NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Indiana Pacers Better Wake Up

In what was certainly the biggest surprise of this weekend’s playoff action, the Atlanta Hawks went into Indiana and absolutely thumped the Pacers on their home floor, which raised many eyebrows across the league. Nobody was raising eyebrows about how good the Hawks played, but rather how poorly the Pacers played. Pacers star small forward Paul George had a decent outing with 24 points and 10 rebounds, but their center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West were terribly quiet, combining for 16 points and 11 rebounds. Their lackluster effort was truly alarming for a team that has home court advantage wrapped up until the NBA Finals. While it is true that Paul Millsap (25 points and 8 rebounds) and Jeff Teague (28 points and 5 assists) played extraordinarily well for the Hawks, their terrific play is still shadowed by how West and Hibbert both disappeared.

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I guess that what happens when you enter the playoffs as a sub-.500 team: Nobody respects you and everybody assumes if you succeed it’s because your opponent choked. The Hawks deserve more respect than they are getting, but it’s no question that the struggles of the Pacers is the bigger story here.

 The reason why this is such a big story is that the Pacers appear to be a case in which the mighty have suddenly fallen and cohesion has turned into chaos. The Pacers have gone from being everything that a team is supposed to be to being everything a team is not supposed to be. A year ago they were being praised for their hustle, defensive, and confidence and this year they have Charles Barkley calling them “wussies” on national television. Whatever the problem is for the Pacers, they better get things fixed fast, because if they don’t, they’ll find themselves out of the playoffs and back to the drawing board. 

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

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Eastern Conference Playoffs: First Round Predictions

I have now done my Western Conference preview, so now we're heading East!!

#1. Indiana Pacers (56-26) vs. #8 Atlanta Hawks (38-44)

As weak as the Pacers played down the stretch, they still hung on to the #1 seed in the East, which I think saved their season. As far as this series is concerned, I don't see the Hawks giving the Pacers much trouble. If the Hawks had Al Horford, this would be a different story, but then if they had Al Horford, they wouldn't be an 8th seed, either. The Pacers are simply much more talented and deep than the Hawks are. Now with that being said, the Hawks went 2-2 against the Pacers this season, so there is some cause for concern. In their 2 wins over the Pacers, Roy Hibbert stunk up the joint big time. He had 2 points in both games combined. If the Hawks want a chance to take out the Pacers, they need Roy Hibbert to be quiet, and the possibility of that happening isn't terribly low judging by how Hibbert has played recently. But even so, the Hawks' best player right now is Paul Millsap and the Pacers' best player is Paul George. Paul George has the edge over Millsap and then in addition to Hibbert, he has Lance Stephenson and David West to help him out as well. Millsap simply doesn't have that same kind of supporting cast to get the Hawks over the hump in this series. I expect the Pacers to win this series in 5 games.

#2. Miami Heat (54-28) vs. #7 Charlotte Bobcats (43-39)

Like the previous series, I don't think this series will be terribly close. On paper, the Bobcats could take 2 games off the Heat since Al Jefferson is playing as well as any big man in NBA, averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per contest. In addition, he has a great point guard to play with in Kemba Walker, who is averaging 17.7 points per game and 6.1 assists per game. However, the reason why they won't win this series is because the Heat have LeBron James, who averages 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game. LeBron James is the best player on the planet, and no team has an answer for him except the Thunder who have Kevin Durant. The Bobcats have quality players, but nobody who can answer LeBron James. If you want me to further break things down, I can tell you that the Heat have Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Michael Beasley, Chris Andersen to throw at the Bobcats and the Bobcats have Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, and Josh McRoberts. The Heat win the supporting cast battle as well as the battle of stars. I do want to give the Bobcats more respect though. They do defend well and the play of Al Jefferson has been fantastic. But they simply don't have the horses to win this series. I've got the Heat winning this series in 5 games.

#3. Toronto Raptors (48-34) vs. #6 Brooklyn Nets (44-38)

This series is a tough one to call. The Raptors have home court advantage and probably have the more talented team since DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are easily the best two players in this series. However, they are inexperienced and the Nets have more depth and playoff experience on their roster since they have Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Andrei Kirilenko. These two teams split their season series, which further illustrates my point that this series is so hard to call.

