If the NBA Playoffs started today, hoops fans would be happy campers! Why? A first-round Heat vs. Knicks match-up alone would be enough to send ratings through the roof and keep the many TV talking heads yapping from here to eternity.
Can you imagine? The Heatles versus Linsanity? Then again, it would be somewhat of a letdown if the most exciting series of the playoffs came in the first round. Either way, it’s a win-win situation, right?
If the NBA playoffs started today, we’d have a familiar cast of characters out East:
8. New York
…and an eclectic and somewhat surprising group in the West:
1. Oklahoma City
2. San Antonio
3. LA Clippers
5. LA Lakers
The teams in playoff contention (at the moment) in the Western Conference aren’t that shocking in and of themselves, it’s their seeding that brings the element of surprise.
Before the Chris Paul trade (umm, the second trade… to LA’s “other” team), who would’ve guessed the “Clippers” and “playoffs” would be words spoken in the same sentence? Sure, the Clippers had potential with a young nucleus of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Gordon and a veteran in Chris Kaman, but still… Donald Sterling’s team would be the type of squad to evoke a statement like “I’ll believe it when I see it” in conversation.
Instead, Chris Paul and the Clippers are only 3.5 games behind the first place Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that has risen to power the old fashioned way; through hard work and experience. This could be the year we finally see ThunderUp in the NBA Finals. Perhaps the youth of the Thunder’s roster gives them an advantage in this shortened season as OKC trails only the Heat and Bulls with a 23-7 record. Could an older, more experienced team catch up to them in the playoffs when everyone has a few days rest between each game? Sure, but Kevin Durant and Co. look pretty good halfway through the season and have been fascinating to watch in the playoffs in the last two years.
Sandwiched between the Thunder and Clippers are the aging San Antonio Spurs who could earn Greg Popovich a second Coach of the Year award (he also won the award in 2003). The Spurs have managed to stay atop the Western Conference without their star guard, Manu Ginobili who has missed 22 of the Spurs’ 31 games with an injury. What the Spurs have done is quite impressive, and as usual, until the playoffs, San Antonio will be largely ignored by many in the mainstream media. The Spurs have never been a flashy team full of typical stars or large personalities, but come playoff time, you’d better hope your favorite team doesn’t have to play them.
The Dallas Mavericks are basically back on track after an ugly start to the season and if they can stay healthy, I think they have a great shot at returning to the NBA finals. The Lakers, Grizzlies, Rockets and Nuggets are all in the hunt, each within two games of the 4-seed Mavs. All of these teams have a legitimate shot at making the post season, but it wouldn’t shock me if Portland, Utah or even Minnesota finds a way to sneak in, knocking a current contender out of the race. With young players like Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams sharing the court, the Timberwolves are easily the most entertaining team to watch on any given night. They remind me of the Thunder a few years ago: they are one or two pieces short of putting the puzzle together. If they can make a personnel move or two, these guys will be ready to shine after another year or so of learning how to play together.
If I had to predict today, who we’ll see in the NBA Finals, I’m going with a rematch (or three-match) of Heat vs. Mavericks, with the possibility of Heat vs. Thunder at a close second.
The Miami Heat are ON FIRE right now. So what if they lose a few games here and there, that doesn’t matter too much. We’ve watched them win with only two of their Big 3 healthy and playing, so barring a catastrophic injury, the Heat can easily survive the wear-and-tear of a typical NBA regular season. Miami leads the league in scoring, field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. The Heat are third in free throw attempts and somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to defense and rebounding. I think the Heat will roll right through the regular season and will once again have a chance to prove their worth in the NBA Finals. Of course, all the focus will be on LeBron James and whether or not he has the mental fortitude to win it all. From taking the last shot to making bizarre comments in the press, it will once again be the LeBrown Show should the Heat make it back to the Finals. In the words of Bart Scott, CANTWAIT!
The only team I can picture challenging the Heat in the East is Chicago. If Derrick Rose can overcome his back problems in the near future, there is no reason the Bulls shouldn’t make it to the Conference Finals. Chicago is second in the NBA in defense allowing 88.1 points per game (the 76ers and Celtics are tied for first, allowing 87.2 ppg), second in rebounding and ninth in scoring. The Bulls are tied for 15th in free throw attempts (22 per game) which surprises me, and are 25th in terms of free throw makes, capitalizing on only 72 percent of their attempts. The Bulls are a good team, even without the superstar Rose on the court. But can Chicago make it to the Conference Finals without Rose? I don’t think so.
The 76ers, Magic, and Hawks are all within five games of the Heat and Bulls, but none of them excite me all that much. I think Philly is the best of the bunch and would welcome a first round playoff series between them and the Indiana Pacers, which is what we’d get if the playoffs began today.
The Pacers are an interesting team that is flying under most peoples’ radars, including mine. I had forgot that Indiana made the playoffs last season and was reminded of it only when they pulled off an impressive come-from-behind victory over the Lakers at Staples Center back in January. I see the Pacers as a younger, Eastern Conference version of the the Spurs. They won’t razzle-dazzle you, but they’ll find a way to beat your team down for the win. Like last year, I think this group will put up another tough fight in the playoffs with the difference being that I think they’ll pull off a first-round victory this time.
