Ibaka’s Injury Not Only Problem For Thunder

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The Oklahoma City Thunder are the epitome of a growing and promising sports franchise. Moving to Oklahoma City in 2008, the Thunder have drafted extremely well, been coached even better and have quickly become one of the best teams in the NBA.

In 2007 came Kevin Durant and a rookie of the year campaign.

In 2008, the Thunder welcomed Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

In 2009, James Harden joined the team.

Since coming to Oklahoma City 6 years ago, the Thunder have been to the playoffs 5 times, including a 2012 finals run against the Heat. They have the MVP, one of the best point guards in the NBA and arguably the best rim protector in the league as well. Because of the firepower of mainly Westbrook and Durant, the Thunder’s flaws have often been masked, thrown to the side and forgotten. Why shouldn’t they? They have an MVP and when your top two players are combining for 56 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists per game, its easy to neglect the bad. Especially when you’re winning, and winning consistently. However, it’s clear, especially clear in this year’s playoffs that the Thunder will never win a championship with their current roster.

In the 1st round against the Grizzlies, the Thunder won in 7 games. In all those 7 games, everybody not named Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook scored an average of 46.7 points per game. The Thunder consistently play 8 other guys besides their superstars so if you break it down even further the Thunder were getting an average of 5.8 points per game.

In round 2 against the Clippers, everybody not named KD or Russell Westbrook scored an average of 44.5 points per game, giving their role players an average of 5.5 points each.

In both of those series, the Thunder won out. The first reason was because Serge Ibaka was in the middle protecting the rim and stopping easy baskets. On the other hand, the explosive superstar duo averaged 51 points per game combined against the Clippers and 55 against the Grizzlies.

But now, against the Spurs, the most fundamentally sound and smooth offense in the league, the Thunder cannot match the offensive production. Sure, losing Serge’s 15 points per game hurts, but this meltdown has been one in the making. The Thunder lack two-way players. It’d be ok if their roster had a moderate blend of both shooters and defensive minded players like the Heat (see Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, Chris Andersen, Norris Cole) but the Thunder don’t. The Thunder’s role players are defensive minded big men like Kendrick Perkins who has become a liability in the area he’s supposed to excel in, Steven Adams and Nick Collison. The latter two are solid defensively and rebound well but offensively have little to offer besides moving the ball, and getting putbacks around the rim. Their role players are also guys like Caron Butler who has become more inconsistent and unpredictable then Dwyane Wade’s clothing choices and then there’s Derrick Fisher and Reggie Jackson, the only guys who really can produce offensively consistently, and if Fisher isn’t hitting open threes than all the Thunder have to rely on is Reggie Jackson. This is an issue. It’s a big issue. The Thunder cannot rely so heavily on Durant and Westbrook. It works, it sure as hell works, but there is a limit to how far they can go with this current team. There is a ceiling, while teams like the Heat and Spurs both rely on a system that has no limit to their success and that’s all attributed to their well roundedness. Durant and Westbrook are two of the most explosive offensive players in the league and probably the best scoring duo in the NBA but like LeBron and Wade need shooters and other guys who can help carry the load, so do they.

Right now against the Spurs, the Thunder are being embarrassed for two reasons. The first is the gaping hole in the middle of the paint usually occupied by Serge Ibaka. Without his length and athleticism guarding the rim, the Spurs are getting easy buckets whenever they want. The Spurs scored 54 points in the paint in Game 2 and 66 in Game 1. Meaning in Game 1 54% of the Spurs points were scored in the paint, followed by 48% in Game 2. So yes, a lot of the Thunder’s struggles DEFENSIVELY are clearly a result of not having Ibaka.

Offensively, however is a whole different issue. Ibaka does make things easier, yes, but only marginally with 12-15 points per game. The Thunder are getting nothing from anybody offensively and as a result the Spurs are able to focus solely on Durant and Westbrook. They each scored 15 points in Game 2. The Spurs don’t have to worry about anybody killing them from beyond the arc because the Thunder simply don’t have the type of players that are legitimate threats from long range. But on the other side of the court, the Thunder are having to guard everyone because everybody is a threat and unlike the often stagnant offense of the Thunder the Spurs are constantly moving, setting screens, cutting to the basket and moving the ball. Everybody on the court is a threat offensively. The Thunder don’t have that. In Game 1, the Thunder had 5 points from the other three starters combined! Why do the Spurs have to pay attention on defense to a Nick Collison or a Thabo Sefolosha if they’re not doing anything offensively? The answer is they don’t. The Spurs can stand around and stare at Westbrook and Durant, crowd them, pack the paint on them and if Durant or Westbrook want to kick the ball out, it’s to a player who is either not an offensive minded player (Sefolosha, Perkins, Collison) or someone who isn’t a consistent shooter (Butler, Lamb, Fisher) That in itself is causing Westbrook and Durant to keep the ball in their hands more. They don’t trust their teammates offensively, thus their offense gets more stagnant and defense becomes a lot easier for the Spurs. It’s a vicious cycle all stemming from the fact that the Thunder’s roster is constructed in a way that puts too much pressure on Durant and Westbrook. What happens on the off chance that one of those guys doesn’t play well like in Game 2? Well then they’re absolutely screwed.

