NBA Season Preview: 2014-2015 Season

A year ago we at HooPs, excited to start the 2013-2014 season previewed and highlighted last year’s season with excitement on the following:
- the Battle in the Western Conference
- Weighed on the chances of the Heat three-peat
- Return of Derrick Rose
- And the draft class of the summer of 2014

Some things haven’t changed and some have.

The West is conceivably just as deep as it was a year ago. There are 7 or 8 teams that have championship aspirations. There may be as many as 12 Western teams that could make the playoffs if they were in the Eastern conference.

Derrick Rose is set to return “AGAIN”. Wish him a healthy season.

The Heat failed to three-peat while The Spurs hoist their 5th championship of the Duncan era. Now on to the 2014-2015 season.

SpursBig3

New Faces in New Places
Jeremy Lin in Los Angeles. Chandler Parsons in Dallas. Trevor Ariza in Houston. Jason Terry in Houston. LeBron JAMES BACK IN CLEVELAND! Chris Bosh stays in Miami. Pao Gasol in Chicago. Luol Deng in Miami. Kevin Love in CLEVELAND. Lance Stephenson to Charlotte. Melo stays in New York. Who else of importance? Paul Pierce to the Wizards. And the Spurs still have their big 3 and the best coach in the league. Favorites? Yes!

How the West was Won
The West is better than ever. We say that every year but chew on this. The top 3 teams in the West in no particular order are Spurs, Thunder and Clippers. The next 3 are Warriors, Blazers and Grizzlies again in no particular order. Only 2 of these 6 teams will make the playoffs: Rockets, Mavericks, Suns, Kings and Nuggets and Timberwolves.
It’s possible that 10 teams in the West will have winning records. To get into the playoffs may require 50 wins this season in the loaded West!
(Last year, Dallas won 49 games as the 8th seed)

Opening Night: October 28, 2014
Three games slated for Tuesday, 10/28/2014
Magic vs Pelicans
and then 2 games on TNT. First the Mavericks visit the Spurs for a Texas showdown and then the Rockets visit the Lakers in the late night game.
In game 2, Kobe Bryant plays against Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin plays against his former team.

Championship Contenders

EastNewLookCavs

Cleveland. Any team with LeBron James, who is widely regarded as the best player on the planet, is an instant title contender. Now add Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao and James Jones. First you had my interest, now you have my attention! (Django Unchained)

Chicago. Adding Paul Gasol to a healthy Derek Rose, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich AND a tenacious Tom Thibodeau defensive system will be a welcome nemesis to Cleveland’s supremacy.

All other eastern conference teams are playing for third place with Raptors and Wizards likely to round out the top 4.

West-
Spurs – Embark on their first “successful” title defense.
Clippers and Chris Paul – Hope to get to CP3′s first ever Conference Finals.
Thunder – Plan to weather the storm till reigning MVP Kevin Durant returns.
Warriors, Mavericks, Rockets and Grizzlies – Wish to join the elite of the West and make deep playoff runs.

LoveThisGame

Let’s get it Started!
Welcome to the 2014-2015 NBA season.
May the best team win!

HooPs

Playoffs Start Today! Its the most wonderful time of the Year!

4 games today.

4 games tomorrow on Sunday.

8 playoff matchups in 48 hours. It’s like Christmas at HoopsReportCard!
This is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Presents1

Time to open the best present of all, the most exciting first round matchup this postseason – the battle between the #3 seed in the West and the #6 seed in the West. The LA Clippers vs the Golden State Warriors!

You can get playoff previews from any and every site out there, so lets not breakdown matchups and coaching strategies and bench production and 3 point shooting.
LET’s enjoy TOGETHER the greatness of Chris Paul.
The sharp shooting of Steph Curry (and Klay Thompson).
The emergence of Blake Griffin.
The absence of Andre Bogut.
The insertion of Jermaine O’Neal.
The defense of De’Andre Jordan.
Let’s.
Starting today at 12:30pm PST!

