Tag Archives: NBA

Kyrie Irving Pushes Away LeBron James, and His Public Image

On Friday, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that Kyrie Irving is looking to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James for another team and a bigger role. The storyline here has been evolving, and fast. Here are our quick thoughts:

Josh Flagner (@railbirdj):

I think Kyrie is a superstar who never figured out how to be a superstar, and the Cavs are a championship organization that never learned to be a championship organization. Kyrie was sold on a long-term Cavs contract before LeBron came back, and he never felt the focus that he was promised. There’s no blame to assign there, it’s not like the Cavs could tell LeBron no, and LeBron didn’t call Kyrie and tell him before Kyrie decided. It happens. Kyrie is the same age as LeBron was when he made his infamous decision, which really doesn’t mean this is the perfect time for a defection, but young dudes look at life a little bit differently than some of us old dudes do.

Continue reading Kyrie Irving Pushes Away LeBron James, and His Public Image

Has College Basketball Lost Its Appeal?

March Madness. All you have to do is say those two little words and you conjure up memories for most red-blooded Americans who like to watch college basketball. When I think of college basketball I remember watching The Big East Conference or at the time the Pac-10 Conference game of the week every Saturday when I was a teenager. I could look at most teams and name just about every player on most rosters or at the very least be familiar with all the players’ names. Oh, how times have changed.

I don’t get the same amount of joy watching college basketball anymore. To me, it’s a difficult game to watch. People are going to say “the game is pure” or “they play it because they love the game” or “it’s the same game it’s always been.” You want to know what I say to that? To put it appropriately, I call BS.

The product is not very good at all in my opinion. People like a good product on the court or field when they go watch their teams, but right now they are not getting their money’s worth.

Everybody knows that the NBA is a players’ league. Well, NCAA college basketball is a coach’s league and let’s just say that the coaches are micromanagers of their players. Every possession is grinded out like they are trying to figure out if there was somebody on the grassy knoll. The players are not allowed to freelance too much because that means lost possessions to the coach and it probably means that the player will find himself on the end of the bench or seated right next to their coach getting an ear full of discipline. So to the player it doesn’t benefit them in any way to play a little loose and free. The free movement of basketball isn’t there for college basketball because the college coaches want to play the game in a phone booth and not out in the open like it should be.

After watching Pac-12 (Pac-10 as a youngster) basketball all my life and in person the last couple of seasons it is readily apparent that players don’t have the same skill set they once had. Oh, sure, there are the occasional anomalies that come with that ability to do everything, such as Jahlil Okafor. But, for the majority of players coming into college basketball they have one skill they can do. Some have good ball-handling, some are decent shooters, some rebound or play solid defense, but there are not players that leave college being better players than they were when they came into college basketball. Why?

Let’s be honest about what has happened in big time Division One college basketball. The one and done player is killing the game. Many of these players are just not ready to play on the Division One level, but have talent so the coaches are pressured to play these kids and suffer through the growing pains. The other aspect of college basketball is that it’s just a minor league for the NBA. When players have the opportunity to leave after a semester in college, the product on the floor will suffer greatly. These players are not ready for the professional ranks after four months in college.

College basketball is to the point of being unwatchable to many sports fans like myself. It’s slow, can be ugly, and it is unskilled. For the people that tell me that a 54-50 defensive ball game is fun to watch, I just roll my eyes. If I want to see two people mugging each other I will just watch the next episode of “Law and Order”.

There are wrestling matches in the paint, secondary defenders getting charges off stupid calls, guards playing hand to hand combat at the top of the key, officials with quick whistles slowing the game down to a crawl, and cutters trying to avoid collisions. When you add all this up, it’s not a shock as to why the visual of college basketball is so brutal these days.

“We are getting the game we deserve right now. College basketball is antiquated in the way they do things.” Said Jay Bilas, ESPN analyst and former Duke Blue Devil.

