2009 NBA Playoffs. Celtics v Bulls, the underdog versus the champion.

The NBA Playoffs, it’s a time that fans of basketball wait for, and non-basketball fans tune in to. Over the years there have been some playoff series that have been to put simply, epic. I thought I’d go through my favorite NBA Playoff series that I’ve witnessed.

Here, I’ve reviewed each game, and looked at the key moments that I think lead to the series becoming one of the greatest of all time.

For me, some of the basketball gameplay, the shot making, passing, and the way both teams were lead by their respective captains is why this series is head and shoulders above many. Paul Pierce only added to the legend that he was in Boston, and added to his reputation of the Celtics late game closer and Derrick Rose showed his talents on the big stage and became one of the most exciting players to play at the point guard position in the NBA.

2008/09, fresh off their 2007/08 NBA Championship, the Boston Celtics held the number 2 seed, and were to face off in the first round against the rookie of the year Derrick Rose and his 7th seeded Chicago Bulls. The Big 3 of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and team captain Paul Pierce, the Celtics were still an ominous force in the league, and paired with budding star point guard Rajon Rondo, everyone questioned whether Chicago could even take one game away from the reigning champions.

The baby Bulls did more than that however, lead by rookie of the year Derrick Rose, they would become apart of one of the greatest NBA Playoff series of all time.

The Celtics took a hit before Game 1 even began though, with Kevin Garnett to be sidelined for the rest of the season due to a strained tendon his knee, and general manager Danny Ainge, suffering a small heart attack. Two incidents that could make the Celtics venerable, and that’s what Chicago pounced on in Game 1.

April 18th, 2009 TD Banknorth Garden in Boston Massachusetts, Game 1 begins, and the Bulls start the series on fire.

Boston didn’t look like the champion Celtics of last season throughout the game. Derrick Rose made two free throws to give Chicago a 97-96 lead, but with 2.6 seconds to play Paul Pierce rose up for a game-winning jumper, and was fouled by Joakim Noah to the dismay of every Chicago fan watching.

Pierce stepped up to the free throw line, knocked down the first to tie the game at 97, but missed a regulation shot, one that he makes 95/100 times, which sent the game into overtime, where Chicago, led by rookie of the year Derrick Rose, who dominated the game with 36 points on 12/19 shooting, while adding 11 assists, shocked the Celtics on their home floor running out 105-103 winners after Allen missed a game tying shot to send it into another overtime.

The Celtics struggled, Ray Allen made only one shot on 12 attempts, for just 4 points in the game, and it was left up to Rondo to do the bulk of the scoring, putting in 29 points (12 in the first quarter) and adding 9 rebounds and 7 assists. The Celtics shot a measly 39% for the afternoon, and had no answer for Rose, who put the team on his back to take the home court advantage, and a 1-0 lead in the series.

Game 2, in Boston, a now must win for the Celtics.

It was a back and forth game, much like Game 1, and Ben Gordon became the spark for the Bulls. He poured in 42 points on 14/24 shooting, including 6 triples, and 2 huge jump shots to help the Bulls tie the game at 115 with 12.3 seconds remaining. The Bulls looked like they could escape Boston with a 2-0 lead, and stun every NBA expert and fan in the league, but Ray Allen had other plans.

Allen, who scored only 2 points in the first half, came off a strong screen set by Glen Davis, and over Joakim Noah hit the game winning three with just 2.0 seconds left on the clock. Chicago had no timeouts and Tyrus Thomas threw up a prayer which was short, and the Celtics leveled the series at 1 a piece heading to Chicago as TD Garden exploded in a frenzy of fan celebration.

Ray Allen went to the locker room with just 2 points to his name at halftime. When the final buzzer sounded, he had 30 points next to his name, and a game winning three-point jumper to bail the Celtics out of what could have been a huge deficit heading to Chicago. Head coach Doc Rivers wanted someone to win the game for the Celtics at halftime, and Allen took that role on seriously, scoring 28 in the 2nd half, and putting in 6 threes to cap off a remarkable half of basketball for the 33 year old shooting guard.

The series shifted to the Windy City, Chicago Illinois for Game 3. The Bulls looked to take a commanding 3-1 lead before heading back to Boston, while the Celtics looked to steal home court back from the Bulls.

Game 3 played out perfectly for the Celtics. Paul Pierce started 6/6 in the first quarter, (13 points) and the Celtics lead by 11 after the first period. The Bulls struggled to hit their shots, shooting just 37.5% from the field, to the Celtics 48%, which was the story of the game.

The Celtics lead by 22 points at halftime and never looked back, led by captain Paul Pierce, the Celtics propelled themselves to a 2-1 lead over the Bulls, and regained home court advantage. Pierce scored 24 points, while Rondo put in 20 and grabbed 11 rebounds as well as 5 steals and 6 assists to fill up the box score for Boston.

