2017 NBA Finals

2017 NBA Finals Preview

The 2017 NBA Finals are set and the wait is finally over. The world gets to see the Golden State Warriors matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third-straight year in the Finals.

It is the grudge match of all grudge matches. Everyone has been waiting for this series since the season tipped off on Oct. 25, 2016. Some have been waiting for this since Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors in July.

This third fight between the Warriors and Cavs will be bigger than the “Thrilla in Manila”.

How They Got Here

2017 NBA Finals

(Photo Credit: REX Shutterstock)

The Golden State Warriors went 67-15 this season following a record-breaking 73-win season in 2016. Golden State also broke the record for most wins over a three-year span.

This Warriors team is actually better than last year’s team thanks to the signing of Kevin Durant. The Warriors took it easy in the regular season because their goal all year was to meet the Cavs in the Finals.

Golden State made quick work of their playoff opponents. They swept all three opponents in a tough Western Conference. What the Warriors have done this postseason has been impressive and they sent a message. Winning the Finals is an obsession to them and nothing else is considered acceptable.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have not had it as easy as the Warriors. Cleveland went 51-31 and finished as the second seed in the East. The Cavs really struggled in the second half of the season. After Jan. 1st the Cavs went 26-24. They looked bad defensively and some started to question whether or not they were capable of another Finals run.

All those questions were put to bed quickly once the playoffs started. The Cavs easily swept the Pacers and Raptors before meeting the top-seeded Celtics in the conference finals. Cleveland then wiped Boston off their home-court in embarrassing fashion. Boston stole game three but all that did was delay the inevitable. Cleveland went on to finish the next two games easily to reach the finals for the third straight year.

Round One: Cleveland Hurt

2017 NBA Finals

(Photo Credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

The first year these two teams met in the Finals was in 2015. Kevin Love had been hurt in the first round and would miss the remainder of the playoffs.

Game 1 of the Finals dealt another injury to a Cleveland star. Kyrie Irving went down with a fractured kneecap in the first game of the series during overtime. Golden State would win that game and win the series 4-2 to capture its first title in 40 years.

Many called the Warriors title tainted claiming that they would not have won the championship had the Cavaliers been healthy. They were champions without respect and it was their mission to prove they were worthy of the crown.

LeBron had failed to bring a title to Cleveland and many were wondering if it was the right move to leave Miami. The criticism was high despite him averaging 35.8 points per game, 8.8 assists per game and 13.3 rebounds per game while shooting just 38.9 percent from the field. Just as the Warriors were determined to prove they were worthy of the crown, LeBron was determined to bring a title home.

Round Two: Suspension Sparks A Comeback

2017 NBA Finals

(Photo Credit: http://www.nba.com)

Cleveland and Golden State would meet again in the 2016 Finals for a rematch. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were both healthy for this matchup and many thought the Cavaliers would prove they were truly the better team. Coming into the Finals the Cavaliers had only lost two games in the East.

The Warriors had a much tougher road in the West. They had to comeback from being down 3-1 in the Western Conference finals. Throughout the playoffs, Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala were dealing with nagging injuries. They played through those injuries but were not at full strength and expanded tons of energy just to get to the Finals.

In the beginning of the series, none of that seemed to matter. Golden State took a 2-0 series lead and had the largest combined margin of victory in NBA Finals history. Cleveland would win Game 3 and Golden State won Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead. In that game, Draymond Green was assessed a flagrant foul, setting his playoff total to four, resulting in a suspension for Game 5. No team had ever come back from down 3-1 in the NBA Finals.

Cleveland was able to win Games 5 and Game 6 to force an epic Game 7.

After six games the teams were tied in games won and total score. It was as close as a series as it could ever be and the final game of the year would truly decide a champion.

In Game 7, LeBron James blocked a late layup attempt by Andre Iguodala that set up a game-winning 3-pointer by Kyrie Irving. The Cavs won Game 7 93-89 and ended a 52-year championship drought in the city of Cleveland.

The Warriors had lost in the Finals and believed that had Iggy been healthier he would have dunked the ball. Golden State fans also believed that Curry wasn’t healthy and that if Draymond had not been suspended they would have won Game 6 and the series.

Round Three: Bragging Rights

2017 NBA Finals

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

Fast forward to now and here we are set for round three. The Warriors added superstar Kevin Durant to help them get back to the Finals for a third-straight season. The Cavaliers added minor pieces but have made it back to defend their title.

Golden State ended a 40 year drought and Cleveland ended a 52-year drought.

As mentioned earlier the Warriors enter the Finals 12-0 and the Cavaliers enter the Finals 12-1. Both teams sprinted to the Finals as fast as possible, and as rested as possible.