Now we come to the Celtics and the Knicks. The Celtics and Lakers, oddly enough, are in the same boat. Each squad’s Big 3 is no longer good enough on it’s own to propel their teams to victory. It’s sad watching both LA and Boston unable to do what came quite easily over the last few years knowing each team is probably just one player away from being a championship contender this year. For the Lakers, it’s a point guard, for the Celtics, it’s a dominant center. The Celtics are still fun to watch because you never know which team is going to show up each night so there is always an element of mystery when they take the court. As we’ve seen recently, the Celtics seem to take a nose dive after the half-way point in the season when age and health start to take a toll, but come playoff time, the older guys have adequate time to rest between games and get re-energized. As long as Boston makes it into the playoffs, they are in good shape. I’d be shocked if Danny Ainge doesn’t make a move of some sort by the trade deadline so who knows what the Celtics will look like in April.
Because of the NBA lockout, many teams have needed more time than usual to adjust, working out the kinks long into the start of the regular season. This might be the year where the NBA looks more like the NHL, where playoff seeding means virtually nothing as the lower seeds frequently beat the higher seeds in post season play.
The Knicks are a wildcard right now. Jeremy Lin has seemingly taken over the basketball world and we are all in a tizzy over how he has turned the Knicks around overnight. The story is sensational, in both meanings of the word, and hopefully New York can keep the train rolling. When the Knicks are good, it’s good for basketball. Period.
The Knicks are playing well at the moment, but who knows how the chemistry will change once Carmelo Anthony returns. As instrunmental as Lin has been to New York’s success, the addition of JR Smith might prove to be just as important as Smith is already in post season form after playing for several months in China. Plus, it would be helpful for Amare Stoudemire to turn into his old self by upping his shooting percentage.
But back to the “important” stuff… If Mike D’Antoni can figure out a way for Lin and Anthony to coexist, we won’t get a first-round Heat/Knicks match-up because there’s no chance New York will head into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed in the east. If Lin and Anthony can work together, the Knicks will not only make the playoffs for only the second time since 2004, but they could find themselves hosting a first-round series at Madison Square Garden. Wouldn’t that be something?
Friday’s game at Madison Square Garden was not the first time Jeremy Lin and the Lakers had crossed paths.
As an undrafted rookie out of Harvard, Jeremy Lin’s NBA options were limited, to say the least. After playing for the Dallas Mavericks’ Summer League team (and playing pretty well) in 2010, Lin’s hometown Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers each made him an offer. Playing for his home team and knowing he would have more of an opportunity to get playing time with the Warriors, Lin signed a two-year deal with Golden State, forgoing a chance to join the reigning NBA champion Lakers.
For a team without a reliable point guard, watching Lin dominate several phases of the game had to be a painful reality check for the Lakers. Lin’s 38-point performance pushed the New York Knicks to a fourth consecutive win, trouncing the Lakers late for a 92-85 victory leaving LA’s coaches, management and fan base asking, “what if?”
Who knows how long the Linsanity will last in New York, but for now, it’s alive and well, boosting the importance of basketball for die-hard and casual fans alike while making a struggling Knicks team relevant once again. In his last four games (the latter three games being his only career starts in the NBA) Lin’s stats are straight silly as he has logged at least 20 points and seven assists per contest. In other words, Lin is EXACTLY the kind of player the Lakers need.
Of course, it’s way too early to proclaim Lin the next Chris Paul or Deron Williams, two of the league’s top point guards who are capable of running the offense while scoring at will, a rare breed indeed. Maybe it’s just a phase or a lucky streak, but after watching Lin play at Harvard while I was a reporter for Comcast SportsNet New England, I believe he is the real deal. He was good then, and he’s damn good now. Lin should help Amare Stoudemire get back on track when he returns to the team (death in the family) but I worry about what Lin’s fate will be once Carmelo Anthony heals from a groin injury and gets back on the court. Lin is not a selfish player who must score, but since he is capable of it, we’ve seen him put the Knicks on his back and carry them across the finish line; something none of the Knicks’ big names have succeeded in doing consistently this season.
The Lakers on the other hand, are offensively challenged, to say the least. LA has two seven-footers in the starting lineup, yet can’t find a way to consistently get the ball in the hands of Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol.
Trading Lamar Odom to the Mavericks and losing Chris Paul when NBA Commissioner David Stern vetoed LA’s trade with the Hornets served as a crushing combination, leaving a talented Lakers team depleted on the wing and at the point.
Steve Blake’s play early in the season was a pleasant surprise as the nine-year vet was the only Laker aside from Kobe who seemed to understand the new offense implemented by head coach Mike Brown, a hodgepodge of pick & roll and elements of the triangle offense. Blake was a suitable facilitator and even managed to score some nice baskets, helping the Lakers to a 8-4 record to start the season. After a rib injury sidelined Blake, the Lakers went 6-7 without their starting point guard before going 1-1 (versus the Celtics and Knicks respectively) after his recent return.
