What We’re Thankful For 2013: Ball Don’t Lie

Ball Don't Lie Staff
Ball Don't Lie

With Thanksgiving upon us, each Yahoo Sports blog is taking stock of what they're thankful for while also providing menu suggestions and a sport-specific viewing guide for when you hit your couch. Share what you're thankful for on Twitter with the #YSBThanks hashtag or in the comments below. Have a safe and happy holiday!

Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don't Lie editor

1. This may start on a dour note, but I’m thankful that Derrick Rose did what he was supposed to do with both his ACL and meniscus tears. Jumping back into late season or playoff action to work with a roster that was designed, by the front office no less, to take a year off in 2012-13 would not have worked for anyone. And though his most recent injury is a cruel blow, the choice to re-attach his meniscus as opposed to cutting it will save him years of frustration, and a possible eventual microfracture surgery.

It’s early. It guts me, as a Chicago Bulls fan, that I won’t get to watch him at full strength for another 12 months, but it’s early. And this is why I’m just as thankful for the presence of Joakim Noah, a player that is elbowing in the paint with Mssrs. Harper, Pippen and Jordan as my Favorite Bull Evah.

2. I’m thankful for basketball Twitter. I’m thankful that I’m fed huge scores of information, quotes, links, analysis, jokes, support, pointed and intelligent criticism, and endless goofs. It’s a silly website with a silly name that forces you to be circumspect and quick and not always on point – but it’s a massive resource that I would encourage any curious holdout to take advantage of. And please pardon my Twitter avatar, it was for a Halloween party.

3. I’m thankful to my wife and kids for understanding how and why Kelly does this. For understanding that 82 games leads to two months of playoffs which leads to the draft which leads to free agency which leads to “Kelly’s having a hard time coming up with something to write about” which leads to the whole thing starting all over again. That they don’t mind me emailing myself links off of Twitter before I start the car up to drive us home from gymnastics practice. That they don’t mind quiet goodbyes in the morning while I stare down my final paragraph in an Orlando Magic column that nobody is going to read. And that they’re still with me, with Kelly jumping between the kitchen and the Bucks game as he serves dinner, so many seasons in.

4. I’m also thankful for the ability to work daily with Dan Devine and Eric Freeman. Their talent, to say nothing of their approach, touch, effort and eventual creation is a huge inspiration to me, and something I’m so, so happy to be a part of.

What’s on my Thanksgiving menu? I’m cracking open a too-cold can of American beer, and hitting the “F5” key over and over and over. I’ve already filed, I’ve already hit “Publish,” and my column is floating out there amongst the tubes. Not on Ball Don’t Lie yet, nothing’s showing up, but I’m done. Nothing left but to email it out to my editors once it shows up live, tweet it out to whoever’s up at this hour, and quickly drink this beer that the United Center staff was kind enough to give us following this particular Chicago Bulls game. Hoping, as usual, that everybody noticed that I didn’t crack it until I was done with the column.

The column’s finally up, but I still have to finish the beer, pack up, quietly say “so long” to whichever colleague’s eyes I meet on the way out, call the wife, and find the Corolla. It’ll be one of the few cars left in the lot at this hour, with most of the fans long having headed home at this point, so it’s not a chore I’m dreading. Once the beer is finished, I skulk over to table next to that vat of too-cold American cans of beer, and pick up a turkey sandwich that the United Center staff had prepared and pre-wrapped. I grab two packets of mayonnaise, because nobody can judge you on the Skyway, and head to the Corolla. Once the Dan Ryan is navigated, the tolls are paid and I’m working on cruise control, I pull the thing out.

It’s dry. I don’t much care for cheese on turkey, but I don’t want to take it off and whip it out the window at this speed. It’s past midnight and I’ve got two hours of driving left to get home to a wife and kids that have been asleep for hours. I’ve got two hours of driving through the Indiana plains, with only the massive red LED lights of the windmills to remind me that I’m getting there, nearly home, nearly finished with this. Home at 2:30, crack the back and feed the cats, and there’s still that American beer on my breath. Still that Swiss cheese, still that extra packet of mayonnaise.

The kids have to be up for school in four hours. I have to be back at the computer in six. And yet I’m still tasting that cheese, and that beer, and I’m reminded of the crowd, and the game, and my colleagues, and I’m reminded again that I am so damn lucky to be doing this for a living.

Not a bad meal, in all.

Dan Devine, Ball Don't Lie editor

1. That the Atlantic Division is bad enough that nobody has totally run away and hidden from the lowly, moribund New York Knicks, and that Tyson Chandler's coming back in a week or two. (Right? Please?)

