Live From The Nosebleeds

If you want unadulterated analysis of basketball, whether it's the NBA, college basketball, or some pick-up game I saw yesterday, take a gander at my blog.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The 2009 NBA Glorified Hiring Process Decision Day

We're less than five hours away from Blake Griffin walking up to the podium and David Stern handing him a Clippers' hat as he whispers in his ear, "Smile for the camera. Oh, and good luck not becoming a typical L.A. Clipper bust." I have a little more than 24 hours to wrap the bow on an intensive Michael Phelps/media effects study. I intend to watch the draft in it's entirety and Facebook analyze it (quantitative research leads me to believe that more people have the 'Book than Twitter and the information is less filtered, although expect an occasional tweet, too). Therefore, I guess I really have five hours to finish the paper...

...but I can take 20-30 minutes to blog about the draft. Or 40. Or an hour and a half.

Before I get into the draft, how'd you like that Shaq trade to the Cavs? Personally, I think it's a homerun for both parties. Yeah, Shaq isn't exactly a young buck anymore, but he gives the Cavs something they clearly lacked against the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Semis: a dominating post presence. Zyndrunas Ilgauskas is probably still one of the better centers in the league, but his game is more predicated on pick and pop and spot-up shooting. Anderson Varejao is a good energy guy, but to say that his offensive game is limited is like saying that Paris Hilton's acting range is limited. O'Neal can score inside and, if not block shots, clog the lane on the other end. From Phoenix's perspective, they save some money... as long as Ben Wallace keeps good on his promise to shut it down.

But, leave it to Shaq to deflect attention from what's really important: today's NBA Draft. While it's true I don't think you'll see any future Hall of Famers coming from this draft (watch that come back to bite me when I'm 45), I definitely think people are severely sleeping on the talent pool of this draft. You already know about Blake Griffin, who I think has a lot of Chris Webber in his game. Hasheem Thabeet is a project, but 7'3" shot-blockers with enough coordination to eventually "get it" one day offensively don't grow on trees. There are six or seven point guards in this draft who have the potential to be NBA starters... not just down the road, but at some point next season, with another three or four point guards who can contribute realistically. Hell, even the wing guys aren't so bad.

I have to admit that I'm not as privy to the inside information on who's taking who this year, but I think that's only because the GMs themselves won't know until they're off the clock. I think that speaks a little bit to how potentially deep this draft is.

But, what I'm hear to do is make general predictions about how some guys will fare in the NBA. Let's group these guys up.


Honestly, none that I can see right now. Nobody in this draft has super-special transcedent skill that will make them a global fixture. Griffin has the best chance of course, with his solid athleticism and his underrated skills on the perimeter for a big guy. But, more than likely Griffin will end up like a more skilled Kenyon Martin without the baggage and (hopefully) the tatoo of lips on his neck.

A Couple All-Star Appearances

Griffin probably falls into this group. But, this is also where things get a little hairy. It's like having pocket queens facing a re-raise from the guy who hasn't played a hand for four hours (I promise a Vegas blog at some point in the next week, Ryan).

Jonny Flynn, as I've stated before, displayed a ton of Chris Paul tendencies at Syracuse. He's not Chris Paul, obviously, but I think out of all the guards he'll enjoy the most success early on because his game is NBA ready. I think he's my early "outside the box" pick for Rookie of the Year.

People are extremely mixed on Ricky Rubio. His basketball IQ is highly advanced for someone his age, and I think eventually he could be special. The only question about him is his pedestrian athleticism. But, Jason Kidd made it work, and more than likely he'll be brought along slowly no matter what team he goes to, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that with tutelage he will become an all-star.

I thought Jrue Holiday had a horrendous year at UCLA, but I think part of that had to do with the Bruins' "watch the grass grow until the shot clock hits 15 and then clear out for Darren Collison" offense. He has all the physical tools to be a very good pro, maybe even the best player in this draft when everything's said and done.

My gut tells me that... gulp... Stephen Curry will make at least one all-star appearance and be a much better NBA player than people--myself included--have given him credit for. Watching him in the combine (I know, I know, chairs and cones), I already think he's one of the top five shooters in the league. But what separates him is that e can get his shot off under duress. Yeah, he turned the ball over a little much at Davidson, but when you have the ball in your hands 90% of the time playing 99% of the minutes, you're bound to have some hiccups. He won't have to do that at the NBA level.

I really think Jeff Teague (and not just because Chad Ford has him going to the Mavericks at #24) has the skill set to be a very good NBA player. He reminds me of Kevin Johnson, who, you guessed it, made a couple of all-star appearances.

