Friday, December 15, 2017 

The Cheerful 30: The NBA shines on

All look at all 30 NBA teams, and the reason they stay cheery

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

ONE

TWO

THREEAtlanta Hawks

From Wednesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

The Hawks still run a lot of plays that look much better when Al Horford ends up taking the last shot, and despite Ersan Ilyasova’s haircut he just doesn’t have the angles for this sort of thing.

At least John Collins is back, the rookie had 15 and seven rebounds in 20 reserve minutes against Detroit on Wednesday, he didn’t turn the ball over (because he shoots it really quickly).

Record entering Friday: 6-22

Boston Celtics

This team fell apart, badly, in its Kyrie-less showing against the Bulls on Tuesday. The defense was the issue even on a night where Boston scored just 85, the squad wasn’t communicative enough to make its attempts at sweaty improvisation stick.

And Kyrie and his coaching staff got to watch every second of it.

Record entering Friday: 24-6

Brooklyn Nets

Look at all the nice things our mate DeMarre Carroll said about his former team recently, from James Herbert’s fine-ass feature on the rampaging Raptors:

"They're playing like you're supposed to play," Carroll said. "Move the ball, shoot the three, get other guys involved. They're playing the right way. That's basketball. But hey, kudos to 'em. I'm happy for them. I'm happy for all of them, especially the young guys. I think they worked really hard and they're finally getting the opportunity to shine."

Carroll, at age 31, averages 13.3 points alongside seven rebounds in fewer than 30 minutes a night for Brooklyn, and a single Nets viewing will assure you that he earns every penny of his current paycheck by the midway point in the second quarter.

Record entering Friday: 11-16

Charlotte Hornets

Just when you thought Dwight Howard had depressed another team into submission, the Hornets peeled off a win against the know-better Thunder and came back to make a game of it (even after landing on the hollow end of a 25-0 run) in its loss in Houston.

Oh shit Dwight still has to do Secret Santa.

Record entering Friday: 10-17

Chicago Bulls

Nah.

Record entering Friday: 7-20

Dallas Mavericks

You wonder how this team is 15th in defense, and then you remember Wesley Matthews running around, and you go and look it up and, yep, Rick Carlisle never takes him off the court: Wes is at 34.4 minutes per game this season.

(Someone show this to Michael Finley. He’ll trim his gaze two sizes before pushing his treadmill up a good four miles an hour.)Record entering Friday: 8-21

Denver Nuggets

From Wednesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

Trey Lyles is getting Big Butt post-up looks after defenders overplay Denver guards, and the Nuggets are also looking to clear space for him to shoot threes as the game moves along. As his legs build strength, Lyles’ touch grows and grows – he hit for a career-high 25 points on Sunday and 20 in this win.

The third-year forward is at almost 48 percent three-point shooting on the year but nearly as importantly is his touch in the middle spots. He’s not a passer, but he does draw attention. His rise could help Denver circle the wagons.

Lyles was moved into the starting lineup for Thursday’s six-point loss in Boston, he split both his three-pointers and missed all three free throws, finishing with nine points on 4-6 shooting and six boards in 33 minutes.

His face-up touch is wild, all we need are more Nuggets that want to play catch with him, because the shot is there.

Record entering Friday: 15-13

Detroit Pistons

From Wednesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

Detroit was only going to pull 2017-18 off if they remained unrelenting throughout, and that just hasn’t been the case of late. The Pistons are never going to spin out big comebacks, not with this roster, so the Pistons have to do their best work when the opponent would rather be anywhere else.

The Pistons returned with a 14-point win over the Hawks on Thursday but, so what.

SVG still loves Anthony Tolliver:

As usual, Stan Van Gundy couldn’t wait to wrest Anthony Tolliver off his bench, and Anthony brought his usual. He took charges, spread the floor and dumped little drop passes to let Andre Drummond know that, yes, Christmas is a couple of weeks away but, sure, Andre can still put something in the cart.

Record entering Friday: 15-13

Golden State Warriors

I can tell you without hesitation or reflex that watching Kevin Durant this month will be some of the most fun you’ll ever have. Greater physical demand will come with Draymond Green and Stephen Curry out, and Kevin’s kinda got the legs for it.

