Well, that was fast. After 66 games in 120 days, the NBA regular season is over. The 2012 playoffs will be one of the most unpredictable of the last several years, with there being no clear favorite in either conference. Let’s preview the first round matchups:
1. San Antonio Spurs vs. 8. Utah Jazz
The Spurs come in having won 50 games in a season for the 12th year in a row, which is absolutely remarkable and a true testament to the coaching of Greg Poppovich and to the brilliance of the greatest power forward of all time, Tim Duncan. The Spurs won the season series 3-1, and the only game they lost was when Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili sat out for rest. The Spurs’ balanced offensive attack led by Parker with 9 players averaging 9 points or more will prove to be too much for the Jazz, who are in the bottom 10 in the league in points allowed per game. However, the Spurs have proven to be vulnerable down low (see Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph from last year’s playoffs), and that could cost them a game or two as the Jazz are proficient on the block with Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. The Jazz will use this series as a growing experience for young talent such as Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, and management is likely pleased with a playoff appearance a year after trading star Deron Williams to the Nets. a
Prediction: Spurs in 5
2. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 7. Dallas Mavericks
Yes, I know the Mavs handled the Thunder in 5 last season in the Western Conference Finals. This year, however, the Thunder are clearly the superior team. Their athleticism and depth are too much for the Mavericks to handle, as the Mavs lack the firepower to keep up with the Thunder. Although they have Shawn Marion as one of the leagues elite wing defenders to throw at Kevin Durant, the Mavericks are going to have all kinds of problems trying to slow down Russell Westbrook, who is too big and explosive for the likes of Jason Kidd, Roddy Beaubois , or Delonte West to handle. Although the Mavericks are similar offensively to last season, losing Tyson Chandler as their anchor on defense singlehandedly cost them a chance at repeating. Dirk Nowitzki’s greatness leads the Mavs to 2 wins in this series as the Mavs fail to repeat.
Prediction: Thunder in 6
3. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 6. Denver Nuggets
Charles Barkley, my favorite NBA analyst, who doesn’t get enough credit as an analyst, predicted the Nuggets to upset my team in the first round. He’s called upsets correctly before, notably the Magic beating Lebron’s Cavs in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. However, I disagree with him here. The Lakers strength over many of their opponents is the inside tandem of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, and they should have a huge advantage in this series. All the Denver bigs have little to no playoff experience, and Bynum and Gasol have to be chomping at the bit at seeing Kosta Koufos and the undersized Kenneth Faried starting on the frontline for Denver. As the highest scoring team in the NBA, the Nuggets have a huge depth advantage and in particular off the bench. However, the Nuggets lack of a true star player will hurt them in the playoffs as well as their lack of experience. Kobe Bryant will ensure the Lakers keep the pace in their favor, and the Lakers addition of Ramon Sessions at the trade deadline helps the team be more prepared for the speed of Denver’s Ty Lawson at the point guard position.
Prediction: Lakers in 5
4. Memphis Grizzlies vs. 5. Los Angeles Clippers
What a series this is going to be. I almost had to flip a coin in deciding the outcome of this series. It’s very exciting to see the Clippers in the playoffs, and makes being a basketball fan in Los Angeles that much of a better experience. The outcome of this series will be contingent on the health of the Grizzlies Zach Randolph, who absolutely dominated against both the Spurs and the Thunder in last year’s playoffs. If Randolph can neutralize Blake Griffin, I look for the Grizzlies to advance to the second round as they did last year. With Z-Bo rounding back into form, as coach Lionel Hollins has been slowly bringing his minutes back to those of a starter after his injury, I give Memphis a slight advantage in this series. The depth of the Memphis bench also gives them an advantage over the Clips, led by OJ Mayo and Mareese Speights. Finally, the Grizz have the best defender in the NBA in Tony Allen as well as a good defensive coach in Hollins to help neutralize the brilliance of Chris Paul in the half-court. The Clippers over-reliance on Paul in their predictable offensive sets will cost them in the postseason in this hotly contested series.
