The Gambling Problem

sennhauser 1

Okay okay, I’ll admit it. In the best interests of my family, friends, co-workers and even myself, I’ll admit it.

I have a serious NBA gambling problem.

Check it out. Here’s a partial selection of my current bets on teams and/or players:

Rookie of the Year:

$5 – Myles Turner (33 to 1)
$5 – Stanley Johnson (25 to 1)
$5.50 – Karl Anthony Towns (4.5 to 1)
$6.50 – Emmanuel Mudiay (6 to 1)
$10 – Mario Hezonja (15 to 1)

Over/Under season win totals:

$5 – Utah Jazz UNDER 43.5 wins
$8 – Charlotte Hornets UNDER 31.5 wins
$10 – Atlanta Hawks OVER 49.5 wins
$11 – Philadelphia 76ers OVER 20.5 wins
$14 – Memphis Grizzlies UNDER 50.5 wins
$21 – Orlando Magic OVER 34.5 wins
$72 – Denver Nuggets OVER 27.5 wins

Is this is problem because Mario Hezonja is a bad fit for an Orlando Magic team with a defensive-minded coach? Is this a problem because the Denver Nuggets, after a 6 and 5 start, have fallen off a cliff? Is this a problem because my R.O.Y. dark horse, Myles Turner, recently had thumb surgery while Kristaps Porzingis recently got his own song?

Yes, yes, and yes, but that’s not the point.

The real problem is that all these bets are hosted on a sketchy offshore betting site whose web address doesn’t end in .com or .net, and certainly doesn’t end in .gov. A close gambling friend and confidant of mine once worked up the nerve to cash out from this particular site. He had to provide so many pieces of personal information that it’s possible (probable) that his identity is currently being used (abused) all over the world. Meanwhile, gambling on sports is technically illegal in my state, so my balance, the one I’ve lovingly nurtured over the last few years, is basically Monopoly money—the idea of trying to cash out is just a little too terrifying at this point.

I have no real control over my “earnings,” and that’s a serious problem.


NBA commissioner Adam Silver also has a gambling problem. Everyone is making money gambling on the NBA except the NBA. He has no control over who, where, or when people are betting on the NBA, so he’s making it crystal clear that he’s interested in getting a piece of the action. 

But just because Adam Silver believes that “sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated,” that doesn’t mean that change is imminent.

Back in 1992 the U.S. Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which was designed to protect U.S. sports from the spread of gambling. All major U.S. leagues—NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL, as well as the NCAA—supported it. As recently as 2012, those same leagues filed suit against the state of New Jersey to prevent the state and Governor Chris Christie from moving forward with the creation of their own statewide sports gambling system.

So it’s probably going to be a little ticklish for Adam Silver and the NBA to make too hard a push to create anything real and lasting regarding legal gambling at the moment. But that doesn’t mean they’re not going to at least go ahead stick their toe in the water…

Perhaps you’ve already noticed the name “FanDuel” behind NBA players during some of this season’s post-game press conferences. Perhaps you’ve also noticed a new show on NBATV called “FanDuel Fantasy Tip-Off”, which essentially serves as a glorified 30-minute infomercial for FanDuel that airs before games start each night. That’s because back in November 2014 the NBA signed a partnership deal with FanDuel, thereby securing an equity position in the fantasy gaming site. Thus, the NBA, by diving in and becoming a shareholder, has purchased a measure of control over the action. And that’s okay, because fantasy is a game of skill and not really gambling at all, right?

But there’s a scenario beyond fantasy blah blah “millions in real cash prizes” pseudo-gambling that just might help me and the Commish.

Remember that 2012 New Jersey attempt to legalize sports gambling from a few paragraphs ago? Well, Governor Christie and a bunch of his friends in Atlantic City refuse to let the dream die. In September of this year, two weeks after a three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals panel rejected the state’s latest attempt to allow casinos and racetracks to offer wagering on sports, Chris Christie’s administration filed a Hail Mary motion to re-hear the case (as of this post, it’s still pending).

Well, well, potential GOP presidential nominee Chris Christie has a gambling problem, too. Apparently it’s the same as Adam Silver and I: outside of Nevada (and some minor PASPA allowances grandfathered in for Delaware, Montana and Oregon) gambling on sports isn’t really legal!


But even if Mr. Christie doesn’t get his way in New Jersey, and even if he doesn’t grab the GOP nomination or the presidency (full disclosure: I’ve got my own Hail Mary – a $5 bet on Christie to be the GOP nominee at 12 to 1), there might still be hope, not only for legal sports gambling in New Jersey, but for the entire U.S.A.:


Yup. Rubio!

(Marco, not Ricky.)

Oh, and um, fuller disclosure: I’ve got a second bet on who’ll be the GOP nominee – $10 on Rubio at 2.5 to 1. But let’s not dwell on that.

