Tag:Magic
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: April 1, 2009 4:12 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Denver Nuggets

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

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 is now making its sixth consecutive postseason appearance: the Denver Nuggets.

Strengths
The Denver Nuggets are one of the few teams that throws out a point guard who is completely capable of controlling, managing and taking over a basketball game.  Chauncey Billups has a Finals MVP award to his credit and brings the experience, confidence and talent that makes the Nuggets a team that now believes they can win.  Basketball is a mental game just as much as it is a physical, sheer talent game.  Chauncey Billups brings confidence to a team that hasn't made it out of the first round since 1994.  Billups can take over basketball games and can really shine since he is the team's second option behind Carmelo Anthony.  Behind Carmelo and Chauncey, the Nuggets field one of the better offenses in the league.  They move the ball around a lot, they get open shots and they're very effecient at knocking them down.  Carmelo Anthony has matured immensely this year and has developed a really nice inside-outside game that makes it difficult to guard him.  And since Billups is now in town, Carmelo doesn't have all of the pressure to take the big shots.  He can coast out there and pick his spots.

The Nuggets have a really strong bench and that gives them lots of options offensively.  J.R. Smith, Linas Kleiza, Renaldo Balkman and Chris Andersen all have specific roles and all of those players are capable of doing so night in and night out.  Furthermore, they all perform their roles on a consistent basis and don't force Nuggets fans to hope one of them shows up.  They're a pretty reliable bunch.

Weaknesses
The team, although they have masked their lack of size all season, has a huge drop off in terms of talent and production when you move from the backcourt to the frontcourt.  Nene has done a more than serviceable job this season at the center position and is having the best season of his career.  However he's not necessarily a true center, and he's basically the only player on the Nuggets (beside Carmelo and Chauncey when they take smaller defenders to the paint) that has any kind of a back to the basket game.  Kenyon Martin puts up good numbers, but his jump shot is unreliable and a frontcourt of he and Nene really brings caution to Denver when they'll be matched up with taller, more physical teams.  Because of the fact that Nene is the only player who consistently plays hard down in the paint, the team is really a collection of jump shooters.  And teams that have an overreliance on the jumper have moments when they can go cold.  In a seven game series, you're not allowed many chances to make up for lost games. 

Also the Nuggets, although they try harder than they did last season, still go through lapses where they look attrocious on defense.  It's well documented that last season's squad's effort on the defensive end was laughable and George Karl and Chauncey Billups have done a fine job improving the effort, but they may struggle when it comes to spots where they have to hold position and force stops on the defensive end.  It's an area of concern for Denver.

Why They Will Win It
The Nuggets are a confident bunch that knows their strengths and plays to it.  They're very good at home, one of the better road teams in the league and have proven that they can win any given game at anytime, anywhere.  They have two fantastic players who you can go to in the clutch in Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony.  J.R. Smith spearheads a bench that can provide instant energy and offense as well.  They're a squad with plenty of options and George Karl has done a great job of including everyone this season.  They're a unit that plays together and that gives better effort every night more consistently than they have in previous seasons.

Why They Won't Win It
The Nuggets lack of frontcourt and lack of skill on defense can give them problems in the playoffs.  They're capable of playing physical basketball, they just don't prefer it.  If any of the big men get into foul trouble in the postseason, their lack of depth and lack of true size will prove fatal against a team that can throw two or three big men out at you.  An overreliance on jump shots also makes it easier for teams to attack on defense, knowing where to target certain players and how to shut them down.  Those jump shots won't always fall, and when they don't the Nuggets have no second options.

Conclusion
This Nuggets team plays hard, they play together and they can win on the road.  However, history tells us that teams that shoot too many jump shots, teams that struggle on defense and teams that are scarce on size aren't qualified to win championships.  Let's not forget, the Nuggets haven't been out of the first round in a 15 years and although this team has a different squad and swagger from the teams that have made it the previous five years, it's still a lingering issue for the Nuggets and their style of ball.  Also, even though J.R. Smith is fantastic off of the bench, he's shown in the postseason that he can single handedly shoot this team out of the game, and you have to worry if George Karl has the discipline to keep Carmelo and Chauncey from jacking up jump shots all game as well.  Overall, depending on who they match up with the Nuggets can get out of the first round, but they lack the physicality to sustain a certain excellence of play that is required to win four consecutive seven game series. 

