Dwayne Wade, Rajon Rondo Ail a Hurting Nation

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D-Wade could already detect the jig’s aerial position during the preseason. (Source: Getty Images)

By Nov. 9, many Americans were searching for answers in a new reality that side-swiped us, launching us into a tempest of confusion and despair. Things we had taken for granted, that we understood as constants in the world, were violently stripped from us. Every prediction we made, each one lined with just a bit more smugness than the previous, was boiled down by what we witnessed into a fitting side for the massive servings of crow we each had to eat. Thousands, if not millions, of Crying MJs were turned away at the crossing point between drafts and actual tweets, never to see the light of day. Instead, it was all of us naysayers, those who doubted the unlikeliest of events, who were facing a tidal wave of memes.

The nation, dare I say the world, was shocked by the end of that night to see what was happening in Chicago. The Bulls were 4-4 after an eight-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 9. It wasn’t so much the .500 record that was confounding America. Rather, it was how they were doing it that had us confounded. The Bulls, who had acquired Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo over the summer, were fielding a cohesive, effective offense. Basketball lovers scoffed at how those two would mesh with Jimmy Butler on the court. The three presented a collection of ball-dominant players who, more or less, had shooting troubles. D-Wade came with a career three point shooting percentage of 28.4%, which roughly translates to ass. Rondo slightly outdid Wade with a 3P% of 28.9%, so ass but with 18 more second spent in the shower. Butler had his own deep-ball struggles, as he possessed a career 3P% of 32.8% coming into this year. Granted, Butler did put up a 37.8% in the 2014-15 season (Rondo had a career-best 36.5% with the Kings last year) and is a continually improving player in his prime, so he still had some hope.

This talk about the Bulls’ new big three isn’t meant to disparage the rest of their very special, very fun games. D-Wade has been a brilliant playmaker for both himself and teammates for what seems like forever now. He’ll always be a wonderful cutter and passer, with a smooth change of direction ability buttressed by some great mid-range shooting ability, all topped off by a great basketball mind and that goddamn pump fake that he’ll be getting people with until the End of Days. As previously stated, Butler is in his prime and is a dominant two-way player, combining a 20-5-5 average last year with great defense. Rondo, for all the ever-present criticisms of assist-hunting floating around, is still a passing savant. He is one of the players in the Ginobili/LeBron/Rubio mold whose understanding of angles, timing and physics enables them to see the game in a different way. Rondo is able to make passes others can’t not just because of his high-level skills and athleticism getting him into good positions but because he sees passes the rest of us don’t conceptualize until the ball is in the basket. Even with those whispers of him overpassing for his own numbers, Rondo’s league-leading 11.7 apg last year were still nothing to scoff at.

So, the issue isn’t that these guys are trash players. It’s that the fit was always going to be weird, since all of their skills are best utilized when they have the ball. When they’re off the ball, they mostly hurt their teammates because their lack of shooting allows defenders to sag off them and clog the lane, which makes getting into the paint for high quality shots harder. All of us laughed at the roster construction and talked about how constipated the offense would be based on everything we knew about these players and the modern NBA. However, haters be damned, these guys were doing it! Through that 4-4 stretch, the Bulls had a 108.9 Offensive Rating, good for fourth in the league. Wade was shooting 42.9% from deep through those first eight games! I don’t fuckin’ know either, dude. Butler was throwing up a 24-7-4 line with a 45.2% clip from three. Rondo was…shooting like absolute dogshit, but hey! Go back up a few sentences and look at that ORtg again! Pretty, right? The Bulls would proceed to go on a four-game win streak and get to 8-4, leaving us snarky assholes to re-evaluate the Bulls.

While the shooting woes being conquered were impressive and shocking on their own, what was even more impressive was the lack of personal conflict, particularly among Wade and Rondo. I had based my entire worldview around the idea that Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo fucking hated each other. Years of Eastern Conference rivalry between the Heat and Celtics had steeled the two, leaving a trail of snide comments and ugly plays occurring between them.

It made perfect sense: take two driven, highly competitive players, put them in enough high-leverage situations and eventually bad blood will appear. Throw in Wade’s penchant for making some – ahem – ethically questionable plays and Rondo’s standoffish, prodding persona, and conflict was almost inevitable. Look, I’ve never met Rondo and he doesn’t know who I am, but I have operated under the assumption that he hates me. Imagine being a guy who kept pissing him off in big games and directly contributed to DISLOCATING HIS GODDAMN ELBOW; it makes sense Rondo wouldn’t fuck with him. Look, this person made a three minute video chronicling their beef (CAUTION: SAID ELBOW DISLOCATING HAPPENS FROM LIKE :30 TO 1:30 AND ARE NOT IDEAL IMAGES). Them motherfuckers got into it in a tight Game 7! They were ready to give up points to the opposition in a do-or-die game just to let the other know they were a dickhead. I was certain the chemistry issues would be resolved before the season started via one of the two strangling the other during training camp. But, things were generally sailing smoothly. The team was 4 games above .500, and before the season started Wade was saying nice things like Rondo is the best point guard he ever played with. The offensive success and lack of beef had all of us looking like the Mr. Krabs meme.

