NBA Season Preview

It’s the Warriors’ world, everyone else is just living in it.

With the start of the 2017-2018 NBA season upon us, every fan has the hope and dream that their team can ascend to the top of the league and be crowned as NBA champions. If the last three seasons are any sort of indication, that’s wishful thinking at best. There’s no doubt the Golden State Warriors are the team to beat, but it would be unwise to say the Western Conference didn’t get a little more interesting after an off season that resembled the wild wild west.

In the Eastern Conference, it’s still LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers sitting at the top of the mountain. However, even the king and his soldiers look beneath them and see a potential rising power in the otherwise lowly Eastern Conference.

Here’s how the conferences will finish when it’s all said and done.

Western Conference

1. Warriors 67-15

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A team that steamrolled through the playoffs last season en route to an NBA championship managed to retain all of their key players and add more depth to their bench. It’s not fair.

2. San Antonio Spurs 60-22

Gregg Poppovich is still coaching, and they’ve got an MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard returning from injury. The off season acquisition of Rudy Gay will also help this squad as well.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder 55-27

The combination of last season’s MVP PG Russell Westbrook and all-stars Carmelo Anthony and Paul George gives them enough offensive fire-power to hang with the best the NBA has to offer. It’ll be on coach Billy Donovan to manage these 3 big personalities.

4. Houston Rockets 53-29

Head coach Mike D’Antoni will have his hands full trying to manage ball dominant guards James Harden and Chris Paul. There isn’t much reason to believe this relationship will work or last, but their talent alone keeps them at the top of the conference.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves 51-31

The popular pick to make headway in the Western Conference this season, there’s no doubt a starting lineup that contains superstars Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, and Andrew Wiggins should help catapult this team to new heights. Maybe not as high as their 2003-2004 season when they appeared in the Western Conference Finals, but higher than they’ve been in over a decade.

6. Los Angeles Clippers 44-38

Yes, losing PG Chris Paul hurts, but they’ve got PGs Patrick Beverly and Lou Williams to fill in for him. They also still have PF Blake Griffin, C DeAndre Jordan, and a good head coach in Doc Rivers who finally gave up his head of basketball operations hat to the logo, Jerry West. They’re no longer title contenders, but they’re good enough to be in the playoff discussion.

7. Portland Trailblazers 41-41

PG Damian Lillard and SG C.J. McCollum have enough firepower to keep this team around the .500 mark, but they’re going to need a mid-season acquisition if they want to rise from the bottom of the playoff picture.

8. New Orleans Pelicans 40-42

The twin towers combo of PF Anthony Davis and C DeMarcus Cousins didn’t excel last year. However, having a full off season under their belts and the additions of defensive stopper SG Tony Allen and a once healthy PG Rajon Rondo should be enough to sneak into the postseason.

9. Sacramento Kings 38-44

The off season additions of  SG Vince Carter, PF Zach Randolph, and PG George Hill along with Rookie of the Year candidate PG De’Aaron Fox will make the Kings a compelling watch. However, can a dysfunctional front office led by GM Vlade Divac and owner Vivek Ranadivé finally stay out of the way? More than likely not.

10. Denver Nuggets 37-45

They’ve got offensive firepower, averaging 111 points per game last season. But if they’re expecting an aging PF in Paul Milsap to be the difference between them making the playoffs and them missing the playoffs, they might be in for a rude awakening.

11. Los Angeles Lakers 35-47

There’s a buzz to this team with the arrival of Rookie of the year candidate PG Lonzo Ball, but will his father, LaVar Ball, be too much of a distraction for the big baller? Also, if you think the off season additions like C Brook Lopez and SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will help you get into the playoffs, you’re living in LA LA Land.

12. Memphis Grizzlies 34-48

There’s always been a grittiness and toughness about the Memphis Grizzlies the last decade or so, but that’s nearly gone with the departures of PF Zach Randolph and SG Tony Allen. Sure, they’ve still got a solid PG in Mike Conley Jr. and a superstar in C Marc Gasol, but losing the heart and soul of your team is nothing short of crippling. Take that for data.

