Tomorrow night marks the beginning of the NBA’s “second season”. The NBA playoffs begin the flow of casual basketball fans starting to watch and pay attention again, because as they justify it, “These games actually matter.” The stakes are raised, the contenders rise to the occasion, superstars are born and pretenders are sent packing. While the Heat, Thunder and Spurs are the obvious favorites for the title, there always seems to be a dark horse that emerges in the postseason. With the regular season over, the storylines are set for the first round. Here’s a break down of each match-up.
(1) Miami Heat vs (8) Milwaukee Bucks
We’ll start with the easiest match-up to predict this postseason. Here are some of the facts. The Bucks finished with a sub-.500 record at 38-44 in a depleted Eastern Conference including a 24-28 conference record. Miami just completed one of the most impressive regular seasons in the history of the league. They also have the best player in the world right now, possibly ever, in LeBron James. If the Bucks look like anything less than a deer in the headlights throughout this series, Jennings deserves a max deal and Jim Boylan deserves an extension. This scenario is about as likely as Gary Busey winning an Oscar for Best Actor (I know, I know, he was nominated in 1978). Prediction: Heat in 4.
(2) New York Knicks vs (7) Boston Celtics
Live by the three, die like a fly. That was the philosophy taught by my father to all the teams he coached back during his stint as a grade school head basketball coach. This series features a team that has based its entire season on living or dying from beyond the arc. Mike Woodson is an excellent coach, but Knicks fan should be fearful of a series in which 2 or more of their 3-point specialists get cold for any extent of this series. The Celtics defend and rebound the ball incredibly well and could cause fits for the Knicks, especially if Jeff Green can maintain a steady motor throughout the series. Look for the Celtics to push this series to at least 6 games. Prediction: Knicks in 7.
(3) Indiana Pacers vs (6) Atlanta Hawks
Frank Vogel needs the Paul George from 2 months ago back if the Pacers want any hope of making a deep playoff run. In fact, Vogel will need a consistent Paul George if they want to advance past the Hawks, who are deceptively very good. George is averaging only 12.8 per contest during the month of April and the whole team has certainly felt the lack of production. With the core of Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jeff Teague, the Hawks are certainly capable of pulling off the upset. George Hill’s health will also be crucial to the Pacer’s returning to mid-season form. The teams split the series during the regular season. Look for this one to be a dogfight. Prediction: Pacers in 6.
(4) Brooklyn Nets vs (5) Chicago Bulls
The Nets have quietly been a very strong team down the stretch. At he beginning of the season almost no one would have predicted that the Nets would be one of the better defensive squads in the league, ranking 6th in points per game allowed. Deron Williams has also come on strong recently and has morphed back into the Deron Williams we had seen in the past, a top tier point guard. With both Rose and potentially Noah out for the series, I don’t see anyway the Bulls compete with the Nets in this series especially when it comes to matching up against Williams and All-Star Center Brook Lopez. The Nets are my dark horse selection for the 2013 postseason. Prediction: Nets in 5.
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (8) Houston Rockets
This is the match-up most NBA fans wanted to see. With Kevin Martin and James Harden squaring off in this opening round, it appears as if the exes have both been invited to the same party, and it makes for a awkward yet great story. Aside from Harden, the Thunder are better at nearly every single position including a deeper bench. While the Rockets are certainly a talented team, they’re still a year or two away from being a legitimate strength in the West. They may have enough in the tank to steal one, possibly two from the Thunder, but don’t expect an upset here. This is Durant and Westbrook’s conference to lose. It won’t happen in this round. Prediction: Thunder in 5.
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs (7) Los Angeles Lakers
Believe it or not, of all the series in the first round this one has the most upset potential. For starters, the Spurs have been shaky down the stretch this season, including a loss to Los Angeles post Kobe Bryan injury. With Parker and Duncan’s limits being limited all season due to health concerns, and Ginobili potentially our for the whole series, the Spurs rotation is greatly depleted. Look for the Lakers to try to pound the ball inside like they did in their recent win over the Spurs on Sunday. Expect the Lakers to take try to take advantage of spots in the series when Duncan is off the floor and Poppovich is managing his minutes. This series will go to the brink but look for the Spurs to come out on top. Prediction: Spurs in 7.
(3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Golden State Warriors
NBA statisticians could be reaching for the record books during this series, because this one will be a shootout. Both the Warriors and the Nuggets have two of the most high-powered offenses in the game (7 and 1 in scoring respectively). Both have very young and incredibly talented point guards in Ty Lawson for the Nuggets and Stephen Curry for the Warriors, who are both arguably their teams best players. Curry, though has been playing at an unbelievably high level in the last half of the season. It’s often said that the team with the best player wins the series, and if Curry maintains his high level of play through the first round, they could find themselves in the quarterfinals. Prediction: Warriors in 6.