The Bulls’ short-term success wasn’t the most shocking thing going on for America at that time, though. I’m sorry to be the one to break the news, but on Nov. 8 we elected Donald Trump to be President of the United States of America. Trump, a racist shit-for-brains real estate-tycoon and reality TV star, ran on an “America First” campaign centered on economic protectionism and populism at home and hate of the outside world, particularly Muslims and immigrants. The man whose entrance into the political sphere was the racist-ass questioning of Barack Obama’s legitimacy as president via birtherism was revealed to be an aelleged serial sexual abuser via many accusations and recordings of him bragging about sexual assault, and he was still fucking elected. While not all those who voted for him endorsed every one of the disgusting things he proposed and said, they did let it slide in the interest of whatever other part of his platform appealed to them. Many Americans, as much as we probably shouldn’t have been, were shocked to see America’s flaws laid so bare by elevating that man to the most powerful position in the world.

Since assuming the Presidency on Jan. 20, Trump has not pivoted. Turns out the aspirational authoritarian has proceeded to work on all the things he promised to do; shocker, I know. He has signed executive orders to BUILD THAT WALL FUCK YEAH, to cut off U.S. funding from any worldwide charity helping the world’s most vulnerable for so much as mentioning abortions, to ban Muslims from certain countries, leaving people to face horrors our nation has greatly contributed to over the years, very much exacerbated through Barack Obama’s foreign policy. The ban has even affected people already here on green cards and visas, with people reportedly already being stopped from re-entering the country they live in. All the while, he has been bringing in a collection of unqualified and/or malicious lackeys to run his federal departments, with many Democrats offering a very on-brand capitulation to Trump’s nominations. Bleeding-heart pinkos like myself have been thrown for a loop at the degradation of others and the march toward authoritarianism becoming the new normal.

Sensing a divided nation searching for its own soul and any concrete answers in this post-fact world, Wade, Rondo and Butler sprung to action like three cantankerous defenders of sanity. Since that 8-4 start, the Bulls have gone 15-21 to hit a 23-25 mark. Their ORtg has fallen to 103.7 before Friday’s game against the Heat, good for 20th in the NBA. Jimmy Buckets is actually playing well to the tune of a 25-7-5 stat line with some good high-volume shooting, including a 35.4% 3P%. Wade, on the other hand, has fallen back down to earth. He’s shooting 42.8% overall, which would be the worst-shooting season of his career. His 3P% has fallen to 31.9%, which would be a career high for him, but still well below an effective and respectable level in the league. Rondo is particularly struggling, putting up 6.4 points, 6.5 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game with a ghastly 36.4% overall FG%. You can credit their performances falling back in line with their historical trends on a larger sample size and them regressing to their means, but I like to imagine the Bulls’ Big Three as patriots building a foundation of hope for us, brick by brick.

That theory has only been amplified over the past few days. In the wake of those garbage things the garbage human running our country has been doing, the Big Three have really cranked up the normalcy for us. Following Wednesday’s loss to the Bucks, Butler and Wade decided to lay into their coaching, their teammates and their whole motherfucking crew. “We don’t play hard enough. This is your job. I want to play with guys who care,” Butler said. Wade went even further, saying, “I can look at Jimmy and say Jimmy is doing his job. I think Jimmy can look at me and say Dwyane is doing his job. I don’t know if we can keep going down the line and be able to say that.”

That’s some quality shit-talking right there. Solid job to get in your teammates asses, y’all. Of course, the Connect Four Gawd wasn’t just going to let these motherfuckers say whatever slick shit they wanted. Rajon took to Instagram to basically say, “Well y’all are actually are the ones who are Not Good.”

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While we should technically hear both sides, I think the most important thing is Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade can’t fucking stand each other again. That little dash of normalcy is just what we need right now. Remember, America: while we fret over the presidency of Donald Trump and the tarring and feathering of the values we want this country to live up to, take solace in the fact that Rondo is probably currently telling his friend about how Dwyane Wade is a “weaselly, two-faced fucking prick with the tendencies of the most annoying person from your high school class.” In this age of absurdity, anger and failure to understand our neighbors both foreign and domestic, let us use the renewed pettiness between two declining, multimillionaire NBA players who have no idea who we are as the rock to hold onto when all else is lost.

God’s all right

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The One True God enjoying a day on the ass-whoopin’ farm (Credit: Getty Images)

Luis Suárez scored a hat trick.

Let’s just get this out of the way now. Luis Suárez scored three total goals against Real Betis in Barcelona’s 6-2 thrashing of Real Betis. And two of them were really, really, REALLY great goals! The kind of goals that that reaffirm his status as the best striker in the world, a truly singular talent who can do everything from the number 9 position. We’ll talk about them a little bit more later, but these were honest-to-goodness goals that make you shake your head at just how special Luis Suárez is and go, “Oh, this is same son of a bitch who won the Pichichi last year; the guy who drove Liver-fucking-pool to the brink of a Premier League title in the year of our Lord 2014.”

But we’re here to talk about Lionel Messi. Even while Suárez was operating at peak levels of devastation, this match was about Lionel Andrés Messi. In a game where his sudamericano counterpart bagged three goals, the mite-sized Leviathan from Argentina offered up an exhibition in singular genius. The modern legends are exalted for their ability to merely breathe the same air as him. The past heroes were prophets preparing us for him. He is the One True God.

Just look at this shit, man.

Yeah, it’s almost 13 minutes, but it’s almost 13 minutes of Messi, and Barca as a whole, beating the brakes off of a mid-table team. On La Liga’s opening day, the Blaugrana opted for a tour de force. You wanna go through each play and slobber over just how stupid this team, spearheaded by the g r e a t e s t p l a y e r o f a l l t i m e, is? Well, that’s just what we’re gonna do.