Prediction: Grizzlies in 7
1. Chicago Bulls vs. 8. Philadelphia 76ers
Although I agree with Evan Turner’s statement that he believes the Sixers match up better with the Bulls than the Heat, I expect the Bulls to make quick work of the Sixers. Although Derrick Rose has been hobbled throughout the season, I believe the Bulls would beat the Sixers in this series even without Rose. The Bulls rank first in the league in points allowed per game as well as rebounds per game, and the Sixers are going to struggle mightily to score against them. The Sixers leading scorer is Louis Williams off the bench, at a hair below 15 a game. The defensive prowess and depth of the Bulls off the bench, primarily with their front line, will be too much for the Sixers to handle. This will be a series for Derrick Rose to round back into form. Rose’s rustiness as well as the Sixers’ highly rated defense gets them a game.
Prediction: Bulls in 5
2. Miami Heat vs. 7. New York Knicks
This has to be what the NBA as well as casual fans throughout the world wanted to see in the first round. Lebron, D-Wade, and Bosh against Carmelo, Amare, and the rest of the Knicks. Carmelo Anthony has been on an absolute tear since Mike Woodson took over as coach for Mike D’Antoni and the offense has been running through him, as he averaged nearly 30 points per game in April on 50 percent from the floor and a ridiculous 46 percent from three. Additionally, Amare Stoudamire showed some vintage Amare flashes in the season finale against the Bobcats, throwing down some vicious dunks. It also helps that the Knicks have Tyson Chandler to anchor their defense in the middle, who knows a thing or two about beating the Heat. With all that being said, the Heat will win this series. To counter Melo, the Heat have the best player in the NBA in soon to be 3 time MVP Lebron James. As long as Bosh holds his own against Amare, who has yet to find his niche alongside Anthony, the Heat will be fine. The Knicks are too inconsistent to pull of this upset, even though they have the athletes to keep pace with the Heat. The Heat have been coasting for the last month with the playoffs in mind, and it’s time for Lebron, Dwyane Wade and company to turn it up a notch.
Prediction: Heat in 6
3. Indiana Pacers vs. 6. Orlando Magic
Dwight Howard being out for the playoffs is truly a disappointment, a fitting end to a season that perhaps has made him the biggest villain in the NBA, other than Lebron James. It also does not bode very well for his team in this series against the Pacers. The Pacers are one of the surprise teams in the NBA this season, and are a deep group led by Danny Granger at 18.4 points per game and first time all-star center Roy Hibbert. A team such as Orlando, which shoots the three-pointer extremely well and could get hot at the right time, should not be discounted. However, they are a group with no one that can really create his own shot and are thin down low without Howard, with the undersized Glen Davis having to slide into the center spot. The Pacers have the better players as well as more depth, and the Magic’s nightmare season with the Dwight Howard free agent saga will come to a fitting end in what will likely be Stan Van Gundy’s final game coaching the team.
Prediction: Pacers in 5
4. Boston Celtics vs. 5. Atlanta Hawks
All three regular season meetings between these two teams were decided by 5 points or less, with the Celtics prevailing in 2 out of the 3 meetings. I expect a similar result in this series, with the games being very close, but the Celtics prevailing. The Celtics were one of the best teams in the league for the second half of the season, and they are perhaps an even more dangerous team in the playoffs with their veteran experience. Kevin Garnett has experienced a mini-renaissance since being moved to the center position, and Rajon Rondo ended the regular season with 24 straight double-digit assist games. Ray Allen’s status for the beginning part of the series is questionable with a sprained ankle, but I still feel as if Boston has an advantage in the series. Josh Smith has been phenomenal for the Hawks all year and he will be a difference maker in this series. However, when you look at individual matchups, it could be argued that Boston has an advantage at each position on the floor, with the exception of Josh Smith against Brandon Bass at the power forward spot. Boston’s rigorous defense will continue in the playoffs and they will move on to the next round.
Prediction: Celtics in 6
Yes! That guy you used to hate and love at the very same time. I’m talking about Metta World Peace, or the artist formerly known as Ron Artest. I am a proud Laker fan, but growing up I used to fear Mr. Ron Artest back in the day because he was just outright vicious, tenacious, and “the man” on defense. Whether he was on the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Queens (I love you still Shaq), or Houston Rockets you just knew the way he played defense was the way you imagine yourself playing defense on the hardwood. He taught everyone how to battle and always took out the best offensive player on the other squad.
