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Tank Diaries: The Lottery Is No Place for a Wizard

The Thunder prepare to face an old friend, while the Poutine Dream hits another level

Getty Images/Ringer Illustration

In the parlance of our times: Dort. Bisonte Dort.

In his second game back after a seven-game absence, Lu gave the citizens of greater Salt Lake the full Dort Knox treatment Tuesday evening. Mr. Dort’s opus of the year heretofore. It’d probably be the opus of his career if not for his Game 7 masterstroke against the Fightin’ Fertittos last postseason. That night in the Bubble, Dort put up 30, hit half his 3s, and held James Harden to 17 on 4-for-15 shooting from the field including a prickly 1-for-9 from beyond the 3-point line. Because the world is a cold, unrelenting party pooper, Harden blocked Dort’s final 3 that would’ve won the Thunder the game and the series. But I don’t want to talk about that opus. I want to talk about the other one.

Dort stepped off the bus hot and kept right on burning. He got it from everywhere, every level, had kitchens all over the place. He was 7-for-11 from 3. I don’t know what excites me more, that he made seven or got off eleven. But you know what they say about comparison—it takes your good time and cuts its head off. The numbers: 42 points on 16-for-31 shooting, we already mentioned the 3s, plus seven rebounds, three assists, four steals, and a terrific smile. Do you know how powerful you have to be to pull off the lone-tuft-of-hair-on-the-chin beard?

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets Photo by Cato Cataldo/NBAE via Getty Images

This look is extremely tricky and can go horribly in the wrong hands. I know from personal experience, but hey, that’s college. Dort wears it like he was born in it, like he popped out with the Pharaoh in tow.

I want to go back in time to just after Game 5 of that same Fightin’ Fertittos series—Dort went 3-for-16 from the field, clanked all nine of his 3s—and screen for myself clips of his showpiece Tuesday against the Jazzmen. It’d be two different people. After I showed myself New Dort, I’d tell younger me to put money on Tampa Bay, everything’s going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better, and look, man, I know they’re good but you have to stop eating the girls’ fruit snacks all the time. Lower the intake. You can still sneak some every now and then but not seven packs a week. Cut it down to three. You’re an adult for Dort’s sake. Just remember to throw away the wrappers. If you don’t, they will find them, and they will kill you. They will look at you like you stabbed Elmo and then they will kill you.

For the Thunder to get this kind of play out of an undrafted second-year flying boulder of love remains astonishing. He has one of the best-value contracts in the league and takes the toughest matchups every night. This is not anecdotal. I come bearing charts. I present to you one I kind of understand.

Elite even among the defensive elites. He’s a madcap super-javelina, a shooting guard/strong safety hybrid hell-bent on erasing you. There are plenty of guys in the NBA that could score 40-plus on a warm night. There are not plenty of guys that could do that and guard Donovan Mitchell as effectively as he did. As someone on YouTube with a Toronto Raptors avatar and the screen name N8 once said: “Lu Dort plays basketball the way football players at LA Fitness play, except he makes it work.” I have looked high and I have looked low. These eyes spot no lies. Defenders don’t bounce off Dort. They explode off him, become shrapnel.

Dort is more than a great name and a great defender now. He does not have designs on being the Andre Roberson–Terrance Ferguson Record Scratch Memorial Just-Defense Guy who stands in the corner retching up prayers four times a game. He wants more for himself, and if this year is any indication, he’ll get it. The off-the-bounce stuff seems real and the Poutine Dream can attack a closeout and get downhill in a hurry, but his calling card will always be the clamps. Man, can he guard. I watch Dort play defense and react like Larry Allen’s teammates did when he benched 700 pounds.

The ability makes me delirious. I scream and do front flips and shake my head and laugh and punch things.

If you want to be a jerk about it, there are things to pick at. There can be a little Luis Mendoza to Dort. Elite physical tools, but sometimes, especially in transition, the brakes, they’re no good. Dort needs Hans’ brother Jan to set up a tower of cans and teach him to stop.

