I rise when the sun goes down/cover every game in town

Straight from the heart of the basement, it’s the Second Arrangement! Featuring all the NBA chatter you can handle, alongside musical bits and comedy numbers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Reasons to be NBA cheerful: Warm plates

Each NBA team gets the cheery treatment as the season starts to get weighty

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

ONE

TWO

THREE

Atlanta Hawks

Luke Babbitt will not be available for Wednesday’s game against the Clippers, but his lower back injury could return him to the starting lineup sometime next week.

Entering Wednesday: 3-14, last in the East.

Brooklyn Nets

Hiring people with humility and patience to run basketball clubs works, it works well, and we’ll express as much in December.

Entering Wednesday: 6-10, 13th in the East.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics are worth all the plaudits you want to give them. Whatever you want to talk about on Thursday is fine, as long as you do it with grace and humor.

For both of those elements, I usually turn to TV’s Brett Butler.

Entering Wednesday: 16-2, tops in the East.

Charlotte Hornets

Nic Batum update:

A little tip for any defender stuck between Nicolas Batum and the rim on any fastbreak between now and 2018-19:

Mr. Batum will not be driving toward his left for the foreseeable future, nor will he be finishing with that particular hand. No political significance, it’s just that half of him probably can’t basketball right now.

Entering Wednesday: 7-9, 11th in the East.

Chicago Bulls

I did not watch Chicago’s loss to the Lakers on Tuesday, but I did buy a Bulls-colored hat at a gas station while back home. Column on Monday.

About the Bulls, and not the hat. Not a big hat guy.

Entering Wednesday: 3-12, 14th in the East.

Cleveland Cavaliers

This is Jae Crowder’s first time without an exacting play-caller running the show from the sidelines, LeBron James doesn’t count because he still wears a mouthguard, and his absorption into whatever the hell Cleveland is will take some time.

Obviously. Cleveland, still top five and usually higher on offense, still gets shit done on that end.

Crowder will eventually find some lanes. He’ll figure out where to run to and where to dive into and he won’t continue to try to prove his entire worth with every anticipated corner three.

And any worries about his ankle go away the minute I flip over to Brooklyn, in time to see how much fun DeMarre Carroll is having on no skates. Why did they let DeMarre on the ice.

If LeBron leads, Crowder will come around.

Entering Wednesday: 10-7, fourth in the East.

Dallas Mavericks

For years, Rick Carlisle made basketball in bad basketball uniforms entertaining. Now he’s making bad basketball entertaining. They’re still in bad uniforms.

Entering Wednesday: 3-15, 15th in the West.

Denver Nuggets

It really is early.

The Nuggets are going to have to burn people with Paul Millsap out, but it’s not like the 18th-best NBA defense has gotten in the way of too much (even with all those scheduled Colorado losses amplifying things) this season.

Millsap will now get months to sit on the bench and observe, exactly, where he’ll eventually fit in, because he will. Summer visualizations only take you so far once the leaves turn.

In the meantime, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried will have to ham-and-egg it in ways that will still compel.

Entering Wednesday: 10-7, fourth in the West.

Detroit Pistons

LeBron James scored 16 points in the first quarter on Monday evening against Detroit and, mindful of history, he more or less settled after that. He wouldn’t want to alter too much those career averages of 24 points, 6.8 boards and 6.9 assists against Detroit.

(LeBron averages 27.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game as pro.)

The Pistons, on average and for nearly as long as my two high school-aged daughters have been alive, turn LeBron James into a very good version of Jamal Mashburn.

Which is what Charley Rosen probably had in mind all along.

Entering Wednesday: 11-6, third in the East.

Golden State Warriors

Kevin Durant is out on Wednesday and DRAYMOND GREEN MIGHT TRY TO DO WAY TOO MUCH ON NATIONAL TV.

Entering Wednesday: 13-4, tops in the West.

Houston Rockets
Houston.
Houston.
Houston.

Entering Wednesday: 13-4, tops in the West.

Indiana Pacers

From the 11-21 BtB, and Indiana’s takedown of Orlando:

Constant movement from Indiana from tip to top, the Magic thought they had a bit of that of their own in the bag, but the Pacers set up a good demarcation point for movement and mettle – their sets in the fourth quarter are run through with the same aplomb as the first quarter sets.

I can listen to Pacer games on the radio in my kitchen with a rabbit ear and you’re damn right I count that as a blessing.

Entering Wednesday: 10-8, eighth in the East.

Los Angeles Clippers

Not the Clippers.

Entering Wednesday: 5-11, 13th in the West.

Los Angeles Lakers

Ignoring everything but the actual games the Los Angeles Lakers play in doesn’t make you ill-informed, it just makes you selective.

Just like in college. I had a very selective view of what classes I should attend, and what classes I should give a miss to; and though I was asked to leave in no time at all, I’ve no academic regrets.

Entering Wednesday: 8-10, eighth in the West.

Memphis Grizzlies

I thought about this team a lot while I drove, and the best we can still offer is Memphis’ promise.

The club started 7-4 so that it could do 0-5, which it has done since losing to the Rockets on Nov. 11, and a whole lineup of potentially signature wins awaits.

The home showing against Dallas on Wednesday probably shouldn’t count, but both coaches will make damn sure that it will, and then you have the trip to Denver on Friday night. Hardly full rest for a team that doesn’t know what to do with the pause.

Entering Wednesday: 7-9, ninth in the West.

Miami Heat

Only Erik Spoelstra could coach a team like this without sweating.

The Heat are the fifth-worst turnover club in the NBA, but few do the miscue as spectacularly.

Entering Wednesday: 7-9, 11th in the East.

Milwaukee Bucks

What happens when Thon Maker warms to expectation?

What will happen this time when some guy starts putting up Kareem-stats in Milwaukee?

To you, this time. You gonna drive up there, while tickets are still cheap?

Entering Wednesday: 8-8, ninth in the East.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Shabazz Muhammed hasn’t started since a 1-9 showing in his second 2017-18 turn in that role, and he’s just played 99 minutes over the last 10 games for a Wolves team that is still fourth from the bottom in defense.

If Minnesota has any chance of turning him into Joakim Noah via trade, Muhammed will have to take in more minutes. Scott Layden, of all people should know this.

Entering Wednesday: 10-7, fourth in the West.

New Orleans Pelicans

There is an internal force here, probably the combined NBA anxiety of literally EVERYONE involved on the Pelicans, but the team has strung wins together in a West that gave everyone a chance in November.

We don’t know what the plan is, but we can see the checkmarks. If NOLA can be the batshit team you can’t counter, look at those percentages where it counts, then this can keep up.

Alvin Gentry’s dealt with batshit before, he’s made both Earl Boykins and Michael Olowokandi laugh, and those two were Starkweather and Doggie Dumps in short pants.

Entering Wednesday: 9-8, seventh in the West.

New York Knicks

Doug McDermott somehow managed to turn things around in New York, running without the ball and delighting a home crowd starved for shooting. Go figure.

