2009 NBA Finals Prediction: Lakers vs Magic!

May 31, 2009 in Basketball, NBA

Despite what I said in my last post, and notwithstanding the fact that my exams aren’t over yet, I nevertheless feel obliged to take a few minutes to predict the winner of the NBA Finals for 2009 between the Orlando Magic and the LA Lakers.

Will the Lakers dunk all over the Magic?

Will the Lakers dunk all over the Magic?

The road to the Finals

Orlando Magic vs Cleveland Cavaliers

Momentum can be a fickle thing in the playoffs.

Hours before this post, the Orlando Magic had just disposed of heavy favourites the Cleveland Cavaliers in 6 games (103-90 in the final game).  Like most people, I accurately predicted that the series would not be close, but I just got the teams the wrong way around!

Like the Magic’s Dwight Howard (who scored 40 points and grabbed 14 boards to finish off the Cavs) said, people were disrespecting the Magic by looking forward to a Lebron-Kobe final before the first game of the Conference Finals (or perhaps the first game of the entire playoffs).  I admit I was one of those people.  Instead of looking at the plethora of matchup problems the Magic presented to the Cavs, all I could remember was that the Cavs hadn’t even lost a game before this series, sweeping both Detroit and Atlanta, winning by double digits in all games.  The Cavs had the best record in the league (66-16), the best home record in the league (39-2) and had home court advantage in this series – plus Lebron James was on fire.  Conversely, Orlando had struggled through two lacklustre performances against Philadelphia (6 games) and Boston (7 games), were playing inconsistently and up to that point, seemingly doubting themselves.  It wasn’t hard to assume that the Magic didn’t stand a chance.  No ESPN analyst predicted the Magic to win.  Not a single one.  Not even those that predicted a tough series for the Cavs because of the matchup difficulties.  After all, they did have the ultimate mismatch in Lebron vs anyone else.

However, as it turned out, Lebron was still on fire, averaging over 38 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in the series, but it didn’t matter in the end.  When matched up face to face, the Magic were simply the better team.  If it weren’t for Lebron’s buzzer beating 3-pointer in game 2, the series may have been a sweep.

So what happened?  All the momentum in the world could not have stopped Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, the Magic’s two big, versatile forwards, from wrecking havoc on the Cavs’ defense.  The Cavs were supposed to be one of the best defensive teams in the league, but they couldn’t stop the drives, three-pointers and they couldn’t stop Dwight Howard in the middle.  Ilgauskas, the Cavs’ 7’3″ big man, was abused by Howard’s quickness.  Their other post defenders, Anderson Varejao and Ben Wallace (what the heck happened to him?), were dominated by Howard’s size and strength.  The supposed ‘Master of Panic’, coach Stan Van Gundy, did a calm job of allowing Lebron to get his and daring his teammates to beat them.  They couldn’t.

With the exception of the Cavs’ game 5 victory, Lebron’s supporting cast couldn’t find the basket.  When Lebron needed them the most, they started to choke, especially ‘Mr Prediction’ Mo Williams, who was the difference maker in the Cavs’ historic regular season but just couldn’t make a shot.  I suppose you could look at this in two ways – either that Lebron HAD to be this good this series because his teammates weren’t giving him enough help, or his greatness in this series actually turned out to be detrimental to his team’s success because they turned into a one man team again that had to rely on him for everything.

This devastating loss must be demoralising for the Cavs, who carried a swagger into these playoffs some considered bordering on arrogance.  Especially for Lebron, who thought he had all the pieces he needed to contend for the championship this year, only to be let down again.  Unlike last season, when Lebron was all smiles after losing to the eventual champs Boston in 7 games, he was less graceful this time, leaving the arena without uttering a word to anyone and skipping the post-game press conference.  I think this was because last season he didn’t genuinely believe the Cavs had what it took to win the championship, whereas this season he knows they blew a perfect opportunity.  I guess now he knows what Kobe felt like before the Lakers got Gasol.

As for the Magic, they go into the Finals knowing that they are once again the underdogs, but undoubtedly with a new sense of confidence that they can shock the world one more time.

Or will the Magic block the title from the Lakers?

Or will the Magic block the title from the Lakers?

LA Lakers vs Denver Nuggets

This series was another example of the illusion of momentum.

