rivalry

Ranking today’s best NBA rivalries

Rivalry, whether friendly or not, is integral to every sport. Duke vs. UNC. Packers vs. Bears. Frazier vs. Ali.

The 2010s have brought on a new era of NBA basketball. And with a new NBA come new rivalries.

Essentially gone are the days of low-post elbow throwing and using the three-pointer as a last ditch effort. Assists and 30-foot shots are the order of the day for the best teams in the league. Feeding the post is an afterthought.

“Hero Ball” hasn’t completely disappeared, though. We see people like James Harden and Anthony Davis come up with 50-point performances seemingly at will. But as we saw with Allen Iverson during his time with the 76ers and LeBron James during his first finals run with the Cavaliers, that kind of play can’t hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

So in the spirit of recognizing that we are living in a new era, here are the NBA’s most prominent rivalries as they stand today.

5. Joel Embiid’s Twitter account vs. Everyone

It’s no doubt that every era of NBA basketball has had its fair share of huge personalities. With the advent of social media, fans are treated to the intricacies of player personalities in a way they’ve never been.

Joel Embiid embodies this in a way few other pro athletes could ever hope to. The 23-year-old uses his social media presence to hit on celebrities, grow his personal brand and, of course, get under other players’ skin.

rivalry

Joel Embiid hyping up the crowd during a game. (Photo by Steven M. Falk/Philly.com)

He has tweeted asking Ben Simmons to dunk on Lonzo Ball so hard that his dad (LaVar Ball) will run on the court to save him. During the preseason, he started beef with Hassan Whiteside, saying that they had to take him off the floor so he wouldn’t foul out trying to guard him. After a win against the Timberwolves, he effectively destroyed Karl-Anthony Towns in the comment section of his Instagram post.

Embiid has a backlog of tweets asking Rihanna out on dates. He manufactured a fake retweet of President Donald Trump voting for himself to be included on the All-Star roster. TJ McConnell, his own teammate, said he’ll never play PlayStation with Embiid again, due to his trash talk. McConnell said it was so brutal that he wanted to throw his controller.

No one is safe from Embiid’s crosshairs in this rivalry. Not even his own teammates.

And these are just some highlights of Embiid’s young, but already prolific, trolling career. If practice does indeed make perfect, then Joel Embiid may end up being the best NBA trash-talker of all time.

4. Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors

Daryl Morey, GM of the Rockets, has made no bones about what their goal for the 2017-2018 NBA season is. He said on a December 21st appearance on ESPN’s The Ryen Russillo Show that the team was, “basically obsessed with [the question] ‘How do we beat the Warriors?'”

The Warriors knocked the Rockets out of the playoffs in 2015 and 2016. That, alone, is enough to give birth to a rivalry. But an explicit statement by one of the most powerful people in the organization that his team’s main goal is to beat one specific team is a thrown gauntlet.

Seeing as Houston won the season series against Golden State 2-1, the plan is coming into fruition. Of course, it doesn’t mean much until the teams meet in the playoffs. But by adding Chris Paul, the Rockets have a fantastic offense that looks built to hang with the vaunted Golden State attack. James Harden seems to be on a mission, as he’s running away with the MVP race. The role-players on the team fit the system perfectly, and the addition of a veteran like Joe Johnson bring an air of confidence to their play.

It’s safe to say that, whatever happens in the playoffs, this rivalry is here to stay. Win or lose, the Rockets will still have the Warriors in their sights while trying to dominate the Western Conference.

3. Zaza Pachulia vs. Everyone’s ankles

It may seem silly to count this as a rivalry, but with the evidence mounting, it has to be discussed.

On May 14, 2017 during Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Pachulia fell on Kawhi Leonard, causing him to aggravate an existing ankle injury. Leonard would miss the rest of the series as the Warriors swept the Spurs in four games.

rivalry

Kawhi Leonard lies down in pain directly after the infamous Pachulia closeout. (Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

During February 24th’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Warriors center executed another questionable fall on top of Russell Westbrook. He claimed his leg was hooked by Nick Young, but it seemed as if the fall was aimed as he landed on the reigning MVP’s legs.

Stephen Curry, Zaza’s own teammate, had to leave Friday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks after accidentally stepping on Pachulia’s foot, causing him to injure his ankle.

Now, that last one obviously wasn’t intentional. Who in their right mind would want to hurt their own teammate? Especially considering Curry is one of the three best players in the league. It seems to fit the narrative that Pachulia puts forth, of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But true accidents aside, one cannot deny that Zaza has a reputation of being one of the dirtiest players in the league.

Reputation and the “Pachulia Rule”

Zaza used his back to slam Nikola Mirotic to the ground during a playoff game during his time with the Bucks. He tried to trip Udonis Haslem while playing for the Atlanta Hawks. Pachulia even got into a heated exchange with his current teammate, David West, after some questionable elbow movement while he was a Maverick. And those are just some of the transgressions in which he’s been implicated during his 14-year NBA career.

It’s hard for someone to truly deem every one of these actions “dirty.” Most of us have never played a minute in the NBA. So how could we speak to his intentions during every questionable play?