News and Notes:

BROOKLYN: the Nets started the season 10-31 and many called for first year coach Jason Kidd’s head. What say they now that the Nets will be the first time since The Kings in 1986 to make the playoffs after being over 10 games below .500 at December 31st.

FIRST YEAR COACHES:
Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
Steve Clifford, Bobcats
Jason Kidd, Brooklyn Nets
Dave Joerger, Memphis
All 4 with winning records in their first year. Can we hear a Round of Applause cough cough — Waka Flocka Flame

San Antonio: another 60 win season. that’s 4 (four) for Gregg Popovich. They have the number one overall seed. 15 straight seasons with 50+ wins. From the days of the Admiral to today with Tim Duncan, the Spurs have enjoyed the consistent on court and front office leadership in the NBA in this era.

WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF RACE:
Dallas & Memphis get the last 2 seeds in the West at the expense of Phoenix who had an awesome season.

Who are you watching?

Brooklyn Nets vs Toronto Raptors

Washington Wizards vs Chicago Bulls

Memphis Grizzles vs Oklahoma City!

Miami Heat vs ANYBODY/NOBODY?

 

 

enjoy them all!

Hoops

Daylight Savings Sunday 3/9/2014

Let’s call today “on par Sunday”. There are three teams in the NBA that are tied with the best record in the league (46-16, 46 wins and 16 losses)

standings3.9.2014

Indiana, San Antonio and OKC.
And within 4 games of them are Miami, Houston, LA Clippers, and Portland.

That’s 7 teams with a reasonably legitimate shot at the top overall seed in the 2014 playoffs.
Exciting times.
There are over a half dozen teams that are an improvement or two away from title contention. With the likes of Golden State and Memphis. There are a lot of bottom feeders as well as youth and potential in teams like the Sacramento Kings and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Nationally televised games today, Sunday:

Miami Heat at the Chicago Bulls
OKC Thunder visiting the Los Angeles Lakers

Miami is coming off back to back Texas losses (at Houston and at San Antonio) and now head into a post-daylight-savings time matchup with Chicago.
Chicago’s motivation is to continue its stellar play and hand Miami its first 3 game losing streak of the Season.
Remember last year? Chicago snapped Miami’s historic 27 game win streak. Chicago boasts the NBA 2nd best defense, one that allows only 92.2 points per game.

A game that should see plenty of offense will be today’s encounter between the Lakers and the Thunder. Los Angeles has allowed 132, 142 against the Clippers and 134 points against the Nuggets in consecutive games. All three of those games were regulation games (no overtime). Will the Thunder score 150 today? Can the Lakers avoid giving up 130 points in 4 consecutive games to avoid more franchise “history” woes? Tune in today at 1230pm PST to find out.

Also today, a western conference showdown between the streaking Rockets and the Portland Trailblazers.
Flashing lights!
Lights lights lights
Feeling like Katrina with no FEMA
LIKE Martin with no Gina
Like a flight with no VISA
OK let me stop before someone signs me.

Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum.
James Harden, Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones.

HOUvsPOR

Houston is coming off impressive wins vs Miami and Indiana. Portland lost a heart-breaker on Friday night in Dallas after battling back from a 30 point deficit. Both teams will be focused and ready. There is a lot on the line. With a win Houston would hold the tiebreaker and get a 2 game lead on Portland. With a win, Portland would tie the season series 2-2, tie Houston in the standings and snap Houston’s 4 game winning streak.

Next feature, can the Knicks make the postseason? Carmelo Anthony has never missed the playoffs in his career. The Knicks are 3.5 games behind 8th place Atlanta in the East.

Tweet @HoopsReportCard with the following:
Will the Knicks make the playoffs? And why?

Happy Sunday
HooPs

Measuring Stick

GeorgevsHarden
I’m excited about tonight.

I love games that pit a great offense against a great defense. Or an elite defender vs a talented scorer. Why? Because I want to see what gives. Who will impose their will? What style will result?

