NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Monday, May 22, 2017 Podcast: Breaking down Cavaliers-Celtics, Celtics free agency, and LeBron James

On this week's episode of the Podcast, Brian Kaiserman and I break down the Cavaliers-Celtics Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics free agency plans (Gordon Hayward), and the greatness of LeBron James. Click here if you are getting the podcast via e-mail.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Fadeaway Friday: Is Markelle Fultz a lock to go #1 to the Boston Celtics?


While they are currently getting spanked by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Boston Celtics can at least hang their hat on the fact that they landed the #1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The Los Angeles Lakers will pick 2nd and the Philadelphia 76ers will pick 3rd. What's on everyone's minds right now in regards to the draft is whether or not Washington freshman point guard Markelle Fultz will be the player selected by the Celtics with the top pick. I will attempt to help answer this question by providing a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of Fultz and also what other alternatives the Celtics have.

At 6'4", 190 pounds, Fultz is a little undersized for the shooting guard position, but is an ideal size for the point guard position. He's an explosive athlete who can get to the hole and score at all three levels of the floor: Around the rim, mid-range, and beyond the arc. He also has the pieces to be a good defender at the next level and be able to guard both point guards and shooting guards.

Fultz was rated as a 5-star prospect coming out of high school and racked up tons of scholarship offers from many top programs. While he played for a losing program, his draft stock was not at all affected a year later. NBA scouts still see him as the top player in this draft for the reasons mentioned above.

While he passes the eye test and appears to be the best one-on-one player in this draft, there are concerns about the fact that Washington didn't even sniff the NCAA Tournament. As a matter of fact, they didn't even sniff the NIT, finishing 9-22 overall and  2-16 in the Pac-12.  A common criticism of Fultz is how poorly Washington did with him as their floor general. One would certainly expect a school with the top pick in the NBA Draft to make the NCAA Tournament.

While it is true that many top NBA prospects lead their teams deep into the NCAA Tournament, the NBA Draft is about individual success and not team success. From an individual statistical standpoint, Fultz did very well, averaging 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game in his freshman season. He lived up to the hype and established himself as one of the top players in college basketball.

If the Celtics choose to not draft Markelle Fultz, their best alternatives would be UCLA freshman point guard Lonzo Ball, Kansas freshman small forward Josh Jackson, and Kentucky freshman point guard De'Aaron Fox. Given that three of the four are point guards, the real question comes down to whether or not the Celtics are strongly opposed to drafting another point guard in light of Isaiah Thomas' sensational season.

At the moment, the Celtics' backcourt consists of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, both of whom work very well together. I don't see the Celtics' backcourt becoming too crowded if they add another point guard and if anything, it could be a luxury for them to have in case they decide to trade Thomas or Bradley for other pieces.

Josh Jackson is the best prospect in the draft that isn't a point guard and some feel he is the best prospect overall. It is certainly possible the Celtics take Josh Jackson with the #1 overall pick, but the only issue with doing so is the presence of Jaylen Brown, who the Celtics selected #3 overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. Given that Brown is also a small forward, the Celtics may crowd themselves too much at that position if they draft Jackson. Especially since they are only a year apart.

At this point, my money is on the Celtics taking Markelle Fultz with the #1 overall pick. He's the consensus top player in the draft and having another point guard wouldn't be a bad thing for this Celtics team to have. It will certainly be interesting to see how things progress on the NBA Draft front in the coming month as prospects start the process of going through individual workouts.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

On Wednesday at 8:30 PM EST on TNT, the Eastern Conference Finals will tip off in Boston as the Celtics host the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics come into this series having taken out the Washington Wizards in seven games while the Cavaliers come in having swept the Toronto Raptors. Given how easily the Cavaliers dispatched of the Raptors and how much the Celtics struggled to get past the Wizards, many people are predicting this to be an easy series for the Cavaliers.

While the Cavaliers should be favored to win this series, that doesn't mean it will be easy for them to advance. The Cavaliers may have the advantage of rest, but the Celtics still have home court advantage, which is no small thing in the NBA playoffs. If the Celtics can find a way to get up for Game 1 on their home floor and simply hold serve, they'll put themselves in a great position to win this series and at the very least make this series go much longer than the Cavaliers would like.

If the Celtics want to give themselves any chance at winning this series, it all starts with Isaiah Thomas. Thomas has been phenomenal all season long and has really carried the load for this Celtics team, scoring 29 points and dishing out 12 assists in Game 7 against the Wizards. In the NBA playoffs, it's star time, which means this is when Isaiah Thomas needs to deliver the goods.