13. Utah Jazz 33-49

Losing SF Gordon Hayward hurt this team immensely. They still have a rising star in C Rudy Gobert and a good coach in Quin Synder, but this will be a down year for the team in the wake of recent success.

14. Dallas Mavericks 32-50

They have a Rookie of the Year candidate in PG Dennis Smith Jr., but as the Dirk Nowitzki era winds down, their best offensive play is SF Harrison Barnes. Let that sink in. Mark Cuban will be spending more time on Shark Tank this year.

15. Phoenix Suns 26-56

Potential Rookie of the Year candidate SF Josh Jackson may showcase his talent enough to suggest the future is bright in Phoenix, but he’s also the guy who called Stephen Curry “Small and unathletic.” After an idiotic statement like that, maybe the future isn’t as bright as the Suns hope.

Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland Cavaliers 54-28

Despite all the drama surrounding the Cavaliers this off season and the rumors that coach, GM, and best player in the world LeBron James is bolting his hometown for the Lakers next year, the Cavaliers’ additions of SG Dwayne Wade, SF Jae Crowder, and PG Isaiah Thomas (*once he’s healthy*) keeps them at the top of the East. Plus, LeBron is not going to let Kyrie Irving beat him, especially with another shot at the Warriors on the line.

2. Boston Celtics 52-30

Sure, the off season acquisitions of SF Gordon Hayward and PG Kyrie Irving make the Celtics more appealing on paper, but for a team that was the number one seed in the East last year to have only 4 returning players from the previous year is troubling. They’re definitely the future best team in the Eastern Conference, but they’re not getting past the King.

3. Washington Wizards 50-32

The dynamic guard duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal is enough to keep this team at the top of the East, but paying SF Otto Potter Jr $106.5 million is ridiculous. It makes you wish you were an average NBA player, you’d be financially set for life.

4. Toronto Raptors 48-34

Why PG Kyle Lowry decided to stay in Toronto is puzzling, as the Raptors aren’t nearly as good as they were 2 years ago when they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. When SF C.J. Miles is your best pickup of the off season, that should be an indication of how appealing of a destination Toronto is to free agents.

5. Milwaukee Bucks 46-36

SF Giannis Antetokounmpo, otherwise known as “The Greek Freak”, is a superstar that can carry the Bucks back into the spotlight. The development of PG Malcolm Brogdon and a healthy PF Jabari Parker can only further this team’s chances of obtaining relevancy.

6. Miami Heat 44-38

Even after a disastrous 11-30 first half of the season last year, head coach Erik Spoelstra was able to turn SG Dion Waiters into the go-to offensive threat en route to a .500 record. Add in PF Kelly Olynyk, and the Heat should find themselves back in the playoffs.

7. Charlotte Hornets 41-41

Yes, C Dwight Howard is not the player he once was, but he’s a big acquisition for a team that allowed 106 points per game last year. If he doesn’t get his act together, owner Michael Jordan may have to suit up for one practice to relive his glory days of punching teammates during scrimmages.

8. Detroit Pistons 40-42

While the Palace of Auburn hills is no longer the Piston’s home, new life will be breathed into this franchise with the opening of their new arena, Little Caesars Arena. Off season moves such as acquiring SG Avery Bradley adds toughness and grit to the team, something that’s been missing from Detroit to help them back into the playoffs.

9. Philadelphia 76ers 38-44

Yes, they have a lot of young talent in red shirted rookie PG Ben Simmons, rookie PG Markelle Fultz, and the recently turned 148 million dollar man C Joel Embiid. But it’s not yet the time for the “trust the process” montra to make its way into the playoffs.

10. Orlando Magic 36-46

If you really think about it, the Magic aren’t that much better than they were last season, particularly when you account for the fact their biggest signing of the summer was SF Jonathan Simmons. But since other teams have gone into full re-build mode, they’re able to ascend the ranks and avoid the dregs of the East.

11. Indiana Pacers 33-49

No Paul George spells rebuild for the Pacers. PF Myles Turner’s development will be key for the Pacers’ future success, but even former GM Larry Bird didn’t want to stick around to see just how boring a development that might be.

