NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wednesday Windmill: Is Isaiah Thomas a legit MVP candidate?

                                         (Credit: Keith Allison. Click here for source). 

During the past few seasons, we've gotten pretty used to hearing LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden mentioned in the NBA MVP conversations. While this year is no different in that those same names are once again being mentioned, a new MVP candidate has emerged in Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, who is averaging 29.1 points and 5.9 assists per game on 46.2% shooting from the field, 37.9% shooting three-point range, and 91.1% shooting from the foul line.

Thomas, in his sixth season out of Washington, has the Celtics currently atop the Eastern Conference standings, posing to LeBron James the biggest threat in the Eastern Conference since the days when Paul George and the Indiana Pacers were contenders. While it is unprecedented to see a 5'9", 185 pound MVP candidate, Isaiah Thomas deserves such recognition for the way he has led his team throughout the season.

If there is one stat I can point to that best proves his MVP candidacy, it's that Isaiah Thomas leads the NBA in 4th quarter scoring. Thomas is showing that he can step up in crunch time as well as anybody in the NBA, which makes him an MVP candidate by default. When looking at what separates stars from the rest of the field, late game heroics and 4th quarter performances are what we first look to after glancing at the overall stats. When we think of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, and other legends of the game, we think of their game winners and ability to take over games during the final minutes. By establishing himself as the best 4th quarter scorer in the NBA, it would be ridiculous for us to not mention Thomas as a serious MVP candidate.

In addition to his 4th quarter heroics, if you simply look at what Isaiah Thomas is doing as a whole, it's pretty obvious that he should be in the MVP conversation. He's getting close to 30 points per game and has his team in the driver's seat for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. While he has gotten some help from the likes of Avery Bradley and Al Horford, the Boston Celtics really is the Isaiah Thomas show. Without him, this team would be fighting for an 8 seed instead of the top seed in the conference.

When looking at his complete resume, it is clear that Isaiah Thomas is a strong MVP candidate. He's got the stats, the clutch factor, and he's got his team in a position to make a deep run in the playoffs. I certainly hope that when the MVP voting gets revealed, we'll see that Isaiah Thomas was given the proper consideration for the award that he deserves.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tomahawk Tuesday: Is Kawhi Leonard the best player in the NBA?

                                         (Credit: YouTube. Click here for video) 

At 6'7", 230 pounds, Kawhi Leonard is averaging 26.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game on 48.6% shooting from the field, 37.2% shooting from three-point range, and 88.5% shooting from the foul line.  He is the leader of this new generation San Antonio Spurs team, guiding them to a 57-16 record, which is second only to the 59-14 Golden State Warriors. Leonard certainly has a very impressive resume, but is he really the best player in the NBA over the likes of Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Isaiah Thomas, and Anthony Davis?

Below is a quick breakdown of each of those player's statistics and the record of their respective teams. By looking at these numbers, we can better determine if Leonard is in fact the best player in the NBA.

Russell Westbrook: 31.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, 10.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 42.3% shooting from the field, 33.4% shooting from three-point range, and 84.0% shooting from the foul line. Oklahoma City Thunder record: 42-31 (6th in the Western Conference).

LeBron James: 26.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 54.2% shooting from the field, 37.3% shooting from three-point range, and 67.9% shooing from the foul line. Cleveland Cavaliers record: 47-26 (2nd in the Eastern Conference).

James Harden: 29.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 11.3 assists, 1.5 steals,  44.8% shooting from the field, 35.2% shooting from three-point range, and 84.8% shooting from the foul line. Houston Rockets record: 51-22 (3rd in the Western Conference).

Kevin Durant: 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.6 blocks,  53.7% shooting from the field, 37.8% shooting from three-point range, and 87.6% shooting from the foul line. Golden State Warriors record: 59-14 (1st in the Western Conference).

Stephen Curry: 24.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.8 steals,  46.3% shooting from the field, 40.0% from three-point range, and 91.8% shooting from the foul line. Golden State Warriors record: 59-14 (1st in the Western Conference).