For the average fan, college hoops is boring to watch and the NCAA is not willing to change many things up to improve the product on the floor.

The NBA went through some changes to make the game more visually appealing to its fans. The fans and even people inside the NBA made complaints about how the game became ugly. So the NBA listened to them and over the last 20 years or so, the NBA has been a leader in making its game better. They have cracked down on hand-checking, flopping, backing players down in the lane, and for those actions, it is why the NBA is more visually appealing to fans now. It’s certainly more appealing to me.

The NCAA is suffering through a time where people are not paying attention to college basketball like they used to. Overall attendance is down, ratings are down, and scores are down. Teams are averaging about 67.2 points per game, the lowest average total since 1952, which tells me that college basketball players don’t have the offensive repertoire as they once did. They are certainly more athletic, but that doesn’t mean they are better overall players than their predecessors. Attendance is also down at college basketball games. Overall attendance is down for the seventh straight year and down roughly 360,000 people. In 2006 college basketball attendance averaged 5,237 people and now it averages 4,817. That may not seem like a lot, but to a school to lose roughly 500 paid people to a game means lost revenue that is difficult to recover.

What is driving these fans away? Are people being turned off by one and done players? The drop in skilled players? Maybe. To go along with the drop in attendance, the television ratings have also been declining. ESPN which carries a ton of games has had their viewing of college basketball drop by six percent in the last year. Has conference realignment affected this? I would say yes because the new conferences have taken away some very good rivalries which mean a lot to the fans of those schools, but to presidents of those schools it’s all about the money. Some type of change has to be made for college basketball to return to what it once was and the NCAA has to spearhead that change.

What can be done though? It’s not like the NCAA is an organization that likes to change things. It almost seems like the NCAA have to be dragged kicking and screaming toward that change for it to actually occur.

The NCAA has changed the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds to help out scoring, but when there are a lack of shooters in college basketball that point disappears. As I stated earlier, scoring is down to lowest levels in about 50 years, so what other changes does the NCAA need to look at to increase their ratings and slumping attendance?

Here are just a few ideas.

  1. Take away the possession arrow and replace it with the jump ball. I have hated this possession arrow rule since its inception, so I wouldn’t mind seeing it disappear.
  2. Move the three point line to the NBA distance which would open up the court for penetration.
  3. Get rid of the one-and-one free throw and make every foul the double bonus. This would eliminate the constant fouling at the end of many games.
  4. Make the 10 second backcourt time limit eight seconds.
  5. Put in the defensive three second rule.

Take those for whatever you want, but I think they would better the college game. They would open things up, provide for more movement, and make players play some better defense. No matter how much the NCAA likes to throw out the student/athlete story line, the NCAA is a business and if the product is inferior, the NCAA has to step in and improve it. I’m not saying that change will come anytime soon, but it needs to happen otherwise people will continue to walk away from college basketball.

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Trying to Forge an Identity in Indiana

In recent years, the Indiana Pacers have had a strong, recognizable identity. With players like David West and Roy Hibbert in the starting lineup, the Pacers ran a deliberate offense built around set plays. Defensively, they played aggressive, effective team defense and had the benefit of stellar rim protection from Hibbert.

Once David West opted out of his contract and decided to sign with San Antonio, Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird decided the team should go to a more uptempo style. He proceeded to trade Hibbert and make numerous other tweaks to the roster to suit the style he wanted the team to play.

The plan hit a snag early on, when Paul George balked at playing “small ball” because it could mean he’d be spending significant time at the power forward position. Despite this, Bird and head coach Frank Vogel went ahead with the plan.

Initially, the Pacers really took to the new style, getting off to a fast start as the season began. Over time, however, the Pacers have slowly shifted back toward a bigger, more traditional lineup. One of the reasons for this has been the emergence of rookie center Myles Turner. Turner can run the floor and shoot well from the outside, allowing the Pacers to space the floor and play more uptempo, but still have plenty of size in the lineup.

