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A Night At The Garden

By Zach

As a newly transplanted New Yorker and NBA fan, it’s been hugely entertaining for me to watch the Knicks this year. This is probably much more so the case because I don’t actually root for them (I’m a Celtics fan), so I was able to watch dispassionately as their season descended into a macrocosm of exciting, dysfunctional uncertainty. Even at the height of Linsanity, when Lin dropped 38 on Kobe and his two under-utilized stooges, questions abounded. No one in New York knew if the Knicks would even make the playoffs; no one in New York knew if Lin’s transcendence would last until April.

It didn’t. The Knicks entered the playoffs without Lin, lost in late March to a bothersome torn meniscus. Without Lin, the offense devolved into a predictably iso-heavy, Melo-centric barrage of contested jumpers. Valuable seconds were wasted, of the shot clock and of legitimate basketball fans’ lives.

So naturally, for game 3 of the Knicks-Heat series, my girlfriend and I decided to join the craziness for a couple hours, in person as opposed to the tacky Mexican restaurant and dive bar with a projector we’d frequented for games 1 and 2. Game 3 would be better, we surmised — it was at the Garden and the crowd would be going nuts. Amare and his disinterested defense had been extinguished. Bosh went home to watch his egg hatch (a cruel joke, yeah, but Gator never filters itself in the name of kindness).

Even though, by game time, we knew that only the first two assumptions would prove prescient, there was reason for optimism. 7th Avenue was buzzing outside the Garden. Melo shirts abounded, interspersed with the occasional Lin or Stoudemire or I’ve-made-a-huge-mistake-in-purchasing-this Fields jersey. The Knicks dancers were performing in the main entryway, much to the delight of all hairspray and spandex enthusiasts present. Beer still hovered around 10 dollars, but it was flowing!

(On a side note: If I ever own a sports team, I’m definitely lowering the price of beer for the playoffs. With 2 dollar beers, a decent team with home court advantage would ROMP its way to a championship. There’s an undeniable effect that drunk, rowdy fans have on both sets of players and, yes, the referees. Someone should do statistical analysis of that effect sometime. The point is: a trophy should take precedence over profit margins, a few black eyes and some vomit cleanup detail expenses.)

Back to the Garden. One of the best parts of seeing a sporting event live is the pre-game action. The warmups, for starters, can sometimes be pretty illuminating in regards to players’ personalities and team dynamics. Of course, I focused on LeBron, whose physical characteristics are obviously much more easily defined than his personal traits. It’s clear that he’s a specimen (all the more so when you see him in person), but I was interested to see how he acted before the game.

The answer? Kind of insecure, just like you might expect. He insisted on viciously dunking a disproportionate amount of his layup line attempts (missing two in a row at one point), and kept doing this stupid little dance while he waited in line. It was like watching a white middle schooler Dougie.  I’m sure it was his attempt to tell the crowd, “Look at me, I’m relaxed,” but to me it just seemed contrived. But then again I’m a completely biased Celtics fan, and I can’t defend five positions in the NBA.

Everyone in the Garden expected at least a tight game, and they got it. It was ugly. We hadn’t seen offensive sloppiness like this from LeBron, Wade, and Melo in a while, and the offensively sloppy play we’d come to expect from guys like J.R. Smith and Landry Fields hadn’t abated.

That said, the Knicks led at halftime and kept it close until the fourth quarter. We all know how the fourth turned out. I’ll spare you the disaster-GIFs of cats falling out of windows or fat ladies tumbling down stairs. Here are my takeaways:

1) Melo, not LeBron, should have been looking to team up with a superstar these past two seasons. It’s not just that he needs good players surrounding him — he needs good players who bring with them a culture of ball movement and teamwork and who will tell him to buck up, reduce his shot attempts, and get his teammates involved. Iso doesn’t win championships, and when your best three scorers are three players who LOVE to iso in Melo, Amare and J.R. Smith, you’re going absolutely nowhere. We all know it, but I thought I’d reiterate.