I mean, seriously, imagine Republican free market capitalist President Rubio in the White House. By the time he gets into office he’ll undoubtedly owe tons of favors. He’s got ties to the Cuban community in Miami, lots of aging, semi-retired east coast mobsters soaking up sun, and his V.P. could be (you guessed it) Chris Christie! My god, it’s like a television cop drama come to life: C.S.I. GOP! And together Rubio and Christie would fight crime and terrorists and stuff, and they’d usher in a new era of safe, legal sports gambling. And the tax revenues would simultaneously help normal law-abiding citizens like you an me, and…

Oh damn! Wait a sec. Never mind all that. I forgot something kind of important.


Like Shaq, I’m a Democrat.


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Games of the Week: December 14-20, 2015.

Finals this week. Which is to say: see you all next week.

Tuesday: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics (7:30 PM EST/4:30 PM PST on NBA TV)

In my highly informed opinion, the “one of their guys made a dirty play against a player on the other team!” battle cry is pretty flimsy ground upon which to prop up a rivalry. But here we are in 2015, and justifications make everything easier to swallow, even if the justification is pretty weak. So take it in tonight: Cavaliers versus the Celtics; a rematch of a fairly forgettable sweep from last season, made memorable only by Kelly Olynyk’s wrestling-style box out on Kevin Love that separated his shoulder. We’ll all get to see Avery Bradley grab onto whomever he is guarding by the jersey, and hold on for dear fucking life. Tommy Heinsohn will say, “good defense, Avery!” I know better, Tommy.

Wednesday: Memphis Grizzlies at Chicago Bulls (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on ESPN)

At this point in the season, I usually hone in on teams that are still turning the key in the ignition, trying to get the damn thing started. These are the teams that I am most interested in; the rebuilding units can be checked in on a bit down the road, and the sure-fire playoff teams are basically known quantities. It’s those other mixed-bag outfits that really pique my interest; the ones who will show up in a foreign NBA city with fire on their fingertips and ferocity in their eyes, but will then play like snails on strike when they get back home. Both the Bulls and Grizz fit that bill: they can’t string together consistent performances on a nightly basis, and no one really can understand why. Truth be told, both of these teams still have that shell-shocked sheen they took on when they fell behind in their respective playoff series last year; that look of “man, this squad ain’t gonna win shit when it actually matters” plastered on all their handsome(ly paid) faces. If the far-off stares of men realizing their best chance at winning a ‘ship may be falling apart in front of their eyes is your kinda jam, I’ll see you on Wednesday!

Thursday: Oklahoma City Thunder at Cleveland Cavaliers (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on TNT)

The storylines are coursing through this game like a heartworm in your dying pet. We’ve got KD and Russ going up against LeBron and K-Love; a very nice compliment of stars. We’ve got the potential return of Kyrie Irving on the horizon. We’ve got the ever-compelling trial-by-fire of Billy Donovan, who hasn’t quite modified the Thunder into the multi-pronged war machine some expected him to. But mostly, we’ve got DION WAITERS GOING BACK TO CLEVELAND. That’s worth the price of watching, right there. He’ll find his way to his favorite spot at the Q, put both arms up in the air, and wave them around while he hopes that someone passes the ball to him. Forget LeBron, KD and Russ. Dion back in the Q’s the real reason this game is worth watching.

Friday: Milwaukee Bucks at Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on League Pass)

The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS versus the whatever-man-I-don’t-even-care-about-the Milwaukee Fucks…er, Bucks. No, I’m not mad. Nah. Not at all. I’m not mad our 82-0 season got ruined by a team named after an animal built to be mangled by a semi-truck careening down some frozen interstate in the middle of America. No. The Bucks played admirably against the Warriors on Saturday. They beat my favorite team at their own game. And true, I think any true fan of the game is impressed by what they did. But I’m not really a true fan of the game these days. I’m a true fan of finishing the season 81-1. No more losses! Especially not to the Fucks. Ha! Fucks! Get it? Ha! Ha! Fucks!

Saturday: Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks (7:30 PM EST/4:30 PM PST on League Pass)

It’s my second Bulls game of the week. I think I may be a bit depressed. But that’s okay, since I’ve been jiving with the Bulls lately. I see the way they scowl at one another after a missed defensive rotation. I note the way they throw their hands up exasperatingly after the ball fails to swing to the other side of the court. I enjoy the morose eulogies that flood from the locker-room after another stillborn effort manifests itself the box score. The Bulls are brutal. The Bulls are struggle. The Bulls are art. The Bulls are on Saturday. They’re playing the Knicks.

Sunday: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on League Pass)

I mean, I don’t know shit, obviously. But from the couch, I can tell that the milk has gone completely sour in New Orleans. That team just smells bad. You can detect the distinctive scent of decay through the television screen. The ball movement always seems stilted and reluctant. There are a lot of Ryan Anderson bricks. Anthony Davis — when healthy — never seems to touch the ball. No sir, I don’t like it. And maybe there was never anything to like, in the first place. Maybe they only made the playoffs because the Thunder were hurt last year. Maybe Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Omer Asik and the aforementioned Anderson were never going to coalesce into a regular playoff team. Maybe Monty Williams should have been given a chance to see his squad through. I guess we will never know. The West would have been more fun this year of the Pelicans were good.

