Western Conference 1st Round: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

i

The Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves both off tense Game 7 wins. Both teams fought long battles against teams who, if a few plays would’ve gone the other way, would’ve been here instead. Both teams like to play fast. Both teams are full of star talent, both should make this an exciting series.

Los Angeles:

The Clippers most clear advantage in this series is their size and athleticism down low and their depth. Serge Ibaka makes a name for himself by being one of the best power forwards in the NBA on the defensive end due to his athleticism and energy, however at the center position the Thunder don’t have anybody that can really stay with DeAndre Jordan. I expect Jordan to eat up the boards against guys like Steven Adams and Kendrick Perkins who are strong and good rebounders but hardly the athletes that Jordan is. He can impact the game in the paint defensively but also on the offensive glass in creating extra possessions for the Clippers. He will also have a size advantage in the post, and he’s not normally an offensively talented guy, but with his foot speed and his athleticism he can get Perkins and other guys into foul trouble. On the pick n roll with Chris Paul, there should be many lobs available for him over the top of the centers of Oklahoma who play mostly below the rim.

Their other advantage will be their bench. The Thunder’s bench was wildly inconsistent against Memphis, scoring only 23.7 points per game as opposed to their 41 during the regular season. Take note that that average was also altered because of Reggie Jackson’s 32 points in Game 4. The Clippers on the other hand, averaged 34.5 against the Warriors. That has to continue through this series because if nobody is scoring in volumes besides KD and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder simply don’t win. That means not only does the second unit need to defend, something they did horribly during the regular season posting a -6 efficiency rating defensively with the 2nd unit on the floor, but they need guys like Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Glen Davis and others to be on top of their game so when the starters are off the floor, the Thunder are at a disadvantage.

Offensively in general, the Clippers do run a smoother half-court offense and no matter how good the Thunder are defensively, the Clippers have the advantage in the half-court. So of course they should be themselves and push the pace – something that will probably speed up on its own, but they should try make Oklahoma play in the half-court. What will give them even more of an edge is Chris Paul being extra aggressive. He’s usually a playmaker, and he should continue to be, but when his main focus is attacking he attracts so much attention from the defenses and if he starts out scoring off the pick n roll, more things open up for his teammates. He has the ability to take over every game he plays and I think with him coming out trying to score the ball it will only be easier for him and his team.

Defensively, as always when facing Oklahoma, the focus has to be slowing down Kevin Durant, which at this point is as hard as stopping a freight train. The only man who can really do that is Matt Barnes, who is known to be a defensive stopper. However, he couldn’t stop him during the regular season as he was right on his average of 32 points per game against Los Angeles. The Clippers are going to have to double him in the post because he has the size advantage over Barnes and I think making the other guys on Oklahoma like Sefolosha or Caron Butler hit open shots is a possibility they would much rather live with. When in the pick n roll, if it’s Blake Griffin’s man setting the pick they should trap, but if not I wouldn’t want DeAndre Jordan trapping on the perimeter and leaving Blake to guard the rim because he’s not a defensive stopper and I don’t want him getting in foul trouble.

Oklahoma City:

Oklahoma City is going to have to be tough on the boards to stop DeAndre from eating up the glass like he probably will in this series. They’re dealing with the most athletic front-court in the entire NBA and are going to have to contain him to prevent 2nd opportunities for the Clippers. Defensively, Westbrook is fully capable of guarding Chris Paul, especially while he’s dealing with hamstring issues. Ibaka is a premier defender and can handle Griffin down low, because he’s so athletic, the problem might be if Perkins is guarding Griffin because of Griffin’s speed and athleticism he’ll be able to take advantage of that down low. However, doubling Blake in the post isn’t a dangerous thing to do because of Los Angeles’ lack of three point shooting. As long as someone is on Redick at all times, they can afford to double if they need to.

Offensively, this series will be extremely fast-paced. Los Angeles averages 108 points per game and Oklahoma City averages 106 per game. They both love to get up and down and for the Clippers that’s no worry because they have ball handlers like Jamal Crawford, Collison and Chris Paul who are very good at taking care of the ball. The problem for Oklahoma falls upon Westbrook’s shoulders, who has had numerous games where he’s played out of control, taken too many shots and turned the ball over almost generously. That can’t happen in this series, especially against Los Angeles who loves to get out and run. He has to defer to Kevin Durant in this series especially because there really isn’t anybody who can challenge him defensively, unlike Memphis who had one of the best defenders in the league in Tony Allen who gave him problems. The Thunder do struggle in the half-court at times, and especially in this high-speed series, they need to play patiently and wait for things to come to them. That doesn’t mean play passively, but they can’t force things and turn the ball over.

Who Wins?

I’ve never been a fan of the Thunder roster. If KD or Westbrook are having an off game, the team doesn’t have many options offensively to go to. They get some production from a few guys here and there but they’re just not as consistent and well-balanced as the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers move the ball very well, and can score in many different ways. The Thunder bench has been very inconsistent this post-season, while the Clippers have come together at the right time. I think DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are going to be problems for the Thunder on the glass, and with the way the Clippers play in the half-court there is really no room for the Thunder to play as recklessly as they have in the past in terms of turning the ball over. The Thunder play heavy isolation style basketball and like I’ve said before, without Durant or Westbrook scoring the ball, the Thunder really struggle.

Final Prediction:

Clippers in 6.

The Night of Game 7

In what could very well be the most exciting night for the NBA all year, the Pacers, Hawks, Thunder, Grizzlies, Clippers and Warriors all play to move on or go home.

Game 1 of the Game 7 Marathon: Hawks @ Pacers

george-hill-jeff-teague-nba-atlanta-hawks-indiana-pacers1

Nobody expected this to go this far. But with how the Pacers have finished the season and how discombobulated they are as a team, it wasn’t surprising. They finished the final two months of the season 12-13. They dealt with Paul George’s catfish experience, Roy Hibbert forgetting how to play basketball, Evan Turner and Lance Stephenson fighting in practice and much more.

