NBA playoff preview

By Teddy Dienst ’20

The National Basketball Association playoffs tipped off on Saturday, April 14. As The best eight teams in the eastern conference and the best eight teams from the western conference compete in a seven game series throughout the postseason. Until one east and one west team remain and battle it out in the finals seeking the Larry O’Brien trophy.  

East:

The Toronto Raptors (1 seed) v.s Washington Wizards (8 seed)

The Toronto Raptors clinched the one seed in the east by ending the season with 59 wins and 23 losses. They are matched up against the eighth seed Washington Wizards and currently lead the series 1-0.  The Raptors are led by all-star shooting guard Demar Derozan and and all-star point guard Kyle Lowry. The Wizards are led by point guard John Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal. It would definitely surprise me if the Raptors did not come out on top in this series because they have a much better overall team with a lot of depth on their roster. Whereas the Wizards really only have two or three players that can get the scoring job done.

Prediction: Raptors win 4-0

Boston Celtics (2 seed) v.s Milwaukee Bucks (7 seed)  

The 55-27  Celtics finished the season strong clinching the number two seed in the east. They are currently beating the Milwaukee Bucks 1-0 after an overtime thriller. Although the Celtics are up by one game in the series  it would not be a shock to me if the Bucks ended up winning. Especially with superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way. And the Celtics having to deal with the loss to star point guard Kyrie Irving due to knee surgery.  I predict the Bucks win the series 4-3

Philadelphia 76ers (3 seed) v.s Miami Heat (6 seed)

A good turnaround for the 76ers after having one of the league’s worst records last year. This years 52-30 team is led by the young core of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz. The series is currently tied 1-1 after Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade scored 28 points in a victory. Even though the 76ers are a less experienced playoff team, it would be hard seeing them lose to the Heat.

Prediction: 76ers win the series 4-2.

Cleveland Cavaliers (4 seed) v.s Indiana Pacers (5 seed)

The Cavaliers struggled a little bit this year compared to in the past. Led by Lebron James, Cleveland looks to go back to the finals for a fourth year in a row. The Pacers are leading the series 1-0 under shooting guard Victor Oladipo. Even though the Cavs’ struggles are apparent I just can not see the Pacers pulling it off and winning the series.

Prediction Cavs win 4-1  

 

West:

Houston Rockets (1 seed) v.s Minnesota Timberwolves (8 seed)

The Houston Rockets had an impressive season ending 65-17 clinching the number one seed in the West. This team is led by the 2018 MVP favorite James Harden who ended the regular season averaging 31 points per game. Even though the Timberwolves have a strong young core they are just no match for the fire power that Houston possess.

Prediction: Rockets win 4-0

Golden State Warriors (2 seed)

It is surprising that this superteam is not the one seed. After winning two out of the three last championships they look to go back for the fourth time in a row. This roster consists of four all stars: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The Spurs are a very well coached team under coach Gregg Popovich, however, with the absence on Kawhi Leonard who suffered a quad injury, there is just no way the Spurs can get it done against the defending champs.

Prediction Warriors win 4-0

Portland Trail Blazers (3 seed) vs New Orleans Pelicans

Portland is led by the dynamic backcourt of point guard Damian Lillard and shooting guard CJ Mccollum. They are down 1-0 against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans are a very good team and I would predict them going very far in the playoffs if center Demarcus Cousins never tore his achilles. Without Cousins I just cannot see Anthony Davis carrying this Pelicans team to a victory    

Prediction:  Blazers win 4-2

Oklahoma City Thunder (4 seed) v.s Utah Jazz (5 seed)

This is going to be a very interesting series to follow, both teams are very talented and ended the season strong. OKC is currently up 1-0 led by reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. If the Jazz can prevent these players from having huge games I think they have a chance in the series, otherwise there is no chance they come out on top.

Prediction: Thunder win 4-1

This is a preview of the NBA playoffs with my predictions of the first round winners. The two teams I see advancing and seeing each other in the finals are the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Houston Rockets. Even though it is tough going against Lebron I cannot see the Rockets losing under the phenomenal play James Harden is producing.

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Brooklyn Nets Offseason Gameplan

By Shane Rabacs ’18

The Brooklyn Nets missed the playoffs again. Currently holding a 25-53 record, an improvement over last year’s 20 win season, here’s what Sean Marks and company must do to be more competitive next year.

