Thursday, May 30, 2013

San Antonio Spurs’ glory days continue

In 2007, the Spurs were the unmistakeable kings of the NBA.  Their toughest playoff opponent that year was Phoenix in the second round.  The Spurs defeated them in six games.  After knocking out the Utah Jazz in five games, the Spurs met the LeBron James-led Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals.  Cleveland did not have nearly enough to compete with the Spurs.  San Antonio cruised to the Larry O’Brien trophy as they won in four games.

After a long six-year absence from the NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs are back.  Surprisingly enough, the Spurs still have the same core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.  Many teams would feel the need to break up the core after not returning to the finals for so long.  However, the Spurs didn’t feel it was necessary because they knew this trio had what it took to, someday, return to the NBA Finals.

Manu Ginobili is back and hungry for more at 35 years old.  At 37 years old, Tim Duncan defies the law of aging as he is still an elite big man.  This time around, 31-year-old Tony Parker carries the most responsibility for the Spurs.  Parker is an MVP-caliber point guard that helps Duncan stay in top-notch game shape.  Tim Duncan deserves a ton of credit as he takes care of himself.  But Parker’s excellent stamina and leadership gives Duncan a lift.  Younger players such as Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green also play big roles in the team’s success.

Russell Westbrook’s injury definitely helped open up the door for the Spurs to get to the Finals.  But nobody can use that as an excuse because it is what it is.  At the end of the day, the San Antonio Spurs are the last Western Conference team standing.  You cannot consider this a fluke because we all know the Spurs are made of concrete material.  Only the more unbreakable product can break the Spurs.

Zach Tennen on the Spurs' NBA playoff success

The Spurs didn’t just reach the NBA Finals in 1999, 2003, 2005, and 2007.  They won the NBA Finals.  San Antonio has made it clear that they don’t get to the final stage to lose.  They get to the final stage so they can put the icing on the cake.  Whether it’s the Heat or the Pacers, this will be San Antonio’s toughest finals matchup since the 2005 Detroit Pistons.  The Heat and that Pistons team are fairly unlike each other.  But the Pacers are very similar to the ’05 Pistons in that they rely on tenacious defense and don’t depend on a superstar.

No matter who the Spurs play, you can bet they will be fully prepared.  Perhaps, Gregg Popovich will be over-prepared.  If there is any coach that acts as the sixth man, it is Gregg Popovich.  Nobody gets the message across to their players better than Popovich does.  Pop is a genius and a viscous man when it comes to the coaching industry.

As for Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan, they want to make this season unforgettable (in a good way).  One common rule that we have seen throughout the history of the league is that winners stay winners.  Tony Parker’s craftiness with the ball might blow you away, but he plays the game to win.  Tim Duncan’s superiority at 37 years old might be satisfying enough for some, but he plays the game to win.

Follow me on Twitter @ZJTbasketball11

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

LeBron James takes control of Eastern Conference Finals

Every once in a while, we have to step back and take a moment to acknowledge LeBron James.  We must recognize who this evil man is and the impact he makes on the game of basketball.  In fact, LeBron James is too great for a nickname.  Let’s stop all this “King James” nonsense, once and for all.  The only word that can sum up LeBron is “unbelievable.”

Sometimes, there isn’t necessarily too much that goes wrong for an opponent.  The lone presence of  James is what goes wrong for them.  The Indiana Pacers may bring their “A-Game” on any given day but there’s one big problem:  the Miami Heat have brought out James to overcome that.

Just when things are going swiftly, LeBron comes out and spoils the show.  Just when you think you have found a spark to the plug, James comes out and electrocutes you.  Just when you find yourself jumping for joy, LeBron comes out and knocks you down on your back side.

James’ play in game 3 made the Pacers think twice about how they can beat the Heat this series.  They seemed to have the answer in the first two games in South Beach:  Paul George locked down James and even forced him to cough up the ball during the crucial finishing seconds of game 2.

Zach Tennen on LeBron James against the Pacers

But then the Heat came out with tremendous energy and urgency in Indiana.  Udonis Haslem was automatic with his jumper, Chris “Birdman” Anderson was finishing plays like he was made for offense, Mario Chalmers was playing like he had Indiana’s defense figured out and D-Wade was in his superstar form while still serving as the second option.

James had only a mediocre statline of 22 points, four rebounds, and three assists, but that didn’t matter.  The moves he made on Paul George screamed, “you can’t stop me!”  And as usual, he opened up the court for everyone else, leaving an elite Indiana defense with their legs crossed.

LeBron James brought out the scary side of the Miami Heat in game 3.  Indiana must beware as that game could have very well been the turning point in this series.  Miami’s athleticism got the best of Indiana: James regularly cruised down the court with the ball and could not be denied.

The Pacers, somehow, have to do a much better job of settling down the pace in game 4.  They need to set the tone of the game from the second the ball is tipped.  Even as great of a defense as they are, it’s tough for Indiana to interfere with the flow of the game.  Roy Hibbert is clearly most effective when he is able to stop a player like James at the basket.  But here’s the problem with that…

Every single Miami starter can consistently knock down the mid-range jumper.  Whether it is Bosh or Haslem, Hibbert has to step out on them.  If he doesn’t, then Haslem can go 8-for-9 with 17 points like he did in game three.

WCF Game 3 Preview: Pressure faces Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies return to FedEx Forum arena tonight, where they haven’t lost a playoff game yet.  Memphis has arguably been the most dominant home team in the playoffs.  But this trip back home isn’t the same as the previous ones.  The San Antonio Spurs are a different monster than we’ve seen before.  Tonight is their chance to put the series away.

San Antonio’s mindset is one game at a time.  All they have to do is win this one away game and the series is basically a wrap.  The Grizzlies had to deal with the great wall of San Antonio, Tim Duncan, in the first two games.  This Spurs team knows how to go into another team’s building and suck the life out of it.

Memphis must prevent San Antonio from getting comfortable early in the game.  It is essential that the Grizzlies start out strong.  They must treat the first quarter like it’s the fourth quarter.  Randolph and Gasol need to attack Duncan early.  Mike Conley needs to make Parker use a lot of energy so Parker wears down on offense.

The Grizzlies found themselves in a 0-2 hole in the first round against the Clippers.  However, they owned up to their responsibilities and totally outworked the Clippers the rest of the series.  Memphis needs to hit San Antonio in their weak spot just like they did against the Clippers.  Make San Antonio work for every little bit.  Deny Duncan the ball in the post and make Parker move nonstop when he’s on defense.

Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies’ X-factor, has struggled in this series.  He can’t get many of his shots to fall but there is no need to panic for Randolph.  He should be able to work his way out of this slump by continuing to go strong to the hoop and drawing fouls.  He also must realize that Marc Gasol, a viable option on offense, is there to help him.

In San Antonio’s case, every game is one they expect to win.  Going into Memphis’ away building may not be of concern to them.  While most people are expecting Memphis to make this a series, the Spurs could easily shock us and wipe away the Grizzlies in Game 3.

