On Saturday May ninth, Carmelo Anthony most likely all but put the Dallas Mavericks away with his one footed, off balance three point shot as time expired. Not only was this a tough basket, but it was a tough loss for the Mavericks who looked to gain momentum and captalize on finally making a good effort in the fourth qarter this series, where in the prveious two games they were gettting crushed. To add to the heart break, the real sadness comes from a foul to give that the officiating crew did not call and that even prompted the NBA to apologize about. From this controversy, there is one thing that we can learn, and one thing we can ponder.
What we can learn is that a player should not finish the foul until he hears that whistle. When the Dallas player groped Anthony, he got him hard, clean, and good, but the referee did not see it (perhaps). Anthony didn’t hear the whislte, and he played through the posession, got his shot, and hit it. Next time, don’t stop the press till you hear the refs.
What we can ponder is how now two straight seasons that an officiating crew led by Mark Wunderlich has had another controversial instance at the end of a playoff game that would have made a series competitive.
Last season in the Western Conference Finals between the L.A. Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, in San Antonio, Brent Barry attempted a three that could have potentially tied the series at 2-2. However, the refs failed to call an obvious fould by Derek Fisher, which the league once again apologized for, and would have send Barry to the line for three free throws. The Spurs went down 3-1, and lost their next game onward to elimination.
Maybe a coincidence, and probably so. But that’s what one bad scratch (i.e. Tim Donaghy) will do to you… create even more speculation.
Last night on TNT the Dallas Mavericks swiftly dispersed of the Spurs as big scorers Jason Terry (19pts), Josh Howard (17pts), and of course Dirk Nowitzki (31pts) lit up the court with constant hope-crushing basket after basket. It was these same types of performances that powered the Mavericks to win all four games by an average of 12.75 points. And although the Mavericks feat is certainly props-worthy, this upset has as much to say about them as it does the Spurs.
If anyone said that before game one the Mavericks would beat the Spurs in five games you’d tell them they better not put any money on it. It is not as if it would have been a stretch to pick the Mavs to win the series, but in five games and with the purely superior display that they did it with, that is what makes this series an upset of almost monumental proportion.
The Spurs are not used to losing big, much less that many times to the same team and especially to an opponent that they have a history with. Yes, it is true they had no Manu Ginobli, but for them to lose by 12.75 points per game when they were the favorite is alarming. Next season they’re going to have to hope Ginobli is 100% and they may need to think about replacing the vets like Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen, and Michael Finley.
As for the Mavericks, more power to you!
The NBA playoffs are starting to heat up as teams begin to play their game threes and fours. Like many experts like to say, the playoffs don’t really start until a series is tied 2-2, or nobody has control until they’re up 3-0. So, this is the time when those viewpoints truly come into focus.
For instance, The Utah Jazz barely won game three and were laid to waste in games one and two. The sad thing for them was they didn’t fair too well in game four in Utah either, and got beat. They are down 3-1 and should be done.
Over in the east, the Cavaliers swept the Detroit Pistons and get to wait it out a few days before they’ll see anymore action.
Back west again, the New Orleans Hornets kind of looked like the Jazz in their game three as they had to scrap just to get a win and bring the series to 2-1 and make things interesting. Now, if they can win their game four, they’ll completely change the landscape of the series as Denver had dominated them in games one and two, by evening things out at 2-2.
The two and sevens in the east are an enigma to me. Both teams have won a road game and lost a home game. The most interesting factor to me is that Chicago can only beat Boston in overtime!
Another big whopper of a surprise is the battle between the Mavericks and Spurs. The Mavericks have jumped out to a 3-1 series lead and in all three of those wins they have looked fairly dominant with their defense and confidence moving the ball.
Even the three seeded Orlando Magic have run into their share of trouble by falling to a 2-1 deficit against the sixth seeded Philadelphia 76ers before finally tying things up 2-2 last night in Philly.
Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets have really taken charge in their matchup versus the Portland Trail Blazers where they currently lead 3-1. The Blazers have only been dominated in one of those games, game one. However, since overcoming those young playoff willies they have performed very tough and although they are down 3-1 they certainly are not competing like a team who is down 3-1 in a series.
