Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Basketball is back: Hectic schedule awaits teams

We have basketball and we have lots of it.

That's the first thing to take from the new schedule released by the NBA on Tuesday, detailing the schedules for all 30 teams.

There are some very scary stretches for all, and every single player will have their fitness and endurance tested to breaking point and beyond by the vast number of games shoehorned into the next four months.

The once-dreaded back-to-back set of game will become standard fare for teams this year and the nightmarish back-to-back-to-back run of games can be found at least once in every team's calender. Four games in five nights and even nine games in twelve will happen more often than not and there will be almost no nights without some sort of basketball being played somewhere.

Let's take a look at some of the quirks of this incredibly compressed and inevitably chaotic schedule:

Chicago's ridiculous road-trip: Every November, the Bulls play a handful of home games then embark on their "Circus trip" of seven straight games on the road due to the annual Circus held in their home arena. This time around, they will play a staggering nine consecutive road games lasting from Jan. 29 into February.

Boston's tiring March: Boston are a team that will receive a lot of focus this year. How does an old team cope with a packed schedule? Does experience outweigh the negative aspects? Their biggest test without a doubt comes in March where they play 9 of 10 on the road including two stops in Los Angeles, one in New York and another in Miami. With the end of the regular season in sight, this could make or break the Celtics' playoff aspirations.

Lakers' fast start: The Lakers start on Christmas Day with a home game against the Bulls. They hardly get a chance to take a breath as they then have to take on games against Sacramento and Utah on the two days immediately after, making up L.A's only triple-header. This will quite quickly identify those players who failed to stay in shape this summer.

Miami's stay in Cleveland: The Heat will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers and then have a two-day break. What do they do? Their next game is in Indiana, so flying all the way back to Florida and back for that is pretty pointless. Do they really want to have LeBron spending that time walking the streets of Cleveland?

Bulls' run: The Bulls have one of the tougher opening halves of the season. They play seven of their first nine away from Chicago and 20 of their first 30 to boot. To compound the tiredness factor, those first 30 games will take place over just 50 nights. Good job this is a relatively young team. To counter this difficult start, their post-All Star schedule is very favourable to an end of season surge. They have just one trip to the West of more than one game and only a couple of back-to-back games.

This season is going to see some frustrating, sloppy and tired basketball. But it's basketball nonetheless. I for one am happy to be writing about these teams playing silly amounts of games instead of talking about people with lots of money arguing like children trying to get lots more money.

And a note for those who predicted that the Lockout (oops, I said it again...) would hurt the NBA. Doesn't look so true judging by the rampant anticipation of what could be the most frantic NBA season in history.

Play ball!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Basketball is back: The NBA Free Agency headaches of 2011

It's been too long.

December 9th the NBA will allow it's teams to open training camps for the 2011-12 season. It's brilliant to be able to call it a 2011-12 season and not the 2011 NBA Lockout. It's also brilliant to know that'll be the final time I use the dreaded L-word.

No more boardrooms and offices, no more lawyers and ultimatums. Just pure, unadulterated NBA basketball at the best time of the year, the off-season!

That's right, the rumor mill is back and is churning out rumors like they're going out of fashion. The biggest stories have to be the myriad rumors surrounding Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Orlando Magic's juggernaut center Dwight Howard is due to become a free agent next summer. The Magic ownership will not want to be "Lebron'd" by Howard (leave for nothing) and could look to deal him before the deadline (expected to be in March). Obviously with such a valuable commodity available, many teams in very different situations are throwing their hats into the ring.

The most notable of these teams would be the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks. The trouble is that these two teams, while presenting some of the best players for Howard to play with, have very little ability to land him in in the first place. The Lakers have Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. That's good, but not great. Bynum is a fantastic talent but is highly inconsistent and prone to meltdowns as we saw when he hit a cheap-shot on J.J. Barea in the West Finals last season. Gasol is also a great player, but he's past his best and is absolutely not the player the Magic should look to rebuild around. The Knicks would seemingly be the ideal place for Howard to team up with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. The problem in New York is that they have $40 million committed to those two players alone from next year and with the cap projected at $58 million, Howard would have to take a sizable pay-cut to create a third "Big 3" in the East. No problem, just trade for Howard instead? No. The Knicks were gutted trading for Anthony and Stoudemire and the only way they could give Orlando similar value for Howard in a trade would be to give up Anthony or Stoudemire.

That leaves Howard looking at two of the biggest markets as impossibilities. The reigning defensive player of the year could land in New Jersey in return for Brook Lopez and draft picks, but is that really a fair deal for the Magic? Lopez is good but again is no franchise centerpiece. Howard would then end up in New Jersey (soon to move to Brooklyn) playing with Deron Williams who says he might leave at the end of the season, thrusting Dwight back into a 'same s**t, different day' situation.

Could Chicago be his destination? He would be joining the league's youngest MVP, Derrick Rose. He wouldn't have to be the leading player on the team with Rose there alongside. He'd fit right in to the system the Bulls are running and, being a defensive specialist, he would gel fantastically with coach Tom Thibodeau. With regards to market size, Chicago is one of the traditional "big market cities", presenting Howard with plenty of marketing opportunities. The Magic could get a fair deal for Howard from the Bulls, the Bulls would send Joakim Noah (a Florida native and only slight step-down in quality at center), Luol Deng, another defensive specialist and just hitting his prime, they could take any other player outside of Boozer and Rose and could call it a fair deal.

That trade would leave the Bulls with Rose and a new shooting guard (Rip Hamilton on the mid-level exception?), Howard, Boozer and perhaps Caron Butler in the front court. There you have a core five that could take on and beat the Miami Heat. A Bulls' fan's dream scenario.


Chris Paul in New Orleans brings around a whole new debate before we even look at his possible destinations. The Hornets are owned by the NBA and thus by every team in the league. Trading Chris Paul, by far the most valuable player, reduces the value of the franchise for any potential new owners, calling into question the credibility of trading Paul before a new owner arrives.

Should CP3 leave, he wants to go to the Knicks. He can't, they haven't enough money to sign him off the bat and can't match his value in a trade without giving up Anthony or Stoudemire (the reasons why CP wants to go to New York in the first place). Aside from New York, there aren't many other teams crying out for an elite level point guard. One outside bet could be the L.A Clippers. They will be well under the salary cap next summer when Paul turns into a free agent and could choose to team him with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Gordon. That would propel the Clips towards the top of the Western Conference immediately.


Next on the list of free-agent/trade conundrums is the case of Caron Butler. After playing just 32 games for the Dallas Mavericks and none since January, he is expected to be on his way out of Dallas. The San Antonio Spurs, LA Clippers, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are just a select few of the teams reportedly interested in Butler's services. Where he lands is anyone's guess as there are teams who can only pay him the $5 million MLE battling against teams who can pay him anything he wants to sign Butler. He could hold the key for several teams one step below championship-favorite status such as the Bulls and Spurs.

There his rumor flying about that Denver Nuggets shooting guard Arron Afflalo is sought after in Chicago. It's understandable as he is the perfect fit for the Bulls at shooting guard and a trade would be possible. Sending Noah to Denver in lieu of Nene leaving and in return for Afflalo is the most commonly proposed trade solution. The Bulls would then have the complete lineup for taking on Miami in the East this season.


No matter who ends up where, this season is pitching up to be another packed full of jaw-dropping moments, career-defining performances and most of all more crazy rumors than you can shake a stick at.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

NBA Training Camps, Pre-Season Week One cancelled

This was coming. The NBA today cancelled this seasons' summer Training Camps, due to start on October 3rd.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Top 10 NBA Players: #8, Hakeem Olajuwon

"The Dream" makes his appearance at number eight in the all-time top 10 list. Hakeem Olajuwon led the Houston Rockets to back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995, the teams' only titles to date.

Hakeem was born in Nigeria, and did not pick up a basketball until the age of 15. Since then, he has gone on to become the most well-known player to come from the country.Olajuwon came to America in 1980, arriving as 17 year old keen to prove his talent in a strange new land. He had a tough start to his college career, ineligible to play the first year and rarely used in his second, he eventually led Houston University to consecutive championship games. Both would end in losses to North Carolina in '83 and Patrick Ewing's Georgetown the year after.

Hakeem Olajuwon at the peak of his powers
- An unstoppable force
Olajuwon declared himself for the 1984 draft and was taken first by the Houston Rockets ahead of Michael Jordan (#3) in one of the most talented draft classes of all-time. The Rockets' performance improved massively with Olajuwon teaming up with team leader Ralph Sampson, as the team added an extra 19 wins in Olajuwon's rookie season. Although it would take time and a few changes before Hakeem matured into the star he was, he was a dangerous player from day one.

After a number of disappointing Playoff exits and even missing them altogether in 1992, Hakeem and the Rockets took off in 1994. Olajuwon turned in big performances every other night, marking himself out as one of the games' greatest Centers, he routinely outperformed the other stars of the time such as David Robinson and Patrick Ewing. The 1994 Rockets progressed to a Finals series against the NY Knicks, beating them in a thrilling 7 game series. Hakeem cemented his place in Houston folklore with a championship-winning block on  John Starks' title-winning shot attempt.

