Saturday, November 4, 2017 

Behind the Boxscore: LeBron does it

Watch a dozen games go by as the Celtics stay up and Magic go down

GOOD MORNING, PEOPLE!

Cleveland 130, Washington 122

You know how when they talk about Michael Jordan, in the early years and before the championships, how he would have “done” before hand-check rules? How he would have “acted.” How he could have just gone anywhere he wanted, when he wanted?

He wouldn’t have wanted to do it that often. He wanted his 32 – eight and eight and eight and eight, as he saw it – but even in his coltish years he was never looking to outrace Wilt. Not with Steve Colter in that lineup.

LeBron James wanted to do it tonight, as you may have read or even seen, and it was brutish and glorious: 57 points, all angles and flexing at his best.

The fear, here, is that this wasn’t just because Washington was in frame. The Wizards have talked big in LeBron’s face for a decade, nobody seems to have learned from LaBradford Smith’s Lesson, and the ESPN lights were much needed.

Still, the fear is that the Wizards had nothing to do with this sort of output. That LeBron James, even with that crackling cast of friends, will have to do this more and more often just to hammer home wins. Figurative and literal points won’t rack up on an equal scale when LeBron has to start dropping 40s and 50s on lottery teams just for Cleveland to rack up wins.

Cleveland: 4-5, Washington: 4-4

(Just a reminder that every game link leads to the NBA’s website and, because life is wonderful in spots, the NBA’s website features available video of every statline that we just went behind.)

New York 120, Phoenix 107

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.

KP put up 37 points against a Suns lineup that, while daffy, would at least seem to provide problems for his vision as he lined up. Not even a pop to the face in the second quarter can sway this guy, he is genuinely upset at some things and his sickening sense of precision may cost the Knicks lottery odds, but he sure as hell is filling my nights with fun.

And my mornings with dread.

New York: 4-4, Phoenix: 4-5

Philadelphia 121, Indiana 110

Ben Simmons cracked wise for one (kinda) season at LSU before sitting out all of 2016-17, and yet he plays like he hasn’t left the key for Manu Years. The guy has every reason to shy from contact, to demur in the face of veteran elbows and a painted area that can turn bones to dust, and it doesn’t concern him. Ben Simmons plays like an Australian.

When the ball is in the air, when possibility is out there, little can get in the way of Simmons and the resultant open lanes he’s already visualized throwing lines into.

The NCAA-to-NBA’s Q rating system has long been cracked, nothing will deliver the endorsers we once knew, but the ball is so much better. Now we have to remind people, on a Saturday in November, that future basketball legends don’t have to do their most prominent case-building work in between televised shots of Digger Phelps and Bobby Knight eating microwaved riblets (for a fee outlasting what David Rivers’ and Damon Bailey’s books were ever worth) in March.

Ben Simmons’ triple-double (14 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, three blocks, two steals, five turnovers) is listed down here because rankings are listed in order of importance.

Philadelphia: 5-4, Indiana 4-5

Chicago 105, Orlando 83

There we were, on a Friday night, expected to determine why the suddenly-competent Orlando Magic looked so pinstriped against the Chicago Bulls, still wearing those home white jerseys on the road (as they will all season) as if they were playing an Oct. 7 exhibition game in Ames, Iowa (as they will all season).

As they did tonight. Plenty of space and gorgeous, curved arcs as the Bulls whipped the ball around to all sorts of shooters that, by this point, are tired of that practice plea that they hear on the days before games. That state representative-styled “hey, you passing up three-pointers hurts us more than you taking bad shots”-cliché that would make sense, if you weren’t saying it to a whole host of rascals that have made it this far by playing the sort of staid, button-down ball that the Chicago front office obsesses over.

Luckily for Bulls fans, the obsession went pin-up once Lauri Markkanen became available in the draft last year, he hit 3-4 from long range in the win. Orlando went as rudderless as you’d expect without D.J. Augustin, sidelined with a bum hamstring.

Chicago: 2-5, Orlando: 6-3

Detroit 106, Milwaukee 95

Detroit simply plays good basketball at this point, the team looks confident in its offensive sets for whatever reason and there is a diligence on the court that hasn’t been in consistent supply of late.

It helps that the execution leads to made shots, and though guard Reggie Jackson has been swimming in it of late, his touch was of little help on a 3-11 night. Ish Smith, exactly what you’d guess: 5-6 shooting. The game still absolutely changes for Detroit when Anthony Tolliver enters the contest, and Andre Drummond aimed in 9-10 from the line. He’s nearing 80 percent on the year, because the year is 2017.

Milwaukee’s bench, now featuring Thon Maker (nine points and two rebounds in 16 foul-plagued minutes), let the team down in the loss.

Detroit: 6-3, Milwaukee: 4-5

Boston 101, Oklahoma City 94

The Celtics have won seven in a row because they’re that good, coach Brad Stevens has clearly done an expert job at keeping the new faces from turning into long faces, and Friday provided what had to be a satisfying payoff. The Celtics took the eventual edge because Al Horford nailed four-three pointers and Kyrie Irving proved to be his slithery best with 22 in the second half, but credit the foundation for giving Boston something to fall back on.

They needed it, OKC ran out to an 18-point lead before the waves hit. Russell Westbrook had no trouble swashbuckling through familiar territory, picking up loose balls and dedicating his next few seconds to meeting the front of the rim. Fool’s gold, though, especially when Carmelo Anthony shoots 3-17 from the floor as your own fallback. Carmelo pulled in 14 rebounds, but too often the Boston movement encouraged the Thunder to settle, offensively.