In conclusion, Memphis has their back against the wall and they are aware they must deliver.  Coach Lionel Hollins is most definitely emphasizing that they need to fight at their will.  I like the Grizzlies to cut into their 0-2 deficit tonight.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Miami puts on a show in Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Pacers fans were ready to rock in Game 3 as their team was undefeated at home heading up to that game.  Little did they know that it wouldn't be as easy as they expected.  Well, maybe some of them knew...because they should have.  I mean, they are playing against the 4-time MVP and clearcut best player on the planet along with the man formerly known as "Flash."

Miami was firing on ALL cylinders last night.  Indiana is known as a superior defensive team but Miami flipped that image pretty well last night.  LeBron and D-Wade looked like they were in practice. Udonis Haslem was draining shots left and right and Birdman continued his perfect shooting display.

Miami managed to cancel out Roy Hibbert and David West with their undeniable offense.  Miami was just......well, they were just what they are advertised to be....


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Miami @ Indiana Game 3

Miami goes into Indiana where they lost both season games by double digits. I'm curious to see how they respond. Bosh needs to play bigger. He can't continue to let Hibbert and West own him or Miami could be in trouble. I think LBJ and Wade come out fired up tonight. Miami wins 96-91.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memphis needs to control pace tonight

Memphis goes back home with a 0-2 disadvantage.  The Grizz haven't lost a game at home in the playoffs.  But San Antonio is a much bigger challenge than their past two enemies.  Randolph and Gasol need to keep working it in the paint area.  Mike Conley needs to keep playing with confidence and give Tony Parker a run for his money.

Grizzlies really need to win both games in Memphis.  I think they should.

Pacers @ Heat Game 2 Recap

As I predicted, the Pacers came into Game 2 looking for vengeance.  Their rebounding advantage is almost a given.  But what really impressed me was their phenomenal offensive execution.  Paul George and Roy Hibbert were not only playing killer defense, but they were breaking down the defense and getting great looks.  Although Game 1 slipped away from Indiana, they have to feel good going home with a split in Miami.

I think there will be another split in Indiana, evening up the series at two games apiece.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Game 2: Indiana @ Miami

I think the Pacers storm back tonight and get a narrow win in Miami. This would be a HUGE motivational win. 88-86 Indiana. #BoldPick

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hoops Update with Zach Tennen (Michigan)

April 9, 2013

30. Magic (19-59, Even): Finishing at the bottom of the league is not a concern to the Magic.  Their plan was clearly to rebuild and start from scratch.  On top of that, their prospects have been getting a lot of playing time.

29. Bobcats (18-59, Even): This isn't an excuse for the Bobcats, but some of their more productive players have not logged a lot of minutes.  Ben Gordon because of coaching decisions.  Gerald Henderson and Ramon Sessions due to injury.  Obviously the draft pick benefits them though.

28. Suns (23-54, Down 2): The Suns certainly aren't in an easy situation.  With the deep talent out West, it may take years for this team to re-restablish itself.  They can start by adding as much talent as possible, through the draft and free agency.

27. Cavaliers (24-52, Even): Kyrie has really struggled in the last three games, shooting 23.5%.  At this point, I think it's worth his while to be a playmaker and see what his teammates can do.

26. Pistons (26-52, Up 2): Three of their four remaining games are Cleveland, Charlotte, and Philly.  That gives them the opportunity to finish the year out strong.  But it also means they can lose some ground for the lottery.

25. Kings (27-50, Down 3): The Kings must make a big change this summer.  Continuing to build off young talent will not do the job.  They are in desperate need of a veteran who can lead the team.

24. Hornets (27-50, Down 1): In March and April, Anthony Davis is averaging over 16 points, over 9.5 rebounds, and over 1.6 blocks in 31 minutes of action.  Greivis Vasquez may have proved he is the longterm answer as the team's starting point guard.

23. Raptors (29-48, Up 2): The Raptors have a decent squad that should contend for a playoff spot next year.  Andrea Bargnani's time in Toronto may be done, as he can't get over these ongoing injuries.

22. Timberwolves (29-47, Up 2): I bet that Kevin Love will stay positive about the organization this offseason.  Since he has struggled to stay healthy, the team has not been able to reach it's full potential.

21. Blazers (33-44, Down 2): Portland may very well end the season on an discouraging 13-game losing streak.  But I can excuse them because their schedule has been absolutely brutal.  I think this organization has promise in the future.

20. Wizards (29-48, Up 1): John Wall usually gets his teammates involved, but now he is aggressively attacking the basket with his athleticism.  In March and April, Wall averages about 22.5 points and 8 assists on a much improved 48% shooting.

19. 76ers (31-45, Up 1): About a month ago, everything was going wrong for the Sixers.  They were losing game after game.  But they snapped out of their lousy play and have been more consistent lately.

18. Bucks (37-39, Even): Will the Bucks take a single game against Miami in the first round?  There's a fairly good chance they get swept.  But we'll see if Ellis can stick with Wade and if Larry Sanders can slow them down with his strong post defense.

17. Hawks (42-36, Down 4): I think the Hawks were somewhat a surprise in the first half of the season.  In the ladder half of the season, they have showed they're just a respectable regular season team.  I don't believe they will get out of the first round.

16. Celtics (40-37, Up 1): Boston's regular season usually isn't much of an indicator of their playoff success.  But without Rondo, the Celtics' resources are limited.  Avery Bradley and Jason Terry will have to pick up some slack.

15. Mavericks (38-39, Up 1): This is the first time since 2000 that the Mavs will not be in the playoffs.  Give it up to Mark Cuban and management for keeping this team legit for so long.

14. Lakers (40-37, Even): At the beginning of the season, I would have said the Lakers got an automatic bid to the playoffs.  But now they are on the edge.  Win or go home, Dwight.  Win or go home, Kobe.

13. Bulls (42-34, Down 2): Let's just assume D-Rose doesn't come back (I'm not saying he won't).  If they were to get past the Nets in the first round, they would face the Heat in the second round.  That's where their hopes fade away.  We'll see if Rose decides to come back.

12. Jazz (41-37, Up 3): Huge game tonight for the Jazz.  They play OKC but they have their home crowd behind them.  I anticipate a close game.  Do not underestimate this tough team.

11. Nets (44-32, Up 1): Hopefully the Nets can stay healthy for the playoffs.  The trio of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez can be scary at its full potential.  All these players know how to make things happen.

10. Warriors (44-33, Down 1): The Warriors are much better defensively, this season, than they have been in the past.  That should make them a viable playoff threat.  However, Curry and the offense is what makes them excel.

9. Rockets (43-34, Up 1): I wouldn't have believed you if you told me the Rockets would finish ahead of the Lakers in the regular season.  James Harden is a true superstar.  His team depends on him to win games.  He usually doesn't let them down.

8. Pacers (48-29, Down 1): Frank Vogel's team has a suitable half-court style that is created by their defense.  That is beneficial for the playoffs.  But at the end of the day, they'll need one guy to stand out and be a star.

7. Knicks (50-26, Up 1): Yeah, the Knicks are on a big winning streak and all.  But they can't be caught napping in the playoffs.  When Boston catches you napping, you get a big slap in the face.

