Monday, February 18, 2008

Race to the Finish: East

Yeah, it's been a goddamn long time since I have posted on this beautiful site (nice update by the way Tank). But this year's super compelling NBA playoff races have given me reason to write once again. Before the festivities start, I must link this video, for it encompasses everything TANBR stands for:

East Power Rankings

15) New York Knicks -

From now on, I refuse to mention the Knicks until they rid themselves of at least half of their bad contracts. Unless something magical happens you won't be reading any Knick-related commentary from me until the summer of '09 (although, someone, anybody, please save David Lee)

14) Charlotte Bobcats -

This Year! This was supposed to be the year that the Bobs contend for a playoff spot. And even in the depleted Eastern Conference, the Bobcats fi nd themselves on the low end of the totem pole. They re-signed their star, they made a few decent trades why are they still struggling? They have a *best Charles Barkley voice* terrrble bench. Felton, J-Rich, Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor and Nazr Mohammed make for a good starting 5, both offensively and defensively. Their bench on the other hand is a wasteland: Jeff McInnis, Derek Anderson, Earl Boykins, Ryan Hollins and OTHELLA HARRINGTON are getting meaningful minutes which is never a good sign. The only bright spots on the bench are Jared Dudley and Matt Carroll, but they each bring the same thing, high basketball IQ and efficient scoring. Because none of their current bench residents bring any kind of low-post D or scoring the Bobcats have to either play their players out of position or rely on their starters to play longer than they should. Hopefully this team wises us and uses the remaining games to audition some D-Leaguers to hopefully bolster this bench ( Please, put Rod Benson on an NBA roster).

13) Miami Heat -

Now things are getting interesting. The core of D-Wade, Shawn Marion, Udonis Haslem and Dorell Wright (Hopefully he'll become Matrix-Lite) brings solid efficiency and versatility to the table. The only positions where the Heat are lacking is PG and C. In my dream world Jason Williams would revert back to his White Chocolate alter ego and start throwing no-look alley-oops and off the elbow passes. But now they're stuck with a PG muted by the hands and playbooks of the Cardinal of "Right Way" basketball, Hubie Brown. Williams is now a serviceable back-up, but no longer a quality starter. Center can be summed up in two words: Mark Blount. Things are looking up for the heat as 20 million comes off the books this off-season to bolster the rosters with quality r ole players.

12) Milwaukee Bucks -

Another team who fell well below pre-season prognostications. Thankfully due to the dreadful lack of a middle-class in the East, the Bucks are only 4 games out of the 8th playoff spot. Offensively, the Bucks rely on a half-court offen
se with a plethora of jump-shooters. What they lack however has been there Achilles' heal for quite some time, post scoring and defense. The FG% margin for the Bucks is -.040, which may not seem like much, but equates to about 4.5 points per 100 possessions. This can be fixed b y either a) get a reliable player who can score in the paint, or b) playing better defense. Hypothetically, if the Bucks shot the same percentage as their opponents Milwaukee would have won at least 5 more games this year on point differential alone and 19-34 is 4 games out of the 8th spot, however 24-29 is (shudder) 7th in the East.

11) Indiana Pacers -

This is your poster-child for East boringness and mediocrity. When's the last time you said "Oh Shit! The Pacers are on TV tonight!" Ummm..... probably not since the Malice at the Palace rematch. With the flurry of trade activity this year hopefully Larry Bird decides to blow it up and deal Jermaine O'Neal for some expiring contracts and draft picks. Otherwise I'll feel endless sorrow as I watch Danny Granger languish on a rost er of choir-boys who can kinda play basketball. Please Larry Legend, trade Jermaine and pair Danny with potent scorer so we can have watchable basketball in Indy.