Hmmm... I had a tough time figuring out what to do with Brandon Jennings. He reminds me of Kenny Anderson (not just because he's a lefty) with a better stroke. I certainly don't think he's going to come into the league and set the world on fire, but I think he's got the boom or bust game, and from what I've seen, I think he's more likely to boom.

Staples in the Rotation for Years

Say Thabeet never blossoms into an offensive threat. That's okay, because I still think he's going to be that type of player who you always have to give minutes to. In the next two to three years, I bet you he will lead the league in blocks per minute. In a league where good defenders are hard to find, this guy can make some money. I was going to save this bombshell for Facebook, but I'll share it: if you put a good to my head and asked me to pick who I would want for the next ten years between Greg Oden and Thabeet, I would say Thabeet. Easy.

I'm not crazy about James Harden, but my gut says that he'll be an NBA starter or first guard off the bench for several years. Nothing about his game knocks me out, but none of his deficiencies turn me off, either.

Terrence Williams has been a hot name in the draft due to his workouts. His athleticism is off the charts, and he's versatile enough to stay in the forefront of any rotation for years to come.

To quote Steve Kerr from NBA Live '09 when referring to Lama Odom, Earl Clark looks like he was just born to play basketball. At the worst, I see him getting significant minutes throughout his career. If he grasps the mental part of the game, he could be special. Big "if" though.

James Johnson could step in for a lot of teams right now and be an NBA starter. Like Harden, there's nothing about his game to suggest he'll be a star, but he can contribute in the league for years.

There will always be a place in the league for a guy like DeJuan Blair. I feel like he can be a more effective Danny Fortson down the road because of his propensity to bang and frustarte opponents.

Ty Lawson has more of a ceiling than some of his point guard counterparts, but he plays a steady floor game. I think that at some point in his NBA career (maybe sooner depending upon who drafts him), he will be an NBA starter, but more than likely he will make his money as a tempo-changing guard off the bench.

Everything I just said about Lawson, cut and paste with Toney Douglas.

Lawson's teammate Wayne Ellington is projected to slip on pretty much every mock draft outside of the Baltimore Sun (which says a lot), but guys who can shoot it and have a decent amount of athleticism tend to make it in the league.

Darren Collison and Patty Mills will probably have similar careers as good back-up point guards, except that Collison has an outside chance of being good starter because he's a better shooter.

Chase Budinger seems like a more athletic Mike Dunleavy, Jr. to me. Two or three years ago that might not have been too good of a thing to say, but now that L'il Dun is a solid NBA player, Budinger has hope.

Catch the Bust

This is always the hardest to project, yet it's the category that effectively puts GMs and front-office types in the unemployment line. Just ask Elgin Baylor. Even I'm not perfect: I'm still reeling from calling O.J. Mayo a potential bust last year, and yet I'm in year six of waiting to be right about Darko Milicic blowing up to Tom Chambers-like proportions.

By all accounts, Tyreke Evans has worked out extremely well. Those same accounts claim that Evans jumper is still inconsistent. So yeah, he can get into the lane against anybody, but he can't knock down the 18-20 shot that teams are pretty much going to give him every night. Bill Simmons would love this: Evans reminds me of a better version of Tony Allen. I hope I'm wrong about Evans, but I just don't see him blowing up like everybody says. And no, I'm not still bitter about Memphis beating Maryland...

There are a ton of run and jump wings already in the NBA. As athletic as DeMar DeRozan is, I just don't see how he projects as being any different.

Gerald Henderson is a good guy and all... but that whole "Duke curse" thing scares me. Plus, as athletic as he is, Henderson is undersized and I don't think he handles the ball well enough to stick in the NBA.

B.J. Mullens is probably the second best big man in this draft, but I'm labeling him a test subject in the "DeAndre Jordan Hypothesis". The hypothesis: coaches not wanting to give you big minutes in college suggests that your not even close to being ready to play in the NBA.

I can't understand why teams are even considering Sam Young as a first round pick, let alone any earlier than a mid-to-late second round pick. While he's definitely athletic, he's not trascendently athletic, and I don't think his game translates into the NBA.

I've watched game film on Omri Casspi, and usually in those highlights they try to submit the ones that make him look ridiculously good. I've seen Sebastian Telfair highlights that make him look like Chris Paul. Nowhere in the highlights did Casspi look like an NBA player. And yet some team is going to draft his rights. Jason Kapono once said during a pre-draft interview that if he changed his last name to "Kaponovic" he could be a first round pick. In fairness, I think Kapono could probably play circles around Casspi.