The Rockets came back in 1995 and ran the rule over the league. Olajuwon missed 8 games near the end of the season with Anemia, yet still came back to beat Utah in 5 games in the opening round. Hakeem was again instrumental as the Rockets progressed to another Texan duel with the San Antonio Spurs led by a prime David Robinson. Hakeem put him in his pocket, outscoring him by some 6 points in the series and shooting 50% to Robinson's 36%. The Finals were as straightforward as possible, a 4-0 sweep over the Orlando Magic led by an emerging Shaquille O'Neal - the next man to inherit Olajuwon's "best Center" title.

This would be the end of the Rocket's run, as they were eliminated at the second round the next year, a year which saw Michael Jordan return to the sport after two years out.

Olajuwon earns his spot thanks to his dominant displays throughout his career. In the '85-'86 Playoffs, a young Olajuwon scored 75-points over games three and four against the LA Lakers in a series-win that shocked the sports world. The show of strength prompted Lakers' coach Pat Riley to say that "We tried everything. We tried four bodies on him. He's just a great player." Hakeem would have won at least another title, his 1986 Finals series defeat was to arguably the most talented lineup of all time, Larry Bird's Boston Celtics, a group that produced FIVE Hall of Fame players.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

NBA entering uncertain times

On Friday, July 1st, the various owners of the 30 NBA teams will confirm they are going to "lockout" NBA players. This means that no players will be paid, no players can sign contracts, no teams can trade players and no games can be played in any form.

This has all come about because the current Collective Bargaining Agreement - the contract that determines what share of team income the players are paid - expires on July 1st. With players and owners at loggerheads over the details of the new CBA, the owners will proceed to lock the players out with no pay until a new contract is agreed upon.

The contract outlines how basketball income is split between the team owners and the players. The expiring deal sees the players earn 57% of basketball income. The owners have said that this simply cannot continue, and want to reduce the split to 52% for the players. With 22 of 30 NBA teams currently running at a loss, the current agreement must be changed or several teams will face being sold, relocated or even extinction.

The owners contend that at the present, with a $58 million "soft" salary cap, the teams cannot afford to continue. The current soft cap is a very complex system that allows teams to pay their players more than the cap allows in certain circumstances. This is done with the aim of allowing the teams to keep their better/more popular players, so increasing local fan support. In other US Sports, a hard-cap is used which has very few exceptions. The NBA team owners would like a hard-cap to be implemented to prevent players' salaries getting out of control. The players counter that this would prevent them from playing where they wanted to or earning as much money as they should be. This at present is the main obstruction in an agreement being reached.

When a "lockout" occurs, the players are effectively frozen out. They do not get paid, they do not get bought nor sold. This is well and good during the summer off-season (players are not paid normally in summer) but becomes a real issue once the Summer League and pre-season training camps are due to begin. The 2011 Summer League is already cancelled due to the ongoing dispute, next on the chopping block will be the training camps. If the two parties still cannot reach a deal, pre-season games (the single biggest earner for owners) will be cancelled. Just a few weeks after that, the Regular Season begins and if no deal is reached, once again, the games will be cancelled and the league will enter dangerous territory.

The 1998-99 NBA season featured just 50 games instead of the usual 82 due to the first 32 being cancelled due to a previous collective bargaining agreement expiring. In 2004-05 the league came close again to losing games as the 1999 agreement had to be re-negotiated, giving us today's version.

With the league enjoying viewer ratings at near record levels, losing games would be the worst possible scenario. The final game of this season posted an 11-year high in viewer numbers. If the league were forced into missing games, it's popularity would be so badly damaged that it could take another 11 for it to recover. The American hockey league had to cancel the entire 04-05 season and has yet to reach the level of popularity it once did.

All this week, NBA officials, including commissioner David Stern, and the Player's Union have been in negotiations to get a new agreement signed. However, last week, a league spokesman stated that the two sides were "99 miles apart" leading to speculation from some experts that the league could lose anything from a handful of games at the beginning of the year to skipping the entire 2011-12 season if it meant saving some teams from falling out of existence. Owners, players, experts and fans can only hope that they can reach an agreement.

You can find more information on the NBA's salary cap and it's many complex exceptions here.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Top 10 NBA Players: #9, George Mikan

Rarely mentioned in many "Top 10's" of greatest players, George Mikan deserves an entry onto this list for his impact on the sport of basketball in general.

Known as "Mr. Basketball", Mikan revolutionized the sport in the late 1940s and 50s. Before he played, the best players were short guards who could shoot well. When the 6ft 11in Mikan came along his sheer size let him take over games single-handed.

When at DePaul College, George was an awkward, shy and clumsy person. Coaches of the time believed tall players did not have the strength to become great players and Mikan did not do much to change that view at first, playing in thick, round spectacles. His college coach saw potential, and worked with him to turn him into the unstoppable force that went on to win multiple championships at professional level. George developed the hook-shot, a nearly impossible to defend shot that was a result of the now commonly-used Mikan Drill. On the defensive end, Mikan would stand under the basket and jump up to swat any ball out of the hoop. This led to the invention of the "goaltending" rule that states that a ball directly above the basket cannot be touched by any player. This was not illegal in Mikan's era because it was thought to be impossible for anyone to reach that high!

George signed for the Chicago American Gears for the 1946-47 National Basketball League season. The NBL was one of the early predecessors of the modern NBA. Mikan led the team to win the World Basketball Tournament, where he scored a total of 100 points over 5 games. The team owner withdrew the Gears to compete in a new 24-team league, the Pro Basketball League of America, which collapsed after jsut one month. Due to the collapse, all the players from these PBLA teams were given to the 11 NBL teams remaining. George Mikan ended up on the Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers)

Mikan playing for the Lakers

In 1949-50, the NBA began it's first season. Mikan dominated the league, averaging 27.4 points per game. Only one other player broke the 20-point barrier (22.5) that year. The team finished the first NBA season with a 51-17 record. The Lakers blitzed the Playoffs to reach the first Finals, against the Syracuse Nationals. The Lakers won the first game on their own court, before the next four games were split 2-2. The Lakers became the first-ever NBA Champions when they won Game 6 110-95. George Mikan averaged some 31 points per Playoff game.

In the next season, Mikan continued his domination on offense, averaging 28 points a game. This season would contain the game that led to the creation of the 24-second Shot Clock. Mikan's Lakers were losing 19-18 to the Fort Wayne Pistons early in the game. The Pistons got the ball, and never lost it again. Never trying to shoot. This led to the NBA introducing the shot-clock to force teams to attack. Mikan totalled 83% of his team's points, scoring 15 of 18. He fractured his leg before the '50 Playoffs, leading to the Lakers being eliminated a round before the Finals, this would prove to be the only blip as the Lakers established the first NBA dynasty.

In 51-52, the NBA introduced another new rule to attempt to stop Mikan's dominance. They made the painted "lane" under the basket 12 feet wide rather than 6. This doubled the distance George had to work from. The tall star took it in his stride, still averaging 23 points per game (although down from the previous year). Mikan led the team to another title, earning $7,500 to be split between the whole team.

The Lakers won 2 more titles to be the first team to win three-in-a-row. Mikan became the first superstar of basketball, opening the gates for giants such as Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. Without him, the league would not have the 24-second clock, goal-tending rules or the lane size (Known as "The Mikan Rule") it has today. He truly changed the sport, making it popular across America. After his death,

O'Neal said "Without #99 (Mikan's number), there is no me."

Top 10 NBA Players: #10, Oscar Robertson

In at #10 on my NBA Top 10 Players countdown is "The Big O", Oscar Robertson.

6 ft 5, Robertson played as a guard for the Cincinnati Royals (now in Sacramento) and most famously led the Milwaukee Bucks their only NBA Championship. Oscar was one of the leading figures in the early NBA alongside Wilt Chamberlain. He holds the distinct honor of being the only NBA player to ever average more than 10 points, assists and rebounds for an entire season.

Robertson played at the University of Cincinnati, entering himself into the 1960 NBA Draft. The Cincinnati Royals picked him as a 'territorial' pick to generate more local fan support for the promising young star. Robertson repaid their faith, returning with season averages of 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game, just 0.3 off a triple-double average for the year.

In 1961-62, Oscar made it over that small hump and into the history books when he averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game. An incredible feat that had many heralding him as the game's best-ever talent. The Royals never did win an NBA Championship, mostly thanks to the Boston Celtics team led by Bill Russell which simply dominated the entire decade.

Robertson during his time with the Bucks

After a decade with his hometown Royals, Oscar was unceremoniously dumped off to the Milwaukee Bucks before the 1970-71 season as head coach Bob Cousy was apparently jealous of Robertson's status in Cincinnati. This turned out to be the turning point in Roberston's NBA career. After being stuck with an under-performing team, he was paired with Lew Alcindor, who would soon change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and score the most points in league history. The pair blew the league away, coming up with a 66-16 record in their first season together which included a 20-win streak. They continued their incredible domination into the Playoffs: they progressed to the Finals and routed the Baltimore Bullets 4-0 to capture the team's first (and only) Championship.

