Austin Reaves is confused

Reaves’ bewildered expression got caught on camera and is cracking people up all over Twitter this morning — here are a couple highlights from the feed.

James has been in the league for nearly two decades and is one of the greatest basketball players of all time, if not the greatest (controversial debate there that I’m not going to get into). Obviously, with that experience comes a great deal of high-level understanding and in-depth analysis of the game. What’s going through his head on the court is definitely not the same as what’s going through a rookie’s head — which is sort of the beauty of the sport. Also, as someone who is Reaves’ age, I have to imagine it’s surreal for him to be on the court with James, who has been in the league nearly as long as Reaves has been on this planet.

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Reaves came off the bench for 25 minutes in last night’s victory over the Nets, who were playing without stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. James led the Lakers’ scoring with 33 points to bring Los Angeles to a .500 record for the season. Anthony Davis also returned after missing 17 games with an MCL sprain, and his presence on the court could be turning things around for an underperforming Lakers team sitting right around the middle of the Western Conference standings.

Shaq punching Kyrie Irving would be like a grizzly bear mauling a weasel

“I don’t see how the team could put up with that, I’m just saying,”O’Neal said. “If he was on my team, I’d have to put hands on him.

“I know for a fact that these windows of winning championships, you don’t have them a lot,” he continued. “All that stuff just playing on the road, you can’t get in no rhythm like that.”

I think most of the vaxxed crowd can understand Shaq’s would-be frustration with a teammate not doing whatever it takes to win a championship. In this instance, doing whatever it takes means being vaccinated, not “immunized” like Aaron Rodgers. O’Neal is right about that window to win a title not staying open long. It may not seem like it, but this is year three of Kyrie and Kevin Durant in Brooklyn. Durant sat out that first year healing his Achilles, but the clock is ticking on this core, which added James Harden last year.

By letting Kyrie be a part-time player, the Nets buckled under the pressure of trying to win a title. Brooklyn took a stance before the season began, then doubled down, only to flip quicker than pancakes. Brooklyn’s front office saw the team’s direction and what others were doing in the East and decided they really do need Irving’s offensive production. So, here he is playing road games only. The NBA playoffs are going to be mighty interesting this year.

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Shaq also touched on bonding with teammates during his title runs and how hard that is when a key player can only play road games. It was pretty damn clear all along that Irving had, and still has, no intention to get any vaccine or booster related to COVID-19. All his talk about thinking it over and doing his own research was bullshit. This was Irving’s plan the entire time. He just sat back until he got his way. So, while Shaq’s sentiment is certainly felt, I don’t think any of those threats would have done much to change Irving’s mind on his stance. O’Neal has threatened to kick Charles Barkley’s ass for years on TNT, and we see how that’s played out.

Curry’s first buzzer beater, Irving’s ‘breakthrough’ game, and more from a busy NBA Friday

Here it is again in slow-mo if you’re into that kind of thing.

Maybe this will get him and the Warriors out of their funk. Curry put up 22 on 6-21 from the field, but he hasn’t scored more than 20 points in five of their past 10 games, and the Warriors are 6-4 during that span.

I know this was his first official buzzer beater in the NBA, but the guy is so good that his team is up so much so often that there are rarely opportunities to be clutch. Him not having a catalog of game winners a la Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, or Damian Lillard is more about him up big, sitting on the bench and clowning his second stringers while the final seconds tick off than it is about his ability to hit a buzzer beater.

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And let’s move on because I’m going to vomit if I write any more nice things about Curry or the Warriors.

James Harden calls Kyrie Irving’s strong fourth-quarter showing a ‘breakthrough’

Speaking of sickness and death, yes, I know Harden was referring to Irving’s 15 points in the final period and 24 points overall in their 117-102 win over San Antonio on Friday when he said, “For sure, it was a breakthrough.”

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The full quote, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, reads:

“For sure, it was a breakthrough,” said Harden, who finished with 37 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. “He’s capable of doing that at any moment and any point in the game.

