NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Western Conference Playoffs Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

     At 8:30 PM EST on TNT, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder will begin their seven-game series. The winner of the series will advance to the Western Conference Finals to face either the Golden State Warriors or Portland Trail Blazers.  The Spurs completed their sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies last Sunday while the Thunder finished off the Mavericks in five games on Monday. Both the Spurs and Thunder have had plenty of time to rest and it is time for both of them to step back into the ring against a much more serious opponent. 

     For both the Spurs and Thunder, this series will be their first test of the playoffs. The Spurs beat up on the Grizzlies to the point that their head coach Dave Joerger was weeping at the conclusion of the series. That series was a joke from the opening tip off. As for the Thunder's series against the Mavericks, that series provided a little more drama, but even in that case, it was all one-way traffic in favor of the Thunder. 

     As far as the Spurs are concerned, their main focus in this series against the Thunder needs to be taking advantage of their balanced scoring attack and not letting Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook go bananas. If Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge both score around 20 points each and they get good production from Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, odds are good the Spurs win this series provided Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook don't go off. In addition, the Spurs need to keep Enes Kanter at bay and not let anybody else come up big.

     In regards to the Thunder, they need to do what they can to get guys like Enes Kanter and Serge Ibaka rolling while also getting stellar production from their two superstars. The Thunder cannot win this series with only Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant carrying the load. The Spurs are too deep and the Thunder have to match that depth as best they can. 

     The battle on the boards and in the paint will also be key to this series. LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, and David West of the Spurs will duke it out inside against Enes Kanter, Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams of the Thunder. Whichever front court controls the glass better and gets more points in the paint will give their team a decisive advantage. Even though the Spurs have more depth and more total weapons, the Thunder have a chance to make up for things by winning the battle in the paint. If they do, this series could end up going in their favor. 

     At the end of the day, I'm going to pick the San Antonio Spurs to win this series in six games. The Spurs have home court advantage and they have been the second best team in basketball all season. The Oklahoma City Thunder definitely have the pieces and tools to win this series, but it'll be no easy task for them. The Spurs have a ton of weapons, experience, home court advantage, and the better head coach in Gregg Popovich. If the Thunder end up winning this series, I'll be surprised.   

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Western Conference Playoffs Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Portland Trail Blazers


                       (4) Los Angeles Clippers (53-29) vs. (5) Portland Trail Blazers (44-38) 

     The Los Angeles Clippers come into this series having won 10 of their last 12 games. The Clippers are certainly getting hot at the right time and giving some people like Charles Barkley hope that there may be more than just two contenders in the Western Conference. As for the Portland Trail Blazers, nobody expected them to make the playoffs when the season began, so just by being here they should be feeling good about themselves. 

     When looking at these two teams, the biggest thing that stands out is how much deeper the Clippers are. The Trail Blazers rely on Damian Lillard (25.1 PPG) and C.J. McCollum (20.8 PPG) to do all of the heavy lifting and everybody else to chip in where they can. As for the Clippers, they have Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, and Jamal Crawford to share the load. Plus, they also have added Jeff Green into the fold, which makes them even deeper. Unless Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum both have a monster series the Clippers should win this series with ease. 

     For the Trail Blazers, the key to this series is to get other guys going so as to take the pressure off of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The problem is that nobody else on their team can be relied upon to step up in the way that they need them to. Allen Crabbe is good for 9-10 points per game, but you can't expect him to give you 15 points per game in a series. The same goes for Al-Farouq Aminu. After those two guys, it starts to get really thin for the Trail Blazers. They just don't have enough firepower.  

      If the Clippers want this to be a quick series, they'll need to use their depth and versatility to the best of their advantage.  They have so many more weapons than the Trail Blazers and the Trail Blazers know it. If Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are holding their own down low and if J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford are stroking it from the perimeter with Chris Paul dishing dimes, this series is over. The only hope the Trail Blazers have of winning this series is for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to have huge games and for everyone on the Clippers to be play below average. The odds of that happening are low, which is why I don't have the Trail Blazers winning this series. 

