NBA 2012/13: Decision making and why the Los Angeles Lakers will make The Finals

October 2, 2012

by Jack Maidment

Sometimes it is easy to over think things.

Grocery store. Clothes shopping. Take out.

That’s why I advocate the philosophy of the Afro Samurai: My goal is to only move forward. Make a decision and don’t look back.

It doesn’t matter if it’s second thoughts about going for a new job or worrying that a girl you want to ask out might say no – in most cases the best thing you can do is just do it.

Open your mouth, inhale, speak and see what happens.

More than that, don’t wait. Every second you spend thinking about whether you should buy a black VW or a white one, or debating the merits of whether or not you actually want to see Looper (you do) is time you can’t spend thinking about this. Or this.

Decide. Move on. And if it doesn’t work out, at least you tried.

Nowhere is second guessing more prevalent than in sports – particularly in sports fans.

“Man, if Horry didn’t hit that three from the top of the key at the buzzer in game four, we would have killed the Lakers.”

Maybe. But he did.

Or: “Man, if Rose hadn’t gone down in the first round last year we would have taken the East and rolled the Thunder in the Finals.”

Maybe. But he did.

Don’t get me wrong, I like playing the historical What If? Hindsight Game as much as the next guy and that specific section in Bill Simmons’ excellent Book of Basketball is especially enjoyable.

But in the present I prefer to stick to my guns. No flip flopping.

So, embrace the spirit of the samurai and play along: I asked the following five questions about the forthcoming NBA season of myself and answered with no hesitation. You try too.

1. Are the Lakers good enough to get out of the West and win it all.

Yes. Just because it looks good on their promotional posters doesn’t mean it isn’t true. When the Lakers take to the floor against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday October 30 for the start of the regular season, their starting five will have 33 All Star nods, 4 defensive player of the year awards and three MVPs between them.

With that much experience and talent, along with having Dwight Howard at the rim to negate any worries about ageing legs, LA is not only good enough to make The Finals, with their roster and leadership they have to. And I believe they will.

2. Will LeBron James be any better this season?

Yes, definitely, even if that seems ridiculous given how good he was in 2011/12, but having firmly cemented his position atop the basketball mountain and got rid of the championship monkey which had been lingering on his back for almost a decade, there is every reason to believe King James will elevate even further.

Statistically speaking a 28-8-8 could be possible, maybe even a 30-8-8 if Wade goes down for any length of time. Enjoy.

3. Will Anthony Davis win rookie of the year?

I say no. I’m taking Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. That’s not to say anything bad of Davis, who I think will be a very close second and eventually a franchise guy, but MKG just has something about him that makes me buy in from the get go.

You would think that changing the losing culture that’s so ingrained in Charlotte would be a nigh on impossible task but that’s what will make MKG’s achievement all the greater when he does it. The man is a tear-your-heart-out killer. I love him.

4. Mediocrity, thy name is..?

Brooklyn. Love the new arena, love the new logo, love the name. To a certain extent I love the backcourt.

But the rest of the team is simply underwhelming. Pricey and underwhelming.

The Nets as currently put together will never get out of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Essentially they are the new Atlanta Hawks – good, but in the worst possible way.

5. Who will have the last laugh: Jeremy Lin or the New York Knicks?

Lin, almost certainly. The Knicks say letting the Harvard man go was a strictly financial decision, which on many levels is fair enough (salary cap) but in others (shirt sales, ratings)? Not so much.

Regardless, replacing him with Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd? Madness.

While the Knicks wait for their PG to bring the ball up the floor every possession this year, Lin will have all the shots he wants in a system built around him. And when he isn’t on the court he will be in his Houston penthouse counting cash from his latest endorsement deal and remembering how he used to sleep on a sofa and had to put up with Melo’s stink face.

Advantage Lin.

How did you do? And remember: No flip flopping…


Building an NBA Frankenstein

February 2, 2012

By Jack Maidment

I am a big comic book fan. Marvel, DC; I don’t care. If there are super powers and freaky scientific experiments a-happening I am there with lycra-clad bells on.

Every night we see unbelievable athletes in the NBA doing things with their bodies which 99.9% of the rest of us can only experience in the third person.

The average NBA player is an otherworldy specimen of humanity, but some of them are positively mutant. Freakish even.

Blake Griffin’s latest dunk got me thinking: If I was an evil genius (think more Dr Doom/Magneto than Kim Kardashian) hell bent on stealing the attributes of others to create my very own Deadpool, who would I want to pickpocket?

We are basically walking the Space Jam path. Come with me, position by position.

PG.

Fast don’t lie and my mutant has got to be fast. This was a tough decision, but I’m taking Derrick Rose’s Power Speed over Ty Lawson’s Jet Speed (Russell Westbrook was also in the mix too). I want a guy who has gears and nobody can change up and down like Rose.

SG.

Call it quickness or elusiveness, whatever, I want my guy to be slippery, and for that I am abducting Dwyane Wade. Nobody does Now-You-See-Me-Now-You-Don’t like Wade. If he was unavailable I would have no qualms about picking up Steve Nash or Manu Ginobli here.

