NBA Finals exceeding expectations

It’s been 11 months since LeBron James’ famed “decision”.  At the time of it, the Miami Heat were instantly locked in as NBA title favorites.  However, a month into the season, they looked out of sync managing to be only two games over .500.

But did anyone really think the 3-headed monster of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would be mediocre the whole season?  The NBA is a prime example of where talent almost always wins out.  So in the end, it’s not a surprise at all the Heat are in the finals.

The Dallas Mavericks are just as deserving of their spot in the title fight as Miami.  Dirk Nowitzki will always generate points in multiple ways.  He may be the purest scorer we have in the NBA.  But it’s defensive minded players like Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion who have really given the Mavericks a lift late in the season and into the postseason.

There is no question Nowitzki has carried this team in the playoffs.  He’s actually carried the whole organization the past decade.  Even with exceptional performances by J.J. Barea and Jason Terry against the Lakers, the mainstay has always been Dirk.

 What makes this series so intriguing is we undoubtably have the two best teams in the NBA.  Dallas emphatically knocked off the two-time defending champs in L.A. by sweeping them.  The Heat ran through perennial Eastern Conference Champion Boston and literally shutdown MVP Derrick Rose of the Bulls.

It’s not a shock that LeBron James is stealing headlines in this series.  It’s just how he’s doing it.  Most of the vibe is that James has taken his foot off the pedal in the fourth quarter of the finals.  Ok, I guess I buy that seeing he’s only scored a combined 9 points in those quarters.  His defense, which is top-notch in this league, even failed him in game four.  ESPN’s Rick Bucher went so far as to call him a “glue guy”.

People, relax.  Not only is the criticism unwarranted, it’s downright laughable.  There’s a reason James hasn’t had the ball in critical stretches for the Heat.  Dwyane Wade.  There is not one player on Dallas that can match up with him.  Jason Kidd is 38, and Jason Terry has never been known as a defender.  On top of that, Shawn Marion, the man in charge of containing James is an excellent on-ball defender.  LeBron has yet to score more than 25 points against Dallas this season.

This series has had every bit of entertainment.  It feels like the Heat have been “freely dunking” on the Dallas.  We’ve already had a comeback for the ages in game two.  Nowitzski willed his team to a game 4 victory despite a body temperature of 101.  How about three straight games decided by three points or less?  A feat which hasn’t happened in the NBA finals since 1948.

This is the first NBA finals in a long time I have sat down and watched every single game wire to wire.  If things keep to form, something tells me this trend will continue.

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NBA Power Rankings (1-15)

 

written by Tyler Merritt

With the NBA season now in full swing, the defending champs have put their stamp on the league yet again, the Hornets have surprised the league with a quick start, and Miami has growing pains.

Take a look at the top 15 teams in the NBA:

  1. Lakers (8-1) – The defending champs took a back seat to the TMZ show going on in Miami this offseason but took no time re-asserting their dominance.
  2. Hornets (7-0) – Chris Paul and first year head coach Monty Williams have the Hornets off to their best start in franchise history.
  3. Celtics (7-2) – Rajon Rondo continues to play at an elite level. They’ve beaten the Heat twice now, but have still dropped two games.
  4. Spurs (6-1) – The big 3 aren’t getting any younger, but their bench sure is. They’ve moved Manu into the starting lineup and Richard Jefferson is playing like the old RJ.
  5. Magic (5-2) – They were stomped by Miami early and let one slip away against Utah. They’ll need Jameer Nelson to take the next step if they hope to be a contender.
  6. Mavericks (5-2) – The Mavs are off to the same start as always. They’re undefeated on the road, but will need more contribution from Caron Butler and Jason Kidd.
  7. Jazz (5-3) – They’ve come back from huge deficits in their past 3 games on good teams. Let’s not forget though, they played bad enough to be down by that much too.
  8. Heat (5-4) – The Heat haven’t found their rhythm on offense, but they are playing strong defense and will continue to beat teams off of pure star power.
  9. Bulls (4-3) – Joakim Noah looks stronger and is making a large presence early this year. Look for them to get a big boost when Carlos Boozer gets back and up to speed.
  10. Trailblazers (6-3) – They’ve won big and lost big this season. They’ll need LaMarcus Aldridge to become a 20-10 player and Brandon Roy to start distributing the ball more.
  11. Hawks (6-3) – They ran through easy opponents to start, but have dropped three straight. Joe Johnson has more money but is giving less production. They have 6 guys averaging 10-plus points per game.
  12. Thunder (4-3) – They’ll beat a good team and lose to a bad one. They’re still young and looking for consistency. James Hardin is struggling early.
  13. Nuggets (5-4) – Despite an upset star player, they are still fighting and just had a big fourth quarter comeback on the Lakers.
  14. Warriors (6-3) – They lack depth, but Monte Ellis is playing at an all-star level.
  15. Pacers (3-3) – Danny Granger is coming off a superstar performance, but the Pacers still lack consistency. Look for them to be in a race for the 7th or 8th seed come season end.

