2014-15 NBA Season Preview Podcast

Looking for two NBA fans talking about the upcoming NBA season for an absurd amount of time?

Hey, you’ve come to the right place! If you’ve got some time to call, be sure to check out the two-part NBA Season Preview Podcast that my cousin Gianni Zambito and I conducted last weekend. In the two parts we predict every teams record for the upcoming season and tackle all of the major storylines. Can the San Antonio Spurs repeat? What will the Cleveland Cavaliers look like? Will the Philadelphia 76ers set the NBA record for most losses in a season? How many shots will Russell Westbrook attempt per game while Kevin Durant is out? Is Anthony Davis due for another breakout season? Will the Phoenix Suns regress? How bad will the Indiana Pacers offense be?

So pour yourself a glass of wine–or just do what I’d do and grab a beer out of the fridge–and get comfortable. And definitely don’t feel obligated to listen to all of it at once. Take a listen for a while, mark your spot, come back later. Even we got a little woozy towards the end.

Part One (Eastern Conference)

Part Two (Western Conference) 

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Early NBA Talk

Just three and a half weeks into the NBA season and there is already so much to talk about. My cousin Gianni Zambito called in and joined me in The Captain’s Corner to discuss the struggling Knicks and Nets, the consistently fantastic San Antonio Spurs, the biggest surprises of the season, and make some predictions for what’s to come. Check it out!

NBA Playoffs 10 Questions- Quality over Quantity!

Last year I had a post with this 20 Questions gimmick that I ran before the NBA playoffs started. Not to sound braggadocios, but I felt that it was a really solid piece of writing. There is nothing more satisfying and interesting than asking questions, and then going ahead and answering them yourself. Even though I love the idea, I made two changes to the format this year. First, I trimmed the fat and removed ten questions. As the title states, I felt quality was more important that quantity, and it turns out, I have just as much information in this year’s edition as I did last years. Second, I made the executive decision to wait until the end of the 2nd round to post this. I felt like I would be able to put out an overall better product if I tackled less questions, included the early rounds, and also looked into my magic 8-ball and made some predictions for the next few weeks.

1: What was the most interesting series so far?
In the first round, the Los Angeles/Memphis series was legitimately intriguing from a stylistic standpoint, and the games didn’t fail to deliver. Four games were decided by 4 points or less, and there were three legitimately memorable games in the series. Obviously, the 27 point comeback in game seven qualifies as one of the three. Watching it live, it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen in an NBA game, and a testament to the statement that no lead is safe in the NBA. Here is how quickly Los Angeles came back in that game: My dad has a tendency to fall asleep towards the tail end of sporting events. He does the classic head bob and acts like he isn’t falling asleep; rather he’s just resting his eyes for a minute. Eventually, you start to hear the snoring and that’s all she wrote for him. Well, Los Angeles came back so quickly in that game my Dad didn’t even get to the latter stages of dozing off. Memphis handled that for him. By the end of the game he was actually wide awake, and neither of us could believe that Memphis blew the game. And I was in shock he stayed awake to see it all.

The Clippers celebrate after one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history

The series was decided in a tough and ugly game seven which I chronicled in a Running Diary Recap. It was far from pretty, but as I tweeted during the game, it was the most compelling game of the playoffs at that point. I think sometimes ugly, low scoring, poor shooting games get unfairly judged as boring games. Game seven was a war that was closer than the final score indicated. It probably would’ve put my Dad to sleep though.The only other series that has matched what Los Angeles/Memphis brought to the table has been Indiana/Miami. Aside from the fact there were 3 games that stand out because of the final score and an all-time great performance from LeBron (we’ll get there), there was legitimate bad blood between the two teams that is so rare to see in today’s AAU/everyone loves everybody NBA lifestyle. It was actually refreshing to see flagrant fouls (which shouldn’t have really been called flagrants), technical fouls (which really shouldn’t have been called technicals) and even a little blood shed (which was actually blood).

2: What’s the forecast look like next year for the teams already eliminated from the playoffs?
Chicago Bulls- Well, Derrick Rose will be out a while, so I really doubt the Bulls will again have the best record in the East. They were successful without Rose this past year during the regular season, but it’s entirely different knowing that Rose won’t be there for a while. Chicago will still be competitive. The Bulls are a well-coached, gritty, great defensive team… even without Rose.

Indiana Pacers- It was no fluke Indiana had a 2-1 lead against Miami in the 2nd round. We were getting a look at the new top dog in the Central Division. The Pacers will likely be able to re-sign Roy Hibbert, and with Derrick Rose out for a portion of the year for Chicago, the Pacers should take a step forward in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta Hawks- Just like every other year, the Hawks will finish in between 3rd and 6th in the Eastern Conference and remain totally irrelevant in the big picture of the league.

Philadelphia 76ers- Philadelphia is tricky to predict because it’s not a certainty that Andre Iguodala will be there next year. Look, I like Iguodala, but not as a team’s best player. If Iguodala is the 3rd best player in your team, you are in good shape. But you don’t win a championship when your best guy shoots 38%, and averages 13 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists like Iguodala did this post season. Let’s see if Philadelphia moves Iguodala, and if so, for whom.

Orlando Magic- Let’s forget about Orlando until Dwight Howard is gone. And well we’re at it; I’ll go ahead and forget that Dwight is a total dick too. Everyone else seems to have forgotten this, so I might as well jump on board too.

New York Knicks- The question still remains: Can Carmelo Anthony be the best player on a NBA Championship contender? I thought after Mike D’Antoni was fired and the Knicks took off before the playoffs started, that the anti-Carmelo argument was dead. But man, he didn’t show me too much promise against Miami. Yeah, 28 points and 8 rebounds per game looks good, but 42% shooting doesn’t. As talented of a scorer as he is, he needs a lot of shots to get those points, and he doesn’t make a single teammate any better. The Knicks have plenty of intriguing pieces; Carmelo, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, Jeremy Lin, JR Smith and his quick trigger, and Amare Stoudemire with his fire extinguisher. It still remains to be seen if all of those pieces can be put together and used effectively.

