Friday, June 29, 2012

Draft Recap!

You knew we'd be here for the Draft recap.... let's get to it...


  1. New Orleans - Anthony Davis - Absolute no-brainer. We covered this yesterday, but Davis is the one slam-dunk in this draft. It isn't a normal expectation of elite offensive production, but he'll be an immediate impact guy on defense and the boards while providing fantastic "clean-up" around the rim with his great hands, and the ability to knock down a mid-range jumper. I really like him.
  2. Charlotte - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - First of all, I really like Kidd-Gilchrist, and he's certainly one of the top 3-4 guys in this draft for me. That said, I don't love Charlotte as a landing spot for him. Basketball-wise, he's a defense-first guy who does attack the rim well, but doesn't score at a high rate, and it's a tough spot for him to come in with the pressures of the #2 pick on a wretched team. He would've been better on a team with other offensive options, but we'll see how he adjusts. Character has never been a question for him.
  3. Washington - Bradley Beal - Once Beal got to Washington, the world knew he was headed there. I think we all went a little overboard on Beal after the hype machine got going, but he's certainly going to be able to shoot in the league, and he's got an NBA body. Washington has a glaring need at the two (Jordan Crawford, really?) and now with Nene/Okafor/Ariza/Beal/Wall, that's a reasonable nucleus.
  4. Cleveland - Dion Waiters - The first "reach" of the draft. Most people had Cleveland going Harrison Barnes here after the top 3 played out how it did, but clearly the Cavs had some reservations, and went to the next wing guy down the list. Waiters has red flags with his jump shot and the fact that he never started a college game (Marvin Williams alert!), but he's one of the best in the draft off the dribble, and paired with Kyrie Irving, they could have a dynamic backcourt.
  5. Sacramento - Thomas Robinson - I had Robinson #2 on my board, so this is a no-brainer for Sacto. Pairing Robinson as the blue-collar worker to Demarcus Cousins could give them a scary front-court for years to come, and Robinson has the least bust potential of anyone in the top-10 outside of Davis. Really liked it.
  6. Portland - Damian Lillard - This is a divisive pick. Lillard was the #1 ranked point guard on virtually everyone's board, but in a draft that lacks much talent at that spot, it wasn't a badge of honor. He's 22 years old and from a small college (Weber State) with questions about his ability to distribute the ball. That said, I really like him actually from what I've seen. He's an efficient scorer who got his buckets responsibly in college despite little help, he's a decent passer, and can defend. Portland had a glaring need at the point, so I can't argue with this pick. 
  7. Golden State - Harrison Barnes - I'm higher on Barnes than most, so I kind of liked it. Golden State doesn't have a screaming "hole" despite being a bad team, and Barnes was a "best available" pick here. They have too many jump shooters (Curry, Thompson, now Barnes) and that's an issue, but the only guy with the same-or-better tools that was available was Drummond, and I can see going the other way.
  8. Toronto - Terrence Ross - Because I actually did see Waiters ending up in Cleveland as at least a possibility, this was the biggest shocker in the lottery. I'm actually high on Ross as an offensive player. He can really shoot, and was probably being underrated on big boards at around #20. That said, he's got a pretty low ceiling, and I would've gone with Jeremy Lamb if they wanted the wing shooter.
  9. Detroit - Andre Drummond - Somebody had to end up with Drummond. Detroit is actually a fit for him because they need a big, rim protector to pair with Greg Monroe down the road. Drummond has a wildly high ceiling as one of the best athletes at this spot since Dwight Howard, but with motor and skill questions, #9 seems reasonable. Can't fault Detroit for visions of Twin Towers.
  10. New Orleans - Austin Rivers - I really like Rivers. The knock on him is his cockiness, but I think it could be a strength. The fit in New Orleans is curious next to Eric Gordon, as both are undersized shooting guards, so I'm not sure how that works. If they can play together effectively, I like it. If not, then this pick is questionable.
  11. Portland - Meyers Leonard - Hold your breath, Portland fans. Leonard has a slight knee injury history (no, I'm not kidding), and he's a workout wonder. Great athlete and great size/tools at 7'1, but production wasn't great at Illinois, and I'm not sure Portland's best lineup doesn't include Aldridge at the 5-spot. Stay tuned.
  12. Houston - Jeremy Lamb - In a vacuum, Lamb at #12 is big-time value. Prior to a non-lingering ankle injury in workouts, he was getting top-8 projections, and he's a player. The curious part is that Lamb is strikingly close Kevin Martin body-type and skill wise, so I'm not sure what the move is there. 
  13. Phoenix - Kendall Marshall - This move made me laugh. Marshall is a non-defending, pass-first point guard. Sound familiar?!? Anyway, Steve Nash may be out, and while Marshall would be an exceptional fit offensively in the Gentry system, he's much slower than Nash and an even-worse defender. I don't know if he can be a starter in the league.
  14. Milwaukee - John Henson - Great shot-blocker, but the fit is curious. Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders, Drew Gooden, and Sam Dalembert are already there, and I don't know what Henson brings in addition to what they have already. Don't love it.
  • Love - Royce White to Houston at #16 - I love Royce White, as you know from the preview, and it doesn't surprise me at all that Darryl Morey would take him here. Houston has so many guys (always), but White is a guy with a unique and efficient style.
  • Love - Sullinger and Melo to Boston at #21 and #22 - Boston drafted their #2 and #3 bigs for next season. Sullinger wouldn't have been there without back issues, but at #21 he's certainly worth the pick. Melo won't give much offense, but Boston needed a rim-protector and Melo can certainly handle that in short minutes.
  • Hate - Moe Harkless to Philly at #15 - I just didn't get it. Harkless was a late-riser in draft circles, and I actually think he may be a player. That said, Philly absolutely does not need another slashing swingman who can't shoot. The fit doesn't make sense.
  • Hate - Miles Plumlee to Indiana at #26 - I like Miles Plumlee. Giving him a 2-3 year guaranteed deal in the 1st round after he averaged 7 points a game as a senior in college? Eesh. Cue the Jeff Foster comparisons, but when that's your ceiling, best of luck.
  • Love - Perry Jones to OKC at #28 - Imagine you are the Thunder. What are you getting at #28 that helps you fill a need for next year? Not a lot of options, so swing for the fence and grab the top-5 upside guy there, put him in a great locker room, and see what happens. Absolutely loved it.
  • Hate - Jeff Taylor to Charlotte at #31 - Another guy who will be an NBA player I think, but doesn't he do the same things at Kidd-Gilchrist? Fit concerns.
  • Love - Draymond Green to Golden State at #35 - I would've "loved" whoever took Green regardless, but he's the type of guy that the Dubs need, and he's so smart.
  • John Jenkins at #23 - I don't like it. It's not that Jenkins doesn't have an NBA future, because he can flat-out shoot the ball, and there's always a place for that. The question is everything else. When I read about Jenkins horrendous rebound rate, lack of defensive prowess, inability to create his own shot, or his lack of size, it brings pause. I think Jenkins could be useful if deployed correctly, but Larry Drew doesn't give me confidence that that will be the case, especially when you look at how he historically handles young/bench guys. I would've liked to have seen the upside pick (Perry Jones, Quincy Miller, even Tony Wroten) or a guy that I think could help right away like Teague or Draymond Green. 
  • Mike Scott at #43 - The numbers are split on Mike Scott, but I love him. He played in the slowest tempo in the country at Virginia and still managed to put up gaudy numbers. He's undersized, but not too much so, and he can score and rebound. John Hollinger's rater doesn't bring confidence in what Scott will be, but at #43, I liked it.
There it is... Enjoy!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

NBA Draft Primer

Greetings everyone! I apologize for lack of content lately, but you knew I'd be around for the draft! Instead of doing a mock draft (because there are approximately 5,172 of them you could look at), I've decided to just preview/break down the draft class, and we'll wrap up the situation stuff post-draft on Friday. Let's get to it...

