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Tag:Manu Ginobili
Posted on: October 21, 2010 11:38 pm
Edited on: October 21, 2010 11:48 pm
 

New Orleans Hornets 2010-2011 Season Preview

I called this past offseason for the Hornets one of, if not, the most important offseason in franchise history for the team.  Coming off of a difficult collapse in 2009, injuries to Chris Paul forced the team to fall to 37 wins last season, resulting in the team's first appearance in the lottery in three years, signifying a dramatic fall from grace following the team's 2008 run to the Southwest Division Championship and to a game 7 in the Western Conference Semifinals with the defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs.  Just a few years removed from that, the Hornets are at a crossroads, even after this offseason, that will determine where the team goes from this point forward.  Gone from that 2008 season are former coach of the year Byron Scott, long time General Manager and former Executive of the Year Jeff Bower and soon to be gone is the only owner the Hornets have ever known in George Shinn.  The impending sale of the team to Gary Chouest, which may not be finalized until the end of this season, will finally solidify this past offseason of change for the Hornets front office.  When new head coach Monty Williams was hired, followed by the hiring of new General Manager Dell Demps, everyone of the assistant coaches, medical staff, scouting team, etc. were let go.  Some of them had been with the team since its inception in Charlotte.  But desperate to turn a new leaf, the Hornets made their moves with Williams and Demps, and the two are young, promising guys at their respective spots with the right people vouching for their abilities.  That change was followed on the court, as the Hornets engaged in a number of trades that will result in at least eight new players making the roster for this season.  It's still very much up in the air how all of these moves will translate on the court for the Hornets.  The team has seemingly had one of the thinnest front courts in the league for years now, and that will be the same case this season.  The team's ultimate success still depends almost entirely on Chris Paul, and Paul's' reported frustrations with the team are going to loom over the franchise until he's either traded or signs a new contract.  But that's still two years from now, and the Hornets still moved along as a team dedicated to winning now.  With pending cap relief coming up this offseason, how the team performs at the start of the year will depend largely on whether they're buyers or sellers at the trade deadline and will have a huge effect on how the team opperates from here on out.  If this past offseason was one of the most important for the Hornets, this actual season will be no different.  There are no guarantees it will be the most successful, but a lot is hinging on the performance of this team this season.

For the record, new additions will be italicized and rookies will have their college statistics, which will be denoted by an asterisk.

PG: #3 Chris Paul (45 Games, 18.7 PPG, 10.7 APG, 4.2 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 84.7 FT Pctg., 40.9 3PT FG Pctg., 49.3 FG Pctg.) – Coming off of his best season individually in 2009, the frustration Paul was showing at the beginning of last season was quite evident.  He had gotten into on court altercations with Al Harrington, was frequently showing discomfort on the court and was very vocal in his displeasure with Byron Scott being fired going as far as to say the team should have consulted with him before the move.  Two separate injuries followed, including one the day immediately following Scott’s departure, possibly creating the most frustrating season in Paul’s career.  A sprained ankle and a torn meniscus kept Paul out of 37 games, and the Hornets’ win total dropped as a result. 

A lot will be asked of CP3 again this season as he enters clearly as the number one player on the team.  The fact that the team traded Darren Collison, last year’s first round draft pick and Paul’s primary back up, to make attempts in improving the roster brings further emphasis on the importance of a healthy Chris Paul.  Before his injuries last season, he was displaying an improved three point shot and was correcting all of the holes in his offensive game.  Seeing him play a healthy amount of games this season should help the team’s defense improve as well.  Paul’s on court performance is crucial for the team, but he’s in a position where he shouldn’t be asked to do as much as he was in 2009.  How quickly he gels with the new teammates, how well he’s recovered from the knee injury and how well he handles adversity this season all deserve close attention this season.

#33 Willie Green (73 Games, 8.7 PPG, 2.1 APG, 1.8 RPG, 83.3 FT Pctg., 34.6 3PT FG Pctg., 45.7 FG Pctg.) – Whether Hornets fans like it or not, Green enters this season as the Hornets back-up point guard.  Green, in the final year of his contract, was picked up in a trade with Philadelphia and immediately became the team’s most trustworthy option as a reserve point guard.  Whether or not he’s a true point guard, whether or not he’s efficient enough to run an offense for an extended amount of time and whether or not the team hopes to deploy him in this role all season are questionable.  Even with Green on the roster, the Hornets had Jannero Pargo, Mustafa Shakur, D.J. Strawberry and, eventually, Curtis Jerrells all in training camp to compete for the reserve point guard job.  In my opinion, the team wants one of the young guards to step up and claim the back-up job, but is keeping Green as a safety net.  Green is a capable back-up in this league.  He shoots a decent percentage and he could, at the very least, provide veteran experience as a reserve to start the season.  However, I’d imagine the team truthfully wants Jerrells to claim Green’s spot by December or January.

#0 Curtis Jerrells * (39 Games, 16.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 77.1 FT Pctg., 36.7 3PT FG Pctg., 42.7 FG Pctg.) – Although last year was Jerrell’s first year in the league, he spent the majority of the season in the NBA’s D-League and therefore retains rookie eligibility in this season, his first with the Hornets.  Jerrells went undrafted in 2009 and spent last season for the D-League’s Austin Toros, which happened to be the team that Demps GMed while he was working for the Spurs organization.  About a week ago, the Hornets acquired Jerrells for a second round draft pick from the Spurs and he figures to be in the team’s future plans.  Former coach Greg Popovich has gone on record as saying Jerrells is a “real NBA point guard” and the team is high on him as well.  Whether or not he reciprocates those expectations right away remains to be seen, but there are high hopes for Jerrells in terms of his future as a reserve for the team behind Chris Paul.  His progression is something to keep an eye on. 

SG: #8 Marco Belinelli (66 Games, 7.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 83.5 FT Pctg., 38.0 3PT FG Pctg., 40.6 FG Pctg.) – No member of the Hornets roster is having as productive a preseason campaign as Belinelli.  Acquired from Toronto for the frustrating unproductive Julian Wright, Belinelli has also struggled with expectations throughout his career and really disappointed in Toronto last season.  But the team planned for Thornton to come off of the bench all along, and Belinelli has gone through a lot of the sets with the first team.  He’s shooting the ball really effectively from beyond the arc in the preseason and is showing capabilities as a ball handler that people expected of him when he was a lottery pick in 2007.  He unquestionably now enters the season as the Hornets starting shooting guard and can develop into a real wild card for the team.  If he builds off of his promise early, then the Hornets can have a surprisingly efficient starting five with an explosive Marcus Thornton as a change of pace reserve for the second unit.  At worst, Belinelli figures to be a three point specialist for the team, but all hopes are for Belinelli to remain as the team’s starting shooting guard for the duration of the season. 

#5 Marcus Thornton (73 Games, 14.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 81.4 FT Pctg., 37.4 3PT FG Pctg., 45.1 FG Pctg.) – Contrary to Belinelli, Thornton is having one of the most disappointing preseason campaigns for the Hornets.  Coming off of a surprising rookie season where the Hornets saw him emerge from second round draft pick to solid reserve to key contributor down the stretch, the team hopes to deploy him in a sixth man role similar to that of Manu Ginobili, Jason Terry or Jamal Crawford’s.  All hopes should, and most likely are, for Thornton to finish games for the Hornets but the team wants to use his playmaking and explosiveness to spearhead the second unit.  Thornton has struggled with his shot all preseason, and questions are already rising about the shin injury that forced him to leave the Summer League early.  But still, the team will take its chances with Thornton as the season approaches and his efficient shooting from last season will be expected and should truly benefit the team moving forward.  At only 23, Thornton is still in the team’s future plans.  He’s been vocal about his struggles with the team moving Collison to Indiana in an offseason trade, but I wouldn’t attribute that with his early season struggles.  He seems erratic out there and may be struggling with the added expectations.  I expect him to settle into his new role this season after a few games.

SF: #1 Trevor Ariza (72 Games, 14.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 64.9 FT Pctg., 33.4 3PT FG Pctg., 39.4 FG Pctg.) – Coming off of a season where he was a key member of a Lakers starting line-up that won the 2009 NBA Championship, Ariza was handsomely compensated by the Houston Rockets last season and, with the injuries to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, was quickly given the role of the go-to guy on the team.  Ariza struggled in that role, however, as his efficiency and his shooting percentages decreased across the board.  The Hornets still see his potential as a defensive specialist and fast break partner with Paul to trade All-Rookie First Teamer Darren Collison to acquire Ariza.  In doing so, the Hornets assume the remaining four years on Ariza’s contract and are vocal about him being in the team’s future plans.  In New Orleans, Ariza can return to being the third or fourth option on a team, a role he’s probably better suited for, and should be able to prepare for the shots to come to him as opposed to looking for them.  He may never shoot at that consistent three point rate that he did in the 2009 postseason, but he’s still a capable player behind the arc who the team can feel comfortable enough with to help spread out a defense.  Ariza is the big acquisition for the Hornets this past offseason and a lot is expected of him.  He’s shown before that he’s capable of playing off of a great player, and if he does so at a more efficient rate than he did with Houston last year, the Hornets will benefit greatly because of it. 

#16 Peja Stojakovic (62 Games, 12.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 89.7 FT Pctg., 37.5 3PT FG Pctg., 40.4 FG Pctg.) – Signed to a five year, 65 million dollar contract in 2005, Peja has seen his points per game average and a lot of his percentages decline every year of his contract with the team.  The Hornets see his expiring 15 million dollar deal as a huge trading piece should the team find another franchise desperate for cap relief, but also see his importance as a three point specialist with the squad.  Even with his declining numbers, the Hornets are a better team with Peja on the court.  Last year’s 14-23 record without Chris Paul should be viewed with an asterisk.  The team was 9-8 without Paul on the court while Peja was still in the lineup.  When Peja missed the final 20 games of the season, the team went 5-15.  He’s still a very important player for this team.  Peja was tried as a reserve last year when the team unsuccessfully attempted to make Julian Wright the starting small forward.  He was still efficient enough in his reserve role where the team should feel comfortable deploying him in that same spot this season, but his back still brings questions about how well he can come into a game and be effective after extended periods of rest.  Whether or not he’s a key contributor or nothing more than an expiring contract to either be traded or absorbed internally this season depends largely on how well he starts the season.  He’s played a sufficient amount of minutes this preseason and is still showing his range, but nothing is a guarantee in terms of his longevity of health. 

#20 Quincy Pondexter(36 Games, 19.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 SPG, 82.7 FT Pctg., 35.3 3PT FG Pctg., 52.8 FG Pctg.) – Acquired in a draft night trade along with Craig Brackins for the draft rights to Cole Aldrich, Pondexter was supposed to enter this season with Brackins as two young, capable players in a new Hornets rotation.  Brackins was traded in the Willie Green trade with Philadelphia, and the Hornets soon acquired Trevor Ariza, halting Pondexter’s quick ascension to an everyday status.  Pondexter is still a capable player.  He can run the floor really well, is a good enough playmaker at his position and is a capable jump shooter.  The team also has high hopes in his defensive ability.  He showed a lot of potential in the summer league, especially with his playmaking and defense, and will be brought along slowly for the Hornets.  With Peja most likely gone either before the end of this season or by the end of this season, Pondexter figures into the Hornets future plans.  Monty Williams has had success with SF projects before during his tenure in Portland, and Pondexter will be exactly that for most of this season.

PF: #30 David West (81 Games, 19.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 86.5 FT Pctg., 50.5 FG Pctg.) – The Hornets longest tenured player (he’s the only player on the team that was with the franchise before the temporary two year relocation to Oklahoma City and who was with the Hornets when they still played in the Eastern Conference), West returns this season still as the Hornets second option.  For the past five seasons, Paul and West have been the go-to guys for setting the tone on offense and the same will be expected this season.  Despite a second consecutive season in terms of a decrease in his points per game and rebounds per game averages, West assumed a bigger role in the offensive execution once Paul went down to injury last season.  As a result, West saw a career high in assists.  Whether or not his game is ready for a steep decline is up for debate, and this being basically a contract year for West (he has a 7 million dollar player option for next season), one could assume that West will be at his best for one last pay day for his career.  West is still an efficient option in the offense.  He shot at a 50 percent rate last season and still has plenty of range on his jump shot.  His defense on the ball struggled big time last season and a lot of that probably had to do with Collison and Thornton’s inexperience on defense allowing so many easy drives to the basket last year.  But if West can hold his ground defensively in the paint, it would set the tone for the rest of the team.  A lot will be expected of West, again, this season.  I wouldn’t be so concerned with his missing games this preseason (Monty is said to be caution with minutes to his starters in the preseason) and I wouldn’t say he’s ready for a decline in production just yet. 

#14 Jason Smith (56 Games, 3.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 69.0 FT Pctg., 43.1 FG Pctg.) – Acquired in a trade that sent Craig Brackins and Darius Songaila to Philadelphia, Smith was seen as a disappointing first round project in Philadelphia but has been given new life in New Orleans.  He’s surprised many fans with his strong play in the preseason, showing a very unexpected rebounding rate per minute and still showing a good enough mid range game that the team touted when he was acquired.  Whether or not that carries over into the regular season is huge for the Hornets, as Smith is basically the only option as a reserve power forward.  His position on the team is very creaky for the Hornets, as he’s not done a lot to calm worries about his consistency and reliability in his two years with the league.  But the front office is praising Smith for his work this preseason and he’ll at least be given a clean slate in New Orleans this year.  If he struggles, the team will be left without many options for the front court, and could be forced to move Stojakovic for another option.  Whether or not Smith can prevent the team from having to go to those measures remains to be seen. 