     In the end, I have the Clippers winning this series rather decisively in five games. The Trail Blazers have had a great season just by getting to this point, whereas the Clippers are supposed to be here. I have tremendous respect for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but they simply don't have enough pieces around them to upset a Clippers team that is vastly superior. I hope I'm wrong because most of these first round series' appear to be pretty one-sided. If this series is also a blowout in favor of the higher seed, this could go down as one of the most boring first rounds ever.  

Western Conference Playoffs Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies

                                   (2) San Antonio Spurs (67-15) vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies (42-40)

     Normally, the Memphis Grizzlies would be viewed as dangerous matchup for the San Antonio Spurs, but this time around this is not the case. The Spurs are on cruise control with only the Golden State Warriors giving them problems. As for the Grizzlies, they are beyond banged up. They are without Mike Conley, Brandan Wright, Marc Gasol, and Jordan Adams for the season due to an assortment of injuries.

     Plus, Tony Allen, who is the heart and soul of their team, is questionable for Game 1 due to a hamstring injury, which has been an issue for him in previous playoff series'. The Grizzlies have a lot to overcome and then when you put them up against a team like the Spurs, they virtually have no shot at getting out of the first round.

      What makes the Spurs so dangerous is that they have two emerging superstars in LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard to go along with a veteran supporting cast composed of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and David West. The Spurs have all the pieces necessary to win the 2016 NBA championship. They have the talent, the experience, the youth, and the depth. They have it all.

      The Grizzlies on the other hand at best are a team capable of giving elite teams like the Spurs and Warriors trouble, but nothing more than that. Their philosophy of winning basketball games by defense alone is admirable but not realistic. They are the anti-Nellyball, which is refreshing considering that most teams are looking for ways to score as many points as possible. The Grizzlies pride themselves on how many games they can win without cracking 90 points, which sounds weird, but it's the truth. They want to freeze the tempo and force teams to survive their brutal and physical play.

     If the Grizzlies were at full strength, I would give them a puncher's chance of making this series interesting since I have tremendous respect for Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley as a trio. Plus, I used to cover the Memphis Grizzlies for FanSided, so I have a soft spot for them in my heart. But with Zach Randolph being the only guy in that trio that is actually playing in this series, I give the Grizzlies no chance at wining this series. They might get a game in the Memphis, but that's the best-case scenario that I see for the Grizzlies.

     Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, who both are averaging 18+ points per game, will step up big and ensure that their older players get the rest they need. The Spurs will win this series in four games and the Grizzlies will be sent home packing with another season filled with "what ifs" and "what could have beens" had they not exploded due to injuries. It'll be a long offseason in Memphis and the Spurs will make it come as quickly as possible.

     Note: Game 1 of this series is Sunday at 8:00 PM EST on TNT

Eastern Conference Playoffs: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Hornets


                                       (3) Miami Heat (48-34) vs. (6) Charlotte Hornets (48-34) 

     The post-LeBron James era is going pretty well for the Miami Heat. They have the third seed in the Eastern Conference and are in good position to reach the Eastern Conference Finals with Dwyane Wade still leading the way to go along with a solid supporting cast that includes Goran Dragic, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson, and Hassan Whiteside. As for the Charlotte Hornets, they are starting to get their own crew together composed of Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson, Nicolas Batum, and Jeremy Lin. 

     The biggest hurdle the Miami Heat have to overcome in this series is the absence of Chris Bosh, who along with Dwayne Wade has been averaging 19 points per game. Bosh has been dealing with blood clots in his leg and is without a timetable to return. With Bosh likely out for the series, the Heat will need Goran Dragic, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson, and Hassan Whiteside to step up. Whiteside will especially need to come up big since he plays down on the block. With Bosh out, it will really be up to Hassan Whiteside to provide a quality post presence for his team in this series due to his rebounding and shot blocking. 

     The biggest hurdle the Charlotte Hornets have to overcome in this series is experience. They didn't make the playoffs last season and as group have very little playoff experience. Even though they have the same record as this Heat team and are healthier, they still have to go up against the likes of Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, and Luol Deng, guys who have a lot of playoff experience.  

