2016-17 NBA Eastern Conference Preview

Written by :
Published on : October 20, 2016

 

 

Another NBA Season is upon us! While there was some notable events last year (Warriors breaking the single season record, retirements of Kobe, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett), there was a lull in action before the All Star break. There wasn’t a lot of great basketball being played and it was boring at times. I think this season will be much different with a surge in talent across the league.

 

With that in mind, let’s delve into my preseason rankings for the NBA Eastern Conference.

 

15. Brooklyn Nets

The “star” acquisition this summer was point guard Jeremy Lin. Yes, that Jeremy Lin! Aside from the creative hair styles, he offers nothing in regards to actually leading a basketball team. Center Brook Lopez has continued to struggle to stay healthy. Coach Lionel Hollins is gone. Insert coach Kenny Atkinson who I had to Google to find out who he is. There is not one player that could vie for All-Star recognition. This team is an instant dumpster fire. Tanking isn’t even an option as the team may have surrender it’s first round draft pick to the Celtics.

 

 

14. Philadelphia 76ers

Another year of “The Process.” The team has an overload of young big men and no point guards. They are still paying Elton Brand to play basketball at his advanced age. There is some excitement around the arrival of power forward Ben Simmons. However, it will be a few months before he will be on the court due to injury. The team must decide which big man (Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, or Jahlil Okafor) they can package in a trade to get some backcourt help. It should be a slight jump in wins for this team but anything above 25 wins would be remarkable. Another top 3 lottery pick awaits.

 

13. Milwaukee Bucks

This is the team of intrigue. Head coach Jason Kidd has brought in guys so tall that if they stood on top of one another they could possibly touch the ceiling of the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Long wingspans and crazy height across the board on this roster. The projected starting point guard is 6’11” Giannis Antetokounmpo. The question is how do all these players mesh together? The team drafted relative unknown Thon Maker in the first round of the draft. They still have to find a role for former first round pick Jabari Parker. There are trade rumors around center Greg Monroe. This team may have a lot of intriguing talent but no clear direction.

 

12. Orlando Magic

My gut is telling me that this team should be lower in my rankings. The only reason I have them this high is because of Head coach Frank Vogel. I truly believe he’ll maximize the talent that’s currently on the team. Power forward Serge Ibaka should be a great veteran addition on a young team. Point guard Elfrid Payton has to make a quantum leap in production for this team to be successful.

 

 

11. New York Knicks

Phil Jackson should be to blame for this team’s failures, but I will start by shifting the blame to the former regime for poor salary cap management. When they inked Amar’e Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony to lucrative contracts they also ensured that the team could not obtain good free agents or bring on young talent to mold. Now with a new coach in Jeff Hornacek, should we expect the triangle offense or the three guard sets he ran in Phoenix? If he does run three guard sets, how effective will it be with ball dominant point guard Derrick Rose in tow?

 

10. Charlotte Hornets

Simply put, this is point guard Kemba Walker’s team. They will go as he goes. Beyond that, they don’t really have an identity. Can Roy Hibbert return to All-Star form? What is the role of former number two overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? Will head coach Steve Clifford survive the entire season? This is definitely a sleeper pick for the playoffs but also a team that could tank its way to a top pick in next year’s draft. Low floor and low ceiling here.

 

9. Atlanta Hawks

Head coach Mike Budenholzer has done a great job with this team in two seasons on the job. Led the conference in wins in year one and playoff berth in year two. Even with the loss of center Al Horford, this team will be in contention for a playoff appearance. The team also let point guard Jeff Teague go, handing the keys to the franchise to Dennis Schroder. This team could be a non-playoff team or a division leader.

 

 

8. Miami Heat

Team President, Pat Riley, seems hell bent on rebuilding this team. First, there was the departure of Dwayne Wade to the Chicago Bulls. Now, he is not allowing Chris Bosh to play for the team because of concerns with blood clots. There are even rumors of a trade involving Goran Dragic. Riley clearly wants to go younger and build through the draft. Shooting guard Josh Richardson shows promise, Small Forward Justice Winslow is still developing, and Center Hassan Whiteside is emerging as one of the league’s best big men.

