Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hawks stumble, Nuggets stay alive

How is everybody's NBA playoff bracket look? The Magic, Cavs, and Celts took care of business as expected. The Bucks exposed the Hawks for lacking heart. Warriors fans remember the Feb. 21 game when the Warriors trailed by 16 going into the fourth quarter. To the Hawks surprise, the insertion of Chris Hunter stymied Atlanta's inside scoring and the Warriors came back to win. Basically, the Hawks are vulnerable to giving up run late in the game and don't close out. It was ugly to watch Hawks players look at one another with open mouthed, dumbfounded expressions after Delfino hit that three to give the Hawks a two possession lead. The Hawks are weak if they can't pull it together and beat a Bucks team minus Andrew Bogut.

Atlanta regroups, wins on the road, and wins game 7 at home.

The Nuggets held off elimination at home against the Jazz. This series, like all Western conference matchups, has been great basketball. The Nuggets shot the three better than the Jazz (Den. 53%, Uta. 39%) and made more free throws (Den. 33-42, Uta.19-25). The knee injury to Nene leaves Kenyon Martin as Denver's only reliable option for inside scoring. The Nuggets should take a lesson from Don Nelson and play a smaller line-up (Billups, Smith, Afflalo, Anthony, Martin). Those are strong, athletic players capable of scoring and creating turnovers. I don't see anyone stopping Deron Williams and I like the Jazz at home in game six.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Western conference; Finals predictions

First round

Lakers vs. Thunder: It's not Kobe, but the Lakers front line that will seal the fate of OKC. Gasol, Bynum, and Odom control the paint and protect the rim. Artest, who appears to pay homage to Dennis Rodman, will come control Durant. (Note: Andrew Bynum travels nearly every time he touches the ball! He shuffles his feet and never establishes a pivot! Don't hold your breath for a call, though) Lakers sweep.

Nuggets vs. Jazz: Utah seemed to be the hottest team coming into the playoffs. They play defense, they're unselfish with the ball, they rebound, and they're deep. The Jazz have a weakness and that is the lack of a player to check a superstar swingman like Carmello. Usually its Kirelinko, but he's hurt. The loss of Memo Okur doesn't help. On the other hand, Denver lived outside the three point line and one has to imagine they will shoot themselves out of a game in this series. Nuggets in 6.

Suns vs. Blazers: The Blazers came in and stole game one, as the Suns got little help from Amare Stoudamire. Jared Bayless was the X-factor (pardon the cliche) in the Blazers winning the battle of the bench. The Blazers are a grind-it-out, execute in the half court kind of team, while the Suns are Nash and Stoudamire running the pick and role with shooters waiting on the perimeter. I don't like the match-up if I'm the suns. The Blazers have lanky, athletic players like Aldridge, Batum, Webster, and Miller to switch on that pick and roll. All being said, the Suns played below their level and still had a chance to win. Phoenix picks up their play and finds a way to win the series. Suns in 7.

Mavs vs. Spurs: Dallas looks good, as in challenge-the-Lakers good. The offensive arsenal is ridiculous with Nowitski, Caron Butler, and J-Kidd distributing. Add the frontline beef of Dampier, Haywood, and Marion...they have the versatility to grind or run. It's amazing to see Tim Duncan still doing his thing in the playoffs, but Dallas will prevail. Mavs in 5.

Conference semi-finals

Mavs vs. Suns: Two high big scoring offenses will collide in this match-up. The Mavs can run their bigs (Dampier or Haywood) to grind it out or play a smaller line up to guard the perimeter against the Suns three point shooters. The Mavs versatility will take carry them past Phoenix and into the conference finals. Mavs in 6.

Lakers vs. Nuggets: The Nuggets only advantage is at the point guard match-up with Billups on Fisher. Otherwise, the Lakers match-up well to beat this Nuggets team. The Nuggets need Kenyon Martin or they don't have a chance. Lakers in 5.

Western conference finals

Lakers vs. Mavs: The Mavs are deeper and have more offensive weapons, but it matters not. The Lakers are more physical and defend the rim. They understand to win in the playoffs means scrapping, grinding, and winning a game with a high school basketball score. They will push the Mavs around and take the West. Lakers in 6.