      In order for the Hornets to overcome this hurdle, they'll need to get big production from Kemba Walker, who really is the lone star on their team. Walker is averaging 20.9 points per game on 37.1% shooting from 3-point range and 84.7% shooting from the foul line. He has the potential to take over this series and have his playoff coming out party. If he is able to average 24+ points per game and get the help he needs from Al Jefferson, Nicolas Batum, and Jeremy Lin, this Hornets team has what it takes to win this series. 

     When looking at how this series plays out, I'm leaning very slightly towards the Miami Heat winning just because they have more weapons and more experience. I would not be surprised if the Charlotte Hornets won this series, but given that the Heat have Dwyane Wade and a beast like Hassan Whiteside down low in addition to the other guys I mentioned, I'm going to say that the Heat win this series in six games. It'll be close, but the Heat will prevail. 

Note: Game 1 of this series is Sunday at 5:30 PM EST on TNT 

Eastern Conference Playoffs Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Detroit Pistons

                               (1) Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25) vs. (8) Detroit Pistons (44-38) 

     The last time the Detroit Pistons made the NBA Playoffs in 2009 the Cleveland Cavaliers swept them in the first round. Seven years later, the Pistons hope for a better outcome and come in with a renewed sense of confidence in themselves. As for the Cavaliers, they are looking to make quick work of the Pistons and stay healthy as they prepare to make a deep playoff run.

     Even though the Cavaliers have their eyes on an NBA championship and the Pistons have had their eyes on a playoff berth as their primary goal, it should not be assumed that this will be an easy series for the Cavaliers. The Pistons have a lot of talent and size, which are key ingredients to any upset recipe. In addition, they have nothing to lose and have way less pressure on them.

     The Pistons have a nice blend of backcourt play and frontcourt play. Their point guard Reggie Jackson averages 18.8 points per game and 6.2 assists per game while their center Andre Drummond averages 16.2 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. This balance in the frontcourt and backcourt makes the Pistons a tough team to take out.

     It isn't simple enough to shut down the perimeter or control the glass. You have to do both in order to be successful against them. If the Pistons get good production from Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, they'll give themselves a shot at winning this series because of the supporting cast they have around them. Forwards Ersan Ilyasova, Tobias Harris, and Marcus Morris do a good job of stretching the floor and banging down low. Plus, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope does a good job at the wing position on both ends of the floor.

     The bottom line is that the Pistons have the pieces to win this series should the Cavaliers fall asleep at the wheel a bit. The Pistons are dangerous and definitely a team that should not be taken lightly because of their seed. The Cavaliers will have to play good basketball to win this series.

     That being said, the Cavaliers have LeBron James, who is arguably the best player in the world. LeBron James is so good that he alone makes the Cavaliers the favorites to win this series. He is averaging 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game and very quietly having another MVP caliber season. Then, when you add Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and even J.R. Smith into the equation, it really becomes hard to pick against the Cavaliers in this series. The Pistons have a lot of really good players, but the Cavaliers an all-time great in LeBron James and a borderline superstar in Kyrie Irving.

      The bottom line is that the Pistons are a very good team with a lot of really nice pieces but the Cavaliers are simply better because they have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. I hate to make things as simple as that after singing the Pistons' praises, but that's just how it goes. I do expect the Pistons to get at least one game in this series and maybe two. But, I'm going to say that at the end of the day, extra rest will motivate the Cavaliers to not allow this series to get to a Game 6. The Cavaliers will win this series 4-1, but it will be a battle.

Note: Game 1 of this series is Sunday at 3:00 PM EST on ABC.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Western Conference Playoffs Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks

                            (3) Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27) vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks (42-40)

     The Oklahoma City Thunder are the best team in the NBA that nobody is talking about. The Warriors and Spurs are getting a lot of attention and deservedly so, but lost in the shuffle is what the Thunder are doing right now. They have a very impressive record and are led by the fantastic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant is averaging 28.2 points per game and Westbrook is averaging 23.5 points per game. As a duo, they give Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson all that they can handle. It's just that they don't have as much of a supporting cast.

     As for the Dallas Mavericks, they are still led by Dirk Nowitzki, who averages 18.3 points per game. Dirk is producing at a very high level for a player of his age and Deron Williams is actually playing pretty well, averaging 14.1 points and 5.8 assists per game. The problems for the Mavericks is that they don't have as much talent as the Thunder and to make things worse, they aren't even at full strength. Jeremy Evans is out for the season and Chandler Parsons is out for at least the series with a return in the second round of the playoffs a possibility, but nothing that can be banked on.

