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Tag:Derek Fisher
Posted on: May 30, 2010 10:23 pm
 

Previewing The 2010 NBA Finals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Celtics in six

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

Conclusion: This series is a toss up and could really go either way.  The two most storied franchises in the league meeting up once again creates for financial interest and also interest from a basketball perspective.  There aren't two teams playing better ball at the moment and that's why they're here.  After seeing Boston guard Dwyane Wade and LeBron James the way they did, you have to imagine there's going to be plans in place as to how to guard Kobe Bryant.  Also, they were able to do it in 2008 and that put a lot of onus on his teammates who just weren't ready for that moment.  They may be ready now, but I'm not sure that they're capable of overcomign what Boston does.  Paul Pierce, in that 2008 matchup, was the first player I've seen in a long time take it at Kobe and dominate him as easily as Kobe can do to other players.  That speaks volumes to his importance in this matchup.  It should be a fun series and I wouldn't be surprised if I'm wrong, but I'm a believer.  Your 2010 NBA Champions will be the Boston Celtics.
Posted on: May 19, 2010 1:38 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2010 3:17 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 8

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.  Well now that we got our debates about whether or not 2007 was worth the #9 selection, I'm going to give in to my loyal readers and say I was probably wrong by putting the 2007 draft so low.  I was so deadset on proving that it was a bad draft, that I let some really bad drafts off the hook.  Be that as it may, I stand by my journalistic pride and proclaim that this draft was better than 2007, regardless of what I'm about to say.  But here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the number 8 draft on our list is the 2006 NBA Draft which features some really bad trades (sorry Chicago and Minnesota fans), really questionable selections (I'm looking at you Atlanta) and overall, just not a deep talent pool.

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

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

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#8: 2006 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Toronto Raptors - Andrea Bargnani, C, Italy
2) Chicago Bulls - LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Texas (traded to the Trail Blazers)
3) Charlotte Bobcats - Adam Morrison, SF, Gonzaga
4) Portland Trail Blazers - Tyrus Thomas, PF, LSU (traded to the Bulls)
5) Atlanta Hawks - Shelden Williams, C, Duke
6) Minnesota Timberwolves - Brandon Roy, SG, Washington (traded to the Trail Blazers)
7) Boston Celtics - Randy Foye, SG, Villanova (traded to the Trail Blazers, then traded to the Timberwolves)
8) Houston Rockets - Rudy Gay, SF, UConn (traded to the Grizzlies)
9) Golden State Warriors - Patrick O'Bryant, C, Bradley
10) Seattle Supersonics - Mouhamed Sene, C, Senegal

Looking at this list, I'm now aware of my 2007 mistake.  Tihs is not a very impressive list at all.  Morrison and Williams have already made all time busts lists and Morrison continued a rough stretch for Michael Jordan in terms of his ability to draft players.  Morrison struggled his rookie season before tearing his knee up and is now sitting on the far end of the Lakers bench.  Williams never showed hope in Atlanta and was eventually traded to Sacramento and somehow found his way to Boston's bench this season and may have found a home as a nice utility big man for the Celtics.  Bargnani showed a lot of potential his rookie season, had a sophomore slump, showed a lot of promise last year but didn't take that step forward this season as expected.  Aldridge and Roy are the best out of this bunch and Portland was able to snag both on draft night with slick trades.  Conversely, the guys they were traded for, Tyrus Thomas and Randy Foye respectively, are no longer with the teams they were traded to.  Thomas kept Bulls fans waiting for a few years before he was traded to Charlotte this season.  Foye frustrated Minnesota fans with his inconsistency and then frustrated Washington fans with the same problem this season.  Rudy Gay was traded for Shane Battier on draft night and has become a great scorer for the Grizzlies and will be a sought after free agent this season, but has yet to achieve much in his short career.  Meanwhile, O'Bryant and Sene (who continued Seattle's trend of drafting centers just to draft centers; ironically not one of them worked out) are no longer in the league at all and looked out of place everytime they were on the court.  Not exactly what you're looking for out of your top ten draft selection.

11) Orlando Magic - J.J. Redick, SG, Duke
12) New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets - Hilton Armstrong, C, UConn
13) Philadelphia 76ers - Thabo Sefolosha, SG, Switzerland (traded to the Bulls)
14) Utah Jazz - Ronnie Brewer, SG, Arkansas
15) New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets - Cedric Simmons, PF, North Carolina State
16) Chicago Bulls - Rodney Carney, SF, Memphis (traded to the 76ers)
17) Indiana Pacers - Shawne Williams, PF, Memphis
18) Washington Wizards - Oleksiy Pecherov, C, Ukraine
19) Sacramento Kings - Quincy Douby, SG, Rutgers
20) New York Knicks - Renaldo Balkman, PF, South Carolina