Let’s break it down by timestamp on the video. I added some videos of select plays, because apparently WordPress is some haters and don’t want me to prosper and use GIFs anymore. The videos aren’t clean in terms of there’s too much cushion on each side sometimes, to which I say, fuck you, I tried hard as hell on these shits.

Oh, yeah, the football.

0:20 – And so La Pulga kicks off this highlight video with one of the Messi motifs: the cross-field diagonal ball to the opposite forward/fullback. He’s made this a specialty since Neymar and Suárez have come into the fold, shifting the balance of the field after attracting too much attention to his side. When two of the world’s five best players joined him in Cataluña, the 5’6″ goalscoring machine became the best passer in the world, cause I guess that’s a fun thing to do.  Here’s the situation right before Lionel uncorked his pass:Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 1.11.33 AMFor those of us struggling with colorblindness/arithmetic, that’s eight Betis players, although two are just rushing back. There’s six Barca players in the mix. Aaaand then this happens:

That’s just Messi using his left foot to simply send a 40-yard ball to a sprinting Jordi Alba, who subsequently sets up Arda Turan for easy buckets. I don’t even know anyone else who attempts this pass with any regularity (please, inform me; this all carries the Karl Don’t Know Dick caveat). Messi does it multiple times a game with all the effort of a slightly-more-than-mild sneeze.

2:15 – Messi plays a quick one-two in the box before getting his shot blocked. After the block, the ball lands back at his feet, and he responds with a right-footed rip kissing the crossbar. Not the best defending by Betis, letting him make a run and get open after the pass, but it wasn’t like there was a lack of effort on Messi’s part. That’s just another part of just how complete he is: he can dribble around 100 people, shoot your fucking eyes out, and even at the size of a promising tween, he has a mastery of the penalty box. Even if he doesn’t get on the end of each cross with his head, he finds space to get on the end of balls during Barca’s dizzying exchanges and slot them home.

2:44 – And we have our first La Liga goal of the season from el genio de Rosario. Look, I don’t know why they gave him any space right outside the box. We’ve seen this a million times. It’s another of his motifs: get the ball in the right channel, go middle, skip past one/two/seven dudes, and rip a shot to the far post. I mean, easy for my ass to say it as I eat jambalaya. Everybody knows it’s what he wants to do, but it ain’t so easy to stop. Usually the shot has a bit more finesse, but this time he just hits the dick out of the ball. Goalie doesn’t have a chance in the fucking world, man.

3:53 – Hold on, this is Suárez’s first goal. Dude, that shit ain’t no goddamn joke. A cross on the ground flying at his feet, and he one-times it with his laces *across his body* for a perfect laser to the far post. That’s really some “Hey it’s like me and three other people that can do this” type-shit. Luis Suárez is the best striker in the world and a true joy to watch. Most other days, a goal like that, along with the rest of his day, would be the lead story. But this ain’t one of those days.

5:01 – Hahahaha I love Arda Turan so much. After being the baby star on the Euro 2008 Turkey squad and him humming his shoe at the linesman during open play, he is unimpeachable. On this play, Messi gets set up nicely in the middle and does *the* classic Messi shot with designs on curling it far post. However, Antonio Adán made a great save, although not enough to stop it altogether. No worries, Antonio, Arda’s there to try and clean up the ball rolling toward the net and get called for being offside. What a guy. (I am very happy Turan is getting a chance to shine in Neymar’s absence and doing well; he’s brilliant)

5:42 – Another strong, curled shot that Adán somehow turns away. Really, the main story here is just how sharp Luis Suárez is. He gets the ball, plays it out wide, and immediately gets a one-touch pass headed back to him. BUT, he somehow understands Messi is on his other side running onto it, and lets the ball roll to him for the shot. Suárez really can do it all. He has strength on the ball, he can dribble past guys (and DEMORALIZE them), he can finish with the best of them, and he’s got a special understanding of how to work with teammates. I am so glad he has gotten to play with Messi, just to give the GOAT a center forward who sees the game in the same way as him.

6:21 – The little fucker tries a ridiculous lofted pass, which is thankfully snuffed out by Betis (thankfully because you have to throw hands if he does that to you). Barca immediately presses, and Messi goes into perro mode and gets the rock back. He immediately skips past one guy, draws the eyes of the entire Betis defense, cuts to get enough space, and sets up Denis Suárez for a beautiful shot in the middle of the box. He’s all alone, but the ball is lofted and a bit behind him, so he has to pull some scissor-kick-ish shit. All things considered, Suárez does well with the ball, although it goes straight to Adán for a comfortable save. But another play by Messi, getting around multiple guys and setting up a teammate in space. Water wet, Jupiter large, Messi good.

7:01 – Genius. That about covers it. I’m perfectly fine with the doctor who gave Messi hormone therapy winning the Nobel Prize for Medicine every year for the rest of his life.

Barca clears a Betis corner, and it ends up at Messi’s feet with three quarters of the pitch ahead of him. He carries it, carries it, gets near the Betis box, and at this point one of their defenders decides, “Well, fuck, can’t avoid this anymore,” and gives it the old La Liga try. Well, Messi slaloms past him, passes it outside, then beats *three* more guys with a diagonal run into the box. Upon receiving it, he sends a perfect weighted ball across his fucking body, across goal, to give Luisito a tap-in. It helps having teammates who facilitate your greatness, but Messi’s singular genius concocts a goal out of this. The pace, the dribbling, the off-ball movement, the perfect pass: when players have TWO of the skills shown here, they are marvelous, world class talents. Meanwhile this asshole just corks out a PCP hallucination every other time he gets the ball.