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Games of the Week: December 7-13, 2015.

Both Amar’e and I wish you a happy Hanukkah.

Tuesday: Golden State Warriors at Indiana Pacers (7:00 PM EST/4:00 PM PST on NBA TV)

The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS going for 23-0 against the tricky-as-hell Indiana Pacers. Much has been made of the Pacers’ successful transition into the world of modern-day small ball. At the moment, the Pacers look like the closest thing the Eastern conference has to the Warriors. The Pacers boast the league’s 7th best offense (up from 23rd last season) as well as the 5th best defense (up from an already-elite 7th last season). They also feature another magnificent talent in Paul George, the reigning player of the month for the Eastern conference. Once you add career-year C.J. Miles, Monta Ellis, who loves to exact revenge on his former squad, and the ever-valuable George Hill, you got a bit of a problem on your hands. It’s also worth mentioning that the Pacers have played the Warriors brutally over the past two seasons. They managed to win a home game (that Steph was resting in) last season, and gave the Warriors a tough three quarters when they came out to Oakland (though they ended up losing 117-102 in the end). Who knows? If the Pacers end up being the one in 81-1, it will be an easy enough pill to swallow.

Wednesday: Orlando Magic at Phoenix Suns (9:00 PM EST/6:00 PM PST on League Pass)

Last night’s unexpected comeback against the Bulls sealed the deal for me: the Suns have regained their positions as nightly League Pass lovelies. True: they’ve gotten a bit worse each year that Jeff Hornacek has been in charge. They’ve gone from 48 wins in 2014, to 39 wins in 2015. At 9-12 (as of Tuesday), they don’t look much better than their disappointing iteration from last season; perhaps even a few degrees worse, even. Also true: the whole “drive, kick, and play free!” movement seems to have lost a lot of its prestige the further the team drifts away from the playoffs. But there seems to be less acrimony this year, and they have some really fun players to watch. Brandon Knight could make a case for being the most underrated player in the NBA. P.J. Tucker is the version of Draymond Green you get from Nordstrom Rack. Archie Goodwin and T.J. Warren are entertaining young players. Alex Len isn’t going to be a bust. And who knows why Jon Leuer is so entertaining to watch? I sure don’t. Like, how is he good? I don’t get it. I guess I don’t need to. I’ll be happy to give them a gander as I also take a closer look at the Magic, who are having a nice 11-9 season of which I have not watched a single blessed minute.

Thursday: New York Knicks at Sacramento Kings (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on TNT)

What an odd TNT game. Not only does this nationally-televised game feature two sub-.500 teams (though the Boogie-Rondo partnership is becoming must-watch League Pass), it’s also some rare Knicks After Dark presented to a huge audience. My question is: will anyone on the East coast be awake to watch it? It’ll be 10:30 PM in New York when this game starts. That’s, like, bedtime. At least for me it is. This is why I’m pleased I do my NBA-watching from the comfort of California, where the games (that I don’t really care about) start at 4:00 and end at 6:30, which allows me a chance to watch the end of the 5:00 games, and the entirety of the 7:30 game. I can’t imagine my basketball night starting at 7:00 pm, and having to wait until 10:30 pm to take a look at my team. I’d probably never watch basketball. I’d also probably have more of a life. Oh well. I actually think this will be a fairly entertaining game, if anyone can stay awake through it.

Friday: Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz (9:00 PM EST/6:00 PM PST on League Pass)

Gird yourself, bud: games sorta suck this Friday. The national offerings look pretty limp; the only person who really cares about Heat/Pacers or Spurs/Lakers should let 2000 go. And I suppose there’s a bit of appeal with Cavaliers vs. Magic, but I have plans to watch the Magic on Wednesday, and I’m taking a break from the Cavs drama for a week or two. That leaves us with Thunder versus Jazz; the best game left on the schedule. You know what you’re gonna get: the regular KD and Russ offerings, met sternly by the long, limby Jazz, and their rapidly improving cast of two-way position-less players. That’ll do for a Friday night. And as an added bonus, we’ll probably get an Enes Kanter sighting. No arena crowd conjures that uncomfortable angry mob feel quite like Energy Solutions Arena. You can really feel the hate through the television screen. It’s impressive, in a lot of deeply disturbing ways.

Saturday: San Antonio Spurs at Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on League Pass)

Basically each time the Hawks are on national television, I feel obligated to watch them. Why is that, you ask? It’s because EVERY OTHER GAME OF THEIRS IS BLACKED OUT IN MY MARKET. As far as I can tell, the Hawks are the only team that presents this predicament. I can see any other team from any other device. I can even watch the D-League! But not the Hawks. No way. Only time I can see them is if they’re on TNT, ESPN or NBATV. It’s a shame, because I’d probably watch them a lot. But now I can’t. I hope the Spurs throttle the Hawks. I hope they ransack them. Never trust the Hawks, man. Never trust the Hawks.

