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 ‘Catch-22’, where we’ll highlight the 22 most interesting short stories from the NBA in recent days.
This week, we talk about players making their return – return to practice, return to their old homes, and return to their old ways!
1. First, there was a happy return, as long-time NBA veteran and former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups returned to action for the Clippers after spending 10 months in a street clothes. The Clippers ended their mini-losing streak win a win over the Timberwolves.
2. Speaking of the Timberwolves, they celebrated a return of their own. After a freak knee injury last season, Ricky Rubio returned to practice for first time in nine months. The T-Wolves, who had earlier celebrated the return of Kevin Love, will be overjoyed to hear that their young point guard could soon be back in action.
3. The Brooklyn Nets – who have somewhat surprisingly become one of the top teams in the East – were worthy newsmakers in the NBA all last week. Their high point was on Monday night, when the Nets faced the New York Knicks in the first battle between the two New York teams. It was about bragging rights, it was for Atlantic Division positioning, it was for New York. It took overtime, but the Nets were triumphant.
4. Nets part-owner Jay-Z should probably get credit then for the ‘tweet of the week’, as after the win, he wrote one single line that said it all: ‘The city is under new management’.
5. The Nets then defeated another Atlantic Division competitor – the Boston Celtics – in a game that will perhaps be more remembered for the scuffle between Rajon Rondo and Kris Humphries and subsequently escalated into a tiny brawl. In the aftermath, Rondo, Humphries, and Gerald Wallace were ejected and Rondo served a two-game suspension.
6. That game also had our highlight of the week, an impressive crossover by Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson that left Paul Pierce licking dust.
7. On the other side of New York, Rasheed Wallace returned to the NBA after two years of retirement and returned back to form in more ways than one. No stranger to technical fouls and ejections, Wallace managed to get himself thrown out of a game against the Suns within 85 seconds. A truly, um, impressive, achievement?
8. The Suns bring us to a new edition of NBA’s “Where Are They Now?”. This time, we look at a 6-foot-11 backup center on the Suns bench. His numbers may not be eye-popping, but the name is: Jermaine O’Neal. O’Neal played in six NBA All-Star Games, all during his time with the Indiana Pacers. He has since bounced around several teams: from Toronto to Miami to Boston, to finally find himself as a 34-year-old rotation player in Phoenix.
9. In Miami this year, things seem to be rolling around swimmingly for defending champions. This year, reigning MVP LeBron James looks to add another achievement in his growing list. LeBron is averaging a career-high 8.8 rebounds per game this season. The last player to average 25 points, nine rebounds, and six assists was Larry Bird back in 1988. If LeBron can up his rebounds numbers a little, he will join an elite list of 25-9-6 guys which includes just Bird, Oscar Robertson, and John Havlicek.
10. LeBron is also back on top in terms of NBA’s jersey sales. LeBron’s jerseys are the most popular around the world, followed by Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. The Knicks as a team have sold the most jerseys, followed by the Heat and the Lakers.
11. Miami was also the scene for one of the strangest controversies in recent NBA history last week. Coming into town after a long road trip, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich sent home four of their top players – Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Danny Green – in a matchup versus the Heat. Commissioner Stern fined the Spurs for not playing un-injured players in a marquee game.
12. But Popovich showed his coaching genius on the floor as the second-string unit of the Spurs put up a good fight against the full-strength champions, stretching them all the way to the end before closely losing the game, 105-100.
13. Just days after starting against the Heat, Spurs guard Nando de Colo found himself returning to the D-League team Austin Toros. He played one game with the Toros and was recalled to San Antonio.
14. On the other end of the spectrum, there was some reason to celebrate for the Washington Wizards, who became the last team to notch a win this season after an 0-12 start when they defeated the Portland Trailblazers.
15. The Blazers were involved in a classic game days later against the Cavaliers that went into double overtime. Let’s give it up for Nicolas Batum who hit an incredible three-pointer to end a four-game losing streak.
16. Dwight Howard welcomed his old friends from the Orlando Magic on his new team in Los Angeles, but there was a shocker in the hands. The underdog Magic came into town to run past the home team Lakers in the final quarter to get some sense of redemption against the players who had left them this offseason.
17. At the end of the Orlando game, Kobe Bryant stood with 29,948 points for his career, just 52 away from joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, and Wilt Chamberlain in the 30,000-point club! He’s sure to pass the milestone before the week is over.
18. Lakers’ inconsistency has been working out well for the Golden State Warriors, who find themselves on top of the Pacific Division playing surprisingly solid defence and getting good contributions on the other end by David Lee, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson.
19. At this point, David Lee is the only player in the NBA averaging at least 16 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists, something only Wilt Chamberlain, Nate Thurmond, Neil Johnston and Jerry Lucas have done in the franchise’s history.
20. The Warriors’ rookie Harrison Barnes also provided what could be perhaps the best dunk of the young 2012-13 season, when he turned Minnesota’s strongman Nikola Pekovic into a poster!
21. We’ll bring the news closer to home now, as three former NBA players – the Junk Yard Dog Jerome Williams, Paul Grant, and Anthony Bonner – came to India to take part in Mumbai’s famous Savio Cup tournament for the first time. Williams, Grant, and Bonner will also be taking part in NBA Cares clinics this weekend in the city!
22. And to finish off, we must mention an emotional return to his first home for James Harden. Now in Houston, Harden returned to Oklahoma City with the Rockets to face his old buddies Durant, Westbrook, and the Thunder. Unfortunately, he wasn’t given a happy reception, as the Thunder held him to 3-for-16 shooting for the night and ran away 120-98 winners.