Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Final Day of 2008 – Reflections on the Eastern Conference

Ah yes. The last day of the year. A moment of reflection for some, a day for many to make plans for the year ahead of us. Lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, stop making Heineken / Budweiser / Miller / whoever so rich, blablabla, all that crap to make our lives more miserable. I’ll go with “reflection” this time, no plans for 2009 so far. Well, not really anyway, but that’s something for another time. Over one-third of the season has been played, so let’s take a brief look where all the 30 teams stand so far.

Records and standings are through December 30.

1. Boston Celtics (28-5): Who doesn’t love the holidays? Apparently, the Celtics don’t. They lost three of their last four games since Christmas, losing to the Lakers, Warriors and a Roy-less Blazers team. Their next three games will be against New York, Washington and Charlotte, anything is possible.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (28-5): My thoughts? I think the Cavs are one Joe Smith away from taking the number one spot in the East.

3. Orlando Magic (24-7): Is Jameer Nelson overachieving, or finally showing what he’s worth? Flight Howard is so much of a beast, it’s a beauty to watch him play, and Rashard Lewis is quietly putting up the numbers once again. Fun team to watch, and watch out if Hedo finally breaks out of his season-long shooting slump.

4. Atlanta Hawks (21-10): The young Hawks have one thing one their mind: 50 wins. Since pushing the Celtics to seven games last spring, they believe they can beat anybody. And they might be right. Wait, they’ve got another thing on their mind: Joe Johnson is an all-star. Coaches, do your work.

5. Detroit Pistons (18-11): The Pistons have now won four in a row, which was needed to prove to their loyal fanbase that the AI can help this team, but for how long? Coach Curry even admits that playing with two, instead of three guards, works out better for them defensively. Their best line-up might be Stuckey, Hamilton, Prince, Johnson / Maxiell / McDyess, and Rasheed Wallace. I know, call me mr. Obvious, but AI coming off the bench? Can’t see it happening.

6. Miami Heat (17-13): Who is Miami’s most important player besides Dwyane Wade this season? If you’re answer isn’t Udonis Haslem, you’re wrong. Of course Wade is the biggest reason that they are now sixth in the East, but without Haslem, they wouldn’t even be in the top eight.

7. New Jersey (15-16): I know, I don’t believe it either. If the Nets played 82 games on the road, they would be amongst the East elite. I might be reaching here, but take a look at these numbers: they are 10-4 on the road, but only 5-12 at home. And if you haven’t already read this somewhere: this is a record.The Nets are the only team in the history of the NBA to be 5 games over .500 on the road, and 5 games under .500 at home. Certainly won’t help attendance, which was already dreadful.

8. Milwaukee Bucks (15-17): On paper, the Bucks have a very good roster, but their record doesn’t show for it (yet). But if this will be a playoff season, their record doesn’t matter anymore, and they could be a tough team to face in the first round.

9. Chicago Bulls (14-17): An implosion waiting to happen. Derrick Rose is playing at such a high level, it’s almost unavoidable for a rookie to go through some rough times too. The question is: who will carry this once proud franchise when that happens? Luol Deng? Maybe when he’s healthy. Ben Gordon? Dude’s still waiting for that big contract, and it might not be in Chicago. Tyrus Thomas is inconsistent, Noah is not doing enough, Larry Hughes is (surprise!) unhappy with his role coming off the bench, and not a single big man on this roster can post up and score if his name isn’t Drew Gooden, so they need to do something before the trading deadline. Rumors of bringing Brad Miller back might not be a bad idea.

10. Philadelphia 76’ers (12-18): Already one of the most disappointing teams of this season, just behind the Raptors and Clippers, and then the Sixers lost Elton Brand. Since they played really well without Brand last season, let’s see what they can do. Firing Maurice Cheeks really helped, didn’t it?

11. New York Knicks (12-18): Hey, they could be worse. They’re actually fun to watch, so that’s at least one thing Mike D’Antoni has accomplished. Nate Robison is still making a lot of boneheaded plays, no matter how many points he puts up, and he’s not alone. They can’t defend anyone, but The only player who really impressed me so far is Chris Duhon. He’s carrying that team so far, doing so without a back-up.

12. Toronto Raptors (12-19): There’s hardly any help from the bench, Jermaine O’Neal can play great in one game, completely disappear in the other, the same thing goes for Bargs, and it still feels like Chris Bosh is still all alone in Canada whenever I see the Raptors play. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are some roster moves being made come February.

13. Charlotte Bobcats (11-21): I really don’t know what to think of this team. Haven’t seen them play yet, but at least Boris Diaw is performing very well. Same goes for Gerald Wallace, when healthy. Will the both of them still be here in two months?

14. Indiana Pacers (10-21): No one expected the Pacers to win much this season, as they try to assemble a decent team around young star Danny Granger. By the way: will Jamaal Tinsley ever get traded? Place your bets now!

15. Washington Wizards (6-21): Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler are once again carrying the load, with both of them putting up All-Star numbers. Will Arenas ever get back? And when will Eddie Jordan be back into the League? Dude got screwed.

(Tomorrow we'll take a look at the the Western Conference)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Renaissance

A year ago Jason Kidd was one unhappy man, and when talking about his own team he “didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel”. When the Nets had a game against the Knicks in December ’08, Kidd didn’t play because he suffered from a migraine. This was remarkable, because in the seven years that I’ve been following him more closely than any other player in the League, he hasn’t missed a single game because of that. So when your team captain and franchise saviour is trying to send a message to the organization by sitting out a game, it was time for a change. Now in no way will I be hateful towards Jason Kidd, and I’m certainly not writing him off. I have too much respect for what he has done: finally the team was no longer the laughingstock in the NBA when he arrived; finally the Knicks had to pay attention to what was happening at the other side of the Hudson River. He brought my team to the Finals, not once, but twice, racking up triple-doubles so often that legendary nicknames like “Magic” and “The Big O” were mentioned whenever someone talked about Kidd. I hope he’s happy in his current situation, and I will keep rooting for him. But after his departure I was left without a favorite player. Now what?

There are several players that I enjoy watching more than others, so in that way I’m no different than the average fan. Seeing a Dwight Howard block, a Dwyane Wade traffic jam, a Chris Paul no-look dime or a LeBron James alley-oop gets me out of my seat too. But to me your favorite player, the one whose jersey you would rock with pride if you would go to a game, should be on your favorite team. Back when I was still rooting for the Bulls, obviously MJ was the man; he was the first pro ballplayer I heard of. But Scottie Pippen was my guy. He could do it all: a great defender, ball handler, could go up for a graceful scoop or a forceful dunk. Pippen made it look easy. I even had a black Pippen jersey (I actually liked those black jerseys they had for while – not with the red pinstripes though. I still wonder where it is. I think it got lost since I moved around a couple of times in the last 12 years).

When the Bulls’ president Jerry Reinsdorf and then GM Jerry Krause decided to dismantle the championship team back in ’98, and Pippen left to play for Houston, what could I do? Luckily I started following the Nets around that time, and they had the pale white rider: Keith Van Horn. Van Horn could really play, but for some reason it never really panned out for him in his career (then again, he’s still getting paid for doing nothing, which you could also call my dream job). I also was checking out what the Knicks were doing those years, with Latrell Sprewell being the man back then. However, when you were a Bulls fan at first, became a Nets fan after that, there’s no way you can switch to the Knicks (looking back I’m glad I let the Knicks go).

After bouncing around a couple of years, not knowing who would be “the” player for me, Jason Kidd was traded to the Nets, and my fandom was safe for the next seven years. Until February 13, 2008 when Kidd was traded to Dallas, along with Antoine Wright and Malik Allen in exchange for Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop and Maurice Ager. Read: Kidd for Harris. When Devin Harris finally made his debut against the Milwaukee Bucks, there were plenty of reasons to still have some hope for this Nets team. Harris penetrated at will, showing off his speed, passing to his new teammates, and had a wonderful one-handed dunk over Andrew Bogut. The few people who actually showed up at the IZOD gave him a standing ovation, because already they were convinced that this trade was really for the better. But a point guard being traded in the middle of the season, adapting to 11 new guys isn’t something you can get used to in one game. And while Harris occasionally showed what he could do on the court, it wasn’t until this season that he was finally playing relaxed out there. And with “relaxed” I mean doing what he does best, going 100 mph, twisting and twirling like the Tasmanian Devil, which makes Harris New Jersey’s Devil. He’s daring opposing point guards to stop him while they are back pedalling hoping that if he blows by them, some big guy will swap Harris’ shot away. But those logs can only send him to the free throw line, where Harris is getting many of his 24 points per game every night. Devin is becoming “The Man” now in Jersey, or should we say “The Dude”? (I am so hip hop)

Whatever is going to happen in two years, wherever the Nets will play or which star might or might not (expect the latter) come over, the Nets got their own star. A franchise left for dead by many journalists in their season previews (even I had doubts, but I always had hope), Devin Harris has brought them back to life; a renaissance is going on in New Jersey, because Devin is Gettin’ Up.

Friday, November 21, 2008

No Breaks Allowed, Part 6

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 has to come out. And why are these posts numbered? I don’t know, but might as well keep it going.

-So now the Warriors are playing with two shooting guards, two small forwards and a center? This is not Rucker Park, Nellie! But gotta admit; the Warriors still have an entertaining team. If I may add one more thing: Brendan Wright must play.

-Speaking of the Warriors, wouldn’t it be cool if Anthony Morrow plays with no. 2 instead of 22? Get it? Yeah, I know, I’m just not that funny.

-Hi Kiki and Rod, here’s a word of advice. Please don’t trade for Adam Morrison. Or Matt Carroll. We need a guy who can score about 15 or 20 points every night next to VC and Devin Harris. Wait, Charlotte is also trying to move Gerald Wallace? Let’s talk.

