Archive for the ‘NBA’ Category

What’s a team to do? Do the underdogs have a chance in the Conference Finals?

May 18, 2016

Early in the NBA Playoffs, when there are 16 teams and 8 different series going on, there are so many games that we’re forced to be a little bit patient with our game to game reactions.

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What’s a team to do?

Now that we’ve pared down the number of teams, there’s so much more time to look at things that we make grand statements and overreact on a daily basis.  Everyone is jumping onto the Thunder bandwagon and completely writing off the Raptors after the respective Game One’s, and there is some validity to the reactions that people have, but it’s important to remember how we reacted during the last round. After the Spurs’ blowout win over the Thunder, every story was about how screwed the Thunder were and whether this was the end of Kevin Durant’s time in OKC. Fast forward a week and a half, and the narrative has shifted to where people are practically inking his signature on Thunder letterhead for him. Similarly, the Raptors were written off multiple times in the series against both Miami and Indiana. When DeRozan and Lowry were doing their best old-Kobe Bryant impressions, they were a franchise that needed to blow things up. Now, they’re the resilient team that finally broke through into the Conference Finals. Like I said, there’s a chance that the Thunder have unlocked their potential, and a very strong chance that the Raptors are toast against Cleveland, but let’s look at how things could potentially play out moving forward. (more…)

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What’s on the line? Another look at legacy.

May 5, 2016

Every year, in every walk of life, people start careers and retire, work hard or quit and succeed or fail. From the beginning of an endeavor until the very end, everything we do contributes toward our reputation.

If you’re an actor, every role you take gets added to your IMDB page. For better or worse, if your name’s on it, it’s there forever. Robert De Niro is one of the greatest actors of all time, with roles in Godfather Part II, The Deer Hunter, Goodfellas and the Untouchables (among many others), but even De Niro has a few things on his resume he’d probably sooner forget. He’s great, but I don’t know if Dirty Grandpa and Meet the Fockers are going to be ones he remembers fondly on his death-bed. The good news for De Niro is that we tend to forgive actors for the terrible projects they’re a part of. When we look back at careers, we don’t care about the awful movies or shows, we just look at the things we love.

Fockers? What Fockers?

Like actors, athletes are judged based on what they produce throughout their careers. Unlike actors, we don’t forgive and forget  athletic failures quite as quickly and easily. We look at individual legacies in every sport, but with the exception of starting quarterbacks in the NFL, nobody is judged nearly as harshly as an NBA player. Karl Malone and Charles Barkley combined for 60,685 points and played significant roles on playoff teams throughout their careers, but they’re the first two players mentioned when lists of players without championships are put together.  Despite all the highlights and dominance, all we remember is Karl Malone clanking free throws against the Bulls and Charles Barkley’s forlorn expression as Jordan celebrated another title. With the end of Kobe Bryant’s career and the dwindling lights of Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan, legacy has been at the forefront of this whole season, and the playoffs are no exception. Every players’ reputation is going to be altered forever, but there are a few guys or teams who have more at stake than the rest.

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Round 1- The East.

April 15, 2016

The NBA season is a marathon, a slog, a death march or a victory lap.

It can be any or all of those things depending on what part of the season you’re in or what team you follow. As a fan of the Chicago Bulls, this season never lived up to any expectations. Despite a few solid streaks, the team never felt like a contender and everything from the All-Star Break on was like watching a beloved family pet at the end of their life; it hurt to see them in pain and while I still loved them, I just wanted to put them out of their misery. If you’re a Warriors’ fan, this entire year was one big victory celebration. I’ve lived that life before with the 1990’s Bulls, and can say that there’s no better sports experience than watching your team celebrate a title while simultaneously kicking the crap out of everyone they played. Whether your team is great, awful or something in between, the season is too long. That’s a discussion for another day, but what really matters is that all the pain and drudgery of the long regular season is behind us and it’s time for the good stuff to start.

Round One match-ups have a tendency to be less than exciting,

the bottom half of the playoff bracket is obviously less strong than the top, and you end up with some horrendous mismatches and very quick series. Occasionally you’ll get an upset in the first round, but normally things play out according to plan. In order to make these first few series more watchable, it helps to do a quick look at how each set of teams matches up: the key factors, the most important players and maybe a fun fact or two for when it’s a 30 point blowout. I’ll also highlight what my favorite match-up in each series is. So, without further Adu, let’s dive in:

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Go hard, or go home.

