If you haven’t watched the ending, it’s everything that makes basketball great.  Kudos to Will Hardy, the Jazz coach, for not calling a timeout and letting the end game flow.

My first take is that the Jazz may not be as big of sellers as we all assumed they would be.  They have a solid young coach, a breakout star in Lauri Markkanen (28 and 8 tonight), and, when Mike Conley (18 points, 7 dimes, 3 swipes) plays, they are downright good.   I was monitoring guys like Walker Kessler, but I’m thinking now they keep the group together and figure things out.

Kelly Olynyk (5 points, 6 boards) would be a logical piece to move if they decide to do so, as is the aforementioned Conley.  I just give the Jazz some credit for not going scorched earth on this and playing well and hard, even if the end result was a close loss to the surprising…………..

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On a recent podcast with Son, I let slip, “If you’re a center that doesn’t get blocks, I don’t think I have any use for you.” It was a knee-jerk line, one that I hadn’t much considered before it fell out of my mouth, and I’ve been wrestling with how true that might actually be ever since. For most of the summer, I’ve been vexed by the center position because, outside of the elite guys, the shortcomings of the position are obvious and numerous. For many, their usefulness in category leagues extends only to rebounds, blocks and FG%, and oftentimes those few spoils are sacrificed at the altar of points, dimes, triples, and free-throw percentage. Drafting a center that doesn’t, it’s a steep tradeoff in the best of circumstances, so when looking at someone like Deandre Ayton – a top-50ish, center-eligible player who produced exactly enough swats last year to break even in the category by z-score – I began to wonder what exactly the point was. 

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If you were ever wondering what the process was for how team previews get assigned, it’s essentially a modern day duel to the death, but digital with way less death and way more clicking. But for the most part, we do get some say on which teams we cover, which for me is a strange thing to admit as I’ve now covered the Bulls, Rockets and now the Wizards. I’ve begun to question my very core ethos… am I masochist? Do I love to suffer from watching lost causes and rebuilding projects? Granted, the Bulls are kinda breaking out of their shell, Ninja Turtles metaphor for all the senior citizens out there, but there’s no denying that being a fan of the Rockets and Wizards franchises has its challenges. And while the Rockets have committed to a full rebuild and have essentially forfeited the next few seasons in order to quickly regenerate their team, the Wizards have chosen the meandering method (Or how I make love). With the re-signing of Bradley Beal, the Wizards look to be competitive for some weeks before returning to their middle-of-the-ground wasteland. The real question is, how many weeks and how much meh-basketball will be generated in that span? Enticing, I know!

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I’ll be honest, my original plan was to have this piece written and published at the end of last season, back when the failed chase for the top spot in the RazzJam was still fresh in my mind. But the NBA season is long and the Playoffs are so good, so when I fell just short of a championship, it seemed just fine to me to put this on the shelf for a bit. So, I sat on this with it being 95% completed and rested instead. Then Middleton went down and the Bucks got beat. The sun came out, the Celtics ran out of gas, and another Golden State summer onto my shores like a warm wave, even though I’ve traded in the Bay Area for Bay View. 

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I get why Trae Young vs New York is a thing. I too remember last year’s gentleman’s sweep in the first round, and I understand that any time the Knicks do anything it gets an unreasonable amount of attention because New York, the media, Stephen A., etc. I also know that America is the land of large appetites, so even though the NBA in late March can be a real grind, content must still be pumped into the great yawning maw. Trae turning heel in MSG is cheap heat and the Knicks are highly flammable. Ring the dinner bell, friends. It’s time to eat again.

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At this point I’m just going to stop fighting it. Fate, it seems, is throwing an endless stream of Knick games onto Tuesday nights and there’s nothing I can do but sit back and let it wash over me. Considering that I’ve spent most of my NBA fandom in the West and the Knicks have been the Knicks for the last 30 years, there’s never been a season where I’ve watched more New York regular season basketball than this one. After being hit with wave after wave of it, I just feel…bad. Is that normal? Last year I heard all about Julius Randle in breathlessly excited tones. The assists! The triples! The triple-doubles! King of New York! But now that I have to watch him and his teammates week after week, I’m struck but what a bad time it looks like he’s having out there.

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And I’m not talking about Christmas.