He wasn’t brought into the Chicago Bulls via the best of trades, but that was never his fault, and though former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau ran plenty of plays to show off the don’t underestimate him as an athlete-push, but by and large anger and McDermott’s Chicago-styled murk of a knee injury didn’t help things.

He’s shooting, still, winning games for a Knick team that also enjoys Courtney Lee at 45 percent from outside. Doug shoots the same percentage, hitting for 8.4 points off the Knick bench in 23 minutes.

Entering Wednesday: 9-7, sixth in the East.

Oklahoma City Thunder

We’re only a month in, so I’m not averse to recognizing Paul George’s mighty defensive turn, and what sort of award(s) this stretch might merit. Maybe I just miss swingmen winning Defensive Player of the Year.

Heaps of steals and deflections for the NBA’s third-best defense. Maybe some of this is the Roberson effect, but last time we checked those were PG’s fingerprints all over the ball.

That’s about it for Oklahoma City, so far. Prove me wrong, Wednesday.

Entering Wednesday: 7-9, ninth in the West.

Orlando Magic

This is a look of a man that just stopped a fast break.
Entering Wednesday: 8-9, tenth in the East.

Philadelphia 76ers

Brett Brown’s team is getting better out of timeouts, the team is coming out of halves better and they’re playing well at home.

Brett Brown finally has a basketball team, and the best part is that Brett Brown also knows that a great modern team can’t all fit on one bus.

Entering Wednesday: 9-7, sixth in the East.

Phoenix Suns

Don’t look at Suns stats, you’ll only wonder why Josh Jackson doesn’t appear to be clinging to sort of available loose balls (your steals, your rebounds, even your attempts at dumb blocks) that already appear in the hands of his contemporaries in terms of age, but the guy irritates a little and I enjoy watching him.

Jay Triano has this team at 7-8, somehow, as he stares down the same sort of lost season Mike D’Antoni spied in 2003-04. He’s established a modicum of professionalism. The Suns expect to have a chance, now.

Entering Wednesday: 7-11, 12th in the West.

Portland Trail Blazers

From the 11-21 BtB:

Portland is up to second in the NBA in defense, what the hell happened to our league, and they look every bit the part.

The Blazers really, really get after shots. They’ve had a few boners so far, something about an 82-game season and diligence, but this outfit contests looks like mad without being burned too badly at the line. Portland is around the league average in letting their defenders get to the stripe, not bad for all this aggression, but they close out on the defensive glass and I see no reason why this can’t continue.

The West isn’t holding its own, at least to its famed end in the post-MJ era, this season. That doesn’t mean the 10:30 kids aren’t putting in.

Entering Wednesday: 10-7, sixth in the West.

Sacramento Kings

From the 11-18 BtB:

This is a strange roster, and this is the strange roster’s first month together, so none of this can be easy. George Hill and Zach Randolph can’t put the Kings on their backs, not with the mosh pits from 2012 still ringing in their ears, but the sense of duty can at least lead.

Sacramento is bad, but they are led by a good coach and some ardent professionals. There is a lightness and lilt to this (very bad) team, and absolutely none of these words have to do with DeMarcus Cousins.

We have to be careful in assigning heft to the Boogie Era. Let’s just wait a bit.

Entering Wednesday: 4-13, 14th in the West.

San Antonio Spurs

Look at the position teams like the Spurs put themselves in.

Most other planes, and this is a knotty schedule – in New Orleans on Wednesday against a Pelicans squad growing in confidence by the hour, off to Charlotte to see if this two-game Hornet winning streak is worth worrying about, back home against Dallas, and then a Memphis/Memphis next week.

Like, the Spurs can handle this. These are trip-up games that even the Van Gundys would have trouble preparing their teams for, in spite of all … that … talking, and the Kawhi-less could enter December with a tidy record. Or they could blow the week and still come out with perspective that smells of freshly pulled sage.

If you decided to leave the NBA orbit around the same time Rick Moranis released his first CD, then you’ll be assured to note that the Spurs still don’t foul people.

(Read that Moranis run. He’s a charmer.)

Entering Wednesday: 11-6, second in the West.

Toronto Raptors

Here are your Raps from the 11-15 BtB:

The Raptors just lost a close one in Boston that DeMar could have won and they made close games out of trips to Golden State and San Antonio. Denver was a scheduled loss, but the Rocket win is their most impressive yet after road conquests against the Blazers (who slept through most of that defeat), Utah and the Lakers.

Pascal Siakum had a few boners but he didn’t let it affect his next possession. The alert Jakob Poeltl was around for answers on both ends and Fred VanVleet had his feet ready. Also on both ends. Delon Wright made all five of his shots, including some set to douse Rocket momentum, scoring with ease in Toronto’s space-filled offense.

And from the 11-18 episode:

All of Toronto’s losses have come against good-to-great basketball teams (Nuggets, Wizards, Celtics, W’s, Spurs). This team is swinging.

You know what they say about GMs that draft well. They provide legitimate buttresses for the inherent gamble in assigning maximum value player contracts to franchise staples who may be at or beyond their primes, due to their abilities to locate and develop rookie cap-tiered talent.  

Entering Wednesday: 11-5, second in the East.

Utah Jazz

Though a lot of stats still say this is a just-below-average team, there is groundswell in some corners of Jazz fandom that is warm and set in for a rebuilding turn – Ricky Rubio’s sub-40 percent shooting hasn’t melted enough hearts yet, Rudy Gobert might not be right until 2018.

We wouldn’t encourage such a thing – December’s schedule probably makes it so won’t have to.

Until then, Donovan Mitchell is at 43 percent from field as a starter, 34 percent from long range after missing six of seven against Philly, 17.8 points per game on a team that really needs it.

The miscue mark dropped a mark in Rudy’s absence, but the Jazz are still second-best at causing turnovers. That’s still Ricky on the break. Bi-weekly, when allowed.

Entering Wednesday: 7-11, 11th in the West.

Washington Wizards

This is still the team, just about, that started 2016-17 by splitting its first 38 games, so I’m not going to tell you that the Wizards will have it all turned around by the time you pretend to like cranberry sauce on a sandwich, but some good hallmarks are here.

The Wizards have a top-seven point differential and they’re top eight in both defense and offense, they have three perimeter types playing heavy minutes using up PERs over 20, and they haven’t even started getting to the line yet.

They also know, like, everyone’s phone number at this point. There is something to be said for continuity, and the national TV entertainment it provides.

Entering Wednesday: 10-7, fifth in the East.

Behind the Boxscore on Thursday morning, stay safe on Wednesday night.

Thank you for reading.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Behind the Boxscore, KINGS RETURN HOME

The Clippers and Cavs give us a locally-televised game, Charlotte ruins Kemba's 47

GOOD MORNING PEOPLE!

Sacramento 86, Portland 82

Pals, the Kings were hurt by what happened to them on Wednesday, losing by 46 points to an awful Atlanta team, and I genuinely appreciated the way they got after it in the club’s return home.

Nothing was pretty, but the team remained low to the ground in a way that, to an outsider at least, looked like a make-good attempt.