So there you have it. Five years from now, on this exact date, I'll re-post this article and we'll see how big of an idiot I turned out to be. Or, I'll be too busy to do it because some team recognized my eye for talent and I'll be scouting talent for them the following year.

Maybe somewhere in between.

Don't forget to tune in to my Facebook status for pick by pick, commercial by commercial, ridiculous interview by ridiculous interview analysis.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kobe's Legacy...

Anybody who knows me should have been well-prepared for my hiatus. It always tends to happen around the time the Dallas Mavericks get bounced from the playoffs and I shrink into a dark depression from which I usually don't emerge until September when NBA Live comes out. Like clockwork. If they do win the title sometime in my lifetime, maybe I'll be so jubilant that I'll want to write every single day of the summer... maybe just one word a day. The posts would be something like "YES!" and "Who run it?" and "67 days until the Mavs defend their title". Unfortunately, this whole journalism/objectivity kick is making me come to the realization that that summer may never come.

But, don't get it twisted. Just because I've been away from the blog doesn't mean I haven't been keeping up. Peep my Facebook and Twitter accounts: they would indicate that I'm probably following basketball more than ever. They're a quick fix for a time-starved father/student/workaholic like me.

Which brings me to my next point: I just finished reading a very interesting Bill Simmons piece on Kobe Bryant in which Simmons makes the point that the "changes" Bryant has made to help the Lakers win their 15th title in franchise history have been overblown, and that the make-up of the team around him has more to do with the team's success.

As usual, my man B-Simms is on point.

It's not all a hatefest, though. He does acknowledge that Bryant has had a remarkably consistent and efficient two-plus years of basketball. Think about it: MVP, All-Star Game MVP, Finals MVP, Gold Medal, NBA Title (obviously not in that order but whatever). I don't care if LeBron James could take off from the outskirts of Cincinatti and dunk while drinking Vitamin Water and texting Jay-Z on a non-qwerty phone: he's going to be hard-pressed to top Bryant on that front.

But, back to the initial point. Yes, Bryant is amazing. 75% of the players in the NBA take ridiculously high-degree of difficulty shots for absolutely no reason at all. Bryant HAS to, because he gets every defender's best game. Hell, J.J. Redick will NEVER be known as a stopper in this league, or even a good defender... or even an adequate defender. But, given the circumstances, he performed fairly well when D'ing up Kobe, much better than anybody will ever give him credit for outside of this blog. Why? It's for the same reason why I would want to check... oh, I don't know... guard Josh Thornton from Towson in a pick-up game: I'm going to elevate my game. He may bust my ass... okay, let me stop: he WILL bust my ass (if Redick is inadequate, I'm an invalid) but he's going to have to work hard to bust my ass.

So yeah, Bryant gets every defender's "A" game, and still manages to shoot mid 40's from the field. In today's NBA where the athletes are bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter (on the court), that's amazing. So amazing.

It's amazing.

That being said...

...this group compliments him so well. Pau Gasol. Lamar Odom. Derek Fisher. Trevor Ariza. None of those guys need the ball to dominate. It takes big men to play the roles they've played throughout the past two years. They're not typical NBA players. Try replacing those guys with players of similar talent levels...

Amare Stoudemire (I'll give Pau the benefit of the doubt but STAT is really an upgrade). Shawn Marion. Rafer Alston (sorry, man). Quentin Richardson. Does that team win an NBA championship? In NBA Live, for sure. On the court? Four or five seed in their conference at best (go ahead, flood my Facebook, call me an idiot, but deep down you know I'm right).

It's too big. It's too wide. It's too strong. They don't fit. Those guys all have incredibly big egos. A fight over shots would breakout in the locker room by the third regular season game.

So yeah, I don't buy the whole "Kobe Bryant found Jesus" line, either. Not only were the guys around him well-equipped to succeed, but the Lakers managed to dodge Cleveland and not at 100% Magic and Celtics teams. I think those are the two main reasons why the Lakers won the title.

Given all of that, there's not a player in the world right now I'd rather have on my team than Kobe F. Bryant.

Congrats to all you Lakers' fans, diehard and bandwagon.

See you in September...

...just kidding. The draft's coming up, and you know I'll be all over that.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Mavs Channel Their Inner BeeGees

The Dallas Mavericks had every excuse in the world to lay down last night against the Denver Nuggets. The officials had robbed Game 3 from them (although Antoine Wright must have heard some DJ in the back of his mind say, "Throw your hands up!"), Josh Howard was down to zero ankles, and Mark Cuban threw all PR tactics out the window by calling Kenyon Martin a "thug" to Martin's mother's face (he has since apologized, thankfully). I came into the game thinking it would be nice if the Mavericks won, but, realistically, let's face it: this team has never really handled adversity well.

