Tag Archives: San Antonio Spurs

NBA Quarterfinals: Worst to First

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED???

The NBA Playoffs will get underway on Saturday, and hot off the press after last night’s action, we have a full slate of first round match-ups to sink our teeth into. While this particular writer is shedding a tear because the Philadelphia 76ers didn’t even come close to making it (again), this season’s playoffs promise to be one of the more entertaining ones in recent memory. The Boston Celtics were able to snag the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time since their 2008 title run; a huge milestone in the Brad Stevens era and one that will likely raise the expectations of Boston fans as the playoffs get underway.

There are four teams in this year’s playoffs that didn’t make it in 2016: The Wizards, Bucks, Bulls and Jazz. The Wizards, Bucks and Bulls all made it back in 2015, but the Jazz haven’t made it since 2012 when they were swept by the Spurs in the first round. With all of the changes that happened last off-season, we’re in for one insane playoff stretch, and it all starts with the first round on Saturday. We took a look at all of the matchups and ranked them by interest level, so when you sit down in front of your T.V. on Saturday, you’ll know what to turn on. Without further ado, here is the 2017 NBA Playoffs first round match-ups, ranked from worst to first.

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  1. Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6)

Meh.

The Toronto Raptors did pretty much what you’d expect them to during the 2017 season. They kept up with the Celtics and Cavaliers and contended for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, eventually finishing third and drawing a matchup with the Bucks. The Raptors do have some new faces this season that they can use to their advantage in this series; primarily Serge Ibaka.

The key for Toronto is going to be their ability to shut down the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The bigger guys on the Raptors’ roster are going to have a handful trying to defend Giannis, but if they’re able to slow him down and Kyle Lowry has a good series, there’s no reason why the Raptors can’t win this in 6 games. It could be one of the more competitive series in the first round, but aside from Antetokounmpo, there’s just not enough star power to make this an interesting series.

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  1. San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)

This feels like a movie we’ve seen before. These two teams have squared off in a playoff series four out of the last seven seasons, and the tread on the old tire of interest is wearing a little thin.

The highlight in this match-up is the battle of the brothers. While Marc and Pau Gasol may have both passed their prime by a few years, it adds a little bit of intrigue to a series that will otherwise be overshadowed by a great Western Conference series that we’ll get into later. The Grizzlies upset the Spurs as the 8 seed back in 2011, however, and it would take a shocker like that to get us to turn our heads away from some of the other great action going on around the NBA.

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  1. Washington Wizards (4) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5)

Well, here we are again. Another year, another Hawks team that hovers in the middle of the playoff race and will be gone by the Conference Finals. Of course, the big difference this year is that they have Dwight Howard. I don’t see many people out there pushing the idea that Dwight Howard (of all people) is somehow going to push Atlanta over the hump, and this is a Wizards team that could be poised to knock them out early. After missing the playoffs last season, Washington is the four seed this year, earning home court advantage and a chance to knock off a very beatable Hawks team.

The Wizards went 3-1 against the Hawks during the regular season, the most recent of those being a thrilling 104-100 victory back on March 22. If Dwight Howard can somehow wake up from the five year nap he’s been taking and make a meaningful impact for this team in the playoffs, we might have something to talk about here for the Hawks. If not, it will be business as usual, and they can start making their tee times by the end of the month.

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  1. Boston Celtics (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (8)

The Chicago Bulls’ motley crew of Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo did enough to squeak in to the playoffs at the last second as the 8 seed. At different points in their career, all of these guys were dynamic players who could shift a playoff series just by stepping on the court. Butler is still that player, Rondo can impress occasionally, and Wade, when he’s not battling injuries, is a serviceable veteran player who can hit big shots when it matters.

The end result of all of these things is a team that is often inconsistent and frustrating, but if everything were to click at once, they could make this a series. That is going to mean slowing down Isaiah Thomas, however, and that is no easy task to say the least. Thomas is averaging 28.3 PPG in his last ten games, and the Celtics have a renewed sense of confidence after claiming the 1 seed in the east. Although it is a 1 vs. 8 matchup, these two teams split the regular season 2-2, so we could be in for at least a six game series if all goes well for the Bulls.

