NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

NBA Christmas Day Preview

For die hard NBA Basketball fans, Christmas Day is a fun day purely because it is filled with NBA basketball; for casual fans it's sort of the day that the NBA season kicks off. So if you are one of the die hard NBA fans, this article isn't really for you to read, although you will still enjoy reading it! This is for the casual fan who wants to know "What should I look for with these games? Why do these teams matter?" So with that, I will give you a quick preview to each game and give you reasons to watch and things to look for.

Chicago Bulls (10-16) @ Brooklyn Nets (9-18) (Noon ET on ESPN): 

It's been a disappointing season for both the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets this season as both teams entered the season with championship aspirations and so far neither team appears to be capable of turning things around. The Bulls have lost their star point guard Derrick Rose for the season due to tearing the MCL in the knee opposite of the knee that had ACL surgery and the Nets have lost their star center Brook Lopez for the season due to a broken foot. So with both teams basically out of the championship race, why should you watch this game?

Well, for one thing, both of these teams faced off in the playoffs last year and it proved to be quite a battle that resulted in the Bulls advancing to the second round of the playoffs. The Nets will be out for some revenge and the Bulls will be out to show that they still won't go down without a fight (more of their motto for the season than for just this game).  Secondly, Nets head coach Jason Kidd just came out and said "We're getting really close to just accepting losing." It'll be interesting to see if his team responds to his harsh words and plays well, or if they play uninspiring basketball again and let down the Brooklyn fans on Christmas Day. Lastly, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau always has the Bulls play tough and play as a team. It's always fun to watch quality team basketball in today's NBA that isn't predicated on star play, but predicated on defense, rebounding, and hustle.

Oklahoma City Thunder (22-5) @ New York Knicks (9-18) (2:30 PM ET on ABC): 

Unlike the previous game, this game features a team that is a championship contender. That team would be the Oklahoma City Thunder. The New York Knicks on the other hand have been a disaster so far this season. They have shown utterly no ability to form a cohesive unit. It's basically been Carmelo Anthony jacking up 30 shots a game to keep the team within 5 points at the end of the game. Amar'e Stoudemire hasn't been healthy and he hasn't been playing anywhere close to where he used to be when he was an all-star, and the additions of Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani haven't exactly given the team the kind of boost they were hoping for. For the Knicks, beating the Thunder on Christmas Day would be a small step forward towards showing that they aren't totally dead this season.

As for the Thunder, they have less to prove today. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are both playing fantastic basketball along with their big man Serge Ibaka. They'll definitely want to win, but beating the Knicks won't tell us much about the Thunder. Even if Kevin Durant goes off for like 60 points, we won't learn much about the Thunder since all we will say is "The Knicks still suck".

In short, this game is all about the Knicks. This is their chance to show that they aren't totally dead and it's also their chance to show that Carmelo Anthony can be a clutch player who can lead his team to win big games against great teams (provided Carmelo Anthony's ankle allows him to play).

Miami Heat (21-6) @ Los Angeles Lakers (13-15): 

Like the previous game, this game has one contender (Miami Heat) and one team that isn't (Los Angeles Lakers). The Lakers were hoping to have Kobe Bryant back for Christmas Day, and while he returned before Christmas, he has gone down with a fractured left knee that will keep him out for several weeks. The Lakers are also without Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol remains the only really recognizable player on this team to the casual basketball fan that is actually able to play today.
The only thing to look for when it comes to the Lakers today, is to see if Mike D'Antoni has the ability to get these guys to play above their level of expectation like Tom Thibodeau has done with the Bulls. Beyond that, there isn't much to glean from the Lakers. Kobe is out and even when he's healthy, they aren't contenders anyways.

As for the Heat, the thing to look for will be kind of along a similar vein as the Thunder. Look for them to remind us of why they are a contending team (back-to-back champs)  and why LeBron James is the best player in the NBA. An easy and sound drubbing of the Lakers would be reminder to us that the Heat are still the team to beat in the NBA, but it wouldn't teach us anything new.

In short, there isn't much to take away from this game. The Heat are contenders and they don't need to prove that to us today, though they can remind us of that; and the Lakers are clinging to a position where they can maybe make a playoff push when Kobe comes back.

Houston Rockets (18-11) @ San Antonio Spurs (22-6): 

Finally, we have game that features two teams that actually are in the championship picture!! The San Antonio Spurs are once again flying under the radar with an impressive record and winning in a wide variety of ways thanks to their hall of fame players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili and their hall of fame coach Gregg Popovich. The Spurs are sure to be a tough out come playoff time and still probably are my pick to win the Western Conference and get back to the NBA Finals. Look for the Spurs to put on another exhibition of high quality basketball with off the ball screens, and passes that accurately hit cutting players. That is how basketball is supposed to be played!

As for the Rockets, look to see how Dwight Howard fits in with his new team. The Rockets have high hopes for their season, and believe that they have a contending team with the arrival of Dwight Howard. A win against the Spurs today would be a big win for them since it would send a message that they are a serious contending team. The Spurs are the standard in the West, and if you can beat them on the road in San Antonio, you can beat any team anywhere. This is by far the biggest game today in terms of indicating where teams are in the championship picture. If the Rockets win today or even if they play the Spurs close, we'll have to take the Rockets seriously going forward. If the Rockets get stomped, it won't mean that they can't compete or contend, but it will mean that they are still much more of a work in progress.

Los Angeles Clippers (20-9) @ Golden State Warriors (16-13): 

This is by far the most entertaining game of the day, which is why I'm glad it's last! The Clippers have high flyers Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan receiving lobs from their star point guard Chris Paul and the Warriors have perhaps the best 3-point shooting backcourt of all-time in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The "Splash Brothers" as they are called can shoot from literally anywhere on the court and seem to shoot with more confidence than anybody else in the league. The point is, if you like offense, you'll love this game!!! This is the exact opposite of the Bulls-Nets game to start the day. There will be tons of scoring, dunks, and long-range shots in today's Clippers-Warriors game!

As for what this game means for championship ramifications, both these teams are expected to be capable of making a deep run in the playoffs later this season. The Clippers have a legitimate MVP candidate in Chris Paul who will want to show today why he is a worthy MVP candidate and the hands down best point guard in the NBA. The Clippers have looked really strong this year and are in good positioning already. With this game on the road and the Warriors being behind the Clippers in the standings, this game means a lot more for the Warriors than it does for the Clippers. The Warriors will want to win this game to show that they still belong in the same conversation as the Clippers and that while they don't have Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, they do have guys that can hold their own in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Andre Iguodala.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The NBA Needs To Fix Its All-Star Selection Process And Possibly Ban Fan Voting All Together

The NBA All-Star Game claims to be a game that features the best players in the game of basketball, rewarding those who have played the best basketball over the first half of the NBA season. However, in recent years, those who get the most all-star votes are frequently not the most deserving players. For example, Kobe Bryant has over 500,000 all-star votes for this season while only having played a couple of games so far. In addition to that, Jeremy Lin has more all-star votes than Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, James Harden, and nearly 5 times the votes of Damian Lillard; and Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge (the two best power forwards in the Western Conference and possibly the NBA), don't have as many all-star votes as Blake Griffin, who is certainly all-star worthy, but not worthy of being an all-star starter.

I could go on and on about other blatant issues with the voting results thus far (Steve Nash having more votes than Damian Lillard; Ray Allen having nearly 100,000 votes; and Kyrie Irving having 3 times as many votes as John Wall), but I will instead try to be solutions oriented and propose some changes to some obvious flaws in the all-star voting system.

Change #1: Don't Allow Fans To Vote Until Christmas; Make Players Play an x number of games before they can get votes. 

This change would fix a lot of problems I think. This would prevent cases like Kobe Bryant getting half a million votes before playing a single minute. If the NBA wants to have the All-Star Game reward the best players in the game with the honors of starting, then they need to make sure that those who are durable and those who actually have played games get the honor of starting. Without this change, the NBA All-Star Game will have to change its name to the NBA Most Popular Players Game, which is actually a different category than being an "All-Star". An "All-Star" is supposed to be a player who exemplifies excellence in the sport among the world's best, not a player who wins a popularity contest. By having players have to play a certain amount of games before they are eligible to be voted for, this would at least guarantee that in order to get in the all-star game as a starter you have to have participated in the season to a certain extent. Guys like Kobe Bryant under this system would either (a) not appear on the ballot until playing a certain portion of games (e.g. 15 games) or (b) appear on the ballot but be locked, meaning that until they play say 15 games, they won't be able to be voted for.

Change #2: Put A Reminder On The Ballot About What An "All-Star" Is

This may not do anything, but it would help if the NBA at least put on its ballot front and center something along the lines of: "An all-star is one who has excelled most at the game of basketball over the course of the season. One should receive votes not based on achievements from previous seasons, celebrity status, or out of blinded favoritism. Voting for an all-star is a vote for a player who you think is honestly deserving of this high honor of based on their play. Votes for reasons other than that are considered unfair by the league."