As for the Heat and Hawks, game one made things look like the Hawks might be getting ready for the second round soon. However, since being blown out in game one, Miami has won a dominating game two, and succeeded in a blowout game three in Miami. Now the tables have turned and the Hawks have to prove they were worthy of hosting the series by winning game four.
Basically, if a series gets tied up at 2-2… watch it. If a higher seed is down 3-1… watch it. The higher seeds do not tend to go away too easily. Anything else is either over or about to be.
The Los Angeles Lakers seem to be miles ahead of their other western conference counterparts. They are currently 9.5 games ahead of the second place Denver Nuggets. That’s pretty good distance even for a season like this, wouldn’t you say? I would say, sir. On top of virtually securing home field advantage until they get to the finals (Cleveland currently owns the league’s best record), they’ve also got some favorable potential opponents.
The eighth seeded Dallas Mavericks are clearly not at the top of anyone’s playoff brackets. Number six New Orleans has not found as much success as last year, and has been injury riddled, and has also suffered from the loss of Janeiro Pargo from last year. Number five, Portland, is pretty spunky, but they’re still young. The number four Houston Rockets look promising, but they suffer from a lack of scoring, although they are great at defense.
I’d say the ‘scariest’ teams for the Lakers are the number seven Jazz, who took them to six games in last year’s second round of the western conference playoffs. They are one year older and their other players are almost doubling their career ppg from last season. Then of course, at number three, are the experienced San Antonio Spurs. They know the Lakers well and have always been master executers in crunch time. Finally, the number two Denver Nuggets. They’re gaining a lot of confidence behind their calm new leader, Chauncey Billups, and players are getting their work done in a much more efficient basketball manner.
But the Lakers have Kobe Bryant surrounded by immense talent, and will not fail to make it to at least the NBA Finals this season.
With about 18 or so games to go for each NBA team, the playoff races begin to tighten. By now, any true NBA enthusiast should know the situation in the Western Conference and how seeds eight through two are neck and neck. They should also know that the Phoenix Suns are in poor shape in the ninth spot being five and a half games behind the currently eighth seeded Dallas Mavericks. However, over in the Eastern Conference the race for eight is on. With Chicago, New Jersey, Charlotte, Indiana, Milwaukee, and New York no more than two games apart from one another, that battle is still very interesting.
The New York Knicks have improved mightily from last season with the run-and-gun style that has been infused by new head coach Mike D’Antoni. However, they have a run-and-gun with a bevy of role player caliber ballers. It’s not like they’re the superstar-filled Suns of years past that D’Antoni had before. So, although the Knicks are a much improved team, they shouldn’t be making the playoffs any way.
The Charlotte Bobcats were already making positive strides prior to the trade that brought them Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa at mid-season. Now, they have improved further, but they are still highly inexperienced and will require more time and at least one All-Star player to get in.
The Pacers on the other hand have their All-Star caliber player in Danny Granger, but he has been hurt. They too are like the Knicks and tend to run, but once again, too many role player type people on their team. That’s no good.
New Jersey’s got All-Star Devin Harris, and former superstar, but more than capable Vince Carter. But they have too many woes at home and they can’t be expected to make a run just because they are decent on the road. Decent on the road is great, where they have a 14-17 record, but a non-winning 14-19 home record just won’t do it.
The Milwaukee Bucks currently hold the eight spot, but they still have one problem… they are Michael Redd-less. They did a great job in the early going of his absence from his season-ending injury, but now his loss has started to catch up and the Bucks are just 3-7 in their last ten games.
With that being said, the eighth seed has to be given to Chicago. They have the leading candidate for rookie of the year in Derek Rose, and a great scoring pickup up at mid-season in John Salmons who is averaging 18.2 points per game this season. On top of this they have a stable of young guys with playoff experience in Kirk Hinrich, and top-scorer Ben Gordon. Their big men are also efficient; Tyrus Thomas and Luol Deng. Last, but not least, the other guy that game over from Sacramento with John Salmons… veteran and playoff-savvy Brad Miller.
The Bulls, in my mind, are already a team with a bright future, while the others that were mentioned still do not have much to build on except for some true grit. Bulls get in.
