February 19, 2014

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NBA Second Half Predictions

By: Joe Williams

The NBA’s All Star break is officially in the rear view mirror and the trade deadline is just a couple days away. So now seems like a good time to take a look at what lies ahead this season.

Once again, the trade deadline will be a lot of talk and a lot of disappointment for the fans hoping their team will make a big splash. Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, Pau Gasol and other big names have been rumored as possible trades. But they aren’t going anywhere. As always, we’ll have a few solid players finding new homes but nothing that is franchise altering. Everyone is waiting for that to happen in the draft.

Milwaukee is well on its way to having the most balls in the draft lottery. The real “battle” will be between Philadelphia, Orlando, Sacramento, Boston, Utah and the Lakers so make sure they get the second or third best chance to win the first pick in the draft.

Philadelphia 76ers

Many teams, like the 76ers, are already looking to 2015.

The division winners will be Toronto, Indiana, Miami, Oklahoma City, L.A. Clippers and Houston.

Indiana will finish with the best record and home court advantage in the Eastern Conference. Miami will not care. The Pacers want to play at home. Miami wants to be healthy for the playoffs. Both teams will get their wish, setting up a tremendous Eastern Conference Finals.

Miami will not pull off the three-peat. Sooner or later their ability to turn it on and off at will will be over. They are next-to-last in allowing a 51.6 effective field goal percentage. Defense wins championships right? There is no D in Miami right now and it will come back to haunt them in the playoffs.

The other stroll (I can’t call it a race when all the teams are under .500) to watch is whether Michael Jordan’s Bobcats can hold off the Knicks and Cavs to make the playoffs. These teams have been unintentionally terrible and need to reach the postseason as they try to gain some much needed respect (Bobcats), try to keep Carmelo (Knicks) and lure LeBron James (Cavs).

In the Western Conference the Thunder have been the best team and are about to get Westbrook back. They’ll be the top seed. But the Spurs, Rockets, Clippers and Blazers are going to be in a fight for the 2-5 seeds. Meanwhile, Dallas, Golden State, Phoenix and Memphis are all playing well, but someone’s going to be left out.

Kevin Durant will be the MVP. He’s led the Thunder to the best record in the league – and done it without Russell Westbrook for just about the whole season. Durant is having a career best season in scoring, assists, and shooting. He is on a mission.

In the NBA Finals, I’m seeing the Indiana Pacers taking on Oklahoma City and as long as Westbrook is healthy and returns to his old form, the Thunder winning the title.

November 19, 2013

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Early Season NBA Observations

By: Joe Williams

We’re just 10 games into an 82-game NBA season so obviously there’s a lot of basketball left to play. But now that the games are for real, its time to take a look at what has happened so far compared to what we expected to happen.

Kobe Bryant

What will the Lakers' record be when Kobe Bryant returns?

Atlantic Division
Philadelphia was supposed to be the worst team in the league and the 76ers are leading the division. They have Michael-Carter Williams to thank for that. The rookie is making everyone forget they traded Jrue Holliday during the offseason and led the team to shocking wins over the Heat and Bulls. The future looks bright in Philly with Williams, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes (averaging a double-double), injured rookie Nerlens Noel and probably a high draft pick coming in the summer.

Brooklyn is supposed to be a threat to Miami and is in last place at 3-7. The Nets have been dealing with injury problems and that makes life even tougher with a first-time head coach. Good thing they are a veteran team and have an owner willing to do whatever it takes to win. Once they get healthy, the Nets should get back on track.

Central Division
Indiana has picked up where it left off in the playoffs when it nearly knocked off the Heat. The Pacers ought to be better this year.

In Cleveland its starting to look like the Andrew Bynum addition isn’t going to be the move that gets the Cavs back to the playoffs. They are going to need a lot more than six points and four rebounds from their big man.

Southeast Division
Charlotte is off to a pretty good start (for Charlotte) at 5-6 and that is with Al Jefferson only playing three games so far. He should improve their 30th ranked offense.

What’s wrong with Washington? Weren’t the Wizards supposed to be a playoff team? Not at 2-7 they aren’t.

Northwest Division
Portland is the hottest team in the league with seven straight wins. This appears to be a much improved team and another contender to battle for a playoff  berth in the stacked Western Conference.

Utah is running away with the race for the most lottery balls in the draft. The Jazz already have 11 losses. That’s four more than the next highest. Will it be Wiggins or Parker?

Pacific Division
Phoenix may be the biggest surprise so far at 5-4. The four losses are by a combined 13 points and that includes games in San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Impressive start, but will it last?

