Archive for the ‘Sports Inklings’ Category

This post basically lets the author share his thoughts about the upcoming title defense of the Los Angeles Lakers against the team who beat them mercilessly two years ago, the Boston Celtics. A post about the Boston Celtics will be published hopefully tomorrow. Anyway, let us get the ball rolling shall we?

Key Acquisition: Ron Artest (via free agency)
Key Loss: Trevor Ariza (via free agency)
Overall Record: 57-25 (1st in Western Conference)

1. What has been the main problem for the Lakers this season?

I can honestly say it has been inconsistency. Kobe Bryant may have had to deal with a myriad of injuries but the Lakers this year are pretty inconsistent with their play. The Lakers have not been able to convincingly defeat some opposition in the regular season. They all look uninterested at some point with some questioning the hunger of the team. Aside from Bryant, Andrew Bynum’s knees have been a problem yet again this season.

On a positive note, the team does seem to have turned it up by a notch this postseason. Kobe Bryant, as expected, has been amazing this postseason, hitting one tough fadeaway jumper after another. Though the team has turned it up a notch, one can still feel some uncertainties regarding the squad. What if the Lakers’ offense start sputtering yet again? What if the injuries start to get the best of the squad? There are still some questions remaining for this squad but it all seems they have solved it.

2. Who among the Celtics should cause some big time concern for the Laker defense?

Initially, I had Rajon Rondo because his play has been outstanding but after enough consideration, I do not think he is the Celtic that should cause some concern for Hollywood. Sure, he may be setting up the table for his teammates but if the Lakers defend his teammates effectively, Rondo’s value lessens and the burden of the offense goes to someone who can create his own shot. Who is it then?

Without a doubt, it is Paul Pierce. In their 2008 encounter, the task of defending Pierce fell into the hands of Kobe Bryant and all the defending tired Bryant so much that he did not have enough energy to muster for their offense. Why Paul Pierce? He is big and strong. He collapses interior defenses with will. Some might say that Rajon Rondo should be the primary cause of concern but I honestly think that Paul Pierce wants moments like the NBA Finals. His play elevates big time and that should be enough reason for the Lakers to worry.

3. If there is anything that the Lakers must do offensively this series, what is it?

I cannot stress this enough but I am going to say it yet again: Let Pau Gasol be involved in almost every possession. Kobe is going to have his moments but the ball movement is crisper once Pau holds the ball in the low block. The defense’s attention switches to cutters who benefit with the triangle offense in place. This is also a good time for Pau Gasol to finally prove he is not a soft post player. Gasol’s length outdoes the strength of Perkins in my humble opinion.

A good thing too is do not hoist up some dumb shots (a great example is Artest’s three-pointer with 55 seconds left). The bigs of the Lakers have to improve their efficiency for the Lakers’ chances to be great. The bench also has to show some life. Lamar Odom’s rebounding is going to be key and the effectiveness of the backup guards (Farmar, Brown, and Vujacic) will be huge as well. If they perform well, Phil Jackson’s trust in them is going to grow and he can afford to give Bryant some key rest in the process.

4. Is this the moment where Ron Artest has to prove he is worth it?

Absolutely. The NBA Finals is the reason why the Lakers took a gamble on Artest and let Ariza walk away to the Rockets. His toughness is going to be a huge factor for the Lakers. Defending Paul Pierce (or Ray Allen in stretches) will be his main task and how he does this job is critical to the Lakers’ success. His shot selection will be important as well but playing as the envisioned ‘defensive stopper’ is all that the Lakers are asking from him.

5. How did the Lakers manage to get into the Finals despite all their problems?

Laker fans have to thank the Oklahoma City Thunder for pushing the Lakers hard in the opening round of the Lakers’ playoff run. The Thunder made them realize that things are not going to be easy. As a result, the next Laker wins have been impressive particularly all those close-out games. The Lakers, due to the Thunder, have been given an alarming wake-up call and have responded very well to the challenges that followed.