6. Grizzlies (52-25, Even): Memphis needs to get out of the first round this year for their self-esteem.  I know they lost a key player in Rudy Gay.  But Randolph is getting old.  Gasol and Conley are both playing at a high playing level.  Now is the time to make a run for it.

5. Clippers (51-26, Even): The Clippers are obviously a very good team comprised of superstar players.  But even the first round is going to be a struggle for them.  Chris Paul does his job.  Everyone else needs to play their part.

4. Nuggets (53-24, Even): It's unfortunate the Nuggets lost Gallinari for the playoffs.  But there is an upside to that.  The Nuggets have the deepest team in the league.  Karl is comfortable with playing a variety of players.

3. Spurs (57-20, Down 1): I'm 90% sure the Spurs will get through the first round without Ginobili.  But the second round won't be a cakewalk by any means.  The Nuggets, Clippers, and Grizzlies (whoever they face) are all capable of taking them down.

2. Thunder (56-21, Up 1): My friend, Gilbert Arenas, doesn't think the Thunder will return to the NBA Finals.  He thinks they had their time.  But Durant and Westbrook are tough cookies.  They'll work for it until they are forced to quit.

1. Heat (60-16, Even): The difference between last year and this year?  We are sure about them.  LeBron has his first ring.  But I'm assuming he wants his second just as bad as anyone else wants theirs.

April 1, 2013

30. Magic (19-55): Cavs lose LeBron and get the first pick, Hornets lose CP3 and get the first pick, and the Magic lost Dwight.  Will it be a trend?  The Magic already have solid role players to build around their upcoming draft pick.

29. Bobcats (17-56): Some noteworthy stats: Gerald Henderson averaged 20 points on 47% shooting in the month of March. Kidd-Gilchrist averaged 13.5 points on 56% shooting and 8.3 rebounds in the last week.

28. Pistons (24-50): The 2013 NBA Draft is the main event to look forward to as a hometown fan.  I expect the Pistons to find the right piece in the draft, and contend for the playoffs next season.

27. Cavaliers (22-50): When you aren't a playoff caliber team, you usually want to draft for pure talent.  The Cavs just need help beside Irving.  They need another go-to guy so that Irving isn't the only threat to the defense.

26. Suns (23-51): The Suns only average 94.5 points per game this year, significantly less than they averaged throughout the Steve Nash era.  The Suns were a bit unfortunate to have to start from scratch in this deep Western Conference.

25. Raptors (27-46): Kyle Lowry's production is down this year and he is playing just average.  He will have to greatly improve next year as he is a key part to their future.

24. Timberwolves (26-46): As expected, a healthy Ricky Rubio has been exciting his fans.  Rubio has recorded some impressive triple-double like numbers a few times.  The more talent he has around him, the more it will benefit him.

23. Hornets (26-48): Honestly, the Hornets have not been disappointing at all this season.  With a healthy lineup, you can't overlook these guys.  I have no doubt in my mind that this squad will improve season by season.

22. Kings (27-47): As I've said before, most of the Kings' problems come from a lack of maturity and chemistry.  They have the talent to compete with many teams.  But, especially without a developed superstar, it takes more than talent to succeed.

21. Wizards (27-46): The Wizards would probably be a few spots higher (in these rankings) if Wall was healthy all season.  The Wiz are playing fairly consistent ball right now.  They look like a team in the middle of the pack.

20. 76ers (30-43): It's nice to see the Sixers are back to winning some games.  But unfortunately for them, the time came a bit too late.  Now, the main question is whether the Sixers will sign Andrew Bynum, after letting down the team by not playing a single game.

19. Blazers (33-40): Although the Blazers will miss the playoffs, they showed some encouraging progress this year with the emergence of Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard, and a highly improved JJ Hickson.

18. Bucks (35-37): The Bucks are going to make the playoffs, but they have a very slim chance of making it out of the first round.  They have a lot of strategic planning to do this offseason.

17. Celtics (38-35): Although the Celtics continue to survive without Rondo, they absolutely need him to compete with the best of the East.  They just don't have enough fresh legs anymore.

16. Mavericks (36-37): For some reason, I just love using this phrase: Dirk is in GRIND MODE.  He is working his tail off to try and carry the Mavs to the playoffs.  But they remain on the outside looking in, by a couple games.

15. Jazz (38-36): The Jazz seemed to be totally collapsing up until about a week ago.  Nice job by Coach Corbin to make the team regain their composure. The Jazz are currently tied with the Lakers for 8th seed, but they control the tiebreaker.

14. Lakers (38-36): So the Lakers captured a playoff spot a couple weeks ago, and the panic kind of settled down.  But now the Lakers are slipping a bit again.  "Will the Lakers make the playoffs?", has been one of the biggest stories all season long.

13. Hawks (41-33): The Hawks are the best in the league at assisting made shots.  Both Jeff Teague and Al Horford have been playing excellent since all-star break.  That assures Hawks fans that they can be competitive now, while still having a bright future.

12. Nets (42-31): Deron Williams is scoring better now, but his assist numbers are down.  Averaging 9-10 assists while still being a scoring threat was what made D-Will a top three point guard.  Now, he is arguably out of that conversation.

11. Bulls (40-32): The Bulls did exactly what they had to do in order to slow down LeBron and stop the Heat's streak.  They were extremely physical with him and got under his skin.  Props to the coach and team for carrying out that gameplan.

10. Rockets (40-33): All hail James Harden for carrying the Rockets to the playoffs.  He should get some MVP consideration in future seasons if he continues his fantastic play and leadership.

9. Warriors (42-32): I think Stephen Curry will be one of the more exciting playoff players to watch.  Remember that "We Believe" saying, as Baron Davis and the Warriors took down the first-seeded Mavs in 2007?  With that type of energy, the Warriors could challenge their opponent in the first round.

8. Knicks (46-26): The Knicks are on an 8 game winning streak, but the majority of those games have been against subpar teams.  The Knicks' offense is really flowing again, without Amare.

7. Pacers (47-27): The Pacers are an extremely intense team.  Not many people knew about Frank Vogel a few years ago, but he has done an incredible job with this team.  Paul George is hanging in with the best small forwards, and Hibbert has been a lot more active recently.

6. Grizzlies (49-24): It's starting to seem more like Marc Gasol is the heart and soul of this team.  Z-Bo definitely looks a bit fatigued.  The Grizz have developed a nice two-man point guard rotation, between Conley and Bayless.

5. Clippers (49-25): I'm going to reiterate this over and over again.  The Spurs continue to outplay the Clippers and Tony Parker continues to take advantage of CP3.  Tony Parker always seems to get the best of CP3.  Other than that, this Clippers team has been clinging to CP3.

4. Nuggets (50-24): It's interesting that Iguodala is deciding to opt out of $16 million.  But he is a premiere defender, and he is confident that a team will pay him a pricy longterm deal.  The Nuggets may be in the contender conversation now.  But the playoffs are a whole new season.

3. Thunder (54-20): Critics can complain about Westbrook jacking up shots all they want.  But Westbrook needs to get a lot of shots up.  That is his game and it is how he thrives.

2. Spurs (55-18): Did the Spurs get intimidated by the Heat because of LeBron and D-Wade sitting out?  It seems that way.  The Spurs have Memphis and OKC on the road this week.