2. That Kevin Love's comeback has been everything I'd hoped for. As I wrote in our Wolves season preview, the prospect of a motivated, in-shape, in-form Love resuming the level of play that made him an All-NBA Second Teamer in 2011-12 and pushed him into Coach K's rotation in London was one of the things I was most looking forward to about the '13-'14 campaign, and man, has Love delivered.

He's been sensational for Rick Adelman, averaging 24.6 points, just under 14 rebounds and 4 1/2 assists per game for a Wolves team that has looks poised to be in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race all season long. But it's not just the stuff we already knew about — the preternatural nose for missed shots, the cleverness around the rim, the long-range touch. It's also, as MinnPost's Britt Robson recently noted, the evident maturation of his game — the increased attentiveness and vocalization on defense, the evolving feel for picking out the right pass and successfully completing it — and the firm belief that, absence of playoff experience or not, he belongs in that All-NBA/MVP conversation. He's proving it night in and night out, and after an injury-scuttled year cost us a season of Love at the top of his game, I'm feeling fortunate that we're getting to see it.

3. That Eric Bledsoe's now free to be a full-time game-changer, and that he's taking advantage of his opportunity.

When I spoke to Bledsoe ahead of the Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend back in February, he was still a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, still playing behind established veterans like Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford and Willie Green, and still seeing little more than rotation-reserve minutes despite the regular flashes of brilliance he routinely showed in the open court and as a defensive demon. He'd yet to get the chance to really cut loose and showcase everything he could do; in fact, he hadn't gotten the chance to do that in college, either, not with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Darius Miller all vying for their share of the spotlight, too. With the Clippers facing a decision on how to deal with the soon-to-be-extension-eligible guard while also facing a no-brainer max extension for Paul, I asked Bledsoe if he found himself itching for a chance to stretch out, get a team of his own and take the next step in his development

To his credit, he didn't bristle or strike an overeager note: "I just want to keep on getting better and learning from Chris, Chauncey … it's just been a great experience, my time with the Clippers. It's just been great. So I want to just keep on learning as much as I can, and then someday, probably, it'll happen." Someday, as we now know, would come sooner rather than later, with Bledsoe flipped to the desert to kickstart the Phoenix Suns' rebuilding process ... and before suffering a bruised shin that's cost him the last five games, he'd been absolutely brilliant in doing so.

Given his first consistent opportunity to take the reins of an NBA team, the 23-year-old Bledsoe has shown that he really was paying attention while serving as an understudy to CP3 and Billups, showing off not only the blinding speed and sudden-shift quickness that make him a transition terror, but also an advancing understanding of how to change his pace to get wherever he wants on the court whenever he wants to get there. He's growing as a facilitator, assisting on more than one-third of his teammates' buckets while on the floor and experiencing only a slight increase in his turnover rate despite a marked increase in the size of his role. He's still making the kind of explosive plays that made League Pass diehards swoon during his time in California, but now he's also turning in the more muted difference-makers that have helped lead meteoric rises on both offense (where the Suns have improved from 29th in points scored per possession last year to the middle of the pack so far this year) and defense (up from 24th last year to a top-10 mark).

He's proving us right, rewarding new Suns general manager Ryan McDonough for having faith that he was a star worth building around, and nudging the value of that eventual extension northward with every dynamic drive to the basket. We'd spent two years wondering what it would look like when Bledsoe finally got unleashed, and thus far, the reality's outpaced most of our wildest dreams. Lucky us.

4. Reddit's NBA community. I watch a lot of basketball — not the full 48 (or more) minutes of every game every night, but a lot. I read a lot of writing about basketball — not every story, notes column and blog post out there, but a lot. I follow a lot of basketball-discussing types on Twitter — not everybody with an opinion about whether Kevin Durant or Chris Paul needs a championship more, but a lot. And still, despite the hours of watching, reading, listening and writing, I miss stuff sometimes. r/NBA basically never does, though.

That community — well over 125,000 members strong at this point — catches the items of note from the things you might miss in a given day or night, fanning out across the 30 NBA teams and their respective individual Internets to ensure that if something funny/ridiculous/awesome/important happened, everyone gets a look at it. It is an essential supplement to my daily watching, reading, listening and writing, and I'm glad it not only exists, but continues to thrive.

