NBA All-Star Game format a hit

This year had to be different. With the recent All-Star games in the NBA, fans were getting disinterested, as it was just a prolonged dunk contest. It failed to truly showcase how great the players partaking in the game were. NBA Commisioner Adam Silver and team captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry all stepped up to make the new NBA All-Star Game format work.

The Draft

2018 NBA All-Star Draft

All-Star Draft (Photo by: express.co.uk)

One conference playing another in any All-Star game was a great idea, before interleague play started happening in every professional sport. It allowed room for debate of who had the better players and which conference was better overall. It solved the great unknown questions of the era.

Those questions are, for the most part now answered.  Now teams get to play each other multiple times a year in the NBA and the Western Conference is deeper than the Eastern Conference. Players no longer take pride in their conference, but rather in their specific teams and themselves. The change to a draft format was necessary.

James and Curry treated the draft the right way, with James selecting Kevin Durant to start off the selections. Both tried to field teams that could win rather than picking players they were close with. Curry was unable to get his teammate, Durant, and James didn’t pick his teammate, Kevin Love, early at all.

The draft itself helped create some interesting matchups and combinations that fans now wonder about. James and Durant, the two best players in the league, were on the same team. James was reunited with teammate Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook and Durant were on the same team for the second straight season after Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As for matchups that were created, Dwayne Casey coached team LeBron and against his own players, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Westbrook and Irving got to match up with Curry and Harden in a battle of the best guards in the league. When Team LeBron went small late in the game James got the pleasure of guarding Joel Embiid that created some great sequences.

The Effort and motivation

2018 NBA All-Star Game

Photo by: fatmouthsports.net

All the players had a lot to play for, as the winning team would get $350,000 to charity, while the losing team gets $150,000. While these aren’t great personal stakes, it gives the players something to take pride in.

This also helped create a sense of competitiveness around the game. The minutes weren’t split evenly as in past years. James played 31 minutes (as opposed to just under 20 in 2017), while Curry accumulated 26 minutes. Al Horford logged only 12 minutes and Goran Dragic was in for 11 minutes. (LaMarcus Aldrige played four minutes due to injury and Jimmy Butler sat out with sickness). While the West gave a lot of playing time last year to it’s starters, the East did not give anyone more than 24 minutes.

Not only were there more minutes played for the stars (overall), than most years, but they were on the court when it mattered. Team LeBron had their starters (with a minor concession of subbing Anthony Davis out for Paul George) on the floor at the end. Team Stephen put in Kyle Lowry and Draymond Green in at the end of the game in an effort to get a stop. Both teams gave themselves a chance to win because they put their best players on the court (or tried to) for whatever situation came up.

Another surprise was, players actually fouled to prevent baskets rather than running out of the way. There were 16 personal fouls in 2017. This year there were 26. That’s a perfect mix of making sure no one gets hurt from crazy fouls and actually trying for an All-Star Game.

The main thing that made this work was the defensive intensity. Last year there were 374 total points scored. This year the teams’ defense stepped up and only 293 total points were scored. Curry was held to 27% shooting from deep, while Harden was even worse at 15%. Staples Center did have some pretty stiff rims, but the defense was also a cause of the low shooting percentages this year.

The Finish

When it came down to the last quarter, it was apparent that both teams were actively trying to win, which isn’t always the case in an All-Star game. Timeouts were called to set up plays and, as mentioned before, the best lineups were put in for the best results.

At the very end it was Team LeBron storming back to take the lead 148-145. They needed a defensive stop against a team that was loaded with some of the best three point shooters in history. To end the game, James and Durant were able to trap Curry in the corner and prevent him from getting off a great shot.

That play capped of the best NBA All-Star game in years. If that wasn’t enough for fans, Adam Silver announced that the same format will be used next year, but that the draft will be televised. This should just generate more interest and competitiveness between players.

For once fans can get excited about All-Star weekend again.

 

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NBA All-Star

NBA All-Star Game predictions

You either love the NBA All-Star game, or you’re completely uninterested in it. There’s no real in between, and it’s not hard to understand why. Watching super-rich athletes engage in playground basketball with their friends is either exciting or nauseating.

NBA All-Star

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks during the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. (Photo by Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

In the past, it’s basically been a continuation of the dunk contest. Once the player is past half court, the lane clears, and the man with the ball gets to show off. Last year’s All-Star game ended in a 192-182 victory for the West. To put that into perspective, the average score of a game last season was 105.6 points. That’s how little NBA All-Stars are interested in guarding their man.

Now, be well aware that these are the best scorers in the league, in most cases. And defense is not only less exciting than offense, but it takes more effort. The All-Star break is a rare occasion that these star players can get meaningful rest, it is what’s paramount to a successful back end to a season, and playoff runs. So working hard on the defensive end of the floor doesn’t quite make sense for them.

The problem is that the game doesn’t mean anything. There’s no competition because bragging rights are essentially irrelevant to these players. They have already proven they’re the best in the game by being chosen, so why try?

The new draft format and $100,000 cash prize are attempts at trying to remedy this issue. It’s unclear whether or not these changes will make any difference in competitiveness. But before evaluating and predicting, let’s look at the updated rosters.

Rosters

Team LeBron: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge, Bradley Beal, Goran Dragic, Andre Drummond, Paul George, Victor Oladipo, Kemba Walker, Russell Westbrook

NBA All-Star

Westbrook and Durant will be on the same All-Star team for the second year in a row. (Photo by Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Team Curry: Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar Derozan, Joel Embiid, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Al Horford, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns

Worth mentioning here is the fact that LeBron’s squad has lost four All-Star selections to injury. In the first year of the draft format, that’s not good. It’s especially bad considering all of the injuries came from the same team.

Also worth noting is that Westbrook and Aldridge missed four games between them in the last week. They will be ready for the All-Star Game, but that’s two more question marks for Team LeBron.

The replacements for injured players were not conference-specific. While in the past, someone from the same conference would have had to be chosen, this time it’s simply overall vote-getters. This probably led to the continued snub of Lou Williams, and Dragic sneaking his way in.

Team Curry

With all of his original players still in the lineup, Curry’s team has to be the favorite.

With Antetokounmpo, Derozan, Horford, Embiid and Towns, the team has tremendous length. And those of them who can’t slash to the bucket can certainly handle themselves around and beneath it.

Add in Curry and Harden, and that should be all the shooting they need. But, still, they have Butler, Lillard, Lowry and Thompson to pick up the slack. All of them can also get to the hoop, as well. But with the length on display, expect to see a lot of three-pointers from this team.

Team Curry is also being coached by Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have the best record in the NBA, and the most potent offense in the league. Not that a team of this many great players will need much coaching, but expect D’Antoni to draw up offensive set pieces consistently and try to win this game with 150-plus points.

Team LeBron

Again, this team has been decimated by injuries. Four have been replaced, and two more are reportedly not at 100 percent.

Those replacements have been: Paul George for DeMarcus Cousins, Goran Dragic for Kevin Love, Kemba Walker for Kristaps Porzingis and Andre Drummond for John Wall.

