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.

 

Award Season

Awards. Mom’s love them. Athletes like to keep track of them. Trophy cabinets would die without them. It’s that time of year. The regular season has dawned, and the playoffs are on the rise. So before the official winners come out, here’s my take on the deserving winners and their not as happy runner ups in each category.

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich.

gregg-popovich

Runner Up: Tom Thibodeau.

Pop deserves the prize for this one. He’ll likely say…”Thanks,” and nothing else in his acceptance speech, or some other one liner representative of his dry humorous personality, but Gregg Popovich has out coached everyone this year. For a team to lose in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and come back with a better record the next year is pretty exceptional. Especially when a lot of critics were ready to say the Spurs dynasty of Parker, Duncan and Ginobli were done for good. It’s especially easy for a team to come back the next year less intense, justifying their play with something like, “We made it last year, it’s too hard to do it again.” However, Popovich got his team to better themselves and raise the bar even higher for a team that is usually flawless in their execution. Even more than that, an old team like the Spurs whose best players are in the last few years of their careers could’ve let that Game 7 defeat be the end of them. They could’ve taken their past championships and hit the road. However, they’ve all raised their level of play. Popovich has even brought in new guys and has been able to play 10 or 11 men deep every game and win without his stars, who I’ll mention again are not in the prime of their careers like those on other contenders (Miami Heat, OKC Thunder). The Spurs went on a 17 game winning streak, clinched the best record in the league, and have secured home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Thibs garners my runner up selection simply because the Bulls remain one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and manage to upset the big dogs in the league without Derrick Rose for a second season, but this year without Luol Deng, their leading scorer and arguably their best player.

Most Improved Player: Goran Dragic

MIP-20-Tom-Szczerbowski

Runner Up: Anthony Davis

The Suns have made the biggest turnaround in the NBA from last season. After an embarrassing 25-57 season last year, the roster was transformed and Jeff Hornacek was put in office. The result? A faster, more energetic young team that outcompeted its opponents on a nightly basis. Everything went right for this team except the playoffs, which may not even be a bad thing given their plan for the future and the fact they’ll now receive a higher draft pick. Their backcourt tandem of Bledsoe and Dragic worked perfectly when both were healthy. Their young players developed like they should’ve, and even exceeded some expectations. However, the leader of this team from the beginning till the end was Goran Dragic. He played 76 games, and raised his PPG average, FG% and 3Point% all from last year (20.3 ppg, 50 FG%, 41 3Pt%). I think there are two distinctions that can be made about Goran Dragic that justify his earning of this award. The first is that he was the best player on his team and the leader. He had the team on his back the entire year, even more so when Eric Bledsoe got injured. With added responsibility, he stepped up. Additionally, and probably the most important thing is that Goran Dragic did not “improve” because of added opportunity, or a drastically different system. He is playing 1.5 minutes more a game, on the same team with someone people thought would take opportunities away from him. He’s actually improved. People point to someone like a Gerald Green and say easily most improved player, just look at his stats. Yes, it’s true he’s had a career year, but has he improved, or was he given 10 more minutes a game and an additional 40 starts from last season on an extremely faster paced team than the Indiana Pacers? Think about that.

Anthony Davis garners runner up recognition because many players run into a sophomore wall and after a stellar rookie campaign, can’t break through any more barriers in their careers. Anthony Davis is still improving and becoming one of the most dangerous players in the NBA. He’s still a 2nd year man, and that’s why he doesn’t get my vote, because his improvement is supposed to happen – especially with a guy loaded with as much potential as Anthony Davis. His minutes didn’t increase that much (only a 6 minute difference from last season) but his production in every statistical category improved.

