Tag Archives: Deron Williams

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: #3 Toronto Raptors vs #6 Brooklyn Nets

By: Jon

The Atlantic Division rivals will be competing in the first round of the playoffs for a chance to likely play the three time defending Eastern Conference Champions. During the season, the teams were 2-2 versus each other. The Raptors are one of the biggest surprises this season. Although the Raptors have been horrible over the past few years, Dwayne Casey led his team to one of the best records in  franchise history. Although they lost Chris Bosh a few seasons ago, they were able to rebuild around the nucleus of Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, and Kyle Lowry. Although many believed that they were tanking when they traded Rudy Gay half way through the season, they excelled and took the Atlantic Division title from the favorites, Nets and Knicks.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets

Although the Raptors have led the division for much of the season, the Nets almost overtook Toronto after starting the season 10-21. The Nets were one of the most expensive disappointments in NBA history. The Nets were about to collapse and Jason Kidd was on the hot seat after only half a year on the job. However, the Nets switched their philosophy after the loss of Brook Lopez, which led to the second best record in the East after Jan 1. They started to play a small lineup which allowed them to rack up steals and create mismatches on offense. Although the Nets spent millions on their starting rotation, their bench was great and gave the team depth during the tough, injury filled season.

 

Why the Raptors will win?

The Raptors have overachieved all season and they hope that they can continue to succeed in the playoffs. Although they have the better record and are favored in terms of seeding, many experts are predicting the Nets to win the series. The Raptors have been led all season by their talented backcourt, which is manned by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Kyle and DeMar had breakout campaigns for the Raptors this season. Kyle averaged 17.9 points, 7.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.5 steals. Along with his ability to pass the ball and penetrate the lane, Lowry is a great shooter that will spread the floor during the entire series. DeMar DeRozan benefitted from the loss of Gay and passing ability of Lowry. DeRozan averaged 23 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal per game. DeRozan has the ability to take over a game and score over 30 points per game during a short series. Although DeRozan scores a lot of points, he takes a lot of shots and does not have a good shooting percentage for the modern scorer.

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 5.21.50 PM

Along with the two stars, the Raptors have a nice group of role players that will enable them to receive contributions from many different players. The most important player for the Raptors this series will be Jonas. The big center was a top five pick a few seasons ago and should be able to dominate the smaller Brooklyn front line. Jonas should be able to acquire a lot of rebounds and give more opportunities to the scoring guards. Along with Jonas, Amir Johnson should be able to help dominate the paint on offense and stop the Brooklyn Nets, who frequently drive into the paint. On the bench, the Raptors will have many contributors such as Tyler Hansborough, Patrick Patterson, Grevis Vazquez, and John Salmons. The bench is full of solid contributors who will provide offense, defense, and toughness during each game when they come off of the bench.

 

Why the Nets will win?

The Nets have the most expensive roster in NBA history, but almost failed to make the playoffs. Although the Nets will not have their best player, Brook Lopez, they have a transitional style of play, which made them a better team. Although they have lost games lately, they were trying to keep their elder players healthy and rested for the most important part of the season. Besides Lopez, everyone on their roster is healthy and rested, which should allow them to play their best basketball. Also, Garnett is returning to the roster, which greatly improves their interior defense and allows them to turn around the season after the change of the new year. Fortunately, the loss of Garnett during the regular season allowed Mason Plumlee to develop into a quality back up center that can provide energy and youth to an older squad.

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The Brooklyn Nets were 2-2 during the season against the Raptors, but 2-0 when they did not play a game the night before. Fortunately, the Nets will not have to play any back to back games. The Nets are built around their guards and forwards, who lead their team both offensively and defensively. Although they do not play a huge front line, they create a lot of mismatches with Pierce, Johnson, and Livingston. Many power forwards such as Amir Johnson have had a difficult time guarding Pierce because he is a versatile scorer from both the outside and inside. Johnson is able to overpower other guards in the paint, which allows him to score a lot of points. Also, he is the most clutch player in the league. Livingston has been great all season because he can guard many positions and pass over other guards.