For fans of the sport, the old adage of “I know it when I see it,” applies here. Since every conceivable angle of every play is covered, it is easy to make a judgement call from the couch. But watching them over and over, and in slow motion, solidifies whatever opinion one may have already formed. But, again, with this mountain of evidence, it’s a no-brainer to think his intentions are questionable at best.

The NBA has even instituted a rule, dubbed the “Zaza Pachulia Rule,” which allows referees to call a flagrant foul if a closeout during a jump shot is deemed too extreme. This was due to the aforementioned Kawhi Leonard controversy. The Westbrook fall, however, did not fall under that purview. The NBA deemed the fall legitimate, and no action was taken.

This didn’t stop people like Kyrie Irving from calling the play “unacceptable.” His teammates stood behind him, but it seems as if most NBA players and fans agreed that it was unnecessary. And thus, a rivalry between a mediocre center and the rest of the league rages on.

2. Players vs. Officials

The relationship between NBA players and officials has never been as contentious as it is this season. Players are constantly berating the officiating, regardless of whatever fines may incur. Officials are exasperated with the constant barrage of claims that they aren’t doing their job well enough.

Technical fouls have experienced a massive spike during the 2017-2018 season. Draymond Green leads the league with 14, while other hard-nosed players like Dwight Howard and Russell Westbrook aren’t far behind. A surprising stat, however, is that Kevin Durant currently sits at third-most in the NBA with 12 technicals. He’s certainly a competitive, fiery player, but he’s not known for behavior worthy of a technical.

rivalry

Shaun Livingston of the Golden State Warriors butts foreheads with a referee on his way to an ejection. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Associated Press)

Over the All-Star weekend, there was a summit between NBA referees and players, intended to patch relations between the two parties. Although there is no official transcript of the meeting, it is said that frustrations by both sides were vented.

The “Respect the Game” rules instituted by the NBA about eight years ago were mentioned heavily. In-game communication was also a focal point, as some officials felt as if explaining certain decisions would only make things rougher on them. Fans will never know everything that was discussed, or how heated the exchanges were, but as the season goes on, we will see how effective the meeting was.

Seeing as how players and officiating are the two most important parts of the game, how this rivalry shakes out will have an impact on the sport at every turn.

1. Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

How about a good, old-fashioned team rivalry for the number one spot?

Of course this is the best rivalry in the NBA. These two teams have met in the last three NBA Finals, which is a record. We all know this history behind this historic three year stretch. It’s not news to anyone except the completely uninitiated.

With Cleveland’s struggles and midseason roster shake-up, it seems as if the Eastern Conference might be up for grabs again. While, in the West, the Rockets have their aim firmly on halting the dynasty.

rivalry

Cleveland and Golden State in a heated mid-game exchange (Photo by Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

If these two teams meet again in the 2018 NBA Finals, it will be because they both earned it. Not because they coasted through the playoffs like they have the previous three years. That will automatically make it more exciting than last year’s finals. The Cavaliers might have a chance to even up the finals series, which would completely alter how we view this juggernaut Warriors team in the future.

Cleveland cannot seem to get it together against the Warriors in the regular season. In their eight tries since 2015, they have only pulled out one win against Golden State. But that seems irrelevant viewed through the prism of another potential finals matchup.

The Warriors have something to prove, too. Signing Kevin Durant was, and still is, seen as the rich getting richer. Winning two titles in a row, and three of the last four, will hush (but not silence) these sentiments.

NBA pundits spend so much time talking about Cleveland and Golden State because they are the league right now. No matter what fans think, it quite literally cannot be covered enough, because, until further notice, they are the reigning conference champions.

This is the most exciting rivalry in sports right now. And now, with new layers and new challenges, things can only get more exciting from here.

Featured image by Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

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NBA Finals rematch

It’s time to stop hyping up Cavs-Warriors matchups

After the Golden State Warriors’ 118-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, it is officially time for the NBA to stop trying to make us care about regular season matchups between these two teams. Almost every NBA Finals rematch has simply not lived up to the hype the NBA has tried to stir up over the past three years.

This rivalry was forged in the fires of the NBA Finals. It wasn’t born of constant division clashes or bad blood between players. In fact, Cavs and Warriors players are almost always very nice to and complementary of each other and their play. Before the game on MLK Day, LeBron James literally hugged Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, the people he should hate the most on this Earth.

Since it was born on one of the biggest stages in sports, it’s hard to care about what these teams look like against each other until they’re back on that stage. The only exciting thing about these games the past three years has been the conversation about potential finals storylines. That’s a fine reason to watch a game during a random Wednesday in November, but it’s not good enough to justify the marquee matchups on the NBA’s most important days.

Recent history

Since Cleveland and Golden State first met up in the finals in 2015, the Cavs have won exactly one regular season game against them. It was an admittedly exciting and contentious one-point win on Christmas Day in 2016. But it is still only one game.