My Top 10 (not in draft order)
  1. Anthony Davis - This is the only no-brainer in the entire draft. He's an immediate impact guy on the defensive end, and because of this he's as "sure fire" as it gets here. His offensive game is certainly still developing after a ridiculous 8-inch growth spurt in high school, but he improved visibly even during his one season at Kentucky. His PER at Kentucky was a hilariously good 35.71 which would easily rank as the highest in NBA history. Admittedly, that's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but he shot 63% from the field, averaged a double-double and nearly 5 blocks a game in just 32 minutes. He's a monster, and he'll be an above-average NBA player from the second he arrives.
  2. Thomas Robinson - Probably my favorite player in the draft. He's long and athletic, but with power at the 4 position, and measured at a legit 6'9 to detract from critics that thought he was slightly undersized. He doesn't have the explosive upside that Davis has or some of the mid-lottery has, but Robinson has a very high floor. He's going to rebound at the next level after grabbing 12 a game in just 32 minutes in college, and he defends at a high level. I like him a lot.
  3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - Wildly interesting prospect. He had a great year at Kentucky and everyone loves the way he plays. He's been blessed with a ridiculously high motor, and he is the best wing defender in the draft. The only issue with MKG is an inconsistent/spotty jump shot. It's seen marked improvement since high school (and he's still 18 years old), but without a diversified offensive game, it'd be tough to achieve top-5 value. That said, he's an NBA player right now on the defensive end, and still attacks the rim at will, so there's a spot for that even if he doesn't develop the jumper at a rate that we'd like.
  4. Bradley Beal - Beal is the guy that is soaring on everyone's boards right now. He's the best pure scorer in the draft, one of the best shooters in the draft, and he does a lot of things well. He's drawing Eric Gordon comps on the regular, and I do see that. The only knock on him is slightly undersized (6'4-6'5) at the 2-guard spot, but he rebounds, plays defense on bigger guards, and you can't ignore the silky smooth jumper.
  5. Harrison Barnes - Remember when Harrison Barnes was the consensus best player in his class? He used to be. Barnes still has all the tools that everyone loved about him: polished offensive game, great size, high basketball IQ, and no weaknesses. That said, he didn't play with any aggressiveness last year at UNC, settled for a million jumpers, and has struggled to create his shot off the bounce. I still like Barnes a lot and he could be one of those guys who is undoubtedly a better pro than college player, but the ceiling has lowered from the Kobe comparisons we heard in high school.  
  6. Damian Lillard - Raise your hand if you've never heard of Damian Lillard. It's ok, you're not alone. The senior point guard from Weber State has shot up draft boards all year, and he'll be a top-10 pick. Let's do the negatives first. He played at Weber State, played all 4 years, and there are combo guard concerns. I kind of ignore the first two, but the combo guard issue could plague him. He's certainly a score-first guard, but he does so efficiently, and he's a willing passer even at the low-levels of D-1 hoops. There aren't a lot of weaknesses with Lillard that I can see, and he posted the 2nd-highest PER in the country behind Davis. He can play.
  7. Austin Rivers - Doc's kid! Rivers is an absolute assassin scorer. Everything else is white noise. He's undersized at the 2, but can't play the 1. There are concerns about his makeup, but I don't see it. I think he's, at worst, a really good 3rd guard who averages 15+ a game, and at best, he could be a go-to-guy on a good team if he sorts it all out. I like him, and the hate has gone too far. 
  8. Dion Waiters - A lot of Dwyane Wade comparisons. That's pretty aggressive, but he's the best one-on-one scorer in the draft and he gets to the rim at will, so that's where that comp comes from. Waiters is undersized at about 6'4, and lacks the consistent jumper, but I'd be shocked if he didn't land on his feet with his scoring ability. 
  9. Royce White - No one has him this high, but I love him. He's a physical, athletic forward with great ball handling skills to the point of being a point forward possibility. He's versatile, has an NBA body, and can score from anywhere, while being a willing and good passer. What's the knock, you ask? Royce White has an anxiety disorder centered around being terrified to fly on an airplane. This isn't the biggest issue in the world for a normal person, but with NBA teams playing 41 road games with cross-country trips, this is a problem, and the chief reason he's fallen a little. I'd still gamble on him. He's a player. 
  10. Andre Drummond - The draft's biggest enigma lands here. Drummond is 7-feet with an incredible frame and crazy athleticism. Think Dwight Howard. Yes. That said, he averaged 10 points and 7 rebounds a game at UConn. How does that happen!? First, he doesn't assert himself. He screams of a guy who doesn't "get it" yet, and it shows. Also, he settles for jump shots inexplicably, and he shot a hilarious 28% from the free throw on the season. The season! Even with all the questions though, there's no one outside of Davis with the upside of Drummond, and for that, he'll go higher than the production would indicate. 
Other Guys I like
  • Terrence Ross - Scoring swingman from Washington. He'll go 5 picks too late. 
  • Draymond Green - Versatile veteran from Michigan State with all the intangibles in the world. Great passer, great shooter his size, but what position does he play?
  • Meyers Leonard - Athletic, "projection", 7-footer from Illinois. He's quick, can score, and can rebound and block shots. Rising too high on the board, but he's got the tools.
  • Andrew Nicholson - 6'10, long forward with great shooting range for his size. Could rebound better, and kind of a tweaner. 
  • Mike Scott - I love Mike Scott. Irrationally. One of the best college players in the country last year, but his athleticism isn't elite and he's a bit undersized at the 4. The perfect late 1st/early 2nd round pick who could play right now.
  • Tyler Zeller - Mobile big who can shoot and run the floor. He's not a great athlete, but if he adds some strength, he'll rebound in the league at a minimum. 
  • Jeff Taylor - Super athletic wing from Vanderbilt. Really nice shooter and a high-end defender. Doens't create his own shot, and that's a knock, but there's a spot for him if he guards like I think he will. 
Team Needs for the Lottery
  1. New Orleans - At #1, it's Anthony Davis. That's all you need to know. That said, the Hornets also have the #10 pick, and that could get interesting. They probably need another big to pair with Davis since they jettisoned Okafor, and they could use help at the 3 or another PG with Jarrett Jack. Keep an eye on Zeller, Terrence Ross, or a guy like Austin Rivers potentially since they're reportedly in love with him.
  2. Charlotte - Best available as long as it's not a 2-guard. The Bobcats' 3 best assets at the moment are Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker, and recently-acquired Ben Gordon. All 3 of them are shooting guards, and in case you were wondering, it's not a good thing that they are the 3 best players on an NBA team.
  3. Washington - Wings. Bradley Beal is probably the ideal fit next to John Wall on a team that already has 4 starters in Nene, Okafor, Ariza, and Wall. Jordan Crawford is the team's best 2-guard and that's an issue.
  4. Cleveland - Swingmen. I'd be shocked if Cleveland didn't end up with Beal, Kidd-Gilchrist, or Harrison Barnes in the draft, and they need a top-end wing to pair with Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Varejao.
  5. Sacramento - Small Forward is probably the chief need. Tyreke Evans may be on the move in the off-season too, so 2-guard wouldn't be a bad idea, but if any of the trio of elite wingmen fall to Sacramento, it'll likely be an automatic trigger. 
  6. Portland - Point Guard and a Big. Portland may have a big-time debate between Lillard (the #1 PG) and Drummond (the best available center) in the #6 spot. I'd personally go with Lillard because of the downside of Drummond, but Portland may swing for the fence. Depending on what they do at #6, they also have the #11 pick to attempt to fill the other need. If it's Drummond, look for Rivers or Marshall, if it's Lillard, keep an eye on Leonard, Zeller, or another big.
  7. Golden State - Best available. The funny thing about Golden State is that their "needs" don't jump out at you. They have Bogut coming back and Biedrins at center, David Lee at the 4, the Jefferson/Wright duo at the 3, and Curry/Thompson in the backcourt. I'd probably go wing for some depth here, but Drummond could get the nod if they want upside, and he could develop behind Bogut.
  8. Toronto - Wing that can attack. Dion Waiters would be a no-brainer here if he gets to them, but Austin Rivers could be a fit too if they favor him over Waiters. Would be a nice a compliment to Calderon and DeRozan.
  9. Detroit - Rim protection. The Pistons have long been rumored to be targeting a rim-protecting big to pair with Monroe, who is more of an offensive player. They brought in John Henson, Meyers Leonard, Tyler Zeller, and Terrence Jones for a work-out, so I'd imagine they'll be picking someone with size at #9.
  10. Houston - The Rockets have the 12th pick now after a series of moves. It's widely reported that they're trying to trade the pick for Dwight Howard or even Josh Smith, but if they kept it, they really need a big. Keep an eye on Tyler Zeller or Meyers Leonard, depending on who is available. 
  11. Phoenix - Anything but a center. With Nash a free agent and the rest of the roster as kind of a mess, they need help everywhere. They're reportedly in love with Dion Waiters, but I doubt he falls to them.
  12. Milwaukee - A shooter. They went and grabbed Sam Dalembert in a trade with Houston, so they're prime need is a shooter. Terrence Ross would be a great fit, and Jeremy Lamb could be in play.
Potential Atlanta Hawks Targets
  • Royce White - See above. It's fantasy-land to think he'd fall to 23, but I'd love it.
  • Tony Wroten - I wrote a full profile of him on Soaring Down South, but Wroten is a classic boom-or-bust. He can't shoot (at all) and he's got make-up questions, but a 6'5 point guard with elite athleticism and defensive tools, who will attack the rim at will? Potential.
  • Fab Melo - 7-footer and not much more. He'll rebound and block shots. No offense.
  • Evan Fournier - Scoring wing from France. Looks to be pretty soft, but he can really shoot it.
  • Moe Harkless - Long and athletic at the 3. Good rebounder and finisher. Inconsistent shooter with motor questions.
  • Jared Sullinger - He's free-falling because of back issues but we know he'll rebound, and he's a beast on the box. There are certainly athleticism questions, but at #23, he'd be a steal if he's remotely healthy. 
There you have it... it's draft day!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Crown the Champs