The biggest x-factor for the Nets will be Deron Williams. Williams has the talent to be the $98 million man, but has been inconsistent throughout his career with the Nets. If Williams can outplay Lowry, the Nets will easily be able to beat the Raptors. The Nets also have a deep bench with Marcus Thornton, Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic, Andrei Kirelinko, and Andray Blatche. Each player has the ability to take over a game offensively or defensively, which will be important since Garnett and Pierce cannot play major minutes.

 

Prediction: Brooklyn Nets win in 6 games

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 5.23.02 PM

The Toronto Raptors have limited experience in the playoffs while the Nets’ players have played in hundreds of playoff games. Although the Raptors have never failed in the playoffs, they have never succeeded and many teams have had trouble during debut playoff appearances. The combination of Garnett’s intensity, Pierce and Johnson clutch shots, Williams and Livingston passing ability, and the team’s depth make the Nets hard to break down in the first round. The Raptors should make the game’s close and win two at home, but I expect the Nets to win a majority of the closer games and win all the games in Brooklyn. The Nets have been great at home over the last few months and I do not expect anything to change during the postseason. Garnett and Pierce want another title and they will not allow their team to lose in the first round to a bunch of first time players in Toronto.

 

All Pics and Stats from ESPN.com

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

Western Conference Southwest Division Preview

By: Evan

The Southwest division will be one of the most intriguing divisions in the NBA with the potential for three different teams to win the division. The San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies all have talented teams that made significant runs in the playoffs last season and will look to make even deeper runs this season. The most significant change for the Rockets is the addition of Dwight Howard, who signed a four year $88 million dollar deal with the potential opt-out after year two. With a core of James Harden, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons, the Rockets are looking to win a title.  But they need to best the Spurs and Grizzlies, two experienced teams with elite players like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.  It should be an exciting season, now let’s look at some predictions. *Denotes playoff team

1.) *Houston Rockets

The Rockets have a formidable starting lineup, one that can shoot and score inside.                    Courtesy of Bleacherreport.com

Dwight Howard is a tremendous addition to an already talented Rockets starting lineup, providing a low post presence that will take some pressure off of James Harden and Chandler Parsons on the perimeter. The main issue for the Rockets will be establishing a pace as last year they averaged 106 points per game, good for second in the league, but D12 likes to body his defender in the post and slow the game down. If Kevin McHale can set the tone and find a balance, the Rockets will be tough to beat.  Another key will be Jeremy Lin’s growth from last season as the media world focused on him and his play regressed from his days in New York. If he can eliminate some turnovers and improve his 34% 3-PT shooting, the Rockets will have a scoring threat from almost every position. As Jon mentioned before, James Harden has seized the opportunity to lead a franchise as he posted a ridiculous stat line of 26 ppg 5.8 rpg and 4.9 apg, all career highs. Look for him to better his assist numbers as well as efficiency since Dwight Howard will draw some double-teams in the post. This team is dangerous and when they make the playoffs, they have a shot at knocking off the Heat.

2.) *San Antonio Spurs

Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich were one rebound away from a fifth NBA championship.                                                                                                               Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The only reason why the Spurs are not the top team in this division is their age.  Popovich likes to rest his older players during meaningless regular season games, which lowers their seeding.  After the disappointment of losing in the Finals last year, it will be tough for the Spurs to get back as so many other teams improved.  Last year might have been the last chance for this current Spurs’ core to win a championship, but that has been said for a few years now, and the Spurs have continued to excel.  This year the plan will be similar for Pop — give Kawhi Leonard more of Tim’s minutes and hope Tony and Manu stay healthy.   It will be interesting to see the growth of Kawhi Leonard, a player who was considered a role player, now being called on to take the reigns from one of the greatest big men of all-time, TIm Duncan.  Kawhi has emerged as a tremendous two way player with terrific athleticism, defensive intensity and an underrated 3-PT shot. The other player to watch is Tony Parker, who made a solid case for MVP last season, putting up 20.3 ppg 7.8 apg and shooting an insane 52% from the field. If he can replicate his play then Houston and San Antonio could switch spots come May. For Spurs’ fans, its all about the playoffs.  If the Spurs stay healthy, they might have another run left in them.