6. How will Kobe Bryant benefit from another Laker title win (if ever they do)?

His status as a true Laker will be cemented. Overcoming the Celtics is the basketball equivalent of overcoming the famed Curse of the Bambino. A successful title defense distances Bryant away from two-time MVP LeBron James who succeeds well in the regular season yet chokes come postseason time. He will get his second title without Shaq in the process (again, if they do win) and will be acquiring his fifth ring. I bet his mindset is all about getting revenge on the team that beat them to a pulp in a 92-131 loss at The Garden in 2008. I do expect him to make one tough shot after another but let us not get overconfident. This is going to be a key series for Kobe, no doubt.

Overall, basketball fanatics will be seeing a team that runs a very beautiful offense if executed properly. The patented Gasol-Bryant combination is also going to be a key factor but Ron Artest clearly has to step up. The post about the Boston Celtics should hopefully be done by tomorrow.

Western Conference Finals Game 5: Phoenix Suns 101, Los Angeles Lakers 103 (L.A leads series 3-2)

In a matter of 3 seconds, Ron Artest has redeemed himself in grand fashion with a tip-in in Game 5 of their Western Conference Finals showdown with the Phoenix Suns. Remember, this is a guy who has been criticized for missing loads of outside shots during the playoffs. Even Phil Jackson has said that Artest should stop taking so many shots. All of these complaints are going to the recycle bin for a short while as Artest gave the Lakers an important 3-2 edge in the seven-game series.

In the previous two Laker losses, I can honestly say the team really looked lost in attacking the zone that the Suns have used all series long. However, come Game 5, the Lakers moved the ball from side to side and looked for great scoring chances. Kobe Bryant almost had a triple-double with 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists.

Looking at how the game unfolded, Kobe really had it going. Sure, he shot 12 for 27 but some of those misses were mostly going down and went out at the last moment. Even Derek Fisher had a great night. His shots were falling down and this led to 22 important points. Fisher and Kobe made sure that when the Suns hit them with hard hooks, they will counter hard enough with hooks of their own. It was a fantastic offensive battle with two teams slugging it out like there is no tomorrow.

The Suns bench has been playing huge all series long and after a slow first half, they lit it up yet again come second half. Channing Frye seems to be back in a groove albeit an airball was one of his missed attempts. Jared Dudley even helped big time with some shots. But I have got to say that the bench really was one of the reasons why the Suns lost.

First and foremost, the Suns’ pace when the bench was playing just slowed down drastically. The Suns execute better when they strike fast. With Dragic manning the point, it all slowed down (Vujacic did a great job but that will be discussed later) until it reached the point where the shots they hoisted were late. Second, Dragic really played poorly. I do consider him as the sparkplug of that bench and with him not performing efficiently, things will crumble down.

This is where Sasha Vujacic comes in. He did a phenomenal job in getting under Dragic’s skin. He literally annoyed the hell out of Dragic and things even got testy between the two Slovenians. Remember, this is a guy who has only played a minute and 50 seconds all series long and here he comes and plays a very crucial role in shaping the outcome of Game 5. He played fantastic defense and who knows, he might get more playing time in Game 6 after this performance.

Give the Suns credit though for coming back down from a huge 16-point deficit. Steve Nash played fantastic yet again and had 29 points and 11 assists. He basically hit tons of jumpers above Pau Gasol’s outstretched arms. He weaved through the Laker defense and made one amazing pass after another. With Nash on the floor, the shot selection for the Suns was much better. They were basically on a roll with him present. That three pointer by J-Rich also was huge. Three 50-50 balls and it went the Suns way and what they got was a lucky three pointer. The playoffs have surely been great in delivering some ‘drama.’

The zone still worked to some extent as the Lakers attempted 24 three pointers and only made 7. The problem was Pau Gasol got involved (please, make this guy the focal point in every half-court set) more in this one unlike in Game 4 where he was neutralized big time.

I still have got to say that the Lakers almost shot themselves in the foot with this game. Ron Artest did not care and shot a wide-open three with 22 seconds left on the shot clock in a game that only has 56 seconds left. I do not even know why Phil Jackson was confident with Pau Gasol defending Nash and we all know what happened to Tim Duncan in that Western Semifinal series. The Lakers have to avoid the temptation of hoisting up contested jumpers. They are much better than this. They have got to go back to playing more efficient offensive basketball. It will come eventually but hopefully it does not come too late for them.