-Baron Davis is back. Marcus Camby is back, but enough with the naming names here, and enough with all the losing. I understand that being a good team doesn’t happen overnight, and that you should be patient. But there’s no reason for the Clippers should to suck as much as they do now. I wish Baron was still a Warrior. In fact, Stephen Jackson said something like this last week too. And maybe Baron Davis secretly longs for those days too, but hey, at least he’s home right?

-Since Russia is also dealing with a financial crisis, a lot of teams over there stopped paying their players. Boki Nachbar, Carlos Delfino and Nenad Krstic are in a horrible situation right now, because they don’t get a single Ruble for their actions. Somewhere, David Stern is smiling.

-To Gilbert Arenas: You say a lot of stuff, and usually it’s quite amusing. However, what you said Thursday was embarrassing: “….if this is one of those years where we don’t make the playoffs or we finish in last place … that’s what happened to San Antonio and that’s how they got Tim Duncan and look at them now … and that’s for the better.” That’s not very fair to your teammates, is it? Hang in there Caron and Antawn, I’m sure Agent Zero didn’t mean it like that. At least Gil said he’ll be “good to go” by January 1st. Not that the Wizards play that day, neither does any other team in the League, but it’s something to look forward to.

-Hi Kiki and Rod, it’s me again. I’m about to lose my job within two or three months because the company I work for is going down like the Atlanta Hawks in the standings. My schedule is free for the next six months; maybe I can work as a Lawrence Frank stunt-double?

-Since the League is constantly fining or suspending every player who shows any kind of emotion or rubs the NBA the wrong way, I’m surprised that Rajon Rondo hasn’t been fined yet for always wearing his headband with the NBA logo upside down. Blasphemy! Don’t get me wrong, I like it, it’s Rondo’s thing. Just like his move where he fakes a behind-the-back pass to confuse his defender, and then finishes with a nifty lay-up. It always looks so cool when he does it. However, it surprises me that a lot times Rondo misses the lay-up. Am I the only one who notices this? Weird.

-It’s still early in the season, so can we move the Thunder back to Seattle, call them the Sonics and pretend it never happened? Just like we did with the microfiber ball two years ago?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Me, Myself and Iverson

When Allen Iverson entered the League in 1996, I didn’t know too much about him. In The Netherlands it’s damn near impossible to see college ball (not that I mind), so I never saw him play at Georgetown. Since it was also not easy to find quality basketball magazines like SLAM, who gave AI ink before AI had any ink on his body, I could only judge AI by the stats he put up for those atrocious Sixers back then. The problem for me was that until 1999 I wasn’t able to watch live NBA games on television. So all those years before that, I only saw some game highlights on CNN, and sometimes NBA Action. I thought of him as a very talented yet egocentric basketball player, bad shot selection, and a ballhog with a very bad attitude. My opinion of Allen Iverson early in his career was based on stats and some highlight clips, nothing more. Looking back on it, the above could be summarized as “ignorance”.

Finally in 1999 I was watching live games, and two years later AI single-handedly carried the Sixers to the 2001 Finals. Watching all five games in those series, I finally understood the love Iverson received by so many of his peers, by SLAM, the people in Philly and many more. Before that I was like the others, the haters, who are oblivious to the talent displayed right before our eyes. Not knowing anything about him, his background, his passion, his fearless attitude on the court, I didn’t know shit. Those ’01 Finals opened my eyes and I went all Monkees because I was a believer from then on.

I always was excited when there were Sixers games on TV, no matter how mediocre the rest of his team was, they always had a chance to win because of that 6 foot lightweight warrior running all over the court. Always one of the leaders when it comes to scoring and minutes per game, AI sacrificed his body which made me wonder when I would see any decline in his game. It didn’t happen though, and after a rough period it was time for a change, and that change brought him to Denver in 2006. We all know what happened after that. Iverson still knew how to score, actually played better than I expected next to Carmelo Anthony, but this summer Denver tried to free up some cap space by trading away Camby for nothing, and not even attempting to re-sign Eduardo Najera. It’s contradictive, because if they wanted cap space, why did they trade Iverson to Detroit for hometown hero Chauncey Billups, who has a contract running ‘til 2011?

AI has played one game for Denver this season, and the rest of his season will be in Detroit. It’s a great situation for the Pistons, because they also signed Rip Hamilton for another three years, and have a lot of talent on the roster in the form of Jason Maxiell, Amir Johnson, Rodney Stuckey and of course veteran Tayshaun Prince for the next couple of seasons. With the signing of Iverson, the Pistons have a plenty of cap space to pursue LeBron and/or Bosh in 2010 (LeBron and AI have the same agent in Leon Rose by the way). Will they really let Iverson walk after his contract expires in the summer of 2009? From a financial standpoint, I understand what Joe Dumars is doing, but it would be a bit weird for Iverson if he indeed manages to win it all with the Pistons, and within a month after celebrating the title, he’s without a team. But I’m getting ahead of myself, we have a full season to go, and by no means am I saying that the Pistons will win it now. But who doesn’t want to see them battling for that Finals spot against the Celtics in May? I know I do, I know you do, and AI does too. I never should’ve judged Iverson only by his shooting percentage when he came into the League, because it said nothing about the one essential thing of his hall-of-fame career: his heart.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Southwest Division Preview

1. New Orleans Hornets: The obvious choice for first place I suppose, although it wouldn’t surprise me if people are really high on the Rockets right now. And yes, Houston is a lot better with Ron Artest there, but the Hornets are one of the top three teams in the League. With their core still intact and new addition James Posey, the Hornets are legitimate contenders for the title. Last year we truly saw how good they really were, and with Chris Paul was getting MVP consideration, defenses will try to smother him. But would that bother CP3? When he is double-teamed, there’s always a great shooter somewhere on the court, like Peja, Posey, Mo Pete, and power forward David West has a pretty good range too. If that doesn’t work, Tyson Chandler might be hovering around the rim waiting for that lob, or the promising Julian Wright will be cutting through the lanes to finish an easy two. This team is really something, so who will beat them? Will this be the third Finals trip in Byron Scott’s young career?

2. Houston Rockets: Honestly I think I might’ve placed them too high, but the Spurs are getting older, and the Rockets have all the material to at least win more regular season games than San Antonio. When you have two stars in Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, you throw Ron Artest into the mix, what do you get? I don’t know either. Will there be games that Artest is the only healthy player of all three? How tired is Yao already? Is there a part of T-Mac’s body that doesn’t hurt? But if you’re a Rockets fan you might not think too much about these things, and you just hope to go deep into the playoffs. Another bright spot is Luis Scola. He might not give you 30 points every night, grab 20 rebounds or block five shots, but he’s active, crafty and has a high basketball IQ. A perfect fit for this team, one where three players will probably carry the bulk of Houston’s offense, and Scola will be depended on to do the dirty work. But it’s too early to tell how far they will go with this “new” team, we’ll re-evaluate in month or so.

3. San Antonio Spurs: It’s the same old Spurs, although they made a smart move getting Roger Mason to come over. Mason really played well in stretches for the Washington Wizards last season, and now with Manu Ginobili probably out until December, Mason could see a lot of minutes early on. The others? We know them, and we know what they can do. Bruce Bowen is still a premier defensive player, and behind him is another Bowen in the making: Ime Udoka. So all things considered the Spurs are still good enough to compete for the title. The aforementioned Ginobili, with Tony Parker and superstar Tim Duncan will lead the NBA’s oldest team into the playoffs, but back to the Finals might be a bit too much.

4. Dallas Mavericks: Too bad the Mavs are in one of the most competitive divisions of the whole League, because is there anyone out there who thinks that they will finish above the Hornets, Rockets or Spurs? Sure, they still have a lot of talented players, but so does the rest. Jason Kidd is still a great passer, but defensively he has lost a step. Dirk, although still good, wasn’t in MVP form last season, and Josh Howard also needs to get back to his all-star level of play. New coach Rick Carlisle is a good choice to run things, but don’t expect them to be higher than the 6th spot in April.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: There’s a new Gasol in town. Same shaggy hair, same scruffy beard, different playing style. Marc Gasol has a wider body that his brother and former Grizzly Pau. Marc is more of a banger, a true power forward, or, in today’s NBA, he might end up playing center if Darko Milicic doesn’t get the start. The Grizzlies might not win many games, but they will certainly be exciting to watch with Mike Conley as their point guard, who has O.J. Mayo on one side, and the versatile Rudy Gay on the other side. Trading Mayo for Love (and Mike Miller) was a great deal, and although Mayo will have his share of difficulties by playing so much as a rookie, he’s the real thing. And since Rudy Gay already is a star, they could be one Ricky Rubio away from achieving a winning record again in Memphis.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pacific Division Preview

1. Los Angeles Lakers: Since Kobe hasn’t had a lot of rest during the summer, I’m wondering if Phil Jackson keeps something like that in account. The good thing is now that Andrew Bynum is back, the Lakers really have a complete team. I’m not too sure if Odom coming off the bench is a great idea, and I would like to see who will be the starting small forward on opening night. Will Phil start Radmanovic, or the athletic but injury-prone Trevor Ariza? Whoever it is, it might not matter too much, because Kobe, Pau, Mountain Drew and Fisher are back this season for one thing: winning the championship. Jackson’s tenth, doesn’t that sound nice?

2. Phoenix Suns: New coach, some new faces, same great passer. With Terry Porter on the sidelines you will see a new playing style in Phoenix. Oh yes, they might still run because Steve Nash is your point guard, but Porter also preaches defense, and Shaq is probably better suited in the half-court game anyway. Shaq however, is a pretty good passer himself, so it’s nice he can dish it to Goggles Stoudemire or back to Nash, who is still a dead-eye shooter. The Suns also had a very nice pick-up in Matt Barnes. When he actually was in the rotation at Golden State in his previous two seasons (and with Nellie you never know what to expect), Barnes showed that he could do a little bit of everything, whether it was getting some steals, shooting the 3 or slashing to the hole. It wouldn’t surprise me if he became the team’s full-time starter with Grant Hill coming off the bench. Another season, another roster full of good players, but Finals material? I wouldn’t mind seeing them getting there, because of Nash, Hill and Shaq, but it will be tough.

