Tag:Tony Parker
Posted on: May 20, 2010 3:22 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 7

I figured since I didn't do a playoff preview this season for each team as I did last year, I'll do a fun little countdown to this year's draft, since that's where my team is going to be instead of the postseason.  This is, easily, the hardest time I've had trying to decide where to put a draft.  There were three or four drafts I could have considered here for the #7 spot but, after a careful 3 minute deliberation, I feel that I've made the right choice to put here.  What choice was that?  Well here is the number 7 draft on our countdown, the 2001 NBA Draft which features some monumental busts, a lot of high school players (coincidence?), and quite a few really talented foreign players.  Let's see how it all went down.

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

entry/5993128/21869382?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

entry/5993128/21895619?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

entry/5993128/21928696?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

#7: 2001 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Washington Wizards - Kwame Brown, C, Glynn Academy High School
2) Los Angeles Clippers - Tyson Chandler, C, Dominguez High School (traded to the Bulls)
3) Atlanta Hawks - Pau Gasol, PF, Spain (traded to the Grizzlies)
4) Chicago Bulls - Eddy Curry, C, Thornwood High School
5) Golden State Warriors - Jason Richardson, SG, Michigan State
6) Vancouver Grizzlies - Shane Battier, SF, Duke
7) New Jersey Nets - Eddie Griffin, PF, Seton Hall (traded to the Rockets)
8) Cleveland Cavaliers - DeSagana Diop, C, Oak Hill Academy High School
9) Detroit Pistons - Rodney White, PF, Charlotte
10) Boston Celtics - Joe Johnson, SG, Arkansas

Not an overly horrible top ten, but not a great group of guys either.  There was a lot of controversy before the draft at the speculation of how many high schoolers would be drafted so early.  For that reason, a lot of people were cheering for Shane Battier, a four year colleigate athlete who was a terrific player for the Duke Blue Devils, to be the number one guy.  Instead, it came down to Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler for the number one pick and, famously, Michael Jordan's Wizards drafted Kwame Brown.  Brown was, obviously, the first high schooler ever to be taken number one and he showed flashes of being a really good player in his third season, but totally regressed and will struggle to stay in the league this offseason.  Chandler was drafted by his hometown Clippers but was immediately traded to Chicago for all star Elton Brand, with Chicago hoping to pair Chandler up with hometown product Eddy Curry and create the team's frontcourt for the future.  Neither Chandler or Curry lasted five years in Chicago.  Chandler has shown to be the better player of the two, but has struggled with injuries and consistency.  Curry has struggled with his weight and work ethic, but is still eating up the Knicks payroll.  Gasol is probably the best player out of the draft and he made a splash for the Grizzlies (who relocated to Memphis shortly after this draft) but has really made a name for himself for the Lakers the past few years.  Richardson was a high flying shooting guard who played in the post a lot for the Warriors, but he eventually learned a three point shot and now that's all he takes.  He's still been a solid player in this league though.  Battier, while never showing he was worthy of the number one pick, has made a nice career for himself as a great on ball defender.  Eddie Griffin was once rumored to be the number one pick, but attitude issues sent him down the list and then battles with alcohol eventually led him to fall in and out of rotations in the league.  Sadly, Griffin made a nice comeback with Minnesota in the 04-05 season, but was waived a few years later after battling with his alcohol again, and was later killed in 2007 when his car was hit by a train.  Diop and White turned out to be huge busts for their respective teams.  Diop showed no basketball talent at all after Cleveland selected him, but because of his size has found a way to stay in the league.  Rodney White was a nice offensive player who did not work in Detroit at all before Denver took a chance on him and was eventually out of the league after three seasons.  Joe Johnson, meanwhile, was shipped to Phoenix during his rookie season where he eventually become a solid player before signing with Atlanta and becoming an all star.  He'll be a sought after free agent this offseason. 

11) Boston Celtics - Kedrick Brown, SF, Okaloosa-Walton Community College
12) Seattle Supersonics - Vladimir Radmanovic, SF, Yugoslavia
13) Houston Rockets - Richard Jefferson, SF, Arizona (traded to the Nets)
14) Golden State Warriors - Troy Murphy, PF, Notre Dame
15) Orlando Magic - Steven Hunter, C, DePaul
16) Charlotte Hornets - Kirk Haston, PF, Indiana
17) Toronto Raptors - Michael Bradley, PF, Villanova
18) Houston Rockets - Jason Collins, C, Stanford (traded to the Nets)
19) Portland Trail Blazers - Zach Randolph, PF, Michigan State
20) Cleveland Cavaliers - Brendan Haywood, C, North Carolina (traded to the Magic who then traded him to the Wizards)

Jefferson and Collins were immediately traded by the Rockets to New Jersey for the talented, but troubled Griffin (who we already covered).  Jefferson and Collins became starters for the second of two straight NBA Finals apperances for the Nets while we all know what happened to Griffin.  Brown followed Joe Johnson as the second consecutive first round pick for Boston and while they gave up on Johnson, Brown simply did not work out at all and was out of the league in four years.  Radmanovic was a big man who could shoot from deep long range and was a solid contributor for Seattle and the Clippers before signing a long term deal with the Lakers and regressing big time.  He's still in the league, though.  Murphy has found a way to be a consistent 15 and 10 guy for his entire career.  He's a great three point shooter and rebounder but has still not yet played in the playoffs.  Hason and Bradley were both out of their league in the NBA and Haston was gone in two years while Bradley only lasted five.  Randolph has managed to become a great low post scorer in this league but has not yet had much team success.  Haywood was taken to be the smart college player to Brown's high school inexperience and managed to be a better player than Brown.  Haywood has managed to stay a starting center in this league for, basically, his entire career.

21) Boston Celtics - Joseph Forte, SG, North Carolina
22) Orlando Magic - Jeryl Sasser, SG, SMU
23) Houston Rockets - Brandon Armstrong, SG, Pepperdine (traded to the Nets)
24) Utah Jazz - Raul Lopez, PG, Spain
25) Sacramento Kings - Gerald Wallace, SF, Alabama
26) Philadelphia 76ers - Samuel Dalembert, C, Seton Hall
27) Indiana Pacers - Jamaal Tinsley, PG, Iowa State
28) San Antonio Spurs - Tony Parker, PG, France

If anyone's wondering why there's only 28 picks this season, this was during the stretch where the Minnesota Timberwolves had their first round picks taken away from them due to the Joe Smith contract situation.  Picks 21-24 did not make it in the NBA at all.  Forte continued a horrible draft for the Boston Celtics and was eventually out of the league in two years.  Sasser did not make any impression at all (I had no recollection of him in the league) and he was out of the league in two years as well.  Armstrong was part of the Jefferson for Griffin deal between Houston and New Jersey but he didn't make the splash that Jefferson or even Collins did and he was out of the league by 2004.  Lopez was supposed to be the eventual replacement for John Stockton in Utah but took a year to sign, tore his ACL and was then out of the league by 2005.  The last four picks, however, weren't that bad.  Wallace was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats in their expansion draft after three years on Sacramento's bench and has become the face of the franchise, even making the all star game this season.  Dalembert became a nice shot blocker for Philadelphia and is still a fantastic athlete who has never put it together on the court (even after Philadelphia payed him that huge contract).  Tinsley was immediately Indiana's starting point guard but eventually inconsistencies and legal problems ruined his career in Indiana and he sat on their payroll without playing for almost two years before he was eventually cut.  He's now a back up for the Grizzlies.  Tony Parker, meanwhile, was the last pick of the first round and was one of those famous Spurs unknowns who walked in and made an impact immediately.  Parker was the team's starting point guard by the end of his rookie season, won the first of three NBA Championships in his second season and was even named the 2007 NBA Finals MVP. 