There is still no word on when Kobe will be back but it already looks like it might be too late with so many great teams in the conference, the Lakers look like the 10th best right now.

Southwest Division
New Orleans is a Wednesday night win over the terrible Utah Jazz from getting to .500 and they’ll still be the worst team in the best division in basketball.

San Antonio has nine players averaging at least seven points a game. Some teams don’t even have nine guys they will put on the court.

June 26, 2012

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Dishing out NBA Postseason Awards

By: Anson Whaley

The NBA doled out its regular season awards earlier this year. But with the postseason recently concluded, here’s a look at some awards I’d hand out based solely on the playoffs.

The NBA playoffs now over, it is time to give out the postseason awards.

Most Valuable Player: Lebron James

After a few disappointing postseasons, James finally put it all together and grabbed his first ring. Make no mistake about it – he had plenty of help along the way, particular from Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Mike Miller. But James made big play after big play and really was the best player in the postseason. James not only led the league in scoring in the playoffs, but also topped his team in rebounds and assists. Even though he got some assistance, there’s virtually no chance Miami wins the title without him. James was the regular season MVP and carried that over into the postseason.

Top Rookie: Kenneth Faried

A vote could be given to the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, who finished second in scoring and rebounding. But Faried gets the nod here because, well, he was first in each category. Leonard’s team went deeper, but Faried was the only rookie to average a double-double with 10.4 points and 10.0 rebounds a game in the Denver Nuggets’ sole series against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nuggets almost pulled off a first-round upset, forcing the Lakers to seven games and Faried was clearly a big part of that, giving Los Angeles fits inside.

Top Sixth Man: James Harden

Harden was the runaway Sixth Man of the Year in the NBA’s regular season and he’s also my pick for the best Sixth Man in the postseason. Harden, ironically, was one of the reasons the Thunder couldn’t keep up with the Heat in the Finals as his offensive numbers dipped dramatically. But if you take his entire body of work into account (16.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game), he’s a pretty easy selection here. Harden reached the 20-point mark five times and had 19 points on three additional occasions. The simple fact is he would start for nearly every other team in the league.

Top Coach: Erik Spoelstra

Don’t misunderstand – I don’t think Spoelstra is the best coach that was in the playoffs. But he did something that he wasn’t able to do last year … motivate the Heat to win the title. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Scotty Brooks could have been given this award as well, but in the end, he fell just short. There’s no doubt that the Miami Heat are a more experienced and, quite simply, a better team. But guess what? They also were last year and failed to close the deal. Spoelstra’s team also had to deal with some adversity along the way. Star forward Chris Bosh missed several games due to injury and despite owning home-court advantage, the Heat also trailed in series against the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics. Regardless of what you think about Spoelstra, he pressed the right buttons this year and deserves to get some recognition.

Biggest Disappointment: Ray Allen

I could easily go with Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough here since the forward had a dismal pair of series against the Heat and Orlando Magic. Hansbrough not only saw his minutes shrink, but his scoring was cut by more than half. He also rebounded less and shot worse than he did in the regular season. But my vote goes to Allen simply because more is expected of him as a former All-Star. He had some great games, but also had plenty of stinkers, including a 5-14 stretch over three games against the Philadelphia 76ers where he scored a grand total of 13 points.  In particular, Allen’s three-point shot was missing. He shot 45% from that distance in the regular season, but made only 30% in the playoffs. Allen also scored just over ten points in the postseason this year and that simply wasn’t enough – even for an aging veteran.

May 7, 2012

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Injuries Should Pave Way for Miami Heat to Reach Finals

By: Anson Whaley

Despite assembling a trio of some of the league’s biggest stars last year, the Miami Heat were unable to win the NBA championship, falling to the Dallas Mavericks. They received a bit of a pass since it was their first season together, but that won’t be the case if Miami fails to bring home the franchise’s second title this year.

The Heat may not have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this year, but there’s little doubt they are the favorites to advance to the Finals because of the huge rash of injuries to key players.

Miami’s already on the brink of disposing of the New York Knicks, leading their series 3-1 in the first round. The Knicks might have been in better shape against LeBron & Company if they were a bit healthier. New York was already without rookie sensation Jeremy Lin (knee injury) since late March. But then came Iman Shumpert’s torn ACL and a bizarre hand injury to starter Amare Stoudemire, who somehow thought punching a fire extinguisher case out of frustration after the team’s Game 2 loss was a good idea. After sitting out the third game, Stoudemire returned for Game 4. But missing Lin and Shumpert has definitely hurt the team in this series.

The Chicago Bulls, perhaps the best team in the entire league with a 50-16 record, were dealt a cruel blow in their first round series. With only a little over a minute to play in their first playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers, star point guard Derrick Rose tore his ACL and, just like that, his season was over. Rose was the team’s leader in scoring and assists and without him, the Bulls have been a shell of their former selves. Chicago won that first game, but has fallen short in the past three without Rose. And as if that weren’t enough of a hurdle to overcome, the Bulls lost center Joakim Noah in Game 4 to an ankle sprain. Even if they can somehow fight back and make it a series against Philly, there’s little chance they could do much more in the playoffs.

The Orlando Magic were another team expected to contend for the title. That all changed, though, once star center Dwight Howard went down with a back injury late in the season. Power forward Glen Davis has stepped up in his absence, scoring 20 points a game in the playoffs and pulling in nearly ten rebounds. But the team clearly misses Howard, who was their regular season leader in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals. Howard’s defensive impact is just as important as the one he makes on offense and the Magic are a weaker team on both ends without him.

There are also the aging Boston Celtics. The Celtics have been relatively healthy, but shooting guard Ray Allen missed the first two games of their opening series against the Atlanta Hawks. He’d been out for the past month with bone spurs in his foot, and even though he’s back, is still trying to get back into game shape.

Miami isn’t a lock to win the East by any stretch of the imagination. The Indiana Pacers are having a strong season and as one of the league’s best rebounding teams, could give the Heat some trouble. And the Atlanta Hawks’ sixth-ranked defense might be able to challenge Miami’s explosive offense as well. The Heat are a combined 6-2 against those two teams in the regular season, but in the playoffs, the intensity will be ratcheted up significantly. Despite all that, though, it’s clear that with all of the injuries to the Eastern Conference this season, Miami has a clear shot at reaching the Finals again.

April 16, 2012

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What’s Next for Isiah Thomas?

By: Anson Whaley

After a third consecutive disappointing season at Florida International University, Isiah Thomas was fired from his job as head coach of the men’s basketball program last week. For Thomas, it was yet another subpar bullet on his non-playing resume.

Isiah Thomas' career off the court hasn't been as successful as his days on it.

Thomas was brought in after many consecutive losing seasons and was never able to turn it around at FIU. He didn’t even come close to a winning season and is leaving with a 26-65 record. Still, even with such little success, Thomas and his players were still shocked by the decision.

FIU wasn’t the only place where Thomas has had trouble, though. He left as an executive with the Toronto Raptors after only a few seasons without accomplishing all that much. Thomas later became the owner of the CBA, but the league quickly became bankrupt shortly after he left. After that, he became the coach of the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks. While he had some success in Indiana, leading the Pacers to the NBA Playoffs in each season, he couldn’t get the team out of the first round. That, however, was better than what the Knicks accomplished under his tenure – never reaching the postseason in either of his two seasons there.

It was at FIU where Zeke was going to have a fresh start. A Hall of Fame player, there was no reason to think that he couldn’t at least bring the program into respectability. While it’s true that he didn’t have college coaching experience, his name alone meant that he should have been able to recruit reasonably well. But after three straight losing seasons, the administration decided they’d seen enough.

So that begs the question – what’s next for Isiah? Obviously, any number of non-sports business ventures could be available. But if Thomas wants to stay in basketball, his options might be a bit limited.

It’s hard to imagine Zeke will get another head coaching job right away. He’s had limited success in the NBA and virtually none on the collegiate level. Sure, there’s high school or prep school, I suppose. But jobs at the elite high school level are hard to come by and it’s hard to imagine him dropping down that far, anyway.

If Thomas wants to get back into coaching, he may need to accept an assistant job. His best bet may be to land with a team that has a coach almost ready to retire or move on to another job. If he does an admirable job in that role, he could be named as a successor and given another shot.

Another realistic opportunity for Thomas might be as a color commentator. Regardless of what you may think of the job he’s done as an executive or coach, there’s no doubt Thomas knows the game of basketball. Whether he can accurately explain the happenings of a game on TV may be another matter, but I think it’s a role that could work. He also has experience in that job as he previously served as an analyst in the NBA on NBC series with Bob Costas.

Lastly, he could go the front office route. His track record in that arena isn’t particularly impressive, but a job as an assistant or even a scout probably isn’t out of reach. I don’t see an organization handing over the keys to an entire franchise to him as a general manager just yet, but there are any other number of front office roles he could fill.

Where Thomas finally lands is anybody’s guess. But he’s still young enough that the odds of him coming back to basketball in some capacity are high.