Posted on: May 30, 2010 10:23 pm
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: February 10, 2010 1:46 am
We're approaching the all star weekend in the NBA; the unofficial midseason point for NBA teams. At this point, we all have a pretty good understanding and grip on what certain teams are going to be able to do and what a lot of teams are unable to do. Lots of trades are being rumored to go down even though nothing looks concrete as of yet. But why are teams in this situation? A lot of them are where they are because of the moves they made this offseason. Last year, I wrote a report on how the NBA's biggest offseason additions worked by the all star break. Some, like the Mo Williams acquisition for the Cavaliers, worked. Some, like the Jermaine O'Neal experiment in Toronto, flopped. So we're going to give it a shot again. Here's a look back at the biggest player movements during the offseason and how they've worked thus far in the 2009-2010 NBA Season.
Cleveland Cavaliers trade Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to the Phoenix Suns to acquire Shaquille O'Neal
San Antonio Spurs trade Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto to the Milwaukee Bucks to acquire Richard Jefferson
Boston Celtics sign Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels
Los Angeles Lakers sign Ron Artest
Orlando Magic trade Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie to the New Jersey Nets for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson
Atlanta Hawks trade Acie Law and Speedy Claxton to the Golden State Warriors for Jamal Crawford
Tags: Acie Law, Allen Iverson, Andrew Bynum, Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace, Bobcats, Bucks, Cavaliers, Celtics, Charlie Villanueva, Chauncey Billups, Courtney Lee, Delonte West, Dwight Howard, Emeka Okafor, Fabricio Oberto, Glen Davis, Hawks, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jamal Crawford, Jermaine O'Neal, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, Kurt Thomas, Lakers, Magic, Marquis Daniels, Mo Williams, Nets, Paul Pierce, Piston, Rafer Alston, Raptors, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Jefferson, Rockets, Ron Artest, Ryan Anderson, Sasha Pavlovic, Shaquille O'Neal, Spurs, Suns, Tony Battie, Trail Blazers, Trevor Ariza, Tyson Chandler, Vince Carter, Warriors
Posted on: January 5, 2010 5:00 pm
It all started with us running to wal mart to buy tuna fish and bottled water. It ended with us cursing the Lakers and Cavaliers and those darn puppets. The years 2000 to 2010 were full of exciting basketball, break through players and broken hearts. Scandal erupted when it was discovered that an NBA official was found gambling on games that he was officiating. Fans were dazzled for Michael Jordan's return to the NBA when he donned the Washington Wizards jersey. A city was revived in 2008 when the Boston Celtics landed Kevin Garnett and returned to the NBA's elite. With so much happening, it was pretty difficult to narrow down what awards I was going to give and who or what I would give them to. But all in all, I'm pleased with it so here goes: GoHornets21's NBA End of the Decade Awards.
Team of the Decade - Los Angeles Lakers - Let's face facts, the first champions of this decade were the 2000 Los Angeles Lakers. The last champions of the decade? The 2009 Los Angeles Lakers. A lot happened in Lakerland this decade, from the initial three peat, to Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant's continued spats, to O'Neal being traded to Miami, to Phil Jackson retiring, to the tough losing season, to Phil returning, to the two consecutive first round exits, to Kobe pubicly demanding to be traded, to Pau Gasol winding up in their laps and culminating in last year's title. It was a fantastic voyage for Los Angeles, who won four championships this decade in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2009, and the made the finals two other seasons in 2004 and 2008. They routinely defeated the closest challenger for team of the decade, the San Antonio Spurs, when the team's would square off in the postseason, with Duncan and company only beating the Lakers in the 2003 semifinals. Through it all, Kobe Bryant was celebrated, jeered, villifed and eventually dignified when he won a championship in 2009. Through it all, the Lakers were always either the team you loved to hate, or the team that everybody was hitchin' their bandwagon to. And that's why they win the team of the decade.
Team of the Decade (in a season) - the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics - Entering the 2007 offseason, the Celtics were a team with a very storied past but with a rocky recent few seasons. Coming off a ridiculously bad 2006-2007 season, Paul Pierce openly accepted the possibility of being traded from the only team he's ever played for, and Doc Rivers was viewed across the board as someone who just couldn't coach. Looking at it now, those would stand as blasphemous statements now. But that's was widely accepted percepetion then. Then the team tried to pry Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were looking to trade their superstar to begin their rebuilding process. Garnett initiall refused to go to Boston and the deal looked dead. But when the Celtics pulled off a draft day trade to land Ray Allen in a Boston uniform, Garnett changed his mind, and Boston still had enough pieces to convince Minnesota to trade Garnett and the Big Three became the hysteria of the league. Coming into the season with all kinds of expectations, the Celtics would fill their roster with unwanted veterans like James Posey, P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell and Eddie House and would start young, unproven players such as Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins at point guard and center to stand alongside the Big Three. What happened was some of the best basketball of the decade. The Celtics accepted all expectations and soon exceeded them. They would start off the season hot and never look back. With Garnett winning the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award, the Celtics would be transformed into a defensive juggernaut, almost impossible to score against and extremely efficient on the offensive end. They would survive a scare from the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the postseason and then survive an equally scary Cleveland Cavaliers team in the semifinals, before convincingly defeating their arch rivals all season long, the Detroit Pistons in the Conference finals and then the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.
Rivalry of the Decade - Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings - If you were alive during and thriving in basketball during the early portion of this decade, you were enthralled by the Lakers and Kings rivalry. They had an Southern California vs. Northern California hatred for one another. They were both finesse teams that could really play some exciting basketball. They both had terrific coaches in Phil Jackson and Rick Adelman, and one team always beat the other. The early Sacramento Kings, espcially the 2002 Sacramento Kings, are easily the best teams I've ever seen that didn't win a championship. Led by Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic and Mike Bibby, there would be on court fights, off court ridicule and constant playoff matchups with the Lakers for the Kings that would eventually force Sacramento's hand in dismantling the team. Whether it be the classic seven game 2002 Western Conference Semifinals, the classic slugfest between Doug Christie and Rick Fox or Shaq's classic boast that "Los Angeles is the new capital of California", this rivalry had everything you could ever want. Not only was it two teams that detested eachother, it was two wonderfully talented teams that hated eachother and would routinely put on some of the best basketball of the decade.