Round Two Notables:
30) Chicago Bulls - Trenton Hassell, SG, Austin Peay
31) Golden State Warriors - Gilbert Arenas, PG, Arizona
35) New Jersey Nets - Brian Scalabrine, PF, USC
38) Detroit Pistons - Mehmet Okur, C, Turkey
40) Seattle Supersonics - Earl Watson, PG, UCLA
42) Seattle Supersonics - Bobby Simmons, SF, DePaul (traded to the Wizards)
53) Utah Jazz - Jarron Collins, C, Stanford

This draft featured a pretty deep pool of talent.  Hassell is a defensive specialist who started for some successful Minnesota and Dallas teams and is currently playing for the Nets.  Gilbert Arenas won the Most Improved Player of the Year in 2003 after finally learning the point guard position but then signed on with the Wizards.  Unfortunately, knee injuries and legal issues have caused him to miss 199 out of a possible 246 games the last three seasons.  Scalabrine has managed to stay in the league and was even on the Celtics roster that won the 2008 championship.  Okur would win a championship in 2004 with Detroit before going on to Utah and becoming an all star center.  Watson has managed to be a nice back up point guard in this league for his entire career and looks to still have some kind of future in the NBA.  Simmons, meanwhile, was a raw talent with no shooting ability and, coincidentally, has become a player who shoots nothing but three pointers.  Jarron Collins is the twin brother of first round pick Jason Collins and has, like his brother, found a way to stay in the league this long and even started in this postseason for the Phoenix Suns

Notable Undrafted Players:
Carlos Arroyo, PG, Florida International - Signed with the Utah Jazz in 2002
Charlie Bell, PG, Michigan State - Signed with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2005
Maurice Evans, SF, Texas - Signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves
Jamario Moon, SF, Meridian Community College - Signed with the Toronto Raptors in 2007
Andres Nocioni, PF, Argentina - Signed with the Chicago Bulls in 2004

Arroyo eventually joined 24th pick Raul Lopez as the future point guard for the Jazz after John Stockton left.  He didn't have much success in that spot but has found a way to stay in the league so far.  He's probably best known, however, for scoring 25 points in a game during the 2004 Olympics leading his Puerto Rican team to a blowout victory over the USA team.  Bell is a defensive specialist at the point guard position and, eventually, was paid handsomely in the 2007 offseason.  He's still with Milwaukee.  Evans was a nice scorer for Texas and, after struggling to stick with certain teams, became a rotation player for Sacramento in 2004.  He eventually became a starter for the Magic in 2008 during a successful postseason run for the team and is now a bench specialist for the Atlanta Hawks.  Moon waited the longest for his big break and played a lot in the NBDL before finally signing with Toronto in 2007.  The high flyer eventually made the 2008 NBA All-Rookie Second Team.  Nocioni, meanwhile, signed with Chicago in 2004 after winning a gold medal with the Argentinan National Team and immediately made a splash for the Bulls with his aggressive defense (which some called dirty) and his frantic style of play.  He was, however, overpaid in 2007 and is barely on the court for Sacramento.

2001-2002 NBA Rookie of the Year: Pau Gasol
All Stars from the 2001 NBA Draft: Pau Gasol, Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph, Gerald Wallace, Tony Parker, Gilbert Arenas, Mehmet Okur

2001-2002 NBA All-Rookie First Team:
Pau Gasol
Shane Battier
Jason Richardson
Tony Parker
Andrei Kirilenko (who signed with Utah Jazz in 2001 after being drafted by the Jazz in 1999)

2001-2002 NBA All-Rookie Second Team:
Jamaal Tinsley
Richard Jefferson
Eddie Griffin
Zeljko Rebraca (who was originally drafted by the Seattle Supersonics in 1994 before having his rights traded to the Detroit Pistons in 1999 and finally signing in 2001)
Vladimir Radmanovic and Joe Johson tied for the fifth spot

More ties, NBA?!

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

2009 NBA Postseason First Round Review

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

entry/5993128/14555500


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh no, now onto this next series.

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

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

2008-2009 NBA Postseason Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st Round Matchups
Eastern Conference

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

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

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

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

Western Conference

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

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

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

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


Conference Semifinals
Eastern Conference

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

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

Western Conference

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

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


Eastern Conference Finals

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

Western Conference Finals

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


NBA Finals

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

Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:45 pm
 

2008-2009 NBA Regular Season Awards

Rookie of the Year:
1) Derrick Rose, G, Chicago Bulls (81 Games, 16.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.9 RPG while shooting 78.8 FT Pctg., 47.5 FG Pctg.) - In a runaway for this award, Rose has emerged past his competition and led his team to the postseason. He was taken number one, proved to be the correct selection and has the Bulls in the playoffs. Nobody's even close.
2) O.J. Mayo, G, Memphis Grizzlies (82 Games, 18.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.1 SPG while shooting 87.9 FT Pctg., 38.4 3PT FG Pctg., 43.8 FG Pctg.) - Put up great stats all season long but had stretches where he really suffered. Time will tell if he's a game changer or not.
3) Brook Lopez, C, New Jersey Nets (82 Games, 13.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 1.0 APG while shooting 79.3 FT Pctg., 53.1 FG Pctg.) - Far exceeded any expectation given to him at the center position. He proved that he can really score the basketball and he proved to be a really good find for New Jersey.
4) Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder (82 Games, 15.3 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.9 RPG, 1.3 SPG while shooting 81.5 FT Pctg., 39.8 FG Pctg.) - When Kevin Durant went out this year, Westbrook took over and really elevated his game. He finished strong this year and he looks like a really good player. Whether he'll be a point guard his entire career or not, though, is to be determined.
5) Kevin Love, F, Minnesota Timberwolves (81 Games, 11.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.0 APG while shooting 78.9 FT Pctg., 45.9 FG Pctg.) - Put up really good numbers this year and was overlooked all season long. I don't know why people hate on his game so much. He's a nice shooter and a fantastic rebounder. He's not great, but he's a really good player.

Most Valuable Player:
1) LeBron James, F, Cleveland Cavaliers (81 Games, 28.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 7.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.1 BPG while shooting 78.0 FT Pctg., 34.4 3PT FG Pctg., 48.9 FG Pctg.) - What's left to be said that hasn't been said in regards to LeBron's run this season? He's taken the Cavs to the best record in the league and has been tremendous across the board in doing so.
2) Dwyane Wade, G, Miami Heat (79 Games, 30.2 PPG, 7.5 APG, 5.0 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG while shooting 76.5 FT Pctg., 31.7 3PT FG Pctg., 49.1 FG Pctg.) - Wade had the best single season by anyone in the league. Unfortunately, his team isn't spectacular (though they're not as bad as people make them out to be) and Wade really carried the weight to get the team to the 5th seed. The most important statistic: 79 games played.
3) Chris Paul, G, New Orleans Hornets (78 Games, 22.8 PPG, 11.0 APG, 5.5 RPG, 2.8 SPG while shooting 86.8 FT Pctg., 36.4 3PT FG Pctg., 50.3 FG Pctg.) - Overlooked all season long, but Paul actually had a better year this year than he did last year. In the Hornet's tumultuous season, Paul was the main staple and did a fantastic job of holding this depleted Hornets squad together for 49 wins.
4) Brandon Roy, G, Portland Trail Blazers (78 Games, 22.6 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.7 RPG, 1.1 SPG while shooting 82.4 FT Pctg., 37.7 3PT FG Pctg., 48.0 FG Pctg.) - Another overlooked player who does a little bit of everything for that Portland franchise, does it with class and really takes oveor in the clutch for Portland.
5) Paul Pierce, F, Boston Celtics (81 Games, 20.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.0 SPG while shooting 83.0 FT Pctg., 39.1 3PT FG Pctg., 45.7 FG Pctg.) - With the injuries on this Boston team, Pierce was the main staple in the rotation and had a fantastic statistical season. With all the time that Kevin Garnett has missed, the Celtics probably had no business winning 60 games and Pierce led the team in doing so.