The Rockets have one of the best offenses in the NBA and are undefeated at home against the Eastern Conference this season (including a recent win against the Miami Heat this week).
The Pacers have the best defense in the league and lead the NBA by allowing only 91.6 points per game.

Set the stage:
Pacers have lost 2 straight games. They are coming off back to back road losses against the Warriors and the Bobcats. They have not lost 3 in a row this season. Paul George has been roasted by the media recently for scoring only 2 points against the Charlotte Bobcats in his last game AND for his desire to be mentored by LeBron James.

The Rockets are the hottest team in 2014. They are sporting the NBA’s best record in 2014.
Both teams will be extremely motivated to put their best effort on the floor tonight.

For those that love a battle in the trenches, 2 Of the best big men in the game will go against each other. Dwight Howard vs Roy Hibbert.
DHvsRH

James Harden vs Paul George
Paul George has gotten the best of this matchup lately. Since joining the Rockets, Harden has averaged less than 17 points per game against Indiana while shooting only 24% from the field. Ouch!

Terrence Jones vs the savvy vet David West

Also keep your eye on Indiana’s bench featuring Evan Turner and Luis Scola.

With the Miami Heat in hot pursuit, the Pacers need a win to stay in first place in the East. And they also play the Dallas Mavericks on the road on Sunday. The Rockets have 21 games remaining. The Pacers also have 21 left.
standings

tonight’s matchup is on national TV tonight on ESPN.
big stage.
Bright Lights. Flashing lights.
Who has the Heart of a Champion?

Let’s see which stars shine.

In other news, the Spurs dominate the Heat at home 111-78 last night. Clippers also rout the Lakers in historic fashion.

- HooPs
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3 Days into The Season, 11/1/2013

Three days into the NBA regular-season.

19 games have been played.

A couple teams have played two games.

Most have only played one.

What have we learned?

On opening night, we learned that the Miami Heat won’t relinquish their crown too easily.  After their ring ceremony they triumphed over the Chicago Bulls in Derek Rose’s return.

Also on opening night, the Lakers surprised the Clippers and the entire league by winning 116–103. The Lakers bench put up a statistical anomaly in 76 points with newcomers Xavier Henry, returnee Jordan Farmar and Nick Young shining.

 

On NBA night #2, Wednesday night, 28 teams were in action with the following notables:

  • Dwight’s 1st game in a Rockets uniform produced 17 points in a career-high tying 26 rebounds as the Rockets defeat the Charlotte Bobcats.
  • Mavericks win their first game of the season over the Hawks
  • Kevin Durant puts up 42 points in a thunder win over the home team Utah Jazz
  • Cleveland surprises the newly rebuilt  Nets and ruin Jason kids coaching debut. Kyrie
  • Kings beat the Nuggets at home by 2 points behind Demarcus Cousins’ 30 points.
  • The Warriors bring the Lakers back to reality with a 125-94 home win. It was a rout from the start with Klay Thompspn scoring a career-high 38 points by shooting 15 of 19 overall field goals and 5 of 7 on three pointers.
  • Suns beat the Blazers at home to overcome a big game from Damian Lillard.
  • Pistons defeated the Wizards.
  • Pacers squeaked by the Pelicans.

mcw

  • And last but definitely not the least, rookie Michael Carter–Williams leading the Philadelphia 76ers in a four-point defeat over the defending champion Miami Heat. As the world knows, he brook several rookie and NBA records by scoring 22 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds and 9 steals!!  ”What better way to start your NBA career” remarked LeBron James. I agree. He received praise from many and the likes of Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. Even I sent him a tweet! Waiting for the HoopsReportCard mention but I digress.

Its early but a few teams expected to miss the playoffs that posted huge wins – Kings over the Warriors in a huge home opener.  Cavs and Kyrie Irving beat the new-look Nets. The Suns beat the Blazers.

 

Last night featured only 2 games. The Knicks visiting the Bulls and the Clippers hosting the Golden State Warriors. The skinny? Knicks lose by 1 point.  And the Clippers bounce back in a real way again the Warriors putting up 126 points to win by 9 led by Chris Paul’s 42 points, 15 assists and 4 blocks.

