LeBron James is the best basketball player walking the planet earth right now.
Kevin Durant is, in my opinion, the best pure scorer walking the planet right now.
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski is a smart man. He knows what an unstoppable force those two guys are — so he started playing them off each other.
I tweeted about this during the USA’s throttling of Spain: There is no way to really defend the two-man game Durant and LeBron have started to play. LeBron is the pick-setter and Durant comes off him, although unlike a classic pick-and-roll this is more LeBron with the ball out high and Durant coming off him and taking a handoff.
Our own Rob Mahoney wrote about the challenges this presents at the New York Times.
From the moment Durant curls around James’ screen and accepts the handoff, the defense is at an incredible disadvantage. James is a threat to flare, dive, or catch a pass and act as an intermediary, and yet opponents have no choice but to close the space that Durant now has at his disposal. Both players are threatening at every step in this sequence, giving it a sustained life that normal pick-and-roll scenarios lack.
This kind of arrangement adds potency to Team U.S.A. Each player on this roster can score in isolation, but the glory of this team’s construction isolation isn’t necessary. There’s too much potential such as the pick-and-roll above, and too many brilliant juxtapositions of talented players to succumb to inefficiency.
Mahoney’s point is that Team USA is a collection of talent but like any team improves the longer they play together. It’s one of the advantages that teams like Spain and Argentina have, where their national teams have largely played together in tournaments since they were teenagers — they have a comfort level we ask our guys to pick up on the fly. No sport works like that.
But the guys on Team USA are quick learners. The team that beat Spain in the final exhibition game was better than the one that played the Dominican Republic in Vegas a couple weeks before.
And the one in the gold medal game will be better still. And will need to be.
LeBron James is usually the guy handing out chasedown blocks. He’s famous for them, and has carted out his signature move in the biggest moments of his career.
He’s also not used to having his own shots blocked from behind, and certainly not by opposing point guards.
Enter Elfrid Payton.
During a play halfway through the first quarter against the Orlando Magic on Thursday, LeBron was on a drive to the hole with Elfrid trailing far behind.
Thanks to a pinch by two Magic defenders, LeBron had to try and use brute force a bit deeper in the paint than he wanted to.
That allowed Payton — running at full speed — to catch up and pin The King on the glass.
Cleveland still got the best of the Magic, as Isaiah Thomas hit a clutch free throw to win the game with 11 seconds left, 104-103.
For about as long as we can remember, Joel Embiid has famously thirsted after Rihanna on Twitter. Fans have tried to boost his standing with the singer, but it apparently that has not been enough.
In 2014, Embiid mentioned on social media that a “famous girl” — presumably Rihanna — told him to “Come back when you’re an All-Star.”
Well, today is that day.
Embiid is a starter out of the Eastern Conference, and on Thursday night he had his chance to speak to Rihanna (or whomever) via national TV on TNT.
Did Embiid decide to reach out to this famous person? Apparently he’s off it.
This is like that scene from Private Parts when Howard Stern hits No. 1 and he tells Paul Giamatti’s character to get lost.
Embiid had the chance to curve Rihanna (or whomever) and took it. Long live The Process.
NBA All-Star voting is over, and now we have the results. The starters are in, and what’s left is for us to wait until they announce the teams after they are picked in double secret ceremony.
Of course, the NBA did release the full voting results via their PR website this week, and as such there are some head scratchers. My boy Patrick Redford over at Deadspin did an excellent job rounding up some of the players who got exactly one (1) vote from other players.
The gag here is that these guys presumably voted for themselves.
Of course, what I found most interesting was actually the guys who got multiple votes from their compatriots without being All-Star caliber players.
My favorite list of player-voted non-All-Stars includes: Michael Beasley (4), Gordon Hayward (2), Boban Marjanovic (2), Jahlil Okafor (4), Quincy Acy (2), Tyler Zeller (4), T.J. McConnell (2), Elfrid Payton (2), Zaza Pachulia (3), Taj Gibson (6), Zach Randolph (5), Maurice Harkless (2), Deyonta Davis (3), Lonzo Ball (9), Mike Conley (3).
There’s a whole smattering of guys in there who either didn’t play enough, aren’t stars, are injured, or who aren’t very good.
That multiple players took time to vote for these guys really speaks to the frivolity of the NBA All-Star Game. At least outside of player contract incentives.
Bring on February!
LeBron James is one of the best passers the NBA has ever seen, but even this is too hard to believe.
During Thursday’s game between the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron through a ridiculous behind-the-back pass that nutmegged Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.
The result of the play was a bucket for Dwyane Wade.
I mean, that’s just … insane.