Friday, October 2, 2009

This Is It?

I haven't posted much in the last couple of months, and there's a reason for that. Along with a friend of mine we thought about setting up a dutch NBA website, and since a week or two that site is up.
This of course means that I will no longer post here anymore. I've done this with great pleasure, even though hardly anyone read these blogs anyway, judging by the reactions (well, except the one about power forwards last year, that was dope).
I will focus now on my dutch blog, but to all of you writing blogs yourself and took the time to drop by this one: I will keep an eye on yours too, and will post a comment every now and then.
Now let's get ready for the new season!

For dutch people who happened to stumble upon this blog, go to:

Good night and good luck, and I'll see you all on YOUR blogs, keep it going!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Decade after Decade

Early in the morning of August 15, 1979, my parents had their third son born, and named him Gerard (Himself). I have to face the facts: I’m no longer part of the cool kids anymore. And one might wonder if I ever was, being the NBA nerd that I am. I sometimes still feel like I’m 18, and in many ways I still am. I’m messy, more often than not I don’t eat right, I’m not really good at saving money, and still laugh a bit too hard when one my brothers farts. I’m a big kid, but my passport tells me otherwise.

When I reminisce, I often find myself thinking in NBA seasons rather than actual years, and that’s when the question arose to me: since we’re nearing the end of the first decennium of the new millennium, how many players are there left who joined the League in the nineties? My love for the game started at the beginning of that decade, and a lot of players I idolized have been long gone. That’s how it goes, but who are left? Who are the last men standing on the court, sitting on the bench, or being angry at their creaky knees, bum ankles and aching backs; begging their team physicians in the trainer room to find a way to get them back on the floor?

Atlanta Hawks: Mike Bibby, Joe Smith

Boston Celtics: Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace

Charlotte Bobcats: Nazr Mohammed

Chicago Bulls: Lindsey Hunter, Jerome James, Brad Miller

Cleveland Cavaliers: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Shaquille O’Neal, Anthony Parker

Dallas Mavericks: Greg Bucker, Erick Dampier, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Tim Thomas

Denver Nuggets: Chauncey Billups

Detroit Pistons: Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace

Golden State Warriors: Devean George, Corey Maggette

Houston Rockets: Brent Barry, Tracy McGrady

Indiana Pacers: Jeff Foster

Los Angeles Clippers: Marcus Camby, Baron Davis, Ricky Davis

Los Angeles Lakers: Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom

Memphis Grizzlies: None

Miami Heat: Jermaine O’Neal

Milwaukee Bucks: Kurt Thomas

Minnesota Timberwolves: Chucky Atkins

New Jersey Nets: Rafer Alston, Tony Battie

New Orleans Hornets: Antonio Daniels, James Posey, Peja Stojakovic

New York Knicks: Al Harrington, Larry Hughes

Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Ollie

Orlando Magic: Vince Carter, Anthony Johnson, Rashard Lewis

Philadelphia 76’ers: Elton Brand

Phoenix Suns: Grant Hill, Steve Nash

Portland Trail Blazers: Andre Miller

Sacramento Kings: Kenny Thomas

San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan, Michael Finley, Antonio McDyess, Theo Ratliff

Toronto Raptors: Rasho Nesterovic

Utah Jazz: Matt Harpring

Washington Wizards: Antawn Jamison

There’s something wrong with this list. And no, it’s not because Damon Jones or Bruce Bowen aren’t on it. I remember watching the 2001 All-Star Game, with Allen Iverson winning the MVP that Sunday, and Stephon Marbury showed that he truly belonged to be in the game, even though the Nets were losing a lot that season. Now, 8 ½ years later neither of them are on a roster.

Marbury can do whatever he wants. The man is 32, and doing things in front of a webcam that I don’t understand. All I know is that he won’t get back into the NBA because of his recent behaviour. I’m not judging; if he wants to smoke weed, fine by me. I’m Dutch, I don’t agree on America’s strict rules on this anyway, even though I have never smoked myself. But when you’re an NBA player (even one without a contract), it might not be a smart thing to talk so openly about this online. Then again, it’s obvious that he made a clear choice to put his basketball career to rest by being so brutally honest and I truly hope he’s happy. I’m not sure though.

With Iverson it’s not because he has lost his talent, but it’s that specific talent that has brought him this far, now has become a burden because not a single team can see him fit in. An undersized guard who is a true scorer, but regarded by some as too old, or a disruptive force by others. Being mocked by ABC during the Playoffs because Chauncey Billups played great for the Nuggets, while AI wasn’t playing at all, was a misplaced joke. Apparently many thought it was hilarious, but I thought ABC should’ve been ashamed by this. With a new season on the horizon, the fan in me hopes to see Iverson wearing an NBA jersey, and hopefully playing for a title. The realist in me says those chances are very slim. He might not ever win the title, yet I’m positive he still has some good years in him. The question is: will he have the opportunity to do what he has done throughout his career; to prove everybody wrong?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Barnes to Orlando

On Sunday I posted a blog mentioning that Matt Barnes might sign with the Magic. Today we have learned that both parties agreed “in principle” that Barnes will be going to Orlando for two years.

Assuming Pietrus will start, the bench now consists of Gortat, Johnson, Bass, Redick and Barnes. Any NBA fan around the League has to agree that Orlando is clearly doing everything they can to get that Championship next season. While many NBA teams are reluctant to spend money, Rich DeVos is reaching deep into his pockets to make Dwight Howard’s supporting cast better and better, and we might see sooner than later that C.J. Watson will join Barnes in the trip to the Sunshine State. I tip my hat to the Orlando Magic organization. In fact, even though I’m a Nets fan, I think I have a Magic hat somewhere that I bought in the nineties that I can tip. Then again, that might be weird.

Anyway, this might sound I’m jumping on the bandwagon, but that’s not the case; I’m just impressed by what some teams are doing this off-season, in these tough economic times and still finding ways to improve is something we should admire. It will keep the fans interested in the NBA that will be very competitive in the ’09-’10 season. And when it comes to the Magic, will be a lot of fun to watch.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

They’re Spending This Summer in Orlando

When I take a look at the NBA as of right now, I think there are five legitimate contenders for the NBA Championship: in the East there’s Boston, Cleveland and Orlando, and in the West you have the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio. And to me the most interesting part of the off-season is that four of these teams all have significantly improved during the summer with the jury is still being out on the Lakers (Odom needs to stay). Who of these teams did the best so far? My opinion? So far it’s the Magic. But that all could change in a few days…

It was only a few weeks ago when they traded for Vince Carter, and losing three players because of it in Courtney Lee, Tony Battie, and Rafer Alston. This also meant that Hedo Turkoglo would leave, and it was widely assumed that Marcin Gortat would end up with the Dallas Mavericks. Magic GM Otis Smith insisted in the Carter deal that promising young big Ryan Anderson was included, and his play in the Summer League made Smith look like a genius. They also pried Brandon Bass away from Dallas, and did (to me) the unexpected: they matched Dallas’ offer for Gortat, paying him 34 million in the next five years. Owner Rich DeVos’ team got richer by spending a lot of money. I read that Orlando is close to signing free agent point guard C.J. Watson, a gunner and a good back-up for Jameer Nelson. Last week there was also a rumor that Matt Barnes might go to Orlando. Whether or not if it that will actually happen, the reigning Eastern Conference Champion is still the team to beat.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Grant Hill Puts his Dukes Up for Another Two Seasons

I lost some basketball stuff during the years. My favorite item is my black Scottie Pippen jersey, where did that one go? Anyway, I also used to have some VHS tapes of Michael Jordan, some random highlight videos, and Grant Hill’s video of his first few years in the League. I have no idea where they are. Maybe I can still find them in some boxes somewhere sheltered in my parents’ house; I’m not sure. Maybe I should go and look for it the next time I visit them, although videotapes are hard to stuff into a DVD player, so that could cause some problems. I loved that Grant Hill video. I remember that one of his first plays as a rookie in one Detroit’s first games of the ’94-’95 season (or was it an exhibition game?) he had this ridiculous alley-oop, immediately putting his stamp on what we though would be the next superstar in the NBA. And for a while, it did look that way. Grant was great off the court as he was on the court. He reminded me of Clyde Drexler in that way: a gentleman without a basketball, a do-everything player whenever he was on the floor. He averaged 21,6 ppg, 7,8 rpg and 6,2 apg through his first six seasons as a Piston. We all know what happened after that.

I was in Orlando for a week in 2001, and saw Hill playing against the Houston Rockets in an exhibition game. To be honest, I don’t remember much of that game, but I do remember him making a quick spin along the baseline, and it looked all so simple, effortless, reminding me how much I suck at basketball. When I try to mimic anything NBA related in the gym it looks…embarrassing. Anyway, Hill was about to start his second season with the Magic, after his first was a fiasco since he only played four games because of his bum ankle. He looked great as far the untrained eye could see, but eventually only played fourteen games in the ‘01/’02 season.
Fast forward to present time. Shaquille O’Neal praised the team doctors when he played for Phoenix, and the same thing could be said for Grant Hill (who will be 37 by the time the season starts): he played in 70 games in ‘07/’08, and 82 games last season, for just the first time in his career. He will try to do it again since he signed a new contract to stay with the team for another two seasons, while he also could’ve gone to Celtics where he would have a bigger chance to win that elusive Championship than staying in the desert.
It all depends on what Steve Kerr will do from here. Along with Hill the Suns also signed Channing Frye, and as of now they still have Jason Richardson, Amar’e Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa, a good young fella in Jared Dudley, and possibly Steve Nash (stated as the main reason why Hill decided to stay). They also did well in the Draft picking up Earl Clark, who can really blossom in Alvin Gentry’s system. If these players will still all be here after the summer, there’s still a chance the Suns will miss out on the Playoffs for a second consecutive season if they don’t get some help soon under the boards. I liked the idea of Tyson Chandler playing in Phoenix, but that might be too expensive for this franchise. We’ll just have to wait and see, because they’re far from the team that was so much fun to watch during the ’04-’05 season. But as long as Grant Hill is here, and he again and again finds ways to make some moves that still look effortless, things could turn around for Phoenix, and Grant’s season could be even longer than last season’s 82 games.

