Game Notes: Magic at Hornets
The Kryptonite Bartender has arrived!
by Toney Blare
– I was at the arena last night, too, for the Jay-Z/Young Jeezy/Trey Songz show, my first rap show in an arena since…well, I think I saw Cypress Hill at the UNO Lakefront Arena in, like, the 20th century. Jay really is the last rock star left, total concert package, with NYC skyline backdrop flashing videos, a tight live band, one hit anthem after another. I didn’t get enough of the old sh*t, with most of my favorites crammed into the last 10 minutes of medley, but it was good. And, man, do people love Young Jeezy. He sorta reminded me of Tragedy Khadafi. Marinate on that. As for Trey Songz, what can you say? So unique, so distinctive, simply guaranteed to be with us for years to come. Oh, definitely.
– Tonight is Gospel Night, featuring a post-game concert. Tip-off is 8:30 p.m., so we’re looking at a midnight gospel show. Only in the N.O.
– There’s a kid in a full Superman costume a row behind the Magic bench. Son is like 14, may need to be introduced to the whole “girls” phenomenon.
– It’s not a question of if, but how soon things go very badly for Emeka Okafor in his face-off with Dwight, who seems to be extra shove-y with 2004’s No. 2 pick tonight. Let me also say that, as of right now, Mek was a bad move for the bees. Tyson Chandler might’ve been injury-prone, but he had fire and fed off Chris Paul (out for at least another month). Not saying they shoulda kept TC, but Okafor is blasé in a position that demands passion for this smallish team to succeed.
– Six minutes in, the Hornets are up 13-10 on a crafty lean-in jumper by Mo-Pete that draws a foul from his ex-mate Vince Carter.
– He might not see another All-Star game, but DWest will be around in one shape or form for a long time, using head fakes, bank shots, pull-up jumpers and about two inches of elevation to get his, a broke man’s Tim Duncan. He barely defends or rebounds, but dude will give you 15-20 for the next 5-7 years. He finishes the quarter with 10 and the Bees are up 26-21.
– Aaron Gray looks like a bartender. For real, I cannot get over how much dude looks like an actual bartender I know. Also sorta resembles chunkier Ben Rothelisberger. God, look at that guy. He oughta be lifting a sorority girl’s legs for a keg-stand, not defending Dwight Howard. Wow.
– Gortat/Redick/White Chocolate/Pietrus/Ryan Anderson: the diabolical Van Jeremy. Magic take a 33-32 lead on J.J.’s lay-up.
– Peja + Posey + MoPete = the wrong vets, the same position, three pieces of what oughta be, I don’t know, Steven Jackson. The Hornets could use a player who is 1) a long range bomber, 2) a sly intimidator who can stick with opponents’ scorers, 3) a vocal veteran sage. Instead, you have bad contracts, fragile bodies, and the death of Julian Wright.
– Marcus Thornton (37 points a few nights back) is heating up. At the beginning of the season, I said the two rookies, he and Darren Collison, had the kind of balls to play Chris Paul-style basketball. With CP3 out, these two are keeping the team above water. Over the last month, Collison is playing just as good as Brandon Jennings or any other first year PG. A little out of control, turnover prone, but completely unafraid.
– Dwight is wrecking the entire Hornet front line. Rashard jumper makes it 50-44, Magic.
– There are people in this world who have to wake up everyday, look at themselves in the mirror, and admit, “Larry Brown was right about me.” Emeka Okafor is one of them.
– The half ends 56-46 Orlando. West has 22 points, Dwight has 15, and Vince has 4. What is Vince, anyway? In the media room cookie eating session, I overhear someone say DWest could have 40 if they’d get him the ball more.
– No defense in the middle for N.O. Jameer tries an oop to Dwight, misses badly, so does it again on the next possession, with equally minimal resistance both times.
– Jameer hits a 3, 65-51. Is he better than Damon Stoudamire was?
– Collison is out of control right now, dribbling out shot clocks and pissing off David West, who is prone to pout. Always get the feeling the two rooks don’t give him the respect he expects.
– Up 71-55, Vince loses the ball out of bounds. He and Van Jeremy dispute this, with the coach shuddering and barking like he’s dropped a bowling bowl on his big toe.
– I feel like something awful could happen to Aaron Gray if he stays in there vs. Dwight much longer. Insert killer whale joke here.
– Oh, Jeff Van Gundy is here for ESPN. If I had to sit and watch my brother flip out in front of people, I’d lose my sh*t. Especially if my brother dressed in a bad Tony Soprano costume and put on 80lbs.
