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Griffin Becomes 5th Best Scorer In Clippers’ History

Dec 15, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) shoots the ball as Detroit Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) defends at Staples Center. The Clippers defeated the Piston 113-91. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 15, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) shoots the ball as Detroit Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) defends at Staples Center. The Clippers defeated the Piston 113-91. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With his 18 points scored in Monday night’s 113-91 victory for the Clippers over the Detroit Pistons, Blake Griffin has leapt past Danny Manning to become the fifth-best scorer in franchise history.

The 25-year-old power forward of the Clippers now has scored 7,121 points, and is averaging 22.7 points this season in 23 games.

Only 1,714 points to go to catch Maggette, and 5,614 to climb to the top. Griffin is averaging 21.5 points per game in his five-year career, which means it will take roughly 80 games to catch Maggette, or by December, 2016, and 261 games before he can take down Smith, or roughly three full seasons, an estimate of February, 2018.

Check it out for yourself below.

Clippers' All-Time Leading Scorers
1 Randy Smith 12735
2 Bob McAdoo 9434
3 Elton Brand 9336
4 Corey Maggette 8835
5 Blake Griffin 7121

Stuckey Too Much As Pacers Defeat Lakers

Dec 15, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Rodney Stuckey (2) lays the ball in on a break away lay up against the Los Angeles Lakers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana Pacers defeat the Los Angeles Lakers 110-91. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 15, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Rodney Stuckey (2) lays the ball in on a break away lay up against the Los Angeles Lakers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana Pacers defeat the Los Angeles Lakers 110-91. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — Rodney Stuckey had a points and rebounds double-double just twice in the last seven seasons — the last one coming almost two years ago.

On Monday night he got his second in 48 hours, getting 20 points and 10 rebounds and adding seven assists to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Los Angeles Lakers 110-91.

With the victory over Los Angeles, Indiana snapped an eight-game losing streak. That was more important to Stuckey.

“I don’t even care about that kind of stuff,” he said, regarding the back-to-back double-doubles. “It was just important for us to get a win tonight before we go on this West Coast trip. We have some tough games coming up and it was an important win.”

Was it an emotional hangover from Kobe’s big night? Fatigue? Bryant went with “atrocious” in describing the Lakers’ ugly loss in Indy, writes Baxter Holmes. Story

Stuckey is averaging 12.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists a game. On Monday night, he was one of Six Pacers who scored in double figures. CJ Miles scored 20, Roy Hibbert added 10, David West C.J. Watson each contributed 12 and Donald Sloanscored 17 points for Indiana.

Indiana has been shuffling its rotations while battling injuries, relying heavily on a mixture of starters and role players. The Pacers jumped out to a 34-15 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Lakers made 3 of 20 shots, shooting 15 percent from the floor, allowing Indiana to pull away.

“We had great energy, we were the more energized team tonight,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “We just have to understand that the game is going to change. They were going to pick up their pressure and intensity. We have to handle that better, clearly. We still had a 31 point lead at the end of the third quarter, so we did enough and kept our foot on the gas.”

The Pacers out-rebounded the Lakers 53-38 and their bench outscored the Lakers’ 52-46. West and Lavoy Allen each grabbed nine rebounds and Hibbert and Solomon Hill each had seven rebounds.

Kobe Bryant led the Lakers in scoring with 21 points, making 8 of 26 shots from the floor. Nick Young scored 18 points and Carlos Boozer had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

“They jumped out to a quick lead on us and we just compounded it that we couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean sitting on a boat,” Bryant said. “Sometimes you just have to pat yourself on the back for an atrocious job. We didn’t have our legs at the start of the ball game. We just could not get ourselves activated.”

The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Lakers. Los Angeles had just four points with a little over two minutes remaining in the first quarter and eight of their 15 first quarter points were from the foul line.

The Pacers biggest lead was 39 points and it came during the second quarter when they led 60-21. The Lakers cut that lead to 60-27 at halftime. The Lakers shot 16 percent from the floor for the entire first half and ended the game shooting just 33 percent.

“I didn’t think we came ready, mentally or physically. I thought they were a desperate team,” Coach Byron Scott said. “They came out and jumped on us and we didn’t react real well to it. The second half, obviously, we came out with more energy. We felt that we were embarrassed the way we played the first half. They were just kicking our butts.”