Fans of the Deace - the Portland Trail Blazers - The Rose Garden has always been an exciting place to watch an NBA Basketball game. The fans in Portland truly embrace and love their franchise and have for a very long time. When the Trail Blazers suffered early success in the beginning part of this decade, they truly were a fantastic group of fans who supported their team. When things got rough with off court problems, the fans let their frustrations be known, and the Trail Blazers were eventually forced to follow public desire and shed the "Jail Blazers" monicker. Through it all, the Rose Garden was routinely sold out and finally became the place to watch basketball again in 2007, when the new Brandon Roy led Blazers burst onto the scene.
Upset of the Decade - the Detroit Pistons over the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals - Coming into the 2003-2004 season, the Lakers were a team that already had won three championships and had Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal manning down the roster. In the offseason, the team added veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton, both eager to win a championship and both future hall of famers as well. A lot was made of the Lakers four eventual Hall of Famers on one roster, and the team overcame injuries and Kobe's sexual assault allegations to peak in the postseason and take their rightful spot in the NBA Finals. Over in the Eastern Conference, a solid team with a coach who never could win the big one played solid basketball all season long, acquired Rasheed Wallace at midseason and looked poised to make a nice run in the postseason as well. When they eventually made the NBA Finals, not a snowball's chance in the Devil's residence was given to Detroit to beat the Los Angeles Lakers. What followed was one of the most convincing five game victories in NBA postseason history. After taking game 1 in convincing fashion, the Lakers would need late game heroics by Kobe Bryant to steal game 2 away from the Pistons. But when the series shifted to Detroit for the next three games, the fantastic Detroit fans and the cohesive Pistons unit routinely thumped the Lakers and would win all three games in Detroit to take the NBA Finals in five games.
Playoff Series of the Decade - Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings in the 2002 Western Conference Finals - As documented earlier, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings hated eachother. Largely, the Kings were viewed as a soft team incapable of beating Los Angeles. But they acquired Mike Bibby in the 2001 offseason and won home court advantage throughout the postseason and looked as poised as ever to finally defeat their arch nemisis. After the Lakers shocked the Kings in game 1 at Arco Arena, all of the ghosts and skeltons came out of Sacramento's closets and things looked bad for the Kings. But then the Kings would take back game 2 and then win game 3 at Staples Center in convincing fashion. With a 2-1 lead, the Kings entered the pivotal game 4 focused and ready to take full advantage of the series. With the lead late, the Lakers through up a myriad of attempts to take the lead but were unable to, when the ball was tipped out to Robert Horry who hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history at the buzzer to give the Lakers the win and to tie the series at 2-2. Even with their spirits hurting, the Kings were resilient in winning game 5. Game 6 will be forever covered in mystery over whether or not the referees intentionally gave the Lakers the victory as was hinted by Tim Donaghy, but the Lakers used those free throws to their advantage and took game 6 at home. This set up the fantastic game 7 in Arco Arena, where the Kings had every opportunity to win the game but uncharacteristically missed free throw after free throw, allowing the game to go into overtime where the Lakers eventually won. The Kings never reached the conference finals again that decade and eventually jettisoned Chris Webber, then Peja Stojakovic, then Mike Bibby before entering the rebuilding stage that they're in now.
Tags: Al Jefferson, Allen Iverson, Andrew Bynum, Ben Wallace, Brandon Roy, Bulls, Cavaliers, Celtics, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Eddie House, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, James Posey, Jason Kidd, Javaris Crittenton, Jazz, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Kwame Brown, Lakers, LaMarcus Aldridge, LeBron James, Marc Gasol, Mavericks, Mike Bibby, Pacers, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Peja Stojakovic, Pistons, Rajon Rondo, Randy Foye, Rasheed Wallace, Ray Allen, Ron Artest, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Shaqille O'Neal, Spurs, Steve Nash, Suns, Theo Ratliff, Tim Duncan, Timberwolves, Tracy McGrady, Trail Blazers, Tyrus Thomas, Warriors, Wizards, Yao Ming
Posted on: May 3, 2009 3:34 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:44 pm
My Postseason Preview - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons - The Cavs came into the postseason determined and really took it to Detroit in all areas of the game. Defensively the Pistons had no answer for LeBron James and the anemic play of their three stars (Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace) resulted in just absolute destruction from beginning to end.
My Prediction: Cavaliers in five
Result: Cavaliers in four
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that the opposite ends at which these teams were entering the postseason was going to affect how they could perform. The Pistons frontcourt was small enough to where the Cavs' lack of size wouldn't be such a flaw.
Where I Was Wrong: I mentioned that the Pistons would be competitive in their games in Detroit and that Mo Williams would probably struggle in this series. Williams' shot was inconsistent but for the most part he was solid as the team's second option. The Pistons never really posed much of a threat to Cleveland aside from the first half of game one in Cleveland. It was sad to watch that proud franchise go out the way it did.
(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Miami Heat - This series has been really bad to watch because it hasn't given us great basketball from either team. For three games the Hawks have played terrific defense, for three games the Heat have taken it to the basket and gotten to the line and have made their three point shots. Neither team has shown any kind of consistency and the fact that it's gone to seven isn't fitting, seeing as how there hasn't been much competition or consistency from either squad.
(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls - If not for this series, the first round would have been full of uninteresting, unmotivated players and performances. However, both teams here played fantastic basketball from start to finish and really brought out the best in eachother. It had theatrics on the bench, the young upstart squad versus the defending champions, fantastic buzzer beaters and tremendous basketball. It's a shame one of these squads had to lose, but the Celtics earned this on the court.