SF.

Like there was any doubt which small forward I would be stealing from. Whatever LeBron James has I want for my player, but since I’m taking one thing per player, I’m taking LeBron’s mental toughness…. Just checking you were paying attention. I want no part of LeBron’s mental faculties, but I will gladly take his juggernaut-ness. It’s a word. And it roughly translates as wanting people to get the hell out of the way of my evil-genius player because they are scared he will trample them to death. Like this guy.

PF.

I want Blake’s legs and his elevation. As seen here. Here. And here. Best leaper in the game, and I am only stealing from the best.

C.

If this was the 1960s I am calling Wilt, inviting him to a Hollywood starlet’s party, then chloroforming him and stealing his physique but since Chamberlain is off the table, I’m taking Dwight Howard and his strength.

My mutant’s name? LeLake Wightrose

Got better?


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.


NBA Superstar League: The reign of Kobe

January 13, 2012

Kobe starts off #1

By Jack Maidment

NBA Superstar League: A weekly statistical snapshot, out every Friday, ranking ten of the best players in the league.

Play well and your team wins, you move up the table. If you suck, lose or moan about team mates, you move down. Simple.

The ten are in place for this season with LeBron/Wade counting as one person.

Our 10: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James/Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge.

Let’s get to it.

Week 1.

1. Kobe Bryant: UTA, PHX, MEM. Three wins. More than 100 points scored. Nine total turnovers. At least 38 minutes played each game. Kobe is the superstar playing the best right now. It’s not even close. He is on a tear. Number one.

2. Kevin Durant: NOH, MEM, SAS. Three wins against two and a half good teams and lots of work from Durant. He has done a lot of everything this week, 29-3-10 with 4 blocks against New Orleans, 22-5-11 going 8-8 from the line against the Grizzlies and 21-7-10, 10-10 from the line against the Spurs. He has been doing what superstars do. Just win.

3. Dwight Howard: GSW, POR, SAC. Three good wins for a bad Magic team and Dwight did what he had to do to grab the Ws. He put up 45 and 23(!) against the Warriors who made him shoot 39(!) free throws to earn them, the most in NBA history.

4. Chris Paul: MIA, POR, MIL. Two wins and a loss to Portland. Huge win against the Heat in which he had 26-11-6 and three steals. Forgettable games against the Blazers and Bucks, but on the strength of his performance against Miami, Paul deserves his fourth place spot.

5. Derrick Rose: MIN, DET, ATL. Two wins and a loss. He put up 31 and 11 on Minnesota and 22 and 8 on the Pistons, both wins. He struggled against the Hawks, scoring just 8 with 6 assists in a tough loss. He outdueled Ricky Rubio, did what he had to do against Detroit and went 3-10 against the Hawks. A mediocre week by the MVP’s standard. But the Bulls are 10-2. He’ll move up next week.

6. Dirk Nowitzki: BOS, DET, NOH. A shadow of who he was last season but three wins nonetheless. He scored just 10 on 2-11 shooting against New Orleans before picking it up against hapless Detroit. He’s not Dirk right now, but he is getting there, and wins are wins.

7. LaMarcus Aldridge: ORL, LAC, CLE. A loss against a reasonably good Magic team and two wins against the Clippers and Cavaliers. He has been solid, if not stellar, and averaged about 22 and 8 in the last three. All he needs to move up further are a few big nights with marquee wins.

8. Carmelo Anthony: MEM, PHI, CHA. He put up 14 before spraining his ankle against Memphis and 27 and 22 the two games before. The Knicks had won four in a row before losing to the Grizzlies, but are 5-5 in their last 10, so hopefully his Knicks are starting to figure it out.

9. Kevin Love: CHI, TOR, WAS. Two losses and a win. Minnesota’s PF has struggled mightily this week. He went 5-18 from the field against the Bulls, 3-16 against the Raptors (both losses) and 7-16 in a win over the Wizards. He has less talent to work with than most of the other guys on this list, but still, he hasn’t played well the last three.

10. LeBron James: LAC, GSW, NJN. Two losses and a win. He was 9-17 from the stripe in a loss to the Clippers. His line was 23-7-13 but the free throws in the fourth quarter killed his team. In a loss to the Warriors he had 26-7-11. His best performance was reserved for a win against the horrible Nets who he torched for 32-9-7. Superstars win games when it matters. This week he didn’t.


An almost comprehensive and only marginally biased breakdown of every starting center in the NBA

January 12, 2012

When he isn't asking for a trade, he is The Best

By Jack Maidment

Greg Stiemsma is currently the starting center for the Boston Celtics.

If that is not a good enough reason to examine the state of the center position in the NBA right now, I don’t know what is, so here is a breakdown of the 30 brave souls who are starting down low this season.

Safe to say this could get interesting.

STUDS. There are two and only two and one is significantly better and more reliable than the other. Simply put, Dwight Howard is far and away the best big man in the NBA. Then there is Andrew Bynum who, when his knees aren’t on vacation, is a monster. Consistently. These are the only truly elite centers in the NBA right now. Good start.

