Until Next Time

The Lakers vs Celtics rivalry is arguably one of the greatest in sports history. Many greats have been apart of it from players to coaches. They have met 12 times in the finals, with the Celtics holding a 9-3 advantage. That record, though, does not show the greatness that came in those series 10 of the 12 series have gone at least 6 games wand five have gone 7.

Last night, Kobe Bryant played his final game in Boston, which made me think about the rivalry itself and I realized that he is the last person on either team that was a true part of the rivalry. After Bird and Magic provided us with their magnificence in the 80’s, both teams went through difficult times in the 90’s and did not provide any classic games. The Lakers enjoyed success with Shaq and Kobe in the early 2000’s and the Celtics had relative success at the same time with Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker leading the charge. They did not meet in the finals though. The closes they came was in 2002, when the Celtics lost to the Nets in the East finals. I highly doubt that Boston would’ve had a chance in the finals though as the Nets went on to get swept in 4 games.

In the summer of 2007, the lowly Celtics had one of the best off-seasons in NBA history, acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen via trade to become an instant title favorite. At that time, the Lakers were a middle of the pack team being carried by Kobe. Midway through the season,  the Lakers traded with Memphis to get Pau Gasol, therefore making them a contender as well. A low and behold, the two teams met for the first time in the finals since 1987. The Celtics would win in 6 games, but that opened to the door to a renewal of the rivalry that lasted to around 2013. In that time frame, the two teams played in some classic games and met again in the 2010 Finals, which the Lakers won in a legendary 7 game series. They could have met in the 2009 finals, had Kevin Garnett not gone down with an injury during the regular season.

Today, both teams are in rebuilding mode, but have some young talent that could potentially be building blocks for the future. Unfortunately, we as fans will have to wait a few more years for these two teams to be contenders again. They can use free agency to get talent, LA has the flair and big market while Boston has its history and tradition. We were blessed, however, with a 5-6 year period that brought back the old rivalry and really made the NBA feel right again. We can only hope that we don’t have to wait as long for the next round.

Games to Watch This Week

December 29: Milwaukee Bucks @ Oklahoma City Thunder

  • This should be a good one as both teams sport pretty good offenses. The defensive-minded Bucks will look to use their lengthy guards in Middleton and MCW to bother Westbrook and Durant. The matchup I am looking forward to is the one between Serge Ibaka and Greg Monroe. Ibaka is the shot-blocking maestro, while Monroe is an old-school post player that likes to play with his back to the basket. My pick is the Thunder, but don’t count out the feisty Bucks.

December 30: Indiana Pacers @ Chicago Bulls

  • Yes! A good old-fashioned defensive game. The kind that I love and want every game to be. My favorite battle here will be Jimmy Butler against Paul George. Both teams are capable of putting up a lot of points, which they might do, but something tells me this will be a lower scoring game. I may be wrong, but hey, nobody’s perfect. I’m going with the Bulls in this one. I’ve really liked their new offense and ball movement under coach Hoiberg.

December 30: Denver Nuggets @ Portland Trailblazers

  • Most likely going to be a high-scoring battle that should have plenty of highlight reel plays. There are not too many big names in this one on the Nuggets side, but keep an eye on Kenneth Faried, who should cause plenty of issues for the Blazers. For Portland, they are hoping that Damian Lillard can go for them, but if not, expect increased minutes for both CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe, who have both shined in his absence. My pick does depend on Damian, but I’ll take the Nuggets in the Rose Garden.

January 1: Charlotte Hornets @ Toronto Raptors

  • The new and improved Hornets team is been fun to watch this year as their offense has sometimes been unstoppable. The addition of Nicolas Batum has been huge for them and Kemba Walker is playing like an All-Star. This Raptors team (who I could rave about all day), also has some All-Stars in Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan. I am excited to see how Al Jefferson does being defended by a revamped Bismack Biyombo, who has been a beast in the absence of Jonas Valanciunas. I’m going with the Raptors in this one.

January 2: Houston Rockets @ San Antonio Spurs

  • A nice little rematch of the Christmas Day upset that saw Houston shut down this usually explosive Spurs offense. If the Rockets can bring that same intensity on defense, they have a chance. Something tells me though that Pop, Timmy D, and the boys have other plans. Expect a big game from Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. I think they will look to take advantage of the Aldridge matchup on Montiejunas or Jones. I have the Spurs winning this one.

If you have any games that you would like to highlight or have discussed on here, please comment and I will be happy to talk about it!