NBA Finals match-up

Lakers vs. Magic: Sorry to bore you with a repeat match-up, but these are the top teams. A healthy Jameer Nelson will make a difference and the absence of Trevor Ariza will, also. Kobe will be worn down at this point and Dwight Howard will neutralize Gasol. Same finals match-up as last year, but a different result. Magic in 7.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Playoff predictions; Eastern conference

Give the Eastern conference credit for sending an eighth seed to the post season with a .500 win percentage. Way to go, Bulls! You have no business taking the court in April against the Cavs, but I'm sure there are no objections. The Cavs get a light snack before the next round and the Bulls are happy to be there. Before I acknowledge the flawed playoff system currently used, let's look at the top 16 teams in both conferences. All eight Playoff teams in the West have 50 plus wins compared to the East's four.

Top 16

1. Cavs
2. Magic
3. Lakers
4. Mavs
5. Suns
6. Nuggets
7. Hawks
8. Jazz
9. Celtics
10. Blazers
11. Spurs
12. Thunder
13. Heat
14. Bucks
15. Bobcats
16. Rockets

Match-up's (top 16 by NBA regular season record)

Cavs vs. Rockets
Magic vs. Bobcats
Lakers vs. Heat
Suns vs. Thunder
Nuggets vs. Spurs
Hawks vs. Blazers
Jazz vs. Celtics

The Eastern conference has Cleveland and Orlando, two championship caliber teams with padded records thanks to weaker competition in the East. The road to the Western conference final will be a gauntlet.

Actual 2010 Playoff match-ups

Eastern conference- 1st round

Cavs vs. Bulls: Cavs take care of business and squash the Bulls like a bug on the sidewalk.

Celtics vs. Heat: The Celts far from elite, but D-Wade doesn't have the support to beat Boston. Celts move on.

Hawks vs. Bucks: Bucks don't have a chance without Bogut nor an answer for Jamal Crawford.

Magic vs. Bobcats: Cats will put up a good fight, but Magic are the deepest team in the league. It will be interesting to see Captain Jack do his thing in the playoffs again.

Eastern conference semi-finals

Cavs vs. Celtics: Cavs will expose the Celtics as old and on the decline. Why not make LeBron guard Rondo? The Celts go as far as Rondo will take them, but it won't be past the Cavs.

Magic vs. Hawks: The Hawks don't have an answer for Dwight Howard, but who does? Magic will be in the conference finals.

Easter conference final

Cavs vs. Magic: It's inevitable, the cream will rise to the top. This series will make for great basketball and a very difficult pick... I gotta go with the Magic again, but it will have to on the back of Dwight Howard.

Easter Conference winner: Orlando Magic

Next post: Western conference picks

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Warriors finish season with win over Blazers

The Warriors started the season with a loss at home to the Rockets, racked up the losses, and finished the season with an improbable win over the playoff-bound Blazers in Portland. The Blazers sat Andre Miller and Marcus Camby for the second half and were without their best player, Brandon Roy, but in the words of Phil Jackson, "Give (the Warriors) some f%#ing credit."

You know the last game of a season riddled with unprecedented injury couldn't end without some unorthodoxy. Isn't that the word all the national NBA talking heads call Nelson and his Warriors? Unorthodox? Like the game at Oracle against the Bucks on Jan. 15, the shorthanded Warriors forced open a chapter in the NBA rule book most people didn't know existed, literally running out of players.

In a losing season, there was no lack of intriguing stories. The emergence of Monta Ellis as a premier player and the steady growth of Steph Curry were overshadowed by all the injuries. The 24 year old Ellis is just entering his prime and his ankle will only get stronger, I like his chances to make an All-Star team in the next few years. Ellis finished 6th in the league with 25.5 points per game.

