2016-2017 Season Preview: Top 26 Storylines Part One

[This preview also appears as a post on fullsass.com. What does Fullsass mean? Well check it out for yourself.] 

All Illustrations by Louis Eastman

We are only a few days away from the beginning of training camp, time to dust off the cobwebs and fire it back up. Although the biggest story of the off-season was the Kevin Durant free agency, there are plenty of other story lines to follow this year. I’ve listed (from A-Z ) the ones that I find the most compelling for the 2016-2017 season.

Amin Elhassan fullsizerender-4

ESPN’s most merciless twitter troll is a must follow this season.

Amin is great not only for his tendency to roast any unlucky soul stupid enough to tweet some dumb shit, but also for his great insight into how things operate behind the NBA scenes. Having worked in both the Knicks and Suns front office before his stop at ESPN, Elhassan is a wealth of insider knowledge.

What I love most about him is that he does not hold back in any of his funny–but often wickedly straight forward analysis. His creation of the #Pitino game is one the more underappreciated social media phenomenons you’ll experience during playoff elimination games. #Pitino game is just as a part of the playoff pageantry as TNT’s Gone Fishing segments, but more interactive and way more clever. 

Buddy Hield

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Back in 2015 he simply slid into place. Buddy Buddy Buddy All up in my face.

Is Buddy Hield the Real Deal Holyfield? Inquiring minds want to know. It is a little too early to anoint him as the sidekick to Anthony Davis, but if Hield shoots as well as his reputation suggests, then this could be a good working relationship for the two. Hield wasn’t exactly a defensive stopper in college, but that hasn’t kept James Harden from receiving tons of (mostly deserved) accolades. He could be a nice small ball option for Pelican’s coach, Alvin Gentry, who is looking at a very thin back court-especially with Jrue Holiday absent from the team for personal reasons. 

Celtics Are Legit Contenders

Had the C’s managed to get Horford and Durant this off-season, you could have  penciled them in for the NBA Finals (and I doubt anyone one would have argued with you). As it stands, they only have two reliable scorers, Isiah Thomas and Horford (who has never averaged a 20 and 10 at any point in his career). Isiah Thomas is great at getting his own shot, but he isn’t much of a distributor.

Avery Bradley is an all NBA defender, but anything he gives you on offense is considered icing on the cake (Bruce Bowen 2.0?), and their outside shooting is too reliant upon Kelly Olynk shooting a high percentage. I think they are still two really good players away, or one superstar and a role player (probably a backup pg) away from being in the conversation to knock off the Lebrons for the Eastern Conference crown.

Draymond Green

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Steph Curry may be the league MVP, but I think the team MVP for the Golden State Warriors is Draymond Green. Klay Thompson, Curry, and Green are all irreplaceable, but the intangibles that Dray provide for that team are immeasurable. The league’s decision to suspend him changed the course of that series, as the Warriors were dead in the water after game 5. Regardless, had Dray kept his head, the hometown of Jive Ass Don King would still be without a title today. 

Had we laid money on “Finals player most likely to send pictures of their ding-dong to all their Snapchat followers”, most people would have place their bets on J.R. Smith. I think the public opinion of Draymond Green will be cemented for the rest of his career, according to how he performs both on and off the court this season. The Warriors need his fire, but he has to learn to harness it if they are going to get back to the Finals.

Everybody Eats This Season 

The NBA has never been a better league to play in. Owners are making money hand over fist. The league just signed a lucrative television deal that allows even scrubs *ahem* players like Matthew Dellavedova to cash in a meal ticket. Allen Crabbe made 70 million to stay in Portland.

The Grizzlies’ Mike Conley leveraged his way into a 153 million dollar contract and for a couple of months, was the highest paid player in league history. This year’s 90 million dollar salary cap is only going to get larger (reportedly $118 million next season), so dudes are about to get paid. Now that everybody is eating, let’s start taking bets on who will eat themselves out of the league.

Finals Rematch (Again)

We can just stop this right now huh? No need to even play the season out. Forget preseason. Let’s put it on simulation mode like NBA Live 95? Barring any major injuries, I don’t see how anyone out west beats Golden State, or anyone out east beating Lebron.

I’m looking forward to the rubber match between these two teams. Kevin Durant is going to be the deadliest 4th option you’ve ever seen in the NBA Finals. The running thread all season will be “If Lebron beats the GSW super team will he be the greatest?” or “Will this championship validate KD’s career even though he joined a super team?” I personally don’t blame Durant or the Warriors for signing him. I bet it sucks losing to Lebron, but I bet it sucks even more losing to him after getting spotted a 3-1 series lead. This is the best reoccurring story line since Lakers vs.Celtics last decade. Stay tuned.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Playing The Point 

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I’m not saying the Bucks will be in the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m not saying that I think they will get back in the playoffs. I’m not even saying they will be fun to watch, but there will be at least 20 nights this season where Giannis does something to make Sportscenter top 10 highlights. 