(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Houston Rockets - Coming into the series, the Trail Blazers were the popular pick to make a run at the Lakers and give them trouble in the semifinals, and they proceeded to get destroyed in game 1 on their home court. After that loss, they never gained any momentum in this series and it never felt like they'd have a chance to win.
(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks - This series pitting two division rivals against one another seemed to be one that was sure to bring fireworks from start to finish, but the Mavericks really dominated the Spurs on both sides of the court and gave them fits from all angles. The Spurs only had Tony Parker and Tim Duncan show up while the Mavericks had five players every night that gave tremendous production and really just overpowered the Spurs.
Oh no, now onto this next series.
(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - In a matchup of two teams entering the playoffs on two opposite runs (Denver was hot going into the postseason whereas the Hornets stumbled entering the playoffs), the Nuggets thoroughly exposed the Hornets as the least talented team in the entire postseason. A dominating performance by Denver was highlighted by a 58 point game 4 victory in New Orleans
Tags: 76ers, Aaron Brooks, Al Horford, Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Andrew Bynum, Brad Miller, Bulls, Carlos Boozer, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul, David West, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Greg Oden, Hawks, Heat, Hornets, Jazz, Joel Przybilla, Jose Juan Barea, Kenyon Martin, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Lakers, Lamar Odom, LeBron James, Luis Scola, Magic, Manu Ginobili, Mavericks, Mo Williams, Nuggets, Pistons, Rajon Rondo, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Rockets, Roger Mason, Ron Artest, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Battier, Spurs, Tayshaun Prince, Theo Ratliff, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Tracy McGrady, Trail Blazers, Tyrus Thomas, Tyson Chandler, Yao Ming
Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:54 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:45 pm
Team By Team Previews
1st Round Matchups
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons - The Pistons bring their experience to Cleveland to stand opposite the Cavaliers. The Cavs are really riding a huge wave of momentum into the postseason, the complete opposite way which Detroit is entering the playoffs. The Cavs have beaten the Pistons the last time they played in the postseason as well, and there's no reason for Detroit's intimidation factor to affect Cleveland. This is a solid matchup for the Cavs, because their lack of size won't affect them as the Pistons, likewise, lack significant size in their frontcourt.
(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade and the Heat are a tough out for anybody in the postseason, including an unproven playoff team like the Hawks. The Hawks are still a tough team to take seriously, although we all should, and they can look at that as a rallying cry. This is the most even matchup in the entire Eastern Conference, and the Hawks fantastic play at home should help this squad get out of the first round for the first time since 1999. Dwyane Wade and company will put up a fantastic effort, but I look for every home team to win in this series.
(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers - This is a matchup of slumping teams running head to head and will probably provide the least interesting of all of the playoff matchups in the NBA. The 76ers, even though they'll throw Samuel Dalembert and Theo Ratliff at him, really have no answer for Dwight Howard. Andre Iguodala will have to do it by himself and I don't believe he's the kind of player capable of doing that. Also, his dissapointing performance in last season's playoffs has to weigh on his mind. However, Hedo Turkoglu's injury is something to look for in Orlando.
(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls - Without Kevin Garnett, the Bulls lack of inside scoring can really be masked in this first round matchup. These two units play spectacular basketball at home and can really put points on the board. The key will be which team can make the defensive stops when it's necessary to get them. The defending champions, even without their defensive leader Garnett, have experience doing so and can really put the inexperienced Bulls on the ropes. I look for the Bulls to put up a great fight, and push the C's to seven but I look for the Celtics to somehow prevail.
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Utah Jazz - The Lakers get the unfortunate task of facing the inconsistent Utah Jazz in the first round. The Lakers should be confident, seeing as how Utah simply cannot win on the road, but the Jazz always give the Lakers fits. Kobe Bryant and company, though, should replicate last season's conference semifinals and really look to push Utah to the limit. Nobody outside of Deron Williams is really playing consistently for Utah, and he simply cannot do it alone. The Jazz will put up a fight in every single game, but they don't have the weapons or the confidence to pull games out.
(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Houston Rockets - The Rockets were coming into the postseason on a huge positive note, but stumbling to the 5th seed and having to face Portland is not what the Dr. ordered for a team looking to make it out of the first round for the first time since 1998. It's all mental with the Rockets, and Yao Ming should really be a force, but Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden are big enough to stay in front of Yao and really alter his shots. With that being negated, the Rockets must rely on Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks and Von Wafer and none of the three shoot consistently enough to match the late game heroics of Brandon Roy.
(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks - The Spurs pulled off an amazing run to win the Southwest Division, but if there's one team that always troubles the Spurs it's the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks have peaked at the right time and are entirely capable of winning games in San Antonio. Tim Duncan always plays fantastic ball against Dallas, but the same can be said for Dirk Nowitzki matching up against San Antonio. The role players will be huge in this matchup, as will Tony Parker, but the Mavs role players (Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Brandon Bass) should give the Mavericks the edge they need to pull the upset.
(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - This is a fantastic matchup here as the Hornets and Nuggets engage in a tightly contested head to head battle. Chris Paul may be too quick for Chauncey Billups to guard one on one, and if the Nuggets go to Anthony Carter that will give the Hornets the advantage defensively seeing as how Carter struggles with his shot. The Nuggets frontcourt could provide a lot of problems for the Hornets, especially Chris Andersen, who can really provide problems for Tyson Chandler and Sean Marks. When called upon, though, the acquisition of James Posey will pay off with his defense on Carmelo Anthony in this tough matchup.
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (4) Atlanta Hawks - The Cavaliers will still be riding that wave of emotion heading into the semifinals after their dispatching of the Pistons. However, they're going to run into a tough, battle tested Hawks squad that could steal a game in Cleveland. Joe Johnson and LeBron James give the fans quite the one on one matchup and fans will be tuned in to watch those two go at it. However, Cleveland's role players outshine Atlanta's in critical spots and the Cavs will escape in seven.