With an aging Derek Fisher and a half-healthy Steve Blake, the lakers are left with the green Darius Morris and rookie Andrew Goudelock to fill in at point guard. Shockingly, that isn’t working, thus forcing Kobe to officially do everything at once; score, facilitate, play floor-general, defend the opponent’s best player, cure cancer, end wars, etc. Kobe might be one of the best to ever play the game, but even he can’t win playing 5-on-1 night in and night out in the NBA.
Rumors have swirled about a possible Gasol-for-Rondo trade which would be perfect for the Lakers, but I don’t see what the Celtics would gain by losing their best player for an older power forward. Sure, Jermaine O’Neal isn’t cutting it as a starting center and Gasol can play the five quite well, but I don’t see that getting Boston any closer to a championship this season.
The Lakers could use Rondo or any solid point guard right now to help ease Kobe’s burden. In theory, the Lakers should never need to take a 3-point shot with Kobe, Gasol and Bynum on the floor. A good point guard should be able to get the ball to Kobe and allow him to cut to the basket, at worse, missing the shot but drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. This theoretical point guard knows where his teammates will be and can dump the ball down low, or find a guy with a passing lane in order to get Bynum and Gasol the touches they deserve. Sure, LA would most likely lose Gasol in a trade, but a point guard like Williams, Rondo, or even Lin is a dual threat in terms of scoring and assists, so it’s not as if the loss of a big man would kill the Lakers’ scoring ability (which is already lacking).
Instead of putting the ball in the paint, the Lakers have been forced to play a perimeter game that just isn’t working out. The Lakers are alone in dead last place, shooting a league-low 28 percent from 3-point land, averaging almost 17 long-range attempts per game and making good on only 4.7 of them. That’s ugly. Really ugly. Why would a team with Gasol and Bynum down low, Kobe and a physical Metta World Peace (in theory) need to jack up nearly 17 three-pointers a game? The Lakers offense has not figured out how to get the ball inside, even against poor defensive teams. The Lakers are tied for 20th in the league in scoring, averaging 92.7 points per game and have only hit the 100-point mark twice in their last 10 games.
The Lakers lost out on the Chris Paul sweepstakes. That’s okay. They may not be able to get Deron Williams or Rajon Rondo either, so how about good ol’ Jeremy Lin? He’s progressing at a fast pace, figuring out where his teammates will be and getting them the ball, plus, he is scoring at will. Lin doesn’t have much of an ego and I get the feeling he would be honored to play alongside of Kobe Bryant, thus having no problem giving up the ball. In his explosive performance Friday night, Lin exposed the Lakers biggest weakness; LA’s lack of Jeremy Lin, or a point guard like him.
One third of the way through a truncated NBA season, several teams have already gone into panic mode with fans and some players alike clamoring for trades.
Former power houses like the Lakers and Celtics are struggling to stay afloat while up and coming teams like the Knicks have failed to meet lofty expectations.
Magic center Dwight Howard could be a solution to each of those three team’s problems should he opt for a trade out of Orlando. After getting whooped by the Hornets Friday night (93-67… ya. You read it right), the Magic have lost three of their last four games and their star player is furious. Howard, whose agent has received permission to talk trades with the Nets, Lakers and Mavericks, said after the loss to New Orleans, “”I look at guys and they don’t look like they want to play. I told them at halftime, ‘If you don’t want to play, just stay in the locker room, because it don’t make sense for a team who we should beat to just demolish us.’”
OUCH. There was a stretch of a few games where the Magic (12-7) looked on point and many guessed the team would keep Howard in hopes of making one last title run. But now that the seesaw seems to be stuck in the down position, one would guess Howard will find a way out of town.
One team that might want Howard’s services is the New York Knicks (7-13). Amare Stoudemire is only shooting 42 percent from the field, a significant drop from his 53 percent career average. Sure, Amare is scoring over 17 points per game, but his rebounding is dismal, grabbing 8.2 balls per game and blocking less than one shot per game on average. I’m sorry, but when you are 6’11, you should have no less than 10 rebounds per game. When Kris Humphries Kardashian is killing Amare on the boards, there’s a problem. I’m well aware of the fact that perhaps Carmelo Anthony isn’t dropping the ball down low enough, but when he does decide to share, Stoudemire has to make the most of it and shooting under 50 percent won’t get it done. Plus, with $83 million remaining on his contract, Stoudemire is going to be very tough to move.
But would Howard even want to play for the Knicks under Mike D’Antoni? Probably not. The fact that a big guy has yet to really succeed in the D’Antoni run-and-gun system is likely a turn off for Howard, whose agent has not received permission to negotiate with the Knicks (as far as we know). In that case, shouldn’t Howard just go to the Lakers (11-9) like many had originally assumed as early as two years ago?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, lets take a few steps back. I know the season is short, putting pressure on teams to win fast and often, but what if we’re all jumping the gun? Without an organized off-season and a poor excuse of a training camp, it’s only logical that many teams (especially those with new coaches and/or key players) might take longer than normal to get in the swing of things.