Harrison Barnes: The 94 Million Dollar Man

I personally think Barnes will do well in Dallas. The city has a way of being a decent stop for exorbitantly rich black athletes (if they perform decently ). Of course, you have to wonder what is considered reasonable expectations for a contract like the one Barnes signed. For what it is worth Mavs fans, he will be a better investment than Roy Tarpley, Cherokee Parks, Erick Dampier and Shawn Bradley all put together. He can’t be any worse………right?

Iggy’s back  

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No I am not talking about the Nick Young’s ex fiancee’s booty (although it makes for an interesting google search #therabbithole). If Andre Iguodala is unhealthy, forget about the Warriors getting a chip for Kevin Durant. Iggy is one of their best defenders, and he was the guy who guarded both Durant and Lebron down the stretch of last year’s playoffs. By the time games 6 and 7 of the Finals came around, he was gassed (who is to say that a healthy Iggy doesn’t try and dunk the ball on that infamous Lebron chase down block?). 

Now that Durant is a teammate, there is no one in the west (outside of Kawhi Leonard) to push him defensively. Theoretically, he should be fresh for his Finals dance with Lebron. Then again, 30-year-old backs are more fickle than 23-year-old girlfriends. You never know how things will flare up from night to night. 

 

The 3 J’s (reboot)

My dude Joakim Noah is back in his hometown playing for the Knicks. No matter how he does on the floor, homie is going to be slaying it off the court. It is good to see Jeff Hornacek get another head coaching shot. He got a raw deal in Phoenix. Robert Sarver pulled the old bait and switch with Hornacek. The Suns front office didn’t bring back key players, but kept expecting the same results . It was unfair to everyone involved; Hornacek, the players, the fans, and League Pass subscribers who were unexpectedly treated to a near playoff run in 2014.

As for Phil, no one could figure out why the hell he hired Derek Fisher; but he corrected that mistake by firing D-Fish midway through the season. This is his third and most pivotal season as Knicks GM, because if they suck again this year, it will be tough to lure free agents to sign with the club next season. 

Are they going to make the playoffs? Maybe, if 40 wins is enough to get in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Courtney Lee was a good pickup, and Derrick Rose may be able to add some punch if he can find the basketball court, and stay out of the criminal court. Rose thinks they have a super team in New York, but kind of like the word consent,there may be some confusion as to what the definition of a super team is.

40 wins for this roster would be the equivalent of making the Finals. I’d play with them on NBA2K, because you don’t really need subs on a video game, but in real life, their bench is thin. Pencil them in for 30 wins.

Klay “ I’m Not Sacrificing Shit” Thompson

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I’ll fight anyone who says he isn’t the best 2 guard in the league. He may not be able to attack the rim like Demar Derozan (apparently the 46th best player in the NBA), but the man is the best defensive 2 guard; and his shot is wet. He is Ron Harper with a knock down J. Klay Thompson only benefits from the arrival of Kevin Durant.

TO BE CONTINUED:

 

BM

 

 profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

 

 

 

 

 

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RUN OKC: A Memoriam For The 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell+Westbrook+James+Harden+Oklahoma+City+m1hKjTuf3lwl

Watching the 2012 playoffs made me feel like I was witnessing the ascension of one franchise and their franchise player. I’d been keeping tabs on Kevin Durant since the year his Freshman year at UT and my time in Austin coincided. There was nothing that could convince me he wasn’t going to be a star in the NBA. By his third year, I’d concluded that not only was he my favorite NBA player, but my favorite NBA player of all time.

His first year in Oklahoma City was a rough one, the team lost often, but you could see the progress. Tickets were still cheap then, and there were still people in the city that had no idea there was a permanent NBA team.

When Pau Gasol’s put back bucket ended the 2010 season, there was no denying that the team and the city had embraced each other. 2011 brought more expectations, and the team did not disappoint. RUN OKC was born.

Even though the Dallas Mavericks dismantled the Thunder during key 4th quarter stretches in the Western Conference Finals, there was reason to be optimistic for the OKC boys. 2012 did not disappoint, and despite the beat down that was handed to the Thunder, it was still fun to watch what I thought was only the beginning of a budding dynasty in the west.

Little did we know that James Harden would force his way out of town by grabbing 80 Million to ball for Houston, and the following three seasons would be compromised by injuries to key players. But things were still innocent in 2012. It was one thing to hope for a trip to the NBA Finals. It was another thing altogether to watch it happen.

Once a team gets that close to winning it all, nothing is the same. Expectations change because the ceiling has been raised. Its like the first time you drink organic milk out of a glass bottle, or smoke really good weed after only trying Mexican dirt swag.

I feel like this year’s roster is on paper the most balanced squad that Sam Presti has ever assembled, but the 2012 was special to me for sentimental reasons. Three of my favorite college players of all time were on the same team in Royal Ivey (one of the nicest Longhorns on campus when he played there), Kevin Durant, and Nick Collison, and I’d seen Kendrick Perkins in his “Baby Shaq” days at Beaumont Ozen High School. James Harden wasn’t annoying yet, and Russell Westbrook was just coming into his own. They were a fun to team to watch.