What’s on my Thanksgiving menu? At the risk of being something of a homer, I'm going with the pressed Cuban sandwich from the Habana Outpost stand at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets and a short train ride away from where I'll be getting ready to carpool out to my family festivities. Sure, Thanksgiving is primarily about Turkey, but I have a hard time envisioning this combination of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and chipotle mayo being anything but a welcome addition at a Devine family dinner.

Also, my wife is half-Cuban. I feel like there's a chance -- maybe a small chance, but a chance nonetheless -- that if I brought some boutique-y Prokhorov-co-signed Cuban sandwiches to her family's party, some member of her family might interpret it as some sort of challenge and decide it's time to throw down in the kitchen to firmly establish a cultural-culinary pecking order. And if that happens, then I might wind up with two Cuban sandwiches, for taste-test purposes. Again: Maybe only a small chance, but a chance I'd have to take.

Thanksgiving’s TV schedule

There are no NBA games scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, but NBA TV's got a nice troika of documentaries on tap for your tryptophan-haze viewing pleasure.

First up, at 8:30 p.m. ET: "The Doctor," which traces Julius "Dr. J" Erving's life and career from his childhood in New York through his trendsetting years in the ABA, his time with the Philadelphia 76ers, and his at-times headline-grabbing life after retirement. It earned headlines at the time of its release for providing proof that Doc could still dunk at age 63, but the in-depth accounting of Erving's peaks and valleys offers much more than that, too.

Up next, at 10 p.m. ET: "The Dream Team," NBA TV's original feature on the legendary 1992 U.S. men's Olympic basketball team. For more, check out Eric Freeman's June 2012 review.

Wrapping things up at 11:30 p.m. "Magic & Bird: A Courtship Of Rivals," an HBO documentary about the rivalry and eventual friendship between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the two guys popularly credited with saving the NBA in the 1980s. For more, check out my February 2012 review.

Eric Freeman, Ball Don't Lie contributor

1. Russell Westbrook: At a time when many of the NBA’s best players — Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Marc Gasol, et al. — have recently succumbed to serious injury or are still engaged in initial rehab processes — it’s nice to know that one superstar has returned and appears to be at full strength. Mere weeks after returning from the knee surgery that struck him from last spring’s postseason, Westbrook looks every bit the mercurial, attack-minded force that made the Oklahoma City Thunder the favorite to win the West as recently as last April. It’s good to have him back.

2. The 2014 NBA Draft: Not yet a month into the regular season, several teams can already project themselves as lottery participants. The good news for them, of course, is that the draft gives hope to any future, no matter how dire its present. That’s particularly true this year, when college stars Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, and Marcus Smart inspire visions of grandeur. With the lottery providing a shot of nabbing a future star, no situation is entirely hopeless.

3. Local ads on League Pass: Watch an NBA game on national TV and you’re likely to see the same advertisements many times each, if only because it costs a lot of money to maintain a relationship as one of the league’s corporate partners. Yet the commercials available on local channels via NBA League Pass provide a world of unerring variety, a glimpse into the league’s 28 cities. They all serve as a reminder that this multibillion-dollar business started as a regional affair. That character has not died out entirely, if you look closely enough.

4. LeBron James: LeBron James has been a part of serious basketball fans’ life for more than a decade, and at no time has he been anything other than a divisive figure. From the earliest arguments about his bust potential to more recent discussions of his supposed lack of killer instinct, LeBron has inspired so much hate that it sometimes threatens to eclipse all the amazing things he does over the course of a game. Thankfully, those games still exist, and every time we watch him play we have the opportunity to marvel at his peerless combination of athleticism, strength, skill, and understanding of the game. There’s no one on his level, and the sooner we realize it the better. We might know what we had until it’s gone.

What’s on my Thanksgiving menu? Basketball is not the best sport for in-game eating, what with the near-constant action and somewhat unpredictable highlights. You don't want to be caught scarfing down a hot dog in the midst of an alley-oop or contemplating why the ketchup is slightly orange in the midst of a fast break. The attending fan's goal, then, should be to eat either before or after the games. Ideally, that spot should be within walking distance of the arena and affordably priced.

Historically, there have been two standard options at Oracle Arena in Oakland: Doug's #1 BBQ, right across from the BART station and somewhat recently shuttered, and Coliseum Burger, located a few blocks away. Neither is (or was) great, frankly, but they have served as particularly good complements to the experience of watching the Warriors in Oakland. The food gets the job done with little fuss — it's fast, tasty enough to justify the purpose, and maybe just a little questionable for your health. You eat it because it's a prelude to the game. You're there for basketball, not top-of-the-line amenities.

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