Sunday: Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder (7:00 PM EST/4:00 PM PST on League Pass)

Back in the day, NBA Live used to have a feature called “Grudge Match.” If you lost a game, either against a real life opponent or the computer, you could click on the “Grudge Match” button and immediately play the same team again. It was often pressed as a reflex; a frustrated growl and an angry button-mash on the controller. Based on how things go on Friday, either Jazz fans or Thunder fans will have an option to give it another go, and try again against the team who will have beaten them just a few days prior. The Grudge Match doesn’t happen terribly often during the regular season, so I’ll make time to check it out. Also, there aren’t really any good games that day. Maybe the NBA just schedules Thunder vs. Jazz when there’s literally nothing else you’d want to watch that day.

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Games of the Week: November 23-29, 2015.

Tuesday’s coming, did you bring your coat?

Tuesday: Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on TNT)

The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS going for history against everyone’s most divisive nemesis, the Los Angeles Lakers. Of course, if the Warriors win this game, they will move to 16-0, the best start in NBA history. Standing in their way are the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, who have served as informal rivals to the Warriors (hell, to basically everyone) for as long as I can remember. While it is tempting to chalk this one up as a win before it actually happens, beware: the Lakers game always seems like a trap game. Will it actually be? No, not likely. Let’s be honest: it’s the Lakers. Perhaps I just jinxed everything.

Wednesday: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs (8:30 PM EST/5:30 PM PST on League Pass)

“Hey Jacob! 2003 called, they want their marquee game back!” Ha! Ha! Good one, Voice In My Head! But on the real: watch this game! I definitely owe the Mavericks an apology: there are no funeral drums for this team, only garlands of roses and really jaunty back-pats and butt-slaps. They are balling! Everyone on that team is playing well; basking in that palpable Mavericks pride we’ve seen when the odds are seemingly stacked against them. The Mavs are one of the funnest teams in the league to watch when they’re feeling themselves; they fall behind Dirk and Ricky C and just take care of business. Right now, I’m feeling them too, and I’m feeling this Wednesday night game. I’m feeling everything!

Thursday: No Games Scheduled

When your uncle says “The Warriors got lucky last year!” at the Thanksgiving table:

  1. Reach over and take his plate of food in your shaking hand
  2. Throw his plate of food against a nearby wall
  3. Climb atop the table emphatically
  4. Ignore all bewildered looks from your alarmed family
  5. Raise your ring finger
  6. Shout: “COUNT THE RING!”
  7. Bask in the electrically charged silence. This is being alive!

Friday: Minnesota Timberwolves at Sacramento Kings (10:00 PM EST/7:00 PM PST on League Pass)

We’ll be rounding out the week watching the conundrum that is Sacramento Kings basketball. At the moment, I’m not quite sure what to make of the Kings, whom I am really enjoying watching, but unsure when they’ll start actually winning games. DeMarcus Cousins is the best center in the league, hands down. Rondo is perhaps the most entertaining player not-named Steph Curry to watch at the moment; brandishing ball-fakes, behind the back passes, several triple-doubles and even an improved jump shot. All the other Kings appear to be contributing positively: Kostas Koufos, Marco Belinelli, Darren Collison and Willie Caulie-Stein make up a nice supporting cast. Yet, no wins. Winnable games, but no wins. Curious. This game between the Kings and the still-fighting Timberwolves will provide an interesting look into two rebuilding outfits: one trying to find their way through free agency, and another attempting to construct a winner from the inside-out.

Saturday: Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on League Pass) 

Much like the rest of us, who will be starting to get a little tired of Thanksgiving food come Saturday night, the NBA has decided to empty out all of its leftovers for us this weekend. Maybe adding a little hot sauce will spice up this two-day-old Nuggets/Mavericks game. Perhaps melting some cheese over this Lakers/Blazers game will make it seem more appetizing. I doubt it though. So take my advice, and give Nets/Cavs a look. If nothing else, there should be the potential of a good ol’ fashioned Jarrett Jack revenge game against his old squad. And remember: no one will blame you if you just skip leftovers tonight, and order yourself a damn pizza.

Sunday: Milwaukee Bucks at Charlotte Hornets (2 PM EST/11 AM PST on League Pass) 

Rarely ever am I driven by individual match-ups at this point. That dimension of the game seems to be outmoded; both NBA offenses and defenses have evolved to the point where a single individual shouldn’t be counted on to either carry the load, or stop the individual attempting to carry the load. But old habits are dying hard in this game between the Hornets and Bucks, two so-so teams who are occasionally entertaining as hell to watch, who feature talents at the small forward position that cannot be replicated by any team in the league. In particular, I’m interested in the matchup between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nic Batum. Batum is the Hornets most important player, averaging 17, 6 and 4 for the Hornets. Antetokounmpo looks like an All-Star in these early proceedings; his numbers look very similar to Batum (a few more rebounds and a few less assists), as does his playing style. Also, it’s at 11 am. Everyone loves an early morning NBA game on a long weekend; especially if there is a scintillating duel to give it a bit more juice.

