Good Times in Los Angeles: Lakers Survive Nuggets, Clippers Get Lucky

May 20, 2009
Jennings is Flashy

Jennings is Flashy

by Jack Maidment

One night. Two major stories.

Firstly, the LA Lakers recovered from an early hole to take game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against a Denver Nuggets team which threatened to steal home court all night long on the back of a lights out shooting performance from Carmelo Anthony.

Secondly, LA’s ‘Other Team’, the Clippers, lucked out and obtained the right to pick first in the eagerly anticipated NBA Draft.

Both events promised shocks and surprises and neither disappointed.

For the most part the Lakers were out played by a fired up Denver team who raced out to an early lead before the Lake Show’s bench dragged themselves back into it.

To be honest I’m not sure how Denver lost this game and George Karl’s face told the story at the final buzzer as his side ended the game 2 points down thanks to a Trevor Ariza steal, Kobe Bryant’s 4th quarter scoring outburst and Derek Fisher’s series of crucial big shots.

But lose they did and despite the hit that their playoff momentum took last night, at least the Nuggets know they can take this Laker team to the edge. A sweep this will not be.

The other half of LA joined the victory celebrations as the Clippers snatched the number 1 pick from the other hopefuls.

Hope for the re-birth of a long moribund franchise has been rekindled as the Clips won the Blake Griffin Sweepstakes.

The speculation now focuses on how the ‘Craziest Franchise in the League™’ can go about ruining the opportunity that chance has bestowed upon them.

It would not be a surprise to wake up and discover that the Clips had traded their first pick for a pack of magic beans. Or Tracy McGrady.

But, sanity prevailing, the Los Angeles Clippers will take Blake Griffin, adding character and ferocity in the paint.

The only other consensus top picks are center Hasheem Thabeet out of Connecticut and Ricky Rubio the Spanish wunderkind point guard.

Barring a spectacular workout by any other prospect, these two will go 2 and 3 with the Memphis Grizzlies likely to take Rubio second given his talent set and the apparent incompatibility of Thabeet with Marc Gasol.

Memphis promises to be a much improved team next year with a nice core of young, exciting players: Ricky Rubio, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, OJ Mayo. Now that is the definition of promise and potential.

The Oklahoma City Thunder will also rapidly improve after their 3rd pick likely takes the 7-3 Thabeet to bolster its front court with a shot blocking and athletic big man.

Based on starting point, the Thunder should become the new Portland, blessed with young players all of whom have tremendous upsides. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, the hugely underated Jeff Green and Hasheem Thabeet? Yes please.

Outside of Griffin, Rubio and Thabeet, the lottery gets vastly more difficult to call with teams reliant on workouts to determine their guy. However, the player snapping at the top 3 is surely Brandon Jennings, arguably the most exciting player in the draft.

An outstanding playmaker with a penchant for the flashy pass, the Compton native is the exact player that struggling teams need to fill arenas making it highly probable that he will be playing in Sacramento next year.

The League’s worst team slipped as low as they could in the Lottery, but the silver lining could be Jennings. A 6-1 point does not get the nickname ‘Young Money’ by chance. Dude is cash and promises much.

A year playing pro ball in Europe can only have given Jennings the experience that his draft colleagues lack. He is used to a demanding schedule, more practices, more travel.

Griffin may be solid and fierce. Rubio might possess great court vision. Thabeet might have a great upside. But, none of them can match the excitement that Jennings can, and will generate. My tip for fan favourite of the year.

Beyond that, the draft of 2009 is far from as deep as the past two years with GMs having to pray that they can uncover a diamond in the rough. Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans and James Harden will all look to impress and move up.

This class is open and the fact that nobody really knows who to take makes the build up to the big night itself almost as exciting as a Kobe/LeBron Finals. Ok, maybe not.

But it will be fun.

Do Be Do. 

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NBA Playoffs 2009: Where Far From Predictable Happens

April 9, 2009

portland-trail-blazers

Such is the nature of the NBA’s two conferences that every game between now and the end of the regular season are filled with potential consequences for the teams involved. Wins can mean an important jump up the playoff standings or perhaps the appeasement of the front office and fans with a more respectable finishing record. They also mean progressively less chance of obtaining the #1 pick come the lottery.

 

On the flip side, a loss in any of the games before April 15th can mean a dramatic slide down the rankings or perhaps the loss of home court in the playoffs. A loss for certain teams could result in that extra 0.5% chance of draft success.

 

Barring the fact that no teams in their respective conferences will want to hold the 8th seed for the Big Dance due to the teams they will have to meet in the first round, jostling for position is increasingly becoming chess like. Who matches up with whom better? And who do teams really want to avoid?

 

The importance of not finishing 8th in the East and West cannot be overstated. Every team will be trying their utmost to avoid the fate of facing Kobe or LeBron. Regardless of Rasheed Wallace’s statement that they truly believe they have a shot at the title, a meeting with Cleveland, who have held a vice like grip over the top spot in the East, must surely be viewed as nothing more than a formality. As for the Mavericks, nobody in Dallas, save for an ill advised rookie, believe that they have any shot at all at forcing the Los Angeles Lakers into a stumble.

 

In the East, perhaps the most important seedings of all are the 4 and 5. The team that occupy these positions know that they avoid the ‘Big Three’ of Cleveland, Boston and Orlando, giving them a real chance of progressing to the conference semi-finals, subsequently building some momentum with which to bring into a match up against the East’s top 3. Currently the 4/5 appears as if it will be fought between Miami and Atlanta, potentially the most exciting first round duel.

 

Whichever team can hold onto the 4th seed and secure home court for the first round will clearly have the advantage, although nothing is assured, especially when the opposition possess one of the best closers in the League in Dwayne Wade.

 

The Eastern semi-finals appear to be pretty sewn up with 3 of the 4 apparently already chosen. Unless Chicago, Philadelphia or Detroit can pull of a remarkable upset, the Cavaliers, Celtics and Magic will progress with the 4th spot being decided between the Heat and the Hawks. Nothing is so predictable out West, where seeds 2-8 are separated by very little.

 

The Lakers will likely face Dallas in the first round although the Mavericks are only 1 game back on 7th seed Utah who as things stand will face the Manu-less Spurs in round 1. The fact that San Antonio are missing one of their three major players must appeal to all the other teams in contention. An aging Spurs who are over-reliant on Tim Duncan and Tony Parker do not match up well with a healthy Jazz who could realistically overpower San Antonio inside with Boozer, Okur, Kirilenko and Milsap all fit and productive.

 

Houston, with a healthy Yao Ming, are a difficult match for anyone in the Western playoff picture. Nobody, not even Superman, can deal with him. If the likes of Von Wafer can provide scoring off of the bench and Aaron Brooks can maintain his composure, the Rockets could have a deep post season run.

 

The real wild cards out West are the Portland Trailblazers. The combination of youth and potential make them a difficult prospect for a first round match up. They have power and length inside in the shape of Greg Oden who is beginning to fulfil some of his promise as he stays healthy, and LaMarcus Aldridge who is flat out scary some nights. Combine this with the leadership and scoring of Brandon Roy and the versatility of the likes of Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum and Portland are a tough team.

 

Which leaves New Orleans. Having the best point guard in the League can only be a good thing and as long as CP3 stays healthy the Hornets have always got a chance. The fact that they are as banged up a team as there is in the playoffs is some what misleading as a full strength Orleans is capable of going deep into the latter stages of the playoffs. To have a real chance they need everyone back to compliment Chris Paul, especially the inside presence of Tyson Chandler.

 

The West is wide open and the East is far from decided. Drama is assured, but it is hard to look past a Cleveland Lakers final.


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.