1. Heat (58-15): The Heat actually needed that streak to end.  Somebody had to wake them up.  It wasn't going to continue forever.  Compare four of the consecutive wins to a second-round playoff matchup.  The situation isn't nearly the same.

March 18, 2013

30. Bobcats (14-52, Even): Let's focus on the positives: Charlotte ran Boston right out of the arena the other night, 100-74.  Maybe just another game where the Celts were asleep.  But regardless, the Cats gave them a wake up call.

29. Magic (18-49, Even): A brutal 4 games coming up for the Magic, which calls for Arron Afflalo to play his best lockdown defense.  The most winnable one is probably at New York.

28. Pistons (23-45, Down 2): The Pistons were unable to pick up a win on that 4-game West Coast trip. They have particularly struggled on the road against Western Conference teams, where they haven't won a single game this season.

27. Cavaliers (22-44, Down 3): With Kyrie possibly out the rest of the season, the Cavs have the opportunity to develop other guards.  Even without their star, the Cavs manage to stay close until the end in many games.

26. Hornets (22-45, Down 3): Although Eric Gordon has had his good games, he hasn't been all that impressive this year.  His impact has basically only come from scoring.  His effort can be questioned at times.

25. 76ers (25-40, Up 3): The Sixers may have finally broken out of their awful slump.  They have two great recent home wins, against the Nets and Pacers.  Thaddeus Young has particularly been a big factor on both ends of the floor.

24. Suns (22-45, Down 3): In my opinion, this squad definitely needs to play it cool for the rest of the season and shoot for a top 3 pick.  It's going to be tough to work with their current group of players.

23. Kings (23-44, Up 2): Both Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins have games where they blow up.  But they've both been very inconsistent, playing only average in other games.  Evans needs to fully recover, health-wise, this offseason.

22. Raptors (26-41, Down 2): Andrea Bargnani amnesty rumors are being brought up.  And why not?  The first pick in 2006 has been relatively mute in the last two seasons.  It's getting to the point where his situation is inexcusable.

21. Timberwolves (23-41, Up 6): It appears as though the Wolves will have another valuable lottery pick.  But next season they must get to business.  The injuries have been unfortunate, but at some point you need to forget about that and just play your best.

20. Wizards (23-42, Up 2): The Wizards continue to improve under the excellent leadership of John Wall.  I've been pleasantly surprised by their progress as of late.  Hopefully their confidence can carry over into next season.

19. Bucks (33-32, Down 5): Jennings and Ellis are really clicking together now.  Jennings understands to keep feeding Ellis the ball when Ellis gets hot.  Who knows how long this combination will last though?

18. Blazers (31-34, Even): JJ Hickson for Most Improved? Per 40 minutes, he's averaging 17.9 points and 14.3 boards.  The big man trio of him, Aldridge, and Leonard could be highly effective in the near future.

17. Mavericks (31-35, Even): The Mavericks probably would have a playoff spot if Dirk returned 10 games sooner.  But that doesn't matter at all.  They must make the best of their situation and keep drilling away.

16. Jazz (34-32, Up 3): The Jazz desperately needed that home win against Memphis to turn around their momentum.  Although Mo Williams is not an all-star point guard, the Jazz definitely benefit with him back in the lineup.

15. Bulls (36-29, Down 4): Rip Hamilton has not brought much to this team so far.  Rip just isn't the player he used to be.  The Bulls are still searching for more answers right now.  With this mediocre team, they could be looking at another first round exit.

14. Knicks (38-26, Down 6): Although the Knicks still have a solid winning percentage, things aren't looking too pretty right now.  While we can expect that Melo will recover fine, we must keep an eye on Tyson Chandler.  Without him, the Knicks are in trouble.

13. Nets (38-28, Down 3): Deron Williams has been playing much, much better in the last few weeks.  But the Nets do not have as much firepower as advertised at the beginning of the season.  They need to be at their absolute best every game if they want to challenge the Heat.

12. Rockets (36-31, Up 1): Everyone needs to realize how impressive it is that the Rockets remain five games over .500.  James Harden accounts for so much of this team, just like LeBron and Durant do for their team.  He's also starting to get those "MVP" chants at the free throw line.

11. Hawks (37-29, Up 5): Just as the Hawks were starting to make a free-fall, Al Horford and J-Smooth made sure they quickly recovered.  In my opinion, Al Horford is making a case for being the best center in the NBA.

10. Warriors (38-30, Up 5): The Warriors are in a difficult position, knowing that the Rockets are right on their tail and the Lakers are creeping up on them.  The confidence of this organization could be shattered if they were to lose their playoff spot.

9. Lakers (36-32, Up 3): I guess we can finally call the Lakers a top ten team again.  When this team needs to make plays, they make plays.  And don't worry, I doubt Kobe's sprained ankle will hold him back much longer.

8. Celtics (36-29, Up 1): Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are being asked to have the life of a 25-year old.  The amazing thing is that they actually still have a far-from-empty tank of gas.  And they won't stop until they are forced to.

7. Pacers (40-26, Even): The Pacers seem to be getting a bit fatigued as of late.  In their last five games against teams over .500, they are 1-4.  They are consistent on defense, but their offense has slowed down recently.

6. Grizzlies (44-21, Even): Most analysts were right on the mark when they said losing Rudy Gay wouldn't hurt them that much.  This team continues to prove they are a big threat in the West.  Z-Bo can be used as their go-to-guy, late in games.

5. Clippers (46-21, Down 1): Many of the Clippers' old players do not have the energy that Pierce and Garnett have.  That could be a reason for not getting them over the hump this postseason.

4. Nuggets (45-22, Up 1): The Nuggets could not be playing better basketball right now.  But does this streak tell us that they are for real?  If they win at OKC on Tuesday, then I will be wowed.

3. Spurs (51-16, Even): While the Clippers' role players may not be effective enough, the Spurs' role players usually are.  Kawhi Leonard has turned into a useful defensive presence.  Tiago Splitter's post game is developing nicely.

2. Thunder (50-17, Even): Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are by far the most dominant scoring duo in the league.  Kevin Martin is also a reliable scoring option off the bench.  Miami was the only team able to overcome that in last year's playoffs.  Will any West team challenge them this year?

1. Heat (51-14, Even): Although their winning streak is constantly praised on ESPN, Miami understands, more than anyone, that it doesn't matter thatmuch.  When it comes to the postseason, it is a whole different ball game.  These veterans are fully aware of that.

March 11, 2013

30. Bobcats (13-50, Even): Since the Bobcats' promising 7-5 start, they are just 6-45.  They need that lottery ball machine to be kind to them this year.

29. Magic (18-46, Even): The Magic went 2-2 last week, including a game at Miami where they were up the whole time until LeBron fiercely attacked the rim and dropped in a game-winning layup.  Vucevic averaging 13.8 rebounds in the last four games.

28. 76ers (23-39, Down 2): The Sixers are losing game after game as Andrew Bynum can do nothing but watch.  I'd imagine the fan base in Philly is quite frustrated.