Coach of the Year:
1) Nate McMillan, Portland Trail Blazers (54-28 Record) - McMillan did a fantastic job of managing this young team and rotating everyone in, giving everybody a share of the glory. Portland has a deep squad but it was really young and he handled injuries and minutes distribution well enough to have this team gelling at the right time.
2) Stan Van Gundy, Orlando Magic (59-23 Record) - Really helped the Magic take their game to a new level. He's preached to them a defensive philosophy this year as well and it's evident watching them play that they've grown a lot from last season.
3) Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16 Record) - Mike Brown has done a fine job putting players in the right position to win. His commitment to defense has always made the Cavaliers better than their talent indicated, but when he finally got some players he led his team to 66 wins. Solid season.
4) Greg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs (54-28 Record) - With all the injuries the Spurs went through this year, it's amazing to see that everybody has forgotten about Greg Popovich. Pop has had to go with smaller, defensively deffecient squads to get the Spurs to the Southwest division crown and really deserves a lot of credit.

Executive of the Year:
1) Danny Ferry, Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16 Record) - Obviously the huge acquisition of Mo Williams was the biggest reason for the Cavaliers resurgence this season. Ferry had the guts to pull it off and worked it to perfection.
2) Kevin Pritchard, Portland Trail Blazers (54-28 Record) - Pritchard has just put together a fantastic squad over in Portland. They're deep, talented, young, they draft well; just a model organization.
3) Mark Warkentien, Denver Nuggets (54-28 Record) - When the team traded Marcus Camby for a trade exemption in the summer, Nuggets fans were up in arms. But cost cutting moves like signing Chris Andersen coupled with landing Chauncey Billups in a trade and now the Nuggets are the number 2 seed in all of the western conference.

Defensive Player of the Year:
1) Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic (79 Games, 13.8 RPG, 2.9 BPG, 1.0 SPG) - His presence around the rim and ability to change games with his shot blocking ability is the biggest reason why Howard is in here.
2) Chris Andersen, F-C, Denver Nuggets (71 Games, 6.2 RPG, 2.5 BPG) - The Birdman has returned from a very publicized, very ugly drug abuse problem and was 2nd in the league in blocks with only 20 minutes a game; a fantastic story.
3) Dwyane Wade, G, Miami Heat (79 Games, 2.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG) - Wade became one of the shortest players of all time to record 100 blocks, and that's the biggest reason why Wade sneaks into the DPOY category.
4) Chris Paul, G, New Orleans Hornets (2.8 SPG) - Paul's ability to steal the ball this year was highlighted by recording 103 consecutive games with a steal.

Sixth Man of the Year:
1) Jason Terry, G, Dallas Mavericks (74 Games, 11 Starts, 33.7 MPG, 19.6 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.3 SPG while shooting 88.0 FT Pctg., 36.6 3PT FG Pctg., 46.3 FG Pctg.) - He's not technically a sixth man, but by definition he is so Terry is going to run away with this award.
2) J.R. Smith, G, Denver Nuggets (81 Games, 18 Starts, 27.7 MPG, 15.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.0 SPG while shooting 75.4 FT Pctg., 39.7 3PT FG Pctg., 44.6 FG Pctg.) - He also falls moreso into the Jason Terry category, but J.R. Smith's scoring ability has been humongous off the bench for Denver this season.
3) Travis Outlaw, G-F, Portland Trail Blazers (81 Games, 6 Starts, 27.7 MPG, 12.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.0 APG while shooting 72.3 FT Pctg., 37.7 3PT FG Pctg., 45.3 FG Pctg.) - The truest sixth man to the sense of the word is Travis Outlaw. He comes into the game, is versatile enough to play three different positions, can knock down the three and play strong defense.
4) Eddie House, G, Boston Celtics (81 Games, 0 Starts, 18.3 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, 79.2 FT Pctg., 44.4 3PT FG Pctg., 44.5 FG Pctg.) - House was fantastic from beyond the arc this season and was the main staple for a Celtics bench that was depleted by injuries as well. He's probably the truest sixth man in this category.

Most Improved Player:
1) Tony Parker, G, San Antonio Spurs (72 Games, 22.0 PPG, 6.9 APG, 3.1 RPG while shooting 78.2 FT Pctg., 50.6 FG Pctg.) - Tony Parker was always a good player but this season he became a great player. He averaged career highs in points and assists and really carried the Spurs on his shoulders down the stretch.
2) Devin Harris, G, New Jersey Nets (69 Games, 21.3 PPG, 6.9 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG while shooting 82.0 FT Pctg., 29.1 3PT FG Pctg., 43.8 FG Pctg.) - Statistically speaking Harris is the most improved, but a tough finish and a continued run in with injuries are the lasting impression on Harris this year.
3) David Lee, F, New York Knicks (81 Games, 16.0 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.0 SPG while shooting 75.5 FT Pctg., 54.9 FG Pctg.) - Lee took his game to a new level in Mike D'Antoni's system, averaging a double double and becoming an attractive contribution for any team heading into free agency.
4) Nene, F-C, Denver Nuggets (77 Games, 14.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.3 BPG, 1.2 SPG while shooting 72.3 FT Pctg., 60.4 FG Pctg.) - The onus was on Nene to rebound from Testicular Cancer and be the Nuggets best big man this league, they had no other options, and Nene has really responded. He's done a great job avoiding injuries and really has posted fantastic numbers as the Nuggets main inside presence.

Posted on: April 3, 2009 12:09 am
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:42 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: San Antonio Spurs

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

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

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 a team that has won four championships in ten seasons: the San Antonio Spurs.

Strengths
You look at the Spurs and you look at a core group of players that have been there and done that and have no problem doing it again. Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich both have four rings, and Tony Parker, Bruce Bowen, and Manu Ginobili each sport three championship rings and that alone is worth giving your vote of confidence to the San Antonio Spurs.  The Spurs ability to play their style on the road and win on the road has spurred (no pun intended) a very successful stretch that has seen the Spurs win four championships in ten NBA seasons.  Their emphasis on defense, amazing ability to shoot the three point shot, letting that shot stretch the defense and allow Tim Duncan room to opperate and Pop's uncanny ability to find and manage players that can fill roles and provide key plays for the Spurs have allowed the franchise to be great for all of recent history.  They've won at least one playoff series every year since Tim Duncan came into the league in 1997, minus the 2000 playoffs which Tim Duncan missed due to injury. 

The Spurs defense is having an off year but you know that, even through Bruce Bowen and Jacque Vaughn have seen limited minutes all season, they and players like Kurt Thomas will will step in and provide tough, tenacious minutes on their opposing man and provide the frustration necessary for great team defenders in Manu and Tony to possibly create turnovers and lead to fast break opportunities for the Spurs.  And when the Spurs get on offense, they have a perfect inside-outside game that makes them dangerous from all angles.  They have two of the top ten players percentage wise from behind the three point line in Roger Mason Jr. and Matt Bonner.  Other players like Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley can and have hit big three point shots in the postseason when called upon.  And of course, Tim Duncan is possibly the best power forward of this generation.  He can step out and hit the 20 footer and his footwork makes him nearly unstoppable around the basket as well.  He's nearly unguardable.  Add to the fact that players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili also thrive driving to the basket, and the Spurs get to the free throw line a respectable amount of times as well.