3. Los Angeles Clippers: I really like the Clippers’ depth. They’ll need it, because with new stars Baron Davis and Marcus Camby you never know how many games they might miss because of injuries. Then again, if they do manage to stay healthy, and with Kaman and Thornton as the other starters, I like their chances. They drafted shooting guard Eric Gordon, and also still have veteran combo guard Cuttino Mobley on the roster, and added Ricky ‘Buckets’ Davis, so there are plenty of shooters on the team. Health will determine if this Clipper team will get back to the playoffs, or back to an early vacation once again.

4. Golden State Warriors: When will Monta Ellis exactly come back? And when he does, at what state? And who will be the point guard during this period of at least 30 games? All we know is that Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette have the green light to shoot, and to shoot a lot. But who will score from the inside? Biedrins is a great defender, but not known for his extensive collection of post moves, and Al Harrington can score, but rather does it from outside of the painted area. So on some night when the ball just doesn’t want to go in, good teams can rely on their defense. The Warriors? They just have to rely on the fact that none of their players will ride mopeds for the rest of their contracts.

5. Sacramento Kings: At least they have Kevin Martin.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Northwest Division Previw

1. Utah Jazz: Deron Williams. The best point guard in the NBA not named Chris Paul. The Jazz will always be competitive with him and Carlos Boozer on the floor. I always liked Boozer’s game; a guy with a lot of offensive weapons, and he’s paired with Mehmet Okur, a center who’s more than capable of hitting shots from 20 feet and beyond. In the pre-season small forward Andrei Kirilenko came off the bench, so it’s interesting to see what Jerry Sloan will do when the regular season gets underway next week. Will he continue to start C.J. Miles and at small forward, with the athletic guard Ronnie Brewer rounding out Utah’s starting line-up? This team has some veterans, some young guys, but didn’t do a whole lot in the off-season. Sloan is a great coach, so there’s a pretty good chance the Jazz will win this division (the only true competition here is Portland), get back to the playoffs and get kicked out in the second round by either the Hornets or Lakers.

2. Portland Trail Blazers: As a fan of the game it’s no secret that this is a team to get excited about. Health remains a concern, with Martell Webster out for a while, and we have to see if Greg Oden’s knee can hold up during the grind of an 82-game season (with probably 10-15 extra games in the playoffs?). But the depth of the Blazers is exceptional: Roy, Aldridge, Blake, Outlaw, Aldridge, Batum, Przybilla, Bayless, Fernandez, Rodriguez, I mean, come on! This is ridiculous, this is an outrage, with so much talent on one team, Nate McMillan is one lucky coach. The Blazers are once again a proud franchise, will go back to the playoffs, and we all will enjoy the ride for hopefully many years to come.

3. Denver Nuggets: Every time I read something about the Nuggets, it’s George Karl saying that everybody is so positive, committed in playing defense, and are playing with a chip on their should because the media writes them off. I can imagine Melo and AI being frustrated since the trade of Marcus Camby, and being the players that they are, they will try hard to prove people wrong who are saying they can’t win. But who will man the middle? Nene had a lot of injuries throughout his career, and even battled cancer last season. I really hope he is now 100% healthy, and together with Kenyon Martin (speaking of injuries….) I hope they can provide what the Nuggets need now Camby is gone: boards and blocks. If the Nuggets make the playoffs this season, it will definitely surprise me.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves: This team could win one award this season if it actually existed: highest number of undersized shooting guards on one roster. They could’ve solved that problem if Kevin McHale didn’t trade their original draft pick O.J. Mayo to the Grizzlies. But he did, but now has power forward Kevin Love in return. So at least that’s two big guys under the basket for the Wolves, with him and Al Jefferson getting a lot of minutes at the power forward and center position. Ex-Grizzly Mike Miller came along in the Mayo trade, a great shooter but it’s not enough to keep up with the rest of the West. For the Timberwolves there’s only one rule: there’s always next year.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder: There’s enough talent on this team to win some games, especially when the team is lead by young star Kevin Durant. And let’s not forget Jeff Green, Nick Collisson and Chris Wilcox. Joe Smith is a proven veteran who will have a good influence on the younger players, but let’s be honest here: they won’t win right now, fans will lose interest quickly because they don’t have the patience to see what will happen in the next couple of seasons, and within five years this franchise will move to another city. Yes, I’m a pessimistic person.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Southeast Division Preview

1. Orlando Magic: What is there not to like about this team? When you have Flight Howard on your roster, excitement is guaranteed, and some wins too. The Magic finished at the top of their division last season, but with the emergence of the Hawks you have to wonder if they’re able to do it again. They didn’t have any big off-season acquisitions, although Michael Pietrus is nice player to have on the wing. 2007/2008 proved to be the best season for Hedo Turkoglu so far, and add Rashard Lewis to this line-up; it’s safe to say the scoring department is pretty much covered. With these three stars Orlando will have a shot to be the division champs, but I’m not too impressed with the supporting cast. Jameer Nelson is a decent point guard, but it was nice to have Keyon Dooling backing him up, being a very good on-ball defender. Now that’s he’s gone, Orlando signed veteran Anthony Johnson as a back-up, but what about the rest of the bench? Will J.J. Redick ever see the court? Is Howard the only good big man they have? The Southeast Division will be a lot more competitive than last year, no doubt about it.

2. Atlanta Hawks: In the pre-season Acie Law has showed flashes of brilliance, so with him and Mike Bibby manning the point is a luxury to have. Makes me wonder though, if Law keeps up this level of play, will that make Bibby expendable? It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s dealt during the season for a center to play next to young big man Al Horford, who probably will be the starting center on opening night. The Hawks managed to keep stat-stuffer Josh Smith, and Joe Johnson is still there to lead all of these young guys. The pushed the Celtics to seven games back in May, so the quality is there. The question is: how much can they get better with pretty much the same roster as last season?

3. Washington Wizards: I don’t know what to say or think about the Washington Wizards anymore. I’m giving them the benefit of doubt by placing them in the third spot. The “Big Three”, Arenas, Butler and Jamison are good enough to compete with any “Big Three” in the League. Sadly enough, they can’t stay healthy at the same time. And this year it’s no different, with Gilbert out ‘til December. Last season, center Etan Thomas was out all year due to heart surgery, he’s back though, and that’s a good thing, because starting center Brendan Haywood will probably miss six months with a wrist injury. Let’s hope that by the end of 2008, we at least have a chance to see how good Gil, Jamison and Butler can be together. If they can remain healthy from then on, they will end up higher in this division.

4. Miami Heat: Did I rank them too low? Depends. If I was Eric Spoelstra (who is the first coach in the NBA that actually looks younger than me, which is frustrating) I would go with a small line-up. I’m not sure who their starting point guard will be, it might be Chris Quinn, but I really like what I’ve seen from Marcus Banks so far this pre-season. The other guard is of course Wade, then you have forwards Marion and Beasley, and at center Udonis Haslem. They will probably get annihilated by teams like the Spurs and Lakers, but the Heat doesn’t have a lot of options anyway. They drafted gifted point guard Mario Chalmers, who will see a lot of action in his first year (unless Shaun Livingston returns to pre-injury form), but when I look at the rest of the team, I’m wondering: who will provide that scoring punch off the bench?

5. Charlotte Bobcats: I really dislike the hiring of coach Larry Brown. If you look at his résumé, it’s safe to say that he will leave the Bobcats as soon as they have a winning record, or if some players frustrate him, he’ll leave anyway. Right? Right. Luckily, the relatively young roster of the Bobcats has some bright spots which should win them some games. For instance, a guy like Gerald Wallace fills more holes than Ron Jeremy. He can play multiple positions, scores, rebounds, blocks shots and gets some steals too. He has one problem: his health. Another shot blocker and rebounder is Emeka Okafor, but he still isn’t the franchise player everybody envisioned him to be. Raymond Felton is a good point guard with a questionable shot selection, so the lone star on this team is Jason Richardson, who probably still is wondering if he’ll ever get a taste of the playoffs again. During the summer Charlotte hasn’t made a lot of improvements, so one can only wonder: is another year experience combined with the knowledge of Larry Brown enough to get back at .500?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Central Division Preview

1. Detroit Pistons: A lot of people probably expect Cleveland to finish first in the Central Division. But with a new coach in Michael Curry, and the ever improving young bench, the Pistons will have an edge over the Cavaliers, although it will be an interesting battle all year long. Curry, a former defensive specialist himself, will hold his players accountable, which former coach Flip Saunders allegedly did not. Curry said Amir Johnson will get the starting nod along with the usual suspects; Billups, Rip, Prince and Sheed at center. That means veteran forward Antonio McDyess will come off the bench, providing leadership to the über-athletic Jason Maxiell, Kwame Brown and the very talented guard Rodney Stuckey. The core of the team might be getting older, but with such a deep rotation they should be competitive throughout the season, and end up first in this division. I would like to see a rematch against the Celtics in the Conference Finals in 2009; who wouldn’t?