Another group of ten very mediocre players.  When Redick is the best out of the bench, you know it doesn't look good.  In fact, the Magic were largely criticized when they drafted Redick, but the team was patient with the Duke star and he eventually paid dividends this season.  Both of the Hornets two picks in the top 15, Armstrong and Simmons, are no longer in the league.  As far as the Sefolosha for Carney trade that went down between Chicago and Philadelphia, neither player is going to blow anyone away but Sefolosha has developed a reputation as a terrific defensive player.  Carney, on the other hand, is a dime a dozen scorer but has found a way to stay on rosters in the league.  Brewer was a high flyer who could play defense and was welcome for the usually grounded Utah Jazz.  However, they traded him to Memphis this season to get under the luxury tax and then Brewer injured himself, leaving it unknown if he'll ever reach his true potential.  Meanwhile, Williams was talented but too much of a head case to make it in Indiana while Pecherov was a big man who could shoot from long range but hardly found his way on the court in Washington and is struggling to do the same in Minnesota.  Douby (the 2Pac look a like, google it) struggled to stay in Sacramento's rotation and is now playing overseas.  Balkman was a blasted pick for Isiah Thomas and the Knicks, but he had a fine rookie season.  After that, though, he's done nothing and is sitting on Denver's bench now. 

21) Phoenix Suns - Rajon Rondo, PG, Kentucky (traded to the Celtics)
22) New Jersey Nets - Marcus Williams, PG, Uconn
23) New Jersey Nets - Josh Boone, PF, UConn
24) Memphis Grizzlies - Kyle Lowry, PG, Villanova
25) Cleveland Cavaliers - Shannon Brown, PG, Michigan State
26) Los Angeles Lakers - Jordan Farmar, PG, UCLA
27) Phoenix Suns - Sergio Rodriguez, PG, Spain (traded to the Trail Blazers)
28) Dallas Mavericks - Maurice Ager, SG, Michigan State
29) New York Knicks - Mardy Collins, PG, Temple
30) Portland Trail Blazers - Joel Freeland, PF, United Kingdom

The Phoenix Suns continued their trend of drafting players and then trading them to other teams that they seemingly did the entire decade.  Rondo became the second coming of Christ in Boston and has turned into one of the best point guards in the league.  Rodriguez, on the other hand, never quite caught on in Portland, Sacramento or New York and may go back overseas this offseason.  Williams and Boone were supposed to finally replace the duo of Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin in New Jersey, but neither worked out at all.  Lowry turned out to be a really nice player for Memphis and was eventually traded to Houston last season where he's continued his strong play.  Brown bounced around the league for a little bit before being traded to the Lakers last season and then breaking out as a bench player for the league champions.  Ironically, he joined Farmar, the 26th pick, in Los Angeles.  Farmar looked like the point guard of the future in Los Angeles before Derek Fisher rejoined the Lakers.  Farmar now is in and out of the Lakers rotation and will probably be playing elsewhere next season.  Ager was a great shooter in college but never cracked the rotation in the NBA.  Collins is a tough, defensive minded point guard who's still on someone's roster but I'm not sure why.  Meanwhile Freeland is an extremely talented prospect but he still doesn't look to be in any hurry to come join the NBA.

Round Two Notables:
32) Houston Rockets - Steve Novak, PF, Marquette
36) Minnesota Timberwolves - Craig Smith, PF, Boston College
42) Cleveland Cavaliers - Daniel Gibson, PG, Texas
47) Utah Jazz - Paul Millsap, PF, Louisiana Tech
49) Denver Nuggets - Leon Powe, PF, Cal (traded to the Celtics)
50) Charlotte Bobcats - Ryan Hollins, C, UCLA

Novak and Hollins just make this list because they're still in the league.  Novak emerged as a really nice three point shooter last year with the Clippers but struggled to crack their rotation this season.  Hollins got a really nice deal with Minnesota this season but still has yet to put his athletic talents to use as an NBA player.  Smith was a really nice hustle player for the Timberwolves and made the All-Rookie second team and is now playing for the Clippers.  Daniel Gibson was terrific his rookie season, becoming the second best player for a Cleveland team that wound up making the NBA Finals.  Gibson was rewarded for that breakout postseason with a big contract but has done nothing of note since signing that deal.  Millsap has become a bonafide stud for Utah and is their PF of the future once Carlos Boozer leaves.  Leon Powe struggled to crack the rotation with Boston his rookie season but eventually found his way in the lineup for the Celtics 2008 championship team.  Injuries have halted his career but the jury's still out on him.

Notable Undrafted Players:
Jose Juan Barea, PG, Northeastern - Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
Walter Hermann, SF, Argentina - Signed with the Charlotte Bobcats
Chris Quinn, PG, Notre Dame - Signed with the Miami Heat

Quinn, like Novak and Hollins in Round Two, makes this list because he's still in the league.  He was a third string point guard for the 12-70 New Jersey Nets this season and doesn't look to have much of a future in the NBA, but for now he's still there.  J.J. Barea has become a nice rotation player for the Mavericks the last couple of seasons and shows glimpses of being a solid player in the league although Dallas fans hate him.  Hermann broke out his rookie season and looked to become a solid player for, eventually, the Detroit Pistons before signing overseas this past offseason. 

