NBA Finals Preview: Orlando Magic Promise Problems for Los Angeles Lakers

May 31, 2009

05HowardDwight02by Jack Maidment

The Los Angeles Lakers.

The Orlando Magic.

Two teams. Two vastly different histories.

The Lakers are heading to The Finals for the 30th time. They hope to win their 15th title.

In dramatic contrast, the Magic will be appearing in The Finals for only the second time. Since sampling the delights of The Big Dance with Shaquille O’Neal back in 1995, Orlando has very much been an ‘also ran’ when the Playoffs role around.

But the emergence of another All-Star, All League Center in the shape of Dwight Howard, has powered the Magic to the Promised Land despite the prevailing sense of doubt that has emanated from the media all season long.

Boston, LA, San Antonio, Cleveland. They were the ‘real’ contenders.

Yet here we are. Two teams with vastly differing pasts will meet in The Finals for the NBA Championship. And both deserve their spot.

The Lakers may be the Jekyll and Hyde of pro sports, but their talent cannot be questioned. Nor can their heart, which has been shown numerous times.

When the Lake Show was seemingly in a hole, even if they had put themselves in it, they came out firing and ultimately are still standing.

Character, like tea, reveals itself in hot water and you better believe that’s true. As the water boiled around them, the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant, made the plays that mattered to get the W.

Meanwhile, regardless of commentators’ love of the phrase ‘live and die by the 3 pointer’, Orlando has progressed and shows no signs of changing their style.

And why would they. You can’t stay hot all the time. True. But when you have a team with more long range threats than the US Navy it doesn’t matter if 1,2 or 3 of your guys goes cold. You still got the other 3.

Combine the shooting of Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Rafer Alston, Mickael Pietrus, JJ Reddick and Courtney Lee with the inside presence of Dwight Howard and the grossly underrated Marcin Gortat then you have a recipe for success.

So where will the Championship be won and loss?

1. Home Court.

The Lakers must be secretly excited that they avoid the Cleveland Cavaliers and thus an extra road game. Their regular season hard work has paid off with the Magic needing a win at the Staples Centre to have any chance at the Gold.

Both teams have maintained a constant disregard for home court this post season. Both have had disappointing losses at home only to follow them up with huge road wins to recover the advantage.

If the trend continues then we have a rollercoaster 7 game stretch ahead of us.

But. If the Lakers can stamp their authority on the series with victories in the opening two games the Magic will face a huge task to wrestle the trophy from Phil Jackson’s hands.

2. Front Court Vs Front Court

The respective 3,4 and 5s of these teams would leave just about every team in the NBA green with jealousy. Both are extremely talented.

The way in which they match up in The Finals will go some way to deciding who prevails.

The difficulty for the Lakers falls on the defensive end where the Magic will provide the same match up problems as they did the Cleveland Cavaliers.

3 guys, all 6-10 or bigger. All Mobile. 2 of them will kill you off the dribble despite their size.

Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom will have their hands full. Whoever isn’t trying to contain Dwight Howard will be tasked with sticking to Lewis and Turkoglu.

Odom is the best equipped to deal with the outside threat of the Magic big men, but who picks up the other guy? Pau or Bynum on Lewis? That could get ugly.

All this to worry about while simultaneously trying to keep Howard off the glass.

3. Kobe Bryant

Kobe’s importance to LA is huge. The Magic will unlikely allow him to score 1 on 1 while they take care of his team mates, but such is his ability out of the double team that doubling up can allow Kobe to get his entire team scoring, boosting the feel good factor and mood of the crowd.

In a series that will undoubtedly be tight, Kobe down the stretch could be the difference. The Magic will look to hustle and hurry him all series long but he will get his. You just have to live with that.

Lakers in 6.


2009 NBA Free Agents? Tempting and Troublesome for Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz

May 30, 2009

chris-boshby Jack Maidment

Talent. The single most important commodity in sports.

Hustle can help your cause. Team spirit the same. But without the Big T you likely are not winning much.

The extent to which sports has become dominated by corporate America dictates that without a talented team, and preferably an exceptionally talented individual, your commercial and therefore economic viability are slimmer than slim.

