Sunday, January 24, 2016

Why Not The Bulls

     It’s pretty much been a forgone conclusion that the Cavs are going to make it to the NBA finals.  Not that they’re so good but that most of the east is stuck in a perpetual state of mediocrity.  The Bulls have been my only pick since the beginning of the season to even have a chance of upsetting Cleveland but they’ve been so inconsistent that it’s been really hard to take them seriously.  But for the first time this season I’m thinking why not the Bulls?  It’s not that I think they’ve figured anything out.  I’m sure they’re going to be inconsistent all year long but they are definitely a bad match up for the Cavs.  Gasol is totally comfortable against anyone in the Cavs front line and Rose plays Kyrie well.   Butler can’t stop Lebron but he makes him work hard and expend a lot of energy.  When other members of the Cavs guarded Butler he got his shots fairly easily.  It’s just a matter of hitting shots for Butler, Gasol, and Rose.  Love has difficulty guarding anyone on the front line of Chicago.  I’m not sure Love is going to still be on the Cavaliers by the trade deadline as Lebron is clearly calling the shots and I see their relationship as a bit toxic.  But having said that I really didn’t expect Love to resign with the Cavs to begin with.  I thought he’d head west given that Lebron has a look of disgust on his face every time Love does anything on either end of the basketball court.  Love is a mysterious guy though and it’s very difficult to figure out where his head is at.  He doesn’t give away much.  It wasn’t just that the Bulls beat Cleveland on Saturday night but that they looked like clearly the better team doing it.  Rose shot terribly but it didn’t matter.  He got mostly good looks and penetrated at will.  If a few of those layups roll in it’s an even bigger blow out than it was.  I have no confidence in Tyrone Lue as the mind to solve the Cavs troubles.  When you’re making decisions according to how your team reacts to a big win as Griffin claims he did after the seeing how the Cavs reacted to beating down the Clippers your team is in trouble.  That’s not on the coach.  It’s on the GM for assembling a group of people that don’t really get along.  The Wiggins for Love trade is going to haunt the Cavs for a long time unless they figure things out soon and win it all.  Wiggins would have fit in incredibly well on this team.  Him and Lebron would have been a great defensive combo and Wiggins would have given them more of a running mentality.  Lebron, or his people, clearly wanted the Love deal to happen and I think we can say there is pretty clear evidence that Lebron will be about as good a GM as Jordan has turned out to be.  There are too many power forwards on Cleveland and not one of them has the full skill set necessary to thrive with Lebron.  Love opens up the floor with his shooting but his defense is atrocious and he’s just not scoring enough to make it worth having him out there so much.  Part of that is on the other Cavaliers.  They have to force feed Love on offense in order to validate his playing time.  It might be enough to win the east just using Love as a decoy to spread the floor but it’s not going to beat Golden State and San Antonio and at this point I’m not sure it’s enough to knock off the Bulls either.  Everything about the Cavs seems confused and in flux right now and looking at Lue on the bench I just don’t get the feeling that he has the experience to make any significant changes to this team.  If I were Griffin I’d hire Tom Thibodeau immediately and give him free rain to say anything to anybody and do anything to anyone’s minutes. 

     As far as the real championship  goes the Spurs and Warriors will meet for the first time Monday night.  It comes as no surprise that Duncan suddenly has a mysterious knee ailment and will miss the game to rest.  Pop doesn’t like to give stuff away and he’s happy to play undermanned and give alternate looks for games like this.  It kind of sucks because pretty much everyone has been looking forward to this game all season as these are clearly the two best teams but I totally understand why Popovich does this shit.  Why give Golden State a chance to see what they’re going to have to solve if they meet up in the playoffs.  Pop has been pulling this shit for years in what amounts to the bigger regular season match ups.  I’m sure it will still be a great game…