I won’t say the door is closing on the Thunder because Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka are so young but very soon the Thunder could find themselves 5 years down the road, still without a championship even though each year they are among the best teams in the league. The roster needs to be tweaked. They need more shooting threats – more guys to help them spread the floor, more options for Durant and Westbrook to kick to. They need players who actually attract consistent attention from defenses. The Heat are the model that they should try to emulate. LeBron and Wade are surrounded by shooters and defenders not just defenders.

The Thunder won’t win this series, meaning Kevin Durant will once again fall short of a championship. Next year could be different or it could be the same, but the formula the Thunder have right now isn’t working and waiting longer and longer, and resting on the fact that they are consistently a top 2 seed in the West isn’t going to work. Oklahoma City has become, because of Durant and Westbrook an appealing place to play, Sam Presti needs to figure out a way to move this roster around, and add some pieces that aren’t one dimensional, but players who can play both ends and help out offensively. If not, who knows, but maybe in a few years when Durant’s contract is up he might look at his age and not like the situation he’s in and I’d hate for the Thunder to lose him because they couldn’t surround him with the right sort of team.

More To Come

Don’t think because the Thunder have gotten to the next level and the next tier of excellence that they’re going to stop there. They’re not done. Actually, far from it. They’re on their way to winning an NBA championship. 5 years ago Kevin Durant joined the Oklahoma City Thunder or Seattle Supersonics as they were known and won 20 games. 20 games. The next year they picked up Russell Westbrook in the draft. They won 23 that year. In 2009, they picked up James Harden and Serge Ibaka and won 50 games, while suffering a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the Lakers in the first round. The next year, they were the 4th seed in the NBA and won 55 games. They advanced to the conference finals but lost in 6 games to the Dallas Mavericks who went on to win the NBA championship. This year they clinched the 2nd seed in the West by winning 47 out of 66 games. That was just to highlight the growth and development of this team as a unit. They worked their way up through hard work and patience and they progressed every single year. Kevin Durant is now a 3 time scoring champion, James Harden the 6th man of the year, and Russell Westbrook a top 5 point guard in the NBA. Now they’re in the NBA finals. It wasn’t easy though, they were down 2-0 to a team who had won 20 games in a row and looked unstoppable. However, they won 4 in a row and finished the aging Spurs and are now bound to win an NBA championship, with their three best players all under the age of 24. So, if they don’t win it this year, which they most likely will, they will certainly win it in the years to come.

What’s so good about the Thunder? How did this small market team come out of nowhere in the past 5 years and take over the NBA? Well, one thing is for certain they have every piece to the puzzle in place. They all know their roles and there is not a hole in this roster that needs filling. They have the unstoppable scorer, the best 6th man in the NBA, and a top 5 point guard. They have the runner up for defensive player of the year playing alongside Kendrick Perkins one of the grittiest, and toughest players in the NBA. They have Thabo Sefolosha, one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. On the bench, Derrick Fisher a 5 time NBA champion who brings the wisdom and experience to the young team. They have Nick Collinson a terrific post defender and pick and roll defender. Daquon Cook even gave the Thunder a boost beyond the arc in this series. Everybody knows their role and everybody is so damn good at it. They are so good defensively, because they are constantly helping each other out. Offensively, they are often too quick for most teams in the league. Besides the Heat, no team gets up and down the floor as quickly as the Thunder do. Then of course, it’s nearly impossible to stop Kevin Durant from scoring, and if you focus too much on him then Westbrook puts you on a poster while Harden gets another and 1.

