NBA Off-Season Part 1: Playing Matchmaker – Top 20 Free Agents

When a player finds himself in Free Agency, he usually lies somewhere within three distinct categories.

Category A: The ‘Marquee’ Player, the Game-Changer, the Franchise savior.. I think you get the point.

Category B: The instant starter, who along with a few other pieces, can go a long way in transforming a franchise. This player could also have the potential to one day become a ‘Marquee’ guy. Also 6th men who would start on most teams in the league, think James Harden.

Category C: The Role Player. The player who puts a team ‘over the edge’. A player who is a nice piece to possess coming off the bench but isn’t necessarily going to transform your franchise, and should by no means be a starter, and thus should by no means be recieving a starter pay-cheque.

Whatever the Category, free agency is a time for teams to find solutions to needs that were not addressed in the draft. Free Agency is a time for teams to take that next step, be it from a lottery to a playoff team, or a playoff team to a Championship contender. They might  secure multiple pieces, or they may look to go after that marquee guy who is able to transform their franchise. Sometimes, teams won’t be active at all in free agency, they might already be content with the team they have or they may simply lack the finances or allure to attract high-calibre free agents.

Whatever the strategy, free agency will ultimately decide where the balance of power in the league will shift. It will indicate which teams have managed their salary cap effectively and which teams have been quite frankly, idiotic. Will parity be restored? Or will the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer? This years Free Agents class doesn’t possess many ‘game-changers’ but the next few weeks will go a long way in giving us a brief preview of the landscape of the NBA for the upcoming season. So lets preview this years free agency, and take a look at the Top 20 free agents for 2012. Who will become immediate title contenders? And who will become the next Charlotte Bobcats (Ok I slightly over-exaggerated)? Lets find out.

1. Deron Williams (UFA)

Category: A

Potential Destinations: Nets, Mavericks.

Best Fit: Mavericks

Summary: The top name in Free Agency this year, and if he had any sense, he would have already signed for the Mavericks by now. You know, that classy franchise that actually know what they are doing. Unfortunately it looks inevitable that he ends up staying in Brooklyn along with his buddy Dwight Howard (via trade).

2. Steve Nash (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Knicks

Summary: Possibly the most compelling storyline from Free Agency this year, as for the first time since joining the Suns, Steve Nash finally looks set to move on. The Heat, Knicks and Raptors are all possible destinations, all would make a ton of sense and all would be incredibly fun options. Steve Nash with Lebron and Wade? Fun. Steve Nash playing mentor to Jeremy Lin whilst trying to bring the Knicks back to relevancy? Fun. And Steve Nash returning to Canada? Very Very Fun. All fit, I said the best fit was the Knicks, but ultimately I see him taking his talents… to Toronto, who will wind up bidding the other teams out of the water.

3. Eric Gordon (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Hornets.

Summary: This would have been a lot more debatable if the Draft had not been fixed granted the Hornets the Number 1 pick, Anthony Davis. But unfortunately, the draft has been fixed granted the Hornets Number 1 pick, so New Orleans (just two years after Chris Paul’s departure) should be ready for another run with a solid foundation in Gordon, Rivers and Davis.

4. Roy Hibbert (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Pacers.

Summary: The man who has been attracting the most attention in Free Agency so far, with the Blazers and Pacers both offering Hibbert max deals. It is quite clear, the Pacers are not willing to let Hibbert go and with him being a restricted free agents, I see nothing preventing this from occuring.

5. Tim Duncan (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Spurs.

Summary: The only way Tim Duncan is not performing in a Spurs jersey next year, is if he has decided he’s done wearing jerseys.. I have now realised how bad this sounds.. Lets move on.

6. Brook Lopez (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Trade to the Orlando Magic.

Summary: Dwight Howard.

7. Kevin Garnett (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics.

Summary: This has already been confirmed. Much like Tim Duncan, there was no way Kevin Garnett was going to be seen in any other Jersey, than a Celtics one (I think I phrased it better that time).

8. Lou Williams (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: 76ers

Summary: The fact Lou Williams a) opted-out of his contract and b) wants to be a starting Point Guard wherever he ends up, makes me think he doesn’t end up in Philadelphia at the start of the season. Lou Williams fits perfectly into Category B, he is a fantastic asset to possess, for a team looking to take that next step. He is first and foremost a scorer who can ignite an offense, be it coming off the bench or being a starter, and wherever he ends up, I see nothing preventing him from being very productive.

9. OJ Mayo (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics.

Summary: Ray Allen looked all but gone when I started writing this. Who better to replace him than OJ Mayo, one of the best 6th men (Is that how you say it, or is it ‘6th Mans’?) in the league.

10. Goran Dragic (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Rockets.

Summary: Another player who replicates the scenario of Lou Williams. A young, talented scoring point guard who hustles, who will immediately improve any team he is on. Unlike Lou Williams however, I see the best fit actually coming to fruition. Why? Because the Rockets are going to make at least one trade before this season begins. It is simply, inevitable. Does that mean Dragic himself could wind up being traded? Maybe. But it’s just as plausible that Kyle Lowry gets traded, and Dragic gets the starting gig. I see him staying in Houston.