It's only a matter of time before Steph Curry makes an All-Star roster. No one outside of the state of North Carolina knew Curry would have this much game. From what I saw at Davidson, I knew Curry could shoot from both mid range and three, but when he was compared to Nash at the beginning of the year, I confess I scoffed. C'mon, Nash? Yes, Nash with better hands on defense as Curry finished 3rd in steals with 1.9 per game behind Ellis at 2.3. The most promising part of Curry's game, along with his high percentage shooting, is his ability to consistently get his wiry frame into the paint and find the open team mate. And his ambidexterity and left handed passing, wow! After the All-Star break, Curry unlike other rookies (throat clear- Brandon Jennings), improved each month. It's only fitting Curry scoring a career high 42 points in the last game of the year.

The East coast bias people (throat clear-ESPN) had Tyreke Evans on Sports Center for the top 10 plays earlier this week, which I thought was a ploy to persuade Rookie of the Year voters on the East coast in Evans favor. It really is a coin flip between Evans and Curry. They are different style point guards and have both set records in their first NBA seasons. Perhaps a co-winner for rookie of the year? (i.e. 94'-95' Jason Kidd and Grant Hill; 99'-00' Elton Brand and Steve Francis)

The "Golden State D-Leaguers" became a term to describe the pick up style of play of the Warriors and the revolving door of players moving in and out. In the end, the Warriors found a D-League gem in Reggie Williams and and potential force off the bench in Anthony Tolliver.

Does anyone still think about the Stephen Jackson trade? Good, me neither.

That trade symbolized the beginning of another rebuild, a process Warriors fans have endured the last 16 seasons since Chris Cohan controlled majority owner ship of the team. Speak of the devil (or incompetent, deadbeat owner), the Warriors have been on sale since Mar. 22. Oracle's billionaire CEO/founder Larry Ellison has been interested in acquiring the team, but there hasn't been any news lately.

The Warriors have two young superstars in the backcourt, a lottery pick, and loyal fan base. The only thing missing is the most important thing: a serious (aka: disproportionately wealthy) owner committed to spending money.
Note: Steph Curry has been acknowledged as rookie of the month for April, making it the third time he's earned the honor (January and March).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Will Nelly be back next season?

Before I talk about Don Nelson and the record, I have to give the Warriors credit for beating a solid Thunder team after trailing 20 points. OKC needed the win more than anyone, to avoid the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Kevin Durant showed why he is in the conversation for MVP, but Monta Ellis stepped up with some defensive pressure down the stretch, using his quickness to neutralize Durant's size advantage. The Warriors shot 12-21as a team from three point range and out-dueled playoff caliber team. Unfortunately for the Thunder, they have secured the eighth spot in the Western conference and a date with the Lakers. Don't complain to Warriors fans, though, we like our chances as a #8 seed.

Don Nelson now has the most wins ever as an NBA coach with 1,334. Regardless of the job he's done this year, give Nelly some respect for what he has accomplished. Nelly, like Walter Mathau as coach Buttermaker in the Bad News Bears, knows how to get the most out of the least. During Sunday's game against OKC, Keith Smart assumed head coaching responsibilities, while Nelly supervised from the bench. This isn't the first time Nelly has given Smart the reins, for some on the job training. Keith Smart coached the Warriors while Nelson recovered from Pneumonia in November, and beat the Mavs in Dallas with a six man rotation.

Nelson turns 70 next month, he has the record, and Keith Smart seems to be a qualified successor to coach. Will Don Nelson come back next season for the final year of his contract? We know Don Nelson doesn't pass on a pay day and the mastermind GM inside has an investment in the upcoming off-season. As much as Nelson has accomplished, I don't see him walking away from this project at this point. Nelly wouldn't mind hanging around to pad his retirement, pad his win total, and leave on a winning note by getting next year's team into the playoffs.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Don Nelson ties all-time win record, W's beat Raptors

In a frustrating season marked by rampant injury and subsequent losing, many voices of the Bay Area sports world have called for Don Nelson's job. Nelson has been criticized for alienating certain players, indifferent body language on the sideline, and hanging around or the paycheck. I am guilty for getting down on Nelson during some of the lower of the low points this season.