TIP INS

PACERS: Indiana is 3-9 vs. Western Conference teams this season . The Pacers 34 first quarter points and 60 first half points were their most this season . Indiana is 5-2 when grabbing 50 or more rebounds

LAKERS: The Lakers lost five of the last six match ups vs. the Pacers including three consecutive . The Lakers 64 second half points was the most this season

UP NEXT

Pacers travel to Los Angeles to face the Clippers on December 17th

Lakers host the Thunder on December 19th

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

Could Clippers Have Drafted C.J. Wilcox To Draw In LeBron James?

May 13, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers reacts to a call in action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first quarter in game five of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

May 13, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers reacts to a call in action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first quarter in game five of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In a somewhat baffling move on draft night, the Los Angeles Clippers passed on UCLA guard/forward Kyle Anderson, instead selecting shooting guard C.J. Wilcox out of the University of Washington.

The 28th pick could have been used on a plethora of players, including Anderson, a player that the Clippers were said to have been sold on, and one they reportedly had pondered to trade up into the early 20s to draft.

When he fell into their lap, they did the unthinkable, they passed on him.

Not only will it come back to haunt them in coming seasons because Wilcox is the second coming of Reggie Bullock, but Anderson slipped to No. 30, the pick belonging to the NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs, the team that can develop anybody.

But good for Anderson, who will learn from a player who has a similar work ethic and playing style in Boris Diaw.

Are the Clippers blind to the fact that they will be losing Darren Collison, Danny Granger, Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis to free agency on July 1?

The one player on the bench already is Willie Green — who is now joined by Wilcox.

Could the team be readying itself for a sign and trade for LeBron James? Absolutely not. Not like this. Or could they be?

A player like Anderson likely translates to a small forward in the NBA, but can also play some power forward too, and won’t be blocking James’ path if he does become a Clipper.

While Blake Griffin is said to be untouchable, how can you not make that move for James if it becomes available? It helps to surpass the Lakers for good in the next five years, a movement that has already begun.

But James needs role players surrounding him — namely shooters, and that’s why I feel that perhaps adding Wilcox to an already stellar combo of shooters in J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford could be promising for Doc Rivers’ squad, in addition to Jared Dudley and Bullock.

The latter three could be moved in cap-clearing efforts to land James, and it almost seems like that’s what’s happening here.

How could you pass on a player you coveted so much, when he blocks arguably the NBA’s top superstar?

Stay tuned.

Lakers Draft Julius Randle With 1st Round Pick

Jun 26, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; is selected as the number seven overall pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2014 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 26, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; is selected as the number seven overall pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2014 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In the highly anticipated NBA draft Thursday night, the Los Angeles Lakers selected Julius Randle with the No. 7 selection.

The power forward from the University of Kentucky, who stands at 6-foot-9, became the second consecutive forward selected by Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak (Duke’s Ryan Kelly, 2013) and was instantly greeted by future hall-of-famer and new teammate, Kobe Bryant.

Bryant tweeted to his 5.2 million followers (seen below), publicly welcoming Randle to the team. But, Randle later told the media that the pair has already exchanged private text messages.

Randle averaged 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds in his lone season under coach John Calipari at Kentucky, where he experienced adversity and intensity with the Wildcats during their run to the NCAA Championship game.

Included in the adversity is health issues. Rumors have spread about Randle’s foot needing to be repaired. However, he recently addressed the subject by saying, “I’m healthy, I have no problems with my foot.”

Along with alleged foot problems, Randle’s lack of conditioning was difficult to ignore in last year’s National Championship game against Connecticut, where he had to be removed from the game due to fatigue within the first two minutes. Calipari cited the situation to nerves, which are likely to be present when he puts on a Lakers uniform.

It was no secret Randle was at the top of the Lakers’ front office’s draft board since his pre-draft workout. Kupchak boasted over Randle’s versatility, saying the 19-year-old could put the ball on the floor, drive and get to the rim.

Randle echoed Kupchak, “I’ll be able to play all over the floor,” he told the media. “As far as only shooting 18 3s, some of that was what I sacrificed in college.”

The new Lakers member said he would be available for the NBA’s summer league, but that it would only be possible if a contract was agreed upon by him and L.A. before the opener in Las Vegas on July 11.

Cavaliers Hire David Blatt As Head Coach

Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv's coach David Blatt reacts during the Euroleague Playoff game 01 basketball match Emporio Armani Milan vs Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv on April 16, 2014 at the Mediolanum Forum in Assago. AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE        (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv’s coach David Blatt reacts during the Euroleague Playoff game 01 basketball match Emporio Armani Milan vs Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv on April 16, 2014 at the Mediolanum Forum in Assago. AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND — David Blatt went overseas to chase his basketball dreams. He’s coming back to fulfill them.