11. Ersan Ilyasova (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Nets.

Summary: I have already stated that I believe Dwight Howard will be a Brookyln Net this season. That almost certainly means Humphries and Lopez are gone, so who better to pair with Howard than Ilyasova? A guy who consistently averages a double double, hustles, crashes the board and is generally a nightmare. You put him in a starting lineup with D-Will, Gerald Wallace and Dwight Howard, and all of a sudden this team looks capable of competing in the East. I don’t see a scenario where this doesn’t happen. Double-negative aside, I have never been this confident making this many assumptions for one NBA team.. ever.

12. Ray Allen (UFA)

Category: C

Best Fit: Heat

Summary: Doesn’t this just make perfect sense? We saw it in the Finals, with the Lebron/Wade pick and roll, driving to the basket, the Heat relied heavily on perimiter shooting from guys like Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller. With Ray Allen, you get a guy, who gives you Miller’s Game 5 production, on a consistent basis. In Boston, Ray Allen had to work for his looks. In Miami, with Lebron and Wade, he will be shooting Wide Open looks almost all of the time. The Celtics have reportedly doubled the Heat’s offer, now it comes down to whether Allen wants the pay-cheque or the Championships.

13. Jeff Green (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics

Summary: David Faulk, who coincedentally is Jeff Green’s agent, stated that Jeff Green was the 2nd best free agent on the market. Obviously that is not true, especially coming off Heart-surgery, but he is still a valuable nonetheless. I see him returning to the Celtics, who if healthy can add another component to a team whose lack of depth was evident in the post-season.

14. Brandon Bass (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics

Summary: Brandon Bass was a revelation for the Celtics this past season. The combination in the front court, between him and Garnett should prosper again this season. As referred to in the Jeff Green summary, the Celtics severely lacked depth last season, so if they can ensure that Bass, Garnett, Allen and Green all return this season, they should be contending again.

15. Chris Kaman (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Heat

Summary: Can the Heat afford him? Maybe not, but there is no disputing that this is the best fit. Chris Kaman, contract aside, is severely underrated. Any guy that produces a double-double is valuable to a team, especially one that lacks a true center. This makes a ton of sense, unfortunately it is very unlikely that the Heat have the cap space to turn this into a reality.

16. Jeremy Lin (RFA)

Category: B 

Best Fit: Knicks

Summary: Linsanity was a great story last year, and there is no disputing his potential. Even without all of the conjecture from the media, Lin proved he was a top 15 point guard, worthy of a starting job. He should return to the team, that (sort of) helped establish himself. After all, who wouldn’t want to play with Carmelo and Amare? Now that they are all healthy.. ermm, I’m struggling to make anything of this, er… lets just move on.

17. George Hill (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Pacers

Summary: A combo guard who, much like Lou Williams, isn’t your typical point guard. He can play the 1 or 2, he can score and can consistently be the 3rd best scorer on a team. The Pacers have obviously been focusing most of their attention so far on trying to re-sign Hibbert, but they have also expressed an interest in Hill. He should end up re-signing.

18. Jason Terry (UFA)

Category: C

Best Fit: Mavericks

Summary: Jason Terry is the perfect, if you can’t get Ray Allen, option. He is a fantastic 6th man, who can explode at any point and re-energize a stagnant offence. If Allen ends up going back to Boston, then the scenario I just made reference to, could surface, but ultimately I see Allen in Miami, OJ Mayo in Boston and Terry returning to Dallas.

19. Brandon Roy  (UFA)

Category: Dammit, he ruined my category theory!

Best Fit: Timberwolves

Summary: Brandon Roy has had a tough time of it. A 3 time all star, forced to retire through injury. However, he claims his injury has been given the all-clear and he has returned to give it another shot. I repeat, this man is a 3-time all star, he isn’t some scrub. If he can come back half the player he once was then your happy. Minnesota with Ricky Rubio as the Point Guard, is the perfect fit for him and with it being a small-market team, can return without the pressure of say.. Chicago (who are also interested). This move makes almost too much sense.

20. JaVale McGee (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Nuggets

Summary: Three words can summarise JaVale Mcgee’s career so far. Incredible talent, disruptive. Sure he entered the league early, but by now he shoud have matured. I see him returning to Denver, where at times he showed flashes of that incredible talent.

Let’s just put that into perspective. This Free Agent Class posesses just the 1 Marquee player, 16 Category B player, 2 Category C players and 1 “Dammit, he ruined my category theory”… category. In short, this Free Agent Class isn’t spectacular. We are not going to get anything that rivals The Decision, what we are getting are a lot of solid players who will make immediate contributions. It isn’t exciting, but a lot of teams, are all going to slightly improve, and if the NBA can replicate anything near to the NFL’s parity, then we can be satisfied going into this upcoming season. We are after all, getting another off-season of Dwight Howard telling people where he wants to go before he ends up staying in Orlando… Excited? Yeah, me too.

