Monthly Archives: May 2012

New Orleans Hornets win the NBA Draft Lottery

Lucky socks

The NBA Draft Lottery is one of the silliest things ever created that has actual weight behind it. A series of beer ping pong balls dance around in a clear plastic cylinder and that decides who will get the first three picks of the NBA Draft. This is supposed to stop tanking with the random nature of the selection and combination of the balls. It doesn’t and it really just makes rumors swirl throughout the day. As with all things NBA, plenty of people think the whole process is rigged.

It isn’t. Get over it.

This year’s draft class is far superior to last year’s. 2011 was marred with the looming lockout which led some players to stay in college for another year before declaring for the draft, a decision that they will probably be glad they made in the long run.

Anthony Davis, a freshman from Kentucky is widely assumed to be the number one pick in the 2012 draft and now he should have a pretty good idea as to where he is going to begin his NBA career.

On Wednesday night, the New Orleans Hornets, a team with a 13.7 percent chance of winning the number one overall pick, became the future recipients of Davis. By winning the NBA Draft Lottery, the Hornets, who are in the midst of rebuilding after trading Chris Paul before the season began, will have a solid building block. However, New Orleans also holds the tenth pick in the draft so they should be able to get a second good player to help their rebuilding process.

Some will speculate that the Hornets won because the league wanted them to after the NBA took over ownership of the team last season. “Basketball reasons” will often be mentioned, but New Orleans won because that is how the balls fell. Well, there’s that and because Jarrett Jack wore his lucky socks (pictured above).

The rest of the Lottery went like this:

2. Charlotte Bobcats

3. Washington Wizards

4. Cleveland Cavaliers

5. Sacramento Kings

6. Portland Trail Blazers

7. Golden State Warriors

8. Toronto Raptors

9. Detroit Pistons

10. New Orleans Hornets

11. Portland Trail Blazers

12. Milwaukee Bucks

13. Phoenix Suns

14. Houston Rockets

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A Song about Gustavo Ayon

Mexico is a land of tradition and home to a proud people. Yet, when it comes to the sports world, Mexico has not had many sons and daughters to cheer  for outside of their club soccer teams. Now, however, it looks as though a new folk hero is emerging.

Gustavo Ayon is not the first Mexican born citizen to play in the NBA. Horacio Llamas and Eduardo Najera got there first. Najera is still playing but his best days are behind him, though no matter where he plays his is a fan favorite for his energy and hustle. Therefore it is now Ayon who is now cultivating a sizable fanbase.

In his first season in the NBA, with the New Orleans Hornets, Ayon posted per 36 minutes averages of 10.6 points, 8.8 rebounds (which is beyond modest), 2.4 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.5 blocks. He started 24 games for the Hornets and in those games averaged 6.5 points, 5.7 boards, 1.6 dimes, 1.1 steals, and 0.9 blocks. Modest numbers at best, but Ayon was one of the bright spots on the team due to his hustle on the floor. To go along with those numbers he also shot 51.5 percent on field goals.

He numbers aren’t going to blow anyone away at this point in his career but if Mexico had a vote for Rookie of the Year it would have gone to Ayon. In fact, he might even be worthy of someone penning a song about him. Luckily, someone already has.

I don’t speak Spanish, but from what I gather, the people of Tepic, Mexico are proud of him. As they should be.

Hat tip to HoopsHype for finding the song.

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Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Intimidated yet?

Doyle Rader: We finally know who will compete in the Eastern Conference Finals, however, when Derrick Rose went down in the first round this match up was all but inevitable. The Boston Celtics finally defeated a Sixers team that Doc Rivers described as “a pain in the ass.” Now they will face the Miami Heat who, despite the loss of Chris Bosh in their series against the Indiana Pacers, look every bit as dominant as the team that moved on to the Finals last season. When it comes to this series, the regular season meetings mean nothing. Boston owned the regular season series between the two clubs for the last two years but has only mustered one win against the Heat in the playoffs during that time. What are the keys for both teams in this series?

Travis Huse: The absence of Chris Bosh. The Heat is left with only two big names on their roster, and they need another offensive threat. Bosh’s outside game also would help to bring Kevin Garnett out of the middle, freeing up space for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. For Boston, they need some monster performances from Ray Allen, as LeBron’s defense can be otherworldly on Paul Pierce. Rajon Rondo‘s consistent ability to have triple-doubles in playoff games will be tested here, as well. I think it’s interesting that we have the two scariest defensive teams vying for the East, while in the West it’s a shoot-out.

DR: Missing Bosh could pose a problem but at the same time it could open up an emphasis on the transition game for Miami. When this team gets out running it the open court it is game over: Flying Death Machine.

