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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LeBron James

The Second-Best Player in the Eastern Conference

Most NBA fans will say the Western Conference is better than the Eastern Conference, and it certainly would look that way if you look at the players.

In the West, there’s the MVP race between Russell Westbrook and James Harden. There are also other top talents like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins, Chris Paul and more. There is argument about who is the top player in the competitive West.

In the East, one man stands alone at the top, and that is LeBron James. James is the NBA’s best and has been untouchable in the East.

The bigger question is who is the East’s second best player? This could be debated between a few stars. Here is a breakdown of some of the top talent in the East.

Kyrie Irving

A lot of Cavs fans might argue the next best behind James is his sidekick Kyrie Irving. Irving definitely has a nice resume. This season he averaged 25.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 40.1 percent from behind the 3-point line.

Kyrie Irving

Photo by Kentucky Sports Radio

Irving has proven to be a clutch performer, evidenced in Game 7 of the NBA Finals last season and on Christmas day. He handles the ball better than anyone else in the league and is one of the best at playing iso.

However, Irving’s ability to lead the Cavs without James remains in question. Everyone knows how bad the Cavs’ record is when James sits. Irving may not be able to lead the Cavs, but he compliments James very nicely. The two of them make a great duo.

Paul George

PG-13 just might be the biggest star James has blocked from the NBA Finals. James’ teams have been in the Finals in all seven of George’s NBA seasons and have beaten George all four times they’ve met in the postseason.

Paul George

Photo by USA Today

George has had some nice numbers. This season he averaged 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while shooting 39.3 percent from 3-point range. George has been playing his best basketball since coming back from his leg injury two years ago. George is also known for his solid defensive play.

George does have a few weaknesses to him. Unlike Irving, George lacks the clutch gene. In the final 20 seconds of the fourth quarter, George is 0-15 on go-ahead shot opportunities since he came into the league, which ranks worst in the NBA. George said during their series with the Cavs that he thinks he should be the guy taking those final shots. However, he still hasn’t proven he can make those shots.

George also has few assists. If he wants to be on James’ level, that is something he is going to have to improve on.

Isaiah Thomas

Kenny Smith and Colin Cowherd have already said they believe Thomas is the second-best player in the East. His breakout season has him averaging 28.9 points per game (highest in the East) and 5.9 assists. Thomas also rocked a 26.59 player efficiency rating, which was good for second-best in the East.

Isaiah Thomas

Photo by The Boston Globe

Thomas is also second in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring behind Westbrook. Thomas plays until the end of the game and has had many clutch moments throughout the season.

The biggest weakness for Thomas is his defense. It has been talked about all season long. The 5-foot-9 point guard has the lowest defensive real plus-minus in the NBA at -4.08.

Thomas can definitely score a lot, but so can a lot of other players. Thomas is going to have to prove he can be at least average on defense if he wants to challenge James.

John Wall

John Wall had his best season yet this year. The Wizards point guard had career highs in points (23.1) and assists (10.7) per game. The assists, along with his two steals per game, were tops in the Eastern Conference.

John Wall

Photo by CBS Sports

He helped lead the Wizards to the fourth seed in the East after missing the playoffs last year. Wall is a playmaker and the most true point guard in the East.

One obvious issue Wall has in his game is the amount of turnovers he commits. Wall was third in the NBA and first in the East for total turnovers. Harden and Westbrook were first and second in this stat and each had over 100 more than Wall. A lot of the NBA’s stars also rank high in turnovers due to the amount they handle the ball, so it isn’t a huge concern that Wall ranks third on this list.

Wall has made several small improvements to his game. You couldn’t even tell he had surgery on both of his knees in the offseason because it slowed him down in no way. He can only continue to get better from here, especially if he can cut down on his turnovers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the biggest candidate for Most Improved Player. He also has a case for the East’s second best player.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Photo by Sporting News

The Greek Freak is similar to James in the way that he dominates almost all the major stat category on his team. He lead the Bucks in points (22.9), rebounds (8.8), assists (5.4), steals (1.6) and blocks (1.9) per game. His regular season totals in those five categories also ranked in the top 20 in the NBA, making him the first player in history to finish in the top 20 in all the five major categories.

He is definitely a freak of nature. He is listed at 6-foot-11 and 222 pounds. He can play every position on the court. Oh, and he is just 22 years old and just finished his fourth season, which was his best yet. The sky is the limit for Antetokounmpo.

In order for him to get to the next level, he is going to have to improve in some areas. One of those is shooting. The Greek Freak can definitely improve on his jump shot overall, including 3-point shooting and free throws. He improved in both 3-point and free-throw shooting this season, but it can get better.