Despite vaccination numbers north of 95%, a new variant of the Coronavirus has breached the walls of the NBA and is wreaking havoc on a league that is already being thinned out by non-virus injuries that stem from playing three seasons in two years. The sick are just getting sicker (Tuesday night’s Brooklyn/Washington matchup was postponed) and as a result, the NBA has thrown off some of their normal roster restrictions to ensure that teams can field full squads. Names that are normally reserved for the silly season of March and early April are now turning up before the unofficial start of the season on Christmas Day. Consider Marquese Chriss, one of the newest Dallas Mavericks, as an example. A lottery pick in 2016 who has never found his footing in the Association, Chriss was added as a reinforcement to the Mavs roster amid a Covid outbreak in Dallas. To his credit, Chriss looked springy, played well, and actually closed the game for Dallas against Minnesota before the ink dried on his contract. Chriss was joined out there by luminaries like Theo Pinson and Sterling Brown, and all across the league there were was a mix of old names and new showing up in NBA box scores. Guys like Wayne Seldon in New York and Tony Snell in Portland resurfaced after time spent in the NBA hinterland, while Marcus Garrett saw some burn in Miami, and Leandro Bolmaro and Nathan Knight popped up for the Timberwolves.

Amid these strange times in the NBA, it was good to see that Damian Lillard is still good for a bucket or two.

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Much was made of the Chicago Bulls’ offseason, and rightly so. Following his promotion to president of basketball ops in 2020, Arturas Karisovas attempted to put the GarPax era firmly in the rear-view this summer by flipping the roster over pretty dramatically and moving the center of gravity away from a Zach LaVine-shaped black hole to a more egalitarian committee featuring new-comer Lonzo Ball, a full-season of Nikola Vucevic, and the $85M man himself: DeMar DeRozan. Ink was spilled and hands were wrung about the money spent on the 32-year-0ld DD and how all these new pieces would fit together, but considering Chicago’s position atop the Eastern Conference as we approach the quarter post of the season, it’s hard to feel anything but positive about the early returns on the new-look Bulls. DeRozan in particular has been balling of late, and following Sunday’s performance against the Knicks, DD is now on the cusp of the top-10 in fantasy hoops. Like Sinatra before him, DeMar is doing it his way.

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Anyone seen the movie, Red Dawn? *raises hand* Anyone else? A true American classic in which patriotic teens in the good ole’ US of A are able to thwart a Russian invasion on the Motherland. On Monday, the Knicks were the mighty Russians, as they went into Philadelphia against a depleted squad without three of their best players – Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Ben Simmons. The initial invasion went smoothly as the Knicks led by 14 points at halftime but those pesky 76ers came out of the halftime locker room pumped up from watching Braveheart, presumably, and HEEEEEELLLLLLDDDDDDDDD. Like any King of New York does, though, Julius Randle squashed the rebellion to bring victory to its rightful owner as the Knicks eventually triumphed, 103-96.

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A few weeks back, before the RazzJam drafts started, Son and I were talking about strategies for the upcoming year. “Talking about strategies” is a generous way of describing my contributions to the discussion. Mostly I was bellyaching about the mistakes I made last year (double guard to start, no real center…ever) and committing to not doing that again. Son, who I’m sure was saying something brilliant and valuable and actionable, was mostly there as a witness to me turning over new leaves. 

Draft season kicked off with the RazzJam (slow draft, four-hour timer. Mine took 13 days to complete), and I was enjoying it so much that I kept finding myself in more draft rooms. By the time my RCL draft wrapped up on Monday night, I had seven rosters to manage — a medley of H2H and roto, 10- and 12- teamers, weekly and daily — which is significantly more than I normally play.  

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I feel like our children’s generation and their children’s generation are going to look back upon our generation and have a gross underappreciation of Kevin Durant. Maybe it’s because of all the narratives floating around but I rarely hear him mentioned as one of the greats. Because in my mind, granted my mind is small and has been heavily influenced by trees and mushrooms, he is one of the greatest to ever play the game. He’s a seven-footer who has handles like a guard, is a career 1/1/1 player, a career 27-point scorer, and a career 49/38/88 shooter. He’s got the hardware and is one of the most unstoppable offensive forces in the game. Because he’s missed so much time this year due to injury, he’s been out of the consciousness of many but Dudeisamazingant reminded us of his ability yesterday.

PTS REB AST STL BLK TOV 3PT FG FT
42 10 2 1 0 5 7/13 16/33 3/4

In 40 minutes. The 58th time Dudeisamazingant has scored at least 40 points in a game. Durant has played 28 games this season and he’s the number six player on a per-game basis. Over the last seven seasons, he’s finished as the numero uno player for fantasy three times and been top five in six seasons. I hope he stays healthy so I can continue to watch his greatness.

Here’s what else I saw yesterday:

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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…

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