But, at least for one game, one night, the Mavs showed a little backbone, shaking off a turnover-prone night to--finally--win a game against the Nuggets this year. Eighth time's a charm.

In the minds of Mavs' fans that this series should be tied. In their minds they should be playing a rubber game on Wednesday... but that's not the way it is. Much like life, the NBA isn't always fair, but it's time to move on.

Prior to Game 4, I listened to a ton of sports radio and looked at quite a few message boards bashing the Mavs: Cuban's antics, Dirk Nowitzki's stalker/fiance (never thought in a million years you could slash those two elements, did you?), some stuff about closed windows, etc. Painful stuff for a Mavericks' fan... painful but unfortunately true.

One thing my sports journalism class has taught me this year, if nothing else, was to look at sports with an objective eye. More than likely, yes, Dallas is looking at major changes this summer. Part of me wants to see them try one more time with this nucleus, but when that nucleus next year would probably max out at a four or five seed and an appearance in the second round, why bother?

Talent wise, there's nothing horrificly wrong with the Mavs. I'd argue that, pound for pound, they have more solid basketball players than any other team in the NBA. But, win or lose this series (lose in all likelihood), Denver has exploited their biggest deficiency: a glaring lack of athleticism, especially at the guard spot.
With the exception of J-Ho, the wing players that are athletic just aren't good enough basketball players to be out there on a consistent basis. Outside of J-Ho and Dirk, I feel like everyone else is expendable at the end of the year.

That being said, I just want to enjoy the next game. It could be the last we see of the Dallas Mavericks as we know them.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Amazing Happened

It's been a good two hours or so since the epic Bulls/Celtics Game Six ended with the Chi tying the series, setting up a seventh game in what many people are calling the greatest first round series ever. And I'm still trying to digest everything that happened.

Clutch plays. Bone-headed execution. Weird coaching. This game had a little bit of everything. Looking back on it, I think I genuinely enjoyed watching this game more than the Syracuse/UConn game, simply because in that game there were a ton of choking offensive sets and by the end the quality of basketball was like watching 60-year-old men playing a rec league game: intriguing, sure, but definitely awkward. Sure, there were plenty of awkward moments in this game, too, but down the stretch the overall quality of this game was better.

It started getting real interesting at the start of the 4th. The Bulls were up 83-76, but I saw some signs that indicated that their adrenaline was starting to run out. I told my dad, "I think the Celtics are going to win this game." He laughed. Almost immediately after I said that, the Bulls went on a 5-0 to extend the lead to 12. Cadence comes running up to me and says, "I wanna put my jammies on." Not a huge deal at the time. I figured since the Bulls had extended the lead and it seemed as though Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were cooling off, I was safe to go upstairs and get her ready for bed. Cadence and I get upstairs, where she proceeds to tell me, "Nevermind, daddy. I'll wait until mommy gets back from school." Cool with me, I get to watch the rest of the game.

As we're walking back downstairs, I hear Kevin Harlan yelling something about Allen hitting a huge three. Crap. I run into the family room and peep the score. 91 up. Allen goes nuts some more and the Celts push the lead to eight. Oh well, looks like this series is coming to an end.


No... of course not. The Bulls get some stops and start to chip away. Derrick Rose lay-up. John Salmons jumper plus the foul. Then, Brad Miller, who was absolutely brilliant tonight after two brutal missed free throws at the end of Game Five, hits a wide-open three, cutting the margin to two with a minute and change left. ANOTHER STOP, and then on the other end Miller gets the ball at the top of the key, makes the world's slowest shot fake but somehow gets Kendrick Perkins completely turned around so that he can basically go into the lane for an uncontested lay-up. Tied.

This was around the time I text my friend Hakeem the following words:

"This is the most schizophrenic game I've ever seen."

Oh, but it just gets weirder in OT. 40 seconds left in OT and the Celtics have the ball out of bounds near half-court with three ticks left on the shot clock. Doc Rivers uses a time-out, leaving the Celtics left with just one. So, Rivers is probably Rembrandting that dry-eraser board, saying something along the lines of, "Get Pierce or Allen the &^$*in' ball!"

Out of the time-out, they STILL can't get the ball in. Rondo has to burn another time-out.

And, so, out of that time-out, a time-out where the same strategy was probably repeated, Glen "Big Baby" Davis somehow ends up with the ball 20 feet out and has to throw up a stepback jumper... that somehow finds nylon. Glen Davis? Sure, why not?