I keep seeing Kendrick Perkins in my head with flashing red lights surrounding him, reminding me of what a terrible trade that was for the Celtics (9-9) last year. Yes, that situation is different in the fact that Boston opted to get something in return for Perkins, who the team was not willing to pay top dollar to re-sign after his contract was set to expire. The gamble was that the Celtics, in theory, coming off a game 7 loss in the NBA Finals, were still equipped to make a playoff run with that same roster primarily in tact. Instead, they saved money but lost the heart and defensive presence of their team and fizzled out in the playoffs. I would hate to see any team make the wrong move in haste because of the unique situation caused by the lockout.
Now that we have that spiel out of the way, lets go back to various trade scenarios of this season. I don’t think Dwight Howard is the answer for the Lakers. Yes, he’s a fantastic player, but the majority of the Lakers issues are not down low, but at the guard position. Steve Blake got off to a fantastic start before injuring his ribs, which has the point guard out and missing significant time. The Lakers are more in need of a facilitator than a big man, given that they already have two.
If I am Orlando, I would LOVE a trade with the Lakers. With the choices being to keep Howard this season then let him go, or trade him in return for Andrew Bynum (and another player, draft pick, cash, whatever…) who could become our franchise center, I’m going with the “give something to get something” approach.
Bynum is third in the league in rebounding, he is blocking 1.9 shots per game and averaging 16 points in 21 minutes per game. I have watched every Lakers game this season and Bynum, while playing well, isn’t playing up to his potential. He’s shooting 53 percent from the field, but he has the shot and footwork to be even better. The sixth-year Big has missed several easy, uncontested shots in nearly every game, which in my opinion, is completely mental. He has been through a lot in his career and aside from injuries, I think the only thing stopping him from being an all-out monster is his psyche. Moving out of LA may very well be the key to unlock Bynum’s inner-beast.
Yes, Pau Gasol has been inconsistent since last season but I wouldn’t give up on him just yet either. Had the Lakers original trade with the Hornets been accepted by the league, yes, it would have been worth it to let go of Lamar Odom and Gasol for Chris Paul. That would have worked beautifully in the non-triangle offense under head coach Mike Brown.
As we know, the trade didn’t go through so unless the Magic are willing to throw in Jameer Nelson along with Howard (which will not happen), I say the Lakers stay put and hold out for a guard via trade or find a different way to weather the storm, perhaps utilizing a developing Andrew Goudelock until Blake is healthy and available to help Kobe Bryant run the offense.
Sure, trading Gasol to the Nets (7-13) for Deron Williams sounds like a pretty sweet deal, but with the way Pau is playing at the moment, I don’t see New Jersey making that move. Williams leads the Nets in points and assists so bringing in Gasol isn’t going to replace that level of production. The Nets have some good pieces, but it seems like they each fit different puzzles instead of all coming from the same box.
Then we have the Boston Celtics. Oy Vey.
It’s quite sad watching the once-almighty Big Three get older and suffer loss after loss as the team around them just doesn’t seem to mesh. If Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen each played for different teams, each would probably be the difference-maker that could take his team to new heights. When Jermaine ONeal is your starting center, well, that can’t bode well for your team. O’Neal has already missed a few games and he’s scoring less than six points per game. Garnett is the team’s leading rebounder with a whopping 7.7 per game. 7.7 rebounds a game to lead the team? No bueno.
Word on the street is that Danny Ainge isn’t opposed to trading away any of the Big Three who brought the Celtics a championship in 2008 after a 22-year drought. If he gets a good offer, Ainge must let anyone on that roster go, well, anyone aside from Rajon Rondo who has turned into one of the league’s premiere players in the last few seasons.
As much as fans would hate it, I could see Pau Gasol playing well in Boston and imagining Paul Pierce in is hometown purple and gold isn’t a stretch of the imagination by any means. I think Doc Rivers is the type of coach who can motivate anyone and positively reinforce Gasol in order to squeeze the best game out of him. Although, Garnett might eat Gasol for lunch one day, but theoretically, Rivers could get those two on the same page. Because of injuries to Bynum, Gasol is used to playing center despite being a natural power forward and the Lakers could use Pierce’s versatility. I’m not sure that Bryant and Pierce could play together, but that’s another story.
Will trades go down this season? Yes. Which teams will be involved? I have no idea. Will we see a blockbuster? Probably. I love the trade deadline as the NBA typically has at least one exciting move providing us fans with tons of drama, but I sure hope each team really does its homework before signing the paperwork.
After the lockout ended, remember how exciting basketball was in the first few days of the NBA season? Christmas day felt like the playoffs between the Knicks two-point win over the Celtics and the Bulls’ come-from-behind victory over the Lakers by a single point in L.A. as both games were intense and entertaining. Heading into the season without a lengthy training camp, I anticipated ugly, discombobulated basketball but instead was pleasantly surprised as we were treated to some fantastic games.