Rose was kept quiet for the second game in a row with just 9 points on 4/14 shooting, and committing 7 turnovers, finishing the game with a plus/minus of -32, a far cry from his Game 1 performance that had everyone talking.

Despite the loss, the Bulls still showed heart and fight, and never thought they were out of the series, which showed in Game 4 back in Chicago.

Game 4, the first of the 3 greatest NBA playoff games in a row I believe. The Bulls dress only 8 players, and look depleted before the game even starts.

Just three minutes into the game, Joakim Noah throws a beautiful bounce pass to a cutting Derrick Rose, who rises up and throws down the hammer dunk, 3 minutes later, a touch pass is thrown to Noah, and he throws down a thunderous one handed jam, showing the intentions of the Chicago Bulls that afternoon.

The Bulls inside passing was key to their Game 4 victory. Noah, Rose and Thomas made some superb passes to find open teammates for jump shots, and cutting players for easy lay ups to keep them in touch with the Celtics.

Rose came back strong from 2 quiet games, scoring 23 points, to go along with 11 rebounds and 9 assists, and combined with Gordon’s 20 points, helped the Bulls stave off a 3-1 lead to tie the series at 2-2 heading back to Boston, but they had to work hard for the victory, the Celtics weren’t going to lie down on the road.

After 3 quarters, the Bulls trailed by 5 points, and the Celtics looked to build on that lead and take a commanding 3-1 lead back to Boston to possibly close out the series.

However with less than 10 seconds to play, incredibly, the Bulls lead 96-93, until a lapse in concentration let Ray Allen get open on the three-point line, and knock down a triple to tie the game at 96 with 9.8 seconds to play. It looked like Chicago had let a golden opportunity to steal the game slip away, and the game was sent into OT tied at 96.

With just over 5 seconds left, the game looked all but over, but Ben Gordon got free, and rose up over Paul Pierce and knocked down a huge contested triple to tie the game at 110 with 4.5 seconds to go, sending the Bulls crowd wild, and sending the game into a second overtime period where the Bulls got away with a 121-118 victory with just 8 active players against the reigning NBA champions.

The series was starting to become a legendary one. Game 5 back in Boston, it was now a best of 3 game series, tied at 2-2.

What seemed like the inevitable happened, it would go into overtime to get a result, for the 4th OT period of the series, and third overtime period in 2 games. The Bulls came out strong, they looked confident after winning the last game on their home floor, and carried that momentum into Boston, but the Celtics were a champion team, and lent on their captain Paul Pierce down the stretch.

The Truth tied the game at 91 with a contested driving layup with 1:19 left on the clock in the 4th quarter. Pierce had been the man for Boston for the last 10 years, and in his mind knew that he had to be the one to lead the Celtics to victory, and withstood all the pressure of the city of Boston in a 4th quarter to remember for the team leader and Boston Celtic legend.

After Ben Gordon hit a stunning jump shot from the baseline that sent a hush around TD Garden, putting Chicago up 93-91 with 16.6 to play on the road, Paul Pierce called for the ball, and immediately went to work on the shorter Derrick Rose, with a superb spinning fade away jump shot from the top of the key, to tie the game at 93 with 10.5 seconds remaining. Ben Gordon missed the game winner, and again, like the previous game, overtime was needed to split the two teams.

Yes, Paul Pierce wasn’t done.

Tied at 104, Pierce sized up John Salmons, and from the top of the key, drained the jumper to put the Celtics up 106-104 with just 3.4 left on the clock. After Miller was fouled at the buzzer, he stepped up to tie the game from the free throw line. The pressure got to him, and be missed both, giving the Celtics a 2 point win and more importantly a 3-2 lead.

Pierce finished with 26 points on 11/22 shooting. He sizzled for 15 of his 26 points in the 4th quarter and overtime. Personally, It’s one of the great playoff performances to bring the Celtics out of the jaws of defeat not only once, but twice.

Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics center was also a huge factor, grabbing 19 rebounds to go with his 16 points and 7 blocks in the game, giving the Celtics the inside presence they needed to stop Rose’ penetration in the key. With the series lead, the Celtics looked to put the Bulls to bed in Chicago in Game 6, but Chicago was never a team to lie down, as they showed, in what is the greatest game I’ve personally witnessed in the NBA Playoffs.

Bulls facing elimination, a 51-point individual performance from Ray Allen, a 19 assist game from Rajon Rondo, a 35 point effort from John Salmons, and a 23 point explosion off the bench from Brad Miller. What more could a Game 6 bring, except a triple overtime thriller inside the United Center.

It was a fiery game to start, Kirk Hinrich and Rajon Rondo go into it 28 seconds out from the end of the first period, after Rondo grabbed Kirk’s arm and swung him into the scorers table. They both had to be restrained by the refs, and Hinrich’s Bulls lead by 11 after the first quarter, but couldn’t sustain Ray Allen and the Celtics in the 2nd, and at the half the lead had been cut to 1.

