2018 NBA Finals Preview

Déjà Vu.

After a First Round that saw many close games and even a couple of upsets, the NBA Playoffs once again fell into the same cycle of predictability we have come to know it by for the last five years. That predictability has resulted in history being made once again with the NBA Finals featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors for the fourth straight season, a previously unheard of feat. 

In the Cleveland Cavaliers, what you have is a Rolls Royce driving around with spare tires. LeBron James has had a postseason that could quite possibly go down as the best an individual player has ever had, averaging 34 points, 9 rebounds, and nearly 9 assists per game while shooting 58 percent from the field. Not a single player on the Cavaliers has averaged more than 15 points per game this postseason other than Janes. The only player who comes close to this mark is stretch big man Kevin Love, who has only averaged just below 14 points per game this postseason, and his health remains a serious question mark after suffering another concussion in the Eastern Conference Finals.

LeBron has carried the Cavs kicking and screaming to the NBA Finals, his historic eighth straight appearance. LeBron hit a clutch game winner in game five and had a heroic game seven in the First Round against a more cohesive team in the Indiana Pacers. He was able to put the Toronto Raptors back into extinction in a sweep that also featured an impossible game winner in game 3 of said series. He was able to overcome the youthful, superstar-less, but dynasty in the making Boston Celtics with a sixth straight game 7 win. LeBron James has all but ended the G.O.A.T. conversation with his historic postseason. Even if he loses in the Finals again and his record in such series falls to 3-6, who carries a team like his this far into the postseason? Only LeBron.

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LeBron James has all but ended the G.O.A.T. conversation with his postseason run in 2018.

The Golden State Warriors mostly breezed by the first two rounds of the NBA Playoffs despite two time MVP Stephen Curry missing significant time due to injury. It was only when the Warriors ran into the Houston Rockets, a team built with the he sole goal of defeating the Warriors, did they experience any hiccups. The Warriors squandered a double digit lead in game 4 of that series with a historically bad fourth quarter by scoring only 12 points, no thanks to a disappearing act to Kevin Durant. That same disappearing act occurred again in game 5, but then the injury gods smiled upon Golden State once again by taking away the Rockets’ best performing player in the series, Chris Paul. With Paul lost due to a hamstring injury, the Warriors overcame a 3-2 series deficit to defeat the Rockets in seven games, keeping their impending dynasty alive.

Last year, there were questions as to whether or not the Warriors could overcome the collapse of their 3-1 series lead in the 2016 Finals with the arrival of the talented, but at the time not reliable, Kevin Durant. Durant ended most of that doubt with a Finals MVP earning performance, as the offensive juggernaut disposed of LeBron and the Cavaliers in five games. With a far less talented Cavs team in the finals this year, the collective offensive firepower of future hall of famers Stephen Curry, Kay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green should be able to overcome injury concerns with supposed LeBron stopper (there is no such thing) in Andre Iguodala, the Finals MVP in 2015. It’ll take a superhuman LeBron James to keep the series competitive, and while he’s more than capable of answering the bell, the Warriors dynasty shall be cemented with their third championship in four years.

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The Warriors have a chance at solidifying their dynasty in the 2018 NBA Finals.

Prediction: Warriors in 5.

Finals MVP: Stephen Curry.

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NBA Eastern and Western Conference Finals Preview

Eastern Conference Finals: 4. Cleveland Cavaliers Vs. 1. Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics have defied all odds in making it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Most had the Celtics DOA after prizes free agent signing Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome leg injury minutes into the season, but other prized off-season acquisition Kyrie Irving was able to propel Boston to the top of Eastern Conference in his absence. If not at the beginning of the season, most people especially had the Celtics as good as dead after Irving was pronounced out for the season due to knee surgery. They kept winning.

This is a testament to the great coaching prowess of Brad Stevens, who has gotten the most out of his young roster and has made a strong case for not only being the Coach of the Year, but also the best coach in the league. Reserve players like Terry Rozier have made star turns this postseason, and the development of young talent like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have the Boston Celtics future decade long run at success all but a given. 

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Brad Stevens has quickly ascended to the top of the NBA coaching ranks and has the Celtics primed for a decade long run of success.

Unfortunately, they have now run into their reckoning: LeBron James. LeBron has carried the Cavaliers well beyond the point most of his detractors had him going, especially since it took a herculean 7 game effort from “The King” for the Cavs to beat the Indian Pacers in the First Round. Very few had them beating the first seeded Toronto Raptors in the Conference Semifinals despite owning them the past two postseasons. James and the Cavs swept the Raptors and now have them partaking in an overhaul in their leadership. 

Even if the Cavs role players revert back to struggling like they did in the First Round, Boston is too young to dethrone “The King”. The likes of Brown and Tatum are no match for James, and much like how LeBron renamed the city of Toronto “LeBronto” in the Conference Semifinals, Boston will be renamed “LeBoston” after yet another dominant series against the Celtics and reach his eighth straight NBA Finals. 

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Much like he did against Toronto, LeBron James will re-name yet another city en route to his eight straight NBA Finals appearance.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 5.

 

Western Conference Finals: 2. Golden State Warriors Vs. 1. Houston Rockets

The current makeup of the Houston Rockets was constructed by analytically driven general manager Daryl Morey in an attempt to not only be the top team in the Western Conference, but to dethrone the Golden State Warriors as the Western Conference Champions. So far, the Rockets have accomplished the first step, as they have home court advantage over the Warriors after winning a franchise record 65 games in the regular season. 

The latter half of Morey’s master plan can accomplish its final goal in this upcoming series. Despite some hiccups, the Rockets have blasted past their playoff competition in convincing fashion, with a 50 point quarter in the first round and a close out performance of the ages from off-season acquisition Chris Paul, who has thrived along with the presumed MVP of the league James Harden. Houston is confident heading into the series, as center Clint Capela boasted the Rockets are better than the Warriors back in January after defeating them twice in their three meetings this season. 

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General Manager Daryl Morey acquired Chris Paul in the off-season as an attempt to take out the Golden State Warriors.

If the postseason play of the Warriors against the San Antonio Spurs and the New Orleans Pelicans is any indication, Houston shouldn’t be. Despite Stephen Curry not playing for over a month, including the First Round of the playoffs, he has been seamlessly reinserted into the lineup and Golden State looks as unstoppable as ever. Kevin Durant has more than picked up the slack, and continues to be the cherry on top of the already stacked sundae the Warriors have served for the last four seasons. 

Head coach Steve Kerr commented on how he felt about his team heading into the much anticipated match-up against Houston, saying he feels comfortable with where they’re out because his players have rings on their fingers. While it’ll definitely be an offensive fireworks show, one cannot blackout memory of Rockets superstar James Harden failing to get off a game winning shot and falling to the floor in Game 2 of the 2015 Western Conference Finals. He and Houston are built better to compete three years later, but it won’t be enough to execute the second part of their master plan. 

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Stephen Curry and head coach Steve Kerr aren’t fazed by the “new and improved” Houston Rockets.

Prediction: Warriors in 6.

The Toronto Raptors: A Legacy of Extinction

Toronto’s postseason underachieving is unrivaled.

Ahh the Toronto Raptors, a team birthed due to the popularity of the 1993 Steven Spielberg film “Jurassic Park” as part of the NBA’s thirst for the Canadian dollar. To be fair, I myself used to be a fan of this team when I was younger due to their logo and exciting superstar players. In their beginnings, the Raptors were just another expansion franchise struggling to remain relevant. In the early and mid 2000s, the Raptors were a bonafide fringe contdender. They have mistakenly taken this status and have attempted to sneak into the NBA’s Contenders Club with a fake I.D. Let’s revisit their franchise’s history.

1994: The Raptors are born due to then NBA Commissioner David Stern’s Manifest Destiny expansion into Canada along with the Vancouver Grizzlies. In a press conference in which the team’s name and logo were introduced, their first General Manager and partial owner, NBA legend Isiah Thomas, pops out of the team’s logo like a supervillian ready to inflect misery and sadness onto the city of Toronto.

