The game is the game. This is the way it must go. I said Week 1 of deez here diareez that if you want to compete for titles for an extended period of time, this is how you give yourself the best chance. It’s not that tanking is the only way. I understand there have been franchise guys taken outside the top 5, but it behooves an organization to maximize its odds. Losses lead to wins. You just have to zoom out a little, be patient. It’s a lateral to the other side of the field, you go backward to go forward. Just means bearing down and dealing with some losses for a bit. And don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty easy to see how somebody would not be enjoying this. It’s not like I felt healthy, on May 9, watching Thunder-Kings, celebrating Moe Harkless showing up ready to play. But I don’t have to feel healthy to feel good, so have a day, Moe! Have a day! Choose the reference you like best. No more half measures. This is something you do for a billion years or not at all. Make it happen. Don’t care how much laughing the internet’s doing. Bury me.
I make regular visits to cyberspace. Not to stunt, but I’m there multiple times daily. WiFi, electronic mail, headphone jack, the whole shebang. I cruise the infobahn, make sparks. Sometimes, for reasons that escape me, I check Twitter. There’ve been some doozies on there recently, real pretty things. Saw this one Sunday.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Thunder have been outscored by 490 points in their last 25 games, the worst margin of defeat by any team in any 25-game span in NBA history. Previous worst was by the 92-93 Mavs (489 points), who went 11-71 that season.
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) May 10, 2021
I read all that and got butterflies, felt my pulse in my temples. My knees were bouncing. My hands were sweating. It was like falling in love. More precious bits of information followed the rest of the week. On Monday:
Stat of the Day #140
The play-in drama has overshadowed a truly terrible tank race down the stretch. Last 15 games:
Besides Detroit, all of those teams have a net rating of minus-12 or worse in that span.
— Zach Kram (@zachkram) May 10, 2021
And on Tuesday:
The Houston Rockets have clinched the number one position heading into the lottery.
They only needed to be top 3 (assuming no 4+ teams were tied). Due of their top 4 protection, 1-3 spots are equal for them.
They have a 47.9% chance to send #5 to OKC.https://t.co/no7y6MnTo6
— Tankathon.com (@tankathon) May 11, 2021
And Tuesday again:
Each one lovelier than the next. Easily some of my favorite data I’ve ever seen. I’ve got all those bookmarked. I take out my phone and look at them from time to time like they’re pictures of the girls.
The losses have continued to mount, have continued to reach varying levels of sheesh. It’s one here-we-go-again after the other. Runs by the opposing team feel like avalanches. Waves of makes. Waves of mistakes. There’s not enough timeouts in the world. It’s like the other team hits a 3, then it steals the inbound pass, then it gets an and-1. Then it steals the ball on the other end. That leads to another 3. Then Josh Hall makes a bad pass and it comes down and hits another triple. And another 3 and another 3 and another turnover and then there’s an alley-oop you have to begrudgingly admit was kind of cool and then another 3 and the scoreboard starts to shake and spasm and you see all this and you feel all this and you open your eyes wider and say, “Yes. More.” The pain is good. It’s how you know the tank is working.
When you are down to the Kings 104-69 late in the third quarter, you stop doing math. The numbers lose whatever reality they used to hold and slowly melt to spell YIKES. Every shot of the other team’s bench shows eight people cackling like they just saw the Leeroy Jenkins Warcraft video for the first time. Every opposing player becomes the ideal version of themselves. They move through the Thunder like conquering heroes, Globetrotting around, doing whatever they want to make themselves happy. Damian Jones looks like Young Shaq. Buddy Hield looks like a better version of Ray Allen. Richaun Holmes looks like Prime Amar’e. They are, all of them, filled with joy. Enraptured by their own domination.
It’s not often you hear announcers clap on live television, but when Terence Davis crossed up Charlie Brown Jr. halfway through the fourth, that is exactly what happened. I sometimes like to listen to the opposing team’s broadcast and that night I’d turned the Kings’ broadcast on thinking I’d get to hear Mark Jones. I don’t think Jones is the Jordan of announcers or anything—he’s more Mitch Richmond, which is its own compliment—but Jones is elite. He appears to love his job, is always prepared, and looks cool in earrings. He’s been calling games on ESPN for years, though, and when the Worldwide Leader has him otherwise occupied, Kyle Draper steps in as the play-by-play man on the Sacramento broadcast. Not to be the whitest man of all time, but you know how sometimes you go to listen to a Fresh Air interview but then you click on it and it’s Dave Davies and not Terry Gross? And you’re just sort of, “Oh … well, all right. I guess that’s OK.” And it’s no offense to Davies or Draper. They’re both great. But I tuned in for the Ter Bear. When I buy tickets to Wicked, I want to see Chenoweth. If they announce an understudy at the top of the show, the crowd’s going to freak out. I cannot believe it got even whiter after the Fresh Air reference. I am chalk. I disgust myself.
I didn’t abandon the Kings broadcast. I’d made my bed. I was going to lay in it. Plus the remote was all the way over there.
