Archive for the Basketball Category

2012 NBA FINALS PREVIEW

Posted in Basketball on June 12, 2012 by hoopsencyclopedia

HEAT-THUNDER

So I was wrong about the Thunder not being able to beat the “perfect” Spurs to advance to the 2012 NBA Finals. Of course there is no such thing as a perfect team. One can say the Spurs were playing perfectly, but their less than elite defense and lagging athleticism were imperfections which were both exploited heavily by the explosive, offensive-minded Thunder. But there is also no doubt that not too many predicted for this Thunder team to mature so fast and so completely. Seemingly wise and mature beyond their years, they matched the discipline and team chemistry of the Spurs and added their dose of superior collective talent to the mix for a thorough victory. Now they appear to be an unstoppable juggernaut with visions of a dynasty in the making.

But let’s hold that thought for a moment. On the other side, you have the current best player in the world on a mission to finally add merit to his self-proclaimed “King” status. The Heat were weakened by the injury to Chris Bosh, the curious inconsistency of Dwyane Wade, and the disappearance of quality bench performers. But then, Lebron James took his leadership to a new level and displayed his all-around brilliant game to push his team past the veteran Celtics. Lebron’s consistent, dominant play against the Celtics most likely was the best playoff series of his career in terms of statistics and symbolism and it finally appears that he may have shaken off the playoff ghosts of yesteryear to complete his quest of attaining his first championship.

So it’s The MVP vs. The Scorer; The Best Player vs. The Next Best Player; The First All-Weather Finals. Will it pour or will there be a greenhouse effect? Who will receive his first title and perhaps start a new reign in basketball? One must take a very close look for answers as both teams are capable of victory.

Both teams have amazing superstars but there is a small edge on both sides when breaking down each team piece by piece. Assuming a 10 point system to rank strengths at each position, let’s compare what each team has to offer:

POSITION              HEAT               THUNDER

PG                             7.5                    9

SG                             9                       7

C                               8                       7.5

SF                             10                     9.5

PF                              8                      9

Bench                        7.5                   8.5

Coach                        8                      8

Intangibles                9                      8

Offense                      9                     9.5

Defense                     9.5                  8.5

TOTAL                        85.5                84.5

That’s mighty close and the two teams splitting their regular season games at 1-1 don’t add much to the table. But usually, teams that reach the finals are always going to be close on paper, which is why I always believe the playoffs and the finals are about deeper elements – elements that make up a championship mindset. These ingredients are, in order of importance; veteran hunger (23%), chemistry (20%), leadership (18%), youth hunger (14%), athleticism (14%), and talent (11%). The numbers add up to 100% and are subjective as they are based on what I believe are the most vital characteristics of a championship team. So, think of it more as a synergistic system rather than a data driven one. Let’s take a look at how each team stacks up:

                             HEAT               THUNDER

Vet. Hunger          9.5                       8.5                    23%

Chemistry             9                          9                       20%

Leadership           9                          8.5                    18%

Youth Hunger       8                          9                       14%

Athleticism            9.5                       9                       14%

Talent                   9                          9                       11%

TOTAL                   9.05                    8.79

So there you have it. With the % multipliers, the Heat appear to have the edge in what constitutes a championship team. Coupled with the advantage in the individual, data-driven position breakdown in the first chart, the Heat have the overall edge through both lenses.

But that’s never the whole story of course. Amazing and unpredictable things may happen and a lone superstar going off might offset any balance on any given night. Also, how will each team respond to the pressure and constant adjustments? On paper, the Heat have the edge in experience but the Thunder are playing like the more experienced team. Also, how will the 2-3-2 format affect the Thunder’s home court advantage? It may just be that these teams are so evenly matched in both talent and drive that we may likely see a very legendary seven-game series. Looking into the future, the outcome may rely on how certain questions are answered. Will the Thunder’s shooting overwhelm the athleticism of the Heat? Will Westbrook shoot consistently? Will Wade return to form? Will Lebron seize the stage instead of being too unselfish? Will Harden be the difference? Will Bosh play like a Big Man? Will Ibaka continue to amaze? Will Miami’s free throws go in? Will Durant score like MJ on the biggest stage? Only time will tell.

What time won’t tell is what we already know. And we know that there are two extremely crucial constants that carry no question marks: Superior defense and Lebron James. And the Heat have both. If Michael Jordan said defense wins championships, this might be the perfect test. The Heat’s superior defense and physicality can be the difference maker in a grueling series and throw the Thunder off kilter. But more important is that they have Lebron James and his athleticism never takes a day off. And because of it, Lebron can consistently have great games even if his touch is off. He is the best player in the world and in his prime. He is also the only player who can dominate on both ends of the court. Appearing more focused than ever before, his leadership will offer his teammates no other choice but to follow him. The Heat should prevail in an epic seven games.