 

New Year’s Check In

As we approach the end of 2015, let’s see where we are shall we? Being roughly games into the season, things are starting to take shape. Now I could be completely wrong and things could change even more, but that’s why I write this stuff. So I’ll tell you who my award winners are at this point in the season. I’ll check back in at the All-Star break, where I am sure things will change.

Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry

  • Well duh. He has gotten even better, which is already hard to believe. At this point, he is my MVP because he is on pace to break his own record for 3’s in a season and the Warriors could possibly win 70 games this year. But we will see.

Coach of the Year: Steve Clifford (Charlotte), Scott Skiles (Orlando), Erik Spoelstra (Miami), Brad Stevens (Boston).

  • I hate that this award goes to the coach with the best team. I think it should be for a coach that has made the biggest improvement from last season despite numerous setbacks or personnel changes. These coaches that I have listed above have done just that. Why are they all from the East? Because the East has been way better than the West so far this season and these coaches are having their teams playing very well right now.

Sixth Man  and Most Improved Player: N/A

  • Hard to tell at this point since there has been injuries for most of the teams in the league. I will pick players for these award at the All-Star break.

Defensive Player of the Year: Hassan Whiteside

  • He has changed the Heat’s culture back to the blue collar, defensive mentality aimed at shutting down the paint. Not only is he leading the lead in blocks, but he also probably leads in shots altered by his presence.

Comeback Player of the Year: My own award. So far the names I like are Paul George, Chris Bosh, and Kobe Bryant.

Rookie of the Year: Karl Anthony-Towns

  • He is playing like he’s been around for awhile so far. A back-to-the-basket center, which is rare nowadays, Antony-Towns has shown that the big man is not truly dead yet and is a legitimate cornerstone for the T’Wolves. You guys will be in the playoffs again very soon!

If you want to throw your picks into the discussion, please comment! I love hearing other opinions. I’m not going to try and destroy you for doing so.

Top 5 Shooting Guards Today

Numerous legends have played this position, but I won’t go into a long monologue about that. I am here to give you my top 5 shooting guards in the game today.

  1. Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors): This guy is a baller hands down. He is not just a long-distance shooter. He will gladly sit out there and kill you all day, but he will also drive and score or pass to one of his teammates with the best of them. What really impresses me about Klay is his ability to bring the same offensive intensity to the defensive end of the floor. He is sometimes overshadowed by Steph, but looks at his 27-point quarter and then he won’t be anymore.
  2.  James Harden (Houston Rockets): He is a Flat. Out. Scorer. You pick your poison with him. You can play up on him and he will blow by you, or you can lay off and he will drill 3’s on you all game. His ability to heat up is unbelievable and getting to the foul line is one of his best traits. I knew when he left OKC to go to Houston that he would turn into a big-time player.
  3.  Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat): At nearly 34, he is still on this list and why not? He is playing some of the best basketball of career. He is the smartest player on this list and may be one of the better closers as well. Wade is no longer the high-flying slasher he once was. Now he is the savvy veteran who operates mostly in the pick and roll or the guard post up, which is where he is most dangerous. He is especially adept at using fakes to get defenders up in the air and then getting to the foul line.
  4. Demar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors): He is the most athletic player on this list and probably the one flying under the radar the most. He has quickly become the guy for a Toronto team that I absolutely love watching (I highly encourage tuning into their games). He has expanded his range, which naturally allows him to drive more and finish over defenders. I especially his implementation of the fadeaway in his post game.
  5. Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards): Along with Klay, he is the best shooter on the list. Beal reminds me a lot of D-Wade in terms of how he moves without the ball and makes great cuts to the basket. His shot looks a little like Ray Allen’s, which is not a bad model. Like Wall, I like his patience in the game and his ability to pick his spots on the floor.

Coming Into His Own

When a player with a lot of hype around is drafted into the NBA, people expect him to automatically become a superstar player leading his team to championships and making all-star teams. Unfortunately for all of you dreamers out there, that is rarely the case. This applies to Wizards guard John Wall. Coming out of Kentucky as the #1 pick in the 2010 draft by Washington, Wall was viewed to be the next great point guard in the NBA. He had the speed, quickness, and finishing ability around the basket to do so. But as the flow usually goes, he had holes in his game he had to deal with. He had no jump shot and was also turnover prone. He was not the best at operating in a half-court set and struggled to control the pace of  his game.

Wall has dealt with these problems even now in his 6th season, but in the past few weeks, they have not been as prominent in his game. With these problems no longer showing themselves as much, Wall has put in some fantastic performances. He has expanded his range, therefore opening up driving lanes for his lightning quickness. He is controlling his pace and choosing when to go slow or fast, which has made both him and his teammates better. This  acquisition of self-control has made Wall extremely dangerous and one of the top point guards in the league.