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Isiah Thomas began as the team’s first GM and part owner in their darkest days.

1995-1996 Season: After a debut home win against the then New Jersey Nets, the first season for the Raptors goes as anticipated as the team struggles immensely on the court under the guidance of first year coach Brendan Malone. They somehow inexplicably beat the 72 win Chicago Bulls en route to an 21-61 season and start off an endangered species. There is promise, however, as the team boasts NBA Rookie of the Year Damon Stoudamire, who averages 19 points and 9 assists per game, and drafts UMass center Marcus Camby with the second pick in the absolutely stacked 1996 NBA draft. Next year should be an improvement.

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Damon Stoudamire won Rookie of the Year honors in the Raptor’s inaugural season.

1996-1997 Season: The Raptors don’t make the playoffs but improve to 30 wins under new head coach Darell Walker. Marcus Camby averages nearly 15 points per game while Damon Stoudamire averages 20 points and nearly 9 assists per game. They also select a raw but talented high schooler in Tracy McGrady with the ninth pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. The next season should see contention for a playoff spot.

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Marcus Camby and Damon Stoudamire looked to be the future of Toronto.

1997-1998 Season: The Raptors suffer a catastrophic set-back, finishing 16-66 and remain extinct. Head coach Darell Walker is fired mid-season and is replaced by Butch Carter. The team blows it up mid-season by trading away Damon Stodaumire to the Trailblazers. Toronto continues their reshuffling in the offseason by trading away Marcus Camby to the New York Knicks in exchange for tough-guy veteran Charles Oakley and mid-season acquisition Chauncey Billups is traded to the Denver Nuggets. The good news for the team is that they are able to swindle the hapless Golden State Warriors in the 1998 NBA Draft by trading forh overall pick Antwan Jamison for Tracy McGrady’s high-flying cousin, Vince Carter, the fifth overall pick. 1998 should see brighter days.

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Despite another 60 loss season, the Raptors acquisition of Vince Carter gave the franchise hope.

1998-1999 Season: Carter is able to reignite the fanbase with his tremendous leaping ability and wins Rookie of the Year by averaging 18 points per game as Toronto becomes the land of “Vin-sanity”. Players like McGrady steadily improve and the Raptors finish 23-27 in a lockout shortened season. Just imagine if this team had a full season to gel, they would surely be able to make the playoffs. The new millennium should see the Raptors rise from extinction and capture their first playoff birth.

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Vince Carter’s high flying dunks reignited the fanbase.

1999-2000 Season: The Raptors combination of savy veterans like Oakley and Kevin Willis and young guns in Carter and McGrady lead them to a franchise best 45 wins. The Raptors put themselves further on the map due to Carter’s Slam Dunk Contest win at the 2000 All-Star Game. They develop a unique home-court advantage in their first full season at the Air Canada Centre as basketball fever intesnifies in Canada. Sure, they’re the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and are facing the defending conference champion New York Knicks in the first round, but maybe they can shock the world.

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Carter won the 2000 Dunk Contest in spectacular fashion.

2000 NBA Playoffs: The Raptors are slapped around by Latrell Sprewell and the Knicks and are swept in three games. Head coach Butch Carter is blamed for this failure and is fired and replaced by coaching legend Lenny Wilkens. Sure, the team loses T-Mac to the Orlando Magic in the offseason but have gained more veteran leadership in Antonio Davis and draft Michigan State National Champion Morris Peterson in the first round of the 2000 NBA Draft. Next year will be their year.

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The Raptors were swept in their first ever playoff appearance in 2000.

2000-2001 Season: See?! The Raptors win a franchise best 47 games and make the playoffs as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Vince Carter officially solidifies himself as a superstar by averaging 27 points per game, good for fifth in the league. They can enact revenge on those darn Knickerbockers in the first round.

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2001 saw Carter finish fifth in the NBA in points per game and the Raptors have their best Season.

2001 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: The Raptors battle back from a 2-1 series deficit and defeat the Knicks in Madison Square Garden in a deciding Game Five. Savor this moment Toronto, it won’t come around very often. Their reward? A date with the Allen Iverson led 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.

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The Raptors got revenge on the Knicks in the First Round of the 2001 Eastern Conference Playoffs.

2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals: The Raptors battle valiantly against the Sixers but lose a heartbreaking Game Seven in which Vince Carter misses a fade-away jumper that would’ve won the game. Maybe Carter would’ve had more energy if he hadn’t attended his college graduation ceremony earlier that day. But who can be mad at this? Toronto exceeded expectations and Vinsanity will have plenty of cracks at the playoffs. Better luck next year!

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Carter missed the game-winning shot in the Raptors biggest game in franchise history at the time.

2001-2002 Season: Toronto becomes the last stop on Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon’s retirement tour in the hopes it will turn them into a true contender. After a 29-21 start, the Raptors lose 17 of 18 games, including 13 in a row, but bounce back with a 9 game winning streak and finish the season 42-40, good for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Vince Carter struggles with a knee injury throughout the season which causes him to miss the 2002 NBA Playoffs. They face an offensively challenged Detroit Pistons squad in the First Round, so maybe they have a miracle in them and can get Carter back for a long playoff run if they win the series.

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Carter missed time due to injury in 2002, including the playoffs.

2002 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: The Raptors cannot overcome the loss of Carter and lose in five games to the Pistons. But a healthy Vince next year should be just what the doctor ordered for next season.

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The Raptors could not overcome the loss of Vinsanity against the Pistons.

2002-2003 Season: The Raptors are sent back to the Stone Age with a 24-58 record.Carter becomes injury prone as he is limited to 43 games due to his previous knee injury. Lenny Wilkens is fired and replaced by Kevin O’Neil. Toronto is able to secure the fourth overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft and select Georgia Tech standout Chris Bosh as the next Raptors superstar. Next year the Raptors should emerge from their seeming extinction.

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The Raptors drafted Chris Bosh with the fourth pick in the legendary 2003 NBA Draft.

2003-2004 Season: Nope. The Raptors win only eight games after the All-Star break due to injuries and finish 33-49. Chris Bosh shows promise in his rookie season as his superstar turn looms. Kevin O’Neil is fired and replaced by Sam Mitchell in the offseason. While Carter has a bounce back year, he becomes frustrated with upper management, fearing the Raptors won’t build a contender.  This probably won’t end well.

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Bosh and Carter could not lead the Raptors back to the playoffs in the 2003-2004 season.

2004-2005 Season: Vince Carter plays just 20 games and is traded to the then New Jersey Nets in exchange for scraps, including an embarrassing saga in which the team buys out Alonzo Mourning’s contract and then states he did not meet the medical conditions to be cleared to play. Mourning plays for the Miami Heat later that season. Although Chris Bosh continues to improve and is now the team’s de facto superstar, the players openly clash with each other and head coach Sam Mitchell and finish 33-49. Extinction continues.

2005-2006 Season: Another meteor hits the Air Canada Centre and the Raptors suffer extinction yet again by finishing 27-55. Chris Bosh improves but gets injured. The also team falls victim to Kobe Bryant’s 82 point game masterpiece in a contest in late January. They are able to secure the first pick the 2007 NBA Draft and select the promising Andrea Bargnani from Italy and acquire T.J. Ford and Rašo Nesterović in the offseason. Maybe these moves made by newly appointed general manager Bryan Colangelo can turn this franchise around quickly.

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The Raptors won the Draft Lottery for the first time in franchise history and selected Andrea Bargnani from Italy with the first pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.

2006-2007 Season: Toronto emerges from the Stone Age and wins the Atlantic Division by tying their franchise record 47 wins and finish with the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Bosh averages career highs with 22.6 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Andrea Bargnani shows flashes of being a dangerous stretch forward for years to come. Head coach Sam Mitchell and GM Bryan Colangelo win Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year awards respectively. They have a chance at revenge by taking out ex-franchise player Vince Carter and the Nets in the first round. Does someone smell a playoff series win for the first time in six years?