Weaknesses
Age and athleticism have been brought up as problems since around the 2006 postseason loss to Dallas for the Spurs.  Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have actually thrived this season, but Manu's problems with injury and a reliance on older players like Bowen, Vaughn, Finley and Thomas may prove to be tough for the Spurs as minutes and games stretch out with time.  We've seen them play against younger, athletic teams this season and really struggle to stop them.  Since they've played Mason at the shooting guard position and Matt Bonner at center, the Spurs have given up a lot as far as defense is conerned.  Bruce Bowen and Fabricio Oberto usually stood in at those positions for the Spurs and neither hardly gets into the game, although that seems like it will change for Bowen in the postseason.  The Spurs also seem to have an infatuation with the three point shot, and sometimes can get caught up taking too many of them, instead of driving to the hoop and creating offense in the paint.  Granted, Tim Duncan is the only person who you can give the ball to under the basket and watch him create, but you can't have too many games where you shoot 4 for 20 something from beyond the arc.

Also, depth may prove to be a problem for this Spurs team.  They've always brought Manu off of the bench as a coaching ploy, and Pop should look to do that this year as well, but Tony Parker has played a lot of minutes this season for this Spurs team and George Hill, as a rookie, doesn't figure to get many minutes in the postseason.  When Parker goes to the bench, Jacque Vaughn comes in and provides effecient basketball, but can't hit a jumper to save his life, and Roger Mason sometimes handles the ball but he can be turnover prone at the point guard position.  Fact of the matter is, although Tony Parker is one of the biggest workhorses in this league, you have to wonder if his body can hold up and if it can't then the Spurs are in big trouble.  Also, because of Manu's inability to stay healthy this season, a sense of chemistry and continuity seems to be lacking on this Spurs team that has been prominet on previous squads.  That all still has time to be worked out, but could be a problem in early rounds, and the Spurs aren't guaranteed a first round victory this season.

Why They Will Win It
The Spurs have been there, done that, and this is an odd year, which bodes will for San Antonio's pride and joy.  They shoot the three point ball well, they play solid defense and they have the best low post player in the game in Tim Duncan.  With all of those intangibles, it's hard to ever count the Spurs out of championship conversations.  They can beat you in so many ways and are actually a versatile squad that can outscore you if called upon (see the Phoenix series of the past few years).  But still, the Spurs bread and butter is slow, grind it out defensive basketball which usually is the poster of postseason basketball.  They're a team that's always confident and always seems to be built for the postseason.

Why They Won't Win It
Continuity is a problem with this team.  Ime Udoka, Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, Jacque Vaughn and George Hill have had inconsistent minute distributions all season and therefore you don't really know who's going to be where in what situation.  Drew Gooden was added to give another low post scoring threat, but he's been eased very slowly into the rotation and still doesn't look completely comfortable.  Add to the fact that the Spurs may have a tendency to rely on the three point shot too much this season, and they can catch themselves becoming jump shooters.  They've also had problems keeping Manu healthy all season, and even if he plays, if he's not 100% it's going to hurt the Spurs (see last season's Western Conference Finals).

Conclusion
History tells us the Spurs are on in these odd years.  Tim Duncan and company have been there, done that, and will always be among those mentioned as favorites for a championship.  This team and city embraces the work ethic and no nonsense approach that the Spurs bring, and they always play their best basketball in the postseason.  Pop always does a great job of managing his star player's minutes in the regular season, and this year will be as important as any to see if that really paid off.  However, something seems to be missing from this Spurs squad.  That spark, that "it" factor that's kept you always believing in them seems to be missing this year and an overreliance on the three point ball may cause them problems in tough games.  However, with Tim Duncan and company in the mold, you have to consider them a contender for a championship every season.  Even with all of their problems, you can't be surprised if the Spurs make a run at a title.  After all, they're the most effecient, consistant team in the league and they've done a great job of coming out of nowhere to win championships before.  So the Spurs will be right there in the end among those mentioned as possible championship contenders.  Even if by reputation.

The next team to clinch will be covered in the next preview.

Posted on: January 23, 2009 4:21 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2009 6:17 pm
 

The Rise and Fall of the Phoenix Suns (Part 2)

Entering 2007-2008, the spirit and excitement surrounding Phoenix had diminished as quickly as had been experienced in quite some time.  This was not the look of a hungry team, aspiring to finally get over that hump and gain championship glory.  Instead it was a beaten team, with spirits down and excuses aplenty.  Mike D'Antoni's position as coach of that luck deprived team was not enviable.  As a coach, there's only so many ways you can encourage your team to continue to play outside of their capabilities as they continue to receive short hand after short hand.  This was a city and fan base starved for championship success and the Suns represented their best opportunity at achieving that.  But after falling short three successive seasons, a lot of the blame went towards D'Antoni's style and basketball philosophy.

Who knows whether the fast break, 7 seconds or less style offense will ever be the catalyst for a team looking to gain the Larry O'Brien Trophy?  Mike D'Antoni took a franchise with no direction and made it one of the most successful and exciting teams since the days of the Lakers three-peat.  It was a team that played a style everyone who has played basketball could admire.  But the fact that the anti-Suns, the San Antonio Spurs, had defeated the Suns in two out of the three postseasons where D'Antoni was at the helm created a lot of skepticism surrounding the system.  Steve Nash had won two MVP awards and put up astounding numbers as a point guard, but was contiuously exposed by Tony Parker against the Spurs and with his age coming into question, many people wondered how much longer D'Antoni could play Nash heavy minutes, run that style of offense and still have likely aspirations to win a championship.  It was believed that the window was closing on D'Antoni's team and panic was setting in.  To try and win a championship, owner Robert Sarver took D'Antoni out of control of the front office and hired a former Spur, five time NBA Champion Steve Kerr, to run the franchise.

Kerr and D'Antoni immediately butted heads on how they believed the team was supposed to operate.  Kerr wanted to stress size, a certain style of play and an emphasis on defense that seemed to be lacking in D'Antoni's style.  Shawn Marion, although he continuously put up fantastic numbers in D'Antoni's system, repeatedly went to the press about how unhappy he was in Phoenix and as a result brought down the morale of the squad.  As if the team had not yet recovered from the demoralizing loss to the Spurs, a locker room morale was so dangerously low that mediocrity seemed to be creeping back into the Phoenix franchise.  The Suns, at the time of early February, were a 34-14 team but did not maintain that excitement and emotion that they possesed for the previous three seasons.  So Steve Kerr traded the locker room question mark in Shawn Marion and brought in the player least fit for D'Antoni's system, former NBA MVP and three time champion Shaquille O'Neal

In his prime, Shaquille O'Neal was quite possibly the most dominant player in the NBA's history.  He made his debut in the league at the time of the Patrick Ewing's, David Robinson's, and Hakeem Olajuwon's of the league and then carried that domination into the 21st century as one of the only true centers left in the league.  His charisma, humor and overall talent left him as one of the most embracable and exciting players in the NBA's history.  Shaq arriving brought a lot of questions, but ultimately brought a renewed excitement to the team.  He immediately promised a championship ring, and promised that his age (35 years old) and lack of mobility (how agile could someone 7'1" and 325 pounds be) would not prevent Phoenix from continuing their style of play and that they could still gain a championship with him being the elephant in the room (no pun intended).  Allowing Amar'e Stoudemire to move to power forward, it created a more realistic approach to the lineup for Phoenix but greatly altered their effectiveness on the offensive side of the ball.  Many said this was a move for the postseason, so that they could counter the size of the Lakers and Spurs and that only then could we truly rate the move for Steve Kerr.  The team went 18-11 with O'Neal in the lineup to finish the season and finished with 55 wins and the sixth seed in the NBA Western Conference.  The team that held the 3rd seed: the San Antonio Spurs.