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The Ugliness of Being Eaten

The hard data seems to indicate that there has been a competency shift in the NBA; a perceptible alteration in the balance of power between the coasts. Going into Monday, the Eastern conference — long derided for its inadequacy and unreliability — features 11 teams who have won more than half of their games this year. The West, meanwhile, only features five such teams: the Warriors, Spurs, Mavericks (!), Suns, and Thunder. The Jazz, Clippers and Grizzlies all sit indifferently at (or around) .500, working into the season slowly, looking equal parts determined and dying and as they trudge through Novembers of mild discontent. And perhaps most surprisingly, expected contenders like the Rockets and the Pelicans appear to be dead; crammed together in a horrible mess of contorted limbs and tangled hair with other repeat failures like the Timberwolves, Kings, Nuggets and Lakers. While it is very early in the proceedings — not even a quarter of the regular season has elapsed, let alone the lengthy, arduous postseason — the magical idea of “parity” seems to be washing over the NBA landscape, rendering everything (save for the Warriors and the 76ers) roughly equal, with the teams East of the Mississippi looking slightly better off than their peers a few time-zones to the left.

At this moment, determining the who, what, when, where, why, and how of this teeter-totter power dynamic has been an enjoyably open exercise. Several factors are likely playing a role; player movement among the most important to consider. Over the last calendar year, the Eastern conference welcomed several quality players from the West, most of whom are playing beyond even the most favorable projections of their outputs. There is Nic Batum, looking regal in purple-and-teal, transitioning from a third or fourth option in Portland into a primary consideration for a rejuvenated Hornets offense. There is Reggie Jackson and Isaiah Thomas, former backup guards in the West now transformed into offensive anchors for Detroit and Boston, respectively. There is Robin Lopez and Pau Gasol; providing net positive results in the pivot for a strong Bulls team and a Knicks team looking more fortified with each unexpected victory. The same cannot be said for those who have emigrated to the West, who are struggling to stake claims in harsher lands. Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson and Paul Pierce’s productions have been either uneven or unseen some nights in Staples Center, while Lou Williams, Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert produce identically insignificant results for the arena’s other more decorated (and dilapidated) outfit. Rajon Rondo (who arrived in the West last season) performs brilliantly for a Kings team that still struggles to win more than lose, and a imperfect bouquet of former Pistons and Cavaliers yield a wilted output for the Thunder. While the lasting effects of imbalanced player movement are hard to specifically pinpoint, the collective 37-32 record the East holds over the West going into Monday’s game provides hints that things are not what they used to be. And, if trends continue (and we can safely bet that they will) we can infer that, for the current period of time, the East has stolen the West’s smug crown of overall dominance, and will continue to exert themselves over the conference’s surprisingly helpless denizens.

But there is an aesthetic element as well, a dimension beyond numbers; something only informed by the much-maligned “eye test” and an unshakable feeling that the West has lost its soul. For the first time in several seasons, it seems the is East playing free and liberated; using as much space as the court will allow. Eastern guards are populated with ball handlers and shot creators; players like John Wall and Bradley Beal who enjoy free range around the court and a mandate to take whatever shot seems most appropriate. Eastern forwards and centers adhere to principles we are familiar with — footwork, head-fakes, up-and-unders and baby hooks — all the while, keeping the ball moving around the court. On the other hand, the West is playing tight. Guards seem bunched up beyond the three point line, limited to a series of lateral moves before an inevitable three point clank. Forwards and centers tend to join in on the act, either changing their skill-sets to extend their bricks out to the three-point line, or serving chiefly as offensive rebounders and tip-in specialists. In many sets, the centers are relegated to simple screen-setting and ball distribution duty; a noble, but not terribly entertaining sight to see. As the ball soars from 22 or more feet away, clanging high off the rim and into the other team’s possession, followed by a jaunty sprint up the court and an attempt at a similar play, I yawn and groan. In the East, the basketball is presented as entertainment. In the West, the basketball is presented as work.

Unsurprisingly, my analysis (or argument, if you disagree with me) is shielded in the impenetrable armor of the 15-0 Warriors. At this moment, West is in the throes of a familiar crisis: the immediate and persistent threat of a transcendent player. It is not revolutionary to state that all of the celestial bodies of the NBA orbit around its brightest stars; the most luminous emissaries of on-and-off-the-court success. Since 1990, some players have been demonstrably better than the tier of All-Stars below them; the players who become considered among the greatest who have played. Within conferences, and among teams that must face these unassailable stars more often, much of the team building seems oriented towards countering that transcendent player. Certainly this was the case in the East during the reigns of Michael Jordan and his Bulls (1991-1993; 1996-1998) and LeBron James and the Cavaliers and Heat (2007-2013). The West has done this as well; with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant (2000-2003), Hakeem Olajuwon (1994 and 1995) as well as Tim Duncan and his cast of supporters (odd years throughout the 2000′s and 2014). In the absence of a transcendent player, this type of self-conscious team-building does not seem to occur. Instead of yielding to the indefatigable talents of a single man, the various teams double-down on an ethos and playing style, they go all in on who they feel they are. In those years, odd champions arise — the 2004 Pistons, who ruled a conference for half a decade, or the 2011 Mavericks, who played footloose and fearless while winning their unlikely ring. But more often than not, teams are practicing aggressive flattery on the fly; trying to become the transcendent star’s team without having that exquisite player as an anchor.