Impressive... except you now have about 36 seconds left, and while you may be up two now, you have no time-outs in the piggy bank. So, of course Salmons racks Paul Pierce and hits a lay-up, leaving the Celtics with no time-outs and 23 seconds left. And, what happens? Just one of the most awkward fadeaways I've ever seen from Pierce as his entire team watches him in awe for the remaining 15 seconds of the game while he pounds the air out of the ball.


So, the Bulls have all the momentum going into OT #2, take a three-point lead into the final 16 seconds. This is what I would be saying if I was Vinny Del Negro:

"One stop and you force a Game Seven. One stop. You KNOW they're going to go to Allen. He's somehow found the fountain of youth and is 26 again. He truly believes he can make any shot as long as he's within the Illinois state lines. Deny him... and if he does get the ball despite all this preaching, FOUL HIM... not while he's shooting of course because that'd just be dumb... just make sure he does not get off a three."

Kirk Hinrich played brilliantly on the defensive end for much of the night on Pierce. We probably won't remember that because... you guessed it, Allen used a high screen, got some daylight and canned a three-ball right in Hinrich's mug.

Jesus Shuttlesworth, another OT.

It had to end, I just had no idea who was going to end it. Allen? Rose? Pierce? Salmons?

Joakim Noah.

Coach Albert, my old high school coach, used to get absolutely horrified whenever one of his bigs used to handle the ball, mainly because bad things happen when bigs handle the ball. Now, of course the game has evolved within the past decade and now most of the bigs can handle the ball like guards.

But, until tonight, I didn't think Noah was one of those guys.

When he put his head down and went to the basket, I kept thinking to myself, "He's going way too fast, he's so out of control. He's going to bounce the ball off of his foot and the city of Chicago is going to banish him." But, he pounded the ball all the way to the rim with Pierce on his hip, took off from three or four feet inside the free throw line and threw it down over Pierce, who was too tired to Rondo him to the floor.

Now that was sick!

Great way to punctuate such a great game... but I just can't end on that note, not when the Celtics STILL should have won the game. Down the stretch, Allen hit a ridiculous 21-foot jumper over Noah's outstretched arms. House hit a wide-open 21-footer in the waning moments as well. What's the problem with those two shots? Clutch as they were, to me they will simply be remembered as two of the worst makes in this series... because each player should have had the awareness to scoot an extra foot back and turn those extra long twos into threes. People ask me all the time why I take so many deep threes. The answer? I don't want there to be any question whether or not I was behind the line.

But, I digress. Despite all the weird stuff, this was by far one of the greatest games I've ever seen in a series that has already been outstanding. I can't gush about it enough. At this point I don't even care who wins.

If Game Seven is half as good as any of the five classics we've seen in this series (damn that Game Three), it might be worth a sick day to watch it unfold.

Just kidding, Lowe's. My Sidekick will keep me informed.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

F**** the TV Schedule; Curry Plays Media Hold 'Em

Let me start off by saying I am absolutely LIVID with how the NBA scheduled these games tonight. How were the Spurs and Mavericks relegated to NBATV tonight? Look, I realize times are tough and Davey Stern needs to sell more jerseys, but if you look at all three match-ups tonight, you can't TELL me that the Spurs/Mavs game isn't the most intriguing. Yes, the Celtics are reeling and somehow knotted up with the Bulls at one, but I expect that game to be over by half-time despite what Bill Simmons says. Yes, the Jazz are one of the NBA's best home teams, but I still see the Lakers winning... and even if they don't they'll effectively end the series in Game Four. The Spurs and Mavs are much closer talent-wise, and with Erick Dampier's comments (no fine) creating even more animosity between the two squads... nevermind. I'm officially boycotting watching any games tonight... save for possibly the last four minutes of the Utah/L.A. game if it's close.

But, in terms of Game 3, I'm interested to see how the Mavs come out after Tony Parker's lay-up drill on Monday. I had to work late Monday and when I got home it was all about getting Cadence ready for bed. The few precious minutes I did see were not good. All I know is that if they duplicate that effort, this time they'll get run out of their own building.

Fortunately for them, the Mavericks will be in their own building, where they lost only nine times all year, a remarkable number considering they started the year 0-4 in their home confines. I've never been to a game before, but everytime I see them on TV that crowd is jacked up, and the Mavs definitely feed off of that. I still think that the Mavs collectively are much more capable of creating offense in one-on-one situations, even though the Spurs possess the series' best one-on-one player. Sigh... call it a homer pick, but I'm going with the Mavs by eight or more.


