Let’s Hoop – NBA First Round Playoff Preview

The A-Train here…I want to bring on our NBA contributor Robyn Browning and she has your preview for the upcoming first round of the NBA Playoffs.

Robyn, the floor is yours.Larry O'Brien Trophy

ROBYN:

The regular season ended on a historic and spectacular note with Golden State setting the record for most wins in the season (73) and Kobe Bryant ending his career with a 60 point effort to defeat the Utah Jazz, thus securing his name as a basketball legend. Now, the playoffs are here and hopefully the NBA will build off the energy of Wednesday night and extend it through the playoffs. Here are my predictions for the first-round series in order of seeding.

Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Houston Rockets (8)

Golden State wins if they keep applying pressure on offense with quick ball movement, pressure defense with closeout double teams, and aggressive rebounding.

Houston wins if they take the red pill from the Matrix and become the team in an alternate reality in which Harden plays defense, more plays are run for Trevor Ariza, and Dwight Howard becomes a 70% free throw shooter.

Players to Watch: Harrison Barnes and Trevor Ariza

My Pick: Golden State in 4

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) vs. Detroit Pistons (8)

Cleveland wins if they become the playoff team we expect them to be. LeBron James will run the point, be efficient from the field, and open up spot-up shooters. Kyrie Irving must contain Reggie Jackson in pick and roll situations.

Detroit wins if they wear down Cleveland through offensive rebounding and pick and roll play with Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. They must play with the same confidence and fire that led them to defeat Cleveland during the regular season.

Players to Watch: Andre Drummond and Cleveland’s three-point shooters (JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Kevin Love)

My Pick: Cleveland in 5

San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)

San Antonio wins if they control the tempo and no one gets hurt.

Memphis wins if they transform into the Monstars from Space Jam.

Players to Watch: Danny Green, Spurs bench, and Jordan Farmar vs. Spurs point guards

My pick: San Antonio in 5

Toronto Raptors (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (7)

Toronto wins if they shoot well from the perimeter, drive to the basket, and get to the foul line a lot.

Indiana wins if they win Game 1 and fluster Toronto’s confidence. Indiana’s front court must get Luis Scola and Jonas Valaciunas in foul trouble.

Players to Watch: Toronto’s backcourt vs. Indiana’s frontcourt and DeMarre Carroll (Is he healthy?)

My Pick: Toronto in 5

Oklahoma City Thunder (3) vs. Dallas Mavericks (6)

Oklahoma City wins on talent alone. Russell Westbrook is too much for Deron Williams to handle and Kevin Durant can pour in points by the handful.

Dallas wins if they can contain the Thunder—not outright stop them defensively, outscore them, and coach Rick Carlisle changes the lineup so much that the Thunder stay off balance.

Players to Watch: Wesley Matthews (Can he keep up with Kevin Durant?) and Russell Westbrook (watch for a triple-double game or two)

My Pick: Oklahoma City in 5

Miami Heat (3) vs. Charlotte Hornets (6)

Miami wins if their veterans will use their post-season experience to their advantage and Hassan Whiteside can defend the rim, keep fouls to under control, and wear down Al Jefferson.

Charlotte wins if they forget about the 2013-2014 playoffs when they were swept by the Heat, Kemba Walker’s mid-range game stays great, and Jefferson, Nick Batum, and Marvin Williams lock down Miami defensively.

Players to Watch: Charlotte’s defense and Jeremy Lin and his hair

My Pick: Miami in 6

Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Portland Trailblazers (5)

Los Angeles wins if they continue to play with confidence and overpower the Blazers in the post.

Portland wins if Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum break down the Clippers defensively to score inside and outside the paint and set up their teammates for easy shots.

Players to Watch: Lillard vs. Chris Paul (top-notch NBA point guard play) and Clippers bench

My Pick: Clippers in 6

Atlanta Hawks (4) vs. Boston Celtics (5)

Atlanta wins if Paul Millsap takes advantage of the Celtic’s frontcourt, especially on pick and roll plays and make the Celtics run half-court offense.

Boston wins if Isaiah Thomas continues to score as he has for over a month, get Atlanta to turn the ball over, and have more points in transition than half-court.

Players to Watch: Isaiah Thomas vs. Jeff Teague/Dennis Schroder (Teague/Schroder turnover-prone & Thomas can capitalize in a major way)

My Pick: Atlanta in 7

 

You can follow Robyn on Twitter. Her handle is @robynbirdfly.

The A-Train Rant 17.0!!!

Mark Jackson

The A-Train Rant will not have the following…Michael Sam.

His name has been saturated for a while now and everyone is talking about him whether they like him or not. But I won’t here. Just about everything has been said.

I rant about the Golden State Warriors and the hiring of Steve Kerr.

Kerr was the focal point during the course of the NBA Playoffs about expressing interest in coaching an NBA team. The team that wanted him initially was the New York Knicks. He chose to go to Oakland.