The Lakers came into the Western Conference Finals having beaten Utah in 5 games but stretched to 7 difficult games by a seriously depleted Houston team, leaving people questioning whether they had improved mentally from last season’s disappointing finish when they lost to Boston in 6 games in the Finals.  On the other hand, Denver surprised a lot of people by devouring New Orleans and then Dallas in 5 games in both series.  Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups were both playing their best basketball and the supporting cast (in particular JR Smith, Nene and Kenyon Martin) were doing great in their respective roles.  While the odds still favoured the Lakers, no one would be overly shocked if Denver pulled an upset.

After the Lakers escaped in game 1 and lost game 2, doubts flared up as expected; it happened again when the Lakers returned to LA with the series tied 2-2.  The Lakers seemed uninterested in giving 100% effort for 48 minutes a night, Phil Jackson was being outcoached, and Kobe’s legacy was in doubt once again.  And then, the Lakers win both games 5 and 6 with relative ease, and all is forgotten.  It was as though no one had ever doubted them all along.  Such is the nature of the game.

The Nuggets go into the offseason no doubt disappointed, but in the eyes of many they have already overachieved.  They were already the second seed in the West this season, so the inevitable question would be whether they can take it to the next level and dethrone the Lakers’ stranglehold of the conference.  However, without some minor shifts in personnel or injury to the Lakers, it’s difficult to see that happening.

The Lakers?  They enter the Finals as favourites again, but can they finally start playing the way people expect them to play like game 6 against the Nuggets?

Match-ups

The Magic actually match up well with the Lakers, but not quite as well as they did against the Cavs.

Backcourt

Derek Fisher is a veteran point guard who has been on the big stage many times before, but was thoroughly manhandled by Aaron Brooks in the Houston series.  At 34, Fisher is not old, but he’s definitely lost a step or two, though he can still hit the big shot when called upon.  Rafer ‘Skip to My Lou’ Alston is perhaps not as tough as Jameer Nelson, the injured player he was brought in to replace, but he matches up well with Fisher because of his quickness and skills.  Alston will be a big key for the Magic.  If he can keep his sometimes erratic game in check and outplay Fisher, then at least that puts more pressure on Kobe Bryant to perform.

Speaking of Kobe, there’s not going to be anyone on the Magic that can stop him.  Of course, we said the same thing about Lebron, and look what happened there.  Kobe won’t have to put up numbers anywhere close to what Lebron produced because he won’t have to (and probably is incapable), but the Lakers will look to him with the game on the line, and there’s no one better in the clutch in the league right now.  Kobe’s game is also more varied than Lebron’s, so even with Dwight Howard in the middle he’ll be able to find ways to score.

The Magic will probably put Mickael Pietrus in the starting line up (instead of Courtney Lee) to guard Kobe, but regardless, he will need a lot of help.

No matter which way you look at it the Lakers have a significant advantage here.

Frontcourt

Orlando has a very impressive front court with 6’11” Dwight Howard anchoring the middle and versatile 6’10” forwards in Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu roaming the wings.  Both forwards can hit the three and they can drive, and as demonstrated in the Cavs series, they can both hit big shots when called upon.  It’s a frontcourt that will give any team problems.

However, the Lakers’ frontcourt is not too shabby either, with 7-footer Andrew Bynum, 7-footer Pau Gasol and the 6’8″ athletic forward in Trevor Ariza.  With the unimpressive way Bynum has been playing these playoffs, expect to see Lamar Odom play a lot of minutes off the bench.  Odom matches up well with both Lewis and Tukoglu, though that will leave Gasol trying to flop his way out of defending Dwight Howard straight up.

This is going to be where the series is won or lost for both teams.  There is definitely an opportunity for Orlando in the middle because Bynum hasn’t been playing well and is also prone to foul trouble.  Gasol is too lean to bang against Howard, though he is long and can cause problems at the other end of the floor.  Unlike the Cavs, however, the Lakers have a lot more big bodies to throw at Howard, such as DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell (who usually sit at the end of the bench).  If Howard can continue to hit his free throws at around 70% throughout the entire series and keep out of foul trouble himself, then Orlando has a decent chance.  It may mean that he will have to give up his defensive intensity on some plays to ensure that it happens.