 

At the conclusion of this weekend there will be winning streaks, losing steaks and division leaders. Yes! Already! Basketball is back!

Tonight there are 13 more games. The national spotlight is on the  Spurs at the Lakers on ESPN.

ENJOY!

We definitely will

-Hoops (@HoopsReportCard)

NBA Season Preview: Hoops Edition 2013-2014 Season

A new NBA season begins in a matter of days. A time for 30 teams to have unbridled optimism of what could be for the coming year, I time to realize the strength of your poker hand and/or for others – or a time to tank early for the coveted draft piece.

NBA2014

 

A few things to watch for this season:

1. New Orleans pelicans youth  movements:

pelicans

Potential starting lineup of Drew holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, and Anthony Davis. Let’s not forget about sharpshooter Ryan Anderson. The Pelicans had the 2nd best record this preseason.  Yes 7-1.  They won their first 6 games, lost 1 and then finished off preseason with a win. We will definitely see an exciting young team with tons of upside.  Can they get the 8th seed in the west?

 

2. The return of rookie of the year Damian Lillard:

Lillard spent time working on game. More specifically, his goal was to focus on his defense and being mentored by none other than Gary Payton “The Glove”. The Blazers have some nice pickups in McCollum, Thomas Robinson, Robin Lopez and company.

 

3. John Wall and the Washington Wizards:

Over the weekend, the Wizards traded Emeka Okafor for Marcin Gortat.  This gives the Wiz an exciting combination of Nene & Gortat with John Wall & Bradley Beal.

 

4.  Andrew Bynum and the circus in Cleveland. Return of coach Mike Brown. Cleveland’s season will hinge on their commitment to defense and the health, focus and motivation of Andrew Bynum (just as Philadelphia’s season hung on Bynum’s shoulders last season).

 

5. Dwight Howard Saga:

Howard joins forces with James Harden, Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons.  And a solid bench of Francisco Garcia, Patrick Beverly and Omri Casspi.  Francisco a sniper. Deadly from 3 point range. Patrick Beverly whom most in the league know as the player that put Russell Westbrook out of the playoffs, is a pest on defense and solid 3 point shooter. And Omri Casspi, the first Israeli-born player in the NBA was trying to make the team prior to the preseason but shot above 54% in the preseason (most of which were 3-pointers) has seemed to earn his minutes.

Does Asik stay or go?  The Rockets will be the subject of trade rumors for most of the coming season due to Asik being highly coveted for his size and defensive ability.  Chris Bosh or Ryan Anderson or even Jeff Green have all been mentioned in rumors.

The Rockets strategy is no secret – surround Dwight Howard with capable shooters to keep defenses honest and subject the opposition to a healthy dose of pick-and-roll with Harden and Lin.

 

6. Championship or bust for the Brooklyn Nets:

- New coach Jason Kidd

- deep pockets owner Prokhorov

- KG, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry additions

- Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez return

With senior citizens on any squad, health is the biggest concern.  This team looks outstanding on paper as long as it includes healthy versions of KG, Pierce and Williams.  Can they challenge the Heat for the East crown?

 

7. Derrick Rose Returns!!

D. Rose looked explosive in the preseason.  He attacked the rim, hit the jumper and helped the Bulls become the only undefeated team in the preseason (8-0). How will the Bulls fare in the East.  They play tough every night.  Much props to Thibodeau for the defensive resiliency on each night.  However, prior to the season starting, I’d have to rank the Bulls in 4th place in the East after the Heat, Pacers, Nets.  Maybe even #5 after the Knicks.

 

8. Can the Heat three-peat?

The Heat are vying for 4 consecutive finals appearances this season.  They are coming off back to back titles and the 2nd longest winning streak in NBA history (27 consecutive wins) last seasons.  They have added Greg Oden, lost Mike Miller and have Ray Allen coming back.  Can they stay healthy and defend their title? Will LeBron win his 5th MVP award? Will Dwayne Wade return to his 2006/2007 self?  Will Greg Oden still be on the court come playoff time? Can the Heat stay focused through 82 long games and still be motivated prior to the playoffs? Or Should we just give them the 3peat like last year?

