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A Quick (and Late) 2015 NBA Playoff Preview: the Conference Finals

254px-NBA_Logo.svg_Before I get started with this rather tardy 2015 NBA conference finals preview, let me first give the Los Angeles Clippers a quick shout-out for making me look rather stupid for picking them to win the Western Conference before the season and during these playoffs.  Now that my acknowledgement of those Cottonelle-soft choke artists is out of the way, let’s continue with this brief preview.

These conference finals represent “chalk”: the top two seeds from both conferences.  Will this “chalk” continue into the NBA Finals?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Now, without further ado…

Eastern Conference

#1 Atlanta Hawks vs. #2 Cleveland Cavaliers

Analysis:  Even though the Hawks swept the Cavs during the regular season, both teams are a bit different since then.  Atlanta played .500 ball after the All-Star break, and has not looked all that impressive in the playoffs.  Cleveland is banged up to be sure, but as long as it has LeBron James, it is all good.  Kyrie Irving at 80% is better than his counterpart Jeff Teague at 100%.  The Cavs also have a deeper bench.

Truth be told, LeBron is on a mission to get his hometown team back to the NBA Finals.  The inexperienced Hawks may be in over their heads here…

Prediction: Cavs in 6

Western Conference

#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #2 Houston Rockets

Analysis:  It wasn’t the matchup I  (and the rest of America) was looking for, but it’s still a compelling one.  It features the two top vote-getters for NBA MVP in Stephen Curry and James “Please Trim that Damn Beard” Harden.  I still think the Warriors are much deeper and tougher than the Rockets.  By the way, I know the Rockets played well tonight, but the fact that they still lost to the rusty Warriors is a bad omen for the rest of the series…

Prediction: Warriors in 5

A Rather Quick 2015 NBA Playoffs Preview: Second Round

254px-NBA_Logo.svg_What an amazing first round!  By the that I mean the Clippers and Spurs series going the distance.

Homecourt advantage was nearly nonexistent in what was easily the best series in the first round.  The road team won FOUR times.  Outside of Games 1 and 3, the games came down to the last few possessions.

While it was weird to see the defending champion Spurs eliminated in the FIRST ROUND, I am excited to see what the second round holds for us fans.

Eastern Conference

1. Atlanta Hawks vs. 5. Washington Bullets

Analysis:  In Game 6 of the Nets series, the Hawks FINALLY played the complete dominant game that we have come to see from them for most of the season.  They will not get much rest going into this afternoon’s game vs. the Bullets, so fatigue may work against them.  Meanwhile, Washington looked pretty damn good in sweeping the Raptors.  The question now is will Paul Pierce punk the Hawks?  Given that the Hawks are a far better team than the Raptors, I think it’s unlikely.

Prediction: Hawks in 6

2. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 3. Chicago Bulls

Analysis:  This should be the best series in the second round.  Two division rivals who are arguably the best teams in the East.  Oh, and they hate each other.  LeBron James sniping with Joakim Noah.  The Bulls looking to exert their physicality on the Cavs.  Much-see TV indeed.  Having said all of that, it will be tough for the Cavs to win this series without Kevin Love.  His outside shooting created space for James and Kyrie Irving to operate.  Love’s rebounding will be sorely missed as well.  And with the Bulls (namely Derrick Rose) staying healthy, and with the obvious coaching advantage Chicago has, LeBron will have a tough time getting his crew past those cats.

Prediction:  Bulls in 6

Western Conference

1. Golden State Warriors vs. 5. Memphis Grizzlies

Analysis:  This fits the classic “styles makes fights” narrative.  A high-flying, up-tempo team in Golden State facing an old-school, grinding Grizzlies.  While I do think this series will be competitive, I think the Warriors will have too much firepower (led by MVP candidate Stephen Curry and fellow sharpshooter Klay Thompson) for Memphis.

Prediction:  Warriors in 6

2. Houston Rockets vs. 3. Los Angeles Clippers

Analysis:  On the heels of the most exciting series in the first round, the Clippers may be prime for an ultimate let-down in Game 1.  The Rockets have plenty of scoring punch led by MVP candidate James Harden, but they do not have the toughness that the Clippers have.  Besides, one can’t pick a squad that employs Dwight Coward.

