The Outlet #4: Lob City Is Blue

Posted on Thu 29 December 2011 in The Outlet by Aaron McGuire

If you're a gambler, and you get caught between the Spurs and New Lob City... you probably should've picked the Spurs, at least last night. My lord, was that a game. Lots of good games, really -- Kyrie broke out (14-5-7-2 in 19 minutes? That's sizzling.), Brandon Knight looked great, the Nuggets have stealthily become the ACTUAL incarnation of Lob City and the Thunder look poised. Thing is? We aren't going to talk about most of those games, because we don't really have much to add to the table. I mean, the Cavs looked great, Kyrie and Tristan have me excited, but what could I add to Krolik's excellent take and Conrad's wide view of the matter, really? Well, I suppose I could add that the Cavs notched their first double digit win two games into this season after it took a full 73 games to reach that threshold last season. Perhaps I could point out that the Cavs hadn't won a road game by double digits since May 7th, 2010... in Boston. In Kyrie's second game. I could point out all those things in an outlet blurb... but why do that when I can shamelessly use those observations to substantiate an introduction when I can't think of a suitable one?

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If it wasn't for the amazing Bobcats game we were treated to last night, this game would take the cake as the most entertaining bout of the night. Easily. Because sometimes, the game surprises you. Paul George was in NBA-Jam mode for most of the night, and while I've been a bit dismissive of some of my Pacers fan friends entreaties that George will be a star, he certainly looked the part. He tailed off as the game went on, but his 4-7 from three wasn't a mirage -- the man is an excellent three point shooter, and he's almost as tall as Durant is now. That's a possible superstar. And Danny Granger showed in explicit detail why we all were incredibly silly to write him off after a relatively poor season. He's still one of the 5 best threes in the league, and still one of the key cogs that makes this entertaining and lovable Pacers team click. And these Pacers are something else. Yes, they have two wins against legitimately bad teams -- one of them, this Toronto win, extremely close. That doesn't really prove anything, and the Pistons (a team they embarrassed in Detroit the other day) just lost to the Cavs by almost 20 points. But you can see something there. Their defense is better than the sum of its parts, and their offense is just efficient and effective enough to surprise you.

One of my stealth predictions for this season is that the Pacers will, by season's end, be a top-4 team in the East. Off an unrepresentative two game sample? They're well on their way. It's also worth noting that the Raptors, to their credit, are finally starting to become a cohesive team. I clearly underestimated just how atrocious Jay Triano was with this crew -- Casey has pieced together two games befitting of a lower-tier Eastern Conference playoff contender, hardly the stuff of horrors many predicted from this Raptors squad. They're beginning to communicate on defense, and he's even using Bargnani effectively on that end. It's fun to watch, and when you consider that the Raptors have a stud center on the way, this team isn't nearly as bad-off as I'd thought they would be. And Casey is looking like a revolutionary hire for the franchise, too. There's good vibes all around in Toronto and for a franchise that looked to be in the worst shape after Bosh's departure, it's a good thing to see.

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This game was so good, I don't really think anything I say is going to give justice to it. So I'm going to keep myself to a few key notes. Let's start with, Gerald Henderson, who I am absolutely over the moon with. These first two games have been Henderson's coming out party, and everyone who's been watching has gotten to see some seriously fun ball from the kid. This last game saw him score 21 on 19 shots, which you'd think would be rather inefficient, but he somehow managed to draw zero free throws despite getting banged on at the rim by Miami's foul-magnet big men. Couple that with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, and (for my money) the best defense I've ever seen a man play on Dwyane Wade in my life. Really. He completely shut Wade down, and while you may blame the ankle if you want, he also managed to bottle LeBron, Cole, and Chalmers whenever he got switched on them for a possession. Gerald is a capital-F Force on defense and -- like all tenacious, undersized perimeter stoppers -- his game is simply a joy to watch. And with his offense starting to come along? Henderson is a great piece for this Bobcats team, and his inclusion alone might merit their standing as a league pass team if they maintain the fun, frentic, competitive pace they have for these first two games.

Moving on, Boris Diaw, who I am not really over the moon with but who remains one of the most fascinating players in the league. At this early juncture of the season, Diaw is averaging 12-12-9. This isn't going to last -- there's quite literally zero chance it does. But just imagine. Dare to dream. Think: what if Boris Diaw, the representative for heavy basketball players everywhere, ends up being the first man since Oscar Robertson to average a triple double on the season. Dare we dream it! We are two games in, and the Boris Diaw Triple Double Alert has been blaring strong for all two games. Can you imagine? What's more -- could you imagine Boris Diaw averaging a triple double despite never actually getting a triple double this season? What if he has a 20 assist game with 9 points and 10 rebounds? A 1-30-9 game the next night? What if Boris Diaw does the unthinkable, the incredible, the completely inconceivable? My God.

... And don't get me wrong. I realize this is the absolute dumbest "dare to dream" scenario anyone has ever come up with. But the idea of Boris Diaw standing side-by-side with Oscar Robertson as the only players to average triple doubles in NBA history is one of the most hilarious images I've ever blessed myself with, and I had to share this with you. Just had to. As for the game itself -- Miami got jobbed a few times, but Charlotte got jobbed quite a few more over the course of the game and if it wasn't for the fact that it's in Charlotte's best interest to lose games this season, I'd say they really missed out on this one. As it stands, though, it was the most fun I've had watching the Bobcats since Gerald's incredible 2010 season. Incredible game.