What's ultimately going to decide this series in my opinion is how DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry play in crunch time as opposes to the veterans of the Nets. All these games will be close and so what's really going decide this series is whether a star is born in DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry. I'm looking at DeRozan to be the guy here since he leads the team in scoring with 22.7 points per game, but don't be shocked if Lowry takes over instead of DeRozan since he was having an all-star level season all year with his 17.9 points and 7.4 assists per game. Both guys are capable, but will either of them step up is the question. The role players for the Raptors are solid. I expect Greivis Vasquez to be solid at the point guard position and Tyler Hansbrough has playoff experience with the Pacers. He should always be good for a hard foul or two and some rebounds. But the bottom line is this comes down to the play of DeRozan and Lowry. Most people don't know a lot about these guys, but I have full faith in their ability to step up in this series and get the job done. I got the Raptors winning this series in 7 games.

#4. Chicago Bulls (48-34) vs. #5 Washington Wizards (44-38) 

It may come as a surprise to some, but the Wizards did win the season series against the Bulls 2-1, which is why everybody shouldn't exactly pencil in the Bulls as advancing to face the Pacers. The Wizards have a really good back court with John Wall (19.3 points and 8.8 assists per game) and Bradley Beal (17.1 points per game and 3.3 assists per game) that should give the Bulls a lot to handle. And then in the front court, the Wizards have Nene (14.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game) and Marcin Gortat a.k.a. The Polish Hammer (13.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game). With both a solid front court and terrific back court, the Wizards are much better than people realize and they definitely have the horses to knock off the Bulls.

What the Bulls have over the Wizards is playoff experience, better coaching, and better defense. Their front court of Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson also gives them an edge over the Wizards' front court. But their back court is suspect. D.J. Augustin has been ok for them as has Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy, but it doesn't look too good next to Wall and Beal.

What probably hurts the Bulls the most in this series is that they don't have the best player in the series, and that is always a huge factor in every playoff series. The best player in this series is John Wall hands down. He's the one legitimate all-star in this whole series and if he plays like an all-star, the Wizards will win this series. Ultimately, I think he will, which is why I think the Wizards win this series in 6 games.

--Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Western Conference Playoffs 1st Round Predictions

The NBA Playoffs begin later today. After a grueling 82 game season, we finally have all 16 playoff teams figured out. I will begin by analyzing the various first round series' in the Western Conference and make my predictions!

#1 San Antonio Spurs (62-20) vs. #8 Dallas Mavericks (49-33)

This series has the making of being a very exciting and entertaining series, but upon doing some analysis of their regular season contests, I don't expect it to be one. The reason why is that in 3 out of the 4 Mavericks' losses to the Spurs this season, Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki collectively played really well.  Both players combine to average around 40 points per game with Ellis averaging around 5.7 assists and Nowtizki averaging 6.2 rebounds. In 3 of those 4 losses they combined for at least 39 points, which means that they played better than they did on average or at least as well. I wish I could say the key to this series is Nowitzki and Ellis stepping up for Dallas, but evidently that isn't enough for the Mavericks to threaten the Spurs. The only way the Mavericks scare the Spurs at all is if their bench and role players step up. That means that Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Vince Carter, Brandan Wright, and Devin Harris all have to collectively step up. If they all play well as a supporting cast for Ellis and Nowitzki, then the Mavericks could make things interesting by taking the Spurs to 6 games, but otherwise, I see the Spurs winning this series easy. It's amazing that this is the case considering that Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili are still the engines of this team despite being really old. Tony Parker is averaging 16.7 points and 5.7 assists per game this season; Tim Duncan is averaging 15.1 points and 9.7 rebounds; and Manu Ginobili is averaging 12.3 points and 4.3 assists per game. Their numbers are down, but the team collectively is as dangerous as ever. This is largely due to their supporting cast Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Marco Belinelli playing really well along with their fantastic coaching from Gregg Popovich. The three of them combine for over 30 points per game, which nearly matches the offensive productivity of Ellis and Nowtizki, and then when you add the original "Big 3" of Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan to that, you get serious  trouble for any opposing team. My prediction for this series is that the Spurs win this series in 5 games.

#2 Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23) vs. #7 Memphis Grizzlies (50-32)

Before I go into analyzing this series, it should be noted that I currently cover the Memphis Grizzlies for, which is a part of the Fansided network. The reason I'm mentioning this is that it could explain my bias in this series. It should also be noted that I wrote an article on there that said that if the Grizzlies should hope to face any team in the first round of the playoffs, it should be the Oklahoma City Thunder. The reason why I see the Thunder as a favorable match up for the Grizzlies is simply because they have the defense to slow down Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant; the post presence in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to beat the Thunder on the glass inside; and they also have Mike Miller and Courtney Lee to stretch the floor. I suggest you read the full article, which I hyperlinked above to get more detail on why I like this matchup for the Grizzlies.

