Tag:George Hill
Posted on: May 25, 2010 5:27 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 4

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.  Sorry for the delay today, instead of working my usual nights I was asked to cover a morning shift and am just now getting on.  Don't worry, the countdown still goes on as usual.  Much like 2009, this draft that is coming in at number four is kind of hard to fully evaluate since it's only two years old (as opposed to 2009's one).  Early prognosis, however, is that this draft was really, really solid and should produce quite a bit of players who will produce for a long period of team.  In case I haven't given it away, the 2008 NBA Draft will be coming in at number four in our countdown.

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

#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21895619

#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21928696

#7: 2001 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21957208

#6: 2002 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21979856

#5: 2009 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22042511

#4: 2008 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Chicago Bulls - Derrick Rose, PG, Memphis
2) Miami Heat - Michael Beasley, PF, Kansas State
3) Minnesota Timberwolves - O.J. Mayo, SG, USC (traded to the Grizzlies)
4) Seattle Supersonics - Russell Westbrook, PG, UCLA
5) Memphis Grizzlies - Kevin Love, PF, UCLA (traded to the Timberwolves)
6) New York Knicks - Danilo Gallinari, SF, Italy
7) Los Angeles Clippers - Eric Gordon, SG, Indiana
8) Milwaukee Bucks - Joe Alexander, SF, West Virginia
9) Charlotte Bobcats - D.J. Augustin, PG, Texas
10) New Jersey Nets - Brook Lopez, C, Stanford

Pretty impressive top ten overall.  After Rose's performance in the NCAA Tournament and with him being a Chicago born player, his selection was the Bulls was expected and he immediately stepped up his game upon entering the league.  Some people thought he was a couple years away from reaching his potential, but he's managed to become a stud already after only two years.  The same can't yet be said for Beasley, who was expected all along to be the consensus number one prior to the NCAA Tournament.  After supposed attitude issues arose during pre draft interviews, some wondered whether he would be taken at number 2 but the Heat stuck with him anyways.  He's showed flashes of being able to produce on the court, but he still lacks a defined position and has had off the court issues with depression and marijuana use.  On draft night, the Grizzlies and Timberwolves swapped Mayo and Love in a move that was largely panned on Minnesota's part.  However, Love has turned out to be a pretty serviceable, if largely unathletic, option at the power forward position.  Mayo is an explosive scorer, but isn't much of a volume scorer and doesn't do much else yet.  It's hard to say at this moment who won the trade, although if a gun were put to my head I'd say the Grizzlies did.  Westbrook may wind up being the best player in the entire draft when it's all said and done.  He became the starting point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who relocated from Seattle shortly after this draft, right away and has matured into the position.  Gallinari is still a promising prospect who has shown an incredibly impressive outside touch and a willingness to defend top stars.  Eric Gordon, like Mayo, is an explosive scorer and may be undersized for long term prospects at the shooting guard position.  But so far, he hasn't let it deter his offensive game.  D.J. Augustin had a very surprising rookie season with his play off the bench in Charlotte, although he suffered a bit of a sophomore slump this season.  On the other hand, Brook Lopez really stepped his game up this season (probably out of necessity) in New Jersey and looks to be a promising player at a league-wide very weak center position.  In fact, the only player out of this top ten who looks awful is Alexander, who has barely gotten on the court for either the Bucks or the Bulls (who he was traded to at the deadline).  Who knows what Milwaukee was thinking when they drafted him at 8.

