State of the West

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Golden State WarriorsBy Stefan Anderson

Perennially, the Western Conference, has the superior conference of the National Basketball Association and this year, it will be no different. Preceding the NBA Champs, the Golden State Warriors, repeat their success of the 2014-2015 season, everyone out West is looking to take the conference for their own. Here is some things to take in perspective as we look at the West.

Watch the Throne

Of course the Warriors will be the team to beat this year, but some teams are after the reigning champs’ title, specifically the Spurs and the Clippers. San Antonio and Los Angeles have made the big free agent splashes, with the Spurs snagging up prized FA prospect LaMarcus Aldridge and veteran David West. The Clippers were able to bring back DeAndre Jordan after the dilemma he starred in for weeks, along with veteran leadership in Paul Pierce and great assets in Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith. The irony that both Coach/President of B-Ball Ops, made the moves to dethrone the Warriors, but both teams present the greatest threat to Golden State and I believe can complete the jobs unless they meet in the playoffs.

The Last Harrah

Which one of the superstars in the final moments could lead their team to a better season? Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki? The answer was clear that it was more likely for the Mavs to be in a better position with the addition of Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan, but following the negation of Jordan left Dallas in the same position as Los Angeles. Both have great rosters filled with good role players and prospects but with their aging stars it will difficult to surpass the top tier teams of the West.

The Forgotten Team

After appearing to jump to the forefront of the conference, the Thunder, took a step back and missed the playoffs after the concurring injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The two nearly seen any action together and have yet to progress with their roster that has been bolstered after last year trade deadline. “Loud City” has been forgotten of their past success and have not been mentioned for whatever reason it may be, but with Billy Donavon at the helm, new beginnings could help to find that output they could not find with Scott Brooks.

First out the Hole

The Suns and the Kings have been on the outside looking in for the past few season, both teams showcase great rosters but yet have made the efforts to see the next level.  Both teams have veteran leadership this season, with the Suns acquiring Tyson Chandler and the Kings with Caron Butler and Rajon Rondo. Both teams could be this year’s New Orleans Pelicans, with the new additions.

Team of the Future

After the departure of their starting lineup, except for Damian Lillard, the Blazers have put together a group of young players that would be outcasts elsewhere but could join forces to become the team of the future. But the Blazers will have to compete with the young talents like the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves, who both possess an abundance of young talent looking to make their splash in the league and quit be the doormats for the superior teams.

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Defying The Odds

warriors finals

By Stefan Anderson

The Golden State Warriors have completed the storybook nostalgic season with their 105 – 97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday evening. The Warriors completed the route to exceeding the doubter’s expectations that were set prior the season’s tip-off.

Defying the odds, would have to be the mantra for the Dubs and a true testament to the 2015 season.

An undersized, hardly scouted point guard, who transformed into the league’s shining star, and not to mention the Most Valuable Player, ended up leading a team into the promise land.

But it wasn’t just Stephen Curry but it was a group of unpredictable players that combined to make the league’s best team.

It was Curry’s running mate, Klay Thompson, who was used to replace to the franchise’s once prized possession in Monta Ellis. The untapped potential in Harrison Barnes that sometimes was a head scratcher and the DPOY candidate who speculators couldn’t imagine as a starting forward in NBA.

But not only the young talent that starred but it was a redemption story for many of the veteran’s on Golden State’s team.

Starting with the former #1 overall pick, who found himself settling into a role player/defensive anchor. Then witnessing the bench star a former All-Stars, Olympic Gold Medalist, and 6th Man of the Year in Barbosa, Lee and Iguodala, who all had to scratch for minutes at different parts of the season. And then there is a guy who seen his once promising career, who witnessed his career  come crashing down in a matter of seconds, finding himself a role player amongst a championship roster.

You put all of those intangibles into a rookie head coach, who was a part of the Bulls dynasty and even won a championship under the tutelage of Spurs as well. Steve Kerr, who never had coaching experience, but was under management in tenure with the Phoenix Suns, that helped bring the NBA a form of basketball that would revolutionize the game forever.

Although the Suns were a great site to see and great team for many years of the past decade, their style of play was always stigmatized due to the fact, they didn’t have enough of “this” or enough of “that”. But in his first year, Kerr was able to use the style of his play that was used in desert and revive it in the Bay Area.

Throughout the season, the naysayers would criticize the league’s best team often proclaiming “they couldn’t win a championship playing small ball”, but Kerr and the Warriors were on a rampage to start to start the season and continue prove all those who questioned wrong as they continued tally up win after win after win.

