first round

NBA playoff roundup: Summaries and analysis after two games

The first round of the NBA playoffs is here.

With every series shifting to the lower seeded team’s home court, it is time to take a look at where each team stands matching up with their opponent, some potential focus changes and predictions on how the next games will shake out.

Here is a summary of every series now that the first two games are in the books.

Eastern Conference

Raptors vs. Wizards

The Toronto Raptors finally shook the first game monkey off of their backs.

Up until Saturday, the franchise had never won the first game of a playoff series. Now, they hold their first-ever 2-0 lead.

Game 1 ended in a 116-104 win for the Raptors, although the final score does not quite tell the whole story. Toronto started off well, and got out to an early lead. By the end of the third, though, they only lead by one point. The bench players sealed the win in the fourth quarter, which is unsurprising, as Toronto’s bench has been fantastic all season.

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Lowry guards Wall during Game 1. (Photo by Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Game 2 was all Raptors, as the Wizards could not keep up after Toronto put up a 44-point first quarter. DeRozan led all scorers with 37 points, as the game wrapped with a 130-119 final score.

Although players like Serge Ibaka and Mike Scott have been terrific, the real story here is the battle of the backcourts. DeRozan and Lowry are winning this battle handily. Lowry is averaging 12 points and 10.5 assists, and DeRozan is giving the Raptors 27 points and 5 assists.

Wall seems to have no more rust to shake off, however, as he is putting up 26 points per game, and distributing at a clip of 12.5 assists per game. While Beal, who has played all year and earned his first All-Star appearance, can only muster 14 points and 3.5 assists.

The series is now shifting to Washington, but that is not necessarily a gigantic advantage. The Raptors away record is two games better than the Wizards’ home record. Expect the home crowd to give the Wiz a boost, but if the Raptors continue their trend of incredibly timely scoring, this series could be over in four or five games.

Celtics vs. Bucks

Although the Celtics are up 2-0 in the series, it has not been as lopsided as the record indicates.

In Game 1, Boston needed overtime to beat the seventh-seeded Bucks, after Khris Middleton knocked down a Hail Mary 3-pointer with 0.5 on the clock. It was a game of runs, as Boston had a 15-0 run to end the first quarter, with Milwaukee answering with a 21-5 run in the second. It was only fitting that a game that back and forth got an extra period.

As the old adage goes, though, better teams win in overtime. The Celtics outscored the Bucks 14-8 in bonus time, and took the win.

Game 2 ended with a 120-106 Celtics victory, but the Bucks were not hopelessly behind for the entire game. Rather, they hung around, but just could not muster the defense necessary to hold off Boston’s balanced attack.

As expected, Antetokounmpo has been the driving force behind Milwaukee, averaging 32.5 points and 11 rebounds in the two games. Middleton, the Game 1 hero, has been a scoring machine, giving the Bucks 31 points in the first game and 25 in the second. Outside of the Greek Freak’s 13 rebound performance in Game 1, though, no other Buck has had a double-digit rebound game. This likely has contributed to their 0-2 hole.

Without Kyrie Irving, the Celtics have looked just fine. In Game 1, four Celtics scored 20 or more, with Jayson Tatum only being one point shy of making it five. Six of Boston’s players had double-digit scoring games in Game 2. Not bad for an injury-laden team whose offense was written off after the All-Star break.

If the Bucks can break out of some bad habits and lackluster defense, they could even this series at home. But look for the Celtics to take the series with their more complete team and better coaching. Biding time until Marcus Smart can return in May, Boston has a lot to play for.

76ers vs. Heat

This series has been great, and will likely stay that way.

The “watchability” factor is due in part to the fact that Game 1 was an absolute blowout. The 76ers carried their cocky attitude and potent offensive attack into the playoffs to the tune of a 130-103 win. Even without Embiid locking down the paint, this young Sixers team found ways to score and keep Miami from doing much offensively.

Veterans and newbies stepped up for Philadelphia in the 27-point drubbing of Miami. Redick and Belinelli contributed 28 and 25 points, respectively, while Saric gave a 20-point performance. Ben Simmons, the possible Rookie of the Year, was one rebound shy of a triple-double, and Ilyasova turned in a double-double. There is not much an opposing team can do about that.

first round

Wade against Simmons in Game 2. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

The story of Game 2 was vintage Dwyane Wade rearing his head. Wade played outside of his mind, scoring 28 points. He was playing off of the ball, however, only tallying three assists. Five other Miami players scored in double figures, including Dragic’s 20-point performance.

Saric and Simmons both had good second games, but while they received support scoring-wise, the defense was not enough to stop the Heat.

As the series moves to Miami, it will be the talk of the NBA if Wade can keep playing at this level. With Embiid still out, the series is up for grabs, as the mixed veteran and young talent of Miami tries to take advantage of the 76ers’ mostly inexperienced roster.

Hopefully, we are looking at a classic seven-game first round series.

Cavaliers vs. Pacers

The Pacers put an end to LeBron’s historic 21-game first round winning streak in Game 1 of this series. Considering all of Cleveland’s struggles this season, it is not really that surprising this is the year it came to an end.

In Game 1, the Pacers were on a mission to earn some respect. In the first quarter, they outscored the Cavs 33-14, and did not look back. Victor Oladipo, as he has been all year, was the focal point of Indiana’s offense. He scored 32 easily, while Stephenson, Turner and Bogdanovic all had double-digit scoring games.

LeBron had a triple-double, putting the Cavs on his back. It was not nearly enough, however, as they lost by 18 points on their home court. Only two other Cavaliers scored more than nine points, which cued the calls of “LeBron needs more help.”

Game 2 was a full-fledged LeBron takeover, though, as he was determined to not go down 0-2. James had 46 points and 12 rebounds, and outscored the entire Pacers team in the first quarter. As the Pacers cut an 18-point lead down to just four, more LeBron heroics sealed the win, as the Cavs came away with the three-point victory.

Any series featuring this Cavaliers team will be put under a microscope. The issues this team has had are not only well-documented but numerous. The second half of their season was less tumultuous, but it is generally agreed upon that 2018 could possibly put an end to LeBron’s streak of seven straight NBA Finals appearances.

Are the Pacers good enough to knock this battle-tested Cleveland team out in the first round, though? Probably not. Especially if LeBron continues his ageless 2018 campaign. Indiana does have a six-game advantage at home, versus Cleveland’s road record. But the Pacers continue to lean heavily on Oladipo.

Averaging 26 points in these first two games, probable Most Improved Player, Victor Oladipo, has no choice but to keep playing this well if the Pacers want to keep winning. Everyone knows what the Cavaliers can do when they put it all together, so, even though NBA pundits will say otherwise, the pressure is on Indiana to continue to impress.

 

Western Conference

Trail Blazers vs. Pelicans

The Pelicans have taken a surprising 2-0 lead in this third versus sixth seed first round series. It is magnified by the fact that both of these games have taken place in Portland, which features a fantastic home court advantage.

The first game was close, but the margin of victory would have been two possessions, if McCollum did not hit a prayer of a three-pointer at the buzzer. As with many NBA games, the final two minutes were the most exciting of the game. The Trail Blazers were within one point with one minute left, after a McCollum three.

The last minute was punctuated by poor decisions and turnovers by Portland. Not to be overshadowed, though, was some excellent defense by Jrue Holliday, which included a massive block with nine seconds left.

Another bad second half cost Portland Game 2 as well. The Pelicans dominated the turnover game and took advantage of every opportunity handed to them. Playoff Rondo is back in full force, falling one assist shy of a triple-double in Game 2, and had a massive 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter. He even stole the spotlight from Anthony Davis, which is no easy task.

first round

Jrue Holliday celebrates after a late foul was called against Portland. (Photo by Sean Meagher/Oregon Live)

It is hard to pick the brightest spot on the Pelicans roster over the first two games. Mirotic has proven to be an important addition, averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. Jrue Holliday, as mentioned earlier, is playing well on both ends of the floor. Rondo contributed with his passing in Game 1, with 17 assists, and in all areas in Game 2. And of course, Davis has gotten his, with a 35-point, 14 rebound first game, and a 22-point, 13 rebound second game.