12. New York Knicks 30-52

The Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony eras (*or errors depending how you look at them*) mercilessly came to an end this off season. But removing 2 problems doesn’t mean you’ve found a solution. PF Kristaps Porzingis may be a unicorn and a superstar, but he can’t do everything all by himself.

13. Atlanta Hawks 25- 57

It’s puzzling as to why the Hawks have decided to tank. Sure, they weren’t ever true contenders, but this was a team only 3 years ago that won 60 games and was the number one seed in the East. PG Dennis Schroder is an exciting young player, but the Hawks went from mediocre to awful seemingly overnight.

14. Brooklyn Nets 22-60

Remember when Jay-Z owned the team all so that he could steal money from Brooklyn to build a new stadium for a team people in New Jersey didn’t even pay to see? Good times. Hopefully new PG D’Angelo Russell can finally live up to his potential after bombing with the Lakers, but he may be too busy breaking the bro-code filming his teammates.

15. Chicago Bulls 19-63

Bulls management fired coach Tom Thibodeau for being too difficult of a coach to deal with. Their current head coach, Fred Hoiberg, still finds it difficult to coach grown men after 2 years. Whoops.

Award Winners:

MVP: (*It’s actually LeBron James every year*) Kevin Durant, Warriors

Rookie of the Year: De’Aaron Fox, Kings

Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau, Timberwolves

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

Sixth Man of the Year: Rudy Gay, Spurs

Most Improved Player of the Year: Myles Turner, Pacers

Playoff Predictions:

Western Conference Finals: Warriors over Spurs

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics

NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers

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Kyrie Irving’s Trade Demand

Cleveland? More like LEAVE-land.

In the case that you’ve been living under a rock, Cleveland Cavaliers PG Kyrie Irving demanded a trade last week. Word is that Kyrie is tired of being under LeBron James’ shadow, as he has the “Mamba Mentality” and wants to be the focal point of a team. It has also been reported that LeBron James is upset with Kyrie Irving for mentioning his name in this topic, so upset to the point that LeBron is “Tempted to beat his (Kyrie’s) ass” should the two come into contact with each other.

With all of the rumors swirling around LeBron James that he is bolting the Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers next off-season, one can hardly blame Kyrie Irving for wanting to be two steps ahead of the game. When LeBron James left the Cavaliers in 2010, they suffered 4 straight losing seasons, 3 of which Irving was present for. Ever since LeBron James left the Miami Heat to return back home to Cleveland in 2014, the Heat have missed the postseason 2 out of the last 3 seasons, and now have to settle for signing Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk to big contracts. Kyrie sees a pattern here. That pattern? Whenever LeBron leaves, the team he leaves is decimated. Kyrie Irving does not want to be the next victim in LeBron’s pattern.

However, it has not been confirmed LeBron is leaving Cleveland  for LA LA land (*he hasn’t denied it either, but that’s another argument for a different day*). As of right now, LeBron James is a Cleveland Cavalier. As evidenced by the previous 7 years, if LeBron James plays on your team, you will play in the NBA Finals. Evidence from 3 of those 7 years also indicates you might actually win a title. One of those years indicates you might be the player to hit the game winning shot to defeat the greatest NBA regular season team ever. Oh wait, was the player who hit that shot LeBron James? No, it was Kyrie Irving.

Irving’s desire to be traded can only be described as a petulant, spoiled brat who complains about the line at Starbucks being too long. Kyrie Irving, a man who took 74 more 2-point shots and 99 more 3-point shots than LeBron James last year, is complaining about not getting as much attention as the greatest player on the planet. And by the way, this isn’t Kevin Durant in free agency in the summer of 2016 having all of the power in the world. When you demand a trade, you’re still under contract. You don’t get to choose your destination. The Cavaliers could trade Irving anywhere they’d like or tell him to go kick rocks. Irving has no leverage.