E3 2012 Preview Part 1 – Top 10 Most Anticipated Games

It’s hard to preview a gaming convention when most of the fun stuff, is stuff that you were not expecting. We can make predictions about new consoles or the release of Half Life 3, but us gamers are only satisfied when we get an announcement that comes completely out of nowhere, and shocks the industry. So when I preview my Top 10 anticipated games, these are not necessarily my favourite ten games at E3, some of them, for instance Far Cry, we have already seen enough footage for me to know, that this game could be special. No, these are games we have only seen announcements or trailers about, and now it is now time for those developers to take the next step and figuratively ‘shock’ us by releasing a fresh perspective on the game that we have not seen before, and that is crucial in the transformation of these games from ‘anticipated’ to an actual success.

I will also be looking back on this preview, with my post-e3 analysis of the event. Some developers will leave us disappointed and go the ‘wet your appetite’ route and just release another trailer, some will go overboard and we will receive 30+ minutes of gameplay shoved down our throats, which isn’t a bad thing, if everything they show feels fresh and adds a different dimension to the game, and there will be some that, get the balance just right.

All ten games on this list are potentially fantastic, but where they lie within these three categories, will have a major impact on the publics opinion of their games. E3 is possibly the biggest marketing exploit developers have at their disposal, E3 signifies the culmination of the last few years of production, E3 is the time when companies discover whether everything has been worthwhile, E3 is the time, to ascertain, that your game is a big deal.

10. Metal Gear Solid: Revengeance

I am pretty sure this game is going to suck, and that is emphasised by its new, and sucky title ‘Revengeance’. Seriously, who came up with that one? Anywho, this game has been surrounded by controversy. And whilst we were certainly salivating after the original reveal of Metal Gear Solid: Rising, the impeding cancellation was spared by a new title and new developers. Now, what we’re left with is what appears to be a hack and slash action game and has essentially destroyed all the hype for this once, potentially fantastic game. At E3, Kojima and friends are going to need to produce something remarkable for me to get hyped for this game, but that is essentially why this has ended up on the list. Kojima has a brilliant history, and if there was ever a time he needed to be brilliant, it was now. Don’t let us down!

9. The Last Guardian

‘The Last Guardian’ has been a mainstay upon ‘Most Anticipated Games’ lists for a few years now, but unfortunately ever since we were presented with that stunning trailer at E3 two years ago, detailing the journey of a little boy and his giant dog, we have seen nothing. Is this game finished? With the exit of Fumito Ueda from Sony, it certainly looks that way, but for the simple reason that, two years ago, I saw one of the greatest trailers I have seen and for the simple fact that there has been no categorical cancellation of this game up to this point, I refuse to remove it from this list altogether. It is going to show up this year dammit!

8. Halo 4

I have never been totally infatuated by the Halo series like most gamers, but there is no disputing the success that Bungie acclaimed. Now, that same series is back with another trilogy, developed by 343 Industries? Huh. Now the developer does consist of former Bungie developers, along with Pandemic and Gearbox but will they be able to form a game that at least satisfies the gamers that have such high expectations, after what Bungie provided them with the first trilogy? I’m not sure. And that is the reason why this is on my ‘Most Anticipated Games of E3 2012’ list. I don’t expect this version to replicate the heights that Bungie strived for,  but  Microsoft needs this to be a success, especially given the lack of first-party exclusives in Microsoft’s software lineup, and I cannot wait to see the direction in which 343 decide to take with the series. Will they continue with the same sandbox experience that Bungie perfected? Or will they take the bold route, and try to establish their own legacy? I can only speculate, but this is undoubtedly one of the biggest stories going into E3, and I can’t wait to find out the answer.

7. Resident Evil 6

Disappointed by Resident Evil 5? Yep, me too. And if there is one thing I am assured about this time, it is that I am not prepared to get sucked in from a fantastic trailer like I was with Resident Evil 6’s predecessor. But this is a Resident Evil game, the trailer WAS fantastic (oh boy, I’m doing it again) and I would by lying if I wasn’t at least remotely excited to see what Capcom has in store for us, in this latest addition to this Resident evil franchise. Resident Evil 5 at times was very enjoyable, but it certainly felt like they had removed the one consistent element that had been prevalent in all of its previous iterations, the horror. With RE6’s first trailer, it appears they have addressed that concerns, as it looks to have returned to its foundations, utilising sheer terror whilst still maintaining the action element from Resident Evil 5. This could be fantastic, lets hope the gameplay lives up to the hype that it certainly garnered, from the initial trailer.