Allen scored 29 of the Celtics 57 first half points, keeping them in the game on his own shooting. He ended the game with 51 points on 18/32 from the field, including 9 triples in 58 minutes of game time.

The Celtics game from 91-81 down, with an 18-0 run to lead 99-91 with 3 minutes to play, which was led by Pierce, knocking down 3 jumpers to push the lead to 8 and almost shut the Bulls down until Brad Miller hit a huge 3, and then made a driving layup to tie the game at 101. Chicago had saved itself once again on the brink of elimination.

Gordon missed a long two to win the game, and you guessed it, another overtime began, the first of three.

With 20 seconds to go in the 2nd OT, Ray Allen stepped up and drained what can only be described as an implausible shot to level the score at 116 with 20 seconds left. Let’s go again, another 5 minutes of overtime.

Three of the Boston starters fouled out, with Pierce, Perkins and Davis all going out, which lead to Chicago taking hold of the game in the third period. Pierce turned the ball over and fouled Noah on a breakaway slam, which sent Pierce packing to the bench with 6 personals, which put Chicago up 126-123 after the free throw.

Rose blocked a Rondo game-winning jumper, but missed the two free throws, Rondo missed a heave to win the game, and the Bulls were triumphant in one of the greatest playoff games in the history of the game.

Final, Bulls 128 defeat Celtics 127, 3/OT, series tied at 3-3 heading to Boston for the deciding Game 7. Wow.

For the Bulls, getting to a Game 7 was a dream against the reigning NBA Champions. On the back of Rose, Gordon and Noah, they had taken the ‘Big 3 of the series, Allen, Pierce and Rondo to the limit, and had shown fight that is rare in many number 7 seeds do.

Game 7, Boston put the clamps down. Despite a 33-point effort from Ben Gordon, the Celtics closed out the Bulls with a 109-99 victory in Boston. Eddie House propelled the reigning champions from the bench, scoring 16 points on 5/5 from the floor, including 4/4 from behind the arc to send the Celtics to the 2nd round, but not without a test.

The Bulls made the Celtics earn their second round spot. Everyone thought the Celtics could sweep the Bulls in what was a pretty weak Chicago team according to some. Not only did they gain an enormous amount of respect around the league, they also grew into a team that was highly skilled and talented.

The series finished with a record 4 overtime games, and 7 overtime periods throughout. Unbelievable.

Two seasons later, Rose lead the Bulls to the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and was named the NBA MVP, averaging 25 points per game, along with 7.7 assists.

There you have it, a review of my favourite playoff series leading up to the NBA Finals. If you haven’t seen the highlights, make sure you watch, because this series for me was two superbly talented teams going for the ultimate prize, and accepting nothing less, even when they looked down and out.

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The NBA’s Newest Potential Stars Of The Future

Halfway, the NBA season is into the last half of the season, and there have been a few surprises. The Hawks leading the East, the Thunder not even in the top 8 of the tough Western Conference, and Damian Lillard being left off the All Star roster. Granted, the Hawks have the best three-point shooter in the league right now in Kyle Korver, and a bunch of role players playing like, well, not role players, and granted, KD and Westbrook have missed time for the Thunder, and they are moving up slowly now that their two stars are back, but there is absolutely no grant for Lillard missing the All Star game, that’s just criminal.

Anyway, I thought I’d try and find some players who have started to emerge as players who could have big impacts on the NBA in the future, as they emerge this season from benchwarmers, to starters, and if developed well, future stars of the NBA.

 

Rudy Gobert – Utah Jazz, Center

Just 22 years old, drafted with the 27th pick in 2013, Gobert is starting to show how good he really can be. He has improved immensely this season for the Jazz, especially on the defensive end. His 7 foot 8 inch wingspan has him averaging 2.1 blocks this season, along with 6.9 points, and 7.2 rebounds. Even though those numbers aren’t numbers that jump off the page at you, he has had a huge effect on the Jazz’ defensive game as a whole.

Nicknamed ‘The Stifle Tower’ the Frenchman has made getting to the rim against the Jazz a tough assignment, forcing many players to pass out of the lane and live and die on jump shots, giving the Jazz the ability to create more fast break opportunities.

He is currently coming off the bench behind Enes Kanter, but against the Blazers, he played 33 minutes to Kanter’s lowly 23. Kanter was also seen getting a stern talking too from coach Quin Snyder, and a changing of the guard could be in order for the Jazz, as they are a much better team defensively with Gobert on the floor, losing to the Blazers by just a point after Gobert shut down the hot shooting LaMarcus Aldridge who had 14 points in the first quarter, and only had 8 more for the game when Gobert was switched onto him.

He has a little way to go offensively, but Gobert is definitely a player to watch out for, and standing at 7’1 and with an NBA combine record standing reach of 9’6, just 4 inches off touching the rim, the 22 year old has a potential ceiling as high as he wants it to be. His upside is unbelievable, and many teams will be doing a lot to acquire the services of Gobert in the future, so the Jazz will need to work out how they can keep Favors, Gobert and Kanter together working well, because right now, it looks like Kanter is the one out of favour, he could be on his way out of Utah soon via free agency or a trade, so look out for Gobert when he gets the start, he could be one of the best centers in the game if he is developed properly.