Greetings everyone! Let's go...

The Miami Heat are the NBA champions after a 121-106 victory in Game 5 last night. Lebron James notched a triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists before being named the MVP, and if possible, I thought he played even better than his numbers. That said, the absolute X-factor in Game 5 was the fact that Mike Miller hit seven three-pointers. Seven! To put it in perspective, Miller averaged 6 points a game in the regular season, 5 points a game in the playoffs, and hadn't made a three in the entirety of the finals before last night. Miami had it all going on this night, and Miller was a microcosm of that.

On the OKC side, Kevin Durant and James Harden both had average-or-slightly-better games for them as Durant had 32 points and 11 rebounds (on 13 of 24) and Harden added 19 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds on 5 of 11 shooting. That is the entire list of guys who played even reasonably well for the Thunder last night. One game after maybe the best game of his career, Russell Westbrook shot 4-for-20 from the field, and while he did get to the line 13 times, it was an ugly 19 points. The rest of the supporting cast for OKC was woeful as Ibaka, Perkins, and Thabo combined for just 11 points on 4-15 shooting, and Derek Fisher was the lone "bright spot" with 11 points and 3 triples. I can't get beyond the curious decisions by Brooks in this series. Thabo played only 9 minutes last night despite being the best perimeter defender on the roster, and Brooks refused to up Nick Collison's minutes despite him being the best big on that team throughout the series. It would've been extremely tough to beat a Miami team that shot 52% and made 14 threes, so I won't come down on Brooks too hard, but series-wide, there were some issues.

Here's something we need to remember in the midst of the Lebron-mania. As fantastic as he was throughout the entire playoffs and especially the finals, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are pretty good at basketball. It's almost hilarious how little discussion the two of them have received since last night, and while the Lebron love (finally) is justified, Wade had an efficient 20 points (on 12 shots) and rebounds last night, and Bosh was really, really good with 24 and 7. The value of Bosh has been lost a bit, but the difference between the Heat with him and without him is glaring, and while Wade drove me crazy throughout the playoffs, it's hard to kill a guy who averaged 23/5/4 with over a steal and a block per game for the entire postseason.

Where do we go from here for the Thunder? In the midst of the Heat love, there's been a turn on OKC a bit. I'll stress this to you. Most teams have to lose a finals before they win one, and no team has ever won the title with their best 4 players at age 23 or under. Let's take a breather, and realize that they'll be back here. The Durant/Lebron "argument" for best player alive was never a real one, and the educated knew that, but let's not forget that Durant averaged 29 a game in the playoffs and nearly 31 a game in the finals while shooting 55% from the field, 39% from three, and 84% from the line. He's one of, if not the, best offensive players on Earth and he's 23 years old. As far as Westbrook is concerned, I've been critical of him in the past, but Tuesday night reminded everyone how electric he is, and with some tweaking, he'll remain a top-10 to 12 player in the game. The real casualty of this series was probably James Harden's stock, and while we all love him, there's a ceiling there and it falls below the "is he max a guy!??!" corollary.

I'm actually glad to see Lebron James win the championship. I was not-so-discretely rooting for him in these playoffs, not because I am a huge LBJ fan, but because I had grown sick and tired of the unjustified bashing of the best player on the planet. "The Decision" and the welcome party to Miami were terribly calculated maneuvers and no one would dispute that, but after 2 full seasons, let's just take it all in and remember that we just saw absolute greatness on display. The best players in the world were on display in the playoffs, and especially these finals, and we were all witnesses.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

NBA Finals - Game 4 Recap

Greetings everyone! Let's take a look at Game 4...

Heat 104, Thunder 98 - 

Miami takes a 3-1 lead in the Finals after overcoming an early 17-point deficit and scoring 85 points in the final 3 quarters. Lebron James led the way with 26 points, 12 assists, and 9 rebounds for the Heat, and he did so with a "pass-first" type of game that dominated in a more "Magic" than "Michael" kind of way. He got a lot of help from Dwyane Wade (25 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks), but the biggest key for Miami was the play of Mario Chalmers. Just one game after OKC blatantly ignored him offensively (props to SI's Zach Lowe for pointing this out), Chalmers exploded for 25 points on 9-15 shooting including 4 threes in this one. 12 of those 25 came in the fourth quarter and Chalmers made big shot after big shot. Those of you that read me know that I am not a Chalmers supporter historically (really, ever) but he played particularly well last night. 

On the OKC side, Russell Westbrook was absolutely outstanding. He did take 32 shots, which seems like a ghastly amount, but when you make 20 of 32 for 43 points, you're allowed to take 32 shots. He absolutely took over the game in the second half at one point, nearly single-handedly keeping the Thunder in it, and "good Russ" was on display. Unfortunately, instead of this being the definitive "Russell Westbrook Game!!", it will likely be slightly marred by a late decision of his to foul unnecessarily in the final seconds, giving Miami two free throws a decisive 5-point lead. Time and score has been an issue for the Thunder in back-to-back games (after Harden's similar foul decision in Game 3), but in this one, I would blame the coaching staff equally, if not moreso, than Westbrook. He clearly didn't know the rule, and while that's not an excuse, the OKC bench has to be yelling that instruction to the entire squad. At any rate, any talk of Westbrook's blunder has to be referenced with the fact that he dominated the game before that, and was the single biggest reason they were in that spot. Kevin Durant did add 28 points on 9-19 shooting for OKC, but didn't play particularly well and only added 2 rebounds on the night. His passive play will be discussed, but on a night where Westbrook had it going like he did, I didn't have a huge issue with Durant taking "only" 19 shots. Where the issue lies was Durant's lackluster performance on the glass, and a couple of big misses late. If Lebron had played the exact same game, the media would've killed him, and while that would've been unjustified, it does reveal the dichotomy. James Harden is the player in this series who has taken the biggest reputation hit. Harden had his second 2-for-10 shooting night of the series, was completely overmatched defensively, committed 5 fouls, and had 4 turnovers (to just 2 assists). I've always been a Harden fan, but there's no denying his poor play has really hurt OKC in a series where their role players haven't done much to help.