Note: The Hornets, Spurs, and Mavericks are each a league best 3-0 on the road.

The Rockets will not be a threat in the Western Conference until they split ties with Yao Ming.

A healthy Spurs team could be the biggest threat to the Lakers throne when the playoffs arrive. Greg Popovich will rest his stars throughout the season and give his young bench a chance to establish themselves.

Yao Ming on the verge of potential retirement

As if the Houston Rockets luck couldn’t get any worse, well it has.  For half a decade they struggled with keeping the tandem of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming healthy.  The two never played an entire season together at full strength, and only twice were they both able to play in the postseason as a duo.

Half of that problem is gone in McGrady, now the franchise player is in major doubt of whether he wants to continue his career.  The timing of this is detrimental because had Yao retired a few months ago, Houston would’ve had more cap space to sign one of the big free agents this summer.

Yao Ming has been plagued by injuries his whole career

Yao, who turns 30 in September didn’t sound very optimistic about his future as a basketball player.

“If the foot injury does not heal next season, I might choose to call it quits,” he said.

Everyone knows how passionate Yao was a couple years ago when he was in trouble of missing the 2008 Olympics in Beijing due to injury.  Now, he has come out and said he has probably played his final game for the Chinese National Team.  This makes me think his future in the NBA is in serious question.  Yao seemingly put his country before the Rockets.  And the fact that he is contemplating retiring from International play, has to be a scary thought in a place once known as “clutch city”.

Even if Yao is going to play this season at close to full strength, his minutes will be limited, hence the signing of big man Brad Miller.  Look for Yao to play around 35 a game.  To be a superstar in this league I just don’t see how you can play less than 40 minutes a night.

It appears with a healthy Yao, the Rockets have the pieces to make a deep run in the Western Conference.  Especially now that players like Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer have left the Suns and Jazz respectively.  However, as a Houston fan myself, it worries me that our chances to play great basketball rely on the health of one player rather than the team itself on the court.

Hornets desperately need Paul to stay

Due to the free agent sweepstakes this summer, stars under contract had a quiet off-season.  However, one of them is now garnering attention.  According to one source New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul recently asked to be traded from the team.

When Hornets representatives meet with Paul tomorrow morning, it’s imperative they persuade him into staying.  Teams in which Paul is supposedly interested in include the Knicks and Magic.  Paul’s motives for pursuing a trade are because he feels management isn’t putting forth its best effort in making the Hornets better.

Chris Paul is not satisfied with the current Hornets roster

The Hornets themselves have said they have no intentions of trading Paul.  With that being said, I can understand his frustration.  The past two seasons the Hornets have traded away their best big man in Tyson Chandler, and fired Coach Byron Scott.  If New Orleans does end up trading Paul, they will likely get some young talent, but it’s hard to imagine the players the Hornets acquire will equal the value of Chris Paul.

I could definitely see Paul in New York playing alongside Amare Stoudemire.  Because of his injury last season, I think people have forgotten just how good he is.  Talented players like Chris Paul are very rare.  At just 25, he still has the prime of his career to look forward to.  For these reasons, the Hornets should do everything they can to keep him, while prospective teams should throw everything they have at New Orleans to attain Paul.

Durant shines in USA scrimmage

Kevin Durant is continuing to build on his promising career as an NBA player.  For the next month he will be doing so wearing the jersey of his country.  In the USA Basketball Showcase last night, the Oklahoma City star scored 28 points to lead the White team to victory 114-96.

Durant is the best player the U.S. will have as they head to the FIBA Championship in late August.  While names like Bryant, James, and Wade are not on the roster, there’s plenty of talented youth around Durant with guys like Derek Rose and Eric Gordon, who chipped in 16 and 15 points respectively.  As a whole, the White team shot 55 percent from the field.

Memphis guard Rudy Gay led the Blue team in scoring with 23 points.  Head Coach Mike Kryzewski likes the blend of talent he sees from the squad.

Kevin Durant

“They’re coming together more than I thought they would,” Kryzewski said. “There’s a great spirit of cooperation. They’re really a good group of guys. They’ve been tested this week. They’ve done it enthusiastically. It was a really good week for us.”