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“That’s one of the reasons why we need him every single game, because he’s able to do that, especially with everything that’s going on with our team. But he’s able and more than capable of doing things like that whenever he wants. I think he just tries to get us involved a little bit more, but he’s a special talent.”

However, let’s please refrain from words like “breakthrough” in any story, headline, or news conference about Irving. It’s very confusing. I know he has to be vaccinated to be susceptible to breakthrough cases, but the majority of his teammates and team staff are not so lucky.

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The Nets are now 2-1 since Kevin Durant went down.

Grayson Allen takes a Bull by his horns

Allen’s history of seeing red during competition is well-documented, so the following highlight of him taking out Chicago guard Alex Caruso mid-flight during the Bucks-Bulls game Friday only serves to reinforce his reputation as a dirty, over-emotional player among Duke haters, but here it is anyway.

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As a white, American male, it’s sad to see white-on-white violence among the few white guys in the NBA. What’s next? Doug McDermott close-lining former teammate TJ McConnell?

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After the game, a 94-90 Bucks win, Chicago coach Billy Donovan was unhappy with Allen, who got a flagrant 2 and was ejected from the game, for other reasons (per AP News).

“For Alex to be in the air like that, and for (Allen) to take him down like that, it could have ended (Caruso’s) career,” Donovan said. “And (Allen) has a history of this. That to me was really, it was really dangerous. And I really hope the league takes a hard look at something like that because (Allen) could have really, really seriously hurt him.”

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Yeah, I’d be pissed, too, especially after a loss. The Bulls are without Lonzo Ball for an extended period of time and have dropped six of their past eight games, but still hold the second best record in the East after an impressive start.

Lakers beat Magic, Russell Westbrook says he has “turned the page” after benching

What a relief. Westbrook has figured it out after 13 years in the league. All it took was the biggest fanbase in the NBA yelling at him, his coach benching him and then publicly doubling down on the move. Let this be the last we hear of the Lakers dysfunction, so my coworker Stephen Knox doesn’t have to pen another 1,400-plus words on the franchise running in place.

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From henceforth, Jan. 21 shall be known as Russell Westbrook Day, the day he “turned the page” in a 116-105 win over the Orlando Magic.

“My job as a player, as a professional, is to do my job, continue to find ways to be able to help impact winning,” Westbrook said (via ESPN). “That’s all I was thinking about and turned the page to do and that’s what I tried to do tonight.”

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Come, Lakers faithful, and rejoice as the prophecy will be fulfilled. LeBron James will tie Michael Jordan’s six championships (after 11 tries), and LA will win its 18th title (five of them while in Minneapolis) to break the tie with the Boston Celtics.

Finally at .500 and only 13 games behind the Suns for the one seed, it’s likely the Lakers win out, pass Phoenix, and cruise to another title.

Who’s the best baller on the planet?

So, here we go with a never-ending debate of who The Man is in the NBA at the moment. By default, it might be Giannis Antetokounmpo right now, since Kevin Durant is sidelined for 4-to-6 weeks with a knee injury. Based on the season Antetokounmpo is having, it might be hard to deny him another league MVP award, which would be his third. Although the MVP award and mythical best player title aren’t always synonymous.

Of course, a title like “best player in the league” is an objective one that isn’t even voted on like the MVP award. This argument usually carries on until someone gets tired or the show ends. Looking at recent MVP winners, it seems rare that both crowns rest on the head of the same player in a given year.

Nikola Jokić (2021)

Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019 & 2020)

James Harden (2018)

Russell Westbrook (2017)

Stephen Curry (2015 & 2016)

I can confidently say that no one in their right mind considered Westbrook, Harden, or even Jokić the best player in the league during their MVP seasons. The same goes for Curry and Antetokounmpo in their first year of back-to-back MVP awards. In 2016, it can be argued that Curry was the best player for a spell. Giannis didn’t really jump into the conversation until last year, when the Bucks won the championship. Before last season, Milwaukee kept flaming out before the Finals.