GOOD, COULD BE GREAT. Andrew Bogut. Before his elbow almost fell off, the Australian was on his way to becoming a very good and almost great player. He rebounds, he scores, he cares. What’s not to love?

Even though I know he will make me regret it, DeMarcus Cousins also makes this tier. Hear me out. When he isn’t being a petulant teenager he is really good. I’m not sure he will figure it out in Sacramento but soon enough I believe he will. He is too talented and too big not to.

NEVER GOING TO BE STARS BUT VALUABLE. This group is the most diverse and ranges from very valuable to better-than-solid. All of them have issues which prevent them being ranked higher. But they all do really good things for their teams. They include: Tyson Chandler (see Championship, Dallas), Kendrick Perkins (see Defense, Scowl), Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol (almost made the next level), Al Jefferson.

TABLE GUYS. They giveth and they taketh away. Usually excel at one thing, struggle elsewhere. But ultimately valuable in some way: Nene, Andereson Varejao, Chris Kaman, Joel Anthony, Brook Lopez (scores, but I like my centers to rebound – I’m old fashioned), Marcus Camby.

UP AND COMERS. Could go either way. Will probably end up as either table guys or NGTBSBV guys. Greg Monroe, DeAndre Jordan, JaVale McGee (Just. He should be putting it together by now)

GUYS THAT MAKE YOU SAY URGGGGH, YEAH, HE’S OKAY. Roy Hibbert, Marcin Gortat. Enough said.

TEAR JERKERS. Players who make you cry when you see them hit the floor for the tip. Usually overpaid. More frustrating than anything else. Brendan Haywood, Kwame Brown, Samuel Dalembert, Darko Milicic.

NOT CENTERS AND PROBABLY MUTANTS. Harsh, but probably fair. Andrea Bargnani because he is 7ft tall and had three rebounds last year (look it up), DeJaun Blair because I’m pretty sure I read he has no knees.

WHO? Greg Stiemsma. Byron Mullens. Spencer Hawes (didn’t know about Spencer ‘I work out with Shawn Kemp’ Hawes, so he landed here. Apologies). If anyone can tell me where these guys played college ball, that would be great. Thanks.

That’s your 30.


NBA Finals: My Name Is Pau Gasol. Adios Orlando

June 8, 2009

pauby Jack Maidment

Against the very best you may only get one opportunity. One chance to turn the tide, to take advantage of the single time that your opponent slips just a little.

Sunday night the Orlando Magic did not get one opportunity to switch the momentum in the NBA Finals, they got two. As Game 2 built to its climax, the Los Angeles Lakers left the door slightly ajar for Dwight Howard and co on two occasions.

Despite excellent platy calling from Stan Van Gundy, the Magic failed to convert two golden looks, both falling to Courtney Lee. Instead of taking the Lakers back to Florida all tied up, they return home in a 2-0 hole.

Ominous? Yep. The Lakers are 37-1 in series where they have won the opening two games.

Before this Finals began the focus was placed firmly on the Lake Show. If Orlando ended up Champions it would be because the Lakers had gifted it to them.

Regardless of the fact that such a point of view entirely belittles the accomplishments of a very strong Orlando team, it forgets how dangerous the magic can be. Look up potent in the dictionary. There’s a picture of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis right next to that of Hugh Hefner.

However, if you were one of those people who believed in the Magic, you understood that they had a legitimate chance at rings if they ticked the right boxes.

1. Big games from Lewis to fully justify the amount of money that Florida’s finest (sorry Mr Wade) has committed to his lucrative contract.

2. Continuing clutch play from Turkey’s finest export (?).

Check on both counts. In Game 2 Lewis and Turkoglu combine to go 9-18 from down town. 50% from beyond the arc? Yeah, that could help.

3. Dominance down low and on the glass from Dwight Howard.

He may not have had 40, but Game 2’s perfomance saw Howard grab 16 rebounds to go with his 17 points. That’s pretty good going considering he is rebounding against Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, 1 on 3.

4. Contain Kobe.

Easier said than done for sure, but 29 and 8 for KB24 is a vast improvement on the 40+ he took in the series opener.

The Magic did all these 4 things in Game 2 but still roll out of town on a downer. Why?

Pau Gasol. The Spaniard is absolutely the key to Los Angeles’ victory and Orlando’s defeat.

24 and 10. Gaudy numbers from a player who is making the people calling him ‘soft’ look pretty silly.

It was Gasol that powered the Lakers to Game 2, 3-3 from the field and 5 of 5 from the line in the 4th quarter and the overtime period.

The City of Angels climbed aboard and he carried them to 2 and 0.

The Lakers record in this situation might be scary, but the combination of Pau and Kobe is scarier. Spanish. English. Telepathy? Their communication is simply infallible.

Game 3 is the biggest in Orlando’s history and anything other than a win will spell the end of their season.

Perhaps it is time to say goodbye to Orlando?

Or as Pau would say:

 

‘Gracias por todo, hasta luego. Adios.’


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.