Current Tiers of the NBA

26 07 2013

Championship contenders: Heat, Pacers, Nets, Bulls, Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Grizzlies, Warriors (Fringe: Knicks, Rockets)

Playoff contenders: Hawks, Bucks, Pistons, Wizards, Cavaliers, Nuggets, Lakers, Mavericks, Blazers, Timberwolves (Fringe: Celtics, Bobcats, Raptors, Pelicans)

Lottery contenders: Sixers, Magic, Jazz, Suns, Kings

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2013 NBA Season Excitement Preview

31 10 2012

The NBA season is finally upon us. No lockout – just basketball. With a multitude of story lines inundating this league, there are many reasons to be amped about this season. I will give you the main reasons to be excited about watching each team in the NBA.

 

 

Atlanta HawksAl Horford will quickly develop into the focal point of this offense as this franchise moves into the post-Joe Johnson era. At the point guard position, speedy Devin Harris will get the chance to get back to the player – a better player –  he was before Utah. Will a sixth consecutive playoff appearance go along with this? Josh Smith‘s decision to stay or go next summer will be effected based upon the answer to this question.

Boston Celtics – With the acquisitions of Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa along with a healthy Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo might finally have the athletic pieces to allow him to completely take the reins of the offense. Correction: he will take the reins of the offense. Once breakout rookie Avery Bradley comes back in December, this team has a good chance to be the Heat’s best competition in the East as so many have already claimed.

Brooklyn NetsDeron Williams. Black and White jerseys. Brooklyn. Jay-Z. What is not exciting about the newest team in the NBA? If they continue to win at the same rate as they did in New Jersey, though, they will quickly become old, bland news. Joe Johnson won’t let that happen.

Charlotte Bobcats – After finishing the lockout season with the worst winning percentage in NBA history (.106), there’s only one place this franchise can go: up. As we move into the era of washed up veterans (Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood) and Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, they might finally move out of the last spot in the East all thanks to Dwight Howard.

Chicago Bulls – The eventual early return of superstar Derrick Rose will rank as one of the most emotional moments in NBA – if not sports – history. When he comes back, we will see less Nate Robinson, but we will see an inspired team that can compete in the playoffs.

Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving. This kid is about to elevate himself into the upper echelon of the league and become a superstar for his team. As one of the youngest and potential-filled (Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller) teams in the NBA, the city of Cleveland can finally have hope for their franchise’s future.

Detroit Pistons – If you like tough big man play, this is the team for you. Budding soon-to-be All-Star Greg Monroe along with already impressive rookie Andre Drummond (two men that are both one inch away from being seven-footers) will provide Detroit with a chance to squeeze into the playoffs – if Rodney Stuckey finally takes his point guard game to the next level.

Indiana Pacers – Following the Thunder’s footsteps by making it into the bottom-half of the playoffs two years ago followed by the top-half of the bracket last year, can they continue to follow suit and take the next step into the NBA Finals? With a healthy Danny Granger, always improving Paul George and dominate All-Star seven-footer Roy Hibbert, a generous playoff route could direct them to the promise land. At the very least, Gerald Green will provide casual fans with plenty of jump-off-your-couch-in-excitement slam dunks.

Miami Heat – What is next for LeBron James? What’s next is an unimaginable season. With a relaxed attitude toward the game of basketball, the King (he has a ring…) will collect his fourth MVP award as the Heat will have a commanding season (along with Ray Allen hitting many three-pointers), making it to the Eastern Conference Finals at the very least.

Milwaukee Bucks – Finishing ninth in two straight seasons, this team has been scraping the edge of the playoffs. Monta Ellis getting a full NBA season with the team beside fellow guard Brandon Jennings makes this yet another exciting East backcourt duo. This will be a very scary group that could beat any team on any given night when both of these players are having solid shooting nights.

New York Knicks – Yes, they are the oldest team in NBA history. But they have quality old veterans that still know how to use their intelligence to play the game (Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas). Since Amare Stoudemire will be out 6-8 weeks, Knicks fans get to see Carmelo Anthony at the position he plays best (power forward), making this group the best team in New York.

