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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My Far-Too-Early Early 2013-14 NBA Playoff Positions

8 07 2013

Having a few spare moments at work today, I thought I would share my 2013-14 NBA seeding predictions…at the moment. These are subject to change. Please stay tuned.

West                                                                            

1. Clippers                                                                 

2. Thunder              

3. Warriors

4. Spurs

5. Rockets

6. Grizzlies

7. Timberwolves

8. Blazers

Almost made it: Pelicans

 

East

1. Heat

2. Pacers

3. Bulls

4. Nets

5. Knicks

6. Cavaliers

7. Wizards

8. Hawks

Almost made it: Pistons

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Elevating Their Game

23 11 2012

 

 

O.J. Mayo – Dallas Mavericks

2011-2012 Season: 12.6 PPG, 40.8 FG%, 36.4 3P%, 77.3 FT%

2012-2013 Season (13 games): 22.2 PPG, 50.3 FG%, 56.8 3P%, 86.2 FT%

 

 

Nicolas Batum – Portland Trail Blazers

2011-2012 Season: 13.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.0 SPG

2012-2013 Season (11 games): 20.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.2 APG, 2.0 SPG

 

 

James Harden – Houston Rockets

2011-2012 Season: 16.8 PPG, 3.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 31.4 MPG

2012-2013 Season (12 games): 24.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 38.3 MPG

 

 

Kemba Walker – Charlotte Bobcats

2011-2012 Season: 12.1 PPG, 4.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 36.6 FG%

2012-2013 Season (10 games): 18.8 PPG, 5.5 APG, 2.4 SPG, 44.0 FG%

 

 

 

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Easy as 1, 2, 3

25 05 2012

 

Bringing D-Will to Dallas should clearly be the Mavs main priority going into this offseason. Well, that priority is in the hands of some Ping-Pong balls.

The NBA uses a lottery system to decide the top three draft picks. Landing the worst record in the NBA will not guarantee the No. 1 overall pick, but it gives the best chance in a game of chance.

 

How the lottery system works:

1. Fourteen Ping-Pong balls are labeled 1 through 14.

2. Each team will receive a certain number of 1,000 possible four-number combinations. (There are 1,001, so one is not provided to the teams.) The worst the record, the more combinations for a team. For example, the Charlotte Bobcats – the team with the worst 2011-2012 record – will be given 250 combinations and the Washington Wizards – the team with the second worst record – will be given 199 combinations and so on until all 14 teams have their appropriate digits.

3. After the balls tumble in the lottery machine for 20 seconds, four Ping-Pong balls come out in a timely manner. The team that received that four-number combination (the order does not matter) automatically takes the first pick.

4. The balls are then replaced, and the same process takes place to decide who will take the next two spots in the draft. If the one combination that is not assigned comes out (what are the odds? oh wait…), officials go through the process again.

5. After the top three picks, the rest of the teams take their placement based on their record. Therefore, the Bobcats can be no lower than fourth.

 

Right before the NBA trade deadline this year, the Portland Trail Blazers sent swingman Gerald Wallace to the New Jersey (soon-to-be-Brooklyn) Nets for some insignificant players and a significant 2012 draft pick protected through No. 3.

What this means is if the Nets land the No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 pick in the draft lottery Wednesday, May 30, that draft pick stays in Brooklyn. If they only fall down to No. 4, off it goes to Rip City.

The Nets finished with the sixth worst record in the league at 22-44. Receiving 63 combinations for this placement, the Nets have a 6.3 percent chance of getting the top pick, a 7.1 percent chance of getting the second pick and a 8.1 percent chance of getting the third pick.

 

So, how do all these numbers for the Nets relate to the Dallas Mavericks?

If these Nets do have luck on their side and get one of these top three picks, consequently keeping the pick, they just landed the key to bringing Dwight Howard to their franchise, and it will then happen.

Through recent transactions and statements made by management, it is blatantly obvious that the Nets main concern is to win right now (which looks to be a difficult task for their franchise of late) instead of building for the future. They have a star point guard in Deron Williams that does not waiver like D12; he knows what he wants in an organization. As an unrestricted free agent this summer, he will choose where he wants to go and not where others tell him to go – what a crazy thought…

If the Ping-Pong balls bounces in the Nets favor, they will use their pick to package a deal for Howard. There is absolutely no other scenario with a top three pick in Brooklyn.