2006-2007 NBA Rookie of the Year: Brandon Roy
All Stars from the 2006 NBA Draft: Brandon Roy, Rajon Rondo

2006-2007 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Brandon Roy
Andrea Bargnani
Randy Foye
Rudy Gay
Jorge Garbajosa (who signed with Toronto in the 2006 offseason after a successful Euroleague career) and LaMarcus Aldridge tied for the fifth spot

2006-2007 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Paul Millsap
Adam Morrison
Tyrus Thomas
Craig Smith
Rajon Rondo, Marcus Williams and Walter Hermann all tied for the fifth spot

Seriously, NBA, what's with the ties?  Grow a set.

Posted on: April 21, 2010 4:59 pm
 

Top Ten Postseason Moments of the Decade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: June 1, 2009 1:13 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2010 2:43 am
 

Previewing The 2009 NBA Finals

After correctly predicting the NBA finals in my review of the conference finals, I find it important that I hurry aboard to try and keep up my good name by predicting the NBA Finals.  In all honesty, I couldn't be happier with this matchup.  Not only did I pick it, these, in my opinion, are the two best teams that the NBA could offer at this point.  Both of these teams have faced adversity.  Both have taken shots in the media and Stan Van Gundy and Pau Gasol have been the most critiqued figures in the media since the postseason started.  But how did they get here?

The Magic stumbled at the end of the season, coupling blowout losses with an injury to Hedo Turkoglu and really entered the playoffs on a sour note.  Furthermore, two of their first three games of the postseason they lose to the 76ers on fantastic last second shots by Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young.  However, with the team down 2-1 in Philadelphia and with the game tied, Hedo Turkoglu came through with the biggest shot this season for the Magic, nailing a three in the final seconds to tie the series at two apiece.  After Dwight Howard was suspended for game six in that series, the team really came together and played their most complete game of the postseason, winning and exiling Philadelphia in six games.  The defending champion Boston Celtics came next and the Magic, again, were dealt a crushing loss in game 4.  With the Magic up 2-1, just seconds away from taking a commanding 3-1 lead, Boston forward Glen Davis nails a terrific shot and the series is tied.  The Celtics went on to win game 5 and all looked lost for Orlando.  But display the stuff that champions are made of, Orlando took care of business at home in game 6 and then crushed Boston on their home court in game 7.  By the time the Conference Finals came around, the Magic had already seen everything anyone could throw at them.  So when the Cavaliers jumped out to 20 point leads three different times in this series, it should not surprise that Orlando came back in all of them because they've never displayed a lack of effort out on the court.  Thoroughly exposing and defeating the Cavaliers, Orlando now is making it's second finals appearance in franchise history but is looking for their first championship.

The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most storried teams in history.  In the present tense, they're probably the most talented team in basketball.  That's what makes it so frustrating when you see how they coast from time to time out there on the court.  Now making their 30th appearance in the NBA finals in franchise history, the Lakers' road was just as rocky but was more publicly ridiculed than Orlando's.  After defeating the Jazz in five games, the Lakers faced off against the Houston Rockets in what turned out to be a brutal, physical battle.  After Yao Ming got injured and the Lakers took a 2-1 series lead, it looked like all was lost for Houston.  But the Lakers allowed the depleted Rockets to blow them out two more games before the Lakers took the series in seven games.  After letting Houston take them to seven, the Lakers were suddenly everyone's favorite team to hate and people wrongfully bashed them before their series with the Nuggets.  Aside from an embarassing game 4, the Lakers genuinely played good, complete basketball against the Nuggets, including an impressive game 5 and a mind blowingly convincing game 6 in order to get the team to the finals.  Kobe Bryant looks to win his fourth NBA Championship, his first without Shaquille O'Neal, and bring Phil Jackson his 10th, which would put Phil alone atop the list of coaches with championshp rings. 

How do these teams match up and who has the advantage in what area?  That will now be addressed.
Western Conference Champion: (1) Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) vs. Eastern Conference Champion: (3) Orlando Magic (59-23)

Why The Lakers Will Win: The Lakers hold the advantage of having the best player in the game on their side.  Kobe Bryant proved in the Denver series that he is still capable of going above and beyond the call of duty in order to ensure that his team wins that elusive championship.  With an extremely talented roster, the Lakers are capable of throwing many defenders at the Magic and are athletic enough and talented enough to give Orlando fits on defense, something that Philadelphia did but that Boston and Cleveland really couldn't.  In that lineup to guard Orlando, the Lakers could also score very efficently as all of the players on the court are capable of scoring from different spots on the floor.  The bench has been really hit or miss for Los Angeles, but usually either Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar or Luke Walton will come up big one game or another.  They usually have at least one player each game stand tall.  It would help if all of them could get on the same page, but the current formulat hasn't crippled them.  Trevor Ariza will be huge in this series, as he has been all postseason, because finally there is a player whom Orlando will face that can guard Rashard Lewis.  With Ariza being tall, athletic and even strong enough to stay in front of Lewis, Lewis may have a hard time.  Lewis has had a tendency to show up in spurts for Orlando and Ariza can really contain those spots.