     The bottom line for the Thunder in this series is that if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both show up and produce like they've been all season, they'll win this series with little trouble. Durant and Westbrook by themselves should bury the Mavericks and then when you give them Enes Kanter, Serge Ibaka, and Dion Waiters, it's fair to ask what point the Mavericks have in even showing up to the arena.

     As for the Mavericks, they need Dirk Nowitzki to work some magic and they need his supporting cast to step up. If Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Raymond Felton, and David Lee all come up big every night, the Mavericks could make things interesting. However, it's highly unlikely that they do.

     Assuming miracles are rare occurrences, I have the Thunder winning this series in five games. Dirk Nowitzki will find a way to lead his team to a win on their home floor in Dallas. Beyond that, it'll be one way traffic in favor of the Thunder. Look for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to have their way in this one.

Note: Game 1 of this series in Saturday at 9:30 PM EST on ESPN.

Eastern Conference Playoffs Preview: Atlanta Hawks vs. Boston Celtics

                                (4) Atlanta Hawks (48-34) vs. (5) Boston Celtics (48-34) 
     Predicting the outcome of a 4-5 matchup is like taking a stroll through Central Park in the middle of the night. You have no idea what will happen. The possibilities are endless. You might meet the friendly lady from Home Alone 2 that spends all of her time with pigeons because she's too afraid to have her heart broken again, you might meet a murderer, or you might meet a troll.

     While I don't see this series involving pigeons, a murderer, or a troll, I'm perfectly honest when I say that I could see this series going in any number of directions. The Hawks might pummel the Celtics due to their experience, Isaiah Thomas might have a breakout series and lead the Celtics to victory, or this series could go back and forth with it coming down to a seventh game in Atlanta.

     To help make sense of this toss up series, I will quickly explain what each team needs to do in order to win this series. In regards to the Hawks, what they need to do is defend their home floor. Atlanta isn't known for being a tough road environment. If there's any place in the NBA to choose to go on the road in a playoff game, Atlanta might be atop the list. Al Horford and Paul Millsap need to set the tone in Game 1 of this series and make sure their team defends their home floor. If the Hawks come out and have a dominant performance on their home floor to start the series, odds are good they win the series. They have home court advantage and they better take advantage.

     As for the Celtics, what they need is for Isaiah Thomas to step up and take control in the playoffs. Isaiah Thomas is averaging 22.2 points per game and is clearly the star of this team. The question that the Celtics are yet to have answered is whether or not Isaiah Thomas has what it takes to lead them to a playoff series victory. If Isaiah Thomas proves to be the best player in this series and takes control, odds are good the Celtics win the series in six or seven games.

      Given that this series is really hard to predict, I'm going to pick the Hawks to win in seven games.  The Hawks have home court advantage and they have more experience. The trio of Paul Millsap, Al Horford, and Jeff Teague will come up big in Game 7 and find a way to get their team to the second round.
     Note: Game 1 of this series is Saturday at 7:00 PM EST on ESPN.

Western Conference Playoffs Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets

                           (1) Golden State Warriors (73-9) vs. (8) Houston Rockets (41-41)

     En route to their first NBA championship in 40 years, the Golden State Warriors quickly dispatched of the Houston Rockets in five games in the Western Conference Finals last season. While the Stephen Curry vs. James Harden matchup was highly anticipated, the series itself ended up being firmly in favor of Stephen Curry and the Warriors. With the Warriors having the best regular season record in NBA history and the Rockets right at .500, I have no reason to believe that the Rockets will give the Warriors any sort of a fight.

     To be clear, this is no indictment on James Harden's play. The bearded assassin has averaged 29.0 points per game and once again proven himself to be one of the most potent and explosive scorers in the game. The issue is that he has no help. Dwight Howard, who was supposed to be his right hand man, is averaging just 13.7 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Unless Dwight Howard magically morphs into Hakeem Olajuwon, the Rockets have no shot at winning this series.