 

9. Opening Night October 29th

There are two games slated for opening nights but let’s discuss the most exciting to: number one the Battle of LA pits the Lakers versus the Clippers and Number 2 the Miami Heat versus the Chicago Bulls – fireworks!

10. Exhilarating battle Out West

It is a weeping and moaning and a gnashing of teeth is evidently a reference to the struggles and warfare to gain supremacy in the Western Conference. In the previous 4 seasons, 4 different teams have won the Western Conference crown.  This year could see a 5 consecutive “different” team win the West.  With upstarts like the Clippers, Rockets, Warriors and Grizzlies all sporting deep teams.  And let’s not forget perennial favorites in the Spurs and Thunder.

It goes without saying, the west is a powerhouse.  6 or 7 teams in the West will be very solid teams.  Making the playoffs won’t be easy.  In fact, 4 out of the following 6 teams WILL miss the playoffs:  Pelicans, Mavericks, Blazers, Lakers, Nuggets and Timberwolves.

In closing, HoopsReportCard made our contributions and were featured in ESPN’s #NBARank

 

 

Finally, and lest we forget.  VINO!  Will Kobe Bryant return to his top-5-player form?  Will he lead the Lakers to the playoffs?

That and many more questions, will begin to be answered starting ToNight!!

Hoops (@HoopsReportCard)

Finally! The NBA Finals! June 6th, 2013

 

nba_duncan_bosh

 

 

On March 19 this year, we prematurely “coronated” the Miami Heat as champions. We were unaware that their eventual foe would be a formidable, fearless, battle-tested, veteran team – The San Antonio Spurs.  The first round injury to Russell Westbrook effectively eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder which had the best record in the West during the regular season.  Most would still pick the Heat in a landslide against the Thunder.

Here we are with game 1 tonight – the Spurs representing the West and the Heat representing the East for all the marbles – the 2013 NBA championship.

Who wins this exciting matchup? The MVP and the widely recognized best player in the WORLD, LeBron James OR the 4-time NBA champions led by future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan and San Antonio Spurs.

Many variables to consider: coaching, bench, defense, 3 point shooting, home-court advantage, 2-3-2 format and more.

Coach: Edge to the Spurs

Bench: Edge to the Spurs

Defense: Spurs again

3 point shooting: Even

Homecourt: Heat

The Spurs are a daunting task to Miami’s repeat hopes.  Love this matchup for all those that feel the NBA is rigged!  For Miami to win back to back titles and get LeBron his 2nd ring and Dwayne Wade his 3rd title, they will have to endure ferocious defense, get help from others outside LeBron and rebond the Ball.   On the other hand, for the Spurs to win and get their 5th title, they will have to keep LeBron in check, keep Bosh & Wade subpar and steal homecourt advantage.

With so many factors favoring the veteran Spurs, should we reconsider crowing the Heat?  Will the BEST PLAYER on the Planet raise the trophy? Or will the BEST TEAM on the Planet win?  I’ve changed my mind back and forth all week.

For the first time in years, I feel like both teams deserve it! Tim Duncan could cement his already marvelous resume by tying Kobe Bryant with 5 titles. The veteran Spurs have had an impressive playoff run.  They swept the Grizzles in the conference finals. Greg Popovich is 4-0 in 4 trips to the Finals.  The Heat are in 3 consecutive finals. Lebron is in his 4th NBA finals. He has revenge on his mind. He can silence his critics even more by raising the trophy.

 

Decision time – I have gone back and forth all week. With gametime in 6 hours, I’ll force myself to make a decision now. Heat in 6 or 7.

Why? It wouldn’t surprise  me if the Spurs won. It’s that close. But I’m choosing the team with Homecourt advantage AND the team with the best player.  I feel LeBron will put the Heat on his back and carry them to victory.  Star Power.