Four weeks into the condensed 66-game NBA season, the enthusiasm seems to have worn off a bit and the rust is showing as many of the league’s teams are struggling to find consistency. Teams are having issues with chemistry, several key players have sustained injuries and every team is playing at least one stretch of three games in three nights as well as four games in five, and even five games in six nights. That’s a lot of games, and not a lot of quality practice time.
Logically, we want to attribute things like injury, sloppy play, lack of understanding of a coach’s scheme, etc. to the fact that teams are playing much more often than during a full, 82-game regular season therefor they must be tired, hurt and practice-deprived.
I crunched some numbers and noticed that our conspiracy theories surrounding the shortened season could be off the mark. Lets take the Lakers, for example. Last season, the Lakers played 82 regular season games in 170 days over approximately 24.3 weeks. If you break those numbers down, the Lakers played 3.37 games per week last season. This year, the Lakers will play 66 games in 124 days over 17.7 weeks, thus playing 3.72 games per week. That’s only about one third of a game more per week than last season. I’m no statistician (although I took social statistics in college… it was dreadful) but I don’t think that figure is of any true significance.
Basically, the number of games being played in this shortened time frame is proportional to the number of games played over a full-length season last year.
There is a learning curve every season, especially through the first 20-30 games. It usually takes teams a while to get their ducks in a row even when they have a full-length training camp and preseason.
Here’s where it gets tricky. What about all of the back-to-back games? Many have suggested that the back-to-back sets, and especially the back-to-back-to-back games would give younger teams an advantage because their youthful bodies can bounce back quicker than the veteran players.
Guess what? Age doesn’t seem to be a big factor when it comes to back-to-back games, at least not yet.
Take a look at the five oldest teams in the league (Dallas being the eldest) and their records when it comes to wins and losses on zero days rest:
Now lets look at how the five youngest teams in the league (Minnesota being the youngest) fared on zero days rest:
Again, I’m no math major but it doesn’t appear as though we can draw any correlation between age and wins/losses of games played on consecutive days. Because it’s still early in this season, this could change down the road, but as of now, those young, fresh legs aren’t making much of a difference as wisdom and experience has proved tough as well.
What role could back-to-back games play over the duration of the season? I’ll let you be the judge.
I looked at the schedules of four teams and compared them to last year in terms of how many times they played on consecutive nights (back-to-backs). Below are the number of times the Clippers, Celtics, Lakers and Mavericks played on consecutive days/nights.
Clippers 23 20
Celtics 19 19
Lakers 15 19
Mavericks 17 20
While the Celtics are playing exactly the same number of back-to-backs as last season, the other three teams are in a different boat. The Lakers and Mavs will both play more back-to-backs this season with LA playing 26 percent more back-to-backs than last year and 18 percent more for Dallas. Meanwhile the Clippers are playing 13 percent fewer back-to-back games than they played last season. Lucky them!
This tidbit does seem significant. It looks like the Lakers got lucky last season, as 15 back-to-backs is quite different from the Clippers down the hall who played 23 such sets. Playing 26 percent more back-to-backs than in the previous year has to hurt, especially as the Lakers are the second oldest team in the NBA. I would think it will catch up to them eventually, well, everyone but Kobe that is (unless his wrist actually falls off at some point), and I guess time will tell.
I wonder if travel might be more of an issue than playing on consecutive nights, especially because plenty of the back-to-back scenarios involve travel. Only eight teams have road records of .500 or better. That’s pretty pathetic.
At the end of the day, I think true talent will win out despite age, long flights, late nights and little rest between games. As mentioned above, the condensed schedule isn’t really much tighter than a normal schedule. Look at the league’s top two teams. The Bulls are the 19th oldest team in the league, they are 12-3 overall (7-3 on the road) Derrick Rose is injured and they are 6-2 on zero days rest. Conversely we have one of the league’s youngest teams in the Thunder who are also riding high at 12-3 overall (6-2 on the road) and 5-1 on zero days rest. Both teams follow the trend that at this point in the season, age isn’t much of a factor and that back-to-back games haven’t proved detrimental just yet. With more than two thirds of the season left to play, we have plenty of time to dissect and diagnose the failures of struggling teams.
Thanks to the groups of lawyers representing the NBA and its players, we were given the gift of the professional basketball this Christmas. Opening day of the shortened 2011-2012 NBA season was no throw-away as each of the five games had something to positive offer as well as something to hate on. In the spirit of Christmas, we present the naughty and nice of NBA’s opening day!
The Justin Beiber/NBA Holiday Promos: Was the idea that the Beibs has the power to draw in the under 18 female viewers? Surely, the NBA’s target audience was cringing while being force-fed spoonfuls of the talented teeny-bopper throughout the day.
Rajon Rondo, But In A Good way: The Celtics guard stole the show for me (despite Carmelo Anthony’s performance) as many wondered if preseason trade rumors would distract Rondo and make his already questionable attitude worse. If anything, Rondo did what the best competitors do as he excelled among controversy (real or perceived), picking apart the Knicks defense and dropping 31 points and 13 assists while logging five steals in Madison Square Garden. While the Knicks escaped with a 106-104 win, Rondo’s performance was encouraging for a team playing without the injured Paul Pierce and boasting Jermaine O’Neal as the starting center.
