Ménage à Trois: The NBA’s love triangle

Don’t worry, my loyal readers, this isn’t some kind of actual weird love triangle with NBA players, where Chic-Fil-A fans will burst into my house and ‘teach me a lesson’.  Instead, this ‘Love Triangle’ in the NBA is the top three teams trying to win my affection and eventual choice as the favorites going into the NBA season a couple of months away.

Those three teams are, of course, the defending NBA Champions the Miami LeBrons Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and after stealing Dwight Howard away from the Orlando Magic, the Los Angeles Lakers.

Think of it like the Bachelorette finale (shameless way of getting girls attention to keep reading), I went on three different dates and met the players and the families a.k.a. the Front Office’s of the three teams, but who did I give my final rose to?

Seeing as I’m getting older, I wanted to feel young again so my first encounter was with the Oklahoma City Thunder.  They took me out to the only bar in Oklahoma City and tried liquoring me up to get me to give it up. (It being the rose, get your mind out of the gutter!). I enjoyed my time with them, they have a young nucleus with Kevin Durant, turns 24 next month, Russell Westbrook, turns 24 a month into the season, and James Harden, turns 23 this month.  Durant is the biggest mismatch in the NBA standing at 6’11 as small forward, or the 3, and has in the gym range.  The Thunder were the favorites after defeating the Spurs in the Western Conference Championship, but got caught up by their lack of experience and LeBron realizing he’s the best player since Michael Jordan, and evolving like he’s a Pokemon character.  But with this team getting older, more mature, and simply getting better they made a strong argument for the final rose.

Next up, I took my talents to South Beach..(I had to.)  LeBron, a limping DWade and a still dapper and great-haired Pat Riley picked me up from the airport in LeBron’s Mom’s Hummer, I didn’t appreciate their lack of love for the ecosystem, but I was impressed.  After wining and dining me all night, the master negotiator, Riley, made his pitch on why they deserved my final rose.  The aforementioned greatest player since Jordan, LeBron James, figured out how to play as their point forward, Wade is now his Scottie Pippen, and they signed the greatest three-point shooter ever, Ray Allen, while also signing Rashard Lewis, one of the most overpaid athletes of all-time, but he has one job – hit threes.  The Heat will keep playing the Oregon offense in the fast-break, while posting up LeBron and putting 4 shooters around him, not to mention they are the best defensive team in the league.  Nice job Pat. Read more…

LeBron wins first championship, refs to get rings too?

NBA Finals RefsThe NBA is full of conspiracy theories and David Stern and the referees of the NBA finals have done thing to help that as of late.

Regardless, LeBron James can breathe easy because the Miami Heat have finally won at least one NBA Championship, after you told us they would win multiple when joining them during “The Decision.”

While the Heat celebrate, critics have blamed the officiating for the turnout of the series and it’s hard to argue they are at least partially right.

There is no doubting LeBron upped his game from his last appearance in the NBA Finals. Even more important, the Heat role players appeared when they needed them most.  Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller were two names not many expected to step up the way they did and they were invaluable to the success of the Heat.

The definitive stat still lies with the referees.

A judgment call by an official late in Game 2 of the NBA Finals went in favor of LeBron James, and that judgment call allowed the Heat to escape with a victory against the Thunder. Three days later, on Sunday night, a judgment call by an official again went in favor of LeBron James — and that call allowed the Heat to hit the clinching free throw and escape Game 3 with a 91-85 victory.

Russell Westbrook accounted for 43 points in Game 4. He attempted 32 shots and only ended up on the line three times the entire game.

During the series, the Heat made more free throws than the Oklahoma City Thunder even attempted and something definitely seems afoul.

These are only a few of the calls that have made many believe the officiating throughout the post-season was awful and during the Finals it has been even worse.

It almost seems as though the NBA wants Miami to win, and they are helping them out via the officiating.

Kevin Durant was subject to many debatable calls. He spent much of the series on the bench early in games due to foul trouble.

Sure it is common perception in the NBA after the Tim Donaghy scandal that there are some legitimate questions about officiating but some of these calls could have affected the outcome of the games.

Most calls in the NBA are judgment calls but it seems that judgement always went against Oklahoma City.

Are the 2012 NBA finals good versus evil?

LeBron JamesThe annual NBA passion play is about to start. I’m talking, of course, about the NBA Finals. This years version has Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh reprising their role as villains and Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook will step in as the basketball savior.