Bench

On paper at least, the Lakers look like they have a strong bench, primarily because of Lamar Odom, who is definitely an X-factor in this series.  However, the rest of the Laker bench has been somewhat underused in these playoffs.  Odom has contributed a solid 12 points per game these playoffs, but the next highest bench scorer is Shannon Brown with 5.7.  Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton round out the regular rotation, but none of these guys have been impact players in this year’s playoffs thus far.

That might not matter too much because Orlando does not have a strong bench either. If they start Pietrus, then Courtney Lee will be the first man off the bench, and he has averaged 8.8 points per game these playoffs.  Guys like JJ Reddick and Anthony Johnson are solid, but they won’t be asked to do more than just hit the open shot when the opportunity arises.

If either bench can produce a breakout series then that will definitely shift the advantage in their favour, but it appears the starters + Odom will be the key.

Coaching

Stan Van Gundy vs Phil Jackson.  One guy constantly seems like he’s about to have a heart attack, whereas the other looks like he might fall asleep any minute.  It’s a very interesting clash of styles.

No one is going to argue that Jackson, with 9 ‘coaching’ championship rings (and 11 total), can’t coach.  And while Van Gundy has been criticised in the past (including by Howard), he has done a very commendable job in first getting Orlando past a 3-2 deficit against Boston and then knocking off the Cavs.

It will be interesting to see whether Jackson will be ruffled if Orlando wins one of the first 2 games in LA, and whether Van Gundy will implode if Orlando loses both.

Intangibles

Orlando won both meetings against the Lakers in the regular season, 106-103 in Orlando in December, and 109-103 in LA in January.  Both games were a while ago, so they don’t necessarily mean much, but it does demonstrate that Orlando has the fire power to match up against the Lakers.  What is notable though is that Jameer Nelson, who is out injured, dominated both games, scoring 27 and 28 respectively in the games.  Accordingly, the pressure must fall on the shoulders of his replacement, Rafer Alston, and to a lesser extent, his backup Anthony Johnson.

Many players who have been to the Finals talk about the importance of championship experience.  They say until you’ve played in the Finals, you can’t possibly imagine what it’s like.  In this case, all the key players on the Lakers squad experienced the Finals last year, and Jackson, Fisher and Bryant all have championship rings.  That said, the experience didn’t help much against the Boston Celtics last season.  Personally, I believe it will be a factor, but probably only in the first and last games of the series.

Also of importance is the different game structure of the Finals, which is played 2-3-2 as opposed to the normal 2-2-1-1-1 in the preceding rounds.  I think this benefits the team with home court advantage, which in this case is Los Angeles.  The playoffs are about adjustments, and giving another team 3 consecutive chances to crack you on your home floor may prove to be decisive.  Then again, who can forget when the Detroit Pistons crushed the LA Lakers in the 2004 Finals where they swept the middle 3 games?

Lastly, there is the motivation factor.  The Lakers lost a series many thought they would win in last year’s finals, so it’s safe to assume they would be hungry for redemption and would not take Orlando lightly.  Kobe is still seeking that first elusive title (and Finals MVP) without Shaq by his side, and Jackson will be trying again to overtake Red Auerbach for the most coaching rings.  On the other hand, Orlando must know that this is a rare opportunity for them.  Unlike the Lakers, who will continue to be favourites for the NBA title as long as their core team is in tact, Orlando knows they might not get back here again if Boston is fully healthy and Lebron gets more support.  Hence it’s hard to say the Lakers will be more motivated.

Prediction

After getting burned by my prediction for the Cleveland-Orlando series (where I pathetically predicted the Cavs would win in 5), I’m going to place less emphasis on momentum and the big picture and focus more on the matchups and intricacies of the teams.

I see the series comes down to a number of key factors.  The first is whether Dwight Howard can stay out of foul trouble.  The second is whether he can hit his free throws.  The third is whether the Magic can continue to hit their open 3-pointers as they have all playoffs.  If so, then the Magic can definitely pull off the upset.  They are a good road team, having disposed of both Philadelphia and Boston on the road, and contributed to 2 out of the 3 home losses for Cleveland all season and playoffs.  Therefore, if they head back to LA for the final 2 games up 3-2, they have a good chance of winning.

However, ultimately the Lakers look too strong on paper, so I’ll have to go with them in 6 games.  I hope the Magic prove me wrong.

