Tag Archives: San Antonio Spurs

Another January Rebirth for the Cavaliers

Four games, four wins, and an average margin of victory of almost 13 points.

This was the week of basketball provided by our Cleveland Cavaliers under the direction of their new head coach Tyronn Lue. Sure, Lue’s first game last Saturday, a 96-83 loss to Chicago, was likely to give GM David Griffin a small jolt of buyer’s remorse, but these last four games have most certainly solidified his confidence in the decision to replace David Blatt.

I think that it is safe to say that the way this team plays now is notably different from the previous regime. Its the same cast of characters but as a whole, it is a very different narrative.

One of my favorite decisions that Lue made right away is moving Tristan Thompson back into a starting role. If you look at the level of talent that he brings to the court, coupled with the amount of money we invested in him just before the start of the season, having him in the starting lineup just makes good basketball sense.

I know that I have been hard on Timofey Mozgov this season and most of it can be backed up with hard evidence. Having said that, I have not seen him play more consistently than I have in his role coming off of the bench this week.

Thompson and Mozgov are where they now belong in the rotation and I don’t anticipate that changing unless the very healthy and reliable Thompson goes down with an injury. As a Cleveland sports fan it is impossible to not have thoughts of an injury in the back of your mind considering the storied history of maladies that our sports figures have endured that end of derailing our championship hopes and dreams.

Here is an example of just that type of mindset. During our 117-103 victory of the San Antonio Spurs Saturday night, Kyrie Irving had a moment where he seemed to fall awkwardly on his knees and just played there for a moment.

Of course, ABC decided it was a perfect time to take a commercial break without addressing or showing whether Irving stood back up and appeared to be fine. The entire commercial break I was fidgeting in my seat while praying that I would not see an image of trainers working on Irving as soon as the broadcast returned.

Thankfully, I did not see that and there was never any mention of Irving getting up slowly or asking to be subbed out. Did I invent this entire scenario in my own mind or did I simply interpret things incorrectly?

Regardless, all is well in Cavalier country as our team has seemed to reinvent itself again in January. Some of my readers may wonder why I do not go more in depth about Lebron James’ role and accomplishments with this team.

James is the heart of this team and of course we would not be able to compete at the same level without him. Everyone knows that we can rely on him for scoring, defense and leadership.

From last year’s Finals we know that Lebron is not enough singularly to win us an NBA title. The contributions of Love, Irving, Dellavedova, Thompson, Smith and Shumpert are what will determine our eventual success level.

I would like to go player by player and give my opinion of each of those player’s role as it stands today.

Kevin Love – Love must continue to be a threat both inside the paint and outside the arc. He is getting more lift under his three point shots and we have seen a higher percentage of them being made. Under Coach Lue, he has been asked to produce more under the hoop and has not disappointed.

Kyrie Irving – I’ve said it before and I will say it as many times as it is deemed necessary. Irving is the best finisher in the NBA. His penetration under the basket causes defenders to leave their assignments which provides Smith, Love, Shumpert, James or Dellevedova enough space outside the arc to get off a clean, calculated shot when he kicks it out. Irving has been both hot and cold from long distance but any of those others have the potential to knock those down when called upon. Kyrie is a master facilitator in that respect.

Matthew Dellavedova – Delly has been able to not only find the player that we all cheered for against Atlanta in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, but to improve upon that player as well! He is no longer afraid to drive to the hoop and has shown an amazing increase in his three point percentage. He is a part of this team that could not be easily replaced if we lost him.

Tristan Thompson – His presence in the starting lineup is essential to our success. When matched up against the current King of NBA rebounding Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Thompson out rebounded him 14 to 8! This is an example that Cavs fans will do well to remember as we go up against more of the elite teams in this league.

J.R. Smith – Swish, as they call him, has become a much more important part of this team as the year has progressed. He is not only scoring fairly consistently for us but he is starting to contribute in other areas such as steals that are worth just as much as a basket because it takes potential points off of the board for our opponents.

Iman Shumpert – While Shumpert isn’t getting the minutes of J.R. most games, he is still putting forth his best effort with the minutes that he does get. I always look forward to opponents getting “Shumped” when he is on the floor. He is a true student of his adversaries and likely knows things about their tendencies that they may not even be aware of. This leads to a bevy of great defensive work from him.

We are about to embark on our February journey in the NBA. February brings the All Star Break and an opportunity to not only obtain a status report of the respective teams at the half way point of the season, but to remember why they all started playing the game in the first place; their love for it.

In Cleveland, January has been a month of transition for the second year in a row. I have high hopes of what this iteration of the Cleveland Cavaliers has in store for us in the months ahead.