The Bucks returned to the Finals in 1974, where ultimately, Robertson and Kareem were beaten in an epic 7-game series with the Boston Celtics. Robertson retired after the season ended as his story was complete, while the years of Abdul-Jabbar's stardom were just beginning.

As a mark of his all-round greatness, Oscar Robertson recorded 181 triple-double games in his career. To put that alongside the totals of other all-time greats, Magic Johnson is a distant second with 138.Wilt Chamberlain had just 78 and Michael Jordan, 28 .

Thursday, 16 June 2011

2011 NBA Review

With the culmination of the 2011 NBA Finals resulting in the Dallas Mavericks capturing their first-ever championship, now seems like the time to review each team's achievements (or lack of) this past season.

Dallas Mavericks: The 2011 Champions. Dallas were flying under the radar all season long thanks to patchy form and an injury to talisman Dirk Nowitzki. Before the Playoffs started, the Mavs were written off against the #6 Trailblazers. The critics were quietened as the Blazers were dealt with in 6 games. Next up Dallas faced the 2-time defending champion LA Lakers. Again, given no chance, the Mavs silenced the doubters with a stunning 4-0 sweep of the heavily-favoured Lakers. Dallas were finally favoured over the Oklahoma City Thunder and despite losing one of their home games, came through 4-1 to set up a rematch of the 2006 Finals with the Miami Heat.
Grade: A+

Chicago Bulls: This season's surprise package. The Bulls were predicted by most (including myself) to be in a fight for the 4th and 5th seeds in the Eastern Conference with a brand-new roster, rookie coach Tom Thibodeau and young star in Derrick Rose. Fast forward to the end of the Regular Season and the Bulls finished with their best record since the Michael Jordan era (62 wins, 20 defeats ) to capture the overall #1 ranking in the league, Thibodeau had won the Coach of the Year award and equalled the best-ever record for a rookie coach. Derrick Rose became the youngest-ever NBA Most Valuable Player aged just 22 as he became only the second player to amass 2,000 points and 600 assists since Oscar Robertson in 1960-61. The Bulls' form appeared to dip in the Playoffs, likely due to every player giving 110% all season (and so having no extra gear to go into for the Playoffs). They dealt with the Pacers in 5 games, somewhat unconvincingly. The Atlanta Hawks were next and stole a march on the Bulls by winning Game 1 in Chicago before the Bulls eventually took the series 4-2. They fell flat against the Heat in the Conferenc Finals, beaten 4-1 after a total domination of the first match gave everyone hope and had the Heat searching for answers. If Udonis Haslem hadn't had a breakout game when he was introduced in the 2nd quarter of Game 2, the Bulls were on course to take a commanding 2-0 lead. In the end, beaten thanks to a lack of alternative scoring when Rose began showing the signs of a long season.
Grade: A-

Oklahoma City Thunder: Any team that includes Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook has to be feared. Durant has led the league in scoring for 2 seasons and Westbrook is another member of the 'young and great point guard' club. They finished up as the #4 team in the West, matched up with the Denver Nuggets in Round 1, they man-handled the Nuggets to a 4-1 victory and progression to face the Playoff surprise Memphis Grizzlies, fresh off beating the #1 seeded San Antonio Spurs. This series was picked by most as their favourite of the season as OKC triumphed in 7 brutal games. They fell to the Mavericks who were by this stage playing their best basketball of the year.
Grade: B+

Miami Heat: The Heat are perhaps the single most polarizing team in sports history. In an ESPN poll taken just before the Finals began, only one US State picked Miami to win the title. That state was Florida. The Heat had just spent the summer loading up on superstars Lebron James and Chris Bosh, giving them the most talented roster in the NBA. A failure to capture the #1 ranking in the Regular Season was not looked on as a failure by a team in it's first season together, but after approaching this year and this title as a mere formality ("Not 1, not 2, not 3 titles....8 titles"), many NBA fans rejoiced at every Heat loss or crisis. Lebron did not play well in the Finals after being the standout player in the Boston and Chicago series'. Despite making the Finals and losing in 6 games, the Heat had the capability to cruise to the title but failed.
Grade: B

Memphis Grizzlies: Memphis deliberately lost their last few games of the Regular Season with the much-publicized aim of facing the San Antonio Spurs in the #1 vs #8 series. Deprived of their best player, Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies stunned the basketball world by stealing the first game in San Antonio and managed to return home 1-1. Memphis defended their homecourt with one close, hard fought win, and one utter blowout that put the Spurs on the brink of infamy. After losing out in SA, the Grizz closed out the fairytale in front of their home fans. What made this all the more surprising was that before this series their Playoff record stood at 0-12 (beaten 4-0 three times). This was their first-ever series win.
Grade: B

Atlanta Hawks: The most confusing team in the league. They dished out the biggest contract of the 2010 Free Agency bonanza to keep their star Joe Johnson around. ($120 million for 6 years). They failed however to progress from last season position-wise, but they banished a nightmare when they eliminated the Orlando Magic in 6 games. The Magic had handed out the most brutal beat-down in NBA Playoff history when they beat the Hawks in 2010 by an average of 25 points per game in an embarrassing 4-0 destruction. They found that young Point Guard Jeff Teague could be a star for the future after his standout performance in a losing effort against the Bulls in round 2. Hawks fans don't know whether to laugh or cry. They are comfortably in the Playoff picture for years but cannot seem to improve enough to move onto the next level. Joe Johnson's contract is far too overpriced and has burdened the franchise for the next half-decade and Joe Smith was getting boos every time he tried a shot from any further than 6ft from the basket...those boos were at home.
Grade B-

New York Knicks: The Knicks began assembling their own "Big 3" when they landed Amar'e Stoudemire in the Summer of 2010 and assembled the second part when Anthony arrived in February. Their problem all season long was defense and this is what killed them in the Playoffs as they were ripped up by the Celtics 4-0. Despite their signings they still have the capability of working out a trade to get Chris Paul in a Knicks uniform and this would signify yet another "Big 3" coming together. Internal strife could cost them as Donny Walsh resigned unexpectedly, leaving the Knicks with a big gap to fill in a market with little to offer as replacement.
Grade: B-/C+

Boston Celtics: The Celtics were last year's runners up, beaten by the Lakers in the Finals. Many (again, including myself) had them back in the Finals and even as champions before the season began. A lack of depth at Center cost the club dearly, especially after the Kendrick Perkins trade hurt that depth and size even more. They gambled on Shaq being able to give them one more big season, but the body legendary "Most Dominant Ever" simply wasn't up to the task of the final encore as he played just 8 minutes after February. The Celtics' core 3 of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen have a combined age of 105. This next season will either prove to be the last hurray of one of basketball's greatest triple-threats, or will be doomed as one year too many for the veterans. Nenad Krstic was brought in as Perkins' replacement and has signed with CSKA Moscow for 2 years, leaving the Celtics' with just Jermaine O'Neal as their only Center in a market devoid of talented big men.
Grade: C+

Portland Trailblazers: After being completely decimated by injury in the 09-10 season, the Trailblazers finally got a little continuity. Favoured to win the #6 vs #3 series over Dallas, they gave as good as they got in being beaten 4-2. They did produce one of the comebacks for the ages as, trailing by 23 in the second half, an injured Brandon Roy scored 18 4th-quarter points to win the game single-handedly for the Blazers. Portland will undoubtedly want to improve for next season and this can be possible given the decent number of tradeable contracts and desireable players they have on their squad.
Grade: C+

Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers. 2-time defending champion, searching for a second three-peat in the Phil Jackson era to end the Phil Jackson era on a high. That didn't turn out so well with the Lakers swept in the 2nd round by the eventual champion Mavericks. Jackson's coaching career ended in somewhat disappointing circumstances as Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom's display of anger got them ejected near the end of the final blowout loss of the year. Winning three titles in a row today without overhauling the team places an immense strain on the body and the mind and this seemed evident with the Lakers. Their Regular Season looked good as usual, behind only the Spurs for the #1 record in the West. They eliminated an understrength New Orleans Hornets team before being blown out of the water by Dallas. Rumor has it that Dwight Howard will continue the trend of dominant big men going to LA to win a title in a trade that would likely see one of/both Andrew Bynum and/or Pau Gasol being moved, creating a potentially lethal Kobe Bryant - Dwight Howard tactical nightmare. Mike Brown however would be in charge of that ego-trip and we all know how Lebron James coached Cleveland himself back in the day.
Grade: C

New Orleans Hornets: The Hornets had David Lee sidelined through injury for most of the season and all of the Playoffs, but they still managed to pull of a scare when they took a 1-0 lead in Los Angeles in round 1 before going down in 5 games. Chris Paul demonstrated his supernatural vision and efficient scoring to lead the team to the #7 seed and were competitive in their 1st round exit. Paul is the centre of many trade speculations regarding Miami (highly unlikely), New York (possible) and New Jersey (possible).
Grade: C