In round three, there are no excuses. Both teams are healthy and both teams will be rested. It is time to put up or shut up. It is time to make a mark on history.

Who’s era is it really? Without trying to predict too far ahead, it is unlikely these teams meet for a fourth straight Finals appearance.

Cleveland comes into the Finals averaging 116.8 points per game while Golden State comes in averaging 118.3 points per game. Both teams are great offensively but the team who plays the best defense will win this series.

There are so many fun matchups the world gets to see in this series as well. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson versus Kyrie Irving. Draymond Green versus Tristan Thompson, LeBron James or Kevin Love.

The most intriguing though is when Kevin Durant and LeBron James match up against one another. Two of the best players in the world will fight it out to be called the champion.

This series will go down in history. At the end of the day, the Warriors are going to win because they have just too much firepower. They lost last season by four points in Game 7. Adding Kevin Durant to the mix will just be too much. All eyes are on the Finals to see who really is the best between these two franchises.

The new greatest rivalry in sports will write the newest chapter this summer, changing legacies forever.

Prediction: Golden State Warriors 4-2

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2017 Eastern Conference Finals

2017 Eastern Conference Finals Preview

After 82 regular season games and two playoff series, it is time for the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals preview. The East is down to two teams fighting for a birth in the NBA Finals. The top-seeded Boston Celtics edged out the Washington Wizards 115-105 in game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have cruised to the Eastern Conference Finals going a perfect 8-0 in the playoffs thus far. Cleveland swept both the Indiana Pacers and the Toronto Raptors. Similar to their Western Conference rival, the Golden State Warriors, the Cavs seem to be on a mission to get to the Finals for a third straight matchup. The Celtics will have different plans as they try to knock off LeBron James and the Cavs.

Celtics vs. Cavaliers

Photo by SB Nation

The Celtics are making their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2012 in which they lost to LeBron and the Heat 4-3 in an epic seven-game series. The Cavs won the regular season series 3-1. Most recently, they demolished the Celtics on their home court 114-91, hurting the confidence of Boston.

If the Celtics want to win this series, it is going to take a lot of great performances by Boston’s key role players. In game 7 against the Wizards, Kelly Olynyk had a career game, shooting 10-14 for 26 points. If he can duplicate that type of game consistently, then the Celtics will win the series.

The Celtics have gone as Isaiah Thomas has gone all season. He alone cannot carry the C’s past James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. If Boston wants to win this series, they will need big games from Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown.

In the regular season, the Cavaliers dominated the glass. That has been the achilles heel of the Celtics all season. Of the 16 playoff teams, Boston is 13th, averaging only 38.3 rebounds per game while the Cavs are averaging 41.4. Any time the Celtics win the battle of the boards will go a long way in securing a win.

The Celtics are a good team, but will not have enough to truly threaten the Cavs in this series. Boston’s home-court advantage will extend the series longer than the Cavs may like, but it won’t be enough. Cleveland is averaging 114.5 points per game this postseason, and Boston can not outscore them over a seven-game series.

Until a team in the East actually proves they can beat a LeBron-led team in a seven-game series, there is just no logical reason to expect it.

Prediction: Cavs in 6

 

Featured Image by All U Can Heat

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Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

The second season is finally upon us. It is the time of year that all NBA fans have been salivating for all season.

There are so many questions left to be answered in the second season of the Eastern Conference. Will the Cavs fall, thus ending LeBron’s finals streak? Will the Celtics prove to be the best of the East? Could another team like the Raptors, Wizards or Bucks come out?

It will be fun to watch it all play out. Here is the preview of the Eastern Conference first round.

1 Boston Celtics vs. 8 Chicago Bulls

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

(Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Celtics and Bulls have had some amazing playoff series in the past. There was the time Michael Jordan dropped 63 points in a loss or the time they put on an epic seven-game series in 2009 that featured a total of seven overtimes.

These two teams split the season series, each winning two games. Chicago plays really well against winning teams and especially well on national television.

However, in a seven-game series, the better team is going to win. Boston averages 108 points per game, which is seventh-best in the NBA. Chicago on the other hand averages almost 103, which ranks 23rd in the NBA. Chicago will make it tough, but the Celtics’ defense will stifle the Bulls in the end.

Prediction: Celtics in 6

2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 7 Indiana Pacers

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Stop with the talk about how bad the Cavs have played. Like many past teams, they were just pacing themselves. The regular season means nothing to a team who has been to two straight finals, or to a player like LeBron James who has been to six straight finals.

Watch the switch get flipped in the playoffs. Indiana has a chance to steal a game or two with a superstar like Paul George, but that is it.

The Cavaliers will pick up the defense. With a healthy LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, their offense will keep them on course. Averaging 110 points per game leaves a little room for error on the defensive end.