Now one may ask what good will that do? Probably not much, but it would at least be a reminder to fans under what criteria they should be voting on. It would also add an extra sense of weight and seriousness to the event. Fans should know that being voted an all-star starter is a tremendous honor and that it isn't fair for certain players to not get votes because they play in a smaller market, etc.

Change #3: Be More Selective On Who Gets On The Main All-Star Ballot 

Technically, every NBA player is eligible to be voted for an all-star starting job, but only a select amount are front and center on the ballot. The fact that Jeremy Lin has 5 times the number of votes as Damian Lillard is absurd and an embarrassment that shows an obvious flaw in the voting process. What flaw is that? The flaw is that a player who gains votes entirely based on his international outreach and not basketball abilities is front and center for all to vote for. I like Jeremy Lin a tremendous amount and I respect his journey, etc. But he honestly isn't a player good enough to be one of the select few who are front and center on the ballot. He should have to be voted in via the write-in option, which would lower his all-star votes since so many people would be like "Where's Jeremy Lin?" or at least be too lazy to scroll down and vote him in via write-in. The NBA should only put players on the ballot who they think are clearly all-star worthy or worthy of being starters. Aside from that, everybody else should be write-in.

Change #4: Have A Minimum Stats Requirement For All-Stars 

This would be a really easy thing for the league to implement. I don't know why they don't do this. All the NBA needs to do to ensure the best players get voted in is make the criteria for being an all-star starter a certain level of ability. The best stat to use for this is the efficiency rating, which factors in all player statistics and puts it into a +/- score. The best efficiency ratings are around +25 and above (Kevin Love and Kevin Durant are nearly at +30). In order to be an all-star starter, the league should make it so that a player has to be at +25 or higher in order to be a starter. If two players are both above this level of efficiency, then the fan vote decides from there. E.g. If Blake Griffin gets an efficiency at +25 or higher, then he should be able to start ahead of Kevin Love by having more votes than Kevin Love even though Kevin Love has played better. However, if Griffin doesn't make this mark of efficiency, then having more votes than Kevin Love won't allow him to start ahead of Love (or LaMarcus Aldridge for that matter). I think this type of system would be a fair hybrid between letting the fans decide and making sure the best players in the NBA get to start.

Change #5: Threaten To Take Away Fan Voting Privileges

This seems like a mean tactic, but it's not as mean as the sixth change that I'll propose (I think you will figure out what it will be if you haven't already). Threatening to take away fan voting privileges may be something that the NBA should consider. They should threaten to take away fan voting on the grounds of integrity, stating that unless fan voting starts to more accurately reflect who really should be an all-star starter, then the league will resort to having players, owners, general managers, and coaches make the decisions on who should be an all-star starter as well as an all-star reserve. It would be interesting to see how voting results would differ if the league made such a statement.

Change #6: Take Away Fan Voting Privileges 

If the NBA threatens to take away fan voting privileges, and the fans still vote like idiots, then the NBA will have no choice to but to follow through on their threat and actually cut fans off from the voting process entirely. Seems mean, huh? Well, the reality is that those who are casting these idiotic votes are pissing off the rest of us who are educated basketball fans. Guys like me who vote for Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Stephen Curry because they are the best players at their positions would happily welcome any change that prevented idiot fans from altering the all-star selection process even if it meant that our ability to vote has to be taken away. The NBA says "The game is for the fans", but which "fans"are they talking about? What constitutes a "fan"? A true basketball fan wants to see the best players rewarded for their hard work and see the best five players from each conference start the all-star game. They don't want to see an aging has-been start while the best players sit on the bench to start the game. If the NBA wants to reward the real basketball fans and not the fake fans with blind allegiances to certain players and their own teams, then the NBA should ban fan voting, and give the educated fans who really care about the game the comfort of knowing that guys like them are making the decisions on who is and who isn't an all-star.

If the NBA were to make this change (which I would be happy with), then they should at least allow fans to vote on who should be in the dunk contest, the skills competitions, etc. This should happen at the expense of players' wishes. They should allow fans to vote for whoever they want for these events, which means that if LeBron James gets voted to do the dunk contest, then he has to do it. This way, the more casual fans  who vote based on celebrity status or other non-basketball related reasons would get to see their favorite players participate in a wide variety of events on all-star weekend, but the integrity of the all-star game would remain intact. I think under this system we have a win-win situation. The all-star game would truly represent the best current players in the game (since the only votes are coming from people within the league) and the former stars or players with only celebrity status would still make appearances for those fans who want to see them play even if they aren't worthy of being actual all-stars.

In conclusion, how many of these changes do I actually welcome? The answer is all six, and the last change I welcome the most. The NBA has a problem, and that problem is that they have a system in place which doesn't reward the best players in the NBA with a chance to be an all-star starter. It rather rewards players who play in bigger markets and also rewards delusional fans who don't vote for the right reasons. The NBA has to make changes to make the All-Star Game a game for the best players in the world to shine, and not a game that rewards players based on some other criteria.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Why It's Terrible For The NBA To Have Such An Appalling Eastern Conference

The Eastern Conference in the NBA is about as bad as it has ever been. Sure the Miami Heat (13-3) and the Indiana Pacers (15-1) are playing fantastic basketball, but those are only 2 out of 15 teams who call the Eastern Conference home. Of the remaining 13 teams in the conference, only the 9-9 Atlanta Hawks have a winning percentage of .500 or better, and to make things worse, the entire Atlantic Division is deeply submerged beneath the .500 mark with the 6-9 Toronto Raptors leading the division with a winning percentage of .400. The Eastern Conference has been bad before, but it has been quite a while since it has been this bad. While it is somewhat entertaining in a rather pathetic way to watch the entire Eastern Conference stink so badly, it actually is really bad for the NBA. So bad, that the NBA should consider eliminating conferences and instead send the top 16 teams to the NBA playoffs regardless of conference.

The reason that this is so bad, is because this greatly hurts the NBA's product and competitiveness. What fans want to see is the best possible basketball, and by having such lousy teams all clumped in one geographic region, the NBA's overall competitiveness and marketability is greatly harmed because (a) the best teams don't go to the playoffs and (b) one half of the country is surrounded by lousy basketball, which means fans of east coast teams won't want to watch the NBA. I have felt for quite some time that the NBA ought to flirt with the idea of shaking things up by instead sending the top 16 teams in the NBA to one tournament instead of breaking it up by Eastern and Western Conferences, and after seeing how this season is going, I've become even more convinced that the NBA needs to go this route. I understand the rationale behind having the conferences on the grounds that it makes travel easier, creates more playoff teams across all three NBA timezones, etc. But the NBA needs to at least have some sort of a clause that prevents things from getting this bad or out of whack.

One possible option is for the NBA to say that only division winning teams are guaranteed spots and from there, the remaining ten teams can come from either conference. By switching to a 6 division/10 wildcard format, the NBA could preserve some of its geographic balance while also allowing the best teams to make the playoffs. In this year's case, it may still result in a sub .500 team making the playoffs, but for the most part, at least one team in each division is good enough to be well above the .500 mark. I think this option is an option that the NBA should strongly consider.

The NBA could also provide a clause that says you have to be above .500 to make the playoffs. Such a clause would ensure that all competitive teams in each conference go, but it would prevent the current calamity that is afflicting the Eastern Conference from happening. If one conference can only produce three teams with winning records, than the remaining spots should be awarded to Western Conference teams who can play above the .500 mark. In cases where you don't have 16 teams at .500 or better, you could at least make it so that the top 16 teams in the NBA go.

Whatever the solution is, something like the above mentioned suggestions is better than the NBA not doing anything to fix this problem of having such a horrible Eastern Conference. It's one thing when a conference has maybe one or two teams in the 7 and 8 spot under .500. But when 13 out of 16 teams in the conference are below the .500 mark, something is going horribly wrong. I know it's too late for the NBA to fix the problem this season, but I pray that the NBA will give this issue some serious thought and try to do whatever they possibly can do to prevent such a horrible disaster like this from happening again.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

What Every NBA Team Has To Be Thankful For

Thanksgiving is a time of year to reflect on what matters most to us in life and what we are most thankful for. As all 30 NBA teams got Thanksgiving day off, I thought it would be fun to acknowledge at least one thing that each NBA team can be thankful for at this time of year. It may be hard for some teams to feel grateful for something at this time of year, but you can rest assured that there is something that your team can be thankful for! So rejoice in hearing the good news for your team!

Atlanta Hawks: The Atlanta Hawks still have a ways to go before they can be considered a contending team, but one thing we know for certain is that Josh Smith was not going to lead them to a title. The Hawks should be thankful that Josh Smith is no longer their headache and that he is now a member of the Pistons. They should also be thankful to have a more quality guy like Paul Millsap in their organization to take his place.

Boston Celtics: The Boston Celtics are entering full re-building mode, with the days of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen over. Only Radian Rondo is left from the era as Doc Rivers has bolted for the City of Angels to coach the Clippers. While it may seem like the Celtics don't have anything to be thankful for, they actually do have some things to be thankful for. One of those things being that the 2014 NBA draft is stacked and the other being that have a quality franchise player to build around in Rajon Rondo. A lot of teams in the NBA would love to have an elite point guard like Rajon Rondo to build around. The fact that the Celtics have that puts them well ahead of a lot of teams.