Game 1 went to Atlanta and showed them they could actually beat the Pacers. Going in, they knew they had the match-up advantage and they knew they were dealing with a team with issues – A cranky group of girls on their periods at the same time. The Hawks also came into the series with 0 pressure. As the 8th seed, beating off a 1 seed has only happened 5 times in the history of the NBA. If they lose it’s expected. If they win, then they’ve made history.

In Game 2, Indiana remembered how to play winning basketball again and put a lot of Pacer doubters to sleep, claiming Game 1 was a simple fluke and they’d be on their way to the next round soon. The Hawks bench produced 39 points, but the key for the Pacers was they limited Jeff Teague to 14 points and that was the big difference between Game 1 and 2. Roy Hibbert had another shitty game but the need for a smaller lineup seemed less important now that they had won.

Game 3 went to Atlanta where Hawks fans were feeling pretty good about how they’d done so far. This was one of the worst games of the year for Indiana. They scored 85 points, got 12 from Paul George and a third consecutive no-show for the tallest man in the NBA who only grabbed 2 rebounds. The need for a smaller lineup was made clear. Hibbert could not continue playing his normal minutes in this series.

Game 4 was a must-win for Indiana and they barely got by. Sure it was a win, but there was absolutely nothing to be happy with from Indiana’s performance.

Game 5 was a big one for the Hawks’ bench. Shelvin Mack and Mike Scott took this one for Atlanta on an off-night Millsap and Teague. Roy Hibbert had an empty box score. An embarrassing performance for Hibbert who in 12 minutes couldn’t even grab 1 rebound. Indiana is probably the worst 1 seed in the past 10 years. At this point nobody except Indiana fans want them to win. Atlanta is America’s team.

In what could’ve been the end of the series, Jeff Teague stepped up big with 29 points but had nobody behind him to defeat the Pacers. Roy Hibbert got 2 rebounds but remained scoreless. Game 7 returns to Indiana where all the pressure lies on the Pacers.

Game 7 in Indiana, not the place anybody thought they would be. This game is up to Jeff Teague. When he’s penetrating and scoring they are a very tough team to beat, especially when Roy Hibbert isn’t the game to protect the rim. This should be a relaxed game for the Hawks. They need to take care of the ball and stretch out the defense meaning guys like Millsap, Korver and Scott all have to hit open shots when they get the opportunity to spread the floor and put pressure on the defense.

The Pacers are the ones with their backs on the walls. If they lose they will be butchered in the media, Roy Hibbert will be hailed as the most disappointing player in sports and Paul George might take step back in terms of how he’s perceived as a star. This will be a big game for Paul George who has played well this series (22 points and 10 rebounds) but hasn’t played like the superstar he was supposed to be. He needs to step up early and play like the Paul George who almost beat the Heat last year. Don’t expect anything from HIbbert as he’s proven absolutely irrelevant so far, but they need to keep Jeff Teague in check. He’s gotten into the paint way too easily this series and in Game 7 if he’s taken out of the equation, their offense is stunted. They have the home-court advantage and know what they need to do to win. I think although it was a nice series the Hawks won’t win. It’s sad, but I think it’s reality. The Pacers don’t deserve to go on, but they won’t lose. The Hawks were a nice story so far but with home-court and the pressure of needing a win, the team will step up and finish off the Hawks.

Game 2 of the Game 7 Marathon: Grizzlies @ Thunder

Memphis Grizzlies v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game One

So what’s happened so far? We had a relatively easy win for Kevin Durant and the Thunder in Game 1.

Then of course, according to chronological common sense, came Game 2,  the first overtime contest between the two teams. Kevin Durant had 36 and this generally physically impossible shot, Westbrook had 29 but the Grizzlies won behind a surprising breakout game from former Knicks benchwarmer and chronic winer; Beno Udrih.

We flew over to Memphis, where 48 minutes just wasn’t enough for anybody, and the 2nd overtime went 13-10 in favor of Memphis giving them a 2-1 lead over OKC. Kevin Durant had 30, but on 37% shooting, Westbrook had a 30 of his own including this Kevin Durant mimic play from the game prior. Whispers began to swirl that Tony Allen was in Durant’s head, and although they were quiet, the 2-1 deficit and the poor shooting performance was worrying. The Thunder produced 9 points off the bench, while Memphis scored a whopping 34 led by Tony Allen and once again, Beno Udrih.

Game 4 was a must win for the Thunder or else they’d be down 3-1 to the 7th seed and tortured by media everywhere. This game of course, had to go to overtime where the Thunder managed to squeeze out a win. The real hero? Reggie Jackson who carried the team with 32 points, while the usual suspects were quiet as an Oklahoman farm, both scoring 15 points a piece… Whispers about Durant’s struggles gained momentum.

Game 5, the series is tied 2-2 and we’re back in Oklahoma. What happens in this one? Another overtime! The Grizzlies come out with the 1 point win, thanks to 5-three pointers from Mike Miller and one momentum freeze from Joey Crawford, who stopped Kevin Durant’s 2nd free throw and I don’t know if we can completely place the blame upon his bald head, but Durant did inevitably miss, losing the game for the Thunder. A new criticism arose from this game, one that has been continually recycled throughout the Thunder years: Westbrook shoots too much… His 31 attempts to Durant’s 24 don’t help his case either.

Unlike the previous 4 games of overtime, the Thunder returned to their Game 1 dominance and in response to the Mr. Unreliable headline in the Tulsa newspapers, Durant awoke from his slump and scored 36 points on 11-23 shooting. The Thunder held Mike Conley to 5 points and the Grizzlies to 84, their lowest point total of the series.