The reason they are destined for an NBA championship is because neither team in the Eastern Conference finals can beat the Thunder in a best of 7 series. The Celtics first off are too slow and I don’t think they can compete with the youth and quickness of the Thunder. Sure, we all said that about them vs the Heat but it’s different. The Heat can’t beat the Celtics because of the lack of depth, the Celtics make up for their lack of athleticism with their overwhelming depth. The Thunder however, are the better version of the Heat. They have their own big 3 but they have so many premier role players that there is no area in which they lack. The other thing is that the Heat are having troubles because the Big 2 are finding it extremely hard to get to the basket because of the stifling Celtic defense and because of Garnett in the middle. James and Wade aren’t great shooters however, Durant, Harden and Westbrook don’t need to get to the basket to score. They can all shoot the ball from everywhere on the floor, especially Durant. They shouldn’t have a problem settling for jumpers, because they do that naturally already. Perkins or Ibaka can also outmuscle and outplay Brandon Bass down low, another minor advantage that could prove invaluable if these two teams meet up. And one of the most important things is the Celtics have yet to face a team in the playoffs with a defender who can really bother Garnett. Al Horford was the closest thing to Ibaka and Perkins yet and Garnett averaged 18 and 10 against him. Garnett has yet to play against a really good and tough post defender and a tough big man in the playoffs. He won’t be playing against a Spencer Hawes or Joel Anthony. He’ll get takes from Ibaka and Perkins and that will completely alter his production making it much harder for the Celtics to score. If the Thunder play the Heat, well it should be even easier. The Thunder are just a better version of the Heat and a younger version. Instead of a Big 2, and an inconsistent 3, they have a really big young 3. Instead of no big men, they have Perkins and Ibaka, with Collison for support. Instead of aging veterans surrounding them, they have young talented players like Sefolosha, and Harden. The Thunder would pound the Heat inside. Ibaka and Perkins would absolutely have their way down low and would outrebound everybody on the Heat, making it a lot harder for the Heat to get out and run, which is what they love to do. Additionally, the depth of the Thunder would prove lethal like the depth of the Celtics is proving to be against Miami. Durant and Lebron will cancel out, Westbrook and Wade will cancel out and we know Harden will produce more then Bosh so there goes their big three. And when the stars in Miami are out the Heat can’t handle Harden and Derrick Fisher on the perimeter. They’re outnumbered and outmatched as they say.

The Thunder may have improved this season and gotten to the next level, but i assure you they’re not finished. In fact, there is tons more to come.

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!

Keys For The Finals

That trophy keeps them going. The thought of them crying with the prestigious trophy in their arms is enough to keep them going. The thought of having NBA champion before their name keeps them going. The thought of being at the top of the basketball world keeps them going. The thought of all their hard work paying off keeps them going. Keep going they must.

This is no time to give up. The Mavericks and Heat realize they are too close to make a mistake. Too close for comfort is the right term in this context.

With the pressure increasing within every second they must execute their game plan. I have a few keys for each team that will help them win this series.

For the Mavericks the main thing they have to do is play amazing team and interior defense. They don’t have the defenders to guard Lebron or D-Wade. Shawn Marion isn’t quick enough or strong enough to deal with Lebron. Deshawn Stevenson doesn’t have enough defensive I.Q to deal with the craft of Dwyane. Which is why it’s crucial that the Mavs look out for each other on defense. If Lebron gets by his man then the other perimeter defenders have to shift over and take him on. Besides Lebron and Wade the Heat don’t have many threats to score from midrange. They won’t have to worry too much about the other players knocking their shots down when they rotate.

Keeping Miami in the half-court game could win them this series. The Heat often get stagnant on offense and leave it to Lebron or Wade for an ISO on the wings. That’s where their offense struggles most. They score most of their points off fast breaks, and from the free throw line. If the Mavs can force the Heat into a stagnant offense then the series will be much easier.

Then there is the interior defense that needs to step up. Tyson Chandler will really be tested this series. He’s facing off against the persistent rebounder in Joel Anthony. Don’t underestimate him based on size or age. This guy definitely makes an impact. He grabs

rebounds when it matters and is always a pest down low.  Tyson Chandler will have to keep an eye on him while trying to stop D-Wade and Lebron’s penetration.

J.J Barea will be a very important piece of the puzzle for Dallas if they want to win. We all know Miami’s bench is one of the worst in the NBA, while Dallas has one of the best benches in the league. He has made players like Russell Westbrook and Brandon Roy look like inexperienced rookies with his dribble penetration and crafty layups.

He’s going to need to lay it all on the line this series when he plays against inexperienced bench players like Mario Chalmers. He’s going to have to know his mismatch at the point guard against Mike Bibby as well. He has to try and drive by him on almost every possession that will bring the interior defense out and give open shots to Jason Terry on the outside.

Then there is the three point shooting. Dallas made it clear that they are a three-point threat to be reckoned with. After knocking down 20 three pointers in the conference semi-finals against Los Angeles they made a statement to future teams that they should be scared of their three point talent. They have to keep that up this series. Miami has great perimeter defenders like Mike Miller, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. It might be hard for them to penetrate so their three point shot is going to have to be working for them to produce.

