Tag:Rasheed Wallace
Posted on: May 30, 2010 10:23 pm
  •  
 

Previewing The 2010 NBA Finals

Now that we've sat through, what seems like, a 13 month sabattical to finally get to the NBA Finals, it's here.  After series sweeps and poor basketball, the conference finals finally brought some life that had been missing to the NBA Postseason.  And, honestly, I don't think any basketball fan can be upset with this matchup.  Even though the Lakers and Celtics are matching up for what seems, to us small market teams fans, like the 6,000th time in the NBA Finals, they are genuinely the two best teams at this point and two of the best franchises in the NBA (as evident by their 6,000 matchups).  Both teams have faced adversity, have won with defense, have won with offense, have coaches who have been there and have players who have been there.  This matchup was physical and contested back in 2008 and we can expect the same here.  But how did both teams arrive to this point?

The Boston Celtics entered the 2010 postseason on a really sour note.  As has been documented, the Celtics were 23-5 after Christmas but then went 27-27 over the next 54 games to stumble into the postseason as the 4th seed.  Everything ranging from Doc River's interest in coaching the team to injuries to age had been used as reasons for the Celtics ailments.  But a confrontation between Kevin Garnett and Quentin Richardson in Game 1 of the Heat vs. Celtics series highlighted what was a terrific comeback in Game 1 for Boston and they rode that momentum to a very convincing five game series victory over the Heat.  Next up, the Celtics were matched up against the team that finished with the best record in the NBA and the team that had the two time defending MVP in LeBron James.  Using the same tenacious defense and physical style of play that swarmed fellow NBA great Dwyane Wade, the Celtics contained LeBron as best as any team could possibly do and saw Rajon Rondo step up as the team advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for a rematch with the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year: the Orlando Magic.  Like Wade and LeBron, Orlando had its own superstar in Dwight Howard that posted a huge threat to Boston's quest for a championship.  But showing the stuff that champions are made of, Boston won both Games 1 and 2 in Orlando and held on to eventually eleminate the Magic on the Parquet in Game 6.  The Celtics now enter this postseason looking for their second championship in three years with the starting lineup that Doc Rivers will tell you has never lost a postseason series.

Coming off two Western Conference Championships and after winning their 15th NBA Championship in Franchise History (second only to Boston's 17), the Lakers entered this season as the resounding favorites to repeat; at the very least in the Western Conference.  They seemed to coast through the season on talent alone but still managed to establish home court advantage in the Western Conference.  Being one of the most decorated teams in NBA history, the Lakers faced a polar opposite in the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder, who were the youngest team, collectively, in the NBA.  The Thunder gave the Lakers fits with their athleticism, youthful energy and fantastic home court.  The Lakers faced a challenge many didn't think would come so early, but fought it off and eleminated the Thunder in six games.  Up next was a familiar postseason foe: the Utah Jazz.  The Jazz and Lakers always seem to face eachother in the postseason, and this season the big bodies and matchup advantages that the Lakers possesed  helped history repeat itself, as the Lakers managed to sweep Utah in four games and rest comfortably before a matchup with the rival Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.  Even in a tough matchup with a motivated, game Phoenix Suns team, the Lakers looked like champions throughout the series; winning convincingly in Games 1 and 2 and playing a great game of basketball to close out Game 6 in Phoenix.  The Lakers look to close the gap between them and Boston in terms of the NBA's greatest franchise (17 championships for Boston to 15 for Los Angeles), and Kobe Bryant looks to add a 5th Championship to his storied career and allow for Phil Jackson to collect his 11th. 

How do these teams match up and who has the advantage in what area?  That will now be addressed.
Western Conference Champion: (1) Los Angeles Lakers (57-25; 12-4) vs. Eastern Conference Champion: (4) Boston Celtics (50-32; 12-5)

Why The Lakers Will Win: First and foremost, the Lakers enter this series with the Home Court after finishing the season with a better record than Boston.  Both teams won on the other's court this season and it's well known how the Celtics were able to take that historic Game 4 at Staples back in 2008, but at the end of the day you'd still rather be the team playing its pivotal games at home as opposed to being on the road.  They will still have the best player on the court for the entire series as well in Kobe Bryant.  Bryant has shown as the postseason has continued that he's still, arguably, the best player in the Game.  In a late game situation, there's no better player to give the ball to.  Also, the Lakers have brought in Ron Artest for matchups like this, where they can throw him at Paul Pierce or Ray Allen defensively.  Also, this Lakers team is better equipped to match up with a physical Boston team than the 2008 version of the Lakers.  Now having won a championship as a team and having been battle tested as a team, there won't be any deer in the headlights looks that the Lakers had in 2008.  Also, this is the first series Boston will have where they have to stay in the paint and guard every one of the Lakers big men.  Teams like Cleveland and Miami didn't have the front court depth to give Boston's defense fits whereas the Lakers have the size to cause Boston problems. 

Why The Celtics Will Win: Every bit of experience that the Lakers bring to the table, the Celtics bring as well.  It could be argued that the only reason these teams aren't matching up for a third consecutive Finals is because of the injury to Kevin Garnett last season.  The Celtics have shown the last two rounds that home court can be taken with just one victory on the road and they've shown the ability to do that.  Even though Kobe Bryant is the best closer in the game, the Celtics have a player in Paul Pierce who is very adept in those late game situations as well: as highlighted in his Game 6 performance against Orlando.  Furthermore, this Celtics team is still relatively healthy.  They have problems with Rasheed Wallace's back, but everyone else has managed to stay hungry, motivated and on the court for the entire postseason whereas the Lakers have issues with Andrew Bynum that could hinder one of their on court advantages.  Also, this Celtics team looks motivated and after knocking out three legitimate superstars in Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Dwight Howard, there's nothing that Kobe Bryant can do that would intimidate the Boston Celtics team. 

Key Player for the Lakers: Derek Fisher has managed to step it up offensively when the Lakers have needed him to this postseason, and opposing point guards haven't trashed the Lakers as they did last postseason and all of this season.  However, Rajon Rondo is the most difficult matchup in the series.  Fisher will either have to guard Rondo or Ray Allen (if Phil decides to put Kobe on Rondo), which are both disadvantages for the Lakers.  However, Fisher brings championship intangibles that most teams just can't find and, even just last postseason, Fisher showed that when needed he can still nail the crucial three pointer that can change a series.  If his defense is going to be a problem this series, which looks likely, his offense will be needed to offset whatever disadvantage his guarding Rondo or Ray Allen may create.

Key Player for the Celtics: Rasheed Wallace's back should be better by June 3rd and hopefully that shows in his play.  He looked really bad in Game 6 against Orlando, but if he's able to go for Boston then he makes all the difference in this Finals matchup.  Lamar Odom is one of the toughest matchups in the NBA, but Rasheed Wallace is a player that can keep up with him and guard Odom.  Criticized for his play all year long, Wallace has emerged into an absolutely terrific bench contributor this postseason for Boston and has been extremely important to Boston's ultimate success.  If Bynum, Pau Gasol or Odom have to guard Wallace out on the perimeter, it opens up the door for players like Pierce and Rondo to get to the basket.  If Wallace consistently hits that jump shot, it makes even more of a difference.  All in all, Wallace brings the offensive and defensive intangibles off the bench that can offset whatever bench production the Lakers may or may not get on a nightly basis. 

Prediction: Celtics in six

Key As To Why They Will Win: Honestly, I'm just a believer.  I've picked against Boston all postseason long and, for that reason, Crotch and other Celtics fans probably don't want me to pick them here.  But they've really emerged as the best team in the postseason so far.  They've faced off against the best players in the league and knocked out two terrific, game Cleveland and Orlando teams.  And they did so without home court advantage.  Even though I think the subraction of James Posey this postseason from the 2008 NBA Finals matchup is something that some fans may forget, I truly believe Wallace is going to be a huge difference maker off the bench to combat Lamar Odom and, when it comes down to it, the Celtics have shown that they can win pivotal games in hostile territory.  And they only need to win one in this series.