The shooting has also turned out to be not quite the revelation we were hoping it was at the beginning of the season. I’m assuming you were hoping like I was, because you seem cool and only a chump would wish ill on Dort. Anyway, he’s turned it around recently. A truly ghastly February (27 percent from 3 on six attempts a game, woof) yanked his averages down, but he’s shot 39 percent from distance over his last 10 games and his average has leveled off to 34 percent. That’s a number that’s probably more in line with where he is realistically as a shooter. Dort is in no way a knockdown guy, but he’s not a total negative there anymore either. He is far better than he was last season, but there is certainly room for him to get better, smoother. The mechanics can still be a little stiff. You feel him thinking about the act of shooting sometimes. Like, in the midst of releasing the ball, he’s considering every aspect of his body. Shooting a basketball is like breathing. Thinking about it too much complicates things, makes the act harder. But the release is quicker than it was last season and it’s clear he’s a worker. He turns 22 next week. He’s going to get better. Round of applause for Montreal. Y’all grow greats up there. Appreciate everything you’ve done for me.

The lights are off. The curtains are drawn. I carry a single candle and my face is wet with tears. I walk slowly, a bridesmaid coming down the aisle. My head is bowed. My head is cluttered. My head is pounding. I make it to the other side of the room, light the seventeen candles I’ve assembled. Seventeen candles. One for each League MVP he’ll win. My eyes roam the shrine. Candlelight paints orange the Serbian flag, an Olympiacos jersey, and a single picture.


On Monday of this week it was announced my sweet Poku would be out against the Jazz the following night. Right arm soreness. And I fell to my knees, channeling Michael when he found out Toby was back. I said, “Noooooooooooo!!!!! Why, God?! Give him my arm! I have another perfectly good one right here.”

And they said, “Dude, we can’t cut off your arm and just give it someone else. That’s not how this works. You’re overreacting. Also, how did you even get in here?!”

“Please!” I screamed. “I know you say you won’t cut my arm off but what if I cut my arm off and just gave it to you? That way it’s me doing it, not y’all. Surely you would use it. It’s a perfectly good arm. It’s just sitting there. If you think about it, it would be irresponsible if you didn’t use it. It can be like his Winter Soldier arm only there’s not a ton of tone with my bis and tris right now. But honestly, y’all, who are we kidding? My arm can’t be any skinnier or flimsier than his already is because to be skinnier than that would be to disappear altogether.”

And they said, “You’re making everyone very uncomfortable and you need to leave.”

I’m obviously devastated. It’s hard to describe the pain. It’s as if someone lit me on fire and then ran me over with a lawn mower. I wander the apartment in my robe and fanny pack. My beard is long. Things in there: bread crumbs, spaghetti, bottle cap, old catcher’s mitt, and a tiny bird family. They are robins and they have been very cool to me. A water bottle of tequila is inside my right robe pocket and the television remote’s in my left. Inside the fanny pack are tissues. On Tuesday I went through an entire box. I cried and cried. Wept so much I started cramping.

My children say my name, but I have forgotten it.

Please respect my privacy at this time.

The Thunder play the Wizards Monday. Bradley Beal has been unbelievable for Washington this season. He’s leading the NBA in points per game at 31.0 and playing his instrument with force and style. When he’s got it going, there may not be a more devastating scorer in the league. It all looks so effortless whether he’s attacking off the dribble or coming off pindowns. He’s got a lot of ways to make you feel good. The Wiz run tons of interesting actions to get Beal the ball on the move. The first one we’ll look at today is something they call Tahiti Panther. If you watch, they’ll start with an Iverson cut across the face of the lol come on you know I’m here to talk about Russ. Let’s get after it.

I’ll keep going.

I’ll post three. I don’t care.

I can go all day.

Westbrook has somehow lived five lifetimes since his Oklahoma City days. The video of him watching his OKC tribute video last year got shared into my feed last week.

I watched again. It still hits, gets things in my eyes. Even this seems decades ago, though. Time just bleeds.

After starting off the season in and out of the lineup, battling his own body, things are finally getting better. Since the All-Star break Westbrook’s putting up 24, 12, and 12, on a very Russ-like 45 percent from the field. He’s shooting 32 percent from 3. For some reason, he’s taking over four of them a game. I love him so much. But yeah, it’s been good lately. During the fourth quarter of Washington’s win over the Kings on Wednesday night, the Wizards broadcast threw this stat onto the screen:

Fourth time in career with six straight games with a triple-double (NBA record)

Then D.C.’s play-by-play man, Justin Kutcher, said, “The rest of the NBA in history—in history—has three total.”