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The team poses with NBA Coach of the Year winner Sam Mitchell.

2007 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: The Raptors cannot solve the rubik’s cube known as the Nets veteran leadership led by future hall of famer Jason Kidd and lose in six games to that darn “Vin-sanity” guy. But the Nets have been through this routine before, practice makes perfect and the Raptors should be able to build upon their success next season.

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The Raptors fell victim to Carter and the Nets in the First Round of the 2007 NBA Playoffs.

2007-2008 Season: The Raptors trend backwards despite another All-Star season from Chris Bosh and finish 41-41. They sneak into the playoffs as the seventh seed and face an upstart Orlando Magic team with a promising young big man in Dwight Howard. Perhaps this is Bosh’s moment to prove he is the big man on campus in the East?

2008 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: Orlando works their Magic and transports the Raptors back to the stone age by defeating them in five games. Chris Bosh turns out not to be the kryptonite to Orlando’s Superman, Dwight Howard, and the team decides to go all-in during the offseason by acquiring the services of former All-Star Jermaine O’Neal from the Indiana Pacers to help bolster their frontcourt. Next year is their year to rise from the ashes!

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The Raptors were no match for Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the First Round of the 2008 NBA Playoffs.

2008-2009 Season: The team gets off to a disappointing 8-9 start, head coach Sam Mitchell is blamed for this underachieving and is fired and replaced by Jay Triano. The Jermaine O’Neal experiment does not work and he is traded mid-season to the Miami Heat for another former All-Star in Shawn Marion. This experiment also does not work as the Raptors finish 33-49 and wastes another career year from Chris Bosh. Toronto may be back in the desolate Stone Ages but they draft USC superstar and high-flyer DeMar DeRozan with the ninth pick in the 2009 NBA Draft in the hopes he will be the next Vince Carter. They also steal Hedo Türkoğlu away from the Portland Trailblazers and totally reconstruct their roster. With the final year of Chris Bosh’s contract looming large, they have better be good in order to keep Bosh in Canadia.

2009-2010: The Raptors miss the playoffs yet again with a 40-42 record and waste Chris Bosh’s best season as a pro. He chooses to join forces with Dwayne Wade and LeBron James (*remember this name) to form “The Big Three” in Miami with the Heat in the offseason. Oof.

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The Raptors were spurned by Chris Bosh as he migrated South to Miami in 2010.

2010-2011 Season: Andrea Bargnani has a career year and DeMar DeRozan improves mightily. This does not save them from extinction as they are absolutely devastated by Bosh’s spurning and finish 22-60. But there is hope, as Jay Triano is fired as coach and is replaced by Dwane Casey, a longtime assistant coach who devised the defensive game plan against LeBron James in the 2011 NBA Finals to make him look weak and secure the Dallas Maverick’s first NBA Championship. The Raptors won’t remain in the Stone Age for long.

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The Raptors struggled immensely in the 2010-2011 season.

2011-2012 Season: Toronto remains extinct in a strike shortened season and finishes 23-43. Chris Bosh wins his first title with the Miami Heat, a reminder of what could have been.

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Coach Dwane Casey was brought in to rebuild the franchise into a winner.

2012-2013 Season: The Raptors now boasts an intriguing backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and journeyman Kyle Lowry but finish the season 34-48. General Manager Bryan Colangelo steps down and is replaced by his protege Masai Ujiri. They ship that underachieving first overall pick in Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks in exchange for role players that should provide depth that will carry them back into the postseason. In other news, Chris Bosh wins his second straight championship with the Miami Heat. Yet another reminder of what could have been.

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Chris Bosh celebrates his 2nd straight title win in Miami.

2013-2014 Season: What a turnaround! The Raptors win a franchise record 48 games and win the Atlantic Division yet again. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have career years averaging over 22 and 17 points per game respectively. They can get revenge on those darn Nets coached by Jason Kidd residing in Brooklyn now in the First Round as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Let’s go!!

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Masai Ujiri speaks to the Raptors fans at the team’s playoff rally ahead of the 2014 NBA Playoffs.

2014 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: Raptors GM Masai Ujiri decides the best time to piss off the veteran savy Nets consisting of a washed up Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce by screaming “@#$% Brooklyn!” at a fan rally prior to Game 1 at home. The Raptors lose this game but bounce back to take a 3-2 series lead. They proceed to lose Game 6 on the road and choke like dogs by losing Game 7 at home. So much for homecourt advantage. Maybe the Raptors and Ujiri will learn from this failure and actually win a playoff series for the first time in over a decade next year.

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The Raptors underachieved against the Nets and lost the deciding Game 7 at home.

2014-2015 Season: The Raptors are even better off. They win a franchise record 49 games, their second consecutive Atlantic Division title as DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry continue to wreck havoc on the league’s backcourts. Toronto finishes with the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and face another team with a backcourt tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal in the Randy Whitman coached Washington Wizards. This is their time!

2015 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: Savy veteran Paul Pierce unfortunately now plays for the Wizards and plays mind games with the Raptors by saying Toronto doesn’t have “it.” Loudmouth GM Masa Ujiri takes the bait yet again at another fan rally prior to Game 1 at home proceeds to say “We don’t give a @#$% about ‘it’!”. The Raptors proceed to get swept. Guess the Raptors don’t have “it” after all.

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Paul Pierce got the best of Masai Ujiri and the Raptors for the second year in a row in 2015.

2015-2016 Season: This should be the year for Toronto. Sure they overpaid for players like DeMarre Carroll and Corey Joseph but the two guard tandem of DeRozan and Lowry have career years by averaging over 23 and 21 points per game respectively. Tornoto finishes with the second seed in the Eastern Conference by posting a franchise best 56 wins. Sure, we’ve heard this story the previous two seasons, but this year is different.

2016 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: Tell me if you’ve hear this one before… The Raptors blow Game 1 at home against the seventh seeded Pacers. They manage to bounce back and take a 3-2 series lead, but then lose what could’ve been a series-clinching Game 6 on the road and must play a deciding Game 7 at home. As Toronto fans proceed to get their liquor to drown their impending sorrow, the Raptors shock everyone and win their first playoff series since 2001. Only took them fifteen years. Indiana isn’t the powerhouse they once were though so this is nothing to brag about. Next up are the three seeded Chris Bosh-less Miami Heat whose best players are a declining Dwayne Wade and Joe Johnson. The Conference Semifinals should be a breeze.

2016 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Tell me if you’ve heard this one before… The Raptors blow Game 1 at home, again. They manage to bounce back and take a 3-2 series lead but proceed to once again lose a series clinching Game 6 on the road. Toronto fans are hopeful but keep their hands on handles of alcohol just in case. They proceed to drink it in celebration as the Raptors take out those pesky Heat. The series lasted longer than it should have but they’ve moved past their choking and extinct reputation. Next up is LeBron James and the first seeded Cavaliers. They’re projected to be moped up but maybe they can shock the world.

2016 Eastern Conference Finals: The Raptors participate in the first six game sweep in NBA history and get smacked around by LeBron and the Cavs. You finally lived up to expectations, have a participation banner. Next year you’ll learn from this lesson and come back with a vengeance.

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The Raptors were no match for King James in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals.

2016-2017 Season: Despite rumors of returning home to Los Angeles, Toronto re-signs DeMar DeRozen to a five-year, $139 million contract in the hopes of gearing for another championship run in the face evidence their two guard tandem can’t win a title. Unfortunately, the Raptors fall behind the emerging superpower in the Boston Celtics in their own division despite trading for Serge Ibaka mid-season and finish with the third seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 51-31. The tag-team of DeRozan and Lowry once again have career years and take on a raw but young Milwaukee Bucks squad in the First Round. Their experience of making it to the Conference Finals should enable them to dispose of these deer.

