The Golden State Warriors: They crumbled in the face of what I like to call "dead coach bounce." It's that temporary burst of inspired play a lousy team experiences immediately following an in-season coaching change. The Wizards, heretofore lifeless and largely hopeless, had season highs in shot attempts (105), points (124), rebounds (54, including 23 on the offensive end), assists (27) and forced turnovers (20). Caron Butler scored a season-high 35 points, Andray Blatche had season highs in points (25) and rebounds (11) while tying his career highs in blocks and steals (5 each), rookie center JaVale McGee kicked in a season-high 14 points, and Antawn Jamison added 25 points and 11 rebounds.
Warriors coach Don Nelson, who's seen this kind of thing once or twice before, said: "We played an inspired team tonight. They outworked us, outhustled us, outplayed us. They did everything well and we didn't do very much well at all. Pretty disappointed with the way that my team played, especially the young players that got an opportunity to play. They all played very poorly." Don't feel bad. You guys had probably lost this one before the team plane even hit the tarmac.
Energy and inspiration. That's what the dead coach bounce will give a team. How long it'll last? I have no idea. But keep in mind that the Wizards were 1-10 for a whole mess of reasons, and Eddie Jordan was, at most, only one of those reasons.
Caron Butler, quote machine: Think Tough Juice supports the coaching change in Washington? Here's what he said after the game: "Now that we got 'Obama' on the sideline with us, we're going to ride with it. Tap, he's light-skinned, he stands for change, he's got a law degree, he uses big words, and he's new in the district, and he's in control now, so shout out to Obama. We won tonight; he brought a lot of hope. And he's good with numbers, so hopefully he'll change the economy as well."
The Knicks and the New York crowd: If they were staging an audition for LeBron, then the King's agent will probably tell them, "Don't call us. We'll call you." They stunk it up both offensively (41 percent shooting, 24 missed three-pointers, 17 turnovers) and defensively (they let the Cavs shoot 53 percent, forced only 8 turnovers and blocked one measly shot).
Meanwhile, the "fans" spent more time cheering for James and dreaming of 2010 than rooting for the home team. Nobody ran out of the stands to congratulate him or anything, but one guy screamed "Two more years!" at James as he was heading to the bench at the start of the second quarter. How's that for home court disadvantage?
LeBron James: On the one hand, the King tried to say all the right things. To wit: "We hear it every day, we see it every day on TV about 2010 all the time, we still go out and take care of business. We don't worry about what's going on. Me the leader, I can't let that faze me because I'm leading these guys onto something that we want to accomplish, and that's win an NBA championship."
But on the other hand, he also made comments suggesting that he's looking ahead just as much as anybody else. "If you guys want to go to sleep right now and not wake up until July 1, 2010, then go ahead because it's going to be a big day. July 1, 2010 is going to be a very, very big day."
He also let the NBA world know that he'll be willing to listen to anybody with the money to pursue him. "It's not just New York and Brooklyn. It's not just a two-team race." Presumably, his own team will be allowed to join in the LeBron Lottery...but that's quite a bit different than saying "I'm a Cavalier for life." I'm sure that's got to make the people of Cleveland feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
A textbook case of self-delusion.
One last note: Considering his immense talent and the attention being showered on him by the ongoing LeBron-a-thon, it's not all that surprising that there's a little megalomania brewing under the chiseled surface, but his ongoing battle with third-person verbosity continues to be my personal favorite King James-related subplot. The latest entry: "No team LeBron James is on will ever be under the radar."
Ben Wallace: Uhm, wtf? I guess he thinks he's a Pharaoh or something. Which would make sense. I mean, he's about as old as one...and he's practically mummified already!
The Klahma City Thunder: They maintained their league-worst team shooting percentage by hitting only 41 percent of their shots on the way to surrendering a double-digit fourth quarter lead to the Shaq-less Suns. (The Big Coffee Break got the night off because the Suns play again tonight in Minnesota, and Terry Porter is trying to avoid using him in back-to-back games.) The Klahmans also let the Suns shoot 53 percent and fell to a league-worst 1-14. But that doesn't have Joe Smith feeling down. After the game, Smith said: "We feel pretty good about where we're going." Really, Joe? Really?!
Kevin Durant: Despite being moved to the small forward spot, the 6'9" Durant grabbed only 4 rebounds. He's averaging 4.1 on the season. Meanwhile, the 5'9" Nate Robinson grabbed 3 last night in limited action (he left the Cavs-Knicks game with a pulled groin) and is averaging 4.5 per. As always, I'm just sayin'.
More internal dissent: Some of the :07 Seconds or Less holdovers on the Suns have made vague but pointed comments about the team's new, Shaq-centric offense, particularly since it's killed their running game and transformed Steve Nash into a hybrid of Brevin Knight and Chris Duhon. Last night, Nash (20 points, 8-for-14, 15 assists, 8 rebounds) transformed back into the Captain Canada we knew and loved during his MVP years, particularly during the Suns' fourth quarter comeback when he went 5-for-5 from the field and used his old pick-and-roll trickery to lead Phoenix on an 11-0 run. And, after Kevin Durant hit a three to give the Thunder a late 95-89, Nash scored the Suns' next 7 points to tie the game at 96-all with 48.5 seconds left.