With Howard in Brooklyn, a haven for any professional sports league franchise, there is no doubt that D-Will will choose to sign an extension with the Nets. Yes, Dallas is his hometown, and yes, owner Mark Cuban has always treated his players very well. But come on. Brooklyn? Dwight Howard? Jay-Z? Williams would go no where with Superman flying into town.

The Mavs have one mission this summer: bring Deron Williams home. Don’t be confused – it doesn’t matter what Cuban or Carlisle says to the media because they have to be politically correct about this issue. There are other free agents such as Roy Hibbert, Steve Nash and Eric Gordon that would be solid pieces for the franchise… but target A, B and C is Deron Williams, and everybody in the Mavericks front office knows this.

Not only would this move allow the Mavs to have a franchise point guard for years to come since D-Will said he plans to stay with his next team for the rest of his career, but it leaves the option of Dwight Howard somewhat open. Even though the idea of the “three Ds in Big D” that has swirled through Mavs fans minds seems more unlikely than the New York Knicks deciding to let Jeremy Lin go, Williams coming to Dallas is step one in that two step process, leaving the idea in General Manager and President Donnie Nelson’s dreams.

With a package sending Howard to Brooklyn for another package with a top three pick, the Mavs would have to go to their backup plan… which would be a very apparent backup plan.

Convincing Williams to wear the blue and white instead of the black and white is exceedingly better than any other conceivable Mavericks plan for a multitude of reasons. The main one though pertains to the fact that Cuban forced a “bridge year” on his franchise this last season in order to make a big splash in this summer’s free agent pool. What this means is that Cuban let four key components to a championship squad go (to the great dismay of the Mavs fandom) because of the thought of signing Deron Williams and Dwight Howard this summer. He gave up the legitimate chance to repeat as champions for a tasty future.

Since Howard signed an extension with the Magic for one more season, that leaves Cuban with one fish. The fish that swam through the Colony in Dallas 11 years ago.

So, this Dallas hope of D-Will coming back will stay alive or quickly die with the picking of four white Ping-Pong balls. This hope can all but be dashed as Brooklyn would get their pair of superstars that could match any other superstar duo in the league.

This hope no longer lies in the hands of Deron Williams.

This hope lies in the hands of the official who manages the lottery machine. Good luck, Mark.

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In Case You Missed It…

17 03 2012

Aside from all the March Madness, the past few days have been some of the busiest sports days I have ever seen. Here’s a rundown of what has happened in case you missed it…

 