#44 Pops Mensah-Bonsu (20 Games, 1.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 54.2 FT Pctg., 39.4 FG Pctg.) – With the team on a non guaranteed contract, Mensah-Bonsu will probably be retained due to the team’s thin options at the power forward spot.  Another D-League player for the Austin Toros, Pops has played well enough in the preseason to at least get a look in the regular season.  He’s struggled to stick with any of the teams he’s played with for his career but has shown signs of being a viable reserve big man.  Whether or not he can parlay that into a consistent run or even a consistent season with New Orleans is questionable at best and realistically unexpected.  But because Jason Smith is the only other option as a reserve power forward, I’d expect Mensah-Bonsu to make the roster and at least get a chance to establish himself in the team’s rotation.

C: #50 Emeka Okafor (82 Games, 10.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 56.2 FT Pctg., 53.0 FG Pctg.) – Acquired last offseason from Charlotte, Okafor came into New Orleans with a lot of expectations and didn’t deliver on any of them.  Whether it be because of injuries keeping him from training camp reps with the roster, him missing the entire preseason, him never developing a rapport with Paul, him being in and out of Jeff Bower’s rotations or any combination of those things, Okafor saw a career low 29 minutes per game last year and his production dropped as a result of it.  This offseason, however, Monty has said to be committing to getting Okafor the ball at a more consistent rate.  He’s still not going to blow anyone away as a low post option, but he’s durable and strong enough to where he can hold his own down in the paint and also be a viable defender around the rim.  He’ll never live up to his paycheck, but he is still an efficient enough option at the center position in the league and is arguably a top ten player at his position.  With Williams’ dedication to getting Okafor involved more with the team, we should see a more lively Okafor and, certainly, a more productive Okafor on the court for the Hornets.  A big season from him could make all the difference from this team being a fringe playoff contender to a very good Western Conference squad. 

#34 Aaron Gray (32 Games, 3.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 71.4 FT Pctg., 51.2 FG Pctg.) – Acquired from Chicago during last season for Devin Brown, the White Panther (as he’s affectionately known amongst Hornets fans), became the team’s best option as a reserve center immediately and did a fine enough job in that role to be given a new one year deal to keep the same position this year with the Hornets.  Gray is, at the very least, a big body down in the paint, although his lack of speed still allows elite centers that extra burst to the basket more often than not.  He lost a lot of weight this offseason (rumored around 30 pounds) and is still light on his feet and is good enough at holding his position around the basket, but Monty has been vocal in his desire for Gray to be quicker up and down the court.  Whether or not he can really change something like his speed remains to be seen, but Gray is still a good, if not very good, back-up center for the team.

#28 D.J. Mbenga (49 Games, 2.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 47.4 FT Pctg., 46.6 FG Pctg.) – Recently signed to a one year contract for this season, Congo Cash (the name his former Lakers teammates gave him), steps in as competition for Gray for the reserve center job.  Mbenga has had his cup of tea in the league.  He’s mainly a hustle guy, has never been a consistent player in a rotation, but at least has two championships with the Lakers to show for his stay in the league.  He’s 7 foot and he’s a decent rebounder, but I’m not sure how successful the team will be with Mbenga consistently getting heavy minutes.  At the very least, he’s a body to push Gray and keep him staying in shape and keep him competitive.  He’s another big body on the team, giving them three 7 footers on the bench.  Only problem is, none of the three seven footers are all that incredibly talented.

Head Coach: Monty Williams (First Head Coaching Job) – Monty Williams is the youngest head coach in the league.  While that’s pretty cool in terms of the potential stability he can bring to the team, realistically you have to expect some growing pains from a guy in his first year on the job.  He’s got an impressive pedigree.  After retiring as a player, Greg Popovich himself sought out Monty to be an assistant, and Monty won a ring as a member of the coaching staff for the 2005 Spurs team.  He’s done fantastic in terms of player development and defense for the past couple of years in Portland, and he’s a very young, very hungry, very promising head coach.  All things considered, he seems like a very good guy for the job.  He’ll have to deal with Chris Paul’s ego, he’ll have to deal with a roster that’s fairly young and inexperienced, and he’ll have to do it in his first year.  However, if everybody comes together really early, it’s nothing but a huge sign moving forward for the potential of this team.  I have faith in Monty’s abilities as the head coach.  But, being that it’s his first job, you still don’t really know what to expect.  Here’s to a promising first season.

Overall: The Hornets are bringing in eight new players this season.  Chemistry may be a very tough problem in the early stages of this season, but the team is young and talented enough to get past that.  If they hit a prolonged rough patch, we’ll see if anyone starts pouting, if Williams becomes inconsistent with his rotations, etc.  There are a lot of question marks with this team.  But the potential is there.  The way it’s assembled, this team isn’t a championship squad.  They simply don’t have the length to compete with the best teams in the league.  But they’re athletic enough to hustle on defense, talented enough to get the ball in the basket and, if healthy, they could really surprise teams this year.  People always write the Hornets off as some kind of one year fluke.  It should be noted that the only year the Hornets have not had any major injury problems in the past five years was that 2008 season.  Maybe that does or doesn’t mean that the team competes for the division title again, but there’s no reason that can’t be a realistic goal.  The Spurs, Rockets and Mavericks are obviously sexier choices for the division title, but the Hornets have the bodies to compete with any of them, and they have the best individual player out of any of those teams on their roster.  Paul’s attitude and commitment are huge, as is Monty’s ability to handle all of the new players on the roster.  But if this team gets off to a huge start, they could really do some damage.  Probably no more than a 5 seed or so, but definitely a playoff team none the less.  They’re most likely another year away from being serious threats, but that’s no reason that the team can’t be really good this year.
Posted on: May 21, 2010 1:46 pm
Edited on: May 21, 2010 1:50 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 6

I figured since I didn't do a playoff preview this season for each team as I did last year, I'll do a fun little countdown to this year's draft, since that's where my team is going to be instead of the postseason.  Would I be called a woman if I let you all know that I'm a little indecisive again?  After writing out an analyzing yesterday's submission, I kind of fell in love with that draft and wanted to immediately swap with this one at #6.  This is only the second time (out of five freakin' submissions) that I've wanted to switch something, right?  Not too bad?  Anyways, coming in at #6 on our countdown is the 2002 NBA Draft which features one of the most hyped foreign projects of all time, one of the greatest colleigate players of all time and a draft that, overall, followed 2001's trend and set a record with 17 international picks.  So here's numer six on our countdown.

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21869382?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
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#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
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#7: 2001 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
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#6: 2002 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Houston Rockets - Yao Ming, C, China
2) Chicago Bulls - Jay Williams, PG, Duke
3) Golden State Warriors - Mike Dunleavy, Jr., SF, Duke
4) Memphis Grizzlies - Drew Gooden, PF, Kansas
5) Denger Nuggets - Nikoloz Tskitishvili, C, Georgia (the country)
6) Cleveland Cavaliers - Dajuan Wagner, SG, Memphis
7) New York Knicks - Nene Hilario, C, Brazil (traded to the Nuggets)
8) Los Angeles Clippers - Chris Wilcox, PF, Maryland
9) Phoenix Suns - Amar'e Stoudemire, PF, Cypress Creek High School
10) Miami Heat - Caron Butler, SF, UConn

Overall, not a bad list of top ten players here at all.  It's not overwhelming, but it's pretty good.  Yao Ming came in with a lot of hype surrounding his 7'6" frame and the fact that he was from China.  He immediately took the league by storm, appearing in plenty of commercials and starting in the All Star game (because the fans in China voted for him of course) and has eventually become a great player for the Houston Rockets, although he's shown a tendency to be injury prone the last six years and may never play again because of feet injuries.  Jay Williams was such a terrific college player and you had to see him to understand how good he was.  He had a very inconsistent rookie season in Chicago before nearly losing his life in the offseason during a motorcycle crash (which voided his contract) that resulted in him shattering his pelvis, severing a main nerve in his leg and three torn ligaments including the ACL.  The Bulls were very classy about it and continued to pay him even though he was in direct violation of his contract by riding the bike.  Eventually, though, they released him the next season and Williams, although he tried, has never played in the NBA since.  Dunleavy has always been a good, never great, player that was run out of Golden State for his inconsistencies and has been the same inconsistent player in Indiana.  Gooden has managed to be a nice player in the league although he's already been with eight teams in his career.  Tskitishvili is one of the biggest busts in draft history and was just a horrible player on the court, only lasting four years in the league.  Wagner showed a lot of promise his rookie season as being an explosive scorer but suffered from ulcerative colitis and then had his entire colon removed before finally finding himself out of the league.  Nene was traded to the Nuggets and was instantly a very fun player to watch.  He's had problems with injuries his whole career but has still managed to be an effective and efficient player in the league.  Wilcox, meanwhile, has showed some promise but has never, ever put it together on the court.  He's still in the league, though.  Stoudemire was a big risk for Phoenix but he stepped in and showed a lot of potential right away.  He's now one of the big prized free agents in 2010.  Caron Butler, meanwhile, probably had the best rookie season out of all of them on a bad Miami team.  Butler's managed to become a really good player in this league as well. 

11) Washington Wizards - Jared Jeffries, PF, Indiana
12) Los Angeles Clippers - Melvin Ely, C, Fresno State
13) Milwaukee Bucks - Marcus Haislip, PF, Tennessee
14) Indiana Pacers - Fred Jones, SG, Oregon
15) Houston Rockets - Bostjan Nachbar, SF, Slovenia
16) Philadelphia 76ers - Jiri Welsh, SG, Czech Republic (traded to the Warriors)
17) Washington Wizards - Juan Dixon, SG, Maryland
18) Orlando Magic - Curtis Borchardt, C, Stanford (traded to the Jazz)
19) Utah Jazz - Ryan Humphrey, PF, Notre Dame (traded to the Magic)
20) Toronto Raptors - Kareem Rush, SG, Missouri (traded to the Lakers)

This is where the draft takes a horrible turn for the worse.  There isn't one good thing I can say about this entire bunch, except that Juan Dixon was a great colleigate player who, like Williams, you had to see to understand how good he was.  Jeffries and Dixon joined Washington as experienced college players after Washington was so criticized for the Kwame Brown selection the year prior.  However, they showed that experience isn't everything as Jeffries struggled to find a place in the league and eventually would up in New York on a very publically criticized contract.  Dixon, meanwhile, bounced around the league as a shooting specialist but is now no longer employed by the NBA.  Melvin Ely was lauded as being a great low post scorer but he couldn't do much more and he's no longer in the league.  Haislip has bounced in and out of the NBA his whole career and even had a stint with the Spurs this year before being cut.  Fred Jones participated in and won the 2004 Slam Dunk Contest, but that became the highlight of his career.  He's no longer in the league either.  Nachbar had some good years with the Nets and Hornets before going back to play overseas in 2008.  Welsh had his cup of tea as a shooter before fizzling out of the league by 2006.  Both Humphrey and Borchardt were traded for eachother, and neither team got anything out of them.  Borchardt and Humphrey both were out of the league by 2005 and showed absolutely nothing but his size.  Meanwhile Rush was seen as a three point specialist and has found a way to poke his head in and out of the league because of it but hasn't been a consistent rotation player since 2008 and is currently a free agent.

21) Portland Trail Blazers - Qyntel Woods, SF, Northeast Mississippi Community College
22) Phoenix Suns - Casey Jacobsen, SG, Stanford
23) Detroit Pistons - Tayshaun Prince, SF, Kentucky
24) New Jersey Nets - Nenad Krstic, C, Yugoslavia
25) Denver Nuggets - Frank Williams, PG, Illinois (traded to the Knicks)
26) San Antonio Spurs - John Salmons, SG, Miami (FL) (traded to the 76ers)
27) Los Angeles Lakers - Chris Jefferies, SF, Fresno State (traded to the Raptors)
28) Sacramento Kings - Dan Dickau, PG, Gonzaga (traded to the Hawks)

Save for a couple solid names, this draft, again, takes a huge turn for the worst.  Woods received a lot of Tracy McGrady comparisons but his legal problems only contributed to the "Jail Blazers" monicker and he was evnetually out of the league by 2006.  Jacobsen could do absolutely nothing but shoot and, as a result, was out of the league by 2005.  Tayshaun Prince has managed to become a consistent, steady defensive player.  He was eventually named a starter in his second year in the league where he won an NBA Championship with Detroit and has even won a Gold Medal with the 2008 USA Olympic Team.  Krstic showed a lot of promise in New Jersey before leaving to play overseas in 2008.  However, he came back just a few months later with the Oklahoma City Thunder and is now their starting center.  Frank Williams was involved in the draft night trade that brought Nene to Denver but Williams didn't have any success in New York and was out of the league by 2005.  Salmons has managed to become a really good player in the league, adding a three point shot to his ability to finish around the rim and has made a nice name for himself.  Conversely, Chris Jefferies had no success in Toronto, barely cracking the rotation and was gone by 2004.  Dickau being traded on draft night started a trend for him as he was traded eight different times (having his best season with that awful 2005 Hornets team) in his career but didn't get the hint and managed to stay in the league until 2008.

