2020 NBA Playoffs Biggest Storylines – Conference Quarterfinals (Post-Game 1s)

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, & Nikhil Pradeep

With the Western Conference play-in now officially completed and the Portland Trail Blazers having won and gotten the 8th-seed, the entire NBA playoffs is set and the Conference Quarterfinals will commence. To see our NBA Playoff Predictions from before the NBA Bubble started, click the link here. We now will dive into the biggest stories to watch going into the start of the playoffs.

Saransh’s Storylines:

How Will Houston Play Without Russell Westbrook?

This entire season, while James Harden has always been the top scorer for this team, Russell Westbrook has been the leader and glue-guy for the team. Westbrook was the one who helped him and Harden get over their differences that they originally had to start the season, he was the one who helped the team get through midseason trade rumors and speculation that OKC won the Russ-CP3 had been rising. When Head Coach Mike D’Antoni wanted to start his small-ball experiment and thus GM Daryl Morey traded starting Center Clint Capela, Russ elevated his game the most. Russ had career-highs in shots per game made and field goal percentage, and overall was a more relaxed and under control player compared to what he was in Oklahoma City. He honestly is now an underrated player (surprising to say), but deserves the most credit of all the players for Houston’s success, especially since small-ball began. 

That being said, after seeing how Harden, along with Eric Gordon and Jeff Green, played yesterday, if they play like this in Game 2 as well, having Westbrook back could have a highly-anticipated series end very quick. Only having an 8-man rotation will be tricky to manage with Westbrook back and also playing big minutes, but it means that playing guys like Gordon and Green more in the series, could be the difference. The series will hinge upon that bench support for Houston, and their health.

Did The Refs Sell The Mavericks And Ruin Their Series Momentum?

The Dallas Mavericks controlled Game 1 on Monday in nearly every facet possible, besides the final score, of course, but the referees had a lot to do with that. The ejection of Kristaps Porzingis, which was due to a slight shove, was probably the softest ejection I have seen in my entire life of watching basketball. If Porzingis got ejected for that, shouldn’t Carmelo Anthony get suspended every time he curses after getting a rebound? There were a few other questionable calls here and there after Porzingis got hurt which halted the momentum of Dallas, but had he not been ejected, the way Porzingis was dominating the paint with his rim protection and rebounding at the time, they would have won the game and taken all that momentum into Game 2 and prolonged this series more than expected. If you are Dallas, you could not have asked for a better start to the series against a heavily-favored Clippers team, but the ridiculous ejection, and final score, left nothing but a cloud of frustration for the team.

Does Brooklyn’s Overachieving Bubble Run Concern Toronto?

Simply put, no. Kevin Durant nor Kyrie Irving is walking into Orlando to suit up and play the defending champions. That being said, the run that the Nets had, including almost knocking Portland out of the playoffs (should have called timeout and drawn a play), and beating teams like the Clippers and Bucks in the process, the Nets showed that they are not here to be messed with despite their extremely shorthanded roster, but the defending champions have been way too good defensively to let Brooklyn get on a roll and shock the world. In Game 1, the Nets cut a 33-point Raptor lead to 9, but the Raptors defense was just too much, and they showed that their roster is simply too much to handle, and that they do not need Kawhi to be as scary of a contender as they are. As much as I would love to see the Nets make the series competitive, Toronto is too much to handle.

Nikhil’s Storylines:

Can The Miami Heat Make Noise In The East?

This Miami Heat team has defied a lot of expectations this season, and having accomplished everything that they have has taken a lot of grit, a lot of grind, and most importantly, a LOT of team chemistry and self-confidence. Everyone, including myself, saw this year as being a lottery pick year for this team. That being said, there are still many limitations going forward though. In order to contend for a championship in this day and age, most teams require at least a superstar tandem (Ex: LeBron & AD, Kawhi and PG, Russ and Harden). The Heat do not have a bonafide duo that they can rely on during crucial moments in a speculative deep playoff run. Yes, Jimmy Butler is a given, but who can be that other piece? Bam Adebayo has proven himself as a worthy candidate, but his game is still raw and he simply isn’t at the level of most superstars in this league, even with his first All-Star appearance. One thing I will say is that Miami manages to find a way. As of this post, they have already gone one game up on the Indiana Pacers, and contributions as a team from Nunn, Herro, Crowder, Robinson etc. can really turn this team into a viable threat in the East, and give powerhouses Toronto, Milwaukee, and Boston a run for their money.

Are The Denver Nuggets a Real Threat In The West?

Everyone seems to be infatuated with the possibility of a Clippers vs. Lakers Western Conference Finals, to the point where the third-seeded Denver Nuggets seem to be completely overlooked. This team is STACKED all things considered. Jokic and Murray comprise a deadly starting line-up, and up and coming players like Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol are both surprisingly sturdy in their play as well. Combine this with a perfectly crafted bench unit as well as key role players, and you have a team that could very well take down either one of the two LA teams. What’s even more appealing is that this team is built for the future, and can become a powerhouse in the Western Conference if they simply hold onto their assets they have, and continue to develop the young players they have right now as well. Yes, they might not have the complete answer for LeBron and AD, and may have not figured out the complete puzzle of Kawhi and PG, but this team has the resources necessary to piece it all together. And the best part is that even if they don’t find winning ways now, they can easily find it a few years from now, when the LA teams start to see players past their primes. Watch out for this Nuggets team to shock a lot of people now, and establish themselves for the future.

What’s Wrong With The 76ers?