Brooklyn Nets: The Nets' season so far has been an utter and complete disaster. Jason Kidd is spilling soda pop on the court to call pseudo-timeouts, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Jason Terry, and Andrei Kirilenko have all been injured, and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce look like the aging stars that they are. But if there is anything that the Nets can be thankful for, it is that the Knicks stink as much as they do, and also, the entire Eastern Conference has been awful. That means they still have plenty of time to get healthy, figure out their team, make the playoffs, and maybe make some noise.

Charlotte Bobcats: This one is pretty obvious. The Charlotte Bobcats can be thankful that next season, they will be known as the Charlotte Hornets. The return of "Buzz City" will make NBA basketball in Charlotte exciting again and also something that Charlotte fans can get behind.

Chicago Bulls: For the Chicago Bulls, it's hard to think of what they have to be thankful for after Derrick Rose goes down again (this time he tore the meniscus in his other knee). But if there is anything they can be thankful for it is that Derrick Rose can still be a major part of their future and that his torn meniscus can regain full strength with proper rehab. They can also be thankful for the fact that Derrick Rose has already made a full recovery in the past. Hopefully next Thanksgiving, the Bulls can be thankful for a healthy Derrick Rose on his way back to MVP form.

Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cleveland Cavaliers have enough to be thankful for to mask the obviously horrible start by #1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett. One of the main things they can be thankful for is the fact that the 76ers gave up on Andrew Bynum and didn't make any effort to re-sign him in the summer. Bynum still may eventually shape up to be a quality center for them to accompany Kyrie Irving, and it wouldn't have happened had the 76ers invested in Andrew Bynum past last season. Also, the Cavaliers can be thankful for the fact that they have Kyrie Irving, who may one day become the best point guard in the NBA.

Dallas Mavericks: What the Mavericks have to be thankful for is the fact that every team in the NBA overlooked Monta Ellis in free agency. Ellis has been a great fit in Dallas and has given them the perfect offensive punch that they have needed. I'm not saying the Mavericks are contenders with Ellis, but they'll be in the mix all season long for a playoff spot (which in the Western Conference might be all that you need) as a result of picking up Monta Ellis.

Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets should be grateful for finding Brian Shaw to replace George Karl as head coach. I've never been really high on George Karl as a head coach, primarily because I think he underachieved as a coach of the Seattle Supersonics in the 90s, only reaching the NBA Finals once while having Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp to work with. But, with that being said, Karl is still a quality coach, and letting him go would have been a big mistake had they not been fortunate enough to find a quality replacement in Brian Shaw.

Detroit Pistons: The Pistons in free agency went from being a bottom feeder of a bad Eastern Conference to being a potential playoff team through picking up Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith. Both those guys along with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe ought to lead the Pistons to the playoffs this season, which for the Pistons is a huge step in the right direction.

Golden State Warriors: The Golden State Warriors have a lot to be thankful for. They signed Andre Iguodala in the off season, they have great fans, and a chance to make a deep playoff run, etc. But if there is one thing that the Warriors should be most thankful for, it is that they have a quality front office and a quality ownership that has a vision for the franchise. The Warriors lacked this kind of vision in the previous ownership, but now that they have these new guys at the helm, the Warriors can be sure to contend for many championships in the future.

Houston Rockets: If there is anything the Rockets can be thankful for, it is landing Dwight Howard in the summer. I know things didn't work out for Dwight in Los Angeles and Orlando, but he still is the premiere franchise center in the NBA. Landing Dwight Howard may have dramatically changed the course of this franchise.

Indiana Pacers: The Pacers should be grateful for signing Paul George to a max extension in the offseason, and locking him up as their key franchise player to build a championship caliber team around.

Los Angeles Clippers: This team needed a better coach than Vinny Del Negro, and they got one in Doc Rivers. They should be thankful for landing Doc Rivers as their head coach, which hopefully will take their already talented roster to new heights.

Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers should be thankful that Kobe Bryant will play basketball again. I didn't agree with the fat contract extension that they just gave Kobe Bryant, but they should be grateful that they got a couple more season to see if he can bring them a title. I don't think he will, but if they didn't have him, they'd be back to page one (which thankfully for the Lakers isn't as bad as it is for other team).

Memphis Grizzlies: After Marc Gasol went down with a knee injury, thoughts of a torn ACL had to cross the minds all Grizzlies fans. The Grizzlies should be thankful it's just a sprain and that he'll only be out for a couple of weeks.

Miami Heat: The Miami Heat have many things to be thankful for, but the main thing they have to be thankful for is that they have the best basketball player on the planet in LeBron James. So long as they have him, they'll be the toughest team to stop in the NBA.

 Milwaukee Bucks: They're playing terrible, but they should be thankful that the 2014 NBA Draft is stacked and that they have good odds at getting a quality franchise player to build around in the draft. Plus, they should be grateful that they no longer have Brandon Jennings, and instead have  a quality point guard in Nate Wolters who fell to them late in the draft. Bucks fans, feel grateful! There is reason to rejoice in the future of the Bucks!

Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves should be grateful to have the best big man in the game in Kevin Love. He's playing like a hall of fame big man, and so long as they have him, they'll be a force in the Western Conference. They should also be grateful to have picked up Kevin Martin in free agency.

New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans should be grateful for having Anthony Davis pan out. Sometimes #1 picks don't become franchise changing players, but thankfully for them, they have a franchise changing player in Anthony Davis to build around for years to come.

New York Knicks: The Knicks should be grateful that the Nets suck as well. If the Nets were really good and the Knicks were horrible, the New York media would be ripping into them like piranhas ripping into dead gorilla floating down the amazon.

Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder obviously have one thing to be grateful for among all the things they can be grateful for, which is that Russell Westbrook returned earlier than expected and that he is looking healthy. As a result, they'll be able to get a high seed in the Western Conference and make a deep run into the playoffs.

Orlando Magic: The dust has cleared from the Dwight Howard trade that sent Howard to the Lakers, Andrew Bynum to the 76ers, and Nikola Vucevic to the Magic. The Magic ironically won that trade, which is what they should be feeling grateful for. At the end of the day, the Magic look like the smart ones in that trade. Plus, they got a promising rookie in Victor Oladipo who can be a key piece for them to build around in the future.

Philadelphia 76ers: The 76ers should be grateful that Michael Carter-Williams may end up being the steal of the draft. The NBA is point guard driven, and they likely have already found their franchise point guard to build around in MCW.

Phoenix Suns: The Suns should be grateful to have hired Jeff Hornacek as head coach. Hornacek has this young, inexperienced Suns team playing way better than they were expected to, which is largely due to his credit. Expect Hornacek to be the head coach of this team for a long long time.

Portland Trail Blazers: They are 13-3, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are a legit one-two punch, and they are holding their own in a tough Western Conference. Plus, Greg Oden is gone. The Trail Blazers have a lot to be thankful for in addition to having an easy schedule to start the season.

Sacramento Kings: The Kings (and more importantly their fans) should be thankful that their team is staying in Sacramento.

San Antonio Spurs:  I could say that the Spurs should be grateful for Tony Parker, Tim Ducan, Gregg Popovich, etc. But that would be too obvious. What Spurs fans should be thankful for is that no team in the West leapfrogged them in terms of being favored to win the West over the Summer. The Warriors and Rockets improved their teams, but I still gotta put the Spurs ahead of both teams right now.

Toronto Raptors: In order to have a successful NBA franchise, the first thing a team needs is quality management. The Raptors hired last season's Executive of the Year Award winner Masai Ujiri to be their new GM. Somehow the Nuggets let him go, which means that the Raptors should be sending thank you cards to the Nuggets' front office very soon. For the Raptors, they should definitely be thankful to have Masai Ujiri as their general manager.

Utah Jazz: The Utah Jazz are awful this season, but they should be thankful to have quality young players to build around for the future and also an absolutely stacked draft in 2014. They are in prime position to land either Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins in the draft, which could greatly change their franchise for the better.

Washington Wizards: The Wizards should be thankful that so far, John Wall is living up to his max contract and is looking like an elite franchise point guard.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

2013-14 NBA Power Rankings: Tuesday, November 19th

Here are my updated Power Rankings as of Tuesday, November 19th, 2013. It should be noted that I rank the teams based on three factors: (1) Who is playing the best right now; (2) Who I think is best overall; and (3) Who I think has the most potential to be good.

1. Indiana Pacers (9-1): They got thumped pretty badly by the Bulls over the weekend, but luckily the hangover from that shouldn't last long at all. With games against the Knicks, Celtics, and 76ers coming up, the Pacers should be able to quickly continue on with their winning ways. The biggest concern they should probably have is the sprained right foot of Lance Stephenson. Reports say his status for Wednesday is up in the air. They'll definitely not want to have him out for long.