Isaiah Thomas: 29.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 46.2% shooting from the field, 37.9% from three-point range, and 91.1% shooting from the foul line. Boston Celtics record: 48-26 (1st in the Eastern Conference).

Anthony Davis: 27.9 points, 12 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.2 blocks, 50.6% shooting from the field, 31.3% shooting from three-point range, and 79.7% shooting from the foul line. New Orleans Pelicans record: 31-43 (11th in the Western Conference).

When comparing these players to each other, what needs to be factored in is both their individual statistics and the success of their teams. For example, Russell Westbrook is putting up the most gaudy numbers with the triple-double average, but his team is 6th in the Western Conference. Can we really say he's better than Kawhi Leonard when his team isn't doing nearly as well?

When factoring in both individual success and team success, it's pretty clear that there is no clear cut front runner for best player in the NBA. One could easily argue for why each of these players is the best player in the NBA.

The argument that one would make for Kawhi Leonard is that he is the most multi-dimensional player in the NBA and that he is leading his team to the second best record in the NBA. What makes Leonard so scary is that he is no longer just an athletic freak that plays basketball. He's become a skilled basketball player that is also an athletic freak. Look at his shooting numbers: 26.0 points per game on 48.6% shooting from the field, 37.2% shooting from three-point range, and 88.5% shooting from the foul line. The dude can stroke it and when you combine that with his freakish athleticism, you got yourself a scary good basketball player.

                                          (Credit: SD Dirk. Click here for source). 

The biggest concern that NBA scouts had about Kawhi Leonard when he was coming out of San Diego State was whether or not he could shoot at an elite level in the NBA. They were sold on his athleticism, but his shooting was a major question mark. Judging by his shooting numbers, I think Leonard has proven that his shooting is no longer an issue. As a matter of fact, it has become a major strength of his.

By improving his shooting so much, Kawhi Leonard is now a guy who can truly get it done on both ends of the floor. He defends and shoots at an elite level, and he also is able to get rebounds and dish out assists. While I would still take LeBron James on my team in the NBA Finals, I think it's safe to say that Kawhi Leonard is approaching that status. If anything, he might even be better considering that he has better shooting numbers.

When Kawhi Leonard went #15 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, I was really surprised considering his overall potential. I suggested that the Utah Jazz should have grabbed him at #3 overall and looking back on it, they definitely should have. As a matter of fact, if there was a do over of the 2011 NBA Draft, Kawhi Leonard may have gone #1 overall ahead of Kyrie Irving. What's even more crazy is that Isaiah Thomas would have gone #3 instead of #60.

The bottom line is that Kawhi Leonard has firmly established himself as an elite NBA player and is rightfully in the discussion of being the best player in the NBA. He's always had the athleticism, but now that he has the skills to go along with it, it's pretty tough to argue that there is someone else out there with a more complete package.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Skyhook Sunday: The Utah Jazz are going back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012

For the first time since the 2011-12 season, the Utah Jazz are going back to the NBA playoffs, clinching a playoff spot earlier today. As it stands, the Jazz are 44-29 and the 4th seed in the Western Conference standings, with the 5th seeded Los Angeles Clippers at 44-31 and the 6th seeded Oklahoma City Thunder at 41-31. If the playoffs were to start today, the Jazz would face off against the Clippers and have home court advantage.

With a playoff spot now clinched, the Jazz now have to worry about seeding. With the 3rd seeded Houston Rockets 7 games ahead, the best the Jazz can realistically expect to do is hold down the fort at the 4th spot and secure home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Doing so would give the Jazz an excellent chance of advancing in the first round series and likely set up a second round series with the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, who are 59-14 right now.

The remaining 9 games for the Utah Jazz are vs. New Orleans on March 27, at Sacramento on March 29, vs. Washington on March 31, at San Antonio on April 2, vs. Portland on April 4, vs. Minnesota on April 7, at Portland on April 8, at Golden State on April 10, and vs. San Antonio on April 12.

