Tag Archives: Damian Lillard

NBA Western Conference Playoff Preview: #4 Houston Rockets vs #5 Portland Trail Blazers

By: Prad

The high-powered offenses are set to face off for a seven game series beginning Sunday at the Toyota Center in Houston. The Rockets and Blazers matchup extraordinarily well with both teams featuring stellar front courts and perimeter shooting. This series is likely to be high-scoring with each offense boasting a superb efficiency rating on offense (Rockets and Blazers are 4th and 5th respectively in the league). Both teams won 54 games in the season and they faced off four times with Houston taking three of them by an average of six points. There is no doubt that this series could be one of the highlights of the entire playoffs.

NBA fans got a taste of this series with Houston narrowly taking the regular season series after an overtime thriller in March Courtesy of Zimbio
NBA fans got a taste of these two teams facing off with Houston narrowly taking the regular season series after an overtime thriller in March. What’s in store for an encore?
Courtesy of Zimbio

Houston Rockets

The Rockets are led by their two perennial All-Stars, James Harden and Dwight Howard. After much controversy during his one season in Los Angeles, Howard has become a consistent option for the Rockets this season with averages of 18.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. He added to the front court that already consisted of Omer Asik and the young and talented Terrence Jones. With Howard in the lineup, Asik moved to the second unit only bolstering Houston’s depth. Howard can matchup with essentially any center in the league with his excellent defense at the rim and footwork on offense. Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez are decent rim protectors with Aldridge averaging 1 block a game and Lopez with 1.7. Howard is set to make his mark on the series. On the other hand, Terrence Jones is still a young power forward looking to learn. Jones had a drastic improvement this season from his rookie campaign. Jones cracked the starting unit with averages of 12.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He complements Howard in the front court nicely and this series should be no different. If he can average 12 and 9 in the series, he will provide a major boost to Houston’s offense.

James Harden is hoping the three ball will be falling for him throughout the series Courtesy of Fox Sports
James Harden is hoping the three ball will be falling for him throughout the series
Courtesy of Fox Sports

Yet, it is the back court that will have the advantage in this series. The tenacious guard Patrick Beverley will surely make a difference in this series. He has averaged 31.3 minutes, 10.2 points, 2.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game this season. Beverley, well known for his ability to pester opposing guards, must play harder against the Blazers’ Guard Damian Lillard to limit his production. The aforementioned Harden has truly transformed into an All-NBA caliber player during his time in Texas. His loaded stat line includes 25.4 points, 6.1 assists, and 4.7 rebounds a game. His statistics against Portland are even more impressive. His splits against the team include 30.3 points, 5.3 assists, and 7.3 rebounds in their four regular season meetings. The second unit includes PG Jeremy Lin who has averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 assists. Houston needs him to heat up from beyond the three point arc for the second unit to contribute with Harden off the floor. Perimeter shooting from Houston’s guards should be a difference maker in this series. The Rockets’ head coach, Kevin McHale is hoping that the Rockets will not have to live and die by the three ball. Still, that is what might occur as this series unfolds.

 

Portland Trail Blazers

Similar to Houston, the Trail Blazers boast an impressive front court highlighted by the veteran play of PF LaMarcus Aldridge. He had a spectacular season averaging 23.2 points and 11.1 boards per game, both career highs. Aldridge failed to bring his team to the postseason the last couple seasons, but he has nice career averages in the playoffs with 19.8 points and 7 rebounds. If this regular season serves as any indication, he will improve on these numbers. Despite Terrence Jones probably matching up against him the majority of the time, he will see a bit of Howard on the low block. This may force Aldridge to take more mid-range jumpers, which is one of his strong suits. LA has one of the best mid-range games for a power forward in the entire NBA. Besides him, Portland has C Robin Lopez in the front court. The seven-footer has only seen playoff action once before with the Suns in 2010, when they lost in six games in the first round. This season was among Lopez’s best though and he’ll provide valuable minutes for Portland in the opening series. He will likely fall into foul trouble when guarding Dwight in the post, but it should be effective as Howard is an atrocious free throw shooter.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will both face tough match ups  Courtesy of Bleacher Report
All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will both face tough matchups with their Houston counterparts
Courtesy of Bleacher Report