2. San Antonio Spurs (9-1): The machine that is known as the San Antonio Spurs continues to run smoothly in the early stages of this new NBA season. Their biggest win of the season so far is their 2 point win over the Warriors on November 8th. They sent the Warriors a firm message that the road to the NBA Finals will likely have to go through the Alamo.

3. Golden State Warriors (8-3): Not only does Andre Iguodala have the ability to play lock down defense; he also has the ability to close games. That win over the Thunder on Thursday was the Warriors way of saying "We're here and we aren't going anywhere." This team seems to not really have a flaw. They defend, they shoot, and they play unselfishly. Stephen Curry is the best scoring point guard in the NBA, Klay Thompson is the next Reggie Miller, etc. These guys are the real deal.

4. Miami Heat (7-3): With the lack of talk about the Heat right now, one would guess they were off to a 5-5 start or something like that. But no, they are off to a very nice 7-3 start, and nobody seems to be noticing, which is of course rather frightening.

5. Portland Trail Blazers (9-2): This team has won 7 straight games, but the teams they have beaten have not been all that impressive: Kings (twice), Pistons at home (by 6 points), Suns at home (by 1 point),  Celtics, Raptors, and the dysfunctional Nets. I don't want to take anything away from this team, especially since the point guard/power forward combo of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge is a legit 1-2 punch. But I guess we will have to see more from this team over the coming week to see if they can continue their success against better teams. Upcoming games against the Bulls, Warriors, Pacers, and Thunder will give us a better sense of how good the Trail Blazers actually are.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder (7-3): In case you were wondering if they will be missing Kevin Martin and James Harden, the answer is they probably will, but it doesn't mean that they won't be in the mix to win the Western Conference come April. What does help is that Jeremy Lamb is starting to come into his own slowly but steadily.

7. Chicago Bulls (6-3): Their thumping of the Pacers this past weekend was sort of their way of saying "We're still here, don't forget about us." I picked this team to win the division before the season started, and while I don't want to take anything away from the Pacers, let us not forget how good these Bulls were when Derrick Rose was playing at his MVP level. These guys are showing that they will be a factor come playoff time.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-4): Kevin Love is averaging 26.8 points per game and 13.6 rebounds. Love is putting up hall of fame type numbers right now, which is why this team is frightening. He's the best big man in the game right now, and so long as he plays this well, this team is a sleeper to maybe come out of the West. You best believe in these Timberwolves. They're the real deal.

9. Los Angeles Clippers (7-4): A close loss to the Heat, wins over the Timberwolves, Thunder, and Rockets shows that this team is going to be in the mix come playoff time, but the only reason one can say they'll actually compete for a championship is because Chris Paul is the best point guard in the game right now.

10. Houston Rockets (7-4): Still too early to tell for sure whether or not they are a contender or a pretender. They seem to perfectly be straddling the line somewhere in between.

11. Dallas Mavericks (7-4): They've been a pleasant surprise thus far. Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki appear to have a good thing going. Also, rookie point guard Shane Larkin has made his season debut. Things are looking as good as they could have hoped for in Dallas.

12. Atlanta Hawks (6-4): With the way Paul Millsap is playing, the loss of Josh Smith suddenly doesn't seem to be that big of a deal.

13. Phoenix Suns (5-4): If you want a reason to believe that the Suns aren't a mirage in the desert, look no further than their 3 point loss in San Antonio. That ought to give Suns fans some optimism.

14. Memphis Grizzlies (6-5): They've lost pretty badly to all the teams they'd expect to have to go through in the playoffs: The Spurs, Warriors, and the Pacers (I know the Pacers are in the East) have had no issue beating the Grizzlies this season. Time to hit the panic button and question the Rudy Gay trade?

15. Charlotte Bobcats (5-6): This team may end up being half-decent with an Al Jefferson/Kemba Walker 1-2 punch. Decent means sneaking in the back door as an eighth seed in the playoffs, which for them would be tremendous progress.

16. Los Angeles Lakers (5-7): Kobe Bryant being cleared to resume all basketball related activities is obviously exciting news, but will it bring any significant success?

17. Philadelphia 76ers (5-7): Believe it or not, the 76ers currently are winning the Atlantic Division with a sub-.500 record. Not sure how long this will last, but Philly fans better enjoy this while it lasts.

18. Denver Nuggets (4-6): They got a tough stretch coming up: @Thunder, vs. Bulls, vs. Mavericks, @Mavericks, and @Timberwolves. It'll be interesting to see how they come out of that stretch.

19. New Orleans Pelicans (4-6): So far, this team seems to have been over-hyped, but Anthony Davis is so far living up to the hype. The dude is proving himself to be a quality franchise player.

20. Orlando Magic: They got back to back games coming up against the Heat. Kinda nice to get them mostly out of the way this early on in the season.

21. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-7): So far, picking Anthony Bennett #1 overall is looking pretty stupid. They didn't really need a power forward, and he isn't looking like a game changer. This one has bust written all over it.

22. Boston Celtics (4-7): You know, if the Knicks and Nets continue to go down the drain (which is possible), then maybe a Rajon Rondo return can spark a run to win the division? I'm half joking of course, but in all seriousness, Rondo's presence may elevate this team more than we thought. Brad Stevens is also looking like a good hire so far.

23. Toronto Raptors (4-7): Reports say that GM Masai Ujiri is looking to make a series of moves, but so far, nothing has happened yet.

24. Detroit Pistons (3-6): The last thing they need is Brandon Jennings to get any more of a happy trigger, and then Joe Dumars comes along as says he needs to be shooting more. Go figure.

25. New York Knicks (3-6): Rather than figuring out how to weather the storm without Tyson Chandler, the front office is instead trying to craft up laughable trades to get Iman Shumpert and Amar'e Stoudemire out of town for Rajon Rondo or some other super star.

26. Brooklyn Nets (3-7): The Nets should never have fired Avery Johnson, but now they are stuck with a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd who will have a hard time getting any respect as a head coach from players who have proven to be better players than him over the course of their careers.

27. Milwaukee Bucks (2-7): O.J. Mayo  is basically having to carry this team on his back, but what is mildly encouraging is that rookie point guard Nate Wolters is showing signs of possibly being a key piece for them to build around in the future.

28. Sacramento Kings (2-7): We hear how talented DeMarcus Cousins is, how talented Marcus Thornton is, and yet somehow they don't win games.

29. Washington Wizards (2-7): Remember we used to talk about them as if they were going to be a playoff team? How stupid do we look now?

30. Utah Jazz: They need Trey Burke back and a time machine to spring forward to the day of the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery. Oh, they also will want a rabbit's foot for good luck.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter@nba_lord to get all the NBA news you need 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

2013-14 NBA Power Rankings: Saturday, November 9

The NBA season is almost two weeks underway, which means I am due for my first power rankings of the season!!! I will rank each team based on three factors: (1) Who I think is playing the best right now; (2) Who I think is best overall; and (3) Who I think has the most potential to be good. Not all factors will be weighted evenly, but it should be noted that when I rank teams, all three of these factors get factored into the equation to determine who's #1, #2, etc.

#1. Indiana Pacers (6-0): The Pacers are playing the best basketball in the NBA right now, and their 6-0 record speaks for it as they are the only undefeated team in the NBA. Paul George is emerging into a superstar before our eyes scoring 20+ points in each of the Pacers' 6 games,  and the supporting cast around him (Roy Hibbert, David West, Luis Scola, and George Hill) are all doing what they need to be doing.

#2. San Antonio Spurs (5-1): Father time doesn't really seem to be catching up with the Spurs too much since as Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili age, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Tiago Splitter get more experienced. The Spurs are off to a terrific start and haven't seemed to miss a beat from where they left off last season. I expect them to be dangerous, but if they keep at the pace they are going, they will find themselves back in the NBA Finals. Especially if Tony Parker keeps playing the way he is (19.3 points and 6.7 assists per game).

#3. Miami Heat (4-2): It's been a bit of an underwhelming start for the defending champions, but lets not act like there isn't a beast waiting to be unleashed with this team. They still have LeBron James, the best player in the NBA, and so far Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are playing on par with their usual all-star form. The one concern for this team has to be that Greg Oden hasn't seen the floor yet (in the regular season) and Michael Beasley has only played 4 minutes total. The additions of both guys were supposed to be big splashes, and so far neither guy is making much of an impact. Should this trend continue, this means that this Heat team is the same as last year's team only older, which certainly gives hope to the Pacers and other teams in the Eastern Conference.

#4. Golden State Warriors (4-2): So far, the addition of Andre Iguodala seems to be just what the doctor ordered for the Warriors. They now have a great perimeter defender to go along with their great perimeter shooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. One concern for this team is that Stephen Curry has already missed a game due to an ankle injury. Even though it's minor, that isn't a good sign for a team whose chief concern is keeping their star point guard healthy.

