NBA

Kevin Love returns from injury to give Cleveland Cavaliers much-needed boost

Jay Asser 20/03/2018
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Kevin Love is the only other recent All-Star on the Cavaliers after LeBron James.

It’s been difficult to judge the Cleveland Cavaliers without their second All-Star in the lineup and Kevin Love reminded of what was missing in his first game back from injury.

The forward had 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in the Cavaliers’ 124-117 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday after returning from a broken left hand that kept him out 20 games.

Love was limited to 25 minutes but still finished as Cleveland’s second-highest scorer behind LeBron James, shooting 5-of-13 from the field and 4-of-9 from long range.

“I felt pretty good,” Love said. “Initially, that first wind is always tough, but even after that I felt like my legs were underneath me and that I could’ve played a little bit more.”

Before suffering the hand injury on January 30, Love was averaging 17.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and shooting 40.4 per cent on 3-pointers.

In his absence, the Cavaliers managed an 11-9 record and blew up the roster with multiple deals at the trade deadline to reshape their team.

Not only has Love’s talent and versatility been missed, but so has his presence as a veteran for a side that has gotten much younger since the start of the season.

“First of all just having another body is great for our team,” James said. “Then just his basketball IQ, his familiarity with our system, he fits right back in. And his ability to stretch the floor allows opposing bigs not to just sit and clog up the paint. It’s great to have him back.”

Love, who revealed earlier this month that he suffers from anxiety, let loose at one point against the Bucks when he missed a corner 3-pointer. After falling on his back in front of Milwaukee’s bench, Love appeared to slither backwards up the court.

The move caught the attention of social media and Love couldn’t come up with much of an explanation after the game.

“I don’t know what the hell that was,” he said, via Cleveland.com. “I was just having fun.”

With Love back in the lineup for the stretch run, the Cavaliers as a whole may start having more fun.

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NBA

Brooklyn Nets and their Barclays Center arena are without a true identity

Jay Asser 18/03/2018
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Barclays Center, the home of the Brooklyn Nets, was completed in 2012.

On and off the court, the Brooklyn Nets are a franchise with aesthetic appeal, but no real identity.

Though their status as one of the worst teams in the NBA doesn’t help their cause, there’s more plaguing the Nets than just their record.

While the neighbouring New York Knicks are no powerhouses themselves at the moment, the experience of watching them play at Madison Square Garden is a draw in itself.

A Brooklyn game at Barcalys Center is entertaining in its own way, but after the initial polish rubs off, you’re left with a feeling like something is missing.

That was my reaction anyways after attending the Nets-Dallas Mavericks game – a treat, I know.

It all starts with the exterior, with the arena immediately recognisable from a distance and standing out in what is otherwise a fairly low key area.

Barclays Center has a unique look and modern finish – which it should considering it was only completed in 2012 – yet its surroundings don’t add much to the atmosphere.

Right across the venue is a giant shopping centre, which is so… blah. Madison Square Garden is an unfair comparison for any arena, let alone one lacking in history and tradition like Barclays Center, but the difference between heading to a game in the same vicinity as Times Square and the Empire State Building, and going to one next to a shopping centre can’t be overstated.

The same ‘style over substance’ theme carries over to the interior of Barclays Center.

Let me just say this to make it clear. The franchise has done an amazing job making everything look great, which is no surprise considering Jay-Z was a a minority owner at the start of their relocation and makeover.

From the herringbone-patterned court to an opening from the arena’s entrance to the stands – which allows fans, at certain angles, to see traffic on the roads outside while watching the game – Barclays Center hits a home run.

And the piece de resistance of the whole place is the unique theatre lighting. No other NBA arena has such a dramatic contrast between the lighting on the court and the lighting in the stands, with the Barclays Center putting a spotlight on the floor and having everything surrounding it in the dark. It’s a cool way to take in a game and makes you wish it was more common.

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There’s also a lot of black. Like, a lot. Of course there would be because it’s one of the team’s primary colours, but while black is almost always stylish, too much of it can be exactly that – too much.