Orlando Magic – They might not win many games this season, but this fan base can finally let out a sigh of relief as their baby center finally got his wish. Keep an eye out for Andre Nicholson, who could become the surprise rookie of the 2012 class.

Philadelphia 76ers – When Andrew Bynum finds a way to get healthy, that’s when the excitement can start. This Sixers season is all about their new pure center. Fitting Bynum into Doug Collins and Jrue Holiday‘s system could lead to a challenge for the much smaller Miami Heat once the playoffs roll around.

Toronto Raptors – Even though it would have been nice to bring Steve Nash back to his hometown, this franchise got a stat-stuffing guard in Kyle Lowry, who will record multiple triple-doubles this year. Rookie center Jonas Valanciunas will find his way onto many SportsCenter Top 10’s throughout this season.

Washington Wizards – Once John Wall recovers from surgery, Bradley Beal will be an exceptional shooting guard to compliment his game and Nenê will continue to be the offensive force he has been since he entered the league. Just like the Pistons, this young team could find themselves in the playoffs if Wall does not continue to plateau as a basketball player.

 

 

 

Dallas Mavericks – For a team that doesn’t have Jason Kidd, Jason Terry or Dirk Nowitzki playing in their season opener, it’s difficult to get a grasp on this team’s identity. If they can establish their identity, Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo can wipe away last year’s regressed season and Dirk can play like a healthy and hungry Dirk, they will make the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season.

Denver Nuggets – Easily the funnest team in the league (Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried both having styles of play that any fan would enjoy watching), this group of pretty-good-to-great players has the most potential in the league. For this potential to turn into something legitimate, Andre Iguodala must become that go-to guy they have desperately been searching for since Melo left for New York.

Golden State Warriors – For the first time since 1997, the Warriors will have an All-Star in Stephen Curry – if he stays healthy (yes, that is indeed a big “if”). Putting him in a lineup with Klay Thompson, who will drastically improve this year, and Andrew Bogut, who will be a force down low, this new and improved California team will fulfill Mark Jackson’s prediction from last year that his team will make the playoffs.

Houston RocketsJames Harden. We have only known Harden as that sixth man on a team with two bigger and better stars. Now it’s his time. Putting the bearded man next to Jeremy Lin will improve both of their games, and with Omer Asik setting picks for these two guards, they now have a foundation for the future.

LA Clippers – Los Angeles does not know the future of superstar point guard Chris Paul with his contract soon coming to a close. But while they have him, this is still lob city. With one of the deepest benches in the league and Blake Griffin improving his low-post game, Paul can take this team as far as his clutch play desires.

LA Lakers – The two most important positions on the court are point guard and center. The Lakers traded for two of the best at those positions in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. They also have that guy named Kobe Bryant. They are officially “Hollywood” with undoubtedly the best starting lineup in the league once they find their chemistry. Since the Thunder also need to gel themselves with Harden gone, the Lakers have a legitimate chance to go all the way yet again.

Memphis Grizzlies – Is it possible to be the dark horse for three consecutive years? The Grizzlies are in the running for this title again. A healthy Zach Randolph takes this team to an extra playoff series – just look at 2011. If they get a better passer in Mike Conley Jr. to lead the exact same core – other than O.J. Mayo – from last year, you can’t forget about this team when making your playoff predictions.

Minnesota Timberwolves – The injury bug just won’t go away in Minnesota. First Ricky Rubio. Then Kevin Love… because of some knuckle push-ups. Even without their best two players, this team still has a lot of depth, and if Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko produce like the players that we used to know, they could still grab that eighth seed.

New Orleans Hornets – Inevitable Rookie of the Year Anthony Davis brings to the court everything you want in a center. Throw in a flashy Austin Rivers along with a healthy Eric Gordon and you have three players that could lead this team for years to come. (And don’t forget about the reigning Most Improved Player of the Year Ryan Anderson spotting up behind the three-point line.) The fans might soon forget about Chris Paul when Davis has his first 20-20 game.