Why The Magic Will Win: The Magic can't be criticized for a lack of effort or be accused of coasting at all this postseason because they're not talented enough to do that and they haven't faced competition where they can get away with it.  As a result, for nineteen excruciating games, the Magic have had to go out and battle for four quarters.  Public perception would tell us that means the Magic could be exhausted by this point but I truly believe that those battles are the best experience a team can have entering the NBA Finals.  Well prepared now for any situation they could possibly experience, the Magic have shown that they can jump out on you for a big lead, come back on you if you have a big lead, win close games, handle tough losses and still stand tall throughout all of it.  They have the most unguardable player in the series in Dwight Howard.  The Lakers don't play Andrew Bynum often and he's been such a foul machine all postseason that I can't imagine him getting more than 12-15 minutes a game in this series.  That leaves Pau Gasol in the game against Dwight more often than not.  When that happens, Gasol's lack of strength in addition to wanting to avoid foul trouble will allow Howard to have a field day down in the paint.  The Magic could run into trouble if Phil goes to foul Dwight whenever he's around the basket, and the Lakers have the bodies to do that, but Stan Van Gundy has been the best at adjustments in this postseason and he can find a way to have Dwight be quicker with decisions with the basketball.  When Howard kicks it out, all of the Magic shooters have proved capable of hitting big shots.  The Magic are lucky to have two terrific on the ball defenders in Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee, and if those two can give Kobe Bryant fits then the rest of the Lakers have not proven they can carry Kobe.  Kobe has carried this team all postseason long, and if the Magic can make Kobe struggle then they will reap the benefits.

Key Player for the Lakers: Lamar Odom is going to be huge for the Lakers.  Because the Magic play such a small lineup, he will find himself matched up with both Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis on both sides of the court throughout the game.  However, his versatility at the power forward position allows the Lakers to be able to match and still be effective against the Magic's unorhodox lineup.  He's been battling a back injury all postseason, but has shown flashes where he hustles, goes after loose balls and really makes it look effortless on the court.  At this level and with him being a player capable of going out to guard Lewis while still also being a force on offense, Odom cannot afford to revert back to his inconsistent quiet ways.  If he plays a huge series the Lakers will undoubtedly come out victorious.

Key Player for the Magic: Rafer Alston has been really hit or miss this entire postseason, as well, but when he's been on, the Magic have won.  Point guards have given the Lakers trouble all postseason and Alston isn't the most talented player at his position, but is a quick and smart player at the point guard position.  His shot has been really streaky and sometimes he takes ill advised chances on the offensive side of the basketball, but if can keep his head in the game and knock down open jump shots then he can be a huge difference maker for the Magic.  Derek Fisher has had a hard time on defense this postseason and has struggled with his jump shot, so this is a prime opportunity for Alston to take advantage of that and thoroughly outplay Fisher.  If he does that, then the Magic will have the advantage to the championship.

Prediction: Lakers in six.

Key As To Why They Will Win: Home court is huge here for Los Angeles.  In the 2-3-2 format, the road team has more of an opportunity than they have at any other level of the postseason.  However, although both teams have shown they're more than capable of winning big playoff games on the road, the Lakers role players play at a different level in Los Angeles.  As a result, the fact that they have more home games is crucial.  Kobe Bryant is going to be effective and consistent in this postseason, and having Trevor Ariza's versatility on both offense and defense this season will hide some of the holes that the team had in last season's finals with the Celtics.  Dwight Howard will severely take out Pau Gasol on both sides of the court, but Odom will be able to take advantage of either Lewis or Turkoglu's struggles on the ball defensively. 

Conclusion: This series is genuinely tough and could go either way.  I look at both squads and I'm happy that they're both here.  They're both experienced in tough situations and are the two most talented teams in the league.  The Magic get the bill as underdog just because the eleminated LeBron James and are facing the star studded Lakers, but they're not some cinderella team that is running on borrowed time.  Dwight Howard is going to be unstoppable in this series but his penchant for foul trouble is a reason why I went against Orlando.  With him being the only sure advantage for Orlando, he's going to be in high demand all series long and needs to be effective at all times.  If players drive it to the basket and get him in foul trouble, and if the Lakers continuously send him to the foul line, that's going to disrupt the Magic flow and really will take them out of this series.  Orlando's had a great run, but I feel as if the intelligence has finally caught up to the talent for the Lakers and I look for them to take advantage of being here for a second straight season.  I've picked them all year and I'll pick them now: the Los Angeles Lakers will be our 2009 NBA Champions.