Cavaliers face tough "Tour of Texas"

What a fun couple of weeks to be a Cavs fan!

The Cavaliers have won seven straight games dating back to 12/26 which means they are undefeated so far in 2016! We are quickly approaching the anniversary of last season’s turning point also.

Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat dribbles the ball during a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at American Airlines Arena on December 5, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat dribbles the ball during a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at American Airlines Arena on December 5, 2015 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Last January, our team was a disappointing 19-20 in mid January. The addition of Lebron James and Kevin Love was not paying dividends and the team looked average at best.

As soon as David Griffin made the deals that brought JR Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks and unloaded Dion Waiters to OKC for Timofey Mozgov, the Cavaliers caught fire.

This year we have many more encouraging results and outcomes to show in the first two and a half months of the regular season. 26 wins and nine losses is a hell of an improvement in my book.

Now having said all of that, our next four games are maybe the most critical stretch of the whole season up to this point. The teams that we are facing over the next four have a combined record of 108-43.

During our “Tour of Texas”, as I have dubbed it, we are facing the 22-16 Dallas Mavericks, 32-6 San Antonio Spurs and the 19-19 Houston Rockets. Houston looks like easy pickings with that record but they ALWAYS play the Cavaliers tough.

Look at the tough game that the 4-35 Philadelphia 76ers gave the Cavaliers last night. Teams always seem to be at their best when playing the Cavs.

I expect all of those games to be extremely difficult and will go a long way to determining our progress in developing a championship attitude and resolve for this season. I would be pleased with one win out of those three games as long as we play hard and show heart.

No one is talking much about San Antonio even though they have only registered six losses this season. They have always been a dangerous team and this year is certainly no exception.

The Spurs remain in the shadow of Golden State in the Western Conference and I am certain they prefer it that way. Speaking of our arch nemesis, the Warriors will be waiting for us at home after out Texas road trip to see if there is anything left of us.

We only have one of our nine losses at home this year. After losing to the Warriors on Christmas Day, it sure would be satisfying to defend our home court successfully against them on 1/18.

In grammar news, Kyrie-diculous has officially entered the vocabulary of Cleveland fans and announcers alike. It is truly amazing how quickly he has returned to championship form when it comes to finishing.

The only piece of his game that I feel he is still trying to find is his three point shot. Otherwise, I truly believe that he is, even though he has only been back a few weeks, the best player in the league at the rim.

We cannot ignore the leadership and contributions of James either. He has averaged 26.6 points over the last five games and has also improved his finishing from earlier in the regular season.

He has most definitely been taking the ball to the hoop more consistently than even last season and seems to still be improving. This accomplishes two things from my perspective.

It not only puts teams on the defensive if they are expecting a physical drive but it also racks up personal fouls and creates opportunities from beyond the three point arc for his teammates.

This is a tried and true characteristic of ALL championship caliber teams. This week I am very interested to see if they can couple that with a “win at all costs” mentality and toughness while they visit the Lone Star state.

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.

The NBA’s Usual Suspects

The sun coming up and going down, the moon taking the sun’s place, getting old, having a crush, embarrassing yourself in school, standing in line, the weatherman being wrong, the weatherman being right,eating too much at Thanksgiving, my daughter getting her way and taxes. All things we know we can count on.

The NBA season has ups and downs, twists and turns, surprises and disappointments. It is the ultimate reality show,but it also has things you can count on day in day out, game in, game out. Here are some of those guarantees:

-The Spurs will be in title contention and no one will favor them to win it.

-Dwight Howard is overrated. Houston is not looking like the Western Conference finals team of last year and Howard not competing or responding  to adversity is apart of this…again. The Lakers know this.

-Defense wins championships. Teams want to play faster and score more but the teams that grind together win together.

-The East is top heavy and the West is deep. Cleveland, Toronto and Chicago are the top three teams in the East….Toronto is #2…enough said.

-Kobe Bryant will shoot

-Stan Van Gundy will prove he is a great coach. Ask the Orlando Magic.

-Dallas will be in contention for the playoffs despite never landing a star in free agency. Deandre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams (the first time), Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, Chris Paul and Lamarcus Aldridge all met with Cuban and passed.

-Rick Carlisle will prove he is a great coach

-Lebron is still the premier player in the league. Sorry Brow, Durant and Steph. He is just getting worked into shape for the postseason

-A young Eastern Conference team will make the playoffs, give their fan base hope and then crash and burn. See the 2015 Brooklyn Nets, 2014 Charlotte Bobcats, 2013 New York Knicks and 2012 Orlando Magic.

