As the NBA season rolls along, the landscape of the league is taking shape. For example, The Heat have separated themselves from the rest of the field in the East. In the West, the Spurs are sitting atop the mountain just as they were last year. Rarely does the top playoff seed from each conference meet one another in the NBA Finals. So over my next two post; I'd like to examine some teams who I feel may have something up their sleeves for their respective conference leaders come playoff time.
In Los Angeles, the Lakers have been fighting hard through each game. Claiming victory off the efforts of a steely eyed Kobe. Dwight has gained that extra bounce in his step and appears to be making that transition into a potential franchise cornerstone. Kobe Bryant went on record promising that his team will make the playoffs. He even went so far as to say "And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone-" Oh no Basketbawful readers; For the Lakers, failure--is not an option.
Make the playoffs yet we kinda suck; Seems Legit
Pardon me for a sec guys...BWAAAAA-HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. Trust me Kobes, no one is concerned about you, Geezer Nash, or Dwight "Can't get Right" Howard. No, the Lakers stand virtually no chance. I want to focus on the other LA team. This will be the first year since...psssh--ever, that we're looking at the Clippers as serious contenders. They're currently sitting in 3rd place and probably would be in 2nd had Chris Paul not gone down with an injury prior to the All Star break. The Clippers employ the fastest offense in the NBA mainly due to their bench of Bledsoe, Crawford, Barnes, Odom, and whichever scrub Del Negro feels like playing at center (Turiaf or Hollins). The starters are great in pick n roll situations playing off of Griffin and Jordan's athleticism. Blake has improved tremendously on the blocks this year. It’s still really ugly...but he's gotten pretty efficient. For example, he'll pivot about four times, pump fake twice, jump off the wrong foot and finish with the wrong hand--but this season it actually goes in. And his jumpshots from 15-18 feet are falling as well. He works hard at it, but it’s partly because the league hasn't realized that he can knock them down so he's ALWAYS wide open.
Hey Melo, am I doing it right?
The Clippers bench is 12 guys deep. In fact, decent rotation players like Willie Green are stuck on towel waiving duty. They feature Jamal Crawford who's making a push for another 6th man of the year crown. Eric Bledsoe, who's really good at playing in that zone between holy shit he's fast and holy shit he needs to slow down. And Matt Barnes who I genuinely hate, but is having a great year and is perfect for this team. (By the way, remember when you were in high school and someone’s parents are out of town so a kid throws a party. And it’s real chill, then all of the sudden like four guys walk in and everyone at the party is all nervous and awkward because no one knows who invited the four guys and they're clearly much older than the high school kids. And they're drinking all the booze and being slightly inappropriate with the girls. And the kid throwing the party is walking around checking to see if any of his parents' stuff has been stolen. Matt Barnes looks like one of those four guys.)
Guys: Hide your wallets. Ladies: Hide your vaginas.
Despite Blake's improved offensive game, the Clippers still struggle in the half court. Right now they don't really have a shooting guard in the starting five. Chauncey Billups plays a Jason Kidd-esque role next to Chris Paul. He never drives to the hole, and on occasion he'll post up. But mainly he barks orders, calls out what he sees, and bombs three's. This puts a lot of pressure on Blake and Caron to get the team going. In my opinion, the Clippers need Chris Paul to average over 20 points a game in order to reach the Finals. There will be long stretches where they're struggling on offense and Chris goes into passive mode. Now I understand a point guard is supposed to get his team going, but CP3 is hands down to best scorer on the team. They can't afford for him to play like Rondo on his period. A team like San Antonio feast on great ball movement and converting open threes. The Clippers at times struggle on their defensive rotations which could be a formula for disaster for Lob City. Furthermore, Parker and Duncan should be able to go hard at CP3 and Blake on the offensive end. This will have the Clipper stars more winded than Eddy Curry going up a flight of stairs.
Oklahoma City currently sit in 2nd place in the West. Last year the Thunder shocked the basketball world and defeated the Spurs after falling behind two games to none in the Conference Finals. Kevin Martin has stepped in nicely as the third scoring option in place of James Harden. And OKC's offense hasn't missed a beat. As one of the best three point shooting teams in the league the Thunder are able to stretch the floor and open up driving lanes for Durant and Westbrook. In addition to his 50/40/90 season (At least 50% FG%/ 40% 3P%/ 90% FT%) KD is scowling more than ever. Talking way more trash. And has even managed to get ejected from a game this year. By all accounts he's still a nice guy, but we're seeing him bring out his inner asshole more and more. I don't really see it as a bad thing. I've always felt that in the NBA, nice guys finish last. Maybe refs get influenced by stars screaming at them. Maybe teammates snap out of an offensive/defensive funk when they have the leader snarling at them. I haven't quite put my finger on it yet. But in most cases, the Finals MVP had to turn in to a prick at some point in the playoffs. Durant is in that
WHOA!!! Simmer down killer!
Westbrook is still Westbrook. He can single handedly win or lose you a game in one quarter. Serge Ibaka is quietly having a fantastic season. Career highs in points, rebounds, and both field goal and free throw percentage. And he swatting three shots per game. Kevin Martin who previously had no business being a number 1 option is having a good year as well. His shots are down (as they should be) but his percentages are up. I'm also a fan of the trade that brought in Ronnie Brewer. His size and defense behind Durant will help in the playoffs.
The Thunder's shortcomings are nothing new. They don't have much post scoring. And by that I mean, they don't have ANY post scoring. Not to mention they tend to go through periods where they fall in love with the jumper. And for all of Ibaka's blocks and Kendrick Perkins'...uh......"pissed off-ness" their defense is sitting right at league average. Speaking of Kendrick Perkins, what is the point of him? He's now having one of his worst seasons ever, the defense isn't that great, and he makes about $5 million more than he should. Jeff Green is overpaid as well, but I still can't help but feel like Boston got the better of that trade.
Sing? Sure, I'll sing an original ballad called "Slap everybody in the room."
We all saw the Thunder beat the Spurs last year. Could this year be different? The Thunder rank 6th in opponents FGA from 5 ft or less. The Spurs aren’t exactly pounding it in the paint, but they are the best passing team in the NBA. Their ball movement could be key in knocking off OKC this year. Not to mention they’re currently 2nd in the league on assisted three pointers. (nba.com’s new stat site is friggin awesome.) Throw in an 8th ranked defense and the Spurs could be headed to the Finals this year. That is assuming Tony, Manu, and Duncan can stay healthy. (They probably won’t)
Look for Part II in the coming days.