(2) Boston Celtics vs. (3) Orlando Magic - Without Garnett, Dwight Howard looks to dominate against Boston and may very well do so. These two squads meet head to head and give a fantastic first four games in this series and the series should head back to Boston tied at 2 apiece. However, the Celtics will miss Garnett as they look fatiqued from a tough series with the Bulls. That gives the Magic an opportunity to steal a game and close out the series in Orlando. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will really shine in this series, but Boston's lack of options will do them in.
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (4) Portland Trail Blazers - Coming off of facing the Jazz, the Lakers match up with another hated rival in Portland and have to be worried about this contest. The Lakers struggle against Portland, especially at Portland, and the Trail Blazers are one of the dangerous teams playing with no expectation to win. The Trail Blazers should give the Lakers lots of fits, but the Lakers have the best player on the court in Kobe Bryant, and have players outside of Kobe who can hit the big shot to win crucial games. The Blazers really will give the Lakers all they can handle and should take them to seven games.
(6) Dallas Mavericks vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - In this matchup of underdogs to advance, the Hornets and Mavericks both should count their blessings to be so close to the conference finals. These two teams will meet up for the second straight postseason, providing a lot of intense moments of basketball. However, the Mavericks have always struggled with the combination of Chris Paul and David West. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Brandon Bass always give the Hornets trouble, but Nowitzki will be guarded closely by James Posey and the Hornets can allow Peja Stojakovic to run relatively free, giving the Hornets the series victory.
Eastern Conference Finals
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Orlando Magic - LeBron James should really dominate in this matchup, as the Magic simply have no answer for him. Courtney Lee will provide the best line of defense, but having to rely so many minutes to a rookie could hurt the Magic on the offensive side of the basketball. Dwight Howard may go off in this matchup as well, but his role players will be hard pressed to knock down the jump shot consistently against the fantastic defense of Cleveland's.
Western Conference Finals
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - The Lakers, after two extremely draining matches will now be faced off with the postseason's cinderella team. However, the Hornets will be vexed from their two tough series as well, and their lack of size will finally come back to hurt them. Players like Odom and Bynum always perform well against the Hornets lack of height and the Lakers have more options to turn to than the Hornets do. They'll both be tired, but the Lakers have much more talent than New Orleans does and that will be enough for the Lakers to advance.
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (1) Los Angeles Lakers - And now for the matchup that the nation, David Stern and ESPN want and that haters across the world will despise. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James will match up head to head in a battle between the two best teams in the NBA all season long. Coming into the finals, both teams will have been tested although the Lakers will have had the tougher time getting there. The Cavaliers can use Los Angels' fatique to their advantage for at least the first game of the series, but after a co uple days rest, the Lakers should shock Cleveland in game 2 on their home court. Once the series returns to Los Angeles, the Lakers should really use their size to their advantage and pound it into the paint against Cleveland's smaller lineup. LeBron's heroics will be tested against the defense of Trevor Ariza and the Lakers bench will do just enough to send the series back to Cleveland with the Lakers ahead 3-2. With a fantastic sixth game being held in Cleveland, the game of the year will come down to the wire but the Lakers prove to be too much for Cleveland and take the series.
Tags: 76ers, Aaron Brooks, Al Horford, Andre Iguodala, Andrei Kirilenko, Andrew Bynum, Anthony Carter, Brandon Bass, Brandon Roy, Bulls, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chauncey Billups, Chris Andersen, Chris Paul, Courtney Lee, Daniel Gibson, David West, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Glen Davis, Greg Oden, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, J.R. Smith, James Posey, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Jazz, Joe Johnson, Joel Przybilla, Jose Juan Barea, Josh Howard, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Kwame Brown, Kyle Lowry, Lakers, Lamar Odom, LaMarcus Aldridge, LeBron James, Magic, Manu Ginobili, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Mo Williams, Nuggets, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Peja Stojakovic, Pistons, Rajon Rondo, Rashard Lewis, Ray Allen, Rockets, Roger Mason, Ron Artest, Ronald Murray, Samuel Dalembert, Sean Marks, Spurs, Theo Ratliff, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Trail Blazers, Trevor Ariza, Tyson Chandler, Von Wafer, Yao Ming, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Posted on: March 30, 2009 3:37 pm
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, by way of Phoenix's loss last night, recently clinched a playoff spot: the Houston Rockets.
On offense, the Rockets are very balanced with a nice inside-outside game. Yao Ming, for all of his height, has a beautiful touch around the basket and can draw defenders away from the basket. He's a weapon that a lot of times simply don't have, and because of his height and shot is difficult to guard. Rick Adelman's motion offense includes everyone on the court and forces teams to hold all of their players accountable. But with Luis Scola and Yao Ming holding the paint area, and with Ron Artest, Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks streching the defense, they're not as inept on scoring as most teams that rely on their defense are.
The Rockets also aren't a very athletic team. When they play potent offenses things can get difficult for them, and this team really struggles coming from behind. Their defense has to be on point every single game, and it is, but they can't fall behind by double digits and hope for a comeback. Their team isn't built for that. The Rockets are very good at controlling the pace of the game, but if they can't dictate the pace and teams escape the half court game then the Rockets are going to be hard pressed for options.
Why They Will Win It
Why They Won't Win It
The next team to clinch will be covered in the next preview.
Posted on: January 5, 2009 1:07 am
Edited on: April 16, 2009 11:56 pm
1. Los Angeles Lakers (4) - Rejoice, Los Angeles! The beloved Lakers have reclaimed their top position. The hottest team in the NBA is boasting one of its hottest players in Kobe Bryant. As of late, Kobe and Pau Gasol have elevated their play to around the level they were at around the postseason last year. The bench is getting good production even with Jordan Farmar missing time with his injury. I don't believe adding another point guard is critical for the moment but it wouldn't hurt if they could land one for cheap.
