Los Angeles, not New York, is basketball capital of the world
LOS ANGELES — There are a couple of reasons to come here for a little junket at the beginning of January. Out the window is sunshine and blue skies as far as the eye can see. Step outside: ditch the jacket, it’s 70 degrees. Venice Beach hops with life and energy. The Ferris wheel is cranking over on Santa Monica pier. Surfers work the ocean waves.
You can always get your fries, animal-style, at In-N-Out.
But there is more, of course. Across this basketball winter there are plenty of fine stories playing themselves out in places like Philadelphia and Boston and Denver, where good teams allow for a respite from harsh weather. In Milwaukee, the Bucks were 31-5 through Friday’s games, a terrific show in so any ways. Billy Donovan has kept the Thunder’s heads above water. The Luka Doncic/Kristaps Porzingis partnership is a nightly delight in Dallas (whenever KP’s knee doesn’t flare up, anyway).
The TV ratings may say otherwise, but it’s a hell of a time to be a basketball fan.
Especially here, though. Especially now. Oh, L.A. has almost always been a destination spot in every basketball season, going back to the early 1960s and Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. When the Lakers faltered in recent years, the Clippers have had decent teams. This wasn’t exactly a virgin market.
But it’s never been this.
It’s never been the capital of professional basketball, night after night, week after week, the two teams that call L.A. (and the Staples Center) home playing at such rarefied levels.
It has never been home to — gulp — The City Game.
That was always us. That was always New York — officially, ever since Pete Axthelm christened it as such 50 years ago, but in truth for decades before. The “city” in City Game was never in question and it was never challenged. Boston won an awful lot in that time. Chicago, too. Nobody was ever going to give that kind of recognition to San Antonio, no matter how many titles the Spurs won.
The Lakers have won all 11 of their California-based championships since Harper’s Magazine Press published “The City Game” in the late fall of 1970. But even L.A., for all its swagger, could never bogart the title.
The Knicks get the Clippers and the Lakers each within three days of each other starting Sunday at 3:30 p.m. The Knicks have been playing much better lately, which is to say that they haven’t been playing ulcer-inducing basketball every night as they were a month ago. They are 6-7 under new coach Mike Miller. And most remarkably, in the land of small sample sizes, they have been, for a couple of weeks, the better basketball show of the two New York teams, the injuries finally taking a toll on the Nets.
What they will encounter Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night is the NBA’s new Order of Merit, though. Both teams have their core stars — Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for Doc Rivers and the Clippers, LeBron James and Anthony Davis for Frank Vogel and the Clippers. They presently sit No. 1 and No. 3 in the West, meaning there is an awfully good possibility the Western Conference will be decided by seven games at Staples Center this May and June.
And the tastes we’ve gotten so far have been remarkable. The Clippers won on Opening Night, 112-102 (a home game for them), and also beat the Lakers in one of the more anticipated Christmas games in a while, 111-106 (a Lakers home game). They’ll play again Jan. 28, then March 8. And then …
There’s already been a little intrigue. Rivers, never shy, punched back when someone asked about the Clippers’ propensity to rest Leonard (who will almost certainly sit out the Knicks game after playing against the Grizzlies on Saturday): “It’s our philosophy. I don’t know what theirs are. I think theirs is whatever LeBron says it is, to be honest.”
It’s all enough to give a New Yorker a terrible case of Hoop Envy. The Knicks and Nets hinted at this seven years ago, when the Knicks won 54 games and a playoff series and the Nets won 49 in their first season in Brooklyn, losing a Game 7 to the Bulls at home. But that’s been it, and even that was nowhere near what this is. The Nets, presumably, will be much more interesting once Kyrie Irving returns and Kevin Durant officially arrives. The Knicks will likely start all over again soon, hoping to get it right again …
Hoping to help make The City Game our game again.
How long till that happens?
For more on the Knicks, listen to the latest episode of the “Big Apple Buckets” podcast:
Source: Read Full Article