Irving is of the belief he can be a franchise cornerstone. That a team can be built around him to be “The Man” and compete for a championship. Going by Irving’s preferred destinations, one must ask what on earth he is thinking? He wants to be traded from the Cavaliers, a team essentially guaranteed to be the representative of the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, to New York to become a nothing with the woeful Knicks? To be the fourth best player for the Minnesota Timberwolves? To compete for more shots with Dion Waiters for the Miami Heat? To be the second option like he is now with the Cavaliers for the San Antonio Spurs? Irving doesn’t realize how good he currently has it. Kyrie Irving is demanding a trade from a team in which he is an all-star and regarded as the team’s closer? Talk about first world problems.

What makes Irving believe he can utilize his “Mamba Mentality” like his idol, Kobe Bryant, and be “The Man” elsewhere when he could be described as a supremely talented, but oft-injured ball hog? Prior to the arrival of Cleveland’s lord and savior, LeBron James, Irving was already “The Man”. He was the number one overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. As “The Man”, the Cavaliers won 21 games in the lockout shortened 2011-12 NBA season, 24 games in 2012-13, and 33 games in 2013-14. While Irving was “The Man”, he was also chronically injured, as he missed 49 games in his first 3 seasons. Even when LeBron came back, Irving has still been injury-prone, missing 46 games over the last three seasons, and that doesn’t even include the 5 NBA Finals games he missed in the 2015 NBA Finals.

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Also, let’s pretend LeBron James does in fact leave the Cavaliers for the Lakers next summer. Should Kyrie stay with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he becomes the sympathetic figure, as LeBron James would once again be painted as a man abandoning his hometown for a more glitzy, glamorous destination. Irving would regain his “rightful” place as “The Man” in Cleveland with two years remaining on his contract. Sure, he’s stuck with an aging roster riddled with bad guaranteed contracts, but in an Eastern Conference without LeBron James, that team could compete for a lower seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Kyrie Irving’s trade demand is understandable if you’re looking through the prism of not wanting to bite the dust should LeBron James ditch the Cavaliers in the summer of 2018. Every other prism you look through, however, cannot justify Irving’s immature stance of wanting to be “The Man”. His first three years in the league suggest he not only cannot carry the load as a team’s first option in terms of winning, but also cannot be on the court to help see that vision trough. Even in his three seasons with LeBron James, Irving hasn’t proven he can stay healthy. Why would any team risk placing their future in a guard who is unable to stay on the court? Why would you want to forgo competing for a championship when you would be nowhere closer to building towards this goal should you be traded to one of your preferred destinations, which you may not even be granted? Kyrie Irving needs to wake up before it’s too late, and realize he has been given an NBA player’s dream career: being the number one pick, being an all-star who is treated like a superstar, and playing alongside and winning championships with the greatest player ever, LeBron James. With Kyrie Irving’s trade demand and rumors circling LeBron James regarding his future plans, Cleveland might as well re-name themselves Leave-land.

 

 

The Plight of LeBron James

How can the best basketball player in the world be so maligned?

From the moment the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him with the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, the spotlight was on the king from Akron, Ohio, LeBron James. While he was still in high school, James was proclaimed “The Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated. 14 years into his NBA career, LeBron James has not only lived up to this billing, he has exceeded it. Year after year, LeBron James showcases he is not only the most valuable player in the NBA, but also the best basketball player in the world.

Yet, after losing to one of the most talented teams ever assembled in the NBA, there are still detractors and haters out there who will continually deny LeBron the mantel of the G.O.A.T. They’ll point to his 3-5 Finals record, they’ll point to “The Decision”, they’ll say he’s no Michael Jordan. Whatever criticism you have of LeBron James now borders on insanity or pure hatred for the man.

LeBron James led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 in just his fourth year in the league. The starting lineup for that Cavaliers team included Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavlovic, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. They’re hardly the dynastic San Antonio Spurs team they were swept by. LeBron wasn’t ready for the spotlight, and he was the only weapon on a team that would’ve won 20 games without him. You can’t hold the 2007 Finals against him.