To quote the great Kevin Garnett “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE” and with the right amount of talent and chemistry, the best teams always find a way to complete the season with the Larry O’Brien trophy.  The Warriors proved that one player cannot win a championship its self, and that it takes a great supporting cast to make it happen. On the nights where Curry was unable to explode, there were games where others like Green, Barnes and Iguodala were able to make their impact and that’s what great teams do.

A huge amount of respect is due to “the best basketball player on the planet”, LeBron James, on what he was able to accomplish on the Finals in his homecoming to Cleveland.

Despite the injuries and inefficiency of his teammates, James was able to shoulder the load and carry Cleveland to compete for every contest.  35, 8 and 13 are astronomical numbers for any player gathering the minutes James did and just makes his trip to Miami look even more valid.

Although, Curry was on the prowl of becoming the league next shining star, The King still remains supreme as the off season is set to begin and he has the option of becoming a free agent and will have the league at his heels once again.

With The Title on The Line

bron curry

By Stefan Anderson

Injuries, crowd silencing performances, legendary stat lines, and breakout games have all been a part of the rollercoaster of we call the 2015 NBA Finals and in a crucial game 5 the outcome will make the series even more remarkable.

Some question that reign over the heads as prepare for Game 5:

First will be whether MVP Stephen Curry searches for a way out of his shooting slump.  Curry shot well under his postseason average from the field as well as from behind the arc. Curry is shooting 39 percent from three and 42 percent from the field but he has yet to have a breakout game that we have the MVP provided previously. With the title on the line in Game 5, is the moment too big for Curry or will he rise to the occasion?

Who is going to be the supporting role for Lebron James? “The Chosen One” as we know him has been an unbelievable series posting 35 ppg, 8 apg, and 12 rpg throughout the 2015 NBA Finals. James has logged a staggering 183 minutes in the four games while performing while performing on such a high level is impressive but will become strenuous to sustain if he cannot receive support from other Cavaliers.  We seen the impact the front court players like Mozgov and Thompson but what happened to the backcourt players like J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and James Jones, we seen how impactful the 20 point performance was from Matthew Dellavedova.  Who will help shoulder the load on James and make the Cavs propel themselves to a championship ?

How will David Blatt respond to Steve Kerr’s small lineup? Will we see Blatt downsize or depend on his veteran’s similar to Kerr?  I do believe that Blatt will find a way to downsize but for not for long because they cannot go without the size of Mozgov and Thompson unlike Bogut who took the Warriors away from their style of high pace, motion offense which the 7-footer made stagnant.  The Cavs have players like Miller, Perkins and Shawn Marion who all have championship experience. If Blatt were to use any of his veteran role players, I would like to see Shawn Marion, because Marion could bring the perfect size and speed for Cleveland if they do choose to downsize and play small ball with the Warriors. Marion may not possess the same offensive skill he once showcased in Dallas or in Phoenix but can definitely give positive minutes similar to his Suns teammate Leandro Barbosa who has been +18 in his brief appearances this series.

Since 1985, 11 NBA Finals have been tied up at 2-2. The winner of Game 5 went on to win the series in seven of those 11 games. With those stats I will give the edge to the Warriors in tonight’s game which will force a wild game 6 back in the Q, where James and Co. will prevail and force a wild game 7 in which he will be awarded an legendary 3rd championship in an impressive 5 years.

“Signed a concerned but confident Cavs fan”

kyrie

By Jazmine August

With about 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Game 1 in the 2015 NBA Finals, Lebron had the ball in his hand and a chance to win Game 1 on the road. Instead, James misses a fade away 3 and everything else went downhill from there. In overtime, Kyrie Irving fractures his knee cap and is out for the rest of the Finals. Easily, the most devastating news I heard all week. The idea of Lebron losing his fourth Finals was a pill I just couldn’t imagine stomaching.

After the news broke Friday evening that Kyrie would miss the rest of the Finals, I found myself stressed and depressed. Sitting at the dining room table with my two girlfriends who don’t even know who Kyrie Irving is, I knew I needed to speak with someone just as knowledgable if not more knowledgable than myself. So I called my “LB” Stef, (whom I affectionately call Kips) looking for some sort of silver lining. With fear and anguish in my heart I asked “Do you think it’s really over?”. He replied “Nah, It’s not over”. I was overcome with joy, I found someone who belonged to the 10% of the nation who believes King James can actually pull this off. We ended up speaking for nearly an hour, as we went over stats, matchups, upsides and downsides and our ultimate prediction. After many minutes of deliberation, Stef says (while laughing might I add) “The Warriors really might win in like 6 or 7 but its 50/50”. So much for consultation.

