NBA 2010 Season Preview

October 27, 2009

dwayneby Jack Maidment

And so it was that months of speculation came to an end. With the simple blow of a whistle this evening the NBA season will begin, banishing, or at least relegating, any thoughts of free agency and draft pondering for, well, a few weeks at least.

Unless your are a Knicks fan I guess.

The over-saturation of the media has effectively made fiends of all basketball fans around the world. With news and hopeless rumours available at our fingertips, a day in which literally nothing happens is greeted with the shakes and level 3 cold turkey. I NEED A FIX. Something more nourishing than Glen Davis’s contract stipulations. Something more nutritious than The Dunk That Didn’t Happen.

Luckily for us the NBA is back and the players are geared up to go. Tip off beckons and and all of the speculation that accompanied the draft and summer league is replaced by actual basketball that means something, where putting the ball in the hoop means more than a new contract and a bigger house.

Ultimately its about wins. For the League’s best it is time to begin the arduous and troublesome ascent toward a Championship. For the basement dwellers the new season represents the opportunity to gain restore some respect to once great franchises and to set course for better days. Faith must be found and trust must be given.

The questions that have existed since June now become more important. With the first game about to be played our answers become something more than mere guesswork and preference. Evidence aids a constant re-evaluation.

With that in mind, now is the final time that wild predictions can be made with a relatively clear conscience: no evidence, just opinion. Whatever happens form here on in is based on results and stats and evaluation. If you want to be a mystic or a psychic or a preacher, now is the time.

East? The fact is that the three top teams in the East are so close to each other that betting on the victor is unbelievably difficult. The Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic will be 1,2,3 in the Eastern but in which order is anybodies guess.

Many people would point to a healthy Celtics team as the favourites and they would probably be right. But, how many times has a team that needs to be healthy to have a chance ever been healthy when the time comes? Once Injury rears its ugly head it is essentially impossible to banish. Without Garnett or Pierce, Boston will not be advancing past the Conference Semi Finals.

Cleveland? Imagine if LeBron goes down for any amount of time. Doesn’t bear thinking about. Even with the King firing on all cylinders the Cavs will have their work cut out beating a collectively more talented Orlando Magic team. Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard. 4 All-Stars. Can LeBron and his new running (!) mate take that down? I say not. Orlando Advances.

That is to say nothing about the teams occupying the middle echelon of the East. Toronto Raptors have enough talent and fire power to be a fantastic dark horse selection. Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani will hold the fort down low and Hedo Turkoglu coupled with DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon have a nice balance of scoring, clutch, decision making and athletic potential.

The same can be said of the Atlanta Hawks who, with the addition of Jamal Crawford, return one of the most potent teams in the League. The question is whether or not the ATL can up there defense against the NBA’s best.

The rest will be a toss up, entirely reliant on ifs and buts. Miami? Need heroics from Wade and sanity from Beasley. Philadelphia? A breakout from Andre Igoudala and return from Elton Brand will help, but with no recognisable point, who is steering the ship?

A new defensive identity could see the Memphis Grizzlies make a return to relevance, but the addition of Allen Iverson is unlikely to mark the dawn of a intensity on D. Charlotte Bobcats, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls? Mediocrity beckons with the Bulls the most likely to plunge or sky rocket.

West? The Los Angeles Lakers should be even better than they were last season with Artest bringing more to the team than Ariza, regardless of age. A healthy Lakers will make it back to the Conference Finals. Who will meet them is a little tricky.

The San Antonio Spurs will be in the mix as long as Mr Duncan is around and their supporting cast is second only to the Lakeshow. Dejuan Blair will prove to be the steal of the Draft and Manu, Parker and Jefferson will join Timmy D as part of one of the best starting line ups League wide.

The Denver Nuggets are no where near as deep as the Spurs or Lakers and will do well to scale the hieghts of last year. Portland still needs experience while the Jazz just look messy in the front court.

The conference is undoubtedly talented but other than the Lakers nobody sits above anybody else.

Too many questions. But there will be answers. Just enjoy the process. NBA 2010.

Advertisements

NBA Playoffs 2009: Fouls Are Fouls, Right?

May 9, 2009

Lebron foul1

The question is there to be asked. Should there be equality across the League in dealing with players that break the rules of conduct, or should certain people be exempt from them in the interest of entertainment?

This year’s playoff series have done nothing but highlight the disparities in the way that the NBA deals with its superstars and everybody else.

The best example of this chasm of difference came in game 2 of the Lakers/Rockets Semi Final match up.

Coming off of a screen Derek Fisher dropped his shoulder and ran over Luis Scola. He was ejected and subsequently banned for game 3. The whole saga was underlined by high fives from his team mates as he left the court. Ha. Playoff Basketball.

The game was littered with technicals and joining Fisher in the locker room was Ron Artest who was thrown out mid way through the fourth for ‘gesturing’ at Kobe Bryant.

He ‘gestured’ and shouted a little. A fairly calm response from the combustible Artest considering he had been elbowed in the throat by Kobe Bryant under the basket.

