Behind the Boxscore: LeBron James cuts close

A dozen-game NBA night that features a baseball farewell, and Robert Palmer!

GOOD MORNING, PEOPLE!

Indiana 124, Cleveland 107

The issue here is that the Cleveland Cavaliers need to manufacture wins. By now you’ve read and heard everyone’s trade suggestions and compared your own wild turnaround plan with your favorite wonk’s, by now we’ve all made our own assumptions about the personalities behind these very prominent names and games, look how far that’s gotten us, and we’ve reached November. Cleveland needs to start putting Ws together if it wants to take in the 2018 trips that they’ve already mapped out. Maybe I’m projecting.

The Pacers ran as you’ve come to expect by this point, with Victor Oladipo again lending his spirited brand to 23 points. Darren Collison (team-high 25 points) had several Sam Cassell gutters while Thaddeus Young turned in the game of his year with 26 points, up against a Cleveland defense that had all sorts of room for someone as crafty as Thaddeus to do his best work.

With Tristan Thompson leaving the game in the first half due to an ankle injury, LeBron James had to play C-F-G ROVER for the Cavs on both ends, working as center and so much more, and it didn’t work out. I can’t imagine it ever working out, in a regular season setting. The 82 will make a meal of you.

The Cavs run lineups that are uneasy to watch. The sight of J.R. Smith, years after he’s concluded that he wasn’t served for such things, bringing the ball up court to act as an entry passer for Dwyane Wade. Even Damien Wilkins was laughing about that one.

The weirdness of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James acting as if they’d never played alongside each other, acting like it was 2010, is similarly unsettling. Why is James setting up for and then giving up on simple screens for D-Wade? Why is he unable to nail Wade with an accurate setup pass for a three-pointer? Why is LeBron passing to Wade for three-pointers in the first place?

(These particular missteps were captured in between James dominating the Pacers’ defense on his way through a series of dunks and slides to the goal for a score in a desperate, fourth quarter comeback bid. LeBron finished with 33 points, eight turnovers, nine rebounds and 11 dimes.)

The Cavaliers are going to have to manufacture wins. You should want to watch them figure this out, instead of letting another year of this enervate you.

Indiana: 5-3, Cleveland: 3-5

Philadelphia 119, Atlanta 109

At one point in the contest Joel Embiid (21 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks in 30 minutes, a career high; five key Sixer buckets down the stretch) received the ball on the northernmost point of the low right block before jab stepping to free himself enough space to release a gorgeous, if imperfect, 3/4-turned styled jumper. After it splashed through the cameras cut to Elton Brand, glaring discreetly from the sideline in a 38-year old man’s shirt and tie, biting the ever-loving hell out of his lower lip. A some point during those thousand yards Atlanta called a time out and Embiid responded by giving the Philadelphia crowd the Ew Embrace on his way back to the huddle.

If you read and subscribe to this website, you will be supporting the work of a man that does not want to let this game down.

Philadelphia: 4-4, Atlanta: 1-7

Charlotte 126, Milwaukee 121

The Bucks were somewhat gassed in this one, a day after Oklahoma City had their way with Milwaukee, though it was easy to appreciate the team for at least giving us a game in the final quarter against the long odds linked-to above and again here.

At times Milwaukee could be spied just shoveling the ball to Khris Middleton (43 points, and it looked like it) for long stretches of this, Khris remained the only horn that seemed to have the legs necessary to chase down the sorts of opportunities Milwaukee’s length usually creates. He wasn’t just chucking threes to create his fortune, though Khris did hit 5-11 from long range with seven assists, five rebounds and zero turnovers.

By MKE’s move to make this close in the final frame though, with a snarling Khris ready to meet with a returning Giannis Antetokounmpo midway through the period, Charlotte rookie guard Malik Monk (18 points in the frame) had taken over. It was as precocious as a basketball fan could hope for.

The Kentucky blur found his legs in front of everyone. There’s nothing sweeter than watching a rookie break through, watching a person remind you that this gig is brand new, that he’s performing in an actual gym that still takes getting used to. Driving and pulling up spinning and giving the Hornets the same sort of edge big brother Kemba Walker used to give the Charlotte Bobcats.