Conclusion: This series is a toss up and could really go either way.  The two most storied franchises in the league meeting up once again creates for financial interest and also interest from a basketball perspective.  There aren't two teams playing better ball at the moment and that's why they're here.  After seeing Boston guard Dwyane Wade and LeBron James the way they did, you have to imagine there's going to be plans in place as to how to guard Kobe Bryant.  Also, they were able to do it in 2008 and that put a lot of onus on his teammates who just weren't ready for that moment.  They may be ready now, but I'm not sure that they're capable of overcomign what Boston does.  Paul Pierce, in that 2008 matchup, was the first player I've seen in a long time take it at Kobe and dominate him as easily as Kobe can do to other players.  That speaks volumes to his importance in this matchup.  It should be a fun series and I wouldn't be surprised if I'm wrong, but I'm a believer.  Your 2010 NBA Champions will be the Boston Celtics.
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: March 5, 2010 2:57 am
 

NBA Power Rankings (March 4th, 2010)

Wow I actually miss doing these.  I used to do it every week last year and it really was a joy to put them out because they got so much attention on here.  Now with teams having made their moves at the deadline and now that they've been able to incorporate those new players to a certain degree, this serves as an ideal time to return with the power rankings.  We'll now evaluate who stands where at this point in time and who is prime to make a run, who's running out of gas and who is flying under the radar.  So here's this season's first incarnation of GoHornets21's NBA Power Rankings.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (48-14) - LeBron James has been absolutely terrific this season in every way and there's nobody playing better in the league at this point in time.  The injuries to Shaquille O'Neal and the "risky trade" of Zydrunas Ilgauskas really have hurt the frontcourt, and it's going to be difficult trying to get all of those players used to the rotation and back into the flow of things right at the postseason, but the Cavs have the best player in the league to help these players come along.  Mo Williams has found his shot as of late and if he can get consistent at all this season, the Cavs will be even better.  Antawn Jamison still looks like an odd fit, but he's putting up numbers and the Cavs could really use some scoring from the frontcourt positions so he has to be a welcome addition for Cleveland.

2. Los Angeles Lakers (46-16) - The team is still coming along slowly since Kobe Bryant's return to the lineup.  That's not to say this team is better without him.  If they're going to win a championship this season, they need Kobe in top form for the entire postseason.  He is the player that puts them over the top.  But players like Jordan Farmar, Pau Gasol and Shannon Brown were getting all kinds of touches and opportunities to create for themselves and others, that they're now having to regress back to earlier this season and allow Kobe to get his touches again.  I think the confidence built up for Brown in Kobe's absence may have already gone to waste at this moment, but there's still time to build it back up.  Lamar Odom continues to play some really solid basketball of late as well.

3. Denver Nuggets (40-21) - The Nuggets continue to be a mixed bag for me.  Sometimes I think they look terrific and other times I think they don't have the mental toughness to be a championship team.  But they've played some really inspired basketball since George Karl's cancer announcement and they continue to stand out, to me, as the Lakers' biggest threat in the Western Conference.  But Dallas is hard on their heels and the Nuggets have to continue to bring it every single night. 

4. Dallas Mavericks (41-21) - Currently the hottest team in the league, the Dallas Mavericks have been a completely different team since Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood entered the starting lineup.  Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd both have just played some really great basketball since the trade and the Mavericks look as good as they have since the year after their NBA Finals apperance.  As we know, that team lost in the first round of the playoffs, though.  I don't expect that to happen this season but the Mavericks still have to distance themselves from the postseason stink that surrounds that franchise.  Is a clutter of assorted individual talents going to be enough to finally get Dallas over the hump?  Only time will tell.  But I think this group of players is a good enough fit for this team to make some kind of run.  Getting that second seed is more important to them than it is to any other team in the Western Conference in my opinion so I don't see them letting up at any point the rest of this year.  This is Dirk's new best chance to get that elusive championship ring.  He's playing like it.

5. Orlando Magic (42-20) - I don't know what's happened in Orlando, but Dwight Howard has really came on as of late.  After that dissapointing loss in New Orleans last week, the Magic have really looked focused out there and it shows in their play on the court.  Rashard Lewis is slowly starting to come along this season (finally) and if he gets a consistent shot like he had last season, this team will again challenge Cleveland in the Eastern Conference.  But they need Lewis to play better than he has this season.  Jameer Nelson continues to be an enigma of sorts in Orlando but when he's on this team really gels.  They need him to regain some kind of consistant form and when he and Lewis do, watch out.

6. Utah Jazz (39-22) - The Jazz have been flying under the radar all season but they're playing great basketball this season.  They've finally learned how to win on the road this season and we all know how tough of a team they are when they're in Salt Lake City.  Deron Williams really has to enter into some MVP talks with the way he's kept this team together, and Carlos Boozer is using this contract year to really step out and he is really playing hard to get paid this summer.  I still think they lack the interior toughness that championship teams possess, but the Jazz shouldn't be underestimated.

7. Atlanta Hawks (39-21) - After these first six teams, it gets a little jumbled up to me.  Atlanta stands out just because they have a terrific starting 5, a solid coach (I don't care what you Hawks fans say to the contrary) and a great 6th man.  Also, they've beaten the only other team I would consider for this spot (Boston) four times this season, so I believe Atlanta deserves to be here.  I usually roll my eyes when people say Joe Johnson is always an underrated superstar in this league, but this year is the first time I would really say that.  He's been huge for the Hawks when they need it and he's had to handle a lot with Mike Bibby's struggles this year and with Jamal Crawford not really being a true point guard.  But he's handled it well.  Marvin Williams has played well the next couple of games, and if they can get him to play hard they'll be just fine in the playoffs.  I don't know why he's been so bland this season.  But this team has the starting five, they just need to start putting it together for the stretch run.

8. Boston Celtics (38-21) - The Celtics are trying to get fully healthy for the first time this season, and if they can do so the league better watch out.  The Celtics really don't need home court advantage in the postseason.  They've been there and done that when it comes to winning in the playoffs and all they need is a fully healthy roster.  Neither Rasheed Wallace or Marquis Daniels turned out like they wanted this offseason in Boston, but picking up Nate Robinson at the deadline looks to be a good move.  What happened to Glen Davis this season?  After last year's run in the playoffs, I thought he was going to emerge as a great player off of Boston's bench this season.  He's only had a couple good games that I can remember all season long.  I guess some of it may be injury, but how much of it is possibly because he got paid this summer?

9. Oklahoma City Thunder (36-24) - Russell Westbrook continues to be in Kevin Durant's shadow this season but continues to play some of the most unheralded basketball in the league.  However, there's still no equaling what Durant's doing this season.  He's been the catalyst for this surprising team all season long and has absolutely no offensive weakness to his game.  If you want someone to score a point for you down the stretch, I'd put him right up there with Kobe as someone who I would want to have the ball for that possession.  And I whole heartedly mean that.  He's been great.  Jeff Green's stats have fallen off this year as opposed to last year, but I still think he's important as a glue guy for this team.  He's really gotten lost in the praise shuffle in Oklahoma City, and I think his salary may be neglected this offseason and that may hurt the Thunder's progression.  But there's no reason why this team can't win at least one playoff series this year.

10. Phoenix Suns (39-25) - The surprising resurgence in Phoenix continues even after a horrible month of January.  Steve Nash is still playing good basketball, Amar'e Stoudemire has been terrific since the trade deadline (someone else looking to get paid this summer) and they've gotten great contributions from Grant Hill, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye and Goran Dragic all season long.  Robin Lopez had about a week where he was putting up some terrific numbers but he's regressed a bit these past few games.  The Suns will need him to consistently contribute on both sides of the court if they're going to make any noise in the postseason.  He's shown that he's capable, it's up to him to still find ways to contribute even when teams now make an effort to guard him.

11. Portland Trail Blazers (37-27) - The team with the worst luck in the league is slowly getting back to health and when they do, they're one streak away from convincing me they can contend for a spot in the Western Conference Finals.  They're not that far off.  They're incredibly deep, they have a fantastic bench, a legit superstar in Brandon Roy and one of the best home courts in the league.  Getting Marcus Camby at the deadline will do a lot to soften the blow of not having Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla for the rest of this season.  Juwan Howard played admirably in their absence, but no legitimately good team is going to start him at center.  He probably shouldn't even be getting the heavy minutes that he is, but Nate McMillan really has no other options.  They have to find a way to get healthy this year if they want to make a run, but they can do it.  I like their chances.