Matt Barnes, who hit the game-winning three-pointer with 25.7 seconds to go, said: "He looked like old Steve. He took over in every aspect. We need Steve just to play his game for us to be the best team we can be, and tonight he did that."
But why hasn't Steve been "playing his game" lately? Nash has a few ideas on the subject. "It sure looks like we're just a little too reliant on Shaq. We're just not quite comfortable playing without him the way we used to play because we spend so much time trying to incorporate him. Terry's been working with us and trying to get us to get back to doing some of the things we used to do, things that we're good at, when he's not on the floor. We're finally kind of getting back to a rhythm that we had without Shaquille. Terry's been urging us to get back there. We have spent a lot of time working on the other stuff, and we've lost our rhythm there a little bit. We found it a bit tonight."
Huh. Makes you kind of wonder who's coaching who, doesn't it?
Goran Dragic: Remember how he was going to be the answer to the Suns' longstanding problem at the backup point guard position? Well, he earned his second-straight DNP-CD last night (and he played only three minutes the last game in which he appeared). And Nash was forced to play 42 minutes despite the fact that the game was the first of back-to-backs. Seriously, should it really take five-plus years to find a semi-dependable backup PG? Whatever. I guess Steve is going to need a few extra X's in his vitamin water.
The Indiana Pacers: They coughed up a 13-point second-half lead and lost to the Mavericks in Dallas, 109-106. It's part of Indiana's continuing habit of losing leads and then losing the game: The Pacers have led at halftime in 12 of their 13 games...but have only five victories. Said Danny Granger: "We just can't seem to close teams out." The problem is pretty obvious, if you ask me. Go-to guy Mike Dunleavy Jr. hasn't appeared in a single game this season. They might be 12-1 if he'd been playing. Sadly, that bone spur in his knee isn't getting any better...
James Singleton: He started in place of the missing Josh Howard (right ankle injury) and promptly sunk to the occasion. In his nine minutes of PT, Singleton went 0-for-2 and finished with 2 fouls and one blocked shot. Unfortunately, it was his shot that got blocked. That gives him an impressive suck differential of +5. To think, he was the Eurobasket All-Italian Lega2 Player of the Year in 2004. And Lega2 is the second-highest division of professional club basketball in Italy. It's a shame James can't do more with that level of basketball pedigree.
The New Jersey Nets: Kobe Bryant had another bad shooting night -- 5-for-17, including 1-for-9 in the first half -- and the Nets still lost by 27. But that'll happen when you convert 34 percent of your field goals, give up 51 percent shooting and force only 9 turnovers. Said Devin Harris: "We did not play like the Nets tonight." Uh, I dunno. I've followed this team for a long time, and it seemed to me they played exactly like the Nets.
Phil Jackson, ego masseur: After the game, the Zen Master addressed Kobe's shooting woes. "I think [being 12-1 is] a good sign and it's a healthy sign. But we want Kobe to shoot the ball well and have big games, obviously. That's the focal part of our offense -- to get things through him. We want to have him be the threat, so that everybody has to overplay and always be concerned with him. That makes everybody else have an easier game." Reading between the lines, Phil seems to want his star to know that he will personally make sure Kobe still gets his numbers. Having had plenty of superduperstar experience with Michael Jordan, Phil understands that, in the long term, it probably won't be enough for Kobe to be on the best team in the league if he isn't also playing like the best player in the league. It wasn't enough for Jordan, and it wouldn't satiate Kobe's desire to dominate. And one of the few things that could derail the Laker Train would be the return of the Mamba.
For the record, the Lakers were only +2 with Kobe on the floor, while they were +29 with Lamar Odom, +25 with Sasha Vujacic, +24 with Jordan Farmar and +19 with Trevor Ariza. Can a team's bench win the MVP? Because right now, L.A.'s bench raiders are the best "player" in the league.
Kobe Bryant: While meeting with the sinister Legion of Doom to discuss the best strategy to use against Aqua Man, Black Manta said, "My liege, he is but one man. What can one man possibly do?" Kobe replied "This." and then killed Black Manta.
Update! Typealyzer: Oded, a reader from the far-off (to me, anyway) land of Jerusalem, wrote in to say the following: "The Typealyzer site accurately deducted that YOU are 'The gentle and compassionate type. They are especially attuned their inner values and what other people need. They are not friends of many words and tend to take the worries of the world on their shoulders.' I think the last sentence is especially on target, don't you? They should probably add a new personality type there -- The Bawful." I feel so naked before the mighty analyzing power of the Typealyzer. They can probably see what I had for dinner last night.