One more note, I have to applaud Erik Spoelstra after this one. His decision to use Norris Cole as a spark plug worked perfectly, as Cole gave him 8 points in 8 minutes and the Heat were +12 with him out there. I was quick to kill Spoelstra for playing Cole earlier in the series, so I have to bring praise here. On the flip side, Scott Brooks has repeatedly tied his wagon to Derek Fisher, and I don't get it. Alas. Here's an important thing to remember: This series is not over. Have we already forgotten that OKC ran off 4 straight against a San Antonio team that had won 20 straight games and was, for all intensive purposes, better than this Miami team? With the final 2 games in OKC, it would be advisable for Miami to close the Thunder out on Thursday. Beyond that? We have a series.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

6/19: Ramblings

Greetings all... no NBA game last night, but we're here... let's go...

  • Roger Clemens was acquitted of all charges. Forgive me while I go back to sleep like I was throughout this trial.
  • The Braves dropped their 7th game out of 8 in a 6-2 loss to the Yankees last night. CC Sabathia went the distance for New York allowing 7 hits and striking out 10 guys, while Mike Minor struggled through 5 innings of 4-run ball. Minor was actually quite good early but his command failed him after about 3 innings and it got a little bit ugly. At 35-32 it's a little early for panic, but there is one reason to be frightened....
  • .... and that is that Brandon Beachy has a partial tear of his UCL in his pitching elbow. What does that mean? Basically, it's usually followed by surgery and a year-long absence. This is a crushing  blow to an already weakened staff as Beachy was unquestionably a top-3 guy in the rotation and had been the best pitcher overall so far this season. The move to put Medlen back in the bullpen looks even more questionable now, and the Braves now must fill 3 rotation spots between Delgado, Minor, Jurrjens, Teheran, Redmond and Medlen. Yep.
  • The Charlotte Bobcats have hired St. John's assistant coach Mike Dunlap as their head coach. Yes, you read that right. Michael Jordan and company have tabbed a college assistant as an NBA head coach. On the one hand, this is a hilarious move from a previously inept organization, but on the other hand, don't we always hear about how there are too many re-treads in NBA coaching? Dunlap is reportedly pretty innovative and I'm sure he blew MJ away in interviews, but at least this is a gamble instead of hiring Terry Stotts or something.
  • Former Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger has been "flagged" by doctors for a back issue just 10 days or so before the NBA draft. There have always been questions about Sullinger's athleticism at the next level, but with a back issue on top of that, he'll likely fall a little bit. Here's a great time to point out that the draft is in less than 2 weeks. Be advised.
  • RA Dickey is from outer-space. The Mets knuckleballer threw a second consecutive 1-hitter last night. Back-to-back! He's won 9 straight decisions, 6 straight starts overall, and now leads the majors in ERA (2.00), strikeouts (103 after 13 last night), and complete games. Where did this even come from?! At any rate, he's been insane, and there's no end in sight.
What to watch for on Tuesday...
  • NBA Finals Game 4 - Thunder @ Heat - 9:00 ABC - Game 4 is upon us and this is a big one for OKC. If they go down 3-1, no team has ever won in the finals down 3-1 and I'd imagine OKC doesn't want to give that a whirl. I could see a full-scale explosion from Durant tonight coming off the tough game in Game 3, but we're in for an entertaining game regardless.
  • MLB - Braves @ Yankees - 7:00 SportSouth - Hudson vs. Kuroda - It's funny because these two pitchers are almost mirror images. Both guys have low WHIPs, both guys don't strike many people out, and both guys are very, very good pitchers. The Braves need a win here, and Hudson gets the charge. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

NBA Finals Game 2 Wrap

Greetings all! Due to an apparent miscommunication on the other site that I write for (it happens), I am copy/pasting a pretty detailed look at Game 2 in this space. Enjoy!

The Miami Heat went on the road and gave Oklahoma City their first home loss in the 2012 playoffs with a 100-96 decision. In a wildly entertaining game that saw a big-time OKC comeback, the play that will likely be discussed the most in the blogosphere was the Lebron no-call on the final possession by Kevin Durant.

Trailing 98-96 after a settling jump shot by Lebron grazed the rim, the Thunder called a 20-second timeout, and came out with a quick hitter to Durant on the left block. The play developed more quickly than anyone could've expected, but Durant had a great position on the catch, and got off a 7-8 foot jump shot, but not before Lebron committed an apparent foul on the rip-through that went uncalled. The end of the game after that saw LBJ knock down 2 free throws, and an uninspiring heave by Westbrook that went begging. That was that.

For Miami, Lebron was tremendous as usual, as he finished with 32 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists on 10-22 shooting, and an impressive 12-of-12 from the free throw line. The wrap on his night will be around the fact that he settled for a contested three on a late Heat possession, but despite that being correct analysis, it's tough to overlook the overall contribution that he put out on Thursday night. Dwyane Wade put up a semi-efficient 24 points on 10-20 shooting, while taking care of the ball at a reasonable rate, and showing a bit more spring in his step defensively. I was focally critical of Wade during and after Game 1, but he played a much better all-court game on Thursday. Oh, I do have to mention the turnover on the steal that turned into the huge Durant three late when discussing Wade's game. Oops. Outside of the big two, Shane Battier's play sparkled as he played his usual solid defense, but also converted on 5-7 from three-point distance and finished with 17 points. It's crucial for Miami to have their role players knock down jumpers, and Battier has come up big for them.

On the OKC side, the slow start ended up doing them in. The Thunder fell behind 18-2 to start the game, and while they played much, much better after the first few minutes, a 16-point deficit against a game Miami team is a tall order. Kevin Durant had a huge second half and finished with 32 points (on 12-22 FG) despite playing only 39 minutes due to foul trouble. Russell Westbrook put up another crazy line, with 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists, but the story was the same as usual for him. "Bad Russ" emerged with 26 field goal attempts including various trips where he failed to get OKC into sets, but "good Russ" created big-time scoring opportunites with Durant off of the floor, and showed that now-vintage explosiveness. The other big reason that OKC was able to virtually erase the early deficit was the play of James Harden. Scott Brooks was forced to slip Harden into the game early (at the 6:00 mark of the 1st quarter), and the move paid off as Harden hit a big 3 to get them going, and scored 21 points on the night in his usual, efficient manner (11 field goal attempts).

There is a major storyline brewing with the role players on Oklahoma City. Kendrick Perkins was virtually worthless for the second straight game, and the fact that his main asset (post defense) is totally negated in this series makes for a difficult decision for Brooks. On a night where Ibaka was pretty ineffective, there was nowhere for Brooks to turn, and the result was the entire OKC supporting cast netting just 16 points total. Sefolosha took a step back in this game, as expected, but his defensive impact is still huge in this series, and I'd expect his minutes to stay quite high.

There were a couple of auxiliary notes that stood out, as well. Miami's big three converted 20 of 23 free throws (including the aforementioned 12-12 from Lebron) while OKC's historically better threesome made just 14-20 among them. This seems like a small thing on paper, but when Lebron knocks down 12-12 out of a place where he is prone to struggle and Durant/Westbrook/Harden each miss 2 free throws, it's big. In addition, I think it's important to point out in the midst of the "did he foul?!" conversation about the Durant/Lebron play late, that there was a questionable block/charge call that went in Durant's favor a few minutes earlier. This was big because it would've been Durant's 6th foul, and the OKC late run likely never happens without him. Context!