 

Robert Covington – Philadelphia 76ers, Small Forward

Robert Covington, nobody has really spoken much about him, he spent just 7 games with the Rockets last season, before heading to the 76ers, where he has really shown what he can do on a basketball court.

He averaged just 2.3 points a game in Houston, and now in Philadelphia is averaging 12.3 points a game, including 2.3 threes and 1.4 steals a game, highlighted by a career high 7 steals in a loss where he was matched up against the Cavs and more specifically LeBron James (who had 6 turnovers) on the 2nd of Feb.

He has started 27 of the 39 Sixers games this season, now averaging 28 minutes a game and has emerged as a great player for the team, who is struggling in almost every position except at the point with Carter-Williams there. He has gelled well with MCW, and has found himself being able to get wide open shots thanks to Carter-Williams passing ability, which has enabled him to expand his offensive range, rather than just a three point shooter, he has been able to cut through the key for an easy layup, and stepping out to the 12-18 foot mark for a mid range jump shot.

Watch this space, Brett Brown has started to run some plays for the 2nd year sophomore and Covington can only improve, even if there is a little way for him to go still, but Philly looks a perfect fit for the sharp shooter, give him 2-3 solid seasons, and he’ll be on the radars of many teams.

 

Hassan Whiteside – Miami Heat, Center

Remember Linsanity in New York a couple of seasons ago? Well, this time is Hassanity. When LeBron James left the Heat it was always going to be a big loss, and Hassan Whiteside is no LeBron James, but he is providing a massive spark for the Heat, helping them to forget about the player that brought them 2 championships.

He started this season with Memphis, but after being acquired by Miami, it seems like Hassan has found his perfect fit. His breakout game came against DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers on the 11th of January, where he went for 23 points and 16 rebounds, and lead the Heat to a 104-90 win over the highly touted Clippers. He then went up against All Star starter and Chicago Bulls center Pau Gasol, and had his first career triple double, with 14 points, 13 rebounds and an NBA season high 12 blocks, all in just 24 minutes of playing time off the bench.

He has started to become a great front-court partner for Chris Bosh, and has taken some defensive pressure off the Miami big man, and has shown his ability to grab missed shots on the offensive end, giving the Heat more opportunities to score. On January 30, Whiteside started for the Heat in the middle, and grabbed 14 rebounds in the first quarter, and not just the first quarter, but in 7 minutes of game time. He went on to gather 24 rebounds and also had 16 points in a loss to the Mavericks where he was matched up against Tyson Chandler.

He seems to be the most talked about NBA player right now, and if he can harness all the skill he has shown so far, he could start to become a real issue for teams who come up against the Heat. Make sure you don’t forget the name Whiteside; he’s ready to explode onto the NBA scene for real soon, watch out for a 20-point, 30-rebound game, I think one from him is coming soon.

They are just three players so far that have caught my attention, I think that they are players that could, if developed properly, and reach their potential, become great players in the league, and stars on their team. Especially Rudy Gobert, for me, he is the one with the most potential at this point, and the player that has the best chance of becoming one of the best center players in the game.

 

 

 

 

Faried benched yet again, is Coach Shaw to blame?

The word ‘victimized’ was thrown around after Kenneth Faried’s 8 point, 1 rebound game against the lowly Lakers on Sunday (Monday Aus time). When the Nuggets signed Faried to a 4 year, 50 million dollar deal, they thought they’d locked up the the 20-point, 10-rebound Faried; so far they have gotten the 26-minutes-a-game Faried, often even less.

The Manimal isn’t exactly being a beast right now, but why, is it his friction with the front office, with the coach, or teammates, or is it just his coach easing him into the season.

It’s hardly the start that we expected from Faried. He became one of the most exciting power forwards in the league last season, really showing the talent he is and has been touted as, putting up multiple double-doubles towards the back end of last season, and it was more specifically was games 59 to 82 that Faried really put the foot down on his season, exploding for 32 points, 13 rebounds against the Lakers on March 7, a 34 point, 13 rebound game against Anthony Davis and the Pelicans on February 4, and shortly after, a 24 point, 21 rebound game against the Jazz on February 12.

He knows how to play the game, there is no question about it, but it seems the question is how well does Faried like to be told how to play the game. It’s tough to write about why he is struggling, when you’re not in the gym each day or within distance to hear what is happening at training, but there has been word that Faried and the Nuggets front office are not the best of friends, and if Faried can’t get along with the front office, there is a very high chance that he won’t get along with coach Brian Shaw.