LeBron-led teams have proven time and time again that they buckle down in the playoffs. Until proven otherwise, that will happen again this year.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 5

3 Toronto Raptors vs. 6 Milwaukee Bucks

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Toronto versus Milwaukee is one of the most intriguing matchups of the first round. Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo will get a chance to shine on a national stage. The Greek Freak is the first player in NBA history to end the season in the top 20 of all major statistical categories.

Giannis is a great player, but lacks experience and a team that can do damage in the playoffs. The Bucks haven’t made the playoffs consistently in recent years, while the Raptors are heading into the playoffs for their fourth consecutive year. Toronto also reached the conference finals for the first time ever in franchise history last season, and they have improved their depth this year.

Toronto won over 50 games this season and finished the season winning eight of their final 10. The Raptors are hot and the better team, which is why they win this series without much of a worry.

Prediction: Raptors in 5

4 Washington Wizards vs. 5 Atlanta Hawks

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

(Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Washington has had one of their best seasons in franchise history. They finished 49-33, which was the third most wins they have ever had. Scott Brooks has not gotten the respect he deserves for how well he has done with the Wizards.

Washington has the best chance of upsetting the Cavs in the playoffs, but they must get past Atlanta first. The Wizards went 3-1 versus the Hawks this season. If the Wizards want to repeat that success they had in the regular season, they will need their stellar backcourt to lead them there.

The Wizards will win this series because John Wall and Bradley Beal combine to average 46.2 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game, and 14.2 assists per game. Atlanta’s backcourt of Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr. will be outmatched in this series and that will be the difference.

Prediction: Wizards in 6

You can check out the Western Conference Playoff Preview here.

 

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Injuries are Shaking up the NBA

Injuries always end up taking its toll on the NBA season. The 2016-2017 season is no exception. As the season comes to a close, injuries are taking an even bigger toll on teams. They are giving a better idea of what the race for the championship might look like.

Key NBA Injuries This Season

Rudy Gay

NBA injuries

Rudy Gay (Photo courtesy: slamonline.com)

Rudy Gay was the first to fall to the injury bug. Gay was beginning to look like a prime trade target for a lot of teams who needed perimeter scoring. The Raptors and Thunder both looked like teams that could use his scoring presence on the outside. Gay fell victim to a season-ending torn Achilles in the midst of another solid season.

The Kings were never going to be a serious title threat, but Gay looked like a piece that could completely transform a fringe team. His presence could have vaulted the Thunder into another level, or made the Raptors contenders in the East. Nevertheless, his season is over.

The Gay injury was seemingly the first domino in the NBA injury season. Zach Lavine tore his ACL and ended his season shortly after.

Zach Lavine

Lavine took a serious leap this season and was another potential trade asset at the deadline. He became a deadly scorer for the Timberwolves this season and remained one of the most explosive and athletic players in the league. The Timberwolves title hopes were almost nonexistent even before the injury to Lavine, but the injury was still a serious blow to the young team.

Jabari Parker

Jabari Parker was the next to fall. Parker’s injury is perhaps the most disheartening of any of the injuries we have seen this year.

After missing much of his first season due to a torn ACL, Jabari started to show some of the potential that he had promised in college. He looked as if he was a blossoming star next to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Another ACL injury means Parker will likely miss the next 12 months and possibly set back the progress he’s made since his first injury.

The injury to Parker is especially disheartening to the Bucks. Shooting guard Khris Middleton missed most of the year due to an achilles tear and just recently returned to the lineup. The combination of Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Parker would have been something to behold. Perhaps it would have been enough to vault the Bucks into the playoffs. Now their playoff hopes are much more up in the air.

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid

The Sixers have a pair of young stars that have been plagued with injuries this year. Just a month ago the Sixers were turning their season around and looked like they might have a chance at the playoffs. Since then, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have both been ruled out for the rest of the year.

Like the Timberwolves and Bucks, the injuries to young stars have taken a huge toll on the Sixers. They have struggled to pick up momentum without Embiid, and they will lose time that they could have developed chemistry.

The final three, and possibly most significant, injuries are to stars at their conferences. Namely, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and Kyle Lowry. These injuries are bound to have massive implications on the playoffs hunt.

Kevin Love

The Kevin Love injury leaves the Cavaliers in a unique position. They still have the best player in the world in Lebron James and a star point guard in Kyrie Irving, but they have to decide whether it is still worth chasing the number one seed. Resting Lebron and Kyrie down the stretch might be a good move for the playoffs, but they could slip in the standings because of it.

If Love misses time in the playoffs, a strengthened Eastern Conference could give them trouble. The Celtics, Raptors and Wizards have all significantly improved this season. Even though the Cavs are still huge favorites, any one of those teams could give them a run for their money if injuries plague them down the stretch.