 

7. Chicago Bulls

This is a team that has a great mix of young and veteran talent. The issue is that head coach Fred Hoiberg does not look equipped to handle the job. Sure, you have future Hall of Famer Dwayne Wade, perennial All-Star Jimmy Butler, and facilitator Rajon Rondo on your roster. The problem for Hoiberg is how do you generate enough offense with such poor three point shooters in your starting lineup?

 

6. Detroit Pistons

It’s been a while since the Pistons were regarded as a top-tier team but the time has come. If the talent surrounding All-Star center Andre Drummond can fulfill their responsibilities then this team could be dangerous. Team president and head coach Stan Van Gundy’s style fits Drummond’s strengths. The team is loaded with catch and shoot players that will allow Van Gundy to deploy the same system he used when he coached a young Dwight Howard to the NBA Finals.

 

andre

 

5. Toronto Raptors

The league’s best overachieving team. Last year, they pushed their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Two wins against a stacked Cleveland Cavaliers team might make you believe that they could possibly be destined for the Finals this year. However, despite having All-Stars and Gold Medal Olympians Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan, they did little to upgrade their roster in free agency. It will be hard to for the team to duplicate the success they had last year with playoff breakout star Bismack Biyombo defecting to the Orlando Magic. Unless there is a great trade in the works during the course of the season, the team is a second round playoff team at best.

 

4. Washington Wizards

The team will fare well with a coaching change from Randy Wittman to Scott Brooks. Brooks does not get the credit deserved for handling the egos in Oklahoma City for so long. John Wall and Bradley Beal seem to genuinely like one another and play well off of each other. There’s a lot of hype around the emergence of small forward Kelly Oubre Jr. This team is set at the backcourt and just need solid frontcourt play to be contenders for the Eastern Conference Finals.

 

3. Indiana Pacers

With all respect to Kawhi Leonard, I believe small forward Paul George is the third best 3 behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The fact that he moonlighted as a power forward makes George an even better player. The knock on this team has been the fact that they have never had a traditional point guard during George’s tenure. The team acquired former All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. Teague has tons of playoff experience to help this roster. Furthermore, center Myles Turner is becoming one of the best versatile big men. Add in proven vets Al Jefferson and Monta Ellis, and this team has enough scoring at all positions to push the number 1 team out of the playoffs.

 

 

2. Boston Celtics

There are a few teams that can leapfrog the Celtics but with head coach Brad Stevens, this team has been on the rise. The addition of center Al Horford will solidify an already great lineup. Moreover, the team brought in Gerald Green for more scoring and added versatile player Jaylen Brown through the draft. I believe that this team is LeBron’s kryptonite. This is the only team I feel can ELIMINATE the Cavaliers in a playoff series.

 

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron + Six straight NBA Final Appearances + A Healthy Kevin Love + The “Ankletaker” (Kyrie Irving) = Another Championship?

 

 

There you have it for the SBS preview of the Eastern Conference of the NBA. Stay tuned for the Western Conference preview coming soon.

 

 


Why they can win: NBA Conference Finals Edition

Written by :
Published on : May 25, 2016

 

 

Here we are, smack dab in the middle of a couple of exciting and jaw-dropping NBA Conference Finals series. There have been blowouts, big shots, big fouls and enough big surprises to make this round of the NBA Playoffs exponentially more exciting than any of the preceding ones. We are left with four very talented teams, any of which could win their respective series and advance to the NBA Finals. Let’s take a look at each series and talk about why any of these teams could potentially be headed to the Finals.

 

Western Conference Finals:

The Western Conference Finals features the record-setting Golden State Warriors against the Oklahoma City Thunder. This series is not going according to plan for one of the teams, and the Thunder are currently up 3-1, but it is far from over. Let’s check out the teams.

