In honor of Turkey Day, I decided to stuff readers with 24 things related to the NBA for which I am thankful. The prescribed length relates to the number of seconds on the shot clock. Enjoy the list, and feel free to use it as motivation or inspiration to author your own.
1. The 24-Second Clock
Who needs 35 seconds when you can do things better and with more efficiency in 24? The NBA's ticker forces players to make quick decisions and determines which ballers can make good ones and who should be super glued to the bench for their time management ineptitude.
2. Great Individual Defensive Stands
A few misguided folks think players deliver a more complete presentation in college. The NBA carries a wrongful reputation as the more defenseless of the two levels of hoops. Pro athletes are better, faster, more athletic, and in some cases, more skilled. Forget elongated stretches of zone defense. Give me Ron Artest, Shane Battier or vintage Bruce Bowen and Dennis Rodman. Those guys mastered the art of lockdown coverage and have given countless explosive scorers the business.
3. Team Defense
Supposed shutdown defenders can only do so much. They need the other four players on the court to grasp and carry out the squad's defensive schemes. Terrific, grimy units like the 2000s San Antonio Spurs and the 1990s Chicago Bulls stifled opponents because the five on the floor knew when to rotate and how to get there. Stopping penetration or a high-octane offense requires that everyone on the team buy in to what the coach sells. Kudos to the outfits that understand this.
4. Proper Defensive Rotations
Defense in organized basketball would be much easier if opponents promised to never swing the rock, run any sets or throw any tricky passes. Since those requests are unrealistic and asinine, players must respond to switches and ball reversals. One blown rotation can result in an uncontested dunk or a wide open three-pointer. When a player finds a help spot before his man does or runs to the arc to pressure before a release, it warms my heart.
5. Backdoor Cuts
Many teams fail to run one of basketball's simplest plays enough. Not Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich, though. The L.A. Lakers and Spurs' sideline chiefs often disavow the fancy-shmancy stuff in favor of straightforwardness. This primitive play works most of the time, which makes it anything but.
6. Back-Breaking Screens
Bring on the pain, big man! Too many forwards and centers set wimpy, ineffective screens that couldn't get a refrigerator door open. Thank you Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol and the countless others who wear man pants instead of diapers.
7. Judicious Foul Use
A player who knows when to take fouls and when to allow layups will win a lot more games and championships than an incessant hacker.
8. Accurate Free-Throw Shooters
Thank you Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Martin, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Jose Calderon and others for not committing what amounts to a turnover when the opponent fouls you while shooting or in the bonus.
9. Judicious Timeout Use
Nothing kills momentum or victory chances quite like a premature or ill-advised request for a huddle. Just ask Josh Howard about his mistaken "T" gesture in Game 5 of the 2006 NBA Finals. Coaches and players who save timeouts for the critical clutch moments win more games and championships. Cheers Phil Jackson.
10. Kobe Bryant's Unflappable Work Ethic and Willpower
Anyone who values winning and dogmatism must respect the five-time champion's studious and courageous ways. His appearance in a much-maligned, violent Call of Duty advertisement fits, since nothing short of death will ever keep him off the court. That, or an afternoon of begging from Jackson.
Given the number of injuries with which he played last year, he might as well have been the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail instead of the Black Mamba. His staunch refusal to surrender parallels the popular character. Bryant, though, would never die in a sword fight.
11. Pau Gasol's Post Repertoire
In an age where seven-footers love to chuck up three-pointers, it's nice to know someone still practices jump hooks, drop steps, reverse spins, up-fakes that create drives and up-and-under scoop shots. He can finish with either hand from either box and can finish his opponent, like a delicious dinner, in a hurry.
12. Tim Duncan's Leadership
The Spurs sport a franchise best 13-1 mark because Duncan has embraced his lesser role in the offense to accommodate the team's ownership shift to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. He cares about winning above all else and will do anything—from losing 15 pounds on his own accord to setting the game-clinching screen in order—to help San Antonio remain in title contention.
The franchise's second all-time leading scorer (counting ABA statistics, George Gervin technically holds that distinction), would eschew all the milestones in the world to hoist that Larry O'Brien trophy again.