Kyle Lowry

NBA injuries

Kyle Lowry (Photo courtesy: grantland.com)

The Lowry injury is also a huge blow to the Raptors. The Raptors went all in on solidifying their starting lineup at the deadline. Losing their starting point guard for the rest of the season hurts. Even making the Eastern Conference Finals will be incredibly difficult if they don’t have Lowry in the playoffs.

Kevin Durant

As for Kevin Durant, there is little information about the severity of his injury. If he misses significant time, it could be devastating to the Warriors who don’t have much bench depth.

Editor’s note: Kevin Durant will miss at least four weeks due to a bone bruise and sprained MCL in his knee according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. Durant could return before the end of the regular season, but his return is in question.

The injury bug will continually be something to watch down the stretch as we find out how some of these injuries shake up the league.

 

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Expect An Exciting End to the NBA Trade Deadline

With the recent blockbuster trade that sent Demarcus Cousins to the Pelicans, the Trade Deadline has started to heat up in the NBA. What deals can still happen in the next few days?

There has been some speculation that the Cousins deal actually depreciated the market. Teams may be less inclined to give up a bundle of assets since the Pelicans gave so little for a superstar. The current state of the NBA lends well for some trades to still happen however. There are a few names in particular that seem to be hitting the market.

NBA Trade Deadline

Brook Lopez (Photo courtesy: twitter.com)

The Nets seem to be the biggest seller at this point. Brook Lopez and Bojan Bogdanovic have both been floating around trade talks for a good while now. Finding an appropriate destination for them is a different story.

Lopez was often linked to the Pelicans who have obviously satiated their need for a big man with Cousins. The Pelicans’ deal seriously hampers the chances of a Lopez deal happening. Although he was linked in trade talks with the Pacers, it seems unlikely that the Pacers’ first round pick will be enticing enough to get Lopez.

Bogdanovic is another story. He would be a perfect fit in Oklahoma City as they need a wing threat. He also could fit in Washington as a bench scorer, which is something the Wizards desperately need. It’s yet to be seen whether either of those deals could materialize, but Bogdanovic is much more likely to move at the deadline.

The most recent development of the day is the linking of Blake Griffin to the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are one of the few teams that have the assets to grab a superstar (assuming Vlade Divac is done giving them away), and if anyone was going to make a huge splash it would be Boston. With Kevin Love injured, the Cavaliers may try and leverage their assets for a chance at a title push this year.

The bottom line is that even though the Cousins trade undoubtedly will make General Managers more wary about being on the wrong side of a deal, the atmosphere for big trades may have been increased. The parity in the league right now is as high as it has been in a long time, and teams may try to take advantage of a perceived window of opportunity.

The four best teams in the East (The Cavs, Celtics, Wizards and Raptors) all have a shot at winning the East after the Kevin Love injury. Although the Cavaliers remain the favorites, an upset is more likely than it has been since Lebron Left Cleveland in the first place. In the West, the Pelicans trade allows for significantly more parity, and the chances of a playoff upset increase astronomically.

The next few days could reflect those sentiments. Look out for at least a few deals to be made, and maybe even a blockbuster.

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Who Should Play in the NBA All-Star Game?

The NBA All-Star starters have been released, but not without its share of controversy. Russell Westbrook will be coming off the bench this year despite his historic start.

In anticipation of the final all-star lineups, here’s who should be playing in the exhibition this year. Keep in mind, that the starting lineup allows for two guards and three frontcourt players.

Starters

Isaiah Thomas: Kyrie Irving has the starting spot this year, but Isaiah Thomas is more deserving. Thomas has been on a roll this year for Boston. He is currently third in the NBA in scoring (outscoring James Harden) while shooting at a .461/.384/.907 clip. Thomas is the star and best player of the third best team in the East. Without a doubt, he deserves this spot.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Greek Freak made the All-Star game as a frontcourt player this year, but the stats say otherwise. According to Basketball Reference, he has played over 60% of his minutes at shooting guard. So, I’m putting him in as a guard. Either way, the Milwaukee Bucks star has undoubtedly earned his spot in the starting lineup this year.

In fact, he has solidified his spot as one of the premier players in the game right now. For one, he is the only player to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Let that sink in. He is leading his team in every major statistical category. On top of that, he is top-25 in the league in every one of those categories, and top-10 in points, steals, and blocks.

Giannis has been doing a little bit of everything for one of the most exciting teams in the Eastern Conference this year, and he is well deserving of an All-Star starting spot.

