Detroit Pistons Visit LeBron’s Cavalier Fortress: Celtic’s 40-1 NBA Record In Sight

March 31, 2009
40-1?

40-1?

King James and his Cavaliers will tonight host the Detroit Pistons in a showdown whose chemistry has changed dramatically in the past few years. Not 2 seasons ago, this would have been a Eastern power house battle, with the emphasis on Detroit to come out with the W. Yet, as advertised, we are all witnesses, and we have seen Cleveland shift the balance on the Pistons, mutating through trades and personal improvements into what is today the best team in the NBA. Just don’t tell Kobe.

 

The transformation from contenders to favourites has been dramatic, as illustrated by the Cavaliers staggering home record this year. Detroit may be in town, but Cleveland, much to every Piston in the world, have bigger fish to fry. They are hunting down a truly frightening record, a record which turns a visit of Detroit into ‘just another game’, another piece in the puzzle, as opposed to the hype that has accompanied these two teams meetings in the recent past.

 

At 35-1 the Cleveland Cavaliers are on course to equal the Boston Celtics’ home record of 40 and 1 set in the ‘85-‘86 season. Such a record is shrouded in a mystical aura, the kind that says that once it has happened once it will never happen again. Yet, despite their critics spouting lack of depth and over reliance on LeBron, here the Cavaliers are, 5 games away from the almost perfect home season. If ever you needed a way to shut the door on Cleveland haters this is surely it: only a truly special team could get even close to this record.

 

Lengthy undefeated home streaks are rare in basketball. They occur in other sports, especially football, but for an NBA team to achieve such a record is remarkable. Chelsea turned Stamford Bridge into a fortress where they did not lose for nigh on 2 years. However, a team like Chelsea would welcome absolute elite teams 5 or 6 times in a season. Coaches in the NBA would be eager to tell you that there are no easy games in the League and even if you disregard some of the teams’ visits as easy pickings, what about the other 30 games? Just about every team in the NBA is capable of winning on their opponent’s floor. For the Cavs to have registered just one loss is astounding.

 

Detroit, the fallen master, would dearly love to spoil the party for Cleveland. But beware: anger the Cavaliers at your own risk. Cleveland has the number 1 seed pretty much sewn up, and a loss tonight would drop Detroit to the notorious number 8 spot and even the Pistons with their (wounded) swagger would not fancy a first rounder with the League’s best team with 4 of the potential 7 being played in an arena where King James reigns supreme and pretty much uncontested.

 

40-1. Special. But ultimately imperfect. And who has the satisfaction of dirtying the otherwise pristine record? KB24. A man with little regard for records and stats. A man who measures success not by 40 and 1 home records, but by the 3 rings on his fingers.

 

See you in the Finals. You can leave your stats at home.


Roll The Detroit Dice: NBA GMs Gamble for Playoff Glory

March 30, 2009
Take a Chaunce?

Take a Chaunce?

Imagine that every team in the NBA at the start of each season is given the option of rolling the dice and trying to improve their situations. Some teams would undoubtedly choose to gamble given their lowly status. Teams like the Clippers and the Kings would certainly roll the dice given that they have continually rolled a 1 and thus cannot sink any lower.

 

The teams which occupy the middle of the standings in the League, for example, Portland, Miami, Atlanta and Dallas, would have a slightly more difficult decision to make. These teams have clearly made progress and occupy places in the standings that the likes of Memphis and Sacramento can only dream of. Yet, as with many things in life, the allure of gambling and upping your status and position is a temptation that many teams would not be able to resist.

 

The evidence is clear. Dallas thought that Jason Kidd would be the final piece to lead the Mavericks into greener pastures. In their case, they rolled the dice and have probably ended up a little bit worse than they were before: giving up a young and already All Star certified point guard in Devin harris could prove costly as J Kidd gets toward the end of his career.

 

Miami also decided to twist last season when they convinced Phoenix that taking Shaq and his gargantuan contract plus his aging and diminishing skills was a good idea. Miami thought that adding one of the League’s most athletic swing men would elevate them back to contender status. It really didn’t. Miami tried again, sending Marion to Toronto for another big injury prone pivot, Jermaine O’Neal. Time will tell if this trade changes Miami from a 3 to a 4 or a 5 on the dice.

