The third installment of the NBA League Pass Rankings is here, just in time to steal one of Kobe’s passes and take it the other way. Although seeing Kobe pitted in a battle of wills against a not-so-hungry Toronto team that had just traded their best player moments before the game was entertaining I guess, Kobe’s first real test will be later this week when he takes on the greatest of all time. Kobe may have struggled a bit on Sunday, but I fully expect him to go full 2007 Kobe Mode as he gets his legs back, even if Steve Blake is a slight step up from Smush Parker. To be fair, that team also had a pre-Kardashian Lamar Odom, although there is no way to tell how much crack it took to make that season tolerable. Come to think of it, maybe Pau could use some rock to revitalize his corpse’s game. I digress. Let’s rank em.
1. MIA @ IND Tues 7:00 et.- This wasn’t exactly the toughest decision I’ve made today. To put that in perspective, I’ve only made about three total decisions since waking up. But this matchup couldn’t be overlooked. The game’s best player who has mastered basketball so completely, that he has started creating his own mini games and objectives throughout the course of the game. “Hey, how many points can I increase the lead by this quarter if I don’t take a single shot?” “Can I hold the best guy on the other team to less than four points this quarter?” “Can I keep Dwyane from falling down for the rest of the game?” Ok, I know only two of those are actually realistic, but the point is that LeBron has taken the final step. You can log on to all the internet forums you want, but you cannot make a single valid point to diminish what he has done over the past calendar year and a half.
Enter Paul George. LeBron’s arch-nemesis, and one of only two or three humans on the planet who can hang with the King at this point. A lot of comparisons have been made to Scottie Pippen regarding PG. I get the two-way player comparisons, but Bill Simmons recently pointed out that his offensive ability is much more comparable to T-Mac. You know what, he’s right. PG can iso to get his own shot, he has a great mid-post game, and is a supreme athlete like a young T-Mac.
This game isn’t just about LBJ and Paul George though. LeBron has notoriously struggled against rim protectors like Hibbert, and protect the rim Hibbert has. Scott Rafferty points out in this article that HIBBERT AS BEEN OUT OF HIS MIND ON DEFENSE.
If for some inexcusable reason you have to miss this game, it’s ok. They will be playing six or seven more times this Spring.
2. HOU @ GSW Fri 10:30 et.- Houston is generally barred from the League Pass Rankings given that, well, they are a fucking misery to watch. Perhaps some of this is my anti-Dwight sentiment seeping through to my generally unbiased and evidence-based commentary, but I think more so it is the fact that they spend most of the game at the free throw line or watching James Harden launch absurd 3′s. They get a pass here though, as they are taking on a reeling Dubs team who is fresh off a loss to a team that gives Josh McRoberts, Cody Zeller, and Bismack Biyombo serious minutes. Not to mention that the Warriors should have lost to the Raptors last week until the Basketball Wizard started doing his thing.
Both teams are in the bottom three in the league in turnovers per game, and both teams launch 3′s at top ten clips. I’ve heard rumors swirling about that Klay and Harden cut a deal where neither of them cross half court to play defense. Dwight Howard will be the only one attempting to play and D in this game, but that will end as soon as Patrick Beverly doesn’t throw it to him in the post and Dwight packs it in for the night, continually looking for foul calls even though he should be trying to avoid the line at all costs.
Everything that the Pacers/Heat will be, this will not. Teams valuing possessions, playing solid D, and getting crunch time stops will all take a backseat to ill-advised 3′s, lethargic defensive efforts, and Steph Curry trying to throw passes that everyone in the arena knows are coming. Regardless, this will still be entertaining as hell to watch.
3. MIN @DET Tues 7:30 et.- What if I told you neither point guard would make a 3? What if I told you Brandon Jennings wasn’t the worst decision maker on Detroit’s roster? What if I told you only one guy could get each rebound? What if I told you that Pekovich had a long lost Cold War twin named Josh Harrellson, and that for some reason he would be getting minutes against his long-lost comrade? What if I told you Josh Smith only shot above 35% from three out of fifteen shooting zones on the floor, but that he also launched 20ft jumpers like he has amnesia?
This game has two things that I plan on watching intently. One is ANDRE DRUMMOND, who over his last five games has been perhaps the best big in the league. Secondly, I will be watching Jennings and Rubio run pick and rolls. One usually goes like this; Point guard dribbles in place, leaves a bunch of room between him and the screener, then weakly dribbles towards half court before settling for a pass to Josh Smith in an area on the court where is historically inefficient. The other involves the craftiest passer in the league, coming off a solid screen where he either bounces to the roller, gets all the way to the hoop, or swings it back where he came from for a Corey Brewer three. So to recap we have Josh Smith 20 footers, or Kevin Love layups/Corey Brewer corner 3′s. Go Pistons.
I should also note that despite every bad word I have said (and will continue to say) about Jennings, he is top 5 in the league in assists. Also, he isn’t Josh Smith. Keep it up Brandon.
4. LAC @ BOS Wed 7:30 et.- There is one obvious story that the media will over-hype here. Sure Doc is returning to the Garden after making up a rule where teams can trade their coaches. But what I’m looking for is the onslaught of Crawford-on-Crawford crime that is going to take place. Between Jordan and Jamal (no relation, maybe), I can almost guarantee that at least 15 times during this one, you will think to yourself, “Jesus, that shot selection should be punishable by the rule of law.” Jordan has been playing extremely well given his current teammate situation, which some might describe as so bad that it would be more entertaining to watch 3000 Miles to Graceland.
Chris Paul will continue his MVP Jr campaign (Which is the race for who can finish 2nd to LeBron), and Blake will somehow convince himself that Kelly Olynyk has a personal vendetta against him leading to at least three hard Blake stares, which are now an official stat.
5. LAL @ CHA Sat 7:00 et.- Wait, what? That’s right. The Charlotte Kembas are making what will almost certainly be there only appearance on this list this season. But it has absolutely nothing to do with the on-court product, which somehow has them in the playoffs, a place where the Warriors currently are not (This hurts my soul). Rather the intrigue in this matchup stems entirely from Kobe v. Jordan. Kobe is “trying to get back into the swing of things” and “finding his place with team” and “turning the ball over every other time down the court”. But really Mamba is just waiting for his official comeback, when he attempts to put up 95 right in front of Jordan’s face. Kobe is out to send a message to Jordan, and that message is, “I can no longer challenge your rings, but best believe I’m scoring more points than you mofo.”
One thing to keep a close eye on in this one, is the growing possibility that Jordan will lace up at halftime after Kobe torches the Bobcats for 40 in the first half. Can’t you see Jordan in the locker room, just like in Space Jam, but the complete opposite. Tearing Cody Zeller to pieces, imploring him to explain how he could be a center shooting 35% from the field, then plucking Kemba from the room, cutting everyone else on the team, and picking up three ball boys to play the second half. Perhaps this is just speculation, but I wouldn’t sleep on this exact scenario happening.