Where Does Melo Go From Here?

Nothing seems to be going right in the life of Carmelo Anthony at the moment. Phil Jackson recently gave a press conference in which he said, “I think the direction with our team is that he is a player that would be better off somewhere else and using his talent somewhere where he can win or chase that championship.”

He is unwanted and, according to Jackson, unneeded in New York.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there are reports coming out that he and his wife of seven years will be getting a divorce after rumors that he got a stripper pregnant.

Carmelo’s life and career are at a crossroads. The question that begs to be answered is, where does Melo go from here?

Career Accomplishments

Carmelo Anthony

(Photo Credit: AP Richard Drew)

Carmelo is a legend at Syracuse University. In the 2002-03 season, Carmelo led the Orange to their first national championship. He averaged 22.2 points and 10 rebounds per game. He was also named the tournament’s most outstanding player that season. His future was bright and he was picked third overall in the 2003 NBA draft.

Carmelo has also been a successful international basketball player. One could argue he is the most successful basketball olympian in United States history. Melo has a record of playing on four Olympic rosters, and a record three gold medals. Melo also holds the record for most points scored in a USA Men’s Olympic game with 37 against Nigeria in 2012.

He is first all-time in each of the following: games played (31), career points (336), rebounds (125), field goals made (113), field goals attempted (262), 3-pointers attempted (139), free throws made (53) and free throws attempted (71). He is also second all-time in 3-pointers made (57).

Carmelo’s NBA career hasn’t led to as much hardware, but he has still had a great career. Melo is a 10-time all star, has been named to an All-NBA team six times and was the scoring champion in the 2012-13 season.

One of his best accomplishments in the NBA was when he led the Denver Nuggets to the Western Conference Championship in 2009, but fell to Kobe and the Lakers 4-2.

Carmelo has scored 24,156 career points in 15 NBA seasons. He has over 3,000 assists and over 6,000 rebounds, but a championship is what eludes him. The Knicks have openly said he will be better off chasing that ring somewhere else, but where?

The Path to A Ring

Carmelo Anthony

(Photo Credit: http://clutchpoints.com)

Melo has few options if all he is looking for is a ring. Those options include the Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics.

It would be foolish for the Knicks to release Carmelo Anthony, but it may be their only option. Melo is under contract until July of 2019 and has a no-trade clause. He will veto any trade that is not to a championship contender, or a trade that leaves the new team without the pieces needed to win that elusive title. If the Knicks really want to part ways with Melo, they may have to just cut him.

Boston

The Celtics would be a great fit for both Melo and the team. Boston managed to get the No. 1 seed in the east despite only having one major option on offense in Isaiah Thomas.

Adding Anthony would bring in an easy 20 points per game and veteran leadership to a team that tied for the third youngest team (25.6) in the NBA. Both Melo and the Celtics would help one another in trying to win a ring.

Los Angeles

One team that is often mentioned in Anthony rumors is the Los Angeles Clippers. The team is loaded with talent, but fails to make an impact in the history books.

Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony are close friends who both need to validate their careers with an NBA championship. Neither wants to go down in history like Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, John Stockton or Karl Malone.

If Anthony is cut, this would be his ideal spot. A team with Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan could only get better by adding Anthony. The Western Conference is loaded, but this makes the Clippers a legitimate threat rather than just a bump in the road out west.

Cleveland

The last team that Melo could sign with, if cut, is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Melo is just as close with LeBron as he is with Chris Paul. Cleveland may win a title this year, but if they don’t, it’s because they ran into a Warriors team that loaded up with Kevin Durant. The answer to that would be to get Anthony and his scoring. He would take pressure off Kyrie and LeBron.

The Cavs are in less need of Melo than Melo is of the Cavs. Signing with Cleveland would prove that all Melo wants is that trophy. He wouldn’t be in the spotlight or the face of a franchise, which is something Melo has never experienced. Signing in Cleveland would all but guarantee him that ring he so desperately wants.

Conclusion

Carmelo Anthony

(Photo Credit: http://clutchpoints.com)

As Carmelo enters the twilight of his playing days, he is focused on one thing: winning. Knowing that  the Knicks no longer want or need him will make him seek a team that does want him.