So, while Fisher and Artest lounged in the lockers, Kobe talked about a good, hard, playoff game. He knew damn well that he was never getting ejected let alone banned for a foul that was obvious, but not as blatant as needed to get a star as bright as the Mamba to receive a ban.

Meanwhile back East in game 2 of the Celtics/Magic series Rafer Alston was ejected and banned for the next game as a result of slapping Eddie House round the back of the head. Whoops.

You cannot really defend Rafer’s suspension and Fisher’s was undoubtedly harsh, but Bryant’s lack of a short holiday is just bemusing if not really surprising. Superstars don’t get suspended, do they?

The one problem with that assessment is that Dwight Howard was recently banned for a game because he threw an elbow at Samuel Dalembert.

Howard, the lead vote getter for the All Star game, is the epitome of a Star in the NBA. But. The blatant nature of his elbow effectively made it impossible for the League NOT to suspend him.

Kobe’s was amid the scrimmage for a rebound whereas Dwight nailed Dalembert as the ball went the other way. And it’s kinda hard to miss a seven footer throwing an elbow.

Most people don’t have a problem with the League’s stars getting preferential treatment in the suspension column because it is why we watch. Best players in the world playing the game.

However, it is the extent of this blind-eye-turning that truly undermines the game. It is why LeBron goes most games picking up ONE foul.

For a player that often picks up the trickiest perimeter assignment, that is amazing. He must be really, really good. No doubt, but fouls are fouls and the referees are apparently stead fast in the belief that ‘Oh, it’s LeBron, can’t have been a foul.’

For the opposing team, how much does that suck. Just ask Atlanta. They did not get one call in Game 2. Not One. Josh Smith got practically assaulted by James yet, oh wait, yep, its Cleveland ball. Josh Smith must have fouled LeBron as he fell to the floor.

Keep the stars in the game, but fouls are fouls.


No Clutch, No Championship: Can Yao Ming Do It All For The Houston Rockets?

April 10, 2009
Mr Big Shot?

Mr Big Shot?

With the playoffs fast approaching, every team headed to the Big Dance is praying that their go-to guy is on form and firing when their team really needs them. And down the stretch there will be moments when these players either come through strong or fall short. Sometimes there will be a mix of both with one game’s hero switching to villain just a few days later.

 

Some teams are more reliant on these players than others. For example, Dallas will be going no where but fishing unless Dirk replicates the performances he made when the Mavs made the Finals. Similarly, without Dwight Howard, the Magic may as well not turn up to the post season. D-Wade is probably the best example of team over-reliance. 

 

Other teams are built more around a team effort. Ubuntu. Their go-to guy is not necessarily their greatest scorer, but they act as a catalyst for their team to go to a higher level. Kevin Garnett in Boston, for example, will not be taking the last shot, game 7 of the Finals, but without him, the Celtics are only the shadow of the team they can be.

 

Of the 16 teams headed to the first round, one is in a fairly unique situation: their go-to guy is injured. Despite an injury to the Houston Rockets’ premier scorer the franchise find themselves 3rd in the West, home court in sight. Injury to Tracy McGrady has forced the Rockets to adapt their collective personality with his major responsibilities filtering down throughout the team.

 

The saving grace for Houston is Yao Ming. No other team in the League bar the Celtics have more than one truly franchise status player. The Rockets have two. McGrady’s injuries have been a constant in Texas so to be officially without him for the run in has enabled the Rockets to take responsibility for their own destiny rather than having to wonder every night if Tracy will play and do it for them.

 

Yao Ming has had to become the solitary leader for a changing franchise who have also lost their starting point guard, trading Rafer Alston to the Magic in a money saving move. With the expectations spread firmly upon Yao’s broad shoulders the Rockets have flourished and are well positioned for a deep post season run.

 

The key? Defence. Yao’s length will always make him a problem for opposing teams on both ends of the floor, but height is nothing without skill and basketball IQ to match. Yao is laden with both, acting as the anchor for the League’s 4th best defence. The center is perfectly complimented by Ron Artest and Shane Battier, two of the games best perimeter defenders. Combined with the gritty determination of Luis Scola, the Rockets are as hard a team to score on as any.

 

If Yao can maintain his current production, almost 20/10, for the playoffs, the Rockets will certainly have a chance of a deep run. He is the heart of the Rocket’s and is certainly the go-to guy in the absence of McGrady, but crucially he is not alone. Artest is averaging 17 a game and Scola adds 13 as well as 9 rebounds. The Houston bench can also be counted on for consistent production with the likes of Von Wafer, Carl Landry, Brent Barry and Battier all firing.

 

The only problem for the Rockets is who is their clutch player? The person you give the ball to in a deciding game, final quarter. Every other title contender team has a closer. And without McGrady Houston may lack the decisive blow that teams need to be successful in close games down the stretch.

 

Kobe, Chauncey, Tony Parker, CP3, Dirk, Brandon Roy, Deron Williams, LeBron, Paul Pierce, Hedo, Joe Johnson, Wade.

 

As good a player as Yao is, he does not belong on that list.

 

So, how does Houston achieve success without a Mr Big Shot? Blow every team out before the 4th. That’s the only way.         


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.