12. San Antonio Spurs (34-24) - The Spurs continue to impress you one night, make you sick the next when they take the court.  I think a lot of the inconsistency across the board is Greg Popovich's fault.  All things considered, and I think Pop is the second best coach in the league to Phil Jackon, this has been Pop's worst season as a head coach at San Antonio.  The main reason for the Spurs inconsistency is Pop's inability to have any stable, set rotation this season.  He's given big minutes to George Hill, and that seems to be the only player outside of the big three that Pop knows what he wants to do with them.  He's started Richard Jefferson and brought him off the bench; done the same to Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair and Keith Bogans as well.  He needs to set a rotation, know who he wants in the game and go with that already.  He's hurting this team's chance to get in any rhythym before the playoffs.

13. Milwaukee Bucks (31-29) - I've really been driving the Milwaukee bandwagon as of late.  Andrew Bogut has come down to Earth a little bit after a terrific stretch of basketball, but Scott Skiles and company just find ways to win basketball games.  John Salmons has been indescribably huge for them since coming over at the trade deadline, and let's not forget the contributions Jerry Stackhouse has made for them off the bench since coming on board midway through the season.  You look at their bench, they have Luke Ridnour, Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas, those are players that can contribute for you on a nightly basis.  They're more talented than people give them credit for.  If Brandon Jennings finds his jump shot again at any point the rest of the season, watch out for this team in the playoffs.

14. Toronto Raptors (31-28) - The Raptors started off playing some good basketball after Chris Bosh initially got injured, but have tailed off since; losing their last four games.  I thought Hedo Turkoglu would be an ideal fit for this team and the way they play basketball, but he's just been so unreliable all season long.  Andrea Bargnani really hasn't taken that step forward this season that I thought he would either.  There's a lot of players who have dissapointed up North, but the team still finds itself above .500 and they're still a solid team with Chrsi Bosh in the lineup.  I had bigger hopes for them, though.  Now, I can't see them winning a playoff series.  Then again, I was wrong with them once.

15. Memphis Grizzlies (32-30) - The Grizzlies started off slow, played great basketball, tailed off, and are now starting to play great again.  The team really goes as Zach Randolph goes.  When he plays great, the team is unstoppable.  When he's simply going through the motions and is just putting up decent numbers, it reflects in everyone else's contributions.  The bench is still horrendously thin and that's probably going to keep them out of the postseason.  But the Grizzlies have taken a step forward this season and the franchise at least has a pulse now.

16. New Orleans Hornets (31-31) - This was a crucial week for New Orleans and any hopes they had of making the postseason and the team didn't respond very well.  Losses at home to San Antonio and Memphis have great deteriorated the Hornets' playoff opportunity.  Chris Paul is said to be coming back in roughly a week, and his presence will be welcomed back among Hornets players, coaches and fans alike.  Darren Collison has been terrific in his absence, but his turnovers have cost the Hornets just as many games as he's won for them.  Marcus Thornton continues to be a terrific find in the 2nd round for Interim Head Coach/General Manager Jeff Bower, and the Hornets are doing the right thing by developing their young talent.  This offseason is going to be critical for the direction the Hornets take as a franchise.

17. Chicago Bulls (31-30) - I'm done trying to figure out what kind of team the Bulls are going to be this year.  Outside of Derrick Rose, you don't know what you're getting out of anybody on any given night.  Luol Deng has rebounded very nicely this season and is the clear cut second option, but is that necessarily a good thing?  Joakim Noah's injury also is holding the team back a bit, since he was playing so well at the beginning of the season.  Looking at Ronald Murray, Devin Brown and Jannero Pargo, the Bulls are probably wishing they had held on to John Salmons.  Hakim Warrick has always put up good numbers on bad teams, but is now being asked to contribute for a team with postseason aspirations.  He needs to deliver for Chicago.

18. Miami Heat (31-31) - The Heat's decision to not pursue a second option for Dwyane Wade may have been the right move financially, but it's really hurt the team on the court.  Michael Beasley showed glimpses of being able to put it all together earlier this season but started bickering at reporters and has regressed ever since.  Maybe a lot of you were right when you told me he didn't have the mental toughness to survive in this league.  Outside of Beasley, who of these guys do you really want contributing nightly for your team?  It's such a bad roster that I'm surprised Wade has them at .500.  I know they have the money for him and another superstar, but does this team have the brass to really put a decent team together?  Even if you add another great player, that's still a horrible group of players and now two good players.  It won't make them a championship team. 

19. Houston Rockets (30-30) - After the very publicized trade in Houston, Kevin Martin has come around to finding his shot for the Rockets.  They've been without Kyle Lowry for about 9 games now (I think) and that's really been a big reason why the team has struggled as of late.  They were playing so well at the beginning of the year, and with all the injury problems you kind of pulled for them to make some noise but they just don't have the talent to keep up.  It doesn't seem likely, but hopefully Yao Ming returns healthy next season (long shot) and this team can make some kind of sustained run together.  It's not a bad, little group of players.

20. Charlotte Bobcats (28-31) - For awhile there this team looked like a lock to make the postseason and was playing great basketball.  As of late, they've really looked bad.  Larry Brown hasn't been able to get a handle on this team in the two years he's been with Charlotte, and he doesn't look like he's enjoying the job either.  Michael Jordan buying the team pumps some life into them, but this roster doesn't have any kind of cohesive feel to it.  It's a great assortment of individual talent, but none of them look good together on the court.  I still like the move to acquire Tyrus Thomas at the deadline and he can be huge off the bench for the Bobcats if he plays up to his potential.  Miami is catchable, but their margin for error is slim and the team needs to get an identity and they need to do so quickly.

21. Sacramento Kings (21-40) - Even though the record isn't there, the effort, the hustle, the coaching and the potential is there to create some kind of excitement around Sacramento.  The move to acquire Carl Landry while getting rid of Kevin Martin's contract was just ingenious.  Tyreke Evans should run away with rookie of the year honors and overall this team has a fun feel to it.  Paul Westphal is the perfect balance of discipline and structure that a group of unproven players needs, and this team can really make strides these next two seasons and be back in the playoffs by 2012. 

22. Los Angeles Clippers (25-36) - The curious resigning of Mike Dunleavy and subsequent trades for cap space have once again made the Clippers a barely relevant basketball team, although their record says that they're now awful this season.  This team continues to riddle even the most brilliant of basketball fans, as there's no reason for a team with that kind of talent to be as mediocre as they are.  They have a good point guard, a good center, and good contributors at every position out there.  But they just never can put it together.  Hopefully, Blake Griffin comes back next season fully healthy and this team makes some kind of stride going forward.  There's really no excuse anymore to not succeed.

23. Philadelphia 76ers (22-38) - Nobody's been able to figure out what's going on in Philadelphia all season long.  Eddie Jordan just hasn't given this team any kind of identity or style and the play has been indicative of that.  The Allen Iverson saga has become bigger than the franchise as of late (something that most teams wanted to avoid, which is why Iverson was so available for Philadelphia).  They didn't make any moves at the deadline and I'm curious as to why they didn't, because they either need to get into rebuilding mode or spend ridiculous amounts of cash to be a playoff regular.  Because there isn't a more stale team in the league than this 76ers squad.

24. New York Knicks (21-39) - The Knicks can put up numbers in bunches but still look like garbage some times on the court.  That effort against the Cavaliers was pathetic but at least they rebounded to beat up on Detroit last night.  David Lee has been one of the most consistent players on the court league wide and if not for him the Knicks would probably be in worst shape than they currently are.  Bill Walker looks to be a great find off of Boston's bench (after hearing their interest in Michael Finley, you think they're regretting letting Walker go?) but then again, everyone looks to be a great find when they get in D'Antoni's gimmicked system.  They have a bad team, but that's mainly because they've freed up the space to go after who they want this offseason.  For the sake of their fans, they better get them, because if not this franchise is going to be in really bad shape.

25. Washington Wizards (21-37) - Moving Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler has been so great for this Washington franchise.  It's not that those were bad players, they're really good players.  In fact, their new teams are both in the top four of these power rankings.  And their additions are a big reason why.  But Washington needed a change in identity, and disassociating themselves from anybody involved with the team's playoff runs was a good thing for the future.  Now without the constraints of commitments to veterans, Flip Saunders has taken the handcuffs off this team and their play has been indicative of such.  Andray Blatche, especially, has been huge since the trade deadline and looks fantastic out on the court.  They're still not a good team, but at least they're a team Wizards fans can be prouder of.