Intuitively, the games against the Spurs and Warriors stand out, but what's good for the Jazz is that with those games coming so late in the season, there are good odds that the Spurs and Warriors will be resting their players, so it's very possible for the Jazz to take two out of those three games. The home games against New Orleans, Washington, Portland, and Minnesota should all be wins, leaving the games at Sacramento and at Portland as perhaps the toughest games just because those are teams that will not be resting anybody. This all means that the Jazz should be able to go 6-3 down the stretch for sure and possibly even go 7-2, which should be good enough for them to secure the 4th seed.

What's made the Jazz so dangerous this season is their versatility and weapons. Gordon Hayward is the star of this team, averaging 21.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game, but he's gotten a lot of help from the likes of George Hill (16.9 points and 4.1 assists), Rodney Hood (12.8 points), and Rudy Gobert (13.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks). The Jazz can beat you out on the wing, they can beat you down on the block, they defend both the perimeter and interior really well, and are young, which means they play with a lot of energy.

What's crazy about this team is that they are 29th in the NBA in points per game (100.3), but also 3rd  in defensive rating (102.5). It's very rare to find a team that is so polarized, but it seems to be working out for them just fine. What allows the Jazz to still be successful despite this chasm is the fact that it isn't like they don't have guys who can score. Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, and George Hill can all score the rock from the perimeter while Rudy Gobert does a great job at playing the garbage man underneath for put backs and alley-oop dunks. The Jazz have guys who can score and so while they may not score as many points, it's not like they are a team incapable of scoring. They just like to play at a slower pace and let their defense be what leads them to victory.

In terms of how deep this team can go, I think the Jazz have a great shot at getting out of the first round if they get the 4th seed and clinch home court advantage. Salt Lake City is a really difficult place to win on the road and so if the Jazz are able to clinch home court advantage, I like their chances to advance regardless of the opponent. The Clippers and Thunder are really good teams, but I don't see either team advancing to the second round against a Jazz team with home court advantage. The Jazz are THAT good at home.

As far as a second round match up with the Warriors or Spurs, I think odds are high that is where it would end for the Jazz. Of course, you never know what can happen with injuries and we've also seen  the whole dynamics of a series change when a team finds a way to steal one game on the road. That said, smart money has to take the Warriors or Spurs in a series against the Jazz.

What's important to understand if you are the Utah Jazz is that by clinching a playoff spot, they've had a really impressive season already. This is a young team that is hoping to make a lot of noise in the future and making the playoffs is the first step in achieving this goal. The Jazz are not a championship level team right now but all signs point to them being one in the seasons to come. Their front office has done a really good job of assembling the right talent through the draft and bringing in guys that are willing to buy in to the Utah Jazz way.

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This article also appears on my Utah Jazz blog. Click here to check it out. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday Slam: The Milwaukee Bucks are exhibiting true character without Jabari Parker

With the loss of Jabari Parker, one would think that the Milwaukee Bucks would be heading towards another chance to win the NBA Draft lottery. Parker was averaging 20.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game before he went down with a season-ending ACL injury and was the #2 scoring option on the team behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 23.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Parker's injury looked like a blow to the Bucks' playoff chances, but instead they have found a way to win 11 of their last 13 games and improve to 37-35 overall, which has them as the #6 seed in the Eastern Conference standings. 

What's really enabled the Bucks to catch fire over this stretch has been Khris Middleton, rookie Malcolm Brogdon, and Tony Snell stepping up at the wing position. They've all been able to consistently score in double figures ,which has really taken the pressure off of Antetokounmpo. Middleton wasn't available to play until the middle of the season as he was recovering from a hamstring injury, so he's steadily gotten better as he's approached full strength. As for Brogdon, he's continued to make a strong case for winning rookie of the year honors while Snell has been a very pleasant surprise, looking like a wash out after his days with the Bulls. 