They’ll need some time, and I am more than happy to wait.

Boston: 7-2, Oklahoma City: 4-4

Houston 119, Atlanta 104

It is distressing to watch James Harden and Nene work this hard in November, especially in this setting. The Rockets are great, but that part won’t quit nagging. Maybe this is why I can’t grow a beard.

Houston: 7-3, Atlanta: 1-8

Los Angeles Lakers 124, Brooklyn 112

The Lakers’ offense skips between pointy-elbowed sets that would make Phil Jackson proud and Calvinball scenarios that would confuse even the most Hobbesian of observers. And those are just on the plays that don’t feature Lonzo Ball. Luke Walton has a fan in Indiana.

D’Angelo Russell missed 16 of his 24 shots, but to the eye it genuinely did not look like he was trying to make too bad of a point, these are just two bad teams.

Timofey Mozgov was made to look capable because he had to play extended minutes against Brook Lopez, so his time out there didn’t limit the Nets’ overall defense too harshly for once, because Mozgov was in a better groove against a bigger center.

His defense on Lopez (34 points, 6-9 three-pointers), however, was 14 steps slow. It was 14 steps slower than Brook Lopez.

Los Angeles Lakers: 4-5, Brooklyn: 4-6

New Orleans 99, Dallas 94

It’s a pain to watch Alvin Gentry’s face at times, especially when he tries to steady himself on camera in the face of the realization that it’s either his older or most important players that always make the daffiest plays.

The Pelicans almost gave up a big lead in this one, to the J-J-Barea-paced Mavs for Friday’s sake, until the weight of having to string winning possessions together got to the team late. This was also the problem for New Orleans, for stretches of the game that don’t seem to wear out Gentry’s face unless he makes no effort to hide it. The guy’s middle name should be “To His Credit.”

New Orleans: 4-5, Dallas: 1-9

Denver 95, Miami 94

Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap, just out of fine instincts and even better habits, are as sticky as they come – that’s why it will take months for me to worry about Denver. This is also probably why the Heat, especially Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters, appeared especially hyped for this one.

It’s not to Miami’s great discredit that, in this game, its not-so-hot final possession happened to be the contest’s last. We’ll save the Whiteside/Waiters health judgment to those who know better, while eagerly anticipating a game Denver may have looked nervously forward to throughout Friday night: Saturday night’s hosting of the Warriors.

Miami plays again on Sunday afternoon against the Clippers.

Denver: 5-4, Miami: 3-5

Toronto 109, Utah 100

The very good Utah Jazz defense took a bit of a break in this one.

Also the Toronto Raptors – a squad we discussed in historical terms offensively around this time last year before months of internal develop enhanced the ongoing stability – are a really good offensive team. DeMar DeRozan’s shoulders were so square, 37 points, Raptors are No. 4 in offense.

Toronto: 5-3, Utah: 5-4

San Antonio 108, Charlotte 101

Ever been slightly and irrationally disappointed by something you’d already assigned a value to? I liked what I saw in this game a lot, but this wasn’t the life-changing event I thought I’d get when I ordered the chocolate chip mint.

A good pace, San Antonio just outlasted a Hornets team that still bogs down with its focus at times. Pair that with the Charlotte possessions lost without consistent secondary playmakers, plus that Spurs team over there that features two of the greatest basketball players of all time, and you have a solid win that shouldn’t change your mind about chocolate chip mint at all – you’ve had it hundreds of times before Friday night, and it was marvelous.

I love the reminder that, at heart, Rudy Gay is a scorer. That he’ll do the little things, unknowingly, that it takes to earn extra trips into the agate and that, on a team like the Spurs, this really, really, helps! Further explanation to come.

San Antonio: 5-4, Charlotte: 5-4

Time Is Running Out

Stevie Winwood plays every instrument you own, better than you. Stevie Wonder’s even better than him!

I hope today’s episode finds you funky, yesterday I wrote a letter that I’d like you to read if you have the chance.

The responses looked exactly as I hoped they would, which is the best thing I could say about the responses. Keep emailing.

If you enjoyed any or all of the previous week’s episodes, don’t hesitate to pass around as you see fit. The days of flying low and staying cool are over – not when I have a show to run. Dot the inbox and Twitter feed with suggestions, as the free episode drops become fewer and fewer.

Our chat with Alice Wetterlund was less about her and more about a few other subjects we’ll discuss in a feature that won’t hit until the end of the year, but I can tell you that she very thankfully makes her standup sets all about herself and I would very much encourage you to take one in, and for a studio to greenlight her to shoot one.

She’ll appear at Bloomington, IN’s Comedy Attic tonight, the 4th, for two sets. If you took my advice and drove a long distance through rural Indiana to see her perform, at some cost of time and gas money to you (the tickets are cheap), I gotta feeling you’d be emailing to thank ME after watching Wetterlund go.

Live comedy is such a big “worth it.” We’ll talk endlessly about it here.

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That’s it for now, as my wife prepares for some sort of massive hair stylist contest on Saturday night that I’m not allowed anywhere near, which is while we’ll Behind the Boxscore the Warriors’ trip to Denver.

I’m allowed and damn near demanded at the parties afterward, so the rest of Sunday’s episode will be the standard fare – more things to lose some time with online during a not-warm-enough day off, before taking advantage of what hits before a School Night.

Saturday’s ours, though, and I hope to see you here tomorrow.