 

  1. Hit on another draft pick

In Marks’ first two drafts, the Nets drafted two guys that look like they’ll be in Brooklyn for the foreseeable future. Caris Levert (pick 20, 2016) and Jarrett Allen (pick 22, 2017) have made a immediate impact. With another low pick this year, it is imperative to make sure that whoever they take will turn out well.

    2. Figure out the guard situation

Brooklyn has a lot of guards. With Jeremy Lin returning next year, there will be eight guards competing for four or five rotation spots. Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson will need to figure out 1) who the guys of the future are and 2) what to do with the others.

    3. Bolster the big depth

The main problem for Brooklyn this year was the play from the bigs. There were too many games where an opposing big man would have a career night or where the Nets would be outrebounded and be bullied inside. Jarrett Allen has been a nice story, but Brooklyn needs more guys like that if they want to take another step next year. A guy I would look out for via free agency is Julius Randle. He would fit the system very well and could develop along former Laker teammate D’Angelo Russell.

   4. Continue to develop young talent.

Kenny Atkinson came into the Nets head coaching job with the reputation that he was a great assistant to develop the young guys. Over his first two years with Brooklyn, his young talent has continued to grow and improve. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s growth as been amazing. The rise of Spencer Dinwiddie (an article I wrote by the way, read it) is a testament to the Nets staff. Caris Levert and Jarrett Allen are here to stay. The next project, D’Angelo Russell. He was hurt for a good chunk of year but the performance team has enough film on him to know what he needs to improve on. A lot hinges on if he will improve. Of course they’ll focus on everyone else on the roster, but maybe they’ll put a little extra emphasis on Russell.

Why Lebron James will go to Philadelphia

By Jarod Ferguson ’18

This summer will a very important one for the NBA. Lebron James, arguably the best player in the whole league, will be a free agent. James is notorious for being silent about his pending free agency destinations and this season is no different. While everyone has an idea on where Lebron may end up, nobody knows for sure where. However, I do think that Philadelphia has one of the more compelling cases for why Lebron should come to Philly.

Reason Number one: Lebron will be in a market that will enhance his business inquiries. Lebron is more than a basketball player, he is more of a mogul. He produces movies and TV Shows and  he has partnerships with Blaze Pizza and Sprite. Although he is doing all of these things in small market Cleveland, his brand can expand exponentially if he can play in basketball in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is the sixth biggest market in the United States and in those top six markets, Philadelphia has the second best basketball team and the best team in the East of that top six. He will be able to closely observe his business opportunities while playing basketball, something he cannot do in Cleveland.

Reason Number two: The Sixers are an up and coming team in the NBA. They are a team with many young pieces which can be built around Lebron James. Joel Embiid is a top 10 center in the league and would be a perfect pick and roll partner with James. Ben Simmons is seen as someone who could be the next Lebron James. He is eerily similar to James in terms of size, speed, athleticism and ball-handling. With James at the helm, Simmons can learn to reach his potential by emulating the best. James is also at his best when he is surrounded by shooters and the Sixers have a surplus of them. They have Dario Saric, Embiid who is a 36 percent three point shooter and JJ Redick. They also have some of the most cap space in the league where they can afford James and another star player of his choosing.

At the end of the day, no one knows where Lebron will end up. There are reports that his final choices will be Philly, Cleveland, Houston and Los Angeles. He could easily choose any of these teams and immediately make them championship contenders. However, if James wants to reach level and finally be able to win the Jordan vs. Lebron debate if he is able to complete “The Process” and bring a championship to the City of Brotherly Love.

A Tanking Franchise

By Matt Engler ’18

“The Dallas Mavericks are the 2011 NBA World Champions.” This headlines seems like a distant memory from where the Dallas Mavericks currently stand. Struggling form, recent scandals involving corporate sexual harassment and team “tanking” have cast a dark shadow over the organization in these past several weeks.

The Mavericks currently sit in 14th out of 15th places in the Western Conference. There  is practically no chance the team makes the playoffs and with Dirk Nowitzki, arguably the franchises greatest player ever, likely ending his career soon the team doesn’t have much to be thrilled about. While things like this commonly happen to franchises in the NBA, sexual misconduct scandals do not. Ted Ussery was the CEO and team president of the Dallas Mavericks from 1997 to 2015. However, over this time period, Ussery did more than just lead the franchise to success.