Philadelphia on paper looks like a very dangerous team, yet in person they just seem lackluster. When you headline a team with 4 prominent figures in Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford, you expect production, and plenty of it. What we see though is a rather uninspired team that is missing something, and no one can really place a finger on it. Couple this with the injury to Ben Simmons, and you get a downward spiral of a situation for Philadelphia, one that puts head coach Brett Brown in the hot seat. Don’t get me wrong, the team is definitely winning games, and are placing themselves well within the provisional playoff picture, but many believe that the team just isn’t built or even inspired enough to contend with the likes of Toronto, Boston, and Milwaukee. Joel Embiid himself has said that he needs to step up for his team, and yes, maybe his lack of production on both ends of the court is somewhat to blame for the team’s woes, but I don’t see it as an end all be all solution. Whatever their issue may be, they need to figure it out soon in order to get past the rather difficult first-round matchup with the Celtics.

Anish’s Storylines: 

Do the Blazers Have a Legitimate Chance To Defeat The Lakers?

After the Game one, upset over the Lakers, the Blazers have the league talking. Everyone knew before the Blazers would be a tough fight for the Lakers in the first round, and after game one they proved them right. The Lakers looks sloppy in their game and despite LeBron’s big triple double the Lakers couldn’t finish the game. The Lakers had issues making free throws in the clutch and Portland capitalized by hitting their shots. However, despite LeBron’s triple double, I feel like there is more left in the tank for King James. The real question is whether LeBron will activate playoff mode this early in the playoffs and completely take over the game or will he continue to dish out the ball and rely on his teammates to hit shots next game. The Lakers did a great job of hammering down in the paint and causing 3 of the Blazers starters to get 5 fouls and be in foul trouble late in the game. The Lakers definitely have the ability to defeat the Blazers on paper; it’s just a matter of chemistry and team experience (besides LeBron) which the Lakers lack.

Are the Bucks Still The Favorite To Win The East?

Similar to the Blazers pulling off an upset against the Lakers, the Magic defeated the Bucks in game one. This came to a surprise to practically everyone as the Magic seemed like the most forgotten team in the playoffs. After the Bucks loss, everyone is now beginning to question the Bucks potential. Now the real question is can just Giannis be enough to lead the Bucks to the Finals? Khris Middleton has been horrible in the bubble so far, and he is supposed to be Giannis’s secondhand man and without a consistent performance from Middleton it puts too much pressure on Giannis. Initially I had the Bucks making the finals, but because of their recent struggles I am leaning towards the Raptors-Celtics side of the bracket. It will be interesting to see the Celtics without Hayward but I still give them a slight edge over the Raptors. I believe whoever comes out of the bottom half of the Eastern Conference (Raptor/Celtics side) will defeat the Bucks and move on into the Finals. The Bucks are still a great team but I don’t see them as winning the championship, rather I see an Eastern Conference Finals loss coming their way.

Are We Sleeping On The Jazz?

Monday’s Game 1 against the Nuggets was one of the best games this year. The battle between Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray was like no other, it seems like in the clutch neither of them could miss and Murray got the slight edge in overtime. But we can’t forget about Donovan Mitchell’s historic 57 point game! Even with missing Mike Conley the first game the Jazz were neck and neck with the Nuggets. Conley is expected to be back for Game 3, this is important because Conley is another elite defender and to put him on Jamal Murray and contain him. This makes Jamal Murray use more effort with a better defender on him and Donovan Mitchell will be alongside another scorer and facilitator. The Jazz have always shown they are underdogs in the playoffs and are well capable of pulling off upsets. Although last year they struggled against the Rockets, the year before they defeated the Thunder, and the year before the Clippers. This Jazz team is improved from last year and have developed a better chemistry with great defense, good wing shooters and Donovan Mitchell taking the clear superstar position in this playoff series. The Jazz could make a decent push in the playoffs starting with an upset on the Nuggets. Don’t sleep on the Jazz!

The NBA Returns: What To Watch For – Part 1

By Saransh Sharma, Nikhil Pradeep, and Anish Dhondi

The NBA is officially coming back on July 31st in DisneyWorld with no fans, and we, along with all of you guys reading this, cannot wait for the return. By the time the league would resume, players would have been on a 4-month layoff due to the season being suspended for the Coronavirus. A quick run-through of how the return will work, the NBA has only invited 22 teams to Orlando, with the bottom 2 Western Conference teams (Warriors and Timberwolves) and bottom 6 Eastern Conference teams (Bulls, Pistons, Cavaliers, Hornets, Hawks, and Knicks) being amongst the 8 that were not invited. The top 6 teams in the East have clinched their playoff spots already, and the top 7 have clinched in the West. Each team will play 8 games and they will be played amongst the 22 teams remaining. 

As far as restrictions, the NBA has created a ‘bubble campus’ within Orlando where all the teams, coaches, players, staff, etc. are required to stay, and only 3 family members can be with you, and they almost must be within the ‘bubble’. Along with that, there will be tests every day for COVID-19 for all players, coaches, and staff, and if you are tested positive, you are out for at least 7 days, meaning that in the playoffs, that could be 3-4 games. Also, teams will eat at restaurants together and can only play golf, and the DisneyWorld rides will not be open for families.  

Now that we have given an overview of the regulations, we bring you to the biggest storylines of the return of basketball:

Saransh’s Biggest Storylines

Kyrie and KD Sitting Out

Kevin Durant was injured last year in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets, and then returned for the NBA Finals, where he would end up getting injured yet again, and has not been back on the court since. Despite the recent reports that he is healthy, he will sit out and get ready for a big title push next season, where Kyrie Irving will also be back and healthy. Irving has been injured off-and-on this season, and even though he is healthy as well (probably healthier than Durant considering Durant is still doing his last bits of rehab), he is sitting out as well. This is a big storyline because, for one, they only have a 0.5 game lead on Orlando for the 7th-seed, and a 6-game lead for the 8th-seed. With no superstars, a thin bench, and only 8 games to play, Brooklyn could potentially have to play-in for the 8th-seed to make the playoffs, or even miss them altogether. Second, if they do make the playoffs, they will face either Milwaukee or Toronto (Boston or Miami is possible but unlikely), but whichever team it is, they will easily sweep Brooklyn. Next season is when we will really start talking about them.