As long as Turner is starting and playing well, Indiana has the best of both worlds when it comes to meshing their old and new styles. The problem here is that the Pacers are caught in the middle – Bird maintains his interest in playing faster and smaller, while Vogel is more comfortable with a bigger lineup, although he does use a smaller lineup from time to time.

Flexibility is a good thing, but only up to a point. The Pacers don’t have an identity right now…no one from the outside really knows what they are, and those within the organization are just as unsure about what kind of team this is or what direction they are taking.

Another consequence that has come from the attempted style change is that the Pacers’ defense has become very inconsistent. At times, their defense has been among the best in the NBA, but other times, their defense has been very porous.

The team is now in a position of having no direction or identity on either end of the floor. On top of that, the individual roles of the players are in flux as well.

In the early part of the year, Paul George was the team’s go-to guy in late-game situations. He wasn’t coming through, and the Pacers were losing nearly all the close games they were involved in. Of late, Monta Ellis has been moved into the “closer” role, but the results haven’t been much better.

So, the team is grasping at straws trying to find a guy who can hit big shots in crunch time…and that situation also creates uncertainty in terms of leadership among the players. NBA teams tend to function best when they have a go-to guy and/or established leader, and Indiana has neither at this point in the season.

Despite all this uncertainty, Indiana is still having a better year than they did in 2014-15. The team shows a lot of promise, but their performances have been up-and-down and they’re hovering just above the .500 mark as a result.

In order to get the most out of this roster, Bird and Vogel need to settle on a rotation and offensive style of play. The inconsistency in the style of play and inconsistent results go hand-in-hand…and establishing an offensive identity will help the defense perform more reliably as well.

Leadership is a more organic parameter, but generally, your best player needs to be your strongest leader. Paul George is still evolving in that role, and has struggled at times to carry the burden of leadership. This element is a shared responsibility among Indiana’s players right now, and the Pacers won’t reach their potential until that area is solidified.

Going into this season, everyone knew this team would be a work in progress. Now that we are about 50 games in, however, the issues they need to work on and resolve have been identified. If the Pacers can make further progress in these areas by April, they’ll be a tough out when playoff time rolls around.

The Cavaliers dreams turn into a nightmare

Well, that was unpleasant.

Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images
Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

In the wake of the 132-98 beat down that the Warriors handed the Cavaliers on MLK Day, I have a few dreams too for my hometown basketball team. If my dreams can have one tenth of the impact that Dr. King’s did, we might just be ok.

Let me set the stage for last night. I was in my favorite chair, with a full belly, watching the national sports media reporting from all of the places I recognize in my city.

It always feels good when my city is featured on this scale. It is a city that has a less than stellar reputation, however, most visitors that I meet are pleasantly surprised with all that it has to offer.

So there I am in my chair, and I see that Mozgov is starting. This is puzzling to me until I am reminded that he has traditionally guarded Andrew Bogut very well.

I am willing to trust my coach and even though Golden State jumps out to a quick 10-2 lead, I am pleased with Mozgov’s play in the first quarter. He looked like a composed, calculating NBA center.

As we proceed though, the rest of our team looks downright awful. They appear to be woefully unprepared for a challenge of this magnitude.

Our team is unable to get stops on the Warriors, nor score on the offensive end. This causes not only the lead to balloon up but also the Cavalier’s frustration level.

At one point, the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference was losing by 43 points to the best from the West. This leads me to one of my dreams.

I dream of a day when the Eastern Conference is treated as if it is one half of a professional league and not the minor leagues of the Western Conference.

I get the impression that players from the West truly think that East teams are a joke and do not really belong on the same grand stage as they do. Sadly, this narrative is perpetuated by the national sports media also.

We certainly did nothing to dispute that notion last night. It angers me that this memory of the Cavaliers will be the one that sticks in everyone’s mind and not the 5-1 record we amassed over the road trip against top teams from the West.