Minutes before I walked into my sports journalism class, news broke that Stephen Curry is going pro. The story seems ho-hum on the surface, but the whole story about him going pro is pretty amazing considering today's journalistic climate. In a time where there are more leaks than a run-down apartment in Baltimore (still better than living at home at 26), Curry and camp played it extremely close to the chest. Usually when a player decides to turn pro, there's a report like two days before that player holds a press conference. But, there was no indication one way or the other which way he was leaning throughout the entire process. Steph didn't even tell his dad (allegedly) what he was going to do. His coach Bob McKillop probably thought he was coming back, prompting him to clear all of his plans from March to April. But, the kid really didn't give anything up to anybody. Curry might as well have been sitting at a poker table riffling chips with a pair of shades on; the ballin' version of Phil Ivey. As for how he projects at the next level, I'm going to reserve judgement until I see where he gets drafted. He's never going to be the savior, but if he gets on a team where all he has to do is spot up (i.e Lakers, Magic, Rockets), he could be a missing piece.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is my 100th post, and only this year does it seem like I've gained any sort of consistency. After all, this is my third year of blogging and only my 100th post. I expect to hit 200 way sooner, probably around the time the Blake Griffin posts his first double-double as a member of the Clippers.

It's been a fun ride. Hopefully it goes on for years and years.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Playoff Preview

I'm not going to lie... studying for accounting has taken its toll. Ugh, I just can't do it anymore.

So, at least for the next 15 to 20 minutes, it's back to what I know. Or at least what I think I know. Somewhat.

What we finally do know is that the NBA Playoffs are set. If you've been following me at all the past week and a half, you know that I'm an absolute genius... at least in terms of who would get the sixth spot in the West. And, for the Dallas Mavericks' reward? They get to play the Manu Ginobili-less San Antonio Spurs in what may be the best series of the first round. I'll get to that in a minute.

With a weekend of all work and no play coming up, here are my first round predictions:

Eastern Conference

(1)Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8)Detroit Pistons

Once upon a time, in a galaxy seemingly far, far away, the Detroit Pistons were the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Then, this snotty-nosed brat named LeBron James came along and single-handedly demolished them in Game Five of the 2007 playoffs. Despite a competitive return to the conference finals last year, I still think the Pistons are emotionally hungover from that game. And they will not snap out of it in this series, doesn't even matter if Allen Iverson is on the playoff roster. Heck, Iverson could be completely healthy, travel back in time and have a 25-year-old version of himself take his place and it wouldn't even matter. The Cavs are way too good, and if the Pistons win a game at the Quicken Loans' Arena, I go jog down Phelps Street in nothing but a pink Isiah Thomas jersey... for free.

Prediction: Cavs in four.

(2)Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls

It will be the first question posed on just about every playoff preview you read: how healthy is Kevin Garnett? This is just a gut reaction, but something tells me the guy just isn't right. As intense as he's been throughout his career, KG isn't the type to miss 21 of 25 games without something being seriously wrong. That being said, 100% or not, I don't think the Celts need him in this series. I don't know who it was, but I heard someone on ESPN say that the Celts don't match-up well with the Bulls. Okay, but they won the season series 2-1, with the two wins being one-sided. Let's kill that noise. Rajon Rondo cancels out Derrick Rose, and Ray Allen does the same to Ben Gordon. Paul Pierce is light-years better than John Salmons. So are the Celtics role players. Coaching? Vinny Del Negro has done an admirable job this year, but Rivers has been the Loctite glue (too much Lowe's) that has held this team together without Garnett. Da Bulls may win one on adrenaline alone, but that's it.

Prediction: Celtics in five.

(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers

Andy Udvardy, if you're reading this, Shanta and I prefer Italian. With dinner obligations (see 76ers preview for the inside joke) out of the way, let's talk basketball. Everybody thought the Magic were doomed when they lost Jameer Nelson, a fine point guard in this league, but let's be realistic: Rafer Alston might be a half-tier below Nelson in the hierarchy of point guards. Outside of this past week and a half, they've been outstanding with him at the point. It helps to have a nice collection of weapons like Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis and... oh yeah... DWIGHT HOWARD to get the ball to. The Sixers are similar to the Magic in that they "put-putted" into the playoffs, but the difference is that the Magic just let their foot off the gas pedal while Philly has been in neutral all year (clever analogy given their 41-41 record, I know, I know). Unless the Sixers get Angry Whopper hot, Orlando should have no trouble disposing of them quickly.

Prediction: Magic in five.

(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Miami Heat

Too close to call, and that's a testament to how good Dwyane Wade (2009 LFTN MVP) is. It basically boils down to the Hawks' balance, with six players averaging double figures, against Wade's, um, unstoppability(?). I just think in the end the Hawks have the athleticism to deter a one-trick pony. Unless Wade averages 40 a game for the series with adequate help from Michael Beasely and Jermaine O'Neal plus a coming-out party from Mario Chalmers against Mike Bibby, I just can't see the Heat moving on. If I'm wrong somehow, then the NBA hype-machine will go absolutely nuts with a Wade/'Bron match-up.