Monday, July 6, 2009

No Breaks Allowed, Part 10

The “No Breaks Allowed” posts are my way to write about all the stuff that happens around the League which finds a place in my peanut-sized gray mass (also known as my brain), and sometimes it has to come out. Why are these posts numbered? I don’t know, but might as well keep it going.

-What is Joe Dumars’ plan with Richard Hamilton now that Ben Gordon is a Piston? Will he really deal him to Utah for Carlos Boozer? It would be a great trade for the Jazz, but Detroit has a power forward that probably will be gone next summer. This will make them a major player on the free agent market next summer, but would they have enough to woo one of the big names too join them?

-Another thing I don’t understand: why oh why is Portland so desperate to sign David Lee? He will be too expensive to come off the bench, and they also have Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla and LaMarcus Aldridge. How does Lee fit into that?

-Rasheed Wallace will sign with the Celtics. Imagine him and Kevin Garnett on the court yelling and bitching at everybody not wearing green. Annoying for opponents, a dream for teammates and a nightmare for referees.

-Did Turkoglu pull a Boozer? Or isn’t that a fair assumption to make? Turkoglu is a talented player, but I think now that Portland missed out on him, it’s the best thing that could happen to them, instead of spending 55 million for 5 years on a guy who won’t be the player he is now in a few seasons.

-Good luck Trevor Ariza, you chose the wrong team at the wrong time. Ariza is a great player, I love small forwards who can do it all, but he’s a supporting player, a great fit next to guys like Kobe and Gasol. In Houston there’s…well, probably nobody next to him.

-My guess is Mitch Kupchak signed Ron Artest as a persuasion for Phil Jackson to come back. You have to keep it at least moderately interesting for Phil X. As long as Artest keeps passing the ball instead of chucking up shots after dribbling for 23 seconds, the Lakers will be fine.

-Orlando Magic, incoming players: Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson. Outgoing players: Hedo Turkoglu, Marcin Gortat, Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie. That leaves the current roster with only eight players, and if Michael Pietrus would be a starter, the bench would be made up out of Anderson, Anthony Johnson and J.J. Redick. Their needs? A third point guard as insurance, a veteran big man who can defend and rebound, and a swingman like Anthony Parker maybe? Can they even afford him?

-And finally, I’ve watched parts of the second half of the Summer League game between the Nets-Sixers against the Pacers in Orlando. Of course was the commentary done by Dante & Galante, which is basically the only reason to watch a Summer League game at all. Some excerpts of their on-air banter:

-“Roy Hibbert takes a ten foot jump shot, which is about eight feet out of his range.” (And Hibbert clanked it)
-After asking to come up with a nickname for Hibbert, one viewer e-mailed “Hungry Hungry Hibbert”, which they used for the rest of the game.
-Since the game actually went to overtime, the two gentlemen were exhilarated: “Aaaand the game goes to overtime…unfortunately.” “I have the rules here concerning overtime in Summer League Games.” “What is it, sudden death?” “It’s actually three minutes” “I wish it was just three seconds.”
-“Eddie Jordan has his head in his hands and thinking ‘just shoot me’.”
-Since they couldn’t use a certain word on air, they read a viewer’s e-mail like this: “The Summer League; where ‘blank’ happens.” They agreed with the viewer though. So did I.
-E-mail from viewer: “Dionte Christmas should ask Santa to get him some game.”
-“Hey you know what I just realized? We have a Holiday and a Christmas in the same game.” (Jrue and Dionte).

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

July: Anything is Possible

Now with the Finals behind us, and an interesting Draft to say the least, the end of June is here. Tomorrow, July 1st, might be the day that some players will say their goodbyes to their old teams, and move on to the next city for an insane amount of money. But for some players, their free agent period might be one huge deception, because some team owners aren’t willing to spend millions this summer due to the financial problems that their respective franchises are suffering from, or are holding out ‘til the summer of 2010 (speaking of deceptions, it’s entirely possible that some of the big name free agents of ’10 will sign an extension this summer for financial stability, so it could be that next summer won’t be as interesting as many people would like to think).

George Karl had this to say about franchises that are willing to endure a mediocre season, waiting on those superstars to be available: "The free-agent list (of 2010) turns you on a little more, but as a coach, I don't understand that philosophy," he said. "How do you lose to win? How does that work? (A front-office executive) says, 'We're going to lose a year or two and then . . .' But as I coach, I say, 'You're not losing, I'm losing!' I'm sure there will be some teams who have manoeuvred to try to rebuild by going through the bottom, building salary cap space and assets, though I'm not sure I believe that philosophy. I think it's a philosophy that gets coaches fired and general managers extensions." Even though he’s right, obviously moves will be made in the next couple of days / weeks / months. Thirty teams are working the phone tomorrow, maybe as soon as one minute past midnight, when the free agent market opens. A brief look at the teams as they are right now:

Atlanta Hawks: Two names: Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague. With those two (point) guards coming in, this will mean Mike Bibby will need to find a new home. I like Crawford, but don’t expect the Hawks to be any better next season because of him. As long this team is unwilling to play together, they will always be what they are right now. A Playoff round or two, and that’s it. And almost on a daily basis you can read where Josh Smith might be going, but SLAM writer and passionate Hawks fan Lang Whitaker will explain to you why that won’t happen here.

Boston Celtics: If they are really willing to part with Rajon Rondo, they must be out of their minds. Rondo almost averaged a triple-double against the Chicago Bulls in this year’s Playoffs, and played like a legitimate star for this team. He might be stubborn, he might not be well-liked by some of his teammates or even Doc Rivers, but he’s 23, he’s not too old to learn, and I hope the Celtics can see that he is the future of this aging franchise. Pierce, Allen and KG won’t be around forever, but they should give it another shot next season. With all of them healthy, they’re still a top 3 team in the East. But what will they do with Glen Davis? Take a risk and offer him big bucks, hoping he can be a part of this squad for years to come? How high is his ceiling? Will he even be better, improve his D and rebounding, or will he be the next Mike Sweetney in a couple of years?

Charlotte Bobcats: Raymond Felton will probably stay with this team, and he played better and better as the season progressed. If Michael Jordan buys the Bobcats from Bob Johnson, they don’t have to worry about their finances for a while. They made a good pick with Gerald Henderson, so the Bobcats will be fun to watch next season. Like every other team in the NBA, it wouldn’t hurt to add another big body to the roster.

Chicago Bulls: Where will Ben Gordon go? He provided quite a few highlights against the Celtics in the first round, but I can’t see him playing for any of the other teams that can afford him (Detroit, OKC, Memphis).

Cleveland Cavaliers: They got Shaq. Who’s next? Charlie Villanueva would make sense, or Rasheed Wallace, but both could be too expensive for the Cavs. They also need to improve their bench, and search for a long, athletic swingman to help out on D. The addition of O’Neal still wouldn’t help them all that much defending the Magic’s wing players. As long as they don’t spend all their money on Anderson Varejao. You gotta love the guy’s energy, but you have to wonder if Andy would be better off as a sixth man.

Dallas Mavericks: Jason Kidd could go, so they need to search for a point guard. J.J. Barea will not make you a contender. The Mavericks might have a big problem this off-season as a lot of teams in the West have been improving the last couple of seasons, while Dallas’ window of opportunity is rapidly declining.

Denver Nuggets: They don’t have to do much, besides re-signing Chris Anderson and Dahntay Jones. Smart move of acquiring Ty Lawson last Thursday. Being mentored by Chauncey Billups, the Nuggets don’t have to worry about the point guard position for years to come.

Detroit Pistons: Probably the most active team this summer, since they have some money to spend now that AI, Sheed and McDyess are off the books. But I’m very surprised that Ben Gordon’s name keeps getting linked to the Pistons, because that wouldn’t make any sense at all. Why? Richard Hamilton, that’s why. Gordon is an undersized shooting guard and not a great defender, and is not an upgrade when you already have Hamilton on your roster. With Michael Curry gone, and probably some new guys coming in, the Pistons will have an entirely new product on the floor after the summer.

Golden State Warriors: As long as they’re not willing to give up Stephen Curry, they won’t get Amar’e Stoudemire. I’m still not sure whether I was amazed or not by the fact that Golden State didn’t draft Jordan Hill. It would give them a starting line-up of Ellis, Jackson, Maggette, Hill and Biedrins. For the first time in years a starting five not solely consisting of Biedrins and a bunch of guards and small forwards. But yeah, that didn’t happen.

Houston Rockets: I feel so bad for Yao Ming. Who knows when he will return from his troubling foot injury. Wait, make that if he ever comes back at all. Houston should start over, and face the dreaded “R” word: rebuild.

Indiana Pacers: They decided not to pick up the option on Marquis Daniels, seeing Brandon Rush as their projected starting shooting guard. Larry Bird picked Tyler Hansbrough in the Draft, and is being mocked for it. Bird might have the last laugh though, since Hansbrough has impressed everyone who has seen him working out before the Draft. Oh, and free Tinsley! It has gone on long enough.

Los Angeles Clippers: With Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and hopefully a healthy Baron Davis, it can only get better, right? Right?! Now they have to figure out who will take Zach Randolph, Chris Kamen and / or Marcus Camby off their hands.

Los Angeles Lakers: Odom and Ariza, Ariza and Odom. Who will return? Hopefully both of them, because the Lakers’ bench just isn’t that good. Even NBA Championship teams have some work to do in the off-season. There are also rumors about adding Jason Kidd to the roster, but not sure if that will work financially.