In the West, where the threat of Stephen Curry and his maxim gun Warriors is more present and prevalent, there are a slew of rattled teams; outfits who not long ago seemed very sure about who they were, and how they were going to succeed. It is unlikely that any of these teams foresaw what Curry and Golden State would become: a team for which conventional wisdom does not apply, and for whom drastic changes must be considered in order to remain competitive. It is not unreasonable to think that the Warriors may hasten the dismantling of a few teams that thought they might have a better chance at it; teams like the Rockets, Clippers and Grizzlies who continue to mash their feet into the gas pedal while their wheels spin helplessly in the mud. Even the San Antonio Spurs are having a hard time integrating LaMarcus Aldridge, their new weapon, into their impressive arsenal. Perhaps this is what is afflicting the West: the directive to change, without any idea where, exactly, they are going, and how, exactly, they are going to get there.

Admittedly, these are the words of a man who has lost all semblance of objectivity; an individual still basking in the afterglow of it all. I’m no longer interested in seeing teams thrive; I want to see them prostrate in front of my squad, begging for mercy and shaking uncontrollably as the end looms large. For me, it is perfectly acceptable to watch the Warriors joyfully lay waste to every opponent that crosses them. In the moments I wish to view the NBA as it was — a teeming ecosystem of player species, alternatively taking turns eating and being eaten — I am happy the East exists; a section of the league that isn’t worried about being something that they’re not. But in the back of my mind — and in corners of my mouth, turned up in a sinister grin — I cannot wait until they, too, are sucked into the abyss, while thousands of tiny voices wonder how the situation became so deeply helpless.

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Games of the Week: November 16-23, 2015.

Last week of clean living before holiday eating season begins. Get your reps in before gluttony becomes the master of your domain.

Monday: Indiana Pacers at Chicago Bulls (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on League Pass)

This week I’m stretching the limits of my cosmic knowledge and traveling across time and space to uncharted realms on this astral plane. That’s right: I’m watching the Eastern conference. I’m apparently overdue: with nearly a month of the season behind us, the East currently features 13 viable playoff teams, and collectively are 27-25 against the Western conference. The West, meanwhile, has been bogged down by a few teams undergoing slow starts (the Grizzlies, Rockets, and Pelicans), as well as a few teams slowly lifting off through heavy turbulence (the Kings, to a certain extent, the Spurs), as well as a few teams just sorta milling about, trying to figure out if they’re good or not (the Blazers, Suns, Jazz, Mavericks, Timberwolves…frankly, pretty much everyone not-named the Warriors). So I’m gonna put on some white cotton pants, get in tune with my chakras, and take in some classic Bulls versus Pacers. This is a matchup I would’ve really dug in, say, 1997. But times have changed, and your boy Jacob is changing, too.

Tuesday: Cleveland Cavaliers at Detroit Pistons (7:30 PM EST/4:30 PM PST on League Pass)

The 5-5 Detroit Pistons have been one of my unexpected early season treats, but it’s hard to know if that’s gonna be the case for much longer. That 5-1 start we were all so excited about last week turned into a stillborn 0-4 week, featuring losses to all four of the professional basketball teams in California. Last night Reggie Jackson (who I have previously called the Most Unwatchable Player in the League) got benched by head coach Stan Van Gundy due to his decision, and the Pistons offense looked pretty anemic during their California shit-trip (92.0 points per game while getting outscored by an average of nine points per contest). For those reasons, I am optimistic about a spirited effort against the defending Eastern conference champions. Look for Drummond to let it all dangle out against Timofey Mozgov and Anderson Varejao, who continue to rehab fairly intrusive injuries while not doing much rim-protecting at all.

Wednesday: Sacramento Kings at Atlanta Hawks (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on League Pass)

While my Sacramento Kings eulogy from last week was drafted in WordPress, ready to tear through the worldwide web like an STD in a public school dormitory, it was never published. I’m feeling good about this, because the Kings spent the weekend coming back from the dead, and it was pretty enjoyable to watch. Boogie was splashing threes and throwing it down. Rajon Rondo was racking up triple doubles and pushing the pace, looking uncannily like the Rondo from the Old Country. Rudy Gay was doing his thing on – gasp! – both ends of the floor. Hired guns Marco Belinelli, Ben McLemore were fraggin’ treys while peering through steadied scopes. And Quincy Acy continued to play like a person who, for whatever reason, decided to model their game against Bo Outlaw. So, 1-7 is now 4-7, and things are looking up. I’ll be ALL IN on this game. But, sadly, I’m not gonna delete that Kings eulogy. There’s still a lot of season left.

