2015 NBA Playoff Preview Podcast

The NBA Playoffs begin today, and to celebrate the big event my cousin Gianni Zambito and I conducted a massive two-part NBA Playoff Preview Podcast.

Part 1: We discuss who should win the NBA MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and other end of season awards. Then, we discuss the Eastern Conference 1st Round match-ups. Which team poses the biggest threat to LeBron James’ return to the NBA Finals? Are the Atlanta Hawks being underrated? Is there any team less entertaining than the Brooklyn Nets?

Part 2: We dive in Western Conference 1st Round previews and discuss how close Anthony Davis is to being the best player in the NBA. Are the Grizzlies and Blazers both too banged up to make a legitimate postseason run? Is this the Spurs last hurrah, and are San Antonio and Golden State locks for the Western Conference Finals?

Check it out! We’ll be back every week to discuss the biggest postseason narratives.

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) 

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.

Grinding Out A Running Diary Recap

I’m dusting off the cobwebs and breaking out the first running diary recap of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. No explanation is needed really. Its game seven of the most compelling first round match-up of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Clippers vs. Grizzlies, let’s recap it!

1st Quarter

12:00- It has to be mentioned, this Memphis crowd is incredibly passionate. Maybe it’s because there isn’t much more to be excited about in Memphis… but their crowd almost always delivers.

11:20- Rudy Gay misses a long two point field goal attempt. I’m going to copy this sentence because I’ll have at least ten opportunities to paste it later on in this running diary. Kareem had the Sky Hook, Tim Duncan has the bank shot, and Rudy Gay’s signature shot is the 22 foot jumper.

10:36- Caron Butler puts in the first two points of the game with two free throws. Kudos to Butler for playing with a broken left hand. This is one of the many reasons why the NBA is so much better than college basketball. Guys just care more. Kendall Marshall missed two crucial games in the NCAA Tournament because of a broken right wrist (his off-hand by the way). Caron Butler was supposed to be out 4-6 weeks with a broken left hand (his off hand) and he missed only one game. Marshall proved not only he is a wuss (that’s me censoring myself), but also that his NBA Draft stock is far more important than a potential NCAA Championship.

6:25- Lionel Hollins wants a timeout for the Grizzlies. I think everyone needed that timeout after the offensive atrocity that took place over the first 5 and a half minutes. 6-5 Clippers lead. I know that they call the Fed Ex Forum the Grindhouse, but this is ridiculous.

2:50- A graphic flashes on the screen that Memphis is 4-17 and has 3 turnovers. That explains why they only have 9 points right now.

1:34- The Clippers squander a 3 on 2 fast break when Blake Griffin passes to Randy Foye in the corner, who happens to be standing out of bounds. This is a trend I really don’t like. Way too many 3 pointers, and they are being taken at really dumb times. There is a reason why scoring averages and field goal percentages were higher 20 years ago. Teams were taking better shots.

0:00- The Clippers lead 16-13 at the end of the first. I think this is the pace that Memphis and Chris Paul want to play at. It’ll be interesting to see if the tempo stays the same or if it speeds up once Chris Paul goes to the bench.

2nd Quarter

12:00- Interesting line-ups to start the 2nd quarter. Conley, Mayo, Pondexter, Speights and Randolph for Memphis; Bledsoe, Mo Williams, Young, Martin and Evans for Los Angeles. Am I the only one who finds it a little alarming that Los Angeles is playing 3 shooting guards right now? Let me rephrase: Am I the only one who finds it a little alarming that Los Angeles is playing 3 guards with a shooting guard’s mentality right now? This is where Chauncey Billups would be a huge factor if he didn’t tear his Achilles and pursue a coaching career for the Clippers.

9:20- On a 3 on 2 fast break Eric Bledsoe kicks it out to Nick Young who hits a 3. Well then! Forget I said anything.