     The Warriors have too many weapons to go along with Stephen Curry, who is averaging 30.1 points per game. Klay Thompson, the other "splash brother", is averaging 22.1 points per game while also shooting north of 40% from 3-point range. In addition to Klay, the Warriors have Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Maurice Speights, etc. Those guys are also extremely good at what they do, forming one of the best supporting casts around a superstar in NBA history.

     While it would take too long for me to talk about each of those players, what they do as a collective unit is defend at a high level, control the glass, and help Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson get out in transition where they are more comfortable. All of those guys know their job and they do it with pride. As for the Rockets, it really is just James Harden out there chucking up threes in hopes of catching fire.

     Unless the Golden State Warriors all get terminally ill or get a very bad case of food poisoning, they will sweep the Houston Rockets. This series will be over in the blink of an eye and the Houston Rockets will go into the off-season with a lot of questions to answer. What other pieces do they need to go around James Harden and Dwight Howard? Is J.B. Bickerstaff the head coach for the future? Will Daryl Morey stay on board as general manager? These questions and more will be on the forefront of their minds in approximately two weeks.

Note: Game 1 of this series is Saturday at 3:30 PM EST on ABC.

Eastern Conference Playoffs Preview: Toronto Raptors vs. Indiana Pacers

                              (2) Toronto Raptors (56-26) vs. (7) Indiana Pacers (45-37) 

     The Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers will tip off the 2016 NBA playoffs on Saturday at 12:30 PM EST on ESPN. The Toronto Raptors come into this series with a lot of momentum, having won 7 of their last 10 games and they look to make quick work of the Indiana Pacers, a team who they defeated three times in four regular season meetings. The Raptors are hoping to make a deep playoff run and prove to the rest of the NBA that they are serious contenders. As for the Pacers, they hope to upset the Raptors and see their superstar Paul George have a huge playoff series.

     If the Raptors want to eliminate the Pacers quickly, they need both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to prove that they are the kind of one-two punch capable of leading a team deep into the playoffs. Even though the Raptors have the second best record in the Eastern Conference, they still have a bad taste in their mouths after getting swept by the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs last year. They folded like cheap tents in that series and immediately made everyone in the NBA question their toughness and legitimacy as contenders in the East.

     Game 1 of this series is crucial because of what happened to the Raptors last season. The Raptors need to win this game because doing so will set the tone for the rest of the series. If the Raptors get the win on Saturday, odds are good that they'll settle in and win the series in five games. If on the other hand, Paul George leads the Pacers to victory, we could be in for a very interesting and long series.

     As was hinted in the previous paragraph, the Pacers need to win Game 1 of this series so as to place doubt in the minds of the Raptors. The Raptors are a mentally fragile team in the playoffs and a loss in the opening game of the series might be too much for them to handle. Paul George has to do everything he can to will his team to victory so as to make the Raptors vulnerable.

     If Paul George wants to lead his team to a first round upset over the Raptors, he's going to have to get some help from his friends. Monta Ellis needs to step up and average more than the 13.8 points per game that he has been averaging. In addition, Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill need to do everything they can to keep Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo off the glass. The Raptors have some big bodies inside with Valanciunas and Biyombo. The Pacers must do everything they can to make sure those guys don't have their way inside.

     Even though the Raptors gagged in the playoffs last year against the Wizards, I'm optimistic that this time around, we'll see a different result from them. The Raptors are now the #2 seed in the East as opposed to being the #4 seed. Plus, the Pacers didn't even make the playoffs last year. Paul George is trying to lead his team to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since his gruesome leg injury and to do it against a team like the Raptors would take a Herculean effort on his end.

     Ultimately, I have the Raptors winning this series in five games. They have the better team on paper and they took three out of four games in the regular season. Even though the Raptors had a disappointing result in the playoffs last year, they are still the superior team in this series and deserve the respect of a number two seed. If the Raptors don't win this series, it will be a very difficult off-season for Masai Ujiri and company.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Wednesday Windmill: Warriors get win #73; Kobe Bryant plays his last game

     Tonight will go down as one of the most historic nights in NBA history. The Golden State Warriors won their 73rd game of the season with a 125-104 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, setting a new NBA record for most wins in a regular season and Kobe Bryant played in his final NBA game, scoring 60 points and leading the Lakers to a 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz. I couldn't decide which topic to write about so I decided to write about both. 
     First, let me address the Warriors' record-setting season. What makes the Warriors' 73-9 season so impressive is that they did it so early into their reign of dominance. When Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls went 72-10 in the 1995-96 season, they did it en route to their 4th NBA championship. The Warriors went 73-9 after winning their first NBA Championship in 40 years!

