Starting Five: The week’s best NBA players

January 18, 2012

By Jack Maidment

The Week’s Best

@Carlos Boozer. The Chicago Bulls power forward with the fat contract scored 31 points, a season high, against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday in a 118-97 win while pulling down six rebounds. He put up 26 of them in the first half as Chicago played another game without All-World point guard Derrick Rose. It’s the kind of game the Bulls were expecting when they snatched Boozer from the Utah Jazz and the kind of game he has seldom played since moving to the Windy City. For the Bulls to keep winning without Rose and to win in June they need more games like this from Boozer.

@Louis Williams. The Philadelphia 76ers are currently in the midst of a three game winning streak and are undefeated at home (6-0) with an overall record of 10-3, good enough for tops in the Atlantic Division and second (!) overall in the Eastern Conference. No one on the Sixers scores more than 16 points a game but they have seven guys averaging double digits. Phila may be winning by committee, but Williams is their spark plug. He hasn’t started any games this year, coming off the bench 13 times, but he leads the team in scoring at 16.2 points a game in just 25 minutes. He’s also throwing in four assists and shooting .417 from three.

@Dwight Howard. The game’s best center has been going berserk in the last week, leading the Orlando Magic on a five game win streak and third place in the Eastern Conference. In his last three games he has scored 78 points as well as grabbing almost 17 rebounds a night.

@Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook. Oklahoma City fans rejoice. The Thunder are on an NBA-best seven game win streak and possess the league’s best record while their two best players are playing so well I couldn’t choose between them for this week’s Starting Five. Westbrook has had games of 26-7-4, 21-8-8 and 22-2-7 in his last three while Durant over the same period has scored 28, 28 and 29. They are the league’s best pairing at present and are starting to distance the Thunder as the best in the West.


Carlos Boozer is a Chicago Bull

July 8, 2010

by Jack Maidment

A long courtship was finally resolved yesterday with the announcement that Carolos Boozer will be wearing the red white and black of the Chicago Bulls for the considerable future.

The 28-year-old power forward agreed to a 5-year, $80 million deal.

The move will give the Bulls the low post threat that they have been lacking for many seasons and the addition of Boozer should make for one of the better front courts in the NBA, teaming with Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.

Boozer moving to a new team was the most predictable of any of the free agent moves this year given the number of times he has said he wanted to leave the Utah Jazz in the past two seasons.

The move will also be seen as a boost for Chicago’s chances of landing LeBron James ahead of his decision live on ESPN tonight, 9 ET.


Nobody in the NBA has more to prove than Luol Deng

August 11, 2009

Luolby Jack Maidment

Imagine for a second that you are a Chicago Bulls fan, fresh off of the series defeat to the Boston Celtics in round one of this years playoffs. You are happy and content despite defeat, safe in the knowledge that your team has just taken the defending NBA Champions as close as possible in professional basketball to defeat in a series that will go down in history as one of the finest of all time. A series worthy of more spoils than a mere second round birth.

If defeat can be anything other than heartbreaking, this was the time. A young Chicago team had done themselves proud. They could hold their heads high when glancing at the banners Jordan had provided, believing that their performance allows them hope of adding to the fabric hanging high above the floor.

By taking Derrick Rose with the first overall pick in the 2008 draft the Bulls had acquired the kind of player that only comes along every so often. Given his rookie season and his astounding play against Boston the Bulls have every right to think that Rose will become the League’s most dominant point guard for the next 10 years.

Couple Rose with the youthful exuberance, length and athleticism of Tyrus Thomas, who could be ‘the best running big man in the league’ according to Jeff Van Gundy, and the wild competitiveness of Joakim Noah and the Bulls are in a fine position to move forward with confidence and belief in their future.

That is not to forget the present though with many believing the Bulls will only improve on last year’s playoff run next season. Veterans like John Salmons, Brad Miller and Kirk Heinrich give Chicago one of the best benches in the East and in Vinny del Negro they possess a coach undaunted by one of the biggest jobs in basketball who acquitted themselves with aplomb since his arrival halfway through last year.

Which leaves us with the Luol Deng, the man charged with sparking the major resurgence of the Bulls: you don’t hand a player $71 million over 6 years for mediocrity and role playing.

The departure of Ben Gordon has left a 20/30/40 points a night space in the Bulls line-up which Deng will be required to fill. Coming off of a lengthy injury, Deng will have to hit the floor running to begin justifying the huge amount of faith (money) placed in him by the Bulls. The fact is, Deng has been in the NBA long enough for fans and GM’s alike to demand results. He can be ‘a project’ no longer.