As for Garnett, his defense will of course be a factor but his offense is what could hurt his team. He is a spot up midrange jump shooter off the pick and is effective at little else, especially if he has to put the ball on the floor. Yes, Garnett can still post up but is so predictable in the post, Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm pointed out that he posts up on the left block 60 percent of the time, goes to his right shoulder 40 percent of the time, and shoots a jumper 86 percent of the time from the block. That is the definition of predictability. However, it will be interesting to see who guards him. I imagine that the Heat will throw Udonis Haslem, Ronny Turiaf, Joel Anthony, and even Shane Battier, who could draw the bulk of the defensive assignment.

I’m just not sure that Jesus Shuttlesworth has anything left in the tank. He has looked terrible during playoffs and he has to still be hurt. If he can shake off the rust and put it together offensively he will have to contend with Dwyane Wade. Wade has been phenomenal on defense, as per usual, and will harass Allen all over the court.

In the postgame show after the Heat knocked out the Pacers, Jeff Van Gundy, who saved the program from its usual absurdist rhetoric, stated that this series will hinge on the play of Rondo and his ability to shutdown or limit Mario Chalmers and pace the Celtics. I have felt for two years now that this is Rondo’s team and this series will further fuel this idea. For the Celtics to find success if will be on the back of Rondo and let’s hope he keeps rocking those Nike Huarache Basketball 2012’s in the Volt colorway.

TH: This is definitely Rondo’s team, which makes the rest of the Celtics his weapons. His lack of a jump shot is rendered useless when he is able to work Brandon Bass into the equation. As a Mavs fan, you can’t look at Bass this postseason and grimace.

DR: Bass is playing strong and has played the fourth most minutes for the Celtics in the postseason thus far and is totaling 11.7 points per game. On a team that struggles to rebound the ball, Bass collects 5.1 boards. He is the fourth best player on the Celtics. If the Heat can neutralize him the Celtics will be in trouble.

Flash got style

What really hurts the Celtics is the loss of Avery Bradley. When he and Rondo were paired in the backcourt together their defensive numbers were amazing. In terms of slowing Wade, missing Bradley is huge. Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus have their work cut out for them. Oh, or maybe they’ll make me happy and we’ll get to see a little Marquis Daniels on the floor.

TH: Well, as of now, they’re real thin at SG. That lends itself to more minutes for Daniels, so we’re probably in luck. He’s going to be stretched to the hilt against Wade, but we already know Doc Rivers has groomed him for this situation all year. That’s the kind of thing he does, socking away money in Staples Center. This team is so well coached that they can weather these injuries as well as any other NBA team. There are just so many variables on this Celtics team, and the outcome of each game defined by so many questionable players, it’s very hard to predict. The Heat is full of shaky players, as well, but the strength of Wade and James makes them so much more stable.

DR: Daniels usually plays the three, unless Don Nelson appears and tries to make him run point (ahh, the memories), but if Doc gets desperate Daniels could definitely get spot minutes against Wade. Indiana was a better team than the Celtics and they could not slow down the Wade and James tandem. Frank Vogel said it best, “Chris Bosh is a fantastic player, but when he goes down, that means more touches for LeBron and Wade.” Those touches ignited the Heat and propelled them to three consecutive wins. The Death Machine found its wings. However, we must wait to see if those wings are fashioned by Daedalus and whether the Heat chooses to fly too close to the sun.

That said, the Heat will win this series 4-2. Hopefully, they won’t imitate last season’s celebration when they win.

TH: After what I saw in the Heat-Pacers series, I’m going to go Celtics in 7. It goes against my head, but let me explain. The best way to beat Miami is to get them rattled, and if the Celtics manage to rattle one of the Heat’s two stars for three games, they have a chance. If there’s any team that hypes its strangeness, it’s Boston. These guys are WEIRDOS. I’m thinking the Eastern Conference Finals might strongly resemble when Will Smith smacked the reporter for kissing him. KG should probably kiss LeBron right before tip-off in game 1. I wouldn’t put it past him.

But in all seriousness, with a long series, Doc could seriously dismantle this squad. I’m probably going to lose this one, but that’s what I’m sticking with. Celtics in 7.

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Dwight Howard and the Malfunctioning Magic

Puppet master

There are several “earmuffs” moments in this piece so please think twice about reading it out loud to small children.

The past week has been even more of a ludicrous scene of Tom Fuckery than the Orlando Magic have grown accustomed to this season. Dwight Howard has subjected his team, the only one he has ever played for, to a myriad of split decisions followed by reversals, retractions, and second guessing. It is enough to drive any organization mad. Despite this perpetual distraction, the Magic plodded along, and despite Howard’s injury late in the season, still managed to make the playoffs.