Los Angeles Lakers- As much as I’d love to speculate about the Lakers, it’s hard to guess where they will be because we have no idea who’ll be on the roster. Is Pau going to still be there? What about Bynum? Will they find a way to trade for Dwight Howard? Could Deron Williams end up in Los Angeles? Will Metta World Peace change his name back to Ron Artest to eliminate the incredible awkwardness of calling him World Peace? This team is a giant question mark. Plus, maybe the biggest question is how much does Kobe Bryant have left in the tank? During the postseason he looked like he was still capable of carrying the scoring burden for the Lakers, but is that necessarily what is best for the Lakers? I don’t think Kobe shooting 30 times a game is a recipe for a title, at least not this stage in his career. The best move in my eyes: Flip Pau for Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola, and try to sign an off the bench scorer during free agency. Lowry, Kobe, World Peace, Scola, Bynum and more bench help doesn’t sound too bad.

Los Angeles Clippers- Year one of Lob City can only be seen as a success. There was talk of the Clippers making a finals appearance, but the expectations were set way too high from the start. If the Lakers make the right moves they’ll probably remain at the top of the Pacific Division. But giving Paul an offseason to learn his teammate’s tendencies and another year of polishing for Blake will definitely result in an improved Clippers team.

Memphis Grizzlies- Memphis should be able to sustain success for a while. They weren’t totally healthy either of the last two seasons, yet still managed to upset 1 seed San Antonio last year, and grab a 4 seed this year. I think Memphis remains a contender in the West next year, again hovering around in the top 5 of the standings.

Denver Nuggets/Utah Jazz- These two teams won’t make the playoffs next year. Count on Golden State and Houston taking those two spots. That’s my first major prediction for the 2012-13 season.

Dallas Mavericks- Considering Dallas eliminated any chance at a title defense this year by letting go of Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, and DeShawn Stevenson, I’d expect them to make some big moves in the offseason (Example: Sign Deron Williams) and try to get a little younger before Dirk is no longer relevant. If Dallas, well, when Dallas signs Deron Williams, they suddenly become very a very interesting contender in the Western Conference.

3: What have been the best non NBA Playoffs aspects of the last month?
Three things come to mind. First, on April 29th the WWE Extreme Rules pay-per-view was about as good of a show as you could realistically ask for. It was going to be a tough task to follow up WrestleMania 28 (check out LaterNamed on June 1st to see my firsthand recap of the show), and Extreme Rules somehow managed to successfully do so. The Daniel Bryan/Sheamus 2 out of 3 Falls Match was an exciting contest, and it gave the two a chance to showcase their skills since their match at WrestleMania lasted only 18 seconds. The Chris Jericho/CM Punk Chicago Street Fight was far different than their technical wrestling clinic at WrestleMania, but just as entertaining. And the John Cena/Brock Lesnar Extreme Rules Match was a throwback to the style of match that wrestling fans were familiar with ten years ago, even though it played out like a real fight. Every time I think the WWE is going to fail to deliver, I’m hit with a pay-per-view like Extreme Rule and then I remember why I still love the WWE.

Secondly, we have a Triple Crown threat for the first time since Big Brown won the first two legs in 2008. Even though I’m not much of a horse racing guy, I can always get into a chance at history being made. That’s why I always watch the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and in the off chance there is Triple Crown potential, the Belmont Stakes becomes Super Bowl level exciting… well for like two minutes. This year, I’ll Have Another and jockey Mario Gutierrez have a chance at making history, and a chance at providing me with a previously unknown level of excitement.

And speaking of previously unknown levels of excitement… how much do you love the Corona Light commercial with Stan!? Isn’t Stan the biggest winner of the playoffs so far? How can’t you love Stan? Can I book him for a party? If I’m going out and partying, I want Stan as my wingman. He is the epitome of awesome.

4: Which player has improved his free agent stock the most in the playoffs?
Not that it really matters since neither player would leave their current team, but Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan have been playing better than any of the other upcoming free agents this postseason. That’s a slap in the face to father time and to every young guy who is supposed to be outplaying these two vets. Kevin Garnett is showing flashes of being the Minnesota Timberwolves version of KG and Tim Duncan is playing like he’s capable of putting up the numbers he did when San Antonio was rattling off titles every other year. In Garnett’s case, this scares the hell out of me. As a Heat fan (excuse me, a LeBron James fan), this could pose as a major problem since the Heat front line is as thin as a starving Kenyan and Chris Bosh isn’t even in the picture. Even if Bosh was healthy, there is still the realistic fear that Garnett could go all Big Ticket on him and eviscerate Bosh and the rest of the lackluster Miami bigs. It’s not unthinkable. Garnett has averaged 19.5 points on 50% shooting, and 10.7 rebounds throughout the playoffs, and has had a double-double in 10 out of 14 playoff games.

Statistically, Duncan hasn’t been as spectacular as Garnett has, but I think it’s safe to say Duncan is a very vital piece of this San Antonio squad. I find it interesting that all we hear about San Antonio this year is Parker’s MVP caliber season, Ginobili coming off the bench doing Ginobili things, and an incredibly deep supporting cast. Tim Duncan is rarely mentioned, and that just doesn’t make sense to me. Just like he has for the majority of his career, Duncan has flown under the radar this year. No one has ever fully appreciated how great Duncan has been for 15 years, so why start now? In the hypothetical scenario that Duncan wasn’t 36 and didn’t have a connection with San Antonio, he’d get plenty of long looks as a free agent.