Round Two Notables:
30) Chicago Bulls - Roger Mason, Jr., SG, Virginia
33) Milwaukee Bucks - Dan Gadzuric, C, UCLA
34) Cleveland Cavaliers - Carlos Boozer, PF, Duke
40) Washington Wizards - Juan Carlos Navarro, PG, Spain
41) Milwaukee Bucks - Ronald Murray, SG, Shaw
45) Memphis Grizzlies - Matt Barnes, SF, UCLA
49) Boston Celtics - Darius Songaila, PF, Lithuania (traded to the Kings)
52) Miami Heat - Rasual Butler, SG, La Salle
55) San Antonio Spurs - Luis Scola, PF, Argentina

The second round, meanwhile, brings a bunch of names that probably trumps anything outside of Tayshaun Prince or Salmons drafted from 11-28.  Mason bounced around the league a little bit before finding a home in San Antonio last season.  However, he regressed this season and his future with the team is unknown.  Gadzuric has become an object of scorn in Milwaukee for his contract but, alas Bucks fans, the contract is expiring at the end of next season.  Boozer meanwhile had a great second season in Cleveland, was allowed out of his contract so that he could sign for a big deal with the Cavaliers, but then signed a bigger deal with the Utah Jazz, shocking the entire city of Cleveland.  Watch out y'all; he's a free agent this summer too.  Juan Carlos Navarro did not arrive in the NBA until 2007 and by then his rights were traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.  He made the NBA All-Rookie Second Team that year but didn't like it in the NBA, took a buyout and went back overseas.  Ronald "Flip" Murray has managed to bounce around the league as a good sixth man option and has been a good scorer for some decent playoff teams.  Matt Barnes took awhile to stick in the NBA but finally made himself a name in Golden State in 2007 and has, since, been a solid rotation player in the league.  Songaila had some good years with the Kings and a really good one year in Chicago before signing a huge deal with Washington.  He's still a solid rotation player; now with the Hornets.  Butler eventually became a three point specialist and cracked the starting rotations in Miami, New Orleans and with the Clippers.  Scola, meanwhile, was involved in a tricky buyout situation with his Euroleague team.  After the team continued to ask for ridiculous amounts of money, the Spurs eventually traded Scola's rights to Houston where he's now become a solid starter for a couple of good Rockets teams.

Notable Undrafted Players:
D.J. Mbenga, C, Republic of Congo - Signed with the Dallas Mavericks in 2004
J.R. Bremer, PG, St. Bonaventure - Signed with the Boston Celtics
Devin Brown, SG, UTSA - Signed with the San Antonio Spurs
Reggie Evans, PF, Iowa - Signed with the Seattle Supersonics
Udonis Haslem, PF, Florida - Signed with the Miami Heat in 2003
Jannero Pargo, PG, Arkansas - Signed with the Los Angeles Lakers
Smush Parker, PG, Fordham - Signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers

Not a bad list of eligible players who went undrafted in 2002 either.  Mbenga has managed to stay in the league because of his size, and I put him on the list for all of my loyal readers who are Lakers fans.  Just to tease all my loyal readers that are Lakers fans, I also decided to include Smush Parker's name although he's no longer in the league.  He managed to start a couple seasons for some Lakers squads that made the postseason.  Devin Brown eventually became a solid rotation player in San Antonio and won a championship with the Spurs in 2005.  Since then, he's bounced around the league but is still on Chicago's roster.  Reggie Evans became known for his rebounding, tenacity and hustle and that allowed him to be a solid role player in this league.  He's currently with the Toronto Raptors.  Udonis Haslem struggled with his weight before signing on with the Heat in 2003.  Eventually, he became a starter on the Heat team that won the 2006 NBA Championship.  Jannero Pargo, meanwhile, made a name for himself with the New Orleans Hornets but then went to play overseas in 2008.  He's since come back and is now on the bench for the Chicago Bulls.  Meanwhile Bremer managed to make the NBA All-Rookie Second Team but did absolutely nothing of note after that and was out of the league by 2004.

2002-2003 NBA Rookie of the Year: Amar'e Stoudemire
All Stars from the 2002 NBA Draft: Yao Ming, Amar'e Stoudemire, Caron Butler, Carlos Boozer

2002-2003 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Yao Ming
Amar'e Stoudemire
Caron Butler
Drew Gooden
Nene Hilario

2002-2003 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Manu Ginobili (who was originally drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 1999 before finally signing in 2002)
Gordan Giricek (who was originally drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1999 before finally signing with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002)
Carlos Boozer
Jay Williams
J.R. Bremer

Posted on: April 21, 2010 4:59 pm
 

Top Ten Postseason Moments of the Decade

Watching the playoffs always brings up memories of what you used to watch and enjoy in postseasons past.  Only being 22, my earliest NBA Finals memory dates back to what I consider the greatest NBA Finals series I've ever seen, the New York Knicks vs. the Houston Rockets in 1994.  But my peak playoff observing years didn't really happen until around 1998 or 1999. so to give the best comprehensive list I can, I'm doing off the top of my head and putting in order the top ten postseason moments of the last decade.  Now this can be at any series (first round, semifinals, conference finals and NBA Finals) and I'll date them to allow for more clarity on certain topics.  Hopefully fans from all teams will remember in agony, remember in bliss or us fans who cheered for teams without much postseason memories of the decade can remember moments that, even though we had no emotional attachment, just made us say "wow."  So here it is, GoHornets21's Top Ten Postseason Moments of the Decade.

10. Boston Celtics comebacks (from 21 down against the New Jersey Nets in Game 3 of the 2002 Conference Finals and from 21 down against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals) - In 2002, the Celtics were making their first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals since the glory days of the Larry Bird era in Boston.  Celtics fans were eager to see the team possibly match up against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals that season and a matchup with the New Jersey Nets left many thinking that it could happen.  After splitting the first two games in New Jersey, the series shifted to Boston for a crucial game 3 in the Eastern Conference Finals.  However, the Nets took a commanding lead through three quarters and were up by 21 going into the 4th quarter.  Paul Pierce would take over in the 4th quarter and lead the Celtics to outscoring the Nets by a score of 41-16 in the 4th quarter which would equal the biggest comeback in the history of the NBA postseason.  The Celtics, though, would not win another game in that series.  Fast forward six years later (a very long six years for Boston fans) and the Celtics finally made the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.  With the Celtics holding on a 2-1 series lead, a crucial game 4 in Los Angeles looked destined to take a turn for the worst when the Lakers jumped all over Boston in the 1st quarter, taking a 35-14 lead at the end of the first.  But just as he did six years prior, Paul Pierce would take over and the Celtics would end the 3rd quarter on a 21-3 run to cut the lead down to 2 entering the 4th quarter.  With 4:00 left in the 4th quarter, Boston's Eddie House would hit a shot to give the Celtics their first lead of the game, and would give Boston the lead for the good.  The huge come from behind win was the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history and would all but clinch the Celtics first NBA Championship in two decades. 

9. Steve Kerr's Game 6 performance versus the Dallas Mavericks (Game 6 of the 2003 Western Conference Finals) - Famous for hitting the final shot in the 1997 NBA Finals that gave the Chicago Bulls their fifth NBA Championship, Kerr had won four championships already as a member of the Bulls and the Spurs when he was on the bench for the Spurs in the 2003 Western Conference Finals.  The Spurs were facing a young, upstart Dallas Mavericks squad that was in the Conference Finals for the first time in 15 years.  After taking a 3-1 series lead, the Spurs were at home in game 5 and looked to close out the seemingly overmatched Mavericks.  But after Dallas shocked the Spurs in game 5 with an upset victory in San Antonio, the series shifted back to Dallas for game 6.  Hoping to send the series to a game 7 where anything can happen, the Mavericks came out and looked fantastic for three quarters and looked to have the Spurs on the ropes.  But then the Spurs turned to Steve Kerr in the third quarter, and Kerr would hit four three point shots to overtake the Mavericks and give the Spurs the lead.  Shellshocked, the Mavericks would fall apart in the 4th quarter and the Spurs would clinch the series and go on to win the NBA Championship.

8. Refereeing Controversies (Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat in Game 5 of the 2006 NBA Finals and Phoenix Suns vs. San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 of the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals) - Fans of three certain teams look at the postseason the last decade with great resentment.  Those fans are fans of the Mavericks, Suns and Kings.  In all three matchups, a crucial game would result ina  huge free throw disparity, questionable foul calls and create controversies that still exist to this day.  With the Kings up 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals against the two time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, a game 6 at Staples Center left the Lakers looking defeat in the eye.  With the Lakers at home, they would shoot 18 more free throws than the Kings in the fourth quarter for a four point victory and send the series back to Sacramento where the Kings would lose a game 7 in overtime.  Years later, former NBA official Tim Donaghy would suggest that the NBA fixed that game 6 to give another game in one of the best playoff series of all time.  A few years later, young NBA star Dwyane Wade would get superstar treatment during the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.  With the Mavericks up 2-0 in the NBA Finals and up by 13 with 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter in game 3, the Heat would stage a great comeback to steal game 3 and stay alive in the series.  In game 5, though, with the series tied at 2 apiece, Dwyane Wade would make 21 free throws, including two on a very questionable call with 1.9 seconds left in overtime, to win the series.  For their conduct after the game, Dirk Nowitzki and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban would be fined $5,000 and $250,000 respectively for their actions.  The Heat would eventually win the series in the sixth game.  In 2007, the Suns and the Spurs met up in the NBA playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons and would engage in one of the most personal playoff series of the decade.  After Amar'e Stoudemire accused the Spurs of being a dirty team, the teams would match up in San Antonio for game 3 with the series tied at 1 game apiece.  With contraversial referee Tim Donaghy at the helm for the game, the Spurs would receive a plethroa of questionable calls in their favor as San Antonio shot 36 free throws and 3 Suns starters finished with at least 5 fouls in a tightly contested game 3 victory which would give the Spurs a 2-1 series lead.  All games have left fans from each respective team bitter even to this day.

7. Tayshaun Prince's block on Reggie Miller (Game 2 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals) - Making the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season, the Detroit Pistons looked set to not squander another opportunity at an NBA Championship.  Matched up with the first seed Indiana Pacers, the Pistons were entering game 2 already having lost the first game in Indiana.  Looking to win a game at Conseco Fieldhouse, the Pistons were holding on to a slim lead in the final minute of game 2.  After receiving a fantastic outlet pass, Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller looked free for a laypu that would tie the game for the Pacers.  Out of nowhere, second year players Tayshaun Prince would catch up to Reggie and, seemingly at the last possible moment, reached out and swatter Miller's layup attempt and effectively gave the Pistons the game 2 victory.  The Pistons would eventually win the series after taking Game 2 jand Prince's block is the big reason why they did.

6. Robert Horry's Game 5 performance against the Detroit Pistons (2005 NBA Finals) - The 2005 NBA Finals, for anyone who watched it, was a terrific matchup of two of the most consistently successful teams of the decade in the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons.  The Spurs had already won two championships in 1999 and 2003 and the Pistons were the defending NBA Champions when the two matched up in 2005, making for a tough, tightly contested matchup between two defensive minded teams.  When the series was tied at 2 games a piece entering a critical game 5 in Detroit, things looked to finally get heated after four blowouts in the first four games of the series.  What ensued was utter chaos.  In a tightly contested game that featured 18 ties and 12 lead changes, the Spurs looked to Robert Horry off the bench, who did not score his first basket until the final play of the third quarter.  Then Horry took over.  Highlighted by a fantastic slam dunk and shooting 5 of 6 from the three point line, Robert Horry's final shot would prove to be a crippling blow to Detroit.  With the Spurs down by 2 in overtime, Horry would inbounds the ball to Manu Ginobili, and Rasheed Wallace would leave Horry to double Ginobili in the corner.  When he sensed this, Ginobili passed it back to Horry, who drilled a three pointer to give the Spurs the 96-95 victory and a 3-2 series lead in the NBA Finals.  Scoring 21 points off the bench (19 in the 4th quarter and OT), Horry turned in one of the greatest single game performances in NBA Finals history. 

5. LeBron James' Game 5 performance against the Detroit Pistons (2007 Eastern Conference Finals) - Now in the Eastern Conference Finals for the fifth straight season, the Pistons were matched up with a young, upstart Cleveland Cavaliers team that was led by 23 year old phenom LeBron James.  With the Pistons widely expected to use their experience to overmatch Cleveland and take the series, the Cavs shocked a lot of people to tie the series at 2 apiece heading to The Palace at Auburn Hills for a critical game 5.  Still expected to come through when it mattered, the Pistons and Cavs battled it out until the 4th quarter, when LeBron James, criticized the first two games of that series for being too complacent, would take over the game and will his Cavaliers to victory.  LeBron James would score 48 points in game 5, including the Cavaliers' final 25 points.  Again, he scored his team's finals 25 points.  LeBron would score all 18 of Cleveland's overtime points, including a dunk to tie the game and second it to a second overtime, and would then hit a layup with 2 seconds left in the second overtime to give the Cavs the 109-107 victory.  LeBron's performance shocked Detroit and the Cavs would close out the Pistons in game 6 and make the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. 

4. Robert Horry's buzzer beater against the Sacramento Kings (Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals) - Going back to the 2002 Western Conference Finals, the two defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and their bitter rival Sacramento Kings would match up in one of the most memorable series in NBA history.  With the Kings taking the first two games in Sacramento, they would lose game 3 in Los Angeles but still be primed to take control of the series if they could pull off a game 4 victory in Staples Center.  The Kings led by as many as 24 points in the first half before watching the Lakers slowly chip away at the lead.  On the court for the final possession, Horry, one of the NBA's historically clutch players, would see Lakers superstars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal miss consecutive shots to tie the game before Sacramento center Vlade Divac would hit the ball away from the basket, hoping for the clock to run out and allow the Kings to take the almost insurmountable 3-1 series lead.  Horry, though, was waiting and squared up, caught the ball and launched a three pointer that hit nothing but the bottom of the net to give the Lakers the 100-99 victory.  The Staples Center went nuts and the Kings looked shocked as Horry's shot tied the series at 2 games apiece.  The Lakers would eventually win the series in seven games, and his shot is the biggest reason why that happened. 