The ‘Other’ Contenders: Miami, Houston, and Dallas

All the talk has really been about the LA teams, Boston, Milwaukee, and Toronto matching up in the NBA Finals, and everyone seems to overlook the other true contenders. I’m talking about Miami, Houston, and Dallas, the teams that have been playing ‘in the shadows’, so to speak, yet still getting the job done every single night. Miami and Houston at one point in the season were as high as the 2-seed, and Dallas was the 4th-seed earlier. Now, with them being at 4th, 6th, and 7th, respectively, they face a different battle than expected, but with 8 games left and still a good shot at a higher seed, you never know. The biggest challenger to Milwaukee is Miami, and the biggest challengers to the LA teams are Houston and Dallas (Utah would be in the conversation if Bogdanovic was not injured. He is now out for the season). Miami with their size, balance, and 3-point shooting to match up with the best in the East, Houston with their unique small-ball lineup, and Dallas with Luka, Porzingis, and other upcoming young stars, these teams are going to surprise a lot of people this season and be around as contenders for years to come.

Nikhil’s Biggest Storylines

The Bubble Teams, And The Playoff Implications That Follow

It’s no secret the NBA wants to get as much viewership and as much buzz back into its games, and the best way to do that is to include as many teams as viably possible into its return. The method that the board has settled on is nothing short of complex and mildly confusing, but in many ways addresses all concerns of proper seeding, fair play, and equal opportunity for each ball club. The NBA firstly has invited 22 teams, which are all teams that were in the top 8 in each conference once the season was paused, as well as teams within 6-games of the 8th seed (New Orleans, Portland, San Antonio, Sacramento, and Phoenix in the West, and Washington in the East). These teams will play 8 regular season style, “seeding games” to determine their positions going into the make-shift playoffs. A possible play-in tournament between the No. 8 and No. 9 teams in a conference could be utilized if the ninth seed finishes the regular season within four games of the eighth. In that case, the No. 9 seed would need to beat the No. 8 seed twice to earn the playoff berth, while the No. 8 would need one win from the two potential games. From there, a typical NBA style playoff structure would follow, and a champion will be crowned. It is the battle for the 8th seed, particularly in the West, that catches my eye. As the table stands, Memphis holds the 8th seed, and Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento are all tied for 9th, with San Antonio and Phoenix not far behind. I expect Portland to walk away as the 8th seed once the whole thing plays out, simply based on their experience, and talent. In all honesty, they should be higher up in the table given that Lillard is a bonafide superstar in this league, and he’s with a surrounding cast including CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony. Yes, Ja Morant and Zion Williamson (both of which I will elaborate on in a bit) are very prominent figures in their own right, but the teams they command simply aren’t at the level the Blazers are. I do expect to come down to the wire, possibly with the play-in tournament having to be used as well.

The NBA’s Polarizing Rookies Are Instrumental in the Bounce Back of the League.

The NBA has lost millions due to the pandemic, and since the virus is a worldwide phenomenon, they are losing revenue from everywhere all at the same time. So, in order to bounce back accordingly, the league needs to make every money-making move possible with this return they have in mind. This is definitely part of the reason why more than the standard 16 teams were invited back to the season, by adding the additional six teams, 88 games are effectively injected back into the schedule, and the collective salary reduces loss by $300 million. What is even more of a motivating factor is the massive viewership garnered by Zion Williamson and Ja Morant (Mainly Williamson but i’m trying to be nice). The No. 1 pick in this years draft has carried an insane amount of buzz ever since his high school days, and is a huge money maker for the league. By including New Orleans back into the season, and possibly the playoffs in some capacity, the league effectively boosts their revenue potential, allowing the world to focus once again on Williamson, and the hype to return to the league. Couple this with the lesser but similar effect Morant has had with Memphis, and you have two very prominent incentives for people to start watching again, and get hooked back into the league. By appealing to what the people want to see, the league directly propels themselves back to the position they were in before the pandemic striked.

Anish’s Biggest Storylines

No Home Court Advantage for Players

With this new format being in place teams lack the comparative home court advantage that they would have normally received in the playoffs. Normally a 1st seed team would have the advantage in a series against the 8th seed team, as the first 2 games would be in the 1st seeds court and if it were to extend to a 7 game series the 1st seed would get the extra home game. Now the home court advantage has been eliminated in order to maintain the safety of players. Can you imagine watching an NBA game with no crowd noise? Silence in the background and strictly the sound of the basketball would be a dull game without fan reaction. Ideas have been thrown around as a possibility of the NBA incorporating crowd sound effects from its popular NBA based video game, NBA 2K. Although this sounds strange it may benefit in giving the audience a little more excitement during moments of the game where the crowd would normally get pumped up. Although home court advantage may not seem like a big deal to us, it’s a big deal to the players. Many players thrive in a home court setting with their own fans cheering them on giving them a boost in confidence on the court. An example of this is shown with superstar Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers. This season, Lillard averaged 31.9 PPG when playing on his home court, however that number dropped to 25.9 PPG when playing on an opponent’s court. This is a significant difference for one player and shows the importance of home court advantage which won’t be a factor in the playoffs this year so it’ll be interesting to see how these players perform.