2. Cleveland Cavaliers: Mo Williams mo’ problems. For opponents, that is. I know a lot of people think Mo Williams isn’t the solution to the Cavs’ problems, but he sure is part of that solution. Finally a guy who is a legitimate scorer, a pretty good point guard who can run with LeBron. But the thing with the Cavs is that every season their roster is always missing something. Adding Williams was a great move, and I liked how well Delonte West performed in last season’s playoffs. But what about the rest? Wally Szczerbiak should not be a starter. Nice to have him shooting 3’s as a sub, but since he doesn’t defend, he should come off the bench. Pavlovic is inconsistent, Daniel Gibson is a great shooter, but not really a point guard, and too small for playing the shooting guard position. Ben Wallace is getting older, and provides zero offense. Big Z, Zydrunas Ilgauskas is a more than decent center, but you can’t ask 40 minutes out of this guy anymore. So that leaves us with? Anderson Varejao? That’s not enough. Yes, a superstar like LeBron James will take you to the playoffs, or maybe even to the Finals, but a championship is out of reach.

3. Milwaukee Bucks: With this roster they deserve to be in third place (in this blog I mean), and if the Bucks somehow manage to miss the playoffs, we should all point a finger at new coach Scott Skiles. The Bucks are a great mix between veteran and young players. Acquiring Richard Jefferson from the New Jersey Nets will take the pressure off Michael Redd to be the main scorer every night. Andrew Bogut is quietly emerging in one of the best centers in the East, and can only get better. Wit Maurice Williams now gone, Ramon Sessions will probably start at the point guard position, and it will be interesting to see if he’s able to carry the team through a whole season. Charlie Bell is also a guard who can play, but he might be the forgotten man in the rotation, which is a shame. Rumors are Francisco Elson (one of two Dutchmen on this team!) will start, with Charlie Villanueva coming off the bench. Milwaukee also has promising rookie in Joe Alexander, so again: they have to make the playoffs, or else this season is a waste.

4. Chicago Bulls: I don’t know what to make of this team. Promising? Ready to implode? Playoff material? The latter should be the case, but last season was such a disappointment, I really wonder what new coach Vinny Del Negro will do to get them back on track. In Derrick Rose the Bulls have a great young point guard who will be asked to do a lot for this team. Where does this leave Kirk Hinrich? I’ve read that he might switch to the 2-spot, but will that work? And what about Larry Hughes? Since they also have Thabo Sefolosha on the roster, will Hughes get traded when February comes around? Then again, who would be willing to take on his contract anyway? Speaking of guards and trades, where will Ben Gordon be in February? A lot of questions surround this great franchise, but with Rose, Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas, Andres Nocioni and even Joakim Noah, they should still be able to win more games than they will lose. But playoffs are not a certainty in Chicago anymore.

5. Indiana Pacers: As of right now, Jamaal Tinsley is still a Pacer. But when he’s gone, a new era has started in Indiana. Artest, Jackson, O’Neal, all gone. You might want to call it rebuilding, but the foundation is already there. One of the better and maybe underrated small forwards of the NBA is Danny Granger, obviously the one player Larry Bird wants to build around in the near future. Getting T.J. Ford on board was a smart decision. Let’s just hope we never have to see Ford getting carried off the court again. My heart stops a split-second when I saw him lying motionless on the court in the past, absolutely horrible. But when he gets it going, it’s hard to stop him, he’s that quick. Mike Dunleavy jr. really blossomed since being brought over from Golden State to the Pacers, but other that, this will be a long season for Pacer fans. And with “season” I mean the regular season, because with all those improved teams in the East, it will be difficult for them to crack the top eight.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Atlantic Division Preview

I am currently in Portugal, and the last days of my otherwise perfect vacation are rainy. Clouds that are keeping the sun from shining during the late days of September are actually getting me excited for the month that is coming up. And we all know what October will bring us: besides the trees that will lose their leaves and the fact that I will lose that tiny little bit of tan that I’ve been building up this week, the start of a new NBA season is finally in sight. That means I can write about something that inevitability will be totally wrong, that will leave people wondering if I have really lost all my remaining sanity after I typed what should be nothing more than one man’s thought about the NBA; we’re talking about the previews for the 2008/2009 season. Last year I thought the Nets could finish above the Celtics, had high hopes for the Bulls and the Nuggets (who didn’t?), and really expected nothing of the Lakers, so I hope I can make a little bit more sense this year. And let’s start off with the Atlantic Division.

1. Boston Celtics: Repeat? Quite possible. Even though they lost James Posey to New Orleans, I think it won’t hurt the Celtics too much. Not that I’m underestimating Posey’s value to the Celtics, but I believe the team has plenty of pieces to make it work to at least make the Finals again. Leon Powe will see a significant increase in his minutes on the court now that Posey is gone, giving them an extra boost off the bench. Garnett, Allen and Pierce now finally have that first championship, and being the players that they are, I can’t imagining them being satisfied with just one. What I really want to know is: how healthy is Bill Walker? If he can come back at 100%, the best team of the NBA might have one of the best guards of this year’s Draft.

2. Philadelphia 76’ers: How much more can Andre Iguodala improve? It would be nice if he became a better shooter, because with Elton Brand now manning the paint, it will create more open shots for him and Andre Miller. Defensively this team is pretty much set too; the guards can gamble every now and then on their man, because behind them is Samuel Dalembert waiting to block anything that might slip through. Couple this with young forward Thaddeus Young, and that’s a great starting five that can play with any other team in the League. Head coach Maurice Cheeks can also choose to go small, giving Louis Williams extended time on the floor. Starting this season, the Sixers have some really nice years ahead of them.

3. Toronto Raptors: I like the signing of Jermaine O’Neal and it will be fun to watch him and Chris Bosh playing off each other. José Calderon is now finally the starting point guard for the Raptors, and will probably share the backcourt with Anthony Parker, and Jamario Moon will be playing the small forward position. But if it’s time to make some substitutions, who will you send in? I’m not too fond of the bench, besides Hassan Adams (yes, Hassan Adams). If Bosh or, more realistically, O’Neal gets injured, which big would be the one replacing them? Andrea Bargnani is more of a small forward, and as a former number one pick, I doubt if he will ever be a star. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he can play, but he’s not a guy who you can build your whole team around. Not yet, anyway. Luckily they still have Bosh, who played quite well on Team U.S.A., and once again has to have a great season to lead the Raptors to the playoffs. But more than that can’t be expected from this team.

4. New Jersey Nets: I actually placed the Nets over the Knicks because of one reason: even though the Nets are obviously in a rebuilding situation, they are doing in a way which will keep them (hopefully) competitive. Not because it’s “my” team which could make me biased, but I actually believe with Devin Harris and the rookies Chris Douglas-Roberts, Ryan Anderson and Brook Lopez, the Nets have a good young nucleus to win some games these next few seasons. I left Yi out on purpose, because I can’t get over the Richard Jefferson trade. I understand Yi has a lot of upside, but he is a player who has yet to prove himself. The plan is to bring him along slowly, and not pressure him too much early on. Josh Boone is someone who averaged a double-double since he became a starter early in the season, so we now have an idea what to expect out of him. What I really hope is that Sean Williams finally “gets it”, and starts using his head more during games. He put up nice numbers when he was a starter for a short while, but on too many occasions he seems to be confused during the plays that they ran. Vince Carter? Well, I’m not the one to bash him. He can be frustrating to watch, but also still can make you go drooling like a toddler scoring when he wants, and showing that he’s a great passer. He needs to be a leader this season, and as a fan it will be interesting to see if he accepts that role. My plea to Lawrence Frank is once again to play the young guys. Lopez will definitely see a lot of minutes, but I really hope that CDR will get off the bench too. I hope he’ll the starting small forward sooner than later, but that might be a tad unrealistic. The Nets probably won’t make the playoffs this season, but there’s enough to get excited about.

5. New York Knicks: Of course Mike D’Antoni will improve their record from last season, and he might get more out of some players than his predecessor, Isiah Thomas. Jamal Crawford might have a great year now with D’Antoni as his coach, and David Lee is always fun to watch because of his work-ethic when it comes to rebounding. In fact, almost the whole team from last season is back for another year (plus Chris Duhon), and that’s the reason I placed them last in the Atlantic Division. Rookie Danilo Gallinari has back problems, so he can’t be counted on as a savior, and recently signed Allan Houston? He probably can still shoot 3’s, so let’s hope the best for him. It’s the “wait-and-see” approach if Eddy Curry, the still-Knick Zach Randolph and the rest can run-and gun in D’Antoni’s offense.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Evolution of the Power Forward

No, I’m not going all the way back in NBA history. However, I will go back in my own NBA history, my memory of the game I’ve been following since the early nineties, and I realize that no position has changed more than the 4-spot.

Some might argue that in the last decade the point guard position went in a different direction, but in reality, that’s not the case. The “classic” point guard was always the guy who had a pass-first mentality, setting up plays and sharing the rock with his teammates. In the mid-nineties you had guys like Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson coming up; small players who were more scorers than the traditional guards. Like nowadays you have Gilbert Arenas at the 1-spot in Washington, but he’s more of a playmaker with the ability to score 40 at any given time. The point guard position has always been divided. In the Knicks’ glory days you had the amazing Walt Frazier who could drop 30 on your ass, but also give 10 assists along the process. Or what about Kevin Johnson, a diminutive but fierce guard who played for the Phoenix Suns who liked to dunk on whatever big log was manning the paint? Nowadays, I think Steve Nash is responsible for letting GM’s realize that you need a floorleader who can rack up dimes and making everyone around him better. I know I might be stating the obvious, but guys like Chris Paul, Andre Miller and Deron Williams are all like that, and it’s a joy to watch them play.

I’m really drifting off here, because I should be talking about the big men in this game, the tall forces who emphasize “power” in power forward. Elbows flying, floor-diving, reaching out there for the rebound, getting some points in the paint, being as wide as you are tall, pushing, shoving, boxing out, tough defense and what not. When I think of them, stuff like this pops into my head like a virus pop-up window when you’re browsing for “Paris Hilton + pics” (not that I know about this from any personal experiences). But today’s power forward seems to be a more versatile, finesse kind of player. Tall guys who can take their defenders off the dribble, some even shoot 3’s if needed, they’re more like taller small forwards. The power forward of the early to mid-nineties would be a center in the modern-day NBA.