The Starters on that team were:

C Kendrick Perkins

PF Serge Ibaka

SF Kevin Durant

SG Thabo Sefelosha

PG Russell Westbrook

The Key reserves:

SG James Harden

PG Eric Maynor

SG Daequan Cook

PG Derek Fisher

PF Nick Collison

Head Coach : Scotty Brooks

Regular Season Record: 47-19 Northwest Division Champions

After posting 47 wins in a lockout shortened regular season, expectations were tempered, but hopeful, that somehow the Thunder would at least make the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs were steamrolling opponents in the first 2 rounds of play, and it seemed inevitable that Oklahoma City was only cannon fodder for San Antonio on the way to their next championship parade (isn’t it crazy that there were almost 3 Spurs-Heat Finals Series?).

Kevin Durant and company had other plans however. Game 1 of the first round series foretold that the Thunder’s playoff run would be the revenge plot out of a basketball movie.

Mavericks got swept and the ghosts from the previous Western Conference Finals were exorcised.

Round 2 gave RUN OKC a chance to enact revenge against the soon to be LOL Lakers and Metta World Peace. Their recent run-ins had become testy at best, as the upstart Thunder had been giving the Lakers fits during the last couple of years. It was the young pups vs. the old dogs, and the biting had become less playful.

The Thunder were clearly faster, stronger, and better. The Lakers were just coasting on a dubious championship run (Denver and Orlando were talented enough to knock them out but they nutted up–and the refs had conveniently swallowed their whistles in the Lakers favor during a crucial stretch in game 7 of the 2010 Finals).

It was basketball justice to watch the LOL’s get that ass whupped–much like seeing a bully finally get what they deserve.

Round 3 against the Spurs was some of the best and worst basketball I’d seen during a WCF. There were stretches of incredible basketball, and there were times when I wanted to throw a shoe at the television.

Game 1 was probably the best game of that entire series from a pure basketball standpoint. There were so many OMFG plays that I went back and downloaded the game for whenever I needed to scratch that itch for “Hoops Porn”

The Spurs won that game and the next one, and with a 2-0 lead, the question wasn’t whether the Spurs were going to win it all, but were they even going to lose on their way to a title. The Spurs were 10-0 during the playoffs at that point, and had won 20 straight games going back to the regular season.

But RUN OKC had something to say about that and won 4 straight games, leaving San Antonio befuddled and confused, something I rarely saw from a Gregg Popovich coached team.

I was there when the Thunder clinched the West in game 6, and that was the loudest venue I’d ever been in at that point (Game 2 of the Finals’ volume would eclipse that night–and I hadn’t been to a Warriors game yet).

Game 4 of this series was the apex in my opinion, with KD scoring 36 in the game–18 of them in the final quarter. That shit was unreal to watch live.

This was the point where it was clear that my man was going to be a SUPER DUPER STAR, and everyone finally had to acknowledge it. It made for good cinema. Unfortunately in every good revenge movie, there is a foil, and the Thunder were about to face them.

THE MIAMI HEAT

Everyone remembers this:

and this.

Side Note: Is it just me, or does Lebron seem remarkably younger in this clips? He seems to have aged in the same ways that U.S. presidents age after a full 8 year term. I’m sure as great as those feelings were winning those chips, I can’t even imagine the stress he has faced in taking on that challenge.

I was very happy for Dallas Mavericks fans when they were able to deny the Miami “Lebrons” a title in their first year together. If you enjoy schadenfreude, then watching Jason Kidd whip the ball around to Dirk who whipped the ball to Jason Terry for open shots was enough to make a person giddy–or if you like watching grown men cry. The Heat losing that finals was their reward for doing everything the “wrong way”.

They were the perfect foil to the OKC Thunder and their (rightly or wrongly) choir boy personas.

As much as I wanted to see KD get that ring, they were just outmatched. Scotty Brooks was outcoached (not for the last time) and when Harden wasn’t on the court, it was a 2 on 5 offensive game, with way too much isolation play. This played right into the Heat’s hands who were smothering on defense.

Oklahoma City wasn’t ready for what the Heat had for them. Brooks had no adjustments for the series, and after game 2, it was clear that the moment was a little too big for OKC (especially Harden who had a terrible Finals).

Game 1 was a misleading blowout in the Thunder’s favor, and although Game 2 could have easily been won (terrible no call in the final seconds on a foul by Lebron), OKC had trouble achieving any sort of offensive flow. I was in the stands that night, and what should have been an enjoyable experience, only left me frustrated and hoarse from screaming so loudly.

3 games later, the series was over. The Thunder had their best chance to reverse their fortunes in game 4, but the person keeping them in the game, also contributed to the most devastating play in crunch time.

It was over just like that. Grown men were once again crying.
Others were basking in their redemption.

But everyone knew that this wasn’t the end. There was still another run for RUN OKC right? This only seemed like the part of the basketball movie where the team bonds during off-season workouts and then come back to face the villainous bad boys in a rematch and take the title from them.

But we know what happened next don’t we? No reason to go into all that again. There are countless columns by former ESPN employees that do this ad nauseum. I will say that I feel like I got robbed of my Hollywood ending–kinda like watching a movie for 2 hours at the theater and the projector craps out right before the climax.