Of course, that last play will be the topic of discussion and I think the Suns did a poor job in boxing out Artest. They did a great job in defending Kobe but that was really a poor job in terms of getting the rebound. Where was Robin Lopez or Amare Stoudemire for that last play? Come on Alvin Gentry! This is your team fighting for momentum in a series against the defending champs.  Why put Channing Frye in there? Sure he had ten boards coming into that play but come on, you have got to go with more established rebounders out there!

In the end, the Lakers got away with one. Artest has to step up still though. That was some great upper body strength in showcase there but we would not have had that play in the first place if Artest made some wise decisions. Still, great job by Artest for not giving it up. The Laker Nation are surely saying this now: In Ron, we trust.

After posting my predictions regarding the future of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, it is now my turn to do the same for the Western Conference. Again, feel free to comment!

#1 Los Angeles Lakers vs #8 Oklahoma City Thunder

The Lakers, losers of four of their last six games, begin their title defense against the Thunder. With Andrew Bynum back, roles will be redefined for the Laker roster. The bench will now have the “glue” they needed in the person of Lamar Odom. With Odom playing as the starter in Bynum’s absence, the bench totally sputtered. I guess Lakertown can breathe a little bit easier now. Kobe rested in four of the Lakers’ last five games. He has said that the time off revived him. Defending the league’s best scorer would fall on Ron Artest. I think Artest can do the job but still, who knows what might really happen.

The Thunder enter the playoffs with Coach of the Year Scott Brooks (if ever this happens, I would be happy. The man totally deserves it). Kevin Durant’s evolution has been totally remarkable. Russel Westbrook’s value has been underrated at times but I do think he keeps the Thunder very cohesive. Jeff Green’s athleticism on the four-spot also helps and that long-range shooting ability of his will space out the Thunder offense at times. Defending Kobe Bryant will fall in the hands of Thabo Sefolosha. This is going to be a very important match-up. If Sefolosha frustrates Kobe enough, things will be very interesting.

This match-up is going to be a great one. It is the classic youth vs experience kind of matches. In this case, I am going with experience and the Lakers will win it in 5. Yes, five games against a speedy Thunder team. Having Bynum back will help smooth things out for the Lakers. Odom coming off the bench keeps the bench steady. The Lakers still have banged up bodies but I do think experience and home court advantage will be the keys in this match-up.

#4 Denver Nuggets vs #5 Utah Jazz

Before I start my predictions for this match-up, I would like to say get well soon Coach Karl! Anyway, the Nuggets won the first game earlier with 42 points from main man Carmelo Anthony. With Coach Karl out of the sidelines for the first round, Adrian Dantley has stepped up in filling in. He has done a decent job, to say the least. Chauncey Billups has managed to keep the Nuggets afloat with his needed leadership skills. Carmelo Anthony has done his part offensively. I think this series will depend on Carmelo Anthony. Will he manage to keep his composure under tight situations? Will he finally blossom out of his shell and start carving a name (and put himself in another light from LeBron and Kobe) in this year’s Playoffs? If he manages to do these, the Nuggets will win this one.

The Jazz’ health again have been in question. Boozer’s banged up. Kirilienko’s out and Okur’s Achilles’ tendon popped anew in Game 1. Defending Anthony should have been the duty of Kirilenko but with AK out, it falls into the hands of either CJ Miles or Wesley Matthews. With those two left to defend Melo, Melo can overpower those two players with ease. It’s a sad situation for the Jazz really. I do think that only Kirilenko, with his length, can stop Melo from exploding. Without Okur, spacing out the offense will be a little bit harder for the Jazz. However, if the Jazz want to have a shot at winning this thing, it all falls into the hands of Deron Williams. I think he can do step it up but he has to make sure that the ball swings from time to time and let his teammates have some touches every now and then.

Missing George Karl will hurt the Nuggets and this is why I am going with Jazz winning in 7. They may not have an answer yet for Melo but I do think they will find one soon. Winning on the road has been a problem for the Jazz but they do have Jerry Sloan and that is all that matters.