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  1. Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs. Indiana Pacers (7)

If the Cavaliers had drawn a first-round match-up with the Bulls, this might be a little bit higher on the list. Of course, we’re always up for watching a great duel between LeBron James and Paul George, but this doesn’t appear to be more than a small roadblock for the Cavaliers. An interesting side note here, however, is that Lance Stephenson is back with the Pacers, and the last time he was in the playoffs, he was whispering sweet-nothings into LeBron’s ear. With that in mind, we ask Lance Stephenson please, give us more great theater like this. I want to turn on SportsCenter and see more of Stephenson trying to get under LeBron’s skin. Yes.

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  1. Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Portland Trailblazers (8)

For the casual NBA fan, the name Jusuf Nurkic might not ring a bell. Nurkic was drafted 16th overall by the Bulls in 2014, then traded to the Nuggets on draft night. Now, standing at 7ft 0in, he is the second tallest player on Portland’s roster, and he could play just enough of a role to make this more than a four game sweep for the Warriors. If Damian Lillard can also put the team on his back, we could be talking about a five or six game series, but don’t hold your breath. Golden State is just getting warmed up.

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  1. Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)

The Los Angeles Clippers are in a weird spot. They have largely underachieved the past few seasons, but in a conference dominated by the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, it’s not like they ever had much of a chance. They’ve been playing very well lately, however, and their starting five are as good as anybody’s in the top of the conference (ok, maybe not the Warriors, but who cares).

The Jazz, on the other hand, are a new product. They last made the playoffs in 2012, and the only holdovers from that team are Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward. The Jazz were sneaky good this season, finishing with a record of 51-31. For comparison, that is the same record the Cavs and Raptors finished with this season. They might not be much compared to the powerhouses of the West, but they could become the little engine that could if they’re able to advance to the second round and steal a few games from the Warriors. Don’t sleep on the Utah Jazz, you heard it here first.

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  1. Houston Rockets (3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6)

Now here is the juiciest of juicy match-ups. Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden in what amounts to the MVP-Bowl of playoff series. It’s fun enough watching these two go at it for one game, but the possibility of 4,5,6, or perhaps even 7 make this must-see television for the first round. This is what everyone is going to be talking about. During the regular season series, Houston went 3-1, with both teams averaging well over 100 points in each of the four games (Houston averaged 115, while the Thunder averaged 111).

The fireworks, however, came in their final match-up of the regular season, when the two teams combined for 262 points in a 137-125 Houston victory. The interesting stat in that game? James Harden was Houston’s fourth leading scorer, while Westbrook dropped 39 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. If they’re able to beat the Thunder and the ever-bucket-draining Westbrook in this series when Harden has a quiet night like they did on March 26th, there just isn’t much wiggle room for the Thunder to be able to take this series. Russ will have to play like a madman, and we’re assuming he will. Will it be enough? Who knows. That’s why they play the games.

 

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NBA All Stars: Who should the starters be?

The NBA All star voting concluded on Monday leaving some people with questions as to how legitimate the voting system has become in the NBA. Golden State Warriors Center Zaza Pachulia has racked up enough votes to possibly become the Western Conference stater at the 5 position. Over 21 million votes have been cast in this years voting, which is a 142% increase from last years game. The starters are determined by voting that is combined from the fans (50%), players (25%), and the media (25%). The starters for the All Star game will be chosen tonight on TNT on a special edition of NBA tip off. We pick who SHOULD start the game.

Eastern conference:

Guards:

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Kyrie Irving

Irving is averaging 23.6 points per game along with 5.6 assists. During the season, Irving has put Lebron in the backseat for some clutch moments including the dagger on Christmas day against Golden State. One of the best young players in the game, Irving is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference.

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Isaiah Thomas

Thomas is averaging 28.7 points per game combined with 6 assists. This season, Isaiah has put the team on his back which has garnered him the nickname “King of the Fourth”. Thomas has taken over games time and time again averaging the most points in the 4th quarter in the NBA.

Frontcourt:

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Lebron James

James is obviously a shoe in to be an all star because he is the BEST player in the league, no questions asked. James is averaging 25.6 points, 8.1 assist, and 7.8 rebounds per game. James can do anything on a basketball court, he has great court vision and superior athletic ability making him the most dangerous player in the game.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Greek Freak jumped onto the scene last year with some impressive highlights, but this season he has really turned into a fantastic player. Giannis is averaging 23.7 points, 5.6 assists, and 8.7 rebounds per game. He has shown is freakish athleticism time and time again this year with highlight reel dunks. The 22 year old has a very bright future.