26. Detroit Pistons (21-40) - The Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva signings officially look awful.  In fact, they look like some of the worst moves league wide in a long, long time.  It's not as if this team has the cap space to improve, the coaching that gives me confidence things can turn around, or even the young talent that you know they can build around.  Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye, Will Bynum, these are all nice players for good teams but they're not players you want to hitch the future of a franchise to.  When you look at the paychecks that Gordon, Villanueva and Jason Maxiell are getting in Detroit, it's no wonder why this team is so average.  They've invested in the wrong types of players and this franchise is in dire needs of a makeover.

27. Indiana Pacers (20-41) - They've really taken a step back this season and injuries have been a big part of it.  Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy and even the likes of Jeff Foster and Tyler Hansbrough have all missed substantial time this season.  It's not as if this team was stacked with talent to begin with, so the injuries just make things worse.  Jim O'Brien looks as good as gone, and this is another team that really needs some kind of makeover.  I look at the players Larry Bird has brought in and the players he's drafted, and I don't think he's done a bad job in Indiana.  I just don't look at the roster as a whole and say "there's something to like here."  Danny Granger hasn't been able to duplicate the success he had last season and neither has Troy Murphy for the most part.  Those are probably the biggets reasons why Indiana has taken such a drastic step back.

28. Golden State Warriors (17-43) - Stephen Curry has really been a feel good story in the Bay City and has done a lot to lessen the blow that is how awful this team is out on the court.  He's played all year and has done a fine job in his starting role, but Monta Ellis' recent injury problems have only added on to the long list of injured Warriors on the roster.  This is now becoming a recurring theme every year for Golden State, and it confuses me as an observer from the outside.  Why is it that all these players are getting hurt in Golden State every single year, regardless if the player has any kind of injury history or is even getting any substantial minutes to where this injury can occur.  There's some kind of bad aura surrounding Golden State right now and it doesn't look bright for the Warriors.

29. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-48) - Finally Corey Brewer has come around to being a servicable player in this league.  Maybe still not worthy of the lottery pick the Timberwolves used on him, but a good player nonethless.  Outside of him and Kevin Love, everybody that was on the team last season just has dissapeared this season.  This bootleg triangle that Kurt Rambis is trying to opperate just is not working.  Al Jefferson is nowhere near the player he was the last two seasons.  Ryan Gomes would at least show glimpses of being a good player last year and he's been virtually non-existent this season.  Jonny Flynn has put up good numbers but has done nothing to stand out in Minnesota as well.  This is another team that's still a bit puzzling because you don't know when the true rebuilding stage is going to kick in.  They're obviously not anywhere near playoff contention yet, but what gives you any indication they will be in the near future?

30. New Jersey Nets (6-54) - For awhile there I bought into the hype that the Nets could set the NBA record for futility and surpass the 76ers 9-63 record.  After last week's win at Boston, I'm convinced this team will at least go 4- 19 over their last 23 games to get that elusive tenth victory.  This team has no business being this bad, and for that reason I kind of feel as if they deserve to carry that loser label around with them.  They don't try, they don't perform, they're undisciplined and they don't seem to care that they're so awful of a team.  Poor Kiki Vandeweghe was told to firesale the roster with the hopes of acquiring LeBron James this offseason, but he's going to be blamed for how bad this roster is.  Even with all this cap space, there's no reason for a player to want to go to New Jersey, the impending move to Brooklyn is still pending, and that Russian billionare who was going to buy the team still has yet to buy them.  Even still, they shouldn't be anywhere near 9-63. 
Category: NBA
Tags: 76ers, Al Jefferson, Allen Iverson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andray Blatche, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Antawn Jamison, Antonio McDyess, Austin Daye, Ben Gordon, Bill Walker, Blake Griffin, Bobcats, Brandon Jennings, Brandon Roy, Brendan Haywood, Bucks, Bulls, Carl Landry, Carlos Boozer, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Channing Frye, Charlie Villanueva, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Clippers, Corey Brewer, Danny Granger, Darren Collison, David Lee, DeJuan Blair, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Devin Brorwn, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, George Hill, Glen Davis, Goran Dragic, Grant Hill, Greg Oden, Grizzlies, Hakim Warrick, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jamal Crawford, Jameer Nelson, Jannero Pargo, Jared Dudley, Jason Kidd, Jason Maxiell, Jazz, Jeff Foster, Jeff Green, Jerry Stackhouse, Joakim Noah, Joe Johnson, Joel Przybilla, John Salmons, Jonas Jerebko, Jonny Flynn, Jordan Farmar, Juwan Howard, Keith Bogans, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Kurt Thomas, Kyle Lowry, Lakers, Lamar Odom, LeBron James, Luke Ridnour, Luol Deng, Magic, Marcus Camby, Marcus Thornton, Marquis Daniels, Marvin Williams, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Mike Bibby, Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, Monta Ellis, Nate Robinson, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Pau Gasol, Pistons, Raptors, Rashard Lewis, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Jefferson, Robin Lopez, Rockets, Rodney Stuckey, Ronald Murray, Russell Westbrook, Ryan Gomes, Shannon Brown, Shaquille O'Neal, Spurs, Stephen Curry, Steve Nash, Suns, Thunder, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Troy Murphy, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyreke Evans, Tyrus Thomas, Warriors, Will Bynum, Wizards, Yao Ming, Zach Randolph
 
Posted on: February 10, 2010 1:46 am
 

NBA Midseason's Acquisition Report

We're approaching the all star weekend in the NBA; the unofficial midseason point for NBA teams.  At this point, we all have a pretty good understanding and grip on what certain teams are going to be able to do and what a lot of teams are unable to do.  Lots of trades are being rumored to go down even though nothing looks concrete as of yet.  But why are teams in this situation?  A lot of them are where they are because of the moves they made this offseason.  Last year, I wrote a report on how the NBA's biggest offseason additions worked by the all star break.  Some, like the Mo Williams acquisition for the Cavaliers, worked.  Some, like the Jermaine O'Neal experiment in Toronto, flopped.  So we're going to give it a shot again.  Here's a look back at the biggest player movements during the offseason and how they've worked thus far in the 2009-2010 NBA Season.

Detroit Pistons sign Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva
Ben Gordon (30 Games, 16.1 PPG, 2.6 APG, 2.1 RPG, 83.8 FT Pctg., 32.3 3PT FG Pctg., 43.0 FG Pctg.)
Charlie Villanueva (46 Games, 13.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 80.6 FT Pctg., 32.8 3PT FG Pctg., 44.0 FG Pctg.)
Detroit Pistons record (17-32)
After trading away Chauncey Billups and his expensive contract for the expiring deal of a still relevant Allen Iverson last season, the Pistons fell off the face of the Earth and backed into the postseason only to get embarassed by Cleveland.  The Iverson experiment did not work at all in Detroit, and with all of this free cap space and coming off of a unfamiliar terrible season in Detroit, Joe Dumars felt the pressure to put that money to good use.  What he did was devote 55 million dollars over 5 years to Ben Gordon and 35 million dollars over 5 years to Charlie Villanueva.  These moves obviously have not worked.  At the time, it seemed like Dumars was simply making moves to make them and that's really come across as the season's progressed.  Gordon and Villanueva have not clicked with the regular Pistons in the rotation and are symbolic of a lackluster franchise.  With the money and length of the contracts given to those two players as well, things look even more damp for Detroit for the near future.  Gordon has struggled to stay healthy and both players have not only struggled with their shots, they've struggled to find any consistent groove either off of the bench or in the starting lineup.  Grade: F