2. Atlanta Hawks (5) - The Hawks suffered a crushing loss with a near halfcourt heave at the buzzer from Vince Carter at New Jersey. That was only their second loss in twelve games. Victories over Cleveland, Denver, Houston and Detroit highlight that stretch and prove that this team is not a flash in the pan. I'm sure they won't maintain this level of competition all season long as the team is largely unproven, but don't try to dispute what they've accomplished so far this season. Not only is this team legitimate, they're talented.
3. Boston Celtics (2) - And just like that, with a loss to a depleted Portland team and to a bad New York team (coming off a week in which they lost their first game in forever in addition to a loss to a bad Golden State team) and the Celtics all of a sudden look vulnerable. I'm not going to jump off of the bandwagon and say that they're cooked, it's not a matter of if but when this team rights the ship and gets back to playing the defense that made them impossible to beat through November and December. Kevin Garnett has slowed a bit so far this season and Paul Pierce has had to carry this unit for basically the whole season. The role players have also slowed a tad, which is the main reason for the team's struggles but they'll get it back together and they'll still be there in the end.
4. Orlando Magic (3) - Something doesn't quite seem right with Hedo Turkoglu this season. All of his statistics have dropped from last season and his field goal percentage is at a laughable 38 percent. That's either meaning he's struggling to do too much in a contract year, or maybe last season was more of an aberration for the turkish born star. Overall, the Magic have been solid all season long and if he captures the form he showed last season then they'll be right up there at the top of the eastern confrence.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (1) - Rejoice, Cavs haters! Zydrunas Ilgauskas has gone down to injury and the Cavaliers dropped two games this week, including an embarassing defeat at the hands of Washington today. For at least a week anyways, the team looked like last season's team, which relied entirely too heavily on LeBron James. What's happened to Wally Szczerbiak this season? He's the definition of a non factor, and with his expiring contract, if he showed any bit of production they could get a really good player in return for Wally World. But so far his value is worth about the same as Eric Snow's.
6. San Antonio Spurs (6) - Manu Ginobili had a huge week for the Spurs. Greg Popovich has done a fine job with his roster and has seemingly settled on a nice rotation. Tim Duncan is having the best year he's had in the past two or three and Tony Parker is currently playing like their best player. They're a dangerous unit and they're going to be there in the end, regardless of their difficult start.
7. Denver Nuggets (7) - Carmelo Anthony played hero on two separate occasions for the Nuggets this season, even if they were underwhelming in barely defeated Oklahoma City and blowing a 26 point lead at home to New Orleans. An injury to Nene for the Oklahoma City game showed no immediate hamper on the Nuggets, but if he misses any prolonged period of time they're in bad shape. They lack serious depth in the frontcourt.
8. New Orleans Hornets (9) - They still lack the consistency that they showed for so much of last season but Chris Paul is playing the best ball of any player in the NBA. The fact that he's not up there with Kobe Bryant in all star voting is unbelievable and truly speaks to the knowledge of the average NBA fan. David West has really picked up his game as of late and don't look now, but the Hornets rank among the league's best at the defensive side of the ball.
9. Detroit Pistons (15) - I've ridden no team as hard this year as I have the Pistons, but Rodney Stuckey has resurrected what was a dead season for Detroit after the Allen Iverson trade. The readdition of Antonio McDyess is as much a factor as any in the team's current winning streak and even though they may not be blowing teams out, victories are victories and the Pistons are winning ball games.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (8) - Playing without Brandon Roy hurt this team this week as they looked bad against New Orleans and the Lakers. Overall, they managed to pull out a victory against Boston and they're still playing hard even without Roy in the lineup. McMillan will never let this team play a weak game but they can't win without their all star guard in the lineup.
11. Dallas Mavericks (11) - Today's loss at Memphis was embarassing but Dirk Nowitzki has carried the Mavericks to a very strong season thus far. They're a team of wing players and that will doom them in the playoffs, but they will exceed any expectations they were given this season. Rick Carlisle has done a really good job with the Mavericks this season.
12. Phoenix Suns (13) - Shaquille O'Neal is having his best year since his last year in Los Angeles for Phoenix and the team is maintaining a steady play so far this season. Jason Richardson hasn't added much since his addition, but the team continues to win so his presence alone must be enough for the Suns to get by.
13. Utah Jazz (12) - Word of Carlos Boozer now needing surgery has to demoralize this squad even with Paul Millsap playing as fantastic as he has this season (I forgot to mention him in my most improved players list last week). The C.J. Miles experiment has worked well with him playing so steady this season. He's never going to be more than an average starter in this league but he's solid enough to where the Jazz can continue to use Andrei Kirilenko on the bench, which has worked very well for them so far this season.
14. Miami Heat (14) - An injury to Shawn Marion has thrusted Daequan Cook into the starting lineup and I think with a shipping of Marion and his expiring contract at the deadline, that can be a nice spot for Cook. Michael Beasley has been underwhelming so far this season but has shown flashes of being a nice player in this league. It's safe to say that he was a tad overhyped coming into the draft, though.
15. Houston Rockets (10) - Tracy McGrady's play this season has been absolutely pathetic. He's beyond bad at this moment and Yao Ming is shooting a percentage in the low 40s the past few games as well. With Ron Artest in and out of the lineup as well, this team is currently in a great deal of turmoil and it's evident when you watch them out on the court. Aaron Brooks has tailed off considerably since his start this season but the talent is still there for this team to turn it around. You just have to wonder if their players are tough enough to do it.
16. New Jersey Nets (16) - They're incredibly inconsistent and continue to be without a victory when Devin Harris is out of the lineup, but the Nets still, week after week, find themselves in the picture in the NBA. Vince Carter has had his fair share of last second theatrics this season and that's been a major reason for the Nets' position at the moment. They have to wonder if a postseason appearance is worth a possible run at a championship in the next two or three seasons when it comes to Carter, but we'll see what it is they're offered for Vince.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (17) - The Bucks are a team that's so difficult to put a finger on, because they have no player who's consistently great every night and they don't really scare you in any facet of their play. Yet they've been near .500 all season long and they're still in the playoff race thus far. That speaks wonders for Scott Skiles, even though I'm confused at his reluctancy to give Ramon Sessions big minutes. I've seen an increase in Tyronn Lue as of late and I don't believe he's better than Sessions.