Memphis Grizzlies: Hopefully, Hasheem Thabeet will be that defensive force they are hoping for. Let’s not forget, the NBA isn’t a big man’s game anymore. With Conley, Mayo, Gay, Gasol and Thabeet they certainly look good on paper, giving the few Grizzlies fans out there something to be excited about.

Miami Heat: What to do, what to do? Like any other team, the Heat has talent, just not enough. Dwyane Wade is an MVP calibre player, what he did last season was unbelievable. The rest? Not so much. Mario Chalmers is good running mate to have, and I have always been enamoured by Udonis Haslem, but the Heat has plenty work left to regain the status of being amongst the NBA elite. Will Beasley be a starter this year?

Milwaukee Bucks: RJ is gone, Charlie V. is gone, so who will score for the Bucks? Michael Redd must first show how healthy he is, Andrew Bogut is a good center, but no star, and it’s not even sure that Ramon Sessions will be there after the summer (although that is the plan). At least they brought some excitement to Milwaukee in drafting Brandon Jennings.

Minnesota Timberwolves: You can say a lot about David Kahn, but not that he isn’t active. While NY fans are probably singing “Let my Ricky go”, Rubio will either play in Europe or in Minneapolis when the new basketball season starts, and let’s not forget about Flynn, Big Al and Kevin Love. It looks like the Timberwolves are finally are building something that resembles a basketball team. Next up: a coach.

New Jersey Nets: The Nets franchise is exactly what George Karl meant: the Nets dealt Vince Carter and according Rod Thorn this gives them the flexibility to get two “max” players next summer. The Nets do have a lot young talent in Harris, Lopez, CDR, Courtney Lee and Terrence Williams. What they don’t have are people who can score (besides Harris and maybe Lopez), and sadly enough Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe are counting on Yi to get it done. As a Nets fan, I’m not so sure.

New Orleans Hornets: Not that long ago the Hornets were one of the better teams in the West, but looking at their roster now, they have to figure out how to remain competitive. Stojakovic’s play is declining, there’s no bench, and Tyson Chandler might not be with the team anymore when the new season starts as management is exploring options to trade him (again).

New York Knicks: Rubio won’t be in New York, so now the Knicks are talking with Jason Kidd, who also has an off-season home in the area. He’s a fan of Mike D’Antoni, and could make a young team better. If Kidd signs with the Knicks, you can be sure of it he will end his career without a Championship, so the Lakers would make more sense.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Ben Gordon has also been linked to the Thunder, but they already have enough fire power in Durant, Green, Westbrook, and rookie James Harden. They also traded for center B.J. Mullens on Draft Night, but they could improve their bench.

Orlando Magic: The Magic made a great move trading for Vince Carter, but you can be sure of it that Hedo Turkoglu will be gone. It’s been reported that Orlando offered him around 35 million for four years right after the Finals, but he declined. This prompted them to trade for VC, which is almost the same as saying: “See ya!” to Hedo. Now they need to re-sign Marcin Gortat, and shore up their bench a little, and they’re good to go.

Philadelphia 76’ers: The first thing the Sixers did is sign coach Eddie Jordan. What’s next? Andre Miller might be gone giving Lou Williams a chance to start, with rookie Jrue Holiday backing him up. Will they try to make it work with Elton Brand this season?

Phoenix Suns: That’s the end of the Shaqxperiment. Now if they do trade Amar’e Stoudemire, I hope they get a big man in return, because there aren’t many left in Phoenix. Another big question is: what will Steve Nash do?

Portland Trail Blazers: They might try to add Kirk Hinrich, who would be a great fit next to Brandon Roy. Other than that: don’t change a thing.

Sacramento Kings: The Kings had a solid Draft, getting Tyreke Evans, but also Omri Casspi, who might be the sleeper of the Draft.

San Antonio Spurs: And the rich get richer. Acquiring Richard Jefferson is such a smart move, and assures them of being able to contend for the Championship next season. And who do the Spurs pick up in the second round of the Draft? DeJuan Blair. Like I said: the rich get richer.

Toronto Raptors: Trouble in Toronto. You don’t know what Chris Bosh will do in 2010, Shawn Marion will be gone, and it doesn’t seem likely that there will be any big names entering Canada in the near future. Rookie DeMar DeRozan will be an exciting player, so stay positive Raptor fans!

Utah Jazz: The Jazz have a problem. Why the hell would Carlos Boozer opt out, since nobody will pay him more than what he can make next season anyway? This doesn’t make it easier for Utah, who should by all means keep Paul Millsap. Boozer will be gone next summer, and Millsap should be their power forward for years to come. With Boozer staying, it will also make it difficult to re-sign Mehmet Okur.

Washington Wizards: Will this finally be the year that everyone stays healthy? How good will Arenas be? Did they make the right move in trading away their Draft pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye? What can Flip Saunders do that Eddie Jordan couldn’t? The Wizards have more questions than answers, but who doesn’t want to see what these guys can do?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Carter Goes Home

In my years as a Nets fan, it hasn’t always been easy. I’ve been with them since 1997, and I’ve seen Jayson Williams go from a rebounding madman, to a…. well, a madman. I’ve seen Stephon Marbury as a Net, paired with then Sixer Allen Iverson, winning one of the best All-Star games in recent history in 2001. I’ve seen Jason Kidd joining the Nets, leading them to the Finals twice, and getting triple-doubles like it was nothing. Kenyon Martin, our last power forward: from rim-rocking dunks in The Meadowlands, to going all the way to the Western Conference Finals with the Nuggets only a few weeks ago. And of course Richard Jefferson. When Kidd left, I understood. It’s a business, and both player and team were ready to move on. And we got Devin Harris in return, so I couldn’t complain anyway. But trading a 20 ppg player like Jefferson for two forwards who didn’t average 20 ppg together, broke my heart. A lot of people dislike RJ, but I’m not one of them. Is he overpaid? Could be. Should he always be a sidekick to some star? I don’t know. All I know is that he’s been traded to the Spurs this week, so I’m happy he doesn’t spend the prime of his career in basketball purgatory. One final thing I want to mention about Jefferson: he really was bummed when he was traded by the Nets after spending his first seven years there. He wanted stay in New Jersey for the rest of his career, and that doesn’t happen very often when a player says that about a team like the Nets (before RJ, I think the last one to do so was Buck Williams).

After RJ was gone, luckily we still had Vince Carter, and it was time for him to show if he’s able to lead a young team, to see if he could go through a season of what some people would call “a rebuilding year”. And VC just did that without complaining, teaching the young guys, playing at least three positions throughout the season, and oh yeah, averaging 20, 5 and 5 along the way. Sure, he wanted to win a championship, but he emphasized that he was content with his current situation, and enjoyed the process of building a team, making the rookies better; doing whatever that was needed to be done to help the organization during this tough process of being perceived as mediocre.

They called him Wince Carter, but in his last four full seasons, he only missed 11 games. He’s not getting any younger, he has a huge contract, but he is also capable of making huge baskets, or making the right pass when needed, as we could state that VC is one of the best passing shooting guards in the League, and maybe one of the most unselfish players in the NBA. Sure, Vince is a great actor, limping, grimacing, staying down for a while, the man has a flair for the dramatic, just ask Toronto when he killed them by scoring a reverse alley-oop in the buzzer with 18.000 people booing him. About the incoming players: I like Courtney Lee, I don’t know how Rafer Alston will fit in coming off the bench, and Tony Battie is a nice veteran addition (however, the contracts of those two are coming off the books in 2010, so that’s why they're now with the Nets). But I really don’t know how the Nets are planning to score 85 points in a game next season.

Rod Thorn will probably draft Terrance Williams or Gerald Henderson tonight, and might do some additional dealing this summer (speaking of that: Ryan Anderson is joining VC to Orlando, which gives the Nets the Magic’s trade exception). But Vince Carter’s scoring, passing, and leadership will be missed by us Nets fans. Vince Carter will finish his career in the state he was born in, and where he also starred as a high school phenomenon. He might be a nice guy, but in Orlando he will show that nice guys don’t always finish last.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Hangover

It’s been (almost) a week since I’ve watched the Lakers win their fifteenth championship, and their fourth in the Phil Jackson / Kobe Bryant era. This means that L.A. along with San Antonio now has won eight of the last eleven championships. Only Detroit, Miami and Boston had something to say during this period. And it’s not ludicrous to think that it would be any other way in 2010 if other contenders don’t improve (Cleveland, Orlando) or get healthy (Boston).
Why haven’t I written something on “the day after”, on Monday? They had the championship parade on Wednesday, and I still hadn’t made a post on this blog. The reason is simple: like every June after the season has finished, I’m dealing with an NBA hangover. Almost eight months of checking box scores on a daily basis, watching games, reading SLAMonline, Hoopshype, refreshing pages I don’t know how many times a day, it’s all over. Sure, I still check those websites, but no more game recaps, no more checking stats, no more getting up in the middle in the night to watch a live game on TV, none of that.
At this time of year I realize how big of an influence the NBA is on my life. For instance: I would never plan a vacation during the Playoffs or Finals. Even when I’m away during the regular season, I still feel the urge to check some NBA news or scores whenever I have the opportunity. Sad? For others, maybe. I just call it a passion.

If I think back to the NBA Playoffs 2009, I think of these moments:

-Boston vs. Chicago: The best series of this year’s Playoffs. I almost ordered a Ben Gordon jersey but I realized just in time that he might be playing for another team next season. I hope Chicago’s nucleus can stay in tact, what a joy to watch, what a masterful trade in acquiring Brad Miller and John Salmons, Derrick Rose as a young star, Kirk Hinrich playing great coming off the bench, I really enjoyed it. On the other side you had Ray Allen’s amazing51 points, Glen Davis showing off that he can score, Kendrick Perkins playing tough D, and Rajon Rondo almost averaging a triple-double; this was one for the ages.