Repeat- the Miami Heat in 6 or 7 games. Sticking with Crowing the Heat (already)!

- King of Hoops

follow on Twitter @HoopsReportCard

Golden State Warriors defeat the Denver Nuggets in 6 Games

Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors - Game Six

In front of a sellout crowd of 19,500 plus at Oracle Arena in Oakland, the Golden State Warriors won their first playoff series since 2007 when they beat the top seeded Dallas Mavericks behind Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrens.

The 2013 version of the Warriors boasts one of the most dynamic and “sharpest-shooting” back courts in the association this year with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. A first round series win on Thursday night extends a really impressive season for Golden State in which had solid coaching (Mark Jackson), their first All Star selection since 1997 (David Lee) and a productive bench led by Jarrett Jack. (The Warriors should/could have had 2 allstars but that’s a discussion for another day).

The Denver Nuggets also had an awesome regular season. They won almost 60 games! (57). They had the best home record in the NBA 38-3, led the league in points-per-game and was widely feared as the deepest, fastest and most exciting team in the West with aspirations on reaching the Western Conference Finals.

In Game 1, the Nuggets won a thriller in front of their home crowd by 2 points on a game winner by Andre Miller. After game 1, the Nuggets should have seen the writing on the wall. In the regular season, they had a huge point differential, were number 2 in rebounding and 3rd in assists per game. In game 1, they were out-rebounded by 10. More importantly and more accurately they gave up 55 rebounds with is the most rebounds against the Nuggets in a playoff game in about 20 years.

In game 2, the Nuggets “officially” lost the series by surrendering the homecourt advantage that they worked hard for during the regular season. They were outrebounded again by 10 rebounds and gave up 131 points on their homecourt on 64% field goals percentage (not a typo 64% not 46%!) and 56% from 3 point range. They seemingly didn’t miss David Lee who was injured in game 1.

The Warriors averaged 118 points per game in the 3 middle games, games 2, 3 and 4. The Nuggets inability to defend Golden State’s shooters did them in this series. In addition, losing the rebounding battle and not getting the fastbreak points that they feasted on earlier in the season became their undoing.

In the 6th and final game, the Warriors started slow at home and scored only 40 first half points before erupting for 33 points in the 3rd quarter alone led by Steph Curry. David Lee pulled a “Willis Reed” return from what was season ending surgery! He only played 2 minutes and was an inspirational insertion into the game. The Warriors led by as many as 18 points and held off a furious comeback by the Nuggets who cut the lead to only 2 points with 32 seconds remaining. Warriors win and advance to the Western Conference semifinals.

The key point of this series might have been the instant defense improvement the Warriors received with David Lee not on the floor. This forced Coach Jackson to play Andrew Bogut for 40+ points and he flourished. His defense was key for Golden State, his rebounding numbers were Rodman-like and he protected the point with an assortment of blocks.

The Nuggets have lost in the first round 9 out of 10 times. This might put to bed the idea that a team with no “superstar/allstar” has a legitimate chance at an NBA title.

For now the Warriors move on!

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Spurs vs Lakers 2013 Playoffs Preview

      Number 2 vs Number 7 – San Antonio vs Los Angeles

1409758_SP_lakers_spurs_GMF_

How did they get here?
The Spurs lost 4 of its last 5 games to slip to number 2 in the West. The LA Lakers won 5 straight games to close the season and 8 of its last 9 quite impressively to attain the 7th seed and a desired date with San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs. 

We tweeted on April 10th while the Lakers were down double digits on the road in Portland that if they lost that game they wouldn’t make the playoffs. These words end up being prophetic. Lakers win that game and make the playoffs. 
https://twitter.com/HoopsReportCard/status/322195903551254530
image

Kobe put on a show that has never been seen in NBA history with the first 47 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks and 3 steals performance in NBA history (Keep in mind the NBA starting keep statistics for blocks and steals in the 1973 – 1974, so I am almost positive that players like Wilt Chamberlain or Oscar Robertson would have accomplished this feat). This is Taking nothing away from Kobe’s huge performance at the age of 34!