Now in Game 7, with things back in Oklahoma, all the pressure is on the home-team. The Thunder weren’t supposed to have this much difficulty with the 7 seed, no matter how good they might be. Kevin Durant wasn’t supposed to be struggling, things weren’t supposed to be this way. With their rivals Miami sweeping the 7 seed in the East, the Thunder are facing doubts on whether they can even get out of the West.

Luckily for them, the NBA screwed Memphis and suspended Zach Randolph from Game 7 of this series and therefore, probably taking away their chances of winning this game. To add on to the misery, Mike Conley is suffering from a strained right hamstring and although he is playing, he says he will be sore.

Clearly this is a blow for Memphis and a big advantage for Oklahoma. But the Thunder have to be wary of not falling into the trap of taking things lightly now that Memphis is short handed. The Thunder have to step on the Grizzlies and not give them any room to hang around because if the Thunder don’t take care of the ball, or lollygag on defense, the Grizzlies will certainly catch up. They win on defense, and on hard-work, both things that don’t require talent so if the Thunder are not on top of their game the Grizzlies will take advantage regardless of who they have playing and how people are feeling.

Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis will be big for Memphis as they try to fill the void for Randolph inside. I think what the Grizzlies should do is counter Randolph’s suspension by attacking early and trying to get Ibaka in foul trouble. That evens the playing field and also helps the Grizzlies in being aggressive from the beginning. It’s also a big game for Beno Udrih and the entire Grizzlies role players who will all need to produce on the offensive end for the Grizzlies to win. They need to somehow produce 18 points and 9 rebounds communally and that means everybody doing a little extra. Mike Miller had a nice Game 5, James Johnson with 15 points in Game 6, Udrih had 14 points in Game 2 but tonight they all have to have a big game. The Grizzlies can upset the Thunder if they can score the ball. Defensively, they’re the same team, but offensively is where they suffer without Randolph.

All the pressure is on Oklahoma right now. Memphis is shorthanded, and a 7th seed who have not only proven they can win on the road but have carried this game to Game 7 and made the entire world doubt the Thunder. They have nothing to lose. Game 7 actually fits their playing style perfectly. Every possession is worth more and the game will likely slow down. The Grizzlies play like that every night, Game 7 or not.

For the Thunder to win I think it means less shots for Westbrook and more for Durant. They cannot afford to have Westbrook playing at his normal speed and playing reckless. With every possession worth so much more, they have to be careful with the ball, while also remaining aggressive and pushing the pace when they can. It’s an interesting oxymoron for the Thunder, play carefully fast. Usually those adjectives don’t go together but the Thunder need a perfect blend to win tonight. In their wins so far this series, the Thunder have scored an average of 22 fast break points per game. In their losses? Only 13. That could be the difference for them. If they push the pace and make Memphis uncomfortable with playing quickly it means easier opportunities for them. Durant needs to eclipse 30 points tonight for the Thunder to win and that means getting him going early, meaning Westbrook has to defer. If everything else follows and the Thunder can hold the Grizzlies down while they’ll inevitably find it harder to score they will win the Game. That with their ecstatic crowd should grant the Thunder entry to round 2.

Game 3 of the Game 7 Marathon: Warriors @ Clippers

Clips-Warriors-2-Gary-A.-Vasquez

Game 1 we’ll dub the foul trouble game. 51 fouls were called in all. Andre Igoudala fouled out after 20 minutes, as did Blake Griffin after 19. Three more of the Warriors’ starters had 4 fouls a piece and CP3 had 5. However, ironically, a non-foul call lost the game for the Clippers when a Draymond Green foul on Chris Paul was missed and on the review the only thing they could do was say it had to be Warrior ball.  After this one, it was hard to judge what was going to happen going forward, with all the foul trouble and all. The game was certainly as fast-paced as predicted, and the Warriors won by 4, despite 23 turnovers.

Game 2 was probably the most inanely entertaining game of the playoffs. A 138-98 win for Los Angeles helped them re-claim a grip on the series. The decisive factor was that guy from the Kia commercials staying in the game and scoring 35 points. The Warriors turnover woes continued as they coughed it up almost willingly an astounding 26 times, doubling the turnover total for Los Angeles. 7 players scored in double figures for the Clippers and on the other end the entire Warriors team struggled. The Splash Brothers combined for 31 points, the starting lineup combined for 50 and the team shot an uncharacteristic 21% from deep, starting criticism that if they can’t hit threes, they won’t go anywhere.

Game 3 was held in the Bee’s Hive in Golden State, my nickname for Oracle Arena that has surprisingly not been taken or used anywhere despite how genius it is. The Warriors were led by a big game from Klay Thompson and despite shooting only 31% from deep, they outshot the Clippers who bricked threes 71 percent of the time. Blake Griffin had another 30+ game, while Stephen Curry continued to be quiet. During all of this and in the days following the whole Donald Sterling controversy arose. What happened? Well his girlfriend should really be sued or arrested for recording him without his knowledge. Sterling should be kicked out of the NBA for being a disgusting racist man stuck in the 1930’s. And the NBA should continue to stay together while they deal with him and his the lawsuit he’ll probably bring the NBA into, just for the hell of it.

Game 4 was drowned out by the waves of Sterling drama being repeated in the news. Maybe there is a correlation, maybe not, but in the Game following the introduction of the controversy, the Clippers were blown out in Golden State by 21 points – the Warriors’ turn to embarrass the opponent. DeAndre Jordan was virtually non-existent, while Curry seemed to have located his mojo and put it back on the court, scoring 33 points including 5 threes in the first quarter.

Sterling was banned from every aspect of the Clippers organization and was then fined 2.5 million. Then Game 5 happened. The Clippers won as a result of bench production. Their bench scored 36 to Golden State’s 19. In a game where both teams starting lineups  were scoring with ease, the bench was the deciding factor.

Game 6 was stolen by Golden State in a 100-99 victory. I didn’t watch it. I can’t make up stuff and write about it. However, nobody shined, offensively it was quieter than both of these teams probably expected and although Matt Barnes hit an exciting 3 with 1.1 seconds left, it was essentially too little too late.

