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Prediction and Preview of the NBA Finals: Heat vs Spurs

By: Jon

After nearly a month of playoff action, the finals are set and most NBA fans would say that this is the matchup they would most like to see. Last season, the Heat and Spurs played one of the greatest finals of all-time. This year’s finals should be as compelling because the storylines are even more enticing and many believe that the teams are evenly matched.

 

Why the Miami Heat will win?

They have the best player in the world and the two best players in the series. If the Heat are going to win this series, both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade must play well and continue their great postseason. Although the fatigue of playing in the last three finals and the Olympics has visibly diminished LeBron’s energy, he is averaging 27.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 56% from the field. During the postseason, LeBron has differentiated the games where he must go all out and defeat his opponent verses the games when he can relax and allow his teammates to shoulder the load. During the games that LeBron has tried his hardest, the Heat have won every game and most of them have not even been close.

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The major difference between last year’s Heat team and this year’s team is the consistent performances from Dwyane Wade. Last year, Wade looked like a shell of his former self throughout the playoffs and it seemed like we would never see the same aggressive Wade again. However, this year, Wade’s knees have stayed healthy and he is averaging 3 more points per game and shooting 6% higher from the field, including 15% higher from three. The two have shown throughout the postseason that they have the capability to take over tight games and win.

Besides LeBron and Wade, another key for the Heat will be their ability to hit threes. James and Wade are two of the best slashers and passers in the history of basketball, which leaves shooters, like Ray Allen, Norris Cole, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, Mario Chalmers, and James Jones, wide open for three. If they can shoot a high percentage from three, they will force the Spurs to play “small ball”, which will play into the advantage of the Heat. This postseason, the Heat have shot 40% for three and they must continue to shoot a high percentage in order to win.

 

Why the San Antonio Spurs will win?

They want to avenge their loss to the Heat in last year’s final and they have a better overall team than the Heat. Over the past 17 seasons, the Spurs have been the most consistent team in the league because of their Hall of Fame head coach, top ten all time player, and the willingness to pass and play like a team. Although the Spurs have a “Big Three” of their own, Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili, they are really the “Big Seven” because seven of their players play more than 24 minutes per game, but none over 32 minutes per game.

The biggest advantage for the Spurs is their bench, ability to pass the ball, and size. During the series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the difference between the two teams was the performances from the bench players. If the Spurs are going to win this series, the bench must play a huge role. Although they do not need Boris Diaw to score 26 points or Ginobili to average over 20 for the series, the bench must shoot threes at a high percentage and take advantage when LeBron or Wade is on the bench.

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Although Tony Parker is the only Spur who can consistently break down opposing defenses, the schemes that Pop devises and player’s ability to see open cutters or men near the basket allows them to convert easy buckets. Unlike the Heat’s big men, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, and Tim Duncan are capable passers. Although the big men need to look for open shooters, they must dominate the Heat down low if they are going to win the series. The Heat like to play small lineups with Bosh at the five with LeBron, Wade, Lewis, and Cole. When the Heat put these five on the field, Duncan and/or the other big man must take advantage of their matchup with Chris Bosh. Although Bosh is a capable rim defender, Duncan and Splitter have significant advantages in terms of weight and size.

The duo will need to score efficiently and punish the Heat on the glass or the Heat will hit too many threes. Similar to the Heat, the Spurs bench and role players must knock down threes and spread the floor. Last year, the emergence of Danny Green and Gary Neal almost led the Spurs to a title. This year, Green, Patty Mills, Matt Bonner, and Marco Belinelli must step up and hit threes, so Duncan and Parker have room to operate in the paint.

 

Miami Heat’s X-Factor: Chris Bosh

Each year that Bosh has been with the Heat his scoring and rebounding numbers have slowly dropped. Throughout his time in Miami, Bosh has slowly transformed from a dominant big man in the paint to a more finesse player that shoots threes. When Bosh has played aggressive and well, the Heat have been nearly unbeatable. If Bosh can shoot the three at a high percentage, he will pull the big men away from the basket and allow James and Wade to drive in the lane. During the last three games, Bosh has averaged over 23 points and 8 rebounds per game. During the three games, the Heat won two and almost beat the Pacers when LeBron scored only 7 points. Bosh will want to avenge his game 7 performance from last season when he did not score and grabbed only 7 rebounds. If Bosh has a big series and the Heat win the series, LeBron will have more confidence to stay with Bosh and the Heat this offseason.

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San Antonio Spurs’ X-Factor: Manu Ginobili

Manu Ginobili’s performance during last season’s final is the reason why the San Antonio Spurs did not claim their fifth ring. Last year, Manu averaged 11.6 points, 4.3 assists, and 2.1 rebounds while shooting only 43% from the field. During the series, Ginobili scored in the single digits 4 times, looked lost for most of series, and averaged nearly 3 turnovers per game, including 8 in Game 6. Ginobili has played better this postseason, averaging 15.2 points per game while shooting 50% from the field during the series against the Thunder. If Parker is not at 100%, Ginobili will be called upon to be a facilitator and generate offense for the Spurs. Like many of the Spurs, Ginobili has the ability to shoot and pass at a high level. Manu is an incredible competitor and will be determined to avenge his horrid performance. Manu is the heart of the team and needs to have a big series in order to claim another title.