It’s fun to watch the gym turn small, for the rookies, over the course of a quarter. Soon enough they’re overworking themselves on machines they’ve only been on twice before, cleaning up their sweat along the way but looking a little geeked on that workout high. It ends where it should, eventually throwing up a three-point airball at the end of a possession you mostly chewed up with your overexuberance, or making a spaz of yourself lifting in front of a guy you think you met at the house party past the Cracker Barrel where that neighbor let you see the plane he was building in his garage.

Charlotte’s depth has proven competitive. Not a bad start, considering the blows the team could have used as excuses earlier in fall in the wake of Nicolas Batum’s falling.

Charlotte: 5-3, Milwaukee: 4-4

Boston 113, Sacramento 86

Every time I tapped over to this game the Celtics were scoring on dunk or lay-in plays that easily could have gone to the two other Celtics who were also wide open in the paint for the dunk or lay-in at the same time as the scorer.

The Kings are not there yet but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss them on Thursday night.

Boston: 6-2, Sacramento: 1-7

Denver 129, Toronto 111

Several Raptors had actual bags under their eyes, the unfortunate result of the reminder that, yeah, the NBA still has to schedule teams to play in Denver the night after they played in literally any other NBA city.

So, this was a loss, the Nuggets were exemplified by Paul Millsap’s broad shoulders in the home uniforms I’m slowly warming to (perhaps only because I’m left with no choice). I’m not as frightened of the Nuggets’ start as others seem to be, but this was a scheduled romp.

Denver: 4-4, Toronto: 4-3

Minnesota 104, New Orleans 98

The Minnesota Timberwolves are lucky to have a man like Jimmy Butler around. You can’t take your eyes off of him as it usually is, but on a squad full of microwaved balls of tinfoil in socks, Butler’s diligence sticks out in so many ways.

The man ran a defensive clinic in this win and something is absolutely not right with him. He looks every bit like the sort of person who has failed to shake a very, very bad chest cold – as struck him in October. The sort of chest cold, I reckon, that would keep Jimmy Butler away from playing basketball games just to begin with.

Minnesota: 5-3, New Orleans: 3-5

Utah 112, Portland 103

The Jazz are just full of people to enjoy. List shortened due to time constraints.

Thabo Sefolosha is the confidence that the Utah Jazz need right now, it was apparent on Wednesday and it was clear in the games we saw him in before Joe Johnson was officially knocked out of the lineup with a case of The Condition Joe Johnson’s Wrist Should Probably Be Like Now.

I’ve always liked Shelvin Mack because he plays the first two minutes of the game the same way he does the last two, and I’m aware that sounds trite. He’ll take chances on both ends of the court in times of the game where others might shrivel, or consider the percentages. Simple things that break the game wide open in first and second quarter run – lunges to deflect pass attempts, offensive rebound smirks – that people forget because the last few minutes somehow demand perfection from us. He considers the fact that he’s Shelvin Mack, and dives.

I don’t think Donovan Mitchell is going to let Rudy Gobert become an anachronism. Not on this team, at least.

Utah: 5-3, Portland: 4-4

Orlando 101, Memphis 99

There’s sweat on everyone’s back on the Magic now, it’s gross, the team is a sprawling bundle of energy and confidence and Elfrid Payton’s Basketball-Reference.com nickname should be “The Banked-In Three.” Maybe Aaron Gordon should have been force-fed minutes at the small forward, because it’s taught him to appreciate life above water as a power forward often faced with scoring on quicker, similarly-sized forwards.

The Magic have me reconsidering everything. Let’s see if I like fennel again actually no, no let’s not.

Nikola Vucevic is so bad defensively that even Marc Gasol is like, yeah, let me just face this guy up to blow right past him. Usually I hate it when trucks go by each other on the highway, but I didn’t have to drive behind this one.

Orlando: 6-2, Memphis: 5-3

Miami 97, Chicago 91

Back at the fin de siècle, when the Bulls were terrible on purpose and the Heat were positioned as unsteady Eastern contender hopefuls, Pat Riley’s Heat held the Bulls to 49 yo that’s forty-nine basketball points in a Chicago defeat.

I don’t know what Michael would say about this,” Ron Harper lied afterward.

Later in the season Harper managed to drop something like every one of his 25 points in the second half of a Bulls win over Miami because hell yeah, Ron Harper.

I’ll discuss the Bulls more on Friday morning.