The rumors are circling right now that Faried won’t be in Denver by the end of the trade deadline, which would be astounding given the fact of his performances in the second half of last season. It’s very early, Denver has only played 13 games of an 82 game season so far, but it’s taken a turn for Faried. He scored 22 points, and grabbed 17 rebounds in the first game of the season, and it looked like he was going to continue right where he left off from last season, but since then, he hasn’t been able to fire, and Shaw looks right now to be the reason.

His minutes have been sporadic at best, and I have no idea what Shaw is thinking in his rotation, either he is just feeling it out for the first month or so, and putting the players on the floor he thinks will match up best, or, he is just playing the players who work the hardest during training or shootarounds on the floor. It’s very tough to tell right now.

Faried has started every game this season, and played an average of 7-10 minutes in the first quarter, but after that, it seems it’s up to Shaw to how many minutes he plays out, and usually it’s not many. Faried only played 19 minutes against the Lakers, the game before, he played 27 minutes, for 19 points and 8 rebounds, arguably his best game since opening night, and the game before that he logged 30 minutes, and then once again was held to just 22 minutes the game before that. It’s an interesting way to play the player you signed for 55 million over 4 years.

On the flip side, the rumours, the speculation of a bad relationship, could all be incorrect, I don’t think they are, but there is a chance. Shaw could just be easing Faried back into the regular season, especially after spending half his summer training and playing with Team USA, which he has never done before. For a player to take half a summer off resting to get back into training early, and then go overseas to play for 2 weeks would definitely take a toll on their body, so Faried may be being eased back into the season.

He had a poor start to last season too, and took a while to get going, and it could be the same this season. One positive for Faried, is he doesn’t need many minutes to have a good night on the floor. In the 22 point, 17 rebound, 4 assist game he had to start the season, he only logged 28 minutes, which is pretty unbelievable to have a stat line like that in a low minute total.

Unfortunately, I think that there is definitely trouble brewing in Denver between Faried and the whole organisation. It would not surprise me at all if he asked for a trade. For me, he is way to good to be sitting on the bench for 25+ minutes a game. He is a superbly talented player, and can really turn games on their head, and he can’t do that when he is being held down like he is. I am definitely pointing the finger more at Brian Shaw than at the front office.

So that means the short answer to the headline is yes; I think Shaw is definitely to blame for Faried’s slow start to the year. Benching arguably your best or second best player in the team is unbelievable to me. Even if Faried isn’t the greatest player to coach, he is undeniably the best big man on the team, and they need to put him in the game for the Nuggets to even think about contending for a top seed. Shaw will have to do a fair bit to get me back on his good side after this start. Good luck, Brian.

Anthony Davis, his reign over the NBA has started, he just needs to tell his teammates

Get ready NBA, the reign of AD has already started to take effect, and it will continue for a decade barring any injuries, and his teammates actually giving him the ball down the stretch.

The Pelicans (still the Hornets back in 2012) knew what they were getting in Davis when they took him with the first pick in the 2012 draft, he was lean, but his athleticism was something that you couldn’t go past ever. Standing at 6 foot 10, around the average size of your normal Power Forward, it was Davis incredible wingspan that captured the attention of the league, and the Hornets. In 2010, at a Kevin Durant camp, his wingspan was measured at 7 foot 2 inches, but by the time 2012 rolled around, the combine had his wingspan listed at 7 foot 5.5 inches. His incredible reach was the reason he blocked an average of 4.7 shots a game while at Kentucky, and a monstrous 5.8 blocks per 40 minutes. This enticed the Hornets to take him, and they didn’t make a mistake.

Now, 2 years after he was drafted, it’s clear that Davis has arrived. Forget Howard, Griffin and Love setting the benchmark for the big men, its Davis who is now the benchmark for the other experienced players. Howard, Griffin and Love are now beginning to be judged against Davis, and they aren’t even close so far this season. He has started to stamp his authority against great players too, such as Cousins, who he got the best of on the 18th of November when he led the Pelicans to a 106-100 victory over Cousins and the Kings, he had 28 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks, and led the game winning comeback after halftime.

He is up in every single category from last season, and has limited his turnovers and fouls, showing his development after just 2 seasons with the Pelicans. Last season, he averaged a respectable 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game, while shooting above 50% from the field, but this year, he has utterly dominated the games he has played in, averaging 25.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and a massive 3.9 blocks a game, while shooting 57.9% from the field. He started his 2014/15 season with a 27-point, 17-rebound, 9-block game, immediately showing his intentions for this season, to be the best in the NBA, and to put the Pelicans back on the map in the playoffs. He is utterly dominating games, when his teammates get him the ball, which leads to my next point about Davis.

Demand it AD! The Pelicans now have to get used to being back with a franchise player, the last, Chris Paul in the Hornet days. After watching the final quarter of the New Orleans vs. Portland game, which the Pelicans took a double-digit lead into, it was clear that his teammates weren’t looking for Davis like they should have been. This wasn’t his fault, he had good position against Lopez in the post, but his teammates refused to pass it to him, opting to shoot contested jump shots, or quick threes, which landed them in trouble, eventually losing to Portland 102-93.