He will also need a distraction from his personal problems, and finding another team can help with that. It is hard to see where Carmelo goes from here, but one thing is for certain: his playing days in New York are over.

 

 

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Who Can Knock Off Cleveland

Cleveland Cavaliers’ Threats in the Eastern Conference

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the clear-cut favorites to win the Eastern Conference and make it to the Finals. It makes you think: Who can knock off Cleveland in the East? Most assume that the Warriors and Cavaliers will meet for a third-straight Finals but that assumption could be dangerous. There are teams who could beat the Cavs and mess up everyone’s dream matchup.

The first version of this short series looked at who could knock off Golden State. If you haven’t read it you can check it out here.

LeBron James has led his team to the Finals for six straight years. It is safe to say the road to the Finals goes through Cleveland. Because it has been so long since a team not featuring LeBron has been to the Finals, it is hard to see anyone beating Cleveland in the East. Here are a few teams with the shot to dethrone the Eastern Conference Champions.

Boston Celtics

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

Boston is just three games back of the Cavaliers for the number one seed and have one more game remaining against the Cavs. Getting that first seed could be the all-important factor in the Celtics’ chances of upsetting Cleveland as the home team has won every game this season. The Cavs have won two of the three games but all have been close contests.

In all three games, Isaiah Thomas has scored 30 points or more. They match up well all along the wing with valuable minutes coming from Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown. Boston’s depth gives them a shot at the upset.

To beat Cleveland in a seven game series, Boston will need its frontcourt to play well. It is the weakest area of the team and they have the fourth worst rebounding differential (-3.6) in the NBA. In their recent win over Cleveland, they won the rebounding battle 47-41.

Getting home court can be helpful but the key to Boston upsetting Cleveland will be in the frontcourt play and they will have to win that rebound battle with a healthy Kevin Love who did not play in the last matchup.

Toronto Raptors

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Like a few other teams in the NBA, the Raptors are dealing with injuries. Kyle Lowry is a key player for Toronto and without him the Raptors have no shot at upsetting the Cavs. With that said, Lowry should be back in time for the playoffs.

Last season the Raptors faced the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals but lost the series 4-2. The Raptors struggled in the front court in that series.

The addition of Serge Ibaka was one of the most important in-season deals this year. Ibaka not only gives the Raptors a presence in the frontcourt, but he can stretch the floor on offense. He is a shot blocker on the defensive end and has lots of playoff experience.

Another addition that will help the Raptors chances of upsetting the Cavs is the addition of P.J. Tucker. Tucker provides a spark off the bench and impacts the game in multiple ways. It remains to be seen where this team will finish in the standings but this team should not be taken lightly. DeMar DeRozen needs to be a superstar for them to win a series against Cleveland as well.

They got off to a horrible slump against the Cavs last year but with those two additions they are a better team then they were last season. The Cavs cannot take them lightly or this season the Cavs will be sent home early.

Washington Wizards

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

John Wall and Bradley Beal are both having their best seasons of their careers. It can be argued that they have the best backcourt in all of basketball. Yes, as good as Golden State’s backcourt. Wall is second in assists per game with 10.9. Both guards average 22 points per game. These two stars carry the Wizards but the role players are they key to upsetting the Cavs.

Marcin Gortat is a veteran who plays big inside the paint. He could give the Cavs problems in a seven game series. Along with Gortat, the Wizards get big contributions from Markieff Morris, Jason Smith, and Kelly Oubre Jr.

The Wizards are also getting a career year out of Otto Porter who is averaging a career-high in minutes (33.8), field goal percentage (52.6%), three-point percentage (45.7%), free throw percentage (80%), rebounds (6.6), steals (1.6), blocks (0.6), and points (14.1).

This team has been playing well, especially at home were they are 25-9. Washington also signed veteran point guard Brandon Jennings will have a big impact off the bench when giving Wall some rest. They also traded for Bojan Bogdanovic who has played in five games with Washington and most recently dropped 27 points on the Raptors. As he finds his role with the Wizards he will become a valuable player. These two additions together will be huge in their pursuit of the Eastern Conference Championship.

It will take a team effort but with how well the Wizards play at home all they need to do is steal a game on the road. If they steal a game in Cleveland and John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter continue their amazing season they will upset Cleveland.

