The Outlet 3.14: Exceptional Follies and Our March Madness

Posted on Wed 27 March 2013 in The Outlet by Alex Dewey

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Remember how we had that one series, a long time ago, where we'd entreat our writers to scribe short vignettes on the previous night's games? We've consistently discovered there's no way for us to do that every night, but with the capsules done and Aaron back in the saddle as a more active managing editor, we're hoping that we can bring the feature back as a weekly Wednesday post. Sometimes Thursday, like today. As always, the vignettes may not always be tactful, tacit, or terse -- they'll always be under a thousand words, though, and generally attempt to work through a question, an observation, or a feeling. Today's short pieces are as follows.

  • LAL vs GSW: Exceptional Follies, Exceptional Fields (by Alex Dewey)
  • GENERAL: Our March Madness (by Adam Koscielak)

Read on after the jump.

• • •

LAL vs GSW: Exceptional Follies, Exceptional Fields
Alex Dewey

If you had to inject truth serum into every editor and reader I've ever had and asked them to honestly describe what it's like to edit or read my work, I bet I'd know what they'd say. (Well, okay, what they'd say after the long, probably unbridgeable part where you explain to them why you're injecting them with truth serum for such an incomprehensibly minor question.) They wouldn't hold back. Incomprehensible, mercurial, technically gifted, slipshod and inconsistent with time and structure, combative at times, original, petty, absurd, fixated, unfocused, enigmatic, self-deprecating, and "attentive-but-somehow-mercurial". [ED. NOTE: Yeah, pretty much.] I know this because in their most unvarnished moments, they compare me to Stephen Jackson or Boris Diaw, usually. That's about the long and short of it. I am so focused on getting something expressed and well-articulated out of my head that I miss whether that thing has any sort of relevance to others.

Fun stuff. Keeping that in mind, let me talk about what the Lakers and Warriors did for me earlier this week.

The Lakers strike me as sort of a medieval morality play, an archetypal comic villain that they've somehow inhabited to teach us the value of youth, of hard work, and of never resting on one's accomplishments. The Lakers are there to teach us that everything will eventually be lost, but all the faster and all the more quickly without the essential and fastidious approach to life that abides others and our endless obligations. When they miss another transition not because of slowness but because they've practiced being slow? When they look every night like the visitors to Denver or Utah on a back-to-back? When Dwight can't figure out how to calibrate his less-than-100% mode to the grind of the regular season? When Metta World Peace decides (humorously, he seems to actively decide, every time) to create his own offense because he suddenly finds himself with the rock, and because, as if oblivious to the massive amount of specialization and scouting that has been done to get him to this place that says "cannot create especially well", despite all the marginal advantages he lacks, and knows he lacks, and knows his opponents know he lacks, he still goes forth and tries to conquer the basket like he's a conquistador...

... Anyway. The moment any of that happens, and the game in the inevitable course of which all of that happens? That moment and that game is validating, it is joyful, and it seems somehow like a ridiculous-but-apt historical marker for a team we'll remember with some pity and laughter ten years down the line. "Were you there when the Lakers weren't even all that bad, just inexplicably and superlatively mediocre, unsustainable considering the quality of their talent but also their historical, partially-institutional ability to attract talent?" our children and young watchers will ask. I will nod, throwing back shots to try and get over the fact that I actually taught my children to speak like that. And, later still, we'll be able to say, "Yes. It was great. It was just the best. Watching Jrue Holiday put the exclamation point on them on Staples Sunday is, in retrospect, the high point of my life."

The Warriors were equally fun in an equally exceptional way. When those with the high-quality interactive visual data -- with the missile technology and all that -- when they get around to creating an immaculate schema for the sport, delineating when you must drive, when you must go for the 2-for-1, when and where and and how often per game you must high-five in order to maximize your teammates' interactivity... When they get this far, in less than 5 years? When Morey lays down these rules as the Second Naismith of prophecy and lore? Whenever that happens, Morey and his quasi-holy rule-makers will have to include some sort of exception for Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry at Oracle. Simply have to. The shot selection and the heat checks that inexplicably go in defy description. In the best games of their lives, when the shots are going in without reason, defensive/facilitator role players will shoot possessed of an uncanny and unbefitting confidence. They seem to shrug at the comic absurdity of their own rarefied spectacle. My favorite example of this is when legendary point guard and non-shooter Andre Miller said "screw it" and went for 3 in his only (or even close to) 50-point game at the age of 35. Of course the three went in, and shrugging, Miller must have known it.

But Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry have created a force field around themselves in which everyone on their team (and sometimes on their opponents!) can feel exactly that confident, all the time. Jarrett Jack, a talented guard, can truly feel like Chris Paul or Jamal Crawford every night. The green light is on always for all parties at the intersection, and the traffic accidents have increased, but it hasn't been anarchy, but a new sort of efficiency and order that is built on the supernatural shot release of Stephen Curry and the interesting talents of Klay Thompson. Call it the Klay-Curry Buckets Exemption: Congratulations, your team barely has to worry about shot selection. As long as you're getting back on defense, may you find buckets from every location.

Of course, even despite all of this, Richard Jefferson still is not allowed to shoot. Not ever.

• • •

GENERAL: Our March MadnessAdam Koscielak

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

"March Madness is the most exciting playoff system in the world."

Chances are, you just stopped me. [ED. NOTE: Yep. Column over. Goodbye, folks.] There's a lot of truth to it. Every team gets a shot, every team can pull off a lucky game. That's why Gonzaga lost while Florida Gulf Coast is soaring. We love underdog stories, and March Madness gives every underdog a real shot -- and even if the real underdogs generally fall short of the championship, their wins always stay in the lore. Me? I dislike college basketball immensely due to 35 second shot clocks, the terrible officiating that makes me appreciate Joey Crawford, and the overall lack of quality talent aside from the few NBA worthy prospects. Despite this, I find myself entranced with brackets and the stories from the alley-ooping FGCU to Marshall Henderson giving us a showing of what I would call "Kobe Unchained." It's fascinating.

Yet, when I think of March, I don't think about college basketball. I don't think about the hope of warmer weather either. After all, this is when the NBA goes into the most intense part of the playoff race. The match-ups are solidified, and sometimes this is where champions are decided. Imagine that in 2011, the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets switch seeding. They were in a tie at the end of the season after all. Perhaps the Spurs never get upset, playing against a balky Chris Paul and a West-less Hornets. If they advance from the first round, would they have continued to the finals and upset Miami using the same playbook Dallas did? Or perhaps last season -- what if we swap the Nuggets and Clippers? After all, they were separated by a mere 2 games. How would the Grizzlies' season look if they weren't upset by the Clippers? You get the point. As much as the regular season seems stale at times -- particularly when we're down to the fourth round of games with a certain team -- I can't help but notice how often the importance of it is downplayed. Eventually, when the novelty of watching rebuilt teams, shocking collapses and stunning breakouts wears off, the people that don't watch the teams engaged in big battles for the lower seeds are left yearning for the excitement of the playoffs. Or so it has been in seasons past. Let me give you an example.

Last season, two teams were fighting for the final playoff spot with three games left in the regular season. On one side, the Utah Jazz, on the other, the Phoenix Suns, in what turned out to be Steve Nash's final season in Phoenix. The Suns needed to win two out of three games to advance. Or win the game against the Jazz, lose the other two and hope that the Jazz lose in Portland. Whatever the case, the Suns first faced the Denver Nuggets. They lost, also losing an important cog in Channing Frye to a dislocated shoulder. And then came the Jazz game, do or die. Marcin Gortat lost his scoring touch that night, from the perspective of time, it would seem that this game would define his Nash-less season as well. Steve Nash tried, but couldn't carry the team. The Utah Jazz clinched their playoff spot. Al Jefferson cried. And nobody really cared outside of the two teams involved and Spurs fans who at least didn't have to deal with the possibility of an insanely motivated Steve Nash.

A year later, the Jazz are once again in a battle for the eight seed with Steve Nash. This time, however, Steve Nash is in purple and gold, alongside Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Nearly everyone said that this team would be a championship contender. (Except for Aaron who knew what's up.) [ED. NOTE: My sense of spatial logic is shot, so I don't usually know what's up at all. What IS up, really?] Nearly everyone loves or hates them, as well. Whatever happens in that battle, it's going to get very loud. The conventional drama between mid-market teams and their fans is now a full out war between Lakers fans and the rest of the world. It's drama amplified, and it's a great boost to a generally stale part of the NBA season for the casual crowd.

So, let me say this now; Brackets are fun. So are underdogs, and single-elimination tournaments. But the NCAA Tournament is like a good action flick. Compact, filled with fun and a few good quotes... but it's easily forgettable, unless you really like one of the actors in it. The NBA season, on the other hand? That's like a good book, with multiple characters and sub-plots. It has a few boring parts you have to sift through, sure, and it seems like it's longer than Lord of the Rings. But in the end, the gratification for the big-time fans is infinitely larger, as you come to appreciate how every character, every sub-plot in the story can potentially change it's ending. And never is that amazing complexity highlighted more than in the midst of the stretch run, the March Madness of every NBA fan.