Whether you want to admit it or not, injuries are a part of the game and good teams know how to overcome them. Granted, some injuries are more devastating than others, but regardless, teams have to have the depth needed to stay afloat provided they lose one of their star guys. The Bucks are showing they have such depth and it has really paid off for them this season. 

In terms of how much damage this Bucks team can do in the playoffs, one has to like their chances of winning a first round series provided they hang on to the #6 spot or improve to the #5 spot. The Washington Wizards are #3 and the Toronto Raptors are #4. Both teams are really good, but haven't been in able to get it done in the playoffs during these past few seasons. If the Bucks can stay where the are at or move up to the #5 spot, I think they have a good shot at getting to the second round of the playoffs. Should they slip down to the #7 or #8 spot, I think they are destined for a first round exit, judging by how good the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics have been. 

Even if the Bucks were to have a first round playoff exit, making the playoffs in and of itself would be a remarkable achievement considering the adversity that they have faced. When Parker went down, the Bucks could have mailed in the rest of the season and given up. Instead, they have dug deep and found ways to have role players step up. They have truly exhibited the character of a championship team. 

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Saturday Slam: Rob Pelinka is an excellent choice for the Lakers GM job


Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Lakers announced the hiring of Rob Pelinka as general manager. Pelinka has experience as a lawyer and agent, so his major selling points are his connections in the basketball industry and his experience working with basketball players and front offices as an agent. During his introductory press conference, Pelinka's main message was about returning the Lakers to glory after a few seasons of wallowing in obscurity. While some of his comments came off as a little cheesy, like the comment about the Lakers giving hope to refugees in war torn countries, he overall came off as very sincere and serious about restoring the Lakers to glory.

In comparison to the clowns they had in the front office before, Rob Pelinka seems like a fabulous upgrade. He's plugged in to the basketball industry, knows the ins and outs of it, and he can relate well to players. Plus, he's got a great relationship with Kobe Bryant and firmly believes in the Lakers brand as a force for good around the globe. If you are the Lakers, what more could you possibly want?

The biggest challenge that Pelinka has going forward is fixing the mess that is the Lakers. D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram may become a solid one-two punch, but I don't see them forming a championship level threat. Nobody on this Lakers team has "superstar" written all over them and if you are the Lakers, you simply cannot have that.

The good news is that Rob Pelinka is a very well respected person who could attract and recruit quality free agents to round out his roster. The Lakers have always lived on landing quality free agents to take them to the next level and Pelinka appears to have the chops to allow them to do that.

Overall, I really do think Rob Pelinka is a home run hire for the Lakers. He's got the connections, the experience, and the overall understanding of what the Los Angeles Lakers are about. If you are a Lakers fan, you should be feeling really good about the direction of the franchise.

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Skyhook Sunday: NBA Lord Bracket Challenge

Every year, has an NCAA Tournament bracket challenge and if YOU are reading this post, then you are eligible to join in on the fun with the chance to win a shirt! Here's how to join.

Go to and hit on the big button that says Tournament Challenge. It should be on their front page and all. If it isn't, go to the NCAA men's basketball tab and scroll down to hit the Tournament Challenge button.

Once you are on the Tournament Challenge site, search for the group and you are good to go! Below is the information that you need. Remember that brackets are due Thursday morning before the first games, but think Wednesday night.

Group Name: NBA Lord March Madness.

Password: playoffs.

If you have any questions or concerns, you can contact me by any of the following methods. If you are the winner, use any of the methods below to contact me to redeem your shirt!

#1. Comment below on the post itself.

#2. E-mail me (go to my blogger profile and select the option to e-mail me).

#3. Tweet at or DM (Direct Message) NBA Lord on Twitter (@nba_lord).

#4. Message NBA Lord on Facebook (Facebook page is called NBA Lord Nation) or comment below on one of the Facebook posts.

#5. Reply on the Google Plus page.

Note: I have provided direct links to all the NBA Lord social media below.