Cleveland Cavaliers trade Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to the Phoenix Suns to acquire Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal (46 Games, 11.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.2 BPG, 51.5 FT Pctg., 55.8 FG Pctg.)
Cleveland Cavaliers record (41-11)
Coming off another "close but not close enough" season for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the franchise entered another offseason of "what big name player can we acquire to throw on the wall and see if it will stick?"  During last year's terrific run, Cleveland was rumored to acquire Shaquille O'Neal at the trade deadline but balked on the move.  After watching Dwight Howard destroyt the team in the Eastern Conference Finals, they basically admitted that they let the fans down by not making the move last year, by making the move this offseason for Shaq.  Early in the season, Shaq really struggled to get acclimated in the lineup for Cleveland and fans really criticized the move.  But here as of late, Shaq has really improved his play on the court and his presence as a player on the court is invaluable, regardless of what numbers he is putting up.  Not to mention, he's got a very valuable expiring contract as well.  Ever since the Cavaliers lost Mo Williams and Delonte West to injury, Shaq has been asked to do a lot more and has valiantly responded with some strong numbers during the Cavs' current winning streak.  Time will tell if this works out in the postseason, this move was made only for a championship and anything short of that makes this another failed attempt.  But so far this season, Shaq's played well and the Cavaliers team looks great.  Grade: B

San Antonio Spurs trade Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto to the Milwaukee Bucks to acquire Richard Jefferson
Richard Jefferson (49 Games, 12.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 69.2 FT Pctg., 34.9 3PT FG Pctg., 44.9 FG Pctg.)
San Antonio Spurs record (29-21)
Given the team's rapidly increasing age and history problems, the Spurs looked at last season's first round exit as a sign of declining production in San Antonio.  So they entered the offseason aggressively and immediately traded three spot starters, one who had won 3 championships with the team (Bowen) and one who started for the team's 2007 championship (Oberto) to pick up an all star player in Richard Jefferson.  At the time, it looked ingenious.  Given the age of the players the Spurs gave up, they picked up a younger player who was in his prime, coming off averaging at least 18 points a game in 5 of his last 6 seasons with the Nets and Bucks.  However, Jefferson's lack of a consistent jump shot and inability to produce offensively in a half court system have really made his defeciencies as a problem shine.  With the Spurs struggles this season, he's largely become a scapegoat and his sharp decline in production is a large reason why the Spurs have struggled against some of the league's best teams.  He's managed to stay healthy, but he's left a lot to be desired offensively and defensively and has not made any difference on a rapidly aging Spurs team.  The four time champions may be ready to deal Jefferson already.  Grade: D

Boston Celtics sign Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels
Rasheed Wallace (46 Games, 10.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 80.0 FT Pctg., 29.4 3PT FG Pctg., 40.3 FG Pctg.)
Marquis Daniels (20 Games, 5.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, 57.1 FT Pctg., 47.6 FG Pctg.)
Boston Celtics record (32-17)
After last season's dissapointing laundry list of injuries, the Celtics put up a strong effort against the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic before going down in 7 games.  Largely the team missed Kevin Garnett not only for his leadership, but also because he was their most effective offensive big man.  Glen Davis stepped in admirably and did a great job (which earned him a new contract with the Celtics as well) but the Celtics still needed depth in the worse way.  Enter Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels.  Wallace was to be that forward/center off the bench who can stretch the court with this three point shot, step in and play defense and who could play alongside either Garnett or Kendrick Perkins, or could even play alongside both of them in big sets for the Pistons.  Wallace's offensive production has really dissapointed this season and almost 40% of his shots are three point field goal attempts.  Given that he's shooting under 30 percent from long distance, it doesn't seem like such a good idea to camp out at that three point line for Wallace.  But he's done that for the last few seasons and you have to expect that from him.  Because of the injuries to Garnett and Big Baby this season, Wallace has been invaluable as that extra big man and has really played a lot more than Doc Rivers probably expected to play him.  Daniels was supposed to finally be that guard off of the bench for the Celtics who could spell Paul Pierce.  Given Pierce's big minutes last season and the team's lack of a true backup for him, a lot was expected of Daniels and he's struggled to stay on the court due to injuries.  I'll leave the jury out on him and only give this grade based on the Wallace acquisition.  Grade: C

Los Angeles Lakers sign Ron Artest
Ron Artest (48 Games, 11.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 68.5 FT Pctg., 40.1 3PT FG Pctg., 42.8 FG Pctg.)
Los Angeles Lakers record (40-13)
When Trevor Ariza and his agent, someone the Lakers brass wanted no part of after their negotiations with Andrew Bynum, demanded more money, the Lakers immediately turned their back on Ariza and went after Houston Rockets defender/headcase/Kobe Bryant enemy Ron Artest.  Long one of the most controversial yet colorful characters in the league, Artest looked like an immediate upgrade in terms of player talent over Ariza (in a move of fate, Ariza would sign with the Rockets).  Artest has really struggled to find a role in the triangle offense and looks as if he's lost a step or two defensively for the Lakers but he's played well as of late and this move was made entirely for the postseason.  With that being said and with the Lakers record showing no problems, the Artest struggles haven't had any drastic affect on their record.  I'll still give Artest room to grow.  Grade: C+

Orlando Magic trade Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie to the New Jersey Nets for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson
Vince Carter (45 Games, 16.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 85.2 FT Pctg., 33.2 3PT FG Pctg., 39.6 FG Pctg.)
Orlando Magic record (35-17)
Even though Carter's numbers are down across the board, that had to be expected with the move to the defending Eastern Conference Champion and incredibly deep Orlando Magic.  What wasn't to be expected was Carter's low shooting percentage and lack of involvement in the execution of the offense.  When point-forward and primary playmaker Hedo Turkoglu became a free agent, the Magic thought he wouldn't be worth the money he'd command and immediately made a move to acquire Carter from the eager to shed talent New Jersey Nets to be the team's replacement for Turkoglu.  Statistically speaking it looked like a major upgrade, but Carter struggled, and so far really hasn't been able to become the playmaker that Turkoglu was for that Eastern Conference Champion squad.  Nor, with his shooting percentage, has he been able to be a more effeceient offensive player than Turkoglu.  The team and Carter really hit a bump in January with Carter shooting 29 percent from the field for the month.  But here of late, especially with a 48 point outburst on national television last night by Vinsanity, things look as if they're turning around for Orlando and Vince Carter.  Given the progress they've made as of late, I'm going to be generous with his grade.  Grade: B-

Atlanta Hawks trade Acie Law and Speedy Claxton to the Golden State Warriors for Jamal Crawford
Jamal Crawford (49 Games, 17.6 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.4 RPG, 85.3 FT Pctg., 37.2 3PT FG Pctg., 46.0 FG Pctg.)
Atlanta Hawks record (32-17)
The Hawks steady incline continued last season with the team going from making the postseason for the first time in nine years back in 2008 to winning the team's first postseason series in ten years in 2009.  So in order to continue taking those steps forward, the Hawks looked at their fantastic starting five and deemed it necessary to give a drastic upgrade to the bench.  After Crawford's struggles in Golden State last year and him openly being told he was not going to be welcomed back by the Warriors, the Hawks saw a player ripe for the picking and immediately acquired him in a trade after the draft.  Given the team's really cheap price for Crawford (in terms of what had to be sent to Golden State), the Hawks have made out like bandits in this deal.  Crawford has not only been the best sixth man all year long, he's been incredibly efficient scoring the basketball and has even been a player Atlanta looks to in the clutch.  Furthermore, he's come through in the clutch plenty of times for the Hawks.  With the team making strides in their record as well, this move has really paid dividends.  Whether or not it gets them past the Conference Semifinals to that natural step up to the Conference Finals is still to be seen, but so far this move has worked otu great for the Hawks.  Grade: A

Toronto Raptors acquire free agent Hedo Turkoglu in four-team trade
Hedo Turkoglu (47 Games, 12.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, 78.4 FT Pctg., 38.3 3PT FG Pctg., 40.3 FG Pctg.)
Toronto Raptors record (28-23)
After getting a lot of publicity and praise during the Magic's run to the NBA finals last season (funny seeing how Orlando's run to the Conference Title really impacted a lot of these moves), Turkoglu entered an offseason in which he was, undoubtedly, going to get paid.  After the Magic basically said "thanks for your services but you're expendable" and traded for Vince Carter, a return was ruled out.  After a rumored deal with the Portland Trail Blazers was announced, it looked like a match made in heaven for a Portland team looking to take that next step.  Then, out of nowhere, Turkoglu was announced to be taking huge money from the Toronto Raptors, a team with a boisterous Turkish population significant enough to make Turkoglu want to move on in.  Turkoglu was the centerpiece of a lot of moves the Raptors made this offseason.  Early on in the season, the team and Turkoglu were dreadful and to this day, although he and the team have made strides, Turkoglu really hasn't looked comfortable in Toronto's offensive system and sometimes looks confused on what he's being asked to do.  Time will tell if Turkoglu and Toronto can continue to make the strides they've made lately but, all things considered, they've underachieved this season.  But with the progress they've made, I'll give them a break.  Grade: C