6. Hitman: Absolution

The game would be higher on the list, were it not for the fact that we have seen a lot more of this game than the others on this list, except Bioshock. But because of how excited I am for this game, and for its sheer potential, I had to find a spot for the game on this list. The Hitman franchise is one of the few remaining which are defined by the choices that you, the gamer make. And whilst previous versions in Hitman: Contracts and Hitman: Blood Money, provided little in terms of quality, pre-dominantly relying on Hitman 2’s success, Hitman: Absolution looks set to give the series a revival with a bold new art direction and gameplay enhancements such as “instinct mode” which allows 47 to predict the route in which his enemy takes. It is a fresh, exciting direction for a series that has somewhat stagnated over the years, so lets hope E3 can further enhance that excitement with some fantastic gameplay footage.

5. Bioshock Infinite

Much like with Hitman:Absolution, I am not entirely sure there is a lot left that Irrational Games can showcase that will enhance my excitement for this game. But that doesn’t mean I’m saying I don’t want more gameplay, because I’m sure anything they do show will be enthralling and will serve as a nice reminder about how fantastic this game looks set to become. Unfortunately, the delay of the game into 2013 has inevitably been greeted with disappointment but we all know, that with developers such as Irrational, if there is a delay, we know it is necessary to ensure it matches the expectations that this game has garnered.

And with that delay, it is uncertain whether Bioshock will even appear at E3, but if it does, I am sure it will deliver. Bioshock 2 was certainly a fantastic game, but with the lack of involvement from key figures in the development of the game, it failed to meet the expectations set by the original. With all original members now returning, and a new art direction that makes this version of Bioshock, the best looking game from the series to date, Bioshock Infinite looks set to fill the void, perhaps even surpassing the original (which is one of my favourite current-gen games to date). Yes, I am that excited for this game.

4. Tomb Raider

To avoid making comparisons between every game and Hitman: Absolution, I will just say that the Lara Croft franchise, (much like Hitman: Absolution) has certainly stagnated over the past few years. But with the latest re-make, Tomb Raider looks set to provide fresh impetus into a franchise that certainly needs a revival.

With the reboot, we follow a 21-year-old Lara Croft, who is yet to embark on all the adventures that will follow her. And with that, it has enabled the developers to portray a much more reserved Lara Croft who lacks the self-confidence of previous/future iterations. From what we have seen so far, in terms of Gameplay, It’s fantastically realised and I can’t wait to see how that characterisation is reflected in any of the new gameplay footage that we are provided with at E3.

3. The Last Of Us

When it was announced, it was completely unexpected, but as hard as it is for us to comprehend, Naughty Dog are developing a new IP, that attempts to finally rectify all of the horrifying attempts at the survival genre. Yes it is fantastic, and props to Naughty Dog for developing a completely new franchise (or at least, I’m assuming it will be a franchise), this late into the current-gen cycle. All we have been provided with so far are two fantastic trailers which on first impressions may appear to be made utilising CGI, are actually completely in-engine. At the moment, the fact this is made by naughty dog, is enough to get me excited about this game for now, but now it is time to build on that excitement and give the fans something tangible, that can make these final fourth months of waiting, that bit more bearable. The game looks wonderful, now its time for some gameplay Naughty Dog! And I can’t imagine a scenario, in which E3 won’t be the place where Naughty Dog follow-up those demands.

2. Assassin’s Creed III

An assassins creed game set during the American Revolution? YES PLEASE! In the final installment of the “trilogy”, the first trailer for the upcoming Assassins Creed III has certainly wet my appetite, whilst also raising a lot of questions. What is the context surrounding you battling during the American Revolution? Which side you be fighting on? Or do you hate both sides equally? Already details have emerged regarding the premise of the game, you play Connor Kenway a man drawn into the fight after his home is attacked by colonists. Throughout the duration of the 30 year time span of the game, Connor will encounter various historical figures including George Washington and Benjamin franklin, but the intentions and reasoning for these encounters is unclear at this point. So some information, but not a lot. The new melee system and parkour style which are a huge component of the series, were also given a clear indication as to what their future entails, as judging by the trailer, you will be able to climb, jump and hop between trees as you look to find cover.

It is a very exciting premise, and it will certainly be a refreshing change from Ezio who to some extent, out-stayed his welcome. Assassins Creed II was a massive improvement on the first version, but now it is time to take that next step. E3 should go a long way, in showing what that next step it. I can’t wait.

1. Grand Theft Auto V

Could any other game really top this list? Most Top 10 lists are undoubtedly controversial and very rarely satisfy every demographic but if there was ever a consensus for the most-hyped game currently in production, that would surely have to be the 15th installment in Rockstar’s critically acclaimed Grand theft auto series, right? And with the announcement of Grand Theft Auto V we were presented with what was in my opinion, the best trailer of 2011. A return to San Andreas looks on the cards, with numerous references and hints to Los Santos within the trailer, but that’s not where the locale ends. This has been described by Rockstar themselves as “the largest and the most ambitious game Rockstar has yet created” with the premise appearing to focus in some form or another, on the recession with numerous contrasting sequences between the rich and the poor.  Workers still on the fields are sprayed with crops, houses are being put up for sale, the poor line the streets begging for money, whilst people live the high life, playing golf (which appears to be a playable mini game) and whatever else rich people do. This game looks to have a distinct message, and with potential returning characters from previous San Andreas games in CJ and Tommy Vercetti, this  latest Grand Theft Auto, looks set to be the biggest yet.