The story goes something like this: the Heat are the basketball equivalent of the Death Star, wreaking havoc throughout the NBA Universe. If they are allowed to win an NBA title all hell will break loose and their reign of terror will last forever. Everything that is good and holy is at stake.

The Miami Heat has assembled a team of mercenaries with a singular focus: bring a title home to the Evil Empire…I mean South Beach. They have stockpiled a team of supreme talent fragile egos that has been the scourge of the NBA. The OKC Thunder, on the other hand, has quietly built a championship-caliber the old-fashioned way, through the draft and nurturing young talent.

It’s a classic tale of good and evil, right and wrong. Read more here…

NBA Finals preview: Thunder/Heat

Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant and Russell WestbrookThe dream matchup any basketball fan could imagine is here. The small market, built from within, Oklahoma City Thunder battle the Miami Heat; a team that has reached their glory in a slightly different manner. Stars will be all over the court. Both teams have at least three stars, and a point can be made to both teams having two superstars. Each player has their own unique talent which makes them great, and both teams absolutely thrive in the open court.

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (2) Miami Heat

The two-seeds have prevailed in their respective conference, and in route to doing so, both teams completed the task in their own respective way.  Read more…

Seattle fans ache while Oklahoma City celebrates

Seattle SuperSonics

The Oklahoma City Thunder are Western Conference champions.  OKC fans are ecstatic with joy that finally they won the Western Conference Finals and were not the runner-up. Many NBA fans think the OKC are favorites to win the NBA Finals. I am right there with them. I don’t think Miami can beat them, and that’s what makes it so painful. Not just painful to me but painful to any Seattle Super Sonics fan. Painful to any sports fan in Seattle.

I became a Seattle sports fan in 2004 the year the Seahawks won the NFC West championship. I started following the Hawks like crazy, reading up on every player they had, and learning about the history of the Seattle Seahawks. Amazingly, one year after I became a fan they went to the Super Bowl. Imagine my excitement that 2005 season watching my hawks under the leadership of Mike Holmgren and the MVP running of Shaun Alexander crush the opposition. It seemed to me like they would just walk all over the Steelers and I would get to watch the first Seattle sports team since the 79 Supersonics to win a title. Sadly, they didn’t win. As a huge Seahawks fan I’m not going to say that Super bowl was legitimate in any way. Because to this day I believe the refs completely changed the outcome of that game in every possible way. I’m still a little bitter about it. But I thought with how good my Seahawks were they would be back to the Super Bowl in no time. I was so ignorant.

Soon after I started following the Seahawks I started following the Mariners and the Sonics. I love the Mariners but there so painful to watch and the fact that the didn’t win the World Series in 2001 makes me depressed so I try not to invest as much emotion into them as I do the Seahawks. I constantly find myself failing at that. The Sonics on the other hand had won a title. The only one in Seattle history besides a Stanley Cup almost a hundred years ago that no one cares about. Yea they sucked when I started watching them, but they had a certain swagger about them that drew me in. I felt that they were only a few good draft choices away from being good again. I was right.

When Kevin Durant came to town I felt that we were almost ready to really compete again. Well, we weren’t. We finished 20-62. But KD won rookie of the year and we had the 4th pick in the draft so i was pumped. Of course, by this time it looked like the Sonics were guaranteed to leave. I thought everything would work itself out. It didn’t. Bennett stole the Sonics, planted them in Oklahoma City and watched as they started to dominate.

Seattle is a town aching for a title. It’s desperate for a banner to hang in one of its stadiums. When Clay Bennett toke the team he also took our championship trophy and banner. He took all of our retired numbers. He took our history. And now OKC is about to take the thing Seattle has wanted since 1980. A championship. I am not a Heat fan by any means, but i am going to root hard for them. If OKC wins, me and a lot of other Sonic fans will ache.

Victor Moore is a writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at VMoore@TheSportsBlitz.com

Is Derek Fisher the new Robert Horry?

Derek FisherDerek Fisher is on the verge of winning his sixth NBA championship. For those keeping count, that would be one more than Kobe Bryant.

During last night’s game when the  Thunder were about to eliminate the San Antonio Spurs the announcers started referring to Fisher as “the New Robert Horry,” meaning that he makes big shots and collects rings.

To be fair, I think Fisher contributes more during the regular season than Horry did. There were years when I didn’t even realize that Horry was still playing until the playoffs started. But somehow Horry is a seven-time NBA champion with 7,715 career points. I’ll let that sit in for a second.