2017 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: To no one’s surprise, the Raptors blow Game 1 at home and fall into a 2-1 series deficit at the hands of “The Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and head coach Jason Kidd. Miraculously, the dinos awaken from their impending extinction and win the next three games to finish off the deer in six games. Up next is a chance at revenge with LeBron and the Cavs, who have struggled all season with consistency. This is their time.

2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals: LeBron James owns Drake’s dinos and sends them back to the stone age. The Raptors don’t even win a game against the Cavs this time and are swept.

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The Raptors don’t even win a playoff game against the Cavs the next season.

2017-2018 Season: The Raptors decide to re-sign Serge Ibaka to a three-year, $65 million contract in the hopes there is something to build upon with him anchoring the frontcourt. They also re-sign Kyle Lowery to a three-year, $100 million contract with the intent of dismantling the definition of insanity despite more mounting evidence their two guard tandem cannot defeat LeBron. The team, however, soars to new heights by winning a franchise record 59 games and finish with the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The team has depth that is built to carry them past their postseason shortcomings in CJ Miles, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoboy. Even Drake releases hit single “God’s Plan” during the season and Toronto believes it is indeed the lord’s plan for them to finally make it to the NBA Finals. Sure they lose their final two games to the LeBron and the Cavs but those were on the road, and they face an imploding Washington Wizards team whom they can enact revenge on. Someone may be shedding their choker label this year!

2018 Eastern Conference Playoffs, First Round: The two guard tandem of DeRozan and Lowry stupidly put unnecessary pressure on themselves by saying Game 1 at home is like a Game 7 due to their franchise’s woes in home game 1s. They somehow win their first two games at home, proceed to drop the next two on the road, and overcome this adversity by beating the Wizards in six games. They get to face LeBron and the Cavs in the conference semifinals, and Bron Bron is exhausted from carrying the team on his back in a hotly contested first round series against the Indiana Pacers. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD THIS HAS TO BE THE YEAR!!

2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 1: The Raptors are up by as many as 14 in the second half. It is destiny… for them to miss their final 11 shots in regulation and lose in overtime despite LeBron not scoring a single point in the extra period. The look on the Raptors faces is one of distraught, as if they lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals at home. But they can bounce back, right?

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The Raptors looked devastated after choking away Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 2: Despite scoring 63 first half points, the Raptors are sent back to the stone age by LeBron James’ fadeaway jumper extravaganza in the second half as he scores 43 points. Toronto is aptly re-branded LeBronto as the Raptors seem to have no answers. But they’ll put up a fight on the road, right?

2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 3: The Raptors are down by 14 points entering the fourth quarter and DeMar DeRozen is struggling to the point coach Dwane Casey must bench him. But by god, the Raptors battle back and tie the game at 103 with 8 seconds left after a clutch 3-pointer made by OG Anunoboy. This must be Drake’s “God’s Plan” being put into action… if by that you mean Dwane Casey is out-coached by Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, who draws up a full court play that enables LeBron to go coast-to-coast and sink a game winning floater off the backboard. “God’s Plan”? More like Bron’s Plan.

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LeBron James’ game winning floater all but crushed the hopes and dreams of “We the North.”

2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 4: Coach Dwane Casey devises the brilliant game plan of benching Center Jonas Valanciunas for CJ Miles, DeMar DeRozan is ejected, Cleveland’s starters shoot nearly 69% from the field combined, and the endangered species known as the Raptors are put into extinction as they are whooped by the Cavs by 35 points. The Raptors show no fight and once again go out on a whimper at the hands of their owner, LeBron James. LeBronto Forever.

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DeMar DeRozan was ejected in the Raptors 35 point loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

 

 

To be somewhat fair, not all NBA teams are created equal. The Raptors weren’t inserted into the NBA to become a true contender, their true purpose was to sell merchandise and toys to an untapped market. Even with the recent re-brand spearheaded by “Brand Ambassador” Drake, this continues to be their main selling point. They’ve experienced a turnstile at the head coaching position and have never capitalized on the superstars they’ve drafted like Vince Carter and Chris Bosh. Obviously, the Raptors are the most successful team to venture into Canada, as the Grizzlies moved to Memphis after just six seasons in Vancouver. But even the Grizzlies appeared in Conference Finals before the Raptors did, as the Grizzlies made it to the Conference Finals in the much tougher Western Conference in 2013, three years before the Raptors got there in the weaker Eastern Conference.

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DeMar DeRozan may not be the player the Raptors hype him to be.

Toronto’s recent failures are due to stubbornness and fraudulence, as the team has continually relied upon DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to carry them to the promise land when this over reliance has only led to their demise. If the Raptors hope to emerge as true contenders, they must blow up the current make-up of their roster and start all over. It is clear DeRozan and Lowry aren’t the guys to take them to the Finals, GM Masa Ujiri can’t keep his mouth shut, and coach Dwane Casey’s defensive scheme for LeBron has been rendered useless by “The King’s” ability to make fade-away jump shots ad-nauseam against them. Knowing the dinos, they will chose to continue living in the Stone Age, forever solidifying their status as pretender despite their regular season accolades. It is “Bron’s Plan” in LeBronto. “We The North” has become “We The Choke”. The Raptors’ legacy can be summed up in one word, one that relates to the team’s mascot and name: extinction.

 

 

 

 

San Francisco 49ers Schedule Analysis

2018 could be a return to glory for the red and gold.

For the San Francisco 49ers, the release of the 2018 NFL Schedule couldn’t have come soon enough. After a disastrous 1-10 start in 2017, the 49ers ended their season on a five game winning streak thanks to the emergence of new franchise QB Jimmy Garoppolo. His play earned him a five year, $137.5 million contract extension, the richest in NFL history. With all the excitement surrounding him and one of the NFL’s marquee franchises, let’s take a look and analyze the 49ers schedule for 2018.

Week 1: at Minnesota Vikings (10 a.m. PST, Sunday September 9th)

Week 2: Detroit Lions (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday September 16th)

Week 3: at Kansas City Chiefs (10 a.m. PST, Sunday September 23rd)

Week 4: at Los Angeles Chargers (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday September 30th)

Week 5: Arizona Cardinals (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday October 7th)

Week 6: at Green Bay Packers (Monday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST Monday October 15th)

Week 7: Los Angeles Rams 5:20 p.m. PST (Sunday Night Football, Sunday October 21st)

Week 8: at Arizona Cardinals (1:25 p.m PST, Sunday October 28th)

Week 9: Vs Oakland Raiders (Thursday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Thursday November 1st)

Week 10: New York Giants (Monday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Monday November 12th)

Week 11: Bye

Week 12: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10 a.m. PST, Sunday November 25th) 

Week 13: at Seattle Seahawks (Sunday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Sunday December 2nd) 

Week 14: Denver Broncos (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday December 9th)

Week 15: Seattle Seahawks (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday December 16th)

Week 16: Chicago Bears (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday December 23rd)

Week 17: at Los Angeles Rams (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday December 30th) 

For a team that went from middling aspirations in 2018 prior to trading for Jimmy Garoppolo to now being mentioned as a possible contender, the 49ers start to the season couldn’t be any harder. Three of their first four games are on the road, and all four games come against teams that posted records of 9-7 or better in 2017, including the NFC runner-up Minnesota Vikings in Week 1. Within the first quarter of the season, we’ll know whether the playoff aspirations for the 49ers are legitimate or not. 

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The pairing of quartback Jimmy Garoppolo and head coach Kyle Shanahan could yield playoff results in 2018.

The 49ers then have a stretch where four of their next five games will be played in front of a national television audience. These games include a Lambeau Field showdown against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, a home divisional battle the next week against the upstart Rams, a battle of the Bay Area less than two weeks later against their cross town rival Raiders, and a classic NFC slugfest against a historical rival in the Giants. The 49ers five game wining streak at the end of 2017 caught the eyes of many, and they’ll be playing under the lights in prime-time five times in 2018. 