8:38 – I mean, I’ve seen this a million times before, but it’s still refreshing to see Messi hitting ’em with the laces. Maybe this he’s gonna try more power shots all year, just cause he’s bored and needs a new challenge, a la Larry Bird playing left-handed.
And now for the reason the title of this fucking blog is what it is: I was legitimately worried about Messi after this summer. After the heartbreak of the Copa America, where Messi, with the weight of Argentina’s voracious hopes taking an extended rest on his back, skied his penalty kick to fucking Venus, I was worried. He quit the national team! He was so broken after all the disappointment in his nation’s colors that he was ready to walk away (or, it was a leverage play to push for organziational change within the AFA, but don’t fuck up the narrative, here, man. We’re spinnin’ yarns, fool) from it all.

Then, he came back with that blonde ass hair, and I was certain: he’d finally snapped. He had a breakdown after the constant shit he gets in Argentina, what with being the best player in the world, but never being able to secure a trophy for his homeland outside of the Olympics or youth levels. No matter how brilliant he is, no matter how well or not well his team played, an excruciating tournament final loss was around the corner, because life doesn’t give a fuck about your feelings. The questions popped up all over again: “why can’t he be the same player for Argentina that he is in Spain?” “Why can’t he be like Maradona?” I hate speculating on psychological bullshit concerning athletes, but I (did it anyway cause I’m a prick) thought it all finally pushed him past his limit.

Well, I guess he’s all right. He’s back in the national team fold, having not missed one Argentina match. His blonde hair, while still unsettling, sure looks good when he scores. The effortlessness of this instep drive betrays a guy who’s back to doing what he does best, what he does better than anyone ever: sliding around the tackles of defenders who even know they’re done when they go for the challenge, hitting passes all over the field, and slamming shots home from every angle you can think of, and some you can’t. And then smiling when his little plan that subverts the rules of football the rest of us humans have to follow all works out.

9:47 – Again, the motherfucker is just relentless, bruh. A Barca pass goes astray, so Messi figures he’ll just go and get the ball back, thank you very much. Ball acquired, he plays it out wide and breaks toward the box in one motion. He receives a pass back, because you reward the little Large Hadron Collider project come to life when he bursts into space, and he one-times a shot, only to be blocked again.

10:13 – Okay, here’s Suárez’s third goal. WOO, boy, that is a fucking free kick and a half. Again, these are goals that only world class players can pull off. Unfortunately, Luis’s buddy picked Saturday as the day to reassert his status as galaxy class. Still: Suárez’s goal ain’t nothing to sneeze at. Reminder: their other star, the other guy who’s one of the five best players in the world, isn’t even back from winning his country gold in the Olympics. How Barca are allowed to have this triumvirate of hellfire is beyond me.

11:40 – And one for the road. Messi heads a ball back to Suárez, cause he can do that too, I guess. He eventually gets the ball back in a sliver of space on the edge of the box. His first touch takes him to more space inside, he avoids a sliding tackle by millimeters while maintaining perfect balance, and feeds a perfect weighted ball to Digne, who gets stymied by Adán. He’s turning precise, perfect execution into the routine.

By my count, Messi had seven shots on goal, with two of those resulting in goals. Real Betis had six total shots. As a team. Not on goal. They only had two on goal. So, that’s a bit of a disparity (Barca had 30 total shots and 12 on goal as a whole). He also had the beautiful assist to Suárez, and two more tantalizing chances created for other teammates. Oh, and there was that hockey assist to Alba to set up the first goal. There is no spectacle quite like watching Lionel Andrés Messi tie a pocket watch to his left foot, hypnotize the entire match and exert total control over it for 90 minutes. The defenders follow his every move until he feels ready to dispose of them. The physics of the game bend to his will. The crowd groans with terror or roars with joy, depending on partisan interests. He creates what he wants, either for himself or his teammates. He is in charge of this universe, so our job is to just figure out if he’s a benevolent overlord.

Lionel Messi is back in our lives, and he’s doing all right. Let’s enjoy it.

 

 

Evil Messi is Here, and the World is Better Off for it

Leo Messi dealing with the existential crisis of turning to a life of evil.

Leo Messi dealing with the existential crisis of turning to a life of evil.

On Wednesday, Barcelona and Roma played a friendly, which Barcelona won 3-0. The European champs dominated the game, laying siege on the goal for 90 minutes behind another astounding performance from the team’s first-rate frontline. Leo Messi continued to be Leo Messi, Best Player in the World, by providing the key pass for Neymar’s opening goal before firing home a left-footed shot himself. However, it wasn’t Messi’s performance with the ball that garnered the attention. Instead, it was this exchange of ideas with Roma’s Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa that made the world give a damn about a friendly:

Now, usually we would all wonder what Yanga-Mbiwa did to make the sweet angel from Rosario so incensed. That’s just not like Leo Messi! He’s too quiet and humble on the pitch to do that unless somebody crossed a serious line! The ref saw it as such, and awarded BOTH players a yellow card for what could very well be a straight red for Messi. While we won’t know what was said between the two, we can’t just brush this off as Messi losing his cool. This is just the latest instance of Messi realizing his newest iteration: Evil Messi.