2012 Eastern and Western Finals Preview

Posted in Basketball on May 30, 2012 by hoopsencyclopedia

Thanks to Memorial Day weekend, this preview was delayed a few days so many apologies. However, those extra few days have done nothing to change the predictions for both series.

HEAT-CELTICS

The Celtics have been resilient enough to knock off two young and athletic teams. Their veteran savvy and experience have instilled great team pride and effort. However, they are now facing an even more athletic team in the Heat and one that has taken their play to the next level – most notably because of their two superstars Lebron James and Dwyane Wade.

The Celtics were stretched to six games by the Hawks and seven games by the inferior Sixers which begs to ask, how much gas is left in their aging tanks? It’s one thing to battle test a young or moderately young team, but this gang is too old where rest is more crucial to their banged-up stars than intense games. While Kevin Garnett is playing a decade younger, the seriousness of Ray Allen’s gimpy ankle is making him a non-factor and one can’t depend on Paul Pierce at this phase to cover the slack and put up 40 points every other night – especially considering his own balky knee. Rajon Rondo may save the day for a game or two, but other than that, there’s not much hope it seems.

On the other side, the Heat have gelled under traumatic circumstances – meaning adjusting to the loss of Chris Bosh. Both Lebron and Wade have been able to go into superstar mode while still being team players and no team can match that. While Bosh isn’t there to counter Garnett, Lebron and Wade can take care of their sizeable advantage on the perimeter and take turns controlling the game. The Heat can now play with or without Bosh and appear to be rejuvenated and focused again. Lebron has proved to be no fluke of an MVP with his brilliant performances in the prior round and overall consistency in the playoffs. Plus, he always seems to turn it up against the Celtics and Pierce. The Heat are just better, generally healthier and hungrier overall. They should take care of Boston in 5 games and move on to the finals.

SPURS-THUNDER

This is the real finals of the 2012 season. With the two top teams finally facing each other, the winner of this series will likely be the NBA champion.

The Thunder represent the best of the current style of ball. They have an athletic point guard who can score, a pure scoring superstar, a sixth man who can dominate from outside and with passing and penetration, a decent inside presence in Kendrick Perkins for defense, and a great mid-range cleaner in Serge Ibaka who can block shots. Although they are not as experienced compared to the other elite teams, they are young, explosive, hungry and near perfect. Yet, all these aren’t good enough because the Spurs are actually perfect.

The Thunder also can be criticized for allowing Russell Westbrook to be a little trigger happy. While he can get 30 points on 12-22 shooting, he can also easily go 6-17 and disrupt the shooting balance that a point guard must manage for the team. While Westbrook has won games with his scoring, he is a flawed point guard because too many times, he shoots first before anyone else touches the ball. This might work when your shot is on against an even more flawed team such as the Lakers, but against a perfectly balanced team such as the Spurs, Westbrook must play more like Tony Parker – that is, attack when you have the spacing, but look for the right play at all other times.

The Spurs, other than chasing perfection, are also superior in that they have a true post presence – Tim Duncan – who also happens to be the game’s greatest active player. They also have the game’s greatest active coach in Gregg Popovich who seems to have evolved with the team as it has aged and acquired new players. The Spurs have gone 31-2 in their last 33 games which not even MJ’s 72-win Bulls can match going into the post-season. In fact, these Spurs might just be the best team we have seen since the MJ era and Shaq’s Lakers. And the main reasons are because they have veteran leadership, chemistry and poise which equate to perfect team play. No one complains about their roles, the brilliant Duncan has molded his game to match the skills of the new players around him unlike other aging superstars who won’t due to sensitive egos, and the entire staff appears to be as humble and team oriented in the same way. The Spurs are a beautiful team to watch and one whose balanced style should excite the senses as much as Lebron’s dunks or Durant’s pure shooting. Perhaps the great Tim Duncan still being the centerpiece while winning a fifth championship will open people’s eyes as to how much they have taken his greatness and this team for granted. If this team stays healthy, they can win two more championships even with Duncan at ages 36 and 37 as the perimeters can take more of the load as needed. The Spurs should advance to the finals in 5 games.