13. Kevin Love's Motor and Hustle
Like the Energizer bunny, the Minnesota forward just keeps going and going. He gobbles up boards like Kirstie Alley at a buffet line and scores at least four extra possessions for the Timberwolves in every game. Love's interior defense remains inferior and suspect, but his acumen and enterprise make him a valuable, plus contributor. I would love to see this guy on a superior team.
14. The Red Rowdies
Pan specialized fan groups all you want. Just don't pretend you could handle romping and screaming at 41 home dates, even if the tickets are free. Too many casual sports fans arrive late and leave early. Houstonians, in particular, congregate in the Toyota Center's bar areas, when they should be watching the action they pay thousands of dollars each year to see.
The Rockets' yell squad does everything possible to boost morale and hype up the often lifeless atmosphere. Many Rowdy participants could not otherwise afford the pricey baseline seats from which they chant, cheer, jeer and lob insults. Here's to the true supporters.
15. Expansion of Instant Replay
Slowing the game down for expanded use of instant replay is always worth it if it helps the officials make the right call. This practice has yielded critical crunch time overturns and prevented some screw jobs in paramount playoff contests. I have an extra minute or two. Don't you?
Any youngster with a hoop and a ball anywhere in the world can play this great game. The NBA's globalization has turned China into a basketball-crazed nation, among others. A teenager born in Serbia who admires Bryant via tape-delayed replays can compete against him if he puts in the hard work and hones his talents.
17. Blocks That Keep the Ball in Play
A front-row rejection becomes less spectacular if the opponents manufacture an easy layup off the following in-bounds play. A player who swats an attempt and also secures the ball might not end up on SportsCenter, but he does prevent the foe from scoring. That, my friends, is the objective of defense.
18. Hoop and Harm Masters
Ballers who can finish with contact become that much more lethal on the run and in half-court sets. So, cheers to Bryant, Parker, Ginobili, Martin, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and the copious others who have their cake when attacking the rim and eat it, too.
19. Raucous Crowds
Nothing beats the adrenaline rush of 18,000-20,000 fans chanting "defense" in unison or the roar after a big shot. Oklahoma City supporters merit a special tip of the cap.
20. The Golden State Warriors Faithful
Lakers followers can gaze up at those 16 banners every time they enter one of the Staples Center bowls. Spurs fanatics can admire the four banners that hang in the AT&T Center rafters. What can Warriors fans celebrate from the last 20 years? Try one playoff series victory and heaping helpings of no-defense-allowed, helter-skelter ball, losing seasons and heartbreak. Yet, Bay Area folks still pack Oracle Arena on game nights and make ear-splitting noise.
21. Jerry Sloan's Consistency
If the Utah Jazz coach survives Armageddon with five cockroaches and Keith Richards, he'll teach the crawling creatures and drugged-up rock star how to run a pick and roll. Chances are, given his expert tutelage, they will conquer the concept. What will the NBA do if he ever retires? Can David Stern bear the thought of death and taxes but no Sloan?
Kevin Garnett may spew trash talk that would make Lil' Wayne blush, but even he has helped up a tripped opponent once in his career. Whether in the postgame presser, a practice, after a foul, or just after the final buzzer, there are plenty of examples of players who exude class or, at least, decency.
23. The Miami Heat's Sluggish Start
The Three Me-Egos proved in this first month of action that talent and blazing firepower guarantee squat. That is a positive for a league often accused of rigging its outcomes in favor of the glitzier franchises. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh still figure to challenge for 60-plus victories, but they should know now nothing will come easy. Just like in college basketball, an ill-equipped Indiana Pacers roster can invade American Airlines Arena and administer a brow-raising beatdown.
24. Hope and Change, Hoops Style
Forget the embattled U.S. president who made the phrase famous. Dreams blossom every week, month and year in the NBA. The fishy Clippers will stink again, but freakish athlete and Rookie of the Year candidate Blake Griffin, and the promise of more draft picks, should spark buoyancy amongst Clippers fans that they can someday watch title challengers instead of turkeys.
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