18. Toronto Raptors (23) - Two weeks ago the Raptors were left for dead, and since then they've had a very impressive past two weeks. Chris Bosh has found the form he displayed earlier this season and the team is winning ball games without Jermaine O'Neal and Jose Calderon in the lineup. Anthony Parker has been a steady player at the shooting guard position and the Raptors have found themselves back in the discussion as far as the playoffs are concerned. It's a nice turnaround for a team that I wrote off just two weeks earlier.
19. Philadelphia 76ers (19) - If you were to look up the word "bland" in the dictionary, you would see this team's photo right beside it. Their play hasn't inreased without Elton Brand (even though I thought it would) and maybe they are what they are, a below .500 team that can't score and that isn't even that special on the defensive side of the ball. It seems like the two years of momentum that was built up by this squad was ruined with possibly unfair expectations with the Elton Brand acquisition.
20. Chicago Bulls (18) - A loss at home to Minnesota highlights a woeful week for the Bulls which was heightened even further with a horrible showing by Derrick Rose. Ben Gordon deserves serious all star consideration this season beyond the three point shootout and he's been the team's steadiest, most consistent option thus far. That probably is why they're down here at 20, but he deserves a little bit of credit after the way he was blasted and treated this offseason. He may, yet, see his big payday this offseason.
21. Indiana Pacers (25) - Mike Dunleavy is set to debut this week for the Pacers and that should help a team that still is looking to make a run at sneaking into the last playoff spot. Danny Granger has been tremendous this season even in the dissapointing year for the Pacers and Jarrett Jack has been tremendous since being inserted into the starting lineup as of late. T.J. Ford has done fine off of the bench but you have to wonder if he's the type of player that would be content with coming off of the bench.
22. Charlotte Bobcats (22) - I still can't speak enough for Boris Diaw's play since coming over from Phoenix. This Bobcats team has raised its level of play since that trade and currently has shown that they can be a pesky bunch to put away. Adam Morrison, on the other hand, is now officially ready to be labeled as a bust. He was a horrible selection as a 3rd overall draft pick (don't even get me started on Sean May). Little known Matt Caroll is better at what Morrison does than Morrison is and that's why Morrison scored for the first time in six games Saturday night. I still remember when Dick Vitale said we were all stupid for saying J.J. Reddick and Morrison wouldn't be great in the NBA.
23. Memphis Grizzlies (20) - Darius Miles made his debut this week for the Grizzlies and Steve Francis may be set to dress up anytime soon. It's amazing that those two players found their way onto the Grizzlies roster, but it's safe to say both are in dire need to prove that their careers aren't over in the NBA.
24. New York Knicks (24) - The Knicks have lost all of the good will they built up with a strong opening to the season, but still continue to play hard for coach D'Antoni. Al Harrington off of the bench has payed huge dividends as of late, including a victory today over Boston. David Lee has been tremendous this season and if they package him with a contract of Jerome James or Eddy Curry they can get another building block for the rebuilding of this proud franchise.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves got back to back victories for the first time all season and got Mike Miller back from injury. Still, though, a lot is left to be done in Minnesota in order to get this team back to respectability. Kevin Love has been inconsistent in his performance this season and doesn't look like a great acquisition by Kevin McHale (and nobody honestly believed he would be) but I think, with the investment they made in him, that he needs to be shown more minutes as the season progresses.
26. Los Angeles Clippers (26) - Baron Davis, in addition to his pathetic displays on the court this season, caused controversy with a recent report of his wanting to return to the team he shafted just five months earlier. His homecoming has been nothing short of brutal but the team has got to be happy with the play of Marcus Camby and Eric Gordon as of late. They look like a team capable of hanging in tough games as long as Davis doesn't continue to shoot them out of ball games.
27. Washington Wizards (29) - The Wizards, with a run over Cleveland today, move out of the bottom two for the first time all season. Getting Caron Butler back this week has been good for the Wizards and the increase in minutes for Javaris Crittenton is a solid move by coach Tapscott. Andray Blatche has been a nice spot for what's been a dreadful season thus far and the Wizards are now starting to play harder each and every night. It's not going to amount to any kind of success this year, but it's a far cry from the team that regularly would get beat by 20 every night just a couple months prior.
28. Golden State Warriors (21) - With Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette now publicly speaking about trade requests the horrid season for the Warriors has now reached rock bottom. The dissapointing performance has taken a back seat to the fact that the group of players that they've assembled has now made the franchise one without any kind of positive direction. It's tough to be a loyal Warrior fan, and this season is a perfect explanation of why that's so.
29. Sacramento Kings (27) - Kevin Martin came back this season and looked fantastic in his return and Brad Miller has been a steady force all season for Sacramento, but they still continue to lose. This team looked like a team with a direction this season, but so far this season hasn't shown anything other than that they're a team without much talent or direction. It's tough to see what the future holds for this franchise.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - The Thunder are really playing good basketball as of late and I wanted to move them out of the last spot for the first time all season, but can't justifiably do so. Jeff Green, this season, has looked like a player that was worthy of the draft slot they used on him and Kevin Durant have played at a very high level as of late. They're playing with more intensity than they did earlier in the season and have showed signs of a team that's on the right path as of late. That's good for that loyal fan base.