This is a strange roster, and this is the strange roster’s first month together, so none of this can be easy. George Hill and Zach Randolph can’t put the Kings on their backs, not with the mosh pits from 2012 still ringing in their ears, but the sense of duty can at least lead.

Sacramento played ardent, collective basketball throughout. It was mostly bad basketball, and the Blazers take in some demerits for not responding with the same poise, but it won a game.

Willie Cauley-Stein, yes, this was good to watch.

Coach Dave Joerger demoted him following the Hawks loss, and while he didn’t emerge off the pine like a conquering hero in that first half, his defensive effort and interest allowed him the confidence to put it all together once it came time to peel off the purple in the second half – WCS finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, activity to spare. He had 13 points in the fourth quarter, mostly Mark Strickland’ing it.

(Send some of that activity his replacement’s ways. Skal Labissiere looked great but missed six of seven shots, while Zach Randolph clanged all four attempts from the field.)

Sacramento: 4-11, Portland: 8-7

San Antonio 104, Oklahoma City 101

Since fleeing from blue to red in 2008 the Oklahoma City Thunder have fielded Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo (!) and now Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Their offense, through Scott Brooks and Billy Donovan, has never looked especially pretty.

Anthony and Westbrook boast clutch resumes that rival the best of any generation and George has had his moments, so it isn’t as if this is a shirking lot. And there were plenty of solid screens and backcuts for payoff in this loss, the Thunder don’t always make everything so obvious when it comes to lining up for a score attempt.

They’ve also lost plenty of games down the stretch of 2017-18, and the squad’s offense has dipped to 15th. All the obvious hallmarks, Miami Lite, are in place.

What’s also in place is time, and a top-three defense. And those backcuts – those winding approach shots that spark you to play 18 holes instead of nine – those are enough to keep us coming back. We’re only a month in.

(But seriously hurry up.)

All this without Kawhi, too, San Antonio.

San Antonio: 10-6, Oklahoma City: 7-8

Phoenix 123, Los Angeles Lakers 113

The only way this game works is if you put it on CBS and shove a whole lot of commercials into each dead ball. Charles Barkley still knows exactly the same amount about these two rosters anyway, whether they work out of Durham or Phoenix or Los Angeles or IUPUI.

This was just a fun little game of squirty, little players going at it. These kids will all be our bosses someday, but for now there is still some skin to clear up before a game like this becomes anything more than compelling in small bursts.

Kuzma, though. Is he what Kenny Walker was supposed to be? Kyle had 30 points and 10 rebounds.

Imagine how fun these kids are gonna look again on Feb. 6.

(They play each other on Feb. 6.)

Phoenix: 6-11, Los Angeles Lakers: 6-10

Chicago 123, Charlotte 120

The Hornets have lost six straight, which you tend to do when you work five games on the road in outposts like San Antonio and Boston, mixed with the struggle inherent in hosting an angry Cavaliers team at home. The blowout loss in Minnesota was passable, I suppose, as was the Knicks defeat in the face of Kristaps’ big night, but this was a joke.

The Hornets are daffy enough to let the Bulls win a game they shouldn’t have, a lining that has little to do with Kemba Walker’s 47 points in Chicago on Friday night. The Hornets had more than their fair share of chances even if Walker had halved that total.

Kemba was a delight and I hope he never doubts himself, but this was a boneheaded night for most of Charlotte. Every time I clicked over someone was running somewhere they shouldn’t have been.

All the important Bulls played good, upright, basketball.

Shoulders were squared and faff was eliminated for one night as it ran through sets, Kris Dunn notched 22 points on 16 shots with seven assists, five rebounds and three steals in only 26 minutes off the bench, and Denzel Valentine did what he was drafted to do (18 points, four three-pointers, five rebounds and six assists).

Here’s a clip of Jamal Mashburn scoring 50 on the Bulls on the night that Phil Jackson elected to start Larry Krystkowiak on him:

Hullo Toni.

Chicago: 3-10, Charlotte: 5-9

Indiana 107, Detroit 100

I love it when a player gets his own stadium. Victor Oladipo has his own stadium now.

The building where the Pacers play – it has a name but we don’t have to use it because you subscribed to an ad-free service – that building is Victor Oladipo’s now.

He’s yelling at its corners even when his team is down double-digits, he demands recognition when a three-pointer cuts the lead to 12 points, and he understands that the best way to keep a crowd going with dead legs is to put the onus on the referees. Get to that nail.

(Darren Collison and Lance Stephenson also lay claim to owning Indiana’s building, but they just can’t jump as high as Victor.)

Those three were terrors on Friday, poking at the Pistons repeatedly until Detroit found no confidence in its offense late. With more loose balls to work with in the second half, the Pacers were able to dissolve a 22-point deficit in spectacular and, we presume, moderately-priced fashion.

Oladipo missed 13 of 19 shots but pulled in 15 rebounds, Lance Stephenson had 13 and six assists in the fourth quarter (and he, thankfully, acted like it), while Collison, Thaddeus Young (18 on 14 shots) and Bojan Bogdanovic (15 on 12) kept the Pacers within striking distance as the chill settled in.

I watched this game after bringing my mother a delicious Arni’s pizza.

Indiana: 8-8, Detroit: 10-5

Cleveland 118, Los Angeles Clippers 113

It’s still a frustrating game to watch – I’ve clicked through a bit, this Clipper/Cavs game should have been a lot more fun! Don’t dissuade yourself from watching the highlights, but don’t let the kids see this either.

Neither one of these teams can play defense, at least not with the Clipper roster the way it is at the moment. Sindarius Thornwell starts at point guard due to Pat Beverley’s injury, and he gets after it, but there’s only so much you can do at that position against Cleveland. I bet you could run on the court to detangle a net while the Cavs are on D and they wouldn’t notice.

Hell, tangle it. Mess with Korver’s head.

After the Cavs spotted the Clippers a dozen points to start the game, James and Co. went to work pinpointing the right places to attack, but it was more exhausting than encouraging.

Cleveland: 9-7, Los Angeles Clippers: 5-9

Miami 91, Washington 88

There are things about Miami that you can trust, which is weird for a team featuring Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside.

The group was smart enough to spy the too-typical Washington malaise to start this one, it used Wednesday’s game tape to make a meal out of John Wall (who didn’t score until the fourth quarter), and the Heat held off a superior Wizards team at home to take a split of a mid-week series. Washington missed all 13 of its first half threes, dap to the Heat, but also look at all those Wizards clanging makeable looks on a Friday night.

Miami made Marcin Gortat move, as it should have more on Wednesday, and splits like these are massive for middling squads like Miami.

Miami: 7-8, Washington: 9-6

Toronto 107, New York 84

The Knick eyes dart like a cat’s following a flashlight. A big, D-battery, flashlight.

There are no laser pointers, here, this was filmed on a giant camcorder and the darting isn’t even precise. It says “4-11-90” at the bottom of the video and Bob Saget listlessly introduced the clip with a weak imitation of the voice Paul Lynde used to bring Mildew Wolf to life.