He can also do a better job handling the ball as he finished ninth in turnovers. He joins Wall and a lot of other stars that finished high in this category.

The Final Verdict

Caron Butler and Charles Barkley both called Wall the second best in the East earlier this week. I’m going to join them.

The second best in the East has to be Wall. He’s fast and can score and pass at a high level. He shares the Wizards’ backcourt with Bradley Beal perfectly. They’ve seemed to put their past differences aside and are playing great basketball together. Wall has Washington back to where they have been in the past few years and has them on a rise to stardom.

ESPN’s First Take recently debated if Wall is now the best point guard in the NBA based on his performance this postseason. I’m not ready to give him that title, especially with guys like Westbrook, Harden and Curry still dominating. However, I’m willing to call him the best point guard in the East as well as the East’s second-best player.

It is going to be exciting to see Wall’s full potential as he enters the final prime years of his career. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Greek Freak tops Wall in the next few seasons to take this title away from him.

I’m not even going to attempt to guess at which point LeBron James will slow down. Analysts keep predicting it and he keeps proving them wrong.

(Featured Image by Huffington Post)

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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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All Star Weekend 17

NBA All-Star Weekend 2017

NBA All-Star Weekend is finally upon us.  New Orleans will be hosting the annual event that captivates basketball fans all over the world. Friday’s events include the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game on ESPN at 7 p.m. EST and the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge at 9 p.m. EST.

Saturday is the best day of events beginning with the D-League All-Star Game at 2:30 p.m. EST on NBATV. Later that night at 8 p.m. EST starts the three main events of the day. First is the Taco Bells Skills Challenge, followed by the JBL 3-Point contest, and finishing up with the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest.

Sunday will of course feature the 66th NBA All-Star Game.

NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: Pintrest)

This year the celebrity coaches will be ESPN’s Michael Smith and Jemele Hill. Smith’s team has the following celebrities: Miles Brown, Tom Cavanagh, Mark Cuban, Baron Davis, Andy Grammer, Jiang Jinfu, Anthony Mackie, Romeo Miller, Hasan Minhaj, Master P, Candace Parker and Aaron Sanchez.

Jemele Hill’s team includes the following celebrities: Brandon Armstrong, Win Butler, Nick Cannon, Rachel DeMita, Ansel Elgort, Marc Lasry, Caleb McLaughlin, Peter Rosenberg, Oscar Schmidt, Lindsay Whalen, Jason Williams and Kris Wu.

Both teams seem evenly matched and this year’s game doesn’t seem to have as big of names as past years. Rachel DeMita will surprise some people, but most people will be looking forward to seeing former NBA players Baron Davis and Jason Williams.

MVP Prediction: Jason Williams

Winning Team Prediction: Jemele Hill’s

 

Rising Stars Challenge

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

This annual Friday night game features first and second year NBA players and can be seen on TNT at 9 p.m. EST. It is a United States versus World format in which 10 players for each team were selected by NBA assistant coaches.

The U.S. team features Devin Booker (Suns), Malcolm Brogdon (Bucks), Marquese Chriss (Suns), Brandon Ingram (Lakers), Frank Kaminsky (Hornets), Jahlil Okafor (76ers), D’Angelo Russell (Lakers), Jonathon Simmons (Spurs), Karl Anthony-Towns (Timberwolves) and Myles Turner (Pacers)

The World team has Alex Abrines (Thunder), Dante Exum (Jazz), Buddy Hield (Pelicans), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), Trey Lyles (Jazz), Jamal Murray (Nuggets), Emmanuel Mudiay (Nuggets), Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks), Domantas Sabonis (Thunder) and Dario Saric (76ers).

Last year the U.S. won the game 157-154. The United States team is even more talented this year and will look to get another victory.

MVP Prediction: Devin Booker

Winning Team Prediction: United States

 

Skills Challenge

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The skills challenge is always an exciting event to get the fans ready for the 3-point competition. Last season a big man won: Karl Anthony-Towns. Unfortunately he won’t be defending his crown.

This year’s participants are Devin Booker (Suns), DeMarcus Cousins (Kings), Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), Gordon Hayward (Jazz), Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks), Isaiah Thomas (Celtics) and John Wall (Wizards).

These competitions are hard to predict, but what makes them fun is seeing lightning quick guards go up against some of the more skilled big men.

This event would have been more entertaining if Joel Embiid didn’t have to pull out, but the big men in this competition are still talented, just not talented enough to win it. This year will be the year of the guard.