The excitement surrounding the Suns matchup with their bitter rivals, the team that they acquired Shaquille O'Neal to beat, was quickly lost when the Suns were demoralized in a classic game 1 in San Antonio.  With the Suns maintaining a lead for the majority of the game, a big shot by Michael Finley and a monster game by Tim Duncan helped the Spurs shock the Suns in double overtime and quickly let the air out of the Phoenix Suns sail.  The Suns fought hard but could not recover from the demoralizing game 1, and quickly bowed out in 5 games.  An offseason of questions awaited.

Mike D'Antoni immediately voiced his displeasure with Steve Kerr and was given the opportunity to find a new job, which he found with the New York Knicks.  Steve Kerry signed players such as Matt Barnes and a new head coach in Terry Porter looking to quickly shape the mentality and construction of this unit into more of a realistic lineup.  It brought conventionality, but lacked excitement.  To date, Steve Nash is having his worst year as a Phoenix Sun, players are unhappy with Terry Porter's approach and they boast a 23-17 record.

There are many reasons as to why the Phoenix Suns crashed as hard as they had risen in Arizona.  Management could be the first place to point at, with their continuous questionable decisions.  Bryan Colangelo left to run the team in Toronto, but left behind huge salary issues for coach Mike D'Antoni to deal with before Kerr's arrival.  Players like Nate Robinson and Luol Deng were drafted by Phoenix, but quickly shipped out to create cap flexibility.  Nate Robinson was traded with Quentin Richardson for Kurt Thomas, the player supposed to give the team a defensive inside presence.  Thomas fit in greatly with the Suns and performed admirably against Duncan in the 2007 Conference Semifinals, but the team could no longer afford him and he was shipped to the then Seattle Supersonics for a 2nd Round draft pick and 8 million dollar trade exception.  Huge contracts were given to Boris Diaw, who vastly underachieved when Stoudemire returned to the lineup and to Leandro Barbosa, who never took his game to that next level.  They gave a huge contract to Stoudemire, who was undergoing career threatening arthroscopic knee surgery and let the draft rights to Luol Deng go for a first round draft pick and cash considerations.  Rajon Rondo, the point guard for the NBA Champion Boston Celtics was also a draft pick by the Phoenix Suns but was also traded for a first round draft pick and cash.  The Shaqille O'Neal trade could be involved here, but it wasn't really a bad trade,  Just a mispalced player in D'Antoni's system.  O'Neal brought new excitement to a depressed fan base and although he did not deliver, his effort and dedication has been tremendous in Phoenix and he should not be blamed for the team's decline.  When you focus so much on free agency, it disallows a team to grow and also be secure in their future.  When the players you have rapidly show their age, you have no other options and those questionable decisions that were made for the immediate "now" are why the team has such a questionable future.

For all that D'Antoni revolutionized in basketball, his coaching and coaching related decisions were brought into question continously in the postseason.  When the team needed to get a crucial stop in a playoff environment, the team continuously failed to follow through and as a result focussed entirely on effeciency on the offensive side.  In an 82 game season, that begins to wear on a team looking to maintain stability and win a championship.  Not only does the system wear on the players, heavy minutes contribute to that.  D'Antoni was notorious for not playing his bench players and as a result his teams would show decline in the postseason and also would remove themselves from almost any offseason activity to maintain legs for the regular season.  D'Antoni's style of play was exciting, but watching his team fail brings to question whether that style of offense could ever win.  As a result, we've seen a quick flirtation with the system dissapear this season with scoring coming back down after the way the Suns and Golden State Warriors failed.

Also brouht into question for the Phoenix Suns was their psychological strength.  Crushing blows to the team at the hands of Amar'e Stoudemire's knee and also crushing losses to the San Antonio Spurs always seemed to give this team an excuse when they lost.  When you become comfortable with losing it creates an environment that nobody wants to be associated with.  The Phoenix Suns wanted to win, and losing undoubtedly bothered them, but they also were quick to point at other factors as to why they lost.  As a result, accountability was absent in Phoenix and the team no longer was responsible for their performance on the court.  D'Antoni's emotional state on the sidelines greatly affected this as the Suns became so paranoid, that every single call that went against them turned into reason for panic amongst the fan base and more crucially, the players.  Shawn Marion's constant bickering about his role in the offense and lack of appreciation also created distractions for a team with bigger goals in mind than Marion's statistics.  His lack of maturity in the team's crucial minutes was a huge factor in why the team declined in the 2007-2008 season and why they were forced to make the Shaquille O'Neal trade.

Amar'e Stoudemire's injury could be the sole reason for the Suns peaking so early and falling so quickly.  In the 2004-2005 season, Phoenix relied heavily on Stoudemire at the center position and he responded with career numbers and fantastic dunks not seen or recognized by anyone up until that time.  Given that he was only 21, many people saw a bright future ahead for Stoudemire.  A knee injury took him out for the Suns surprising (and probably most successful) 2005-2006 campaign but his return brought hope that he was the missing piece in that trademark year for D'Antoni and Phoenix.  Stoudemire returned with a solid 2006-2007 season, averaging over 20 points a game and displaying a brand new, highly effective 18 foot jump shot.  Stoudemire, though, has seemingly reached his potential too early.  The injury is probably the biggest reason for that, but his best season is still 2004-2005, and now, three full years after that injury, he still lacks the explosiveness that made him so effective and the mystique and fear some felt when matching up with him is gone.  He's become a finesse player, also a locker room distraction, and looks destined to be this generation's Derrick Coleman, a player with so much untapped potential who will get by in his career simply with talent.

Age is another huge factor as to why Phoenix so rapidly declined.  Last season, acquiring the way past his prime Shaquille O'Neal added to a team already full of players in their 30's, including crucial pieces such as Steve Nash, Grant Hill, and Raja Bell.  Their reliance on players so deep into their careers undoubtedly contributed to the team's lack of energy in certain playoff games and, coupled with the heavy minutes, was reason for rapid decline in D'Antoni's system. 

But all things considered, it's safe to say the San Antonio Spurs are solely responsible for the decline of the Phoenix Suns.  Their style of play won two championships during D'Antoni's reign in Phoenix and three out of the four seasons that D'Antoni was in charge of Phoenix, the Spurs eleminated the Suns from the postseason.  Tim Duncan and company continuously had answers for all offensive ideas and strategies that D'Antoni could possibly fathom and gave fans reason to focus on how to beat the Spurs, instead of how to win games on their own. 

It remains in question whether D'Antoni will ever win a championship, although he's gotten the Knicks to overachieve midway through this season.  But there's no doubt that his contributions to the Phoenix franchise will forever be remebered by fans and players alike as he was able to bring excitement back to basketball and also get the Suns to the most successful period of their franchise.  A team's desparate desire for a championship can bring unecessary criticism when frustration sets in.  The team's continued lack of toughness in critical situations and constant short handing at the hands of the league and fate provided plenty of reasons for frustration amongst a loyal fan base.  This set in the panic moves such as bringing Steve Kerr in and forcing D'Antoni to leave despite his amazing winning percentage.  It was nice to admire and watch during the time when it took place, but also creates a sad environment for Phoenix fans.  The closest they've gotten to a championship since Charles Barkley's stay in Phoenix was ended by many factors and they remain a spectacle and topic of discussion for fans around the league.  Phoenix may not be able to regain the success D'Antoni had the team become accustomed to but there will be success in Phoenix eventually, they always find a way to sustain a fine level of play in that franchise.  But with Stoudemire's sudden lack of presence and with the team boasting players ready to turn a new leaf in their careers the team's future is blurred.  Steve Kerr, brought in to help the team win a championship, is already on the hotseat and questions remain about whether he will be the guy at the helm to do the job in Phoenix.