-A team will fire a coach mid season despite the team being awful. I would guess George Karl or Randy Wittman are the number 1 candidates

-Alternative jerseys will be hit or miss. SLEEVED jerseys? C’mon Adidas. Nike should get the contract for NBA jerseys just for that reason alone

-Carmelo Anthony will learn what Lebron learned when he made the Decision. A team compiles trophies and an individual compiles numbers

-Seattle will be sad during basketball season

-A team with great promise will let us down. The Big 3 Heat, The Big 3 Celtics and The Shaq/Kobe/Malone/Payton Lakers are examples. The 2015 Clippers or Miami Heat seem to be on that track

-Coaches will deadpan answer mid-game interviews in hope the NBA doesn’t require it. The NBA will respond by not responding 

-Shoes will get uglier and more expensive

-Players will get more athletic-The Brow, Karl Anthony-Towns and Andre Drummond are leading this charge

-Injuries will derail teams. Golden State losing Klay Thompson broke an historic winning streak. 

-Teams pacing themselves will be strong at the right times. Cleveland and San Antonio seem to have the right idea thus far.

-The Sixers will…you know there are some things you just don’t try to understand.

Plays Well with Others, an NBA Necessity

Three years ago my grade school alma mater reached out to me regarding coaching basketball. I was intrigued. I had coached during high school and loved it. I decided to jump in and give it a shot. To say we were not good would be an understatement. The average experience of the kids on my team was 2 years of competitive basketball. Practices were spent doing drills just so we could actually get the ball up the court and pretend to run an offense.

Despite our unwinned season there were various bright spots. Whether it was the diabetic player that competed the whole season and finished with a huge smile on his face…a well-deserved smile or the short point guard that could steal the ball from anyone the bright spots could be found every game. The real bright spot was Jerry. The lacrosse star was giving basketball a shot for the first time ever. He was not as polished, not as skilled and not as ready as any of the other players, BUT he had one thing that the others did not. A drive to succeed. He picked up defensive principles and rebounding instantly. He also understood something kids his age don’t understand easily. Passing the ball helps us. Lacrosse principles translated very easily for Jerry and he was easy to keep on the court.

The NBA is in a resurgence. A resurgence led by amazing stars, strong teams and passing. A resurgence that has left the days of Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and ball-stopping isolation players in the dust. The reasons for this resurgence are varied and unproven, but the reasons matter less than results. The NBA is becoming the 2nd most popular in America and more fun to watch now than in a long time. I think there are a few reasons for this.

Xerox method

The phrase is a popular one in sports. “Imitation is the best form of flattery.” We see it all the time in sports. The wildcat, four corners, isolation offense, catcher hitting last and the read option are all fads in sports that have come and gone and come back again. Some things change and stick. Ball movement in the NBA is one of those things. I think the San Antonio Spurs are one of  the reasons for its renaissance. Greg Popovich and RJ Buford built their team around three players (Duncan, Robinson, Elliott then Duncan Parker, Ginobli now Parker, Aldridge, Leonard) and a cast of characters with specific roles and one particular skill set…to pass the ball to the open man.

The league didn’t really heed the change in the championship trend until the Spurs won their second title in 2003. When the Spurs beat the New Jersey Nets in 6 and did it with some international players (Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli), defensive specialists (Bruce Bowen and David Robinson) and one superstar (Tim Duncan) people started changing their philosophies. Those second round picks that you include in trades to get players or 1st round picks now have value. You can draft international players, let them develop in their home leagues and then bring them over when they are ready. Most importantly it changed how a team functions on offense. When Duncan and Robinson are passing to Manu and Parker and trusting them to make the right decision rather than isolating and allowing the defense to focus in on one offensive component people took notice.

2005 was the big turning point. The Pistons and Spurs matched up in the Finals this year. The team that put team ball on the map (the Pistons beat the star-studded Lakers the year before) would lose in 7 to a team that did what they do, just better. This is when the tide started turning.

Stars Demanding Help

Lebron James is the catalyst of the next step of our metamorphosis. A star…THE star of the NBA took a TERRIBLE cast of characters (Sasha Pavlovic, Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Daniel Gibson, Eric Snow, etc) to the NBA finals, lost and then lost in the Eastern Conference finals the next year. A team at the top of the Eastern Conference running an isolation offense through the best player in the game.

Then, the Decision changed everything. He left Cleveland, he left a town hating him, he left the big fish in a little pond, he left the hometown and left the isolation style of basketball. He joined a Heat team with all the hype, all the talent and an offense focused on ball movement. When the highest profile player leaves a team running one style to another focused on a different style the league takes notice and starts reacting. Although the Big 3 did not win the title every year they did show unselfish play and team ball could win you two titles and get you to the final dance perenially.