I kind of want to play basketball against the New York Knicks.

All of Toronto’s losses have come against good-to-great basketball teams (Nuggets, Wizards, Celtics, W’s, Spurs). This team is swinging.

Toronto: 10-5, New York: 8-7

Minnesota 111, Dallas 87

Dallas can’t score consistently because they’re bad, the team plays hard and Dirk Nowitzki slaps a lot of hands on his way toward the court each evening, but they’ll go on long stretches of suck if someone like Jose Juan Barea isn’t shooting them back toward respectability, and JJ missed seven of nine in this game (1-6 in the fourth quarter), so the sad state of affairs played out.

Jeff Teague (15 points, 10 assists, five rebounds) helped, he hit three three-pointers in six attempts and he’s the lead guard on the NBA’s fifth-best offense right now.

I’m looking forward to Minnesota hosting an angry Detroit club on Sunday afternoon, to see how Teague plays on, and there are probably clubs I can’t get into in Los Angeles now for admitting this out loud.

Minnesota: 10-5, Dallas: 2-14

I’m bursting, people, only the pretty blue eyes of my better half are keeping me from staying in to write about Saturday, too.

FOOL THAT I AM

The first time I heard this song was on TV, coming back to the dorm to an awaiting VCR timer, no luck with the Swoosies or even the Kurtzes out on the quad in Columbia, MO., with Libby Titus bringing it live on an old SNL that NBC thankfully decided to repeat overnight sometime during the same season that Shammond Williams came to realize that he could do that stuff, with his hair.

After waiting out the Albert Brooks films that I pretended to mostly understand, Libby piled on with this delight. It’s a song to listen to while watching rain fall from leaky gutters that you only rent.

Denver 146, New Orleans 114

When the head of steam is the head of state, especially now that decision guards can do whatever they want offensively, you’re in pretty solidly. Jamal Murray, 31 points.

When the entire team looks like Mavs-era Jason Kidd feasting on the front of the rim – not so much to lay in the ball in over the top but just to get there and see what happens – then you have a culture. The Nuggets shook NOLA on Friday, 37 assists in a game that was over by halftime, a team that just wanted you to give it until the weekend to get its shit together.

Denver looked chill as hell on Friday, just lining up three-pointers they know are going in. More of that, all year.

Denver: 9-6, New Orleans 8-8

Brooklyn 118, Utah 107

The Jazz played the Knicks on Wednesday which means they’ve had plenty of time to hang out around the Papaya King this week.

That’s the dismissal I used for the first half, at least, as the Nets piled up ungodly amounts of points on a Jazz team that features some fans back home cheering for a tank job. The Nets, working without D’Angelo Russell, were insistent – movement and space and, for once, the shots were falling.

Russell and Jeremy Lin get buckets, they sop up minutes and they’re both gone – probably for a while. We do hope that D’Angelo’s status doesn’t nag him all year, should he attempt to pull a rush job in recovery.

Friday’s Nets weren’t bugged by any of this.

DeMarre Carroll continues to play fantastic basketball, facilitating the offense and acting rather ubiquitous in ways that usually won’t take BKN out of its sets, Trevor Booker always plays well enough against the Jazz and Allan Crabbe finally stayed consistent from buzzer to buzzer – 18 points on 14 shots.

Spencer Dinwiddie finished his night with 25 points, eight assists and five rebounds – he hit 6-10 three-pointers.

Brooklyn had itself a game.

Brooklyn: 6-9, Utah: 6-10

STOMP

Alright.

Yo, this woman is playing air bass.

Let’s read each other on Sunday.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Behind the Boxscore: SORT OUT JOEL EMBIID

The Cavs crack a dumb code in Cleveland as a dozen games minus one roll on

GOOD MORNING PEOPLE!

Philadelphia 115, Los Angeles Lakers 109

Joel Embiid scored 46 points in this game and he’s averaging 23 points, 11 boards, 3.5 assists and nearly two blocks per contest on the season, one in which he’s missed two games. He’s also averages only 29 minutes a game on the way toward those statistics, and Embiid’s contest against the Lakers marked just his 43rd NBA game.

You have to watch this guy. Figure out what you can do to take in those 29 minutes.

We grok that 10:30 in the evening is not an ideal tip time for a country that mostly listens to its radio with a W in the call letters, but Philly Embiid just doesn’t do his best work at Staples Center (where he poured in 32 with 16 rebounds against DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers on Monday).

Sixers games don’t usually start this late, and time is never an issue on the internet – go watch his condensed game if you want to remember what centers look like.

Embiid scores because he makes quick decisions. He’s a smart and clever guy that is still new to the sport, and one of the more appealing parts about his growth is the way he’s been able to show us his work on the fly. Joel Embiid doesn’t work off instinct, and he isn’t merely showcasing the endless hours of off-court work he and the Sixer staff have put into the game.

What he’s doing is stronger than that. There are immediate clasps to his game that remind you of the greats, that you remind you of the guys that got frustrated when they realized that the rest of the league, and the teammates it has to offer, aren’t seeing (much less doing) the things that peel so quickly off the deck for someone like Joel Embiid. Or Hakeem, or Michael.

Those guys could be jerks, though, and Embiid hasn’t shown any of that. What he has shown is an interest in getting from Point A to B quicker than most – I know I’m Whatever Feet Tall, but I’m just gonna try this move from here, anyway.

You haven’t heard the last of these bleats about Joel. I’m not letting this CD go out of print.

Philadelphia: 8-6, Lakers: 6-9

Milwaukee 99, Detroit 95

The Bucks blocked 16 shots in this game. Imagine how many more they would have had if Greg Monroe were still on the team.

Should it bug us that the Pistons still got 95 points in this game? MKE was active in grabbing for turnovers and all those rejections led to 35 percent shooting for the Pistons, but Detroit was capable enough to move the ball and still rack up 15 three-pointers on the road.

Still, four straight for the Bucks – a team clearly coming off a few home practices.

Eric Bledsoe averages 13.3 points with 4.8 boards and 5.3 assists as a Buck, 1.3 steals and a block in 29 minutes. He’s missed 15 of 18 three-pointers, and I’d like it if the Dec. 6 meeting between these two teams would be nationally televised. This feels like whatever “burgeoning” means and we should start to get used to these two coaches working against one another.  

Stan Kidd and Jason Van Gundy.

Milwaukee: 8-6, Detroit: 10-4

New York 106, Utah 101

For long stretches the Jazz were ridin’ Rodney Hood, which sounds like a Replacements song in three different ways, using his 30 points to stay close in unsustainable ways. New York countered with Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 14 fourth quarter points, letting him square as he saw fit while the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns smiled away.

I’m not trying to tell you that either side is preferable or even to be coveted. Rodney Hood vs. Tim Hardaway Jr. is just what happened.

Kind of. Hood struggled down the stretch, needing six shots to score five points while contributing two fouls and two turnovers in his fourth quarter chance.