Where do we go from here? Miami stole a game in OKC, and with the 2-3-2 format, I think it was a virtual must-win. It's certainly a tall order for the Heat to win 3 consecutive games (even at home), but Lebron and company want no part of returning to OKC and their best chance would certainly be to sweep the next 3 in Miami. On the OKC side, they were the better team for the final 42 minutes on Thursday night, and they did so with positive contributions from exactly three players. My pick of OKC in 7 is one that I'd stick by as of this moment, but some adjustments will likely need to be made, and chiefly among them would be Brooks giving up on the "big" lineup and only playing one big at a time. This is going to be an insanely compelling series for 4-5 more games. Enjoy it.

Series Tied 1-1

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

6/13: Game 1 and a Crushing Braves Loss

Greetings all... this will be slightly condensed today as I'm only covering two things... let's go...

  • Thunder 105, Heat 94 - Game 1 is in the books and OKC held serve at home. Kevin Durant led the way for the Zombies with 36 points and 8 boards while Russ Westbrook submitted 27 points, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds on the night. It was really a two-man show offensively for the Thunder, but they still managed to score at 118 points per 100 possessions (which is absurdly good), and did so without anything from James Harden (5 points). I thought Westbrook was pretty darn good all night, and Durant's efficiency is scary when he has it going from distance. On Miami's side, Lebron will likely get killed today because that's what people do, but he finished with 30 points and 9 boards including an average (but not bad) output of 7 points in the 4th quarter. I've already heard criticism of a 7-point 4th quarter as if spreading out 7 points per quarter doesn't equal 28 points (lol). I won't tell you that he was tremendous late, but he was far from awful. The guy in the cross-hairs for me would be Dwyane Wade, who shot 7 of 19 including what seemed like a million settling jump shots, and couldn't stay in front of various guys defensively. Chris Bosh didn't play particularly well either for Miami (4 of 11), and the only real bright spot on that end was Shane Battier's 17 point (on 9 shots!) explosion. A couple of things to watch going forward for me:
    • Thabo Sefolosha was tremendous in Game 1, especially on the defensive end, and Scott Brooks stayed with him late into the 4th quarter to defend Lebron James. Will that be a trend? Harden will likely need to be more involved offensively on a night where both Durant and Westbrook aren't firing on all cylinders, and that's something to watch. Also, Kendrick Perkins is likely a liability in this series because of the fact that Miami has exactly zero guys up-front that play back-to-basket games, and I'd like to see Brooks play him even less in favor of smaller lineups and/or Nick Collison.
    • Can Miami decide once and for all to run their offense through Lebron? There were a couple of stretches in the second half where it seemed like everything ran through Dwyane Wade, and I don't understand that. It would be one thing if Wade had it going, but he was bottled up and play after play went his way. Something to note. 
    • Miami's choice to basically bury Norris Cole and go sans point guard isn't a big deal to me, but it's being discussed as one. They've done this on numerous occasions all year and if there was ever a team that didn't need a ball-handling PG it's this team. I'd actually recommend they use Chalmers even less during times when Westbrook and Harden aren't out there, because Chalmers' only value is defensively in my opinion.
  • The Braves lost a debilitating 6-4 decision to the Yankees last night. Jonny Venters entered the game with a 4-0 lead with 1 out in the 8th inning and Derek Jeter on first. He promptly surrendered a single to Curtis Granderson, a walk to Mark Teixeira, and a majestic grand-slam to Alex Rodriguez. Suddenly, the lead was gone at 4-4, and after Venters allowed another single to Robinson Cano, he exited stage left. Let's stop right here. Venters has struggled this year in comparison to last season, and while much of that can be attributed to an obscenely high BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and unluckiness, he also doesn't have the same dominant look as in 2011. That said, there's nothing that Fredi could have done about this implosion short of bringing in Kimbrel to face Rodriguez (the "right" move that the great majority of managers would never do in the 8th inning), and I won't blame him. After that, however, Fredi Gonzalez brought in Cory Gearrin to face Nick Swisher. Let's take a look at this move in context. Swisher is a switch-hitter and both pitchers that were warming up were right-handed thanks to the unavailability of Eric O'Flaherty (the only lefty in the pen). The other option was Cristhian Martinez who has actually been better against lefties than righties for his major-league career (.592 OPS vs. LHB, .897 OPS vs. RHB), but this was ignored in favor of Gearrin. This move may not seem quite as absurd until you take a look at Cory Gearrin's platoon split. In his (admittedly) limited time in the majors, Cory Gearrin has allowed a 1.230 OPS to left-handed batters. 1.230!! That's Babe Ruth and more. He's a right-handed specialist (.438 OPS allowed to righties) who's entire role is to face righties and induce ground balls. And he's inserted to face Nick Swisher who's batting left-handed!?! With another guy ready!?!? I have no words. That rant is over, but I will say that Mike Minor may have saved his job for a little while with a 7.1 IP, 1 ER performance (and he left the game with 0 ER) that was very impressive against that gauntlet of a lineup.
Until later...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

NBA Finals Preview!

Greetings everyone... you knew I'd show up for the Finals... let's get it after it Dr. Jack-style...