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The Microwaves

April 13, 2016

The Microwaves:

The Detroit Pistons of the late 80’s and early 90’s were successful primarily based on their defense and toughness of Bill Lambeer and Rick Mahorn as well as the leadership provided by Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. However, they did have to find scoring in an era where the run and gun style was in vogue.  One often overlooked aspect of those teams was their spark-plug off the bench: Vinnie Johnson. Nicknamed “The Microwave” for how quickly he could heat up after coming into the game, Johnson was never shy about shooting, averaging 18 points and 16 shots per 36 minutes for his career. Like any other prolific bench scorer, he occasionally drove his coaches crazy, but he also carried the team offensively when the rest of the lineup couldn’t get it going. He provided them with consistent offense throughout his career, but his finest moment came in Game 5  of the 1990 finals when he hit the series clinching shot with .7 seconds left and cemented his Detroit legacy for all time.

Dating back to the 1950’s era Celtics, nearly every title winner has a microwave type of guy on their roster. Bill Simmons refers to them as “Irrational Confidence Guys”. They have no reason to believe that they’re superstars, but in their own mind, they’re equal with the best players in the league and assert themselves on offense accordingly.  Oddly enough, the Warriors don’t have any guys like this since the entire Golden State system is based on the players all having a permanent green light; with the understanding that too many bad shots will get you benched, but aside from the them, the rest of the contenders have at least one Microwave on the roster. (Author’s note- JR Smith is the ultimate Microwave, but he’s a starter now, so he doesn’t qualify.)

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Linsane in the membrane

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The Other guys- Hack a Backups

April 12, 2016

There’s no question that the NBA is a star driven league.

Every title-winning team has at least one dominant player, most have two and with the high level of talent in the league today, it’s become a near necessity for contenders to put together a roster with three All-Star  caliber players in order to have a realistic chance at winning. The desire to group stars together brought us multiple tanking efforts and offloading of contracts in the last few years, and while it is the stars that get you to the playoffs and ideally make the big plays for you, the back half of your roster is nearly as important.

Ever since Red Auerbach helped popularize the concept of the “Sixth Man” with the 50’s and 60’s Celtics, a powerful bench has been a key component for contending teams.

The teams of the 80’s had guys like Vinnie Johnson, Danny Ainge, Michael Cooper and Andrew Toney (Pistons, Celtics, Lakers and 76ers respectively). The 1990’s Bulls had John Paxson and Steve Kerr hit game winners, and there’s no way the 2000’s Lakers make the runs they did without guys like Rick Fox and Robert Horry. The Heat had Shane Battier and Chris Anderson and it’s impossible to overrate the impact of guys like Boris Diaw and Danny Green for the Spurs. I could go on all day about the number of important guys who don’t get top billing, but suffice it to say, winning or losing the biggest games often goes beyond the top players and boils down to the other guys.

Last years’ Playoffs may have been the high water mark for role players getting their 15 minutes of fame. In the first 3 rounds of the playoffs,  Kelly Olynyk swung the course of the playoffs with his part in Kevin Love’s shoulder injury, Matthew Dellavedova initiated scraps with Taj Gibson of the Bulls and Al Horford of the Hawks; helping to get them ejected in key moments and Thabo Sefalosha’s absence completely scrapped the Hawks’ offensive flow. The Warriors were on life support against the Memphis Grizzlies until Steve Kerr switched his defense to force the Memphis role players to take a larger part in the game. They were unable to step up their game, and the Warriors cruised from that point on. The Rockets were dead in the water when Kevin McHale got tired of James Harden’s B.S. and pulled him in Game 6 against the Clippers. With the league’s MVP runner-up on the bench, Houston went on a historic run led by Josh Smith and Corey Brewer. I’ve seen a lot of strange things in sports, but nothing prepared me for the headline “Clutch plays from Josh Smith key Rockets’ rally”.

Just when we thought we hit the apex of glue guy impact, everything climaxed in the Finals with Andre Iguodala winning the MVP award for his part in “slowing down” LeBron James. Even though he’s 2 percent body fat and looks like a superhero, Iggy represented the scrappy little guy. When he won that MVP, everyone who had ever come off the bench in a sport puffed their chest out a little bit; one of our own had helped beat the best player in the world. 