6th Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford

e276cebd150f4a1a5e552b08a59c053c_crop_north

Runner Up: Taj Gibson

Jamal Crawford wins the honors once again after missing out last season to J.R Smith. Jamal Crawford is one of the most lethal and instant offenses in the entire league, averaging 18.6 points, 3.2 assists, and 2.3 rebounds a game, shooting 41% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. Simply put, Jamal Crawford knows how to put the ball in the hoop and every team needs that off their bench, not only to keep the defense honest but to give the bench a spark when the starters aren’t doing their job. By having a scoring machine playing against 2nd units, it gives the team a huge advantage. Jamal Crawford, for his respective role, probably does it better than everyone in the league. His scoring average (18.6) is the third highest for a 6th man in the last 20 years. He also dabbled as a starter this season when Chris Paul and or J.J Reddick were injured and averaged 20.6 points those 23 games. He’s had six 30+ point games and has hit or eclipsed the 25 point mark 13 times. It’s no question that Jamal Crawford is someone Doc Rivers can rely on, and Crawford has been called to the plate numerous times in the 4th quarter where he averages a 3rd best in the NBA 6.7 points a game, on 9.5 minutes. Beyond the statistics, Jamal Crawford is a spark plug – someone that can bring the fans to their feet quickly, and can start a run with an ankle breaking crossover or a deep three pointer. He has the edge against the other 6th men candidates, because yes, his statistics are better, and he plays in the Western Conference on a better team and is relied on heavier than most of the other candidates in this category.

Taj Gibson garners runner up recognition because he has surpassed Carlos Boozer as the go to Power Forward in the 4th quarter. He plays 10 minutes a game in the final quarter, and defensively and energetically Taj Gibson brings another multi-fasceted weapon to the Bulls game. He is active in help defense and in protecting the rim, and has developed a nifty offensive game around the rim and as far out as the free throw line for jumpers. Along with Joakim Noah he has become the 2nd emotional leader of the team, a humongous part of why they are in 4th in the Eastern Conference even without Derrick Rose and the mid-season trade of Luol Deng. The only thing that held him back from winning in my eyes, is the competition. The Eastern Conference was historically bad this season, home to 8 losing records, and the 4 worst teams in the entire league. Taj Gibson did what was asked from him and more but its the teams he played against which may have prevented him from winning this award.

Defensive Player of the Year: Joakim Noah

Joakim-noah-fired-up

Runner Up: Roy Hibbert

Joakim Noah is the epitome of energy when on the court – playing with more passion and fire than some teams altogether (Knicks, Pistons, etc..) Defensively, it’s his presence on the court, his protection of the paint and his versatility to be able to guard every player has brought Chicago to the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference even without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng. The Chicago Bulls were 1st in opponents points allowed per game, only allowing 91.8 points throughout the season. They were 2nd in opponents FG% with 42% and in the top 10 in opponents 3 Point%, holding teams to only 35% from beyond the arc. They say anybody has the ability to play great defense, all you need is energy and the desire and Joakim Noah lacks neither. His passion is contagious and has many times won Chicago games or secured them the ball on big possessions down the stretch. Joakim is a fierce rim protector, but what garners my vote over Roy Hibbert is his ability to guard every position on the floor. Unlike most defensive centers, Joakim Noah has no problem switching pick n rolls, or going out to the perimeter and guarding quicker guys. Joakim is agile, quick and disciplined on defense and has been seen many times stuck on someone like Lebron James on the perimeter and given him trouble. That kind of versatility isn’t seen often in 6’11 guys and it gives the Bulls more leeway defensively knowing Joakim Noah can do everything on that side of the court.

Roy Hibbert gets runner up because the Pacers were right behind the Bulls defensively in opponents points per game. I think his reputation was tarnished slightly toward the end of the season due to the Pacers’ rough end to the year and his being taken out of many games due to foul trouble or attitude. However, Roy Hibbert is the best rim protector in the NBA and plays the verticality game to perfection.

Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams

 

Runner Up: Victor Oladipo

103013_williams-carter_600

While it’s acceptable to argue against MCW’s rookie campaign and deny him the ROY because of the historically fast pace at which his team plays with, and the embarrassingly scarce, inexperienced and untalented roster he had around him, the talent was obviously there and for a rookie MCW definitely took the most of the opportunities he was given. His team was the 2nd worst in the league and in tank mode like we’ve never seen before, but throughout it all, he was the beacon of hope for a franchise looking toward the future. MCW led all rookies in points per game (16.7) assists (6.3), rebounds (6.2), steals (1.9) and usage rate (25% of his teams possessions) – some fantastic numbers for a first year guard. He is also the first rookie since Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson to average at least 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.