Now Game 7 heads to Los Angeles where the pressure isn’t really on anybody. The series was very even going in and it’s unlike the Thunder series or the Pacers series where a Game 7 probably wasn’t expected, but neither of these teams is really on another level than the other. The key for the Clippers is getting Blake Griffin going early. In losses this series, he’s scored 18 points per game and in wins, he averaged 25. When he’s scoring and is a low post threat it opens things up for everyone else and gets people open shots as well as gets him in a rhythm. The Clippers need to keep the Warriors to under 30% from beyond the arc. In wins so far, the Warriors have shot 39% from deep. In losses, they’ve shot 26%. If the Clippers can do those things, and get Blake scoring 25+ and keep the Warriors to under 30% from deep they will take this game. They already have the home-court advantage on their side, so sticking to those guidelines will secure them a round 2 entry.

 

8 Things Learned in Game 1 of NBA Playoffs

Game 1 has come and gone everywhere, and here’s 8 things we took away.

1. 6ce4a89feccacb54dd93276dde49b8f1_crop_north

The Toronto Raptors had a hype rally before the game Saturday and were as pumped up as ever, even Masai Ujiri was in on it… Unfortunately, they couldn’t close out the Nets at home and are now facing a 1-0 deficit against a more experienced team. What lost them the game? How bout 19 turnovers and a combined 17 points from DeRozan and Terrance Ross. Taking care of the ball is the most important thing, next comes their need for DeRozan and Ross to become scoring threats as the series continues. They out rebounded Brooklyn, so all they need is to value each possession and get DeRozan going. Series Prediction: Nets in 7. 

2.d6a7cbe17b3c40febaa2de3d18f61521_crop_north

Blake Griffin played 19 minutes and had 5 fouls for the Clippers while Chris Paul shot 50% from the free throw line for the first time in god knows how long. Despite those two disappointing Game 1 stats, the Clippers only lost by 4 points. That doesn’t look good for the Warriors, especially because Chris Paul scored 28 points and if Blake can stay on the floor for 30 minutes or more, that combination means good things for Los Angeles. Jamal Crawford also shot 2-11, something we can’t expect from him going forward. Unfortunately, for the Clippers fans, Stephen Curry and Andre Igoudala combined for 22 points and 10 assists, including a foul out for Iggy. Who knows what happens if Curry scores his normal 24 points next game and Igoudala can stay on the floor for more than 20 minutes. More unfortunate news is the Warriors winning despite their 23 turnovers. The Clippers shot surprisingly well from deep, which kept them in the game but I don’t think 10 threes a game is something they can maintain, while 11 threes for the Warriors is hardly surprising nor hard to keep up. The Warriors did a good job of limiting the Clippers in transition and will need to keep it that way for the rest of the series. All in all, I think there are many ways to interpret Game 1 and weigh the pros and cons for each team, but for me the Clippers are taking this. The Warriors only won Game 1 because Blake Griffin played 19 minutes. They played terribly and their 23 turnovers are not going to be acceptable if Blake is on the court and running in transition. I think Stephen Curry can continue to be subdued by Chris Paul/Darren Collison who gave up the 2nd least amount of points to starting point guards all season with 17 a game. They only lost by 4 points with Blake Griffin fouling out, Jamal Crawford scoring 2 points and Matt Barnes scoring 2 points. The Warriors fall very in love with the three ball, and if it’s not falling for them and they turn the ball over at the same rate they did in Game 1, the Clippers will win the series. The Clippers on the other hand have a good balance of half-court and transition offense. In the half-court they have many options to go to, while the Warriors depend very heavily on Thompson, Curry and Lee. Blake Griffin will pick it up, and the Clippers will take it.  Series Prediction: Clippers in 6. 

3.NS_20MAVSSPURS15_37218847-620x407

Tim Duncan playing against Dirk Nowitzki in a playoff series is a sight for nostalgic eyes. The Mavericks almost stole Game 1 in San Antonio, but if you ask me it’s all part of the way the Spurs get in your head… Letting you think you have it when really they’re pacing themselves for the end. Call it crazy, conspiracy or whatever you want, but they’re masterminds down in San Antonio. The Spurs’ big 3 combined for 65 points and as a team they out rebounded Dallas by 8. Dirk Nowitzki was limited to 11 points but we can expect the German wonder kid to make up for that with big scoring outputs the rest of the series. It might be frightening for Spurs fans however, knowing they won by only 5 points with only 11 from the opposing teams best player. Their bench also needs to step it up for the rest of this series, the Mavericks are very well rounded and had 5 guys hit double digits in Game 1, with three of those 5 coming off the bench. The Spurs, neglecting the 17 points from Ginobili, only produced 6 points off the bench. However, like Dirk’s quiet night, the Spurs’ depth can be counted on later in the series to help the starting lineup out. Series Prediction: Spurs in 7. 

4. Atlanta Hawks v Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers continued their late-season struggles with an 8 point loss to the Hawks and all of a sudden, this matchup is looking perfect for the Hawks who just made the playoffs over the Knicks. They’ve taken away Indiana’s home-court and have furthered the mental funk the Pacers have been stuck in for the past two months. Jeff Teague had an unbelievable game penetrating the lane and should be able to continue to do that in this series until Indiana puts another defender on him. Indiana played another disappointing and shocking game, and it’s beginning to seem like the Pacers will never get out of their slump. The Pacers can’t score the ball easily and so their 93 points isn’t shocking, but they can’t afford to give up 101 points to the Hawks. They also can’t afford to turn the ball over 17 times. The Pacers need to shake up their approach to the Hawks because Pero Antic is someone who is comfortable playing on the perimeter knocking down open threes. That pulls Roy Hibbert out of the paint, which not only puts him at a disadvantage having to move around the perimeter, and at some points even fighting through screens, but it takes a rim protector out of the paint and opens it up for Jeff Teague. If Roy Hibbert helps, that leaves a wide open three point shooter in Antic, and if they help on Antic the Hawks have either Millsap (36% 3 point shooting) or Kyle Korver (47% 3 point shooting) open to hit a three. David West is not a rim protector so leaving him as the only big man in the paint isn’t going to work against the Hawks. They’ll have to play more of a Mahimi/West or a Scola/West or even a Copeland/West combination to counter the small-ball of Atlanta as well as switching either Paul George or Lance Stephenson onto Teague to limit his penetration. If the Pacers decide to keep Hibbert on the floor, they have to make it a priority to pound the ball in the paint and get Hibbert touches, thus forcing the Hawks to match him instead of the other way around. The Hawks are underdogs, with an early advantage and nothing to lose up against an offensively handicapped team in a defensive funk with match-up issues… I think I’ll go with the upset on this one. Series Prediction: Hawks in 6. 

