For the first time in recent history, there will be a D-League game tonight live on television.
That's right - no squinting at your computer, no waiting three hours to watch a D-League game at 11 pm on a Saturday night and there's no need to guess what happened by reading box scores - because the Rio Grande Valley Vipers are hosting the Reno Bighorns tonight live on VERSUS (now available in HD!) at 9 pm Eastern Time.
There really isn't a better possible option for this game, either, as I assume many basketball fans will tune in to watch.
For starters, there isn't a nationally televised NBA game tonight - unless you consider NBA TV a national channel (even though it's not offered to me in North Dakota) and then you could watch the Toronto Raptors to play the Detroit Pistons - neither of which is exciting. Or playoff-bound.
The game also features the D-League's most marketable star in Reno's Rod Benson, who has been made famous via his popular blog and NBA talent. Benson is joined on the Bighorns by former NBA players Will Blalock, Desmon Farmer, Richie Frahm, Yaroslav Korolev, D.J Strawberry and Cezary Trybanski. The team is coached by 11-year NBA veteran Jay Humphries.
On the other side of the court, the Houston Rockets operated Rio Grande Valley Vipers also bring a considerable amount of NBA talent. The Vipers are led by should-be-in-the-NBA point guard Will Conroy, but also feature former Memphis Tiger Antonio Anderson - two of the five players that have earned NBA call-ups while playing for the Vipers this season. Other standouts for the Vipers include former Georgetown point guard Jonathan Wallace and Craig Winder, a former Texas Longhorn guard. The Vipers are coached by Chris Finch, the head coach of the Great Britain National Team, and assisted by former NBAer Paul Mokeski.
The three-game series is currently led by 1-0 by the Vipers, though Benson scored 22 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the first game of the series.
We never have much luck with gamethreads, but if you're so inclined, feel free to comment!
After the jump, Jon L's keys to this game, late but still insightful, maybe.
Keys for Rio Grande Valley
Get off to a good start - The Vipers got lucky in game one in some ways, since their outside shooting was abysmal to start the game. They had a strong second quarter to get back in the game, but they shouldn't let the fact that they only need to win one of two games let them get off to a lackadaisical start. The Vipers should come out looking to shut the door immediately.
Keep the tempo up - Reno has no problem playing at a fast pace. However, they have more players who make questionable decisions than the Vipers do. RGV should get out an run at every opportunity and push the game tempo, which should lead to some bad passes and bad shots on the other end.
Get physical up front - Soft isn't the right word to describe RGV's big men, but they did a terrible job against Rod Benson in game one, letting him get good position inside and getting boxed out for pretty much every rebound. They don't need to get Charles Oakley-level physical tonight, but at least some more effort to deny him position or contest those rebounds would help. Making Benson work a little harder also could get him in foul trouble again, which would go a long way to neutralizing the Bighorns attack.
Keys for Reno
Focus - This isn't just about Desmon Farmer, either. Will Blalock needs to do a better job setting up his teammates rather than jacking up shots, Yaroslav Korolev needs to show an interest in rebounding, etc. Yes, Farmer keeping a positive attitude is a big part of this. Even if he doesn't, though, his teammates can't let that throw them off their games, too.
Take care of the ball - This comes with focus, but Reno turned the ball over 23 times in game one, more than twice as much as the Vipers. Not having a week-long layoff might help, but overall the Bighorns' passes need to be sharper and they need to be aware of when the Vipers might try for steals. Giving away possessions (the Vipers took 12 more shots than the Bighorns in game one) never helps.
Keep going inside - It's pretty easy to glance at the box score, see that Rod Benson had a 20/20 game and say, "oh, just keep doing that." But it's true, and it's not just Benson. Doug Thomas also was doing well against RGV's big men, and D.J. Strawberry was having some success driving to the rim. The Bighorns' other players (ahem, Farmer and Korolev) need to take notice and head inside more often - the Vipers' big men aren't exactly intimidating.
If you've noticed a "Reno is unreliable" trend in these keys, congratulations; it's there. Even though I initially picked the Bighorns to win the series, their game one performance was pretty much the opposite of how they'd played over the previous month, and was more akin to their early-season struggles. Given that RGV will be at home for this game, and that they usually draw good crowds (especially when the games are televised), I wouldn't be surprised to see a sweep tonight.