Sunday, April 22, 2012

Houston, we have a problem.

A recent series of unfortunate events is threatening to rob me of a first round matchup that I very much want to see. This is disappointing. Several years ago, in its zeal to milk the post-season for maximum revenue, the NBA eliminated the 5 game format. As a result, witnessing improbable upsets are much less likely. Conversely, witnessing lame T Mobile and All State commercials are much more likely. Let's face it. The 1st round of the playoffs can be boring even for the most diehard fans. The possibility of a first round upset make these initial games interesting or, at the very least, watchable. Despite Houston's current struggles, seeing them take on the Spurs or Thunder in the first round would be very entertaining.

I don't mean to take anything away from the Nuggets or Suns. Both teams have good stories- they have little star power and have fought tooth and nail to be competitive in the brutal Western Conference. The Nuggets had their franchise player defect to a bigger market and became a better team as a result. How often does that happen? Since Melo moved to midtown, the Nuggets play the game unselfishly. They play the game with passion. They have guys known as "the Manimal" and "the Birdman" who are as ferocious as their ThunderCats-like nicknames would suggest. Salt Lake City is the new Gilligan's Island for NBA castaways. Danilo Galinari, Al Harrington, and Ty Lawson have all shined in their new environment. Javale McGee and Rudy Fernandez may follow suit.

It's hard not to root for this Phoenix Suns team. Steve Nash and Grant Hill are still great players when most athletes their age have moved on to commentating or Dancing with the Stars. Some athletes talk about loyalty in press conferences. Two time MVP Steve Nash has never requested a trade despite being constantly lured to play for more competitive teams. Guys like Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, Josh Childress, and Michael Redd have found a home in Phoenix and the team has chemistry.

Alas, I don't watch professional basketball for the sappy back stories. In fact, when the obligatory feel good segments come on at halftime, I tell the bartender to turn off the sound. I watch professional basketball to see the game I love played at the highest level. Phoenix and Denver have no chance of beating the Spurs or Thunder. Basketball is all about matchups and they don't match up well with either team.

Houston split the season series with both teams because they match up well with them. For several weeks, Goran "Dragon" Dragic was playing as well as any point guard in the league. The kid is no game manager. He is a game changer. Will he outplay Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook in a 7 game series? Maybe not. He will make them play defense every possession and bait them into making the games a 1 on 1 matchup. A scary thought if you're the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Rockets have quality big men. Luis Scola is a great player. He can score in the post. He can knock down the 10 foot jumper. He passes the ball well. The power forwards on either team would have a hard time defending him. The two headed monster of Marcus Camby and Samuel Dalembert can anchor that defense, block shots, and control the paint. Collectively, they are a better center tandem than what San Antonio or OKC have.

The Rockets have solid role players. Chase Budinger, Chandler Parsons, and Courtney Lee are all athletic young players who can knock down shots when left open. The Rockets have a dangerous bench. The one-two punch of Kyle Lowry and Earl Boykins could be a problem for the Spurs or Thunder. Sharpshooter Kevin Martin may be healthy enough to come off the bench once the post-season starts.

The Rockets will need to win their final 3 games to have a shot at making the Playoffs. Let's hope that they do. I would much rather see a competitive series than a compelling storyline.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hoops Talk Episode 3 - 04.16.12

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry....  A rant about how terrible the Bullets are:

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hoops Talk Video Blog - Episode 2

My 2nd video blog!  Discussing Lob City, the Kings' young talent, and the Chicago Bulls' injury woes.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The MVP Conundrum

This subject has always been confusing to me.  How do the powers that be choose the the NBA's Most Valuable Player?  Is the Maurice Podoloff trophy given to the "most valuable player" or to the "best player on a team most likely to win it all"?  The fact that Kevin Durant and Lebron James are the top two candidates on most sports writers' lists leads me to believe that the decision is based on the latter criteria rather than the former.

With 40 wins, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the best record in the competitive Western Conference.  Durant is averaging 27.5 ppg this season and has dropped 30 or more points on 19 different occasions.  The reigning scoring champ seems even more focused this season and his buzzer-beating 3-pointer versus the Dallas Mavericks was certainly MVP-like.  With 37 wins, the Miami Heat are 3 games behind the Bulls for the best record in the much improved Eastern Conference.  Lebron is averaging 26.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists per game and on four occasions he has been 1 or 2 assists shy of triple-double.  His low-post game is much improved as is his shot selection.  Despite a pair of mini-slumps, the Heat have been rolling this season.  Oklahoma and Miami could very well meet in the Finals and both Kevin Durant and Lebron James are having remarkable seasons.

What if the MVP award was truly about being valuable to your team?  Both Durant and Lebron have a lot of help.  Durant plays alongside Russell Westbrook, one of the better point guards in the NBA, and there is no shortage of talent on that Thunder squad.  James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, and Thabo Sefalosha are all very good players.  Lebron James plays alongside Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, who are (arguably) one of the 3 or 4 best players at their respective positions.  Russell Westbrook has carried the Thunder to a win numerous times.  Wade or Bosh have taken over their share of games as well.  In the fourth quarter of a close game, Westbrook and Wade are just as likely to have the ball in their hands as their superstar counterparts.  How valuable does that make Durant and James to their teams?

If given a vote, I would have Dwight Howard and Kevin Love as my top two candidates.  Both players are the best at their respective positions (in my humble opinion) and both certainly have the numbers to justify MVP consideration.  Dwight Howard is averaging nearly 21 points and 15 rebounds a game.  He has already had eight games with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds this year including that ridiculous 45 point, 23 rebound performance versus the Golden State Warriors.  The reigning Defensive Player of the Year single-handedly makes a bunch of mediocre defenders into a good defensive team and a mediocre team into a Playoff contender.

Kevin Love is averaging 26 points and 14 rebounds a game and leads the league with 44 double-doubles this season.  Sixteen times he has scored 30 or more points and pulled down 10 or more rebounds in the same game.  In the much anticipated showdown with Blake Griffin and the Clippers, Love's 39 point, 17 rebound effort capped off by his buzzer-beating game-winner was certainly MVP-like.  His more recent 51 point performance versus Oklahoma City was nothing short of spectacular.

Both Dwight Howard and Kevin Love are thriving without nearly the talent around them that Durant and Lebron have.  Who are the 2nd and 3rd best players on the Magic?  Ryan Anderson and Jameer Nelson?  Glen Davis and Jason Richardson?  What about on this Ricky Rubio-less Timberwolves team?  Michael Beasley and Nikola Pecovic?  JJ Barea and Luc Ridnour?  Do me a favor.  Say these two sentences aloud.

"In other news, the Miami Heat have agreed to trade Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to the Orlando Magic for Ryan Anderson and Glen "Big Baby" Davis."

"Today the Oklahoma City Thunder have agreed, in principle, to trade Russell Westbrook to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Luc Ridnour."

Both of those statements sound pretty absurd, right?  The tired old adage of "rewarding winning" will probably disqualify Howard and Love from actually winning MVP honors this season, which is a shame.  They are having amazing seasons despite having teams game plan to get the ball out of their hands every single night.  I cannot think of two players who are more valuable to their teams than they are.  Can you?