The one thing I’d love to see Davis do is demand the ball more, he does already, but he needs to be the focal point of the offense. Holiday, Evans and Gordon are all great players, but they need to feed Davis in the post, this will net the Pelicans more wins, as well as creating more shots for the three guards, with Davis drawing away help defenders leaving Evans or Holiday open to cut, or take a wide open jumper.

This season though, it’s Davis’ MVP to lose. I think now the only thing that can stop Davis winning the MVP is the Pelicans not winning enough games, due to his teammates not using Davis like they should be. I had initially picked Blake Griffin to take it this season, but so far, he doesn’t even look close to being an MVP candidate. Davis reign as the NBA’s best player could begin at the end of this season, and could continue for years to come, there is no defender in the league that seems to be able to stop Davis, and until we get one, it could be a long couple of years for teams in his division, and as long as his teammates start to get him the ball more often, the ceiling for Davis’ potential is still a long way away.

What’s the problem with the Pacers? Danny Granger is

The Indiana Pacers are the talk of the NBA at the moment, other than Donald Sterling, but enough has been said about him, so I thought I’d see if I could pinpoint just what his going wrong in the Pacers playoff ambitions.

Yes, I’m an outsider, so I have no idea what happens in the Pacers organisation behind closed doors, the meetings, the talks, this perspective is from an outsider looking in with no knowledge other than their play on the court and their press conferences.

Pacers fans never thought it could end like this, down 3-2 going to Atlanta, who on their home floor can seal the Pacers exit from the first round, which is extraordinary considering their Eastern Conference leading 56-26 win record in the regular season.

Indiana were the best team in the NBA at home, with a 35-6 record, yet they have dropped 2 games at home already in their first round matchup against the Atlanta Hawks.

From my perspective, the trade that was made with the 76ers has hurt the Pacers badly. At the trade deadline the Pacers shipped former All-Star forward Danny Granger, who had been with the Pacers his whole career, to the Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner and others.

The first sign of a fracture in team chemistry was when star Paul George tweeted an instagram post with this caption: On a serious note upset day for me losing a big brother and mentor hate to see him leave us..”

From an outsider looking in, Granger was obviously a main part of the locker room, and made and effort to keep spirits high, a joy to be around encouraging each of his teammates. That’s how I would see Granger. That’s gone now.

George hasn’t been the one who has stumbled badly in the playoffs however he is unbelievably playing superb basketball, averaging 22.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists so far in the series, nothing to laugh at.

Roy Hibbert however, well, he has been less than impressive.

He is a shadow of his former self, and I think he is massively down on confidence. He averaged 10.8 points 6.6 rebounds, and more importantly 2.2 blocks a game in the regular season, pretty good for a big man who has a star in Paul George to manage most of the offensive load.

However, in the playoffs so far, Hibbert has averaged a measly 4.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and not even a block a game. Not exactly what the Pacers asked him for.

Last year, when they went to the Eastern Conference Finals, Hibbert averaged 17 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a game in a total of 19 post-season games.

It is hard to pick why Hibbert is struggling so badly, he only played 12 minutes in Game 5, having no points, and no rebounds to his name, an ugly game for him.

Hibbert might be struggling physically, playing an 82-game season is tough on a 7-foot player, but it also might be confidence and the lack of support from his teammates, and that’s where I think he needs some help.

With Granger gone, it seems nobody has stepped up to be the leader of the locker room. It sounds funny, but all teams need that person who brings life to the grind of an NBA season, a joker, a person who encourages and keeps spirits up, and right now, it seems Hibbert is in need of another person to voice their support for him and back his abilities as a great NBA center.

Without a doubt, Game 5 was the worst for the Pacers in this series. They were utterly dominated by the Hawks after the first quarter going down 41-19 alone in the 2nd quarter, with the Pacers letting Mike Scott score from wherever he pleased.

In Game 5, the Pacers allowed the Hawks to drain nine threes. Nine. That’s not the regular season Pacers defence that we are used to at all.

They are going to have to get their act together quickly. They need to find some confidence from somewhere. Facing elimination must be hard to swallow for fans, but they have proved they are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference with their regular season.

If they can find that form and confidence they were playing with in the first half of the season especially, they will meet Miami in the ECF I believe, but if they can’t get their act together, they will be having an unexpectedly long offseason.

My 2013/14 MVP Leaders.

My 2013/14 MVP Leaders

The season is ageing, and it is getting down to the crunch time. The MVP talk is ramping up, so I thought I’d buy in. I usually tally my top 5, but I couldn’t decide the last two, so I have ranked my top 6 MVP leaders. So here they are.

1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

KD, seriously, this is his year. He has battled it out against LeBron for the last four years, and finally, finally, this season looks like the one he will raise the MVP trophy. Durant is having a career year, averaging 31.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists a game.

He has tallied 25 points or more in 29 straight games now, which is incredible and in his last 5, is averaging 34.6 points, including two tallies of 42 and a triple-double.