NBA Finals rematch

Kevin Durant dunks during Monday night’s game (Photo by David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)

To find another Cleveland regular season win during the rivalry, you would have to go back to Feb. 26, 2015. Even counting this one is a stretch, because this was before they had met up in the finals. The NBA didn’t even know it was a rivalry yet.

 

For the sake of sample size, let’s count those two matchups in 2015 towards this exercise.

Including the finals matchups, the Warriors have won 17 of the 26 games these two teams have played. That’s a win percentage of .654 over three-plus years. Considering the teams are in different conferences, that’s complete dominance. It seems even more dominant when you look at it under the microscope that the NBA has forced upon the games.

Not counting playoffs, the Cavaliers are 2-6 in eight tries in the regular season since LeBron returned to Cleveland. That’s not exciting. It’s not something the NBA should plan its entire Christmas Day slate around.

Points

In the regular season matchups, the Warriors have beaten the Cavs by an average of 18.3 points. The Cavaliers have won their two matchups by just 6.0 points.

NBA Finals rematch

Durant guards James during a Christmas Day game. (Photo by Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

Since Kevin Durant arrived on the West Coast, the Warriors wins are by an average of 15.3 points if the playoff matchups are included. The Cavaliers have won just twice (again, including playoffs), by an average of 11.0 points. However, that is a bit misleading, considering one of those wins was by 21 points in the finals game where Cleveland scored 49 points in the first quarter and had 86 at halftime.

What does this all mean? It means that when the Warriors win, which is most of the time, they’re almost always winning by over 10 points.

Sure, games can end up with a lopsided score during garbage time that makes them seem less competitive than they are. But with a sample size this large, these numbers don’t lend themselves to putting these games on days where fans are already watching the NBA (i.e. MLK Day and Christmas).

Solutions

No one can blame the NBA for wanting to use these games to boost viewership and sell ad time at a higher price. That’s business, and finals rematches are a proverbial cash grab in that respect. But people wanting to see these games isn’t the problem.

The thing that’s most glaring about forcing these finals rematches down our throats is that fans are going to watch these games. People who know and care about the NBA are compelled to tune in to see if they are going to be surprised by the outcome.

NBA Finals rematch

Curry and Durant celebrate during the NBA Finals. (Photo by Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports)

The real power that these games have are drawing in casual fans, and sometimes even non-fans. Those people are going to tune in on Christmas Day, regardless. So why not save your supposed “big guns” for late February or mid-March, when even hardcore fans might be yearning for something else to watch?

Another solution could be slating one of the matchups for very early in the season, October for instance, and then slating the other one for the spring. After the All-Star break and trade deadline, both teams will more than likely have the identity that they are going to carry into the playoffs. If the NBA is really concerned with giving the fans a playoff atmosphere, then let the Cavaliers, who like to build and fill in gaps through trades, finalize their roster.

Of course, all of this is predicated on the idea that these two teams will meet in the finals again, which is hardly a guarantee this season. Having the games before the trade deadline could be a good plan because the Cavs can see what holes they need to fill to be competitive with Golden State in June.

One of the teams will be there, but we’ll have to wait and see whether or not these marquee matchups were just the final blow to Cleveland’s confidence, or motivation to not get embarrassed on the national stage yet again.

 

Featured image by Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports

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CS:GO Rivalries

The greatest CS:GO rivalries

Just as in traditional sports, esports have big rivalries as well. From incredible matches, rivalries are born. A few key elements to keeping our game exciting to watch are the storylines and rivalries between teams. Teams battling it out to stake their claim as the greatest of all time. Here are a few such CS:GO rivalries that transcended the rest.

NiP vs VeryGames

CS:GO Rivalries

via https://dotesports.com

Quite the rivalry this was; although, due to NiP’s dominance, it took a while for VG to be able to win against them. Despite it being lopsided in terms of results, it was an incredible David vs. Goliath storyline anytime they matched up, despite that VeryGames was actually the second best team in the world. VG made a lot of roster changes just trying to best NiP; when VG finally managed to knock NiP off their throne at ESL Major Series in fall of 2013, it was one of the most memorable moments in Counter-Strike history. This was the first of the many CS:GO rivalries, and both teams helped define the meta for years to come.

Fnatic vs NiP

Fnatic vs NiP is arguably the greatest CS:GO rivalry in history. When the two Swedish teams matchup, it’s nearly always a bloodbath. The rivalry took a very interesting start when Fnatic robbed NiP of Dreamhack Winter 2013, where NiP was the heavy favorite to win. NiP, now had a chip on their shoulder and were thirsty for revenge. The next time they would meet on a grand stage was following Fnatic’s additions of Olof ‘olofmeister’ Kajbjer, and Freddy ‘KRiMZ’ Johansson, at ESL One Cologne 2014. While a much improved lineup, NiP was not afraid. NiP was hungry for a major title, after falling short twice following the loss to Virtus.Pro at EMS One Katowice 2014. NiP managed to edge Fnatic in one of the most exciting runs through a tournament bracket I have ever witnessed. A great final, which saw NiP on top, finally.