      It's hard to think of a team that has risen to success as quickly as this Warriors team. At the end of the 2011-12 season, the Golden State Warriors finished with a 23-43 record. Four seasons later, they are 73-9 with the best record in the NBA history. What the Warriors are doing right now is flat out ridiculous when you consider where they were four seasons ago. Almost overnight, they went from being in the doghouse of the NBA to being a juggernaut that cannot be stopped. 

     Stephen Curry has emerged into a three-point shooting force of nature that makes impossible shots at will. The basketball floor is his canvas and on it he paints whatever he wants to no matter who he is playing. Stephen Curry fires shots from beyond the arc like an archer that hits a bullseye ever single time. He has taken 3-point shooting to another level and redefined the game of basketball in the process. It is fitting that in the Warriors' 73rd win of the season, Stephen Curry went off for 46 points on 10-19 shooting from 3-point range, totaling 402 3-point shots made for the season. The Warriors finished the season the way that they started, which is blowing teams off the floor with their 3-point shooting and suffocating defense. 

     As for Kobe Bryant's last game, this too ended in a fitting way. For one thing, the Utah Jazz asphyxiated themselves in the Staples Center, something that has happened many times during Kobe Bryant's career. It is fitting that for one last time, Jazz fans watched their team self-destruct against Kobe Bryant's Lakers. 
                                                    (Credit: Keith Allison. Click here for source)     
      In addition, Kobe Bryant went off for 60 points and willed his team to victory for one final time. In the final minutes of the game, Kobe Bryant took over and did what he has done for his entire career, which is crush the soul of opponents though his own array of difficult shots and iron will. Kobe Bryant went off the way every NBA fan would want him to: Victorious and in firm control of the game. Like Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant has been able to do what he wants to on a basketball court without anybody being able to stop him. 

     What makes tonight so special for the NBA is that past, present, and future all came together in one night. Kobe Bryant, one the NBA's greatest players went out on a high note and Stephen Curry, the superstar of the NBA for the present and future, led his team to a record-setting 73 wins doing what he does best, which is drain three-point shots in opponents' faces.  In addition, Steve Kerr, who was on the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team as a player, got to be a part of the best regular season in NBA history again, only this time as a head coach. 

     It's very rare when past, present, and future all come together in one night and on April 13, 2016, all three of these things came together in the living rooms of NBA fans across the world. An NBA hall of fame player concluded his brilliant career, a future hall of fame player led his team to a league record 73 wins, and one man got to be a part of NBA history for a second time. Will such a night ever happen in NBA history again? Probably not, which is why we should all soak this night in. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Saturday Slam: Look out for the Minnesota Timberwolves

     While some lottery-bound teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, and New Orleans Pelicans are crashing and burning to end the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves are actually starting to find their groove and build some momentum going into next season. The 28-52 Timberwolves have won 6 of their last 10 games including 3 straight road wins over the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, and Portland Trail Blazers.

     The win in Golden State took the basketball world by surprise on Tuesday. The Warriors were favored by 14.5 points and looked to steamroll the Timberwolves as they go about trying to break the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' record for most wins in a regular season. Instead, the Timberwolves came from behind to stun the Warriors in overtime on their home floor by a final score of 124-117. Shabazz Muhammad led the way for the Timberwolves with 35 points and 6 rebounds while Andrew Wiggins finished with 32 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Other notable Timberwolves performers were Karl-Anthony Towns with 20 points and 12 rebounds and Zach LaVine with 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists.

     If the Minnesota Timberwolves had to pick a way to have their coming out party, winning on the road in Oracle Arena as the Golden State Warriors are chasing history is probably the way to do it. While the Minnesota Timberwolves will once again be in the NBA Draft Lottery, their win on Tuesday put the basketball world on notice. The Minnesota Timberwolves are coming and they aren't afraid of anybody.