It is hard to call a team that makes the NBA Finals losers. OKC got a taste of the good life. People started visiting Oklahoma City for reasons other than seeing the Bombing Memorial.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are two of the most marketable players in the NBA (and let’s not forget that Harden is at least 280 million dollars richer since missing that crucial breakaway dunk in game 4 of that finals).

Yes, it is hard to call a team that has had such success for the past five years, losers, but each season preceding 2012 has been increasingly frustrating.

Unlike the 2013 Spurs who redeemed themselves after a heartbreaking Finals loss, with an even better roster that demolished the Heat (and destroying any need to write a requiem for that team),each season since 2012 has been increasingly frustrating for the Thunder.

Russ got hurt the very next season to a team that wouldn’t have made the playoffs if not for James Harden. Ibaka was hurt the year after that and they watched the Spurs advance. And of course KD broke his foot twice last year. Is this the “Curse of Daniel Plainview“–the Sonicsgate Curse?

Or is it just a series of increasingly bad decisions?

OKC should be odds on favorite to come out of west if they are healthy and all of this may be forgotten. The bottom could fall out just as easily though, if KD and Westbrook split for greener pastures. Then again, they could just as easily compete for championships for the next few years, while James Harden becomes the first player to play through being cursed two years in a row (the Khardashian curse is real).

Are we approaching an era where we see Oklahoma City-Cleveland series 3 years in a row (Golden State may have something to say about that)? I think this season will be the big fork in the road for Russ, Kevin Durant, and the Thunder franchise. If both KD and Russ end up leaving, people will point to this season as the fork in the road for everyone, but history might show that 2012 was the real turning point. We are only a week away from finding out.

BM
#Thisagoodassgame
@clickpicka79
bobbymickey@gmail.com

In Russ They Trust

Well homie did it again, this time posting a 30,11, and 17 (dimes!!!!) stat line. Oh and by the way, he also got 4 steals and a block. “Hustle” Westbrook collected his 5th triple-double in 6 games, and pretty much cemented himself into “must trust Russ” status.

Remember last year when KD was going fed on the “Real MVP” campaign. This run by Westbrook parallels that shit. Westbrook is averaging 34.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 11.4 assists since the All-Star break. If you can’t enjoy this run for what it is, then maybe basketball ain’t the sport for you. Maybe you should find the closest private school, and start hanging with “Lax” bros.

Last week was a great week for Good Ass Games, possibly the best week of Good Ass Games thus far in the season. Some players really took it to another level. Some guys like Hassan Whiteside are doing it on the low key, while guys like Steph Curry continue to blow up the highlight reel.

We have 21 games left in the regular season, and it is a shame that we have to choose between seeing Anthony Davis, or KD and Russ in the playoffs. “Lil Brow Wow” had a nasty line in his return. Somehow his 39, 13, and eight blocks got overshadowed by everything else that happened the night he played.

Ideally this will be the time that all the teams get their best pieces back, and we see everyone healthy for the playoffs. If Oklahoma City somehow gets Durant healthy for the playoffs, they will be the scariest 8 seed in NBA history. They have been fighting for the playoff lives since December, and now they have as solid (or better) of a bench as they have ever had. Watch out……..

Good ASS GAMES OF THE WEEK

Monday

Golden State vs. Phoenix

This would have been a much better game two months ago, but I’m not sure how much worse the Suns are than with Dragic, and Isiah Thomas. Sometimes there is a such thing as having too many cooks in the kitchen. I still expect the Warriors to show out tomorrow night at home in the Oracle. Man I love the Bay area.

Memphis-Chicago

Two of the best frontcourts face off in this one. The Gasol brothers are going to go at it like it is driveway basketball. I’m into it.

Tuesday

San Antonio faces off against the Raptors in this “Tap that Vein Tuesday” showdown. Spurs are starting to get healthy again, and it has been easy to overlook them. Kawhi and his big paws are causing problems for teams as well.

But seriously, think about all the things a guy like Kawhi can do with hands that big. He could work in a hospital delivery room as a baby catcher. He could work for the police department and rescue cats out of trees. I’m sure he could be a hell of a bass player, if he wanted to be. If Kawhi were a super hero, his powers would be to enlargen his hands and smack fools in the face, like Dave Grohl in that Foo Fighters video
.

Wednesday

Houston vs. Portland

Someday people will say things like “Can you believe that Westbrook, Durant, and James Harden once all played on the same team/ How did they not win a championship together?” A damn shame about Wes Matthews’ Achilles heel tear. Tough break all around. Get well soon Wesley.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City

If boths teams were all full strenght, this night would get the ringing “Good Ass Game of The Week” endorsement. It will still be worth your time though. CP3 vs. Russ. MMMMMMPPPHHHHHHH!

Thursday

Cleveland vs. San Antonio

Cleveland has the offense to win some games out east, but their defense is not championship caliber. It is too bad their only formidable opponent is Atlanta–who by the way, worked the Cavs last Friday.