In a season with nothing to play for, the Warriors tight-nit group of players young and old are determined to get Don Nelson to the top of the all-time win list and into the NBA history books. After the win over the Raptors, the Warriors surrounded a reluctantly giddy Don Nelson in celebration, jumping up and down. Warriors fans who witnessed this moment caught a glimpse of a smiling coach Nelson, a rare sight, especially this season. The Warriors embraced their coach like a benevolent grandfather and for a moment, everyone understood how special this moment was, not just for Nelson and the Warriors, but for the NBA. Raptors players Jarrett Jack and Hedo Turkoglu congratulated Nelson after the contest.

The Warriors are scheduled to play the Wizards, Clippers, and T'Wolves down the stretch and the chance for that go-ahead win will be well within reach for the 70 year old Nelson. Throw in a motivated group of players and Nelson will be the all-time leader by the season's end. Nelson's chase for the record is a refreshing distraction from the biblical injury reports and poor record. The chase reminds Warriors fans to appreciate Nelson while he is here, as he has been at the center of anything good in Golden State for the last 25 years and contributed so much to the NBA and basketball.

Nelson will be a tough act to follow whenever he decides to call it a career.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jazz pounds Warriors, April brings playoffs into focus

The Jazz beat the Warriors with 50 percent of the effort put out in a Jerry Sloan practice, getting easy buckets in the paint and sitting back in a 2-3 zone on defense. The Warriors needed perfect games from everyone who clocked minutes, but played poorly from the start. The Jazz put the game away before the second half. No Turiaf, no Ellis, and no chance.

The Jazz, like many teams in the Western conference, are playing their best basketball of the year. The Lakers have a four game lead at the top of the West, but only 4.5 games separate the second seed Mavs and the eighth seed Spurs. April is upon us, leaving 6-8 games remaining for the Western conference playoff teams, many of these teams scheduled to play one another down the stretch.

This is what the Western playoff set-up looks like: Who will stay hot and who will sputter into the playoffs?

1. Lakers: Appear to be slipping after back to back losses and got whipped in Atlanta last night. Kobe is frustrated, the three point shooting is down, and the interior defense is nothing special. The Lakers have a tough game against the Jazz coming up, but get some easy games against the T'Wolves, Kings, and Clippers down the stretch. You better believe Phil Jackson will use the media's negative talk to inspire the champs and get them back on track. I don't buy the Lakers not being the team to beat.

2. Mavs: Have been great since the trade and have the most depth in the West, but could lose the #2 seed to Utah by the time Apr. 18 comes around. Not enough commitment to defense to get deep in the playoffs and with all the talent on the roster, the Mavs lack the chemistry of Utah, Phoenix, and OKC.
3. Jazz: This could the Jazz' year to reach the Western conference finals. Locking up the #2 seed will be an advantage provided how well the play at home. Boozer is on fire (in a contract year) and the Jazz are built to win playoff style basketball. The X-factor will be the health of Andrei Kirelinko to defend the superstar swingmen in the west. Correy Maggette abused C.J. Miles and so will Carmello, Caron Butler, Durant, Brandon Roy, and of course Kobe. The Jazz look bulletproof, outside of guarding a dynamic swingman.

4. Suns: Everyone has waited for the Suns to turn into a pumpkin, but Nash and Stoudamire look sharp as ever. I don't see the Suns sneaking past the first round, unless they draw the Nuggets in the first round. They will have a challenging last 5 games of the regular season (vs. SAS; @OKC; vs. HOU; vs. DEN; @UTA).

5. Nuggets: The Nuggets are limping to the finish line and it doesn't look good. The absence of coach Karl and the injury of Kenyon Martin has hurt them. Could be too much pressure for Carmello and Chauncy.

6. Thunder: This is the team with "nothing to lose" (pardon the cliche). They have a go-to MVP candidate in Kevin Durant and he's surrounded by talented players. They could get hot and make a run, but their interior defense is suspect.

7. Blazers: They've been on fire lately, but too hot and cold to win a playoff series, as they rely on perimeter shooting in the half court set.

8. Spurs: Five of the Spurs last eight opponents are teams in the playoffs, plus a tough Grizzlies team. Looks as though the Spurs will remain #8 in the West.