ESPN Opens the Door on Kobe Bryant’s Clutch Problems Throughout his Career

Posted in Basketball on May 17, 2012 by hoopsencyclopedia

After Kobe Bryant’s complete meltdown in the closing moments of Game 2 against the Thunder, it’s becoming clearer and clearer to the mainstream media that Kobe is more subpar as a clutch player than not. Perhaps it’s because the misses are piling up to such extreme levels that even casual reporters are scratching their heads and thinking for themselves. While Kobe has hit his share of clutch shots (primarily because he takes more than anyone else), it’s been known for a long time that Kobe’s accuracy is nonexistent in crunch time so it’s good to hear a dose of reality. Here’s a nice discussion at ESPN talking about Kobe’s problems.

There were some laughable statements made from Kobe journalists such as JA Adande, who for some bizarre reason stipulates that Kobe’s accuracy is low because he takes bad shots, but because he still makes some of them, it qualifies making him the greatest clutch player in history. Other panelists made similarly nonsensical reasons for explaining what being clutch was  – such as someone merely having the thrill and will to take clutch shots, or, having a clutch reputation as actually being clutch. Really? Didn’t it used to be that you had to actually make the shot to be called clutch instead of just taking it? Obviously, these are panic defense mechanisms for today’s failed heroes. The only thing that matters is if the ball goes in – plain and simple. And if one is at a career 20-25% in the playoffs (and even worse overall if you include the regular season), the hard numbers are the hard numbers and they do not care for excuses. Missed shots are missed shots and bad shots should just not be taken by anyone.

One can blame Michael Jordan for the emphasis on hero shots since he made it glamorous. But MJ maintained peak efficiency (50%) in the clutch and was much better at creating good shots. He was also a willing playmaker. Hence his accuracy in the clutch is ironclad and as a result, no excuses are necessary. And to refute Kobe journalist JA Adande, Jordan actually took the most difficult shots of anyone since he was, Jordan, and everyone was trying to knock him out. The difference was he made it look easy by maneuvering in such a way that he always got a good look, which made the bad shot into a good one and looked even more incredible. And many times, MJ’s shots were so acrobatic since his athleticism allowed him create like no other that they were shots only he could even take. If one cannot create great shots for himself, one is forced to take a worse shot and such a display of inane attempts is the obvious mark of a significantly inferior player. JA Adande misses this rather elementary point while trying to highlight Kobe’s “bad attempts” as an excuse for his poor FG%. If Adande was a casino owner betting on a 25% winning game against 50% for the customer, his casino would go out of business in a matter of hours. No one wants excuses – just results.

We don’t expect Kobe to reproduce MJ’s heroics because he is not on his level (nor is anyone else), but to not even be at league average means he is simply shooting way out of his league. And also, let’s not forget that being clutch also means being defensively clutch as well. Rarely do we see Kobe make a defensive clutch play on any level.

For more detailed information, Chasing23’s excellent breakdown of Kobe’s shot tracker vs. MJ’s is worth a look. You can also visit 82games for regular season game winning shots data as well.

Also, here are the top clutch players in terms of accuracy for 2012. Clutch is unofficially defined by 82games as the 4th quarter or overtime, with less than 5 minutes left and neither team ahead by more than 5 points.

Ironically, Andrew Bynum leads the pack for this year.

2012 Second Round Preview

Posted in Basketball on May 16, 2012 by hoopsencyclopedia

So the real season enters the second round and things look clearer now for some teams. My first round predictions were thrown askew by some seriously freaky injuries (I missed 3 out of 8 predictions), but let’s put that behind us and look forward.

HEAT-PACERS

With the loss of Chris Bosh, it’s legacy-making time for Lebron James. Now more than ever, he needs to raise his level and be a complete utility man to get past the Pacers. I admit to underestimating the strength of the Pacers’ size, athleticism and unity and now believe they are serious foes to Miami. David West is one of the most underrated players and George Hill graduated from the school of Popovich, and, with Roy Hibbert having no competition, Lebron and Wade may see an early vacation.

The Heat’s lack of shot-makers outside Lebron and Wade and their inconsistent jump shooting and free throw shooting may put them in a dangerous spot. Relying too much on Lebron doing all things may burn him out as well. It’s too bad that neither Lebron nor Wade are great shooters and without Bosh, a lack of a good shooter as a third option is a terrible weakness. But then again, the Pacers have their own struggles with Danny Granger. Being an athletic and defensive series, I expect these problems to continue for both teams unless Lebron gets into one of his zones.