27. Timberwolves (21-39, Even): 22 year-old Ricky Rubio getting some valuable experience as a starter.  He has a ton of work to do on his shot in order to take his game to the next level.

26. Pistons (23-42, Down 1): Brandon's teammates should not have put him in a position like that!  It' alright Pistons.  Just keep working hard and improving.  That's all we can ask for right now.

25. Kings (22-43, Up 3): I question some of their decision-making.  They give Marcus Thornton a big four-year deal and he finally blows up when they give him a chance.  You pick Tyreke Evans 2nd a few years ago, and less plays are run for him each season.

24. Cavaliers (21-42, Even): Kyrie Irving caught the Jazz off guard the other day and brought his team back from 7 points in just a minute or so.  Even with this superstar in the making, the Cavs' offense is immature and needs experience.

23. Hornets (22-42, Down 1): The Hornets aren't playing bad at all in the last month or so.  Ryan Anderson is the most consistent three-point shooter in the league.  Anthony Davis is slowly starting to show signs of Tyson Chandler on defense.

22. Wizards (20-41, Up 1): Earlier in the season, teams had room to slack off against the Wizards.  But not these Wizards.  These Wizards are determined and definitely heading in the right direction.

21. Suns (22-41, Down 1): I don't know what's going on with Marcin Gortat this year.  But he hasn't been the same at all and I think he has disappointed his team.  Aside from that, the Suns tend to play with a lot of energy.

20. Raptors (25-39, Up 1): If you haven't seen what Kobe just did against them, go watch the highlights.  I probably wouldn't be at all angry with my players as the Raptors' coach.  It's just the unstoppable nature of Kobe Bryant.

19. Jazz (32-31, Down 3): Well Kobe did guarantee a playoff spot.  And that does mean one team will have to step aside.  So it sounds like the Jazz have gladly accepted Kobe's offer.

18. Blazers (29-33, Up 1): If I'm a part of this organization, I'm pleased with the team's effort this year.  Especially compared to where it was last year.  Playoffs or not, they should have a solid future.

17. Mavericks (29-33, Up 1): Dirk: "I'm not competing for the 8th seed.  I'm competing for a ring."  He might want to take a look at the standings.  But all jokes aside, the Mavs are playing sound team basketball now.

16. Hawks (34-28, Down 4): The Hawks are #1 in assists per field goals made, which means their ball movement results in the most success.  But I doubt that is enough to get them out of the 1st round.

15. Warriors (35-29, Even): Don't breathe a sign of relief yet because a playoff spot isn't guaranteed.  With their decreased productivity, it could get a bit rocky.

14. Bucks (32-29, Up 3): The Bucks have won 6 of their last 7 and Monta Ellis' level of play has been a big reason behind this streak.  This is the first time he looks to be in a comfortable scoring role since Golden State.

13. Rockets (34-30, Down 2): Being over .500 is very impressive for this team.  Kevin McHale is doing a fantastic job with this team.  He may be a candidate for Coach of the Year.

12. Lakers (33-31, Up 1): It would be a lie to say Kobe has not lost a step from old age.  But when the game is on the line, he is still the same old Black Mamba.  And I don't know if it's health, but Dwight Howard has contributed much more recently.

11. Bulls (35-28, Down 1): I feel like there are several games I've seen the Bulls play terrible.  Yet they still manage to be very competitive in the East.  It isn't an issue of running out of steam.  It's just an issue of not having enough without D-Rose.

10. Nets (37-26, Up 4): Joe Johnson is among the league leaders in game winners, but the consistency throughout the whole game is not there.  Although Joe Johnson and Deron Williams are both shooting low percentages, the team defense has kept them respectable.

9. Celtics (34-28, Even): One great thing about the Celtics is that they know how to finish games.  They usually have smothering defense at the end and Doc Rivers draws up some great plays.

8. Knicks (38-22, Even): The Knicks have a tough five game West Coast road trip coming up.  Three of them against West playoff teams.  Let them speak for the strength of the Eastern Conference.  And they have Steph Curry coming up again!  Uh-Ohhhh!

7. Pacers (39-24, Down 1): It's kind of a shame that there is only one great team in the East.  I'd like to see the Pacers challenge the Heat even more.  But elite defense can only slow down LeBron and D-Wade, not stop them.

6. Grizzlies (42-19, Down 1): Why are they down one spot if they've won 12 of their last 13?  Well because Denver is on a roll as well and they have played much better teams.  Miami is the only very good team the Grizz have played in that span, and they lost.

5. Nuggets (42-22, Up 2): Ty Lawson continues to get buckets as he tries to make his way into the top five point guard conversation.  And he is covering up Denver's biggest issue in not having a go-to guy.

4. Clippers (45-20, Even): Ohhhh, that's what that earthquake was from last night.  I felt it all the way from Los Angeles! (I'm talking about DeAndre Jordan's dunk if you didn't know.)

3. Spurs (48-15, Even): A 30-point loss at home can't just be a result of one player missing, can it?  Maybe not exactly, but we all know how valuable Tony Parker is to this team.  I guess we'll let it slide just once.

2. Thunder (47-16, Even): Looks like you guys are stuck behind the Heat.  But here's the sad part: While the Heat are effortlessly cruising to the Finals, you guys have to work for yours.  On another note, OKC has the best road record and biggest win differential in the league.

1. Heat (47-14, Even): Lakers - Check.  Clippers - Check.  Thunder - Check.  Grizzlies - Check.  Knicks - Check.  Pacers - Check.  Somebody step up and take down the defending champs!

March 4, 2013

30. Bobcats (13-46, Down 1): Byron Mullens isn't going to win most improved player, but he could be top five in that category.  Mullens was ridiculously the top ranked prospect coming out of high school.  He is starting to show he has some potential though.

29. Magic (16-44, Up 1): As of 2013, the Magic are in no hurry to win games.  Right now they are just sitting and trying to find out what players may be valuable assets to the franchise going forward.

28. Kings (21-40, Down 1): The Kings can be a very entertaining team to watch with their young athletes.  For example, they put up a great fight against the Heat in that 2OT game.  The move to Seattle may benefit them by giving them a fresh start.

27. Timberwolves (20-36, Down 6): A lot of people are looking forward to seeing Love and Rubio play together for a whole season.  Obviously the Wolves aren't much without both of them healthy.

26. 76ers (23-35, Down 4): Things have gotten pretty ugly for the Sixers.  They seem to have no sense of confidence or motivation.  And the lack of frontline production is not helping matters.

25. Pistons (23-39, Down 1): I guess it's fair to say the Pistons have had a predictable season.  But I question the idea that the Pistons are better than their record indicates.

24. Cavaliers (20-39, Up 2): The Cavs do have more than a few solid role players.  They may be one more draft pick away from starting to become competitive in the East.

23. Wizards (19-39, Up 2): 2 months ago was the last time the Wizards lost a game where their opponent scored over 100 points.  They are 8 for their last 8 when they scored 100 or more.

22. Hornets (21-39, Up 1): The Hornets have decent talent when healthy.  I believe they are only going to get better.  They have a lot of time to keep building their chemistry.  Speaking of chemistry, Vasquez is the guy who has brought that concept to their attention.