2) If the Knicks ever become good, MSG will be absolutely insane during the playoffs. The atmosphere was great even though they were down 2-0 in the series and hobbled. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like if they’re ever a Finals favorite. Of course, this might be in 2019 when Melo’s long gone, they’re built around a Lin-Shumpert backcourt and they have Anthony Davis anchoring the paint following a TV special announcing his decision to take his talents to Broadway.

3) The Heat are eminently beatable this year, but only in the Finals. The Pacers can take a couple games off them, as can the Celtics/Bulls/Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals, but they’re not losing four times in a series before June.

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A Proposal For All-Star Weekend: The All-Bedshitters Game

By Zach

The NBA runs its All-Star weekend better than any other league. Despite the obvious judicial bias towards big-name players, the dunk contest remains a major draw for the viewing public. The 3-point shooting contest is always fun because you get to watch role players beat Hall of Famers at their supposed specialty (see last year, with James Jones beating Ray Allen and Paul Pierce). And of course the All-Star game is exciting in many different ways. You get to see Kobe’s desperate attempts to prove he’s still a level above everyone else, Durant going into Rucker Park mode due to the complete lack of defense, and LeBron trying to remember not to glare at the crowd after every dunk.

The problem with the All-Star game, though, is that there’s nothing at stake. The players know they’re at the top of the game, the cream of the crop, so to speak, and they don’t expend much effort. So why not introduce a game in which there’s a little more drama?

My suggestion: an All-Bedshitters Game. Or an All-Flops Game, or an All-Disappointments Game, or whatever you want to call it. The teams would be composed of the most disappointing players every season – former All-Stars who are averaging career lows, starters who are playing their way out out of the lineup, role players who are playing themselves out of the league. Just guys who have been proverbially shitting the bed for their teams. Not due to old age or injury; we don’t want to put a Bedshitter asterisk next to Kevin Garnett or Greg Oden’s names. These guys should just be having crappy years.

I'm looking at you, Lamar.

Now, there will also have to be some sort of motivating factor for them. Let’s make the prize for the winning team a huge pile of cash.  Where does that money come from? You make these guys forfeit a month’s salary just for being selected to the team. So in essence they’re playing for the chance to recoup their lost salary, plus a good chunk of their opponents’ money.

Also, you want to make sure that there is the appropriate level of glitz and glamor surrounding the game. The NBA could get a bunch of sponsorships from companies like Ocean State Job Lot, Shurfine, 7-Eleven, Arby’s, and so on.

Then, because  you want to ensure that there’s a sellout crowd, invite all the homeless people of whatever city the game’s being hosted in for the night. Play it off as a charity event and get some donations; maybe the government will even subsidize the arena as a shelter for the night. I don’t know how these things work. (Note: I’m aware that Bill Simmons suggested this for the Atlanta Hawks a few years back. Whatever; it’s an inspired idea).

Now that all the logistics are settled…I now present your 2012 All-Bedshitters.

West All-Bedshitters: Devin Harris, Raja Bell (all-Jazz backcourt!), Metta World Peace, Lamar Odom (captain), Andris Biedrins. Subs: John Salmons, J.J Hickson, Dirk Nowitzki (painful, but he’s been bad by his standards), Kendrick Perkins, Emeka Okafor.

East All-Bedshitters: Jameer Nelson, Stephen Jackson (captain), Tayshaun Prince, Glen Davis, JaVale McGee (actually having an OK year, but the stupid stuff he does qualifies him. Like running back on defense when his team still has the ball). Subs: Toney Douglas, Jason Richardson, Omri Casspi, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Glen Davis, Jermaine O’Neal.

Things I learned from this little hypothetical:

The East is much, much worse than the West; Utah has its frontcourt to thank for its surprising start, because Devin Harris and Raja Bell aren’t doing it any Favors (I’ll get my coat); Miami’s looking a bit vulnerable this year because its role players haven’t stepped up as much (Battier also hasn’t been great); Dwight Howard has good reason to want to leave the Magic.

The final lesson: I definitely shouldn’t have picked so many of these guys on my fantasy team.

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