New Orleans Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats swap Emeka Okafor for Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler (25 Games, 6.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 72.0 FT Pctg., 50.0 FG Pctg.)
Charlotte Bobcats Record (24-25)
Emeka Okafor (52 Games, 11.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 59.3 FT Pctg., 52.7 FG Pctg.)
New Orleans Hornets Record (27-25)
After a falling out with Bobcats coach Larry Brown, Bobcat original Emeka Okafor and his large contract were likely to be moved last offseason.  After putting the team over the luxury tax and being unable to remain healthy all season, largely hurting the team's chemistry and production, the Hornets and fan favorite Tyson Chandler looked likely to part ways as well.  And then this trade happened.  What was basically a straight up swap of centers really worked towards what both teams wanted.  Chandler had an expiring contract of great value and was a hustle, defense, athletic big man that Brown wanted on his team.  Okafor was cap relief for this season (although not for the long term) and someone who played all 82 games for the Hornets to take onto their team.  Both players have really struggled with their new teams.  Chandler's been booed by the Charlotte fans, has not been able to stay healthy (again) and hasn't produced when he's been on the court.  Okafor hasn't duplicated numbers he was expected to add on to playing with Chris Paul.  Because the Bobcats are in the Eastern Conference, it's likely they'll still make the playoffs but Okafor may not be enough to get the Hornets into the postseason in the West; especially with the injuries to Chris Paul.  So what was largely an odd trade made this offseason, neither team has really suffered or benefitted as a result of it.  Although the Hornets are probably ecstatic that they have a center who can play every game.  Grade for the Hornets and Bobcats: C

Posted on: January 5, 2010 5:00 pm
 

GoHornets21's End of the Decade Awards

It all started with us running to wal mart to buy tuna fish and bottled water.  It ended with us cursing the Lakers and Cavaliers and those darn puppets.  The years 2000 to 2010 were full of exciting basketball, break through players and broken hearts.  Scandal erupted when it was discovered that an NBA official was found gambling on games that he was officiating.  Fans were dazzled for Michael Jordan's return to the NBA when he donned the Washington Wizards jersey.  A city was revived in 2008 when the Boston Celtics landed Kevin Garnett and returned to the NBA's elite.  With so much happening, it was pretty difficult to narrow down what awards I was going to give and who or what I would give them to.  But all in all, I'm pleased with it so here goes: GoHornets21's NBA End of the Decade Awards.

Player of the Decade - Tim Duncan - When the Spurs lucked out and drafted Tim Duncan in 1997, I'm sure few envisioned that the very next season the team would win its first championship in franchise history.  That's how special Tim Duncan is.  Entering the decade, Duncan suffered a hyperextension in his knees on the road to defending his championship in the 2000 season, and Greg Popovich made the controversial decision to rest Tim for the 2000 postseason and the Spurs quickly lost in the first round.  A move like that would probably be routinely criticized in today's scrutinizing age, but it allowed Duncan to rehab and heal on his own time and the Spurs reaped the benefits.  The team would never win less than 50 games, was able to bring in pieces and jettison players at a rapid rate while building completely around Duncan.  He won the NBA MVP award in 2002 and 2003.  He brought home three NBA Championships this decade and was named NBA Finals MVP for two of those championships, in 2003 and 2005.  He won a Bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics but always stayed loyal to his coach, to his team and to a city that adores him.  Last season's loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round was the Spurs first first round defeat since Duncan did not play in the 2000 postseason.  That's insane consistency and it's all because of the player of the decade, Tim Duncan.
2nd Place - Kobe Bryant
3rd Place - Shaquille O'Neal

Team of the Decade - Los Angeles Lakers - Let's face facts, the first champions of this decade were the 2000 Los Angeles Lakers.  The last champions of the decade?  The 2009 Los Angeles Lakers.  A lot happened in Lakerland this decade, from the initial three peat, to Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant's continued spats, to O'Neal being traded to Miami, to Phil Jackson retiring, to the tough losing season, to Phil returning, to the two consecutive first round exits, to Kobe pubicly demanding to be traded, to Pau Gasol winding up in their laps and culminating in last year's title.  It was a fantastic voyage for Los Angeles, who won four championships this decade in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2009, and the made the finals two other seasons in 2004 and 2008.  They routinely defeated the closest challenger for team of the decade, the San Antonio Spurs, when the team's would square off in the postseason, with Duncan and company only beating the Lakers in the 2003 semifinals.  Through it all, Kobe Bryant was celebrated, jeered, villifed and eventually dignified when he won a championship in 2009.  Through it all, the Lakers were always either the team you loved to hate, or the team that everybody was hitchin' their bandwagon to.  And that's why they win the team of the decade.
2nd Place - San Antonio Spurs
3rd Place - Detroit Pistons

Team of the Decade (in a season) - the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics - Entering the 2007 offseason, the Celtics were a team with a very storied past but with a rocky recent few seasons.  Coming off a ridiculously bad 2006-2007 season, Paul Pierce openly accepted the possibility of being traded from the only team he's ever played for, and Doc Rivers was viewed across the board as someone who just couldn't coach.  Looking at it now, those would stand as blasphemous statements now.  But that's was widely accepted percepetion then.  Then the team tried to pry Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were looking to trade their superstar to begin their rebuilding process.  Garnett initiall refused to go to Boston and the deal looked dead.  But when the Celtics pulled off a draft day trade to land Ray Allen in a Boston uniform, Garnett changed his mind, and Boston still had enough pieces to convince Minnesota to trade Garnett and the Big Three became the hysteria of the league.  Coming into the season with all kinds of expectations, the Celtics would fill their roster with unwanted veterans like James Posey, P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell and Eddie House and would start young, unproven players such as Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins at point guard and center to stand alongside the Big Three.  What happened was some of the best basketball of the decade.  The Celtics accepted all expectations and soon exceeded them.  They would start off the season hot and never look back.  With Garnett winning the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award, the Celtics would be transformed into a defensive juggernaut, almost impossible to score against and extremely efficient on the offensive end.  They would survive a scare from the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the postseason and then survive an equally scary Cleveland Cavaliers team in the semifinals, before convincingly defeating their arch rivals all season long, the Detroit Pistons in the Conference finals and then the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. 
2nd Place - 1999-2000 Los Angeles Lakers
3rd Place - 2002-2003 San Antonio Spurs

Rivalry of the Decade - Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings - If you were alive during and thriving in basketball during the early portion of this decade, you were enthralled by the Lakers and Kings rivalry.  They had an Southern California vs. Northern California hatred for one another.  They were both finesse teams that could really play some exciting basketball.  They both had terrific coaches in Phil Jackson and Rick Adelman, and one team always beat the other.  The early Sacramento Kings, espcially the 2002 Sacramento Kings, are easily the best teams I've ever seen that didn't win a championship.  Led by Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic and Mike Bibby, there would be on court fights, off court ridicule and constant playoff matchups with the Lakers for the Kings that would eventually force Sacramento's hand in dismantling the team.  Whether it be the classic seven game 2002 Western Conference Semifinals, the classic slugfest between Doug Christie and Rick Fox or Shaq's classic boast that "Los Angeles is the new capital of California", this rivalry had everything you could ever want.  Not only was it two teams that detested eachother, it was two wonderfully talented teams that hated eachother and would routinely put on some of the best basketball of the decade.
2nd Place - San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns
3rd Place - Detroit Pistons vs. Indiana Pacers

Fans of the Deace - the Portland Trail Blazers - The Rose Garden has always been an exciting place to watch an NBA Basketball game.  The fans in Portland truly embrace and love their franchise and have for a very long time.  When the Trail Blazers suffered early success in the beginning part of this decade, they truly were a fantastic group of fans who supported their team.  When things got rough with off court problems, the fans let their frustrations be known, and the Trail Blazers were eventually forced to follow public desire and shed the "Jail Blazers" monicker.  Through it all, the Rose Garden was routinely sold out and finally became the place to watch basketball again in 2007, when the new Brandon Roy led Blazers burst onto the scene.
2nd Place - Sacramento Kings
3rd Place - Utah Jazz

