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 is my Super Bowl Sunday. Except in the case of All-Star Weekend, it’s spread out over three different events (because who really counts the Celebrity All-Star Game?). I’ve preset my DVR and set a side several hours of my Sunday to re-watch all the festivities before the main event on Sunday night, the NBA All-Star Game. I make it a habit to pick my winners beforehand (which tend to be wrong, I did pick Chase Budinger to win the Dunk Contest last year), so without further ado here are my picks for All-Star Weekend:
BBVA Rising Stars Challenge:
This event has developed more flair over the years. For starters Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkely now draft the teams rather than it being simply a Sophomore – Rookie Challenge, with the sophomores usually taking home the victory. With the teams now more evenly matched, it gives for a much more entertaining game. Here are the teams:
TEAM SHAQ: Damian Lillard (Portland), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Klay Thompson (Golden State), Harrison Barnes(Golden State), Chandler Parsons (Houston), Dion Waiters (Cleveland),Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte), Tyler Zeller (Cleveland), Kemba Walker (Charlotte)
TEAM CHUCK: Anthony Davis (New Orleans), Kenneth Faried (Denver), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio), Bradley Beal (Washington), Ricky Rubio(Minnesota), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland), Nikola Vucevic (Orlando),Brandon Knight (Detroit), Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento), Alexey Shved(Minnesota)
The clear cut favorite here is Shaq’s squad for one big reason. Kyrie Irving. I’ve been saying for months that Irving is the next elite player in the NBA. He has the potential to not only be elite, but to be a 1st tier elite player (Durant, Kobe, LeBron, Chris Paul). While Chuck’s roster certainly lends very well to a strong inside game with Anthony Davis and Nikola Vucevic, Andre Drummond will help anchor Team Shaq in the paint and allow Irving to score and create on the perimeter for the other shooters on his team (Barnes, Thompson, Parsons). Team Shaq should shoot Team Chuck out of the Toyota Center. Prediction: Team Shaq over Team Chuck – 143-131
All-Star Saturday Night
This is far and away the best part of the weekend, mainly because of the dunk contest. The other events hold merit and can be very entertaining, but everyone tunes in so they can be dazzled by the highflying showmanship in the final event of the evening, the Sprite Dunk Contest.
Sears Shooting Stars: This one is easy, plus not many people care, so I’ll make it short. You never bet against Robert Horry in a shootout. I’ll take the West squad of Big Shot Bob, Sam “Looks Like an Alien” Cassell, Harden, Westbrook, Tina Thompson and Maya Moore over the East squad of Dominique Wilkins, Mugsy Bogues, Bosh, Brook Lopez, Swin Cash, and Tamika Catchings.
Taco Bell Skills Challenge: In years past this event has featured some great point guards and playmakers. Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Steve Nash and Derrick Rose are some of the recent notable champions. This year’s contestants seemed to be a watered down version of the contestants of years past minus Parker. Aside from Jrue Holiday and Parker, I don’t consider the other contestants proven point guards at this point in their career. Not to say their future isn’t promising, but we haven’t seen much yet. Jeremy Lin, Jeff Teague, Damian Lillard, and Brandon Knight. While experience may seem trivial in a competition like this, I don’t see anyone unseating Parker as reigning champ.
Prediction: Parker over (3) Holiday and (2) Lillard in the 2nd Round. Lin will finish with the worst time, followed by Knight and Teague respectively.
Foot Locker 3 Point Contest: This event is always this most difficult to call, and this year does not get any easier. Last year’s contest featured Kevin Durant and Kevin Love in an intense shoot-out for the title. This years competitors all have a legitimate shot at the crown, but there are a few that stick out from the bunch. Here are the participants:
Prediction: This will be the most entertaining 3 point contest in recent history. Look for George and Bonner to make early exits. Look for Irving and Curry to face-off in the finals with Curry bring home the trophy. Watch out for Ryan Anderson as a potential dark horse.
Sprite Slam Dunk Contest: This contest is the most hyped and most entertaining event of the weekend. Their have been so many historic performance in the past from Dominique and MJ’s showdown in 1988 to Vince Carter’s absolute clinic in 2000. While the participants may have lacked star status in recent history (minus Howard and Griffin) , they have certainly made up for it with some legendary performances (Nate Robinson’s Kryptonite performance, Jeremy Evans two ball slam). Here are the participants:
Prediction: Look for Jeremy Evans to make an early exit after winning the competition last year. I just don’t see him having the showmanship or creativity to win it again. Look for Gerald Green, Kenneth Faried and Eric Bledsoe to advance to the finals with Bledsoe teaming up with teammate Chris Paul to pull something out of Lob City’s bag of tricks.
2013 All-Star Game:
Out with the old and in with new seems to be the theme of the 2013 All-Star Game, at least on the East squad. 6 of their 8 reserve players are participating in their first All-Star game including Paul George, Kyrie Irving, and Brooke Lopez. Kevin Garnett has stated that this will be the last All-Star game that he will participate in, after 16 appearances. On the West side they feature only one newcomer to the squad in James Harden, who joins his former teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in their 4th and 3rd All-Star games respectively. There are several other familiar faces on the West side, including Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, both of whom could be playing in their last All-Star game.