Jimmy Butler: The decision to put Jimmy Butler in my lineup was not an easy one. You can easily justify putting Demar Derozan in as a guard, and shifting Giannis to a frontcourt spot. Butler and Derozan have both been having monster seasons for their respective teams. On top of that, they have been having remarkably similar years.

Derozan has a slight edge in points, Butler has a small edge in rebounds, and they are almost exactly even in assists. Butler gets on my starting lineup, however, because of an edge in three point shooting and defense.

Butler has been a much better three point shooter than Derozan this year, which allows his team to spread the floor more when he is on the court. He also has a sizable edge in blocks and steals over Derozan. I wouldn’t say the voters made a horribly wrong choice in nominating Derozan, but Jimmy Butler gets the nod in my starting lineup.

LeBron James: LeBron is the best player in the league. He is top ten in the league in scoring and assists. What is a rather pedestrian year for one of the greatest players of all time still easily allows him a spot in the All-Star starting lineup. Oh, and he’s got a three point shot again.

Joel Embiid: The real All-Star game starting lineup has no true center. In fact, the lineup doesn’t even have a real big man. Yes, the game is changing and centers have become less and less important. But, Joel Embiid has been the best big man in the league this year, and possibly the most important player to his team’s success.

(courtesy of CSN Philly)

The Sixers have been on an absolute tear lately, and they can largely attribute that success to Embiid. They are a completely different team when he is on the floor. He leads the team in points, rebounds, and blocks; and on top of that he is playing with a minutes restriction. It has been a weak year for Eastern Conference big men, and Embiid has been the most impressive. Call me crazy, but he deserves this spot.

Bench

Demar Derozan: The Raptors have been great this year, and Demar Derozan has absolutely been on fire. Critics might say he is a relatively one-dimensional player, but man can this guy score. He’s sixth in the league in scoring, trailing only James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, Anthony Davis, and Demarcus Cousins. He has been one of the best guards in the league and absolutely deserves a spot on this team.

Kyrie Irving: The East is stacked when it comes to point guards, but Kyrie is a no-brainer for this year’s All-Star game. Isaiah Thomas makes my starting lineup over Irving simply because he has more of a load to carry, but both guards are having great years for their teams.

John Wall: The Wizards have been scorching hot lately, after a dismal start to the season, and John Wall has sparked their success. Wall has cracked the top-15 in scoring, is third in the league in assists, and first in steals. He is one of the best pure point guards in the league, and he’s having a career year. He’s earned this.

Kevin Love: After Embiid, Kevin Love has been the best big man in the East this season. He’s rebounding at a ferocious rate again, and he’s hitting threes at his highest rate in years. After a healthy offseason where he’s been able to rehabilitate, Kevin Love has returned to being one of the premier power forwards in the league.

Hassan Whiteside: Whiteside has been the classic “good stats on a bad team” player this year. His eye-popping stats are less meaningful because of how abysmal the Heat have been. Regardless, it’s hard to keep a player with 17 points per game and 14 rebounds per game out of the All-Star game. The weak big men in the East this year only further his case.

Kristaps Porzingis: Putting aside his injuries, the Latvian stud has seen no signs of a sophomore slump. He’s been the best player on the Knicks when he’s healthy, and has continued his dominance on both ends of the floor. Another beneficiary of the weak frontcourts in the east this year, Porzingis is deserving of one of the East’s spots.

Kyle Lowry: Behind Derozan’s great season, Kyle Lowry has become somewhat under appreciated for the Raptors. He has a slash line of .470/.429/.824 while averaging 22 points and 7 rebounds per game. He may not have the same recognition has Demar Derozan, but he is deserving of a spot in the lineup nonetheless.

Starters

Russell Westbrook: Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double. I’ll Repeat: Averaging a TRIPLE-DOUBLE. As in, Russell Westbrook is doing something that hasn’t been done in 40 years. He is first in the league in scoring. He is second in the league in assists. He is eleventh in rebounds. It is absurd that Westbrook won’t be starting in this year’s All-Star game.

(courtesy of Clutch Points)

James Harden: 28.7 points per game. 11.6 rebounds per game. 8.2 rebounds per game. Harden is having an equally (if not more) impressive season than Westbrook. Harden and Westbrook are having the two best seasons in the NBA this year and should be starting in the All-Star Game for the Western Conference.

Kevin Durant: KD is having an incredibly efficient season (.544/.400/.862) and has already become the go-to guy on the Golden State Warriors. He has shown no real signs of a big adjustment period with is new team and has continued to be one of the best scorers in the NBA.

Kawhi Leonard: Kawhi has somehow quietly had a ridiculously good season. So is life playing for the San Antonio Spurs. Obviously, he is one of the best defenders in the league. The difference this year has been in his continued improvement on the offensive end. He’s scoring more than he ever has and is absurdly close to a 50/40/90 season.