The 4-spot in my mind is still occupied by players like Charles Barkley, Horace Grant, Charles Oakley, Buck Williams, Larry Johnson (well, his first 2 two seasons with the Hornets), Karl Malone, Moses Malone, Kevin McHale, Antonio Davis, Dale Davis, Rick Mahorn, Jayson Williams, Otis Thorpe, Anthony Mason, P.J. Brown and even Dennis Rodman (build like a small forward, but could outrebound every damn power forward out there). The ultra-athletic Shawn Kemp might not fit in the mold of the other guys I named here, but if you play with as much force as Kemp, he belongs in this list too, no doubt.

In 1995 Kevin Garnett was drafted. Rail-thin, wiry yet strong enough to hammer it over plenty of other dudes his size. In the years that followed, KG showed that he could do just about everything. He was basically a 6’11 small forward, and when you check the power forwards we have on our current NBA rosters, there are plenty more of those ‘big-small forwards’: Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol, Tyrus Thomas, Al Harrington, Lamar Odom, Boris Diaw, and even Rashard Lewis played some power forward for the Orlando Magic (which is insane).

Why am I writing this? To sum it all up: out of frustration. I’m not saying there aren’t any good big men left in the NBA, because there are plenty: Flight Howard, Elton Brand, Tim Duncan, Tyson Chandler, Mountain Drew Bynum, Mehmet Okur, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Marcus Camby, David West, just to name a few. I even want to mention Udonis Haslem here, because he belongs in the classic power forward category, but the NBA is eliminating my definition of the big man. Sometimes a tall player can’t stay into the game because refs are so quick to blow the whistle; it’s almost painful to watch. When you’re a 7-footer, standing still with your hand up in the air and Dwyane Wade comes at you, you know you’re screwed. You could be like a statue and still you would get a foul. It’s always the same damn thing. Sure, I like high-scoring games too, but one of the most annoying things to me in the new millennium of the NBA is that you can’t play tough defense anymore. Maybe basketball in the nineties wasn’t always the most attractive ball you would see, but at least there was equality for every position.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

No Breaks Allowed, Part Five

To start with a Barkley: “First of all”, I am definitely aware of everything that is happening around the League. But it’s summertime, and although I read a lot of stuff regarding to the NBA, I just haven’t written about it. Until today, because I felt the need to discuss some stuff that has been brewing in this bobblehead of mine (seriously, I you would look at my head, it’s huge. Even Yao and Shaq’s domes are smaller than mine, but I digress).

-Guys like Boki, Arroyo, Childress, Krstic, just to name a few, have all left the U.S. to get mo’ money, and you can’t blame them. Am I worried about the state of the NBA? No. There are only like seven of eight teams overseas who can spend cash like this, and like player agent Keith Glass already said: “who’s going to buy a ticket to see Josh Childress anyway?” He’s not a big fish, so until that happens, people should stop worrying about it. Oh, and about Keith Glass: every basketball fan should read his book “Taking Shots” sometimes, it’s hilarious. More on this in another blog. However, the problem is with the restricted free agents. They are basically prisoners of their own contract, so that’s something the NBA has to look into.

-How about those Clippers? To be honest, I’m impressed. A couple of weeks ago when Brand left, I had little hope for L.A.’s “other team”. It’s always the same thing; I thought they really weren’t interested in winning at all. They had Davis, but Brand went to the Sixers, so they would have to start all over again. I mean, how are you going to replace the nightly 20 and 10? Well, they got their 20 points because of the presence of his royal beardness, but those 10 rebounds, that defense, how are you going to replace that? Mmmm…. Tough call. It’s not like a former defensive player of the year is walking through that door, right? It’s not like one of the leading shotblockers and a top rebounder could be acquired for let’s say…. Nothing? And that’s exactly what happened, the Clippers got Marcus Camby. A trade which we should call a “scamby”, because it’s even worse than the Gasol trade last February. They also improved their depth by signing Ricky Davis, Jason Hart, and Brian Skinner, so the Clippers have a 10-man rotation set. It might be too early too tell, but I believe they can compete with any team in the League. Nothing less than a playoff spot is acceptable. Even with all the talent that the Western Conference possesses, especially with Portland on the rise, the Clippers still should get in there like swimwear (boom tho!).

-I will miss all the Olympic action ‘til Monday August 18 because I’m going to France for a couple of days, and when I return I will head off to a fest here in The Netherlands. Hopefully I’ll catch the U.S.A. battling Germany that Monday, and if they get past the first round, maybe I can see some more. But if the games are around 9 am ET in the U.S., that means it’s 3 pm here. And since watching basketball at work probably won’t help my career (if you could call it a career) I might be lucky if I even see one game at all, which sucks. Then again, France and especially the festival I’m going to every year will be awesome. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Kidd, Kobe, LeBron and the rest while I’m watching The Roots, N*E*R*D or Jamie Lidell.

-To close this blog for today with a Nets note: Dear Kiki and Rod: you know I love the Nets, and the team at its current state might be able to play some defense. But if you don’t sign another player who can help Carter and Harris in the scoring department, can you at least promise me that Frank will give Chris Douglas-Roberts some playing time this season? I don’t know much about the guy, but for some reason I have a feeling he will be something special in this League, when given the chance. Thank you.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Brand New Day

Dr. J, Moses Malone, Barkley, AI and now Elton Brand. Am I giving number 42 too much credit? I don’t know, but although I like the two Andres (Miller, Iggy), Elton Brand is a different calibre in my opinion. When healthy, he is one of the best power forwards in the League, I think nobody can argue with that. But since I mentioned the word “healthy” already, Ed Stefanski is taking a huge gamble here by bringing in someone like Brand. But if he’s 100%, the East is screwed. The Sixers have played some really good games later in the ’08 season, and have a bright future ahead of them. Brand can make them a legitimate threat in the East. Maybe not yet good enough to call them contenders, but definitely good enough to go deep into the playoffs.

In the nineties everybody was a Bulls fan, at least the people I got in touch with after I picked up the rock in the early nineties. I became a fan too, and Scottie Pippen was my favorite player back then. But after all the internal power struggles that were going on throughout the dynasty years, the two Jerrys (Reinsdorf, Krause) dismantled the team. By the start of the ‘98/’99 season you knew the Jerrys made a huge mistake. Their egos were more important than the likes of Jordan, Pippen or Phil Jackson, so basically they made a choice to lose games. They probably named it “rebuilding”. Bad teams sometimes are very lucky in the Draft, so in the summer of 1999 the Bulls drafted Elton Brand, who played collegiate at Duke for two years. The rest of his team was atrocious (Artest not included, but Dickey Simpkins, Chris Carr, dinosaur Will Perdue, to name a few…. Damn), but Brand was Co-rookie of the Year, sharing the award with Steve Francis. From his first season on, Brand was a 20 and 10 guy, and continued to put the weight of the franchise on his broad shoulders in his second season. So what the Jerrys do? They traded their young and promising franchise player away to the Los Angeles Clippers. We all know what happened after that in Chicago, once again making a very dumb mistake, but let’s stay focused on Elton Brand’s career.

With him being a Clipper, he was traded from one doomed franchise to another. It must have been a burden to keep on playing for bad organizations, which don’t seem to be interested in winning a whole lot of games. Brand however, with his workhorse attitude, continued to do what he always did. His scoring dipped to 18.2 ppg, but he swatted away two shots every game, and continued to excel at both ends of the courts. And his rebounding numbers? They only went up. But still, even after his scoring improved, the Clippers did not. “Winning” hasn’t been high on the to-do list of owner Donald Sterling. At least that’s what I thought; until last week it came out of nowhere (to me) that Baron Davis would leave the Warriors to become a member of L.A.’s “other team”. Davis and Brand…. Could it really be true? I was looking forward to Clippers-Lakers games, because they finally would be relevant again. Clippers should’ve been proud and could start dreaming about the playoffs maybe? But on the night Davis signed his contract with the Clippers, Brand was moving to Philly.

When Brand opted out of his contract this summer, it would make you wonder why he did that. Maybe to see what the organization would do? Would they finally get him some help, or just be content with mediocrity? Then Brand sold some of his L.A. property, so what was that about? Moving? Or just doing business? A day after that it was reported by ESPN that the Sixers were still very much in the race for Brand’s services, but I figured he would just re-sign with the Clippers. Apparently I was wrong, and many others with me. And like The Killers said; for reasons unknown he left and signed with Philly, breaking hearts of some and being embraced by others. I read that Brand just wanted to go back East, some say his agent David Falk was behind all of this and screwed the Clippers. I don’t know why he left, but I would sure like to know it. I can’t picture Elton Brand as a bad guy, I just can’t. In all those years I never heard anything bad about him, or from him. So I ask you: what happened?

All I know is that one of the sweetest days of Baron Davis’ career turned sour fast.

Monday, July 7, 2008

No Breaks Allowed, Part Four

After July 1st I’ve been waiting a couple of days before I would write a new blog. I wanted to see what would happen (Baron Davis moving), and in some cases, what would not happen (Arenas moving). So in this version of No Breaks Allowed, let’s talk about this past week, and what might come up. And since I’m going to see Common this Wednesday for the first time ever (who knew that he would already bring out another album this September? Whoo-hoo!), let’s start off with the Chi:

-Paxson for 3! I’m sorry, having flashbacks, and I understand this is not Game 6 of the 1993 Finals. However, Paxson’s summer can be successful in only 3 steps: 1. Have a good draft. 2. Re-sign Deng. 3. Get bigger. Okay, so you could say that 1 and 3 could’ve been achieved by drafting Beasley. However, I do believe they might the right choice in drafting Derrick Rose. A good point guard almost guarantees you to some wins, and although he’s a rookie, in the long run the Bulls can stay competitive if they can keep Luol Deng, and find a big man who can score a little under the basket. And yes, I do believe Deng is a key player for this team. The ’08 season might not be his finest, but he can be an all-star soon if he keeps improving.