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Garnett and Pierce both have valid arguments when it comes to Durant vs. Antetokounmpo. This really comes down to preference and style. Giannis can get downright gritty and plays bully ball better than anyone we’ve seen since Shaquille O’Neal. He’ll also give you 12 rebounds, block a couple of shots and be the best defender on the floor most games. For the fan who prefers a pure scoring assassin, a sniper at all three levels on the offensive end, and a player that is a much better defender than he gets credit for, then you’re rolling with Durant. It really is tough to choose, but you can’t go wrong with either.

It’s funny how LeBron James has been left out of the best-player conversation lately. He’s the only thing going well for the Lakers this year and has crept into the conversation for league MVP over the last month or so. It’s doubtful James wins his fifth MVP award, but for him to be in the discussion at age 37 should count for something. Of course, LeBron’s fan club would say he’s still the best player in the league and deserves to be MVP. But they’ve said that every year for nearly two decades. Realistically James is still a top-five player in the NBA at worst.

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But it would seem the days of LeBron carrying anybody to the Finals are long over. As we’ve seen, it’s going to be a struggle for L.A. to finish in the top six out west at this point. Any of this could be why James was excluded from Garnett and Pierce’s conversation. That and the fact they’ve never cared much for ‘Bron. And they went to battle in some tough playoff series back in the day. To let Garnett tell it, his big three Celtics ran James out of Cleveland to the warm shores of South Beach in Miami.

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Now, going back to the KD vs. Giannis discussion. All things being equal, if you’re making me pick between the two players….whoa this really is a tough one. If both guys are healthy, with no other shenanigans going on (which never happens, i.e., Kyrie Irving), I’m going with Durant. It’s narrow, and I know the Bucks beat the Nets last postseason in Game 7 to advance, but I have to go with KD. He’s such a rare breed that it’s just tough to pass up the skillset Durant possesses.

What Dirk Nowitzki started, Durant came along and took to the next level. A seven-footer (6-foot-11 my ass) that can shoot it like a guard, take you off the dribble, handles the rock like he’s 6-foot-1, and can score efficiently from all three levels. When it’s this close, I’ll usually go with the guy that defends better, which we all know is Antetokounmpo. Whereas KD is such a unique player for so many reasons, it’s hard for me to pass on him when healthy. Durant is also the best mid-range shooter in an era where most players seem to have forgotten it exists. Forget Kritaps Porzingis; Durant should’ve named himself The Unicorn. 

Twenty years after injuries denied us of Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady in Orlando, is the same thing happening with Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant in Brooklyn?

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In the summer of 2000, the Magic struck gold as they were able to sign Hill and McGrady. Orlando had put the league on notice as they now had two of the best young players in the league, as they did when they made the 1995 NBA Finals with Penny and Shaq.

However, all the hype was for naught as injuries derailed Hill’s time in Orlando, as he only played in 47 games in the four seasons that McGrady was his teammate — which includes the entire 2003-2004 season that Hill missed with an ankle injury. Back then, having a Big 2 was the thing to do in the NBA as the idea of having three superstars on a team wasn’t really a thing most contenders were exactly trying to do — yet. Ironically, the Magic almost had a third star as they were very close to adding Tim Duncan to McGrady and Hill.

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“If Duncan comes here, it will be scary,” McGrady told reporters at the time. “It will be unfair to the league if all three of us come here. We have the East. We’ll be playing the Lakers for years.”

Rumors swirled that then-Magic coach Doc Rivers messed the whole thing up when Orlando was recruiting Duncan.

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“I was there. I made my visit with Tim Duncan,” Hill told ESPN. “I was at the dinner when someone in Tim’s entourage, I’ll just leave it that way, asked Doc, can significant others travel on the plane? And Doc said no… And afterward, my wife said, he should have just lied, he should have said yes.”

