Live from New Orleans: Watching the Wizards on the Fringe of Relevance
[Editor's Note: Lifetime NBA fan, team rebuilding aficionado, and former Kenyon College A-League Intramural Champion, Alex MacMullan, was up close and personal for Washington's almost-blowout, almost-close win against the Pelicans in New Orleans, Louisiana. Below is Alex's account from the experience. Follow him on Twitter: @AMacMull. -Conor D.]
The City of New Orleans is known for its desirability as a travel destination. The Pelicans, much to the NBA’s chagrin, have played little to no part in the aforementioned glut of promotional hospitality. With full knowledge of this fact, the overarching goals for the New Orleans Pelicans franchise over the past two years has been to achieve relevance in the eyes of the hometown fans and to have home games be notable events in a city full of such things. To achieve this goal the franchise has, as NBA fans know, made a series of significant signings and trades from a basketball perspective.
These moves range from spectacular (Ryan Anderson), to highly questionable (Tyreke Evans, with a healthy dose of “to be determined”) to in-between (Jrue Holiday trade, Eric Gordon re-signing). But, alas, the realities of this event-rich city have beset the Pels once again in the New Year. And based on the lack of excitement and my attendance at this particular game (17,557 was the documented attendance, which is laughably far from the sparsely populated truth) it is safe to say that the their administrative efforts, however bold, have failed to combat the problem of this city’s citizens having too much else to do.
To set the stage a bit more completely: Currently, the Saints are in full playoff swing and exercising holistic ownership of New Orleans’ hopes and dreams, New Orleanians just finished playing host to the largest BCS bowl upset of the college football season last Thursday, the NBA All-Star game and festivities drop in about a month, and the heart of Mardi Gras season, America’s largest citywide party, follows soon thereafter.
If a Saints game or other national event is New Orleans’ equivalent of the blowout party that everyone attended and can’t stop talking about for weeks on end, a Pelicans home game remains the farty basement congregation of hung-over, recovering partygoers watching “Roadhouse” on Starz4, eating nachos, and recounting highlights from the previous night’s festivities. It can be fun and comfortable, but it is ultimately idle recovery time before the next big thing.
Despite my introduction I can say that I certainly settled into my $19 100-level seat intrigued by a matchup between two teams that do seem to have many similarities and hopefully share brighter futures. Is it so crazy to think that three years from now John Wall, Brad Beal, Anthony Davis, and Jrue Holiday could be leading their respective teams atop of the Eastern and Western conferences rather than sporting sub-.500 records? Wait … you’re saying the Wiz are one game out from a 4 seed and being in position to host a home playoff series? 16-17 never looked so good!
But my intrigue extended beyond the marquee matchups in the affair. I’ll let other more qualified writers dissect Wall vs. Holiday, Beal vs. Gordon, and Nene vs. Davis. Because the joys of being a spectator at a sparsely attended home game of a lottery-bound team that just recently lost one of its best players (Ryan Anderson) to serious injury are not solely found through the best the two teams have to offer.
Yes, the absolute highlight of the night was a fourth-quarter John Wall open floor behind-the-back carry and kick-out to a corner-lurking Brad Beal, who subsequently drained the 3—a sequence of events that should serve as Exhibit A for why star players and the athletic brilliance they so frequently display need to be viewed in person to be fully appreciated. However, inspired by the also-ran souls of these two oft-ignored franchises, I decided to forgo mimicking relevance (as the Wizards have so far this year), and spent the majority of my night focused on the fringes.
Power Struggle (or something like that)
First up on my fringe matchup docket was the battle of the under-skilled, high-energy former lottery disappointments: the recently heartbroken Jan “Airwolf” Vesely vs. Al-Farouq Aminu. While I must confess to having a soft spot for the energy, effort, and at best mixed results that both of these guys bring on a nightly basis (Airwolf especially), I am confident that I am being unbiased in my assessment that Jan’s 23 minutes of play were magical and electric. The Jan-Hook, the alley-oop finish, and the tight D on Davis as the clock ran down were all top Wiz moments and game highlights. What made them even more enjoyable, and possibly encouraging, was that Jan was doing quintessentially Jan things with markedly better results than he usually gets.
In other words, if one were to have watched the telecast of Jan’s 2011 NBA Draft selection and the accompanying grainy Eastern European highlights provided therein and then been transported directly to the present day to view this game, the only Jan-related disappointment would be the tragic news of the disintegration of the relationship behind the most passionate kiss in NBA Draft history.
