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Vince Carter Returns to Dominance for One Night

Don’t call Vince Carter timeless; he’s 40 and still undeniable. Plus, Rubio’s grip on his starting spot tightens, and Nikola Mirotic makes his presence known.

(AP Photos)
(AP Photos)

Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best performances in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.

King of the Court: Vince Carter

Everything in sports turns over relatively quickly. Logos and jerseys change, superstars wash up and retire, advertisements go out of style. Ten years ago, LeBron James had a full head of hair and was hesitant to take jump shots. Sometimes, I wonder if things have really changed so much over the years, and then I see that Madden ’06 looked like this.

Rip Hamilton was drafted in 1999, and on Monday night, he was part of TNT’s commentary crew for the Spurs win over Atlanta. His face was rounded and his head was shaved. Until his name appeared below his face, I didn’t even recognize him. On the same night, Vince Carter, drafted in 1998, scored a game-high 24 points in Memphis’s 113–93 win over the Bucks.

Carter, now, doesn’t create any facade of timelessness. Almost nothing about him resembles his vintage self. A decade ago, he was a thunderous attacker of the rim catching passes from Jason Kidd. On Monday, Kidd, of course, was the opposing coach and Carter was a jump shooter who grabbed scoring opportunities when his teammates decided to defer. He’s embraced a soft twilight that most stars in basketball won’t — or can’t — consider.

Carter didn’t miss a single shot against the Bucks, going 8-of-8 from the field, including 6-of-6 from deep, along with two free throws. But this didn’t feel like it was 2006; this wasn’t Kobe shooting 50 shots. Nostalgia can be sweet, but this was a different version of Vince, and that made it seem sweeter.

Runner-up: Ricky Rubio

Ricky Rubio wants to prove a point. The Spaniard has averaged nearly 15 points and almost 12 assists per game since the All-Star break, and on Monday against the white-hot Wizards, he showed no signs of slowing down.

Rubio had 10 assists … in the first quarter. He would finish the game with 22 points and a franchise-record 19 dishes in a 119–104 win over Washington.

The guard’s playmaking lifted all of his teammates, five of whom scored in double figures, including Karl-Anthony Towns, who scored a game-high 39 points.

Looks like Kris Dunn won’t be ascending to the starting lineup any time soon.

Honorable Mention: Nikola Mirotic

The Bulls’ 115–109 win over Charlotte will likely go down in history as the Nikola Mirotic Game.

OK, maybe not. But after he was removed from the Bulls rotation and then declared inactive for Sunday’s matchup with the Celtics, Mirotic was vocally unhappy with his situation.

“I know that I’m ready. I know I can help those guys. Of course I’ve been inconsistent, not just me, all the team up and down,” he said. “But to be in this kind of situation, out of the rotation, doesn’t make sense for me.”

When he returned to the court Monday, Mirotic made sure to make his opportunity count. In 29 minutes on the floor, he made half of his 16 shots, including five 3s, and grabbed 11 boards.

I guess anger is a good motivator.