Players Getting Back in Shape

The NBA has been suspended for months and after a couple games it will be the playoffs which is the most important time of year for teams because it’s all of the years work towards winning a championship. Many players however may not be in the same shape as they were prior to the suspension which can be an issue. Without the proper routine and training to get these player’s bodies ready for the rigorous pace of the NBA again, many injuries can occur. It will be interesting to see the difference between all these player’s peak performance during the regular season and the effect quarantine has had on some of their bodies with a lack of going to a gym or being able to consistently work out. Even if players were to be exercising, nothing quite matches the pace of an actual NBA game, so with these players in offseason mode it would be a struggle to quickly get back into shape with no preseason or 82 game ‘warm up’ for the playoffs. Will this affect the favorites for winning the championship this year? And what if a star player was to get Coronavirus or returns back to the game too quickly for his body and gets injured that would have him out for basically the entire playoffs? There are many dangerous factors in opening up this season after a long absence and we’ll see how it turns out.

Links you can use to help educate yourself, donate, sign petitions, and much more for Black Lives Matter and Ending Racism and Social Injustice:

https://www.adhoc.fm/post/black-lives-matter-resources-and-funds/

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

https://www.thezoereport.com/p/10-black-lives-matter-organizations-you-can-donate-money-to-right-now-22948855

https://nymag.com/strategist/article/where-to-donate-for-black-lives-matter.html

‘The Last Dance’ Review, Recap, and Reaction

By Saransh Sharma and Nikhil Pradeep

The 5-week, 10 episode docu-series on the greatest run by a team in a decade in the history of sports, concluded today, with the ending being capped off with the 1998 NBA Finals victory by the Chicago Bulls to win their 6th championship in 8 years, thus completing ‘The Last Dance,’ which was what coach Phil Jackson called this last year quest for the dynasty. So much happened behind the scenes and off the court that we really did not know until now, and the fact that we got the chance to capture all of that and see Michael revisit and talk about these moments was truly remarkable. There are so many big pieces to the ‘98 Championship run from so many different past seasons, whether it be playing against Dennis Rodman and losing to him and the Pistons constantly and then eventually recruiting him to the team, and also Jordan having retired for baseball, then coming back and getting back in shape, Scottie Pippen’s role, Jerry Krause’s ignorance, MJ’s winning mentality being described as ‘disrespectful,’ and so much more. Here is the big review, recap, and reaction all-in-one to all the events, details, decisions, descriptions, and much more, of how ‘The Last Dance’ turned out to be successful, both as the ‘98 season, and as the critically-acclaimed docu-series.

Saransh’s Reaction

Michael Jordan’s Competitive Nature

The competitiveness of Michael Jordan is second to none not just amongst basketball players, but amongst athletes. Whether it was an NBA Playoff game, golfing with his dad, or just a simple ‘coin toss across the room’ game with the team security guard like in Episode 6, everything was a competition to Mike. The most impressive thing about his competitive nature was what motivated him to compete at such a high level. Sometimes it was as simple as just losing, like it was for him against Detroit and Orlando, seeing them celebrate in Chicago and winning against him in a series, but sometimes it was just one action or comment by someone that was their downfall, and Michael’s rise. When Charlotte stole a game from Chicago in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference in 1996 and B.J. Armstrong talked a little trash, it was over for Charlotte. The next 4 games went to Chicago and they even swept Orlando in the Conference Finals.

Then there was the side of Jordan which I think a lot of people were surprised to see and hear about, which was the ‘not-so-nice guy’ side of him. The stories of him at practices are honestly as legendary as you can think of. He punched Steve Kerr after a practice after Kerr did not back down from him when Jordan got mad at Phil Jackson for putting Kerr on him and making fun of him. He then proceeded to apologize and talk it out on the phone with Kerr, and as they were both competitive guys, they understood why it got heated. But even as great as Michael was, there were still people that did not like his ways as a teammate. Former Bulls Point Guard John Paxson talked about how he would be scared at times, and Power Forward Horace Grant apparently could not eat after games because Jordan did not let him. But at the end of the day, this made Jordan the greatest, the tough love. It was so hard for him to talk about his teammates, that he started tearing up talking about it and hearing about how some of his teammates felt sometimes. But in the end, the hard truth was that it was his way of gaining trust of them, and making them realize what he expected of them. If he did not go so hard on Kerr, Jordan would not have trusted him to take the Finals-winning jumper, he would not have trusted Scottie Burrell to be such a great role player, or Dennis Rodman to go out and skip practices, or even let guys like Luc Longley and Bill Wennington, who got overlooked, be vital pieces of the team in every title run. What made Jordan so great was that he involved his teammates through his trust in them and instilling his mental fortitude into them, and if you did not want that, you did not have to play with Michael and enjoy the great journey.

The Legend of Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr was a man who came from a humble beginning. Kerr was born into a family of UCLA professor Malcolm Kerr, and eventual professor Ann Kerr. As they were both professors, Steve’s family had Steve and his brother very academically-minded and focused, as the only time the TV would be on from Monday through Thursday would be for big basketball games. Malcolm being at UCLA, loved basketball and got Steve into it by taking him to UCLA games, and at that time, the John Wooden coaching era was going on, and the greatest college basketball teams ever were there for Steve to witness live and in-person. Steve played all through high school as well, but did not receive offers until the very last minute, when Arizona offered him a scholarship. At this time, Malcolm had gone to American University at Beirut, along with his wife and Steve’s brother. However, the story of Malcolm being shot and killed was truly heartbreaking, and really drove Steve to be the person and competitor that he is. 