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Prediction: Heat in 7

Similar to last year’s series, the series should go to seven because they are evenly matched. However, I do not see LeBron losing a chance to win his third straight championship in a game seven. Although the Spurs will be determined to enact revenge for their loss, D-Wade and LeBron have the same intensity and tenacity to achieve greatness. While Wade wants to continue adding rings in hope of passing Kobe on the all-time list, LeBron cannot waste chances like this if he wants to reach seven rings and pass Michael as the best player of all-time.

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Like Wade and LeBron, Duncan hopes to add to his ring collection in order ascend on the all-time rankings list. Although Duncan is already the best power forward to play the game, another ring will enhance his claim as one of the best big men of all time as he would pass Shaq with 5 rings. Along with Duncan, Pop heightens his argument as one of the top five coaches of all time.

 

Pics and 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

Top Ten Point Guards in the NBA

By: Jon

 

The point guard position is one of the deepest positions in the current NBA. Although a great point guard has not led a team to a title in a long time, they are important because they lead the offense and improve team chemistry.

 

1. Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers

Chris Paul
Chris Paul

The Clippers’ point guard is regarded as the third best player in the league by most fans and experts because he is able to improve his teammates on offense and defense. Chris Paul recently re-signed with the Clippers to a max deal. Although Chris Paul has never won a major award in the NBA besides the Rookie of the Year, Paul has done something that no player has ever done before: improved the Clippers, made the Clippers respectable, and converted some Laker fans to Clipper fans. Although Paul is not a great scorer, he is great at many other statistical categories. Paul has averaged at least 9 assists and 2 steals per game over the last six years. Chris Paul led the league in assists twice and steals five times during his eight year NBA career. Although Paul does not score many points, he shoots a great percentage from the field. Chris has shot over .475 from the field 5 of the last 6 seasons and over .800 from the free throw line every season of his career. Chris Paul is a future Hall of Famer because he has led two hopeless franchises to playoff wins and success.

 

2. Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook

The Thunder’s point guard is one of the most athletic players in the league, which enables him to be one of the best players in the league. Russell Westbrook has been one of the most durable and accomplished players in the NBA. Westbrook has not missed a single regular season game during his five year career. Although Russell injured himself during the postseason, Westbrook will probably be healthy for the beginning of the season. Russell has improved during every season of his career. Russell Westbrook has transformed from a player who was extremely raw to a player who is extraordinary and one of the best in the league. Russell is a great two way player because he is strong, quick, intelligent, and skilled. Although Westbrook is a high volume shooter who does not shoot a high percentage, he scores a lot of points and sets up his other teammates. Westbrook finished top ten in MVP voting this season because he scored 23.2 points,  7.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.8 steals.

 

3. Tony Parker – San Antonio Spurs

Tony Parker
Tony Parker

The French point guard has been one of the most underrated players in the NBA over the last few years. Parker was the last point guard and one of two point guards in the last 33 years to win the NBA Finals MVP. Although he has consistently been over looked because he plays with the best power forward of all-time, Parker has finally taken control of the San Antonio Spurs. At the age of 30, Parker had the best season of his career. Parker finished top five in the MVP voting this season because he averaged 20.3 points, 7.6 assists, and 3.0 rebounds. Tony scored 20.3 points while shooting at a very high percentage, 52.2%. Parker has more playoff success than any other point guard in the NBA and the only player on my list to be a major contributor on a team that won the NBA Finals. Although Parker is not strong like other PG, he is extremely quick and has great moves, which enables him to see the floor and score efficiently. Although Parker is not physically dominating like the other point guards, he is intelligent and a savvy veteran.

 

4. Derrick Rose – Chicago Bulls

Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose

The former first overall pick is the first point guard to win the award since Steve Nash. Although Rose is one of the most talented players in the league, he is consistently injured, which drops him in my rankings. When Rose is not injured, he is one of the top two point guards in the league. DROSE has played only 39 games over the last two seasons, which stops him from being a top 10 player in the league. Similar to Russell Westbrook, Derrick is a physically imposing point guard who has a mismatch every night. However, Derrick is not a traditional point guard who dishes and sets up his teammates, but a high volume shooter and does not have a great shooting percentage. Although Derrick only shot under 45% during the last three season, he scored over 20 points per game. During his 2010-2011 MVP season, Rose scored a career high 25 points, 7.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.0 steal per game. Although Derrick Rose has been great during the regular season, he has not succeeded in leading the Bulls to the Finals during his four year career. Rose will easily rise to the number one point guard position if he can defeat the Miami Heat and stays healthy during the regular season.