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Joel Embiid

Embiid is the first draft pick to somewhat look like he is going to pan out like they planned. Embiid is leading the Sixers, averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. “The Process” is dominating the game down low.

Western Conference:

Guards:

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James Harden

Harden is my favorite for MVP right now. He’s taken an average Rockets team and made them one of the best teams in the league. Harden is averaging 28.9 points, 11.6 assists, and 8.3 rebounds per game. The former backup to Russell Westbrook has moved past him for best point guard in the Western Conference. Harden controls the game and limits his turnovers making everyone around him better.

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Russell Westbrook

There are really no words to explain what Russell Westbrook is doing to the league this year. Although his turnover numbers could be much better, you can’t ignore his stats, 30.6 points, 10.4 assists, and 10.6 rebounds per game. Averaging a triple double has been damn near impossible in the NBA. But if he continues down this road, it could go down as one of the best statistical season ever.

Frontcourt:

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Kevin Durant

Durant has received a lot of hate for he offseason move to the Warriors. It has not gone as well as some people imagined, but Durant’s play has been consistent as he had a 40 point outburst last night against his former team in the Oracle. On a team with a ton of scorers, Durant is still averaging 26.7 points per game on top of 4.7 assists and 8.6 rebounds.

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Kawhi Leonard

Arguably one of the most underrated players in the NBA, Kawhi Leonard has become THE guy in San Antonio. He is the complete package, an excellent defender, paired with ability to score at will. Leonard has become a top tier player in the West. His stats aren’t indicative of how important he is to the team, with 24.8 points, 3.1 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game.

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Anthony Davis

Davis is a premier player in the NBA. He is the best center in the NBA and is carrying an awful team down in New Orleans. Davis is averaging 28.8 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. If you could start your franchise with one player, this guy has to be close to the top of the list because he is a fantastic talent in the NBA.

Tune in to NBA Tip off on TNT tonight to see which players receive the honor of starting in this year’s All Star game.

 

Fan Interference NBA First Quarter Awards

The NBA season is just a little over a quarter of the way through, and even though it isn’t much of a sample size, we’ve seen some great performances. Russell Westbrook has been a one-man wrecking crew, the Warriors are beginning to settle in nicely, and the Cavaliers are atop the Eastern Conference. This is pretty much how we would’ve drawn it up at the beginning of the season, but that’s not to say there haven’t been a few surprises. I highly doubt any of these recipients would be pumped to hear they’ve won a quarter season award, but we’re gonna give it to them anyway. So, don’t get too excited yet, but here’s our 2016 NBA First Quarter Awards.

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MVP: Russell Westbrook

As of tonight, Westbrook is the uncontested NBA MVP. If the MVP truly stands for “most valuable player,” there should be no argument. If you pull him from the Thunder, they are tanking for the number one pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Westbrook is leading the league in scoring, and he’s averaging 30.9 PPG. These numbers are historic, and the only thing stopping me from bowing down and worshipping his game is the fact that we’re only a quarter of the way through. If he is somehow able to keep this up all season, we’re talking about one of the greatest single seasons in NBA history. Plus, the old guys who vote for this stuff will love that he didn’t ditch OKC and that he’s doing it on his own.

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Hottest Game

It all started off as a normal game against the Indiana Pacers for Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors. Klay was hot right out of the gate, pouring in 40 points before halftime. This wasn’t anything ridiculously out of the ordinary, but it was already one of the best night of Thompson’s career. He followed it up by sliding in another 20 in the third quarter, before sitting the entire fourth quarter with a whopping 60 points. Of course, this led everyone to wonder what might’ve happened if Klay actually played the fourth quarter, but regardless, it stands alone as the best game anyone has played this season.

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Hottest Quarter

C’mon. This is the NBA First Quarter Awards, so we’d be sorely mistaken if we didn’t give an award for something that somebody did in the first quarter.  In this case, that man is Kevin Love. If you could combine Love’s 34 first quarter points (yes, you read that right) vs. the Portland Trail Blazers with Klay Thompson’s three quarters of excellence, you’d have yourself a 94 point game. Not too shabby, considering the 76ers can’t even do that as an entire team on most nights.