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday Slam: The Golden State Warriors rested their stars against the San Antonio Spurs. Why?

For the first time all season, the Golden State Warriors do not appear to be a lock to have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. As a matter of fact, they only have have a .5 game lead on the San Antonio Spurs after getting drubbed in San Antonio on Saturday by a final score of 107-85. The Spurs were without Tony Parker (back), LaMarcus Aldridge (heart arrhythmia), and Kawhi Leonard (concussion) and still found a way to pummel the Warriors, who were without Kevin Durant (knee), Stephen Curry (rest), Klay Thompson (rest), Draymond Green (rest), and Andre Iguodala (rest). 

Yes, you read that correctly. The Golden State Warriors rested their stars against a San Antonio Spurs team that was banged up and only 1.5 games back of them. The question that I have after seeing this box score is why? 

The following is an explanation of the Warriors' logic courtesy of The Associated Press. 

Already without Kevin Durant due to a knee injury, Golden State opted to rest Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.

“It’s more about May and June than March,” said Matt Barnes, who the Warriors signed after Durant’s injury. “I understand the frustration from people, but we’re working for something bigger right now. So, we’ve got to do what’s best for our players. We apologize. You’ll definitely see our stars when it counts.”

Earning the top seed is important, but Warriors coach Steve Kerr said keeping his team healthy is a greater priority. Golden State concluded a stretch of eight games in 13 days, including the second night of a back-to-back that saw the Warriors arrive in San Antonio at 3 a.m. Saturday.

“We had to get through this night. That was the main thing,” Kerr said. “We had to get through this trip and they allowed us to do that. Obviously, we wanted to win, but we didn’t do that but we made it through to this point. Now we can go home, recharge our batteries and get rolling again."

The nuts and bolts of it is that the Warriors are looking ahead to the playoffs and want to do all they can to rest their players for the playoffs. They aren't worried about basketball in March. They are worried about May and June. Hence, if taking a night off in March helps them stay healthy for the playoffs, then that's what they'll have to do. 

The problem I have with the explanation put forth by Kerr and Barnes is that what they are really saying is that home court advantage doesn't really matter and that just seems silly. Home court advantage absolutely matters. History tells us this. As a matter of fact, in a Game 7 in the NBA Playoffs, the home team goes on to win over 80% of the time. You can think that home court advantage isn't worth playing for, but the numbers tell us otherwise. 

Whether the Warriors want to admit it or not, if they find themselves in a Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals at San Antonio, they may look back at this game in March and think to themselves, "You know what, we had a golden opportunity to steal one in San Antonio and we didn't take advantage." 

It would be different if the Spurs were at full strength and the Warriors really didn't think the could win. But, with Tony Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Kawhi Leonard out, the Warriors should have played Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green. I understand the NBA is a grind and that this was the second half of a back-to-back, but playing basketball is their job and in a game against the one team in the West with a real shot at knocking them off, they have to be on the floor. It's that simple. 

If Steve Kerr is so concerned about resting his guys, that's fine, but he shouldn't do it in such an important game with so much on the line. Typically, he's right  that the NBA regular season doesn't matter much, but a game against the Spurs in San Antonio is as close to being a playoff game as any regular season game can get. To treat this game like the Brooklyn Nets are coming to town is just absurd and ridiculous. 

I think Steve Kerr is a great coach and I don't want to come off as thinking I know more about what's best for his team than him. I don't. But, if I can be real, I don't understand this one. The Spurs were legitimately banged up and probably wouldn't have won if the Warriors had played their stars. By losing this game, the Warriors are now just .5 games up on the Spurs whereas had they won, they would be 2.5 games up on the for the #1 seed in the Western Conference. Giving up that kind of cushion just to rest your guys in March seems like a stupid trade off to make. The stakes are just too high and the Warriors ultimately didn't say enough in the post game to convince me otherwise. 

Note: Both Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge are out indefinitely at this time. 

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Fadeaway Friday: Will Lance Stephenson stick in Minnesota?