11) Indiana Pacers - Jerryd Bayless, PG, Arizona (traded to the Trail Blazers)
12) Sacramento Kings - Jason Thompson, PF, Rider
13) Portland Trail Blazers - Brandon Rush, SG, Kansas (traded to the Pacers)
14) Golden State Warriors - Anthony Randolph, PF, LSU
15) Phoenix Suns - Robin Lopez, C, Stanford
16) Philadelphia 76ers - Marreese Speights, PF, Florida
17) Toronto Raptors - Roy Hibbert, C, Georgetown (traded to the Pacers)
18) Washington Wizards - JaVale McGee, C, Nevada
19) Cleveland Cavaliers - J.J. Hickson, PF, North Carolina State
20) Charlotte Bobcats - Alexis Ajinca, C, France

Although this group isn't as impressive as the top ten list, it's still a good bunch of serviceable players.  A lot was expected of Bayless but he's been largely inconsistent in his two years in Portland.  He may need a chance of scenery already to continue his progression.  Thompson had a big rookie season after Sacramento was criticized for "reaching" for him.  He continued his stellar play this season, but hasn't shown that extra gear that may be needed to make him a starter for a very successful team.  Brandon Rush was a shooting specialist in college and was expected to do the same for Indiana, although he hasn't shown that touch yet much in his two years with the Pacers.  Anthony Randolph is a freakish athlete with a ton of potential, but has shown to be a bit injury prone his first two years in the league.  Robin Lopez, the twin brother of number ten pick Brook, was another criticized pick and looked, at times, downright lost on the court last season.  But he's emerged as the Suns starting center this season and his defensive prowress looks to make him a staple at that position for the future.  Speights has had some big games off the bench for Philadelphia but has shown a vulnerability to injuries as well.  Hibbert has rotated in and out of Indiana's starting lineup for his two seasons with the Pacers, and the team is still waiting for him to take the next step in his development.  McGee showed some signs this season for Washington after they went with a sort of youth movement, and could enter next season as the team's starting center.  Hickson became the second coming of Christ Jesus this season in Cleveland among their fanbase and was rumored in many trades at the deadline in an attempt for Cleveland to get more talent.  He's still on Cleveland's roster, though, and will most likely be a starter going forward next season.  Ajinca, meanwhile, has shown absolutely nothing thus far for Charlotte, and chances aren't good of him lasting past his four year rookie contract.

21) New Jersey Nets - Ryan Anderson, PF, Cal
22) Orlando Magic - Courtney Lee, SG, Western Kentucky
23) Utah Jazz - Kosta Koufos, C, Ohio State
24) Seattle Supersonics - Serge Ibaka, PF, Republic of Congo
25) Houston Rockets - Nicolas Batum, SF, France (traded to the Trail Blazers)
26) San Antonio Spurs - George Hill, PG, IUPUI
27) New Orleans Hornets - Darrell Arthur, PF, Kansas (traded to the Trail Blazers who then traded him to the Grizzlies)
28) Memphis Grizzlies - Donte Greene, PF, Syracuse (traded to the Rockets who then traded him to the Kings)
29) Detroit Pistons - D.J. White, PF, Indiana (traded to the Supersonics)
30) Boston Celtics - J.R. Giddens, SG, New Mexico

Even as the draft gets deeper, some really solid names are still on the list.  Anderson proved to be a serviceable scorer at the power forward position and is now playing for Orlando.  Meanwhile, Courtney Lee emerged as the starting shooting guard on an Orlando team that went to the NBA Finals but is now playing in New Jersey.  I just now put two and two together, and remebered that they were traded for eachother after their rookie seasons (well they were both involved in a trade anyways).  Koufos followed Greg Oden as an Ohio State freshman center taken in the first round, but even Oden's rookie season where he didn't play at all due to injury showed more promise than Koufos has in Utah.  Ibaka really came on strong this season for the Thunder and the team hopes that he can emerge as the center of the future.  Meanwhile, Batum has settled into Portland's starting rotation and doesn't yet seem to have tapped his potential.  The same can be said for George Hill, who is another one of San Antonio's rare finds in the draft and may be the team's starting point guard next season.  Arthur wound up settling in Memphis but hasn't yet showed a ton of promise.  The talent is there though.  Same can be said for Donte Greene, who wound up in Sacramento just before the start of the season and made some strides this season.  D.J. White didn't make it long in Detroit and didn't stick with Oklahoma City and is now playing in the NBDL.  Giddens doesn't seem too far behind.  He made no significant impact in Boston and after being traded to New York, never showed any staying power there either.