 

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February NBA MVP Rankings

It’s February, which means there are only about two months left in the NBA season. It’s been one of the strongest seasons in terms of individual performances in recent memory.

With so many outstanding performances this year, it’s important to try and sort out who is in the front running for the 2017 MVP award.

Tier 1: The guys who actually have a shot

1. Russell Westbrook: James Harden is currently the most popular pick for MVP in the eyes of many fans, but Westbrook has a small edge here for a few reasons.

For starters, Westbrook is essentially a lone wolf in terms of scoring on the Thunder. Their starting lineup consists of Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Steve Adams. No one besides Westbrook is a serious help on offense.

Westbrook is carrying this team to the playoffs right now.February NBA MVP Rankings

James Harden has a team built to score around him. The proficiency of their three point shooters also spaces the floor and gives him enough space to score and distribute the way he does.

Nothing against Harden and the incredible season he has been putting up, but Westbrook’s season is just more impressive. Additionally, the historical precedent is enough to justify putting Russell Westbrook in the top spot.

He would be just the second player in the history of the NBA to average a triple-double. How can someone having that unprecedented of a season not get the MVP?

Understandably, the guy below him on this list is having a historic season of his own. The gravity of averaging a triple-double over a season simply cannot be understated. The fact that he has been a much more formidable defender than the other two point guards in tier 1 helps his case immensely.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of NBA)

2. James Harden: What have we been missing all these years with Harden not playing point? The race is so close between Harden and Westbrook right now.

Harden is leading the league in assists and is third in points per game. Westbrook is leading the league in scoring and third in assists per game. Harden’s Rockets having a far superior record to the Thunder will most likely be used as reasoning for putting Harden ahead of Westbrook.

Harden’s superior team around him is impossible to ignore however.
It would be unsurprising if either of these players won the award this year. A strong argument can clearly be made for both. Right now, the season long triple-double give Westbrook the slightest of advantages. Let the stretch run begin.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

3. Lebron James: Voter fatigue is a real thing. LeBron has been dominating the league for so long now, that he can put up ridiculous stats without attracting much attention.

He is averaging more than 25 points per game this year while adding more than eight assists and rebounds. Those would both be tied for his career high. He’s also boosted his 3-point average and is hitting at his best rate since 2011. His play has been a notch below Harden and Westbrook, but you can’t ignore what the King has been doing in Ohio this year.

It’s likely that the recent debacle with Charles Barkley will negatively impact his standing with MVP voters as well. Lebron would have to go on a tear to catch up with the two guys in front of him. Unlikely? yes. But impossible? No.

Tier 2: Guys with an outside shot

4. Isaiah Thomas: The last pick in the 2011 draft continues to impress this year. Not to mention, he has been the undisputed belt-holder of the “best in the fourth quarter” award.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of The Boston Globe)

19 of his 44 points came in the fourth on Wednesday. That was in the midst of a ferocious fourth quarter comeback. He has been a man possessed for the last few months and he has lead the Celtics to the second spot in the East.

Only one thing keeps Thomas from vaulting into the top tier. His defense is some of the worst in the league. According to ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus ratings, it is in fact the worst among point guards.

He’s become somewhat of a revolving door for opposing offensive players as they blow by him to get easy buckets. Quite simply, Isaiah Thomas does not have much of a chance at grabbing an MVP award this year. His scoring isn’t quite at the level of Harden’s and he has been playing some of the worst defense in the league. It won’t be this year for Isaiah Thomas.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of JordanDaily)

5. Kawhi Leonard: In typical Spurs fashion, Kawhi Leonard has been quietly dominating the league. He’s not the flashiest guy in the league. He doesn’t make the headlines that other superstars do. At this point, it’s pretty clear that he is the best two-way player in the league.

Offensively, he has taken a huge leap. He is now averaging 25.5 points per game with 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He’s the perfect player for that system as well.

The Spurs lost a lot of leadership and talent with the departure of Tim Duncan, but Kawhi has evidently filled that role. They’re clearly one of the three best teams in the league this year, and Kawhi has let them remain a contender.