Tim Hardaway Jr. squared those shoulders and piled on to what has been a good counting year for a team that needs all it can get – 17.8 points per game on the season for the Knick swingmam. His overall shooting marks aren’t great but with increasing trips to the line (now up to nearly four attempts per game after Wednesday’s 9-10 showing) the True Shooting will grow.

Jonas Jerebko guarding Kristaps Porzingis semi-successfully at times (21 points on 18 shots) was wonderful, as were the times where Kristaps made Jonas look rather semi by comparison.

Watching a Madison Square Garden game remains an experience. Those echoes still stir; especially so on Wednesday when Quin Snyder had to call a calming timeout after Doug McDermott’s layup attempt was ruled a goaltend, Garden so lit.

New York: 6-9, Utah: 8-6

Cleveland 115, Charlotte 107

The Cavaliers have won three in a row but nobody is making a stock out of these bones.

This team is just full of dudes making plays, admittedly a nice feature to boast in a seven-game playoff series. LeBron James had 31 and all the helpers made shots when needed – Channing Frye provided earthworm activity off the bench, Kyle Korver’s three (3) trey-threes were needed and Jeff Green had a game (13 and 7) that will earn him a contract on the Clippers next season.

He’s already been on the Clippers? The Suns, then.

Of more interest to me is Charlotte, even past those glorious uniforms. They have Nic Batum back, he was winded within seconds but contributed 16 points, six assists and seven rebounds in his return from a bum elbow.

That elbow could have kept him out until 2018, and his shooting may not recover in 2017-18 (1-6 and awkward from long range on Wednesday), but at least he’s back in time for Charlotte’s upcoming stretch of rough: Clippers, Wolves, Wizards, in Cleveland, Spurs, Raptors, in Miami, Orlando, and then the team with both Kevin Durant and Steph Curry on it.

Cleveland: 8-7, Charlotte: 5-8

Portland 99, Orlando 94

The Blazers appear to have found something in their individual approach to defense, there’s a confidence in Portland on that end that is incredibly encouraging.

It’s as if each of the important Trail Blazers realized that they can be badass one-on-one defenders, and though they most assuredly cannot, the team is at least playing like it. Orlando can score now, they connect on dimes and shoot, and Portland would not let them trend too strongly toward what gave the Magic their strong start in 2017-18.

Morning breaks, and the Blazers are a top-three defensive team. We’re a month in, cats and kittens.

Portland: 8-6, Orlando: 8-7

Indiana 116, Memphis 113

With Mike Conley out, starters Mario Chalmers and replacement guard Dillon Brooks did an adequate job of getting the ball to Marc Gasol as much as basketball-possible, I suppose, though there were some notable streaks of inattention. The pairing combined to miss all seven three-point attempts and Conley’s absence clearly left a gaping hole (his bum Achilles could be a long problem), but offense wasn’t Memphis’ problem.

No, it was staying in front of a Pacer team long enough to settle runs. Memphis had its own issues answering baskets with baskets and it lost out on several sound enough chances in its second half comeback due to its lacking presence on the offensive end, but we know the Grizzlies (16th in offense after Wednesday) are the Grizzlies on this end. It’s the defense that can’t rest.

Coach David Fizdale likely pointed this out at halftime, after an uninterested first half showing from the Grizz. The team at least got after it out of the break, but if this group of wings can’t close out? You’re not here for your offense, pals.

Indiana shot 12-24 from long range in the win, Victor Oladipo still springing for days. The Pacers are fantastic to watch.

Indiana: 7-7, Memphis 7-8

Minnesota 98, San Antonio 86

Do you know how long a trip it is from Dallas to Minnesota? Nine-hundred and forty-two got-damn miles, that’s how far. At least the NBA spared the Spurs and the rest of the ESPN faithful a nationally televised showing, after San Antonio worked in Dallas on Tuesday night prior to tipping off in Minneapolis on Wednesday.

Minnesota executed and worked its ass off in this win, that much was noted from this chair. The Spurs still looked noticeably sluggish on offensive rebound or loose ball chances, and you get the feeling that these expected losses play far more into the psyche these days. It’s hard to divine different levels of desultory, though.  We’ll save that for the Hawks/Kings recap.

Minnesota: 9-5, San Antonio: 9-6

Oklahoma City 92, Chicago 79

Because I know who Rusty LaRue is, I didn’t watch a whole lot of the Bulls after they scored seven points in the first 12 minutes.

A Bulls fan might calm themselves, though, looking at the sight of Lauri Markkanen (16 and six rebounds, 3-6 long range) milling around the space between the small and power forward position, socks pulled up and Carmelo Anthony (18 and 11 rebounds, 11 free throw makes) impersonation in full flare.

Of course, at Lauri’s age, Anthony had already dragged Syracuse through March Madness and been on an NBA playoff team, so let’s hear it for teammates.

Markkanen certainly has one in Kris Dunn – 1-11 shooting for the Bulls’ other draft night prize. He and two other Bulls development prospects, Paul Zipser and Cristiano Felicio, boast single-digit Player Efficiency Ratings.

Oklahoma City: 7-7, Chicago: 2-10

Atlanta 126, Sacramento 80

I dutifully watched far more of this than anyone should expect, long enough to see George Hill pick up his dribble with the best of them.

Sacramento rookie De’Aaron Fox’s best attempts at calming an opponent’s runs are not great at this point, something about not being able to turn 20 years of age for another 65 days probably, as the Kings lost to a team that started Luke Babbitt in 2017.

Zach Randolph turned in one of his best games as a King – 17 points on 7-11 shooting, but he pulled in just one defensive rebound in 24 minutes for the NBA’s worst defensive rebounding team.

It wasn’t this close.

Atlanta: 3-12, Sacramento: 3-11

Washington 102, Miami 93

If Dion Waiters and Josh Richardson aren’t consistent providers – Josh has to stay a three-point threat off of set plays, Dion just has to break plays – the Heat struggle to score and compete. The first game back at home after a long road trip showed, Miami just admirably split six games away from Florida before returning for their first home game since Nov. 1.

Richardson (ohfer three long range) was a dud lining up and Waiters (19 points on 18 shots, five turnovers) could not find a consistent stretch to lean on. The team’s bench struggled in spite of Tyler Johnson contributing, and the Heat’s coaching staff did not sleep on Wednesday night knowing what it could have had with Marcin Gortat in town: Washington’s center worked hard but was late on rotations all night, Miami should have cracked 100.

Yet another batch of road contests (the Heat play 18 of their first 31 on the road) lies ahead, and Miami still has a top-ten defense and solid enough record. This will be a struggle, and the struggle has barely begun, but trust us when we qualify that Miami’s blister-burn 31-10 finish to 2016-17 has no impact on the figurative road ahead.

Before we credit the Heat for getting the tough ones out of the way early again this season, let’s remind ourselves of the month of wagon circlin’ that awaits.

Washington: 9-5, Miami: 6-8

Toronto 125, New Orleans 116

The Pelicans kept waiting for Toronto to crack, which is bullshit, because New Orleans shouldn’t need the Raptors on the second half of a back-to-back to beat the Raptors in New Orleans.