Oklahoma City Thunder – This small-market team gave up a core for the ages in order to avoid the penalties of the new CBA. Durant/Westbrook/Harden could have been a trio for the ages. But now there is a new trio in OKC with a second Kevin in Kevin Martin that will be running off ball screens and drawing fouls. Even if he can’t be a distributor like Harden, he will get his fair share of points. Whether or not they are the favorites to come out of the West does not change the fact that they will be an electrifying ball club with plenty of highlights from Russ and Durantula.

Phoenix Suns – Discovering what the Suns new identity will be is a scary yet exciting thought. They don’t have Steve Nash anymore, but they have a solid frontline in Michael Beasley, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat that all have not yet reached their ceiling as NBA players. How can they reach that ceiling? Goran Dragic. If their point guard works with these big men, all four could have respectable seasons.

Portland Trial Blazers – The Greg Oden-Brandon Roy era is officially over. Finally. Even though LaMarcus Aldridge still remains as the cornerstone of this franchise, how quickly Damian Lillard, who could make the Rookie of the Year race closer than people think, develops will determine just how soon this team moves out of the pits of the West. Oh, and Nicolas Batum? Just wait until he breaks out this season.

Sacramento Kings – The last pick of the 2011 draft will soon become the most exciting little man to watch in the entire league. Isaiah Thomas statistically improved in both scoring and assisting in every successive month last season and doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon. If DeMarcus Cousins continues to improve his game along with his attitude and Marcus Thornton quietly maintains his average of 18-20 points, they could become the sporadically hot team you never want to face.

San Antonio Spurs – The good news for the skeptics is that Duncan/Ginobili/Parker are now all over 30-years-old. The bad news is that Duncan/Ginobili/Parker have never let age get in the way of winning. Every single season we are reminded that the Spurs are “one year older” and they continue to make it to the playoffs. Thanks for that, Pop. We should expect nothing less this season.

Utah Jazz – Devin Harris is finally gone. And they still have the best quadruplet of big men in the NBA with Favors/Jefferson/Kanter/Millsap leading the way. Every single one of these players can pound the ball down low and actually be a conventional power forward or center. (Shocking, right?) They made the playoffs last year and can now build on this experience.

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Golden Nuggets

1 10 2012

Could Javale McGee, Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari be a dangerous starting lineup for this Nuggets squad?

After the Nuggets unveiled their new alternate road jerseys at Media Day on Monday, all I can say is the Denver Nuggets might never have jerseys that do a good job of representing a “nugget.”

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Where is Kenyon?

7 05 2012

Question: Why isn’t Kenyon Martin playing for the Denver Nuggets right now? Answer: He is playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, as he has been doing all year long.

This was the sideline conversation that someone should have had with 20-year-old Savannah McMillan.

Instead, awkwardness ensued.

This young lady had supposedly stalked Martin during his tenure with the Nuggets… which finished the previous season. According to Marc Spears of YahooSports, she was yelling “Where is Kenyon?”

Nowhere near you, Savannah. Nowhere near you.

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Game 2 Tuesday

2 05 2012

 

Boston 87, Atlanta 80

 

The Celtics knew to have a chance against the Hawks in Game 2, they would need Paul Pierce took go off. Well, with the Truth putting up 36 points and 14 commanding rebounds Tuesday night, that most assuredly happened. Pierce looked determined in this game with one purpose in mind: winning. He made timely shots down the stretch as he has done his entire career. C.J. Watson and John Lucas III receive attention for the job they have done backing up Derrick Rose, but there’s a certain Celtic that has done an efficient job when he steps into Rajon Rondo’s shoes. Avery Bradley started at point guard and had 14 points, three assists, three steals, three blocks, and only one turnover in 42 minutes. Many thought he should be considered a bust after his lackluster rookie season, but he has blossomed into a player that the C’s will need once the original Big 3 retire. If Josh Smith‘s sprained left knee that kept him off the court the last 4:20 turns out to be serious and he misses some crucial games in Boston, this series might become much easier for Boston than first perceived.

