There haven’t been many games since mid January that I’ve looked at and thought the Knicks absolutely should win. But tonight is one of them. The Lakers have no incentive to win any more games this year, with their pick set to go to Philadelphia (the only team in the league with a worse record than them) if it falls outside of the top 3. The Knicks really don’t have any incentive to win either, seeing as every win reportedly brings us closer to putting Rambis at the helm again next year. If I’m Melo or Kristaps, I don’t want this dude to be my coach going forward, but who knows? Maybe Rambis is like one of those substitute teachers the class knows they can manipulate into letting them do just about anything, and the team enjoys the lack of strict supervision and wants to keep the party going.
Speaking of keeping the party going, I don’t remember who pointed this out in the comments a few days ago, but someone astutely pointed out that LeBron, CP3, Melo and Kobe were all in LA last night and none had a game to play. The chance of them having gone out last night is roughly 170%, so we may see an All-Star game type of atmosphere in regards to effort from those guys today since they’re all on the wrong side of 30, and speaking from experience I can say the hangovers just keep getting worse as you and your boys get older but you keep going out and partying like you’re 22. I expect LAC-CLE to tighten up in the 4th quarter since those teams are still fighting for playoff seeding, but the Lakers and Knicks have no reason to go HAM.
I’m assuming Kobe is going to play tonight, seeing as it his last game against the Knicks and Melo before his impending retirement. Only 15 more games to play, and the reality of Kobe not being a part of the league isn’t striking much of an emotional chord with me. He’s been part of my basketball life now since I was 11 years old, and I’ve never been fond of Kobe or the Lakers, but when he was on, he was always one of the most exciting players I’ve ever watched. I find myself watching Steph Curry and having similar reactions to him as I did in the past watching Kobe, shaking my head, wondering how the latest circus shot found the net. He was arrogant and he was vastly unlikable for the majority of his career, at least to me, but I feel I should be a bit more upset about the reality of a league without him. I think he’s been dwindling for so long that the end of his career feels roughly like putting a dog to sleep that has had major health problems for a long enough time that it would be easier to see it dead than alive. Kobe hasn’t been Kobe since about 2010, so this long and drawn-out process of him coming to grips with his basketball mortality has been difficult to watch.
I went and saw Kobe in DC December 2nd shortly after his retirement announcement, and the typically strange DC crowd was extremely pro-Kobe. Hell, I was chanting his name right there with them in the final period as the Wizards stared into the stands and wondered why they have to play in this transient city where every road team brings thousands of its fan into their arena. Really, Washington, Durant is gonna come back here to finish the prime of his career, in front of a city that doesn’t give a shit about anything but what the vanity plates on the lease they can’t afford says to all the other miserable commuters who callously march back and forth to the jobs they hate? I don’t think so.
But that night was actually pretty magical—Kobe scored 31 points and hit what turned out to be the game-winner, so it was everything and more that I could have hoped for to see Bryant in person my last time. He looked like the Kobe I remembered from the 2000s, and it’s a night I’ll never forget. John Wall and everyone else came and paid their respects to Kobe as we chanted his name throughout Verizon Center, he gave a few big waves and trademark smiles to the crowd, and disappeared into the tunnel, throwing the towel draped around his neck over the railings to whoever was lucky enough to catch his collected sweat that night. It was the last time I was ever going to see him play in person, and it hit me after a few minutes of soaking up the nostalgia before I collected my things to leave the arena. That’s when I knew I wasn’t sad to see him go, really. It was just the end, and that was okay.
I haven’t gotten into any of the specifics of tonight’s game, like the matchups and shared history between the franchises. Phil being our president ties us to LA in a lot of ways, and Kobe still holds the scoring record at MSG. Melo was probably closer to signing there two years ago than any of us know, and obviously Phil’s first two coaching hires (and hopefully, not his next one) are from the Lakers family. These franchises represent the two largest cities in the most powerful country in the world, and right now, both are functionally awful teams. It’s tough to say who has the brighter future, as the Lakers may cough up their draft pick even if they finish with the 2nd worst record (their chances of getting a top 3 pick are about 57% if they finish with the 2nd worst record, which is a slightly weighted coin flip. Not something you feel overwhelmingly confident about if you’re in the Lakers front office) and then they would be stuck trying to fill holes around their young talent through free agency much like the Knicks will have to this summer.
D’Angelo Russell is beginning to show why he was the 2nd pick in the draft last year, and his development will have a lot to do with how the Lakers look going forward. Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson are good young pieces, but Russell is the only one with a chance to develop into a superstar. Randle is intriguing, but I think he’s just a tad undersized, and probably doesn’t have the Draymond Green DNA combination of swagger, toughness and work ethic to overcome it. Still, the Lakers have an interesting collection of young talent, and if they retain their pick, they will have a lot of cap space and a very positive future.
I must admit, this time of year I tend to get crazy over the March Madness and get out of the NBA pool for about 2 weeks to plunge head-first into the college tournament. I love the first four days, like every other basketball fan on the planet, and the conference tournaments I try to watch just to get a feel for some of the best teams, since I don’t watch a lot of college basketball during the NBA year. I’ll have more thoughts after the brackets come out in the recap, but assuming this game is as lackluster as I believe it will be, we can come back to this later. I’m a believer in Kansas, actually, even though they’ve been synonymous with Duke in their consistency with being upset by high seeds early in the tournament. They look really good to me. Michigan State and Virginia also strike me as teams that can go really far in this tournament and maybe win the whole thing depending on the bracket. As always, the bracket and matchups will affect my thinking some, but that’s my early return.
As far as highly ranked teams I don’t believe in, I’m going to have to go with conference foes Xavier and Villanova. Something about them just makes me think they’re doomed to lose in the first weekend or in the Sweet 16. Both will be high seeds, probably a 1 and 2, and I think they’ve played in a 2nd-rate league for 2 months and are going to be revealed for what they are once they meet similar talent in the tournament. Again, I’ll have to see what the matchups look like before I can make that case definitively, but that’s my thinking now. Oregon is likely to be a 2 seed, but has an outside chance of being a 1. The Ducks have been downright dominant lately. Nearly every year I dismiss the Pac 12 as an inferior conference, though, and I’m doing it again, because it’s almost always worked out well to choose against that conference in the tournament. Oregon goes down early.
And you can’t talk about the tournament without bringing up your “sleeper” so I of course have a couple thoughts about that. Kentucky is not really a sleeper, being that they’ll be a 3 or 4 seed and everyone knows their pedigree and NBA talent. But they’ve been under the radar all year, and a little of this is my SEC homerism, but they’ll make some noise in this tournament, and could win the whole thing, much like they very nearly did as an 8 seed making the title game a couple few years ago. I also believe in Texas A&M, Kentucky’s opponent in the SEC title game today, as well as Indiana and Purdue, to perform above their seeding (which in all three cases will probably be a 4 seed or better, but still, these teams aren’t far apart in quality from any of the 1 and 2 seeds).
Seemed criminal to not devote a section to March Madness on Selection Sunday so there ya go. I will be diving headfirst into the brackets after the Knicks game tonight (and before it and during commercials and halftime, who am I kidding) like many of you. Have fun with it, it’s probably going to be a better source of entertainment than tonight’s game. But hopefully Kobe and Melo play well in their last game against each other, because it would be fun to see them trading shots in the 4th quarter of a close game, I can’t deny that.
Wow, I can’t believe I wrote this much for this game. I thought I would go like 500 words max. If you made it through all of that, congrats, and enjoy the game you crazy people!