Oct 29, 2012, 2:42 PM EDT
It’s the consensus of prognosticators (and me as well) — the NBA finals will be the Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James. You can already sense David Stern drooling like a Pavlovian dog thinking about the television ratings.
What teams could destroy David Stern’s dream?
There are four. While we could argue that each of these four need a little luck or for the Heat/Lakers to come back to them, we could say the same for the Heat and Lakers. Fact is you don’t win an NBA title without some breaks going your way.
So here are the four most likely teams to get in the way, two West and two East.
Oklahoma City Thunder. They remain the next best team in the West, even after the James Harden trade. (I think they take a step back after trading away a key playmaker, the Sixth Man of the Year and an Olympian and trying to fill his minutes with Kevin Martin. Long term with the picks and Jeremy Lamb we can debate the trade impacts, but the Thunder did not get instantly better Saturday night with this move.)
The Thunder have improved each year because their players have improved and gotten more experienced. That will happen again. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are going to take steps forward after their Olympic experience — and the Lakers will struggle to stop Durant, even with Dwight Howard in the paint. OKC gets Eric Maynor back and that gives them depth at the point guard spot and another playmaker. They have Kendrick Perkins to match up with Dwight Howard and Serge Ibaka to slow Pau Gasol. Westbrook can hamper Steve Nash.
The Thunder are not as good a team without Harden, but they are still very good and still match up with the Lakers as well as anyone.
Los Angeles Clippers. You can argue the San Antonio Spurs should fit here, but the last couple seasons showed me that while they are awesome in the regular season you can scheme for their weaknesses come the playoffs. The Clippers are a team on the rise. They have the single best pure point guard in the game in Chris Paul, and he is in a contract year so expect big things. They added some depth with Jamal Crawford, and while I’m not his biggest fan he is an upgrade over what they had. Eric Bledsoe is coming into his own off the bench. They have solid veterans like Caron Butler and — once he gets in shape — Lamar Odom. Oh, an they have the force of nature that is Blake Griffin. Paul is just figuring out how to use all those pieces.
The key for the Clippers in the playoffs is DeAndre Jordan. Last season he got benched for Reggie Evans when the going got tough. That’s not good. The Clippers need Jordan to take a huge step forward because they need his athleticism to combat Howard if they face the Lakers. If Jordan is in foul trouble or just plain old ineffective, the Lakers would run them over without slowing. But Jordan and his growth — scoring and putting pressure on Howard on both ends of the floor — changes the dynamic. He makes it possible. But it’s asking a lot of him to make that leap.
Boston Celtics. They came within a game of getting the Heat last season, and while they racked up a 3-2 lead in the series with Chris Bosh out it still shows they were close. Then Boston got better this summer — Jason Terry is better right now than Ray Allen. Not over their careers, maybe not now as a pure shooter, but Terry brings far more shot creation and versatility to the Celtics. Boston also gets Jeff Green back and he gives them real depth off the bench. Jared Sullinger should let Kevin Garnett rest more.
Boston must have a healthy and rested Garnett to have a shot at the Heat — he is the heart of their defense has to play as well or better than last year to have a shot. Rajon Rondo has to step up his game and get his squad more easy looks offensively against a swarming Heat defense. Boston cannot show their age. The good news for Celtics fans is Boston matches up well with Miami considering its defense, Paul Pierce and his ability to score, and now some punch off the bench. It’s not easy, but the Celtics have a puncher’s chance in a series with Miami.
Indiana Pacers. If you’re going to beat the Heat, the best way to do it is with size — Indiana has that in Roy Hibbert. One of the key turning points in the playoffs last season was when the Heat fell behind the Pacers because of the play of Hibbert and they had to adjust their style and step up their play. The Heat had that other gear.
To best the Heat Pacers need George Hill and Paul George to take steps forward with their game (both would be key in the finals, particularly on defense), David West to keep being himself, Granger to be steady in the big moments and Hibbert to become a dominating force. The Pacers lack the kind of superstar player the Heat have two (or three) of, but they have great balance, good depth and the size that could give the Heat fits. They just have to play nearly flawless basketball (and hope the Heat do not).