Prediction: Clippers in 6

OKC Will Rue the Day it Fired Scott Brooks

200px-Oklahoma_City_Thunder.svgScott Brooks’ time as coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder was indeed a mixed bag.

A lot of fans and pundits thought that Brooks heavily underachieved during the last portion of his tenure.  The common though is that a team led by superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should have been winning AT LEAST the Western Conference on a yearly basis.  Division titles were merely considered stepping stones.

There is also a portion of fans (and maybe a few pundits) that believe Brooks did the best that he could given the competitive nature of the Western Conference.  Besides, the Thunder did win consecutive Northwest Division titles (2009-2013) before this season.

While I am one to believe that if one does not aim high he/she might as well sit on that ass and don’t even try, I am leaning toward the latter of the aforementioned views of Brooks.

Follow me for a minute.

Before Brooks took over as the full-time head coach in 2009 (he was an interim after PJ Carlesimo got canned the season before), the Thunder finished 23-59 in its first season as the team formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics.  The 2009-2010 team finished 50-32, and the Thunder had increased their wins and prestige the following seasons before this year’s injury-marred campaign.

And while he led the Thunder to only one NBA Finals appearance in 2012, the following kept Brooks from attaining the team’s lofty goals of yearly Finals appearances:

  • OKC lost in the Western Conference Finals to the eventual NBA champion (Dallas in 2011, San Antonio last season).
  • OKC lost to Memphis in the second round of the playoffs sans Westbrook (knee injury).
  • OKC failed to qualify for the playoffs this season largely due to injuries to Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.  Durant missed damn near close to half the season.

Didn’t seem like the actions of such a horrible coach.

There is no shame to losing to the likes of Rick Carlisle (Dallas) and Gregg Popovich (San Antonio) in the playoffs, as they are two of the top three coaches in the NBA (Doc Rivers is the third of that group).  There is also no shame in not getting to the Finals out of the Western Conference because, well, it’s the Western Conference!

I think that Brooks will stay unemployed for a millisecond, as teams like the Orlando Magic would love to have a coach who could communicate with and relate to younger players the way Brooks did in OKC.  He is also an underrated developer of said young talent.

Hell, my Knicks could use Brooks’ services right about now…

Evaluating Pre-Season NBA Picks at the All-Star Break

254px-NBA_Logo.svg_Given that we are at the All-Star break, I will take this time to evaluate my preseason NBA picks.  I usually do this to remind myself how terrible of a prognosticator I tend to be from time to time, but follow me nonetheless…

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Predicted

  1. Toronto Raptors
  2. New York Knicks
  3. Brooklyn Nets
  4. Boston Celtics
  5. Philadelphia 76ers

Actual

  1. Raptors
  2. Nets
  3. Celtics
  4. Sixers
  5. Knicks

Analysis:  Not a shocker that the Raptors are running away with this moribund division.  What’s shocking to me is how bad my Knicks are.  The good news is we are having lots of salaries coming off of the books this season.  I sure hope Phil Jackson knows what the hell he is doing.

Central Division

Predicted

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Chicago Bulls
  3. Indiana Pacers
  4. Milwaukee Bucks
  5. Detroit Pistons

Actual

  1. Bulls
  2. Cavs
  3. Bucks
  4. Pistons
  5. Pacers

Analysis:  This has shaped out to a competitive division at the top.  Only three games separate the Bulls, Cavs and Bucks.  Speaking of the Bucks, Milwaukee has exceeded everyone’s expectations.  Looks like Jason Kidd knows what the hell he is doing after all.  As for the other two squads at the top, it should be fun who will earn his squad the division title: LeBron James or Derrick Rose.

Southeast Division

Predicted

  1. Charlotte Hornets
  2. Miami Heat
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Atlanta Hawks
  5. Orlando Magic

Actual

  1. Hawks
  2. Wizards
  3. Hornets
  4. Heat
  5. Magic

Analysis:  Nice to see the Hornets fulfilling my bold prediction  in the preseason.  Gee, talk about a no-brainer.  While I have struck out on Charlotte, I have really been wrong on the Hawks.  The fact they have the best record in the East should be a surprise given the fact that they are healthy and have a head coach who learned under the great Gregg Popovich in San Antonio.  The Wizards are healthier and is poised to make a run at a fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.  As for the Heat, think they miss LeBron right now?