While Horry may have been the definition of “Role Player,” Fisher certainly is not. He and Kobe were the unquestioned leaders of the Lakers who won back-to-back titles. And he brings that same leadership to the Thunder. Read more here…

2012, the beginning of the Kevin Durant era

Kevin DurantIn 2-0 hole, with the San Antonio Spurs looking to be in complete control of the Western Conference Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant looked to be dead in the water. But, in Game 3, the 20 game win streak of the Spurs ended, and flickering light of the Thunder all of a sudden shined bright. When it came down to money time in Game 4, Kevin Durant seized the moment scoring 18 of his 36, in the final period. Now, with a 3-2 lead, the young and gunning Thunder are only one game away from a finals birth. There’s no question who they will be looking to, to bring it home, Kevin Durant.

These 2012 playoffs have really highlighted the NBA’s new premier scorer when the game is on the line. He’s come up with nothing but pure gold in these late game situations. From the game winners in Game 1 versus  Dallas and game 2 against the Lakers. To the daggers in the heart for the San Antonio. KD has been nothing short of superb this year. While LeBron has the regular season MVP, don’t be surprised if Durant walks away with the real gold. In today’s NBA it seems like the only thing that counts is what happens in the last two minutes of the game, and Durant is taking each of those moments, and putting his stamp on them.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder do win these series, and indeed capture their first NBA championship, there’s no doubt who will be responsible. Yes, he does have an awesome supporting cast with the likes of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, not to mention a pair of great rim defending bigs in, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, but it’s about closing. Kevin Durant is without a doubt the best in the league when the game is on the line. It’s only going to be a matter of time until this group grabs their first championship. They might not have to wait very long.

Zach Leiken is a writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at ZLeiken@TheSportsBlitz.com

Thunder looking to shut the saloon door in Game 6

James HardenOne more win. One more victory. On more triumph over the mighty San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder are, as Keanu Reeves would say, “headed to the ‘ship”.

The streaking Thunder have a new-found confidence that they can indeed beat the savvy, battle-tested-over-a-decade Spurs by spacing the floor and sticking defensive stalwart Thabo Sefolosha on the uber talented Tony Parker. According to the playoff statistics on NBA.com, Parker shoots a paltry 27 percent from the field when the Swissman covers him, and 49 percent when he doesn’t. Clearly coach Scott Brooks is on to something defensively.

When Parker cannot effectively initiate the offense like in Games 4 and 5, the Spurs enter an offensive tailspin due to their lack of ball-handling play-callers to fill in at the other guard spot and alleviate the pressure on Parker. Ginobli and Duncan can’t get the ball in their preferred spots as the always fluid Spurs offense coagulates quickly. Clearly, Sefolosha’s slowing of the fleet-footed Frenchman will be another important factor for the Thunder, win or lose.

Parker’s backcourt foil,Russell Westbrook, operated like a true point guard to highlight another crucial victory for Oklahoma City in Game 5. When Westbrook shares the ball on offense, he makes everyone more effective. The speedy dribble drives and hesitation moves freed-up shots for gunners like Daquan Cook, Sefolosha, and of course, James Harden. The mercurial guard keyed the Thunder’s success by dishing out twelve assists, continuing his aggressive shot selection, and forcing the Spurs to pick their poison: let him shoot, let him pass, or let him drive.

The basketball community knows that Durant is going to put 30 every night, pull down 8-10 boards, and dish out 5-7 dimes; it’s the playoffs and superstars, at least ones not named LeBron, always deliver in the postseason. If Westbrook can participate in the offense, instead of breaking it, and if Thabo can continue defensive his mastery of Parker, the Thunder should take Game 6 at home.

Eric Eulau is an NBA writer for The Sports Blitz.  He can be contacted at EEulau@TheSportsBlitz.com

Westbrook helps Spurs sweep Thunder

Russell WestbrookFrom NBA Finals lock and the toast of ESPN, to a 0-2 Conference Finals hole against the San Antonio Spurs, what a difference a week makes for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Their two road losses featured all the facets of coach Scott Brook’s nightmares: spotty defensive rotations, Westbrook shooting too much, and Harden not playing Ginobli tight enough.

Kevin Durant is the best player in the league. He doesn’t have the body of Zerxys from 300 nor does he have an NBA-champion guard that can take over in the fourth when he isn’t able. Durant’s masterful scoring ability lasts all four quarters, he doesn’t intentionally draw the eye of the entire sports world when he signs a new contract, and he wants to win a championship for the same franchise(sorta) that drafted him.  

