by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker
The first morning in Vegas is always my favorite. You arrived the day before, you were beat relatively early, so you got to bed at a reasonable time. Which means you can’t really sleep in, because you’re still cranking on East Coast time. This morning I was excited to sleep late, but I woke up at 7:30 a.m. Vegas time and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I got up and went down to the lobby of my hotel to hit one of the three Starbucks. Yeah, three Starbucks in the lobby of my hotel. Vegas, you know? More Vegas? I walked into the lobby at “Dr. Feelgood” by Motley Crue was blasting over the PA system. Vince Neil before noon is a little much, even more me.
I worked all morning, and just after lunch went over to Impact Basketball for another day of games. Because a lot of the teams were short-handed, and because the guys had all played at least one game yesterday, today’s games were scheduled for eight-minute quarters. Also, with the playoffs starting tomorrow, you kind of got the sense that guys were taking it a little easier today. Here’s a few general notes…
Jermaine Taylor #1
John Wall #2
Jordan Crawford #5
Stephen Graham #5
JaVale McGee #6
Rashard Lewis #7
Larry Owens #7
Roger Mason Jr #4
JJ Hickson #6
OJ was the sixth man for his squad, and we saw him eating Doritos and drinking a Gatorade on the bench while the game was going on.
JaVale and Hickson were the only bigs in this game, so they were like Chamberlain and Russell. JaVale still struggles with consistency, but I found myself appreciating his hustle and willingness to go after shots and dunks.
Marcus Banks came out scoring today, both getting to the basket and hitting shots from the outside. Also realized today that he’s from Vegas.
Banks and Crawford spent halftime shooting jumpers.
John Wall wasn’t flying up and down the court like he did yesterday, but he’s still got the most explosive, crazy athleticism out here. At one point someone throws an oop to Hickson, and Wall jumps up and meets the 6-11 Hickson at his apex to knock the ball away. Another time, on an inbounds play, Wall flashes down the lane, catches a lob with one hand and nearly tomahawks it home.
A three at a shot clock buzzer created some controversy. Nobody was sure if it should count or not, and eventually the PA announcer had to ask over the speakers if it should have counted or not.
As soon as Van Halen’s “Panama” came on, JaVale McGee got a really energetic dunk. I’m not so certain these things weren’t related.
Blue team came from down 10 to take a one-point lead with 5:12 to go.
Tied at 98 with one minute left, John Wall zipped to the line to put the fake Wizards up by three—and one. Next time down, Wall pulled up for a three and nailed it to go up six.
Down the stretch, Blue leads 104-101. McGee misses a FT, but the ball bounces right back to him, so he shoots down the lane and dunks the miss to make the final score 107-101.
Spoke to Wall for a while for the story I’m working on for SLAM. He said playing against Chauncey yesterday was like getting an education. And even though Wall looked to be pacing himself, he finished with 37, 10 and 6.
Shumpert, Damon Jones, Chauncey Billups and Samardo Samuels.
Because they only had four guys, John Wall suited up and joined their team.
TJ Ford, Brandon Rush, Rudy Gay, Jeremy Evans and Corey Stokes
Early on, Rudy Gay went to the line and started getting heckled by someone in the stands. Then when John Wall went to the line, the heckler started a “U-G-L-Y” chant. I leaned back and looked and saw it was the great Clipper Darrell!
My main man Michael Lee asked Jordan Crawford why he didn’t suit up for back-to-back games like Wall. “This ain’t AAU no more,” Crawford said, and grabbed a seat in the stands.
Someone in the back at one of these gyms loudly played “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. That’s what I call respect.
Wall reeled off 10 straight points, but with each team with just five guys, the rest of game was played in fits and starts. Guys would get a burst of energy, play hard for a few plays, then coast for a bit. At one point Corey Stokes was drinking Powerade during the game.
78-71 going into the fourth, Blue. John Wall went to bench before fourth and said to his teammates, “I’m trying to win now, trying to win.”
After Jeremy Evans got a two-handed dunk, Wall took the inbounds pass and sprinted down the middle of the floor and dunked one-handed, hard. Cries of “Oh my goodness!” went up from Clipper Darrell.
Watching Wall dominate reminded me of how two seasons ago people were going crazy to see Wall play every game with Kentucky. Now he’s in a gym in Vegas with about 200 people here and dominating a court full of perfectly good NBA talent. He’s so amazing at pressuring defenders, particularly when driving on that last 20 feet. He makes everyone nervous, and somehow he manages to avoid contact while still getting off a quality shot. He had a quiet rookie year because he was injured and the Wiz struggled, but watching him these last two days has been a really nice reminder of how dominant he is.
During a free-throw attempt, TJ Ford lined up for a rebound and looked over to me on the baseline press table and said, “You writing it down?” I nodded yes, not really sure what he was talking about. “What you writing about?” he asked. Noticing Damon Jones next to him, I told TJ that I was writing down everything Damon was saying. Damon promised he would put on a show when the playoffs begin tomorrow. TJ said he was trying to make sure I “was keeping it 100 on your blog.” I am, sir.
2.5 seconds left, white team down three, inbounds pass goes to Wall who has to take a contested jumper. No good. Blue wins.
Corey Stokes finished with 35 and 6, Jeremy Evans 21 and 8, Rudy Gay 35, 10 and 8. Oh, and Wall had 37, 6 and 7. Which means Wall played back-to-back 32 minute games and posted a combined 74 points, 16 assists and 13 boards.
Postgame, an impromptu dunk contest broke out between Rudy Gay and Iman Shumpert. Both guys missed a few dunks before it sort of petered out.
Spoke with Clipper Darrell for a while between games. He said he’s going to be camping out outside the Staples Center starting October 1 until the lockout ends. I’m thinking about camping out there with him.
Coby Karl #3
Jared Dudley #7
Corey Maggette #1
Mo Speights #5
Kyle Lowry #2
Al Harrington #7
CJ Watson #4
Corey Brewer #6
Jermaine Taylor #23
Someone else who didn’t make an impression on me
The black team was running off the bat. They got ahead, stayed ahead, and won pretty easily.
Maggette went to the line for an and one after a foul, and Clipper Darrell launched into a U-G-L-Y chant. Maggette broke out laughing and actually dropped the ball.
I spent most of the game talking with Joe Abunassar, the trainer who runs Impact Basketball here in Vegas. He pointed out that he’s a trainer and he doesn’t care how many people are in the stands, he just wants to make sure these guys are getting good workouts and good runs. he also said that because the guys on the black team train together, they’re used to playing with each other and that’s probably why they’re undefeated.
He’s right, as the black team plays really well together, getting out and running every time they had the chance. They were well conditioned, maybe the best-conditioned team out here playing. They pass, they cut, they share the ball. They won going away, and postgame, there was talk of Clipper Darrell taking over the mic on the PA system tomorrow. Forget playoffs, we might get Clipper Darrell on the mic!
Later we all ended up at Emeril’s sports bar at the Palazzo, where they were hosting a little party for all the players and their families, as well as some VIPs. Apparently Robin Leach came through, though I didn’t see him because I was eating some of Emeril’s BBQ chicken pizza and playing Ms. Pac-Man. Don’t tell me I don’t know how to do it big in Vegas! Thanks, Emeril. Bam!
Aiight, I’m out. More notes tomorrow from the playoffs…