When Kerr got to Chicago, he brought that competitiveness that he gained that drove him after having lost his father, into the championship culture of Chicago. He challenged Jordan, did not back down, did not let himself get brought down by Jordan’s competitive edge at practice, which sometimes Jordan took too far, including the time he punched Steve. From that time forward, however, their trust levels and understanding of each other was like no other. It led Steve to be trusted by Jordan to hit the Finals-winning shot in ‘97, just like MJ trusted John Paxson in ‘93 to do the same thing, whom Steve learned from and mentored. He not only won his rings with Chicago, but also in San Antonio as a player in 2000 and 2002, and a coach of the Golden State Warriors dynasty from the past 5 seasons. All in all, Steve’s competitive edge and love for basketball came from his father, who instilled in him the game, life values, and a hard-working nature into Steve.

Phil Jackson’s Resilience, Even When MJ Left

I think it is taking it a bit too far to say that Phil Jackson was overlooked throughout this whole run, but the work he did definitely can get a bit lost in the shadows when your players are as good as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Jackson was asked to make the Chicago Bulls into NBA Champions after Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen had been asked to make them relevant. He took over as the head coach in 1989 after Doug Collins was fired in Chicago, which, given the success he brought to Chicago, where he took the team from nothing to the Eastern Conference Finals with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the firing was a bit surprising, but Collins had been with the Bulls for a while, so therefore warranted his way out the door. Jackson took over the team when they were very close to ending the dynasty of the Detroit Pistons, and in his first year, he nearly did that. Had Game 7 been in Chicago and not Detroit, Jackson would have ended the dynasty in his first year with the Bulls, but the next year, Eastern Conference Finals rematch yet again, the Bulls swept, and won the 1991 NBA Finals over the Lakers, and then proceeded to win in ‘92 and ‘93. Then, out of nowhere, Michael Jordan retires.

Jackson did not back down or let Jordan’s retirement get in the way of him coaching this team. The team might have lost the greatest to ever play the game, but the team was pretty darn good even without Jordan. In 1994, the team won 55 games and if it were not for a blown call in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Knicks, they could have tried for their 4th straight championship. The year after that, the Bulls struggled a bit, but getting Jordan back got them a healthy seeding in the playoffs, but Orlando stole the series thanks to Horace Grant, the former Bull. He then allowed Jordan to be able to retrain his body back into basketball form and he helped the team add talent, such as Ron Harper and Dennis Rodman, and they helped go 72-10 and win the NBA Finals, and start another 3-peat. And then he did it again, going 3-peat with LA from ‘01-’03, and back-to-back in ‘09-’10. Phil Jackson is, in my mind, the greatest basketball coach of all-time, and it all started not when he won his first 3-peat with Michael, but the seasons he endured without him.

Nikhil’s Reaction

The 1992 Olympics Dream Team

For the first time, the United States sent a team of mainly NBA players to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona to compete in the Men’s Basketball tournament. This allowed the likes of Jordan, Bird, and Johnson to play on the same team, and form the inevitable Dream Team, the likes of which has gone down in history as one of the most legendary teams ever. What came as an initial shock was the exclusion of Isiah Thomas, and the sports media at the time associated Jordan’s icy relationship with him as a defining factor of this decision. Jordan, when interviewed for the filming of the documentary stated that he had no influence on the formation on the team, but did concede that had Thomas been selected, the flow and camaraderie of the team would have changed. Regardless, the cohesion of the team that did end up competing in Barcelona was second to none, and this is what elevated them above the rest. Their practices were some of the most competitive in existence, and this culminated in the infamous scrimmage in Monte Carlo. Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan captained their respective sides in an anything-goes, trash-talking, no-holds-barred grudge match. At one point Magic’s team was up 8, and he felt the need to tell Jordan that if the famous ‘Air Jordan’ didn’t show up, they were gonna blow him out. As Saransh alluded to earlier, Jordan took this personally, and instantly made Johnson eat his words. He proceeded to score around 10 unanswered points, and won the game for his team. Those within the team recollected the tension in the air during the bus ride home as suffocating, but the instant Johnson cracked a joke with Charles Barkley, the team’s camaraderie rose back to prominence, albeit with Michael Jordan firmly at the helm of the ship. 

During the Olympics, the Dream Team faced off with Croatia, and the newly drafted Bull, Toni Kukoc. There was some friction between Jordan, Pippen and Kukoc, given that Jerry Krause placed a great amount of praise on the shoulders of the Croatian, and seemingly devalued the accomplishments of the current Bulls roster at the time. In the first game against Croatia, Jordan and Pippen seemed to go after Kukoc during the game, shutting him down defensively, and thus making every effort to make Krause look bad. However, the second time around during the Gold Medal game, Kukoc surged back and showed his worth even though they lost. The Dream Team took home the gold, and Jordan’s legacy started to take meaningful shape.

I found it very interesting to hear Kukoc’s side of this story, especially given the context of his situation before arriving in the league. Having hailed from Croatia, at the time a war-torn state of Yugoslavia, he, along with his teammates during the Olympics, all had an amazing amount of strength and focus that Team USA simply didn’t account for. To trash-talk, abuse, and target Kukoc doesn’t really faze him, simply because it isn’t comparable to the fight for his literal will to live. It just goes to show that no one’s story can be understood from a distance, and that everyone has certain traits that make them unbreakable, no matter what the circumstances are.

Jordan’s Stint in the MLB

The tragic death of Michael Jordan’s father in many ways defined Jordan’s career path, starting with his first retirement from basketball. At the time, Jordan’s reasoning was that he had produced 3 championships, and had given everything he had to the city of Chicago, so he figured that since he had no more challenges and no more motivation to play basketball, he should call it quits. The drama escalated and peaked during a White Sox playoff game, during which Jordan was present. The information of Jordan’s retirement leaked during the game, and the swarm of reporters and fans ensued. The media ran rampant with headlines up until the official press conference the next morning, in which Jordan stated that he was at peace with his decision, and also left the door open for anything down the road. What ensued was a list of allegations seemingly connecting the death of Jordan’s father, the presence of his gambling problem, and the progression of his career to his retirement. Some outlets even told a narrative that David Stern, the NBA commissioner at the time, veiled this retirement as a secret ban from the NBA due to his gambling. This is beyond absurd given that Jordan was the best thing to happen to the NBA financially, socially, and internationally. What is certain however, is that the retirement was of his own accord.