On the flip side, it is easy to pick out the problems for the Blazers. Lillard and McCollum have outright failed to carry the team the way that they did during the regular season.

Lillard is averaging 17.5 points, and McCollum has just a 15 point average. This is a far cry from Lillard’s 26.9 point and McCollum’s 21.4 point regular season average. These two simply need to play better, because when they do, the rest of the team feeds off of them. This is not an easy task, however, if Holliday and Rondo are going to continue to guard them as well as they are.

Yet another problem for the Blazers, is that the series now shifts to New Orleans. Not having the home court fans behind them has been a problem for Portland. The team is only one game above .500 on the road. The Pelicans only hold a three-game advantage at home, so expect the series to stay hotly contested.

Thunder vs. Jazz

Back-and-forth games have been the calling card of this series. Both games have been closer than their final scores indicate, due to late-game fouls and free throws. Lead changes are at a premium, and it appears that these two teams are evenly matched.

Game 1 featured two of the “OK3” have terrific nights. Paul George and Russell Westbrook combined for 65 points and 20 assists by themselves. Carmelo Anthony added 15 points and 7 rebounds, which helped carry the Thunder to a win.

Donovan Mitchell continued his dismantling of NBA defenses, with a 27-point night. He was also good for a double-double as he notched 10 rebounds. Six other Jazz players were in double figures in the scoring column, but the OK3’s 80 points were too much for the rookie-led Utah team. Both teams scored over 100, setting the stage for, possibly, the most exciting first-round series, depending on preference.

Continuing that trend, Mitchell did it again on Wednesday, earning 28 points. Derrick Favors turned in a double-double, and Ricky Rubio flirted with a triple-double. There were 13 lead changes in the game, but the last one in the fourth quarter belonged to the Jazz.

Westbrook, George and Anthony combined for 54 in Game 2. But Utah’s scoring was much more timely. The Thunder played well on the offensive end, as they usually do, but the defense that the Jazz are known for kept them ahead when it counted.

If the Thunder’s big three can continue averaging 67 points per game, it simply will be up to the Thunder’s bench to outscore Mitchell. The other big obstacle is Rudy Gobert, who locks down the paint with the best of them.

Utah’s home court advantage is significant, but the Thunder can score anywhere. Westbrook will have to continue to get his teammates involved, and Mitchell will have to play his brand of basketball to keep this series as fascinating as it has been.

Much like the Sixers-Heat series, we could be in line for a seven-game shootout here in the first round.

Warriors vs. Spurs

It seems as if the Warriors are doing just fine without Stephen Curry.

This is looking like the most lopsided series in the first round of the playoffs, because neither Game 1 nor Game 2 were close. The Spurs took minimal leads during Game 2, but they were short-lived. Other than those few instances, it has been all Warriors.

Gregg Popovich and the Spurs are showing their age, and the absence of Kawhi Leonard is glaring. Even the Warriors’ bench is looking to be too much for San Antonio. The Spurs have lost both games by 21 and 15, respectively.

first round

McGee and Thompson both go up for a block on Dejounte Murray. (Photo by Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)

They allowed Durant and Thompson to score over 30 in Game 2. Their only real scoring threat on a consistent basis is LaMarcus Aldridge. Even so, the Warriors can allow him to score whatever he wants as long as they continue to lock down the rest of the offense.

Meanwhile, the Warriors are playing so well that they have managed to take over the series despite just one double-double from any player in either game (Draymond Green, 12 points, 11 assists). Steve Kerr and this Warriors team are not only accustomed to the playoffs, but they have grown used to playing without Curry. Playing without the two-time MVP may not even cost them a game in this round.

The Warriors might perform sweeps of the Spurs in back to back years. Their only hope of salvaging a game is hoping Aldridge can keep repeating his 34 point, 12 rebound performance he put up in Game 2. Along with that, they will need Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili to score 15 or more while playing good defense.

Other than that, all the Spurs have to look forward to is the trip home, where they play well. But it is very likely the advantage will not mean much.

Rockets vs. Timberwolves

Game 1 of this series saw what is probably the closest the Timberwolves will come to snatching a victory away from the best team in the NBA.

Losing by only three points, the Wolves lost their chance to tie on an abysmal final possession that ended with Andrew Wiggins losing the ball out of bounds with less than a second remaining on the clock. Minnesota played well, and Houston played as poorly as they are going to, and it still was not enough.

James Harden went off for 44 points, as he essentially scores at will. Only Capela and Paul could muster offense worth mentioning, as Harden was option number one, two and three for the Rockets.

Burgeoning star Karl-Anthony Towns only took nine shots in the entire game, making three of them. That is not winning basketball for the Wolves. It seems as if their only hope is to overpower the Rockets with Towns in the paint, as Capela makes his shots, but gets no plays ran for him.

Game 2 was the kind of blowout one might expect for the one seed versus eight seed matchups.

The Rockets won by 20, and only needed 12 points from James Harden to do it. Chris Paul was the standout in this game, backed up by Gerald Green. Only three Wolves scored in double-digits, none of them scoring 20 or more.

Frankly, the Timberwolves are outmatched and outclassed. As the series moves to Minneapolis, a crowd that has not seen a playoff game in 14 years may shake the Rockets enough to allow Minnesota to steal a game away, though.

It is going to take more than 6.5 points per game from Towns to do it, though.

Featured image by Ravell Call/Deseret News

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NBA Western Conference Playoffs

Why each Western Conference team can and can’t win the NBA Finals

It truly is the “Wild Wild West” when it comes to the hunt for the NBA Finals.

We are only six days from the start of the playoffs, and seeding is anything but concrete. Every team, with the exception of the top two, could potentially end up anywhere. The third-seeded Trailblazers and the Nuggets, the first team out, are only four games apart.

Regardless of seeding, however, every team that makes the playoffs has the same goal: becoming NBA champions.

Knowing that the seedings can, and probably will change over the remaining two to four games for each potential playoff contender, it is time to take a look at what can propel them towards or keep them from winning the Larry O’Brien trophy.

No. 9 seed (first team out) – Denver Nuggets

While the Nuggets may be on the outside looking in for now, it is worth mentioning that they would safely be a playoff team if they were in the East.

Alas, they are not, and Denver is fighting for its playoff life with every game.

The Nuggets young core of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic are electric, and can be good for a very long time. Their positioning in some of the most important basketball stats is eye-opening.

Denver is sixth in points per game, seventh in rebounds per game (thanks to their fantastic length and speed) and fifth in assists per game. This makes them a scary matchup if they do claw their way into the postseason. Being able to score, rebound and share the ball consistently will make it hard for any team to dig its way out of an early hole, if they find themselves in one.

The youth and athleticism will also wear opposing teams out in a seven-game series. The Nuggets love to turn the transition game into a track meet after a steal, but also excel in post-up situations if it is called for, thanks to Jokic’s talents.

For all of these reasons, and the fact that some higher-seeded teams could overlook Denver due to their late season struggles, they could surprise the NBA all the way to the finals. Once the finals roll around, anything can happen, especially if a plucky eight seed manages to punch their ticket.

What will keep them from achieving those dreams, however, is their lackluster defense. With a defense good for 24th in the NBA, that probably will not translate well to the playoffs. As impressive as a sixth-ranked points per game offense is, it does not mean much if Denver cannot stop the best teams in the league from scoring.

The Nuggets certainly cannot go shot-for-shot with the Rockets or the Warriors, and the inability to overpower these teams defensively could spell an early exit.

No. 8 seed – Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves’ season has been a bit of a roller coaster. At times, they have seemed like not only locks for a playoff spot, but true contenders. At others, they have massively underachieved, falling to legitimately bad teams.