2009 NBA Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

May 19, 2009 in Basketball, NBA

Can’t believe there are only 4 teams left still battling it out for the 2009 NBA Championship – Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, LA Lakers and Denver Nuggets.  The majority of people probably picked these 4 teams to be here when the playoffs first started, but the dynamics and expectations have changed somewhat.

So, what do I expect to happen?

EAST

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16) vs (3) Orlando Magic (59-23)

Can Dwight Howard and the Magic give Lebron and the Cavs more than a tickle this series?

Can Dwight Howard and the Magic give Lebron and the Cavs more than a tickle this series?

Cleveland has been cruising these playoffs, sweeping Detroit and then Atlanta.  Both opponents had issues but neither were strolls in the park, and yet Cleveland crushed them with ease, not one game coming within single digits.  With newly crowned MVP Lebron James leading the way and playing better than ever and the supporting cast stepping up, right now the Cavs are the clear favourites to make the finals, if not win it.

On the other hand, Orlando has been up and down, first going through an uneven 6-game series against Philadelphia and then coming back from 3-2 down to overcome the defending champs Boston in 7.  Many say they should have disposed of the ailing Celtics (missing both Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe) much earlier, but I think they deserve a lot of credit for pulling through (because I picked against them!) in a game 7, in Boston, against the resilient defending champions.

Further, Orlando matches up well with Cleveland as well as any other team in the East.  The Cavs can probably contain Dwight Howard to some degree with their bigs, but I think the Cavs’ perimeter defense will be tested by the shooters camping out by the 3-point line.  Turkoglu and Lewis both pose matchup problems for the Cavs.  The big game 7 win against the Celtics will give them more confidence that they can upset the favourites.

Nevertheless, the Cavs have the biggest mismatch in the league in Lebron, so it’s hard to bet against them.  If Orlando wants to stand a chance they have to steal at least one of the first 2 games in Cleveland, where the Cavs have only lost twice all season.  As much as I want to see the Cavs tested in these playoffs, I just can’t see that happening.  Despite Orlando winning the season series 2-1, I still say Cleveland in 5.

WEST

(1) Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) vs (2) Denver Nuggets (54-28)

LA vs Denver is shaping up to be an intiguing series

LA vs Denver is shaping up to be an intiguing series

The Lakers were supposed to be the Cavs of the West, annihilating all opposition on their way to a finals the majority believe they will win.  Many people thought after last year’s collapse against the Celtics the Lakers would have learned their lesson and developed the toughness and killer instinct lacking before, but it doesn’t appear as though they’ve quite gotten there yet.  Instead, after disposing of Utah in 5, the Lakers were taken to 7 games by a hobbling Houston Rockets squad that didn’t have Yao Ming for half the series (and Tracy McGrady for the entire series).  I had predicted that the Rockets would give the Lakers a tougher test than most anticipated, but even I didn’t expect them to be that tough, especially after losing their big man.  So now, instead of everyone thinking the Lakers are the sure thing to win the championship this year, people are starting to wonder again whether they have what it takes.  And despite known as a clutch performer almost all his career, Kobe’s 14-point performance in the game 7 against the Rockets also raises questions about his ability to deliver when it matters most.

Conversely, the Nuggets have been a revelation for me.  I honestly didn’t think they were that good, and for most of the regular season they flew under my radar.  Denver was one of 3 teams that finished with a 54-28 record, but they have now established themselves as the clear No.2 team in the West.  They brushed aside both New Orleans and Dallas in 5 games (while I thought both would go to 7), never appearing to be in danger of losing either series.  Carmelo ‘Carmelengo’ Anthony (sorry, couldn’t help it) has been in sublime form, and Chauncey Billups is playing even better than his championship days in Detroit.  Guys like JR Smith, K-Mart and Nene are also contributing in significant ways.  Confidence-wise, you could even say they may have an edge on the Lakers right now.

Consequently, a series that pundits initially thought would be just another formality in the Lakers’ ascension to the NBA throne has become a toss up.  I don’t care much for either squad but I would prefer to see the Nuggets win, simply because the Lakers have, at times, acted like it’s their God-given right to win the championship this season.  However, the things I can’t ignore are the facts that: (1) LA has home-court advantage; (2) they won the season series 3-1; (3) they won 9 more games than the Nuggets during the regular season; and (4) the media went overboard with the Lakers’ premature demise just because the Rockets took them to 7.  Perhaps the Rockets series was the final wake-up call this team needed.  Lakers in 7.