It is with that simple fact in mind that the NBA’s GM’s sit conspiring and salivating over the prospective Free Agent Class of 2010, arguably the most talented selection of individuals to ever become ‘available’ at the same time in the history of sports.

The potential to turn around a long time meandering franchise is shouted from a list of players, anyone of which would immediately impact your team and your market for positive gains.

It is worth remembering that 2010 is not spelt L-E-B-R-O-N as media coverage would have you believe.

The question of Mr James’ residence come 2010 has been hot topic number one for sometime, eclipsing the fact that he is far from alone in terms of his desirability to teams around the league in the 2010 class.

However, that is more than one year away and in all of the excitement it would appear that the merits of this year’s free agents have been forgotten altogether.

Kinda weird when you consider the classes valedictorian is a certain Kobe Bryant.

I know, I know. Unlikely that he will move considering that he plays for the NBA’s most popular team and that the team is built entirely around him. But, until he signs, it remains a possibility.

2009 is not just about Kobe for the LA Lakers but also two key members of his supporting cast, the supporting cast that has helped him to the Finals for the second successive year: Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom.

Both men will be unrestricted free agents this summer and both are highly coveted around the L.

Ariza has used this post season to build himself a reputation as a big time hustle player with springs in his shoes. The type of player that every Championship team needs, a la James Posey.

While Ariza’s loss could be covered, the departure of Lamar Odom would seriously set the Lakeshow back. He brings so many different things to an already immensely talented team that his work often does not receive the plaudits it deserves.

He will likely only be appreciated once he is gone. To some other team willing to pay him second option money.

The Lakers are not alone in having decisions to make this summer. The Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz all have a number of contracts coming off their books.

The Raptors must decide whether or not to offer a no doubt huge contract to an unsettled Shawn Marion.

If they decide to abandon Marion to pursue his quest for respect/money/star status elsewhere, they simply must look to sign another superstar. Why? If they don’t Chris Bosh is leaving in 2010.

Another losing season like the one that Toronto has just experienced will all but secure his departure to greener pastures.

In all likelihood the Raptors will need to sign more than one ‘big’ player to help assuage Bosh‘s feelings. Luckily they do have options, if the money is available.

They could make a run at Carlos Boozer whose time as a member of the Utah Jazz could well be over. A Boozer/Bosh front court? Ummm. The Jazz, who also have Mehmet Okur, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap to re-sign, will struggle to make an offer to Boozer which will satisfy his $100 million contract rumours.

Certainly the Jazz have much to ponder, as do the Detroit Pistons. Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Allen Iverson are all unrestricted frees this summer and Iverson is almost certainly looking for a new home.

Wallace’s contract demands could force him away from the franchise, leaving Detroit to wait for the opportunity to offer LeBron or Dwayne Wade a shed load of money in a years time.

The Jazz, Pistons, Raptors and Lakers are just four teams who have to consider their immediate futures, and with players like Hedo Turkoglu, Ron Artest, Jason Kidd as well as Carlos Boozer, Shawn Marion and Kobe Bryant available, there is enough talent out there to tempt teams into making big decisions to try and improve their teams.

2010 may be the main event, but 2009 is certainly a worthy appetiser.


NBA: Phantom Fouls, Terrible Technicals, Two Ways To Ruin Basketball

May 29, 2009

joey-crawofrdby Jack Maidment

If you are like me, you like to win. It is only very strange people who will lose on purpose just to be ‘nice’.

Man I hate people like that.

Luckily, those type of people don’t get too far in pro sports where winning is everything. Along with getting paid I guess.

The thought of ‘nice’ athletes scares me something fierce as I’m sure it does the owners who pay their salaries.

‘Kobe! What the hell! Why did you give them the ball back?!’

‘We always win. I thought it would be nice if someone else had a go.’

The fact is that if you remove the competitive nature from those who play for our favourite teams you eliminate every ounce of drama and excitement from the game itself.

We pay money and waste our time on sports to be entertained, to get behind our team and shout for the win. Because winning feels good. That is a fact.

I personally believe that it is inevitable for human’s to invent games that capture our imagination simply because we get bored easily and our imaginations are always active.