Mar 10, 2014, 12:59 AM EDT
Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while thinking Minnesota State Representative Pat Garofalo must be a small minded racist (is there another kind)… Jodie Meeks, Los Angles Lakers. Meeks epitomized the Lakers on this day — not only was he hot he was aggressive, and that’s what led to his career…
Mar 10, 2014, 12:27 AM EDT
There’s no real reason the Lakers as currently constructed should beat a Thunder team that, coming into Sunday’s contest, was tied with the Pacers for the league’s best record. But this was just one of 82 for OKC on the way to a trip that will likely last deep into the postseason, and L.A., as…
Mar 9, 2014, 11:48 PM EDT
That is what James Harden brings to the table — elite level scoring. He can flat out knock it down. That three gave Harden 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Rockets came from 13 back to force overtime on the shot above, then in OT Harden and Jeremy Lin (9 points in the…
Mar 9, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
BOSTON – Do the Detroit Pistons hold each other accountable? “No,” Brandon Jennings said directly. The Pistons’ faint playoff hopes are disintegrating. With a 118-111 loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday, Detroit has lost three straight, seven of eight and 10 of 12. The Atlanta Hawks lead the Pistons by three games with 19…
Mar 9, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Nerlens Noel has yet to play an NBA game this season, after being selected sixth overall in last summer’s draft by the Pelicans and then being traded to the Sixers in exchange for Jrue Holiday. Philadelphia is the team most associated with tanking this season (i.e., willingly losing games due to lack of personnel), and…
Mar 9, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
BOSTON – Nine years ago, Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith were roommates at Oak Hill Academy. They watched film together. They walked to the gym together for extra workouts together. They played games together. Could they team up again in the NBA? “The conversation comes up,” Smith said. “We always tell each other how surreal…
Mar 9, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Jamal Crawford missed three straight games for the Clippers due to a calf injury, before trying to give it a go on Saturday against the Hawks. But Crawford didn’t last long before realizing he wasn’t yet ready to return, and now believes he came back too soon. From Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles: Clippers guard Jamal…
Mar 9, 2014, 4:53 PM EDT
One day doesn’t change that the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers are destined to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. What Sunday showed is why on the path to that show do neither of those teams wants to see the Chicago Bulls. Sunday at home against the Miami Chicago was relentless, physical, they defended well,…
Mar 9, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Coming into Sunday’s contest, the Bulls had beaten the Heat six of the last seven times the teams met during the regular season in Chicago, and this video clip of action from the first half gives us a glimpse of the reason why. Chicago plays harder than any team in the league on a game-by-game…
Mar 9, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
The Knicks have won three straight and the playoffs, especially in the dreadful Eastern Conference, remain within reach. But gaining entry to the postseason and getting crushed by the Heat or the Pacers in the first round wouldn’t begin to take the sting away from what’s been an underachieving season. What a playoff berth might…
Mar 9, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
LeBron James attended the jersey retirement ceremony of Zydrunas Ilgauskas on Saturday, a move that would have been viewed as unusual by NBA standards even before considering the history that exists between the star player and the team where he began his NBA career. James played his first seven seasons in Cleveland, before infamously spurning…
Mar 9, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
This is a far cry from Chris Paul to DeAndre Jordan, but it’s as close as the Knicks are likely to get. J.R. Smith leads the break late in the second quarter, and tosses it off the backboard for a trailing Amar’e Stoudemire. In the old days, Amar’e would have hammered this one home with…
Mar 9, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
The Magic didn’t beat the Spurs in San Antonio, of course, but this was a nice play by Arron Afflalo to end the first half nonetheless. Tim Duncan has a propensity to turn the ball over in situations like this — end of clock, trying to force a pass — and this time it cost…
Mar 9, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
This wasn’t exactly a dunk on the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he was certainly in the vicinity. Martell Webster got loose on the break, and was quick enough to the rim to avoid the long rookie, but threw the dunk down with such force that he landed somewhat awkwardly on his backside.
Mar 9, 2014, 3:42 AM EDT
This is what the Clippers do, they put on a show. Midway through the first quarter Saturday night Chris Paul made the steal and it was a two-on-none fast break, so Paul went off the backboard to DeAndre Jordan for the slam. Not the best off the backboard I’ve ever seen, but not bad. The…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
The Cavaliers raised the jersey of Zydrunas Ilgauskas to the rafters on Saturday, following a ceremony at halftime of Cleveland’s matchup with the Knicks. Ilgauskas delivered a speech and thanked the fans as is customary at these events, and LeBron James was in attendance to honor his former teammate, who had requested his presence. The…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Glen Davis has only been a member of the Clippers for four games, but he’s already sensing something special about his new team. Davis was bought out by the Magic and signed with Los Angeles less than two weeks ago, but played for Doc Rivers in Boston during his first four NBA seasons. He was…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Carl Landry appeared in a career-high 81 games for the Warriors last season, and was a key reserve who averaged 10.8 points and six rebounds on a team that made it to the second round of the playoffs. The Kings haven’t sniffed the postseason in eight years, but signed Landry to a four-year deal worth…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
Phil Jackson was first offered a head coaching position with the Knicks this week, even though Mike Woodson is still (for reasons unknown) firmly in place. Jackson declined that one, so New York upped the ante with a front office job offer, one that Jackson would reportedly be deciding on in the coming week. No…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
BOSTON – On Paul Pierce’s first defensive possession as the Brooklyn Nets’ full-time starting power forward, Serge Ibaka backed him down on the block. Pierce bodied Ibaka, keeping him out of the paint, and Ibaka threw the ball away. On the Oklahoma City Thunder’s next possession, Ibaka posted up Pierce again. Pierce hardly yielded an…
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- Report: Cavaliers privately believe it’s not too late to lure LeBron back to Cleveland 20