Prediction: This year’s West squad is stacked up and down the roster. With so much young talent on the East squad, I’ll take the West and their offensive juggernaut over the inexperienced East. Final Score: West over East – 133-124 MVP goes to Kevin Durant.
Now, I am on to the big men in the paint who can hit an occasional mid range jumpshot. Here is who I believe are the top five power forwards in the NBA today.
5. Blake Griffin- Almost all of Griffin’s stats have dropped since last season. However, the Los Angeles Clippers are a much better team compared to last year. This year, he is averaging 18.4 points per game along with 8.6 rebounds. Most fans think the only thing Blake Griffin can do is dunk, but his talent goes much deeper than his slamming ability. He makes 53% of his shots and is averaging a career high 66% from the free throw line. Griffin is a strong player whose all-around abilities are often shadowed by his incredible dunks.
4. Chris Bosh- Like Griffin, Chris Bosh’s abilities are also overshadowed, but by his teammates. As the ‘third wheel’ of the ‘Big Three’ in Miami, Bosh’s role may seem small due to the fact that he is not the best on the team, but the Heat rely on him heavily to hit open mid-range jumpers. Bosh is one of the few power forwards who has the ability to hit deeper jumpers. This season, he is only averaging 17.3 points per game, but is making a career high 54% of his attempted shots. At 6’11’’, Bosh should be grabbing more than 7.2 rebounds per game, but his team is winning, and in the end that is all that counts.
3. Tim Duncan- Unfortunately, Duncan has had to miss a few games due to a knee injury. Right now, his status is day-to-day and looks to be back after the All-Star weekend. At 36, the Spurs’ leader is averaging 17.3 points per game and his shooting over 50% from the field. Plus, he is grabbing nearly 10 rebounds per game. The 15 year veteran continues to get the job the done for the San Antonio Spurs, who have the best record in the NBA.
2. LaMarcus Aldridge- The face of the Portland Trailblazers, Aldridge is a young player who is very explosive. This season, he is scoring 21.1 points per game on 48% shooting. Aldridge is recording career highs in rebounds and assists, averaging 9 and 2.6 respectively. His play has earned him a second straight All-Star appearance.
1. Kevin Love- He has had to miss a majority of this season, but Love still remains the best power forward in the league. Aside from his rookie season, Love has averaged a double-double every year. This season, Love is scoring 18.3 points per game and rebounding 14 times per game. Kevin Love is a young, all-around player who could dominate the position for years to come.
Last, but not least, I will rank who I think are the top five centers in the NBA.
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.
A shooting guard scores the bulk of a team’s points and heavily contributes to his team’s
overall success. A few days ago, I ranked who I believe are the five best point guards in the NBA. Now, I will rank who I believe are the best shooting guards.
5. Stephen Curry- Curry is in his fifth year with the Golden State Warriors. The 24 year old sharp shooter is averaging 21 points per game, shooting 45.2 percent from three point range. Curry is the leader of a young, high-powered Golden State team that is on pace to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-2007 season.
4. Dwayne Wade- Unfortunately, Wade’s prime is in the past. The 31 year old has been affected by injuries throughout his career, more notably in the past three years. However, Wade remains an astonishing player, with two championships on his resumè. In his 10 year career, Wade is averaging 24.9 points per game along with 6.1 assists and 5 rebounds. This year, though, Wade is recording his lowest figures since his rookie season. Come playoff time, Dwayne normally steps-up his game and significantly increases his effort. Wade and the Miami Heat are first and the Eastern Conference.
3. Andre Iguodala- In his career, Andre has been averaging 15.2 points per game, 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists. In recent years, the two time Olympic gold medalist has not been playing well. This year, he is only scoring 13.4 points per game and does not put up impressive numbers in other categorites. He may not put up the highest stats, but Andre Iguodala’s presence impacts the game as much as any player in the NBA. His defensive awareness and all around effort make Iguodala one of the top guards in the league. Iguodala is leading an uprising Denver Nuggets squad towards the playoffs.
2. Kobe Bryant- Over the course of his 17 year Hall of Fame career, Bryant is averaging 25.5 points per game, and three of those years he had averaged over 30. This year, Kobe is putting up 28.1 points per game to go along with 4.3 rebounds. Plus, Bryant is starting to pass more than shoot. At a late time in his tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe is beginning to expand his game even more in order to help his team win ball games. The struggling Lakers are currently four games back of a playoff spot, as Kobe Bryant attempts to give L.A. a late push.