So ultimately, the biggest free agency winner is Roy Hibbert. By simply averaging a double-double (11.7 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3 blocks, 50% FG) this postseason, Hibbert will cash in during free agency; likely to the degree that Marc Gasol did this past December. The Grizzlies agreed to a contract extension with Gasol, who got paid nearly $13 million this year and will be getting 12.5% raises over the next three years. Since the center position is arguably the weakest in the league right now, I guess I can see paying a 7’2 center who has shown glimpses of improving $13 million a year. My only problem with this is that Hibbert, 7’2, couldn’t even manage 9 rebounds a game during the regular season. In the postseason he feasted on two teams playing without a legitimate big man. Hibbert was guarded by the likes of Ryan Anderson, Glen Davis, Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf and Udonis Haslem, so you have to wonder if the numbers are skewed a little in his favor. If I’m a GM and I’m thinking of signing him, I’m certainly hoping he can grab double digit rebounds, and not just against a bunch of power forwards. The fact of the matter is I would feel a hell of a lot more comfortable throwing $13 million a year at the aging Garnett or Duncan for 2 years than I would at Hibbert for 5 years.

5: What has been the biggest disappointment of the playoffs so far?
Honorable Mention: Chris Paul’s play in the 2nd round, Memphis losing in the 1st round, Phoenix/Minnesota not making the playoffs in place of Utah (so we could see Nash or Love/Rubio for four games instead of Utah’s lackluster squad).

The clear cut number one disappointment of the playoffs is Derrick Rose’s ACL. Well it’s not so much the ACL’s fault, but the fact he tore his ACL. It doesn’t matter how much you love your team or how much you maybe even hate the Bulls, you don’t want guys to go down with injuries that severe. Even though surgeries are entirely different now than they used to be, there is still a chance that Derrick Rose is never the same player. He was incredibly successful because of his explosiveness and speed, and he is going to lose some of that, or at least take some time to recover it. And maybe I’m different than everyone else, but I’m an NBA fan more than anything. I want every team 100% coming into the playoffs. I don’t want any asterisks or footnotes next to a title winner. I want the 16 best teams in the league all at their very best for two months of great basketball. Taking Rose out of the equation was a major blow to the Bulls, and to the overall quality of the NBA Playoffs.

6: Any potential Big Room Award winners from this post-season so far?
It’s early in the year, and we have some basketball yet to be played, but we have a few. Obviously there are a few candidates for any NBA exclusive categories. I’d say right now the early front runners for NBA Player of the Year are LeBron James or Kevin Durant, and that can definitely be wrapped up with a title. Speaking of a title, whoever wins the championship will almost certainly get a nomination for Team of the Year, and if the Spurs end up wrapping up a title, it’s hard to imagine a team going on a run as impressive as theirs not taking home the hypothetical Biggie Award Trophy. Coach of the Year honors are definitely up for grabs, especially with Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers still in the mix. There haven’t been any major upsets, but there have been some really good games. Clippers/Grizzlies game one could definitely get some Game of the Year love because of an unthinkable comeback.

Additionally, we have potential nominees for some off the court action as well. TNT’s Inside the NBA has been nominated two straight years for Best Pre/Post Game Show, and this year they could bring home the gold. We also have Best and Worst Announcers of the Year honors potentially in play. Marv Albert is the voice of the NBA, and Mike Breen is high on the game-caller power rankings as well. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Chris Webber seemingly doing everything he could to secure a nomination for Worst Announcer of the Year. It’s almost like he’s purposely awful.

7: Now that Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose are out for the Olympics, who should round out the 12 man roster for Team USA?
First let me say that even though Dwight Howard is my least favorite player in the NBA, losing him really hurts Team USA. Not to the point that I fear we aren’t bringing back the Gold Medal, but enough that it’s not totally out of the question that Spain could pull an upset. They nearly did in 2008, and now Serge Ibaka will join more rested than expected Gasol brothers on the Spanish team. Rose’s injury hurts too, but there is a bulk of great point guards USA has to choose from. Not exactly the case with centers. We have two separate questions here: who do I think should, and who do I think will round out the 12 man roster for Team USA. I personally think it would be wise to have James Harden take Derrick Rose’s spot and Anthony Davis take Dwight Howard’s spot. If you didn’t read my USA Basketball post back in January then the quick rundown of my 12 man roster now including Harden and Davis is: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler, Russell Westbrook, Chris Bosh, Blake Griffin, James Harden, and Anthony Davis. Hold the phone though, Dwyane Wade has talked about how he may not participate in the Olympics, and due to a knee issue and an extended playoff run, this is something we need to consider. Assuming Wade doesn’t participate, I hesitantly put Carmelo back onto Team USA. Again, if you didn’t read the post back in January, the reason I kept Carmelo off in the first place is because Team USA doesn’t really need any more scoring, and as seen in the playoffs, Carmelo is a scorer who needs a lot of shots to get those points. Just take a look at the Knicks/Heat series. It took Carmelo 124 shots to score 139 points. I trust Durant a lot more in the role of “Off the bench scoring forward to come in and light it up” than I do Carmelo.

One more quick thought before I get to who I think will be on Team USA: I know that the pool of players who could potentially play in London has already been determined, but if possible I think Jerry Colangelo and Coach K should take a look at bringing in Kevin Garnett. He looks better this postseason than he has since his first season in Boston, and I trust him more than Bosh, Griffin and even Love in a big game. You’re telling me KG wouldn’t get all kinds of fired up to go to war against Spain in the Gold Medal Game? If that were the case, I’m keeping Anthony Davis off and bringing Garnett along.