The Trail Blazers feature a young and talented back court with All-Star PG Damian Lillard and SG Wesley Matthews. Portland is hoping Damian Lillard’s debut in the playoffs will be similar to Derrick Rose’s debut which included 36 points and 11 assists. Lillard has had himself an impressive sophomore season averaging 20.8 points, 5.6 assists, and 3.6 rebounds. Perhaps, more of the same is in store for fans during the playoffs. His unbelievable three point shooting (218 this season) will be a major part of Houston’s defensive gameplan. If Lillard can shoot the three ball effectively, Portland will be a tough team to beat. Matthews will need to pick up his defensive game against superstar James Harden throughout the series. If Harden can be contained, which is not likely, then the Trail Blazers have a good shot of winning the series because the scoring burden falls on the shoulders of Dwight Howard. I do not believe that Portland Head coach Terry Stotts will employ the Hack-a-Howard throughout the series, but it is certainly a possibility. Howard will be unable to capitalize on his trips to the free throw line and then the advantage falls to the Trail Blazers if the Hack-a-Howard is used correctly.

 

Houston Will Advance In 6 Games

This is a stepping stone for a potential dynasty in Houston  Courtesy of ESPN
This is a stepping stone for a potential dynasty in Houston
Courtesy of ESPN

It would not be surprising to see at least a couple of the games in this series going into overtime. These teams are evenly matched with both sharing the same winning percentage (.659), offensive tendencies, and two All-Star players. Although all four All-Stars in this series play different positions, it is a very real possibility to see Howard matchup with Aldridge and Harden with Lillard. Houston wins in this series because of their greater depth and more consistent defense in the paint. Harden and Howard, the better of the four All-Stars, cannot afford anymore early playoff exits. They have already suffered their fair share and need to step up and prove to fans they can compete for an NBA title. They may not attain the elusive ring immediately. But this will be a start.

5 Biggest Takeaways from the NBA so far

By: Evan

1.) New York basketball is the abyss of the NBA

Both New York teams came into the season with high hopes but have disappointed tremendously. Courtesy of BKMagazine
Both New York teams came into the season with high hopes, but have disappointed tremendously.
Courtesy of BKMagazine

This summer was exciting for both New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets fans as they both thought they had a serious chance to challenge the Miami Heat and potentially win an NBA title. Well, welcome to reality New Yorkers, both of your teams are below .500 and don’t have much hope for the future.

Let’s first start off with Brooklyn, the Nets made some supposedly huge offseason moves acquiring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry for Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, Kris Humphries, Kris Joseph and first round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018. Pundits deemed Garnett and Pierce, “the experience” that the Nets needed to defeat the Heat. Now people are seeing that “experience” really means “old-age” and the scoring numbers for Pierce and Garnett have drastically decreased from 12.3 ppt to 6.7 ppg.  Deron Williams has constant ankle injuries, and now with Brook Lopez gone to a season-ending surgery on his broken foot, the Nets are going to have to rely on bench players for the majority of their scoring. The other huge problem for the Brooklyn Nets is Jason Kidd and his inexperience as a head coach.  GM Billy King and owner Mikhail Prokhorov took a chance on Kidd, and now the gamble has failed.  The soda-spilling scandal and the swift removal of Lawrence Frank as an assistant coach has shown that Kidd is not ready to coach any NBA team.