 

 

 

 

 

Philadelphia 109, Chicago 92

 

The Bulls played 27 regular season games without their reigning MVP Derrick Rose. They were able to hold their own and post a 17-8 record with C.J. Watson at the helm. However, there is a huge difference between regular season basketball and playoff basketball, and that disparity couldn’t have been more apparent Tuesday night. After a first half in which Joakim Noah put the team on his back and helped bring his team a 55-47 lead, it looked as if the top-seeded Bulls just had too much talent for the mediocre Sixers to contend, with or without Rose. The Sixers had different plans in mind. After a blitz of a third quarter when they outscored Chicago 36-14, Philadelphia cruised on to the win. Jrue Holiday had the best playoff game of his young career, putting up 26 points on 11-15 shooting and dishing out six assists. Backup point guard Lou Williams had a similarly effective night, putting up 20 points on 8-13 shooting and six dimes. The Bulls interior defense that was so heavily praised during the regular season was torn apart by these speedy guards as their team collected 52 points in the paint compared to the Bulls’ 32. The Sixers now have the best point guard on the court in Holiday and the momentum going back to Wells Fargo Arena. The Bulls currently stand 0-1 without Rose in the playoffs and could possibly be 0-1 in playoff series without Rose.

 

 

 

 

 

Denver 100, Los Angeles 104

 

Even though the score ended up being a tight one, don’t be confused about where this series stands. The Lakers just have too much Kobe Bryant and too much Andrew Bynum for the small and inexperienced Nuggets to handle. Los Angeles held a 92-79 lead with 7:00 to go and a 98-91 with 2:00 to go before the Nuggets tried everything in their power to make a comeback. Bryant and Bynum would shut this thought down, scoring eight of the Lakers last 12 points. Kobe will always get his, no matter how many shots he has to take. However, when he decides to shoot above 50 percent from the field, his opponent is in trouble. Kobe did just that Tuesday as he put together his 83rd career 30-point playoff game, second all-time behind that guy named Michael Jordan (109). Bynum had 27 points and nine boards, and it just seems as though the Nuggets don’t have an answer for his size. JaVale McGee has worked at stopping the Lakers big man, but the 30 pound weight difference seems to be too much for the lanky Nugget. Along with these two all-stars’ play, if Pau Gasol continues to contribute such balance basketball (13 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals, two blocks) and Ramon Sessions penetrates like he has since he became a Laker, the West better watch out. This team has the pieces and the Kobe to go all the way.

 

 

 

 

 

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NBA Playoffs Preview

27 04 2012


EASTERN CONFERENCE

 

(1) Chicago Bulls (50-16) vs. (8) Philadelphia 76ers (35-31)

Chicago won regular season series 2-1

There probably won’t be much drama in this one. Even though Derrick Rose might not be at one hundred percent, the defensive mindset of this team that led the league in opponent points per game (88.2) should help them cruise into the second round. And when backup big men Omer Asik and Taj Gibson step onto the court, the defensive intensity actually rises. They have too much depth and too much defense for the Sixers to have a chance in this series. Evan Turner said he preferred playing the Bulls over the Miami Heat… he is about to realize both of those scenarios do not end well for his team. Last year, the Bulls were stomping through the Eastern playoffs, but ran into the Miami buzz saw in the conference finals. Will America see a repeat this year?

 

 

(2) Miami Heat (46-20) vs. (7) New York Knicks (36-30)

Miami won regular season series 3-0

A lot of celebrity power, but not much substance. Miami is on a mission to avenge last year’s loss in the NBA Finals, and the Knicks just don’t have enough talent to keep up. The soon-to-be three time MVP LeBron James has had one of the most astounding statistical seasons (so far). Yes, he has his constant fourth quarter LeBron haters, but this is not a series where he will choke. He loves playing in New York’s arena, so road games will be just as nice as home games for him. Moreover, New York still isn’t sure just what their identity is. Where does Jeremy Lin fit in? How do they use Amare Stoudemire? (Will they ever figure out that last question?) How much should Carmelo Anthony carry the team? Melo has been playing the best basketball in the league the past month, but he won’t be able to play another month with his point guard-less team. Last year, the Celtics swept the Knicks in the first round, and it is very possible that Miami could unleash the same embarrassment on the guys from Madison Square Garden.

 

 

(3) Indiana Pacers (42-24) vs. (6) Orlando Magic (37-29)

Orlando won regular season series 3-1

No Dwight Howard, no chance. Pacers move on.