Tags: 76ers, Aaron Brooks, Adam Morrison, Al Harrington, Allen Iverson, Andray Blatche, Andrei Kirilenko, Anthony Parker, Antonio McDyess, Baron Davis, Ben Gordon, Bobcats, Boris Diaw, Brad Miller, Brandon Roy, Bucks, Bulls, C.J. Miles, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Clippers, Corey Maggette, Daequan Cook, Danny Granger, Darius Miles, David West, Derrick Rose, Devin Harris, Dirk Nowitzki, Eddy Curry, Elton Brand, Eric Gordon, Eric Snow, Grizzlies, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jarrett Jack, Jason Richardson, Javaris Crittenton, Jazz, Jeff Green, Jermaine O'Neal, Jerome James, Jordan Farmar, Jose Calderon, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Lakers, LeBron James, Magic, Manu Ginobili, Marcus Camby, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Mike Dunleavy, Mike Miller, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Pau Gasol, Paul Millsap, Paul Pierce, Pistons, Ramon Sessions, Raptors, Rockets, Rodney Stuckey, Ron Artest, Sean May, Shaquille O'Neal, Shawn Marion, Spurs, Stephen Jackson, Steve Francis, Suns, T.J. Ford, Thunder, Tim Duncan, Timberwolves, Tony Parker, Tracy McGrady, Trail Blazers, Tyronn Lue, Vince Carter, Wally Szczerbiak, Warriors, Wizards, Yao Ming, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Posted on: December 29, 2008 1:45 am
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (2) - The Cavaliers rallied for an impressive win against Miami today and remain the only team this season to be undefeated at home. They hold home court admirably and they also are getting fantastic play out of Mo Williams lately. This team is playing a consistent brand of basketball, and although the assortment of players and the list of victories doesn't blow you away, they are the hottest team so far this season and they play fantastic defense and win basketball games at home. Those are three qualities of great teams.
2. Boston Celtics (1) - I know with two losses this week you could make arguments about them falling behind either Orlando or the Lakers, but they still have the best record in the league and last week people were questioning when exactly this team was going to lose. They had a tough western swing but the Celtics are still the best team in the league. I think it would be entirely irrational to drop them too far down the list.
3. Orlando Magic (3) - The Magic are the second hottest team in the league right now and are frequently blowing teams out of the arena. That performance against New Orleans on Christmas day was impressive. Getting Mickael Pietrus back from injury is going to help this team immensely in the near future. They continue to perform at a high level regardless of doubts concerning their ability to consistently perform at this level. Currently, they're at this level so I can't drop them.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (4) - The Lakers gained an emotional and emphatic triumph over Boston on Christmas day in one of the most anticipated regular season games in recent memory. Kobe Bryant, as of late, has been playing near his MVP level from last season and the Lakers have to love what they're getting out of players like Sasha Vujacic as of late. They've seemed to turn the corner on the difficult stretch that they seemingly were having and inner turmoil over their defense had to be addressed with that performance against Boston. They clearly are the best current team in the Western Confrence.
5. Atlanta Hawks (6) - Joe Johnson is playing at an amazing level currently and this Hawks team is clicking on both sides of the basketball. Their quick start has proved to not be a fluke as they continue to play great basketball even going into January. The team may lack true depth at the point guard position, but Johnson runs the offense so much that it masks that problem. Overall, Mike Woodson has this team playing at an unbelievable level.
6. San Antonio Spurs (10) - Tony Parker has elevated his game to an unbelievable level this season. His offensive game is as polished as any point guards in the league. That shot from Roger Mason was huge on Christmas day and Tim Duncan is quietly having an unbelievable season. Matt Bonner has really slowed as of late, and as a result I look for the Spurs to look for some inside scoring around the trade deadline. Knowing them, they'll find a team to give them an outcast and I look at Eddy Curry (don't laugh) as being someone who could fit in good with the Spurs. But they need another force in the paint to take some pressure off of Tim Duncan.
7. Denver Nuggets (9) - The team played great basketball without Carmelo Anthony in the lineup and then carried it over with a big win at Madison Square Garden today when Carmelo returned. This team continues to stay around the top and are getting fantastic production out of J.R. Smith as of late. Kenyon Martin has shown flashes of the player we all loved in New Jersey as of late but it's a shame that a lot of his explosiveness has limited him. He had the potential to be a really, really good player in his career.
8. Portland Trail Blazers (7) - They're getting production out of Brandon Roy, but they have to love the contributions they're getting night in and night out from players like Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and Joel Przybilla as those types of role players are what help a team become a consistent threat night in and night out.
9. New Orleans Hornets (5) - Their performances against Los Angeles and Orlando revealed they still have not yet turned that corner and become a really good team. They're still playing maddingly inconsistent basketball but Peja Stojakovic and Antonio Daniels returned this week and that is reason enough for optimism in New Orleans.
10. Houston Rockets (8) - Ron Artest has been great off of the bench since his return from injury and I look for the Rockets to continue to play him at that spot. Tracy McGrady has been really inconsistent this season and continues to be in and out of lineups with nagging injuries. It's a shame he could indirectly ruin the best chance the Rockets have had at a championship since Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen were wearing Rockets uniforms.
11. Dallas Mavericks (12) - The Mavericks are playing tremendous basketball as of late and have gotten past that slow start to develop into a fun, cohesive unit. That suspension for Dirk Nowitzki is laughable but it didn't stop them from being the lowly Clippers. I know Jason Kidd's numbers are down, and he's not the player he once was, but I feel as if he's delivering so far this season for Dallas. No he's not the player that Devin Harris is but he's done a fine job keeping this team together this season and they're slowly getting healthy as well. The Mavericks have played above expectations so far this season and it'll be intersting to see them continue to try and do so.
12. Utah Jazz (11) - Injuries to Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, Mehmet Okur and Paul Millsap have held this team back and they've still yet to field a consistent and healthy squad for an extended period of time so that we can fairly evaluate the legitimacy of this Utah squad this season. Overall, I believe Jerry Sloan has done a fantastic job keeping this unit at where they're at even though they can't get continuity in the lineup.