Now on to the Knicks, who face a huge decision on whether to trade Carmelo Anthony before the February deadline because of Melo’s impending free agency. Melo has already been quoted as saying he is planning to test his free agency, so why wouldn’t the Knicks shop around their lone star?  It is clear that the Knicks have a long way to go before becoming remotely relevant in the championship picture, and trading Melo might aid that process. If the Knicks can land a high first round pick or a young talent under contract for Melo, it would enable the franchise to make more strategic offseason moves. On the court the Knicks struggles are laughable, they rank 25th in points per game and 22nd in adjusted field goal percentage. J.R. Smith is shooting 34% from the field and is only getting to the free throw line 1.7 times per game, showing how inefficient a scorer he is.  Mike Woodson might be the first coach fired this year,  the Knicks 9-19 record is a harbinger of needed changes — and lots of them.

2.) The Portland Trailblazers are for real

LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard deserve respect as one of the best point-forward duos in the league. Courtesy of AP
LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard deserve respect as one of the best point-forward duos in the league.
Courtesy of AP

From the disappointing NYC teams to the emerging Portland Trailblazers, who I didn’t pick to make the playoffs this year. To quote the famous rapper The Notorious B.I.G “If you don’t know, now you know” — and this applies perfectly to the Blazers as they have started the season off at a league best 24-5, all while hiding amongst the elite teams in the Western Conference throughout preseason predictions. The Blazers are led by their two should-be all stars, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, who together average 44 points per game. These two provide a lethal pick and roll game with LaMarcus’ ability to knock down 15-20 footers and Lillard’s ability to  driving and score or step out and hit threes. Playing in Portland, most East coast basketball fans don’t see the Blazers play, but I urge you to try. They are fun and exciting and have players who will compete with anyone in the league. There have been discussions about LaMarcus Aldridge as a possible MVP candidate, and we all saw Damian Lillard preform last year by winning ROY. The only question for the Blazers is their bench as the starters average 85 points per game while the team averages 108 points per game. Rookie CJ McCollum is expected to come back soon and he might provide a spark off the bench, but if he doesn’t, the Blazers might need to trade for a sixth man who can score the rock. The Blazers are coming folks, whether you know it or not.

3.) Rivalries are Real

Anyone who says there are no rivalries in the NBA are clearly delusional. Courtesy of Washington Post
Anyone who says there are no rivalries in the NBA is clearly living in the past. 
Courtesy of The Washington Post

Ok, the NBA has had storied rivalries like Bulls-Knicks, Celtics-Lakers, Pacers-Knicks/Bulls, Lakers-Kings and the Detroit Bad Boys against almost everyone, so you might think that era is over.  But look again.  There are simmering rivalries in today’s NBA, and the animosity is clear among certain teams and players.   For instance, the Clippers-Warriors have featured skirmishes involving Blake Griffin with Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green as well as DeAndre Jordan’s near fight with Bogut. The coaches, Doc Rivers and Mark Jackson, aren’t the best of friends and the two teams won’t even go to chapel together. In their last two games alone, there have been seven technical fouls called with two ejections. It would be difficult to make a case that these two teams don’t play a little bit rougher when the face each other.  Another rivalry resides in South Beach and Indiana as these two teams clearly see themselves as the Eastern Conference’s top teams.  Paul George was even quoted as saying that his preparation in the offseason was for the Miami Heat. Indiana believes that they can defeat the Heat and are trying to send messages through regular season victories. Miami has consistently downplayed the Pacers’ talk, citing the fact that championships aren’t won during the winter months. And while the Pacers-Heat rivalry hasn’t been as physically bruising as the Clippers-Warriors sparring, the potential for hard fouling is huge.  The Pacers may be the strongest team in the league, and LeBron is the NBA’s best.  Let’s just hope we see a playoff series between both the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers and a Eastern Conference Final between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat.