They didn’t make it very far, though.

Since then all Hell has broken loose and this week has been the zenith of stupidity.

Orlando cleaned house as the team fired head coach Stan Van Gundy and ‘politely’ asked general manager Otis Smith to step down. It was apparent that Van Gundy would not last with the Magic after reporting to the media that he was aware that Howard had asked Rich DeVos, the owner of the Magic, to fire him. It made for quite an awkward moment. Van Gundy’s best line is that he doesn’t like bullshit. Howard certainly created enough of that this season. Nonetheless, Howard had his wish granted. If the Magic Kingdom is good for anything besides humidity it’s granting wishes.

As for Smith, it was clear that he needed to go. During his tenure in Orlando he did his best Danny Ferry impression by surrounding Howard with mediocre, or beyond their prime players. When he did have legitimate players on the roster (read: Marcin Gortat and Brandon Bass) those players did not fit into Van Gundy’s system and were essentially condemned to the bench. The expelling of Van Gundy and Smith had to be a joint package.

With two of Dwight’s largest nuisances removed, one would think that he would now be more complacent to stay in Orlando, but as Chris Sheridan reports, that couldn’t be further from the truth. As he stated long ago, Howard still wants out of Orlando and unlike before, it looks as though the Magic are ready to field offers for their star center.

Keeping in mind that they have an unhappy, or rather just stubborn, player to move, the Magic also need to replace their head coach and GM. This is where it gets idiotic.

For about 24 hours, Shaquille O’Neal, the Big Aristotle, was rumored to be in line to interview for the vacancy at GM. Yes, Shaq. Simply put: what a fucking joke! Luckily for everyone, it was, or at least it sort of was. It didn’t take long for everyone to question the move and speculate, correctly, that the rumor originated in Shaq’s camp only to bolster his image. There was no possible way that Shaq would ever actually be the GM of the Magic as he and Howard have had a tit-for-tat relationship since Howard entered the league. On top of that, Shaq’s comprehension of the new collective bargaining agreement is probably on par with a first grader’s ability to under stand quantum theory. Thank goodness this story ended when it did before it really caught any real traction.

And we thought Dwight’s drama was too much.

As for a replacement head coach, none other than Jerry Sloan was mentioned as a possible replacement. Sloan coached the Utah Jazz since fish ventured onto land for the first time. He has an impressive coaching resume built mostly with the likes of John Stockton and Karl Malone leading the Jazz to two consecutive Finals appearances in 1997 and ’98.

However, his departure from Utah, midseason, two years ago is the result of a tainted relationship with Deron Williams, who was the team’s All Star point guard. Spats with players are nothing new for Sloan, who rigidly coaches the flex offense. Because of this, it would not seem like a good match for Howard, who, it has been rumored, wants to have his say in how the Magic conduct their business on and off the court. Sloan simply would not put up with Howard’s shit.

Howard won’t get his way in Orlando. He has already tarnished and tainted his reputation with the organization and it is long past due for him to move on. He is still under contract for the 2012-13 season but this relationship is over. He will not sign an extension nor should he be offered one by the organization. Trading him is the only option. If it were up to Howard he would leave the Magic high and dry with his scorched Earth tactics but Orlando has the option to get plenty in return for one of the league’s most dominant big men. Once the draft lottery is complete, Howard will be shopped around. Hopefully, where ever he ends up, he will not be as big a headache as he has been for the Magic.

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Western Conference Finals Preview

“Why, Lord, must we play the Spurs?” -James Harden

Travis Huse: With the Oklahoma City Thunder’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers last night, our Western Conference Finals matchup is set. They can book their flight to San Antonio. Frankly, this series looks to eclipse the NBA Finals in terms of excitement. These games are going to pit the league’s two best offenses against each other, and with some very strange matchups to make things interesting. We have the league’s best scorer in Kevin Durant being guarded by Kawhi Leonard, the best defensive rookie this season. The Thunder’s best defensive player, Serge Ibaka, will have to defend the rejuvenated and driven Tim Duncan. Manu Ginobili on James Harden. Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook trying to blow by each other. I’m totally pumped for these games. But looking at the Spurs lately, as well as their games against the Thunder this season, is there any hope for the Thunder to pull this off?