Alright, so now who will actually make Team USA? Well, if Dwyane Wade wants in, he’s in. If Deron Williams decides that playing for Team USA is more important than leaving Brooklyn, he’s most likely in. So that brings us to 10 locked spots for LeBron, Kobe, Wade, Durant, Paul, Williams, Westbrook, Love, Chandler, Carmelo. My guess would be that Bosh will be added (experience, size, and a game that translates well to the international game) and so will Blake Griffin (for marketability and a slew of garbage time alley-oops). Anyways, whether these are the smartest moves, it’s likely where we are headed and regardless, USA will all but certainly win Gold. I just think Harden makes more sense than Williams or Carmelo; he can play 1-3, he’s familiar with coming off the bench, and he can be effective by scoring or distributing. Plus he would have the best beard in the entire 2012 Olympics.

8: Where does LeBron’s game four against Indiana rank among his all-time best playoff performances?
Of course I was going to have one whole question devoted to LeBron! By now you knew this had to be coming, didn’t you? Plus, this question gave me an opportunity to look back and reminisce on all of his past playoff games. After careful research thanks to www.basketball-reference.com and a brain that is geared towards remembering useless pieces of NBA information, as far as I can tell, this was the 2nd most impressive/significant game of LeBron’s playoff career. Allow me to break down the top five, in descending order.

T5: 2006 Game 3 1st Round- Win 97-96 at Washington, 16-28 FG, 6-9 FT, 41 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists
-This game has lost steam historically because it came in the first round and because Cleveland lost in the next round. In reality, it was one hell of an effing game and series for that matter. LeBron was absolutely out of his mind in this game (as you can see above) and in the series (35.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.7 assist, and an unheard of 47 minutes per game). What’s not shown in the stat line is LeBron breaking the record for most points in a road playoff debut, his 14 points in the 4th quarter or the game winning bank shot he hit with 6 seconds left.

T5: 2011 Game 5 Conference Finals- Win 83-80 at Chicago, 8-19 FG, 9-11 FT, 28 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists
-This game has already lost steam historically because of the fact the numbers don’t stand out like many of LeBron’s other games do, and because he played a round of hide and seek in the NBA Finals. In reality, this game was Chicago’s to win and it was a minor miracle that Miami won. The Bulls were up 77-65 with just 3:14 left, and then LeBron (along with Dwyane Wade) started making huge shots, Chicago went cold, and suddenly Miami, thanks to a clutch LeBron James jumper, had the lead. To cap off the game, LeBron fittingly blocked a potential game tying three point attempt from Derrick Rose. It was an appropriate way to end a series where Derrick Rose shot 7% in the fourth quarters with LeBron guarding him.

This postseason LeBron has been on a different level than everybody else.

4: 2009 Game Two ECF- Win 96-95 vs. Orlando, 12-23 FG, 10-12 FT, 35 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists
-A not so fun fact: I actually missed this game live. It was the night of prom my junior year of high school and I didn’t see LeBron knock down the biggest shot of his career, which doubled as the biggest shot in the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers. That night I actually spent more time on the dance floor getting updates from my dad than I did dancing. And I was one pissed off S.O.B. when I got the message saying that Cleveland had blown a 23 point lead and was down 2 points with one second left. Needless to say, my night completely turned around when I got bombarded with text messages from every family member and friend who was watching the game. It still bugs me that I didn’t get to watch this game as it happened, but luckily Sports Center ran the shot on a 24/7 replay for the next two days, and I was fortunate enough to catch the game on ESPN Classic a while later.

3: 2009 Game Five ECF- Win 112-102 vs. Orlando, 11-24 FG, 15-19 FT, 37 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists
-Incredible performance with Cleveland on life support at the time. LeBron scored 17 in the fourth quarter, and scored or assisted on Cleveland’s final 29 points of the game. 1962 was the last time anyone posted at least 37-14-12 in a playoff game, so umm yeah, that’s kind of impressive.

2: 2012 Game Four 2nd Round- Win 101-93 at Indiana, 14-27 FG, 12-16 FT, 40 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists
-Let’s wait to discuss the magnitude of this game until this post season ends. From what I can tell, it’s safely locked in at number two since it can’t surpass the number one game, and since number three took place right before the Cavaliers were knocked out of the playoffs. Let me just say this though, in 9 years of watching LeBron, this was probably the most complete game he has ever played when you consider his scoring, rebounding, defense, etc. He played nearly flawless basketball.

1: 2007 Game Five ECF- Win 109-107 at Detroit, 18-33 FG, 10-14 FT, 48 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists
-Call me biased, but I’d be willing to argue with anyone that this was the best post-MJ playoff performance yet. You know who got 4th quarter and overtime minutes for Cleveland besides LeBron in this game? Eric Snow, Sasha Pavlovic, Daniel Gibson, Damon Jones, Drew Gooden, Donyell Marshall, Anderson Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. There is a reason why LeBron scored 29 of the last 30 Cleveland points… That team sucked! I keep saying this! LeBron’s greatest accomplishment of his career hasn’t been his three MVP Awards, back to back 60 win seasons or the all-defensive teams he’s made; it’s getting this particular Cleveland team to the NBA Finals. It’s not just impressive, it’s slightly miraculous. If you have the time, click on the link and watch the 13 minute highlight video from this game. It’s worth the time, trust me, and I’m not just saying that from a LeBron fan perspective. If you appreciate basketball brilliance or you don’t necessarily remember the game so vividly like I do, then I beg you to watch the highlights.