Denver Nuggets: They, like the league last summer, were held hostage by a superstar. This time it was Carmelo Anthony demanding a trade to New York while the Nuggets' management held out for the best deal possible. They got it, remaining competitive and actually improving on defense once the defensively indifferent 'Melo departed for the Big Apple. A first-round exit at the hands of the #4 is not seen as a great success, but they have great potential for the future with young guard Aaron Afflalo and some decent trade assets in Nene and Junior Smith.
Grade: C

Indiana Pacers: The Pacers fought hard for the #8 seed and didn't disappoint, giving the Chicago Bulls a thorough testing in a physical series before ultimately succumbing to the stifling defense in 5 games. Tyler Hansbrough made Carlos Boozer look like a scrub routinely as he proved himself a valuable piece of Indiana's future. The Pacers led most of the games of the series, but the losses all came thanks to the Bulls' near-perfect 4th-quarter defense. Game 1 showed just how good the #1 defense was, as Chicago embarked on a 16-1 run to win the game 104-99, leading the game for only the final 48 seconds. Indiana are perhaps the best-placed Playoff team contract- and money-wise going into an off-season filled with uncertainty. They could be in position to pull off a couple of trades that could easily move them up one or two rankings.
Grade: C-

Philadelphia 76ers: The 76ers had the unfortunate task of being paired with the Heat in round 1 and never once troubled the eventual East champs, going down in 5 games. Andre Iguadala is being openly shopped around the league in what appears to be an attempt at shaking up the Sixers for the years to come.
Grade: D+

Orlando Magic: The Magic captured the #4 spot earliest of all teams in the league to capture a spot. A first-round exit to the Hawks was hardly anticipated yet unsurprising. However, comparing this year to last, when they won by an average of 25 points each game over an identical Hawks squad, this has to be seen as a failure. If you have Dwight Howard going off for 46 points and 18 rebounds and yet lose, that tells you a lot about the supporting cast Dwight has, and goes even further in explaining his desire to leave.
Grade: D

San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs lost the league's #1 record on the final night of the season as they lost and the Bulls won. From there it was all downhill for San Antonio. Losing 1-0 to the Grizzlies, they tied it up at 1-1 before losing games 3 and 4 to be pushed to the brink. They did what was required by defending home court but could not put the pressure on Memphis as they lost Game 6 to become only the second #1 seed to lose to the #8 in a seven-game series in NBA history. Center Tim Duncan is aging and nobody knows how many years he can contribute at maximum effectiveness as even though he was rested for the final few weeks of the season, he still lacked sharpness in the Playoffs. Undoubtedly hurt by Manu Ginobilli's injury, the Spurs ignominiuos defeat earns them the badge of being the worst of my 16 Playoff teams.
Grade: F


Non-Playoff teams:

Utah Jazz: The Jazz, like the Nuggets, lost the centre-piece of their lineup with the departure of Deron Williams to New Jersey. However, they did the right thing in trading him before he even had the chance to say "I definetily want traded." Missing out on the Playoffs was a blow but understandable after they lost Williams, Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer in the past 12 months with little in the way of replacements coming in.
Grade: C

Los Angeles Clippers: Despite ranking lower than most of the teams below them, the Clippers finish this high thanks to their sheer entertainment value. Blake Griffin was drafted before the start of last season but didn't play a single minute due to a knee injury. But he became Rookie of the Year and won the Slam Dunk Contest in February as his high-flying style made him a Youtube sensation. DeAndre Jordan showed promise. However, somebody at the team deserves to be fired after they traded away their 1st-round pick without protection, only to see it become the #2 pick, likely to yield a player at a position they badly needed. Their owner has a toxic and unattractive attitude too.
Grade: C

Houston Rockets: This team has been handicapped by Yao Ming for a long time now as the Chinese giant played in only the first handul of games before a fracture in his foot ended his season. Yao has only played in a small percentage of Rockets' games in the past couple of seasons and his contract is a heavy burden for a team that desperately needs something to spark it back to life. If Ming can recover and play something close to his best next season, the Rockets could be on the road to redemption.
Grade: C-

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks had an average season punctuated by one terrible moment when they were held to just 56 points by the Celtics. That's not 56 points in a half, that's their final total. John Salmons has proven a nice piece for Milwaukee and Andrew Bogut continues to impress on a Bucks team short on depth. This teams' problems however go beyond a one-trade remedy.
Grade: D+

Charlotte Bobcats: Charlotte needed something to cheer about, and thought they were getting it when a story surfaced that owner Michael Jordan had suited up for practice aged 48. The G.O.A.T did not have a 4th coming and the Bobcats missed the Playoffs. Stephen Jackson is still an enigma, fantastic and then frustrating from week-to-week. They have some pieces that the vultures above them are circling around and they would do well not to go backwards in 2012.
Grade: D+

Phoenix Suns: The Suns regressed from last season, but still looked fairly decent at times. Their trade with Orlando was necessary to give the team a bit of a facelift, but not one for the future as "Half Man, Half Retired" Vince Carter played well in patches and veteran Point Guard Steve Nash kept up with his mesmerical passing abilities. The Suns will need another trade if they want to get back into the Playoffs
Grade: D

New Jersey Nets: The Nets may have finished well down the table, but they have been busy making arrangements for the future. Theh will be moving out of Newark to a brand spanking new arena in Brooklyn at the end of next season, have just signed Deron Williams and have the assets to make a serious bid to land Dwight Howard. There could be good times ahead for this franchise.
Grade: D

Golden State Warriors: A sort of indifferent season for GSW as they failed to get to the Playoffs. Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis are two exciting players, but this franchise is in severe need of a reboot. Ellis had been shopped about with rumor of Philly and Chicago being willing traders. They'll be hoping that "Hand down, man down." Mark Jackson can excel in his first coaching role in 2011-12.

Grade: D-

Detroit Pistons: The Pistons became a bit of a comical affair when several players launched a failed mutiny against their head coach only for him to keep his job. Another team with some nice players being sized up by more attractive teams. Detroit also need a trade to breathe new life into a team that is close to falling out of favour with it's fans.
Grade: D-
Washington Wizards: The Wizards had a history-making year. Shame it was a history of the losing variety as they became one of the worst road teams in history, losing 36 straight away games before finishing 3-38. They were the winning party in a trade with Orlando when they managed to escape from under Gilbert Arenas' league-worst contract. They got a nice surprise when they got speedster John Wall in the draft and can build for the future. Javale McGee is openly being shopped as they look for a Center to fit with Wall.
Grade: D-
Sacramento Kings: The Kings had a season to forget. Tyreke Evans really needs help. The team was in danger of relocation before the Mayor Sacramento resuced them with a promise of arena improvement and better financial backing. Clever trading required for improvement.
Grade: D-
Toronto Raptors: The Raptors lost Chris Bosh in return for thin air in July 2010, joining the Cavaliers as teams with no leader. The Raptors dealt okay with it and have promising times ahead with DeMar DeRozan as a face to build around. James Johnson arrived mid-season to add another level of scoring to the team in what turned out to be a pretty shrewd piece of business.
Grade: D-
Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs earned the sympathy of everyone outside southern Florida when Lebron James ripped the heart and sould from the city on internation TV in July. They became the league whipping boys as they set an all-time American sports record in futility as they lost 26 games in a row. This team is essentially made up of role players and Baron Davies who seems to have found some motivation now he is out of the spotlight in LA. Winning the rights to the #1 pick in the upcoming draft will allow them to get a shot at drafting a new franchise leader, probably in the form of Kyrie Irving. They had two notable resutls: Being beaten by 50 points by the Lakers (107-57) was a new low, but every non-Heat supporting household in America cheered when they pulled of the upset of the year to beat Lebron James and the Miami Heat. They dealt well with the ridicule of "The Streak" and ending it ends this terrible chapter in their history.
Grade: F
Minnesotta Timberwolves: The T-Wolves finish last because not only did they finish last in the league, but somehow finished with 2 wins less than Cleveland despite the Cavs' 26 game run with 0 wins. Kevin Love is far too talented to be on this team (31 points, 31 rebounds anybody) especially after he proved his consistency with those 59-straight 10pt 10reb performances. If they lose Love for little repayment, this franchise is in deep trouble.
Grade: F

Friday, 27 May 2011

Bulls' season ends with 83-80 defeat

That's the season folks. The Chicago Bulls lost their do-or-die Game 5 83-80 to the Miami Heat in the United Center. With it, the Miami Heat won the Eastern Conference Finals 4-1 to progress to the 2011 NBA Finals, where they will face Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.

A game that the Bulls had to win but didn't. The game turned out to be a microcosm of this entire season for Chicago. It started off as usual with the Bulls falling behind early as they came out of the blocks nervy and gave up a handful of early fast-break buckets to James in particular. Then the comeback started as Chicago's notoriously tough and active defense turned up and dragged the team kicking and screaming to a 7 point lead at half-time. All looked good. Derrick Rose was getting into the lane and to the free throw line. Luol Deng's shots were falling and Boozer's defense was not being exposed.