Western Conference

Southwest Division

Predicted

  1. San Antonio Spurs
  2. Houston Rockets
  3. Dallas Mavericks
  4. Memphis Grizzlies
  5. New Orleans Pelicans

Actual

  1. Grizzlies
  2. Rockets
  3. Mavericks
  4. Spurs
  5. Pelicans

Analysis:  Damn, who’d seen the Grizzlies coming?  Hell even their fans didn’t see this coming.  Those boys have been playing together for a long time, and their chemistry shows on the court.  And while the Rockets and Mavs are doing as well as I thought, the Spurs seem to be just middling along while waiting for the playoffs to begin.

Northwest Division

Predicted

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder
  2. Portland Trailblazers
  3. Denver Nuggets
  4. Utah Jazz
  5. Minnesota Timberwolves

Actual

  1. Blazers
  2. Thunder
  3. Nuggets
  4. Jazz
  5. Wolves

Analysis:  While the Thunder have struggled through some injuries, specifically to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Blazers have taken advantage in a big way.  Given how bad the rest of the division is, it seems that Portland should moonwalk its way to the division title.

Pacific Division

Predicted

  1. Los Angeles Clippers
  2. Golden State Warriors
  3. Phoenix Suns
  4. Los Angeles Lakers
  5. Sacramento Kings

Actual

  1. Warriors
  2. Clippers
  3. Suns
  4. Kings
  5. Lakers

Analysis:  I knew the Clippers and the Warriors would be good.  I didn’t think the Warriors would be THAT good.  Credit to first year coach Steve Kerr for getting the best out of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the crew.  Though the Clips are underachievers at the moment, they are going to be dangerous come playoff time.  And who knew that the Lakers will suck THIS bad.  Maybe Kobe should not have signed such a huge extension (not that I would have turn down that money either)?

The Knicks Are a Hot-Ass Mess

ny-knicks-logoThings are quite interesting in New York.

Players are arguing.  Carmelo Anthony wants to fight Tim Hardaway, Jr.  Hardaway wants to fight Anthony.  Everyone wants to fight Anthony.  No one (seemingly) respects head coach Derek Fisher.

The players want to abandon the triangle offense that new team president Phil Jackson and Fisher have have spent significant time attempting to install.  Never mind the fact that Jackson won a total of 11 titles as coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers running the triangle — an offensive system which is based on post play, passing (got that ‘Melo?), and off-ball movement.

Welcome to the 2014-2015 New York Knicks.

My Knicks have evolved into such a fucking joke.  I mean, ‘Melo and the gang is trying to go away from an offensive system that has become famous because it was the system that helped players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant win six and five championships, respectively.

Why do players on a team that had missed the playoffs last season want to dismiss a proven offensive philosophy?  It’s the same reason why such friction has led to a 4-19 record, the worst start in Knicks history.

Again, because the Knicks are a fucking joke.

Looks like the only way to fix this mess is to do two things.  Either someone needs to goad Jackson into coaching this wretched team, or get rid of everyone – including ‘Melo.

In re-signing with the Knicks (and filming that “look-at-me” documentary where he basically admitted he should have signed with the Chicago Bulls) ‘Melo proved what many had opined for a long time: he is not a winner – not even close.  And as long as my Knicks make his ass the centerpiece of the team, the long it will take for them to return to the promised land.

That said, as the saying goes “in every cloud there is a silver lining” – or is it the other way around?  Anyway, most of those terrible-ass contracts will be come off the books.  No Amare Stoudamire, and hopefully no JR Smith.  Even though Smith has an option to exercise at the end of the season (he knows he won’t get his high salary anywhere else, so he may exercise it), the Knicks’ brass should eat the contract and get rid of him.