#2 Dallas Mavericks vs #7 San Antonio Spurs

I am keeping close tabs on this one aside from the Lakers vs Thunder series. The Mavericks have retooled massively this season by acquiring Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and Deshawn Stevenson via trades. Unlike before, Dirk Nowitzki now has loads of shotmakers around him. Jason Kidd has managed to turn back the clock at times. I am still not sure though about the Caron Butler move but it surely seems to be paying off.

The Spurs had a rough season. They really struggled at times with Manu Ginobili looking lost at some point. Tim Duncan is not anymore the vintage TD that we all loved. Tony Parker has been frail this season. Still, there is no denying though that Gregg Poppovich still has the coaching chops. George Hill has blossomed this season but he is a question mark for the series sadly. New acquisition Richard Jefferson has struggled until the latter part of the season. The defense has been suspect at times but once the Spurs start performing more cohesively, they really are a deadly team.

I will not hop onto the Maverick bandwagon with this match-up. I say the Spurs will win it in six games. Manu Ginobili will carry the Spurs and though Tony Parker is not fully healed, he is still faster than Jason Kidd. Besides, Josh Howard, the former Mav who just loves to torment the Spurs, is not around.

#3 Phoenix Suns vs #6 Portland Trailblazers

I certainly did not expect the Suns to be a Top 3 team in the West. I thought Steve Nash’s abilties would decline this season. I thought Amare Stoudemire would be traded. I thought Jason Richardson will not be able to perform well. I thought Grant Hill will not be able to turn back the clock at times. What is the result? A Suns team that has managed to convince me that they can still do it. However, it all lies on the health of Robin Lopez, the brother of Brook Lopez. Without him, Channing Frye is forced to play some starter minutes and makes the Suns’ interior defense very suspect and porous. Still, there is no denying that the Suns offense is better this season compared to last year. I am very interested on how the Amare vs Aldrige match-up pans out.

Losing Brandon Roy for this series will hurt the Blazers. However, it also allows LaMarcus Aldridge to be the focal point of the offense and prove that he can carry a team in the postseason. The heart of the Blazers this season has been outstanding. Injuries to Greg Oden, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, Joel Pryzbilla, and even Nate McMillan have not lowered the spirits of the squad. Acquiring Marcus Camby was a great move done by Kevin Pritchard. Aldridge will have to be the Blazers’ hero in this series. Andre Miller will always be steady so that’s a plus.

Sadly, I cannot think of reasons on why the Blazers will win this series. Losing Brandon Roy will absolutely hurt them. I am saying that the Suns will win it 5 games. I would like the Blazers to advance onto the second round but I just cannot think that a Roy-less Blazer squad can do it.

This ends my predictions for the Western Conference. Feel free to comment!

It is NBA Playoffs time! And with the Playoffs come predictions! The following are my predictions for the Eastern Conference Playoffs and feel free to comment!

#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs #8 Chicago Bulls

Momentum-wise, the Bulls are really on a roll and needed every win they could get (aside from help from the Raptors’ failures). The Cavs rested LeBron James in their last games of the season in order to give him rest. He may be rusty in the initial minutes but will surely heat it up once the game continues. Key acquisition Shaquille O’Neal will be back after a thumb injury suffered against the Celtics.

Key thing for the Cavs would be to limit Derrick Rose. Derrick Rose has improved his jump shot this season but I still think letting him shoot the jumper instead of letting him wrecking havoc through penetration is much better. Still, it must be known that Derrick Rose does not get lots of trips to the charity stripe (he did get five trips in their last game against Charlotte). LeBron will get his points no matter what. It is a matter of keeping others like Mo Williams involved. Will Jamison restore his free throw percentage to normalcy? That remains to be seen.

As for the Bulls, it has to make sure that the other guys step it up. Rose is going to have a hard time at times and Vinny Del Negro (who has some issues with John Paxson) has to make sure that the other guys like Hinrich and Noah step it up in order to lessen the burden of Rose. Noah’s athleticism will be causing some problems for Shaq (or Hickson) and he has to capitalize on this one to get the boards and start the break for the fast and athletic Bulls.