     The Minnesota Timberwolves' biggest weakness is inexperience and youth, but very much like the Utah Jazz have started to build around a talented young core, the Minnesota Timberwolves are as well. Only, I actually like the Timberwolves' core even better. Unlike Gordon Hayward, Andrew Wiggins has the chance to be the number-one guy on a championship team. As for Karl-Anthony Towns, he could be the next premier big man of the NBA.

     All in all, the Minnesota Timberwolves are on the right track to being a very competitive in the NBA for a long time. They have youth and all-star level talent. Look at them as a caterpillar in a cocoon that isn't yet a butterfly. They are in the process of becoming something special, but they just need more time to grow and develop.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wednesday Windmill: George Karl is the most overrated coach in NBA history

                                            (Credit: Keith Allison. Click here for source) 

     When people talk about the best coaches in the NBA, George Karl is a guy who frequently comes up in discussion. He is viewed as a miracle worker of sorts; a guy who turns lemons into lemonade and helps struggling teams find success without having to blow everything up. When there's a team looking for a new head coach, George Karl is often thrown into the mix if he isn't already coaching some other forlorn cast of misfits. From 2005-2013, he coached the Denver Nuggets and currently is coaching the Sacramento Kings, who hired him because they believed he would give them the direction they needed.

     While George Karl has been an NBA Coach of the Year (2013) and coached a team to the NBA Finals (1995-96 Seattle Super Sonics), he has by and large not done anything more than just hang around for a really long time. He has a regular season record of 1173-821 (58.8%) but has struggled in the playoffs with a record of 80-105 (43.2%).

     While his trip to the NBA Finals with the Seattle Super Sonics in 1996 was a great achievement, his inability to guide the 63-19 Sonics past the 42-40 Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 1994 NBA playoffs was flat out embarrassing. It was the first time an 8 seed had upset a 1 seed in the NBA playoffs since the NBA adopted the 16-team format in 1984. How he didn't guide that Sonics team to the NBA Finals is something that I'll never understand and the fact that he only managed to come out of the Western Conference once with a Gary Payton/Shawn Kemp duo is rather pathetic.

     When given one of the most talented duos in NBA history, George Karl underachieved big time and that is something that not enough people talk about. Maybe it's because George Karl is a nice person and nobody wants to talk ill of him. While I'm sure he's a swell guy off the court, his coaching hasn't been anything to write home about if you really look at it under the microscope. He has just one trip to the NBA Finals and literally nothing else to write home about.

     He stunk it up with the Cavaliers and Warriors in the 1980s, underachieved with the Sonics in the 1990s, had one good season with the Bucks in 2000-01 in which they reached the Eastern Conference Finals, and did some solid work with the Denver Nuggets, helping them reach the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009.

     As far as his time with the Sacramento Kings is concerned, that has been a disaster. He has been on a crusade to derail the career of DeMarcus Cousins and take down anybody who is against him. He hasn't made the Kings any better. As a matter of fact, he's made them worse and even more chaotic than they were before he got there. He has embarrassed himself during his time in Sacramento and has made many people believe that he is no longer fit to coach in the NBA.

     But, what's perhaps most puzzling to me is the fact that it has taken this long for people to finally question George Karl. Granted, Sacramento has been a mess unlike anything that George Karl has experienced, but considering his overall resume, one would think that the Sacramento Kings would have looked elsewhere for a coach to turn their team around. One would also think that the Denver Nuggets wouldn't have held on to him for as long as they did.

     If the Oakland Raiders are committed to failure, then George Karl is committed to mediocrity. He finds ways to be mediocre or average as opposed to being great. His teams don't succeed like everybody thinks they do. In truth, they do ok at best and at worst blow up like a fat stick of dynamite.