 

Golden State Warriors

steph

 

The Warriors are sitting in a deep 3-1 hole right now and seem to be in some serious trouble, but that doesn’t mean that they are done just yet. This is still a team that won 73 games in the regular season and one that has the reigning two-time MVP. They just need to find their groove again. After that game 3 loss we were pretty sure that the Warriors couldn’t possibly play worse than that. Then they did in game 4. In order to come back from what seems like an insurmountable deficit, they need to calm down and take it one game at a time. Scratch that, one shot at a time. Game 5 is at home and if they can get a much needed boost from that Oakland crowd and take that one, then they might just have a shot at it. They’ve proven that they can rattle off a ridiculous amount of consecutive wins already this year. If they can do it again, they can win.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder

russell-westbrook

 

The Oklahoma City Thunder have beaten the defending champions by 20+ points in two straight games. That’s something that hasn’t happened since 1984. Russell Westbrook has been on fire in this series and has really taken it to the Warriors, posting a triple-double in game 4. In order for the Thunder to close out this series and head to the NBA Finals they just need to keep doing what they’ve been doing. They need to continue to stifle the defending champs with their defense, hold them to uncharacteristically low shooting percentages, create turnovers and out-rebound the Warriors. If they do that, then they’ll be headed to play the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals.

 

Eastern Conference Finals

At first, the Eastern Conference Championship seemed like it was going to be another cakewalk for the the Cleveland Cavaliers. They won the first two games against the Toronto Raptors and looked to be on their way to sweeping a third consecutive series. Luckily for basketball fans, things have changed quite drastically and the series now sits tied at two games a piece. Essentially it’s a whole new best-of-three series. Let’s see why either of these two teams could take it.

 

Cleveland Cavaliers

Bron

 

Up until the last two games, the Cavaliers have looked dominant throughout the NBA Playoffs, and they had yet to lose a single game. They definitely aren’t sitting in the same kind of hole as the defending champs, but they have finally gotten a little taste of what adversity is like. That being said, they are still the favorites to win the series and they still have LeBron James, as well as a healthy supporting cast and Kyrie Irving has shown up in a big way this year. It’s because King James finally has some help that the chances of a championship in the city of Cleveland are starting to seem much more feasible than any of LeBron’s other attempts to win it all in his home town. If they can get back to owning the paint and can improve their 3-point shooting marginally then they should win the next two games and advance to the NBA Finals.

 

Toronto Raptors

bismack-biyombo

 

In these last two matchups, the Toronto Raptors have Bismack’d the Cleveland Cavaliers. Center, Bismack Biyombo has kept LeBron James & Co from scoring at the rim in the same way that they were accustomed to in these playoffs. After spending the first two games of the series worrying about defending the three and paying little mind to points in the paint in losing efforts, the Raptors have owned that area of the floor over the last two games. And it has led to wins. The Raptors have adjusted to the speed of the Cavs, after looking visibly shaken by it in the first games of the series. With Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozen scoring big points Cleveland hasn’t been able to push the tempo. If they can continue to keep up the pace and stay in a rhythm on both sides of the floor then there is a chance that they can shock the world and head to their first ever NBA Finals. They’ve proven they can beat the Cavaliers, now they just need to do it two more times.

 

 


3 Improbable ways the Raptors can beat the Cavs

Written by :
Published on : May 17, 2016

 

You may have read my Western Conference Finals preview, highlighting three reasons the Thunder will beat the Warriors, and three reasons the Warriors will beat the Thunder. I’m obviously a man of clear, concise opinions. Well this one is going to be a little different. With my apologies to Drake, I just don’t think the Raptors have a realistic shot to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers. I know, Toronto fans feel like they get no respect. They’re playing up in Canada with no nationally televised games and no one is taking them seriously, even with second best record in the Eastern Conference.

 

But the fact is, you’re going up against a team that has LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Your answer to that is DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Jonas Valanciunas, who’s out for game one and doubtful for game two. Don’t get me wrong, those are good players, but Cleveland has great players. You’re running into a Cavs team that’s playing their best ball since bringing LeBron back to Cleveland and assembling their big three. The Cavs swept their way through the first two rounds with ease, while out-Warriors-ing the Warriors by shooting a ridiculous 46.2% from beyond the arc while knocking down 16.8 three-pointers per game.

 

There’s always one big question for any team preparing for a series against LeBron James: Who’s going to guard him? Toronto’s big offseason free agent acquisition, DeMarre Carroll, will likely take the bulk of this task, as he did as a member of the Hawks last season when they were swept by the Cavs. LeBron averaged 30.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 9.3 assists in that series (not too shabby). Carroll is an underrated player, and he’s capable of playing the lockdown defender role at times, but that tends to change when the man you’re trying to lock down is LeBron James.