Surprisingly for a team coached by Tom Thibodeau, the offense has been the strength for Minnesota. They are ranked seventh in points per game and leaning heavily on the bona fide stardom of Karl-Anthony Towns.

Towns can score inside, outside and distribute the ball well. Jamal Crawford has seemingly tapped into the fountain of youth to become an important part of the team. Before his injury, Jimmy Butler was averaging the most minutes per game in the NBA, and backing up that playing time with some fantastic numbers.

NBA Western Conference Playoffs

Karl-Anthony Towns will have to keep up his dominant performance if the Wolves hope to win a title. (Photo by Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

Their star power is where their title hopes live and die. The Wolves are well-coached, and they have the ability to take over any game at most any moment. If Butler gets his pre-injury step back, then his iso scoring ability will be too much for almost anyone guarding him. Odds are, opposing teams will have to create a mismatch elsewhere on the court to stop him, which the Timberwolves can and will take advantage of. If they can find a way to make that work over multiple series, then there is no reason Minnesota cannot take everyone by surprise and walk home with the title.

Again, this Thibodeau team surprisingly goes heavily against the mold previously casted by his other teams. Normally known for their shutdown defense, this Thibodeau team is flat-out average defensively. Barely outside the bottom 10 in terms of defensive ranking, mediocre defense is not something to get excited about in the playoffs.

In a case of strengths also being weaknesses, pure star power alone cannot get the job done for an average rebounding and defensive team. Add the fact that their bench ranks dead last in court minutes and offensive production, and leaning on Butler and Towns at (hopefully) full strength will be Minnesota’s option.

The Wolves can absolutely get out of the first round if they do not have to see the Rockets, but even that would require immense luck and unbelievable game planning. Sustaining a playoff run on two players and no bench does not make a true finals contender.

No. 7 seed – Oklahoma City Thunder

If it has been said once, it has been said a thousand times: The “OK3” have the ability to take over any game.

However, the Thunder have been underwhelming this season. It is hard to come up with a legitimate argument for why Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony could not figure it out and combine for 70-plus points on any given night. While Melo has lost a step and struggles to move without the ball, he can still fill it up. George’s defense has overshadowed his offense, which is impressive. And Westbrook is Westbrook, no explanation needed.

This team was not built for an 82-game season, it was built for the playoffs. It is important to remember that none of their big three have won a title, and they would all love nothing more than to check off that particular box. With Adams as a reliable rebounder and scorer in the paint, the Thunder even have a bail-out option if George and Anthony’s floor spacing is not working well and Westbrook’s lane to the hoop are clogged.

Their ability to win a title rests solely on their potential. It has been a potential that NBA fans have not seen. But again, this team screams, “NBA Finals contenders” on paper. With good game plans by Scott Brooks, they can absolutely reach that peak if it all finally comes together in the playoffs.

Similar to the Timberwolves’ problem, though, the Thunder’s bench is bad. Oklahoma City will absolutely have to ride the three big names through the playoffs. If we see more of what we have seen over the regular season in the playoffs, then a disappointing end to the season is inevitable.

Their defense is 10th in the league, mostly thanks to George and Westbrook’s ball-stealing abilities. Oklahoma City will be rolling the dice to see if they can rob enough possessions to win games. Many teams they might play throughout the playoffs will be teams that play fast and are not too worried about turnovers because of their scoring ability. Those steals will have to turn into points, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

No. 6 seed – San Antonio Spurs

Two words sum up the reason the Spurs can win the 2018 NBA Finals: Gregg Popovich.

That is an oversimplification, but it is not necessarily completely untrue. Popovich has never had less to work with as the Spurs streak of 50-win seasons will be coming to a close after 18 seasons.

With a 40-year-old Manu Ginobili, a Tony Parker that just cannot do what he used to and no Tim Duncan, the Spurs sit at the sixth seed. This without even mentioning the never-ending Kawhi Leonard saga that has plagued the team.

NBA Western Conference Playoffs

It looks like Greg Popovich and the Spurs will be advancing to the playoffs for 21 straight seasons. (Photo by Jim Cowsert/Associated Press)

The defense is some of the best in the league, and the 3-point percentage is excellent due to disciplined shot selection. Popovich can outcoach almost anyone in the league with just about any roster. That kind of thing is a huge difference maker in the playoffs. The Spurs do not need to win every game, just four out of seven. That is more than doable. With their winning culture and fantastic pedigree, if the Spurs reach the finals, it would be hard to truly see them as underdogs.

The age here is huge though. The team is old, and the young players are inexperienced. Their biggest playoff x-factor would be LaMarcus Aldridge, and teams have been able to shut him down in the past.

The Spurs were swept last year in the conference finals without Leonard. While it seems as if they have found an identity without him this year, it is going to be hard to make a meaningful finals run without the two-way superstar. Teams simply are not scared of the Spurs this year, and intimidation was a big part of their game.

San Antonio will have no choice but to overachieve if they want to win it all.

No. 5 seed – New Orleans Pelicans

Speaking of overachieving, the Pelicans are doing a whole lot with very little.

After DeMarcus Cousins went down with an achilles injury, most NBA fans left the Pelicans for dead. But Anthony Davis has put the team on his unibrow and taken the team to new heights. Averaging 28.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, with multiple 50-point games mixed in, the identity of this team is clear. The Pelicans want to give Davis the ball and figure it out from there.

New Orleans has fantastic shooting stats, stemming from their ability to pass up good shots for great ones. Their 3-point percentage ranks in the top half of the league, but they do not take very many, which lends itself well to high percentages. The defense is also good. The balance of this team spells hope for a run to the NBA Finals.

But Davis alone will not be enough to carry them to the finals, let alone win them. All an opposing team has to do is find a way to take him out of the game. This is no easy task, but these will be the best teams in the NBA the Pelicans will be playing against.

The fundamental basketball is sound, but pairing it with the run-and-gun offenses they will be facing will surely overpower New Orleans. If the Pelicans still had Cousins, this would be a completely different story. But as the team stands now, they might have the least chance to win the Finals, regardless of their fifth seed.

No. 4 seed – Utah Jazz

The defensive prowess of this team is their strongest suit. The defense of the Jazz alone can get them out of the first round.

With a scoring threat led by rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell and the improved shooting stroke of Ricky Rubio, Utah is a scary matchup. Coupled with their late season push, this team is coming together at the right time.

NBA Western Conference Playoffs

Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell has been a driving force in Utah’s playoff push. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

The passing and ball movement is fantastic. They have a great inside-out game, and they will be counting on teams underestimating them once the playoffs roll around. It was not too long ago that the Jazz were on the outside looking in. Now in the fourth spot in the West, they have legitimized themselves and are forcing teams to take them seriously.

The core might just be too young to make a deep run though. Leaning on defense is a tough sell when matching them up against the Rockets or the Warriors. Teams with their jump-shooting abilities thrive on finding the holes and exploiting them constantly.

Regardless of where they sit when the playoffs begin, the first-round matchup featuring the Jazz will be must-watch basketball for any NBA fan. This could be the beginning of something special, even if they do not have the juice to win it all.

No. 3 seed – Portland Trail Blazers

CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard combine for one of the best backcourts in the game right now. The emergence of Jusuf Nurkic as a rock-solid post player has given the team a great option down low. The bench is fantastic and the wing players are some of the best three-and-D men in the NBA

One could accuse the Trail Blazers of playing above their ceiling, but that is a hard argument to sustain given their records against the other best teams in the league. The defense is also playing nice, making Portland a complete team.

Being fourth in rebounds per game also guarantees them enough possessions to get their shooters going, which is essential in their offense. Portland can shoot themselves out of almost any kind of deficit they find themselves in. That kind of pedigree can win a title in any era.

However, playoff basketball is about adjusting when other teams take away their strengths.

The Trail Blazers are dead last in assists per game. It has not hurt them too much in the regular season, but if opposing defenses can take away their iso scoring game, then they are going to try to force the ball into tight spaces, resulting in turnovers.