At the same time, Isaiah Thomas can't be the only one who steps up for the Celtics. We saw Kelly Olynyk have a big game in Game 7 against the Wizards, scoring 26 points, many of which came in the 4th quarter. Without Olynyk and his man bun coming up big, it would be the Wizards in the Eastern Conference Finals and not the Celtics. So, it really is important that the Celtics find ways to get Isaiah Thomas the help that he needs. If a guy like Jaylen Brown can get rolling a bit, that would be huge and really give the Celtics much better odds of winning this series.

For the Cavaliers, their key to winning this series is stealing Game 1 in Boston. They are coming into this game as the more well rested team and they need to take advantage of this. There will be no easier game to win in Boston than Game 1 and so if the Cavaliers don't win this game, they could be in big trouble.

In order for the Cavaliers to win Game 1 and set the tone for the rest of the series, much like the Celtics, they need their own star, LeBron James, to have a big night while also getting others involved. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the two guys who round out Cleveland's "Big Three" are the main guys who LeBron James needs to rely on for support. If those guys get in a groove and get hot, it could be a long night for the Celtics. If on the other hand, they struggle and aren't in a good rhythm, the Celtics will likely be the team with the upper hand.

One thing that could play a weird role in all of this is the Celtics landing the #1 pick in the NBA Draft after Tuesday's Lottery. The Celtics have to feel like karma is on their side right now and so that could give them a little bit of a boost going into this game.

As far as a prediction for this series is concerned, I do have the Cavaliers winning this series in six games. I think the Celtics have the pieces to win this series and I certainly would not be surprised to see them reach the NBA Finals. That said, I have to put my money on the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions, who are led by LeBron James, the best player in the world. The Cavaliers have earned the right to be considered favorites based on how they've played in the playoffs up until this point and I see no reason to pick against them now.

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Monday, May 15, 2017 Podcast: Kawhi Leonard is hurt, Celtics-Wizards Game 7, and the NBA Draft Lottery

On this week's edition of the Podcast, I address Kawhi Leonard's injury, Celtics-Wizards Game 7, and the NBA Draft Lottery. Click here to listen if you are getting this via e-mail.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Western Conference Finals Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs

Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals tips off today (Sunday) at 3:30 PM EST on ABC in Oakland, CA with the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs squaring off. The Warriors come into this series having swept the Utah Jazz 4-0 while the Spurs come in having taken out the Houston Rockets in six games.

The big question that is on everyone's minds as we enter this series is whether or not the Warriors have finally found their match in the Spurs or at least an opponent who they won't be able to sweep. So far, the Warriors have been on absolute cruise control, not dropping a single game through two rounds.

While the Warriors are and should be favored to win this series, I do not see this series being another sweep for Golden State. The Spurs are just too experienced and talented to go down without a fight. While the Warriors have perhaps the most dangerous two-way lineup the league has ever seen in Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala, the Spurs have some pieces of their own in Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, and Danny Green.

Don't get me wrong, the Warriors' lineup is better on paper, but where the Spurs can make up the difference is the way they play together as a team and also the presence of Kawhi Leonard, who is arguably the best player in the NBA. For those that don't know, Leonard (ankle) will play in Game 1 of this series, which is obviously fantastic news for the Spurs. If the Spurs want any chance of winning this series, they need to have a big series from Leonard and also find ways to get Aldridge, Gasol, Ginobili, Mills, and Green rolling.

The Spurs have somewhat strayed away from their usual model of getting everyone involved through having Kawhi Leonard carry them perhaps too much. It's a tricky line to balance since on the one hand you want your best player making plays, but at the same time you don't want to stray away from the identity that has made you a championship contender since the late 1990s. If the Spurs can find that right balance, they could have what it takes to win this series.

As for the Warriors, if they want to win this series, they just have to keep doing what they are doing. As cliché as that sounds, it's really true. The Warriors have been the best team in basketball all season and it's up to the Spurs to make the necessary adjustments to make this series competitive. Kevin Durant has been brilliant so far in these playoffs and Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, and Green have proven themselves to be a fantastic supporting cast around him. The bottom line is the Warriors are just too loaded and it's really hard to see them not winning this series in five or six games.

Given that I really respect the Spurs and the ability that Gregg Popovich has to make adjustments, I have the Warriors winning this series in six games. The Spurs will find ways to make things tough, but in the end, they won't be able to take this series to a Game 7 in Oakland.

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tomahawk Tuesday: Can anyone stop the Golden State Warriors?

The Golden State Warriors have gone 8-0 in the NBA Playoffs so far, sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz without hardly breaking a sweat. The Jazz I thought would give the Warriors a serious challenge, but in the end, they were no match for the juggernauts of the Western Conference.

While the Warriors can kick back and drink some Kool-Aid, the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets are engaged in an epic battle that appears to be going the distance (Spurs up 3-2). With Tony Parker out for the playoffs, it's hard to see the Spurs having enough juice to take the Warriors out while the Rockets' style of play is basically a B-grade version of what the Warriors already do.