With that being said, Kevin Durant has been the MVP of the entire NBA all season. Slowing him down will be no easy task and stopping him will be impossible. If he goes bananas, the Grizzlies are done for. But the concern I have for the Thunder is that I think they need Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to play at an even higher level in the playoffs. They don't have James Harden anymore and they don't have Kevin Martin anymore either. The addition of Caron Butler is nice, but it doesn't make up for the absence of having that legit third scoring threat in the back court.

I personally really like the Grizzlies' chances of knocking out the Thunder and after saying that they should hope to draw the Thunder in the playoffs, I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and pick the Grizzlies to take out the Thunder in 7 games. If you think I'm crazy, my man Ken Newhouse from agrees with me. Read his article here for a second argument for why the Grizzlies will take out the Thunder.

#3. Los Angeles Clippers (57-21) vs. #6. Golden State Warriors (51-31)

Now this is a series that I can't wait to see! I think I can speak for all NBA fans when I say that this is the most exciting first round series of the playoffs for the simple reason that the over/under for number of punches thrown in this series is around 5. These two teams HATE each other and they both are like mad dogs locked up in a cage just ready to go after each other. In addition to the real possibility of blood being spilt, what makes this series fascinating are the individual matchups: The Clippers have the best point guard in basketball in Chris Paul and the Warriors have the best 3-point shooting point guard the NBA has ever seen in Stephen Curry. The Clippers have the high-flying power forward Blake Griffin and the Warriors have the finesse power forward David Lee. The Clippers have J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford as additional offensive weapons to stretch the floor and the Warriors have Klay Thompson who is the second coming of Reggie Miller, Harrison Barnes who is an extremely athletic wing man to attack the basket, and Andre Iguodala who is a fantastic perimeter defender and always good for a clutch bucket. When you look at these two teams, it's clear that they are pretty close to being evenly matched.

What gives the Clippers the edge in this series is that they have DeAndre Jordan healthy and the Warriors are without Andrew Bogut who is out indefinitely with a rib injury. If the Warriors had Bogut healthy, I would love to pick them to take out the Clippers, but I just don't see the Warriors doing it without him. Especially since the Clippers have home court advantage. I'm picking the Clippers to win this series in 6 games.

#4. Houston Rockets (54-28) vs. #5. Portland Trail Blazers (54-28)

#4 vs. #5 matchups are always impossible to predict accurately in the NBA. It's like the #8 vs. #9 matchups in the NCAA Tournament. Flip a coin and move on. But I can't just flip a coin for you and tell you my prediction! I need to give you some things to look for in this very exciting series. First off, watching the back court battle between Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers and James Harden of the Rockets should be exciting to watch. Harden is averaging 25.4 points per game and 6.1 assists and Lillard is averaging 20.7 points per game and 5.6 assists. I'm looking very much forward to watching both of these guys deliver one blow after another to each other. The front court matchup between Dwight Howard of the Rockets and LaMarcus Aldridge of the Trail Blazers should also be fun to watch. Howard is averaging 18.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game and Aldridge is averaging 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. I think it's clear that while the Rockets have the back court advantage with Harden, the Trail Blazers have the front court advantage with Aldridge.

However, not enough of an advantage for it neutralize the James Harden advantage that the Rockets have. The Rockets are 3-1 against the Trail Blazers this season, and over the course of their 4 games against each other, Dwight Howard has actually played considerably better than he does on average with games in which he scored 29 points and 32 points. That doesn't mean the Rockets will win this series, but it does mean that the Trail Blazers need more to neutralize the James Harden advantage and the superior play of Howard against them. What neutralizes all that in my opinion is the role players of the Trail Blazers. Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, and Mo Williams are better than Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and Terrence Jones. Those guys especially play well at home. If the Trail Blazers get the split in Houston, look for them to take this series. I think they will succeed at this and end up winning the series in 6 games.