10) Chicago Bulls -

It only takes a matter of time before a Scott Skiles-coached team decides to implode upon itself, ala the his mid-season firing while he was in Phoenix. 2008 has brought good fortunes for these Bulls, as many players who were playing sub-par during the first two months of the season have now gotten back to their career averages. However the indefinite loss of Luol will probably stifle upswing of '08, being that he is the teams 2nd leading scorer and rebounder, as well as being the teams most efficient scorer (team leading .478 FG% among Chi-town rotation players). The best thing to come from this is that players like Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas get some extra burn to work on their skills. This finish could be a blessing in disguise as the Bulls could have a Lottery pick which would finally address their need of a low- post scorer (Hibbert or Brook Lopez maybe?)

9) New Jersey Nets - (hinges on trade with Dallas going through otherwise slot them at 8)

In a perfect world this trade makes great sense for the Nets, they get a young quick point guard(D-Harris) and a center who can play defense and rebound (Diop). But alas, the world is imperfect and Vince will sulk and do his us
ual mail-it-in performance. Diop will teach Boone the masterful art of showing potential to be an offensive big man but never actually reaching it. If the trade goes through and Vince feels like playing, this will be a team that will give a 1-seed trouble. Because now you have 5 who can D up most posts ( he did a fabulous job on Duncan in the playoffs) and now a 1 who can hit an open shot.

******** INTERMISSION********

- Some of the Better remixes to Jay-Z's American Gangster - American Beatmaker and American Zeppelin (Jay-Z/Led Zeppelin Mix)

- Big Lou and Papoose - The Last Lyricists

If you want to watch some of the best college basketball at a break-neck pace tune into the renewal of a regional rivalry 2 Tennessee at 1 Memphis 9pm ET Saturday on EPSN, you won't be disappointed. Jelly's pick: Memphis closer than expected 90-87.

****** END INTERMISSION ******

8) Philadelphia 76ers -
Iggy is finally coming into own.

It's funny this was the one team that most bloggers and analysts had left for dead at the beginning of the year, saying that they made no real move s and didn't address any pertinent needs during the draft. Guess that's why we aren't GM's huh? With the steady hand of Andre Miller and yje Sixers' calvacade of athletic swingman, the Sixers have been on a tear since late January. Maurice Cheek's decision to preach a modified press defense has been the perfect fit for this super-athletic roster. Besides Andre Iguodala getting better every year, 2 players deserve mention for their indispensable contributions to this team: "Sweet" Lou Williams being one best 6th men in game, scoring 10 and dishing 3 and netting a steal in 22 mins a night as well as Samuel Dalembert becoming a reliable post averaging a double-double along .518 FG% and 2.5 blocks a game. Scary thing, of all the main contributors only 1 (Miller) is over 27 years old.

7) Atlanta Hawks -

I can forgive your bad tats if you can get Josh Smith to the playoffs

So the Hawks finally went and did it, got a real PG. And he fits the teams needs perfectly, good 3 point shooting, good distributor and he's been part of a playoff team before. However before I christened them a playoff team The next 5 games are part of their West Coast road trip (LAL, SAC, GSW, UTA and SAS) if they finish that road trip 2-3 or better then they are a mortal lock for the East playoffs. If they don't then the Bibby= Speedy Claxton. With the PG position settled they have other requisite parts: All-Star Swingman(Joe Johnson), Defensive game changer (Josh Smith), Rebounding (rookie beast Al Horford) and large afro/good 6th man (Josh Childress). Hopefully, they won't be the Hawks of the past 5 years and finally graduate from pre-season teasers to playoff mainstays.

6) Washington Wizards -

The pleasant surprise of this year has been the Wizards ability to continue to win even without Gilbert Arenas. Also it doesn't hurt when 2 of your other players are All-Stars (Jamison and Butler). The Wizards young bench rivals Detroit in potential and due to injuries of two starters this year (Etan Thomas and Gilbert Arenas) has given the young guns some considerable burn. The only thing that could derail the team is Gilbert forcing himself in too early and hurting the chemistry of the team. I don't see that happening as has said that he has no qualms about coming off the bench and easing back into his starting job. That or another injury to either Caron or Antawn is the only way this team is going to miss the playoffs.