13. Phoenix Suns (13) - The Suns had one game this week and lost it but they played strongly against the Spurs on Christmas day. They're winning games and at this rate will put up a soild record for the season but they don't seem to have any sort of spark to them this season that makes them feel like a legitimate threat to a team in a seven game series. Amare Stoudemire, for all the talent that he posseses, is becoming a quiet 20 point 8 rebound guy and you never want to fall into that category.
14. Miami Heat (14) - A tough loss at Cleveland is the only problem the Heat have experienced the past couple of weeks. Their defense keeps them in every single game and they find ways to hang around and win ball games. Jamaal Magloire would be a nice boost to this team if he could ever get consistently healthy but I don't know if that's in his capabilities any longer.
15. Detroit Pistons (15) - The Pistons found ways to beat bad teams this week and it's still a step in the right drection. They've been around .500 since acquiring Allen Iverson but they've still got time to right the ship and become a threat come the postseason. But looking at the energy of this squad, you have to wonder if they will.
16. New Jersey Nets (18) - The Nets still refuse to go away. Devin Harris and Vince Carter, night in and night out, carry this squad and keep them playing at a competitive level. Brook Lopez has done a fine job and has settled in nicely at the starting center position but I think this team still lacks the overall talent to stay in the playoff race all season long. But they've exceeded expecations so far this season so it's not outside of the realm of possibility for this team to stay at this level.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (17) - The Bucks continue to stick around regardless of a lack of fanfare or consistency. Michael Redd has struggled a tad this season and Richard Jefferson's game has dropped a bit as of late but Andrew Bogut has done a great job keeping this team afloat. I'd also like to give some kudos to Charlie Villanueva for being voted the world's sexiest bald man, giving the Bucks their first player to win an award in the past couple of decades. Congratulations!
18. Chicago Bulls (16) - This squad, much like the team in Utah, continues to deal with inconvenient injuries and have not yet fielded a consistently healthy squad. Everyone can't seem to get cohesive on this team because of the injury problems. Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon have done a great job of keeping this team together but overall they are a perimeter based squad and unfortunately, when shots don't fall they have no shot of victory and that won't hold up all season long.
19. Philadelphia 76ers (19) - I've been wanting to say it the past few weeks so I will give credit this week, Marreese Speights has done a great job this season, especially in the recent absence of Elton Brand. Andre Iguodala has shown flashes of the player that he was last season but overall he and this squad have vastly underacheived this season.
20. Memphis Grizzlies (23) - I wonder what happened to Marc Gasol to see his minutes being reduced as the season has progressed. Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo are nightly constants for this young squad and they finally have a sense of direction in Memphis for the first time since the first season they made the playoffs in 2003-2004.
21. Golden State Warriors (24) - The Warriors had a very impressive victory over Boston this week that was quickly forgotten after their performance against the Lakers tonight. Stephen Jackson has been playing better as of late but this team still misses Monta Ellis. Corey Maggette was a questionable addition when he signed with Golden State and word is the Warriors are listening to offers for the swingman. His contract may make it hard for him to be moved, but I don't believe it's going to work for him in Golden State.
22. Charlotte Bobcats (25) - Emeka Okafor has played great as of late, giving the Bobcats a consistent threat at the center position that they've lacked majorly this season. Boris Diaw gives him a body to work with down in the paint and Raja Bell has finally picked up his play after being traded from Phoenix. They're playing good, hard basketball at the moment and still have time to salvage the season by making a late season push for the playoffs.
23. Toronto Raptors (26) - The Raptors, mainly spearheaded by Jermaine O'Neal, responded in a big way this week after that dreadful previous couple of weeks that they played. This team still is a question mark as to whether or not they're going to right things this year but there's no denying how tough it's been to get a grip on this team.
24. New York Knicks (20) - The Knicks were never known for their defense even before the arrival of Mike D'Antoni, but the laziness on the defensive side of the ball has quickly spread in that locker room and has since grown to become a laughable ailment for this team. The team doesn't even try to guard you, which is what keeps them from pulling potential upsets over better squads.
25. Indiana Pacers (22) - The Pacers have yet to really get it together this season and after spending all season waiting for them to do so, I've finally come to the conclusion that it just may not happen. Mike Dunleavy has started to become more active after missing all season due to injury but I believe it's outside of his capabilities to turn this season around in Indiana. I said Brandon Rush would be a rookie to look out for this season and in turn he's played very underwhelming basketball this season.
26. Los Angeles Clippers (21) - The Clippers are such a Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hide squad. You have no idea if they're going to be competitive or susceptible to being blown out. They've recently given minutes to raw project DeAndre Jordan as of late and you have to wonder what that spells for oft injured but extremely talented center Chris Kaman with the now recently crammed frontcourt in Clipper land.
27. Sacramento Kings (27) - Their offense is so anemic without Kevin Martin in the lineup and I'm tired of waiting for him to come back and make this team competitive again. It has to be dissapointing that after such a strong season last year this team has played at the level it has this season, but injuries and inconsistency within the organization can derail a team on the rise and that's exactly what's happened to this identity-less team.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves finally got a victory for coach Kevin McHale this week but still lack any true power on their squad. Rashad McCants and Ryan Gomes are two pieces of this team that would truly flourish on better squads but they basically serve no purpose for this horrible team. If you look at the current roster, you can't even say that they're rebuilding. They don't have any young projects in place aside from Al Jefferson. They're just an assortment of bad players.
29. Washington Wizards (29) - Now that Caron Butler is injured (and we all saw that coming), Antawn Jamison is all alone now as far as options for the Wizards. He was good enough for a victory over Oklahoma City but there's not much more he can do for this squad. He's played unbelievable basketball but it will and should go largely unnoticed around the league because this franchise is so poorly operated.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - I looked at the Thunder playing Joe Smith at the center position with concern but after looking at the level of center play around the league, I guess it's a gamble for the worst roster in the league. Nick Collison's injury obviously doesn't help matters but for the most part it really doesn't matter. I don't see Joe Smith (who would be a nice fit in San Antonio) or Desmond Mason finishing February in Oklahoma City jerseys.
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