Wednesday, December 25, 2013
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 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
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