Selfish basketball can win a team their division, or even their conference, but it does not lend itself well to winning a playoff series or a title. Portland will have no choice but to work to break themselves of that identity and find ways to move off the ball if they want to make it out of the Western Conference.

No. 2 seed – Golden State Warriors

The only thing more well-documented than Golden State’s struggles in the 2017-18 season is their dominance over the past three years.

Banged up, reeling and playing uncharacteristically down to their opponents’ level, the Warriors have let their death grip on the West slide. But this does not spell disaster for Golden State.

Until further notice, they are still the reigning Western Conference champions with a great coaching staff and four All-Stars in their starting five. It looks like the Warriors should be at full strength by the second round of the playoffs.

NBA Western Conference Playoffs

The Warriors might have to play the first round of the playoffs without All-Star Stephen Curry. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

If Stephen Curry comes back at full strength and Kevin Durant continues the current tear he is on, then the Warriors are still the scariest team in the West. Much like the Spurs, Golden State is coasting on reputation until they have to back it up once the playoffs start.

This roster, including a great bench, can own any team at a moment’s notice, no questions asked. They also know their opponents well enough to expose any weaknesses at any position. No one in the NBA community is going to be surprised if they represent the Western Conference for a fourth straight year. The Rockets will probably be their toughest test, so if they do make it to the NBA Finals, expect the dynasty to be official and unequivocal.

However, Houston is the tallest of orders for this team right now. Golden State has made it known that they are vulnerable. Again, the banged up roster could be a problem for the team. Sharing the ball is key to the Warriors’ success, and without shooters like Curry, an extra pass could lead to a turnover. It could also lead to missed shots, which is more of a problem this year than it has been in previous years.

This is because their defense has gone downhill in the worst kind of way. As far as points allowed goes, Golden State is 17th in the league.

Giving opposing teams confidence is the very last thing the Warriors want to do. Golden State thrives on putting their boot on teams’ necks early and applying pressure with a barrage of made shots.

They are not done until they are done, but the playoffs will undoubtedly be more of a test this year than they have been. And the NBA is all the better for it.

No. 1 seed – Houston Rockets

The offensive juggernaut that is the Rockets has earned the top spot through some amazing play. They deserve the home-court advantage and then some.

They are second in points per game, first in 3-pointers made, and their defense ranks in the top 10 in terms of points allowed. The Chris Paul and James Harden experiment has paid off handsomely, and the bench is rallying around the exciting brand of basketball that Houston plays night in and night out.

Even if the defense was truly awful, it would not matter due to the Rockets’ 3-point shooting abilities. Clint Capela also collects enough offensive rebounds to solidify himself as a legitimate playoff threat.

This team can dethrone the Warriors. They have beaten them in the regular season, even when the Warriors were at full strength. If Paul, Harden and Capela are on the floor, the Rockets cannot seem to lose. If they do make the finals over Golden State, go ahead and place your bets, because they can run away with it.

The only real problem with this team is their reliance on jump shooting. For Houston to thrive, shots have to fall. Any NBA fan knows that teams have nights where the ball just does not go in the basket. It is hard to believe that the Rockets would fall victim to enough of those games to remove them from title contention, but it is entirely possible.

If the Rockets can get the Warrior-sized monkey off of their backs and shake their reputation of fizzling out in the playoffs, the NBA Finals may very well be theirs to lose.

 

Featured image by Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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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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LeBron James new team

Weighing LeBron’s most likely landing spots

LeBron James’ contract is up at the end of the season. He’s officially fulfilled his commitment to Cleveland. He delivered a championship to the long-suffering city in the most exciting NBA Finals of the past 10 years.

So that begs the question of where is his next stop?

The most interesting thing about this debate is that many teams are in limbo until James narrows down his list. Some teams are trading away players to guarantee the cap space, while others are loading up to lure him to their city. Still, others are gauging his interest to make the most calculated moves to prepare for either eventuality.

The entire league is waiting with bated breath to see where The King wants to take his talents next. No matter where he goes, the move will shake up the foundation of the NBA for the length of his new contract. He’s been tied to many teams through the rumor mill, but here are the most interesting propositions.

Los Angeles Lakers

Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news yesterday that the lakers are “shifting their focus to the 2019 free agent class.” That could mean a few things.

The most likely explanation is that James wouldn’t want to go to the Lakers without any bona fide stars on the roster. He’s carried teams to the playoffs and finals by himself before, and all signs indicate he’s on the quest for more rings.

LeBron James new team

LeBron James and Lonzo Ball share a postgame hug. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

If he signs there at the seasons’ end, James will be alone with Lonzo Ball and Larry Nance Jr., who are not huge draws. James might want the team to bring in some talent before he commits. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson are all names that appear to be on Magic Johnson’s shortlist.

It could also mean that Johnson isn’t positive he can reel in James at all, and that he doesn’t want to trade away assets and clear massive cap space to pull in someone who may not be interested.

Leaving the cap open also allows them to go in a different direction. The Lakers could pull two or maybe even three stars after next season, letting James go his own way.

James owns homes in Los Angeles, and it’s well-known that he wants to make a transition to Hollywood after his NBA career is over. Pair that with the Lakers’ storied history and their ability to draw in free agents, and it’s hard to believe the team would not go after him with everything they’ve got.

But consider the possibility that James goes to another team on a max deal, with an opt-out clause after the first year. If things don’t go according to plan in his new city, he could exercise that option. Assuming Johnson can pull in a superstar, then the door is open for James to put on the purple and gold.

It’s messy and complicated, but Magic Johnson has the star power to get this done.

San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio’s championship window is closing. The team is old, and their three best players’ contracts expire after next season.

There is one sure-fire way to get them to re-sign, possibly even for less money. That way includes signing LeBron James.

LeBron James new team

Gregg Popovich and LeBron James congratulate each other after Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)

A team including LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James, coached by Gregg Popovich, is an instant title contender. Age and bench players be damned, that team could compete with any team in the league. Pau Gasol will be pushing 40 by the time his contract is up, but just ask Manu Ginobili how Coach Popovich can keep up old players’ efficacy.

Keep in mind that James has never had a coach anywhere near as good as Popovich. As he gets older and has to start becoming more of a system player rather than a one-man wrecking crew, coaching goes a long way.

This all hinges on the idea that James can draw in some young talent to one of the least exciting basketball cities in the country. Leonard and Aldridge would also have to re-sign. But their tradition of excellence makes it hard to completely count the Spurs out of contention.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers are a very interesting dark horse candidate to land LeBron James. They have a breadth of young talent and the most cap space in the NBA at over $75 million.

The potential to be very good for a long time could be a huge draw for James. It also would allow him to be a leader and a mentor to the young guys on the team. That would be a complete 180 degree turn from his current situation with the Cavaliers.

The problem here is that none of the players are established enough to prove to him that Philadelphia would put him in a position to win more titles. Ben Simmons is firmly in contention for Rookie of the Year, but he has an injury history, and the sample size is tiny.

The same goes for Joel Embiid. He’s been injured constantly and just played in back-to-back games for the first time on Feb. 2 and 3. Markelle Fultz is also injured and has seemingly forgotten how to shoot the basketball.

Again, the key here is the 76ers’ cap space. The contracts there are extremely manageable, and if the young players can stay healthy, they can be doubly useful, either as trade bait or pieces of the team’s success moving forward. The ability to sign players that James likes to play with has been a huge part of his decisions in the past. However, Philadelphia is still a couple of years away from being true contenders in the East.

New York Knicks

James has been in the Eastern Conference since he entered the NBA. Staying in the East would more than likely set him up for the most success moving forward. He knows every team in the league inside and out, but playing with a similar travel schedule will be more important as he gets older. The Knicks check that box.

LeBron James new team

James shoots over Kristaps Porzingis. (Photo by: Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

New York City is the Mecca of basketball. Playing at Madison Square Garden 41 nights out of the year would be beyond compare for someone who as aspirations to become the greatest NBA player of all time. Delivering a championship to New York could very well solidify that position.