-Cleveland’s first two rounds: They just demolished Detroit and Atlanta, it was almost embarrassing.

-The Denver Nuggets: Such a fun team to watch. Shooting 3’s all over the place, athletic players blocking, dunking, running all over the place, playing with a sense of urgency behind leader Chauncey Billups all the way to the Western Conference Finals.

-Inside the NBA: How nice it was to watch Ernie, Kenny and Chuck almost daily on Still one of my favorite shows, and again, I wish that TNT had the NBA Finals, but that won’t happen anytime soon.

-Los Angeles vs. Houston: One might wonder what would’ve happened if Yao was able to play after Game 4. Houston plays great D, they didn’t miss T-Mac at all, but to go all the way without Yao might be a bit too much. Sure, they made it to a Game 7, which is an amazing feat by itself. But they just came up short in the final game. Although “short” and missing Yao might be a weird combo. To be honest, even with Yao, I think the Lakers would’ve beaten them.

-Cleveland vs. Orlando: Cleveland steamrolled all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, but their shortcomings were exposed by Orlando, which denied LeBron a second trip to the NBA Finals. I wonder what the Cavs will do this summer to strengthen their team. Will Sideshow Andy be back? Will they bring in a bigger guard? LeBron needs help.

-The two huge 3’s by Derek Fisher in Game 4: The only player who was there along with Kobe and Phil to win the first three championships, now steps up in a huge way to make a trey late in the fourth quarter, and again in OT. Now Fisher must remain a Laker ‘til the end of his playing days. And after that make him as assistant coach to start a new career with the organization.

-Seeing Kobe getting his fourth: People hate him, people love him, and it all doesn’t matter. He’s the last one standing. He’s been playing basketball non-stop for two years and still coming up huge in the Finals.

-Pau Gasol: Pau has won a lot on an international level, but in the NBA couldn’t shed the tag of being soft. He had a great Playoffs and Finals, and now he can add an NBA Championship to his résumé.

-Phil Jackson: Winning that 10th Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

No Breaks Allowed, Part 9

The “No Breaks Allowed” posts are my way to write about all the stuff that happens around the League which finds a place in my peanut-sized gray mass (also known as my brain), and sometimes it has to come out. Why are these posts numbered? I don’t know, but might as well keep it going.

-Four nights of no NBA Basketball felt like the season was already over and today it’s starting up again. I know it’s not late October, but man, I need some basketball, quick!

-Nets coach Lawrence Frank wrote a Finals preview on, and it basically came down to this: Lamar Odom should start instead of Andrew Bynum. Put Odom on Rashard Lewis (better match-up), which also will force Dwight Howard to defend Paul Gasol on the other end. Whether we like it or not, since Howard continues to get in foul trouble, he will have a very hard time staying out of it against Gasol. That’s the way the League works nowadays. Frankly, Frank is right. It seems so simple, but if it works that way is something we’ll know after tonight.

-After having watched the first three episodes of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, I realized how glad I am that Conan is back on TV. I know the Lakers are favored to win the title, but wouldn’t it be fun if Dwight would go on The Tonight Show when the Finals are over? Dwight and Conan would be comedic gold together, I’m pretty sure of that. Seeing Kareem on last night’s show was great. He hardly said anything, but seeing him standing next to graphic designer Pierre Bernard was enough for me. Hilarious, and I don’t really know why.

-I wonder what Phil Jackson will do after this season, whether he wins it all or not. I mean, the man isn’t get any younger (he’ll be 64 when the ’09-’10 season starts), and his health isn’t exactly great either. It would be sad to see him leaving the game, but I hope he writes at least one more book about his final coaching years with the Lakers. Not sure if Kobe does after “The Last Season – A Team in Search of Its soul”.

-Big chance that after this summer either Ariza, or Odom won’t return to the Lakers. Signing both of them will probably too expensive. Who would you pick?

-Most ridiculous trade rumor of the summer so far: Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo for Leandro Barbosa and Amar’e Stoudemire. That just doesn’t make any sense. At all. I wonder if anything will top this one in the next couple of months.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cleveland Cavaliers: (Orlan)D’oh!

Almost before the cameras could find him on Saturday night, LeBron was already in the tunnel towards the locker room, his head down, disappointed beyond all believe. His stats against the Magic? A ridiculous MVP-worthy 38,5 ppg, 8,3 rpg, 8,2 assists. But the most important stat he’ll remember is this one: 4-2. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not now, not this season, it was theirs to take, right? The MVP on the team with the most wins during the regular season, sweeping Detroit and Atlanta in the first two rounds, only to fall in the Eastern Conference Finals against a Magic team who exploited Cleveland’s shortcomings in an obvious manner.

It’s funny; when a team wins 66 games, you don’t hear too many people criticizing LeBron’s lack of help. Winning eight straight games in the Playoffs in a dominating fashion made a lot of basketball junkies salivating over a Kobe-LeBron match-up. But in reality, as basketball fans we all knew the Cavaliers are flawed. Let’s take a look at the core of the team (anybody not named James but appeared in most of their games):

Daniel Gibson: Gibson played great in the Playoffs…. in the previous two years. You must wonder what his role on this team can be, since he’s under contract ‘til 2013 for over 4 million a year. A shooter who only hit 39% of his shots during the regular season, shouldn’t be considered as a building block.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas: Big Z makes 11 million in the final season of his contract (he recently has stated he won’t opt out which makes sense), and turns 34 later this week. Still a good player to have around, but only played in 65 games this season, and aside from him being 7’3, he’s not an imposing defensive player nor is he a great rebounder. But as an offensive weapon he’s still valuable.
Sasha Pavlovic: Once a starter, now a benchwarmer with some DNP’s after this name. He will be in the final year of his contract for the 2009/2010 season.

Anderson Varejao: Sideshow Andy might opt out, which for the Cavs could actually be a good thing. The consensus of a basketball messageboard I sometimes check is to pay Varejao about 8 million a season, but to me, that would be a bit pricey for a player that shouldn’t be a starter in the first place. I’m not saying Varejao is a bad player, but he’s not essential in what the Cavs have been trying to do this past season. His 8 points and 7 boards can be replaced by someone who can come in a little cheaper.

Ben Wallace: As of right now, Wallace isn’t sure whether he’s coming back for the final season of his contact, which pays him 14 million, or if he will retire. If he does, he might seek a buyout, but that’s still better than the Cavs having to pay him 14 mil.

Delonte West: A skilled but also affordable player who is under contract for another two seasons, but is he the answer at the starting shooting guard position? It might be better if West would come off the bench backing up both guard positions.

Mo Williams: A lot of people are not very fond of Mo Williams right now, because of his “guarantees” and his somewhat disappointing play, but he did play great during the regular season. He’s not going anywhere in the next couple of years.

I didn’t list Wally Szczerbiak and Joe Smith because their contracts are up, and I doubt that either of them will be back. We saw less and less of Smith as the Playoffs continued, and I was surprised he didn’t have a bigger impact on this team. It might just so happen that he will return to the Thunder, since he built up a great relationship with his former teammates there. If not, Joe Smith is a player who will always find a job in the NBA. Wally’s days of receiving huge paychecks are over; I wonder what he will do now (not really).

The Cavs need a starting power forward who can score inside and grab some boards; a Carlos Boozer kind of type (not that he would return to the Cavs anyway, and the fanbase wouldn’t want to see him back in Cleveland either). Since the Cavs absolutely have no inside game besides LeBron driving to the basket, it also explains why their offense can be rather stagnant sometimes. What especially annoyed me during the regular season is that in close games LeBron is forcing up shots, and four other guys are watching him. Mike Brown must find a way to make the offense more diverse, so that the opponent doesn’t always know what’s coming at them. Sure, they won 66 games, but they aren’t there in Game 1 of the NBA Finals this Thursday. They also need to upgrade their bench, and a taller shooting guard who can help out on D. GM Danny Ferry doesn’t have to revamp the roster as a whole, but he’s got plenty of work to do in the next couple of months, with a tight budget and no trade material. Danny needs a fairy to make this all happen.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

NBA Finals Preview: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Orlando Magic

Point guard: Derek Fisher vs. Rafer Alston
I must admit that Skip surprised me in the Eastern Conference Finals. He can be somewhat flaky, but stepped up when needed; if Lewis or Turk weren’t hitting shots, Alston either hit a 3 or went to the basket. I really enjoyed watching him play most of the time. He has to go up against a savvy PG in Fisher, but he can’t guard Alston for 35-40 minutes a game. Advantage: Magic.

Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Courtney Lee
So here we have a shooting guard with a mask and a headband, good midrange game, hits a floater every now and then, he kind of reminds of a certain Piston. When you’re Courtney Lee and you played like you played in the Playoffs, even having surgery (on his face!) and coming back from that and still contribute and being one of the better defenders of the team? We can clearly state that Lee is not a rookie anymore. And Kobe will remind him he’s not a veteran either. Advantage: Lakers.

Small forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Hedo Turkoglu

Both of these players played great in their respective Conference Finals series. While Ariza has to do a little bit of everything, Turkoglu is mostly known for his offense. Turk often brings the ball up, and not only creates for himself, but also creating for his teammates, as evidenced by the 6,6 assists per game he averaged against Cleveland. Advantage: Magic.

Power forward: Pau Gasol vs. Rashard Lewis
Lewis continues to be a mismatch because of his three-point shooting. It will be interesting to see what the Lakers will do with Lewis; will they keep a body on him at all times, maybe switching Ariza or Odom on him? Will Gasol let Lewis shoot and provide help defense on Dwight Howard? But who of the Orlando Magic is going to guard Gasol? Since we’re living in a time where a Dwight Howard continues to foul out, which not always is entirely his fault, it wouldn’t make sense to put him on Pau. But Rashard Lewis can’t guard him either. Advantage: Lakers.