5) Orlando Magic -

Can you even call him a "man-child" anymore? I move to invoke SpaceJam and use and just call him a "Mon-Star"

Ok, the dunk contest was his introduction to the mainstream public. Now it's time for him to cement it and get his team a high-seed in the playoffs. The only thing that I think is holding this team back is the Point Guard position. Jameer Nelson has a nasty habit of turning the ball over to much (he ranks 31st in A/To ratio). Carlos Arroyo on the other hand is the Puerto Rican version of AI, he needs the ball in hands as much as possible to be effective. This is fine when you are on the Puerto Rican National team, but when you have stellar offensive players such as Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard on your team, your game should be focusing on getting these guys the rock as much as possible. If the Magic can improve this area before the trade deadline (Randy Livingtson will play for peanuts) I can see them being effective, otherwise they will get picked apart by the better PG's in the East during the playoffs (Chauncey, Arenas, Bibby, Miller, Calderon etc.)

4) Toronto Raptors -

Youtube Hero

The team no one talks about, the team no one outside of Canada or NBATV die-hards even get to see. Bryan Colangelo has pieced together a good squad and everybody seems to have found their niche in the line-up. Last year they proved their regular season legitimacy and made it to the playoffs. This is the year where the Raps need to get over the hump. The best thing to happen to the team is the TJ Ford injury, for it allowed Jose Calderon to finally start and prove that he can be a prime-time player in this league (All-star snub). (I think you'll notice a recurring theme during this article) One of their main assets is that they have a deep bench which is essential for the playoffs. Their toughest test comes in the form of an 11 game stretch beginning in Mid-March where they play 9 playoff contenders (mostly western teams), if they come out with a winning record we will finally know that this team is capable of winning a playoff series. Otherwise Bosh is just a Canadian T-Mac (well that actually makes him better with the exchange rate).

3) Cleveland Cavaliers -

We all know about Lebron, this year though, it's his supporting cast that matters

I'm going to sound like every other analyst here whenever I say this ,but the Cavs chances of repeating as Eastern conference champs hinges on everyone sans-Lebron. We witnessed last year that Lebron could put up 40-9-9 if he had to, but it is whether Daniel Gibson can average 15 ppg or if Big Z can pull down efficient double-doubles that will determine the outcome of this team. The key factor right now is that the whole roster has not played together yet due to strings of injuries and holdouts. By the way things are looking they'll be like the Univeristy of Michigan basketball teams of the early to mid 90's gelling at the right time and parlaying that into a deep post-season run. Larry Hughes' career hinges on this, if he proves to be the playoff goat once again; look for him to be buried on bench even more-so than Damon Jones.

2) Detroit Pistons -
Like the sparrows to San Juan Capistrano, the Pistons getting a high seed is just natural

I will go out and say that this is the best Pistons team since the championship squad in 2004. They may not have the Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Ben Wallace, but instead they a have an older, better Tayshaun and a young bench that can provide some fireworks( both offensively and defensively) in a hurry. Consistency has been there model and what I could say now would have been said 4 years ago. Instead Basketball God, I pray that you will not match up San Antonio and Detroit in the finals, for the good of the common fan, please Lord of the Twine and Parque, save me from rabble-rousers saying "This is why the NBA SUCKS!".

1) Boston Celtics -

Boston, like Detroit, has proven to me this year that they can contend for the title. They have played through injuries to 2 of their main 3 stars (Garnett, Allen). They have beaten good teams on the road and at home. Rondo has proven that he can run this team. All that matters however is those 16 wins come playoff time. Otherwise, mortgaging your future (Jefferson, Green, Gomes, West) for a championship was all for naught. As long as they don't pull and '07-08 Patriots or an '06-07 Mavs expect this team to be in the Finals.

Sorry for being so long winded, But this year the NBA is more compelling than ever.

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