NBA All-Star

Kristaps Porzingis won’t participate after tearing his ACL on Feb. 6. (Photo by Adam Hunger/USA Today Sports)

These injuries have made the team markedly smaller. Porzingis’ and Love’s replacements cost the team almost two feet of length. Having Drummond in for Wall stops the bleeding a little, but Drummond is not effective more than five feet from the basket. Kevin and Kristaps are both big men who can shoot from anywhere, and rest assured they would be if they were playing.

Some NBA fans might like the current lineup better for one reason or another. The point of All-Star selections is that they are subjective. And in just one game, the pieces don’t necessarily have to fit perfectly to win. But, losing four bonafide All-Stars for players that were “the best of the rest” shouldn’t inspire confidence.

LeBron’s team is being coached by Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors, who have the best record in the East. A no-nonsense defensive coach is a definite shake up for the All-Star Game. If Casey holds the other squad to less than 140 points, he will have lived up to that reputation.

We all know that LeBron is tired of losing, but we’ll see if he can will his team to that $100,000 prize.

Effort

Speaking of $100,000, does it really matter to some of the richest athletes in the sport? These players not only have massive contracts, but they’re all so good that they have deals and endorsements and appearances to help bolster their bank accounts.

What many fans might not know, is each member of the losing team will get $25,000. So that narrows the net winnings to $75,000. Sure, it would be life-changing money for most people in the world, but is that $75,000 worth the effort to these players?

Players don’t want to sound ungrateful, or out of touch with the rest of the world. So odds are, all 24 of them would answer with some form of, “yes, of course it matters.” And I’m sure it would be nice to have $75,000 more than you had yesterday. Especially if you receive it for playing a game you play every single night. But the fans will never really know how interested the players are. It’s an exercise in futility to read into it too much. The players will give however much they want to on the court, end of story.

LeBron will be out there trying his best to win. Curry will, too. They did put these teams together, after all. They want to be seen as a better “fantasy” manager than the other. But with the injuries, LeBron’s team has an excuse if they lose, and Curry’s team has a small incentive to take things easy on defense.

NBA All-Star

Curry and James picked the All-Star teams, and will go head-to-head again in 2018. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

With the new format, this should be a more competitive game. It will still be high scoring, and there will still be more joking around than defensive pressure. But the winning team won’t be eight points shy of 200 this year.

Prediction

Team Curry wins, 163-148

This was an easy call to make. The shooting and athleticism on Curry’s team is overwhelming. LeBron’s team will show more effort, and with Coach Casey on the sidelines, will be more engaged on the defensive end. But in the end, the shooting is what will matter.

People will clear the lane for Antetokounmpo, Harden and Curry will take 15 three-pointers each, and Embiid will trash talk his way either into or out of America’s heart.

Featured image by Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

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So are the Cavs good now?

The Cleveland Cavaliers are currently on a four game win streak and have looked revitalized after they blew up the roster at the trade deadline. The new additions at the deadline are all playing significantly better in Cavalier uniforms and have the Cavaliers growing momentum at the All-Star Break, and all looks well in The Land. However, The Cavaliers have only played a handful of games with their new roster.  Are the Cav’s good now?

Why the Cavs did get better:

Thomas only played 15 games before he was dealt to the Lakers. (Photo by News | USA)

Getting Isaiah Thomas out of the locker room is like removing a tumor. The team chemistry was significantly brought down by Thomas’ presence. He continuously denied any responsibility with the team’s struggles, and pointed fingers at other teammates. Thomas looked awful during his time on the court, Offensively he was inefficient and defensively he couldn’t stay in front of anyone. Getting the bad teammate out of the locker room has allowed the team to show chemistry on the court and healthy excitement off the court.

Thomas wasn’t the only bad player that was dealt either. Dwyane Wade was terrible with the Cavs and people who say otherwise have not watched him play. He’s shooting 45% from the field(3% off from his career average) and 33% from downtown, which is not good. Jae Crowder was a really good player on the Celtics with Brad Stevens, but he was awful on the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers brought in new young talent and did not get rid of the Brooklyn 1st round pick.

Jordan Clarkson has provided great energy since his arrival for the Cavaliers. (Photo by CavsNation)

The new additions have provided new life to the roster, Larry Nance and Jordan Clarkson are playing fantastic with LeBron in charge and now. The Cavaliers have finally put young talent on the court and decreased the average age of the roster by 2 years. George Hill(31) and Rodney Hood(27) are both veterans, but they’re both bringing new life and energy to the roster. Hill is a very serviceable point guard and is a perfect role player to surround LeBron with. Hood has been a knock-down shooter even since he left Duke.

The emergence of the new players have also had a great effect on the other players as well. J.R Smith has played like a better version of himself despite a increased tendency to take questionable shots. LeBron has played well in the games with his new team, scoring 37 points against the Thunder. Even Cedi Osman has played increased minutes and is playing well as a starter. The Cavaliers will look very interesting once Kevin Love comes back, as the team will be complete with the new roster and 2nd best player back and healthy.

Final thought

The Cavaliers look like the team to beat in the East once again. If they build more team chemistry and learn how to play together, they could challenge either the Warriors or Rockets in the NBA Finals.

Why the Cavs did not get better:

The Cavs are not better than they were last year. The Cavs lost in five games to the Warriors and the Cavaliers had to have record breaking 3-point shooting to win game four to prevent a series sweep. The Warriors would have to have numerous injuries to key players for this to even become a series.

Cleveland lost their second best player from last year(Kyrie Irving) and the Cavs need a real second star with LeBron. Kyrie was the only player who actually made Cleveland significantly better other than LeBron.

Without Kyrie, will Cleveland win the East? (Photo by Heavy.com)

You can look down the Cavs roster and say if he wasn’t on the roster, that wouldn’t change the success this team has in the playoffs. That includes Kevin Love. There is no player on this roster with irreplaceable value outside of James.

The Cavaliers gave up on Isaiah Thomas after 15 games. Not only did they trade him, they attached their first round pick for a backup point guard on a lottery team (Jordan Clarkson) and a backup big(Larry Nance) who are both overpaid. Thomas was not playing to the standard he played at last season, but they did not give him enough time to figure out a role with the team and get back into playing shape after his hip injury.

There were rumors of Thomas being rushed back and having no feel for the game. While Thomas is a free agent this summer, trading him at the deadline may be a huge mistake. Thomas is a creator on offense, and besides LeBron, no one else can create on a consistent basis.

 

Cleveland’s trading away of Crowder, Shumpert and Rose is unequiventy good. There was no solid contributions being made from any of them and they were dead weight. Receiving Hill and Hood was a great move, adding talent and getting younger. However, George Hill is just a role player and while Hood shows flashes of being a complete player, he’s still just a good role player.

 

Cleveland now has no team chemistry and the players have no experience playing with one another. They don’t have the talent or chemistry to challenge the Warriors, and could struggle getting out of the East. If LeBron has to carry his team throughout the first rounds of playoffs again, how will he play in the conference finals and finals?

Final Thought

LeBron won’t win a title without a second star player. The Spurs swept LeBron and the Cavs the year he carried them to the finals. One great player can not beat a great team by himself. Plus, LeBron needs more than role players if they want to even compete with Golden State. The Cav’s have no chance of winning the championship with the current roster they have.

