By Rob Mahoney
• Mike Woodson has the unique pleasure and challenge of coaching an untamable and unapologetic gunner in J.R. Smith. Ian Begley of ESPN New York sheds some light on their relationship, via quotes from both parties:
Woodson has been on top of Smith since he took over as head coach last March. The player and coach have what Smith calls a "funny" relationship -- but it's one that has helped Smith play some of the best basketball of his career.
"It’s crazy. Off the court it’s like father-son. On the court we bump heads sometimes. He cusses me out, I cuss him out and we just go from there," Smith said. "It’s fun. I love playing for him."
Said Woodson: "I try to coach him and be demanding, but I see something maybe other coaches didn’t see in terms of his ability to score the basketball.
"I think you’ve got to put him in the right positions and you’ve got to be demanding with him and not let him off the hook, and I’ve tried not to do that with him. Sometimes I can get away with things I say with him and sometimes I can’t."
Folks can spend their time however they like, but there are so many inane things in sports already that I'm pretty opposed to creating more inane things to worry about. The drive to deem something the most [adjective] [noun] ever can be explained away as a method by which we appreciate the great feats of the here and now. But in my view, it's a lazy way to appreciate the great fears of the here and now. Document what's happening, dig deep into the narrative and the stat sheet, analyze the difficulty of achieving these things. But please don't immediately turn to a scorecard to compare a current great feat with the gold standard of this feat from the past.
• Steve Marsh chronicles the sartorial arms race going on in the NBA's postgame press conferences for GQ, with Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook as a conduit for his examination.
• Discussions and examinations of any heated basketball game seem to inevitably draw comparison to the days of yore, in which men were men and flagrant-type fouls were commonplace. Most NBA fans have some opinion on the relative physicality of today's game, but Henry Abbott of ESPN.com pauses that discussion to ask an important question: Why, again, is overly physical play fun to watch?
• I bear no ill will whatsoever toward the Lakers, but took particular delight in this offering from Alex Dewey of Gothic Ginobili on the odd legacy of this season's team:
The Lakers strike me as sort of a medieval morality play, an archetypal comic villain that they've somehow inhabited to teach us the value of youth, of hard work, and of never resting on one's accomplishments. The Lakers are there to teach us that everything will eventually be lost, but all the faster and all the more quickly without the essential and fastidious approach to life that abides others and our endless obligations. When they miss another transition not because of slowness but because they've practiced being slow? When they look every night like the visitors to Denver or Utah on a back-to-back? When Dwight can't figure out how to calibrate his less-than-100% mode to the grind of the regular season? When Metta World Peace decides (humorously, he seems to actively decide, every time) to create his own offense because he suddenly finds himself with the rock, and because, as if oblivious to the massive amount of specialization and scouting that has been done to get him to this place that says "cannot create especially well", despite all the marginal advantages he lacks, and knows he lacks, and knows his opponents know he lacks, he still goes forth and tries to conquer the basket like he's a conquistador...
... Anyway. The moment any of that happens, and the game in the inevitable course of which all of that happens? That moment and that game is validating, it is joyful, and it seems somehow like a ridiculous-but-apt historical marker for a team we'll remember with some pity and laughter ten years down the line. "Were you there when the Lakers weren't even all that bad, just inexplicably and superlatively mediocre, unsustainable considering the quality of their talent but also their historical, partially-institutional ability to attract talent?" our children and young watchers will ask. I will nod, throwing back shots to try and get over the fact that I actually taught my children to speak like that. And, later still, we'll be able to say, "Yes. It was great. It was just the best. Watching Jrue Holiday put the exclamation point on them on Staples Sunday is, in retrospect, the high point of my life."
• Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball debriefs the late-game benching of Brandon Jennings.
• Prepare for the long-awaited return of Andre Drummond!
• This late stage of the season offers all kinds of weird quirks for playoff-bound and lottery-doomed teams alike, but no team has an odder standing than the Raptors: that cellar-dweller club with no high draft pick to tank for and without a reasonable postseason goal to target. Eric Koreen of the National Post digs into the final strange days of Toronto's season, in part by accessing an outstandingly useful quote from The Lion in Winter (vis a vis The West Wing):
It was Anthony Hopkins who got to speak the most famous line of dialogue in the cinematic version of The Lion In Winter.Deron Williams congratulate Reggie Evans on an offensive rebound
When it was suggested to his Richard The Lionheart that it does not matter how one meets his or her demise, he responded, “When the fall is all there is, it matters.” Enter the Toronto Raptors, who are certainly left with nothing more than the fall. It has been the franchise’s most common refrain at this time of year.
The Raptors have 11 games remaining, following their 107-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, and here is a reasonable question: Do those matter -- like, at all?
“We always want to end on a positive note,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said before the game. “Even though we’re playing all of the young guys and stuff like that, I think going forward for our program, for the development of our psyche, whatever it is, you want to be positive.”