Lamar Odom: Adding insult to the injury of his new team being humiliated by the Heat, Lamar Odom got himself tossed out of his first game playing for the Dallas Mavericks. Coincidently, the ejection was the second in as many games for Khloe’s husband dating back to last season when Odom was ejected in what would be the Lakers final playoff game after being swept by the Mavs in Dallas. This time around, Lamar got tossed because he barked at the referee about a foul call in the third quarter, or as my Mom explained to my Dad, “he sassed the ref.” Looks like L.O.’s track record in American Airlines Center could use a turn-around real soon.
Dallas Mavericks: The reigning NBA Champion Mavericks were god awful in their season debut leaving a sellout crowd disappointed in Dallas as last season’s finals foe, the Miami Heat trounced the home team 105-94. The game was nowhere near as close as the final score with the Heat leading by 35 points midway through the third quarter. We’ll address the Heat in the “nice” section, but the Mavs, while still reigning champs, lost several vital pieces of the title-winning team, such as J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler. The addition of Sixth Man Of The Year Lamar Odom is fantastic, but with Vince Carter and Delonte West also new to the roster, Rick Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki and the gang have a lot of bonding to do in order to find the right team chemistry.
Dwight Howard: The Orlando Magic big man had a less than Super performance on Sunday as the Oklahoma City Thunder held Dwight Howard to only 11 points. Thunder bigs Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed did most of the damage on Howard helping OKC to a 97-89 win. Sure, it was an ugly team effort for the Magic as only three players scored in double figures, but as the leader of your team, trade talks or not, Howard needs to shoot better than 4-12 from the field (he’s 7 feet tall, c’mon now) in 38 minutes. Howard grabbed 15 rebounds, so I’ll give him credit for that, but if nobody on the team can convert rebounds into points, why bother? Meanwhile Kevin Durant balled out, dropping 30 on Orlando in a solid overall team win by the Thunder at home. By the way, if you folks haven’t checked out Kendrick Perkins on Twitter (he recently joined), you are missing out big time. He is one of my favorite athletes I’ve covered as he is sweet, sincere and brutally honest. Follow him on twitter for some good laughs and Perky knowledge bombs at @KendrickPerkins
Drunk Santa Harassing LeBron James: A lovely man dressed as Santa Claus heckled LeBron James with an alcoholic beverage in hand as the Heatles star shot free throws during Miami’s shellacking of the Mavs. Santa, clearly a Dallas homer, shouted to James, “What do you want from Santa? A ring?” I would give this guy props if he had anything original to say to James, but not only was he boring, but his team was getting hammered which makes heckling a bit pointless.
Carmelo Anthony: On a day where the New York Knicks led by 17 points and trailed by 10 in the same game, Carmelo Anthony provided the only real consistency for the home team in MSG. Anthony scored 20 of his 37 points in the second half and sunk two free throws which proved to be the game-winning points for the Knicks. After trying to pull a Sprewell on former teammate Billy Walker after the game, Celtics big man Kevin Garnett told reporters, “They seem to have a little swag and confidence behind them. It’s good for the city. It’s good for the Knicks. I’m going to see how consistent they are with that, but for the most part Carmelo played really well.” When KG shows you love after you beat him, that is saying something.
Los Angeles Clippers Swagger: There was no shortage of confidence among the Clippers starting lineup; Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul took the court at ORACLE Arena in Oakland beaming with pride and a sense of belonging as they faced the Golden State Warriors. While the Clippers performance was far from perfect and the 105-86 win over the Warriors was closer than the score indicates, the Clipps season opener was encouraging as the guys demonstrated noticeable differences from Clippers past. As an L.A. native and long time Clippers fan, I have never seen a Clippers team with this kind of swagger. There was a time when a young run & gun collection of guys like Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson and Lamar Odom got cocky after doubling their win total one year after a 15-win season. Once Blake Griffin took off last season, the Clippers showed more and more confidence with each game they played, but this season, that positive attitude is on a different level. Now watching the Clipp Joint play with legitimate energy and boldness from the opening tip (backed up by their play in the preseason and down the stretch vs. Golden State) until the final buzzer sounds is really refreshing.
Miami Heat: Yes, it was only the first game of the season but it was important for the Heat to get off to a good start this year, especially given the time and place of their 2011-2012 debut. Heat head coach Eric Spoelstra kept his team sequestered as the Mavericks unveiled their championship banner and celebrated last season’s finals win over Miami on the court before the game. It was a small gesture that sent a strong message that their finals failure was in the past and it was time for the uber-talented Heat to start anew. That they did as Miami scored at least 30 points in each of the first three quarters, and at one point, held a 35-point lead en route to smoking the Mavs 105-94. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade scored 37 and 26 points respectively as the Heat finally got the better of the Mavs; at least for one game.