9: What is the biggest reason for each team remaining why they won’t win the title?
Miami- As a half-hearted Miami Heat fan, I have three major worries about this team. Worry number one is if the Big Three can hold up. And that doesn’t concern just Chris Bosh, who is a serious question mark for the rest of the postseason. Dwyane Wade is getting his knee drained (never a good sign) and LeBron is going through yet another post season averaging 40 plus minutes per game. Not trying to make excuses for LeBron, but fatigue was definitely a reason why he performed poorly against Dallas in the Finals last year. Without Bosh in the mix and a banged up Wade, it worries me that LeBron might need to start logging even more minutes. My second worry is the supporting cast, which has so far offered little help. Outside of Mario Chalmers, I don’t feel totally comfortable with offensive contributions from any other players. Battier is shooting under 30% from deep, and Mike Miller is running like a 70 year old man with two hip replacements and a back surgery in the past. Worry number three is the LeBron/Wade dynamic. I’m still convinced they haven’t reached their peak as teammates, and I don’t know the Heat can win a title until they do. This is especially troubling against teams like Boston and San Antonio who thrive on teamwork.

Boston- Injuries, injuries, injuries! Ray Allen has two bad ankles, Avery Bradley has a bad shoulder, Paul Pierce has a sprained knee and Kevin Garnett isn’t exactly unbreakable. If Boston isn’t at full strength, it’s hard to believe they can beat the Heat, let alone win the NBA Title.

Oklahoma City Thunder- The biggest reason the Oklahoma City Thunder won’t win the NBA Title is the San Antonio Spurs. Plain and simple. Ten years ago, the Kings and Lakers had a 7 game battle in the Western Conference Finals, and were without question the two best teams in the league. If the Thunder can manage to make this series interesting (that looks like it might be a big if), we might end up looking at things the same way this year.

San Antonio- At this point it’s really hard to point to anything San Antonio does and call it a potential weakness. The only way I can see them not winning the NBA Title is if their bench pulls a Houdini and disappears, AND the Duncan/Parker/Ginobili Big 3 is badly outplayed. That looks very unlikely. When you play rock solid team basketball like San Antonio does, it’s really hard to imagine a scenario where the Spurs don’t win the title.

10: Historically, how significant are the rest of the playoffs?
Very. Up for grabs:
-Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker or maybe even Russell Westbrook could take sole possession of the “Best Point Guard in the World” Championship Belt.
-Kevin Durant could make a serious push as the best player in the NBA. His late game heroics and overall brilliance so far in the playoffs, combined with an NBA title would give that argument some serious momentum.
-Miami desperately needs to win a title… And that’s all I really need to say.
-This might seem crazy at first glance, but a 2nd ring would put Dwyane Wade third on the list of best shooting guards of all-time.  I’m not going to list the credentials because I can only give Dwyane Wade so much love in one post.
-Boston could pull one of the greatest upsets in NBA playoff history if they could somehow win the NBA Title. Additionally, if Boston wins the title the Garnett/Pierce/Allen era will be seen as a complete success, without any objection. This was originally supposed to be a three-year plan, and we are now in year five. If two titles come out of a supposed to be three-year plan, no Boston fan is complaining.

The Spurs are seven wins from capping off an all-time great NBA season

-San Antonio could not only lock down a spot as one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history (5 titles in a 13 year span), but lock down a seat at the Greatest Teams of All-Time round table. It’s not completely out of the question that they could sweep the playoffs. Even if they didn’t, but still remained relatively dominant (say they finish 16-2 in the postseason), they enter the conversation. For God sakes, they are 33-3 since March 12! They aren’t at the level of 96 Bulls, 86 Celtics or 87 Lakers as far as historical relevance goes… but this is the best NBA team I can remember see playing. If they finish the job, they more than deserve that recognition. Plus, the individual legacies of Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich are greatly improved, not that they need it.
-As much as Miami needs to win a title this year, LeBron James needs to win a title even more. It just has to happen. LeBron may be the most brilliant basketball talent of all-time, yet won’t ever be fully appreciated if he doesn’t win at least one championship. It’s a shame, but it’s true. Right now, I’ve never felt more comfortable with the way LeBron is playing. I’ve watched him closely for 9 years and he is playing the best basketball of his entire career right now. There is one gigantic problem; basketball is a team sport, and the brilliance of the best team (San Antonio) will almost always be greater than the brilliance of the best individual (LeBron James). That’s why even if the Heat make the Finals (I still can’t count out Boston… it’s a mental thing for me) come mid-June I’ll again be left disappointed. At least I know it in advance.

The Captain’s Corner 2012 NBA Playoff Preview Podcast

The general measuring stick for sports postseason excitement is March Madness. Especially on the first weekend, everyone stops what they are doing and all that matters is the bracket. What teams are going to be upset? What powerhouses looked good? How are my picks doing? How many times will “Onions!” be yelled by Bill Raftery? I get caught up in the madness just like everyone else. But I’m a complete NBA dork (if you didn’t know already). To me, the NBA playoffs trump March Madness. Multiple games every night for two months, better basketball, more on the line in terms of legacy and history. I eat that shit up like it’s Mom’s Chicken Parmesan. This year, the start of the NBA playoffs coincide with the end of my sophomore year at college. With a massive burden lifted off my back, I couldn’t think of any better way to bring in the NBA Playoffs than talking about it with the jack-of-all-trades himself, Paul Clark. We got into a thorough breakdown and made plenty of predictions. In Pauley’s case, he made history with his NBA Finals predicted.

You’re dying to know what exactly he predicted, aren’t you? Just click here to find out.

NBA Power Rankings: Eastern Conference

15: Charlotte Bobcats
-Besides skinny, what’s the consensus on how Anthony Davis will look in a Bobcat uniform next year? It’s almost embarrassing how bad the Bobcats are. Gerald Henderson is their leading scorer. Stop laughing, that wasn’t a joke. Henderson is best known for delivering a vicious elbow to Tyler Hansbrough and even if he leads the Bobcats in scoring with 15 points per game for the next ten years, he’ll remain best known for that elbow. The Bobcats don’t just lack star power, they lack power in general. Not one player on their team would log crunch time minutes for any of the current teams in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Would you feel comfortable going to war with Henderson, Boris Diaw, D.J. Augustin, Byron Mullens and Corey Maggette? Probably not. So here is my question: Wouldn’t the Bobcats be better if Michael Jordan was playing for the team rather than running the team?