Clearly, the Lakers organization is denying that the hit was unintentional and of course they would because that is a member of their organization. Metta is practically like family. Everybody knows that hit wasn’t unintentional because you just don’t swing hard with your right elbow like that. It went straight horizontal instead of a vertical downward movement. I guess he learned from the best UFC fighter Jon Jones the night before because clearly Jon Jones was giving Rashad “Sugar” Evans “them ‘bows”.
Was it worth 7 games? Probably not! I thought David Stern should of gave 5 games, but I guess 7 games is the right call because of Metta’s background in the past.
I do not condone violence, but Metta basically gave the Lakers a whole new look at approaching things in this upcoming playoffs especially with the coming out party of Jordan Hill. Coach Mike Brown just showed how amazing he can coach because he sat out Andrew Bynum for nearly all of the 4th quarter and both overtimes!
David Stern didn’t get it right, but I thank you for showing me that Father Time hasn’t caught up to you yet and that when you come back the Lakeshow we will be up and running to the fullest. Hopefully you will help Mr. Bryant get his 6th ring and establish him as the greatest Laker to ever play the game.
An Old Hater/New Lover
“It was April fool’s day, right?” Dwyane Wade said Tuesday morning in regards to the Miami Heat getting run out of the gym by Boston Celtics in Boston on April 1. The Heat came out extremely lethargic that day and showed no fight in laying down in a 91-72 defeat.
This past Tuesday, Boston came out firing on all cylinders again en route to a 115-107 victory over the Heat. While they were dominant defensively in holding the high-octane Heat to 72 points in their previous victory, they showed that their offense can carry them by shooting 60 percent from the field in Tuesday’s win.
Rajon Rondo has been key during the Celtics resurgence while pushing his double-digit assist streak to 19 last night in an overtime victory over the Atlanta Hawks (whom the Celtics are set to match up with in the playoffs if the playoffs started today). The insertion of second year defensive specialist Avery Bradley, who is clearly one of the best on ball defenders in the association already as a 21 year old, has helped spurred the team as well.
Though the NBA is a players league, much of the credit for this Celtic turnaround has to be given to coach Doc Rivers. With Ray Allen’s return this past week, his plan to keep Bradley in the starting lineup will pay off greatly. The Celtics have struggled with bench scoring the whole year, and the idea to bring in the best three-point shooter in NBA history off the bench helps shore up that whole.
Additionally, his move of Kevin Garnett to the center position and insertion of Brandon Bass to the power forward spot helped the team’s offense move more smoothly. Rondo now often has 4 knockdown catch and shoot players, with Bass, Garnett, Allen, and Pierce, to complement his penetrate and kick abilities.
The Celtics defense has always been a constant through Rivers’ and the big three’s reign. This season is no different, as they rank third in the league in points allowed per game. With the way their offense has been clicking lately, the Celtics have become a team nobody wants to see in the next month.
In a sport where both the fans and the league are obsessed with superstars and pure athletic ability, a new trend has begun to sprout since All Star break. The Boston Celtics have been able to prove the impossible for the last 3 ½ weeks, which is that a bunch of old guys with a point guard who can’t shoot to save his life can still win basketball games under great coaching. Who would have thought it? Not me…at least not before all-star break when my beloved C’s held a 15-17 record and were riding a pitiful 5 game losing streak.
To throw more salt on the wound, they also managed to lose both of their bigs Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox within the same week. Things were looking dismal but one raspy voice stayed confident with the simple words of “I like my team.” Even when there was no true center on the roster let alone a big to come off the bench for KG and Bass, Doc Rivers kept his cool.
The first thing that had to be done was Garnett had to be moved to the center position. Then what more what can make a Cinderella story even greater without having to overcome more adversity? Ray Allen get’s a bum ankle and Mickael Pietrus gets a grade 3 concussion. I could have sworn looking at this team I thought they only had 6 active players at one point…honestly. This gave the Doc the opportunity to attempt his riskiest surgery on a team that was on life support.
Unproven guard Avery Bradley got the opportunity to start at shooting guard… The procedure was successful to say the least. In the last 10 games Bradley has started at shooting guard the Celtic have been 9-1. Also, according to stats expert John Hollinger with Bradley starting this has been the best defense the Celtics have played during the Big 3 era. Not too shabby.