Bring in superstars who are proven winners next season such as Marc Gasol and maybe Kevin Durant, and we may be onto something.  ‘Melo needs to play with such stars to show him what it means to be a winner.  And I really think that would be the likely scenario.

Until then, me and other Knicks fans will have to suffer through the misery that is the 2014-2015 season.  Damn.

It’s Time to Question Derrick Rose’s Focus

chicago-bulls-logo2Let me start this rant by saying I like Derrick Rose – a lot.

Rose could sometimes be the most candid athlete in professional sports.  In a sports world where most athletes tend to dish out played-out cliche after played-out cliche (think “at the end of the day…”, “give credit to…”, and my all-time favorite “both teams played hard my man…”), Rose’s candor is usually well-welcomed by media and fans alike.

Except on this particular occasion.

When asked about his long-term future after practice yesterday, Rose said the following:

“I’m good, man.  I felt like I’ve been managing myself pretty good.  I know a lot of people get mad when they see me sit out or whatever, but I think a lot of people don’t understand that … when I sit out it’s not because of this year.

“I’m thinking about long term. I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball.  Having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to, I don’t want to be in my meetings all sore or be at my son’s graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past.  [I’m] just learning and being smart.”

That’s not good man, not at all.

Color me disappointed in what Rose said.  This to me will open him up to question just where his heart is.  Is he all about the team and playing basketball, or is he just content in collecting a paycheck?

And before y’all go off on me for chastising a man who cares about his health, let me enlighten y’all on a few things.

First of all, this ain’t football, boxing or MMA.  All three of those sports are high-collision sports where your life could end on one play or one hit.  Of course dudes in those sports are concerned for their long-term health and well-being, and rightfully so.

However, this is the game of basketball.  It’s not a high-collision sport.  Dudes do not have to worry about their lives ending on one play or from one hit.  And more importantly, NBA contracts are guaranteed.

Let me repeat that again.  The NBA has GUARANTEED contracts.

Rose signed a five-year contract extension with the Bulls for $94.8 million.  He is also making several million dollars in endorsements (mostly from Adidas).  This dude’s ass is already set for life!  Why in the hell is he worrying about saving himself after basketball?

Let me tell y’all something: this shit is not going to play in Chicago.

People already have questioned why Rose decided to sit out the entire 2012-2013 season.  Now people will assume that Rose did not have his heart in coming back to play for the Bulls during the team’s playoff run.  Does he really want it?

The only way Rose makes this go away is to play as hard and help the Bulls win big.  Otherwise, he will be known as that dude who took the money and ran.

Between Rose’ quotes and the Bears’ poor performance this season (especially the Sunday night debacle vs. the Packers), I really feel sorry for Chicago sports fans.

 

 

2014-2015 NBA Season Preview: Who Will Win it All?

254px-NBA_Logo.svg_The 2014-2015 NBA regular season is going to start in less than four hours.  I.  Cannot.  Wait.

While the previous NBA rants were detailed conference previews, this rant is just a summation for who I think will make the playoffs and win it all.  With LeBron James going back to Cleveland and Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose looking to stay healthy to lead their teams, the East may be as wide-open as it has ever been.

As for the West, it will be fascinating to see if the San Antonio Spurs could hold off the Los Angeles Clippers.

So, without further ado…

Eastern Conference

Playoff Standings:

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Chicago Bulls
  3. Toronto Raptors
  4. Charlotte Hornets
  5. Miami Heat
  6. Indiana Pacers
  7. Washington Wizards
  8. New York Knicks

Division Winners

Atlantic:  Raptors

Central:  Cavaliers

Southeast:  Hornets

Eastern Conference winner:  Cleveland Cavaliers

Western Conference

Playoff Standings:

  1. Los Angeles Clippers
  2. San Antonio Spurs
  3. Oklahoma City Thunder
  4. Golden State Warriors
  5. Houston Rockets
  6. Dallas Mavericks
  7. Portland Trailblazers
  8. Memphis Grizzlies

Division Winners

Southwest:  Spurs

Northwest:  Thunder

Pacific:  Clippers

Western Conference winner:  Los Angeles Clippers

2014-2015 NBA Champion:  Los Angeles Clippers

 

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