 

 

(4) Boston Celtics (39-27) vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks (40-26)

Boston won regular season series 2-1

Even though this matchup has two teams with similar records, there couldn’t be more disparity. This aging Boston team has found some life behind the athleticism and vision of Rajon Rondo as they finished the season 23-10. Rondo’s 24 straight games with double-digit assists is amazing in an era that values point guards scoring over distributing. He provides an impact similar to Dwight Howard and LeBron James: even with his solid statistics, his influence on the team can’t be contained on a sheet of paper. Even with Ray Allen’s injury, the Celtics have a breakout player in Avery Bradley that can temporarily fill in for a hobbled Allen. As long as the Hawks keep their core of Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, I don’t see this team ever emerging out of the middle of the East. The championship experience on the C’s is going to overwhelm a Hawks team that always manages to underwhelm in the playoffs.

 

 

 

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

 

(1) San Antonio Spurs (50-16) vs. (8) Utah Jazz (36-30)

San Antonio won regular season series 3-1

Utah and all of the team’s blue-collar players clawed their way into the final playoff spot in the West, and they have been rewarded with a matchup against one of the hottest teams in the league. The Spurs finished the regular season on a 10-game winning streak and two of their big three are finally healthy and fitting into the system. Very similar to last year, out of nowhere, San Antonio logged the best record in the league (tied with Chicago) with Tony Parker having another great season. The Spurs need to be careful, though. They were in this exact same position last year and got stunned by the eighth seeded Grizzlies in the first round. However, it won’t happen again. The experienced Spurs won’t let it happen twice. Even though the Jazz will be exiting the playoffs early after a hard fight, making the playoffs is huge step for this up-and-coming squad that could soon emerge in the West with their overwhelming frontline of Jefferson-Millsap-Favors to challenge some of the best.

 

 

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19) vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks (36-30)

Oklahoma City won regular season series 3-1

This is an interesting re-match of last year’s Western Conference Finals. However, neither team really has any momentum as both teams went 7-7 to finish the season, although Dallas has been playing some very uninspired basketball recently. However, it can’t be ignored that Jason Kidd hasn’t played basketball in a week, which should be a huge boost for the 39-year-old point guard. Last season, after a well-rested break before the first round of the playoffs, he scored 42 points in the first two playoff games. There’s enough veteran leadership on this team to potentially give the Thunder a tough series. As long as Dirk Nowitzki is playing basketball, the Mavs have a chance to do something in the playoffs. The players to pay attention to in this series are Delonte West and James Harden. West has come back from his broken finger injury and been the spark for the Mavs that they lost when J.J. Barea left the team. He utilizes picks very well and knows how to get into the paint. He brings some play off the bench that will be necessary since their opponent has the soon-to-be Sixth Man of the Year. However, if Harden is not himself after a certain Laker’s elbow assaulted his face, a shaken up Harden completely changes the outlook on this series. One weakness the Mavericks might exploit is the fact that Oklahoma City sits next to last in the league in assists. If they can get the ball out of the hands of All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Dallas could pull the upset. A lot has to go the Mavs way, though, as the league’s leading scorer might just burn the defending champs.

 

 

(3) Los Angeles Lakers (41-25) vs. (6) Denver Nuggets (38-28)

Los Angeles won regular season series 3-1

The Lakers will be without Ron Artest Metta World Peace, but Los Angeles should still have enough firepower to handle a Nuggets team whose highest paid player is Arron Afflalo. Initially it seemed like a great story that George Karl had a group of players that didn’t have an egotistical superstar. Every player bought into the team’s system and fed off each other. However, this is the time when superstars emerge. This is the time when big shots have to be made and championship contending teams know exactly whose hands the ball should be in when the game clock is winding down. The Nuggets don’t know whose hands should have the ball. Furthermore, the Lakers have just too much size in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol for skinny Javale McGee and breakout rookie Kenneth Faried to handle. The Lakers will move on, but if they do so too quickly, their suspended fighter will miss some crucial games in the second round.