With the way things are going, it's really hard to see anyone stopping this Golden State Warriors team. When you add Kevin Durant to a team that already consists of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala, you have something really scary. The Warriors are almost too good. While it's a thing of beauty to watch them play basketball, it's also a little bit boring just because we already know the outcome of each series they enter. We knew the Warriors would take out the Trail Blazers, we knew the Warriors would take out the Jazz, and I'm already comfortable saying that we know the Warriors will take out the winner of the Spurs/Rockets series.

The Warriors have too many weapons and they all know how to play together. We've seen teams try to stockpile on talent and have it backfire. What makes the Warriors' formula work is that their pieces all know how to play together and are willing to make sacrifices for each other. There are no egos on this team. The willingness of this cast of players to make sacrifices for each other is what makes this team virtually unstoppable.

With this being the case, can anyone stop this Warriors team? The answer yes, but there is only one team who can: The Cleveland Cavaliers. While the Warriors are the more talented and deeper team, the Cavaliers have LeBron James, who is still the best basketball player in the world. The Cavaliers have a ton of weapons in their own right with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and Kyle Korver in addition to LeBron James. They have the pieces to take out this Warriors team, but even for them it will be no easy task.

Without giving away my inevitable Warriors-Cavaliers NBA Finals preview, I will say that at this point, the only team who can take out the Golden State Warriors is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Everyone else in these playoffs can go home and figure out how to get better over the summer. I know it sounds harsh, but it's the truth.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Western Conference Playoffs Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Utah Jazz

The #1 seeded Golden State Warriors and the #5 seeded Utah Jazz will face off in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. Game 1 will be played tonight  (Tuesday) at 10:30 PM EST on TNT. The Warriors come into this series having swept the Portland Trail Blazers while the Jazz come in having survived the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games.

When looking at this series, what really stands out is the contrasting styles that both teams like to play. The Warriors, while very strong on defense, like to run up and down the floor and get easy baskets in transition. The Jazz in contrast like to slow it down and play more of a grind it out style that limits possessions and plays much more in the half court. Whichever team is able to control the pace more and make the game fit their style of play will have a huge advantage in this series.

It's no secret the Warriors are the heavy favorites. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant make for one of the most lethal scoring trios the NBA has ever seen and then when you add a multifaceted Swiss army knife like Draymond Green into the mix, you have yourselves a championship recipe. The bottom line is if the Warriors play up to their maximum potential, they will win this series. They are the better team and their 67-15 record reflects that.

That said, there are reasons to think the Jazz can make this series a lot more competitive than most people think. First, they have a huge advantage inside. Rudy Gobert is one of the top rim protectors in the NBA and Derrick Favors, while not having quite lived up to the hype, is still a load to handle down low. If the Jazz can protect the paint and not allow the Warriors to get easy baskets inside, they'll make things a lot tougher than the Warriors would like.

In addition to their stellar rim protection, the Jazz are a very good offensive team, ranking 12th in the league in points per possession. While they slow the game down and are 28th in points per game, their low scoring numbers aren't a good reflection of their overall abilities to get points. The Jazz are an efficient scoring team, they just slow the game down and have fewer possessions, which has been a key to their success.

What makes the Jazz efficient on offense is their combination of inside and outside scoring. George Hill, Rodney Hood, Joe Johnson, and Joe Ingles can all shoot from outside, while Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors know how to get baskets inside. As for their star Gordon Hayward, he can do both very well. He can spot up and knock down the open three as well as slash to the rim for the emphatic dunk. Hayward's ability to score at all levels of the floor make him one of the best small forwards in the NBA and a tough guy for defenses to stop.

A big wild card in this series is going to be coaching. Steve Kerr is not expected to be back for the rest of the playoffs, which puts Mike Brown at the helm of the Warriors. Last week, I addressed this topic in more detail, stating that I think the Warriors should be just fine without Kerr due to the quality system he has implemented. That said, Quin Snyder is a better coach than Mike Brown. Snyder has the Jazz playing very efficient basketball, implementing lots of motion and cuts, which frees up a lot of easy looks on offense. Defensively, the Jazz are as good as any team in the league. If Snyder is able to out-coach Brown, that could have a big effect on this series.

I think this series is going to be a lot closer than people think. While I do have the Warriors advancing, I think the series will go seven games. The Jazz have proven that they can win on the road. I wouldn't at all be shocked to see them get a game in Oakland. Likewise, the Warriors should be able to get a game in Salt Lake City. Both teams play in hostile environments, so I expect the home team to win most of the games in this series. I think it'll go seven and the Jazz, with their elite defense and efficient scoring, will give the more talented Warriors all that they can handle.

Note: This article also appears on my Utah Jazz blog. Click here to check it out. If you want to listen to the podcast that previews this series, click here

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