The sleekness of Barclays Center comes at the cost of charm and character, which isn’t something Brooklyn is lacking as a borough. The arena and franchise, however, just have this expansion team feel, as if you created them out of thin air in NBA 2K.

It’s all relatively new, so you can understand their shortcomings in that aspect. But they don’t do themselves any favour by trying too hard in some areas, such as their excessive use of music in the middle of the game.

The product on the court somewhat mirrors everything off it. The Nets actually play a fun and entertaining brand of basketball with good ball movement and plenty of outside shooting, ranking third in the league in passes per game with 326.6, seventh in assist percentage at 60.8, second in both 3-pointers made (12.3) and attempted (35.0), and seventh in pace with 100.9 possessions.

What has all that translated to? A 22-48 record, the eighth-worst offensive rating at 103.9 points scored per 100 possessions and the seventh-worst average plus-minus at minus-4.2.

If the on-court product is fixed and more talent is drafted and developed, it could just as easily solve the Nets’ identity issues off the court.

Something will be needed soon though because the fresh and new feeling won’t last forever.

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NBA

New York Knicks games at Madison Square Garden are an experience unlike any other

Jay Asser 16/03/2018
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The Knicks hosted the Philadelphia 76ers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

There’s something about watching a game at Madison Square Garden that just feels unique, in a way which can’t be replicated by any other arena in any other city.

One of the great aspects of the NBA is that there’s a culture around each team and the fan experience can vary depending on geography, but that’s especially true of the New York Knicks.

I got the chance to witness that firsthand when the Knicks hosted the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday at the ‘Mecca of basketball’.

Speaking of that nickname, some use it to describe New York City as a whole, while others specify it as Madison Square Garden. It’s fair to say right now the city isn’t deserving of the moniker considering the sorry state of their franchise and the drop-off in NBA talent being produced locally.

MSG, on the other hand, is definitely deserving.

Why? Well, it all starts with location, location, location.

The arena is smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, blocks away from Times Square and the Empire State Building. You can’t possibly get a more urban surrounding, even if you reverse engineered it by building an area first and then the city around it.

There’s so much life and activity around MSG that when you walk up to it, you feel like you’re going to an event that carries weight.

The interior feels just as cool, even if the reminders of history and tradition dispersed throughout don’t resonate with you.

It may be lost on someone attending their first NBA game, but the contrast between the lighting on the court and the lighting in the stands is beautiful. While not as dramatic as the theatre-like lighting at Barclay Center, MSG’s version does give it that Broadway touch and adds to the experience.

The starry feel wouldn’t be complete without the actual stars, and MSG plays into it by having a ‘Celebrity Row’ tidbit during timeouts where they put a camera on the notable names in attendance. At the Knicks-76ers game, those included actors Ansel Elgort, Timothee Chalamet and Hank Azaria, New Edition member Ronnie DeVoe and former New York Giants star Justin Tuck. The Staples Center in Los Angeles is probably the only other arena that can claim to host a who’s who every home game.

In practically every area, MSG hit the mark and proved its reputation is well-earned. The one disappointment I had, however, was not being in a more electric atmosphere.

I get it. The Knicks are a lottery team and their best player, Kristaps Porzingis, is out for the season with a torn ACL. There’s not much to get excited about in a game in March.

That said, I expected a little better from Knicks fans at, again, the Mecca of basketball. Seats appeared only half-full at the start of the game and even though the crowd filled in as the night went on, the cheers for the 76ers also seemed to get louder.

Philadelphia is close by so sure, their fans can travel easily. But it started to feel like the 76ers were the home team by the end of it and there was even a loud ‘Trust the Process’ chant in the fourth quarter when Joel Embiid was at the free throw line.

I’m inclined to be sympathetic of Knicks fans in this case and MSG was so cool otherwise that it didn’t take away from the experience.

Even though I’ve not attended a game in every city, I feel comfortable saying that MSG should be near the top of the list as a destination to watch basketball for any fan.

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