3.) *Memphis Grizzlies

Can Gasol and Z-Bo lead the Grizz to a title?                                                               Courtesy of Grantland.com

The Grizzlies are another interesting team that had a shot at the NBA finals last year when the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook was injured.  The Grizzlies needed an elite 3PT shooter last year so they added Mike Miller, a stud shooter who is prone to injury and is also a liability defensively. I don’t think he is enough to make the Grizzlies true contenders to represent the West in the Finals.  But now let’s look at the positives, they have Z-Bo and Gasol, two elite post players who compliment each other’s game very well as both are good passers and can make a 15 foot jumpshot. They also have Tony Allen, probably the best perimeter defender in all of basketball, but he can’t score, making him a non-entity on the offensive side of the ball.  The other player worth noting is Mike Conley Jr, a solid point guard who played well last season, but was eventually overwhelmed by the elite point guard play of Tony Parker in the Western Conference Finals. This Memphis team might need to make a mid-season trade for a perimeter scorer if they have any hopes of making a long run in the West. The Grizzlies are good but not good enough to be a top four seed.

4.) *New Orleans Pelicans

This core of Pelicans should give the Big Easy something to be excited about.                                                                          Courtesy of Bleacherreport.com

The newly named Pelicans are young, and a sleeper team.  The team has a terrific young core with Jrue Holiday 23, Eric Gordon 24, Tyreke Evans 24, Ryan Anderson 25 and Anthony Davis 20.  New Orleans’ biggest move was trading away next year’s first round pick to Philly for Jrue Holiday, a surprising move for some as the first round pick in 2014 could be a star, but New Orleans opted for a proven All-Star in Jrue Holiday. NOLA also signed Tyreke Evans, who was in a dreadful situation in Sacramento and although he has regressed since his standout rookie season, with more shooters and playmakers, he should be able to find more ways to score. The key will be Eric Gordon, an oft injured shooting guard who has past history of being a 20 point scorer and could improve the Pelicans’ playoff hopes if he stays healthy. The other integral member of this squad is last year’s #1 overall pick Anthony Davis, who was the most efficient rookie last year with a PER of 21.86 good for 15th in the entire NBA. He is a menace on the defensive side and his offensive game has clearly improved since his Kentucky season and Davis could be an All-star. The main problem with this team is the lack of girth up front as Davis isn’t your ideal big man with size and strength.   Davis is more finesse and quickness than power.  If  NOLA  trades one of their shooters like Ryan Anderson for a defensive big man, the Pelicans would have a solid team at all positions. The Pelicans should improve greatly from last season, and develop nicely as these young, talented players mesh well.

5.) Dallas Mavericks

Should the Mavs trade Dirk? Courtesy of ESPN

The Dallas Mavericks have gone from NBA champions in 2011 to the edge of irrelevance in 2013-2014. Most of this is due to the missed opportunities in free agency including the Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Now the Mavericks have constructed a team with Dirk at the helm and Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis as secondary players, a team that will be lackluster defensively to say the least. Mark Cuban won’t settle for medicority and that is why I posed the question, should the Mavs trade Dirk? The team publicly has said they want Dirk to retire a Maverick but if a borderline-championship team offers valuable picks for an aging veteran, the Mavs would be unwise to pass on the opportunity.    Dallas is not a serious contender, and they are in a rebuilding mode whether they know or accept the fact.   If this is Dirk’s last season as a Maverick, he will probably land with a contender by Christmas, and Dallas will look to get some new talent in the stacked 2014 draft.

Stats from ESPN