And that is the reason why I believe the Heat will ultimately prevail. Lebron is going to go all out and as the game’s best and most complete player, he is at an advantage in terms of taking over a game. For all the talk about him not taking the last shot, he’s not Jordan and that is not his style unless it is absolutely necessary as it was in Cleveland. As long as he does everything else to win, that’s what matters. The Heat have enough pieces and complementary players to help Lebron and with last year’s loss in the finals, they are probably hungrier as well. Hunger and experience normally win out in the end. This series may go down to the wire but the Heat should take it in a tough 6 games or eke it out in 7.

CELTICS-SIXERS

Let’s be honest – the Sixers shouldn’t even be here. They were able to beat the Bulls since the Bulls lost their two best players with injuries so the Sixers are the weakest team that is still alive. Meanwhile, the Celtics appear to have flipped a switch into veteran playoff mode and their team chemistry is clicking on all cylinders. Kevin Garnett appears to have turned back the clock and Paul Pierce, assuming his knee holds up, is a threat always ready to take the game over.

The Sixers have good players in general but not one particular player that can dominate. It’s possible that they can push the series to 6 games with passion and effort but the Celtics are just too experienced and have more talent – even though they may be aged. Due to Garnett’s resurgence and Ray Allen appearing healthy again, it would be a shock if the Celtics can’t close this out in 6.

LAKERS-THUNDER

As Pau Gasol goes, the Lakers go. Gasol, for whatever reason, appears to be in decline. It seems the main culprits are age, lack of touches, and Andrew Bynum’s emergence as the best center. As we all know, Kobe couldn’t do anything until Gasol arrived and it was due to his superior play in their two seasons as champions that LA was able to win. That Pau Gasol outplayed Kobe in the finals in their two title years statistically (even though the finals MVP went to Kobe both times).

Unfortunately for the Lakers, that version of Gasol is gone. And even with Bynum’s status as the best center, the Lakers suffer from serious chemistry issues, age, and lack of athleticism. You can place some blame on coach Mike Brown for allowing too many shots for Kobe during the season where it appeared the team was frustrated and suffered defensive lapses, but, even if that did not happen, the lack of intensity and explosiveness on the Lakers are killers. Even worse is that they are facing the Thunder who are maxed out on both facets. And Kobe, playing the role of Iverson as an aging, low-precision volume shooter, can’t do much without his big men playing at their peak.

The Thunder have too many scoring weapons, too many players who can score 40 points and too much athleticism and desire. James Harden, in my opinion, is one of the top 15 players in the game. He sees the game like Larry Bird and has cat-like reflexes like Jordan. He has a gift in being able to read each play and react appropriately. Combined with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, whom are all several notches above the Lakers big three in synergy and athleticism, the Lakers should be happy if the Thunder hand them a gentlemen’s sweep in 5 games.

SPURS-CLIPPERS

Tim Duncan, the game’s greatest active player (he is ranked #8 on my all-time list), is young again and the Spurs are unstoppable. Counting out a 4-time champ and 3-time finals MVP is never a wise move. The Spurs are rejuvenated with a greatly balanced team on all levels – especially with both veterans and young’uns coexisting peacefully. They have the best active coach in Popovich as well. Seemingly healthy and on a mission to redeem themselves from last year’s early bounce, they simply appear to be a championship team.

Meanwhile, the hobbled and inexperienced Clippers are getting by on the briliance of Chris Paul. With Blake Griffin’s knee issue, this is simply not enough. The Clippers need more versatility in scoring and Deandre Jordan needs to step it up for them to get to the next level. But considering their history, they’ve had a successful season. Too bad that against the mighty Spurs, this season will come to an end sooner than later. A Spurs 4 game sweep should be in the making.

Baron Davis Brings Back Horror of Bernard King’s Injury

Posted in Basketball on May 8, 2012 by hoopsencyclopedia

When Baron Davis crumbled to the floor during the Knicks-Heat series, it instantly brought back memories of Bernard King going down in the 1985 season with the Knicks. King’s injury was more hurtful in that he was in his absolute prime coming off a 33ppg at 53% season, but Davis’ injury is so severe that this may be the end of his career. Ironically, I always thought Davis was a shorter version of Bernard King in terms of body type and natural scoring abilities so it’s sad to see the two also hurt by similar tragedies. Although King was able to come back years later and still reach 28ppg, he was never the same player and we were robbed of many years where he could have challenged Big Mike for the scoring title.

Let’s hope Davis is able to come back and at least play one more time so he can go out on his own terms. You never want to see an athlete, especially one of the most exciting point guards of his time, go out like that. Davis has probably been one of the most underrated players and his nagging injuries before this devastating one has robbed us of how talented he truly is. Although he is 33, let’s hope there’s still time left for him. Cheers to Davis for a great career and hopefully, one that is going to continue. Thanks Baron for being a true professional.