Sexual misconduct complaints began surfacing just one year after Ussery took charge of the organization. “In the summer of 1998, the Mavericks conducted an internal investigation of Ussery after several female employees made complaints of inappropriate workplace behavior,” John Wertheim and Jessica Luther of Sports Illustrated said. What came from this first incident was a revamping of employee policy through a new handbook and a new Human Resources officer was hired. According to a Sports Illustrated article, he was “basically brought in to save Ussery from himself.”

The misconduct, however, did not stop there. Countless more women came forward complaining Ussery of inappropriate touching, remarks and overall behavior in a sexually inappropriate manner. Women employees who complained to the new Human Resources manager, Buddy Pittman, were frustrated nothing was being done. One women was quoted in a Sports Illustrated article saying she felt “Trapped, frozen and scared.”

Ussery ended up leaving the Mavericks in 2015 to work for Under Armor who eventually parted ways with Ussery in less than two months.

The current spotlight is pointed to Mark Cuban, the billionaire Mavericks owner, who facing criticism regarding the mishandeling of the Ussery situation and for his recent comments regarding “tanking” made on a podcast. Many question how Cuban could not have been aware of the sexual harassment complaints which were taking place for over a decade. He’s also under heated scrutiny for comments he made on an NBA Hall of Fame Julius Irving Podcast. Cuban was quoted saying, “losing is our best option.”  NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for his comment.

The Mavericks franchise has had an extremely difficult past few weeks, and with the playoffs practically out of reach, the rest of the season lacks promise, especially if the Mavericks do intend on purposefully losing. For the NBA and the Dallas fan base, hopefully the Mavericks will continue playing hard for their supporters in this rough spot for the franchise.

Appreciating Isaiah Thomas: Why IT does not deserve this criticism

By Jackson Daignault ’18

I will always have a soft spot for Isaiah Thomas. IT really sparked my love for the Celtics.

As a teenage Celtics fan, I had not experienced much success. Sure I was alive for the Big 3 and the legendary 2008 NBA Finals run, but I was only eight at the time.

Years later I was able to watch Danny Ainge absolutely fleece the Brooklyn Nets, but that was looking towards the future, not focusing on winning in the moment.

I didn’t have a lot to reflect positively upon.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I’ve always loved the Celtics. I used to play basketball in my driveway with my next-door neighbors and pretend I was Paul Pierce taking game winning shots, or Rajon Rondo when I threw behind the back passes. But being in elementary and early middle school, I never had the attention/ability (Fairfield County is one of two areas in the entire Northeast that does not get Comcast. No NESN for me!) to watch Celtics games.

That all changed when Isaiah came to town. IT got me excited about the Celtics again. Celtics fans had always been promised “The Future.” All the draft picks, all the talent that hadn’t reached their potential yet (see Jeff Green). But IT was something new for me as a young Celtics fan. He embraced everything about the Celtics and their hard nosed, winning culture. He was awesome to watch. I made sure to follow along as best I could through Twitter and the ESPN app. I still do today. IT lit that fire inside me and really made me love the Celtics again.

With that being said, IT being traded to the Cavaliers was extremely hard for me. When IT first was traded to Boston at the trade deadline, within weeks I purchased my first post Big 3 era jersey. A green #4 Boston one. After falling in love with IT, seeing him leave my favorite team and join the enemy was extremely rough. I wanted to love the trade. But I couldn’t bare to part with IT, the man that got the Celtics back on the map. He was loved in Boston. He was a top five MVP candidate. He fought through the death of his 22 year old sister and played in an NBA playoff game the next day, scoring 33 points. The guy put his blood sweat and tears into the Celtics. (Actually).

In hindsight, that trade was brilliant for the Celtics. Still, at that time, it was a difficult and emotional decision for everyone involved: fans, players and even Danny Ainge himself.

All of this brings me to my point about Isaiah Thomas: the slander of his character and basketball ability has to stop.

