“MMM… POLLO A LA PARRILLA! POLLO A LA BARBACOA!!”
Ahead of tonight’s TankWars tilt between the visiting Atlanta Hawks and the Sacramento Kings (10:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports California in SAC), let’s take a moment to give it up for Vince Carter. He’s the half-man, half-amazing player-vaulter-turned-Blake-Griffin-troller who is willingly wrapping up season #20… 20!... in Northern California. And, no, he’s not sipping merlot and just taking it all in on the bench with the Warriors.
With deference to Schoolhouse Rock, and De La Soul, 30 is the Magic Number. Or, at least, it once was. I still recall the glee with which I reported in a 2014 game thread about LeBron James’ 30th birthday party, which was here in Midtown Atlanta a night before he would get DNP’d for a game at Philips Arena. The Chosen One was about to become The Olden One, and I proclaimed James’ forthcoming entry into his fourth decade of life as great news for the rest of the wannabe contenders for his annual Eastern Conference crown. Welp.
It used to be common understanding that the NBA veteran body breaks down precipitously after crossing the Rubicon into The Big Three-O. Go look at those videos of venerable fellas like Tree Rollins looking like downright geriatric giants in the 90s. Tom McMillen looked every bit like a senior Congressman from Maryland, even before he got traded by the Hawks to the Bullets in the mid-80s. Carter is now the same age McMillan was, when the latter concluded his time serving… the U.S. House of Representatives!
Witness even our prime NBA example of Fighting Father Time: Kevin Willis, clinging to dear life in the early 2000s as he tried to keep the folks over at Fernbank from turning him into an exhibit. Back then, even a young Vince Carter had to be looking askance at the graying Dell Curry on the Toronto bench like, “…Dude? Don’t you have some tweens back home to attend to?”
Well, in this day and age, NBA medical staffs, and dietary and training methods, are way more advanced and personalized. The players are far more cognizant of their abilities to continue making bank if they keep themselves in tip-top athletic condition. No more butter-fried tilapia sandwiches at lunchtime, no more Tractor Traylors and Big Babies, not if you’re going to keep up at the pace these modern-day coaches demand. Players might, indeed, have spent a recent night racing Michael Vick in the parking lot after an eventful evening at Onyx. But you, the average fan, wouldn’t be able to tell either way.
LeBron, at age 33, is still out here like, “Ladies, look at your man. Now, look at me.” He’s logging an NBA-high 37.2 minutes per game, a shade below his 37.8 MPG from last season. Not that he should have to, but he can, and he is. Oh, and he is still slaying fools, and winning, dropping 35-and-17 on the Raptors last night to lug his Cavs to victory just last night. As for Carter, whose All-Star invites stopped coming at age 30 but still is punching in the clock 11 seasons later, he ushers in an era where we wonder if 40 is even over so much as a mound, to say nothing of a hill any more.
You know those 90s mixtapes where a young hooper pulls off such a spectacularly audacious play that he sprints out the gym, intending never to be seen on video again? That would have been me down in Sydney at the 2000 Olympics, had I gone off a steal and Fosbury Flopped over some 7-foot-3 dude, nearly off-vert, for a jaw-dropping one-handed jam. “Yep. Looks like my work is done here! Meep meep!”
I’d have Usain Bolted out that arena, and the next you’d hear of me, I’d be retired in the Outback feeding kiwis to koalas. At best, I’d be turning my signature silhouettes into annual big-money sneaker releases – when do those Lethal 14s come out? But, nope, not Vinsanity!
The guy who, even before that career-defining play, had already terminated the usefulness of any future Dunk Contests, anywhere, instead decided to grace us with his eminence for four-and-a-half more seasons with the Raptors. Then four-and-a-half more in New Jersey. Then a year-and-a-half near his hometown in Orlando, and then a brief run in Phoenix (oh, he’s 34 by then). Then, three seasons in Dallas. Three more in Memphis.