Three-Point Contest

2018 JBL Three-Point Contest preview

The upcoming JBL Three-Point Contest will take place during NBA All-Star Weekend on February 18th in Los Angeles, CA at the Staples Center. It was originally introduced in 1986 with Boston Celtics legendary small forward Larry Bird winning the inaugural contest. He is also tied with former Chicago Bulls shooting guard Craig Hodges for the most wins in the event with three each.

The rules of the event are pretty simple. Eight contestants compete against each other to see who the best shooter is. There are five shooting racks placed around the three-point arc. Four of these five racks contain four regular basketballs worth one-point and one multi-colored ball worth two points. One rack is filled with all multi-colored money balls, called the “money rack”. This rack is placed at the shooters discretion at one of the five locations on the arc. All of these balls are worth two points. Each shooter gets one minute to shoot as many of the 25 balls as they can, starting from one side of the court all the way to the other.

The order of the shooters is selected randomly, the only exception being that the returning champion will go last. The top three scores from the first round advance to the finals, where they shoot again to see who the winner is.

Now let’s meet our eight contestants:

Eric Gordon

Houston Rockets shooting guard Eric Gordon will try to repeat as champ after winning last year contest over Boston Celtics’ point guard Kyrie Irving. The nine year veteran out of Indiana is one of the best bench scorers in the NBA, averaging 19.1 points per game.

The 2016-2017 Sixth Man of the Year winner has made 146 three’s on the year, which is sixth-most in the NBA currently. He is shooting 33.6 percent on three’s this year for the Rockets, who are second in the Western Conference currently.

Devin Booker

The Phoenix Suns’ shooting guard is currently putting up career high numbers, averaging 24.1 points per game. The third-year player from Kentucky is one of the best scorers in the league, currently 12th overall, ahead of ahead other stars such as Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, and Victor Oladipo.

Last year he had a 70 point game in TD Garden in a loss to the Boston Celtics. He was the 11th player of all-time to score 70 or more points in a game.

The young star is making 2.6 three’s a game while shooting 38.1 percent from deep. He previously competed in this contest as a rookie in 2015-2016, losing in the final round to Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors.

Klay Thompson

The two-time NBA champ is back competing in the JBL Three-Point Contest for the fourth year in a row. The 2015-2016 winner is one of the best two-way shooting guards in the NBA. He routinely guards the best guard on the other team while also averaging 20.3 points per game. He is leading the association in three-point percentage at 45.2. He is averaging 3.3 three’s a game for the pace and space Golden State Warriors. He is second in the league with 170 three’s made, only trailing Houston Rockets guard James Harden.

He has already cemented himself as one of the best shooters of all time with his picture perfect stroke and will try to win another trophy. He is tied for the record for most points scored in a round with teammate Stephen Curry with 27 out of the possible 34 points. He did that back in 2015-2016.

Bradley Beal

The star shooting guard for the Washington Wizards is back in the contest for second time, originally competing in the 2013-2014 contest that Italian legend Marco Belinelli won. He is averaging a career high in points this year, scoring 23.8 points per game for a Wizards team that has somewhat struggled so far this year.

He is shooting 37.4 percent from the three-point line so far this season, and has made a total of 126 three’s. Beal is also a first-time All-Star this year in now his sixth season out of Florida.

Paul George

One of the best small forwards in the NBA, Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder seem to have figured things out after a rough start to the year, sitting in 5th place in the Western Conference. George is currently leading the league in steals with 2.2 per game while also continuing to score well, averaging 21.7 points per game. He is fourth in three-pointers made with 160, and is 15th in percentage at 42.3 percent.

He has been one of the best swingman in the league since getting drafted 8 years ago from Fresno State in the 2010 NBA Draft. This will be his second time competing in the contest.

Wayne Ellington

Wayne Ellington has been known to be one of the best bench three-point specialists in the league since entering it in 2009 as a 1st round pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves. In the past two years with the Miami Heat, the ninth-year shooting guard has really exploded.

After making career high 149 three’s last year, Ellington has already broken it with 159 threes this year, fifth overall in the NBA. He is also averaging a career high 11.3 points per game while shooting 39.8 percent from beyond the arc. He has been a very good role-player for a surprising good Miami Heat team, who are currently sitting seventh in the East.

Kyle Lowry

The four-time All-Star point guard for the Toronto Raptors will be competing in his third straight three point contest. He has lost the previous two years, in 2016 to Klay Thompson and last year to Eric Gordon. Kyle Lowry has steadily improved his game over his 12 year career, going from back-up to starter to star.

The all-around point guard is averaging 16.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game while shooting 38 percent from deep. He has made a total of 140 three’s on the season. He and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan have helped lead the Toronto Raptors to 2nd place in the Eastern Conference so far this year.

Tobias Harris

The recently acquired small forward for the Los Angeles Clippers is having a career year, averaging 18.2 points per game between the Clippers and the Detroit Pistons. He is also shooting a career high 41.1 percent from downtown. He is also a player who has improved more and more each year at different aspects of his game.

After riding the bench his first year and a half in the league with the Milwaukee Bucks, he was shipped to the Orland Magic in the J.J. Redick deal. The Magic put him in the starting lineup and he has become a really good small forward since. He has made 116 three’s on the year, which is already a career high. This is his first time competing in the contest.

Luca’s Prediction: Wayne Ellington

Three-Point Contest

Waynee Ellington celebrates after hitting a 3 (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

This might seem like a surprise pick in a stacked field, but Wayne Ellington has a quick release and shot to win this contest. I believe he will continue adding on to a career year and take home the 2018 JBL Three-Point Contest trophy.

 

Featured photo by NBA.com

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Cleveland Cavaliers time to panic

Is it time for the Cavs to hit the panic button?

The Cavaliers have won the Eastern Conference Finals the past three seasons, and for the past three years, were the clear-cut favorite to represent the conference in the NBA Finals. They’ve had remarkable success in the postseason. Even when they were the second seed in the East, everyone knew who the team to beat was.

When LeBron James played with the Miami Heat, they were always first or second in the conference, and again, were the team to beat. However, the James-led Cavs this year are not in the top two spots in the conference. In fact, this is the lowest win percentage by one of James’ teams since 2007. Along with a poorer record than usual, there is well-documented tension within the locker room, swirling trade rumors and coach Tyronn Lue appears to be on the hot seat.

Will the Cavaliers reach the finals this year? What will happen when James hits free agency this offseason? Here are some of the reasons why Cleveland might soon be in panic mode.

Defense

Cleveland Cavaliers time to panic

James was animated on the sidelines during a blowout loss to the Toronto Raptors (Photo from YouTube).

The Cavaliers rank dead last in points per possession, and this was a team expected to play better defense with the addition of Jae Crowder and subtraction of Kyrie Irving.

On the flip side, Boston has the best defense per possession, and they hold the lowest opponent field goal percentage (43.3 percent) in the league. The impact of a great coach is noticed in its defense. Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich and Brad Stevens all have their teams in the top five in opponent field goal percentage. Likewise, the Cavaliers rank 28th in the league with teams shooting 47.5 percent against them.