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Rookie of the Year

Joel Embiid

As of now, Joel Embiid has already established himself as perhaps the best player on the Philadelphia 76ers. He is a beast defensively, drives to the basket with ease, and has one of the funniest Instagram accounts in the NBA (not that this makes him any more qualified to be rookie of the year, but you should definitely check it out). Perhaps the craziest thing about Embiid’s 17.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 2.5 BLK is that he’s doing it all on a minutes restriction. Hopefully for the Sixers, Embiid can stay healthy. If they are to have any future of success, the big man certainly looks to be a focal point of it.

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Comeback Player of the Year

Anthony Davis

I know what you’re going to say. How can Anthony Davis get comeback player of the year when he averaged 24.3 PPG last season? Well, Davis missed a large chunk of last season because he needed surgery on his left knee, and he’s missed at least fourteen games in each of his first four seasons. If Davis is somehow able to keep up at his torrent pace of 29.6 PPG and stay healthy, he would be fully deserving of the award.

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When it comes to other awards like Team of the Year, the season just hasn’t progressed enough for anyone to stand out. The Warriors are pretty much where we thought they’d be, same with the Spurs, Cavs and Raptors. Maybe we will be able to give them our prestigious awards at the midseason mark. As the season develops, some of these guys will fall off, but some of them just might win an actual award at the end of the year. For those who don’t, it’s ok. You were a winner in the Fan Interference NBA First Quarter Awards. Don’t spend it all in one place, kids.

Tim Duncan Calls It A Career

In today’s world, big personalities and self-promotion dominate the sporting landscape. An outspoken player such as D’Angelo Russell can dominate a news cycle with his hidden camera antics, while a skilled player like Mike Conley could go months without getting mentioned. The silent ones, the ones who get it done, are a dying breed in the NBA, and the pack just got a little slimmer.

Yesterday afternoon, Spurs legend Tim Duncan announced his retirement after 19 seasons in the NBA. Immediately after the announcement, former players, analysts and fans showered him with praise and well wishes, sentiments that were often much too sparse during his historic playing career. In an era where we criticize the building of super teams, place a bewildering amount of importance on winning titles, and praise loyalty to fan bases, Tim Duncan should be our poster child. Let’s be honest, Duncan didn’t just play for the Spurs, he was the Spurs. Duncan had the good fortune of learning under Dave Robinson, a Spurs legend in his own right. By the time Robinson’s retirement came around in 2003, Duncan already had 2 NBA Championships under his belt, earning NBA Finals MVP in both of them. After Robinson’s retirement, Duncan continued the winning ways, securing titles in both 2005 and 2007. Sure, other players have joined him along the way; Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard all come to mind, but Duncan has been the one constant on the Spurs roster since the turn of the millennium. He won 5 NBA Championships, 2 MVPs, 15 All-Star selections, and is still somehow grossly underrated.

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Of course, we would be crazy to reminisce on Duncan’s storied career without including Gregg Popovich. Never in this era has there been a more harmonious marriage between player and coach, and this bond allowed Duncan to soar to even greater heights. Rarely ever do we see a player and a coach together for so long, sharing such great success. Duncan and Popovich are in the same category as Brady and Belichick, Russell and Auerbach. Not every great player had the opportunity to play for a great coach, and the synergy between Duncan and Popovich was no stroke of luck. Duncan came into the league an eager rookie out of Wake Forest, and at the time Popovich was in the early stages of his long tenure with the Spurs, not yet the established veteran he is today. As Duncan grew as a player, he slowly became a leader in the locker room in the subtlest of ways. You know that boss or coach you had that could shut up a room by speaking? That was Duncan, but in the least imposing way possible. Don’t get me wrong, he showed intensity when he needed to, but Duncan will perhaps be remembered as one of the most composed players in NBA history. As Duncan grew as a leader, he still remained receptive to Popovich’s coaching. Many star athletes begin to get complacent or arrogant with success, but Duncan set an example for everyone on the Spurs roster. If Duncan doesn’t cooperate with the coach, the coach isn’t commanding the locker room, and the team doesn’t win. Popovich set the attitude of the Spurs, but Duncan brought it to the rest of the team.