$12 million a year is All-Star money and Chicago need a guy who Rose can at least half the pressure that accompanies playing for one of the biggest teams in sports. It has to be this season for Deng.


NBA Trade Rumor: Ben Gordon to Detroit Pistons

June 17, 2009
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Gordon for Rip? No thank you.

by Jack Maidment

The term combo guard can mean a few things, but normally it describes a player who prefers to score the ball but is too small to play the shooting guard position exclusively.

If ever there was an example of a two guard in a point guard’s body, it is Ben Gordon.

The Chicago Bulls’ player who terrorised the Boston Celtics in round one of this year’s playoffs, seemingly ‘playing horse with god’, is one of the most high profile players available through free agency this summer.

The difficulty lies in how much money a team is willing to commit to a player generously listed at 6-1 who doesn’t like to pass and is a defensive liability: he may score 25 a game but he will likely gift the opposition the same in return.

There is little doubt that Gordon’s offensive capabilities will prove attractive enough for a number of team’s to offer him big time money. It is with some surprise that the Detroit Pistons are being strongly associated with a move for the guard.

Detroit, who have placed the future of their team in the hands of Rodney Stuckey, are far from the perfect fit for Gordon in their current state.

The main problem would come in the form of Rip Hamilton: it is difficult to see how Gordon and Rip would play together which leads to the strong possibility of Hamilton leaving Mo-Town, completing the destruction of the Championship team of just a few years ago.

The fact that Rasheed Wallace looks to be walking, Detroit has some big decisions to make. Is Ben Gordon the player to lead the Piston’s rebuilding?

 


NBA Playoffs Conference Semi Finals, Boston meet Orlando: 7 Games Never Looked So Good

May 3, 2009

paul-pierce-34_112609

7 games never felt so good. Boston may have closed out the Chicago Bulls last night, but the only real winners were the audience.

Chicago are off home for exit interviews and the Boston Celtics have no time at all to prepare for what should be an even sterner test against an Orlando Magic team whose All-Star center has discovered a nasty streak.

The absence of Kevin Garnett effectively guaranteed that this first rounder would be much closer  than each franchise’s seeding would have suggested.

The Bulls team, with John Salmons and Brad Miller in the squad, would have been good for the 5th seed out East if they had played the whole season as they had since their trade with Sacramento.

In contrast, if Boston had missed Garnett the whole season they would have been closer to the 4th seed rather than the 2nd spot.

The seedings lied and what followed could well have been the finest first round playoff series in the history of the NBA.

Regardless of the exit, the Bulls know that in Derrick Rose they have a truly mercurial talent that should develop (more) into one of the finest in the game. Depending on Ben Gordon’s contract situation, the Bulls will return, a year wiser and more experienced.

Along with Gordon, Rose was the Bulls leader. Dude is a Rookie.

Perspective is a fine thing.

Boston have little time to be relieved as the Magic come calling in just a few days, fresh off of a confidence boosting win in Philadelphia, something they achieved without their suspended big man.

Can Orlando dethrone the Champions? They have to fancy their chances. Without Garnett the Celtics look lost defensively and will struggle almightily to contain Dwight Howard. Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis and Mikki Moore will have their hands full.   

The possibility of 20/20 games for Howard is very real given the calibre of player he will be up against, none of who are the greatest of athletes, at least when compared to Howard.

The Cs will be even more reliant on their new Big 3: Rondo, Pierce and Allen. All of whom will have to be at their best to see off a surging Magic.

It is certainly worth considering the extent to which fatigue might play a part in this series with Allen especially having played many, many minutes in the numerous overtimes with Chicago.

The Celtic big men just have to try and contain Howard as best they can and make the magic hit their shots from deep. If Howard dominates (likely) Boston will be going fishing. If they keep his numbers respectable, then the likes of Allen and Pierce will have a chance to play clutch and sink the upstarts from Florida.

Such is the importance of Garnett and the presence of Howard that the Magic will progress in 6. Although if their first rounder has taught us anything it is that there will be countless twists and turns before we know who will advance to the Conference Finals.


NBA Playoffs First Round: Fouls, Referees and Contenders

April 29, 2009

The first round is almost done and the NBA is preparing to say goodbye to eight more teams. Some have already gone: apparently the Pistons had something better to do than play against the Cavaliers this post season. Same goes for the Jazz: you can’t really make excuses if you are letting a team as offensively talented as the Lakers beat you without making them play at least a little defense.