Bring on Lebron vs Kobe!

Recapping my 2nd Round predictions

I sucked.  I got the winner correct 3 out of 4 series (the exception being my prediction of the Celtics over the Magic), but I got the number of games all messed up.  I said Cavs in 5 (they won in 4), Lakers in 6 (they won in 7) and Nuggets in 7 (they won in 5).  I was right that the Celtics and Magic would go 7, but I got the winner wrong!

Thoughts on the NBA All-Star Game

February 16, 2009 in Basketball, Indiana Pacers, NBA

Shaq and Kobe try and forget the old times

Shaq and Kobe try and forget the old times

The 58th NBA All-Star Game in Phoenix on Sunday turned out to be an okay affair.  The Western All-Stars creamed the Eastern All-Stars, 146-119, and Kobe Bryant (game-high 27 points) and Shaquille O’Neal (17 points)  made up after years of public bickering by winning co-MVP (I feel all warm and fuzzy now).

The usual stuff

The game itself was what the fans expected.  Highlight dunks, flashy passes, plenty of silly stuff and minimal defense for most of the night.  The Western Conference thoroughly dominated the East with size and speed, though no one seemed to be taking things too seriously.  Shaq provided the entertainment with his dancing and stunts, including one of the highlights – a give ‘n go jam after going through Dwight Howard’s legs.

East played bad

Lebron led the East with 20 points (but on only 8-19 shooting), and provided plenty of eye-popping lay ups.  He may have been trying a little too hard.  There were actually quite a few poor performances on the East team though: Joe Johnson going scoreless in 22 minutes, Allen Iverson scoring 2 points in 16 minutes as a starter; and Devin Harris going -31 on the plus/minus charts in only 17 minutes!

Granger’s first Al-Star appearance!

Danny Granger (perhaps still bummed by the knee) played the least number of minutes (11) on the East squad but was tied for leading FG% with Kevin Garnett (both shot 100%, though Granger only took one shot whereas KG took 5 – but that’s beside the point…)!!  His first All-Star Weekend could have been better – injured knee, first around elimination at the 3P contest, playing the least minutes in a losing effort in the All-Star Game.  Don’t worry Danny, you’ll get more chances in the coming years (hopefully).

Gripes

My main gripe has to be Shaq winning co-MVP in playing only 11 minutes and scoring 17 points with 5 boards.  I know he was the star of the show and the hometown hero, but come on.  It must have left a sour taste in Amare Stoudemire’s mouth – he had more points and rebounds (19 and 6) than Shaq, plus he’s supposed to be the biggest star in Phoenix (I recall Shaq saying it was Amare’s team when he arrived in Phoenix), and yet Shaq’s the one getting all the attention and MVP trophy whereas he’s at the centre of all the trade rumours.  What about Chris Paul?  If anyone should have gotten co-MVP it was the sensational Chris Paul who powered the West’s engine all night.  14 points, 14 assists, 7 rebounds – including an alley-oop dunk where he was the receiver!  There were a lot of quiet achievers on the West squad – Brandon Roy, Pau Gasol and Tony Parker in particular.  As a team they shot over 61%, whereas the East only shot 47% against no defense!

Also cringeworthy was the fake love Shaq and Kobe showed for each other.  At least Kobe was a little more honest with himself when he said: “We are not going to go back to the room and watch ‘Steel Magnolias’ or something like that, you know what I’m saying, crying, all that stuff.  We had a good time. That’s all.”

I’ll leave it at that because I might start vomiting.

Finally…well, I got another 3 predictions wrong – the East didn’t beat the West, the final score wasn’t close, and Dwayne Wade didn’t win MVP.  I think out of all the events, I only got one thing right: Kevin Durant to win the Rookie Challenge MVP – but anyone could have seen that one.  Oh well, better luck next year.

Thoughts on NBA All-Star Friday and Saturday

February 15, 2009 in Basketball, NBA

nate

This year’s All-Star Weekend had a new event, some new contestants, still a lot of hype compared to substance.  Still, it’s been a decent show thus far.  My predictions so far have been a little…um, off.

Here’s what I thought of things so far.