CS:GO Rivalries

via http://wiki.teamliquid.net/

The next time these two would clash on a big stage was at MLG X Games Aspen Invitational. This match is one of, if not the most exciting and closely contested best of threes in CS:GO history. A must watch match for any new viewers, and another one of the great matches these two would produce. The last notable time that these two would meet, was in the grand final of ESL One Katowice 2015. The first two maps were absolute thrillers, but the third map was a bit of a letdown. The only real reason it was very close was that NiP mounted a monstrous comeback but fell short in the end. If it were a bit more back and forth, I think this very well could have been the best matchup between these two.

Fnatic vs LDLC/EnVyUs

This rivalry has a storyline similar to that of ‘Rocky’ as LDLC, in their first major matchup came but three rounds away from winning it on the third map. Then we had the most notorious boost in CS:GO history, that led Fnatic to come back from a 13-3 deficit. LDLC was gifted the semifinal spot; however, as Fnatic just surrendered the win to them, due to the massive controversy that had spewed from the boost. This led the LDLC core to win its first major. They would meet many more times, but the next most notable meeting was at ESL One Cologne 2015 in the grand final, following a French shuffle that saw Kenny ‘kennyS’ Schaub and Dan ‘apEX’ Madesclaire now on EnVy. This roster fell short of Fnatic that time; however, it would be the last time this team would lose to Fnatic during the era of their rivalry. They last notably met at Dreamhack Winter 2015, in the quarterfinals, where EnVyUs bested Fnatic with no massive controversy. This meeting would mark the end of one of the greatest CS:GO rivalries we have ever seen.

Luminosity vs Na’Vi

CS:GO Rivalries

via https://esports.yahoo.com

Two highly tactical teams meeting to create incredible games? Yes, please. This rivalry was a bit short lived; unfortunately, we never got to see the true end all on the grand final stage of MLG Colombus due to Ladislav ‘Guardian’ Kovács’s wrist injury. It still produced one of my all-time favorite best of three matches to date, in the semifinals of Katowice 2016. This match was the climax of their rivalry, where Luminosity trumped Guardian and Na’Vi. No other CS:GO rivalries had quite the same shock and awe factor as this one did, specifically pertaining to the tactical genius both squads brought, not to mention the amazing AWP matchup in GuardiaN vs Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo.

SK vs Virtus.Pro

Another one of the best CS:GO rivalries was born at ESL One Cologne 2016, a matchup that admittedly could have been better if Virtus.Pro did not make the joker pick of Nuke for the second map, but Cobble and Mirage were still thrillers. In the end, SK emerged victorious on this one, but Virtus.Pro would strike back at ESL One New York in exciting fashion. VP would win out at the ELEAGUE Major as well, but SK was a bit handicapped by stand-in Ricardo ‘fox’ Pacheco; however, that didn’t stop them from making it one of the closest 2-0 best of three matches of all time. The rivalry would come to a bit of an abrupt end after VP would best SK one last time in the grand final of Dreamhack Las Vegas. The end of this rivalry was based on Virtus.Pro’s break from the scene for a while, when they came back, they were nowhere near the level they were at before they left.

Astralis vs FaZe

CS:GO Rivalries

via http://wiki.teamliquid.net/

The most recent matchup that I’ve had my eye on, Astralis vs FaZe could still have a few more thrilling matches to come. The grand final of IEM Katowice 2017 was an incredible first battle, and the follow-up meeting at StarLadder was not a disappointment in the slightest. They would meet a third time in the semifinals of IEM Sydney, where FaZe Clan would again take it in another great match. While the matchup has been dormant for a while, due to Astralis’ taking a break from the tournament circuit, upon the return of Astralis, I’m sure this will still be a great rivalry. This rivalry has only just begun it seems, and I cannot wait for all the incredible matches we should get between these two titans.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has created many great rivalries throughout the years; while these are not all of the great rivalries, but some of the most notable ones.


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NA vs. EU Rift Rivals power rankings/predictions

Rift Rivals is around the corner. We will get the chance to see some of the top teams from EU and NA face off in a regional battle for bragging rights. EU and NA has been a long time rivalry in professional League of Legends. They were two of the first big regions to produce pro teams during LoL’s early days.

The history of the NA vs. EU rivalry has been a bit lopsided as of late. EU comes in as heavy favorites with most of the top of NA looking inconsistent for most of the first half of the split. You never really know with international tournaments though. The two regions are used to playing to their own metas so it will be interesting to see how the teams match up. Here are my power rankings for the teams playing at Rift Rivals:

1. Fnatic

Photo via Riot Games

Fnatic come into Rift Rivals with a steady 6-1 record. After struggling last split, they found their groove towards the end. Fnatic have found a style that works for them and continue to show mastery on it. ADC Martin “Rekkles” Larsson has his pocket pick Kennen that teams must watch out for. If it’s not the Kennen, it’s his Tristana that can give teams trouble. Mid laner Rasmus “Caps” Winther gets his first shot at international competition. This is a great opportunity for him to face off against some of the best in the world in Bjergsen and Jensen at Rift Rivals. With Rekkles usually on more utility carries, Caps is heavily relied on to be the main damage dealer for the team. Caps currently leads the league for all mids in damage percentage and damage per minute.