5.130505192309-kevin-durant-single-image-cut

Nobody on earth can stop Kevin Durant anymore and the Grizzlies certainly can’t bother him one on one. Tayshaun Prince could’ve in 2004, and Tony Allen could if he were a couple inches taller but unfortunately for them they are who they are and they can’t stop KD. The Grizzlies need to control the pace for the rest of the series if they want to contain the Thunder. The Thunder scored 32 fast break points on the Grizzlies and the more they get easy baskets the more comfortable they feel, the more excited their fans get, and the harder it is for the Grizzlies to gain momentum once again. The Grizzlies like playing in the half-court and they need to keep the game in the half-court in order to be successful. For the Thunder I don’t think guarding Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will be a problem, they have the defensive assets to do it (Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins) mainly Ibaka who is far more athletic then both of those guys and will cause problems with his energy and activity defensively. Both Memphis big men had solid games in Game 1, but for one, solid games won’t cut it and two, the rest of the team is very offensively challenged, similar to the Pacers. I think their scoring problems will come back to bite them as the series progresses and if the perimeter guys can’t step up offensively consistently, the series won’t go on for long. I also think down the stretch, the Grizzlies are going to find it hard to score in crunch time and to keep up with the superstar talent the Thunder have between Westbrook and Durant. Series Prediction: Thunder in 6. 

6.NBA: Washington Wizards at Chicago Bulls

The Bulls scoring issues are going to hurt them going down the stretch, and with only 18 points in the 4th quarter, their lack of a go to scoring option was evident. The Bulls’ half court offense is usually efficient and although they don’t score a lot, they make the most of every possession but when they need a basket in a critical time of the game, it’s becoming a struggle. Losing at home isn’t a good start to Chicago’s postseason hopes but their energy and defense enables them to win anywhere. Looking forward I think Joakim Noah will watch the game tape and see what Nene was doing to him and fix that in their next matchup. If the Bulls can keep the Wizards to 95 points or lower in the rest of their games they can win this series. Something is very interesting about the Wizards however. They’re combination of youth and athleticism fused with their defensive identity and veterans makes them kind of unpredictable. Everybody is playing well, Nene is fresh off an injury and I think the Wizards might be able to squeeze this one out. However, knowing the Bulls I don’t think they’d lose a Game 7 at home and I think they played a good offensive game by their standards, they had 7 guys in double figures, all they need is an extra spark from somebody. They have to consider playing Jimmy Butler on John Wall to limit his activity and overall their defensive performance was hardly characteristic of the Bulls. If they play their stingy 91 points allowed type of defense, they can take this series. However, the Bulls struggled with the Wizards during the regular season going 1-2 against them. That plus their Game 1 disadvantage puts them in poor position to take this series. If the Wizards are up 3-2 going into Game 6 in Washington they will win, if they have a Game 7 I’ll give it to Chicago. Series Prediction: Wizards in 6. 

7.7dfc95ca1a728ccd15535797c49da979_crop_north

Things don’t look good for the Rockets right now. They lost Game 1 at home, and with Patrick Beverley as the only guy on the team who could guard Damian Lillard, getting injured with a sprained right knee – the same knee in which he tore his meniscus on March 27th. Beverley couldn’t even hold Lillard in Game 1 as he put up 31 points, so with him not at 100% for Game 2 and the rest of the series, guarding Lillard is going to become a huge problem. I also think Lamarcus Aldridge has the best matchup in the entire league right now. The Rockets gave up a horrid 22 points and 13 rebounds to opposing starting power forwards throughout the regular season. Aldridge averaged 27 and 16 against Houston during the regular season. If last nights 46 point, 18 rebound performance is any indication, this series should be a breeze for Aldridge. The Rockets played a good game, they limited their turnovers, they out rebounded Portland, and all their starters were feeling it offensively. The problem will clearly be on the defensive end where they’ll have to contain the duo of Aldrige and Lillard. They’ll also have to watch out for the Blazers’ game plan of attacking harden in the post with Wesley Matthews. They couldn’t quite get Harden in foul trouble but Matthews did have 18 points, and I think that’s a viable strategy going forward for the Blazers. Harden is defensively careless and attacking him and his side of the floor in help defense is the right way to go offensively. Series Prediction: Blazers in 7. 

8.Move it

The defending champions vs the former worst team in the history of basketball. It’s a matchup that doesn’t have many people favoring the Bobcats. Now with Al Jefferson dealing with a foot injury, they’re chances are looking slim to none. They’re not as talented and not nearly where the Heat are as a team both with their goals to get a three peat and as a team in terms of personnel. They had a great, feel good type of season and defensively became one of the best teams in the NBA. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have what it takes to beat Miami in this series, especially with Dwyane Wade playing as well as he did in Game 1. He’s been managed superbly by Erik Spoelstra and the training staff and is looking very healthy and like Flash from the old days. Not only is Dwyane Wade’s level of play dangerous for Charlotte but for the rest of the league. This will be a quick one for Lebron and the Heat. It’s a sweep now considering Al Jefferson isn’t 100%, he is their leader and go to guy offensively and without him down low they won’t stand a chance. Series Prediction: Heat in 4. 