After we got off the phone, I was able to analyze the chances and the odds of the Cleveland Cavaliers really pulling this one out. I started to think there are actually a couple advantages the entire sports world is seeming to overlook. For one, we have the BEST player on the planet. Secondly we have the most experienced Finals participant in our generation. Lebron has lost enough ways on this stage to know how to win against a team who has never played in the Finals. Thirdly, the Cavs aren’t the only ones with a “not as difficult as it could have been “road to the Finals. As good as the Western Conference is the Warriors got a break when OKC lost KD and didn’t make the Finals as they could have easily been out in the first round. Golden State also got a break when the Grizzlies had a less than healthy Mike Conley and lost Tony Allen in a pivotal Game 4. The biggest break of them all might’ve been not having to face a Clippers team whom they lost to in the first round of last year’s playoffs.

Not to take anything away from an amazing season by Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors but they are beatable. Their biggest advantage over Cleveland is undoubtedly their depth and ability to score fast. After days of pyscho-analysis(emphasis on Psycho), I’ve come to the conclusion that the odds of winning are definitely not in Cleveland’s favor but the experience, savvy and sheer talent of Lebron James will catapult this team to victory. It may take an extra game but we WILL defeat the Warriors. A text from Stef, with stats of Lebron with and without Kyrie on the floor helped soothe my worry but the best message I received from a fellow sports analyst in the most confident whisper was “It’s still Cavs in 6”. Let the games begin.

-Signed
Concerned but Confident Cavs fan

2015 NBA Finals Preview

finals preview

By Jazmine August and Stefan Anderson

After weeks of exciting playoff basketball and a disappointing conference finals (one sweep and a gentleman’s sweep) The Finals have finally arrived.Four time league MVP and two time NBA champion Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers will face off against this year’s league MVP Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Lets play another game of 5 on 5 as we go full court for the 2015 NBA Finals.

1. Who will get the bulk of the time guarding LBJ? Barnes or Green? How effective can it be?

JA: In a recent interview Lebron James said that he was unguardable and so was his opponent Stephen Curry. I have to agree with the King, it doesn’t really matter what defender you put on him he will still get his points especially in the paint. However, I believe that the Warriors will put Draymond Green, who was arguably the best defender in the league this year on Lebron for the bulk of these Finals. In spite of his great defense, Draymond Green like any other defender in league cannot stop King James.

SA: Draymond Green makes more sense logically, because of his size, Green lacks the size to contest James but possesses size to bang with Lebron. I do not believe that Green will be able to contain Lebron James for many games but cause some havoc until he gets into the inevitable foul trouble you face guarding Lebron. I anticipate Steve Kerr to throw many looks at LBJ, that includes some of Igoudala, Green, Barnes and possibly some Livingston.
2. Who will be the X-Factor for each team?

JA:The X-Factor for the Cleveland Cavaliers will certainly be Kyrie Irving. When healthy, Kyrie can arguably be the best player on the floor with his quickness, agility, and ability to finish at the rim. Not to mention Kyrie is pretty efficient from 3 point land and 20 to 25 feet from the rim. If Kyrie can be at 80% health and produce at almost near his regular season level he; along with Lebron James and role players Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith can propel Cleveland to victory.

On the other side of the ball, Klay Thompson will be the Warriors X-Factor. His numbers have been down this post-season even prior to the concussion he endured in Game 5 of the Rockets series. Although, he has been cleared to play in Game 1 of the Finals, its still uncertain of how he will produce. If Klay gets going along with the MVP, the Warriors are pretty hard to beat.
SA: For the Cavs I believe J.R. Smith, his ability to get hot will give Cleveland the chance it needs to succeed to its first final win. Whether Irving or other supporting cast shows up will not be highlighted if Smith can overshadow that averaging 13.5 and shooting nearly 40 percent from 3.  If the Warriors want to need to win they will have to get an consistent offensive effort from Harrison Barnes, if Barnes can give enough of an output to make Lebron step out and guard instead hawking the passing lanes, will ease up driving lanes and keep their free flowing efficient motion offensive going. Both players have undeniable talent but fail to be consistent I believe who ever scores more for their respective teams will help put together the W’s needed.
3.Can the Warriors win if Klay Thompson continues to struggle?
JA: Yes they can. The Warriors team goes 8 to 9 players deep. Even if Klay struggles the Warriors still have an All-Star player in Andre Igoudala and skilled bench players in Livingston and Barbosa. This is the Warriors biggest advantage in this series, I don’t believe Klay’s play will break the Warriors.