Rookie Challenge: Despite one of the best rookie teams I’ve ever seen, the Rookies still got smoked by the Sophmores for the 7th consecutive year (!).  The final score was 122-116 and it was better than previous years for 2 main reasons: (1) the players actually took the game a little more seriously than before, and tried to win the game rather than just settle for different alley-oops all night.  (2) Kevin Durant, record 46 points, ’nuff said. 

I guess no matter how good the Rookies are, that one year difference in experience cannot be understated.  Plus game MVP Kevin Durant.  He really deserves to be in the proper game on Sunday.  As for my prediction, I said a Rookie win (which was wrong) but I got the MVP (Kevin Durant) right at least.

D-League All-Star Game: This was surprisingly good.  Entertaining and the players have skills.  Just shows there are plenty of good ballers out there who don’t have a multi-million dollar contract.  If they really want a competitive game, they should pitch the NBA Rookies against these guys rather than the Sophmores.  Both sides would be playing their butts off – one side to prove they belong, the other side to save face.  But I can’t see it happening – it would be just too embarrassing if the young NBA stars lost, and they wouldn’t want to risk injuries to either side in games like these.

H-O-R-S-E: Well, this went better than I expected, but also had the same problems I expected.  They idea was right – 3 players, outdoor courts, etc, but they got a little too excited for their own good, picking shots that they had no chance of making, which got plain silly at times.  The highlight was OJ Mayo’s shot from the stands that did go in.  After Kevin Durant got serious, it was all over, raining threes from all over the court.  That made it a little conventional but it got the job done.  I pretty much just described the problem with this contest: if they go for too much, nothing will go in and it gets silly; but if they go for the conventional shots, they go in, but it becomes too boring.  The key to making this work is to strike a fine balance between the two extremes.  Nevertheless, I hope they bring it back next year.  By the way, I picked OJ Mayo to win.

Haier Shooting Stars: One of the more boring events of the night.  As I expected, it all came down to who could hit the half-court shot first.  In this year’s case, it was Team Detroit.  I had picked Thunder Dan and Team Phoenix to win (wong again!).  It’s nice to get NBA legends and WNBA players involved, but I would not be surprised if they decided to scrap this one in a couple of years.  Not many people would be complaining.

Skills Challenge: Another one of those contests where things are getting a little old, but this year was a little different because of Derrick Rose.  Everyone wanted to see what the kid had.  Rose won the contest in the final against Devin Harris, and punctuated the victory with a vicious two handed, double-pump reverse jam.  The thing is, Rose looked like he was strolling in the park as he went through those obstacles, and he still torched everyone!  I had wanted Rose to win but I thought he would be too inexperienced, so I picked Tony Parker.  But man, Derrick Rose is going to be a superstar in a couple of years.  Anyone that has seen him in the open court should feel the same way.  He probably should be in the next Slam Dunk Contest too.

3-Point Shootout: Usually one of my favourite events of the night, but this year’s contest was a snoozer won by Daequan Cook (who I considered a ‘dark horse’) in a shootout against Rashard Lewis.  Everyone was just off tonight.  I think the highest score was 17 (okay it was 19)?  It wasn’t pretty.  Bring back the Ray Allens, Pejas and Dirks and we’ll have a real contest.  I picked the 2-time defending champion Kapono who was surprisingly very average all the way through.  But I did get one prediction right: Danny Granger (who I was rooting for) got eliminated in the first round!

They should revamp the shootout by bringing in NBA legends and former winners like Mark Price, Larry Bird, Craig Hodges, Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr, Jeff Hornacek, etc.  That would be interesting – to see if the old guys still have it.  It could get very ugly though when we see they don’t…

Slam Dunk Contest: Okay, the big one.  These days, it never lives up to expectations.  Former champ Nate Robinson beat the defending champion Dwight Howard by jumping over him (ala Vince Carter over Frederic Weis in the Olmpics), but Rudy Fernandez (the man I picked) probably deserved to be in the final more than either of them (but he got screwed by the judges).  There are two major problems with the contest nowadays: (1) people are getting too good at dunking, so we’ve just about seen everything before; and (2) the NBA Slam Dunk Contest has become more about creative gimmicks than creative dunks.

JR Smith’s dunks were okay – nothing to make the fans leap out of their seats.  He went for more power than creativity and that was fine, but as a last-minute replacement I think he did fine.  Rudy Fernandez got snubbed badly.  The same dunk that Andre Iguodala got screwed on when Nate Robinson last won (the off the back of the backboard one) was the same dunk that screwed Rudy.  Do the judges know how hard that dunk is?  The behind the back toss dunk was also pretty impressive.