3. Golden State Warriors upset Dallas Mavericks (2007 Western Conference Quarterfinals) - After a heartbreaking defeat in the 2006 NBA Finals to the Miami Heat, the Mavericks claimed to be a team on a mission entering the 2007 season.  Reeling off an NBA best 67 victories, the Mavericks looked focussed, deep and talented enough to win the first championship in franchise history.  They were matched up in the first round with a Golden State Warriors team making their first appearance in 13 seasons and being led by former Mavericks head coach Don Nelson.  In a move that would beg largely criticized, Mavs coach Avery Johnson would try to match Nelson's small lineups instead of using his size advantage and the Warriors would take full advantage of it.  After losing the first game in Dallas, old skeletons of playoffs past would escape Dallas' closet and the Mavericks would enter a state of panic.  Despite winning games 2 and 5 in Dallas after a Warriors team led by Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson would implode and receive plenty of technicals, the Mavs could not win in Golden State, losing by a combined 47 points in those 3 games as the Warriors would shock the Mavericks and become the second 8th seed in NBA Playoff History to upset a first seeded team.  Johnson would eventually be fired the next year in Dallas and the Mavericks have still not removed the stigma from this series' lost (although they're looking to this season). 

2. Derek Fisher's shot with .4 left to beat the San Antonio Spurs (Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conferece Semifinals) - In the 2004 Western Conference Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antnio Spurs, winners of the NBA's last 5 Larry O'Brien Trophies, would match up in a very memorable series.  With the teams trading victories, the series would continue in San Antonio for a crucial game 5 tied at 2 apiece.  In a rough, physical, fantastic ball game, the Lakers took a 72-71 lead with 11 seconds remaining on a tough Kobe Bryant jumper.  The Spurs would get the ball back, and Tim Duncan would hit a falling fadeaway shot to give the Spurs the lead with 0.4 seconds left.  With 0.3 being the least possible amount of time for a team to get a shot off, the Lakers only had a catch and shoot option to try and pull off the victory in San Antonio.  With Gary Payton inbounding the ball, he would pass the ball in to Derek Fisher who somehow caught it, turned around and swished a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to give the Lakers the 74-73 victory and giving the Lakers the 3-2 series lead.  With game 6 in Staples, the Lakers would end the Spurs hopes at a repeat and would win the series, and eventually the Western Conference Championship as a result of Fisher's miraculous shot.

1. Detroit Pistons upset Los Angeles Lakers (2004 NBA Finals) - Notice how in moment number two, I only mentioned that the Lakers won the Western Conference Championship, and that was because they were matched up with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.  The Pistons (see Tayshaun Prince's block) had their own moments to make the finals, but looked out of their league against a Lakers team that included Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Shaquille O'Neal; four future hall of famers.  Making their fourth NBA Championship in five years (winning the previous three) and having home court advantage, the Pistons looked to be fodder for a Lakers team that was finally playing its best basketball of the season.  But the Pistons, with a great lineup of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace, and led by legendary coach Larry Brown, would not be scared in their matchup against the Goliath Lakers.  The Pistons would shock the Lakers and steal game 1 in Staples Center with an 87-75 victory to take home court advantage in the series.  Although Kobe Bryant would lead the Lakers to a game 2 victory to tie the series at 1, when the series shifted to Detroit, the Pistons took control and dominated the Lakers by 20, 8 and 13 points respectively to win the NBA Finals 4-1.  In what is considered by many the greatest upset in NBA History, the Pistons not only beat the Lakers, but completely dominated them for much of the five games that they played, leaving no doubt that it was a convincing victory for the Pistons. 

Posted on: April 16, 2010 2:05 pm
 

GoHornets21's 2010 First Round Playoff Preview

It's playoff time!  At this point, the stakes are high and offseason paychecks and inseason acquisitions are expected to be rewarded with postseason success and jobs will be secured and won with big playoff appearances.  There are a ton of great matchups and the NBA really got it right with the sixteen teams that made it.  There's not one matchup, maybe outside of Cleveland, that looks like it won't be a fantastic matchup.  But here we go, this is GoHornets21's 2010 First Round Playoff Preview.

Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Chicago Bulls - A really intriquing matchup here.  The Cavs ended this season with the most wins in the league for the second consecutive season.  The Bulls looked dead a few weeks ago, only to experience a resurgence and have straked their way into the postseason.  The Cavs have coasted for awhile now and LeBron James hasn't even played in a couple of weeks.  Likewise, the team will be integrating Shaquille O'Neal back into the lineup after missing two months with a right thumb injury.  The Bulls, though, are experiencing their own bit of inner turmoil after a reported confrontation between head coach Vinny Del Negro and VP of Basketball John Paxson dominated the headlines in Chicago.  The Bulls are playing great basketball, but they don't have the horses to keep up with Cleveland.  The fact that they have a head coach that, in all likelihood, won't be there next season doesn't do much to help the team's psychi.  Derrick Rose will make things interesting, this won't be a sweep, but Cleveland has time to get their players back, figure out their rotation and still win this series.
Predicton: Cavaliers in six.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Shaquille O'Neal - As mentioned earlier, the Cavaliers will be bringing Shaquille O'Neal back to the lineup in this series and his play is vital to the team moving forward.  How effective he is and how he plays will speak volumes about how things will unfold for the team in this series and in future series.  The team has played well without him, but his presence is still necessary down the road.  He must be effective.
Bulls Player to Watch: Kirk Hinrich - With Derrick Rose assuming a lot of responsibility for the team's chances of winning the series, the Bulls will look to Kirk Hinrich to step up and play huge this series.  His defense on Mo Williams will be important but he has to show a more consistent jump shot this series for the Bulls to have a chance to win.  It's not enough for him to just be out there on Williams.  He has to keep the Cavs honest on the offensive end and that will begin and end with him rediscovering his jumpshot.

(4) Boston Celtics. vs. (5) Miami Heat - A tough matchup to predict here.  Both teams have glaring weaknesses and considerable strenghs.  The Celtics have the championship experience from 2008 and say they're healthy for the first time this season.  However, they've really struggled the last two months of the regular season and if they didn't have their name, they'd receive no championship consideration.  Conversely, the Heat struggled earlier this season but, led by Dwyane Wade, the team looks to have its feet back under them.  They took advantage of a significantly easy stretch of games at the end of the season and can carry that momentum forward.  The home court would come into play in a 4/5 matchup, but the Celtics have lost 17 games at home this season.  They've never been more vulnerable.
Prediction: Heat in six
Celtics Player to Watch: Nate Robinson - A lot of the Celtics problems this season have had to do with the team's considerable age and thinning depth.  Robinson can play a huge role off the bench if given the chance and if he were to have a big series, there's no doubt the Cetlics would win.  He's been really inconsistent since going to Boston in February, but if he can find his stroke and some regular playing time, the Celtics will be a formidable team.
Heat Player to Watch: Michael Beasley - Beasley has been so aggravatingly inconsistent this season that a lot of people have just given up on him in Miami.  The Heat need that consistent second option that can help Wade and lead this team to victory.  Not only is Beasley the most talented option for the Heat, he's the only player the Celtics have no immediate answer for.  Paul Pierce will likely be busy with Dwyane Wade, which leads him matched up with the smaller Ray Allen or the slower Kevin Garnett.  If he takes advantage of that, the Heat will win this series.

(3) Atlanta Hawks vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks - Picked by many to be among the worst teams in the league this year, the Milwaukee Bucks surged this season under the guidance of Scott Skiles and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2006.  The franchise now has an identity in rookie guard Brandon Jennings and have responded well to added expectations as the season's progressed.  The Hawks, meanwhile, continue to steps towards becoming an elite franchise.  After making the playoffs for the first time in nine years in 2008, they won a playoff series last year and look to expand on that this season.  Their play all year gives no indication that's going to end.  The Bucks are at a huge disadvantage without center Andrew Bogut in the lineup and the team's lack of experience in the postseason together will give them troubles enough.  Skiles will keep his team competitive but it will catch up to them.
Prediction: Hawks in five
Hawks Player to Watch: Al Horford - With Bogut out, Horford will be matched up with the aging Kurt Thomas and the underachieving Dan Gadzuric.  With that kind of advantage inside, Horford can make it easier for the Hawks perimter shooting which will take the Bucks out of any game.
Bucks Player to Watch: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - Most likely will be assigned the dutie of guarding Joe Johnson.  His ability to do this well will allow John Salmons to conserve himself for the offensive end which is where he can really shine for the Bucks.  Considering the Bucks will need any offensive production they can get, it's important for Mbah a Moute to spell Salmons defensively.

(2) Orlando Magic vs. (7) Charlotte Bobcats - For the first time in the franchise's history, the Charlotte Bobcats are in the NBA postseason.  Their reward for making it, a date with the red hot defending Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic.  The Magic boast the league's deepest team top to bottom, but that may not always be a good thing in the postseason.  Coach Stan Van Gundy barely set on a rotation entering the postseason whereas the Bobcats have had to go with the best players available night in and night out.  Both teams have played well down the stretch and both have a ton of momentum heading into the series.  I expect Charlotte to play to its full potential this entire series and push the Magic to the limit.  But I still expect the Magic to advance.
Prediction: Magic in seven
Magic Player to Watch: Rashard Lewis - Always a matchup problem with his size and outside shooting, Gerald Wallace will probably be given the assignment of guarding Lewis which could really negate a lot of double teams down in the post on Dwight Howard.  Lewis has really struggled with his shot all season, but we saw last postseason that if Lewis is hitting his shots, the Magic are almost impossible to defend.
Bobcats Player to Watch: Tyson Chandler - Banged up the entire season, Chandler is the only big man capable of staying in front of Howard one on one defensively and will likely be given that assignment throughout the series.  He will be spelled by other big men on the Charlotte team but he's the best option for them offensively out of that group.  If Chandler has a big series, then the Magic could really be in for a fight.


Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Oklahoma City Thunder - A classic matchup of youth vs. experience here.  The Thunder are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005 (when the team was still in Seattle) and are in the playoffs as the youngest team in the NBA.  Facing them are the defending NBA Champions; who struggled in the last month of the regular season.  The Lakers are banged up across the board and look vulnerable here in the postseason and the Thunder are young, fearless and dynamic across the board.  But what is the Lakers biggest strength, size, is the Thunder's biggest weakness.  Unfortunately, the Thunder are a bit overmatched in their first playoff series going up against the champs.
Prediction: Lakers in six
Lakers Player to Watch: Andrew Bynum - As mentioned earlier, the Lakers biggest strength is their size, but that's only true when Bynum's in the lineup.  Expected to play in the playoffs, Bynum's production will be all gravy for the Lakers as the Thunder have nobody to matchup with him inside.  Coming off an injury, though, he may struggle (as he did last postseason) so his production is still important to the Lakers success.
Thunder Player to Watch: James Harden - If Harden continues to be effective off of the bench for the Thunder, he gives the team what the Lakers don't have, and that's someone over the bench who can take over games offensively.  With Bynum expected to be brought along slowly form his injury, Lamar Odom will get a lot of minutes and that leaves the rest of the bench largely ineffective.  Because of this, Harden alone can make all the difference in the second units which prevent the Lakers from every running away with a game. 

(4) Denver Nuggets vs. (5) Utah Jazz - Two really tough teams to figure out go to battle in this series.  The Nuggets have really struggled ever since George Karl's unfortunate cancer diagnosis back in February and have gone through moments where they looked like the same, immature, selfish Nuggets of years past.  The Jazz have gone through stretches this season where they look great, stretches where they look bad, and stretches where they just look lost.  Add Carlos Boozer to the team's indecisiveness, as he's a game time decision for the playoff opener.  However, I think the Nuggets longer spell of mediocrity is a sign of things to come with Dantley at the helm, and unfortunately they really miss their general.
Prediction: Jazz in six
Nuggets Player to Watch: Kenyon Martin - If he's matched up against Carlos Boozer or Paul Millsap, Martin, still recovering from an injury of his own, will be important to stopping the Jazz pick and roll and containing their best big man.  Martin did fantastic in the playoffs last year and was a huge reason why the team went to the Western Conference Finals.  For them to advance, they need Martin to have a similar impact this season.
Jazz Player to Watch: Mehmet Okur - With Boozer's injury in question, Mehmet Okur's production will be important for the Utah Jazz.  Because Martin will get the assignment down low, Okur will be left alone offensively mainly with Nene guarding him, which gives him a quickness advantage to go along with his lethal shooting ability.  Okur showed last season that he can produce with Boozer out of the lineup, and if he struggles the Jazz will look to him for big buckets.  He's played well during the home stretch of the season, and the Jazz need that to continue into the playoffs.

(3) Phoenix Suns vs. (6) Portland Trail Blazers - Probably the NBA's hottest team, the Phoenix Suns finally look like a formidable team again for the first time in a few seasons.  Now with an added attitude on defense, the Suns look as complete as they ever have since the seven seconds or less days.  Still lethal on offense, the Suns will follow Steve Nash's lead in hopes of taking advantage of a Bradon Roy-less Trail Blazers squad.  Without Roy, the Blazers will look to other players to step up; as they have all season long battling the injuries the team has.  However, they look to be too overmatched against Phoenix at this point in time.
Prediction: Suns in five
Suns Player to Watch: Louis Amundson - With Roy out for the series, LaMarcus Aldridge becomes the only consistent offensive threat for Portland and Phoenix will have a tough time matchup up with him.  Amar'e Stoudemire, even though he's playing fantastic ball of late, is still poor defensively and Robin Lopez's injury limits what the team can do to slow down Aldridge.  Because of this, Lou Amundson's production off of the bench defensively will be counted on in this series.  Anything he can do to rough up Aldridge or limit second chance points will go a long way towards helping the Suns advance.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: Jerryd Bayless - Earlier this season with Roy out, Bayless had the best game of his young career while spelling Roy.  Bayless was a huge prospect when he was drafted by Portland, but has struggled to find his niche yet with the team.  With Roy out again, the onus will be on Bayless to take the responsibility and live up to his lottery selection.  If the Blazers continue to get poor production out of him, this will be a quick series.