GTA defines everything that I meant, when describing the criteria for this list. A fantastic first trailer, with no footage since, and it is a Rockstar game. Those three factors, make this my most anticipated game of E3 2012, and we aren’t even guaranteed that Rockstar will be attending! So I guess it also provides the ‘Shock factor’ when it shows up at E3 now. I just hope I haven’t jinxed it. Ok Ok, you can blame me if Rockstar don’t show up at E3 now and inevitably push the release date back to 2015 :( But until then, I am happy in declaring Grand Theft Auto V, my most anticipated game of E3 2012 (not 15).

 

Early NBA Round 2 Playoff Preview

Well that was a pretty disappointing Round 1 of the playoffs wasn’t it? Yes it hasn’t finished just yet, but looking back we were provided with one entertaining series between the Grizzlies and the Clippers before Chris Paul said fuck it, and carried the Clips to Round 2, and injures.. dam there were a whole lot of injuries.

Yep, Derrick Rose is out of the playoffs, basically removing the only legitimate threat to the Heat within the East, and essentially removing all interest out of the eastern conference playoffs. It’s going to be a Heat-Celtics finals, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Heat swept them. The only interesting storyline that can be extracted from that matchup is the series from last year. How much of a factor was Rondo’s elbow in the Celtics pitiful attempt at competing with the heat? The Celtics fans certainly think it was massive, but then again, they’re fans, you have to be optimistic about your own team right? Oh wait.. I’m a Dolphins fan.

Yeah it will probably make some sort of difference, but at the end of the day, the Celtics are not beating the Heat in the series, maybe Rondo’s elbow will take it to a Game 6, and who knows from there? It certainly would be nice for these NBA Playoffs to throw up an interesting storyline.

Who will be facing the Heat? I’m pleased to announce I have no idea, with Chris Paul’s stellar play during overtime against the Grizzlies in Game 4 (27-9-7), I can honestly appreciate the Clippers as a viable Title contender, along with all three of the Lakers, Thunder and Spurs.

So let’s break down the four candidates.

San Antonio Spurs

Story So Far

We haven’t learnt anything that we didn’t know already from the regular season. I expected the Jazz to at least slightly resemble the Grizzlies from last season, not necessarily taking the series, but at least putting up a fight. What we were presented with, however was an incredibly lop-sided series, with an incredibly deep Spurs team, simply overpowering a Jazz team, that you could tell were just happy to be there.

Biggest Surprise

That this team has been completely overlooked so far. Seriously, how come nobody is talking about the Spurs?

Biggest Concern

Injuries. It’s been the biggest talking point of the playoffs so far. The lockout shortened-season is clearly starting to have an affect on the players, the Spurs have managed to stay completely healthy so far, but age is bound to be a factor at some point. Let’s just hope they can stay healthy, David Stern has already taken a lot of abuse for the injuries completely ruining the playoffs so far, we don’t need any more. But if there is a team that can afford an injury, is it the Spurs? They’re incredibly deep and have already proven that they can play without the likes of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Either way, I don’t want to see it happen, there was a lot of excitement about these playoffs, and injuries don’t need to tarnish the NBA’s reputation anymore.

Prediction

This one is tough, it’s hard to gauge what level of playoff basketball the Spurs are playing at after that Jazz series, because quite frankly, Utah would have made pretty much any team look good. But the Spurs are indisputably looking very good. If I had to make a prediction, I could honestly see Chris Paul and the Clippers shocking the Spurs, but if you were analysing the matchup based on performance, depth and experience, you would have to make the Spurs the favourites. At this point however I’m not sure it matters, as that Thunder team is looking pretty good.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Story So Far

The Thunder stunned everybody by sweeping the defending champ, Dallas Mavericks but that’s only partially the reason I’m so excited about this Thunder team, it’s mainly the fact that three of the four games went down to the final possession. You know, the time when you’d expect the experienced veterans like Dirk Nowitski, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd to shine, and the youth of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to falter. But no, the Thunder won all three of those games by an average of 3.3 points, proving that not only does this team possess the potential to reach the Finals, but has now proven it’s got the mental capacity required to turn that potential into rings. And when you combine what is probably the deepest deep in the NBA with the willingness to succeed and close out games, you’ve got a scary prospect.