If the Cavs can ascend the mountain again in the East and make it back to the Finals, that would be our next opportunity to play the Warriors (provided they successfully maneuver the West gauntlet). This terrible performance will be the first example given when comparing the teams.

The Warriors are the reigning NBA champs so they deserve to be the measuring stick for all teams and I would not deny them that. I would, however, deny the idea that the Cavaliers do not possess the talent to achieve my ultimate dream of hoisting that banner into the ceiling of The Q someday.

The Cavaliers themselves were poised in defeat last night. Coach Blatt took responsibility for the loss and Kevin Love said that the changes need to come from the leadership of the team, though it is unclear whether he was referring to James or Blatt.

Kyrie Irving was essentially a no show last night in his performance. He finished with eight points and five rebounds on 3/11 shooting while Love was also quiet with only three points on 1/5 shooting.

With that depressing of a showing, I would hope that Love would take more responsibility rather than point the finger up the bench. Perhaps he feels that he is not being used in the proper capacity.

Love was certainly more effective earlier in the season when he was being fed the ball in the low post more often. Since the return of Irving and Iman Shumpert, I have noticed him spending more time setting picks and staying outside the three point line.

This strategy with Love is what contributed to a 19-20 record about this time last season. It seems that January is a tenuous month for this iteration of the team, though we have had many more successes overall than 2015.

I am supremely dejected after this loss, though I will not be one of those fans that declares that our dreams of a title are vanquished. The feeling of defeat is one that this city is not only very familiar with experiencing but also very adept at overcoming.

As fans, we need to realize that a defeat of this nature can be used to motivate our guys in the future. The sick feeling in our stomachs can be converted into fuel reserves that can be accessed when we need it the most in the playoffs.

That is the most constructive way to process last night’s result. Otherwise, that sick feeling will encompass us and create doubt in our minds.

The Wine and Gold Nation must do their part and not allow this to happen.

The Lakers’ Major League Collapse

Movie quotes are a form of friendship identification for me. If I spout off a line from “Tommy Boy” and you have no idea what I am talking about, we have to re-evaluate the grounds of our relationship. The sports movie that I most quote is a comedic classic with top-notch actors and great plot. “Major League” is the comedic sports movie EVERY person should watch when able. It has everything. Loveable losers, villainous owners and hijinks abound make this a great watch any time (only on channels allowing swearing, the PG version is lame). There is a team in the NBA that reminds me of the lovable Cleveland Indians of “Major League”, but without the winning. The LA Lakers are going nowhere fast and have a cast of characters worthy of a movie script. The line from “Major League” that pops into my mind when thinking of the Lakers this season is “a bunch of has-beens and never was.” This describes the Lakers roster minus a couple players. Let me break down this analysis cast member by cast member.

Kobe Bryant as Jake Taylor
Jake is the older, injured catcher leading a team with emotion and smarts. He solves problems in the clubhouse no coach or admin wants to touch. Kobe is the older, injured leader of the Lakers. Both Kobe and Jake’s bodies are falling apart and they are ready to walk away from the game. Kobe is trying to have fun with a young team and lead them while not wanting to kill everyone for not being better. The flaw in this comparison is everyone likes Jake.

Jordan Clarkson as Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn
Ricky is a raw talent. He has control issues and doesn’t always fit in. His talent needs guidance and when he gets it he is a true star. Jordan Clarkson is a second round pick (by the Wizards) that flashed stardom last year and was named first team all-rookie. Despite his rookie year success Jordan doesn’t fit in with this team. The Indians featured Ricky the next year, the Lakers are pushing Kobe and Deangelo Russell combo. This could be a huge mistake for the Lakers moving forward.