Early third quarter, human lovemobile Aleksej Pokusevski busted out the flash machine again, broke Hield down off the dribble, went behind his back to get downhill, and finished with the left off the glass. He was smooth about it.
Let’s check it out from another angle so as to take up more space on the page and give the illusion of effort.
And the saxophones wail for we are at the gates of love once more. Our hearts are full. And so are our drinks. From Serbia with style. Big Butane’s waiting. It’s time for another visit to …
WELCOME TO POKULAND, ALL YOU SEXY PEOPLE. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE CASTLE OF PLEASURE IS SHUT DOWN TODAY. WE’RE ADDING LIVE JAGUARS TO THE EXPERIENCE SO UNTIL THEY’RE COMFORTABLE PROBABLY JUST STAY AWAY FROM OVER THERE. THERE WILL BE SCREAMING. DON’T MAKE A BIG DEAL ABOUT IT. WE OFFER NO REFUNDS AND WILL MAKE FUN OF YOU IF YOU ASK. YOU’RE LUCKY TO BE HERE. JUST SHUT UP AND PARTY.
“The ability at that size to do the type of things that he’s doing. And he plays the game the right way. He’s looking for his teammates. Can pass, dribble, shoot.”
Doug Christie said this. He’s the analyst for Kings broadcasts. I had no idea I liked Doug Christie, but after those four sentences, I’m a gigantic fan. He’s had a profound effect on how I see the game and is a legend that should be revered. Seems like an awesome person. Should’ve been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Some seconds go by. They show a replay of the Poku layup. Christie keeps trying to charm Oklahoma. “Behind the back and then … he brought a left hand with it. Everybody don’t have one of those.”
A graphic with Poku’s raw numbers pops up. At the top was the inspired title “The Hoku-Poku.” At the bottom were his season averages. They are so bad.
Field goal percentage: 33%
3-Point field goal percentage: 26%
*Selected 17th overall in 2020 NBA draft
Draper and Christie did the right thing, ignored the graphic entirely. Again, heroes! And I tip my cap. All those numbers are stupid and don’t know what they’re talking about anyway. Besides, moving across town is hard. Moving across the world is harder. This version of Poku’s season started when got back from the Gubble. Draper decided he wanted to be cool too, got in on the action, gassed up Christie.
“And the thing about him, he’s a 7-footer, Doug. He’s doing all this at 7 feet.”
At that moment I realized I like it when announcers call each other by their first names. Christie put a bow on it.
“And 19 years old. He’s got a lot to learn, get in the weight room. It’s just the ability.”
Douglas! I know what you mean! And for a moment I thought, “Man, I have got to watch more Kings games! Who needs Mark Jones? Draper, Christie—fellas—y’all are welcome at P-Land anytime. Would love to show you around. Give you the VIP treatment. Platinum experience, all-inclusive, junior executive suite, access to the poolside cabanas and free tickets to Reba. I can introduce you to our Pokuland family, do a little behind-the-scenes tour, maybe a visit with the man himself? Y’all are cool so you’ll love it. It’s a world of many ecstasies, a land flowing with behind-the-back assists and honey. We’ll get y’all some fast passes, do it up nice.”
If you listen to the winning team’s announcers during a blowout you get to hear two or three people having the time of their lives. Just howling laughter and arrogance and anecdotes that have nothing to do with what’s happening on the floor. It’s like it’s every single person on the winning team’s birthday and they all got everything they wanted. The announcers expound on the future, critique the past. Late third quarter of that same Kings game, Draper and Christie got to waxing more about OKC. The conversation wasn’t long but it wasn’t short, either. They took the time to chew. The game was decided. The rest was theater. And so, hey, got to waste time somehow. Let’s talk about the other team for a minute.
“What do you think about this rebuilding plan by Sam Presti and OKC?” Draper asked. “Doug, they have 34 picks over the next seven drafts, 17 of them first-rounders.”
OK, nice start. No reason to not be excited about the rest of the conversation. These guys had proved themselves to be fans of Poku, so I was certain they were solid dudes. In a way, they were my brothers. I knew they were going to be super cool about everything and I couldn’t wait to hear what they had to say.
“That is a lot,” Christie said. “Similar to Danny Ainge in Boston, but I think Danny was criticized because he didn’t necessarily parlay those maybe into what people thought they could. I think that Sam Presti is probably going to try to fix this sooner than later. When you think of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, you think of Dort. You’ve got some pieces. Al Horford, who is under contract for a couple more years. This is a rebuilding process that might be faster than people think. Or, he may go down the rabbit hole for a moment.”
I have a great deal of respect for the end-of-statement hedge. I relate to this very much, except for when I don’t. I really think this but I’m afraid to commit to it entirely so I’ll just drop this little caveat off right here and keep it moving. Covers all bases, rights all wrongs. I forgive Christie for including Horford in his answer. It’s hard to pay close attention to every team and, again, he likes Poku. Any friend of Poku’s is a friend of mine, so no big. Draper was heating up.