#5. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-1): The biggest concern I had for this team going into the season was the prospect of Russell Westbrook being out for 4-6 weeks. Well, he ended up only missing a couple of games, and so far, he looks like he's 100% healthy, playing like he did before the injury. In addition, the team is off to a great start, and won't at all be impacted in the standings as a result of Westbrook's injury. However, one general concern is how the team so much relies on Westbrook and Durant to score the basketball. They combine for 50 points a game, and after that, the scoring really drops off with Serge Ibaka being the third option averaging only 10 points per game. They need a better third scoring option to be a threat to win the whole title, but that's more of a concern at the macro-level rather than at the micro-level, which deals with these first five games. Through these five games, the Thunder have looked tough and poised to be a factor again come playoff time.

#6. Minnesota Timberwolves (4-2): I don't know if the Timberwolves will be this high in the rankings for long, but so far they deserve it. Kevin Love is playing hall of fame level basketball, averaging 27.2 points per game and 14.7 rebounds per game. Plus, Kevin Martin is looking like a solid pick up with his 23 points per game. This team has it all: a great post game with Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic; a great backcourt with Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin; and a solid supporting cast of role players like Corey Brewer, Derrick Williams, and J.J. Barea. This team has the pieces to not only make the playoffs, but eventually be a team that could win the Western Conference (just not this season).

#7. Houston Rockets (4-2): James Harden is playing like the best shooting guard in the NBA averaging 26.8 points per game, so he definitely is doing his part. However, if you remember in my Southwest Division preview, I said that in order for the Rockets to be contenders, Dwight Howard has to average 25+ points per game. So far, he's averaging an underwhelming 17 points per game. The rebounding and the defense is there, but the foul shooting and the lack of offensive versatility remain weaknesses in his game. So long as he's playing at the level he is, the Rockets will be competitive, but not a team that can come out of the West and reach the NBA Finals.

#8. Los Angeles Clippers (3-3): They've had a disappointing last couple of games on the road, losing against both the Magic and Heat in their Florida road trip. However, with games against the Rockets, Timberwolves, and Thunder coming up, they have a chance to leap frog all three teams by next week's rankings. Chris Paul is showing why he is the best point guard in basketball, averaging 22.5 points, 12.5 assists, and close to 3 steals per game. So long as they have him playing at an elite level, this team is going to be scary.

#9. Dallas Mavericks (3-3):  So far, the Monta Ellis experiment is working out really well. I just did an article on "Above The Rim Blog" about why I think the Mavericks are a perfect fit for him in case you want to hear more on my opinion on Ellis in Dallas. Collectively, the team is playing quite well. Monta Ellis is leading the team in scoring with 23.8 points per game, Dirk Nowitzki is right behind him averaging 18.5 points per game, and Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Jae Crowder, and Jose Calderon are proving to be nice complementary pieces around Dirk and Monta. I still don't know if I see them as a playoff team, but so far they've looked like a playoff caliber team, which is why I have them ranked in the top ten.

#10. Philadelphia 76ers (4-2): I don't think anybody knows where to rank the Philadelphia 76ers in a power rankings list. Especially by my criteria which factors in how good a team is playing right now, how good I think a team can be, and how good I think a team is overall. Right now, I can't argue with the results, which for Philadelphia have been well beyond everyone's expectations. That being said, I also don't think the sample size is big enough to indicate where they truly stand among all NBA teams, and  I still think at the end of the season, they will be one of the bottom barrel teams. What I will say that should give 76ers fans optimism, is that I do think that if Michael Carter-Williams continues to average over 18 points, 7 assists and nearly three steals per game, the 76ers could be a halfway decent team given that Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes are playing well.

#11. Chicago Bulls (2-3): The Bulls are still a work in progress with Derrick Rose continuing to find his groove. The Utah Jazz coming to town last night was just what the doctor ordered for this team. They needed a win, and they needed it to come without much pressure.

#12. Portland Trail Blazers (3-2): With Damian Lillard at point guard and LaMarcus Aldridge at power forward, the Trail Blazers have a great one-two punch that can do well in the pick and roll. Both guys are averaging nearly 24 points per game, and they also have Wesley Matthews chipping in 17 points per game. This trio of Matthews, Lillard, and Aldridge is looking as promising as I hoped it would, which means that we could see some playoff basketball up in Rip City come April.

#13. Phoenix Suns (4-2): Like Philadelphia, I didn't think the Suns would be good, and they've ended up being a big surprise. Props to Jeff Hornacek for the coaching job he's been doing thus far. One key statistical thing to note is that this team is incredibly balanced in their scoring. Eric Bledsoe is leading the way with 20 points, but four other guys (Markieff Morris, Miles Plumlee, Goran Dragic, and Gerald Green) are also scoring in the double digits as well, making that five players averaging double figures in scoring in total. If they continue to play balanced and play as a team, they will win games more than expected, though like the 76ers, I think the sample size thus far is still too small to get overly excited.

#14. New Orleans Pelicans (3-3):  Anthony Davis is starting to look like a player worthy of being a number one pick. He can score, block shots, and rebound the basketball. He's a jack of all trades type of guy in the paint, which makes him VERY dangerous. I would like to see more out of Tyreke Evans though. 8.5 points off the bench isn't going to cut it when your role is to be your team's offensive spark plug off the bench. Given more time, I think that Tyreke may very well bump up his scoring average become more dynamic off the bench, but for right now whether or not he will remains to be seen.

#15. Charlotte Bobcats (3-3): They're 3-3 and Al Jefferson is still recovering from his ankle injury. When he comes back fully healthy, I think they may have what it takes to sneak through the back door as a playoff team. It isn't likely, but keep an eye on these Bobcats throughout they year. The trio of Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Al Jefferson really isn't that bad of a trio if you look at it on paper.

#16. Brooklyn Nets (2-3): Luckily for them, as they struggle, so do the Knicks, which means that the Knicks' struggles are the headlines of all the papers in New York, and not the Nets. The Nets are still a work in progress, and they should be able to iron out their problems. Their win over the Heat certainly is a confidence booster for this team, but it obviously wasn't an indicator that they wouldn't be off to a rough start. One major concern for them is the underwhelming performance of Deron Williams, who is averaging 9.6 points and 7 assists per game. He has to play better if they want to compete for a title. It should also be noted that Brook Lopez is playing really well, averaging 21 points and close to 6 rebounds a game. His steady play has definitely been a bright spot that they need to continue to build on.

#17. Los Angeles Lakers (3-4): Steve Blake's three point shot to beat the Rockets this week sorta says it all about this Lakers team without Kobe Bryant, which is that they've been surprising. Having players who fit his system has in someways vindicated Mike D'Antoni to a small extent, especially after watching Dwight Howard struggle to hit free throws down the stretch against his former team. That being said, the absence of Kobe Bryant is a problem and how he fits in once he gets back is also a problem. Don't be fooled into thinking that the Lakers will be a playoff team, but also there is reason for Lakers fans to be pleased with how the team has played given the low level of expectations and injuries that they've had to battle.

#18. Orlando Magic (3-3): Nikola Vucevic is a beast in the paint and Victor Oladipo is quietly making his case for rookie of the year. This team has a bright future and also ironically are the big winners out of the Dwight Howard trade.

#19. Milwaukee Bucks (2-2): The team is playing half decently, and their $44M man Larry Sanders isn't doing much to contribute. His minutes have almost been sliced in half (17 minutes per game), and Zaza Pachulia is stepping in as the primary go-to guy in the paint for them. Pachulia is comfortable with head coach Larry Drew's system from their days in Atlanta, and Sanders seems to be frozen out of the rotation as a result. The Bucks' front office need to figure out what to do about this because they didn't give Sanders a huge extension to then have their head coach essentially not utilize him or let him grow. The challenge is figuring out how much of this season is about doing what is best to win games now and what is best for the team's long-term future. If they feel like Sanders is going to be a key part of their future and they think he has the potential to be a big time difference maker for them down the road, then they need to sit Drew down and demand he plays Sanders more. Otherwise their money really is going to waste.

#20. Detroit Pistons (2-3): Their start isn't too strong, but I still expect Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, and Chauncey Billups to find their groove along with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe in the paint. Too early to worry about this team, but not to late to place them in the bottom third of the NBA at the moment. Hopefully their ranking shoots up by next week.

#21. Atlanta Hawks (2-3):  Paul Millsap and Al Horford are proving to be a quality front line, but will that be enough to get them to the playoffs?

#22. Memphis Grizzlies (2-3): Their first full year without Rudy Gay will truly answer the question about whether or not they made the right move in trading him.

#23. New York Knicks (2-3): They already can't defend with Tyson Chandler, and now he's out 4-6 weeks with a fractured leg. Things are not looking pretty for the Knicks right now, which is why Carmelo Anthony calling an urgent players-only meeting isn't a surprise.

#24. Washington Wizards (2-3): This team was supposed to be a team that could be in the mix for a playoff spot, and so far I'm not seeing it. I still like the Bradley Beal and John Wall backcourt duo, but Nene up front isn't looking like the answer to solve their paint problems (which is why they traded for Marcin Gortat). Perhaps Gortat will make things right for them inside, but it is too early to tell.

