In less than a month the annual midseason classic called the NBA All Star Weekend will be upon us once again. Some of the most stellar names from both the West and the East will once again thrill us with their skills and utter disregard for the concept of defense. Of course no one actually comes to the All Star extravaganza expecting a clinic on how the game should be played. They can get that just by watching say the San Antonio Spurs or the Boston Celtics on any given night. What the fans do come for, and this year they will be coming to the great city of Houston, Texas on February 17, are dunks, fancy passes, long long long three-pointers and a few as much hotdog and showboat as the stars can deliver.
In fan balloting so far no surprises are evident. Fans vote for the five starters (nominally by position, but really two backcourt and three frontcourt players) - a center, two forwards and two guards - while whoever is selected as coach will pick seven other players to make up the bench regardless of position. Bench players used to be picked position-wise as well, i.e. another center, two more forwards, two more guards and two utility guys regardless of position. Fan voting has never been a barometer of talent and skill so much as popularity, hence Yao Ming getting the most votes for a couple of years running thanks to the online votes of those milllions of Chinese fans.
This year the two players widely regarded as the two who dispute the title of best player in the world are the top two vote getters: Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers (with over 1,170,00-plus votes) and Lebron James of the Miami Heat (behind Bryant by only some 20,000 votes at still over 1,100,000 total votes). Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder with a little over 1,000,000 votes is followed by Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks at third and fourth place respectively.
Rounding out the respective starting fives are: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, and another Laker in Dwight Howard for the West, then Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics, another Heat in Dwayne Wade, and another Celtic in Kevin Garnett for the East. As it was for the Top 2 vote getters, so the rest of the starting units do not show any surprises.
Allow me however to say that if any changes were to be made, and if I were the omnipotent Hoops God, I'd replace the West's starting center. Howard is playing on an inexplicably awful Lakers team ths season, and is clearly not at 100% capacity after back surgery in the offseason. If anybody deserves to start at center for the West it is none other than the venerable Tim Duncan of the Spurs. At 36 years young Duncan is nearly as old as sin in NBA years. But he has put together his usual boringly productive and efficient season while making sure his Spurs remain among the top teams out west.
As for the reserves, those would be up to the coaches of course. Although right off the top of my head I'd automatically have Chris Bosh of Miami, Tyson Chandler of New York, Paul Pierce of Boston, Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks and Carlos Boozer of the Chicago Bulls completing the East roster. That would make for a high-skill and balanced roster for the East. It should be interesting to see how Anthony and Garnett will get along after their chippy game a few weeks back that saw Anthony get suspended one game by the league. Rondo will also be interesting to watch since he will start alongside Wade and James, two guys he does not really take a fancy to and about which he has not been shy to say so.
For the West I would need to have the hometown heroes Jeremy Lin and James Harden from the Rockets (of course!), Duncan since it looks like he won't be a starter but should be, Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies, Lamarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trailblazers, Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma and another Grizzly in Marc Gasol. Gasol beats out his older brother Pau and Dirk Nowitzki because he's 100% healthy, which is the same reason the popular Kevin Love is not on my roster because of his recently broken hand. Lin still has about 24 hours to get voted into the starting five, which would make Paul part of the West bench.
You'll notice I do not have any rookies on either roster, in spite of the terrific play of Damien Lillard of Portland. I also do not have Stephen Curry, David Lee, Monta Ellis and a whole host of other top vote getters. I simply think that for all the showmanship for this particular game that the coaches still need to go for the win, and these rosters have all the elements that will better ensure that. I don't see any of the guys left off actually being much better than the guys I want to play, so no loss there, really.
Speaking of coaches, Vinny Del Negro of the Clippers and Eric Spoelstra of Miami deserve
Updated 01-16-2013 at 09:49 PM by gameface_one
Los Angeles is a basketball town. There's no two ways about it. There is simply no other sport in the city that is as associated with winning and winning big than basketball. From Jerry West to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Magic Johnson to Shaquille O'Neal to Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles has always been associated with basketball greatness.