Also on the preliminary roster is Durant’s Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook.  The duo should keep Oklahoma City afloat for many years to come, but for now have their eyes set on the upcoming tournament in Turkey.  Historically, the U.S. has not always dominated at the FIBA’s.

The Americans have not won the tournament held every four years since 1994 and finished a disappointing third in 2006.  The current roster of 19 players will be cut to 14 or 15 by tomorrow in preparation for the training camp which starts Aug. 10 in New York.

Houston Rockets 2010 Outlook

It’s an understatement to say the Rockets overachieved last season.  Ron Artest, Tracy McGrady, and Yao Ming never played a game for the 2009-10 team.  If this team can stay healthy in 2010, they should contend for second place in the West, behind Los Angeles.

Aaron Brooks had a breakout year last season averaging nearly 20 points per game.  Signing Luis Scola to a four-year contract extension was key.  Trevor Ariza didn’t have a great year; he struggled shooting the ball at times.  However, the Rockets received the better end of the bargain by virtually exchanging Ron Artest for him.

Rick Adelman is one of the more underrated coaches in the league.  He always manages to get the most out of his teams.  I like the draft pick of Patrick Patterson.  While his offensive game needs some work, he should immediately be able to help Houston in the rebounding category.

It’s no secret that injuries have plagued the Rockets the past few seasons.  Yao Ming is always vulnerable in that respect.  Something else that worries me is that Yao will probably be limited in his minutes anyway.  Look for him to play 30-35 minutes a game this year.  With that statistic, I’m not sure if Houston has enough to make a strong push because you need your best player on the court as much as possible.

The duo of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady failed to win a championship

This season’s starting lineup will probably be Brooks, Kevin Martin, Scola, Ariza, and Yao.  On paper, that is a strong starting five.  Not to mention a guy like Shane Battier will be coming off the bench.  However, with Yao’s instability and Ariza’s erratic play, there could be some worries for Houston.

Outside of Brooks, no one shoots the three very well for the Rockets.  Martin is excellent at getting to the line, but is not necessarily feared as a shooter.  Ariza will be the x-factor for this team.  Assuming Yao is healthy, you know what you’re going to get from all the other players.  Brooks will be a three point threat, Martin will get you 15-20 a game, and Scola is a double-double threat.

Top to bottom I still believe the Lakers are the best team in the West.  There should be some excitement around this year’s Houston team though.  The most since they acquired Tracy McGrady back in 2004.

Reaction to MJ’s comments about LeBron

First I’d like to say, I think the media has undoubtedly magnified these comments more than they should have been.  Which is probably why I’m writing about it.  So in a way, maybe I’m adding to the fuel.

Either way, I’m still siding with LeBron on this move, and probably always will.  Would I have liked to see him win a ring without other superstars?  Yeah, probably.  I’ll always be more in favor of the NBA’s stars being spread around the league.  I think individually when stars are on their own teams, they are able to showcase their talents better.

LeBron James and Michael Jordan

Jordan said, “There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry [Bird], called up Magic [Johnson] and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team,'” Jordan said after playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada. The interview aired on the NBC telecast of the event. “But that’s … things are different. I can’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.”

Athletes are scrutinized all the time for caring about only money.  Which to be fair, why shouldnt’ they?  It’s a business.  Anyway, here you have LeBron James, going to Miami to take less money, yet some people still question the morals of his move.

Sports today are all about winning, which is the main reason why fans get so upset when an athlete goes to a weaker team for more money.  Therefore, didn’t LeBron make the right decision by giving himself the best chance to win?

Michael Jordan wouldn’t have ever had the option of playing with Magic or Bird because their respective teams were too good to leave.  Those two players were surrounded with talent.  It wasn’t hard for LeBron to leave Cleveland.  He had little talent around him.  Chris Bosh’s teams never made a splash in the East.

When did Chris Bosh become a superstar anyway in this league?  Don’t get me wrong he is a very good player.  But for MJ to say a team with himself, Magic, and Bird would be the same as a LeBron, Bosh and Wade team isn’t a fair statement.  Jordan, Bird, and Magic were the biggest stars in the league.  People still forget Kobe Bryant is arguably the best player in the NBA.

People say LeBron will never be like Jordan.  I don’t think he will be either.  Michael was a lot better shooter than LeBron is in his career.  LeBron gets to the hole easier than Jordan could, which may be harsh on Jordan because James attacks the rim better than anyone in NBA history.  The closest thing to Jordan in this league is Kobe Bryant.  As did MJ, Kobe has a knack for knocking down big shots at the end of games.

My message to LeBron:  Win all you can in Miami.  While people may say you chose the easy route, you chose the best one in terms of winning.  However, be prepared for all the criticism if you don’t come out on top with your first ring next summer.

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