Prediction Winner: Isaiah Thomas 

 

3-Point Contest

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit:Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports)

In this competition, last year’s winner will be defending his crown. Klay Thompson should be the favorite again this year, but is in for some tough competition. The 2013 champion Kyrie Irving will also be on the court. The remaining participants include Eric Gordon (Rockets), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), Wes Matthews (Mavericks), C.J. McCollum (Blazers), Kemba Walker (Hornets) and Nick Young (Lakers).

The final three participants will most likely be Thompson, McCollum and Walker. Klay’s experience will really help him, but it won’t be enough to repeat.

Prediction Winner: C.J. McCollum

 

 

 

 

Slam Dunk Contest

The dunk contest is usually the most exciting and most popular event of the entire All-Star weekend. Nobody wants to be that one person who missed an epic dunk. There was a short period where fans and journalists believed the dunk contest was lacking in excitement. Thanks to Aaron Gordon and Zach Lavine’s showdown last year, the hype is real again.

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: www.draftexpress.com)

Lavine won’t be defending his crown, by runner-up Aaron Gordon is looking to capture the title against an interesting field of competitors. Also competing against Gordon are DeAndre Jordan (Clippers), Glenn Robinson III (Pacers) and Derrick Jones Jr. (Suns).

Derrick Jones Jr. is the most controversial participant this year. Jones is a rookie out of UNLV, who has played in the D-League this season and has little experience in the NBA. Some people believe he shouldn’t be allowed to participate.

When they see the show he puts on during the competition, they will soon forget that. Jones can jump out of the gym and is a real threat to win this competition.

Prediction Winner: Derrick Jones Jr.

 

66th NBA All-Star Game

The main event of the weekend is the All-Star Game. The Eastern Conference starters are DeMar DeRozan (Raptors), Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers), Jimmy Butler (Bulls), LeBron James (Cavaliers), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks).

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The Western Conference starters are Steph Curry (Warriors), James Harden (Rockets), Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), Kevin Durant (Warriors), and Anthony Davis (Pelicans).

One of the biggest storylines of the game is that Russell Westbrook was not named a starter and how he will handle being on the same team as Durant and the rest of the Warriors after what transpired this summer. Their recent match-up was heated and lots of words were exchanged. It should make for an extremely intriguing and exciting contest.

The West has won the last two games and five of the last seven. The West is considered the tougher and deeper conference, which is why they are going to be the favorites in this game.

MVP Prediction: Russell Westbrook

Prediction Winner: West 176-170

 

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We Just Witnessed the Greatest Sports Year Ever

Sports are cool, and they’re even cooler when a season ends with fireworks. Thankfully, in the last cycle of season championships, we were able to witness the greatest sports year ever.

From the 2016 college basketball National Championship, to the latest Super Bowl, none of the championships have disappointed. Each of them saw incredible comebacks or last-second scores. As fans, we are blessed to be able to watch all of these games unfold.

That said, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and reminisce in the previous year’s amazing culminations.

*Of the four major sports in the United States, and the two major college sports, only one doesn’t make the list. Sorry, NHL fans, the 2016 Stanley Cup was good, but not great enough to be mentioned on the list.*

Super Bowl LI

It seemed as though the states to the most northeast in the U.S. were rooting for New England, and the rest of the population became Falcons fans for one day.

Maybe it’s because Atlanta was foreign to the big stage. It seemed so weird seeing a team like Atlanta playing in the Super Bowl since we had become accustomed to seeing either Seattle, Green Bay, or New York represent the NFC for more than half of the Super Bowls played since 2006.

Greatest Sports Year

In Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady did what Tom Brady does- win Super Bowls. (Photo: Getty Images)

Maybe Atlanta became America’s team for one day simply because of the hatred spewed towards New England. The Patriots have made seven Super Bowls since 2001, and won five. New England has also been to the AFC Conference Championship game 11 times since 2001. Picking New England to make it to the Super Bowl has become routine for many NFL pundits because that’s just what they do.

Nevertheless, this Super Bowl just felt different. New England was the heavyweight that everyone had seen win before. Atlanta was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and the popular vote was in favor of the newbies.

No one saw Atlanta jumping out to a 21-3 lead at the half and a 28-3 lead as the third quarter waned. At this point, many fans just wanted to see a close game.

We should be careful what we wish for.

The Patriots scored a touchdown late in the third, and continued to mount a comeback in the fourth.

The final quarter was the equivalent to slowly watching a bottle of soda being shaken. The game continued to feel closer and closer, and before long, New England put so much pressure back into the game that the contest exploded to help make the greatest sports year we’ve seen.

