The U.S.A. has never been considered a winner of the Vietnam War. The endeavor, from our end, is remembered as a bloody odyssey, bereft of glory, lesson, or any other form of meaning or validation. Those invested in a righteous trajectory of our nation’s history regret that we ever entered the battle.
Perhaps Chris Paul can empathize with those folks quite a bit, after being whacked in the face by Tony Allen’s leg. Allen, an essential part of the Memphis Grizzlies’ core, was ejected from the 11/18 game against the Los Angeles Clippers before the end of the first quarter after committing his violent act, sure—but the Grizzlies won the contest. And based on the recent history between these two squads, it would be foolhardy to say his assault (conscious or not) was done in vein. ‘Grit N Grind,’ as we know it, has taken the veritable number of the high-flying red, white, and blue Lobbers. Memphis’ psychological physicality X’d L.A. from of the playoffs last year, and they stomped the Clips through similar principles in the teams’ first matchup in the 2013-14 season.
The symbolism at foot between the two teams—in what’s become one of the league’s better rivalries—is all too rich. The fancy, left-coasting Hollywooders seem to have met their perfect foil in these blue-collar heartlanders. Blake Griffin’s commercial glitz, on the court, is no match for Zach Randolph’s cagey elbows. DeAndre Jordan’s prodigious leaping is laughable in the face of Marc Gasol’s wrist-to-floor trickery with the ball. For those of us concerned with legend, with the metaphor and literature offered by the game, the bouts between these two outfits are utter perfection. They’re made from the stuff that lets us remember the Celtics-Lakers smashes of the 1980’s, or the preceding Pistons-Bulls wrestles, so fondly.
What else in the contemporary NBA evokes the aphoristic, the Greek, the truism, the biblical and the telling parable or even merely the overly regional in our analyses, in our attention?
Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
Can Indiana do it? Can the Midwest truly stick it to the coast-riding utopians, so confident in their terrifying pressing style, so sure of their vaunted ON switch? Is Roy Hibbert the one tower that LeBron James cannot ascend? Has Paul George budded as much as we want to believe he has? The basketball-loving world wonders these questions as if their answers will decide the shape of the ball the game is played with for these next few seasons.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Of the West’s top new fighters, only one has shown itself to have the antidote to the senior winners swatting the rest of them down. For the Spurs, the rest of the Western youngsters might be feeble leapers, little men they can hold off the ground by their skulls as they watch them flail about. But the Thunder’s lightning of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant raises the mirror to San Antonio’s mortality in a way that none other in their conference can. Their vitality is Rogaine to the Spurs’ wizard beards; can the Alamo Grey be shown to be more broken down than it is wizened, yet again?
Miami Heat vs. Chicago Bulls
When you’re king, there’s surely more than one gunner on your back. And the boys from Chicago put a scare into the flame two seasons ago, before Miami put them in their place by sticking Mr. James all over Derrick Rose, once and for all. But the young Chicagoan is regenerating, and surrounded anew with fierce weapons. Rose is unafraid of what the people say, of what the sizes of the bodies in front of him are, of whether you care about what he does. And to charge through the fire, you’ve got to see nothing but it, you’ve got to have eyes that are already red, and you’ve got to have a city equally loving and hateful all behind you.
Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets
There can only be one. Only one young brother to emerge from the cacophonous mass of league-climbers, shouting to the ballers that they’re legitimate, they’re here, they’re serious. Both of these squads caught eyeballs last year with spry onslaughts of three-pointers and their loveable stars. Steph Curry is a wunderkind, James Harden is cannonball. Then both signed NBA-best defenders. What does either team have to offer, now that the lookers have tripled? When the two meet, soon enough, they’ll be squeezing each other with their arguments for legit contention.
Who else? There is no else. The rest of the dyads among the league’s permutations must prove quite a bit something with their new clashes, in order to earn the longest reaches of our language. Let’s look forward to their trying.