The second half did not change much with Chicago extending the lead thanks to the bench unit doing some heavy work. Kurt Thomas checked in for 4 points and 8 rebounds to steady the ship as Noah and Boozer picked up fouls. The momentum in the game really changed with a Carlos Boozer flagrant foul with 2:43 remaining in the 3rd quarter. Lebron James was driving to the basket from the left sideline when Boozer, late on coming across, mushed James across the jaw with his arm as he appeared to go for the ball. Against a non-star player, that would be a debatable flagrant. Against James that is a no-brainer. Boozer got the whistle, James made two free-throws. When the Heat went to inbound the ball from the sideline following the flagrant, another foul was called that sent Miami to the line for another two. Finally, Noah and Boozer were fighting 3 Heat players for a loose ball when a foul was called on Boozer for clearing out - replays showed that this was one of the worst calls of the game as there was marginal contact that deserved a foul. Taj Gibson was then tagged with a Technical foul and thus another free-throw given away that ended up with the Heat attempting 8 free throws over the final 2:30 of the third quarter.

It still looked good for Chicago to get the win and possibly turn the momentum of the series in their favour deep into the 4th quarter as Chicago had a 10 point lead at 77-67. Then the season fell apart for the Bulls as the Heat defense stepped up a level. Deng scored just 2 points all 4th quarter, a season-long issue that has hurt Chicago against a Heat defense that demands scores on virtually every possession. Carlos Boozer, "second scoring option" when he was signed in July sat the entire 4th as he turned in a stinker: 5pts and 6 rebounds. With a 12-pt lead late in the 4th, Bulls' coach Thibodeau felt that his defensive lineup could get the job done. This wasn't to be the case as the Heat erased the lead in just a handful of plays: Wade and James both completed 3-pt plays before Wade made a 3 and was fouled, scoring a 4th point off the free-throw. Ronnie Brewer split two free throws to make the lead 3 before James hit back-to-back threes to tie and then take the lead as no Bulls player could hit a shot late. Rose had two free-throws to tie the game but missed the second. It would be unfair to pin the loss on that missed free-throw because games are long enough that it should never come down to a one-point shot with 25seconds to play.

Thibodeau then showed his own inexperience as he sent Rose into an isolation against Wade, followed by Lebron double-teaming him against the sideline as the clock ticked to zero. Rose had to force the three up and was blocked by James as the buzzer sounded on Chicago's season. While it could be argued that refereeing decisions cost the Bulls this game, that would be excusing another dismal fourth quarter effort in which the Heat scored 26 points.

Let the off-season begin.

I will be previewing the 2011 NBA Finals, between the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat, over the weekend.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Let's kill another Heat fan!

Okay. This guy owes me a new laptop. When I read this article, I spat my morning coffee all over the it.

Which means it deserves a soul-destroying break-down.

While I feel that Celtics fans are amongst the highest echelon of douchiness, they are true fans and devoted to their team - thus the Garden is one of the hardest places to play on the road.  But Bulls fans are just plain sad. They only cheer when their team is winning and only support their team when there is someone named Rose or Jordan on the team.  Not to mention the absolute arrogance in comparing this season to MJ's years and thinking that they would just roll right over the Heat.  No having the slightest bit of respect for the fact that the Heat a really good team and bound to put up a fight - not just roll over in acceptance of defeat.  That being said...there are so many other reasons to be embarrassed.
"Bulls fans...only support their team when there is someone named Rose or Jordan on it." Instant lack of any sort of knowledge. The United Center in Chicago has been sold out 500+ consecutive home games. That includes the years of finishing well out of the Playoff places, lottery picks and all of Scott Skiles teams.

"Not having the slightest bit of respect for the fact that the Heat are a really good team..." Any Heat fan who knows a real Bulls fan would not be able to say this. I for one have always argued that this series would go to 6 or most likely 7 games and I could not comfortably pick a winner. These two teams are so equally great defensively it comes down to whether Rose and the Bulls' depth was enough to beat Miami's top-heavy rotation.

Take the team for example.  Noah is a raging idiot on the court.  Running around making faces, acting as though he is having a fight with a girlfriend.  Not to mention that he is a sad and pouting little girl when the team is behind on the sidelines and needs other players to cheer him up and prevent him from crying on national television.  And he is a one trick pony...take away his rebound-tip ins and he is rendered worthless.  He only knows how to play well in games that they are ahead.  When they start loosing, he looses heart.
95% of NBA experts, pundits and announcers have long praised Noah's energy and enthusiasm. His pride in defense fuels his team-mates own performances. He certainly is a love-or-hate personality and I can fully understand why he can be so infuriating. But to call him a one-trick pony is absurd. He's a Center. A defensive specialist. Of course his offense is limited and no Bulls fan can argue otherwise. His jump shot is butt ugly and his post play isn't top class. But all he needs to do is get 10-14 points on tip ins and layups to be useful for this Bulls team.
Carlos Boozer...the star free agent acquisition.  The guy disappears in any game where he has to try and help the team overcome a deficit.  Not to meantion that he is always screaming.  He makes one basket and he start yelling "Yeah, come on, let's go..." it could be 1 foul shot in the first 30 seconds of the game and he starts running around like a crazed idiot.
So this is the only paragraph of this entire bile-filled rant that I can agree with. I hate Boozer when he goes for a layup. All I hear is "yaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrr" and then a miss. I would much rather he went up and scored before celebrating. That would be acceptable. I'm beginning to think the signing of Boozer was a big mistake given how shocking he has been at trying to contain Chris Bosh in this series.
 Taj Gibson: wow! Idiot of epic caliber. This guy makes one dunk, albeit a really good one, I will give him credit, but now he runs around as if he made the David Tyree catch in the Super Bowl.  Let's not forget, this wasn't a game winning shot, but yet he carries himself for the next 3 days as if he tied the game with seconds left or he has just been overpowering Magic Johnson-type athletes for years and no one noticed.  Now in the last game, he was like a guy that scored a really clutch TD in a high school game but is now 35 and is still telling the story over and over again and has a picture of the play that he shows  everyone every single chance he gets.  Last night, this guy scores one 4 foot jumper, with the Bulls STILL behind, not a go-ahead shot or even a game tying shot...then he runs done the court as if he just won the championship single-handedly, screaming and flapping his arms.  He always has a look on his face like he is looking for the guy that just slapped his girlfriend.  He is a bench player, that's it...yet he thinks he is the next coming of Patrick Ewing.  SO SAD!!!
Sour grapes right here. Taj Gibson put this writer's hero Dwyane Wade on the mother of all posters. The guy is a bench player who knows he just pulled off the dunk of his career. Give him his moment to celebrate. He knew what it meant to the home crowd to dunk over Wade, hated in Chicago. "He was like a guy.....still telling the story over and over again." Last I checked, Taj Gibson didn't personally put the video on every major sports highlights website/program in the US. He didn't make is own name trend on twitter for 3 days.
Now as for the team as a whole: here is an apt description.  Slap, push, pull, grab FOUL as much as possible and just see how far it goes or hope the ref doesn't see and just hope you get away with it.  It was absolutely sad. 
This describes Miami just as much as it does Chicago. The only way any team has been able to stop a fast-moving Derrick Rose has been to turn into Edward Scissorhands when he goes past, chopping and hacking at his arms and wrists. James is the worst offender for fouling without getting the call against him. It has been 59 games since James fouled 4 times. It has been more than 70 since his last 5-foul game. That is how much he gets away with.
There was point that Asik was pulling on Wade's shorts, you could se them stretched, and no call because it was away from the play.  Wade drives the lane and he gets "blocked" by call.  No contact? For God's sake...there was blood drawn. 
Wade was bleeding, correct. Asik had to leave the game because he was bleeding too.
The entire Bull's team fouls on every single play and just pushes further and further until they finally get called.  
 So the entire Bulls team fouls every play? That's an interesting theory. If true then our team would have fouled out of every game so far as the Heat's free-throw advantage has been huge in a couple of the games of this series. Yet the Bulls have not fouled out. They may get away with a few more fouls than they should. This is the Playoffs at the end of the day, you cannot give easy points away at this late stage of the season, especially against either Miami's or Chicago's top-notch defenses.
You call it hustle or energy, everyone else would just call it cheap.  Not to mention, they put up brick after brick and just hope that Boozer or Noah will be there to tip it in by throwing elbows or pushing the opposing defense trying to get a rebound.
 Again, 95% would call it hustle and energy. Our defensive strengths are very similar to those of Miami: namely being able to stay in front of opponents using speed, and closing out on shooters quickly. Both teams are near identical in this.
Finally, Derrick Rose.  I will not for one second say he sucks or has no talent.  He is amazing...but a one trick pony.  He drives to the basket and usually makes some amazing shots, but he has a low percentage of makes. 
If this person here had watched at least 10 Bulls' games this season, then he would know the reason for Rose's poor Field-Goal %. He simply has no help. The defense of each team he faces loads all their best on him, forcing him to take many low-percentage shots per game. The number of plays where he passes to a team-mate to make a shot only to get the ball back where he doesn't want it is very high. This is a problem this Bulls team has been able to get around in the Regular Season as defenses were not as intense on shutting Rose down. In the Playoffs, this weakness has been exposed and humiliated by Miami. They have shown up the Bulls as having very few reliable scorers.
The second Rose even looks down the lane or thinks about driving the lane, the refs take a deep inhale in anticipation of blowing their whistle for a foul.  The sheer moment he even smells like a layup is coming, you can hear a whistle starting, before even the first dribble. 
 Unlike Lebron James, who never ever gets the call. Never shoots a free throw, never looks at the referees when he misses with a "where's my foul" face on? Never. Neither does Wade who, when he is not scoring, spends his time either lying on the floor or shouting at the referees.
He won't make the shot, starts walking to the foul line anticipating the 2 free throws coming.  Doesn't even have to make the shot, maybe he isn't even trying sometimes.  All things being equal, when he IS on a roll, I have sen few players better, but his reputation as an MVP is also derived from his ability to get the refs involved on his side.
 Every single pro sports player tries to manipulate referees. The ones who are successful tend to be successful because they know what they are doing. Rose does look for contact as he rightly should. Wade pump fakes, gets his man into the air and steps into him as he lands on Wade's shoulders. This is clearly trying to win a foul but it is perfectly legal and accepted.