Spurs vs Clippers Matchup

To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed with this matchup, not because it won’t be close and exciting but because I was hoping the Grizzlies would advance and this would be a grittier more aggressive series. Instead it will probably be a high scoring shootout. Either way, this should be an exciting series.

In game 1, both teams put up 29 after the first quarter. Proving my theory of a shootout. Then in the second quarter we saw the difference between the Clippers and the Spurs. The ability to lock in defensively. The Spurs held the Clippers to 20 points, and the Spurs put up 28 points giving them a 8 point lead into halftime. I mean both teams shot above 44% from the field but the Spurs held L.A to 92 points. This game was a strange one, the main contributor from each team scored in single digits. Tony Parker and Chris Paul scored a combined 13 points for 4-22 shooting. With both of them being non factors in getting the ball in the hoop it let us compare the supporting cast of the two teams. They are both very deep. Both teams have a 10+ player rotation. It makes this series all the more unpredictable because we really don’t know who will step up. In Game 1, Eric Bledsoe broke out for 23 points and for the Spurs, Danny Green had 15. They’re both exceptionally deep teams and they may cancel each other out offensively. That’s why the Spurs veteran leadership and defensive experience will come into play, to see if they can lock in and change this series from a shootout to a good playoff series. What I did notice in this series is Blake Griffin isn’t ready for intense playoff games yet. He isn’t playing like an all-star. He is playing like a solid role player, he is clearly scared of the spotlight and his game isn’t yet developed for this type of series. He put up 15 points, 4 assists and 9 rebounds. Those aren’t all-star numbers, rookie of the year numbers, or super star numbers. His offensive game really revolves around athleticism and consists mainly of dunks, spin off alley-oops and the occasional offensive rebound. I’ve never been a fan of Blake Griffin, I’ve always remembered what Charles Barkley said last year. Something like, I can’t wait until he becomes a basketball player instead of an exceptional athlete.I think this series will really show his offensive limitations. Especially being guarded by the bigger Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. For the Clippers, they desperately need to rebound the ball. They allowed 47 rebounds to the Spurs as supposed to their 34 rebounds. Of the Spurs 47 rebounds, 11 were offensive boards. Additionally, of the Spurs 108 points, 42 were in the paint. I think the interior defense of Griffin and Jordan have to step up. They can’t just catch lobs and expect to win a championship, they need to play defense instead of relying on the smaller Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans.

For the future, I think both point guards will definitely pick up their games. I look for a big game 2 from both of those guys. I expect both benches to continue to produce. For the Clippers, they desperately need Blake Griffin to step it up on both sides of the floor. He needs to be a leader and a star. The Spurs need to continue to share the ball like they did in game 1, and continue to lock in defensively like they did after the 1st quarter. I think the interior defense of the Spurs need to stay sharp. Even though they’re not as athletic they need to keep Jordan and Griffin contained. In game 1, they held the two to a combined 22 points. If they can continue to hold down the paint it puts a lot of pressure on the perimeter players on the Clippers who are much smaller then the perimeter defenders of the Spurs and could find it hard to score. I’ll give this series to the Spurs in 5.

Top 7 Players in the NBA

After Rick Bucher gave one of the most atrocious top 7 NBA rankings I’ve ever seen, I figured it be appropriate for me to give my rankings. Around 10 games into the season my top 7 players are as follows.

1. Kobe Bryant:

Maybe not overall is he the best, but right now, Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA. He has two back to back 40 point nights. He is playing with a hurt wrist, he is in his mid thirties and he is carrying a team that everyone was doubting earlier in the season to a 7-3 record. 4 games remember were without Bynum on the court.

2.

Kevin Durant will go at number 2 not number (8) like Rick would’ve wanted. I had Lebron at this spot a few games ago but his recent troubles in the 4th quarter have left a sour taste in my mouth. Kevin Durant is dropping 26 points a game as always and is bulldozing through the Western Conference with a record of 10-2 See the difference between him and Westbrook is that if Westbrook left the Thunder, they would still be contenders. If KD left the Thunder, well….

3.

Lebron James: He seemed like the early MVP candidate a few games ago, unfortunately he slid down my rankings with his 3-6 performance from the free throw line last night. Including a missed free throw that could’ve won the game. However, he is dominating every game he plays. Not only with 29 points a game but with about 8 assists per game as well. He probably has the most overall game in the NBA, he can do everything on the floor.

4.

Dwight Howard: He and Dwyane Wade are really irreversable at this spot but I think the way Dwight has been able to carry his team to a very surprising and fast start in the midst of all the trade drama is truly exceptional. He is dominating the big men in the league with 18 points and 14 rebounds. Look at Dwight’s supporting cast and then look at what he has been able to turn their team into this season.

5.

Dwyane Wade: Dwyane Wade is playing great this season and I had him as a surprise Defensive Player of the Year. His numbers are a bit lower than last year but that’s thanks to Lebron’s dominance this season. Dwyane Wade has most impressed me in the way he was able to close out games in the beginning of the season. Look @Charlotte and @Minnesota

6.

Derrick Rose: The Former MVP had to be here somewhere. I don’t think he could be any higher on this list. He is still carrying his semi-weak offensive crew through the season and he is still making unbelievable athletic plays. However, he isn’t putting up numbers like any of the guys on this list, and thanks to his team’s lockdown defense he isn’t having to make clutch plays. I don’t think he has a chance of MVP this year, to be honest the only reason he won last year was because Boozer and Noah missed a ton of games and he had to carry the team alone. He wasn’t any more explosive then Lebron but it’s what his play was doing for his team, if they had been there last season he wouldn’t have won MVP.

7.