After appearing to disappear off the map, former Indiana Pacers star Lance Stephenson has resurfaced as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, signing his second 10-day contract with the team earlier in the week after being a free agent for a short period of time due to an ankle injury. The Timberwolves clearly like Stephenson enough to sign him to a second 10-day contract, but the question is whether or not he'll stick with the team for the remainder of the season and possibly beyond.

Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones haven't really stepped up in Zach LaVine's absence like the Timberwolves hoped they would, making Lance Stephenson an attractive option to give them much needed depth at the point guard position. During his time with the Timberwolves, Stephenson has averaged 4.2 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.0 assists per game on 47.6% shooting from the field, which isn't very good but sadly better production than what Dunn and Jones have been able to provide.

What's amazing is that at this point in time, the 27-37 Timberwolves are 2.5 games back of the 8 seeded Denver Nuggets, making them very much alive for the playoffs. The Timberwolves are a team that actually is in more need of playoff experience than another high draft pick, so they need to do all they can to make a push for the playoffs.

So, when it comes to evaluating Lance Stephenson, the Timberwolves have to assess whether or not having him on their roster helps them make the playoffs. If you look at his raw production, it's hard to argue that he does. If you consider that he's a veteran guy who's been to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Indiana Pacers, you could argue that having him around helps since he knows what it takes to get to the playoffs. It really depends on how you see it.

                                         (Credit: Fox Sports North. Click here for video) 

What I don't know is whether or not Lance Stephenson has been a good locker room guy or not and that is probably what will ultimately determine whether or not he sticks in Minnesota for the rest of the season. Stephenson has had a history of not being a good locker room guy, which is why he's bounced around so much since his days in Indiana. The fact that the Timberwolves signed him to a second 10-day contract indicates that he might be a better locker room guy than he was in Charlotte and that so far, he's fitting in well with their group of guys.

Personally, I certainly hope that Lance Stephenson is able to find a way to stick with the Timberwolves. He's been an entertaining player and one who I still think might have some gas left in the tank if given the right opportunity. The Timberwolves could use the depth at point guard and also the presence of another veteran guy in their locker room. If they were to make the playoffs, Stephenson could be a guy who gets inside the head of Stephen Curry a bit as a defender, so in that vein it actually makes sense for the Timberwolves to keep him.

At the end of the day, this all comes down to whether or not the Timberwolves see him as offering more than just what he's given them on the court. If they see him possessing some intangibles like leadership and veteran experience, odds are good he sticks with them. If on the other hand, they really don't see him offering any of those intangibles, odds are good he gets released from the team after his 10-day contract expires. It's really as simple as that.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wednesday Windmill: The Andrew Bogut era in Cleveland was short lived

During his first minute of playing in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform on Monday, Andrew Bogut suffered a fractured left tibia and will miss the remainder of the regular season and post-season. The Cavaliers were hoping that the addition of Andrew Bogut would give them another big body to go up against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals but instead, they'll never get to see what type of impact he would have made.

With Bogut done for the season, the Cavaliers will need to heavily rely on Tristan Thompson to be their primary post presence. When Kevin Love returns, he'll be much more of a stretch forward kind of guy, so it really is up to Thompson to be the anchor for this Cavaliers team down low. While I expect Thompson to continue to do a good job down low, it still hurts the Cavaliers to not have one more big guy down low that can block shots, grab rebounds, and do all the dirty work. It's hard to win a championship when you only have one guy that fills such a role.

While not benefiting from the acquisition of Andrew Bogut, the Cavaliers still are well positioned to return to the NBA Finals. They added Kyle Korver and Deron Williams to the fold and should get both Kevin Love and J.R. Smith back by the playoffs. Plus, they still have Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, the best player in the NBA.

Where the loss of Bogut hurts is having one less weapon to use in the NBA Finals against the Warriors. Bogut was going to be luxury, not a necessity, so it's not as if losing him kills the Cavaliers' title chances or anything. It's just that when you are in the NBA Finals, you want to have as much depth as possible and having Bogut for depth would have been really nice.