And now, in Sacramento, rather than ring-chasing, Carter’s dutifully schooling the Kings on how to give one’s best effort regardless of the scoreboard, or the standings, or one’s accomplishments of yore. Vince heads into this summer as a 41-year-old free agent, and yes, he WILL get offers, significantly more than a VetMin. Out here trying to guard Griffin on occasion in the post, and complaining only to the refs about it, Vince (18.9 MPG in last five games; 48.0 2FG%, highest since 2007-08) is showing us that 40 is The New 30. LeBron might show us that 50 is The New 30, when all is said and done.
Carter wasn’t on the floor back on November 15, when the Hawks raised their record to a dangerous 3-12 with a resounding 126-80 win over the Kings at Philips Arena. Atlanta pummeled a starting lineup that featured another O.G. in Zach Randolph, plus George Hill, rookie gunner Bogdan Bogdanovic, Garrett Temple, and Willie Cauley-Stein. Z-Bo and Stick Willie remain among the starters, but Randolph (stomach bug) will not play. Second-year pro Skal Labissiere is most likely to join a green first line loaded with yung’uns for Coach Dave Joerger, inclusive of rookie De-Aaron Fox and sophomore Buddy Hield.
At this level of hoops, team shooting splits of 40.4/27.3/73.7 are usually an automatic addition to the L column. Yet two nights ago in SLC, wunderkind Dennis Schröder (13-for-21 2FGs, 3-for-7 3FGs, 7 assists, 2 TOs) picked-and-rolled apart the vaunted defense of the Utah Jazz.
Dennis plopping a career-best 41 points (most by any road Hawk since Shareef back in December 2003) on the hapless Ricky Rubio and Friends was just enough to lift the Hawks – without Kent Bazemore, with Taurean Prince shooting 3-for-13 from the field, with Mike Muscala in place of the injured John Collins, with the soon-expiring 10-day pickup Damion Lee in the starting lineup, with random cats named Dorsey, Taylor, White, Plumlee, and Cavanaugh coming off the bench – to a 99-94 victory over a team trying to win their tenth-straight NBA game. At least, we think the Jazz were trying to win. It’s kinda late to start tanking now.
Tonight’s pressing question for Joerger’s staff is, who is their Schroderstopper? Fox, the rookie whose DRPM (-2.87) is about as awful as Dennis’ (-2.80)? I don’t think so. Hill? Utah would’ve loved him the other night, but he’s in Cleveland now. Trade recipient Iman Shumpert (knee rehab) was shelved virtually upon arrival. Garrett Temple? Good choice, but he’s out with an ankle injury. Frank Mason? M’kay, good luck with that.
It takes two to make a thing go right, so for the Kings, they need a screen-busting gameplan not only for Schröder (21 points, 11 in the third-quarter vs. SAC on Nov. 15) and his backup (Taylor, who had 11 fourth-quarter points vs. SAC), but their offensive partner in the post. Dewayne Dedmon (15-and-15 plus 4 assists @ UTA on Tuesday) enjoyed 11 points, plus eight of his game-high 14 rebounds, in the second-quarter as his Hawks blew that November game open.
Ded-head also dropped five dimes, nearly matching Prince’s eight (seven in the final frame) as Atlanta shot 16-for-32 from downtown, plus an absurd 34-for-47 on the cushy interior of the Kings (NBA-worst 54.7 opponent eFG%). If Cauley-Stein (1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG, one of 10 active NBA players averaging at least on of each) isn’t locked in defensively, it could prove to be a long night for hoop fans inside the sold-out Golden 1 Center (80-game sellout streak. No Onyxes in Sactown?) and, perhaps, Beyond.
The Kings will strive to fight fire (NBA-worst 38.6 opponent 3FG%) with fire (38.1 3FG%, 2nd-best in NBA). They’ll lean on Hield and Bogdanovic, if he’s available (probable, sore hammy), plus rookies Justin Jackson and Mason off the bench, to get open for Fox. Failing that, hey, there’s always that guy Vince Carter on the bench. If we’re lucky, maybe he’ll get to show us all what tricks he still has up his sleeve. Do they even have lawns to get off of, down in Daytona Beach? If I lived there, I’d be so retired by now.
Let’s Go Hawks!