Round Two Notables:
34) Miami Heat - Mario Chalmers, PG, Kansas
35) Los Angeles Clippers - DeAndre Jordan, C, Texas A&M
37) Milwaukee Bucks - Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, SF, UCLA
39) Chicago Bulls - Sonny Weems, SG, Arkansas (traded to the Nuggets)
40) New Jersey Nets - Chris Douglas-Roberts, SG, Memphis
45) San Antonio Spurs - Goran Dragic, PG, Slovenia (traded to the Suns)
47) Washington Wizards - Bill Walker, SG, Kansas State (traded to the Celtics)

Another impressive list of finds here in the second round as well.  Chalmers started the entire season for Miami his rookie year.  He suffered a bit of a sophomore slump, but the 2008 NCAA Tournament MVP looks to have a bounce back year next season either off the bunch or starting for a team in the league.  Jordan is still a raw product who had the talent to be a lottery pick.  The Clippers hope he can partner with Blake Griffin to form a very formidable front court.  Mbah a Moute became a great defensive find for Milwaukee and has been, mostly, the team's starting small forward the last two seasons.  Weems is a great athlete who didn't really stick in Denver, but who showed a lot of promise and potential this past season with Toronto.  Douglas-Roberts has been inconsistent off the bench in New Jersey, but has had games where he looks like a good rotation player.  Dragic struggled big time last season but really came on this year and made a national name for himself with his Game 3 performance in the Western Conference Semifinals.  Just as Hickson is to Cleveland fans, Dragic is the second coming of Christ if you ask Phoenix funs.  Walker barely got on the court in his year and a half stint with Boston, but was traded to New York and showed a lot of promise the second half of this season.  He now figures to be in the team's future plans moving forward.

2008-2009 NBA Rookie of the Year: Derrick Rose
All Stars from the 2008 NBA Draft: Derrick Rose

2008-2009 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Derrick Rose
O.J. Mayo
Russell Westbrook
Brook Lopez
Michael Beasley

2008-2009 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Eric Gordon
Kevin Love
Mario Chalmers
Marc Gasol (who was originally drafted in 2007 by the Lakers before being traded to, and then signing with, the Grizzlies in 2008)
D.J. Augustin and Rudy Fernandez (who was originally drafted by the Suns in 2007 before being traded to, and then signing with, the Trail Blazers in 2008) tied for fifth on the second team.

Gosh I hate ties!

Posted on: April 16, 2010 2:05 pm
 

GoHornets21's 2010 First Round Playoff Preview

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

Eastern Conference

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

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

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

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


Western Conference

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

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

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

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

Posted on: March 5, 2010 2:57 am
 

NBA Power Rankings (March 4th, 2010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30. New Jersey Nets (6-54) - For awhile there I bought into the hype that the Nets could set the NBA record for futility and surpass the 76ers 9-63 record.  After last week's win at Boston, I'm convinced this team will at least go 4- 19 over their last 23 games to get that elusive tenth victory.  This team has no business being this bad, and for that reason I kind of feel as if they deserve to carry that loser label around with them.  They don't try, they don't perform, they're undisciplined and they don't seem to care that they're so awful of a team.  Poor Kiki Vandeweghe was told to firesale the roster with the hopes of acquiring LeBron James this offseason, but he's going to be blamed for how bad this roster is.  Even with all this cap space, there's no reason for a player to want to go to New Jersey, the impending move to Brooklyn is still pending, and that Russian billionare who was going to buy the team still has yet to buy them.  Even still, they shouldn't be anywhere near 9-63. 
Category: NBA
Tags: 76ers, Al Jefferson, Allen Iverson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andray Blatche, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Antawn Jamison, Antonio McDyess, Austin Daye, Ben Gordon, Bill Walker, Blake Griffin, Bobcats, Brandon Jennings, Brandon Roy, Brendan Haywood, Bucks, Bulls, Carl Landry, Carlos Boozer, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Channing Frye, Charlie Villanueva, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Clippers, Corey Brewer, Danny Granger, Darren Collison, David Lee, DeJuan Blair, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Devin Brorwn, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, George Hill, Glen Davis, Goran Dragic, Grant Hill, Greg Oden, Grizzlies, Hakim Warrick, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jamal Crawford, Jameer Nelson, Jannero Pargo, Jared Dudley, Jason Kidd, Jason Maxiell, Jazz, Jeff Foster, Jeff Green, Jerry Stackhouse, Joakim Noah, Joe Johnson, Joel Przybilla, John Salmons, Jonas Jerebko, Jonny Flynn, Jordan Farmar, Juwan Howard, Keith Bogans, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Kurt Thomas, Kyle Lowry, Lakers, Lamar Odom, LeBron James, Luke Ridnour, Luol Deng, Magic, Marcus Camby, Marcus Thornton, Marquis Daniels, Marvin Williams, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Mike Bibby, Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, Monta Ellis, Nate Robinson, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Pau Gasol, Pistons, Raptors, Rashard Lewis, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Jefferson, Robin Lopez, Rockets, Rodney Stuckey, Ronald Murray, Russell Westbrook, Ryan Gomes, Shannon Brown, Shaquille O'Neal, Spurs, Stephen Curry, Steve Nash, Suns, Thunder, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Troy Murphy, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyreke Evans, Tyrus Thomas, Warriors, Will Bynum, Wizards, Yao Ming, Zach Randolph
 