(2) Dallas Mavericks vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs - Another intriguing matchup, the Mavericks and Spurs face off in a rematch of last year's playoff series, where the Mavericks upset the Spurs in five games.  The Spurs have battled injuries all season long but finally look to have everyone, minus a hobbled George Hill, back for the playoffs.  The Mavericks, meanwhile, made a huge deal at the all star break to acquire Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood in hopes of finally winning that elusive championship.  Division rivals matching up in the postseason always leaves a bit of a mystery as to how the games will play out.  Both teams are stacked top to bottom, but the Spurs are the one team with the size to match up with the Mavericks.  Who on Dallas has an answer for Manu Ginobili?  This should be a fun series but I see the Spurs shocking Dallas in game seven on their home court.
Prediction: Spurs in seven
Mavericks Player to Watch: Jose Juan Barea - Last postseason, J.J. Barea was my player to watch for this series and was a huge difference maker for the Mavericks as the Spurs had no answer for him without Ginobili in the lineup.  Now that the Mavericks have added Butler to the lineup, not a lot is expected out of Barea and I think the lack of pressure will help him.  Along with Jason Terry (who you know will produce), Barea can make the difference in the second unit for Dallas and can really help separate the Mavericks from the Spurs if he plays well. 
Spurs Player to Watch: Matt Bonner - Last season, Bonner was a starter for the Spurs team that fell in five games to the Mavericks as he and Roger Mason Jr. struggled with their shot the whole series and the Spurs just couldn't get production offensively.  Now on the bench, Bonner has found his groove shooting the ball as of late and can make a huge difference for the Spurs if he's knocking down his shots.  They'll count on him again and I think last year's struggles will help him this season.  Look for Bonner to make a difference off the bench for the Spurs.

Posted on: May 30, 2009 4:39 am
 

Best 2nd Round Selections of Draft Lottery Era

Coming off of ranking the top draft picks in NBA's history, I thought it would be fun to go back and look at those guys who are quietly selected in the 2nd round. Usually when the 2nd round comes on, the televisions are turned off and people stop taking notice. As a fan, you may look at the player your team selected the next day and scratch your head at the unfamiliarity, but sometimes these players turn out to be fantastic additions to some very important squads. With there being no love for the 2nd rounders, I thought I would compose a list of the top 15 2nd round draft picks in NBA history during the Draft Lottery Era. Before 1989, drafts would go longer than 2 rounds so to give love to those picked later than normal, I'm including those who were selected after the 2nd round as well.

15) Mario Elie, G, Milwaukee Bucks drafted 160th Overall in 1985 NBA Draft out of American International College (732 Games, 8.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.6 APG) - Drafted in the 7th round in the 1985 NBA Draft, Elie didn't automatically get to play in the NBA. Becoming a playground legend in New York, nicknamed "The Jedi", Elie would then go on to play in many international leagues in the Portugese League, World Basketball League and spending two years in the CBA, all while trying to get into the NBA. Elie eventually played his first games in 1991 with the Golden State Warriors. After spending two successful seasons with the Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers, Elie would sign with the Houston Rockets and his career would take off. Nicknamed "The Junk Yard Dog", Ellie would be a key reserve and incredibly clutch shooter for two NBA Championship teams for the Rockets in 1994 and 1995. Elie's most famous shot is probably the shot that eleminated the Phoenix Suns in game 7 of the 1994 Western Conference Semifinals. Elie would start in the 1995 NBA Finals for the champion Houston Rockets and would leave to sign with the San Antonio Spurs in 1998. After signing with the Spurs, Elie started at shooting guard and helped the Spurs win their first NBA Championship with the same defense and late game shooting that made him so effective in Houston. Elie would then spend one more year with the Phoenix Suns before retiring in 2001. Elie currently serves as an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks.

14) P.J. Brown, F-C, New Jersey Nets drafted 29th Overall in 1992 NBA Draft out of Louisiana Tech University (1,089 Games, 9.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 BPG) - Leaving Louisiana Tech as the school's 2nd place all time blocked shots leader and 5th place all time rebounds leader, Brown would be drafted by the New Jersey Nets with the first pick in the 2nd round of the 1992 NBA Draft. Electing to play in Greece his rookie season instead of signing with the Nets, Brown would be very successful for Panionios for only one season before signing with the Nets. Brown would immediately become a key defensive big man for the Nets during a 1994 playoff run before signing with the Miami Heat in 1996. While with the Heat, Brown and Alonzo Mourning keyed one of the best defensive frontcourts in the NBA and would routinely lead Miami to the NBA Postseason. Void of postseason success, however, the Heat would try to shape things up and win a championship by trading Brown to the Charlotte Hornets. While with Charlotte, P.J. Brown became a fan favorite for his quiet demeanor and strong, physical play and would eventually get to play in his hometown of New Orleans when the Charlotte Hornets moved there in the 2002 offseason. P.J. Brown would continue to be a very servicable player for New Orleans before being traded to the Chicago Bulls. It looked as if that would be the end of Brown's career, but Brown signed with the Boston Celtics midway through the 2007-2008 season and would be the team's best reserve big man en route to finally winning that elusive NBA Championship. Brown never officially announced his retirement but did not sign with anybody during the 2008-2009 season and is rumored to want to get into coaching.

13) Cuttino Mobley, SG, Houston Rockets drafted 41st Overall in 1998 NBA Draft out of University of Rhode Island (747 Games, 16.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.2 SPG) - After playing colleigately at Rhode Island and teaming with Lamar Odom to lead the Rams to an Elite 8 appearance, the sharp shooting Cuttino Mobley would be drafted in the second round by the Houston Rockets in 1998. After being drafted in the second round, something Mobley took personally, he worked to become a starter for the Rockets for the majroity of his rookie season. He and Steve Francis eventually formed a dynamic offensive duo for the Rockets and Mobley would emerge as the guy who drew the assignment of guarding the other team's best swingman. After averaging over 15 points a game for seven straight seasons, Mobley would be traded to the Magic and then from the Magic to the Kings before signing with the Los Angeles Clippers. Once in Los Angeles, Mobley helped the Clippers win their first postseason round in franchise history in 2006. He would later be traded to the New York Knicks and during his physical for the Knicks, he was found to have an irregular heart condition. The heart condition killed former NBA player Reggie Lewis and Mobley, taking precaution, announced his retirement from basketball after finding out the condition.

12) Antonio Davis, PF, Indiana Pacers drafted 45th Overall in 1990 NBA Draft out of University of Texas in El Paso (903 Games, 10.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.1 APG) - After being drafted in the 2nd round by the Pacers, Davis would elect to play in Europe from 1990 until 1993. After signing with the Indiana Pacers in 1993, Davis would immediately become an extremely productive sixth man and would give the team energy, defensive effort and strong physicality around the basket, quickly winning over fans and coaches alike. Although he played five strong seasons with Indiana, Davis' best days came when he was traded to the Toronto Raptors for the draft rights to Jonathan Bender. After going to Toronto, Davis would be named to the 2001 Eastern Conference All Star Team and would routinely pick up double doubles over a season's span. Davis was eventually traded to the Bulls and wound up on the Knicks before heading back to Toronto for his 13th season. After playing only eight games in his return with Toronto, Davis would start to suffer from a chronic back injury. The injury eventually forced him to retire in 2006.

11) Cedric Ceballos, F, Phoenix Suns drafted 48th Overall in 1990 NBA Draft out of California State University in Fullerton (609 Games, 14.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.2 APG) - An offensively potent player for Cal State Fullerton, Ceballos was drafted by the Phoenix Suns and immediately worked his way to being an offensive threat off of the bench for some successful Phoenix teams. In 1993, Ceballos lead the NBA in field goal percentage and was the sixth man for a Suns team that went to the 1993 NBA finals. Ceballos would receive more playing time in the 1993-1994 season and started averaging above 19 points a game with the Suns. After signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, Ceballos would take the team by storm averaging above 20 points a game in his only two full seasons with Los Angeles and also winning the 1995 Slam Dunk Contest. Ceballos would be traded back to Phoenix and would eventually be a reserve for Phoenix, Dallas, Detroit and Miami before leaving the NBA in 2001.

10) Clifford Robinson, F, Portland Trail Blazers drafted 36th Overall in 1989 NBA Draft out of University of Connecticut (1,380 Games, 14.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG) - As a very balanced very successful player for the UConn Huskies, Robinson would be drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers and immediately become one of the best sixth men in the league. A tall player capable of playing either position and scoring from anywhere on the floor, Robinson would be a key contributor to two Western Conference Champion teams in Portland and would win the 1993 NBA Sixth Man of the Year with Portland. After spending eight years with Portland, Robinson would go on to have similar success in Phoenix, notching a 50 point game at the age of 33 with Phoenix. After routinely leading the Suns in scoring for some successful teams that reached the postseason, Robinson would go on to become a starter for the Pistons and Warriors before finishing his career as a reserve for the Nets. At the tail end of his career Robinson would be suspended on two separate occasions for testing positive for marijuana. Robinson would retire in 2007 and would, then, have his jersey number retired by the historic UConn Huskies.

9) Stephen Jackson, G-F, Phoenix Suns drafted 43rd Overall in 1997 NBA Draft out of Oak Hill Academy High School (599 Games, 15.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.3 SPG) - After commiting to the University of Arizona, Jackson would be deemed academically ineligible and be kicked out of the school in his freshman season. After spending one semester at Butler Community College, but not playing basketball, Jackson would declare for the 1997 NBA Draft. Even though he was drafted, Jackson would not make the final roster for Phoenix and would then spend three seasons around the world, playing in the CBA, NBL and in Venezuela and the Domincan Republic. Jackson would eventually sign with the New Jersey Nets in the 2000 NBA offseason and would be a productive reserve for the Nets during the 2000-2001 season. After his contract went up, Jackson would sign with the San Antonio Spurs and under the tutelage of Greg Popovich, would eventually work his way towards becoming the team's starting shooting guard for their 2003 NBA Championship run hitting numerous critical shots for the Spurs along the way in the postseason. After winning that championship, Jackson tried to cash in on his success but received a limited amount of offers. He would sign a one year deal with Atlanta, turning himself into an extremely productive player with the Hawks and turning that into a six year deal with the Indiana Pacers. While in Indiana, Jackson would become involved in many on and off the court troubles including being suspended in the infamous Pistons Pacers brawl. Jackson was traded to the Golden State Warriors and right away would go back to his clutch postseason performances by helping the Warriors pull of the upset of heavily favored Dallas in the 2007 NBA First Round. Jackson's continued to steadily increase his production with the Warriors and is one of the most tenacious, if not troubled, successful players in the league.

8) Gilbert Arenas, G, Golden State Warriors drafted 31st Overall in 2001 NBA Draft out of University of Arizona (433 Games, 22.8 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.8 SPG) - After leaving the Arizona Wildcats following his sophomore season, Arenas would be deemed a shaky prospect without much potential, lacking the size to be a shooting guard and lacking the ball handling skill to be a legitimate point guard. Because of this, Arenas was passed over by every team in the first round but would then be drafted by the Golden State Warriors. After spending his rookie season working hard towards becoming a superstar, Arenas would get his chance and in his second year in the league would win the 2003 NBA Most Improved Player of the Year award, quickly becoming one of the best young scorers in the league. Arenas turned his second season into a long term deal with the Washington Wizards where his performances became some of the most popular clips in sports. Combining a fantastic knack for scoring the basketball with clutch shooting and a vibrant personality, Arenas would quickly become one of the most popular players in the league. After leading the Wizards to the postseason two straight seasons, even winning a first round matchup for the first time in over a decade for Washington. However, after following that with successful individual seasons for the Wizards, Arenas would be experiencing his best NBA Season in 2006-2007 when with eight games left in the season, Gerald Wallace accidentally fell into Arenas' leg. Arenas then missed the postseason and would only play 13 games the following season for the Wizards, although he did try and play for the team in the postseason. After opting out of his contract with Washington and signing a new, huge long term deal for the Wizards, Arenas would only play two games in the first year of his contract after another knee operation. It's unknown whether Arenas will ever return to the exciting style of basketball that made him so popular as he's struggled to get on the court for the past three seasons.