Biggest Surprise

This one has to be James Harden. It’s not even the fact that we thought of him incapable of this level of production, he’s the best 6th man in the league, he’d be starting for every other team in the NBA, but the numbers he has produced, in the clutch as well, have been astronomical. Ranking 9th in the entire Western Conference for scoring, averaging 18 points per game, coming off the bench in the playoffs is simply unheard of. And you would have to say James Harden is not only the biggest surprise for the Thunder, but of the entire playoffs.

Biggest Concern

Derek Fisher. He’s started to step it up these last two games, but when you bring in an experienced veteran, you do it for these exact set of circumstances; playoff basketball, a team in need of experience and the ability to close. What you don’t expect is that veteran to score 0 and 4 points in the first two games which were both separated by three points or less. I questioned the move in the regular season, and now that it’s the playoffs, the time when we were expecting to see the pay-off for this trade, Fisher has disappeared.

Prediction

There’s not a lot to hate with this team. They’re the deepest team in the league, only the Spurs would have anything to say about that. They have two players that are among the best at their position, one of which is an MVP candidate and a superstar coming off the bench that can immediately ignite a stagnant offense. The only way I see the Thunder faltering is if Scott Brooks gets the rotations wrong. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick perkins manning the 4 and 5 spots for the majority of the game is not going to work when it gets to the finals, this team is most dangerous with Harden at the 3 and Durant at the 4. Seriously, which team is going to stop that? The spurs could, potentially but it is most definitely not going to be the Heat. Lebron can’t defend all of them. So I’m predicting that not only will the Thunder make the finals, I honestly like them to beat the Heat too. And this comes a week after predicting the Mavs would be the upset pick of the first round, oh how times have changed.

Los Angeles Lakers

Story So Far

The Lakers have made light work of the Nuggets in Round 1. Kobe is leading the playoffs in scoring, Andrew Bynum has consistently proven a nightmare for the Nuggets (You can tell just by looking at the television, with no knowledge of the NBA, that Andrew Bynum presents a massive mis-match for practically any team), and the Lakers bench has stepped up. Yep, this team is dangerous.

Biggest Surprise

The Laker’s Bench. Who knew players like Devin Ebanks and Steve Blake would be making this Laker’s more than just a four man team? If the Lakers can continue to get consistent production out of their role players, then suddenly were looking at a title contender.

Biggest Concern 

The potential matchup problems. The one crucial advantage the Lakers possess over the majority of teams in the NBA is the size and production from their bigs in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. But if there were two teams that the Lakers wouldn’t want to play, if there were two teams that can counter that, it’s the Spurs and Thunder with Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Tim Duncan. That puts a lot of emphasis on Kobe, but let’s be honest, it’s not a bad guy to go to in reserve.

Prediction

There are very few ‘true’ centers in the league anymore. I would say there are only two ‘dominant’ centers in the NBA, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. And if Bynum can continue to dominate, if Kobe can continue being great and if the bench can continue to provide production, then the Lakers are definitley a title contender. Unfortunately that’s a lot of if’s, especially for a team with character concerns. That’s a lot of responsibility on Mike Brown, but if he can make it work, then there should be nobody questioning his coaching ability. I still think they lose to the Thunder, mind.

Los Angeles Clippers

Story So Far

Well I was not expecting that. I had the Grizzlies nailed on for the Finals but somehow with a combination of Chris Paul’s clutch 4th quarter/overtime brilliance, Blake Griffin’s improvements and Randy Foye’s defence (wait did I really just say that?), the Clippers managed to advance to Round 2, or at least, have got close to advancing.

Biggest Surprise

I could have gone a lot of ways with this one, Blake Griffin’s breakout game or Nick Young’s barrage of 3’s in game 1, the Clippers have simply been fantastically surprising in practically all facets of their play. But I went with the inconsistent play from Rudy Gay because I was simply not expecting it. If there was one thing I was sure of going into this series it was the fact that the Clippers didn’t possess a player on their roster who could guard Rudy Gay. Whether you want to blame Rudy Gay or Randy Foye’s defence, there is no disputing the fact that the Clippers have been able to contain him.

Biggest Concern

A similar scenario to the Lakers but it’s not the fact potential matchups will counter their bigs, it’s the fact that the Clippers don’t possess any. The Thunder, spurs and lakers are all going to be able to crash the boards and pound it inside. Can Blake Griffin single-handedly stop that from happening? I doubt it.

Prediction

If there’s one thing, I’ve learnt from Round 1, it’s that I can’t discount the Clippers. And even though they clearly lack an ‘anchor’ for the defence, we used that exact same reasoning as to why they would lose to the Grizzlies and look what happened. The fact remains that Blake Griffin is set to break out during the playoffs, and we know exactly what were going to get from Chris paul – clutch play, because that’s what we’ve been getting all season. So the prediction? I like the Clippers to beat the Spurs, it’s just a feeling, I don’t see them winning the finals, but they most definitley cannot be overlooked any more.