Coming up next: the San Antonio Spurs.

Posted on: March 30, 2009 3:37 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Houston Rockets

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

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, by way of Phoenix's loss last night, recently clinched a playoff spot: the Houston Rockets.

Strengths
The Rockets are a throwback to the old days.  They include everyone in the offense, play a physical style of basketball and have tremendous defenders at nearly every area of the court.  The Rockets throw two tremendous on the ball defenders in Ron Artest and Shane Battier at your best players, making it nearly impossible for anyone to get into any kind of rhythym and then have 7'6" Yao Ming waiting around the basket for whenever Artest and Battier gamble and their defenders gets past them.  It's extremely difficult to score on Houston and they are also fantastic at rebounding the basketball, which limits any second chance opportunities for the oppositon. 

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. 

Weaknesses
The Rockets, although they run a fantastic offense and have solid players on every position, really don't have anyone who can take over a game in the clutch.  Yao Ming is capable but lacks the killer instinct, and Ron Artest doesn't shy away from taking big shots, but is way too inconsistent to be reliable for every game in the postseason.  They don't have that wing player that can really help them get over bad slumps and get the ball going around to everybody.  Aaron Brooks is also a solid point guard and has more upside than Rafer Alston did at this stage in his career, but I'm not convinced that Brooks is an upgrade at this point in time.  Also, the team has a nice starting five but doesn't necessarily have the explosive bench necessary for spelling those starters.  Von Wafer, Kyle Lowry and Carl Landry are good energy players but neither has the capability of changing games off the bench. 

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
The Rockets could easily win it this season because they have two things that so many teams are lacking in the postseason: defense and a fantastic post game.  The Rockets have depth at the big man positions and all of them can score around the basket.  They've been on the brink of succeeding the past couple of seasons but always seem to defeat themselves in the postseason.  Ron Artest brings an awesome sense of confidense in tight games and this team now believes that they can win. 

Why They Won't Win It
The Rockets may struggle to find someone who can consistently take over games for them in crucial situations.  They have all of the role players, defensive mentality and post game but don't necessarily have a good wing player who can come up with big shots consistently.  In this regard, I think they'll miss Rafer Alston and Tracy McGrady.  McGrady was never effecient at taking the big shots, but teams really focussed to stop him and that opened up shots for other people.  Most teams will live with Ron Artest's low shooting percentage because he doesn't utilize his main strength: taking smaller defenders to the basket.

Conclusion
It's still mental in Houston.  They have to escape the first round and once they do that things can fall into place.  The first playoff series will be the most difficult but if Houston wins then they can make a nice run at a championship.  There are no excuses to not get out of the first round this season, because Tracy McGrady is not there to blame, Yao Ming is healthy for the first time in four years and they have, arguably, the best defensive team in the NBA.  They have to avoid teams that also excell at half court offense, but if they can face a team that relies too heavily on offense then the Rockets can shut them down and come out victorious.  The Rockets, though, may be lacking the consistent offensive star to take this team to the next level.  Aaron Brooks, Ron Artest and Von Wafer can be great in spurts in certain situations but they're going to lack any bit of consistency.  The Rockets are a championship team with a championship defensive mentality, but they have to have someone step up and hit big shots consistently.  If anyone can step up and do that, the Rockets can make a run at a championship.

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

Posted on: March 27, 2009 1:05 am
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Atlanta Hawks

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

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

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 is now making its second consecutive postseason appearance: the Atlanta Hawks.

Strengths
When you think of the Atlanta Hawks, you don't really think of a flashy team or a team filled with huge superstars.  They don't dazzle you with spectacular athletic displays (though Josh Smith gives his fair share), they don't bombard you with an array of 3 pointers (although Flip Murray and Mike Bibby will take a good amount of them), but somehow they are one of four Eastern Conference teams to clinch a playoff spot.  Considering the other three are the Cavaliers, Celtics and Magic, it makes you wonder what exactly Atlanta is doing right.  And that is what they're doing right.  The face of their franchise is Joe Johnson, a role player in Phoenix who was heavily criticized for taking a max deal to come to Atlanta, and now has led this team into the playoffs for the second straight season after a horrendous eight year drought that saw the franchise hit rock bottom on numerous occasions.  But the fact that this team has been built through the draft and through little acquisitions here and there gives them a continuity that a lot of teams lack.  Chemistry is no problem with this Atlanta squad, and that was evident when they pushed last season's champions, the Boston Celtics, to a seven game series despite being heavily undermanned against a fantastic Boston squad.

With Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Mike Bibby in the offense, the Hawks have three fantastic passers who are also fantastic with the ball in their hands with the intent of scoring.  Mike Bibby has been given the Hawks some stability at point guard position, providing a great presence for a spot that was left vacant in Atlanta since Mookie Blaylock's departure.  On offense, they have an impressive amount of options.  None of the names overwhelm you, but Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Al Horford, Flip Murray, Josh Smith and even Marvin Williams or Maurice Evans are capable of taking over and having a big game on a given night.  Their cohesiveness is a huge reason why they've been able to grow and continue progressing into one of the better teams in an improved Eastern Conference. 

As we saw in last season's playoffs, the Hawks are a dangerous team at home in the postseason.  Their crowd hasn't really continued that into the regular season this year, but you have to imagine they'll come out in numbers and in emotion when the postseason comes around, and the Hawks will again play their best basketball at home.

Weaknesses
Because the Hawks have so many options and so many selfless players, they really struggle to develop a groove as a unit.  Joe Johnson has been hot as of late, Mike Bibby is off and on on a game by game basis, and right now, because of Marvin Williams injury, one of their only two difference makers off of the bench (Maurice Evans) is having to start, which takes away from a second unit that is behind as it is.  Even though they have a good amount of players that can help keep the offense fluent, they have zero depth at point guard.  Acie Law was supposed to take a step forward this season, but looks strikingly similar to last season's player who barely got into the game.  Bibby struggled in last year's playoffs, and he's not going to stop shooting anytime soon.  When he's on, he's a fabulous asset at the point guard position (especially in an offense that relies on everyone to feed off of Johnson rather than Bibby) but more often than not he's struggled with his shot.

Zaza Pachulia is a solid big man off the bench, but he is it as far as frontcourt options off the bench are concerned.  Depth is a major issue for Atlanta and foul trouble for anybody is reason for concern, and in a game by game basis that could come back to bite you.  They don't have a true power forward, although Josh Smith does his best at the position.  Neither he nor Marvin Williams are really able to be classified at either forward position, but as the two starters they give up a lot to bigger teams.  Josh Smith is usually busy guarding the opposing teams best wing player, which leaves Marvin Williams to guard a big man and that is cause for concern in the paint. 

Speaking of Marvin Williams, he was really starting to come into his own as a player before falling to the back injury, and the fact that the Hawks struggle with depth doesn't help matters.  They're obviously not rushing him back, but that also may be because his injury isn't healing as quickly as they assumed it would.  Without him, they will really struggle to win a playoff series.

Why They Will Win It
The Hawks bring solid starters at every position and really can attack you from all angles.  Their offense is fun to watch when it's on and they are more than capable on defense.  They don't dazzle you in any one area, but they're solid in every category across the board.  Mike Woodson has them team playing hard on both sides of the floor and they have a lot to build off of in regards to last season's postseason appearance.  Overall, if Joe Johnson hits a hot stretch in the playoffs, he's really tough to guard and he can carry the Hawks for stretches based off of his will and determination alone.

Why They Won't Win It
Outside of Johnson, and he's had his moments too, every player on this team really struggles with consistency.  Some of them will look fantastic at times and others they'll look very inept.  Depth is a huge problem for the Hawks, especially in the frontcourt, and they can't seem to get everyone on the same page.  They also struggle away from Atlanta, and to win a championship you have to put up some sort of fight away from home. 

Conclusion
The Hawks are in prime position to get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and that could help the Hawks get out of the first round for the first time since 1999.  They can score, they're not bad on defense and they really are a beast in Atlanta.  They've beaten many good teams at home and if they can lock up the 4th seed, they should be able to get out of the first round.  That would be another step forward for this developing team and franchise, but it's too much to expect a championship from them this year.  They're in the right direction but aren't going to take home the gold this year.