Perhaps most impressive is his 3-point shooting. He came into the league as a poor shooter, but is shooting 40 percent from down town. He is scoring more that he ever has while remaining a huge defensive force.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of Sporting News)

6: Kevin Durant: Kevin Durant recently talked about how he would start to let Steph Curry run the offense and take a step back. Durant’s season, however, has been one of the best of his career. It has certainly been his most efficient as a result of having Klay Thompson and Steph Curry spread the floor around him. Despite his cold streak recently, he is sporting a slash line of .541, .377 and .875.

He hasn’t had to shoot as much as he had to in OKC, but he is doing more with his touches than before. Not to mention, he’s averaging more than eight rebounds and eight assists. If he didn’t have another MVP candidate on his team, Kevin Durant would be much higher on this list.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

7. Stephen Curry: Just one year removed from being the unanimous MVP, Steph has seen diminished production with his diminished touches. Not to mention, he has been heating up lately and has been taking control of the offense.

Since Durant’s comments about letting Steph play his game, Curry has put up 43 and 39 points, while adding five and nine rebounds, and six and eight assists.

If Steph can continue to play at that level, he will undoubtedly rise up the ranks. It will be impossible for him to even come close to his astronomical numbers that he put up last season, but Curry can certainly make his way into the conversation for MVP. As of now, he finds himself on the fringes with a long shot.

Tier 3: Great seasons, but no shot

8. Anthony Davis: Anthony Davis deserves to be on a better team. For the fifth straight year, Anthony Davis is on a subpar team. He is also putting up ridiculous numbers for the fifth straight year.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of For The Win)

Davis is putting up career highs with 27.9 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. He is tying his career high in assists with 2.2 per game as well.

There have been four players in NBA history who have put up 28 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks per game. Shaquille O’Neal did it three times, Bob McAdoo did it three times, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it once. That’s some elite company.

There’s absolutely no chance that Davis is going to win the MVP award based on the fact that he’s on a terrible team. Even if the Pelicans are able to play their way into the eighth seed in the West, it’s unlikely that The Brow will get serious MVP consideration. It is a shame. Get this man on a better team!

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of CSN)

9. John Wall: John Wall has been on an absolute tear lately. Of the 16 games in 2017, John Wall has nine double-doubles. He now has 28 double-doubles on the season.

Wall has been the engine on one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. He’s done so by averaging a career high in both points, assists, and steals. He’s having one of the best seasons of his career and he has established himself as one of the best point guards in the league.

His uptick in production hasn’t effected his efficiency either. He is scoring at the best rate of his career while taking more shots per game.

John Wall has earned this spot on the list this year by turning the Wizards into a contender in the East. He is solid on both ends of the floor and continues to improve in his bigger role.

February NBA MVP Rankings

(Courtesy of AP)

10. Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Greek Freak has made it clear that he is going to be a force in the league for years to come. He is the only player leading his team in every stat category, and has dazzled all year with freakishly athletic highlights.

Giannis, like Anthony Davis, has no shot at winning this award simply because of the team that he plays on. The Bucks have a chance at getting one of the lower seeds in the Eastern Conference, but it’s not likely to give him a chance at the award.

It’s not likely it will matter. Giannis will see his name on many top-ten lists in years to come and might just have his name engraved on an MVP trophy someday. This is not his year though.

 

 

 

 

 

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Isaiah Thomas: The Superstar We Nearly Overlooked

Isaiah Jamar Thomas. The  60th pick in the 2011 NBA draft is having a season that no NBA fan would call irrelevant. The 5’9” guard is showing the world why executives who drafted players such as Kyle Singler, Jon Leur and Shelvin Mack before him were erroneous picks.

Isaiah Thomas

The Boston Celtic hasn’t had the easiest road to where he is now – among the league’s elite. Traded twice in his now five-year career, it seemed as though Thomas would never be valued as an elite talent.

The Sacramento Kings reportedly wanted Darren Collison to possess the starting role over Thomas, and Thomas was averaging 20.3 points and 6.3 assists at the time of the trade. Isaiah was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Alex Oriakhi and a 7.3 million dollar trade exception in a sign-and-trade deal. For context, Oriakhi has never played a game in the Association, and now has a career in the Euro League.

Isaiah Thomas

Why would any team trade a player like Thomas? Clearly he had the potential to be something special. That is a question many would ask again at the 2014-2015 trade deadline.