 

 

(4) Memphis Grizzlies (41-25) vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers (40-26)

Los Angeles won regular season series 2-1

Both teams are coming off regular seasons that were improvements on previous years, and both teams are ready to take that next step. Most of the attention this year focused on Los Angeles with the acquisition of Chris Paul and the continued highlight-reel plays by Blake Griffin. Don’t overlook Memphis, though. Seriously. This is a team that held their own in a very tight Western Conference. With a healthy Rudy Gay (missed the playoffs last year) averaging 19 points and a healthy Zach Randolph (missed 37 games this season) helping a versatile Marc Gasol down low, the Grizzlies are bound to move on into the second round with their raucous fan base pushing them on. The only way the Clippers win this series is if Paul decides to string together a round similar to any of Dirk Nowitzki’s rounds from last year’s playoffs. The Grizzlies have the home-court advantage and have the advantage in this series. Also, last year this squad showed that they know how to perform under pressure when they won Game 6 in San Antonio to knock the top-seeded Spurs out of the playoffs. (Wait, and they might be playing the top-seeded Spurs in the second round…)

 

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Rising and Falling, Manufacturing, Signing, Voting, Wishing

17 02 2012

 

Even though Jeremy Lin has captivated the NBA world at the moment, there are other stories to be discussed. Here are the top 5 non-Lin NBA storylines going on right now:

 

1. The Texas Two-Step / the Nuggets and Blazers nosedive

There are two teams in the Western Conference sprinting into the All-Star Break while two other West teams can’t wait for the break to come…

The Dallas Mavericks started off the season in the worst way possible. After two blowouts and a loss on a buzzer-beater from Kevin Durant, the reigning champs were staring right at an 0-3 record and had no explanation for their horrible start other than a championship hangover.

Throughout the next few weeks, they gained a little momentum, but could only muster up enough wins to sit at 8-7. With all the competition in the West, it was looking as though it might be a long season for the Mavs.

Since this point in the season, Dallas has brought their play to another level – a level similar to one from last year. All the players have been figuring out their role on the team, especially Carter, West (who will unfortunately be out for a while with a broken finger), and Wright. They have beaten the Spurs, the Nuggets (twice), and the Clippers during their strong run.

Back-to-back road games against two top East teams – Sixers and Knicks – will give the nation a good idea of how good this team really is.

The San Antonio Spurs didn’t necessarily have a bad start to the season, but it was nothing special. Achieving the record for most times proclaimed as “too old” and losing Ginobili (broken hand) early on in the season, the old-timer Spurs looked to be eyeing a low playoff seed with a 12-9 record.

Tony Parker, however, decided to show everybody through his play he is not actually as old as people portray him to be. (He hasn’t even hit 30 yet.) During the Spurs current league-leading 9-game winning streak, the Frenchman has averaged 23 points and eight assists. Even though the media has made it seem like the Thunder are so far in front that nobody could possibly catch them, the red-hot Spurs only sit 1 1/2 games behind them.

San Antonio has won the first five games of their current 9-game road trip and will finish up against the Clippers, Jazz, Blazers and Nuggets.

Early on, the Denver Nuggets seemed to be proving to the league that a number one guy wasn’t necessary for success. Having six players scoring in the teens, the Nuggets have had no one particular player leading the team night in and night out. One night Lawson. The next night Gallinari. Then Nene and Harrington.

This balanced offensive attack led them to a 14-5 blitz right out of the gate. They grabbed the #2 seed in the West, sitting only two games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Carmelo Anthony trade was looking to me more than a simple dump off for Denver.

The past two and a half weeks have been anything but balanced for this young squad. They have given up over 100 points in 7 of their past 11 games, losing the chemistry that came so easily earlier in the season. They now are simply fighting for a playoff spot with other .500 ballclubs.

These struggles from the Nuggets show that even though a balance offensive attack has its pros, a leader to take the last shot of the game has to be present for close battles. When the game is coming down to a few possessions, who do the Nuggets give the ball to? Until this question can be definitively answered, the Nuggets can’t be considered to be an elite team.

A win against the Memphis Grizzlies (16-14) could give this falling team an emotional boost.

As I showed with a post early on, the Portland Trail Blazers seemed to finally have overcome all the constant injuries that have hindered their franchise since, well, Greg Oden came to town.