SA: No, I believe if Klay does not show up during the Finals that GS will have long series, that will end quicker than they expect. A no-show for Klay helps to keep Iman Shumpert on Curry all night and the helps Kyrie Irving to conserve more energy to wear Curry out on the defensive end. Thompson has to return a splash brother and not just the guy who play with the MVP.

4. Key matchup you’re looking forward too?
JA: A key matchups that I’m looking forward to is at the four/five position with Tristan Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut and Timofey Mozgov. Although, I predict Green will guard Lebron James for the majority of the NBA Finals, the times when Barnes guards Lebron Green will battle Thompson for those rebounds in the post. I’m also excited to see Mozgov get the best of Andre Bogus(Stephen A. Voice), I mean Bogut.

SA: The matchups will be even across the board including Curry versus Irving, will be tantalizing. But as seen in the past when a star play begins to take off against Cleveland, Lebron James then guards their best player. We have seen James clamp down on guards like Derrick Rose and Tony Parker during crucial minutes but I would like to James guard the MVP Curry to see how effective Chef Curry can be with the NBA’s best two player guard him.

5. How effective is GS “small ball” going to be against the Cavs ?

JA: I don’t believe it will be very effective against this Cavs team as they can play small ball as well. If anything, this will play to Cleveland’s advantage.

SA: Yes but no, if GS plans to go small against Cleveland it could take away the rebounding prowess of Thompson and Mozgov, but it will expose a clear advantage for Cleveland, the driving ability of Lebron James. With no true rim protector against King James is a recipe for disaster.

Predictions:

JA: It’s hard to call this series prior to Game 1 because there are so many unknowns on both sides. Will Klay Thompson produce? What will the Cavs get from Kyrie Irving? But what we do know is that the Cavaliers have a 2x Finals MVP who’s playing in his 5th consecutive Finals and has seen just about everything when it comes to this stage and I think he will be the reason the Cavs win a hard fought series against the Warriors. Cavs in 6. Let the coronation begin.

SA: The depth of Golden State could be huge for them including the return of Marreesse Speights who bring a physical aspect to the Warriors that can help against Cleveland’s silent weapon Tristan Thompson. But ultimately, the Warriors still hold no clear cut answer for the league’s best talent, Lebron James who will propel to his third championship in a stunning five years. Cleveland in 6 or 7.

Race To The Finals: NBA Conference Finals Preview

conference finals

By Jazmine August

The 2015 NBA Playoffs have been filled with buzzer beaters, epic collapses and superstars rising to the moment. It has now come down to the “Final Four”, consisting of the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers.  Might I add,  these are the four teams I picked to be in the Conference Finals. Let’s get into these predictions:

Western Conference Finals

(1)Golden State Warriors vs. (2) Houston Rockets

The NBA MVP Stephen Curry and the NBA MVP runner-up James Harden will face off in a best of seven series where Harden has everything to prove. Criticized for not showing up in the post-season; James Harden will not only get a chance to exercise those demons but also prove why he deserved to be the league MVP. Don’t get your hopes up so fast Rockets fan. The Rockets comeback from a 3-1 deficit was more of a collapse by the Los Angeles Clippers than the shear talent and ability of the Houston Rockets. I’m still not convinced that Dwight Howard can dominate the post over Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut. Not only has the Warriors offense been exceptional but so has it’s defense. If a combination of Klay Thompson and Andre Igoudala’s defense can slow James Harden, the Rockets will be dependent on an aging veteran Jason Terry and streaky at best Josh Smith. The exceptional shooting abilities of Stephen Curry will be too much for the Rockets to bear.

Golden State in 5.