-Message to Mitch Kupchak: do not pay Andrew Bynum 80 mill. It’s okay if Mountain Drew believes that he should get that, or maybe his agent just whispered that sum in his ear, but it’s too much for a 13 and 10 guy. Sure, he might give you 20 and 14 in the future, but that’s what the Knicks thought too when they signed Jerome James to a 5-year, 30 million dollar contract in 2005. Just because a guy plays well for a couple of months, it doesn’t make him a superstar. Hell, my beloved Nets have power forward Josh Boone, and since he became a starter for them he averaged a double-double too. What’s next, he’s gonna ask for 80 million now? Let Mountain Drew come back next season, see in what shape he is, and find out what he’s really worth. It’s a gamble, but less of a gamble than paying the dude 80 million dollars.

-Wait, I was talking about Chicago right? The Bulls are looking to make some (cost-cutting, therefore being able to re-sign Deng) moves, so they are open to trade Andres Nocioni. One of the teams who are very interested in him are the Nets. For the love of basketball, do it! He’s a perfect fit for New Jersey, being a tough defender, good rebounder and a guy who knows how to score. He even can hit the 3, so after the horrendous trade of Richard Jefferson, Nocioni could be inserted into the starting line-up at the small forward spot immediately.

-His royal beardness is home again. Baron Davis is back in L.A., which is a huge surprise because I didn’t expect him to leave the Warriors. If Elton Brand decides to stay (which we will know sooner than later) they actually have a pretty competitive team out there. A healthy Kaman, Al Thornton who hopefully will be a little bit less trigger happy in his second season, along with draft pick Eric Gordon, and Clipper fans have an exciting team to cheer about.

-Leaves us with Agent Zero. He just did what he said he would do. He waited what Antawn Jamison would decide, he waited to see what the Wizards would offer him, and…. He remains in Washington. And not only that, he pulled a Duncan, leaving 16 million on the table so the organization can get him some more help. They offered him 127 million, he took 111, and now you have people saying: “Couldn’t he take 90 million?” I know it’s a whole lot of money, but that’s how the market works. For some people Arenas can’t do anything right. To me, he did a good thing. A lot of players want to get a max deal if they can get it, which leaves their organization battling against the cap year after year. If you’re complaining afterwards your GM didn’t get you enough help, it’s partly your own fault (I’m not talking about anyone specific, if you’re guessing). So Duncan took less and his Spurs are contenders every season. The Wizards aren’t contenders yet, but this is a step in the right direction, a step taken by Gilbert Arenas.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Jefferson's Airplane

Sometimes it’s hard rooting for one team. Of course it’s more fun to jump on the bandwagon, because for instance the Celtics are winning right now, which is way more fun than going through a rebuilding process. Or who knows what the Bulls will do this season with a young Derrick Rose, or how exciting Miami will be with a healthy (let’s hope that’s true) Dwyane Wade, Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley. And what about the Lakers? Back to the Finals in ‘09? One team who will definitely not go the Finals just so happen to be my favorite team: the New Jersey Nets.

They got there in 2002, Jason Kidd’s first season with the Nets after being traded from Phoenix to New Jersey. It was Richard Jefferson’s rookie season, a young and athletic small forward, backing up The Pale Rider, aka Keith Van Horn. They got swept by the Lakers, one year later they would try their luck again, this time playing the Spurs. Jefferson was a full-time starter by now, with Van Horn being traded to Philly, and although he and his team lost to San Antonio 4-2, the future looked promising. A frontline with RJ along with Kenyon Martin and having the best point guard running the show throwing lobs and finding you wherever you are on the court is a great situation for any player to be in. A return to the Finals would be imminent. Well, that’s what I thought. Insert the new-look Detroit Pistons, who acquired Rasheed Wallace late in the season, and defeated the Nets in the second round of the playoffs in ’04 (4-3) and became champions for the first time since 1990.

And now it’s 2008, and I think Jefferson understands he won’t be back into the Finals anytime soon. In fact, within now and a few months he’s on a plane to join his new team, the Milwaukee Bucks. I’m not saying the Bucks are that bad, but it’s obvious they are in no way contenders for the title anytime soon. The same can be said about the Nets. Even if they kept Jefferson, it wouldn’t get much better. But call me naïve; I really would’ve liked to see a full season of RJ, Vince Carter and lighting bolt Devin Harris and the rest of the now very young crew. Instead, “we” now have Yi and Bobby Simmons. Sure, Yi can be a great player someday, or a total bust. Simmons hasn’t been healthy for a couple of seasons now, so you don’t know what you’re going to get from him. I don’t like this trade. I don’t like it at all. Maybe for sentimental reasons, but also from a basketball standpoint.

In the summer of ’04, when Kittles and Martin were traded for basically nothing in return, it frustrated the hell out of me. Kittles was something I could understand, because injuries really took a toll on his career. It’s a shame, but sometimes it happens. After he was traded to the Clippers he went down and it was all over. When Nets owner Bruce Ratner refused to lay down big bucks (no pun intended) to keep Kenyon Martin, it angered Kidd, the rest of the team and every Nets fan out there. Back then no one knew Martin would almost miss two seasons because of microfracture surgery to both knees. We got Vince Carter later that year, but every season the Nets have been stuck in mediocrity, unable to return to the elite of the NBA. President Rod Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe decided enough was enough and decided something had to be done; hence trading Jefferson to the Bucks for Yi and Simmons.

I don’t understand the hate RJ is getting from basketball fans around the world. He speaks his mind, he’s brutally honest when giving his opinion, is that a problem? And although some might say he wanted to be “the man” too much, to me it didn’t seem damaging to an already weak Nets team. Jefferson was a top five scorer in the first couple of months of the season (and ended ninth), which took some toll on his otherwise above average defense. Then again, somebody had to put some points on the board for New Jersey, because Carter sometimes seems reluctant to be the main go-to guy, so why not RJ? I saw plenty of Nets games this season to notice that Jefferson became outstanding in creating his own shot. He improved his jumper, and because of his strong body he was able to slash to the basket at will, creating contact and going to the free throw line. He even shot 36% from threepoint range, so you could say he’s offensively well-rounded.

In the days since the trade I read several things, people writing that RJ shouldn’t be the top player in your team, but maybe the second or third guy, I read that Rod Thorn said that even if Jefferson wouldn’t be traded, the Nets weren’t going to any better next season. You make a trade to improve your team, but that’s not the case in this situation. We all know what the real reason behind the trade is: money. I understand it’s that way, it’s a business and I’m a sucker that I love my one team and the players on it. Especially the ones who were on that team for a long time, from being in the Finals to missing the playoffs. I understand it would be great to bring a huge star to the Nets in 2010 (he who shall not be named in this post), but as a fan I’m always in a win-now mode. With RJ we won’t win the Trophy in ’09, but we won’t win it with Yi either.

The perception of him by a lot of people these days is that he’s the most overrated player in the League today, with the “numbers” to prove it. Maybe I’m biased, maybe I’m blinded by my affection for the Nets, but I’ve seen plenty of games this past season to realize he was one of the few bright spots my team had. Now after the trade, we have two forwards who took turns sitting on the bench in Milwaukee, and the possibility to get a really good small forward in 2010, but you never know if that’s really going to happen. I always focus on the here and now, so with RJ leaving, it truly marks the end of an era. There’s no one left of those Finals teams of ’02 and ’03. I can only wish my favorite forward of the past seven years all the best, and hopefully he’ll return to the Big Dance someday.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

108 Games

Let’s start off with some Guru, Jazzmatazz vol. 3, Streetsoul, track 5: “Certified”.

This right here has been certified for years
He’s got soul up in his blueprint and he’s ready to vocalize….

And he did. Watching Kevin Garnett crying and howling in that post-game interview with Michelle Tafoya was a thing of beauty and to me represents everything that is good about the NBA. It was 6 in the morning when the game ended over here, and watching him yelling ‘Anything is possible!’ claiming he was now certified, hugging Bill Russell, man, I had tears in my eyes. I’m 28 and I might be soft, but that was amazing and heartfelt to see. I needed to get some extra hours of sleep after the game, but I just couldn’t go to bed. Like KG, I was too hyped. It took me almost two hours before I could finally get some shuteye.

Understand what I’m trying to say here. I’m a Nets fan, but even more so I’m a fan of the NBA. Watching every team, enjoying good basketball when I see it. That’s why I enjoyed Game 6 so much, especially the final moments of it. And anyone who didn’t like it must walk that yellow brick road and search for a heart. Doc Rivers probably still smells like Gatorade, and Paul Pierce might still wear his jersey. Life is good in Boston, where after 22 years they’ve finally won it again. It took them 108 games to do it, but every single game the purpose was the same as the last one: they had to win it all. Call it destiny, call it whatever you want, but it had to happen.

In L.A. they hoped to have their first championship since ’02, but watching the Lakers play on their home floor, it looked like both the players and the fans weren’t that desperate for it. Although the Celtics played great defense, the Lakers were really disappointing. Kobe had a lot of trouble in getting to the basket, so he definitely needed someone to step up, whether it was Odom, Gasol, whoever. Yet nobody embraced that role, but again: that wasn’t the biggest problem. They just didn’t want it badly enough and that’s what it’s all about. It’s weird; the Lakers played great throughout the playoffs, but had a lot of problems during the Finals. The Celtics however, struggled in the first two rounds, found some rhythm against the Pistons, and really played well against the Lakers. More importantly, Ray Allen overcame his shooting woes from previous rounds to show that he still is one of the finest shooters in the League. He emphasized that in Game 6 by hitting seven three-pointers out of only nine attempts.