Despite all of this, his Floridian foil is closer to hanging a championship banner than he is. While the Miami Heat crunched out to a 2-0 series lead against the ancient Boston Celtics, the Thunder were outwitted by Gregg Popovich and his army of top-tier veterans. Now, the three-year scoring champ must dig deep on the court while utilizing his leadership skills to calm a fellow young superstar.

To avoid beating around the bush, the problem for the Thunder is that Russell Westbrook shoots too much in the playoffs. He upped his field goal percentage this season to a career high of 46 and really made strides to better integrate himself into the offense. His new-found approach on offense pushed the Oklahoma City Thunder into the contender category, but could also be the thing that knocks them right out of it.

Westbrook has taken more shots than Durant in both Game 1 and Game 2, but while shooting a lower percentage. He’s created numerous turnovers that the Spurs have feasted on. The Spurs aren’t beating the Thunder, the Thunder are beating themselves by allowing Westbrook to shoot every time he sees the hoop.

Eric Eulau is an NBA writer for the Sports Blitz.  He can be contacted at EEulau@TheSportsBlitz.com.

NBA Western Conference Finals: Spurs v Thunder

James Harden

There are several certainties when it comes to this powerhouse matchup in the West. These aren’t only the two most complete teams in the Western Conference, but in the entire league. There are stars all over the floor for both teams, and both squads are coming into this series firing on all cylinders. This matchup will be fascinating to watch, and if it doesn’t go at least six games, I’d be absolutely shocked.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (2) Oklahoma City Thunder

As far as predictions go, I’ve been thinking about this matchup ever since the Thunder had the Lakers down 3-1 in their series.Not even close. In my mind, one of two outcomes will happen. Either the series goes seven games and because the Spurs will be at home, and are the veteran team, they’ll have the advantage and win in seven. Or, the Thunder steal a game in San Antonio, defend their home court, and win the series in six at home before a daunting game seven can occur. 

Read more here…

Random thoughts on the NBA Playoffs so far, looking ahead

After watching the Clippers outscore the Spurs by 22 points in the first quarter of Game Three of their playoff series, it appeared, if ever so briefly, that San Antonio was not as invincible as everyone thought.  Then we saw them retaliate with a 50-17 run of their own and realized, perhaps they are.

At only 23 years old each, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are disturbingly good.  The Los Angeles Lakers had to play their very best just to be able to stay on the same floor as them.  The future of the league is in good hands.

Read more here…

Redrafting all 32 teams of the 2009 NBA lottery

Blake-GriffinBlake Griffin, Ricky Rubio and James Harden all correctly went in the top 5 in 2009, but Hasheem Thabeet at #2 overall is one of the worst draft picks in NBA history. With the value of hindsight, here’s how the draft would look today, with who they actually took in parenthesis:

1. Los Angeles Clippers – Blake Griffin, PF (Blake Griffin)

He’s been a human highlight reel since returning from his knee injury his rookie season, and there’s little doubt the future is very bright for Griffin in LA. Kevin Love is more effective, although not nearly as flashy, but Griffin is certainly in the discussion for being the best power forward, even if he isn’t quite there yet.

2. Memphis Grizzlies – James Harden, SG (Hasheem Thabeet, C)

OJ Mayo has fallen out of favor over the last few seasons in Memphis, and at this point he’s nothing more than instant offense off the bench. Harden would give Memphis a great backcourt partner to pair with Mike Conley, and Harden would fit in better with Rudy Gay as well.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder – Steph Curry, PG (James Harden)

This was a tough choice between both Rubio and Curry, but since Russell Westbrook came out before the draft saying he’d be upset if the team took a point guard, Curry would be an easier pick to spin. Curry could play the 2 guard at times with Westbrook running the point, although the defensive issues would likely mean they couldn’t play together for extended stretches. Read more here…

Durant’s winning shot: The elder passes his torch

Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook

Game knotted up with under thirty seconds to go, Durant calmly receives a pass and crossover. Across him stands Ron Artest, one of the NBA’s top perimeter defenders and perhaps the strongest player in the league, as Durant serenely crosses over. He takes one dribble, sizes up, and drains the go-ahead three pointer to seal Game 3 for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As Gasol, Bynum, and Artest stare at the replay, watching their father’s title hope fade in the distance. Lost to too many minutes, too many late night shoot arounds in the gym, lost to years of being the hardest player to ever play in the NBA.