IT has fought through adversity his entire life. At five foot nine inches, he was not blessed with the height to be an NBA player. Still, he played his heart out and played Division I, Power five conference basketball at the University of Washington. Then he was drafted into the NBA. Then he had to fight for minutes behind the 10th overall pick Jimmer Fredette and the 35th overall pick Tyler Honeycutt (TheUndefeated.com). He was slept on his entire career. He was traded to Phoenix for Alex Oriakhi, former UConn big man who never played a minute in the NBA. He was then shipped from Phoenix to Boston, where he was given a fresh start.

Isaiah loved Boston, and Boston loved Isaiah. After being slept on his entire career, the love he received from Boston was something new. In an interview with The Undefeated.com’s Marc J.  Spears, he said “They loved me for who I am. They loved me for being a scorer. They loved me for being small. They loved me for what I bring to the table. There was no, ‘He can’t do this. He can’t do that.’ You don’t hear that too much other than from the media. But my teammates and my coaching staff loved me for who I am. That was the first time that happened since college, honestly.” Finally, after years and years of being overlooked, Isaiah had finally found the right place. Isaiah had finally found a home.

After leading his team to the playoffs and being an All-Star for the first time in his career, Isaiah had his entire life pulled from under him. He had finally found stability in Boston, but suddenly his world came falling down.

Isaiah is human, and that means he still has emotions. He felt betrayed by Boston. And rightfully so. He did everything in his power for that city. He lost his tooth, fought through tears minutes before tipoff of a playoff game and played in the playoffs through a very difficult hip injury to give his team the best chance to win in the playoffs. His heart was never questioned. God forbid he show some emotion and be upset about the entire situation in which the same executive that resurrected his career left him out to dry.

NBA fans throughout the country are fed up about Isaiah still mentioning his trade to the Cavaliers. But they fail to acknowledge that he does not bring up the topic by itself, but the media is simply beating a dead horse. They are looking for quotes, they are looking for clicks. Isaiah is simply answering their questions. I’m sure he would love to move on from the painful situation and put his focus on the future. But the media has pressed him into the topic in almost all of his interviews after the trade. There was nothing he could do.

Isaiah has also become the scapegoat for the Cavaliers failures. Sure, IT struggled on the defensive end, but he always has. In Boston, he was surrounded by the likes of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder to shadow his shortcomings. But in Cleveland, he was surrounded by four other players that struggled on the defensive side of the ball. It was not fair for him to be blamed.

On the offensive side of the ball, Isaiah was always going to be an awkward fit. He had always played his best basketball as the focal point of an offense. In Boston, IT had the ball in his hands a lot, but oftentimes would come off screens in order to get himself a good look. Playing second fiddle to Lebron James was not something that was ever going to work offensively.

In regards to his alleged pointing of the finger at Kevin Love, there is no blame there. Isaiah is a fiery player, one that plays with a chip on his back. He always has been and always will be. He was not used to the somewhat lackadaisical attitude of the Cavs. The Cavs have always been playing for June. IT is not a player like that. He expects the best out of his teammates. In Boston, they played with grit and an underdog mentality. In an interview with Bleacher Report, Isaiah mentioned how his former teammates put more effort into the game “We tried harder.” Thomas said “I don’t think we trust each other right now.” (in regards to the Cavaliers.) Isaiah is scrappy and hard nosed – his overall attitude about the game of basketball just did not mesh with the Cavaliers.

Now, that chapter of his career is over. Isaiah is leading a young Lakers team where he will play out the end of his contract before hitting free agency this June.

At the end of the day, Isaiah Thomas is a special basketball player and person. His fiery, gritty attitude is unmatched throughout the NBA. There is no reason to put the blame on IT for the Cavaliers failures – they gave him 15 games to figure it out (he was probably rushed back from injury too!). Isaiah’s career is far from over. The guy averaged 28.9 points per game last season and lead his team to a first round playoff victory less than two weeks after losing his younger sister in a tragic car crash.

It has been a rough year for Isaiah Thomas, one of sadness, loss, and failure. But there is no doubt in my mind that he will come back better than ever.

League Altering Deadline Day

By Matt Engler ’18

The NBA trade window officially closed and there was an abundance of last minute trades which shook up the league. Most notably the Cavaliers traded six players away during the final day of the window, completely revitalizing their organization and giving former NBA All-Star Isaiah Thomas a new home in Los Angeles.

The undisputed biggest trade of the day was the Cavaliers sending point guard Isaiah Thomas to the Los Angeles Lakers. Along with Thomas, they sent center Channing Frye and their own 2018 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for guard Jordan Clarkson and forward Larry Nance Jr.