Center: Andrew Bynum vs. Dwight Howard
Speaking of fouls, Bynum can’t do anything right at the moment. No offense Mountain Drew. Side note: Howard shot 71,6% (48-67) from the free throw line against Cleveland. Not bad for a guy who 59,4% during the regular season. A beast: shot clocks beware. Advantage: Magic.

Michael Pietrus, who has been rather inconsistent in previous rounds, gave Orlando exactly what it needed during the Eastern Conference Finals: a scoring punch off the bench. He played very opportunistic basketball, either slashing to the rim but also hitting huge treys in the heat of the moment. Pietrus also saw a lot of minutes guarding LeBron, which is tough for any player in the League to do, but at least he made James work for some of his shots. Marcin Gortat got some extended minutes at center due to foul trouble to Howard. Anthony Johnson, as always, does his job as a solid back-up point guard. The Lakers on the other end got some great games out of Lamar Odom, filling in for Bynum as Gasol moved to the center spot, and Odom being the power forward. When he gets his rebounds and a couple of buckets on some nifty drives, the Magic won’t have an answer for that. Shannon Brown can be used as an energizer, and Luke Walton can be counted on to hit the open shot or hand out the assist. What the Lakers can get out of Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic, varies with every game. Advantage: Lakers.

Coaching: Phil Jackson vs. Stan Van Gundy
The last two games against Denver was great Lakers basketball. Kobe was used as a decoy, being more of a facilitator while waiting to pick his spots on the offensive end. Van Gundy must remind his three-point gunning team that Dwight has to get some shots, feed him the ball, and let him get into it early. You witnessed what happened in Game 6 against the Cavs: he got a couple of quick dunks early in the first quarter, and ended with 40 points. But Phil Jackson is on a mission. He must get his tenth championship, making him the most successful coach in NBA history. Advantage: Lakers.

What I’d say:
Lakers in six. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Lakers will need a game or two to adjust to Orlando’s transition 3’s, and of course, Dwight Howard. What the Lakers absolutely need to do is get Pau Gasol involved. He can shoot but also score down low, and I can’t see it happening that Howard will be on him all the time, so L.A. needs to take advantage of that. A big game by Gasol during the Finals, guarantees a win. I think Orlando will steal a game in L.A., and are difficult to beat at home. They’ve come a long way, but it looks like the Lakers finally understand what they are playing for, and will show that starting Thursday.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

NBA Playoffs, Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Orlando Magic

Point guard: Mo Williams vs. Rafer Alston
Williams and Alston have one thing in common: they’re inconsistent. Orlando will be Cleveland’s most difficult matchup so far, and it’s important for those teams that both players step up their game, and just make their shots. I know it sounds a bit simplistic, but this is what their respective teams need from them right now. Since the Cavs need slightly more offense from him than the Magic need from Alston, I’m saying: Advantage: Cavaliers.

Shooting guard: Delonte West vs. Courtney Lee
This is easy. I think it’s time to put Courtney Lee back into the starting line-up. But for now: West plays D, passes, rebounds, scores, does everything. A great player in the Cavs’ system. Advantage: Cavaliers.

Small forward: LeBron James vs. Hedo Turkoglu

Turk played great in game 7, but he’s going up against the MVP now. Let’s keep this one short, shall we? Advantage: Cavaliers

Power forward: Anderson Varejao vs. Rashard Lewis

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Lewis play against the Celtics. A true scorer, and seems to be the number one offensive option for the Magic. Varejao is a scrappy defender and a great actor, but he can’t stop Lewis. Advantage: Magic.

Center: Zydrunas Ilgauskas vs. Dwight Howard

Two completely different players. One, a crafty veteran with a deft shooting touch, the other a brute force with unmatched athleticism. Z can lure Howard out of the paint, creating space inside for LeBron to drive, but on the other end, how the hell will Z stop Howard? Advantage: Magic.

Except for Ben Wallace and Joe Smith, I have never been impressed by Cleveland’s bench, but Orlando on the other end has Michael Pietrus, Anthony Johnson, J.J, Redick and Marcin Gortat to give the starters a breather (and sometimes Tony Battie is thrown in there, too). Pietrus can score in bunches, and even finished some of the games against the Celtics. Advantage: Magic.

Coaching: Mike Brown vs. Stan Van Gundy
I’m not a big fan of either, but while watching Orlando battling Boston, I can understand Dwight Howard’s frustrations more and more. There are some decisions when the game is on the line that I simply don’t understand. And while I’m at it: Dwight Howard still doesn’t get enough touches. He only had two 20-point games against the Celtics, and the most shots he got were 16 (Game 6). Advantage: Cavaliers.

What I’d say:
Cavaliers in six. Like I said earlier: I do believe the Magic will cause some trouble, especially with the match-up problems because of Turk, Lewis and Howard, and let’s not forget a decent bench, but the Cavs have been playing at such a high level, Orlando needs more than magic to beat them in a seven-game series. Man, what a lame last sentence. Sorry ‘bout that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

NBA Playoffs, Western Conference Finals Preview: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets

Point guard: Derek Fisher vs. Chauncey Billups
We all noticed how Fisher had trouble in the previous round trying to keep up with Aaron Brooks, and Phil Jackson even put Jordan Farmar in early and often, who matches up with Brooks in terms of speed. So if Fisher had trouble trying to contain Brooks, how will he perform against Billups? Now Billups might not be as quick, but other than that, Denver’s hometown hero is one of the best players of the Playoffs so far. Advantage: Nuggets.

Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Dahntay Jones
Jones will have the task to stay on Kobe and trying to prevent that he gets hot early. But Jones isn’t the reason Bryant should be worried; guys like Nene, Kenyon Martin and the Birdman are. When Kobe starts driving to the basket, he will meet these guys around the rim. But when it comes to guards, Kobe will have his way. Advantage: Lakers.

Small forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Carmelo Anthony

Charles Barkley has said numerous times on Inside the NBA this past week that Carmelo Anthony is one the best scorers in the NBA. But also during the show they showed that Melo hasn’t played all that well against the Lakers this season. I’m a big fan of Trevor Ariza, who can do a little bit of everything, and doing it at both ends of the court. He’ll keep a hand in the face of Anthony at all time, but I think that the talented Nuggets forward is on such a roll (averaging 30ppg against Dallas, shooting 51% from the field and almost 55% from 3), and won’t be the same Melo that the Lakers saw during the regular season. Advantage: Nuggets.

Power forward: Pau Gasol vs. Kenyon Martin
Gasol has a height advantage, but like Martin says about himself: he won’t back down from nobody. I think without Martin, the Nuggets would have looked like a completely different team on the defensive end. Because not only is he a guy who is good in coming over from the weak side to block shots, he is also an annoying (and “annoying” is a good thing obviously) one-on-one defender. Gasol however, has proven to be the most consistent player for the Lakers so far. Advantage: Lakers.

Center: Andrew Bynum vs. Nene

Bynum didn’t play all that much against the Rockets, but when he did get some minutes you always notice that there’s a lot this kid can do. A little baby hook, and offensive rebound there; I think he’ll be needed against the Nuggets, who have a physical player of their own in Nene. As I stated many times (well, at least two times), when Nene has a good game, the Nuggets have a good game. Advantage: Nuggets.

Except for Lamar Odom, L.A.’s bench is as thin as my hairline. I must say that Jordan Farmar has been playing with more confidence, but the inconsistency of Farmar, or Sasha Vujacic, doesn’t help this Lakers team. I like Shannon Brown, but it’s unfair to count on him in clutch situations. The Nuggets of course are famous because of the guy who fires quicker than Viggo Mortensen in “Appaloosa”: J.R. Smith, and fan favorite Chris Andersen. Anthony Carter gets his 15-20 minutes off the bench, a reliable veteran point guard which pretty much completes the eight-man rotation George Karl is using. Advantage: Nuggets.

Coaching: Phil Jackson vs. George Karl
So far, when it comes to coaching, I always give the Lakers the advantage. You can’t argue with Jackson’s legendary status, but it must be said that his team still isn’t always playing with intensity, something that I do see watching Denver or Cleveland for that matter. I also wonder how much you can blame Jackson for this. It’s the players who have to perform on the court, and to execute the game plan. George Karl acknowledges his team got far, and it’s good to hear him say that neither he nor his team think it’s over. They aren’t getting complacent just because they got the WCF. They want to go all the way, they stay hungry, and they stay motivated. It won’t be the coaches who make the difference in this series. It’s not about X’s and O’s this round. Advantage: none.

What I’d say:
Lakers in seven. Could’ve been a coin toss really. Yes, I think the Nuggets are that good. This series has nothing to do with star power. The Lakers can’t simply rely on their talent and hope they’ll get by. It’s plain and simple: the team that wants it the most, will win it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

NBA Playoffs, Semifinals Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks

Point guard: Mo Williams vs. Mike Bibby
It might be a bit simplistic to say that the roles of these players in their respective teams, is just to shoot 3’s. But that’s what it all comes down to. Mo Williams isn’t the main facilitator of Cleveland’s offense, where Mike Bibby might have more of a leadership role on a relatively young team. Advantage: none.

Shooting guard: Delonte West vs. Joe Johnson

I always liked Joe Johnson, back when he was still a member of the fun Phoenix Suns. It’s good for him to finally have some success again these last two seasons with the Hawks. In Game 7 against the Heat Johnson was superb, shooting 3’s like he was only a few feet away from the basket. Delonte West needs to stay close to Johnson at all times, maybe they even put LeBron on him. Give Johnson an inch and he’ll score on you, Wade can tell you that. I expect him to have a better series than he had against Miami. Advantage: Hawks.

