SUBJECT: WHO DO YOU LOVE?
Israel: J.A., do you remember when you first fell in love ... with the NBA? I do, like it was yesterday. I enjoyed the NBA as a kid watching Magic and Bird. But I fell in love in 1990 watching the Run TMC-led Warriors. I would constantly get in trouble for staying up past midnight watching them when they were on national TV. After watching Tim Hardaway cross over Rod Strickland and the Spurs, I never was more excited for a playoff series than I was for Warriors-Lakers in 1991. I've loved Warriors teams since then, including the Chris Webber team, the Baron Davis team and now the Stephen Curry team. This season is still in its infant stage, but is there a team we can fall in love with yet, for whatever reason? I know the Pacers have been great. But lovable? So J.A., in my best George Thorogood, who do you love?
J.A.: When I sing "Who do you love?" I do it in the style of the LL Cool J "Loungin'" remix.
And when I think of teams that could steal my heart I look to the Bay Area, just as you did in the 1990s. This version of the Warriors has just the right mix of unorthodox style (they're so outside-in) and legitimacy (they're taking defense so seriously now). They're playing at the second-fastest pace in the league, yet they have allowed 100 points only twice so far. Style AND substance.
Israel: I don't know how to feel about you crushing on my team, but I guess I have to allow it.
But when it comes to love this season, the Timberwolves make it easy to fall for them. I mean, Kevin Love -- duh. You want to talk about outside-in, how many teams outside of Dallas are running plays for their star power forward to shoot step-back 3s? Love's stat-collecting game is proving to be sustainable and effective, somehow managing to be a deadly outside threat and a beast on the boards. And, oh, those outlet passes to Corey Brewer! Those two were meant to be. Brewer's that guy who leaks out on every play (Woo-woo!! Outlet!!). And Love is about the only guy in the league who can hit him in the chest from 75 feet away ... falling backward, a defender hanging on him, while already boxing out for his next defensive rebound. And don't forget about Ricky Rubio. His highlight passes are second to none in the league, and he's the engine for a team that's fast paced and gets to the foul line (fun yet efficient). And the clincher -- the two words that turn a strong like into real love: Alexey Shved.
J.A.: Alexey Shved? I hear you on Love and Rubio and Love-to-Brewer outlet passes. But Alexey Shved?
Israel: Well, how many chances do you get to say a name like that unless you're in a Bond movie? Plus, he's occasionally wild, in a fun way. So if I can't sell you on Shved love, how about the Phoenix Suns? Is there love potential when you've got a former backup running the show, a set of twins confusing defenses, a former walk-on as the coach and a big man in Miles Plumlee who once had a non-speaking cameo in "Parks and Recreation" playing -- get this -- a friend of Roy Hibbert? That's versatility! (Additional side note: Unless there's an amazing story behind it, the nickname Plum-dog has to go. Heard Phoenix announcers calling him that, and all I kept picturing was a large purple muppet.)
Bledsoe didn't quite match the 82 points Harden scored in his first two games with the Houston Rockets last season, but now that Bledsoe doesn't have to play behind Chris Paul, he has more than doubled his scoring average to 21 points.
Some guys get exposed when they finally receive more playing time. Some guys flourish. Bledsoe is one of the latter. And the Suns, like the 76ers, have that cheesy movie storyline of flourishing despite management's best attempts to sink them. It's like "Major League." Or "The Producers." I can't decide which.
Israel: If I saw a "Major League" ending coming for this Suns team, maybe I'd be able to fall for them. But I have to figure the league will adjust to the duo of Markieff Morris and Bledsoe, which would leave a pretty underwhelming supporting cast to carry the load. This feels more like a fling. And actually, I might be all out of love at this point. I want to like the Pelicans more, especially with Anthony Davis having an impressive start, but Monty Williams doesn't have that team playing anywhere near its potential yet. And the Wizards were on the brink of lovable, but watching their offense is maddening because it's about as elementary as it comes, and that's frustrating to watch. The Magic are certainly likable, but not quite yet commitment worthy. Same with the Lakers, who've had some great high points, but have added some depressingly low points. Plus, it's hard to feel great about a team when you're too busy feeling bad for Steve Nash, who's still dealing with nerve issues from last year's injury, and in his second Lakers season is on a team nothing like the one he envisioned when he signed on last year. He went to L.A. to lead a championship group, not conduct the little engine that occasionally could. You can't help but feel more pity than love watching that group with a 39-year-old Nash on the floor, quite possibly in his last season.
J.A.: Nash deserves our empathy, but under no circumstances do the Lakers warrant an outsider's love. The same principles apply to the Celtics and Knicks: There's too much institutional arrogance among those franchises and their fan bases for them to fall into the category of "lovable."
And sometimes style trumps circumstances. You'd think it would be easy to get behind the Indiana Pacers, the small-market team with the quirky big man who offered to go play video games at a fan's house if they could get a PlayStation 4 to him. But Indiana's defense leaves no room for joy. They've already kept five opponents from scoring 90 points; two of them couldn't hit 80. Living on the West Coast, there's no way I'm rearranging my schedule to be home early enough to catch them on League Pass.
A key to any relationship is timing. The first year I had League Pass, in 1996-97, I was living on the East Coast and would get home from covering games in time to catch the second half of Lakers games at the Forum. It was Shaq's first year in L.A., Kobe was a rookie and they still had holdovers from the Lake Show squad, like Nick Van Exel. That team was fun.
You know what fits my schedule these days? A team that plays on Saturday nights, when I'm much more likely to be home. All of which brings us back to the Warriors, who play a half-dozen Saturday night home games this season. I'll even forgive those sleeved jerseys if I get to watch Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and the silently swaggy Curry.
Israel: Normally, J.A., I'd give you a hard time about admitting you spend your Saturday nights at home in L.A. But I'm now thinking that's more of an L.A. thing to do -- kind of a reverse cool move, which makes it cool. You must be ahead of the game. That said, watching the Warriors because it's convenient for your schedule isn't love. Love is drinking a Red Bull at 11 p.m. ET because you're exhausted, but you must finish watching the Pistons-Warriors on Tuesday night even though it was an obvious blowout in the making. Love is admitting the sleeved jerseys look terrible, because honesty is important, even in these relationships. Love is not getting mad at Klay Thompson for having tunnel vision on offense or Andre Iguodala for missing an easy clutch bucket, because, hey, it was fun to watch anyway.
I don't think I'm there yet with any other team besides the Warriors (I find it amusing, too, that the Heat aren't even in this conversation). But I'm willing to make room for the Wolves if they keep this up, for the Thunder if Jeremy Lamb develops and Russell Westbrook is back to full Westbrook, for the Clippers if Chris Paul makes it a point to use his crossover for evil at least once a game (perhaps both of those things can happen when the Thunder and Clippers play Wednesday night). That's about the extent of it.