In overtime, it was inevitable. Not only did the Patriots have momentum, but they also had history. It felt impossible for New England to lose the game. Coming back from a 25-point deficit and pushing the game into the Super Bowl’s first ever overtime? That’s just not a game New England loses.

Because of the incredible comeback by those darn Patriots, Super Bowl LI capped what was the greatest sports year of all time.

2017 College Football National Championship

In a narrative much the same as the Super Bowl, Alabama took on Clemson to be called college football’s undisputed champion. In this game’s case, there was no insurmountable lead that ended up being toppled. The game was tight the whole way, and was never separated by more than two possessions.

Clemson found itself down by two possessions twice, and each time it seemed like Bama was gonna keep Bama-ing. At one point, ESPN’s Football Power Index gave Alabama over a 90 percent chance to win the game.

But this is the greatest sports year we’ve ever seen, so hopefully you’re sensing a theme.

Clemson came back, led by crisp drives from Deshaun Watson. Watson may not have won the Heisman, but at least he got himself a ring. Watson completed a two-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second left in the game to clinch a victory for the Tigers.

2016 World Series

Where do we start in this event? So many storylines developed by the time the series was all finished. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Finals after being down 3-1. Once the Cleveland Indians went up 3-1 on the Cubs, there was no way that would be blown, right?

Maybe Cleveland fans got what they deserved for making fun of the Warriors. #WellActually when a city has to root for the Browns, it deserves no other bad omens. The Indians didn’t catch that vibe.

Greatest Sports Year

Rajai Davis hit the most memorable home run in recent years. (Photo: FX Tribune)

Sure, our very own Matt Hagan knew the Cubs would win it all. However, since no one else did, the 3-1 series lead all but wrapped up the World Series.

The Cubs almost lost it. They had a 6-3 lead with less than two innings left to play. With the lead cut to two, Rajai Davis sent the world into hysteria with the craziest turn of events the World Series had ever seen.

Chicago had it all but won, yet in two seconds Cleveland was right back in it. A ball traveled faster than offseason Rob Gronkowski on the way to the club into the left field seats, while it seemed like it was in slow motion, even as slow as Tom Brady running the 40-yard dash in fashionable yet exotic khaki shorts.

Every baseball kid dreams of coming to bat in the tenth inning of the World Series game seven, and the Cubs had that chance. Chicago scored two, and took an 8-6 lead to end the top half of the inning.

Rajai Davis came back up in the tenth, and even delivered an RBI. The Indians didn’t have enough in them, as they fell short, 8-7. However, it still was one of the greatest World Series of all time.

2016 NBA Finals

The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead, and that remains a joke on social media to this day. When you think of Steph Curry, you think of triples galore, an outspoken wife and the fact that he was the MVP on a team that for the first time ever blew a 3-1 lead.

LeBron James put on the greatest performance of all time in a Finals series in the most historically-charged Finals series of all time. Kyrie Irving hit the most clutch shot of his life to clinch the win for Cleveland- in Golden State.

The 2016 NBA Finals will be a landmark for the NBA’s modern era. With super teams becoming more and more evident, this series will forever be known as the time the NBA’s Goliath was taken out.

2016 College Basketball National Championship

Marcus Paige was supposed to be the hero. He hit one of the greatest three-pointers you will ever see. Double-clutch layups are hard enough, but a double-clutch three is just stupid good.

With Paige’s shot, North Carolina tied Villanova, 74-74, with 4.7 seconds left. At that point, viewers of the game had to pick their jaws up from the floor. The shot was incredible.

But what Kris Jenkins did carried more water. A deep triple as time expired sent Villanova into absolute elation.

The Greatest Sports Year

Who knew that game would turn into the precursor to what was to come? With all the great games that happened in the past year, college basketball’s National Championship was my favorite. Everyone has their own favorite, and the games are probably split pretty evenly across the board.

This was a year that we will tell our children and grandchildren about. It was a year that probably will never be topped. We should all feel fortunate that we were alive to take it all in.

If anyone can make a DVD of all these games in it’s entirety, I will throw my money at you. So someone please do that.

 

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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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Who Should Start in the NBA All-Star Game

The 66th NBA All-Star game is set to be played Feb. 19 at 8:00 p.m. in New Orleans. Fans began voting for All Stars on Christmas day and can do so through NBA.com, the NBA app, Twitter, Facebook, or by Google search. Fans can submit one ballot a day on any of these platforms. Voting ends Jan. 16, so there is plenty of time for fans to cast their ballots.

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of Sporting News

There is a lot of argument over how voting is done and which players should be playing. Every fan has heard from someone that the All-Star game is just a popularity contest anymore. It is all offense and no defense. It is full of high flying dunks, deep three-point shots, and entertainment for the fan.

