Sometimes we forget that there are teams other than the Los Angeles Lakers. So thoroughly has L.A. dominated the NBA media news cycle that we're ignoring all the great stories that happen while the Lakers sputter and flail.
It's how it goes in our modern schadenfreude-fueled, reality TV culture. We'd almost rather celebrate someone doing something badly than celebrate greatness. I'm part of the problem too, as I've found L.A.'s struggles to be just a bit hilarious.
The same goes for the New York Knickerbockers, who look poised to make a run in the Eastern Conference. Not that anyone cares, but the Spurs remain great. There's success all around us, if we would only stop looking at the smoldering pile of Laker ruin.
**Records, streaks and stats are accurate as of all games through Sunday, January 6. 2013.
On the upside of down, John Wall has been spotted at Wizards practices. He's been out for far longer than initially expected, so I'm not holding my breath for his immediate arrival, though I do hope for it.
This has been a lost season for the Wizards, which is disappointing, given that Nene and Wall sound like a good core to build around. At least Bradley Beal has been playing better of late, providing a few highlight-reel dunks to go along with a sharpening shot.
The Wiz hung tight with Miami until getting blown away in the fourth quarter. The onslaught came after the Redskins were eliminated, due in part to playing Robert Griffin III to the point of further injury. Rough sports day in Washington, but at least the Wizards were the least of it.
Objectively, rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a terrible shooter. Subjectively, his jumper has looked a bit more fluid to me lately. That's a development I'm keyed on as this Bobcats season trudges toward its inevitable lottery conclusion.
Kemba Walker went from good to bad to good again this season, and he's currently slightly above average in the aggregate. While he probably hasn't helped Charlotte's cause that much, he's at least displayed skills that bode well for his future. Bobcats players like this are few and far between.
On a sour note, in their Sunday game against Detroit, I witnessed three different Bobcats players shoot on one possession. Not one was even able to hit the rim. They did win the overtime game, though.
Ryan Anderson might be the most underrated player in basketball, and it's bizarre to me that he comes off the bench. Right now, he's leading the league in made three-pointers, and he's shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc. Though not a great defender, he's a prototypical stretch-4, and possibly the best in the business at it now that Kevin Love is perpetually hurt.
As for Austin Rivers, that experiment isn't going all that well. Per that topic, this is the Twitter burn of the week:
Derek Harper and @skinwade are wondering if Austin Rivers is a 1 or a 2 - I posit he's a 0— Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) January 6, 2013
Kyrie Irving continues to amaze, but in a season that hasn't lived up to (my) expectations. He's averaging nearly four turnovers a game to his 5.6 assists. On the balance, Kyrie makes up for it with a deadly three-point shot and a slithery ability to get rimward, but he could certainly stand to run the offense better.
At the same time, who else in the world can do this?
And who else plays the kind of hero ball that's worth watching, if not life affirming?
P.J. Tucker is playing major minutes for the Phoenix Suns. That's my starter suggestion for "Who He Play For!?" on TNT.
Their mediocrity is so nondescript right now because they do have some boring, quality players. I suppose I miss the old days, when the Suns would let it fly. Mike D'Antoni's old, high-flying system has been grounded over the past two years.
Right now, they're in the bottom half of team three-point attempts. They play a conventional style, often with two non-three-point shooting bigs.
It might be an attempt at moving on from Steve Nash, but it's an eyesore to behold. If you're going to be bad, at least don't be boring. The Suns are accomplishing both.
The Raptors were hanging with Oklahoma City on Sunday. Then I blinked and the game wasn't even close. Part of that's due to the Thunder's potency, and part of that is due to the relative lack of talent in Toronto. Jose Calderon's been killing it, but Jose can only take you so far as the best player on a team.
We're out of the blissful, "Not Having Bargnani" phase, now that incorporating Kyle Lowry's become a bit tricky. Kyle picked up four fouls in 14 minutes before finishing with that total over 23 minutes in the game. He's far from all the way back from injury.
Amir Johnson is sneakily having a good season. He's like the Carl Landry of the Great White North.
The local Detroit broadcast of Pistons games is obsessed with Andre Drummond to the point where it's becoming hilarious. Rarely does an hour fly by without you hearing about Drummond's PER or seeing a really cool highlight package of his dunks.
As a fan of Drummond's game, I support the theme. As a watcher of the Pistons, it confuses me that such enthusiasm can coexist with Lawrence Frank's limited minutes for Andre. It's as though everybody who cares about the Pistons got the memo, except for the coach.