Roy Hibbert as Roger Dorn
Roger Dorn is a veteran third baseman with an inflated sense of self. He is also deathly scared of using his body to make a play at third. A fear he conquers and becomes a valuable asset and cornerstone to winning. Roy Hibbert is a veteran big man with an inflated sense of self and fear of getting dirty in the post. He is the tallest player on the court most days and isn’t even the rebounding leader on his own team (Julius Randle has him beat by nearly 3.5 rebounds per game). Similar to Dorn, if Hibbert can learn to clang and bang on the inside he would be a valuable part of the Lakers and their rebuilding.

Julius Randle as Pedro Cerrano
Pedro Cerrano is the hot-headed power hitter with a hole in his swing. He can only hit the fastball and looks to everything from Jesus, voodoo and golf head covers to help. When he figures out the solution to his deficiency is in him he becomes the terror the Indians need. Julius Randle is not a one trick pony like Pedro is, but he hasn’t figured out pacing, team basketball or how to fit in quite yet. Julius was taken out of a game recently (after 16 minutes of total playing time) and was not a fan. This led his coach, Byron Scott to say, “He’s got to grow up. Simple as that. I think the main thing I don’t like is when you take him out of games, how he reacts sometimes. I chalk it up to immaturity and just being inexperienced in this level. It’s going to happen again. I’m going to take him out of other games that he’s not going to like.” Similar to Pedro, Julius can be the terror they need. He has the talent and the aggressiveness Hibbert is missing. He just needs to understand his role and the solution is in him.

Jim Buss as Rachel Phelps
Rachel Phelps is the owner of the Indians. She wants to move them to Florida and tries to sabotage the team so they lose value and must move. The team rallies around her plan and wins despite her. Jim Buss is in charge of basketball operations for the Lakers. He doesn’t want the Lakers to move, he isn’t purposely putting a poor product on the court and the team is definitely not rallying despite him. He is the person in charge of this group of has-beens and never-was and that is a good enough reason to cast him in this role. “Major League” is a great movie. It is funny, exciting and lively. The Lakers are…not any of these things and if they don’t land a free agent to pull them out of their current state the sequel will not be worth watching.

The Indiana Pacers and Crunch Time Failure

The Indiana Pacers have made progress this season, one could say significant progress from this time a year ago. One area where they are struggling this season, however, is coming out on top in close games. Indiana hasn’t won a game decided by three points or less since early November…that’s over two months and 29 games ago. In that same span, they have lost four such games – three of those coming in the last two weeks. One benchmark of good NBA teams is typically a good record in close games.

The theory here is that there are a lot of closely contested battles in professional basketball, and those teams with the most experience, heart and will to win tend to make plays in “crunch time” and find a way to win these nail-biters. The Pacers are not doing this so far in 2015-16, and it has been a particular thorn in their side recently. Indiana lost a game at home to Sacramento on December 23 (108-106) after leading very late.

A week later, Chicago continued the trend, holding the Pacers off 102-100 at the United Center…and earlier this week, the Pacers blew yet another late advantage, eventually falling to the Miami Heat 103-100. The specific reasons for these failures have varied. One game it was failing to make an offensive play as time expired. In another, it was failing to get a defensive stop as time expired…and poor fourth quarter free throw shooting was the culprit in yet another of these close defeats.

The thing that ties all this together is mental toughness, which is why true upper-tier teams come up with that key rebound, make that key steal or hit that game-winning shot more often than not. The Pacers still have a chance to get there, but their recent failure in these situations just further proves that despite heading in the right direction, Indiana is not displaying the qualities of a contending team at this juncture. It should be mentioned that coaching plays a role in this as well.

The Pacers have relied heavily on forward Paul George in these end-of-game situations, and that approach has been too predictable. A bit more creativity from head coach Frank Vogel would give his club a better chance to make plays late in games…”give Paul the ball and everybody else get out of the way” is not the work of a master strategist. Another interesting area of strength/weakness for the Blue and Gold has been the amount of rest between games.