 

I’m not trying to bring you down, Raptors fans. I just see two teams that are on completely different levels right now. Is it possible that the Raptors could knock off the Cavaliers and advance to the NBA Finals? Sure. But a lot of crazy stuff would have to happen to lead to that result. So here it is…

 

 

3 Improbable ways the Raptors can beat the Cavs:

 

1. LeBron retires

LeBron press conference
                                         We just hope he wears that hat to the retirement press conference.

 

LeBron James never really runs into serious injuries, so it might be more likely that he retires before, or during, the Eastern Conference Finals. Maybe he pulls a Michael Jordan and wants to try another sport while he still has some good years left in his body. There’s always been talk that he could play in the NFL. OTAs start in about a week for most teams, so if he wants to take a shot at a football career, now is the time. Or maybe he decides he wants to leave Cleveland again and go back to Miami, but he wants to get it over with before Cavs fans get their championship and become that much more attached. If, by some unforeseen circumstance, LeBron James doesn’t end up playing in the series, the Raptors would have a pretty good shot. Unfortunately, they will likely be facing a Cavaliers team that will feature LeBron James playing a lot of minutes in every game and doing a lot of incredible LeBron James things. This means Cleveland will likely be coasting back into the NBA Finals. Unless…

 

 

2. The Cavs get Bismack’d!

Get Bismack'd!
                                                                                  Get Bismack’d!

 

Ok, I’ll admit, I just wanted to work Bismack’d into an article… But the Raptors backup center, Bismack Biyombo, will actually be a key factor in this series. Not only does he feature one of the best names in the NBA, but he proved he can be a force down low against Miami. When starting center, Jonas Valanciunas, went down in game three with a sprained ankle, Biyombo stepped in admirably. Starting the final four games of the series, Biyombo averaged 11.0 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game.

 

Biyombo has shown he’s up for the challenge before. In the 22 games he started in the regular season, he averaged 12.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. He also led the league in Bismacks, but apparently that’s still not an official NBA statistic. He’s an athletic, high energy big man who can rebound on both sides of the court, swat shots, and find ways to get points down low. Sure, it may be overly optimistic to think Bismack Biyombo could be the secret weapon that gives Toronto an edge against Cleveland. But with Valanciunas expected to miss the first game, and likely more, the Raptors will need to rely heavily on their Congolese big man. I’m just hoping he plays well enough to keep his name relevant so I can keep saying Bismack Biyombo. Try it: Bismack Biyombo… Watch out Cleveland, or you might just get Bismack’d!

 

 

3. The Raptors make the Cavs a one-man show

Can they make him do it alone?
                                                              Can they make him do it alone?

 

I’ll admit it, the odds of LeBron James retiring in the middle of the conference finals are very slim. The odds of Bismack Biyombo putting the Raptors on his shoulders and leading them to a major upset over Cleveland might be even slimmer, regardless of how cool his name is. Unless the Raptors are counting on a series of shocking misfortunes to strike the Cavaliers, much like the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team faced, causing Mr. Burns to lose all of his MLB ringers leading up to their big game against Shelbyvillle, Toronto will have to find a way to limit the effectiveness of as many Cavs as possible.

 

They’re not going to stop LeBron, but they can do their best to tempt him into shooting instead of letting him drive to the hole, draw fouls, get dunks and lay-ups, and make amazing passes to open shooters. If they clog up driving and passing lanes and limit LeBron’s ability to rack up assists, he’ll still do some damage in other ways, but it will at least help take guys like J.R. Smith and Channing Frye out of the game. It will also force Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to create offense on their own instead of relying on LeBron’s playmaking abilities.

 

Kyle Lowry can potentially outplay Irving and win the point guard battle, and Love can be mentally taken out of games when he gets frustrated. Bottom line, the Raptors need to do a much better job limiting the production of Cleveland’s ensemble cast (we’ll call them the LeBronnettes) than the Hawks did, and they are certainly capable of doing that. But even if Toronto does turn Cleveland into a one-man show, that one man is still LeBron freaking James! Remember, when Springfield lost all their ringers, they still had one left: Darryl Strawberry. That one man was still able to lead them to victory (I know, Mr. Burns pinch-hit Homer for Strawberry and Homer got beaned with the bases loaded to score the winning run, but that totally ruins my analogy).

 

Cavs in 5.

 

 


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