One of Europe’s top coaches, Blatt was hired Friday by the Cavaliers, who ended a sweeping, 39-day search with an out-of-the-box selection they hope changes their fortunes.

American-born, Princeton-schooled and considered one of the game’s brightest offensive minds, Blatt, 55, has long been interested in coaching in the NBA, and the Cavs will give him his first shot.

Blatt was given a three-year deal worth about $10 million with a fourth-year team option that includes incentives, sources told ESPN.com.

Cleveland contacted high-profile college coaches and interviewed both retreaded head coaches and on-the-rise assistants before zeroing in and landing Blatt, who won several European titles while coaching in Israel and guided Russia to a bronze medal at the London Olympics two years ago.

“David Blatt is going to bring some of the most innovative approaches found in professional basketball anywhere on the globe,” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said. “Time and time again, from Russia to Israel and several other prominent head coaching jobs in between, David has done one thing: ‘win.’ He is not only an innovator, well-trained and focused on both sides of the court, but he is always learning and always teaching.”

Blatt will be introduced by the team Wednesday, one day before the club picks first in this year’s NBA draft.

Cleveland’s third coach in three years, Blatt replaces Mike Brown, who was fired — for the second time — on May 12, a few weeks after the Cavs finished 33-49 and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Blatt was not believed to be on Cleveland’s radar early in its search, but that changed when he resigned at Maccabi Tel Aviv to pursue an NBA gig.

“I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to come to Cleveland and lead the Cavaliers as their head coach,” Blatt said. “We are going to work extremely hard to achieve the kind of results we all expect and know are possible.”

Blatt also was coveted as an assistant by Golden State and Minnesota, but the Cavs made him the first European coach to make the jump to the NBA as a head coach.

“David is a great basketball coach and a special person,” Cavs general manager David Griffin said. “His abilities to communicate, to build relationships with his players and to foster winning environments at several stops throughout Europe and across the highest levels of international competition speak for itself. He brings unbridled passion, energy and creativity to his craft.

“I have watched David’s work for many years. He has an uncanny ability to adapt his system to maximize the talents of his teams year after year. That is why I am very confident he will make a smooth transition to the NBA.”

With Blatt in place, the Cavs can focus their attention on next week’s draft.

As agent Mike Tannenbaum was negotiating Blatt’s contract, Griffin and the rest of Cleveland’s front office got a closer look at Duke forward Jabari Parker, who worked out at the team’s training facility in Independence, Ohio. Parker is one of the Cavs’ options with the No. 1 pick, a selection they are determined to get right.

Last year, the Cavs selected forward Anthony Bennett with the top choice, but he had a disastrous rookie season that began with him coming into training camp out of shape after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Cleveland had been strongly considering Kansas center Joel Embiid, but he underwent foot surgery Friday and estimates on his return range from six months to a full season. Taking Embiid, who missed the end of his freshman year with a back stress fracture, would be risky, and the Cavs are more likely to go a safer route and select Parker or Jayhawks forward Andrew Wiggins, who visited the team earlier this week.

It’s also possible the Cavs could trade the pick, and Griffin has said the team will listen to offers.

With free agency to follow the draft, Cleveland’s roster could have a very different look by the time Blatt holds his first practices.

Blatt played point guard at Princeton under legendary coach Hall of Fame coach Pete Carril, whose pass-and-cut offense has often been mimicked. Blatt has incorporated elements of the Princeton system into his offense.

His style with Cleveland will be vastly different than the team experienced under Brown, who improved Cleveland’s defense this season in his second stint with the club. However, the Cavs’ offense rarely flowed and the team was prone to empty possessions, turnovers or poor shot selection.

Blatt led Maccabi Tel Aviv to a stunning upset of Real Madrid in this year’s Euroleague championship, and in the celebration afterward, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded with him to stay. But the chance to coach in the NBA was too much to resist, and Blatt, who emigrated to Israel after college, will return to live in the U.S. for the first time in 30 years.

Cleveland is his new home.

The Cavs can only hope he stays a while.

Fan Bias: What Drives the Tastes of the Average Sports Fan?