All the pieces a championship contending team needs seemed to be present: The All-Star leader (LeMarcus Aldridge), the high-speed guards (Raymond Felton and Wesley Matthews), the tough-as-nails swingman (Gerald Wallace), the force in the middle (Marcus Camby), and the spark off the bench (Jamal Crawford and Nicolas Batum). 

After a 7-2 start which included wins against the Sixers, Nuggets, Thunder, Lakers, and Clippers, many believe this team to be legitimate, including myself. The Rose Garden seemed to shake during these first few weeks and a high playoff seed looked to be a reasonable conclusion to the regular season.

The Rose Garden might still be loud for the Blazers, but the NBA community has slowly stopped talking about this team. They have lost 13 of their last 22 games even with Aldridge’s spectacular play, leading to his first All-Star appearance. They just can’t seem to play away from Portland, sitting at 5-10 on the road. This will hurt them if they (most likely) end up being in the bottom half of the playoff bracket and have to play at their opponent’s court more than their own.

Raymond Felton has become known for having “Feltdowns.” Shooting only 36% from the field and 20% from three-point territory, Felton has not been the point guard the Blazers expected him to be when they obtained him from the Nuggets this past offseason. Looking specifically at the Blazers loss to the Clippers last night, Felton had no points while shooting 0-7 from the field, two assists, and five turnovers. Unless he gets his act together or Crawford takes his spot in the starting lineup, the Blazers might have another decent season only to be finished early in the playoffs.

These four teams have gone in different directions recently:

Dallas San Antonio Denver Portland
8-7 12-9 14-5 7-2
19-11 21-9 17-13 16-15

*Even though the Mavs lost their best defender in Tyson Chandler this past offseason, they have shown strong defense comes from an entire team and not a single player. Not counting the first three games, the Mavericks have only given up 100 points three times on the season and one of those came in an overtime win against the Spurs. Their fifth best defense in the league (91.3 points allowed per game) comes from a team that doesn’t have a single player in the top ten in steals, blocks, or rebounds. They hold their opponents to 41.7% shooting, putting them at the top of the league for that category. With Dirk not being Dirk for a big chunk of the first part of this season, who knows where the Mavs would be right now without this consistent D.

 

 

 

2. LeBron’s words twisted

Picturing King James in a Cavaliers uniform for a second time in his career makes most sports journalists giddy… but this excitement has no reasonable substance to it.

The media went into a frenzy after LeBron James was asked whether he would ever play for Cleveland again later on in his career and answered that he would consider this option.

All of a sudden, every sports website didn’t wait a second to create a story pertaining to LeBron’s “inevitable” return to his hometown.

I think people need to be careful when athletes answer hypothetical questions about possible destinations. I don’t see this statement by LeBron needing any attention. How else was he supposed to respond to this question? After all he has done to his hometown, he would not go as far to say he would never play for them again or that he does not like the city. He would be labeling himself permanently as the most disliked NBA player (or athlete for that matter), and I just can’t see LeBron going as far as to completely shunning his hometown.

What James told an ESPN reporter today shows that his previous statement doesn’t mean much.

“The question is could I see myself playing back (in Cleveland),” James said. “I said ‘yeah’ in the sense of I don’t know what my future holds and I don’t want to take that (option) out. I answered truthfully.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that sounds like a player that put much thought into his answer.

This isn’t the first time a manufactured story has been created by the media. Last year, when the Texans lost Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart to injuries, a reporter went to Brett Favre and asked him if he would consider playing for the Texans if they wanted him. He gave a reasonable answer – yes, he would consider it. Storylines broke out about Favre possibly coming back from retirement once again. What ended up happening? Favre watched the rest of the season from his house as retired players usually do.

Before these types of quotes should be turned into stories, there needs to be more foundation behind the information. At the very least, there should be interest from the other side before major analysis takes place. I understand there aren’t many other players out there as skilled as LeBron James and he has to be considered one of the best basketball players in the league. But don’t forget that fiery Dan Gilbert still owns the Cavaliers and he took LeBron’s departure personally. Who is to say that Gilbert would even take the ringless King back after all the pain he has caused in Cleveland?