Most NBA analysts projected that the Lakers would need to win 65 – 70% of their games after January to make the 8th seed. They did just that down the stretch including winning 80% of their last 10 games to not only make it in but gain the coveted 7th seed. 

Now that they are HERE, how much noise will they make without their fearless leader Kobe Bryant? Both teams are deeply affected by injuries. Steve Nash is a game time decision. Same as Ginobili. Tony Parker is also hobbled. 

I like the Spurs in all positions except the power forward and center positions. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol have played as a great tandem down the stretch. The Lakers have played much better “team basketball” of late. They are not a better threat without Kobe, but his absence has allowed players like Steve Blake, Antawn Jamison & Earl Clark to show case their talent. Steve Blake has been the Lakers MVP in the final 2 games. He scored over 20 points in back to back games for the first time in his NBA career!

What the Lakers have going for them? Momentum, with winning 8 of it’s last 9 games. Also, an improved defense featuring their own twin towers and the absence of Steve Nash absent. A motivated and renewed Pau Gasol.

What the Spurs have going for them? Coaching, two words Gregg Popovich. Also, their bench is deeper and has played consistently all season.  In addition, they are more seasoned with playoff experience. 

The Spurs have met the Lakers in the post season 6 times in the Kobe Bryant era with the winner going to the Finals each time. 

This year: expect the Spurs to win this series in 6 games. 

@HoopsReportCard
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Next Denver vs Golden State preview!
AND LA Clippers vs Memphis.

The Youngest Team in the Playoffs: The Houston Rockets

youngRockets

A week ago, I began writing a piece on the Houston Rockets entitled “The team no one wants to see in the playoffs”.  This was on the strength of the young Rockets clinching their first playoff berth since 2009 on 4/9/2013.

Since then the Rockets have lost 3 of their final 4 games and dropped from the 6th seed to the 8th and final seed in the Western conference playoffs. Rest assured: the NBA gets what they want.  Dream matchups and high ratings: 1) James  Harden against his former team with an abundance of story lines 2) The Lakers get the best chance to stay in the playoffs longer against the Spurs.  Okay! Enough with conspiracy theories :)

What is the Rockets ceiling?

I recall the ESPN analysts and so-called NBA experts making their preseason picks. Not one picked the Rockets to make the playoffs. Surprisingly, the Rockets were battling for the 6 seed just 2 days. They just finished the 2012-2013 the regular season with 45 wins. To think that this young team which actually endured a 7 game losing streak earlier in the season and still finish just short of 50 total wins is unfathomable but should be delightful to Rockets fans.

How did they do it?

Time to give credit to the coaching staff and the GM. We live in a world where no one gets enough credit when a job is “well-done” yet receive extra helpings of blame when things turn south. (As a reminder this was partially written on April 9th, much of this was not evident during the Rockets meltdown against the Lakers last night in Los Angeles).

Kevin McHale has instilled a unique offense that has the youngest team in the league lead the league in scoring. The Houston Rockets will make history this season. They will as a team be the team that has 1) taken the most 3 point attempts in a season on NBA history and 2) the team that has made the most 3 point field goals in NBA history.  This team does not have a Ray Allen nor Reggie Miller nor Tim Legler nor Ryan Anderson for that matter. What they do have is 2 guards that push the pace and create open looks for 5 or 6 very capable shooters.

GM, Darryl Morey pulled a major deal by signing James Harden from the OKC Thunder giving the Rockets a bonafide star and surrounding him with talent that has promising potential.

To say that Harden has surpassed expectations is an understatement. It would be a good investment for a team to see positive rewards in 2 or 3 seasons in seeing a star player blossom into an ALLSTAR “eventually”. But what did Harden do IMMEDIATELY:

- started the first two games of the season by scoring 37 and 45 respectively.