Duncan’s longtime Spurs teammate Bruce Bowen also chimed in on the situation.

“When Tim went out to meet with Orlando, he asked this question: Can family come on the flights to some games? And from what I understand, Doc said no, and that’s where he lost Tim Duncan,” Bowen claimed.

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But, despite what Hill and Bowen have publicly stated, according to Rivers, travel arrangements weren’t the reasons why Duncan didn’t make the move.

“I actually told him, absolutely families can fly, not all the time, but every once in a while,” Rivers recounted to TNT. “So that story isn’t told correctly.”

Between Grant Hill’s injuries and Tim Duncan’s recruitment, the Orlando Magic are one of the best “what could have been” stories in the NBA that most people have forgotten about. Twenty years later, the Brooklyn Nets are on the precipice of following a similar script if they can’t stay healthy or figure out how to get their part-time star to become a full-time employee again.

Leave Bruce Brown alone — it was a foul, not a flop, that injured Kevin Durant’s knee

Judge for yourself, but it looks like the referee missed the call. It’s hard for me to believe that Brown flopped because he wasn’t even in position to take a charge. Brown was trying to play defense when Jones came barreling down the court and put his shoulder right into Brown’s chest. Jones’ arm even leaves his body after he makes contact. ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote in his Friday column that Jones’ “ludicrous arms appear everywhere at once.” Yes, Jones has arms the length of a superhero cape, but that doesn’t mean he should be allowed to use them like he’s Derrick Henry.

The foul being called against Jones instead of Brown of course would be no even exchange for arguably the best player in the NBA likely losing a month and a half of the season, but at least it’s something. It’s a turnover for the Pelicans, and a foul against one of their starters in a game the Nets were going to win anyway, but justice would’ve been served. Instead, poor Bruce Brown got stuck with a defensive foul because the referees didn’t recognize a basketball player making a non-basketball play, and he also received a heaping pile of social media slander.

Not only does this mean NBA fans are going to miss Durant in the All-Star Game next month, but it could harm the Nets in the standings. The Nets haven’t won consecutive games since Dec. 25 and 27. Even though they demolished the first-place Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, they rested Durant the next day and lost to the Thunder. The Nets finished the week a typical 2-2, and are still a half game out of first place in the East, and the Miami Heat are a half game behind them in third place.

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In an unusual twist of fate, the Nets are going to benefit from the fact that 11 of their next 14 games are on the road. That means as long as Kyrie Irving is healthy, he will be able to take the court in the majority of their upcoming games while Durant is out — this might also be a time to start paying those fines and get Irving on the court full time.

The Nets have their work cut out for them, but as long as they stay out of the play-in rounds they’ll have a shot at a championship with Durant, and his league-leading 29.2 points per game, due back after the all-star break. So, folks, lay off of Bruce Brown. He’s a try-hard NBA player who is capable of spectacular dunks. Those players are usually fan favorites, and he wasn’t even trying that hard when he rolled into Durant.

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I’m sure Brown feels bad, and as funny as many of the tweets are, let’s cut the poor guy a break.

Can’t spell ‘razzle dazzle’ without grabbing an L

Unfortunately, the NBA does not award style points, so this jam only counted for two points, and the Hornets wound up with 109 to the last-place Magic’s 116, ending Orlando’s 10-game losing streak.

That makes seven road wins this season for the Magic, which has only won two games at home. That’s as many wins on the road as the Lakers and Clippers. Granted, Orlando’s 20 road losses are as many as the two Los Angeles teams combined, but it’s still pretty surprising that the worst team in the NBA has three and a half times as many wins on the road as at home.

Ball had 23 points and eight assists, but was -13 for the night. As for Lonzo, he was -22 in the Bulls’ 138-96 loss to Golden State — the second straight game in which East-leading Chicago gave up 138 at home. The Bulls also lost, 138-112, to the Nets on Wednesday.