Kristaps Porzingis is out for the year, and ACL tears are a notoriously difficult injury. But given his skill set, there is no reason to believe he won’t come back 100 percent. Porzingis would be a huge draw to James if he does indeed come back strong.

Apart from The Unicorn and the city, there is little else to convince anyone that James will be a Knick. The front office is a mess, and the team has little to no direction at the moment. James could fix the latter, but this move is unlikely at best.

Los Angeles Clippers

Another Los Angeles team has LeBron James sized aspirations.

Dumping Blake Griffin’s contract off of the payroll was a major first step towards landing The King. If the Clippers deal DeAndre Jordan as well, the cap space will be wide open for a max deal. Plus, the organization also just announced that they are re-signing Lou Williams. Williams and Patrick Beverley could create a sneaky-good backcourt, although the team would still lack talent.

But still, they are a Los Angeles team. The city alone guarantees people will want to play for the Clippers. If Paul George truly does want to play in Los Angeles, who is to say he has to play for the Lakers? George and James would more than fix the frontcourt issues. Also, delivering a championship to a team that’s never seen the Western Conference Finals could cement the status James is chasing.

However, as with the Lakers, trading away assets on the promise of potential signings might not be the way to go. James wants to win now and often. Jockeying to sign him may have just taken them out of the conversation.

Houston Rockets

Now for the most likely candidate. Houston may very well have the pieces to beat Golden State right now. Add LeBron James to the team and you have a competitive Western Conference again. The problem for the NBA, however, is that the NBA Finals would be little more than a formality.

LeBron James new team

James Harden guards LeBron James. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)

Regardless, playing with James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela would be huge for James. After all, playing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh alone worked out well for him. The pieces the Rockets have are better than that Miami Heat team.

Some NBA fans, however, think playing with stars tarnished James’ legacy. He has made it clear he is uninterested in those opinions, but it could play a part in deciding not to play on a super team.

Also, to clear the cap space, the bench would more than likely suffer immensely. James won’t be able to average 36.8 minutes a game forever. Harden and Paul could lighten the load, but not significantly.

But James wants rings, as many as he can get. The move to Houston would give him the best chance to win more of them.

 

Featured image by Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

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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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NBA Southwest Division preview

NBA season preview: Southwest Division

The Southwest Division has gained a superstar. Chris Paul joins the Rockets and James Harden to make the top of the division even better.

The San Antonio Spurs get a whole offseason to get Kawhi Leonard healthy, as well as having the best coach in the history of the NBA.

The Mavericks received a lottery pick and added Dennis Smith Jr. to a Dirk Nowitzki led team.

The New Orleans Pelicans get more time to have Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins mesh. They also added a pass-first point guard in Rajon Rondo, who hopes to help the two.

Finally, the Memphis Grizzlies look to improve on a solid season last year, but lose a few veterans who have contributed in the last few years.

Here are the win predictions for all five teams in the Southwest Division this upcoming season.

Dallas Mavericks

2016-17 record: 33-49

2017-18 prediction: 36-46

The Mavericks have pretty quietly put together a solid starting lineup. Dennis Smith Jr. will solve one of the major problems that the team had.

The starting lineup of Smith, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Nerlens Noel is a solid starting lineup. Smith is showing that he has big potential and can be a good point guard in the league.

Building with a core of Barnes and Smith could be lethal moving forward, but for the immediate future the Mavericks will be a fringe playoff team.

Houston Rockets

NBA Southwest Division preview

James Harden, Photo Courtesy of NBA.com.

2016-17 record: 55-27

2017-18 prediction: 56-26

The Houston Rockets gave up a lot, but they have another star to team up with James Harden. The west seems to be all about star power, and the Rockets have added some to their roster.

The west has been very strong and that is why they will hang around the same wins that they had last season.

Having good guard play is one of the many keys in having success in the NBA, and the Rockets have one of the best backcourts in the whole league.

Memphis Grizzlies

2016-17 record: 43-39

2017-18 prediction: 33-49

The Grizzlies didn’t add a bunch this offseason, but their main offseason move was the loss Zach Randolph.

With Chandler Parsons supremely underperforming comparatively to the contract that he signed, there is reason to believe that they have not gotten better this offseason.

Whether Randolph and Vince Carter leaving is a 10-win difference remains to be seen, but Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are basically the only options on offense now.

New Orleans Pelicans

NBA Southwest Division preview

Photo Courtesy of SB Nation.

2016-17 record: 34-48

2017-18 prediction: 43-39

The Pelicans finally get a whole season of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, which is enough to raise their win total from last season.

The big addition is Rajon Rondo. Rondo adds the ability to facilitate to the two big men and add to their output. They also added former Warrior guard Ian Clark to a very young bench.

Jrue Holiday is a solid guard as well. The Pelicans will rely heavily on their frontcourt and will potentially find their way to the playoffs because of them.

San Antonio Spurs

2016-17 record: 61-21

2017-18 prediction: 52-30

The west is a gauntlet and there’s no way around it.

The Spurs have nearly moved on from Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and have handed the keys over to LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and Dejounte Murray.

The Spurs seem to always be good with Gregg Popovich at the helm, and I don’t see it changing this season. A healthy Kawhi Leonard will be dangerous with solid pieces built around him.

The Spurs will be very good this season and will trade blows with the Houston Rockets at the top of the Southwest Division.

 

Featured Image Courtesy of philstar.com.

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San Antonio Spurs 2017 NBA Draft Profile

San Antonio Spurs 2017 NBA Draft Profile

Welcome to day 23 of Draftmas brought to you by The Game Haus. Today it is time to bring you the San Antonio Spurs 2017 NBA Draft profile.

Summary

San Antonio Spurs 2017 NBA Draft Profile

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA and with Pop at the helm, the Spurs are a lock to win 50 games or more. The Spurs are a lock to win 50 games is because Pop won more than 50 games in 19 of his 21 seasons. The only two seasons in which he didn’t were his first year as a head coach and the second was in a shortened lockout season where the Spurs still went 37-13.

This season, the Spurs finished 61-21 to earn the second seed in the West. They beat the Grizzlies 4-2 in the first round. San Antonio then beat the Rockets 4-2 to reach the Conference Finals where they ran into the eventual NBA Champion Warriors. San Antonio was swept but only because Kawhi went down with an injury. The Spurs were leading 78-55 in Game 1 when Kawhi went down.

San Antonio was a middle of the pack team scoring the basketball averaging 105.3 points per game, ranking them 14th in the NBA. They shot 46.9 percent from the field and an NBA-best 39.1 percent from behind the arc. Rebounding was another positive part of the team for the Spurs this season as they ranked 11th in the NBA averaging 43.9 per game.

The Spurs were the second best defensive team in the NBA this season giving up only 98.1 points per game. Opponents only shot 44.3 percent against San Antonio.

The Spurs are a well-oiled machine that play fundamental team basketball. Their organization does a great job in acquiring the right players for that system. If the Spurs want to get past the Warriors they will need to acquire more of that talent this offseason.

Picks & Needs

First Round: No. 29

Second Round: No. 59

The Spurs do need to remodel the team slightly and continue to build around Kawhi Leonard. Tim Duncan retired last year, Manu Ginobili will be 40 in July and Tony Parker is a shell of himself as he is 35 years old as well. San Antonio is heading in a new direction and the Spurs need to find the core pieces that will compliment Kawhi Leonard.

The Spurs will be looking to find the next point guard that will help lead the Spurs to more titles. There are rumors that Chris Paul and the Spurs have mutual interest, but that is only a short-term solution. The Spurs should look to find a franchise point guard in the draft.

Another area in which the Spurs need to improve is at the center position. San Antonio is really missing a center who can be a rim protector and rebounder. Pau Gasol is 36 years old and will not be the answer moving forward. LaMarcus Aldridge is really a power forward and hasn’t lived up to the hype.

Going after these two pieces and creating more depth will help the Spurs close the gap between them and the Warriors.