Jason Kidd was just fired because the Bucks, a team that has lots of capable defenders, are in the bottom tier of opponent field goal percentage. The Cavaliers have more than enough talent to play at a high level on defense, but it’s the coach’s job to build team defense, and Tyronn Lue has not done that.

If the saying, “defense wins championships” is true, the Cavaliers will have no business making it to the finals, let alone winning the finals.

Isaiah Thomas

While Isaiah Thomas is still slowly getting back into NBA shape, there is no question he lacks chemistry with the team and has digressed from last year. The 5-foot-9 point guard averaged just under 29 points per game last season, and shot 46.3 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from deep while finishing fifth in MVP voting.

This year, he’s averaging a mere 15.4 points per game on 39 percent shooting from the floor and 27.6 percent from 3-point range. His numbers and efficiency on offense are extremely down this year. Thomas has always been a below-average defender, partially due to his lack of height. Without him producing on offense, he’ll be unplayable in the playoffs.

If he doesn’t find his groove and get back to the player he was last year, then Cleveland will be in big trouble in the playoffs. The Cavs are 5-5 with Thomas on the court.

Besides the on-court issues, there are reports that Thomas criticized Kevin Love for not playing in a game because of an illness during a team meeting that included lots of finger pointing, and not a lot of solutions. Thomas has been involved with what seems to be subtle jabs back and forth.

It’s worth noting that last year, reporters couldn’t get any information from players on the Cavs, but this year, there has been a player who shares with the media the updates in the locker room. It’s a safe bet that one of the new additions is the one leaking information to the media, and Thomas is likely the player doing so.

Trade rumors

After playing other playoff contenders, it’s very apparent that Cleveland needs to make a trade to improve its roster before the playoffs. Essentially every player that could be moved in the NBA is on its radar, because the sense of urgency to make a deal is very high.

There’s been lots of rumors about George Hill and DeAndre Jordan among others being traded, and the Cavaliers desperately need to add talent, yet aren’t willing to part with any players who have value, or the first-round pick from Brooklyn.

Reports have leaked that players on the roster don’t think they can beat Golden State. Without the addition of a quality point guard or center to bolster its lineup, this team could be in for a disappointing postseason.

LeBron James

LeBron James is still playing at a very high level and is likely going to finish within the top three for the MVP voting. However, due to the headache he’s consistently causing his team, is his on-court talent worth the baggage he brings off the court?

Cleveland Cavaliers time to panic

Will James leave the Cavs this summer? (Photo by NBC Sports)

James is finally starting to look older on the court, and the years of heavy minutes and playing intense basketball until June is beginning to have an effect on him.

While he’s led the Cavaliers to lots of success in his career, there’s no doubt his relationship with owner Dan Gilbert could be better. Furthermore, the Cavaliers let go of former general manager David Griffin, who James was close friends with, which brings to question how solid of a bond James and the Cavs hold.

With James’ pending free agency, there is a growing belief that he is likely to bolt from the Cavaliers once again and surround himself with better talent as he ages. There’s a good chance this successful relationship between James and the Cavaliers will end soon.

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, the Cavaliers have the best player in the league and more playoff experience than any other team in the conference. However, there are other talented teams in the conference, and Boston could be the first team to really challenge Cleveland, especially if Gordon Hayward comes back this season.

It’s unlikely the Cavs can beat the Warriors with the poor chemistry and roster they currently have, and the Eastern Conference has increasingly gotten tougher. It may be time for the Cavs to hit the panic button.

 

Featured image from Sporting News

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NBA All-Star game snubs

2018 All-Star Game snubs and surprises

The 2018 All-Star game starters and reserves are set. We don’t know what color jerseys the players will be wearing, but we do know who will be wearing them.

So it’s time to cue the profanity-laced tweets and cries of “popularity contest.” Let the fans’ opinions on how to fix this defense-free contest both somehow simultaneously be heard and spectacularly ignored. Let’s bask in the interminable glory of four Warriors starters making the roster for the second year in a row. At least they might be playing on different teams this time.

The newly implemented draft system was meant to be an exciting way of adding an air of competitiveness to the game. Ask the NFL how that worked out for them.

What’s more is the fans won’t even get to watch the draft. The rosters will be announced on Thursday on an extended edition of TNT’s Tip-Off program.

Regardless of anyone’s feelings, the stage is set. So after we take a look at how voting is counted, let’s break down the biggest snubs and surprises from the All-Star game selections.

All-Star game voting

The voting for starters is split between fans, players and media. The fans votes make up 50 percent, while the players and media both account for 25 percent.

NBA All-Star Game snubs

Leaked All-Star Game jerseys are drawing bad reviews from fans (Photo by Conrad Burry)

The three frontcourt players (regardless of small forward, power forward or center designations) and the two guards with the highest combined vote totals in each conference are selected as the starters.

 

Starters: Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, James Harden and Kyrie Irving

The All-Star game reserves are chosen by the NBA coaches. They are asked to choose three frontcourt players, two guards and two more players at any position. These players have to be in the coach’s conference, and cannot be players on their own team.

The backcourt and frontcourt players with the highest vote total are selected. Then, the two extra players are chosen by votes, and position preference stated on the coaches’ ballots.

Reserves: Kyle Lowry, Bradley Beal, John Wall, Victor Oladipo, Kevin Love, Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Draymond Green and Karl-Anthony Towns

Biggest snubs

Paul George

NBA All-Star game snubs

Paul George snubbed from All-Star game despite his great defensive season (Photo by Russ Isabella/USA TODAY Sports)

Paul George has been a part of a rocky experiment in Oklahoma City. At 27-20, the Thunder are currently the fifth seed in a tough Western Conference, but with their big three, one can’t help but think they are underachieving.

 

George is having a monstrous defensive season. While defense is not quite at a premium during the All-Star game, it isn’t like his offense is suffering because of it either. George is leading the league in steals at 93, and is still averaging almost 21 points per game. He’s also shooting the 3-pointer well at 42.2 percent.

In an offense dominated by two ball-hogs, that’s not bad. And many people, Russell Westbrook included, think it should have been enough to earn him a spot on the reserve roster.

Lou Williams

Lou Williams has been a revelation off the bench during the first half of the season. He’s shooting 45.1 percent from the field, and hitting 40.5 percent of his 3-pointers (of which he takes a lot). He’s averaging about 32 minutes, again, off the bench, and has had 14 games scoring over 30 points. That includes a 50-point game against Golden State, a team known for its defense as much as its offense.

Some claim that playing starters’ minutes off the bench was actually a mark against him during All-Star voting, but it also speaks to his willingness to be a team player. Those intangibles coupled with those numbers are the makings of an All-Star.

Chris Paul

Chris Paul has been pretty famously banged up this season. What most people may not realize, however, is that Paul has played in over half of the Rockets’ games this season.

When he plays, they win. Period.

When Paul has suited up this season, the Rockets have gone 23-5. When Paul, Clint Capela and James Harden are all in the lineup, the Rockets are 17-0. That’s a testament to his leadership and court vision.