Shortly after signing a four-year, 27 million dollar contract in the desert, the diminutive guard was on the move again, this time to the Boston Celtics. Amidst reports of derision among the crowded backcourt in Phoenix, the Suns front office sent Goran Dragic to the Miami Heat in a separate deadline deal.

Finally, Thomas landed on a team that appreciated his services and reaped the benefits of that trust. This relationship has propelled the Celtics to be a force, not only in the Eastern Conference, but the entire league.

During that 14-15 season, Boston won 40 games and squeaked into the postseason as the seventh seed. Isaiah finished second in Sixth Man voting that year. In his first playoff series, Thomas led the team in scoring with 17.5 points and assists with seven per game. He didn’t start a game that series. The team however, lost in four to the eventual conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

In his first full season with the team, Thomas had 24.8 points almost seven assists per 36 minutes, while shooting 46% from the field and 35% percent from three. He went on to start a career-high 79 games. The team won 48 games, and secured a fifth seed in a log-jammed conference. Thomas, deservedly so, played in his first All-star Game.

This season has seen the point guard take his game to even higher heights. He’s fourth in scoring at 28 points per game, and one of only seven players to score 50+ points this season. Elite players such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry have yet to record a 50-point game this season. He is also in the top ten in free throw attempts at nearly nine a game. Additionally, he’s hitting them at a career high 90% rate.

Isaiah Thomas

It’s not all about individual success either. With the addition of Al Horford in the offseason and the emergence of Avery Bradley, this Celtics team currently sits third in the East and is on pace for a 50-win season.

Isaiah saw 59 other players taken before him that talent loaded 2011 draft. Of players drafted in 2011, Thomas ranks fourth in minutes played this season and leads that draft in scoring. He’s well on his way to his second All-Star appearance as he is leading his team to a great season.

For Isaiah, he relishes the opportunity he has and thoroughly enjoys it per Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

…I’m like, man, I play for the Boston Celtics. I’m the franchise player for the Boston Celtics. Like, it doesn’t make sense.”

Isaiah may not have been appreciated for what he was early on, but now we see him for what he is — the superstar we don’t deserve, but are as grateful as anyone to have.

 

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NBA New Year’s Resolutions: Eastern Conference

The NBA season is inching closer and closer to the All-star break, meaning the painting of the 2016-2017 season is almost complete.

Teams now have to look at their respective seasons and determine if the direction they’re heading in is the one they planned for prior to the season starting. There have been surprises and disappointments throughout this still early part of the season.

However, the NBA season is a long one. For prospering teams, success is fleeting. It’s not a wise choice to rest on early accomplishments; always continue to grow. Conversely, a bad season can turn with one hot streak putting a team directly in the thick of the playoff race.

With the new year beginning, some teams may want to make resolutions in the new year as the competition begins to heat up. There’s no time like the present to shore up some deficiencies that can be exploited in the playoffs. When the game slows down, coaches and their staffs have time to game plan, and the will to win escalates.

Let’s take a look at three Eastern Conference resolutions.

Boston Celtics- Get physical on the glass

The Boston Celtics are sitting pretty at third in the conference, but almost every game played seems to be a close one. The Celtics are a plus 19.5 net rating in the clutch this season in 24 such games. Isaiah Thomas is in the top five in scoring with almost 28 points per game and should be a lock for an All-Star spot in the East. Avery Bradley is having a career year across the board, along with the rest of the team contributing in positive ways.

Rebounding happens to not be one of those things that Boston is needing help in. They are bottom three in the league, grabbing 41 rebounds per 100 possessions.

In December, the Celtics were outrebounded in 13 of their 14 games, going 7-6 in those games. Opponents grab 11 offensive rebounds per 100 possessions, which is the fifth most in the league. Additionally, the leading rebounder on the team is Bradley at seven per game. This squad has played in a lot of close games, and has performed well. Gaining a rebounding advantage against opponents can be the difference in wins and losses.

Toronto Raptors- Shoot more from behind the arc

With a 113 offensive rating, the Raptors are only percentage points behind the Golden State Warriors who have a team made up of hyper-efficient players. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are leading this team every night. Lowry is another Eastern Conference All-Star lock and having an incredibly efficient offensive season. His defense has also been up to the task. The Raptors are in the top five in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and three-point percentage.