It just so happens that basketball captured me. If I lived in China I might obsess over table tennis or badminton. Switzerland? Skiing. You get the idea.

If the game itself was awful then we, meaning millions of people, would not watch. But the game is not awful, in fact it can be amazing. A tedious slogan, but the NBA is where amazing happens.

Mostly.

I read Bill Simmons’ piece on referees and I couldn’t agree more. The reason that people are so vociferous in their anger toward bad refs is the fact that we as individuals commit too much to the game for a handful of people to change the course of history.

Yes it is ‘just’ sports, but they are damn important. So, when a game is changed or decided by suspect refereeing? I feel exasperated.

There is definitely a feeling of helplessness as you sit watching a player go to the free throw line to tie the game on the worst phantom foul call.

That magic that the game generates dies and you lose interest. You feel cheated. There is no question of underhand dealings on the refs part, just bad decisions.

I think that we have got away from the fact that referees are there to intervene if necessary. They should not be playing a major part in the outcome.

It is partly shoddy officiating and partly poor rule interpretation. Technicals and suspensions just don’t make any sense in a number of different examples.

Should you be banned for a game just for leaving your bench? No. Of course you shouldn’t.

Its kinda like messing with the Mona Lisa. Just leave it alone. Give it a touch up if it needs it. Maybe a new frame. You see what I mean.

Enough of the interference, just be consistent and leave us to love the game.    


NBA Conference Finals: No Answer For Dwight Howard Leaves Cleveland Cavaliers In A Big, Big Hole

May 27, 2009

rashardby Jack Maidment

The coach of Florida Tech recently described Dwight Howard as the most formidable post player in the NBA and the strength of last night’s performance from the Orlando Magic’s All-Star Center absolutely vindicated the statement.

One of the criticisms of Howard is that his team cannot dump the ball inside when it really matters because his moves down low are far from polished and epitomise the word raw.

Yet, through sheer power and physicality, Howard dominated the overtime period that put the Magic up 3-1 against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that appeared tetchy and over reliant on too few players.

The frustration of losing to a team which were not supposed to cause this many problems to the team with the regular season’s best record was characterised by the facial expressions of LeBron James in the 4th quarter.

Manifest in numerous turnovers down the stretch, LeBron was constantly pulling faces that hinted toward his dissatisfaction with his team mates.

Such annoyance was hardly unfounded since only Delonte West turned up down the stretch, executing in the low post, keeping the Cavs in it.

However, regardless of his teammates, LeBron did not play well and the Cavaliers did not deserve the win. The game should have ended in regulation but for a foul that only LeBron can coax out of officials.

Driving the lane on the last possession of the 4th, he expected Mickeal Pietrus to stop him, but his lean in found no marker and James fell to the floor. Pietrus was called for the foul and the King of Akron nailed the two free throws to tie the game after a ridiculous Rashard Lewis 3 had given the Magic a deserved lead.

The entire game had been punctuated by Rafer Alston’s hot hand so it was with surprise that the Magic went to Howard consecutively in OT. And damn he delivered.

He bullied Anderson Varejao into fouling out and then proceeded to attack Zydraunus Ilgauskus who had no answer. Three straight dunks and a few free throws and the Cavaliers were left chasing the game.

Mo Williams, who was mediocre from the field but outstanding at getting to the line, may well be regretting his guaranteed victory trash talk now that his team head back to Cleveland in a 3-1 hole, a defecit that has only been overturned 8 times before.

It is perhaps worth highlighting the officiating of this game in the sense that the consistency from those in charge was simply horrible. Worst of all was the technical called on Dwight.

He made a basket despite Varejao grabbing him around the neck and roared with excitement after getting the and-1 opportunity. Apparently that constitutes a T.

Combined with LeBron’s phantom foul which was plain embarrassing and a no call on another Varejao wrestling match on Howard’s lob attempt that would have won the game, the refs were just awful.

Luckily the best team won regardless of dodgy decisions and the Magic will march into Cleveland with the Finals firmly in their sights.

Anything other than a team response from the Cavaliers will result in another loss and a series defeat on their home floor.