Bad defense and poor decision-making from top to bottom for NOLA, nobody plays with butterfingers or dulled senses for an entire game, but individual pockmarks tend to add up.

Meanwhile, and this is nice to have on your side, every Raptor played well.

(Let’s not defense. Don’t bug me. I’m tripping.)

Jonas Valanciunas has no place in the modern NBA, or whatever, but it still is nice to appreciate what the man can do. Like catching a basketball with your left hand in NBA traffic prior to switching for a right-handed layup before the steps become illegal. This is against New Orleans, by the way, the team with two All-Star bigs in the paint.

Jonas had 21 and 6 in the win.

Toronto: 9-5, New Orleans: 8-7

CHICKEN STRUT

When I was 22 I tried to explain how much I dug George Porter’s bass work to the man himself, how brilliant the Meters were and how I played guitar along to Robert Palmer’s Sneaking Sally Through the Alley (an LP he works the bass on) more than just about any other record.

I’d just bartended a Gov’t Mule show in Chicago at the Park West Theatre, one that he’d just played bass all over, and my pitched plea was interrupted repeatedly by Matt, the lighting guy, and his failed attempts to blast me with rolled-up balls of duct tape, shot a hundred feet away from a stage that he was supposed to be breaking down, the one with the band’s gear (and, presumably, quite a bit of duct tape) still left on it.

Later that winter Matt won $200 in a Park West raffle during a ski enthusiast movie marathon (Matt did not ski, or at least did not at the time), as an independent contractor he successfully argued that his employment status left him well within the rules to participate, and I was just happy to get back the ten bucks he owed me.

He owed 20 to the show promoter, which no doubt aided her interest in keeping the ski enthusiasts at arm’s length after Matt the Lighting Guy won that night’s prize in full view of entire families full of kids who have never known anything but Audis. She had the final say and, none of these are jokes, her 20 bucks.

Later that night, while I was using 20 percent of that tenner on the Brown Line, he cashed out the rest of his earnings on powerful narcotics and a trip to an alcohol-free strip club.

This was a Sunday night.

What you read above was the NBA’s Wednesday night, and we’ll loosen up the tie a bit for Friday morning’s show.

See you then.

 

 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Reasons to be NBA cheerful: 1-through-30

A look at the happier points of all 30 NBA teams

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

ONE

TWO

THREE

Atlanta Hawks

Not the Hawks.

2-11 entering Monday

Boston Celtics

The chorus is loud and it is appropriate: Boston approaches opponents with an unimpeachable (for November, at least) sense of day-to-day duty.

Tom Thibodeau must have left it rolled up in a bag, hidden above a ceiling duct in the Celtics locker room, probably had Kendrick Perkins reach up to put it there. Slough off the Celtics as regular-season do-gooders all you want: Kyrie Irving is about to put on a mask and coach Brad Stevens has struck gold in adapting to Irving’s idea of what he thinks danger is:

1. Stevens challenges Kyrie Irving’s sense of deception, his interest in keeping teammates and coaches backpedaling in the same ways defenders do, and not in the traditional sense with blandly breaking plays.

12-2 entering Monday

Brooklyn Nets

Look at our guy.

D’Angelo Russell will miss some time, he landed awkwardly on his knee in Utah as tends to happen, and MRI results are pending. In the weeks prior to that setback he’s established himself in a league that, since Phil Jackson tried to pretend he was in first with the prospect in a Louisville carpark, appears to want the fella to succeed.

Scoring 20 points per game in the NBA at 46 percent shooting is no joke, especially when that work comes from a whippet like D’Angelo, still churning at only 21. His passing is improving (though at the expense of not-yet uproarious turnover spike) and D’Angelo averages nearly seven points per game in the fourth quarter for a team that hasn’t had to think about fourth quarters in years.

5-8 entering Monday

Charlotte Hornets

If this were 1996, we’d have a Most Improved Player out of Charlotte.

Jeremy Lamb is up seven points per game this year, to a career high of 16.7, he’s hit almost 46 percent of his threes so far and he’s settled himself for a series of run-killing answers from the perimeter – Jeremy likes to end your momentum by lining up his jumper.

It’s never enough, the Hornets are too top-heavy to turn the corner as the lacking depth chews up far too many scenes, and Lamb’s per-minute marks are mostly the same – his passing has improved with a 12-minute per game increase, his rebounds and especially turnovers have suffered.

A solid scorer, though, at a needed position.

5-8, entering Monday

Chicago Bulls

There isn’t much. Fred Hoiberg’s work now fully reminds of the Tim Floyd era on the actual court – lots of pointless movement and obvious passes on the way toward the worst offense in the NBA – and they wear red uniforms at home.

If you skipped ahead to this team, though, your heart beats. And that’s something.

2-11 entering Monday

Cleveland Cavaliers

One-third of the way into 2018, an NBA defense ranked in the bottom five (or maybe even bottom three, or worse!) will be chosen by a series of sportswriters to lead the Cavaliers to not only the NBA Finals, but also its second championship in three seasons.

You can take that to have fun with, the idea that those observers might also be correct in their estimations (I mean: LeBron), or you can giggle on this – this Cleveland creature is but a month old, and it has already given us so much. Are you sick of it?

6-7, entering Monday

Dallas Mavericks

Even Bruce Hornsby Dad has his limits: Rick Carlisle is manning a terrible team as he and his front office see fit, and the more and more you see the pitched Dallas prospects play, the more you tend to agree with ol’ Buzz Cut n’ Kill over there. Nerlens Noel is not so much.

The team does cause a fair amount of turnovers, though, which allows us the chance to watch this team try to figure things out on the fly with a rookie point guard (Dennis Smith is up to 15 and five assists with, interestingly, 3.8 rebounds in 29 minutes a game) and a Dirk who just stopped worrying us this week (now at 39.5 three-point shooting, over 40 percent and double-figure scoring for the first time this season).

2-12, entering Monday

Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets probably didn’t calm the more risible of us with that win over the (then-stammering) Thunder last Thursday, and some of their wins came off scheduled losses (including the most recent conquest over Orlando, and a dish over Toronto last week) for the opponent, but the record stands and the Nuggets figure to take in more conquests like these as the year moves along.

We’re just trying to get Mike Malone and his frontcourt in a seven-game series. Let them peck for now.

8-5, through Monday

Detroit Pistons

From last week, on Andre Drummond:

If you are of average height and basketball skill, or even less, the next time you see a lowered rim you should run up to it and dunk on it with a basketball, then you should put a clip of that on the internet.

After that, you should take a 15-foot free throw on an 8-foot rim.

It’s like playing darts. With a basketball. And a mean metal rim. And people are watching.

When the rim level matches the height of your raised fingertips, putting an arc on your shot (in the space of fewer than 15 feet!) is damn, near impossible.

Drummond has gotten around this, as so many yuppies in the 1980s did (your Donaldsons, your Sikmas, even converted compact disc baby-boomers like Kareem), but having to worm his way around things. In an NBA world that has gotten kinder to taller people, Drummond shoots his free throws like Andre Drummond trying to make his way into the Uber driver’s Dodge Caliber.