On the other hand, what the finalists Robinson and Howard aimed for were gimmicks.  Howard got into the same Superman attire thing (last year was good, this year…not so good) – this time he changed in a phone booth, big deal.  He also dunked on a 12 foot ring especially brought in.  I think I know why David Stern was against it before.  It was boring.  The guy is 7-foot with ultra long arms.  It’s like a someone 6 foot dunking on a 10 foot ring.  Five foot nine (if that) Nate Robinson with short arms dunking on a 10 foot ring was much more impressive – or least it looked that way.  Howard’s best dunk of the night actually involved no gimmicks – just an awesome, side of the backboard toss and a one handed catch and throwdown from outside the key.  Nate went for the green Knicks jersey (kryptonite to Howard’s Superman, get it?) and jumped over Superman to win it.  That was a sick dunk, no doubt about it.  But his earlier dunk where he just stepped on the back of Wilson Chandler was pretty lame.  I mean, stepping off someone’s back is like stepping on a chair – doesn’t it make it easier to dunk?  The only person that should have been commended was poor Chandler who probably got his back broken.

Enough complaining.  It was still alright.  Looking forward to an awesome All-Star game.

NBA All-Star Weekend Predictions for All Events

February 13, 2009 in Basketball, Indiana Pacers, NBA

allstar

The NBA All-Star Weekend 2009 in Phoenix is almost upon us.  I’ve already discussed who I think (or thought at the time) should have been named All-Stars.  Here are my final predictions for each of the main events (not including the celebrity game and D-League stuff).

H-O-R-S-E Contest

Contestants: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City), Joe Johnson (Atlanta), OJ Mayo (Memphis)

Rules: Everyone should know the rules of HORSE.  Players have to make the same shot as the player ahead of them or they get a letter.  When they spell all the letters of HORSE, they’re out.  Last man standing wins.

Prediction: A little unpredictable, being the first one and all.  I’m going to have to go with OJ Mayo to take it out with an array of dazzling shots and trick lay-ups (no dunks allowed).

Haier Shooting Stars Contest

Contestants:

Thunder Dan is back

Thunder Dan is back!

San Antonio: Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Becky Hammon
Detroit: Arron Afflalo, Bill Laimbeer and Katie Smith
Los Angeles: Derek Fisher, Michael Cooper and Lisa Leslie
Phoenix: Leandro Barbosa, Dan Majerle and Tangela Smith

Rules: The teams have to make a variety of shots from all over the court, including: (1) 10-foot bank shot from the right; (2) 15-foot jumper from the left; (3) NBA 3-pointer from the top; (4), 18-foot shot from the right; (5) NBA 3-pointer from the left; (6) Half-court shot

Prediction: These things usually just come down to who can make the lucky half-court shot first, so it’s almost impossible to predict.  If Tony Parker was playing I’d say San Antonio, but since he’s not, I’d have to go with the home team, Phoenix – can’t go wrong with Thunder Dan Majerle!

T-Mobile Rookie Challenge (Rookies/Sophmores Game)

Contestants:

Rookies: Michael Beasley (Miami), Rudy Fernandez (Portland), Marc Gasol (Memphis), Eric Gordon (LA Clippers), Brook Lopez (New Jersey), OJ Mayo (Memphis), Greg Oden (Portland), Derrick Rose (Chicago), Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City)

Sophmores: Aaron Brooks (Houston), Wilson Chandler (New York), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City), Jeff Green (Oklahoma City), Al Horford (Atlanta), Luis Scola (Houston), Al Thornton (LA Clippers), Rodney Stuckey (Pistons), Thaddeus Young (Philadelphia)

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Durant looks to dominate the Rookies

Rules: Two 20-minute halves, fouls kept but no player can foul out.  2-minute overtime periods if necessary.

Prediction: The Sophmores have won 6 years in a row, but if you take a look at the ridiculous Rookie roster, it’s hard to go against them.  Can you imagine Rose and Westbrook slashing all over the court, OJ Mayo swishing jumpers from everywhere, Eric Gordon raining threes, Fernandez alley-ooping and Gasol, Lopez, Oden and Beasley anchoring the paint without being able to foul out?  It’s going to be a sick game.  Kevin Durant and Rodney Stuckey will dominate for the Sophmores, but I’ll have to go with the Rookies in an upset in a high scoring affair (win by roughly 5-10 points).  Kevin Durant to be named MVP in a losing effort!