4.) Top Teams Tanking

More ping pong balls, more chances to win the lottery. Courtesy of NBA.com
More ping pong balls, more chances to win the lottery.
Courtesy of NBA.com

With the upcoming loaded NBA draft class there has been discussion about whether tanking is fair and strategic or embarrassing for the league. My opinion is simple — bad teams especially in smaller markets such as Utah, Charlotte, Orlando and Milwaukee, don’t necessary attract the huge free agents like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or Miami.  These smaller market teams try to build through the draft just like the Thunder did.  Listen to the Supersonics/Thunder’s draft picks since 2007, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, James Harden (the trade was dumb but they did net Jeremy Lamb), Eric Bledsoe (traded to LAC now with PHX), Reggie Jackson, Perry Jones III and Steven Adams. They found two franchise changers and some tremendously talented role players all through the draft and even traded some pieces to fit the Thunder’s system. So when teams tank and perform poorly, it is usually not a reflection of the team’s desire, but a plan devised by the front office to find young players who can contribute in the future.  Rebuilding by tearing down is a viable strategic option for smaller markets who don’t have the resources to attract top free agents.  Who knows, with some luck of ping-pong balls and the development of the right players, Utah or Milwaukee could be the next OKC.

5.) The Pacers are the best team in the NBA

Paul George has the Pacers flexing their muscles as the NBA's best team. Courtesy of Indystar
Paul George has the Pacers flexing their muscles as the NBA’s best team.
Courtesy of Indystar.com

While the Portland Trail Blazers have the NBA’s best record, the Pacers are the NBA’s best team.  The Pacers get my vote for best team because of their overall depth and intense defensive mentality. Paul George is no longer a star on the rise, he is firmly entrenched as one of the league’s best players. He plays hard on both ends, a rarity in today’s NBA and his offensive game has elevated every year he has been in the league. The Pacers also improved their bench this year, trading for Luis Scola and adding CJ Watson and Chris Copeland to help alleviate the scoring stress on the starters. Lance Stephenson has also emerged posting three triple doubles this season, most in the NBA. As “Born Ready” continues to mature with age, the Pacers become more and more dangerous in terms of team potential. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Pacers’ bigs Roy Hibbert and David West who are two stout defensive players who also can score in the low post, making opposing defenses worry about the inside-out game. This Pacers team is maturing and is not afraid of anybody, including the defending champs the Miami Heat. Don’t be surprised if this Pacers team knocks off the Heat as they have both the offense and defense to do so.

Stats from ESPN.com

2013-2014 NBA Northwest Division Preview

By: Jon

The Northwest division looks to be very competitive this season, after Oklahoma City. Potentially, all five teams will be competing for playoff spots this year in a difficult Western Conference. Portland and Minnesota are looking to take the next step and make the playoffs. Utah is in a rebuilding stage, but has a lot of talent, especially in the front court. After a great season last year, the Nuggets will probably take a step back, but they also have a lot of young talent and a new bright head coach.

1) Oklahoma City Thunder*

Can Serge become a reliable number three for the OKC Thunder Courtesy of ESPN
Can Serge become a reliable number three for the OKC Thunder Courtesy of ESPN

The Oklahoma City Thunder are major contenders this year to reach the NBA Finals and dethrone the Heat. However, there are a lot of questions with the Thunder as they are very young and attempting to ingrate new players into their rotation. The Thunder will have a great chance to succeed this season because of their star power. Led by All-NBA players Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the Thunder can defeat anyone in the league. However, Russell Westbrook needs to be able to return and play at a high level, if the Thunder are going to meet expectations. As seen last year in the postseason, the Thunder are not the same team without Russell Westbrook on the floor. Another X-Factor for Oklahoma City will be Serge Ibaka. The man they call Dr. Nasty must step up and perform at an All-Star level, if the Thunder are going to dethrone the Heat. There is a lot of pressure on Ibaka because the Thunder decided to keep him, instead of James Harden. Although Sam Presi does not make many mistakes, the James Harden trade will go down as one of the biggest blunders in NBA history, unless Jeremy Lamb or Steven Adams become major contributors in the next few years. Although Russell will be missing a majority of the first two months of the season, the Thunder will definitely win the division. This year, none of the other teams pose any true threat to the team. However, the Thunder need to remain a quality record without Westbrook. As seen in the past few postseasons, home court advantage is incredibly important and necessary for teams with title aspirations. Although the Thunder are a small market franchise, I would make an attempt to acquire a top player during the trade deadline. In my opinion, the Thunder are still one player away from winning the Larry O Brian trophy, even with the addition of Westbrook. If I was Sam Presi, I would attempt to make a deal for either LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love. Although neither are able to lead their teams to a title, they are both All-Star players and have the ability to put the Thunder over the top. Both player could probably be had for a combination of Ibaka/Lamb/Jackson/First round pick.

