Monday, 28 February 2011

London 2011: Toronto Raptors Players

Welcome to Part 2 of my preview of the NBA Games in London. The Toronto Raptors will face off with the New Jersey Nets at London's O2 Arena over the weekend of the 4th-6th March.

Next up in the series is a quick look at the players that you might want to look out for playing in Raptors' red.
The Raptors have a number of
quick, young players

DeMar DeRozan: "No Props Needed" is one guy you need to watch. Why? How about this? or this, possibly one of the best dunks-on-a-man I have ever witnessed. Dynamic, athletic, he can jump higher than just about anyone. DeRozan is the future of the Raptors franchise, he's young and popular. Exactly the type of player that the league loves to see play the game. Never a complaint comes from his lips either.

Leandro Barbosa: Another youngster making an impact on the league, Barbosa is recognizable by the half-shirt he wears under his Raptors vest. The powerful Brazilian guard is one of the league's most explosive players, and at 6ft 3in is one of the strongest of his relatively small size.

Andrea Bargnani: Bargnani is one of many Italian players making their name in the NBA, Andrea came from Italian side Benetton Treviso to play his ball in America. One of the NBA's top scoring Centers, Bargnani combines his height (all 7ft of it) and incredible speed for a big guy to score points for fun. Not many Centers can claim to be good ball-handlers too, Bargnani is sublime at keeping that ball in control and doing whatever he wants to do with it. And for a big guy, my goodness can he jump

James Johnson: Any fan who watched the Chicago - Utah pre-season game in London in 2009 knows who Johnson is. In his first starts for Chicago, then-rookie JJ scored the game-winner at the buzzer to seal victory over the Jazz. JJ never really got a chance to shine in Chicago, especially under the new coach who preferred experience to youth athleticism and often left him on the bench, unused. The Bulls realized his dream by sending him off to Toronto where he would be guaranteed the chance to start. Fans instantly warmed to a passionate Johnson as he helped his new team to a win over his former employers in his first-ever game for the Rap's. JJ is quick, he is strong and he can slam a basketball through the hoop as he pleases.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

London 2011: Raptors/Nets Season so-far.

We'll start this bumper guide to this weekend's groundbreaking events with a brief look at how our two teams, Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets, have performed this season so far.

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors, the only Non-American NBA team (Canada), were one of the teams unlucky enough to find themselves a part of last summer's chaotic trade window. We saw LeBron James destroy a budding franchise by leaving his boyhood team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to build a new life in Miami with the Heat. Toronto felt this big time, as their own Superstar, Center/Forward Chris Bosh, joined James in Miami to form a super-team with long-time Miami star Dwyane Wade. Bosh and LeBron's old teams have both had similar seasons, though the Raptors have coped much better than the Cavaliers (losers of an all-time worst 26 straight games).

In 2009-10, Toronto missed the playoffs by losing just 1 more game than 8th place Chicago. This year, the playoffs are out of the question as the Raps enter a rebuilding phase in this post-Bosh era. They brought in Chicago Bulls' youngster James Johnson, who played big in his first Raptors game, against his old team, to help them to a confidence-boosting victory. Currently at 16-43, the Raptors are 13th in the East and will finish this year with more losses than victories.

New Jersey Nets

The New Jersey Nets have just come off completing the 4th-worst year in NBA history, with 12 wins and 70 losses. The Nets set new records along the way, becoming the only team to ever start the year by losing their first 18 games. They also became only the 3rd team to have played 43 games and come up with 3 wins from them. After 50 games, New Jersey broke another with their horrific 4-46 record. The worst record ever seen in any of the 4 major American Sports.

Things are beginning to look brighter for the Nets however, as they are now co-owned by Russia's 2nd richest man, Mikhael Prokhorov and rapper Jay-Z. The Nets recently pulled off a star-signing of their own in securing the services of All-Star Deron Williams, a player that the team will be looking to build around for the future. A big signing that rivals any of the mid-season trades this year. New Jersey sit 12th in the East, just 2 losses ahead of Toronto which of course means that 2 Raptor wins could see the teams trade places in the standings. The Nets, are currently playing in Newark, a relatively small area for a big team such as NJ. Next year however, the Nets are looking forward to moving into the brand new, state-of-the-art Barclays Center in downtown New York.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

NBA Games come to London.