Paul is averaging 19.1 points per game and 8.9 assists per game. He is also averaging a career-high 5.9 rebounds per game.

Of course, his assist numbers would be higher if the Rockets could stay healthy, but 8.9 isn’t too shabby for a team that takes as many jumpers as Houston does.

Andre Drummond

NBA All-Star game snubs

Drummond is upset he was left out of the All-Star Game reserves (Photo by Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

Finally, Andre Drummond was left out of the All-Star game reserves. He is averaging 14.3 points and 15 rebounds per game, with the rebounds being the league’s best.

 

His free-throw shooting percentage is also up an incredible 24.3 percent, which is significant for one of the NBA’s worst at the line. His 3.9 assists per game are also up from his career average of one. Not too bad for a true center.

Drummond has been pretty vocal about his displeasure towards being left out of the All-Star roster. You can see exactly what he thought if you visit his Twitter page, as long as you’re not at work, that is.

Biggest surprises

Al Horford

The Celtics’ center Al Horford somehow made it on to the All-Star game reserve roster averaging just 13.3 points, and less than eight rebounds per game. Although his assist totals are slightly higher than Drummond’s, he’s also more of a stretch player than Drummond is.

He ventures outside the 3-point line much more than some other centers, which could have been seen as an asset. That opens the door to more passing lanes than living under the basket does.

He’s also playing almost the exact same number of minutes as Drummond is on a better team. That alone lends itself to not really having to lean on Horford as much as Detroit has had to lean on Drummond.

This isn’t a completely unwarranted All-Star game appearance. It perhaps is just an example of bias towards a more complete team.

Guards over forwards

As stated in the voting section, the two “wild card” spots on the reserve roster are given to which ever kind of player the coaches would prefer to have on the teams. Those spots in both conferences went to guards.

It’s not totally shocking, seeing as how the league has changed to rely on quickness and 3-pointers. But if the fans are supposed to believe that NBA coaches are all as committed to defense as they say they are, that should probably show up in the All-Star game. You would expect them to be favoring blocks and paint presence over quick hands and pull-up jump shots.

Watchability

In conclusion, 2018’s All-Star game just might be more watchable than previous iterations. The draft is a fun experiment, even if it doesn’t quite work out. And it’s already proven itself useful if all four Warriors don’t end up on the same side.

Even though the jerseys may be terrible, and the draft is not televised, it’s important to remember that the league is trying new things. The NBA isn’t ever going to make everyone happy with the All-Star game, especially the players. No matter how selection is done, there will always be players who are vocal about not being on the roster.

There will always be fans claiming that none of it matters anyway, or about how their voice is not heard enough. But it’s a tradition, and it is the very nature of traditions to be divisive.

Either way, N.E.R.D is playing the halftime show. That should be enough of a reason to tune in.

 

Featured image by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

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Rap and basketball

Rap and basketball: Forever intertwined through lyrical references

Rap and basketball go together like peanut butter and jelly. Players are name-dropped in songs and rappers sit courtside. Players have become rappers (Iman Shumpert, Damian Lillard and Nick Young) and rappers have become owners (Jay-Z and Nelly). Getting name-dropped in a song shows that you’ve done enough as a player, for better or worse, to warrant the shoutout.

“Once I got referenced, that is when I felt like I had made it in pop culture” – Dwyane Wade

The better and more successful a player is, the more likely he is to be name-dropped more often in a song. Michael Jordan has been mentioned 194 times in a song and Brevin Knight has been mentioned once (back to Brevin later). Listed below are 16 of the best NBA player references in rap history and my breakdown of the lyrics.

“If Jeezy paying LeBron, I’m paying Dwyane Wade”

Rap and basketball

Dwayne Wade shares a laughs with Jay-Z. (Kelly Dwyer/Yahoo Sports)

“Empire State of Mind” – Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys (2009)

Jeezy is “paying” LeBron because he had recently made a song titled 23,24 where he mentions LeBron and Kobe a bunch. Jay-Z hops aboard the Dwyane Wade bandwagon in Empire State of Mind instead.

D-Wade was at his peak in 2009 when he lead the NBA in scoring by averaging 30.2 points per game. He was the best shooting guard in the NBA at the time, and Jay-Z is stating that he would back Dwyane Wade since Jeezy already backed LeBron James.

“Pyrex, cook it up like Kyrie, trade you off (let’s go), green and white like Celtics, don’t play with me, play with a fork.”

“All da Smoke” – Future and Young Thug (2017)

In this song off the recently released collaborative album Super Slimey, Future talks about the Kyrie Irving trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets 2018 first-round pick.

Pyrex is a cookware brand, and he compares cooking in the kitchen to Kyrie cooking defenders on the court.

Green and white is in reference to the Celtics colorway and the color of money, which Future has a whole lot with his net worth being around $8 million.

“I been Steph Curry with the shot, been cookin’ with the sauce, Chef Curry with the pot boy, 360 with the wrist boy.”

“0 to 100/The Catch Up” – Drake (2014)

Drake starts out the line by comparing himself to Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. He is stating that he is a dead-eye shooter and doesn’t miss on tracks, like how Steph Curry seemingly doesn’t miss shots, especially from deep.

The two-time MVP is a career 43.6 percent 3-point shooter and has made over 2,000 threes already in his career. This puts him at eighth all time, and he is only 29 years old.

The second part of the lyric Drake refers to Ayesha Curry. Ayesha is Steph’s wife, and Drake mentions her ability to whip up feasts in the kitchen. It also refers to James Harden’s “stir the pot” celebration.

“And you can live through anything if Magic made it.”

“Can’t Tell Me Nothing” – Kanye West (2007)

Kanye references Lakers Hall of Fame point guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s AIDS diagnosis in this lyric. On Nov. 7, 1991, Johnson held a press conference and shocked the world when he announced that he was retiring from the NBA because he was HIV-positive.

At the time, the disease was deadly as they were still in the early stages of developing drugs to manage the disease. Kanye refers to this by saying you can live through whatever you are suffering through because Magic was able to survive his dire diagnosis.

“I am just like DeRozan, if I shoot it, it goes in.”

“iSpy” – KYLE ft. Lil Yatchy (2016)

This is a questionable lyric at best. KYLE is comparing himself to Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan by saying any track he makes is a hit, just like any shot DeRozan shoots he hits.

This is just a factually incorrect statement. Although DeRozan has improved his 3-point shooting percentage to a more than respectable 35 percent, he is still a 29 percent career shooter from deep. He also shoots 44.9 percent in his career from the field, meaning he makes less than half of the shots he attempts.

To make his lyric even more incorrect, this is the only song he has ever had in the Billboard Top 100, when ‘iSpy” peaked at No. 4. Although KYLE may improve his numbers just like DeRozan has, next time he should choose a better shooter to compare himself too.

“I been ballin’ so hard I swear I think that I’m Kobe”

Rap and basketball

Kobe balled pretty hard over his career. (Photo by AP / David J. Phillip)

“Kobe” – Chief Keef (2012)

Chicago legend Chief Keef believes that he has put in so much work and made so much money that he is convinced that he is Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.

Bryant averaged 25 points per game, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists over his career. He has earned over $770 million in his career from advertisements and contract money.