Upset of the Decade - the Detroit Pistons over the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals - Coming into the 2003-2004 season, the Lakers were a team that already had won three championships and had Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal manning down the roster.  In the offseason, the team added veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton, both eager to win a championship and both future hall of famers as well.  A lot was made of the Lakers four eventual Hall of Famers on one roster, and the team overcame injuries and Kobe's sexual assault allegations to peak in the postseason and take their rightful spot in the NBA Finals.  Over in the Eastern Conference, a solid team with a coach who never could win the big one played solid basketball all season long, acquired Rasheed Wallace at midseason and looked poised to make a nice run in the postseason as well.  When they eventually made the NBA Finals, not a snowball's chance in the Devil's residence was given to Detroit to beat the Los Angeles Lakers.  What followed was one of the most convincing five game victories in NBA postseason history.  After taking game 1 in convincing fashion, the Lakers would need late game heroics by Kobe Bryant to steal game 2 away from the Pistons.  But when the series shifted to Detroit for the next three games, the fantastic Detroit fans and the cohesive Pistons unit routinely thumped the Lakers and would win all three games in Detroit to take the NBA Finals in five games.
2nd Place - Golden State Warriors over the Dallas Mavericks in the 2007 Western Conference First Round
3rd Place - Chicago Bulls over the Miami Heat in the 2007 Eastern Conference First Round

Playoff Series of the Decade - Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings in the 2002 Western Conference Finals - As documented earlier, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings hated eachother.  Largely, the Kings were viewed as a soft team incapable of beating Los Angeles.  But they acquired Mike Bibby in the 2001 offseason and won home court advantage throughout the postseason and looked as poised as ever to finally defeat their arch nemisis.  After the Lakers shocked the Kings in game 1 at Arco Arena, all of the ghosts and skeltons came out of Sacramento's closets and things looked bad for the Kings.  But then the Kings would take back game 2 and then win game 3 at Staples Center in convincing fashion.  With a 2-1 lead, the Kings entered the pivotal game 4 focused and ready to take full advantage of the series.  With the lead late, the Lakers through up a myriad of attempts to take the lead but were unable to, when the ball was tipped out to Robert Horry who hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history at the buzzer to give the Lakers the win and to tie the series at 2-2.  Even with their spirits hurting, the Kings were resilient in winning game 5.  Game 6 will be forever covered in mystery over whether or not the referees intentionally gave the Lakers the victory as was hinted by Tim Donaghy, but the Lakers used those free throws to their advantage and took game 6 at home.  This set up the fantastic game 7 in Arco Arena, where the Kings had every opportunity to win the game but uncharacteristically missed free throw after free throw, allowing the game to go into overtime where the Lakers eventually won.  The Kings never reached the conference finals again that decade and eventually jettisoned Chris Webber, then Peja Stojakovic, then Mike Bibby before entering the rebuilding stage that they're in now.
2nd Place - Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals
3rd Place - San Antonio Spurs vs. Detroit Pistons in the 2005 NBA Finals

Steal of the Decade - Los Angeles Lakers receive Pau Gasol and a 2010 2nd Round draft pick from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol and 1st Round draft picks in 2008 and 2010 - At the time of this trade, Lakers franchise center Andrew Bynum had just gone down to a knee injury and was done for the season.  After not making it out of the first round of the playoffs the previous three seasons, the Lakers looked stuck in mediocrity before they pulled off the trade of the decade.  Seeing Memphis desperate to unload Pau's contract and begin rebuilding.  The Lakers were all so eager to give the Grizzlies cap relief in Brown and McKie, a young guard in Crittenton and a promising prospect in Pau's brother Marc.  Along with some 1st round draft picks that will wind up being in the late 20s, the Lakers were able to get their second star to Kobe Bryant and immediately took off.  They have been to the NBA Finals both seasons with Gasol on the roster and are favored to do it again this year.
2nd Place - Boston Celtics receive Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, cash considerations and two 2009 1st Round Draft Picks
3rd Place - Portland Trail Blazers receive draft rights to Brandon Roy from Minnesota Timberwolves of the NBA for the draft rights to Randy Foye and also receive draft rights to LaMarcus Aldridge and a conditional 2nd Round Draft Pick from the Chicago Bulls of the NBA for Viktor Khryapa and the draft rights to Tyrus Thomas on the same night; 2006 Draft night

Blunder of the Decade - Chicago Bulls sign Ben Wallace to 4 year, 60 million dollar deal - (taken from my Worst Contracts of the Last Decade blog) A four time NBA Defensive Player of the Year award winner and even the reigning 2 time DPOY, Ben Wallace entered the 2006 offseason as the prize of a very weak free agent class.  A defensive specialist who was always known to give max effort at the center position, the Bulls, looking for a player to hold down the center position and take the team to the next level, gave all of their free cap space to Ben Wallace to lure him away from the Detroit Pistons.  Outside of his comfort zone in Chicago, and playing on a team that didn't preach defense like the teams in Detroit did, Ben Wallace severely struggled in Chicago.  His numbers went down across the board, his defense slipped and he was exposed big time.  Facing expectations for the first time his career, Ben Wallace crumbled under pressure.  He was eventually shipped to Cleveland where he started on some successful Cavaliers teams but was never the player he used to be, and the player he used to be had no business making that kind of money.  He was eventually traded to Phoenix last offseason and after being bought out by the Suns considered retirement, but Ben has rejoined the Pistons and has found some of his old youth in Detroit.  But Ben Wallace still tops the list of the ten worst contracts of the last ten years.
2nd Place - Indiana Pacers trade Ron Artest to the Sacramento Kings for Peja Stojakovic
3rd Place - Anything the New York Knicks did during Isiah Thomas' reign.

All Decade Teams
1st Team:
G:
Jason Kidd
G: Kobe Bryant
F: Kevin Garnett
F: Tim Duncan
C: Shaquille O'Neal
Coach: Phil Jackson

2nd Team:
G:
Steve Nash
G: Dwyane Wade
F: LeBron James
F: Dirk Nowitzki
C: Yao Ming
Coach: Greg Popovich

3rd Team:
G:
Allen Iverson
G: Tracy McGrady
F: Paul Pierce
F: Chris Webber
C: Ben Wallace
Coach: Rick Adelman

Anything I missed?  Anything anyone wants to add?  Anything people want to critique?  All conversation is welcome.

Posted on: May 18, 2009 12:36 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoffs: The Conference Finals

 After a passable second round, the playoffs look to get exceptionally exciting with two very tough matchups.  I will start off by saying that I really went back and forth on both series and can't get a good feel on either one, which speaks to how competitive these should be.  Let's get to it.

Eastern Conference Finals
(1)
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Orlando Magic
Why The Cavaliers Will Win: The Cavaliers enter this series on a roll that is out of this world.  After winning their first eight games of the postseason, they've run an incredible wave of momentum right into this series.  Everyone across the board is contributing and they've gotten an absolutely magnificent showing from LeBron James so far this postseason.  I imagine they'll continue to get great production from LeBron but the defense will be key.  And if you're going to rely on defense, being the number one defensive squad in the league helps in that department. 
Why The Magic Will Win: The Magic look like a confident bunch.  No team has been scrutinized more, outside of Los Angeles, than this Orlando squad.  However, the coaching squad and players have responded to criticism and have shown the ability to win crucial games on the road (winning games 1 and 7 in Boston, and winning critical games 4 and 6 in Philadelphia).  Dwight Howard is a matchup problem for anybody in this league, but with the Cavaliers he should look to have his way around the basket.  Anderson Vareajo can't sporadically give him fits with his ability to draw chargers, but Ben Wallace hasn't received any playing time and I can't imagine him being fresh enough to check Howard.  Even if he is, the offensive holes with him in the game will be glaring.  When that happens, the Cavs become too one dimensional (go to LeBron and spot up). 
Key Player for the Cavaliers: Mo Williams hit some big shots in game 4 against the Hawks but he's struggled with his shot this postseason.  If he plays at the level he did during the first two series then Rafer Alston will be able to match him.  Williams needs to convincingly take Alston to the limit at that position in order for the Cavaliers to win this series.
Key Player for the Magic: Courtney Lee will go unsung, but his defense on Eddie House against the Celtics was huge.  He was big in the 76ers series and although he's lost his starting spot, he stopped a critical role player and I imagine he'll be asked to do the same against Delonte West.  West has had a very good postseason thus far and if he continues to excel it's a huge feather in the cap for the Cavaliers.  However, if Lee can have West struggle with his jump shot, it can further discourage this squad and have them defer to LeBron too often.
Prediction: Magic in seven
Key As To Why They Will Win: Dwight Howard will be the critical factor in this series and I imagine he's going to have a field day in the paint.  This was not a problem for the Cavs in earlier series, but a severely injured Al Horford and a three point friendly Rasheed Wallace aren't necessarily intimidating presences.
Conclusion: I had these two teams in the conference finals before the playoffs started, and I picked the Cavs to win it.  I have no reason to back away from that precition now.  However, I'm riding the Magic bandwagon and really feel as if this team plays great ball together.  I could really fall on my face with this pick as I've rode the Cavs bandwagon all year, but I'm jumping off for this series.  It's not a matter of what the Cavs can't do, they've proven they can play with anybody in the league.  This is all about what the Magic are doing.  They've blown teams out, won tough games, faced adversity and overcome obstacles.  The Cavs could be riding momentum, but no team should be as confident as the Magic are.  That convincing victory in Boston for game 7 should give the Magic the confidence to win a seventh and final game in Cleveland.