Teams Rebuilding Differently

It’s great when you can attract players like the Big 3 to your team, but how do other teams build for the future? The league is responding by gathering two types of players…shooters and athletes that pass. There seems to be an epidemic of building teams that are good but waiting to either develop or sign stars to get to the next level. The Pistons, Jazz, Celtics, Suns, Hornets, Magic, Nuggets and Timberwolves are on the fringe of tanking AND making the playoffs. They also all push spacing, shooting and BALL MOVEMENT.

The draft, second round draft picks, fringe free agents and depth are now at a premium while huge free agent acquisitions, building around one player and isolation offenses are on the way out…for now.

Western Conference Playoff Preview

                          1Golden State Warriors vs. 8New Orleans Pelicanspelicans logo

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Overview: All records are even starting now, so even though Golden State sported the best record throughout the entire 2014-15 season, it’s irrelevant now as the hot Pelicans come rolling in after defeating the Spurs to make their reservation for the playoffs. You could say New Orleans sneaked into the playoff picture benefitting from a significant string of injuries for Oklahoma City, but the Pelicans faced their fair share having to help nurse back one of the league’s best player back to health multiple times this season. The splash brothers are hotter than ever right now, as Klay Thompson had another night as SportsCenter’s star of the night dropping 26 points (42 total) in the second quarter in a win versus the Grizzlies Tuesday.

How the Warriors will win: If Golden State continues to be, well, Golden Sate than they should knock the Pels out in at least a five game series. Golden State is obviously lethal from behind the arc leading the league with a team 39.8 three-point percentage, but a stat that goes unnoticed is the Warriors rank first in both offensive and defensive efficiency. So you think they can just score? Think again, my friend.

How the Pelicans will win: We know Anthony Davis can play on a high level, but he would need to play on an Amare Stoudemire first year Knick status level in order for the Pelicans to capture this what could be a huge upset. Consistency among the rest of the roster has been a big issue this season as we need to see the best from Tyreke Evans on offense scoring a constant 16-20 points and an effective Omar Asik on both ends of the floor. No, it’s not that far out of the picture for the Pelicans to win a game or two, but unfortunately finding a way to advance is going to be hard having to play one of the best teams in history (record wise) in Golden State.

Prediction: Golden State 4-1. I like New Orleans. I really do. But Jrue Holliday still isn’t 100% and New Orleans is still too inconsistent to find a way to sneak by the unbelievably talented Splash Brothers.

 

                        2Houston Rockets vs. 7Dallas MavericksMavs

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Overview: This is one of the more intriguing match ups we have been spooled with in the Western Conference Playoff picture. Houston is riding high finishing with the most wins in a season (56) since making it to the conference finals in 1996. The headline of this matchup will not be much about the in-state rivalry, but about Houston’s playoff woes only having advanced to the second round once (lost in next round-2009) in their last nine trips to the playoffs. Dallas can be a sleeper team in the playoffs, like always, having a very sexy starting five with multi-year playoff veterans with three of the four starters all having championship rings.

How the Rockets will win: James Harden continues to serge in his MVP-caliber season with help from a healthy Dwight Howard. Houston finds some pieces off the bench to help contribute.

How the Mavericks will win: The ageless Dirk plays at a Hall of Fame level with effective defensive play from Rajon Rondo and Tyson Chandler. Implementing a hopefully healthy Chandler Parsons to become an X-factor against a team he really knows.

Prediction: Dallas 4-3. With Houston’s most recent track record it’s difficult to see them advancing against a veteran led and well coached Mavericks team even though having MVP candidate James Harden. If Parsons can be effective coming off injury I believe Dallas could be a big threat to Golden State if they can get by Houston here.

 

                              3Los Angeles Clippers vs. 6San Antonio SpursSan-Antonio-Spurs-Logo

ClippersOverview: Unfortunately, the Clippers continue to grab a tough opponent in the opening round this time is just happens to be the defending champs. The Spurs aren’t the same team as the 2014 champion version but still have as much experience as any in the playoffs which is always a primary factor around this time. The Clippers have been dominant the past two months winning 78% of their games , though only defeating three of the eight western conference playoff teams they faced during that stretch.

How the Clippers will win: Playing stingy defense with the massive presence of DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers defense has been pretty tight as of late only allowing 100 points in ten games over the past two months (23 total games). If the defense can keep pace with the offense that is second only to Golden State, the Clippers should get by their first obstacle on the 2015 playoff.

How the Spurs will win: I think it’s almost rhetorical to ask the question “How can/will the Spurs defeat the Clippers?” The experience and ability to almost brainwash opponents into playing their “old man” style basketball is what would ultimately give the Spurs the series win.

