Perhaps the pivotal turning point in this years playoffs is the injury of Russell Westbrook. Unlike teammate Kevin Durant‘s Sports Illustrated cover, Russell Westbrook’s injury could not have come at a worse time. In a year in which Russell set career highs in rebounding, assists, points, and games started, it seems like great things were in store for the electrifying guard. However that idea didn’t come to fruition as Westbrook suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee in game 2 of the playoffs versus the Houston Rockets. Houston’s first year player Patrick Beverly has been criticized for the play in which he aggressively attempted to steal the ball near half-court causing Westbrook to twist his leg in an irregular motion. Westbrook’s injury which involved a collision between the two players is what Beverly called an “unfortunate situation” following the game. View the tape for yourself.
Prior to Westbrook’s injury, the playoffs looked promising in what seemed to be a year that Oklahoma City might contend for another NBA title. Yet since his injury, nothing has been the same. Perhaps opposing western conference teams no longer fear matching up with Oklahoma City as much as they once did. The loss of Westbrook leaves OKC without 23 points, 7 assists 2 steals and 5 rebounds of production; Every night. It might not sound like much, but these are good numbers. All-Star numbers. Numbers that replacement Reggie Jackson and reserve Kevin Martin must live up to in order to keep the Thunder afloat. Can OKC win without Westbrook? Yes they beat the Rockets in game 3 104-101. But I don’t believe they will be able to do it for any longer than the 2nd round.
I think it’s safe to say the road to the Larry O’ Brien trophy just got easier for every team in the West. Teams That Look Good: Clippers, Warriors, Spurs. For the simple fact that the Clippers have perhaps the deepest bench in the west, I like their chances. They posess the resilience to overcome adversity in many aspects of a game. For these reasons I like the Clippers. Golden State. Wow. It would be wrong not to mention that Stephen Curry is among the leagues premier players; Period. He’s single-hadedly carried the Warriors all season and through the first round up until this point. And a well-deserved round of applause for first time Head Coach Mark Jackson; Great Job. As long as these guys are shooting well, they’ll be fine. San Antonio: What more can I say, they made a fool of the Lakers in every single game. Whether it was just the horrifying play of the Lakers or the Spurs dominance, they look extremely dangerous. Teams That Won’t Survive: Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies,
Lakers. OKC won’t survive because believe it or not they actually rely on Russel Westbrook’s explosive play more than you think. Reggie Jackson is good, but he’s not Russell. Kevin Durant will continue to light it up but ultimately he will run out of help and Serge Ibaka might cry. I honestly believe the Houston Rockets are the worst team on the west side of the bracket simply because they count on James Harden too much. And without Jeremy Lin, Harden has no one else to decoy for him. Although Chandler Parsons has mountains of potential and athleticism he has yet to tap into, he continues to play like a role player. And for these reasons, Patrick Beverly and the Rockets won’t be seeing the 2nd round either. Memphis is among the best teams in this years playoffs. So why do I have them exiting before anything good happens for them? They’re playing the Clippers, it’s as simple as that. And although they’ve proven that they can beat L.A., they’re going to have to beat them on the road. That ain’t happening, at least not this year. But I will give credit where credit is due, big ups to the Grizzlies for handling themselves so well this season after shipping away key pieces like Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo and Marreese Speights. They’ve managed to rebuild and recover rather quickly. Oh, I almost forgot, the Lakers. Congratulations on making the playoffs, I honestly didn’t think you could do it. It’s been a good run (Laughs).
* In the end, I’m still taking the Indiana Pacers vs (Whoever dares to get in their way). That’s right, the Pacers will be NBA Champs. And for all the Heat bandwagoners, I say this. You heard it here first, the Miami Heat will contend for a title only one more time.
And now the moment we have all been waiting for. The NBA Playoffs are finally here. Since it’s still early and we’re only two games in, I figured I would share my thoughts on the most exciting series of the playoffs. There’s everything to like about the matchup between these teams including their history which proves that this years rematch between the L.A. Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies is bound to be even better than last years.