Jordan transitioned to baseball during his retirement period, and signed a minor league deal with the White Sox. This was one of his dreams that he had as a kid, and in many ways it follows his father’s dream to play in the MLB. The issue was that since Michael Jordan was such a polarizing figure all over the country, the facilities apparent in the lower levels of the MLB league system simply could not accommodate the amount of hype that he drew in. Due to this he was placed in the minor leagues Double A league, where the sufficient amount of fans could be accounted for. Couple this with the fact that Jordan had not played baseball properly since he was 17, and it was a seemingly disastrous fate. What no one expected however was how good he was. He started out with a 13-game hitting streak, and after a while opposing pitchers started to throw breaking balls rather than fastballs, the latter of which was never thrown for nearly a month. Jordan’s dry spell resulted in a media sandstorm, calling him out on his poor play, and labeling his decision as faulty. The most striking of these was the Sports Illustrated magazine cover of him missing a pitch, and labeled him as an embarrassment. As we all know, this lit the fire in Jordan’s mind, and he kept getting better and better as the season went on, to the point where it was speculated that he could’ve made it to the major leagues. The MLB had a strike that year, so that element of his career was cut short, and thus he returned to Bulls. What can be said however, is that he made a lasting impact in his reputation as the greatest ever.

Krause’s demolition of the Bulls: Good or Bad?

Jerry Krause has been documented throughout the course of the Bulls dynasty as a dictator type of general manager that would put prospective over his current players and even his own family to an extent. When the Bulls won their 6th championship, there was already huge speculation about what the Bulls would do and whether or not the team would get blown up. Jerry Reinsdorf, the team owner, states that he asked Phil Jackson to come back for the next year, which he turned down. He also states, that it would be suicide to keep the players they had due to injury, egos, etc. Jordan retorted that any player and coach would’ve been happy to sign the one-year contract to chase that 7th championship, and states that it’s “maddening” because it definitely could’ve happened. Following the 6th ring, Jackson, Pippen, Rodman, Kerr, and Jordan all left the Bulls organization, and the Bulls embraced a rebuild that can be argued to have progressed to the current-day.

I know that the immediate gut reaction to this is to have let Jordan and the team chase the 7th ring. But just to play devil’s advocate in this scenario, let’s look at the benefits of how things played out. Given that Jordan himself stated that he was physically drained following the season’s end, and that Pippen had struggled with injuries during the Finals run itself, it is almost a guarantee that someone essential to the teams success would sustain a lengthy injury during the season, jeopardizing a Finals run. This along with the fact that some players would inevitably ask for more money, and some key pieces would get moved around due to the nature of the business, all equates to a significantly lesser change of even getting to the endgame, let alone succeeding. In my mind there isn’t anything wrong with how the Bulls dynasty ended, because they went out on top. Doing so cemented their lasting legacy as the greatest dynasty to grace the NBA, and affirms Michael Jordan’s candidacy for the “Greatest Of All Time” conversation.

 

 

The New Winning NBA Formula: Dynamic Duos for the Win

The 2019 NBA Free Agency was by far the best free agency in NBA history. While it might not have had guys like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade the way the 2010 Free Agency was, it changed the entire complexion of the NBA and created an NBA which is more evenly-balanced than ever. The number of teams that are now contenders is immensely high, as over half of the NBA is in a position to compete for an NBA Championship next season. Here are my thoughts on some of the best new NBA dynamic duos, how they will actually work, and other predictions for the dynamic duos:

D-Lo Will Get Traded, Steph and Klay Will Attempt to Revive the Warriors

I am not in any way saying that D’Angelo Russell is not an elite player or scorer in the NBA, in fact, he is one of the best, but as great of an offensive team as the Warriors have been for the past few years now, they have always relied on defense, especially against the main perimeter players of teams. Whether it has been Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala or Klay and Kevin Durant, they have always had 2 of their 3 perimeter players be elite defenders to make up for the defensive liability that is Stephen Curry. With Russell and Curry, however, in that backcourt, and no small forward who can be a solid perimeter defender, the Warriors defense simply will not work the same. Draymond Green is a great defender, but you cannot expect him to guard other great perimeter scorer’s night in and night out. Russell will be the one who will have to take the fall for Golden State’s defensive struggles, especially with Thompson out until about March. Not only that, but Russell will not be the leader of the team as he was with the Lakers and Nets, so him being able to defer to Curry and Thompson will not be something he is used to.

Kyrie and KD Will Be the Best in the East, But Maybe Not in the NBA

Kevin Durant suffered an Achilles injury during Game 6 of the NBA Finals which ended his career with the Golden State Warriors and ended his 2019-20 season, in which he will now be a member of the Brooklyn Nets, joining Kyrie Irving. Durant should be back to near his best, if not best form, even coming back from this devastating injury. That being said, it may not be enough to beat teams like the Lakers and Clippers, or even the Bucks, teams with more experience and depth. The Nets, outside of Durant and Kyrie, are very young and have little playoff experience, which may make it difficult for them to win an NBA Championship for a few years but contending shouldn’t be an issue.