Small forward: LeBron James vs. Maurice Evans

Evans will start, but Mike Woodson already stated that Marvin Williams, as one of the team’s premier defenders, will also see a lot of minutes against James. Something tells me the freshly crowned MVP won’t have too much trouble with this. Advantage: Cavaliers.

Power forward: Anderson Varejao vs. Josh Smith
Varejao is a scrappy power forward, your typical blue collar guy. Josh Smith is built like a tank, and his athleticism is something that will get him past, or over his defenders. What Smith has to remember is that the offense shouldn’t stop with him. Pass to the open man if he has a better shot. Smith also needs to continue attacking the basket, and not settle for jumpers. Advantage: Hawks.

Center: Zydrynas Ilgauskas vs. Al Horford
How much effect will Horford’s ankle injury have on him? Z is so tall and a good shooter, which enforces Horford to use his quickness to bother him as much as possible. It wouldn’t surprise me if Zaza Pachulia comes off the bench early and often, to make this a better match-up. Advantage: Cavaliers.

Flip Murray played a lot of minutes against the Heat, but hasn’t shot as well as he did in the regular season. Still, he’s a valuable back-up who you can insert at both guard spots. Zaza Pachulia is a strong big guy, not afraid to make the hard foul, and a good rebounder. Speaking of rebounders, the Cavs have Ben Wallace on their bench, and if he’s healthy it’s an extra big body to bring in. Joe Smith is a veteran who will score a little, and always works hard. Wally Szczerbiak and Daniel Gibson were too inconsistent in the first round to be considered as a factor in this series. Advantage: Hawks.

Coaching: Mike Brown vs. Mike Woodson

What annoys me watching the Hawks play is that they sometimes forget to pass. One guy tries to create something for himself, oblivious if any of his teammates are open. You hardly see any movement out there, and that’s the reason why they needed seven games to get rid off Miami. In Game 7 we finally saw how good the Hawks can be: there were moments that the ball was going through four players and all of a sudden Johnson was wide open in the corner for a 3. That’s how they should do it, and Woodson should remind his players of that in every single time-out. The Cavs don’t have that problem. James, Williams and West are all good passers, and not reluctant to do it either. But besides offense, they’re also a strong defensive team that works together instead of counting on the individual. Brown has been to the Finals, has learned a lot in the last couple of seasons, and has his team working well together. From James to Tarence Kinsey. Advantage: Hawks.

What I’d say:

Cavaliers in five. The Hawks showed me too many times that they aren’t willing to change. Team oriented basketball is optional, not a must. This will give the Cavs a huge advantage, because if the ball isn’t moving in the Hawks’ offense, it’s not that hard to stop them. And that leaves us with LeBron James. He might endure some trouble with the athletic Hawks, but I don’t see anyone really having an effect in stopping him.

Monday, May 4, 2009

NBA Playoffs, Semifinals Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic

Point guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Rafer Alston
It must suck sometimes to be Rajon Rondo. First you get all bruised up playing those pesky Bulls for seven excruciating games, going up against Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose, who might equal the quickness you have. And only two days later the Magic is waiting for you. Going in the paint will be a daring task, with the Defensive Player of the Year waiting there to eat you alive. Guess there will be more bruises then. Alston is nowhere near the player Rose is, but Alston can score, run the floor, dish the ball, and is a great replacement for the injured Jameer Nelson. But Alston also probably wished Courtney Lee was healthy, because now he has to guard one of the better players of the playoffs in Rondo. Advantage: Celtics.

Shooting guard: Ray Allen vs. J.J. Redick

In the year 2021 J.J. will write a book about his playing career, from the slow start in his early years, to the moment which changed it all and made him realize what to do to be a good player in this League: the semifinals of the 2009 NBA Playoffs, where he had to guard one of the best shooters in the NBA. It will be called “The Chronicles of Redick”, and one chapter will entirely be dedicated to Ray Allen. Advantage: Celtics.

Small forward: Paul Pierce vs. Hedo Turkoglu

Turk shot about 36% from the field in the first round; he’s not himself right now. Stat-wise it looked like Pierce wasn’t the best Celtic against the Bulls, but few have made more clutch shots than him. His jumper from the right elbow is his bread and butter, no matter how closely he was guard by John Salmons. Turkoglu is taller than Pierce, but health is keeping him from playing up to his usual standards. Advantage: Celtics.

Power forward: Glen Davis vs. Rashard Lewis

I didn’t expect to see Big Baby average 18 points in the first round, but he did. He has a good shooting touch, and is surprisingly agile for such a big man. Rashard Lewis really came through in Game 6 and 7 against the Sixers, scoring 24 and 29 points respectively. A great shooter from every distance imaginable, but also fast enough to drive to the basket. Davis and Lewis are two completely different players, but the Magic forward must be closely guarded at all times. Advantage: Magic.

Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Dwight Howard
Like Davis, Perkins had a great series against the Bulls, being a strong defensive presence the Celtics needed after the loss of KG, and getting some buckets too (at 62%). The problem for Perkins will be that he doesn’t have any help defending Flight Howard, since Orlando has more shooters than there were in “3:10 to Yuma”. Mikki “The Snake” Moore and Brian Scalabrine won’t be very helpful in this department. Advantage: Magic.

Boston’s bench is thinner than Lindsay Lohan. They haven’t provided much against Chicago, with Starbury shooting about 25%, and Tony Allen being a non-factor on both ends of the floor. Only Eddie House made some huge shots, and Moore and Scal played decent in Game 7. Orlando’s bench was slightly better, but not much. They simply couldn’t shoot. Michael Pietrus was horrible, No-Neck Johnson is a great veteran and a smart player, but also shot below 40%, Tony Battie brought some D being subbed in for Howard, and we even saw the Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat, who had exactly one memorable moment. Ask Andre Miller and Samuel Dalembert more about this. For the sake of argument let’s expect Pietrus to play better, therefore I will say: Advantage: Magic.

Coaching: Doc Rivers vs. Stan Van Gundy

I don’t know what to think of SVG. He’s quite a character, colorful and I like his honesty, especially in dealing with media. But watching him on the sidelines even makes me a little nervous. Doc Rivers came a long way with his Boston team. From hardly winning any games only a couple of seasons ago, to winning it all. He lost Garnett, he lost Leon Powe, his bench is crap, but he still gets the most out of every player. They’re scrappy, they have that sense of urgency, and they are lead by one of the NBA’s finest young coaches (if I may still call him that). Advantage: Celtics.

What I’d say:
Magic in six. Boston almost played eight games in the first round (seven OT’s!). They had two days of rest, while Orlando finished up their first round series on Thursday (and Howard hasn’t played since last Tuesday). The Celtics are battle-tested, but do they have enough gas left in the tank to go up against Howard and his 3-point shooting crew? Some say that you forget about being tired in the playoffs, but again, the Celtics have played so many minutes, it must have had an impact or some sort of lingering effect on them. They’re tough as nails and as a collective unit still better defensively than the Magic, despite the shot blocking prowess of Dwight Howard. But can they stop him? If Howard dominates from the start, and Rashard Lewis doesn’t wait for four games to finally be the effective scorer that he is, Boston’s season will end here.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

NBA Playoffs, Semifinals Preview: Denver Nuggets vs. Dallas Mavericks

Point guard: Chauncey Billups vs. Jason Kidd
Not that long ago these two were playing against each other in the East, a couple of years younger, still considered to be amongst the NBA elite. Kidd is still leading his team on the break, and Billups has rescued the Nuggets for being a playoff afterthought, to a possible contender. Kidd will have long nights in trying to contain him. Advantage: Nuggets.

Shooting guard: Dahntay Jones vs. J.J. Barea
Antoine Wright was the starter for Dallas during the regular season, but the Rick Carlisle changed that. Carlisle believed that starting Barea brought an extra scoring punch to the starting line-up, a gamble you can take when you have Jason Terry on your bench. Jones is brought for his D, so he has to run around chasing Barea or the Jet all night long. Advantage: Mavericks.

Small forward: Carmelo Anthony vs. Josh Howard
If it wasn’t for Josh Howard, would the Mavericks be in the playoffs right now? Howard may not be completely healthy, but he certainly didn’t show any signs of slowing down against the Spurs. Melo is so well-rounded offensively, that it’s difficult to stop him, and also averaged 5 assists per game against San Antonio, while still getting his points. Tough call, because they are equally important to their respective teams. Advantage: Nuggets.

Power forward: Kenyon Martin vs. Dirk Nowitzki

Nowitzki clearly has a height advantage over Martin, but the latter is a very aggressive defender, something Dirk doesn’t always cope well with. Nowitzki has unlimited range, so he can stretch the Nuggets’ D by opening up the lane for guys like Terry and Barea. I’m impressed with Martin’s play and always have a soft spot for him since I’m a Nets fan, but he’ll have his hands full with Nowitzki. Advantage: Mavericks.

Center: Nene vs. Erick Dampier.
Damp is huge, a good rebounder and will block a couple of shots every game. Nene played decent against the Spurs, but it would be very welcome if he stays on the court a bit longer, avoiding foul trouble. Advantage: Nuggets.

On one bench you have the Sixth Man of the Year in Jason Terry, along with Antoine Wright, and the highly entertaining Ryan Hollins. On the other bench you have two players named J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen. I’m a fan of these guys, so I’ll keep it short and simple: Advantage: Nuggets.

Coaching: George Karl vs. Rick Carlisle
Carlisle maybe hasn’t been around as long as Karl has, but his coaching career has been quite successful so far. Karl’s team has the chance to go a long way, but to choose between either of them in this series is pointless. Advantage: none.