After missing 11 of 17 last week Drummond is down (!) to 63.6 percent.

10-3, entering Monday

Golden State Warriors

This is where the day-to-day becomes a burden. Not the workload, The Second Arrangement is humming (subscribe!), but saving yourself from unloading 1200 words a night on the champs.

Steve Kerr is so goddamned on this. Nobody is rotting on the Warrior bench, every rotation player is taking in strong and significant daylight looks for a team that knows it will have to shore up its length and defensive rebounding issues as the season evolves.

Because Golden State isn’t done evolving. You can be frightened and cheerful at the same time.

10-3, entering Monday

Houston Rockets

James Harden has something so wondrously unexplainable about him, I spent all night on just that line because I’m still so confused.

He loves that ball, he lets it go and it always comes back to him – Harden finds his way toward tips that he shouldn’t, loose balls and defensive rebounds and a pair of waiting hands on a fast break that went far too long with P.J. Tucker in control.

This is probably what watching day-to-day Magic Johnson was like. This isn’t a competition between their abilities, it certainly isn’t a side-by-side comparison and I’ll leave it to history to settle on impact.

With Magic, it almost looked as if he was discarding his sweats on the court – even if he’d been on the hardwood from opening tip. Harden has the same alertness, from the passing times to the spots when he’s supposed to pass the ball.

And he’s averaging 30 points per game. And his team has the best record in the West.

11-3, entering Monday

Indiana Pacers

Thaddeus Young ripped his jersey on the way to the bench Sunday evening, he’s a professional “professional” at this point and it was disheartening to see a good person and talented player understandably lose his cool after being unable to convert with his strong hand in the presence of post defense from Eric Gordon.

That’s where Domantas Sabonis, literally, comes in.

The second-year big man put up 25 points in 49 combined bench minutes against Chicago and Houston in his return from injury this weekend, he had chances in both games to lose focus after some initial bobbles on both ends but he’s sustained his play as not only one of the NBA’s best young bigs, but one of the league’s best bigs, full stop.

All I could ask for is more countable minutes.

6-8, entering Monday

Los Angeles Clippers

We just want the Clippers to one day become Sindarius Thornwell, but Pat Beverley hurt his knee and Los Angeles really did look shuttered without Danilo Gallinari and his left butt injury last week.  

Instead of focusing on the selections that lined up to create this reality, look at how panicked Doc Rivers must be as he leads the team that tops the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage after years of telling his big men not to pay attention to that aspect of the game.

(As if Perk and KG were all fit and ready to crash the offensive glass from 2007 through 2011.)

5-7, entering Monday

Los Angeles Lakers

On Lonzo Ball:

You want a point guard that sees streaks of gold in his sleep. Let the guy scatter for a bit, until he figures it out, because he wants to pass.

5-8, entering Monday

Memphis Grizzlies

 

Dead last and loving it.

7-5, entering Monday

Miami Heat

This is a terrible thing to note, with the Jazz center now out after his avoidable tangle with Heatian Dion Waiters, but I’m very much looking forward to watching how Hassan Whiteside responds to his night spent with Rudy Gobert on Friday.

Whiteside did well to make himself bigger than his already sizeable frame in that Heat win, and I had this note planned out well before the Google search I dutifully just pulled up, one that informs me that, somewhere, Hassan also has a Twitter beef with Rudy Gobert.

Let any further mention of Twitter beefs only come in the form of disarming caveats, to inform you that, no, that isn’t where I got this idea.

6-7, entering Monday

Milwaukee Bucks

Eric Bledsoe aims to please. From Saturday morning’s Behind the Boxscore:

If the Bucks dole out Bledsoe (13 points, seven assists, pointed pick and roll action late) and Giannis Antetokounmpo in staggered amounts, the duo’s hesitancy to pull up from three (Bledsoe clanged four of five in his Bucks debut, Giannis missed his lone afterthought attempt) could be masked by the same sort of pugnacity that seems to be well on its way toward giving Antetokounmpo MVP votes.

[…]

Bledsoe wasn’t afraid to call the entire side of the court to himself down the stretch, while Giannis observed from the weak side.

6-6, entering Monday

Minnesota Timberwolves

Karl-Anthony Towns plays about as loosely as the first kid up on Picture Day and other distressing signs abound, but we’re here to remain cheerful.

The team has, at the very least, compiled wins. This will give them reason to move and, perhaps now that coach Tom Thibodeau has shown consideration to the subject, further tinkering on the court that could inspire actual front office movement as a potential playoff season moves along.

7-5, entering Monday

New Orleans Pelicans

Alvin Gentry, a coach who has been fired before, does not coach, walk, talk or act like a man who is in danger of being fired. He has a group of personalities worth rooting for, and he’s going to go wherever he’s going fighting on this group’s behalf.

More on Gentry as the year moves along.

7-6, entering Monday

New York Knicks

From last week:

Knick games are a bit of a give and take, because while I love watching Kristaps Porzingis play basketball more than just about anything else, the birds never seem to chirp that morning.

7-5, entering Monday

Oklahoma City Thunder

One more OKC excuse, from Saturday morning:

Russell Westbrook had to dedicate himself to a season for the ages last year, Paul George knows what it is like to play all the way until June, and Carmelo Anthony was once a teammate of Jon Barry’s. These fellas have been around long enough to consider November a nuisance at best.

6-7, entering Monday

Orlando Magic

Elfrid Payton is back. From Saturday morning:

Elfrid Payton made Jarrett Jack look like retirement. In 29 minutes the Magic guard contributed 11 points, 11 dimes, six rebounds, two blocks and two steals and two turnovers and, no, he didn’t hit a three-pointer in two attempts.

8-5, entering Monday

Philadelphia 76ers

The team is still way out West and the upcoming schedule is hellacious but, breathe, Ben Simmons is the athlete gone right when so many others his size have gone wrong.

He’s the one that has ability to rebound in traffic – but actually does it. To make the skip pass alongside the fancy, while taking chances along the way.

The point guards who don’t take chances are the ones that retire with eight different NBA uniforms to their name; we don’t have to name the names of these much-admired veterans of yore, they’re good guys!

There’s a place for them, but you’d like ‘em on the other team.

6-6, entering Monday

Phoenix Suns

The Suns are entirely made of characters from Saturday morning TV shows I didn’t watch.

5-9, entering Monday

Portland Trail Blazers

Don’t let the rough spots – and there have been some really rough spots – fool you. Portland is a top five defense statistically (they had some help, earlier in the year) and the hope now is that the team’s core has an idea of what it can now consistently do with its lacking fundamentals and/or interest on that end.

6-6, entering Monday

Sacramento Kings

This is a tough one. Vince Carter is even out with kidney stones, the pain that must have been the thing that kept him on the floor all those times he was fouled in Toronto and New Jersey.

3-9, entering Monday

San Antonio Spurs

If you need a reason to be cheerful about a team Pau Gasol plays on, then you need to raise the blinds a little.