Stop laughing, that wasn’t a joke. I have a firm understanding of the fact that MJ is 48 years old, and he happens to be a little out of his prime. But is a decade past his prime MJ better in the clutch than anyone the Bobcats can offer? Go ahead and call me crazy, but I say yes. Right now, Matt Carroll, a 6’6 eighth year 31 year old guard is logging 13 minutes per game for Charlotte. If my life was on the line and I needed the Bobcats to win a game, I want the 6’6 48 year old Jordan logging those 13 minutes, no offense to Matt Carroll. I’m 100% convinced that Jordan could play six minutes per half and give me better minutes than Matt Carroll could. Obviously, there would be things the Bobcats would need to do to protect him. Play some zone defense while he’s in (which wouldn’t kill the Bobcats, just look at how badly a good team like the Heat struggle against a zone) and slow down the pace of the game while he is in there (which wouldn’t kill the Bobcats, considering they are already 23rd in the league in fast break points per game). And even if Jordan doesn’t make much of an impact on the floor, the Bobcats instantly become the hottest ticket in the NBA, and that might be more beneficial to them than wins would. I would most certainly fork out some good money to watch Michael Jordan play twelve minutes for a terrible Bobcats team. I’m not spending the loose change hanging around on my dresser to watch Matt Carroll.

14-9: Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors, New Jersey Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks
-Okay, poll question for the readers: Should I type 200 words a piece on six teams that aren’t title threats at all and have a combined 2.25 star players (Deron Williams a full star, John Wall a half star, Brandon Jennings a quarter star, Kyrie Irving a quarter star and Anderson Varejao a quarter star) or should asking this question be enough of a notice to move on to the top eight teams? Yeah, I thought so too. Up next at number eight…

The Lin Dynasty has begun

8: New York Knicks
-I’ve said plenty about the Knicks since they foolishly butchered a very exciting and as a Heat fan, scary team. The Knicks would be sitting at ten in the rankings if it weren’t for, wait for it… Jeremy LINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!! He’s made the Knicks exciting again! Maybe this sounds crazy but I’m more afraid of the type of team the Knicks have been with Jeremy Lin featured than I am the Carmelo Anthony version. I know I’ve been extremely harsh on Carmelo for the last year: Ripping the Knicks for trading way too much to get him, leaving him off of my hypothetical USA Olympic team and now hyping up the Jeremy Lin led New York Knicks while simultaneously tearing Carmelo down. I just don’t foresee a future where we talk about Carmelo Anthony as an all-time great franchise player. All-time great scorer? Yeah, he’ll most likely end up falling under that category. Is Jeremy Lin a franchise player? I strongly doubt it, but he has done something that Carmelo hasn’t done in his short time in New York: He’s made the Knicks exciting.

7: Atlanta Hawks
-I bet you are thinking, “Sonny, why so low on the Hawks? They are 4th in the standings, they’ve beaten four of the six teams ahead of them in your rankings, and have been playing a good portion of the season without arguably their best player, Al Horford.” It’s really pretty simple, and it has nothing to do with the game of basketball. The Hawks, like Oklahoma Sooners football, Kansas Jayhawks basketball and the Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that I annually flip flop how I feel about them, and they routinely bite me in the ass. Let me take you through a brief timeline of my predictions/thoughts on the Atlanta Hawks.
2008: I felt the Hawks would get throttled by the number one seed Boston Celtics in the first round. The Hawks took the series seven games. (0 for 1)
2009: I picked the Miami Heat to beat the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks won in seven games. (0 for 2)
2009 cont.: I stated that I thought the Hawks could give the Cleveland Cavaliers some issues in the 2nd round. The Cavaliers swept the series. (0 for 3)
2010: I picked the Milwaukee Bucks to beat the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks won in seven games. (0 for 4… Do you see a trend building?)
2010 cont.: I stated that I thought the Hawks could give the Orlando Magic some issues in the 2nd round. The Magic swept the series. (0 for 5)
2011: I picked the Magic to sweep the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks won in six games. (0 for 6)
2011 cont.: I kept my damn mouth shut after that.

So let me go on record stating that from now until the playoffs start I will undervalue the Hawks, at which point they will likely either beat the Pacers or 76ers. After that I will state that the Hawks could give either the Bulls or Heat some trouble in the next round, only the Hawks will be swept. I can see it coming but can’t do anything about it. Just wait.

6: Orlando Magic
-Even in the always unpredictable NBA, it seems as if we finally know how the Dwight Howard soap opera is going to play out. He’ll most likely finish the season in Orlando only to leave them after the season with nothing to show for it. Bad news for Orlando, good news for the team that is patient enough to not gut their team like the Knicks did for Carmelo last February (here comes some more Melo bashing). Actually that’s unfair; Dwight is miles better and more valuable than Carmelo is or ever will be, so by odd logic, that means a team should gut their team to get Dwight. Let me try to make this a little simpler.

A motivated Dwight Howard equals a team finding themselves in championship contention. A motivated Melo equals Melo finding himself in contention for a scoring title. If I was the GM of the Knicks last year I wouldn’t have played with the ESPN Trade Machine or even taken calls for Carmelo considering he made it pretty clear he A) wanted out of Denver after that season, B) I had a playoff team already, and C) He wanted to play in New York. He was going to end up in a Knicks uniform regardless. Now if I were GM of an NBA team in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, would I massacre my roster to trade for Dwight? Possibly. I would certainly be listening to trade proposals and most definitely messing around with ESPN’s Trade Machine.