Posted on: May 18, 2009 12:36 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoffs: The Conference Finals

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

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

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

Posted on: March 24, 2009 11:46 pm
Edited on: March 24, 2009 11:47 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

Previous Team: Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

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

Strengths:
This team boasts arguably the best player and the best coach in this league in Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson respectively. Between the two of them, twelve championship rings suggest that both of these men know what it takes to win in the postseason. Kobe Bryant continues to quietly carry this squad and hopes to win his 4th NBA championship. The biggest strength for this Lakers team is the way that they play offense. Kobe leads a squad that includes Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom and company to form one of the most active, fluent offenses in the league. Watching them pass the ball to the open player and seeing them get easy baskets is a thing of beauty and when they're clicking on offense there isn't a team that can stop them. Kobe orchestrates it all, of course, and is the anchor for possibly the best offensive unit in the league

The Lakers also throw two fantastic man defenders at you in Trevor Ariza and Kobe Bryant.  Their defense as a real is hit and miss, but in crucial situations when they need to get a stop, they can rest knowing that they have two of the best that can at least slow down the opposing team's best wing man in critical times.  Another thing that helps the Lakers is their sense of continuity amongst one another.  This is a confident bunch that feeds off of the (I mean this in a good way) arrogance of their team captain.  Kobe Bryant's never say die attitude feeds over to the team and they can really feed off of that. 

Weaknesses:
They had such a strong bench at the beginning of the season and now look as if that second unit could pose some sort of problem.  The Lakers don't have that much of a problem with injuries, but the one big one they've had, Andrew Bynum, forced Lamar Odom to move into the starting lineup and set off a chain reaction of moves which included Luke Walton being placed back on the bench for Trevor Ariza, Vladimir Radmonovic being traded to the Bobcats and Jordan Farmar struggling to return from his knee injury early in the season.  The bench looked unstoppable at the beginning of the season, but Sasha Vujacic has really struggled this season, they don't have a backup big man outside of Josh Powell and they can't consistently sustain any type of lead.  That's cause for concern and may force the Lakers to play their starters huge minutes in the postseason.

Also, their defense is very inconsistent and always seems to pose a problem at inopportune times.  Especially on the road, the Lakers really struggle to get a groove on the defensive side of the ball which puts a lot of pressure on the offense.  The Lakers are very weak inside the paint which encourages a lot of players to simply play hard down in the paint on them.  We saw it in last season's NBA finals, Pau Gasol isn't stopping anybody around the basket.  Andrew Bynum is the best down low threat that they have on defense, and with his knee injury you don't even know if he'll be at enough strength to make much of a difference.

Why They Will Win It:
There probably isn't a more determined player this season than Kobe Bryant.  As of right now he looks poised, confident and hungry and that should really carry this team into the postseason.  They've already ran away with the Western Conference and I believe last season's dissapointing showing in the finals should really have a positive affect should they get there this season.  They are a very cohesive and fluent group that has a star player and coach who have won numerous championships throughout their illustrious careers.  Outside of Kobe, Derek Fisher and Phil, they really don't have any championship experience.  But you don't read that in their swagger.  They truly believe that they can win it.

Why They Won't Win It:
Until Andrew Bynum shows that he can, for 82 games a season, consistantly be a threat down in the paint then that will always be a lingering issue for the Lakers.  Add to the team's inconsistencies (especially in Lamar Odom's play) and a few bad games could really hurt this team the further they go into the postseason.  Defensively they have their moments, but they really need to dedicate themselves to the defensive side of the ball if they're going to take home the championship.  Even if they are to take home court, psychologically that's an advantage but all it takes is one loss and the rest of the team may start to doubt themselves.  An overreliance on Kobe could be a problem in the postseason, because everyone outside of Fisher dissapeared in crucial moments in last season's finals series.

Conclusion:
The Lakers have their fair share of problems, but they still have that one player on that team who everyone wants to go to war with.  In crucial situations, Kobe Bryant will carry this team.  They should win easily the first couple of rounds, but when the playoffs get thicker and teams that play a more physical brand of basketball remain, the Lakers need to show that they can play physical with these squads.  Offense isn't always going to cut it.  But as of today, they should be the favorites for a return trip to the NBA finals.

Coming up next: the Boston Celtics.

Posted on: February 16, 2008 12:53 pm
Edited on: November 2, 2008 9:33 pm
 

Looking Back At GoHornets' Preseason Predictions

I figured the all star break is the best time to reflect at all preseason comments and predictions .. so why not take this time to boast .. brag .. make fun of myself and shake my head at all that I said before the opening tip off of the 2007-2008 season.

We will start with the Western Confrence. 

1) San Antonio Spurs - this was real close between them and Phoenix but I do believe that staying pat was the right thing for them to do.  Their age, though, may come into question when the playoffs start.

I still agree with that and feel that keeping the team as was was the smartest thing to do.  Only time will tell if they'll win but because of the Lakers and Suns trade my predictions were thrown out of whack.  I, though, do like the Spurs over both of them at this current time.  But as you'll soon see .. my predictions don't stand for much.

2) Phoenix Suns - As much as I've criticized them for their lack of defense there isn't a team that plays with more heart than this one.  A very good team full of good character players.  I'm not going out on a limb .. but I am saying they're my pick for champs this year.

I hate that I picked them to win it all.  It goes against my "Defense wins championships" motto .. but I figured they'd come in with a huge chip on their shoulder after last season.  Maybe the Shawn Marion trade demands hurt the team more than I thought it would .. but they look a lot more fresher with him out of there.  I don't think they'll win the title now but I have them as probably the 3rd best team in the west.