So that was the 2007-2008 NBA season, the team won that had to win, KG delivered to world some footage that the NBA can use in every promo for the next ten years (or longer), and Paul Pierce became the Finals MVP, which should secure his legacy after his career is over. And Doc Rivers? I think he’s done with Gatorade for a while, and hopefully traded it for some champagne. The Celtics won, and rightfully so.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

To Live and Die in L.A.

Everybody got their own thang, currency chasin’,
Worldwide through the hard times, warrior faces

A man can dream can he? A man can have dreams about being a rockstar, getting a lapdance by Shakira or watching the NBA Finals with two of the best teams in the League battling it out in an epic 7-game series. Better yet, Lakers vs. Celtics. I made a mistake. Everytime I’m thinking, talking or in this case, writing about the Finals, it’s Lakers vs. Celtics. And that’s where I’m wrong. I should say: Celtics vs. Lakers, for the simple fact that the team with the better record gets mentioned first. I do that in every preview, so I must do it in this one too. Why do I usually say Lakers vs. Celtics? Because in the very, very early nineties I played a game on the PC called “Lakers vs. Celtics”. Hours and hours I played with either the Bulls or the Lakers, in this crappy, awful looking videogame. I even kept my own stats (well, only points) because that was a thing the game didn’t do. And if you guys are wondering: yes, I did have friends in those days. Imaginary ones, but still, friends they were. Anyway, the final preview of the season.

Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Point guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher. I think Rondo played more controlled against the Pistons than he did in the previous rounds. What’s not to like about this guy? He’s so quick and so active on both ends of the floor, that you always have to keep an eye on him. He’s not a reliable shooter, but with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce next to him, that doesn’t really matter. The young man creates, and that’s what a point guard is supposed to do. A not so young man but a proven veteran is Derek Fisher. He has been having outstanding playoffs so far, and let’s not forget that this guy already has won three championship rings with the Lakers. A great shooter and a more than capable defender will keep Rondo occupied throughout the series. Advantage: Lakers.

Shooting guard: Ray Allen vs. Kobe Bryant. Finally, Ray Allen lives! He woke up in Detroit, and let’s hope he’s still awake on Thursday night, when the two teams square off in Boston for Game 1 of the NBA Finals. One of the best pure shooters in the last ten years, he has never endured such a slump like the one he had in the past couple of weeks. But now he’s hitting 3’s at last, scoring some points with that beautiful jumper of his, but he’s still not a good defender. And that, my friends, doesn’t help when your opponent is Kobe Bryant, the NBA’s second leading scorer, and the leading scorer in the playoffs. Kobe however, will probably contest every shot that Allen will attempt, and the Celtics definitely need Ray’s shooting to win it all. Advantage: Lakers.

Small forward: Paul Pierce vs. Vladimir Radmanovic. Hmm…. Who should I pick? Tough choice. No disrespect to Radmanovic, because the guy sure can score when he has one of this good days. But a role player is something different than a star player. A bad match-up. What more can I say? Advantage: Celtics.

Power forward / center: Kevin Garnett vs. Pau Gasol. We’re gonna mix it up a little, because I understand that KG and Pau start off against each other, and not Garnett against Odom. It makes sense. Both players are long and capable of doing a lot of damage when it comes to offense. It’s important for Gasol to stay aggressive, and not settle for “weenie shots”, as Phil Jackson called them. Gasol finally needs to understand that although he’s more of a finesse player, his game would greatly benefit from a bit more power. No cute little layups, he should dunk it when he’s able to. Both he and KG have a reliable jumper, which stretches the defense and making it easier for a guy like Kobe or Pierce to operate. Needless to say, but Garnett is a great defender, being the most intense player in the NBA finally being on the grand podium after all those frustrating and dreadful years in Minnesota. Now that he’s there and has to win the four most important games of his career, I hope he and his team understand this is not Atlanta, Cleveland or even Detroit that they’re playing. The best of the West is out there waiting for him, but he’ll have the upper hand playing against Gasol, that’s for sure. Advantage: Celtics.

Center / power forward: Kendrick Perkins vs. Lamar Odom. Yes, I know Perk had a monster game against the Pistons (18 points, 16 boards), but he’s nothing more than a role player on this Celtics team. It’s nice to have him around though, he can grab some boards, act like a tough guy, and maybe he frightens someone with that act (kids, puppies, goslings), but he doesn’t possess the skill set Odom has. Then again, hardly any NBA player does. Yes, I think that high of Odom. As I’ve said many times before, it’s important to get Odom involved early, get him some buckets. Like Gasol he must stay aggressive, create by going to the basket for either himself, or for his teammates. Advantage: Lakers.

Coaching: Doc Rivers vs. Phil Jackson: We know these guys, we know their stories. It was good to see Pierce hugging Doc after they beat Detroit in Game 6. Those two lost so many games before this season, dating back to 2004 when Rivers became the coach of the Celtics, and now they’re in the Finals together. Gotta give credit to Rivers for keeping his played focused from game 1 to 82. The playoffs were something different, they just had so much trouble in beating the Hawks and the Cavs, and I still wonder what (almost) went wrong. It’s Doc’s first Finals as a coach, and Jackson’s eleventh. Yes, really. He won nine, lost one in ’04, and now he’s back to accomplish something no coach has ever done: win ten championships. Advantage: Lakers.

Bench: This is actually the toughest one. The Celtics have two proven veterans in P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell, and the former impressed me a lot, but the latter has let me down a bit. I like Sam, who doesn’t? But he should know better than complaining about playing time right now. He should be happy where he is at this stage of his career. Unless he performs, or whether Eddie House is more of a thread in a game than him, good ol’ Sam should just do like the Beatles, and Let It Be, because it’s all about the team right now. Leon Powe didn’t get too much playing time against the Pistons, and that has surprised me a bit. He’s a high energy guy but I didn’t see him as much as I’ve liked to. Glen Davis doesn’t impress me much, but that also has to do with his nickname “Big Baby”. Whoever gave him that name should be shot in the face. The most important guy off the bench is James Posey. With his stiffling defense he will see a lot of minutes against Kobe (good luck with that), and he is also able to hit the 3. The aforementioned Eddie House is always fun to watch, especially if he starts gunning and actually hitting some shots. Another gunner is the Lakers’ Sasha Vujacic, but I think he could play better than he has showed so far. Ronny Turiaf can give you some valuable minutes on the court, but also on the bench he’s a joy to watch. That man is hyped up from his toes to his dreads. Jordan Farmer did pretty well against the Spurs, at least better than against the Jazz, that’s for sure. And Luke Walton might see a bit more time substituting for Radmanovic early in the game. I believe Walton is better suited to defend Pierce. Trevor Ariza however is also still there, and somewhat healthy, so he might get a turn on defending Pierce too. This leaves us with DJ Mbenga. A strong big dude who also can defend a little, so which bench would you pick? Advantage: none.

What I’d Say: It’s tough, because I can live with either of them winning it all. It’s simple: may the best team win. I hope it goes to seven games, and with the Celtics having home court, that last game will be amazing. But to make an actual statement and referring to the title of this particular blog: Lakers in six.

Monday, May 26, 2008

No Breaks Allowed, Part Three

It’s time for another N.B.A. edition, better known as No Breaks Allowed. The playoffs are dominating my life at the moment, and with only a few more weeks to go in the season, I’m already a bit nervous for the huge hole that will be left in my life after the Finals are over. Rehab is for pussies, so to keep up with my addiction for the NBA, I’ll keep on blogging throughout the summer, anticipating the new season. Hold on, I’m getting way ahead of myself here, because what is really on my mind? Read on, reader.

-Finally! Ray Allen had a good game, which had to happen at one point. The result? The Celtics lost. Luckily for Boston, the Pistons have some troubles of their own too, with Billups struggling. Is his hammy still bothering him? Pistons and Ham, makes me wonder: what is Darvin Ham doing these days? He couldn’t do much, but if he actually did get some burn, we all could enjoy a ham sandwich every once in a while. That guy could dunk.

-Finally! The Celtics won one on the road, which had to happen at one point. The result? The Celtics are now leading 2-1. Expect a statement game by the Pistons on Monday night, if they fail, their season is virtually over.

-I’ve watched all three games between the Lakers and the Spurs, and it’s an interesting series so far. To sum it up: close game, blowout, blowout. After Game 1 I expected the Spurs to have their revenge and win Game 2 in LA. The Lakers however dominated the whole game, with Odom and Fisher doing a lot of damage, Gasol being everywhere, and Kobe being Kobe. Game 3 was the same thing, but now with Spurs doing all the dominating. Some people call Tim Duncan the robot (SLAM), because he’s not showing his emotion, yet doing everything so well it seems like he’s programmed to do it. Optimus Duncan had 22 points and 21 boards, and yes, even showing some passion out there. And since we’re talking about passion, Manu Ginobili had the hearts of the Spurs crowd pumping in the second quarter. He played perfectly, hitting back-to-back 3’s, driving to the basket at will, getting and-ones and whatnot. He had an amazing game, but this was only one game. The Spurs need this again Tuesday night. I’m anxious to see how the Lakers will respond in Game 4.

-The Bulls need to pick hometown hero Derrick Rose. Yeah I know they need a guy like Beasley more, but John Paxson has some players he can deal to get a big man anyway. Hopefully this Rose will be a better fit with the Bulls than the last one (Jalen).