 

The best example of the gamble on the dice is illustrated by Boston who compiled enough picks and players to lure two more All Star, future Hall of Famers, to join their club captain. The rest is history. They had a 1. They gambled and rolled a 6.

 

The truly elite teams in the League do not gamble like this because they are already in a position to challenge for a Championship and division crowns. At the moment these teams are the Celtics, the Cavs, the Lakers, the Spurs and the Magic. They may shift some of their role players to improve areas in which they lack slightly, but the major pieces are in place.

 

The one name missing from that list is the Detroit Pistons. For the past 5 years Detroit have been a post season fixture, perhaps more than any other team, finishing with a Championship, a Conference title or at the least an exit in the Eastern Conference finals; rolling a 5 or 6 consistently if you will.

 

So why gamble this position away? Pretty dumb to try and roll a 6 when you already have a 5 right? Not if success is measured in Championships as is the way in Mo-Town. The problem that once you have reached the summit of your sport the only way is down, for the team and for the fans. For every season that you do not replicate the heady heights of a Championship year the only way to relieve the ever increasing pressure is to do something rash: a shot in the dark.

 

The trade that swapped Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson represents a desperate franchise seemingly convincing itself that the only way back to the Promised Land was a blockbuster trade, All Star for All Star. In Iverson they were getting instant offense and a globally recognisable player but by trading Billups to Denver the Pistons lost their heart and main leader: both more important than putting points on the board.

 

With their leader gone, replaced by a player not known for his ‘team player’ ability, the only way was down for the Pistons. In no other NBA team was the ‘team’ more important than in Detroit. Sure, there were characters, but ultimately when the time came the team closed ranks and set about playing for each other. Iverson was never going to come into Detroit and do this: his entire career he has been ‘the man’ on HIS team.

 

The price you can put on team leadership can be illustrated by the fact that Billups is leading a team into post season success. Think about this: if Detroit offered to reverse the trade would Denver agree? Hell no. Yet if Denver offered Billups back to Detroit? Joe Dumars would offer his own arm to get Mr Big Shot back in the Mo.

 

For the first time in what seems like a century the Pistons are below .500 with the end of the season approaching. If you would have said that at the end of last season chances are no one would have believed you.

 

But I guess that that is the power of the dice. GMs, you have been warned.


Phoenix Defeated By Worst In League Sacramento: Lottery Looks Likely For NBA’s Great Entertainers But Playoffs Still No Sure Thing For Rightfully Worried Dallas.

March 30, 2009
Phoenix Still Sporadic, Dirk Still Scared
Phoenix Still Sporadic, Dirk Still Scared

The NBA is full of guarantees. Shaq WILL insult just about every other player who even claims to play the center position in the League. Rip Hamilton IS cash money coming off of screens. Charles Barkley WILL make you laugh. The commentator in Cleveland will NEVER get tired of shouting ‘LEBRON THROWING THE HAMMER DOWN!’ There are many guarantees, but perhaps the most cast iron and absolute is the Phoenix Suns ability to entertain.

 

This entertainment can manifest itself in many forms but usually it is in 140 point outbursts where defence is disregarded and points mean prizes. It is perhaps fitting that as we continue toward the end of the regular season Phoenix has the entire NBA holding its breath as a result of a soap opera style cliff hanger that only the Suns could pull of: a ‘will they, wont they’ stumble toward the post season worthy of America’s finest melo-dramas.

 

Things were starting to look brighter for Phoenix. Despite lying in 9th in West’s standings, the Suns were on a hot winning streak, 5 games; their longest of the season. They were gaining on a faltering Dallas and it seemed inevitable that Nash and Co would squeeze into the second season.

 

If only it was that simple. In the Valley of the Sun simple efficiency is not the done thing. They prefer sporadic genius to sustained grind. So, now, fresh off of a 3 game losing streak, they drop back to 3 and a half games behind Dallas. Of those losses 2 were to playoff calibre teams, Portland and Utah. The third however was against Sacramento last night. The Kings are statistically the worst team in the NBA. Yet they beat Phoenix and in so doing may have spoilt the big playoff party for the Sunds.

 

However, as bad as the Suns were last night, the playoff door is still slightly ajar. They have 8 games to play, only 3 of these are against playoff teams: Houston, New Orleans, and of course, the Dallas Mavericks. The other 5 games provide the Suns with hope: Sacramento (again), Memphis (twice), Minnesota and Golden State.