7) Michael Redd, G, Milwaukee Bucks drafted 43rd Overall in 2000 NBA Draft out of Ohio State University (550 Games, 20.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG) - Leading the Ohio State Buckeyes to the final four in his junior season, Redd had been the driving force for Ohio State's offense all three of his colleigate seasons for the Buckeyes. After his junior season, Redd declared for the 2000 NBA Draft and was taken by the Milwaukee Bucks. Redd rarely played in his rookie season but played so hard in practice and continued to work on his jump shot so in his second season, coach George Karl offered to give Redd more minutes. Redd responded with solid production and was then given a starting job for the Bucks. By his fourth season in the league, Redd became one of the best shooting guards in the league, becoming deadly effective from the three point line and also routinely leading the Bucks in scoring. He would be rewarded for his efforts with a six year deal from Milwaukee. Redd won a Gold Medal with the USA Olympic Basketball Team in 2008 and has been the best player on two Bucks teams that have made the postseason. He still has many solid years ahead of him and looks to continue to be an effective offensive force in the NBA

6) Jeff Hornacek, G, Phoenix Suns drafted 46th Overall in 1986 NBA Draft out of Iowa State University (1,077 Games, 14.5 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.4 SPG) - The son of a basketball coach, Hornacek wasn't even given a scholarship to play college basketball and walked on to the Iowa State Cyclones' basketball team. However, shortly after being redshirted by Iowa State, Hornacek would begin to receive huge minutes and would lead Iowa State to the sweet sixteen in his senior season. Hornacek finished his colleigate career as the Big 8 all-time leader in assists. Hornacek would work his way into Phoenix's rotation and would become a legitimate star and scoring force for Phoenix during his stay there. One of the best pure shooters in the league's history, Hornacek would prove to be deadly from three point range and from the free throw line and would average 20 points a game in his last season with Phoenix. He would be traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Charles Barkley, but was moved to point guard and the transition was not met with much success. As a result, Philadelphia would trade Hornacek to the Utah Jazz where he could return to his shooting guard position. As a member of the Utah Jazz, Hornacek would prove to be a crucial player on two Western Conference Champion Jazz teams. After battling knee problems, Hornacek would retire from the NBA in 2000 and would have his jersey number retired by the Utah Jazz.

5) Mark Price, G, Dallas Mavericks drafted 25th Overall in 1986 NBA Draft out of Georgia Tech University (722 Games, 15.2 PPG, 6.7 APG, 2.6 RPG, 1.2 SPG) - Despite the fact that Price was an extremely successful player at the colleigate leve, his size and skill level was routinely criticized prior to the 1986 NBA Draft. As a result, Price was not taken in the first round and was instead selected as the first pick of the 2nd round. After being drafted by the Mavericks, Price's rights were immediately traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers who made Price their starting point guard in his second season and became a very successful Eastern Conference team. Known best for his fantastic shooting touch, Price finished his career with career averages of 90.4 % and 40 % from the free throw and three point line, respectively. Price would finish as Cleveland's franchise leader in assists and steals and was named an NBA All Star on four different occasions. Injuries started to plague Price at the end of his career and he was traded to the Washington Bullets in 1995. However, he would bounce around and play for four teams his final four seasons before retiring due to those injuries in 1998.

4) Anthony Mason, F, Portland Trail Blazers drafted 53rd Overall in 1988 NBA Draft out of Tennessee State University (882 Games, 10.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.4 APG) - Seen by many as too slow to play the small forward position and too small to play the power forward position, Mason was not drafted until the 53rd selection in the 1988 NBA draft, but would not last with the Portland Trail Blazers before being released. After being released, Mason played in the CBA, USBL, in Turkey and in Venezuela before coming back to the NBA and signing on with various teams, usually only lasting as a team's 12th man off the bench. Mason started to gain muscle and strength to make up for his lack of size and would sign with the New York Knicks in 1991. After signing with the Knicks, Pat Riley helped turn Mason into one of the most feared defenders in the NBA and he quickly blossomed in New York, becoming a key contributor on a team that went to the 1994 NBA Finals. In 1995, Mason would win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award before being traded to the Charlotte Hornets. While in Charlotte, Mason made an All NBA Third Team and also would routinely make NBA All Defensive Teams. Mason would reunite with Pat Riley in Miami and would help the Heat make the playoffs despite the kidney ailment to Alonzo Mourning that kept Mourning out of 69 games that season. Mason would end his career on a sour note, signing with Milwaukee and being blamed for many chemistry problems on that team. Mason would pubicly battle with coach George Karl and also struggle with his weight. The Bucks would miss the postseason that year and Mason would quickly be benched. He played one more season in Milwaukee but quietly retired in 2003.

3) Drazen Petrovic, G, Portland Trail Blazers drafted 60th Overall in 1986 NBA Draft out of Yugoslavia (290 Games, 15.4 PPG, 2.4 APG, 2.3 RPG) - Billed as a Yugoslavian Michael Jordan, Petrovic would turn pro for BC Sibenka at the age of 15 before having to leave for two years after turning 18 to serve in the military. Once his service was done, Petrovic would go on to to play for BC Cibona Zagreb and would win the European Cup Title. By the time he was drafted in 1986, Petrovic had already won an Olympic Bronze Medal and was already a national sensation. After signing with Portland in the 1988 offseason, the confident Petrovic boasted that a lack of playing time would be the only factor that could ruin his NBA experience. Sitting behind Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter, Petrovic rarely played and the reigning European Player of the Year vocally spoke up about his lack of playing time. After demanding a trade, midway through his second season, Petrovic was traded to the New Jersey Nets where he took off. Petrovic would perform fine with increased minutes with New Jersey, but in his first full season with the Nets Petrovic averaged over 20 points a game and became an unstoppable offensive force. The year after, Petrovic again increased his scoring average and would shoot over 52 percent from the field and 45 percent from three point range. As a result, Petrovic was named to the All NBA Third Team. In the 1993 NBA offseason, rumor has it that Petrovic was unhappy with his teammates and was contemplating returning to Europe. However, at the age of 28, Petrovic would be killed in a car crash. Posthumuously, Petrovic was enducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

2) Dennis Rodman, F, Detroit Pistons drafted 27th Overall in 1986 NBA Draft out of Southeastern Oklahoma State University (911 Games, 7.3 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 1.8 APG ) - An eccentric personality with an even wilder game on the court, Dennis Rodman went from an offensively challenged athlete on Detroit's bench to their defensive force against all things offensively from the opposition. Very long and limber and an agile, graceful athlete, Rodman perfected the art of rebounding the basketball and took on the assignment of guarding the opposing team's best player, regardless of position, and did so better than anybody in the league. After winning two NBA Championships with the Detroit Pistons in 1989 and 1990, Rodman would go on to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award in two consecutive seasons, once in the Pistons' 1990 second championship season and again in 1991. After falling out of favor in Detroit due to the departure of Chuck Daily and alot of the original "Bad Boys", Rodman was traded to the San Antonio Spurs and began to become more of a sideshow than a player. While in San Antonio, he would start to trademarkedly dye his hair before every game and even dated Madonna, prompting the pop icon to appear at games at San Antonio's Alamodome. Due to the fact that San Antonio was a very conservative city and a very calm, quiet team, Rodmany openly clashed with David Robinson, Chuck Person and coach Brian Hill. As a result, Rodman was traded to the Chicago Bulls who, under coach Phil Jackson, found a way to tame Rodman and allow him to be himself as long as he was hisself on the court. Rodman would then become a starter on three additional championship teams for the Bulls, although some of his on court and off court shenangians continued to overshadow his play on the court. He had consecutive one year stints with the Lakers and Mavericks before dissapearing from the league in 2000.

1) Manu Ginobili, G, San Antonio Spurs drafted 57th Overall in 1999 NBA Draft out of Argentina (478 Games, 14.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.5 SPG) - In a story very similar to Petrovic's, Manu Ginobili was largely unknown when the Spurs took the Argentinan and Italian league star in the second round of the 1999 NBA Draft. Due to the fact that he was still under contract in Italy, Ginobili stayed in Europe and won the 2001 Italian Championship, 2001 and 2002 Italian Cups and the 2001 Euroleague while also being named the 2001 Euroleague's Final Four MVP. Ginobili then outshined the entire world in the 2002 FIBA World Championships and promptly signed in the 2002 offseason with the San Antonio Spurs. As a rookie, Ginobili immediately won fans over with his hustle, penchant for big plays and infectuous style of basketball and was the sixth man on a Spurs team that won it's second championship in franchise history. After resigning with the Spurs following his second season, Ginobili showed signs of becoming a breakout star. Annualy picking up his game in the postseason, Ginobili was arguably the Spurs best player during their 2005 NBA Championship Run and continued to take on the role of Sixth Man off the bench for the Spurs, winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 2008. Ginobili continued to come up big for the Spurs in the postseason and won his third championship with San Antonio in 2007. Because of his style of play and age, Ginobili's body is already starting to show signs of slowing down but Ginobili himself won't. It'll be interesting to see how he comes back from injury, but Ginobili is arguably the best second round draft pick in NBA history.

Posted on: May 3, 2009 3:34 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:44 pm
 

2009 NBA Postseason First Round Review

My Postseason Preview - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

entry/5993128/14555500


Eastern Conference
(1)
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons - The Cavs came into the postseason determined and really took it to Detroit in all areas of the game.  Defensively the Pistons had no answer for LeBron James and the anemic play of their three stars (Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace) resulted in just absolute destruction from beginning to end. 
My Prediction: Cavaliers in five
Result: Cavaliers in four
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that the opposite ends at which these teams were entering the postseason was going to affect how they could perform.  The Pistons frontcourt was small enough to where the Cavs' lack of size wouldn't be such a flaw. 
Where I Was Wrong: I mentioned that the Pistons would be competitive in their games in Detroit and that Mo Williams would probably struggle in this series.  Williams' shot was inconsistent but for the most part he was solid as the team's second option.  The Pistons never really posed much of a threat to Cleveland aside from the first half of game one in Cleveland.  It was sad to watch that proud franchise go out the way it did.

(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Miami Heat - This series has been really bad to watch because it hasn't given us great basketball from either team.  For three games the Hawks have played terrific defense, for three games the Heat have taken it to the basket and gotten to the line and have made their three point shots.  Neither team has shown any kind of consistency and the fact that it's gone to seven isn't fitting, seeing as how there hasn't been much competition or consistency from either squad.
My Predicton: Hawks in seven
Result: Hawks in seven
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that Al Horford would be huge for Atlanta and would most likely have a very good series against Miami.  His injury may have slowed him down near the end of the series but he really was the difference as the Heat had no options down low.  I stated that home court would be crucial in this series and, although both teams dropped one game at home, the fact that game seven was in Atlanta was the difference between these two teams. 
Where I Was Wrong: I looked for every home team to win and was wrong in stating that would happen.  I envisioned this series being the best in the entire postseason and it's been one of the more unwatchable ones from start to finish.

(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers - This series was highlighted by three buzzer beating shots and gave plenty of tough basketball from both teams.  Dwight Howard's lack of touches in the clutch got plenty of attention and Stan Van Gundy's pose on the sidelines was brought into question multiple times throughout the series.  All that considered, the Magic's two losses were by buzzer beaters where three of their victories were convincing victories.
My Prediction: Magic in six
Result: Magic in six
Where I Was Right: I stated that Andre Iguodala would have to basically do it by himself if the 76ers were to win and stated he'd be unable to do so.  He got contributions from Andre Miller but Iguodala never commanded attention as the best player on the team, and he needed to be for them to win.  I figured Samuel Dalembert and Theo Ratliff would be left one on one with Howard but stated that it would be for naught if Howard was assertive.  Also, I figured Turkoglu would struggle due to the injury, although it was probably his shot selection that was more questionable.
Where I Was Wrong: Not to sound cocky but my preview was pretty spot on, although I stated it would be the least interesting series and this postseason was full of uninteresting series.  So I guess I was wrong in that regard.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls - If not for this series, the first round would have been full of uninteresting, unmotivated players and performances.  However, both teams here played fantastic basketball from start to finish and really brought out the best in eachother.  It had theatrics on the bench, the young upstart squad versus the defending champions, fantastic buzzer beaters and tremendous basketball.  It's a shame one of these squads had to lose, but the Celtics earned this on the court.
My Prediction: Celtics in seven
Result: Celtics in seven
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that Rajon Rondo would be huge in this series as it was important for him to win the one on one battle with Derrick Rose with Kevin Garnett on the bench.  I also stated that Rose would be key for the Bulls if they were to win, and both of those guards did not dissapoint.  I also mentioned that the fact that the Bulls weren't great scoring in the point wouldn't be exposed because of Garnett's absence, and they managed to allow big men like Brad Miller and Tyrus Thomas shoot jumpers from all areas on the court.
Where I Was Wrong: I mentioned that the Celtics would win on the defensive end, but they actually won by outscoring the offensive Bulls.  I was surprised they went that route, but it looked as if they had no other options.  Either way, the Celtics still found ways to win and I figured they would.

Western Conference
(1)
Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Utah Jazz - From start to finish the Jazz looked out of place on the court with the Lakers.  They played hard but their bad play down the stretch continued on the defensive end here in the first round.  Andrew Bynum's comeback looked very promising at the end of the season, but his play in this series could bring future questions for the Lakers in the postseason.
My Prediction: Lakers in five
Result: Lakers in five
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that Lamar Odom would be huge for the Lakers as he consistently dominates Utah when he's in the game and by the end of the series he was starting in place of Andrew Bynum.  I also mentioned that nobody outside of Deron Williams was playing consistent ball for Utah and that it was on Carlos Boozer to step up and help them matchup with Los Angeles. 
Where I Was Wrong: I did mention that every game would be tough and that the Lakers would have to fight to win, but the Lakers really took it to them from start to finish.  Unfortunately for Utah they just never had a chance in this series and it took an attrocious shooting night in game 3 from Kobe Bryant for them to steal one game in the series.

(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Houston Rockets - Coming into the series, the Trail Blazers were the popular pick to make a run at the Lakers and give them trouble in the semifinals, and they proceeded to get destroyed in game 1 on their home court.  After that loss, they never gained any momentum in this series and it never felt like they'd have a chance to win. 
My Prediction: Trail Blazers in six
Result: Rockets in six
Where I Was Right: I did mention that Houston was more talented but that it would all be mental with them.  I guess I was at least right that the Rockets were the more talented bunch.
Where I Was Wrong: I mentioned that Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla would give Yao Ming fits and Ming just took it to them and was unstoppable around the basket.  I also mentioned that the fact the Rockets didn't have Tracy McGrady would hurt, since I assumed they'd have no one to take the shots in the clutch.  But Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, Shane Battier and Ron Artest went and gave them critical baskets in stretches when they needed them.  They had a "closer by committee" and that worked against Portland.  I also stated that the Rockets would mentally question if they could win this series, and there wasn't a more confident bunch in the entire first round of the playoffs. 