NBA

  • Derek Fisher is no longer a Los Angeles Lakers. The Purple and Gold traded him and a 2012 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for potential-filled center Jordan Hill. The Rockets had a game against the Clippers on Saturday but Fisher did not show up. This breaks his league-leading record of 537 consecutive games played. This was not an easy move for long-time teammate Kobe Bryant to take in.
    • “Very difficult,” Bryant said. “I’m not used to it because I’ve been with him my  entire career, aside from that little stint that he had away from us. So, it’s very different for me. It’s pretty weird.”
  • Unlike Dwight Howard, who decided to stick with the Magic at least one more season, Deron Williams has made it clear he wil opt out of his current New Jersey contract this upcoming offseason and become an unrestricted free agent. Even with the Nets most recent “win now” move, all signs are pointing to a new team for D-Will. Unless the Nets make the playoffs and compete at a high-level, he has to be gone. His destination would seemingly be either Dallas or Orlando.
  • The Portland Trail Blazers have finally given up on their 2007 No. 1 overall pick and waived Greg Oden. Even though he has played only 82 games the past 4 1/2 seasons and has never been able to get healthy, he has stated he will stay away from NBA teams for a while and try to heal his body. This has to be considered one of the biggest flops with a No. 1 overall pick, especially with what Kevin Durant has done since he came into the league.
  • The Portland Trail Blazers fired Nate McMillan after 6 1/2 seasons when his club never made it out of the first round of the playoffs. Even though this sounds like a coach that needed to go, it’s unfortunate he had to because he brought the Blazers back to relevancy even though almost every single one of his seasons were filled with injuries. He is a great coach that will easily find another job. This might have been the first season when his team was finally relatively healthy, but with the Blazers’ current sub .500 record, a change needed to take place.
    • The Blazers organization wasn’t done with their huge shake-up. They traded Marcus Camby to the Houston Rockets for Jonny Flynn, Hasheem Thabeet (he is, in fact, still playing), and a future second-round pick. Blazers’ owner Paul Allen clearly wants to leave the Oden-Roy-McMillan era completely behind him and move forward with a Aldridge-Matthews-Batum core. Their frontcourt now looks to be very weak as Joel Pryzbilla (came out of retirement this year) and Kurt Thomas (39 years old) will have to carry most of the load at the center position. Once all of the Blazers’ picks are cashed in, it will be easier to see what their new identity is.
  • As Derek Fisher leaves Hollywood, a young point guard has stepped into his role. The Los Angeles Lakers sent Luke Walton (yes, after 11 seasons in the NBA, he’s finally playing somewhere else than L.A.), Jason Kapono, a 2012 first-round pick and the right to swap the Miami Heat’s 2013 first-round pick with the Lakers’ first-rounder to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Ramon Sessions and Christian Eyenga. Even though this trade looks like a mess, it boils down to one player: Ramon Sessions. He backed up Steve Blake in his first game with the team but eventually might take the starting point guard position. He is a scoring point guard and will look to take it into the paint. This radical change to the identity of the Lakers’ backcourt might give them just enough firepower to make a few more playoff pushes with the player that has the fifth-most points all-time.
  • Stephen Jackson is headed back to the place where he received his one and only championship ring in 2003. The San Antonio Spurs sent Richard Jefferson and a 2012 first-round pick to the Golden State Warriors for the hot-headed shooting guard. (Interestingly, he played a total of zero games with the Warriors before this most recent trade.) Even though the Spurs have been unable to prove they can be successful in the playoffs with their new offense-first style, I think Jackson will fit in with their new tempo. Greg Popovich is a no-nonsense kind of coach and won’t put up with any shenanigans from Captain Jack. Also, that nickname will have to go if he wants to buy into what the Spurs are selling. Being a part of the Warriors, Bobcats and Bucks the past 6 1/2 seasons, he hasn’t had to worry about winning; he has focused on himself and his stastistics. Now, he will need to put the team before himself to be successful. Can he do that? The Spurs are willing to take that risk.
  • In one of the oddest deals to take place on Thursday, three teams traded some unexpected names. Sending Nene to the Washington Wizards, the Denver Nuggets acquired Javale McGee and Ronny Turiaf from the Wizards. The Los Angeles Clippers also sent Brian Cook and a 2015 second-round draft pick to the Wizards for shoot-happy guard Nick Young. The Nuggets did not get the good end of this deal as Nene is a much better player than McGee. Denver must have been worried about Nene’s health and thought that they might as well bring more youth to their squad since big man Kenneth Faried has been playing so well. The Clippers should be very happy because Nick Young will be able to partially fill the role that Chauncey Billups left behind when he went down with a season-ending injury.
  • Two Eastern Conference playoff teams made a few trades for the present, losing part of their future.
    • The Indiana Pacers acquired Leandro Barbosa from the Toronto Raptors for a second-round pick. This gives the Pacers yet another role player to make them easily one of the deepest teams in the league. Paul George has averaged 30.2 minutes per game this season and will gladly let Barbosa take some of those minutes. Dropping all the way to fifth, the Pacers need Barbosa to provide some consistent play off the bench.
    • The Philadelphia 76ers acquired Sam Young from the Memphis Grizzlies for the rights to Ricky Sanchez. Averaging four points less than his first two seasons with the Grizzlies, Young has not looked like the same player from his previous seasons. He eventually fell out of the Grizzlies’ rotation. Even with all these negatives, the Sixers are excited about what the 6-6 swingman can bring to the court.
  • The biggest stories of this year’s NBA trade deadline pertained to the players that didn’t get traded (Dwight Howard, Deron Williams and Pau Gasol). One of the most surprising players to stand pat is Atlanta Hawk’s Josh Smith even though multiple sources stated Smith wants out of Atlanta. This story has died down, but if the Hawks have another mediocre season followed up with a quick outing in the playoffs, Smith might remind his current team of the request.
  • The Golden State Warriors sent cash considerations to the Atlanta Hawks for a 2012 second-round pick. There isn’t much to this trade other than Atlanta trying to get under the salary cap.