Of course the media will say it’s more about business…I call bull and say it was about race. Now of course, you won’t believe that. That’s not a part of your mindset, right? Just a crazed blogger like myself.

Now, Kerr (in his last year with TNT as broadcaster) signed a 5-year, $25 million contract with the Warriors. Mind you, Kerr has no coaching experience whatsoever. The same could be said for Mark Jackson when he began. Jackson was fired after 3 seasons with Golden State and posted a 121-109 record taking them to 2 playoff appearances in the last 2 seasons.

However, Jackson only received a 3-year, $6 million contract to coach the Warriors. If you do the math, that’s a $19 million difference.

Now what made Kerr received $19 more million than Jackson. Because he knows the game more than Jackson??? I don’t think so, I think it’s equal.

So why did the Warriors hire another broadcaster and fire their coach? Well my friends, the organization had no faith in Jackson. Although they won 51 games (+4 on the win column from last season), they still had no interest in keeping him. Golden State owner Joe Lacob wanted Kerr because he was a more approachable person than Jackson. His personality was better than Jackson’s as well.

But what does that have to do with winning games for your organization?

It seems to me that Jackson was ousted because he was black who wanted things done his way to what HE thought was to better that organization, and the front office were not going to let him do it. Egos clashed in Oakland and Jackson was cut off because of it. It’s good to see that most of the Warriors players still side with Jackson. That may cause friction with new coach Kerr. It’s just appalling to see that All-Star Stephen Curry is in full support of Kerr. It’s bad when an all-star has lost support of the previous coach. Also bad when assistants are trying to get that coach out at any means necessary.

Of course, it will be looked at from a “business” standpoint. But when you are real with yourself and look at the reasons why Kerr was selected…race will STILL be the issue here whether you like it or not.

In the meantime, Jackson is back at ESPN calling NBA games, so at least I’ll get to hear him lend his analyst talent. I hope he does get another coaching gig after his 2nd tenure at ESPN.

A-Train

THE ASSOCIATION REPORT: Second Edition

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In the second edition of “The Association,” the primary focus is on the professional level…the NBA.

Here we are in the month of February and the Oklahoma City Thunder is playing like they want to be in the NBA championship once again, even without their floor leader Russell Westbrook. Reggie Jackson is definitely picking up the slack at the 1 position, Serge Ibaka playing magnificent ball at the 4 position and DEFINITELY should have been an All-Star this year (we’ll talk about that later) while Jeremy Lamb, 3-point veteran Derek Fisher and defensive specialist Thabo Sefalosha providing great contributions from the bench. This team has been on a roll have blown out opponents in the month of January…including their 17-point win against the Miami Heat. The person behind those epic wins is their MVP for not only the team, but the league as well…Kevin Durant.

Durant is without a doubt playing the best basketball of his career. It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith that said about Durant that he can play “any of the 4 positions.” He can. He really can. He’s a great ball-handler, he can handle the wing positions and he can post up on just about anyone. He definitely a player that is hard to guard…just ask LeBron James. In their matchup on January 29th, LeBron may have won the point battle, 34-33, but it was Durant who had the last laughs. On three different occasions, Durant buried 3-point shots in the face of James. Both guys are definitely valuable to their respective teams, but you almost can’t go against either of them. LeBron is actually having a down year…at least if you are talking about his scoring average (which is at 26 points a game), but the other numbers have remained consistent. But the guy everyone is talking about in circles…is Durant. He clearly has made it known to fans and haters that he’s tired of being second best. So far, he’s the best player. I can hear the LeBron fans immortalizing the great Ric Flair’s line, “To be the best, you got to BEAT the best.” Still, Durant is the best player.

One team you should definitely watch for is the Golden State Warriors. This team is young, energetic, highly-entertaining and VERY exciting. I haven’t seen them look this good since the days of Run TMC (TIM Hardaway, MITCH Richmond, and CHRIS Mullin). If you are looking for a “one season to the playoff” team, this is not the team for you. Mark Jackson’s boys will be in the playoffs for a while. Stephon Curry playing all-star ball as usual. He needs to make sure to let his game do the talking and not his mouth. Klay Thompson is a dead-eye shooter and can give opposing guards fits. Andrew Bogut and David Lee are very solid in the post…but health will be the issue for these two. The addition of Andre Iguodala was genius by Golden State. He doesn’t have to be THE guy for this team, all he has to do is play his role where he’s needed. I can’t forget about young guys Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and the recent acquisition Jordan Crawford (from Boston), they bring punch off the bench. The Warriors are as young as the recent Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. It may look a little far-fetched that they would be in the NBA Finals this season but they have the right pieces to make themselves a championship contender.