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

Posted on: March 26, 2009 4:25 pm
Edited on: March 26, 2009 4:25 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Orlando Magic

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

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

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

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

Strengths
The success of the Orlando Magic begins and ends with Dwight Howard.  He's easiley the best center in the league and his ability to move seamlessly across the court and finish around the basket forces opposing defenses to focus on the paint instead of where the Magic's biggest strength lies.  Because when you're focussed on stopping Howard from easy dunks at the basket, you leave Rashard Lewis, Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston and Hedo Turkoglu with fantastic looks from beyond the three point line.  Normally, you'd allow teams to beat you with jumpers but it's actually a preferred method of success for the Orlando Magic.  They have players in the starting lineup and options off of the bench in there specifically to knock down jump shots and they are very effecient doing so.  They lead the league in three pointers made and let that provide the fire for an explosive offense.  Furthermore, the Magic have different options as to who can run the offense and who can bring the ball up the court, so it adds a bit of unpredictability to who is going to start the play.  And with Lewis playing power forward, the Magic are normally much more athletic than their opposition.  With Howard being a freak of nature at the center position, it allows the Magic to couple their effecient shooting with fantastic movement and athleticism. 

Dwight Howard also provides an imposing force around the basket on the defensive end of the floor and that discourages a lot of the opposition from coming to the basket.  Couple that with the fact that Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee are more than capable man defenders, and the Magic are adequate on the defensive end as well.

Weaknesses
Since it's fair to give Howard the brunt of the praise, it's only fair to note that the team's biggest criticism is that they can't score inside.  Dwight Howard is great around the basket, but is below average shooting anything four feet away from the basket.  In a seven game series, teams can clog the paint and rotate players around the basket, which may force Howard to step away from the basket.  He's not a fantastic passer either, so if he's not beating his opponent to the basket then the Magic may struggle to get points in the pain which would make for an overreliance on jump shots.  And the Magic shoot enough jump shots as it is.  Obviously, when you rely on the three point shot as much as Orlando does it's a "live by the three die by the three" scenario.  In games where the Magic can't hit them, teams can easily pull away from the Magic and force them into holes.  They're good at coming from behind, but you don't want to make it a habit in the postseason.

Also, even though the team is very effecient on offense, their lineup that exploits defensive mismatches puts them at a disadvantage on the defensive end of the floor.  The Magic lack interior toughness and whoever Turkoglu is guarding will give his team an advantage when the Magic are on defense.  Lewis, at 6'10", has the height to play the power forward position but isn't strong enough to guard an opposing team's power forward and also is less than stellar at rebounding the basketball.  And the bench doesn't provide any tough interior players that can come in and spell Dwight Howard or provide defense aside from Tony Battie.  And Stan Van Gundy isn't going to give Tony Battie many minutes in the postseason.

Why They Will Win It
Dwight Howard is the best center in the league, and when you have a great center you deserve to be in the conversation as far as the NBA championship is concerned.  The Magic are among the best teams in the league and have played at a high pace all season long.  You keep waiting for them to have a tough stretch shooting the basketball, and even though they'll have games where they struggle, they've been effecient beyond the three point line.  They're incredibly tough to stop on offense and are a great home team.  Dwight Howard alone will give this team a chance every single game because regardless of how much they are mistmatched on other areas of the floor, he creates the biggiest mismatch on either side of the basketball.

Why They Won't Win It
Dwight Howard, for all of his talent, may keep them in a game with his presence but doesn't command the ball in crunch time.  Hedo Turkoglu assumed the go-to guy role last season but this year his shooting percentage is down and the team shouldn't be as confident with him taking the big shots this year.  The team's lack of toughness is going to hurt them against teams like Boston and Cleveland, because every team has to be able to play gritty basketball when called upon.  Dwight Howard sometimes dissapears in tough situations and that's a problem for Orlando, as he's their only hope inside the paint.

Conclusion
The Magic are too overreliant on the three point shot to win a championship.  They can win a few playoff series but defeating Boston or Cleveland in a seven game series is an incredibly tall task for this team.  Dwight Howard, for all the talent he has, still lacks a killer instinct and until he develops that, the Magic will rely on three point shots in close games and that will plague this team deep in the postseason.  They deserve their record and whatever seed they receive, they just are undermanned against really physical teams and that's going to cripple them in a crucial game during a crucial series.