Posted on: 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: November 24, 2008 1:45 am
 

NBA Power Rankings Through November 23rd, 2008

1. Los Angeles Lakers (1) - I really thought about dropping them behind Boston but I can't if they don't lose.  They continue to get production out of a ton of players.  Kobe Bryant may be having the quitest 20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists start to any season.

2. Boston Celtics (2) - The Celtics would probably be 1a but since 1a isn't a number I'm going to put them here at number two.  They're getting tremendous production out of their bench with Leon Powe, Tony Allen, Eddie House and even Brian Scalabrine putting in quality minutes.  They not only boast one of the best starting fives in the league, they're incredibly deep as well. 

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (3) - Even though they lost at Detroit the team continues to chug along and has looked good so far this season.  Mo Williams is starting to bring his offensive production up and he's looked like a solid acquisition so far in the young season.  This team is actually fun to watch and I think they're going to be a tough out for anybody in the postseason.  By the way, what's all this talk about LeBron James leaving?  You have all these teams gearing up to get him, when the team he's on will probably be in the best position to win.  I don't see him going anywhere.

4. Denver Nuggets (7) - Nene has quietly had a great season and although this may seem high to some, this team has been absolutely lights out with Chauncey Billups on board.  If they continue to get production of Linas Kleiza and J.R. Smith, that gives them two dynamic options off the bench and with Kenyon Martin playing as he is this team should be in good shape.  I still think they could use frontcourt help if they're to advance deep into the postseason.

5. Houston Rockets (8) - The Rockets turned out a solid week.  Aaron Brooks continues to play amazing ball and Tracy McGrady just quietly hits big shots.  In the regular season at least.  Yao Ming missing a game is cause for concern and is something to keep an eye on.

6. Orlando Magic (5) - There's been a J.J. Reddick sighting.  I don't know how this team wins but they do.  Dwight Howard had a tough week and Rashard Lewis is struggling shooting the ball but they still churn out victories.  That's impressive enough to keep them as high as they are.

7. Phoenix Suns (4) - They drop by virtue of the two tough losses they suffered this week.  Shaquille O'Neal continues to have a productive season and they're getting good minutes out of Grant Hill lately.  They need Leandro Barbosa back and when he returns their bench will greatly compliment the production the starters have given.

8. Utah Jazz (9) - Andrei Kirilenko is playing some really good ball off the bench and C.J. Miles has looked great this week.  They're going to get Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer back this week, and that alone keeps the team in the top ten.  They need to get a solid, set rotation and start to gel and when they do they'll return to top Jazz form.