Prediction: San Antonio 4-3. How can you bet against the Spurs? The ageless team has been written off time after time, but continue to be effective in April. Los Angeles struggles in the playoffs and won’t get by San Antonio without a fight.

 

                                  4Portland Trail Blazers vs. 5Memphis Grizzliesgrizz

blazersOverview: Both teams saw hot streaks over the season, but in a way fizzled out, but are still two teams capable of making a strong run to the NBA Finals. Memphis fell off the map in the final two months of the season going from a potential two seed to now a fifth seed with no division title. The Grizz went 13-11 in their last 24 games and are an average 5-5 over their last ten. Portland managed to keep their division lead in the Western Conference’s worst overall division and locked down the fourth seed. Memphis is one of the better defensive teams in the league ranking second in points given up per game (95.1) but Portland is one of the better offensive teams in the league averaging just under 103 points per game.

How the Blazers will win: An efficient Damian Lillard will have to play smart with a battered lineup. The Blazers will need to heal quickly with a handful of injuries that have hurt them as of late dropping their last four of the regular season.

How the Grizzlies will win: The Grizzlies win games by controlling the pace of play then dominating the paint with big Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Conley will be effective down the stretch will key contributors Jeff Green and Courtney Lee adding in their double digit season averages.

Prediction: Memphis 4-2. The Grizzlies were virtually unstoppable at the opening of the season winning games in the fourth quarter by out manning the opponents until they called mercy. Portland has too many nagging injuries to hang with the physical play of Memphis; therefore, Memphis wins in six.

 

Kevin Love LeBron James high five cavs

*Eastern Conference Playoff Preview Coming Soon!

 

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Notable News and Notes

Elfrid Payton Records back-to-back triple-doubles

Wille J. Allen, Jr. - AP Photo
Wille J. Allen, Jr. – AP Photo

Elfrid Payton recorded 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in Saturday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers 111-104. This was Payton’s second triple-double of the year and it came in consecutive games. His first triple-double came in a loss at Dallas recording 15 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. The rookie has had a great month averaging 12 points, eight assists, and 5 rebounds across the board in March. A young cast has the Magic at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but the play has increased every season and the young talent now meshes more as a team, but is still far away from anything promising. Current MAgic Starting Five: PG Elfrid Payton, SG Vic Oladipo, SF Maurice Harkless, C/F, Channing Frye, and C/F Nik Vucevic.

Paul George’s Possible Return?

PGeorgia
The Pacers will play four games in the next week and Paul George may be apart of one of those lineups. George has been rehabbing from a compound break in his leg since last August and is eyeing his return quite soon. The plans, for now, are to get George implemented in the lineup by at least next Saturday’s game versus Brooklyn. George has been practicing with the team for the past three weeks and he thinks his return is in the near future. The Pacers were rolling earlier in the month ripping off seven straight wins scratching the surface of entering the playoff picture. Obviously, George won’t be relied on to come back immediately in his stardom form, so don’t initially think that his return should ultimately give Indiana the best chance at the eight seed in the Eastern Conference.

What’s New on Kevin Durant?

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Whether people were talking more about Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti’s glasses on Friday, it was clear that Kevin Durant’s playing status for the rest of the season doesn’t look too promising. No, there was no sure fire answer, so of course NBA fans will be uneasy about that, but it seems as Durant’s 2014-15 NBA season is over. The former MVP has dealt with continuous injuries on the same right foot throughout the season and there is no timetable for his return. Presti: “He’s not making the progress we expected…(on shutting him down) essentially that’s the direction we’re headed right now.” The Thunder have still managed to battle for the eighth seed in the tough Western Conference and Russell Westbrook has done his best MVP impression guiding this team to a possible playoff berth.

Gortat Has Jokes

If you’re looking for a laugh, don’t go anywhere else. After a flopping incident that cost Marcin Gortat $5,000, Gortat took his thoughts to Twitter. How fans and then the Washington center reacts is very comical. Enjoy!

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James Harden, Houston

Harden sits on top of the current fantasy basketball rankings averaging 27 points a night. He just captured a career best 50 point performance in a win versus Denver receiving and deserving many “MVP” chants from his home crowd.

Derrick Rose, Bulls
Like George, Derrick Rose is eyeing a comeback this season after suffering a torn meniscus. With Rose’s list of past knee injuries, the team isn’t thought to rush him back, but he seems to be ahead of schedule and should return before the playoffs. If you’re eyeing and needing about 15 fantasy points a night, Rose may be a great pickup, if your league dumped on him already.

 

Power Rankings

1. Golden State Warriors

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The Warriors managed to solidify their top spot after defeating the Atlanta Hawks in Oakland 114-95 on Wednesday night. A great stat that defines future champs for this team is that they lead the league in field goal percentage on both offense and defense. The last team to do that was the Sixers in 1981 (from ESPN’s Marc Stein).