Miami: 3-4, Chicago: 1-7

Phoenix 122, Washington 116

The Wizards expect a home punch and, frankly, the team’s core has earned it. Usually it’s that starting lineup that abandons the game just before its time to be let down, and not the other way around.

Reverse Wednesday, as nobody calls it, as the Washington A-Team let Phoenix claw back into things early in the third quarter and again to close it. Washington’s top unit could not sustain nor create a lead, let alone win.

Confidence is wonderful to watch unfurl, especially on the second night of a back to back, and suddenly TJ Warren is doing TJ Warren stuff. Playing with exuberance, aiming to please – still aiming on his long jumpers but, man, they’re going in. Finished with 38 points and 11 rebounds in the win.

I feel like Dragan Bender could score on a lot of the NBA if he could just get his quadrants straight.

Jay Triano.

Phoenix: 4-4, Washington: 4-3

Los Angeles Clippers 119, Dallas 98

The Mavs are just too young and distracted to know what to do defensively, how to move and talk and react the right way. They’re the person at the bar – fake ID, whatever, just pay attention to them – that thinks he’s making the first Jimmy Goldstein joke that’s ever crossed the lips of someone spying a Staples Center game flickering above a rail that he won’t leave a tip on.

The Clippers remain unbowed, which is good. They’ve been around big Warriors losses before, so Monday’s thrashing didn’t appear to burden them too deeply on Wednesday against what was, I’m sorry, practice run against some talented but clueless players.

Clippers: 6-3, Dallas: 1-8

Houston 119, New York 97

You know somewhere, among fashioned rails, Phil Jackson might be taking small credit for where Porzingis is at. Because Phil remembers what he told Porzingis in practice and, like us, cannot help but marvel how Kristaps sees over the top of oncoming traffic. How he visualizes an opponent’s expectation before it sets in.

Don’t let this imagined scenario infuriate you. Phil Jackson was still the man that got Michael Jordan to give into the idea of humanity and still the coach that got Shaq to like basketball. His time in New York was a near-complete flameout, Kristaps can’t stand him and the Knicks barely ran the triangle the last two years, but Phil was at Knick practice sometimes. Talking a lot.

Ending credit to the Rockets for playing through what could have been a slippery start, it was good that the team’s full cast got a nationally televised showing.

Houston: 6-3, New York: 3-4

Let’s hear the band …

Pride and Joy

Coverdale/Page? On the second night? That’s my walkover music? Coverdale/Page. It’s probably not even the best song on an album I never even bothered to listen to. Even when I was 13. Even when I had a Guitar World subscription. That tape should have come with the Christmas issue.

Videos that start like this mean business:

Coverdale/Page. Second night! Big show, a dozen games, anyone can see this: Coverdale/Page.

Summer’s Kiss/Faded

Baseball ended on Wednesday night, with a Houston win in a World Series I can’t be bothered to find fault with. Basketball has its work cut out for it, again, because baseball is fun as hell and interest is emerging in pockets that – hopefully, please – could return the diversity in both participation and fandom that was as big and as important as anything to me as a baseball fan when I was a kid.

A. Bartlett Giamatti:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

The game appeals to those of us that, otherwise content, love to break our own hearts. At whatever your level, the sport’s makeup appeals to your best and worst senses of melodrama and martyr.

Baseball was blessed with its allegiances to the American seasons, far up north and way down south and well past the borders of the country I’m blessed to write from. To all the crisp charms and early-sun promise of spring and the deadening duty of summer, when the air is still thick whatever hope the math leaves you. It gives its best against the passive/aggressive pull of autumn, and it disappears around the same time you want to curl up with someone you love under winter skies that never seem to lighten, prior to annoying the hell out of them by watching that Ken Burns documentary on the laptop again.

These seasonal descriptions aren’t unique to the Americas, but baseball almost makes them feel that way. That’s why we’ll miss every part of it.

One Last Look

Yes, Robert Palmer. One of the great interpreters and an artist whose best work, his funkiest work, has been whitewashed from the greatest hits offerings to the discredit a music industry full of people that tend to look and dress like Robert Palmer did, always missing what actually made him cool. We will get into this, perhaps during the baseball months.

This tune is on the boat, it features Jeffrey Porcaro on drums and it obviously has some Steely-leanings –   most right-thinking artists would, considering the times. Play it loudly and after some outdoor activity.

Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you here tomorrow.