On two or three days rest, the team has a .778 winning percentage so far this year. However, when they have to play back-to-back games, they’ve only won at a .286 clip after not having time off between contests. With the Pacers going to a more uptempo offense this season, those results are predictable…it takes a lot of energy to play fast on offense and also defend well on the other end of the court, so Indiana is finding it tough to keep up the pace if they haven’t had time to recover between games.

To a degree, players can try to push through that fatigue, but the Pacers have a deep roster, so a coaching adjustment should help. When Indiana has a back-to-back coming up, coach Vogel would be wise to use his bench more liberally in the first of those ballgames – the winning percentage in the second of those contests would likely increase. NBA basketball is a game of constant adjustments, both within games and during the course of a long 82-game season.

For the Indiana Pacers to move up a notch (or two) in the Eastern Conference, improvement in the areas discussed here – late-game strategy, execution and desire, as well as more adept management of players’ minutes – would go a long way toward that goal.

How Far Have Paul George and the Pacers Come?

The Indiana Pacers’ 2014-15 season got off to a horrendous start long before a regular season game was ever played. All-Star forward Paul George broke his leg while practicing with Team USA that August, and knowing he would likely be out for the year, the hopes of challenging for an Eastern Conference Championship seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye.

Indiana held it together as best they could, but without a force like George and the impact he makes on both ends of the court, the Pacers finished the year 38-44 and missed the playoffs.

During the offseason, power forward David West decided to opt out of his contract to sign with a team he felt had a chance to compete for a championship (San Antonio). Once West was gone, President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird decided that the team should go to a more uptempo offensive attack. Roster moves were made to accommodate this change in philosophy: slow-footed center Roy Hibbert was dealt, and fleet guard Monta Ellis was signed. Other role players were added to the roster that fit Bird’s vision of how he wanted his team to play.

As the 2015-16 season approached, no one knew how long it would take for the Pacers to adapt to this new style, assuming they ever did. And with Paul George coming back, would he ever be the player he was before the injury? 28 games into the season, we now have answers to these key questions.

Indiana got off to a slow start, losing their first three games. Even so, there were signs that playing at a faster pace had promise. The offensive execution came along more quickly than expected, but the vital element was finding a way to play sound defense while “running and gunning” on the offensive end.

The Pacers had been known as one of the best defensive teams in the NBA in recent seasons, and they needed to balance that with an increased emphasis on scoring. Things started coming together a few games into the season, and the results have shown up in the win column.

Even on the heels of a three-game losing streak, Indiana stands at 16-12, good for 7th in the Eastern Conference. Many pundits saw this as a rebuilding year for the Pacers, and the expectations were frankly pretty low. However, the coaching staff and players have really embraced the new style of play, and it’s been effective thus far.

So, just how much progress has the Blue and Gold made since last season? The improvement has been significant, but this team is not ready to contend in the East. There is still too much inconsistency on the defensive end – when the Pacers are on point defensively, they are very good. When they have lapses in concentration and allow other teams to score too easily, they’re average at best. They’ve found a winning formula, but keeping it up game by game is a work in progress.

The Indiana Pacers have made great strides and show potential to be a threat down the road, but what about the face of the franchise, Paul George?

George was an All-Star and seemed on the cusp of even bigger things when he went down with that gruesome injury in the summer of 2014. George’s comeback has been even more dramatic than the improvement of the team…he’s not only back, he’s better than ever. He is still playing defense at an elite level, but his impact on the offensive end has actually increased since his return.

George is averaging career-highs in points (25.0) and rebounds (7.9) per game, and his assist totals (4.1 per contest) are as high as they’ve ever been as well. This would qualify as a step forward and a “career year” under normal circumstances, but for this level of performance to come after a serious injury like the one he suffered? This is the stuff inspirational Hollywood films are made of, almost too good to be true.

The Pacers aren’t quite at an elite level as a team, but their star player seems to have reached that height individually. Paul George’s reemergence this season has been extremely important to the fortunes of the Indiana Pacers not only in the present, but in their hopes for the future as well.