Also, here’s hoping all the other serious injuries to Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Ricky Rubio, and Joakim Noah heal quickly. Luckily, they have lesser injuries than Baron and also have youth on their side. You never want to see teams lose their best players for any reason because as fans, you always want to see the best at their best.

2012 First Round Preview

Posted in Basketball on May 1, 2012 by hoopsencyclopedia

Yes, this preview is 1-2 games late but hey, better late than never. If someone paid me a sports journalist salary, perhaps I may have gotten this up sooner but that’s life. This is not a stats-oriented thesis but just a general view. Anyway, here we go:

BULLS-SIXERS

It is terrible to lose a player of Derrick Rose’s caliber but luckily, the Bulls have the greatest mind in basketball this side of Tex Winter. Coach Thibodeau knows the game and with 50 wins with Rose injured all season, this team is capable of going deep with or without him. While Rose gives them the superstar punch, he’s still a point guard and I never like playing the odds with a point guard since they are never as efficient as one might think. What they gain (increased awareness, intensity) with Rose down might make up for the loss in scoring and leadership. The Bulls are highly experienced vets and they play the game the right way. I don’t think they would have beaten the Heat this year anyway but they certainly can beat the sixers who are just mediocre at every position. Bulls in 5.

HEAT-KNICKS

The Knicks have chemistry and injury issues but none of that matters because the Heat are on another level. Lebron looks like a man possessed and he is in his physical prime. Maybe Jeremy Lin can provide a spark but for what? Let’s hope NY can come back next year and Melo will learn how to play off the ball with Lin if he is still around. Let’s also hope that Amare starts to care more about defense than touches. This one is easy, the Heat should sweep.

MAGIC-PACERS

Most people think the Pacers have this one but I’m believing in Orlando. Why? I value experience more than the loss of Dwight Howard. Orlando can beat Indiana in Mavericks-style fashion with a perimeter assault as long as Indiana’s bigs can be kept in check. Howard’s defensive loss can be mitigated by a more fluid offense. Plus, his free throws won’t be missed. Indiana is untested in the playoffs and Danny Granger hasn’t become the player we thought he could be. This one may go to Orlando in 6 or 7.

CELTICS-HAWKS

Time may have run out on Boston. With Allen hobbled, Rondo out for game 2, and everyone older, this is the best time for the athletic and generally experienced Hawks to take them down. If not for the condensed schedule, I may have gone with Boston but this time, I think fresher legs will beat legs that are too old. Hawks in 6.

SPURS-JAZZ

The Spurs have shown that you can flick a switch. Duncan has had a rebirth and these guys seem to be smarter than everyone else. They are just too experienced, good, and legendary for the Jazz. These Spurs are title contenders again. Spurs in 5.

THUNDER-MAVERICKS

These are not last year’s Mavs and the Thunder are a year older and hungrier. But Dallas should put up a fight as they are the champs. Too bad they are facing serious talent in Durant, Westbrook, and Harden – whom I consider the game’s most brilliant and esoteric player. OKC takes this one in 6 but it will be tough to beat even a weakened champion.

LAKERS-NUGGETS

A team first Kobe is the most dangerous Kobe and he seems to be playing like it. But the power in LA comes from their unfair advantage in having the two best big men in the game. Let them play and you will win – with or without Kobe. Denver has a shot with their faster pace and exploiting Ron Artest’s absence but the Lakers are just too big inside. Lakers in 5-6.

CLIPPERS-GRIZZLIES

This one is no doubt the closest series. The Grizz earned their stripes last year going deep but was it a fluke? They have great perimeter players but I am always betting my house on superior inside men. Therefore, I am going with the inside power of Griffin, Kenyon and Jordan meshing with Chris Paul’s silky stroke and leadership. Clippers in 6 or 7.

This day in Michael Jordan History: 4/28/88

Posted in Basketball on April 28, 2012 by hoopsencyclopedia

MJ opens the 1988 playoffs with a bang with 50 points on 19-35 (54.3% shooting), 7 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks against the Cavaliers. This was a memorable series due to the myriad of records MJ set here. In the five game series, MJ would score, 50, 55, 38, 44 and 39. He set records for most points in a 5 games series (226), most field goals made in a 5 games series (86), and highest scoring average in a 5 game series (45.2 ppg). He also set the record with the only back to back 50 point games in NBA playoff history (50 and 55). MJ was absolutely on a different planet during this era. Enjoy.