Earlier this season when Linsanity was still a thing, and “D-League” was seemingly trending on Twitter nightly, nationally syndicated radio host Jim Rome interviewed Los Angeles D-Fenders head coach Eric Musselman to discuss his team, the Jeremy Lin phenomena, and what it is like to coach in the D-League. What Musselman may, or may not of known, is that the legendary “Jungle Karma” from getting interviewed on Rome’s radio program (The Jungle), would follow him and his team the rest of this season. Sure you can attribute Musselman and the D-Fenders success to outstanding game planning, near flawless roster rotations, and limitless player talent, but it is hard to explain the D-Fenders record breaking winning season without mentioning the “Jungle Karma” being a significant factor.
February 17, the date Musselman’s interview aired, the D-Fenders had won 6 games in a row and sat atop the D-League standings. Before the interview focused on what at the time was known as the Jeremy Lin phenomena, Musselman discussed what it was like to coach in the D-League. Musselman rapped about the hardships of coaching in the league where one must balance player development along with winning as a team. “Everybody wants to win, that’s why they keep the scoreboard”, said Musselman when asked to talk about this particular challenge unique to the NBA Development League. If John Calipari has mastered coaching with the “one and done” system, Musselman has mastered coaching with the current D-League system. L.A. recorded a crazy amount of call-ups from their squad this year, and also a good amount of assignments to help keep Musselman on his toes. There had to come a point in the season where not even Musselman could name his entire roster before entering a game on a given night.
The 2-game set after Musselman’s Jungle visit pitted his D-Fenders against the Austin Toros, the team which now stands between him and a D-League Championship. The D-Fenders capitalized on the karma then winning what would be their only two meetings with the Toros, 109-94 and 102-98. The D-Fenders have dropped only 2-contests in their last 19-games, including this postseason where they are 4-0 entering tonight’s game. Both their loses in that stretch came on the road (at Idaho, at Bakersfield) and the D-Fenders will open their championship quest on the road in Austin.
Despite all of the roster fluctuations that the D-Fenders have undergone this year, they still have some excellent players looking to help guide the team to the title. Malcolm Thomas, Orien Greene, Mardy Collins and Elijah Millsap have shined as of late for the D-Fenders, and they will need to continue to play well in order to achieve victory over a very stout Austin Toros bunch. Millsap has played particularly well, averaging 23.3 points in the 4-playoff games thus far.
Can the “Jungle Karma” carry Musselman and the D’s one more series, and cap off what has become a very memorable season? We will just have to wait and see.