Others, like the Hornets, are just prolonging the departure of their fishing trip. Losing by a playoff record 50 plus points is not exactly contender form, is it? Their loss to Denver was just embarrasing. If Byron Scott had any hair you could have bet he would have pulled it out by now.

(Who would have thought that the Denver Nuggets would be legitimate title challengers this year. Before the Chauncey Billups trade they were just another talented Western team that might eventually bow down to King Kobe in the Conference Finals. Now though? Their match up with the Mavericks in round 2 will go some way to showing if they are truly legit or not, but they look damn good so far.)

However, for most of the playoff teams the immediate future is far from decided, with seedings and home court apparently counting for little. All the series are almost guaranteed to fluctuate and change.

In any other year the first rounder between the Bulls and the Celtics would be THE match-up of the year. 3 overtimes, 1 double overtime, 5 games. Madness. Neither team appears to know when they are beaten. And luckily or unluckily, depending on if you bleed red or green, all of the referees have forgotten how to call a foul.

Maybe it is catching because Dwight Howard basically Bruce Lee’d Samuel Dalembert last night. Elbow to the Face. But Sam didn’t go down. Apparently Canadians are made of tougher stuff. Ask Steve Nash and the Spurs I guess.

The Sixers still have a chance, so do the Heat, Hawks, Blazers and Rockets. Anyone of these teams could go through. Let us hope that the first round has not used all of the NBA’s magic.


NBA Playoffs: Home Court Is Far From Sacred

April 23, 2009
Rose is Scary

Rose is Scary

Who would have thought it? Despite the fact that, with the exception of L.A and Cleveland, this years first round match ups were some of the most widely anticipated and closest to call, nobody would have expected there to be this many twists already. And each team has only played 2 games this post season!

 

While the Lakers and the Cavaliers take care of business by destroying the Utah Jazz and the Detroit Pistons, the rest of the playoff hopefuls have clearly been listening to David Stern showing the world that the NBA really is where amazing happens.

 

Just ask Boston. Literally the day before they are due to begin their title defence against the written off Chicago Bulls they receive the news that their reigning Defensive Player of the Year will be missing for what could be the entire post season. Ouch.

 

Even so, the Celtics still boasted two more All Stars than the Bulls. And they had a fit Rajon Rondo a player who makes the champs tick. So regardless of Garnett’s forced absence, the good folk of Boston still would have expected an easy first rounder. The playoffs start in the semis right?

 

Que Derrick Rose who clearly had not attended the meeting when NBA rookies were told how they are supposed to play in their first season. He decided that the Bulls belonged on his shoulders, and with a little help from Ben Gordon, proceeded to snatch home court advantage from the Cs. Oh how the mighty can fall.

 

Meanwhile, Josh Smith and the Atlanta Hawks did what few have; silencing Dwayne Wade only for Wade to find his team and his stroke, leading his Miami Heat to victory to even the series and grab home court.

 

Apparently home court is no longer sacred as the Magic also decided to make their lives much harder by letting the Sixers back into a game that they should have killed at half time. Superman can only do so much.

 

Out West things were much the same with home court also counting for nearly nothing. Dallas marched into San Antonio and Dirk plus JJ Barea turned the Spurs over, taking the series back across Texas with home court and the series tentatively balanced at one apiece.

 

It could be a Texas thing. The Houston Rockets defeated the Trailblazers in Portland. It seemed that only Brandon Roy came to play with the rest of his team hiding like children, scared by the Big Bad Yao. This series, also at 1s, goes to the Lone Star State with everything to play for although their will be no more finger wagging with Dikembe Mutombo forced into an ‘early’ retirement after twisting his old old old knee. Damn shame.

 

Pretty sure that Mr Big Shot might have been hired by a certain Jason Kidd to exact brutal revenge on the point guard who shouted at anyone who would listen that ‘this guy can’t me!’ Dont anger veterans Chris Paul. They are a protective bunch who maintain a pack mentality if threatened. Billups proceeded to shoot the lights out in Paul’s face going a Denver Nuggets franchise record 8-9 from down town. In. Your. Eye. The Nuggets are looking pretty darn good right now. They couldn’t. Could they?

 

Nevermind amazing. The NBA is where ANYTHING can happen. Unless you’re on a team with Kobe or LeBron. But they’ll have to play eventually. Unmovable force against Unstoppable force?

 

There are no ties.