The NBA can sometimes be engaging, paradoxical, unpredictable, hilarious, brilliant, crazy and addictive, and sometimes all of them, all at the same time. So in honour of my favourite piece of fiction that features all of the above characteristics – Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 – I bring to you this new column, where we’ll highlight the 22 most interesting short stories from the NBA in recent days. Try and catch them all!
There’s no feeling like heading home...Unless home is where the hate is! This week, a lot of big name players – from Dwight Howard to Carmelo Anthony – were scheduled to return to their former homes to cheer, jeers, hits, and flops. We catch up with them and more intriguing storylines in this edition of Catch-22.
1. The big return for the week was Dwight Howard’s first game back as a Laker in Orlando, where he spent the first eight years of his career before an unceremonious exit. Howard was booed by home fans as expected and hacked regularly by his former team. It was to no avail, as he dominated proceedings to score a season-high 39 points to go with 16 rebounds to hand his team an impressive victory.
2. The Magic employed the ‘Hack-A-Dwight’ strategy early and often to send Howard repeatedly to the free-throw line. The result? Howard broke the Lakers record for most free throws attempted in a game (39) and also the record for most free throws made (25).
3. The Lakers have been on fire (9-2) since the All-Star Break, mostly thanks to the efforts of Kobe Bryant. Perhaps Kobe’s big blocks on LeBron James
in the All-Star Game rekindled the competitive fire inside him, for he has been the league’s best player since then, posting averages of 30.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 7.2 assists, on around 53 percent shooting. He was named Western Conference Player of the Week twice in this stretch for his efforts.
4. More Kobe: in mesmerizing comeback wins for the Lakers over the Hornets and the Raptors, Kobe had 42 points and 12 assists followed by 41 points and 12 assists respectively. It was the first time a player had those numbers in two consecutive games since Michael Jordan...24 years ago!
5. Back to our homecomings, though, and there will be another interesting welcome. Carmelo Anthony returns to Denver as a New York Knick for the first time since he was traded from the Nuggets two years ago. The lockout kept him away from a return last year, and he comes back slowed by injury this time around. Don’t expect Denver to show much hospitality.
6. The Nuggets know a thing or two about home-cooking (and home altitude). They have been soaring up the Western Conference standings thanks to their eight-game winning streak, and a total of 13 consecutive games won at home at the Pepsi Center.
7. The Knicks, meanwhile, couldn’t have come to Denver at a worse possible time. They enter the game following a horrific shooting night in a loss to the Warriors a few days earlier, in which they shot a season-low percentage for the entire league (27.4 percent) from the floor. They were held to just 63 points in a 29-point loss.
8. The Knicks received some more bad news earlier, when they discovered that Amar’e Stoudemire, who had already missed 31 games of the season, would be spending a lot more time at home as he is out for six more weeks post his knee-surgery.
9. The Knicks loss against Golden State came on a night that the Warriors celebrated Indian culture with their 3rd Annual ‘Bollywood Night’, where the home team gave away free themed T-shirts, served Indian food at the arena, and fans were entertained by Bollywood/Bhangra dance performances!
10. The Warriors, who are based in Oakland, California, have a large community of Indian-origin fans which helps in keeping alive cultural nights such as this one. They are also co-owned by Indian software mogul Vivek Ranadivé from Mumbai!
11. It was important for the Warriors to stay in the win column, because the race for the last playoff spots in the West is already heating up. Only 5.5 games separate six teams who are fighting for the last three spots: Warriors, Rockets, Jazz, Lakers, Mavericks, and Trailblazers.
12. Where Are They Now? This time, we focus on former All-Star Mo Williams. Remember when Williams was the second-best player on those Cleveland teams with LeBron James that twice finished with the best record in the league? If you haven’t been following, Williams moved from the Cavs to the Clippers in 2011-12, and returned home to the team that drafted him – the Utah Jazz – in the 2012 offseason. He’s having a solid year for the Jazz, averaging 12.4 points and 6.8 assists per game.
13. Meanwhile, Williams’ former teammate LeBron is out chasing history with the Miami Heat. Miami have now won 19 consecutive games (and counting), tying them with the 2000 Lakers and the 2009 Celtics for the fourth-longest winning streak in league history. This is the season’s best winning streak so far, passing the 17-game streak enjoyed by the Clippers earlier in the year.
14. In his column yesterday, Akshay Manwani took a look at the longest-winning streaks in history: the 1971-72 Lakers’ 33 is still looking untouchable.
15. The 18th win in this streak was perhaps their most important one. Miami defeated the second-best team in the East – the Indiana Pacers – to make a statement against the side that had previously had their number in the regular season.
16. Speaking of Indiana: while they may not be getting the championship hype of teams like the Heat, Spurs, or the Thunder, their hardworking unit is making a name for themselves. Indiana’s starting five of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert make up for the best five-man unit in the league, enjoying a league-high +257 point differential when they are on the court together this season.
17. Another possible contender in the East, the Boston Celtics have been improving steadily, until they hit a road-bump in a blowout loss to the Bobcats. Still, the game brought Kevin Garnett just four points away from Jerry West to becoming the 15th leading scorer in NBA history!
18. The (14-50) Bobcats desperately needed this one: this was their largest margin of victory (26) points since January 2010.
19. Ricky Rubio had his first career triple-double in a win against the Spurs, but it still doesn’t mask the Timberwolves’ struggles. The shorthanded team, playing the season without many of their best players (including Kevin Love), are dead last from the 3-point line, shooting a league-low 29.3 percent from behind the arc.
20. An NBA roundup can’t be completed without a highlight dunk or two. And this time we have the motherload: against the Pistons, L.A. Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan had perhaps the Dunk of the Year, finishing a Chris Paul lob in thunderous fashion over Brandon Knight.
21. Knight may have been posterized, but he responded in the best way possible, tweeting: ‘It wasn't in the scouting reports that the clippers threw lobs lol’. Quote of the Week?
22. And finally, as we speak of those who are coming home in this edition, we leave you with a former MVP who has inched one step closer to being back playing for his home team on his home court. Derrick Rose was cleared to play by doctors this week. Although the star point guard – who has missed nearly a year in action – is cautious about in-game action, he is sure to help spark the Chicago Bulls’ postseason campaign upon his return.