Thomas, a 2017 All-Star for the Boston Celtics, recently came back from a hip injury which sidelined him for the majority of the start to the 2017-18 NBA season. Thomas’s form was a concern for the Cavaliers who dropped to third in the Eastern Conference during his return to the team. Critiques and analysts questioned his defensive capabilities and wondered if he was an adequate replacement for All Star guard Kyrie Irving who was traded for Thomas over last summer.

“That offensive efficiency is by far the lowest of Thomas’s career, and, coupled with his disastrous 117 defensive rating is concerning,” Chris Thompson of Deadspin said.

While there are those who critique Thomas’s play, many fans feel bad for the player who now has been traded five times across the course of his career and still yet to receive a max contract.

While Thomas’s storyline is intriguing there were still many more trades made during this deadline day. The Cavaliers traded four more players, Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder, Iman Shumpert and Dwyane Wade. Rose, Crowder and Shumpert were involved in a three team trade sending Crowder and Rose to the Utah Jazz and Shumpert to the Sacramento Kings. The Cavaliers received both George Hill and Rodney Hill, both young athletic players. “Adding a trio of 25-year-olds in Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. dropped the Cavs’ combined average age by nearly two years,” Greg Swartz of Bleacher Report said.

The Cavaliers also received a 2018 second round pick from the Miami Heat when they traded Dwyane Wade. The Cavaliers revitalized their team bringing in more youth, fewer stars, and more role players to play centered around Lebron. While the Cavaliers were involved with ten players moving in and out of their organization, other trades went down across the league.

Denver Nuggets Guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who was a key player for the Nuggets, was traded to New York in a three way trade sending Doug Mcdermott to Dallas and Devin Harris to Denver. Another notable trade was made by the Orlando Magic who sent guard Elfrid Payton to the Phoenix Suns for a second round pick. Payton, who can put up a triple double every now and then, could possibly help the Suns start to climb out of the 15th spot in the Western Conference.

So what do we take out of this years 2018 NBA trade deadline? The Cavaliers are again the favorites in the Eastern Conference with a new young revitalized team. On Feb. 11 they blew out the Boston Celtics, the leaders in the East, in a 121-99 victory. We have also been reminded the NBA is a business before anything. Isaiah Thomas will once again miss out on a maximum contract with his trade to the Lakers, and now playing for his fifth team in seven years.

The Rise of Spencer Dinwiddle

By Shane Rabacs ’18

In the first half of the 2017-2018 NBA season, Spencer Dinwiddie has gone from role player to leader on the Brooklyn Nets.

The start of the year started off pretty tame for Dinwiddie. In the position of backup point guard, he averaged nine points and five assists in a mere 21 minutes per game. But then, on November 17, D’Angelo Russell went out with knee surgery, and Dinwiddie was thrown into the starting role for the foreseeable future. Since then, Dinwiddie has averaged 14.7 points and seven assists, highlighted by his 31 points, 8 assist game Monday against Toronto and his near triple double Friday: 20 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds.

Dinwiddie has had the ball in his hands more, and his confidence has grown over time. He doesn’t look timid. In fact, he is sometimes confident to a fault. Down the stretch of some games, he has taken ill advised threes.

His play has helped keep Brooklyn afloat and still in the playoff picture. They are six games back of the eighth seeded Indiana Pacers.

Dinwiddie plays with the savvy that someone who is 24. He constantly gets guys in the right spots and knows how to draw fouls. With 1.4 turnovers a game, he is near the top of the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio among players who get substantial minutes on a team that plays at the fifth-fastest tempo in the league. In the 1,114 minutes Dinwiddie has been on the floor, the Nets have an offensive rating of 105.4; when he’s off, it goes to 99.2.

Earlier this year, a self proclaimed movement started on twitter to get Dinwiddie a starting spot in this year’s all-star game in Los Angeles. Even though Dinwiddie isn’t on the top vote getter list, you can’t hide it, there is Spencer Dinwiddie #NBAVote tweet everywhere you go on NBA twitter.

When Russell returns, Dinwiddie is expected to stay in the starting lineup. The dynamic between those two will be an interesting storyline to watch, as they both need the ball in their hands to succeed.