Los Angeles is also the only NBA city that has two teams. And while the Lakers and their purple and gold are the dynasty, the Clippers have been associated with nothing but bad tidings since, in the words of one writer, before Milton was Berle. Where the Lakers have 16 NBA championships, the second most in the league behind their famed rival the Boston Celtics, the Clippers have been in and out of the draft lottery so many times they may as well have a VIP Box to the event.
That is no longer true. In fact, the opposite now holds.
At 25-6 as of this writing, the Clippers are on top of the NBA standings. Did you feel weird reading that? Because I sure felt weird writing it. I cannot ever recall a time the Clippers were ever leading the NBA standings. Ever. Sure, they've been to the playoffs a couple of times. But compared to the Lakers who seem to make making the playoffs a booked trip every year, the Clippers were seldom if ever mentioned in the same breath as the post-season. Even as the "other" LA team is leading the league, the once-mighty Lakers are at 15-15 as of this writing, having made the worst start ever to the season in franchise history at 1-5.
This was not how it was supposed to go. After all, the Lakers brought in Dwight Howard, a Defensive Player of the Year, and Steven Nash, an MVP, and they retained both Bryant and Pau Gasol. This was supposed to be a team that would march back into the NBA Finals and reclaim the championship that the LA faithful claim as a birthright. Injuries to some key players however saw the Lakers unable to play together as a full unit throughout the preseason, effectively throwing a wrench in the works.
As for the Clippers, they went an immaculate 16-0 in December, ending the year with a 17-game winning streak dating back five weeks. Although they lost to the Denver Nuggets 78-92, they still accumulated enough wins in that historic December run to stay on top of the leader board. They matched the 1971-72 Lakers and the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs as the only NBA teams to ever go a full month undefeated. Even the Celtics, Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan era, and other great championship teams have not pulled off such a feat. Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro was part of that 1995-96 Spurs team as part of the starting backcourt along with Avery Johnson. "I never thought I'd be part of something like that again," Del Negro beamed in one interview.
What they need to watch out for now is once again becoming the sad-sack Clippers of yore. When a franchise is not used to winning, even an amazing run can be offset easily enough by a bad loss, which is the case with their game against Denver. Veteran pointguard Andre Miller led the Denver assault with 12 points and 12 assists, while Danilo Galinary led the Nuggets with 17 points. Four other men scored in double figures for Denver. "It just makes it easier for them, being on a hot streak like that, which is what makes this a huge win for us," Miller said after the game.
LA however didn't seem that bothered by the loss. "The good thing about the NBA is that you have another game, and another chance to get back on track," said power forward Blake Griffin. One can only hope that those words can be backed up by action, as there is still a lot of history to overcome on the part of LA. As of this writing they were still playing the Golden State Warriors and the Warriors were handing them their arses. As amazing an accomplishment as going 17-0 is, the Clippers need to focus on the end result every NBA team wants: the NBA championship.
Therein lies the real challenge for Del Negro, Griffin, Chris Paul and the rest of the Clippers: they have to make it into the playoffs and play good, strong ball to make every other contender accept the fact that they are for real. Every season brings a strong season from a team no one expected to perform all that well. The Houston Rockets in Hakeem Olajuwon's title reign were like that, as were the Memphis Grizzlies the last two seasons. It is all about making the playoffs and actually playing ball so well it either gets you the championship or at least the respect of your peers. "As good a job as Vinny's done for the Clippers, they still need to contend to be taken seriously," said a rival Western Conference team executive.
Granted these Clippers have a lot of good players on the current roster. Griffin and Paul are All Stars who are joined by players who were also All
Updated 01-03-2013 at 09:40 PM by gameface_one
One thing about the Christmas holidays it is a time of reunion. Family, relatives, friends, sometimes from way back, somehow find their way home and everybody is catching up and generally having a good time. One thing you can count on with the men in the family and the circle of frineds is that there will always be a discussion over the holidays about some of the neverending arguments in the sporting world.