Meanwhile, I don't think Frank is doing a bad job, necessarily. This team has some absolutely maddening guards and bigs who are too young to defend well yet.
DeMarcus Cousins, you are maddening and intriguing. Over the past five games, Cousins has averaged 22 points and 14.2 rebounds off 50 percent shooting.
On the plus side, this is probably a good time for Sacramento to find a trade partner. On the minus side, they probably won't look for one because now Cousins has fans hoping again. We seem to be caught in a cycle where Cousins plays poorly, has an incident of some kind, plays better, then restarts the whole process anew.
Keith Smart is finally giving some regular playing time to Isaiah Thomas, but I would love to see Thomas operate out of the pick-and-roll more often. Smart's teams don't run a lot of basketball's most effective play, for whatever reason.
No, it wasn't that you were really drunk on New Year's Eve. Nikola Vucevic really did have 20 points and 29 rebounds.
And no, those numbers aren't reversed via typo. Vucevic really did set the Orlando Magic record with 29 boards, not 20. It's pretty impressive for such a young player to best a board record after such players as Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard spent prime years with the Magic.
Nikola isn't going to be quite that good, but he and Andrew Nicholson comprise a promising young frontcourt. Orlando has been one of the pleasant surprises this season, even if they probably won't make the playoffs, and even if they're losing games right now.
The Dallas Mavericks are losing, but at least we got to see the old Dirk Nowitzki do some work against the Miami Heat. He was draining buckets, looking spry, terrorizing Erik Spoelstra's defense with the mere threat of a jumper.
It was all a reminder that, though the "best power forward" title might have passed on to some other guys, Dirk at his best is hard to beat. If only Nowiztki could consistently be himself, this team would have a shot at the playoffs.
Sadly, I believe their window has all but closed. There are too many good teams in the West to allow the Mavericks into the bracket. This was a fine team, and a fine era for the Mavs, though.
The Sixers faced San Antonio and Oklahoma City, back-to-back. That's how a middling Eastern Conference team catches two "L's" in short order.
Jrue Holiday is getting All-Star buzz, but that might be an indictment of the Eastern Conference as much as it's a credit to his play. Jrue's running a low-ranked offense, and any plaudits he receives should be weighed against that.
It's not that it's Holiday's fault that Philly's offense is so dismal. I do suspect that Doug Collins could run a better system. It's just that, "18 points and near-nine assists" doesn't mean as much when the team isn't producing on account of that production.
And down they tumble.
The Lakers are mired in a terrible stretch against good teams, and it could get ugly. They've lost three in a row and now have to go up against Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. There exists the very real possibility that this team will get mired in a six-game losing streak.
Injuries to Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard won't help the Lakers' chances.
While people are obsessing over Pau and D'Antoni's system, Howard is the story of this Lakers season. He's producing good PER numbers, but those numbers lie when it comes to conveying his actual impact.
This is because much of Howard's influence has come on the defensive end. He's too hurt to defend ably, and he's racking up a lot of rebounds by just hanging back near the hoop.
Laker fans thought they were getting an upgrade over the Andrew Bynum of last season. Not so, it would seem.
The Bucks have lost four in a row, with only a defeat against Detroit as the closest game among those. When I'm looking at teams in need of a trade, this one stands out.
Milwaukee has a surplus of young, lanky forward-center types, and they could parlay at least one of them into help at other positions. I love seeing Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders and John Henson on the same team, but it seems a bit wasteful to carry all of them.
This roster in general represents an inability to choose. Any team that carries both Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings could probably be a bit more decisive in terms of roster needs.
My, Boston needed that big victory over Indiana. The season looked to be heading in a bad direction, but Avery Bradley's return has brought some stability.
Bradley might not be the answer to all of Boston's problems, but his presence has coincided with two great team defense games against the Pacers and Hawks. Avery is not the answer to Boston's offensive woes, but he might reenergize that D.
There's an emerging trope that Jeff Green's playing badly, in part, because he's used to starter's minutes. I don't get where that comes from, but it seems to originate from the same funny logic that led to him getting that contract.
Again, the Utah Jazz are well positioned to benefit from the drop-off between the seventh and eighth spot in the Western Conference. If they make it again this season, I hope they don't stay the course with this plan.