Coming up next: the Atlanta Hawks

 

Posted on: March 25, 2009 11:33 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Boston Celtics

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

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

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

Strengths
Boston's obvious strength coming into the playoffs is the fact that they're the team looking to repeat as champions.  Any doubt you can have about this team's style of play can be quickly shot down with a quick flash of the hand by any member of the big three.  Experience is something that you can't really undervalue in the potseason, and after last season's dramatic run to a championship, the Boston Celtics endured every problem that you could fathom last year and turned it into an NBA championship.  Paul Pierce elevated his game to a new level in last year's postseason, and over one year developed a reputation as a clutch player.  He and Kevin Garnett lead the respective inside-outside games of the Boston Celtics and is the biggest reason why they are as good as they are.  A team like Boston is a team that systematically beats you down.  They can launch jump shots consistently from any angle on the court, and Kevin Garnett anchors an inside game that is as effecient as it comes on both sides of the basketball.  There's no real spot of attack in the system.

The Celtics defense, of course, is where you should really maintain focus.  Paul Pierce has developed into a fantastic man defender and Kevin Garnett isn't a slouch himself, seeing as how he won last year's defensive player of the year award.  Teams have to fight for every basket when they face up against Boston and that takes its toll over a 48 minute game.  The Celtics are a hard working squad, and they don't take possessions off on any side of the ball. 

Weaknneses
The Celtics do go through stretches where they struggle to score.  Rajon Rondo is an effective point guard for this team, but when he's called on to do too much he's really hit or miss.  Outside of him, they have nobody who can really run the point guard position seeing as how Stephon Marbury has been a horrendous flop and Eddie House is a horrible ball handler for the guard position.  Of course, that lack of depth was no problem last year.  House stepped in fine when Sam Cassell was ineffective, but it is a weakness on the squad.  Also, hunger will not be an issue for this team.  A team with Kevin Garnett on the roster will never lack any emotion or desire to win.  However, this isn't necessarily the same Celtics squad as last season.  Gone are James Posey and P.J. Brown.  In are Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore.  That's an obvious decline in production and court savvy and that could pose a bit of a problem in a seven game series.

The loss of James Posey will really be felt in the potseason, as he gave Paul Pierce moments of rest and guarded the opposing team's best player and allowed Pierce to flourish on offense before taking over again for the end of the game.  Also, his knack for hitting big shots really helped mask what was an underwhelming postseason for Ray Allen.  The fact that all of the big three are unselfish also could be a problem, because if Pierce isn't knocking down the big shots, Garnett and Allen don't necessarily demand the ball in clutch situations.  Remember, in last season's game seven against Cleveland, P.J. Brown and Eddie House were helping Paul Pierce in that fourth quarter.

Why They Will Win It
The Celtics are a safe pick because we know that they can do it and we know that they have done it.  Kevin Garnett also will have this team playing at a high level and even though they won a championship last season, they still play that same blue collar style of ball.  None of the desire and grit that made last season's squad so embraceable is absent on this season's squad.  Paul Pierce is so terrific on both sides of the basketball that you can't really help but admire his determination, and everyone else has no problem stepping in and filling roles.  There's nothing to distract this squad, and honestly the only team that can shut the Celtics down is the Celtics.

Why They Won't Win It
However, they are capable of beating themselves.  Doc Rivers is very questionable with his rotations and sometimes gives undeserved minutes to players in opportune situations (look at Sam Cassell and Glen Davis last season).  A lack of a determined, confident second star that demands the basketball really puts a lot of pressure on Paul Pierce in critical situations.  He can more than handle it, but it'd be nice if they could go elsewhere to take teams off guard. 

Conclusion
The Boston Celtics enter this season's postseason in a tough spot because those crucial game 7's that were played in Boston last season may not be played in The Garden this year.  However, this team is effective anywhere in the league because their style of play isn't necessarily feuled by a crowd reaction.  They're an effective, systematic bunch and you can't question their heart or talent.  The injuries set them back a bit, but they'll be in the talk as the playoffs continue.  It's difficult to beat a physical team in a seven game series, and Boston is the epitome of a physical team.  There's no reason to say they definitely won't repeat this year.