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

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Playoffs Start Now For Miami And Indiana

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With the NBA playoffs starting in only a couple of weeks, we are entering the time of year in which regular season games suddenly appear to matter.   I say "appear" only because all games in the regular season matter equally as far as the standings are concerned. It isn't as if winning in April magically is worth two wins whereas a win in November is only worth one win. But it is fair to say that the effect of winning and losing is noticed much more strongly at this time of year. With that in mind, I will address the current state of the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, two teams which are the clear powerhouses of the Eastern Conference. People try and talk up the Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, and even the Toronto Raptors and try to convince us that those three teams might make the NBA Finals or at least knock off either the Pacers or the Heat en route to the Eastern Conference Finals. I will try and set the record straight for all of you who are getting confused by this idle chatter.

The Eastern Conference isn't a three horse race, a four horse race, and not a five horse race. It is a two horse race between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat, and all the other six teams that will make the Eastern Conference Playoffs are just there for show. None of them have any remote chance of reaching the NBA Finals or even getting past either the Heat or Pacers.  I think that what will likely decide the projected Heat-Pacers series in the Eastern Conference Finals is home court advantage. Since the only way for the Heat and Pacers to affect who gets home court advantage is to win games between now and the end of the regular season, I argue that as far as the Heat and Pacers are concerned, the playoffs start now.

Both of these teams have been struggling as of late. The Heat went 10-8 during the month of March and the Pacers went 8-10, which included a 4 game losing skid, and concluded on a 3 game losing skid which continues as they roll into April. While the Heat are instead on a 3 game winning streak instead of a 3 game losing skid, lets not kid ourselves and ignore the fact that they too have been playing poorly during this past month. The bottom line is that both teams played in the month of March like they didn't care anymore about the regular season, but the irony of it is that this is the time of year that they should be playing their hardest to win games.

As it stands now, both teams are tied in the standings, with the Pacers having played 2 more games than the Heat. That means that the Heat have more games to get things sorted out and the Pacers have fewer games to do so. Which ever team has a better month of April will get the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, which means that the route to the NBA Finals will go through their building. If the Miami Heat get the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, we might as well send them straight to the NBA Finals. I don't see any way that the Indiana Pacers get to the NBA Finals without home court advantage. Especially since they have been playing like absolute garbage during the past month. What's worse is that the Pacers had the home court advantage and booted it away due to what Roy Hibbert calls their own selfishness. That selfishness was manifested the other night when George Hill and Lance Stephenson had to be separated from each other on the bench because they were squabbling over something petty. The only thing at this point that can prevent the Pacers' problems from trickling into their post-season play is if they still hang on and get the #1 seed. If the Pacers get the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, then the Pacers can mentally hit the reset button. They can all give each other a big group hug, sing "Kumbaya" around a campfire, and get over the problems if they get the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They can still feel like they accomplished their goal and have had a successful regular season if they hang on to the top spot. More importantly, they can still feel confident in their ability to reach the NBA Finals and fend off the Heat. Especially since the last time the Heat came into their building, they came out victorious.

In order for the Heat to steal the #1 seed from the Pacers, they are going to need LeBron James to play like the MVP during the month of April. He's so dominant that if he plays like his MVP self, I don't see any way the Pacers hang on to the #1 seed. As for the Pacers, since they don't have that definitive superstar like LeBron James, it's going to have to be a group effort on their part. I know Paul George is their "superstar" and he can play like one in stretches, but his play isn't consistent enough that one can bank on him to play like a superstar every night. Hence, it needs to be a group effort on the Pacers' part. In addition to Paul George playing well, they need Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill, and Lance Stephenson to all play better. If all those guys play well for the Pacers (which means they get over their problems in the locker room), then the Pacers will have a chance to re-right the ship and reclaim the #1 seed in the East.

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As I said in the beginning, the playoffs begin now for both of these teams. Unlike the stat freaks at ESPN who only give the team with home court advantage a 53% chance at winning this projected series, I think the percentages are much higher. What those stats might be tapping into is that getting home court gives one team only a slight advantage over the other, but lets not kid ourselves and act like a slight advantage is nothing. A slight advantage for one team over the other is huge in this series, which is why I think if the Heat get home court advantage the odds of them winning the Eastern Conference Finals is around 85%. As for the Pacers, if they get home court advantage, I put the odds that they win around 60%. Bottom line is if the Heat get home court advantage, they're going back to the NBA Finals. If the Pacers get home court advantage, they have a shot and should be favored. With these numbers in mind, I think it should be obvious that the Pacers and Heat should treat each remaining game in the regular season like it is a playoff game. They'll have no trouble winning their opening round series and only have maybe a little bit of trouble in their second round series. They can use those series' to rest a little bit and catch their breath, but the games that they shouldn't  be taking off and not worrying about are these final few games of the regular season.

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