When all things are said and done though, I am going for the Cavs to win it in 6. The loss of Ben Gordon will hurt the Bulls. Getting Flip Murray to solve their bench woes is not the solution in my opinion. The Cavs are a little bit deeper than the Bulls and that homecourt advantage will be the main reason for the Cavs winning.

#4 Boston Celtics vs #5 Miami Heat

The once-mighty Celtics have had their troubles with injuries this season. New acquisition Rasheed Wallace only has helped the Celtics in giving the opponent more trips to the free throw line with his technical fouls. Midseason acquisition Nate Robinson (who is 1/8 Filipino) has not helped matters as well. Still, there is no denying though that the screen rolls they run for Ray Allen have been effective. Rondo’s playmaking has been better this season. Kevin Garnett has to accept though that he is now a worn-out warrior. His performance is just not vintage KG. Paul Pierce is now showing signs of wear-and-tear as well. One thing is for sure though. The Celtics can turn it on anytime but I highly doubt that simply turning on the switch could make the Celtics defeat the Heat though.

The Heat have been led by Jordan-esque numbers of #3 Dwyane Wade. Wade will carry the Heat in this series. It is a matter of getting nifty contributions from the other guys. Michael Beasley has to ascertain himself as the “Second Option” in the Heat offense. His athleticism can now outmatch that of Garnett’s. Jermaine O’Neal’s rebounding has been great this season and though he does not possess that much bulk unlike Perkins, he can still contain Perkins in my humble opinion. The Heat have to hit their outside shots to allow Wade to have some free room in penetrating the Celtic defense.

This will really be a great series. My call is the Heat win it in 7. I initially said the Celtics will win in 7 but I take that back. This is the series where the Celtics will learn that trading Eddie House hurts. The Celtic bench does not have the depth that their championship squad had. Glen Davis has to step up in order to lead the bench effectively. The Heat are on a roll and will likely carry the momentum into this series.

#3 Atlanta Hawks vs #6 Milwaukee Bucks

Finally a playoff appearance for the Sixth Man of the Year, Jamal Crawford (Nothing has been announced but he deserves it.) The Hawks offense has been largely effective due to isolation plays for Johnson or Crawford. Josh Smith should have been an All-Star. His play this season has been simply amazing. The second unit is fine with Maurice Evans and Crawford doing most of the damage.

The Bucks will surely feel the loss of Andrew Bogut in this series. Bogut’s presence would have helped matters big time for the Bucks. Without him though, there is no reason to “Fear the Deer.” Jennings has shot the ball terribly at times but can heat it up anytime. Still, the Bucks just cannot pose a threat to the Hawks. It is simply sad.

This series could have been great had Bogut been healthy. Since Bogut is out for the playoffs, I will say that the Hawks will win it 4. The starting unit of the Hawks has been one of the best I have seen this season (even though it includes a not-so-young Mike Bibby). The Bucks just cannot threaten the Hawks without Bogut. It sucks.

#2 Orlando Magic vs #7 Charlotte Bobcats

The Orlando Magic have made huge stride this season. Acquiring Vince Carter was a great move for the Magic though they have to lose the overrated Hedo Turkoglu. The Magic can beat an opponent through the three ball or through Dwight Howard’s dominant inside game. Rashard Lewis will be the key here. If he makes his shots, the offense will continue to have lots of space since Lewis’ defender will always be near him in that corner. Vince Carter’s shotmaking abilities will be also important.

The Bobcats’ first playoff appearance will be a good one for the franchise. Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace will carry the team definitely. Raymond Felton will chip in some great numbers too. The problem for the Bobcats will be defending the Magic offense. Will they opt to defend the three ball more and take their chances on Dwight? That remains to be seen.

This will really be another intriguing series with two great head coaches going at it. My call is the Magic will win this one in 6. The Bobcats will have a tough series in their hands and the depth of the Magic (Gortat, Williams, Pietrus, Redick, and Bass have playoff experience) will be the key here.

I guess that is it. What do you think about my predictions? Comment now!