Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Taking My Mind Off Of Other Sports: Ten Teams To Enjoy This NBA Season.

I'll write the Chipper piece later.  Let me get some distance, chronological, emotional and otherwise, from Friday night's sad and ugly final punctuation mark on his career.  I'm depressed about the loss, pissed about that infield fly call, and embarrassed as hell by the fans.  Or rather, the portion of the fans who briefly lost their collective minds at Turner Field and started behaving like a bunch of depraved assholes.  We take a lot of guff, Atlanta fans do, for supposedly not being as passionate about our teams as other cities.  If that was a display of "passion", well f*** it, then.  I'd rather deal with a lifetime of insults from the neanderthals in Philly, New York, and Boston than be associated with the kind of hive-mind psychosis that leads to throwing batteries at players or games being literally called on account of riot.  (Cleveland Indians, 1974.  Look it up.)  I spent the entirety of that 20-minute bottle-chucking lapse of sanity standing in the stadium concourse with my best friend; both of us Atlanta sports diehards since birth.  In between long stretches of appalled silence, the one thing we kept repeating by way of conversation was some variant of: "I can't effing believe this is happening.  Atlanta fans never do this kind of stuff.  What the holy hell is going on?"  We were as outraged by that (egregious, awful, horrible) travesty of a call as anybody, but sweet jeebus, people, there is a line between normal anger and outright stupidity, and a chunk of the crowd crossed over the damn thing like it didn't exist or they didn't care or both.  Southern hospitality, my ass.

Sadly, that was only the start of of one long, slumping weekend for Georgia sports teams.  The Yellow Jackets put up a fight but were ultimately outplayed in all phases by a feisty Clemson squad in a loss that cost Tech's D-Coordinator Al Groh his job.  The Dawgs ... I don't want to talk about what happened in Columbia.  That wasn't a football game, it was a slow parade of visceral humiliation.  Or, to put it less poetically and far more accurately: Carolina kicked Georgia's asses up and down the field for four quarters.  End of story.

Two things salvaged the weekend: A phenomenal show by Grace Potter at The Tabernacle Saturday night (seriously, go see her live if you get a chance!!!), and the Falcons playing a sloppy first three quarters but ultimately pulling it together for a win over Washington to remain undefeated. 

Oh, and one other thing.  That bright burst of light flashing across the sky like a beacon of hope or the Bat Signal or some other damned explosion of heart and grace and purpose.  That's right, folks: Basketball!!!  Preseason is underway, and things tip off in earnest the day before Halloween.  For an outstanding season preview from the reigning HEAVY-WEIGHT CHAMMPPPEEEN OF THE WOOOOOOOORLLDDDDDD!!!! of basketball writers, skip on over to Grantland and soak up Zach Lowe's breakdown of all 30 teams.  I was contemplating a full-on NBA 2012-2013 preview, but frankly, Lowe dropped the mic and walked off stage with that piece (as if we expected anything less) and there's just no need for an inferior reproduction from me.  Instead, here's a list (in no particualr order) of the 10 teams I'm most excited about watching this year:

1. Miami.  For reasons that should be obvious.  A. Watching LeBron is always worthwhile.  B.  Will Wade stay on the court this season, or is his career going to be truncated by injuries?  C.  How will they function now that they've scaled Championship Mountain?  Can they maintain the drive towards sustained excellence of MJ's Bulls and Kobe's Lakers, or will the satisfaction of what they've achieved dull the gut-check propulsion necessary to repeat not one, not two, not three, not four...?
We'll see.

2.  OKC.  Did you spend a decent portion of the off-season wondering how the NBA Finals would have turned out if Eric Maynor had been healthy?   Me too.  Are you intrigued to see what kind of impact new draftee Percy Jones III has on an already exciting team?  Me too.  Are you ready to watch Russ to explosive, enigmatic Russ things?  To see if the Durantula continues to develop his game while assaulting another scoring title?  Me too!!!  Do you wonder if The Beard might, maybe, be less than the awesome force we all think he is?  Me too.  Gosh, we have a lot in common. 