Going forward, all the Cavaliers can do is play the best basketball they can with what they have, which is still a lot more than what most teams have. They also need to make sure Kevin Love and J.R. Smith can get as healthy as possible. Should they stay healthy going forward and get back to full strength in time for the playoffs, I still have the Cavaliers coming out of the Eastern Conference. They are still the most talented team in the Eastern Conference.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Tomahawk Tuesday: Dirk Nowitzki joins the 30,000 career points club

                                                       (Keith Allison. Click here for source) 

On Tuesday night, Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki became the 6th player in NBA history to score 30,000+ career points in the NBA, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Wilt Chamberlain in this exclusive club. When people mention the greatest of the greats, Nowitzki's name doesn't ever come up, but with him officially joining this elite NBA class, I think it's time we start thinking of Nowitzki as more than just a hall of fame player. He's beyond a hall of fame player. He's one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA right along with the likes of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Bill Russell.

Hell, none of those three guys eclipsed 30,000 career points! It might feel weird to say it, but we need to come to grips with the fact that Dirk Nowitzki is a living legend that deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as the rest of basketball royalty. His resume speaks for itself. He's 6th all-time on the NBA's all-time scoring list, the 6th member of the 30,000 point club, an NBA champion (2011), NBA Finals MVP (2011), NBA Regular Season MVP (2007), 13x NBA All-Star, 4x All-NBA First Team, 5x All-NBA Second Team, and 3x All-NBA Third Team.

In addition to his NBA accolades, Dirk Nowitzki has an impressive international competition resume with Germany as the FIBA World Cup MVP and FIBA World Cup top scorer in 2002. He's been the greatest player in the history of Germany and helped put basketball on the map in Europe. His impact on the game of basketball from a global perspective cannot be understated.

What I like most about Dirk Nowitzki is his perseverance. He never gave up. When the Mavericks blew a 2-0 lead in the 2006 NBA Finals and proceeded to lose in the first round of the 2007 NBA playoffs to the Golden State Warriors during his MVP season, Nowitzki could have given up on his dreams of winning an NBA championship. Doubt could have easily crept in, but Nowitzki instead used those setbacks as motivation to get better. In the end, Nowitzki was rewarded with an NBA championship in 2011 and an NBA Finals MVP to go along with it.

While it took him a while to accomplish all of the things that he has accomplished, there is little doubt now of as to where Dirk Nowitzki belongs in the history of basketball. He's one of the games' greatest players and deserves to be mentioned among the very best to every play in the NBA. His body of work says it all. In my opinion, Dirk Nowitzki has to be mentioned as a top-ten player in NBA history and maybe even a top-five player. He's been that good and it's time he gets recognized as such.

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Skyhook Sunday: Can the Toronto Raptors survive without Kyle Lowry?

The Toronto Raptors have already been without their star point guard Kyle Lowry (wrist surgery) for six games and they won't get him back until the playoffs. At this point in time, the Raptors are 37-26 overall and currently in possession of the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Raptors are currently 6 games back of the #1 seeded Cleveland Cavaliers and 2.5 games up on the #5 seeded Atlanta Hawks.

The big question that's on everybody's mind about the Raptors is whether or not they can survive until Lowry gets back. When addressing this question, what needs to be defined is what is meant by "survive." If the Raptors give up home court advantage in the first round but still make the playoffs, I wouldn't say they exactly "survived" the absence of Kyle Lowry since it is essential to their playoff success that they hang on to home court advantage for the first round. As far as the Raptors are concerned, "surviving" is hanging on to home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

So, with that now established, what we are really asking is "Can the Raptors hang on to home court advantage without Kyle Lowry?" Given that the Hawks are their only real competition, I think odds are good that they can. They're certainly in the drivers seat to do so and so far are 4-2 without Lowry, indicating that they should be able to play above .500 ball until he gets back.