NAUGHTY & NICE
The final minutes of the Bulls/Lakers game played out like a poetic Wagner opera, full of surprise, joy and heartache. My eyes began to water and butterflies took over my stomach after Chicago’s defense forced a turnover resulting in a gorgeous Derrick Rose floater good for a one point Bulls lead with 4.8 seconds to play. The beauty of DRose’s shot coupled with the anticipation of watching perhaps another Kobe Bryant game winning shot was a bit overwhelming for me on Day 1 of the NBA season.
While the home team Lakers started strong despite a torn ligament in Kobe’s shooting wrist as well as being without center Andrew Bynum (who is serving a four game suspension), L.A. let it all slip away in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The Bulls fell flat for a good chunk of the game, seemingly unable to hit air with the basketball or play anything resembling defense. But that all changed when Chicago woke up as Rose went down with 3:34 left to play after the league MVP took a shot to the head, care of teammate Luol Deng’s elbow, as he landed a pretty up & under for two points. Rose hit the deck shortly after, and clutching his head, the Bulls took a timeout to make sure he was okay and had not received a concussion. Rose stayed in the game and from that moment on, Chicago’s offense and defense were synchronized enough to dig them out of an 11-point hole and lead them to a one-point, 88-87 win over LA.
For the Lakers, they have to be pleased with the play of Kobe as well as Pau Gasol, despite the drama surrounding a failed trade that would’ve sent the Spaniard to Houston for Chris Paul. Role players (aka guys you probably didn’t know existed) like Josh McRoberts, Devin Ebanks and Steve Blake were impressive in running Mike Brown’s new offense as well as variations of Phil Jackson’s old triangle. The Lakers defense was also spectacular until the final minutes. It is not encouraging for LA that they had the Bulls down in the dumps and couldn’t keep them there, at home, on opening day, with the Staples Center going crazy.
As for the Bulls, they struggled to shoot and rebound for much of the game, despite having scoring ability and being one of the league’s top rebounding teams last season. The defense was non-existent which was shocking as the Bulls had the top defense in the league last season. Despite a long rough patch in this one, the team managed to turn water into wine, pulling the win out of nowhere. As usual, DRose did his part but Deng was also sensational, playing stellar defense down the stretch and scoring 21 points, second only to Rose’s 22 for the Bulls. I think this young Bulls team started slow and just needed a while to realize the lockout truly is over, for real, and no, they weren’t playing in a charity game or Vegas league contest. The Bulls are incredibly talented and fun to watch, thus I wouldn’t anticipate too many more slow starts like the one we witnessed against the Lakers on Christmas.
Between Adrian Wojnarowski, Marc J. Spears and their fellow hoops writers, Yahoo Sports’ coverage of the NBA is absolutely top notch.
The aforementioned Wojnarowski hasn’t slept since the lockout began, and apparently the tentative deal between the owners and players hasn’t cured his insomnia as he posted the following scoop in the wee hours of Wednesday morning:
“As Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge aggressively pursues possible deals for Rajon Rondo, the Indiana Pacers have emerged as an intriguing suitor for the point guard, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
For the past few days, Pacers officials – and third-party surrogates – have been making calls and gathering information and insight into Rondo’s reputation as a teammate and leader, sources said.
The Pacers and Celtics have discussed the preliminary framework of a deal, but two sources said Indiana would need a third team to provide Boston with the talent it wants to do a deal. The Celtics are likely trying to gather the necessary pieces to make a bid for Ainge’s ultimate target: New Orleans point guard Chris Paul, sources said.”
Could Danny Ainge do it again? Could he swing yet another blockbuster trade? Which players are off limits? Could we possibly see a new Big 3 in Boston?
Time will tell, because due to the recent end of the lockout, the trade deadline for this shortened season of 66 games has yet to be established. I think it would be pretty tough to execute three-team trade of this magnitude before opening day on Christmas, but surely the league will provide ample time for trades given the lockout.
As far as the Hornets finding any of this discussion attractive, it looks like swapping for players on the Celtics roster doesn’t top their priority list.
“New Orleans has shown no interest in a deal that would include Rondo and any combination of Celtics teammates,” wrote Wojnarowski. “Yet, New Orleans GM Dell Demps is determined to get maximum value for Paul, if it’s clear the point guard sees his future elsewhere. Demps has no desire to simply let Paul walk away as a free agent to New York.”
According to Wojnarowski’s article, the Celtics have been assessing Rondo’s trade value for more than a year despite the lack of consensus among the coaching staff, locker room and front office in regards to moving the two-time all star. Wojnarowski raises the issue of Rondo’s sometimes-sour attitude as being a factor in whether or not he would be a good fit for the Pacers and Frank Vogel, their young coach.
Having covered the Celtics, I sometimes wonder why Doc Rivers doesn’t win the coach of the year award every single season. The Celtics players are a good bunch; nice, smart, decent sense of humor, charitable, driven, hardworking and extremely talented.
At the same time, the group is volatile with its mix of veteran all stars, youth and ego. Rivers is the voice of reason and has proved to be a mastermind personality manager. Regardless of his disposition, Rondo’s teammates respect his talent immensely and I find it hard to imagine him anywhere else right now.