-Speaking of the Bulls: Joakim Noah was arrested the other night. He had a drink in his hand, and since you’re not allowed to drink ‘out in the open’, the cops took him away. And what did they find in his pocket? A cannabis cigarette. Why do I care? Because Noah really seems to be a likeable player. Reading his rookie diary in SLAM Magazine, watching him play, I think he’s a good kid. And the locker room stuff earlier this season might’ve been blown out of proportion. He’s an emotional young guy who still has to learn a lot of stuff, so give him some leeway. But then this shit happens, which does a lot of damage to a young man’s credibility. He must stay out of trouble, because it would be sad to see a player like him tarnished because of this incident, labelled as a headcase which could give him a lot of problems in the near future.

-Did anybody sign Paul Silas yet?

-I have the utmost respect for Charles Barkley. His talk with Ernie Johnson about his gambling problems on TNT last week was as honest as you can be, and how he responded to it was the only right way to deal with this aspect of his life. That’s why I love Inside the NBA: it’s real, the opinions of the guys, the jokes, the criticism, the love, the “Ginobiliiiiiiii!!!!!” I wish TNT also had the NBA Finals.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Four Top Teams

Now there are only four teams left, two of them will advance to the NBA Finals, but which two? Your pick is as good as mine, because there isn’t a clear-cut winner. San Antonio, LA and Detroit won eight championships in the last nine years, and Boston finally has a chance of winning their first title since ’86. I understand I’m not telling anything new here, so let’s take a close look at these teams, and especially the positional match-ups.

Boston Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons

Point guard: Billups vs. Rondo. Rondo is fast, athletic, got some nice tricks in his bag, but Billups has been the leader of the Pistons for quite a while now. He’s seen it all, and is basically responsible for every game-clinching shot in the last five years for Detroit. Advantage: Pistons.

Shooting guard: Allen vs. Hamilton. Both great shooters, but one huge difference: Rip averages over 21 ppg in the playoffs, while Ray struggles to score even 13 (on 38%). Allen will have a huge problem defending Hamilton too, because we all know that the masked man keeps running and running until he’s open to receive the pass and taking the shot. As a basketball fan you have to love Ray’s J, but he’s not the best defender out there. And if he’s not scoring, you’ve got a problem. Advantage: Pistons.

Small forward: Pierce vs. Prince. Now this will be a very interesting match-up, because they’re both good at their position, yet extremely different from one another. Prince is a great defender, but nowhere near the scorer that Pierce is. And with Pierce it’s the other way around. Coming off the best game of his life, the Celtics need his points desperately, especially if Ray Allen’s shooting woes continue. Pierce also had some rough games against the Cavs, but he can’t have any letdowns against the Pistons. Tough choice, but here we go. Advantage: Celtics.

Power forward / center: Garnett vs. Wallace: I know, Sheed plays center for the Pistons, and KG is the power forward for Boston, but I think these two will face each other throughout the series. Sheed can shoot 3’s, which is something KG won’t do, but otherwise these two big men have a great range, especially for someone at their position. They match up pretty well, but KG’s 20-25 points are needed, where Wallace will focus only on defense, and let his teammates create scoring opportunities. Advantage: Celtics.

Center / power forward: Perkins vs. McDyess. Assuming McDyess will start, he’s a guy who can play on both sides. Perk is a limited player, but still effective on the defensive end, and makes a bucket or two on an offensive rebound. Advantage: Pistons.

Bench: Detroit’s bench is great. They played a lot during the end of the regular season, which shows Flip Saunders and his starting five that they can relax while being on the bench. Rodney Stuckey did a great job against Orlando filling in for an injured Billups, and with Jason Maxiell you can always count on a couple of rebounds, blocks, and some posterizing jams. The Celtics have proven veterans on their bench in Posey, Brown, Cassell and House. And let’s not forget about the surprising youngster Leon Powe, the do-everything forward who could be a starter on some teams in this League. Advantage: Celtics.

Coaching: Doc Rivers vs. Flip Saunders. Some might say I should go with Flip Saunders, simply because he has more playoff coaching experience than Rivers. I like Flip, but the Pistons are also a team which can implode at any given time (see last years against Cavs). Therefore I think experience might be a bit overrated when it comes to these two coaches, therefore I’ll be a wuss and say: Advantage: none.

What I’d say: I think Detroit will win this, although the Celtics are better matched to the Pistons when it comes to playing style than they were against the Hawks of Cavs. This will be another grind-it-out, low-scoring and hardnosed defense kind of series. But the thing is: the Celtics needed 14 games to beat Atlanta and Cleveland, and haven’t won a single game on the road. It makes you wonder how they will fare in The Palace of Auburn Hills. Luckily for the Celtics they start out in Boston, and Ray Allen can’t keep on shooting like he’s Ray Charles. If he ever finds his shot back, the time is now. Result? Pistons in seven. Unless Boston really shows why they won 66 games, I doubt they can beat Detroit. This would be very disappointing, because when you saw Boston during the regular season, they looked damn-near unbeatable. And who doesn’t want to see a Lakers-Celtics finale? But we might have to settle for a 2004 Finals rematch.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs

Point guard: Fisher vs. Parker. Derek Fisher might be more important to the Lakers than you might think. It was important to have him on the court against Deron Williams in the second round, because of his shots, leadership and also playmaking ability. Fisher always stays cool, and it will be interesting to see if the can somehow contain Tony Parker a little bit. The thing with both of these point guards is that they shoot a high percentage from the floor. Fisher won’t score 25 a game like Parker, but you can’t gamble and leave him open. Defensively, Parker won’t do much for you, but he’s so dangerous with the ball in his hands. Advantage: Spurs.

Shooting guard: Bryant vs. Ginobili. It would make more sense to talk about Bryant-Bowen, but for the sake of argument let’s keep it like this. Manu is a star in his own right, but a bit streakier than Kobe. Ginobili might not be a great one-on-one defender, but he is a damn smart one, because he’s one of the greatest actors in the game. Offensively, there isn’t much he can’t do. If his 3’s are falling too, it will be a long night for the Lakers. Then again, LA has the MVP of the League, an all-defensive first team selection, dangerous on both ends of the floor. And that’s an understatement. Kobe Bryant is hands down the best player in the NBA right now, and had a couple of days to relax his aching body after beating the Jazz in six. Will he get the Lakers back to the Finals? Advantage: Lakers.

Small forward: Radmanovic vs. Bowen. Well, they both can shoot 3’s. And one of them will be chasing Kobe Bryant all day and night, so it’s tough to say who will have the “advantage”, so to speak. When the Radman gets hot, he’s a valuable asset for the Lakers, but the dude is also know for some boneheaded plays. We could call him Vladimir Gump, because you never know what you’re gonna get. Phil Jackson did reward him with a starting role, and I must admit that Radmanovic is a bit more consistent than he used to be, so that’s a good thing. But as far as an impact on the game goes, Bowen is more dangerous. Why? Because he has the knack to make you, the Lakers and the city of Los Angeles hate him. And he embraces that role. Advantage: Spurs.

Power forward: Odom vs. Duncan. The thing I’ve noticed with Lamar Odom is that you have to get him going early on. When he gets a couple of easy buckets in the first few minutes of the game, he stays focused. He’s a tremendously talented player, but sometimes you just don’t see him out there. I’m interested who will get the defensive assignment on Tim Duncan. People can and will tell you how boring he is, be he is so fundamentally sound, he won four rings, and his team is competing for the championship every year, so my bet is that a lot of players want to be boring like good ol’ Timmy. He’s still one of the best, if not the best power forward out there. Advantage: Spurs.

Center: Gasol vs. Oberto. This also could’ve been Gasol vs. Thomas, but who cares? Oberto is very active on the court, does a little bit of everything and is a pretty good passer. Kurt Thomas was acquired in a trade late February, the first thing I thought: “One of the smartest trades this season”. If you saw Game 7 against the Hornets you know why. He had 6 rebounds in only 7 minutes. Sure, doesn’t seem much, does it? But 5 of them were offensive. That’s why you have a Kurt Thomas on your team. Pau will have some trouble playing against them, but what I like about Pau since he’s been on the Lakers, is that he always seems to be in the right place to get the easy basket. He’s very skilled offensively, so you definitely need to put a body on him at all times. Advantage: Lakers.

Bench: Let’s say Thomas comes off the bench for the Spurs, putting him in the game with (Next-Gen Bowen?) Ime Udoka and you’ve got the defensive end covered. And let’s not forget that Udoka is a legitimate threat from the 3-point arc. When Parker goes to the bench, Manu is the point guard with either Finley or Udoka playing alongside him, so with that eight-man rotation you can come a long way. The Lakers bench goes to four, with Vujacic, Farmar, Turiaf and Walton. Cool Hand Luke often replaces Radmanovic, which brings them another playmaker. Walton is not a guy who will give you great stats, but (warning: cliché ahead) he brings all the little things to the game that you can’t measure. A great passer and he can shoot a little. Jordan Farmar had some difficulties against Deron Williams in the second round, and it won’t get any easier for him against Parker or Ginobili. Ronny Turiaf is great. Very enthusiastic, whether he’s in the game or not. And if he is on the floor, he’ll dive after every ball, jumps for every board, and dunks as hard as he can if he gets the chance (on a final note: Trevor Ariza might be back too). But in this case, you have to go with experience and defense. Advantage: Spurs.

Coaching: Phil Jackson vs. Gregg Popovich. If Phil Jackson is one of the best coaches ever, Pop is right up there. Sure, Jackson has won more titles, but Popovich has some experience himself too, right? I’ll choose the easy way out. Advantage: none.

What I’d say: The Spurs sometimes looked lost against the Hornets, but showed who the reigning champs in Game 7 were. They play good D, and have the ability to score with Parker and Manu running out there, and Duncan manning the block. The starting five of the Lakers can all score, so that makes it hard to defend them. I can see them beating the Spurs in seven, but I’m wondering if I’m really objective in making such a statement.

If you actually finished reading this blog, it might be June already, thanks!