As huge basketball fans, my friends, uncles, cousins and neighbors had one running thread in common throughout the Christmas holidays: Who is the best basketball player in the world today? I should clarify that we meant the best active player now, so the retired legends of yore such as Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Michael Jordan of course do not count.
Everyone had answers, counter-answers and as soon as the holiday booze was in full pour there were many clever, crass and sometimes even philosophical answers, and yes the occasional near fisticuffs when some of the, um, discussants just plain had too much alcohol in their systems.
One other point of clarification: we talked only about the players in the NBA, our logic being pretty linear, i.e. the best players in the world are all in the NBA (or want to be) regardless of nationality and thus the best player in the world must be someone plying his trade in the NBA. That automatically excluded the likes of Theodorus Papaloukas of Greece and Fahdi Al Katib of Lebanon (or is it Syria, anyway...).
Apparently it came down to three players, all of who should be familiar to even the casual basketball fan: Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant. Criteria for judging of course was a merry mix of many things. Some of us trumpeted the numbers like personal statistics such as career averages in points, rebounds, assists, etc. There were some who made championships won a primary factor, and some who added quality of opposition vis-a-vis titles. All of this made some sense and of course made the arguments and counter-arguments not only interesting but really rather fun.
My personal choice is of course Kobe Bryant, right now the most successful of the three with five championship titles and two Olympic gold medals. Bryant looks like one of those players who will be a one-franchise superstar from draft day to retirement. It helps that he is on the NBA's glamor team, the Los Angeles Lakers. This is the guy who once scored 81 points on the force of sheer will to not let his team lose to the lowly Toronto Raptors. James and Durant, for all their own gifts, have not come close to that personal mark.
A lot of guys of course chose James because while Kobe was "spoiled" by being with the Lakers, James has pretty much been The Man the moment he entered the league with the draft class of 2003. James, on a mediocre at best Cleveland Cavaliers team, singlehandedly brought his guys to the NBA Finals in 2005 and lost to the clockwork San Antonio Spurs. Whatever else anyone may say about James and the much-publicized "Decision" that brought him to Miami, without him the Cavaliers would never have seen the NBA Finals. James alone made that team competitive.
When James brought his talents to South Beach, he became The Man in only his second season, finally winning his first NBA championship last season. True, he has Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for teammates, instant and clear upgrades over Boobie Gibson and Anderson Varejao, but when the chips were down it was James that delivered the Crown to Miami.
And of course some of the guys just had to bring Durant into the conversation. With the craptastic season Bryant and the Lakers have so far endured, it is easy to bring up Durant as an all-world talent, which he truly is. At 6-foot-11 Durant is a freak of nature by any standard, able to put the ball on the floor and pull up from up to 25 feet, swoop in for put-back slams, grab even long rebounds on sheer height and length, and defend anybody from a pointguard to a power forward. He's also led the league in scoring in at least two of the three years. Durant's only missing piece of hardware is the most important: an NBA championship.
Since Bryant has such a headstart on both James and Durant (he was drafted in 1996 as an 18-year old high school graduate) it would not really be fair to just do a stat count. Having Shaquille O'Neal as his teammate in Los Angeles, including three NBA title teams where O'Neal was the Finals MVP, would also negate any claims of true individual greatness.
Sheer talent would be a crap shoot as well. All three have nearly equal talent levels in terms of the fundamental skill sets in basketball. All of them can run, jump, change directions, drive, shoot, fly, improvise, pass, rebound and defend. Even though they might not all precisely be at equal levels, none of them have a clear advantage
Updated 12-28-2012 at 01:18 PM by gameface_one
Up to around the beginning of this week everyone was looking at the Los Angeles lakers and thinking to themselves two things: First, what the heck is wrong with these guys? Second, serves 'em right. If there is such a thing as a Celtics Mystique, then there is such a thing as Lakers Hatred. As popular as the Lakers are worldwide, and as much merchandise as they and the league sell, there is no question that there are arguably as many people who hate the Lakers as those who love them.