Doyle Rader: I agree that this series has great potential, it probably won’t be a seven game series as some might be hoping for, though. However, each game should be extremely competitive. As far as your matchup predictions I think you have it dead on with Leonard defending Durant. As for the rest I think that Scott Brooks will have Kendrick Perkins, if he is healthy, guard Duncan. Or at least until Duncan steals his lunch money and gives him a swirly. Perkins’ has the body mass to try and dislodge Duncan from the block but will get lost when Duncan drifts to the top of the key or his favorite 45 degree bank shot location. I just don’t see Ibaka as a viable defender on Duncan. His defensive prowess is predicated on off ball positioning and weak-side help and shot blocking. Ibaka has improved his face up defense this season but he need s the freedom to roam and hedge to be effective.

Much like we saw against the Clippers, the Spurs will probably use Danny Green to try and slow down Russell Westbrook. I doubt Parker will spend a whole lot of time guarding Westbrook this series. It looks like the Spurs have the advantage with disrupting the Thunder with the number of matchups and mismatches they can create on the court, but the Ginobili/Harden battle should be special.

TH: Ginobili vs. Harden is a great situation because they’re both 6th men, both fan favorites, and can play with some fire. As for Parker on Westbrook, I could see Pop keeping Tony on him just because he’s not Chris Paul. Against the Clippers, you need Green’s long arms to prevent Paul’s unparalleled passing ability, whereas with Westbrook, you’re going to be better the more he has the ball. If the Spurs can goad him into playing hero ball (like he did, in oh, say, last year’s WCF), the Thunder are done. The only way the Thunder have a chance is if Westbrook defers more. And if he can still score 30 while deferring. So it’s going to be tough.

Another thing I’d like to reiterate. This is a series that contains both the #1 and #2 offense in the league. But the Spurs stars have played so much less this season and are so much deeper, that the Thunder will need to highlight their defense to prevent giving up insurmountable leads while their stars rest. Look at these minutes numbers so far this season (including playoffs):

Kevin Durant: 2912
Russell Westbrook: 2655
James Harden: 2219

Tony Parker: 2203
Tim Duncan: 1890
Manu Ginobili: 1002

Even if you throw out Manu’s numbers because of his injuries in the regular season, that’s a pretty big contrast. Tony Parker has played less than OKC’s 6th man, which is a huge thing to take into consideration this season, because all those games were condensed.

DR: All of the OKC players you listed are younger than us. I think they’ll just fine in terms of fatigue, they have yet to show any signs of dwindling yet. In fact they outscored the Lakers in the combined fourth quarters of their series 119-97.

As you mention, these are prolific offenses. Maybe I’m just old-school, but I still think defense will define the series. The 7-Seconds or Less Suns never got to the Finals for a reason. The Spurs, though they have completely altered their identity, still have a defensive pedigree. They might not be as fast as the Thunder but they work well as a cohesive unit defensively and have completely dominated their previous opponents. I expect a platoon defense to be used on all three of the Thunder’s stars that features Parker, Ginobili, Leonard, Green, Gary Neal, and Stephen Jackson. That’s a lot of bodies and fouls. Brooks should do the same against Parker and Ginobili with Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, and Daequan Cook. Don’t expect Derek Fisher to matter. The backcourt of San Antonio is too quick.

TH: Yeah, we’re going to see a ton of different lineups, but I think the onus is on the Thunder to figure out how to crack this Spurs team. San Antonio is on a roll, and performed very well against the Thunder this year (and since Kevin Durant first made the playoffs with this team, the Spurs have won 8 of 10). The strategies that they have been employing simply haven’t worked, and there’s no reason to believe that unless the Thunder manage to change their game significantly before the start of this series, that there is no plausible hope that they can win it.

DR: Scott Brooks has definitely grown as a head coach this season but he is out classed and outmatched in every conceivable way in this series. Gregg Popovich is one of the greatest coaches that the NBA has seen and is a future Hall of Famer. He has seen just about everything and has more contingency plans than NATO had for a Soviet strike during the Cold War. Pop is the best coach in the league, and not just because he won Coach of the Year this season. I just don’t see any coach left in the playoffs that could possibly out-coach him and that is what it is going to take to beat the Spurs.

TH: My neighbor gave me 10-to-1 odds on a bet that the Spurs would make the Finals. It was the day the Spurs signed Boris Diaw (March 23rd), and I felt at that time they were as complete as they could possibly be. Plus, I would have only lost 10 bucks. They’ve lost two games since then, and right now I feel pretty darn secure with that decision.

DR: As a Mavs fan it is hard for me to heap praise on the Spurs, (don’t fret Thunder fans, I equally despise your team too) but I’m not so biased as to be blind. They are the better team in this series, hands down. Spurs win the series in five games.

TH: 5 games? Damn, that’s rough. I’ll say they pop two off against the Spurs. Spurs in 6.