Young jungler Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen gets his chance to prove himself as one of the best junglers in the West. He’s been dominating the EULCS this split with a monster 11.3 KDA. He’s an aggressive jungler that has had phenomenal performances on early game junglers such as Elise and Kha’zix.

Fnatic are comprised of two veterans in SoaZ and Rekkles who should be able to lead this rising squad to a Rift Rivals victory.

2. Unicorns of Love

Unicorns of Love come into Rift Rivals with a 5-1 record, only dropping a series to Splyce. They are led by star top laner Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás. Rookie of the split Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir will also be a player to watch as he’s come into his own in the EULCS. He has a deep champion pool, willing to pull out unique champion picks such as Warwick and Hecarim. With EU having some of the best junglers in this tournament, NA will need to step up.

Fabian “Exileh” Schubert may have a a rough time. In EU he’s currently dead last in CS difference@10. He’s also near the bottom for many mid lane stats. He will be up against the likes of Bjergsen, Jensen and Ryu. Teams will most likely look to exploit the mid and bot lane. ADC Samuel “Samux” Fernández has looked improved this split, he comes in facing the likes of Arrow, Doublelift and Sneaky. UoL have strong shot calling and have shown consistency to play well together. In just about every matchup against TSM they’ve handily defeated them. We’ll see if that changes this time around.

3. Cloud 9

Photo via Riot Games

Cloud 9 come in off a solid win over TSM, but a very deflating loss at the hands of CLG. Had they beaten CLG they may have been in a higher position. Cloud 9 are led by carries Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen and Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi. Jensen has been having the best split of his career in the NALCS. He sits near the top in most statistical categories among NA mids.

In NA Cloud 9 has had some of the same issues from last split. Their early game play making still lacks a bit, but their laning phase is still pretty solid. They have a versatile roster with their interchangeable top laners of Jeon “Ray” Ji-won and Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong. Ray has slowly been taking the starting role from Impact showing the ability to be a carry top laner for the team.

In the jungle rookie Juan “Contractz” Garcia has still shown some inconsistencies, but has turned it on as of late. He’ll be facing many good junglers from EU, so he’ll need to step it up if Cloud 9 have a chance. It will be his first international competition so he’ll look to prove himself. Cloud 9’s rivalry with Fnatic will be ignited once again as they get a chance to face off in this tournament. Cloud 9 took the battle of the Atlantic, but Fnatic has gotten the best of them at Worlds.

4. Team SoloMid

TSM are the reigning North American champions and had the chance to eliminate G2 from MSI. They failed to do so and were eliminated themselves. They get another shot in the EU rivalry this time with ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng. Doublelift vs. Rekkless and Zven will be matchups to watch here at Rift Rivals. Rekkless isn’t really known for his aggressive laning phase so we’ll need to see how he does against one of NA’s best.

Many thought TSM would retake the NA throne easily with the addition of Doublelift back onto the roster. That hasn’t been the case as TSM sit in 2nd place with a 7-3 record. Jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen has looked phenomenal on Lee Sin. Anything outside of Lee, he has looked meh at best. He’ll be a huge crutch for TSM if he has a repeat of his performances at MSI.

TSM have been known to choke at international events. We’ll need to see if Rift Rivals will be another one added to that list.

5. G2

Photo via Riot Games

After a great run at MSI where they reached the finals before losing to SKT, G2 was expected to come back and destroy the EULCS scene. That hasn’t been the case as G2 seem to have taken a step back in terms of performance. They may be using the regular season to try out new things, but their old strategy of playing to the late game has not worked well for them. They currently sit at 3-3, third in their conference.

Their early game play making is lacking. While they can still try to play around star ADC Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen, teams will look to punish them for their lack of early game play making. Support Alfonso “Mithy” Aguirre Rodriguez has been a weak link this split getting caught out uncharacteristically. He will need to step it up or he’ll be punished by some of the better supports at the tournament.

6. Phoenix1

Phoenix1 will be heavy underdogs as the only team coming to rift rivals with a negative W-L. They currently sit in 8th place with a 3-7 record. They struggled heavily out the gates, but after bringing in new jungler Michael “MikeYeung” Yeung and veteran support Alex “Xpecial” Chu the team has looked much more competitive.

MikeYeung brings in a signature Nidalee pick that teams will need to watch out for. Former MVP ADC No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon has not shown the same prowess he did last split. He’s currently last in CS differential@10 and near the bottom in other statistics.

The team has looked improved in recent weeks. Maybe Rift Rivals can be a spring board for turning their season around. Ryu, Arrow and Xpecial are the steady veterans who have played in international competition before. Ryu in particular should know his opponents very well. Phoenix1 could definitely take a game or two under the right circumstances.

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Cover photo by Rift Herald

2017 NBA Mock Draft

2017 NBA Mock Draft 1.0 (Pre-Lottery)

This mock draft will factor in team needs heavily rather than who is the best player. The draft order won’t be set in stone until the lottery takes place, but the talk is already starting on who will go number one overall.