 

2. Atlanta Hawks

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Atlanta sometimes likes to flirt with our emotions winning the big staged games then  losing to the lower tier teams like this season’s Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, and Denver. Regardless, Atlanta is still the top team in the East and has already clinched a playoff spot in March.

 

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

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The Cavs may have reached that point we were all expecting. After a 50-point performance from Kyrie Irving and the constant effort from LeBron James, this team can be ultimately unstoppable. This team is surging at the right time. See, nothing to freak about?

 

4. Memphis Grizzlies

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Even though having placed in the top five since October, Memphis still seems to be underrated, but they just keep winning games. The team has not looked all that impressive since the All-Star break, but they still tend to play well offensively.

 

5. San Antonio Spurs

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The Spurs have ripped off nine wins of their last 11 games (somehow losing to New York) and have an average margin victory of 16 points during that span. The aging Spurs are playing their playoff style basketball right now, but are only considered a seventh seed right now in the Western Conference at 43-25!

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Extra

If you’re one of those guys, like me, that think the NBA standings should be combined and not separated by conference, USA TODAY put this out this week with that format for the playoffs:

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Top Eight

1 // Atlanta Hawks (34-8)

Hawks

Being a semi-local Atlanta resident, I have yet to hear so much buzz surround a professional Atlanta team as the Hawks are receiving this season. The Hawks are sporting the second best record in basketball, but are by far playing the best basketball riding on a current 13-game win streak with great play from Al Horford. Horford just captured Eastern Conference player of the week averaging 21.7 points per game and eight rebounds and 6.3 assists while posting a triple-double in win over Philadelphia.

 

2 // Golden State Warriors (33-6)

gstatelogo

The Warriors got slapped in the face against Oklahoma City, but faired well in bouncing back trouncing Houston in a 25-point rout. Golden State could snatch the top spot from Atlanta next week at this time with an upcoming schedule that features five consecutive home games, but Atlanta has to, you know, somehow lose.

 

3 // Memphis Grizzlies (29-12)

grizz

The Grizzlies have played some nice basketball as of late winning four straight with an impressive win over Portland. The Grizzlies are 10-3 against opposing west playoff teams with wins over two in the last week or so. Memphis plays host to Dallas and Toronto this week and recently upgraded its roster with the addition of Jeff Green.

 

4 // San Antonio Spurs (26-16)

San-Antonio-Spurs-Logo

Remember this is headlined as “power rankings” not teams with the best records. So, the Spurs are currently the fourth best team from a power rankings standpoint. With Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, and the ageless Tim Duncan the Spurs are outscoring opponents by an average of 16 points per every 100 possessions in Leonard’s return. It’s beginning to look a lot like that Spurs run we were all expecting.

 

5 // Dallas Mavericks (29-13)

Mavs

The offense has been quite rough since the new deal of Rajon Rondo coming to Dallas. The scoring numbers have dipped indefinitely and the individual scoring has been sporadic with a terrible three point percentage in the past two weeks with Chandler Parsons and Devin Harris not having a huge impact behind the arc.

 

6 // Portland Trail Blazers (31-11)

blazers

Portland benefitted for a long while off the easiest schedule in the league, but that may have caught up with them this past week dropping three straight versus some of the top teams in the West. Now Portland’s overall record versus current playoff teams is 3-7.

 

7 // Los Angeles Clippers (28-14)

Clippers

The Clippers are finally coming into their own playing some fine basketball like we all expected. The offense has continued to thrive averaging 110.4 points per game, which ranks second in the league, but the defense is still near the bottom, but maybe it won’t catch up with like it did last year in the playoffs (Yeah, I went there).

 

8 //Washington Wizards (29-13)

Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards suffered a weird loss to Brooklyn earlier this week, but then fired back to defeat the Nets the next day. Washington has defeated four of their last five opponents with winning records. Washington continues to increase in offensive efficiency and could take the Eastern Conference by storm here pretty soon.

Bottom Three

28 // Philadelphia 76ers (8-33)

sixers-logo

Sure, Philly had a nice win over New Orleans, but so did New York. So, there’s that. But Philly has now removed itself from any talk of being the league’s initial punching bag. The 76ers are 7-13 since starting 0-17, which during that span is better than Orlando, New York, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.

 

29 // Minnesota Timberwolves (7-33)

TWOLVES-LOGO

I would like to put the Wolves higher due to the spectacular week Mo Williams conjured up, but I can’t. The Wolves snapped a 15-game losing streak, which doesn’t really improve them much except for having just one more win over New York.