Playstation Skills Challenge

Contestants: Devin Harris (New Jersey), Tony Parker (San Antonio), Derrick Rose (Chicago), Mo Williams (Cleveland).  NB: Williams replaced the injured Jameer Nelson.

Rules: Players are timed on an obstacle course that tests their dribbling, passing and shooting.  The two players with the fastest times in the first round battle again in the final.

Prediction: I would love to see Derrick Rose win but maybe another year – Tony Parker Longoria to take it out in the final against Devin Harris.

Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout

Contestants: Mike Bibby (Atlanta), Daequan Cook (Miami), Danny Granger (Indiana), Jason Kapono (Toronto), Rashard Lewis (Orlando), Roger Mason (San Antonio)

Rules: Players have 60 seconds to shoot 5 racks of 5 balls from 5 spots around the 3-point line.  Each ball is worth 1 point with the exception of the money ball in each rack, which is worth 2.  The top 3 scores from the first round battle it out again in the final.

Prediction: I want Danny Granger to win something for Indiana (but in his first practice he only got 15) but would be happy if he makes it past the first round.  The favourite still has to be 2-time defending champion Jason Kapono, so conventional wisdom tells me to go with him.  But I expect Roger Mason and Daequan Cook to give him a run for his money and wouldn’t be surprised if Kapono chokes and someone else takes it from under him.

Sprite Slam Dunk Contest

rudy-fer

Rudy Fernandez was selected by the fans

Contestants: Rudy Fernandez (Portland), Dwight Howard (Orlando), Nate Robinson (New York), JR Smith (Denver).  NB: Smith replaces the injured Rudy Gay.

Rules: Each contestant performs 2 dunks in the first round and the 2 with the highest scores battle it out in the final.  In the event of a tie there will be a dunk off!  Each contestant has 2 minutes to complete a dunk, and the first made dunk will be the one that counts.  The first round is judged by judges but the final round combines the scores of judges and voting on NBA.com and text messaging.

Prediction: I originally went with the injured Rudy Gay, so now I have changed my vote to Rudy Fernandez.  I just can’t see Dwight Howard repeating as it’s tough to outdo what he did last year.  This really isn’t a big man’s contest.  I expect the creative highlights to come from Fernandez and Smith with Nate Robinson missing a few.  Regardless of the outcome, I just hope it can be as entertaining as last year.

All-Star Game

Contestants:

East: Allen Iverson (Detroit), Dwayne Wade (Miami), Lebron James (Cleveland), Kevin Garnett (Boston), Dwight Howard (Orlando), Joe Johnson (Atlanta), Ray Allen (Boston), Danny Granger (Indiana), Paul Pierce (Boston), Mo Williams (Cleveland), Devin Harris (Orlando), Rashard Lewis (Orlando).  Coach: Mike Brown (Cleveland).  NB: Allen replaced the injured Jameer Nelson and Williams replaced the injured Chris Bosh.

West: Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers), Chris Paul (New Orleans), Tim Duncan (San Antonio), Amare Stoudemire (Phoenix), Yao Ming (Houston), Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas), Shaquille O’Neal (Phoenix), Brandon Roy (Portland), Chauncey Billups (Denver), Pau Gasol (LA Lakers), David West (New Orleans), Tony Parker (San Antonio).  Coach: Phil Jackson (LA Lakers).

Rules: No need to explain.

wade

Can Wade win MVP?

Prediction: The more I think about it, the more I think the West should win.  I mean, just take a look at the line-ups.  I know the coaches don’t do much but Mike Brown is not the guy you would want at the helm if the game got tight.  The last 3 years the winners have alternated conferences: 2006 East, 2007 West, 2008 East.  Aren’t the West due this year?

However, I must stick with my original prediction.  The Eastern Conference Team to down the Western Conference Team in a tight, see-sawing contest with a final margin of less than 7 points.  Danny Granger for MVP!  Just kidding.  Dwayne Wade to win MVP by dominating down the stretch to prove that he is well and truly back.  I’m also expecting Dwight Howard to have a monster game.