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The NBA Doldrums

     So I’ve been in music recording mode the past couple of weeks down in New Orleans (and then running around for the holidays), which only partly explains my lack of recent posts.  One factor, of course, is that no one is paying me to write these and most likely no one is actually reading them so it’s more of an exercise in fun and love of basketball than it would otherwise be.  Another factor is that this is generally the least exciting or interesting time of the NBA season as far as I’m concerned.  Out of the gates anything is possible and it’s fun to see and to predict what has changed from the previous season.  How teams reinvent themselves and improve or decline is new and exciting but there’s not much data under the belt to confirm or deny these reactions.  Gradually, as teams chug through the grind of the season there is more data that allows one to draw more realistic conclusions.  In the beginning it’s all an exciting guessing game.  We are at the strange point in the season where the excitement of predicting what trends will continue is over as facts accrue but the season is still young enough that the sample size isn’t great enough to support full blown analysis.  Having said that, I’m going to draw what conclusions I can so far in this season and discuss the topics that I have found most interesting thus far…
     Is this swiftly becoming a two-team league?  I hope the answer to this question is not yes even though these two teams just happen to be my favorites to watch.  Part of the problem has been that not only are Golden State and San Antonio looking really good, but the teams that were supposed to rival them for championship contention are all playing much worse than expected.  In the West the big disappointments thus far are Houston, The Clippers, and Memphis.  Houston has some serious mental problems.  Harden has regressed this season.  He’s just become so inefficient and he’s stopped caring again on defense.  Beyond that they just don’t have enough players that you can count on consistently.  Los Angeles is a dangerous team but their bench is so terrible.  On paper they looked to be much improved this season but it just hasn’t panned out.  Doc Rivers is getting nothing out of anyone beyond the starting 4.  It’s hard to see a team winning it all without an actual 5 players you want on the court at the end of a game.  Memphis still can’t shoot and now they can’t play defense as well.  The only team not named San Antonio or Golden State I can see getting to the finals in the West is Oklahoma City.  They’re not there yet but the duo of Westbrook and Durant is just so dangerous.  I’m skeptical of them because they too just don’t know who to put on the court in crunch time. 
     The East is full of pretty good teams that just don’t have what it takes to win it all.  The only team that has even a remote to stop Cleveland from getting to the finals is Chicago.  They’re a bit of a mess but the potential is there.  Miami doesn’t have enough bodies.  They flash some potential but I just don’t think Dragic is that good and he’s certainly not very compatible with the rest of the team.  Toronto is too schizophrenic.  Everyone else is a year or two away at least. 
      Basketball is a game of ebbs and flows and I’m sensing that the magic of the Warriors is diminishing.  They’ve gone from historic to very good.  Curry isn’t dominating the way he did in the beginning of the season.  Defenders are muscling him and stealing the ball.  Right before Christmas the Warriors played the Jazz and Trey Burke stole the ball from Curry straight up a couple of times.  Burke is not a powerhouse defender and earlier in the year when Curry was on his hot streak this would not have happened but Curry has cooled down and he’s always been prone to turnovers.  Sometimes a winning streak like the Warriors had takes more energy than you’d think and sometimes streaky players just get extra hot, but either way the Warriors are not the same team as they were in the beginning of the year.  That’s not to say they won’t regain their form but for now they look really good but mortal.  Their offense is not flowing freely and the ball is sticking.  Most importantly they’re missing some shots.  They look beatable.  Contain Curry and punish them inside.  It’s a formula that the Spurs, who currently look like the best-oiled machine in the league, look capable of bringing to fruition.  Ironically it’s the Warrior’s defense that is winning them games at this stage more so than their offense.  On a side note, let’s stop with the Curry vs. Michael Jordan talk.  Yes, for the first 20 games or so he played historically good ball but that kind of sample size only counts as a hot streak.  Sustainability is what makes the greatest players who they are and what separates them from other very good players.  On any given night a large number of NBA players are capable of getting hot and looking amazing, but a very select few can do so consistently.  Twenty or so games is an amazing hot streak but going out on an off night in the middle of the season when you and your team are tired is hard work and few players are historically capable of such feats of consistency.  5 of 14 from the field and 2 for 8 from 3 against Trey Burke’s defense does not make me fear for Jordan’s title as GOAT.  You can see Curry’s body breaking down a bit at this point in the season.  Curry has been out with a calf injury and in his absence the Warriors seem quite mortal.  It makes for a better to story to extrapolate what happens if the Warriors continue to dominate but let us not forget that the 2007/8 Rockets won 22 games in a row.  Theirs was far from a historic roster.  Part of Golden State’s appearance of mortality is that certain matchups are not great for them and the Jazz fall under this category but I would worry about this if I were them as San Antonio is a much better version of the Jazz.  Also, they’ve not looked great lately against some pretty mediocre to bad opponents.  The Celtics should have beaten them, as should have the Nets twice.  The 12 and 18 Milwaukee Bucks looked like a great team when they played Golden State.  No team is going to dominate an entire season and even more so look dominant an entire season but there are trends now that worry me a bit.  Having said that Golden State continues to win anyway and that’s what great teams do. 
     San Antonio on the other hand has been playing the long game to perfection.  Parker is in better shape, Aldridge is just starting to figure things out in a new system, and David West is killing it coming off the bench.  Danny Green is only now starting to shoot well and Patty Mills hasn’t yet found his form and they’re killing teams.  Kawhi is completely awesome.  He’s incredibly efficient with his shooting and can get to whatever and wherever he wants.  His defense is suffocating.  I worry about the old folks getting overwhelmed by a team like Oklahoma City but I see them and Golden State as neck and neck right now and I just feel like it’s a favorable matchup for San Antonio.  The Spurs can go big and pound Golden State or they can go small and Kawhi will have no problems sticking with Green at the 4.  They’re my two favorite teams but I sure hope this season isn’t heading towards just waiting from now until these two teams clash in the Western Conference finals to decide who wins the championship.