Targets & Thoughts

San Antonio Spurs 2017 NBA Draft Profile

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

Pick #29: Jarrett Allen, C, Texas

Jarrett Allen is a really good rebounding big man. Allen averaged 2.8 blocks per 100 possessions in college which shows that he is very capable of defending the rim. He isn’t the best passer or free throw shooter but can develop those skills with some coaching from Popovich.

Drafting Allen would give the Spurs a big man capable of playing a key role without needing him to score. It is possible Allen becomes the starting center two to three years down the road.

Pick #59: Frank Mason III, PG, Kansas

Frank Mason is a very underrated player in this year’s draft. Mason averaged 13 points and 4 assists in his four years at Kansas. He may become dangerously close to being undrafted but the potential is there. Mason will be a late steal capable of becoming a star. If the Spurs can develop him the right way he can eventually become a franchise point guard. Anything is possible with a coach like Gregg Popovich.

Conclusion

The San Antonio Spurs are one of the best franchises in all of sports. They know how to draft and build a team with the right players who will fit perfectly into their system. San Antonio will make the right moves that put them in contention for a championship this offseason. To do this they need to find an above average point guard and a center that is capable of rebounding and defending. Gregg Popovich will make sure this team is competitive so Spur fans have nothing to worry about, the team is still going to be one of the best.

Thanks for checking out the San Antonio Spurs 2017 NBA Draft profile and tune in tomorrow for day 24 of NBA Draftmas to see what the New Orleans Pelicans are going to do.

Draftmas Day 22: Utah Jazz

Draftmas Day 21: Toronto Raptors

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2017 NBA Mock Draft

2017 NBA Mock Draft V. 3.0 (Post-Lottery)

The lottery has finally passed and the draft order is now officially set. As the Finals approach, so does the draft season. All but the final four teams are focused solely on the draft, which means The Game Haus is too.

This mock draft will take a look at where players may go in late June. Also, if you loved Draftmas for the NFL draft, be on the lookout for the hardwood version of Draftmas coming soon here at The Game Haus.

For now, here is Hagan’s Haus 2017 NBA mock draft, version three.

1: BOSTON CELTICS (VIA BROOKLYN): MARKELLE FULTZ PG WASHINGTON

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Boston is in great position after winning the lottery. It is also obvious the Celtics do not need a point guard. Isaiah Thomas has proven his worth time and time again in the NBA. Any player can be a bust out of college, but I.T. is a proven commodity. It is still unlikely that Fultz will be a bust, but he has not proven anything yet in the association.

Boston needs a second scoring option. They play great team defense and find themselves in trouble with Thomas being their only viable option on offense. Boston will take Fultz, but it could be because they plan on trading him for another scoring superstar. The pick here seems to clearly be Fultz, but it is unclear if he will ever play a game for Boston.

2: LOS ANGELES LAKERS: LONZO BALL PG UCLA

LaVar Ball and the rest of his family got exactly what they hoped for in the lottery. The Lakers came away with the second overall pick. LaVar has made it clear that he wants his son to be the next Laker great. He has even said that his son, Lonzo, will not work out for the Celtics. Lonzo is from L.A., and not only is it his dream, but he believes it’s his destiny, to rock purple and gold.

There are also rumors swirling that teams are putting together trade packages in hopes of acquiring D’Angelo Russell, who may be on his way to bigger things. You can read about how well he has actually progressed as a player here.

LaVar may be onto something when talking about how good his son can be. Sticking strictly to Lonzo and his basketball ability, it is clear that he is a consensus top-three prospect. Ball is a great playmaker and passer with a high basketball I.Q.

Ball will be a floor general capable of running an NBA team and becoming an on-court coach. He showed at UCLA that he can make everyone around him better and that will translate into the NBA.

Many scouts compare him to Jason Kidd, which is a pretty accurate comparison. Having a Kidd-like career would be an amazing accomplishment for anybody. The Lakers need a franchise player and that is exactly what Lonzo Ball will be. The Lakers have a difficult decision ahead of them, but pairing Ball with Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle could lead to more parades in Hollywood.

3: PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: MALIK MONK SG KENTUCKY

Trusting the process hit yet another bump in the road this season. Joel Embiid suffered another injury after appearing in just 31 games. If that wasn’t enough, last year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, didn’t make his debut this year either. The 76ers still believe those pieces will result in playoff appearances and maybe even titles.

Reports came out that the Philadelphia brass believes Simmons will be the point guard. That is why they will use this pick on Malik Monk.

Monk has proven to be a flat-out scoring machine and that will translate to the NBA. Drafting Monk will allow the Sixers to develop Simmons as their point guard while putting a scorer in the backcourt beside him.

Creating a powerful backcourt could be the key to a deep postseason run. They already have a great frontcourt player in Embiid.

4: PHOENIX SUNS: JOSH JACKSON SF KANSAS

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Josh Jackson could prove to be a valuable wing alongside Devin Booker. Jackson averaged 16.3 points per game at Kansas. He is a two-way player capable of becoming a superstar. Jackson has a good feel for the game and is dangerous on offense. He can score both inside and out and is a very underrated passer.

Pairing him with a future superstar like Booker is only going to lead to success for Phoenix. Having a core of Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker and Josh Jackson will make the Suns a threat in the West in two to three years.

Jackson doesn’t have to be a franchise player in Phoenix. He just has to be Robin to Batman, which makes him a perfect fit in the desert.

5: Sacramento Kings: JAYSON TATUM SF DUKE

The Kings need to start from scratch. Buddy Hield seems to be the guy that Sacramento will build this team around. It looks like Willie Cauley-Stein will be the man up front with DeMarcus Cousins now out of the picture.

Jayson Tatum could grow to be an NBA superstar. Tatum has a well-polished iso game that is NBA ready.  He can score anywhere on the floor due to his ability to create off the dribble.

One of his biggest weaknesses is his shot selection. Due to his height and ability to shoot over defenders, Tatum tends to settle for difficult shots. Shot selection will improve over time and he could become a nice addition to the team in Sacramento.

6: Orlando Magic: DE’AARON FOX PG KENTUCKY

The Magic seem to have an unclear direction. Orlando hasn’t made the playoffs for five straight years in a very weak Eastern Conference. Frank Vogel has improved the team, but they need more talent outside of Aaron Gordon. At this point, the best thing the Magic can do is pick the best available player, which in this position would be De’Aaron Fox.

Fox doesn’t get the hype that Fultz or Ball get, but is definitely going to be a force in the NBA. Fox did nothing but help his stock in the tournament, especially when he dropped 39 points against Lonzo Ball and UCLA in the Sweet 16.

Fox is left handed, which is sometimes hard to defend because defenders are so used to right-handed players. He is also extremely quick, and defenders may have trouble keeping up with him. Fox will need to work on shooting with more consistency, but has proven he can control a game.

7: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: LAURI MARKKANEN PF ARIZONA

Minnesota has a franchise center and small forward in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. They have young guards in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. The Timberwolves need experience and veteran leadership more than anything, so it is tough to predict what they will do with this pick. Lauri Markkanen would be a perfect option for the Timberwolves.

Markkanen is a 7-foot stretch big who will be able to shoot the three in the NBA. He has all the intangibles to become a power forward like Dirk Nowitzki. He can stretch the floor or go inside.

Markkanen can also play the center position to spell Towns. Markkanen needs to add some weight, but could really help the Timberwolves become a playoff team.

8: New York Knicks: Dennis Smith JR PG N.C. State

2017 NBA Mock draft

(Photo Credit: WILLIAM HOWARD/ICON SPORTSWIRE)

The Knicks badly need a franchise point guard to pair with Kristaps Porzingis. Dennis Smith is a top-five talent who will fall a bit due to some of the other needs teams have since not all are looking for a point guard.

The Knicks would get a player like Russell Westbrook by drafting Smith. He can score, pass and rebound with the best of them in college. He also has the insane athleticism that allows him to posterize defenders.