3.  The Lakers.  Yeah, yeah, I hate them, you hate them, we all hate them.  And yes, I wrote a whole piece about how their acquisition of Dwight Howard made me much, much less inclined to watch them.  You know what?  Screw it.  They're running out four future Hall of Famers, including arguably the most devastating offensive backcourt of the past 15 years.  There frontcourt is downright terrifying.  Not even Mike Brown can screw this up.  As long as Father Time doesn't wrap his icy fingers around Nash's back or Kobe's knees, their floor is an almost certain trip the Western Conference Finals, with a ceiling that extends all the way to hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy.   

4.  Indiana.  The Pacers put the fear of God into Miami in last year's playoffs before LeBron went into full transcendental virtuoso mode, and they smartly retained the core responsible for that.  There's just something charming about this Indy squad.  They're a fun group of guys with complimentary styles of play and, when the key cogs are all in high gear simultaneously, capable of giving any team in the league a good battle. 

5.  My very own Atlanta Hawks.  If you think that's a shameless homer pick, hang on a second.  I'll put Horford and Smoove up against any starting frontcourt in the land, Devin Harris may be the best backup PG in the NBA (which is always a nice luxury) and, alternately, pairing him (at the two) with Jeff Teague will play havoc on opposing defenses.  We have a truckload of perimeter snipers (I see you, Lou Williams and Kyle Korver), Zaza, Anthony Tolliver (great acquisition), and everybody's favorite bench big Ivan Johnson should be sound rotation contributers.  Oh, and we're going to use this small, speedy assortment of cats to run like hell.  We're Nuggets East at this point.  Title contenders?  Not a chance, but I'm calling this team early (continuing the Denver analogy) for League Pass Darlings of the season.

6.  The Clippers.  Blake Griffin has moved from Must Watch Highlight-Making Slamma Jamma to OK, what else ya got? in near record time.  He can catch oops all day, but his shooting stroke and defense need serious refinement, and it's unclear whether he's willing to put the work in to become a more complete player.  (And he's on the short list for guys whose wallets get dinged the hardest by the NBA's new flopping policy.)  Which direction he chooses will have an immeasurable impact on L.A. not just because he's the ostensible franchise cornerstone, but because it will have a direct effect on how compelled CP3 might feel to stick around.  Also: Grant Hill!  I like Grant Hill. 

7.  The (hang on, I still have to get used to typing this ...) Brooklyn Nets.  The new Jay-Z designed uniforms, the dawning of an era, the potential clash of the Russian mob with the long-established Italian and Irish crime syndicates in New York ... uh ... Brook Lopez, I guess?  OK, there's not a lot of tangible reasons to watch this team, but it's a new team, the first professional sports franchise in Brooklyn since forever, and they have the potential, depending on how the Knicks' season unfolds, to usurp a decent enough portion of the Madison Square Garden crowd's affections to start a legitimate rivalry.  Let's all enjoy the ride. 

8.  Denver.  Even though I hope the Hawks usurp their League Pass Must-Watch crown, how can you not love this team?  Manimal and JaVale fo'eva!!!  'Nuff said.

9.  The Timberwolves.  Obviously, this mostly applies once Rubio returns, but there are a bevy of fine reasons why you should be tuning in from jump.  Kevin Love being Kevin Love.  AK-47 and Derrick Williams.  Free from the Darko Curse!!!  (Oh, Boston, I'm so sorry.)  And the biggest and best incentive of all: the potential redemption of Brandon Roy.  We all remember Roy going off in epic fashion against Dallas in the playoffs two seasons ago, and how we were so glad he could muster one more stellar effort before staggering of into the sunset on his ravaged knees.  If he can mount any sort of comeback, and especially if Rubio can come back at something close to 100% by February, this becomes the most lovable team in basketball.  Here's hoping that happens.

10.  New Orleans.  Fear the brow.  Fear The Brow.  FEAR THE BROW!!!!!!  Ahem, sorry.  But, you know, fear the brow. 

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