Durant turns to Kobe after the game; the elder recognizes his time passing, and his title of best clutch player in the game with it. He realizes it’s only natural, the passing of time, a method of chronologically, dividing men and their contributions to their craft. The legend knows he has a few years left in him, but no year as productive as its former. The young superstar smiles as he carves his legacy on the very hardwood of his present foil. He stands on the crest of greatness, titles to be had, frustrated teams with hotheaded stars to beat, and a history to build.

The young man knows that his comrades remain the strongest and most cohesive group of twelve soldiers that one can assemble. He smells Florida, suddenly blocked by another aged western force with terrible power. With the abatement of his Floridian enemy, the only equal opponent left on the battlefield between he and his title was a great Texan general with the most efficient army.

Eric Eulau is an NBA Writer for The Sports Blitz.  He can be contacted at EEulau@TheSportsBlitz.com.

 

The Thunder would rather play the Lakers over Nuggets

Russell WestbrookTeams define themselves in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. Through tough road losses, injuries, and everything in between, the crucible of postseason basketball readily separates both contenders and pretenders. Put the Oklahoma City Thunder on the contender list above the frontcourt-less Miami Heat and the ever-so-volatile Los Angeles Lakers.

Sweeping a struggling, championship-defending Dallas Mavericks team under the rug sent a clear message to the entire NBA that the Oklahoma City Thunder intend on storming through the Western Conference bracket to claim what is theirs, the Larry O’Brien trophy.

The next round should be much stiffer for the Thunder and will offer either a tremendously balanced Denver Nuggets squad or an under the radar Lakers team, if such a thing can exist, that has developed an unquenchable thirst to prove themselves. The Thunder struggled to put away games against the well-rounded Nuggets this year, but always seemed to bring their A-game for the Purple and Gold.

With the regrettable circumstance of owning allegiance to the Northwest Division, the Nuggets are forced to devise a roster that can consistently equal the offense output and athleticism of the Thunder. The familiarity the Nuggets have with the Thunder aides Denver in preparing for the unique style of offense that has become commonplace in Oklahoma City. The Nuggets know how to chase three-time reigning scoring champ Kevin Durant around every feasible type of screen for forty-eight minutes and how to challenge Perkins or Ibaka in the paint on offense. On top of that, Denver Point Guard Ty Lawson can certainly keep up with Westbrook on both ends of the floor and still facilitate to his go-to scorers. Denver was designed to keep up with the Thunder, and if the two Northwest Division foes play each other in the next round, look for the series to go seven games.

Much like the Nugget’s design of tailoring their roster to more consistently beat select opponents, the Thunder were made to beat the Lakers. The Oklahoma City roster represents everything Los Angeles is not: solely defensive minded big-men, a high-scoring wing player, a point guard that shoots too much, and above all else, homogenous hyper athleticism throughout the roster. The Thunder can beat the Lakers by simply challenging Bynum and Gasol with Ibaka and Perkins, effectively bogging down the key and forcing Kobe into isolation situations. Quite simply, the Thunder only need a few things to go right to take the series, while a fragile Lakers team needs a bevy of variables and intangibles to go their way. The Thunder’s defensive game plan for the Lakers creates easy rebounds to feed Oklahoma’s invincible, lightning-fast open court system that features three scorerers who can always smell blood in the water- Westbrook, Durant, and Harden.

Head Coach Scott Brooks must certainly hope the Lakers can successfully grind out the Nuggets series, only to be neutralized by their polar opposite. He and Durant realize that the well-rounded Nuggets offer a much stiffer challenge to match his young Thunder team than old-man Kobe, that gangly Spanish guy, and the giant man baby named Andrew Bynum.

Eric Eulau is an NBA writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at EEulau@TheSportsBlitz.com

The next great NBA rivalry may be upon us

Magic versus Bird, Russell versus Chamberlain, Jordan versus everybody else.  These are the rivalries that molded the National Basketball Association into what it is today.  It’s why so many fans resented LeBron when he decided he’d rather play with his best friend instead of eking it out on his own. But fear not, NBA fans.  We may be on the verge of another great rivalry.  If franchise owners play their cards right, these two teams could dominate the league for years to come. I’m not talking LeBron versus Kobe.  That’s a Finals matchup we have yet to see. It can’t be LeBron-Carmelo.  Even though they entered the league in the same year, LeBron is showing us he’s a far more dominant player. Read more here…