It should be a fun and interesting ride over the next few months…stay tuned.

Christmas in Cleveland – Cavaliers Style

I know that there is a Cavaliers game tonight against the Knicks at The Q but I am not going to discuss that matchup. I would like to delve into the Cavs most important game of the year so far which occurs on Christmas Day against the Golden State Warriors.

Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images
Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

On Friday, it will have been 92 days since the Warriors defeated the Cavaliers in Game six of the 2015 NBA Finals. This will be the first meeting of the teams since June 16th.

A lot of things have transpired on each respective team in that time span. Some were good and some were bad.

Let us catch up with the Golden State Warriors. They are currently touting the best record in the NBA at 26-1 going into their Wednesday matchup against the Utah Jazz.  It is a good bet that their record will be 27-1 when they host our Cavs on Christmas afternoon.

They had a 28-game winning streak dating back to last year’s regular season that was spoiled by the Milwaukee Bucks a couple of weeks ago.

Stephen Curry has played like an MVP again this year, leading the league in points scored per game. It is amazing to me how many shots that kid can make, seemingly, whenever he decides to.

The Warriors have overcome some adversity though this season as well. Klay Thompson has not been 100% healthy, but the largest obstacle for them was losing head coach Steve Kerr. Kerr is rehabilitating some back injuries and has taken a leave of absence to heal more efficiently. Luke Walton (son of NBA great Bill Walton) has taken over as interim coach and obviously has done quite a good job of it.

Meanwhile, back in Cleveland, Lebron James and the Cavaliers have been eyeing Christmas Day as their day for redemption. To be honest, I think that in terms of basketball, this entire city has had December 25th circled for months and it has nothing to do with Santa Claus.

Kyrie Irving returned to the Cavaliers lineup last Sunday and played 17 minutes. He contributed 12 points, one rebound and four assists. This was not a representation of what Irving is capable of, nor was it intended to be.

He is being eased into his return, and for good reason, as the Cavs will need his skill set immensely come playoff time. I know that he has had Christmas on his mind since the NBA schedule was announced. After all, his knee injury occurred in Game one of the Finals against Golden State.

On Friday, Irving returns to the “scene of the crime” in California and is eager to replace the memory of the injury with SportsCenter highlights of the Cavaliers handing the Warrior their second defeat of the season.

Millions of families celebrating the holiday will be sitting together watching this game. What a stage for a story of redemption!

I expect our team to remind, not only Curry and company, but the whole NBA, the level of defense you can expect from the Cavs. As it was in the Finals, I believe that the Cavs need to hold Golden State under 100 points in order to win.

This is no easy task against the most prolific offense in the NBA but I feel that we are up to the challenge. My team has always played better when they are a clear underdog.

That is what needs to be tapped into in this city we call home. There is no greater feeling than accomplishing something that no one thinks you are capable of accomplishing.

After all of the Christmas music is replaced with Auld Lang Syne, and the trash bags sit on the curb stuffed with shredded wrapping paper, Cleveland will know where we stand amongst the NBA elite. Cleveland may just get one of the best gifts it has received in years.
I predict a Cavaliers 98-93 victory which would light a flame in this city that shines just as bright as the one on the first Christmas.

Scottie Pippen: The Most Underrated Player of All Time

When one beauty occupies the same proximity as something deemed more beautiful, it tends to go unnoticed and unappreciated. 1Or if it does receive notice, it is primarily because it is in the same proximity as the thing deemed more beautiful. It gets recognized only because it gets included. Your run-of-the-mill attractive woman, who in most instances stands out in any crowd, will go largely unnoticed if she’s standing beside Charlize Theron.

Enter Scottie Pippen, who won six championships with the Chicago Bulls playing alongside the greatest basketball player ever according to most basketball fans and aficionados. You might have heard of Michael Jordan.