-- Just watched Orlando against the Hawks.  Some day soon Orlando is going to be good but my biggest take away from that game was watching Victor Oladipo help off of Kyle Korver multiple times.  What the hell was he thinking?  When you play the Hawks you stay with Korver at all times.  You can’t sag into the lane.  Oladipo’s defensive lapses were inexcusable.  I’m guessing Skyles has some emphatic words for him after the game.  Orlando has really turned it around this year and I like where their team is going but they’ve still got a ways to go…

-- Cleveland looks like they’ll take the east pretty easily to me.  Such is the greatness of Lebron though that if he were back on Miami they would be the favorite to win it this year.  The core of Wade, Bosh, Whiteside and Lebron would be devastating.  Miami is in serious long term trouble though.  I’m not sure they can keep Whiteside and they shelled out way too much for Dragic.  He’s just not nearly worth the money they gave him.

-- I know I said no 76er comments but the Colangelo hiring felt like the other owners finally rebelling.  I couldn’t believe that from a business standpoint all these rich folks had kept quiet about a franchise that was causing them to lose money.   By the way, citing Kendal Marshall as super important to their team’s plans and saying that his surgery was a huge set back is the biggest indictment of the 76ers to date.  Poor Brett Brown.  Now he’s got D’Antoni breathing down his neck and it’s unfair because no coach on earth could have wrung anymore wins from this pile of crap than he has.  You can’t coach offense when nobody knows how to score.  It’s pointless.

-- Garnett is the perfect veteran for Towns and Wiggins.  They’re both almost too mellow.  He pumps them up and gets them to play harder and assert their talent.  Minnesota still doesn’t have the fire to be consistent but when they dig in there’s a team in there somewhere.  At this point they just don’t know when to pass and when to shoot.  Guys force things all the time and I’m not sure how much of an actual offense they’re running.  I’ve never been a huge fan of Sam Mitchell.  Seems like a nice guy though.  How about you play Towns some more and force-feed him the ball some more?  He should be getting more shot attempts.  I think if he leads the team in shots attempts they’ll have a much better chance of winning.  As it is this team is all potential and no reality.  I’d say fire Mitchel but riding this year out and losing a bunch of games in order to get one more high draft pick is actually a good idea.  They’re a fun bad which is a good place to be.  It’s a pleasure watching this team lose.  Next year they need to make a leap though and should high a coach capable of making this team better. 

-- Is Anthony Davis the most over rated player in the NBA?  I’m not saying he’s not great but pre-season hype was leaning towards him being the best player in the league.  I know they’ve had a lot of injuries but could you imagine Lebron James losing this many games?  I can’t. 

-- And finally, Matt Barnes is out of his freaking mind.  If you haven’t followed his latest New Year’s tweet it’s pretty hilarious.  Some people should not be using social media…