As you may have heard by now, the San Antonio Spurs lead the Miami Heat 2-1 in the NBA Finals.  The series has lived up to all of the hype, Game 1 was a basketball soap opera featuring a broken air-conditioning system at the AT&T Center in San Antonio and the now infamous cramp gate.  LeBron James bounced back with a monstrous 35 & 10 performance and the Heat defense stifled the Spurs in Game 2.  The Spurs took Game 3 behind an unreal shooting night and a 71-point first half.  Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green combined for 44 points on 17-of-21 shooting in Game 3.  The Spurs as a team shot nearly 60% from the field, it was a timeless offensive performance, and one that I can safely say, won’t be repeated again.

Not to sound cliche, but these series are all about adjustments, the Spurs and the Heat are the two best teams in the league at making game-to-game adjustments.  We’ve seen both teams make the necessary tweaks to change the dimensions of the game, and the team that lost the previous game ratcheted up the intensity in the next one.  History is eerily repeating itself, remember, the Spurs held a 2-1 advantage after laying the smack down in Game 3 last year too.  Chris Bosh was silenced in Game 3 and Stephen A. Smith even filed a missing person’s report on behalf of Mario Chalmers.  However, I have no doubt that history will continue to repeat.  LeBron James will respond with a monster game, I’ll put money on that, the Heat will increase the intensity, and there’s just no way that San Antonio will shoot 59% from the floor again.  Do you think Kawhi Leonard is going make more fade-away corner 3’s like Game 3? No.  Did you see the three Manu Ginobili hit to end the first half.  It bounced around twice, hit the top of the backboard, and still managed to drop in the hoop, might we call that a lucky bounce?

Regardless, Game 4 will be wondrous, and I can’t wait to get my basketball fix.  However, I’m not going over X’s and O’s in this article.  I’m here to talk about perception.  Obviously, I write about sports, I try to stay as objective as possible and judge everything by what happens on the court (or field) and I’m a numbers geek.  Numbers show that LeBron James is a two-time champion, two-time Finals MVP, and a four-time league MVP.  However, in discussions with other “fans” I was a little shocked, and mostly appalled at how much hatred there still is for James, the single best basketball player on the planet.  I just want to know…WHY!!??

Cramp-gate was awful, not just because it took the best player off the floor in a crucial late game situation, but it gave all the LeBron-haters the fuel they’d been craving for so long.  They were all able to say that neither Jordan nor Kobe would ever come out of a game, Jordan had played dehydrated with the flu, Kobe hit two free throws after rupturing his Achilles.  But, what does that have to do with LeBron?  Everyone’s body is different.  Hey, 40-year old dude saying LeBron should have scored more, I’d love to see how your body would have held up playing 35 minutes of intense basketball inside a stifling 90-degree arena.  You probably wouldn’t be gassed or anything.

Oh yeah, apparently 35 and 10 and the win wasn’t enough for some people.  I talked to one guy, who said LeBron should have dropped 40, because that what’s any other superstar would have done.  It’s a team sport!! That’s why LeBron went to Miami to join forces with Bosh and Dwyane Wade, so he wouldn’t have to drop 35 a night in order to succeed.  He even had the blasphemy to say that Blake Griffin could score more in the Finals….CALL ME WHEN THE CLIPPERS MAKE THE FINALS, BUDDY!!!!

Then there’s the people who don’t like LeBron because they think he’s rude, or insufferable of the court, or are still mad about the decision.  As Dave Chappelle said when he was Rick James, “THAT WAS WEEKS AGO, MOTHERF**KER!!!”  Are you still mad over the girl that dumped you in high school?  I had almost forgotten about the decision.  Was it executed the best way, probably not, but did LeBron actually do anything wrong?  NO.  He was a free agent, and he went to the place that he felt was best for himself and his family.  Four straight Finals appearances later, it’s crystal clear that LeBron made the right decision.

Then there’s notion that LeBron is a whiner and rude, or some kind of a prick off the court.  A classmate of mine once said she felt LeBron treated the media poorly.  I’ve never talked to the guy in person, but on TV, LeBron is a wonderful interview.  He’s open and concise about the game and always keeps it real.  In the Indiana series it was Paul George and Roy Hibbert calling out teammates and throwing their coach under the bus, not LeBron.  Kevin Durant’s MVP speech was a truly wonderful moment, but in most interviews Durant gives short, terse, answers.  Like Grantland mentioned, Durant is essentially mid-to-late-90’s Eddie Vedder in interviews, seemingly shunning the spotlight.  James Harden called a reporter a weirdo after a loss against Portland.  Off all the players in the NBA, I have a hard time believing that LeBron James has the worst personality and disposition (Dwight Howard, anybody…) of all of them.  Like, seriously, you’d rather hang out with Dwight Howard and have him on your team than LeBron?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