“But it reminds me of where they were when they had all those draft picks and draft KD, draft [Russell] Westbrook, and draft James Harden. Serge [Ibaka]. You know, so you have some history making right choices in the draft. And it’ll be interesting to see if they flip some of those picks, however, for a known talent.”
OK, we’re getting into some interesting territory here so let’s proceed with caution moving forward, and as soon as I say that I actually think we should reverse course entirely and talk about the game in front of us. I don’t need to go down memory la—
“Can you imagine having three MVPs that you drafted and you don’t have not a one on your team and all of them are still highly productive?” Christie asked.
What the hell, Doug?
“Zero titles, only one trip to the Finals,” Draper said.
Kyle? You would do this? To me? I stood up for you when all those monsters were calling you Dave Davies. His questions can lack the nuance of Gross’s and she takes more chances. Was your initial kindness fake? You fattened me up with compliments then took me to the slaughterhouse. How could you?
“That’s crazy, man,” Christie said.
That’s a good point.
“I think Sam Presti thinks, ‘I did it once,’” Draper said. “‘I’ve shown I can draft, let’s do it again.’ The funny part is now Harden and Durant are together in Brooklyn and Westbrook’s right down I-95 there in D.C.”
“Just getting triple-doubles on the daily,” Christie said. “Lot of my Seattle family would say that’s what you get for taking the squad.”
Really, Doug? Wow. You twist the knife like that? I thought we were brothers. Good to know where we stand. Honestly, how many reminders does the basketball public need about how close the Thunder were to a title? Anybody still watching a 30-point blowout between the Kings and Thunder in the year of our Dort 2021 knows this already. You’re teaching nothing. Might as well be telling everyone their names. I’m trying to have a good night and enjoy watching my team lose and y’all have to try to make me sad ? I revoke your invites to Pokuland. Where’s Mark Jones when you need him?
There’s a parable I love. A man decided one day he would write the greatest line of all time. Something so penetrating, so raw, so beautiful that all would hear and know instantly this piece of prose, this combination of words, was the masterpiece to end all masterpieces. It would touch everyone who heard it. One bar to rule them all. And so he went into his office and wrote. Day and night he wrote. And he would forgo meals and sleep and exercise. He stayed in his office, toiling and working and grinding away at his soul. And he wracked his brain thinking of all the beautiful things in the world, all the true things, all the lovely things, and he peed in the corner and smelled like old milk and his wife left him and his children left him and his friends forgot him and his eyes looked like Mars. And then one day he had it. He was peeing in the corner and the line hit him in a rush. He ran to his desk and grabbed a pen. He was still peeing. He wrote his truth. He kept peeing. When he was done, he held the paper up. Pee was everywhere. He kissed the words and spoke his poetry. “Cleveland rocks.”
Last week, I thanked Indiana and this week I thank Ohio. Cleveland, that’s how you snap a skid. Handled your business against the Celtics honorably. I am so grateful for Kevin Love’s professionalism. Sometimes you’ve got to take the cover off the classic and take it for a spin.
I keep thinking about what Boston did to us. Can’t get it out of my mind. It sits in the memory and gnaws. The Celtics’ indifference felt violent. So upsetting. I appreciate their attempts to make it right, though. I’m not ready to forgive, but I am ready to thank.
The last days of this season will be complete and utter chaos on both ends of the standings. The top is exciting but it is ultimately of no concern to me. I want to get as low as I can go. Detroit isn’t going to win again. There’s just no way Troy Weaver would let that happen. They play Denver on Friday, Miami on Sunday. Both those teams will need to win. The Pistons are losing out. I turn my prayers to the Magic. We’re currently tied with them for the third-worst record in the league, both teams sitting at 21-49. The Magic end the year with two games against the Sixers. The first is Friday night, the next is Sunday. To Philadelphia, look, I understand you will definitely want to win one. Totally get it. But let them have the other, please?
I’m knocking on wood as I type this but the Thunder are losing out. We play the Jazz on Friday night and the Clippers on Sunday. They both need the win. I feel bad about our chances in both contests and that feels great. We’ll know where things sit by the end of this Sunday. Magic-Sixers is at 7 Eastern, Thunder-Clippers a little later at 8 Central. If both teams lose out, it goes to a coin toss. A coin toss can be very exciting.
I have absolutely no interest in caring about one right now. Joel and Ben need breaks, Daryl. Tell Doc to stop overworking them. Let them recharge their batteries and get ready for this postseason push. The East is no joke this year and if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything. Let’s make it happen, Philly. Let’s the both of us go out there and get dominated tonight.
I’m over the moon for where Oklahoma City is now compared to where it was at the All-Star break, but I can’t help thinking—why couldn’t we have started our in-depth exploration of the roster just a little smidge sooner? One more loss. That’s all we needed. Somewhere along the way, just one more. Why did we beat Boston? I still can’t get over it. I’ve never hated a win more. How did something like that happen? Why? Is it something I did? Whatever it was, I’m so sorry. I take it back.
Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.