Of course, one would be remiss if they failed to mention the 49ers late season match-ups against the Seattle Seahawks. While the Seahawks have won the last 9 games is in the series, including the 2013 NFC Championship game where then Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman had his miraculous deflection in the back of the end zone to linebacker Malcolm Smith for a game sealing interception send them to Super Bowl XLVIII. In 2018, Sherman will find himself on the opposite side of the rivalry, and look for him to perform at an All-Pro level against his former team in Weeks 13 and 15.

The end of the 49ers season resembles that of a homebody, as three of their last four games will be played at Levi’s Stadium. This includes a Super Bowl XXIV re-match against the Broncos, the aforementioned NFC West battle against the Seahawks, and a gimmie game against the lowly Bears. This could result in a nice end of the season run to the postseason should they take advantage of the home for the holidays crowd.

The 49ers are in a prime position in 2018 to not only move out of the basement of their division, but also be a surprise contender in the NFC. Head Coach Kyle Shanahan seems to have found his quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, as he elevated a putrid offense into the the best offense statistically in the NFL during the last five weeks of 2017. While trouble looms over linebacker Reuben Foster over his domestic violence case (and should’ve been cut already), the defense still boasts young talent in Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner along the defensive line, and the previously mentioned addition of Richard Sherman improves the secondary. Even with a tough start and a series of under the microscope prime-time games, the 49ers should be players for the postseason should everything fall into place.

Oakland Raiders Schedule Analysis

Jon Gruden and the Raiders look to improve upon a disappointing 2017 season in 2018.

While we’ve known who the Raiders opponents will be in the 2018 NFL Season since New Years Eve 2017, the NFL has finally released every team’s full schedule for the 2018 season. Sure, there’s still the NFL Draft to get through and we haven’t even reached training camp, but let’s analyze how the 2018 schedule stacks up for Jon Gruden and the Oakland soon to be Las Vegas Raiders.

Week 1: Los Angeles Rams (Monday Night Football, 7:20 p.m. PST, Monday September 10th)

Week 2: at Denver Broncos (1:25 p.m. PST, Sunday September 16th)

Week 3: at Miami Dolphins (10 a.m. PST, Sunday September 23rd)

Week 4: Cleveland Browns (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday September 30th)

Week 5: at Los Angeles Chargers (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday October 7th)

Week 6: Seattle Seahawks (10:00 a.m. PST, Sunday October 14th in London)

Week 7: Bye

Week 8: Indianapolis Colts (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday October 28th)

Week 9: at San Francisco 49ers (Thursday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Thursday November 1st)

Week 10: Los Angeles Chargers (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday November 11th)

Week 11: at Arizona Cardinals (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday November 18th)

Week 12: at Baltimore Ravens (10 a.m. PST, Sunday November 25th)

Week 13: Kansas City Chiefs (1:05 p.m. PST, Sunday December 2nd)

Week 14: Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Sunday December 9th)

Week 15: at Cincinnati Bengals (10 a.m. PST, Sunday December 16th)

Week 16: Denver Broncos (Monday Night Football, 5:20 p.m. PST, Monday December 24th)

Week 17: at Kansas City Chiefs (10 a.m. PST, Sunday December 30th)

Once again, the NFL has not been kind to the Raiders schedule. It’s not like they have much of a choice, however. Especially after owner Mark Davis pillaged Las Vegas for nearly a billion dollars in public funds for their new stadium in Las Vegas and begged the NFL to move there, the Raiders are at the whim of the league and their scheduling. 

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The Raiders brass faces an uphill to start the season in 2018.

They begin the season away from home for four out of the first six weeks of the season. This includes divisional clashes against the Broncos and Chargers, and a trip to South Beach against the Dolphins. One of the recurring themes of the Raiders schedule since 2014 is effectively losing a home game in Oakland to play a “home” game internationally, and this year their reward is to play the earliest scheduled London game in Week 6 against the Seahawks. Sure, the Raiders have international appeal due to their global brand, but taking away yet another home game from the soon to be abandoned Oakland fans adds insult to injury.

To end the season, the Raiders face divisional foes three out of their last five games, including two tilts against the Chiefs and a Christmas Eve battle against the Broncos. They also face two tough AFC North foes in the final five weeks, with their historical rival in the Steelers coming to town in what could be a potential playoff match-up and a grind it out early kickoff against the Bengals. This stretch could make or break the Raiders playoff aspirations, and they must take care of business in their final divisional games and stand up to the bullies of the AFC North.

In regards to marquee time slots, the Raiders appear on prime-time television four times in 2018, down from the five nationally televised games last season. They’ll get exposure on all three prime-time time slots, with two home game Monday Night Football tilts against west coast rivals in the Rams and Broncos, a road battle of the Bay Area on Thursday Night Football against the 49ers, and a Sunday Night a Football slugfest against the Steelers.

After a disappointing 2017 that perhaps had too much unwarranted hype going into it, the Raiders should improve upon last season’s disastrous campaign. Yes, the defense may have to bend and not break once again, but 2016’s Defensive Player of the Year, defensive end Kahlil Mack, can anchor this defense, and should receive a contract extension at some point before the start of the regular season. Quarterback Derek Carr is a franchise player who regressed to the mean last year, and should bounce back under the tutelage of Jon Gruden. Adding veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson should help wide receiver Amari Cooper regain his Pro-Bowl form, and the one two punch of running backs Marshawn Lynch and free agent acquisition Doug Martin should result in a potent running attack. Mark Davis can only hope his ten year, $100 million investment in Jon Gruden pans out in year one of the second Chucky era. By the looks of the 2018 schedule, the Raiders should be able to contend for the postseason, but as always, it’ll be a grind for the Silver and Black. 

2018 NBA Playoffs Preview: First Round

The road to the finals begins here.

After a long, arduous, and meaningless regular season that left many teams and their superstars decimated by injuries (*the exact opposite result the NBA and its players wanted after making the schedule more “player friendly”), the NBA Playoffs have finally arrived. For teams like the Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors, the postseason is their time to parlay their regular season success into showing everyone they’re the real deal. For teams like the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the postseason represents the switch that must be flipped from boredom of the regular season to becoming world beaters during the playoffs.

The first round of the playoffs sees some intriguing match-ups, but will we see any early round upsets that could shake-up the road to the NBA Finals? (*Before I forget, Pitbull’s “Timber” NBA Playoffs remix is the best NBA Playoffs anthem. Fight Me.*)

Eastern Conference

1. Toronto Raptors V. 8. Washington Wizards

Once again, the Raptors had an exceptional regular season, though they faltered late against playoff caliber competition. For their All-Star guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the postseason has been a place of struggle and misery over the last couple of years, as Lowry shoots under 40% from the field and DeRozan barely shoots above that mark. They face a Washington Wizards team that has been the epitome of Jekyll and Hyde this season, looking like a top NBA team with and without superstar guard John Wall, but also a bottom feeding underachiever as well. The Wizards swept the Raptors in first round of the playoffs back in 2015, and represent the worst possible match-up the Raptors could’ve had in the first round other than the Cavaliers.

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Prediction: Raptors in 7.

2. Boston Celtics V. 7. Milwaukee Bucks

The fact the Celtics were able to be the 2nd seed in the East after prized free agent Gordon Hayward suffered a season ending leg injury five minutes into the season is a testament to the coaching prowess of head coach Brad Stevens. But the Celtics are in trouble now that other prized offseason acquisition, PG Kyrie Irving, is out for the season. The Celtics now have to rely upon young stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to carry them to postseason success. While that should be enough to down “The Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the somewhat disappointing Bucks, it doesn’t bode well for prolonged postseason success.

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Prediction: Celtics in 6.

3. Philadelphia 76ers V. 6. Miami Heat

People have started to “Trust the Process”, especially after the Sixers overshot even the most generous of expectations en route to a 52 win season. PG Ben Simmons looks like the rookie of the year, and C Joel Embiid should be able to regain his All-Star form if he’s healthy to return. The Heat may not have any superstar players of note, but they’re a gritty squad that will compete every game, and push the upstart Sixers enough for them to break a sweat.