Anthony Davis: If not for the struggles of his team, Anthony Davis would most likely be right up there with Harden and Westbrook in the MVP conversation. Seriously. The Brow is continuing his ascension to the top of the league, and is single-handedly keeping this team relevant. He’s fourth in the league in scoring, and seventh in rebounding. At this point, it’s hard to say he’s not the best big man in the league. Despite the deterioration of his team around him, Anthony Davis has done as much as anyone to earn his spot as a starter this year.

Bench

Steph Curry: Last year, Steph Curry had the best season of anyone in the league. This year, he’s not even having the best season on his own team. His shooting percentage and three point percentage may be way down, but he’s still averaging 24.6 points per game. He’s nowhere near the level of the unanimous MVP we saw last year, but it’s impossible to leave him off this team.

Demarcus Cousins: Behind Anthony Davis, Boogie has been the best big man in the league this year. Not to mention, he’s hitting threes at a 37.5% clip. Like Davis, he’s on an abysmal team and single-handedly keeping them relevant. No doubt, he makes the team.

Damian Lillard: Despite the Trailblazers’ fall from grace, Lillard has still had an All-Star-worthy year. His defense has been atrocious this year, but it’s simply too hard to keep a guy with 26 points and six rebounds per game out of the All-Star game.

Gordon Hayward: Gordon Hayward has been the most important and best player on the fifth-best team in the Western Conference. He has seen an uptick in scoring and in efficiency. Sure, he may not be a bona fide star in the league yet, but his season this year has been no joke.

Mike Conley: Conley has earned his max contract this year for the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies aren’t a true contender in the top-heavy West, but Conley has made them competitive and fun to watch with his great season. 18 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game to go along with solid efficiency numbers warrant a first All-Star game for the Memphis star.

Karl-Anthony Towns: Towns and the Timberwolves haven’t quite lived up to his incredibly lofty expectations for this season. Despite that, he has undoubtedly had a great season so far. 22 points and 12 rebounds per game warrants an All-Star game spot despite his teams immense struggles.

Draymond Green: This last spot was the hardest to fill on the roster, but I decided to reward Draymond and the Golden State Warriors. They have clearly been the best team in the league this year so far, and Green has been a key part of that. He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year, and he has continued to do a little bit of everything for the Warriors. He scores when he needs to, he rebounds, he distributes, and he plays defense as well as anyone in the league. Draymond makes the roster based off of his contributions to his team over his stats.

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NBA New Year’s Resolutions: Western Conference

The NBA season is to the end of another calendar year. The All-Star break is closing in as well.

Teams now have to look at their respective seasons and determine if the direction they’re headed in is the one they planned for prior to the start of the season. There have been surprises and disappointments throughout this 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 rolling around, some teams may want to make a new year’s resolution 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 gameplan and the will to win escalates.

Let’s take a look at five Western Conference new year’s resolutions

Houston Rockets- Stop The Leak

The Rockets are currently sitting right in the thick of the Western Conference seeding and do so with an efficient offense. James Harden, a major favorite for this year’s MVP award, is leading this ship behind Mike D’antoni’s principles of the game. Houston attempts a league leading 39 three-point attempts a game and hits them at a prodigious 38 percent. This team also generates open shots behind the arc better than any team in the league at 16 per game. However, if there is an achilles heel for the highly lethal Houston attack, it’s turnovers.

The problem isn’t the amount of turnovers. Turnovers in general aren’t beneficial to any offense. The problem is the opponent’s points off turnovers. Opponents create a whopping 18 points off of Houston’s giveaways, which is fifth most in the league. I’m undoubtedly sure the team is aware of this and will be looking to patch the leak.

A turnover is costly when your team is within six points with under four minutes left in the game. After great half-court defense, the Rockets go to the pick and roll game with the shot clock running down. The defense surrounds and collapses on Harden, who then throws a wayward left-handed pass across his body. It’s then stolen by the opponent. The defense was slow getting back, giving up three points on the other end after the and-one. Those kinds of mistakes can derail a playoff run when the margin for errors is minuscule.

 

Memphis Grizzlies- Limit Fouls

The Grit-n-Grind connoisseurs are tops in the league in defensive efficiency and are one of the most successful teams in the clutch. Even with injuries to Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons and a roster many thought would lead them to the path of irrelevancy, the Grizzlies continue to impress day in and day out. The team allows the least amount of shots in the paint and are top five in steals and blocks in the league per game.

The defensive wizards, however, have a foul problem. This team allows the third most free throw attempts. Teams playing against them shoot almost 28 per game, which is five attempts over the league average. Teams at the moment aren’t making the Grizzlies pay for their fouling. Opponents are shooting 72 percent at the line. If they keep treading this dangerous line, things could get out of hand.