LeBron and AD Will Be the Better Duo than PG and Kawhi

Before Paul George had been traded from Oklahoma City to the Clippers for 2 players and an absurd amount of draft picks (5, 4 of which are unprotected), Kawhi Leonard was set on joining the other Los Angeles team, the Lakers, where he would’ve joined LeBron and newly-acquired superstar Anthony Davis, making the next superstar-driven dynasty. However, Kawhi convinced PG to request a trade to the Clippers, and Kawhi joined after the trade. That being said, I think that not only will Davis and LeBron be a better duo, but the Lakers will be the better team. For starters, I think LeBron would be able to defer to Anthony Davis very well and even let Davis be the primary scorer, as there would be less defensive pressure on both of them. While the same would be true for Kawhi and PG, Paul George has struggled in the playoffs for years since leaving Indiana. ‘Playoff P’, as he calls his playoff self, isn’t a very threatening player, and doesn’t compare to ‘Playoff LeBron’. As far as the Lakers being the better LA team, they are simply the deeper and more experienced team, and it poses them as the NBA Finals favorite for years to come. Let the ‘Staples Center Locker Room’ rivalry begin and be the best NBA rivalry for years to come.

 

What the Finals Loss Means to the Legacy and Future of LeBron James

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers fell to the Golden State Warriors in 5 games in the NBA Finals, proving me wrong about the buildup of the Golden State Warriors team. However, one thing that has not and will not change for me is my opinion towards the legacy of LeBron James. LeBron played his heart out, averaging a triple-double in the NBA Finals (33.6 points per game, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), becoming the first player to average a triple-double in the NBA Finals. LeBron has 3 wins and 5 losses in NBA Finals, but his legacy is still as steady as Michael Jordan’s. Jordan went 6-0 in the NBA Finals, but was 6-7 getting there. LeBron is 8-4. What’s better, getting to the Finals, or just getting to the playoffs? Yeah, getting to the Finals, even if you lose. LeBron is the one who has made himself and others so good that he is guaranteed to make it to the Finals, just ask any team in the Eastern Conference. This year, his Cavs were outplayed by a much more superior Warriors team in the Finals. Sure, LeBron had All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but Golden State has 2 MVPs (Steph Curry and Kevin Durant), 3 of the greatest 3-point shooters ever (Steph, KD, and Klay Thompson), a Defensive Player of the Year candidate (Draymond Green), and a Finals MVP (Andre Iguodala), just to beat LeBron and Cleveland. To me, that just proves how much talent is needed to beat a perfectly assembled LeBron James team. Now, let us take a look at the legacy of James, and his future.

LeBron’s Legacy

LeBron James, as we mentioned, is 3-5 in Finals, but let us look at the wins and losses more closely. In 2007, LeBron James single-handedly took his Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. LeBron, who was 22 at the time, was on the rise of being the ‘best player on the planet’, was playing stellar, but the San Antonio Spurs were too much in the NBA Finals, as he got swept. Then again, when you are only 22, your 2nd best player is named Jamario Moon (who was pretty bad, actually), and you are playing 3 Future Hall-of-Famers, expect to be swept. In 2011, when he became a member of the Miami Heat, he disappeared, not playing like himself, not wanting the ball, losing in 6 games. In 2012 and 2013, he became the ‘best player on the planet’, winning back-to-back championships over the OKC Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. 2014, in the rematch against the Spurs, the Spurs got their revenge. 2015, in LeBron’s return to the Cavs, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love both got injured, and LeBron fought his way on his own to take the Warriors to 6 games, but needed help to win. 2016 and 2017 were split with Golden State, with a 7-game thriller (Warriors blew a 3-1 lead), and losing in 5 games this year. Overall, you cannot blame him for the losses to Golden State. This year, he played his heart out and got beat by a superior team, and in 2015, he did the same, but didn’t have his star counterparts. LeBron really is 3-3 (in terms of wins and losses responsible for in NBA Finals), but the fact that he has gotten there with more success than Jordan (not to mention that LeBron has always gotten past the first round, whereas Jordan has been swept in the first round), speaks volumes to his ability to lead a team to success.

LeBron’s Future

LeBron James won’t be getting much more talent for this Cavs team anytime soon without trading Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, or Tristan Thompson. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are options, but just Kevin Love for them isn’t enough. I think he should play it out next year, get to the Finals, maybe acquire better role players, and then test free agency in 2018.

LeBron fulfilled his lifelong promise of bringing a championship to Cleveland in 2016, so he has every right to leave the Cavs (again). Reports from Bleacher Report and CBS Sports say that James has considered going to Los Angeles, as he has a house there, and is looking to pursue ventures outside of basketball, and Hollywood is the best place to do it. He has been linked to LA for quite a few years now, dating back to 2007. Kobe Bryant decided to ask for a trade from LA, letting his ego get in the way as he wanted to win desperately. The trade never happened, but it put into perspective for the rest of James’ career that LA would be a possible place to go. If he is to leave, he is to go to either the Lakers or the Clippers. Both teams have great opportunity to beat the Warriors with James. The Lakers can get Paul George or Jimmy Butler (they should be able to get one of the two this year), they can draft Lonzo Ball who has huge superstar potential, and they can trade D’Angelo Russell or Jordan Clarkson for another superstar (of George and Butler, whichever one they do not get). LeBron could even build his dream superteam of his best friends Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, and get them to play with him in LA. This would allow him to have a young team with veteran leadership around him, and allow him beat Golden State. Since LeBron can beat the Eastern Conference with his eyes closed, he can win many more championships.

With the Clippers, if they keep Chris Paul and Blake Griffin this year, they will have their Big 3 with them and DeAndre Jordan. Then they can lure James in, who has a great relationship with Paul, acquire another guy like Carmelo or Wade, and then get more role players, and LeBron can have a team that can beat Golden State, and win championships. Either way, he will have more success down the road going to LA than in Cleveland, so it makes sense that he leaves (sources say he wants to and will leave in 2018). Who knows, maybe LeBron will have more rings than Jordan after all, and become the GOAT.