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks - This series pitting two division rivals against one another seemed to be one that was sure to bring fireworks from start to finish, but the Mavericks really dominated the Spurs on both sides of the court and gave them fits from all angles.  The Spurs only had Tony Parker and Tim Duncan show up while the Mavericks had five players every night that gave tremendous production and really just overpowered the Spurs.
My Prediction: Mavericks in seven
Result: Mavericks in five
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that the Mavericks abundance of options and Dirk Nowitzki alone always gives the Spurs troubles and has forever.  It proved right again in this series.  I stated the Mavs would have no answer for Tony Parker and he would be huge but the fact that the Mavericks had better role players would be what gave them the edge.  I also stated that Jose Juan Barea would be a huge factor for the Mavericks off the bench and he really gave the Spurs fits on both ends of the court.  I mentioned the Spurs would need to rely on players like Roger Mason Jr. to play better since they were going to miss Manu Ginobili, but that I wasn't sure if he would be huge in the postseason.
Where I Was Wrong: I was wrong in imagining that the series would go seven games but I covered all bases and really thought Dallas would win.

Oh no, now onto this next series.

(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - In a matchup of two teams entering the playoffs on two opposite runs (Denver was hot going into the postseason whereas the Hornets stumbled entering the playoffs), the Nuggets thoroughly exposed the Hornets as the least talented team in the entire postseason.  A dominating performance by Denver was highlighted by a 58 point game 4 victory in New Orleans
My Prediction: Hornets in six
Result: Nuggets in five
Where I Was Right: I gave the Nuggets the edge on the bench and I mentioned that the frontcourt would kill Chandler and Sean Marks, both which happened.  But anything I said would go right for New Orleans went wrong ...
Where I Was Wrong: I was pretty much wrong in all areas in this series.  I stated Tyson Chandler would be huge as I thought his injury had healed, I mentioned that David West would really shine and stated the Nuggets would struggle trying to contain Chris Paul.  However it was Chauncey Billups who the Hornets had no answer for, Kenyon Martin really took it to West and Chandler was awful on both sides of the court.  I also mentioned this would be a tightly contested series, which was obviously wrong.

Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:54 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:45 pm
 

2008-2009 NBA Postseason Predictions

 Team By Team Previews
Western Conference:
1) Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

2) Denver Nuggets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14321911

3) San Antonio Spurs - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14346631

4) Portland Trail Blazers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14386245

5) Houston Rockets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14288379

6) Dallas Mavericks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14440073

7) New Orleans Hornets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14427724

8) Utah Jazz - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14393609

Eastern Conference:
1) Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

2) Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14220509

3) Orlando Magic - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14229507

4) Atlanta Hawks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14238342

5) Miami Heat - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14373942

6) Philadelphia 76ers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14376757

7) Chicago Bulls - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14504657

8) Detroit Pistons - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14467742

1st Round Matchups
Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons - The Pistons bring their experience to Cleveland to stand opposite the Cavaliers. The Cavs are really riding a huge wave of momentum into the postseason, the complete opposite way which Detroit is entering the playoffs. The Cavs have beaten the Pistons the last time they played in the postseason as well, and there's no reason for Detroit's intimidation factor to affect Cleveland. This is a solid matchup for the Cavs, because their lack of size won't affect them as the Pistons, likewise, lack significant size in their frontcourt.
Prediction: Cavaliers in five.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Mo Williams - It will be interesting to see how Williams, the Cavs' second option, responds to having that kind of pressure on him in the postseason.
Pistons Player to Watch: Kwame Brown - With the Cavaliers lack of size, Brown can continue his solid play down the stretch with solid defense on Zydrunas Ilgauskas if called upon. He can really help the Pistons if he elevates his play.

(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade and the Heat are a tough out for anybody in the postseason, including an unproven playoff team like the Hawks. The Hawks are still a tough team to take seriously, although we all should, and they can look at that as a rallying cry. This is the most even matchup in the entire Eastern Conference, and the Hawks fantastic play at home should help this squad get out of the first round for the first time since 1999. Dwyane Wade and company will put up a fantastic effort, but I look for every home team to win in this series.
Prediction: Hawks in seven.
Hawks Player to Watch: Al Horford - The Heat's lack of a true center should speak for a good series for Al Horford. Also, the Hawks are nearly unstoppable when Horford averages over 15 points a game. So his play is critical for the advancement of Atlanta.
Heat Player to Watch: Michael Beasley - Beasley is entering the postseason on a tear, and if he can continue to be that consistent second option for Miami then the Heat have the chance to pull off the upset.

(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers - This is a matchup of slumping teams running head to head and will probably provide the least interesting of all of the playoff matchups in the NBA. The 76ers, even though they'll throw Samuel Dalembert and Theo Ratliff at him, really have no answer for Dwight Howard. Andre Iguodala will have to do it by himself and I don't believe he's the kind of player capable of doing that. Also, his dissapointing performance in last season's playoffs has to weigh on his mind. However, Hedo Turkoglu's injury is something to look for in Orlando.
Prediction: Magic in six.
Magic Player to Watch: Hedo Turkoglu - It will be intersting to see how he plays with this injured ankle. This team can really take off if he can somehow go back to the style of play and consistency he showed last season.
76ers Player to Watch: Samuel Dalembert - His defense on Dwight Howard will be critical for the 76ers chances to advance. However, he's had moments where he dissapears.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls - Without Kevin Garnett, the Bulls lack of inside scoring can really be masked in this first round matchup. These two units play spectacular basketball at home and can really put points on the board. The key will be which team can make the defensive stops when it's necessary to get them. The defending champions, even without their defensive leader Garnett, have experience doing so and can really put the inexperienced Bulls on the ropes. I look for the Bulls to put up a great fight, and push the C's to seven but I look for the Celtics to somehow prevail.
Prediction: Celtics in seven.
Celtics Player to Watch: Rajon Rondo - Rondo's play in this series is going to be crucial for Boston. Without Garnett, the teams are very evenly matched and Rondo's defense on Derrick Rose will be key for the Celtics.
Bulls Player to Watch: Derrick Rose - The Rookie of the Year will have a lot of pressure playing point guard in his first postseason against the defending champions. He can really blow skeptics away or he can struggle against the insurmountable odds.

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Utah Jazz - The Lakers get the unfortunate task of facing the inconsistent Utah Jazz in the first round. The Lakers should be confident, seeing as how Utah simply cannot win on the road, but the Jazz always give the Lakers fits. Kobe Bryant and company, though, should replicate last season's conference semifinals and really look to push Utah to the limit. Nobody outside of Deron Williams is really playing consistently for Utah, and he simply cannot do it alone. The Jazz will put up a fight in every single game, but they don't have the weapons or the confidence to pull games out.
Prediction: Lakers in five.
Lakers Player to Watch: Lamar Odom - Odom always plays well against the Jazz, and coming off of the bench he can match up against Andrei Kirilenko and really take it to the Jazz. Without pressure Odom always seems to shine, and this is a perfect chance for the Lakers to develop a playoff rotation that includes Odom on the bench.
Jazz Player to Watch: Carlos Boozer - Boozer struggled mightily last season against the Lakers and without him scoring inside, the Jazz are simply a jump shooting team. That plays well into the Lakers' hands, so it's on Boozer to improve from last season's (and mainly this season's) performance.

(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Houston Rockets - The Rockets were coming into the postseason on a huge positive note, but stumbling to the 5th seed and having to face Portland is not what the Dr. ordered for a team looking to make it out of the first round for the first time since 1998. It's all mental with the Rockets, and Yao Ming should really be a force, but Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden are big enough to stay in front of Yao and really alter his shots. With that being negated, the Rockets must rely on Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks and Von Wafer and none of the three shoot consistently enough to match the late game heroics of Brandon Roy.
Prediction: Trail Blazers in six.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: Greg Oden - He's dissapointed all season long, but his defensive capabilities give the Blazers a lot of hope in their matchup with Yao Ming. If he can stay out of foul trouble, he can give the Blazers a good 20-25 minutes of solid defense on Yao and has the best size to matchup with the Rockets center.
Rockets Player to Watch: Kyle Lowry - Aaron Brooks is the better offensive player, but Lowry will most likely draw the assignment of guarding when he's in the game. His defense will be critical if he can slow down Roy for stretches and affect his confidence for the late game situations when Roy will be forced to take the shot for Portland.

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks - The Spurs pulled off an amazing run to win the Southwest Division, but if there's one team that always troubles the Spurs it's the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks have peaked at the right time and are entirely capable of winning games in San Antonio. Tim Duncan always plays fantastic ball against Dallas, but the same can be said for Dirk Nowitzki matching up against San Antonio. The role players will be huge in this matchup, as will Tony Parker, but the Mavs role players (Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Brandon Bass) should give the Mavericks the edge they need to pull the upset.
Prediction: Mavericks in seven.
Spurs Player to Watch: Roger Mason Jr. - With Manu Ginobili out, Mason's contributions will be critical. After an unbelievable first half to the season, he's been rather inconsistent as of late. If he can provide good minutes and consistently hit his jump shot, the Spurs will be in great shape.
Mavericks Player to Watch: Jose Juan Barea - Coming off of the bench, Barea has the speed to really give Tony Parker fits when the Mavs have the ball. If he can come in and play well alongside either Jason Kidd or Jason Terry, the Mavericks will really have a leg up in the matchup.

(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - This is a fantastic matchup here as the Hornets and Nuggets engage in a tightly contested head to head battle. Chris Paul may be too quick for Chauncey Billups to guard one on one, and if the Nuggets go to Anthony Carter that will give the Hornets the advantage defensively seeing as how Carter struggles with his shot. The Nuggets frontcourt could provide a lot of problems for the Hornets, especially Chris Andersen, who can really provide problems for Tyson Chandler and Sean Marks. When called upon, though, the acquisition of James Posey will pay off with his defense on Carmelo Anthony in this tough matchup.
Prediction: Hornets in six
Nuggets Player to Watch: J.R. Smith - Coming off of the bench, J.R. Smith gives the Nuggets a huge advantage with his ability to take games over with his shot making ability. However, he takes possesions off on defense and can also shoot the Nuggets out of games, so he has to one day his erratic play to be fully helpful to the Nuggets.
Hornets Player to Watch: Tyson Chandler - Coming off of an injury, Chandler should be monitored. If he doesn't play many minutes then that could prove to be a huge problem for the Hornets. However, the Hornets are infinitely better when Chandler plays and it will be crucial to see to it that he contributes as much as possible.
 


Conference Semifinals
Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (4) Atlanta Hawks - The Cavaliers will still be riding that wave of emotion heading into the semifinals after their dispatching of the Pistons. However, they're going to run into a tough, battle tested Hawks squad that could steal a game in Cleveland. Joe Johnson and LeBron James give the fans quite the one on one matchup and fans will be tuned in to watch those two go at it. However, Cleveland's role players outshine Atlanta's in critical spots and the Cavs will escape in seven.
Prediction: Cavaliers in seven.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Zydrunas Ilgauskas - There's no reason anywhere near his height in Atlanta, and he can really pull defenders away from the basket with his jump shot. If he has a big series, the Cavaliers will undoubtedly advance.
Hawks Player to Watch: Ronald Murray - Murray is the best player on a shallow Atlanta bench, and he can really jumpstart Atlanta's role players and give the Hawks a ton of energy in spots where they least expect to receive it.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (3) Orlando Magic - Without Garnett, Dwight Howard looks to dominate against Boston and may very well do so. These two squads meet head to head and give a fantastic first four games in this series and the series should head back to Boston tied at 2 apiece. However, the Celtics will miss Garnett as they look fatiqued from a tough series with the Bulls. That gives the Magic an opportunity to steal a game and close out the series in Orlando. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will really shine in this series, but Boston's lack of options will do them in.
Prediction: Magic in six.
Celtics Player to Watch: Glen Davis - Assuming he'll be playing the power forward position without Kevin Garnett in the lineup, he can really get his shot off against the smaller Magic. His ability to knock down the 15 footer could really help open the floor up for Boston.
Magic Player to Watch: Rashard Lewis - With the Celtics throwing out a bigger, slower lineup Lewis can really put the Magic over the top. He'll create the fantastic offensive mismatch for Orlando if he remains aggressive and looks to take it to the basket more than settling for his jump shot. Furthermore, he's long and quick enough to guard Davis and Powe if he stays out of foul trouble.

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (4) Portland Trail Blazers - Coming off of facing the Jazz, the Lakers match up with another hated rival in Portland and have to be worried about this contest. The Lakers struggle against Portland, especially at Portland, and the Trail Blazers are one of the dangerous teams playing with no expectation to win. The Trail Blazers should give the Lakers lots of fits, but the Lakers have the best player on the court in Kobe Bryant, and have players outside of Kobe who can hit the big shot to win crucial games. The Blazers really will give the Lakers all they can handle and should take them to seven games.
Prediction: Lakers in seven.
Lakers Player to Watch: Andrew Bynum - Portland has very servicable big men, so Bynum's effort, play and intensity level should speak volumes on if the Lakers will advance or not. If he isn't as commanding as he can be, then the Lakers may have to go small with Odom and Gasol in the lineup instead.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: LaMarcus Aldridge - Going up against Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom, Aldridge is talented enough to get his points against either of those defenders. If he takes to the basket more often and stays aggressive, then the Lakers will be hard pressed to find options to stop him. However, he has a tendency to fall in love with the jump shot and that could hurt the Blazers more than help them.