Evil Messi has been developing for about a year now. I first got worried about Leo when I saw the highlights from Barcelona’s 6-0 zerging of Getafe in April. Every player got in on the fun, with each stunning goal outdoing its predecessor. After I finished crying tears of satisfaction from such wondrous football, Messi’s appearance took me aback. As the camera zoomed in on a tight shot, I saw…is that a SLEEVE TATTOO?!

I was shocked. Messi, the little manchild who only cares about scoring goals and winning trophies, got a full sleeve? It broke my heart to see such a nice young man corrupted by the forces around him. But then I looked into it more, and found that Messi’s been sporting a few tattoos before this. However, the sleeve is his most public form of body art to date. While before he was fine with personal, anecdotal tattoos, now Messi was broadcasting his new look to the world. It was an adjustment for all of us, as Messi was no longer the innocent boy who only copped to playing Playstation at a party filled with models.

Messi’s spent a year training under the master, and now he’s ready to access deep, dark parts of himself that he swore he’d never tap. He’s got all the same skills as before. He’s the world’s finest dribbler, can still outrun just about anybody WITH the ball, has remarkable vision and the skill to make passes that only he can, and oh, yeah, he’s one of the best shooters and finishers to ever walk the earth. Take all of that, and add a taste for the embarrassing and you have a perhaps even scarier player. Well, scary for the guys defending him, at least. For the rest of us, it’s a joy to watch:

Leo Messi would normally be happy to just create some space from Boateng, and hammer a right-footed shot home. Evil Messi isn’t here for that. Evil Messi takes on Boateng, a 26-year-old considered athletic among a collection of world class athletes, and disconnects his legs from his nervous system. I’ve seen a lot of people fall in sports, and I’ve never seen someone fall like that. It’s just as funny seeing it the 86th time as it was the first. After making Boateng’s family disown him, Messi proceeds to chip with his weak foot over Manuel Neuer, the world’s finest goalkeeper. This was after getting the first goal on him near post from outside the box three minutes prior. Mind you, he pulled this skull-dragging on Pep Guardiola’s new team, with Messi’s old mentor incapable of any strategy to stop him. Who’s drinking a Coke now, motherfucker.

That game against Bayern won me over. I’m in full support of Messi’s dark side now. Where previously Messi would dribble past guys and score, it seemed more of the mind of “well, they were in the way, so I had to get past them to score a goal, which I wanted.” Now it’s, “Well, they’re in the way, and I’m getting this goal, but let’s see if I can make this jabroni question all the wrong decisions he’s made that led him to marking me at this very point in time.”

It’s a pleasure to watch, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. Will Messi spend a game trying to make a team score an own goal? Maybe he’ll bring a shiv to a match and shank somebody when they get out of line. Oh, man, Messi might just feed a certain Cristianinho some Lily of the Valley in the middle of the Pichichi race to make that Cristiano guy distracted. Everything is on the table at this point. All I know is, I need to go get some goddamn tattoos so I can do better at my job.

E’Twaun Moore Is an Honorary New Orleanian

Pau doing what NOLA wants to do to E'Twaun right now.

Pau hugging E’Twaun on behalf of NOLA.

Bruh. I KNOW you saw the Bulls-Thunder game tonight. If you didn’t, I pity you and your pisspoor value system. Chicago and OKC played a barnburner tonight, with the Bulls prevailing in a shocking, come-from-behind 108-105 victory. The Bulls ran a gorgeous inbounds play down one, Pau sent a touch pass to E’Twaun Moore, and Moore did this:

Regardless of one’s rooting interests, this game was a joy to watch. However, let’s say you were rooting for one of these teams to lose to benefit your own team’s playoff positioning, and the team you wanted to lose was the Thunder. Hey, now you’re mainlining elation!

The Bulls’ win puts the Pelicans only a half-game back of the Thunder for the final spot in the West, with a home game against the Celtics on Friday looming. If the Pels win, they are leasing out the eighth spot again, as they own the tiebreaker over Russell and his ragtag gang. We as a city have to pay our eternal gratitude to E’Twaun for what he did for us last night. He came through when the city needed him most. When our own patron saint of destruction, Altron, was removed from the proceedings for a night, THE ANGEL E’TWAUN WAS THERE FOR US. When we needed a miracle, Moore was handed a shiv from Pau (<3<3<3 4ever Pau) and he stuck that shiv right in Oklahoma City’s cornea. It was a sight to see.

We have to at least make E’Twaun Moore an honorary New Orleanian. Hell, make some day in the middle of June E’Twaun Moore Day. We’re always looking for new reasons to party, and this shot is as good a reason as any. He’s a true patriot for Louisiana, unlike some OTHER PEOPLE on that court tonight. Did anybody else see D.J. Augustin out there? Look, I know he’s a professional and it’s generally good to see someone from NOLA doing well, but come on, dog. D.J. Aug, formerly of Brother Martin, went HAM for the Thunder in the fourth quarter. In the first four-and-a-half minutes that motherfucker scored ten points! His last three gave the Thunder a 94-85 lead with 7:33 to go. Fortunately, Augustin didn’t score again after that, and E’TWAUN MOORE MOST DEFINITELY DID SCORE AGAIN AFTER THAT.