While the New York Knicks have been the NBA’s biggest primetime drama (yeah they moved out the Lakers), the important piece of the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony has suddenly become an ultimate prize for other suitors. As the rumors continue to fly out about where ‘Melo could be going…whether it’s Los Angeles, Chicago or even staying in NYC…the question is: Is he worth it? It will depend on what squad decides to put him on their roster. If it’s the Lakers…you’re asking for trouble. As much as Laker fans want him there, he’s not the answer to their equation. Maybe a Kevin Love added to the mix could make it a championship contender but I just don’t see it. Yes, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics pulled off doing Big 3’s to help them win championships, but those teams were very different compared to what other NBA squads are trying to combine and make their own.  If he goes to the Clippers, it’s going to have to be in exchange for star Blake Griffin. Griffin could work well in NYC, he does like to run and the Knicks are a running team. The longshot is Chicago…yeah they don’t have Derrick Rose but they could use a scorer, the bad part is they won’t have a good defender unless head coach Tom Thibodeau can help him a great deal. Who wants an effective scorer but poor defender for their playoff-bound/championship contending team? I would choose Chicago. That’s not because I’m a Bulls fan either.

(I’m going to try to be nice with this one) The beginning of the month saw a 30-year tenure for David Stern come to an end. Stern took the NBA to an international phenomenon, taking the game all over the world, and even returning with some of the Non-American’s best players. Stern made the NBA very marketable…turning people like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James into household names. He even was the brainchild with the WNBA and did his best to bring substance to his league. Adam Silver takes over the commissioner’s position and hopefully will bring a lot more positivity to the league.

A-Train

THE A-TRAIN RANT 16.0!

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Time for another edition of The A-Train Rant…16-point-OH!

I have a lot to say on this day. Here we go.

  1. Roger Goodell continues to kill the NFL. I feel indifferent if professional football should go away as a whole.
  2. Tom Brady is a sore loser.
  3. Bill Belichick needs his eyes checked.
  4. Ohio State really sucks along with my Tar Heels. I knew UNC would be bad this year after watching them BEAT Kentucky.
  5. Joel Embiid of Kansas shouldn’t look at being #1 overall in the draft. He has great game so far, a lot more to work on and doesn’t need to focus on the NBA. He doesn’t need to be a Ralph Sampson or Hasheem Thabeet.
  6. I think I may have found a new favorite team…it’s the Golden State Warriors. Yes, they lost last night. But at the same time, this is a young team with a great head coach in Mark Jackson and should make playoff/championship runs for years. I love this team.
  7. The St. Louis Rams should get Clowney or a signal caller to wake up Sam Bradford in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft. Not an offensive lineman. Work with the linemen they already have. Stop thinking that the next big draft pick is going to be the answer.
  8. Joakim Noah scares me as an NBA player. Last night’s Lakers/Bulls game indicated when he gets the ball under 2 minutes, he forgets how to play basketball. I like his energy but it seems like it spirals out of control when the game is on the line.
  9. Speaking of that Lakers/Bulls game…the Lakers got cheated in that game. Taj Gibson’s last second lay-up shouldn’t have happened the way it did. The clock didn’t start when Gibson got the ball.
  10. Clayton Kershaw deserves every bit of that $215 million the L.A. Dodgers gave him.
  11. Fighting in hockey is probably the reason why I watch it. Sad.
  12. What the hell happened to Serena Williams? She might be done with tennis.
  13. So far EA Sports is on point about the St. Louis Blues. They simulated their season and it came out that they would win the Cup. It would be the franchise’s first. I would love to witness that for real (on TV of course or downtown).
  14. Super Bowl 48’s matchup on paper looks like it’s one for the ages. The NFL is getting what they want by playing the game in it’s “normal” element.
  15. Carmelo Anthony needs to leave the Knicks. All he’s doing is bringing them down instead of building them up.
  16. Paul George’s 360 dunk was very impressive. To anybody that thinks it wasn’t…get a video camera, go find a court and do the dunk. If you can, the dunk wasn’t impressive. Point blank.
  17. Speaking of that dunk, George won’t be in the dunk contest. This is a great indicator that All-Star Weekend needs to die. Who can forget the ever-popular 2Ball competition? SMH
  18. I hope the WWE gets this new WWE Network correct.
  19. I can’t wait to see what the Ultimare Warrior says at his Hall of Fame speech.
  20. I will participate in Warren Buffett’s BILLION DOLLAR (yes that’s correct) bracket challenge. CBS, ESPN, Fox Sports’ bracket challenge’s better up their game. $1,000,000 means nothing anymore.
  21. FINALLY. This whole Richard Sherman thing indicates how silly, stupid and crazy us fans really are. I think we are worse than the athletes themselves. What Sherman did wasn’t right. But don’t dare call him a thug. A thug is a criminal. If that’s the case, Sherman robbed the 49ers of going to the Super Bowl. That’s the best description of what a thug is. People are getting mad that Sherman’s antics have been compared to Muhammad Ali’s antics. It has great comparison sports-related. Talk trash. Back it up. Ali did that. So far, Sherman has done the same. 20 interceptions in just 3 seasons indicates that. With that said…
  22. Justin Verlander needs to (in the words of Chris Jericho) SHUT…THE HELL…UP.

GOOD DAY EVERYONE.

A-Train