On the other hand, Chief Keef has a net worth of around $6 million. Chief Keef feels as if he is on the same level as Bryant because he is making hit after hit. His debut album Finally Rich was a superb success, debuting at No. 29 on the Billboard Top 200 list. Not bad at all for a 17-year-old rapper.

“I’m not from round these parts I’m Stojakovic”

“Pump It Up (Remix)” – Joe Budden ft. Jay Z (2003)

Joe Budden, a rap old head, joins forces with mogul Jay-Z for the song Pump It Up (Remix). There are plenty of references in the song, but the best is the one listed above. It is a remix to Joe Budden’s most successful and acclaimed song Pump It Up.

Budden exclaims that he is foreign to the neighborhood, just like former NBA sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic. Stojakovic is from Serbia and averaged 17 points per game in his career and shot over 40 percent from three. He is one of the best international players of all time.

Just like Stojakovic is from Serbia and not familiar with his surroundings, neither is Joe Budden in this song.

“Klay Thomp’, corner shot (brrr), Eight-Ball, corner pocket(ayy)”

“Call Casting” – Migos (Quavo) (2017)

Migos gives a shoutout to Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson on the track “Call Casting” from the standout album Culture. Thompson is the second “Splash Brother” along with point guard Stephen Curry. They are two of the most accurate and deadly three-point shooters of all time. Thompson has hit many corner threes in his lifetime and will hit many more in the future.

In the second half of the lyric, Quavo talks about his Billiards knowledge by stating that he is calling the corner pocket of the table for the eight-ball when he is going for the win. An eight-ball may also refer to Quavo dealing with an eighth, or 3.5 grams, of a drug.

“James Harden, Swaggy P runnin’ up the budget”

“Facts (Charlie Heat Version)” – Kanye West (2016)

Kanye West is not only a rapper, but a clothing feign. He signed with Adidas after starting his clothing brand with Nike. Both of the athletes mentioned in this lyric also left Nike for Adidas as well. The Yeezy line is one of the most popular clothing and pop culture lines in the world.

West points to Adidas signing both Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden and then Los Angles Lakers shooting guard Nick “Swaggy P” Young. He states that their Adidas contracts are causing the budget to rise. Harden’s contract with Adidas is a reported $200 million over 13 years. That will certainly run up the budget.

“Got a thing for aesthetics, straight shooter like Redick”

“102” – Vince Staples (2011)

Vince Staples states that he enjoys beauty and the pretty things in life. Staples then compares his gun-toting abilities and accuracy with a glock to that of Philadelphia 76ers shooting guard J.J. Redick. Redick is one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA. He is a career 41.4 percent shooter from deep and has made 1,369 threes in his career so far. Redick is someone you don’t wanna leave open from deep, otherwise you might as well chalk up three points for the other team.

“Back-to-back like I’m Jordan ’96, ’97”

“Back to Back” – Drake (2015)

This lyric is from the second of two diss tracks by Drake against Meek Mill. The beef started after Meek Mill called out Drake for allegedly using a ghost writer to write his verses.

Drake responded by dropping “Charged Up” and “Back to Back,” taking shots at Meek Mill and his entourage the entire time. He compares him dropping back-to-back diss tracks with Chicago Bulls shooting guard and the greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan winning back-to-back championships in 1996 and 1997.

“She said she need a ring like Carmelo”

“Nikes” – Frank Ocean (2016)

Frank Ocean talks about a woman in his life that he is with that wants to get married. The woman wants to solidify her relationship with Ocean by having the ring. He compares this to Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Carmelo Anthony not having won an NBA Championship, despite being one of the best players of the decade and one of the best individual scorers of all time.

He has averaged over 24.4 points per game over his 16-year NBA career. Therefore, he wants a ring that signifies being a champion. Many pundits and fans believe that’s the last thing Anthony needs to accomplish in his career, despite having one an NCAA Championship with Syracuse in 2003.

“I’ma beat they (butt) up like Ron Artest”

“Floyd Mayweather” – Young Thug ft. Gunna, Travis Scott and Gucci Mane (2016)

In the standout song off of Young Thug’s third major release mixtape Jeffery, Young Thug profusely states that he will beat the up the next person who tries to rob him, and make sure no one threatens him again.

He compares his fighting ability to Ron Artest’s (aka Metta World Peace). Artest is infamously known for his part in the Malace at The Palace fight. In a game between rival Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers in Detroit, the two teams got into a heated brawl in the closing seconds. The fight spilled into the stands with Ron Artest fighting fans after they threw things onto the court at him. It is one of the most infamous moments in NBA history.

So yeah, don’t get into a fight with Young Thug or Ron Artest.

“I bring all my guns to work, Gilbert Arenas”

“Spend It” – 2 Chainz ft T.I. (2011)

2 Chainz states he is always strapped up with weapons in the workplace like Gilbert Arenas was in the Washington Wizards’ locker room. Arenas was the star point guard for the Wizards when he was suspended for the rest of 2010 season after getting in a locker room dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton. They reportedly drew weapons on each other in the locker room after arguing over a gambling debt.

On a somewhat related note, Crittenton is currently serving 23 years in prison after being found guilty of manslaughter.

“Boomin’ out in South Gwinnett like Lou Will, 6 man like I’m Lou Will”

Rap and basketball

Lou Williams with his two girlfriends. (Lou Williams Instagram)

“6 Man” – Drake (2014)

Drake love the Raptors so much he dedicated a song off the album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late to one of their players.

“6 Man” is dedicated to shooting guard Lou Williams, who at the time was a high-scoring guard for the Toronto Raptors. He had recently won the Sixth Man of the Year award for the Raptors in 2014-15. Drake also shouts out South Gwinnett, which is where Lou Williams went to high school in Georgia. He also shouts out producer Metro Boomin with the first word of the lyric.

Drake states he is the 6 man like Lou Will because he is the man of the 6, which is what Toronto is known as. A fun fact about Lou Williams is that he once had two girlfriends at the same time, and one of his girlfriends had a twin.

“I take my Glock and I point god/point guard like Brevin Knight”

“Put ‘Em in the Grave” – Jedi Mind Tricks (2006)

I told you we would get back to out mutual friend Brevin Knight. In one of the most obscure rap references of all time, Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks talks about pointing his pistol and guarding himself and his homies, like point guard Brevin Knight guarding people on defense.

Brevin Knight was a journeyman backup point guard who played for nine teams in his career and averaged 7.3 points per game. While it is a very slick metaphor and lyric, it is still quite odd that he picked perhaps one of the most random NBA players in history.

The only reason I knew Brevin Knight existed was that I had his Utah Jazz basketball card as a kid. I’m sure 99.9 percent of people reading this don’t know who he is, which is quite fair because he did absolutely nothing notable in his career besides being known as a decent defender (I had to look that up).

Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did writing this.

 

Featured image by Jason Merritt/Getty Images North America

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2018 NBA All-Star game starters

Predicting the NBA All-Star starters

NBA All-Star weekend is a great time for players to get some rest, have fun and entertain. Being the best at your job is always sought after, just like being an All-Star in the NBA is.