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies
There’s a lot of bad blood between these two teams, especially with this being a repeat of these teams’ first round series last year. It’s been made very clear Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph don’t take to kindly to one another and their physicality towards one another will certainly rub off on their teammates. While the Clippers appear to have the edge in overall talent, the Grizzles superior post play of Marc Gasol and Randolph could give the Clippers fits. They may not be able to play small ball as much as they did in the regular season, at least during this series. The Clippers, still, are a much deeper team than the Grizzlies and are 3-1 in the season series between the two. They will rely heavily on DeAndre Jordan and Griffin and their athleticism to limit Gasol and Randolph. Look for the Grizzlies to make yet another early postseason exit. Prediction: Clippers in 6.
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard, Trailblazers
Sixth Man of the Year: J.R. Smith, Knicks
Defensive Player of the Year: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Most Improved Player: Paul George, Pacers
Coach of the Year: Mike Woodson, Knicks
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Heat
All-Star weekend in Houston is over, and the trade deadline has been met. A handful of teams have surprised the world, while others have been utterly disappointing. With the month of February coming to an end, here is what you need to know about the NBA today.
Starting in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers have essentially been a failure. Before the season, small forward Metta World Peace believed the Lakers could win 73 games, something that has never been done. L.A. has only won 28 games with 24 remaining. Mathematically, it looks like the Lakers will not be winning 73 games. Kobe Bryant is more than confident that Los Angles will make a late season push into the playoffs, yet the Lakers are currently ninth in the West.
The San Antonio Spurs are as good as they seem. Though the Spurs may be old, this team currently has a 45-13 record, the best in the NBA. Tony Parker is averaging 21.1 points per game on the year, and Tim Duncan is rebounding around 10 times per game. Many believe the team is so old that they have forgotten how to lose. San Antonio looks like a legitimate contender for the NBA championship.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the same, explosive team as last season. However, the loss of James Harden is proving to be a burden for OKC. The Thunder are just 17-9 in the new year, but are still second in the West. Kevin Durant is making his case for MVP, leading the league in scoring, averaging 28.8 points per game. Oklahoma City is still a tough place to play at, and that could hold well for the Thunder come playoff time.
To me, the surprises of the West are the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets. Golden State is a young team that is statistically one of the better teams in the league. The Clippers are third in the West and have a roster that can win match-ups against nearly any team. No one expected the Houston Rockets to be where they are right now. James Harden has Houston eighth in the West after being predicted to finish last in the conference. The obvious disappointment is the Lakers, but I also think of Minnesota as a disappointment. Although Kevin Love is out, I did not expect the Timberwolves to have a record of 20-33. Next season, Minnesota could be a serious playoff contender.
In the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat are dominating. LeBron James is at the top of his game right now, averaging 27 points per game with a field goal percentage of 57. Plus James is grabbing a career high 8.1 rebounds per game along with 7.1 assists per game. He is the frontrunner for the MVP, and the Miami Heat are frontrunners for the title, currently first in the East at 40-14.
The Indiana Pacers are on the rise with the return of Danny Granger. The Pacers are virtually and physically the only team in the East with a chance of beating the Heat in the playoffs. Their size and athleticism gives Indiana a colossal advantage over some teams, more notably Miami. The Pacers are second in the East, trailing the Heat by six games.
The East may not be too competitive, but the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls have been impressive thus far. The Knicks got off to a hot start at the beginning of the year, going 11-4 in November, but have since fallen to third in the East. Carmelo Anthony is having the best season of his career as he looks to carry New York to a high seed in the playoffs. The Chicago Bulls have been missing their star player in Derrick Rose the entire season, yet are still in playoff contention. With Rose’s return coming any time he feels like he can play, the Bulls will only be better. The Boston Celtics are the only disappointment to me in the East. They lost point guard Rajon Rondo to injury, but I feel like they should be better than 30-27. Boston had a chance to go to the Finals last season, but it looks like a championship run is out of the Celtic picture.
As the race for awards begins, here are some of my predictions for the more major awards.
Rookie of the Year- Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
Sixth Man of the Year- Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
Coach of the Year- Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Most Improved Player- Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers
Most Valuable Player- LeBron James, Miami Heat
2012-2013 NBA Champion- Miami Heat over San Antonio Spurs (4-3)
With about two months left, the rest of this NBA season should shape out to be an exciting one.
Some of the best players to ever play basketball have played the small forward position. From Elgin Baylor to today, the game has been run by the small forwards. Today, this is who I believe are the five best shooting guards in the league.
5. Paul Pierce- The former Jayhawk is now in his fourteenth season, and his age is beginning to show. At 35, some of Pierce’s talents and abilities are beginning to fade. He is playing less minutes, but his stats remain average for his career. Pierce averages 18.6 points per game, as well as 6.1 rebounds. Unfortunately, most of his numbers are going down and the simple reason why is because he is just not the same player he used to be. Because of Rajon Rondo’s injury, Paul Pierce has to create shots for himself. It is now Pierce’s duty to try and push the Boston Celtics into the playoffs.