In this year’s fine NBA season the Western Conference is still the powerhouse of the league. It’s not like that’s ever changed since like the last ten years, but this year is definitely one of most notable.
In the East you have five sub-500 teams fighting for an eighth seed in Milwaukee, New Jersey, Chicago, Indiana, Charlotte in order from best to worst, with the best, Milwaukee, sporting a 29-35 record.
Meanwhile in the wild West the Suns and the Mavericks are shifting between the eighth and ninth spots every few games or so. Currently, the Suns are in ninth and they have a 34-26 record. That’s better than the eighth seed in the East, Milwaukee, and also would tie them with Atlanta for the fourth seed and homecourt advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
It’s a little different when you get to the higher seeds though. The two seed in the West, the San Antonio Spurs are 40-19. If they were in the east, that too would be no better than the fourth seed in the East. Orlando, who is 44-16 and third in the east, would be second in the west.
Although not surprising, it’s still interesting.
Currently, the Phoenix Suns are in ninth place in the Western Conference. If the playoffs were to begin today, the recent perennial show-ups, the Phoenix Suns would be no-shows and watching from home (but most likely traveling over seas and playing golf). But either way, they wouldn’t make the playoffs.
When the Suns decided to drop Mike D’Antoni after his highly successful run which included two Western Conference Finals, they figured to make the playoffs by default, with the real goal in mind to win a championship. Now they are too busy stuck in a seesaw battle with Utah (8), New Orleans (7), and Dallas (6) to barely get into the playoffs, much less be involved in any championship talk.
Steve Nash seems to be relegating more of the offensive load to his teammates. He used to be more aggressive until this year. Even though Shaq is playing at an All-Star level again, it still doesn’t ever seem to be enough for them to get over the contenders or even to consistently win against the other playoff teams. And with recent rumors of exploring ways they could trade away Amare Stoudamire or even The Big Cactus himself, this team is a shade away from being in shambles.
The Suns can still make the playoffs easily. However, fighting for the sixth through eighth seeds means L.A., San Antonio, or Denver in the first round. They might just be able to make it in and out quick enough to catch the rest of the playoffs on TV.
I was reading the daily news recently and I stumbled on a article by Frank Isola. The article was basically about the fact that Steve Nash misses his coach and would be willing to come to New York in 2010. Is Bill Parcells coaching the New York Knicks? Who thinks up this stuff? Do you really think D’antoni thinks, “Lets just move all the stars of my last squad to my new one.” I mean do we just want the Knicks rosters and Sun’s rosters just switching jerseys like this? Message to Dolan “These SUNS NEVER WON A TITLE”. Come on D’Antoni bring me new blood, bring me better defenders and whatever you do, just please don’t combo up Nash and Amare in 2010. I would be more upset, than the first movie critics to watch Kazaam. In fact if that were to happen we could petition that the team name should be changed to the New York Geriatrics. If I see the Knicks pick up an aging superstar in 2010 who is over 33 I will be furious, There is just to much young talent available in this free agent class. Dirk and Nash should be crossed of the Knicks wish list already!
So far in the NBA a few teams are back up to their old tricks, a few have been somewhat disappointing, and a good number of upstarts from last year as well as some surprising newcomers have begun to surface.
The newcomers that need to be involved in this discussion are as follows; in the east it’s Miami, New York, and New Jersey and in the west all of the other teams with playoff aspirations are of no surprise at this point in the season. Miami, led by top scorer in points per game, Dwyane Wade, are currently 9th in the eastern conference standings. Last year, everyone remembers how atrocious they were. New York seems to be hitting its stride under the tutelage of former Phoenix head coach, Mike D’Antoni as they are 8-8 and 8th in the standings. Finally, the previous season’s trade between the Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets has finally begun to payoff, as the Devin Harris led Nets are 8-7, 6-4 in their last ten, and 7th in the east.
The Upstarts from last year that are proving their worth are as follows; in the east it’s the Orlando Magic, the Atlanta Hawks, while in the west we have Portland and Denver. The Magic currently sit at 3rd and atop the eastern conference standings at 13-4 going 9-1 in their last ten. Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, and Hedo Turkoglu and company are really hitting their stride. The continued and improved production of guard/forward Keith Bogans and the extra lift provided by off season veteran pick up Anthony Johnson as point guard have been stalwart.