This season, there are many different combinations that are worthy of being starts for the All-Star game on both the East and the West. With the Western Conference having the majority of last year’s All-Stars, the Eastern Conference could potentially have some new faces in their starting lineups.

Eastern Conference

2018 NBA All-Star game starters

2017 NBA All-Star game (Photo from Clutchpoints.com)

There is a little bit of difference here.

2017 starters: Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler.

Obviously Butler is now a member of the Western Conference, so he will be replaced. Like every year, the big man has been taken out of most starting lineups due to the NBA trying to increase scoring and excitement. The five that seem most likely to get the call include a new face who was previously in the Western Conference.

Irving, DeRozan, James, Antetokounmpo and Victor Oladipo seem to be the most deserving. This would obviously put Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on the outside looking in, but they would be reserves.

Oladipo has proven that he can be a No. 1 for a surprising Indiana Pacers team. Oladipo’s numbers read as 24.8 points, 4.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. He is averaging well over his career average in every statistic previously listed. He is shooting nearly six percent better than his career average and has a player efficiency rating over 24. He is more than deserving of a starting spot in a weak Eastern Conference.

Oladipo is the second leading scoring guard in the East only behind DeRozan. Oladipo is shooting the exact same from the field per game as Steph Curry. Oladipo is shooting just over 49 percent on almost 18 attempts, which is the same as Curry exactly.

Oladipo is having his best statistical season of his career. His stats match up against all other Eastern Conference guards. In comparison to someone like Joel Embiid, Oladipo has played in more games, averaged more points, played more minutes and as of right now, the Indiana Pacers have a better record than the Philadelphia 76ers. The Pacers have overachieved based on rankings, and that is why Oladipo’s been so important.

Western Conference

The Western Conference is home to the league’s best big men.

2017 starters: Steph Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis.

This year there doesn’t seem to be too much difference.

This year’s starters could have some parody. There are three point guards in the West all deserving of a spot. Curry, Harden (I guess we can officially call him a point guard now) and Russell Westbrook.

Durant seems like a sure thing, and the final spots seem to be between the Pelican big men. In the end, I think the lineup for the West has to be Curry, Harden, Durant, Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Last year, in Russell Westbrook’s MVP season, he didn’t start in the All-Star game. This season, he has less impressive numbers and has more help. He is still the third best guard among that trio. It does not help that the game is being held in L.A., which means that Curry is put ahead of him.

It’s hard to pick between the two Pelican big men. They both have solid numbers and compliment each other well. In the Western Conference, the two are fourth and fifth in the voting, and they are both more than deserving for a spot in the frontcourt.

The argument for getting both of the Pelican big men to the starting lineup starts with this: DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 25.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Anthony Davis is averaging 25.8 points as well and 10.3 rebounds per game. The two are averaging double-doubles in the same frontcourt. They both have a player efficiency rating over 23.7. A guy like Kawhi Leonard being hurt opens the door for both big men.

Karl-Anthony Towns is another guy averaging a double-double and is up over 23 in his player efficiency rating. He plays the exact same minutes as Cousins. The only difference is he is averaging just over 20 points per game which is nearly 20 percent less than both Cousins and Davis, and they are on the same team.

Ultimately, the last two spots in the Western Conference starting lineup are likely two of the three previously listed players. Davis and Cousins have made strong cases as All-Star starters, and they share the same frontcourt.

The hometown guy

Kyle Kuzma will find his way on a roster here. He has put up great numbers and at times has been the most important piece for the Lakers. It seems like the voters love to have a hometown guy, and Kuzma, at this point, seems to be the most deserving.

 

Featured image from basketinfo.com.

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Isaiah Thomas return

Should the Cavs have waited to bring back Isaiah Thomas?

Isaiah Thomas said he had “no feel for the game right now,” per Dave McMenamin of ESPN after the Cavaliers’ 17-point win over Portland.

That’s interesting considering his 17 points were scored on 6-for-12 shooting in just 19 minutes. Not to mention those 17 points he scored was the exact margin of victory for the Cavs. Suffice it to say, if he doesn’t have a feel for the game now, may God help the Eastern Conference when he gets it back.

The problem here wasn’t with Thomas’ performance, it was with the team on the receiving end of said performance. Specifically, the fact that they weren’t wearing green and represented by a leprechaun.

The Cavaliers chose to make Thomas available for the game against Portland on Tuesday, eschewing the primetime matchup against his former team in Boston on Wednesday. The team did not want Thomas to play back-to-back games after his long awaited return from a torn labrum, lest they risk an injury to one of the big pieces of their playoff hopes.

So, why not just wait one more day and give the NBA the marquee, probable Eastern Conference finals matchup it has been waiting for? With both teams at nearly full strength, this would be a perfect opportunity for both squads to get a feel for what the other team’s game plan might be in the spring.

First, let’s argue for why he should sit.

Sit him

Very simply, the Cavs and Tyronn Lue may just not have a plan they are ready to execute for Thomas against Kyrie Irving and the Celtics.

Isaiah Thomas return

Isaiah Thomas warms up for his Cavs debut. (Photo by Tony Dejak/Associated Press)

Irving has the best handles in the league, and it won’t inspire confidence in fans, players or the media if Thomas keeps getting cooked by Irving every time down the floor. Not to mention hip injuries limit mobility, so if Lue does have a plan, who’s to say Thomas could even execute it well enough to justify the minutes?

Apropos to that last point, Lue may be playing some mind games with Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Perhaps purposefully not showing Boston what they can do against Irving in an effort to force them to change their defensive set pieces later on in the season.

Another obvious reason for him to sit would be concern over the physicality of a rivalry game. Considering these two teams will almost certainly meet at some point during the playoffs, this will be a chance for both teams to rough each other up to show them what they’ve got. What Boston might have for a 5-foot-9 point guard is a hard screen or a shoulder to the chest that sends him to the floor with a re-aggravated hip.

Finally, the Cavs don’t want to look like they were just sitting on their hands regarding Thomas’ return until he could come back and burn his old team. That is a bad look for an organization that has pretty much dominated the Eastern Conference for three straight years.

Now, why should he start in a potentially dangerous back-to-back?

Start him

The first and most glaring reason for starting Thomas is for the fans. If it’s a forgone conclusion that these teams will be meeting in the playoffs, (which it is, barring some sort of major collapse), then the fans deserve the full playoff atmosphere. With every player that can suiting up and showing us what we’ll get in May.

Isaiah Thomas return

Isaiah Thomas makes his season debut against the Trail Blazers on Jan. 2. (Photo by Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

That’s without even mentioning the great storyline that could have been if Thomas suited up for his first game against his former team that he believes heavily devalued him. But, since he played against Portland, that storyline is less sexy than it had the potential to be.

Regarding playoff atmosphere, why wouldn’t Lue want his best players and best scorers in the game as much as possible? The Celtics are a top-tier team. They can score and suffocate teams defensively. A guy who scored almost 29 points per game last year would be a logical play if points will be at a premium.

Lastly, it makes sense to test Thomas’ hip in tough back-to-backs when the season is not even at its halfway point. Thomas will have the entire All-Star break to rest and rehabilitate. Another injury to that hip is frightening, especially when it cost him nearly eight months. But a full tear is unlikely, and it would be a calculated risk considering the opponent.