Here is what we’ve learned about Dwight Howard over the last 7 years:
-Along with Kevin Love, Dwight is the only player whose stat lines constantly make you do a double take. He’s had games of 24 points and 25 rebounds, 25 &24, 28 & 20, 33 & 14, 20 & 24 and the utterly ridiculous 45 point, 23 rebound, 39 free throw attempts stat line at Golden State.
-He’s extremely durable. He’s played every game for Orlando this year, and has only missed 7 games in the last 7 plus seasons.
-He can turn chicken shit into chicken salad. Have you looked long and hard at Orlando’s roster? Ryan Anderson, Jason Richardson, Jameer Nelson, and a well-past his prime Hedo Turkoglu are the top non-Dwight Howard options. Somehow, Dwight makes this work considering…
-He’s developing his post game well enough that he almost always commands at least a double team. This is how the aforementioned chicken shit line-up ends up tasting like chicken salad. At this point, not one perimeter player on the Magic can consistently create his own shot. But with at least two guys always paying attention to Dwight, they never need to. I guess these last two points warrant gutting your team to get him.

5: Boston Celtics
-Ah yes, those pesky Celtics. I won’t be fooled and count them out. No sir. Not happening. I feel like if I were to rank the Celtics any lower than five I would be making a mistake similar to the one that everyone from the town of Haddonfield, Illinois has made in the Halloween movies. You know, when the impervious-to-injury Michael Myers gets stabbed in the shoulder with a fire poker and the idiot who stabbed him walks away like they cut his head off. Come on now, I could survive a fire poker stab to the shoulder, you don’t think this maniac wearing a mask can?

I’m still afraid of the Celtics, just like I’m still afraid of Michael Myers

Maybe I’m crazy for ranking the Celtics this high and for making a ridiculous movie analogy to hammer my point home (more to come). The defining Celtics game this season: The 91-83 “bar fight” victory over Orlando, where the Celtics were trailing by 21 points at halftime. By the way, the Celtics had no Rajon Rondo and no Ray Allen for this game. What did this game tell me besides the fact that Boston’s chicken shit is slightly tastier than Orlando’s chicken shit? Boston has the heart of a champion. That’s something that can’t be measured by any statistic, but Boston has it. Just like it can’t be measured whether or not Michael Myers is invincible.

 

4: Indiana Pacers
-There is oodles to like about the Indiana Pacers (kudos to me for successfully using the word oodles). I really like head coach Frank Vogel. I love the Pacers off-season pick up of two-time all-star David West. I absolutely adore their huge starting line-up—Collison, George, Granger, West and Hibbert— that own the boards (3rd in the NBA in rebounds per game). Most importantly, I’m really impressed with the effort they bring on a nightly basis. Indiana is a smash mouth, physical, hard-working team that is going to challenge you every single night. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise if you watched the Pacers 1st round playoff series against Chicago last season. Not only did they take a game in the series, but they traded punches and held their own against the top team in the Eastern Conference. In the first four games of the series, the only difference between the Pacers and Bulls was that the Bulls had the MVP and playoff experience on their side, and the Pacers didn’t. It’s as simple as that.

Now that the Pacers have a year of playoff experience under their belt and an improved line-up (West starting, Tyler Hansbrough off the bench rather than Hansbrough starting and Josh McCheddarBob off the bench), you could see them maturing from a team that last year was a fringe playoff team into a legitimate playoff contender this year. Already the Pacers have beaten the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, Magic, and Mavericks on the road in this young and hectic season. Would I pick them over Chicago in a seven game series? Probably not, but I would have to think really hard about it.

Allow me to make an unorthodox analogy relating to the top three teams in my Eastern Conference power rankings that at first glance won’t make much sense, but hopefully once I’m done it will all be clear. I’m a movie guy. Outside of sports, nothing fascinates me more than great cinema. I have serious admiration for the select few who could write, direct and act at a high level in high quality movies. If I wasn’t so into sports, I would most likely be spending my time collecting and watching as many great movies as I possibly could (Wait, I’m already doing that). With all of that being said, here comes the unorthodox analogy:

What’s the greatest movie of all-time? The Godfather. Hands down, period, end of story. Maybe you disagree, but honestly, that’s irrelevant for the purpose of this analogy. My opinion is all that matters… sorry. After The Godfather, it’s a mystery where every other movie falls in place. Hypothetically, let’s say I think that Slumdog Millionaire, The Shawshank Redemption and Forrest Gump fall in place in some order after The Godfather. I don’t think this is too far-fetched. If I were to compare those three movies to the three teams at the top of Eastern Conference power rankings, Slumdog Millionaire could be Philadelphia, The Shawshank Redemption could be Chicago and Forrest Gump could be Miami. You’re dying to know how the hell I came up with this ridiculousness.

3: Philadelphia 76ers
-I’ll bet you were a little surprised that Slumdog Millionaire is in my pantheon of great movies. You’re probably just as surprised that I put Philadelphia in the hypothetical pantheon of Eastern Conference powerhouses. Just like Slumdog Millionaire (2009 Academy Award winner for Best Picture) has every right to be in the discussion with Forrest Gump and The Shawshank Redemption, Philadelphia has every right to be talked about with Miami and Chicago, the pre-season Eastern Conference favorites. Slumdog Millionaire overcomes its minute weaknesses/downfalls—it’s an independent and foreign film; it wasn’t a huge hit in theatres; there are no big name stars, nor big time acting performances—thanks to good but not great acting, a unique/exciting/dramatic/uplifting story and a surprisingly strong soundtrack. If you make a crossover connection, you could say similar things about Philadelphia. The 76ers aren’t a very marketable team due to the fact that they don’t have any “stars.” In the end, their strengths overcome their weaknesses. Their roster has seven to nine guys (depending on how you feel about Jodie Meeks and Nikola Vucevic/Lavoy Allen) you could go to war with in a playoff series. They are well-coached, well-rounded and beat the crap out of everyone they play—they are second in the league with an 8.9 point per game differential and 15 out of their 18 wins games have been by double digits.