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The one year you can rightfully hold against LeBron James is 2010-2011. In the summer of 2010, LeBron exposed himself as one of the most immature, self-absorbed human beings on planet earth by broadcasting on national television his intentions of “taking his talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat” in The Decision. A few days later, he and the Heat organization celebrated as if they had just won an NBA championship, where he made his infamous “not five, not six, not seven” championship remarks. James then led his Miami Heat “super team”, which included Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, to the 2011 NBA Finals. Unfortunately, LeBron pulled a disappearing act even the great magician Harry Houdini would have envied, and lost to the lesser Dallas Mavericks. It was poetic justice. A man who had spurned his hometown in a selfish pursuit of championships finally got what he deserved and acted like a sore loser in defeat.

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It was at that moment LeBron James evolved into the greatest player the game has ever seen. LeBron led the Miami Heat to back to back titles in 2012 and 2013, dismantling an Oklahoma City Thunder team consisting of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden in 2012 and finally overcoming the dynastic San Antonio Spurs in 2013. Both times he was the Finals MVP. In 2012 he averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game and in 2013 he averaged 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. In 2014, he led the Heat to their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, but were abused by the vengeful San Antonio Spurs in 5 games. He was, however, the best player on the court, averaging 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 4 assists per game.

While LeBron was off winning championships, the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose owner Dan Gilbert infamously denounced James and said the Cavaliers would win a title before LeBron would, were a perennial NBA Draft Lottery team. They had won the lottery three times, striking gold by selecting Kyrie Irving in 2011, bombing in 2013 by selecting Anthony Bennett, and trading away Andrew Wiggins in 2014 to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love. This acquisition was made because LeBron James did what no other player in NBA history of his caliber had ever done, he came home.

For the last three seasons, LeBron James has led the Cavaliers to three NBA Finals appearances. In a losing effort in 2015, James averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game. He was without Kyrie Irving for 5 games of the series and was without Kevin Love for the entire series, as both were lost due to injury. Yet, LeBron James still took the Golden State Warriors, one of the most prolific shooting teams in NBA history, to 6 games when his starting point guard and second best player on his team was Matthew Dellavedova. In the 2016 Finals, James came back from a 3-1 series deficit against a 73 win Golden State Warriors team and won his third NBA title and Finals MVP, averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game. In the deciding game 7 of the series, LeBron James had a triple double and made one of the greatest plays in NBA history when he blocked Andre Iguodala of the Warriors to keep the game tied at 89.

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The Miami Heat, on the other hand, have not recovered since James left. The Heat have been in the NBA Draft lottery two out of the last three years, with their only playoff appearance coming in 2016, when James led the Cavaliers to an NBA title. LeBron James is the difference between your team winning an NBA title or your team picking in the NBA Draft Lottery. No other player in NBA history has had that kind of influence on a team. That includes Michael Jordan, as his Chicago Bulls went from winning 57 games in 1993 to winning 55 games in 1994 when Jordan retired for the first time.

This year, the best player in the world ran into the best team in the world. Anyone who tries to tarnish his legacy due to losing to a better team is blind to the greatness we have witnessed over the last seven seasons. Not even the great Michael Jeffrey Jordan, who yes, has more accomplishments in his career than LeBron to this point, made it to seven straight finals. LeBron James is the only man to do so, and keeps inventing new categories to judge players by. This past NBA finals, although losing in five games, LeBron James became the first player in NBA Finals history to average a triple-double, averaging 33.6 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists per game. As LeBron has gotten older, his NBA Finals numbers seem to get better and better each year.

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Any argument you have against LeBron James makes you look like as foolish as Skip Bayless. LeBron James may be the only man in NBA history who can seemingly do it all, yet we want to tear him down and make it seem as if he is not worthy of the G.O.A.T. label. LeBron James is more than worthy of this label, and denying him of it is an exercise in futility. I may not always be a man who hangs his hat on statistics, but by the end of his career, LeBron James will have obliterated Michael Jordan in every measurable statistical category. Yes, LeBron may not reach Jordan’s 6 titles, 6 Finals MVPs, and may not have an undefeated record in the Finals like Jordan. However, it wouldn’t take long for anyone to notice the player you’d want to build your team around is LeBron, a man among boys who can do it all as opposed to the high volume shooting and scoring Jordan.