After New Orleans Lieutenant Governor E’Twaun Moore’s shot last night, the Pelicans have a simple mission: seize the opportunity. The Thunder have presented an opening, and the Pelicans must capitalize on it. Again: a win tonight against the Celtics equals a move on up to the east side eighth seed. The Pelicans have faced doubts all year about being too young, not talented enough or not well-coached enough. Every playoff conversation on TV seems to be about not whether the Thunder make it to the postseason, but what seed they’ll end up as. The Pels want to leave them figuring out how the Thunder can get in from the 9-spot.

WE THE SOUTH: NOLA’s Bench Mob Goes Berserk Against Toronto

steadymobbin

Well, THAT was a load of fun. The Pelicans defeated the Raptors 100-97 Monday night in the Smoothie King Center. It wraps up a New Orleans series sweep of the Raptors, after the Pelicans scored a thrilling, 95-93 win in Toronto earlier this year. The win is the Pelicans’ second in a row following a four-game skid. The Pelicans are now 29-27 and two games behind the Thunder for the final playoff spot in the West with 26 games to go.

Let’s avoid the future for now and look back at this game. The Pelicans were severely undermanned going into this, with both Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson picking up injuries against the Heat. They joined Jrue Holiday on the sidelines, leaving the Pelicans without three of their top six players, including their top two. How did they come away with a victory while missing such key pieces? Well, the bench mob came to New Orleans…and they were steady mobbin.

Peep this shit: the Pelicans’ starters scored 45 points, while the backups dominated with 55. The Raptors’ bench, in comparison, dropped 21. The bench mob shot 24-35 from the field for their 55, with Jimmer’s two free throws in the final minute being the only bench points from the charity stripe. Due to the limited roster Monty had to work with, the Pelicans went with consisent offensive and defensive subs in crunch time. However, three guys who didn’t start the game (Norris Cole, Luke Babbitt and Alexis Ajinca) were heavily relied upon to close it out.

Let’s look at each member of the bench’s big night individually.

Alexis Ajinca

With both AD and Anderson out, the Pelicans needed Ajinca to provide major frontcourt minutes, and he more than delivered. Ajinca finished with 16 points on 8-12 shooting and 9 rebounds, and he scored the go-ahead basket off a great assist by Tyreke. Alexis also accrued 5 fouls because Ajinca gonna Ajinca, and he committed 5 turnovers, including a few where he just gave the ball straight back to the Raptors after securing a rebound. However, Ajinca was a clear boost for a Pelicans team short on bigs. He continued his fine form against the Toronto, as he scored a career-high 22 points against them in this year’s first matchup.

Luke Babbitt

Luke Babbitt stepped into a team sorely missing Ryan Anderson…and gave them a pretty damn good Ryan Anderson game. Babbitt finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds while shooting 4-5 from behind the arc. Luke and his luscious locks made two back-to-back threes late in the game to turn a 93-88 deficit into a 94-93 lead. Babbitt also showed a bit more to his game than we’re used to, as he took a few guys to the rim and cashed in on some closer looks. (Babbitt then airballed a pull-up 16-footer but his hair’s beautiful and he scored 10 in the fourth quarter so idc idc idc)

Norris Cole

Oh, man. It’s only been two games, but my friends and I wanna cuff Norris up forever. We’re all racing to see who can get a flat top haircut first. Cole finished with 15 points on 7-11 shooting to go along with 6 assists in 25 minutes. Norris played all of the fourth quarter and either scored or assisted on the Pelicans’ first 12 points in the final frame. In that final frame, Cole shot 6-7 for 13 points and dished out two assists. This was in the third quarter, but just look at this shit. That’s just a lovely pocket pass for an easy bucket. Cole is a high-IQ, skilled, tough guard that has been a great addition so far. We’ll expand on him in another post.

Jimmer Fredette

Jimmer only played six seconds, but hoo boy did he come up clutch. My man got in the game for the sole purpose of nailing free throws, got fouled and DID. THE. FUCK. ING. THANG. Jimmer stepped up to the line to extend the Pelicans’ lead to three with four seconds to go. But that wasn’t the most important thing here. While situational basketball is awesome, Jimmer’s second ice-cold free throw put the Pelicans at 100 points, which means…#PAPASFRITAS. That’s right, this free-throw swishing death machine led New Orleans to free fries at Buffalo Wild Wings, so long as you have a ticket stub from the Raptors game. What an angel you are, Jimmer. You are perfect, Jimbo.

I may have celebrated this win by eating Domino’s twice yesterday. Today they play the Nets in another winnable game. We can’t expect the bench mob to go hammertime like this every game, but they won’t have to if the starters can turn in a better performance, which they are more than capable of doing. For now, the team has to hold down the fort until Altron comes back, then hope for as quick a recovery as possible for Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday. Also it would be nice if Russell Westbrook would stop going Super Saiyan 19 on everybody so the Thunder could lose once in a while.

THE PELICANS ARE HERE TO BREAK TIES AND BREAK HEARTS

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After Monday’s glorious beatdown of the Atlanta Hawks and the Grizzlies’ clutch victory over the Suns, the Pelicans are only one game (!!!) out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference. With 34 games left on the schedule, there is still an entire story to be written. All of us watching the team closely have begun to spring with optimism, seeing a team that finally understands each other, with each teammate’s abilities contributing to the success of others.