2) Portland Trailblazers*

Can LaMarcus lead the talented Blazers to the playoffs Courtesy of ESPN
Can LaMarcus lead the talented Blazers to the playoffs Courtesy of ESPN

After a poor year last season, which ended with a 33-49 record, the TrailBlazers look like they have the talent to surprise a few experts this season. Although the Trailblazers had a horrible 49 wins last season, the number is a little skewed. Last year, Portland ended the year on a 13 game losing streak because they lost many of their starters to injury. The Trailblazers have one of the most talented starting fives in the league, which should lead them to at least a 500 record. If healthy, the starting five of Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Mathews, and Robin Lopez should strike fear into many of their opponents because they all can score the ball and play solid defense. After recording a great rookie season, Lillard looks like he can become a true star in the league. If Lillard can learn to effectively play with LaMarcus Aldridge, the dual should become devastating on offense because they each should put up 20 points per game. On defense, the team will become better and more efficient. The addition of Robin Lopez and the return of Nicolas Batum and Wes Mathews from injury will greatly improve the team’s overall defense. Lopez is a stalwart on the inside, while Batum and Mathews can shut guards down on the perimeter. However, the major improvement this season will be on Portland’s bench. The additions of Dorell Wright, Mo Williams, CJ McCollum, and Thomas Robinson should improve a bench that was horrible and frequently lost gams for Portland. Unfortunately for the Trailblazers, Aldridge, Batum, and Mathews are injury prone and frequently miss games due to nagging injuries. If the Trailblazers can stay, they will exceed expectations and have a great opportunity at making the playoffs. However, if Portland starts the season badly, they should look to trade Aldridge from their roster. Although he is an All-Star player, he could net a good return for the Trailblazers, who need picks and players to return their success of the early 2000s.

3) Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets need to possess a high powered offensive to win games Courtesy of ESPN
The Nuggets need to possess a high powered offensive to win games Courtesy of ESPN

After a great season where the Nuggets finished 3rd in the West and claimed the best home record in the league and one of the best all-time, the Nuggets inexplicably lost in the first round, fired their coach George Karl, and did not re-sign star shooting guard Andre Iguodala. Also, toward the end of the season, the Nuggets suffered the loss of Danilo Gallinari, one of their best players and best scorer on the team. Unfortunately, the Nuggets will be without Gallinari for much of the 2013-2014 season because of his torn ACL. The Nuggets will be forced to rely on a bunch of role players to buy into a new system and achieve immediate success, in order to make the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, they do not have a star that can generate offense or provide open looks for teammates. Although Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, and Kenneth Faried are nice players, they do not have the talent to lead a team to the playoffs in a difficult Western Conference. Although Iguodala did not have a great season last year, his absence will be felt by the Nuggets this season. Iggy’s ability and success is not shown by the number of points he scores in a game. Even during his days with the 76ers, in his prime, Iguodala was never a great scorer, career high of 19.9 points per game. However, Iguodala could do a little of everything on a basket court. Iggy could garner assists, rebounds, points, steals, and blocks, all things necessary for a team to achieve success in the NBA. Also, Iguodala was a stalwart on defense. His physicality and athleticism allowed him to matchup with the opposing team’s best scorer and limit his points. Although it did not show on the box score, it was vital for a Nuggets team that has trouble playing defense. Although ex-coach George Karl was not a great postseason coach, he was great at leading his club during the regular season, although they did not have the same talent as other teams. The loss of Karl and Iguodala will be felt this season, as the Nuggets are probably not going to make the playoffs in the star studded Western Conference.

