! Too late to put a dent in LaMelo’s case for the hardware, but definitely the kind of growth you love to see out of a young player. Keep eating, Ant! We’ll see you next year.

Here’s what else I saw on the penultimate Wednesday of the regular season…

Please, blog, may I have some more?

The Hornets were buzzing to have LaMelo back and that showed on the court with their victory over a Detroit Pistons team that is already officially out of playoff contention and without their best player in Jerami Grant. 

Frank Jackson surprisingly led the way for the Pistons off the bench with 25 points, seven rebounds, and three assists while he shot. 42.1% from the field and hit six triples. Rookie Killian Hayes played nearly 32 minutes as he continues to progress back from that hip injury and to prove to the many doubters that he is not a bust. You cannot call someone a bust when he has barely played. Last night he put up 10 points, six rebounds, and six assists as well as two steals. “Beef Stew” Isaiah Stewart had an underwhelming game with only nine points and two rebounds while playing the bulk of the minutes in the stead of Mason Plumlee who was held out for rest purposes. 

For the Hornets, LaMelo Ball was up to his usual shenanigans, as he returned to action and made Hornets announcer Eric Collins lose his cool and go bananas in his booth. His full-court passes were in full effect as shown through his eight total assists that went along with seven rebounds and 11 points. Malik Monk also returned to action and scored 11 points, stole the ball once, and grabbed two boards in 22 minutes of action. Meanwhile, LaMelo’s best bud on the team was flying even higher than usual to throw down his passes. Miles Bridges scored 27 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Miles has really come into his own this season and one upside of Hayward’s unfortunate injury is that now Miles has an even bigger opportunity to do so. We cannot forget about Scary Terry Rozier, who scored a game-high 29 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out four assists. An excellent season as well for Rozier. These Hornets are fighting and LaMelo’s return may now be that extra punch they need to stay in a play-in spot. 

Please, blog, may I have some more?

During draft season, I joked with the other Razz writers that, according to my extremely unscientific research, 100% of LA guys were in on LaMelo Ball. The echo chamber and hype bubble were too well-constructed for this not to be the case (also I didn’t really do much research and threw out evidence that didn’t support my theory. I’m Mister Hooper, not Doctor.) LaVar’s greatest creation was not the trio of ballers he sired (or those ugly shoes), but the machine he constructed to discuss them ad infinitum. Put off the Ball family brashness, I was lukewarm on LaMelo when drafting and missed out on an extremely fun and productive rookie year. The hype will be hot again next season, I assume, especially if the Hornets show some fight against one of the beasts of the East, so I’ll probably miss him next year too. But perhaps there’s a backdoor to one of these Balls. While little bro is taking up all the shine, Lonzo Ball has taken another step forward, especially as a shot maker. The vision and passing has always been legit (even my hater-ass was quick to concede that after watching him at Summer League) but the stroke has been sanded down and his 3-point percentage now creeps towards 40%. Still shy of 24-years-old, he’s putting it together.

Last night, playing in the aptly named Ball Arena in Denver, Lonzo consistently got where he wanted to go on the floor and then dimed up his teammates once he cracked the Denver defense open. The highlight package below isn’t spectacular, but if you want to watch a dude move to the exact spots  where he’s most dangerous, then I have the clip for you.

Lonzo Ball

PTS REB AST STL BLK 3PM FG FT TO
16 12 12 4 2 4 6/14 0/0 4

It was another busy Wednesday in professional hoops. Here’s what else stood out:

Please, blog, may I have some more?

The New York Knickerbockers are absolutely streaking! They now have nine consecutive wins following the rout against the Raptors yesterday at MSG. 

First for the Raps yesterday, Fred VanVleet had an exceptional night, scoring 27 points and dishing out 11 assists while OG Anunoby also contributed with 27 points while grabbing five boards and also stealing the ball twice. Pascal Siakam also had a pretty good game in which he put up 26 points, seven rebounds, and five assists with a steal. Kyle Lowry, however, had an underwhelming game shooting 10% from the field and going 0-8 from beyond the arc. An obvious anomaly for a player of his caliber. 

Julius Randle continued his Most Improved Player as well his All-NBA case dare I say yesterday. He scored 31 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while shooting 5-7 from beyond the arc! RJ Barrett also had a great game posting a 25/12 double-double while also dishing out four assists. Reggie Bullock continued his three-point party knocking down three more. Nerlens Noel only had one point but showed his worth on defense by swatting four shots and getting two steals while also hauling in five rebounds. 

Please, blog, may I have some more?

An extremely encouraging pattern is beginning to emerge with my every-other-week recapping of the Wednesday night games: Happy returns that are highlighted in the lede. You see, it was my distinct pleasure to highlight KAT’s return from his early season wrist + Covid absence, and I was the one who placed Kevin Durant in this place of prominence when he came back from the extended hammy vacation. Now, I’m due up for the recap on the night Jaren Jackson Jr. returned and you know damn well that I’m going to make him the lede. Welcome back, Jar—

Ah. Actually not. Sorry JJJ, I’m breaking up the welcome party and going with the 40 piece instead. We’ll see you later in the recap, because this lede (and maybe all of the Western world) belongs to…

Julius Randle

PTS REB AST STL BLK 3PM FG FT TO
40 11 6 1 0 6 11/21 12/13 4

This is second time in the last week that Julius has gone 40+/10+/6+ with 6 made threes. Wut. That’s just unspeakable heat from New York’s Caesar, who led the Knicks to an OT win against the Hawks last night. Woe to those of you having wrestle this monster in head-to-head playoffs. It might be better just to simply bend the knee when Randle is going like this.

Here’s what else stood out on another busy Wednesday in the Association…

Please, blog, may I have some more?

LeBron. Le Cordon Bleu. Le Diplomate. Le Creuset. Le Meruice. Le Meridien. Le PS5. Le Los Angeles Lakers. Le just means The but that doesn’t diminish its greatness. It’s the first one written, first one seen, first one spoken, and introduces all things, big or small. With that said, only a select few are blessed with the Le. In France, not so much but in the good ole’ US of A, it’s akin to finding Coke in a glass bottle. LeVert, as in Caris LeVert has been great and looks to have finally found his footing in Indiana. Two games ago, he went for 34 points, two tres, five boards, three dimes, one steal, and three blocks. For an encore, he went bonkers again….

PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV 3PT FG FT
26 6 6 2 3 2 1/8 7/18 11/13

….in 36 minutes. The usage rate was a whopping 29. Over the last four games, LeVert has been a top 15 player. Houston sure could use a player of his caliber.

Here’s what else I saw last night:

Please, blog, may I have some more?

It’s been just over a week since a friend of mine pointed me toward the Kevin Durant/Michael Rapaport beef that had bubbled up on social media. At the time, I somewhat gleefully read through their back and forth until I felt my emotions start to turn. KD, from all the stories I’ve heard and books that I’ve read, does not strike me as a happy man. The texts he sent to Rapaport support this. Then I saw the follow-up video that Rapaport put out that provide additional context for his spicy IG chat with Durant and I felt even worse. KD might be unhappy, but Rapaport strikes me as something far more distasteful than the aloof ennui of the unfathomably talented. After eating my fill of online garbage, I sent the following text to my buddy:

I wish I could get that time back. 

I can’t, obviously. None of us can. But what we can do is make up for the time lost, and Durant did just that in his return to NBA action on Wednesday night. All told, the Nets played 23 games since KD was last in uniform, but you wouldn’t have known that by watching him.

Please, blog, may I have some more?