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Prediction: Sixers in 6.

4. Cavaliers V. 5. Indiana Pacers

If you had the Indiana Pacers winning 48 games after trading away Paul George, you’re lying. PG Victor Oladipo has revived his career back in his college stomping grounds, and is the front runner to win Most Improved Player of the Year. Had it not been for Raptors coach Dwane Casey and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, Pacers coach Nate McMillan would be the front runner for NBA Coach of the Year. None of this matters, as they face a man who is set to appear in his eighth straight NBA Finals, LeBron James. If you have any doubt whether he or the Cavaliers can flip the switch, LeBron has won 21 straight first round playoff games and has never lost a first round playoff series. One of those marks will end, but it won’t be the latter.

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Prediction: Cavaliers in 5.

Western Conference

1. Houston Rockets V. 8. Minnesota Timberwolves

After 13 years, the Minnesota Timberwovles have finally made it back to the playoffs. For most of their franchise’s existence, they have been a playoff doormat. Even with the talent of C Karl-Anthony Towns, SG Jimmy Butler, and SF Andrew Wiggins, this narrative will not change against the Houston Rockets. The Rockets somehow made the pairing of PG Chris Paul and SG/ MVP candidate James Harden not just work, but excel to the point of being the NBA’s best team by far. Don’t let head coach Mike D’Antoni’s recent comments fool you, however, the Rockets know their season will be judged based on their postseason success. They’ll have dispatch the Timberwolves quickly in order to save themselves for a potential Western Conference Finals showdown against the Warriors.

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Prediction: Rockets in 5.

2. Golden State Warriors V. 7. San Antonio Spurs

The Warriors limped to the finish line with a 7-10 record over their last seventeen games of the season, most of which were without two-time MVP and their heart and soul, Stephen Curry. Curry will be out for the first round of the playoffs due to a left-knee injury. Even with the talent of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, the Warriors have fared poorly against playoff caliber competition. Fortunately for them, they get a Spurs team that seems to be on the brink of dysfunction. Head coach Gregg Popovich has done his best to keep the Spurs afloat without Kawhi Leonard, who missed all but nine games this season and has been clashing with Popovich over his recovery from his quad injury suffered last postseason. This is the exact team the Warriors needed to face to get their mojo back in time to defend their title.

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Prediction: Warriors in 5.

3. Portland Trailblazers V. 6. New Orleans Pelicans

The Portland Trailblazers are who the Washington Wizards are supposed to be, only better. The All-Star backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is near unstoppable, and their playoff experience in the early rounds should be enough to carry them on a longer postseason run this year. The Pelicans, however, have managed to get even better without C Demarcus Cousins, as Anthony Davis and his unibrow have carried the Pelicans to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Davis is a match-up nightmare for the Blazers, but the backcourt of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday won’t be enough to slow down the Trailblazers.

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Prediction: Trailblazers in 6.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder V. 5. Utah Jazz

A team consisting of Mr. Triple Double (*for the second year in a row) Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony seemed primed to finish better than the fourth seed in the Western Conference, but the team never quite jelled together and here we are. The Jazz, after starting the season 19-28, amped up their defense and went 29-6 to finish the season as one of the NBA’s hottest teams heading into the postseason. Led by Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz are a team no one wants to face this postseason. But can Mitchell up his game even more to the point of taking down the talent filled Thunder? One has to think that is too tall a task for a rookie.

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Prediction: Thunder in 7.

 

2018 MLB Preview: National League and Playoffs

By Matthew and Sean Duckett

Baseball is back, and that means it’s time for us at Bros Can’t Hang to give our preview of the 2018 season!

The chaotic offseason saw All-Star players scatter across the league, the arrival of Japanese Babe Ruth, and Derek Jeter become the most hated front office official in sports. Despite the sports world seemingly tumbling into chaos in 2018, baseball is looking to be dominated by the usual suspects. Today, we look at the National League and hope Giants fans don’t send us hate mail.

NL East

Washington Nationals

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Positives: The Nationals get another stab at postseason glory with their roster intact. Bryce Harper looks to improve on an already impressive 2017, and has the likes of Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, and a returning Adam Eaton to help. The Nationals have the best top of the rotation in all of baseball, with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg looking to put up Cy Young numbers once again this season. There are no weak spots on this roster.

Negatives: There is little time for the manager to gel with the players. With Bryce Harper possibly departing after this season, newly hired manager Dave Martinez, longtime Joe Madden protege, needs to find the winning playoff combination quickly, or he could see generational talent bolt for greener pastures. The Nationals are creeping up on the luxury tax as well, so finding adequate replacements for Harper would be a monumental task.

Question Mark: Can Matt Wieters bounce back? Ok, I lied. There is one weak spot on this team, and it’s behind the plate. Matt Wieters was abysmal at the plate last year with a 63 OPS+. He somehow played worse in the playoffs, putting up a slash line of .143/.333/.143 en route to a NLDS loss, aka a Nationals Special. They will need him to be at least replacement level.

Prediction: The Nationals at worst the number two team in the NL. If Dusty Baker was truly holding the Nationals back, this could be the first of many deep playoff runs if Harper stays in D.C. 92-70

 

Philadelphia Phillies

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Positives: The Phillies are about to surprise a lot of people, and they can thank the gobs of young talent expected to play key roles this season. Shortstop J.P. Crawford should get his first full season in the majors to why he’s been a top prospect for years. LF Rhys Hoskins put up 2 WAR in ⅓ a season. His counterpart, Nick Williams, put up respectable hitting numbers as well. SP Aaron Nola will have some pressure taken off him with the addition of Jake Arrieta, adding depth to a much maligned Philly rotation.

Negatives: As mentioned, the rest of the SP unit is quite bad. Actually, they’re not bad, they just have yet to put their talent to use. Using Inside Edge, it seems that the Phillies pitchers each have one pitch they can get outs with, but cannot seem to make use of the rest of their repertoire. If the young arms can figure out their secondary pitches, the Phillies could be an even better team than many predict them to be. If not, they stay locked in the basement of the NL East.

Question Mark: Can the bullpen lock it down? Signing Pat Neshek was a statement signing. Coming off his best season in the majors (1.59 ERA, 10 K/9), Neshek is set to anchor a bullpen that will find themselves in the highest leverage situations the team has faced in years. With Hector Neris throwing filth in the ninth, the bullpen looks set to improve on a respectable 2017 (15th in ERA).

Prediction: The Phillies back-end starters figure out their stuff and allow the pen to close out meaningful games. The young core snatches second place away from the Mets and Braves, and threaten to take the second Wild Card spot. 83-79

 

New York Mets

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Positives: The rotation is among the best in baseball. Health cooperating, the three-headed monster of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz could wreak havoc on opposing teams. The last time all three were healthy, they combined for 11 WAR, all posting an ERA+ of 118 or above.

Negatives: The lineup is going to have to wait a while for help. OFs Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes are dealing with injuries, with Conforto unlikely to return until least mid April, and as late as May. His 145 OPS+ will be severely missed. Todd Frazier and Adrian Gonzalez are overrated additions at best.

Question Mark: Can Matt Harvey find anything again? Just a few years ago, Matt Harvey was headlining the Mets rotation, leading them to a World Series in 2015. Now? Inside Edge reports that in 2017, Harvey gave up a 1.008 OPS on his fastball, and a 1.007 OPS on his curve. For context, Barry Bonds led all of baseball in OPS in 1995 at 1.009. Batters literally become Barry Bonds against him. It may be wise to move on.