And then, there’s Lakers fans.  We have a passionate fanbase, but, my god, we can be delusional sometimes.  I’m a Lakers fan, but I’m also a huge basketball fan, I catch every game I can, and I love this crazy league we have going.  Sadly, that does not apply to a lot of Lakers fans.  There are lots of Lakers fans who I would say aren’t basketball fans.  I love (sarcastic) when people say that the reason they hate/dislike LeBron is because they’re a Lakers fan.  Because, clearly it was LeBron James’s fault that the Lakers sucked this year.  Or the people who still believe that Kobe Bryant is the best player in the world, even though he played six games this year, he’s clearly still the best, right?  There’s also a seven-year age difference between the two, so I don’t really consider them complete contemporaries. To me that would be like if people compared Yasiel Puig to Albert Pujols instead of Mike Trout.  If you want a true contemporary for Kobe, well, that man is Tim Duncan, and he’s wearing a Spurs uniform.  Duncan and the Spurs winning would have far more impact on Kobe’s legacy than LeBron and the Heat winning.

We are watching greatness right now, people.  Why, can’t we just enjoy it?  Two teams for the ages.  Not one, but many, all-time greats are doing battle in one of the greatest spectacles in hoops history.  Anyone who was so contemptuous as to pick San Antonio in six, (or even five games!!), after these two teams went the distance last year, is foolish.  Why would you want to deprive yourself of such great basketball action.

Get your popcorn, people.  This isn’t over yet.

 

Heat v. Spurs II: The Rematch

Jun 20, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat power forward Chris Andersen (11) and point guard Mario Chalmers (15) and center Chris Bosh (1) celebrate after defeating the San Antonio Spurs in game seven in the 2013 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena. Miami Heat won 95-88 to win the NBA Championship. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 20, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat power forward Chris Andersen (11) and point guard Mario Chalmers (15) and center Chris Bosh (1) celebrate after defeating the San Antonio Spurs in game seven in the 2013 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena. Miami Heat won 95-88 to win the NBA Championship. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Far too often is the word “epic” overused.

Hey, man, you see that movie trailer for (blah, blah, blah)? Ah, man, so epic!

You should watch (such and such), it’s so epic!

Sizzling bacon again? Epic!

Oh, but if there were ever an appropriate time to describe something as such, you’d have to look no further than one year ago in one of the most emotional seven-game series to memory.

And how appropriate things turn out to be.

The 2013 NBA Finals already had a lot going for it from the get-go. You had the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs going at it, yet it felt familiar some how.

You see, LeBron James had faced the Spurs back in 2007 as a Cavalier, going out with nothing but a whimper, as Cleveland was easily disposed of by the juggernaut that was San Antonio, getting swept.

No, this time, this mattered, not only for the sake of going back-to-back for titles, or living up to high expectations – self-induced ones at that - but for good’ol fashion vengeance, baby!

And it almost slipped away.

Look at Game 6: With a little over 20 seconds left in the game, the Spurs had the title practically sealed, being up 94-89 with a 3-2 series lead.

You had the staffers at the arena preparing the Larry O’Brien trophy; people preparing the tape around the court for the presentation of said trophy to your 2013 NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs!

But such an outcome was best left in an alternate universe.

Look at this entire minute-long regulation sequence for Game 6.

There were countless times where I was re-running scenarios about tomorrow’s headlines about how LeBron didn’t get the job done; his dream of back-to-back had withered away; the Spurs add another page in history.

LeBron failed! Timmy and the Spurs did it!

Not to be. What was to come was the shot that won the title for Miami, an incredible adrenaline rush and disbelief that came with the entire thing, an analyzation of whether or not Pop’s coaching decisions destroyed the Spurs. Incredible.

How heartbreaking for the Spurs; how savvy of the Heat, maintaining veteran-like composure, ironically a strength of the Spurs. But in that moment, non-existent. And it will live forever.

Looking at the series again, it is absolutely beautiful dissecting it all. Tony Parker’s amazing shot in Game 1, the bombardment of three’s from Danny Green and Gary Neal, the Game 6 sequence of the Heat and Game 7 capping it all off with a Miami victory.

Here we are again: A rematch for the Heat and the Spurs; the rubber match between LeBron James and the trio that encompasses the Spurs.