With all of that said, just like Slumdog Millionaire, I can’t put Philadelphia ahead of its two competitors. Even though Philadelphia does everything you could want a good team to do (2nd in scoring defense, 2nd in point differential, 1st in turnover differential, 6th in field goal percentage, 3rd in field goal percentage defense, 4th in 3 point field goal percentage), there is still the elephant in the room that Lou Williams, Jrue Holiday or Jodie Meeks will be taking on late game scoring duty. The NBA is dominated by stars who make big plays, especially at the end of games. Even though Dallas triumphed over Miami last year as the more prototypical “basketball team,” Dirk Nowitzki was still the go-to-guy in late game situations. I don’t think Williams, Holiday and Meeks can compete with the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng; just like Dev Patel can’t compete with Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Morgan Freeman, and Tim Robbins.

2: Chicago Bulls
-Not many people know this, but The Shawshank Redemption is a slightly better movie than Forrest Gump. Why did Forrest Gump take home the Academy Award for best picture over The Shawshank Redemption in 1995? Forrest Gump was more marketable: it had a better name, a more unique story and more star power which leads to more memorable characters and acting performances. Plus, after all it is a damn good movie. Then why if I concede that The Shawshank Redemption is a better movie than Forrest Gump, do I rank the Chicago Bulls (The Shawshank Redemption) lower than the Miami Heat, the Forrest Gump of this analogy? Well, for sort of the same reasons.

Like I referenced above in the 76ers section, star power usually wins out in the NBA. Derrick Rose is an absolute superstar. But Miami’s two and half absolute superstars (Bosh waivers between being a star and a great player) trump Chicago’s one. Chicago might play sounder defense than Miami. They give up eight points less per game than Miami. Teams shoot a lower percentage against Chicago than they do Miami. But does Chicago bring more to the table than Miami? Probably not. If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, would you want to watch The Shawshank Redemption or Forrest Gump? I’m guessing you pick Forrest Gump. And even I would pick Forrest Gump.

In the end, I like Miami over Chicago for one main reason: As I mentioned earlier, Miami’s two and a half superstars trump Chicago’s one. There is just too much responsibility resting on Derrick Rose’s shoulders. The starting point guard of your team should not have to score 30 points per game for you to win, and he definitely shouldn’t be taking 30 shots. Derrick Rose needs offensive help. Maybe Luol Deng’s offensive game reaches a new level; a level that could propel the Bulls to the finals. Maybe Carlos Boozer thrives after a year under his belt playing for the Bulls. Maybe Rip Hamilton, a seasoned veteran with playoff experience will come through in the playoffs. Maybe that is too many maybes to be able to call a team the best in the conference.

1: Miami Heat
-Finally we get to the Miami Heat. Like Forrest Gump, the Miami Heat are different from anything else you’ve seen. Are the Heat conventional? Absolutely not. Nothing about Miami says “typical basketball team.” They didn’t come together in a conventional fashion. They aren’t covered in a conventional fashion—really, does there need to be a Heat Index that gives post-game grades after the 9th game of the season against the Nets? They definitely don’t play conventional basketball. It still amazes me that Wade and LeBron could just take turns carrying the scoring burden, as the other stands in the corner and watches like the kid who doesn’t know the plays for his high school basketball team. This defies basketball logic, yet somehow works a good portion of the time. Enough to make it to the NBA Finals last year, but ultimately fall short.

So like Gump, the Heat have incredible star power: LeBron- Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), Wade- Gary Sinise (Lt. Dan Taylor), Chris Bosh- Robin Wright (Jenny!). The rest of the supporting cast acts as the Bubba/Mrs. Gump/Little Forrest/The Guy who said “Woah Man, you just ran through a big pile of dog shit!” (Underrated moment of the movie) of the team. Whether you love the Heat or hate them; if you think they are the best team in the league or think they are overrated, everyone watches them. Maybe we are heading towards an age in the NBA where every successful team has to have a collection of stars that come together through big time free agency moves. An age where NBA teams are going to start to look more and more like a street ball team than an actual “basketball team” running basketball plays. But the Heat will always be the first, the most controversial and most talked about team of this fashion. It’s polarizing to watch them play with such ease at times, and at other times struggle so mightily despite the incredible star power they can put on the court. Polarizing… that’s a perfect word to describe Forrest Gump too. It’s dramatic, it’s sad, it’s exciting and it’s funny. It’s different than any other movie ever made and it leaves an impact on you no matter how you feel about it. There will never be another Forrest Gump, just like there will never be a collection of talent so highly scrutinized and closely covered as the Heat. That is why the Heat and Forrest Gump get the nod over the other two teams and movies.

What is the most spot on part of the Miami Heat/Forrest Gump analogy? “Momma always said, life’s like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re gonna get.” I’ve watched roughly 90% of Miami’s games since they came together in 2010, and I still don’t know what I’m going to get from them game to game. They could just as easily win by 20 after trailing by ten at halftime as they could lose by 20 after leading by ten. They might fold under pressure like a lawn chair that is past its prime, or they might completely lock a team down and score at will to close out a tight game. I still can’t figure them out and I’ve been intensely watching and scrutinizing basketball for over a decade. “Momma always said, life’s like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re gonna get.” Every time I watch the Heat I’m just praying I don’t pick out the chocolate with the disgusting orange filling inside.