I think the building of the Wizards roster has also played a role. Bradley Beal, the team’s best shooter, is a great outlet for  Wall in transition and for when he drives and attracts the defense. Center Marcin Gortat, who has run the pick and roll with Steve Nash in the past, is making that same game very easy for Wall as he has been the beneficiary of a majority of Wall’s assists.

The video below shows Wall’s career-high 19 assists versus the Sacramento Kings. Watch how patient he is as he creates from what the flow of the game presents rather than trying to create from nothing. It is beautiful to watch.

Frequent Flyers: Holiday Edition

So there were a couple of pretty good games yesterday on Christmas. With that said, this week’s Frequent Flyers will be solely from yesterday’s games.

Our first Frequent Flyer is Pelicans forward Anthony Davis. In his first Christmas Day game, Davis went for 29 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks in a tough OT loss for the Pelicans. He looked as if he liked playing on Christmas and Anthony, we like that you are too. This should be the first of many great performances from him.

Our second Frequent Flyer is Warriors forward Draymond Green. In the primetime finals rematch against the Cavs, Green stole the show with a 22 point, 15 rebound, and 7 assist night in a 89-83 Golden State victory. He is further proving that he is one of if not the best all-around player in the league.

Our third and final Frequent Flyer is Heat forward Chris Bosh. In a compelling mathchup with Anthony Davis (who is widely considered the best power forward in the league), Bosh showed that he is still a force to be reckoned with and put in a 30 point and 10 rebound performance in the Heat victory. He definitely made Davis pay for leaving him open so many times.

Unconventional Success

The formula for winning in the NBA has always been having 1 or 2 superstars and then a good group of role players. That has been the case for most championship teams in the past. However, this season, there are to teams in the eastern conference who have both greatly improved and are both looking to make the playoffs this spring. These two teams are the Boston Celtics and the Orlando Magic. It is hard to imagine that not 4 years ago, they were both championship-contending teams. Both went through some down years, but they are now two of the more competitive teams in the league and they are doing it without any big name stars.

The Celtics are a team that intrigues me. They play a very scrappy style that emphasizes floor spacing and ball movement around the perimeter. Their defense is what really impresses me. Led by Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, the Celtics are one of the best NBA teams at turning their opponents over. This is a very deep team that has established itself as one to be reckoned with under coach Brad Stevens. Very fun team to watch. High recommend tuning in to a game. Just watch their defense; it is very aggressive on the wing.

The Magic have struggled since Dwight Howard left, but they may have found something with this bunch this year, and I think it started by moving Victor Oladipo to the bench and starting Evan Fournier. It also helps that everyone is a year older. Their offense flows usually through Vucevic either doing the pick & roll with Elfrid Payton or posting up and looking for shooters. Coach Scott Skiles has always been known for having very defensive-minded and competitive teams no matter who they’re playing (Just look at his Bulls teams from the mid-2000’s). I like what I am seeing from them so far and hope they continue to play at this level.

Both of these teams have gotten better, but they may need to make one more move via trade or free agency in order to acquire a player who will be ‘the guy’ for them. Perhaps they already have one, it is still a little early to tell. I do think that building from within the organization has helped both squads and I think that they will be contending for a title in the next 5 years, as long as they stay the course.

Stop the Hacking

So I was watching the highlights of the game last night between the Pistons and Hawks in Atlanta. Hawks coach, Mike Budenholzer, employed the infamous “Hack-a-___” strategy on Pistons center Andre Drummond. For those of you new to basketball, this strategy is used when a team has a poor free-throw shooter. The idea is that before the 2 minute mark in the quarter, you can intentionally foul a player who doesn’t have the ball. The fouled player will then go to the foul line. The desired outcome is that the player will miss the free throws, therefore eliminating their offensive possession. It was originally used against Wilt Chamberlain, but wasn’t a consistent strategy until Shaquille O’Neal was a force in the league. It was later dubbed the ‘hack-a-Shaq’.

I think that the strategy can be a good thing. It does eliminates possessions for opposing teams, and at the least, forces big guys (who are the usual targets for hacking) to develop their foul shooting. I agree that it it is a good idea late in 4th quarter, but doing it early in the game like the Hawks did last night is downright pathetic. It is sending the message that you cannot handle the player’s offensive game and are taking the easy way out. He should be a better foul shooter? Yes. Your team should suck it up and defend? Also yes. It is bad for the league and takes emphasis away from the ball. The upside is that with under two minutes to go, the player must have the ball in order to be the shooter, if not, then the opposing team may choose their shooter. I would employ double-teaming from the middle and force the player to turn to  the baseline, which is surprisingly uncomfortable for a lot of big guys in today’s game. You could also front him with his defender and provide backside help and essentially ‘sandwich’ him.