Regardless of who's in charge, it's safe to say the D'Antoni era brought entertainment, joy and excitement to a franchise that had no direction.  But as quickly as it happened, it left in those 2007 conference semifinals.  The team flamed out and for that reason remain a fascinating story of how a team can quickly ascend, but how contributiong factors could make it increasingly difficult to maintain success in a system such as D'Antoni's.

Posted on: January 23, 2009 4:18 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2009 6:20 pm
 

The Rise And Fall of the Phoenix Suns (Part 1)

For four years, few teams matched the excitement and mystique that surrounded when the Phoenix Suns were set to appear in a basketball game.  Led by the innovative Mike D'Antoni and highly successful Steve Nash, the Suns resurrected a moribound franchise and turned the NBA upside down in the process.  With quick cuts, fantastic slams around the basket, a plethora of three point baskets and with absolutely no defense (which in turn allows the other team to follow through with all of those aforementioned offensive attractions) the Phoenix Suns became the team for the casual NBA fan, and the team that most of us wanted to watch when we felt like being assured entertaining basketball.  But funny things happen when you tinker with the system and bring things that people are not used to to the forefront.  When you introduce basketball's version of the spread offense, success can be attained but only when you bring championships are your efforts truly respected.  Many people passed off D'Antoni's philosophy on basketball and said that it could not win championships.  That same criticism turned the greatest period in Phoenix Suns basketball upside down, and seemingly prolonged the franchise's now 40 year history. 

It all started with a trade back in 2001, when the Suns traded future hall of fame point guard Jason Kidd for the insanely talented Stephon Marbury.  This trade was supposed to be a nice swap of talented guards which would result in hardly a change for either squad.  Instead, the Suns went to the lottery and the Nets went to the NBA finals.  Stephon Marbury's frustrating first season in Phoenix resulted in a trip to the lottery for the Suns, which resulted in Amar'e Stoudemire being added to the team.  With Stoudemire garnering rookie of the year honors and the team's quiet acquisition of guard Joe Johnson from the Boston Celtics, the Suns sneaked into the playoffs with the 8th seed and surprised the top ranked San Antonio Spurs in game 1 of their first round matchup.  Shortly thereafter, though, the Spurs would emerge victorious and things took a turn for the better; eventually.

The 2003-2004 season started off with mediocre expectations for a seemingly dirrectionless Phoenix franchise.  Then in midseason, amidst the team's struggles and inability to show any immediate progress, owner Robert Sarver steamheaded a complete reconstruction of the Suns.  Both Jerry and Brian Colangelo went to work on putting the pieces in place for this team to fully take off.  Frank Johnson was removed from the head coaching position and assistant coach and longtime European league coach Mike D'Antoni would be given the reigns.  Also, in what would headstart a completely opposite direction for the two franchises, the Suns sent Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway to the New York Knicks for five players who would not finish the season as Phoenix Suns players in addition to two first round draft selections.  Although the Knicks made the playoffs that season, nobody could have predicted the decline that would soon follow Stephon Marbury's fourth franchise.  Then again, nobody could have predicted the ascension that awaited in Arizona.

In the offseason, the Suns quickly gave Mike D'Antoni a vote of confidence despite his 21-40 record finishing the season as Phoenix's head coach.  The team's late surge, which was spurred by guard Joe Johnson, rookie guard Leandro Barbosa and now second year forward Amar'e Stoudemire could have been a huge factor in why D'Antoni was given a second chance.  Once free agency started, the Suns made a big splash by signing free agent point guard Steve Nash and free agent forward Quentin Richardson.  D'Antoni would move Stoudemire to center and insert forward Shawn Marion at the power forward position (a move Marion continuously complained about despite putting up the best numbers of his career) giving the team a ridiculously small lineup.  What ensured was pure, utter, fast break basketball.

Steve Nash spearheaded a revolutionary style of play as the Suns quickly brought offense back to the forefront in the NBA.  Gone where the days of walking a ball upcourt while your seven foot center could set up under the basket.  With quick, athletic big men like Stoudemire and Marion and with an intelligent and talented point guard like Steve Nash leading the way, the Suns went on to average 110.4 points per game (although giving up 103.3 PPG) and posted an NBA best 62-20 record.  Steve Nash shocked all by winning the NBA MVP award while D'Antoni and Colangelo were given the coach and executive of the year awards respectively.  In the playoffs, guard Joe Johnson would succumb to an eye injury and the Suns would sorely miss his leadership and skillset.  A sound defeat of the Memphis Grizzlies and a trouncing of the Dallas Mavericks set the Suns up with who would become the main reason for the Suns eventual decline: the San Antonio Spurs.

The San Antonio Spurs are basically the anti-Phoenix Sun.  They don't dazzle you with fantastic athleticism or bombard you with a multitude of points, they systematically and soudnly defeat their opponents by way of Tim Duncan and a group of role players that are fine performing their tasks for the sake of the greater good: a Larry O'Brien Trophy.  The Spurs two centers that year, Nazr Mohammed and Rasho Nesterovic, would probably not even get a sniff from D'Antoni yet wound up becoming productive players on championship teams.  Was D'Antoni's emphasis on speed and offense neglecting all that you were tought growing up?  Is a great offense truly better than a great defense?  Can you win scoring 110 points instead of focusing on holding your opponents below 90?  These all came to a head in this true battle of wits.

Amar'e Stoudemire would experience a coming out party against the Spurs, as San Antonio had no answer for the young player on his way to averages totaling over 30 PPG in the series.  But the Spurs, with two championship trophies already to their credit, would be able to answer every trick Phoenix tried.  Bruce Bowen was there to contain Steve Nash's explosiveness, Tony Parker was there to expose Nash's glaring defensive deffeciences, Tim Duncan was there to take care of Stoudemire's similar weaknesses, and the Spurs took the Suns out in 5 games, bringing end to the fantastic first season in the D'Antoni era. 

Many people did not know what to expect for an encore in Phoenix.  The gimmick offense was sure to be stopped when teams were given ample time to prepare for it.  Expectations can always ruin a team not used to winning, and Joe Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire would be gone, Johnson in a trade to the Atlanta Hawks and Stoudemire due to knee surgery.  The Joe Johnson trade brought Boris Diaw, an afterthought in many instances and then the Suns shipped Quentin Richardson and the draft rights to Nate Robinson to New York for a center in Kurt Thomas that they believed would be able to counter Tim Duncan's effectiveness in a seven game series.  The team also obtained guard Raja Bell, a player praised for his on the ball defensive prowress and three point effeciency.  But the sky was not the limit this season, as, without Stoudemire, many expected the Suns to fail.

Stoudemire's absence meant wonderful things for Shawn Marion who turned in the best year of his career.  Boris Diaw proved out to be a fantastic find by the Colangelo's, winning the NBA most improved player of the year award, and Steve Nash went on to win his second consecutive NBA MVP award after helping lead the Suns to a 54-28 record in the regular season.  But the signs of the eventual decline already started to take shape.  Bryan Colangelo was said to have major conflicts with owner Robert Sarver and bolted to take the General Manager position with the Toronto Raptors.  Stoudemire received heavy criticism from the organization when he spent a majority of the season away from the squad while tending to his knee.  And although the team managed to avoid the Spurs in the postseason, draining seven game series with both the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers took alout of Phoenix, as they simply had nothing left by the time they met the Dirk Nowitzki led Mavericks in a second consecutive Western Conference Finals.