There's the breakdown. Check back over the weekend where I will either be breaking down a Bulls comeback or their elimination!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Mike Brown: New LA Lakers Head Coach?

Mike Brown is but a signature away from sitting in the single hottest seat in world sport. If the reports are correct, the former Cleveland Cavaliers coach will be Phil Jackson's successor in Tinseltown.

Mike Brown: Future Lakers coach?
This came as a huge "what on earth" moment to myself and many other NBA followers. Mike Brown was the coach who failed to deliver a title with a Cleveland team that, at the time, looked for all the money like it should have won at least one. Mike Brown led James' team into the Playoffs several times, however his record is hardly awe-inspiring. 3 first-round defeats. 1 exit in the Conference Finals to an Orlando Magic team that managed two 10-point wins over the Cavs. The Cavaliers made it to the Finals once, where they were swept aside 4-0 by the San Antonio Spurs. Lebron James was the central player of that team and although the pieces around him were not the best, they were good enough to win at least one Championship. Brown was also the man who did all he could to keep James with his hometown Cavaliers as long as he could by signed legendary center Shaquille O'Neal.

Brown is a surprising turn for the Lakers. Famed for being a defensive mastermind, he will face a tough crowd in Los Angeles where they are more accustomed to watching a flashy, offensively minded team.

His tactics in Cleveland came under criticism. His offensive strategy appeared to be 'give the ball to James' and not much else. With a player as skilled as Lebron, this worked 80% of the time, the problems came when James faced defensive specialists in Boston and Orlando. Brown also seemed to do nothing in timeouts, at times he would be standing ten yards away while his assistants gave the pep talk, made adjustments and issued the plays. For a man needing to follow arguably the best coach the NBA has ever witnessed, his style is not conducive to long-term success. His ego management skills were questionable in Cleveland where many argued that James was the real coach. How will he cope in the mega-fishbowl of Los Angeles, with Kobe Bryant, reality-tv star come NBA player Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum's temper and Pau Gasol's... Gasol-ness?

It would be far from shocking to watch the Laker offense turn into a Kobe-led isolation festival. If that happens, The Mike Brown era will not last long in Tinseltown.

Monday, 16 May 2011

East Finals Game 1: Bulls beat Heat 103-82

Experts? Really, are they still allowed to call them that?

A good 90% of the NBA 'experts' picked the Miami Heat to win this series. Memo, not if the Heat play like this again. They play like this again then this series is only going to have 3 more games.

The Heat are now 0-4 against Chicago this season. I don't see Chicago playing quite as well as Sunday night but they won't need to as this wasn't even close. Miami had just 28 shots in the second half to Chicago's 43. That's a huge plus unseen in the Playoffs. The Bulls were regarded as the better rebounding team though last night was out of this world. Chicago out-rebounded Miami 45-33, 19-6 on the offensive end that resulted in all those extra shots for the Bulls.

Make no mistake, this series is by no way over, but this game fully exposed and humiliated the Heat's weaknesses: Rebounding, size and offensive plays.

Miami came out of the blocks at the start with 2 dunks off Bulls turnovers. It looked like it could be a long night with 9 first-half turnovers for Chicago. Miami led 24-20 after 1 quarter, Bosh with 17 of that 24 on a stellar night for the .5 of the Miami two-and-a-half men. Into the 2nd the Bulls stepped up defensively holding Miami again to 24 points to the Bulls 28 as Gibson hit a run with 7 of 9 Bulls points including a flat-out "get outta my" dunk over Dwyane Wade that electrified an already frenzied crowd. The half ended tied at 48 as the Bulls struggled some to stop the Heat getting points easily.

Wade will be having nightmares
for a little while...
Into the 3rd quarter with the Bulls up 58-57 and this is when things got out of hand. Lebron James had only 2 points in the third quarter as he couldn't hit a thing all night long. The Bulls bench unit completely outplayed their Heat counterparts as Watson, Korver, Brewer and Asik all had standout performances. Watson came in and did a great job hustling after the loose ball, highlighted by a chase-down on a loose ball with 3 seconds left on the shot-clock, CJ turns around, step-back 3 from deep to beat the buzzer. Korver didn't get too hot on his shooting missing a couple wide open before making a three after the game was not a contest, Thibodeau gave him 16 minutes as he did a decent job on Wade in the first half. The Bulls used Korver as the pick with Rose to get Korver more wide open shots against the Heat's terrible defense on the roll. Ronnie Brewer came in and tipped plenty of passes and made one great steal that resulted in 2 Free Throws and a possession after that had Brewer run off the baseline for a dunk. The Heat need to remember that the baseline exists as Brewer was free to move along it all evening.

Omer Asik had a fantastic night. I've yet to see a big man defend the rim and alter so many shots without fouling the shooter. He rebounds at both ends and never has shots blocked as he goes up strong two-handed for the dunk. Taj Gibson as mentioned above was charged up for this game, and his performance was rounded off by a see-to-believe putback dunk over two Heat defenders with hardly any time left in the game.

Erik Spoelstra was out-coached by Thibodeau as Spoelstra inexplicably went small against a Bulls team which has big players who are just as quick as a small, shown when Noah and Gibson blocked Wade and James' jump-shots respectively as they put on a masterclass in staying in front of the attacker.

Game 2 will be crucial in this still-young series as if Chicago can fend off an inevitable James/Wade fight-back and take a 2-0 lead to Miami then they will fully be in control and putting the pressure on the Heat. If the Bulls go in 2-0 up the Heat need to win that third game, as teams 3-0 down have never won the 7-game series (0-99 in history). The Heat will have the pressure of an unforgiving home crowd that could prove more of a burden if things get nasty in Game 3.

The roller-coaster has only just started.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Bulls eliminate Atlanta to set up Miami battle

Sunday night, possibly one of the most anticipated series in recent times will tip off. The #1 seeded Chicago Bulls take on the #2 seeded Miami Heat for the right to play in the 2011 NBA Finals.

Oh boy.

7pm Eastern, 1am here in the United Kingdom, the two teams at polar opposites in play style will commence what promises to be a battle royal.

Chicago may have swept the season series 3-0, but this Miami team has evolved so much since that last win in March, playing at a very high level in this post-season. They ousted a solid Philadelphia team in 5 games, and then beat an old but still dangerous Boston Celtics in 5. Chicago has had the opposite in Playoff performances so far. They knocked out an Indiana side that really tested the Bulls (5 games) and then again with the Hawks giving them a few issues in a 6 game series. While Chicago has had it's share of bad games in rounds 1 and 2, their performances in Game 5 of the Indiana Pacers series, and Games 3 and 6 of the Atlanta Hawks series underlined their real identities.

The Heat have 3 (or 2.5?) superstars in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, 2 of which are destined for the Hall of Fame. They rely on these 3 to score in tons to carry them through. LeBron is one of the league's top scorers and Wade can match him. Bosh has ups and downs from game-to-game but is still worthy of a double-team at times. Beyond these three superstars, they have Mike Bibby running "Point Guard", a name that means little as LeBron and Wade carry the ball more than Bibby does. They also have Center Udonis Haslem returning from a long lay-off, but trying to integrate someone into a Playoff-ready squad is very difficult.

Chicago rely on substance as opposed to the Heat's style. They get a massive contribution from their self-proclaimed 'Bench Mob' of CJ Watson, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. The bench were pivotal in Game 5 of the Atlanta series, with Thibodeau riding Gibson and Asik over Noah and Boozer for the 4th Quarter. Watson is growing into a capable replacement Point Guard for when Rose rests. All he has to do, and is doing, is control the offense enough that the Bulls can maintain their lead while their leader is off the floor. Korver is a streaky shooter, though leaving him wide open is a recipe for disaster. Chicago need him to get hot during the Conference Finals. Gibson, a fantastic defender and an inside presence on offense, some fans have called for him to be starting over Boozer. They have gone quiet recently. Gibson and Asik together form an almost impenetrable wall around the basket. Asik was truly inspiring against Atlanta, putting on a masterclass in double-team defense.