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On behalf of Spurs fans, Aaron and I would like to issue our annual apology to other fan bases for having to deal with Sean Elliott’s color commentary. Now, I’ve had close friends and family undergo transplants, I’ve seen the occasional national stigma towards organ donation, and Sean Elliott’s return to basketball after a kidney transplant is totally inspirational. He was also a baller, with both athleticism and intelligence at his peak. Sean Elliott has a strange, dry, insanely self-aware sense of humor that I am primed to understand acutely and that is occasionally hilarious (but to very few people). And his weird, performance-art “feud” with former teammate (and perfect comic straight-man) Tim Duncan is the best thing that any commentator in any medium does. It’s always so weird, and so perfect. On my Twitter feed I mentioned off-hand that I hated Sean Elliott, but that basically only applies to his general status as a color commentator and a humorist, and even then he has his moments.

All that said, I really think that Sean is one of the worst color commentators in the NBA, and it’s kind of embarrassing whenever he’s the guy on the NBA TV feed for our team in a Game 4 in the first round of the playoffs. It’s as if all the professionalism and class of the Spurs organization were merely a front for Sean Elliott as our true heart, which is all about badmouthing the new-look Clippers when we go up 20 in a home game. He is a homer, to be sure, and the semi-entrenched, likable kind (at least if you’re a Spurs fan). But he doesn’t modulate or work on his “one of the adults from Peanuts” voice. He relishes and pounds home the team rivalries from his position as a Spurs fan (which are, given the roster turnover, usually mostly for the fans anyway), and he seems content to call the Spurs “the good guys” and actually act that way unless one of the Spurs does something inexcusable or one of the other team does something remarkable. (which, to their credit, doesn’t happen as often as with most other teams).

But the point is… you shouldn’t be boorish, intentionally biased, or annoying as a default something comes along to tip the scales and force you into objectivity and universal entertainment. You should just be that way, by default, if you can be. And he isn’t. And he can be. I mean, the problem isn’t that he’s a homer, really. Former players (such as Elliott) and coaches alike are still often fans of their franchises, and that’s fine. Some of them are aware of this bias, and use the inevitable conflict of interests as a basis for hamming it up and pumping up their faithful. At worst it’s unlistenable, and at best you admire the “hometown/enemy territory” shadow that the homer casts over the game.

If Sean Elliott were just kind of dumb or just liked the Spurs and was incapable of avoiding bias, I mean, it would be a problem, yeah. No, the problem is that a shameless homer is exactly what a detached, gifted intellectual like Sean Elliott should never be. He is capable of much more. See, Elliott knows these players up and down, can run a telestrator better and more effectively than most national commentators, and has a presence of mind and an eye for the many things going on in a situation that we associate with the very best of athletes. He has watched every player in the NBA, scouted them, and if by some demonic forces he has a Twitter feed, he’s incredibly primed to make great commentary with the best of them. But he doesn’t. You watch a game from 2001 between the Spurs and Mavs, and he mentions, off-hand, that Dirk is primed to be an MVP candidate in 4 or 5 years. You see that he watched last night’s game and he has an interesting take on it. He does this several times a game, and it leaves you wondering why that isn’t his default attitude to the booth.

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That's a shame. Because this game was fantastic. The Spurs look very, very good right now. Far be it from me to proclaim them a leading contender four days into a compressed, crazy season. But you can't knock their resume -- they thoroughly outclassed the team that made them look silly not 8 months prior. They proceeded to completely dominate and eviscerate a poor Clippers defense while defending rather well themselves. The bench looks to be in playoff form, defensively (if not on offense) and the Spurs offense is running quite smoothly for one that rather fell apart at the end of last season. I'm not declaring them a contender, yet -- but if they keep this pace up and Pop is stingy enough with the minutes that they remain fresh for the playoffs, this Spurs team could very well run roughshod through a weak Western Conference come playoff time. And they're fun to watch, too -- the crisp passing, the pick and roll play, the incredible defensive acumen of the Anderson-Leonard-Green trio off the bench -- this team is a joy, from a pure basketball perspective, to cover and take in. Love what I'm seeing from them. Hope desperately that it's not an illusion. And that health doesn't betray them, of course.

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I wanted to comment, a touch, on what the purpose of this series is. This isn't supposed to be a "Behind the Boxscore" level feature to recap everything that happened last night, and it never will be. This is essentially a platform to talk about the games that -- for whatever reason -- mattered to us. Games that were especially good, especially bad, or where we really have something to say. We aren't going to write about every game we watch, and we can't even guarantee we're going to have interesting, evocative content here.

Sometimes we'll have an observation we feel an intense need to point out that is honestly incredibly stupid. But that's the beauty of a feature like this, I think. That sort of seat-of-the-pants observation that is dumb at first glance but may actually be somewhat brilliant. And may, sometime, inspire one of us to write a piece of note. Or maybe that rarely happens and the dumb observations are just that: incredibly dumb observations. I'm not sure which, or if it'll ever lead to anything particularly useful, but it's fun to find out. The Outlet may seem like nothing more than a ploy to fill space and rip off one of the most substantial contributions to the NBA blogosphere in Kelly Dwyer's Behind the Boxscore. But that's not how we mean for it to be, and we hope you realize that.

Thanks for reading.