3) Houston Rockets - Yes I do have them ahead of Dallas.  I absolutely loved the moves that they made in the offseason and if Tracy McGrady's brittle back can hold up and if Yao can stay on the court (huge if's) they could be a sleeper to really make some strides this year.  But because of the injury history .. I'm taking a chance by placing them this high.

Ugh.  I hate Houston and always criticize their moves but I bought into the hype.  All offseason I said Van Gundy was so much better than Adelman and that firing him was a mistake .. but then they made the transactions they did and I bought the hype.  I back off of those current statements though they'll still make the playoffs.  I still don't think they'll make it out the 1st round though.

4) Utah Jazz - I do believe that Deron Williams is a player with a huge upside and I could go on for days about how much I love Carlos Boozer and his style of play.  I'm not a big fan of Mehmet Okur though .. and even though I am a huge fan of Andrei Kirilenko .. I'm wondering how he'll really adjust this season .. not only because of last year's dissapointment but also because of the offseason issues.

I pretty much agree with all of that

5) Dallas Mavericks - I know I'm giving them a huge drop off .. but I see it in order.  I'm really confused with this team because they have the most talent but I don't think they play with enough heart.  Not that they don't play hard every night .. but when things get rough .. fingers start getting pointed .. excuses start being made and unfortunately that's not the way to handle situations.  It's cost them the last two years and I don't see why things would change.

I agree with all of that as well.

6) Denver Nuggets - I like A.I. and 'Melo together .. but there's still not much about this team that scares me.  A.I. reverted back to his old ways in the playoffs .. and just because he notches assists doesn't mean he seamlessly gets his teammates involved.  Carmello is a nice talent but I think he's better as a second option type.

I still pretty much agree with this .. though I hope they're the team that doesn't make the playoffs.

7) New Orleans Hornets - I know this may be viewed as a homer pick but I don't believe that it is.  They have a ton of talent and the addition of Morris Peterson is huge for the team as he's someone that not only plays tough defense but also stretches the opposing defense with his shooting and tough nosed play.  The team usually gets hit with injuries every year .. but if they can somehow avoid it this year then a trip to the playoffs is in order, I believe.

I caught a lot of flack for putting the Hornets in the playoffs .. but everything I felt was justified.  They're playing good now and should finish a bit ahead of this 7th seed .. but barring some huge collapse .. they should still be in.

8) Golden State Warriors - I don't believe that they're a fluke .. but they are what they are.  They're not better than last year because they gave away Jason RichardsonBaron Davis is great .. but he's also been one with huge injury problems.  The team plays hard .. their fans are great .. but they didn't get any better than last season so I see them right where they were.

I still think they'll finish in the lower seedings in the West so I like this pick.  Only problem is I called Jason Richardson their best player.

9) Los Angeles Lakers - Regardless if Kobe gets traded or not .. I don't see them making it.  This is just not a good team .. there's no type of frontcourt .. and though I love Derek Fisher I don't see how he makes them that much better.  I expect a drop off from a team that's, believe it or not, overachieved the last couple years.  Lamar Odom has put up good numbers but sometimes you forget he's even out there.

I deserve a lot of flack for this one.  I said they had no front court (Andrew Bynum), I said they wouldn't make the playoffs (and then called them a championship contender in this blog), and I called them a bunch of overachievers.  Whoops.

10) Portland Trailblazers - A team well on the right track to something special.  The injury to Oden really hurts the team .. and though they have promise they're still a year or maybe even two away in my estimation.  I love Nate McMillan as a coach though.

I think that turned out pretty fair.

11) Memphis Grizzlies - They did the right move in kind of reshaping the team .. but they just seem so bland to me.  I don't have any reason to get excited about facing them (with the exception of Pau Gasol) and I don't really know which direction this team is heading in.  They'll be better than last year .. but after last year's abysmal season .. that's not saying much.

I agree with that.  Though I should have placed them lower.

12) Los Angeles Clippers - The loss of Elton Brand kills them .. and after last year's sky high expectations .. they're reverting back to the same ol' Clippers.  They've turned into a dissapointment again .. and this is another team where I'm just not sure in which direction they're going.

I agree with that still.

13) Seattle SuperSonics - A very talented team.  At the same time .. a very young team.  I think they will be good in due time but not as quickly as Portland will be.  Durant's exciting .. as is Jeff Green but I'm interested to see how Carleisimo handles the team because he's had a history of not handling young players well.  And that's all this team is.

I like that prediction as well.

14) Sacramento Kings - Mike Bibby has fallen off of the face of this Earth.  He must have held on for dear life and brought Brad Miller down with him.  This team is looking like another stale 33 win season .. or even worse .. and it won't be because of Theus.  I like him as a coach but this is not a good situation.  I look for at least Bibby to be traded by mid season .. if not Artest and/or Brad Miller as well.

Well I was calling for total rebuilding for them but they've turned out a solid team this year.  Though .. I don't see them as a championship contender the way they are .. and even if they stay pat .. they may make the playoffs next year but they won't make any noise.  They still have to make some moves to get back to the Kings of old.