You have a Miami team that seeks to solidify itself has one of the greatest ever with a three-peat, and then, you have a San Antonio team, looking to get rid of the sour taste in its mouth from a gut-wrenching, demoralizing loss, looking to solidify one of the greatest runs ever with a fifth title.

Indeed, how appropriate things turn out. Epic.

2014 NBA Playoffs: Here We Go Again

This is it folks, the circle has come back around.  After 82 regular season games and oodles of action over the first three rounds of the playoffs we’re right back where things ended last year; the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.  Last year’s finals was, of course, one of the most epic and breathtaking finals in NBA history.  A seven game barn-burner that featured one of the most iconic, and arguably, the single greatest shot in NBA history, Ray Allen’s corner-3 that saved the Heat in Game 6 and rewrote history.

So, what are we to make of this year’s matchup?  Scores of material have been written about the Spurs, the Gregg Popovich system, their sustained excellence, the hall of fame careers of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.  After last year’s heartbreak, they came right back this year, and did what is standard operating procedure for the Spurs, they went out and executed and secured the best regular season record in the NBA.  This Spurs team is better than last year’s.  Thiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green are all a year more mature and experienced in the Spurs’ system and are all much better players.  Manu Ginobili looked like he was done after last year’s finals only, but he bounced back this year with a vengeance, and he’s been a key part of San Antonio’s run this year.  The bench is even deeper this year with the addition of Marco Belinelli and the improvement of Patty Mills.  Oh yeah, Boris Diaw, anybody?  No team is better equipped to knock off Miami than the Spurs.  They can crush you with their size, or they can run you off the court will brutally efficient small-ball; the rock flying all over the court to open shooters.

What about the Heat?  Obviously, they have the best player on the planet in LeBron James.  Like Ginobili, Dwyane Wade is looking much fresher and more spry in this year’s playoffs as opposed to last year, when he looked creaky and hobbled.  Chris Bosh has made the transition to full-on stretch-4, launching more 3’s than ever in his career, but at a very efficient rate.  Miami’s role players are not nearly as deep as last year, however.  Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are still doing their thing.  So is Birdman.  Shane Battier is a shell of himself, Udonis Haselm doesn’t really play much either.  Rashard Lewis has emerged into a facsimile of what Mike Miller did last year, but no one’s relying on Lewis.  And somehow, I don’t see Erik Spoelstra dusting off Greg Oden or Michael Beasley, both non-factors for Miami in the playoffs this year.

So, what are the keys to this series and what might we anticipate seeing?  For Miami, nothing new, LeBron will do a lot of the heavy lifting, he’ll drop entry passes up top and look to do work on the elbows where he can pass or post-up.  Wade’s going to do this thing scoring on a variety of shots in the paint, San Antonio would wisely try and force Wade further out on the perimeter, but Wade will get his.  Ditto for Bosh, who actually prefers to work from the perimeter at this point.  If the Big 3 do their thing and various role players step up, the Heat’s machine will keep humming.  For Miami, the more LeBron can spread around the wealth the better.  While he’s more than capable of it, the more heavy lifting LeBron has to do, the more difficult the series will be.

What about the Spurs, which lineup do they use.  They were blitzing Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals with their standard 2-big man lineup that features Duncan and Splitter in Games 1 and 2 before Serge Ibaka returned.  Miami doesn’t have a post behemoth so a larger lineup could benefit San Antonio.  When the Thunder got Ibaka back and burned the Spurs in Games 3 and 4, Popovich countered by going smaller and inserted Diaw into the starting lineup.  Diaw can step out on the wings and do a lot more damage with his passing and shooting, and perhaps force Miami to cover Duncan one-on-one in the paint.  Birdman will give a solid effort, but it’s tough to envision him keeping the future Hall-of-Famer Duncan in check over the course of the series.  San Antonio just has so many options and ways to attack, but LeBron and company know what they are up against.

While catching glimpses of media day, LeBron James looked incredibly focused.  San Antonio is the pinnacle in coaching, strategy, and team conceit.  Their ball movement is symphonic.  However, LeBron James is the most gifted and talented player on the planet.  He can control any game and destroy lives on the court.  I don’t want to bet against this man.  History is at stake for both teams, much like it was last year, but this year there’s a karmic payback element involved.  In a fair world, the Spurs would probably win.  But, we don’t live in that world.  We live in a world where the man from Akron, Ohio is setting out to cement his legacy as one of the greatest of all time.  The 3-peat puts LeBron in rarified air, and I can’t go against that.

Deep breath….