  • Scott Brooks vs. Erik Spoelstra. Not exactly two modern heavyweights of the coaching profession, huh? I think Brooks has come quite a long way in these playoffs, from adjusting his defensive assignments in the Spurs series (putting Thabo on Parker ended the gauntlet that was the Spurs offense) to getting Russ Westbrook to defer at the end of games, and he's also blessed with the deeper, better roster. Spoelstra has stayed out of his own way since the Wade blow-up early in the playoffs and basically allowed his guys to run free. Good tactic? I'd say so, for the most part. I think the coaching battle comes down to two things in this series. First, who can get their stars into the best position to score late in games? Brooks has become very good at getting Durant good touches, especially from their now-famous "pin-down" play that scores virtually every time, while Spoelstra has failed, at times, to get LBJ and Wade in good spots to score. Secondly, how are the defensive matchups going to work? Is Lebron going to get the Durant assignment full-time? Can OKC afford to play Thabo enough minutes to limit Wade? Will OKC go with the big lineup that features Ibaka and Perkins? All things to consider. Slight advantage: OKC
  • OKC (R. Westbrook, J. Harden, T. Sefolosha, D. Fisher, D. Cook) vs. Miami (D. Wade, M. Chalmers, M. Miller, N. Cole). This is pretty unfair to Miami since Lebron James doubles as a guard and handles the ball more than just about anyone, but we had to assign him somewhere, so he's in the front-court battle. If you've read me for any length of time, I have a love/hate relationship with Russell Westbrook. First, it's completely indefensible that he would average more shot attempts (19.1 per game) in the playoffs than Kevin Durant (18.6) would. That said, I think Westbrook has been remarkably under control in these playoffs for the most part, cutting his turnovers down from 3.6 in the regular season to just 2.3 in the playoffs, while knocking down a better percentage of his threes (read: better shots), shooting a tick less, and increasing his assist totals. He's an elite player, and we shouldn't forget that in the midst of the battle between "good Russ" and "bad Russ". Harden is obviously the other key guy for the Zombies, as he's upped his scoring average to over 17 a game in just 31 minutes as their primary facilitator when he enters the game. Aside from being their 3rd best player, the look of the team makes more sense to me when he's out there and can take the ball-handling/distributing responsibilities away from Westbrook and allow him to be in full attack mode. The love for Harden nationally has been a bit overblown in the playoffs I'd say, but because of the fact that it's mainly a correction from him being under discussed previously, I'm okay with it. He's a player. Sefolosha will likely have the chief responsibility of covering Dwyane Wade (or even Lebron?) when he's out there, and he's an elite defender. If he makes his open shots, it's a pure bonus. As for Fisher and Cook, I think Fisher has been playing far too many minutes in the playoffs (over 21 a game) for a guy who's washed up, but he did deliver two "Derek Fisher" shots in the clincher over the Spurs, and there's something to be said (albeit over-stated) for having a vet like him out there. Daequan Cook was put on the Earth to get shots up, and that's his only value to this series. Heat check! On the Miami end, I've been pretty critical of Dwyane Wade's contributions in the 2012 playoffs and I stand by it. Let me say first, that he's still a fantastic, valuable basketball player, and nobody just falls into 23/5/4 with a 22 PER like he's had in the playoffs. That said, Wade's defensive efforts have been laughable at times (and throughout the entire playoffs in transition), and his true shooting percentage of 53% in the playoffs would represent easily the lowest of his career in any regular season or playoffs. What does it mean? I think it's a combination of poor decision-making and possible injury. If he's hurt, then all bets are off a bit, but with what saw him do in Indiana in games 4-5-6, I don't think it can be all injury-related. All of that said, I think Wade's energy level (and resulting output) may be the single-biggest key of the series. If he outplays Westbrook, Miami has a chance. If he doesn't, Lebron would have to be in Game 6 mode at least 4 times for Miami to win. Elsewhere, Mario Chalmers is playing 35 minutes a night in the playoffs out of necessity, and he's about as Jekyll/Hyde as it gets. It seems that Wade and Lebron really don't like playing with him, but he has averaged 12 points a game, hit some big shots, and done some important things for them in the playoffs. It would greatly benefit Miami if he's passable offensively, if for no other reason than the Heat are going to need his defense on Westbrook throughout the series. Miller is a one-trick pony on jumpers, and Norris Cole has looked painfully overmatched in the playoff stints that I've seen. Advantage: OKC
  • OKC (K. Durant, S. Ibaka, K. Perkins, N. Collison) vs. Miami (L. James, C. Bosh, J. Anthony, S. Battier, U. Haslem) We're going to cover the Durant/James battle in more detail in the next section, so we'll concentrate on the other guys for now. I'm wildly interested to see the deployment of Ibaka and Perkins in this series. Miami doesn't have the benefit of a low-post option, as their best "big" is Chris Bosh, who is an almost-pure pick-n-pop guy. Kendrick Perkins' chief NBA skill is that of a post defender. Do you see where I'm headed with this? I think Perkins will be neutralized to the point where he should only play <20 minutes a game in the series, and "small-ball" will be played on both sides a lot. Serge Ibaka is a big-time rim protector, but if Bosh's minutes increase (and they will), it will be Ibaka covering Bosh a lot at the center position, and Bosh is so great in the 17-foot-range that it will be difficult for Ibaka to collapse on the penetration of Wade and James. Lineup construction will be huge here. Collison provides the ultra-toughness/rebounding component that every team wants, and the winner of the Haslem/Collison match-up has a leg-up. We mentioned Bosh already, but after playing 14, 28, and 31 minutes in the final three games of the ECF, I'd expect a full 35+ minute output from Bosh all series long. The hate on Bosh has gone too far. He's a fantastic 3rd option who can be a key to this series if he neutralizes Ibaka's rim protection and takes some scoring off of the load of Lebron and Wade. Elsewhere, Battier isn't the player he used to be by any stretch, but he's still an above-average defender, and if he shoots 9-of-19 from three (like he did in the final 4 games of the ECF), that's found money for Miami. Advantage: Push
  • Lebron James vs. Kevin Durant. This is an interesting one because the best player on Earth is Lebron James. That's my opinion and one that I likely will not waver from unless Kevin Durant averages a 40/10 in this series, and even then, I'm STILL not sure he'd be the better player. Lebron's regular-season PER in 2011-12 was 30.8 which is over 3 full points better than 2nd-best in the league (Chris Paul) and 4.5 points better than Kevin Durant. That's a massive gap. In the playoffs? Lebron is at a 31.25 (higher in the playoffs! take that, media) and Durant's has risen to just under 28. I know that PER isn't the end-all-be-all, but Kevin Durant has never played an all-court game like Lebron did in Game 6 of the ECF, and while it's unquestioned that Durant is the superior scorer (and arguably the better offensive player overall), Lebron's defensive additions can't be overlooked in the grand scheme, and his positional flexibility is frightening. The key matchup is obviously Lebron's ability to guard Durant. No one on the planet can "stop" Kevin Durant defensively, but if there was someone built to do it, it'd be Lebron, and the only real question is whether Miami will be willing to give up some of Lebron's offense to unleash the league's most powerful defensive weapon. Would it shock me if Durant averaged 30+ even with Lebron on him? Absolutely not. Durant's offensive game is about as scary as it gets, with 30-foot range, a growing ability to get catches in favorable positions, impeccable free throw shooting, and a rising assist rate. I would forecast a 35 ppg for Durant in the series, and Lebron still "outplaying" him due to defensive contribution and a 28/8/8 type of line. SLIGHT Advantage: Miami
  • For the season, Miami and Oklahoma City are side-by-side in rebound rate as a team at just over 51% for each, good for 5th and 6th in the league respectively. In the playoffs, Miami has taken a larger lead, and I'd expect to likely continue in this series. If my assumptions that Kendrick Perkins (and his 10 rebounds per 40 minutes) sit on the bench more in this series in favor of more Fisher/Harden/Cook/Thabo, and Miami actually gets Bosh back to 35+ minutes hold true, the advantage can only go further toward Miami. If you're looking for a reason why the undersized Heat would have the advantage here, look no further than this. Lebron James had the 3rd-highest rebound rate at his position (SF) in the entire league this year, behind only Shawn Marion (legit), and Matt Barnes (come on lol), while Dwyane Wade posted the 5th-best rebound rate in the entire league among 2-guards, behind such stalwarts as Mike Miller, Tony Allen, and Manny Harris. In summation, Wade and Lebron are ELITE at rebounding for their positions. I don't think this is a huge advantage for Miami by any means, but for anyone looking at OKC's size advantage and assuming REBOUNDS(!), they'd be wrong. SLIGHT Advantage: Miami
  • Always a key in any series, because it's the way the league is going. 7 of the top 8 teams in effective field goal percentage (which incorporates threes in with 2s) this year were playoff teams, and even further than that, were top-5 seeds in their conferences. This isn't a coincidence. The 3-ball can change the game, and there are several guys in this series who could swing a game (or more) by making their open triples. On Miami's end, it is absolutely crucial that they get something out of Battier and/or Miller, as well Chalmers. Both of the wing guys have fallen off athletically in recent times, and Miller is visibly injured, but both are plus-shooters from downtown when open. Consider this, Mike Miller has shot 47% from 3 in Miami's wins this season. In losses? That number lowers to 39%. For Mario Chalmers, it's 42% in wins, and 31% in losses. That's not statistically insignificant, and Battier follows the same trend (admittedly to a lesser degree). With the volume of defensive attention that Wade and Lebron command, it creates open threes for these three guys to knock down open threes in this series. For OKC, the story is remarkably similar. Thabo Sefolosha exists in the NBA to play defense, and I'd readily admit that. With that said, however, OKC can't play him big minutes unless he can make jumperes, and I'd cite the same stat for him as I did for the Miami guys. In OKC's wins this season, Thabo shot 46% from three. In their losses, he shot 35%. There's a direct correlation here! Sefolosha is the only hit/miss guy from 3-land on the OKC roster, but Derek Fisher's only positive contribution on the court would likely come from made 3's as well, and as a career 37% shooter, it'd be helpful (since he'll apparently be playing) for him to hit some triples. Oh, did I mention that Kevin Durant was 4th in the league in 3's attempted and still made 38.7% or that Dwyane Wade is a putrid 3-point shooter (27%) that still attempts 2 per game for reasons passing understanding? Lebron's 36% from three this year (career-high) will help a bit, but the Durant factor swings it. Advantage: OKC
That'll do it for the Dr. Jack portion of the breakdown, but I have a few more notes.

First, the home-court advantage in this series could prove huge for two reasons. #1 is that OKC has one of the best (THE best IMO) home-courts in the league, with raucous sell-outs every night, and a fan-base that is all-in, while Miami's arrive-late, leave-early fan-base that can't be relied upon to take them to a different level. Add-in the fact that OKC has 4 home games and the already-mandated 4-5 point edge for home teams? That's mounting. And #2, the 2-3-2 format is a weird one for me. To eliminate travel time (and for no other reason, no matter what the NBA says), the NBA goes to 2-3-2 in the finals, and it's a daunting task for the road team to try to win 3 straight home games in the middle of the series. On the one hand, if Miami can steal one in OKC, they would come home with 3 home games to win the series. But if they go down 0-2, they'd desperately need to get all 3 at home, and that's a tough task. Just food for thought.