Oklahoma City Thunder- Become Better Free Throw Artists

The Thunder are one of the most intriguing teams in the league. With Russell Westbrook averaging a triple-double, Steven Adams becoming a top flight center in the NBA, and second-year head coach Billy Donovan guiding this team to over-achievement, there’s a lot to extract from the franchise that’s still early in existence. The main worry for the Thunder, outside of being relatively devoid of shooting, is its free-throw shooting. The Thunder attempt the fourth most foul shots in the league, thanks mostly to Westbrook’s NBA-leading ten attempts per game.

The flip-side to that is the Thunder only make a near-bottom 72 percent of their attempts. Three of the Thunder’s five starters attempt less than 3 attempts per game. No player not wearing number 0 attempts more than five. The Thunder have to get to the line more frequently, and make the attempts. Free points are paramount for a team that struggles to score in the half-court.

Golden state Warriors- Limit opponent fast-break points

It would behoove NBA fans to err on the side of caution when looking for flaws in the Western Conference champion Warriors. You won’t find many. However, the Dubs do have a tendency to leave awareness to the wind and give the opponent chances to score easy points. The Warriors are bottom in the league in opponent fast break points. Part of it could be a byproduct of the offense. Playing at a high pace and getting up shots relatively quickly tends to allow room for slippage. Even after made baskets, if there is any loss of attention easy buckets on the break can slip through.

Utah Jazz- Force more turnovers

This Jazz team is one that is finally beginning to realize its potential. The identity of the Jazz has always been one of defense. Trite as that may sound, defensive aptitude is a strong suit for this team. They are top three in defensive efficiency, allow the third fewest points in the paint, and are the best team in the league at dissuading teams from firing behind the arc. Utah rarely turns the ball over, and Jazz opponents return the favor. Jazz opponents turn the ball over fewer times than any team in the league.

No turnovers also mean no points off the other team’s carelessness. They are bottom five in the league at 14 points off of turnovers per game. Those added bonuses could really come in handy in the playoffs if this team is still in the lower part of the league in points per game.

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10 Things to Watch For in the NBA in 2017

2016 comes to a close as one of the most exciting basketball years in the history of the NBA. From Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan’s last seasons, to Russel Westbrook’s triple doubles, to the ridiculous Finals series, this year was full of memorable moments that will go down in NBA history. However, a new year brings new possibilities. Here are the ten best things to look forward to in the NBA in 2017.

10. Trust The Process?: Will Joel Embiid win Rookie of the Year? Can Ben Simmons make his long awaited return? Will the Sixers end up with two top ten picks? Can Dario Saric make the leap to consistent NBA starter? The New Year brings loads of questions for the NBA’s perennial doormat and not many clear answers. It will be interesting to see whether the 76ers will be able to escape the NBA’s cellar in 2017.

9. 2017 NBA Draft: This draft is considered to be one of the most talented ones in recent years. Markelle Fultz remains the prize at the top of the draft, and names like Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson highlight an unusually deep lottery pool. The lottery looks to be a mix of familiar teams (Philadelphia) and newcomers (Miami and Dallas) as teams try to find a future superstar. Summer league will no doubt be a spectacle this year as well.

8. 2017 Trade Deadline: The trade deadline this year will be full of stories, especially with the loaded draft coming up. Greg Monroe looks to be a possible big-name trade candidate. Portland, a team with a weakness in the frontcourt, may look to target Monroe or one of the big men from Philadelphia. Rudy Gay remains a big name for teams in need of a three-and-D wing presence. For teams with a need a guard, Goran Dragic and Will Barton look to be high end options on the market. With a talented draft class this year, teams may be less likely to part with picks. But the plethora of young talent around the league makes this deadline an especially interesting one.

7. MVP Race: This year brings one of the best MVP races we’ve seen in years. Right now, James Harden and Russell Westbrook look like the favorites. However, the award usually goes to a player on either the one seed or the two seed. Can the Rockets or Thunder grab that distinction? If not, voters may be compelled to look to former winners Lebron James and Kevin Durant, who have each put together noteworthy seasons. This MVP race is one of the most wide open in recent memory and looks to go down to the final weeks of the season.

6. The Greek Freak’s Takeover: Giannis Antetokounmpo has been incredible this year as his astronomical rise to stardom has continued. He’s taken the NBA by storm over the past calendar year by showing a Magic-esque ability to play every position on the court. He’s a freak athlete, a superb defender, and a great distributor. If he can develop a jump shot, the league better watch out. The Greek Freak’s continual rise to superstardom will no doubt be something to marvel at in the coming year.