So what can we conclude from my latest ramblings? I really like all four of the remaining teams in the Western Conference. It really is a toss-up for the spot in the finals to face the Heat. So what will the main storyline be when it comes to the NBA Finals? Will it be the ‘over-coming the odds’ Clippers? Will it be the passing of the guard from the Spurs to the Thunder? Or will those ‘oldies get one more run at it? If it were up to me, I want to see the battle of Los Angeles, it really is the dream series, can you imagine the Staples Center for those seven games? Unbelievable, and to think it’s completely plausible now. One thing is clear, The playoffs begin now, so let’s go, sit back, enjoy. It’s going to be a wild one.

NBA 2011-2012 Playoff Preview – Eastern Conference

Chicago Bulls (1) vs Philadelphia 76ers (8)

The 76ers were fantastic before the All-Star break. They looked certified to be division winners, and then..well everything collapsed. Luckily they still managed to scrape a playoff spot, and even luckier according to Evan Turner, is the fact that they’ve avoided the heat. Is the Bulls the better matchup for the 76ers? Absoloutely. They may lack size but let’s be honest, the Bulls are going to crash the boards and dominate in the post on any team in the league.

What they do possess however, is scorers. Iguodala (also one of the best defensive players in the league) can explode at any time, if James Harden didn’t exist (I know slightly harsh) then Lou Williams would of been 6th man of the year, they average 41 points per game off the bench, and let’s be serious here, if Derrick Rose isn’t healthy and these scorers get hot, which one of the Bulls players is going to be able to keep up with them? Noah? Nope. Boozer? Nope. Deng? More than likely, but that’s a lot of pressure to put on one player.

Prediction: This could be a lot closer than people are expecting, I’m quite excited about this series. Bulls in 7

Miami Heat (2) vs New York Knicks (7)

The marquee matchup of round 1. You may think this series will replicate that of the Celtics and Knicks last season when every game was close but Knicks just didn’t have enough to secure the victory, but it won’t be. Carmelo has returned to his superstar self, they have a lot more balance with Chandler anchoring the defence, and whilst Stoudemaire may be set to disrupt that, there’s a reason I have no problem with him starting this series… Lebron.

With Carmelo playing the 4, the Knicks possessed a clear mismatch in every single game, he had enough size as to not be a defensive liabilty (he was more of a liability at the 3 last season when he didn’t give a crap) and the space created by only having one true Big, ensured he could run isolations at will, scoring jumpers, driving to the basket and putting up monster numbers every single night. Nobody could deal with him, apart from Lebron. Lebron, one of the rare players in the league who can literally defend 4 of the 5 positions on the court. So it doesn’t matter if Melo plays the 3 or the 4, he’s not going to be creating any mis-matches with Lebron defending him.

I loved the analogy from Bill Simmons as to why this could be a very close series. Melo is bound to explode and win atleast one game by himself, the 3 point shooters in Novak and JR Smith are bound to explode off the bench and provide another win. All of a sudden you need the Knicks to give 2 solid all-round performances and they’ve won the series.Can they do it? Sure. Will the Heat let them? I don’t think so.

This is Lebron’s time to shine. The MVP has proven he can stand among the elite with his regular season performances (one of only 7 men to have won 3 MVP’s), now it’s time to prove he can stand among Legends when it comes to crunch time. He already displayed some of that in the regular season, going 9-1 without Dwayne Wade, he’s now starting to carry this team on his back and that’s why I see the Heat not only winning this series but the finals too. This is the season that’s going to define Lebron’s legacy, he can either permenantly be labelled the “choker” or he can be considered one of the best ever, getting his first ring this year will go along way in establishing the latter.

Prediction: Heat in 6.

Indiana Pacers (3) vs Orlando Magic (6)

Do I really have to spend 200 or more words talking about how horrendous this series is going to be? In fact, no I don’t, the pacers are a serious threat to reach the finals, the Magic are a joke with Dwight Howard (and a joke with him too). Pacers in 4 NEXT!

Boston Celtics (4) vs Atlanta Hawks (5)

Josh Smith has finally matured enabling him to have an All NBA caliber season, Joe Johnson despite his riduclous contract forcing everybody to overlook him, is one of the better Shooting guards in the league and the Hawks clearly have superior depth. So make no mistake about it, this is not a comfortable series for the Celtics. Sure they possess more experience, they’re better balanced and are more physical but depth is still enough for the Hawks to negate all three of those inferiorities.

Prediction: Combine a lack of depth with a ton of injury prone players and the Celtics are suddenly in trouble. If they stay healthy, they win the series (probably) but that’s a big IF. But for the sake of assumptions sake, I’m not going to take the Hawks simply because I expect the Celtics to get injured. Celtics in 7

So there you have it, my predictions for both conferences are now a wrap. Yep I have just realised I’ve predicted the higher seed to win in every single series, yes I’m a pussy and Yes I don’t expect it to play out like that at all. But why I’ve done that, is I have a hard time predicting where that upset is going to come from. I would say the Hawks but that’s not really gonna be an upset, potentially the Knicks but I don’t see Lebron letting them win four games, I would choose Utah but for the simple fact that the Spurs aren’t going to lose to the  8 seed in consecutive years, so that leaves the Thunder vs Mavs. Screw it, that’s what I’m running with. DIRK WILL GET HOT AND BEAT THE THUNDER!