The Zen Master needs to make the most out of this pick to win back the love of the Knicks’ fan base, and Dennis Smith could bring that love to the Big Apple.

9: DALLAS MAVERICKS: ISAIAH HARTENSTEIN PF GERMANY

From one German to the next.  Isaiah Hartenstein would be a great fit in Dallas. He is a versatile, left-handed player who can score inside and outside. Hartenstein is a great passing big man with a high basketball I.Q.

The downside with Hartenstein is his immaturity and lack of experience against tough competition. However, his potential makes him a lottery pick.

Sitting him behind Dirk for a year would be the perfect step in developing Hartenstein. He could easily relate to Dirk. He could really learn how to become a great pro.

10: SACRAMENTO KINGS (VIA PELICANS): JONATHAN ISaAC PF FLORIDA STATE

Jonathan Isaac would be a great fit with this team. Isaac is a great rebounder and can run the floor well for a big man. He also shoots well from all areas of the floor. Isaac could play at small forward or power forward in today’s NBA. The Kings would find a great player with lots of potentials, who could grow into a solid NBA starter.

11.CHARLOTTE HORNETS: JUSTIN JACKSON SF NORTH CAROLINA

The G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan, loves him some Tar Heels. Justin Jackson would be a terrific fit in Charlotte. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has never lived up to the hype of a second overall pick. Jackson would be the piece to help get the Hornets back into the playoffs.

He has great length and can stretch the floor. Jackson played great for most of the tournament. He had a subpar performance in the title game, but can still become a good NBA starter.

Jackson needs to add weight, but is a versatile defender capable of guarding multiple positions. His mid-range jumper is well-polished. Charlotte would improve by drafting Jackson.

12: DETROIT PISTONS: HARRY GILES PF DUKE

Detroit needs a big man alongside Andre Drummond. Picking Harry Giles would be a shock here, but could be a huge steal. Giles was considered the best player coming out of high school and was projected to be the No. 1 pick before he began having injury problems.

We have not seen what Giles is fully capable of, but his potential is through the roof. He is an athletic finisher who can be molded into a great defender.

13: DENVER NUGGETS: Zach Collins F Gonzaga

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

Denver is really close to becoming a playoff team in the tough Western Conference. Their young guards just need more experience and will continue to develop.

Collins is a real good rebounder and shot blocker. Pairing him up with Nikola Jokic could create one of the most dangerous frontcourts in the NBA. Collins needs to mold his offensive skills, but because Jokic is so skilled offensively, Collins’ defensive skills would create a perfect combination.

14: MIAMI HEAT: T.J. LEAF PF UCLA

The Heat were amazing in the second half of this season. Hassan Whiteside is a franchise centerpiece at center. Their guard play has been tremendous, and Justise Winslow is really coming into his own. That leaves the power forward position as their biggest need.

T.J. Leaf has a high motor and can play both inside and out. Miami would get a player who could be molded into a star by Erik Spoelstra.

15: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS: JOHN COLLINS PF WAKE FOREST

John Collins could be a valuable piece around Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Collins has a good offensive game that would help take pressure off their guards to score. He has a post-up game that most bigs don’t have. His impressive footwork allows him to beat even the best of defenders. If he develops his defense, he could become a top power forward in the NBA.

16: CHICAGO BULLS: JUSTIN PATTON C CREIGHTON

Building around Jimmy Butler seems to be the top priority for the Chicago Bulls. Robin Lopez is serviceable, but he is not a center that will help a team reach a title.

Justin Patton may be one. He is a 7-foot monster that averaged 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as a freshman at Creighton.

NBA coaching could turn Patton into a dominant center in an era of outside shooting. There will be few players capable of defending him once he grows into his own. The Bulls would be lucky to get Patton.

17: MILWAUKEE BUCKS: BAM ADEBAYO PF KENTUCKY

The Milwaukee Bucks are building something special. Giannis Antetokounmpo is looking like a future MVP and Khris Middleton is a stud. Drafting Adebayo will give Milwaukee a presence inside to make the Bucks even more dangerous.

18: INDIANA PACERS: FRANK NTILIKINA PG FRANCE

2017 NBA Mock Draft

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

One thing is clear in the NBA: teams need a franchise point guard. The Pacers have Jeff Teague, but he has not really proven to be a franchise point guard.

Ntilikina has excellent size for a point guard. He is listed at 6-foot-5, 190 pounds. Ntilikina is a pass-first point guard with a high I.Q. He has developed a mid-range game and excellent floater, but is a really inconsistent shooter. Ntilikina also has great lateral quickness that makes him an elite defender.

All the skills are there for Ntilikina to become a franchise point guard.

19: ATLANTA HAWKS: IVAN RABB C CALIFORNIA

Dwight Howard is no longer a top center. Atlanta needs to think about the future, and Ivan Rabb is the future at center.

He has lots of potential to grow offensively. Rabb is already a good defender, and even though he only averaged about one block per game in his career, he altered plenty of shots. His inconsistency at Cal is what hurts him, but he has shown flashes of brilliance.

20: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (VIA MEMPHIS): TYLER LYDON PF SYRACUSE

Tyler Lydon has improved vastly from his freshman season to sophomore season. Lydon improved his points, rebounds, assists and free throw percentage. At 6-foot-9, Lydon can stretch the floor and he would be a great fit in Portland.

21: OKLAHOMA CITY: DILLON BROOKS SF OREGON

It is clear that Russell Westbrook needs help. He is an animal but can’t do it on his own.

Dillon Brooks is one of the most underrated players in all of college basketball. Brooks is capable of being the second option to Westbrook and a true sidekick that Westbrook desperately needs. Filling the small forward spot is of utter importance to the Thunder.

22: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA WASHINGTON): LUKE KENNARD SG DUKE

Luke Kennard is a scoring machine. Brooklyn needs a lot of help, even though they played better late in the year.

Kennard isn’t going to be a guy who changes a franchise, but he can be a 20-point-per-game scorer in the NBA. Every team needs that type of player, and the Nets can’t get a franchise-changing player in the early 20s. They will have to settle for finding solid role players until they can get a franchise changing player.

23: TORONTO RAPTORS: DWAYNE BACON SF FLORIDA STATE

If Kyle Lowry is truly leaving, then Toronto is going to need a point guard. At this point in the draft, there aren’t any point guards capable of starting.

The Raptors may have to let Cory Joseph be the guy and draft a wing player here. Bacon can come in and be a solid rotation player, allowing the Raptors to deepen their bench as they continue to chase a championship.

24: UTAH JAZZ: CALEB SWANIGAN PF PURDUE

The Jazz are in almost as good of a position as the Celtics. They finished as the fifth seed in the tough Western Conference and have two first-round draft picks.

Swanigan can come right into the NBA and contribute off the bench. Depth is what the best teams have, and that is what Utah is going to get in picking Swanigan.

25: ORLANDO MAGIC (VIA LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS): JOSH HART SG VILLANOVA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Josh Hart could bring a culture change to the franchise. He is a leader and a winner, and the Magic could use some of that in their locker room.

Hart improved his scoring each season at Villanova, and that should translate into the NBA. If they put together a backcourt with De’Aaron Fox and Josh Hart, the Magic could make the playoffs as early as next season.

26: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (VIA CLEVELAND): RODIONS KURUCS SF LATVIA

Kurucs is a project, and Portland can afford to draft a developmental player this late in the first round, especially with it being their third pick in the first round. Kurucs is versatile and can be a valuable scoring option in the NBA off the bench. Anything more than being a role player would be a huge win for the Blazers.

27: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA BOSTON): JORDAN BELL PF OREGON

Jordan Bell was a second-round pick before the tournament. Bell was a huge reason Oregon reached their first Final Four since 1939. The Nets would get a solid rebounder who brings in a heavy motor and will give you everything he has. The Nets need these high energy type of players to change the culture in Brooklyn.