15) Minnesota Timberwolves - At least they're not stuck in the "stale/bland" situation that I've labeled the Lakers, Grizzlies, and Kings with.  There's no hiding that they're rebuilding .. but as a result this year will be VERY tough.  As will next year, more than likely, .. and I don't like Randy Wittman as a coach.  They may be on the right path .. but they're right at the starting line.  It may be rough for them this year.

I still agree with that.  And then I made my playoff predictions.

Playoff Predictions:
Spurs over Warriors
Suns over Hornets
Rockets over Nuggets
Mavericks over Jazz

Spurs over Jazz
Suns over Rockets

Suns over Spurs

I have backtracked my statement of Suns beating the Spurs in a seven game series .. and though the Rockets could probably beat the Nuggets in a seven game series .. they're not gonna play them in the 1st round so .. still on the outside looking in as far as the semifinals is concerned.

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Oh but if you thought that was bad .. wait until you get a load of my Eastern confrence picks.

I will warn you to take my predictions with caution .. because my predictions for the 04-05 Pacers, 05-06 Pacers, and 06-07 Nets have not gone as planned.  So this year's prediction (the Wizards) must immediately put a hit out on me .. or hope that they can break the mold.

1) Cleveland Cavaliers - In a wide oppen Eastern Confrence .. I'm going to go with the only team that can have eleven average players and one fantastic one .. and still manage to win.  This is the East's version of the L.A. Lakers .. what helps them out is .. they play in the East.  I'm a big critic of LeBron's and thinks he gets a little too much attention (as far as the media is concerned) .. but that's my only gripe and his play is undeniable.  I think he's eclipsed Kobe Bryant as far as single best player in the NBA. It's fair to say they won't get the number one seed but they'll still be a really good team in the East.  I was a little premature in calling LeBron better than Kobe, though.

2) Boston Celtics - I do believe that they will be a good regular season team.  Danny Ainge got people to care for this team again and for that deserves a pat on the back.  Other than that, though .. I don't see them winning the title or even making it to the finals .. because none of the "big three" know how to win.  They're all career losers (for a lack of a better word) and where's the help going to come from?

I still kind of agree with that though I was kind of harsh calling them all losers.  I don't think they'll win the championship (I don't know why it's just a gut feeling I've always had .. but I had that same feeling about the 05-06 Heat) .. so who knows what's going to happen.

3) Chicago Bulls - A team that is right on the brink but doesn't have a big man that can score.  They have so many pieces in place .. but for some reason I just don't see hwo they can win a championship.  It's hard to explain .. I just don't see the "it" in them.  I believe Ben Wallace is past his prime .. and who knows how the team is going to react to everyone being on the trading block this offseason.

I was half right and half wrong on this.  Right when I said I didn't know how the team was going to react to everyone being on the trading block .. wrong when I said they would be a top tier team in the East.

4) Washington Wizards - My pick for the East is this team right here.  I don't know why .. since they can't play defense to save their lives .. but I love Gilbert Arenas and have a man crush on Caron Butler.  Jamison is playing in a contract year (as is Arenas) and I see huge production out of those two.  They play a lot of offense and very minimal defense .. and that will bite them when they play the west teams.  Lucky for them .. they don't play the western teams until possibly the finals.  So I'm giving them the dreaded vote of approval to win the East.

I don't know.  I look at my prediction and still don't see anything dreadfully wrong with it .. but they just have become bland to me.  I no longer look at Arenas as an elite player .. I think he's more infatuated with himself than he is winning .. but they may still make noise in the playoffs when fully healthy.  The problem is .. they're never fully healthy.

5) New Jersey Nets - This team is sort of bland.  Jason Kidd is great .. but Vince now has his contract .. and Jefferson's injury history has taken away a lot of his play .. to me anyways.  They still don't have a frontcourt .. and after Kidd .. their toughest player, Mikki Moore .. left.  So they will drop off in my estimation but will still be good enough to get the fifth seed.

Ehh .. I kind of foresaw the decline of the team but I had them at 5 which turned out to be too high.  I also had them ahead of ..

6) Detroit Pistons - My how the once mighty have fallen.  Speaking of bland teams .. this is right up there with them.  They've taken steps back in all positions .. mostly because of age.  Flip Saunders has waisted the last two years with the Pistons .. and unfortunately they just don't seem to play as motivated as they did before.  Nothing on this team excites me (except for Tayshaun Prince) and Billups and Hamilton both took drastic steps back in their game last year.

I'm eating serious crow pertaining to the Pistons and the Lakers.  I can't say anything except for I was wrong .. and putting the Wizards, Nets, and Bulls ahead of them looks horrendously idiotic now.  I still think Saunders will find a way to blow it in the playoffs, though.

7) Toronto Raptors - I'm a big fan of Toronto but don't see where they wind up stepping above anyone I've placed before them.  I like T.J. Ford and absolutely love Chris Bosh .. but the loss of Peterson hurts them.  They got great chemistry and I see them possibly moving up from this spot up to possibly even the second seed .. but I can't get a handle on them and don't think they'll win the division.