1. James Harden- This may come as surprise to most people. To me, I see no reason as to why Harden is not the best shooting guard in the NBA. Last year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden was the guy with the beard who had a tacky celebration after hitting a three pointer. Now, he has the Houston Rockets on track for a playoff spot. In just months, Harden has adjusted and matured his game. He went from averaging 16.8 points per game last season to 25.9 this year. Harden is also averaging 3.5 rebounds per game and 4.4 assists per game. He may have the team on his shoulders, but with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, James Harden is trying to carry the Rockets to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Some notable mentions are Paul George and Joe Johnson, but they are yet to establish themselves as dominant guards in the NBA. The shooting guard is typically the X-Factor in games, but the NBA has been dominated by the small forward position in recent years. Next, I will rank the top five small forwards in the league.
The point guard is the most important position in the game of basketball. He controls the floor and creates scoring opportunities for his team. This season, the role of a point guard has proved to be huge, as some teams ail without one, and others thrive with one. Here is a look at who I have as the top five point guards who are currently in the NBA.
5. Tony Parker- The five time All-Star continues to play at quite an elite level. At age 30, the Frenchman has won three championships and has been putting up staggering figures since entering the league in 2001. For his career, Parker is averaging 17 points per game, 6 assists, and 1 steal. This year, Parker is recording some of his highest stats ever, averaging 7.5 assists per game and 20.1 points per game. Parker’s San Antonio Spurs are currently first in the Western Conference.
4. Russell Westbrook- He is a point guard who can butcher a opposing teams by passing or shooting. Russell has both a signature pullup jump shot and an ability to attack the hoop. These assets are helping him 19.4 points per game in his career, and 22.5 this season. Not to mention his passing, dishing 7 assists per game over five seasons, and 8.4 this season. On the defensive side, Westbrook’s quickness has earned him 1.6 steals per game in his career, along with about 5 rebounds per game. Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City are second in the West.
3. Rajon Rondo- The Boston Celtics look like they may not reach the playoffs with the absence of their offensive leader. Rondo’s season sadly ended a few days ago with an ACL tear, but he is still one of the best players in the game. Scoring wise, Rondo is not too effective, but his court vision is astonishing. In the past three seasons, Rondo has averaged 11.3 assists per game. To go along with his feistiness towards players and referees, Rondo is a plain nuisance when he steps on the court. Here’s a clip of Rajon Rondo’s best passes from the 2011-2012 season.
2. Derrick Rose- Like Rondo, Derrick Rose has had to miss this season due to an ACL tear that happened last May. Although, Rose will miss essentially the 2012-2013 season, I still see him as one of the best. He was the youngest player to receive the MVP award at just 22. Over the course of his short career, Rose has averaged 6.8 assists per game and 21 points. When I look at Derrick Rose, though, I see probably the most explosive player in the NBA. His leaping ability for dunks is unreal, and he has speed like no other. Plus, the Chicago Bulls are still one of the best teams in the NBA, even without their star player. When Derrick Rose returns, Chicago could potentially represent the East in the NBA Finals. The Bulls sit at third in the Eastern Conference, 2½ games out of first place.
1. Chris Paul- Paul has led the Los Angeles Clippers to one of the best records in the NBA. To go along with a great record, the Clippers are undoubtedly the most dynamic team in the NBA. Without Chris Paul, L.A. would not even be in playoff contention. Paul is averaging nearly 10 assists per game in eight seasons. He is also putting up 18.7 points per game in what has been quite an illustrious career. As a six time All-Star and two time Olympic gold medalist, Paul continues to work for an NBA Championship.
The point guard controls the floor, but the shooting guard is the one who can hit the big time shots. Coming up, I will rank who I believe are the top five shooting guards in the NBA. Stay tuned.
When Steve Nash signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on July 11th of last year, Kobe Bryant finally received the true point guard he needed. After Dwight Howard signed in early August, the Lakers had a roster that seemed to guarantee a Finals appearance. They would once again run the NBA. Today, the Clippers have taken over Los Angeles, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the title as the best team in the NBA, and the Los Angeles Lakers have fallen to a 17-24 record.
Metta World Peace believed this Laker team had a serious opportunity to finish with a 73-9 record, never done before in the NBA. However, that dream was shattered on December 4 against the Houston Rockets, their tenth loss of the season. Kobe Bryant even said, “Obviously this isn’t working.” The situation has left many fans of the game scratching their heads, with such a high caliber team, why are the Lakers losing?
The team is fifth overall in the NBA in points per game, scoring an average of 102.6. They are third in rebounds per game with 45.6. However, the Lakers turn the ball over an average of 15.4 times per game. A more notable aspect of the game that the Lakers seem to be struggling with is free throws. The team shoots an average of 69.4 percent from the line, which is second worst in the NBA. There have been many instances this season in which missed free throws have cost the Lakers a shot at victory late in games.
Given the offensive struggles, you couldn’t think it could get much worse. Then you look at the team’s defense. They are giving up 101.4 points per game, and sport a 1.4 assist to turnover ratio. With so much size down low, and debatably the fastest backcourt in the division, one still wonders, why aren’t they getting it done?
After 41 games, the answer is simple: the Lakers are not motivated to win. Their lack of effort on both sides of the ball have cost them numerous games this season. Those games could come back to haunt the Lakers as they continue to fight for a playoff spot.