NFL

  • The Bills emptied out there pockets and gave Mario Williams a contract worthy of the best defensive player to ever play the game receiving. (Does he deserve to be on that level?) The Bills gave the defensive end a six-year deal worth $100 million and $50 million of the contract is guaranteed. That guaranteed money is what makes this signing ridiculous; it stands as the NFL record for guaranteed money. From a monetary standpoint, they did overpay him. However, luring a superstar to play in the not-so-thriving Buffalo sports market is difficult to do without a grandiose offer. Since Williams had the same amount of sacks as the entire Bills team in 11 less games, he will surely make a huge impact and possibly push them into the playoffs.
  • It looks like the Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, and San Francisco 49ers are the finalists for the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. Who will be the team to take him? There is no clear front-runner right now, but it should be noted that Manning went to the University of Tennessee so he most likely has some ties in Tennessee. If he goes to the Broncos or 49ers, he would be taking the spot of a quarterback (Tim Tebow or Alex Smith) that won a playoff game last season. Whenever he makes his decision, be prepared to be inundated with Manning-Mania.

NHL

  • The Dallas Stars and the Pittsburgh Penguins are catching fire with their current play.
    • Even though the Stars have lost their last two games to Winnipeg and Chicago, they won six straight and 10 of 11 before that. They currently control the Pacific Division, leading the Phoenix Coyotes by two points. This would be big for a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2007-2008 season.
    • Having an eight-game winning streak earlier in the season, the Penguins have surpassed that streak with their current 11-game winning streak. When you tack on two other four-game winning streaks, it’s easy to see that this team is streaky. That’s why even with all their winning streaks, the New York Rangers still lead their division by a comfortable 10 points. With Sidney Crosby hopefully being fully healthy and ready to lace up his skates every time the Penguins play, they might be able to put together a run for the Atlantic Division title.

Tennis

  • On a Saturday that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were expected to put on a show in the BNP Paribas Open semifinals (their game was rained out and delayed), John Isner decided to create his own story. John Isner defeated top-ranked Novak Djokovic 7-6 (7), 3-6, 7-6 (5) as he had 20 aces against the No. 1 ranked player in the world. Even though this isn’t a Grand Slam tournament, it is still classified as an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event. Many of the top tennis players in the world travel to Indian Wells, California to compete. Isner will face Rafa or Roger in Sunday’s final. With the lack of American tennis success recently, a championship here would be great for our country.

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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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Blazing Ahead

6 01 2012

The 2011 Dallas Mavericks proved that sometimes a championship requires just a few pieces being added to a core group of players. The Blazers might have solved their puzzle.

The Portland Trail Blazers went into last night’s TNT game with the best record in the Western Conference, and they left the night with the best record. They took down the Los Angeles Lakers, 107-96, and now sit at 5-1 on the year. During their victory over the Lakers, they looked to be a legitimately contending squad.

Out of all the entire league, I haven’t seen a team yet with this much chemistry so early in the season. They proved their cohesiveness in their victory with only four turnovers the entire game. Sharing the ball happens easily and bad shot selection rarely occurs. Felton and Matthews pushed the tempo the entire game without forcing the issue.

LeMarcus Aldridge had a breakout year last season, averaging 21.8 ppg and 8.7 rpg. Many considered him snubbed by not being selected as an all-star. By bringing 28 points and 10 rebounds to the table against the Lakers, he showed the country one good season isn’t enough. The ability to have a 6-11 big man that can also shoot the ball from mid-range creates a very versatile lineup where the floor can be spread quite well. When Aldridge has Marcus Camby to join him in the frontcourt, they automatically become one of the longest starting tandems in the league.

Could this be the year the Blazers finally win a playoff series?