I don’t know what will happen in LeBron’s future NBA years, but I am not going to buy into the fact that he will one day be wearing #23 in Ohio… yet.

 

 

 

3. J.R. reunited with Baron and Carmelo

Just when the Knicks looked to finally be shedding their “selfish” basketball image, a former Denver Thugget decided to show that some things just can’t change so easily.

High-flying shooting guard J.R. Smith sent out a tweet today – “New York Knicks It Is!” -signaling that he will be joining the red-hot New York Knicks.

Smith played for the Denver Nuggets last season but decided to travel to China this year due to the perpetual NBA Lockout.

China would not let Smith return to the U.S. until his team’s season was finished, but a source with knowledge of the situation says Smith has been cleared.

New York will offer Smith a piece of their $2.5 million mini mid-level exception and a player option for a second year. He will be making his debut against the Dallas Mavericks this Sunday.

The Knicks are taking a risk signing Smith and they know it. He wants the ball to be in his hands, he will take ill-advised shots if he hasn’t touched the ball in a while, and his attitude has always been a problem.

I don’t like this move by the Knicks. The currently active Knicks team doesn’t have many ballhogs playing and everybody is sharing the ball. This has brought many people to the conclusion that Smith will be great for the Knicks who could use a shooter and a guy to take it to the paint.

What can’t be forgotten is that two other guys – Davis and Anthony – currently wearing suits to every game have the same mentality as Smith. J.R. Smith and Baron Davis played together for the Charlotte Hornets in 2004-2005. Smith later played with Anthony for the Denver Nuggets from 2006-2010.

All of these men have never been known for their unselfish play or lockdown defense, something that the Knicks are thriving on right now. Put these three men on the court together and they might have to request a second ball to be used during games. None of them will have any desire to put their effort into the defensive side of the court. I just don’t see these players being able to work out their differences – or similarities – while Lin attempts to run the pick-and-roll with Stoudemire and Chandler.

Aside from the play on the court, I don’t see Smith as a good pick-up, no matter the team’s system. In December 2006, he was one of the main contributors to a brawl between the Knicks and Nuggets. This was probably the worst fight the NBA has seen since the infamous Palace Brawl.  He has also had many fights outside of NBA gameplay throughout his career and never been much of a team player.

Unless China has changed Smith’s approach to basketball, expect the 26-year-old to hinder the Knicks’ recent success.

 

 

 

4. So long  contest judges

I can’t stop thinking “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” when looking at these new rules…

The league announced yesterday that judges will no longer be used for the All-Star slam dunk contest and fans will directly choose the champion. Also, instead of three rounds, there will be a single round of three dunks for each contestant.

The recent format has consisted of two rounds, with a panel of judges voting two players through the first round before fan voting in the second.

Blake Griffin has oddly declined to defend his championship from last year when he jumped over a Kia to win the contest. Iman Shumpert, Paul George, Chase Buddinger (really?), and Derrick Williams will be the guinea pigs for these new rules. (I have my money on Shumpert winning it this year. He is extremely athletic.)

Even though change can bring about improvements in many situations, I don’t see this being one of those. Having retired or veteran NBA players holding up those signs and putting their opinion out there adds just a great feel to the event. Seeing Hawkins, Erving, and Jordan together for this event is an awesome sight! I am not a fan of this change and will miss the presence of a panel for the contest.

 

 

 

5. Happy Birthday to one of (if not the) greatest

Even though this is not much of a story, I thought this man that was kind of decent at basketball deserves a shout-out.

Michael Jordan turns 49-years-old today. This former player single-handedly took the NBA to a new level it had never been before and may never be at again.

Jordan showcased a certain will that few NBA players have ever had. He would take over games no matter who or what stood in his way. There is not a single player I can think of that could come close to 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block… in a crucial Game 5 of the NBA Finals with the series split 2-2… with the flu.

To name some of his records would not be fair to him since he was so much more than numbers on a stat sheet. He played basketball at a different level than his competition and his six championship rings reflect his dominance.

Here’s to you Michael Jordan and your 49th birthday. Thank you for all you have done for the sport of basketball.

 

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