This is team that does everything in its power to get the ball in the hoop. Even with a stellar three-point rate, the team north of the border doesn’t take many.  Only 28% of the team’s total points come from three-point land. Cleveland and Golden State sit at 39% and 35% respectively. What’s even more perplexing is that Toronto has six players that shoot 36% or above from distance – only one of those players average more than five attempts – Lowry at 7.6 attempts per game.

Charlotte Hornets- Limit opponent open threes

Steve Clifford’s team is one of the rising teams in teams in the East. The Hornets do a lot of things very well, particularly on defense. They are seventh in defensive efficiency, have an incredible defensive rebound percentage, and their opponent free throw rate that ranks 1st in the league.

Charlotte allows 30 three point attempts a game. The Hornets allow 12 open threes a game. Opponents aren’t hitting their open shots, startlingly. Teams are only shooting 33 percent on the open threes that Charlotte provides. This could be based on the teams that they’re up against, or less likely, luck. Either way, this is one of those regular season trends that could come back to haunt them in the postseason.

After giving up a rare offensive rebound, Charlotte failed to recover to the open Nikola Mirotic — waiting for the pass. No one fully commits on the closeout and Mirotic drains an open three in important time in the game.

 

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If LeBron James took a Year Off: Who’s Ready?

LeBron James. 12-time all Star, 3 NBA championships, 3 MVPs, 10 all-NBA teams. The six straight finals, the two championships with the Miami Heat and the one for the Cleveland Cavaliers. This past NBA finals saw James almost single-handedly take a championship back from the clutches of the Golden State Warriors. Over 40,000 minutes played over his 13 year illustrious career. 8,383 playoff minutes.

USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports

His place set at the table of NBA deities. If he decided to take a year off, would anyone blame him? Outside of GM David Griffin, there shouldn’t be any backlash or drop in Q rating. He probably wouldn’t take up baseball a la Michael Jordan. But what would most likely take away from the shock and intrigue from his departure would be which team would take the title as the number one seed from the Cavs. It’s not a stretch to assume that the Cavs would no longer be the prohibitive favorites to repeat as champions.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

 

No team that assumed that role would be the favorites either. There isn’t a team in the league without James that has the ability to knock off the Warriors especially now that they’ve added Kevin Durant. No harm in trying though. There are 3 teams in the Conference that have the talent to take the next shot at the Dubs.

 

Honorable mention

Cleveland Cavaliers- one would have to assume that James left a winning culture behind. With Kyrie Irving coming off his first Ring, and maybe a successful Olympics there is a chance he will take a leap in his leadership role and help keep the team competitive and out of the lottery. Irving and Love should be a formidable offensive combo.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

That’s how they would have to operate, outscore the other team. The defense would be sub-par at best. With LeBron off the court last season the team’s offensive rating dropped 13.9 points to an anemic 101.6 points. Coach Tyronn Lue has to devise a plan to keep the offense flowing and productive. If none of these things happen, the Cavs would be back competing for a different number one.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

 

Most likely to succeed

Boston Celtics- Fans of the Celtics are extremely optimistic about their team even with Lebron still in the league. But for the purpose of this exercise, I’ll also extend some glass half full perspective. They added Al Horford, an all-star with great IQ and a well above average jack-of-all trades. Passing, shooting, defense. Although he only shot 34% from 3 with the Atlanta Hawks last season he made 84% percent of his attempts at the rim. With Isaiah Thomas penetrating the defense and getting to the rack, there should be plenty of close range shots for Horford.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

Horford has great defensive instincts. He knows where to be and has to the ability to get there on time. He’ll be thirty years old when the season starts so while a slight decline would be expected, he should have just enough athleticism left to be a rim protector. Additionally, he would fit right in as the team’s leader. This Celtics squad is starved for someone to be the alpha. Thomas is the leading scorer, but is he ready to spearhead a contender?

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

Toronto Raptors- Last year’s eastern conference runner’s up should have enough experience and continuity to take the number one spot. They had a record regular season, winning over 50 games for the first time in franchise history. The backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan was extremely formidable. Both averaging over 20 points per game in the regular season. Jonas Valanciunas also had a plus season for them as well. The playoffs however saw their backcourt struggle.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

Derozan’s lack of 3-point shooting in the regular season didn’t hurt as much (1.8 attempts per game) in the playoffs though his paltry 15% shooting from behind the arc was flat out embarrassing. Lowry’s very noted struggles only add to the fact that maybe when the expectations are high, he wouldn’t be able to lead them past his competitors. Nevertheless, with no James to have to overcome it could relieve some of the tension and lead to a more carefree environment for them.