I still feel that way about them.  They're better than seventh but I still have a hard time getting a feel for them.

8) Orlando Magic - I pondered them and the Heat .. but I figured I'd go with the younger team that actually has a bit of excitement to them.  They overpayed immensely for Rashard Lewis .. and I'm not sure that Jameer Nelson is the guy at point guard.  Who knows what happened to J.J. Reddick .. and Turkoglu is as streaky a player as I've ever seen.  But Dwight Howard himself should will this team to the playoffs .. but I don't see them making much noise when they get there.

I still don't see them making it deep in the playoffs .. but they're better than eighth.  Who knows what they'll do when they make it though.

9) Miami Heat - I'm probably making a mistake by not putting them in .. but Dwyane Wade will be starting this season on the injured list.  Shaq is also a year older .. and boy did he look sad at times last year.  He's not at all the player he once was .. but that happens to everyone.  It's just he's been "invinceible" for so long that to see him deteoriate like that really shocked me.  This is a team on the downside.

This is a team on the downside.  Unfortunately .. I don't regret not putting them in the postseason and they've declined so rapidly that they can't even sniff the playoffs.  Even in that pathetic eastern confrence.

10) Atlanta Hawks - I really like this team but I just can't put them in the playoffs this year.  Joe Johnson is fantastic .. and the potential .. the players .. it's there.  They strike me as an Eastern version of Portland .. and I guess it's a coincidence I placed both them and Portland in 10th in their respective confrences.  Josh Smith is great as well .. and the two rookies were smart picks .. but I don't know how it will all come together.  I wouldn't be shocked if they made the postseason though .. and if things keep on the right path .. they should make it by next season.

I stand by that.  I hope they make the playoffs though.

11) Indiana Pacers - Speaking of how the once mighty have fallen.  I don't think the trade with Golden State killed them last year .. but they did take a raw deal.  Jermaine O'Neal is the only player on this team that would really scare me.  Other than that there's not much to them .. and O'Neal himself isn't guaranteed to play half a year with his past injury history.  Who knows what direction this team is going to go in.

I still stand by that.  I caught a lot of flack from Pacers fans for this pick too.  Other than hurricane .. none of them are anywhere to be found any longer.

12) Philadelphia 76ers - I like this team and want to think that they'll build upon how they did without Allen Iverson last year .. but I don't see that happening.  Andre Igoudala did great last year .. but I wonder if he'll be able to surpass that this year .. which he'll need to do to get this team in the playoffs.  Andre Miller is one of the best pure point guards in the league because of his passing ability .. but that's basically all he's got is his passing. 

I'm content with that.

13) New York Knicks - I don't like to put them so low but .. man I don't like the Randolph trade.  Now they have two carbon copies of basically the same player with Zack Randolph and Eddy Curry.  The only difference is Randolph can kind of pass out of the paint (and Curry can't pass at all) .. but who do they pass it out to?  Jamaal Crawford, Stephon Marbury, Quentin Richardson, and company are only streaky at best.  And though I want to be wrong here because I really like the guy .. I don't see how much Allan Houston can do for them.  And on a side note .. man how bad do the Jared Jeffries and Jerome James signings look?

I look like a genius with that pick.

14) Charlotte Bobcats - I keep wanting to move them up but just can't.  I actually am one of the few who liked the Jason Richardson deal because it gives them a player who can score now.  But losing Sean May (AGAIN) for the whole year hurts .. Okafor's not very dependable as far as staying on the court is concerned (fouls and injuries) and Raymond Felton is a good player but not a good shooter.  All that factors into another bitter season for them .. which will probably start frustrating the fans.

I still stand by that.  I do hope they make the playoffs though.

15) Milwaukee Bucks - I want to put them up here and I will probably get flack for putting them so low but the drafting of Yi Jianlin made no sense to me and I don't know how Maurice Williams will play now that he's got his contract.  On the flip side .. he did turn down Miami to stay here .. so maybe I'm making a mistake by questioning his drive.  Michael Redd is fantastic .. but he's a one trick pony.  He just shoots.  He's great at what he does .. but I think he's a tad overrated as far as his salary is concerned.

I still stand by that as well.  And then I made my playoff predictions in the East.

Playoff Predictions:
Cavs over Magic
Celtics over Raptors
Bulls over Pistons
Wizards over Nets

Wizards over Cavs
Bulls over Celtics

Wizards over Bulls

And then I have Suns over Wizards in the NBA finals.

I had a lot of people telling me the Bulls wouldn't beat the Pistons in a seven game series and they all were right.  I don't know what I was thinking with Suns and Wizards .. I now would take a safe pick and predict Spurs-Celtics in the NBA finals .. but overall I wasn't horrendously bad in my pre season predictions.  I had some foreshadowing in there and some bad decisions (Lakers, Pistons) .. but overall I thought it was OK.  It's always fun to look back and see what you got right and wrong though .. and I'm not as stupid as I sound sometimes haha.  Take them for what they are .. these are GoHornets21's preseason predictions revisited.

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