Victor Oladipo is the close runner up, and had a great season in his own right. He was second amongst rookies in usage rate (24%) and averaged 13 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. He played 31 minutes a game for a team with a slower pace than the 76ers and still averaged numbers that somewhat resemble those of MCW. But it’s really his energy, athleticism and aggression to the basket that have the Magic smiling about this guy.

Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant

182413688_WARRIORS_THUNDER_MURDOCH_0470_crop_exact

Runner Up: Lebron James

Finally Kevin Durant surpasses Lebron James and wins an MVP. Kevin has been chipping away and sprinting on Lebron’s heels for years now and finally he should be awarded with the MVP. His individual season has been historic. I’ll repeat what I said in an earlier post about Durant in terms of some eye-opening statistics:

Kevin Durant is averaging career highs in points (32.2) and assists (5.6) a game. With Russell Westbrook struggling with knee injuries, Kevin Durant has often had the entire team to carry by himself, and that has led to two 50-point games, twelve 40+ point games, three triple-doubles and an Oklahoma City Thunder record of 59-23 good for 2nd in the Western Conference. In comparison to previous great individual seasons, Kevin Durant surpassed Michael Jordan’s record of consecutive 25+ scoring games with 41 in a row. He’s the first player since the 1988-89 season to average 32 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists per game – the last to do it was Michael Jordan. To further the comparison with Jordan, Kevin Durant is the first player since MJ’s 1991-1992 season to average 30+ points, 5+ assists and 5+ rebounds a game while shooting 50% or higher from the field. 

Lebron James obviously is a close 2nd, and like every season he’s ever had he’s been consistent and amazing. He is still probably the best player on the planet but this year was Kevin Durant’s year, and I’m sure it won’t be his last.

 

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!

Here We Go Again

The NBA is on it’s way, which means the trade rumours have already arrived. The curtain has dropped. The spotlight is on. The show has began. And with the show comes the drama.

Dallas Ditching Chandler?

On the first day that free agent contracts could be discussed, Tyson Chandler took away one thing from the day. He was getting traded. “I really think I’m going to be on a new team come training camp,” Chandler told ESPN.com on Wednesday. He believes Dallas won’t offer him the long term extension that he deserves. And he does deserve it. For three years in a row the Dallas Mavericks were 1st round dropouts. Disappointments to their city and to the NBA. But when Tyson Chandler came to town he changed the whole team. He brought height, he brought hustle and most of all motivated the team to play defense. It’s no coincidence that last year the Dallas Mavericks were 7th in points allowed per 100 posessions in 2010-2011 and were 12th, 15th and 17th the three years before that. He provided them with an inside presence in the finals and deserves a contract. His biggest worry is that Dallas may sign Nene over him. Nene and him are the two most coveted free agents this year.

Nene Fever:

The big man on the free agent campus this year is Nene. Teams from all over the league have shown interest in him. Dallas, Golden State, New Jersey, Denver, Houston, Indiana, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Portland were all teams who made contact with Nene’s agent on Wednesday. A perfect fit for Nene would be teams lacking an inside presence. Teams like Golden State, Denver and Houston. The Nets have shown interest in Nene due to Deron Williams’ statements that he would be far less inclined to re-sign a long-term deal with the Nets if they don’t immediately improve their roster.

Ron Artest…. I mean Metta World Peace:

It has been reported that the Los Angeles Lakers may waive Ron Artest….. I mean Metta World Peace’s over-priced contract. Although, the small forward is one of the best defenders in the league and filling the void later with other players is very difficult considering the type of defender he is. On the offensive side, he is in decline. Last season he averaged 8.5 points and it’s clear that his age may be taking a toll on his body and his speed. He doesn’t have the strength he once had (and I might regret this) but he’s become a  liability on offense. Letting go of his 3 year 21.5 million dollar contract would be a relief, causing the Lakers to save up to 27 million dollars in taxes and salary through 2013-2014.