Many scouts and experts are picking Markelle Fultz to go first, but it depends on who wins the lottery. Right now these predictions will be based solely off current standings and will continue to be until the draft lottery takes place. Here is Hagan’s Haus 2017 NBA mock draft.

1: Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Josh Jackson sG Kansas

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

The Boston Celtics do not need a point guard. Fultz may be the best player in the draft, but Isaiah Thomas isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Thomas is also a proven player while any player coming out of college is unproven.

Fultz may be the best player in the draft but doesn’t fit what the Celtics need. The Celtics play great team defense and need a scorer to take the load off of Thomas.

Josh Jackson could prove to be a valuable scoring option for Boston as he averages 16.7 points per game. Jackson in a two-way player capable of becoming a superstar. Boston would be smart to add him to their core.

2: Los Angeles Lakers: Markelle Fultz pG Washington

Picking what the Lakers will do is extremely difficult. They just spent the 2015 second overall pick on a point guard. The Lakers issue is veteran leadership. They have a core of young players who just need time to develop. L.A. could trade this pick for a star player, but if they do keep it expect them to take the best available player.

That would be Washington guard Markelle Fultz. Fultz is averaging 23.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and six assists per game. Fultz also has a player efficiency rating (PER) of 28.6 and is clearly the best player in the draft. The Lakers can not pass on that just to fill a position of need.

3: Phoenix suns: Jayson Tatum Sf duke

Jayson Tatum has a well-polished iso game that is NBA ready. The Suns have a star in the making with Devin Booker and need to find a player to grow alongside him.

Tatum could grow to be a solid second option in the NBA. 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 the Suns may be able to find a Robin for their Batman.

4: Orlando Magic: Lonzo Ball Pg UCLA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit:https://www.bostonglobe.com)

Everyone is talking about LaVar Ball’s opinions rather than the play of Lonzo Ball. Ball can ball. It is as simple as that.

His father may be onto something when talking about how good his son can be. However, talking so openly may hurt his son’s draft stock.

Sticking strictly to Lonzo and his basketball ability, it is clear that he is a top prospect. Ball is a great passer with a high basketball I.Q. In the NBA Ball will be a floor general capable of running the team from the court.

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. Orlando needs a franchise player and that is exactly what Lonzo Ball will be.

5: 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, will not make his debut this year either. The 76ers still believe those pieces will result in playoff appearances and maybe even titles.

Interestingly enough, reports came out that Philadelphia brass believes Simmons will be the point guard. That is why they will use this top-five 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.

6: New York Knicks: Dennis Smith Pg N.C. State

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: William Howard/Icon Sportswire)

The Knicks need a young explosive point guard who will grow alongside Kristaps Porzingis. Carmelo Anthony is on the back half of his career and will most likely be out of the picture soon. Derrick Rose has been very respectable in New York, but he is not the same player that won the league MVP.

Dennis Smith is a top-five talent who will fall a bit due to some of the other needs teams have. Not all are looking for a point guard.

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

Smith would be a great pick here if the Knicks want to take steps towards becoming a playoff team.

7: Sacramento Kings: Jonathan Issac PF Florida State

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.

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

8: Sacramento Kings (Via Pelicans): De’Aaron Fox PG Kentucky

The Kings can afford to be risky with one of their two top-10 picks. Buddy Hield will need a backcourt partner in crime, and Fox could fit that mold.

Fox is unique because he is left handed. It is sometimes hard to defend left-handed players because defenders are used to right handed defenders. He is also extremely quick and defenders may have trouble keeping up with him.

Fox will need to work on shooting with more consistency. With Hield alongside him, all Fox needs to do is run the offense.

9: Dallas Mavericks: Lauri Markkanen PF Arizona

2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: http://www.wildcat.arizona.edu)

Dallas got their center when they traded for Nerlens Noel. The guard positions seem to be held down as well with the emergence of Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry. That makes Lauri Markkanen a perfect option for the Mavericks.

Dirk Nowitzki will be going into his final season and the Mavericks need to find his future replacement. Markkanen is a 7-foot stretch big who will be able to shoot the three in the NBA. He has all the intangibles to replace the greatest European player in NBA history.

Drafting Markkanen will allow him to develop in his first season before Dirk rides off into the sunset.

10: Minnesota Timberwolves: Harry Giles PF Duke

The Minnesota Timberwolves are right on the cusp of becoming a great NBA team. Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are continuing to grow and will be one of the most dangerous duos in the NBA in the coming years. They have already begun to show signs of it. Point guard is not an issue as they have Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn. Picking Giles would be a shock here at number 10, but could be a huge steal.

Giles was considered the best player coming out of high school and was projected to be the number one overall 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 under Tom Thibodeau.

This pick could be a bust, but it will more likely create a young core in Minnesota capable of winning championships.

11: Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges SF Michigan St.

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

The Hornets need a solid wing player and Miles Bridges would be a good fit.