It almost seems fitting that Tim Duncan retired amidst a wave of free agent frenzy, debates between the old and new school NBA, and sweeping changes to almost every roster. As you watch Charles Barkley and other retired players bicker about Kevin Durant joining the Warriors, combated by a younger generation insisting that Durant is entitled to his own choices, Tim Duncan is a welcome distraction from the noise. Tim Duncan is something we can all agree on, a universally accepted figure. He’s like Coca-Cola, or an ice cold beer. It’s hard to find something about Tim Duncan that isn’t likable. The major shift free agency has created in the league combined with Duncan’s retirement almost makes it feel as if the league is ending an era. The Spurs will still be a contender, Popovich, we assume, will still coach next season, but so much of their identity resided in Tim Duncan. Spurs fans, however, can take comfort in the fact that he surely leaves a mark on those left behind; it’s what Dave Robinson did for him.

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As time passes and people begin to look at our current age of basketball in retrospect, they will likely compare the career of Tim Duncan to that of Kobe Bryant. Both came and left the league at roughly the same time, and both made a huge impact. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this comparison, however, is the polar opposite ways in which they did it. Kobe was flashy. He could sell himself like no other, and had an unrivaled flare for the dramatic. Duncan just put his nose to the grindstone and worked. Both were very passionate about basketball, but displayed it very differently. Kobe had his game face. Aggressive. Powerful. Duncan had his poker face. Calm. Collected. It’s strange how both players were able to enjoy such dominance and success in the same decade, despite being in the same conference. Bryant got a lot more attention during his career, but something tells me that when it’s all said and done, people will look back at Duncan’s stats and truly see how great he was. One thing is for sure, with the retirement of both players this season, a little piece of the 2000s NBA has died, and my inner childhood got a little sad.

 

Wild West Showdown

The Golden State Warriors faced off against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night, and San Antonio got the best of the Conference leading Warriors. Kahwi Leonard and the Spurs held the Warriors to 79 points, the first time in the past two seasons they’ve been held under 80 points in a game. What was almost as impressive, reigning MVP Steph Curry scored an uncharacteristic 14 points on 4-18 shooting, going only 1-12 from beyond the arc. Have the San Antonio Spurs, led by head coach Gregg Popovich, figured out how to beat the Warriors?

Probably not. But this has potential to be one of the best series we’ve ever seen when these two teams inevitably meet in the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors, at 63-7, currently lead the West with the Spurs four games back at 59-11 and the second best record in the NBA. Both teams play tremendous team basketball. While Steph Curry and Klay Thompson headline the Warriors, scoring 30.1 and 22 ppg respectively. They still receive production from All-Star Draymond Green and role players, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala. The Spurs have the young superstar in Kahwi Leonard, who averages 20.8 ppg and is a defensive specialist. They also have their trusty vets with the ageless Tim Duncan, the wily point guard in Tony Parker, and sixth man Manu Ginobili. LaMarcus Aldridge is another veteran that San Antonio acquired this offseason and is putting up nearly 18 ppg for the Spurs this season.

Both teams are deep, and they play unselfish basketball, always looking for the best shot. The Warriors and Spurs are number one and two respectively in assists per 100 possessions. So how do they matchup against one another? The Warriors average a league high 115.3 ppg. The Spurs are eighth in the NBA with 104.3 ppg. However, the Spurs only allow 92.3 points per game, the best in the NBA, whereas the Warriors let up 104.2 ppg, putting them near the bottom of the NBA. This, like we saw Saturday night, is a favorable matchup for the Spurs. The Spurs can certainly beat the Warriors, but I’ll tell you why I don’t think they will.

As we know, the NBA playoffs are a best of 7 game series. Well we have two juggernauts when it comes to playing at home. Following Saturday’s win, the Spurs extended their home winning streak to 44 straight regular season games. The Warriors have an even more impressive 51 straight home wins. And I don’t see either of these streaks ending, at least not during this regular season. I believe that the Western Conference Finals will go to seven games. I believe that the home team will win every one of those games, and in this case, that means the Golden State Warriors will win since they will hold home court advantage going into the playoffs. I also believe that the Western Conference Finals between the Spurs and Warriors will far exceed the entertainment level that the NBA Championship will give us, and has potential for one of the best series the NBA has ever seen. However, upsets do happen, so we may not even see these two go head to head to show who’s the best of the west. But I wouldn’t count on that. Let’s just sit back and watch history happen.