Hollywood Wants Superman:

A minute doesn’t go by when we don’t wonder how many championships Shaq and Kobe could’ve won together had their problems not gotten in the way. Finally, years later Superman may be coming back to Hollywood. Not the one who has the superman logo on his bed. The one who wore the cape during his slam dunk performance. Jim Buss has said that he would trade Andrew Bynum “for the right deal.” The right deal or the deal that involves Dwight Howard? But Andrew Bynum may not be what the Magic are looking for in a replacement for Dwight and rumour has it that Andrew Bogut would be a better fit for them. I disagree but a three team deal has been circling, sending Dwight to the Lakers, Bogut to the Magic and Bynum to the Bucks. The Clippers also seem willing to do whatever it takes for Dwight. The Clippers have tons of young depth with players like Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan and Al-Farouq Aminu and can provide more assets in a trade with the Magic. Although, Dwight and Kobe together may look like a championship on paper. In reality they wouldn’t gel. Dwight loves the ball down in the post, he takes it in all day. And why wouldn’t you when you’re the most dominant player in the NBA. Then there is Kobe, who loves the ball on the perimeter and taking it to the hole. They are both types of players who demand the spotlight and I can’t see it working out.

Blazers and Brandon Roy:

A source had said that the TrailBlazers had waived Roy but team president Larry Miller firmly stated that, ”We have not, and regardless of what’s been said by John Canzano and others out there, (made a) decision on amnesty as of yet,” On January 17th of last season Brandon Roy underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees. He returned to the lineup on February 25th and scored 18 points off the bench. The rest of the season was a quiet one for Roy, he came off the bench for the whole season and averaged 12.5 points as supposed to his career average of 19 points a game. His future looked grim, until the playoffs came around and  Portland needed someone to step up. Brandon Roy came off the bench in Game 3 against the Mavericks and scored 16 points in 23 minutes. Larry Miller added, ”With everything that Brandon has done for this organization, there’s no way we would make a decision like that without having conversation with him, without evaluating where he is.” I wouldn’t give up on Roy yet, his knees may let him down at times but he showed that in big situations he can shine. He knows how to win and he is a valuable piece on any team.

Celtics Discussing Rondo Trades:

Just to be clear, the Celtics don’t want to get rid of Rondo. He is the future of their organisation and will be their saviour once Pierce, Allen and Garnett are gone. However, the Celtics are exploring options in exchange for Rondo. Danny Ainge said, “I don’t make any comments on trade rumors. I’m just not commenting on any of it. Everybody knows how valuable Rondo is to our team. I’ll talk to Rondo, but I don’t want to talk about it publicly.” I sense insecurity in the Celtics front office. They realise that their Big Three aren’t big news anymore, they are getting older and soon they won’t be able to compete with the up and coming talent in the league. Additionally, they realise Rondo isn’t the best Point Guard out there and it makes sense for them to get better. Rumours have circulated that a Rondo for Paul deal may be developing, although they are very vague rumours.

Grizz and Gasol:

After last years semi-breakout season for Marc Gasol teams are showing more interest in him now that he’s a free agent. He provided Memphis with defense, hustle and a quick inside presence that Tim Duncan and the 1st place Spurs couldn’t handle. The Grizzlies organization have shown interest in keeping him. “Obviously, we want to sit down and try to make a deal with Marc,” Heisley said. “I’m committed to keeping him.” Gasol has made it clear that he would like to return to Memphis this season. However, they may not have enough money to satisfy Gasol after agreeing to contract extensions with Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley. All we know now is that the Grizzlies want Gasol and Gasol wants the Grizzlies. Personally, I would love to see last year’s team come back stronger this year and make it back to the playoffs. Every time they stepped onto the floor, the game was bound to be exciting. They were the most energetic team in the NBA and it was a joy to watch them burst through the playoffs and surprise everybody.

Back in Action

Thank goodness! The NBA is back and threatening to overshadow Santa himself. There could be no better Christmas present than to see the revival of the NBA after a very dark couple of months.

When that first whistle blows in stadiums across the country, the return of the NBA will be official. The crowds will gather from MSG in the East to Staples Center in the West. The thrill of basketball will re-energize the nation and bring back something that his been dearly missed in our lives.

So this is cheers to a new season and let the games begin!

50/50

Congratulations, to the players and the owners for their 100th day anniversary of getting absolutely nowhere. Let’s all hope that this unhappy couple work out their problems soon, because there is nothing more aggravating than watching two partners argue over custody of… money.