Even if their team spirit returns, the Cavs will still have no answer fro Howard who holds the fate of his team in his hands.

It is time for the Cleveland Cavaliers to go big, or go home.  

 


NBA Playoffs 2009 Western Conference Finals: Denver Evens Series While Kobe And Carmelo Share Exhaustion

May 26, 2009

by Jack Maidment

Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony have more in common than successive stellar Westren Conference games (Kobe has set a record for combined points in successive Conference Finals games.)

Chauncey, reliable as ever.

Chauncey, reliable as ever.

The physicality of the series coupled with the extensive minutes which their team’s demand of them has reduced both players to I.V. drips.

Kobe’s came after the LA Lakers victory in Game 3 while Carmelo was hooked up at half time of Game 4, a game that the Nuggets would go on to win.

The fact that both players have been on the floor for more than 40 minutes a night has totally depleted what energy reserves they may have had left after the opening two series.

Their tired bodies tell us two things about this Conference Finals match up. Firstly, the teams are incredibly closely matched, with 3 of the 4 games coming down to the final minute. Secondly, both players can only count on one of their team mates for consistent help.

For Kobe, only Pau Gasol has produced any numbers that take some of the strain from Bryant’s shoulders. The fact is he could do more, and he agrees, ‘asking’ for more touches inside instead of watching his team hoist more than thirty 3 pointers in Game 4 despite his productivity.

The Robin to Carmelo’s Batman has been Chauncey Billups, Mr Big Shot and Mr Dependable. Even when he isn’t scoring he is assisting and providing much needed leadership to the Nuggets who still possess the ability to flip out at any moment.

In Game 4, Melo was 1 for 11 at the half. Fortunately the JR Smith who annoys so many people with his posturing and play turned up and led his team in scoring with 24 powering them to the win and an even series.

The rest of the Lakers went missing, especially Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odum, both of whom are as reliable as an ashtray on a motorbike.

I.V. drips in basketball? Proof of one thing.

It is a team game after all. 


NBA Draft 2009: Top 10 Largely Picks Itself

May 26, 2009
Stephen Curry fits the Knicks

Stephen Curry fits the Knicks

by Jack Maidment

Why would you pick Blake Griffin with the #1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft?

The answers are two fold:

1. You get the only player ‘guaranteed’ to make an impact straight away a player destined for All-Star status sooner rather than later.

2. As a struggling franchise you draft the player that will sell the most season tickets through sheer weight of interest.

Now, both of these reasons are obvious and self explanatory. Yet it is with no surprise that we hear that the Clippers are listening to offers for their pick.

Such a rumour has started to grow pace as a result of one man’s actions: Ricky Rubio.

It could be argued that the DNA of this Draft class rests heavily on how the man from Spain decides to handle himself as the Big Night draws closer.

Rumours are rumours and their one constant is that they don’t have to hold an ounce of truth: they will still grow larger and gain more talk time. Whether Rubio will commit to the draft regardless of location could dictate the specifics for, at least, the other players in the top 10.

It is difficult to isolate Rubio because his decision will affect everyone making the first 10 picks largely difficult to predict. However, some should be sure things. Observe:

Barring trades and Clipper Madness, Blake Griffin will go first to Los Angeles. As Ron Burgundy would say, ‘that’s a given’.

If Rubio plays hard ball the Grizzlies will likely take Hasheem Thabeet for two reasons. Firstly, he should compliment Marc Gasol’s post game.

Secondly, Memphis couldn’t accommodate another perimeter player who needs the ball to be successful. They already have OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay to demand the rock and it can only be shared so much.

Ricky Rubio may well look attractive to the Thunder, but the bottom line is: could he play in the same backcourt as Russell Westbrook? No. Westbrook can play at the 2, but both want the ball in their hand. Conflict? Yep.

So who do Oklahoma take? James Harden, the best SG in this class would provide them with a perimeter threat who can go to the hoop and finish. A perfect compliment to Westbrook, Durant and Jeff Green.