Carmelo Anthony: I am very impressed with Melo this season. He is doing his job on the offensive end, scoring around 27 points a night and grabbing 7 rebounds a game. He is extremely clutch, and has been this whole season. Look @Washington or opening day vs Boston. But what’s really stood out is his extra effort on his defensive game. The area of his game that has been criticized the most. He is clearly getting into players on defense and he’s averaging around 1.5 steals per game.

Players that didn’t make the cut were Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook. I didn’t include Dirk because he hasn’t been having the best season this year, and neither has his team. Chris Paul is just starting to make a serious impact on the Clippers and I think it’s too soon to judge him as a top 7 player. And Russell Westbrook just isn’t a top 7 player because he has too many flaws in his game. For example, his turnovers, jump shot, and decision making. He is too young and I cannot believe Rick Bucher had him ahead of Durant.

Christmas Day Predictions

As the clock hits 12 tomorrow the NBA season officially begins. Let’s take a look at the Christmas day match-ups. The winners and the losers.

Knicks vs. Celtics:

A repeat of the first round of the playoffs from last year. The Celtics swept the Knicks, however this year the Knicks are back with a vengeance. They drastically improved their roster this off season with additions like Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis among many others. This match-up should be very interesting. Or it should’ve been interesting, however recent changes in the Celtic roster have made this game a no brainer. Losing Jeff Green was a huge blow to their depth, and the injury of Paul Pierce just gives Melo more room to score. That means Marquis Daniels will start and that leaves the bench with…. Brandon Bass? That won’t be enough to hold off the Knicks, especially when the Celtics core are all in the mid 30’s and need breaks often. Tyson Chandler will also have whatever he wants in this game. He will most likely be guarded by Jermaine O’neal, a slower and shorter center. Tyson will have his way in the paint, and since Jermain O’neal isn’t an offensive weapon he will be able to play lots of help. Furthermore, Amar’e Stoudemire will play along the elbow and the perimeter causing Kevin Garnett to come out as well. Leaving Jermaine O’neal all alone. The guard play will be vital for the Celtics in order for them to win. Rajon Rondo has a large advantage over Toney Douglas, however Iman Shumpert has shown defensive capabilities as well as quickness and a 6’5 frame. He will need to step up this game, as well as Ray Allen. He will need to do more then just shoot, due to the absence of Paul Pierce. If I had to predict right now, I’d give it to the Knicks.

Heat vs. Mavericks:

A finals rematch, probably the most anticipated game of the Christmas match-ups. After winning the finals, the Mavericks made substantial changes to their roster. Letting Tyson Chandler, Deshawn Stevenson and J.J Barea go made the team softer. However, they added veterans Lamar Odom and Vince Carter. This game will be a test to see if the Mavericks still have the toughness and defense they had last year. Nobody will be able to guard Dirk in this game, because frankly, it’s impossible. He will get his share of points, no doubt. Lamar Odom will also be a threat on the floor, he and Bosh will be a great match-up considering they’re almost the same type of player. Then you have D-Wade and Lebron. It’s very rare that players can guard them. And this game will be no different. There is no way, an older Vince Carter can guard Lebron James. He’s slow, and he’s not interested in playing defense. At the shooting guard position there really is nobody to guard D-Wade except for Jason Terry. Although, the Dallas bench can still out battle the Miami bench, I will give this game to Miami. The loss of Tyson Chandler is bigger then they think, they lost toughness and a defensive anchor. Who’s really going to stop D-Wade and Lebron in the paint? Nobody.

Lakers vs. Bulls:

This game features the Bulls and the second best team in Los Angeles. The Lakers are out to prove that they can still win games, doubt has surrounded this team for weeks. Kobe’s injured, Bynum’s out, Lamars gone, the triangle offense is gone. Everything seems to have gone wrong, well unfortunately tomorrow won’t be the light at the end of the tunnel. I predict a Laker loss. Let me explain. The former MVP is going to destroy this whole team. It’s as simple as that. Derrick Fisher can’t guard him, neither can Kobe. He will get by the first man and Bynum will block him. Oh, wait Bynum is out. Pau isn’t a shot blocker and isn’t as intimidating as a Bynum. I forsee a Derrick Rose takeover tomorrow. Another strength of the Bulls is their bench. Taj Gibson…. 

Ya, remember him? Omer Asik and Kyle Korver are other names among the young bench who averaged around 27 points a game last season. Another weakness of the Lakers is their bench. They lost the 6th man of the year in Lamar Odom, and they lost Shannon Brown. Now that Bynum is out for 5 games, they have to move Josh McRoberts into the starting lineup, which leaves the Laker bench with…. Matt Barnes? Steve Blake? That won’t get the job done. Among all this doubt, there is a strength that the Lakers have. An angry Kobe Bryant. Kobe is the type of player to go off when he is mad, and oh boy does he have things to be mad about. His wife left him, he tore ligaments in his wrist, the front office traded Lamar Odom, and Mike Brown was appointed without any discussion. Even though he might go crazy tomorrow, that won’t be enough to get past Derrick Rose, the Bulls defense and their bench. I’ll give this one to the Bulls.

Thunder vs Magic:

The Magic fans will be happy to see Dwight Howard on the floor in an official game as a member of the Orlando Magic. They won’t be happy to watch their team get beat by the Thunder. The Thunder pride themselves in their defense and their energy. Their young talent and their scoring champion in Kevin Durant. I bet Kevin Durant is smiling somewhere right now as he thinks about the poor perimeter defense he will match up against tomorrow night. Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, Quentin Richardson. What a joke. Kevin Durant will rip them up from all over the floor. As well as his partner in crime Russell Westbrook. Who has no problem being guarded by Jameer Nelson. I bet James Harden is even looking forward to the loose defense of the Magic. However, getting to the basket will be harder then ever. Whenever you’re up against Dwight Howard you know points in the paint won’t come easy. He should have his way in the middle, nobody on the Thunder can really out muscle him. They do have a good chance of constraining him though, considering the depth at the power forward/center position. Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collinson and Cole Aldrich are all very defensive minded players and will try keep Dwight Howard under control, but we all know that’s close to impossible. The depth is also a huge problem with the Magic. Besides Big Baby Davis and Quentin Richardson the bench is pretty empty. Everyone else is inconsistent and won’t be a match for the young and energetic  bench who scored around 30 points a game last season. This game will go to the Thunder. I will also predict that this win against the Magic will be the beginning of their finals run. A win in the finals? Possibly but this could be the beginning of something special.