Prediction: Hawks in six.

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Utah Jazz

When the season started, this was billed as a Western Conference finals match-up, especially since the Jazz played the Lakers as tough as any team not wearing a green uniform during last season's playoffs. Boy, what a difference a season makes. That being said, if the Jazz do somehow muster up the energy to win this series, it wouldn't be the craziest thing ever. Given the talent the Jazz have and the fact that everybody on the squad is finally healthy, this would be more like a three beating a six. I know what you're thinking... drug test me. But, as good as the Lakers have been, the Jazz have balance that can disrupt the Lakers. I can name six players off the top of my head that they can use to guard Kobe Bryant. Los Angeles is also vulnerable at the point guard position defensively. Boozer and Millsap bang hard enough to annoy a traditonally fragile Pau Gasol. Will Andrew Bynum be ready to step out on Okur? If this were the NCAA tournament, one-and-done deal, I would pick Utah. But, conventional wisdom Justin has returned and realizes that the Lakers have far too much talent on the offensive end for the Jazz to handle in the long-run.

Prediction: Lakers in six. Again.

(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets

Carmelo Anthony better be careful, or he's going to become T-Mac II. He's in his sixth year and he's still trying to get his team out of the first round for the first time. What makes it worse is that none of those series were even remotely competitive; T-Mac at least blew 3-1 and 3-2 series' leads. I think this will be the year, however, that he gets his team out of the first round with the help of his teammates. Chauncey Billups coming over to Denver was the most beneficial acquisition of the year, and his mere presence has inspired the Nuggets to--gasp!!!--play defense. The Hornets won't be an easy out, not with the uber-competitive Chris Paul treating every possession on both sides of the ball like they're the last he'll ever play. But, as I said during my season preview, everyone from last year's team played way over their heads, and it's become apparent during their late-season slide that this has been an over-achieving team masquerading as a contender. Maybe they can bend the rules and get a new passport for Jannero Pargo under the new name, "Bowen, Ryan."

Prediction: Nuggets in five.

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks

(Breathe..."objective, objective...")

In beating the Hornets tonight, the Spurs pretty much showed why they'll never go away without a fight. But, let's get down to the nitty gritty: can they make a run to the finals without Manu Ginobili? Greg Popovich is a master motivator, and I'm sure he'll try to use a combination of Roger Mason, Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen to keep them going without missing a beat. But, the truth is that age is finally beginning to keep up with this team. Ginobili has already fallen victim to wear and tear. Tim Duncan isn't feeling so spry nowadays. I think Finley uses Just For Men on his facial hair. One of the downfalls of the Dallas Mavericks is that while they're skilled offensively, they lack collective athleticism (except for when they let Gerald Green out of his cage once in a blue moon). I predict that Tony Parker will average somewhere in the 30s in this series. However, the Mavs have superior athleticism at every other position. Athleticism helps create easier scoring opportunities. Can Matt Bonner legitimately guard Dirk Nowitzki? Can Mason, Jr. really stay in front of Jason Terry? While I anticipate this to be a really good series, I will pick the Mavs in a mild upset.

Prediction: Mavs in six.

(4) Portland Trailblazers vs. (5) Houston Rockets

Nobody wants to give the young Trailblazers credit. Here they are, winners of 54 NBA games, one game better than their counterpart... and they will be labeled underdogs by just about anybody with a pen or a laptop. Getting home-court advantage was huge, especially with the fourth best home record in the NBA. Ask the Lakers, who got blown out by a million (or 17, I was close) the last time they went there: the Rose Garden is a tough place to play. If the Rockets can somehow steal one on their floor, I think Houston wins the series, but young teams thrive at home. Besides, Portland is probably the only team in the league that can throw two legit defensive stoppers at Yao Ming. It'll be interesting to see how Brandon Roy handles a healthy dose of Ron Artest and Shane Battier, but my guess is that he'll be fine... not transcendent, but fine. That'll be enough for the Blazers.

Prediction: Blazers in six.

Let the hype begin...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bill Simmons

In true Hubie Brown mode, we know that the Los Angeles Lakers will be the West's No. 1 seed. We also know that the Utah Jazz will be in the eight spot after losing to the Lakers last night. The question is, where does everybody else fit?

Isn't it crazy that after 81 grueling, gut-wrenching games, two games will pretty much settle everything?

Two games with playoff implications for all four teams involved.