Kevin isn’t just scoring for the Thunder, but providing a huge rebounding presence, especially with Perkins sidelined, as well as dishing the ball as well as he ever has in his career, averaging 2 more assists a game.

He is considered a threat for a triple-double in just about every game, and so far teams haven’t been able to stop him on the offensive end, and his defensive work this season has been great.

Durant is the clear leader at the moment in the MVP race, however, he must keep it up as the next guy on my list is starting to push and chase KD, but right now, he has one hand on the trophy.

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat

James is always in the top 3 every season. He has been the best player in the league for the past 5 seasons in my opinion, and was unlucky not to win 5 MVPs in a row, (he missed 2010 when Rose won it).

This season has been no different, the go to guy for the Heat, and their leader. Although averaging just slightly under his career average, he is putting up 27 points, 6.5 assists, and 7 rebounds a game, nothing to shy away from.

In his last 5 games, he is averaging 28.4 points, highlighted by his monster 61-point game where he bullied the Bobcats from the tip-off until he sat with a minute to go in the 4th. He shot an incredible 22/33 from the floor, including 8 triples on 10 attempts.

James is slightly below his average at the moment, but expect him to start to amp up his run at his 5th MVP title, however, he is going to have to play some outstanding basketball to pass his fellow shooting forward Kevin Durant.

3. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

Can you believe this guy has only been in the league for 3 years? Griffin is utterly unstoppable at the moment, and all that seems to stop him, is Blake, when he fouls out.

Right now, he is the man in Los Angeles. The Clippers have taken over as the number one team in town, with the lowly Lakers struggling along.

Griffin is now the best player in LA with Bryant nearing the end of his career, a big statement, but I believe he is 2 years away from an MVP award, and he has started his run this season.

He is averaging 24.4 points, up from 21 from last season, as well as 9.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists. He isn’t just performing stats wise, what he is bringing to the Clippers right now are wins. His shooting percentage is 61%, which is outrageous, highlighted by his 37 point, 14/16 FG against the Suns on Monday (Tuesday Australian time)

Blake’s last 10 games he has averaged 25.4 points per game, and has the Clippers sitting at 45-20 with 17 games left in the season. Although his stats aren’t as high as Durant, James or the next player on my list, the fact that the Clippers are so high in the standings has Griffin at number 3.

4. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves

Kevin Love, equal with Griffin, as one of the best big men in the league this season. He is playing out of his skin for a team that doesn’t have much to smile about. So far, he is the shining light in what has been a rough season for Minnesota.

Love has been on fire all season on the offensive end, averaging 26.5 points per game, a massive 7.6 points higher than his career average of 18.9. Not only has he been a beast on the defensive end, he is averaging 13.1 rebounds a game, 0.8 more than his 12.3 rebound career average.

Minnesota has struggled this season, sitting at 32-31, just over .500, and Love has been the only reason that they are above even. His last 5 games have been stellar, averaging 26.6 points a game, plus 12.4 rebounds, adding 5.4 assists also.

He is the premier rebounding/point scoring big man in the comp right now, and he’s on many teams’ radars this coming off-season, being a free agent. It is called the most valuable player, not most valuable team, so even if the Wolves are struggling Love definitely gets a mention for his great season so far.

5. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

A different pick at 5, but seriously, this guy, the influence he has had on this team. The Bulls were down and out, injuries all over roster, and yet Noah has found a way to become the leader, and pace the Bulls when it seemed the season was gone.

Joakim Noah has been on fire in the 2nd half of the season especially, and I am a big fan of his game. Averaging 12.2 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game this season, which is 2.5 points and 1.9 rebounds more than his career average.

He is having a massive career year, with the only areas he isn’t up in, being field goal percentage, and free throw percentage, because he is taking many more shots.

In his last 5, Noah has averaged 13.6 points, 9 rebounds, and a huge 2.2 blocks per game, which has him and the Bulls playing super basketball right now, with the big scalp the Heat on Sunday (Monday Australian time)

Noah has taken the lead role since Rose went down almost a millennium (not quite) ago now. He is fit for it, he doesn’t take any rubbish from anyone, and doesn’t back down from anything. That’s what has made him a great player.

The intensity Noah brings to the court is one big reason that he is starting to be noticed. He can make his team fire up when they are down, and has shown this season that he is the go-to guy for the Bulls, that’s why he sits at number 5 on my list.

6. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trailblazers

Portland have been the surprise of the year definitely, nobody saw them sitting at 42-22 with 18 games on their schedule left, and a big reason that they are sitting pretty right now, is LaMarcus Aldridge.

Aldridge has hit his prime this season, averaging 23.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and a block per game, which is pacing the Blazers perfectly.

The way to beat the Blazers is to shut down Aldridge. If Aldridge has a poor game, the Blazers usually struggle. At the moment, Aldridge has been fluctuating. In his last 5 games, he has averaged 21.6, shadowed by a 1/13 shooting performance against the Hawks, which oddly, the Blazers won.