In the end, it is a good strategy, but again, NOT until the 4th quarter. It really shows weakness. If Drummond had not been sitting most of the night, the Pistons probably would have won the game due to his dominance in the paint and the Hawks’ bigs lacking athleticism to keep up with him.

Christmas Day Games

Christmas is a time of giving and enjoying time with family, so what better way to do so than watching NBA basketball. This is a day where all of the big name players are slated to face off and a number of great games and performances have occurred on Christmas. Here are some previews and picks for you.

Game 1: New Orleans Pelicans @ Miami Heat

  • This is a good game to kickoff with. These two have played some good games in the past, despite being in opposite conferences. The big name obviously are Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Anthony Davis, but look for the other players to make an impact as well. I like the matchup between Luol Deng and Tyreke Evans and then the one between Hassan Whiteside and Omer Asik. If Dragic can play, he will try to push the tempo, but when the 4th quarter comes around, the ball will go to D-Wade. I pick the Heat at home.

Game 2: Chicago Bulls @ Oklahoma City Thunder

  • A potentially high-scoring affair between the explosive Thunder and the surprisingly offensive Bulls. Westbrook and Rose will be a good battle, as will  Butler and Durant. This game will be up-and-down throughout and could get into the 100’s easily. My pick will be the Thunder in a close one. Durant and Westbrook will probably put in monster games as always. I think Noah being out will hurt the Bulls, so Enes Kanter may be effective coming off the bench for OKC.

Game 3: Cleveland Cavaliers @ Golden State Warriors

  • Arguably the most intriguing game on the slate. A rematch of last year’s finals that should have plenty of beef and great matchups from point guard to center. Don’t be surprised if there a few technicals handed out. Steph/Kyrie, Love/Green, Shumpert/Klay?! Should be quite a contest. I’ll go out on a whim and pick the Cavs in a close one. Picking the favorite is too boring. I think the center matchup between Bogut and Mozgov will be important. Both teams will go small, so these two need to be effective when they are in the game.

Game 4: San Antonio Spurs @ Houston Rockets

  • On paper, this is a great game. It has great matchups, big names, and the flair that goes with a Texas-sized rivalry. My only concern is Houston’s lack of defensive focus, which will make the Spurs’ eyes light up. On the other hand, the Rockets can put up points in bunches as well. We will see one of the best offenses going up against one of the best defenses. My pick is the Spurs coming out on top. I think that LaMarcus Aldridge has an advantage at power forward over Terrence Jones and Danny Green will test Harden on defense.

Game 5: Los Angeles Clippers @ Los Angeles Lakers

  • Technically a home game for the Clips, but either way, they have the upper hand in this. The Lakers just don’t have enough experience to hang with CP3 and the boys. But you never know, the bright lights and big stage may set that stage for a big time Kobe performance (which I am hoping for). I’ll play boring conservative here and pick the Clippers, but in a tight one. However, if it’s a close game, keep your eyes on #24 in the purple & gold.

Kobe’s Still Got It

It was a late start last night for us here on the east coast, but for those of you in the western part of this great nation, you got to see Kobe turn back the clock in the Mile High City. Bryant scored 31 points on 10-22 from the field and 9-11 from the free throw line in just over 32 minutes. Pretty impressive for a guy the mainstream media was telling to retire and go out with dignity. He didn’t look like the high-flying, afro-sporting youngster from that 2000-2002 three-peat, but rather resembled the wiser veteran that was named the Mamba in the latter part of the decade. The turnaround fadeaway was falling and he played some impressive defense on the other end. I was watching those highlights and had a nostalgic moment as I knew that it would be short-lived since he is still retiring at the end of this season.

However, one thing I am not going to do is cry about it (maybe later), nor am I going to say that it was a fluke like some other people who work at a certain network with a 4-letter name will do. Let us not forget, he is still Kobe Bryant, arguably the closest resemblance to Michael Jordan. Kobe will have more of these games I can guarantee that. He was getting the shots he wanted early on, but they just weren’t falling. Now that the season is in full swing, his legs are now into it and he has gotten a feel for his shot again. I am very excited to see him bless us with some more performances in his final season. The NBA will dearly miss him, for there  will never be another Kobe Bryant.