(6) Dallas Mavericks vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - In this matchup of underdogs to advance, the Hornets and Mavericks both should count their blessings to be so close to the conference finals. These two teams will meet up for the second straight postseason, providing a lot of intense moments of basketball. However, the Mavericks have always struggled with the combination of Chris Paul and David West. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Brandon Bass always give the Hornets trouble, but Nowitzki will be guarded closely by James Posey and the Hornets can allow Peja Stojakovic to run relatively free, giving the Hornets the series victory.
Prediction: Hornets in six.
Mavericks Player to Watch: Brandon Bass - Bass has always given the Hornets fits since signing as a free agent from New Orleans a few years ago. His strength, speed and ability to hit the mid range jump shot give the Hornets plenty of fits and he really can take over games if given significant minutes by Rick Carlisle.
Hornets Player to Watch: Peja Stojakovic - Peja's struggled mightily against more physical teams, but the Mavericks usually throw Josh Howard at Peja, and Peja generally gives the Mavericks problems. If he's able to run free and hit his jump shot, like he did last postseason, the Hornets will dispose of the Mavericks.


Eastern Conference Finals

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Orlando Magic - LeBron James should really dominate in this matchup, as the Magic simply have no answer for him. Courtney Lee will provide the best line of defense, but having to rely so many minutes to a rookie could hurt the Magic on the offensive side of the basketball. Dwight Howard may go off in this matchup as well, but his role players will be hard pressed to knock down the jump shot consistently against the fantastic defense of Cleveland's.
Prediction: Cavaliers in five.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: LeBron James - When times get thick, your best player is the one that can carry you out of tough situations. The Cavaliers will all feed off of the play of their MVP and if he plays well, the team will play well.
Magic Player to Watch: Courtney Lee - His defense on LeBron will be crucial, and if he can stay in front of and attempt to contain LeBron then the Magic can allow Howard to really take adavantage of Cleveland's lack of strength inside.

Western Conference Finals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - The Lakers, after two extremely draining matches will now be faced off with the postseason's cinderella team. However, the Hornets will be vexed from their two tough series as well, and their lack of size will finally come back to hurt them. Players like Odom and Bynum always perform well against the Hornets lack of height and the Lakers have more options to turn to than the Hornets do. They'll both be tired, but the Lakers have much more talent than New Orleans does and that will be enough for the Lakers to advance.
Prediction: Lakers in five.
Lakers Player to Watch: Pau Gasol - The Hornets have no option to defend Pau Gasol. He can basically get his shot off at will against David West or Tyson Chandler and can really take over the series and give the Lakers the easy victory.
Hornets Player to Watch: James Posey - Posey was brought to this team for critical spots like these, and he will be assigned the task of guarding Kobe Bryant. Posey will look to feed off of last season's finals to get into Kobe's head, and if he can stay in front of Kobe and keep him around a percentage near 40%, the Hornets will be in contention.


NBA Finals

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (1) Los Angeles Lakers - And now for the matchup that the nation, David Stern and ESPN want and that haters across the world will despise. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James will match up head to head in a battle between the two best teams in the NBA all season long. Coming into the finals, both teams will have been tested although the Lakers will have had the tougher time getting there. The Cavaliers can use Los Angels' fatique to their advantage for at least the first game of the series, but after a co uple days rest, the Lakers should shock Cleveland in game 2 on their home court. Once the series returns to Los Angeles, the Lakers should really use their size to their advantage and pound it into the paint against Cleveland's smaller lineup. LeBron's heroics will be tested against the defense of Trevor Ariza and the Lakers bench will do just enough to send the series back to Cleveland with the Lakers ahead 3-2. With a fantastic sixth game being held in Cleveland, the game of the year will come down to the wire but the Lakers prove to be too much for Cleveland and take the series.
Prediction: Lakers in six.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Daniel Gibson - Gibson can be the true catalyst for a Cavaliers bench that is deep in body's but shallow in terms of point production. If he can come in and hit the three point shot consistently, that should bring more to the table nightly than anybody the Lakers can throw off of the bench. He also can spell either guard in critical moments and has hit big shots in the postseason before, and should be comfortable taking them when called upon.
Lakers Player to Watch: Trevor Ariza - His athleticism and defensive prowress will really come into play here against the Cavaliers. He's quite possibly the best option to defense LeBron as he is strong enough to where LeBron can't entirely muscle Ariza and Ariza's quick enough to stay in front of him as well. If he makes the open jump shot as well, that makes things all the better for the Lakers.

Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:42 pm
Edited on: April 16, 2009 11:56 pm
 

Final 2008-2009 NBA Power Rankings

1) Cleveland Cavaliers - The Cavaliers were the best team throughout the entire season, expressing dominance at home, boasting the greatest player in the game and a fantastic group of shooters that could really spread the floor. Their commitment to defense, though, is what's been the true reason for their elevation of play.

2) Los Angeles Lakers - Kobe Bryant really was in neutral all season long, letting Pau Gasol carry the brunt of the responsibility, and for that reason the Lakers are dangerous come playoff time. Now that Andrew Bynum is back, it'll be interesting to see who finishes the games in Los Angeles. With Bynum out last postseason, Odom and Gasol finished games and it looks as if Odom may very well be the odd man out this year.

3) Boston Celtics - Losing Kevin Garnett is killer if that's really true. Hopefully he comes back and the Celtics can defend their championship at full strength. Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce did a great job righting the ship this season regardless of who was out due to injury, and players like Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins, Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen as of late have really given the Celtics a nice core of young players as well.

4) Portland Trail Blazers - The Trail Blazers provided one of the most exciting seasons among any team in the league this year. Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge were the catalysts for a team that boasts just some spectacular role players and two legitimate centers. With the best home fans in the league (sorry Utah) the Blazers are poised for a tough run in this year's postseason.

5) Denver Nuggets - Chauncey Billups arriving really provided the spark this team needed to get out of their mediocre ways. A new effort on defense was shown, and Carmelo Anthony was able to, quietly, have the best season of his young career. The return of Chris Andersen, though, is the best story on this team full of characters and talent.

6) Houston Rockets - The Rockets were able to overcome the losses of Tracy McGrady and Rafer Alston with some fantastic play in the second half of the season. They're one of the better defensive teams in the league and they make up for their defeciences with an unbelievable display of effort on the court.

7) San Antonio Spurs - The loss of Manu Ginobili is critical in the postseason, but the Spurs have overcome injuries all season to all of the big three to give themselves the Southwest Division Championship. Quite a season by the Spurs when you consider all that happened to the team.

8) Orlando Magic - The Magic faded down the stretch, but still boast the game's most dominant center and a fantastic array of shooters. Hedo Turkoglu's injury is critical (as was Jameer Nelson's back in February) but the Magic still found a way to win 59 games due to their new commitment on the defensive end spearheaded by Dwight Howard.

9) New Orleans Hornets - Another team that was decimated by injuries this season. By the visual test, the Hornets really underachieved and regressed this year, but all things considered they did a fantastic job masking their weaknesses this season to get into the playoffs and put themselves in position to make a run. Health, though, could really do them in.

10) Dallas Mavericks - The Mavericks peaked at the right time, at the end of the season. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry had fantastic seasons and Jason Kidd headed a very effecient offensive group. They're fantastic at home and can really score the basketball.

11) Atlanta Hawks - Mike Woodson deserves some recognition for the job he did getting this Hawks team to build off of last season to emerge into the squad that they currently are. They have a team full of talented, unselfish players and can really make a run in the postseason.

12) Utah Jazz - Unfortuantely, one of the most talented teams in the Western Conference cannot win on the road and that simply puts too much pressure on them to win at home. Deron Williams has done it by himself the last month of the season and the Jazz have to hope they haven't exhausted their star point guard. The Jazz's decline, coincidentally, can be traced back to the return of Carlos Boozer and the shift of Paul Millsap back to the bench.

13) Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade really carried this team to new heights this season. However, the contributions of rookies Michael Beasley and especially Mario Chalmers shouldn't be overlooked, as these three give the Heat a dangerous unit heading into the postseason. Wade is head and shoulders above everyone on the team, but there's not a bunch of scrubs lacing it up with Wade.

14) Chicago Bulls - A fantastic midseason trade helped the Bulls pull of a spectacular run at the end of the season to get them into the playoffs. A bad loss at home helps people forget the fantastic basketball the team was playing en route to their run. Vinny Del Negro did a mighty fine job considering his lack of any experience coaching at any level.

15) Philadelphia 76ers - Losing Maurice Cheeks really hurt this team. I know they posted a better record without him, but they surged in last season's second half and faltered in this season's second half. Elton Brand was heavily criticized, but he'd help in the half court game they may have to play in the playoffs.

16) Phoenix Suns - A pathetic defensive display is what keeps Phoenix out of the postseason for the first time since 2004. Shaquille O'Neal had a very nice bounce back season for the Suns and it was nice to see Grant Hill play all 82 games. However, this team is a mediocre assortment of aging and average players and look to be heading in the wrong direction for the future.

17) Detroit Pistons - Who would have thought the trade that brought in Allen Iverson would have that much of an affect on this team's chemistry (besides me, of course)? The Pistons emerged as shells of their former selves this season and moonwalk into the postseason hoping to flip the switch on again.

18) Indiana Pacers - The loss of Mike Dunleavy really hurt this team, and having to reacclimate Danny Granger right in the middle of their surge to the postseason made the Pacers stumble a bit and is the biggest reason they didn't make the postseason. However, if Dunleavy can come back next year and mix well with the good draft picks this team has ,Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert, then the Pacers (my presseason pick for the 8th seed) can make a run at the playoffs next season.

19) Milwaukee Bucks - Richard Jefferson emerged as a really solid player this year. He's always been good, but holding this depleted squad in playoff contention for as long as they did speaks wonders for Jefferson and still underrated coach Scott Skiles. They have quite the find in Ramon Sessions and this team is headed in the right direction with the right offseason moves.

20) Charlotte Bobcats - The Bobcats made a push for the postseason before faltering down the stretch. However, looking at the players that they acquired simply for the playoffs, this is no longer a team on the rise. They have good, young players but they have a mixture of solid veterans as well. There's no excuse for them to not make the postseason next year.

21) New York Knicks - Mike D'Antoni's refusal to play defense kept the Knicks out of the playoffs this year. David Lee, Nate Robinson and Wilson Chandler emerged to become fantastic players for New York and it's nice to see Madison Square Garden care again. The moves they make this offseason will be critical to the future of this team.

22) New Jersey Nets - They had a great first half to the season, but their lack of raw talent came back to hurt them as the season progressed. Vince Carter did a great job as the leader of this team, but he is the most likely candidate to be moved this offseason for New Jersey. They have to like what they saw from Devin Harris and Brook Lopez this year, and this is a team headed in the right direction.

23) Golden State Warriors - Injuries to Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins and Corey Maggette this year didn't help matters this year and if you couple that with the fact that the Warriors were the youngest team in the league, their record shouldn't come as a surprise to you. However, this team is really talented and with the right seasoning could be poised for another playoff run next year or the year after. They still could use a true point guard.

24) Toronto Raptors - Unfortunately, the acquisition of Jermaine O'Neal and the midsesason trade of O'Neal for Marion did nothing for the Raptors postseason hopes. Chris Bosh, after a hot start, had a really average finish and Jose Calderon did not elevate his game as expected following the big contract. This is a team that has a very interesting offseason approaching them, but they have to like the improvement of Andrea Bargnani this season.

25) Oklahoma City Thunder - Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and company give that fantastic fan base a lot of hope for the future. They're another big man and, possibly, a legitimate shooting guard away from the playoffs as early as next season. Keeping interim coach Scott Brooks was the right thing to do, as well, seeing as how that team responded to him at the end of the year.

26) Minnesota Timberwolves - Losing Al Jefferson killed their season, as before that Minnesota was really starting to play solid basketball. I still don't know how they're going to play Kevin Love and Jefferson together, but Jefferson and Randy Foye give Minnesota a nice one-two combination for the future. Mike Miller was a huge dissapointment this season, and Minnesota should look to make a few moves in the offseason including finding something to do with Miller.

27) Memphis Grizzlies - O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley have the Grizzlies heading in the right direction. They still didn't take the step forward that I was expecting from them, but they showed moments of cohesiveness. If they can somehow land Blake Griffin, this team will be set to really leap forward next season. However, Rudy Gay didn't progress as much as what was to be expected this season, and he needs to bounce back next season.

28) Washington Wizards - Injuries ruined this team but unfortunately, they're not very talented even when healthy. This is a team heading nowhere in a hurry with all of the money they have tied into Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. The Wizards are probably going to give it another run next season, fully healthy, but I wouldn't expect anything more than a possible appearance in the postseason.

29) Los Angeles Clippers - Expectations and an insurgent of talent in Clippers couldn't keep the Clippers from being the Clippers this season. Everyone on the team missed significant time due to injury, and they never meshed as a unit. Even though they have fantastic individual pieces, you have to wonder if this team will work well as a unit at all. They'll probably get another shot next season.

30) Sacramento Kings - Kevin Martin, Spencer Hawes and company should be embarassed at the effort put up in Sacramento this season. The lack of talent on the team cost a good coach, Reggie Theus, his job and Martin couldn't do much to salvage any kind of hope for even next season. This team is a long way from any kind of contention and they have holes at every single position on the floor. It doesn't look good for a struggling franchise, and it's a shame to see all of those empty seats at Arco Arena on a nightly basis.
 

 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com