While we may have hit the super-sub apex last year, that doesn’t mean the importance of these guys has eroded in any way. I can’t say that I have all the answers, in fact, I probably have next to none of them, but that never stops me from trying to find them. It’s easy to pick out the stars in this years’ playoffs, but let’s take a look at which non-stars are going to swing the title.

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You’ve gotta love the Big Diesel.

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The Agony of Defeat

May 21, 2015

The agony of defeat….

As fans, we all live for the thrill of victory: the shared buzz of happiness with our fellow fans, the over the top social media posts letting everyone know that our team is clearly the best and everyone else’s team is the worst thing ever and  even the excitement that comes from knowing the highlights will be replayed over and over the next day.  Unfortunately, only one team each year gets to experience the aforementioned thrill. For every other fan base, the season ultimately ends in the agony of defeat. Whether it’s when your team craps out in the playoffs or it’s on day one when you realize your team sucks, nearly everyone goes home on the losing end.
When the season starts and you know that your team is a complete dumpster fire, you can still find reasons to watch and things to cheer for. You can pick out young players, reclamation projects and individual games that interest you, or you can ‘hate watch’ and cheer for losses to get a higher draft pick. There’s really no right or wrong way to go about rooting for a bad team, whatever it takes for you to get through it as painlessly as possible is the right choice.
A much more difficult task is dealing with playoff defeat. The NBA Playoffs have a tendency to resemble a death march. The weak teams are picked off early and then it’s just a matter of seeing which teams can make the run to the finish line without succumbing to the pressure.  Like I said previously, only one team will come out as champion, with a couple more being legitimate contenders, but if your team made the playoffs, they’re technically in the running for the title so it’s tough to come to terms with their demise. It could be due to injury, bad luck, injuries or just not being good enough, but eventually, we all go through the 5 stages of sports grief. (more…)

Deep breath- Round 2 is here.

May 8, 2015

The first round of the NBA playoffs is all about endurance. Not just for the players, coaches and training staff who endured as many as 7 games in 2 weeks, but also for NBA fans themselves. The process of separating the basketball wheat from the chaff is painful at times and grinding at best. I’ve been a Bulls fan my whole life, and it took everything I had to watch games against the Milwaukee Bucks. By the time they finished off the young Bucks in game 6 with a 54(!!!!) point win, I had seen enough terrible passes, missed lay-ups and bricked jumpers to last a lifetime. You don’t watch sloppy basketball, you survive it.

The less than stellar quality of some of the first round matchups really brought to light how beautiful and sad the Spurs/Clippers matchup was. The biggest mistake I made in my NBA preview was discounting the Clippers’ chances. Thanks to the agreement the team has with Fox Sports San Diego, I’ve watched more Clippers games than any other team all season. I thought I had a read on them; they seemed like the type of team I wouldn’t trust in the playoffs- marvelously talented but as soft as the fancy toilet paper that doesn’t leave scraps on the bear’s butt in the commercial. After the most intense series I have ever watched, one which featured Blake Griffin eating Aaron Baynes’ soul, Tim Duncan turning back the clock to 1997 and a pro wrestling style display of mutual admiration, the Clips have earned my belated respect. After Chris Paul capped off a Willis Reed style gut check with a ridiculous one-legged floater that somehow dropped in, all I could think about was how wrong I was in misjudging them.

For the first time since the playoffs started, Thursday night had no games, which finally gave me a chance to take a deep breath and think about the other things I liked seeing in the 1st round and all the things I was looking forward to in the 2nd.
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Playoffs? You wanna talk about playoffs??

January 22, 2010

So, after two long months of absolutely no writing, and with the inspiration of Jim Mora, today seems like the best time to re-introduce myself. (more…)

Pacers-Heat… What to Watch

October 30, 2009

For all of you not lucky enough to get Fox Sports Indianapolis (or NBA League Pass), allow me to guide you through how the Pacers can beat Dwyane Wade and the Heat. It comes down to these four simple points: (more…)

Pacer Postgame (ATL 120, IND 109)

October 28, 2009

Wanted to throw out some thoughts after the first Pacers’ game of the year in Atlanta:

1. This is a young team.

The average age of this team is 26.1, which was evident as the Pacers committed 25 turnovers in Atlanta tonight. You have to expect mistakes from a young team, particularly against a team that puts a ton of pressure on the ball like the Hawks do. But if you are going to be a good team, that turnover number needs to be cut in half. (more…)