Sources of Info:

 

NBA 2012-13 Christmas Game Predictions

The NBA will have possibly the greatest Christmas schedule in NBA Christmas Day game history. Here are the games and the predictions. These will be tough for certain people to predict, though I’ll take my best guesses.

The Christmas Day Matchups

Boston Celtics @ Brooklyn Nets, 12 p.m. EST

The Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets are playing in a huge and very important Atlantic division matchup. Both teams have talented backcourts, as Joe Johnson and Deron Williams will lead the Nets, and Rajon Rondo leading the way for the Celtics. The Celtics have been struggling this season, and hope to end those struggles ASAP.

My call: The Boston Celtics will leave Brooklyn with a huge and unforgettable performance from Rajon Rondo, but come come up short of a win. The Final Score… Nets 109, Celtics 99

New York Knicks @ Los Angeles Lakers, 3 p.m. EST

The NY Knicks and the LA Lakers have already faced off this season, and the Knicks won 116-107, though the Lakers were Nash-less. Carmelo Anthony had left the game with with a left ankle injury after taking a hit from Lakers Center Dwight Howard on a very physical foul. Though both of these injured players are expected to return.

My call: The Lakers will finally show that they are good enough with Nash and that they are still a championship-caliber team. The Final Score: Lakers 111, Knicks 108

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Miami Heat, 5:30 p.m. EST

The Miami Heat will play their 2nd straight Christmas against their NBA Finals opponent. This year, they’ll face the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Heat beat the Thunder in 5 games, as LeBron James, probably the best player in the NBA right now, got the best of Kevin Durant, probably the 2nd best in the NBA right now, Dwyane Wade got the best of Russell Westbrook, and Chris Bosh got the best of defensive-minded player Serge Ibaka. The Thunder have been very quiet since then, and not as good as the James Harden-Thunder team from last season. The Heat have improved since last season by adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Though still, you can’t count any of these teams out, and this sure will be one exciting matchup in the 2011-2012 NBA Finals rematch.

My call: This will be the best game this Christmas and will be very unforgettable, as The Durantchula (Kevin Durant), and King James (LeBron James) post up eye-popping numbers. The Miami Heat will show that they are the best team in the NBA right now, as well as show why they were the winners of the 2011-2012 NBA Finals, and why they are the favorites for winning a repeat championship and adding one more Christmas win (and possibly one more ring to the Big 3’s resume’). The Final Score: Heat 120, Thunder 116.

Houston Rockets @ Chicago Bulls, 8 p.m. EST

The Houston Rockets are lead by James Harden and Jeremy Lin. The Bulls are lead by  Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. These are 2 teams that have had average seasons. None of the teams have eye-popping stats, they have multiple injured players, and both teams are not number 1 in their division or conference. The Rockets seemed like Western Conference favorites, and the Chicago Bulls seemed like ultimate flops, though the Rockets teams starting falling apart, and Tom Thibodeau started getting his team back on track.

My call: This will be the lowest-scoring Christmas Day game this season, though the Rockets have shown that they can challenge some great teams this season and will for many seasons to come. The Final Score: Rockets 86, Bulls 82.

Denver Nuggets @ Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30 p.m. EST

This game shows some Western Conference playoff atmosphere, and Lob City will play its 2nd Christmas Day game.

My call: Lob City, lead by Chris Paul, will blowout the Nuggets. The Final Score: Clippers 111, Nuggets 80

Your Thoughts? Leave a comment below…

My Top 5 NBA Power Rankings 2012-13

The NBA season is nearing, as tipoff is October 30th. Here are my power rankings and my expectations for each team this season.

(1) Miami Heat

The defending champions are coming in to this season as huge championship contenders for this season. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh had stellar performances in the playoffs, and should carry the load for the rest of the season. Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen will help out the Big 3 when certain struggles start happening.

(2) OKC Thunder

The Western Conference champions are turning into one of the more younger teams in the NBA. Kevin Durant and Co. have the talent to return to the Finals, though teams such as the Lakers and Clippers could come in their way and effect their huge run for this season.

(3) LA Lakers

The 1980 LA Lakers were called “Showtime” for their stellar offensive play. “Showtime” seems to return after the arrivals of free agent Steve Nash, and the 4-team deal in a trade which got them Dwight Howard, adding to the phenomenon called Kobe Bryant. Expect them to be competitive, though don’t be surprised if OKC surpasses them in the tough Western Conference battles.

(4) LA Clippers

The Clippers certainly got some hope when Chris Paul signed the deal with LA. The Clippers can get No. 1 in the Pacific Division, though their defense will need to improve for that to happen.

(5) Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics have one of the oldest starting lineups in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Rajon Rondo has showed the world why he deserves to be the best point guard as well as the best passer in the NBA. Though this team certainly doesn’t lack any depth in their bench, with players like Leandro Barbosa, Keyon Dooling, Jason Terry, a fresh and healthy Jeff Green, and aging Darko Milicic, who is still considered a great jump shooter for a center and a great defensive player who continues to excel in his ability to help his team off the bench.

And the 2012-2013 NBA champion is…

The Miami Heat are repeat-champions thanks to the great bench play and help from Ray Allen. The LA Lakers will be the Western Conference champions and will surpass the OKC Thunder who have a struggling bench and are expected to lose James Harden near the trade deadline late February.

Award Picks:

MVP: LeBron James

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard

Rookie of the Year: Anthony Davis

Coach of the Year: Eric Spoelstra

Most Improved Player of the Year: Jeremy Lin

Sixth Man of the Year: Ray Allen

* All Logos used here are property of the NBA and the respective teams.