Prediction: Key players missing time is almost a guarantee for the Mets, and the team’s best hitter will already miss a month. Given Cespedes’ age and wrist, he could miss time a well. Throw in an injured SP, and the Mets stumble their way to the middle of the NL standings. 79-83

Atlanta Braves

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Positives: Despite the hemorrhaging of prospects, due to some Blue Chips-esque prospect signings of their ousted GM, the Braves still have plenty of young talent in the minors and majors. An offensive core of SS Dansby Swanson, OF Ronald Acuna, and the grossly underrated 1B Freddie Freeman could produce a scary lineup as soon as this season. Speaking more on Freeman, he slugged .603 against righties the past three seasons (fourth best in MLB) and posted the second highest line drive rate in the game last season. If he was playing for the Yankees, Freeman would be a household name.

Negatives: Much like last year, the pitching still has major issues. Adding Scott Kazmir would be great if he could be plugged into the middle of the rotation, but it’s looking like he’ll need to carry a good chunk of the load for Atlanta. Projected closer Arodys Vizcaino’s ERA was 3.47 in the second half of the season. Not what you want out of a position requiring clutch.

Question Mark: Would the real Julio Teheran please stand up? I drafted Julio in the last round of a fantasy draft his rookie year of 2013, and he produced solid output. Since then, I have watched his career unfold, and it truly seemed like 2017 was the year he was going to prove he was consistent Ace material. Boy was I wrong. Teheran posted an lowly 4.49 ERA and an even worse 4.95 FIP. Many attribute this to Atlanta’s new ballpark, which is more hitter friendly than the previous. Here’s hoping Teheran can return to his elite form in 2018.

Prediction: The Braves are a promising young club with some glaring issues in the rotation and bullpen. They won’t be as disastrously bad as last year, but they are still a couple seasons off from contending. 73-89

 

Miami Marlins

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Positives: The returns for trading their outfield were actually pretty good. Lewis Brinson, the prize in the trade that sent Christian Yelich to the Brewers, has ranked as a top 30 prospect the past three seasons, coming in at number 16 for 2018. From Coral Springs, Brinson could wind up becoming the face of the franchise in desperate need of players to root for. The return for Marcell Ozuna was nice as well.

Negatives: They will likely end up trading their last valuable asset, speedy Catcher J.T. Realmuto (yes, speedy) sometime soon. Realmuto’s dissatisfaction with the Marlins ownership, much the disappointment of the fans, is understandable given how close this team was to becoming a playoff team. However, cash rules everything around Miami (CREAM), and they had to dump expensive or soon to be expensive assets. Perhaps Houston could make a push for his services if McCann falters as hypothesized in the AL write up?

Question Mark: Did Derek Jeter give Giancarlo and co. gift baskets upon trading them?

Prediction: The Marlins had the fire sale to end all fire sales this offseason, and their roster reflects it. Marlins’ Park will somehow be emptier. 60-102

 

NL Central

Chicago Cubs

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Positives: Roster depth means that Joe Maddon can use his gamer tendencies to play around with the lineup. While Addison Russell and Javier Baez will be the everyday middle infielders, do not be surprised to find Ben Zobrist or Ian Happ taking reps at second over the season. The latter two could also spent time in the outfield, which provides the Cubs a safety net if Kyle Schwarber falters again. Throw in MVP candidates Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, and this lineup has a solid mix of power, contact, and glovework. Well-rounded teams make the deepest playoff runs.

Negatives: Injuries could derail the season. The Cubs’ two best pitchers, Kyle Hendricks and newly signed Yu Darvish, have missed significant time in the past. Hendricks missed nearly two months last season, while Yu Darvish was coming back from Tommy John surgery. If issues persist, Theo Epstein will have to search far and wide for replacement level starters both in and outside the organization.

Question Mark: Is Jason Heyward’s defense worth it? His two seasons with the Cubs have been severely disappointing. No team wants to spend upwards of $28 million a season for a non threat behind the plate. His .153 average during the playoffs is painful. If JeyHey gets off to a hot start, it may be wise to search for a trade partner while eating some of the contract.

Prediction: The Cubs are once again a solid ball club with all the pieces in place to win the World Series. Joe Maddon’s tinkering could either push them over the top, or sink them come October. 93-69

 

St. Louis Cardinals

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Positives: The Cardinals were a pedestrian hitting team last year, sitting near the league average in OPS+. The addition of Breakout All-Star Marcell Ozuna (37 HR), plus full season of Paul DeJong, Matt Carpenter, and Tommy Pham could result in a serious power surge in St. Louis. Pham put up almost 3 WAR in just 108 games last year.

Negatives: The losses of Lance Lynn and Mike Leake leave a rotation lacking stamina. They’ll have to hope phenom prospect Alex Reyes can A. Make the rotation and B. Eat innings upon returning in May.

Question Mark: How hard does Manager Mike Matheny tank this team? The ability for Matheny to derail games with his questionable tactics is well known to Cardinals fans. He blames the wrong players when issues arise, and is completely out of his depth when it comes to implementing advanced stats. He comes from the Goose Gossage sabermetrics “are for nerds” school of thought. If Matheny can’t get his act together, he’ll have to start watching Cardinals playoff runs from his couch starting next season.

Prediction: The talent of the Cardinals’ roster will outplay their bumbling manager and secure a Wild Card spot. They, like the Giants, always threaten to fluke their way deep into the postseason. 88-74

 

Milwaukee Brewers

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Positives: The acquisitions of OFs Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain add two bonafide All-Stars to a team whose rebuild is ahead of schedule. Cain has World Series experience, and will provide a veteran presence to a team that was one game out of the playoffs. With their other outfielder Domingo Santana coming off a 30 homer campaign, the Brewers have a wonderful combination of power, contact, speed, and fielding playing deep.

Negatives: There is not room for all their good bats. The crowded outfield situation means that playing time for April wonder Eric Thames and the reviled Ryan Braun could be scarce. Thames. Each have experience playing the infield, but each would have been better suited in left field. Given Braun is still owed $20 million, Eric Thames may see himself shipped out to the AL come the trade deadline.

Question Mark: Why didn’t the Brewers pursue any good pitchers in Free Agency? The Brewers rotation put up solid numbers last year, but their back end does not inspire confidence. Not pursuing Darvish or Arrieta is understandable, but it is inexplicable that they did not make a play for a Lance Lynn type. With Alex Cobb still on the market, Milwaukee may want to take a good look at him.

Prediction: If SP Jimmy Nelson can stay the course upon returning in late May, and the new outfield meshes as well as they do on paper, the Brewers could very well see themselves in the playoffs. They can’t compete with Chicago, but have the edge on other Wild Card hopefuls. 87-75

Pittsburgh Pirates

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Positives: Competitiveness is on the horizon. Losing Andrew McCutchen meant the Pirates lost their soul. The also lost staff Ace Gerrit Cole. The good news is that the new core has already seen time in the majors, and should take a step forward this season. 1B Josh Bell finished with a respectable 108 OPS+ and placed third in Rookie of the Year voting. Jameson Taillon has the stuff to be a front end starter, as his 4.44 ERA disguised his 3.48 FIP (meaning he was VERY unlucky).

Negatives: The lineup cannot score. The Pirates wound up third to last in runs scored and team OPS+ in 2017. There is not much to indicate those numbers will improve significantly in the new campaign. Corey Dickerson will bring some additional power to the plate, but someone else needs to step up.

Question Mark: Who else leaves? 2B Josh Harrison has made it clear he does not wish to stick around if the Pirates are not serious about winning. SP Ivan Nova seems like an obvious trade piece given his low salary. The Pirates’ front office has to decide if they want to keep their role players and make a push in 2019, or sell the lot and hope for sustained success come the next decade.

Prediction: The Pirates are a young-but-also-not-young team that requires a lot of guesswork to place in the standings. A mediocre finish seems to be the safest bet. 75-87

 

Cincinnati Reds

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Positives: Joey Votto has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down. The man is an inner circle Hall of Famer, but because he plays for one of the consistently worst teams in baseball he is oft-forgotten in conversations about the greatest active players. The only players with a better career slash line than Votto? Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, and Rogers Hornsby.

Negatives: Everything else sucks.