A year ago we thought little of the 4 vs 5 matchup between Memphis and L.A. but as we reminisce, we remember what a great series that was. Their round 1 matchup in last years playoffs would go on to become an instant classic after the Clippers defeated the Grizzlies in game 7. To say these games were competitive would be like calling an oven warm after baking cookies. The correct word of choice here being hot. 5 out of the eventual 7 games would be determined by 4 points or less with each team averaging just over 90 points and 16 assists a game. In game 1, the Clippers would overcome a 21 point deficit entering the 4th quarter as they defeated the Grizzlies 99-98. Memphis would soon learn from their mistakes managing to hold a 4th quarter lead as they handled Los Angeles 105-98 in game 2 (tied 1-1). The Clippers managed to steal game 3 despite missing 17 Free Throws and Rudy Gay‘s 24 points (L.A. 2-1). In game 4 the Grizzlies would force overtime behind an 11-1 fourth quarter run. Led by Chris Paul‘s 27 points, 7 assists and 9 rebounds the Clippers defeated the Grizzlies in overtime 101-97 taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Following their game 4 demise, the Grizzlies would take games 5 and 6 tying the series (3-3) and forcing game 7. In game 7 bench production would play large as L.A.’s reserves would outscore Memphis 41-11 behind Nick Young‘s 13 points. The Clippers defeated the Grizzlies 82-72 in game 7 before moving on to face the San Antonio Spurs in round 2.
And now we fast forward to this years series. Although L.A. currently leads 2-0, this years series has already shown signs to be even more exciting than last years. It’s ironic that these two teams a year removed from last years matchup manage to meet again in 4v5 fashion. Their similar game play and competitive nature have yet to disappoint thus far. Following the Clippers convincing game 1 victory 112-91, Chris Paul’s game winning shot on Monday night solidified a 2-0 lead on Memphis. The fact that game 2 came down to one final shot was proof that tensions are beginning to heat up between these teams. (Either that or this series is over because Los Angeles is looking better than ever). Chris Paul’s game 2 heroics only add to what has been a highlight reel of clutch playoff performances for the leagues best #3. Leading to my next point which came from a casual basketball discussion that came up today: Other than Lebron James, Chris Paul is the only player who could singlehandedly carry any team to the playoffs. Think about it. Oh and while you do that make sure you don’t miss game 3 of what looks to be an exciting series of games to come. Game 3; Clippers at Grizzlies is set for Thursday April 25, 9:30 EST.
Just as we began to flip the page to find out what happens in the next chapter of the Los Angeles Lakers storybook season, the unthinkable happened. Franchise cornerstone Kobe Bryant tore his achilles just games before the post season; (Bryant is expected to sit out 6 to 9 weeks) Tragic. During the months of February and March, the Lakers had managed to crawl themselves back into the middle of the pack in the Western Conference standings. As of today they stand in 8th place, just one and a half game ahead of the Utah Jazz. A month ago, I said the Lakers would not make the post season because of their inability to keep everyone healthy and the lack of chemistry they displayed. However, I also stated that if they did get hot enough to obtain the 8th seed they would be a dangerous team to play against. My assumptions were based on the idea that number 24 would be playing but after Friday nights tragedy, it does not look like that is going to happen.
The good news is that the season is not over if L.A. decides it isn’t. They will play their final game of the season versus the Houston Rockets. At this point both Houston and Los Angeles could use another victory. Houston battles Golden State for the coveted 6 seed as both teams share the same record at (45-35) and Los Angeles leads Utah by just a game and half in efforts to secure the 8 seed. Utah has two games left. The best thing the Lakers can do is win their game against the Rockets and pray the Jazz at least split their last two 1-1.