 

30 // New York Knicks (6-36)

knicks

Might as well stay comfy my friend. You’re in for a long ride.

 

What’s Trending?

-Dirk likes to have fun despite his very serious demeanor on the court.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 11.20.33 PM

-DRose admits that he and his team are “not on the same page”

-Stephon Marbury considered suicide during his time in the NBA

(Nick Laham / Getty Images)
(Nick Laham / Getty Images)

-Kobe thinking about retirement? Byron Scott fends off anything leaning toward that speculation.

-Greg Anthony arrested on prostitution charges.

Around the Association: Merry Christmas

First off before I release any rankings, I would like to say to all of those reading to have a joyous Christmas with their families. It’s a special time for me and I want to share the Christmas spirit with you all and I hope you enjoy your Christmas traditions, new and old, and celebrate a great day with everyone. Merry Christmas!

NBA Christmas Gifts

The 2015 Ford F-150: Golden State Warriors (22-3)

Ford

The Warriors are the shiny and sexy new team in the NBA and continue to have success without the defensive presence of big man Andrew Bogut. The Warriors have topped out at number one each week of the NBA season and don’t seem to be pressing the brakes out of the top spot anytime soon. Sure, the Grizz loss was valid, but not enough to drop the Dubs from #1. The bench has plenty of horsepower headlined by rising star Draymond Green and other key component Marreese Speights, but these two can only give so much as others seem to sputter.

 

Microsoft’s Xbox One: Portland Trail Blazers (22-6)

Xbox
Yes, the Xbox One was 2013’s big gift and both the Xbox and the Portland Trail Blazers were just scratching the surface of potential. With new upgrades and game styles, both find themselves in great positions this time around Christmas again. The Blazers had an awesome start in 2013, but this season may trump last season’s early success, as they could arguably be considered the second best team in the Western Conference. The Blazers are known for their high scoring offense, but the defense has been phenomenal ranking third in defense just behind Golden State and Houston.

 

Stocking Stuffers: Phoenix Suns (15-14), New Orleans Pelicans (14-13), and Miami Heat (13-15).

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All three teams are around a .500 record and all three are capable enough to give a few smiles when being pulled out of your stocking on Christmas morning. Phoenix has young talent and continues to develop, but the Western Conference will not get any easier as they still continue to struggle. Fortunately, the Suns grabbed Charlotte and New York out of the East before Christmas. New Orleans is attractive and won’t be the gift that gets put in the corner Christmas afternoon. New Orleans has a strong point with also young talent and a superstar in the making. This stocking stuffer could be valuable in a few months. Miami has potential and are still attractive even without LeBron James. I mean they only have three less losses than the Cavs right now. So, there’s that.

 

The Gift Card to the Local Bar: San Antonio Spurs (17-11)

beer

Even though it’s nothing special, but just something an in-law could grab quickly due to frantically rushing through gift shopping the day before the family gathering, it’s still effective and comes into play at the right time. The Spurs haven’t been anything special in 2014 with some great wins, but also some weird losses. The Spurs have suffered four overtime losses in the past month, but like that gift card or drink, the Spurs will come in the clutch when it matters most.

 

Clothes… (from a kids’ point of view): Boston Celtics (10-15)

kid

They are never the gifts wrapped in the Toy Story, Cars, or Barbie wrapping paper (if they were, your parents were just cruel), but just a white box in the plaid paper. The clothes are never the highlight of Christmas morning, but are appreciated later in the year. The Celtics dealt Rajon Rondo to Dallas for a great trio of players: the much-improved Brandan Wright, the veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, and the young effective power forward Jae Crowder. No matter how much you hate the gift of new blue jeans and a polo top, they are always around and come in handy, whether you want to admit or not. The Celtics are a legitimate playoff contender in the East, and so am I! 😉

 

The One I am Going to Leave Behind: New York Knicks (5-25)

Ugly-Christmas-Sweater-6th
The gift of giving is great and all, but just some cash will do sometimes instead of giving out a Christmas sweater, socks, or chocolates. New York is the one gift you want to forget you ever got. New York leads the league in losses at 25 and they are 4-16 in games decided by single digits. It might be the time to take the gift back (hopefully you have the receipt) and get some in-store credit to gain a high draft pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Jalil Okafor would look mighty sweet right now in orange and blue.

NBA: Around the Association (Week Five)

Player Recognition

All-Star Synopsis:
LeBron James, SF, Cavaliers
This website contains many great opinions and information on the Cleveland Cavs and of course LeBron James, so I am going to join the party after James was named NBA Player of the Week for a record 47th time. James led Cleveland to a perfect 3-0 record this past week, averaging 25.7 points per game on .51% shooting, including 24-30 from the foul line, 5.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 2.3 steals in 33 minutes per game.