Should Rondo be forced to take his talents elsewhere, yes, he will still be a great player. A different logo on his jersey won’t change that, but I can’t help wanting to watch this star-powered yet aging Celtics nucleus go for the title one last time.
To read Adrian Wojnarowski’s article on the Pacers interest in Rajon Rondo, click here: http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=aw-wojnarowski_boston_celtics_rajon_rondo_112911
Just last week I gave the marriage of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries until the end of 2012… apparently I gave them WAY too much credit. Oops! Live and learn.
After 72 not-so-blissful days of marriage, rumors of Kardashian filing for divorce from the New Jersey Nets forward were confirmed Monday with a tweet from Ryan Seacrest, who produces E!’s Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
@RyanSeacrest: “Yes @kimkardashian is filing for divorce this morning. I touched base with her, getting a statement in just a few mins”
After putting on a $10 million show (errr, wedding) with over 450 guests, Kardashian will not seek an annulment, and will cite irreconcilable differences in the divorce filing, according to TMZ.
Truly heartbreaking, I know. As for the reason why these two lovebirds couldn’t make it work, well, no official details on that yet, and I have a feeling I know why.
This marriage was a sham. Period. Not to sound like an Obama Birther, but can I see their marriage license? The original, not a copy please.
A few weeks ago I was told by a source close to the situation that the Kardashian camp had contacted then-New York Knicks forward Danilo Gallinari’s “people,” asking if he would be interested in dating Kim for her reality show, Kim and Kourtney Take New York. Galinari declined, and shortly after, Kim “met” Humphries, and the rest was history. This was confirmed with further detail in wetpaint.com’s exclusive story that was picked up by the New York Post last week.
(read the original blog post here… http://pepperonsports.tumblr.com/post/11996976421/knicks-before-nets-on-the-scouting-report-where-kim )
In response to the demise of this business relationship, errr, marriage, Darren Rovell, the host of CNBC’s Sports Biz gave us this enlightening tidbit via twitter:
@darrenrovell: “Kris Humphries grossed $16.9 million over his 7-year NBA career. His TV marriage to Kim Kardashian was worth $17 million.”
For Kim, the wedding was just one sliver of a projected $1 billion pie that she and her family will earn throughout the years. As for the 26-year-old Humphries, the production surely provided him a pretty penny, and even more than that, gave him fame.
If Kim actually files for divorce (and not at a courthouse on the Warner Brothers lot in Hollywood), that implies that she and Humphries are legally married, thus there goes my ‘birther’-like conspiracy theory.
Whether their union was fact or fiction, there’s no doubt that Humphries will receive a nice severance package that was surely in place from the get-go. The timing is probably beneficial for Humphries who can wash his hands of the Kardashians, cash his check and get back to focusing on basketball with enough time to prepare for the start of a shortened NBA season, whenever that may be.
As for 31-year-old Kimmy K, she’ll bounce back, like she always does. I’ll give her three months of public mourning until she’s back on the dating scene, with cameras rolling. On second thought, three months might be generous, just like my prediction of their marriage lasting more than a year. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!
(To read Kim’s statement on the divorce and a picture of the divorce paperwork, click on this link to Stiletto Jill’s blog…. http://jocksandstilettojill.com/2011/10/kim-kardashian-files-for-divorce-from-kris-humphries-after-72-days/ )
Apparently New Jersey Nets forward Kris Humphries wasn’t the first choice of his wife Kim Kardashian. The New York Post cites a story on website Wetpaint.com revealing that before dating Humphries, Kim had inquired about then-New York Knicks forward Danilo Gallinari.
According to the Page Six article, “Kardashian was so eager to land a basketball player, the site says, that she had producers at E!, the home of her reality shows, contact NBA teams about potential beaus. Sources say that producers at the network called the Knicks to find out if the team’s handsome Italian import, Gallinari, was single.”
My own source close to the situation confirmed that when asked if he was interested in dating Kim for the reality series, Gallinari politely declined the offer. From Wetpaint.com, “Danilo said he would love to meet Kim but was not interested in dating her or being on a reality show … Even though E! explained it would be great for his career, Gallinari turned the offer down.”
Isn’t it sad that I was tempted to give Gallinari a standing ovation in my living room for not taking the bait on this one? In an age where fame has become more important than fortune (or anything else for that matter) among those in my generation, it’s encouraging that doing his job seems to be enough for Gallinari. It’s nice that not everyone wants to sell their souls to the fame monster, feeding the self-centeredness that comes with a camera crew following your every move and the internet abuzz with details of your personal life.
As far as Kim as concerned, I struggle to put my feelings in words. “If you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all.” Why didn’t she just go on The Bachelorette if TV-dating was so important to her? Probably because she would have to share the spotlight with twenty men and surely casting couldn’t provide a line-up of All-Stars, literally.
With all the rumors of relationship drama between Kris and Kim, I bet Gallinari looks in the mirror and thinks, “whew! I dodged a bullet.” Yes you did buddy. Gallinari for the win!