With just 1 week to go until the NBA comes to London, I'll give you a quick guide to both the New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors, including which players to look out for, plus my predictions for who will win both of the games.

Follow this blog over the next 7 nights for all the news on these landmark games.

You can keep up with this blog on twitter by following me @Peeeter_Owen

Preview: Bulls vs Heat

Time for the run-in, the stretch, the post-All Star push. Whatever we call it, this last 30 or so games ultimately decides how this most unpredictable of NBA Championships will be fought out.

D-Rose will continue his battle
with MVP-candidate LeBron James
First up for Chicago is a huge match against Miami at the United Center. The Bulls are surprisingly just one game in the Loss column behind the much-favored Miami Heat and another one after that behind the Conference-leading Celtics. Chicago face Miami twice in the next 14 days, two games that could go a long way to deciding which of the two teams will be the #2 seed, and possibly even decide which of the two will contend for the East's #1 spot.

The Bulls are this year's surprise package (apart from highlight-reel-Blake Griffin and Gilbert Arenas totally losing it). They are 38-16 and have played just 7 games with their preferred starting lineup, all 7 played while Noah was already injured. With a full-strength squad, this Bulls incarnation could scare the bejeezus out of the other 'Elite' teams. In the 30 games that Joakim has missed, Chicago somehow completed a miraculous 22-8 record including big wins over the Heat and a HUGE 10pt battering of the NBA-best Spurs right before the All-Star game. Worrying hiccups against the Bobcats provided some food for thought for Thibodeau. And since January, only the Spurs have a better record in the league than Chicago.

The Heat however, have put that spluttering 9-8 start behind them and haven't looked back, being 32-6 since many experts were hitting the panic button. LeBron James is probably MVP of the pre-All Star part of the year (very close between him and Derrick Rose), and the "Big 3" have started to gel of late with solid victories over some of the big teams. Miami has finally broken the early-season stigma that had them down as 'not quite there' and is proving now that they are ready to fight for the Title this year.

One of the other intriguing aspects of this tie is that the Bulls lead the NBA in points allowed (per 100 possessions) whilst the Heat are 3rd in point scored per 100 possessions. Could we see the unstoppable force meet the immovable object?

With the #2 position in the East up for grabs, this run-in will be vital for both Chicago and Miami's title aspirations. Whoever finishes 3rd would have to go through both the Heat in the 2nd round and the Celtics in the ECF without homecourt advantage. Just a slight disadvantage then.

This week's News:
The obvious big story is the ending of the Carmelo Anthony trade fiasco. It started off as a nice conversation topic and ended up being the most annoying story this side of LeBron's 'Decision.' 'Melo finally decided to run for the money that New York were offering and has signed his $65 million extension there. The Knicks in return will send Forwards Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari and Guards Reymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov to Denver along with $3 million cash, 2012 and 2013 second-round picks (originally from Warriors) and the Knick's 2014 pick. Also moving are Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman and Shelden Williams (All Knicks-to-Nuggets). The Timberwolves are the 3rd team involved and they will send Corey Brewer to New York in return for Anthony Randolph, Eddy Curry's expiring contract and another $3 million cash.

Chicago announced Tuesday afternoon that they had traded 6-9 Forward James Johnson to the Toronto Raptors, gaining Miami's 2011 Regular First Round draft pick in return for the 2nd-year player from Wake Forest. Johnson recently returned from an impressive D-League stretch, finished as the 3rd-most efficient player in the league when he left. In his rookie campaign, JJ averaged 3.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg with 11.6mpg in 11 starts in 65 appearances.

DeMar DeRozan has blasted the use of props in this year's Sprite Slam Dunk contest.  "I'm not into all the props and everything," DeRozan has said, after he performed two highly creative dunks including one ridiculous through the legs, reverse dunk on an alley-oop. DeMar did not score high enough to get through to the final pairing which saw JaVale McGee make use of 3 balls and Blake Griffin leap over a KIA car to win the contest. DeRozan said that he "would compete" in a dunk contest again, "but not no prop dunk contest."