 

Dark horse squad

The Indiana Pacers team that challenged James’ Heat teams are no more. Roy Hibbert is no longer an all-star type player and no longer plays for the Pacers. David West, the team’s enforcer and veteran leader is playing for pennies for the Warriors. George Hill, the underappreciated point guard that manned the backcourt now plays for a budding Utah Jazz team. Frank Vogel, the head coach that manned an almost impenetrable defense was fired and now Coaches the Orlando Magic.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

The only Major piece left is Paul George. The forward averaged a career high in points last season at 23 ppg only a season after missing 76 games due to a horrific leg incident during a FIBA exhibition game. It would be up to George to take a hold of this roster and lead it back to championship contender status. Jeff Teague was an excellent addition to the team as he adds playoff experience and change of pace at the point guard position. Thaddeus Young, another offseason addition adds some needed athleticism in the frontcourt. Al Jefferson, while not in the mold of Larry Bird’s plan to play faster, would give them some luxury scoring.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the young, talented Myles Turner. His defensive upside is right on par with already budding offensive arsenal. With a playoff series under his belt already in his rookie season, there wouldn’t be any surprises for the young, versatile forward.

 

This is all hypothetical. Should James take a year off to rest on his laurels, although unlikely, someone has to step up and challenge the teams in the Western Conference. Each of the teams mentioned could challenge a LeBron led team. And they’ll have to, which may be harder than in years past now that is seemingly no pressure on James. They can only hope he would consider taking an extended vacation.

Top 5 Upcoming NBA Games (Week of 3/14-3/20)

(Photo: Derick E. Hingle, Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo: Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports)

The playoff races in both the Western and Eastern Conference are heating up. The last day of regular season games is April 13th, which is only a month away. Four weeks from now 16 teams will be battling it out to claim the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Warriors are the favorite but can still miss out on the number one seed in the west. The last month of the season is going to be great, so fasten your seat belts and get ready for a wild ride and here are the five best games with playoff implications for the upcoming week.

#5- Chicago Bulls @ Toronto Raptors (Monday 3/14): The Bulls have been bitten by the injury bug this season. One of their starting five is always hurt and many of the bench players have been in and out as well. It will be interesting to see how good they would be under first year head coach, Fred Hoiberg, as a healthy team but the fact of the matter is they are currently the ninth seed and one game behind Detroit for the eighth seed. If they find a way into the playoffs and become healthy they could be a dangerous team with a lot of postseason experience.

The Raptors on the other hand are having one of the best seasons in franchise history and are currently the second seed in the east. The Raptors are not seen as big threat to win the title but are quietly waiting for the playoffs in order to prove themselves among the elite.

Another aspect that makes this game interesting is the Bulls are 3-0 against the Raptors this year. Can the Raptors avoid being swept in the season series? I don’t think so.

PredictionBulls 106-101

#4- Portland Trailblazers @ Oklahoma City Thunder (Monday 3/14): The surprising Trailblazers are going into Oklahoma City with something to prove. These two teams would be opponents if the playoffs started today as the Thunder are the three seed and the Trailblazers are the six seed. Portland would gain a lot of confidence by going on the road and winning this game. Oklahoma City has much to prove as well because they can’t beat the Warriors or Spurs and they seem like an after thought on contending for a title because of it. Each win could give them a boost of confidence but they must learn how to close out games which is their kryptonite this season. The Trailblazers will give them another opportunity because this will be a tight game. Not to mention the fun match-up of Lillard versus Westbrook. I believe Oklahoma City gets some much needed confidence and closes out this game in a thriller.