21. Raptors (23-37, Down 1): Rudy Gay is averaging 20.5 points so far with the Raptors, but I feel like he has the ability to average a few more.  He needs to look to be more aggressive on offense.  If he's going to be their go-to guy, he needs to force the action a bit more.

20. Suns (21-39, Up 8): I was shocked that Jermaine O'Neal dominated the Spurs with 22 points, 13 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 27 minutes in action.  O'Neal used to be one of those consistent 20-10 players that we no longer have today.

19. Blazers (27-31, Even): The Blazers have made a good run at the playoffs.  But to make it, they'll have to win a lot of games and one of the seeds 6-8 will have to dwindle.

18. Mavericks (26-33, Down 1): It is clear that the Mavericks are not the same product that they were for the rest of the Dirk era.  But the Mavs would not have touched that trophy without the dominating defensive presence of Chandler in the first place.

17. Bucks (29-28, Up 1): Monta Ellis has looked the the Ellis of a couple years ago in his last few games.  While he isn't a strong defensive player, his team won't be affected by it that much if he continues to utilize his active hands to steal the ball.

16. Jazz (32-27, Down 2): I know it's only one game, but that 23 point, 22 rebound performance assures the Jazz that they can strongly consider moving either Jefferson or Millsap.

15. Warriors (33-27, Down 7): Focus is key for the Warriors as they are tumbling down the West.  It would be a huge shame to see them lose a playoff spot because they just stop performing at a high level.  Coach Marc Jackson will probably make sure they find their rhythm ahain.

14. Nets (34-26, Down 1): Deron Williams leaves us no choice but to keep talking about him until he finally snaps out of this career low playing level (if he ever does).  If he doesn't improve, he will be receiving a whole lot of criticism over the off-season.

13. Lakers (30-30, Up 2): This year marked the first time Kobe lost 30 games before March.  But now the Lakers are .500 and definitely feeling relieved that they are winning more games.  But how much can one man do for a team?  Kobe has not been exemplifying of a typical 34-year old, even all-star, guard.

12. Hawks (33-25, Down 1): Al Horford continues his hot streak.  But soon enough, this kind of play will be a regular for him.  Horford has one of the brightest futures as a big man in the NBA.

11. Rockets (33-28, Down 1): Over the last four, Chandler Parsons is averaging 24.3 points on 65% shooting with 16 threes.  Parsons could be a strong candidate for most improved.  But more importantly, he gives the Rockets a dependable scoring option beside Harden.

10. Bulls (34-26, Up 2): That game that Joakim Noah had was completely uncalled for.  He resembled Wilt Chamberlain in the contest with 23 points, 21 rebounds, and 11 blocks.  But the Bulls sure can't depend on that type of performance every game.

9. Celtics (31-27, Up 7): I guess the biggest reason that the Celtics jumped up so much is because the closer it comes to playoff time, the more I trust what Pierce and KG can get done.  The Celtics are capable of beating many teams when they bring 100% energy.

8. Knicks (35-21, Up 1): Amare Stoudemire is definitely the X-factor to this Knicks team.  He looks to be improving as he gets more time to settle in.  But the Knicks need an all-star version of Amare to have any chance against the Heat.

7. Nuggets (38-22, Even): The play of Wilson Chandler has been impressive lately.  He kind of flew under the radar with his lengthy absence.  But even if the Nuggets have 11 deep, it only means so much in terms of how much damage they can do.

6. Pacers (38-22, Even): David West looks pretty similar to how he looked in 2009.  West is somebody the defense always has to keep an eye on because he is capable of scoring over 20 whenever he wants.

5. Grizzlies (39-19, Even): The Grizz are looking very sharp as they have won 9 of their last 10 games.  The Grizzlies' agitating defense has really been able to get under the skin of their opponents.

4. Clippers (43-19, Even): The Clippers are a very good team.  But they'll still have a really tough time beating the Thunder or Spurs in a playoff series.  But CP3 feels the urgent need to win now.  And if they don't at least make the conference finals, CP3 may very well flee Los Angeles.

3. Spurs (47-14, Down 1): Tony Parker is out a month.  But when you're the Spurs, it's no big deal to be missing a star player for an extended period of time in the regular season.  There is no doubt that other players will make the necessary adjustments.

2. Thunder (43-16, Up 1): Russell Westbrook has strictly taken quality shots in the last five games or so.  When Westbrook does that, the Thunder become even more difficult to cope with.

1. Heat (43-14, Even): Miami has hit a career-best 14 game winning-streak.  And I'm starting to believe there will never ever be anyone as physically talented and capable as LeBron James.  But don't forget that D-Wade has meant a great deal to Wade County as well.

February 25, 2013

30. Magic (15-41, Down 1): After trading away a peaking JJ Redick, it is clear that the Magic want to start from rock bottom and build their way up through the draft.

29. Bobcats (13-43, Up 1): The Bobcats' three highest paid players do remotely nothing for them.  If they aren't improving, that would be why.

28. Suns (18-39, Down 1): The Morris brothers are reunited but it obviously isn't the same situation as Kansas, where they carried the weight of their team. I think it is best for the Suns to tank the rest of the season and put 100% focus on the future.

27. Kings (19-38, Down 3): The Kings backcourt players should have a much greater effect than they do.  But nothing seems to be resolving.  I can definitely see them blowing up this whole team during the offseason.

26. Cavaliers (18-38, Up 2): The Cavaliers are in a lot of games until the end, where their opponent usually makes a few more plays than them and ultimately wins the game.  Kyrie Irving is now regularly drawing double teams and that is something the Cavs offense will have to adjust to.

25. Wizards (17-37, Up 1): John Wall and Bradley Beal have been impressive lately.  The Wizards offense looks solid at times.  Their motivation has completely shifted gears since Wall's return.

24. Pistons (22-36, Down 1): Jose Calderon has been playing very well for the Pistons but he's in a tough position because he doesn't really have a go-to guy beside him.  Brandon Knight is far from that and Greg Monroe is taking small steps to possibly becoming that.

23. Hornets (20-37, Down 1): Hopefully Eric Gordon is settled in New Orleans because I really like the core of him and Anthony Davis along with most improved candidate Greivis Vasquez.

22. 76ers (22-32, Down 1): The Sixers are last in shooting efficiency and last in free throws made.  Jrue Holiday does a good job running the offense but nobody else fits in great right now.  It hurts not having Bynum, but I think everyone expected a much better season for Philly.

21. Timberwolves (20-33, Up 4): The Wolves are dead last in three-point percentage.  Usually its tough to be effective if that's the case because it accounts for your shot selection and your ability to get quality shots.

20. Raptors (23-33, Even): Rudy Gay has had no problem stepping in and being aggressive on offense. Andrea Bargnani has not been healthy for the last 2 seasons.  They really need commitment from him to make this a viable team.

19. Blazers (26-30, Down 1): I think Portland is a young and exciting team to watch.  Making the playoffs is going to be very difficult for them though now with the Lakers and Mavericks playing better.  Regardless, I think they're in a good situation going forward.