I’m going Heat in 7.  I used the term basketball crack to describe the first round of the playoffs.  This is high grade blow, accompanied by a blunt dipped in sizzurp.  Holy hell, this is going to be a good series.  Prepare for a rush!

 

2014 NBA Playoffs Briefing: Divergent Paths

The two respective NBA conference finals have taken on two distinct tones.  In the East, the Miami have a commanding 3-1 lead over the Indiana Pacers and will look to stamp their ticket to a fourth straight NBA Finals on Wednesday night.  No team has made four straight finals since the Boston Celtics did so from 1984-1987; this is no small feat.

Over in the West, the series has swung dramatically with the return of Serge Ibaka to the Oklahoma City lineup.  Ibaka was supposed to miss the rest of the playoffs after straining his calf against the Clippers, which seemed highly dubious.  Whatever they did to Ibaka, it worked, because he returned with a vengeance in Game 3 and is putting up 12 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 3.5 BPG on 67% shooting in his two games back.  Above all else, Ibaka’s presence gives Oklahoma City their defensive identity back.  What seemed like a sure Spurs’ victory is now a 2-2 tie.  The series will shift back to San Antonio on Thursday, but this is looking eerily like the 2012 conference finals where the Spurs similarly held a 2-0 lead, only to get destroyed by OKC in four straight games.

So, what’s been going on in these two matchups that have led us to this point.  Over in the East, Miami has flipped the proverbial switch, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have taken over games in the second half, and after Game 4’s monster 32-10-5 performance from LeBron, it’s safe to say he’s in full-on beast-mode now.  Oh yeah, Chris Bosh finally erupted for a playoff-career high 25 points in Game 4 after scoring 27 total points in the three games prior.  They did most of this by completely and utterly exploiting Roy Hibbert, who is lost trying to come out and cover Bosh on the perimeter.  With LeBron attacking the paint, Wade unleashing his mid-range game and Bosh finding his stroke, it seems like a done deal for Indiana.  Lance Stephenson and Paul George have both shot poorly since lighting it up in Game 1, George Hill is getting outplayed by Norris Cole and the Pacers are all looking for excuses in their post-game pressers, more closely resembling the team that was falling off a cliff after the all-star break.  There’s no doubt some home cooking will help, but it’s really tough to envision this Indiana squad, with Roy Hibbert going scoreless, again, beating a motivated Heat team three games in a row.

What of San Antonio?  They looked like the typical Spurs machine in Games 1 and 2, behind their savvy share the ball, pass-up-a-good-shot-for-a-better-shot mentality and OKC’s crumbling defense.  However, the return of Ibaka, has changed all of that.  The cross-court passes are gone, the dribble penetration is far less frequent, Kevin Durant is not getting switched onto Tim Duncan in the post.  This series has done a complete 180,  Russell Westbrook dominated every facet of Game 4 with his 40-5-10 performance that was, yes, Jordan-esque.  It was Westbrook’s first 10-assist performance of the series, and his best shooting game since Game 3 of the Clippers’ series.  As anyone who watches the Thunder knows, and efficient Westbrook makes all the difference.  Another key move was Scott Brooks making a lineup change, he went small and put Reggie Jackson in and benched Thabo Sefolosha.  Sefolosha is a tenacious and long-armed defender, but he brings about as much offense to the court as my mom does.  Not the case with Jackson, his speed and paint penetration seriously bothers the Spurs and relieves Westbrook of some play-making abilities.  Sefolosha is a rock, but Jackson is a sparkplug, and that’s what OKC needed.  And again, Serge Ibaka, just soaring like a martial eagle, that helps a lot too.

The Spurs are masters of making adjustments, and Coach Gregg Popovich hinted that he was saving his starters for the next game after Game 4.  I still believe the Spurs can win the series, but OKC has gotten their swagger back, and there is seemingly no pressure on Durant.  Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard will have to come up big, and Thiago Splitter will have to regain the post presence and passing that made him so effective in Games 1 and 2.  Ths Spurs will regroup, they have no choice, they would much rather face the Heat than the Thunder, but nothing comes easy here.

One outcome seems inevitable, another unpredictable.  Both will be entertaining and will lead to a huge summer of activity and speculation.  The Heat are about to become a team for the ages (as if they aren’t already), the Spurs and Thunder will look to rewrite history, but Dr. Wily’s castle is treacherous, and whoever wins will be hungry for a chance to take down the team that took them down once before.  Greatness awaits.

