LAS VEGAS — Quite the scene at the Hard Rock Hotel last night, where it seemed a whole bunch of people had taken the Portland Trail Blazers and 6 1/2 points as they played the second night of a back-to-back at Oklahoma City. (Bernucca warned me against playing it, so I stayed away and didn’t gamble a nickel).
The party never stops at the Hard Rock, but Kevin Durant managed to momentarily stifle it.
And damn, it was something to see.
So I guess you can guess who is sitting in the No. 1 spot in these rankings as we hit the midpoint of the season, but don’t let me spoil all the fun. There are 10 players listed each Wednesday when we publish these rankings, and since the season is only halfway over, there is a whole bunch of time for things to change. Heck, Chris Paul was a mainstay in the early season editions and has dropped off the map. We even have a newcomer who has displaced Dwyane Wade.
The MVP race is starting to turn into a runaway, eh? Not that I am trying to jinx KD or anything, but in a season like this one, with star players dropping like flies, you never quite know what is going to happen. Just remember that when the Toronto Raptors are playing in the NBA Finals (JK).
So back to Bernucca, who published his midseason awards earlier this week and did not mention LaMarcus Aldridge among the top MVP contenders. We had a little discussion about it, and he brought up two points: Look at Aldridge’s points per shot, and don’t underestimate how much the Blazers are Damian Lillard’s team.
So I took his advice and looked up Aldridge’s points per shot, and there he was at 1.15 — tied for 98th in the league along with James Anderson, who you may or may not know plays for the Sixers. It is never good to be 99th at anything, unless you are in a monster poker tournament in which the top 100 get paid.
By the way, Aldridge put up a nice stat line last night of 29 points and 16 rebounds. But down the stretch, when the Hard Rock bettors were prematurely counting their winnings (Blazers were 3-1 on the money line!), Aldridge was 0-for-6 with a turnover in the final 4 1/2 minutes. That ain’t MVP material.
On to Bernucca’s second point: The Lillard factor. The chart to the right is from NBA.com, and it shows how players perform in the final 5 minutes of close games. Notice which member of the Blazers is listed, and which player is not.
Aldridge, it turns out, is shooting 33.9 percent in clutch situations. That ain’t MVP material, either.
So score one for Bernucca, who is shoveling snow today in Connecticut while I am breathing 70-degree air in Vegas, 10 miles away from the Strip. My idea when I came out here was to bet on a bunch of basketball games and see what kind of skills I have — an idea that lasted a grand total of one day and set me back $100.
Life away from the Strip is different out here. The temptations are too far away to make you do something stupid, and if you are staying with a friend who knows a thing or two about how to find pirated copies of the latest films, you can do stuff like watch The Wolf of Wall Street for free. (Big Scorcese fan here, but I’ll always wonder why they cut out the details of the Lufthansa theft from GoodFellas. That was the best part of the book by Henry Hill upon which that movie was based.) Anyway, whether you pay to see it or not, The Wolf is a great movie.
Other things to do in Vegas if you choose not to gamble: Take a walk around a random hotel/casino and see if you run into anyone famous. I did that, and I stumbled upon baseball’s all-time hits leader sitting behind a table at a memorabilia shop signing autographs. Except for one thing … nobody was lining up to fork over their hard-earned cash to Pete Rose.
Yes, Vegas can be a depressing place.
But it’s also a helluva place to gauge the public’s reaction to guys like Kevin Durant.
Ever hear a chorus of several dozen people screaming “Damn!” in unison? That’s what this guy produced last night. Usually you only get that at the Hard Rock on Rehab Sundays when it’s a bit warmer.
On to the rankings …