8:55- A question for America- Do we really need American Idol, The Voice AND Duets? Isn’t that overkill? If you could sing, you could sing. I don’t think doing a duet with Robin Thicke is going to make anyone a superstar.

6:15- Great stretch for Chris Paul. Corner three, followed by a pull up jumper over Z-Bo. He is the only reason why I was even a tad hesitant to pick Memphis to win the series (and the West). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he is the best point guard I’ve ever seen play. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that nobody better understands how to play the game of basketball than Chris Paul does.

4:03- Marc Gasol matches Paul’s great stretch with stretch of his own. A tough running one hander followed by an “And One” layup. Memphis desperately needed it. The aforementioned great Memphis crowd was getting quiet, and Los Angeles had expanded their lead to ten. It isn’t out of the question if the Grizzlies make an extended playoff run that Marc could take the conch from Pau as the best Gasol in the NBA.

2:48- This sequence will have some sort of effect on the game. Mike Conley drives to the basket and misses the lay-up. Z-Bo gathers the offensive rebound and gets fouled by Paul on the shot. After the foul, Z-Bo gives Paul a little bit of a shove to the face. One of two things is going to happen: The Memphis crowd will get back in the game and the Grizzlies players will become more engaged as well. Or, a pissed off Chris Paul is going to take over this game like only he could. Those kinds of plays are usually what take Chris Paul to the next level.

1:50- Rudy Gay misses a long two point field goal attempt. Yes, I did simply copy and paste this sentence.

0:00- End of the half Los Angeles leads 39-38. More important than the score, Zach Randolph collects a defensive rebound and bowls over Chris Paul as the buzzer sounds. Just like I said earlier at the 2:48 mark, this kind of interaction is going to set the tone for the 2nd half. Will the physical play be beneficial for Memphis, who definitely prefers to play the grind it out style, or will Chris Paul put on a brilliant/pissed off display of basketball?

3rd Quarter

11:20- Mike Conley connects on an awkward righty floater, and then Rudy Gay shies away from his go to shot and attacks the basket. Memphis goes up 3. Memphis definitely seems like the more energized team starting the 2nd half.

7:31- The team that wins this game is going to win for one reason: they want it more. Both teams are shooting 35%, and the way the game is going I can’t see the shooting percentages changing too much. 50/50 balls, rebounds, and hustle plays are going to win this game. It’s that simple. Clippers lead by 1 right now. In other news, I just ate roughly a pound of cream puff frosting. This could be trouble later on tonight.

5:08- I love Chris Paul’s nastiness! He is absolutely fearless out there. He just went nose to chest with Marc Gasol. He’s scaring the hell out of me for picking Memphis. I’m almost quivering.

1:45- Rudy Gay misses a long two point field goal attempt.

0:40- As Marc Gasol nearly hits a three that would’ve blown the roof off of the Grindhouse, I realize that Hamed Haddadi looks like a darker skinned Vlade Divac/Rony Seikaly hybrid. I love playing the lookalike game.

0:00- Before Mo Williams almost connects on a 70 footer, Rudy Gay banks in a floater with 2 seconds left to put Memphis up one. This game has been far from pretty, but it’s the most compelling game I’ve watched this year. I picked a good one to do a running diary recap for. You’re welcome!

4th Quarter

12:00- Keys to the fourth quarter: Winning the battle for 50/50 balls and the Clippers need someone besides Chris Paul to produce offensively. If Nick Young, Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe can outplay the Memphis perimeter players, the Clippers have a shot to win. If Memphis controls the boards and stops the Clippers supporting cast, then they advance.

11:08- Insert a Nick Young trifecta with Chris Paul on the bench, and the Clippers suddenly have a 4 point lead.

10:15- Gilbert Arenas is in the game, and he is going to do something. Agent Zero will make a play.

9:45- Gilbert Arenas drives into traffic and takes a shot where he was not looking at the basket. I told you he would make a play. I just never said it was going to be a good play.