Just to throw a cherry on top, only 2 days ago the C’s were able to go into the Heat’s lion den and put on a shooting clinic while executing their ball movement like a well-oiled machine. I’ll admit when Miami did score it was impressive highflying dunks that players like Garnett could only remember doing once upon a time. But that didn’t matter. By the end of the game the Heat showed they had the better athletes, but there wasn’t any question the Celtics were clearly the better team.
Before this game the Heat had won 18 straight home games including the Thunder just 2 days prior. This game was just another regular season game and had no real significance other than the fact it was a statement. A statement that was heard all around the league. The old guys are back in town and under Doc’s belt, they’re looking sexier than ever.
Last night I grabbed some food, went home, sat down on the couch, relaxed after a long day and turned on what I thought to be Sports Center. I mean, I thought I did. I was on the right channel, the normal Sports Center intro and theme song came on, the normal anchors were in their respected seats, a woman anchor every now and then would chime in about pointless sports update about some hurt player. It had all the signs of just a normal Sports Center episode. Until the highlights from that night’s Miami Heat and Boston Celtics game came on.
What should have been just a normal game highlight, turned into a gruesome and horrible hard-core **** reel featuring Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh. My home cooked Taco Bell #7 meal fell from my hand to the floor, regurgitated most of it up, and cringed at the sight of Kevin Garnett bending Bosh over and having his weird way with him while Bosh struggled to play defense at the same time. How TV producers let that air live throughout media land, I’ll never know.
But that was it. That was the last straw. I could no longer sit in silence while a poor animal is man handled night in and night out like that on defense. I just can’t stand to bare animal cruelty, especially ones that are close to extinction. Which is why last night, at 12:15 am Pacific Time, I made a phone call that should have been made months, if not years ago. I called the one man who knew most about such creatures as Chris Bosh. One who could catch, tame, and transfer such a delicate scientific specimen to an island where he could run free with animals of his own kind and not have to worry about such pointless silly things as defense. So I called Universal Studios, and asked for the legendary dinosaur man himself, Dr. Alan Grant of Jurassic Park.
That’s right I said it. Chris Bosh needs to leave the Heat and go back to Jurassic Park Island. If the Heat has any chance of winning a championship, unfortunately, Bosh is going to be the key for a ring. I freeze up every time I say that sentence. But it’s true. Bosh needs to be the two-way player the Heat hoped he’d be. Unfortunately, in the last 4 big games against Eastern conference teams (Boston, Chicago, ATL, and Indiana) Bosh’s defense has disappeared faster than a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts at a Fat Camp.
It has nothing to do with his Offensive/defensive rebounds, and everything to do with his one-on-one defense. Kevin Garnett, Josh Smith, Carlos Boozer, and David West have all had their way with Bosh in more ways than one. Even on the offensive end, Bosh has struggled to finish plays, not turn the ball over, and is shooting just terrible from the field lately, .386% in the month of April already.
So. Trade. Trade. Trade. Trade. Trade. I could care less if Bosh has 5 more years left on his contract, I don’t care if he is one of the Big 3, I don’t care HOW sick his Miami parties are in the offseason, the dude needs to leave. With the amount of cap room, the Heat would be able to sign numerous amounts of roll players that the Heat desperately need, and the contract negotiations wouldn’t get too messy.
The Heat need a veteran 3-star Center, with more size, power, better defense, and someone who isn’t afraid to bang and get jiggy with it down low. In my very humble opinion, and in my perfect world as the Heats front office, I’m trading Bosh, promoting Haslem, and, dare I say, picking up the one and only, Canadian Jesus AKA Steve Nash. Yup. Steve Nash.
If the Heat brings him to the dark side, the championship would be more locked up then Charles Manson. Nash said he wants a trade if the Suns don’t bring in anyone, and he deserves to win a championship more than anyone in the league. James Jones and Mario Chalmers aren’t true point guards, and Rookie Norris Cole could use Nash as a mentor for a year or two. So, why not sign him for a 2-year contract? But hey, what do I know? Maybe Bosh will come thru as the consistent X-factor for the Heat in the offseason. But if the Heat fail to win yet another championship…I assure you, Bosh the Velociraptor will be featured in Jurassic Park IV.