It won’t be his best basketball, on either end, you can bet the Golden State staff will have plenty to say (before keeping it to themselves) about some of his decisions defensively, his lost ones offensively.

Don’t count a thing, and just watch Durant run around.

Record entering Friday: 23-6

Houston Rockets

From Tuesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

Houston’s defense is way better this season, the team has taken advantage of its collective defensive intelligence and the Big Brain of one of my favorite NBA martyrs: Rocket assistant Jeff Bzdelik.

Record entering Friday: 22-4

Indiana Pacers

On Lance Stephenson:

Lance is a playoff ticket for the price of a regular season seat. He palms the ball in his right hand and the Indianapolis crowd in his left and LeBron James can’t believe he has to hear about both Lance Stephenson and Bitcoin in the final month of 2017, when we appeared to shake 2013 so damn long ago.

Stephenson can’t drive with James around, so he focuses on picking teammates off with dart passes that still somehow elude his fingertips on the way out of his jurisdiction.

He fills up from long range with that shot that starts from the heel of his catcher’s mitt, and he hits the defensive boards hard because Lance just checked the clock, and it’s been a whole half a minute since he had the ball in that hand last.

I cannot stop writing about Lance Stephenson:

Lance Stephenson is an E-Ticket ride at Indiana Beach prices, and you’re allowed to bring a cooler in. The NBA’s next batch of League Pass advertisements should just feature clips of Mr. Stephenson having his way against bench units featuring players that people don’t even recognize.

Here is what I wrote on Lance’s Pacers for the Washington Post.

The column I filed was mostly on Lance, but they whittled it down.

Record entering Friday: 16-12

Los Angeles Clippers

Lou Williams hasn’t missed a shot since he returned to California.

You’d want to prove me wrong, but you have no connection currently and there is no WAY you have this year’s Clipper stats cached.

Record entering Friday: 11-15

Los Angeles Lakers

Luke Walton put together his coaching staff only to win the 35-and-Over championship at whatever SoCal rec league Walton he’s part of.

I’m damn well sure of it. Look at all these hunks:

Jud Buechler

Miles Simon

Brian Shaw

Casey Owens

Jesse Mermuys

Mark Madsen (no photo available)

Brian Keefe

Record entering Friday: 10-17

Memphis Grizzlies

From Tuesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

The Grizzlies are good enough to still lock in and take an opponent out of their game offensively, but at this point those sorts of opponents are just Tyler Johnson.

Record entering Friday: 8-20

Miami Heat

Kelly Olynyk is killing at three-point percentage, which is kind of a bummer to a certain type of NBA fan that I’m not entirely sure I disagree with.

The big man is up to 43 percent from behind the arc and the Heat have split a pair of games since he took over the starting position from Bam Adebayo.

Miami has been killing it offensively, too, since Olynyk moved into the lineup. Listen, I’m not saying any of this is cool.

Record entering Friday: 13-14

Minnesota Timberwolves

I get the feeling Tom Thibodeau only looks at totals.

Someone gave him an entire set of 1990 Hoops cards during his rookie season as an NBA assistant in Minnesota, and I bet those things were probably the only thing he had to read back at his apartment.

Twenty-seven years later, and his Timberwolves can’t even stand at the free throw line in the fourth quarter.

Karl-Anthony Towns leads the Wolves with 343 rebounds this season, but do not count out Taj Gibson.

In his first season reunited with Thibodeau, Gibson is on pace to pull in 681 rebounds this year, a mark that would far outpace the 435 rebounds Taj collected last season.

Record entering Friday: 17-12

Milwaukee Bucks

I have a slight idea as to why Jason Kidd starts Gary Payton II at point guard. In three games Payton has contributed 10 points, three assists, seven rebounds and one turnover in 45 combined minutes in the role.

I do not know why the Bucks once traded 27-year old Ray Allen for Gary Payton, who was 34 at the time and a free agent to be, in 2003.

I do not know why George Karl said this to Charley Rosen at the time:

For Karl, however, the trade was a no-brainer. "Ray Allen was nothing but trouble," Karl says. "We had no choice but to get rid of him."

Ray Allen could STILL play on the Bucks.

Record entering Friday: 15-11

New Orleans Pelicans

If the NBA extended its margins and allowed for a longer stretch between the corner three-point line and danger zone, I would be happy. Basketball would be far prettier.