4) Minnesota Timberwolves

Will Love stay for the whole season and lead them to the playoff Courtesy of ESPN
Will Love stay for the whole season and lead them to the playoff Courtesy of ESPN

The Minnesota Timberwolves have a lot more talent than their records have indicated the last few seasons. If the Timberwolves can stay healthy this season, they will be competing for the final playoff position in the Western Conference. Although trade rumors and injuries have diminished Kevin Love’s reputation, he is one of the best players in the game and posts some of the best numbers in the league for a big man. Love is the epitome of the new stretch forward because he can play inside and outside while grabbing rebounds and defending opposing power forwards. The Timberwolves must rely on Love to score and rebound the basketball, if they are going to compete. For the first time since the Kevin Garnett era, the Timberwolves have a complete basketball team. Along with Love, the Wolves have quality players such as Rubio, Pekovic, Martin, and Williams. Rubio has improved his game during each of his two seasons in the league. Although Rubio is not a threat to score 20 points a night, he has some of the best hands and vision in the NBA. Similar to Rondo, Rubio has the ability to improve his team without putting the ball in the basket. Pekovic and Martin will be important for the Wolves this season. Martin has shown in the past that he can score over 20 points per game. Along with Martin, Pekovic has displayed the ability to be a productive center in the NBA. Pekovic is strong and adept around the basket, which allowed him to score 15 and grab 8 rebounds last season. If Williams and Muhammed become competent bench scorers this season, the Wolves will surely be a top 15 scoring team in the NBA. However, their defense will be the x-factor this season. None of the Wolves players are known as shut down defensive players. Thus, they must learn to play as a team since they will not be able to individually defend their man. Although the Wolves will improve from last season, they will probably not make the playoffs.

5) Utah Jazz

The future looks bright for the Jazz, but this season could be a struggle Courtesy of ESPN
The future looks bright for the Jazz, but this season could be a struggle Courtesy of ESPN

After finishing 9th in the West and barely missing the playoffs by only two games, the Jazz underwent a major overhaul this offseason. The Jazz are undergoing a major youth movement and looking to build for the future. This offseason, the Jazz made a great trade, which netted them 2 first round picks and only lost cap space for the coming season. If Trey Burke did not injure himself, the Jazz would have the youngest starting five in the NBA, Burke, 20, Burks, 22, Hayward, 23, Favors, 22, and Kanter, 21. This offseason, the Jazz lost two of their best players to free agency, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. However, they were willing to not re-sign the duo because of their confidence in Favors and Kanter. Favors, the main part of the Deron Williams trade, and Kanter were both the third overall picks during the 2011 and 2012 drafts. Unlike the previous duo, Kanter and Favors have a greater upside and potential because of the defense they provide to the Jazz. While Millsap and Jefferson were quality offensive big men, Jefferson showed little effort on defense and could not protect the rim. Millsap was an undersized power forward and was routinely bullied by the other power forwards in the Western Conference. Although raw, the Jazz should rely and lean on the big men to carry them this season and in the future. Along with Favors and Kanter, they have 21 year old rookie Rudy Golpert out of France. Although he is extremely raw, he has the potential to be a great rim protector and defensive stopper because of his size and wingspan, largest in NBA combine history. Although the back court does not have the same promise as the front court, Burke and Burks have shown that they have the ability to score in succeed in the league. Although this season may be difficult for the Jazz, in terms of wins, the team will be fun to watch because they have a lot of talent and should improve throughout the season. The Jazz executives and fans should be excited for the future of the club because they have good young players, future first round picks, and they will have money to sign free agents after they lose Jefferson, Biedrins, and Williams after the season.

stats from espn.com