And if you’re wondering, no. 138-96, is not an NBA Scorigami. Timberwolves 138, Grizzlies 95 was one earlier this season, and 136-96 or 138-94 would’ve been, but 138-96 has been done before: the 76ers thumped the Celtics on Oct. 29, 1966, and more recently, the Nuggets hung that score on Kevin Durant and the SuperSonics on Feb. 27, 2008, a game in which Allen Iverson scored 31 points and Carmelo Anthony tallied 16. 

Bo Jackson Curse? The Bengals aren’t cursed, they’re just inept

This isn’t a curse, it’s a shitty organization. It’s like how the curse of the Bambino wasn’t so much a curse for the Red Sox as it was a refusal by Boston to sign Black players (they were the last Big League club to integrate so when they signed Pumpsie Green in 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson). The Cubs blaming a Billy Goat because they were impossibly inept for a century isn’t a curse. The Bengals blaming a tackle on Bo Jackson because it was the last notable thing they did isn’t a curse.

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The Bills losing four-straight Super Bowls is a curse. The Vikings’ inability to make big field goals even when they have a good kicker is a curse. The Portland Trail Blazers passing on Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant for injury-prone big men and being stuck in mediocrity is a curse.

Don’t chalk it up to a hex when Joe Burrow’s career gets shortened because the GM/owner hasn’t spent money or draft picks on an offensive line to keep him from becoming the next Bengals franchise QB ruined by injuries. He already tore his ACL, and the guy stays banged up.

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Eight playoff appearances (not playoff runs; runs implies you won a game) in 31 years and getting outscored 176-90 in the seven games you’ve played does not qualify as unlucky. The closest you got to a win was A.J. McCarron’s valiant 18-16 loss to the Steelers in 2015.

If you’re looking to right someone you’ve wronged, start with Marvin Lewis, not Bo Jackson. Taking a Mike Brown-constructed team to the playoffs seven times in 15 years is a task more worthy of a Hall-of-Fame plaque than a quasi-retirement consulting gig for Herm Edwards at Arizona State.

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This is the Raiders’ second playoff appearance in nearly 20 years, but they rightfully blame their own dumbass owners for their shortcomings like rational fans. To blame a curse is to give Brown a pass, and I know the Bengal faithful don’t want to do that.

I’ll be pulling for Burrow, Chase, and my guy Zac Taylor (GBR!) to end the “curse” Saturday, but don’t be surprised if the bad juju persists as long as Brown is the owner/GM.

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Fun note: If you want another link between these two teams, the coach of the Raiders in their last Super Bowl appearance was Bill Callahan, who went on to coach Bengals head coach Zac Taylor when he played QB at Nebraska.

A Cowboys-49ers playoff game means so much more than just another wildcard

If you grew up in the Bay Area in the 1980s and ’90s, whether you’re a Niners fan or not, you’ve seen that play more times than you can remember. The 49ers went on to win their first Super Bowl that season, then another three before the end of the ’80s. San Francisco had stolen the NFC crown from Dallas and then dominated the 80s with honorable mention to the New York Giants, Washington (you know), and the Chicago Bears. Washington won two while the Giants and Bears took one Lombardi trophy home apiece during the decade.

For Dallas, the demoralizing loss in the closing seconds of that championship game really signified the end of a dynasty. The Cowboys did make it back to the NFC championship the following year, but only nine games were played that regular season (‘82-83), so for some, there’s an asterisk next to that season for everybody. Dallas wouldn’t make it back to the NFC title game until the 1992-93 season, where they’d face off against the 49ers. The Cowboys and Niners played in three consecutive NFC championship games from 1992-95. The winner went on to win all three of those Super Bowls.

Another aspect of this rivalry that really intensified things in the ’90s was the number of prominent players that flip-flopped from one side to the other in the midst of all the bad blood. After winning two rings with the 49ers in the 80s, outside rusher Charles Haley was the first big-name player to leave for Dallas after the ’91-92 season, seemingly shifting the balance of power in the NFC. Haley helped the Cowboys win back-to-back Super Bowls in his first two years on the team.