#25. Cleveland Cavaliers (2-4): The good news is that Andrew Bynum is able to play. The bad news is that his minutes are still limited and he so far isn't looking anything close to a finished product in terms of regaining full strength. Their playoff chances rest squarely on his shoulders since Kyrie Irving is doing all he can to lead this team, and it clearly just isn't enough. Also, they need more out of Anthony Bennett, the #1 overall pick in this year's draft. The selection raised some eyebrows on draft night, and so far all the skepticism around that selection seems to have some validity to it.

#26. Boston Celtics (2-4): It's going to be a long year in Boston, but the return of Rajon Rondo is definitely something for this team to get excited about.

#27. Toronto Raptors (2-4): This team is really unstable right now knowing that Masai Ujiri is planning on making some changes. The team is in good hands with Ujiri as GM, but he will no doubt shuffle the deck and make some trades by the deadline. This current instability seems to be taking its toll on the players. They don't know which of them is going to be out the door (including Rudy Gay) which will create a challenge for them to find some unity and cohesion.

#28. Denver Nuggets (1-4): I thought these guys were still able to be a playoff team without Andre Iguodala, but with the way he's making an impact on the Warriors, perhaps his absence in Denver is having a polar opposite effect on the Nuggets.

#29. Sacramento Kings (1-4): DeMarcus Cousins isn't a bad piece to have as your foundation for success, but he still has a ways to go in terms of being a "professional". Also, for the life of me I don't understand why Jimmer Fredette is still on this team. They won't trade him, they won't pick up his option, or give any good explanation for why they are essentially holding the young man hostage. Their mismanagement of Jimmer is a reflection on their organization as a whole. A quality organization would have traded him by now and also let him play so as to improve his trade value (which at the moment is as low as it could possibly be).

#30. Utah Jazz (0-6): The return of Trey Burke ought to make things better, and also give us a better sense of what this young Jazz team really has. Without him, they look flat out awful.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Atlantic Division Preview

My preview for the 2013-14 NBA season finishes with the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference: Home of the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and Philadelphia 76ers. As I have done for each division preview, I will address each team in order of where I see them finishing in the division standings.

New York Knicks: The New York Knicks once again have set very high expectations for themselves, speaking as though anything short of a championship is a failure. To their credit, they tried to improve their roster this offseason through getting Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace, but I don't think it's enough to make them do any better than last season. Carmelo Anthony will once again prove to be one of the elite scorers in the game, which by default makes the Knicks dangerous, but once you get beyond him, they have nobody that can be relied upon as a legitimate number two threat. J.R. Smith is too inconsistent; Amar'e Stoudemire is injury prone and past his prime; and Metta World Peace is only a half-decent one way player on defense at this point. The Knicks simply do not have enough around Carmelo Anthony to compete for a championship. That being said, they should still win this division since they are still a quality team who knows who they are. They know that they rely on Carmelo to win them games, and they know what role everybody else plays. The Nets are the more dangerous team to win the whole championship, but it will take them time to figure out who they are, which is why I pick the Knicks to win the division title.

Brooklyn Nets: The Brooklyn Nets  had one of the more active offseasons in the NBA through the hiring of Jason Kidd as head coach as well the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, and Andrei Kirilenko. The Nets have claimed to be serious about contending, and they certainly backed up their talk through those moves. If you put those four guys with Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, and Brook Lopez, you potentially have a team that can win the whole NBA championship. Key word is "potentially". I don't see the Nets winning a championship, but if all the pieces come together and everybody plays to their maximum potential, then the Nets may have what it takes to dethrone the Heat in the Eastern Conference. What will be interesting is to see how quickly this team finds its identity and how they respond to Jason Kidd. The hiring of Jason Kidd was either a brilliant move or a stupid move. This team will need a coach who commands their respect, and I'm not sure Jason Kidd has the weight to be that kind of coach since they all still view him as their own peer. Why the Nets didn't go out and hire a guy like Brian Shaw is beyond me, but perhaps there is something I don't see in Jason Kidd that they do see. It's no doubt that the dynamic between Kidd and his players will be heavily scrutinized in New York and could end up playing a crucial role in how the season as a whole plays out.  Whatever the end result is with the Kidd hiring, it can be certain that the Nets will be one of the more fascinating teams to follow due to all the potential that they have along with all the uncertainty.

Toronto Raptors: The Toronto Raptors are still in rebuilding mode, but at least they now have a front office that they can believe in. Masai Ujiri won the "Executive of the Year" award last year as the general manger of the Nuggets, and now he is the general manager of the Raptors, which means that  the Raptors currently possess the top ranked general manager in the NBA. Ujrii has already shown that he isn't afraid to make bold moves through the Andrea Bargnani trade, and now he is also reportedly interested in possibly trading Rudy Gay. The Raptors aren't looking to contend this year, but rather figure out who they are going forward for the coming years.  Rudy Gay, Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, and Kyle Lowry appear to be the building blocks for this team, but all that could change with Ujiri at the helm. He's going to find out which of these guys he wants, and which of them he doesn't want. Trading Rudy Gay makes the most sense since he has the most value of anybody on their team and also trading him would free up a ton of cap space. But if Gay ends up not being dealt, don't expect the Raptors to remain idle, either. Before this season is over, the Raptors will make at least one or two noticeable trades, and knowing that Ujiri is in charge likely means that they will  be moves that help propel the Raptors in the right direction for the future.

Boston Celtics: With Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Doc Rivers gone, the Celtics are an entirely new team with the exception of Rajon Rondo. They are young, inexperienced, and prime for a race to the bottom of the NBA standings. Rajon Rondo likely not returning from his torn ACL until January helps their odds of a landing a high draft pick rise even higher. The bottom line for the Celtics is that they are in complete reboot mode. They have a new coach in Brad Stevens, who has never coached in the NBA before, working with a young and relatively inexperienced roster with a point guard coming off a torn ACL as the foundation. It's going to be ugly in Boston, but the bright side is that the 2014 NBA draft may be one of the best drafts of all-time, which makes having a bad season suddenly seem not so bad.

Philadelphia 76ers: Don't let Wednesday night's victory over the Heat as well as Michael Carter-Williams' near quadruple double make you think the 76ers have a chance to be half-decent. The reality is that they're going to be terrible and they are going to lose more than 60 games. It's a bad team with no star, no leader, and no identity. The head coach Brett Brown has never coached before, their lottery pick from a couple of years ago (Evan Turner) is on the trading block, and their current lottery pick Nerlens Noel is likely out for the season. If the 76ers are tanking the season for a high draft pick, then things are off to a great start. If they are hoping to make a push for a playoff spot, then they are in for an incredibly disappointing season.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Southeast Division Preview

My preview of the 2013-14 NBA season continues as I move on to the Southeast Division in the Eastern Conference. This division is home to the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards, and Orlando Magic. As has been the case with all my previews, I will address each team in order of where I see them finishing in the division.

Miami Heat: As if there was another team I was going to pick to win this division! Yes, it will be the Miami Heat, but whether or not they take the division isn't what people are interested in. It's whether or not they can win a 3rd straight NBA championship. My answer to that question is I think they can provided they stay healthy. I know I've said health is the key for a lot of teams, but it's really true, especially for the Miami Heat. LeBron James may be the best player in the NBA, but that doesn't mean he doesn't need help to win a championship. Ray Allen bailed him out in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last season, and Dwyane Wade has been LeBron's guide to winning a championship much like how Virgil was a guide for Dante as he went through the seven degrees of hell. LeBron James needs these key teammates to be healthy and playing their best ball in order to win a third straight championship. Especially with teams like the Bulls and Pacers knocking on the door. It should also be noted that the Heat have made some key additions to their team that might be of great use in their quest for a three-peat. Those additions namely are Michael Beasley and Greg Oden. Beasley is a talented player and former lottery pick of the Heat from a few years ago. He has since been a disappointment everywhere he has been, which explains why he's back with the Heat playing for a little over one million dollars. But like I said, he is talented, and if he can harness his talent and keep his head straight, then he really could be a huge addition to this team. Especially as a scoring threat off the bench. As for Greg Oden, we all know he's a former #1 overall pick, taken ahead of Kevin Durant. We also know that he hasn't been healthy in 4 years, which makes his contributions to this team much tougher to gage. But if the best possible scenario happens, which is that he doesn't get hurt and he provides some sound minutes off the bench, then he too could make a big impact since his strengths (interior defense and rebounding) are the Heat's biggest weaknesses. The bottom line for the Heat is that they should win the NBA championship should all go according to plan. That is, LeBron James has another MVP season, Dwayne Wade and Ray Allen stay healthy, Chris Bosh continues to fly under the radar as one of the better big men in the game, and the additions of Oden and Beasley turn out to be quite beneficial. The pieces for a three-peat are there in Miami, and now all we need to see is if they can deliver the goods.