The Hawks slid a bit after starting off 5-0 mainly because of losing Josh Smith for the next few months, but have regained form and are now 10-6 and 5th in the eastern conference.
In the west the Portland Trailblazers, continue to look like a team of the future with stars Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and the potential of first-year NBA players like Rudy Fernandez, and Greg Oden. They are now tied with Phoenix, Denver, and Houston at 11-6 while going 7-3 in their last ten games.
Denver’s success can be attributed to the trade of Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson. The Nuggets are 11-6 and 7-3 in their last ten while holding 3rd place in the west. They have had many impressive victories and performances as they beat Boston in Boston, and took the Lakers to the brink of a loss in L.A.
Now come the disappointments. The Detroit Pistons are hovering somewhere between average and above average. Although they are 10-5 and in 4th place in the east, they are suffering some inexcusable losses, most recently a 10+ point loss to Minnesota, do not yet seem to have their act together with Allen Iverson skipping the thanksgiving day practice (however, I do give huge props to Michael Curry for taking charge by suspending him for one game), and are not nearly as consistent as they were when they had Chauncey Billups in the lineup.
The other eastern disappointments for the eastern conference are the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, and Washington Wizards.
The Raptors just 8-7 and are barely holding a spot in the eastern conference as the 7th seeded team. With capable point guard Jose Calderon, and former all-start Jermaine O’Neal, they should be doing better.
The Sixers were a team last year that without Elton Brand finished 6th in the east and took Detroit to six games in the playoffs. Now with virtually the same team and Elton Brand, they are struggling to find their rhythm and are 7-9 and 5-5 in their last ten. As for the “Wiz Kids,” although without injured star Gilbert Arenas they may not have been a playoff contender anyway, they are still abysmal with their 2-12 record which is good for worst in the east. Last season they played without Arenas for the most part, but still managed to finish above .500 and make the playoffs. They have now fired their coach Eddie Jordan and are in a state of disarray.
The disappointments in the west are the New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, and L.A. Clippers. The Hornets finished second last year and were one game away from the western conference finals. They are now 9-6 and 7th in the standings in the west. The Mavericks are 8-8 and look like they are ready to get their act together one game, and then go back to mediocrity the next. As for the Clippers, you would think they could be more competitive than their 3-13 record would suggest with the pickup of marquee point guard Baron Davis. Oh well.
As for the Spurs, I’m sure a lot of people would like to put them in as a disappointment, but they have been playing without Manu Ginobli for the entire season (who is set to return soon), and Tony Parker has just returned from his injury earlier in the season. To further their defense, they are now 9-7 and 7-3 in their last ten while being 8th in the west.
Finally we come to the top dogs in the league.
In the east you have the Cleveland Cavaliers with their 14-3 records, 9-1 in the last ten games, and 2nd place spot in the standings. They have put together a bevy of blowouts on their opponents this season, and the addition of a scoring point guard in Mo Williams has been absolutely huge for them.
The second team that has picked up right where they left off from last year is the Lakers. They are 13-1 and making mince meat out of would be superpower teams and have the best record in the NBA.
But the pinnacle of all teams continues to be the Boston Celtics. They’re 16-2 and are still dominating defensively and continue to get great production from their supporting cast members. And although the Lakers get much help from their bench and up and coming players, let’s face it… the Celtics are still the champs.
The last three teams I must mention are the Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, and Utah Jazz. To me, these three teams are in a state of limbo. Houston would look to be an upstart, but they can’t seem to keep their stars, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, healthy. The Suns seem like the same team as last year, which wasn’t a contender anyway, and the Jazz keep being a team with potential that can’t seem to build on it.
That would about sum up the NBA season at or around its quarter mark. We’ll look to see who shifts from wherever they were in this discussion and who remains where they are in the coming weeks. As for those that I did not include in this article… you really just aren’t worth mentioning (Chicago, Indiana, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Golden State, Minnesota, Sacramento, Memphis and Oklahoma City).