The Dallas Mavericks have the Houston Rockets coming to town. The Mavs need a win and a New Orleans Hornets' loss against the San Antonio Spurs to sneak into the sixth seed. If the above scenario ends up playing out with the Mavs winning and the Hornets losing, the Spurs end up as the Southwest Division champions, knocking the Rockets down to a four seed.

I hear Gnarls Barkley in the background.

So, despite an accounting test tomorrow, I plan on either using the day hours to study or doing the late-night thing, because there's no way I'm missing the action tonight.

MVP conversation is envogue this time of year, especially when sportswriters' ballots are due tomorrow. Obviously, it's going to come down to four players at the most: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and LeBron James. writer Bill Simmons picked them exactly that way in ascending order.

In an attempt to solidify that decision, or come up with my own, I'm going to answer the four questions he has in the article's sidebar:

1)Ten years from now, who will be the first player from this regular season that pops into my head?

They've all had really good years, but I actually think it's Wade. He has been a Sportscenter staple for the last two months, elevating his play to staggering heights. It's cliche to say that he's put the Miami Heat on his back, but as Simmons pointed out, not only will he lead the league in scoring but he'll also be in the top 15 in assists, steals and blocks... yes, blocks, as a 6'4" guard. Back spasms.

James has had a ridiculous year, but believe it or not he was better last year statistically. Yes, his defense has improved immensely but it was more about the rest of his guys stepping up. The Mo Williams trade continues to look like the best move of the off-season, and the rest of the role players compliment LeBron perfectly. Paul has had a better season statistically than last year, but, through no fault of his own, the Hornets have struggled this year with injuries and inconsistency. As Simmons says, Pau Gasol knocks Kobe out of the top four with his stellar play, undermining overall Bryant's value to a degree.

Wade, James, Paul, Bryant.

2)In a giant pickup game with every NBA player waiting to play, and two fans forced to pick sides with their lives depending on the outcome of the game (I think this is how the annual Rucker League tournament works, by the way), who would be the first player picked based on the way everyone played that season?

A ridiculously funny question, but man... if you think about it, if the two fans' lives depended on the outcome of a pick-up game, as well as James has played, and as traditionally cold-blooded as Bryant has been over the years, the key to the question is how they performed this year. I'd go with Wade again, who just seems to come up with a basket whenever the Heat needs one. I've seen games where Wade gets triple-teamed, and yet still finds a way to the basket.

Wade, Bryant, James, Paul.

3)If you replaced each MVP candidate with a decent player at his position for the entire season, what would be the effect on the team's record?

Another tough question, and for this question I'm going to use the Charlotte Bobcats as a test subject, since they have the most "decent" players in the league without any legit superstars.

Take Raja Bell off the team and put Bryant and Wade on there. I think Bryant would be more effective because the Bobcats kind of resemble a poor man's Lakers with a much better point guard (Raymond Felton). As much as I like Wade on the Heat, I'm not sure how well he'd mesh with this team. Wade thrives the most in a system where he has knock-down shooters around him. This isn't neccesarily the case in Charlotte. I think Bryant can make it work better.

Take Felton off the Bobcats and bring in Chris Paul. Truthfully, if that actually happened I think the 'Cats would be better than the Hornets. More weapons for CP3, plus a better team defensively at their individual positions.

James replaces Gerald Wallace, and if he plays the same kind of defense that he did in Cleveland this year, the 'Cats would definitely be in the top three in the watered-down Eastern Conference.

The answer to this question? Surprisingly I think it goes Paul, James, Bryant, Wade.

4) If you're explaining your MVP pick to someone who has a favorite player in the race -- a player who you didn't pick -- will they at least say something like, "Yeah, I don't like it, but I can see how you arrived at that choice."

I think it's a foregone conclusion that James will win the MVP. Anyone who leads a team to such a remarkable increase in wins should be honored. But, if I had a vote, I would go with Wade. Another question that should get asked when evaluating the process: if you take the candidate off of their team completely, what happens?

Take James away from Cleveland and I think they're fighting for the seven or eight spot. They'd still be a playoff team. Take Bryant away from the Lakers and they'd probably be low lottery. Take Paul away from New Orleans and they'd be pretty bad.

Take Wade away from the Heat? You could make the case that the Heat would be, to quote Stephen A. Smith, "an abject disaster!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Michael Beasely might average in the mid- 20's, but beyond that who else is going to score? Jermaine O'Neal? Without Wade, how does a player like Mario Chalmers get free for jumpers? The Heat would have, max, 15 wins.

So, there it is, D-Wade for MVP. There's at least one person outside of Miami who would give it to you.