Almost two weeks ago we saw the Lakers go big and fill the gap at point guard when they acquired former Cavalier Ramon Sessions. After losing out on keeping veteran Derek Fisher, the Lakers were able to use the money they had from trading Lamar Odom to pick up the 25 year-old speedy Sessions.
So far Sessions has shown that he can fit right in with the Lakers shift of play, as he is already averaging 14.3 points per game and close to seven assists in his first six games on the team. In his first two games with the team he posted excellent numbers of 20 and 18 points as well as 11 and five assists. Even though Sessions for now seems like the Jeremy Lin of the Lakers, hopefully he can continue these excellent scoring and assists averages throughout the season and become the Lakers go to point guard.
The only thing that may worry Lakers fans is that he is on his fourth team in five years; hopefully this will be the team he spends the rest of his career on just like Fisher was close to doing. But for now he seems to be a great fit for a team that is slightly rebuilding after a horrible show in the playoffs last year.
Christmas day basketball was so close to never coming. The black cloud that hovered over the NBA appeared that it would rain on the league for the entire 2011-2012 season. With every day that went by during the lockout, the players and owners got further away from an agreement. Fans were coming to grip the fact that professional basketball would never hit the hardwood until the fall of 2012. Then, out of nowhere, the deal was done.
The NBA announced that a 66-game NBA season had been salvaged beginning on Christmas day. The next step for the NBA was to mend a broken relationship with it\'s fans, who were left frustrated that greed over millions of dollars almost cost them an entire season of NBA basketball. To justify a lockout to the average sports fan who could never dream of having one million dollars, let alone hundreds of millions is a difficult task. The NBA got lucky, very lucky in fact.
The modern sports fan always threatens to hold a grudge, but very seldom follows through with their threats that turn out to be empty. The mentality of today\'s sports fan can be summarized simply by one question. \'What have you done for me lately?\' That is truly all that matters and history doesn\'t lie.
In 2003, Kobe Bryant faced sexual assault charges and fans were in uproar. Since then, Kobe has won two more championships and is once again proclaimed as one of the NBA\'s top superstars. These charges are now merely a thing of the past and are very seldom brought back up. Or look at a more recent example. Going into the 2011 NFL season, New York Giants fans were calling for Tom Coughlin\'s head. Yes, that\'s the same coach who won a Super Bowl in 2008 with these same Giants. Flash forward to Super Bowl XLVI. Once again the Giants sit atop the football world, and no one would even consider giving Coughlin the axe.
Sports fans are fickle and they have a short memory. It\'s neither a good thing, nor a bad thing. It just is. Given this fact, the NBA couldn\'t have gotten luckier.
Now halfway through the shortened season, the lockout is already a thing of the past. Fans are enjoying a condensed schedule where they get to see their favorite teams play nearly every other night. This season hasn\'t been short on story lines either. LeBron James and the Miami Heat have refocused and look to finish what they started last year. The Lakers are still trying to find their identity under new coach Mike Brown while playing a bipolar first half of the season. The Clippers are once again relevant after obtaining Chris Paul in one of the most controversial trades in NBA history. Above all, Linsanity hit the sports world by storm and captivated a worldwide audience in a way few athletes in any sport have ever done.
This is an NBA season more wide open than ever. Sure, the Heat and Thunder sit comfortably at the top of their respective conferences, but no one is ready by any means to hand them the Larry O\'Brien trophy. The Heat were clearly exposed by the Lakers as being undersized and lacking a true center. The Thunder still seem to struggle with maturity issues, and the decision as to who gets the ball in the final two minutes is sure to come up again in June. Every team has their strengths and their weaknesses. The truth is that there is really no telling who the champs will be this year, and that\'s exactly how it should be.
David Stern and the rest of his NBA officials should be taking one huge sigh of relief. They dodged a massive bullet, barely. It\'s sad to think that greed and money almost kept basketball fans from away from their teams and players for an entire year. That being said, it\'s even more remarkable how quickly the NBA\'s superstars were able to turn a sour taste in the mouth of fans everywhere, into an excitement and anticipation for what is shaping up to be an incredible season.