9. Portland Trail Blazers (12) - Portland is playing some great ball.  Brandon Roy has picked up his all star form and even though Greg Oden's production has slipped the past couple of games, he's looked great off of the bench since returning from his injury.  They're doing all this while LaMarcus Aldridge is in a shooting slump and when he returns to form it will only make them better.

10. Atlanta Hawks (10) - Marvin Williams has slowly showed why the Hawks chose him 2nd overall over both Chris Paul and Deron Williams.  It may still be a bad move, but the guy's talented and he's playing some good ball.  Joe Johnson continues to perform and they're even getting good minutes out of Acie Law.  They have a solid, if inconsistent, bench.

11. Detroit Pistons (6) - That whoopin' they took at Boston ruined all momentum they had gained after the Allen Iverson trade.  They followed that up by getting thrashed at home by Minnesota and the Pistons are back to square one.  I don't doubt they'll climb out the hole, I just wish they wouldn't keep falling back in it.  At least Rasheed Wallace has come to play, but Tayshaun Prince has cooled after his hot start and Richard Hamilton looks out of sync.  It's still early, though, and this team is still the Pistons.  You never can count them out.

12. New Orleans Hornets (11) - Peja Stojakovic can't make a shot and Tyson Chandler looks sluggish.  This team looked to be set at the guard position, but Devin Brown is playing point guard and I'm not too sure if the combination of Morris Peterson and Rasual Butler is going to get it done.  We'll see.

13. Miami Heat (17) - Dwyane Wade is playing like a mad man and there's been a Shawn Marion sighting this week.  If they continue to get great production out of those two the other stuff should fall into place.  They're recommitting themselves to the defensive end, as well, and you like to see Wade performing at the level that he is.

14. New York Knicks (13) - I'm not too sure what to make out of the moves that they made, other than they've given up on this season.  Al Harrington, Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas all fit into D'Antoni's system but I don't think they're as good as the players they let go.  I thought there was an outside shot they'd make the postseason, but why fight to make the playoffs when you can build for a championship?  That looks to be Donnie Walsh's approach.  Things are at least interesting again (for all the right reasons) in New York.

15. Philadelphia 76ers (18) - Well Kareem Rush isn't going to single handedly make the Sixers a three point threat and they still can't shoot the long ball.  There may not be a better rebounding team in the NBA, but with those jump shooters they get plent of opportunities.  Elton Brand hasn't produced as he was expected to so far this season but he hit a big shot against his old team this week.  He followed that up with a solid game today and we'll see if he builds off of that.

16. Milwaukee Bucks (19) - Andrew Bogut and Ramon Sessions are playing great basketball.  They've played solid ball this season and all of it without Michael Redd for a majority of the season.  Maybe he could be used as trade bait as I'm sure his value is still relatively high.  They could get some nice building blocks for now and for the future in return for Redd, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (I spelled that without clarifying and I hope it's right) has been the most surprising rookie this season.  What a find in the 2nd round!

17. New Jersey Nets (20) - Don't look now but Vince Carter is having a tremendous season so far.  Devin Harris has been perfect in the sidekick role as well, and even though the rest of the team is so inconsistent, they find themselves at .500 for the season.  Impressive job by Lawrence Frank.

18. Dallas Mavericks (25) - The Mavericks went undefeated this week so I probably should move them up higher, but I'm still relatively unimpressed after looking at their competition.  Still, Dirk Nowitzki is playing tremendous basketball (what else is new) and Rick Carlisle finally has the team clicking on offense.  They just are so bland as a franchise and organization, though.  I doubt the Mark Cuban fiasco will be a distraction, but it has the potential to be.

19. San Antonio Spurs (15) - It was a quiet week for the Spurs, but they looked impressive against a depleted Utah team and received word that Manu Ginobili may be coming back earlier than expected.  I'm not sure what to make of that news, as I thought he was supposed to be waiting until he was fully healthy, that way he'd be in top form for the stretch run.  They're playing admirably without him, I see no need to rush him.  George Hill looks like another one of those Spurs finds in the draft.