In ‘94, Ken Norton Jr. left Dallas for SF, and the Niners beat the Cowboys in the NFC title game en route to winning Super Bowl number five. But an even more significant acquisition that year for the Niners was the signing of Deion Sanders. San Francisco had no answer for Cowboys star receiver Michael Irvin in the previous two years. Irvin had repeatedly roasted Niners defensive backs, and so they went out and hired a mercenary to deal with Irvin. But the following year, for reasons that still aren’t completely clear, San Francisco allowed Sanders to become a free agent. So, of course, Jerry Jones being the opportunist he’s always been, swooped right in and signed Prime Time to a seven-year, $35-million contract. At the time, it was unheard of for a cornerback to ink such a lucrative deal. Allow me to put this in perspective for anyone under the age of 30. This move was about as impactful to the league as Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors in 2016. That’s not hyperbole, it’s a fact. Deion going to Dallas shifted the spotlight and power dynamic back to Big D.

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Eventually, as we got through that middle part of the 90s, the Green Bay Packers would sneak into the NFC mix as the Cowboys and 49ers faded into the background. Everyone knew that the NFC would go through either Dallas or San Francisco for nearly half a decade. At that time, the NFC championship game was seen as the “real” Super Bowl. Even going back to the 80s, it was almost two decades where the NFC not only won the Super Bowl but usually blew out their AFC opponent no matter who they faced.

This Cowboys-Niners wildcard game Sunday is crucial for so many reasons. Not just because the winner moves one step closer to the ultimate prize, but it’s also the first time these franchises will square off in the postseason in about a quarter century. This game is important to generations of Cowboys and Niners fans not just in the Bay Area and Dallas but also across the country. I’m sure this game will pull the highest rating of the weekend. There’s too much history involved with this game no to. I just hope we get a great battle like so many of those games played back in the day.

The world felt a just a bit less chaotic with Klay Thompson back on an NBA floor last night

Thompson’s performance wasn’t quite where he left off in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals when he scored 30 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field and 3-point line, and making two free throws and lobbying to stay in the game with a torn ACL — thank you Demarcus Cousins for taking that foul and getting him off that court. Last night Thompson scored 17 points, shooting 38.9 percent from the field, and 37.5 percent from three. He did, however, make his first shot and later crossed over Jarrett Allen of the Cleveland Cavaliers when the adrenaline then surged through his body and he dunked on Lauri Markkanen and Lamar Stevens.

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There was another event airing on NBC — one of the wildest NFL regular-season games of all time — that received most of the attention from the sports world, but those of us who had NBATV going on our second screen were treated to the rare feel-good moment from a franchise that once said they were “light years” ahead of everybody.

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We watch sports to watch the best in the world compete. As sick as some sports fans were of the Warriors’ dominance, it’s more than reasonable to feel bad for Thompson. He spent his last two-and-a-half years dealing with ACL and Achilles rehab. No human being would want to feel that discomfort, and sports fans lost out on seeing greatness.

As we’ve seen this season, when the Warriors are rolling, there is little in sports as exciting. The way that they move the ball, Curry’s three pointers from the club level, now Gary Payton II’s alley-oops, the present-day NBA is not as good of a product without the Warriors operating at max capacity.

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Now, it appears that they are. The playoffs don’t begin for another four months, which gives Thompson plenty of time to re-acclimate himself to the game-to-game rigors of playing in the NBA, and there’s little pressure because the Warriors have already established themselves as a championship contender.

Fans of the Suns, Nets, and Lakers may be afraid of what’s to come from the full-strength Warriors in the postseason, but they should at least appreciate that, as of Jan. 9, the NBA felt a little bit more normal. Klay Thompson is playing basketball on television. That’s about as much normalcy as you can get in today’s world.