4. Luol Deng- He has certainly stepped up his game for the Chicago Bulls due to the absence of Derrick Rose. In his ninth season, Deng is averaging 17.3 points per game, 6.7 rebounds and a career high 3.1 assists. He can hit clutch three point shots and knock down his free throws. With the talent Deng has, I would like to see him attack the paint more and take more shots. However, with the return of Derrick Rose in less than a month, Luol Deng’s opportunity to shine may not come. However, he is still an elite player and his team only gets better with Derrick Rose on his way back.
3. Carmelo Anthony- He is having an MVP season, recording 28.5 points per game, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists. At 6’8”, Melo can beat a player on the outside with his jump shot, or down low with his size. He is hitting 44.7% of his attempted shots this season, 41% on three point attempts. Plus, Anthony is only turning the ball over 2.6 times per game, which is very impressive for someone who has the ball in his hands a majority of the time. Carmelo Anthony’s game has matured greatly, as he has put the New York Knicks in second place in the Eastern Conference.
2. Kevin Durant- The 24 year old is certainly making his case to be the best player in the NBA. Durant, who stands at a lanky 6’10”, has one of the toughest jump shots to defend. His size gives them ability to shoot over almost any defender. KD is knocking down a career high 51.6% of his shots this year. Like the past three seasons, Durant is leading the league in scoring once again, averaging. 29.6 points a game. Along with scoring, he is averaging 7.4 rebounds a game and a career high 4.4 assists. Durant is in charge of the Oklahoma City Thunder, as they look to get back to the NBA Finals.
1. LeBron James- This should not come as too much of a surprise to anyone. As arguably the most physically-gifted athlete to ever play basketball, James continues to evolve his game. He is shooting an average of 55% from the field, 40.4% from three point range, and grabbing 8.3 rebounds, all career highs. LeBron is also scoring an average of 26.6 points per game and dishing 7 assists per game. With his 6’8”, 250 pound frame of what is sheer muscle, LeBron James has the ability to play any position. For now, James has established himself as the most preeminent player in the game of basketball.
Now, I am on to the big men down low in the paint. Up next, I will rank the top five power forwards in the NBA.
Over the course of this year’s NBA season, certain players across the league have impressed the world night in and night out. Since the start of the season back in November, four players have established themselves as the best in the league. Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and LeBron James have been the most consistent, dominate players this year, and here is why each athlete should be considered for the MVP award at the end of the season.
Carmelo Anthony predicted everything. When he was traded to the New York Knicks almost three years ago, Anthony thought that the first two years would be rough, but the third would be their year. It would be the year he led the Knicks to an NBA Championship. As of now, Anthony is fulfilling his prophecy. Melo is averaging 29 points per game and has New York at a 23-11 record. More importantly, without Carmelo Anthony’s offensive production, the New York Knicks would not be where they are right now. He is, with no doubt, a legitimate contender for the MVP award this season.
Chris Paul has to have his name mentioned in the MVP race. CP3 averages about 19 points a game and almost 10 assists a game. Along with those impressive numbers comes his momentum making ability. His beautiful lobs to Blake Griffin and company are what essentially control any crowd’s mood. The most significant part of where Paul’s play is has put the Los Angeles Clippers is first in the Western Conference with a 27-8 record. If Chris Paul was not in L.A., this Clippers team would be like the ones from 2010 and earlier: unbelievably awful. When MVP voting time comes around, voters need to look at Chris Paul’s impact on the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Durantula is doing it again this season. One difference this year is the ferocity Kevin Durant is playing with. There is just a different style to the way Durant plays with that was not seen in his previous years. This year K.D. received his first ejection. It is not like that is a good thing, but in some eyes, it is a sign Kevin Durant is hungry for an NBA Championship. He has won the scoring title the last three years, and right now he puts up about 27 a game. However, there is a concern for his MVP status because his numbers in nearly every category are now from last season. Durant has the Oklahoma City Thunder at a 26 and 8 record.
Of course, there is the Sportsman of the Year LeBron James. Believe it or not, the Miami Heat would be more than likely fighting for a playoff spot if it was not for James. LeBron leads Miami in points, rebounds and assists, putting up 26.4, 7.2 and 6.9 respectively. His team sits atop the Eastern Conference with a 23 and 10 record. Dating back to last season, LeBron has scored 20 or more points in 54 straight games. The three time MVP is certainly playing like he is the front-runner for number four.
These four athletes were teammates over the summer at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Each are great friends with one another off the court and can be seen together at dinners. On the court, all four can not stand one another. They fight hard until the final buzzer for the win, and you should expect the four to fight hard for both the NBA Championship and the MVP.