However, when people talk about the race for the eighth spot, the conversation focuses on two teams: the Phoenix Suns, currently seeded eighth, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, seeded tenth. It’s almost like the media is overlooking the team seeded ninth, the Pelicans. Even though the Pelicans are tied with the Suns in the loss column and are ahead by two games on the Thunder, they are still largely ignored in playoff talk. What, y’all are just gonna give the Thunder all this credit because they have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and multiple years of impressive achievements? Okay, well…ANTHONY DAVIS. That’s my answer to about 94% of questions pertaining to anything, but still. The Pelicans deserve to be talked about! We’re pretty! We want to be included!

Over here in this part of the internet landscape, our twelve readers and I will consider this a three team race. With that in mind, the race may come down to one or two wins…or maybe even zero. Yeah, if multiple teams end with the same record, then we get America’s favorite: A GOOD OLD-FASHIONED TIE BREAKING SCENARIO. Go check out the tie-breaker rules for the NBA playoffs so you can see what the Pelicans are looking at. Head-to-head records are the first line of defense. And here’s the playoffs boner poking out of my NBA jeans: The Pelicans have a head start on both their adversaries for the eighth seed. Let’s check this out these scenarios team by team.

Phoenix Suns

The Pelicans have three games total this year against the Suns, thus there will be no tied head-to-head record. If the teams end up tied for the eight seed, whomever wins the season series will be offered up as tribute to the godless, blood-drinking hellbeast known as the Warriors advance to the playoffs. The Pelicans are currently up 1-0 courtesy of a 110-106 victory on December 30. Their next matchup is on March 19 in Phoenix, before playing again in New Orleans on April 10 in the 79th game of the year. Depending on what happens before, that last game could prove crucial to determining these teams’ fortunes. Of course, it would be best for the Pels to win both games, as that would help the Pelicans gain a lot of distance in the race. But the Suns are a good team, and expecting to sweep them is wishful thinking. Just splitting the next two would at least give the Pels the tie breaker advantage.

Oklahoma City Thunder

With the Thunder, we’ll know about tie-breakers very soon. The Pelicans are already up 2-0 on Oklahoma City this season. They won 112-104 in Kevin Durant’s first game back before getting a dramatic 101-99 win in Oklahoma City on December 21. However, the season series will be all wrapped up within two days. Tonight, the Pelicans play the Thunder in New Orleans before finishing up the home-and-home with another game on Friday in OKC.

Here is where injuries will play a big role. KD is out for the Thunder tonight. Last I checked, he’s pretty good at basketball, so that’s bad for them. However, the Thunder still have Russell Westbrook, who is a terrifying cocktail of nitroglycerin, dunks and sheer anger. I mean just look at the death stare he gives at his OWN TEAMMATES FOR MISSING A DAP. I almost just shit myself. Anyways, the Pelicans at full health are well-equipped to deal with Westbrook, as they have Jrue Holiday. Holiday is Westbrook’s kryptonite, as he is a calm, heady mega-athlete to Westbrook’s raging, relentless mega-athlete. In that last game, Jrue held Westbrook to 10-27 shooting, including a missed game-winning three point attempt.

Anyways, if the Pelicans could bring out the brooms here and beat an undermanned Thunder team twice in three days, that would be ENORMOUS. They would put the Thunder four games behind New Orleans, and also add two more wins to that elusive 50-win benchmark people have set for the eighth seed. However, if Russ goes supernova and destroys shit, as he is wont to do, the Pelicans could still own a tiebreaker with one win in these next two games.

IF, however, the Pelicans drop both games, we’ve got some problems. First, the Thunder and Pels are again tied in the race, and the tiebreaker would go down to record in the conference. With two losses to OKC, the Pelicans would still be 18-14 compared to the Thunder’s 14-16 record. So, while they would still have the inside edge on a tie-breaker, let’s hope it doesn’t come to this.

San Antonio Spurs

Okay, okay, okay. Now it’s time for #COKEDREAMZ. Pass me that plate, man. Let’s say the Pelicans go on a serious run and start knocking the shit out of teams. As of this writing, the 26-22 Pelicans are four games behind the 30-18 Spurs. If the Pels get for real mega super awesome over the next 34 games, and the Spurs falter a bit, they could push for the seventh spot! Are we likely to see this? NO. Am I gonna say it isn’t possible? NO, BECAUSE ALTRON IS THE ONE TRUE GOD, YOU DOLT.

As of now, the Pelicans are up 2-1 in the series. They should be up 3-0 but OH WAIT SORRY DON’T WANNT TALK ABOUT IT LALALALALALA. Well, the Pelicans and Spurs have one game left. If the birds win, they own the tiebreaker and could sneak into the seventh seed and avoid the Warriors with the same record as San Antonio. Lose, and then it comes down to division record. Fortunately, the Spurs are currently 4-6 against the Southwest, while the Pelicans are the only team in the division with a winning record against their brethren at 6-4. So, the Pels still have the inside track on that tie-breaker, but let’s hope they can just clean up on the Spurs when they meet on April 15.