Thursday: Cleveland Cavaliers at Milwaukee Bucks (8:00 PM EST/5:00 PM PST on TNT)

“What? Not Warriors versus Clippers?” No, not Warriors versus Clippers. Not this week. Main reason is that I’m doing a deep dive on that game for Wednesday, and I’m saving my A-material. So please accept this filler game: Cavs versus Bucks. It’s a national television game, so everyone can watch it, as long as you have cable. Someone will win. A few players will likely have over 20 points. You’ll enjoy the match-up between LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 18 and 8 for a seemingly decent Bucks team. There you go. Thanks for reading The Diss.

Friday: Chicago Bulls at Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM EST/7:30 PM PST on League Pass)

The Homer Game of the Week features my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS versus the Chicago Bulls, who have always given us a good game, despite the fact our teams don’t cross paths all that often. Last year, both of the Bulls/Warriors games were entertaining as shit. Draymond Green went off on the Bulls for a win on their floor last year (7 threes en route to a 31 and 7 night), and the Bulls returned the favor with a 113-111 overtime win (including a bizarre 30 point, 11 turnover, 1 game-winning shot effort from D-Rose) in Oakland about a month-and-a-half later. I will have watched the Bulls on Monday, and will surely have many questions that I will count on the Warriors to solve. While I haven’t watched a ton of Bulls basketball yet this season, most of the reportage seems to hover around the fact that many of the same problems from last year — effort, execution, chemistry — seem to persist. But a game against the DEFENDING NBA CHAMPIONS seems to bring the best out of everyone. These are my Friday night plans. Hell, the NBA is always my Friday night plans.

Saturday: Atlanta Hawks at Cleveland Cavaliers (5:30 PM EST/2:30 PM PST on League Pass)

Well, I’m still out East, finishing up my one-week League Pass study abroad trip with a game between the first and second best teams in the conference. I’m reasonably excited for this one; a rematch of the Eastern conference finals. Let me just conjure my inner Jeff Van Gundy and present a personal peeve as a league-wide issue: if the conference finals wasn’t competitive at all (which last year’s wasn’t; the Cavs swept the Hawks in convincing fashion) can we really use the “Conference finals rematch!” tagline to get excited about it? It’s the same feeling I get when the Memphis Grizzlies play the Spurs (who swept dem Grizz in 2014), or even when the Rockets play the Warriors (who notched the gentleman’s five-game sweep of the Rockets last year). If the conference finals aren’t competitive, you probably shouldn’t use it to hype up the contest. Wait, what’s that? You say that was the one who used the past match-up for comparison’s sake? This is all an argument of my own making? Listen, I don’t need you to police my behavior, alright?

Sunday: Portland Trailblazers at Los Angeles Lakers (9:30 PM EST/6:30 PM PST on League Pass)

I don’t have any data to back this up, but it seems like the Lakers play nearly every Sunday night, and by and large, that game ends up being fairly entertaining. In those cases, the Lakers serve as a useful metaphor for all of our weekly struggles: one last dying gasp to put things in order before the week resets and we’re back to square none. With that in mind, I will watch this game between two old foes, even though that rivalry has long since faded to black. It doesn’t matter who you root for, in that case: we’re all just in it to get the week over with, and minimize the damage before Monday strikes yet again.

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Your Annotated Bathroom Reader for Sunday, November 15th, 2015.

Rejoice: the reader does not need to be read on a smartphone anymore. The location, however, remains non-negotiable.

The Starting Five Ron Artest Interview: I Keep It 100%
Michael Tillery
The Starting Five

We begin the Reader with an interview from over eight years ago: Michael Tillery’s massive question-and-answer session with Metta World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest. Tillery’s interview was conducted while Artest was a Sacramento King, and shortly after Tim Donaghy’s transgressions had been revealed. Even though the interview touches on that event, it more usefully delves into a multitude of topics that, in 2015, are simply are not discussed by either players of media members in any real substantive way. There are several potential reasons why this is the case: David Stern’s post-Detroit brawl NBA has gone to great lengths to mute blackness and racial expression, and most work on the NBA shies away from these topics. But this clearly was not the case in 2007, and Tillery and World Peace/Artest provide the reader with a smart, incisive discussion on how race, class and politics inform the game on and off the court. Perhaps at a later date, I will do a deep dive into this interview, in an effort to illustrate how masterfully Tillery laid out issues actually worth discussing, and how valuable it was that Artest actually kept it 100%, both in this interview, and throughout his vastly underrated career. But what stands out for me, above all, is the quality of the questions Tillery asked, the honesty of answers Artest provided, and the fact that, because of many implicit and explicit factors, we may never, ever, see an NBA interview this illustrative or illuminating again.