We’re witnessing greatness before our very eyes. A once in a generation player. Father time himself has not yet caught up to LeBron James. Maybe this is why we hold LeBron James to such high expectations. We believe a player as gifted and talented as him should be perfect, despite the fact that no human being, let alone no basketball player, has a flawless resume. Fairly or unfairly, this is the plight LeBron James. A man so supremely talented,  a man with many accomplishments, yet no one wants to embrace him as the greatest of all time.

 

 

 

The Vindication of Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant made all the right moves.

Last Summer, F Kevin Durant shocked the world when he decided to abandon the Oklahoma City Thunder and singed with the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors were coming off a record setting 73 win regular season, but blew a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Many, including myself, called the move cowardly. A weak move that signified Kevin Durant didn’t have the killer instinct necessary to win an NBA championship. We saw him as a man who was only going to ride the coattails of a team that had just won 73 games and was one win away from back-to-back NBA titles. A team that, quite honestly, never needed him.

My how the times have changed over the last year.

After an injury plagued season that saw him miss 20 games, Kevin Durant justified his move to the Golden State. He delivered an NBA Finals performance of a lifetime and won his first NBA title and was named Finals MVP. In the Finals, Durant averaged 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. He did so against a man who schooled him back in the 2012 NBA Finals, LeBron James.

Many will say this was an expected result. After all, the greatest team in NBA regular season history added one of if not the most prolific scorer in NBA history to their already stacked squad. A squad that featured the back-to-back MVP, Stephen Curry, and one of the best shooters in the game, Klay Thompson. But Durant gave the Warriors something many believed the Warriors already had a plethora of: more offensive firepower. He made a prolific offense even more unguardable, the extra boost the Warriors needed to avenge last year’s choke-job. Durant also proved himself a capable defender, as he bought into the Warriors championship mentality and finally turned himself into an all-around weapon.

Of course, one would be remiss if they did not mention his former Thunder teammate, Russell Westbrook. Westbrook, who averaged a triple-double this season for the Thunder and is the likely MVP of the NBA, is hurt the most by Durant’s triumph. Durant traded a stubborn ball hog in Westbrook for a distributor in Stephen Curry, and put his stamp on Golden State’s title run. Westbrook, on the other hand, couldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs. Westbrook may be supremely talented and a bona fide superstar, but Durant knew he couldn’t win a championship with him. All of those triple doubles make Westbrook look foolish now, as he will be seen as the force that drove Kevin Durant to Northern California when he could have adjusted his game to better compliment Durant.

No one knows whether or not this will be Durant’s only title. No one knows if this is the first of many to come for him. But let’s not speculate about the future too much now. Let us allow Kevin Durant to enjoy moment in the sun after enduring a season of scathing criticism. All of that criticism means nothing now, as this past NBA season should be titled as so: The Vindication of Kevin Durant.

Oh yeah, Kevin Durant also overcame this…

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Bro-Commentary: Draymond Green on the Cavaliers’ Competition, Kelly Olynyk

Draymond Green, the motor and the mouth of the Golden State Warriors, made controversial comments regarding the Cleveland Cavaliers’ playoff competition and on whether or not Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk is a dirty player. Does Draymond have a point? Or should Draymond focus on his team?

 

NBA Playoffs: Conference Semifinals Preview

Now it gets interesting.

The first round of the NBA playoffs came and went. Some teams and players shined under the spotlight and are moving on, while others perished and will now watch the rest of the playoffs from the couch. The conference semifinals got underway today, and it’s time to predict which teams will advance to the conference finals.

Eastern Conference:

1. Celtics V. 4. Wizards, Celtics lead series 1-0.

The Celtics fumbled around with the Bulls in the first round but managed to finish them off in six games due to Bulls PG Rajon Rondo suffering a thumb injury that sidelined him games three through six. The Wizards also showed signs of being unfocused in their series against the Hawks, but still managed to win the series in six games. These two teams were evenly matched in the regular season, as each team won two out of the four games they played against each other. While the Wizards’ two guard tandem of PG John Wall and SG Bradley Beal will cause headaches for the Celtics, PG Isaiah Thomas and company should be favored to advance. The Wizards are flashy, fun to watch, and have a more experienced coach in Scott Brooks. However, they are also a collection of stooges led by PF Markieff Morris, and are prone to mental lapses. The Celtics are the better, more focused team, and they will squeak by the Wizards to advance to the eastern conference finals.