8:41- Los Angeles leads by 8 and Lionel Hollins is forced to take his 2nd timeout of the quarter. The Clippers bench has way more confidence than the Grizzlies bench. K-Mart, Eric Bledsoe and Nick Young > Dante Cunningham, Gilbert Arenas and OJ Mayo.

7:00- Mo Williams hits a wide open 3 to put Los Angeles up 10. Trust me, he never hit those shots in the playoffs when he was in Cleveland. I’m now going to walk outside and slam my head against a palm tree.

6:16- Chris Paul comes back in the game. This might not seem like a noteworthy statement, but in game six Vinny Del Negro waited a little too long to put Paul back in and it cost the Clippers the game. Clippers up 8 right now.

4:05- Marc Gasol hits a weird looking Dirk Nowitzki fall away to cut the Clippers lead to six. It didn’t look nearly as good as Dirk’s version. Must be the Spanish version is a little different than the German one. Timeout Clippers. Interesting note: Z-Bo and Blake both were on the bench. If I’m Del Negro, I want Paul, Mo Williams, Nick Young, Evans and Martin out there. I like K-Mart’s experience and Evans’ energy right now more than what Blake brings to the table. If I’m Lionel Hollins I’m playing Conley, Allen/Mayo (offense/defense scenarios), Gay, Randolph and Gasol.

1:01- Way too much action going on. I keep losing track of what I want to type because something else important happens. The most important sequence: With the Grizzlies down 6 with two minutes left, OJ Mayo strips Chris Paul (rare), misses a fast break lay-up and somehow Paul and Reggie Evans are the only two players back for either team. No Grizzlies ran to the other end! That is absolutely unacceptable. It could’ve been a 4 point game with momentum totally in Memphis’s favor. Instead, Clippers are up 7 with 1 minute to go. For a team that is all about hustle and grind, the Grizzlies just got beat at their own game.

0:00- I have a stomach ache. I don’t know if it’s because my Western Conference finals pick is out, or if it’s that pound of chocolate frosting I ate earlier. Five closing thoughts:

1: Congratulations to the Clippers for outplaying the Grizzlies at their own game, on the road nonetheless. Chris Paul wasn’t spectacular (19 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 turnovers) but his attitude was reflected by his teammates. Nick Young, Kenyon Martin, and Eric Bledsoe played fearless basketball.

2: I’m disappointed in the Grizzlies. They lost a grinder at the Grindhouse. Unacceptable. I shouldn’t have picked against the best player in the series.

3: I’m also disappointed that I didn’t get to see LeBron James accept his 3rd NBA MVP Award. If I was going to miss it, the Clippers/Grizzlies game could’ve at least had a more dramatic finish.

4: You know who isn’t disappointed? The San Antonio Spurs. I guarantee they wanted no part of the Memphis Grizzlies. Last year wasn’t a fluke, I don’t care what anyone says.

5: I hope Chris Paul absolutely eviscerates Tony Parker in the 2nd round. Why? Because I hate Skip Bayless. I’ve been tweeting Skip for a few weeks now, basically responding to any idiotic comment he makes. Trust me, I have plenty of opportunities. I no longer watch ESPN First Take because I can’t stand hearing his voice and I don’t see the point in watching a show where two people yell back and forth at each other without making any relevant arguments. I follow Skip Bayless on Twitter for one reason: I want to debate him. I want one 15 minute segment to debate the NBA with this guy. It doesn’t even need to be on LeBron. Anything relating to the NBA works for me. I want to prove that the only reason Skip Bayless is an ESPN employee is because he knows how to get a rise out of people. Congrats Skip, you’ve successfully gotten a rise out of me. But I’m not going to stop tweeting you or the Twitter account for ESPN First Take until I get my debate. I will come to First Take and eviscerate you in an NBA debate in a very calm manner because that is how people who know about the NBA handle themselves.
Follow me at @SonnyCG
#SonnyVsSkip

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.