[Throwback Thursday with sporadic contributor Zach Lee, enjoy! -yfbb]
I like to ask people working in customer service jobs how they’re doing before I ask them for whatever the hell it is I want. It rarely happened to me when I was waiting tables or scanning barcodes, so paying it forward whenever I get the chance feels nice. That is except for tonight on my way through the security gauntlet at the entrance to the Moda Center, when in response to my query the wallet-phone-keys basket lady said,
“Could be better.”
Besides being socially questionable, that is what is known colloquially as an “omen”.
I don’t remember exactly when I realized this lady had foretold my entire evening. When I knew there wouldn’t be a square inch of the figurative bed that the Bulls would leave unsoiled. It might have been when I heard Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen hadn’t even made the flight from Chicago. Or maybe it was while I read my phone at the urinal - I’m a disgusting animal - that I learned GarPax had declared Mirotic: OUT (botched trade). But if I had to wager a guess, I’d say it would probably have been the moment I squinted at the jumbotron and saw that a man bearing a striking resemblance to Paul Zipser would be starting this evening.
They only thing fun about the game was leaning into how bad it could get for the Bulls. CJ McCollum had a career-high 50 points in three quarters. It was 20-2 before the first TV timeout. The Blazers had 43 in the first quarter. The Bulls put in Quincy Pondexter with 6:10 (!!!) left in the game. And still it was one of those tilts where you look at the box score afterwards and want to scream YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW. The kind where your guys miss what had to have been 947 consecutive shots at the rim and gotdamn if the other team didn’t fumble the ball out of bounds except it hit a security guard, shot up in the air, bounced off glass, swished through and the refs counted it for three points and the foul. The stats aren’t available yet, but I’ll bet you an open-handed smack in the face that the Blazers shot a better percentage on contested shots over 20 feet than the Bulls did from 6 and in.
Bright spots? Zach Lavine finally hit a few shots on his way to 23 points in 22 minutes, including 3 of 4 from deep. He also went to the rim multiple times, which I was happy to see him do on his way back to full strength even if he struggled to finish. He got hit on a drive in the third quarter which made him land awkwardly. You could see from his spooked reaction that it was the biggest test his knee has taken thus far, but he looked to have made it out unscathed. In related news, I’m forever ruined on all returns from serious injury. Drose broke me in ways I’m not sure I’ll ever fully recover from. Shit, sorry that’s not a bright spot at all.
Felicio finally got some burn in an NBA game. It had been a minute. The last time he played 20 minutes was the week before Thanksgiving. He actually looked decent, at the very least active, and the box score says he was a +12 which must have been accomplished by blood magic based on my recollection of the contest. If - please god - the Bulls move Mirotic this week you would expect his minutes to go to Felico, if not for the overall tankiness of it then certainly because he’ll be the team’s third highest paid player. It’d be really good for Chicago going forward if he takes the increased opportunity and runs with it.
To the notes, as good god let’s stop discussing this non-game.
- Robin Lopez is the absolute best and if you’re a Bulls fan I encourage you to enjoy this time with him in your life. When his name was called during the opposing starting lineups, Blazers fans cheered for him like their favorite son was back from college. He is demonstrably missed here. On top of being a plus NBA player on most nights, it’s all the little things he brings to the team. Sitting on the floor in front of the bench after his first stint like a dog after a good walk. Or that he warms up with every snap on the legs of his pants updone except the top one, so he looks like he’s wearing Phat pants on his way to a rave in 1998. And with that same look he does a heel-to-heel back and forth peepee shuffle for the entire national anthem. I mean from OH SAY all the way to OF THE BRAVE. Lots of players rock back and forth during the anthem, but Lopez moves like he had a half dozen Dr. Peppers in the tunnel before running out.
- This is likely a dated reference but after watching his drives for a year and a half I’ve taken to calling Denzel Valentine “Toonces” and I hope you’ll help me make it stick.
- Niko was relegated to the team hotel apparently awaiting the team trainer to come back and pack him in styrofoam, just in case he needed to go outside. But that did give him time to release one of the least-legible personal logos in recent memory. I for one see Tom Hardy’s mask from Mad Max.
I’ve been tough on Niko over the years and really appreciate how well he’s played this season after getting indefensibly Worldstar’d by Bobby Portis. But I can’t wait until he plays elsewhere. He’s a good basketball player but I hate the way he plays basketball. Does that make any sense? No? Good. I will feel better about his time with the team should he net a first round pick. That’s weird but it’s true.
- I want to talk about Jerian Grant like you want to read a 1500-word Blogabull post about a 20-point road blowout in January. Get well soon, Kris Dunn.
- Credit where credit is due to Garpax. I’ve torn them to shreds for their last five years of maneuvering - it wasn’t very hard - but I have to say I love a ton of their more recent moves, the botched Niko trade notwithstanding. Getting Lopez and Jerian for Drose was a heist and a half, Markkanen might go first overall if you redid this year’s draft, David Nwaba is a find, and the Jimmy trade looks better by the day. Paying Butler the supermax in two years was gonna be a non-starter (mostly because Gar had bungled the rest of the post-Drose roster construction) and the return from Minnesota looks better by the day. Portis and Valentine remain interesting if tertiary pieces. I’ll never forgive the $3.5m eff you but much of the rest has been solid. I’ve said this before but this regime’s skillset lies in drafting and developing young nuclei. This is their sweet spot. And then conducts trades like the new guy in your fantasy league after a 2-for-1 well drinks night at Chili’s. Fun times.
- The Blazers are a likable young team that’s totally hamstrung with crapola contracts signed back in the year of insanity. Lillard and McCollum seem to take turns… not a lot of synergy there, and beyond Nurkic and Ed Davis - who I love - they feel like a plucky first round playoff gentleman’s sweep waiting to happen.
- There was a woman sitting three seats over from me and my buddy. 30-ish years old, a therapist, bookish but social, pleasant. My buddy and I struck up a conversation with her and her friend. Turns out she has four Bulls tattoos including a “72-10” on her inner bicep. I did not know they made that model of woman.
- I used to do these moonlighting screeds from Brooklyn, always checking in on the Bulls when they’d come to town to play the Nyets who played their games within walking distance of my apartment. I moved to Portland last year and while you’d be surprised how similarly expensive it is, I do love living here. Blazers games are far superior to any Brooklyn Nets game ever in roster quality, arena entertainment and most of all, fandom. It’s so endearing. I saw a 50 year-old man unironically wearing a Blazers cheek sticker. There’s a Hustleboard™ in the upper corner of the stadium that tracks steals, rebounds and blocks. The row in front of me was a husband, wife and their four young kids on a once-every-couple-years special occasion. Music is played at stoppages of course but at a reasonable volume. And we weren’t once asked to MAKE SOME NOOOOOOISE which I really appreciated. Two thumbs up, would go again.