It's been frustrating to see a team draft a young core, only to let it languish on the bench. If you aren't competing for a title, I'm not sure if I see the wisdom in doing this. I'm not sure I see the wisdom, especially because it sometimes seems as though the youngsters might be better than their elders.
Gordon Hayward's minutes are a prime example. Does anyone know why he rides bench behind such super talents as Marvin Williams and Randy Foye? Hayward would appear to be clearly better than either option, but the seeming veteran bias persists.
The Portland Trail Blazers are on a tear, winning four of the last five. They just might be another entry in a Western Conference soaked through with quality teams.
Even more impressive, three of those wins came on the road against teams that could easily make the playoffs. This might be a poor defensive team, but it's hard for a roster with LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard to be bad on offense. It wouldn't be surprising if this unit rounds into even better shape as the season goes along.
Speaking of Aldridge, I expect him to bounce back from his poor early-season shooting numbers. He's better than this, and, barring injury, should experience better luck on his long jumpers as the year moves along.
Kevin Love has re-injured his broken hand (via CBS) and will be sidelined again. That doesn't completely close the door on this Wolves season, but it's close. Hollinger Odds already has Minnesota as a near-long shot to make the postseason, and they were depending on Love to carry them to the finish line.
Of course, Hollinger Odds doesn't know that Love's been bad since returning from his first hand injury and that the Wolves might be better in the short term without his presence. Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic worked well together before Love came back to the lineup, and they may rediscover their old chemistry.
This team has a lot of talent, and no other team should want to play the healthy version. It's sad that we're probably going to be deprived of their presence in the postseason.
The Brooklyn Nets have won five of their last six, though it's hard to count victories against the Wizards and Kings. Do you know what victory you can absolutely count? Killing the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City.
In that game we saw the vision for what this team was supposed to be. Or, we saw Joe Johnson hitting contested three-pointers in bunches. Either way, it was a welcome reprieve from one of the NBA's uglier offenses.
The task going forward will be freeing Deron Williams to be who he was in Utah. I'm not convinced that he's declining as a player. I believe that he's not operating in enough space to truly flaunt his talents.
The Indiana Pacers are ranked second on defense and second-worst on offense. The dream of a bipolar season remains alive in Indiana.
This is the most difficult team to write about because "great on defense, terrible on offense" doesn't provide much fodder. Offense is easy to write about because so many statistics can tell individual stories. With defense, you usually just end up crediting team communication and calling it a day.
So the Pacers are locked into a holding pattern, possibly until they get a star who can slash through defenses and create. Paul George was supposed to be that guy, but it's starting to look like he'll just never be. At least, "best defense, worst offense" is good enough to guarantee a playoff spot in the shoddy Eastern Conference.
Chicago pulled of an impressive win against Miami on national television, all the while I couldn't tell if Hubie Brown was effusively praising the Bulls or lamenting their plight. They seem to be locked in a Sisyphus task of grinding out wins with little ultimate hope of accomplishing something greater.
Thibodeau would win my current Coach of the Year vote. Nate Robinson is his best guard and his team is 18-13. It's not as though his frontcourt is loaded either. Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson are good, not great.
Adrian Peterson gives a hope's glimmer to those who want to see Derrick Rose back soon. I'm not so sold, considering that we're talking about a different sport, and one that happens to require more jumping.
The Denver roster is one of the best in need of a shakeup. Kenneth Faried can't shoot, but he's too small to play center. JaVale McGee shows promise, but he's too unreliable to play center.
Kosta Koufos is a quality big man, but a liability on defense. Andre Iguodala is a good offensive player, but struggles to shoot in this spaceless Denver offense.
It's actually incredible, given all this, that the Nuggets aren't worse. Instead, they've emerged out of the rough patch of their schedule as a more than likely playoff team. That's gravy, but if they have championship aspirations, this current setup won't do.
Have the Atlanta Hawks disproved the notion that they need Joe Johnson yet? I believe they have, but perhaps I should save that rhetorical question for when this team isn't coming off two losses.
Atlanta coughed one up to the Boston Celtics after controlling much of the game on Saturday. In fairness to the Hawks, they were playing before a home crowd that was decked out in green and white.
Speaking of which, why does Atlanta have little-to-no home-court advantage? Why is it that the Memphis Grizzlies get to be celebrated while people dismiss the Hawks? The two teams have a remarkably similar track record over the past few seasons.