The Pelicans would murder for it. E’Twaun Moore and Dante Cunningham set up so many good things from that tiny stretch of freedom between the lines.

It isn’t just about the three-point shooting from Moore (48.3 percent!) and Cunningham (his shot looks really nice!).

Angles previously only seen from space would open for Dr. Cousins and, we presume, Mr. Davis.

Record entering Friday: 15-14

New York Knicks

Joakim Noah, after Yaron Weitzman asked him for his AOL IM name:

"Damn, that's personal," he says before acquiescing. "It was actually 'Doggystyle.'" There were some numbers tacked on at the end of the screen name, but Noah won't share those, citing privacy concerns. He insists the moniker was not chosen for sexual reasons.

"It was because of the Snoop Dogg album. That was my favorite album," Noah says. "I mean, I was so young that I don't think I or other people my age knew what doggy style was. And anyway, I was in France at the time. There you call it 'levrette.'"

Record entering Friday: 15-13

Oklahoma City Thunder

Nobody, it seems, appears ready to make excuses for two players that have tested us far too often as basketball observers in the years since we became aware of their names. That’s capitalism, Clay, now go blink along with the dots on the clock.

Paul George is good as hell, and at least Steven Adams cleans up.

The center turned into the league’s best offensive rebounder and he’s minded his hips around the little guys on that end – Adams’ turnovers are way down in his fifth season, he isn’t lapping up cheap ones on quick picks.

It helps that the Thunder never set any screens for each other.

This team is full of ego and long arms that get calls, it’s going to stay a bitch on the defensive end and the Thunder are going to show up for both the nationally televised games, and the make-good contests.

They’re around, and never assume that you’ll meet a meltdown when it comes time to line up against this mess.

Record entering Friday: 13-14

Orlando Magic

If you could combine Bismack Biyombo and Marreese Speights? The one guy that always seems to be dunking, often accurately, and the King of the Second Quarter jumper?

After three straight losses, including dullards in the face of the Clippers and Hawks, this is where we’re at.

TRANSMOGRIFY.

Record entering Friday: 11-18

Philadelphia 76ers

Since the trade that brought Trevor Booker to Philly, center Richaun Holmes has averaged 13.2 points with seven rebounds a contest in 24 minutes a night, with one start. He’s blocked three shots and turned the ball over just three times during that stretch.

Booker has complied and also compiled averages of 13.3 points and 7.3 boards with a block and steal and 2.3 assists in 21 minutes a game as a Sixer.

There’s so much going on in that front office, but then they’ll back their way right into this sort of win. Bloody hell.

Record entering Friday: 14-13

Phoenix Suns

You’ll be cheered to note that Greg Monroe is back to doing Greg Monroe things, right down to all the very noticeable assists and the super-high PER.

He starts now, for a team that is without Tyson Chandler and Devin Booker, a Suns outfit now stuck in what is the franchise’s birthright: Phoenix has the worst defense in the NBA.

But Greg Monroe averages 11.4 points on 61 percent shooting in 23 minutes a night, with nine starts, pulling in eight rebounds and dishing 2.3 assists, so this particular part of Phoenix’s future is settled.

(We were nice last week.)

Record entering Friday: 9-21

Portland Trail Blazers

Zach Collins has been playing basketball for the Blazers of late, which is new, and also somewhat good basketball, which is different.

The 20-year old rookie decided to win some hearts down the stretch of the team’s Monday loss to the Warriors with the hustling and the bustling on the season. The center’s prize was a slot in the starting lineup in Miami on Wednesday, when the Blazers were asked to play two games on two opposite coasts in a 48-hour stretch.

Collins was a lottery pick, so there should be some expectation here, but 2017’s No. 10 selection has earned his caveats with a quad injury and the concussion setbacks that halted an NBA career that probably wasn’t going to be of much help in October or November.

It’s December now, Jusuf Nurkic is out with a right ankle sprain and with Meyers Leonard still parting his hair on that side, the burden fell on the rookie. Zach picked up 10 fouls in 46 minutes of play in two games, hilarious, but he also pinned a shot and stole the ball three times.

He did not rebound well – just ten, over that stretch, but he did score 18 points on 18 shots. The win over Miami broke a four-game losing streak for the Blazers.

Collins has certainly earned his nickname:(You can cuss. Go ahead.)

