Allow me to set the scene: Wednesday night, Celtics vs. Nets, early second quarter.
With Boston already trailing by double figures, Rajon Rondo was leading the break with a clear path to the basket. He had a step on the closest defender, and even if he didn't, Rondo is one of the quickest players in the league. No one is catching him from behind.
But he passed up the shot.
Instead, he passed to a teammate stationed out by the elbow, who passed to another teammate set up beyond the three-point line. By then, Brooklyn's defense had caught up to the play, and the C's had to re-set.
The Brooklyn broadcast team was shocked by Rondo's decision. Jim Spanarkel finally ventured a guess that Rondo didn't want to attempt shots at the basket because he doesn't want to be sent to the line. He's a 60 percent free throw shooter. A plausible hypothesis, I guess, but I had another one, which I screamed at the television like a crazy person.
HE PASSED UP A LAYUP TO GET AN ASSIST!
Rondo was riding a streak of 37 consecutive games with 10 or more assists, which tied the immortal John Stockton for second longest in NBA history and was creeping up on Magic Johnson's all-time record of 46 straight. But Rondo has kept that streak alive with some of the most obvious and unabashed stat-padding since Ricky Davis tried shooting at the wrong basket to get a rebound and complete a triple-double.
Just last week, Rondo played until the final buzzer in a 20-point loss to the Pistons, getting his 10th dime with seconds remaining. Why is that a problem? Rondo is the Celtics' most irreplaceable player. Boston doesn't have another true point guard on this year's roster. He has already missed time this season due to an ankle injury. With the game no longer in doubt, he should have been on the bench.
Back to Wednesday's game. A little later in the second quarter, Kris Humphries pushed Kevin Garnett in the face. Rondo took exception and shoved Hump. Both players crashed to the floor behind the basket. A minor melee ensued ... more "standing around on the infield" baseball fight than "Malice at the Palace" or "Jeff Van Gundy clinging to Alonzo Mourning's leg." But Rondo, clearly responsible for escalating the conflict, earned an ejection and two-game suspension.
Boston's irreplaceable player will miss the next two games because he decided to act like a hockey goon.
Coach Doc Rivers will have to get by with Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa for the next two games, with Barbosa the probable starter. Barbosa will also get the biggest short-term boost in fantasy value. He's not much of a distributor, but he will score if given the minutes.
And maybe when Rondo does return, he'll have his priorities in order.
Pop's Middle Finger to the NBA
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich put four of his top five scorers - Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Danny Green - on a flight back to San Antonio before Thursday night's game. With the Spurs playing their fourth game in five nights, Pop thought his older players needed the rest. I've yet to hear an explanation as to why Green - just 25 years old - was included in the group. Maybe he was Duncan's ride home from the airport.
Now, as fantasy basketball players are aware, Pop does this all the time. He'll sit his big three in the second game of a back-to-back or in one game of a four-in-five stretch. And generally, no one says anything about it - partly because it usually happens later in the season, when the Spurs have already locked up a playoff spot, and partly because he's Gregg freakin' Popovich and he doesn't care what anyone thinks.
Problem is, last night's game was one of just two on the schedule - a nationally televised TNT game against the defending champs in Miami. And David Stern doesn't like it when people mess with his television partners. So now the commish is threatening to hit the Spurs with "serious sanctions."
I'm not questioning Pop's right to play - or sit - players as he sees fit. I am questioning his judgment. He's a very smart guy, and he had to know that he was going to get this sort of reaction from the league. If Stern follows through with his threat, it will open up a very ugly can of worms. What happens if, say, Carmelo Anthony has back spasms on Christmas morning? Can Mike Woodson sit his star player, or does he need a go ahead from the league?
Here's hoping cooler heads prevail. No one wants the league involved in approving sit/start decisions.
Picks for the Week
All percent-owned stats are from Yahoo! Your league's mileage may vary.
Chandler Parsons (75%) – Parsons has been putting up very good across-the-board numbers for a painfully young Houston team. He's day-to-day with a minor shoulder injury, which could be a good opportunity to sneak in a waiver claim if someone drops him.
Patrick Patterson (45%) – Patterson started emerging as the Rockets' second or third scoring option most nights. He's averaging just under 20 points with five boards and 1.2 three-pointers over his last five games while shooting better than 55 percent from the floor.
Ben Gordon (20%) - Remember when Gordon was one of the most dangerous bench scorers in the league? He's starting to play like that again. He's shooting nearly 43 percent from long range after a 7-of-10 outburst from three against the Hawks this week.
Steve Novak (18%) - Novak got off to a slow start this season, but he seems to be shooting his way out of it. He's set a new season-high in scoring twice in the Knicks' last three games, going for 18 against Detroit on Sunday and 19 against the Bucks on Wednesday. Treat him as a three-point specialist - he was 5-of-7 from long range in those two games - and live with the occasional off night. He was limited to two points in Monday's loss to the Nets.
Markieff Morris (19%) – Morris has started five straight games at power forward for the Suns and is doing a pretty good job rebounding and hitting threes. With the Suns struggling and probably lottery-bound, Morris could take more of Luis Scola's minutes as the season goes on.
Jermaine O'Neal (13%) - Further evidence that the Phoenix Suns training staff has mastered some sort of dark magic ... the oft-injured O'Neal has become a real contributor off the bench, especially with his shot blocking.
Andray Blatche (11%) - Brook Lopez is expected to miss a couple of games with what the Nets are calling a sprained foot. They're saying this injury has nothing to do with the foot and ankle problems that ruined Lopez' 2011-12 season, but lower-leg problems and seven-footers are a worrisome combination.
Jeffery Taylor (6%) - While higher-profile rookies like Kendall Marshall are getting sent to the D-League for seasoning, Taylor is playing close to 30 minutes per night, scoring in double figures, and racking up threes and steals. Sometimes it helps to be drafted by a terrible team.
Reggie Evans (4%) - Like Blatche, Evans should get a boost in playing time due to Lopez' injury. He'll get rebounds, but won't help you in other categories unless your league awards points for "fouls drawn by flopping."
Charlie Zegers (@charliezegers) covers fantasy basketball for RotoWire and hoops in general on About.com.