Question Mark: Why do the Reds insist on putting Billy Hamilton at leadoff? He’s had four seasons to put up something resembling a good on base percentage, but has not. The Reds need to bat him ninth or they will continue to waste Votto’s God-like hitting numbers.

Prediction: This is a bad ball club, but the rotation is young and could improve on a league-worst team ERA. But better than worst is still not great. 70-92

 

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers

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Positives: Top Tier talent at essential positions. It is no surprise that a team owned by Magic Johnson of the “Showtime” Lakers features top-level talent at the most glamourous positions in baseball. Clayton Kershaw is undeniably the best pitcher in the game when he is healthy. Kenley Jansen lead all pitchers Win Probability Added at 5.57 and posted an ERA+ of 318(!), higher than any mark in Mariano Rivera’s career. SS Corey Seager and 1B Cody Bellinger are perennial All Star talents. Put simply, this team is Hollygood.

Negatives: The Bullpen. The Dodgers desperately need their relievers to step up, so that Jansen can actually close out games. Pedro Baez imploded into nothingness and could not even make the playoff roster come the NLCS. The rest of the relievers are an unidentified blob of passable mediocrity. Manager Dave Roberts will have to experiment a ton during the regular season to create a World Series caliber pen.

Question Mark: How will last year’s crushing defeat affect this season? Making it back to the World Series is tough. Consecutive World Series appearances has only happened once in the past six seasons. If the Dodgers cannot get past last season’s disappointing end, it could be another early exit come playoff time.

Prediction: This team has all the talent to be perennial World Series contenders. Honestly, it’s surprising that we are not in the midst of a Dodger Dynasty given how long they have been expected to win. Though the playoffs are tough to predict, it is safe to say the talent on this roster will cruise to a first place finish in the NL West. 98-64

 

Colorado Rockies

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Positives: Youth on the mound. The Rockies have an impressive stable of young SPs headed into 2018. Though the base stats look ugly, each pitcher who started in 20 or more games last year posted an ERA+ above league average. Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland could soon blossom into the Ace-level pitchers Colorado has lacked its entire existence.

Negatives: Beyond top five MVP Finalists Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, the Rockies lineup is lacking. Carlos Gonzalez, though impressive in the second half, has become a shell of his former self. Trevor Story’s power has vanished, leaving Colorado dependent on at best mediocre hitters to fill in the gaps.

Question Mark: Will the bullpen live up to its cost? After losing Pat Neshek to Free Agency, the Rockies’ front office spent over $100 on bullpen arms Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and Jake McGhee. With the MLB’s shift towards RP reliance, this should not come as a surprise. However, such a heavy investment in not-so-young pitching could have negative effects now and in the future.

Prediction: The NL West will most likely be the most competitive in baseball. With a little luck, we could see three teams form the division playing into October for the second year in a row. Colorado can be one of those teams if the pitching continues last year’s momentum, and if Arenado and Blackmon can once again carry the offense. 84-78

 

San Francisco Giants

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Positives: This team is not nearly as bad as their 2017 record indicated. Injuries plagued the team at positions where they could not afford players missing time. Ace Madison Bumgarner should be back to form alongside RF Hunter Pence and 1B Brandon Belt.

Negatives: My God this farm system is abysmal. A lack of backup in the minors means that starters must stay healthy if the Giants want to compete. The back end of the rotation is as forgettable as a Dwayne Johnson film (looking at you, Baywatch). Can we take a second to mention that almost all of Dwayne Johnson’s movies are terrible? Maybe he could have played a better third base than the Frankenstein’s monster SF had last year.

Question Mark: Will the former MVPs recover their lost glory? The biggest story for the Giants this season will be how the trio of Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, and Andrew McCutchen play in 2018. All coming from one or a series of down seasons, a bounceback by two or all could be the difference between missing the playoffs or some good ol’ fashioned even-year BS. With the aforementioned lack of a farm system, the Giants chose to reload instead of rebuild. After missing out on the Giancarlo Stanton and the Shohei Otani sweepstakes, settling for past-their -prime stars like McCutchen and Longoria was the Giants’ only hope of competing. On top of that, the Giants will be without ace Madison Bumgarner and end of the starting rotation anchor Jeff Samardzija for the first month of a very front loaded schedule that features many match-ups against NL West rivals.

Prediction: If the Giants tread water without Bumgarner, they’ll be in contention for the second Wild Card spot this year, and a postseason appearance may help them lure free agents come the stacked upcoming offseason. That or another disastrous campaign awaits, but we’ll go with the former. 82-80

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

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Positives: The D-Backs have a critically underrated rotation. While Robby Ray deservedly got the spotlight, every pitcher in the rotation put up at least 3 WAR last year. Most notably, Taijuan Walker appears to have risen from the shadow realm of draft busts. Repeat success would mean this rotation is built of bonafide Aces and second/third men.

Weaknesses: Losing J.D. Martinez to the Red Sox obviously hurts. Steven Souza and Jarrod Dyson are nice adds, but cannot come close to replacing the reign of terror Martinez went on after being shipped to the desert (29 HRs in 62 games). Beyond that, the power numbers of numerous Diamondbacks could decrease with the implementation of a humidor in Chase Field. Fangraphs hypothesizes that HRs in Chase Field could decrease around 30% with the new climate-controlled baseballs. Now, Studs like Paul Goldschmidt likely won’t have an issue cranking out homers even with the new tech. But it could curtail lesser skilled hitters like Jake Lamb.

Question Mark: How much will the team improve? With the Giants and Rockies making big moves in the offseason, one cannot help but be concerned that the Diamondbacks have not done enough this offseason to keep up.

Prediction: The Diamondbacks are good, but good is not enough here. The lack of power hitting will ultimately derail them come mid/late season. 80-82

 

San Diego Padres

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Positives: Ironically, the Dads’ best asset is their youth. CF Manuel Margot is a future All-Star, C Austin Hedges is a plus defender with solid power, and Top 30 prospects Fernando Tatis Jr. (5) and Luis Urias (29) are waiting in the wings. The Padres look to be the team to watch in 2020.

Negatives: It isn’t 2020. Pretty much everything outside of the future is in bad shape for the Padres. Bottom barrel pitching, whatever defense, and a lack of team identity all make playoff contention seem much farther than it actually is.

Question Mark: The most obvious question is why San Diego would commit eight years and $144 million to first baseman Eric Hosmer, who could easily not be a part of the team’s long term success. Hosmer has shown he can be a plus bat, but is a comically overrated defender (even more so than Derek Jeter). Defense gets worse with age, and without a DH spot to hide in, Hosmer could very quickly become a negative asset for this ballclub.

Prediction: Things are not going to be fun in America’s finest city this year, but that does mean they can add more pieces that could have significant roles in the upcoming decade. 71-91

 

NL Awards

MVP

Matt: Joey “Ted Williams Jr.” Votto (1B, CIN)

Sean: Bryce Harper (RF, WAS)

 

Cy Young

Matt: Clayton Kershaw (SP, LAD)

Sean: Noah Syndergaard (SP, NYM)

 

Rookie of the Year

Matt: Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL)

Sean: Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL)

 

PLAYOFFS??

 

AL Wildcard

Matt: Red Sox def. Angels

Sean: Red Sox def. Angels

 

ALDS

Matt: Astros def. Red Sox

Yankees def. Indians

 

Sean: Astros def. Red Sox

Yankees def. Indians

 

ALCS

Matt: Yankees def. Astros

Sean: Astros def. Yankees

 

NL Wild Card

Matt: Cardinals def. Brewers

Sean: Brewers def. Cardinals

 

NLDS

Matt: (HOT TAKE ALERT) Cardinals def. Dodgers

Nationals def. Cubs

 

Sean: Dodgers def. Brewers

Nationals def. Cubs

 

NLCS

Matt: Nationals def. Cardinals

Sean: Dodgers def. Nationals

 

World Series

Matt: Yankees def. Nationals

Sean: Dodgers def. Astros