Actually, per those odds, seven Western Conference playoff spots are all but secured. Speaking of locks, James Harden should easily make the All-Star team. I say that as someone who lives in the Bay Area and would love to see Stephen Curry make the squad. Harden's the third-best guard in the league right now, behind Kobe Bryant. Fourth place is quite far from that top-three strata right now.
"Massacre of the Season" might go to the Los Angeles Clippers' home domination of the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. It was far uglier than the 115-89 score might lead you to believe.
There might be some bad blood between the teams because rookie Kent Bazemore had a grand old time celebrating an embarrassing Blake Griffin miss:
That's funny, but it's also poor NBA etiquette. If a 12th man rookie mocks an opposing All-Star from the sidelines, retribution just might be in order.
Besides the loss on Saturday, the Warriors have been playing well. David Lee has killed teams out of pick-and-roll, either finding his shot, hitting big men down low for layups or finding three-point shooters on the outside. He's a point forward who rarely gets thought of that way.
Trade Rudy Gay. Was that too blunt? He still commands value around the league, and the Memphis Grizzlies might do well to find offense by other means.
Sell Rudy as the new Carmelo Anthony just waiting to break out. Say he needs a new system, new surrounding talent. Hey, it might even be true.
What isn't true is that the Grizzlies can win a title with Gay as their primary scorer. If Joe Johnson's departure didn't really hurt the Atlanta Hawks, then it's hard to see how Gay is vital to what Memphis does. I would hazard that building around Mike Conley pick-and-rolls might be a better long-term strategy.
Okay, Carmelo Anthony, you win. I thought Tyson Chandler was the most valuable Knick, but my confidence in that proclamation is ebbing with each Anthony swish.
Melo is having an incredible season from distance this year, hitting a shade under 44 percent from three. That's fantastic, but equally impressive is how Anthony has increased his attempts while getting more accurate.
New York's superstar combo forward is averaging 6.2 three-point attempts per night, more than twice his career average. Mike Woodson's space-conscious offense has done wonders in unleashing Melo's oft-misused talent. I was a Melo doubter before, but Anthony's been incredible this year.
That home game against the Chicago Bulls was certainly an ugly (96-89) loss for the Heat. While I'm not a fan of rebounding margin as a means of conveying information, it's somewhat staggering that Miami got out-boarded by a margin of 20.
A rough loss to be sure, but I disagreed with Ric Bucher's statement that LeBron appeared "passive" in defeat. In the fourth quarter, James drew 12 free throws and snagged three rebounds. If that's passivity, I'd wonder what would qualify as "aggressive"?
The Heat aren't "small" as a starting lineup, but they are quite thin beyond that. A trade would be helpful, but they lack quality pieces for a rebounder or shot-blocker in return.
It's all copacetic with the San Antonio Spurs, save for an odd blowout loss to the New York Knicks on Thursday. The loss came as you'd expect a loss to come from either of these teams, should they play each other. The Spurs missed a lot of their many three-point attempts, and the Knicks made a lot of their many three-point attempts.
The Spurs have all the makings of a title contender in terms of win total and margin of victory, but it's easy to wonder whether they're really there. The team runs such a beautiful scheme that one suspects that it overruns the unprepared in the regular season.
I do have my doubts about the ability of San Antonio to make this work come postseason, when the opposition can scheme to break the beauty of their motion-weak offense. That's a subjective opinion, as the numbers shout that the Spurs should be considered a contender.
Does anybody know why the Oklahoma City Thunder got trounced at home by the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night? Can we launch a Congressional investigation? I watched the game, but I'm still at a loss.
Not only did the Thunder lose, but Kevin Durant actually got ejected from the game. Given his clean reputation, you have to wonder whether KD had a point about the shoddy officiating.
Perhaps it's just the odd blip that can happen in the regular season. Oklahoma City bounced back quickly, cruising to victory against Philadelphia and Toronto. The Thunder are still the prohibitive Western Conference favorites to make the Finals. That much hasn't changed.
That win against Golden State should probably be worth two victories. I've rarely seen a team so thoroughly dominate another playoff contender.
It was over from the jump, a far more thorough thrashing than the one the Warriors dished out to LAC last Wednesday evening. At the center of L.A.'s total masterpiece was an unselfish Blake Griffin, and of course, Chris Paul.
The Clipper point guard leads the league in win share average and is only slightly behind Kevin Durant in total win shares. Yet, you so rarely hear Chris Paul's name when people are debating about who the best in the sport is. I'd go with LeBron, given the choice, but Chris Paul certainly has an argument for that No. 1 spot.