Regardless of all of that, the decision has been made. He did not play.

Thomas was not drilling 3-pointers while a man a foot taller than him stumbled to get his hand up. He was not flexing his defensive capabilities against one of the most invaluable point guards in the league. He was also not passing it to the human fountain of youth that is LeBron James.

But, for everyone’s sake, especially the Cavs, let’s all hope he will be by May.

 

Featured image by KEN BLAZE-USA TODAY SPORTS

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NBA takeaways

Eight thoughts about the NBA season minus LeBron James

The NBA is off to a wonderful, yet somewhat surprising start. The Celtics have won 16 straight games, the Pistons are third in the Eastern Conference and the Oklahoma City Thunder are under .500 despite building a super team in the offseason. Here are a few early season takeaways.

1. Is Lonzo Ball going to be good?

Going into the draft, the Lakers knew they were not drafting Lonzo Ball for his scoring ability, but his shot has been just awful. On shots from 0-3 feet from the basket (essentially layups), Ball is shooting 45.5 percent. His abysmal 22.8 3-point percentage is the worst in the NBA.

NBA takeaways

Hopefully Lonzo can figure out the whole shooting thing (Photo from ClutchPoints)

Instead of panicking, let’s look at some other famous guards. Russell Westbrook shot 47.6 percent from 0-3 feet, and 27.1 percent from three during his first year with the Oklahoma City Thunder. John Wall shot 40.9 percent from the field as a 20-year old in Washington, which is not as poor as Lonzo’s 31.3 percent, but is still weak.

Now for the positives. His assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty solid, and he already has two triple-doubles. Only 12 other guards have eclipsed multiple triple-doubles during their rookie seasons. That list consists of Jason Kidd, Michael Jordan, Chris Paul, Walt Frazier, Tim Hardaway and Kevin Johnson. It also includes Michael Carter-Williams, Jamaal Tinsley, Art Williams and Elfrid Payton.

Long story short, he could be great, but he also could be a major bust. He appears somewhat passive, and walking away from a fight that involved his teammates makes me question his toughness. Only time will tell, but in BBB we trust. Through 17 games, Ball is averaging 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The only other rookies to average at least seven boards and seven assists were Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

2. Ben Simmons is super talented

You can already tell that, barring injury, Ben Simmons will be in the Hall of Fame. He is a lock for NBA Rookie of the Year, averaging a ridiculous 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. The only other rookie to average at least 18-8-7 was the great Oscar Robertson. He is the modern day Magic Johnson, and NBA fans should be ecstatic.

The kid can do it all. He is special in half court, full court, open court, heck, he would probably be good in a court of law. The best part is a guy who has no jump shot is shooting 52.3 percent from the field. Simmons dominates inside, shooting 73.5 percent from 0-3 feet. I pray each and every day that he stays healthy for the remainder of the season.

3. Joel Embiid is so fun for the NBA

On Monday night, we watched Embiid swat Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, then proceeded to talk trash while Mitchell was down. This prompted Mitchell to shove Embiid, who flopped and drew a technical foul as he fell down to the floor.

In a game against the Clippers, Embiid had 32 points and 16 rebounds, while taunting Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The following night, Embiid put up his historic 46-15-7-7 stat line and proceeded to taunt Lonzo and LaVar Ball on social media.

Embiid is a national treasure, and like his teammate Simmons, needs prayers every night to stay healthy. He has a chance to be an all-time great, both on and off the court.

4. Brad Stevens is a magician and Kyrie Irving is special

The Celtics are off to an amazing start at 16-2, but the MVP of their team is not on the court. He is patrolling from courtside and calling out the plays.

Head coach Brad Stevens is the obvious choice for Coach of the Year and rightfully so. Without Gordon Hayward, Boston is riding a 16-game winning streak, and sits atop the Eastern Conference. Their defense has been phenomenal, ranking second in opponent field goal percentage, third in opponent threes allowed and fifth in total steals. Offensively, Boston is first in total rebounds and third in free throws made.

NBA takeaways

16 and counting (Photo from NBA.com)

When the Celtics were sitting at 14 straight, Stevens, in a postgame interview, noted “We gotta play a lot better.” That is a clear sign of an elite coach.

Kyrie Irving is shooting worse from the field, from three and from the line compared to last season. Luckily, Irving looks to be back on track after two dominating performances. Against the Hawks, Irving had 30 points while shooting 10-12. On Monday, Uncle Drew had his best game as a member of the Celtics. In an eight-point win against Dallas, Irving had 47 points (16-22), six assists and was +21 for the game.

He is also the most clutch player in the NBA. In the final five minutes with the score within five, Irving, in 38 minutes, has 65 points (24-39), 10 assists, zero turnovers, and a plus-minus of +40. Momma there goes that man.

5. Victor Oladipo looks like an All-Star

After being the punchline in the Paul George trade, the former No. 2 overall pick is having quite the season in Indiana. Oladipo is averaging 22.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, while shooting 44.7 percent from long range. All of a sudden, Oladipo is an offensive threat, and has the Pacers above .500.

6. Dwight Howard is a Hall of Famer

On Monday night, Howard had 25 points and 20 rebounds in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. This was his 49th 20-point, 20-rebound game, which is the most of any player since 1983. Yes, that is more than Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal.

NBA takeaways

Dwight Howard will be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame (Photo from USA Today)

This past March in an interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated, Howard was asked about whether or not he thinks he will be the Hall of Fame. He responded by saying, “No doubt. It’s kind of got swept under the rug because the perception of all the things that happened in Orlando. All of the media stuff. If you look at basketball itself, and I don’t ever talk about myself, but winning three Defensive Player of the Year trophies has never been done. Leading the league in rebounding six straight years. All that kind of stuff, I think that deserves it.”

Although he actually has only led the NBA in five total seasons rather than six straight, the eight-time All-Star should walk into the Hall of Fame with ease. It’s so funny because he has had such an awkward career, from dominating in Orlando, to flopping with the Lakers and bouncing from the Rockets to the Hawks and now the Hornets.

Yes, he has probably underachieved, but Howard’s numbers will put him up with the all-time greats when all is said and done.

7. What is going on in OKC?

Of course it takes time to adjust to playing with other All-Stars, but this Thunder team is sketchy. They are 7-9, and Russell Westbrook is shooting worse from the field and free-throw line than last year. He also has less assists per game despite having more talent around him.

Carmelo Anthony is shooting 42.2 percent, which would be the worst field goal percentage of his career. They are constantly letting teams back into games after the first quarter, and have now lost two straight despite being ahead by 20 points in both contests. Hopefully this team figures it out and can compete with Golden State come June.

8. James Harden is the MVP at this point in the season

Harden leads the league in points and assists per game. He is shooting 45 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from deep and 86.4 percent from the line.

Houston leads the Western Conference at 13-4, and Harden was dominating without Chris Paul, the team’s second best player, who was dealing with an injury. He dropped 56 points against Utah, and another 48 against the Suns.

 

Featured image by SlamOnline.com

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