Secondly, a lot will be made of the "Durant vs. Lebron" aspect of this series, and while that is certainly a subplot that we'll all be monitoring, I think the bigger match-up is the defense-first team in Miami against the juggernaut offense in OKC. The Thunder's offensive performance in the San Antonio series is the stuff of legend, and it's tough to imagine them being totally slowed, but Miami's defense (despite their "star" mantra) has been their calling card, and with the ultimate Durant-stopper awaiting in Lebron, it's really interesting to see how this goes.

Finally, the word "legacy" is thrown around too much in this business, but the reputation (a better word for in-the-moment examination) of Lebron James, and to a lesser extent, Kevin Durant, is on the line. Would it be Lebron's fault if he averaged a 32-9-7 in this series, and the Heat lost? Absolutely not. Would it be the worst thing in the world if Lebron averaged a 21-10-5 but played shut-down D on Durant and the Heat won? Absolutely not. But for the purposes of Lebron's reputation/legacy/etc., he must put up gawdy numbers, make a clutch shot or two, and have the Heat win the series despite being the underdog, and the worse team on paper. That's a pretty tall order, and I want to set the record now that while I believe that Miami won't win this series, I firmly believe that it won't be Lebron James' fault when they don't. Kevin Durant is top-5 player in the league, and at twenty-three years old, his ceiling hasn't been reached yet. Give him the better supporting cast, the better coach, and the better home-crowd? I'll take the Zombies in 7. 

Enjoy it, everybody. I love this game.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Eastern Conference Finals Game 7 Wrap

The Miami Heat are headed to the NBA Finals. Game 7 went blow-for-blow for about 44 minutes, and in the end Lebron James and company were just too much.

Lebron led the way with 31 points and 12 rebounds, while attacking the rim at will, and defending at an all-NBA level like he always does. That said, this game was won on the periphery in my opinion. Chris Bosh hit 8 of 10 from the field including a career-high (regular season included) three triples to finish with 19 points and 8 boards in 30 minutes, and Shane Battier connected on 4 huge threes of his own to pace Miami.

On Boston's end, all five starters went for 14+ points, but outside of Rondo's 22-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound triple-double, I didn't think any of the other "big 4" had a particularly outstanding output. Brandon Bass sparked the Celtics in a big way in the 1st half, but cooled late after expending a ton of energy guarding Lebron (for some reason), and finished with 16 points. The real key was Boston's inability to score in the 2nd half, when they finished with just 35 second-half points, and jumper-after-jumper clanged off the rim in the final minutes as Miami pulled away.

One thing I have to address was the play of Dwyane Wade. I'm very anxious to see how the national media handles his play because his box score looks like he played well. 23 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists on 8-17 FG shooting is a pretty average Wade line, but I actually thought he was pretty bad for the majority of his 44 minutes. His transition defense was absolutely putrid for the entirety of the night, and Wade's offensive game was forced and choppy. I thought it was a miscalculation to run the offense through Wade for most of the night, and the only reason it didn't bite them was the brilliance of Lebron James in a "secondary" role.

I have a million more thoughts on this game (and you can read them on my twitter feed @BTRowland), but I'll cut it off here and look forward to the finals. It's too early for a pick, but the NBA gets their dream matchup with the 2 biggest young stars in the game squaring off. If the Finals can equal the drama of the conference finals, we're all in for a treat. See you in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.

Friday, June 8, 2012

6/8: The Lebron James Show

Greetings all...

  • I covered the Heat/Celtics game last night over at Soaring Down South and you can find the link here: Let me just say this again in short fashion. Lebron James put on one of the best performances I've ever seen on an NBA court last night. 45 points and 15 rebounds for the King, and I'm dead serious when I tell you that he called off the dogs in the 2nd half to not score 55-60 points. The entire arsenal was on display, and Boston had no shot. Wow. For a more in-depth take, check out the link above.
  • The Atlanta Braves won a game that Mike Minor started! An 8-2 victory in Miami over the Marlins and Minor was pretty respectable. The young lefty allowed just 1 earned run which is tremendous even in 5 innings, but be aware that he still allowed 5 hits and 4 walks in that time period and snuck away with less runs than he likely should've allowed. Michael Bourn continued his power surge (what!?) with his 6th homer of the season, and Jason Heyward popped 2 home runs in raising his OPS to near .780. Another nice win.
  • The New Orleans Saints reportedly "made another offer" to Drew Brees. I'm confused as to how this is front-page news, but because it is everywhere, I figured I'd comment. I firmly believe he'll be in camp by the start of "real" training camp sessions, so it's a non-story for me. Moving along.
  • MLB Check - David Price got his AL-best 8th win in beating the Yankees at the stadium last night. Price is perpetually underrated (as are the entire Rays roster) and should be considered a top-15 pitcher in the majors. Clay Buchholz threw an unexpected 4-hit shutout at home against Baltimore. Even after the shut-out, his ERA is 5.77 (which should indicate how bad it was previously) but for one night, he had it going. And finally, the Oakland A's beat Texas 7-1 to clinch a rare series victory over the AL's best team. Trouble in Arlington?
  • Chad Ochocinco is a free agent. The former Bengals star WR was released by the Patriots on Thursday after they failed to trade him due to lack of market. He simply couldn't get open in 2011, and when he did, he didn't produce. I think he'll get picked by someone in August, but I'd actually be surprised if he was better than a #4-#5 receiver for someone at this stage.
What to watch for on Friday...
  • NBA - 2012 Draft Combine - ESPNU 10:00 am - This is for die-hard hoop fans only, but we can watch the next class of NBA rookies go to work in Chicago at the pre-draft camp. You know I'm in.
  • Soccer (Futbol) - Euro 2012 - ESPN 11:30 am - The 2nd-biggest tournament in the world (I'm told) is starting tomorrow as the battle for European supremacy gets underway. If you like soccer, this is high-level stuff.
  • MLB - Mets @ Yankees - MLB 7:00 - Santana vs. Kuroda - All eyes on Johan Santana as he follows up the Mets first-ever no-hitter from last week in the Subway series. This is one of the better things about Inter-league play.
  • MLB - Blue Jays @ Braves - Peachtree-TV 7:30 - Drabek vs. Beachy - The synergy of Kyle Drabek starting a game in Atlanta on the weekend that the 1992 Braves celebrate their 20-year anniversary is crazy. Do you know who the starting pitcher was in Game 7 of the NLCS aka the night that Sid slid? It was Kyle's dad, Doug. Also, John Smoltz's #29 will be raised up for eternity in Turner Field during a pre-game ceremony. Good stuff.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