Bridges is a dunking machine and plays with an extremely high motor. One of Bridges’ weaknesses is that he has no true position. Shooting guard, small forward and power forward are all in play for Bridges. Charlotte would likely play him at small forward.

Bridges has also shown consistent improvement in his shooting since high school.

12: Portland Trailblazers: Robert Williams PF Texas A&M

Robert Williams can jump out of this world. He can put anyone on a poster and loves to do so. There are countless highlights of him dunking on opponents.

Williams has a 7-foot-5 wingspan, and he knows how to use it. That wingspan allows him to excel as a rebounder and shot blocker.

One thing going against Williams is that he is raw as a big man. He lacks consistency like many raw prospects. The better competition gave him trouble, but with development from NBA coaches, he can turn into a solid NBA starter.

13: Miami Heat: Isaiah Hartenstein PF Germany

The Heat have been 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. The Heat need a power forward that can stretch the floor since Whiteside is the inside presence.

Isaiah Hartenstein would be a great fit in Miami. He is a versatile left-handed player who can not only score inside, but outside as well. 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.

14: Chicago Bulls: Frank Ntilikina Pg France

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: https://hardwoodhoudini.com

One thing is clear in the NBA: teams need a franchise point guard. The Bulls do not have a franchise point guard on their roster and will be looking for one in this year’s draft. Drafting at the end of the lottery does not leave them with many options, but it will allow them to take Frank Ntilikina out of France.

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 the franchise point guard the Bulls desperately need.

15: Denver Nuggets: John Collins Pf Wake Forest

Denver has a lot of young talent, and Collins is a bit of a project. If the Nuggets take a year or two to develop Collins, then he can become a valuable asset.

16: Milwaukee Bucks: Justin Patton C Creighton

There have been a lot of problems with Greg Monroe in Milwaukee. The Bucks have found a star in Giannis Antetokounmpo and need a big man inside to feed off of him. Justin Patton from Creighton can be that guy.

17: Detroit Pistons: Ivan Rabb C Cal

There have been swirling rumors that Andre Drummond was going to be traded just before the deadline. That still may happen in the offseason, and the Pistons need to prepare for that. Ivan Rabb would be a great fit with Stan Van Gundy.

18: Indiana Pacers: Luke Kennard SG Duke

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Kennard has been unbelievable in the second half of the season for Duke. Paul George is rumored to be on his way out of Indiana via trade or free agency in two years. Kennard may not become a franchise player, but will come into the NBA as a scoring machine.

19: Atlanta hawks: TJ Leaf PF UCLA

Drafting a power forward may not make sense with Paul Millsap around, but TJ Leaf is a bit of a project. Millsap will want to be on a contending team as his career unwinds. Everyone knows the Hawks are not winning a championship. Drafting Leaf now gives him time to develop until Millsap leaves.

20: Portland Trailblazers (Via Memphis): Justin Jackson SF North Carolina

Justin Jackson would be a great fit in Portland alongside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The two guards can focus on the scoring and Jackson can be the team’s wing defender. Jackson is capable of guarding multiple positions and would be a solid pick by the Trailblazers.

21: Oklahoma City: DILLON BROOKS SF OREGON

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

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.

22: TORONTO RAPTORS: DWAYNE BACON SF FLORIDA STATE

Toronto has one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Bacon can come in and be a solid rotation player allowing the Raptors to deepen their bench as they continue to chase a championship.

23: ORLANDO MAGIC (VIA LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS): TYLER LYDON PF SYRACUSE

Orlando is a tough team to gauge and need a lot. Lydon would be a head-scratching pick, but something they would do. Lydon won’t become an All-Star but will be a solid rotation player in the NBA.

24: Brooklyn Nets (via Washington): JOSH HART SG VILLANOVA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: AP)

Brooklyn needs anything and everything and is nowhere close to being a good NBA team. Josh Hart could bring a culture change to the franchise. He is a leader and a winner and the Nets could use some of that in their locker room.

25: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA BOSTON): BAM ADEBAYO PF KENTUCKY

Adding Bam Adebayo to pair up with Hart could be the start of turning things around. They won’t win many games, but the rebuild has to start somewhere. Adebayo is a solid prospect with lots of potential.

26: UTAH JAZZ: CALEB SWANIGAN PF PURDUE

The Jazz are in as good of a position as the Celtics. They will finish as the fourth or 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.

27: 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. Kurucs is versatile and can be a valuable scoring option in the NBA.

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

2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: By Pat McDonogh, The CJ)

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: 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.

30: SAN ANTONIO SPURS: THOMAS BRYANT C INDIANA

The Spurs are like the Patriots. They know what they are doing and you don’t question them. LaMarcus Aldridge’s future is in jeopardy due to health concerns. With Kawhi Leonard being a two-way star, the Spurs need a big man who can protect the paint.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Duke-UNC: The Best Rivalry In College Basketball

Duke-UNC is not just the best rivalry in college basketball. It is arguably the best rivalry in all of college and professional sports. Just 10 miles apart down Tobacco road, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels prove time and time again why it is truly one of the greatest sports traditions of all time. For a sports fan, attending a Duke-UNC rivalry game must be at the top of their bucket list.