The Spurs are a top-six defense even with Kawhi Leonard resting with an injury that calls for excessive amounts of rest to heal.

8-5, entering Monday

Toronto Raptors

I yelled, nasally as always and into the Subaru’s mic, about why it should still be a steady time to be a fan of Dwane Casey and the Raptors, with the Locked on Raptors Podcast. It was a happy yell!

7-5, entering Monday

Utah Jazz

There will and should be a great deal of strong pieces on the Utah Jazz this week, in the wake of Gobert’s injury, and I can’t wait to read them.

Go into that dread, though, knowing that this team was put in this position by steady hands, forever working with the placement and timing they’d been dealt, I didn’t mean to make a car metaphor but here we are.

This is a good organization and it will have a good year, whatever the turnout.

6-7, entering Monday

Washington Wizards

It’s hard to love these Wizards sometimes, but then Kelly Oubre needs a ride and he talks you into it and, ooh, this team gets to the line a ton.

7-5, entering Monday

Thank you for reading, I hope to see you here on Tuesday.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Thursday night with the Sklar Brothers

The touring pair visits with The Second Arrangement

There were Oklahoma City Thunder teeth to gnash somewhere else, on Thursday. That team was put together, quickly and artfully, with the understanding that power of recognition and talent could combine to hold the fort, game-to-game, as the rest of the long and inessential regular season revealed itself. We never count on the fact that new teammates, by this point, don’t even know who orders first at the table, let alone when to roll or when to dive.

Somewhere, miles away from where the Thunder were setting up to try and catch up to the Nuggets in front of them, Randy and Jason Sklar were pinpointing bits of Indiana goodness and presumed badness lurking behind the remaining stalks. Building laughs on the uneasy ride down from Indianapolis to Bloomington, IN.

Gleaning husks of wisdom in time to not only make it in for their set at the Comedy Attic, but also the by-now rote tradition of tossing local chunks of chum to the punters, a wonderful intro the Brothers served without a hint of ritual.

It was hilarious because it was a routine that felt beyond that word, reminding why the live experience is so crucial, to not only spy humanity but also talent performing in a place it belongs. It was so damn fun to see two people not only enjoying, but being very good at, their jobs.

And, just like your job:

“We never skip on the stressful moments,” Jason Sklar stressed after the show, “we have to work a little bit harder to remind ourselves, ‘oh, this particular group of people came out tonight to hear our ideas.’ Things we created out of nothing, in our brains, and they’re also here to be entertained by that and …”

Brother Randy approached the mound.

“We also know that as a team we do something different. It’s not just one person to give his or her point of view, which is very easy for people to understand. Two people is a much different prospect.”

The interplay, on a stage that just isn’t used to two people in front of the same wall at the same time, sustains its elasticity. Through re-writes and car trips and Thursday night shows when four are scheduled in the days ahead, and who the hell comes out on a Thursday night to see a stand-up comedy show.

Plenty on this night, it turns out, ripe and ready for the release of watching two dudes entertain them.

Yes, the Sklar Brothers are just that and they’re also twins on top of a billing themselves as a comedy duo, and a technical family act. All un-asked-for novelties.

A lot of your favorite comics were born around the same year, though, and a lot of our favorite comics often look a lot alike. Thick with both accent and shared history, longtime friends that also work the same angle (no matter the venue size), touring with pals and helping one another out. Many these days thankfully take the opposite route, choosing a feature act with a wildly different tone to tour with.

From both sides of the tour poster, plenty have had and will continue to have the chance to put together a killer comedy duo act in the modern era. In the before, in the aughts, on Thursday night, Sklars are on it.

They didn’t come out of the womb dribbling the basketball, though. They had to work on that back-and-forth:

“The same sensitivity we have on stage we take off stage with each other,” Randy continued, “we can be there to pick each other up. If somebody’s dealing with some stuff, allow them to deal a little harder.”

Jason leaned in, not picking a clam from that night so much as to assure teammate, brother and paying fans alike that any dead air supplied by the duo would come only by design:

“If we’re onstage and one of us feels maybe a little lost in what’s going to come next, then either one of us can take the reins, and it’s like an improv team. You essentially have to ‘yes, and?’-everything.

“You can’t deny a direction, you just have to be grateful that the other person picked up the slack and moved us to the next point.”

Points that, thankfully for someone that drove the same dark and winding roads toward Thursday’s show, touched on what you can’t help but ignore on the way toward a building in Bloomington that sits somewhere outside something, we can’t tell. Like the viewers at home, Randy and Jason stared at wonder at all the clear and obvious murder scenes lurking behind those spent Indiana soybean fields and shallow river loading docks on the drive down.

After detailing that darkly turn, Randy showed us his blank white page:

“The plane lands Thursday and we have to try and write ten minutes of material about the town that we’re in and what they’re experiencing. To try to make local comedy as outsiders coming in is such a high bar challenge, but it is great.”

His partner then shared notes. A whole lifetime (including previous visits) gives you three minutes on stage on Thursday, nice, but a brisk walk through a semi-familiar town can (more than!) triple that output.

Jason Sklar went on to describe the weekend he hasn’t had yet:

“We’re just trying to mine. What do we know about Indiana? What do we know about Bloomington? What are the things we know coming into town? That’s what we’ll come to stage with on Thursday night. On Friday we’ll start to experience certain iconic things, we deal with what’s happening in the community, write a few more minutes, take three minutes and turn it into six. Then come Saturday night, we’ll have nine or 10 minutes.”

This isn’t a new approach, just a reminder of how formidable the act is. Imagine coming into a town you kinda know with a pal you’ve never not known, experiencing that town’s weirdness and alerts and attempting to describe it, with your funny friend, to an awaiting audience later. Get that down to three (really good) minutes, before the drinks come.

This isn’t to distance the length between stage and table, far from it, but to outline how unique this Sklar pairing is. Not what it was born into, but what it has become.

Offstage they are alertly capable of unhurried and accurate mid-race adjustments in conversation, hand-offs that aren’t best described with the ubiquitous send-off about finishing one’s sentences. Maybe that’s why they crack at that befuddlement – from outsiders considering the work of brothers – in their act.

Of course they have unending chemistry. The smaller influence is that they’re happily paid to charm with it – the act itself was an unending riot bent to please, of obvious creation from backseat to college breakfast buffet line, to podcast booth to pitch meeting – and they’re curious and interested enough to want to keep it healthy. For you, on a Thursday after your own drive, but also for themselves.

Something about sustaining that autonomy, to be able to leave two sets of families behind to hook the stand-up show back onto the ribbon, into Indiana, and riff as you’d like before delivering a well-honed and expertly splayed act that only breezed and cackled as if it were an ongoing set of riffs, which it most certainly was not.

“We have children, we have families, we do this for them and what we’re doing” – Jason finished his own sentence – “for each other.”

Randy didn’t say a word.

“It’s kind of cool to still be around.”

The Sklar Brothers will perform at the Comedy Attic in Bloomington, IN on Friday Nov. 10 at 8 pm ET and 10:30 pm ET, and on Saturday Nov. 11 at the same times.