5. Free Agency: This summer an exploding cap, combined with stars hitting the market, will make for an eventful free agency. Steph Curry is the biggest name as he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, and many other players have player options that they can exercise to become free agents this summer. Madness will no doubt ensue as free agency opens this summer and teams have a historic amount of money to spend. Watch for a shakeup of the power balance in the league.

4. New All-Stars: 2017’s NBA All Star Game could play host to a slew of first time All-Stars. Second year guys Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis look like they have a decent chance of making their first appearance. More established league stars such as Giannis, Kemba Walker, and Hassan Whiteside have a chance at making their debuts. All-Star weekend should be a blast to watch as some young guys get a shot at making their NBA All Star Game debut.

3. Golden State Warriors in the Playoffs: The new-look Warriors are capable of putting out a lineup that looks seemingly impossible to stop. Meanwhile, their Western conference foes seem to have taken a step back compared to last year. This Warriors team lacks rim protection and depth, and it’s fair to wonder whether that will come back to haunt them in the playoffs. The Warriors will need their superstars to step up if they want to make it through to the Finals again this year.

2. Russell Westbrook Chases History: Russell Westbrook is currently averaging a triple double, a feat nobody has accomplished in over 40 years. Can the Oklahoma City star continue his dominance in 2017? With a motor that seems to never stop, the answer could be yes. A triple-double season may even be enough to secure the MVP on a low-seeded playoff team. Westbrook has truly been something to behold, and his dominance of the NBA will be something to watch in 2017.

1. The Cavaliers Title Defense: Lebron James and Kyrie Irving kicked it up a notch on Christmas Day. They outperformed the Warriors in the stretch and buried them on a Kyrie buzzer beater. Is the trio of Lebron, Kyrie and Kevin Love enough to beat the juggernaut in Golden State? Well, having the best player in the world doesn’t hurt. The NBA playoffs will no doubt be a appointment television as Lebron tries to win his fourth title for Cleveland.

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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.

Dwyane Wade Leaving the Heat?

Courtesy of CBS Sports.com

Courtesy of CBS Sports.com

Is it actually possible that Mr. Miami, Dwyane Wade, could leave the Miami Heat? Even after one of his best seasons in the last five years? Wade played 74 games, the most in five years, averaged 19 points, four assists, and four rebounds. But in NBA Free Agency anything can happen.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that Wade and the Heat are not seeing eye-to-eye in negotiations on a new contract. I could see why Miami may want to part ways with Wade. Of course, Pat Riley has to try and get Kevin Durant. At this point in the NBA, Kevin Durant is a better option. The Heat have nine free agents this year, that includes Wade, Luol Deng, and Hasaan Whiteside, among others.

All three could possibly leave especially, Whiteside. The Lakers are courting Miami center Hasaan Whiteside. Whiteside may want to leave the Miami Heat for a team that will give him the max. This would allow him to be the foundation piece for a great organization like the Lakers. Other teams have been told that Wade is up to listen to offers from other teams. We don’t know exactly which teams are in consideration but I can think of a two teams.

One team of course is the Cleveland Cavaliers. After this postseason his good friend, LeBron James, won his third title, tying Wade. If Wade really wanted to team up with James, the time is now. The Cavs could trade some players to clear some more money for Wade and he could fit right into the shooting guard spot for the Cavs. Think about that potential lineup in Cleveland: Kyrie Irving at the 1, Wade at the 2, LeBron James at the 3, Kevin Love at the 4, and Tristan Thompson at the 5. They could still have J.R. Smith and Richard Jefferson coming off of the bench.

The Cavs would run through the East with even more ease than last year. But, this is all wishful thinking because I really don’t think the Cavs could ever get enough money. Trying to pay Irving, James, Love, Thompson, and Wade, unless Wade takes a significant pay cut would be hard. Wade will most likely not want to do that. But, if Dan Gilbert and the Cavs can clear that cap space, Wade will definitely be pursued.

Another team is the Chicago Bulls. It’s Wade’s hometown and he could give the Bulls something to cheer about after Derrick Rose was traded to the Big Apple to play for the Knicks. We all know how much NBA players love winning for their hometown. Even though the Bulls received a good starting point guard in Jose Calderon in the Rose trade, they need more offense. Wade could be there go to at the 2 and move Jimmie Butler to the 3. If they wanted to they could move Wade to the 1, move Calderon to the bench, and keep Butler at the 2.

More importantly, Wade could be the leader in Chicago after their heart and soul, Joakim Noah is ready to leave the Bulls organization. In Chicago, Wade could mentor Butler and incoming Michigan State guard/forward Denzel Valentine.  The Bulls are a work in progress in terms of competing for the NBA Championship, but with Wade they can speed up the process.

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