18. Bucks (26-28, Down 1): I strongly feel that Monta Ellis is a goner this summer.  I think the Bucks are planning for a future back court of Jennings and the newly acquired Redick.

17. Mavericks (25-30, Up 2): The Mavericks have a lot of hard work to do if they want to sneak in the playoffs.  Like I said last week, they need Dirk to fuel them to a big winning streak and that hasn't happened.

16. Celtics (29-27, Down 2): In the midst of this injury crisis, the Celtics now actually appear to be just an average team.  Jeff Green has had some good games lately, but the Celts need him to be at his highest level every game.

15. Lakers (28-29, Up 1): Kobe is still consistently hitting the most ridiculous shots with defenders swamped all over him.  The Lakers say they are happy now, but reaching the playoffs is still no easy task.

14. Jazz (31-25, Down 2): Imagine going around to every team's regular practice session.  I feel like the Jazz's would be one of the most intense.  This team could easily be under .500, especially because they haven't had a real starting point guard for many games.

13. Nets (33-24, Down 3): We're still waiting on Deron Williams to return back to all-star form.  And that will be mandatory for the Nets to have any chance to make it far in the playoffs.

12. Bulls (32-24, Down 3): Good teams like the Bulls really shouldn't be getting blown out as much as they are.  But their legit defense keeps them respectable at the very least.

11. Hawks (31-23, Up 2): The Hawks have definitely quieted down but they're still exceeding expectations.  Al Horford has been playing fantastic lately.  He is starting to look like a young Tim Duncan.

10. Rockets (31-27, Up 5): James Harden went BANANAS on his old team!  I wonder if they'll ever regret not choosing him over Westbrook (not Ibaka since they need him for size).  Harden is now unarguably a superstar in this league.

9. Knicks (33-20, Down 4): Honestly, I think soon enough they are going to have to start playing Melo and Amare more together.  They need a lot of both of them to be a legitimate threat in the East.

8. Warriors (33-23, Up 3): That OT win against the Spurs was absolutely huge, especially after being on a relatively bad losing streak.  Jarrett Jack has really surprised me this season with his late game heroics.  They aren't contenders yet, but they could be in the next few years.

7. Nuggets (35-22, Down 1): Ty Lawson has been dynamite in their last 6 games, but they have only gone 2-4.  As talented as he is, I don't think he is a player they can ride come playoff time.

6. Pacers (35-21, Up 1): Remember the Pacers went up 2-1 and I think 3-2 on the Heat last year?  That wasn't a joke.  They are looking to build off that this year.  They are making a case that they are the Heat's toughest competition in the East.

5. Grizzlies (37-18, Up 3): It looks like the Grizzlies have kind of brushed off the loss of Rudy Gay and got back to playing efficient team ball.  The Grizz's top-tier defense has made them a strenuous team to face.

4. Clippers (40-18, Even): Every time that CP3 matches up with Tony Parker it reminds me that he does indeed have competition for the best point guard in the league.  Parker knows how to play CP3 better than anyone and it showed last game between them.

3. Thunder (41-15, Even): Serge Ibaka's respectable mid-range stroke leaves their opponent with no answer while guarding them.  OKC is always active on the defensive end and that only makes their offense more difficult to contest.

2. Spurs (45-13, Down 1): Danny Green has shot 40% or greater from three-point range in 10 of their last 11 games.  Nobody thought much of Green a couple years ago but he is thriving in this remarkable Spurs offense.

1. Heat (40-14, Up 1): The Heat might be playing better than ever, or at least as well as they were in last year's finals.  On an 11 game winning streak, these are the true colors of Miami's "super team."

February 18, 2013

30. Bobcats (12-40): Kemba Walker has been the lone star for the Cats this season.  Ben Gordon isn't quite fitting in like they hoped him to.  Overall, they just aren't playing with enough confidence.

29. Magic (15-37): I think it was expected that the Magic wear down a little bit.  After enough games, a reflection of your true talent starts to show.  Aside from all that, JJ Redick is having a career season and is likely to receive a generous payday next season.

28. Cavaliers (16-37): Kyrie Irving made a statement on all-star weekend by winning the three-point shootout and also performing well in the other games.  Obviously Kyrie carries most of the weight for the Cavs.  We'll see if he gets some more help in the next 25 games or so.

27. Suns (17-36): The Suns are much more defensive-minded now that Lindsey Hunter has taken over.  Just a few years ago they had one of the most effective offenses in the league.  Phoenix really needs to pursue their next draft pick wisely.

26. Wizards (15-36): With John Wall leading the charge, the Wiz look like a completely different team.  While his stats are not astounding, the whole team seems to be functioning much better with him on the court.

25. Timberwolves (19-31): Injuries have prevented the Wolves from reaching their potential.  But fortunately, they are still a young team that can look ahead to the future.  It'll be interesting to keep an eye out on Derrick Williams, who has not gotten consistent playing time this season.

24. Kings (19-35): It is almost certain that there will be a new DeMarcus Cousins story every month.  Also, will the Kings move Tyreke Evans before the deadline?  He is a potential-filled 23 year-old that could offer a lot to a team that could use an athletic combo guard.

23. Pistons (21-33): Jose Calderon certainly makes the offense more organized.  I think Brandon Knight will learn to be more comfortable at shooting guard.  But with Andre Drummond out of action, the Pistons need answers on post defense for the time being.

22. Hornets (19-34): Greivis Vasquez has undoubtedly been their MVP this season.  The Hornets are slowly inserting Eric Gordon back into full action.  They're also picking and choosing the right amount of time to play Anthony Davis.  Clearly the Hornets are invested in the future.

21. 76ers (22-29): Definitely hasn't been a satisfying season for the Sixers.  But you can't point blame on any of the guys playing.  The truth is they will be over par when they have Bynum for a full season.

20. Raptors (21-32): For what it's worth, the Raptors actually have a realistic shot to make the playoffs.  With all of them healthy, the Raptors have a very sound starting lineup in place.  Lowry is probably a top ten point guard when healthy and Gay solidifies their offense.

19. Mavericks (23-29): Dirk is averaging 15.2 points in 30 minutes.  That is definitely going to have to increase if the Mavs want to be serious about putting together a winning streak, which they desperately need to get in the playoff race.

18. Trail Blazers (25-28): The Blazers have their good games and bad games.  LaMarcus Aldridge is by far the most consistent player.  Their starters don't have any room to relax because their depth is a big issue.

17. Bucks (26-25): Jennings and Ellis give teams a lot of trouble some games but they definitely aren't as damaging as they could be.  The problem is that both of them like to control the ball so they can't always be at their best when on the court together.

16. Lakers (25-29): Even with 28 games left, the Lakers are in the danger zone because the playoff hunt isn't getting any less viscous.  At this point they can't even settle for being a good team.  They need to live up to their names and recognize what they're capable of.

15. Rockets (29-26): Nice to see James Harden make his first all-star appearance in front of his home fans.  He should be one of those players that makes multiple consecutive all-star appearances.

14. Celtics (28-24): Man down again.  At least they are in the Eastern Conference and have some control of where they end up.  KG and Pierce haven't lost any of their appetite.  Will the Celtics make a move or grind it out with what they have left?

