Elevation: LeBron James and Duke’s Brandon Ingram Fly High 

Why did I watch the Duke vs.

Why did I watch the Duke vs. Georgia Southern game last night, knowing that it would be a blowout? Because the basketball gods whispered that it would  be worth it. With one of their best upperclassman and the ACC’s leading offensive rebounder, Amile Jefferson, out with a broken foot, I wanted to see what Duke would look like in his absence.

Truly, I don’t ever need an excuse to watch Grayson Allen, who reminds of Rex Chapman at Kentucky back in the day: an electrifying athlete that can rip the rim down who also understands the game, has a sweet jumper, can score in abundance, will make the hustle plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet and can put a team on his back if need be. 

I’m also keeping my eyes on the No. 7 Blue Devils’ freshman point guard Derryck Thornton, who will have to be a supreme floor general and mature into a dangerous weapon if Duke has hopes of returning to the Final Four again while defending their national championship.

When I was in Madison Square Garden last month for the 2K Classic, he looked official against VCU and Georgetown, scoring 19 and 14 points respectively while playing over 30 minutes per game. It was a drastic improvement from how he played in the first three games against Siena, Bryant and Kentucky, where he looked shakier than Willie in Bad Santa before his morning drink. 

But truly, the most compelling aspect of this Blue Devil team that keeps calling me through my television remote, like crack called Gator in Jungle Fever, is the elastic magnificence of 6-foot-9 freshman guard/forward Brandon Ingram. I fell in love with his game at the closed door practices for the 2014 Elite 24 in New York when he was entering his senior year in high school, when legendary NYC playground announcer Joe Pope dubbed him, “The Avatar!”


His performances when I saw him at Madison Square Garden this year were pedestrian against the Hoyas and the Rams, but he’s been on a tear lately, scoring 24 points with six rebounds against Indiana in the Blue Devils’ 94-74 win. He followed that up 23 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in Duke’s 82-59 win over Buffalo.

But he had his signature moment of this young season thus far in last night’s 99-65 win over Georgia Southern. He connected on nearly 70% of his shots while scoring 26 points, snagging 14 rebounds and blocking two shots. Playing for the first time in ten days due to fall semester final exams, Ingram showed no signs of rust. And I figured out why that inner voice compelled me to watch this game, so I wouldn’t miss his jumping over a hapless defender to deliver the crazy baseline jam.

The other game that I flipped back and forth from was the Cavaliers vs. the Celtics, which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite the fact that the Celtics broadcast crew is more atrocious than L.L. Cool J’s “Authentic” album.

I continue to be impressed with Brad Stevens’ coaching acumen and how tough his teams play every night. I love the underrated Boston backcourt of Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas. Kevin Love seems to be becoming increasingly comfortable  playing with LeBron James and is quietly having an excellent season thus far while averaging 18 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.

Steph Curry may the best offensive player in the world, but James is still the best overall player on the planet. His fingerprints were all over the Cavs’ 89-77 victory while scoring 24 points and snagging seven rebounds. And his sick double-clutch reverse slam had me speaking in tongues, and I ain’t even religious!


Ali

Alejandro “Ali” Danois is the Editor-in-Chief of The Shadow League.

The former Senior Editor of Bounce Magazine, he is also a Freelance Sports and Entertainment Writer whose work has been published by the New York Times, Bleacher Report, Sporting News, Baltimore Sun, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, SLAMonline and Ebony Magazine, among many others.

His Shadow League features “Humble Beginnings”, and “Rocky Flop” were mentioned in the Best American Sports Writing Anthology as among the country’s most notable stories of 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Ali is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Boys of Dunbar, A Story of Love, Hope and Basketball, and he served as a Producer on the ESPN Films 30-for-30 documentary “Baltimore Boys”.

Follow him on twitter @alidanois