You’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned Dirk in this. Well it’s because there is nothing different he has to do, he can’t step up anymore than he already has. He has been clutch, he has knocked down timely buckets, passed well out of the double team and led Dallas to the finals. We all know he is going to take Bosh apart. He has to do it with confidence, he has to realize this may be his last legitiment chance at a title and I think he knows what he has to do.

The Heat have keys that are a bit more simple.

Lebron and D-Wade must take over this series. Due to them being the best players on the court they have to take advantage of their match-ups.

It’s really no competition on the perimeter.

They can’t handle them, the Mavericks don’t have a Luol Deng or a Shane Battier kind of player. They need to run all over them, get them off the dribble, draw fouls. Anything to take over the perimeter.

Then they need Udonis Haslem to step up off the bench. When he produced for the Heat in game 2 against the Bulls the Heat killed in the 3rd quarter. He is such a versatile player and really stretches defenses because he has a mid range shot as well as a mean post game. If he can produce like he did in game 2 then the Heat’s bench production and confidence will go up immensely as well as their chance of winning.

Also, they need James Jones and Mike Miller’s three point production. The Heat’s three point percentage in the playoffs has been terrible their shooting around 30%. The Mavericks bench will kill the Heat’s bench if they can’t make their threes. Making their threes not only keeps the defenders on their toes more, but makes it easier for Lebron or Wade to pass out of the penetration, or when they blow by their man.

It’s these things that will separate the two teams in this series. Whoever can execute these keys the best then they’ll have the best chance of glory and pride.

Mavericks-Thunder Series Preview.

Many thought they were too young, too inexperienced. Many thought they weren’t ready, weren’t prepared. All the haters were silenced tonight when the Thunder inked their status in the elite group in the NBA when beating the 8th seeded Grizzlies in the conference semifinals, and advancing to the conference finals. The only problem is that now they have to face one of the mayors of the elite group. The Dallas Mavericks.  Many thought Dallas wouldn’t be able to hold off the defending champs, but they did. In championship like fashion. Both of these teams have silenced the nay-sayers and are sitting promptly in the conference finals, awaiting their tough competition.

Just like the Heat-Bulls series, this should series should be a serious offensive struggle. The Mavericks held the TrailBlazers to 88 points in 6 games, and the Lakers to 92 points in 4 games. The Thunder held the Nuggets to 97 points in 5 games, and the Grizzlies to 114 points, but game 4 went into triple overtime.

For the Thunder to win this series, there are a lot of things that come into play. Not all of them are basketball related. They are going up against one of the oldest teams in the NBA, that means they’re going to get tired quicker, and aren’t going to be as fast but that also means they are very strong mentally, and have a high basketball IQ. Playoff games can get heated, and players can get mad, but the Mavericks don’t usually lose their grip on the game. If the Thunder’s young and inexperienced players can’t handle the very heated playoff games against a contained Maverick team, then they won’t be able to play a whole 7 game series and advance to the finals.

Now onto the basketball related factors. Russell Westbrook, a superstar, and a quick, athletic point guard will be matching up against a 38 year old veteran in Jason Kidd. You probably know what I am going to say. Westbrook is going to run all over Kidd that he’ll have to come out every 5 minutes to catch his breath. Russell can jump higher so J-Kidd will have trouble getting a hand in his face when shooting, he is slower so Russell will beat him off the dribble much easier, causing the big men to come out and guard him and leaving a corner 3-pointer open. He has to take advantage of this mismatch, if he does then this will be a much easier series for him and the Thunder. Another factor for winning is that they have to keep Dirk Nowitzki under control. That, of course is easier said than done. Pau Gasol couldn’t guard him so what makes anyone think Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, or Kendrick Perkins will be able to. He is taller and much too quick for Collison and Perkins. Ibaka will have to guard him. He played very good defense on Zach Randolph in the post, but now he will have to be running more around curls for Nowitzki, or trying to prevent his nearly unstoppable jump shot. They don’t want to double on Nowitzki because then Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic will be left open, and we know what happens when they’re left wide open. Ibaka has to be up for the challenge, if he can’t contain Nowitzki then this series is pretty much over before it began. Another thing they have to do to win is take advantage of the mismatch at the small forward position. Unlike Memphis, and Denver, the Mavericks have no gritty, tough, good perimeter defenders to handle the Durantula. Shawn Marion will most likely guard him, but Durant is quicker, more athletic, and just too talented for Marion to cover. This means Durant has to be very aggressive on offense, trying to drive to the hoop as much as possible, and taking quick dribbles and pull up jumpers. If he and Westbrook can take care of their mismatches then they’ll be in great shape.