So, those are the scenarios. Thankfully, the Pelicans have the inside track in almost every situation. However, there is still so much work to be done. Let’s see how it plays out and enjoy the ride. For now, isn’t it fun to be talking about tie-breaking scenarios for the PLAYOFFS?! FLY PELS FLY TO THE POSTSEASON YOU CAN DO IT

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The Night the Pelicans Created the HALKS

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I’m beginning this post with a picture of the pizza I had yesterday. That was a Domino’s Brooklyn style pizza that cost me all of $7.13, pre-tip. I agree with you, that’s a great deal! You can get half off any online order the day after any Pelicans victory. You may remember that last year that offer applied to Papa John’s. Maybe Papa John’s was worried the Pelicans were going to win too many games, so the team had to holler at our friends at Domino’s. Either way, I plan on the Pels ruining my diet over the next two-and-a-half months. One playoff berth and two chins is my motto. Yesterday I may or may not have eaten Domino’s TWICE, because the Pelicans’ win was just that tasty.

On Monday, the Pelicans played the Atlanta Hawks. Well, if you’re familiar with sports twitter, they were actually called the Atlanta HaWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWks. The Hawks were on a 19-game win streak, and as the wins started piling up, the team’s twitter account started adding Ws to its name to keep with the streak. On Monday, the team came to New Orleans to get their 20th consecutive W. AND ANTHONY DAVIS AND HIS HENCHMEN OF DESTRUCTION TURNED THEM INTO THE HALKS.

The Pelicans started off hot and never looked back. After taking a 16-14 lead with an Eric Gordon three in the first quarter, New Orleans never trailed again. They finished up by 10 after one quarter, extended it to 13 after two and ended up comfortably winning 115-100. It was a gorgeous team win against a team that plays gorgeous team ball. The Hawks are a relentless hydra of shooters and drivers who space the floor, move the ball and punish you wherever space is leftover. Monday, the Hawks weren’t quite at peak-Hawks levels, as the ball didn’t ping around side to side, and the team missed some open shots.

However, the Pelicans still played their asses off, fighting on defense and contesting most shots. While Jeff Teague got to the rim relentlessly, the Pelicans stuck to the outside shooters and trusted their rim protection to keep him from lighting the team up. Teague going 8-17 for 21 points will suffice when Paul Millsap and Al Horford combine to shoot 9 for 23. The home team followed up good defense by bodying the Hawks on the boards. The Pelicans outrebounded the Hawks 52-32, with Asik and AD combining to get 30 themselves. Asik had 17 to AD’s 13. He even went 2/2 on free throw trips twice in one half! I know, I know: CRAY.

The Pelicans’ competitive defense was supported by some pristine offense. The Pelicans sported a 55.2 effective Field Goal percentage.* That 55.2 eFG% would be better than the Warriors’ league-leading 54.2 eFG% over the season. The team’s ball movement had me thinking I had licked a toad before tipoff. Plays like this and that are how your team ends up with 30 assists on 43 baskets. Six Pels players scored in double digits, and Asik had nine. It was a wonderful performance by everyone involved.

But, as usual, this team was led by our sweet prince, the cyborg wunderkind known around here as Altron. Anthony Davis came out determined to change the Hawks’ twitter handle, scoring a nice eight in the first quarter. Then in the second quarter he decided it was time to embarrass people. Anthony dropped another 11 in the second frame to finish with a cool 19 and 7 at halftime. He finished with a 29-13-3AST-2BLK-1STL line, which is just another day at the office when you are the Destroyer of Worlds. He was hitting his jumper from outside, getting feeds for easy dunks and then doing it all on his own for putbacks. I mean, look at this shit:

Poor DeMarre Carroll. You came back after two games off and this is what you get greeted to. You never had any idea Basketball Predator was there, and then whoops now your life is over.

FACT: That putback proves that on the body hair ranking, unibrows are decidedly above dreadlocks.

FACT: When people in New Orleans make the sign of the cross, instead of touching our left and right shoulders we just touch our left and right eyebrows then pantomime scrunching them together.

FACT: Thank you Anthony you are perfect Anthony can I name my child Anthony Marshon Davis III even if you’re not the father please *goes and watches AD’s full Hawks highlights and blacks out*

…*wakes up to drool on pillow*

Okay, okay I’m back. Anyways, this was a wonderful win. It makes the Pelicans winners of six out of their last seven. This win followed Friday’s victory over the Clippers when our beaked heroes were missing both Jrue Holiday AND Altron. What’s best about this recent run is it looks like we’re finally seeing the growth we’ve been waiting for. After every frustrating loss to tanking teams, we kept hearing about how the Pelicans are young, how they still need time to gel.

Well, it looks like some gellin’ is happening. The offense looks smoother, as opposed to ugly hero-ball with guys waiting for each other to make a play. Tyreke is more comfortable as the lead ball handler, figuring out what space he gets with AD’s rolls and where his shooters are. Tyreke has had 12 or more assists in 4 out of the last 5 games. TYREKE EVANS, THE CREATOR/COMMISSIONER/MVP OF TYREKEBALL, HAS 12 ASSISTS IN FOUR OF THE LAST FIVE GAMES. Eric Gordon looks wonderful since his return from injury (more on that in another post), picking his spots and serving as a great spot up shooter and secondary ball handler. Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter have been great additions, stabilizing the Pelicans at the wing position and adding some toughness, athleticism and shooting at a spot the Pels desperately needed it. While this little run has occurred during a homestand, the team looks genuinely impressive. I’m excited to see them take their act on the road and make a push for the playoffs. Let’s hope the Pelicans can send my cholesterol skyrocketing through the roof.

*eFG% accounts for the extra value of a 3 point shot. So someone who shot only 2 pointers and made 50% of them would have the same eFG% as someone who solely shot 3 pointers and made 33.3% of them.