Saturday marked the 244th meeting between The Duke Blue Devils and The North Carolina Tar Heels, with UNC leading the overall series 135-109. These two historic college basketball franchises are top-five in all-time wins in college basketball history with UNC at three and Duke at four.

This past Saturday’s matchup was the final ACC regular season game for both teams as usual. The fifth-ranked Tar Heels defeated the 17th-ranked Blue Devils 90-83 in another hard fought classic.

Duke-UNC Basketball

Luke Kennard and Justin Jackson fight for a loose ball during their first matchup on Feb, 9th (Photo Courtesy of The Fayetteville Observer)

It was an important game for both teams in terms of seeding for the ACC and the NCAA tournament. What makes Duke-UNC so special is that none of that matters.

Duke-UNC isn’t about records, seeding or win-loss records coming into the game. It’s about pride. The thing about Duke-UNC is that one team could be undefeated coming into the matchup and the other team could have lost every single game up to that point. For that one game, it will be played like it is the last basketball game to ever be played.

Blood, sweat and tears is the definition of Duke-UNC. Blood, sweat and tears are usually evident in every single game, or at least one of those.

Neither team has actually met in the NCAA tournament before. Every game they have ever played, with the exception of some ACC tournament games and an NIT game back in the 70s, has been in the regular season. Regular season games are important, but the postseason has historically brought out a different level in athletes. A level in which you see in every Duke-UNC game.

It shows why this rivalry is so special. The postseason atmosphere of win or go home is in every Duke-UNC matchup, even though it isn’t a win or go home game. All that matters in the two games they play each year is winning and nothing else.

The rivalry has produced powerful moments like when Gerald Henderson punched Tyler Hansbrough in the face resulting in a bloody nose and a plethora of heated exchanges. Jeff Capel hit a half court shot to send the game into overtime. Jerry Stackhouse’s had a reverse slam in Cameron Indoor Stadium that silenced the previously rowdy crowd. Austin Rivers hit a game-winning shot over Tyler Zeller to cap a comeback in Chapel Hill.

Whether you like basketball or not, people tune in to watch Duke-UNC. On March 8, 2008, Duke played UNC in Durham, which would go on to be the most viewed college basketball game in history. An estimated 5.5 million watched the game. Even those who don’t prefer sports can appreciate the magnitude of Duke-UNC.

The series has involved some of the greatest basketball icons of all time, including the great Michael Jordan. The likes of Vince Carter, Shane Battier, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, Antawn Jamison, Rasheed Wallace and many more have gone on to have successful careers in college and professionally.

Either way the tide turns, Duke or UNC, it’s unlike anything else in college or professional sports.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Duke vs UNC

Gerry Broome/ AP

Gerry Broome/ AP

Looking at this matchup a few weeks ago when Duke was on course for a bad season, it looked like an easy W for the UNC Tar Heels but that is not case now. Duke is making a late surge and looking more like the Duke of old.

Grayson Allen and the Blue Devils are riding high after his thrilling and controversial buzzer-beater over a highly ranked Virginia team in front of the Cameron Crazies, but they will not have them tonight when they visit arch rival North Carolina at 9PM EST. Their Virginia win extends their win streak to four. During that streak, Duke beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta. They also beat rival NC State in front of the home crowd, and ranked Louisville and ranked Virginia in Durham.

Grant Halverson/ Getty Images

Grant Halverson/ Getty Images

Grayson Allen has started to play better and improve over these four games. He is averaging a little over 22 points a game and the offense is running more through him. And along with Allen is freshman, Brandon Ingram, who has scored in double figures in the last four games and has two double-doubles in that span. On a very short bench, Luke Kennard has started to shine and give key production to the Blue Devils in the last three games, including a 26-point game against NC State.

But how will that young core stack up against a veteran Tar Heel team?

The Tar Heels team come to this game with a 2-2 record in their last four games. They lost two straight against Louisville and Notre Dame both away from the Dean E. Smith Center. They were also against the ropes against Boston College, but the team rallied and won after Coach Roy Williams collapsed on the court after a vertigo attack. Then after those three road games they returned to Chapel Hill to play host to the Pittsburgh Panthers and they won to the tune of 85-64.

This North Carolina team is lead by a pair of seniors, G Marcus Paige and F Brice Johnson.

In this four game stretch, Johnson has scored in double figures three times and also has recorded two double-doubles. Guard Marcus Paige has also only had one game without double figures in the point column. And has been a sniper from behind the arc, shooting little over 46 percent in the last four games and in the last three it is at 55 percent. In four games he has only shot under .500 once.

Ethan Hyman/ Charlotte Observer

Ethan Hyman/ Charlotte Observer

The game in the Chapel Hill will be one for the books. The All-Time record is 133-107 in favor of the Tar Heels, but the Heels are looking for revenge because Duke has the latest win in the series.

Will UNC make it number 134 or will Duke make it number 108?