For the Mavericks, it’s a different story. They’re going to need J.J Barea to be on his top game in this series. Jason Kidd most likely won’t be able to guard Westbrook, so that means Barea will see much more playing time in this series. He has to be able to play confidently, he has to guard Westbrook toughly and drive by him when he has the chance to. Then we have to look at the big men. Tyson Chandler will be key in this series. He will be guarded by Perkins, and Collison. He is taller then both of them, and quicker then both of them. He has to take advantage of his speed, and size down low for the Mavs to be able to win. He has to box out effectively, and jump on the glass whenever he can. Dallas should try to run some pick and rolls for Chandler, because with Kidd’s passing ability, and the center’s not being able to catch up with Chandler when he rolls, Chandler should have some easy dunks this series. Handling Durant will be the toughest mission for the Mavericks in this series. Shawn Marion, or Peja Stojakovic will have to guard him. Neither are talented enough defensively to handle the best scorer in the league. They may have to double Durant, the Thunder won’t have that many options to pass out of the double team to, there is always Westbrook but Sefolosha isn’t a dangerous shooter, nor is Harden consistently, that is.

This series will come down to guarding the star players. If the Thunder can contain Nowitzki, they’ll be in better shape. If the Mavs can contain Durant then they’ll be in better shape. We’ll see when the series starts. If I had to make a prediction right now. I’d give this series to the Mavericks in 6 games.

The Lakers Need to Improve.

As the NBA conference finals begin, we have to still wonder about the leagues former champions. What does their future hold, is it a retiring Bryant, a traded Gasol, a completely different team? When a defending champion loses it’s a big deal around the league, and a big deal within the organization. When the defending champions are swept, well, that’s a huge problem and begs the question,what went wrong?

What went wrong? It’s really simple, people are over analyzing this too much. Pau Gasol just didn’t play. It’s almost as if he wasn’t there. Dirk Nowitzki ran all over him, he barely put up a fight. He missed easy shots every game, wasn’t aggresive enough on the boards or on defense and that dragged the Lakers down. When the man supposed to be giving the other team’s player a hard time doesn’t defend then there is going to be havoc. Their biggest strength is their duo of 7-footers on the front line, but in this series there was just one 7-footer in Andrew Bynum and one 7-footer playing like a scared child in Pau Gasol. Pau’s low production forced the other players on the team to carry his load, but trying to make up for 18 points and 10 rebounds is hard, and it was too hard for the Lakers. It wasn’t just Pau though, let’s not blame the whole Laker meltdown on one player. It was the effort. It was the hustle. The attitude. The defense, or lack there of. In game 4 of the series the Mavericks made 20, three pointers. How did they reach this milestone against such a tough defensive team? The perimeter defenders were lethargic, they didn’t rotate to the shooters, they didn’t even try to get a hand in the shooters face. Jason Terry did not have a hand in his face on any of his three pointers, the same with Peja.

This series is over though, the Lakers get to go on vacation early, and the Mavericks get to move on to the conference finals feeling proud and accomplished. Something has to change though. We already know Phil Jackson won’t be returning next season. Brian Shaw or Rick Adelman are the favorites to take over his position. Magic Johnson rumored that roster changes may have to be made if the Lakers want to be contenders next season. I agree, but what changes do they have to make? First off, they need a young, quick, athletic point guard. Derek Fisher is a veteran with lots of invaluable experience but he can’t keep up with the faster guards in the league like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, and Deron Williams. Steve Blake didn’t play up to expectations this season and although he has less years on his legs he still can’t compete with the faster guards. They won’t be getting any good draft picks any time soon so they better try to find a quick young point guard this summer. Then they have to wonder about Pau Gasol. He has proven to be a great competitor, an all-star, a top 10 power forward and most of all a champion, but he really let them down this postseason. Kobe only has 3-4 good years left in him and the Lakers may want to think about trading Gasol for an athletic, talented scorer to take the stage once Kobe is gone. Or maybe trade Gasol for another power forward, someone who is tougher and more dependable in big playoff series. As I mentioned before, Kobe only has 3-4 great years left in him so the Lakers may want to put a lot of their time into their younger players like Shannon Brown. He proved himself to be very productive off the bench, he is extremely athletic and he can definitely score the basketball. His game is still developing but I see a player who could do a solid job of filling in Kobe’s shoes. The last thing is that they need some gritty perimeter defenders. The Lakers, although they may play tough, are a pretty soft team. They need some tough perimeter defenders, players like Thabo Sefolosha or Tony Allen to keep the scorers under control.

After the Lakers disgraceful showing in the semi-finals, ways to improve are a must, if the Lakers want another ring.