There is still plenty of basketball to be played and story lines yet to unfold before the postseason hits. Will the Lakers ever click? Are the Thunder truly ready to win an NBA championship? Will LeBron finally put a ring on his finger? Is Jeremy Lin the Knicks point guard of the future? These questions are what make the NBA great. Uncertainty and surprise are what sports are all about. It\'s why we watch and it\'s why we care.
Cheers to all the NBA fans who persevered through times of uncertainty and strife. You have certainly been rewarded for your patience.
Enjoy the rest of the season, and Merry Christmas.
Sometimes, the underdogs break all the rules.
The movie, Hoosiers, is one of the greatest sports stories of all-time. It starred a small-town high school basketball team from Indiana that overcame adversity to win a state championship against a well-known powerhouse. By choosing effort over ability and perseverance over athleticism, this David beats Goliath story illustrated how opponents who were taller, more skilled and much more athletic could be vanquished.
In the 2011-12 NBA season, we’re witnessing how another David is conquering another Goliath. The biggest story of the NBA season thus far is not about LeBron James having one of the best individual seasons of all-time, or the infamous “David Stern Veto;” It’s not even the rise, and recent fall, of Linsanity. The most surprising story is the reemergence of the Indiana Pacers.
Last week, the Pacers ranked third in the Eastern Conference behind the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls. The organization that barely made the playoffs last season has already beat the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, Magic and the Mavericks. However, the focus in Indiana is on another sports stories: the release of Colts star quarterback, Peyton Manning and the possibility of the Indiana Hoosiers winning their very first Big Ten Tournament title. The Pacers has been largely ignored, especially by the media. By the end of this season, the Indiana Pacers will have had only one nationally televised game. The only article circulating in the Indiana Pacer organization pertains to the 2004 “Malice at the Palace” catastrophe.
But this is exactly how another famous Indianian ordered it. Larry Joe Bird has resurrected the Indiana Pacers; the team is reminiscent of the glorious Reggie Miller days. Bird, the President of Basketball Operations for the Pacers, has the team in a solid position to make the NBA playoffs and possibly gain home court advantage. Bird took a chance on power forward David West after last year’s torn ACL. This move has paid off handsomely. He is trusting Frank Vogel, the 38 year-old coach who has proven he can lead a basketball team in the right direction and it has led to a 62% winning percentage. Under Vogel and Bird, the Indiana Pacers have proven that by making the right moves with players who are unselfish and enjoy playing all-around team basketball, success is experienced first-hand.
Like the Biblical story of David and Goliath, the Pacers have acknowledged their weaknesses and have chosen unconventional strategies to beat their opponents. By utilizing their bench, outrebounding opponents and ranking in the top ten for points allowed, the Indiana Pacers have emerged as one of the elite teams in the NBA. If I were in the East, I would steer clear of the Indiana Pacers. Because when playoff time hits, no one can count out David.
About the Author: Pete Evenson is a business development and marketing professional in the Los Angeles area. He is addicted to entrepreneurship, public speaking and is an insane sports fan. He also passionately hates the Boston Celtics. To send him an e-mail, click here.
Follow Pete on Twitter @Pete_Evenson
TAGS: Indiana Pacers, Pacers, Hoosiers, NBA, National Basketball Association, David Stern, LeBron James, Linsanity, Jeremy Lin, Miami, Miami Heat, Chicago, Chicago Bulls, Celtics, Lakers, Magic, Mavericks, Colts, Peyton Manning, Malice at the Palace, Larry Bird, David West, Frank Vogel.
Basketball has been a love of mine for as long as I can remember, and I can remember pretty far back. But for even longer than that, I have loved superheroes. How can you not? They have awesome powers; wear cool outfits, and best of all, always get the girl! Or maybe that was supposed to be, “always save the day.” Ah well, get the girl sounds better. But I digress.
Long before I rooted for the likes of Shaq and Kobe, I was rooting for Batman to defeat Joker and Superman to take out Lex Luther. It was a thrilling time in my life, and I’m glad to say that I was never disappointed. Through it all I gained an intense appreciation for these special people, and I emerged as a sort of superhero expert. Need proof? Just ask my mom. I’m sure she’ll be more than willing to lend you a home video that features a four-year old version of me prancing around in a Spiderman outfit. On second thought, just take my word for it.