Eastern Conference Finals

(1)Atlanta Hawks vs. (2) Cleveland Cavaliers

Overcoming the depth, defensive abilities and the health of the Chicago Bulls has made the Cleveland Cavaliers my favorite to win it all (not that they weren’t already). Lebron proved that his bench is deeper than most thought and his role players have stepped up tremendously. For the better part of these playoffs Lebron has not been his usual efficient self with the exception of Game 5 of the Chicago series. But even without Lebron being efficient, the loss of Kevin Love and the diminishing health of Kyrie Irving; the Cleveland Cavaliers have proven to the league they can beat you in multiple ways. Now they are set to match-up against the Atlanta Hawks who barely beat a Washington Wizards team who was without their star player, John Wall, for the better part of the series. The Atlanta Hawks are an offensive threat to any team when they are clicking and their ability to score can be problematic for a Cavs team whose offense can be stagnant at times. But when Atlanta’s shot isn’t falling, they have no “go to guy” to win the game for them. This will be the edge that the Cavs need and send Lebron to his fifth straight Finals appearance.

Cavs in 6.

Keys to Game 5

game 5 nba

By Stefan Anderson

After a lackluster first round, the NBA has kicked into another gear during the Conference Semifinals showcasing the best action thus far. Although it has only been 4 games for each matchup, every game has been thrilling, providing fans with true playoff basketball. With each series heading into a pivotal game, let’s highlight some keys for each series.

  1. Warriors vs. 5. Grizzlies: The series is now tied at 2 a piece after it appeared that the grind-out style of Memphis highlight what could be Golden State weakness, the Warriors then responded with blowout game 4 which they controlled the Grizzlies from the tip. Golden State ability to take away the energy of defensive nightmare ,Tony Allen, force him to become an offensive threat in which he struggles in. With the series heading back to the Bay Area, the Dubs can take control of the series and put Memphis in an uncompromising position.

Keys for GS: Continue to double on the front court of Memphis and make the perimeter players beat you. The biggest key is to have Draymond Green pull Zach Randolph away from the basket and make him work defensively.

Keys for Memphis: It is going to be hard for Memphis 4 on 5 with the inconsistency of Tony Allen on the offensive end. There Memphis can go on some spurts where they showcase Jeff Green at the small power forward to stretch and prevent double teams for their Gasol or Randolph, while allowing driving gaps for players like Conley, Lee and even Vince Carter to take advantage of.

  1. Houston vs. Los Angeles: After defeating the defending champions, the Spurs, the Clippers have found the wind beneath their wings, by jumping out to a 3-1 lead over the Rockets and looking like a superior team to the Southwest division champs. Houston has looked lethargic and over matched against and has gotten a taste of what the Clips have experienced over the past few seasons after being heartbroken by the Spurs, Thunder and the Grizzlies. The Rockets will have to grow and learn from the adversity and come back geared up the next season.

Keys for LA: Continue to apply pressure on the floor with dribble hand offs and pick and roll offensive which has left the Rockets defense in shambles. Try to close it in 5.

Keys for Houston: The Rockets look like an entirely new team then in the first round, James Harden has explode for a big game and Game 5 could be his last chance, I would expect him to shoot his life away tomorrow. Try to limit the 3 point shooting of Rivers, Reddick and Crawford.

  1. Cleveland vs. 3. Chicago: This a true dog fight and a match up I would rather see in the Conference Finals, but overall is what you expect when you put together the East’s powerhouses. The stingy defense played by both teams allowed 3 out of 4 games to go down the wire. This game 5 in Cleveland will most likely determine the winner, as this series will go to a game 7.

Keys for Chicago: The health of Pau Gasol, can he return to create a matchup problem versus Cavs frontline, as well as the bench for the Bulls. Would like to see Snell, Mirotic,Gibson and Brooks all have a great role in en route to a possible game 5 win.

Keys for Cleveland: With Kyrie Irving’s health in question, who steps up and becomes the next guy for LeBron James and the Cavs? I believe J.R. Smith will the key and a double digit game from Iman Shumpert will propel Cleveland in game 5.

  1.  Atlanta vs. 5. Washington: Without John Wall for the last three games, the Wizards have found a way to keep the Hawks on their heels on each game of the series. But the Hawks returned and attacked the PG position with Jeff Teague penetrating and dishing to his open teammates and showing that team ball can really win in this league still.

Keys for Atlanta: Atlanta has find a way to contribute to spread the ball and make sure that everyone adds to their win and continue to play their style of basketball.  Also, I would like to see Carroll or Teague guard Bradley Beal more to help control his offensive onslaught.

Keys for Washington: If John Wall returns their offense returns to its normal state and make life a lot easier for Marcin Gortat and Bradley Beal. Without Wall, I think that some small ball or another big that comes off the bench that replaces Drew Gooden inefficiency on the offensive end.