“I feel like I’m living my life in a box. I go to practice, I go back home, I don’t go anywhere else. I can’t go to dinner, go to a movie, go hang out with our family or nothing like that, because our family members, they have lives,” said Damian Lillard in postgame press conference on Monday night. “I live on my phone because I can’t interact with people in person.”
“If I wanna go see my family, I’m gonna go see my family,” said George Hill on Tuesday after hearing about the NBA’s new stricter COVID-19 protocols. “They can’t tell me I have to stay in the room 24/7. If it’s that serious then maybe we shouldn’t be playing. It’s life. No one’s gonna be able to just cancel their whole life for this game.”
As a group, NBA players don’t seem to be enjoying work that combines all the inconvenience of air travel with all the confinement of the bubble. Nor does it really limit exposure, as rosters gutted by contact-tracing concerns continue to send Dakota Mathias into crunch-time minutes. And yet the Lakers just continue to exist in some adjacent reality where happiness remains not just a possibility, but a nightly certainty. Fresh off a championship, with a league-best 9-3 record, behind two early MVP candidates, and minimal plague-related roster mishaps, they seem stuck in a southern California of the soul. On Tuesday they built a 21-point lead over the Rockets in the first quarter and the rest was a romp.
During a possession, Dennis Schroder “bet a Benjamin” that LeBron James would miss a loosey-goosey three; with the ball still in flight, James turned around to lock eyes and accept that bet. That is not the bench celebration of a group that has been emotionally beaten down by pandemic protocol.
Elsewhere you have Anthony Davis taking a moment to ask the empty arena if Sterling Brown had “lost his damn mind” after this doomed dunk attempt.
The defeated Rockets, who couldn’t be less coherent, were peeved by the contrast. “They’re obviously a together group, and they’re having fun at our expense,” said rookie coach Stephen Silas, the poor sap at the mercy of James Harden’s every passing mood. “So it doesn’t feel good at all, and we should take umbrage. It’s like they’re dancing on our homecourt. We’ve just got to fight. We’ve got to fight through it.” Fair enough, but have you considered smiling through it instead?