Let's look at the battles of this series.

Derrick Rose vs Mike Bibby:
Mike Bibby will probably never want to hear Rose's name again after this series. Though every player who has to (try to) defend Rose must feel the same, he is impossible to stay in front of. Verdict: Rose (1-0)

Dwyane Wade vs Keith Bogans:
An important battle here. Bogans proved his defensive class against Atlanta's top scorer; Joe Johnson. Johnson hit 34pts in a Game 1 win, but Bogans held him to 34 points combined in Games 3, 4 and 5. Wade is probably one of the top defensive guards in the league, and his offense is probably just as good. If Chicago want to win this series, Bogans will have to score those few 3-pt shots he gets each game, to force the Heat to at least defend him. If he goes cold, his defender will instantly go and put another body between Rose and the basket. Verdict: Wade (1-1)

Carlos Boozer vs Chris Bosh:
The two CBs, Boozer and Bosh, are by far the two most criticized players this season. Bosh was lamented for invisible nights, leading to talk of him not really being part of the "Big 3" in Florida. Bosh shot 1-18 against the Bulls earlier this year, the worst performance seen in 38 years. Boozer had been hitting his form after missing the first 15 games of the season with injury, before he sprained his ankle twice. He has not hit the same heights since. Then, a turf toe injury at the end of the Pacers series further limited his effectiveness leading to him being booed off court in the first game (a loss) of the Hawks series. His 23pt-10reb explosion in Game 6 effectively eliminated the Hawks while providing Bulls fans with the hope that he has returned to much-needed form.
Verdict: Draw (1.5-1.5)

Joakim Noah vs Joel Anthony:
Joakim Noah will get the better of Anthony in this match-up. Noah is the Bulls engine unit in defense, running around double-teaming before recovering and collecting the rebounds. His ability to tap offensive rebounds back out to Rose is very important. Verdict: Noah (2.5-1.5)

Bulls bench vs Heat bench:
The Bulls' bench is one of the better scoring bench units around. That's not to mention the fact that as a group, the Bulls bench is the best defensive unit in the NBA. Omer Asik's length is enough to stop any player, Gibson  is a mix of Power Forward and Center, easily long enough to play at Center, he will likely be used to counter Bosh if Boozer starts to struggle. Korver as I said above, will be crucial as when he is connecting on his shots, he spreads the court more for Rose and Deng. The Heat bench is sparse. Worryingly so. Udonis Haslem returned against Boston but looked hopelessly lost in picking up a foul and a technical all series. If the Heat's starting 5 get into a hole like they tend to do, they could be in real trouble. Verdict: Bulls (3.5-1.5)

Luol Deng vs LeBron James:
LeBron is by far the better offensive player, perhaps deserving of an MVP award this year himself. But Deng's length has bothered James for years. When Deng is on the floor, James shoots 17% compared to 40% with Deng off the floor. James has the tools to beat the Bulls by himself. Deng had a case for making the NBA Defensive 2nd-team if not the first-team. His persistence and ability to keep himself between his man and the basket, as well as not giving away fouls in the process, is unparalleled. He has often been labelled the "X-Factor" and "glue" of this Bulls team and it is pretty true. He is the Bulls' second scoring option behind the MVP and when he gets his 20 point average, it takes a massive load off of Rose's young shoulders. Verdict: Lebron's offense beats Deng's defense; James. (3.5-2.5)

Tom Thibodeau vs Erik Spoelstra:
Two relatively inexperienced head-coaches. Thibodeau was the mastermind behind the Boston defense that won the 2008 NBA Title. He has came to Chicago in his first year as a head coach and turned them into the top defensive team in the NBA. Spoelstra always had an incredibly hard job to do in managing Wade and James' egos. He has achieved harmony it would seem as the Heat have appeared a team in recent weeks. His weakness is his team's reliance on Isolation 'plays' for Lebron and Wade that turn the rest of the team into spectators. If the Heat run too much of this stagnant offense, the Bulls' smothering defense will sink it's teeth.
Verdict: Thibodeau (4.5-2.5)

Result: Bulls 4.5 - 2.5 Heat.

Series Prediction: So impossibly hard to predict as this series will be decided by a vast number of battles and intangibles. Though as a Bulls fan, I have to pick my team, though it could easily go the way of Miami. Bulls win 4-3

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

For swept Lakers, where next?

With the Dallas Mavericks' 4-0 sweep of the LA Lakers, a dynasty came to a close. Phil Jackson, head coach and winner of a record 11 NBA Titles, stood down (apparently) permanently as coach.
Phil Jackson:
 More Championship Rings than fingers

So long Phil.

So now this blog asks, what do the Lakers do next? They have to find a new coach first who can decide on the next steps that will benefit this ball club going forward. Trouble is, the way this year's Playoffs ended for the Lakers makes going forward an incredibly complex task.

LA weren't just swept by Dallas, they were swept convincingly. Many analysts, experts and pundits, myself included, had the Lakers in as at least Conference finalists if not NBA finalists. Dallas exposed this Laker team as a team well beyond it's use by date. The explosion of three-point shooting was not all down to the Mavs' shooters having a good night, a good 75% of the 20 threes they scored we wide open. The Mavericks showed the rest of the watching millions how little the Lakers wanted this 2nd three-peat.

So the Lakers had no intensity, no desire to at least extend their season to a 5th Game back home. They didn't give themselves a chance. This Laker team could have won both Games 1 and 3, blowing leads in the 4th quarter of both. LA were in Game 4 in the first quarter again, but a run by the Mavs simply broke the will and heads went down. The Lakers had the look of a team that said "we're done, we know we're done, let's go home." Even Phil Jackson looked resigned to his fate after the Mavericks finished the half 63-42 ahead.

Midway through the 3rd Quarter, Ron Artest broke out for a steal and a fast-break, but got caught between finishing with a dunk or a layup. Maybe his legs were finished after a long season (starting all 82 games), or maybe he simply, like the rest of the Lakers, just couldn't get things right. That basket would have cut the Maverick's lead to 17 at a time when the Lakers had the momentum. That miss resulted in the Mavericks knocking in 2 free-throws and yet another 3 to make it a 23-pt lead that effectively ended this as a contest. The teams filtered their bench units back in as they filled out the box score.

LA obviously couldn't get their bench in quick enough. Lamar Odom and Dirk Nowitzki were having words during a Mavs free-throw attempt, and Odom let his frustration get control as he body checked Dirk well above the three-point arc. An ejection was the instant decision and Odom didn't even look at all bothered that his season was finished. The game threatened to turn into a farce as Andrew Bynum assaulted J.J Barea on a layup, delivering a hard elbow into the Mavs' Point Guard's ribcage. Barea luckily had a soft-ish landing, Bynum was ejected and left the court in similar fashion to Odom a minute beforehand. The Mavericks' bench deserve praise here as they did not come out of their area to get what would be almost justified revenge.

So with the season over for the now ex-champions, will they blow the team up and bring in a whole new squad of players? Who can they or will they trade? Looking at this Laker roster, there are very few players who can be traded for even an equal player, never mind an improvement.

Could the Lakers trade up to 4 of Kobe Bryant's (Center) team-mates?
  • Pau Gasol. Pau should not be traded. I know I know, he played terribly these Playoffs. But remember back in November he was in the MVP conversation? Yes, he really was. He lost form, but that will return. Whatever drama is going on privately, will sort itself out over the summer. Even if you wanted to trade Gasol who do you take as a Center/Forward right now? Dwight Howard comes up soon, but the Magic will be wanting major assets for his release and a Kobe-Howard tandem could be volatile to say the least.
  • Ron Artest. If LA put out a "for sale" sign on Artest, who is seriously going to step up and say that they want him as part of their team. In my eyes, he showed his true colours in the Pacers-Pistons brawl, and no team should want a player like him in the locker room.
  • Lamar Odom. Sixth Man of the Year, can the Lakers afford to lose not just a big scorer off the bench and defensive presence, but one of the 7-footers that helped make LA nigh on impossible to defend during the Championship years? Again, who can you get to replace him, and who would want to take on his large contract?
  • Andrew Bynum. This off-season could be make or break for Bynum and his career as a Laker. A valuable piece when fit, but possibly a huge trading chip given his relatively young age and undoubted ability. I do not condone his attack on Barea, and the league would do well to suspend him some of next season, but he is not in the same mold as Artest. Bynum has a big future. This summer is when the Lakers must decide if they will invest more in Bynum or blow it all up.

The big trade everyone is talking about is Dwight Howard taking off for California. How feasible is this trade and how likely would it be to work out successfully for LA in the long run? Firstly, the Lakers would have to give up a lot in any trade for Dwight. There are many many combinations that can be made to sound workable for either side.

The Howard Trade deserves it's own breakdown. Check back soon!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Pacers live another game, thanks to referees?