Kevin Durant to DC?: Unwrapping One of the NBA’s Most Complicated Storylines
Sean Deveney
Sporting News

Although I did not watch the Thunder versus Wizards game earlier this week, I very much enjoyed this analysis of Kevin Durant’s impending free agency by Sean Deveney. In the piece, Deveney explains the issues central to Durant’s free agency, with a particular focus on fan expectation and behavior. As Deveney writes, there are several factors that make Durant’s presumed free agency decision between Oklahoma City and Washington D.C. unique, including Durant’s upbringing, his professed love of D.C./Baltimore area sports, his disdain for outward displays of affection (from Wizards fans), and the area’s reputation of having famously disinterested fans. Indeed, Deveney is correct: one does not get the overall sense that Durant is seriously considering departing the Thunder, who remain a top team in the league. Nevertheless, his examination into the growing hoopla of “KD to DC” is a useful tool for understanding the various elements of this rather underwhelming saga.

Anthony Davis and the Draft Lottery Winners’ Curse
Dave Berri
VICE Sports

I definitely dug this quick-hitting statistical examination by Dave Berri, focused on why teams that win the overall pick in the lottery don’t seem to improve that much, at least while that top pick is playing for that team. Of course, his piece lingers on the (currently) sad story of Anthony Davis, brilliantly toiling on the 1-8 New Orleans Pelicans. Berri runs through 30 years of top picks, and shows the reader how undeniably good Davis is at basketball, but at the same time, shows how that skill and dynamism doesn’t seem to translate into more wins. Luckily (or unluckily, if you’re a Pels fan), Davis is in excellent company; Berri explains that Davis has joined a rich tradition. Perhaps players like Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony-Towns and Anthony Bennett will change this historical trend downwards. Well, maybe not Bennett. That may be a stretch.

The Tragic and Totally Gripping Spectacle That Is End-Stage Kobe Bryant
John Wilmes
VICE Sports

I found myself nodding along sadly to this piece about the end of Kobe Bryant, written elegantly by dear friend of the program John Wilmes. There are several eulogies for the professional career of Kobe starting to emerge, and I think this one is distinctive. What makes it especially good is that it acknowledges that, in our steadfast dogmatism around Kobe, and all that he represented in the post-MJ years, there are lingering feelings about the man, and his team, that inform our observations of him today. On watching Kobe operate in 2015 on a rebuilding, young Lakers team, Wilmes is worth quoting at length:

[T]he Lakers are not an unexciting team. When hyper-intelligent rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell takes the floor with young stallions Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, there is hope, and there is cause for highlight reels. Lakers fans, gluttons for gold after 16 NBA championships, are not used to watching a young core grow up so much as they’re used to seeing big-money players replaced with bigger-money players. The more patient Laker followers must be finding some fun in the new experience of watching something build from the draft board up.

Or they would be, anyway, if not for the 37-year-old man running up and down the court with those electric kids. For 29.2 minutes every game, the Lakers center their offense around a legendary star who is now one of the slowest and least athletic guards in the league, a man who shoots 32 percent from the floor and holds the ball for long periods of time, often before launching into a cringe-inducing series of failed pump fakes, jab steps, and futile pivots before hoisting the ball towards but generally not into the basket. He has the highest usage rate on the team. He is attempting a career-high eight 3-pointers per game—tied for fifth most in the NBA—making just 21 percent of them. By comparison, Steph Curry, the league’s MVP, shoots 10.8 3-pointers per game, but makes 45 percent of them.

This man, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in anyone’s eyes, used to do outstanding things. He thrived on singular one-on-one wizardry and raw, untouchable, self-belief. For more than a decade, he seemed to make every wrong shot he took, and won an MVP trophy, five championships, two Finals MVP awards, and 17 All-Star appearances. Only two men have scored more career points than him. He’s had one of the best careers in the history of the game. But man does Kobe Bryant ever look cooked.

Too true, no? Do give this a read: it is hard to properly encapsulate the end before it actually arrives, but Wilmes does an excellent job illustrating why the decline is almost a more troubling prospect to consider.

The Spectacular Hubris of the Brooklyn Nets
Jack Tien-Dana
Rolling Stone

Although this seems a bit dated considering the Nets played the hell out of my beloved DEFENDING 2015 NBA CHAMPION GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS last night, I did enjoy this read by Jack Tien-Dana on the Brooklyn Nets, who are reaping what they have sowed since moving from Newark in 2012. At this point, the foibles of the Nets have been well-chronicled, and Tien-Dana does an good job mentioning and explicating all the dirty details. What stood out about Tien-Dana’s piece was his assertion that the Nets are victims of a different sort of NBA ineptitude: trying too hard, as opposed to not trying at all. Tien-Dana asserts that “the Nets’ fall is nobler. Nobler because while some of the NBA resolves to not try at all (hello, Sam Hinkie), the Nets’ sole fault was that they tried too much. And in the end, isn’t ignominy better than anonymity?” It’s a good question. And it’s important not to forget that Jarrett Jack, for all his faults, can keep you in the game some nights. Behold: your 2015 Brooklyn Nets.

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