Prediction: Celtics in 7

2. Cavaliers V. 3. Raptors

The Raptors are the biggest conundrum of a team we’ve ever seen in the NBA. They have all the pieces in place: a strong backcourt led by PG Kyle Lowery and SG DeMar DeRozen, a physically imposing frontcourt led by trade deadline acquisition PF Serge Ibaka and C Jonas Valanciunas, and a solid head coach in Dwane Casey. Yet when they arrive to the NBA playoffs, they can’t seem to get out of their own way. PG Kyle Lowery laid a monster of an egg in a game 1 loss against the Bucks, and the team gave us a blast from the past by scoring only 77 points in a game 3 loss. They managed to rebound and win the series in six games, but it was against a relatively inexperienced Bucks team. Sure, the Cavaliers beat the lowly Pacers by an average margin of only four points per game, but the Cavs did what the best teams in the NBA are supposed to do and swept the Pacers. And once again, this series can be summarized like so: the Cavaliers have LeBron James. The Raptors do not.

Prediction: Cavs in 5

Western Conference:

1. Warriors V. 5. Jazz

The seemingly unstoppable Warriors are going through a period of adversity in the playoffs. Sure, they swept the Trailblazers (*again, as the best teams in the NBA are supposed to do*), but head coach Steve Kerr may not coach the rest of the NBA playoffs due to chronic back pain. Assistant head coach Mike Brown will now coach the team. Mike Brown may have coached the Cavaliers to an NBA Finals appearance in 2007 and spent time as coach of the Lakers, it would be foolish to think he’s as good of a coach as Kerr and that the Warriors won’t be affected by his absence eventually. F Kevin Durant missed games 2 and 3 of the first round due to a left calf injury, the same leg he hurt earlier this season that caused him to miss twenty games. None of that really matters in the semifinals, as they will advance to their third straight western conference finals despite these hardships. The Jazz are a youthful team that’ll challenge the Warriors every game, but there’s no reason to believe they can win four out of seven against them even with all of the adversity facing the Warriors.

Prediction: Warriors in 5

2. Spurs V. 3. Rockets

Rockets F James Harden may not walk away with MVP honors this year, but his team clowned soon to be MVP Russell Westbrook and the Thunder in five games. The Rockets showcased that they are a more complete team and are still loaded offensively. The Spurs, on the other hand, took six games to dispatch an offensively challenged Grizzlies team. While everyone will praise SF Kawhi Leonard as the best two-way player remaining in the playoffs (*What about that guy LeBron James? Isn’t he pretty good?*), the Spurs are missing a key component to their formula that has led to their successful twenty year run: a dominant big man. While it would have been naive to believe PF LaMarcus Aldrige could fill the big shoes left by legendary PF Tim Duncan or even resemble hall of fame C David Robinson, he hasn’t come close to matching the production he had during his time as a Trailblazer. While the Spurs have the edge in this series due to coach Gregg Popovich’s success against Mike D’Antoni in the playoffs (*he’s 4-0 in playoff series against Mike D’Antoni coached teams*), the Spurs will need more from their max-deal big man if they want to win an NBA championship.

Prediction: Spurs in 6.

 

 

 

NBA Playoffs: 1st Round Predictions

The first round of the NBA Playoffs is set. Who will win, and who will go home?

I famously declared the NBA season over by the All Star Break. Since then, however, the Golden State Warriors struggled against and then pummeled their competition after F Kevin Durant’s knee injury. At the same time, LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers experienced a funk of their own, resulting in them falling to the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Will this be enough to derail the highly anticipated third NBA Finals match up between the Cavs and the Warriors? We’ll get to that soon enough, but for now, here are my predictions for the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs.

Western Conference:

1.Warriors V. 8. Blazers.

Result: Warriors in 5

The Blazers got off to a slow start for the second consecutive year but once again got hot in the second half of the season to squeak their way into the playoffs. The reward for Damien Lillard (27 PPG, 5.9 APG), CJ McCollum (23 PPG) and company? A first round exit against the title favorite Warriors.