Clippers vs. Warriors:

The world is buzzing about the Los Angeles Clippers. The most exciting team in sports right now. The “Lob Angeles Clippers,” they’ve been dubbed. The talents of Blake Griffin and CP3 combined seems like something out of a video game. I would say they scored the biggest this off season with the additions of Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler and Chris Paul. They’ve proved they’re no fluke, while beating the Lakers in both preseason games. I could see this game being more of a challenge for the Clippers. The Warriors actually have players who can stay with CP3. Stephen Curry has shown defensive aptitude in his career and although Monta Ellis isn’t a defensive minded guy he can still keep with CP3.  The Warriors bench is also very young and talented. Ekpe Udoh, Klay Thompson, and Brandon Rush are among the bench. They will provide a boost of energy for the Warriors if they need it. Unlike the Lakers, the Warriors are a very young team and I wouldn’t be surprised if they really give the Clippers a run for their money. This match-up is especially interesting because  neither team really plays too much defense. This should be a score-a-thon. Both teams somwhere in the 100’s. The X-factor in this game for me is DeAndre Jordan. Blake Griffin will pound David Lee down low, he isn’t quick or strong enough to guard him. DeAndre Jordan is the key to a Clippers loss or win. It is yet to be seen if he can be a defensive anchor in the middle, if he can man the paint and provide an intimidation factor, then Monta Ellis and Steph Curry will have a harder time scoring. If he ignores the defensive end, then this game will come down to who can outscore the other. We’ll see. I’m going to be spontaneous and give this one to the Warriors. I have to have at least one surprise. I think the Clipper mania will come to a halt when the Warriors come out of nowhere and beat the Clippers.

What do you think? Comment who you have to win each game. Only 13  hours until tip-off. Here we go!

Chris Paul + Clips

Finally, David Stern and the rest of the owners gave in to a trade involving Chris Paul. The Clippers traded Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu and the 1st pick of the 2012 draft. All for CP3 and two second round draft picks. Now that CP3 is with the Clippers, the first question that needs addressing is an extension. Did the Clippers trade young talent for a guy who will dash out when he gets the chance? Also, who is the better team in Los Angeles? Questions need answers, so here we go.

If I was Chris Paul, I would sign an extension with the Clippers. It’s actually a no brainer. You’d be playing with the rookie of the year and one of the best big men in the league. You’d be playing in the best city in america. Hollywood. Where the opportunities are endless. Don’t forget being mentored by 2004 finals MVP Chauncey Billups. And playing with a developing Tyson Chandler type of player in Deandre Jordan. He won’t get anything better in the offseason. This team can take him far in the short term but also in the longterm.

The other question under discussion is the rivalry between the Lakers and Clippers. Who is better? The Lakers have ruled the city of Los Angeles for as long as the NBA has been around. The Clippers are like the disappointing son who is stuck in their father’s shadow. Kobe has been the king of Los Angeles and only until Blake Griffin came along did people even consider the Clippers as a legitimate team.

Now it seems like the Clippers are the better team in Los Angeles. The Lakers have the experience point. They have Kobe one of the best players in the league, and along with him, Pau, Metta World Peace, Andrew Bynum and Derrick Fisher who all know what it takes to win a championship. However, the Clippers have the fresh legs. They have the developing stars and two all stars who are both under 30. The point guard competition between the two teams isn’t even a comparison. Chris Paul almost single handedly beat the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs last year. The Lakers only won 4-2 in what was an expected blow out. Chris Paul will take Derrick Fisher to town all day long. The shooting guard position isn’t a comparison either. Kobe will burn Eric Bledsoe every time down the floor. He has the moves even at 33, he can still score 40 if he wants to. The small forward position is pretty equal to me. Ron Artest is clearly the better defender, and is the tougher and stronger player. However, last season he scored a career low 8 points a game. He is an offensive liability and won’t be too hard to defend for Caron Butler. The Power Forward position goes to the Clippers. Everyone may be a bit surprised by the last statement. However, last postseason I couldn’t stand watching Pau Gasol play basketball. A ‘7 footer playing soft actually agitates me. If you have the size, strength and agility then use it. He didn’t at all. He also won’t be able to keep up with the speedy, and strong Blake Griffin who will jump over him any time he wants. The center position however, has to go to the Lakers. DeAndre Jordan is becoming a force in the paint but Andrew Bynum has the experience and more of a developed game on both sides of the floor.The bench goes to the Clippers. After the Lakers losing Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown their bench is pretty empty. They signed Josh McRoberts however, there is a limit to his game. The Clippers bench has Chauncey Billups the 2004 finals MVP and one of the smartest players in the game, who will mentor every young player on the team.The coaching competition is the easiest of all. Vinny Del Negro needs to go. Mike Brown is a defensive mastermind, and has been to the finals before with James and the 2007 Cavaliers.

Now that we’ve established the better team in Los Angeles, we have to take the Clippers to the whole conference and see how they compare. I can see them winning the Pacific Division. It will be close but they can get it over the Lakers. When playoffs come around they will definitely be in contention. They will come in the top 4 in the West but that’s when their run might end. They have talent, they have fresh legs, they have superstars but they don’t have too much experience. That is the key when a game 7 comes around in the playoffs. The smart players, and the players used to pressure will prevail. The Clippers only weakness is their experience. If they could add another veteran on the bench that could do wonders.