- becoming an unquestionable Allstar at his first shot as a starter in a conference loaded with high caliber guard talent

- breaking a few Rockets records in his first season including consecutive games scoring 20+ points, consecutive games scoring 25+, most free throws made and attempted in a single season and more

- leading the league in free throws attempted. The only player this season averaging over 10+ free throw attempts

- Should I continue?!

Chandler Parsons – Chandler is the best monetary value in NBA basketball.  Do you remember a nice young player named Chase Budinger?!  Yeah, I almost didn’t either.  Chandler has made us all forget him.  And with Budinger being out most of this season with injuries, Parsons is the undeniable choice between the two.  He has improved his shooting, really good at cuts to the basket and if he gets his defense back to its previous 1st year prowess, will be on his way. And that shot to send that game into overtime! Chandler might be the only “untouchable” (untradeable) player on the Rockets besides Harden.

Jeremy Lin – has improved in every month this season.  I think his improved play especially in the past 3 months has brought him into his own. I think Lin is the X-factor in the Rockets making any noise in the playoffs.   When he limits his turnovers and plays with the aggressive motivation like he showed against his former teams (NY Knicks and Golden State), the sky is the limit for the Rockets.  He doesn’t have to be CP3 nor does he even have to be LINSANITY. But if he limits his mistakes and fearlessly runs the offense, then the Rockets can make some noise.

What makes the Rockets unique? The following players were virtual unknowns from last year but have really impressed this year.

Omer Asik – Omer has been in the top 3 league leaders in rebounding all season. He is another player that has met and exceeded all expectations for him.  He would be a perfect candidate for Hakeem Olajuwon’s “big-man-camp” this offseason.  The development of a post game and ability to hit a 12 to 15 footer would end talks/speculation/dreams/lusts of Dwight Howard in Houston (unless Dwight says he wants to leaves LA).

Patrick Beverly –  Patrick is the prototype of a backup point guard. Tenacious on defense, decent spot up shooter, reliable rebounder, limits turnovers. And McHale has gone to him increasingly in the 4th quarter to close out games.  I have seen about 3 instances that Rockets would probably have lost games offensively and defensively without him on the floor.  The most compelling in San Antonio when he was subbed in for Lin because Tony Parker went basket, basket, free throws, basket on Lin consecutively.  Beverly comes in and gets a huge block (like a center!), which the for-sure basket would have resulted in a 6 point deficit instead of the resulting 1 point deficit (5 point switch! with Chandler knocking down a 3).

Greg Smith – Greg spent a lot of time in the D league. Has a back to the basket game. He is a 2nd year, 6′ 11″ big man out of Fresno State. And gives huge contributions for an undrafted center in my opinion.

Terrence Jones – He had the most DNPCD of any Rocket this season.  Also spent a lot of time in the D-league.  Now making solid contributions in more minutes played of late especially with Chandler and Delfino out in the past 10 games. He might be the wild card.   He appears to have a more polished offensive game then both Donatus Motiejunas and Thomas Robinson (in limited sample size).

And there are more: James Anderson, Aaron Brooks, Francisco Garcia, Donatus Motiejunas & Thomas Robinson.

Bottom line, Houston is good enough offensively to win a road game. When you can win a road game, then you can win a series — against the Memphis Grizzles or against the San Antonio Spurs!  Since the Rockets “shot-themselves-in-the-foot” and did not take care of Phoenix on the road or LA, they get a gift of a postseason matchup with the mighty Oklahoma City Thunder.

How will the Rockets fair? Will they win a playoff game?  Will they force 7 games? I won’t attempt to predict the outcome.  You can find such predictions on every website out there.

Consider this the quiet before the storm.  The time for reflection before the battle. The team with average experience under 2 years finishes at 8 games above .500.  The same record as a Lakers team that has been on fire lately and has 4 “superstars”.

Turnovers and defense will be the big questions surrounding the Rockets. Can the young Rockets limit their turnovers? Can they hold their own defensively? Will their high octane offense still operate at a high level in the postseason?

We will begin to find out on Sunday.

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