When looking at the Raptors' roster, one of the things that helps is that they have a very good backup point guard in Cory Joseph who should be able to run the offense until Lowry returns.  Joseph is averaging 8.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game and won an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. While he is no Kyle Lowry, Joseph is one of the better reserve point guards in the NBA and should have no trouble keeping things afloat until Lowry returns.

In addition to having a quality backup point guard to fill in, the Raptors still have DeMar DeRozan, who is averaging a team-high 27.6 points per game. DeRozan is one of the top scorers in the NBA and should have no problem carrying the scoring load during this last stretch. While it would be asking too much of DeRozan to carry the team deep into the playoffs without Lowry, asking him to keep the team at the #4 spot until the playoffs is not asking too much.

Lastly, the presence of Serge Ibaka helps tremendously. With Ibaka on board, the Raptors have added another legitimate scoring option and also one of the best shot blockers in the NBA. Serge Ibaka is used to having to be one of the top scorers on the teams that he plays on and so he should have no trouble having an expanded role on the offense until Lowry returns. As far as the defense is concerned, with or without Kyle Lowry, the presence of Serge Ibaka makes the Raptors one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. I think defensively, the Raptors will be just fine without Kyle Lowry and should be able to win a lot of games based on their improved defense alone.

When looking at all of these factors, I think it's pretty clear that the Toronto Raptors should still be able to hang on to the #4 spot in the Eastern Conference standings and clinch home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs. They have a quality backup point guard, an elite scorer, and a new power forward that gives them another scoring option and a much improved defense.

The schedule also isn't too bad, either. Of the Raptors' 19 remaining games, 10 of them are on the road, so it isn't as if there is a huge home-away imbalance. The game on March 10th at Atlanta will be big, but I think that even if the Raptors drop that game, they'll still find a way to hang on to the #4 seed. They're doing pretty well without Kyle Lowry so far and there's really no reason to not expect them to continue to do well until he returns.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Saturday Slam: What the loss of Kevin Durant means for the Warriors

Earlier this week, it was announced that Golden State Warriors small forward Kevin Durant will be reevaluated in 4 weeks after being diagnosed with an MCL sprain in his left knee and a tibial bone bruise. Durant has been the best player on this 50-11 Warriors team, averaging 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game. Durant has been so valuable that he has actually been the Warriors' top rim protector as well as their most efficient scorer. He's been the ultimate small ball player. 

Now with their jack-of-all trades small ball weapon out for at least 4 weeks, the Warriors need to find a way to keep in front of the 47-13 San Antonio Spurs for the #1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. It won't be easy, but the good news is that we know that even without Durant, the Warriors might still be the best team in the NBA. 

Speaking a little bit more specifically, the absence of Durant means that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson need to take on more of the scoring load. Durant leads the team in scoring, but Curry and Thompson are right behind him, Curry averaging 24.8 points per game and Thompson averaging 21.8 points per game. The fourth leading scorer on the team is Draymond Green at 10.2 points per game, so there really is a huge drop off in terms of scoring production after Durant, Curry, and Thompson. It will be up to "The Splash Brothers" to make up for Durant's production and be the ones who carry the offense until he returns. 

On defense, that's really where Draymond Green will have to step up. Green is averaging 2.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game to go along with 8.1 rebounds (6.8 defensive). The Warriors will miss Durant's rim protection and so it will really be up to Green to protect the rim and not allow easy baskets inside. Green is one of the most versatile defenders in the NBA and he will certainly need to play like it during this stretch without Durant. 

The good news for the Warriors is that Kevin Durant should be back in time for the playoffs and they also have enough weapons to survive for the short term. If he was out for the season, that would be much more concerning, but since he should be back in a reasonable amount of time, I don't see this set back as anything too serious. The Warriors have embraced the whole "Strength In Numbers" team mentality and don't care having to share the spotlight with each other. This mentality should serve them well during this stretch and keep them in possession of the #1 seed in the West. 

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