Friday

Do you really want to give up date night for Clippers-Mavericks or Atlanta-Phoenix? I’m honestly kind of feeling the Minnesota-Oklahoma City game. A WIGGINS!!!!!

Saturday

Just. Don’t.

Sunday

Clippers-Rockets

If you like flopping, then this will be the game for you. Otherwise peep the Bulls-Thunder which would have won the Good ASS Game of The Week, had Lebron and Harden not gone into overtime last Sunday.

Buster(s) of the Week:

I never liked the University of Oklahoma and my visits to Norman were always mixed at best. Now I understand why. Sigma Alpha Epsilon basically confirmed what I’d always suspected about the culture down on I-35. So thanks bros. I appreciate your honesty. I’m sure I’ll see you on TV at the Thunder games, sitting courtside with your daddys’ tickets.

Big Up(s) of the Week:

goes to the man, Craig Sager and them awful suits for beating Luekemia. Homie got a rousing ovation from the Chicago fans, and a pretty sweet jacket on top of that from Benny the Bull.

Another shout out goes out to Jason Richardson who did some damage against the Thunder (29 points on 8-19 shooting). I had no idea he was out of the leauge. Apparently he has been trying to come back from injury since 2013. Big ups J-Rich! You know us old guys are rooting for you man. Keep doing what you doing.

Enjoy these Good Ass Games, and peep some college ball if the weather is too bad for you to be outside with your loved ones.

Peace.

BM

@clickpicka79
bobbymickey@gmail.com
#THISAGOODASSGAME

Basketball Orgasm [Originally posted on 11/17/13 on sportsblog.com]

Something told me that I needed to clear my schedule and find a bar to watch the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma Thunder play on Thursday night.

My instincts were correct. It felt like the Western Conference Finals that I wanted to see last year (before Russell Westbrook got hurt and derailed the Thunder’s chances).

The pace of the game was unbelievable. The Thunder started the game off 9 for their first 12 field goals. Both teams had put up 31 in the first quarter.

It’s early in the season but you will find it hard to find a more entertaining game to watch in the regular season.

The referees did a great job of not interfering too much with the flow and the pace was just up and down the court. For every ooh and ahh, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook provided, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry came back with their own sizzling moves.

There were so many sick passes to gush over, great back cuts, and alley oops. Transition buckets were punctuated with good form, whether it was a dazzling dunk, or a step back long distant 3 pointer that seemed to float off the tops of the “Splash Brothers’ ” fingertips.

It was an incredible game that would have still been memorable without the “dagger” 3 by Westbrook, and the game winning jumper by Andre Iguodala.

My only complaint for the night was that we were at a bar that would only played punk music with the TV on mute. I had no idea how hype it was in the Oracle until I watched a replay of the game. I bet it was so loud in there (which may have hyped me up even more than I was–I was practically screaming at the top of my lungs every other play).

I’m almost certain that I may have to skip the Oklahoma State- Kansas game on my birthday in order to catch the Warriors-Thunder rematch on January 17th in Oklahoma City. Then again it may not come to that at all, maybe I can choose both.

Basketball Never Stops………….. It only Rotates [originally posted 12/21/13 on sportsblog.com]

Not much going on here at home front.

Some miscommunication cost me a chance to see the Jayhawks live in person last Saturday. They were some good seats too. I was so depressed that I slept through tip off and sludged my way through the second half.

Jayhawks won. My boy Embiid cemented his status as my favorite current Jayhawk on the roster. I was so ecstatic about his up and under baseline move that I didn’t realize he was on his way to getting 18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 4 blocks. If I’m the right team in next year’s lottery, and I got my shooting guard spot locked up, (say like Orlando) I’m taking Embiid if Parker is already taken.

The rest of the game was pretty ho hum. They did what they were supposed to do, and I honestly was so distracted about not being there (and needing to finish my grad school application) that it wasn’t very enjoyable. So enough about that. I’ll have more to say about the team after Georgetown ( I couldn’t tell name a single player on this year’s roster. I had to look up where Otto Porter got drafted). This week has been all about the NBA. After spending a great deal of time watching the games last week, this week has been kind of quiet.

A few quick hitters before I settle down tonight to watch Spurs-Warriors play:

I love watching the Lakers telecast. The pregame is awesome with former teammates “Big Game” James Worthy and Byron Scott. I think it’s really cool that the Lakers franchise still find ways to stay linked to past players. Plus it sometimes makes for cool moments like these.

Found out right before the start of the Lakers-Thunder game that Kobe would guarding Westbrook. I had a feeling that Russ would be licking his chops. [I just found out like 30 seconds ago that Kobe is out for 6 weeks with a fractured knee. It may be time for him to start taking PED’s] Russ played pretty good with 19 and 12 assists, but KD went HAM with 31 points, 8 boards, 5 dimes, and 4 steals. Lakers as a team were over matched from the start. And now things won’t get too much better with Kobe out for another 6 weeks.