28: LOS ANGELES LAKERS (VIA HOUSTON): DONOVAN MITCHELL SG LOUISVILLE

The Lakers have youth on their side and drafting Mitchell will allow them to continue to build assets as trading blocks so that they can get superstars back in Hollywood. Mitchell is a solid shooting guard who can be a solid sixth man in the NBA.

29: SAN ANTONIO SPURS: Jarrett Allen C Texas

The Spurs are like the Patriots. They know what they are doing and you don’t question them.

LaMarcus Aldridge has been average at best since signing with the Spurs. With Kawhi Leonard being a two-way star, the Spurs need a big man who can play as Robin to Leonard. Jarrett Allen is a beast on the boards and has the potential to become a solid post-up big man.

30: UTAH JAZZ (VIA GOLDEN STATE): JOHNATHAN MOTLEY PF BAYLOR

Utah needs some frontcourt athleticism. Derrick Favors has only had one really productive season and looks to be on the decline. Motley’s offensive I.Q. makes him a perfect fit in Utah to be a solid role player on a solid playoff team. The Jazz continue to build depth at hopes of a deeper postseason run.

 

Featured Image by Yahoo Sports

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Kyle Lowry Free Agency

Potential Destinations for Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry may have just had the best season of his career. The 31-year-old point guard finished this season with averages of 22.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and seven assists per game. He also shot a career-high 41.2 percent from 3-point range.

The three-time All Star announced earlier this week that he would be opting out of his deal with Toronto to become a free agent this summer. This has raised several questions of where Lowry will be playing next season.

Lowry said his biggest priority for the future is getting a ring, according to Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic. If that is the case, that narrows down the search to only a few possibilities.

Kyle Lowry Free Agency

Kyle Lowry just had a career year in Toronto. (Photo by Tip of the Tower)

Lowry was due to make $12 million next season, but with his opt out he can receive a max contract. That may have been another factor in his decision to opt out. The Raptors can offer him the biggest contract, approximately five years for $205 million. Anyone else can only offer him four years for about $152 million.

The biggest rumored destination for Lowry so far is the 76ers. Lowry went to high school in Philadelphia and stayed in the state of Pennsylvania by playing college ball at Villanova. 76ers’ president Bryan Colangelo also made the trade for Lowry from Houston when he was the Raptors general manager. Many have reported that Philly will offer him a huge contract this summer.

Based on Lowry’s comment about winning a ring, this move makes no sense. The Sixers are young and in a rebuilding process. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric are all young talent with plenty of potential. They also will be adding another lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

However, these guys are no match in the East. LeBron James and the Cavs are always the favorites. The Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards serve as the biggest threats to the Cavs. If the young Philly core stays healthy with Lowry in the lead, they would most likely make the postseason as a low seed and be eliminated in the first round.

Lowry will also be 32 next season during the postseason, so he does not have much time to waste with a rebuilding process. However, no matter where Lowry goes, he is always going to have to deal with either Cleveland or Golden State.

The Spurs may be one of the best fits for Lowry. Lowry would be a great replacement to Tony Parker at point guard. Parker had surgery for a ruptured quadricep tendon and could be out up to eight months. With an injury like that at his age, he will most likely never be the same player he was.

Kyle Lowry Free Agency

Could Lowry be teaming up with Kawhi Leonard this summer? (Photo by Air Alamo)

The Spurs also have the best chance at challenging Golden State for a spot in the Finals. Since the 2010-11 season, the Spurs have finished first in the West three times, second three times and sixth just once. They are consistently contending and adding another All Star to their team would only help. Lowry along with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge would be a scary big three.

In order for the Spurs to make this work, they would need to clear a bit of cap room. They most likely wouldn’t be able to resign backup point guard Patty Mills and they would need to hope Pau Gasol declines his player option for next season. The team had to clear a lot of room to sign Aldridge back in 2015 and they made it work without losing a beat.

The Pelicans are another team that could be enticing to Lowry. New Orleans made noise at the trade deadline with their deal for DeMarcus Cousins, but things haven’t quite worked out the way they planned yet. The Pelicans finished the season 11-14 after acquiring Cousins after having postseason expectations.

Lowry could help get the Pelicans into the postseason. The status of their current point guard, Jrue Holiday, is still uncertain. Holiday is also a free agent and averaged 15.4 points and 7.3 assists per game this season. Lowry would be an upgrade from Holiday should they let him walk. Lowry also would provide veteran leadership to the younger Anthony Davis and Cousins.

Money is going to be another factor in this decision as well. Right now New Orleans is paying a lot to Davis and Cousins and does not have much cap space to pay Lowry. They could let some guys go of course to make room like San Antonio would have to. Lowry also may have to take a pay cut if he wants to go to a big contender in the West.

Kyle Lowry Free Agency

Lowry and DeRozan have made Toronto a winner. Will they actually split? (Photo by Toronto Star)

Lowry could also just stay in Toronto. Assuming he stays, they still have the potential to be a top-five team in the East. He also could make the most money with the Raptors. He would be making the max and playing for a playoff team. He helped make Toronto a winner along with fellow star DeMar DeRozan and is loved by the Raptors’ fan base.

However, that is all the Raptors will be: a playoff team. Not a big contender, not a Finals team and no threat to James and the Cavs.

Serge Ibaka is also another free agent Toronto will have to consider resigning. It is going to be tough for Toronto to pay them both. Losing Ibaka would hurt some, but losing Lowry would be a big blow to the team.

It will be interesting to say the least. This summer is going to be a huge for free agency with names like Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Lowry all potentially on the move.

If a ring is what Lowry truly wants, San Antonio or New Orleans may be his best bet. He may also have to be willing to take a pay cut. That is a price he must be willing to pay if he wants a championship.

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Fouled Out: Overtime Calls For Foul Rule Change

Jan. 5, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Jan. 5, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

We watch basketball for a variety of reasons. We tune in to see our favorite teams play, watch our favorite players or just sometimes because a friend is watching and it’s already on. It is fun to watch a great match-up of teams like the Warriors versus Thunder or the the Spurs versus the Cavaliers. The reason we love these match-ups and why we find them so intriguing is because of the star power involved.

Let’s take the Warriors versus the Thunder for instance; we get to watch Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green go head to head against Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Surge Ibaka.
If it’s the Spurs versus the Cavaliers we get to see Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge go up against Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Both match-ups have tons of star power.

Now stop for a second and think about hyped up we get for these type of games? We set plans with our friends to watch the game, we tweet before, during and after to hype up and discuss and the games get put on T.V. during prime time so the world can witness these great match-ups. Without these star players there would be no appeal, we just wouldn’t have interest in these games.

I love watching basketball and especially love overtime games. It’s so entertaining to watch teams battle into games longer than they anticipated but it’s not as entertaining when a huge star fouls out. During a 48 minute, four quarter game a player fouls out after committing 6 fouls. I get to watch Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry attack each other and defend each other for 48 minutes and then 30 seconds into overtime one of them fouls out. Now we have to watch a great match-up disappear right in front of us. The star power is halfway depleted and now a backup comes in when the game matters most. The foul out rule is a great rule to make sure players don’t just commit fouls over and over. It’s a fair and understandable rule but there is a flaw.

What is the concept when the game goes into overtime? Additional time is added in which a team has to try and win a game because they were so evenly matched. Essentially a player may commit a foul but still foul out once 6 fouls are committed. I think this is a bit outdated and that if a game goes into overtime the foul limit should be raised to 7. If players have to play more minutes they should be allowed to commit more fouls, it only makes sense.

I have seen many games over the years in which a game goes into overtime and a player fouls out in that overtime period. The fans and the game is being cheated if a great player fouls out in overtime because they have to play addition minutes but don’t get the additional benefit of extra fouls. The game needs to evolve because, if for four quarters, two star studded teams put on a show and go into overtime, that extra period is going to be more dull and the outcome is partially deceiving. I want to be entertained for all four quarters and into overtime if a game requires overtime to determine the outcome. The game will be more exciting if an extra foul limit is added when games go into overtime, so please Commissioner Silver, team owners and the competition committee read this and make a change for the evolution of basketball!