Perhaps it is my keen eye for the “XtraOrdinary” that drew me so heavily to the NBA,
because for some reason or another, there seems to be a revival of the superhero happening right now in the National Basketball Association. Superman has been patrolling Orlando, and Flash is residing in Miami. Oklahoma City has the infamous Durantula, and in the Big Apple, the man many call, “Super-Lintendo” has arrived to save the day. These beacons of light offer hope to the thousands of fans that follow them.
Meanwhile, down in Tinseltown, the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, speculation and doubt has become as common as a Black Mamba field goal attempt. They stumbled into the All-Star break as a team hopeless on the road, stagnant on offense, and at the end of the day, a team nowhere near that elite status. And the worst part of it all? No one was being held accountable. Instead of manning up and playing to their strengths, the Lakers allowed themselves to wallow in mediocrity. A season that had featured a new coaching staff, a new rotation, and a new system, had ultimately left the Lakers without their most necessary quality – an identity. The Lakers needed a superhero.
But alas! There is reason for optimism! For in the third quarter of the NBA’s 61st all star game something magical happened. As Kobe Bryant, also known as the Black Mamba, drove to the hoop for what looked to be an easy bucket. Instead he was fouled hard by Dwayne Wade. In that moment time stood still, and just as Peter Parker transformed after his spider bite, so too did Kobe Bryant. Left with simply a bloody nose and a slight feeling of wooziness, Mr. Bryant, along with the rest of the basketball world, thought little of the slap to the face. Even after the game, when diagnosed with a broken nose, the injury was downplayed. Just a broken nose right? Yes, just a broken nose.. But oh so much more.
The being that emerged from that broken nose is neither man nor God, but perhaps a mix of both. The “masked mamba” as he is called now, has come to shed light on all of Laker land, to be the hero that was so desperately needed. And after a signature win against the Heat on Sunday, who can argue? Since the All Star break, the Lakers have won three straight, and eight of ten overall. They’ve scored over 100 points in three of their last six games, a feat unimpressive in nature but an undoubtedly giant leap for this team.
There is no denying the weaknesses they have-lack of depth, poor bench play, and overall inconsistency on offense. But at the same time, it is impossible to ignore the inherent strengths the Lakers deploy. Their dominant front court, when appropriately utilized, cannot be contained, the Masked Mamba is striking at will, and their defense is tops in the Western conference. When these strengths are clicking the Lakers are hard to beat. And right now, they’re certainly clicking.
The arrival of the Masked Mamba has brought life to the team – Metta World Peace is starting to look a little like the Ron Artest of old (that may or may not be a good thing, fingers crossed), the bench is showing sparks of life, and somehow Pau Gasol has taken the role of enforcer. Perhaps the Lakers have finally figured out that they are, well, the Lakers?
The verdict is still out there – are the Lakers elite? Tough to say, but I can tell you this.. The Lakers are back; back to being a team that can beat the best in the NBA; a team no one wants to face in a seven game series; a team that is finally finding its identity.
This recent resurgence could be the direct result of a multitude of factors. But I’m choosing to believe in the newest and greatest addition to the superhero world – the Masked Mamba. Scoot over Superman, step aside Flash, there’s a new sheriff in town. As he keeps rolling, so to do the Lakers, and nothing seems to be slowing Mr. Bryant down.
With the Minnesota Timberwolves obtaining their third win over the Los Angeles Clippers this season on Monday night to climb a game over .500 at 20-19, it validated that this is a team to be reckoned with as well as a team that could possibly slide into the western conference playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed.
That’s right, the Minnesota Timberwolves may, in fact, be a playoff team. No one could have predicted this in the preseason, and this perhaps serves as proof that the NBA has already taken steps to achieving the parity between large and small market teams that the lockout hoped to provide.
General Manager David Kahn has completed several head-scratching deals over his tenure as GM of the T’Wolves. For instance, he took back-to-back point guards with the 5th and 6th picks in the 2009 draft in Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, and signed yet another point guard (Luke Ridnour) to a 4 year deal the following summer.