20. Chicago Bulls (16) - Luol Deng is the latest to bite the injury bug in Chicago.  Although Ben Gordon had a slow week, Derrick Rose continues to perform beyond his experience.  History tells us he'll tail off but I don't see it.  Larry Hughes came back this week as well, adding some depth to a backcourt that was so depleted it signed Lindsey Hunter for insurance.

21. Toronto Raptors (14) - Even with tremendous weeks from Anthony Parker and Andrea Bargnani this team is continuing to struggle.  Bargnani is out of place starting at the 3 spot and although Chris Bosh continues to flourish, I question the direction and overall makeup of this team.  I'm not sure what to make of them as a squad as I've thought of them highly and at the moment think of them poorly.  They need to develop consistency and find a way to build that team around Chris Bosh and do it quickly, or else he may be out the door.

22. Indiana Pacers (22) - They're losing tough games and they're missing Mike Dunleavy.  Right now Danny Granger and Marquis Daniels are playing strong basketball but everyone else is a little inconsistent.  Why is Jamaal Tinsley still on this payroll? 

23. Sacramento Kings (21) - John Salmons has looked terrific in Kevin Martin's absence.  A win at New Orleans this week is the only thing that keeps me from pointing at their slow decline, but injuries have hit hard in Sac-town.  Mikkie Moore and Kevin Martin will come back soon and when they do I look for this team to continue to be a thorn in the opposition's side.

24. Golden State Warriors (23) - Now that Al Harrington is gone and Jamaal Crawford is coming in, this team improved both the clubhouse and the talent level on the squad.  Anthony Morrow cooled considerably after a great two game stretch early in the week, but if he brings half of that production backing up Crawford then this team will be in good position to make some sort of run around mid to late December.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves (29) - A good week for Minnesota as they pick up two wins and get a good game from Randy FoyeAl Jefferson is as steady as they come and they looked impressive in that game at Detroit.  I'm not too sure what to make of their last two first round draft picks (Kevin Love and Corey Brewer) but maybe I'm being too harsh when I say they look like good players who were taken too high in the lottery.

26. Memphis Grizzlies (26) - Well the hot start to the season that the Grizzlies had is the only thing saving their season.  O.J. Mayo is this year's Kevin Durant (as far as putting up good rookie numbers on a bad team) and Rudy Gay hasn't been as commanding as he was last season.  They're not getting much production past Marc Gasol in the front court but we didn't expect them to get much either. 

27. Charlotte Bobcats (24) - Larry Brown has to be kicking himself in the head.  This organization has been badly mishandled, from the placement (why you would give a town that failed it's previous franchise another franchise befuddles me, especially when you see them failing this team as well) to the operation of the franchise (Michael Jordan being in any executive position disallows us from taking them serious), to the production of the players (D.J. Augustin is the only reason to get excited in Charlotte) and you have all the makings of another, dissapointing season in Charlotte.  You have to wonder when the Bobcats will make the turn.

28. Los Angeles Clippers (28) - Chris Kaman has played just as strongly as he did last season but he and Zach Randolph have similar games.  Both are good low post, back to the basket type players (although Kaman is much better) and I'm not sure how they'll fit together.  I also don't know where this puts Marcus Camby in the rotation as well but I guess we'll have to watch it all unfold.  I don't think there's any chance of Mike Dunleavy finishing this season.

29. Washington Wizards (27) - So irrelevant I almost forgot them.  There's not much to be said about this team and there's not much of a chance Eddie Jordan sticks around.  Not when Gilbert Arenas is already calling for a tank job and with the rest of the squad being worthy of a last place finish.  They are awful to watch.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - They become the first team this season to fire a head coach and although I like P.J., he outstayed his welcome.  The team looked uninspired under him and they played with a little fire under new coach Scott Brooks.  Russell Westbrook is too much of a "me" player to learn the point guard position and I would try and move him to shooting guard.  Kevin Durant needs to add some muscle and start playing more down in the post, but haven't we said that for two years?  He may lack the work ethic to make him a great player in this league.

 
 
 
 
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