Does Basketball-Reference really want blood on its hands for what happens in the low post the next time Zach Randolph lines up against the Blazers? Portland’s gonna have to retire Randolph’s number at halftime, just to get him to stop.

Record entering Friday: 14-13

Sacramento Kings

From Wednesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

I will let Frank Mason chaperone this and any other upcoming dances. He might be playing Eddie Haskell on me, but I feel like the rookie has a head on his shoulders.

The 23-year old six-footer-kinda hits 42 percent of his threes and finishes well for his height when the opposing footsteps behind him don’t rattle too severely. If he’d been born a decade earlier, the rookie would have eventually grown into a key participant on one of Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls squads.

Record entering Friday: 9-19

San Antonio Spurs

From Wednesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

The swingman played just 16 minutes, by rule, and he’s going to be relying on touch and high arcs for a healthy portion of this season. Kawhi will lean on his jumper for a while. He’s literally going to lean on his jumper for a while.

Leonard has little lift, understandably, and he’s probably not going to swoop full time until it starts to get warm outside. Leonard will look like an MVP again and soon, you’re going to see flashes this weekend if Pop will let him play against Houston and Dallas, but patience is badly needed with a leg setback like this.

[…]

He looked great. He also looks like he has miles, and miles to go.

Record entering Friday: 19-9

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have already played 16 of 26 away from Toronto and have seven road games in the next three weeks. Each are winnable, save for a Thursday night visit to Philly after spending the night before playing in Charlotte.

That’s merely do-able, for a top-ten defense and top five offense.

Every crack has shown on the Raptors so far, even the sparkling Bench of Bloom had its slow moments in different time zones, and Kyle Lowry sometimes looks like he used to play with Ed Pinckney.

It hasn’t mattered and I’m not looking toward the point in which it might, presuming such a thing exists.

Record entering Friday: 18-8

Utah Jazz

The Jazz have lost four in a row and things don’t figure to improve soon, the club has dates in Boston, Cleveland, Houston and Oklahoma City to finish this road trip, followed back to Utah for a chance at the same Thunder and Spurs again.

This precludes another road trip that will find the Jazz in Denver and Golden State, followed by a home date against LeBron and the Cavaliers …

December won’t be fun for Utah, and we don’t have a quip or Darrell Griffith dunk to soothe this knowledge with.

(You know that’s not true.)

Hitting Christmas with 20 losses would not spell the end of anything, though.

The Jazz are full of extreme examples in its rotations even when everyone is healthy, but all time can do is add to the data and what the group plans to do with a season like this, such as it is, and who doesn’t want to see what Quin Snyder wants to try to come back with in January?

This is the longest stretch of the year, weirdly hitting when the days are short and dark and, depending on how clearly the signs are marked in the parking lot, brutish.

It’s a longer season, though.

Record entering Friday: 13-15

Washington Wizards

Marcin Gortat has looked a step behind plenty of times this season, he’ll turn 34 the same week as the trade deadline, and DeAndre Jordan would look real nice for a Wizards team that feels like it needs a kick in the ass.

It still might. Until age 34 hits, though, Marcin’s the man.

He’s helped, quite a bit. Even before John Wall had to take a seat, Gortat had begun to do fantastic work in hitting Wizards that were last seen peeling off screens set by Marcin’s burly butt. Gortat picks off heaps of assists from this movement, his numbers have raked in that area.

DeAndre Jordan turns the ball over far more, though. And he’s not asked to do nearly as much as Gortat, working on a Wizards team that is top five in taking care of the ball despite Marcin’s own miscue uptick this season.

Marcin has sat just eight career games as a Wizard and, save for a foot injury that ended 2012-13, the center has barely missed any available NBA time.

Washington has clearly picked up as much as it possibly could from the center, delivered in 2013 for Emeka Okafor’s expirations and a pick that turned into Tyler Ennis, a point guard Marcin has unused car accessories larger than.

Record entering Friday: 15-13

(Thank you for reading.)

(A trip with my wife and her mother to a train station in the dark lines up for unexpected duty on Friday night, and after that I’m taking my wife to J&J Fish, so we’ll stay in for a Behind the Boxscore night on Saturday evening.)

(Do forward, cut and paste, link to and talk about this stuff if you made it down here. More people gonna know, might as well come from you.)