Atlanta Hawks: The Atlanta Hawks ought to be the number two team in this division, but there is quite a gap between them and the Miami Heat. The Hawks have lost swingman Josh Smith to the Pistons, which marks the end of a rather disappointing era of basketball that was headlined by Joe Johnson's ridiculous contract. The Hawks are moving forward with Paul Millsap and Al Horford as their foundation along with a solid back court featuring Lou Williams, Jeff Teague, and rookie point guard Dennis Schroeder. I think the addition of Millsap as a replacement for Josh Smith is actually pretty solid. He's more of a traditional power forward who plays tough down in the paint and grabs rebounds. He and Horford ought to work well together and help the Hawks win a good chunk of games this season. Also, the Hawks have added Kyle Korver to the mix to help hit some threes as well as another former Jazz player DeMarre Carroll, who will hustle, play good defense, and rebound. The bottom line for the Hawks is that they should make the playoffs given their one-two punch of Horford and Millsap, but they won't contend or be any sort of threat to win a series. Probably the most interesting thing to watch will be the development of Dennis Schroeder, who might end up being the best point guard in the entire 2013 NBA draft class. If he can turn into a star point guard, then the Hawks might have something to really build upon for years to come. But for now, they remain a decent team that will make the playoffs and then proceed to lose in the first round.

Washington Wizards: The Washington Wizards have just locked up their star point guard John Wall to 5 year extension worth around $80M. They are putting all their faith in him to turn them into a contending team. Wall likewise wants to prove that he is worth that money, which means that this season is a big one for the Wizards in terms of proving that they made the right decision to pay John Wall so much money. In addition to Wall, the Wizards have a terrific young shooting guard in Bradley Beal, a promising rookie small forward in Otto Porter, Jr., and a solid veteran center in Nene Hilario. The key for this Wizards teams is of course health. Wall, Beal, and Nene have all had their share of injuries over the years, and Porter, Jr. is in the process of getting an MRI on his hip. The pieces to be a playoff team are there, but the injury factor is why I don't have the Wizards ahead of the Hawks right now in the standings. If healthy, the Wizards should be a playoff team given their balance. They have the back court, they have the front court, and they have the versatile swingman. They got it all. They just need the time to stay healthy so they can figure out how to make it all come together. My prediction for the Wizards is that they will make the playoffs IF they can stay healthy. If Wall, Beal, and Nene are each sidelined for 20 games a piece, then the Wizards won't be a playoff team. It's that simple.

Charlotte Bobcats: Throughout their mediocre history, the Bobcats have been just that. Mediocre. But thankfully, they are changing their name to Hornets next season, which means that this is the last season in which "Bobcats" will be the name of a franchise in the NBA. Most people expect the Bobcats to be awful this season, but I actually think they could end up being pretty good. All that point guard Kemba Walker has needed is somebody to feed the ball to in the paint, and that need seems to be addressed thanks to the addition of Al Jefferson, whom they acquired in free agency. Jefferson last played for the Utah Jazz, and proved to be one of the better centers in the NBA. He has also proven himself to be one who can play well with point guards of the likes of Kemba Walker, which is why I think his presence will make Kemba Walker a much better player. In addition to seeing how Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson play off each other, watching the development of second year small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be a key thing to watch this season in Charlotte. If he can prove that he was worth a top three pick in the draft, then the Bobcats may have good reason to feel good about their team as they enter their era as the Hornets. The bottom line for the Bobcats is that if Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson hit it off, they might make an interesting run at a playoff spot. I don't see them making the playoffs, but not every team has a center like Al Jefferson, either, which is why one must at least entertain the possibility of the Bobcats being a playoff team this upcoming season.

Orlando Magic: The Orlando Magic are coming off one their worst seasons ever (20-62), and I don't expect them to be a whole lot better. Rookie shooting guard Victor Oladipo will be fun to watch, but he won't make them that much better in terms of how many wins they get. I like his game and I think he has the talent to be really good in 2-3 years, but right now, he doesn't have the ability to make any sort of seismic impact on this team. As for the rest of the team, they don't have anybody who can be a star or consistently lead out on a nightly basis. Center Nikola Vucevic (acquired in the Dwight Howard trade), is a solid center, but not one who can be relied upon to make you anything competitive. The same goes for power forward Glen Davis and power forward Maurice Harkless. They have some nice role players, but no stars in Orlando, which is why they will lose a lot of games. Luckily for them, the 2014 NBA Draft is stacked with talent that can turn their franchise around much quicker than this past draft. To say the least, it'll be a long season in the Magic Kingdom.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Central Division Preview

My preview for the 2013-14 NBA season continues as I now switch from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference. The first division I will preview in the Eastern Conference is the Central Division, home to the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, and Cleveland Cavaliers. As I have been doing for each preview, I will address each team in order of where I see them finishing in the division. 

Chicago Bulls: 
The Chicago Bulls are coming off a season in which they were without their star point guard Derrick Rose, who not only is the MVP of their team, but also a former MVP of the league. Despite Rose's absence, I felt that the Bulls were still a very dangerous team given their great defense and rebounding. Their style of basketball was too much for the Brooklyn Nets to handle in the first round of the playoffs last season, and it even gave the Miami Heat problems in the second round of the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Bulls, their health ended up costing them in the end, but nobody questioned their fighting spirit. This season, things look much better for these Bulls since they have Derrick Rose back. If Rose can return to his MVP caliber form, or something very close to it, then the Bulls are going to be a threat to win the entire NBA championship because they have every other piece of the puzzle to beat the Miami Heat. They have Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer down low to get rebounds and provide a legitimate threat offensively in the paint; they have Luol Deng as a legitimate side kick to Derrick Rose on the wing; and they collectively play really good team defense. The way to beat the Miami Heat is to play great defense, rebound the basketball, and not turn the ball over. The Bulls are great at all of those things, which is why they are a threat to win the NBA championship. The bottom line for the Bulls is that if they can stay healthy, then they'll be a serious threat to win the NBA championship. If they aren't healthy, then they won't be much of a threat to win a championship. But regardless of even their health, you can rest assured that they will play hard every night and not be an easy win for any team including the Miami Heat. I know I'm going out on a limb picking them to beat out the Indiana Pacers for the division title, but I really think that if Derrick Rose is back to his old self, there is no team better than the Bulls in this division. 

Indiana Pacers: 
The Indiana Pacers took the Chicago Bulls' place as division champions last season and also took the place of the team out in the Eastern Conference that could legitimately scare the Miami Heat. Like the Bulls, the Pacers pride themselves on their defense and their rebounding. In addition, the Pacers have also found their own superstar in their young small forward Paul George, to whom they just gave a lucrative contract extension earlier this fall. George is coming off a season in which he averaged 17.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. The Pacers expect him to do even better this season and continue to show why he's going to be a superstar in the NBA. In addition to Paul George, the Pacers also have a great front line of David West and Roy Hibbert to control the paint and provide a sound offensive threat down low like the Bulls have with Boozer and Noah. Plus, they've also added Luis Scola to the mix, giving them even more versatility on the block, especially on the offensive end. The only real concern for the Pacers is going to be the health of small forward Danny Granger, who will be out for the first three weeks of the regular season due to a calf injury. Before Paul George emerged, Granger was their star, but now that it's Paul George, the Pacers need to figure out how to get Granger and George to co-exist. More importantly, how to integrate Granger in such a way that the chemistry developed last season doesn't get hurt by his presence. Their head coach Frank Vogel definitely has a difficult task on the Danny Granger front, but he won't have the difficult task of trying to coach a mediocre team to success. He has a great group of guys to work with who certainly have what it takes to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals, and maybe even reach the NBA Finals. If the Chicago Bulls are not at full strength, expect the Indiana Pacers to win the central division title. Regardless of where they finish in the division standings, I don't expect them to drop outside the top four of the Eastern Conference. They will be a team with home court advantage in the first round, and will also be a team that will once again be on the cusp of winning a championship. What of course remains to be seen is how much better they are as a result of the off-season moves they made along with the return of Danny Granger.

Detroit Pistons: 
The Detroit Pistons have a whole new look this season thanks to the additions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. The Pistons have overnight gone from being a team in the race to get the most ping-pong balls for the draft, to being a team in the race for a playoff spot. The transformation of this team is actually quite stunning given where they were last season. Brandon Jennings is one of the more undervalued point guards in the NBA, and Josh Smith is one of the more underrated stars in the NBA. Sure Jennings isn't Chris Paul or Stephen Curry, but unless you can have one of those top flight guys, Brandon Jennings is as good an option as you are going to find. The same goes for Josh Smith, who may not be of the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or Paul George, but still nonetheless is a legitimate player who can turn any team into a playoff caliber team. As for the rest of the team, the Pistons look pretty good. They have a solid front court featuring Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, and a decent back court to go with Jennings with players like Chauncey Billups and rookie shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The bottom line for the Pistons is that they should have what it takes to get the 6th or 7th seed in the Eastern Conference and make the playoffs, but nothing beyond that. They won't win a series or make any noise in the playoffs, but just being back in the playoffs will be a big enough of a deal this season. One thing that could maybe change their fortunes is what they end up doing with young center/power forward Greg Monroe. There are rumors that he could be on the trading block, and given his abilities, they could get a lot back for him should they want to trade him. Monitoring the status of Greg Monroe will be one of the more interesting things to watch for this season in addition to seeing how many crazy shots Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith attempt to make.