 

5. Deron Williams – Brooklyn Nets

Deron Williams
Deron Williams

The Brooklyn Nets star point guard is one of the best point guards in the league because he is strong, fast, and intelligent. Although Williams is not a great shooter, he shoots at a solid percentage and scores a lot of points. During his career, Williams has scored 18 points while shooting over 45% from the field. Although Deron had a horrible first half of the season, Williams looked like the top three point guard he was with Utah Jazz during the second half of the season. Williams averaged 19 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, and only 2.8 turnovers per game. Even though Deron had a great season compared to most players, it was considered a down year for him. However, this year the Brooklyn Nets should expect a huge year from Deron because he is surrounded by capable scorers and has had the ability to rest his aching body. During the last two seasons, Williams battled injuries, which compromised his jump shoot and speed. Since he is not recovering from an injury nor playing for the USA in the Olympics, Deron should be feeling 100% for the start of the season. Deron has the ability to return to being a top three point guard in the league because he scores and sets up his teammates while limiting his shots and turnovers.

 

6. Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors

Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry

The 24 year old point guard is already being considered one of the greatest shooters of all-time. Curry posted a career high in points per game while averaging the second most points among point guards, behind Westbrook. Unlike other point guards, Curry scored 23 points per game while shooting over 45% from the field. Stephen was able to average the most points per game while posting a career high in assists per game. Curry is being considered as one of the greatest shooters of all-time because his shooting percentage and three point percentage was above 45%. Along with his great shooting from the field, Curry shoots 90% from the free throw line. Like other point guards, Curry is consistently hurt, which affects his play. Curry possesses some of the worst ankles in the league. When Curry resolves his ankle problems, he will be one of the greatest shooters and players of his generation. Curry may become the next superstar if he can stay healthy and lead his talented Golden State Warrior team to the NBA Finals or even a championship.

 

7. Rajon Rondo – Boston Celtics

Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo

The talented 26 year old point guard is one of the most skilled and exciting players in the league. Rondo is one of the most exciting players in the league because he is an amazing passer. Along with being an incredible player, Rondo is a leader, who plays the best during big games. Rondo will now have the ability to lead a NBA team since Garnett and Pierce left the team in a trade with the Nets. Although Rondo is not a great scorer, he is the best player in the league at setting up his teammates to score buckets. Although Rondo injured himself half way through the season, Rondo had been durable and a steady producer for the Celtics over the past seven years. During the last three seasons, Rondo averaged more than 11 assists per game while leading the assists for the last two seasons. Rondo is a double double machine, which is strange for a point guard because it is harder to record 10 assists than 10 rebounds. In 2012, Rondo recorded 20 double doubles in just 38 games, which is a higher rate than any other player by a wide margin. Along with recording the highest double double rate, he had the most triple doubles, 5, which was three more than any other player while playing 30 less games.

 

8. Jrue Holiday – New Orleans Pelicans

Jrue Holiday
Jrue Holiday

The former Philadelphia 76ers point guard has progressively improved during every season of his career. The 22 year old point guard had a break out season for the 76ers, which enabled them to trade him at his highest value. Jrue averaged 17.7 points, 8.0 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game during his fourth season in the Association. Jrue was the lone bright spot on the 76ers team this year, which greatly disappointed their fan base and experts around the league. Since the 76ers were in rebuilding mode, they traded Holiday to the New Orleans Hornets for Nerlens Noel, 6th pick in the draft, and a pick in next year’s draft. New Orleans will be a great fit for Holiday since they have a young nucleus where he can grow and improve as a player. Holiday is a young stud All-Star, who will play in many more All-Star games throughout the rest of his career.

 

9. Damian Lillard – Portland Trailblazers

Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard

The Rookie of the Year had a great first season for the Portland Trailblazers. Lillard, the sixth overall pick, had a surprising break out season for the Trailblazers. Lillard averaged 19 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game for the Trailblazers. Damian looks like he will be a great player in this league for a long time. Lillard is a strong, large point guard, who can bully his fellow opponents. Along with great size, Lillard is a great shooter from behind the arc. Last year, Damian shot 37% from behind the arc, which is solid for a rookie transforming from the college game. Lillard’s success will be great for future college players coming from mid major schools such as CJ McCallum.

 

10. Ty Lawson – Denver Nuggets

Ty Lawson
Ty Lawson

The Denver Nugget’s undersized point guard is one of the best young point guards in the NBA. Although Lawson does not dominate his opponents with his size and strength, Lawson has great speed and intelligence, which allows him to succeed in the NBA. Lawson is the leader of the offensive juggernaut, Denver Nuggets. Lawson uses his speed to start fast breaks and out run his opponents. Ty has improved in every important statistical category since entering the NBA four seasons ago. During his best season last year, Lawson averaged 16.7 points 6.9 assists, and 1.5 steals. Next year, Lawson will be forced to take more control of the offense and improve his game because the Nuggets have a rookie head coach and they lost Galo for some of the season and Iguodala to free agency. Ty is a fantastic player and will only improve over the next few years because he is intelligent and controls the floor.

 

Pics and Stats from ESPN.com