So maybe they should shelve him for the year? Lottery pick this year and they get some top flight talent. I ain’t gonna lie. If two years from now, the Lakers have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, I’ll be tuning in big time to watch them play. Which I gotta say, I’m not disliking Kobe as much as I used to. You can tell he was happy to be just playing again. He was smiling more in the game against Phoenix than I seen him grin all season last year. I also gotta admit that he’s a pretty amazing distributor when he wants to be. I saw him make some sick dishes the other night, he had 13 assists for the night, and he didn’t even play in the 4th quarter. This period of Kobe reminds me of when I started digging Barry Bonds for his candid quotes and “don’t give a s#$%” attitude.

The Thunder have a better team than I gave them credit for. Their bench is much better this time around. It looks like Reggie Jackson took the experience from last year and learned from his increase in playoff minutes. Jeremy Lamb is much better than I expected him to be. I still haven’t seen much from Perry Jones III to have an informed opinion, but Steven Adams is a legit big to bring off the bench. If they had another center besides Kendrick Perkins, I’d feel comfortable about penciling them in for the Finals. It’s still crazy to me that they “couldn’t afford” Harden but are paying Perkins. It’s true that Harden’s defense is suspect, but he’s a better team defender than people give him credit for. I think Houston’s defense is so bad that it makes him look worse than when he was on OKC (better team defense than Houston). Plus Harden has to be the guy on offense. It is asking a lot of him. Then again, they are paying him a lot of money.

There is a great Jonathan Abrams article on Oklahoma City native (and former Jayhawk) Xavier Henry. I’m a big fan of Abrams (in my opinion, he and Andrew Sharp are the best writers on the Grantland staff) I was hoping to see him bring the boom in front of his hometown folks but the game got busted open so early that the story line fizzled pretty quickly. He did have some decent plays though. The article answers a few questions that I had about why he had trouble early on. I didn’t realize he was only 22. It seems like it was forever ago when he signed on with KU.

The Indy-Miami game was another (pardon the pun) “heated” contest. It certainly had that level of playoff intensity.I usually try to avoid any game involving Eastern Conference teams (more on this in a second), but this has been worth the stop down both times I’ve watched them play this year. I was just remarking to my housemate how much it bothers me to dislike someone who used to rep the crimson and blue when Lebron almost got in Mario Chalmers grill during a (here it comes again) “heated’ time-out.

Udonis Haslaam held Lebron back, but it initially looked like Mario was about to get socked. Earlier in the game I decided that I was no longer on the fence about Chalmers after his “extra” during a hard foul on my boy “Born Ready” Lance Stephenson. I think Mario is a punk and there is evidence to prove it. The main reason I dislike Heat players are Dwayne Wade and Mario. They both play dirty and try to behave as if they are not. It would be one thing if they owned it–but they don’t. It’s the same reason why I disliked Stockton and Malone years ago. That’s not Jayhawk basketball Mario. Why don’t you and Elijah Johnson take that mess overseas somewhere, will ya?

I may have to get League Pass before it’s all said and done. I purposely avoided the Cleveland-Portland game because hey–it’s the Cavaliers– and missed one of the best games of the year (according to Lebron). I felt way more remorse about missing the dueling point guards , than missing Lillard’s game winner against Detroit (I watched it up until OT because the Warriors were playing the Suns–seemed anti-climatic once it was certain that they were playing an extra 5 minutes) on Sunday. I been streaming the games on certain illegal websites for free, but the problem with that is that you can’t go back and watch replays of the games you missed. League Pass is at least good for that. I don’t have enough free time to watch Eastern Conference basketball in the hopes that I’ll catch lightening in a bottle. Perhaps when I’m finally getting paid to cover bad hoops–but even then it’ll be begrudgingly.

UCLA vs. Duke tonight as well. I’m hearing some hype coming out of the PAC-12. I’m gonna have to ch-ch-ch- check it out. Check back in with me next week. Hopefully this holiday break I can restart the running “Lovable Losers” series.

Peace.

Looking Forward [Originally posted on sportsblog.com 12/30/13]

These are the things I’m looking forward to in 2014:

Golden State Warriors

I’m so happy that they are relevant again. The NBA is always more exciting when the Bay Area is involved. I loved watching the Warriors in the early 90’s (especially when my boy C-Webb played for them). I lived in Oakland during the 2007 run that culminated with this infamous Baron Davis dunk. I took the opportunity to catch a playoff game against the Spurs in game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-finals. It did not disappoint. The crowd was just as animated as advertised and even though the Warriors lost, it was one of the most electrifying experiences I’d had at a sporting event.

This year, I have been following them pretty closely and at least six of their home games could easily be argued as some of the best of the season. I’m looking forward to watching them against any of the other 7 teams come playoff time. Any random game can produce an assortment of highlight plays that will end up on SportsCenter. I think they are a back up point guard and front court player away from seriously challenging the Spurs to come out of the west.

Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson

Dude is so raw and getting better every game. I love his new found demeanor and focus. “Born Ready” is an underrated passer and he is just as powerful as he is quick. And dude is so gritty too. He is like a more talented Deshawn Stevenson. The Pacers need his production as much as David West, Roy Hibbert, and Paul George. Now that Danny Granger is back, it seems like the Pacers are only a legit backup point guard away from wresting the Eastern Conference title away from the Heat. Which brings me to:

Miami vs. Indiana

Something that I liked in 2013 and am looking forward to seeing more of next year. These games bring to mind the old Heat-Knicks, Knicks-Pacers, Bulls-Knicks, Bulls-Pacers rivalry games. This is the premier rivalry right now; probably the best since the Kings-Lakers back in early 2000’s (Spurs-Mavs were fun, but I’m not sure if anyone cared about those games outside of Texas). Heat-Pacers games are played at such a high level,–even their two regular season clashes exhibited the same kind of playoff intensity you saw last year. They genuinely don’t like each other, but there is also an enormous amount of respect as well. It’s also a great match up of styles. Indiana has the traditional front court with the throwback center in Roy Hibbert. Miami has this new flash and dash, spread em out, small ball blitzkrieg they unleash onto opponents. It’s great theater.

NBA TV

I caught a program I had never seen before on this channel, called Open Court. It was the panel like discussion on various controversial locker room issues such as race (the N word), homophobia, and steroids. Inside a nice furnished studio was Dominique Wilkins, Tracy McGrady, Steve Kerr (a man with brilliant and insightful opinions), Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Rick Fox and Ernie Johnson. It was awesome to watch this type of forum take place and hear the varying opinions of guys from different backgrounds (Rick Fox, a Canadian, having an interesting perspective to offer). In a politically correct time where so many analysts, and former players have to give canned responses with regard to their financial opportunities. It was refreshing to hear such candid discussions

364 more days without NBA Xmas Jerseys.

Some people thought they looked like wrestling uniforms, one comedian said the NBA players looked like they were about to play volleyball . I kinda dug the Knicks-Thunder uni’s but only because they had this Star Trek vibe about them. All the other ones looked kinda wack. But hey what do I know? I majored in English in college, not Fashion Design and Merchandising.

The Clippers getting exposed as overrated
.

I will give the Clippers credit. Doc Rivers is an upgrade over Vinny Del Negro (former San Antonio great), and Chris Paul is gonna do his thang. DeAndre Jordan has gotten seems more focused and Blake Griffin has definitely opened up his game as well but………No one besides CP-3 and Jamal Crawford can create their own shot. I kinda feel like they are still posturing. They have a couple of tough guys (Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson (I love me some Captain Jack no lie, and its great seeing he and Barnes reunited from their ’07 Warriors days) but their defense is terrible and their half court game is weak. I’m still not sold on them.

Russ Westbrook’s full recovery from yet another knee operation

Many people blame Patrick Beverly for Westbrook’s knee injury (I’m still not sure where I stand–bro was ust trying to make a name for himself and got a little too aggressive), but if you want someone to blame, perhaps the fingers need to be pointed at the Oklahoma City Thunder front office. Dig it, they don’t trade James Harden to Houston, the Rockets don’t make the playoffs, and Beverly doesn’t get the chance to knock Russell’s knee. This totally changes the landscape for the West altogether, perhaps robbing us of this NBA Finals moment. The playoffs won’t be nearly as exciting without Russell Westbrook blurring his way to the rim. So for selfish reasons alone, get well Russ and take your time getting back. It would be a basketball tragedy if Westbrook’s career was derailed in the same manner as Brandon Roy and Gilbert Arenas.

UCLA players in the NBA

Watching the UCLA game the other night made me appreciate the run that Ben Howland had while he was coaching there. How in the hell did they manage to spit out so many NBA players? Not just fringe/role players, but legitimate contributors. Let’s start with Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, and Luc Mbah a Moute who were on those teams that got smashed by Florida (beating a much more talented KU team one of those years). The next crop brought us Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. After they left there was Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison. That is quite a list. I never expected any of these guys to be as good as they are in the NBA, maybe that’s why Howland got fired–maybe he wasn’t getting the most out of his talented recruits.

More Louisville and Kentucky games

I fell asleep during the second half of their matchup on Saturday and missed the end of the game.

I wanted to see more of this Montrezl Harrell kid. He certainly looked athletic, I wasn’t that impressed with the rest of the squad–but boy did that Russ Smith dunk get me out of my seat. I still haven’t figured out whether I think Louisville is overrated or not. I personally think they got extremely lucky in last year’s tournament run, due to a weak field and charitable officiating.

I’m diggin on Cauley-Stein’s game more and more. I think he can be a serviceable player in the NBA If he focuses on being a rebounder and defender. And if he attacks the glass like a dope fiend he’ll always have a job. I could see him being a poor man’s Kenyon Martin but with almost better value, because no team would be dumb enough to take him as a number one pick.

NFL Playoffs

I’m not crazy about NFL football during the regular season, and since I avoided fantasy football this year, I had little reason to even watch. I think there will be some good games this January though. The games will be intense and you know there will be some hits, some scrums and some sideline crying. It would be nice to see the 49ers win it all. But not because I’m a fan but just because I don’t like Seattle, Peyton Manning, or Tom Brady. Go Niners!!!