What I’d Say:
Nuggets in seven. Both the Nuggets and Mavericks play a team-oriented style of basketball, but Denver is better defensively. Also, both teams had a relatively “easy” first round, so the wear and tear of the playoffs shouldn’t bother them too much. The Nuggets are playing at such a high level right now, which makes me wonder if the Mavericks can find ways to stop all those guys who can easily put up 20 points if needed: Melo, Billups, Nene, Smith, and even Martin can all score. Good luck with that.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

NBA Playoffs, Semifinals Preview: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets

Point guard: Derek Fisher vs. Aaron Brooks
So on one side you have a veteran who has seen it all, on the other side you have a youngster who has been pushed into the starting line-up and is playing with great confidence. I do think that Brooks can be bit trigger-happy sometimes, not always taking the advantage of the opportunities that present themselves when playing with a giant like Yao Ming. He might be a lot faster than Fisher, but I’m going with veteran leadership when it comes to winning playoff rounds. Advantage: Lakers.

Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Ron Artest

Artest doesn’t really have a position, since he’s bulky enough to play power forward in the right situation, crafty enough to play small forward, but often he fills the shooting guard role for the Rockets. This can be a good and a bad thing. He has a questionable shot selection, but if there’s one thing you can always count on, it’s his defense. He is so strong, but we must realize he’s playing against Kobe Bryant here. Although Kobe hasn’t had a great series against the Jazz, I think a premium defender like Artest will bring out the best of Kobe. Advantage: Lakers.

Small forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Shane Battier
Who did play great against the Jazz was Trevor Ariza. It’s nice to have someone like the HighRiza who is known for his defense, but also throws down a nasty reverse like it’s nothing and is dangerous from the 3-point line. Battier’s role on the Rockets is all about defense. He can shoot with range, but will also be a factor in containing Bryant. Ariza however is a player you should keep your eye on; they can’t leave him unguarded. Advantage: Lakers.

Power forward: Pau Gasol vs. Luis Scola
Beards. Long hair. Both are also star players outside of the NBA. Gasol is a finesse player, Scola more of a banger with a soft shooting touch. But like I said in the preview of the Lakers-Jazz series; Gasol’s height is a problem on both ends of the floor. Scola is a skilled defender, who might try to push Gasol away from the basket, but then what? Gasol can shoot, and is so long it will be hard for Scola to keep Gasol from getting his points. Advantage: Lakers.

Center: Andrew Bynum vs. Yao Ming
You never know what Phil Jackson will do, but it seems like a smart move to put a big body on the NBA’s biggest body and best center: Yao Ming. That means Lamar Odom goes back to the bench, and Mountain Drew Bynum gets his wish: playing Yao Ming in the playoffs. Yao will have a difficult time playing against two 7-footers, but same thing goes the other way around: the Lakers will a hard time containing Yao. Advantage: Rockets.

This will be a problem for the Rockets. Except for Von Wafer, they don’t have anyone on their bench who can add some firepower, something that is desperately needed against the Lakers, who basically won against the Jazz by simply outscoring them, instead of playing great D. The Lakers have Lamar Odom on their bench, which almost isn’t fair to any opponent. He had a great first round scoring nearly 18 ppg and grabbing 11 boards per game too. All that while shooting 62% from the field. Advantage: Lakers.

Coaching: Phil Jackson vs. Rick Adelman

Adelman is one of the best coaches in the game; Jackson is the best coach in the NBA. Jackson needs to get his team play better defense, because in the playoffs they can’t keep on coasting through every game. But if the Lakers regain their focus and truly commit in stopping their opponents, they will win it all. Advantage: Lakers.

What I’d say:
Lakers in six. It’s a great match-up; offense vs. defense. If you would look at the regular season, you would see that all four games were won by L.A. with an average margin of 13 points. The Rockets can’t put enough points on the board to keep up with the Lakers, and like I said before: if the Lakers improve their D, they shouldn’t give the Rockets a chance to stretch it to seven games.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Where Amazing Happens: The Detroit Pistons Have Lost Their Relevance

How many eyes
Have seen their dream
How many arms
Have felt their dream
How many hearts, oh darlin'
Have felt their world stand still

“If I Should Die Tonight” – Marvin Gaye

We’re talking Motown here, and the Pistons’ season is officially over; they died Sunday Afternoon on their own home floor. Everybody in The Palace knew from the beginning they wouldn’t survive Game 4 when King James finished a breakaway windmill jam in the first quarter. In fact, Pistons fans already lost their pride and joy and gave up on the season before Game 4, since a lot of tickets for the home game were actually being sold to Cleveland season ticket holders. I’ve been following the League for almost two decades now, but I’ve never heard of anything like that before. I’m not going to write a recap of the game, if you saw the game, you know that Joe Dumars will have a lot of work to do in the next couple months.

The contracts of Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace, and Walter Hermann are all coming off the books this summer. Antonio McDyess made it clear that he wasn’t sure what to do next, because he wants to play for a contender. So unless something drastic happens, the Pistons aren’t amongst the elite next season. McDyess or Wallace would be a great fit in either Cleveland (assuming Sideshow Varejao will be a goner), or San Antonio. The latter might not happen, since it would make the Spurs a really old group of guys. You have to wonder what Sheed wants at this point of his career. He has always made big bucks, but will he accept a Joe Smith kind of role for the veteran minimum in order to win a championship? Will he still demand a long-term contract paying a large amount of money? Would he be willing to help out a young team desperately searching for a power forward (Nets)? We’ll have to wait and see what this stubborn kind of fellow will do next.

Joe Dumars has to build a team around Rodney Stuckey, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince. I like Arron Afflalo, Will Bynum and Jason Maxiell, and if they are able to keep them all; it would set a nice basis to work with. Next is trying to acquire a big man via trades or fee agency, and the first player that comes to mind is Chris Bosh. If it doesn’t happen in 2009, they should try to get him in 2010. The question is: do Hamilton and Prince have the patience to play through a season of mediocrity? The Pistons have a lot of questions coming for them that need to be answered, and one thing is for sure: a different line-up will enter the floor at the beginning of next season. Many eyes have seen their dream in the past five years, now it’s time for Joe Dumars to get back to reality, because his team is in trouble man.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

NBA Playoffs, First Round Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (4) vs. Dallas Mavericks (5)

Point guard: Steve Blake vs. Aaron Brooks
Both play well within their systems, but neither are accounted on being the X-factor for their teams. Advantage: none.

Shooting guard: Brandon Roy vs. Ron Artest

It could also be Roy vs., Battier, but for the sake of argument we’ll keep it at Roy vs. Artest. We all know that Roy is a star, and if he continues to play like this, he will be one of the best players in Blazer history. A great ball-handler and he can score against anyone. But can Roy also do it against Artest? And if Artest takes a break, Houston will switch Battier on to him. Tiring. Besides being a great defender, Artest is now the main scoring option next to Yao Ming. Artest will still have some bad shooting nights, but is one of the few stars in this League playing at a high level on both ends of the court. However, I’m a big fan of Roy, and I believe that this match-up will bring out the best of him. Advantage: Blazers.

Small forward: Nicolas Batum vs. Shane Battier

Batum doesn’t play a whole lot of minutes before either Fernandez or Outlaw being subbed in, but the young guy can learn some tricks from the veteran. Advantage: Rockets.

Power forward: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Luis Scola
Aldridge keeps getting better and better, and will have to bring it all out against Scola, a talented and physical player who just won’t give up. Aldridge has some inches over Scola, and is well-rounded offensively so I believe he’s able to deal with the constant pressure. Advantage: Blazers.

Center: Joel Przybilla vs. Yao Ming
There are only a handful of legitimate seven-foot centers in the NBA nowadays, and there are three of them in this series. Obviously Yao is by far the better player here, but at least Przybilla can make it Yao a little bit more difficult, being the long defensive player that he is. Advantage: Rockets.

Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez often play starter minutes, and when Przybilla comes out, Greg Oden comes in. As a back-up point guard you can insert Sergio Rodriguez. Not much of a defender, but a superb passer. I hope to see Jerryd Bayless getting some playing time too. And if all of that doesn’t work, they even have Channing Frye at the end of the bench. There aren’t many teams who are this deep. Von Wafer won’t make Houston feel safer. Advantage: Blazers.

Coaching: Nate McMillan vs. Rick Adelman
Adelman has done a splendid job with the Rockets this season, but I’m even more impressed with what McMillan has done with the Blazers. They’re a loose bunch in the locker room, but these young guys are all business on the floor. They are confident and play at both ends of the floor, while sharing the ball on offense instead of padding up their own numbers. A joy to watch. Advantage: Blazers.

What I’d say:
Blazers in seven. The Rockets are strong defensively, but don’t have a ten-man roster like the Blazers do. I think Houston is one player away from being a serious contender, but it’s not that one player who’s injured right now.

NBA Playoffs, First Round Preview: San Antonio Spurs (3) vs. Dallas Mavericks (6)

Point guard: Tony Parker vs. Jason Kidd
As a Nets fan I always enjoy watching Kidd on the court. But I also know that Kidd isn’t a kid anymore, and lost some of his quickness on D. And “quickness” is exactly what Parker does have. A lot. A whole lot. Advantage: Spurs

Shooting guard: Roger Mason jr. vs. Antoine Wright

When Wright was with the Nets, I didn’t envision him being a starting shooting guard for a playoff team, but that shows you what I know. He’s a good defender and will have to stay close to Roger Mason jr.. With Ginobili out, Mason jr. is expected to score more, and being the deadly 3-point shooter that he is, he has to take the burden off Parker and Duncan’s shoulders and become that efficient third scorer which he showed during the regular season he can be. Advantage: Spurs

Small forward: Michael Finley vs. Josh Howard

Finley turned 35 last month, played in 81 games this season, and started 77 of ‘em. He hit some buzzer-beaters too, so you couldn’t ask anything more of him. And now he has to go up against Josh Howard, who showed his importance when he came back from injury at the end of the season. Howard’s versatility gave Dallas the boost it so desperately needed. Advantage: Mavericks.