The Sacramento Kings could be a viable alternative for Rubio who would get the reigns to the team and would sell tickets. But, whether he would mesh with Kevin Martin, the franchise’s main scorer and ball demander, is a tough question to resolve.

The Washington Wizards will likely take Jordan Hill who will bring toughness and heart to a front line which lacks fire. His offensive game may be far from polished, but the fact that the Wiz will have Arenas, Butler and Jamison, Hill wont be relied on for production anyway. Just clean the glass and hustle.

Hill seems like a lock for Wahington. He just makes sense. The same can not be said for the next two picks.

It would appear that the T-Wolves and the Warriors will take Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings, but which way round does not scream out.

Nellie Ball would suit Jennings more but Monta Ellis might not be too keen. But, to be fair, he might not like the other option any better.

Tyreke is probably a better fit for the Wolves who can persist with Randy Foye at the 1.

It’s a tough call.

If he is still there, the New York Knicks will take the best shooter in the draft, Stephen Curry who should fit perfectly into Mike D’Antoni’s offense. That will be nice.

Toronto picks 9th and they will need to address their lack of backcourt power, probably by taking Demar DeRozan. A real slasher, he should fit nicely with Calderon and compliment the Raptors frontline perfectly.

Ramon Sessions’ contract demands will likely lead the Bucks to draft a PG in the shape of Jonny Flynn.

If Rubio pulls out then everything will change, with Jennings the one to benefit.

If he stays in the draft and Memphis or Oklahoma call his bluff, the landscape will change all over again.

It’s all on Rubio.


NBA Playoffs 2009 Western Conference Finals: Lakers Win, Taunting Kobe Unwise

May 24, 2009

 

by Jack Maidment

Do not annoy, provoke, taunt or shout at Kobe Bryant when he is playing on the road.

Apparently people do not learn.

Bryant has been in the League long enough for the entire world to know that any sort of abuse away from home only makes him play even better.

Let us ask the Denver Nuggets.

Returning to the Mile High City the Nuggets held the advantage in the Western Conference Finals after stealing home court in LA. 1-1 and the safety of the building in which they have not been beaten all post season.

Unfortunately for Denver, the Lakers All-Star, future Hall of Famer, kinda likes ruining parties and he marked game 3 with his 3rd plus 40 point outburst of this post season and with it brought tears to a Denver team who were firmly on the charge to the Big Dance.

No Encouragement Needed

No Encouragement Needed

Bryant said after the game that he had nothing in his legs in the 4th when he stepped to the line for free throws, but that the booing and taunts from the Denver faithful reminded him of what was at stake. Re-focusing a tired mind if you will.

So, here is an idea.

Just shut up.

Why antagonise the closer in The Game when you already know that he will play to a higher level just to spite you.

Shhhhhhh. No, really. Put down the foam fingers and the little bat ball things and just let silence reign. Take away some of his ammunition.

It’s like you are Jack and you just climbed the Beanstalk only to find the Giant asleep.

“Hey! Wake up! You’re supposed to be eating me right now. Come on!”

Just. Be. Quiet.

Regardless of the fact that Kobe came up big, he must have been mighty grateful that some of his team mates turned up last night, unlike the Cleveland Cavaliers the other night who left their Star stranded and alone. 1 V 5? Only LeBron.

Just a quick aside. Conference Finals. How about teams learn to run an inbounds play? Especially in the last minute of the game.

Admittedly LeBron’s rainbow miracle is a little hard to criticise defensively because it was simply an amazing shot from an amazing player. But, you think that the Magic will leave a guy close to the inbounder if their happens to be a second on the clock again?

Unlikely. Two men, both on LeBron.

In the same vein, the Nuggets need to realise that there is this guy who plays for the LA Lakers called Trevor Ariza whose middle name happens to be ‘hustle’.

Twice in 3 games he has stole the ball on an inbounds play in the 4th effectively ending Denver’s hopes.

Read the scouting reporting and quit being lazy when the game is on the line.

Or just do what Chauncey Billups does. Inbound the ball of off Kobe’s back and lay it in yourself. Cheeky.

Perhaps that is the real reason that Kobe went big in Game 3. Either way, just don’t annoy the man.

He is a Giant.