The 2006-2007 season brought about great expectations for the Phoenix squad.  With Boris Diaw teaming with Leandro Barbosa on the bench, the Suns were supposed to finally have that deep squad that would allow for D'Antoni to stray from his favored 7-man rotations and still provide the same innovative offensive schemes that had been prominent the previous two seasons.  Phoenix struggled with chemistry some, including Stoudemire back into the lineup and it showed.  The team, though, rebounded quickly to the tune of 61 victories and a No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

Elsewhere in the NBA, the 67 victory Dallas Mavericks had been upset by the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs in what would be largely noted as the greatest upset in playoff history, and the Utah Jazz would celebrate their return to the playoffs after a three year absence with a victory over the Houston Rockets, giving the Suns home court advantage, now, throughout the playoffs and seemingly the drivers seat to an elusive championship.  After the Suns quickly dispatched of the Lakers for a second consecutive season, they saw themselves standing opposite the 3rd seeded San Antonio Spurs, and a fantastic conference semifinals ensued. 

Bruce Bowen and Tony Parker quickly asserted physiciality into the already deeply rooted rivalry with the Spurs, as Steve Nash left game 1 with a bloodied nose recieved from Parker and could not finish the game, as the Spurs pulled out a close victory.  This brought about major criticism as some felt it was unfair for the Suns to lose without their best player due to excessive blood loss, but the rules would stay and the Spurs maintained a 1-0 series lead.  After taking game 2, Phoenix would head to San Antonio for one of the most controversial games in recent memory.  Game 3 between the Spurs and the Suns was known for its excessive fouls called, constant whistles and annoying lack of gamesmanship in the contest.  The Spurs would ride a questionable free throw advantage to the victory and then all hell broke loose.  With Phoenix rebounding to take game 4, Robert Horry stepped in front of Steve Nash on a harmless drive down the baseline, and changed the Phoenix Suns forever.

With the series tied at 2 games apiece and heading back to Phoenix, all cards seemed to be in place for Phoenix to finally nudge past their nemisis and gain ground towards becoming NBA Champions.  But Horry's flagrant foul on Steve Nash sent the Suns into a frenzy, which resulted in both Stoudemire and Diaw leaving the Suns bench and therefore forcing the NBA's hand in having to suspend those two players for a critical game 5 in Phoenix.  Mike D'Antoni criticized the decision but his efforts went unnoticed as the suspensions stood.  A game Phoenix crowd and shorthanded squad gave the Spurs trouble but eventually succumbed in a game 5 loss.  The team returned to San Antonio demoralized, and could not take advantage of Stoudemire and Diaw's reintroduction into the lineup and would lose game 6 in San Antonio.

In effect, the Robert Horry foul gave Phoenix their first leigitmate gripe of the D'Antoni era.  Being too inexperienced in 2005 and too tired in 2006, 2007 seemed a prime opportunity for Phoenix to grab the franchise's first championship.  The Horry foul took away their best shot at putting a foot down on the rival Spurs' throats, and assured us all that there's always that one squad that prevents you from winning.  For Phoenix, it was San Antonio.  The Spurs went on to win the championship that season, and in the process demoralized alot of the Phoenix fan base.  The same team would essentially return for 2007-2008 but the excitement, hunger and mystique surrounding the franchise had gone away.  After posting a mediocre start to the season, new general manager Steve Kerr would make the move that effectively ended the D'Antoni era in Phoenix.

Posted on: January 5, 2009 1:07 am
Edited on: April 16, 2009 11:56 pm
 

NBA Power Rankings Through January 4th, 2009

1. Los Angeles Lakers (4) - Rejoice, Los Angeles!  The beloved Lakers have reclaimed their top position.  The hottest team in the NBA is boasting one of its hottest players in Kobe Bryant.  As of late, Kobe and Pau Gasol have elevated their play to around the level they were at around the postseason last year.  The bench is getting good production even with Jordan Farmar missing time with his injury.  I don't believe adding another point guard is critical for the moment but it wouldn't hurt if they could land one for cheap.

2. Atlanta Hawks (5) - The Hawks suffered a crushing loss with a near halfcourt heave at the buzzer from Vince Carter at New Jersey.  That was only their second loss in twelve games.  Victories over Cleveland, Denver, Houston and Detroit highlight that stretch and prove that this team is not a flash in the pan.  I'm sure they won't maintain this level of competition all season long as the team is largely unproven, but don't try to dispute what they've accomplished so far this season.  Not only is this team legitimate, they're talented. 

3. Boston Celtics (2) - And just like that, with a loss to a depleted Portland team and to a bad New York team (coming off a week in which they lost their first game in forever in addition to a loss to a bad Golden State team) and the Celtics all of a sudden look vulnerable.  I'm not going to jump off of the bandwagon and say that they're cooked, it's not a matter of if but when this team rights the ship and gets back to playing the defense that made them impossible to beat through November and December.  Kevin Garnett has slowed a bit so far this season and Paul Pierce has had to carry this unit for basically the whole season.  The role players have also slowed a tad, which is the main reason for the team's struggles but they'll get it back together and they'll still be there in the end.

4. Orlando Magic (3) - Something doesn't quite seem right with Hedo Turkoglu this season.  All of his statistics have dropped from last season and his field goal percentage is at a laughable 38 percent.  That's either meaning he's struggling to do too much in a contract year, or maybe last season was more of an aberration for the turkish born star.  Overall, the Magic have been solid all season long and if he captures the form he showed last season then they'll be right up there at the top of the eastern confrence.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers (1) - Rejoice, Cavs haters!  Zydrunas Ilgauskas has gone down to injury and the Cavaliers dropped two games this week, including an embarassing defeat at the hands of Washington today.  For at least a week anyways, the team looked like last season's team, which relied entirely too heavily on LeBron James.  What's happened to Wally Szczerbiak this season?  He's the definition of a non factor, and with his expiring contract, if he showed any bit of production they could get a really good player in return for Wally World.  But so far his value is worth about the same as Eric Snow's.

6. San Antonio Spurs (6) - Manu Ginobili had a huge week for the Spurs.  Greg Popovich has done a fine job with his roster and has seemingly settled on a nice rotation.  Tim Duncan is having the best year he's had in the past two or three and Tony Parker is currently playing like their best player.  They're a dangerous unit and they're going to be there in the end, regardless of their difficult start. 

7. Denver Nuggets (7) - Carmelo Anthony played hero on two separate occasions for the Nuggets this season, even if they were underwhelming in barely defeated Oklahoma City and blowing a 26 point lead at home to New Orleans.  An injury to Nene for the Oklahoma City game showed no immediate hamper on the Nuggets, but if he misses any prolonged period of time they're in bad shape.  They lack serious depth in the frontcourt.

8. New Orleans Hornets (9) - They still lack the consistency that they showed for so much of last season but Chris Paul is playing the best ball of any player in the NBA.  The fact that he's not up there with Kobe Bryant in all star voting is unbelievable and truly speaks to the knowledge of the average NBA fan.  David West has really picked up his game as of late and don't look now, but the Hornets rank among the league's best at the defensive side of the ball. 

9. Detroit Pistons (15) - I've ridden no team as hard this year as I have the Pistons, but Rodney Stuckey has resurrected what was a dead season for Detroit after the Allen Iverson trade.  The readdition of Antonio McDyess is as much a factor as any in the team's current winning streak and even though they may not be blowing teams out, victories are victories and the Pistons are winning ball games.

10. Portland Trail Blazers (8) - Playing without Brandon Roy hurt this team this week as they looked bad against New Orleans and the Lakers.  Overall, they managed to pull out a victory against Boston and they're still playing hard even without Roy in the lineup.  McMillan will never let this team play a weak game but they can't win without their all star guard in the lineup.

11. Dallas Mavericks (11) - Today's loss at Memphis was embarassing but Dirk Nowitzki has carried the Mavericks to a very strong season thus far.  They're a team of wing players and that will doom them in the playoffs, but they will exceed any expectations they were given this season.  Rick Carlisle has done a really good job with the Mavericks this season.