2014 NBA Playoffs Briefing: Dazed and Confused

The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”-Sun Tzu

I have to assume that’s a personal favorite of Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, whose team is just completely dismantling the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.  The Spurs handed the Thunder their worst playoff loss in franchise history on Wednesday night in a 112-77 beat-down.  The Spurs have made Kevin Durant look more like Kevin Martin, and the league MVP was completely neutralized.  Durant is averaging 21.5 PPG on 45% shooting and he has been unable to penetrate the paint in the series.  Russell Westbrook, well, he’s doing Russell Westbrook things, but also shooting 35.6% in the series, including a brick-tastic 7/24 night on Wednesday.  The Thunder also have nobody else able to help out the dynamic duo in the absence of Serge Ibaka.  Ibaka suffered a calf injury in the final game of Oklahoma City’s series with the Clippers.  He has been ruled out for the rest of the playoffs.

But, this isn’t about OKC and their struggles, this is about the San Antonio Spurs and their almost systemic picking apart of the Thunder.  The Spurs are averaging 27.5 assists per game as a team in the series.  But, this is nothing new, San Antonio led the league in assists during the regular season too (25.2 APG).  Their ball movement is a marvel to watch, Reggie Miller was simply left saying “Wwoooowwww!!!!” on the TNT broadcast on Tuesday.  The Spurs put on a clinic.  Part of this is the absence of Ibaka, who is one the elite post defenders in the league.  Without him, the Thunder just don’t have the quickness to match San Antonio’s bigs.  We all know what Tim Duncan can do, and he’s putting on a clinic, like he always does in the postseason (20.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 51.6%FG).  Thiago Splitter is also playing some of the best basketball of his life, and he’s cutting and passing is just too much for the slow Kendrick Perkins and the overmatched Nick Collison to handle.

Oklahoma City’s best offensive lineups also require them to go small which has led to some scary mismatches where Kevin Durant has been covering Tim Duncan in the paint.  We all know a possession like that is not going to end well for the Thunder.  That’s just what’s going on down low, I didn’t even talk about how the Spurs are spreading the floor and getting the most wide open looks for three point shooters you’ll ever see.  Someone on the Thunder has to come down low and help on all the motion going on between Duncan, Splitter, and whomever of Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili is darting around the court.  This has left three-point shooters in juicy positions and guys like Danny Green (21 points, 7-10 3PTs Wednesday night) have answered the call for the Spurs.  The Thunder should get at least a game at home, but, with a 2-0 lead, it seems like a foregone conclusion that San Antonio will be moving on to the NBA Finals sooner rather than later.

Over in the Eastern Conference the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers are tied at a game apiece.  The Pacers seemed to regain their identity in the conference semi’s against Washington, and they played inspired ball in the series opener on Sunday.  The Pacers were the team that was “white hot” as they shot 51.5% from the field including 8-of-19 on three’s.  David West, Paul George, and Lance Stephenson shot a combined 23-of-36 (63.9%), obviously those numbers can’t be sustained.

Stephenson had a monster game in Game 2 on Tuesday (25 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists), but West struggled shooting, and Paul George was 1-for-9 at one point, and got kneed in the back of the head by Dwyane Wade.  Indiana is also getting no bench production, AT…ALL.  Game 2 was tight, but LeBron James took over in the fourth quarter, as we’ve seen him do so many times before.  James and Wade have been carrying Miami against Indiana.  Chris Bosh has been struggling mightily in the series (9.4 PPG, 38% FG).  Norris Cole was the biggest guy in Game 2 for the Heat behind LeBron and Wade.  Considering how poorly the Heat have been playing, it seems like they are only a few adjustments away from taking control of the series.  If Bosh can get his shot going, and they can get more consistency from the bench, Miami should be able to beat the Pacers.  The Pacers need all of their players playing at their best in order to win.  That happened in Game 1, it didn’t happen in Game 2, and Indiana has been horribly inconsistent ever since the All-Star break.

Paul George has a concussion and is questionable for Game 3, Lance Stephenson won’t continue shooting 62% from the field, Chris Bosh won’t keep playing like a dinosaur.  The Heat did what they needed to do and took one game on the road.  Look for Miami to take control of the series at home as other role players (I’m looking at you Mario Chalmers) step up.

Game 3 is always pivotal, for one matchup, it will allow one team to either take control or re-assert themselves in the series.  In the other matchup, it’s pretty much all or nothing.  If the Thunder go down 0-3, psychologically, it’s over.  This weekend will be an interesting one.