Although many analysts have weighed in on how Kobe’s absence will impact this years team negatively, I have good reason to think otherwise. Let me give you something to chew on. Maybe Kobe’s injury proves to be the beginning of a turning point for the Lakers much like how Louisville rallied to win the title after Kevin Ware’s horrific leg injury. Hmm pretty good right? It’s highly unlikely, impossible in many ways but it was worth a try. Realistically I see the Lakers winning Wednesday night (at home), Utah choking under pressure and LA securing the 8 seed. From there the Lakers go on to entertain Oklahoma City crowds much how like the Harlem Globetrotters (Thunder) absolutely embarrass the Washington Generals (Lakers) in every game. The Thunder sweep them in four games and in the end we still find ourselves talking Lakerball all summer long. Despite their entire 2012-2013 season debacle. That’s just my prediction.
In other Laker news..
Lakers Sign Andrew Goudelock with two games left
Remember Dwight Howard?
We could have never imagined the end of the NBA regular season would turn out to be so exciting. Where to begin. I think it would be appropriate to start off by saying that Carmelo Anthony is looking more and more like the most versatile scorer in the game today. That J.R. Smith deserves a contract extension. And that the Knicks who I once questioned this past summer have proved me wrong; Again. The Knicks have managed to ride a convincing 12 game win streak after defeating the Thunder 125-120 on Sunday. However, the other competition that took place in the game on Sunday had nothing to do with winning the game. It was the battle for the scoring title, between the likes of OKC’s Kevin Durant and NYC’s Carmelo Anthony. In his five seasons in the NBA, Kevin Durant has won three league scoring titles. Durant, the three time reigning scoring champion (2010-2012) had this to say about this years scoring title race. “He can have it, Durant said Thursday when asked about the scoring title and Sunday’s head-to-head game with Anthony. Durant went so far as to say he’s rooting for Anthony.” (NBA.com) I’m buying Durant’s comments, he’s proven himself as the best scorer in today’s game and everyone knows that. Ironically, in his 10 year career Carmelo has never won a league scoring title. And has always been left out of the MVP race. This year Anthony has his name in both conversations, that’s an accomplishment in itself. At season’s end, nobody’s going to forget him going for 50, 40, 41 and 36 points over his last four games. Big games to say the least, all resulting in wins for the Knicks as well. Although this late season push may not mean much to you and I, the Knicks are gaining more and more confidence leading into the post season. Believe it or not, New York is dangerous.
The fact that the Heat beat the Spurs earlier today has very little to do with how dominant San Antonio has been all season. To be specific they managed to defeat the ageless wonders 88-86 by way of a late Chris Bosh three-pointer with just a second left on the clock. Impressive? Yes. Convincing? Not so much. Although Wade and Lebron were watching from the sidelines, role players Ray Allen, Norris Cole and Mike Miller combined for a 39 point output next to Bosh’s 23. (When was the last time that happened) So big deal, the Heat won a low scoring game by way of a game winner without 2 of their superstars. And lets not forget Manu Ginobli was watching from the sidelines as well due to a nagging hamstring injury. Enough about today’s game. I think the most amazing thing about the San Antonio Spurs is how they have managed to maintain the top spot in the west at (55-18) seemingly doing so under the radar.
The last time we heard about the Spurs was back in November when David Stern sanctioned Coach Greg Popovich and the Spurs for leaving the
big “old-three” in San Antonio to rest before a regular season game versus the Heat in Miami. Let’s not even get into that. A commissioner telling a coach how to conduct his team is simply out of order. Imagine Roger Goodell telling Jerry Jones or Jason Garett how to run the Cowboys..Please. Save your breath, with Miami’s roster at full strength they beat the Spurs by 5. So why haven’t we heard anything about the Spurs other than “they’re good”. Because there isn’t much reporters can say other than “The Spurs won. Again.” How? They have arguably the best run franchise in pro basketball. It seems like everything is in order. All the way down to their D-League affiliate known as the Austin Toros. San Antonio is the model for what every NBA franchise should try to emulate. They have had a great long-term coach, they were fortunate to draft franchise players and a Hall of Famer. 4 Championships later and they’re still here, knocking for another and nothing has changed. They will play anyone, anywhere. If you like to run they’ll run you right out of the gym. If you want to play slow they will beat you one possession at a time. This is why the statement remains to be “San Antonio is good, real good”. They are not perfect though, I believe Oklahoma City can match them if they were to meet again in the playoffs. But other than that I think that list will remain to be a short one with just OKC. The Clippers can play, the Nuggets can play too but I don’t see either of these two beating the Spurs in 7. The season is winding down and with the top seed in the west it’s safe to say that the Spurs will be preparing themselves for a long playoff run. Does David Stern spank the Spurs again for sitting their stars? Or do the old-three fake injuries in practice to save their legs. Who knows, at the end of the day we’re all outsiders looking in. Have you ever played in an NBA game? Me neither, frankly we don’t know much of anything. But the Spurs are real so shut up and watch.