He also signed Darko Milicic, one of the biggest disappointments of the past decade, to a 4 year $20 million dollar deal, and drafted Wesley Johnson with the 4th pick in the 2010 draft. Johnson currently has a PER (a metric used by ESPN Insider’s John Hollinger to return value for a player’s statistical accomplishments on a per minute basis) of 6.68, which would rank in the bottom 10 in last season’s PER rankings and is especially bad considering he is in the starting lineup.
Even with all these questionable decisions, Kahn has managed to assemble a young roster with immense talent and a very bright future. The cornerstones are young, Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams, the 2nd overall pick in last season’s draft, and most importantly, two-time All Star Kevin Love.
I’m currently reading a book titled “Talent is Overrated” by author Geoff Colvin. The concept is that innate ability, or “talent” is not nearly as important as the hours that one spends on his or her craft. Perhaps no one embodies this greater than Kevin Love. Though he has relatively good size for an NBA power forward, Love lacks the athleticism that fellow all stars such as Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, or even a Chris Bosh possess.
Yet here he is averaging nearly 14 rebounds a game (slightly down from the 15.2 he averaged last year) along with 25 points a night. His basketball IQ is off the charts as he routinely positions himself for not only rebounds, but also efficient scoring opportunities where he doesn’t have to rely on the quickness or leaping ability that many others possess.
He continues to work on his arsenal of skills yearly, evidenced by trimming 25 pounds off his weight in the off season as well as his NBA All Star weekend three-point shootout championship. Love was told by former coach Kurt Rambis to not take three-point shots.
Though the T’Wolves have nice young talent, Love’s importance to the squad was demonstrated when they were blown out 104-85 by the Lakers last Wednesday while he sat out sick.
Currently, Love is out-performing all other power forwards in the league. His 39-point, 17-rebound performance in the win against the Clippers on Monday displayed his competitive edge against one of his rivals at his position in Griffin. This comes two nights removed from a 42 point, 10 rebound game against LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trailblazers. Aldridge was another fellow Western Conference All Star this season.
ESPN’s Elias Sports Bureau reported that Love is the first player in NBA history to record consecutive games of at least 35 points and 10 rebounds while making at least five 3-pointers in each game.
Though the Wolves still need a more balanced roster to become a contender (right now they start point guard Luke Ridnour out of position at the two-guard spot as well as the unproductive Johnson at small forward), they have a franchise player and MVP candidate in Love to build around for the next several years.
Ever since I could remember, I\'ve been a fan of the NBA. My first memories of the NBA were of Hakeem \"The Dream\" Olajuwon going up against Patrick Ewing in the 1994 NBA Final and ever since then, I have been hooked.
When Shaq signed as a free agent with the Lakers in the late 90\'s, he brought superstar ability along with a superstar personality. But what came with all of these great things were higher ticket prices which made it almost impossible to get good seats to a game. Me, being the huge basketball fan that I am, wanted to be able to see the action live and in person. So I did some research and found the (cheap) price of the 12-game package that the Clipper organization was offering to go see the 12 best teams in the NBA play against the lowly Clippers. I hounded my dad until he gave in. Since that first season of watching Clipper games live, I\'ve been going to Clipper games and rooting for them, because who doesn\'t like rooting for an underdog?? But, if you ask anybody that knows me, I was and will always be a die-hard Laker fan. I bleed purple and gold. I never had to worry about choosing sides because the Lakers were always great and the Clippers always sucked.
Fast-forward to the 2012 shortened season. The Clippers are one of the most exciting and dynamic teams in the NBA, led by Blake Griffin aka The Mon-STAR, and CP3. They are way more entertaining to watch than the older, less exciting Lakers. I know I know, how dare I call the Lakers boring, but compared to the high-flying Clips of Lob City, they are boring!
Currently the Lakers and Clippers are both playing well. Kobe and his mask are going off for 30+ points per night and are 1st in their division. The Clippers have been struggling ever since the season-ending injury that claimed Chauncey Billups, but still look to make a strong playoff push in May. Here lies THE DILEMMA.
Who will I root for if the Lakers meet the Clippers in the playoffs??? The Lakers have 16 championships, while the Clips have a donut. Why not share a little bit of the wealth? I guess that answers my question, lets go CLIPS!!!