Coming up next: the Orlando Magic

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

NBA Power Rankings Through January 4th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted on: December 29, 2008 1:47 am
 

NBA 2008-2009 Awards Through December 2008

MVP:
1) LeBron James, F, Cleveland Cavaliers (29 games, 27.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 6.3 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.1 BPG while shooting 78.6 FT Pctg., 27.4 3PT FG Pctg., 50.4 FG Pctg.) - LeBron James, for the past few seasons, has been the player most important to his squad and this season has taken his team to new peaks.  He's running away with the award so far.
2) Dwyane Wade, G, Miami Heat (28 games, 28.9 PPG, 6.8 APG, 5.1 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 1.6 BPG while shooting 75.3 FT Pctg., 25.3 3PT FG Pctg., 48.8 FG Pctg.)
3) Brandon Roy, G, Portland Trail Blazers (30 games, 22.7 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.1 SPG while shooting 84.2 FG Pctg., 35.8 3PT FG Pctg., 46.4 FG Pctg.)

Coach of the Year:
1) Mike Woodson, Atlanta Hawks (19-10 record) - A couple of seasons ago Mike Woodson would never escape the mouths of those who mention best current coaches in the league but he's done a wonderful job with this squad so far this season.  He's gotten his players to overcome injuries, small frontcourts and a lack of point guard depth and have been a consistently good team throughout the entire season.
2) Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers (26-4 record)
3) Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat (16-13 record)

Rookie of the Year:
1) O.J. Mayo, G, Memphis Grizzlies (29 games, 19.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.1 SPG while shooting 88.6 FT Pctg., 41.0 3PT FG Pctg., 45.4 FG Pctg.) - All year he and Rose will battle it out but Mayo had a tremendous month and has played huge in big game situations.  Neither's team is going to blow people away but Mayo has done a better job this season, even if Rose has exceeded expectations.
2) Derrick Rose, G, Chicago Bulls (29 games, 17.2 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.0 SPG while shooting 81.4 FT Pctg., 31.6 3PT FG Pctg., 46.5 FG Pctg.)
3) D.J. Augustin, G, Charlotte Bobcats (30 games, 12.7 PPG, 4.4 APG, 1.8 RPG while shooting 92.2 FT Pctg., 41.4 3PT FG Pctg., 40.6 FG Pctg.)

Most Improved Player:
1) Devin Harris, G, New Jersey Nets (26 games, 23.6 PPG, 6.6 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.5 SPG while shooting 84.5 FT Pctg., 32.9 3PT FG Pctg., 46.0 FG Pctg.) - Devin Harris, for the second straight month, tops the most improved player rankings and looks like the only viable option to win the award this season.  He's played amazing regardless of the competition and regardless of the performance of his inconsistent teammates and has done so in a season in which the Nets are 16-16 regardless of horrible preseason rexpectations.
2) Rajon Rondo, G, Boston Celtics (31 games, 11.4 PPG, 7.6 APG, 5.1 RPG, 2.3 SPG while shooting 65.5 FT Pctg., 26.7 3PT FG Pctg., 52.7 FG Pctg.)
3) Jameer Nelson, G, Orlando Magic (24 games, 16.9 PPG, 5.3 APG, 3.5 RPG, 1.3 SPG while shooting 85.4 FT Pctg., 44.7 3PT FG Pctg., 52.9 FG Pctg.)

Sixth Man of the Year:
1) Jason Terry, G, Dallas Mavericks (29 games {5 starts}, 21.2 PPG, 3.8 APG, 2.1 RPG, 1.4 SPG while shooting 85.5 FT Pctg., 36.9 3PT FG Pctg., 47.1 FG Pctg.) - This is almost unfair since Terry gets starters minutes and finishes games for the Mavericks but he's been the key to a surprising Dallas squad so far this season and is the runaway candidate for the second straight month.
2) Andrei Kirilenko, F, Utah Jazz (27 games {1 start}, 12.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG while shooting 80.4 FT Pctg., 25.0 3PT FG Pctg., 46.4 FG Pctg.)
3) D.J. Augustin, G, Charlotte Bobcats (30 games {6 starts}, 12.7 PPG, 4.4 APG, 1.8 RPG while shooting 92.2 FT Pctg., 41.4 3PT FG Pctg., 40.6 FG Pctg.)

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