 

The other reason for optimism lies in Dallas’s schedule: 9 games left, 6 of which are against playoff teams. Miami, Phoenix, Utah, New Orleans (twice) and Houston all stand lie between Dallas and the post season. 3.5 games back, but Dallas must be secretly cautious, especially with Minnesota the only sub .500 team in their final 6 games.

 

It seems inconceivable that either of these franchises will miss out on the playoffs this season. But it will happen. And one of them will be in the lottery for the fist time in what seems like forever. Surely, for either team, the lottery spells destruction. It is hardly likely that a Mavericks failure will be met with patience by Mr Cuban. Wide scale changes will surely occur. And Phoenix will almost certainly press the re-building button which will in all likelihood usher in a substantial period of basement dwelling as young pieces are given some time to develop a la Portland.

 

That would seem the most likely course for Phoenix. But the Suns are hardly known for following the script.

 

Everything will change.

 

Maybe.       


Clippers Win. Knicks Lose. Hey NBA, It’s Me, Mike Taylor.

March 26, 2009

Surprises are kind of what the Clippers do. Los Angeles’ ‘other’ team seemingly makes decisions based on, well nothing. Or, they poll all their fans and then do the exact opposite.

 

‘Ok, our fans are unanimous, they actually want us to win games now. Can you believe that?!’

 

‘Really? They said that? All of them?’

 

‘Actually all of them. Every. Single. One.’

 

‘Wow. Ok. That IS surprising.’

 

‘So, how can we fix this…’

 

‘Keep losing?’

 

‘Yes… that sounds so crazy it might just work! Tell Dunleavy!’

 

Apparently everyone has got on board, and the strategy is a success. The Clippers are pretty awful. The only problem for the team is that Mike Taylor forgot all about the ‘we are losing’ mantra last night. He scored 35 points. And, the Clippers won on the road, downing the Knicks in overtime. And he averages just over 3 for the season. 3. For. The. Season.

 

So apparently Mike Taylor can score. He will NOT be playing anymore. You can imagine the Clipper front office during that game.

 

‘Take him off! Take him off! Take him off! What is he doing?!?!?!’

 

The Clips will be in the lottery. Again. Although maybe they just wont turn up. Maybe they will just donate their lottery picks to the Lakers. Sounds pretty unlikely. Wait….    


NBA’s Normal Service Resumed: Kobe’s Lakers Blowout Durant’s Hopeful Oklahoma City Thunder

March 25, 2009
Texas Beckons?
Texas Beckons?

If a team in the NBA wins by 18 points whilst benching their best player for the entire fourth quarter, two things should be clear: one, the opposition are likely not going anywhere fast, and two, the team on top is unquestionably

E-L-I-T-E.

 

Kobe Bryant sat for the entire fourth last night, happy to rest as the depths of the LA Lakers’ roster played some extended minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers were out of sight by the end of the first, strolling to a leisurely 17 point lead. After 1 quarter. In the NBA.

 

The message from Phil Jackson could not have been more clear last night: no more mistakes. The Lakers no longer sit atop the NBA standings having been supplanted by the King and his Cavaliers. The Lake Show are one game behind Cleveland for the NBAs best record and Andre Igoudala’s game winning three pointer at the buzzer to lift the Philadelphia 76ers over their hosts is beginning to look like one of the most crucial plays of the NBA season.

 

One game could be the difference between home court in the Finals. Regardless of Kobe’s bravado after the loss, saying that he couldn’t care less who has the best record and that his Lakers can win anywhere, there is no doubt that home court could be vital against a Cavalier’s team who quite simply do not lose at home.

 

So the Thunder got blown out by the NBA’s second best team. That’s not too surprising. The good news for the Thunder is that they don’t have to play the Lakers or the Cavaliers every night. They also get to play Sacramento. And the Timberwolves. And all the rest of the NBA’s basement dwellers. These games are the reason that there is hope in Oklahoma.

 

Before the Lakers came to town the Thunder were at .500 for their previous 10 games. Considering where they were as a franchise last year, that is a vast improvement. Some people thought that the Thunder would struggle to get more than 10 wins this entire season. Yet, with three weeks to go, Oklahoma is just below .300 for the season. Going in the right direction? Absolutely.