6/7: The Zombies Advance


  • The Oklahoma City Thunder are headed to the finals after a 107-99 victory over San Antonio. This was yet another fantastic game in this series, and I'm kind of baffled by how it unfolded. The Spurs led by as many as 18 points in the 1st half including 15 points at halftime, but OKC blitzed them with 32 points in the 3rd quarter to virtually even things, and another 27 points in the final frame. Kevin Durant was masterful throughout with 34 points (on just 17 shots) and 14 rebounds, while Westbrook (25 pts, 8 boards, 5 assists) and Harden (16 points on 9 shots, 5 boards, 4 assists) were exactly who they usually are. It felt as though the lead absolutely evaporated for the Spurs in the 3rd quarter, and while they didn't play that poorly, they simply couldn't overcome the Thunder offense in the 2nd half. Tony Parker finished with 29 points and 12 assists, but after putting up a 20 & 10 in the 1st half alone, he ran out of gas until very late, and once again, the Diaw/Leonard/Green trio that had been so huge for the Spurs during their 20-game win streak went silent with just 12 points combined including a donut from Diaw. Tim Duncan was outstanding with 25 and 14 including 2 back-to-back buckets late to keep it close, but it wasn't enough. I can't emphasize how crazy it is that San Antonio followed up a 20-game win streak with 4 straight losses including a home loss, and yet, I don't think San Antonio played that poorly. OKC went to a different level in the last 4 games, and if they maintain it, the Miami/Boston winner has no chance. Is this the end of the Duncan era? We've been trying to bury him/them for 3-4 years now, but I won't do it yet. I can't do it.
  • The Devils beat the Kings to stay alive in the Stanley Cup Finals last night. I didn't see a second of it, but this will become a big deal if they win the next one at home.
  • Braves 2, Marlins 1 - A really, really nice win for the Braves last night if for no other reason than Randall Delgado was outstanding. The rookie starter threw 6.1 innings of 1-run ball including being perfect in his first 4 frames. He touched 96 on the gun at one point last night, and his stuff looked far more electric than I've seen from him on a regular basis. Could be an outlier, but for one night, he looked tremendous. One more encouraging sign is 3 hits from Brian McCann, as he's currently sitting at a .255 BA (after the 3 hits) and .750 OPS. He's better than that and maybe that's unfolding.
  • MLB Check - Brandon Morrow is ever-eclectic. The Blue Jays right-hander threw a 2-hit shutout with 5 strikeouts last night against the Konerko-less White Sox. This is crazy because a) Morrow is a strikeout pitcher that only struck out 5, and b) I wouldn't have been any more shocked if he allowed 9 earned runs. Hilarity. Bartolo Colon and the A's shut out the gauntlet lineup that is Texas last night with a 2-0 win. 8 innings, 5 hits, 1 walk for Big, Fat Bartolo, and not even a complete game from Colby Lewis could change that. 
What to watch for...
  • Eastern Conf. Finals Game 6 - Heat @ Celtics - 8:30 ESPN - FYI, I'm covering this game over at this evening. That said, I anticipate an epic battle and there isn't much that would surprise me. With a gun to my head, I think I'd still take Miami here, but it's tough to bet against Boston with KG playing how he is. 
  • MLB - Dodgers @ Phillies - 1:00 MLB - Harang vs. Hamels - Cole Hamels has been one of (if not the) best pitcher in the NL this year. Worth taking a look at 1:00 pm.
  • MLB - Braves @ Marlins - 7:00 SportSouth - Minor vs. Buehrle - This is the biggest start of Mike Minor's career IMO, with Medlen being stretched out and Delgado coming off of a great start last night. We'll see.
  • MLB - Rays @ Yankees - 7:00 MLB - Price vs. Sabathia - The #1 starters of two elite AL teams facing off. Really nice match-up.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

6/5: Thunder/Spurs

Greetings all... Only have time to cover one thing this morning so we're going hard on Thunder/Spurs...

  • I was wrong. Flat-out wrong. OKC outlasted San Antonio 108-103 last night to take a 3-2 series lead with game 6 at home in Oklahoma. Kevin Durant had 27 points including 22 in the 2nd half, while Russ Westbrook netted 23 points and 12 assists, and James Harden finished with 20 points including the 2 biggest shots of the game. When Harden's 4-point play gave OKC a 13-point lead with 5 minutes to play, the game looked all but over, but San Antonio scored the next 11 points to climb back in it. The back-and-forth was on from there until Harden hit another giant triple to give OKC a 5-point lead with 30 seconds left and seal the victory. On the Spurs side, Manu Ginobili was pretty incredible, scoring 34 points including 5 threes, but the potential game-tying three glanced off  the rim at the gun, and they fell short. The x-factors in the loss for San Antonio were turnovers, and the play of Tony Parker, and the two aren't mutually exclusive. The normally ultra-efficient Spurs finished with 21 turnovers (to just 23 assists) and the lack of quality possessions was pretty alarming. As for Parker, he looked to be playing out-of-control for much of the night, turning it over 5 times, shooting just 5-of-14, and falling down on nearly every play. You'll be reading a lot about OKC growing up before our eyes, and their under-23 core being ready for primetime, but where do we go from here? I don't think the series is over. At least not with a Tim Duncan/Greg Popovich-led Spurs team on the other side. I'd certainly pick OKC to win the series with Game 6 at home, but let's not close the book just yet. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

6/4: East Finals, Tiger, etc.

Greetings! My sincerest apologies on the weekend absence... schedule got out-of-hand, but we're back...

  • Boston 93, Miami 91 - After Rajon Rondo had that 44-point outburst in a Game 2 loss, there was widespread burial of the Celtics. After Boston's win last night, they have a real, live chance in the series. All 5 Boston starters scored in double-figures led by Paul Pierce's 23 points (despite fouling out), Rajon Rondo's 15 points and 15 assists, and Kevin Garnett's 17 points and 14 boards. The key to me, however, was Boston's ability to hold Miami to just 42% shooting including a ghastly 7 of 22 from Dwyane Wade. Lebron James did his part (29 points, 6 boards) but wasn't spectacular and fouled out for the first time since George W. Bush was president. Yep. The series shifts back to Miami and all the pressure on Earth rests on the Heat. On the bright side? It looks like they'll have Chris Bosh for Game 5.
  • Tiger Woods won the Memorial tournament yesterday. This is very interesting for a number of reasons.
    • 1 - This was Tiger's 73rd career win, tying Jack Nicklaus for 2nd place all-time.
    • 2 - The Memorial is Jack Nicklaus' tournament, and he was in the TV broadcast booth for it.
    • 3 - He sank an incredible 50-foot chip shot on 16 to basically win the tournament, while Jack crowned it as one of the greatest shots he'd ever seen.
    • Is he "back"? Too early to tell, but on one Sunday, he showed all kinds of flashes
  • Jacksonville Jaguars 1st-round pick WR Justin Blackmon blew a 0.24 on a breathalyzer and got a DUI over the weekend. In case you are unfamiliar, a .24 is insanely high, and there's no excuse whatsoever. Do better, kids.
  • The Braves got a 3-2 win over Washington yesterday. The biggest moment of the game was Jason Heyward's big-time at-bat in the 5th inning off of a tough lefty in Gio Gonzalez. Heyward battled and battled before sending a 2-run single into left field, and that was the difference in the game. Tommy Hanson was outstanding after allowing back-to-back homers to start the game, as he'd only allow 4 hits and 0 ER over the next 25 hitters he faced before giving way to O'Flaherty and Kimbrel to slam the door. Nice win.
  • MLB Check - Phil Hughes threw a complete game 4-hitter to upstage Justin Verlander and lead the Yankees to a 5-1 win in Detroit. This isn't the type of outing you'd expect from Hughes against a good lineup, but if he's good, it'll be huge for New York. Shout-out to Barry Zito on 8.1 IP of 4-hit, 0 ER baseball in a 2-0 win for the Giants. Texas avoided a sweep in Anaheim by beating the Angels 7-3. Nelson Cruz blasted a 484-foot home run that was the longest recorded homer of the season in the majors. Power, everybody. And finally, the scorching Miami Marlins won 5-1 in Philly behind Carlos Zambrano on the mound and at the plate, as he blasted a home-run to help his own cause. He's crazy, but he's been very good (2.81 ERA) on the season.
What to watch for on Monday...
  • MLB - Cardinals @ Mets - MLB 1:00 - Lohse vs. Gee - Day baseball!
  • MLB - Dodgers @ Phillies - ESPN 7:00 - Kershaw vs. Worley - Clayton Kershaw is an elite pitcher, and there's nobody I can think of that's more fun to watch pitch.
  • NBA - Thunder @ Spurs - TNT 9:00 - Series Tied 2-2 - Pivotal Game 5 matchup in Texas. I'd certainly pick the Spurs, but OKC is playing at an absurdly high level after their Game 4 offensive showing, and they could rise up and win.