This season, the NBA changed the voting process and will allow fans to account for just 50% of the All-Star vote. The other 50% will be from NBA players and the media, each accounting for 25%. Time will tell if this new method will change the way players are selected. In the mean time, these are the guys I will be voting for.

Eastern Conference Starting Lineup

Kyrie Irving

If Kyrie has not yet proven he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference, I don’t know what more he can do. He has proven how clutch he is with game-winning shots over his last two matchups against Golden State. He is second among Eastern Conference point guards in points per game (24), first in field goal percentage (48%), and second in three-point percentage (42%). He is also averaging nearly six assists a game. He is incredible when it comes to playing iso and has the best ball handling in the NBA.

Demar DeRozan

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of Yibada

DeRozan has shown a lot of improvement from last season. He is leading the East in scoring with just about 28 points a game. He has been a big part of the Raptors offense and is why they are second place in the Eastern Conference. His field goal percentage is also the highest it has been since his rookie season, and he is averaging almost three times the amount of shot attempts. No other two-guard compares to DeRozan in the East.

Lebron James

King James is the most obvious choice in the East lineup. The best player in the NBA is once again in the MVP talks like he is every season and his numbers back it up. Lebron is averaging 25 points, eight rebounds, and almost nine assists per game. He has the Cavs at the top of the Eastern Conference and that looks like it will not change anytime this season. Lebron is a sure lock in the All-Star game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Better known as the “Greek Freak,” Antetokounmpo is not only making a case as the league’s most improved player, but also an All-Star starter. The 22-year-old forward would be first in rebounds and assists for his position in the East if it wasn’t for Lebron James. He is also third in scoring for his position in the conference. With numbers like 23 points per game, nine rebounds, and nearly six assists, the Greek Freak should be seeing his first All-Star game action as a starter.

Hassan Whiteside

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of ESPN

Whiteside is probably the least likely of these selections to make the starting lineup. In this new small-ball era, popularized by Golden State, centers are a dying breed in the NBA. Last season no player over 6-foot-9 made the starting lineup. If this trend continues to grow, Whiteside may never get a chance to start. Whiteside is also better known for his defense rather than his offense, which is not popular amongst All-Star voters. Here is the argument for Whiteside.

His numbers per game are 18 points, 15 rebounds (first in the NBA), and just over two blocks (fourth in the NBA). The points are a career high for Whiteside, whose field goal percentage is also fourth in the east at 55%. Whiteside has the range to shoot jumpers, can catch lobs, and block shots as he said earlier in the season. He is no doubt the best center in the East and should earn a spot in this lineup.

Western Conference Starting Lineup

Russell Westbrook

The triple-double king and league’s leading MVP candidate should be as sure of a lock as Lebron James is in the East. The NBA’s leading scorer at nearly 32 points a game is also averaging 11 assists (second in the NBA) and 10 rebounds. No player has put up numbers like this since Oscar Robertson. Not much more to say about Westbrook, who knows how to put on a show for the crowd as well.

James Harden

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of Sporting News

Harden is showing this season that he is an All-NBA caliber player. Being left off the teams last season must have been all the motivation he needed. Harden is putting up MVP-like numbers with 27 points per game (fifth in the NBA) and is first in assists with 12. He is also averaging eight rebounds a game. Perhaps the most improved aspect of Harden’s game is his defense. You can tell from watching him that he is putting a lot of effort on both sides of the ball.

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant is pretty much just picking up where he left off last season. After moving over to Golden State, he quite possibly became the league’s most hated player. The same thing happened to Lebron James when he moved to Miami and it didn’t keep him out of the All-Star lineup. It should not keep Durant out either. He is averaging 26 points per game and nearly nine rebounds, which is a career high. Durant is still at the top of his position in the Western Conference.

Anthony Davis

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of USA Today

The league’s leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year is playing the best season of his life. Davis is averaging almost 30 points (second in NBA) and 12 rebounds (seventh in NBA) per game. Not to mention he is leading the NBA in blocked shots. Davis should also be hearing his name in the MVP talks, but the incredible players like Westbrook, Harden, and James have overshadowed him. Not to mention the fact he is on the Pelicans, one of the worst teams in the NBA. Nevertheless, Davis is a lock in the West lineup.

Demarcus Cousins

Unsportsmanlike conduct and bad attitude often overshadow the fact that Cousins has been the best center in the NBA for the last several years. This year he is no doubt at the top again. Cousins is third in the NBA in scoring (29 points per game) and also averaging just over 10 rebounds a game as well. No other center compares.

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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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