Prediction: Thunder 112-110

#3- Boston Celtics @ Toronto Raptors (Friday 3/18) : Most thought the Celtics would make the playoffs but few saw them as high as the third seed in the east. They are in this position because Brad Stevens can flat out coach. It also helps that Isaiah Thomas loves silencing the people who thought he was too small to play in the NBA. The Celtics sit just six games back of Toronto and with a strong closeout to the season they may even catch the Raptors and take over that two seed. The Raptors look to make a statement and prove they are the team that can dethrone LeBron in the east. This game will be a tone setter for the final month and even may be the game that decides who gets the second seed. I think Boston is getting better and more confident as the season goes on and may be a threat to the Cavaliers.

Prediction: Celtics 98-94

#2- Los Angeles Clippers @ San Antonio Spurs (Tuesday 3/15): Chris Paul hit the game winning shot to eliminate the Spurs in the playoffs last season. The Spurs have not forgotten that and have made sure that if they meet the Clippers in the playoffs this year, and there is a game seven, it will take place in San Antonio. San Antonio is doing what they do every year and is impossible to beat at home. The Spurs are 32-0 at home this season and have a 41 game winning streak dating back to last year. The Clippers are trying to get over the hump in the playoffs and beating the Spurs at home would give them the confidence they would need to make it to the finals in a complete surprise. I know they have very slim chances but anything can happen on any night. It won’t happen on Tuesday and the Spurs will stay undefeated at home and extend the home winning streak to 42.

Prediction: Spurs 108-100

#1- Golden State Warriors @ San Antonio Spurs (Saturday 3/19): The two best teams in the NBA with a combined 16 losses between the them will play on Saturday, with it being a possible preview of the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors beat the Spurs by 30 on January 25th, but this time the Spurs are at home and are undefeated with a 41 game winning streak that could be up to 43. Is it Saturday yet? There aren’t many words needed to hype this game up. The Saturday Night Showcase has become the equivalent to Monday Night Football in value of entertainment and exciting match-ups and they are going to outdo themselves with this game. There is a lot that can happen in this game but I think the Spurs pull this one out at home because the Warriors will be on the second game of a back to back without Iguodala.

Prediction: Spurs 114-113

Top 5 NBA Games to Watch (Week of 2/1 – 2/7)

#5- Detroit Pistons @ Boston Celtics (Wed. 2/3): Detroit is currently the 8th seed and Boston is the 5th seed, as these two young teams who are trying to emerge as contenders in the East get ready to clash. Reggie Jackson versus Isaiah Thomas should be a great matchup to watch. Andre Drummond is a stud and is turning into a star. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out and this could eventually be a preview of a potential playoff series.

My prediction: Detroit 92 @ Boston 98

#4- Miami Heat @ Dallas Mavericks (Wed. 2/3): This should be a great out of conference game. Miami and Dallas are both currently the 6th seed in their respective conferences. Both teams aren’t considered title threats but any team who makes the playoffs is dangerous. These teams have lots of Finals history against each other in the last 10 years so this could cause fireworks.

My prediction: Miami 101 @ Dallas 94

#3- Boston Celtics @ Cleveland Cavaliers (Fri. 2/5): These teams met in the playoffs last year and there is bad blood. Cleveland swept Boston but Kelly Olynyk injured Kevin Love for the rest of the playoffs and J.R. Smith punched Jae Crowder. This may be an old fashioned eastern conference match up that could get physical. Entertaining and exciting may not even begin to describe this game. Tune in basketball fans; this will be a good one.

My prediction: Boston 99 @ Cleveland 104

#2- San Antonio Spurs @ Dallas Mavericks (Fri. 2/5): Tim Duncan. Dirk Nowitzki. Another matchup between division rivals and future hall of famers. These teams have had great battles over the years and the games are always exciting. I see no reason this one should be any different. There isn’t much to say except get the popcorn then kick back and relax and enjoy the show.

My prediction: San Antonio 91 @ Dallas 83

#1- Oklahoma City Thunder @ Golden State Warriors (Sat. 2/6): The star power in this one might take us to space: Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. This is the marquee game to watch this week and this will be the first time these two teams play this season. This is one of those games that when you look back, it could go down as game of the year. I know NBA fans are licking their chops to catch this one. The NBA is smart to showcase this game Saturday night because games don’t get better than this. I would say get that couch comfy, but this game is going to be so electric you might not even sit down. I hope you can feel my excitement for this game because come this Saturday NBA fans are in for a real treat!

My prediction: Oklahoma City 104 @ Golden State 105