2. Spurs V. 7. Grizzlies.

Result: Spurs in 5

Remember back in the 2011 playoffs when the eight-seeded Grizzlies shocked the world and took down the one-seeded Spurs in six games? That was the pinnacle of the Zach Randolph led rough and tough Grizzlies. Grizzlies fans will always have that memory to cling on to. The only memory they’ll have of this series is how quickly Spurs MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard (25.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will mop up the floor with the Grizzlies’ jerseys.

3. Rockets V. 6.Thunder.

Result: Rockets in 7

The two leading players in the MVP race collide with Mr. Triple-Double Russell Westbrook (31.6 PPG, 10.4 APG, 10.7 RPG) representing the Thunder and James Harden (29.1 PPG, 11.2 APG, 8.1 RPG) representing the Rockets. It’s easily the most compelling series in the first round, and will decided who the real MVP of the NBA is once and for all. However, it will be Harden’s supporting cast, namely Sixth Man of the Year candidates SG Eric Gordon (16.2 PPG) and PG Lou Williams (17.5 PPG), who will help the Rockets eek out a trip to the western conference semi-finals.

4. Clippers V. 5. Jazz.

Result: Jazz in 7.

Most people can’t name a single starter from the Jazz. At the same time, we are perennially reminded of how desperate the Clippers are to be the kings of LA. Well Lob City will once again choke away a chance to advance in the playoffs, as Gordon Hayward (*there’s one starter, 21.9 PPG*), Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert (*hey, another one, 14 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 2.6 BLKPG*), and the rest of the up-start Utah Jazz will defeat the insufferable LA Clippers. Then we will once again hear from Clippers coach Doc Rivers how his team would’ve won the championship had they won in the first round, because the Clippers are that delusional.

Eastern Conference:

1.Celtics V. 8. Bulls

Result: Celtics in 6.

The Celtics are a surprise number one seed in the East. Led by PG/ little big man Isaiah Thomas (28.9 PPG, 5.9 APG), the Celtics are the overachievers of the NBA this year. But remember, this group of players representing the NBA’s historically marquee franchise have never won a playoff series together. While Thomas will be enough to get the C’s past an aging, dysfunctional Bulls team, Bulls SF Jimmy Butler (23.9 PPG, 5.5 APG, 6.2 RPG) is capable of making this a series, and old man SG Dwyane Wade (18.3 PPG) will want to give Chicago fans something to smile about before the Cubs win the World Series again this year.

2. Cavaliers V. 7. Pacers

Result: Cavs in 4.

Sure, the Cavs have experienced a funk the second half of this season. Yes, Pacers SF Paul George (23.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG) can turn up the heat come playoff time. But this series can be summed up like so: One team has LeBron James (26.4 PPG, 8.7 APG, 8.6 RPG). The other does not.

3. Raptors V. 6. Bucks

Result: Raptors in 6.

The Raptors have one of the best backcourts in the NBA in SG DeMar DeRozen (27.3 PPG) and PG Kyle Lowery (22.4 PPG, 7 APG). Their decision to acquire PF Serge Ibaka (14.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 BLKPG) was the best decision made by an NBA GM all year. But when it comes to the playoffs, the Raptors seem to stumble in the spotlight. They’ll waver against Jason Kidd’s gritty Bucks team, led by the “Greek Freak” PF Giannis Antetokounmpo (22.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG), but their home-court advantage in the Air-Canada Centre will carry them into the eastern conference semifinals.

4.  Wizards V. 5. Hawks

Result: Wizards in 6.

Largely an afterthought for most of this season, the Atlanta Hawks closed their season by defeating the top two seeds in the eastern conference three times, beating the Celtics once and clowning the Cavs twice. They’re peaking at the right time. However, the playoff futility for the city of Atlanta will continue, as PG John Wall (23.1 PPG, 10.7 APG) and SG Bradley Beal (23.1 PPG) of the Wizards will be too much for the Hawks to handle. But look on the bright side Atlanta, at least the Hawks won’t blow a 28-3 lead like the Falcons did in Super Bowl LII.