Gerald Wallace and Jamal Crawford are two of the newest pieces to this young Blazers squad and they have messed perfectly.

Wallace plays at one speed the entire game – hints the nickname “crash” since he always goes hard no matter the situation. J.J. Barea gave the Mavericks this exact feature night in and night out during their championship run. To put up numbers like he did last night – 31 points on 13-19 shooting – brings Portland a whole new type of toughness along with efficient scoring. On the other side of the court, standing at 6-7, Wallace is the epitome of a swingman: he can play and guard anyone from the 2 to the 4. His nonstop energy translates to the defensive end, and this quality for a ballclub plays an essential role for any team aspiring to go the distance.

The only downside to Wallace relates to his inability to create his own shot. He is more of a slasher that constantly moves without the ball. Well, Jamal Crawford easily picks up the slack. Having multiple 50 point performances in his career, Crawford knows how to put the ball in the basket. He doesn’t need any picks or screens to make a shot; simply give him the ball and he’ll create something out of nothing. How else would he have won Sixth Man of the Year in 2009-2010 with the Atlanta Hawks? He will shoot the ball a little more than desired and take a few forced jumpers but he provides more positives than negatives. If you look at the most recent NBA Champions – the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks – they both had Sixth Man of the Year winners coming off their respective bench (Lamar Odom and Jason Terry). The spark the 11-year veteran provides off the bench (17 points in 23 minutes against the Lakers) helps pump the team up if the starting squad is struggling or continue the flow established by the starters. I see this quiet off-season signing as one of the top pick-ups.

Having all the right pieces doesn’t directly translate to a championship – just look at the Lakers when they had Bryant, O’Neal, and Malone or how the Heat currently have Wade, James, and Bosh. Attitude plays an important role, and the entire team has to be on the same page. Based off what Crawford said last night during his TNT sit-down interview, the Blazers are on the right track. He discussed the team’s understanding that anybody and everybody can step up to the occasion and take on the role the team needs to them to play on any given night. Other than LeMarcus Aldridge – who they expect to get his points every night – it could be anybody else’s night. The ability to trust one another and enjoy playing together doesn’t show up in the box score but is vital to succeed during a full NBA season.

What happens behind the scenes and on the sideline can’t be ignored either. Bringing a team together and getting them on the same mindset starts with the coach. Management will present a team to a coach and then he goes on to put those pieces together to the best of his ability. 6-year Portland Trail Blazers Head Coach Nate McMillan has done a tremendous job altering this squad’s approach to the game. When Brandon Roy (retired) and Andre Miller (traded) commanded this team the past few years, McMillan relied on both of their post games in his offense. It wasn’t a very exciting style of basketball as the flow could never really be established. With speedy Felton and Matthews becoming integral pieces of their guard play, he has turned a team that was 24th in scoring last year into the 4th highest scoring team in the league. They have fun on the court playing together and it spreads to the viewers.

Last but not least, the Trail Blazers have tremendous fans. Even though the Blazers haven’t won a playoff game since 2000 (a downside if you are thinking about jumping on their bandwagon), the Rose Garden has always been one of the noisiest arenas to play in. The fans remain loyal through the thick and thin and always provide their team with the support they need.

For Portland to finally live up to the hype they have had for so long will lie heavily on their frontcourt’s ability to stay healthy. The Blazers have a 37 and 39-year old center (Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas) and an injury-riddled power forward (LeMarcus Aldridge) that make up their core big men, and other than that, there is not much there. If any one these players goes down for a lengthy amount of time, McMillan will surely have to make adjustments to his gameplan.

So, do the Blazers have a legitimate chance to come out of nowhere this year with all the Thunder talk and actually contend to win the Wester Conference in a Mavericks-esque sort of way? Since the Blazers don’t play in the Eastern Conference where the Heat and Bulls look to have control of the conference, I can see them making a push. Los Angeles and Dallas have a lot of work to do before they can even think about the playoffs, while Oklahoma City doesn’t seem to have the kind of depth Portland has. If this squad can continue to play with energy, bring solid team defense to the court night in and night out, and finally have an injury-free season (one word: Greg Oden…), don’t be surprised if this team makes some noise when May rolls around.

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