Western Conference Finals
(1)
Los Angeles Lakers vs. (2) Denver Nuggets
Why The Lakers Will Win: The Lakers are top to bottom the more talented team.  However, they have a tendency to let up and let Kobe Bryant do all of the work.  Pau Gasol is hit or miss in the paint but came up big in game 7.  Trevor Ariza will be able to guard Carmelo Anthony which should allow Kobe Bryant the freedom to opperate on offense.  The bench, the defense and Andrew Bynum were huge in a critical game against Houston, and that should give the team some confidence going forward.  Also, Dahntay Jones has done a good job against smaller guards, but he won't be able to check Kobe and J.R. Smith isn't a force on defense either.
Why The Nuggets Will Win: The Nuggets are playing the best basketball of anybody in the postseason.  Everyone top to bottom is contributing, playing tough defense, hitting open jump shots and taking it to the basket at will.  The Lakers soft inside should have the Nuggets licking their chops if they continue to play the game that they've been against the Hornets and MavericksChauncey Billups should continue to give the Lakers problems at the point guard position and should be able to continue to keep Derek Fisher a non factor.  Also, now that Kenyon Martin won't be busy guarding Kobe Bryant, he should be able to contain Pau Gasol and give him fits.
Key Player for the Lakers: Andrew Bynum was solid in the last two home games of the Houston series and if he can continue to be productive, even if at home, it will do wonders for the Lakers in the paint.  Nene struggled away from Denver against the Mavericks and that was without any kind of inside presence on Dallas.  If Bynum can play solid ball around the basket on both sides then the Lakers can take it.
Key Player for the Nuggets: The starting lineup is a toss up, but J.R. Smith can give the Nuggets something the Lakers haven't had this postseason, reliable, consistent production off of the bench.  Chris Andersen got into foul trouble a lot in the Dallas series, but Smith was still able to play and has looked great the entire postseason.  It feels as if everything he's letting go is going in.  It's important for him to continue to produce, because if he gets hot Kobe Bryant will have to guard him and that can take away from his relaxing on defense.
Prediction: Lakers in seven
Key As To Why They Will Win: The Houston Rockets did the Lakers all sorts of favors in their second round matchup and I'll tell you why.  The fact that they showed the Lakers they can't win simply by showing up should instill a sense of urgency for the Lake show against the red hot Nuggets.  If the Lakers are on their game they're the most talented team in the league.  Now that they're playing the best competition the West has to offer, I look for them to bring it every game.
Conclusion: This series was tough.  It was left undecided even as I typed this and I feel as if it could justifiably go either way.  The Nuggets should win the point guard and bench battles, but the Lakers should be able to match that at the wing spots and inside the paint.  The Nuggets have faced teams that were inferior to them and they exerted their authoritiy.  They won't be able to do that against the Lakers, and this is a series where a couple of losses could give the Nuggets some trouble.  They haven't faced adversity in the playoffs in years.  They've breezed through this postseason and were hardly in contention in previous years.  It's vital that they go back to Denver with at loss one win if they're going to win this series, and I think the Lakers will ride game seven into games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles.  That was the difference maker.

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 11, 2009 10:42 am
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Detroit Pistons

Previous Previews:
Western Conference:
Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with the former NBA champion Detroit Pistons.

Strengths
When you think about Detroit, you think about a team with a lot of experience and a team where the core players all boast championship rings.  Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace are, surprisingly, the only holdovers from that 2004 championship team, but they all started and played their own prominent role en route to winning that championship.  Hamilton and Prince, in particular, are the most valuable players on the team because the offense really runs through those two players.  When Hamilton has received big minutes and been in the lineup, the team has really responded with solid play and looks to be at their best and most effecient.

The Pistons still play solid defense as well.  Rodney Stuckey, last postseason's biggest surprise in Motown, has good size for a point guard and is capable of staying in front of his man.  Tayshaun Prince has a well received reputation as one of the better man defenders in the league, and when the situation calls for it you expect the Pistons to come up big on defense.  Also, the Pistons have a deep rotation and throw a lot of players at you.  Will Bynum has been a spectacular surprise as of late for Detroit and their bench really plays hard and seems to be a cohesive unit.  They can give the starters, who have so much importance on this team, valuable rest and don't force Michael Curry to overexert his starters.

Weaknesses
Even though Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace are two solid power forwards, neither are a true center and neither can consistently score around the basket.  It's well documented that Wallace has fallen in love with the three point shot as of late, and it really affects the Pistons in the long run because he's almost dominant down there in the paint.  Unfortunately, he doesn't take it down there as much and he's a big key for the Pistons.  With him in the lineup and playing well offensively and defensively, the Pistons have a chance to really make a run at a championship, but as we saw last year when Garnett lit him up and this season in his production offensively, Wallace's head no longer seems to be in the game.

Also, even though the Pistons have bodies, their bench lacks serious consistency.  Arron Afflalo, Jason Maxiell, Walter Herrmann and even Will Bynum have been good in spurts this season but none of them have gotten into a rhythym where the Pistons should feel confident relying on any of them for an extended period of time.  Also, with Maxiell playing like a reserve who received a huge contract, and with Amir Johnson and Kwame Brown as the other big man options for Detroit, the Pistons look to really struggle if they play an opponent that boasts a ton of size.  The Pistons are without a doubt a guard-oriented lineup and they like to play small for mismatches, and also because they don't have options in the post. 

Why They Will Win It
The Pistons are one of those teams who is capable of making a run.  The talent and experience is there, and this team has made six straight Eastern Conference Finals.  Even though this season has been a trainwreck in so many ways, the Pistons still are not at a lack of confidence, with Rasheed lately stating that the team would be ready to turn it on when the postseason came around.  Turning the switch on and off is dangerous, but the Pistons have been notorious for doing it the past few seasons.  That just proves that they can do it again this year.

Why They Won't Win It
The Pistons have looked out of sync without Billups all year.  Rodney Stuckey is a really good player, but he's not a true point guard and the Pistons discounted a lot of chemistry to acquire Allen Iverson's contract.  The Pistons can turn the switch on and off, but they haven't shown this year that they can play with any bit of consistency or togetherness.  Rasheed Wallace's production really seems to have affected this entire team as a whole, and with his inconsistent performances the Pistons have struggled, as he is their only true option under the basket.  This is a team with a ton of experience from past years, but it's a team that hasn't had much success this season.

Conclusion
You'd like to declare the Pistons dead but you still can't until they lose in the postseason.  With the players that they have, and with a team that has all the confidence in the world, a part of you still believes they could possibly make a run in the postseason.  They match up well with anybody, however they don't have any size and haven't seem interested at all this season.  With their record and with their performance, credit and optimism is undeserved for this Detroit squad.  However, by reputation alone, this is a team that, in the right matchup, could win a playoff series.  But, with what they've displayed on the court, it's hard to believe that they will do so.

Coming up next: the Chicago Bulls.

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