The time has come. We have reached the time in which all of our basketball attention is held captive to college basketball and the excitement March Madness brings. Some would go as far as saying that no one watches the NBA during the month of March. It’s a good observation but its times like these that teams start getting hot. Don’t worry, this isn’t another rant about the Miami Heat and their journey to capture the single-season record for consecutive wins, or how the Nuggets have begun a healthy run of their own. It’s a good time to review teams expectations, to see how far some have come, and how others fell short.
1. Chicago Bulls
Despite the absence of their 2010-2011 MVP guard Derrick Rose, the Bulls have managed to work their way into the sixth spot in the East. Sitting only a game behind Atlanta, making the playoffs is the least of Chicago’s worries. Moving forward the Bulls should be more concerned about who they will be playing in the first round of the playoffs. And secondly if Derrick Rose is going to make his grand entrance into to the lineup or not. With or without Rose, if the playoffs started today, the Bulls would have to face the Pacers who have handled themselves very well thus far. Chicago’s chances at competing with Indiana are slim to none; A matchup that would probably end up looking like a bully beat-down in the stalls. But if they are able to beat out the Hawks for the fifth spot, it would place them in an ideal match up with the Nets. Don’t get me wrong, Brooklyn is no slouch but the Bulls should have no problems matching up with them. Aside from the playoffs, the Bulls have overachieved in many ways this season. They have competed well posting winning records in the conference (27-13) as well as at home (19-16) and on the road (18-15). Individual players have stepped up as well beginning with Nate Robinson who has been a key contributor both as a starter and a role player coming off the bench. Robinson has found a way to fit in with the team in a way only he could (Nate Robinson has played for five different teams in seven seasons in the NBA). Without the help of Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer has done well to provide consistency while Luol Deng and Jokim Noah have stepped up to become All-Stars playing well in their own rights. Over all, Chicago has done just fine under coach Tom Thibodeau and the graces of Derrick Rose. Whichever matchup they draw, look for the Bulls to continue their resilience led by Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Jokim Noah and the ever exciting Nate Robinson. #Holdat.
2. Golden State Warriors
The young team that the Warriors put on the floor is one of the most talented clubs in the league. Under first time Head Coach Mark Jackson, they have done well enough to earn a six seed in a very competitive Western Conference at 40-31. Golden State has done well considering the fact that they played upwards of two-thirds of the season without their big man Andrew Bogut (back injury) who recently returned to the floor earlier this month. Stephen Curry’s 54 point outburst versus the Knicks may have been one of the most captivating performances of the regular season but the Warriors fell short and the Knicks won 109 – 105. Much like how the Warriors and everyone else who watches the NBA was wondering how in the world Stephen Curry didn’t make the All-Star team. He clearly put up All-Star numbers averaging 22.4 pts more than 6 ast and 4 rebounds a game. My guess is that the committee won’t pass up on him again. Although he’s been playing great since he’s been in the league, there’s no doubt that he’s clearly one of the leagues newest stars. His supporting cast looks very promising as well. Off guards Klay Thompson and Brandon Rush have done well to become key contributors in Golden State while mentoring young rookies Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. While this may not be the Warriors year for a deep playoff run, their time is coming. The core roster they have managed to put together will continue its development working toward what I think will one day be one of the best in the west. For now, Golden State finds themselves in position to match up with a Denver squad who is blazing hot to say the least. Who knows, the matchup between these two teams would definitely be one hell of a shootout. Believe that.
With less than 25 games left in the regular season the NBA Playoffs are drawing near. Finally the playoff picture is beginning to come into focus. Top teams look to continue their dominance while the bottom-feeders fight for position. And this is why we love the NBA, the end of the regular season and the playoffs. Because any team on any given night can be beat in this league that’s just how it goes. Whether your team is sitting among the top tier of title contenders or playing like a humble rebuilding project, any team can show out in the playoffs. It’s a completely new season. In the playoffs 16 teams come in with a blank records and only one can win. Think sweet sixteen. But other than home court advantage, nothing from the regular season matters except the seven game series ahead. Fortunately this years eastern & western conference match ups look to be exciting. In no particular order, here are four teams to watch for this post season.
One: Los Angeles Clippers
Recently crowned as the best team in L.A., the Clippers are pacing toward the playoffs in style with the western conference 3rd best record (43-19). Led by All-Star MVP Chris Paul, the team looks to be moving forward toward their next feat; winning the western conference quarter finals. After defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in an exciting first round match up 4 games to 3, the Clippers were swept by the ageless wonder San Antonio Spurs four games to none. A year removed from the disappointing showing against the Spurs, the Clippers have made enormous strides toward greatness this season. In fact, they have beaten the Spurs twice out of the teams three meetings in the regular season thus far. The Clippers have also managed to improve their defense as they currently lead the league in steals. Look for L.A.’s best to make waves in this years post season.
Two: New York Knicks
Aside from the 54 point clinic Stephen Curry put on for the Knicks last Wednesday night, the Knicks beat the Warriors 109-105. Carmelo Anthony dropped 35 points while handing out 8 assists, J.R. Smith added 26 points off the bench and Tyson Chandler had 16 points and 28 rebounds. Yes, 28. But no one was talking about any of that. 54 points later and 4 points too short, that night the Knicks hushed Warrior fans while making the statement that they are a good team. “Team” being the key word. New York displays good balance and rhythm with multiple contributors from the starters to the end of the bench. They currently sit third in the eastern conference at (35-21) but many would argue that they look much better than their record. I cannot believe I’m saying this but I believe the Knicks are one of a select group of teams that can contend with the Miami Heat in this years playoffs. If they can get back into the groove they had early in the season I don’t see why they can’t make a deep run in the playoffs in April.
Three: Denver Nuggets
Ever heard of the term “Run & Gun” ? Meet this years Denver Nuggets squad. All they do is get buckets. The Nuggets are among the leaders in field goal percentage, assists, total points and they are one of few teams in the league to feature six different players recording double-digit scoring averages. How is their defense you say? Not so great; but their scoring efficiency has allowed them to win games (38-22). Enough for them to be sitting comfortably at 5th in the standings among league leading western conference teams. Although some may have thought the Nuggets future was over after moving Carmelo Anthony to New York a couple of seasons ago, ironically they are more of a team now than ever before. But much like the Knicks, the Denver poses multiple threats on the fast break as well as from behind the arc. They’re tough to deal with in the open court because their versatility. Presumably coming into the playoffs at no. 5, look for the Nuggets to start turning heads.
Four: Indiana Pacers
Although I said this list had no particular order, I lied; Best for last. The Indiana Pacers ARE my choice to represent the east in this years NBA finals. If that prediction involves beating the Miami Heat in 7 then so be it because if any team has the tools, it’s this one. Led by first time All-Star guard Paul George the Pacers have snuck into second place in the east while passing the New York Knicks on the way. They have won 7 of their last 10 games and hold a solid 10-2 divisional record. If you think about it the Pacers are a lot like the Heat. They are tough, they play solid D, feature a great transition game and they take care of the ball. It’s a great formula for winning, maybe that’s why these two teams are at the top of the east. Last year the Heat beat the Pacers after trailing two games to none. They finished the series winning four straight, closing out the series in 6. If anything, that series gave Indiana confidence and urgency. Caution: Dangerous combination. From last years meltdown against Miami to the emergence of Paul George and the sudden rise to the top of the eastern conference, it is time that the Pacers make their statement as the best team in the east. Stay Tuned.