There is just something so quintessentially loathesome about the Lakers. They are the kid with the good looks, money, accomplishments, bling and girlfriends, and everybody always hated those kids. They are the golden boys, mighty, victorious, arrogant, cocky, self-assured, always winning, always getting better, never seeming to be on the losing end.
True enough there were times throughout the history of the franchise when thet didn't look too golden. That time in the early 1990's when they had Nick Van Exel and Cedric Ceballos for stars, and Del Harris as their coach, they didn' look like the team that had the second-most NBA titles behind the much-revered Celtics.
But since they are the golden boys that era of mediocrity didn't last for long. By the middle of that decade they had brought in Shaquille O'Neal after he became a free agent in Orlando. That same year they bought the Big Diesel they also gave away veteran 7-foot-1 Serbian center Vlade Divac so they could draft an precocious 18-year old kid straight out of a Philadelphia high school, one Kobe Bryant. From then on the Lakers became the Lakers again. They dumped Van Exel, took on a few battle-hardened veterans, brought in Phil Jackson, and voila, they took home the first three NBA titles of the new millenium.
Lakers ownership and lakers management have never been shy about pulling triggers and throwing a lot of money at players they feel will keep them winning. Heck, after that three-peat they jettisoned O'Neal soon enough when he could no longer keep his weight in check and seemed more interested with things off the court than on it. "If the Lakers had an NBA title or an MVP award for every hundred dollars they spent there would be no other champion and no other MVP from the other teams, period," chuckled one long-time general manager from the Lakers' own Western Conference.
Before this season got underway the Lakers once again threw out the big bucks and consummated the big deal: bringing in two-time MVP pointguard Steven Nash and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard. "We are of course very happy and very honored to have both of these guys on our team," beamed Mitch Kupchak before the season started. Having these two guys on your team should be criminal. Having them join Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol should have imploded the league. Everyone was suddenly gnashing their teeth thinking how on earth they would beat the Lakers now.
Fast forward some 20-plus games into the season, a quarter of the season already gone, and it seems a gigantic cosmic joke has befallen the golden boys. At 9-13 the Lakers are currently running a poor third in their Pacific Division, and 12th overall in their Conference. That is not exactly what Kupchak and owner Jerry Buss had in mind when they loaded up on the talent during the offseason.
Their last loss came at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers 100-94. To be fair both Nash and Gasol were unavailable for this game due to niggling injuries that have sidelined both All Stars the last week or so. Still, these are the Cavaliers. At 5-17 the former team of Lebron james is 13th overall in the Eastern Conference and 5th in their Central Division. Kyrie Irving led the Cavaliers with 28 points. Bryant had 42, but that didn't matter in the least after a loss like this.
Howard, Bryant and Ron Artest (no, I am not calling him by his new name, ever...) were supposed to anchor what should be one of the best defenses in the league. Instead the Lakers couldn't stop the Cavaliers down the stretch. Artest nailed a trey to bring LA within 85-89. But Anderson Varejao, hardly an All Star, took a wide open pass for a wide open layup in the confused Lakers defense. All five Lakers on the floor, up to that point already located and locked onto their assignments, somehow missed Varejao on a weakside cut that was as wide as a Los Angeles freeway.
Howard was as dumbfounded as the rest of his team after the final buzzer and during rpess availability. "We've got to stay focused and stay strong," he said, almost with a disembodied voice into the mic, as if he was a huge puppet mouthing something with someone else's hand up his rear end. No one bought it, even Howard by the look on his face. "Right now we're rabbits. But once we get the gun, it won't be fun for anybody else," he added.
Updated 12-26-2012 at 01:10 PM by gameface_one
With only seven wins in this lockout-shortened season, the Charlotte Bobcats were looking to get better through the draft, because they certainly weren't going to get better through trades. Unfortunately, although they had the best chance of nabbing the right to pick first overall in the 2012 draft, they will have to settle for picking second overall. Number 1 went to the New Orleans Hornets, previously owned by the NBA itself in the pro ball equivalent of receivership.