Talks are in a stale mate situation since the players refused to meet with the owners unless the topic under discussion was a 50/50 deal. I guess for now it’ll be which side breaks first. The 50/50 deal was first thrown into the open as an idea, a simple idea that nobody had even mentioned. Equal distribution of the money had never even passed through either sides minds, so it was put off to the side. Obviously, the owners got thinking and realised that the 50/50 deal would benefit both sides the most.

That got me thinking as well, I looked at the 50/50 proposal from both vantage points and came to the conclusion that a 50/50 deal makes the most sense for both sides.

What the players and owners both don’t seem to understand is that they need each other for the other to have a job in the first place. They need each other like T-Pain needs auto-tune, like Harold needs Maude, like Shrek needs Donkey. There are no owners without the players and in turn there are no players without the owners.

The owners need the players for their organisation succeed, they need the players to bring them the fans and to bring them the championship. The players need the owners for a team to play on, for them to get paid and for them to have a career. For either side to get more money, it just seems like one partner is cheating on the other. And in this marriage there is no such thing as disloyalty.

To be completely honest, I think one of the main reasons a 50/50 deal makes the most sense is because no side will take less then the other. The players and owners could discuss ways to resolve the conflicts for ages and we still wouldn’t have an NBA season because no side seems willing to take any less then the other. We might as well call it even instead of missing a whole season. Besides that obvious reason, I think that the 50/50 deal makes the most sense due to what each side needs from the other.

The NBA is a very organised system. Owners invest in teams, they sign players, the players get paid by the owners and then us (the fans) go to watch the players play. If we broke it down you’d see that no side has the upper hand in this deal.

Without the owners the NBA is just a bunch of extremely talented basketball players either dominating European or Chinese basketball, or playing semi-telivised charity games all year in stadiums that can’t accommodate all the fans who love basketball. Without the owners the players have no money, at all. They are just normal people. The owners fuel the players careers, there are no players without the owners.

Without the players there is no excitement, there is no basketball, there is no NBA. Owners have no careers if there are no players. The players are the ones who risk their bodies, every day. They are the ones giving 100% of their energy every night to put on a show for the millions who love the NBA. We (the fans) love the NBA because of the excitement, the suspense, the talent, and the atmosphere. All those things come down to the players putting on a show.

Although, the players are the ones we love the NBA for, behind closed doors the owners are the ones responsible for most of it. Nobody has any leverage, each argument either side makes for more money can be matched by the other.

When there is no winner, there is either a tie or two losers. It just depends on how they look at it. Hopefully the verdict will be announced soon so we can get back to what really matters. Basketball.

What Happened to the NBA?

Here we are, 90 days into the lockout.
Each day has begun with a sense of hope of optimism and ended with disappoinment. Now we hear that David Stern is saying that the fate of the NBA season is depending on this weekend’s talks. I am no longer disappointed with the NBA but irritated with the players and owners’ union.

The lockout in simplest terms is due to greed. The players want more money, the owners want to pay the players less.

Don’t we always hear players talk about playing basketball because they have a passion for the game, they have a competitive drive, they have love for the sport. How are we supposed to believe that when they would rather make more money then do the thing they love.

I’m 100% correct in saying that every single NBA player is a millionaire. I just can’t grasp the fact that money is what is holding the NBA season up. If Derek Fisher (the president of the players union) is making 4 million dollars a year, does one or two million a year more really make a difference. 12 NBA owners rank among the 400 wealthiest Americans. Yet, owners want more money. The owners and players are making more money in a year then average families would make in a lifetime. Everybody is just too caught up with money, fast cars and the Hollywood lifestyle that they all seem to have forgotten why they started loving basketball in the first place. Kids like myself look up to players because they’re supposed to be our role models. They play the best sport in the world and through years of hard work and commitment, they have become the best at what they do. But I have lost a little respect for those involved in the players and owners union due to the fact that we’re still praying for a deal.

What ever happened to the good old days where NBA players and owners genuinely enjoyed being apart of the NBA – the place where “amazing happens”. Well right now the NBA is the place where disapointing happens.