Conversely, Aminu’s play against the Wiz should serve as a stark reminder of the damage the under-skilled, high-energy rotation player can do to the flow of an NBA team’s offense. Aminu played approximately 30 minutes, managing four points, five rebounds and most memorably at least five audible groans from the home crowd, each coming when he touched the ball on offense. He did his best #MaynorTime impression by holding the ball for too long every time he got it. However, it was a well-placed pass from a Pelicans guard to an open, streaking Aminu that resulted in a botched reception out of bounds that drew the most ire.
— Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) January 9, 2014
Guys Night Out
As the first half came to a close with the Wiz taking a commanding lead, the PA announcer and accompanying scoreboard reminded me that this coming Friday is “Guys Night Out” at the New Orleans Arena as the Pelicans take on Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. As any rational person should expect, this announcement plunged me down a rabbit hole, as I furiously scribbled down ideas for Pels and Wiz-themed movies with the title “Guys Night Out.” This ultimately leads me to my second fringe matchup of the night, and one that has little to do with any basketball plays that occurred on the court.
I am, of course, talking about the matchup of the best hypothetical “Guys Night Out”-titled Pelicans and Wizards-based movie pitches I was able to come up with. Up first is a bilingual French/English buddy cop film with Kevin Seraphin as the lead and a French Mastiff police dog as his partner and sidekick. Essentially this is a Turner and Hooch reboot with the climactic scene coming as Seraphin and his partner infiltrate a nightclub in order to take down Chris Brown and Drake for threatening fellow French national team teammate Tony Parker’s career with shards of broken glass to the eye. Seraphin gets the job done and the girl—Rihanna—in the end. #GuysNightOut.
Up next is a dark comedy about a Vegas bachelor party gone terribly wrong a la Peter Berg’s “Very Bad Things” starring Greg Stiemsma in a role combining that film’s three craziest characters—Christian Slater’s “Robert,” and Jeremy Piven and Daniel Stern’s “Berkow Brothers,” into one out of control psychopath. While I think this one has real potential, in case the NBA can’t get behind something this dark, we can just reboot “Tomcats” with Stiemsma stepping in for Jake Busey. I am fairly confident that no one would notice the difference physically or in terms of acting ability. #GuysNightOut.
Advantage: Seraphin’s “Guys Night Out” due to international appeal and commercial viability.
Hope Nearly Extinguished
A final fringe matchup … one that occurred between two players who likely never defended each other in the game: Otto Porter and Austin Rivers. I dub this one “The Battle Between the Instantly Regrettable Top 10 Draft Picks.” Sorry, Wiz faithful. Otto Porter live and in person looked as unready for the rotation as Rivers did when I went to opening night 2012-13 for Pelicans vs. Spurs.
In Porter’s defense, injuries have sapped him of the adequate time for acclimating to the NBA pace and acquiring the requisite strength, so a glimmer of hope remains where Rivers’ may be permanently extinguished. In this specific game Rivers can nominally get the edge for no other reason than the fact that he scored points and played nearly double the minutes that Porter did.
Laissez les bon temps et les ballons de basket rouler
As the third quarter came to a close and it was evident that a 21-point differential was likely more than even a patented NBA home team run could overcome—the half empty arena began to slowly crawl towards being only a quarter full. The dance cam, kiss cam, and a few Brian Roberts 3-pointers reeled the remaining Pelican faithful back in for a few brief moments of excitement before the final bell tolled and the Wiz left New Orleans ever closer (again) to that sweet, perpetually attainable .500 mark. The lone Wizards fan I was able to spot in my section— large, bearded, tattooed, a dead ringer for Action Bronson with adorable son in tow—made his way down toward the tunnel as the final buzzer sounded to try to grab one final good vibe beyond what Jan and Ariza’s big games, and the Guinness World Record holding unicyclist that owned the halftime show, had been able to provide.
I left, walking out of the arena just in time to be handed a free energy drink called “Rehab.” The college-aged kid next to me, also with a “Rehab” in hand, saw our shared swag and challenged me to a chugging contest. I politely declined. One last failed attempt to make this night memorable.
On the horizon: The Pelicans have circled their calendars for a Guys Night Out against Dallas on Friday. On Saturday night, the Saints game in Seattle will consume the hours before, during, and after the game itself for citizens of the City of New Orleans. The Wizards, in their way, will be carrying on their noble Sisyphean journey to .500 (and perhaps beyond) in Indianapolis where colder weather and a more formidable opponent await them.