We’re slowly trying to figure out the Cavs’ identity while the players do the same. James has delivered as the leader, obviously, and has taken control of this team that has struggled to find any kind of consistency.

Blake Griffin, PF, Clippers

Photo Credit: Chuck Burton/AP Photo
Photo Credit: Chuck Burton/AP Photo

Like James, Blake Griffin contributed big in his teams’ perfect 4-0 week showing off his array of skills. Griffin averaged 23.8 points per game, 9.8 rebounds, 5 assists on 51.3% shooting. Side note: he did this all on the road. Griffin benefitted off his low-post game with the majority of his domination covering the colored area. The four-time All-Star continues to show a vast improvement year to year and is on pace to have his best in 2014-15.

Rookie Rundown:
KJ McDaniels, SG, 76ers

Shooting guard KJ McDaniels continues to impress in his underrated rookie season. As a 6’6’ guard with an improved shooting ability, McDaniels looks to have a nice future and also had a fine week at that. McDaniels had a three-game stretch in which he averaged 16.3 points, 1.3 steals, 1.6 blocks, and 9.3 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, the 76ers trend of losing has continued and will contend to tie the NBA record for worst record to start the season (0-18) and McDaniels has gone unnoticed, but his high flying ability has made many highlight reels this season so far.

Like this one versus the Mavericks on Saturday:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tm4v_4JoU1U

Flying Under the Radar:
Wesley Matthews, SG, Trail Blazers

Wesley Matthews has been on fire as of late hitting on all cylinders averging 25.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists over the past three games. Matthews has continued to try and develop as a consistent knockdown three-point shooter and he is currently 40% from behind the arc this season. Matthews is and will be a key component to the Blazers’ success in 2014-15.

Team Outlooks

Top Five:
1. Golden State Warriors (14-2)

Steve Kerr’s team continues to win and running smoothly on offense knocking down 48% of their shots. The defense sees improvement each week and leads the league in field goal percentage defense at 40.7%. The nine-game winning streak is impressive enough, but the improvement of key bench players in Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights, and Draymond Green have been huge plusses and continue to thrive when called upon. Upcoming Games: vs. ORL, vs. NO, @ CHI

2. Memphis Grizzlies (15-2)
Going into Portland and winning convincingly is no easy task and the Grizz came away unblemished. Memphis is 11-0 versus the West and is neck and neck with the dubs at No. 1. Memphis will, once again, go to prove themselves against a few of the top teams in the league starting off the week with a road trip to Houston. Upcoming Games: @ HOU, vs. SA, vs. MIA

3. San Antonio Spurs (12-4)

Photo Credit: Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports
Photo Credit: Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports

3. San Antonio Spurs (12-4)
Remember when the Spurs slipped up to the Kings in Novemeber and people thought this might be the end? Well, San Antonio has ripped off seven straight wins since and has defeated the Cavs, Grizz, and Kings giving them the 12-4 overall record. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if this team has the best record on Christmas Day. Upcoming Games: @BRK, @ MEM, vs. MIN

4. Portland Trail Blazers (13-4)
The Blazers remain at four for another week. Wesley Matthews has been tearing it up as stated earlier and has picked up the slack for the injured Nic Batum. The Blazers could have really solidified themselves as possibly the top dogs in the NBA if capturing wins at home over an earlier game versus Golden State and last Friday to Memphis. Instead , they lost both. Even though the Blazers still have a cushy upcoming schedule, and will until Christmas rolls around, don’t count these guys out yet as serious contenders in the West. Upcoming Games: @ DEN, vs. IND, @NYK

5. Los Angeles Clippers (11-5)
I kept wondering when LA was finally going to crack my top five. Many chatter occurred when LA was yet to travel outside the state of California and what did they do? Won four straight road games and that’s what gives them the nod over Houston and Dallas. Upcoming Games: vs. ORL, vs. NO

Bottom Three:
28. Charlotte Hornets (4-14)

I wonder if it’s still OK to consider them the Bobcats, because that’s what I see when watching this team play. The team holds the longest active losing steak in the NBA despite that team at 30. Yeah, they belong in that category with that team. Upcoming Games: vs. CHI, vs. NYK

29. Detroit Pistons (3-15)
With a decent starting lineup, a great coach, and a somewhat struggling division, I thought Detroit would be a major sleeper in 2014. Instead, the team continues to lose and is on a nine game losing streak entering Wednesday night. Upcoming Games: vs. LAL, @ BOS, vs. PHI, vs. OKC

30. Philadelphia 76ers (0-13)
Yup. Yeah. OK.
Upcoming Games: Does it matter?