12. Phoenix Suns (13) - Shaquille O'Neal is having his best year since his last year in Los Angeles for Phoenix and the team is maintaining a steady play so far this season.  Jason Richardson hasn't added much since his addition, but the team continues to win so his presence alone must be enough for the Suns to get by. 

13. Utah Jazz (12) - Word of Carlos Boozer now needing surgery has to demoralize this squad even with Paul Millsap playing as fantastic as he has this season (I forgot to mention him in my most improved players list last week).  The C.J. Miles experiment has worked well with him playing so steady this season.  He's never going to be more than an average starter in this league but he's solid enough to where the Jazz can continue to use Andrei Kirilenko on the bench, which has worked very well for them so far this season.

14. Miami Heat (14) - An injury to Shawn Marion has thrusted Daequan Cook into the starting lineup and I think with a shipping of Marion and his expiring contract at the deadline, that can be a nice spot for Cook.  Michael Beasley has been underwhelming so far this season but has shown flashes of being a nice player in this league.  It's safe to say that he was a tad overhyped coming into the draft, though.

15. Houston Rockets (10) - Tracy McGrady's play this season has been absolutely pathetic.  He's beyond bad at this moment and Yao Ming is shooting a percentage in the low 40s the past few games as well.  With Ron Artest in and out of the lineup as well, this team is currently in a great deal of turmoil and it's evident when you watch them out on the court.  Aaron Brooks has tailed off considerably since his start this season but the talent is still there for this team to turn it around.  You just have to wonder if their players are tough enough to do it.

16. New Jersey Nets (16) - They're incredibly inconsistent and continue to be without a victory when Devin Harris is out of the lineup, but the Nets still, week after week, find themselves in the picture in the NBA.  Vince Carter has had his fair share of last second theatrics this season and that's been a major reason for the Nets' position at the moment.  They have to wonder if a postseason appearance is worth a possible run at a championship in the next two or three seasons when it comes to Carter, but we'll see what it is they're offered for Vince.

17. Milwaukee Bucks (17) - The Bucks are a team that's so difficult to put a finger on, because they have no player who's consistently great every night and they don't really scare you in any facet of their play.  Yet they've been near .500 all season long and they're still in the playoff race thus far.  That speaks wonders for Scott Skiles, even though I'm confused at his reluctancy to give Ramon Sessions big minutes.  I've seen an increase in Tyronn Lue as of late and I don't believe he's better than Sessions.

18. Toronto Raptors (23) - Two weeks ago the Raptors were left for dead, and since then they've had a very impressive past two weeks.  Chris Bosh has found the form he displayed earlier this season and the team is winning ball games without Jermaine O'Neal and Jose Calderon in the lineup.  Anthony Parker has been a steady player at the shooting guard position and the Raptors have found themselves back in the discussion as far as the playoffs are concerned.  It's a nice turnaround for a team that I wrote off just two weeks earlier.

19. Philadelphia 76ers (19) - If you were to look up the word "bland" in the dictionary, you would see this team's photo right beside it.  Their play hasn't inreased without Elton Brand (even though I thought it would) and maybe they are what they are, a below .500 team that can't score and that isn't even that special on the defensive side of the ball.  It seems like the two years of momentum that was built up by this squad was ruined with possibly unfair expectations with the Elton Brand acquisition.

20. Chicago Bulls (18) - A loss at home to Minnesota highlights a woeful week for the Bulls which was heightened even further with a horrible showing by Derrick RoseBen Gordon deserves serious all star consideration this season beyond the three point shootout and he's been the team's steadiest, most consistent option thus far.  That probably is why they're down here at 20, but he deserves a little bit of credit after the way he was blasted and treated this offseason.  He may, yet, see his big payday this offseason.

21. Indiana Pacers (25) - Mike Dunleavy is set to debut this week for the Pacers and that should help a team that still is looking to make a run at sneaking into the last playoff spot.  Danny Granger has been tremendous this season even in the dissapointing year for the Pacers and Jarrett Jack has been tremendous since being inserted into the starting lineup as of late.  T.J. Ford has done fine off of the bench but you have to wonder if he's the type of player that would be content with coming off of the bench.

22. Charlotte Bobcats (22) - I still can't speak enough for Boris Diaw's play since coming over from Phoenix.  This Bobcats team has raised its level of play since that trade and currently has shown that they can be a pesky bunch to put away.  Adam Morrison, on the other hand, is now officially ready to be labeled as a bust.  He was a horrible selection as a 3rd overall draft pick (don't even get me started on Sean May).  Little known Matt Caroll is better at what Morrison does than Morrison is and that's why Morrison scored for the first time in six games Saturday night.  I still remember when Dick Vitale said we were all stupid for saying J.J. Reddick and Morrison wouldn't be great in the NBA.

23. Memphis Grizzlies (20) - Darius Miles made his debut this week for the Grizzlies and Steve Francis may be set to dress up anytime soon.  It's amazing that those two players found their way onto the Grizzlies roster, but it's safe to say both are in dire need to prove that their careers aren't over in the NBA. 

24. New York Knicks (24) - The Knicks have lost all of the good will they built up with a strong opening to the season, but still continue to play hard for coach D'Antoni.  Al Harrington off of the bench has payed huge dividends as of late, including a victory today over Boston.  David Lee has been tremendous this season and if they package him with a contract of Jerome James or Eddy Curry they can get another building block for the rebuilding of this proud franchise.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves got back to back victories for the first time all season and got Mike Miller back from injury.  Still, though, a lot is left to be done in Minnesota in order to get this team back to respectability.  Kevin Love has been inconsistent in his performance this season and doesn't look like a great acquisition by Kevin McHale (and nobody honestly believed he would be) but I think, with the investment they made in him, that he needs to be shown more minutes as the season progresses. 

26. Los Angeles Clippers (26) - Baron Davis, in addition to his pathetic displays on the court this season, caused controversy with a recent report of his wanting to return to the team he shafted just five months earlier.  His homecoming has been nothing short of brutal but the team has got to be happy with the play of Marcus Camby and Eric Gordon as of late.  They look like a team capable of hanging in tough games as long as Davis doesn't continue to shoot them out of ball games.

27. Washington Wizards (29) - The Wizards, with a run over Cleveland today, move out of the bottom two for the first time all season.  Getting Caron Butler back this week has been good for the Wizards and the increase in minutes for Javaris Crittenton is a solid move by coach Tapscott.  Andray Blatche has been a nice spot for what's been a dreadful season thus far and the Wizards are now starting to play harder each and every night.  It's not going to amount to any kind of success this year, but it's a far cry from the team that regularly would get beat by 20 every night just a couple months prior.

28. Golden State Warriors (21) - With Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette now publicly speaking about trade requests the horrid season for the Warriors has now reached rock bottom.  The dissapointing performance has taken a back seat to the fact that the group of players that they've assembled has now made the franchise one without any kind of positive direction.  It's tough to be a loyal Warrior fan, and this season is a perfect explanation of why that's so.

29. Sacramento Kings (27) - Kevin Martin came back this season and looked fantastic in his return and Brad Miller has been a steady force all season for Sacramento, but they still continue to lose.  This team looked like a team with a direction this season, but so far this season hasn't shown anything other than that they're a team without much talent or direction.  It's tough to see what the future holds for this franchise.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - The Thunder are really playing good basketball as of late and I wanted to move them out of the last spot for the first time all season, but can't justifiably do so.  Jeff Green, this season, has looked like a player that was worthy of the draft slot they used on him and Kevin Durant have played at a very high level as of late.  They're playing with more intensity than they did earlier in the season and have showed signs of a team that's on the right path as of late.  That's good for that loyal fan base.

 

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