May 5, 2011

Partners in Crime

For Wizards fans, the most surprising part of last night's Dallas victory over LA was discovering that Brendan Haywood and Deshawn Stevenson are still alive and being paid to play basketball (Brendan is actually being paid $7,000,000 this season. And this is the first year of a six-year deal that hits $10,500,000 in 2015. Whoops!) We'd kind of assumed that the post-trade flight to Dallas had gone down in flames, so it was nice to see them doing what they do best, specifically Deshawn accidentally banking in a three-pointer and angrily celebrating to the point that Steve Kerr requested a technical from the announcers' booth. Zards!

The rest of the country was more interested in the game's final score, 93-81 Dallas, which put Kobe Bryant and the two-time defending champs in a 2-0 hole as they head to Texas. If there's any team that can survive losing the first two games of a playoff series at home, it has to be LA, but even they'd admit things look bad. And admit that they did, with Andrew Bynum declaring his team has "trust issues" and Phil Jackson discussing their woes with the laconic air of a man whose heart is already in Montana.

Two more Dallas wins and these already fascinating playoffs reach a new level of significance. Consider Dirk Nowitzki. Thus far, the big German is defined by his spectacular failings: the Finals collapse of '06 and the first round flame out in '07. On the plus side there was this:

But if he unseats the champs and wins a title, the story is rewritten. An MVP (which has been pretty much ignored until now), the best shooting big man of all time (sorry Larry), and a champion who dismissed his generation's Jordan on the way. There's no telling how high his stock might rise. AND Deshawn and Brendan are champions too!

Across the playoffs, players are seizing the opportunity to shove their narratives in new directions. Zach Randolph in Memphis has completed the transformation from salary dump to franchise player to "best power forward in the game" in just 18 months. Lebron is desperately holding out hope that America will forgive him once he wins the championship. And down in OKC, Russell Westbrook is exploring whether he and Kevin Durant can't both be Batman (careful Russ).

Think about it the next time Dirk splashes that stepback one-footer. He's not just a beautiful, ungainly stork coming in for a landing. He's a man defying those who would define him.

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