Scottie Pippen was not just a really good complementary player on great teams; he, like Jordan, was a great player whose merits can stand on there own regardless of who was in the foxhole with him. But because he happened to play with the greatest of all time, he too often gets lumped in to Jordan’s story as opposed to being valued and appreciated for his own.

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During the window of the Bulls’ title runs from 91′-98′, Pippen was arguably the best small forward in the game. More than that, he may have very well been the second most valuable player on the planet and a top 5 player in the league.

Without researching a player’s past accomplishments, it’s easy to forget the accolades they received and the accomplishments they achieved, so let me bring you up to speed.

Pippen was voted to the All-NBA first team three times.

He made the All-NBA second and third team two times each.

He was an 8-time All-Defensive first teamer and 2-time second teamer. In 1995, he led the league in steals. And still hold the record for career steals by a forward. He averaged two steals a game.

Scottie Pippen was so much more than an integral part of a highly successful team. Yes, Jordan made him a better player, but the converse is also true: Pippen made Jordan a better player. That’s why the Bulls were so great. They had two great players, of whom I wholeheartedly concede that Jordan was greater, who brought out the very best in one another.

Pippen was very good offensively( he averaged 20 PPG in four seasons), both as a scorer and a playmaker 2Until LeBron James passed him this past February, Pippen had topped the list of career assists by a forward., but what set him apart was his defense. He could guard all five positions. He perpetually harassed point guards and disrupted offenses. Check out this video highlighting Pippen’s defensive prowess.

In the 91′ NBA Finals, after their game one loss to the Lakers, Pippen was tasked to guard Magic Johnson. For the remainder of the series Magic shot only 39.6 percent from the field and averaged an uncharacteristic 4.3 turnovers in those next four games-all Bulls’ wins. And in the series-clinching game 5, this was Pippen’s line: 32pts, 13rebs, 7 assists, and five steals.

Aside from his other defensive exploits, he was also a very good shot-blocking small forward, averaging .8 per game over his career. He was a good rebounder as well, averaging 6.4 per game.

So what did Pippen do while Jordan tried his hand at baseball for a year and a half? Without the greatest player of all time, Pippen led the Bulls to 55 regular season wins, only two less than the previous championship year with Michael Jordan. The Bulls lost a hard-fought conference semifinal series to the Knicks in seven games in 1994. The Knicks went on to the NBA Finals where they lost to the Hakeem Olajuwon-led Rockets in seven games. Pippen finished third in MVP voting in 94′.

For the record, Pippen was 7-4 in the playoffs without Jordan; Jordan was 1-9 without Pippen. Again, they needed each other.

In 1992, as a member of the the original Dream Team, head coach Chuck Daly said he was the second best player on the team and called him “the ultimate fill-in-the-blanks guy”.

Financially-speaking, how was he rewarded by the Bulls, specifically in the 1997-98 title run? While that was the year the Bulls paid Jordan $33 million, a yearly salary that has yet to be surpassed, even in today’s NBA, Pippen was paid the bargain-basement salary, at least in comparison to Jordan’s, of $2.75 million.

Make no mistake, Michael Jordan is not only the greatest to ever play the game, he is still the face of the NBA. He’s meant more to his sport than anyone has ever meant to any sport. He was and is deserving of everything he has and will receive.

But when talking about all-time great players, his partner in crime during those championship years, the years that made Jordan the iconic legend that he is today, was Scottie Pippen, a true legend in his own right. His retired # 33 hangs beside the retired # 23 in the rafters at the United Center-forever linked, yet hanging alone, inseparable, yet separable, each with its own shadow. There will never be another Michael Jordan, nor will there be another Scottie Pippen.

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1. Or if it does receive notice, it is primarily because it is in the same proximity as the thing deemed more beautiful. It gets recognized only because it gets included.
2. Until LeBron James passed him this past February, Pippen had topped the list of career assists by a forward.