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The Narrative of the Clippers

Flop!

Doyle Rader: From what one can gather, beyond their 3-1 lead over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Los Angeles Clippers are not a team about basketball. Sure, they are comprised of men who run around on a basketball court and occasionally dribble or shoot an orange Spalding, but at their essence, we should believe, that is not what they are about. No, they are about flopping and doing so as if it were their birthright. Forget Chris Paul‘s brilliance, forget Blake Griffin‘s power, and forget Reggie Evans‘ muckraking. They are all floppers! That is all we need to know about them.

Travis Huse: Since when has a Los Angeles sports team been about sports? The officials are giving them superstar calls, and it’s not surprising. Last season, the Thunder won a first-round game against Denver because Kendrick Perkins got off with a clutch offensive interference (the same situation that earned Rick Carlisle a technical foul in THIS season’s opening series). With the obvious decrease in league-wide interest in the Lakers, as well as the splashy new ownership of the Dodgers, the league has to protect the market in LA. Wait, did I just say that?

DR: You did. It’s OK. I’ll let it slide. But you are right to some extent that sport is not the first thing one thinks about when it comes to the narrative of the Clippers. There’s the bigotry of Donald Sterling, the years of futility, and Billy Crystal. But this is different. Those are examples of narratives within the team and its existence…and Billy Crystal. This isn’t about calls either. Flops aren’t a foul, they are a tool used to draw them, an embarrassing one, but one nonetheless, and I refuse to believe that the league has motives to call the series a certain way. This is about a narrative, that of the flop, being superimposed on the Clippers by outside forces rather than letting the Clippers forge their own story. It’s akin to preëmptive hindsight in a way. If that even makes sense.

TH: I’ll agree with you on some aspects of what you just wrote. But not too much. The Clippers have a wonderful offensive lineup, with the best playmaker in the game in Paul, and one of the best finishers in Griffin. But for a team that relies so much on strength and athleticism, their defensive strategy has been, well, wimpy. In the regular season, they let opponents shoot 36.5% from the three, a mark that places them third worst in the league. Griffin has a vertical leap of about a trillion inches, yet hasn’t recorded a single block in the first four games, but he’s gathered 21 fouls. His biggest criticism all season long was his lack of a complete basketball game, and this team is comprised almost entirely of players in much the same vein. What happens when the Grizzlies move firmly to a hack-a-Quake strategy? He’s shooting 55.6% from the free throw line, compared to his FG% of  56.9% so far this postseason. This Memphis team is a strong team, and could still pull off this series. If they don’t, the Clippers are going to face the best offensive team in the league right now in San Antonio. They might not have the interior big men defenders that Memphis has, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable at all trading buckets with the Spurs. This is a team that should be able to use their size, agility, and speed to shut down pick-and-rolls, but it takes the thing they lack. Grit and grind.

Let them win a playoff series. It will make their second-round exit that much more humbling, and they need that. They don’t deserve a shot at the Western Conference title; don’t deserve a spot in the playoffs. I’m not ready to crown the Thunder the heralded kings of the West, let alone the Clippers.

DR: I’m not ready to crown anyone. You’re right that the Clippers are a wholly flawed team but that isn’t what their narrative is being shaped as. Nor is it trending towards their resiliency late in games thus far though the indomitable will of Paul. The overarching theme of the flopping Clippers has been propagated by entities such as True Hoop and their Hoop Idea campaign. Together they have forced a narrative on the Clippers. The idea of the flop as the embodiment of the Clippers is an idea created by others rather than letting the team forge its own image. This seems to be a larger concept that I am working towards as a whole. It isn’t the numbers or play on the court that seem to matter. It is one thing that defines them.

TH: Those are things we’ve heard all season long. I think the hype now on flopping is more a statement that they need an induction into hard playoff basketball than anything, and I wish the refs would let them take the sort of contact that they’ve received. This team should be so much tougher than they are, but there’s been too much posturing and preening. It has to feel good to bring such a historically awful team to the brink of the second round and I understand that. But watching them is infuriating because they only work half of each game. It’s been thrown around too much, but it’s there, and it shouldn’t be ignored.

DR: Obviously, the flopping can’t be ignored. It happens. We see it. It’s embarrassing for everyone, yet, the over emphasis in coverage of the flopping is verging on ludicrous. Flopping is not the embodiment of the Clippers. Lots of NBA players flop. It just happens. Perhaps what I am really trying to say is “get over it” and stop positing one act, out of the hundreds that take place during the course of a basketball game, as the end-all be-all of the Clippers playoff run. Just roll your eyes and move on.

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