So the Pacers win 89-94. But were the Bulls ever going to win this one?

It never seemed likely, even with Chicago clambering from an 18-point hole to be down by just 1 with 15 seconds to go. Indiana closed it out with free-throws to avoid elimination. At least until Tuesday evening back at the United Center where smart money says the Bulls finally put to bed what is by far the most competitive 1st-vs-8th match-up in recent times. The Bulls are 38-5 at home, and 16-4 on games immediately after losses.

Boozer had another tough night, (Image rights: NBA)
It was another typically slow start from Chicago which is becoming a worrying trend. Indiana came out with the energy expected of a team playing for hometown pride. The Bulls didn't do themselves any favors as they labored to just 33 first-half points on only 33% shooting. The Pacers had shut down Luol Deng and sent Carlos Boozer to the bench in early foul trouble.

The second half started no better for Chicago as the Pacers stretched the lead to 13 on an A.J Price three (2-4 on the night) that fired the split, raucous crowd to the belief that the hard fighting Pacers could finally get a win their play has deserved. Roy Hibbert came back from his Game 3 wilderness to post his best game of the series with 16pts and 10 rebounds. Jeff Foster had a clutch of huge offensive rebounds late (7 Off.) that effectively clinched the game for the Pacers as they went on to convert on 2nd-chance opportunities. Indiana did a good job all game of making the most of their limited rebounding talent, coming up with the majority of the important rebounds.

Derrick Rose was quiet as Indiana coach Frank Vogel stuck with the 2-man trap/double team strategy he began to employ in Game 3. Rose found himself too often trapped at the half-line and without an outlet pass, the Bulls had a staggering 14 Turnovers (9 in the first half) that gave up enough points that decided the game. This, along with the Bulls inability to break out and score easy points on fast-breaks ultimately lost the game when Chicago went down as much as 18 two minutes into the final period.

Rose did turn his ankle early in the first half and went to the locker room for a few minutes before re-emerging. Post-game he claimed the ankle was fine, just sprained, before he hobbled out of the press conference with a look of pain on his face sure to cause worry among Bulls fans and players alike. "They go as Derrick Rose goes" said Danny Granger before the playoffs began. How true this was as Rose shot his playoff-worst 6-22 and Chicago went out with a horrific 37.8% (31-82).

Despite being in a hole dug almost to China, Chicago somehow flipped that defensive switch to dominate the 4th quarter yet again. With 3:45 to go, Pacers still held a 16pt lead until Kyle Korver hit yet another big three to breathe life into a Bulls rally. Roy Hibbert sank two crucial free-throws before Chicago really got into their stride with an 8-0 run taking them within 7pts with 1:17 left to complete a tough sweep. Boozer and Rose had a pair of big buckets to cut the advantage to 3 as Indiana couldn't buy a score on an 11-2 run. Mike Dunleavy split two free-throws before a Noah 3-point-play cut the lead to one.

That would be as close as the Bulls got as Deng fouled quick with 14.1s and Granger made both foul shots. Bulls' coach Tom Thibodaeu asked for a play for a Rose 3, but the Pacers made a decent job in forcing Noah to break the play in turn forcing Carlos Boozer to hoist up his first 3-point attempt in 4 years for the tie (Boozer last made 3 was back in 2003). Noah afterward accepted a "mental mistake" in not calling a timeout when he got locked up in the corner on that final play.

Several thousand Bulls fans made
the 3-hr drive to Indiana (Image: NBA)
The Pacers have won the right to a 5th game, but have they spent all they have on earning it, for that's how it felt with their huge effort to win the 4th game. Chicago can rest easy knowing they have the chance to wrap it up at home, in front of 23,000 Bulls fans ready to see the backs of an intense series.


Referees often come under a harsh criticism in the playoffs, tonight was no different. In this series, the Bulls have averaged 31 free-throw attempts per game to Indiana's 20, a difference of 11. Frank Vogel has made his views well known; He feels the Pacers have been treated harshly by the referees as they "protect their star" in Derrick Rose.

Perhaps the league reacted, perhaps these referees were personally moved by his pleas. No matter the reason, a miraculous 20 free-throw swing took place on Saturday afternoon as this time Indiana took 34 foul shots to the Bulls 24. I'm sorry, but after the Tim Donaghy scandal, I simply cannot look at this as just a group of referees 'calling a game differently.' Call me bitter, but Rose is the prime example.

Game 1 he was 19-21 on free-throws. Game 2, 12-13 and Game 3 13-15. So how can it be that the Indiana defense has gone under such an incredible improvement that Rose only got 4 free-throws on Saturday, two of those on a "Clear Path" foul on a rare fast-break. Impressive improvement or incredibly sympathetic refereeing? Call it what you will.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

What happens when LeBron fan-boys write articles...

So, Yahoo has this idea that letting the fans of sports write articles for their Associated Content section. Good idea, get the fans to produce some content that can cover anything about every sport.

The downside?

Fan boys.

Take this article, written on the 2011 NBA MVP Race. Well written it seems, but actually read into this article and you'll find lies and misinformation left right and centre.

"Rose supporters further will make the claim all you have to do to know Rose should be the MVP is watch the games, as if those who don't agree with their view just aren't watching those games. They say that if you watch the games, it's clear Rose has had a much bigger impact on the Bulls winning than LeBron has on the Heat winning. Frankly, I can't see it from watching those games (and I have watched), so apparently I'm blind."
Let's start with this little gem of a paragraph. Clearly this man truly is blind. He claims that Derrick Rose has less impact on the Chicago Bulls' winning games than James does on the Heat. Wrong. When Rose goes out of the game, yes, the Bulls do play at a good level. This is down to the Bulls' bench that is one of, if not the best, scoring benches in the league. However, if Rose were to be unavailable for a game through injury, things would be different. The Bulls have no 3rd Point Guard and C.J Watson, the backup, is a solid 2nd unit substitute. But he would not be able to lead this Bulls team as the starting guard. Rose is Chicago's go to guy in late-game situations (scored last 8 vs Bucks on Sat. night) and when the other players are cold, Rose takes up the scoring responsibilities. Derrick has nobody else to defer to when he can't score. Boozer is good but limited from range, Deng is good but an often streaky shooter.

Compare all of that to the writer's preferred MVP choice, LeBron James of the Miami Heat.

Compare that to when LeBron is out of the game. Miami have a certain Dwyane Wade you may have heard of over the last few years. Wade is equal to LeBron scoring-wise this year, although James is better all-round, Dwyane is still one of the league's top 10, maybe even top 5 players this season and of the last 3 years. When James goes off the floor or is injured, the Heat can simply defer scoring responsibilities to Wade who is on 25.7 points-per-game (James 26.5ppg). 1 point per game less than LeBron. So when James is unavailable or not playing well, Miami has another player who is basically just as adept at scoring the ball. Look at the options surrounding Derrick Rose on the Bulls' roster. Carlos Boozer is on 17.7ppg and Luol Deng is on 17.6ppg. Neither a bad average, but a good 6 or 7 points below Rose at 25.0ppg. Even Miami's Chris Bosh is averaging almost 19 points per game (18.7). So James will have less impact when he is off the floor.

This is a worthless comparison anyway, as Rose has only missed one game all season (a loss in Denver).

Can I go on? Yes. Here he is talking about James' stat line vs Rose's.
"LeBron's stats dwarf Rose's in so many categories it's not even funny, and simply because LeBron is ranked #13 in assists rather than in the Top 10 is hardly reason to vote Rose over LeBron."
While stats make up a big part of who is in and who is out of the MVP Race, they are far from the be-all and end-all of the award. LeBron is a more prolific scorer, but by just 2 points per game. So small it is irrelevant.
Although I used PER as a main focus of my previous article, there are a number of other statistical analytics that give a clear picture why LeBron is more deserving of the award, and there's one statistic Bulls fans just can't get around; his FG percentage.
Rose or LeBron? Tough choices in
this year's MVP Race
So, he moves on to Rose's fairly average Field Goal percentage. Fair enough, it is nowhere compared to James', but remember, Wade draws two defenders to him as he is so good. Bosh demands the same double team. That leaves James wide open on some plays. Plus, LeBron does not have to do the majority of Miami scoring every night, unlike Rose. This is one reason for his lower shots-made%. Rose must take shots he doesn't like when his team-mates are struggling. While LeBron has Wade to make shots he doesn't like or isn't good at. They compliment each other. Heat fans argue that Wade is taking points away from James, but James is still scoring the same as last season. True. But again, this is because Wade draws two defenders as does Bosh. James gets more open shots and therefore easy points than he did last year in Cleveland.

So yes, James is a better all-round player. But until he has single handedly carried a team to the top of the Eastern Conference and into Championship contention, he is not the MVP. Chicago may be top through their defensive excellence. But can you think of how many games they would have lost if it were not for D-Roses ownership of the late game? I can tell you right now, if it weren't for Rose, Chicago would be on a 3-game losing streak today instead of one, and would be scrapping around the 5th-6th-7th places in the East.

Sorry LeBron fans, but this one is not going your way.