     George Karl gets mentioned as one of the best coaches in NBA history, but if you really look at it, he shouldn't be mentioned as an all-time great. He's hung around for a long time and found a way to keep getting hired. That in and of itself is impressive, but that doesn't mean he's a great basketball coach. It just means he's great at getting hired and convincing teams he has what it takes to right the ship. He very well may be the best coach in NBA history at getting hired after getting fired, but beyond that, he's nothing more than mediocre.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Saturday Slam: Stephen Curry is the most incredible player I've seen since Michael Jordan

                                                   (Credit: Keith Allison. Click here for source)

     Stephen Curry is the most incredible basketball player I've seen since Michael Jordan. Since his royal airness, I have seen Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James have their moments as the best player in the NBA. All of those players are special players who will go down as some of the games' greatest players. But, in terms of just amazing me with their pure skill and basketball technique, all of those players pale in comparison to what Stephen Curry is doing right now.
      LeBron James came out of high school as a basketball prodigy, possessing the body frame of Karl Malone and the skills of John Stockton. Such a combination hasn't been seen since Magic Johnson and it may not be seen again for a very long time, if ever. So, when I say Stephen Curry is the most incredible player I've seen since Michael Jordan, I'm saying that with LeBron James in mind as the most physically gifted player I've ever seen. Michael Jordan was a better player than LeBron James in that he had a killer instinct and an ability to come up in the clutch that nobody in NBA history has ever had, but from just a pure combination of skill and physical tools, LeBron James beats out Michael Jordan.

     So, with that being the case, how can Stephen Curry, who is a 6-3, 185 lb. point guard, be even more incredible than LeBron James? The answer lies in his phenomenal shooting and ability to score in ways that we've never seen before. Stephen Curry is averaging 30.0 points per game on 63.0% shooting from the field, 45.4% shooting from 3-point range, and 90.1% shooting from the foul line.*
     Those numbers are alone ridiculous, but then when you factor in the fact that he does that taking some of the most difficult shots in the game, what he's doing just doesn't seem to be humanly possible. Plus, it isn't like Stephen Curry is Reggie Miller on steroids. Stephen Curry can shoot and score in so many more ways than Reggie Miller. Reggie Miller was a great catch and shoot shooter, but Stephen Curry is that plus an amazing off-the-dribble shooter and finisher in the lane.
     Stephen Curry can score in literally every way possible and he does it with ease. The most difficult shot in basketball is the pull up three and Stephen Curry makes that shot on a regular basis. Due to his lightning quick release, he is able to get shots off before defenders even have a chance to get a hand up and he does it while being small for his position.
     Lastly, Stephen Curry isn't just an incredible shooter and scorer. He is a fantastic point guard, who dishes out 6.5 assists per game and also plays superb defense, getting 2.2 steals per game. He is a complete basketball player who happens to have a laser for a jump shot. When you factor in the whole package that he has as a basketball player, namely his shooting, defending, passing, ball-handling, and on-the-court awareness, he is the most incredible player I've seen since Michael Jordan. What's even scarier is that he is making shots and plays that not even Michael Jordan was comfortable doing. So, I don't think it at all unfathomable to think that someday, Stephen Curry will go down as the greatest player in the history of basketball.

                                                (Credit: Jason H. Smith. Click here for source)

      But for now, I can't put him ahead of Michael Jordan. That would be ridiculous since Michael Jordan's collective body of work is so incredible. Michael Jordan won six NBA championships in eight seasons while taking a two-year break to play baseball. So, if he hadn't taken that break, he very well may have won eight straight championships. Those six championships are just the tip of the iceberg. Michael Jordan is a six-time NBA Finals MVP, a five-time NBA MVP, a 14-time NBA All-Star, a 10-time All-NBA First Team, the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, 1985 NBA Rookie of the Year, a 10-time scoring champion, and a 9-time NBA All-Defensive First Team.

      Michael Jordan transcended the game, dominated his opponents, and literally did whatever he wanted on a basketball court. Stephen Curry is starting to enter that same mode; it's just that he hasn't done it for as long of a stretch of time. If Stephen Curry can keep up what he is doing and rack up more rings in the process, there's no reason to think he can't go down as the greatest player to ever play the game of basketball.
     Think I'm exaggerating? We have never seen a player shoot the basketball as well as Stephen Curry and do it in so many ways. If he is able to use his versatility as a shooter and scorer to dominate the NBA over the coming seasons while also playing fantastic defense and dishing out 6+ assists per game, his case for greatest of all time will be pretty compelling.

*Stats as of Thursday, March 31, 2016.