– Hornets show life. Collison hits a 3, cuts it to 80-72 at the end of the quarter. West has 31 on 13 of 18 shooting. Dwight has 24 on 10 of 15.
– During the break, two guys run a version of wind sprints, with the winner getting a free dinner at Beau Rivage casino in Mississippi. These dudes bust ass and the League has no gambling/image issues or anything like that.
– Thornton is sneaky, often ends up under the basket, muscling straight up to lay it in. The downside: they play a clip of the LSU fight song each time he scores.
– As if on cue, the Magic forget about Dwight and start jacking shots. DWest hits a 3 to cut it 80-79. Orlando answers with a long Anderson miss. West puts in a chip shot, and the Hornets have their first lead.
– Cue up “Halftime” by the Ying Yang Twins, the unlikely anthem to this year’s Super Bowl run. People freak out. Ah, yes, let’s talk about the Saints a minute. The season wasn’t football—it was a movie about football, a film that might’ve been judged too corny to green light. What happened here was as powerful an experience as any city could ever go through with a team. I dj’d the entire run at a bar about 300 yards from the Dome, and played “Halftime” probably 100 times between December and February. And it didn’t even get old. I went to the NFC Championship game, where at one point every scoreboard flashed the phrase “Get Crunk!” At the end of the Super Bowl, I got the once-in-a-lifetime chance to cue up, press play, and sing into the booth mic “We Are the Champions” with a weeping packed house. We stayed open for an hour, then paraded to the Quarter for the best party I’ve ever been to. At one point, wifey and I stood on the back of a flatbed truck riding down Bourbon Street, yelling “Who Dat” into a megaphone. Believe the hype—New Orleans just had its best day.
– Back to ball: here’s the 13 down-the-stretch possessions for the game for Orlando:
1. Jameer misses a jumper
2. Jameer misses an alley-oop to Dwight
3. Dwight misses a hook shot.
4. VC missed runner
5. Dwight dunks, 86-85 N.O.
6. VC miss
7. Jameer airball
8. Jameer fouled on a lay-up attempt
9. VC missed 3
10. Reddick missed 3
11. Jameer missed 3
12. Jameer lay-up with 2:25 left
13. Reddic fouled
That’s right, Dwight Howard touched the ball exactly twice in seven minutes of crunch time. Do you think that ever, EVER happened to Shaq in his prime? Do you think Shaq would’ve accepted anything close to that when he was Shaq-Fu? I get that the Superman beef is fairly staged and an old man’s motivation. But, really, are we going to end yet another season asking, Aside from his smile and potential, what’s great about Dwight Howard?
– Meanwhile, the two Hornet rookies swing like Sam Cassell and David West keeps scoring. Aaron Gray, that big teddy bear, hits two shots, the second of which is a dagger to make it 91-86. Collison puts in the finisher with a long jumper, 93-86. The kid lets his hand hang in the air and grins as Orlando calls timeout.
– “Gray owns you, Superman!” someone shouts during an N.O. foul shot at the end. “He had six points,” Dwight replies. Yeah, and he guarded you down the stretch (Okafor was out almost the whole 4th) and your team is leaving here with an L against a team you should’ve completely overmatched.
– Aaron Gray shall now be referred to as “Kryptonite Bartender.”
– 100-93 Hornets. West finishes with 40, Thornton gets 17 on 8 of 14. Dwight finishes with 26.
– Van Jeremy is pissed, steaming about a team that isn’t ready to win, that turns the ball over too much, that can’t hit a shot. “Coach,” I ask, “Dwight got two touches over the last 15 possessions. How do you guys get him the ball more down the stretch?” Apparently I’m naïve. “If you know what you’re watching, that’s not it. He got 18 shots. We turn over the ball, etc., blah, blah…”
And there, ladies and gents, is the legendary Master of Panic. During last year’s Finals, I predicted he wouldn’t last this season. I was wrong about that, but what we watched tonight was yet another instance of this dude not playing the match-ups correctly, not keeping his team focused, and above all, not using the supposed best big man in the League to control the ball and bash a weaker team, failing to feed a player who was being guarded by a bartender.
As deep as Orlando is this year, they aren’t any better if Howard isn’t any better. Instead, they’re even more confused, with Vince always willing to jack up 3’s and suck the heart out of a game, and Dwight waving his hands while his coach decides to use him like he’s the next Marcus Camby, not the next Shaquille O’Neal. More and more, I like the Cavs.