Here's how the first round draft order looks like in order from 1 to 30.
1. New Orleans Hornets
2. Charlotte Bobcats
3. Washington Wizards
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
5. Sacramento Kings
6. Portland Trail Blazers (via Brooklyn Nets)
7. Golden State Warriors
8. Toronto Raptors
9. Detroit Pistons
10. New Orleans Hornets (via Minnesota Timberwolves)
11. Portland Trail Blazers
12. Milwaukee Bucks
13. Phoenix Suns
14. Houston Rockets
15. Philadelphia 76ers
16. Houston Rockets (via New York Knicks)
17. Dallas Mavericks
18. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Utah Jazz)
19. Orlando Magic
20. Denver Nuggets
21. Boston Celtics
22. Boston Celtics (via Los Angeles Clippers)
23. Atlanta Hawks
24. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers)
25. Memphis Grizzlies
26. Indiana Pacers
27. Miami Heat
28. Oklahoma City Thunder
29. Chicago Bulls
30. Golden State Warriors (via San Antonio Spurs)
While the Hornets will undoubtedly select Kentucky's Anthony Davis as the top overall pick of this draft, the Bobcats won't exactly be settling for crumbs. Davis, the 6-foot-10 consensus Number 1 pick, is a pretty obvious choice to go first, and New Orleans can certainly use him. He will bring a lot of athleticism, length and excitement to a frontline struggling to regain its NBA footing after bad management almost killed the franchise. Coming off an NCAA championship, Davis will bring a winner's attitude to one of the worst teams in the NBA.
After Davis there are several choices still up for grabs for Charlotte, all of whom could become big stars themselves. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Davis' fellow Kentucky Wildcat, is the best small forward and among the best players in this draft class. At 6-foot-7, Kidd-Gilchrist already has a game that's 97-98% complete, and like Davis he won't need to change positions in the NBA, normally the toughest thing to do for college stars moving up to the next level. As small forwards go he isn't quite the second coming of LeBron James, but he might become a more athletic version of Paul Pierce down the road if he develops a better outside shot. If the Bobcats do get him, he will surely take Derrick Brown's place as the starting small forward.
Getting bigger is a priority for Charlotte, as they got constantly pounded off both boards last season. 7-foot wide body Desagana Diop and 6-foot-9 Bismack Biyombo are big and strong athletes but they won't be confused for NBA All Stars. Diop is still a heck of a shotblocker, as is 6-foot-10 backup power forward Tyrus Thomas, but the Bobcats need more from the frontline to help space the floor and open things up for the likes of 6-foot-6 off-guard Gerald Henderson and 6-foot-6 swingman Cory Maggette.
If the Bobcats want to go for more strength inside, 6-foot-9 Thomas Robinson of Kansas is easily the second-best power forward in this draft class behind Davis. He is within 95-97% of Davis' abilities, and seems to be a little naturally stronger. He brings a blue collar work ethic at the 4 spot that NBA teams covet, and at 6-foot-9 can match up well enough size-wise against most NBA forwards. He can play alongside or alternating with Byron Mullens and Derrick Brown, the incumbent Bobcat starting forwards.
Either Kidd-Gilchrist or Robinson should help in both the scoring and rebounding ends where Charlotte was worst and second-worst overall in the league this past season. They will also help ease the burden of Henderson on the scoring end, and provide able receivers for pointguards DJ Augustin and Kemba Walker.
A bit of a stretch and a heck of a gamble in terms of big men is Baylor's Perry Jones III. At a long and athletic 6-foot-11, Jones might be an even better player than Davis. Unfortunately for Jones and any team willing to take him, he is sorely lacking in focus and seems to be on the lazy side, relying on nothing more than his freakish athletic abilities than developing his full skill set. In the last college season he had back to back games where he averaged 18 points,
Updated 06-01-2012 at 12:49 AM by gameface_one