 Cleveland Cavaliers: 
The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be a very interesting team this season, and also might end up being the team that takes the biggest leap in terms of improvement from last season. They have a lot of very promising players on their team in addition to their  young 3rd year all-star point guard Kyrie Irving, who averaged 22.5 points and 5.9 assists last season. Those additional players are shooting guard Dion Waiters, who is entering his second season in the NBA, power forward Tristan Thompson, who like Irving is coming off his sophomore season in the league, and the current #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, a talented power forward out of UNLV. These young players along with Kyrie Irving make the Cavaliers a team with a very bright future, but not a team that will even sniff a playoff spot. However, there is one player that they have that could make them a playoff team this season, and perhaps even a championship caliber team. That player is Andrew Bynum, who is coming off an utterly embarrassing season in with the Philadelphia 76ers. Bynum didn't play one minute of basketball for the 76ers last season, and in the process completely destroyed the franchise. Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they aren't putting their whole future on the shoulders on Andrew Bynum, since their whole future is on the shoulders of Kyrie Irving. But with that being said, they could end up being a really dangerous team should Bynum return to being the type of dominant center he was with the Lakers.  Especially since they also have another really good big man in Anderson Varejao. Dominant big men are hard to come by in the NBA, and when healthy Andrew Bynum is arguably the best center in the entire NBA. That's why they are a contending team. If you have the best center in the game and a top five point guard, you by default have to be considered a contending team. Now you might be wondering why I still have the Cavaliers finishing fourth in this division and not second or third. The reason is because there are too many unknowns surrounding Andrew Bynum. Will he play? Will he not play? If he does, how much will he play and what type of impact will he make? It's hard to predict, which is why I have to temporarily place the Cavaliers at the spot where they are at. I'm fully aware that I could be wrong about where they finish up, but for now I need to take the conservative position and say that they'll finish fourth in the division and be one of the teams fighting for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

Milwaukee Bucks: 
The Milwaukee Bucks are clearly going to be the worst team in this division. Brandon Jennings is now on the Pistons and Monta Ellis is now on the Mavericks, which means that the building blocks for their franchise are almost gone except for their young center Larry Sanders, who they just gave a very lucrative contract extension to earlier this fall. The Bucks do have a promising young point guard in Brandon Knight, whom they got from the Pistons, and also a promising young forward in John Henson to go with some solid veterans along the wing such as OJ Mayo, Ersan Illyasova, and  Caron Butler. But when looking at the rest of the teams in the division, it is clear that the Bucks are going to stack up a lot of losses. I know it sounds like a really bad thing to be in this type of situation, but actually the Bucks are in a much better situation than they were last season for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that they weren't going anywhere with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings as their one-two punch, so they might as well move on and start a new chapter in their history. Plus, they have some interesting young players to develop such as Brandon Knight, John Henson, and rookie small forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (who I actually drafted in fantasy basketball this season). Last but not least, the 2014 NBA draft is supposed to be filled with a ton of all-star talent which every team is going to want to get their hands on. By being bad, the Bucks are setting themselves up for success in terms of getting a high draft pick. Bucks fans certainly won't have much to cheer for this season, but they definitely should take comfort in knowing that where they are this season is actually a lot better place than last season in terms of building for the future. It may not feel like it at times, but believe me, the Bucks are closer to being a contending team by rebuilding than they are by sticking it out with Jennings and Ellis. 

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Southwest Division Preview

My preview for the 2013-14 NBA season continues as I take a look at the Southwest Division of the Western Conference, which is home to the Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, and Dallas Mavericks. As I've done for my past two previews, I will address each team in order of where I see them finishing, but do keep in mind with this division that every team in the division is at least a decent team. There are no bad teams in the Southwest Division, with every team having the possibility of making the playoffs. This is by far the toughest division in the NBA.

San Antonio Spurs: Back in June, the San Antonio Spurs lost in the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat in a series that they would have won had Ray Allen not hit a clutch corner three. Many people didn't think the Spurs could advance to the NBA Finals with an aging Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, but the Spurs proved their doubters wrong, showing that they were just as dangerous as any team that Gregg Popovich had ever coached. Once again in the 2013-14 NBA season, many people are asking the same questions as last year: "Are the Spurs too old?" "Have they already had their second wind?"  I expect the Spurs to show that they aren't too old and that they still have plenty of good basketball left in them. However, with that being said, the Western Conference has just gotten a lot more tough thanks to moves that the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets have made. The road back to the NBA Finals is going to be even tougher as a result of other teams around them getting better; not because they themselves have depreciated. Look for Tony Parker to be another MVP candidate, look for Tim Duncan to be an elite power forward, and look for their young supporting cast (Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Danny Green) to continue to improve and be even better this season. There's no doubt the Spurs will be dangerous enough to get back to the NBA Finals, but whether or not they'll deliver is the question.

Houston Rockets: The Houston Rockets were blessed (perhaps cursed) with the fortune of winning the Dwight Howard sweepstakes this past summer. On a team that already featured James Harden and Chandler Parsons, Dwight Howard just might be the missing ingredient in a recipe for championship success. The key for the Rockets is whether or not Dwight Howard can take that next step from being the best center in the NBA to being one of the best centers of all-time. Howard has never averaged more than 23 points per game in any of his 9 NBA seasons, despite being a defensive force in the paint. Dwight Howard needs to average at least 25 points per game in order for the Rockets to be a contending team. The blocks and rebounds will of course come, but the scoring is still a big question mark. More specifically, they need him to hit his free throws. The bottom line for the Rockets is pretty simple: If Dwight Howard has a "breakthrough" season, averages above 25 points per game and hits around 70% of his foul shots (as he did in his rookie season), then the Rockets will contend for a title. If he continues to be the same Dwight Howard he's been (which is still the best center in the NBA), then they won't be a contending team, but rather a team that might win a first round series.

Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies made the bold move of trading Rudy Gay this past season in an effort to save some cap space so as to retain their front court centered around Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. However, it came at the price of perhaps winning the Western Conference crown. The Grizzlies are a team that anybody can root for because they play a very team oriented type of  basketball centered around defense, rebounding, and balance. The Grizzlies will once again be a very tough team to beat since defense and rebounding are at the heart of every championship caliber team. A team MUST play good defense and crash the glass in order to win a championship. However, a team MUST also have a superstar to build around who can take over games and come through consistently in the clutch. The Grizzlies do not have that piece of their championship puzzle since they traded away Rudy Gay. They still will make the playoffs and win a lot of games, but I don't see them being a team that gets close to reaching the Western Conference Finals.

New Orleans Pelicans: Yes it is true, the New Orleans Pelicans are a real NBA team, and they have the potential to be a pretty darn good one, too. They made a lot of upgrades this past off-season through trading Nerlens Noel in the draft to the 76ers for point guard Jrue Holiday as well as making a trade with the Kings and Trail Blazers to land shooting guard/small forward Tyreke Evans. The Pelicans (if healthy) will consist of a back court of Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon and a front court of Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, and Greg Steimsma. Where does Evans fit in? He will come off the bench as their offensive spark plug. On paper they look pretty solid since their backcourt should have no problem putting the ball in the bucket and their front court should do a good job of controlling the paint. The key to this team is health. If healthy, they could make a playoff run since they have so many guys who can do so many things (Gordon with his scoring; Holiday with his play making abilities; Davis with his rebounding and defense; and Evans as their spark). However even if they remain healthy, the playoffs are not a sure thing since the Western Conference is really deep and their division is the toughest division in the entire NBA. Having a combined 16 games against the Spurs, Grizzlies, Mavericks, and Rockets is not going to be easy on this team since they are unlikely to win more than half of those games. If they're going to make a playoff push, they'll have to make ground elsewhere by beating all the bad teams in the NBA like the 76ers, Bucks, Kings, Jazz, and Suns. If they can do well against those kinds of teams, and hold their own at home, they might have what it takes to make the playoffs.

Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks quietly added Monta Ellis during the off-season in what I think was a very underrated move. Ellis is a terrific player who just needs to surrounded by good players like Dirk Nowitzki. Reports say that they are learning to play effective pick and roll basketball together, which means that Ellis is more than willing to share the ball and shed himself of his reputation of being a ball hog. As for the rest of the team,  I don't see much to be really excited about in terms of making a playoff push. Vince Carter and Shawn Marion are both getting old, and the new additions of Devin Harris and DeJuan Blair are off-season acquisitions that deserve to fly under the radar. If they were in the Eastern Conference, the Mavericks would likely be a playoff team, but in the Western Conference, they'll be in a battle with the Pelicans to not be the at the bottom of the division. I mentioned at the beginning of my preview for this division that there isn't a bad team in this division, and I stand by that claim. The Mavericks are a good NBA team, but when I look at the rest of their division as well as the rest of the Western Conference, I don't see any reason to think the Mavericks will be a factor in the playoff mix during the last 10-15 games of the season.

---By Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord