February 26, 2013

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NBA Playoff Races To Watch

By: Joe Williams

With about 25 games to go in the NBA regular season, we’ve got a pretty clear picture of the teams that will make the playoffs and the ones that will be in the lottery. What we don’t know is who will face who once the playoffs get started. And that will go a long way toward determining what happens in the NBA playoffs. Here are a few races I’ll be keeping my eye on as we inch towards the final game of the regular season.

Will the Lakers make the NBA Playoffs?

The Heat will be the top seed in the East. We know that. But the second and third seeds could go to Indiana, New York, Brooklyn, Chicago or Atlanta. These teams ought to be desperate to finish second or third. That will get them home-court advantage in the first round, but that doesn’t really matter too much. The important thing for these teams is to get on the other side of the bracket and avoid a second round meeting with the Heat. You don’t want to face the defending champs any sooner than you have to.

Speaking of avoiding the Heat…Boston and Milwaukee shouldn’t be too worried about anyone below them stealing a playoff spot. But they will be battling to get the seventh seed and avoid the Heat in the first round.

In the West, the final playoff spot is getting all the attention. Can the Lakers squeak into the playoffs? That’s what all the talk is about, but I’m not counting out Dallas or Portland yet. All three teams are tied with 30 losses at the moment and are going to have to get red-hot to catch Houston or Utah. On second thought, after looking at the Blazers schedule, I’m counting them out. Their final 16 games are against teams in the playoff race. If they find a way to get in, nobody will be able to say they didn’t earn it.

Of course, whoever does get that final spot is going to be facing the team with the best record in the NBA, San Antonio. It would be quite the series if the Lakers do end up as the eighth seed.

The Clippers and Memphis must keep winning to stay in the top four and get home-court in round one. With so many good teams in the West, home-court will be important.

One more race that is a little bit interesting will be to see which team finishes with the worst record and gets the most ping pong balls in the lottery. It looks like this will come down to Charlotte and Orlando.

April 24, 2012

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NBA End Of Season Storylines

By: Joe Williams

With only three days left in the NBA’s regular season, most of the playoff matchups are set but there are still plenty of interesting storylines to keep our eyes on. Here’s what I will be watching for.
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Worst team ever?

Could the greatest player of all time also be part of the worst team of all time? Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats have lost 21 games in a row. They must find a way to win one of their final two games (at Orlando or home against the Knicks) to avoid finishing the season with the worst winning percentage in NBA history. I hope they get that win.

Best in the East

It is a long shot, but the Heat could still sneak past the Bulls for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. It shouldn’t matter too much for either team unless they meet in the conference finals and go to a game seven. Either way, it is highly unlikely the Bulls will let home court advantage slip away. Chicago is also currently tied with San Antonio for the best record in the NBA so home court in the NBA Finals could still be up in the air if those teams were to meet.

The Bulls and Heat will have to battle to the end of the season for the East's #1 seed.

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Final playoff spot

15 of the 16 playoff spots have been taken. The eight seed in the West and the right to take on the Spurs in the first round will go to either the Jazz or the Suns. They meet tonight in Salt Lake City. It is pretty much win or go home. It’s not a game seven, but it doesn’t get much bigger in the regular season. If you don’t believe me, just ask my boss. He’s a Jazz fan.

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World Peace?

The elbow that knocked James Harden out of the game on Sunday certainly wasn’t very peaceful. World Peace claims it was unintentional. Whether it was or not, he’s likely to be suspended. The question is for how long. If it is more than just one game, he’ll be sitting out of playoff action. How will this affect the Lakers?

Whose town is it?

Speaking of the Lakers, they are just a half game ahead of the Clippers in the race for the Pacific Division title and the three seed in the wide open Western Conference. I am sure both teams want the division title bragging rights and even more importantly, to avoid the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round. And if you are the Clippers you really don’t want to lose your last two games and let Memphis steal the fourth seed and home court advantage in the first round matchup.

Scoring title

Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant are both averaging 27.9 points per game. I’m wondering how bad Kobe wants the scoring title. We’ll find out when we seen how many shots he takes in a possibly meaningless game at Sacramento on Thursday night. Durant’s season will be finished and Bryant will know exactly how many points he needs in the last game of the NBA’s regular season.

June 29, 2011

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Top NBA Free Agents

By: Rick Jarrell

NBA Playoffs are over. The draft has been completed. What now? Free agency!

The looming collective bargaining agreement, set to expire June 30, is more than likely going to hinder the beginning of the free agency period. Hopefully the owners and players can hash out their differences in a relatively short time span, but we’re still going to be forced to talk about offseason moves, even though they can’t happen yet, slightly longer this year.

The 2011 NBA free agent class is nowhere near as heralded as last year’s barrage of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, and David Lee. But there’s interesting players out, a few sure to sign max contracts.

Nene Hilario

Every team can use another frontcourt bruiser, and at 28 years old, Nene will surely garner at least a four year contract. Left behind in the midseason trade of Carmelo Anthony as the only remaining building block, Nene’s performance in the second half helped lead the team to the playoffs. Putting up 14 points and 7 rebounds a game, plus a block and a steal, could turn into a solid double-double provider night in night out on the right team. Plus at 6-11, 250 pounds, the man can play both the 4 and 5 positions.

The downside, which I actually see as an upside in some respect, is how Nene makes an impact. He’s a glass man – gets rebounds, tips balls to his teammates, and cleans up the mess. Running plays designed for him consistently is not likely to pay off. But his willingness to do the dirty work outweighs, and a backdoor layup is right up his alley.

Tyson Chandler

What a difference a year makes. A season ago, Tyson Chandler was deemed expendable by the Charlotte Bobcats after his worst statistical year and burgeoning knee problems. But the Dallas Mavericks took a chance that paid off. Chandler provided a key force near the rim during the finals, limiting the impact of Miami’s Big Three.

Chandler has a similar problem to Nene, to a greater degree, in that he is not offensive minded. Aside from rebounds and put backs, his value is on the defensive end. Blocks, steals, help defense, the whole lot. Chandler has readily admitted he likes defense, that’s where he belongs. Plus, even though it feels like he’s been in the ABA merged into the NBA, he’s only 28 years old. The knee may cause some concern, but someone (possibly the Mavericks), will take another chance.

Marc Gasol

The Memphis Grizzlies have stated they intend to resign their rising star. But after paying Rudy Gay and Mike Conley last summer and Zach Randolph a couple months ago, and uncertainty regarding salary cap rules, they may not have the funds left to make a deal. Gasol will surely have a high price tag. His sweet mid-range jumper (for which he does not jump) helped power the Grizzlies past the number one seed Spurs in the first round. Rebounding and defense come in the package, as well. But despite his size, don’t expect him to post up anyone on the block and back them down. Gasol is more effective on the move, using his mid-range shot and a variety of “trick” shots, in addition to put backs.

He’s the kind of player you’d love to see on your team. No one would have ever thought the “Pau Gasol trade,” where the Lakers and Griz swapped brothers years ago, would look like a decent move Memphis.

David West

A late addition to the bunch, and another front court player! West said this week he would test the NBA free agent market this summer, likely because of the constant rumors swirling around Chris Paul’s longevity in New Orleans (more Decision fallout!). Averaging a quiet 19 points and 7.5 rebounds for another season, West suffered a potentially career-threatening ACL injury before the playoffs. If healthy, he’s arguably at the top of this group (Gasol could be, too). But a serious knee injury for a 30 year old big man causes concern. He’ll probably get a decent sized contract, assuming he passes a physical, but the tail end of his contract may become an issue.

May 19, 2011

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The 5 most important players in the Western Conference Finals.

By: Joe Williams

The Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder are half way to a NBA Championship. They met on Tuesday night in the first game of the Western Conference Finals. Here’s a look at the five most important players in this series.

Russell Westbrook
There was a lot of talk during the Thunder’s series with Memphis about Westbrook taking too many shots and turning the ball over too much. When he takes care of the ball and helps Kevin Durant get open shots, they are as explosive as any duo in the league. When he takes bad shots and Durant goes nine minutes without a shot in the fourth quarter as he did in Game 5 against the Grizzlies, the Thunder will struggle. Westbrook hit just 14 of 44 shots against Dallas in three regular season matchups. If that number doesn’t go up….the Thunder will go down.

Shawn Marion

Marion scored at least 20 points twice against Oklahoma City in the regular season. There is no doubt that Dirk Nowitzki and company would love to have Marion do that a few times in this series, but what they really need from Marion is great defense against Kevin Durant. The NBA scoring leader averaged nearly 30 points against the Mavericks this season. If Marion can keep him closer to 20 than 30, Dallas has an excellent chance to return to the NBA Finals.

Peja Stojakovic

When his back allows it, Peja is one of the best shooters in the world. He hit 9 of 13 from behind the arc in games three and four against the Lakers. If he shoots like that against the Thunder and forces their defense to spread the floor, things will open up for Nowitzki. Dallas made quick work of the Lakers while the Thunder went seven games so Peja should be well-rested.

Nick Collison

Collison played a big part in the Thunder’s win over Memphis. He’s not going to do a lot that will show up in the box score, but he can do a lot that won’t. He was lucky enough to get to guard Zach Randolphand now it looks like he will get to try his luck with Nowitzki. Slowing Dirk down will certainly be more than a one man job. The less help Collison needs, the better for Oklahoma City.

Dirk Nowitzki/Kevin Durant

They are two of the top ten players in the league. It’s safe to assume they are going to get their 20-25 points and do what makes them great. Which one of these guys will get 30-35? We can also expect this series to come down to a game or two that goes down to the final minute or two. Somebody, and Nowitzki and Durant will be the first options, is going to take a shot with the game on the line. I expect one of these two to make a play that will send their team to the NBA Finals.

May 11, 2011

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More Than an Overtime Thriller

By: Sonya

Monday night was a treat for NBA basketball fans. In the first match up, the Miami Heat escaped the Boston Garden with an overtime win over the Celtics. The game was exciting, just as you would expect with arguably seven superstars involved, but after regulation ended all knotted up, the Heat took over with ease. The late game was the real treat.

By now, you’ve either seen the game I’m referring to or heard about it endlessly at various media outlets. The triple overtime extravaganza between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies. The game was by far the most entertaining of the 2011 playoffs, and the best second round game that I can remember seeing.

I won’t go into deep analysis of the game, as I’d be repeating thousands of other people. But I can say although the game was more thriller than Michael Jackson himself, was actually considerably sloppy. The Griz jumped out to an early 18 point lead, then relaxed on defense, allowing the Thunder to come back on the shoulders of Russell Westbrook. Not to be outdone, the Thunder built up a considerable lead only to allow the Griz to come back.

OKC should have taken this game. They would have won this game in regulation, if not for a Mike Conley game tying three. They would have won it in the first over time, if not for a game tying, off balance three by Greivis Vazquez (that’s right – Greivis Vazquez). They should have won it in the second overtime after Conley and OJ Mayo fouled out in the first OT. But it took three extra quarters to take the game. Memphis was exhausted. The youthful legs of the Thunder didn’t give in whatsoever, and it won them the game. The series is now tied at two games apiece.

But the game itself, and the whole series for that matter, has a league wide impact fans should be aware of. OKC and Memphis are both regarded as small market teams, home to places it is typically difficult to build a franchise for both geographical and economic reasons (I realize the Thunder have not been in Oklahoma very long, but if you had a choice between there and New York, where would you go?). But they’re building long term competitors through high value drafts and savvy trades and free agent signings, ready to compete with the large market teams in Dallas, Miami, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles on a regular basis.

The media prefers the big market teams make deep playoff runs, and as a fan, I agree it can be exciting to see old school rivalries play out. And I’ll admit, I will love the NBA no matter what, I’m hooked. But there’s something refreshing about an actual old school mentality being put into action right in front of your eyes.

The Thunder, for example, have drafted two core superstars in Kevin Durantand Westbrook. Three key role players – James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison – were also drafted by the team, as well. Former start Jeff Green, also drafted by OKC, was shipped to Boston in exchange for Kendrick Perkins to fill a glaring weakness for a true big man. They’re building a team that plays well together, and honestly enjoys being around each other. Hang out with each other on off days. Constantly tweet at each other. It’s like a close group of friends that complement one another, except they happen to be very good at basketball.

The Thunder aren’t attracting the most talented players possible with any glitz and glamour, and hoping they mesh. There are no overzealous endorsement deals, no appearances at South Beach clubs between playoff games. There’s no ego, just basketball.

Everyone has their opinion on what happened in NBA free agency last summer. As a lifetime Cleveland fan, I feel the right to have strongly negative feelings toward LeBron’s decision to leave. But I don’t. His reasons for leaving may not have been amicable, and there are a lot of mitigating factors involved, but if it was a purely basketball decision, he would have left anyways. The team around him was way below his caliber, as we’ve witnessed this season, and for him to fully blossom, he needed more talent around him. To be honest, I have more of a problem with Chris Bosh, simply because he’s not any good.

The larger issue at hand is the ability, and willingness, of players to leave the team they drafted, even if it’s their hometown, to go to a larger market. Following the money, rather than basketball greatness. These “big threes” that are spawning are entertaining, yes, but they also create a gap in competition. For every “big three,” there’s the teams and fan bases they left behind (I realize the two teams I’m championing were formerly located in Seattle and Vancouver, but a fan base unable to keep their entire team there is an entirely different situation).

The Thunder are different, though, and it brings a smile to my face to see them blossoming. Monday night’s game was nearly five hours long – and I stayed up until 2:00 AM to see the ending, then another couple hours laying in bed wide awake because my mind couldn’t process how awesome the game was. And I’m not even an OKC fan, nor have I ever been to the state of Oklahoma. There’s just something about the team, the city, the fans, that just seems right. It’s a wholesome underdog story, a rarity in the NBA, that may need to succeed for the future competitive balance of the league.