He scored 30 points and grabbed 17 rebounds against Dallas, by far his best game in the 5 game stretch, yet the Blazers lost, which is a little interesting.

Overall, Aldridge has lifted his basketball massively this season, and is definitely in the hunt.

There you have it, a look at the top 6 players that I rate in the running for the league MVP. To be honest, there are 6, but really, the top 2 are the only ones who are in with a chance of winning. Durant in my opinion will win the MVP trophy, with LeBron a very close second, providing KD doesn’t get injured.

2014 All-Star Weekend. What to expect.

I’ll get right to the point, expect a lot.

The 2014 All-Star Weekend is just a week away, and New Orleans is ready to host the biggest weekend in basketball. For the first time in history, a player will compete in all five events across the weekend.

Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers will compete in the Rising Stars game, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, The Foot Locker 3-Point Contest, the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, and the 2014 East vs West All-Star game. The only event he won’t compete in is the Celebrity Game…which he isn’t eligible. 

Talk about a ‘mid-season break’ for Lillard. Especially since the Blazers are one of the league leading teams this season. I wonder what head coach Terry Stotts thinks. 

To be honest, who cares what Stotts thinks; having Lillard play in all five events will be great for the fans that come along to All Star Weekend. 

So, what to expect from the events?

The Rising Stars game will hopefully be as good as it was last season. Kenneth Faried put on a show last year, scoring 40 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, as well as Kyrie Irving scoring 32 for the opposite team. 

It’ll be Team Hill vs Team Webber this year, and I think that it has potential to be one of the best Rising Star games. Anthony Davis will put on a show, as will Lillard, Jones, Drummond and Carter-Williams for their respective teams. 

For me, Davis will be unstoppable, he’ll walk away with the MVP, and Team Webber will get the win over Team Hill by 9 points. 

The three-point contest will feature defending champion Kyrie Irving, along with Kevin Love, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Joe Johnson, Arron Afflalo, Stephen Curry and Marco Belinelli.

This is where the best long distance shooters in the game show off their skills. For this one, I have to back Steph Curry to nail a high score and take home the title of the three-point contest champion. He has been way to good this season so far, shooting a sizzling 40.2% from three. Shooting without any defending pressure, he will relish that chance. 

The skills challenge is probably the most forgotten event over the weekend, but one that really shows how talented the players in the NBA are.

With defending champion Damian Lillard will be joined by Trey Burke, Reggie Jackson, Goran Dragic, Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo, DeMar DeRozan and Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

I would be betting on Lillard to retain his title, through his explosive pace, great passing ability and ball handling skills, Lillard is the man to walk away the champion for the 2nd year in a row for me.

The All-Star game on Sunday night is the highlight of the weekend, but for me, the Dunk Contest is one that you just cannot miss if you’re a loyal NBA fan, and with this years lineup, it has the chance to be as good as the Griffin-Ibaka-McGee-DeRozan combination of 2011. 

Defending champion Terrence Ross will be joined by Damian Lillard, Paul George, John Wall, Harrison Barnes and rookie Ben McLemore in New Orleans. 

Expect high-flying, creative, assisted, powerful dunks from all contestants across the board. My prediction is that Paul George will take the win, because if he can jam a 360-windmill in a game, who knows what he could do in the dunk contest.

The smokey for me also, would have to be Harrison Barnes, and if he can find some good creative dunks to go with his power, he is a chance for an upset win.

The final event, the biggest of the weekend, the 2014 All-Star game has been hyped up to be one of the best. All players are in great form right now, lead by James for the East, and Durant for the West.

With both East and West boasting immense talent like usual, it will be interesting to see how they match up in the often-high scoring affair. Kevin Durant, in a hot vein of form, and the favorite for not only the regular season MVP, but the All-Star MVP will cause the East the most trouble I would think.

Stephen Curry was voted into his first All-Star start for the West team after controversially being left out of the game last season. This season, he was the 2nd most voted player to start for the game. How things can change in just a year. Expect three after three from Steph, who’ll look to stretch the floor for the West side.

With Kobe Bryant injured, it was announced today that the New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis will replace Kobe, which will bring a hometown feeling to the game.

The East, lead by James also has some power behind them this year.

Paul George was voted in for his first start as an All-Star, and already has shown this season that he is ready to launch to superstar status, and will soon become the leader of the East side in the future years, expect George to have some flashy explosive plays during the game.

James is joined by his fellow Miami teammates Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. I’m not sure how Chris Bosh was selected once again to be an All-Star, especially after last year’s effort, but alas, he is there. Surprisingly.

So my prediction for the All-Star game is, the West will defeat East by 11 points and Kevin Durant will score 37 points, and win the 2014 MVP award.

So, there is my wrap for what I can expect, and my predictions for the 2014 All-Star Weekend. If you get the chance to watch one event, or all five, enjoy, because it is going to be an outstanding show of skill and talent.