Finals Prediction – Heat vs Lakers – Heat in 6.

The Lakers making the finals is a shock right?? Yeah, I thought so too.

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NBA 2011-2012 Playoff Preview – Western Conference

The Regular season is essentially finished and that can only mean one thing, Playoff basketball.  Yep, for some reason, despite any concerns that I may of had regarding the lockout-shortened season potentially affecting my enjoyment of this year, I find myself more excited than ever for the NBA Playoffs. So let’s take a look at what could be one of the best NBA Playoffs of the past decade (Yep Im being overly dramatic, were only 3 years in).

San Antonio Spurs (1) vs Utah Jazz (8)

Can the Jazz replicate the Grizzlies success from last years playoffs? That’s the main talking point from this matchup and there are certainly similarities between the two teams. Just like the Grizzlies, the Jazz are going to have to rely heavily on their front court, to pound the spurs inside. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap certainly provide the Jazz with the forwards capable of doing exactly that, but beyond that, I simply don’t percieve them having the same degree of depth that the Grizzlies possessed a year ago. And whilst I could certainly see them giving the spurs a scare,  this isn’t the same Spurs team from last year. They no longer run through Tim Duncan, Parker’s mvp like season emphasises that. And with Popovich’s masterful season, the Spurs should be fresh going into the playoffs.

Prediction: The only way Utah have a chance in this series is if Devin Harris can contain Tony Parker. I don’t see it. The Spurs are too deep and don’t have the same injury concerns from last year for them to make this a series. Spurs in 5.

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs Dallas Mavericks (7)

The youth and veterans collide in this very intriguing matchup. Depite this being 2 vs 7, this is about as close a series as you can get. The undisputed favourites for the conference against the defending champs, and would we really consider it an upset if the Mavs pulled off the win in the series? Probably, but there’s no denying that any Mavs team in the playoffs are a threat. We’ve all witnessed how dangerous the Mavericks are, Dirk can get hot at any time, and well.. If Jason terry hits one 3, you can sure as hell expect a few more to go in. But it’s ultimately not going to be Dirk, Terry or even Jason Kidd that decide the Mavs fate in this series, that honor lies with Brandon Haywood. If he can replicate Tyson Chandler’s season from last season as the anchor of the mavs defence, well then we’ve got ourselves a series.

Prediction: The Thunder’s form has been sketchy as of late, and who knows what Mavs team will show up in the playoffs. I’m so tempted to take the ‘Upset’ but ultimately, I see youth prevailing. Thunder in 7

Los Angeles Lakers (3) vs Denver Nuggets (6)

Discipline. That one word will ultimately define the Laker’s playoff success this season. World Peace has already been suspended, and Bynum’s immaturity which has tarnished what was an otherwise highly productive season are already causes for concern, and if that ill-discipline shows up in the playoffs, then this might be a lot closer than it should be. The Lakers simply cannot afford any more ‘World Peace moments’, they don’t have the depth to compensate for it. And that is the one area, where the Nuggets are a threat. Just like with the Pacers, this lockout-shortened season favours teams like the Nuggets who can go 8 deep.

Prediction: No matter how well he has performed in the regular season, The Lakers need the Super-fast Ramon Sessions more than ever in this series, especially considering he’s going up against the Super-Duper fast Point Guard in Ty Lawson. If sessions negates that threat and the lakers keep their discipline, there’s no reason why they can’t sweep. Lakers in 5

Memphis Grizzlies (4) vs Los Angeles Clippers (5)

This is the hardest series to predict, a team could be swept or it could go to a game 7, I have no idea. I have no idea how Blake Griffin is going to match up with the Grizzlies bigs. I have no idea if Chris Paul’s 4th quarter magic is going to be enough to rally the Clippers and I have no idea if the Clippers key bench players will be enough to compete with the Grizzlies depth. One thing I do know is everybody has the Grizzlies in this series. They’re the number 4 seed despite being without Z-Bo for half the season and they’re as deep as any team in the league. The key to this series is whether or not the likes of Nick Young and Mo Williams coming off the bench will be enough to contain that depth that the Grizzlies possess. Oj Mayo, Marreese Speights and Quincy Pondexter provide us with 3 pretty good reasons why that might not be the case.

Prediction: Ultimately, I think the Grizzlies just have too much depth. It’s been fun watching the Clippers this season, and I think the Clipper fans will be reasonably satisfied to have just reached the playoffs this year. This however, just isn’t a very good matchup for the Clippers, the Grizzles are too deep and too powerful to be out-done by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. If the Clippers bench performs, this is a completely different story but I like the Grizzlies not only in this series but for the entire conference. Grizzlies in 6

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