HAPPY NEW YEAR,

Click Picka

#winorgohome

WOW!

From the way these guys have been celebrating , you wouldn’t think it was only the first round. This weekend brought us some great action and its hard to believe that we are only in the second round.

Game 7 in Los Angeles was as good as advertised and the two teams played with the intensity of an NBA Finals. Even though I had picked the Clippers to win, deep in my heart I wanted to see a Warriors-Thunder Second round. I think a healthy Andrew Bogut would have swung the series, but am I alone in thinking that Doc Rivers out coached Mark Jackson? For the record I think Mark Jackson is getting a raw deal. He has led the Dubs to two straight 45 plus win seasons and this year he had a patchwork team to put together with a bunch of role players and Steph Curry (No I don’t think Klay Thompson is there yet). If Warriors ownership fired Mark Jackson after winning 50 games this year (in the toughest bracket in NBA playoff history) over some personality conflicts, it would be a HUGE mistake. Can you think of a viable replacement? Neither can I. This would be them doing the old “two steps forward, three steps back routine” that they’ve been on since Mullins, Hardaway, and Webber left the team. Joseph Lacob would be shooting himself in the foot if he didn’t bring back Coach Jackson.

It seems crazy to be talking this much about the Warriors when they were the team that was eliminated, but what else is there to say about the Clippers? Is there any more reason to regurgitate what a tough emotional roller coaster they had last week? Their front line was the major difference and I can’t wait to see them go against the Thunder in what will be an entertaining series.

Blake gets to play in his hometown, as does Russell Westbrook (how about that triple double Saturday night? WOW), so look for big series from both of those cats. I’m interested to see the Matt Barnes vs. “Mr. Unreliable” match up (How stupid is the Oklahoman for that headline? This is exactly why people think Okies don’t deserve a basketball team–they should be thankful that a player of his caliber WANTS to live in a shit hole like Oklahoma City). Speaking of Memphis, I knew this was going to be a tough series. Zack Randolph didn’t help his team any by getting suspended, and neither did the injury to Mike Conley (who is having a better career than I ever gave him credit for being capable of–I was wrong Mike Conley is not a bust). Much props to the Grit N Grind crew though, they made games 2 through 5 unbelievable games.

Whether or not OKC does win will depend on a few factors:

1. Can Serge Ibaka be effective? They will need him to stay out of foul trouble and make Blake Griffin work on defense.

2. Will OKC’s team defense be effective against the Clippers offensive firepower?

3. Will the Clipper’s bench outplay the Thunder’s bench?

4. How efficient will OKC be on offense, and will their turnovers and bad shots result in LOB CITY GIF explosions all over the internet?

It’s hard to bet against KD and Westbrook at this point, but I think this series will be extremely close. I’m going with OKC in 7

 

Spurs-Portland will be a fun series to watch as well. I’m hoping that we will get to see more Thomas Robinson in this series, since he played so well against Houston in what little playing time Terry Stotts gave him. Every night I got about 3 texts from my boy Sam that involved the words “T-Rob”,  “going ham”, and “he hongry.” The shot by Damien Lillard did not surprise me one bit. When I saw they had .9 on the game clock, I just had a suspicion that “Big Game Dame” was going to find a way to get  a good look. He was so wide open on the play and as soon as he shouted I yelled out to no one in particular “ball game!”

I’m interested in the point guard match up with Tony Parker and “Illard” guarding each other, but small forwards Nic Batum-Kawhi Leonard facing off is just as intriguing to me as the PG or PF (Tim Duncan vs. Lamarcus Aldridge) match ups.

Portland had a great run this year, and nothing is more magical than having that town abuzz with joy. As someone who saw the Portland-Lakers debacle back in 2000, I can be nothing but happy for Rip City. All sentiment aside, this is where they meet the fate of last year’s feel good story, the Golden State Warriors. San Antonio has a better bench and the best coach in the game. The Spurs will take what a team does best and make them do something different to beat them. San Antonio in SIX.

I’m still quasi-boycotting the Eastern Conference. After seeing so many good games out west, it really pisses me off that the Heat just get to coast their way into the NBA Finals. They would have been a five seed in the Western Conference and it would have been a dogfight. At least if they’d win out west, people would be able to tip their hats to them in good conscience. I just don’t see how the competition committee can’t at least address this. How is fair for a team that plays in a weaker conference get an easier path to the championship?  Brooklyn will at least make the Heat earn their victories, which is all you can ask for at this point. I know Brooklyn is undefeated against Miami this year, but that was regular season. Lebron ain’t even answering phone calls right now, so you know he’s focused. I’ll take the Heat in SIX, but I’m still only watching the fourth quarter of these games. The same goes for Indiana-Washington. I’m taking Indiana in SIX. This is a better match up for the Pacers, but its still going to be ugly. Let’s just hope no one has their teeth knocked out.

I’m looking forward to the start of the second round tonight and if my calculations are correct, I have at least two hours to sit on my front porch, drink some cervezas, eat some chips and salsa, and lounge. Happy Cinco de Mayo!!!