13. Hawks (29-22): Josh Smith has made it clear that he has other desires than remaining in Atlanta.  The Hawks could try to get value for the buck, or they could simply let him walk and sign an all-star or two in free agency.  J-Smooth is one of the most likely players to be traded before the trade deadline.

12. Jazz (30-24): I guess you could say the Jazz have overachieved thus far in the season.  They have another interesting situation.  With both Al Jeff and Millsap on the last year of their contract, what will they do?

11. Warriors (30-22): They have had their moments, but for many years the Warriors were stuck in the mud.  This organization should be delighted to be in this position at all-star break.  They are trying to prove that they have turned this franchise around.

10. Nets (31-22): The Nets have been a hot-and-cold team so far this season.  One positive sign is that they're still a solid basketball team when they're not at their best.  So when they are at their best, they could surprise people.

9. Bulls (30-22): The Bulls know the big picture revolves around D-Rose.  But no matter the circumstances, the Bulls will give their all as much as they can.  Joakim Noah has definitely kept this Bulls team stable.

8. Grizzlies (33-18): Critics were skeptical of how valuable Rudy Gay really was to this team.  While I think he was a big part to their playing level, I don't think he is irreplaceable by any means.  There is no reason for the Grizzlies to be down and they should still have the incentive to do big things.

7. Pacers (32-21): The Pacers aren't a great team yet.  But I think they are inching closer and closer.  Paul George is getting more spectacular as time goes on.  With their outstanding defensive efficiency, this is a team to look out for.

6. Nuggets (33-21): As a fan, I enjoy watching this team succeed.  They are not a dominant team known to hang near the top like the Spurs or Thunder, but I think they have the motive to be that type of team.

5. Knicks (32-18): Let me make this clear:  The 5th best team in the league is far from the 4th best team in the league in terms of being serious about winning a title.  But somebody has to be 5.  With the Knicks looking more confident and organized this season, I'd put them at the top of the second tier.

4. Clippers (39-17): Chris Paul is as proven a point guard as they come.  Going on horrendous losing streaks without him.  Being the 3rd player to rack up 20 points and 15 assists in the all-star game.  He doesn't have LeBron's body or Durant's scoring ability, but he sure knows how to make use of his talents.

3. Thunder (39-14): Youth is a great thing, but youth can also hurt you.  I think the Thunder have become really mature.  But that experience that the Heat and Spurs have over them is still a determinant in how successful they can be.

2. Heat (36-14): All the analysts are saying that LeBron looks to be the clear cut MVP again.  That is the case because nobody has done anything spectacular enough that we haven't seen before to earn that honor over him.  And just remember that D-Wade still has the heart of an MVP caliber player.

1. Spurs (42-12): If you're looking for longevity, the Spurs have it.  Some teams feel that their window of opportunity closes after not recently winning an NBA championship.  But that's clearly not how the Spurs operate.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Zach Tennen: Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs 2013

The Memphis Grizzlies have climbed their way up the ladder throughout the past few years.  They are finally here.  The Western Conference Semifinals.  On the other hand, the San Antonio Spurs are here once again.  Memphis has been exceptional throughout the first two rounds.  There really isn’t a clear favorite in this series as both teams are extremely tough and have winning atmospheres.
What San Antonio needs to do to win: The Spurs need to bring their absolute best post defense.  The Grizzlies wore down their first two opponents by consistently going to the post game.  Tim Duncan and other post defenders need to stand tall and protect their ground.  The Spurs really need to limit Memphis’ second chance points.  The Grizzlies have shown their ability to take advantage of that and it is a big reason they win games.  On offense, the Spurs just need to be all-around efficient.  Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard must continue to nail those spot-up jumpers.  San Antonio needs to keep utilizing the pick-and-roll where Tony Parker is one of the league’s most dangerous players.  Tim Duncan needs to be himself in the post and not worry too much about who is defending him.  Putting Marc Gasol in a position to be in foul trouble will really help the Spurs’ chances in this series.
What Memphis needs to do to win: Attack, attack, and attack some more.  Memphis has found it’s offense in the playoffs by pounding the ball inside.  Present a challenge for Tim Duncan by feeding both Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph down low several times a game.  Tim Duncan usually doesn’t budge down low and will proudly handle whatever task he is given.  However, Memphis needs to continually go at him because they have nothing to lose by doing so.  Memphis needs to continue their stellar defense.  San Antonio can be extremely difficult to defend at times.  Tony Parker is a serious weapon when he has space to dribble.  Memphis needs to be ready to pick him up when he comes off the screen as he will immediately look to score if he has any space.  Heckling Tony Parker will help to put the pace of the game in the Grizzlies’ favor.  We could see some Tony Allen on Parker.
Key Matchups:
Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter vs. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph: I put each player together because Memphis is definitely going to try to take advantage of whoever Splitter is guarding.  Splitter is a very hard worker and respectable defender but he doesn’t have the strength to guard Randolph or length to guard Gasol.  Tim Duncan has to do his job.  He needs to be a double-double player in this series.  Duncan can only do so much but he’ll have to maximize his impact against the dynamic duo of Randolph and Gasol.
Tony Parker vs. Mike Conley: Mike Conley has been outstanding in the playoffs thus far.  He practically matched Chris Paul in the first round and he controlled Reggie Jackson is the second round.  Now is not the time to shy away.  Tony Parker is going to be his biggest challenge of the playoffs.  Parker is going to make Conley work a ton when Conley is on defense and hope that Conley shows fatigue on offense.  We know Tony Parker is usually a great mid-range shooter but Conley has stepped in and felt great about his jumpshot lately.  It is a given that Conley needs to focus on getting other teammates involved but continuing to be an outside threat will make him that much better.
Manu Ginobili vs. Tony Allen: This is a huge matchup.  Tony Allen has been a madman thus far and he loves getting under the skin of his opponent.  Manu Ginobili has not shot the ball particularly well in the playoffs.  Ginobili will definitely shoot when he is given space but he needs to often drive to the hoop.  Ginobili has been really effective in his career with his crafty moves to the basket.  But against Tony Allen, you have to work twice as hard for everything.
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green’s young legs: Tayshaun Prince has had a plate full of duties.  He had to guard Kevin Durant most of the time last round and that certainly took a lot out of him.  Leonard and Green are both very active players.  Leonard gives his opponent no rest and he also consistently hits open outside shots.  Danny Green is one of the league’s most efficient three point shooters.  Both of these guys could very well tire out Memphis and make them struggle on both ends of the floor.
Memphis has a lot of momentum.  San Antonio also has a fair amount of momentum.  But, most importantly, they have experience.  They know exactly what they have to do and when to carry out certain tasks.  Memphis’ physical defense and dominant post game has gotten it’s way but San Antonio often finds a way to slow down a team’s strong suit.
Then again, Memphis could just be too much for San Antonio.  Memphis has a full roster that is ready to exceed expectations.  Their starters have been excellent and their bench has also provided a big spark in the playoffs.  Maybe they will wear down the Spurs to the point that there is nothing more the Spurs can do.
I’ll give a slight edge to the experience.  Spurs win in seven games.

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