And I know round numbers are from the devil and triple-doubles are bad and it’s actually fun to die or whatever backwards hogwash the anti-Russ sect has been pushing these many seasons, but to me that seems pretty good. One thing I never really understood with all the Westbrook’s-triple-doubles-never-mattered, they’re-empty-numbers-and-nothing-else, get-back-to-me-when-you-learn-how-to-play-winning-basketball stuff, at least as it related to his time in Oklahoma City—the Thunder’s record was always really good when he triple-doubled. In 2015-16, his last season with Durant, he racked up 18 triple-doubles. The Thunder were 18-0 in those games. The next year, his MVP season, he totaled a cool 42. The Thunder were 33-9 in those games. The next season, his first with Paul George, he had 25 triple-doubles. The Thunder were 20-5 in those games. The season after that, his last in Oklahoma City, he had 34 triple-doubles. The Thunder were 24-10 in those games. And look, maths and me, it’s no bueno, but I’m told my phone has a calculator so give me a second. . . . In four seasons, he had 119 triple-doubles. The Thunder went 95-24 in those games. That’s good enough for a .798 winning percentage. That’s pretty decent, right? I know Steven Adams let him grab the rebound sometimes and he can attempt shots Monta Ellis would shake his head at and he takes possessions off on defense and he can be mean to your favorite sportswriter but at the very least, I think an .798 winning percentage qualifies as winning basketball?

Monday will be the first time the Thunder have seen Russ since the previously mentioned Game 7 in the Bubble last season. He is who he has always been. Opening schools, unveiling tomahawks, wearing shirts that say OTHER SIDE JACKASS!

Yes, the shooting’s been what it’s been, but the delights and intricacies of Russ, these cannot be measured with numbers . . . these are things whose values lie far more in the abstract than some people are comfortable with. Effective field goal percentage is important, but so is being able to make people feel like they’re seeing God. So is being awesome. I don’t know what BPM is. I mean, I do, but Westbrook’s is bad this season so I don’t want to mention it. I’m just saying, whatever, I understand he ranks in the 19th percentile for his position in points per shot attempt this season. I don’t care. This is awesome.

Westbrook’s my favorite player but I’m not really one of those how-could-you-not-like-my-favorite-player types. I can understand why Russ wouldn’t be for some people. He has a particular set of skills, for sure. Not everyone likes climbing El Capitan drunk, naked, and blindfolded, but this is the rush some of us need to feel alive. Rooting for Russ when he’s on a heater always has me bordering on laughter at all times. I vacillate between holding my breath and cackling like Ricky Gervais. Successful bad shots beget successful bad shots, and if there is one thing we know it is that there is nothing more entertaining, nothing more thrilling, than a successful bad shot. Westbrook’s feet get to churning and his body’s a spring and it’s an avalanche of forays to the rim. He’s on one of those runs right now, what with the six triple-doubles in a row. More importantly, the Wizards are 4-2 over those six games. Personally, I think they need to capitalize on this recent success and try to win every game from here on out. The lottery is no place for a wizard. Y’all keep winning.

The Thunder will keep losing, at least I hope so.

As of today, they’ve dropped eight in a row and are 1-9 in their last 10. Right now they’re tied with the Cavs for the fifth-worst record in the league, but I’ve been praying about it and I think the respectful thing to do would be for Oklahoma City to give Cleveland a couple of its wins so it can go ahead and get one step closer to the play-in. Us small markets have to stick together. The big markets want us to cannibalize each other. That’s poppycock. I refuse to wish ill on Cleveland, Orlando, or any of our brothers currently projected in the lower half of the lottery. I hope they win every game they play for the rest of the season. I really mean that. Per The Ringer’s NBA Odds Machine (molded by the great Zach Kram), “accounting for the simulated final standings, lottery odds, and pick trades,” Oklahoma City currently has an 81 percent chance to get into the top five and a 10 percent chance to get no. 1. We are headed in the right direction, trending down, down, down. Those are the best odds the Thunder have had since I started writing deez here Diareez. I know. I’m psyched about it, too.

Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.