 

The young core that the Thunder has assembled has changed the way that the franchise is viewed around the NBA and by critical NBA fans who in recent years would have been totally indifferent to a visit of the Thunder. Oklahoma is no longer a ‘pass’ game, or at least not as much as it was.

 

Kevin Durant is ‘the key’ to the NBA franchise’s resurgence. How is he allowed to be this good and that young? Who cares. Durant averages 26 points a game in only his second year in the NBA. His second year. Dude can score in buckets. In Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant has two capable and suitably athletic sidekicks. The core of those three players will surely drive the Thunder into the playoffs if they can stay together for a few years.

 

This is the major issue facing Oklahoma. There are countless teams who would move heaven and earth to acquire a talent as astounding as Durant. And surely teams will try. For example, when, rather than if, Tracy McGrady is shipped out of Houston it would be surprising if the Rockets did not try to tempt Durant back to Texas. If he is traded the Thunder will be back to worse than square one.

 

10 games in a season? Try 5. 


KG = Instant Defence

March 24, 2009
It's called defence, Paul.

It's called defence, Paul.

In the recent run of games where the Celtics have been missing Kevin Garnett, they have allowed their opponents to average 110.5 points. Opposing teams are in the proverbial sweet shop when the Big Ticket is out.

 

The two games since he has returned? They allow 95.3 points.

 

Defence Wins Championships.


Thundering Suns: Momentum Enough To Down Dallas?

March 24, 2009
170 pounds? We could do that.
170 pounds? We could do that.

Of all the teams not in a playoff position, which one would you most want to go and watch? If you are some sort of sadist, the kind of person who in their childhood pulled the legs off of grasshoppers, then you might answer Sacramento or Washington. But for all the people in the world who aren’t a little deranged, the answer has to be Phoenix.

 

A Phoenix team doing D’Antoni better than D’Antoni does D’Antoni makes for one of the most exciting teams in the league, regardless of standings, and it would seem that a looming trip to lottery land has not only caused a reversion to past strengths, but has also ignited the Suns into a late season push for the last playoff spot. This is where the Suns differ from the other great entertainers out West, the Warriors, who have all the flash but lack the purpose that has been instilled into a Phoenix team where failure is simply not an option.

 

Their win over Denver gives the Suns a 5 game winning streak, second hottest in the league behind the Cavaliers, and also, and most importantly, hope: Dallas is faltering and Phoenix is capitalising. Over the past 11 days the Suns have gained 3 games on the Mavericks, placing them just 3 games behind Los Mavs for the 8th seed. There is blood in the water and the Suns are closing in.

 

It would hardly be surprising if it emerged that mention of choking in Dallas had become an offence punishable by lengthy incarceration. Surely now would be the opportune moment for the Phoenix audio-visual team to mail the Dallas franchise a compilation of the Texas franchise’s ‘greatest hits’: first round exit to the Warriors, Finals capitulation etc. Maybe Steve Kerr could smuggle a new NBA ad onto our screens, ‘Dallas, where choking happens.’

 

The most worrying thing for the Mavericks is that so close to the end of the season the Suns are in possession of the most prized asset in sports: momentum. And, with Shaq acting as the Juggernaut from X-Men, the Suns look like an irresistible force that can’t be slowed down.

 

The team’s mission statement of 7 seconds or Shaq is looking real good right now. In their last 4 games they have averaged 131.5, passing Golden State as the League’s best scorers overall: 108.8. That is straight up madness. One reason for the Suns resurgence is their bench has started firing. On first glance the Phoenix bench looks weak when compared to certain other teams out West, especially as Leandro Barbosa is down for a few weeks. But they have seemingly found another gear and have started having real impact on games.

 

Check out Jared Dudley against Denver: 12 points and 8 rebounds off the bench. Goran Dragic had 8 points and 3 assists. Louis Amundson contributed 7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocked shots. That is the type of bench that the Suns will need the next three weeks if they want to make the playoffs.

 

Can they do it? Yes. Definitely. 3 games are not many, especially for a team scoring the same amount of points as their point guard weighs.

 

And there is just something about backing Dallas in situations like this: you could set your watch by Maverick post season capitulation.

 

3 games up, 3 weeks to go. Mavs going home early?

 

Don’t forget your fishing rod, Dirk.