Power forward: Tim Duncan vs. Dirk Nowitzki
You have to wonder how much trouble Duncan’s knees are causing him. San Antonio needs him to be able to play at his usual high level, especially dealing with such a great scorer like Nowitzki. Duncan is one of the best power forwards the League has ever seen, but Dirk will always get his points, even though he’s shooting less 3’s this season. Interesting match-up. Advantage: Spurs.

Center: Matt Bonner vs. Erick Dampier
Who could’ve guessed that The Red Rocket would be starting center of the Spurs this season? Bonner can shoot, Damp can rebound. Advantage: none.

No Manu, but certainly enough big men on the bench of San Antonio, with Kurt Thomas, Drew Gooden and Fabricio Oberto all capable of putting up some quality minutes. It also opened up some playing time for Bruce Bowen, who’s probably in his fifties by now, but still wouldn’t complain if he has to run after Josh Howard all night. Expect to see Ime Udoka getting some minutes too. The Mavs have some firepower in J.J. Barea and even more important, Jason Terry. James Singleton and Brandon Bass both bring some extra energy off the bench, whether it’s by a dunk or by a hustle play. Advantage: Mavericks.

Coaching: Gregg Popovich vs. Rick Carlisle

Pop has won four championships, and still makes sure his team stays competitive. He’s been doing that for the last dozen years, so expect no difference in that. Carlisle had a pretty decent season with Dallas, and throughout his career he always got the most out of teams who you might not expect to go really far. But this time he has to do it against the Spurs. Advantage: Spurs.

What I’d say:
Spurs in seven. The loss of Ginobili is a big one, and like I already wrote: how is Duncan feeling? But you can never count the Spurs out. This will be a long series, with the San Antonio winning it in the deciding game.

NBA Playoffs, First Round Preview: Denver Nuggets (2) vs. New Orleans Hornets (7)

Point guard: Chauncey Billups vs. Chris Paul
Now this is a match-up I’d like to see. The arrival of Chauncey Billups is the primary reason that the Nuggets finished second in the West. And now they’re meeting a Hornets team with a season behind them that was kind of a letdown. Now a lot can be said about Billups, but Chris Paul has had a season which could land him a top 3 spot in the MVP race. Even with all the injuries happening to the Hornets this season, CP3 carried them from beginning to end. Advantage: Hornets.

Shooting guard: Dahntay Jones vs. Rasual Butler
Jones is athletic, a pretty good defensive player, but plays less than 20 mpg. Rasual Butler is a 3-point shooter who accidentally took the starting spot by surprise, and had a great season appearing in all 82 games. A perfect complimentary player next to Paul. Advantage: Hornets.

Small forward: Carmelo Anthony vs. Peja Stojakovic
Stojakovic has had a difficult season, and isn’t the shooter he once was. Anthony on the other hand might not have had his best season statistically, but from his team’s point of view, he performed better than ever. Melo remains one of the most dangerous small forwards in the L, and since Peja isn’t the best defender out there, the Hornets will have a difficult time containing him. Advantage: Nuggets.

Power forward: Kenyon Martin vs. David West

West has been playing through nagging injuries, and Martin had his usual fair share of pains and aches too. Now going into the playoffs, Martin will have his hands full with West. David West is a power forward who can score from the inside, but also takes the jumpshot if his man gives him that room. Advantage: Hornets.

Center: Nene vs. Tyson Chandler

Two totally different players. Nene is a banger, who has dunked on more grills than George Foreman could ever sell. Chandler is a shot blocker, rebounder and scores about 99% of his points as the receiving end when Paul throws him a lob. Nene had a strong season, and I don’t believe he will stop now. Advantage: Nuggets.

J.R. Smith, Birdman Anderson. That sums it up. Advantage: Nuggets.

Coaching: George Karl vs. Byron Scott
Both did a fine job this year. Karl’s team finally defends but that also has a lot to do with the arrival of hometown hero Chauncey Billups. Scott kept his team in the running all season long despite all the injuries and a weak bench. Advantage: none.

What I’d say:

Nuggets in six. The Hornets have a great starting five, but that’s not enough.

NBA Playoffs, First Round Preview: Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. Utah Jazz (8)

Point guard: Derek Fisher vs. Deron Williams
The mentor vs. the student. They’ve played together during Fisher’s brief time in Utah, but since then Williams has become one of the top point guards in the nation. There’s not much Williams can’t do offensively. He’s strong, can shoot from range, but going to the rim will be somewhat more of an adventure with Gasol and Bynum waiting for him. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Kobe or Trevor Ariza are asked to defend Williams on some plays. Williams must find a way to get it done, because he’s the Miles Davis of this Jazz ensemble. Advantage: Jazz.

Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Ronnie Brewer
Good luck, Ronnie. Advantage: Lakers.

Small forward: Trevor Ariza vs. C.J. Miles

Actually, Miles is listed day-to-day because of a dislocated finger. Miles doesn’t give the Jazz all that much on either end of the floor, while Ariza is mostly known for his defensive prowess. Ariza can shoot the 3-pointer if he’s open and is a strong finisher around the rim. Advantage: Lakers.

Power forward: Pau Gasol vs. Carlos Boozer
Boozer isn’t entirely back. He’s not 100% healthy and Pau Gasol is. Both are very skilled players, but Gasol’s height could cause some problems for Boozer on both ends of the floor. Advantage: Lakers.

Center: Andrew Bynum vs. Mehmet Okur
Bynum is back, still huge and already has put up some impressive numbers during the final games of the regular season. Phil Jackson still is critical of Bynum’s defense, but his presence alone changes a lot. Okur’s shooting touch will lure Bynum out of the paint, widening up the lane for Utah’s guards or wings to penetrate. It’s a tough choice. Advantage: Lakers.

The Jazz have in Paul Millsap a power forward on the bench who proved that he could start on most teams, probably as early as next season for his current team. Then you have Kyle Korver, a 3-point gunner, and the do-everything Andrei Kirilenko, who could see a lot of minutes against Kobe. The Lakers can bring in Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and recently Shannon Brown got some more minutes over Jordan Farmar. And let’s not forget about The Machine, Sasha Vujacic. Aside from Brown, these guys were all here last season, so they know what it takes to win. Advantage: Lakers.

Coaching: Phil Jackson vs. Jerry Sloan

This seems unfair to Sloan, but if I have to choose between coaches and one of them has won nine championships, who do you think I would choose? That’s right. Advantage: Lakers.

What I’d Say:
Lakers is five. Utah will give them a brief scare, but the Lakers won’t flinch. The Jazz aren’t adept defensively to contain all of L.A.’s fire power.

NBA Playoffs, First Round Preview: Atlanta Hawks (4) vs. Miami Heat (5)

Point guard: Mike Bibby vs. Mario Chalmers
The Heat finally solved their point guard problem by drafting Mario Chalmers, the perfect running mate alongside Dwyane Wade. Mike Bibby is a seasoned veteran with a lot of playoff experience during his days as a King. He loves the 3-pointer, but isn’t only a trigger-happy point guard. With a player like Josh Smith on the break, be sure Bibby gets his assists too. Bibby does have to work on defense though. Chalmers might have quickness, but Bibby is far from done. Advantage: Hawks.

Shooting guard: Joe Johnson vs. Dwyane Wade
You have one of the leading candidates for the MVP award against another top five shooting guard, because Johnson certainly is no slouch either. But despite his height advantage, his deft 3-point shooting and more than decent ball-handling skills, Johnson won’t be able to keep Wade from getting what he wants. It will be interesting to see how the Hawks will stop him. Advantage: Heat.

Small forward: Maurice Evans vs. Jamario Moon

Marvin Williams is back, but from what I know he’s coming off the bench, so it’s Moon against Evans I suppose. Evans is known as a strong guard / forward and will be asked to help out on Wade. Moon is a somewhat skinny über-athletic forward which gives the Heat another player to run with on the break. But still: Advantage: Hawks.

Power forward: Josh Smith vs. Udonis Haslem

Haslem returns from his thumb injury and is the ideal power forward for the Heat. He can shoot, he can rebound and is a good defender, which sorely is needed against the talented Josh Smith. My problem with Smith is that he thinks he’s a shooter sometimes, something that must drive coach Mike Woodson crazy. Smith actually took a step back since last season, but for this series: Advantage: Hawks.

Center: Al Horford vs. Jermaine O’Neal

Some time ago I said about Horford that as he goes, the Hawks go. A good rebounder who also can score, to me has the edge over Jermaine O’Neal. O’Neal has showed some flashes of his former self this past season, but his health remains a concern. I’m going with the young buck. Advantage: Hawks.

Flip Murray has played a lot this season, and earned it too. Marvin Williams is finally back from injury, so when it comes to scoring the Hawks don’t really have letdown by putting them in. When it comes to big men on this roster, all you have is Al Horford, because I don’t expect Zaza Pachulia to have a huge impact coming in (stating the obvious here). The Heat’s Daequan Cook is a shooter but doing that under 40%. Luckily they also have James Jones who can hit the trey, and Jamaal Magloire to make the hard foul. But the key player here is of course Michael Beasley. The rookie is having a fine season, and the Heat made a great decision bringing him off the bench. The Hawks don’t have answer for that. Advantage: Heat.

Coaching: Mike Woodson vs. Eric Spoelstra
For a rookie coach, Spoelstra got the most out of his team this season. The Heat kept playing well despite a young roster, injuries and mid-season trades. That’s not to take away credit from Woodson, but I’m going with the rook here: Advantage: Heat

What I’d Say:
Heat in seven. The Hawks are a good team, and they will push the Heat to the brink of elimination, like they did with the Celtics last season. But with Wade’s flair for the dramatic, I expect some huge games of him in the first round.